Sunday, 29 May 2011

Simple Saturday Pasta

Feeling not exactly hungover, but certainly a tad weary after a couple of nights out on the town, I needed a quick and easy lunchtime fix. Part of me was tempted to fall foul of my favourite post night-out comfort food, macaroni cheese, but good sense prevailed and I went for a healthier option: it is unwise to round off a six-pint night out with more junk, no matter how good it tastes.

This takes as long as the pasta takes to cook to prepare - in my case, 9 minutes - and takes minimal effort. Not bad when you're feeling a little rough round the edges, and the chilli certainly helped bring me round!

Ingredients (serves 2):
150g penne pasta
1 courgette
1 red chilli
2 cloves garlic
1 dsp lemon juice
3 or 4 basil leaves

Put a pan of water on, lightly salt it and bring to the boil. Add the penne and cook as directed on the pack. While the pasta is cooking, thinly slice the courgette and garlic (I used a mandolin), add a little oil to a frying pan and fry over a medium heat until the courgette starts to turn translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a further couple of minutes. 

While the garlic is cooking, slice the chilli taking care to discard any seeds and add to the pan. Fry for a further 3 minutes then add the lemon juice and a dessertspoon of water from the pasta pan. Reduce until only a little liquid remains. 

Drain the pasta once it is cooked and add the vegetables to the pan. Stir well then serve, shredding a few basil leaves on each plate. Quick, easy and delicious!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Zuppa di Pollo Verde

I think this has become one of my favourite soups. The original was inspired by the Covent Garden Food Co and was their April Soup of the Month - Ciao Bella - which I thought was delicious. A quick scour of the incredients and I decided to make my own.

The recipe calls for pesto - I am a huge advocate of making your own as it takes a thousand times nicer and takes very little time. As it is going in a soup, I'll let you off if you choose to buy it instead. 

I source mine from a Turkish supermarket in Holloway, but Israeli cous cous can still be a little hard to get hold of. If you can't find it I would suggest using orzo or ditalini pasta, as the original soup suggests.

This again makes a lot of soup. I would suggest freezing at least half of it into batches so you have some saved up for a rainy day. Freezing the soup in an ice cube tray and then transferring to a freezer bag once set is fantastic - you can unfreeze individual portions as needed.

Ingredients (serves 10):
1 baking potato
2 leeks
1 large onion
100g spinach
80g peas
1 chicken breast
50g pearl barley
25g Israeli cous cous
150g pesto
1.5 litres vegetable stock
300ml single cream

Peel and chop the potato into chunks then boil for 20 minutes or until soft. While the potato is boiling, chop the onion and slice the leek, then, in a heavy bottomed pan, fry both until soft but not golden. Next, add the stock, spinach, peas and pesto and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain and mash the potato and add to the soup. 

In batches, blend the soup then transfer back to the heavy bottomed pan. Grill the chicken until cooked, then set aside to cool. Now, cook the pearl barley as per the directions on the bag. Mine required being boiled twice in a little water before simmering for 30 minutes. Once done, add to the pan alongside the Israeli cous cous. Then shred the chicken and add to the pan. Cook for a further 15-20 minutes, stirring in the single cream just before you're ready to serve.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Chocolate Poached Pears

I wanted to make a dessert that looked as good as it tasted, and in spotting some gorgeous Comice pears in Waitrose, I thought I'd take a stab at poaching them. To add a little more luxury, I coated them in chocolate at the end which made them look very posh indeed. Luckily, they certainly do taste as good as they look. They are also quite easy to make and can be prepared in advance of any special occasions, which makes always the event itself that little bit less stressful.

Ingredients (serves 6):
6 ripe Comice pears
5 tbsp lemon juice
4 tbsp clear honey
150ml sweet white wine
100g dark chocolate

Preheat your oven to 180°C. Put the lemon juice in a bowl, then peel the pears and remove the core at the bottom. Coat each pear in lemon juice to prevent discolouration. Place the pears upright in a small roasting tin, then mix the lemon juice with the honey and spoon over the pears then pour the sweet wine into the tin. Cook the pears in the oven for 30 minutes, basting every 10 minutes or so. They should be soft but shape intact when you remove them from the oven.

Reserve the juices from the baking tin and transfer the pears onto a chopping board covered with baking paper. Leave to cool for an hour or so. Once the pears are cool, melt the chocolate either in the microwave or in a bowl placed in a shallow pan of water, then spoon the melted chocolate over the pears to coat them. I drizzled a little chocolate on each individual serving plate too to add decoration. Those of you who are more creative than me may well be able to create a masterpiece in drizzled chocolate here! 

Transfer the chocolate coated pears to the plates and when ready to serve, pour a little of the juice you reserved earlier onto the plates. Serve with a little cream or scoop of icecream and a glass of sweet white wine. You are guaranteed to impress!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Spiced Butternut and Sweet Potato Soup

Another soup I'm afraid. I recently spent 10 days in the South of France and gorged myself on delicious cheeses, heavenly olives and incredible artisan bread. I drank many, many glasses of extremely delicious wines (and was propositioned by one of the growers at my favourite vineyard). The uptake of living la belle vie was upon returning back to London, I hopped on the scales and discovered that I had paid the price of my excesses in the form of a small spare tyre.

