For the past (almost) two weeks, I’ve been doing something that I have not done on a regular basis in a few years: I’ve been cooking for one. While my wife has been away training on the east coast, I have been home, going through the bachelorette phases of food consumption: binge on pizza; binge on cookies; go out to dinner with friends; and finally, more recently, head to the farmer’s market, buy whatever looks pretty, and cook it.
Nigella Lawson wrote a lovely meditation on the pleasures of cooking for oneself, originally printed in How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food. In the piece, reprinted as an essay in A Slice of Life: Contemporary Writers on Food, Nigella joins us in a discussion of bachelorette eating – bowls of cereal, a baguette and a good piece of cheese, pizza delivery – but she also touches on the benefits of puttering around the kitchen, of being creative and cooking for yourself. But one particular aspect of her observation resonates with me: cooking is a way of finding confidence.
Real cooking, if it is to have any authenticity, any integrity, has to be part of how you are, a function of your personality, your temperament. There’s too much culinary ventriloquism about as it is; cooking for yourself is a way of countering that. It’s how you’re going to find your own voice.
I spent the month of August cooking without the help of the Internet, and I can attest to the fact that cooking without a chef in your ear or a website open on your computer does force you to cook more organically. I don’t mean organic food. I mean as your organic self. And cooking for yourself, rather than for your family, or even for just you and your spouse, opens you up to inventiveness, to instinct and hunger. You can open the fridge, without any regard for anyone else, and eat based on your whims. Blue cheese omelet for dinner? Okay. Experimentation with lentils, quinoa, and vegetables? Giddy-up. The question of what you want in that moment, what will satisfy your particular hunger – physical, emotional, spiritual – is a question only you can answer, and opening yourself up to cook it for yourself, to attain that cure for your hunger, is empowering, and powerful.
It took me a few days, but once I worked my way around to cooking for myself, I had fun. I looked up recipes, I thought about what I really wanted, and I cooked with ease. Nigella also accounts for that phenomenon:
And the sort of food you cook for yourself will be different from the food you might lay on for tablefuls of people: it will be better. I don’t say that for effect. You’ll feel less nervous about cooking it and that translates to the food itself. It’ll be simpler, more straightforward, the sort of food you want to eat.
When I went to the farmer’s market this weekend, I found a pint of beautiful, autumn-colored cherry tomatoes. I know I will miss the heirloom tomatoes, and it’s almost the time for them to disappear from the market. With that knowledge, I want to enjoy them as much as possible before they’re gone.
I also knew I wanted some food that was warm and comforting. The weather is just starting to change, and fall is coming, which is possibly my favorite season. I wanted the kind of warm, rich food that makes me feel like I’m curling up in my dinner like it was a warm blanket on a cold night.
I adapted the recipe here to serve one, and half a pint of tomatoes worked perfectly for the portion size.
Bruschetta for One
Adapted only slightly from Bon Appetit
Half a pint of cherry tomatoes, washed, stemmed, and halved
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Grind or two of fresh black pepper
4 slices baguette
Olive oil for brushing
Pecorino cheese for grating (Parmesan, Asiago, Romano could work too)
2. In a bowl, carefully toss the tomato halves with the oil, honey, thyme, salt, and pepper. Transfer to the lined cookie sheet, and turn all the tomatoes so they face cut-side up.
3. Bake for 1-1 1/2 hours, until the tomatoes are browned on the edges and beginning to pucker.
4. Toast baguette slices and then brush with olive oil. Dust with a light grating of cheese, and then spoon bruschetta (tomato mixture) onto the bread slices, pressing down a bit, if you like, to release the juices into the bread slices. Add another dusting of cheese, if you are so inclined.
The bruschetta is great warm over bread (which you could also spread with ricotta cheese) and also over a grilled chicken breast.
And while I’m happy I got to dabble in cooking for one again, I also know that cooking for one is not my natural state. For me, food is, as Nigella says, “about sharing, about connectedness.” When I cooked that bruschetta, I described it to Amanda, wishing I could just spoon some onto her plate and share in it with her. I will when she comes home, which will be soon.