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An evening at La Cucina Caldesi & a Recipe for Deboned Stuffed Poussin

Oh, life has been pretty busy, eh? You may have noticed that from my posts. I am moving house again. I may start a new blog all about that – I seem to do that more than anything else! Although that would be incredibly tedious, for you and me, and, oh just about everything that can sense any sort of boredom or pain, so maybe I will stick with this monument to pleasure and weight gain that I call Eat Like a Girl.

Sadly, this means that cooking chez moi has all but decreased to nothing. For now my home has ceased to be one, and is an ocean of boxes, vomiting their contents everywhere, while I anxiously decide what’s for the chop, the charity shop, or my new abode. In the middle of that, I am looking for a new place to live, which offers an anxiety all of its own, especially when I don’t have the time to dedicate to it. Before you comment, I know that must change and it will, any day now.

No cooking at home then, but lots of cooking elsewhere for I must feed my habit. I’ve been doing some cookery courses these past few weeks to keep myself topped up, in between endurance eating sessions at Posh Lunch Club and tasting menus in favourite restaurants. I am almost reduced to elasticated waists, *almost*, so next week, I am buying a bicycle.

I love cookery courses with an obsessive’s zeal, they’re so sociable too, and always fun. I like to do courses that offer a new skill or an insight to a cuisine. Something for me to get my teeth into, and get that brain whirring, so it was with much pleasure and a skip in my step that I made my way to La Cucina Caldesi, a bright and pretty kitchen and cookery school, tucked away in a mews in Marylebone.

Cookery Class at La Cucina Caldesi

I have attended a class here before, although not one given by the Caldesi’s themselves. This class was a showcase of recipes from Katie Caldesi’s new book – The Italian Cookery Course – a comprehensive book featuring 500 recipes and techniques of regional Italian cooking, taught by Katie and her husband Giancarlo. Appealing, no?

Running over three hours, we prepared a 3 course meal, starting with gnocchi nudi with spinach and butter, bright green and tender gnocchi, although not as I knew them. Katie described these as ravioli without the pasta skin. They were a nice light starter, and not too tricky to make. Incidentally this is the third time that I have come across them this month, I’ve seen them since on two menus (Fifteen and River Cafe).

Cookery Class at La Cucina Caldesi

These were followed by our piece de resistance, a deboned poussin, or Chicken Under a Brick (Pollo al Mattone). We each deboned one of these small birds, guided expertly by Giancarlo, and stuffed them with chilli, rosemary and garlic, before roasting a flock of them for our delectation. They were served with potatoes roasted with onion, rosemary and pancetta, a dish that I often make at home and really enjoy. How could you not love crispy potatoes with fluffy insides, blanketed in pancetta fat, with crispy pancetta befriending? The poussin was tricky, but delivered lovely results, visually and on the palette.

Cookery Class at La Cucina Caldesi

Cookery Class at La Cucina Caldesi

Cookery Class at La Cucina Caldesi

We finished the meal with hot chocolate cream in a cup, a dessert which Katie’s son had had in an Italian restaurant, and had cheekily requested the recipe on his mothers behalf. Good work on his part, it was a delicious, creamy rich and drinkable chocolate dessert. It is definitely one for the chocaholics that cross the threshold to your parlour.

Cookery Class at La Cucina Caldesi

I would not be so cruel as to tell you all about this and not share a recipe. So, courtesy of Katie Caldesi, here’s her recipe for Chicken Under a Brick (Pollo al Mattone). I’ve edited the method a little to equate how we did it at the class, which is slightly different to the one in the book, e.g. there’s no brick in this version of the recipe – the original version involves marinading overnight under one. I loved it, hope you do too.

Chicken Under a Brick (Pollo al Mattone)

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 poussins
2 red chillies, cut in half
1 garlic clove, smashed
4 sprigs of rosemary
100ml olive oil
S&P

Method:

Place the birds on a board. Insert a sharp cooks knife inside the first one by the back bone, and twist the knife slightly outwards along one side of the spine, press down firmly and hugging the bone with your knife as you go. Repeat on the other side.

Discard the spine and open out the poussin, snapping the wishbone when you reach it. Repeat with the other 3 birds, then stuff the inside with the chilli rosemary and garlic and a drizzle of the oil, fold together, cosy them in a baking dish drizzled with the olive oil and S&P and roast for 30 minutes or so. You can check that they are done by pushing a skewer into the thickest bit of the breast and checking that the juices run clear.

Enjoy!

I attended this course as a guest of La Cucina Caldesi.

