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Existentialist cooking

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pages from Kafka's Soup: A story 'written' by John Steinbeck with a recipe for Mushroom Risotto.
Some years ago, in my cookery column at another publication I worked at, I imagined Meurseult, a bachelor and the anti-hero of Albert Camus' The Outsider (here's an interesting article about the book), cooking a meal for one when he decides, "I thought maybe that I ought to have some dinner."

Not much is said about the actual meals Meurseult eats - although he has lunch at Celeste's almost every day - but there is mention of him frying some eggs and eating them straight out of the pan because he has run out of bread. Also, on the Sunday after he buries his mother, he buys some bread and pasta for dinner, does his cooking and eats standing up.

I'm reading Kafka's Soup by Mark Crick now (the book has received some favourable reviews and here are a couple from The Independent and Curled Up), and it reminded me of the dish I imagined Meurseult preparing. Living in a dive, probably with just a small prep area, one hob and no refrigerator, he wouldn't bother with too many ingredients or carefully chopping things up. Mushrooms would be easily available and he would always have some cheese and wine on hand, so all he would need to get was a can of beans, using half now and the rest for another meal, probably eating them straight out of the can.

Serves 1

2 tbsp olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
A handful of mixed fresh mushrooms (do not used canned!), thickly sliced
2 tbsp dry white wine or water
½ can black beans, drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Freshly cooked pasta to serve
Grated Parmesan cheese and chopped fresh parsley
  • Heat oil in a frying pan and fry garlic and mushrooms for 3-4 minutes.Pour in the wine and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Stir in the beans until warmed through. Toss in the pasta and sprinkle with Parmesan and parsley. Eat straight from the pan if desired, and standing up if you must.

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