We cook a lot of very simple meals in our house. We like dishes that don’t require long lists of ingredients, complicated preparation or a lot of hands-on cooking time (though we are a fan of slow cooking which lets the oven, stove or slow cooker do all the work).

It’s no secret that better quality ingredients create tastier end results; spending a little more often pays dividends. We like to buy a really good chicken and stretch it to several excellent meals rather than eat bigger portions of a cheap, hormone-pumped, water-logged bird that fails to excite the taste buds. A few impressive but not outrageously expensive king oyster mushrooms upgraded a regular mushroom dish to a fantastic one. Just 25 grams of smoked cheese completely lifted the flavour of feather light cheese gnocchi. And I am certain my home-made walnut brittle was even better because of the sweet and tasty walnuts, collected and dried in the grounds of a friend’s home in France.

But today, I am not talking about fresh produce. On my mind are ready-made ingredients that can be used to make simple dishes into amazing ones.

Our latest such dish was a simple pasta dinner which took only minutes to make, used just four ingredients and was utterly delicious:

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One of these was a flavoured mustard from famous French brand Maille. Pete and I visited their original store in Dijon, Burgundy a few years ago and were excited to see quite how many flavours were available. Maille have now come to the UK and have an attractive two-story shop in Piccadilly. Staff are happy to guide you through tasting samples and choosing products to purchase. Maille also sell online, but reserve many of their flavours for sale only in their stores.

Their “Bleu” mustard is a smooth and mild French mustard flavoured with blue cheese and white wine, both perfect accompaniments to mushrooms and cream.

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Pasta with a Mushroom, Cream and Maille Blue Cheese Mustard Sauce Recipe

Serves 2

Ingredients
Dribble of vegetable oil, for cooking
300 grams white cup mushrooms, sliced
25 grams (1 small pot) Maille Bleu (mustard flavoured with blue cheese and white wine)
100 ml double cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
Pasta of your choice, amounts as per your usual portions
Salt and oil, for cooking the pasta

Note: We used fresh penne rigate – a perfect shape for the creamy sauce to cling to.

Note: It’s definitely worth experimenting with different mustards; if you use English ones, reduce the amount as they have a much fiercer kick. Of course, you can always add actual blue cheese and a splash of white wine to plain mustard if you aren’t able to find Maille Bleu.

Method

  • Put a pan of water on to boil, for cooking the pasta. Add salt and a small splash of oil.
  • Fry the mushrooms in a dribble of oil over a medium heat until they release their juices and then a higher heat until the juices are absorbed / evaporated. Stir regularly, so they don’t catch. We usually find this takes 15 to 20 minutes, depending on size of mushrooms and pan used.
  • Take the mushrooms off the heat, add the mustard and cream and stir well. Put back onto a very gentle heat to warm the sauce through.
  • Season to taste.
  • As we were using fresh pasta, we put it on to cook once the mushrooms were cooked, just before adding the mustard and cream. However, if using dried pasta, start cooking it once the mushrooms have been on for 10 minutes.
  • Drain the pasta thoroughly, then add the mushroom sauce to the pasta and combine thoroughly.
  • Serve immediately.
  • We seldom worry about presentation when cooking for ourselves, but if you want to make the dish look a little more interesting, you could reserve a few cooked mushrooms to one side before adding the mustard and cream, and use them as a garnish on the finished dish.

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The blue cheese and mustard flavours both came through wonderfully and married well with mushrooms and cream.

I’d love to hear your ideas for using plain and flavoured mustards to lift a recipe – are there any recipes you can suggest? And are there other ingredients (such as the ones I mention above) that you like to use to make an ordinary recipe extraordinary? Please share your ideas!

With thanks to Maille for review samples of some of their mustards, dressings and oils.

 

Husband and wife team Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi are well known for their eponymous Italian restaurant and caffe in London, their second restaurant in Bray and their London cookery school, La Cucina Caldesi, at which Katie is the principal. The couple also starred in a BBC series called Return to Tuscany, about the cookery school they ran in Italy until 2009 and have appeared on many other food shows since then.

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The Amalfi Coast is their second joint book, following The Italian Mama’s Kitchen (2008). Whereas Katie’s solo book, The Italian Cookery Course (released at about the same time as The Amalfi Coast) covers recipes from across the entire country, The Amalfi Coast focuses on the food of the sunshine-drenched Italian Riviera. Full of sumptuous images of local scenery and food, it’s an evocative cookery book following the route of their exploration, between Positano and Ravello.

