Comfort in a bowl

Two weeks in Spain. The end of summer, spent lounging around, enjoying the tomatoes, the last melons, the greengages, the Spanish mangoes, so good. Picking a ripe, bursting fig from a tree, still warm from the sun, then throwing it away (I really don't see the point of figs, so don't bother trying to convince me). Going to the market and coming back with bulging bags, almost sad from all the millions of things I didn't have time to buy. 
Beer and wine and friends and sunshine, and all those lovely things.

Coming back, we're in full autumnal spate, so this is the first thing I've cooked for lunch. It's a hearty one-pot meal, easy, full of good stuff, and all of it made from store cupboard ingredients, if you consider your freezer part of your store cupboard, which I hope you do. 
I use a pressure cooker because otherwise it takes forever, but if you want to use a normal pot just multiply the time by three at least, and stop when everything is cooked.

All you do is put a cup of dried chickpeas, half a cup of pearl barley, a peeled onion, a bay leaf and some salt in a pressure cooker. To this I add a piece of smoked pork rib, because that's easy to find here, but anything goes: chorizo, a piece of ham hock, or a bit of parmesan rind. You just want a bit of depth of flavor, nothing more.
Cover with water, add a splash of oil, and 40 minutes under pressure should be enough. When the chickpeas are cooked, check for salt, add a good handful of frozen spinach and a bit of butter and cook  until it's all heated through.
If you remember to soak the chickpeas the night before, it takes just 15 minutes, and the barley is just fine. Or you can use lentils, in which case 10 is enough. 

Serve with a bottle of hot sauce on the side, and olive oil, and maybe a quartered lemon.
J and I ate all this for lunch, with a small bowl left over for the kids. Who weren't too pleased, but that's their problem, not the soup's.


My favourite things

In no particular order:

Indispensable: The vegetable peeler. I must have at least a couple of these, because they cost nothing, get lost all the time, and because I let my daughter have a go at peeling potatoes and carrots.

A cheap, bamboo handled strainer from the Chinese supermarket. It´s used for frying, but I use it to fish out poached eggs, or to scoop boiled vegetables, or pasta, so I can use the water to boil something else, and something else again, and then use that as stock.

My Ikea box grater. Ten years on the job, and it can still scrape a knuckle.

The knife sharpener. Chaira, in Spanish, such an old, beautiful word. It makes me feel very cool just to use it, professional, even. There is no place in a home kitchen for ring moulds, squeeze bottles and foam syphons, but it makes sense to keep knives sharp and learn to use them well and quickly.

Kilner jars, jam jars, pickle jars; they store chickpeas, flour, rice, sugar, almonds...I make labels for some, and my pantry looks ever so pretty.

Tea towels. I have lots, and use them all the time. Why clutter the landfills with paper towels when you can use thick cotton cloth with pretty line patterns? Use a couple every day, toss them in the wash at the end, start over.

Anyting enamel. Here aesthetics trump practicality, because I don´t allow enamel in the dishwasher and so must wash them by hand. But I love it so. I have cups, bowls, a huge bread bin, plates and pie dishes, and lust after a spoon but can´t find one.

A whiteboard near the freezer, to keep an inventory of what´s inside the icy wastes. It was very useful until my daughter grew enough to reach the pen and now it´s full of doodles. 

Pouring tops for oil and wine bottles. Highly recommended. 

An old tin of Martinete tomatoes to have garlic and ginger on hand by the stove. And a small Chinese porcelain cup my mother gave me, antique, beautiful. I used it to drink tea, but it broke, so now, stuck together, it houses the salt.

A cheap plastic scraper for baking, so handy and so right. The stainless metal one with the handle is an affectation, but it is actually very useful  for scooping stuff from cutting board to pan.

My favourite wooden spoon, yew, golden and strong and with the perfect balance. I wish I´d bought a dozen when I got this one in Alambique. And a short one, that only gets used on sweets.

My four kitchen notebooks. Four, because the other three are filled with recipes I want to keep, notes on various dinners, labels I like, the odd magazine article or photo. It´s sometimes hard to remember where a particular recipe may be, so I have an address book with a partial index.

A step. Because this kitchen was designed by a madman, I need it to reach the upper parts of the cupboards. My daughter uses it to stand beside me when they cook (my son drags a chair).

Mechanical whisks. I have two, both vintage finds, both gorgeous, but nothing as beautiful as my porcelain rolling pin. Much love.

The apple cutter/corer. A one trick pony, yes, but the one trick means that my kids agree to eat "flower apples".

A wooden mortar and pestle. It´s just right for crushing a garlic clove to dress a salad, or a few almods. I'm not one of those who extol the virtues of hand made alioli, thankyouverymuch, but this is a very pretty mortar and the pestle has a hole from a fault in the wood.

The tin opener, "el explorador", a Spanish classic. Essential in this benighted country where most tins don't come with the easy pull off handle.

Six jelly moulds from John Lewis, with two lids, in pretty colours. These get a weekly outing at least, even though one of the lids is lost and unset jelly often spills in my horrible, tiny, overstuffed fridge.

This is just stuff I love, the things that always surprise me with their perfect selves. Of course I have tons of other things, pans, pots, baking trays, measuring cups, timers, thermometers, spatulas and paring knives that are always getting lost, pressure cookers and rice cooker and blender and Thermomix and digital scales. I would never advocate one of those spare, bowl/knife/board kitchens. But the ones I´d save from a fire are simple, low tech things that have been around for years.