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Tagliatelle Aglio Olio e Peperoncino

We were in Italy a couple of weeks ago – a couple of days in Venice followed by a few days in Florence. While we were in Florence we took an organised day trip to San Gimignano, Siena, Castellina and finally a vineyard. On the way to Siena we were offered the option of having lunch at a place they’d chosen; we declined, hoping to go and find somewhere nice ourselves. Unfortunately, when we arrived we discovered that we’d have to find somewhere, eat and get back to the coach’s lunch spot in just 40 minutes!

We raced, somewhat aimlessly, down the streets and stumbled upon Trattoria La Tellina. The place was empty which is never a great sign, but it was still a bit early for lunch and we didn’t really have any choice so we went in. I ordered spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino (spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and chilli) while Rob went for an arrabiata pasta dish. Mine was really tasty and very different to anything I’ve come across in Italian restaurants in London, but I still got food envy because Rob’s arrabiata sauce was the best I’ve ever tasted – absolutely divine!

We decided to try and recreate my dish – the final result was nowhere near as oily as the original (you decide if that’s a good or a bad thing) and was a little too fiery, but it was lovely nonetheless!

Tagliatelle Aglio Olio e Peperoncino
Serves 2
Prep time: 30 seconds
Cooking time: 10 mins

150-200g tagliatelle (depending how hungry you are)
2 cloves garlic, sliced four-ways
3tbsp good extra virgin olive oil (we used some we’d picked up in Lucca, mmm!)
2 whole dried chillis
salt and pepper
a handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Bring a large pan with 2l of salty water to a rolling boil, then add the pasta and cook according to the instructions on the packet. When there are 5 minutes remaining, put the olive oil and chillis into a small frying pan and cook over a low heat for a couple of minutes, to bring out the flavour of the chilli. Season, then add the garlic and continue to cook for a couple of minutes taking care to ensure that it doesn’t burn as this will affect the flavour of the dish.

When the pasta is al dente, drain it then stir in the sauce and serve onto warmed plates, garnishing with the parsley.

Ratatouille

Ratatouille and Rice

It was bonfire night yesterday (seriously, how is it November already?!) and we went out to watch an excellent local firework display with some friends. We had less than an hour between getting home from work and having to leave again to cook and eat dinner so needed something that was going to be incredibly quick. Ratatouille is not that something; however, because it only gets more delicious the longer it’s left it was the perfect thing to cook on Wednesday night and then heat up again last night while the rice was cooking.

I mentioned the last time we blogged about ratatouille that I hadn’t got round to changing my recipe to include aubergine and thought this time was as good as any!

Ratatouille (v2)
Serves 4
Prep time: 10-15 mins (though much of it is while the rest is cooking)
Cooking time: at least an hour

2 medium red onions
2 cloves of garlic
2 large peppers
2 courgettes
1 small aubergine
1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
Herbs des Provence
salt and pepper
olive oil

1. Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan – keep the heat low
2. Peel and cut the onions into chunks then add them to the pan and stir them into the oil
3. Peel the garlic cloves and chop them finely – add the garlic to the pan.
4. Halve the peppers, remove the stalk and seeds and chop into chunks – add them to the pan and stir.
5. Stir in the herbs
6. Top and tail the courguettes, slice them lengthways and then chop into chunks – add them to the pan and stir
7. Top and tail the aubergine and chop into chunks – add it to the pan.
8. Add 2 tbsps of water to the vegetables, stir them as best you can (there’ll be a lot in there) and cover. Cook for about 20 minutes or until the onions and peppers are soft – stir occassionally to prevent sticking.
9. Tip in the tin of chopped tomatoes, stir, season, then bring to the boil before reducing the heat and simmering for at least 40 minutes.
10. Serve with rice, jacket potato, crusty bread or just have a big steaming bowl full of it on its own!

Rob said this was the best ratatouille I’ve ever made, so I’ll stick to this version in the future, maybe using fresh tomatoes in place of tinned when the season comes back around!

Tortellini Soup

Tortellini Soup

I’d spotted a recipe for hearty pasta soup on the BBC Good Food website and decided to give it a go as it had a lot of very high ratings and we had a pack of tortellini in fridge for which we had no plans. This is a really simple recipe that takes minimal preparation (chopping an onion and a couple of carrots). I used kidney beans instead of the green beans because we’ve had a bit of a green bean overload recently! The kidney beans were microwaved for a couple of minutes beforehand to ensure they’d be soft.

It was nice enough, but definitely seemed to be lacking something – perhaps some chilli. I think this is probably something that would appeal to kids whilst getting some vegetables into them. I doubt we’d make this again as it is, but I’d definitely try some kind of tortellini soup again.