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In the kitchen at L’Anima with Francesco Mazzei: Linguine Vongole

Vongole at L'Anima

I was very excited, and also a little hot and bothered. I had to be in Liverpool St at 5pm, but I didn’t finish work until 5.30pm, and I work an hour away. Eish! What to do?! Thankfully, Francesco and his team were patient and flexible, and unfazed when I burst through the door, earlier than I thought possible, but later than arranged, red and frizzy and ready for vongole.

Vongole? What’s that? It’s one of the best Italian culinary offerings, and when nestled with linguine, a real treat. Fresh and lively, salty and sweet, fruity and toothsome, you can’t beat it.

I’ve cooked this at home, but not for a while. It’s one of those things that has to be done right, great vongole from an even better fishmonger, great pasta and some time. That’s all. Like anything else, there are ways to do it to do it and to do it right you need to adhere to the rules, but really it’s not that complicated, and once you know the steps, it’s utterly achievable. It’s a weeknight dish should you choose it to be one or a perfect quick weekend treat.

Vongole at L'Anima

Italian cuisine is one of my favourites; it’s so fresh and full of flavour. Loaded with character and variety, how could you not love it? I love the attention to detail, the adherence to quality and the sociable nature of it all. I love that everyone is confident about food, we should be here too. Everyone has a secret family recipe, knows local wines and heartily recommends favourites. They want to take you to their favourite places, and share their culinary heritage, for they are very proud of it, and so they should be. So, I wasn’t surprised when Francesco seemed to represent all of these qualities, fizzing with enthusiasm and passion, and ready to share his knowledge.

L’Anima is a lovely space, airy and bright, perhaps leaning on stark, but very stylish. We started at the bar with some snacks and a prosecco, and then progressed to the kitchen, which was stacked with food and chefs, and while busy-busy, it was very calm. Waiting by one of the sinks were enormous and very fresh clams, that had been rinsed to rid them of any sand that they had retained from the sea bed, they were ready to become vongole.

Vongole at L'Anima

Francesco whizzed through the recipe, it really is very quick. Patient and attentive, occasionally making reference to how red I was, with a chuckle. I was at pains to explain that I am Irish and can’t cope with extremes of anything – hot or cold. Ireland is mild and temperate, and this is what my body demands, but rarely receives. So, there you go! I am doomed to have a big red face in warm environments. But that’s ok.

Vongole at L'Anima

The vongole had already been cleaned and were gleaming and ready for action. Using a bronze cut linguine, Francesco starts the dish with a light south Italian olive oil, that won’t over power the clams. The pasta is put on, and some garlic slices and chilli are gently fried. The vongole are added shortly after with a glass of white wine, and cooked gently until they start to open. The pasta is added with some of it’s starchy cooking water, creating an emulsion with the vongole sauce as it is stirred. The pasta looks to be about half cooked at this stage, and Francesco stirs it, until it it’s al dente and nestled is a beautiful creamy sauce. I love this technique of cooking pasta by absorption, a technique that delivers a much superior pasta, and costs nothing but time and a littler exertion. Not unlike the creaminess that you get from risotto rice, when you give it all of that care and attention.

The dish is finished with a handful of freshly chopped flat leaf parsley, and is ready to eat.  We had a taste, and I was in heaven.

Vongole at L'Anima

I was loathe to leave the kitchen and that luscious linguine behind, but Francesco assured me that I would have some more soon, over dinner in the private room, where 8 of us gathered and participated in a feast.

Vongole at L'Anima

A gorgeous starter of muscles cooked in a josper oven, a powerful charcoal oven, just briefly, for a minute or so until they popped open. They retained their memory of the sea, in those last drops of sea water that they had held onto from when they were caught. These were superb, a real highlight, tasting of fire and water with embers from the josper oven and sea water, with a meaty mussel embracing it in the middle, and some delicious n’duja sausage with some fennel seeds.

Vongole at L'Anima

Our linguine vongole escapades were next. Three different types, all perfectly executed, although one fusion one, while lovely, was not to my taste. I prefer the more familiar rustic Italian flavours of garlic, chilli and tomato. We had a lovely wine with the linguine, a delicious Soave, so good, I proclaimed that it was worth going that night to discover that wine alone.

Vongole at L'Anima

We finished with a frozen chocolate truffle. An icy large truffle with chocolate sauce oozing out of the middle. Delicious. I know that word is over used but I don’t care, because that’s what it was.

And there you have it. A perfect evening. Linguine vongole is on the bar menu at L’Anima, it’s well worth a try with that glorious Soave. Francesco Mazzei is certainly one to watch and I look forward to trying L’Anima again.

