‘Sometimes simple is good’, my boyfriend intoned while eating this. Although I would put most of my cooking under the ‘simple’ bracket, the ninety minutes or so it inevitably takes me to make a meal every night might suggest otherwise. While I don’t begrudge any time spent in the kitchen, I think I do have a tendency to eschew the overly simple out of some kind of strange culinary logic whereby a meal only tastes good if you’ve spent ages faffing around over it and it contains at least three separate components. This fifteen-minute pasta dish has proved me wrong.Read More
Crab is one of my absolute favourite ingredients, but I don’t cook with it as often as I’d like, on account of it being quite expensive. If you’re a crab fan, though, there is a way to get around this: brown meat. For some reason it is the white meat of the crab that is more highly prized; it has a delicate flavour and meaty texture, whereas the brown meat tends to look a bit more like, well, sludge. However, it is in the brown meat, I think, that all the flavour lies, much like with chicken or turkey. You can buy it in small pots in most supermarkets. Although not appetising enough to make the star of a salad, brown crab meat works beautifully in dishes where you really want that strong, sweet crab flavour.Read More
Among several recipe instructions that are guaranteed to make my blood boil is the phrase ‘brown the meatballs on all sides’.
Now, I know a qualification in mathematics is not an essential requirement for the amateur or professional chef, or indeed the humble recipe writer. But it doesn’t take Archimedes to figure out that meatballs are, in fact, spherical. This means that firstly, they do not actually have sides, and, secondly, the act of browning them entirely over their total surface area is logistically impossible.Read More
This is a pasta recipe that I need to rave about. It's bloody amazing. I ate it on the sofa, greedily, from a bowl balanced precariously on my knee, whilst watching Downton Abbey. The combination was almost too joyous for my delicate nervous system to handle.
It's one of the best things I've ever made. It's the perfect comfort food dinner. It's surprising and wonderful. It has the perfect balance of flavours and textures. It can be eaten with just a fork. Starchy carbs are involved. It has a cheese sauce. There is bacon. All these are good boxes to tick, right?
I can't tell you how this somewhat bizarre combination of ingredients came about. It was a whim, and a mishmash of things I know work together, added to some other things I know work together. It was also designed with the express intention of using up leftover pears: thanks to my lovely box delivered from Fruitdrop, who organise fruit delivery in London and the UK, I have a glut of fruit that is likely to turn mouldy before I have a chance to eat it all.
Pears are one tricky fruit - they are edible for about a day, but too early or too late and they are either rock-hard or floury in the middle. Should you feel they are ripening at an alarming rate, stick them in the fridge and use them in a recipe.
There are numerous uses for pears in my kitchen. I eat them pure and unadulterated, preferably when they're at the state where I need a plate to catch the syrupy juice. I stir them, chopped, into porridge along with jewel-like dried cranberries and liberal gratings of nutmeg. I fold them into a buttermilk pancake batter along with raisins and toasted pecans, to be smothered in maple syrup. I tuck them into a tin of roasting partridge, to be eaten alongside the crisp-skinned burnished birds. I toss them into a crisp salad with goat's cheese and walnuts, or caramelise them and stuff them into thin cocoa-enriched crêpes.
This is a totally new use for pears. Pears and pasta? You think it's weird. I know you do. Don't lie to me.
But pears go with blue cheese. The salty cheese and their sweetness work so well. Bacon goes with blue cheese - this is a classic. Blue cheese and pears both go with fennel, adding saltiness and sweetness respectively to balance the sharp, aniseed freshness of it. I just decided to combine all these things in one mad, luscious plateful.
I made a blue cheese sauce for the pasta, using a lovely new cheese called 'Yorkshire Blue'. I've just moved up to Yorkshire to start my PhD (it's terrifying and exciting simultaneously), and am a huge fan of all the wonderful local produce, so it just made sense to incorporate a nice Yorkshire cheese in this dish. You could, of course, use any blue cheese. This was stirred into hot penne pasta, where it clung silkily to the quills, glistening with salty promise. There were bits of crispy bacon. There were shards of soft fennel and pear, caramelised with a little brown sugar and olive oil in a hot pan. There were some walnuts, crumbled over the top for texture (because pears go with walnuts, and walnuts go with blue cheese and bacon - it's just logic, people).
