Dinner for One

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Sometimes I fail spectacularly at having any decorum around mealtimes. For example, if you had visited me on any evening this week you would have found me curled up in the corner of my enormous couch with my plate perched precariously on the arm, eating what can only be described as a TV dinner.  My defence for this kind of sluttery rests on two main factors: one, my new job requires me to watch a fair amount of television; and two, we currently have a very temperamental boiler and heating system, so sitting at the dining room table looks less and less appealing as the temperature starts to drop in London.  Also, I have been dining alone for the past few weeks whilst Ollie has been working late and have been far too tired from my own work to set the table for one. Justification over.

Making dinner for one is also an exercise that has varying results.  I became quite au fait with solo dining when Ollie was touring with his band. Often I would be invited to friends’ houses for dinner, or would entertain people at home, but I would also crave my own company and nights in alone.  Whilst I love spending hours in the kitchen, I initially found that cooking a meal only for myself was a big effort and would often simply stir some pesto into some spaghetti or fix myself a sandwich.  After a while, I realised that there was a possibility for making excellent dinners for one, and began adapting recipes to make quick and easy single portions.

This recipe is one by the majestic Nigella Lawson from her most recent book, Nigellissima: pasta with mackerel, Marsala and pine nuts.  At first I was unconvinced about the combination of smoky mackerel, sharp pine nuts and sweet Marsala but after reading that her inspiration was one of my favourite seafood dishes, pasta con le sarde, I decided to give it a go.  In fact, it is utterly delicious – the many different ingredients create complex levels of flavour and texture that far surpass that of many other pasta dishes.  I first thought that the addition of pine nuts was a touch unnecessary, but they add a little extra oily richness to the oiliness of the mackerel.  This dish is also astoundingly quick to make – in fact, boiling the dried pasta is the most time-consuming part – the rest can be whipped up in a matter of minutes.  The quantities in the cookbook are for two people, but I have adapted the amounts and proportions slightly to make a generous meal for one.

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Nigella Lawson’s Pasta with Mackerel, Marsala and Pine Nuts

  • 100g dried linguini
  • 30g sultanas
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp Marsala
  • 1 large smoked mackerel fillet, broken into large flakes
  • 1tbsp capers, drained
  • Few drops of cider vinegar
  • 25g pine nuts
  • Dill, roughly torn

Cook the pasta in a pan of boiling salted water according to packet instructions.  Drain the pasta, reserving a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid, and set aside.

In the meantime, warm the olive oil in a frying pan and cook the shallots until translucent, about two minutes.  Add the Marsala and let it bubble before immediately adding the mackerel, sultanas, capers and cider vinegar.  Once the mackerel is warmed through and the liquid absorbed, remove from the heat.

Put the drained pasta back into the pan with the reserved cooking liquid, the contents of the frying pan and half the dill and pine nuts.  Toss together until well combined before transferring to a warmed bowl.  Scatter the remaining dill and pine nuts over the top of the dish and season well.

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