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.

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.

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!

Spaghetti-and-meatballs

Meatballs

So a while back, in my first recipe post, I mentioned that the weather has been cold, but not so cold that you just want stews and the like. And… three and a half weeks later, not a whole lot has changed. We’ve had some really cold days, like take-your-breath-away cold, but they have mostly been isolated days, with much milder temperatures in between. So here is another recipe which hopefully will help tide you through the in-betweeny stage.

Meatballs are a wonderful thing – they are something I order all the time when I’m out. However, so often I find them disappointing – largely because I find that they are too often hard and dry. To me, meatballs are comfort food – and they should tread a fine line between holding their form, but being soft and yielding once you start eating them. I had made them several times, but never quite got it right.

Meatball mix

I was thrilled, then, to discover Angela Hartnett’s recipe, and her trick of using milk-soaked bread to bind the mixture, rather than the more usual egg. Her recipe makes meatballs which are just the most delicious I’ve ever tasted. I have adapted her recipe slightly – I substitute pork for veal, as it is more readily available. I’ve added some chili to both the meatball mix and the accompanying sauce, and I simmer the meatballs in the sauce on the stove top rather than putting them in the oven. The result is a more homogeneous meaty sauce than the original, and you may find that the meatballs start to disintegrate a little if you cook it too long – but there are worse things in life…!

Meatballs cooking

One final thing to add is to encourage you to include the anchovies even if you do not like them (either specifically or fish in general). It is such a small amount, and they really just act to season the meat, rather than adding an overall fishy taste. Also – an apology, because I totally forgot to take a picture of the finished product! We were just so hungry by the time everything was ready, we had devoured it before I remembered about taking a photo. To make up for this, here’s a shot of the delicious meatball sandwich I made with the leftovers… That’s right, six weeks in the States and I think it’s totally acceptable to have a load of tomatoey meatball goodness in a sandwich.

Meatball sandwich

Spaghetti and meatballs

Adapted from Angela Hartnett’s recipe for The Guardian

Serves 4

  • 200g/7oz white bread – crusts removed
  • Milk – 100-200ml (enough to soak the bread)
  • 500g/17oz minced beef
  • 250g/9oz minced pork
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 red or green chili, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp grated parmesan, plus more to serve
  • 4 anchovies, finely chopped
  • 2 400g/14oz tins chopped tomato
  • 100ml red or white wine (optional)
  • Approx 1tbsp olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 400g Spaghetti

Start by making the tomato sauce. Heat a splash of the olive oil in a saucepan, and add half of the onion, garlic and chili. Allow to cook over a gentle heat until cooked but not brown. Add the tinned tomatoes and wine if using, season with salt and pepper, and allow the sauce to cook gently, uncovered, while you prepare the meatballs.

Place the bread in a bowl and cover with milk. In a large bowl, combine the meats, onion, garlic, chili, anchovies and parmesan, and season well with salt and pepper. Squeeze the excess liquid from the bread, and add this to the mix in the bowl. Mix well until all ingredients are combined – you can use a spoon, but it’s easiest to use your hands.

Roll the mix into small balls – I usually aim for slightly smaller than golf balls. Heat a frying pan over a medium heat, and brown the meatballs on all sides – do this in batches if needed, do not crowd the pan otherwise the meat will steam rather than brown. Once brown, remove the meatballs to a plate while you finish browning the remainder.

Add the browned meatballs to the tomato sauce, and stir gently until the meatballs are coated in sauce. Allow to cook for around 15-20 minutes, until the meat is cooked through. Cook the spaghetti according to packet instructions, and serve topped with the meatballs and tomato sauce, and some grated parmesan.

Jerusalem artichoke risotto

Jerusalem artichoke risotto

I love Jerusalem artichokes – so much so, in fact, that I was willing to brave the snow here last Saturday to make a trip to our local farmers’ market in search of them. These knobbly, unpromising-looking tubers are well worth getting to know, if you don’t already. They have an earthy sweetness, and are very versatile – in many ways, you can treat them as you would a potato, they are delicious roasted, mashed, sautéed… Yum.