I knew it would be good as soon as I stirred it all together, but I wasn't quite prepared for just how good.
This is a taste sensation. You get the creamy, salty blue cheese sauce, which is wonderful in itself. You add the salty bacon - always good. But then the whole rich, salty lot is balanced by the deliciously crisp, sweet fennel and the even sweeter buttery pear. If you think fruit and pasta is just plain wrong, I urge you to try this. The pear is so soft that it clings to the strands of pasta and is barely noticeable as fruit; instead, it lifts the whole dish to something memorably sublime.
This has gone straight to the top of my favourite pasta recipes, which is a difficult list to top. I'm pretty proud of it, and I would wholeheartedly beg you to give it a go, especially if you have a Fruitdrop fruit delivery and therefore some pears to use up. You'll be pleasantly surprised.
Pasta with blue cheese, bacon, caramelised pear and fennel (serves 1, easily doubled):
- 100g penne pasta
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Half a medium bulb of fennel, shaved thinly on a mandolin
- 1 ripe but firm pear, cored and thinly sliced
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 2 rashers bacon (I used smoked), finely diced
- Half a glass of white wine
- 2 heaped tbsp creme fraiche
- 50g blue cheese, crumbled (I used Yorkshire Blue)
- Black pepper
- 1 tbsp chopped walnuts (optional)
Bring a large pan of water to the boil and add the pasta. Cook according to the packet instructions until al dente, reserving a little of the cooking water.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan and add the fennel. Cook for a couple of minutes on a medium heat until softened, then add the pear and brown sugar and cook over a high heat until the pear starts to caramelise. Remove and set aside.
Add the bacon to the hot pan and cook until starting to crisp up. Pour in the white wine and let it reduce by half, then add the creme fraiche. Cook gently until it starts to thicken, then add the blue cheese and black pepper.
When the pasta is ready, drain and add to the sauce in the pan with a teaspoonful of the cooking water. Return the pear and fennel to the pan, and the walnuts (if using). Toss together and serve immediately.
Today has been the perfect day for avoiding gluten. After the dismal monsoons of the last couple of months, Cambridge has suddenly been blessed with sunshine. Not just any sunshine; this sunshine has returned with a vengeance, angry at being barred by miserable and threatening clouds for weeks on end and ready to show the citizens of this humble town what it's made of. With the result that the weather is swelteringly hot, and therefore it's completely impossible to entertain the notion of eating very much at all. It's definitely not a day to be craving a huge, freshly baked loaf of gluten-packed bread.
I had breakfast before it got properly hot, though, so my usual bowl of porridge didn't seem out of place. To be fair, I still eat porridge even in the height of summer, because it's delicious and the perfect blanket for all that ripe and ready summer fruit around at the moment. I still had some rhubarb left over from yesterday, so I had that on top with a large handful of raspberries and blueberries, both of which go deliciously well with rhubarb.
For lunch, I decided to try out some gluten-free pasta. In a pasta salad, though, to be eaten just warm or cold, rather than a hot, steaming plate of carbs. They are not the thing when you are hot and steaming yourself. I was intrigued to see if it tasted any different to normal pasta, being made with maize and rice flour instead of standard flour. It certainly looked the same in the packet.
I wanted a vaguely creamy sauce for my pasta salad, something with a generous kick of mustard to spice it up when eaten cold from the fridge. I get very specific cravings when it comes to pasta, you see. Then I needed some protein to bulk it out. Chicken, tuna or smoked mackerel would have been wonderful, but there was some smoked trout on offer in Waitrose, so I decided to use that. I also wanted a lot of nice green veg, for a bit of contrast and to make it a vaguely healthy option. Peas and broad beans work well in pasta salads, and go very well with trout. Finally, I added a couple of chopped hard-boiled eggs. I don't know if this is weird or not. I love eggs with smoked fish, but I don't know if that's a normal thing. But hey, it's my salad, so in they went. Plus eggs are good for you.
To this I added a dressing made with cream cheese, creme fraiche, lemon juice, salt and pepper, a huge amount of lemon thyme leaves (my favourite herb, and delicious with fish and anything creamy) and two heaped teaspoons of mustard. Not just any mustard - Tracklements horseradish mustard, from back in July last year when I went on an exciting tour of their mustard factory and received enough free mustard to last several years (literally - I've only used two jars out of six, and that's taken me an entire twelve months). Horseradish is normally perceived as solely reserved for beef, but actually it partners very well with rich smoked fish, particularly trout and mackerel.
