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.

Chorizo, pepper and mozzarella pasta bake

This dish came about last friday night, when after spending too long trying to come up with ideas for a fancy dress costume for the following night (unsuccessfully I might add), I went to prepare dinner, only to discover that the fridge was empty. Lurking at the back of the fridge I discovered a chorizo sausage and knew this would have to be the star of the dish. I no doubt bought it to use in paella or perhaps chorizo and pea risotto. Paella obviously wasn’t an option, tonight was definitely a store cupboard dish. The risotto was an option but we had a risotto the night before. My next thought was a fritatta but it turned out we had no eggs. Finally I settled on a pasta bake.

I searched the cupboards/fridge and discovered we had red onions, a well stocked herb and spice cupboard, a jar of griddled peppers, tinned tomatoes and a ball of mozzarella. The resulting dish was delicious, packed with flavour and a dish I have since cooked again already. Perhaps next time I would use a fresh pepper if I planned this dish in advance, adding it with the corizo. So here it is, a very rare recipe I came up with myself. Continue reading

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.


A week in my kitchen (including River cottage bread baking)

I can’t believe it’s a week since my last post. It’s not through lack of cooking/baking though so this post is a bit of a catch up with my River cottage bread baking experience and a few other things I have cooked and want to bookmark (plus share with you) for future cooking over the last 8 days.


I’ve been baking my own pizza’s from scratch for some time now to the point where I know longer look at a recipe to make the dough or remember where the recipe came from. But in the spirit of baking my way through the River Cottage bread handbook I followed the recipe in the book last week. I’m so glad I did! The River Cottage recipe uses half plain flour and half bread flour making the resulting dough much softer than I am used to and the end result was a perfectly thin pizza base. I also used a recipe in the book for garlic infused olive oil to make a garlic pizza bread as well. The topping in the photo above was spinach, feta and prosciutto. This pizza dough recipe was previously published in the guardian here.


I baked my first full sourdough bread last monday following the recipe in River Cottage Bread. It started with making the sponge the night before and then the following day I followed the recipe to make the dough and let it rise as directed. You can find a sourdough recipe here on Belleau Kitchen. The bread turned out well, I’m just not sure we enjoyed the sourness enough to be worth the time it takes to make sourdough. I’m still keeping my started alive as I think I will use it to try some recipes from Dan Lepards the handmade loaf but I’m not sure if I’ll make another sourdough (even though there are several different sourdough recipe I haven’t baked in RC).

Simple pasta sauce

I shared my secret to delicious, simple pasta sauces here.

Malted and seeded loaf

I’ve updated my post on the malted grain loaf to include details of a very similar bread.


I baked a big batch of pikelets from the River cottage book. I love crumpets but don’t have any of the rings needed to cook them in. Pikelets are really simple to make and they taste delicious toasted spread with butter (the recipe made a lot so I froze most of them and I am happy to report they toast well straight from frozen). I can see these being baked a lot in my kitchen.

Smoked mackerel and pea risotto

In an effort to eat more sustainable fish, I cooked a smoked mackerel risotto. I just cooked a basic, plain risotto and added frozen peas and flaked up smoked mackerel with the last ladle of stock and finished it off with a squeeze of lemon juice. If your looking for more of a recipe to follow you can find one here.

Tomato, sausage and fennel seed ragu with gnocchi

Recently my thoughts have been turning even more than usual towards Italy, Tuscany in particular (see here if you haven’t heard why). The recipe below uses a typical combination of fennel seeds and pork. The recipe is simple to prepare and delicious to eat. It is from a great book I got for Christmas, The Italian cookery course. This book is fast becoming one of my favorite cookbooks. So far I have cooked a winter minestrone soup from it (which was the best I’ve tasted) and this delicious tomato, sausage and fennel seed ragu with gnocchi. I can’t wait to find more time to cook more of the recipes. I also look forward to finding time to read this book cover to cover. The book includes lots of information on the ingredients used and traditional cooking in Italy and all it diverse regions. There are also lots of useful masterclasses on everything from breads, fresh pasta and risotto to stuffing a leg of lamb and how to bone a chicken or rabbit. To anyone who loves Italian food as much as I do this is 500 pages of wonderful writing, stunning photos of Italy and the food, lots of masterclasses and helpful techniques, not to mention several hundred delicious recipes. I am especially looking forward to spending some time trying out the bread recipes and masterclasses and also fresh pasta.

