Sausage and Sage Frankanara - via a ropey photo from my phone
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Recipe: Sausage and Sage Frankenara

Sausage and Sage Frankanara - via a ropey photo from my phone

Sausage and Sage Frankenara – via a ropey photo from my phone

It is not my intention to wind up the purists (well, occasionally it is) or the grammar police (cough), but sometimes I do. I consider myself a bit of a purist too, and I am both intolerant and intolerable about some things, but then sometimes, I veer so wildly off course and discover a delicious, happy and impure ending, that I can’t help but embrace it with joy.

That is where I found myself this evening. I have had a bit of a traumatic week (which I will fill you in on another time), and I am in Ireland, away from home (even though it is home, and that is confusing).

Home (another ropey photo from my phone)

Home (another ropey photo from my phone)

I had bought sausages on arrival (I love Irish sausages and always have them when I am home), and I was starving. I was looking out the kitchen window at the driving rain and the grey sky but also at my sisters herb garden and the wild enormous sage bush. I thought of the sausages and ooh-eeee wouldn’t they be lovely together?

Then I wondered about a carbonara. A silky smooth sauce made from a simple egg yolk and some pecorino or parmesan. If I chopped the sausages into small chunks and got them nice and brown and served this frankenara* with a very simple garnish of lots of sage leaves, crisped whole in some butter. The die was cast.

I usually make my carbonara with spaghetti but all I had was penne, and this works very well too. It took such a short period of time to prepare. Use simple sausages that taste of pork and maybe a little white pepper as Irish sausages do, a good large egg will give you the best yolk for the sauce, fresh sage and some good pasta too. The sausages that I used were Clonakilty Ispíní (ispíní – ishpeenee – is the Irish word for sausage), which have such a strong fond taste memory of my childhood they are instantly soothing when I eat them. They are a small sausage and are very smooth, not like the crumbly sausages that are more common now. You can buy them quite easily in the UK too in most major supermarkets and some butchers too. 

Enjoy and if you like this frankenara, you will probably like Spaghetti Corkese, another one of my frankenstein pastas, and a popular one too.

*frankenara = a frankenstein approach to carbonara

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Recipe: Courgette and Truffle Carbonara

Courgette & Truffle Carbonara

I have a really bad habit of going food shopping on a whim and being charmed by the glistening ingredients which I can’t resist. I pop them in my trolley gleefully, only to review when I go home and wonder, so how does all of this fit together, and when exactly amd I going to get time to eat it all? Eating it all is never really a worry, although it has worrying effects of late. It does prompt some creative cooking, driven by what I am in the mood for, and what I have nabbed en route home.

I was faced with one such dilemna last night. All I knew is that I wanted to eat something rich, comforting and light, and it had to contain some pasta. Not just any pasta, I was eyeing up my box of Pastificio dei Campi linguine, the grand cru pasta (as declared in Italian food magazine Gambero Rosso) from Gragnano which I have been covetting. I never need an excuse to eat pasta, I love the stuff and frankly am in awe of anyone that can cut out carbs. I just don’t know why you would do that to yourself. However,if you need one, and you just might, good pasta like this cooked al dente is low GI my friends. Eat your fill.

Gragnano is to pasta what Parma is to ham. A town dedicated to artisan pasta making using traditional techniques. The Pastificio dei Campi pasta is finished by hand and gently passed through bronze dies before being slow dried at low temperatures creating pasta with superior flavour and texture, unlike anything you get at your local supermarket. This really is top of the range stuff.

The bronze die lends it a rough outer texture which allows it to grip the sauce eagerly. Interestingly in this age where so many cultures are disconnected from the origins of their food, every box of pasta can be traced back to the day that batch of wheat was sown, the field it was grown in and when it was harvested, directly linking the sourcing of the best limited supply grain back to the farmers. A human connection and real food. Regular readers will know me well enough to realise that quality and sourcing drives my cooking, so it won’t surprise you that this is my primary source of pasta now.

Back to dinner. It was late and I was hungry. I wanted something creamy and rich but not too intense. It is summer after all. My eyes fell upon the new season courgettes, medium sized and shiny, my favourite blue Old Cotswold Legbar eggs with their large golden yolks, some rich aged Grana Padano cheese and some luscious bulbs of garlic. The cupboard yielded some Tetsuya’s Black Truffle Salsa. I knew what I was going to have. A truffle and courgette carbonara.

Odd combination? Perhaps. Although courgette goes very well with rich hard cheeses like Grana Padano, and courgettes love eggs. Truffles love eggs even more, and we all love pasta. Courgettes would ease and comfort the intensity of the truffle, adding a sweetness and some moisture and texture. Like those couples you see with one noisy one and one nice calm one.  You know what I mean, it just works, doesn’t it?

