Avocado Pesto Pasta

Linguine with Avocado Pesto

I think avocados are one of the foods which will always be synonymous with ‘grown-up food’ for me. They fall into the category of foods which I didn’t like at all as a child, but have grown to love as I’ve got older – along with olives, capers, spaghetti carbonara, and beans (pulses, rather than green beans). Having spurned avocado as a child, I can’t get enough of it these days – on toast for breakfast; in salads; just on its own… Delicious.

I know what you’re thinking – no posts for two months, and she leaps back in with avocados, without so much as a by-your-leave?! (Actually, I don’t think anyone uses the phrase by-your-leave these days, but I like it). It’s true – I have been away from home and from blogging, and I’m sure I’ll tell you about it as we go along. But for now – back to avocados.

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Avocado is different from some of the food I didn’t like as a child because it was something I really *wanted* to like. It had a sort of mystery to it, a sophistication – something about it was very grown up, and I was annoyed I didn’t like it. My mother was very strict about food as we were growing up – we were expected to eat what was put in front of us, and she was unimpressed by pickiness. This led to some incidents of spaghetti carbonara-induced misery – but there were also certain foods which she would concede it was reasonable for children not to like, and avocados were one of them.

So, I can remember trying both avocado and olives, disliking them, and being told that perhaps I would like them when I grew up – this immediately made me want to like them, because all any child wants is to be more grown up. I also remember my mother and grandmother eating avocado for lunch – half an avocado each, with vinaigrette in the well in the centre, eaten with a spoon. Something about it was so sophisticated – the same goes for olives at a drinks party. The image in my head is of adults standing around with drinks, eating olives from small dishes – oh to attain the dizzy heights of drinking alcohol and liking olives!! Then I would know I had made it.

I’m not sure what changed, and when I started liking avocado. Maybe it was my discovery of guacamole? Either way, seeing as I could now happily eat avocado every day, that must mean I am VERY grown up…?

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This dish is a wonderful way to eat avocado – I had it in a restaurant years ago, and have been recreating it ever since. I don’t often think of avocado as something to eat with warm food, but it works stirred through pasta, especially at this time of year when a bowl of just-warm pasta is both filling, and not too hot. You can adjust the leaves you use in the dish – either adding avocado to a fairly standard pesto genovese base, or replacing some of the basil with, for instance, watercress or rocket, to give a peppery kick to the dish. One thing I would say is to make sure that you include enough avocado – the other flavours in the pesto are strong, and you need enough avocado to make sure its delicious creamy flavour comes through.

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I’ve included crispy bacon in this recipe, but if you would rather make this a meat-free dish you can very easily leave it out. If you do use bacon – if you happen to have a bottle of white wine open, add a splash to the pan as the bacon cooks, if you feel so inclined (I did…). You will be left with what Nigella Lawson describes as ‘a small amount of salty winey syrup’ in her spaghetti carbonara recipe, which is truly wonderful with the bacon. You could also add all sorts of other things to the dish instead of (/as well as…) the bacon – halved cherry tomatoes, some sort of cheese – feta, mozzarella or goats’ cheese spring to mind.

Or, of course, it will be delicious just as it comes.

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Avocado Pesto Pasta 
Serves 2

  • 1.5 ripe avocado*
  • 30g fresh basil (leaves & stalks) – or a mix of basil and other herbs/leaves
  • 1.5 tbsp freshly grated parmesan, plus more to serve
  • 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp pine nuts
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 200g pasta*
  • 2 rashers streaky bacon – or pancetta/lardons (optional)
  • Splash of white wine (optional)

Start by making the pesto. Peel, de-stone and roughly chop the avocado, and add to the bowl of a food processor along with the basil, parmesan, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil. Process to a rough paste, taste and season with salt and pepper.

Bring a medium pan of salted water to the boil, and cook the pasta according to packet instructions. In the meantime, heat a small frying pan to a fairly high heat, add the bacon, and cook until the bacon starts to crisp. Pour a splash of white wine into the pan and allow the wine to reduce until you have a syrupy glaze.

When the pasta is cooked, drain in a colander – allow some of the cooking water to still cling to the pasta as this will help the sauce and pasta blend. Stir through the pesto and bacon, and serve topped with a grating of fresh parmesan.

Notes:

  • If you have half an avocado left as a result of this, keep the stone in the half you are saving, it will help to stop it going brown.
  • I prefer long pasta for this dish – especially linguine. But there’s no reason you couldn’t make this with pasta shapes if that’s what you have and what you prefer.

4th of July Chicken

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This chicken is called 4th of July Chicken for no other reason than that I made it on 4th July, to take to a picnic that evening. There’s nothing particularly American about it – if anything, I guess it has a slight Italian influence to it. This July 4th was my first in the States – so, in fact my first July 4th full stop, because to be honest it somewhat passes us by in the UK. Not surprising, really.

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I had a very pleasant lazy day, followed by a picnic watching the concert and fireworks at Tanglewood with my friend Vicky. Vicky, it turns out, is the picnic queen, and brought all sorts of treats for us to enjoy, as well as an impressive array of picnic paraphernalia, so we were very well catered for. I brought wine and chicken. It was a fun evening, although as I watched a volley after volley of jubilant fireworks, I couldn’t help but feel you Americans must REALLY hate us Brits…

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Anyway, either way – this is tasty chicken. It’s great for a picnic – we had it just as it comes, but it would also be great to beef up a salad. It’s quick and easy, and you can make it in advance. You also get to flatten a chicken breast with a rolling pin, which is always fun. The herb mix running through the centre can be adapted to use any herbs you like or have to hand.

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4th of July Chicken 
Serves two as part of a picnic

For the herb filling:

  • Approx 1 tbsp each of basil and tarragon leaves
  • Approx 1/2 tbsp of thyme leaves
  • 1/2 tbsp capers, drained and rinsed
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • Juice and zest of 1/4 lemon
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • Salt & pepper

For the chicken

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 4 slices prosciutto

Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F

Start by making the herb filling. Finely chop all of the herbs, capers and garlic – you can use a food processor for this, if you prefer, but I find it just as easy to do by hand as it’s small amounts. Mix with the remaining ingredients – stir well, and set aside.

