I’ve gone through some weird food phases in my time. At some point in my childhood, and after some deliberation over what had been a very difficult decision, I concluded that I loved butter more than vegemite, which I loved a lot. I decided therefore, that it was only fitting for butter to take precedence in all bread matters. It would henceforth be smeared over vegemite, or any other inferior spread I wished to have on toast. As there was no such invention as spreadable butter in the 80s, I worked out that if I cut a slab off of the rock-hard butter and held the knife with said slab carefully over the toaster while my raisin toast cooked, the butter would melt just as my toast emerged, ready to be spread at that very moment. Some part of me knew there was risk involved in reaching optimum meltage, and I made sure to undertake my mission when the coast was clear of parents. They would inevitably tell me off for climbing onto the bench and possibly electrocuting myself with the heat-conducting object laden with melting fat that could very well end my young days. They eventually caught on and my genius operation was swiftly shut down.
There was, I’m deeply ashamed to admit, a time when microwave dinners were acceptable in my life. I’ll be a little kind to myself and say that I had two jobs and was completing postgraduate studies, but still, I could not imagine touching the stuff now. No part of it smells or looks good to me.
There’s the tomato juice on planes thing that I picked up from my first travel companion, an advocate of this custom. I’d never touch it on terra firma, but in the air, liquid tomato is perfectly acceptable … with pepper!
And then there’s my oats – a source of great happiness for me. Serena, whom this very blog is named for, introduced me to the goodness of oats on my first visit to her home in Spain many moons ago. Allow me to tell you all the following about oats, which I’m sure you already know: they’re filling, low GI, low in salt, sugar and fat, and just a bloody good way to regulate the digestive system. I know you’re all gripping the edge of your seats right now over this fascinating tale of me and my oats. It’s not all sweetness and stodge, I promise.
A little bit of background before I reach the dramatic climax. I’m a non-lover of milk. In short, I was an enthusiastic milk drinker until the age of 10, when I had a shocking incident with overly expired milk (unbeknownst to me) that I tried to drink straight from the carton. Instead of the dairy goodness I was expecting, I was hit by offensive golf balls of sour milk. I’ve never touched it straight since. Such is my fear of milk, that I pour just enough over my quick oats to carefully bind them together so that they take on almost scone dough-like consistency, but drier. It’s a delicate procedure. After the initial oat binding, I then add honey, sultanas and LSA (taking the already nutritious oats to a whole ‘nother level of über healthiness).
Back when I was still at home living with my dad, he observed my oat making one morning, and then me trying to digest them (eating barely moist oats can be pretty heavy going). He told me that my oats looked like the feed they used to serve their swine inhabitants in Morocco and that it was just ‘disgusting, man’. I was most offended.
Housing companions since have found my oats to be an oddity, especially if I’ve had a moment of choking on a wayward dry oat, or if I’ve found it hard to swallow a particularly doughy bit. Each to their own, I say. Such is my love of barely moist oats, that for the last 12 years I have pretty much followed this breakfast routine: oats on Mondays to Fridays, vegemite and butter on raisin toast (butter now first, then vegemite) on Saturday, and hot breakfasts on Sundays. I rest my case.
If you’re still reading after that spellbinder, let me tell you about how this particular concoction came to be. Recently I came home from my second south-east Asian adventure, this time to Vietnam. It was seven days of unremitting heat, walking, harassment, sensory overload, sleep deprivation, DEET application and general bewilderment. And I loved every bit of it … even when I thought I was going to be sick in the most confronting food market I’ve ever been to (there’s a Dog Meat Lane, for Pete’s sake!). It would be fair to say that my wonderful travel buddy, Kel, and I had three mini-adventures in one week: Halong Bay cruising, Sapa hiking and a Hanoi trying-not-to-die-when-crossing-the-road city ‘break’. While Kel always looked so perfectly composed, even under the grip of a most sinister stomach bug, I believe that I may have sweated out every single toxin stored in my body on this trip. With temperatures in the mid-thirties and humidity at around 95 per cent most days, I assumed a general state of clammy hands and overall stickiness. Yet I still loved it.
Coming home to cool Melbourne was a bit of a relief. On uncovering clean skin beneath the layers of DEET, sunscreen and general filth after that first, beautiful shower, I felt reborn. But my insides did not feel so reborn. My stomach had decided to become like of an impertinent child’s; rendering me a hapless carb fiend. For most of the two weeks after arriving home, I survived on a diet of bread and butter, and the odd beer. Finally, my reliably cast-iron stomach had been weakened by the might of the south-east Asian triple threat: chilli, humidity and an insane amount of new and exciting bacteria.
And so, on my third night home, when I thought I might be able to deviate from the usual bread and butter feast, I decided to cook up some ricotta-filled ravioli in a rather harmless sauce of tomato, bacon, garlic and onion … with no chilli. It was yum, but five raviolis in and the stomach acid gods were not pleased. With a whole lot of ravioli left over for the following night, I decided to try again. I don’t usually like day-old pasta, but this was of a decent enough quality not to become complete stodge, and I didn’t want to waste it. I pulled out an ovenproof pan, drizzled it with olive oil and poured in the pasta, not quite sure what I was actually going to do with it. A couple of cracked eggs, some other bits and bobs, and 20 minutes of oven baking later, and I had a rather strange looking meal in front of me. It was a suitably delicious way to console myself now that my holiday was over, I was missing my buddy, and all I had left was my NQR stomach.
Take any quantity of leftover pasta (of any description), preferably some that has been pre-mixed in the sauce of your previous night’s dinner. I made a kind of Amatriciana sauce (sans chilli), with bacon, garlic, tinned Italian tomatoes, a touch of brown sugar, seasoning, parsley and basil.
Drizzle a good amount of olive oil into an ovenproof dish (a ceramic dish would be ideal) or frying pan. Pour in the pasta and even out. Scatter some olives (I used some lovely green Sicilian olives), bits of bacon or pancetta, cherry tomatoes, chilli, or whatever else your heart desires, over the top. Crack 2–3 eggs carefully into the dish, so as not to break the yolk and ensure they are well spaced. Drizzle a little more olive oil over and then season. Bake in a moderate oven for roughly 20 minutes, or until the eggs whites have just set. Having the oven too high will cause the yolks to set, which you don’t want. The creamy yolks, once broken, should ooze lovingly over the pasta.
Top with fresh herbs before eating, and should you wish to double-carb it, serve with some crusty bread. This should serve two people, depending on the amount of pasta being used.