Category Archives: What’s for dinner?

Stracciatella in brodo

Many people may associate stracciatella with ice cream and indeed, you can and do get stracciatella – traditionally flor di latte ice cream with bits of chocolate in.

Straccio in Italian means ‘rag’, bits of cloth.

Stracciatella in brodo is, to my mind, one of the finest foodstuffs. It is oft made, in Italian kitchens, as a bit of a ‘scratch’ meal when there’s not much else. But to think it’s in anyway lacking because of this is to be a fool. It is deeply nourishing and savoury, good for you, ready in minutes if you have some stand by ingredients and I’ve never met a child who doesn’t love it.

I do have home made chicken broth in the freezer on stand by. I make it in batches. But of course you could use a stock cube. Then all you need is some baby pasta (optional), parmesan (which I buy in bulk, grate and keep in the freezer) and an/some eggs.

Don’t be afraid by the lack of precision in the ingredients, just go with it.

This is what you need:

A quantity of chicken broth for the amount of people you have

An egg per person

About 20-30g of small pasta (I use stelline – little stars) per person. It must be small.

Some parmesan, grated

This is what you do:

Cook the pasta separately.

Warm up the broth until simmering.

Break the egg(s) into a separate bowl and beat well – this is important

When ready to go, stir the broth and beat in (with a fork or a whisk) the egg. It will cook immediately. Then add the pasta and a good helping of parmesan and serve.

 

Steak fajitas with avocado salsa and creme fraiche.

This is a favourite in our house, but there has never yet been a good photo taken of it. This is because we tend to descend on it when it’s made and also it just doesn’t photograph well. So I hope Waitrose will forgive me for nicking one from its site.

This recipe originally came from a Waitrose in-store recipe card and I’ve adapted it slightly as I don’t agree with the way it originally said to cook the peppers (with the steak, which is madness as they need vastly different times) and I’ve omitted the  chilli it originally called for and when I made this last night I omitted the chives as ours were covered in small black bugs – blurgh – and it didn’t do the meal any harm at all.

For four people you need:

for the marinade

About 300-340g of steak – the recipe calls for frying steak, I find this tough and I use bavette steak cut into strips. It’s an underused cut, not too expensive, and delicious but don’t cook for long. It’s also amazing made with venison.

2 cloves of finely chopped garlic

1 teaspoon of dried oregano

The juice of one lime (two needed in total, see later)

1 tablespoon of olive oil

the salsa

1 tablespoons of good olive oil

2 ripe avocados

1 small tomato, chopped

2 tablespoons of chopped chives if you have them, don’t stress if you don’t

Juice of one lime

also:

1 tablespoon of olive oil

3 red, yellow or orange peppers but not green. I’ve totally taken against green peppers

Some flour tortillas – we use two small ones each. It’s never enough

Creme fraiche and grated mozzarella to serve

What you do

I prep this in the morning – cut the steak into strips. Mix the olive oil, lime juice and olive oil in a bowl with the oregano. Put steak into marinade, cover and put in fridge until the evening (or at least ten mins).

When ready to eat:

Cut the peppers into strips and cook in the olive oil on medium heat until soft and slightly charred (about ten minutes).

Whilst that is doing:

Skin and stone avocado and put into bowl and mash with lime juice, olive oil, tomato and chives if using. Set aside.

Call someone to lay the table.

Warm the tortillas in a dry frying pan.

Tip the steak in with the peppers and cook on high for about five mins.

When ready to eat, bring to the table and get everyone to make their own: pile creme fraiche, avocado salsa and steak/peppers onto a tortilla and top with grated cheese.

I don’t bother to do any other veg with this…

 

The very best tomato sauce for pasta.

In Italy, August is the month of  ‘i pomodori’. Where they make pasta sauce for the whole coming year. The tomatoes are boiled, ‘passati’ (literally ‘passed’ through a sieve), reboiled and bottled. There is a lovely video here which shows you.

Because it’s quite a job, it tends to be done with everyone pitching in. It’s very low-tech (or used to be). Because the raw materials are the sweetest tomatoes the salsa you get (or passata) is incredible.

