I was at lunch earlier this week with a very lovely lady of mixed, european origin. We were in a pretty decent Italian restaurant and I was craving strong cheese. I met a waiter who kept tilting onto one leg, grinning and telling me that I needed to add meat to my dish, even though told him I am vegetarian.
So this lovely lady and were trying each other on for size; gauging whether our frequencies matched. We were each asking each other obviously leading questions that would reveal thought processes, feelings on certain subjects and general outlook in unspoken agreement of openness. All during lunch. All the while we repeated the line, ‘I’m going to be completely honest’.
We spoke at length about the fusion of her european cultures compared to my own, and her close family of talented cooks, like mine. We spoke about money motivations and the sensible approach of working hard now to make life more comfortable in the future. We touched on how appearance conscious certain professions are and whether can be pull-off being less talented if you are exceptionally good-looking. All familiar topics that everyone has debated.
What happened? My ambitious and warm fellow diner, whose make-up was immaculately done, revealed the same thing that so many women do to me. So many women of my age group, broadly speaking. Her focused and formidable body language softened, her smile more gentle and she rushed, ‘I just want to settle down and have kids’.
‘No time’ was the problem we discussed. No time to stop, go out and have fun. No time to rest, no time for adventures, no time for stuff for the heart. No time.
The thing is, we all have our turnaround moment in life when we do, if we are fortunate enough. Mine was only three years ago, but life teaches us and shows us along the way, if we are open enough to see it. My husbands friends wife was diagnosed with a cancer this week, 42.
So as I was munching through my pasta with courgette fritters on top, I was asked whether I get annoyed by what I eat in restaurants because as a foodie I cook a lot. The answer is no. One of the many things I miss about being near my family is being cooked for. It always feels good to be cooked for. Sometimes, someone else’s cooking just feels refreshing.
On this occasion, I did find the need to tart up the pasta dish. The courgette balls didn’t have much favour and the pasta had been left dry. So in my version I’m using a variant of the popular Manchurian vegetable balls and using them on top of a mellow-sweet and spicy butternut squash sauce with spaghetti. So what happens is that you get these soft and spongy, spicy and salty vegetable balls contrasting with the spaghetti and balancing the whole dish out. You also get some pretty colours. Move over spaghetti and meatballs eh? Try it, let me know what you think
Ingredients to serve 2-3
For the vegetable balls
1/2 cabbage, grated
2 green chilies, chopped
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 carrot, grated
50g green beans, chopped into small bites
1/2 cup plain flour
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 inch stick of ginger, minced
Oil for deep-frying
Ingredients for the butternut squash sauce
One medium-sized butternut squash , peeled and cut into chunks
500ml vegetable stock
1 tsp red chilli flakes
One medium onion, cut into chunks
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Salt to taste
You’ll need about 150g of spaghetti
1. To make the butternut squash sauce, heat the oil in the pan and then add the onion . Brown the onion lightly before adding the squash and mixing it. Sprinkle in the salt and chilli flakes. Pour in the vegetable stock and simmer until the butternut squash is soft enough to mash.
2. Turn off the heat and use a hand blender or food processor to purée the butternut squash sauce. The consistency should be like a thick soup, rather than paste. Add water if you need to loosen it up.
3. Heat the oil whilst you prepare the Manchurian balls.
2. To make the vegetable balls, combine the cabbage, carrot, green beans, chilli, garlic and ginger in a bowl and mix well.
3. Stir in the soy sauce and combine again, before adding the plain flour and making a dough.
4. Check the oil is hot by dropping a small amount of the mixture into the oil, if it rises and sizzles the oil is hot enough.
5. Make small balls the size of a large coin and then fry them until they are golden brown before removing them with a slotted spoon onto kitchen paper.