Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Orrechiette with Broccoli and Green Olives

I first made this for my other half about two years ago to convince him that broccoli, which he dislikes, isn't always that bad. The recipe itself is a bit of a cross between a dish my Italian cousin made for me, and a dish from the River Café Cook Book, which uses purple sprouting broccoli instead. I maintain that it is the perfect dish to give to someone when they say "I don't like broccoli".

You can make the dish vegetarian by just omitting the anchovies and adding a pinch of sea salt just before you serve.

Ingredients (serves 4, or two very hungry people):
1 medium sized head of broccoli
1 large onion
3 anchovy fillets
2 cloves garlic, minced
100g green marinated olives (I used Paterno)
Half a glass of wine
50g grated parmesan
4 or 5 basil leaves to garnish
250g Orrechiette

Put a pan half-filled with water and a pinch of salt on the hob and bring to the boil. While you are waiting, prepare your broccoli: remove the bottom 5mm of the stem and discard. Then, slice the stem into 1cm wide slices and set aside. Divide the head into small florets - about 3cm in diameter each. Any additional stem, also slice and set aside. When the water has come to the boil, add the slices of stem and cook for about 5 minutes before adding the rest of the broccoli. Cook for a further 10 minutes, until all the stems are soft but not soggy. While the broccoli is cooking, finely slice the onions and fry in about a tablespoon of olive oil until soft and golden. Then, add the anchovies and garlic and cook for a further minute. Add half a glass of white wine and turn the heat down low so it simmers slowly - the anchovies should completely dissolve. Slice the olives into chunks, taking care to remove the pip, and set aside until the broccoli is cooked.

Drain the broccoli, making sure to set aside the water, and add the broccoli and olives to the onions, anchovies and garlic. Fry for about a minute before adding approximately 6 tablespoons of the broccoli water. Reduce it slowly over a low heat and break up any of the larger pieces of broccoli with a wooden spoon. Add about two thirds of the parmesan and stir it into the sauce.

Using the remainder of the broccoli water, fill the saucepan back up so it's around half full. Bring to the boil and add the Orrechiette (if you can't find Orrechiette, use Penne) and cook as directed - I used fresh, which took around 5 minutes. While you are waiting for the pasta to cook, set a frying pan on the hob and dry-fry the pine nuts for 2-3 minutes, until lightly golden. Once the pasta is cooked, drain and add to the broccoli mix. Stir in the pine nuts, transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with fresh basil leaves torn over the top. Serve with the remaining parmesan on the side to flavour to taste.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Quick & Easy Pesto

I must admit, I am always slightly horrified by the amount of people who buy rather than make their own pesto, simply because it's so easy. It also tastes about 100 times nicer when its home made. To use a shop-bought comparison, it's a bit like the difference between the stuff in the store cupboard aisle and the stuff in the fridge section. 

Additionally, if you use a blender, it takes a maximum of 10 minutes to make, so there really is no excuse. I find it keeps for about a week in the fridge and actually, also freezes remarkably well - it will keep for up to three months.

Ingredients (makes approx 150g – enough for 4 people)
80g basil, leaves only
25g pine nuts
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp Maldon sea salt
50g freshly grated Parmesan
100-200ml extra virgin olive oil
squeeze of lemon juice
First, toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan for about 3 minutes, turning regularly to make sure they don’t catch. Then, set them aside.

Add the basil, garlic, salt, pepper, parmesan and pine nuts to the blender and then turn on. Slowly pour the olive oil in until the mixture is smooth. I started with 100ml and then added a little more as it wasn’t quite enough, but the amount will vary from batch to batch so use your judgement.

You can also make the pesto by hand, using a mortar and pestle, but it does take quite a bit longer. Chop the garlic, and pound to a paste, then add the basil, about 5 leaves at a time. work in the cheese and then stir in the olive oil until you have a thick, dense paste. As with above, the amount of olive oil will vary from batch to batch.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Pennette with Pesto, Smoked Salmon and Roasted Balsamic Tomatoes

 This dish gives me fond memories of my early 20’s, when my best friend and I used to go to Panic every Tuesday. I’d go over to her flat after university and get dressed up, swigging on a glass (or three) of Pinot Grigio while she made us dinner. With no regard for other peoples' sense of smell, we’d load the pesto with virtually a whole bulb of garlic, wolf down our meal and jump in a taxi to Central London.