Take the first chicken breast and place between two sheets of cling film/plastic wrap. Using a rolling pin, gently but firmly bash the chicken all over until it is approx 1cm/0.5inch thick. Repeat with the second chicken breast. If you don’t have a rolling pin, a bottle of wine makes a good substitution…

Lay two pieces of prosciutto on the work surface, overlapping very slightly, and place one of the flattened chicken breasts on top. Spread half of the herb mixture over the chicken breast – you are aiming for a seam of herbs running through the middle of the chicken, rather than a stuffing as such. Fold any overlapping prosciutto on the right hand side of the chicken into the middle, and then gently roll the chicken into a tight roll. Repeat with the second chicken breast.

Heat a frying pan on the stove to a fairly high heat. Sear the chicken quickly on the outside, before transferring to a baking dish and placing in the oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Allow to cool, slice into rounds and spoon over any cooking juices. Serve at room temperature or very slightly warm.

Note:
I would have preferred to secure the rolls with a toothpick, but I didn’t have any – so I risked cooking them without. I found that one of the chicken breasts was slightly thinner than the other, and this one stayed better rolled when cooking. So, especially if you have no toothpicks, make sure the chicken breasts are nice and thin before filling/rolling.

Chipotle & Black Bean Hash, and Griddled Corn with Lime Aioli

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Well, well – it’s been a while, and I’m sorry! I’m finally back in Boston, and it’s been mad – since I’ve been back, we’ve had a friend and then my sister visiting, and been away to New York for a few days. Hectic.

So, to make it up to you, here’s not one, but two recipes – both based in different ways on dishes from two restaurants I love in Boston.

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While our friend Ben was visiting, we went for dinner at Redbones BBQ in Davis Square, which is a great restaurant with both great food and a really fun atmosphere. For the uninitiated among you, BBQ here is not what you do in your garden (in the rain) in England, but rather a way of preparing and cooking meat – more as in BBQ sauce/seasoning. What you do in your garden is grilling – and what you do under the grill is broiling… Keeping up?

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We had a great meal, and left with a pile of leftover smoked brisket and baby back ribs – so I decided to make hash with the leftovers. Hash is something I’ve only really discovered since moving to the States – in the UK, it is really associated with corned beef from a tin, and not particularly appetising. It was popular during and after WWII because fresh meat was not always readily available, and corned beef hash became an economical way to feed a family.

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Economical certainly – but not especially inspiring. So, imagine my delight to discover that over here, it is often on the menu with meat that has never been near a tin – either freshly made corned beef, or, even better in my opinion, leftover barbecue, pulled pork, brisket etc etc. What hasn’t changed from WWII days is that hash is still a very economical option – it is really best made with leftovers, and is a great way to use up leftover meat, especially if you have bits of different leftover meats from say a BBQ/grill. It’s also very versatile – the basic components are meat, potatoes and usually onions, but you can add lots of other things to it, as you wish. It’s great for any time of the day, and is often served for brunch with a fried egg on top (or for dinner with an egg on top…). For mine, I added some black beans, and some dried chipotle, which I thought went well with the leftover BBQ meat.

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To go alongside this, I recreated a dish from a fantastic tapas restaurant in Boston – Toro. It’s somewhere we love to eat, and in fact we first went on my very first trip to Boston – and have been back several times since. The food is amazing – encompassing all the old favourites, alongside more unusual offerings such as crispy pork belly with roasted pumpkin, crispy brussel sprouts, chantenay carrots and kimchi vegetables, or, our favourite last time, Kabayaki glazed beef short ribs with chilled farro, cucumbers, radish and hazelnuts.

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The food is immaculate – perfectly balanced and incredibly delicious; we have never had a bad plate there. However, as we were finishing our first visit, the table to one side of us were getting very excited over their soon-to-arrive order of grilled corn with alioli, lime, espelette pepper and aged cheese. Dubbed ‘La Especialidad de la Casa’ on the menu, we had somehow missed this and asked what the fuss was about. The table next to us waxed lyrical, and we knew that on our next visit, we had to try the corn!

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We duly did – and it was fantastic. So, so simple, but incredibly delicious, and I have wanted to try to recreate it for a while at home. Mine wasn’t as good as Toro’s, of course, but I was pleased and it brought back great memories for us both!

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Chipotle & Black Bean Hash 
Serves 2

  • 2 large/3 medium potatoes, either raw or pre-cooked
  • Leftover meat – I used smoked brisket, baby back ribs, and roast pork
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 dried chipotle peppers, to taste, chopped
  • 1/2 tin black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup beef stock (you may not need all of this)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 2 eggs (optional)
  • Fresh coriander, chopped, to garnish

If using raw potatoes, cut into halves and place in a saucepan. Cover with cold water and add a little salt, then bring to the boil and simmer until fairly soft but not falling apart – 5-10 minutes. Drain the potatoes, and allow to cool until they’re cool enough to be handled. If using leftover potatoes, skip this step.

Cut the potatoes into small cubes. Heat a little oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, and fry the potatoes until they begin to brown. Add the meat, onions, beans, chipotles and beef stock, and cook until the stock has reduced and the onions are soft. The potatoes should still be slightly crisp. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Just before the hash is finished, fry two eggs. Serve the hash, topped with a fried egg, and garnished with coriander.

Griddled Corn with Lime Aioli
Inspired by Toro’s Maíz Asado con Alioli y Queso Cotija
Serves 2

For the aioli:

  • 1 large/2 small egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup oil (I used a mix of olive oil and canola oil)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed (use more or less to taste)
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime, to taste
  • Salt and pepper

For the corn:

  • 2 corns on the cob, with husks
  • Grated cotija (or other South American hard cheese) to serve

Heat a griddle pan over a high heat until very hot. Place the corn in its husks on the griddle, and cook for around 15 minutes. Once the husks start to blacken, peel them back and put the corn back on the griddle until the kernels are slightly charred.

In the meantime, make the aioli. Place the egg yolks in a bowl and beat well with a whisk. Stir in the garlic. Gradually add the oil to the yolks in a thin stream, beating constantly. The mix should thicken and become creamy – you may not need all of the oil. Season with salt, pepper and lime juice to taste.

Serve the corn topped with aioli, grated cheese, and freshly ground black pepper.

Courgette and Bacon Risotto

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The eagle-eyed among you might have noticed, from this week’s photos and last, that I have not been in my Orange Kitchen. This is because I was in London for the past two weeks – and the photos in these two posts are taken in either my brother’s kitchen, or at Ollie & Anna’s house, for whom the Chocolate Pudding was made.