Flicking through it takes me back to a long ago holiday… winding and rather exhilarating coastal roads… tiny villages clinging to vertiginous cliffs… views down to sparkling seas with bobbing boats tied at the marina… groves of lemon trees, bright and colourful like the limoncello served in every restaurant and cafe… smartly dressed locals enjoying a pre-dinner stroll to see and be seen… and long and leisurely lunches that last so long they morph into dinner…

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We decided to make the Caldesis’ Gnocchi Ripieni (smoked cheese gnocchi) recipe mainly because we already had smoked cheddar in the fridge after making Gastrogeek’s (Amazing) Roasted Aubergine Macaroni Cheese recipe. We loved the gnocchi so much we have made it more than once and no doubt it will become a regular. (Same goes for the macaroni cheese recipe too!)

The gnocchi are so incredibly soft and light that they melt as soon as you pop them into your mouth; it’s a wonder they don’t disintegrate before you can eat them! The recipe introduction explains that the way the centres melt is what gives the impression they are stuffed with cheese, hence the Italian name – ripieni means “stuffed”. They are quite unlike potato gnocchi, by the way.

The flavour is beautifully balanced and not too strong; they match superbly with a simple tomato sauce. We’ve used posh ready-made and made fresh using another recipe in the book.

And best of all, they’re very easy to make. A winner all round!

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Giancarlo & Katie Caldesi’s Smoked Cheese Gnocchi

Serves 4 (makes 12-20 gnocchi)

Ingredients
250 grams ricotta drained
1 egg
35 grams plain flour
50 grams parmesan finely grated
25 grams smoked cheese finely grated
salt and freshly ground pepper
basil leaves (to serve)
parmesan shavings (to serve)
tomato sauce of your choice (to serve)

Note: The recipe also includes 50 grams semolina, used to coat the gnocchi, which we omitted.

Method

  • Mix the gnocchi ingredients together in a bowl, using an electric whisk or mixer to achieve a smooth texture.

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  • To shape the gnocchi use two spoons and make quenelles – take a spoonful of mixture and use the second spoon to shape it, squeezing and transferring it between the two spoons one or more times to finish the shape.

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  • The recipe calls for rolling the finished shapes in semolina before cooking. However, we decided to drop each gnocchi into a pan of boiling water as soon as it was shaped, without the semolina.

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  • The gnocchi are cooked when they float to the surface, having dropped down to the bottom of the pan initially. Remove them carefully from the pan using a slotted spoon and transfer them to the pan of pre-heated tomato sauce to stay warm until the rest are ready. Ideally, this needs two people working together, one to shape and drop the gnocchi and the other to scoop them from the water as soon as they are cooked.

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  • Very gently mix the cooked gnocchi into the sauce, taking care not to break them.
  • Garnish with fresh basil and shavings of parmesan to serve.

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The book contains little you wouldn’t find in many Italian cookery books, and most of the dishes are familiar, but for me that’s much of the appeal. Recipes such as paccheri alla Genovese (pasta tubes with sweet onion and beef sauce), polpettine di carne al sugo di pomodore (meatballs in tomato sauce), pollo al limone (lemon chicken), zucchine scapece (fried courgettes with mint and vinegar), torta di ricotta & pere (pear and ricotta tart) and sorbetto o granita al limone (limoncello sorbet or granita) are the kind of food that fit my kind of cooking.

Nearly every recipe has a photograph, and there are more in between of the landscapes and people of the region. It’s an attractive book, a pleasure to look at.

The Amalfi Coast is currently available from Amazon.co.uk for £16 (RRP £25).

 

Kavey Eats received a review copy of The Amalfi Coast from publisher Hardie Grant.

 

Do you ever envisage a new dish in your head, hoping it will be as delicious as you imagine? And when you make it, it’s even better? I can’t pretend it’s something that happens often – more often there are tweaks to be made… or rarely, the idea is quietly binned and never mentioned again – but now and again success strikes and makes me insufferably chuffed with myself.

So it was with this Chicken Tarragon Pasta Bake.

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In my mind were a number of recipes we enjoy, from macaroni cheese to chicken savoyarde to the penne al forno at my local Italian.

Once the idea for my new dish popped into my head, all we needed was to enjoy a roast chicken dinner (oh, the hardship) and follow that, as usual, by stripping the leftover meat off the carcass and popping the remaining skin, bones and tendons into the slow cooker with water overnight to make stock.

 

Kavey’s Chicken Tarragon Pasta Bake

Serves 4

Ingredients
250 grams dried macaroni-style pasta
50 grams white breadcrumbs (we used Panko)
300 grams leftover roast chicken meat, chopped small
50 grams butter
40 grams plain flour
600 ml chicken stock, slightly warmed
175 ml double cream
50 grams Parmesan or other strong hard cheese, grated
2 heaped teaspoons French mustard
2 level teaspoons dried tarragon
Salt and pepper, to taste

Note: For the pasta, choose any of the small hollow tube shapes. We chose chifferi rigati by De Cecco, which are short ridged elbow-shaped tubes.

