Roasted vegetable pasta sauce

IMG_4959With only 3 weeks until our baby is due I am busy batch cooking for the freezer. Most meals that we have had lately have been doubled or tripled to allow extra to be frozen for those first few weeks with a newborn. At last count we have around 25 meals for two in there, so all one of us will have to do is defrost and reheat one and cook some carbs such as pasta or rice to serve alongside it. We have sausage and fennel seed ragu, lamb meatballs, Bolognese, chilli con carne and beef casserole amongst other meals.

I was contacted by Thomson’s Al Fresco to see if I would be interested in coming up with an Italian, Spanish or French recipe using ingredients from a hamper they would supply filled with foods from one of these countries. No surprises that I chose the Italian hamper. The hamper contained 5 different types of pasta, a jar of tomato pasta sauce, a jar of wild boar ragu, a tube of tomato puree and a bottles of balsamic vinegar. Initially I was not that inspired by the contents of the hamper although clearly I knew I would have to make a pasta dish. With all the red meat based meals in the freezer, I decided to make a big batch of pasta sauce that was red meat free. This recipe is very straight forward and made enough for 8 people. The type and quantities of vegetables can also easily be adapted to your choice as well. For instance I’m not a big fan of courgette so I kept the amount of that low but you could add more if you wanted.

Roasted vegetable pasta sauce

3 peppers, deseeded and roughly diced
2 large aubergines, roughly diced
1 medium courgette, roughly diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed or finely diced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
3 tbsp dried oregano
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp tomato puree
500g passata
Dried pasta

  • Pre-heat the oven to 200C (180 fan). Put the peppers, aubergine, courgette, garlic and oregano in a roasting tin and drizzle over some olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and stir well to combine, adding more olive oil if necessary to ensure all the vegetables are covered.
  • Roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until the vegetables are softened and beginning to brown.
  • Meanwhile slowly cook the red onion slices in olive oil over a low heat until softened (approximately 15 minutes), stirring occasionally. Add the balsamic vinegar and continue to cook for a further 5-10 minutes. Add the tomato puree and cook it out for a couple of minutes before adding the onions/tomato puree and passata to the roasted vegetables. Return the tray to the oven for 15- 20 minutes, stirring once. Mean while cook the pasta until al dente. Serve the pasta and sauce with a grating of parmesan over the top.

Smoked aubergine & olive strudel

When the new pieminister cookbook landed on my door mat my husband thought he was in heaven. A cookbook full of pies! When I said I was making the smoked aubergine and olive strudel however he was somewhat disappointed. Now he isn’t one of these men who thinks a meal isn’t complete without meat, we eat plenty of fish or vegetable based meals (& often at his request) but somehow a pie without meat was unthinkable. So I knew this recipe had to be good.

We have an electric hob/oven so unfortunately charring the aubergine to get the smoked flavour was not an option. Other than that I found this recipe straight forward to cook. It took me a little longer than I expected (but I think I tend to underestimate how long each step takes). All the same I enjoyed cooking this pie as much as I enjoyed eating it.

Thankfully this dish was delicious and even my husband was won over (although he still looks longingly at the meat pies in the cookbook). Its full of flavour and if you have a gas burner to char your aubergine on I imagine it will be even better. Continue reading

Ottolenghi’s sweetcorn polenta

I saw this recipe on this years Masterchef. It really stuck in my head but it wasn’t until getting back from Italy a few weeks back that I searched out the recipe. We ate so much delicious meat out there (in particular delicious wild boar ragus and the best proscuitto I’ve eaten) that towards the end of our holiday we started to crave fish and vegetarian food. This was one of the first dishes I cooked on our return to the UK. It didn’t disappoint, a truly delicious vegetarian dish as we have come to expect from Ottolenghi. I adapted the recipe to use frozen corn as we couldn’t find any fresh. It was delicious anyway, definitely one to make again. Oh and the polenta is feta and sweetcorn blended in to a ‘polenta’. Much nicer than ordinary polenta which I am not a fan of. Such a delicious balance of salty (feta) and sweet (the corn). You can find he original recipe here. Below is my adapted sweetcorn polenta recipe. I haven’t included the recipe for the aubergine sauce served with it as it is exactly as described by Ottolengi in his original recipe.

