Archive for the 'Pasta and noodles' Category

The best tuna meatballs

April 12, 2010


I love it when you buy a book second-hand and it still bears the imprint of previous ownership: train tickets used as bookmarks, notes in the margins, cooking stains, sentimental notes. In the case of ‘Jamie’s Italy’, it’s a nice piece of cream coloured card with the message ‘Malcolm and Carol – with very much love from Barney and Diana, 25th November 2005’. In pencil at the bottom someone has added ‘This can be exchanged!’

Well, judging by the flawless condition of the pages, I’d say Malcolm and Barbara didn’t get much use out of this gift. Still, I salute them for doing the charitable thing and giving it away instead of taking up the offer of a more suitable present (or maybe they just didn’t want to have to ask for the receipt?)

Either way, Barney and Diana – this one’s for you. I hope you like meatballs.

The best tuna meatballs  Serves 2

The name is Jamie’s, not mine, although I’m prepared to believe him – they were pretty great. I think I may have even improved them slightly by using some leftover rabbit stew topping from the freezer instead of the breadcrumbs; the main difference was the inclusion of fennel seeds, so I can recommend that as a nice addition.

The other major change I made was to increase the amount of tuna and decrease the amount of breadcrumbs, purely because Waitrose sells tuna in handy 250g packets.

For the tomato sauce:
olive oil
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper
red wine vinegar (optional)
small bunch parsley, chopped

For the meatballs:
250g tuna, diced
olive oil
25g pinenuts
1/2 tsp cinnamon
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp dried oregano
small handful parsley, chopped
50g breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp fennel seeds (optional)
25g parmesan, grated
1 egg
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon

150g spaghetti, tagliatelle etc. to serve

Start by making the sauce: heat a tablespoon or so of oil in a pan, add the onion and garlic, and fry over a low heat for about 10 minutes, until soft. Add the oregano, chopped tomatoes, some salt and pepper, and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, then turn off the heat and blend until smooth. Taste for seasoning – you may need to add a little red wine vinegar at this stage.

For the meatballs, heat another tbsp of oil in a frying pan and fry the tuna with the pinenuts, cinnamon and some seasoning for a couple of minutes, or until the tuna is cooked on all sides. Remove from the heat and tip into a mixing bowl. Allow to cool down for 5 minutes. Add the oregano, parsley, breadcrumbs, fennel seeds (if using), parmesan, egg, lemon zest and juice and mix well with your hands. Squeeze the mixture into balls about the size of a golf ball – I got 10 balls from this amount. It may help the shaping to have wet hands. Place the meatballs on a lightly oiled tray in the fridge for an hour or so.

When you’re ready to eat, put your pasta on to cook. Put the pan you cooked the tuna in back on the heat, adding a little more oil. Cook the meatballs until golden brown on all sides, which should take about 10 minutes. Reheat the tomato sauce if necessary.

Add the cooked pasta to the tomato sauce, mix, and serve with the meatballs and a sprinkle of chopped parsley.

Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s ‘Jamie’s Italy’.


Pasta e ceci

April 7, 2010

I’m back from Edinburgh, where the weather was surprisingly nice, actually, and the food was a bit hit and miss, though we were staying on the same street as a cheese shop which went some way to remedying that. We ate the most amazing nutty goat’s cheese but carelessly forgot to remember what it was called, so all we know is that it comes in black wax and is a bit like gouda. Next to the cheese shop was a shop selling strange alcoholic substances in giant tanks and we went in and asked them to decant us some somerset pomona and an elderberry and port liqueur. “Is this a present for someone who likes cheese, by any chance?” the shop lady asked. Er, yes. Us.

I also got quite excited in a shop called ‘I Heart Candy’ which had an entire display table dedicated to licorice. And we managed to spend over £7 on four marinated artichoke hearts in the Valvona & Crolla deli. Over seven whole pounds. On a small part of a vegetable. We savoured them later in Carlisle train station’s waiting room as we waited for our second crowded railway service replacement bus.

