Saturday, 28 September 2013

I don't care if it doesn't make sense, I just need it to taste of something...

Having the flu is so boring. Yes, the actual flu - woman flu, real flu, not man flu.  

Last night a friend took me out for a lovely meal to a great restaurant and all I could taste was salt.  Also I can't currently breathe and chew at the same time, which makes eating elegantly in a classy public place somewhat challenging.  

Still, there was a spectacular highlight to my meal / my whole week: spotting Jon Snow!  (Game of Thrones Jon Snow, not Channel 4 news Jon Snow, though I like him too.  I did a horrendously obvious triple take when he walked past me in the restaurant, and then had a hilarious moment with the waitress where we both acknowledged our shameful lechery. Poor the Jon Snow actor, being the object of such predatory cougars.)

Anyway, I have spent today mostly putting on and taking off jumpers as my fever goes up and down. Then I baked a possibly disastrous pear and ginger cake.  And then I decided I needed pasta, obvs.  At this point I am just throwing anything I can into it to make it taste of something - something strong, I don't care what: very garlicky salami
more garlic, chilli, onion, blue cheese, whatever you've got that tastes of a lot - double it.

Rigatoni's going to be my partner for the evening.
Short enough shapes that I can eat a couple of at once, without having to stop to open my mouth to breathe.  And also ridged for my pleasure - in as much as I can at least feel like something's going on in my mouth.

Chop, fry, yadda, yadda, yadda.  Then I realised I had no actual 'sauce' to this pasta sauce, so had to shove in some sour cream.  Wrong, wrong, wrong...
and yet so right.

Those green things above are peas.  Realised I needed a shot of vitamin C to fight the flu.  And the green in the shot above is spring onion, as when the time came, chopping an actual whole huge real onion seemed far too effortful, given my current condition.

Then I stuck some strong cheddar on top and shoved in the oven for a bit.

The result?

Well.  I mean it's not my most sophisticated hour, but it kind of has a chilli bacon melted blue cheese vibe going on that I can only describe as nacho-ish, in a good way.

I've got to tell you, it was awesome.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Pasta for an autumn day in July....

This weather is fully unacceptable.  How am I supposed to fit into a bikini next week when I'm eating like it's winter today?

The only upside to this drizzle and wind is that I can cook a creamy, rich pasta dish - and not feel quite as guilty as I normally would at this time of year.

I sort of adapted the recipe from this Brian Turner recipe on the BBC's website.  In essence I wanted a creamy artichoke and tomato pasta - with basil for a bit of freshness - and a garlic butter crumb for a bit of excitement (hold the olives.)

I fried half a red onion and some garlic in olive oil, with half a red chilli added to cut through the oncoming richness, then added some chopped up artichoke hearts:

and some semi-dried tomatoes, and let that all cook gently in the saucepan for five minutes. Then I added half a cup of vegetable stock, made with my trusted Marigold powder - goodness, I love this stuff:
And about a cup of single cream.  I let everything cook gently for another five or so minutes while the sauce thickened, then added a handful of chopped fresh basil leaves as a nod to freshness.

I had this very beautiful tagliatelle in the cupboard:
which allegedly has raddichio in it, but clearly tastes exactly like regular tagliatelle once you've boiled all the flavour out of it...
Finally I fried some Panko breadcrumbs in olive oil and butter for 2 minutes,
then added some finely chopped garlic for a further 30 seconds, to make a crunchy, golden garlic breadcrumb topping.

(Breadcrumbs are / were traditionally used as a 'poor man's' substitute for parmesan in the south of Italy.)  For good measure I grated a tiny bit of rich man's parmesan on top too - just because there wasn't enough fat in the dish at that point.

The result was delicious - creamy, crunchy, full of flavour and texture - light and yet utterly comforting and lovely.  It almost made up for the fact that it's raining and windy and utterly unlovely outside.  

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Pasta for a grey April day, when it really should be spring

My friend Ed, who is a brilliant cook, and a vegetarian, came for lunch today - two reasons to be nervous: I can't out-cook him, and I panic when I can't put bacon in food, fearing that it'll taste bland*.  Still, I trust Nigel Slater wholeheartedly, and decided to make his mushroom and pesto lasagne, - partly because today's weather is exactly the sort of weather for such a mellow, comforting dish - and partly because I had some bechamel in the freezer that was annoying me. (If something is there, I have to do it / eat it / buy it / break it - I'm not very good at ignoring things.)

So: lasagne.  Labour of love / ball-ache but worth it.  The sheets always remind me of the sheets
of a book:
Maybe my next book should be printed on lasagne, and then you could eat it, as and when...

Anyway, the recipe is pretty easy.  It's mostly about the mushrooms:
and the cream and cheese:
lifted with a burst of fresh, super green parsley:
Nigel says make your own pesto.  I say buy your own pesto:
I have a hard enough time trying to get the pasta sheets to fit neatly on top of the sauce.

