4 Cheese Macaroni makes Monday’s supper magical…

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4 Cheese Macaroni makes Monday supper magical...

This is one of those dishes that is simply a sensory delight. It transforms a dull clichéd pasta and cheese dish into a veritable dish of the Gods. It looks good, it smells unbelievable and the texture is phenomenal. It is a dish to leave home for, to marry for, to fight for. I cannot tell you how good it is – but, and I know I wax lyrical rather too often at times – this dish is really worth waxing about – it is fabulous in every sense of the word. Please – please – please make it – and make it soon. Throw all other macaroni recipes in the bin.

For 4

500 gms pasta – use macaroni – I used a mix from my odds and sods tin – very home should have one
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
2 large teaspoons of oregano
75 gms Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, plus a little extra for grating
100 gms Taleggio cheese, roughly chopped – my favourite …mmmm
100 gms mascarpone cheese
1 ball of mozzarella cheese
75 gms of lardons pan fired and put to one side
A sprinkle of dried chilli seeds

Preheat the oven to 200ºc. Cook the pasta in a pan of boiling water for 10 minutes, then drain in a colander and keep back a little of the cooking water.

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based frying pan, add the oregano and fry gently for a minute, then turn off the heat. Add the cooked pasta to the oregano oil (this is a vital part of the process and adds immensely to the sensory experience of this dish- I promise), along with a couple of spoonfuls of the reserved cooking water and the parmesan, taleggio and mascarpone.

Return to a medium heat and toss and stir around until most of the cheese has melted and you have a seriously goo style sauce – you may need to add a little more of the reserved cooking water. Add a short sharp shock of sea salt and two or three grinds of black pepper, then tip it all into an earthenware dish. Add the lardons. Add the mozzarella sliced into slivers and sprinkle over the extra parmesan. Then add the sprinkle of chilli seeds. Bake the macaroni cheese in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove and stick the dish under a preheated grill until golden brown.

I served it with a rocket salad and a fine bottle of Primitivo from Puglia – a favourite wine of mine.

My Monday is now complete. I can face the rest of the week- all because of this dish.

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Rough weather risotto…

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Rough weather risotto...

So what do you do when you come in out of the deluge that the local rain gods have chosen to favour your region with and you feel damp and a tad despondent – and you look in the fridge and there is a hatful of fresh spinach left over from Monday…and then you see the bowl of toasted pine nuts that are also left over from Monday making a pass at you from a kitchen shelf?

Only one thing to do – a spinach and pine nut risotto!

Bliss in a bowl bestowed upon you with basic ingredients that warm and soothe away the aches and melancholy induced by the foul ferocious weather of ferrel February.

For 4 fair folk

1 onion finely chopped
75 gm unsalted butter
400 gm arborio rice
1 glass of white wine
1.5 litres of chicken stock
salt and pepper
A handy hatful of spinach washed and chopped roughly
60 gm parmesan cheese grated
100 gm toasted pine nuts

Fry the onion in half the butter until soft and transparent. I use a large stainless steel sauté pan. Add the rice and stir until the rice is coated with the butter and onions. Add the wine and stir well. After 1 minute stir in a ladleful of stock.. Stir gently then add more stock. Continue like this for about 20 minutes – put some good music on and open a bottle of red to see you through. The rice will become soft and tender but the grains will remain firm – perfect. Season with a grind or two of sea salt and black pepper.

Remove from the heat and stir in the rest of the butter, the spinach and the parmesan. Stir thoroughly and cover. Leave it to rest for two minutes, then serve in warmed bowls – top with the toasted pine nuts.

A brilliant way to use up two key ingredients left over from Monday’s bit of magic. This has to be a real favourite risotto of mine.

Simple and satisfying on a stormy eve.

Christmas Carpaccio!

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Christmas Carpaccio!

