"A dear friend who likes to be provocative suggested that people like me cook for others as a way of feeling superior," wrote Charlotte Wood in one of my favourite books on food called Love and Hunger. (Thanks Nick and for those of you who insist on pictures in your cookbooks, this one may be the convertor).
Is that why I love to cook, to bring a bit of smug into the kitchen? To feel superior and humiliate? To be able to say she may not have wrinkles but what's the use when you cook bacon in the microwave.
So what happens when I invite people over who don't have an interest in cooking beyond food as fuel and feed them homemade pasta or whip out a freshly baked bread loaf from the oven while saying things like "oh, you've never made pesto, it's a cinch". Does their heart sink a little while they think god I can't be bothered to do this, I wonder if I should.
I hate performing in public, so when someone tries to pull me up on the karaoke stage to belt out Simply The Best, my heart certainly sinks. When asked to invent the history of a particular teaspoon at an improv dinner party game, I can feel my jaw clenching and stomach turning and I breifly weigh up the odds of being able to get away with slinking under the dinner table and remaining there until dessert is served. In these moments I certainly compare myself to those natural performers out there and think perhaps there is something a little lacking in me because I don't really want to do that. The inferior/superior dynamic is in play.
It's so easy to come across as smug when you are doing something you enjoy/are good at/feels like a worthy thing to be doing, particularly around people who don't have the same priorities.
But just as my teaspoon dinner party host and karaoke loving friend had no intention of humiliating me, nor do I when I serve my guests olives gorghese. We are all just doing what we like to do and want to share it.
And I'm sure, just as Woods suggests, our primary motives come not so much from a need to feel superior but a need to feel loved.
I remember once thinking if I learned how to play a very complicated piece on the piano, just the one, people would say "ah yes, she is the lady who can play Rachmaninoff, she is great."
If I was prepared to go to those lengths, which thankfully I was't, it is not much of a stretch to think I might cook a quick dinner in the hope that it leaves a favourable impression.
But the real driving force behind my cooking, and I know this because I can see what I cook when it is just for me, is that I like to eat tasty things regardless of whether anyone else is around to intimidate or impress. I actually enjoy the process of cooking and eating. Of choosing the right pan, reaching for the little whisk perfect for beating one egg, the calm of chopping which reminds me of the simple rhythm of swimming where thoughts and plans are replaced by one, two, breathe ... again and again. Just doing what I'm doing without thinking too much. For some it is painting, others running, but for me it is the freedom of a kitchen with no one else in it and a spare hour.
So here I present homemade pasta two ways, not to intimidate you in some kind of roaring I-am-Martha-Stewart way but more in the spirit of this is the shiz I like to do, and while I'd like you to please like me because of it, I'll do it regardless.
A postscript about the little pixie jugs and bowl in the photo above. When mum was young and lived in London she worked at cooking writer Elizabeth David's shop. The tiny ceramic pieces were samples customers could look at and choose before an order was placed for the full sized version. And a pps, Elizabeth David, the lady who brought the idea of cooking with olive oil into the English kitchen at a time when it was sold only at pharmacies, who was known for her sharp, critical tongue and immense cooking knowledge, who scrawled in the margins of other cook books in her collection "this is NOT a tian", and "Italian salad p50. Sounds just about the most revolting dish ever devised." and "(cooking writer) Waverley Root is a pitiful phoney", well I can't imagine her caring much at all about what anyone thought of her cooking.
Sascha some of these pics were taken on your camera and possibly by you too. Thank you. And Mum, thanks for loaning me some of the beautiful kitchen gear you have collected over the years with your incredible eye.
As for recipes, I won't write out the bolognese sauce because it is more or less the Stephanie Alexander recipe which I tweak depending on what's in the fridge. The other sauce is based on one of Nigel Slater's which brings rich gorgonzola together spring greens, a combo I adore. Slowly cook two thinly sliced cloves of garlic with two tablespoons of butter and four anchovy fillets. Spoon in a cup of creme fresh and then crumble about 150g of gorgonzola and bring to the boil. Add some blanched greens like asparagus, broccoli and peas and there you have your sauce.
The actual pasta recipe came from the self published book of my cooking idol Barbara Small. Why there is not a copy of her book Stirring the Senses in every kitchen in Australia I do not know.
Barbara's Tagliolini Pasta Dough
200g flour, 1 whole egg and 3 egg yolks
Put the flour on the work surface and make a well in the centre. Break in the egg and egg yolks. Mix with a fork and gradually incorporate enough flour to form a soft dough. Knead the dough adding more flour as necessary. Continue kneading until you have a smooth springy dough. Cover with a bowl and let dough rest for 30 minutes.
Roll out thinly, cut into thin strips. (In the photos above I actually cut mine with the pasta machine on two different settings - one is a spaghetti and the other is probably more a pappardelle than a tagliolini). Leave to dry on a tea towel or a board dusted with semolina, ready to cook in salted boiling water when needed.