Amazingly, the pungency of our meal did nothing to reduce our pulling power!

It works best with homemade pesto which you can make in advance (there is no need to be as trigger-happy with the garlic as we were!), and the balsamic-roasted tomatoes complement the flavours beautifully.

homemade pesto
200g cherry tomatoes on the vine

1 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
200g smoked salmon
250g pennette

Turn the oven on to 180°C and line a 20cm baking tray or cake tin with foil (make sure it’s fully covered – you don’t want balsamic vinegar all over the tin!) and place your cherry tomatoes in the tin. Drizzle with about a tablespoon and a half of balsamic vinegar. Put in the oven for about 30-40 minutes, shaking them occasionally to keep coated with balsamic.

While your tomatoes are roasting, make your pesto and shred the salmon into small strips. Put the water on for the pasta and bring to the boil. Once boiled, add the pasta (I used Pennette, which is just miniature Penne) and cook as advised so that it is slightly al dente. When cooked, drain the pasta and return to the pan. Stir in the pesto sauce, remove the tomatoes from the oven, and, taking them off the vine, add them to the pasta. Finally, stir in the smoked salmon, transfer to a large bowl and serve.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Cod with a Pesto Crust

This is ridiculously simple, and possibly the easiest thing i've cooked in a long time.  I've used sustainably sourced cod in this, but if you feel stongly about using cod, it is equally good with other firm, white fish such as tilapia, hake or even salmon.

If you make the pesto in advance (I'll show you how to make this another time - it's really easy), this takes about 20 minutes in total to prepare and cook. Alternatively, use a good, fresh readymade pesto sauce and you should achieve similar results. Equally, you can buy readymade breadcrumbs, though these obviously don't have such a wholesome, homemade appeal.

Serve with fresh green beans and a green salad.

80g pesto
25g breadcrumbs
40g grated parmesan
2 cod fillets - about 150g each

Preheat the oven to 200°C and fill a saucepan with about 3cm of water for the beans. Mix the pesto, breadcrumbs and parmesan together until it forms a sort of paste. Place the cod fillets on a baking tray lined with foil and, using all the mixture, pat the pesto paste onto each piece of fish so that they are covered.

Place in the oven for about 12 minutes to bake and bring the water for the beans to the boil. Once the water has come to the boil, put the beans on to blanch for 4-5 minutes. Remove the fish from the oven - the fillets should lightly flake apart; drain the beans and serve.

Monday, 15 March 2010


This is my take on a traditional Roman recipe. I first tried it a few years back when my aunt made it for me and my mother when we visited her house just outside Rome and instantly fell in love. It is, I think, the definitive spring soup - first of the season broad beans, garden peas and artichokes, mopped up with a slice of oven-warm ciabatta and a glass of pinot grigio.

Remembering how much my mother also loved it (she, like me, loves broad beans more than anything) I decided to make it for her for Mother's Day; and it went down a treat.  

40ml olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely sliced
10g fresh oregano, leaves only
140g cubetti di Pancetta
1 dried red chilli, crumbled
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
200g chargrilled artichokes
200g fresh peas, shelled
200g broad beans, shelled
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
500ml Pinot Grigio white wine
10g fresh mint

Place the olive oil into a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion, pancetta, oregano and chilli. Stir occasionally, until the onions are soft; this should take about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add the artichokes, peas, broad beans and garlic, and stir and cook for five minutes.
Then add the wine and mint. Cover and cook over a medium heat until the vegetables are really soft – about 25 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Serve in soup bowls with lots of fresh ciabatta to mop up the juices.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Fiorelli Primavera

Spring is probably my most favourite season. I love the newness of everything. First peek of sunshine, crocuses poking out the ground, daffodils everywhere, and the start of a new year's vegetables, my favourite being broad beans.

I decided to indulge a little by adding smoked salmon, but for a more straightforward primavera, without works just fine.