So a little reigning in is required, both financially and in ensuring that all my clothes continue to fit. The best way for me to do that is to eat soup, and lots of it. So here is another recipe. Sweet potato and butternut go extremely well together, being similar tasting vegetables from very different families. I fancied a soup with a little more of a kick than my usual butternut squash soup so decided to go for a more aromatic approach, with ginger, chillies, cumin and coriander.

The end result is lovely - a warming, rustic soup with a gentle kick to it. Enjoy!

Ingredients (serves 8):
1 butternut
2 sweet potatoes
1 large onion
1 chilli
2 cloves garlic
2.5cm fresh ginger
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
salt and pepper
1.5 litres vegetable stock
1 tbsp olive oil

Switch the oven to 180°C. While it is heating up, peel and shop the sweet potato into large chunks, then place in a large bowl. Do the same for the butternut, taking care to also remove the seeds. Add to the bowl, then pour in 1 tbsp olive oil, the cumin and coriander and a little salt and pepper, then toss until the sweet potato and butternut chunks are lightly coated in olive oil and spices.

Place in the oven for 40-45 minutes, turning occasionally until soft. While the butternut and sweet potato are roasting, chop the onion and peel and slice the ginger into matchsticks. Fry them both using a  in a little oil until soft, then slice the chilli and garlic. Add to the frying pan and cook for a couple of minutes then turn off the heat.

Once the vegetables have finished roasting, add them to the pan with the onions, chilli and ginger along with the stock. Simmer for about 20 minutes, then in batches blend the soup until smooth. I pushed it through a sieve to make it a little smoother still, but it's up to you if you want to do it or not. Heat through until piping hot and serve - I stirred a little natural yogurt in at the end to give it a little creaminess, but I'll leave that up to you.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Minestrone Verde

Another recipe inspired by the Covent Garden Soup Co, this is a new favourite of mine. It is cheap to make, extremely delicious and keeps well too - I made enough for 8, which with just two of us in the flat kept fine for the remaining three days after we first ate it.

Not just cheap and easy; it is super healthy and vegan to boot! And you see that bread sitting alongside it in the photo below? It's from Franco Manca in Chiswick. They make exceedingly good pizzas, and their sourdough (which they sell on Saturdays) is a little slice of heaven. One of the best sourdough breads I've eaten too, which is high praise indeed coming from a self-confessed sourdough addict.

Ingredients (serves 8):
1 medium onion
4 cloves garlic
1 baking potato
1 courgette
400g tinned flageolet beans
100g frozen peas
100g spinach
30g fresh basil
50g orzo pasta
1.5 litres vegetable stock

Peel, chop and boil the potato for 20 minutes, or until soft. While the potato is cooking, chop the onion and courgette and fry in a large, heavy bottomed pan over a medium heat until soft. Crush in the garlic cloves and fry for a further minute. Drain the flageolet beans and add to the pan along with the peas. Chop the spinach and basil and stir in. Once the spinach has begun to wilt, add the stock and simmer gently.

Once this is done, the potato should be ready - drain and mash the potato, then stir into your soup. At this point, divide the soup between two pans or bowls. I like to blend half of it to add a creaminess to the soup itself, but I also like to retain some of the vegetable texture to chew on. Once you've blended half the soup, return to your large pan and mix both halves back together. 

Finally, add the orzo pasta. I found it took about an hour to cook properly - 50 minutes longer than the directions if you were to boil it. Stir occasionally to prevent it from sticking to the bottom, then serve with a couple of slices of delicious fresh bread.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011


I would guess that about 85% of all Limoncello I have ever consumed has been home made, and most of that by my aunt. As a result, whenever I taste its mass-produced counterpart I am always disappointed. In France and Italy, it is very easy to get hold of 40% ABV alcohol for making your own spirits. In the absence of such things in the UK, good quality, high alcohol vodka makes a reasonable subsitute. 

This is my aunt's recipe, which is so easy to make. While it requires a little sitting time it is always worth the wait. I used Amalfi lemons, which I got from the fantastic Andreas Veg in Chiswick, to make it as authentic as possible. If you are unable to get hold of these, just use the best quality organic unwaxed lemons that you can get your hands on.

Ingedients (makes 2 litres):
1 litre 40% alcohol
1 litre water
500g caster sugar
6 Amalfi lemons

Using a sharp knife, peel the lemons to remove the rind. Take care not to bring any of the pith away with you as this will impart a bitterness to the Limoncello. Pour all the alcohol into a large sealable container and add the lemon rind. Stir well, seal the container and store in a cool dark place for 10 days to two weeks, stirring every few days.

Once the rind has fully infused with the alcohol, you are now ready to assemble the Limoncello. Warm the water in a pan then gradually pour in the sugar, stirring until it is all dissolved, then leave to cool. Once cool, pour the alcohol and lemon rind through a sieve (to catch the lemon) into the sugary water, stir well and then transfer into bottles.  Let it sit for a further week or so, then leave it in the fridge or freezer ready for use.