Back to the sausage ragu. I love the combination of fennel seeds and pork and this ragu works well with gnocchi as suggested in the book but I believe it would work equally as well with a pasta such as penne. I have only recently discovered gnocchi, its a nice change to pasta and very simple to cook (I love the way it floats to the top of the pan when it is ready). I really must find time to have a go at making my own gnocchi sometime soon. This recipe serves 6-8 and freezes well.

Tomato, sausage and fennel seed ragu with gnocchi

Serves 6-8

12 lean best-quality pork sausages
olive oil
1 white onion, finely chopped
4 whole garlic cloves, lightly crushed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
4 bay leaves
250ml red wine
800g Italian tinned plum tomatoes
6 heaped teaspoons tomato puree
grated Parmesan to serve
Packed of gnocchi to serve 6-8

  • Remove the sausage meat from the skins and chop up the meat to break it up.
  • Put the olive oil in a large frying pan (I used a cast iron casserole pot) over a medium heat and add the garlic, salt and pepper. Fry for about 2 minutes until the garlic becomes light gold.
  • Add the onion and fry for a few minutes, until translucent.
  • Stir in the fennel seeds and bay leaves.
  • Add the meat and fry for 6-7 minutes or until cooked through. Use a wood spoon to break up the mince and stop it sticking to the pan.
  • Add the wine and allow to reduce for a couple of minutes, then add the tinned tomatoes and tomato puree and stir well.
  • Leave the ragu to simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Cook the gnocchi according to the packet instructions.
  • Once cooked, drain the gnocchi and toss in the ragu.
  • Serve with Parmesan scattered over the top.

Authentic spaghetti carbonara

Until a few years ago I used to love the rich, creamy carbonara sauces most Italian restaurants serve. Ok so it’s not the healthiest dish on the menu but it was a very occasional treat. Then suddenly I started to find the dish too rich for my tastes and stopped ordering it when in Italian restaurants. Maybe my tastes had changed or maybe I had had one too many rubbish carbonara’s. Then as I started to get more and more in to cooking I discovered that true Italian carbonara’s don’t include cream at all! At this point I started to consider the idea of making a carbonara myself.

I discovered Italian Foodies sometime last year and have been following the blog since then (and also working my way through the posts/recipes from before I discovered it). It has to be up there as one of my favorite blogs. It is full of mouth watering pictures and deliciously simple recipes (mostly Italian – my favorite kind). You might have noticed that I have a list in my side bar called ‘recipes I want to try’. I have been using this list to keep track of some of the recipes other blogs post that I want to try myself. Italian foodies authentic carbonara has been sat there for quiet sometime waiting for me to find the time to try it.

At the weekend we visited The Hollies farm shop in Cheshire. They were hosting a Great British food feast, with lots of local suppliers showcasing their produce and lots of food to sample. There was also a delicious hog roast and a showcase of 1000’s of pumpkins (the advertising said 4000 but I didn’t count them!).

One of the products that caught our eye was their bacon. So armed with a packet of local bacon I decided to try my hand at a real authentic (cream free!) carbonara. I wasn’t disappointed. The carbonara was simple to make and turned out fantastic, I didn’t miss the cream and it really allowed the quality and taste of the bacon to shine. I wanted to share this recipe with you all and also book mark it here so I can make it again in the future. For the recipe and step by step photos see here.

