Cooking in a crisis

We won’t be eating in restaurants and cafés anytime soon. We’ll be cooking at home with the the occasional take-away dinner. As we proceed through the various stages of lockdown, we’ll be limiting the number of supermarket visits, and looking to stock our pantries—for however long it takes us to get on top of this virus. I’ve been asking friends what they’re cooking, and comfort food is the overwhelming response. Pasta bakes seem particularly popular. Penne with sauce the first night then turn the extra pasta into a bake the next.

My mother was the queen of leftovers. A resourceful cook (and forager), used to rationing and scarcity, she lived through World War II and the frugal ways she learnt stayed with her all her life. She passed some of that economy on to me—don’t throw away parmesan rinds, chuck them into the stock pot with a bay leaf, withered carrots and other vegetables past their use-by-dates. I’ve been remembering Mum’s culinary tricks and tips as I make my way though my own comfort menu—soups, dahls, pilafs, ginger tea, stewed plums, fruit crumbles—and my adaptation of arroz doce, Portuguese rice pudding. For me this is the ultimate (sweet) comfort dish.

Cook about 2 cups of medium-grain or short-grain rice with a pinch of salt and a couple of curls of lemon rind. Since coronavirus-induced panic buying I haven’t been able to replenish my jar of medium-grain rice, so the last time I made this dish I used arborio rice. Which works OK. To a litre of full-cream milk add a cinnamon stick and a few curls of lemon rind and bring to a near boil. Remove from heat and allow the lemon and spice to steep. In a small bowl beat one large egg with 2 additional yolks. Return milk to heat bring to a boil then stir in the cooked rice. Add the grated zest of a lemon and a scant cup of caster sugar. Cook a further minute or two on a low heat, then remove the pan from the heat. Pour in the beaten egg mixture and mix thoroughly. Bring back to the boil just enough to cook the eggs, but without allowing further boiling—if that makes sense. Add powdered cinnamon to taste. Spoon the rice into a dish and refrigerate. Serve on its own or with fruit—fresh or stewed—of your choice. I like it with stewed plums.

Earlier this month there was an excellent and—for those of us dealing with soaring anxiety—very reassuring article in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Living by Jill Dupleix: The non-panicky guide to cooking your way through quarantine.