Incidentally, I received a very nice email from Becky at Tracklements today, who informs me that all their products (apart from the Fruity Brown Sauce and the Beer Mustard) are gluten-free, and recommends stirring one of their chutneys into a bowl of quinoa or carmargue rice, adding some leftover chicken or lamb and some sultanas, and digging in for a wonderful gluten-free plateful. That's definitely something I'll have to try.
The result of my pasta experiment was a deliciously comforting plateful full of fresh flavours - crunchy, slightly bitter broad beans, sweet peas, the rich trout and eggs, plus the zingy lemony dressing that manages to be creamy and soothing yet sharp and exciting at the same time.
But I know what you really want to know is: does gluten-free pasta taste the same as normal pasta?
Yes! Yes it does! I have to admit I couldn't tell the difference at all while eating it. Perhaps if you ate it dressed with nothing more than good olive oil and seasoning, and were a connoisseur, you might be sharp enough to spot the difference, but I really didn't notice, and seeing as I usually like my pasta laden with other lovely things, it's certainly good enough for me.
Great news for gluten-free dieters everywhere.
To celebrate, here's a jaunty little video of me making the pasta salad.
After a banana, tea and medjool date snack (a repeat of yesterday), I went to my usual Tuesday kickboxing class. I noticed a huge improvement in my energy levels from last week, when I could barely lift my arms and legs and just felt horribly sluggish. This time I was bursting with energy and had a really great class. I don't know if it's the gluten-free diet or just coincidence, but I've certainly noticed only positive effects so far. It was doubly surprising given I spent most of today asleep in the sun, which isn't exactly great for boosting energy levels.
For dinner, I made a wonderful salad which I will be giving a proper dedicated post soon in the future, because it was just that good. Suffice to say that my mum had a few bites, then said: "If this is what being gluten-free is like, then I'm all for it."
It's a salad of smoked prosciutto, feta cheese, grilled peaches, green beans and rocket. Sounds an unlikely combination, but tastes like summer on a plate and is utterly wonderful. A perfect example of how a gluten-free diet can lead to the most imaginative and delicious recipe creations.
Creamy smoked trout pasta salad (serves 3-4):
250g short pasta shapes, gluten-free if necessary (I used fusilli)
2 large eggs, at room temperature (so they don't crack when boiling)
A large handful each of frozen peas and broad beans
150g light cream cheese
1 heaped tbsp creme fraiche
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and black pepper
A few sprigs lemon thyme
2 tsp olive oil
125g smoked trout fillets
Fresh herbs, to serve (optional)
Put the pasta on to cook in a large pot of boiling salted water, adding the eggs to the water. After 6 minutes, remove the eggs and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Add the peas and broad beans to the pasta, wait for the water to come back to the boil, then cook for 3-4 minutes (make sure the pasta doesn't overcook; this timing should end up with it just right). Peel and dice the eggs and set aside.
Mix together the cream cheese, creme fraiche, mustard, lemon juice, a generous amount of pepper and the leaves of the lemon thyme sprigs in a small bowl. Taste and check the seasoning - it should be quite sharp and lemony.
When the pasta and peas/beans are cooked, drain them, reserving a small cup of cooking water. Return them to their pan, then add the cream sauce. Stir together well, adding the olive oil and a little of the cooking water to loosen the sauce if necessary, then flake the trout into the pasta and stir again. Check the seasoning - you might want more lemon juice or mustard. Add the chopped eggs and stir together again. Serve hot or cold, sprinkled with fresh herbs, if you like (dill, basil, parsley and lemon thyme all work well).
I know you've been waiting with bated breath after my last post, eager to discover what exciting things I've been doing with orzo, the rice-shaped pasta that I finally got round to locating and purchasing this week. I'm a little bit obsessed with it. I can't get enough of its delicious texture; comforting and starchy like risotto rice, but less chalky and more slippery. You can pile it in mounds on your fork (which is always a plus in my - greedy - book), each individual grain held together by a flavoursome sauce. It's great both hot or cold, as a risotto-like meal or in a salad instead of something like couscous or lentils. Perhaps the only problem is that it slips down a little too easily...and before you know it, you've eaten an entire ice-cream tub full of the stuff for lunch. Oops.
