Our hacks insist on drawing parallels between our current plight and the Second World War.
Some point out biliously that coronavirus managed to do what the Luftwaffe couldn’t: shut the country down. During the war, London shops and restaurants didn’t have much to offer, but at least they stayed open.
Anyway, all such comparisons with the war inevitably veer towards food, specifically shortages thereof. That comparison isn’t particularly valid.
For, compared to the wartime shortages (one egg every other week etc.), we are enjoying a veritable cornucopia. That, however, doesn’t mean that our diets and ways we procure food haven’t changed.
They have, and we’ve all had to adapt. Thus supermarkets have stopped being the mainstay of food shopping for many, certainly for me.
However, here in London we’re blessed with many small groceries and ethnic delis, making life easier, if slightly more expensive. Also, my freezer that normally contains nothing but a bottle of vodka and some ice cubes is now bursting at the seams.
When the epidemic was just starting, I displayed a completely uncharacteristic foresight. First, I bought several large fillets of salmon and turned them into gravlax.
All one needs is some white alcohol (vodka, gin or white rum), capers, Maldon salt, sugar and fresh dill. Just rub the fillet with booze, stud it with capers, pat in a two-to-one mixture of salt and sugar, put some freshly ground pepper on and some chopped dill.
Then into the fridge overnight, after which the cured fish can comfortably live in the freezer for a fortnight or even longer. One fillet feeds two or at a stretch even three, especially if accompanied by sweet potato wedges roasted with olive oil and smoked paprika.
The next step towards filling the freezer is ragú sauce, which really is Bolognese – unlike the red muck supermarkets sell and some unscrupulous restaurants serve.
You just brown a fifty-fifty mixture of beef and pork mince in good olive oil, then bung in chopped onions, carrots, celery, garlic and chilli pepper, cook for a while longer, add any herbs you like (a mixture of rosemary, oregano, basil and bay is good), then drown the lot in good tinned tomatoes, an equal volume of water and a lug of red wine.
Simmer the sauce for a couple of hours, let it cool, then freeze in individual bags. If you start with 500g each of beef and pork, you’ll end up with six meals for two. The Bolognese usually put it on tagliatelle, but what do they know? Penne works much better because those little tubes get filled with the sauce when you mix the pasta.
All you need is some Parmesan on top, a salad on the side, a bottle of something red and Roberto è tuo zio, as Italians would say if they tried to translate ‘Bob’s your uncle’.
That’s it, freezer full, and that Absolut bottle is feeling distinctly crowded. However, the rest of the fridge could now step in to help out.
Here you need a large chicken, those vegetables you have left after making the ragú, and some of the same herbs. You use those ingredients to make about two litres of stock. The boiled chicken, minus skin and bones, can then be turned into a chicken salad. All you’ll need is some red onion, mixed olives, capers, some pickles (those in brine work best), balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
But the stock can make a single-dish meal for six – or, in my household, three meals for two. You must still have some onions, carrots and celery left, so soften them up in a little olive oil. Then add a good hunk of pancetta, some 150g, sliced across the piece.
I’ve tried to skimp on the pancetta and make it with our smoked bacon, but that’s like replacing the beef in ragú with lentils – can, but shouldn’t, be done. In France, I’d use poitrine fumée, but I can’t get to France during the lockdown, can I?
Oh yes, here comes the vegetable that gives the dish its name: cabbage soup. You shred a whole head roughly, add it to the pot, then in with your stock. Bring it to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. That’s it.
Once you’ve done your shopping in one go, you don’t have to break the social distancing diktat for some 16 days if you don’t want to. And if you’re as lazy as I am (and as quick), it’s about an hour’s cooking for the lot, not counting the time on the stove.
You can use those couple of hours to do a spot of domestic violence, which, according to our powers that be, is rife in our isolated environment. What better thing to do than beat your wife if you’re stuck with her all day long and the cops are too busy chasing sunbathers?
Now that sunbathing came up, I’d like to share with you a discovery I’ve made experimentally in physics, a discipline for which I’ve hitherto displayed no aptitude whatsoever.
When the weather stayed cold, whisky evaporated much faster than gin. Now the weather has turned summery, it’s the other way around. One of those mysteries of life, I suppose.