I never hoped to reproduce that in the UK, but my mother makes a very keen contender in her kitchen, in central London. She has even made it in my kitchen. I have tried to replicate it, I have watched her do it. I have bought the exact same ingredients as her, but it’s never the same.

If I have frozen salsa, and I serve it up on some pasta at a later date, my children can tell, immediately, if it’s ‘Nonna’s salsa’ or mine. They say her secret ingredient is salt, and love. And it’s true I tend to under salt things. For this I didn’t and went large with the salt.

It was a secret shame of mine, that I couldn’t make salsa as good as hers or any of my Italian relatives. Not because there is any shame in it really, but because, well, I cook a lot and you’d think this simple thing would not be beyond me. I tried cooking with plum peeled tinned tomatoes, chopped tomatoes,  fresh tomatoes, roasted tomatoes (this does work very well but is another layer of work), passata, all of the above and added tomato puree to it…but nothing came close. It all tasted too ‘new’ and didn’t have that complex taste, it always had a ridge of acidity, and none of the thickness of my family’s salsa.

“You needa to cooka it for a long time,” my Ma says – to take the acid out of the tomatoes. But whenever I tried I burnt it.

This year, I decided I really needed to step up. My mum and all the female relatives who hold the secret to good salsa are all…getting on.

So this is what I did. It’s so simple I am embarrassed I never tried it before and you will be disappointed there is no real secret recipe. Well there is. The secret is it’s really simple.

Warning, you really need a slow cooker and I think this goes some way to compensate for the fact that you are not using super red, sweet tomatoes from southern Italy. I have this one and it is a wonderful bit of kit which I use regularly and thoroughly recommend.

You take:

A jar of passata, I use Cirio’s Passata Rustica, 680g

One onion

A big pinch of sea salt

A clove or two of garlic if you like, chopped

Some very good olive oil (the better the better) – don’t skimp, this gives the sauce flavour

That’s it. Don’t add water or anything else. You finely chop the onion and fry it in the olive oil. I do this in my slow cooker as it has a saute function. When soft, you add the garlic if using and cook for a minute or so. It is at this point I add the salt but you can add it at any point, even at the very end, but give it a good stir through.

If you can’t saute in your slow cooker, and have been doing this on the stove top in a pan, you now add the onion, garlic and any remaining oil to your slow cooker. Then the passata.

Put down the lid and you cook it in the slow cooker, on low, for hours. At least six but 12 if you can. Then you take it out, cool it, use it all at once or store it in glass jars in the fridge (it keeps for a good few days) or freezer.

You can easily double/triple etc this recipe so you can make a batch up every few weeks and store it in the freezer so you are always good to go. And you will always have super-wonderful home made salsa for your pasta or pizza or whatever.

You can add herbs later but honestly, you just don’t need to. Yesterday I did as above, but cut up some sausages and stuck them in (lightly sauted first but you don’t need to) – you could also put meatballs in. I cooked it overnight for 12 hours and it was superb on pasta for lunch.

 

 

Chorizo and kale cheesy gnocchi

I adapted this from a Delicious magazine recipe. There is 200g of kale packed into this recipe. And you could substitute spinach if you wanted to.

This is really tasty, wonderful  autumnal dish that’s easy and fast. And if you have a cast iron frying pan that can go in the oven, you can cut down on the pots and pans needed.

Serves four.

You need

200g curly kale or spinach. If using kale take the time to shred it into smallish pieces and cut out the bigger stems.

500g potato gnocchi

1 medium onion, finely chopped

Olive oil for frying

125g approx of chorizo – a bit more if you really like it. Slice in half length ways then finely slice so you end up with half moon shapes.

200g passata

a handful of basil leaves

100g grated or sliced mozzarella

Method

Oven to 200C. Bring a very large pan of water to the boil with a dash of salt in it and drop the gnocchi and kale in, together. Cook for just 30 seconds, drain into a colander and rinse through with  cold water.