A word of warning - if you do eat an entire ice-cream tub full of the stuff for lunch, a headache and the onset of intense stupor is fairly inevitable.
This recipe is from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day, which I bought recently after seeing an amazing-looking recipe for baked oatmeal from the book on another food blog. I haven't had much chance to experiment with it yet, but the three recipes I have tried (this one, a plum cake, and a really great dish of pomegranate-glazed aubergine and butternut squash with feta and coriander) have been so astoundingly delicious that I think the future holds exciting things.
It's easy to read through some of the recipes, though, and be unable to imagine how they'll taste. Rather like with an Ottolenghi recipe; there are some odd combinations that don't instantly make you think "YUM". Unlike, for example, cheese and bacon, or lamb and apricot, or mushrooms and butter. I read through this recipe and wasn't entirely convinced, but then I figured that adding toasted pine nuts, lots of parmesan, lemon, garlic, salt and avocado to a dish couldn't be a bad thing. Individually, the components sounded good.
Combined, the result was incredible. Essentially, it's a pesto made by putting partially-cooked broccoli, garlic, toasted pine nuts, parmesan and lemon juice in a blender. When I first tasted the result, I actually went "yum" out loud. (Which doesn't often happen, when I'm on my own. Then again I am drinking a lot more wine while cooking these days...)
I then ate a few more spoonfuls, for testing purposes. It has all the addictive deliciousness of pesto, from the pine nuts, parmesan and garlic, but a lovely depth of flavour from the broccoli, a flavour somehow richer and less overpowering than basil. You stir the pesto into the slippery grains of orzo, add some whole broccoli florets, a chopped avocado, some lemon zest, and eat. The avocado is an inspired suggestion - it lends the whole dish a wonderful creaminess. Heidi puts creme fraiche in her recipe, but I didn't bother stirring any into mine - the broccoli purée and the avocado contribute more than enough richness.
If you can't locate orzo, try making this with any pasta. It's an unusual and inspired combination of ingredients, and possibly on the cards to become your new favourite pasta dish. It's also full of all sorts of healthy things, like avocado and broccoli. The vibrant green colour alone is enough to make you feel more alive.
Orzo with broccoli pesto and avocado (serves 4):
(Adapted from 'Super Natural Every Day', by Heidi Swanson)
- 350g orzo pasta
- Salt, for the water
- 2 heads of broccoli, cut into small florets and stalk cut into thin slices
- 5 tbsp toasted pine nuts
- 2 tbsp garlic-infused olive oil
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 4-6 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to serve
- 2 avocadoes, flesh roughly diced
- Zest of a lemon
Bring a large pan of water to the boil, and add a generous amount of salt. Cook the broccoli for 3 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon. Add the orzo to the pan and cook according to the packet instructions (about 13 minutes).
Meanwhile, put all the cooked broccoli stalk and most of the florets into a blender with all but 1 tbsp of the pine nuts, the lemon juice, salt, garlic oil and Parmesan. Blitz to a purée, adding a little water to loosen the mixture if it needs it. Taste to check the seasoning - you might want more cheese, lemon juice, garlic or salt; it's really a matter of personal taste. It should taste rather like basil pesto.
When the pasta is cooked, drain, reserving a little of the cooking water (about 4 tbsp). Add the broccoli pesto to the pasta in the pan and mix together, adding a little of the cooking water to loosen it up if it needs it. Stir in the avocado and lemon zest.
To serve, pile the pasta onto a plate and top with a few remaining broccoli florets and the remaining pine nuts. Grate over a little more Parmesan, and serve.
1. This beautiful teapot from ProCook. It's made of glass with a little stainless steel mesh basket inside for the tea, and a polished steel lid. The idea is that you can let your tea brew to your preferred strength just by looking at it - it's always hard to tell in a china teapot how strong it is. This little pot probably holds enough tea for two people. It's small but perfectly formed, a simple design but one that looks rather stylish on the table. You can buy it here for £12, or there's a brushed steel version if you're not sure about glass and tea. I personally don't go in for those fancy tea glasses you can buy. To me, tea should be taken in a cup or a mug. It's not juice. However, I'm perfectly willing to accept a glass teapot when it's as pretty as this one.
