All purpose red pepper cream sauce…

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All purpose red pepper cream sauce...

This is a classic standby of mine…you can have it over chicken, pork, fish, or just simply over a good bowl of fresh pasta. This is a red pepper chopped and pan fried with a chopped clove of garlic in olive oil until the red pepper starts to brown a little. Then add a sprinkle or two of rosemary and a grind of black pepper and sea salt. Add a slice or two of prosciutto cut torn into pieces. Fry for about 30 seconds more. The peppers should be soft. Add a small pot of fresh single cream. Heat through for another minute or two, then pour over the dish of your choice…
marvellous, cheap and simple.

Lentil Bolognaise

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Lentil Bolognaise

It was Nigel Slater’s birthday yesterday and I wanted to cook one of his newer dishes to mark the occasion. His writing, his cookery programmes and his approach to all things food is so encouraging and inspiring to writers like myself. The way he creates dishes like this one has given me so much confidence in creating my own recipes.

Hey, ok, enough of the eulogising!

This is a really tasty dish and a fab way to eat lentils.

For 4

2 carrots finely diced
1 onion finely sliced
3 tbsps of olive oil
230 gm Puy lentils (or any green ones will do if you cannot get Puy)
1 litre of chicken stock or veg stock
400 gm pappardelle or tagliatelle pasta
2 tbsps crème fraîche
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
50 gm lardons – you could leave these out if you wish – esp. vegetarians!

Heat the oil in a pan – I used a non stick wok – and fry the onion and carrot until both are soft and the carrot lightly browned.

Rinse the lentils then add to the pan. Stir and add the stock

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Lower the heat and simmer for around 35 – 40 minute until the lentils are just soft. Season with a little salt. Cook the pasta. Whilst this is happening remove half the lentil mixture, including liquid and add to a blender. Blizt to a puree. Return it to the pan. Stir it in along with the crème fraîche and the balsamic vinegar. I then pan fried the lardons separately and added them also.

This is a really cheap and satisfying dish. It tastes, as Nigel Slater says, wonderfully ‘earthy’ and I cannot tell you how amazing the flavour is considering how basic the ingredients are – it is a marvellous example of the the alchemy of food!

Please, please make this!

Parmesan, pasta and basil…a hearty trinity!

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Parmesan, pasta and basil…a hearty trinity!

Little to say about supper tonight other than it was simple and tasty, just because it was so clean tasting and made use of a phenomenal hunk of parmigiano reggiano recently given to me by a good friend who has just returned from Italy. Pasta cooked and drained and swirled with a very good virgin olive oil, a dash of rock salt and a swizzle of black pepper plus a handful of fresh, fragrant, beautiful basil with shavings of the bard of cheeses.

Sometimes keeping things simple is all that is needed to make people smile at the supper table. And good ingredients. These three were made for each other….

4 Cheese Macaroni makes Monday’s supper magical…

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4 Cheese Macaroni makes Monday supper magical...

This is one of those dishes that is simply a sensory delight. It transforms a dull clichéd pasta and cheese dish into a veritable dish of the Gods. It looks good, it smells unbelievable and the texture is phenomenal. It is a dish to leave home for, to marry for, to fight for. I cannot tell you how good it is – but, and I know I wax lyrical rather too often at times – this dish is really worth waxing about – it is fabulous in every sense of the word. Please – please – please make it – and make it soon. Throw all other macaroni recipes in the bin.

For 4

500 gms pasta – use macaroni – I used a mix from my odds and sods tin – very home should have one
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
2 large teaspoons of oregano
75 gms Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, plus a little extra for grating
100 gms Taleggio cheese, roughly chopped – my favourite …mmmm
100 gms mascarpone cheese
1 ball of mozzarella cheese
75 gms of lardons pan fired and put to one side
A sprinkle of dried chilli seeds

Preheat the oven to 200ºc. Cook the pasta in a pan of boiling water for 10 minutes, then drain in a colander and keep back a little of the cooking water.

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based frying pan, add the oregano and fry gently for a minute, then turn off the heat. Add the cooked pasta to the oregano oil (this is a vital part of the process and adds immensely to the sensory experience of this dish- I promise), along with a couple of spoonfuls of the reserved cooking water and the parmesan, taleggio and mascarpone.

Return to a medium heat and toss and stir around until most of the cheese has melted and you have a seriously goo style sauce – you may need to add a little more of the reserved cooking water. Add a short sharp shock of sea salt and two or three grinds of black pepper, then tip it all into an earthenware dish. Add the lardons. Add the mozzarella sliced into slivers and sprinkle over the extra parmesan. Then add the sprinkle of chilli seeds. Bake the macaroni cheese in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove and stick the dish under a preheated grill until golden brown.

