Pasta with ricotta cream and purple sprouting broccoli

October is a strange month. The vivid, bright colours of summer seem to fade like an old picture, memories of warmth and drinks in the park melting away like the last gelato of the season. Under relentless rain and rare sunny days, we forget the feeling of stepping into clear water, of sand in the sheets, of walking barefoot. Drinking ice-cold lemonade on a balcony is a memory that seems to belong to someone else.

I wake up to a sepia-coloured world, the sky heavy, taking on all sort of shades of grey, from icy blue to muddy hues. I walk on a bed of crisp fallen leaves, the trees start to look bare, and my trench coat feels a little thin. I wear the first prickly jumper, drink copious amounts of tea, dramatically sigh before I have to leave my flat and, with it, my pyjamas.

Salad quickly loses its appeal and I turn every vegetable into soup, denying it any pretence of texture, blending everything into one warm liquor to warm up my body and my spirit.

But also, I buy vegetables, look for colour in the bright hues of peppers, muse over the shapes of aubergines, caramelise Brussels sprouts, briefly forget that butter is sadly not a vegetable. I find comfort in the brown paper bags that get soaked under the heavily scented autumn rain, which smells of wood and trees and melancholy. I make myself a pasta and eat it nestled in a cushion fort, watching the new TV shows that autumn has gifted me (best part about autumn, hands down).

img_5891

I can’t remember where I first saw a recipe for ricotta cream but it’s a genius idea: blending ricotta cheese with a little vegetable broth until it reaches the consistency of double cream, but it’s much lighter, a little tangier, more subtle. With it, sautéed purple spouting broccoli which sadly lose their beautiful colour when you cook them, but are hearty and delicious.

Pasta with ricotta cream and purple sprouting broccoli

 img_5907

Serves 2 (greedy people)

250 g ricotta
Some garlic, pepper, salt, chilli flakes
A little warm vegetable broth or warm water
Purple sprouting broccoli (or normal broccoli, cut in florets)
200 g pasta (I used penne)

  • Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and cook your past as per the packet instructions.
  • Heat up some olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat and fry the crushed garlic until soft and golden, then toss the broccoli until they are cooked all the way through and the stalks are soft. If needed, you could add a little broth or water to prevent the broccoli from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  • In a bowl, slowly add a couple of tablespoon of broth (or water) to the ricotta, until it looks a little like double cream. Add the cream to the broccoli and remove from the heat.
  • When the pasta is ready, drain and toss with the creamy sauce until thoroughly mixed.
Advertisements

Pane frattau, of sorts

Raise your hand if you find recipes daunting. Yep, me too.

I mean, when it comes to baking, recipes are my bible. I cling to every word, obey even the most menial of instructions, weigh ingredients obsessively, time the exact number of seconds needed to whisk eggs and sugar. Baking is like cooking blind – you have no idea what the dish will actually become. You have runny, sticky dough and have to pray that it will turn into a dense pancake or fluffy bread.

But cooking, man, I don’t know. I can’t follow recipes. I stray. While I take comfort in religiously obeying my cake recipes, cooking ones always seem so… long. Just too long. It may be the never-ending lists of ingredients, the confusing measurements (a quarter of a ginger root, chopped. Three whispers of crushed garlic), or maybe just the fact that I can see and taste the food transforming in front of my eyes, which gives me false sense of control. I don’t know.

So while I observe the wonderfully shot, polished recipes of Lady and and Pups, frowning at a list of ingredients that I wouldn’t even know where to find, wondering if I do have time to marinate my chicken for six hours while the bread is proofing and I knead my hand smashed noodles – also do I need an ice cream bucket in my life? – I just want to make something that involves a few ingredients and a few steps. I’ll just bookmark that turmeric butter chicken recipe and never click on it again.

So this is a take on Pane Frattau, a Sardinian dish which I first tried in a little cafe in Ealing (figures). It’s layers of Carasau bread, softened, with tomato sauce and a poached egg. Well, in my case, fried, because I don’t understand how anyone could choose poached over fried. It’s beautifully simple, if a little lazy, but somehow the bright passata and the sticky egg old on soft, chewy bread just make for a perfect meal.

I know, I speak about obscure ingredients and then I make something with Carasau bread? I know, I know. But you can find this moreish, thin crispy bread in any M&S and some larger supermarkets.

Pane Frattau

IMG_5886

Ingredients (serves 2):

3 or 4 leaves of pane carasau

a little hot water

half a bottle of good tomato passata

2 eggs

olive oil

some grated pecorino cheese

 

Pour some hot water onto each leaf of bread and let it soak for a a coupe of minutes, until soft. Move to a skillet or any oven-safe tray, spoon over some tomato passata, add a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Crack the eggs into the dish and bake in the over at 180° for 10-15 minutes, until the eggs are done. Sprinkle with pecorino and, if you have spare burrata, throw that in there too (why not?). Burrata makes everything better.