Gently heat the olive oil in a frying pan (if it can go in the oven make sure it is quite a large one that can hold the whole dish), now gently cook the onion until it’s soft. Add the chorizo for a few minutes, until the onion takes on the colour of the chorizo. Now add the passata and the basil and cook for three minutes.

Add the gnocchi and kale into the frying pan if it will fit, and mix to combine everything; if not transfer everything to an oven proof dish of about 1.5litres. Mix everything through well. Add some ground pepper (I think the chorizo has enough salt but add a bit more if you like). Sprinkle over the mozzarella or place the slices on top and put in the oven (uncovered) for a scant 15 minutes until golden and bubbly.

 

Lovely leek and broccoli fish pie

This is, hands down, the tastiest fish pie I’ve ever had. It is more of a work-day dinner than a dinner-party piece, but it is just tasty-gorgeous. It is from the Donna Hay magazine which is worth every penny of the £5.20 an issue I pay for it.

Ingredients

200g fresh sourdough crumbs (I keep a bag of left-over sourdough pre-grated in the freezer then you can use it when you want)

Half a bunch of tarragon (so about 12-15g)

150g unsalted butter, melted

salt and pepper

2 leeks, white part only, thinly sliced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

300g broccoli florets, cut into smaller florets

800g of thereabouts of firm fish (fresh not frozen as in it can’t be cooked from frozen!). I have used all cod, or a combo of cod and salmon and smoked haddock. See what you like. Cut it into 3cm pieces – this is important as it gets only 10 mins in the oven.

1 tablespoon of plain flour

250g sour cream

2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard

125ml water

Method

Oven to 200C. Place the breadcrumbs, half the tarragon, half the butter, salt and pepper in a large bowl and mix to combine. Then place on a large oven tray and cook for ten minutes – until golden.

While the breadcrumbs are toasting, heat the rest of the butter in a large ovenproof pan over a high heat – the pan will eventually go in the oven with the whole fish pie in it. Add the leek, garlic and broccoli to this pan and cook, uncovered, for about five minutes or until the veg is softened.

In a separate bowl, place the fish, flour and more salt and pepper and toss to combine. Add this fish mixture, the remaining tarragon, the sour cream, mustard and water to the pan and stir to combine. Top with the breadcrumbs and cook in the oven for another ten minutes in the oven until golden brown and the fish is cooked through.

img_0540

I serve this with peas. It is so much tastier than you think it’s going to be.

img_0547

I want to say “my children lap this up.” But they pretty much hate it. But I still make it.

(Don’t forget how good leeks and garlic are for gut bacteria!)

 

 

 

Save

Besto pesto

Pesto is not something I have ever made particularly successfully. Lord knows why. It is not difficult or complicated. My eldest can make it before she takes her coat off (but has washed her hands) after school. But the pesto I make never makes me shut my eyes, momentarily transported, and go ‘mmm’.

A friend called Vonetta first made me pesto, with farfalle shaped pasta, when I was in my 20s. Incredibly, I had never had it before. It does not feature highly in the cuisine of my father’s province: Parma, nor my mother’s: Avellino.  Italian cuisine is incredibly regional you see – there is very little cross fertilisation; each region fiercely proud of everything they do and determined it can’t be bettered. They rarely invite in new dishes, however old.

I made this pesto in a great rush, after tearing the recipe out of a magazine (the superb Donna Hay’s) as an afterthought. As I orchestrated dinner, and everything came together a bit too fast, a bit too suddenly, I didn’t have time to taste anything until I was sat at the table, and then I was blown away.

This pesto was the basis for another dinner, which I will post another day, which was so successful, that my youngest, who likes almost nothing savoury that I make aside from my sourdough bread, ate four helpings.

For now, here is the pesto recipe, ever so slightly adapted:

Ingredients

80g baby spinach leaves

25g basil leaves

150g roasted cashew nuts – these are absolutely key, and they must be roasted. I gave mine about 4 mins at 190C, watch them carefully.

1 clove of garlic

1 teaspoon of salt (I used pink Himalayan salt just because I had that in)

The juice of half a lemon

The zest of one small lemon

2 tablespoons of olive oil

2 tablespoons of water

Method

(Note: no parmesan, that is correct!)