Homemade Limoncello will keep for up to a year, so it makes an ideal (and wonderfully personal) birthday or Christmas gift.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Risotto Primavera

This is a recipe full of all my favourite vegetables. They also happen to be a friend of mine's favourites too, so I made this for her for dinner one night. It is really quick and easy to make, is packed with delicious seasonal vegetables and is healthy to boot. I added a little truffle oil for a hint of luxury, but it is still delicious without.

Ingredients (serves 4):
150g risotto rice
2 shallots
3 cloves garlic
4 chestnut mushrooms
100g broad beans
100g green beans
100g asparagus spears
150g chargrilled artichoke hearts
1 litre vegetable stock
125ml white wine
50g grated parmesan
1 tsp truffle oil
salt and pepper

Before you start, peel and finely chop the shallots, slice the mushrooms, chop the artichoke hearts in half, remove the woody ends from the asparagus, chop the beans in half and peel the garlic. In a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan, add a little oil then gently fry the shallots until soft. Add the garlic and mushrooms, then once the mushrooms are cooked, add the risotto rice and fry for a further minute.

Pour in two thirds of the chicken stock and stir so the liquid is evenly distributed. As the liquid is absorbed, stir only very occasionally, to prevent the risotto sticking. While the risotto is cooking, blanch the broad beans, asparagus and green beans and set aside for now. Once most of the liquid is gone, add the white wine and a little more stock and continue to simmer until almost all the liquid is gone. Taste the risotto to see how far off done it is - it should be nearly ready, then add as much of the remaining stock as you deem necessary. Add the rest of the vegetables - broad beans, artichoke, asparagus and green beans and cook for a couple of minutes before stirring in the parmesan and truffle oil. 

Spoon onto warm plates and serve immediately. I love this with a little drizzle of chilli oil and a green salad.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Creamed Tomatoes on Toast

This was inspired by a recipe in the Sunday Times Style Magazine over 10 years ago. It is something I used to make fairly frequently back when eating things like cream on a regular basis didn't go straight to my hips. This is the first time I've made it in over five years, as a starter when a friend came over for dinner. I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed eating it. I hope you'll enjoy it too, and not think too hard about the cream or your hips.

Ingredients (serves 4):
250ml single cream
3 garlic cloves
6 ripe plum tomatoes
10g fresh basil
salt and pepper
4 slices French campagne or sourdough

Preheat the oven to 180°C, then while the oven is heating up, pour the single cream into a saucepan. Crush in the garlic and shred the basil leaves then simmer until reduced by a third.

Slice the tomatoes in half lengthways and remove the seeds then put cut side facing up into a baking dish and season with a little salt and pepper. Pour the cream over the tomatoes and then bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. 

Just before the tomatoes are ready, toast the bread, place on four plates then drizzle with a little olive oil. When the tomatoes are done, put three tomato halves on each slice, spoon any leftover cream in the baking dish over the top and serve.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Grilled Salmon with Chorizo and Cannellini Beans

This is the third time recently that I have found myself with leftover chorizo, and this is the third time that I've sat there wondering what to do with it. It isn't a a food that I'm used to eating a lot of, though it has gone up in my estimations enormously recently. Here I wanted to see how it worked with salmon, and I think it works very well. 

The cannellini bean and chorizo base is almost like extremely posh baked beans, and the aubergine balances it beautifully. I personally love the chilli crust on the salmon, though those less inclined towards fire may wish to give it a miss. Just don't tell me you did so!

Ingredients (serves 2):
2 salmon fillets
400g tinned cannellini beans
50g chorizo
2 tomatoes
100ml strong chicken stock
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
20g coriander
1 aubergine
Juice of ½ lemon
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp chilli flakes

Dice the chorizo, then fry without any oil (it has plenty of its own) until crisp then add the cannellini beans - I used tinned here to save time. Gently fry for 5 minutes with the chorizo, then while the beans are frying, remove the seeds and core from the tomatoes, dice and add to the pan. Next, add the chicken stock and 2 tbsp of balsamic vinegar and gently reduce. Roughly chop the coriander and stir into the mix. Turn off the heat and set aside for the time being.

Next, dice the aubergines and fry in enough oil for them to soften and disintegrate, then after a couple of minutes frying add the garlic and cook for a further couple of minutes. You should have a soft, pulpy paste. Turn off the heat and set this aside too.

Finally, crust both salmon fillets with the chilli flakes - you may need a little more or less, but don't put too much on or the salmon will be extremely hot - then drizzle with a little olive oil. Finally, fry them in a hot frying pan with a little oil, skin side down at first for about three minutes, then flip over and sear the top for a couple of minutes.

While the salmon is frying, give a quick blast of heat to the beans and aubergine, then divide the beans between two plates. Once the salmon is cooked, place skin side down on the beans and spoon the aubergine on top. Garnish with a sprig of coriander.