Note: We like the tarragon flavour to be understated. If you like it strong, add an extra teaspoon or two of dried tarragon.

Method

  • Preheat oven to 200 C (390 F).
  • Put the pasta on to cook. When ready, drain, rinse and set aside.
  • While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce:
  • Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Keep the heat low to medium, to avoid browning.
  • Add the chicken stock and cream and stir thoroughly.
  • Add the cheese, mustard and tarragon. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  • Cook for a further 10 minutes, until the sauce thickens a little.
  • Once the sauce is ready, add the chicken and the drained pasta and stir thoroughly.
  • Transfer into an oven-proof casserole dish.

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  • Sprinkle breadcrumbs evenly over the surface.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes until the crumbs on top are golden brown.

Serve hot with a crispy green salad.

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I hope you enjoy this as much as we did. Do let me know how you like it!

 

Fellow blogger and food writer Rejina is a friend of mine, and one I’ve long thought deserved a cookery book deal, so I was delighted to be sent a review copy of her first title, Gastrogeek (What to eat when you’re in a hurry, hungry or hard up). Her blog of the same name has been a source of great ideas for the last four years – indeed she launched her blog just weeks before I started mine.

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Having talked to Rejina, I can understand why her innovative pitch instantly caught her publisher’s attention – she proposed (and showcased) a photographic comic-book style approach based on her memory of teenage magazines from her childhood. Just as the illustrated stories in those magazines did for teenage love dramas, her aim with this book was to provide solutions to common kitchen dilemmas such as creating restorative meals after shitty days at work, conjuring up meals from the store cupboard when cash is tight, cooking up a storm to impress guests and feeding a hangover in the best possible way.

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There are some disappointments about the book, and I know Rejina will forgive me for being honest about them. In my opinion, the publishers haven’t done a great job on the book design. Too focused on Rejina’s clever theme, they seem to have fallen under the impression that the audience for the book must be the same teenagers those magazines were aimed at and the design feels a bit childish as a result. And whoever thought teal green was the right colour for the cover of a cookery book or that a font suspiciously similar to Comic Sans was right for the text inside ought to be ashamed of themselves. I also found many of the photographs far too dark, especially the black and white ones – I’ve no idea whether the fault lies in the image processing or the printing but it makes the pages look far drabber than they should.

The good news, however, is that the quality of Rejina’s content shines through regardless and is why I recommend you purchase this book even if the appearance puts you off at first glance.

In a few of the dishes, Rejina’s British-Bengali background comes through – she shares her Dahl of Dreams, Curried Roast Bone Marrow (which reminds me of my own bone marrow curry) and Duck Egg, Spinach and Coconut Curry, amongst others. But the majority of the recipes are a wide-ranging and eclectic mix with influences from all around the world – just the way many of us cook these days. Rejina lived in Japan for a while, and her love of umami (and a few key Japanese ingredients) comes through too. I’ve bookmarked Miso Butter Roasted Chicken, Mini Chicken & Mushroom Pies, BBQ Ribs in Dr Pepper and Teriyaki Rice Burgers to name just a few.

Recently Pete and I made her Roasted Aubergine Macaroni Cheese and to say we liked it is an understatement. Not only did the textures and flavours of the dish come together to create a whole that was far more impressive than its simple ingredients suggested, the instructions were also spot on and very straightforward to follow. That last bit should be a given, shouldn’t it, but it’s not uncommon to find yourself adjusting cooking times and amounts to achieve the consistency and results described by the author. In this case, the recipe worked like clockwork.

What made this macaroni cheese shine were the smokey flavours from the smoked paprika, aubergine and smoked cheddar.

 

Gastrogeek’s Amazing Roasted Aubergine Macaroni Cheese

Serves 4 (or 2 very greedy people)

Ingredients
1 aubergine
300 grams dried macaroni
35 grams butter
25 grams plain flour
300 ml whole milk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Freshly grated nutmeg, to season
0.5 teaspoon smoked paprika
1-2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
90 grams smoked Cheddar cheese, grated plus some for sprinkling
100 ml double cream
1 garlic clove, crushed

Method

  • Roast the aubergine in a hot oven (220 C) for 20-25 minutes. Carefully peel and mash the creamy innards.
  • Preheat the oven to 180 C.
  • Cook the macaroni according to the packet instructions. Drain and transfer to a 25 x 20 cm greased baking dish, reserving a little of the cooking water.
  • Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium pan and stir in the flour. Cook the roux over a medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly and then gradually add the milk, still stirring constantly.
  • Stir in the mustard, nutmeg, paprika, salt, pepper and cheese and stir until melted.
  • Stir in the aubergine flesh, cream and garlic, along with a little reserved pasta cooking water (to adjust the consistency if required).
  • Pour the sauce over the cooked pasta and mix well. Sprinkle generously with extra grated cheese.
  • Bake at 180 C for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

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There is absolutely no question whatsoever that we will be making this again, and soon. I recommend that you do too!