Sweetcorn polenta

Serves 2

400g frozen sweetcorn


10g butter

100g feta, crumbled

Pinch of salt

freshly ground black pepper

  • Place the sweetcorn in a small saucepan and add just enough water to cover it.
  • Add half the butter and simmer over a low heat for 5 minutes or until the corn is cooked.
  • Use a slotted spoon to transfer the sweetcorn to a food processor. Blitz for a few minutes to break up the kernels as much as possible. If the mixture seems too dry add some of the cooking water.
  • Return the corn paste to the saucepan (now drained of the remaining cooking water).
  • Cook (stirring frequently) until the mixture thickens and resembles mashed potato.
  • Add the remaining butter, feta and season with salt and pepper.
  • Stir to combine and cook for two minutes.

Aubergine polpette recipe

I’ve no desire to be vegetarian but we do try to eat less meat, especially red meat. I cook meat free dishes several times a week and I am always on the look out for delicious vegetarian dishes. I saw this recipe on an episode of Catherine’s Italian kitchen on the good food channel some time ago. In this show Catherine Fulvio (an Irish cook) travels around Sicily learning about the food culture and cooking traditional dishes. I really enjoyed the episodes that I watched and after cooking this recipe I’m inspired to try some more of her recipes. Some might think that a mixture of breadcrumbs, cheese and aubergine is no substitute for meatballs but I don’t think that’s the idea. These polpetti are delicious in their own right, I loved the flavour combination of the cheese, aubergine and the herbs together. The aubergine was cooked to perfection and these little polpette were a wonderful soft texture.  I know I’ll make real meatballs again but I also know I’ll be making these again too (and possibly more often).  For the tomato sauce I  used some of this sauce that I told you about the other day but  you can also find Catherine’s recipe here.

Aubergine polpette served with spaghetti and tomato sauce
Serves 2

For the aubergine polpette
1 large aubergine
2 cloves of garlic
100g bread crumbs
50g parmesan or pecorino
1 egg yolk
1tsp chopped mint
1tsp dried oregano
Pinch of grated nutmeg

  • preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Cut the aubergines in half, drizzle over some olive oil and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Place on a baking tray (cut side up) and roast for 25-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly.
  • Scoop out the flesh of the aubergines, place in a sieve and press gently to squeeze out the excess liquid.
  • In a mixing bowl, mash the garlic and aubergine together (I blitzed mine together in a food processor). Return the aubergine/garlic mixture to the bowl (if you used a food processor) then stir in the breadcrumbs, cheese, egg yolk, mint, oregano and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Take a little of the mixture and roll into a small ball. Heat a little olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the patty until golden. Taste to make sure you have the seasoning correct. If not, add more salt and pepper to the remaining aubergine mixture.
  • Shape the aubergine mixture into golf ball-sized ‘meatballs’ and fry in batches until golden, turning from time to time and taking care not to crowd the pan. Place on kitchen paper to drain.
  • Pour off any excess oil from the frying pan, lower the heat and add tomato sauce (enough for 2). When it is hot, add the polpette and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in a large pan of boiling salted water. Drain well and serve with the polpette and tomato sauce.

I’m submitting this blog post to Presto pasta nights, this month hosted by Tandy of Lavender & Lime. I can’t believe I’ve not entered before that amount of pasta I cook and blog.


Ham hock in cider recipe

We had a rare, weekend with no plans last week. The weather on saturday was gorgeous, so after a lazy start to the morning we took a walk in to town. We came home with a ham hock from the butchers and a dressed crab from the fishmongers along with a few bits of veg. Saturday evening I used the crab to make a crab linguine and set about preparing the ham hock for sunday lunch. I found a delicious sounding recipe using ham hocks in Nigella’s latest book Kitchen, in which she devotes 11 pages to it. There is the base recipe for ham hock in cider, a recipe for leeks in white sauce to serve along side it and lots of information and recipe ideas for the leftovers. These include using the stock to make a cidery pea soup, using any leftover ham and leeks to make pies or pasties and a ham hock and soya bean (or broad bean) salad. I love the fact that she has a whole chapter on cooking meat on the bone (and mostly the cheaper cuts) where the emphasis is on effortless, slow cooking and really making the most of the meat you buy.This recipe is a perfect example, the ham needs soaking overnight and then all the ingredients are combined and cooked on the hob for 2 hours whilst you’re free to read the sunday paper (or recipe books if you’re anything like me).