200g smoked salmon, torn into ribbons
1 courgette, finely sliced
100g broad beans
100g french beans
50g  fresh peas
200g asparagus
100g cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
small handful fresh mint
small handful, tarragon
2tbsp freshly grated parmesan (+ shavings for decoration)
100ml crème fraîche
100ml white wine
salt and pepper to taste
250g fiorelli pasta

First, put on a pan of lightly salted water to blanch your vegetables and bring to the boil. Top and tail your french beans and then slice into two, then break the woody stem off the asparagus - it should snap easily at the point where the woody part begins - and chop in half. Once the water is boiling, add the asparagus, french and broad beans and peas to the pan and blanch for 5-6 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water so the vegetables keep their bright green colour, then set aside.

Next, slice the courgette and the garlic. I used a mandolin for extra thin slices, but you can use a sharp knife too. Fry the courgette over a medium heat in a tablespoon of olive oil until they start to soften, then add the garlic. Cook for a further minute, until both are translucent then add the white wine. Simmer slowly, so the wine reduces by about half, then add the salt, pepper and crème fraîche. Transfer to a saucepan with the blanched asparagus, etc and stir in the parmesan.

Put on a saucepan with a pinch of salt and bring to the boil for the pasta. Cook for about 10 minutes, as per the instructions on the pack. I also like making this dish with oricchette as it has a nice bite to it. When the pasta has a couple of minutes left, throw in the cherry tomatoes and give the sauce one final blast of heat.

Drain the pasta then mix with the sauce in a large bowl. Stir in the smoked salmon and the shredded tarragon and mint leaves. Decorate with the pecorino shavings and serve.

Thursday, 11 March 2010


This is the result of leftovers - leftover meringue from my other half recreating the Ottolenghi Passion Fruit Tartlets (recipe to follow soon, I promise) and the excess chocolate fudge filling from the cake the day before. To shake it up a bit, we added some caramel to the chocolate fudge, and made a second filling with strawberries and cream. Apparently the correct term for two pieces of meringue sandwiched together is a gerbet macaroon, but these look slightly too rustic to call them that.

For the meringue:
3 egg whites
175 g caster sugar

For the caramel chocolate fudge:
see previous recipe (amend quantities accordingly)
100g caster sugar

For the strawberries and cream:
140ml double cream
8 strawberries, sliced
100g icing sugar

Using a food mixer or electronic whisk (doing this by hand will murder your arms), beat the eggs until they become slightly bubbly, then slowly pour in the sugar, whisking constantly. Once all the sugar is added, keep on beating until the meringue mix forms peaks. 

Feed the meringue mix into a piping bag with a 2cm nozzle at the end, and pipe onto a baking tray lined with baking paper. Ideally your meringues should be about 5cm wide. Bake in the oven at 150° for 15-20 mins, until lightly golden. Do not remove the meringues from the oven - rather, leave them in there until the oven is completely cool. This will dry them out and make them beautifully crispy.

For the chocolate fudge, make the mix as before. Then spread the sugar out on some baking paper on a tray and grill for 5 mins, until liquid. remove from the oven and allow to cool. Once it is cool, smash up the caramel into small 1cm-ish chips and mix into the chocolate fudge. 

For the strawberries and cream, beat the cream and 100g icing sugar until the cream is firm, but not solid (it should be a similar consistency to the chocolate fudge - be careful not to over-beat; you don't want it to turn into sugary butter!) and then by hand, mix in the slices of strawberries. 

Spoon a generous teaspoon of each mix between the meringues and sandwich together. Serve while very fresh - they're not nearly as nice when the meringue goes soggy.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Chocolate Fudge Cake

I was in a bit of a quandry over this - my other halfs dislikes, nay, loathes birthdays, but likes cake. Especially chocolate cake. I wanted to do something nice for his birthday but slightly feared the wrath of "The Birthday Grinch" so figured cake would be a reasonably safe bet. Apparently not so - two days before I was due to bake, I got home (with ingredients) moments before him and didn't have time to stash them all before he came home, eyed up the carnage on the worktop and said "I hope you're not baking me a cake", to which I sort of mumbled a crap excuse while secretly feeling a bit miffed. After all, who doesn't like being baked a cake?

So I baked regardless, the other half relegated to the spare room while a friend and I turned the kitchen into a cake factory. She made the carrot cake I blogged a few weeks back; I made this. I borrowed my mum's excellent Kenwood Chef mixer to mix this, but with a little elbow grease you can achieve the same results by hand.


