Spaghetti with cherry tomatoes, pancetta & courgette

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,

Ingredients

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 shallot
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.

Aubergine Parmigano

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.

Serves 4
Total cooking time: 1 hr 30 mins
Preparation time: 30 mins
Cooking time: 1 hr

Ingredients:

* 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

Instructions:

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.

Serve with crusty bread and green salad.

Tagliatelle al ragu

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…

Ingredients:
Serves 4

30g butter
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).
400g tagliatelle
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.

Brussels sprouts with parmesan & almonds

These are sprouts for people who don’t like sprouts. They are crunchy, the garlic and parmesan works wonders and it’s hard to get this wrong. The recipe is from my friend Marc – one of the people who can really cook I mention in the about section.

Ingredients:

1kg relatively small sprouts
2-3 cloves of garlic depending on how garlicky you can face them
3 tbs olive oil (I use light & mild again)
garlic salt (normal salt will do)

Clean sprouts and cut them in half. In a bowl, mix olive oil, garlic and some garlic salt. Mix in the cut up brussels. Let them sit for a 1/2 an hour (I tried to let them marinate overnight). Place them on a baking tray, stick them in the oven at 350 degrees until they brown slightly. Flip them over and let them brown on the other side. This shouldn’t take more than 1/2 an hour. Take them out and place them in a bowl. Grate some fresh parmesan over them. For special occasions add almond flakes. Mix and serve.