Before you get to the recipe, have the following passage of unhinged narrative, just for fun:
Andy looks worn and tired; gaunt, even. He cups his latte with his shaking hands, cradling it like a tiny kitten. He imagines it purring gently as he strokes the logo and savours its warmth. Chris, sitting opposite him, is concerned.
“Not gonna lie, pal, you look like shit.”
Chris sits back and lets his words settle on the table between them, like rude cornflakes. Andy looks down at his purring latte, avoiding eye contact.
“Ahhh. I know. I’m three weeks into trying not to eat out for every meal but if I have to eat another tin of baked beans with only a spoon I think I’m going to throw something. Possibly up. I don’t know how people live like this.”
Chris sits there, considering the silence. The silence grows bigger. And bigger.
“What?” says Andy, finally. He barely musters the energy to pin the dot on the question mark.
Chris leans forward, elbows on cornflakes, fingers on temples, and looks Andy straight in his short-suffering eyes.
“Mate. Have you just been eating cold tins of beans this whole time?”
“Listen,” he begins, beginning to sweep the cornflakes away.
“Trying to make healthy, home-cooked meals is really hard. I tried carving a roast chicken out of tofu on the first evening because it seemed like the cheaper option, and that didn’t go well. Then I tried to make a vegetarian version of a pork pie where the recipe replaced the lard in the pastry with cashew butter and made the filling out of chopped lentils and tempeh, plus an agar jelly layer. But it was all awful so I gave up and have just been using cold baked beans and bags of supermarket salad to punctuate my 60 hour work week instead.”
Chris shakes his head slowly.
“Andy. Oh Andy, don’t you know that healthy, delicious cooking doesn’t have to be boring or complicated?”
Andy looks up again, using his eyes.
Chris looks around him before continuing, and speaks quickly and quietly.
“Yeah man, cooking in general can be quick, simple, easy and packed full of flavour. You can get meals on the table in under 20 minutes, so you’ve got plenty of time to enjoy doing whatever you want in the evening rather than slaving over a stove for hours. But it’s a giant secret. You can’t tell anyone about it.”
Andy’s whole demeanour changes, like when sunbeams edge their way over the horizon at dawn and spread golden warmth to everything they touch. He chugs the rest of his latte, slaps the cup down on the table with newfound vigour and the purring kitten transforms into a roaring lion.
“Chris, this sounds incredible. You have to let me into this secret club. I’ve never heard of this sort of thing before. It sounds like a completely new and unique approach to being in the kitchen. And…and it’d help me enormously, ‘cos then I wouldn’t have to spend either 3 hours a night preparing food, or eating cold baked beans from a tin. It sounds like an amazing concept.”
Chris grins. He draws his chair in closer to Andy so no one else can hear.
“Yeah, hardly anyone knows about it, mate. People are all there stirring pots and stuff for hours on end because all the recipes they’ve ever used are dull and overly complicated. There’s hardly any books or blogs which fill the need for quick, simple, faff-free, 5 ingredient meals. It’s a real niche.”
Mocking a baritone kettle, Andy lets out a long, low whistle.
“Man, you’re really onto something here. I’m sold. Do you also think it’s possible to get ideas for how to make things on a budget which take under 15 minutes and does all of the above too?”
Chris frowns for a second.
“I’ll check with the secret cookbook club. They might be able to rustle up something for you there.”
I could write more but I’ll spare you the weirdness. I have laboured my point in this format, but here it is in plainer English, just for clarity:
There aren’t many cookbooks on the market today which don’t have the words ‘quick’, ‘easy’, ‘simple’, ‘faff-free’, or such like on the cover (mine included). This is not necessarily the fault of the authors or publishers of such books; the observation comes more as a reflection of the point we’ve reached in late-stage capitalism where we have had to reduce one of our fundamentally human skills – cooking – to the lowest number of ingredients and the shortest cooking times in order to survive. Sadly, until housing costs, education costs, childcare costs and all the rest of the associated costs of simply existing come down along with the time we have to spend working, then the majority of the population will continue to view cooking as a chore. Which is a bit sad, really.