 

IMG_5889

 

 

 

 

Caprese on toast

As I write this, it’s hailing in London. Hailing in April.

I want a holiday. I need a holiday. I just need to be somewhere else for a bit, sand burning my feet and sea water between my fingers, or a little wooden cabin with a view of barren, pointy mountains, it doesn’t really matter. Things always seem so simple on holiday, as if life, stripped of all its mundain aspects – the cleaning, the shopping, the commute to work- shone it all its book-reading, epiphany-laden true glory. A holiday is as close as I get to understanding the true meaning of life.

So I make myself something that reminds me of home, of warmth, of the aromatic smell of rosemary and sage. When you live 900 miles away from the place you grew up in, you do silly things like overpaying for the brand of ricotta your mum buys, even if you can’t really tell the difference. You start craving things you never even knew you liked that much, like a specific brand of breakfast cookies that was always, always in your cupboard.

There are a few things I make myself when I miss home: pasta with cherry tomatoes, with lashings of olive oil and basil, sweet and tart and happy like a warm summer evening. And my mum’s pasta with tuna, made with the canned sort, speckled with chopped parsley; or a fiery, warming arrabbiata sauce.

IMG_5861

But sometimes, I crave something that I never even really understood in the first place: a caprese salad. Often eaten at the seaside, when normal people seem to think it’s too hot to eat hot food (not me – happy to have lasagne in 40°-degree Rome), it also features in laminated menus of tourist-trap restaurants: perfect rounds of white, dry, bland mozzarella; equally perfect rounds of watery tomatoes, big basil leaves.

My version is served on toast, good toast, sourdough from Bread Ahead – but frankly, you could put this on any form or shape of crusty bread. It’s thin slices of ripe, colourful tomatoes, maldon salt and pepper, amber-coloured olive oil and half a burrata. Because, I mean, why buy mozzarella when you can have its creamy, velvety cousin? I thought so.

IMG_5869

Caprese on toast (serves two)

IMG_5883

a couple of ripe tomatoes

some burrata or, failing that, mozzarella

two slices of crusty bread

olive oil, salt, pepper

Slice the tomatoes thinly, arrange on the bread and place some burrata on top. You could also use the creamy burrata as the first layer of this open face sandwich. Add some olive oil, salt and pepper.

IMG_5885

Marmite Toast. No, really.

I’m perched on the sofa and Alex is cooking. He’s an ambitious cook, Alex; he will never whip up something quick and easy – if he wants to cook, then he will make the most complicated stew from scratch and spend hours pottering in the kitchen, the radio on, incredibly focused on endless tasks, piles of empty bowls and carrot peel.

As I write this, he feeds me thin slices of mature cheddar. The supermarket stuff, of the perfectly square sort that comes in a packet. He’s making a lentil pie and I hear the comforting sound of the gas hob, the quiet flame, the pots bubbling. The kitchen smells of soffritto, celery and bay leaves. The room is warm, filled with dense cooking vapour. Outside, it’s still winter – winter always seems to last forever.

When he leaves the room, I quietly go by the pan and steal a spoonful of lentils – even though they’re not quite cooked all the way through yet, still a little crunchy and floury, a good half hour away from becoming a silken mash. I always used to do this with my mum’s sauces, I would tear a piece of bread from a loaf and dunk it in the bubbly sauce, and then my mum would wonder why she had made so little. ‘The tomatoes must have been very watery, the sauce shrunk a lot’.

I bought some baguette from the Japanese bakery earlier. I went in for a couple of pretty, polished custard buns – their surface shiny, a faint eggy smell – but the lady begged me to take a baguette as well, someone had cancelled their order. It’s beautiful, a thick crust, a geometrical pattern on the back. I decide to make toast.

afterlight

There are a lot of things I used to despise as a kid and love now – anything in vinegar, anchovies, capers. But I was already in my twenties when I tried Marmite for the first time, and for years I would go on and on to anyone who would listen about how I thought Marmite was gross and inedible and I didn’t understand it.

Marmite is a strange, thick spread, dark as charcoal, with its aggressive smell and taste that divides couples and families and friends. Its unapologetic sincerity is even in the slogan: you may love it, you may gag (I’m paraphrasing).

And yet a few weeks ago, for some reason, I just felt compelled to try it again. And I loved it. I genuinely loved it. I suddenly understood it, I appreciated its saltiness, the yeast, the savouriness.

It was like when you a see a modern painting and it doesn’t speak to you and then someone explains the story, the painter’s intentions, their life,  their pain, and suddenly you see it all on the canvas, in the brushes and curves and splatters of colour – you just get it.

