I’ve always had an interest in what people really eat and cook. Not what they say they eat, not what they blog but what they actually eat. The food media that gives me the most satisfaction is that which starts with this very obvious question- what do people eat? It’s why I adore shows like Food Safari and blogs like Smitten Kitchen and The Stone Soup, and also why one of my favourite people to follow on twitter is Pantry sniffer, who tweets entire recipes in 140 characters.

When I started Corridor Kitchen, I stressed that my photos wouldn’t be up to scratch, as my camera is a pretty basic point-and-shoot that doesn’t tend to focus properly. As a result I took hundreds of pictures of each dish. This, along with needing to photograph food in daylight hours meant I had to cook specifically to blog. In other words, I wasn’t blogging my actual daily eats, or even my once-a-week eats.

I’ve recently realised that this runs contrary to the whole ethos of Corridor Kitchen of common sense, cheap and practical food. Since I started blogging, my everyday cooking has become decidedly less creative, and I find our house filled with more baked goods than I’d care not to eat. I want to believe that the creative side of cooking, that intuitive what’s-in-the-fridge/pantry-and-what-can-I-make-from-it approach my mother taught me is blogworthy.

This dish is one I’ve made a lot lately, and something I’ve only ever cooked for myself. It’s made with things I always have on hand and is very flexible . I take my new-old favourite, spaghetti and coat it in a garlicky, lemony sauce with chunks of tuna, zucchini and spinach, sprinkling it with romano and freshly cracked black pepper. The building blocks are pasta, tuna or chicken, garlic, wine dregs, butter and oil, and a hard cheese with any green veggie you like.I always have frozen spinach on hand so I used that, and I had a zucchini this time around but I’ve used green beans, cabbage and even buk choy in the past.

Lau’s Pantry Pasta

(serves 2)
Enough spaghetti for 2 people

A generous dollop of butter
A good slosh of olive oil
1 very small onion, diced
Pinch salt
6 cloves garlic (so about twice as much garlic as onion), finely chopped
Pinch chilli flakes

The zest of half a lemon
1 individual 95g tin of tuna – I used a lemon pepper flavoured one but you can use any kind.
1/2 cup white wine dregs
1 zucchini, grated
80g frozen spinach, defrosted (microwave 1 minute on high)

The juice of half a lemon
Romano and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Put the pasta on to boil as per the packet instructions. I turn the stove up full blast, boil a jug, pour the water into the pan and once it boils, and add salt. When it comes to the boil again, I snap the spaghetti in half and cook for 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the butter and oil in a medium frypan. Add the onion and stir. Once translucent, add the garlic, chilli flakes, salt and lemon zest.

Once this is cooked, add the tuna, a ladleful of the boiling pasta water, the wine and the spinach. Cook a few minutes. Add the zucchini and cook a couple of minutes until soft.

Once cooked, add the drained pasta and some pepper and salt. Stir through while still on the heat. Serve with plenty of romano and freshly cracked black pepper.

What’s your favourite home alone dish?

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It has always amazed me how eager the Sydney food scene is to absorb reinterpret the so-called ‘traditional’ and ‘peasant’ foods of other nations into overpriced, ‘exotic’ wank. Besides the prohibitive prices of foods like tapas, Brazilian bbq and Cuban food, these reincarnations of cuisines which claim to be ‘inspired’ or ‘influenced’ by various countries almost always miss the point of the cuisine they claim to ‘draw inspiration’ from.

In Spain, where dinner is generally served at around 10pm, bars will offer tapas; small, simple, tasty, cheap morsels of food that you eat standing up to stave off hunger and stop you getting too drunk. This fulfils the dual purpose of soaking up alcohol and stimulating thirst. The point of tapas is not to fill you up. It is not even really to have a ‘meal’. People don’t sit down at a table, order a variety of drinks and food and then have them all brought over, eat, drink and pay at the end. In Australia, this style of serving is rare, and tapas becomes just an item on a menu, not a cultural practice.

What baffles me about this mistranslations is that restaurateurs and I presumably have a similar experience when we go to a foreign country. We’ll be walking the streets of whatever town in Spain as the bars will start to fill up with people socialising, drinking and snacking. The overall impression is of vibrancy. Life. Hospitality. Community. I look around me and think ‘wouldn’t it be great if I could bottle this and take it back home?’

