Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Breaking the Four Minute Meal.

When teenagers are hungry, they need to eat NOW. When my older children were living at home I used to see how fast I could get a meal on the table from scratch. (Well, semi-scratch. This recipe uses packet gnocchi.) When I got it down to a fine art, I finally broke the Four Minute Meal.

Here's how it happened. Stopwatch at the ready, and Go!

Fill the kettle and put it on. Elapsed time, ten seconds.

While the kettle comes to the boil - it takes two minutes for a full kettle - take two rashers of bacon, two eggs, a block of parmesan and some parsley from the fridge and the cheese grater from the cupboard below the sink. Elapsed time, forty-five seconds.

Take a packet of gnocchi - not as good as home-made, but teenagers don't eat, they inhale, so it doesn't matter - from the cupboard and open. Elapsed time, fifty-five seconds.

Slice the bacon into small pieces and throw them into a pan with a splash of olive oil. Light the stove. One minute twenty.

Chop the parsley and set aside. One minute thirty. Grind some parmesan. One minute forty-five.

Grab a plate and some cutlery out of the cupboard, or if you're a time-and-motion expert, off the drainer where they have been since last night (why put them away? you want to make work for yourself?) and set them on the table. One minute fifty-five.

Give the bacon pan a good shake. Click! There goes the kettle. Two minutes.

Pour the boiling water into another pot on the stove over a high heat to keep the water boiling and tip the contents of the pack of gnocchi into the pot - carefully. Don't splash the water. If you burn yourself you're disqualified.

Now we have down time. You can't do anything at all until the gnocchi float to the top. So enjoy the next minute all to yourself. Rip open the mail. Let the dog in. Maybe take your coat off. (Parents of teenagers never take their coats off when they get home - they just walk straight in the front door and go to the kitchen and start cooking while the teenagers go to their rooms and fling clothes around everywhere.)

Did you enjoy your minute? Good. Now drain the gnocchi and toss into the bacon pan and stir around. If your pan holds heat well you can turn off the stove now. Three minutes twenty. Crack the eggs in and stir around again. Add the parmesan and cheese and stir around again. It should be all gooey and unctuous.

Plate the dish. Click! Gnocchi Carbonara hits the table, stopping the watch a whisker under four minutes. World record. The Four Minute Meal. Take that, Roger Bannister!

Of course, being teenagers, they'll want more, so you'll need to do it all over again.