It looked like I'd lost a few kilos, a fellow said to me this week, and for a forlorn second or two I hoped he wasn't being sarcastic. There are, though, good reasons for the few kilos and I'm going to share some of them with you today.
You see, my wife has been cooking like a woman possessed since the very first day of isolation. She's so busy cooking that she rarely leaves the house, and when she does it's just a few metres from the back door to pick a lemon.
That lemon appears here in the first of a few of our favourite recipes, a pasta sauce by a New York Times cookery writer, Alison Roman, who, you will notice if you watch her on Instagram, enjoys a tipple while cooking. Wine and cooking go well together, and lemon and pasta go better together than I'd have imagined.
Here's how my wife cooks Alison Roman's pasta with zucchini, feta and fried lemon. Fry half a cup of walnut pieces in a big slurp of oil for a few minutes then remove the walnuts and chop.
Slice an unpeeled lemon thinly, quartering the slices, add with a chopped onion to the hot oil and after frying for at least five minutes add two tablespoons of capers.
Add to the pan 600g or thereabouts of thinly sliced zucchini and after 10 or 15 minutes transfer the lot to a bowl, mix in your hot, cooked pasta (my wife prefers spaghetti for this dish), the walnut pieces and almost a cup of crumbled or cubed feta. Drizzle with olive oil, a big handful of fresh herbs and voila!
My wife adds chilli during the cook, and she's planning to try this dish with cauliflower florets replacing the zucchini and adding four or five chopped anchovy fillets with the capers.
Another pasta fave is a baked dish that captures the synergy of blue cheese and cauliflower magnificently. My wife uses any tubed pasta, and her scrappy copy of the recipe carries the name of a Liz Condon. Thank you, Liz, and this is how my wife cooks it.
Stir two chopped cloves of garlic into 600ml of hot but not boiling thickened cream for a couple of minutes, and after removing the cream from the stove stir in 50g each of crumbled Gorgonzola and grated Parmesan.
Cook the tubed pasta and for the last five minutes of cooking add 500g or so of the small florets and chopped soft stem of a cauliflower.
Drain and put the pasta and cauliflower in a baking dish, pour over the cream mixture and sprinkle another 50g each of crumbled Gorgonzola and grated Parmesan. Bake in a medium to hot oven for 15 minutes.
Do you remember when you first encountered Parmesan cheese? I was shocked as a teenager that anyone would want to eat anything that smelt the way it did. Years later my brother-in-law captured the problem nicely when he referred to it as spew cheese. I don't know what has changed, me or the cheese.
Now to a longtime favourite in the Corbett household, Chinese dumplings, a bit fiddly but well worth it if my wife does the fiddling. Sometimes we'll get an assembly line happening.
You need round gow gee dumpling wrappers, not wonton wrappers, which can be found these days in most supermarkets, and usually there are 30 wrappers in a packet.
Mix half a finely chopped wombok, aka Chinese cabbage, into half a kilo of pork mince, adding two or three chopped cloves of garlic and a grated 4cm chunk of ginger.
I quite like to put chopped garlic chives into the meat mix but my wife does not, so we don't.
Run a finger dipped in a mix of cornflour and water around the edge of a wrapper to help seal, put a teaspoon of pork mix in the middle, seal so that the wrapper is in a crescent shape then stand it on its base with the folded edge facing up on a metal tray.
Now, the cooking bit. She uses an electric frypan, set to a heat of eight on the scale of 10, but says you can use a stove-top frypan that has a lid on medium high.
Put the dumplings base down in the frypan, add vegetable oil to a depth of two millimetres and fry without a lid until the base of the dumplings are well browned.
Then, carefully and using the frypan lid as a shield against spitting oil, add half to three-quarters of a cup of boiling water. Three-quarters of a cup of water for about 20 dumplings, less water for fewer dumplings. Continue to cook, this time with the lid on, and when the water has gone the dumplings are cooked.
Pile a few into a bowl, pierce each dumpling with a chopstick then drizzle with soy sauce or Lee Kum Kee's Chiu Chow Chilli Oil or both, and off you go. I've seen these referred to as China's sausage roll, but sausage rolls were never this good.
My signature Chinese smashed cucumber goes great with dumplings. Crush a couple of Lebanese cuies with the flat of a big knife, cut them into bite-size chunks and toss in a bowl with soy sauce, Chinkiang vinegar or any black or brown vinegar, crushed garlic, grated ginger, chopped chilli and sesame oil.
Finally, something that is much, much more than the sum of its parts, which are spinach, feta and pancake mix, a recipe my wife saw in a supermarket mag years ago. Frozen chopped spinach from the supermarket works best, which is why the recipe is in a supermarket mag, I suppose.
Mix two cups self-raising flour and a quarter teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, in a separate bowl whisk together 25g of melted (and slightly cooled) butter, one egg and 400ml of buttermilk, mix together the contents of both bowls.
Add 250g of the chopped (and thawed!) spinach and 100g of crumbled feta, mix again and you're ready to roll. Or at least to cook, as you would any pancake.
We squeeze lemon over the pancakes and serve with a salad. Good cold or reheated the next day, too.
So there you have it, dinner with the Corbetts. Come early for a pre-dinner glass of home brew or my wife's Aperol spritz.