So, I’m back, and I was meant to be meeting friends for dinner at Jamie’s Italian tonight, but it got cancelled so I didn’t get to eat my favourite thing from the menu, which is the slow braised balsamic chickpeas. Instead I made this, and it should really come as no surprise that I liked it a lot. It’s somewhere between a soup and a stew, thick and rustic, and it’s the kind of simple tasting thing that you feel like you could happily carry on eating until you’re very, very full. It feels quite fortifying, as if you should be eating it after a bracing walk or when recovering from illness.  Even in good health, I’d rather have eaten this than several of the overpriced restaurant meals I ate last week, and I’d still have money left over for artichokes.

Pasta e ceci (pasta with chickpeas)  Serves 2-4

1 small onion, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
extra virgin olive oil
a sprig of rosemary, leaves picked and chopped (I used thyme because I had it, but I love the combination of chickpeas and rosemary so can imagine it would be even better)
2 x 400g tins chickpeas
500ml chicken stock or vegetable stock
100g small pasta shapes (I used macaroni)
salt and pepper
small handful of basil or parsley, leaves picked and torn (optional)

Put the onion, celery, rosemary and garlic into a pan with a little olive oil over the lowest possible heat. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes until the vegetables are soft but not coloured.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas and add them to the pan. Pour on the stock and cook gently, covered, for half an hour. Remove half the chickpeas with a slotted spoon and set aside while you puree the remaining soup with a hand blender (or in a food processor if you don’t have a hand blender). Add the reserved chickpeas back to the pan with the pasta, season, and simmer gently for about 15-20 minutes until the pasta is cooked. Watch that the soup doesn’t start sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add water if necessary to get the desired consistency – I didn’t add much as I like soup to be thick. Check the seasoning.

Serve drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with basil or parsley if you have it.

From Jamie Oliver’s ‘Jamie’s Italy’.

Macaroni cheese

March 25, 2010

I was quite excited by the prospect of spending a week cooking from a book of traditional British childhood favourites. So many of the things in this book I remember well, the fond glow of nostalgia illuminating their former unremarkableness: corned beef hash (although it should not contain tomatoes!), liver and bacon, shepherd’s pie. I never eat these things anymore, and it suddenly occurred to me that I wanted to. Although there are a few things I never liked and still can’t stomach (gammon and cod and parsley sauce, bleugh). There are also a couple of glaring omissions, to my mind: where is the steak and kidney pie recipe? Chicken and mushroom pie, even? There are no pie recipes with pastry at all. And I would have liked a sausage casserole, but maybe that’s just me.

Macaroni cheese was the staple fallback meal of my childhood. Whenever my parents wanted to eat something that my brother and I would have shunned with our unsophisticated palates (or they just didn’t want to share with us) or time was short, macaroni cheese it would be. It was the only thing I really knew how to cook when I went to university, and I probably haven’t eaten it in ten years. Well, I’m not going to wait that long again. I felt comforted just looking at it coming out of the oven, all browned and crusty on top. With the first forkful I fell happily silent. Macaroni cheese is like the hot bath of foodstuffs – it’s impossible for it not to make you feel better.

The recipe below is for macaroni cheese as I remember it – no fussy additions, no breadcrumbs on top, just cheese sauce and pasta. As Norrington-Davies says, “Nothing should leap out at you except a clumsy, gooey richness.” Oh, there are a few tomatoes, which were never a feature when I was a child, but I thought I’d add them now I’m an adult and voluntarily eat vegetables. You could leave them out. Also, this is a mild-tasting sauce, not aggressively cheesy, which is right, I think, but you could of course use more cheese.

Macaroni cheese  Serves 2

200g macaroni
25g butter
25g plain flour
25g mature cheddar, grated
400ml whole milk
handful of cherry tomatoes (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to its highest setting, or if you have a grill in your oven turn that on high.

Put on a large pan of boiling, salted water and cook the macaroni according to packet instructions.

Meanwhile, melt the butter over a medium heat in a saucepan big enough to hold all the milk. When it has melted and is bubbling, stir in the flour. Leave to cook for a minute. Pour in a third of the milk and stir – you may need to switch to a whisk here to stop lumps forming. Then pour in the rest of the milk and cook for a few minutes, continuing to whisk, until the sauce thickens. Stir in two thirds of the cheese, season and turn off the heat. If the pasta is not ready yet, put a lid on the pan to keep the sauce warm.

