basil

There are few things in life I love more than feasting. Sitting around a table, eating, laughing, talking, these elements are part of my life’s favourite memories. My parents and sisters all love to sit around the table with good (usually spicy) food, and we talk about everything from politics to theology to movies and television. The discussion is now mostly civil, often funny and always boisterous. We can spend hours at the table.

When Little Boy was born, I couldn’t wait until we were eating family meals together, but that took a long, long time. First we had different eating times, then he was eating purees, and it wasn’t like a meal together so much as one of us feeding our little emperor, and there was only adult conversation going on (interrupted by some shrieking).

But the closer he got to two, the more we could have meals together, and meals where we were all eating food cooked the same way. It was around this time last year that I first read a Simple Bites series called Bringing Back Sunday Dinner. The idea was to pick a meal a week and put in more effort – a main course, side dishes, dessert, the special little things there isn’t any time for during the week.

We eat mostly simple, standard food during the week. Lots of frozen peas, it must be said. I need our day-to-day to be as straightforward as it can be because multitasking isn’t my great skill, and I have my hands full with our Baby and Little Boy. As much as I love simple food, it has done so much for my creativity to have one meal a week that I can think about, prepare for and enjoy. The food doesn’t need to be complicated; sometimes fancy food is so fiddly, it’s no fun.

melon salad

Lately most of our family feasts come from Jamie Oliver‘s 30 Minute Meals. I love this cookbook because there is a main course, side dishes and often a dessert that comes together, which helps me keep planning simple. Most of the time it takes me longer than 30 minutes to cook, but it’s never very long, and the food has tons of flavour and colour.

Last weekend we had a simple pasta dish with broccoli and two summery salads, perfect for the sunny and warm (although now quite summer) day we had. These salads took five to 10 minutes each to put together, and are so basic and versatile, they would work with meat dishes or vegetarian main courses.

There is a difference when we sit down to eat at a table where the food is abundant and beautiful. It creates an atmosphere where love can abound, where little bellies are filled and taste buds tantalized, and hopefully it’s an atmosphere that will lead to rich, meaningful relationships between us in the years to come.

I love giving my family this table

saturday spread combo

Melon & Prosciutto Salad

from Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals

This salad is an update of an Italian classic. Every year I have every intention of staying away from processed meat until I have raw ham from Italy, Spain or France. It’s the best stuff in the world. In moderation. If you think the ham and melon combination sounds weird, try this, I promise. Pair a sweet, firm melon with a good, salty Italian proscuitto. On a warm summer day, nothing is more refreshing. 

half a ripe, firm, sweet melon
a few slices of prosciutto
a small bunch of basil
olive oil
sea salt
balsamic vinegar

1. Start with your dressing. Put the large basil leaves in a mortar and pestle and start bashing away until the leaves form a paste of sorts

2. Add some sea salt to taste and keep bashing, then pour in some olive oil (I estimated the quantity based on how much dressing I thought we would need and also based on how “basily” we like things to taste). I probably used 1/4 cup of olive oil if not a bit more.

3. Stir together and set aside.

4. Arrange slices of proscuitto on the edges of a serving platter leaving a space in the middle.

5. Take a spoon and scoop out the seeds from the melon half and then begin scooping out the flesh and putting it in the middle of the prosciutto slices. Scatter the smaller basil leaves on top and dot with some balsamic vinegar. Serve with the dressing on the side.

Zucchini Ribbon Salad

 from Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals

Zucchini is one of those bland, basic veggies when it’s raw, so it needs a zesty dressing to make it sing. Don’t skimp on the mint, lemon or chili. 

1 zucchini (the recipe called for two or three baby ones, but I only had the regular kind)
a few sprigs of mint
1 birdseye chili
half a lemon
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Chop your mint leaves and chili finely and put it on the serving platter, drizzle over that the olive oil and lemon juice.

2. Take a peeler and “slice” the zucchini into ribbons using the peeler. It’s less like slicing and more like a slightly deeper peel, but then you peel the whole thing. I ended up with the middle core of the zucchini unused, so I sliced that up and roasted it for Baby’s dinner.

3. Put the zucchini ribbons on the platter and toss with the dressing. Add salt and pepper at the very end to taste and take to the table.

lent 2014