Category Archives: What’s for dinner?

Ratatouille and halloumi tray bake

This recipe came from an excellent and surprising source. My friend Lynda recommended it and it’s The Fast 800 Recipe book. But don’t let it put you off, honestly it’s become one of my most used and loved books for its simple, healthy, quick recipes which you can augment or add to if you’re not fasting. Which I so rarely can…This serves four which you can eat with lovely crusty bread if you’re not carb-avoidant. And who is these days? It’s surprisingly delicious. TBH I’m not a huge fan of ratatouille, or beans and yet this is…yum.

 

Ingredients

2  peppers – not green sorry, de-seeded and cut into chunks

1 medium aubergine or two courgettes

1 onion cut into chunks

3 tablespoons of olive oil

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

Basil leaves, a small handful sliced into shreds (don’t cry if you don’t have)

1 x 400g can of chopped tomatoes

1 teaspoon of oregano (or use a tin of tomatoes with herbs)

225g block halloumi cheese – slice into eight

A tin of 400g of drained and rinsed cannellini beans

 

Method

Oven to 220C. Place the peppers and aubergine/courgette and onions onto a tray, season with salt and pepper (but not too much salt as the halloumi is quite salty). Mix everything around and roast for 30-35 minutes, turning half way through if you can be bothered.

After this time, take out, stir in the garlic and basil, tomatoes + oregano and beans. Arrange the slices of halloumi on top and back in the oven for about 15 mins. I tend to give it a ‘top oven’ blast for a few minutes at the end. The halloumi should be lightly browned.

Scatter over more fresh basil if you remember and serve with a crisp green salad.

Pasta with roasted red pepper and walnut sauce

This is a super simple, super tasty little dish which you can prep beforehand and then, after cooking the pasta, assemble at the last minute.

Ingredients

3 red peppers (you can also use an orange or yellow one but the red adds a good colour; don’t use green peppers)

75g walnuts, lighted toasted

1 garlic clove mashed

1 tablespoon of pomegranate molasses (nice but not essential, I’ve made it without)

zest of one lemon

20g parmesan

pinch chilli flakes

25g chopped flat leaf parsley

four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

300g pasta – linguini or tagliatelle are a good shape here

 

Method

You need to roast the peppers for 30 minutes at 220C, and you can do this bit the day before or earlier in the day. Once roasted and cool, skin, de-seed and finely chop the peppers. As you can probably see from my pic, I chop mine very inaccurately and have tiny pieces and sometimes the odd larger piece. It is better if you take the time to really chop the pepper quite finely – so don’t be like me.

I’ve often thought about keeping the juice the peppers exude and mixing it into the pasta later, lessening the amount of oil, but confess I’ve yet to do it because I forget.

If you haven’t already, lightly toast the walnuts for five minutes but watch carefully because we know how readily nuts burn. Finely chop these too.

Once the peppers are all cooled and de-seeded and chopped, you can add in the rest of the sauce ingredients – which is basically all of the rest of the ingredients above save for the pasta. What I tend to do is do the peppers and walnuts and assemble the rest just before dinner time.

But whichever you do, at some point, you need to mix together the other ingredients to make the sauce and then season it. I forget to season something and it’s also okay. The chilli flakes lift it but I add those over the plate as my children don’t like them.

Cook the pasta, or have it cooking whilst you mix together the sauce. Then when the pasta is ready, drain, plonk into a big serving bowl and put the pepper sauce on top. Serve with extra parmesan/chilli flakes if you like. Voila.

Bad mood pasta

This is actually a John Whaite recipe that was published in BBC Good Food October and we adapted it for the four of us (and also changed some of the ingredients and cooking times). It’s from Whaite’s new book A Flash in the Pan.

It’s proper title – its kennel name – is walnut, feta and mint pesto with sweet potato and wholemeal pasta. But I was in the worse mood (for no discernible reason) when I selected this for dinner and in the end was in too much of a funk to make it, so my partner very kindly stepped in.

I had reservations…because…potato and pasta is not a combo I’d usually go for. And the calories per serving, which I’m not a slave to but do glance at, look like a typo (I dare not repeat them here but it’s a hefty amount). But what can I tell you. This dish has instantly gone into my top ten pasta dishes and that’s not easy to do.