I served it with a rocket salad and a fine bottle of Primitivo from Puglia – a favourite wine of mine.

My Monday is now complete. I can face the rest of the week- all because of this dish.

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Winter’s warming glory…

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Winter's warming glory...

Often the simplest things in life are the most beautiful. The things we take for granted – golden leaves, a sparrow’s song, ripening berries peeping through hedgerows , snow drops peeking out from under the soil where they have slept peacefully during the dark drear months of winter.

And so it is with food – often food stuffs we overlook or turn our nose up at can provide delectable surprises. Inexpensive and warming when the wet weather whirls its way through our world.

Take the humble tin of corned beef. I loathed it as a child – all my sandwiches on school trips seemed to contain nothing else but slabs of it  and I found it hard to swallow. I remember my Granddad telling me tales of WW1 and life in the trenches when frequently the only dish on offer was tinned ‘bully beef’ as he called it. Sounded grim!

The stuff sold in cans gets its name from the corns, or grains of salt, that are used to preserve it. The beef is chopped up and preserved with salt – sometimes it was brine – and canned with beef fat and jelly. When I was young there seemed to be too much of the jelly for my liking! Today most of the corned beef in cans  comes from Uruguay or Brazil.

It was first mentioned in 1621 in a recipe of one Robert Burton in his ‘Anatomy of Melancholy‘ -clearly he too had been getting corned beef sandwiches too often in his packed lunch!

Anyway, he writes ‘ Beef…corned, young of an Ox.’ He also mentions that you could get corned pork . Corned beef in many parts of the world refers to salt beef – a wonderful cut from the brisket – we used to eat a lot of it when we lived in New Zealand. Corned beef in the UK means the stuff that comes in those trade mark rectangular cans with the pesky winding key opener.

The Irish eat a lot of it apparently, especially on St Patrick’s Day – a combination of corned beef heated through with cooked cabbage. And of course there is the traditional corned beef hash which improved my opinion of the stuff when my folks made this stew in my early teens. Great with lashings of brown sauce. Corned beef also gets used in lots of pasties sold in the chains of high street bakers.

But, my favourite way of eating it – and I have made this for many a long year, going back to my thrifty student days, is a Corned Beef Chilli.

I cannot explain how good this dish is – and I know some folk out there will be grimacing or even switching to another blog at this point – which is a pity – because, as I said to begin with – the simplest and often the cheapest dishes are the best. Right, assuming you are all still with me….! The recipe!

For 4

1 can of corned beef chopped into chunks.
1 red onion chopped
1 clove of garlic chopped
3 chillies deseeded and chopped – I use 2 red and 1 green
2 x 400gm chopped tinned tomatoes
1 tablespoon of cumin seeds
A bunch of fresh coriander (cilantro)

500 gm rigatoni pasta (for some odd reason, it goes far better with pasta than rice – believe me.

In a frying pan, heat some olive oil and pan fry the onions, garlic, chillies, and cumin seeds.

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Let the onions soften, then add the tinned tomatoes and bring to a good simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes on a low heat.

Then add the corned beef and stir around gently. Now add three quarters of the bunch of coriander chopped. Stir again. Let it simmer whilst you cook your pasta. It can happily sit there for another 40 minutes or so, getting thicker and hotter.

Serve the pasta in bowls and spoon over the corned beef chilli. Add a sprinkle of chopped coriander to each bowl.

It is like no other chilli you will have tasted and everyone for whom I have cooked it has been amazed at the flavour and deliciousness of this dish.

Thanks, Bonnie, for the inspiration. A wonderful painting to go with a wonderful winter warmer of a meal!

Lamb and rosemary meatballs with baby sweet red peppers…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Served with pasta, ’twas a veritable Valentinian feast!

Coriandered tomatoes in cream

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Coriandered tomatoes in cream

Supper had to be swift tonight. I was hungry. I had tomatoes. Manzanos – but baby plums would be fine. In a large frying pan in olive oil I added around 150 gm of superb toms. Then a clove of garlic chopped very finely. I added three strips of smoked bacon chopped up roughly. All fried gently for about 10 minutes. Next a teaspoon of dried rosemary and a large handful of chopped fresh coriander. The pasta was popped on – rigatoni. 400 gm.

Into the tomato mix I added a tub of single cream – 250 ml.

I let it warm nicely and blend together. Pasta was then drained and added to the tomato mix. By all means sprinkle some grated parmesan on if you wish. A simple and satisfying and superb supper.

Scintillating. I told you I was in a hurry.

Monday night magic…a pasta dish to pacify the beast

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Monday night magic...a pasta dish to pacify the beast

This is one of those dishes that just comes together like a dream and furnishes your taste buds with more flavours than you could shake a wooden spoon at. It is a dish that possibly every household has a version of – well this is mine and I am still in a miasma of pasta perfection.