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I had to go back to London to sort out a new visa, which was a wonderful opportunity to catch up with friends and family. Sunday lunch x2: first cooked by Ollie, delicious beef, puffy Yorkshires, and Ollie’s speciality cauliflower cheese; and second in a London pub, catching up with old friends. Beer Wednesday & curry, lunch with friends, drinks with the girls from work, (the other) Ollie & El’s housewarming party, a lazy bank holiday Monday on the South Bank – I’ve been well and truly spoiled.

And the weather – the weather was glorious! The very best of English spring/summer days: warm, but not too hot, maybe a light breeze. And is there anywhere more beautiful than London on a sunny day?

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This is the type of weather which begs for light, fresh food. My brother and I made a delicious supper the other day of a broad bean, pea, courgette, mint and feta salad, and some asparagus wrapped in parma ham with hollandaise sauce – so simple, and so delicious. Another night, I made a risotto with courgette and bacon. One of the things I love about risotto and pasta is how great they are all year round. You can have rich, dark, meaty pastas or a warm, comforting mushroom risotto in the winter, but just as delicious are the light, fresh pastas and risotto which make a feature of green vegetables.

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Courgettes are one of my very favourite vegetables. I love them any way they come – steamed, griddled, roasted, raw in a salad, all delicious in my book. They marry really well with salty little bites of bacon, and the soft, almost creamy flesh is delicious in risotto. As with so many risotto dishes, this is very adaptable – last time I made it, I included lemon and pine nuts, and this time, I stirred through some leftover feta at the end. I think it definitely needs something like lemon or feta (different as those two things are!) – something sharp and zingy to lift it.

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Courgette & Bacon Risotto 
Serves 2

  • Approx 50-75g cubed pancetta/lardons/streaky bacon cut into cubes
  • 1 Courgette/Zucchini, cut into small cubes (approx 5mm squares)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 150-200g risotto rice (I used Carnaroli on this occasion)
  • 100ml dry white wine
  • Approx 500ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • Approx 50g feta, cubed (optional)
  • Squeeze of lemon (optional)
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated parmesan, plus more to serve

Heat a fairly large saucepan over a medium-high heat. Add the cubed pancetta, and allow to fry until fairly brown and crisp. Once the bacon is crisp, reduce the heat to low, and add the onion and garlic. I find that the fat that comes out of the bacon means that you do not need to add any oil, but take a view on this and add a little olive oil if you feel it needs it. Soften the onions slowly until they are soft and lightly browned, and season with salt and pepper, remembering that the bacon is salty. In the meantime, in another pan, bring the stock to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and keep warm.

Once the onions are soft, increase the heat to medium and add the courgettes to the pan – cook for a minute. Add the risotto rice to the pan, and stir to coat the rice in the juices in the pan. Allow to cook for another minute or two, then add the wine. Stir, and allow the rice to absorb the wine. Add  the stock to the pan a ladle at a time, and allow the rice to absorb the liquid before adding another ladle, stirring all the time.

Continue this until the rice is soft and creamy but still has a little bite. If you run out of stock, continue with water. Stir the grated parmesan, feta and/or lemon through the risotto, and check the seasoning.

Serve immediately, topped with more grated parmesan.

Cooking with my mum – Lamb and Aubergine ragu

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I know, I know, I promised you some South African dishes, and pasta, well, ain’t. I had planned to try my hand at a few things this week, and I don’t really know why I haven’t – so for now, here’s a yummy lamb dish instead.
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For one thing, I have been starved of pasta over the past few weeks. It’s one of my absolute favourite things to eat, probably the one thing I really could eat every day – a legacy, perhaps, from time spent in Rome ten years ago, although I think I’ve always loved it. I read these diets in magazines promising miraculous results – I flip eagerly to the page, and realise, no, you have to give up pasta. In a choice between a super-svelte bikini body and pasta, pasta would win, every time.
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My brother, on the other hand, has given up eating carbs in the evening – with above-mentioned miraculous results – and so while he’s been here in South Africa as well, pasta has been off the menu. It’s a small price to pay for the wonderful holiday we’ve had together – he’s a singer, and was here with some of his singer friends for performances of Handel’s Messiah and Faure’s Requiem, among other things. Once the work in Johannesburg was done, we headed down to the Cape for a wonderful week which was largely based around eating and drinking. The days followed a fairly consistent pattern: rise, at leisure, and breakfast. Set off for the winelands, take in a tasting. Find somewhere delicious for lunch. Decide we should probably do one more tasting before heading home. Roll, slightly sozzled, back into the car for a snooze on the way home. Cook dinner all together.
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It’s pretty high on my list of all-time favourite things to do on holiday. There is something truly magical about tasting wine at the wine farm itself – looking out over the vines, with the most knowledgeable and passionate people possible sharing their wine with you. Add in beautiful sunshine, family and friends, and the fact that I can’t drive and therefore always get to drink – and you have a winner.
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Everyone else has gone home now, and it’s just me and my parents. There’s something strange and wonderful about going home to to your parents – it involves a relinquishing of independence and all its attendant responsibility which is in equal measure liberating and frustrating. Back in my parents’ home, I change from someone who cooks and cleans and washes, who gets themselves to work and social events, to someone almost entirely dependent on my parents for these things. In my defense, this is in part because I can’t drive and getting anywhere in Johannesburg without a car is nigh-on impossible (although I am willing to accept this is not really a defense…)
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As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve been very happy both to sit back and enjoy my mother’s wonderful cooking, and to cook with the rest of the group – although there have been a few occasions where I have cooked for my parents. However, even when I’ve done so, I still find myself turning to my mum for help with everything! I ask her ridiculous questions (‘Mum, is this stick of celery ok to use?’ Honestly, how have I survived thus far if I have to ask that?!) – so even when she is sitting on the sofa and I am in the kitchen, I am ‘cooking with my mum’. Not that I mind – it’s a rare treat these days, and she is so full of knowledge, I’d be a fool not to take advantage.
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This dish was the result of me being let loose in the kitchen – and I was really pleased with the results. I’d been meaning to make a lamb and aubergine pasta dish for a while, and the happy coincidence of lamb in the fridge and an afternoon to spare meant I got the chance. This version uses lamb knuckles, which I have to confess I’ve never seen outside of South Africa. It’s a great cut for slow cooking, if you can get it – but if not, any stewing lamb will do. I gave this three hours as the meat was on the bone and had a lot of sinew – if it’s a slightly leaner cut or not on the bone I’d suggest checking from about two hours, though I doubt it will come to grief from a slightly longer cooking if you have it on a slow heat. I had also planned to use minced lamb when I first thought of doing this – and I do think this would work well as an alternative if you prefer, and would also need a shorter cooking time, probably more like one hour.
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I have a love-hate relationship with aubergine – cooked well, it is hard to beat. It has a luxurious, pillowy softness that melts in the mouth – truly wonderful. However, it is so often disappointing, usually because it has been undercooked, and is therefore hard and with none of the silkiness which makes it so delicious. It also soaks up oil, so if it has been sauteed, can be overly greasy. These days, I almost invariably roast the aubergine in the oven, at least briefly, to start the process. It needs less oil than if you were to saute it, and as with all roasting it brings out the sweetness of the aubergines. It also has the advantage of meaning you can put it in the oven for 30 minutes and forget about it, which, as Delia Smith says, is ‘much less tiresome than standing over a frying pan watching them soak up masses of oil’.

