This tasted very Italian and wonderful. Tomatoes, courgettes, basil and oregano all from my own garden. Fresh pasta from Waitrose, bacon from the butcher’s in the North End road market,
250g fresh cherry tomatoes, halved
2 small courgettes, chopped into small pieces
200g of pancetta or smoked bacon cubed
250 fresh spaghetti
1 fresh red chilli
1 garlic clove
handful of basil
handful of oregano
pecorino or parmesan, shavings
Preheat oven to 220C. Arrange the cherry tomatoes densely on a tray and sprinkle with olive oil. Season. Roast for 15-20 mins so the tomatoes are soft but do not fall apart.
In the meantime, chop finely the garlic, shallot and chilli, fry in a little bit of olive oil for 2-3 mins. Add the pancetta and fry for another 2-3 mins, finally add the courgettes cooking them till they are soft.
Boil water, put the pasta in, bring to boil and cook for 4 minutes. Drain. In a large bowl combine the pasta with tomatoes (don’t forget the juices from the tray), pancetta and courgettes. Add fresh oregano and basil leaves. Serve with shavings of parmesan or pecorino and good Chianti.
I plan to grow my own aubergines in the garden (so far, so slow), and tomatoes to make my own passata and I alreaday grow basil successfully. And although I don’t intend to keep buffalos to make my own mozzarella, this dish as close as I get to using ingredients that are mostly mine.
The recipe is easy to make, layering the aubergines, mozzarella, tomato and parmesan and cook it until it all melts. It’s also great for dinner parties and easy weekend lunches.
Total cooking time: 1 hr 30 mins
Preparation time: 30 mins
Cooking time: 1 hr
* 3 Aubergines
* 2 tbsps Salt, plus one pinch.
* 400g Mozzarella, ripped into pieces.
* 1 jar Tomato passata
* 1 Pinch Fresh ground black pepper
* 1 Bunch Fresh basil
* 80g Parmesan, flaked.
* 2 tbsps Olive oil, for cooking
Pre-heat the oven to 180c / gas mark 5. Cut the aubergines into slices approximately 1.5cm thick, sprinkle them with salt, lay them on a plate and put another plate on top of them with a weight on the top to squeeze the aubergines together. This will draw out any bitterness in the aubergines. You don’t get many bitter aubergines and you may be lucky, but one day you will and it will ruin your dish unless you’ve salted them first so it’s just not worth the risk.
Leave for 30 minutes, then rinse the salt off and dry the aubergine slices.
Heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan and fry the aubergine in batches until golden, drain on lots of kitchen roll.
Once all the aubergine has been fried, take a big, deep casserole and layer starting with aubergine, then mozarella, passata, salt and pepper, basil and finally parmesan flakes. Continue until all the aubergine has been used. You should have 2-3 layers depending on how deep and wide your casserole is.
Put the lid on and bake for 1 hour – the top layer of parmesan should be golden brown and the mozzarella should be melted. Aga: roasting oven, shelf on oven floor for 30 minutes then transfer to the simmering oven for 30 minutes.
A brilliantly simple chicken recipe. Fennel and thyme make for a deliciously refreshing change and the result is rather Italian.
Ready in about 40 minutes
4 tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
20g bunch fresh thyme, leaves picked
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
200g smoked lardons or pancetta pieces
2 fennel bulbs, each cut into 12 wedges
1 red onion, sliced into 12 wedges
300ml dry white wine
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan180°C/gas 6. Put 2 tablespoons of the oil into a non-stick roasting tin. Add the garlic, thyme, 1 tablespoon sea salt and 2 teaspoons ground black pepper and mix. Add the chicken and turn to coat. Scatter with the lardons or pancetta, add the fennel and onion, and drizzle with the remaining oil. Cook for 15 minutes, then increase the oven temperature to 230°C/fan210°C/gas 8.
2. Pour the wine into the tin and cook for another 10 minutes, or until the chicken is golden and the vegetables tender. Serve with the Lemon-dressed tagliatelle.
Nutritional Information per serving:
17.7g fat (5g saturated)
As a student I perfected my own version of spag bol – who doesn’t! It came to mind as I had another of those dinners coming up when I couldn’t really be away from my guests before or during the meal and needed something hot and delicious in a pot to plonk in the middle of the kitchen table. Spag bol seemed like a good option but given my recent cooking escapades it seemed appropriate to search for a ‘proper’ spaghetti bolognese recipe. And that is how I came across tagliatelle al ragu, which is apparently how the real Italians do it. One of the surprises was the amount of vegetables that went into the pot – I was doing 4 times the recipe below. Another surprise was the subtlety of the flavours and juiciness of the meat. This is no spag bol!
