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Pasta e Fagioli

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You know that food you love? The one that is so everyday, common place, so simple, but so very good. You make it all the time, and eat it joyfully. It rescues you from every grey day, every brain cloud. It is perfect and it knows how to tackle your mood. It totally gets you. But, that amazing dish itself is misunderstood. Often because it is not made right, not faithfully, or with love and care.

Pasta e Fagioli is one of those dishes. Carbs and beans? CARBS AND BEANS?! Why is everyone so harsh about the carbs these days? They are delicious, and soothing, and yes, I do eat too much of them, but how can I not? They are pasta, sourdough bread, udon noodles. All of the most delicious things that soothe my week. I eat well, I don’t eat processed food (except for occasional crisp and haribo based lapses), I feel no guilt. Why should I? Carbs are ok folks. Just relax and enjoy your dinner. Life is hard enough without removing the carbs from it.

If people only knew how good Pasta e Fagioli could be, they would put down their carb warrior shields immediately, grab a spoon and eat it. With gusto! They might even ask for seconds. (They will). The simplicity and gorgeousness of leftover home made egg dough pasta scraps (maltaglati – literally misshapen), rendered tensile and silken by a last minute addition to a luscious fresh borlotti bean, tomato, herb and pancetta broth, that has been brewed slowly and gently, teasing out the umami from the pancetta, the sweet pop of fruit from the tomato and the aroma of herbs finished with gentle chilli heat.[Read more]

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Homemade Malloreddus (Gnocchetti Sardi) with Bacon, Peas, Chilli, Courgette & Parmesan

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Fresh pasta is such a faff, right? You always want to do it but the stuff you get in the shop is just as good, right? I mean, who has that much time?

All of the above assumptions are incorrect. Fresh pasta is really quite straightforward and it is so much better (unless you are spending a lot of money on your dried pasta). It takes time but a lot of that time the dough is just resting and waiting for you. You make the dough – which depends on the pasta type, generally dough in the North is made with 00 pasta flour and eggs, and with water and semolina flour (a coarser grind of durum wheat) in the South – this usually takes 5 – 10 minutes. You let it rest as you have just beaten it about the place and it needs to unwind. Then you roll and shape it. Even hand rolling tagliatelle does not take that long, but some of the smaller shapes are super speedy, with practice.  Of course this is a generalisation, but I use it just to give you an idea.

The peculiarly named malloreddus (it originates from the Latin mallolous, meaning small morsel, however, every time I say or read it I see malodour, anyone else?!) originates in Sardinia. It was traditionally shaped on wicker baskets, now more commonly using a grooved piece of class called a ciuliri or a gnocchi ridger. I have a gnocchi ridger so I use that (I bought mine at Sous Chef for just £4), but I have seen people use sushi mats too online.[Read more]

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Rigatoni with Bolognese Style Ragu and Crispy Kale

Rigatoni with Bolognese Style Ragu & Crispy Kale

Rigatoni with Bolognese Style Ragu & Crispy Kale

Can you handle another ragu recipe? So close to the last? I ate this ragu several days in a row last week, which is normally something that I am loathe to do, but this was so delicious and utterly more-ish, that I couldn’t resist it. It has a little twist too. Normally ragu is served with parmesan, but I chose something else, also intense, oven crisped kale with paprika and sea salt, for a wonderful textural and flavour contrast. It is something that I do quite often, I have blogged about it before too.

One of the things that I love about Italy is their adherence to tradition. They love their recipe rules and stick stringently to them. Very much so. Do not break the rules! They eat so well as a result. Who wouldn’t want to be Italian?

One of the good things about not being Italian is that I can come home and absorb all of the different influences and stories and concoct something new. I can make something inspired by tradition, but not wedded to it. Italians, I know you are shrieking, but without this attitude my beloved Spaghetti Corkese would never have been born. I think you might even like it! Nor would today’s dinner, with the wrong pasta shape and a Bolognese inspired ragu that was a little too wet to be Bolognese, and that I finished with cream before topping with crispy kale.  I know, cream. Cream! But you know, delicious.