2. A wonderful barbecue chicken marinade adapted from delicious magazine. Take 8-10 free-range boneless skinless chicken thighs, and marinate for up to 12 hours in: 300ml yoghurt, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, 4 crushed garlic cloves, 5cm piece grated ginger, zest and juice of 1 lime, half a red chilli finely chopped, 2 tbsp ground almonds, and a finely chopped bunch of coriander. Barbecue or grill for around 40 minutes until cooked all the way through (I did mine for about 20 minutes on the barbecue and finished off in an oven at 180C for about 20 minutes).
Last night we had our first, and last, barbecue of the year in my house. My family don’t really do barbecues. Even in the days where we did, the process from start to finish, from taking the barbecue out of the shed to wiping the last smear of charcoal-encrusted sausage skin from our chins, would take approximately four hours, and only about five per cent of the cooking would actually take place on the barbecue, the rest relying on the trusty oven to banish all those nasty food poisoning bugs. However, given that we have been blessed with this much-lauded 'Indian summer', I figured it was time to seize the day and see off summer in style before the grey, drizzle and general feeling of dismay set in. I made the above marinade for the chicken, found some beefburgers in the freezer, and grilled some corn on the cob and aubergine slices which I drizzled with tahini yoghurt and scattered with pomegranate seeds. The highlight was the chicken, though.
I normally think marinades are a bit of a disappointing con, that they rarely add much flavour and just tend to evaporate away during cooking. You dutifully put your meat in its marinade early on in the morning, or late at night, and spend the next twelve or so hours anticipating the flavoursome delights of your marinaded meal, only to find that you needn't have bothered, really - there's perhaps a slight hint of garlic and lemon, but you'd have been better off adding the garlic and lemon to the cooked meat. Not so with this marinade - it was utterly divine. There was a lovely tang from the lime, a mellow creaminess from the yoghurt, and a delicious hint of the exotic from the cumin. It reminded me a bit of tandoori chicken, only all the better for having a delightful barbecued exterior.
Admittedly, it's a bit late to be telling you about this now as barbecue season is likely to be over, but save it for next summer. Or just brave the weather/use a grill.
3. Local apples. We've all been there, standing in the fruit aisle at the supermarket, surveying the vast choice of apples in front of us. Braeburn, cox, granny smith, royal gala, golden delicious, jazz. We briefly consider, in a fit of patriotism, the home-grown coxes. We toy with the idea of the British braeburns. And then what do we do? We reach for the expensive bag of foreign, imported Pink Lady apples, because we know they're always going to taste nice - there's no risk of getting a horrible floury texture as can be the case with our own country's offerings. I'm guilty of it too, at times - there's nothing worse than a mushy apple.
However, I've been inspired by all the different varieties appearing at the market stall as summer turns into autumn. First there were the crisp, pink-fleshed Discovery apples. Next the Coxes with their delightful citrus tang. Now there are the Russets, whose flavour is hard to describe - more mellow than some of the tarter varieties, with a lovely crisp texture and beautiful golden skin. Not only are they tasty, they're also incredibly cheap, and come in all shapes and sizes; a far cry from the polished, picture-perfect supermarket specimens. Goodness knows how many were thrown out as 'imperfect'. If you have access to some local apples, I'd suggest you try them - you might be pleasantly surprised. It doesn't hurt to break out of the Pink Lady rut every now and again (and it'll save you money).
4. Orzo pasta. One of those ingredients I've read about and been intrigued by, but have never been able to track down. Clearly I was just being blind, because I found it in Waitrose. It's rice-shaped pasta, ideal for a quicker version of risotto, or for salads. I first ate it in my favourite restaurant in Oxford - Moya - which serves Eastern European cuisine. They have a brilliant salad on the menu with prawns, orzo, and dried cherries. It sounds odd but it's really delicious, with a lovely vinaigrette dressing that holds the whole thing together. I've made a delicious salad with the orzo that I'll be sharing at a later date.