The recipe that appealed to me most was from Gustoso:
Italy’s most loved but misinterpreted dish has to be tagliatelle al ragu. When it left Italy’s shores it somehow become spaghetti bolognese. The real bolognese dish is made by tossing a little rich, slow-cooked ragu (a meat sauce, usually veal and pork) through fresh egg noodles.
There’s a number of tricks to an outstanding ragu sauce. First you really need to let it simmer for a good 3 hours to allow all the flavours to meld together and fill your house with divine smells. A dash of milk is added to the ragu sauce to cut the acidity of the tomatoes and wine.
My own trick for browning minced meat is to do it in red wine instead of using oil. The flavour is noticeably richer and arguably healthier – substituting fat with alcohol…
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 carrot finely chopped or grated
90g pancetta or bacon, finely chopped
220g minced ground veal or beef (I used half pork/half beef mince)
220g minced ground pork
2 sprigs of oregano, chopped or 1/4 tsp dried oregano
pinch of nutmeg
½ cup dry white wine
3/4 cup milk, or soy milk
400g tin chopped tomatoes or fresh (I used tinned ones)
250ml beef stock (I didn’t use stock, there was plenty of liquid).
grated Parmesan cheese
Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the onion, celery, carrot and pancetta. Cook over a moderate heat for 6-8 minutes, stirring from time to time.
Add the minced beef, pork and oregano to the saucepan. Season with salt and pepper and the nutmeg. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the mince has browned slightly.
Pour in the wine, increase the heat and boil over high heat for 2-3 minutes, or until the wine has been absorbed. Stir in the milk and reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the tomato and half the stock, partially cover the pan and leave to simmer gently over very low heat for 3 hours. Add more of the stock as it is needed to keep the sauce moist.
Meanwhile, cook the tagliatelle in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain the tageliatelle, toss with the sauce and serve with grated Parmesan.
This was one of the most experimental dishes I ever tried, without a recipe, just putting things together as they were found in the fridge and cupboard. So here it goes. It tasted delicious, though I am pretty sure this is not exactly orthodox italian.
Flat spaghetti for 2 people
2-3 cubes taleggio chopped
1 fennel sliced thinly
3 garlic cloves finely chopped
splash of pasta water
4 large button mushrooms sliced – big shrooms
generous pinch of herbes de provance
1/2 bottle of trifolati in oil
Boil spaghetti as per packet instructions and set aside. Retain some of the pasta water. In wok, fry fennel and garlic in oil from trifolati together with the herbs. Add trifolati and button mushrooms. Add pasta with splosh of pasta water. Add cheese, creme fraiche until gooey, stir. Season and serve.
Dry rich white wine goes well with this, cutting through the richness of taleggio.
This is one of my winter staples. Heart-warming soup works both as a main course for a simple dinner or a starter to a bigger evening meal.
250g dried cannellini, haricot or butter beans (I normally use waitrose canned cannellini or butter beans, which work perfectly)
6 cloves (I used as many as necessary to turn one onion into a hedgehog)
handful of parsley stalks
8-12 black peppercorns
1-2 bay leaves
3 tbsp olive oil
1-2 stick celery diced
2 carrots diced
200g piece smoked bacon cubed (I use about 4 smoked bacon rashers from my local butchers or a packet of pancetta/lardons)
1 litre chicken stock or ham stock (when in a hurry I use knorr chicken cubes, no MSG or preservatives)
150ml single cream
chopped parsley to garnish
Go easy with the seasoning – the bacon means you shouldn’t need salt at all.
Put the beans into a large pan and cover with 1 litre water. Stick the cloves into one of the oinions and add it to the pan along with the parsley stalks, peppercorns and bay. Bring to the boil, skim off any scum, then partly cover. Turn down to a simmer and cook for an hour, with the lid on. Drain the beans and discard the onion, bay and parsley stalks.
Chop the other onion finely. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and add the onion, celery, carrot and bacon (keep back some of the bacon to fry for a garnish).
Cook gently until golden. Add the beans and stock. Bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer for 25-30 minutes. The beans should collapse completely – press them with the back of a wooden spoon to help them along. Add the cream (if using), season with pepper and taste. Quickly dry-fry the rest of the bacon, divide it between each serving of soup and scatter with parsley.
Note: I used coriander instead of parsley on occasion and it works well too. Different stock also affects the flavour, I found that using my own chicken stock makes for a creamier, less pronounced taste compared to the knorr chicken stock cubes.