Obviously we all view holidays through rose-tinted glasses. But it seems to me that many restaurateurs are viewing theirs with dollar-sign eyeballs. They want to bottle this experience and take it back to Australia, but they also want to pour half of it out, dilute it with water, mark up the price and sell it. They are translating a cuisine completely literally and without any of the nuance that comes from the culture it’s a part of. They take the food of Spain and plonk it down on an Australian restaurant table.

Now, it’s a fair point that Australian diners may not want tapas-style dining, just tapas-style food. Clearly a restaurant cannot force people to order this way or they won’t have any customers. I have noticed though that more and more pubs are serving tapas, and this seems more in line with tapas’ whole ethos.

The most basic tapas recipe is tortilla de patatas, sometimes known as tortilla española. In Spain you can buy it in supermarkets and chop it into wedges. It can be eaten hot or cold and consists of eggs, potatos and sometimes onions. I add garlic to mine but that’s completely optional. Serve with tomato sauce or aioli. Or plain.

Tortilla de Patatas
(serves 2)
2 medium potatos, peeled
½ a medium onion
2 cloves of garlic, optional
2-3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive oil
3 eggs
Salt, to taste

Microwave or boil the potatoes, whole until cooked but not mushy. Leave to cool slightly. Whisk the eggs with a pinch of salt.

Finely slice the onion and finely chop the garlic, if using. Once the potatoes are cool enough to touch, cut them into thick slices.

In a very small non-stick pan, heat the oil on a medium high heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, then the garlic. Once the onion is golden, take the pan off the heat and turn the heat down low.

Add the potatoes to the pan. Mix them gently with the onion and garlic to combine but try not to break them. Pour over the egg mixture, making sure it gets into all the gaps, and place the pan on the heat.

The tortilla should cook very slowly and begin to firm up. Some people like it quite runny in the middle, some like it well cooked. I like mine firm so I leave it until almost completely set, 5-10 minutes.

When your tortilla is solid enough to flip, use a large flat spatula to do so. It won’t need much time on the other side as it is just to cook the top.

So, dear reader, what tapas dish do you crave?

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One of my favourite things to eat in Spain at the dingy tapas bars we frequented was the kind of aioli that tastes like plastic-y American mayo with some garlic thrown in for good measure. I could drink the stuff, in fact, I’m pretty sure I bought some in a Portuguese supermarket post-Spain and inhaled the whole tub. So any time I had a go at making aioli, I’d just mix mass-produced mayo and garlic. And now that aioli is trendy here, that’s usually what’s served in pubs all around Australia.

I have always shied away from scientific-sounding processes like ‘emulsification’ in cooking so you’ll forgive me if I only got around to making ‘proper’ aioli from scratch about a month ago. I figured it wouldn’t be worth the effort but boy, was I wrong. And what’s more, it goes with pretty much anything savoury – fish, chicken, polenta-crusted potatoes, the list goes on.

To make an aioli you basically do what you would do for a mayonnaise, only using extra virgin olive oil. You blend or mix egg yolks with garlic or herbs until creamy and then, while still mixing, add a large amount of olive oil drop by drop, finishing with a touch of acid like lemon or vinegar. The result is a thick creamy emulsion that will have you licking your fingers with glee, I promise you.

This is a recipe that lends itself to immersion blenders and food processors because the aioli must be constantly in motion or it won’t emulsify. Other than that, it is damn near impossible to stuff it up. You could make it too thick but I’m pretty sure no one would complain if you did and anyway you could just add more lemon, vinegar or water.

Classic Aioli
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon of Lemon juice (more if desired)

Turn food processor on to medium. Add garlic and egg yolks and puree until garlic is extremely fine and egg yolks are very creamy.

Add salt and once dissolved, pour the oil, drop by drop or in a very slow stream into the still running food processor. You may want to use a measuring jug to pour from. It should take a full 5 minutes to add the 2/3 cup oil to the egg and garlic blend.

Add the lemon and blend some more. Transfer to a bowl, chill and serve.

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