Maybe this book does do exactly what it says on the tin, I thought - turns Asian food into something you can easily enjoy every day. No completely wacky and unsourcable ingredients, no strenuous preparation methods, just brilliant, bold, vibrant flavours. The book was a bargain on Amazon, so I couldn't resist. I'd urge you to buy it just for the absolutely stunning photography, though the recipes themselves are mouthwateringly delicious - I went through and stuck bits of paper in all the 'must-try' dishes, and ended up bookmarking nearly everything. I can't wait to try the rare beef noodle soup with star anise, or the stir-fried butternut squash, or the lemongrass chicken, to name but a few.
I've no idea where the idea for this recipe came from. I was on the train, and it literally popped into my head. I feel this is a good sign: J.K. Rowling said the inspiration for the Harry Potter series popped into her head in the same way, also while she was on a train, so I must be on the right track for future fame and culinary stardom. Right?
I won't claim that pairing smoked fish with eggs is a culinary revelation, because it isn't, but I am quite proud of the flavours in this ravioli. For the fish filling, I mixed flaked smoked fish (Vietnamese river cobbler, because it was on offer in the supermarket, but you could also use haddock) poached in milk with ricotta cheese, grated parmesan, salt, pepper, chives, a few fresh thyme leaves, and some grated nutmeg. The parmesan is great for accentuating the smoky, savoury richness of the fish, while the ricotta lightens it as well as binding it all together. Some lemon thyme would be excellent, but I only had normal thyme, which works too; its fragrance cuts through the richness of the filling.
The tricky part involved the quail eggs. I'm not brilliant at poaching eggs - they turn into watery ghosts more often than not - and seeing as quail eggs are so tiny I was sure I'd fail miserably. Actually, they came out perfectly, which pleased me immensely. I just added a little vinegar to simmering water, dropped them in (cracking them is not as easy as a hen's egg - you end up having to pierce the membrane under the shell with your nail), and removed them about 30 seconds later with a slotted spoon. I left them to drain on kitchen paper before placing them atop a spoonful of fish mixture on a square of pasta. It was a bit fiddly, but went much better than expected. I was worried they'd break when I tried to seal the pasta around them, but had no problems.
Unfortunately, seeing as quail eggs are so small, in order to poach them enough to be able to handle them, you have to almost cook them completely. This means that by the time the ravioli has cooked in its boiling water, the egg will be hard rather than soft boiled. I'm not sure how Raymond managed to get his to ooze luscious yolk all over the plate, and I'm a bit jealous, but to me it didn't matter that much. You still have the wow factor of cutting into each raviolo to reveal a beautiful little egg yolk, and the combination of crumbly, creamy yolk with the smoky fish filling is wonderful.
I deliberated for a while about what to serve these with, and in the end chose spinach - another classic partner for smoked fish and eggs. I found some leeks in the fridge, so decided to use those too. I just sauteed them in a little olive oil until soft and wilting, and then stirred in some seasoning, a squeeze of lemon juice, and some creme fraiche. The latter helped bring the whole mixture together to form a gorgeous, creamy green sauce. I piled it onto plates and arranged the ravioli over the top.
Smoked fish and quail egg ravioli (serves 2):
140g plain flour
1 whole egg and 1 yolk
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
150g ricotta cheese
1 fillet (about 200-300g) smoked fish
Salt and pepper
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
3 tbsp grated parmesan
A few lemon thyme or normal thyme leaves
2 tbsp finely chopped chives
12 quail eggs
1 tsp white wine vinegar
Squeeze of lemon juice
2 leeks, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
300g spinach leaves
3 tbsp creme fraiche
First, make the pasta dough. Combine the flour, egg and egg yolk, olive oil and salt in a food processor and then knead to a firm and not sticky dough. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for up to an hour.
To make the fish filling, poach the fish in the milk until cooked. Flake into a bowl, then add the ricotta, seasoning, nutmeg, lemon, parmesan, thyme, and chives. Mix together until you have a paste.
Poach the quail eggs in simmering water to which you have added the vinegar. Cook them for just long enough that you can remove them from the water with a slotted spoon. Leave to dry on kitchen paper.
Roll out the pasta using a pasta machine, and cut into evenly sized squares. Place a teaspoon of fish mixture in the centre of each square, then place a quail egg on top. Brush around the filling with water, then place another square over it. Be careful to push out any air when sealing the ravioli together.
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil.
Now make the greens. Saute the leeks and spinach in the olive oil until the leeks are soft and the spinach has wilted. Stir in the creme fraiche, seasoning, and a touch of lemon juice. Keep warm while you cook the ravioli by putting them in the boiling water for 2-3 minutes.