The ham hock we bought cost only £2.30 and produced easily enough meat for the two of us for sunday lunch. I served it with a leek and potato mash and some carrots. We both enjoyed our somewhat frugal sunday lunch. The meat was tender, falling easily off the bone and had bags of flavour.

The stock left over from cooking the ham was put to good use following Nigella’s recipe for cidery pea soup producing 4 good-sized portions. The soup is too simple to even require a true recipe. Sunday afternoon, once the stock was cooled, I strained the stock in to a large container and left it in the fridge overnight. The following lunch time I removed the stock from the fridge (to satisfyingly find a jellified stock), scraped the fatty layer off the top and heated the remaining stock on the hob. Added a 900g pack of frozen peas and boiled until the peas were cooked (approximately 5 minutes). I then blitzed the soup, seasoned to taste and served. Nigella also adds the juice of a lime but since we didn’t have one in I didn’t bother. The soup was full of flavour, with subtle hints of ham & cider coming through, not sure how we’ll go back to this pea soup made with vegetable of chicken stock cubes!

Ham hocks in cider
Serves 6 (we only used 1 ham hock and I halved all the other ingredients and it comfortably served 2)

2 ham hocks (just over 1.5kg each – didn’t weigh mine so I can’t tell you how this compared to Nigella’s recommendation)
1 litre dry cider
2 sticks celery, halved
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2 or 3
4 small onions, halved, skin left on
stalks from fat bunch flat-leaf parsley
1 x 15ml tbsp black peppercorns
1 x 15ml tbsp fennel seeds
3 cloves
1 x 15ml tbsp dark muscovado sugar

  • Soak the hocks overnight in cold water in a cool place, to de-salt them. Alternatively just under an hour before you plan to cook them, put the hocks in a pan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil, drain and then proceed normally with the next step.
  • Drain and rinse the hocks, then put them in to a pan with all the other ingredients, add cold water to cover the hocks, and bring to the boil.
  • Simmer the hocks for about 2 hours, partially covered with a lid, by which time the meat should be tender and coming away from the bone. Take the hocks out of the stock and let them cool a little on a carving board before you slice or chunk up the meat, discarding fat, skin, cartilage and bones. Leave the stock to cool in the pan while you eat.

Turkey and white bean chilli

This dish has become a bit of an autumn/winter favorite in our house. It’s a slightly healthier take on a chilli con carne (which don’t get me wrong still has its place on our dinner table). I saw the recipe on an episode of Giada at home on the food network last winter, cooked it, photographed it, loved it, never blogged it! Why? I wasn’t happy with the photo/lack of time, I’m not quiet sure. Then the colder nights started to draw in and my cooking style changed and I remembered this dish and searched the internet to find the recipe. I’m still not happy with this photo I took lat week but then I remembered the whole reason I started this blog. Not to publish stunning food photos (although that would be nice) but as a way to save the recipes I want to cook again so they’re easy to find. This chilli is packed with flavour and heat, it freezes well and is a delicious, filling meal when served with ever rice or a jacket potato.

Turkey and white bean chilli

Based on this recipe from Giada De Laurentiis, Food network.

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1kg minced turkey
1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons chili powder
3 tablespoons flour
2 (400g cans) cannellini or other white beans, rinsed and drained
11/2 cups frozen sweetcorn, thawed
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper for seasoning
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

  • In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.
  • Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
  • Add the turkey, 1 teaspoon salt, cumin, fennel seeds, oregano, and chili powder. Cook, stirring frequently, until the chicken is cooked through, about 8 minutes.
  • Stir the flour into the turkey mixture.
  • Add the beans, sweetcorn and chicken stock.
  • Bring the mixture to a simmer, scraping up the brown bits that cling to the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.
  • Simmer for 55-60 minutes until the liquid has reduced by about half and the chili has thickened.
  • Add the red pepper flakes and simmer for another 10 minutes.
  • Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  • Ladle the chili into serving bowls. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.