The rigatoni was the wrong pasta shape but it was a lovely one from Gragnano that I bought in Italy (the best dried pasta comes from there). It was there, and it was the perfect size tube for the ragu to snuggle and hide in. The cream was my Irish and indulgent take on finishing a ragu with milk. Just a lick of cream gives each portion a decadent texture and roundness, and when cooked in, you may not even know it is there. Now that I have done it, I am fairly sure that one of my favourite Emilia Romagna trattoria ragus was finished like this.

The recipe is based on the ragu that I made with Walter in Bologna. Walter is from Lazio and we cooked a ragu based on the one that his father taught him, but adapted so that it was Bologna style. I made it a little Irish, I think, but it is still more authentic than most you will get outside Italy.

Try it. Enjoy it. Make lots and eat it all week. And make lots of the crispy kale, as you won’t be able to stop eating it. Unless you don’t like kale, of course!

As the Italian say, cook with love and passion. Which I translate as: enjoy it, give it time and patience, and be tender. [Read more]

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Making Tagliatelle with Ragu with Anna – an Emilia Romagna Recipe

Serving up the ragu! Anna, on the left.

Serving up the ragu. Anna, on the left.

One thing  that I learned on my recent trip to Emilia Romagna is that every recipe and every dish is personal. Passion exudes from every pore, and never more than when the topic of food or the particulars of a recipe are under discussion. People in Emilia Romagna are very animated over lunch, and they are mainly discussing the food that they are eating, and just that. I love that.

People get particularly excited about homemade tagliatelle with ragu. It originates there, and Emilia has one way, Romagna another. Within those regions different families have their own approach. Bologna has a meaty dense ragu of its own (hence, Bolognese sauce). The personal differences are glorious. I had so many different ragus in trattorias all over the region. Some dense with meat and assertive, one cooked in lard and layered with white pepper (my favourite, I think), some rich and fruity with tomato with the meat appearing to surf it.

Romagnola ragu, ready to dish up.

Romagnola ragu, ready to dish up.

I cooked ragu with two people in Emilia Romagna. The first was Anna, a wonderful lady based in Savignano sul Rubicone in Emilia Romagna. Romagna, to be precise, so the ragu here is different to Bologna, which is in Emilia. Anna learned from her mother, a recipe that has been passed down the generations. Anna’s ragu is a rich sauce made from a mixture of minced beef, pork and (Italian) sausage, with soffrito, red wine and passata. The second was Walter, from Lazio, but we cooked in Bologna style. I will share that another time.

Hand rolling the pasta in Anna's kitchen. now my new favourite thing!

Hand rolling the pasta in Anna’s kitchen. now my new favourite thing!

Today I am going to share Anna’s ragu recipe with you. She is extraordinarily generous, and gave me her time, as well as her family recipe. She is a joy to watch and to learn from, cooking with love and care, and her ragu is incredibly frugal (as I think a lot of Italian food is).

It will feed 10 people, which is quite striking when you see how little meat is involved. You probably aren’t feeding 10 people, but you know, it tastes great the next day. I love all the little extra steps in Anna’s recipe. Set aside an afternoon and make it, and think of that lovely lady Anna, who took the time to share it with me, so that I could share it with you.

Do make the effort with the homemade pasta, if you can. It makes a huge difference. It is so rewarding, too. There is a link to and Emilia Romagna homemade pasta recipe and instructions in the method below.

Thank you, Anna!

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Recipe: Linguine with a simple tomato sauce, wild garlic flowers and pine nuts

Linguine with a simple tomato sauce, wild garlic flowers and pine nuts

Linguine with a simple tomato sauce, wild garlic flowers and pine nuts

I wasn’t planning on blogging this recipe. I arrived back from Ireland extremely tired and with no voice, replete with booming scratchy cough. I was in reasonable spirits though as I had just spent a great weekend at the new Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food & Wine. It was a terrific event and weekend, drawing the worlds best food & drink writing talent to East Cork. But, that deserves a whole post on its own and I will come back to that.

On my return I was tired, hungry and in need of nourishment. Something delicious but not too challenging. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and London was alive. We had our first peep of summer. So, I brought summer to my kitchen too.

I eat this dish a lot. I adore pasta and I love quick pasta dishes like this one, carbonara, gricia and many more. The secret to this dish is to use the best ingredients. There are so few that if you don’t, you will know.