Which is just the same as at any other time of the year! But it got our Christmas day lunch under way with a gentle zing of flavours and textures. Carpaccio was an invention of the guy who owned Harry’s Bar in Venice and originally allegedly made for a visiting countess who had been advised by her doctors to eat only raw meat. Lucky for us! There happened to be an exhibition on at that time in the 50s in Venice for the great painter Carpaccio – who had a penchant for the colours red and white – appropriate for the dish (and for my current blog look too!) .

So that was who it was named after.

Traditionally made from fresh sirloin sliced very thin and scattered, as here, with lemon juice, olive oil and shavings of good parmesan, it is just so delicious, and light too, as an antipasto. If you can, instead of olive oil a little truffle oil makes it really special. I have also had it served in France with a very fine mayonnaise.

If you have not tried it – you must! One way to prepare it is to pop the sirloin into your freezer until it has hardened, then remove and slice very thinly with your very sharpest knife. Season the slices lightly and return to the fridge for at least 15 minutes, then serve as you fancy. There are also lots of great delis who sell it. I popped some rocket on the side too as I adore the stuff.

Happy St.Stephen’s Day!

Rocket fuelled Lazy Light Lunch…

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Rocket fuelled Lazy Light Lunch...

Busy Saturday doing lots of little really…so needed a light lunch that would tidy us over until supper – friends coming round so afternoon shopping trip to Salisbury was on the cards. Had a gorgeous ciabatta loaf which I sliced and grilled lightly on one side, then rubbed with babe Spanish tomatoes split in half – the shells I then pushed into each slice. I topped them with some sexy serrano ham, slivers of salty, sweet and tangy parmesan. Then a little rocket, some more olive oil and voila – a simple, yet just right lunch – I adore rocket – it just adds that pepperiness to such dishes and makes them even more appealing.

Pine nut & Pepper Pasta Perfection on a plate…oh, ok…in a bowl…

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Pine nut & Pepper Pasta Perfection on a plate..ok..a bowl

Right, just got a few minutes whilst I am poaching a chicken for supper and, before I do the rice,  to tell you what has been happening- well work has commenced once more, and yet with the sun still shining all is still fine soul-wise. So, suppers recently have been simple and of the ‘ok what have we got hanging out in the fridge variety’. Last night I just got out several items that nodded politely to me as I perused the cupboards…the general consensus was a pasta dish – and I wanted to do something around my standard courgette and lardon pasta dish that my kids love so much. Something a little more substantial still.

So.

I pan fried two diced courgettes with two cloves of chopped garlic, 100 gm of lardons and then in a moment of recklessness I threw in 75 gm of pine nuts and the chopped stems of several basil stalks. A dash of dried oregano too, then I added a red pepper cut into match stick slices and two mushrooms, very, very finely chopped – why? – my daughter doesn’t like them, so the smaller they are, the less she is likely to see them…and she didn’t! Then I sprinkled over some dried chilli flakes. This all combined pleasantly for about ten minutes. Once it looked just right – I drizzled on a little more good olive oil and waited for the rigatoni to cook. Then I drained it – added a portion to each bowl and spooned on a serving of the heavenly pine nut / pepper mix. And of course, we all shaved parmesan on it to our heart’s content – it was a marriage made in my kitchen!  It looked wonderfully colourful and it tested all the taste buds.

So, I have to head back to the kitchen now – pardon the rush!

Enjoy the coming weekend where ever you reside…and keep in touch!

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Saturday supper for Popeye fans everywhere….

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Saturday supper for Popeye fans everywhere....

Saturday was a bit of a stinker of a day at work so on returning at 6pm it was a case of cranking up something easy and tasty and social – so I turned to seranno ham and spinach! They were the first things to wave at me when I opened the fridge door so they got lucky. I must put out a big thank you to Peter Lane of icookyoueat for the inspiration for the spinach dish. I had them at his house recently, though I have to say I could not remember the recipe -blame his generosity with the vino! – so I gave it my own spin – hope they sound ok, Peter! They certainly tasted very good. I took a large bag of spinach and steamed it til it just wilted. Then it went into a sieve – well I used a fine colander – and pressed out all the liquid. I left it to cool. Then in a bowl I mixed some bread crumbs with a good handful of grated parmesan – please never buy the ready grated stuff. I added the spinach and mixed it together with black pepper and a little rock salt and some dried chilli flakes. I used a little beaten egg to bind it then rolled it into balls – then I pan fried them in olive oil until a little crispy on the outside but meltingly soft inside.