Quorn Lasagne

Vegetarian Quorn Lasagne

Every week, especially in the colder months of the year, we try to cook a few dinners that will serve well as leftovers for lunch the next day. Lasagne is a perfect example of such a dish and even having to heat it up in the microwave can’t spoil the wonderful flavours that have only intensified overnight. The difficulty is making sure you actually have some left ;)

We occassionally have roasted vegetable lasagne (for which I’ll one day share with you a truly delightful recipe courtesy of my boss’ mum!), but usually go for a “meaty” version – beef mince for Rob and Quorn mince for me. I tend to just throw various things in a pan when I make my mince, but I wrote down today’s version so I could at least give some idea!

I’ve tried to give quantities, but I don’t actually measure any of it because it doesn’t really matter.

Quorn Lasagne
Serves 2 (plus leftover mince for freezing)
Prep time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 55 mins

For the mince:
1 medium onion, diced (my onion was about the size of a grapefruit (!) & I used half)
1 tbsp mild olive oil
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 very heaped tbsp tomato purée
300g bag of quorn mince (don’t worry about defrosting, but bash it around a bit to break it up)
300g passata
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes (try and get good quality ones or they’ll be too watery)
white sugar
salt and pepper

For the white sauce:
20g butter
20g plain flour
250ml semi-skimmed milk
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper

Plus:
3 “non-cook” lasagne sheets
50g cheddar cheese, grated
15g grated Grana Padano (or Parmazano to make it properly veggie!)
Ovenproof dish (the internal dimensions of mine are: l:18cm w:12cm d:5cm)

  1. Heat both types of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the onion and stir to coat it in oil. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and leave for a couple of minutes.
  2. Crush the garlic into the pan, recover and sweat the onions & garlic, stirring occassionally, for 10-15 minutes or until the onions are soft (if they start to stick, add a tablespoon of water).
  3. Stir in the oregano and thyme followed by the tomato purée. Leave for 30 seconds or so before stirring in the Quorn mince followed by the passata and the chopped tomatoes.
  4. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for at least 10 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C and make the white sauce: Melt the butter in a saucepan then take the pan off the heat and stir in the flour until smooth.
  6. Place the pan back on the heat for a few seconds, stirring continuously then remove from the heat again.
  7. Add the milk bit by bit, stirring continuously.
  8. Back on the heat, gradually bring the sauce to the boil, stirring continuously – it should end up satiny smooth.
  9. Reduce the heat as low as it’ll go and leave the sauce to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occassionally.
  10. Add the nutmeg and season to taste.
  11. Go back to the mince, stir in a pinch of sugar and season to taste.
  12. Spoon 1/3 of the mince evenly in the bottom of the dish and place a pasta sheet on top (snap it to fit and avoid overlaps). Pour in some of the white sauce and spread evenly. Repeat, then top with the cheddar cheese and finish off with the Grana Padano.
  13. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes – the mince should be bubbling and the cheese turning brown.
  14. Serve and enjoy. (You’ll notice I didn’t use all the mince, put the rest in a freezer bag and you’ll have a quick veggie bolognese to hand next time you can’t be bothered to cook!).

Toad in the Hole

Home-made toad in the hole, runner beans and gravy

The transformation outdoors in the last few days has been spectacular. We’re lucky that despite living in London our street is lined with magnificant sycamores. Right now the trees are in full Autumnul show and the pavements are hidden somewhere below a blanket of their enormous, colourful leaves. It’s definitely time to start pulling out some of the winter warmers.

Toad in the Hole
We make this with half pork sausages and half veggie (Cauldron), but for simplicity this recipe is for a pork-only version.
Serves 2 generously (though the batter would probably hold twice as many sausages if needed)
Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 40 mins

300ml semi-skimmed milk
125g plain flour
2 large eggs
4 sausages
2tbsp groundnut oil
salt and pepper

1. Put the flour in a mixing bowl and add a few grinds of salt. Use a balloon whisk to remove any lumps from the flour (alternatively, sieve it into the bowl).
2. Make a hole in the middle of the flour, crack the eggs into it and whisk briefly.
3. Add the milk a bit at a time, continually whisking. When ready the batter should resemble single cream in consistency.
4. Add some freshly ground black pepper, cover and put in the fridge to stand.
5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220C.
6. Heat the oil in a regtangular casserole or roasting dish, add the sausages and cook for 10 minutes.
7. Pour the batter into the dish and return to the oven for 25-30 minutes – don’t open the door for at least 20 minutes!
8. Serve

We had this tonight simply with sliced runner beans boiled for a few minutes and some good old Bisto gravy.

…or the dish that’s going to harm our relationship with our favourite Chinese takeaway!