Cook book review – Easy tasty Italian – Laura Santtini

Another great Italian cook book! I know I have only just reviewed Antonio Carluccio’s simple cooking but what can I say I love cook books and I love Italian food. However this cook book is completely different to Antonio Carluccio’s so there is room on my bookshelf and in my kitchen for both! This book is completely different to any cook book (Italian or otherwise) I have browsed through before. Its very unique in style and a little bit quirky too. This book claims that after reading this book your cooking will never be the same again! Quite a big statement perhaps but I suspect it maybe true. I’ve read my fair share of Italian cook books but I can definitely say I have learnt a thing or two already from this book (which has only been in my possession a couple of days). It’s much more than a collection of recipes, this book aims to teach you how to create flavour bombs that make even simple food sensational.

The secret – umami. This is the fifth taste, discovered by the Japanese in 1908 but only recently accepted by Western scientists. Umami means deliciousness and refers to intensely savoury tastes. Laura has christened umami in the Italian kitchen ‘u-mamma!’. Classic umami flavours in the Italian larder include tomatoes, Parmesan, white truffles and balsamic vinegar to name just a few. Reading this chapter on umami helped me understand why dishes as simple as Antonio Carluccio’s cart driver spaghetti can taste so delicious (porcini mushrooms are another Italian umami flavour) and why the soffritto base (onions, carrot and celery) are such a key component of Italian cooking.

As well as the umami larder, there are details of the typical Italian larder (a comprehensive list of typical ingredients like beans and pulses, pastas, cheeses and seasonings) and of the alchemic larder. This alchemic larder suggests adding edible metals, dried flowers, nuts and seeds and many other ingredients designed to add magic to dishes.

The next chapter has basic recipes and procedures to prepare flavour bombs, “using ingredients as a writer uses words and an artist uses paints”. These include flavoured mayonnaise’s, pestos, flavoured butters and pastes as well as marinades. There are serving suggestions for each flavour enhancer. For example she suggests adding chilli, chocolate, wine paste to rich stews, marinading red meat in red u-mamma! marinade, serving sweet and sour carrots with honey & thyme as a side dish or stirring a spoonful of basic basil pesto in to minestrone soup.

The second section of the book contains the main recipes which are divided in to 4 sections Air ‘I am raw’, Water ‘I was cooked’, Fire ‘I was burned’ and Earth ‘I am tasty’. Each chapter describes different techniques used in Italian cooking and has a selection of recipes with suggestions for variations and which taste bombs can be added.

Air uses only raw ingredients. So this chapter covers antipasti, carpaccio, ceviche & tartare and dips. Recipes include wild mushroom trifolata, crab salad with pomegranate and mint, tuna and orange carpaccio and aubergine and lavender dip.

Water covers the techniques of boiling, absorption and reduction (risottos), poaching and bagno-maria (gentle cooking in water that is merely hot). There are recipes for sweet potato soup which can be enhanced in several ways including the addition of the flavour bomb of tomato, pepper, orange and cinnamon paste. Pasta is of course included with notes on cooking pasta, making pasta sauces and recipes for the top 10 classic pasta sauces of all time. Risotto is also included, teaching the basic method and lots of tasty ways to transform the basic recipe. Other recipes include sea bass santini and umamma! meatloaf.
Fire covers grilling, frying and hob stews with a step by step guide to good grilling, suggestions for rubs and seasoning and recipes including a delicious looking lamb chops with u-mamma! grapes and no-fuss roasted sea bream.

Earth is all about creating delicious food through slow cooking including tender and moist looking rib of beef al barolo and leg-over lamb. There are also recipes for the top 10 Italian vegetable dishes and 12 quick and easy desserts.

This book is bursting with delicious looking and sounding recipes but more than I believe that Laura Santtini is right when she says it can transform your life in the kitchen. I already feel inspired to not only try some of the recipes in the book but also to try out the pastes and butters etc in dishes I already cook to give them the u-mamma! deliciousness they deserve.

Its not out in the shops until the 2nd October but I would recommend to anyone who enjoys cooking Italian food even if you thought you had all the Italian cookbooks you needed.

Thank you to Quadrille publishing for sending me this great book to review and tell you all about.

Further information:
Easy tasty Italian – Laura Santtini
Published by Quadrille publishing 2nd October 2009
Hardback, full colour photography, 192 pages
ISBN 978 184400 755 4