Gwyneth Paltrow shares five favourite recipes which can be made in the time it would take to order a less healthy takeaway.
What does “easy” mean in the context of being in the kitchen and preparing food? How does one do it – create ease among the pots, appliances, fresh food, and pantry items – when we so often arrive in that particular heart of the house brimming with worries about time and preparedness, execution and outcomes. “Easy”implies a lack of complications or obstacles. The kitchen seems laden with both. Here, Gwyneth Paltrow shares the philosophy behind her latest book, It's All Easy.
Why did you write this book? When I sat down to start this book, I had been polling my friends and colleagues on what sort of cookbook they were looking for. These friends all seemed to have a common culinary yearning: they wanted a collection of recipes that they could prepare easily. They wanted to find themselves in the kitchen at the end of the overextended day and be able to prepare something delicious and quick.
Their lives are packed with responsibility and work and children. And yet, they were not willing to give up on the moment – the small and beautiful moment of preparing food with some care, by one's own hand, and sitting down to eat it with the people they love. Essentially, they yearned for the moment that is the antidote to all their busyness. A simple reset of the compass toward wholeness and quality at the end of the day, before the next morning comes, bringing with it the dizziness of being pulled in so many directions, a splitting of priorities.
How do we balance all the busyness with the simpler aspects of life? How to integrate “busy” (anxiety, fullness of schedule, responsibility) with quality of inner life seems to be the issue on the table (so to speak). It's almost as if the more we pile on our plates, the deeper we long for the simpler aspects of life, which makes perfect sense. But how can we achieve this balance?
Everywhere I go, everyone seems to be inundated with obligation. Everyone is under an intense amount of pressure to do multiple things simultaneously, and to be doing them to an impossibly high standard. It seems to be a facet of life for our generation: hyper-responsibility. I'm not quite sure why we have done this to ourselves or how/why this drive was imparted to us, but we seem to be living lives where our self-imposed standards leave little time for daydreams and meanderings. We yearn for that lost aspect of life, before smartphones hijacked picnics and walks on the beach. Before media, in all its new forms, made you so aware of what everyone else was doing that the magic of solitude gave rise to FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).
What role can food play? My friends said that they want to make good food quickly and easily, but what are they really saying? What is the feeling they are seeking? A road map, perhaps, for a way back to something. That warm wash of simplicity. It takes effort to carve out those moments, and increasingly we need a framework from which we can hang them. Good food at a table can provide that framework.
The food doesn't need to be complicated to be good. You don't need to work for days to create that feeling of wholeness. There has been many a night when I have stood in front of the open pantry, totally at a loss for what to throw together, and settled on pasta with butter and cheese or a can of organic tomato soup and a grilled cheese, or frozen Amy's pizza bites. Meaning, I've done the best I can on that particular day, and gone really easy on myself … with a large glass of wine on the side and no guilt.
Who is your book for? This book is meant to be a road map: a self-help book for the chronically busy cook. With the extraordinary support of my cohort, Thea Baumann, It's All Easy aims to make your time in the kitchen just that. Although the food in my book tends to be on the healthier side, with gluten-free and dairy-free options, we have also included recipes with more standard ingredients like cheese and regular flour because, well, it's just easier.
Finally, what's the story with the title? My friend Crystal Lourd ends her emails with a phrase I love. When we are trying to decide who is bringing what to the fourth-grade-class faculty appreciation potluck, trying to coordinate a last-minute playdate for our boys, or aiming to sneak in a glass of wine and a chat, she signs off with “Keep easy.” It's a phrase that instantly gives comfort and takes the pressure off. That's the idea here: Approach the kitchen with an air of easiness. Because even if life isn't all easy – far from it – sitting down and enjoying a good meal with people you really like can be. It should be.
Tikka masala roast chicken
For this fun twist on a classic, the yoghurt helps keep the chicken moist, and the natural sugar in the tomato paste creates a beautifully burnished, crispy skin.
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
¼ cup whole milk yoghurt
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon tandoori spice
1½ teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 whole chicken, butterflied
Preheat the oven to 200°C. In a medium bowl, whisk together the garlic, ginger, tomato paste, yoghurt, garam masala, tandoori spice, salt, and olive oil. Rub the marinade all over the chicken, making sure to get as much as possible underneath the skin.
Place the chicken on a wire rack positioned over an aluminium foil-lined baking sheet (or in a roasting pan or baking dish) and roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Check after 40 minutes, and if the chicken is browning too much, cover with foil.
Let rest for at least 10 minutes before carving.
Carbonara is the perfect lazy dinner – it's cosy, comforting, and shockingly easy to make. Not to mention the fact that everyone almost always has the ingredients on hand.
125g pancetta or bacon, cut into small dice
2 egg yolks (or 3, to make it extra creamy)
1 large egg
1½ cups finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat for the pasta.