I will make this dish soon and post the recipe. Give it a go, there or at home. You’ll be very happy with yourself.

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Lunching at Konstam in King’s Cross

Pork Belly Sandwich from Konstam

Regular readers and fellow twitterers will know that I am a big fan of pork belly! An inexpensive but delicious cut of meat, that is transformed into a thing of crispy wonder when given the right amount of care and attention. Spiced with star anise or sweetened with cider and sporting a crispy coat of crackling, it is one of my favourite things to eat in this world.

Konstam at the Price Albert

So, you can imagine my delight when a restaurant local to work started serving pork belly sandwiches at lunch time. Not just any restaurant either, but Oliver Rowe’s Konstam at the Price Albert, a restaurant where most of the produce (where possible) is sourced from within the M25. Many of you will be familiar with it from the TV show, The Urban Chef, that tracked the setup and opening of this fine establishment.

Prior to opening Konstam at the Prince Albert, Oliver ran a cafe of the same name (Konstam). of which I was a big fan and I was disappointed when it closed in favour of the restaurant. Not that I don’t appreciate the fine dining options on offer there, it’s simply not in my price range for a regular lunch. The new lunch menu is of a similar ilk to the old cafe. It changes regularly and features the finest sandwiches including my favourite hot roast pork belly, remoulade and parseley sandwich; chicken and dill mayonnaise; roast winter squash marjoram and lemon; Quicke’s cheddar, marrow chutney and mizuna and many more. The salads are wonderful, fresh, vibrant and dressed beautifully and the soups are packed with flavour and colour e.g Hillingdon beetroot and vodka soup with sour cream and roast butternut soup with Norbury blue & walnuts. There are also more traditional main courses at normal a la carte prices like pan roast Mersea sea bass, jerusalem artichoke pierogi, slow-cooked shoulder of Amersham mutton and braised Amersham pheasant legs.

salad plate at Konstam

Most of the menu is available for take away and I really can’t recommend it enough. It takes a little longer than your average sandwich but that’s because it’s not your average sandwich and it’s an absolute pleasure to watch the chef take the enormous pork belly out of the oven and cut your bit, placing it tenderly between two slices of sourdough, caressed by remoulade and tickled by parsley. The delicate flesh and the crispy crackling, with the fat seeping into the bread. Sounds wrong but it’s oh-so-right. Oh god, I want one now.

I’ve tried a number of dishes and the food, as a rule, is delicious and freshly made while you wait. If you don’t believe me, they were featured in the Time Out lunch feature last week, which reminded me, that I should really blog about the wonder that is the Konstam pork belly sandwich.

So, if you’re in London, try it out! I doubt you’ll be disappointed, I’ve dragged most of my friends there by now and they’re in agreement with me. If you’re not in London, I recommend you try a homemade version for a winter lunch. It’s medicinal and food for the soul and will get you through these next dark days leading to the Winter solstice.

pork belly sandwich at Konstam

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A Gastronomic Postcard from Riva del Garda

Riva del Garda

Riva del Garda

I’ve been a little absent from this little online home of late, in the past week that was because I was in Italy, Riva del Garda to be precise, to celebrate a friends wedding, or more accurately two friends weddings, only remove the plural as they were marrying each other :)

I’ve been to Italy three times previously, I love Rome and Naples, both buzzing with energy and with fantastic food, both cities to get lost, idle and indulge in. The furthest North I had been was Florence, which at the tender age of 19 was too quiet for me, so, I was looking forward to visiting Lago di Garda, somewhere quiet and visually spectacular with very different food to what I had experienced further South, the perfect counter to a hectic month in London. Added to this, I grew up next to the Atlantic and love being by water, I especially love ferries and boats, so I was very much looking forward to a first night relaxing with just my book, some good food and some nice red wine somewhere by the Lake.

Riva del Garda

Riva del Garda

This wasn’t to happen, certainly not as I intended, as I was very unlucky and I missed the only bus from the airport (there’s only one a day!), then the bank cancelled my cash card (due to a fraudulent transaction which was only me trying to withdraw money at the airport), so I spent my first few hours talking to my bank and various taxi drivers at the airport who were offering to take me to all corners of Italy for extremely extravagant sums. It all ended well, if differently to expected, with, following a ridiculously overpriced taxi journey, a three and a half hour ferry trip in the evening sun ending in Riva del Garda at sunset.