Put the spinach, basil, cashew nuts, garlic, salt, lemon juice and rind in a food processor until everything is well chopped and blended. While the motor is running slowly add the oil and water. Scrap down the sides of the processor if need be so everything is finely, and uniformly, chopped. That’s it. Use it there and then, keep it for a few days in the fridge or freeze it for another day. It’s superb in pasta, of course, but also spread as an extra layer in sandwiches, in salad dressings or used on cauliflower pizza.

A simple paella

Spanish folk: don’t judge me too harshly. I know this isn’t authentic. But it’s still delicious.

I first ate paella when I went to Spain with my homegirls, aged 18. What a holiday we had. Insane. Six girls in a non-tourist region of Spain…there was this little restaurant which made absolutely fantastic paella. And chips. The best chips and the best paella. I absolutely adore dishes that you can eat with just a folk, and not have to worry about gristle or bones or fat or nasty bits. Okay so we did have to shell the huge prawns that sat atop their rice deathbed, but stuff like that doesn’t scare me. This recipe doesn’t use shell on prawns so you can sit, cross-legged on the sofa and eat this with one hand, preferably with a fork in it.

Before this, I had never attempted to make paella at home. It seemed so scary, and it involved paella pans that you had to treat with love and care, lest they rust. Then I saw this recipe in Donna Hay’s Simple Dinners and we made it and we loved it. My children aren’t so mad on it, but the beauty of this dish (and oh there are so many beauties to it) is that you can pick out the bits you don’t like and eat those you do.

This is the perfect dish for when you don’t really know what to eat (meat? fish?) and don’t have much time, but still want something relatively healthy and comforting. If you ate everything in it you could get those ‘seafood pie’ mixes from the frozen compartments.  We don’t because my partner can’t eat bi-valves and those things usually have tons of mussels in them. But we did, as sharp eyed readers may note, add squid rings into this one.

Don’t be tempted to use chicken breast meat, it’s all about the tasty thigh meat here.

What you need for four good portions:

1 red onion which you have sliced

1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes (leave out for those that don’t like it)

1 teaspoon of smoked paprika

Half or so of a chorizo, it really depends how much you like it and what you’ve got

4-6 chicken thighs, de-boned, skin off, made all nice so you can just eat them without fear of scary stuff and cut into bite-sized chunks

250g short grain rice (no expensive paella rice, you don’t need it, but it must be short grain not wild or basmati or anything healthy, save that for another time)

1 litre of chicken stock

A quantity of raw prawns, again depends how much you like them. We use about 150g

A handful of coriander leaves, chopped up

200g or so of cherry tomatoes, halved

Lemon wedges

What you do:

Heat a large, deep non-stick frying pan over a good strong heat. add the onion, chilli if using, paprika and chorizo and cook for 3-5 minutes until it’s all golden looking. Now add the chicken and cook for five minutes, turning it so that all sides get lightly browned. Add the rice and stir until all coated, now add the stock and bring to the boil and cook for ten minutes. Add the prawns and cook for a further five minutes until they are pink and the rice is tender. Serve with the coriander sprinkled on top and the cherry tomatoes and a lemon wedge each.

Roast sea bass, with lovely potatoes and vegetables, all done in one tray

This is a deceptive recipe, taken from the BBC Good Food magazine last year. Deceptive because, despite the relatively simplicity of ingredients, everything mixes together to produce something rather good, rather, as my friend Linda would hate me to say, lovely.

(She is not keen on the word lovely, and now, every time I use it, I think of her and the disdain she must hold me in for not thinking of something better, but, to me, when you need to say something is lovely there is no better word.)

Anyway. The price of seabass doesn’t make this a cheap dish*; nevertheless, what you get is something very tasty and that needs very little further accompaniment, save for some green vegtables. So it’s not the world’s most expensive dish, either, and, I would suggest, you can make this for an alternative to a ‘big roast’ for someone who doesn’t eat meat, or is gluten free, and they wouldn’t feel in any way cheated.