Jerusalem artichokes

My love of sunchokes*, as they are sometimes known over here, is relatively recent. When I first moved to London, I lived with three boys I’d been at university with, and for a few years, we settled into post-student life – that is, a life in which our alcohol intake and level of responsibility placed on us were on a par with our student years, but where jobs + salaries = better funding… We are all now very grown up, of course. The area we lived in was lots of fun, but one thing we were lacking was a place to buy good fruit & veg locally. The situation has improved, and there are now a couple of good farmers’ markets in Brixton and Oval, but before these were up and running we decided to get a weekly veg box from the wonderful Growing Communities at Hackney City Farm. It’s an amazing enterprise, which, among other things, has an organic fruit and veg box scheme, and which has recently won the Observer Food Monthly award for Best Independent Local Retailer. We had no choice about what we received in our weekly supply, and so I cooked for the first time with beetroot, Jerusalem artichoke, kale.. to name but a few. We also used to receive recipe sheets each week with our produce, and one of the weeks included this recipe for Jerusalem risotto, which I made, and promptly fell in love with.

Preparing the artichokes

This is a great recipe – it involves cooking the thinly sliced artichokes down till they’re a jam-like consistency which melts into the risotto and the end result is wonderful. However, full disclosure: it does take a bit of time. It’s not difficult, but peeling and slicing the ‘chokes, and cooking them slowly till they’re all caramelised and yummy, takes a bit of patience. Once they’re cooking, you can do other things (such as washing up after the delicious curry your boyfriend made the night before…), but you do need to be on hand to stir now and then to make sure they don’t catch on the bottom. And, of course, making the risotto itself does take a certain amount of stove time… I would not be posting this, however, if I did not think it was 100% worth it!

Sauteed artichokes

A word about stock – of course, it is much better if you happen to have on hand/have time to make homemade stock. However, if you’re not able to do this, just use a stock cube or bouillon powder – I use them for risotto fairly regularly as I’m rarely organised enough to coincide making risotto with having stock in the house. That’s my tuppence-worth, for what it’s… worth.

Adding the rice

*I was about to write a slightly scathing ‘pah, why are they called sunchokes?’-type comment, when I realised there is no rhyme nor reason to their being called Jerusalem artichokes, either – and when you see the plant’s flowers, the whole ‘sun’choke thing starts to make sense…

Jerusalem artichoke risotto 1

Jerusalem artichoke risotto

Serves 2

  • 2 knobs butter
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion – finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic – finely chopped
  • Jerusalem artichokes – approx 10
  • Salt & pepper
  • 200g / 1 cup Arborio risotto rice (or another risotto rice)
  • 100ml dry white wine
  • 600ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • Squeeze of lemon juice (optional)
  • Approx 1tbsp grated parmesan, plus more to serve

Wash the Jerusalem artichokes, if they are dirty, and peel. Slice them into very thin rounds – you could use a mandolin if you have one. Put the slices into a bowl of water with lemon juice to prevent discolouration.

Heat one of the knobs of butter with the olive oil in a medium sauce pan until the butter has melted. Add the onion and garlic, turn the heat down very low and saute for two minutes. Add the artichokes to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and allow to cook until the mix reaches the consistency of jam/marmalade – this can take around 30-40 minutes. Stir every few minutes, to ensure none of the mix is catching on the bottom of the pan. Heat the stock in a pan, and keep warm on the stove.

Turn the heat up slightly – add the risotto rice and allow to toast slightly, before adding the white wine. Cook, stirring, until the wine has been absorbed. Add the stock a ladle at a time – stir regularly, and allow each ladle of stock to be absorbed before adding the next ladle of stock. Continue this process until the rice is cooked to your liking – you may not need all of the stock, or you may need more. If you run out, continue with hot water. Taste, season with salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice, if you like.

Take the pan off the heat, add the second knob of butter and the parmesan, and stir until melted. Serve immediately, topped with more grated parmesan.