Food to make a long life worth living

Eat pasta. Live forever.

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There’s a lot of chat on food sites about the longevity pay-offs of the so-called Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet has many variants, but the common elements seem to be fish, chicken, vegetables, pasta and olive oil. This recipe – an Italian classic, rather like a Ferrari or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel – is offered here in two versions: the high-cholesterol, cream-based number, and the yogurt model, with a different taste and lower cholesterol. Make them both and decide which works best for you and your family.

To feed four diners who believe they will live forever, you will need:

  • 500g linguini
  • 500g chicken breast or thigh fillets
  • extra-virgin olive oil, with or without truffles
  • 2 onions
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 100g sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato concentrate
  • 1 rasher of lean, smoked bacon
  • a couple sprigs of fresh thyme, marjoram or oregano
  • 100ml of dry white wine
  • 250ml cream or plain yogurt
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • and maybe a few capers

But first, some theory. Extra-virgin olive oils, especially the Cape versions, are a staple in my family’s kitchen. When feeling flush, however, I buy truffle oil too. Truffle oil is an ill-defined concept, of variable quality. Sadly, the best test seems to be price. If it costs a bomb, it’s usually good. And if it isn’t, the price alone gets you a long, useful, non-acrimonious chat with the supplier. Meanwhile, back in the lab, peel and thinly slice the onions, peel, crush and chop the garlic, chop the sun-dried tomatoes, and cut the rasher of bacon into tiny dice, the smaller the better. In this case, the bacon is a flavouring agent and shouldn’t be too prominent visually.

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Let it disappear into the sauce – hence the fine chopping or mincing. Next, attack the chicken fillets. These need not automatically be breasts: filleted thighs add their own special texture and flavour. Cut the meat into bite-sized portions. Tie the sprigs of fresh herbs together with a piece of clean cotton thread. Select a heavy-bottomed stainless steel frying pan and pour in sufficient olive or truffle oil to thinly cover the bottom. Bring this up to medium heat and sauté the chicken pieces until 90% cooked. Remove these from the pan and reserve them on the counter in a covered bowl. Add a little extra oil if your judgment suggests it’s required and sauté the garlic, herbs, sun-dried tomatoes, tomato concentrate, chopped bacon and sliced onions until the onions are reduced to a golden hash.

Add the 100ml of dry white wine. By rapid boiling, reduce its volume by half and intensify the taste. Stir like a madman to avoid burning the solids. One charred onion fragment and the whole thing’s ruined. Return the chicken pieces to the pan and add either the cream or the yoghurt. Stir well to evenly distribute the ingredients and flavours, season with a little salt and maybe a couple of capers, plus freshly ground black pepper, and serve this delicious sauce over freshly boiled linguini. A green salad plus an ultra-chilled Pilsner give this meal the salute it deserves.