Before I go further, carbonara needs no cream. Just egg yolks and cheese. A lick of garlic on the pan, you can finely chop it, or just cut it in half and fry it briefly to flavour some oil. Egg yolks are so rich and intense and a perfect sauce for the linguine.

Notes on ingredients: you can get the Tetsuya’s Black Truffle Salsa at Harvey Nichols in London, or substitute with grated fresh truffle or some jarred black truffle from the supermarket. Some truffle oil would lend some flavour too. The Pasificio dei Campi linguine is available from Food in the City online UK and internationally, or at Harvey Nichols.

Note on the photograph: the linguine shown in the photo isn’t quite al dente as I gobbled mine up, and photographed a cold portion after, whih had continued to cook as it cooled down. I didn’t waste it though – don’t fear. It makes a tasty leftover dish when fried.

Courgette & Truffle Carbonara

Serves 2

Ingredients:

200g linguine
2 egg yolks
2tbsp Grana Padano (or parmesan)
1 fat clove of garlic cut in half
1 heaped tsp Tetsuya’s Black Truffle Salsa
3 medium courgettes, quatrered lengthways and sliced finely
grated Grana Padano to serve
S&P
Olive oil

Method:

The pasta should take 10 minutes so get that on first.
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil over a moderate heat and add the cove of garlic until starting to brown, discard. You’ve got the garlic flavour now and that’s all you need.
Add the courgettes and cook over a gentle heat for 5/6 minutes until tender.
Place the egg yolks in a large bowl and stir in the cheese. Season with S&P.
When the pasta is almost dente, add the truffle to to the courgette and stir through.
Drain the pasta and add to the truffle/courgette mixture.
Add the pasta mixture to the bowl of eggs and stir quickly preserving the creamyness of the egg yolks and cheese and not allowing it to scramble (really, it never does as long as you’re quick).
Taste & season. Add some more Grana Padano to taste.

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Summer Pasta #2 – Broad Bean and Prosciutto Carbonara

One gorgeous summer evening, gloriously sunny in my little urban garden, I gazed out my window and thought, what can I cook that will be bright, cheerful, quick, colourful and tasty? A quick perusal of the fridge contents revealed broad beans, some prosciutto, a little cream and pecorino, and some parsley. The scene was set. I was going to make a twist on carbonara.

Broad beans and ham are such a gorgeous combination. Opposites attract, early season tender sweet broad beans meet the robust boldness of a cured prosciutto. It’s a cliche but it is a match made in heaven.

Carbonara is one of those gorgeous comforting dishes. Traditionalists and purists say DON’T TOUCH. But I do, I can’t help it. It’s one of those dishes that lends itself to lovely interpretations, and so quickly. I’ve made carbonara’s with many different ingredients, chorizo & kale was a lovely one, and now with broad beans and prosciutto.

Isn’t it difficult?

No. The dish (according to Marcella Hazan), was born in Rome during world war deprivation, when American GI’s had eggs and ham and little else. So, they asked the locals to make them a dish, and carbonara was born. Purists (and I am generally one), don’t add cream to their carbonara, the sauce gets it unctous creaminess from egg yolks, and egg yolks alone. Parmesan and pecorino romano add depth of flavour, saltiness and some texture, and should it require it, some water from the just cooked linguine pot will add moisture. Parsley adds colour and flavour, and some garlic, fried in the olive oil and removed when brown, adds a subtle garlicky undertone, which caresses each bite.

How did I make it? Recipe below, but  I did add cream, as sometimes you just must. The luxury it confers is delicious. I’ve written the recipe per person. I always cook for two, as I am generally just feeding myself, and I like my leftovers for lunch. This actually reheats nicely, it’s a different dish, but I love fried spaghetti the next day, and the eggy sauce almost scrambles. It sounds wrong, but it tastes very right.

Ingredients (per person):

100g spaghetti
2 slices of prosciutto, torn into strips
250g broad beans (weighed in the pod)
1 clove of garlic
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp cream
1 tbsp pecorino
1 tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Some grated fresh parmesan or pecorino, and some chopped flat leaf parsley, to serve
Olive oil for frying
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Method:

Double pod the broad beans, remove the outer green pod, then the little white casing around each one. Trust me, it’s worth it. The delicate sweetness of the broad bean lies within. Cook for a couple of minutes in boiling water until tender. Refresh in iced water to arrest the cooking process, and preserve that bright green colour.
Cook the spaghetti according to packet instructions.
Add the cream, pecorino and parsley to the egg yolk and whisk until combined. Season. Leave to the side in a bowl big enough to hold the pasta.
Heat some olive oil and fry the garlic until brown on both sides. Discard.
When the pasta is almost done, add the broad beans to the oil, and heat through.
When cooked, drain the pasta reserving some of the cooking water.
Add the pasta to the egg yolk mixture. Toss so all of it is coated. Add a little pasta water if it’s dry.
Add the broad beans and prosciutto and toss. Season to taste.
Serve immediately with some parmesan/pecorino and flat leaf parsley as a garnish.
Enjoy!