Don’t be scared by the wholemeal pasta. I used Rummo Organic Wholemeal Fusilli which I get from the excellent Sous Chef and it was delicious and just added something to it without it being obvious. I think the use of wholemeal pasta elevates this dish to something else.

Anyway, here is the recipe for four:

For the pasta:

400g dried fusilli

Two sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into little dice

For the pesto

120g walnuts

Two handfuls of mint leaves

100g feta, plus a bit extra if you want to crumble on top

200-300ml of extra virgin olive oil

First make the pesto, heat a heavy frying pan and when hot add the walnuts and stir around for about 3-5 minutes. Don’t burn them.

Fill a pan with boiling water (or boil in the pan..), and then when boiling drop in the sweet potato and cook until tender (8-10 mins), fish out and reserve, covered, to keep them warm.

Then add the pasta (in the same water if possible, add more water if you need to but make sure it’s on a rolling boil before you add the pasta), bit of salt and cook for the time on the packet (which always lies but it’s a good starting point). Ours was eight and a half minutes.

Meanwhile put the toasted walnuts, the mint, the feta and the oil in a food processor and some black pepper (Whaite says to add salt here – a teaspoon for the recipe above – but personally we found that too salty so would leave it out). Pulse until coarse.

When pasta is cooked, drain but reserve the cooking water – about a cup full, add that slowly to the pesto until you have a looser mixture – you may need less. Reintroduce the pasta to the pan (off the heat), stir through the pesto, scatter atop the sweet potato and serve in a big dish with scattered, crumbled, feta.

Sit in front of the TV or the fire, kick your shoes off and try not to eat five portions all to yourself.

 

Olive oil flatbreads

These are so useful to make in a batch and then freeze. To defrost simply leave at room temperature for a bit or microwave for 10 seconds and eat immediately.

I love the meditative nature of making these. I make them on a large, flat skillet pan, prepping the ones still to cook by first rolling them into balls, then squashing into discs and finally rolling them out. I do this in stages – a mini production line – so the gluten has time to relax in between. I can’t get these super thin, but then I don’t really want to. They are really soft and tasty.

I keep them warm in my warming drawer whilst making the whole batch, but a very low oven serves exactly the same purpose.

I make eight out of this recipe, you could make more if you made them smaller as individual (as opposed to ‘tearing’) dipping breads.

 

7g of dried (fast action) yeast

600g strong white bread flour

100ml of extra virgin olive oil (doesn’t have to be super expensive)

350ml of water

half a teaspoon to half a tablespoon of sea salt

(depending on taste. If you’re going to serve these with super-salted food then you don’t have to put too much salt in. The first time make them with the lower amount and see how you go.)

These couldn’t be easier. You mix the 7g of yeast with the 600g strong white bread flour, and mix in the 100ml of olive oil and 350ml of water and, finally, the salt.  Mix to a rough dough just using a fork, and then rest in the bowl for ten minutes whilst you wash your hands and put everything away.

When the ten minutes is up, turn the dough out onto an oiled surface and give it gentle knead for ten seconds, then cover it with a bowl and rest again for ten minutes. Repeat twice more. By this stage you should have a smooth dough, with no bits.

If you plan to make these the same day, oil a bowl, place the dough in it, cover and leave until doubled in size. How long this will take depends on your kitchen. I tend to use a bowl that the original, unproved, dough comes up half way on, that way, I know that when it’s at the surface it’s doubled in size. If you plan to make these later put in a cold place in the fridge (by that I mean, as close to the bottom as possible) for the final prove, you could leave it overnight but I wouldn’t leave it for more than about 12 hours.

When ready to go, take the dough out, lightly knead and divide into eight/how ever many pieces you want to make. Roll into a ball by placing the dough on the flat palm of one hand and cupping the other hand over the top and making circular movements, or whatever works for you.

Then flatten each ball into a disc. Put a dry, large frying pan on a high heat and when you are ready to go roll out as best you can to about 18-20cm – if you’ve divided the dough into eight, obviously smaller if you’re making more than that.

As I said in the intro, you can get into a production line with them, prepping each before it goes on. I get it so that as I put one on to cook, I roll the other one out in preparation so it has time to relax a bit. If you can get them perfectly circular great – I never can.