You can, and I have, substituted sea bass for cod – as you can see in my picture where there is a mix of the two – but the bass has the edge here in delicate flavour.

This recipe is for two, but you can double or treble it at will.

300g of red skinned potatoes. Important, the flavour of the potatoes is a valuable scaffold to this dish. Wash and dry the potatoes, you don’t peel them, and then slice them very thinly (don’t be a wuss, you don’t need a mandoline) into rounds.

1 red pepper cut into slices

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 rosemary sprig, you’re meant to remove the leaves and chop finely. I go into the garden, pick two or three sprigs and shove them in. This does, however, mean that when I made this recently, my youngest asked why I’d put the Christmas tree in the dinner.

2 sea bass fillets

25g pitted black olives, sliced or halved

half a lemon, thinly sliced

basil leaves to scatter (don’t fret if you don’t have them, the dish can survive without)

You need a large baking dish. Note that if you are making this for lots of people, you need lots of oven capacity, and more than one baking tray, as it’s important you space out the potatoes so they crisp up. This doesn’t mean each and every slice needs its own zone, but they shouldn’t be crammed together – gently overlapping is what you’re aiming for. The more crammed together they are, the less the moisture can evaporate and the soggier the potatoes will be. You want something that’s crisp on the outside, soft on the inside and for this to happen the potatoes need space, man.

Oven to 180C.

Lay the sliced potatoes onto the baking tray with the pepper slices. Drizzle over one tablespoon of the oil and scatter over the rosemary, add a pinch of salt and a good grinding (snigger) of pepper. Toss everything together, rearrange so that they take up the maximum amount of tray space and aren’t all bunched together and roast in the oven for 25 minutes. Turn over half way through. If the edges aren’t brown, give it a bit longer than 25 mins.

Then, arrange the fish fillets on top of the potatoes, scatter over the olives, and place lemon slices on each fillet. Drizzle the fish with the remaining oil.

Roast for a further 7-8 minutes and you’re done.

*Waitrose sells frozen farmed seabass fillets for £4.39 for two (at time of going to press).

Pancetta, thyme and chestnut pappardelle

This is a delicious, easy, stand-by meal. The ingredients all have at least a week’s life-span (the majority a lot longer) so you can get them in, and when you want to eat something delicious but fast, you can.

I use fresh pasta for this. Dried pasta has a lower glycaemic index, but there is no greater lie in all the world, than the cooking times advertised on the front of dried pasta packets.

Although chestnuts make it festive, you could cook this at any time of year and if you were to do some prep before hand (not that you really need to) you’d have this on your plate in minutes. It’s a great thing to throw together for friends who you weren’t expecting to stay to lunch/dinner, or when you fancy something really flavoursome and delicate. It’s so much better than you think it’s going to be.

Adapted from Delicious magazine.

Serves 4 for moderate appetites, two if you’re greedy pigs.

Ingredients

300g fresh pappardelle pasta – fret not you can also use tagliatelle or spaghetti or really, let’s face it, any pasta. But pappardelle is a great shape for this recipe. And using fresh just makes the whole thing faster and easier.

1 tablespoon of olive oil (not virgin)

1 onion, finely chopped

200g ready cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped

A few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves taken off the woody stems

100g thinly sliced bacon, not too much fat on

a garlic clove, finely chopped

200g frozen petit pois. Make sure they are petit pois and not normal peas and you cook from frozen

a jar of 20cl Isigny Creme Fraiche  any other creme fraiche would do but I really love this one and the glass jars make great little storage pots, not least, they perfectly hold one cupcake.

Method

If you are using dried pasta, put it on to cook now because we know those cooking times are all damned lies. If using fresh pasta, don’t put it on yet but have a pan of water boiling away in the background.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan (at the end everything will end up in it) and fry the onion for a few minutes until soft. Add the bacon strips and fry for 5 mins, then add the garlic, chestnuts, petits pois and thyme.

(Put the fresh pasta on to boil for the 3-4 minutes it needs.)