To serve, pile the creamy greens into bowls and top with the cooked ravioli. Garnish with more grated nutmeg and parmesan, and a sprig of thyme.
All you really need to complete the dish is a drizzle of truffle oil (elevates the whole thing to a level of deliciousness that is rather astounding), a scattering of crumbled walnuts, and a grating of parmesan. The combination of crunchy, crispy, doughy, earthy, salty and citrus results in a really wonderful dish.
Possibly the easiest pasta dish in the world that involves some modicum of preparation (I don't count things like stirring a jar of pesto into cooked pasta). It is also profoundly delicious, and this I think is largely due to the lovely Yorkshire sausages I used - get good quality ones for this. Italian sausages would be more authentic, so if you can find some nice ones use those. Take about 500g of sausages, take the meat out of the skins and crumble into a hot, non-stick pan. Fry, stirring and breaking up the meat, for a few minutes, adding a teaspoon or so of fennel seeds (or more if you love fennel seeds, which I do). Then add 2-3 crushed garlic cloves and fry for a couple more minutes. Add a generous glug of red or white wine (white is probably more summery), a can of chopped tomatoes, a tablespoon of tomato puree and some chopped rosemary or thyme. Or any herb, really - oregano might be nice too. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until you have a lovely thick sauce (you might need to add some of the drained pasta water to loosen it a bit and ensure it coats the pasta). Stir through hot pasta - I used pappardelle for this, but any pasta would work really. It would also make a lovely filling for soft pillows of ravioli, but I had no time. Sprinkle with grated parmesan, black pepper, and torn basil/oregano leaves. Delicious.
So I found two willing victims on whom to experiment with my pasta ideas. I made ravioli filled with spinach and bacon and served with a creamy (a word I hate, but it had cream it in, so there isn't really an alternative word) blue cheese and walnut sauce. It was superb...but incredibly filling and I now feel slightly queasy. Still, YUM.
It was fairly easy really...fry little pieces of bacon till crispy, add an entire bag of spinach (which cooked down to literally about three spoons of filling...absurd) and leave to wilt, and then cool a bit. Meanwhile, roll out the pasta into strips, put the filling in, put another sheet of pasta over the top, trim and seal...it sounds so easy, but I totally failed the first time I attempted this a couple of weeks ago. I realise now it was because I rolled the pasta too thinly and it just stuck to the surface and wouldn't move when I tried to lift it off. These happy images are something I have long watched on Masterchef and strived for:
Perfect. So to make the sauce I literally just put some creme fraiche and some Dolcelatte into a pan and melted it, and added loads of nutmeg. Because I love nutmeg. Fortunately I think it's only vastly excessive (sort of...truckload) quantities of nutmeg that can make you hallucinate, otherwise my morning porridge would probably have a fairly trippy effect on me. And black pepper. This went on the pasta, some nice pecorino grated over the top, and a sprinkling of walnuts that I bashed in a pestle and mortar. Very satisfying. The whole thing tasted truly delicious - the only thing I would change is I'd squeeze out the spinach before putting it in the ravioli, as it went a bit watery inside. But still - blue cheese, walnuts, bacon, spinach - can't really go wrong with that combination. YUM.
For dessert we had a Nigella recipe that I've wanted to try for a couple of weeks: poached apricots stuffed with creme fraiche (a bit of a creme fraiche heavy meal, it seems - which my housemate commented was "no bad thing"). Dried apricots, soaked overnight in water, the water then boiled with sugar, cardamom seeds and lemon juice to make a syrup, which was poured over the apricots and they were baked in the oven at 130C for an hour or so. After chilling, I then cut them open, stuffed with a bit of creme fraiche, and sprinkled some crushed pistachios (I have only just discovered how much I love pistachios and am fighting the urge to eat the rest of the bag) over the top, along with a bit of the poaching syrup. Delicious. Nigella comments that you can also use yoghurt instead of creme fraiche...however, given my aversion to yoghurt I will not be trying this. Even creme fraiche was pushing it a bit - I hate cold creamy things. It was lovely though. I reckon stuffing them with vanilla ice cream would work too...but I'm sure the Turks would consider this sacrilegious (it's a Turkish recipe).
And they look beautiful, too.