First impressions of culinary Riva? Good pizza that first night with nice red wine, all enjoyed in the company of a good book. The pizza was not as good as what I had experienced in Naples, but was on a par with the better ones that I have had in London and very fairly priced (Bella Napoli, should you visit). After this, it was a bit hit and miss, Riva being a tourist town and catering very much for German and Austrian tourists, lots of restaurants offered beef and roast potatoes or frankfurters, but, there were some gems, offering the likes of rabbit stew with polenta and wonderful fresh seafood from the lake. Veal was very common and any steak I had was very good.

Seafood Lasagne

Seafood Lasagne

My two favourite restaurants of the week offered the nicest dishes I tasted over my week there, had a lovely atmosphere and service, and are places I’d love to visit again. My favourite dish in the first restaurant, Osteria de l’Anzolim, wasn’t even my own, but I had a taste and was full of regret and main course envy, a beautiful and light seafood lasagne. I had a lovely linguine marinara that was so full of seafood I couldn’t even finish it. The service was great, the owner quite a character and lots of fun. I’d recommend. The second is slightly off the beaten track, Osteria La Contrada, and serves homemade pasta and bread with regional specialties. Here, they had a whole page of the menu dedicated to the truffle, how could I not indulge? So, I had Tagliatelle ai Tartufo and my friend Risotto, both divine, I am still thinking about them! For now, I’ll leave you with the images, until I can do a version to share with you.

Tagliatelle al Tartufo

Tagliatelle al Tartufo

Risotto al Tartufo

Risotto al Tartufo

Homemade maccheroni with tomato and buffalo mozarella

Homemade maccheroni with tomato and buffalo mozarella

Insalata Caprese

Insalata Caprese

Grilled King Prawns

Grilled King Prawns

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Ditalini with fresh borlotti beans, rosemary & tomato

Today’s recipe is ditalini with fresh borlotti beans, rosemary & tomato – a twist on Pasta e Fagioli that I made for lunch today. I’m a girl with an eye for detail, at least when it comes to food (for you friends reading, shocked that I typed that! ;)). I didn’t want to blog pasta e fagioli yet, because I wanted to make sure that the one I eventually blog is traditional, accurate and painstakingly researched. I am almost there, but not quite. So, instead, I will blog part of the research towards that goal and call it ditalini with fresh borlotti beans, rosemary & tomato. It’s a vegetarian version, intentionally, I wanted something with clean, crisp flavours, light & fruity and healthy.

So, how to go about this? Spend a Sunday morning wandering around the food halls of London, unintentionally picking up the ingredients. Beautiful big red tomatoes of the type you would see in the mediteranean, fresh borlotti beans in their pink stripey pods, bursting to come out, ditalini pasta, shallots, garlic & some fresh rosemary from the garden. The flavours are simple and therefore very important that they are right, so good tomatoes are essential, but you could substitute the beans if you can’t get fresh borlotti – dried or tinned borlotti, or cannelini. The fresh ones are so plump and tender, it’s worth trying to find them. They also cook in the dish, imparting their goodness to the finished dish. I cook the beans first with herbs and garlic to add more flavour, but keep the water the beans were cooked in and use it to add to the stock (keeping it withinn 600ml). For the pasta, ff you can’t get ditalini, any small tubular pasta will do, try macaroni. The finished dish looks bland and drained of colour, but, I promise, it’s bursting with flavour and worth a go.

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Homemade Pizza

I love good pizza. Everyone has their own take on what that is but for me it has a thin crispy base, good sauce (NOT tomato purée!) and simple but good quality toppings. It can be quite hard to find this so I like to make my own occasionally. It takes alot of time but there’s a real sense of satisfaction in doing it from scratch. Dissolving the yeast, seeing the dough take shape, and kneading & kneading it until the dough becomes stretchy and shiny and ready for a stint of relaxation while you make your sauce. It’s an arduous process, but one I am happy to indulge in when I have the time. And sometimes when I don’t, like last Saturday.

I had been preparing for a few days, stocking up on fresh yeast, Italian 00 flour, too many cheeses and various types of meat. A few words about these, Italian 00 flour is a must, if only because it’s what Italians use and they know what they’re doing. It’s a fine grind flour that’s high in gluten, which results in alot of bite. I take alot of time with my sauce as tomatoes test better the longer they’re cooked, this time however, I tried a new baked tomato sauce which needs very little attention and it worked really well. The toppings? Your pizza will be as good as these, I bought some San Daniele ham, as good as parma (if not better for my taste) but slightly darker and a little sweeter, some sliced piccante chorizo, some nice rocket, buffalo mozarella, a delicate fresh chevre, manchego (one of my favourites, you can substitute cheddar or something similar if you can’t get it), some really nice black olives & lots of basil.

pizza dough

So, what about the dough? Again, this can be a contentious issue. To add olive oil or not? I always used to but actually forgot it this time, and you know what? It was still really nice. So, I would say, really it’s up to you, but this time, I rolled my pizza really thin and the dough was really light and I can’t help but wonder if this was the absence of olive oil. I’ll know next time I make it and add it. I use fresh yeast, I think it gives better results & the dough rises better and faster. You can get it in health food shops normally, at least that’s where I get mine.