In an 8-inch saute pan, cook the pancetta over medium heat until crispy, 5 to 7 minutes.
Combine the egg yolks, egg, Parmesan, and pepper in a large bowl.
Cook the pasta according to the package instructions until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the hot pasta cooking water (the temperature is important because you are going to use it to cook the egg) and set aside. Next, drain the pasta, and add it to the bowl with the cheese and eggs, tossing immediately to mix everything together.
Add the pancetta and any rendered fat from the pan to the bowl, toss to coat, and add the pasta water 1 tablespoon at a time until the sauce reaches a creamy consistency (this usually takes about ¼ cup).
Adjust with extra cheese, pepper, and salt to taste.
Ginger carrot soup
I've had a million iterations of this soup, but our version, naturally sweet from slowly sauteed onion and bright with lots of fresh ginger, is particularly good (and easy!).
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 large onion, halved and sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon garam masala
450g carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
freshly ground black pepper
Heat the coconut oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, cover the pot, and saute over low heat for about 20 minutes, until the onion is very soft and sweet.
Add the garlic and ginger, saute for 1 minute, then add the cumin, coriander, and garam masala. Saute for another minute, then add the carrots, stock, and another big pinch of salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer gently for about 20 minutes, or until the carrots are very tender.
Carefully transfer the soup in batches to a high-speed blender, or blend the soup directly in the pot with an immersion blender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Seared scallops with watercress and asparagus
We know scallops intimidate a lot of cooks, but they're actually one of the easiest and quickest types of seafood to prepare. The most important things to remember are to get the frypan nice and hot, to make sure the scallops are dry so they sear rather than steam, and to not touch them until they've developed a nice crust on one side and are almost cooked through.
16 diver scallops
salt and freshly ground black pepper
juice of 1 small lemon
a splash of champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon finely diced shallot
4 tablespoons olive oil
12 asparagus spears, tough ends removed
1 bunch watercress, cleaned and dried
1 large handful of sugar snap peas, but into ½-inch slices
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
coarse sea salt
lemon wedges, for serving
Remove the scallops from the fridge, use a paper towel to dry them very well, and season generously with salt and pepper. Mix the lemon juice, vinegar, shallot, and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in the bottom of a large bowl. Use a peeler to shave 4 of the asparagus spears and add them to the bowl along with the watercress. Cut the remaining 8 asparagus spears into ½-inch pieces and set aside.
Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the snap peas, and the asparagus pieces, season with salt and pepper, and saute for 1 to 2 minutes, or until just barely cooked. Add to the bowl with the watercress and shaved asparagus.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to the saute pan, then add the scallops, leaving them to sear on one side, undisturbed, until very crispy and almost cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip the scallops, then reduce the heat to low and add the butter. The butter will immediately sizzle and start to turn brown. Turn off the heat (the residual heat will finish cooking the scallops).
Toss the watercress-asparagus salad to combine well. Divide the salad among four plates (or arrange it on one plater), arrange the cooked scallops on top of the salad, and pour the brown butter over. Garnish with a little coarse sea salt and serve with lemon wedged on the side, if desired.
Singapore rice noodles
These pan-fried noodles are gluten-free, full of veggies, and kid-approved (my kids inhale this). Add chicken, prawns or beef for a little extra protein.
Vegetarian, gluten-free, under 30 minutes
100g thin rice noodles
4 tablespoons peanut oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil,
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
½ cup finely chopped broccoli
½ cup chopped green beans
½ cup fresh or frozen peas
200g firm tofu, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 teaspoon madras curry powder, or more to taste
1 large egg
¼ cup tamari
2 shallots, thinly sliced
¼ cup chopped fresh coriander
salt, if desired
Soak the rice noodles in hot water for 10 minutes or according to the package instructions. Meanwhile, heat wok or large non-stick saute pan over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon each of the peanut and sesame oils. When the oils are hot but not smoking, add the onion and cook, untouched, for 1 minute to sear. Reduce the heat to medium and saute, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes more. Transfer the onion to a bowl.
Add the broccoli, green beans, peas, tofu, and another tablespoon of peanut oil to the pan. Saute over high heat until the veggies are just cooked through and the tofu is beginning to brown (about 2 minutes); transfer the veggies and tofu to the bowl with the onion.
Add 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil, the remaining 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, the soaked and drained noodles, curry powder, and 2 tablespoons water to the pan and stir to combine. Make a hole in the middle of the noodles, add the remaining 1 tablespoon peanut oil, and crack in the egg. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon and let scramble until almost cooked through, then mix in with the noodles.
Add the tamari, shallots, and coriander, and stir everything to combine. Taste for seasoning, add salt if necessary, and serve.
Extract from It's All Easy by Gwyneth Paltrow (Hachette Australia), available from good bookshops nationwide in hardback at $45.00 and ebook at $19.99.
Photo credits: © Ditte Isager