Nonethless, it all worked out fine in the end - in spite of a rather large fissure:
And the best thing about it all?  The best thing?  No, not the beautiful golden bubbling cheesy topping:
And not even the beautiful silky layers of pasta, enveloping a creamy, cheesy sauce:
No.  The best thing is that when you cook for someone who's a better cook than you, they bring dessert...
Epic cookies:
Seriously epic cookies:

Ginger, chocolate, crunchy, chewy, slightly fiery, totally moreish.  Yes, that was the best bit about the lasagne.

(* I hate to say it but I do think the lasagne would have been perfect if I'd put bacon in with the cream, mushrooms, cheese and parmesan.)

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Pasta from the back of the new book!

Here is the recipe for the first pasta dish at the back of Leftovers - designed to be eaten when you've just finished a good book and are feeling a temporary sense of loss of entertainment. This pasta is my slightly indulgent take on an Amatriciana – the classic Roman sauce of tomato, bacon and cheese.  It is nowhere near authentic, but it is easy, delicious, comforting and not that bad for you, in a relative universe.  These quantities make enough sauce for two people, but I’ve written as a ‘serves one’, so that if there’s one of you, you can eat the leftover sauce the following day, once you are engrossed in your new book / film, and can’t be bothered to cook.

100g linguine
70g cubed pancetta
a knob of butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion – red or white, or 1 large echalion / banana shallot - chopped
1 large clove of garlic, thinly sliced
a pinch of red chilli flakes
a pinch of sugar
a pinch of salt
a tin of tomatoes - peeled cherry tomatoes work well
40ml of single cream
pecorino (this pecorino has been knocking about my fridge since 6th October 2012 and is still perfectly edible.)

Heat the butter and olive oil in a saucepan over a medium heat until the butter has melted.  Add the onion / shallot and cook over a gentle heat for five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the pancetta and garlic, and cook for a further ten minutes, stirring, so that the onion starts to turn golden, but doesn’t turn brown.
Add the tomatoes, chilli flakes, salt and sugar, stir, and leave to cook gently on a low heat for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile cook the pasta in boiling salted water.  I chose linguine, because I love the feel of the flatness in my mouth.  

Also, I like the way that the strands of pasta line up in such an orderly and neat fashion before they boil into disarray in the water.

Two minutes before the pasta is ready, add a dollop of single cream to the tomato sauce, stir, taste for seasoning and bring back to a simmer.

Drain the pasta, pour the sauce on top and grate some fresh pecorino (or parmesan) on the top immediately.

For what it’s worth, my recommendations as to what to read next are as follows: 

If you’re looking for something very funny, try Bossypants by Tina Fey.
If you’d prefer a smart, sharp thriller, try Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Or if you fancy a movie, see my guide to Ryan Gosling’s greatest hits later in the book.  Or rent / buy The Silver Linings Playbook with the ever-brilliant Jennifer Lawrence, and the not unattractive Bradley Cooper.  It’s funny, a bit spiky, clever and romantic.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Jamie Oliver's spaghetti with prawns, chilli and rocket

I love Jamie, and I love this recipe.  I used to make it all the time.  Then I guess I must have missed cheese, so I veered away from fish based pastas.  But for Mother's Day I made it again, and it really is delicious - spicy, spring-like, fresh, gutsy (from the tomato paste, garlic, chilli and wine) and ultimately  ALL ABOUT THE LEMON ZEST.

Basically you fry chilli and garlic in olive oil, add the prawns and watch as they do their magic trick, turning from grey to pink:
Chuck in some sundried tomato paste, rocket, white wine and lemon juice:
Then toss the sauce through some spaghetti.  Can I just say that no matter how far I roam, spaghetti will almost definitely hold the dearest place in the pasta shaped chamber of my heart.
I think it's all about the perfection of straight lines, the hope of controlling things.
Anyway, combine with the other ingredients, stir through and top with a bit more rocket and some lemon zest.  I cannot stress the degree to which the lemon zest elevates this from good to GRRRREAT.
Totally delicious.

I was then lucky enough to go to lunch at Locanda Locatelli two days later, and being the pasta-whore that I am, ordered pasta with prawns and chilli and garlic, and pistachios:

Really very good.   But I have to say, I think Jamie's and mine had the edge.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Conchiglie with bacon, cream, mushrooms, radicchio and sage.

Conchiglie, one of my all time favourite pasta shapes.

Conchiglie truly would make a good friend.  Look at him!  Those private little sanctums where you can hide all your embarrassing secrets.

Like the fact that if you had your way, every single meal you ate would involve a combo of bacon, cream, fried onions and cheese.

Or the fact that you cannot keep a sage plant alive for more than one moment:

The fact that you only put radicchio in your pasta because you felt guilty about going three whole days without eating any of your five a day.

The fact that you would rather take a mushroom's photo and post it on the internet, than spend those same two minutes tidying up your increasingly chaotic living area.

No.  Not conchiglie.  Conchiglie would wrap up all your secrets safe and warm

and wouldn't unfurl them for anyone, least of all the internet.

And if your pasta was particularly delicious and creamy, with salty bacon and caramelised shallots and parmesan on top, then conchiglie might even share your joy by giving you a smile...