They say it’s an acquired taste. I like the notion of an acquired taste. I’m not sure it’s scientific but I do hope it’s true. I hope that when you try or read or see something a certain number of times, you can learn to appreciate it, to love it. Because if you can train yourself to love everything, then surely it will make life easier?

Alex is still in the middle of the action, I hear cutlery clanking and rattling. I cut a thick slice of baguette, toast it ever so slightly, the edges burning much faster than the soft centre. I smear an indecent amount of butter on it, so much that when it starts melting it treacles down the sides, and then a little marmite, dark and gloopy, salty and yeasty, like unfiltered beer, mixing with the milky sweetness of butter. I eat the toast still enveloped in the artificial warmth of the kitchen. The oven is now on.

Once you start liking Marmite, there’s no going back.

No-churn matcha latte ice cream

 

As I write this, it’s an impossibly beautiful, crisp, bone-cold winter day outside. The sun, low on the horizon, fills the quiet suburban street with deceivingly golden light which masks the bitterly cold temperature.

It’s glove weather. Scarf weather. Soup and takeaway bright orange curry weather. And here I come, with an ice cream recipe.

But do people’s cravings for ice cream really depend on the temperature? Aren’t its creaminess, the tongue numbing coldness, the syrupy toppings best enjoyed in winter, in a room so warm that the windows steam up, perched at the edge of the sofa while nursing a stew or getting lost in a book or simply watching re-runs of Friends?

You may disagree. That’s fine. Just serve this alongside some warm chocolate cake. You’ll thank me later.

Let’s talk about the magic word. No, it’s probably not what you’re thinking. It’s ‘no-churn‘.

thumb_IMG_5724_1024

If you love cooking and food and are as lazy as I am, you’ll know that little spark of excitement you get when you see this word printed on a magazine, or perfectly enunciated by Nigella Lawson.

Yes, Nigella is back. Her kitchen looks a little different and she does too, but everything she makes is still quintessentially her, the soft focus close shots of her snow white skin and dark hair, the perfectly spoken alliterations in her recipes, the leftovers secretly eaten from the fridge at night.

Her recipes have lost a little bit of indulgence -less bacon and lard, more avocado and protein-packed oat bars – but she’s still there, under a surface of green food.

And speaking of green foods, this recipe makes the most perfect, impossibly green matcha ice cream. It’s a quintessentially Nigella recipe: surprisingly simple, indulgent, and utterly delicious. The aromatic, slightly bitter note of tea goes perfectly with the dense, thick, sugary creaminess of condensed milk, and it tastes exactly like a matcha latte – hence the name.

matcha

The recipe is so easy you’ll want to tell everyone: a can of condensed milk, some double cream, green tea powder. And that’s it. What you get is spookingly similar to proper ice cream, minus all the effort, and it’s opened a world of possibilities. Could I make this with instant coffee powder? What about normal tea? Can I basically turn every powder into luscious ice cream? Stay tuned.

I buy my matcha powder from Amazon – cooking grade is cheaper and will do just fine. I tweaked Nigella’s recipes a little as I found hers too sweet – however this may depend on the intensity of your green tea, so I would probably start with two tablespoons of powder and then add according to you taste. You could also try and add sesame seeds before freezing – I used mine as a topping, their subtle roasted nuttiness is a perfect match to the creamy sweetness of frozen condensed milk.

 

No-churn matcha latte ice cream

One can of condensed milk (150 ml)

300ml double cream

4 tablespoons matcha powder

Put the condensed milk in a bowl, and stir to loosen. Add the cream and whisk until it begins to thicken. Whisk in the green tea powder until you have a thick whipped green cream.

Decant into an airtight container and freeze overnight. Before serving, top with sesame seeds.

You could serve this alongside a dark chocolate cake, but for me it’s best enjoyed on its own, in a sturdy bowl, a secret childish pleasure in spooning up creamy, dense and sugary ice cream, speckled with dark sesame seeds. As well as the sesame seeds, you could grate or even melt some very dark chocolate on top.

Original recipe: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-3235621/Simply-Nigella-No-churn-matcha-ice-cream.html#ixzz3s7yaCBH9

 

Cold roasted peppers

You may not know this yet, but this is just the recipe you were looking for. Because I bet you’ve always wanted to try a simple side that takes three hours to make, during which you have to patiently stay within a 2-meter-radius of the oven. I bet you’ve always thought ‘oh, that recipe sounds nice, but I wish it involved a 70% chance of burning myself’.

