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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]

Pasta with Chorizo, Tomato & Butter Sauce
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Recipe: Pasta with Chorizo, Tomato & Butter Sauce

Pasta with Chorizo, Tomato & Butter Sauce

Pasta with Chorizo, Tomato & Butter Sauce

I have Marcella Hazan to thank for the inspiration for this sauce. And a previous job that drove me crazy, which inadvertently introduced me to her. I worked for a branch of the publisher that published her books, and every Xmas we would get a £25 voucher to spend on a book published by them. I went to the food section (which I sadly did not work for), and spied Marcella’s book and ordered that.

I learned so much about Italian cooking from her, her recipes are very precise, authentic, and work brilliantly. Her recipes sometimes have stories woven in too, and she is charming to read. One of her most simple recipes, her tomato sauce, is something that I cook all the time at home still today. I also learned the rite of passage that is proper carbonara from her book. If you don’t have her book, The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, you should buy it right away.

I am not alone. When Marcella recently passed away, many newspapers and blogs featured the tomato sauce recipe. The beauty of it is its simplicity and the use of great ingredients, which was Marcella’s hallmark. She never compromised. For this sauce, she used 2 x 400g tins of San Marzano tomatoes (protected by a DOP and more expensive, but so worth it) which she cooked with 5 tablespoons of butter and one onion (which was peeled, halved, and discarded after 45 minutes cooking, or when the butter separated from the tomatoes). It is a perfect sauce and so simple.

I use a lot of tomatoes in my everyday cooking. A tin of tomatoes can become so many things, and very quickly too. Yesterday, I had some fresh tomatoes, small fruity ones, that were on their way to becoming rotten if I didn’t use them very soon. Fresh tomatoes are great for a sauce but the skins and seeds can be a problem for texture and just plain getting stuck in your teeth. With larger tomatoes this can be resolved by peeling and deseeding, but doing this with tiny plum tomatoes would be akin to peeling grapes.

So, I stick them in my blender and blitz them, so that the skins are tiny near-invisible shreds and no longer a problem. The resulting tomato puree has a wonderful rich fruity flavour and is great for a sauce. You could pass it through a mouli at this point to get rid of the shrapnel, but I was hungry so I didn’t bother. And it didn’t really need it either.

I cooked the tomatoes with garlic, hot cooking chorizo and butter, for 45 minutes as Marcella does, and the result is a perfect Autumn sauce. Fruity and fresh from the tomato, the chorizo provides a perfect base note beneath it and the butter adds richness but it is still subtle. The whole thing jumps off the plate with intensity of flavour.

I used a soft hot cooking chorizo from Brindisa, a fridge staple for me since I first discovered it some years ago. In London, it is available from their shop and lots of delis, it is also available online. If you can’t get soft chorizo, don’t worry. Just use good dried chorizo. Use whichever pasta you like, I used a big shape that I had to hand, and that would house the chunks of chorizo perfectly, but linguine or spaghetti would be great too.

Enjoy!

RECIPE: Pasta with Chorizo, Tomato & Butter Sauce

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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

Recipe: Sausage & Sage Frankenara[Read more]

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Recipe: Deep Fried Pasta Snacks with Manchego & Paprika

Deep Fried Pasta Snacks with Manchego & Paprika

Deep Fried Pasta Snacks with Manchego & Paprika

Who doesn’t like the crispy bits on the top of a mac ‘n’ cheese? They are my favourite bits. The crispy bits of anything frankly, and I must be honest, I have a real problem with crisps. If there are any in the house, I just can’t help myself. From the toxic orange cheesy corn snack to swish expensive Spanish crisps fried in extra virgin olive oil, I am helpless when in range. So, I rarely have them inside the front door.

Some days however, when I am controlling my access and there are none in the house, I still want some or something / anything to snack on. This has been a life long problem, and I first tried to make crisps when I was a child from the left behind small potatoes in the field in front of my house. I wanted to replicate exactly what I had had from the shops so, after a few efforts I was disappointed, and stopped.

As an adult I have had a lot more success. The small child inside me rejoices, and the adult who would really like to fit into that lovely red vintage dress of yore ponders while tucking in. Last week I made purple potato crisps which were a massive hit (the photo here is from my instagram feed – a lot more gets posted there than ever makes it here so make sure you follow on instagram, facebook or twitter).