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The inspiration for this recipe is the Italian aubergine dish, caponata – an aubergine stew, in which the aubergines are cooked in both vinegar and salt to give a slightly sweet-and-sour taste. The meatiness of the lamb works really well with this – and you can add more or less sugar and vinegar to either make it a feature or a background note. I like the combination of balsamic and either red or white wine vinegar, although I don’t think this is at all authentic!

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Lamb and Aubergine ragu
Prep time: 30mins; Cooking time: 3hrs
Serves 6

  • 750g/1lb 10oz lamb knuckles
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 stick celery, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 x 400ml tin tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (or to taste)
  • 2 tsp sugar (or to taste)
  • 1/2 tbsp red or white wine vinegar (or to taste)
  • 2 large / 3 small aubergines
  • Sprig of thyme
  • 1tbsp pine nuts
  • Freshly grated parmesan, to serve

Heat the oil in a large skillet/frying pan over a high heat. Season the lamb with salt and pepper, and sear in the pan until well-browned all over – do this in batches, if necessary. Remove the lamb from the pan and set aside.

Reduce the heat to low, and a little more oil if needed, and add the onion, garlic and celery to the pan. Cook over a low heat until the vegetables are very soft. Stir in the tomato puree and season with salt and pepper – allow the mixture to cook for a couple of minutes.

Increase the heat slightly, and return the meat to the pan, arranging it in one layer as far as possible. Add the tinned tomatoes, the balsamic vinegar, and 1 tsp of sugar. Bring the pan to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low, cover and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 hours (NB: you can also do this in the oven, at 150c/300F)

In the meantime, prepare the aubergines. Heat the oven to 180C. Cut the aubergine into 1 inch chunks, and arrange on a baking tray. Season with salt, pepper and a little olive oil, and roast in the oven for around 30 minutes, until the pieces are softened and golden.

When the lamb has around 1 hour cooking time to go, stir the aubergine pieces into the dish. Taste at this point and adjust the vinegar/sugar balance if necessary – bearing in mind that the wine vinegar will add more tang than the balsamic. Add a sprig of thyme and allow to cook for another hour.

Just before serving, heat a small pan over a medium heat, and toast the pine nuts until golden brown. Serve with pasta, sprinkled with the pine nuts and parmesan.

Guest post – Thai Prawn Curry

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Hello from beautiful South Africa! I have finally arrived to join my family here in Johannesburg – and not a moment too soon. My journey involved a bus to New York and a night in my friend’s very plush apartment, the subway to JFK and a 14hr flight from JFK to Johannesburg. I arrived on my birthday, and spent most of it asleep!! But it’s wonderful to be here.

I’m taking full advantage of my mum’s wonderful cooking, and so I’m not in the kitchen as much as normal – I am hoping to share with you some South African recipes later in my trip, but for now, I thought I’d share a wonderful guest post my friend Ben wrote. I met Ben just over five years ago when we both worked at the Royal College of Music in London. Ben’s a sound engineer, and worked in the College’s studio, along with Avgoustos, Stevie and Seb. Stevie and Seb both joined the staff at the College about the same time as I did, so we all ended up doing our induction sessions together – the sessions were held in the studio, and Seb famously made me a cup of tea when I arrived very hungover for one of the sessions, so I am devoted to him for life. The studio boys became my partners in crime during my time working at the College – a time I think of very fondly. We would go for lunch most weeks, usually on a Wednesday, to the nearby Imperial College bar for what became known as Beer Wednesday – clue’s in the name there. They kept me entertained at work with silly emails – including, famously, a photo of their pants.

Ben is also living the expat dream – in Amsterdam with his lovely wife Jenny. We keep in touch via facebook and email, and let each other know what recipes we’ve tried recently! Here is his recipe for Prawn Thai Curry, with a lot of helpful tips from Ben which he’s figured out along the way. I can’t wait to make it!

I’ve know Sarah for some time but I had no idea we both shared a love of cooking to the extent that we do. If I’d known we both had this passion I’m sure we would have ventured out together more on the hunt for exciting bites than we did before we both left the UK.

Like so many aspiring foodies I’m a food obsessive. I decide I want to master a particular dish and I don’t move on until I’ve achieved this goal. Recently that’s been sourdough breads, salt-caramel ice cream and flavoured foams but the one I want to discuss today is the Thai Curry. I spent my honeymoon in Thailand and completely fell in love with the cuisine. Beautifully simple and elegant, Thai food takes great tasting ingredients and combines them in a way that just work harmoniously, balancing sweet, sour, spicy and salty into something explosive.

The last time Sarah and I ate together was at Kaosarn in Brixton, London. Brixton market was not only very close to where we lived but had also been heralded as the new food-mecca in London by the british press. Kaosarn was a new Thai restaurant in the market that was causing a few waves. I don’t think I discussed it with Sarah over dinner but during that time I was on the hunt to find the best Thai curry in London. I was fed up of ‘westernised versions’ that just didn’t taste as good as the real thing I remembered eating.

Kaosarn was indeed something to talk about and I would tell anyone traveling to London who likes Thai food to go there, however… there was something about sitting outside what is effectively a cafe in February, covered in blankets provided by the restaurant, that just didn’t bring that feeling or the smells of Thailand back.

