Lamb and rosemary meatballs with baby sweet red peppers…

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Lamb and rosemary meatballs with baby sweet red peppers...

Friday night. Valentine’s. So had to be something red on the go! And I came across these stunning sweet baby red peppers in our local grocers and there was no looking back. I will not bore you too much with the recipe as I am sure all you wonderful cooks out there do these sort of dishes blindfold. Suffice to say I made the meatballs from minced lamb, black pepper,lots, chopped fresh rosemary and a pinch of smoked paprika and a grind or two of sea salt. Simple.

I knocked up a tomato sauce with a base of chopped basil stalks, a crushed garlic clove, a splodge of oregano and a sprinkle of dried crushed red chilli. Then 2×400 gm cans of finest Italian tomatoes.

I brought this to a simmer and left for around 40 minutes to thicken and get….err…. more saucy!

Meatballs meanwhile were pan fried in a little olive oil for 15 minutes until browned. I pan fried the peppers in a little olive oil until starting to blacken just a touch and put them to one side. The meatballs went into an oblong casserole dish and I then added the sauce. I placed as artistically as I could (!) the peppers in between and then dotted 20 mini mozzarella balls here and there.

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An additional grind of black pepper, a drizzle of oilve oil, a few more basil leaves and then a good grating pf parmesan and it was ready to go in the preheated oven (160c) for 40 minutes until lovely and browned.

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Served with pasta, ’twas a veritable Valentinian feast!

A Polish dish that’s easy to polish off!

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A Polish dish that's easy to polish off!

I stumbled across these delightful dumplings at Lidl recently in their Polish range – oh wow are they something! They are potato based dumplings filled with a terrific tasty mixture of pork and beef mince with leek, onion and carrot. They are called Pyzy Zmiesem – not easy to say when you have had a few glasses of vino….! Anyway, they come frozen. You just need to pop them in a large pan of boiling water with a tbsp of oil and a little salt. After about 10 minutes they rise to the top, then you reduce the heat and simmer for 8 minutes. I made a lardons and tomato sauce to accompany these beauties. I pan fried garlic, cumin seeds, crushed dried chillies and a bay leaf for a minute then added a 100 gm of lardons.

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As it turned a gorgeous lightly crispy colour I added a 40o gm can of chopped toms plus a little sugar. I brought this to the boil and then turned down the heat for 20 minutes and let it thicken a tad.Then I turned off the heat, popped a lid on and left it whilst the Pyzy got busy. I drained them, gently laid them on a dish, added a splash of red wine vinegar and good olive oil to the tomato mixture and ladled this silky sauce over them, adding a basil leaf or two for colour.

The family wolfed it – I would love to have a go at making my own – though it would be hard to match the texture and flavour of these demon dumplings.

A fine supper dish when time is at a premium!

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Comfort food…

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Comfort food...

It’s good to have another half who steps up to the plate – literally the hotplate in this case – and cook you a supper that hits the spot when you feel grim. Last night my wife made her standby ‘cheer up’ supper. She puts a small can of tuna, flaked, into a bowl with a can of chopped tomatoes, fresh basil chopped, fresh golden oregano chopped, a diced garlic clove, a fresh red chilli finely chopped, black olives, a ball of mozzarella torn up, a good tbsp of rinsed capers, a tiny splash of red wine vinegar, a drizzle of olive oil and a grind of black pepper, sea salt and a dash of tomato sauce. She lets it all marinate for at least an hour – then simply pours it into a pot of just cooked and drained rigatoni. It is delicious and I was very grateful….I’m beginning to feel more alive today…hopefully might get into the kitchen later! But whilst I have been recuperating at least my chief sous chef has come up trumps! Thank you ! x

Parmigiana Pugliese…

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Last night’s supper was a new version of an old classic – melanzane parmigiana – my wife’s favourite. Like so many popular Italian dishes there seem to be a hundred different versions. I read about this a while ago in a book on Italy but the other day saw a recipe in a Jamie Oliver magazine I was browsing through. Had to give it a go. The key difference here is the treatment of the aubergine slices and the addition of mortadella sausage. It produces a wonderfully unctious and filling sauce.

Ingredients for 6

olive oil / 4 garlic cloves peeled and finely sliced / bunch of basil, leaves picked and stems finely chopped / 2 medium aubergines / 2 x 400gm chopped tin tomatoes / 150 gm mozzarella torn into pieces / 8 slices of mortadella  a bowl of flour / 3 eggs beaten / handful of breadcrumbs

Oven set to 180c. Lightly fry the garlic and basil stalks in olive oil in a pan until lightly golden. Add the chopped toms, a little salt and black pepper and a dash of tom sauce or puree. Bring to boil and simmer for 20 minutes until thick.

Slice the aubergine into 5mm rounds. Heat more olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Dip each aubergine slice first into the flour then into the beaten egg. Pop straight into the frying pan. Cook in batches – be patient! Each slice will take around a minute per side to brown up. Set to one side on kitchen paper.

In a deep ovenproof dish layer up your parmigiana.A layer of sauce, a few basil leaves and then a layer of aubergine. Top with 4 slices of the mortadella. Then more tomato sauce. Pop in half of the mozzarella and more basil leaves. Then another layer of mortadella. Then more sauce over this and another layer of aubergine. Finish with the remaining tomato sauce. Cover the dish with foil and pop in the oven for half an hour.