I had fabulous Italian tomatoes in a jar, a great dried linguine (from Pastificcio dei Campi available online at Food in the City and from Melograno Deli in London – they will also sell the best tomatoes too), some fresh basil intended for another dish that I didn’t get around to making, and some lovely lively garlic. A little bit of espelette pepper gave everything a ping, you can use a little chilli too (but not too much).

I made my dish and posted it online and had several requests for the recipe. Pasta with tomatoes in one version or another is such a feature in my kitchen, I realised that I should.

Enjoy, this tastes of sunshine and summer and is delicious. I made enough for two even though it was just for me, and then roasted the leftovers in the oven later with an egg cracked in the middle. I recommend you do it to.

Note on the recipe: you can serve with pecorino or parmesan too but I fancied something light so used pine nuts.

RECIPE: Linguine with a simple tomato sauce, wild garlic flowers and pine nuts

Serves 2

Ingredients

200g best linguine
1 400g jar or tin of best tomatoes
a handful of fresh basil leaves
2 cloves good garlic, peeled and finely chopped
espelette pepper if you have it, if not one mild fresh chilli
sea salt
olive oil for frying
25g pine nuts
wild garlic flowers to garnish, if you can get them (they are lovely and fresh, remniscent of spring onion!)
optional: a little (very good) extra virgin olive oil to drizzle on at the end

Method

Sauté the garlic in the olive oil over a medium heat for a minute or so. If using fresh red chilli add about half of it, chopped and deseeded, now.

Add the tomatoes and after a few minutes reduce the heat and let them cook for about 15 minutes. If you can’t source great tomatoes, enhance the flavour with a little sherry or balsamic vinegar and also a little honey to taste. Add the espelette pepper if using that, to taste.

Toast the pine nuts until light brown in a dry frying pan and leave to the side.

While the pasta sauce is cooking, cook the linguine until al dente (literally – with bite). Drain, reserving some of the water, and add the linguine to the sauce. Mix thoroughly, adding pasta water if too dry. Tear the basil leaves by hand and stir through.

Serve immediately in bowls / plates that have been warmed through in the oven (this will help keep the pasta hot). Sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts, drizzle the extra virgin olive oil on top and sprinkle with the wild garlic flowers.

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Recipe: Tagliatelle with Squash, Spinach, Goat’s Cheese & Pul Biber

Tagliatelle

Tagliatelle with Squash, Spinach, Goat’s Cheese & Pul Biber

It is St Patrick’s Day and I know I should be blogging something *Irish* but here you go, there is some green in here at least. I really should be showing you a proper Irish stew, bacon and cabbage or crubeens (Irish for trotters) but when I arrived in Amsterdam, I was shattered, covered in mosquito bites and craving comfort. So, I made this.

Pasta is one of my favourite quick fixes. Once you buy a good one, or take the time to make some yourself, the rest is easy, and soon after you can find yourself eating something soothing and delicious. This is a mixture of the random ingredients that I have been collecting on my trips: some speck from Berlin, some pul biber from Istanbul (a fantastic firey, rich and deep flaked pepper) and the rest from the local shop in Amsterdam, around the corner from my apartment.

The result was perfect, almost medicinal. The soft goat’s cheese with some pasta cooking water serves as the soothing part of the sauce, the sweet squash was tender and spiked with pul biber, all wrapped in spinach sheets. Pine nuts provide an extra layer of flavour and a nice textural contrast.

Check Turkish shops for pul biber, or look online. It is worth the effort. Omit the speck if you want to do a vegetarian version, the pul biber will provide enough depth.

Enjoy! Let me know how you like it.

Recipe: Tagliatelle with Squash, Spinach, Goat’s Cheese & Pul Biber
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Recipe: Spaghetti with Tomato, Calabrian Chilli, Rosemary & Kale

Recipe: Spaghetti with Tomato, Calabrian Chilli & Kale

Recipe: Spaghetti with Tomato, Calabrian Chilli & Kale

I found myself down an unfamiliar January cul de sac yesterday evening. Already in the midst of a Spring clean (my hoarding demands it) and with my eyes and mind firmly planted on a tin of pork sausages confit in goose fat in my cupboard, I found myself wander as I cleaned, towards the bag of kale in the fridge.