Obviously I wasn’t going to match being in Thailand but but i decided that I’d do away with restaurants on this one and match the taste of a great Thai curry at home. I began doing some research and came across David Thompson as many who have an interest in Thai cooking will have done. His book Thai Food really is the bible on Thai cookery and I have never made anything Thai since without referring to this book. Gone are the ‘cheats’ that I found from websites and famous british chefs. You know the ones, substituting ginger for galangal, limes for kaffir limes, fresh chilli for dried long Thai ones etc etc etc. All these things had never produced the authentic result. The following recipe is adapted from that book but to my own taste along with a quick side I thought I’d share as you cannot have a true Thai meal without there being a few dishes.

Prawn Thai Curry
Serves 4

Adapted from David Thompson’s Thai Food

For the Curry:

  • 2 cups coconut cream
  • 1 tbs palm sugar
  • 2 tbs fish sauce
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 200g Prawns
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves, shredded
  • a little red chili
  • 1 tbs coriander leaves

For the Curry Paste:

  • 6 dried long chillies, deseeded, soaked and drained
  • large pinch salt
  • 1 tbs galangal (10 slices)
  • 4 tbs lemongrass (1 big stalk)
  • 4 tablespoons chopped garlic (8 cloves)
  • 3 tbs sliced red shallot (6 small shallots)
  • 1 tbs scraped and chopped coriander root
  • 10 white peppercorns
  • 1 tsp gapi

Sticky Rice:

  • 300g sticky rice (soaked overnight)

Stir Fried Samphire:

  • 4 garlic cloves
  • pinch of salt
  • 200g samphire
  • 4 tablespoons of water
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • pinch of white pepper
  • pinch of sugar
  • a little oyster sauce

Before beginning the recipe it’s worth noting a few things about the ingredients:

  • Galangal looks a bit like ginger but tastes completely different. Essential in the curry paste and can be bought in most supermarkets now.
  • Coriander root is another one of those things that get substituted with coriander leaf. This is one of the ingredients I’ve come to realise is the most important within the paste and cannot be missed out not only because if you use the leaf you’ll only ever get a green curry. I have only found this in Asian supermarkets but it’s worth hunting down along with Kaffir limes and their leaves. (SP note: to any readers in Boston, I have seen coriander (cilantro) with the root attached in Market Basket. They also stock galangal).

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The recipe is only really a guide, nothing is set in stone here so just keep tasting and tasting until the balance between the flavours is what you’re after.

Recipe:
The paste is the most important part of a Thai curry so it’s worth taking the time to get this right. The end result should be pureed as finely as possible and smell mellow and rounded as opposed to each individual ingredient coming through. With a view to cooking this curry for friends I have previously made the paste in advance and kept it in the freezer. DO NOT DO THIS! As I discovered the re-thawing process creates an undesired bitter aspect to the curry and completely changes its flavour for the worse.

Traditionally the paste is made by gradually adding the ingredients to a pestle and mortar starting with the hardest. This is the way I would always do the paste if I have time as compared to a food processor as you get much more of a flavour and smell coming from the paste. If you are going to process the paste add a little water to help it along. Similarly if you have time, make the coconut cream yourself from a fresh coconut as the end result is far superior to the canned, blocked or any other form of coconut cream you can buy.

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Ok, first add the coconut cream to the pan over medium heat and then the paste, stir regularly and fry for 5mins until fragrant. Season with the fish sauce and palm sugar. Add coconut milk and simmer until reduced and separated. Add the prawns and half the lime leaves and continue to simmer until the prawns are just cooked. The curry should be salty, a little hot and smell absolutely amazing! Serve with remaining lime leaves, red chilli and coriander.

Pile the rice into a steamer evenly spread, place over boiling water and cook for about 30 minutes, check the rice and if tender in the middle it is ready to serve.

For the samphire pound the garlic and salt together and add it to a hot wok along with the samphire. Stir fry for 3-4 mins until tender then add the water, soy sauce, oyster sauce and sugar and simmer for another minute. Serve with sprinkled white pepper. This also works well with asparagus or sugar snap peas etc.

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Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of the final meal, but I was serving friends and they ate it all before I could get the camera out. Bowl up each dish and allow your guests to take bits of everything, there’s something very social about eating like this and it was always the way in which I ate food while in Thailand. I didn’t detail it here but a great sweet that I loved while in Thailand was Coconut Rice & Mango and a perfect
end to this meal. Here is David Thompson’s recipe; http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/thai-sticky-rice-mango.aspx

Date night – Oxtail ragu

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Though I find it almost impossible to believe, this weekend just past marks four months since I arrived in Boston. Tempting though it is to break out all kinds of clichés – how time flies, etc – what I am most struck by is how right it feels to be here. Of course, it hasn’t all been easy – I’m now approaching my fifth month of unemployment, and even though it was my choice and if I had to make it again I would do exactly the same thing, it’s not always easy. That, and the fact that we have awoken today to yet more snow…  This, after a few days of milder weather – yesterday, for the first time in months, I went out in my normal English winter coat, rather than my extremely unflattering but very warm skiing jacket, convinced that spring might just be on the way. Who am I kidding?

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My move to Boston has been monumental in several ways. I touched on work above – and this has been a massive change. For the past five years, one of the things which has defined me is my career – both in as much as having a salary has allowed me to do the things I love outside work, and in that I absolutely love what I do, and am very proud of my work. Moving from working full time to not working at all is a huge shift, and I’ve learned a lot about myself.

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The move has also been a big change for me and Noel – our home in Boston is our first home together. I’ve learned a lot about our relationship and some alarming things about myself – for instance, it turns out I am incredibly picky about toothpaste, and the fact that Noel is unable to remember to put the cap back on turns me into a shrieking banshee of a woman. (Seriously, though, dried toothpaste is so gross). But there are positives as well. One of the things we have been trying to do since we got here is take each other on dates each month – the deal is that whoever is organising the date has to plan everything; it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, but it has to be just the two of us (ie, not with Noel’s students…). For our first date, Noel took me to the Museum of Fine Art to see the Mario Testino exhibits, which was wonderful. My first date was equally cultural – a night drinking free beer at the Harpoon Brewery. Ahem.

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For February, I decided to base our date around a film I’ve been trying to get Noel to watch for years – La vita e bella (Life is Beautiful). It’s one of my favourite films, but every time I’ve suggested watching it, Noel hasn’t been keen. I’ve heard all the excuses: from the ridiculous – ‘It’s in Italian, I’m too tired to read the subtitles’ – to the downright mean (and untrue…) – ‘your film choices are always rubbish’. But, seeing as I was organising the date, I got to choose…!