When ready to cook you slap them into the pan and cook for about 5 mins – if you’re like me you’ll turn them often as I’m a bit of a flipper. You can see they’re done as they brown and go ‘dry’ – no more moist bits. If you need to turn the heat down for the second side do so, but turn up again for the new flat bread going on as it’s the dough hitting the hot skillet heat which causes the bubbles to form, which then blister and blacken.

 

Vegetable lasagna: chargrilled courgettes with a multitude of greens.

I’m actually on deadline for two pieces as I start on this. But what the hell. I see it as a warm up.

Every day I look for healthy things to make my family. And if the quest for healthy things is satisfied, my children will invariably not be impressed. The reaction to this was “but where is the pasta” followed by “it isn’t actually half bad”. My youngest – the harshest critic and who would, like her nonno, live off bread and Parma ham if she were able to – ate some. I can’t say she was a fan.

But I thought this was delicious and satisfies that urge for something healthy but tasty. And it has almost a kilo of green leafy stuff in it.

It’s adapted slightly from a Donna Hay recipe. I just love Donna.

Ingredients

About six courgettes, sliced lengthways. Not too thick, not too thin. You’re going to chargrill them.

Lots of extra virgin olive oil but not that super expensive stuff

An onion, chopped up so tears stream down your face

2 x clove of garlic, chopped small (I can’t bear to crush them)

A small bunch of oregano chopped up

Salt and pepper

About 300-400g kale, trimmed of the big thick stems in the middle – rinsed

About 300g spinach – rinsed

500g or thereabouts of ricotta

15g fresh parsley finely chopped (either sort)

Rind of an unwaxed lemon

About 100g of grated mozzarella

About 100g of grated parmesan – like with the mozzarella I do it by eye and depending on size of container.

(quantities of cheese don’t have to be super exact but don’t veer off too much. Don’t sweat it if you only have 80g of each, say).

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Before the oven

 

What you do

I do love a recipe you can make in stages and this is one such. First you oil each side of the courgette slices and chargrill them.

[I use a griddle pan which I bought years ago. It’s a Le Creuset one and it’s big and rectangular shaped and you lay it across two rings. I use it for so many things: not just veg but also making toasted sarnies. I also have a griddle ‘press’ that I used to press things down on. I just looked and my Le Creuset griddle costs £160 now! But I bought it nearly 20 years ago and it’s still going strong so it is worth it on a per use basis. The press I have is something like this.]

So griddle the slices until they are marked and a bit cooked through. Put to one side. If you plan to make this later you can just put it in a lidded Pyrex and put in the fridge, otherwise just keep on a plate until you are ready to assemble.

Then you chop the one onion with the two cloves of garlic and gently saute with the handful of oregano and a little olive oil. I add the seasoning at this point:  a good pinch of sea salt and some black pepper which I always angrily grind over food, as if in a fury. When the onion is translucent set the mixture to one side. Or put it in the fridge until needed.

Now you blanch the spinach and kale and you will think “how can we eat all this green veg?” but you can because it will reduce down. What I do is blanch it, drain as best I can, then I whizz the lot up (in batches unless your food processor is ginormous) in a food processor, and then I sit it over a fine sieve atop a bowl and press down with a potato masher. Because I make this in stages, and not in a great rush, I sit it over a fine sieve over a bowl for an an hour or so. You don’t have to whizz it up, it’s perfectly fine as it is, but you will need to carefully drain it in some way. You could sandwich it between two tea towels you don’t much care about. You then mix the drained veg with the onion and garlic and herbs. What I do is add it to the pan this is in, and for a few minutes just gently steam any remaining water out of the veg.

At some point you introduce to each other, via a fork: the ricotta and the lemon rind and the parsley.

So you now have essentially three things: courgettes, ricotta mix and veg/onion mix which you can assemble now or store for later.

It’s hard to say what size dish to use. Within reason you can use a normal family-supper sized dish. But I favour a square one that is about 25/26cm. Lightly oil the bottom, then when you are ready to cook you preheat oven to 220C.