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I served them as a grand sort of tapas with an aubergine tray bake. I’ve mentioned this before but this is how I do it. Slice up
an aubergine (eggplant to my friends across the pond!), drizzle (that is such a sexy word) olive oil on a baking tray, then add the aubergine slices. Pop in the oven – 200c-for about 10 minutes til beginning to turn golden. Remove – flip them over – drizzle more olive oil over them – scatter some sweet baby plum toms around (or you could halve some normal toms – as long as they are tasty!) Back in oven for another 10 minutes or so- toms should be softening now. Top the aubergine with chunks of mozzarella. Back in oven for 5 mins – then out and top with slices of serrano ham – or of course parma if you wish – then back in the oven for final 3 minutes. Out – scatter over some basil leaves and some grated parmesan and a tad ore olive oil and black pepper and bob’s your uncle. Apparently. Serve with crusty bread. Delicious. And simple. You could add other bits and pieces – eg slices of oiled mushrooms to this too. Play around!  And the spinach balls go really well with it! Though, you could, as my friend Peter did, serve them on a bed of spaghetti or linguini. Popeye would probably smoke them!

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Penne con Sugo di Salsicce….a brilliant mid week dish..

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Penne con Sugo di Salsicce....a brilliant mid week dish..

These tinkers nestling in the dish are from Parsonage Farm…. Tuscan Style sausages ..perfect for one of my kids’ favourite dishes. I first saw this dish eons ago in the first River Cafe book…and it has stayed with me ever since..though it gets a tiddly bit altered each time, depending on how I feel!

Right then, here we go…

2 tbsps Olive oil
5 or 6 Italian spiced fresh pork sausages, meat removed from skins and crumbled (if you can’t get them easily – just use good quality pork sausages)
1 small red onions peeled and chopped.
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped.
2 small dried chillies, crumbled or a good tbsp or two of crushed dried chillies.
2 bay leaves
Small handful of fresh rosemary
Large glass of a good red wine

2x 400g tines peeled plum tomatoes, drained.
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
120g parmesan, freshly grated – be generous
150ml single Cream
75 gram per person of penne rigate – but this is for folk who may not be hungry or not require seconds – I usually cook a 500gm bag.

Heat the oil in a large pan, and fry the sausage meat, stirring and breaking up the pieces. 

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After the juice from the meat has evaporated and the fat begins to run, add the onion, garlic, chilli, rosemary and bay leaves.

Cook gently for almost 30 mins until the onions are brown. Pour in the wine, increase the heat and cook until the wine evaporates. Now add the tomatoes, lower the heat, and simmer gently until you have a thick sauce, about 45-60 minutes.

Season with salt (and pepper, if the sausages were not spicy), and add the Parmesan and cream.

Cook the penne and then drain well. Add the pasta to the sauce, mix and serve. 

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This is so good..I mean…really truly scrumptiously delicious on a big scale.

Hasta Pasta…

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Hasta Pasta...

Supper last night was a ‘what’s in the fridge ‘supper. And what was lurking in the fridge was one of my favourite veg – asparagus. So, into the pan went two slices of smoked bacon, chopped, then after a minute I added one clove of garlic finely chopped, one red chilli chopped. I steamed the asparagus then cut it into 5 cm pieces and added it to the other ingredients. A little drizzle of olive oil before serving on a bowl of pasta with lots of good parmesan grated over. I was stuck for a name for this dish – asparagus looks like a spear – I remembered the Latin for spear was hasta..so Hasta Pasta it is!!