11th October 2016
Photograph: Natasha Runciman
Ten years ago, my sister spent a year working in Rome and in the spring, I took my oldest son, then seven, to visit her. We didn’t eat a bad meal the whole week, but the one that stands out was at a restaurant in the Jewish district where we ate deep-fried artichokes. They were so golden, so crisp, like platefuls of joy. My son, who is the adventurous eater in our family, tasted his first dish of pasta and clams, but mostly I just remember sitting there with my sister, sharing wine and bread and artichokes. As teenagers, my sister and I both ate in disordered ways and mealtimes were not always fun occasions. There was something magical and healing about being in the crisp cold air of Rome and sharing this fatty golden food together.
Almost all of my cookbooks are food-spattered (I am a messy cook). The real test of affection for me is a cookbook that is not only besmeared in various ingredients but has lost its cover and spine through over-use. The most abused – and therefore loved – book in my kitchen is How to Eat by Nigella Lawson.
Fish cooked in honey.
Almost all of my cookbooks are food-spattered. The real test of affection for me is a cookbook that is not only besmeared in various ingredients but has lost its cover and spine through over-use
I’m lucky. My perfect breakfast is the one I eat almost every day. Coffee, always coffee (made in an Aeropress, black). Two slices of sourdough toast. Unsalted butter, which must not melt away. On the final half-slice, I might have some marmalade. A coffee cup full of whole-milk yoghurt sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and a piece of fruit (ideally a blood orange).
All the scenes in The Lunchbox, especially the one where he chops vegetables on the train.
Honey & Co on Warren Street in London, which is as good as everyone says. Every meal I’ve eaten there was joyous, from the glorious meze to the famous cheesecake with kadaif pastry. Despite the fact that it’s a tiny room, they make you feel so welcome, as if you are eating in someone’s house. I sometimes have fantasies of winning a lot of money and retiring and in the fantasy, I spend every day eating lunch with friends at Honey and Co1.
This is far from new, but I love cooking to a couple of Lester Young jazz albums that I have. They put me in a good mood, which is very necessary when I’m attempting to make supper in 20 minutes before getting one of the children to some after school activity or other. I especially love Billie Holiday singing A Sailboat in the Moonlight from 1937.
Butter. I sometimes used to mash so much into my baked potato that it was more butter than potato. I still love butter; but now in slightly smaller amounts.
It’s tempting to say “wooden spoon” because few objects are quite so lovable or useful. But I’m also extremely fond of my waffle maker, because I’ve found that there is no simpler way to make a grumpy child smile than to announce waffles for breakfast. And I am a late convert to the pressure cooker, for anything from quick stews to even quicker soup (I would happily eat soup for almost every meal because no food is such a perfect combination of health and pleasure).
When I was researching First Bite, I found that, according to science, our likes and dislikes are largely a product of exposure, so it ought to be possible to overcome most of our aversions. The theory is that if we are exposed to any food often enough, in a positive way (preferably in minuscule tastes, the size of a pea), we will probably come to love it. Then again, if you tried “exposing” me to the stringy whites of a runny soft boiled egg, even in small amounts, I wouldn’t be very brave.
The Gannet Q&A: Yemisi Aribisala – The Nigerian food writer on an unforgettable slice of New York pizza, roasting her own coffee for breakfast, and her biggest food hero
The Gannet Q&A: Adrian Miller – The award-winning soul food scholar on a recipe that reminds him of his mother, a legendary New Orleans restaurant and his most treasured kitchen object
The Gannet Q&A: Diana Henry – The food writer recalls her favourite ever breakfast, sets out her vision for the perfect restaurant and queries people who say they love offal
The Gannet Q&A: Ed Smith – The food writer on his most dog-eared cookbook, an unforgettable meal he ate on 2 April 2011, and the things that annoy him most about restaurants