Aglio, olio, peperoncino. Tossed with some spaghetti and it’s a full meal for the five friends who end up at your place after a night of hearing the legendary jazz pianist Chucho Valdés perform at the Villa Celimontana. There isn’t much in your fridge or pantry, but you are all hungry, and you do have that holy trinity of garlic, olive oil and red pepper chilli flakes in your pantry. Add a bottle or two of Morellino to the late-dinner mix, even if it may be a bit too tannic for a spicy pasta dish, but it is all you have in the house that night and besides, everyone loves a good bottle from the Maremma. To cleanse the palette after the pasta course, there is a packet of rughetta; arugula- in the fridge, and some tomatoes you bought from the Testaccio market that very morning- tiny, china-red orbs, which your friend slices and tosses with the peppery leaves, adding a drop or two of musky, tart, sweet balsamic vinegar and splashes of fruity, grassy olive oil, from your favourite casale in Umbria.
For dessert, there may be a bar of Green and Black’s Maya Gold dark chocolate in your purse which you brought back from London a few weeks ago.
No ‘posh nosh’, but no one notices, because you’re all there for the chatter as Mulatu Astatke plays in the background off of your ipod.
Zarreen’s khagina is the Pakistani equivalent of the spaghetti aglio olio peperoncino- it’s that meal of spicy scrambled eggs you make for your close friends after you’ve been walking around all day together. You are in London, it is end of term and you have the freedom to be tourists in your own city. You walk towards the Edgware Road to stop at Maroush and have a shish taouk slathered with toum; that lovely Lebanese garlic aïoli- cocooned in a soft, warm pita for lunch. Then you walk up towards St. John’s Wood, making your way into Regent’s Park, where you enjoy a creamy ‘99’, impaled with Cadbury’s Flake. After a stop at Top Shop at Oxford Circus, you buy that teal blouse, the one which looks a little bit skanky, and by the time you get to Zarreen’s uni residences near Russell Square, you already have buyer’s remorse.
You all sit there with cups of dense, milky cardamom tea and Zarreen begins to prepare dinner. The kind of dinner you prepare when you don’t have much in the fridge or pantry except for some eggs, bread, potatoes and spices. Zarreen starts to mince the onions and chop the potatoes into small, perfectly rectangular pieces. Then she cracks open the eggs, one by one, adding them to the bowl. A flicker of salt, a few more flickers of chilli pepper for us chilli-heads, and she whisks it all together. The potatoes and onions sizzle as they go into the pan, and after a few minutes, the fragrance of caramelising onions begins to hit us. Zarreen pours the eggs into the pan and lowers the heat. The eggs start to look like a soft and creamy custard. She swiftly ladles scoops of the scrambled egg into our plates, which we mop up with toasted slices of bread, smothered with salty butter. We listen to Omara Portuondo’s ‘Veinte Años‘ and wonder if there will be any chocolate HobNobs for dessert.
Sometimes no truffle, foie gras or rare steak can take the place of a meal your closest friend prepares for you, even if it is made in the humble spaghetti aglio olio peperoncino manner…
You will need a 25cm / 10inch stainless steel frying pan. I would recommend you don’t use a non-stick frying pan as the onions and potatoes will not caramelise as nicely as they do in a stainless steel pan. For instructions on how to make scrambled eggs without a non-stick frying pan see this link.
*½ small onion, minced
*2 medium-sized red potatoes (approximately 120g / each), peeled and diced into ½ cm (approximately ¼ inch)
*1 tbsp unsalted butter
*½ tsp salt
*½ tsp red chilli pepper
*pinch turmeric *optional
*chives or herb of your choice for adornment
*slices of crusty bread, rubbed with olive oil and grilled
*Break the eggs into a bowl, add salt and chilli pepper and whisk lightly together, just enough so that the yolks combine with the whites.
*Heat a stainless steel frying pan for a minute or so on medium-heat, then add olive oil and butter, allowing it to melt.
*Immediately add onions and potatoes and sauté for 7-10 minutes till they are caramelised and look bronze.
*Pour in the egg mixture and let it sit, without stirring, for 20 seconds. Stir till the eggs are at the point of setting and resemble a soft custard. Make sure to keep scraping the bottom and sides of the pan.
*Serve atop crusty bread (bruschetta) immediately; while warm and creamy.
*Adorn with chives or herb of your choice.