For the cake:
400g plain flour
250g golden caster sugar
100g light muscovado sugar
50g best quality cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
140ml sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
175g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
125ml corn oil
300ml tap water

For the icing:
175g dark chocolate, 70% cocoa
250g unsalted butter, softened
275g icing sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

First, preheat the oven to 160°c, then grease and line the bottoms of two 20cm cake tins with greaseproof paper.

In a large bowl, mix together the sifted flour, sugars, cocoa, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Use another bowl beat the eggs, sour cream and vanilla until blended. For the next step, I used an electric mixer, but you can do it by hand if you wish: beat together the melted butter and corn oil and then slowly add the water. 

Then add the dry ingredients to your oil and butter mix. Once this is blended, add the egg mixture and beat until it's all blended together then divide the mix between the two cake tins. 

Bake in the oven for 50-55 minutes. Poke a skewer into the middle at 50 minutes and hold for 5 seconds - if the skewer comes out clean then the cake is done. If not, keep it in the oven for a further 5-10 mins, or until done. Place the cakes in their tins on a wire rack to cool for about 15 minutes and then turn them out from the tins to allow them to cool completely. Don't forget to remove the greaseproof paper from the bottoms of the cakes!

To make the icing, melt the chocolate in a bowl sitting over a pan of simmering water and let cool slightly. This is where the Kenwood really comes into its own - beat the butter until it’s soft and creamy and then add the sieved icing sugar and beat again until everything’s light and fluffy.  Then slowly pour in the vanilla and chocolate and mix together until everything is smooth, creamy and very chocolatey.

Using about a quarter of the icing, sandwich your two cake halves together. Using a spatula, spread the rest all over the cake and sides. When offered to your favourite Birthday Grinch, you'll find even he won't be able to resist.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Eggs Royale with Foaming Hollandaise

Fact number one: I only learned to poach eggs the proper way last year. Fact number two: this is only the second time I have made hollandaise sauce. Fact number three: neither are anything to be afraid of.

I made this as a Saturday morning late breakfast for myself and my sister, who had stayed over the previous night at her request as she adores eggs benedict and didn't know how to make hollandaise. Like me, she had previously thought it was a lot of hard work and very difficult, so having made it myself for friends a couple of months earlier I was keen to show her otherwise. The wonderful thing about making foaming hollandaise is, in using the egg white as well as the yolk, the sauce doesn't curdle. It is also much lighter.

Ingredients (serves 4):
For the foaming hollandaise:
2 large eggs, separated
1 dessertspoon lemon juice
1 dessertspoon white wine vinegar
110g butter
salt and pepper

For the poached eggs:
1tsp white wine vinegar
as many eggs as each person wants

Additional ingredients:
Hot buttered toast or muffins (the English variety)
Smoked salmon (or bacon, if you'd rather traditional eggs benedict)

First, make the hollandaise: place the egg yolks in a blender (reserve the whites, you'll need them later) and season with salt and pepper. Then, in a saucepan, heat the lemon juice and white wine vinegar until it starts to steam. Turn on the blender and trickle the liquid in very slowly and steadily, and then turn off the blender. Now, turn your hand to the egg white - whisk in a large bowl until firm, as if making meringues (the egg white should form into peaks).

Melt the butter in a saucepan, turn the blender back on and trickle the melted butter into the liquid, as you did with the lemon and vinegar. Then transfer the sauce to the egg white and fold it in. I keep it warm by fitting the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.

Now your hollandaise sauce is ready, assemble the rest of the ingredients: toast and butter your toast or muffins, place the smoked salmon on top (or fry your bacon and do the same if you're having eggs benedict) and then turn your thoughts to the poached eggs.

For two eggs, I use about 3cm of water in the bottom of a pan and a teaspoon of vinegar. Use the freshest eggs you can get your hands on - these will keep their shape better. Stir the water to create a whirlpool, and then crack in your eggs one by one. This gets easier with practice! Simmer for a couple of minutes, until the whites are firm but the yolk still runny, and then place on top of your salmon or bacon. Pour over a tablespoon or so of hollandaise per person and tuck in.