So yes, this recipe is one which feels slightly ridiculous to even jolt down and that could be condensed into one snappy line: roast some peppers. That’s it. Yet it involves complicated techniques to avoid grilling yourself, knee-length oven mitts, hours of waiting. And what you get is a side dish. A side. Not a juicy main oozing sauce, no complex flavours, no fragrant mixes of spices. This is as simple and is linear as it gets.

peperoni

Then why make them? Because they’re worth it, that’s why. My mum has been making these since the beginning of time (well, of my time, anyway), jewel-hued fillets of ripe peppers, bursting with flavours, the slight kick of garlic, the bright red colours in a sea of golden olive oil. This dish is what lead her to brag about the fact that her daughter ‘loved vegetables, even peppers’ (roasted into submission, doused with olive oil and on warm bread, that is).

I believe raw peppers are an epidemic of our time, their sour bitterness spoiling just about everything in the salad aisle, ruining delicate cous cous, taking over sweet tomatoes, overpowering the freshest lamb lettuce, leaving an aftertaste that will stay with you long after the spinach is gone from between your teeth.

But when you roast them, something utterly magical happens. They become soft, juicy, sweet, bordering on caramelised, fresh and deeply satisfying at the same time. They become the perfect side to just about everything, amazing on toast, sandwiched between two slices of crusty bread, served with some white rice, used to make a pasta salad, or just eaten straight from the fridge, so cold they hurt your teeth, the olive oil dripping onto the floor, slurped back like herrings in Holland.

Cold roasted peppers

(serves about 4 people)

four or five red peppers (always, always choose red, they have much more pulp)

olive oil

a couple of garlic cloves

some fresh parsley

Set your oven to 200°, place the peppers onto baking paper in a tray and let them roast for as long as it takes, turning them every so often. They should charred, which means, well, their skin should start to turn black. They will release a lot of juice and will be very soft when they are ready.

Once ready, take them out of the oven and place them in a paper or plastic bag, closed, for an hour, and try not to forget about them. But it’s fine if you do. They’ll wait for you.

When they’re cold, peeling them should be easy, the skin will be peeling off like a dream. Remove the seeds and slice the pepper to create beautiful fillets.

Place in a tray, cover with good quality olive oil, a couple of cloves of garlic, a little chopped parsley and cover. let the flavours mingle in the fridge for at least an hour, and serve with and on everything.

Once you try them, you’ll get why that grill-shaped burn on your forearm was absolutely worth it.

 

My lazy kitchen: Croque monsieur bake

When it comes to cooking, I tend to be pretty lazy. Maybe not pierce-the-film lazy, but if I’m attempting a really complicated recipe with lots of steps and pots bubbling on the stove at the same time, chances are I will give up and just have some toast instead.

Don’t get me wrong, making something from scratch is a beautiful, beautiful thing. I’ve made bread before and once it was ready I almost considered taking a picture to keep in my wallet. It’s satisfying and humbling. At the same time, it takes hours – and my arms were still sore a week later.

There is a beauty to lazy cooking, too. It’s a little sloppy but simple in a wondeful way. I love roughly chopping vegetables and dicing beef and just abandoning them in a slow-cooker, drowned in glossy stock and red wine, only to come back at the end of the day to the perfect stew. Lazy dishes aren’t always quick – they are about minimal effort and tasty, satisfying results.

This Croque Monsieur bake is inspired by this Nigella recipe, although I tweaked it quite a bit. It’s basically a savoury bread and butter pudding with cheese and ham and everything nice. It’s super easy to make and perfect for brunch or lazy Sundays – the sort of thing where you simply lug the dish to the bed and eat it absent-mindedly while making plans for the day.

I used different cheese to Nigella – Gouda for the sandwiches and Roman Pecorino to grate on top. Pecorino is sharp and instense and lovely and it cuts through the buttery, nutty Gouda wonderfully, but this would be nice with mature cheddar or gruyere. I also used Henderson’s sauce instead of Worcestershire –  a good option if you want to skip the ham out and make this a vegetarian dish. Henderson’s pretty hard to find if you don’t live in Yorkishire, but hey, Amazon is your friend.

Croque Monsieur Bake

Croque Monsieur Bake

Ingredients:

  • slices ready-sliced brown bread
  • dijon mustard, to taste
  • slices Gouda cheese
  • slices smoked ham
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon maldon salt (or ½ teaspoon table salt)
  • 80 ml full fat milk
  • 4 tablespoons grated Pecorino cheese
  • sprinkling of Henderson’s sauce

Spread each slice of bread with mustard, then make a sandwich with one slice of ham and two slices of cheese. Cut each sandwich in two triangles and nestle them into an ovenproof dish.

Beat together the eggs, salt and milk and then pour the creamy mix over the sandwiches.

Cover the dish with clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight.

The following morning, preheat the oven to 200°C. Take the dish out of the fridge, remove the clingfilm, add Henderson’s sauce and grated cheese and bake in the oven for 25 minutes.

Once it’s all golden, crispy and gooey, eat. Lovely with a cup of strong tea.

(I think this would work wonderfully as Croque Madame, too; just fry an egg and place it on top of the sandwiches before serving).