I will do my best to give you the recipe!

Chicken, Spinach and Pine Nut Cream Pasta

For 4

2 chicken breasts sliced in to strips
2 cloves of garlic chopped
250 ml chicken stock
250 ml single cream
4 or 5 good handfuls of spinach
5 strips of smoked bacon chopped
6 sundried tomatoes chopped
Handful of basil
Black pepper
100 gm toasted pine nuts

Pan fry the chicken for 5 minutes with the garlic. Add the stock. Simmer for 5 minutes then add the sun dried tomatoes.
Put the pasta on – I used fusilli but tagliatelle would work too. I used 400 gm for 4.

Add the cream and the torn basil to the chicken and a good grind or two of black pepper. In a separate pan fry the bacon til just crisping. Put to one side. Add the spinach to the chicken and stir on a low light until the spinach is wilting and the cream sauce starting to bubble gently. Add the bacon and stir again gently.

Drain the pasta and share between four bowls. Add a portion of the sauce to each and then top with the pine nuts.

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I drank a full bodied dark shiraz with this and it was a marriage that will last.

A dish to play with too – certainly – you could add even more bacon – or dried chilli flakes – whatever grabs your fancy!

A pasta for every passing Popeye to drool over!

Sausage Meat Balls in a mustard and cream sauce…

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Sausage Meat Balls in a mustard and cream sauce...

This is a recipe created by the marvellous Nigel Slater and it appears in his wonderful new book – Eat. Like all great meatball dishes you can play around with the idea – adjusting quantities, ingredients to suit your taste / mood. This was my attempt and I was pleased with the result – it is a different way to cook them – and simple yet succulently appealing to the senses.

For 4

6 good pork sausages – skins removed
Olive oil
500 ml beef stock – or you could use chickn stock for a lighter flavour
Tbsp Dijon mustard
A little chopped rosemary
A crushed clove of garlic
A little grated lemon zest
250 ml double cream

400 gm pappardelle

Put the sausage meat in a mixing bowl and stir in the rosemary, lemon zest and crushed garlic. Shape into small balls – I got 16 decent balls, slightly smaller than a table tennis ball. But you can make them smaller if you fancy.Cook the balls in the olive oil over a moderate heat until evenly browned.

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Get rid of any excess fat, then pour in the stock. Bring to the boil and let it reduce a little. Add the cream and stir in, plus the mustard. Season with a little salt and a bit more pepper. Continue to cook for about 15 or 20 minutes, stirring gently every now and then.

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Remove the balls to a warm plate with a slotted spoon.Turn the heat up under the sauce and let it reduce a little. It will not thicken though.

Pop the meatballs on a plate of warm pappardelle and pour over the velvety sauce.

You could miss out the cream and stock altogether and just pan fry the balls in olive oil then add butter and lemon juice to the pan juices at the end, pouring these over the balls and pasta. Tis up to you!

OK, I forgot to take all the pics….

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OK, I forgot to take all the pics....

….so you will have to take it from me that tonight’s supper was a 3 course delight. Late, mind…leaves on the line, hurricanes, fences down, hair lightly ruffled etc all of which caused us to not begin supper until 8.30pm… but all worth it – and if Annie’s other half is tuning in, it was all healthy too, James!

Starter…as in the pic above…slices of fennel doused in lemon juice and olive oil wrapped in prosciutto crudo with cherry toms and fennel salami – finocchiona – with a drizzle of fig balsamic. Main course – and this was very good – really very good – tagliatelle with a creamy basil sauce. Into a blender – pop a big handful or two of basil, a clove of garlic peeled and sliced, two tablespoons of white wine vinegar, a teaspoon of dijon mustard, a teaspoon of capers and enough olive oil to give it a thick, just about runny, consistency. Blitz! Add to a bowl and add 2 or 3 dessert spoons of single cream. Cook your tagliatelle, drain it, stir in the sauce and serve – scattering over some toasted pine nuts if you will – they only take a minute or two in a dry frying pan. And of course we all grated over some parmesan.

I actually prefer this to my normal straight pesto sauce. It was simply unctuous.

OK – to finish off, I sliced a fabulous crisp Italian pear and placed a large piece on a small saucer to which I added a thin slice of creamy gorgonzola. This was all washed down with an amazing Malbec from Argentina called Alamos – purchased from those lovely people in Majestic in Winchester. Possibly a contributory factor as to why I forgot to photo the main course and the dessert! Hey – but it was all fab and each of the 3 dishes complimented each other marvellously.

Oh…and in the photo I was not just the only one drinking- the others just hadn’t arrived at the table yet!

Right – nearly 10.15 pm. Time to laze by the woodburner and dream about tomorrow’s supper….