When the pasta is cooked (it should be quite tender, not al dente), drain it and stir it through the sauce. Pile into a casserole dish and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese. Dot with the cherry tomatoes, if using, and give the top a final sprinkle of black pepper.

Put the macaroni cheese into the oven until the top is browned and crusty.

From Tom Norrington-Davies’ ‘Just Like Mother Used To Make’.

One chicken, two ways

March 5, 2010

Does anyone else have fantasies about what they would be like on Masterchef? Including awing the judges and never ever using the phrase ‘one hundred and ten percent’? Well, someone has stolen mine. Aliya, on last night’s programme, made exactly the sort of food I would want to make (chicken in a walnut and pomegranate sauce, flourless chocolate cake with ginger and cardamom), didn’t break a sweat in the professional kitchen, and she’s a nutritionist with an interest in writing a cookbook about healthy eating. And she got through to the quarter-finals. It’s an odd experience for a stranger to incarnate your very specific (and implausibly calm) Masterchef dream personality, let me tell you.

Anway, this has nothing to do with chicken. Actually, this one’s a bit of a misnomer: one chicken one way with many uses would be more accurate, if less snappy.

The disadvantage of poaching a chicken over roasting it is that you don’t get nice crispy skin, but there are several advantages to using this method which I particularly like:  it’s much quicker (at least it is if you have a pan big enough), you don’t need to be as precise about timing as there’s no danger of it drying out, and you get the bonus of the big pot of chicken stock created by the cooking. If you quickly chop some vegetables and throw them in the still-bubbling stock, with some rice or noodles on the side you have dinner made. Of course, the fact that the skin is so unappealing that you don’t want to eat it and thus save yourself from the fattiest part of the bird could also be considered an advantage (although my Scottish roots don’t like having to throw it away).

This is fairly austere food as it is, so you’ll want plenty of extras on the side: soy sauce, chilli sauce, pickled ginger, togarashi, slivers of nori, whatever Oriental accoutrements float your boat. There’s a certain childlike delight to be taken in customising your meal, I think.

One chicken, two ways  Serves 4-6

One whole, free-range chicken, around 2kg
2 slices ginger
1 spring onion, sliced
small handful coriander

To serve:
soy sauce, chilli sauce etc.
thinly sliced/chopped vegetables
rice or noodles

Bring a kettleful of water to the boil and pour into your biggest pan. Put the chicken in the pan with the slices of ginger and a little salt. The water should cover the chicken, but if not don’t worry – you can turn it over halfway through cooking.

With the heat at a gentle simmer, cook the chicken for 30 minutes. Test to see if it’s cooked all the way through, and if it is, take it out and set it aside to rest for 20 minutes. If not, turn over and cook for another 30 minutes or so.

Keep the chicken stock which is now in the pan at a simmer and throw in your vegetables – I used cabbage, mushrooms and a leek. You could also cook your noodles or rice in the stock (do that first), or cook them separately.

Peel the skin from the chicken and carve it, or if you have a sharp enough knife you can just hack through the bones and cut it into pieces. If you’ve taken the chicken off the bones, you can add the bones back into the stock and keep simmering to make a richer broth.  

Serve the chicken scattered with the spring onion and coriander with the vegetables and starch on the side. Let everyone help themselves to sauces at the table.

From Deng Ming-Dao’s ‘Zen: the Art of Modern Eastern Cooking’.

Duck, mushroom and watercress broth

February 9, 2010

Ugh, this weather is really no friend to the cyclist. Last night I cycled to my yoga class with the wind blowing sleet down my hood and into my face, torn between the desire to keep my eyes shut against the onslaught of pointy ice and the need to see where I was going. This is why people hate February.

Even I struggle with February, and for me it’s birthday month, which means a lot of eating out and celebrating and presents. That just about pulls me through and drags me into March. I can’t imagine how everyone else manages.

This is a recipe for one of those February days. It’s not just soup, it’s broth, which is infinitely more restorative. It has chunks of tender duck meat, bright green watercress, and lots of mushrooms. I added noodles too, because soup is comforting and pasta is comforting, so therefore soup and pasta is comfort squared.