Sweet & Sour Chicken with Egg Fried Rice

Sweet and sour chicken is a bit of a favourite of Rob’s; throughout university he spent many an evening with a jar of Uncle Ben’s and since discovering the joys of cooking from scratch has always intended to give it a go properly. Personally, I’m not really a fan – I find the sauce can often be leaning too far to the sour side and, let’s be honest, it can look rather radioactive at times! When Rob suggested trying it for dinner I could have just let him go ahead and made myself some pasta, but I was feeling lazy and as he was easily convinced to throw some egg fried rice into the bargain I thought I’d take the risk. Very glad I did, it was absolutely delicious!

We’ve made chicken chow mein before but, while it was very nice, the lack of takeaway greasiness actually felt like a bit of a shame! With tonight’s sweet and sour chicken though it was a completely different story. The freshness of the ingredients really lifted this; chunky pieces of tender chicken breast, crunchy peppers, juicy pineapple (okay, that was from a tin) and perfect egg fried rice.

The sweet and sour chicken was adaptation from Mary Berry’s Complete Cookbook (an adaptation in so much as we didn’t have all the ingredients!) while the egg fried rice was just something Rob had filed into his head at some point!

Sweet and sour chicken with egg fried rice
Serves 2
Prep time: 20 mins (plus 30 mins for marinating)
Cooking time: 25 mins (you can reduce this by cooking the chicken and rice simultaneously – we have only one wok!)

For the chicken:
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (diced – approx. 300g total)
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 small can (227g net) pineapple chunks in juice (drained and juice reserved)
1 tbsp cornflour
1.5 tbsp groundnut oil
1/2 green pepper (seeded and cut into chunky pieces)
1/2 red pepper (seeded and cut into chunky pieces)
1 medium white onion (cut into chunky pieces)
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
salt and pepper

For the rice:
1/2 cup (approx. 90g) basmati rice
1 medium egg
a handful of frozen peas (defrosted)
groundnut oil
salt and pepper

If, like us, you intend to cook the sweet and sour chicken before the egg fried rice, preheat the oven to low temperature so the chicken can be kept warm.

1. Prepare the marinade by mixing the soy sauce with a teaspoon of the pineapple juice. Stir in the chicken pieces until they’re well-coated, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
2. Cook the rice using whatever method works best for you and set aside.
3. Make the remaining pineapple juice up to 150ml with water, stir in the cornflour and set aside.
4. Heat the oil (for the chicken) in a wok, add the chicken and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes until golden all over. Lift out and set aside.
5. Add the peppers and onion to the wok and stir-fry for about 5 minutes.
6. Add the pineapple juice/cornflour mix and ketchup and cook for a few minutes until thickened.
7. Return the chicken to the wock along with the pineapple chunks and heat through. Season and then transfer to a ovenproof dish and keep warm in the preheated oven.
8. Clean the wok (or get another one!) and add a generous amount of oil (you can add more later if necessary). Bring to a medium heat (you don’t want to burn the egg!).
9. Beat the egg and add it to the wok. Allow the egg to cook for a couple of minutes until it resembles a small omelette.
10. Stir the rice and peas into the egg, breaking up the cooked egg in the process. Cook for 3-4 minutes, continually stirring.
11. Serve up the rice with the chicken and enjoy!

Rib Eye Steak with Blue Cheese Butter

It’s been a hard week. Both Erika and I are off work next week and it always seems to be the case that the final few days at work before going away are both supremely busy and stressful. Erika is out tonight and I wanted something quick and easy for dinner tonight but it had to be delicious as well as being light. I was a bit greedy yesterday and ate out for both lunch and dinner yesterday so have not felt hungry all day.

On the way home I ended up in M&S looking for inspiration and… well, you can guess what I chose. I love rib eye because it’s always so tender and juicy, and M&S do wonderful steaks that aren’t quite as expensive as going to an upmarket butcher. Generally I have my steak by itself as I feel that a sauce can be overpowering but the idea of the juicy steak with tangy blue cheese tickled my fancy. Plus it takes next to no time to make and costs very little. My small piece of cheese was 40p and would do a good three steaks worth.

Blue Cheese Butter
Prep time: 5 minutes
Serves: 3

25g softened butter (unsalted is best but salted will do)
25g blue cheese – roquefort is good, I used Saint Agur.

Mix the softened butter with the cheese until they are both combined and you have a paste-like consistency. Spread this onto some baking parchment, roll it up to make a cylinder and stick it in the fridge to chill. Either put a bit in a small bowl and melt it just before serving by putting it in the microwave or cut a wedge off and put it on top of your steak. Or do both – I won’t tell!

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