Fry for a further 3-4 minutes. Drain the pasta then stir the creme fraiche through the stuff in the frying pan and finally add the pasta. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

 

My meatloaf

My mother’s meatloaf is the stuff of legend. In the past, whenever we had meatloaf at my house my children would look up, all eyelashes and downy cheeks and say “is this Nonna’s meatloaf?” and I would have to say that no, no it wasn’t, it was mummy’s. And they would look down and  eat it, making approving, encouraging noises but they would know, and I would know, that it wasn’t comparable. Every meatloaf I’ve tried, until this one, was just not right.

The thing about my mother’s meatloaf is that she minces her own meat, so it’s silky smooth and sublime. I like my meatloaf like I like my sausages: not coarse. I want it to be an easy transaction. And all the meatloaves I’d made before were too coarse, too dry, trying too hard.

Last year I bought Donna Hay’s Simple dinners, from whence this recipe comes.  It’s a great book. Her recipes are genuinely tasty, pretty healthy, made from a clever combination of not too many ingredients and easy to follow. She is, to my mind, just about the best cookery writer of the day (for meals ‘n’ stuff. Dan Lepard is still my man for bread). I’ve adapted it here because I’ve been making this meatloaf for over a year now and I’ve made it my own: I’ve adapted it slightly to suit our needs.

As such, this is now my meatloaf recipe, in that it’s the one I use as my go-to meatloaf recipe. I can’t imagine it will ever be made better by anyone else’s meatloaf recipe. Except, naturally, my mum’s.

(What I also love about it is, if you make this for a Sunday lunch, and it’s very good at Sunday lunch, you can make it in advance or the day before, keep it in the fridge and put it straight in the oven. Just give it 5-10 mins more in the oven at the lower temperature i.e. the first round of cooking.)

This is great served with the usual stuff, but I particularly like it with mash for a real comfort, fork-only meal.

You need:

a packet of thinly sliced pancetta, about 20 slices

110g breadcrumbs

60ml milk

400g rose-veal mince (all veal sold in Europe is non-crated, but I only buy higher welfare British veal, if you are not sure, substitute beef mince)

500g free range pork mince (I never, ever buy any other sort of pork)

1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard

1 large egg

a tablespoon of thyme leaves, stripped from the stem

salt and black pepper

2 tablespoons of maple syrup

What you do:

Oven on to 160C if you intend to cook it straight away. Get a loaf tin which is about 22cm by 8cm and line the bottom with the pancetta (line across the width, not length if you follow). If you imagine that the meatloaf will be turned upside down on serving, this will be the top of it. Don’t sweat it if you don’t have enough pancetta to cover the whole bottom/sides, and ditto if you have a bit too much, I also line the side/sides not just the bottom. If you have very long slices then don’t worry, you can just overlap them when the tin is full of the mince. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

Because I rarely have properly stale bread, and even if I did I hate grating bread (my mum always, always has properly stale bread which she grates), I put some day or so old bread into a food processor and whizz it up. Take it out then pour the milk over it and give it a little stir.

Now, what I do to make it all super smooth is this. I put the milky breadcrumbss back into the food processor with all the mince, the mustard,the thyme leaves and the egg. Add a bit of salt and black pepper. And then I whizz it all in the food processor. It comes out looking like awful meat slurry.

Don’t worry. You know it’s not.

Now, pack this into the loaf tin. It will seem like too much but keep the faith, pack it in, press it down, tuck over any overhanging pancetta slices if you have them. Then, either put in the oven or cover with cling film and put in the fridge for a day or so (obviously not over what the sell-by date of the meat is).

When you are ready to cook it put it in the preheated 160C oven and bake for 30-35 minutes until the meat is just cooked through. (If you’ve had it in the fridge then increase this time to 35-40 minutes maybe a tad longer, use your common sense.)

Now, take it out and onto a baking tray, invert the meatloaf. Obviously the tin will be hot so take care with oven gloves, etc. Onto the inverted meatloaf brush with the maple syrup. Turn oven up to 180C and now bake for 15-20 minutes.

Serve. It’s delicious.