Push your domestic oven to it’s limits, heat it to the highest temperature, our flat was like a sauna! I like mine rustic, rolled as big and thin as I can get it and baked on a large tray that is the width of the oven. I am impatient and wanted to try everything so I made half and half pizzas so that I could try the flavours immediately.

homemade pizza

How was it? At the risk of sounding cocky, great. No other adjective required. Washed down with some delicious wine that I brought back from Paris and followed with a good film, a great Saturday night.

Here’s the recipe.[Read more]

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Courgette Carbonara

I have been living in London for some time now – 6 years – and have noticed that my hiberno-english lilt has absorbed some new words and phrases, I recently caught myself saying mate and as though to make room I am losing the frequency of some old regulars e.g. I am saying grand alot less. It’s all part of adapting, people still don’t understand what I am saying at times, although that may have alot to do with my rush to say everything especially when I am enthusiastic about the topic. What I never expected was that someday, out of the blue, I would call a courgette a zucchini. Where did that come from? I live in England, I am from Ireland, it’s a courgette in both places! I blame cookbooks and American televison shows, it’s as though, through some process of verbal osmosis, the external zucchini influences overpowered the courgette ones and forced itself out one evening unexpectedly. I am now making a very conscious effort to say courgette, which may sound very silly, I suppose it is, but I feel mixed up enough as it is so I am sticking with it!

So, recently, following the purchase of some very pretty yellow baby courgettes and some courgette flowers I decided that I would make a zucchini courgette carbonara and stuff the flowers with goats cheese and courgette and deep fry them. it took me ages to find courgette flowers, the farmers markets don’t appear to be selling them attached to the courgettes anymore which is an awful shame and when I did find them they cost £1 for 3 flowers on their own. That seems a bit steep! A couple of days after this purchase as I was preparing to cook them, Jamie Oliver did something very similar on his new show, Jamie at Home. I was really annoyed as I thought, damn, everyone is going to think I am copying him. So as a preface, I’ll explain how I first came across the carbonara recipe, it’s a nice trip down memory lane for me anyway. I’ll blog the courgette flower recipe another time.

My first encounter with homemade courgette carbonara was in Naples many years ago at a friends then boyfriends-ex-girlfriends house (you following?!). I was an impressionable 21/22 then and was really excited at seeing how easily and brilliantly it came together. It was a great night, we were drinking wine from their Tuscan vineyard with this delicious pasta and to top it off (I think) we were driven home in Isabella’s blue Fiat 500. It’s at times like this that I wish I had kept a diary. It’s all quite vague! That may have alot to do with the Tuscan wine.

The pasta that night was different to the one I am blogging here as it also had cherry tomatoes in. This may have been in place of the usual pancetta as two of us were vegetarian, this works really well if you want to try it sometime. This time I only used courgettes and pancetta as the courgettes were so flavoursome I wanted the dish to be all about them.

This is very quick, the carbonara takes only as long as the pasta takes to cook.

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Chargrilled peach & speck salad

This is a spectacular summer salad devised by Yotam Ottolenghi of Ottolenghi’s in London and published in the Summer BBQ series in the Guardian on Saturdays. I had wanted to make it since it was published (2 weeks ago?) but I didn’t have the orange blossom water required nor had I the time to go source it. I spotted it on a trip to Borough Market on Saturday and with that purchase was all set. I went to the farmers market in Queen’s Park on Sunday to get the leaves but the leaves specified in the recipe weren’t available so I bought mizuna & mustard leaves instead of baby chard, endives & watercress. These worked really well and I think, really, you could use rocket, it would counter the sweetness of the peach nicely and is readily available.

Speck is a meat that I only discovered 4 years ago when I started working in the Kings Cross area and started shopping in the italian deli, KC Continental Stores on Caledonian Rd. It’s a dry-cured smoked Italian ham from the Alto Adige region of Italy. We use it in the place of prosciutto regularly, it has a really strong smoky flavour and works well in dishes like carbonara, or wrapped around asparagus. The combination with peach is inspired and it’s one I plan to experiment with a bit more. The orange blossom water isvery sweet but is countered by the balsamic vinegar and works well with the richness of the speck.