Start with a third of the courgettes. On top of this put a half the ricotta, then half the greens, then sprinkle on a third of the cheeses.  Repeat and end with a layer of  courgettes and the last of the cheese. Mine was crammed to the top so I put it on a baking sheet in case it erupted (it didn’t). Cook for about 12-15 mins until golden and bubbling and crisp on the top. I didn’t taste it during making it and honestly expected something pretty healthy but bland. Well, no. It was really delicious. I served it with a crisp green salad made with a sharp dressing. Half of it fed four of us, but I suspect for people with larger appetites it won’t go so far.

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A cross section

Speedy, but slow, sausage and pearl barley with spinach, done in the slow cooker when you come home late and need something on the table in five minutes.

Catchy title isn’t it? This is less a recipe than an idea.

I’ve been flying solo a bit lately. That, coupled with long days, pick ups cross country and getting into the house, late, when it’s dark and cold outside and in need of nourishment fast, has meant I’ve had to resort to that sexiest of regimes: menu planning.

Last night I knew we’d not get in before 7.30 and I knew I’d be out from 3pm.  I have become a bit obsessed with pearl barley recently, we had some fine sausages in the freezer.

So this is what I did: I chopped up an onion which I sauted in a big slug of some rather fine olive oil in the slow cooker (mine has this function). To this I added six chopped up (defrosted) sausages for a bit. Then I slung in a jar (680g) of passata and 120g of pearl barley (which I had previously rinsed). I added a bit of water (I rinsed out the passata jar with it), then I set the slow cooker for seven hours. That’s it, no herbs, no salt, nothing else.

I put some spinach to soak, separately, in cold water.

When I came home I rinsed out and spun dried some of the spinach and slung some of it into the slow cooker and stirred it through and voila. Mangiare pronto!

I was just hoping for something edible, tbh, but it was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long time. My youngest said “Mummy this is amazing!”

(Cooking meat in passata like this really flavours the tomato sauce and you could also omit the pearl barley and add the sauce/sausages to pasta if you have time to cook some up, but I knew even that would be beyond me last night.)

Unlike many slow cooker things it was fairly thick (the pearl barley sucks up all the moisture) but I loved it for that. It doesn’t take a good picture but you know what? On a cold January night no-one cares about that.

Pork and prawn noodle stirfry with lots of veg

This dish is a rare thing in our house, something which is healthy and which everyone likes. Granted, my youngest picks out the prawns, but otherwise we all eat this and it’s insane the amount of veg we seem to consume without complaining.

You can make this with any sort of noodle – cooked separately and added at the latter stages. If you use soba – which I do, sometimes – cook them carefully and rinse in cold water before adding, as otherwise they stick together. I do have ‘straight to wok’ noodles in the cupboard for this dish as it makes the whole thing ludicruously easy. Other than the chopping – which you could do in advance.

It’s adapted from a Delicious magazine recipe. I add more veg and omit the chillies.

You’ll need

Two teaspoons of olive oil

300g of free range, good pork mince

Three quarters of a teaspoon of Chinese five spice powder

Two and a half teaspoons of curry powder

180g (I confess here I just tend to add whatever the packet contains) prawns – if raw cook them for a bit longer, until pink. If already cooked add at the end as stipulated.

About 150g carrots which I julienne, but you can slice thinly

(a red chilli if you want to use it)

300g or thereabouts of ready cooked or straight to wok noodles

250g pak choi or other green veg – I find very thinly sliced button hole kale is really good here

2 courgettes, julienned or thinly sliced

Four spring onions, sliced thinly

One and a half tablespoons of soy sauce

This is what you do

Have everything ready for one and don’t make the mistake I did first time round…

Heat the oil in a wok on high, cook the pork mince for about 2-3 minutes, until browned. Now turn the heat down and add the spices, stir fry and cook for a couple more minutes.

Now add the veg in the order it takes to cook. So I add the green veg first, cook for a couple of minutes with the prawns if raw, then the carrots, courgettes and finally the prawns if they are already cooked. (Add the chilli here if you are using it, it should be thinly sliced.) Stir fry everything for a minute or two.

Then add the ready cooked noodles with two tablespons of water and the spring onions and just before you serve  – which is immediately – you add the soy sauce.

This feeds four big eaters, slightly more if you are more restrained about it.