The flavour is all from the cooking of the duck and the stock it creates, a lovely soft cushion for the other ingredients to nestle against – what I’m trying to say is, this is easy to eat; it will pacify rather than wake up your tastebuds. You need a couple of hours to roast the duck and let it cool, but that’s the only time-consuming bit.

Duck, mushroom and watercress broth  Makes 4 huge bowlfuls

The recipe calls for duck legs, but failing those I got a pretty good deal on a Gressingham duck crown. Which, I know, is everything except the legs, but it worked. Also, technically the mushrooms should be shitake, but I used a combination of soaked dried wild mushrooms and chestnut mushrooms from the veg box.

1 duck crown or 2 large duck legs
10g wild mushrooms, soaked in hot water
150g chestnut mushrooms, sliced (or the same weight shitake mushrooms)
bag of watercress, mine was 100g but you might want to use more
200g vermicelli noodles, or whatever noodles you like
few handfuls beansprouts
1 tbsp or more soy sauce
1 lime or 2 tbsp lime juice

Heat the oven to 160c. Put your duck legs or crown in a very big roasting tray, if you have one – it should be big enough to also contain the 2 litres of water you’re going to add at the next step. Being not so well equipped, I used our big Ikea stockpot. Sprinkle with salt and roast in the oven for 25 minutes.

Take out the tray/pot and pour out any duck fat that has collected in the bottom. You can keep this for roasting potatoes and that sort of thing. Pour in the water. Put the duck back in the oven for another hour, or until it’s properly cooked through, clear juices etc. Take the duck out of the stock and set it aside until cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile, skim the fat from the top of the stock and strain it into a big saucepan.

Discard the skin from the duck and separate the meat into chunks. It may just pull away from the bones, but since ours was a bit more stubborn we sliced it into manageable pieces. Put the meat back into the stock and bring to the boil. Cook your noodles in a separate pan according to packet instructions.

Once the soup is boiling, throw in the mushrooms (you can put the dried mushrooms in soaking liquid and all) and add the soy sauce. Bring back to the boil and add the watercress and noodles, then turn off the heat. The watercress should be added right at the end so that it stays fresh and green looking, so if you want to save portions of soup for later hold off on adding all the watercress. You can even, as we did, just put a big handful of watercress in each soup bowl and ladle the soup over the top. The heat of the soup is enough to wilt the watercress.

Strew a big handful of beansprouts over each portion and squeeze over lime juice. Add more soy sauce to taste at the table.

Adapted from Allegra McEvedy’s ‘Colour Cookbook’.

Braised shitake mushrooms with soba noodles

January 6, 2010

I know nobody cares what I had for dinner today, because outside is a wondrous, fairytale snowland that, if you’re lucky, means you didn’t have to go to work and you could spend the day making snowmen and taking pictures of improbably snowy things. Or just watching it snow. I don’t know about you, but I find that snow never gets boring. Between watching it snow and speculating about how long it might snow and what the implications of that might be, you’ve got a whole day’s entertainment figured out.

Anyway, if you did happen to be snowed in and were completely unable to get to the shops, this is the kind of thing you might want to make yourself to eat from the ingredients of your store cupboard. See the tenuous link I clawed in there? And if you don’t have these things in your store cupboard, you might want to stock up now, just in case. It’s almost difficult to believe that something so satisfying can be made from so few ingredients in such little time, but trust me, I’ve made it twice and it is. It’s always worth having one of those packets of dried mushrooms around as they lend an intense flavour that elevates many a dish; when matched with the density of soy and buckwheat you have something toothsome and pure-feeling – bolstering, Nigella calls it.

Braised shitake mushrooms with soba noodles  Serves 1

This isn’t a huge portion, so if you’re not eating it with other things you could increase the weight of noodles and just reduce the sauce slightly less.

8 or more dried shitake mushrooms (probably about 10-15g)
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp sake
3 tbsp Japanese soy sauce
4 tbsp mirin
80g soba noodles
few drops toasted sesame oil
fresh coriander (optional)

Soak the mushrooms in hot water for about 30 minutes, then squeeze and drain, reserving around 100ml of the soaking water.