I love kale, I find it fiercely underrated and viewed as the cheap relation to the swisher (and also delicious but more expensive) cavolo nero. However, I had determined that after the horror of spring cleaning I wanted indulgence. Goose fat preserved sausages seemed more my thing. I went with the kale though, to kill the craving, I was beginning to obsess. The cleaning had demanded freshness and vibrance instead.

Spaghetti is frowned upon by dieters but ponder this: (good) pasta cooked al dente is low GI. When I say good, I mean pasta that is made with great flour that is high in protein, made properly using bronze dies and not teflon so that the pasta has roughness and grip and clings to the sauce.

The best comes from Gragnano in Italy, and I prefer Pastificcio dei Campi. In itself it is an indulgence, but once you start using it, it is hard to turn back, as my last two years of pasta eating testify. It is often assumed that fresh pasta is superior, this is not the case. Great fresh pasta is, but there is poor fresh pasta too (I am looking at you supermarket chillers).

Back to my kale. I am obsessed with crispy kale too, making it at least weekly if not several times each week. I finished this pasta with some crispy kale on top, to add texture and further deliciousness. (Looking for alternatives to the word delicious, please).

Recipe: Spaghetti with Tomato, Calabrian Chilli & Kale

Recipe: Spaghetti with Tomato, Calabrian Chilli & Kale

This is simple, the flavours are strong, fresh and restorative. You can substitute some things, which I have indicated in the recipe e.g. Calabrian chilli is wonderful (and highly recommended) but if you can’t get it, a normal red chilli will do.

RECIPE: Recipe: Spaghetti with Tomato, Calabrian Chilli, Rosemary & Kale

Ingredients

(for two)

200g spaghetti
2 generous handfuls of shredded kale, leaves removed from the stem (most supermarkets sell it like this already)
1 dried Calabrian chilli, finely chopped (or a normal red chilli)
2 cloves smoked garlic (normal garlic will do), peeled and finely chopped
1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 stem fresh rosemary, pines removed from the branch and finely chopped (optional – gives an extra layer of flavour, but not essential)
1 tin good chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp sherry vinegar (cider vinegar will do too)
sea salt to taste
light oil for frying
extra virgin olive oil for crispy kale

Method

Preheat your oven to 180 deg C.

Sauté the red onion over a medium heat in a tbsp of light oil until soft but not brown. About 5 minutes.

Add the garlic, chilli and rosemary for a minute.

Add the tomatoes, sugar and vinegar, bring to the boil, and reduce the heat and allow it to simmer for 10 minutes.

Place one handful of the (washed and dried) kale in a shallow tray in one layer. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Toast until crispy, 8-10 minutes. Leave to the side.

While the sauce is simmering and the kale crisping, cook your spaghetti until al dente, according to packet instructions.

When the pasta is almost done, add the remaining handful of kale to the tomato sauce and cook for a minute or so. Season to taste.

Add the spaghetti to the sauce and toss, ensuring that the pasta is coated with sauce.

Serve immediately with a sprinkling of crispy kale on top.

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A Busiata: Pasta Fresca in San Vito Lo Capo

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I just love it when by accident you happen across somewhere special. Wandering home from Cous Cous Fest, tired and no longer able to deal with the crowds, I saw a little doorway with people lingering outside. I spied the sign “a busiata” outside, and then, lo, above the door, “Fresh Pasta”.

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I peered through the rope doorway and saw a gorgeous little space with a few shelves lined with choice products, a fridge full of glorious handmade pastas, and a counter with some more. Fresh cous cous with herbs and dried cous cous were available, this is the town of cous cous after all. Local almonds, biscotti and other Sicilian biscuits (there are a lot!) graced the counter top and behind it, the matriarch was making busiati. What luck!

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I waited my turn and attempted to communicate (I really need to learn Italian properly!). I wanted everything, but mindful of RyanAir’s ridiculous restrictions I bought 2kg of fresh busiati – 1kg white & 1kg green for €10. A steal. It’s absolutely gorgeous, it may sound weird to say that about a pasta shape, however, I am well versed having spent the last few days eating it and looking for the perfect one to take home. I bought some thinking I had found it only an hour previously, but now I have this. RyanAir can eat my shorts. I may regret that in the morning.