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To go with this (perhaps to sweeten the pill a little?!), I cooked one of Noel’s favourites – oxtail ragu. That’s right, nothing says ‘I love you’ like oxtail. I’ve already waxed lyrical about slow cooking, and this is another great example. The recipe is essentially a basic ragu bolognese recipe, but substitutes oxtail for minced beef, and is cooked very slowly. The results are great – the meat is incredibly tender and flavourful – and as with so many slow-cooked dishes, it tastes as though it is much more complicated than it is. If you can’t get oxtail, or are not keen on it, you can substitute with beef shortribs, beef shin, or stewing steak. If you’re using meat without a bone in, you can reduce the cooking time to more like three hours. You can cook this either on the stove top throughout, or in a low oven.

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Oxtail is a relatively new discovery for me – but a very happy one. I confess, I was only really aware of it because my grandma used to have these bowls when I was a child, and frankly I found the whole  idea a bit off-putting. A few years ago, though, my dad had an oxtail stew for dinner when we were in South Africa, and I was blown away by how tender and delicious it was. I resolved to try cooking with it, and this recipe is the result. The key with oxtail is very long, slow cooking – this is true of many cheaper cuts of meat, but all the more so with oxtail which is full of gelatinous connective tissue, which breaks down to make the finished dish rich and unctuous, but which is unappetising if not fully rendered. It is also a fatty cut, so I would encourage you to make this in advance, if you can, and allow it to cool so that the rendered fat solidifies and you can very easily remove it from the top of the dish. (If you cannot make it in advance, you can spoon the hot fat off, but it is easier and quicker if the fat has hardened).

Before this, we had scallops wrapped in prosciutto with a lemon-parsley-time dressing, and we finished with tiramisu. We had cheesy ‘Italian’ music playing (think ‘That’s Amore’…), and drank lots of nice wine. And I’m happy to report that Noel is a convert to the film…!

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Oxtailragu 
Serves 4-6

  • Approx. 3.5lbs oxtail
  • Olive oil
  • 1/4 cup diced pancetta / 3 rashers bacon, finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, very finely chopped
  • 1 stick celery, very finely chopped
  • 1 onion, very finely chopped
  • 2 gloves garlic, minced
  • 6 mushrooms, chopped into 1cm dice
  • 3tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 14oz/400g chopped/crushed tomatoes*
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 100ml wine (optional)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 400-600g spaghetti
  • Freshly grated parmesan, to serve.

If you plan to cook the dish in the oven, pre-heat to 150C / 300F. Heat 1/2tbsp of olive oil in a large casserole over a high heat until the oil is hot and glistening. Trim any excess fat from the oxtail, season with salt and pepper, and brown the meat in batches until it is a rich, dark brown on all sides. Remove to a plate. Reduce the heat a little, and add the pancetta/bacon, and cook until browned. Reduce the heat to low, and add the onion, carrot and celery. Cook over a low heat until the vegetables are very soft. Add the garlic and mushrooms, and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Return the meat to the pan, and stir in the tomato puree – cook for a minute or two, and then add the tomatoes, thyme and wine, if using. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the pan, and either move to the oven, or leave on the stove on a very low heat. Cook for 4-5 hours.

If you are preparing the dish in advance, once it has cooked for the required time, you can remove from the oven and allow to cool, and then place in the fridge until needed. When you come to reheat it, remove the solidified fat from on top of the dish, and then remove the oxtail bones. If you are making it and serving it at the same time, once it has finished cooking, spoon the excess fat from the top of the dish and discard. Remove the oxtail bones and allow to cool until cold enough to handle.

You may find that some of the meat has fallen off the bones during cooking – this is fine. Remove any meat still attached to the bones, and shred into small pieces – it should be falling apart by this stage. Return the meat to the pan and discard the bones. Reheat the dish, and cook the spaghetti according to packet instructions. Serve with freshly grated parmesan.

* Note on tomatoes – in the UK, I usually use tinned chopped tomatoes. However, over here,  tend to find the juice they are in thin and watery, and have had better results with crushed tomatoes.

Pasta alla Puttanesca – or, store-cupboard-supper

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Well, well – it’s been an eventful few weeks here in the Orange Kitchen household, and I’m sorry not to have posted for a while. Last week, we were in Colorado for our first experience of skiing in the States. It was the most wonderful week – made all the more enjoyable because it almost didn’t happen…

We were due to leave Boston on the evening of 8th February – yes, the very same night that mega-storm Nemo rolled into town. Realising the chances of us getting a flight that night were nil, we changed our flight to leave from New York, thinking it might not be hit quite as hard. As it turned out, our Friday night flight from NY was cancelled more than 24hrs before we were due to leave – thankfully, we managed to get a flight to Denver via Chicago first thing on Friday morning, and, disaster averted, had the most amazing week. On the plus side, our holiday started a day early, with a fabulous night in NY with friends – which made the 6.30 departure from JFK the next morning all the more painful…

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Our hurried departure meant that I got half way through a post, meaning to finish it on Thursday before we left, but in all the chaos I didn’t get a chance. That post will follow soon, but for now, here’s a little post about one of my favourite pasta dishes – something delicious, easy, and using ingredients you may well have in the store cupboard.

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Funnily enough, Pasta alla Puttanesca is full of ingredients I really didn’t like until recently – anchovies, capers, and (to a lesser extent) olives. It’s strange how our tastes change – I can remember picking capers out of my mum’s fish pie, which is a really tedious thing to do, but such was my dislike of them that I thought it was worth it… Now, I can’t get enough of them, and use them a lot in my cooking. And while I still wouldn’t eat anchovies straight from the tin, I am a total convert to their use in cooking. They impart a wonderful savoury saltiness which can completely transform a dish – be it puttanesca, my earlier meatball recipe, or roast lamb.

Pasta alla Puttanesca is one of those dishes, along with for instance Spaghetti alla carbonara, where the origins of both name and recipe are murky to say the least. I probably don’t need to tell you that ‘puttanesca’ is Italian for, ahem, lady of the night – but the reasoning behind the pasta dish being thus named is vague. According to Delia Smith, ‘presumably the sauce has adopted this name because it’s hot, strong and gutsy’, and Angela Hartnett’s theory is that ‘it takes as long to cook the dish as it does the lady to take care of her clients’… As for the dish’s origins, many recipes suggest that it was born in the South of Italy – mainly because of its strong, hearty flavours. Frankly, when it tastes as good as it does, I can’t say I mind where it’s from!