The recipe doesn’t appear to be published on the Guardian website so I’ll reproduce it here. I haven’t tried any of the other Ottolenghi recipes but plan to try more and await his cookbook which will be published in Spring 2008. The Guardian Weekend Magazine publishes a vegetarian Ottolenghi recipe every Saturday. For now, I’ll continue to eat at one of his café’s in Islington or Notting Hill, one handy for work & the other handy for home :)

For more info on Ottolenghi visit their site.

Chargrilled peaches

I’ll write the recipe as it was in the Guardian as the only changes I made are to the leaves. [Read more]

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Leek & Chanterelle Frittata

Leek & Chanterelle Frittata

My lovely local Italian deli had more chanterelles and I couldn’t leave them there. They’re like a little golden treasure and with their subtle flavour are delicious. I was tempted to make the tagliatelle again but we’ve been eating alot of pasta lately. One thing we haven’t had for an age is a Frittata, so I decided on one of those.

So, where from here? A frittata is an Italian omelette with fillings. These vary and unlike the Spanish Omelette, you can really put anything you like in there. A brunch favourite of mine, I often make a leek and mushroom omelette so I thought that I would replicate it with the chanterelles. The leek is very sweet and the chanterelles very delicate so it works well with a bold flavour like rocket on the side. Often frittata recipes have milk in but as I’m lactose intolerant I don’t bother. If you’re not please feel free to add a few tablespoons of milk to the egg. Sometimes there’s cheese on top but I didn’t want to distract from the deliacte chanterelle flavour. This is very easy and very quick![Read more]

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Homemade Pesto

I love pesto. The first time I tasted it, my young irish palette was taken by surprise. I had never had such a flavour combination and wasn’t sure what to make of it. I grew to love it and it’s been a firm favourite ever since. I’ve read that there’s no pesto that can compare with Genovese Pesto in Liguria, that the basil grown in the slightly alkaline soil of the Genovese district of Pra is the best. I really need to go to try this out but for the moment I have to make do with what’s available to me in London.

It’s been a while since I made homemade pesto so I thought I’d make some last weekend. It’s always good to have some to hand and homemade pesto is infinitely superior to that bought in a jar. If you look at the ingredients in some shop bought pestos they often replace pine nuts with cashew nuts, replace parmesan with random cheese and the oil is low grade. There’s also usually a myriad list of ingredients which have no place there. It’s so good for quick pasta dishes, dips, dressings, whatever takes your fancy. It can be expensive to make in the UK but I think it’s worth it. If only I was in Naples growing the basil in my back garden and collecting pine kernels from under the trees. Must make do with being in London and gathering my crop from deli’s ;)

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Tagliatelle with chanterelles

One of my favourite food shops in London is near where I work. It’s an old school Italian deli that’s been in the area over 40 years. It’s there to serve the local Italian community and has the best produce at great prices. It’s run by an elderly Italian couple who run it with style – no pressure, no rush, if you want to be served you’ll wait your turn, but, when it is your turn they’ll take their time with you and get what you ask & make suggestions if you want them. They’ll grind coffee for you, slice meats, make sandwiches with what’s in the fridge – there’s no menu, whatever’s your fancy. There’s a stool in the shop that’s frequently occupied by one of the owners friends for a chat, or, one of the Italian builders working across the road who has stopped off to eat his lunch. It’s a little slice of Italy in London, an escape from the chaos outside the door.

Sometimes they have random produce, like today when I spotted a punnet of chanterelles in the fridge. I love when there are mushrooms from this guy. Every year in Autumn they have punnets of porcini and in the spring St Georges mushrooms. A friend of his harvests them and had harvested these on a recent foray. He was selling them for £2.50 a portion and had 16 punnets originally. There was only one left when I got there, I had to have it! I was unsure what to do with these, I already had several recipes in my head – frittata, bruschetta, pasta so I also purchased a selection of goodies, including: tagliatelle, speck, pinenuts. Within 5 minutes of leaving the shop I settled on a tagliatelle with chanterelles in a cream and white wine sauce with cheese shavings. I had forgotten to get parmesan/pecorino and we’re clean out so we used some manchego left over from our Spanish trip. It worked perfectly.

You can substitute any mushrooms you want for the chanterelles although I would suggest that if you are going to use ordinary mushrooms that you mix in some dried porcini to bolster the flavour. The more mushrooms the better for me!

