Category Archives: What’s for lunch?

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).

HipstamaticPhoto-578332785.064248

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.

HipstamaticPhoto-578336868.528218

A cross section

Spiced carrot and lentil soup

This is one of those soups that is so much more than a sum of its parts.  (A bit like this chorizo and red lentil soup one is, too.) It’s also perfect for this time of year when you’ve been in elasticated waistbands for the last two weeks and dread structured clothing. And yet you can’t stop eating, as if hiding evidence.

It’s so easy to make. I chuck it all into the slow cooker at about 2pm, not that it needs slow cooking, but it just makes it even easier. Put it on low and then we eat it at about six  o’clock after a quick whizz up with the stick blender. No need to grate the carrot, I just chop mine into pieces.

The recipe is here on the BBC Good Food site.

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…

 

Pressure cooker risotto.

I never grew up thinking of risotto as risotto but ‘riso’ – this was just always how we had rice. So I’ve never been intimidated by it. This may be why I approached making it in the pressure cooker with the gung-ho attitude I did (it ends well, so don’t worry, no gore or heads blow off).

This is what happened. The children were playing with Lego, it was one of those days where all was right with the world. The sun was shining, the chickens were out pecking the grass, I had mascara on and it was a week day. I had, in the back of my mind, an inkling I had read you could make risotto in the pressure cooker – you can of course.

The pressure cooker was out because I had just made industrial quantities of chicken broth. And that broth tasted really good. I’m always a bit surprised when MY chicken broth comes out tasting anywhere near as good as my mum’s. Anyway. I had loads of broth, it was so tasty. We were going to have warmed up (home made, sourdough, wood-oven cooked – because what do you think I am?) pizza with salad.

But I couldn’t be bothered. I had a bit of a tummy ache and the thought of filling it with pizza, albeit as good as you can get pizza, didn’t really appeal. Plus, have I mentioned, the broth was SO good. So I got some short grain rice (judge me but honestly it’s so similar to risotto rice, which I also had but didn’t use), some onion, some oil, some of my amazing broth and I set to.

This is what I did:

I put the pressure cooker onto saute (mine has that function if not you’ll have to do this bit on the stove), and added some extra virgin really good olive oil. Forget this shit that you need to use crap olive oil to cook, you don’t. You can use really good stuff and it does make a difference to the taste of food (I do use not so good olive oil for some things but not when there are so few ingredients and each needs to step up and hold its own).

I gently softened a chopped onion and some bacon I found in the fridge (three rashers of smokey). Then I added 200g of short grain rice, stirred it around, put in 500ml of stock and put the pressure cooker on 40 wotsit pressure for seven minutes.

Seven minutes.

I did of course expect to open the lid and the rice explode like a million fire crackers or it be over cooked or undercooked, but it lay there, glistening, perfect and, despite what the Daily Mail will have you believe, nothing bad happened.

Sure it has to get up to pressure, but it doesn’t take long to get up to 40. After 7 mins you release the steam fast, add 100 ml of stock, some peas what I had had in boiling water for the last 7 mins (as in just chucked frozen peas in a jug and poured boiling water over them) and some parmesan.

It was so good I wanted to open the door and scream. It served three of us but you could easily double this.

More officially:

Some good olive oil, about a tablespoon

An onion, chopped

Bacon, snipped into pieces

200g risotto or short grain rice

600g home made stock – divided up into 500/100ml

An amount of peas to please you all

Parmesan to stir into once cooked.

Of course you could adapt this but this is the basics of what I used. 200g rice to 600g stock.

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.