I arrived from Australia to the UK with all my possessions in a backpack. I was planning to head off that summer, for six months or more, and explore the continent, a place I had longed to visit since childhood. Within weeks of arriving, I was faced with a reality check: if I wanted to make a life in London work long-term – as I was desperate to do – I was going to have to get a job instead. Travel had to wait.
As the years advanced, I gradually started to take the trips I had originally hoped to do in one fell swoop. I jetted off on Fridays, arriving at work bleary-eyed on Monday mornings after a whirlwind tour of galleries, churches, restaurants, bars, and cobbled streets. I travelled armed with long lists of ‘must sees’ and (as a lover of food), had my meals organised long in advance – booking restaurants on the recommendation of friends and travel/food writers I trusted.
I had a brilliant time on these early trips but, lately, I have started to crave a slower pace. I’m now most interested in hunting out local food markets, in whiling away afternoons reading in the sun, and in evenings spent cooking with my travel companions. I’d spent happy years booking dorm rooms in hostels, but started looking instead to rent homes I could make my own for a weekend, attracted by photos of kitchen appliances and sizeable dining tables.
It has made for some wonderful holidays. A few summers ago, a dozen friends and I rented an old farmhouse, miles from the nearest town in Normandy. We played table tennis, worked on our tans in the back garden, and cooked extravagant feasts: a huge rump of beef and a tower of profiteroles one night, a platter of artichokes to dip into hollandaise and a vast array of seafood thrown onto the barbeque the next.
A year ago, my dad and I caught up in Amsterdam, and took up residence on a houseboat. The kitchen was miniscule, devoid of any basic utensils – including a knife. We made it work: as the sun set over our deck, I rolled out pasta using a bottle of wine, and fashioned ravioli with a teaspoon.
Recently, my family and I met up in Italy, and stayed in an old monastery in Umbria. We took it in turns to cook for each other in the evenings; making asparagus risotto, caponata, and rich soups with the best of the local produce.
I’d spent happy years booking dorm rooms in hostels, but started looking instead to rent homes I could make my own for a weekend, attracted by photos of kitchen appliances and sizeable dining tables
Back home in London, cooking with and for people I love is my favourite pastime. It’s no different when I’m on holiday. I still hunt out local restaurants, eager to try regional specialties. I relish the chance to sit in a roomful of people speaking a language I don’t understand, with an unfamiliar menu in front of me. But the luxury of having my own kitchen means I can save a bit of cash (cooking for yourself, if you keep it simple, is always going to be cheaper), and enjoy the market produce I’d normally only get to admire from a distance.
The key to cooking when on holiday is to keep the ingredient list small, or you’ll end up with a cupboard and fridge full of barely-used packets and bottles at the end of the trip. Try to focus on key ingredients – something in season, or a local specialty. Take time you’d not normally have to make something a bit more involved; if you like spending time in the kitchen, embrace it. And, if you’re not restricted by cabin baggage, do take your own knife.
Clams and white wine (Serves 1)
In a Spanish supermarket, I came across a little bag of clams at the fish counter, for a fraction of what I’d pay for them in London. With little more than a glass from the bottle of wine I had in the fridge, they were a perfect lunch to eat by the pool.
- 500g clams
- 1 banana shallot
- 1 small red chilli
- 1tbsp oil or butter
- 125ml dry white wine
- Some chopped flat leaf parsley
- Clean the clams by soaking them in cool, fresh water for twenty minutes. Discard any that have cracked shells.
- Finely dice the shallot and chilli. Fry the shallot in the butter (or oil, if there’s some in the kitchen cupboard) for a couple of minutes. Add the chilli.
- Add the wine, and wait for it to simmer. Tip in the clams and place a lid on the pan (a sheet of foil or a plate will work here too). Leave for three minutes.
- Take a peek – the clams should have opened. Leave a minute more if they haven’t. After this time, discard any that haven’t opened.
- Serve in their cooking liquor, sprinkled with parsley, and with lemon and bread, if you fancy.
Artichokes and hollandaise (serves 4)
Artichokes are one of my favourite vegetables. There’s nothing nicer than a huge tray of them, alongside a bowl of rich hollandaise to dip their leaves into.
- 1 large artichoke per person
- Hollandaise for four
- 3 egg yolks
- 1tbsp lemon juice (and 1tbsp water)
- Up to 225g butter, cut into cubes
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Trim the stems of the artichokes, and pull off any very tough outer leaves. Boil in the biggest pan you have until an outer leaf pulls away easily (about 40 minutes for large ones).
- To make the hollandaise, whisk the egg yolks until sticky. Add the lemon and water. Whisk again. Place over a low heat – a bain marie is ideal here, if you can fashion one from a pan of boiling water and a heatproof bowl, but a saucepan on a low heat is fine if not*. As you whisk, have a friend drop in a little cube of butter. Once it is incorporated, they can add another. This is lovely work to do with company – chatting away while the sauce emulsifies.
- Keep adding the butter; the eggs will become frothy and then more voluminous, and finally thick and smooth.
- Season the hollandaise with salt and pepper, and taste to see if it needs more lemon. Serve immediately, with the artichokes.
- *Make sure you focus on the edges of the pan, where the egg often overcooks. Move the pan off the heat for a bit now and then, to ensure it doesn’t get too hot.
Handmade ricotta ravioli (serves 2)
Homemade pasta may sound like a fussy thing to make while on holiday, but although it takes time, it’s not tricky. Without a pasta machine, you can improvise with a rolling pin and knife or (as I did) wine bottle and teaspoon.
- 200g pasta flour, or plain flour
- 2 eggs (or 4 egg yolks for very rich, yellow pasta)
- 125g ricotta
- Juice of a lemon (and zest too, if you can find a way to zest it)
- Plenty of black pepper and salt
- 50g butter
- 20 sage leaves
- Pour the flour onto your work surface, and make a well in the middle of it. Crack in the eggs and, with your fingers, mix the eggs together, then gradually incorporate the flour.
- Once the pasta dough has come together, knead it for ten minutes, until smooth and elastic. You may need to add a tiny bit of water, depending on the size of your eggs, if the dough is unmanageably dry.
- Rest the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes, wrapped in cling film or a clean tea towel. In the meantime, season the ricotta with lemon juice, black pepper and salt. Taste and set aside.
- Cut the pasta dough into four pieces, storing the bulk of the dough in the fridge while you work with each piece, to prevent it drying out. Flour your work surface well. Roll the pasta out into a rectangle, as thinly as your rolling implement will allow. Slice into two strips, about 8cm wide, and as long as possible.
- Dot teaspoons of the ricotta onto one of the strips, every 8cm (starting 4cm in from the edge). Wet your finger with water and run it across the top and bottom of the pasta, and between each dot of cheese. Place the other sheet over the top. Push down around the ricotta, trying to ensure no air is trapped inside. Slice the sheet between the cheese blobs, into individual raviolo.
- Fill your largest pot with salted water and bring to the boil. Cook the pasta for 4-5 minutes, testing one piece to ensure it is done. Drain. In another pan, melt the butter until it starts to foam. Add the sage leaves. Continue to cook until the butter has brown specks, and smells nutty. Add the ravioli, toss them in the sauce, and serve.
Find Kate’s blog The Little Library Cafe here.