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Busiata is an extremely old pasta from the fusilli family found commonly in West Sicily, especially ion the Trapani area. Records indicate a birth date of about 1000 BC and it is considered the oldest handmade pasta. They were making it before Marco Polo returned from China. I have really enjoyed the mealy flavour and texture, it is really firm and toothsome and is great with the local Pesto Trapinese (I will post a recipe for this soon). I have also had it with Pesto a la Sarde (Sardine Pesto) and, just today with mixed seafood, pancetta and almond cream. I’ve also seen it on menus a la nonna, which is with aubergine and tomatoes with grated ricotta on top.

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I am going to have lots of fun with this when I go home. 2kg is a hell of a lot of lunches and dinners. I can’t wait though. Come back and see if I am saying the same by Thursday.

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And so now we have Autumn

Shrooms in Stockholm

Mushrooms at a market in Stockholm

That was a quick seasonal change, wasn’t it? Over 24 hours?

I should have been really miserable yesterday. Utterly miserable. I had a horrible cold (I still have it). I sneezed so many times in a row on the plane back from Stockholm that a neighbouring German businessman looked at me with horror. I can only imagine that I must have sounded like an ebola monkey and looked worse. Grim it was, and I was not happy about it.

Chanterelles in Stockholm

Mushrooms at a market in Stockholm

Returning to work yesterday, I was so congested as to be inaudible. Scratch that, more indecipherable. The cold and my vowels had co-conspired, consonants were absent, and someone actually asked me if I was speaking Irish. No, I am not, but I think I might have started talking to myself in frustration.

Shrooms in Stockholm

Mushrooms at a market in Stockholm

Roll on yesterday evening, as I dragged my corpse north towards home. I had plans to go to a gig (Iron & Wine if you are interested), but it seemed silly and unfair to anyone near me. So, like a melting sugar mouse, I pushed further North, waiting for the bus in the rain with at least 80 other people. Thinking, I quite like this change of seasons.

I know! It surprised me too. However, I do love the impending evenings that are crisp outdoors and toasty inside. I love the  winter coats and snug boots. Thick tights, mulled wine, warm jumpers and toasty dresses. I was excited at the prospect of all of this, and even more so by the autumnal food that I would cook. 

Last night, I wanted something earthy and delicious that smacked of the seasonal change and raised two fingers to the rain. That I would eat while listening to the thundering pitter patter on the flat roof. A dish that would befriend a nice glass of red wine and ease me to my bed and to sleep. That would take no more than 15 minutes to cook.

Shrooms

Mushrooms at a market in Stockholm

I had lots of wild mushrooms that I had bought in Stockholm, papardelle, garlic, herbs and cream. I had bread from the local Jewish bakers. A big white crusty loaf, warm from the oven. I wanted something simple and bold that would take no time at all with aroma, crunch and comforting carbohydrate. Slippery pasta, and crispy toast. So, what to do?

It was a bit of a carb feast in the end. I started with a super quick toast with wild mushrooms and herbs and followed with a wild mushroom papardelle. No recipes required, a brief description is all you need. The first will take 5 minutes and is comforting to the point of distraction. the second no more than 15. Enjoy!

(Amounts will serve 2)

Shrooms!

All of those mushrooms in my frying pan :)

Shrooms on Toast

Wild Mushrooms on Toast

Wild Mushrooms on Toast: some bacon or lardons (about 2 slices of streaky or pancetta if you have it), fried until not quite crispy, a chopped clove of garlic added for 30 seconds, a couple of handfuls of mixed wild mushrooms fried for a few minutes, a lick of butter and/or cream with some chopped fresh parsley and/or thyme to finish. on toast. Et voila.

Shrooms! Lots of them with Papardelle

Papardelle with Wild Mushrooms

Papardelle with Wild Mushrooms:  some bacon or lardons as above, followed by garlic. A couple of handfuls of mushrooms. A splash of white wine. Reduce over a moderate heat until the alcohol is cooked off, a couple of minutes should do. A little more cream than before, enough to coat the papardelle (which will have cooked by now). some chopped fresh parsley and/or thyme to finish. Add the papardelle and a little of the cooking water. Eat immediately.