Heat the oil in a small frying pan and stir fry the mushrooms for 2 minutes. Mix the sake, mirin, and 2 tbsp of the soy sauce with the mushroom-soaking water and add to the pan. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for around 15 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated to give a concentrated sauce. Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to packet instructions (probably about 4 minutes), drain and rinse in cold water to stop them sticking. Drain again and toss with the remaining soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil. Put in a noodle bowl and pour over the mushrooms. You can add a drop more sesame oil and some fresh coriander if liked.

From Nigella Lawson’s ‘How To Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food’.

Bucatini with salted anchovies

October 24, 2009

Forget what I said about autumn, how excited I was about it and how great and cosy and lovely and russet it would be. Now I just want to climb under my duvet and stay there until it’s all over. Or at least until we get to the bit where there are holidays.

Fortunately, River Cafe Week Two delivered a couple of stand out recipes that lightened my dreary days, as I hope they will yours too. The first one is called bucatini con acciughe (that’s bucatini with salted anchovies, and it’s only just occurred to me that that last word might sound a bit like a seasonal sneeze). I love anchovies. They come very high up my list of small salty things that I like, above capers and olives but below, um, salt. Any recipe that involves making a sauce by melting anchovies into garlicky olive oil is alright by me. And then when you add chilli and lemon zest and parsley and you somehow get something darkly savoury but also fresh and salty and citrussy and mmmm, you accidentally ate all of the sauce, half of which you meant to leave for your boyfriend. But it’s OK, you left him a note instructing him to make more. You wouldn’t want him to miss out.

The other good thing about this dish is the pangratto, which is sourdough breadcrumbs which you’ve gently fried in more garlicky olive oil until they’re toasty and crisp and sort of taste pleasantly of grease without being greasy. I’m also strangely drawn to recipes that contain more than one type of carbohydrate, so this was really the icing on the cake (or the potato on the pizza, if you will).

Second dish to follow…




Bucatini with salted anchovies  Serves 4

The recipe is very instructive on the Cantabrian anchovy and the Mediterranean anchovy and the relative merits thereof, specifically advising you to “avoid the little jars”. Well, I chose to ignore them as a little jar was what I had and it tasted very nice to me. That said, it’s probably best to up the amount you use if you do the same as proper anchovies are bigger. I kept the amount the same but more sauce would have been good. Mmmm, tasty salty sauce.

For the sauce:
4 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
12 salted anchovy fillets, from a tin, sold in Italian, Spanish or Greek delis, washed and chopped (or more of the small ones from a jar – maybe 18? No need to wash or chop)
2 dried red chillies, crumbled
black pepper
zest and juice of one lemon
3 tbsp parsley, chopped
350g bucatini or pici (I used linguine – well, if you’ve already used anchovies from a jar…)

For the pangratto:
100ml olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled but whole
1 small ciabatta loaf, crusts removed, pulsed into breadcrumbs in a food processor (oh, and I used a chunk of sourdough. And I left the crusts on. This made a lot of breadcrumbs, anyway)

Start with the pangratto. Heat the oil in a large frying pan (they say small pan, but then I couldn’t fit in the immense amount of breadcrumbs) and cook the garlic cloves in it over a low heat for around 5 minutes until brown. Remove the garlic from the oil and discard. Add the breadcrumbs to the pan, push them down into the oil and cook until crisped and brown. They say 5-10 minutes, I say more like 15. They also say to drain them on kitchen paper, but mine just kind of absorbed all the oil so I left them.

Put the pasta on to boil. To make the sauce, heat the oil (the other lot) in a medium sized pan. Fry the chopped garlic for a couple of minutes until coloured and then reduce the heat as low as it will go. Add the anchovies and break them up with a wooden spoon until they melt. After about 5 minutes, crumble in the chillies and season with pepper. Remove from the heat, add the lemon zest and juice and the parsley. Taste – you can now add more olive oil if you want to thin it out.

When the pasta is cooked, drain (keeping back a little of the cooking water). Add the sauce to the pasta with the reserved water and toss over a low heat for a couple of minutes until the sauce coats the pasta. Mix in the pangratto and serve. Feel a lot better now.

From Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers’ ‘The River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook’.