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Pasta with potato, red lentil and pumpkin

Pasta with potato, red lentil and pumpkin

It’s been a few days since I’ve posted anything but I’ve got a few things to post from the weekend. I’ll start with a pasta dish that I made yesterday, one of my comfort food favourites. I tend to make this by eye and by tastebud, adjusting it as I go so feel free to be flexible with the recipe. My mood also affects it, sometimes I like it very soup-y with alot of stock, other times I prefer the pasta to be the star of the show. Yesterday was a pasta day!

I got the idea for it many years ago when I visited Italy with some friends, one of whom was a local. I got many ideas that holiday, we had some wonderful food, much of it cooked by my friends boyfriends Dad whom we were staying with. It was my first time having homemade pumpkin gnocchi and proper neapolitan mozarella di bufala. It was out of this world. You just don’t get that mozarella anywhere else and I have tried very hard to find one that matches it. The shopkeeper that sold it used to travel to the farm at 4am every morning and if I remember right used to sell out by lunch time. The slices of mozarella were like big, juicy mozarella steaks. It was also my first time having pasta e patate, which was a revelation! It’s now one of my favourite dishes much to everyones amusement, me being irish and the dish consisting mainly of potatoes, sigh. It’s a favourite for sick days and hangovers especially, it’s like eating a cushion for your stomach :)[Read more]

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Asparagus risotto balls stuffed with buffalo mozarella

There are many good reasons to make risotto. It’s delicious and perfect for a summers day. It goes very well with wine and is perfect after a long day in the office. It’s therapeutic to make, one of those dishes that requires alot of time and energy but is worth every little bit. My favourite one is: you can make risotto balls with the leftover risotto. When I make risotto, I always make twice what we need for dinner so that we can make risotto balls the next day.

Risotto balls are so easy and quick. All you need is leftover risotto, bufallo mozarella & breadcrumbs, egg & flour. Some recipes add egg to the risotto before moulding but I like my risotto quite moist so that when it’s cool it’s still quite sticky so usually doesn’t need it. I used leftover asparagus risotto. You can find the risotto recipe on my blog, it’s the previous post. I ommitted the feta cheese for the risotto balls as they should be all about the buffalo mozarella. You can use any leftover risotto though.[Read more]

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Asparagus, lemon & feta risotto

I have mentioned it before, but I’ll say it again, I *love* asparagus! After much trawling in the farmers markets I found a lovely asparagus stall with big bunches of asparagus. How could I leave them there? I usually like to cook them as simply as possible to keep their strong fresh flavour but it had been a while since we had risotto so I thought I’d make a nice summery one with it. I find asparagus goes really well with lemon and feta so thought I’d adapt a tried and trusted asparagus recipe. I prefer to use feta that has sheeps milk only as the cows milk ones (or even those with a little cows milk) don’t have as nice a flavour, I find them more acidic. Apparantly, the reason cows milk is added is it’s much cheaper and reduces production costs. Anyway, I found a nice organic sheeps feta so used that in this recipe. I always make enough for four people so that we can make risotto balls with the leftovers. Recipe to follow in my next post :-)

Serves 4

Ingredients

3 shallots, finely chopped
400g risotto rice (I used Vialone Nano but any will do)
200ml white wine or vermouth (noilly prat is a good one)
1 3/4 litre hot vegetable stock
700g asparagus, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, preferably unwaxed, zest and juice
Crumbled feta – about half a pack

Method

Heat the olive oil in a wide, high-sided pan (a stock pan works well) over a low heat.
Peel the shallots and chop them finely.
Cook until soft and translucent ensuring it doesn’t go brown.
Stir in the rice on the heat until the risotto rice is hot.
Add the wine/vermouth and cook until the alcohol has evaporated off and the rice has only a little liquid left.
Keep the stock on a low heat throughout the recipe.
Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus and chop the rest into small chunks.
Add a ladleful of hot stock, turn the heat up to medium, stirring the rice until the liquid has almost disappeared. Add the asparagus reserving the tips.
Continue adding the stock one ladleful at a time as it boils down to almost nothing.
Keep stirring the rice. The stirring releases the starches and ensures that your risotto has a creamy texture.
After 15 minutes or cooking time add the asparagus tips.
The risotto will be ready when the rice is creamy is al dente (still has a little bite).
Season with salt, pepper and the lemon juice to taste. Garnish with some lemon zest and sprinkle some crumbled feta on each portion.

