It’s funny how our taste in food changes as we move along in life. If I asked you to consider the past ten years, and name an ingredient you used to loathe and now love, I bet it would take you no time to find at least one answer. As a former fussy child, I have tens of them, and could spend hours telling you about each; not in the bragging, self-assorbed, “look how I’ve turned my life around” way, but rather with the joy and amazement that come with new discoveries.
My first attempt at eating spinach happened around ten years ago, in the summer, as I enjoyed having the house to myself while my parents were on holiday for a week. I’d just completed my first year of uni away from home; I couldn’t cook to save my life, and survived on tuna pasta, happy hour drinks and nibbles, cookies, and overpriced ready meals. Deep down, I knew that was unlikely to get me through the following two, so I decided to try one new recipe a day from Mum’s cookbooks. My first experiment were spinach and mushroom patties: a seemingly sensible choice, combining an ingredient I liked with one I’d always shunned, but finally felt ready to give a chance to.
The recipe was simple, the outcome simply disgusting. The patties went straight to the bin; a lifesaving ham and cheese toastie landed on my plate five minutes later. Screw it, I thought – if this is what veggie food tastes like, I’m eating ice cream straight from the tub for the rest of my life. Which I did, for most of that blissful week of loneliness, watching reruns of Scrubs on Sky until late at night – but that’s a story for another time.
To date, I’m not sure what went wrong. Did I misread the instructions, or overlook an important step? How could the recipe look so easy, anyway – maybe it was too easy to be true? And, most of all: why couldn’t I get myself to like vegetables, like…all the sane, mature, healthy people in the world who liked vegetables? I couldn’t answer a single one of those questions. The truth is much simpler: like all things in life, recipes sometimes just don’t work out. They’re written poorly; they gloss over the basics, assuming you know things about cooking that you need them to teach you in the first place; they hit the spot for the people around you, but not for you, not right now, maybe not at all.
Given the magnitude of that first disaster, I’d never have thought that, one day, I’d find myself putting spinach on my menu at least once a week. I’ll mix it into a savoury pie filling, serve it as a side to fish or meat, stir it into a bean stew, slap it in a falafel wrap – you name it. Today, I present you with the pasta dish that changed my mind, courtesy of my mum, who knows the right buttons to push to overcome my culinary pet peeves. Perhaps I too should have cooked my spinach with carbs and bacon, on that fateful night ten years ago; you’d be reading a very different story today.
Pasta with spinach, bacon and roasted cherry tomatoes
- 200g cherry tomatoes, halved, seeds removed
- 2tbsp breadcrumbs
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- A handful of chopped parsley
- 250g bacon lardons (if you can find some thick-cut pancetta, that’s even better)
- 1/4 onion, chopped
- 300g spinach
- Short pasta, like penne or rigatoni – anywhere from 6og to 100g per person, depending on your appetite
- 2tbsp olive oil, plus more to drizzle
- 1tbsp sea salt, for the water
- Salt and pepper, to season
1) Roast the tomatoes
- Place the tomato halves open side up in a roasting tin or ceramic oven dish, lightly greased with oil.
- Combine the breadcrumbs, garlic and parsley in a small bowl, then sprinkle the mixture over the tomatoes, and drizzle them with oil.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180, and cook the tomatoes until they’ve softened and the bread on top is golden
Cook’s tip: It will take around 15 minutes if you want your tomatoes to retain some bite; I tend to leave them on for 25 – 30 minutes, as I like them well cooked.
2) Cook the spinach and bacon
- Heat up 2tbsp oil in a frying pan, then sauté the bacon and onion.
- Add the spinach leaves, and let them wilt in the pan, mixing with a wooden spoon to ensure they cook evenly.
Cook’s tip: Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to add one handful of spinach at a time, waiting for the previous batch to wilt so there’s enough space for more leaves.
- Season with salt and pepper; once the bacon and spinach are cooked through, remove from the hob and set aside.
3) Prepare the pasta
- Bring a pot of water to the boil, add 1tbsp sea salt, then add in the pasta and cook it as per packet instructions.
Cook’s tip: You want your pasta to be al dente – softened, but not flaccid. Taste it after the first 10 minutes, and if it’s still too hard, leave it on for a little longer, tasting again every 2 minutes afterwards.
- Drain the pasta, then put it back in the pot, drizzle with a little oil and mix well.
- Add the cooked bacon and spinach to the pot, and mix to combine.
- Finally, take the tomatoes out of the oven, add them in and mix again.
Cook’s tip: Make sure you scoop up any leftover breadcrumbs from the bottom of the oven dish. They may not look like much, but they will add a lot of flavour to your pasta.
- Serve your pasta while all the ingredients are still hot.