Bill’s basics review

I must confess to being a big fan of Bill Granger. I love his simple, laid back way of cooking and presenting. In this cookbook he presents over 100 recipes that are his favorite, classics (think coq au vin, spaghetti carbonara, fish and chips and ‘fried’ chicken) which he has worked his magic on, not only simplifying but also putting his spin on them to modernise them. Examples include fish and chips, where the fish is coated in bread crumbs and shallow fried (instead of battered and deep-fried), coq au vin which can be made in less than one hour and ‘fried’ chicken which is oven baked yet he says still has all the flavour of southern fried chicken (this recipe is next on my list to try, so I can not confirm this).

Of course there is a chapter on his trademark breakfasts as well as baking, soups, meat, seafood, chicken, vegetables, rice, pasta and bread, salads and desserts. The recipes all appear simple and straight forward, the photographs are stunning and Bill’s passion for food and good home cooking is evident throughout.

So far I have tried Bills coq au vin, which he cooked on Saturday kitchen (and is also in this months Sainsbury’s magazine) and the recipe can be found here.  The recipe was straight forward to cook and tasted delicious (it reminded me of this dish from his last book feed me now). I also cooked his fish and chips with tartare sauce recipe. The fish had a subtle hint of paprika which I really enjoyed and the chips were deliciously crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle.

Fish and chips
Serves 4

75g plain flour
1/2 tsp paprika
1tsp ground cumin
2 eggs, lightly beaten
80g fresh breadcrumbs
500g firm white fish fillets, cut into fat strips
2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra just in case
25g butter, plus extra just in case

    To serve

    Oven-baked chips
    Tartare sauce
    Lemon wedges
    Chopped flat leaf parsley

        • Mix the flour, paprika and cumin with sea salt and ground black pepper in a bowl. Season the breadcrumbs well with sea salt and black pepper and put in another bowl. Put the eggs in a third bowl.
        • Dip each piece of fish in the flour, then the egg, then in the breadcrumbs.
        • Heat the olive oil and butter in a large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook the fish strips, in batches, for about 2 minutes on each side until lightly golden, adding a little more butter and oil to the pan if needed.
        • Serve with oven-baked chips, tartare sauce, lemon wedges and a scattering of parsley.

          Oven-baked chips

          1.25kg potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled
          3 tsp olive oil

              • Preheat the oven to 230C/gas mark 8 and put a couple of baking trays in the oven for 20 minutes to heat up. Cut the potatoes into chips, dry with a clean tea towel, toss with the oil and sprinkle with sea salt.
              • Put the chips on baking paper on top of the hot baking trays and bake for 30 minutes, turning once, or until golden.

                Tartare sauce
                serves 4

                4tbsp mayonnaise
                2 gherkins, finely chopped
                2tsp tiny salted capers, rinsed and chopped
                1tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
                1tsp snipped chives
                Lemon juice to taste

                    • Stir together all the ingredients.

                      Thank you to Quadrille publishing for sending me a review copy of Bills basics.

                      Quick cook polenta with mushroom ragu

                      A few weeks back I was contacted by Merchant Gourmet to see if I was interested in entering a competition by coming up with a recipe using their quick cook polenta. The whole recipe (including preparation time) had to be less than 20 minutes. Polenta is a traditional Italian ground maize (corse cornmeal) which usually takes 45 minutes of constant stirring. For this reason I have never cooked polenta. Merchant gourmet quick cook polenta, cooks in only 1 minute so is much more accessible for a week night supper. I have to admit I have never eaten polenta before so I can not comment on how quick cook compares to traditional polenta.

                      I decided to cook a simple version of a traditional northern Italian dish – Polenta with mushroom ragu. This was indeed on the table within 20 minutes and is a simple vegetarian meal with lots of flavour. I could also see it working well as a side dish with say a steak or lamb chops if you wanted a more substantial/meaty dish.