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Chickpea, tomato, red lentil & basil soup


I used to be very good at bringing in lunches to work. After all, it usually means just putting leftover dinner into a lunchbox to heat in the microwave the next day. These last few months I have been rubbish though and find I am now feeling unhealthy as a result.

So, to make amends and apologise to my poor body I decided to make a healthy tomato and bean soup. Now, I know this blog has been very much tomato based recently but I’ve read that they’ll keep me young, so it’s worth a try, eh?!

This is a very simple soup and I usually don’t measure anything out but just adjust as I go to get the right textures and tastes.

Ingredients:

2 cloves of garlic
olive oil
one tin of tomatoes
approx 50g red lentils (or more if you like a chunky soup)
500ml vegetable stock
one tbsp of sugar
chickpeas ~ 400g – I cooked them from dry as I prefer these but you can use tins – one tin if you do
Fresh basil – about 2/3 tbsp – depends on how much you like basil really.
Chilli flakes, half teaspoon
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Method:

Finely chop the garlic and sauté in the olive oil
Add the tin of tomatoes, thevegetable stock, the sugar, the chilli flakes and half the lentils. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes. Puree.
Add the remaining lentils and cook for 10 minutes.
Add the chickpeas and cook for a further 5 minutes.
Season to taste
Chop or tear the basil and add to the soup. Stir.
Serve with some nice crusty bread.
Garnish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some fresh basil.

Note: This is a really flexible recipe – if you want a chunkier more rustic soup you don’t need to blend the tomatoes. In this case add all the lentils together. You could use any white beans, e.g. haricot, cannellini. You can also substitute flat leaf parsley for the basil.

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Prawn linguine with rocket

Prawn linguine with rocket

One of our favourite dishes. We have this at least once in every two weeks. It’s very quick and has clean sharp flavours. Great for a quick meal in the evening with some white wine!

Ingredients (for 2 people):

Half a packet of linguine (you could substitute spaghetti but I prefer linguine)

2 cloves garlic
Sundried tomato paste
1 glass dry white wine
Prawns ~ 300g, preferably raw, shelled and de-veined
Rocket
1 lemon
Extra virgin olive oil

Method:

Finely chop the garlic and saute in some olive oil until translucent. be careful not to burn it as it will ruin the flavour.
Add a couple of tablespoons of the sundried tomato paste and fry with the garlic for a couple of minutes.
Add the white wine and cook off the alcohol, again, just a few minutes.
In the background cook the pasta for however long it says on the packet – usually 10/11 minutes.
Add the prawns to the garlic, sundried tomato paste & wine and cook for 5 minutes or so until the prawns are pink (you could just add cooked prawns at this point but they will be a little tougher). Season to taste.
Toss the prawns in the cooked linguine.
Dress the rocket with some lemon juice & a little extra virgin olive oil and serve on top of the prawns with linguine.

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Now to start: Spaghetti with homemade tomato & basil sauce and garlic toasts

So, I thought it best to start with something really simple and delicious that I can’t misrepresent on my new blog! This is one of my quick fixes, some food for the heart and soul that’s sometimes required after a long day when you know you have only got a short evening ahead.

Ingredients (for two with large appetities):

Half a packet of spaghetti (linguine also works really well)

Sauce:
1 tin of tomatoes (I use La Fiammante, gorgeous fruity Italian tomatoes)
a handful of basil (I used greek basil – I love it’s tiny leaves and potency)
a dessert spoon of sugar
a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar
dried or fresh chilli – as much as you like, I like it hot
one white onion
2 cloves of garlic (or one big one)
Extra Virgin Olive oil to drizzle on top

Garlic Toasts:
Baguette or nice ciabatta. I prefer the second but the deli had run out.
1 garlic clove
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Method:

Chop the onion and garlic finely. Saute the onion until soft and translucent. I add the garlic now to ensure it doesn’t burn and retains it’s garlicky yumminess.

Add the tomatoes, the sugar, chilli and balsamic and simmer for at least half an hour, the longer the better for a tomato sauce. Taste and adjust quantities of sugar chilli and balsamic if required. Add 2/3 of the basil.

Add the pasta to a pan of boiling salted water. Cook until al dente, usually about 10 minutes.

While this is cooking prepare the toasts. Slice the bread to about 1cm thick. Rub with the cut garlic glove and drizzle with the olive oil. Toast on both sides until brown and crispy.

Puree the tomato sauce and add the rest of the basil. Mix with the pasta with a little bit of the pasta cooking water. Season.

Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, the toasts to the side and some basil as a garnish.

Enjoy!