Back in the early days of our relationship, dinner was always a big deal. When Manuel and I were lucky enough to find ourselves together (this was a long-distance relationship, after all), we made up for lost time by having elaborate and sumptuous meals every night. We’d think nothing of spending days planning meals and shopping for the right ingredients, we’d try new recipes like they were going out of style and just generally enjoy our food in a way we couldn’t do when we were alone. When we were in Germany, despite the fact that Manuel lived in a small studio apartment with no real dining area, we purchased a beautiful wooden table from Ikea and made it the focal point of the tiny room. Every night we’d sit down with candles lit, music playing and a nice bottle of wine as we lingered for hours over the food. Everything was made from scratch, and as far as I recall the terms "quick" and "easy" didn’t even exist in my vocabulary. Oh, and the TV? I can’t even remember if we had one*.
Then, of course, real life happened. I started working, we got married and moved to Scotland, and dinner started sometimes being more of a chore than a pleasure. And also despite our best efforts, little things started eating away at our evening traditions. First it was the box of candles that got used up and never replaced. Then it was the infrequency of that bottle of wine – alcohol being an expensive libation in our new country of residence. Then it was the simple enjoyment of sprawling out on the sofa and watching television after a long day of work. And finally it was the strange new roles our table started taking on: wet-clothes hanger, mail and magazine repository, general junk-collector. One night I walked out with hot plates of food only to realize that the table was completely covered in drying bedsheets. "What are we going to do?" I asked Manuel. "Well, we can eat on the sofa." And of course if you’re sitting on the sofa you might as well be watching television. And that’s how our TV dinners were born.
At first I always treated having our dinner in front of the television as a slightly exciting anomaly. I would get tingly from the thought that we were doing something naughty – eating while watching TV being absolutely forbidden in my house growing up. But the more frequently we did it, the more normal it seemed. We even started planning our meals around what we wanted to eat during our favorite shows: sweet potatoes and CSI, polenta and Desperate Housewives, spaghetti and reruns of Seinfeld. Eating on the sofa necessitated a fundamental change in cooking style as well, as there are many things that are just too hard to eat cleanly while semi-reclining and balancing a plate on one’s lap. Large pieces of meat are most definitely out the window, as is anything requiring two hands or messy sauces. One-dish meals of pasta or risotto are perfect, along with big bowls of crunchy salads and stir-frys. And then of course there’s pizza, which goes with on-screen entertainment like a fish goes with water and comes in so many delicious variations you could easily spend a lifetime eating it and never get bored. In fact there’s a whole slew of new recipes in my arsenal now that I may have never come across if I wasn’t looking for things that were quick and mess-free, like this mindbogglingly good combination of figs, ricotta, prosciutto and flatbread. It certainly raises the bar on the concept of a TV dinner, if it doesn’t obliterate it completely.
Don’t worry, we do still occasionally eat at our table. After all, there are some nights we just can’t find anything good on TV.
Fig and Prosciutto Pizza with Ricotta, Walnuts and Rosemary
Note: All quantities here are approximate – add as much as you like to each individual pizza. You can easily make this vegetarian by leaving out the prosciutto – just substitute something else salty such as kalamata olives, crumbled feta or roquefort cheese. Also, I like to sprinkle each slice of fig with a pinch of sugar before putting everything in the oven to get a nice caramelized effect – this also helps the flavor if they’re not naturally very sweet.
2-4 plain naan breads or other chewy flatbreads, depending on size (or your favorite pizza base, fresh or pre-baked)
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese, drined in a cheesecloth for a couple of hours if very wet
2 oz/70g prosciutto, torn into shreds
4 ripe figs, sliced 1/4-inch thick
handful walnut halves
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves chopped
salt and pepper
pinch of sugar to sprinkle on figs (optional)
Season the ricotta to taste with salt and pepper. Spread it evenly on the flatbreads, and cover with the prosciutto, fig slices, walnuts and rosemary. Drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle with a little additional salt and pepper (and sugar on figs, if using) and pop into a 450F/220C oven for about 10 minutes.
*Okay, okay, we had one. But we hardly ever watched it, honestly! (Of course that might have been due to the fact that everyone on it was speaking German…)