Purple Potato Crisps on Instagram

Purple Potato Crisps on Instagram

I haven’t just made snacks with the humble spud. I have experimented a lot. I love leftovers, and I love trying different things with them. It may not be possible to polish a turd (nor should you eat one), but leftovers can be so much more glamorous than the original dish, once the original dish was decent to begin with. Taking risks with leftovers is no big deal, they are there to play with anyway (and also, finally, to eat), so years ago in university I looked at a plate of leftover spaghetti and fried it. And that was it.

I soon found out that this is far from an original idea, the Italians do it (pasta fritti), the Maltese do it (called froga which is like a leftover spaghetti frittata). I have a recipe for an omelette with leftover papardelle with ragu in my first book, Comfort & Spice, too. Leftover long pasta lends itself brilliantly to an omelette, you should try that. Added to this, instant noodles are simply cooked noodles deep fried to extrude the water and dry them in order to preserve them, this works really well for pasta too, and you can keep your fried pasta snacks in an air tight container for a while.

I say this is a great leftover dish, but the reality is that I often cook the pasta to make this at home. Fried pasta is a fabulous crispy snack, with each shape giving a different result. Here I have used large round pasta shape which lends itself well to frying. Don’t use cheap pasta, just because you are frying it. Good ingredients make good eating, so use the best you can get.

You can use lots of different toppings – good melting cheese grated fine and used sparingly works well and dried spices and chilli too. I had some lovely manchego and some smoky Spanish paprika so I gave this rendition a nice Spanish twist.

I don’t have a deep fat fryer, so I just fill a large deep frying pan with oil to about 2 inches. You could do this in a sauce pan too but fry in batches, making sure that the pasta is in a single layer with room to mooch about or it will all stick together in a gloopy mess. A thermometer is useful and helps get best results, but it is not essential.[Read more]

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Cornish Pasta at Fifteen, Cornwall

Cornish Pasta at Fifteen Cornwall
Cornish Pasta? You mean pasty? No? Pasta?!

Yes folks! Cornish Pasta. I’ve just spent a wonderful weekend at Watergate Bay in Cornwall, in fact I am still here, but I had to tell you about this before I left. Fifteen Cornwall, as part of its policy of sourcing 80% of it’s products from Cornwall, has worked with local farmer Charlie Watson Smyth, who has grown, tended to and harvested Cornwall’s first commercially used durum wheat.

Six tonnes of this wheat, stone ground in Cornwall, is going to be made into authentic Cornish pasta. Exciting and innovative, isn’t it? So supportive of local industry too. I was at Fifteen Cornwall yesterday and watched a student make pasta from it. I’ve got a packet in my suitcase to cook when I get home. I’ll let you know how it is.

Cornish Pasta at Fifteen, Cornwall

I’ve had a terrific food soaked weeked of fabulous and local food, foraging on the beach, farmer’s marketing and all of it was topped off with the tasting menu at Fifteen. How sad I am to leave! For now I best get back to my big Cornish breakfast complete with coffee roasted here by the guys at Origin. There’s lots of interesting and inspiring food goings on down here. I’ll be back with more detail on all of it soon.

Cornish Pasta at Fifteen Cornwall

Enjoy your Sunday and hello British Summer Time! Woohooo! How long have we waited this year? Be gone foul Winter.

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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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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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Clam Linguine

Clam linguine is one of those dishes that I love but am extremely fussy about. Hang on, isn’t that every dish? I digress… I won’t order it out unless I am absolutely certain that the restaurant is reliable and uses fresh clams (fresh = very fresh) and not tinned or jarred clams.

Now, I have had many a “discussion” with friends about this. They think I am a snob, but, hey, clams come in a shell, so why not eat them that way? With seafood generally, the fresher the better, that fresh sea taste, like the salt air, and none of the fishiness that arrives when the fish are out of the water too long.

I really struggle with anything that isn’t extremely fresh, and although I hate to admit it, I really can’t stomach alot of tinned fish. For this reason, I always go to good fishmongers when I can, like in Borough Market or Steve Hatts on Essex Rd in Islington.

I distinctly remember the first time that I had clams. I had been eating mussels for some time but was a bit squeamish about other unknown shellfish. On holiday in Croatia, whilst island hopping and on a visit to a gorgeous island called Vis, we had the most lovely seafood experiences. Fabulous fresh seafood and lots that I hadn’t tried before. Fish there is sold as either white fish or blue fish, white fish being the deep water fish like hake or pollock, whereas the blue fish swim closer to the surface and are a bit cheaper, like mackerel. When you arrive at most restaurants they bring a platter of fresh fish and you choose which one you want them to cook for you and pay by the weight.