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Unsurprisingly, there are many different ways to cook puttanesca – this is mine! For me, it has to have anchovies, capers, olives, garlic and chili – and I like the sauce to be fairly thick, and to coat each strand of pasta. My preference is for the sauce to coat the pasta so that there is very little sauce left in the bowl once you’ve eaten the pasta. I always use spaghetti or linguine for this dish, but you can use short pasta such as penne if you prefer.

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Pasta alla Puttanesca
Serves 4

  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 6-8 anchovy fillets
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 1-2 chilis (to taste), de-seeded and finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp capers, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 tins chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup pitted black olives, sliced
  • salt & pepper
  • 400g spaghetti

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over a medium heat. Add the garlic and anchovies, and cook until the garlic is lightly browned and the anchovies have broken down. You are looking for the anchovies to become a paste in the pan with the oil, with no large pieces of fish. Stir in the capers and chilis, and cook for another minute, before stirring in the tomato puree. Allow to cook for another minute or two, and then add the tinned tomatoes. Stir in the chopped olives, and season well with pepper and a little salt – taste as you go when adding the salt as the anchovies, capers and olives are all salty. Allow to cook, uncovered, over a medium-low heat, until the sauce has reduced and thickened.

Cook the spaghetti in a large pan of salted water according to packet instructions, until al dente. Before draining, add a spoonful or two of the pasta water to the sauce and stir through. Drain the pasta, and return to the pan. Stir the sauce into the pasta so that it coats every strand, and serve!

In praise of slow-cooked meat

Here’s a little song I wrote for you:

(To be sung to a truncated version of the tune of ‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire’)

Short ribs braising in a pot of wine,
Lamb shanks bubbling on the stove.
Big pot of oxtail, been cooked for five hours,
And now just falling off the bone.
Everybody knows…
Boeuf Bourguignon is best cooked slow
The same is true of Bolognese
Although it’s been said, many times, many ways,
Try slow cooking, try slow cooking
Try slow cooking – today! 

Yes, I have too much time on my hands. Yes, it might also be true that I spend too much time on my own without anyone to talk to. However – putting aside these minor concerns for my mental health, slow-cooked meat is completely amazing, and that’s what I want to talk about today.

I do a lot of slow cooking, and have for some years – in fact, I think almost the first thing I cooked for a dinner party was boeuf bourguignon. One of my favourite things to do on a rainy Sunday is cook some sort of slow-cooked meat-in-liquid-type-dish, and now that I *ahem* have more time on my hands, I do this in the week, as well. Braising, stewing, casseroling and the like are up there with baking bread in terms of how to make your house smell amazing, and there are few things better to eat on a cold, blustery day.

On Monday night, I cooked a somewhat bastardised version of the Brazilian dish feijoada – essentially, various cuts of pork cooked slowly with black beans. Although I’m not sure I can speak for its authenticity, it was completely delicious, and Noel asked if I was going to blog about it. In many ways, I would love to write about that recipe, because it was great, but I have held back because I feel like posting recipes for slow-cooking is sort of… cheating.

For one thing, slow cooking meat is really, really, really easy. It does take time, but all but the first 30mins or so is time that involves no effort on your part whatsoever. Cheating, also, because almost every recipe for slow cooking follows the same basic premise – brown meat, sauté onion + other veg, put meat back in pot with some sort of liquid, cook on a low heat until completely scrummy – and so I felt I had very little to add. I do have a recipe for oxtail up my sleeve which I will post on here – probably some time next month. But beyond that, there are so many great recipes for slow cooking out there, I wasn’t sure I could really add to them.

So – rather than give you my version of a slow-cook recipe, I thought I’d talk a bit instead about slow-cooking in general, and share some tips and a few recipes I’ve really enjoyed, which you might like to try.

Tip 1 – brown your meat properly. I can’t emphasise this enough – start by browning your meat properly, and everything else will fall into place. In my opinion, there are few things less appetising to eat than blond, anaemic-looking pieces of meat – and conversely, few things more tasty than meat with a nice toasty crust: this is as true for braising as it is for cooking steak. In addition, if you brown your meat properly, all the yummy crusty goodness will go towards making the final sauce that bit more delicious. There are lots of recipes out there which will tell you the same thing, but the one which, for me, summed it up perfectly is Adam Roberts’ recipe for Daube de Boeuf over on Amateur Gourmet – as he says, ‘If I had to point out how I’ve grown the most as a cook over my 9 years of doing this, it would be my ability to brown meat really, really well’, and I agree – when I figured out this basic step, my casseroles improved massively. He also offers this excellent advice: ‘don’t start chopping your vegetables until you start browning your beef. This’ll ensure that you really let the beef take its time and you don’t stand around impatiently. If you do this right, you’ll have a plate of browned meat and a big bowl of vegetables ready to go at the same time’. So true – if you have nothing else to do when browning meat, you will stand around twiddling your thumbs and the temptation is to rush the process. So give yourself something else to do, and hey presto, the time flies.

Tip 1a – don’t crowd the pan when browning the meat. This is something which frustrated me for years. Countless recipes out there tell you not to brown the meat in batches and not crowd the pan, but I never read one which explained WHY. This drove me mad! Why can’t I shove all the meat in together and speed up the process?! Finally, I found the answer in the wonderful Felicity Cloake’s recipe for ‘perfect chilli con carne’. I should’ve known she would have the answer – and here it is: ‘don’t crowd the pan, or [the meat] will steam rather than brown’. Which makes sense, really. So there you have it.

Tip 2 – fat = flavour. Every recipe I have ever seen for slow cooking calls for what is usually referred to as ‘cheaper’ or ‘economical’ cuts of meat. What this means, is meat which is fattier than its more expensive counterparts – fattier, more full of connective tissue, tough as old boots if cooked quickly, but therefore absolutely ideal for slow cooking. When this meat is cooked slowly at a low temperature, the fat renders and the connective tissue breaks down, leaving the meat itself fork-tender, and the sauce in which it’s been cooked rich and unbelievably tasty. (On a side note – isn’t ‘fork-tender’ a wonderful phrase? So evocative, makes me automatically hungry). Of course, you can remove excess fat from the meat before cooking if you would like, but please don’t go nuts – leave some fat to help your dish along. Which brings me to…

Tip 3 – remove excess fat. I love fat – I am a total glutton for crispy bacon, chops, and don’t even get me started on crackling. What I don’t enjoy, however, is the greasy layer of fat on top of a sauce – and so I tend to spoon off the excess. There are two ways of doing this. Either, once the meat has had its allotted time, spoon the fat off and discard. Or, even more straightforward, if you have time, allow the dish to cool, the fat will solidify, and you can remove it very easily from the top before reheating. This has the added advantage of…

Tip 4 – slow-cooked dishes taste even better the next day. There is nothing wrong whatsoever with eating a casserole or braise straight from the oven. It will be delicious. However, if you have time and are able to plan ahead, another tip which, again, involves no effort on your part but which will take your dish straight from good to great is to leave it to cool overnight and serve it the next day. The flavours will develop and intensify, and it will taste even better. And how’s this – this means you can put a dish in the oven on a Sunday, potter around the house and do chores, then chill it overnight and eat it on Monday evening – seriously, what could be better after a miserable Monday than the most delicious dinner, ready made and waiting for you?