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Asparagus and Truffle Carbonara

Asparagus & truffle carbonara

Life’s simple pleasures are the driving force for getting through each day with a smile on my face. Food, wine, music, friends, jokes, laughter, a good book, some occasional trashy TV, all contribute towards a day I brand a success, and one that makes me want to repeat the experience when I fall out of bed the next morning.

Some days need more than this, whether you’ve had a grim day at the office, are entertaining friends or simply require a dash of some decadence in your life, some extras are called for. When I have had a bad day I comfort shop and I comfort eat. The two are inextricably linked. I buy things that give me comfort: good food, new sheets, nice wine, something nice to wear. I am nice to myself, when for whatever reason, I feel the world is rejecting me or treating me with disdain. Bah!

This particular occasion I was in fine fettle and entertaining a good friend who happens to be a vegetarian, so no need to picture me with a cloud over my head and chocolate stains all around my mouth with a bag of crisps on my hand, running to the nearest department store with a bunch of notes in my hand. Dramatic, yes, but you’ll get used to that! I wanted to make something quick that was full of flavour and indulgent, allowing me plenty of time to catch up, drink wine and still produce a meal that I would enjoy and be proud to share.

truffle goodies

I also had a box of goodies to explore, truffle goodies from Savitar in Italy, the most decadent box I’ve ever had in my cupboard containing a range of superb products, including, for this dish, truffle pecorino (ewe’s milk cheese). I am a big fan of traditional dishes, and generally don’t like to mess with them. I stick faithfully to Marcella Hazan’s recipe for carbonara, it’s a lovely thing, but there are some twists on this that work, and one involves asparagus. I would often have asparagus and pancetta in this, but for this evening, meat was murder and I was temporarily veggie, so to spruce it up I used truffle pecorino in the place of the usual parmesan and pecorino mix.

truffle pecorino

This worked so well. The truffle was sublime and decadent but complimented the asparagus, which fresh and in season was full flavoured. The sauce was light and creamy and licked the linguine without being cloying. I’ll be making this again, although if for me and not vegetatians, I will include pancetta.

I put this together quite intuitively as I have made carbonara or versions many times. I cooked enough linguine for 3 people, about two thirds of a pack. Spaghetti is traditional for this dish, but linguine is a reasonable substitute should you have none, which was the case for me. As it was cooking, I snapped the woody tips from the end of some delicious English asparagus, and boiled thm for a couple of minutes until approaching tender. Place in a bowl of iced water or run under the cold tap to arrest the cooking process. I chopped these so that the stems were in centimetre chunks with the tips at full length.

The next step requires a little prep. I use one egg yolk per person from a large free range organic egg. Beat them with approx. 3 generous tablespoons of the truffle pecorino and one tablespoon of freshly grated pamesan cheese, season and leave to the side. Lightly mash a clover of garlic and fry until golden in some olive oil over a medium high heat. Remove the garlic, add the chopped asparagus and about half a glass of dry white wine. Fry off the alcohol, reducing the volume a little as you do.

When the pasta is cooked, toss in the egg and cheese mixture, and add the asparagus. Serve immediately with some freshly grated pamesan or for extra decadence a mixture of truffle pecorino and parmesan. Enjoy with a fine glass of wine and some good chatter.

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Chorizo & Kale Carbonara

Chorizo & Kale Carbobanara

Carbonara is a dish I eat really frequently, usually the original pancetta one, as, purist as I tend to be, I want to do it the right way. Today I varied, as I had a bag of kale and some nice chorizo and some friends that I wanted to cook lunch for. Chorizo and kale are lovely together and I wanted to veer away from my usual chorizo & tomato sauce, which, while delicious, I make too often and I need some variety in my food.

So, after I came upon the idea of making a carbonara, I wondered, as it’s not just for me, wouldn’t it be nice to make it a little luxurious with a touch of cream? Purists, forgive me, carbonara should not have cream I know, but this has kale in anyway, so, surely, I can push it further? I added just a couple of tablespoons to the eggs and smothered the penne in it before adding the chorizo & kale. It was lovely, but feel free to exclude it, it should still be good.

This recipe was for 3 comfortable portions. The sauce takes only as long as the pasta so it’s a really quick meal. Forgive the photos, it was a bit of a battle taking the photo with a half working camera in low light, whilst catching up with old friends I rarely see, and (!)… without the pasta going cold. I am such a soldier, working in these conditions ;-)

Kale & Chorizo Carbonara

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