People sometimes ask me if you can cook on a narrowboat.
‘Of course you can!’, I reply, confident and dismissive. ‘No problem at all! It just takes a little adjusting, and you’re away!’
While this is – technically – true, even I will admit that there are some limitations.
- The oven we have is really a box of fire. It is an old and very basic gas oven. Before I was introduced to boat dwelling, I had literally never used a gas oven, having been raised on an electric oven and naively assuming that gas ovens had just sort of died out. Not so. The gas oven has character, and its character is capricious. Occasionally it will have an off-day (don’t we all?) and refuse to light for me. I have no idea what the actual temperature in there might be.
- It is much easier to overload the electrical circuit on a boat than it would be in a house. This means that, say, I cannot use the toaster and the kettle at the same time, or the microwave and the food processor, and so on. You have to learn to plan ahead a bit.
- There are space limitations. This is also true of a small kitchen in a flat, say, but I’d wager it’s more of an issue in the average boat than the average flat. You have to be very organised, and you have to clean up as you cook. You also have to make decisions about what you actually want in your kitchen. The essentials are fine, but on the boat, I’d never have, say, a Kitchen Aid, a pasta maker, a spiralizer…
- Lots of things are bespoke. As there is a limited amount of space, design is key and there’s a lot of clever storage. However, that means that boats are often built around large pieces of furniture, or things have to be dismantled to get into a boat, or they fit into a very specific space. Fridge broken in your house? You can find a new one! Fridge broken on your boat? Yeah, good luck with that.
- Things you take for granted as endless in the average dwelling – such as water, or gas – are not so on a boat. If you’re not careful, it’s easy for a gas canister or water tank to empty when you’re at a critical stage of dinner preparation.
But! While all that is true, I will staunchly defend boat living – and boat cooking – to anyone and everyone, because I love it. The boat has a personality. It feels safe and secluded and cosy. Cooking there has its own delights: throwing scraps out of the window to the ducklings in the spring; washing up in the special shifting light of the sun bouncing off wind-rippled water; learning to use your ingenuity in an entirely different way.
One of the first things I made on the boat was this roast vegetable dish. Roasting on the boat is delightfully easy, because all you have to do is whack the oven up high, chuck stuff in, and keep an eye on it. I have since become more adventurous, and have successfully made crepes, pies, schnitzels, and a whole host of other things in the boat kitchen. Still, I come back to this when I am short of prep time (occasionally) or feeling lazy (often). In essence, it’s a winter dish, but since a chilly evening is hardly a rarity in July in these parts, we happily eat it year-round.
Notes: We will often eat this on its own, between the two of us, and call it dinner. However, it would also be an excellent side dish to serve four to six people. It’s a very forgiving, chuck-it-all-in sort of dish, so all of the measurements and vegetable suggestions are guidelines. Do please use your best judgement.
1 very large sweet potato
1 small butternut squash
2 large carrots
4 cloves of garlic
I bunch asparagus, if desired
1 pack of goats’ cheese (I tend to use the harder, rinded variety as it keeps its shape better in the oven, but the softer stuff will collapse into the vegetables and also be delicious)
- Preheat your oven to 230C/210C fan/ gas 8 (but this isn’t precise, so don’t worry too much – you just want it nice and hot). Prep your vegetables. Scrub – but don’t peel – the sweet potato, and cut it into large chips. Peel the butternut squash and cut into 1 inch cubes (or thereabouts). Peel the carrots and slice them into small rounds. Put all of these in a roasting tray. All the vegetables cook at different speeds, so these different sizes should ensure they are finished at around the same time. Peel your garlic cloves and add them to the tray.
- Sprinkle everything with pepper and good flaky sea salt, and follow with a liberal dusting of paprika. Be generous. Glug olive oil over everything (say around 5 tbps, if you want a measurement) and shake everything around in the tin so it’s all coated in seasoning and oil. Put into your hot oven for 45 minutes, giving it a shake to turn the vegetables at about the halfway mark.
- Check your vegetables. If they feel done, or nearly done, continue to the next step. If not, give them ten more minutes, then check again.
- Drizzle the vegetables with the balsamic glaze. If you’re using the asparagus, coat it in a little olive oil and add it to the dish. Put the tray back in the oven for five more minutes. Remove, tear the goats’ cheese over the top and give it five more minutes. The goats’ cheese should be starting to melt, the asparagus cooked through, and the vegetables starting to caramelise and blacken around the edges. These bits are the tastiest part. Serve as is, or alongside a main dish.