Tip 5 – make a big batch and freeze it. I’ve never yet made a slow-cooked meal which didn’t freeze well. It is such a great thing to have in the freezer. It is, if anything, easier to cook a big batch than a smaller one, and the leftovers will be awesome.

There you go, them’s my tips! Enjoy. To finish, here are a few recipes I’ve enjoyed over the years, and hope you do too.

Involtini di melanzane – Sicilian aubergine rolls

Involtini di melanzane

It is now, officially, 110% Very Cold here in Boston. This morning was a cool -11C / 12F, which might just make this the coldest place I’ve ever been. On the plus side, my local friends have finally been forced to concede that it is Very Cold – talk of ‘you haven’t seen anything yet’ seems to have come to an end. On the minus side, it is Very Cold, and ‘you haven’t seen anything yet’ has been replaced with ‘this is only the beginning, there’s months of this to come’. Hurrah.

Griddling the auberines

The other plus side is that it is still lovely and sunny here – hard to believe it’s not a teeny, tiny bit warmer with the bright sun shining. We recently rearranged the furniture in our flat slightly – brought about by the need to fit twelve people around a table for dinner, we moved the dining room table and have decided not to move it back. I am now writing this sitting at the table, in the lovely bay window, in the sunshine. Funnily enough, when I imagined myself writing this blog, it was always sitting here, so it’s strange, really, that it has taken so long for it to happen.

Involtini filling

So – in a move designed to say ‘in your face, cold Boston weather’, my post today is a version of involtini from sunny Sicily. Involtini translates as ‘little rolls’, and can be made from meat, fish, or vegetables wrapped around a filling – my version uses slices of griddled aubergine as the wrapping. The slices are rolled around a filling, coated with tomato sauce, and baked in the oven – delicious, and just as good for a cold winter’s day as in summer.

Rolling the involtini

This is a wonderfully versatile dish – as I mentioned, you can use meat or fish for the wrapping (and there are some suggestions for recipes using meat or fish here, here, here and here). In addition, you can vary the filling based on whatever takes your fancy and/or whatever you happen to have in the house. One version I’ve seen includes a slice of prosciutto on top of the aubergine, which sounds wonderful – I might well have adopted this, but I was aiming for a meat-free day. When I suggested this to Noel, he informed me that he was, at that very moment, eating a carnitas burrito… Hey ho. 

Rolled bundles

In terms of stuffing the rolls, the world is your oyster – though I’m not sure I would use oysters themselves… The most ‘traditional’ filling includes breadcrumbs, pine nuts and small currants – however, I’ve seen lovely-looking versions which explore all sorts of different flavours, such as Nigella’s Greek-inspired recipe. I also think the basic premise of involtini could be used to make a sort of pasta-free cannelloni – using the aubergine slices in place of pasta, and stuffing them with, say, spinach and ricotta. Something to try in the future…

My recipe is definitely Italian-inspired, though I’ve jettisoned the currants… I also included a basic tomato sauce recipe here, though you could use a jar of passata instead, if you prefer. Most importantly, experiment with the flavours for the filling until you find your perfect balance – and let me know how you get on!

Ready to go in the oven!

Involtini di melanzane

Serves 4

Prep time: approx 30mins / Cook time 30mins

  • 2 large aubergines
  • For the tomato sauce:
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2x 14oz/400g tins chopped tomatoes
  • A splash of wine (optional)
  • Salt & pepper
  • For the filling:
  • 100g / 3.5oz bread, crusts removed
  • 1 tbsp pine nuts
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp capers, rinsed
  • approx 2 tbsp grated parmesan, plus extra to top the dish
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 ball mozzarella, cut into 1cm dice
  • Salt & pepper
  • To serve:
  • 4-5 basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F

Begin by preparing the aubergines. Cut each aubergine into slices lengthways, around 1cm wide. Try to slice them a consistent thickness, so they will cook evenly. Heat a griddle pan or heavy based frying pan over a fairly high heat. Brush each slice of aubergine with a little olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Place in the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, until browned – you may have to do this in batches. They do not need to be completely cooked through as they will cook more in the oven later, but they do need to soft enough to roll. Once browned, remove to a plate and allow to cool slightly.

Next prepare the sauce [skip this step if you are using passata!]. Heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and allow to saute gently, until soft but not browned – around 10 minutes. Add the tomato puree and stir to coat, followed by the tinned tomatoes, and wine (if using). Season with salt and pepper, and allow to cook and reduce for around 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until you are left with a thick sauce.

To prepare the filling for the rolls, place the crustless bread in a food processor, and process to fine breadcrumbs. Place in a large bowl. Toast the pine nuts – place a small dry frying pan over a fairly high heat, add the pine nuts and toast until brown on both sides – take care not to burn them! Add these to the breadcrumbs in the bowl, along with the capers, garlic, and parmesan. Add the beaten egg and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

Once the aubergine slices have cooled, take a slice and place a heaped teaspoon at one end of the slice. Add two pieces of mozzarella, and roll the aubergine slice up into a tight roll around the filling, and place to one side. Continue this with the remaining aubergine slices.

Spoon around a quarter of the tomato sauce into an oven-proof dish. Arrange the aubergine rolls on top of the sauce – preferably in a single layer. If you have any pieces of mozzarella left over, dot these around the rolls, saving a few for the topping. Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the aubergine rolls, and arrange any remaining pieces of mozzarella on top. Grate parmesan over the dish, and bake in the oven for around 30 minutes, until the cheese on top is browned and bubbling. Top with fresh basil leaves, and serve.