The astute among you will have also picked up on my disparaging tone when it comes to the false dichotomy marketeers love to create when it comes to perpetuating these trends: the whole “who says vegan/healthy/delicious means have to be boring/complicated/tasteless?” (delete as appropriate) thing is something that really, really grinds my goat. Because no one has ever turned around and said, “oh wow I’ve been doing this wrong the whole time!” and then bought a copy of Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals and lived happily ever after.
(For what it’s worth, I think Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals are great for the most part – there’s loads of healthy and fun ideas in there – you just have to bear in mind that a Jamie Oliver Minute is between two and three Normal Human Minutes before cooking anything, to save yourself bursting a capillary to get dinner on the table in the suggested time.)
It’s not like there isn’t an audience for this sort of thing, by the way – publishers aren’t slapping these promises on the covers without cause. There is huge demand for fast, simple, cheap and easy home-cooked meals ideas, which I see on a day-to-day basis when my friends ask me for recipe ideas and if I suggest anything longer than 20 minutes hands-on time it goes down like a cup of cold sick. To this end, my own cookbook has a chapter called ‘SpeedyMcGreedFace’ in which all of the meals go from concept to table in under 30 normal-people minutes. Having bandied it about a fair bit now, this is the chapter I predict that most people will cook from first. You can pre-order it here if you like but you will have to buy the whole book, not just the quick meals chapter. Don’t worry, I don’t think you’ll regret it.
I do have lots more to write on this sort of thing, but I’m thinking about compiling it all into a long essay relatively soon, alongside some thoughts on our food system and being stuck as a relatively skint consumer trying to make sense of it all. But that’s for another day. For now, I suppose you can have my favourite way of using up stuff from the fridge.
Does that seem fair?
I put a photo of this tart on my instagram on Saturday, in a world-first where I have actually matched up my blog with my socials. Not sure if this is even a recipe – it’s more of a method – but I could write another very boring essay called “What Is A Recipe, Actually?” and it would go on for 12 pages and no one would get to the end of it. Anyway, have a thing:
(this is also my drag name)
Takes: some amount of time between 20-30 minutes all in, depending on whether you’re trying to clean the flat, update your V5 address for your car, and pack to go away in between adding ingredients on top.
You will need:
- 1 sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry
- ½ a jar of pesto which has been hanging about for far too long in the fridge
- Half a block of feta/ a ball of mozzarella /some ricotta
- A bit of protein of some sort (tin of tuna, fillet of salmon which has been vibing in the freezer since November 2022, some cooked chicken breast, possibly some old ham)
- Thinly sliced red onion, or thinly sliced spring onions, or thinly sliced brown onion or slicely thinned shallot.
- Capers or olives if you like them, or a hot cup of shame if you don’t.
- Balsamic vinegar or half a skruggy lemon
I would have thought that this was fairly self-explanatory but last week on Twitter I saw that some people throw away the greaseproof paper that comes with the puff pastry roll and then put it on new greaseproof paper to cook it, so I’m going to spell it all out, just in case.
- Put the oven on to 200 degrees fan
- Roll out your puff pastry but don’t throw away the bloody paper. Transfer everything to a flat baking sheet.
- Spread the pastry with a layer of the pesto
- Dot the protein source (I used a fillet of salmon) around the tart, then put the onions on it, then scatter over the oliver and capers if using them. Otherwise, wait for your hot cup of shame to come to drinking temperature and then gulp it down like a good little boy.
- Put some cheese on it, evenly spacing everything. If you’re using feta, you can put it on after it comes out of the oven if you prefer, but I quite like baked feta.
- Put this in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until properly puffed and crispy on the edges and not floppy underneath. Having a good baking tray helps with this in terms of heat distribution.
- Take tart out and sprinkle over some balsamic, or a squeeze of lemming to add a little lit of nice brightness.
- Serve using scissors to cut it because it’s the easiest way
Have fun. Or don’t. Not up to me, really.