                      Quick cook polenta with mushroom ragu
                      Serves 2

                      Olive oil
                      120g Merchant gourmet quick cook polenta
                      530ml vegetable stock
                      1 shallot, finelly diced
                      2 cloves of garlic, finely diced
                      1/2 tsp dried thyme
                      250g Chestnut mushrooms (or your favorite type of mushroom), sliced
                      knob of butter
                      1/2 cup grated parmesan

                          • Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion and fry over a low heat until softned (around 5 minutes). Add the garlic and thyme, stir to combine and fry for a further 1-2 minutes.
                          • Mean while bring the vegetable stock to the boil in a medium saucepan.
                          • Once the onions have softened add the mushrooms to the frying pan and turn up the heat to medium. Fry for a further 5 minutes stirring frequently. Once the mushrooms are cooked they will have darkened and shrunk in size. At this point add around 50mls of the vegetable stock and reduce the heat to low. Season with salt and pepper.
                          • Add the polenta to the stock in a thin, steady stream,  stirring with a wooden spoon or whisk. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
                          • Add the butter and parmesan and stir through to combine.
                          • Serve the polenta in bowls, making a well in the centre with a wood spoon. Spoon the mushroom ragu into the well. Serve immediately.

                            Left over roast lamb shepherd’s pie

                            So life got in the way again and this recipe is later than planned. It’s worth the wait though, as it is a delicious use for left over roast lamb. I’ve made shepherd’s pie a number of times before but always with minced lamb. This recipe uses left over roast lamb (in my case it was slow roast shoulder of lamb but roast leg would work equally well) and was a delicious alternative.

                            Shepherd’s pie
                            Serves 2

                            1 tbsp oil
                            1 onions, finely chopped
                            2 carrots, chopped into discs around 1cm thick,
                            Leftover roast lamb, chopped in to bite size pieces
                            1 tbsp plain flour
                            Handful of frozen peas
                            200ml lamb stock
                            1 tsp tomato puree
                            Good splash of Worcestershire sauce
                            Mashed potato to top (For two I use two good-sized baking potatoes and prepared in the usual way)
                            Salt and pepper

                            • Pre heat the oven to 200C (180 fan).
                            • Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Once hot add the onions and carrots and saute until the onions are soft and the carrots have softened.
                            • Add the lamb and cook for a few minutes.
                            • Add the flour and stir through.
                            • Add the stock, peas, tomato e, Worcestershire sauce and seasoning. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Add a little more water if the mixture is too dry or flour if the gravy needs thickening. Taste for seasoning and adjust as desired.
                            • Transfer the mixture in to an oven proof dish and spread the mash potato on top. Scratch the surface of the potato with a fork.
                            • Bake until the potato is browned and the gravy is bubbling round the edges (around 30 minutes).

                            Aubergine Parmigiana recipe

                            This is a delicious, Northern Italian dish of baked aubergines with tomatoes, mozzarella and parmesan. We enjoy it simply served with some crusty bread (or perhaps garlic bread or foccacia) or homemade rosemary and garlic potato wedges. I have seen it suggested as a side dish for roast lamb before which I imagine would work well. It is essential to griddle the aubergines first so that by the time the final dish is served the aubergine literally melts in the mouth.

                            Aubergine Parmigiana
                            Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side dish

                            2 aubergines, sliced into 1cm thick disks
                            Olive oil
                            1 small white onion, finely diced
                            1 clove garlic, finely diced
                            1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
                            1/2 tsp dried oregano
                            Salt and pepper
                            1x125g ball of mozzarella
                            handful of grated parmesan

                            • Pre heat the oven to 200C (180 C fan assisted).
                            • In a pan, sweat the onion over a medium heat for 5 minutes (or until soft), stirring frequently. Add the garlic and dried oregano and fry for 2 more minutes.
                            • Add the tinned tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and leave to simmer for 10-15 minutes.
                            • Heat a griddle pan over a high heat. Once hot add a layer of aubergines (brushed with olive oil) and grill on both sides until softened and lightly charred. Remove and set to one side. Repeat until all the aubergine are done.
                            • Arrange a layer of aubergines in the bottom of an oven proof dish, pour over a layer of the tomato sauce, scatter with the grated parmesan and some torn up pieces of mozzarella. Repeat until all the ingredients are used up. The size of my dish means I usually have two layers of aubergines, finishing with the tomato and cheese layer at the top.
                            • Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, until bubbling and golden.