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Summer Pasta #1 – Crab Linguine

crab linguine

I adore light summer pastas, so I thought that I would do a little series, starting with one of my favourites, crab linguine. Crab is a wonderful delicate meat. Light and fluffy and tasting of the sea. One of my favourite restaurant dishes ever, was a River Cafe starter of crab on toast with a light salad. It was so simple and gorgeous, with stunning fresh ingredients.

Growing up in Ireland, I thought that eating crabs was plain insane. Our elderly neighbour used to catch enormous ones in a bucket at a rocky beach near our house and boiled them up for her alsatian dog. I envy that dog now but at the time I felt it was an act of cruelty. I was also terrified that she would come near me with her bucket of living sideways walking friends. I was afraid of crabs, and really anything living in the sea, I remember standing on an isolated rock shrieking with horror as the crabs ascended. I thought that they would eat me. They didn’t but that’s another story.

You don’t need to go to such enormous lengths for this dish. You can buy perfectly good fresh crabmeat already prepared for you. It seems expensive at roughly £5 for a small tub, but this goes a long way, especially in this dish. If you can, it’s better to get a fresh live crab, then you have the benefit of it’s gorgeous fluffiness and the deeply savoury brown meat. I had mine delivered along with an Abel and Cole veg box, they now do lots of other things, and one of these things is fresh Cornish crab meat, which was delivered very cold surrounded by ice gel packs. Very handy for a busy girl like me. Which brings me back to the recipe, which is also very handy for a busy girl like me, as it’s super quick and tasty. This made enough for three, add more crab meat if you’ve got it.

crab linguine

Ingredients:

300g linguine
the very best unwaxed lemon you can find
flat leaf parsley, a handful, chopped
White crab meat (100g)
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped finely
nice fruity extra virgin olive oil

Method:

Cook your linguine according to packet instructions so that it’s just shy of al dente (it will cook a little when you add it to the crab).
Heat about 2 tablespoons of the oil, add the chilli and stir for about 30 seconds.
Add the crab and stir until it’s nice and hot.
Add the linguine to the crab and chilli, and stir through, ensuring that the pasta is nicely coated, drizzle with some more oil if it’s dry. Add fresh squeezed lemon juice to taste, and some lemon zest with the parsley. Season with fresh ground S&P. Stir through and serve immediately.

It’s a keeper, I think!
Add the cooked linguine

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Orzo salad with pesto, tomatoes & knockalara cheese

Another day, another gorgeous recipe from the Ballymaloe Cookery Course Cookbook, all in the hope of raising money for the World Food Programme’s efforts in Lesotho. If this is your first time hearing of it, briefly:

Chez Pim has announced Menu for Hope 4 – her annual fundraising event. Inspired by the Tsnuami 5 years ago, in 2006, Menu for Hope raised US$62,925.12 to help the UN World Food Programme feed the hungry. I applaud her for this effort and would like to spread the word by directing you to her blog. This year, she is again supporting the UN World Food Programme.

More on how to buy a raffle ticket and prizes here, for now – back to food.

This cookbook hasn’t failed me yet. This recipe is very simple and quick, perfect for today’s lunch. It’s the litle details that really make it – sprinkling some sugar and balsamic vinegar on the cut tomatoes preserves and enhances their lovely flavour. I love the texture and flavour of orzo, a pasta grain with a delicate bite which absorbs other flavours beautifully. It’s great in salads and soups and makes a nice change when substituted for noodles/pasta in noodle soups or minestrone.

A note on Knockalara cheese – as I’ve mentioned it on the blog before, this is a cheese made local to where I grew up in Cappoquin, Co Waterford. I bought it from their stall in Dungarvan Farmer’s Market (which I promised I’d blog but still haven’t, I will eventually!). There are so many wonderful irish cheeses, I always bring some back with me when I go home, but this for me is particularly good. It’s a sheep’s milk cheese, the one I had was a mature one and had a strong flavour, almost reminiscent of a blue cheese, really very good. If you can’t get Knockalara, substitute another sheep’s cheese like a good feta.

I made a change to the recipe, adding more tomatoes as I had many, so instead of Darina’s 12 I had about 20 – 10 red, 10 yellow. I also cut the cheese smaller as mine was quite strong. I think I will add more pine nuts next time I make it as I like the taste and texture. It would be lovely as a side dish, or as I had it, for lunch with some leaves. Delicious![Read more]

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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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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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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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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!