A couple of weeks ago we joined a tour of the Manchester Town Hall. The building is stunning – much more fascinating and rich than you’d ever expect by walking past it. If you’re ever around here, I highly recommend it. Possibly some of the best £7 I ever spent. The guide, a quirky middle aged man wearing a hat and carrying a big black leather bag, dotted the talk with references to local history. For example, did you know that the vegetarian movement was born around here about 200 years ago? It all started in Salford, Greater Manchester as a religious movement led by the Reverend William Cowherd (the irony in his name escapes no one). He was the one who said that eating meat and being Christian couldn’t go hand in hand. Apparently he managed to get a good following of early vegetarian adopters, but that might be due to the fact that he used to provide free (meat-free!) meals as well as free burials to his congregation. Later on, Martha Brotherton, wife of Salford MP Joseph, wrote what is believed to be the first vegetarian cookbook. Today vegetarian cookbooks try to entice readers and promote vegetarianism as a cool, responsible and fun choice, but Martha decided to rather somberly title her book “Vegetarian cookery, with an introduction recommending abstinence from animal food and intoxicating liquors“. Editorial choices, I guess. You can read more about the history of the vegetarian movement on the Vegetarian Society website. I tried to find Martha Brotherton cookbook at the library to see what kind of recipes it presented, but it’s been out of print for so long now that the only libraries that seem to hold copies are those devoted to rare books. Nevertheless, a librarian from the University of St. Andrews blogged about cooking a recipe from the book. Spoiler alert: she may have described the end result as “edible, if bland”. Which is just the clue I need to introduce my (vegetarian) dish of the summer, edible and most definitely not bland.
When I was still living with my parents, we had this dish so many times that for a long time I avoided spaghetti. I think I wasn’t too keen on the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes either. A month or so ago, though, I saw a beautiful box of plum cherry tomatoes as the greengrocer’s. I thought of the spaghettini I’d bought only days before, and it just made perfect sense to prepare this dish. It helps that it’s ready before you can say ‘spaghettini ai pomodorini’ (you know, if that takes you 15 minutes…) and that, spaghetti aside, you can count its ingredients on the fingers of one hand. The one you’re not using to hold the fork. To Martha, William and the other early British vegetarians: I’m sure you would have liked this.
Put a large pot of salted water on the hob. While you wait until it starts boiling, mince the garlic clove and halve the cherry tomatoes. Put them in a bowl along with a pinch of salt. When the water is boiling, put the spaghetti in the pot and cook until not quite al dente. This is because you will finish cooking the pasta in the pan along with the tomatoes, and you still want it to be al dente when it gets on the plate. 5 minutes before the pasta is ready, put a large pan on medium-high heat, add a glug of olive oil and add tomatoes and garlic. You want the tomatoes softened, not dried. Drain the spaghetti and add them to the pan. Toss for a minute, then serve along with some fresh basil leaves, grated cheese and black pepper.