I can't cook. Not the way certain friends can where they will find a random tin of corned beef lodged in seam of a cupboard, a rotten cauliflower in the cooler drawer and scrape roadkill from their right tyre 1/2 hour ago and...then it's suddenly a Michelin-starred lasagne with MasterChef headhunters on the phone. When I cook, I over-think everything and suddenly my neurosis has outwardly manifest and the dish looks utterly distraught.
It runs in the family. My dad turns to digestive biscuits should an emergency arise (i.e. mum's away). And mum isn't really interested in cooking - she has her go-to's: apple crumble, steak and kidney pie, lamb chops and is also germ obsessed so she has been crucifying salmon fillets ... just to be on the safe side. Outside of the kitchen she becomes Jay Rayner when we visit a café. And it's always the same; the people who you'll least likely find in the kitchen will be the ones tauting their opinion and shaking their fist at the most innocent blancmange ("I prefer it crispier").
So, as Triassic as it sounds, I didn't try pasta until I was 23. The smell of it boiling traumatically reminded me of school semolina - named dessert because there was a sad puddle of strawberry jam dormant beneath the grey sludge. When I took a gap year in 2004 I decided it was a great idea to avoid sugar, dairy and wheat because travelling doesn't present enough challenges. At this point, I still couldn't cook so after lifting my fork to tickle the 500th leafy salad one night, I was overcome by the smell of molten mozzarella. Someone was melting cheese on their pasta. It was heavenly. But, I soon repented with gravy-esque carob hot chocolates and spirulina shots, and all went on as dreadfully as before.
Since then, times have become much more rosy and finding myself travelling again, I need a lunch that isn't going to take me into the future. For, as much as I can't cook, I could spend light years chopping vegetables into infinitesimal pieces and before you know it, I can't explain where the time went because there is only forensic evidence of what I've actually been doing.
Sharing with 2 guys now, one whose eyes don't flicker as he tells me his daily dozen-espresso habit and the other who only eats whenever the fridge door opens, I feel like a complete freak sitting down to 3 meals a day. So when I need to be in the kitchen, I also have to be out pronto. Breakfast is sorted (fruit salad, bread and peanut butter that I'm using as a butter substitute: stay tuned for raw apple crumble with peanut butter top) so lunch also had to be quick. Pasta!
Fresh tomatoes, chopped...courgettes finely sliced, torn basil leaves, super-fine garlic and lemon peel, some glugs of olive oil, salt and fresh black pepper...prepared as the pasta boils. As I curl up to a bowl after a record 20 minutes, including dishes washed and returned the thought crosses my mind that I can cook. And that I'm slightly mad.
Mmm. This is why people like pasta.