We ate in one restaurant there, as we had started talking to someone across the road from it when I noticed a fisherman nearby gutting a large white fish, it turned out that his daughter owned the restuarant and this very fish was destined for the pot, immediately after gutting. How could I resist? It was delicious, a leerfish barbecued over hot coals, with oil brushed on it using herbs as a brush.

It was another lovely local restaurant down the road where I had the clams, larger than palourde and full of meat as they were wild not farmed, they were cooked simply in tomatoes and wine and served with crusty bread, still the best way to eat them in my mind.

Back to the linguine. Clams are a little high maintenance, although this is balanced by how quickly they cook. Before using, soak in several changes of cold water for 5 minutes at a time, so that the clams release any sand contained within the shell. Then scrub the outside shell, they’re usually pretty clean, you just want to get rid of any excess grit that may affect your lovely pasta dish. This really is worth the time and effort.

I treat my clam linguine simply, like the clam dish mentioned above. Some shallots and garlic, sautéed in olive oil, followed by diced, peeled & seeded tomatoes, then some white wine and the clams, stewed with the lid on until the clams open, and finally some lemon to lift the flavour and some parsely to finish.

On this occasion, I got some palourde (or carpetshell) clams from Borough Market. You can get clams at any good fishmonger, and I’d recommend that you treat yourself to some.

Some notes on the recipe:

  • I like this dish fruity so I use alot of tomatoes, feel free to decrease if you don’t feel the same. Alot of recipes use more clams and less tomatoes, you could do this here too and easily increase the amount of clams (up to double) and at the end remove some of the meat from the shells so that you are not fighting with the shells while eating.
  • To peel the tomatoes, score a small cross at the bottom, barely piercing the skin and cover with boiling water for 15-30 seconds or so, as soon as you see the skin start to peel back.
  • You’ll need a dish with a tight fitting lid for the clams.

This dish, as always serves two or one hungry person. I was hungry tonight :-) The recipe follows.

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Tagliatelle with Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Anchovies and Pecorino

I made a long overdue trip to the farmer’s market at the weekend. It was Islington Farmer’s Market this time and quite by accident. I was meeting friends for a Sunday roast lunch and, despite rigorous planning, turned up an hour before the pub opened. So, we wandered off in the snow, after they had really sweetly let us in and allowed us to have a coffee in the warmth even though they were closed.

Snowy London

I love the snow. Well, that’s not quite true, I like the idea of snow. Until, after about half an hour out in it, I remember that it’s cold and wet and uncomfortable. Then I want to get out of it. Then there’s the snowball fights. Not such a problem as an adult, the last time that I was in one was about 5 years ago when I ran screaming into the house with one deposited in my hood. So, I love the snow, if there’s no threat of a snowball fight, and I don’t have to touch it but can just walk about in it and admire how pretty it looks.

Snowy London

So that we did, and we happened upon Islington Farmer’s Market. The last time that I was there was some years ago, when it was in Islington Green. It has moved further north now, nearer Highbury at William Tyndale School (behind the Town Hall), and has alot more space. There was quite a few nice stalls there, alot of the regulars on the London Farmer’s Market scene – Alham Wood Farm with their buffalo cheeses and meats, Chegworth juices and others I haven’t seen so often like Two Fishwive’s. In my rush, there was one stall that particularly impressed me: Kingcup Farm, they had a fantastic variety of leaves, herbs and heritage products that I have been looking for like candy beetroot and parsely roots. There was also a producer selling a fantastic range of potted herbs and salads, I’ll be going back to sample some of them and the other wares that I had no time to investigate.

Kingcup farm produce

One of the things I bought from Kingcup Farm was purple sprouting broccoli. This is a wonderful seasonal vegetable, more tender and flavoursome than the green broccoli (calabrese) that we are more familiar with. The ones on offer from Kingcup were very young and tender with slender shoots and small heads of purple broccoli.

I wondered what I would do with it, often like to serve it in a salad with a cheese like feta or pecorino shavings, simple dressed and still crisp having been briefly fried or blanched. This time I wanted to do something different so had a browse around to see what it’s paired with frequently. My searches quickly threw up the following: capers, anchovies, garlic, chilli and pasta with herbs like rosemary and parsley.

I decided to go down the pasta route, most recipes went with orechiette, rigatoni or penne. I fancied trying a taglliatelle recipe as the shoots were so tender it would be a nice complement. Having had an enormous roast yesterday, I wanted something light, so I steered clear of cream and kept it simple. It was tasty and light, I think perfect for lunch or a light summer supper. The anchovies imparted a wonderful savoury flavour and depth and the chillies some warmth, all topped with the lovely purple sprouting broccoli.

This served two.[Read more]

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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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