Remove fron the oven – remove the foil – add the remaining mozzarella and scatter over the breadcrumbs and a grating or two of parmesan.  Drizzle over some olive oil and pop back in the oven for 20 – 30 minutes til golden and bubbling.

I served it with lamb meatballs – though it is a meal in itself. And i also fancied some white asparagus in lemon juice and oil so we had that too! Greedy, eh?!

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Nettle and Lardon Frittata….

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No sting in this tail.....!

This was one of those days when you get into a sort of gardening groove and you want to use something that is wild and free – and there – well frankly with our garden – all around – are bags of nettles! I have been beating and nobbling and chopping the swines down for years. And then this morning I found myself reading Nigel Slater‘s Kitchen Diaries 2 with regard to black pudding – see previous posts. By sheer fluke i turned over the page and there, lo and behold, was an article on nettles! I put on a Sting cd and read on….(ouch!).

The result was – I decided to involve them in tonight’s supper – I was already planning a frittata – so it just became even more interesting than normal. It is ‘rocket sciencely simple’ (not easy to say when you have had a glass or three of shiraz).

For four –

Pan fry a finely chopped onion until translucent. Add a 75 gm pack of pancetta or lardons and continue til it is nicely browned. Put to one side.

I used about 50 gm of nettle tops – washed and rinsed well. I pan fried them lightly in olive oil til they wilted. Set them to one side and let them cool. Nettles do not wilt as much as spinach so you get a little more. But of course – you could use spinach if you can’t get nettles.

For the tomato sauce – pierce a green chilli – add to a saucepan with a good sprinkle of dried oregano, a chopped garlic clove and a finely sliced, deseeded green chilli plus at least two tbsp of olive oil. Then add a 400 gm tin of chopped tomatoes. Bring to a gentle simmer and leave for around 20 minutes with a lid on. Taste – add some tom sauce if you like or a tsp of sugar.

Ok – I used 500 gm of spaghetti cooked as per the packet – then drained. In a jug I popped 2 eggs and about 100 gm of milk plus some black pepper, a dash of salt and a good handful of parmesan cheese grated. I mixed this all together with a fork.

I popped the spag into a large bowl and stirred in the egg mixture. Then I put a large frying pan on the stove with a dash of olive oil. I then added half of the spaghetti mixture to the pan – flattened it down with a plate. Into the centre I added the bacon mixture and the finely chopped nettles. Then I carefully add the rest of the spaghetti – pressed down again with the plate – so that the filling is all covered.

Pan fry it for about 5 minutes til it looks a little browned underneath – use a slice to lift it to check. Then whizz it under a preheated grill to brown the top a little. It is just a matter of being patient and attentive. Put on some good music and watch – when it it is as you want it – pop a large plate over the frying pan and carefully flip it so that the fritatta ends up on the plate.

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Bring to the table – use a sharp knife to cut wedges and serve with the tomato sauce. This is frighteningly simple and scarily tasty! The pancetta and nettles blend so well.

A supper with real bite!

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Rack and roll…!

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Rack and roll...!

A fizzingly wet Les Miserables of an evening.only one thing to do – whack in a juicy rack of spring lamb from my good friends at Parsonage Farm. Ah, but as always, what to diddle with it? To my joy, there in the corner of the veg rack is a paper bag of gorgeous Jersey royals. I slice them all in half, parboil them for ten minutes then pan fry them in my wok in aromatic olive oil.

The rack of lamb – I made a few slices in it, rubbed it with olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary. 25 minutes sunning itself in the oven would do the trick. Feeling greedy, I took a bag of alluring chestnut mushrooms, pan fried them in chiili salt and oil. I had already put a pan of tomato sauce on – a green chilli – pierced – a clove of garlic – olive oil and a good 400gm of tinned toms. Cooked it for the time the lamb was in til it was mesmerisingly unctuous. Served it all in a dish – pink fragrant spring lamb, so tasty my family were almost purring.

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A little Oasis in the background added a little more rock and roll and warmth to the evening. And of course a delicious bottle of creamy Cab Sauv.

Oh..and I forgot to mention – whilst I was cooking, I fancied a tapas – there was a bowl loitering in the fridge of the leftovers from my wife’s excellent chicken risotto from last night. So – it called to me. I rolled it into 12 little balls and pan fried it for a mock arancini starter – stunning with a crisp glass of white.

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It may have been raining outside – but in here – it was all sunshine, rock and roll, spring lamb and wine!

Gnocchi, gnocchi, who’s there?

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Gnocchi, gnocchi, who's there?

Tonight’s supper…a spicy pinto bean fuelled arrabiata gnocchi dish. Fizz bang wallop! For the sauce….pan fry a sliced deseeded red chilli with some mean smokey bacon cut into strips – you could use lardon or pancetta – a tablespoon of oregano in garlic oil. Added 300gm of a good quality tomato passata, a little ground black pepper. Bring to a gentle boil, then turn down to a simmer for about twenty minutes or so. If it tastes a little bitter, add a pinch of sugar. Add a small tin of pinto beans and cook for another 10 minutes or so. Cook the fresh gnocchi for a minute or so until it rises to the top of a pan of lightly salted boiling water. Drain and add to the sauce. I then added a small handful of torn basil leaves at the last minute before I served it. On the side I served two courgettes, sliced, pan fried in olive oil and butter with some garlic and dried chiili & a little rock salt. It was a spot hitting dish for a Friday evening. Bullseye!