11 months ago today, I turned up to work late, sleepless, an incoherent babbling wreck chewed up by an 18 month landmark court trial and with bright copper dye fading from my wiry, tousled mania of hair. I left my walking stick in the lobby, and limped in to work…to find a hand thrust towards me in a polite gesture of welcome, a smile, a curt hello. She introduced herself. I apologised seven times for my lateness and my pulled-from-a-car-wreck appearance. She was firm and professional, and she smiled at me again. And I felt that self-same car wreck collide with my solar plexus and toss me down a rabbit hole of giddy head spinning highs and that soaring, almost nauseatingly disorienting feeling of time stopping and slowing and turning on its head. I stumbled away, a new crush ablaze across my cheeks and in every tip of my fingers, burning coiled springs in the soles of my feet, a song whispering in the cold, grey, slumbering chamber of my strange little heart. And then I went home, and did what any self respecting 21st century romantic heroine would do; I followed her on Twitter.
Fast forward a few weeks and, having established that my paramour was mutually curious, I found myself standing frozen in my kitchen, petrified, with a wooden spoon in my hand, wondering what to cook for her imminent arrival. I settled on this, and it has become eponymous, to me, with falling in love. It is not flashy, nor expensive; no grand gestures required. It requires a little patience, but very simple ingredients. It is homely, comforting, nourishing, the culinary equivalent of a soft warm body wrapped around your own. It delights, it satisfies, both firm and tender, messy and irreverent, hot and saline and sticky and sweet, and so much more than the sum of its parts.
It took her a month to pluck up the courage to tell me she doesn’t like pasta, but I love her regardless.
Serves 2 at 75p each. Who said romance was dead?
1 large aubergine, 52p (£1.30/500g, Sainsburys Basics)
4 fat cloves of garlic (you’re both having it, it’s fine), 6p (35p/2 bulbs, Sainsburys Basics)
2 tbsp light cooking oil, 3p (£3/3l, Sainsburys Basics)
a few generous pinches of salt, 1p (45p/750g, Sainsburys Basics)
250ml vegetable stock, 3p (30p/10 stock cubes, Sainsburys Basics)
1 x 400g tin of tomatoes, 35p (35p/400g, Sainsburys Basics)
50g sundried tomatoes, optional, 36p (£2/280g)
1 tsp red wine vinegar or other vinegar, 1p (£1.15/500ml, Sainsburys)
a few small leaves of basil, 2p-ish (I bought my basil plant over a year ago for £1 and it has served me well ever since, if a little sulkily)
a pinch of dried chilli, 1p (80p/100g, KTC or Natco brand at any major supermarket)
a little pepper, to serve, 1p (80p/100g, KTC or Natco brand at any major supermarket)
200g dried spaghetti, 8p (20p/500g, Sainsburys Basics)
Finely slice your aubergine and toss it into a large, wide pan. Add the oil and salt and cook on a high heat for 5 minutes, turning or stirring intermittently to disturb the aubergines and stop them from sticking to the pan.
Tip in your tomatoes, and add the crumbled stock cube and half the water, and stir well. Bring to the boil briefly, then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes, until the aubergine is soft, translucent, and falling apart. This is a clumsy romantic metaphor. You’re welcome.
Transfer the sauce to a blender, add the sundried toms if using, and blitz it until smooth-ish. Add some more stock if you need to, the consistency should be that of cheap ketchup, and set to one side.
Rinse your pan under the tap to get the worst of the sauce off, and then pop the spaghetti in and cover it with water. Add a generous pinch of salt and any remaining stock. Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer for 8-10 minutes until the pasta is al dente. Drain it and return it to the heat, stirring the sauce in, and the vinegar, and an extra tablespoon of oil, and crank it up high until it hisses and sizzles at you. Remove fast from the heat and serve. Top with a smattering of chilli and a kiss of basil, and serve.
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