 

Gastrogeek by Rejina Sabur-Cross is currently available on Amazon UK for £10.23 (RRP £15.99).

 

Cep aka porcini is such a prized mushroom that it is often showcased as the key ingredient in very simple dishes like the tagliatelle ai porcini I enjoyed in Parma a couple of years ago. It’s fêted in porcini festivals; there are recipe books dedicated to it; even children’s stories! But fresh porcini is expensive, and the main season (in Europe) runs only from late August to November. It hasn’t yet been successfully farmed so supply comes from the wild, hence the cost and the lack of availability.

But don’t despair! There are other mushrooms which are less expensive and more readily available and can be just as delicious when used well.

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The King Oyster (Pleurotus eryngii) – also known as the King Trumpet and the French Horn – is one such mushroom. In the wild, it can be found year round, though the high season is August to February. It’s also a variety that is successfully farmed, and hence it’s available a little more widely in supermarkets and markets, though still not as common as Chestnut, Button and Portobello mushrooms.

(Incidentally, did you realise that Portobello mushrooms are actually just large, mature Button mushrooms? No, me neither until I was looking up aliases for the King Oyster!)

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As it’s name suggests, the King Oyster is the grandest member of the Pleurotus genus, which also contains the regular oyster mushroom and the bright yellow golden oyster mushroom. Unlike many in the genus, which have minimal stems and wide, frilly caps the King Oyster has a thick white stem and a small pale brown cap. The texture is dense and meaty.

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Although the King Oyster doesn’t taste of much (or smell, for that matter) when raw, once cooked it’s delicious – it has a deep mushroom earthiness, a slightly sweet nuttiness and a silky firm texture. In fact, although “meaty” is a common description, I’d say its texture is perhaps more reminiscent of shellfish though don’t let that put you off trying it, if you’re not a fan. (Certainly, the shape of the cooked slices reminded Pete and I of little fishes!)

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We bought these mushrooms from the Turnips mushroom stall at Borough Market one Saturday in January. Four fat specimens cost under £6 and we picked up a tub of Hurdlebrook extra thick, natural and untreated cream to pair with them. (Hurdlebrook are based in Somerset, and produce beautiful dairy from their Guernsey cows).

I’m keeping the recipe very loose, as it’s very simple and the amounts can be adjusted easily to serve more or less people.

 

King Oyster Mushroom & Cream Pasta

Ingredients
2 King Oyster mushrooms per person
1 heaped tablespoon extra thick double cream per person
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable oil and butter, to cook
Pasta of your choice, amounts as per your usual portions

Method

  • Slice the mushrooms into four along their length. My slices were about a quarter of an inch thick.
  • Retain the two central slices from each mushroom and set aside.

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  • Finely chop the outer two slices from the mushrooms. I used a food processor.
  • If using dried pasta, put your pasta on to boil.
  • In one frying pan, heat a little oil and gently fry the finely chopped mushrooms over a low to medium heat.

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  • In a second pan, heat a little vegetable oil and butter and gently fry the sliced mushrooms over a low to medium heat.

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  • When the pasta is nearly cooked, and the mushrooms have taken on a nice golden colour, stir the cream into the chopped mushrooms until it’s heated through. Season to taste.
  • Drain the pasta thoroughly, and then mix into the chopped mushroom and cream sauce.
  • Serve with the fried mushroom slices.

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This was a super meal; we both commented repeatedly on just how enjoyable it was and so simple to make too.

Have you tried King Oyster mushrooms? What’s your favourite way to cook them? What mushrooms do you suggest I look out for next?

 

With thanks to Mark from Galloway Wild Foods for helping me clarify some mushroom facts via twitter. You may also enjoy this great post about mushrooms from my friend Urvashi.

 

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Of course I’d heard of a Thermomix. Beloved of chefs everywhere and of many domestic cooks too, this machine comes up in conversations with foodie friends on a regular basis. But there are often gasps of shock when the £800 price tag comes up; that’s a hell of a lot for a single appliance!

So, what is a Thermomix, you might be wondering, and why do so many people swear by it, despite the price tag?

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Thermomix with varoma steamer basket fixed above main jug; internal basket, whisk, spatula and measuring cup/ lid window to side

Well, it’s a bit of a multitasker – it blends, chops, grinds, whisks, kneads, weighs, cooks and steams!

On paper, it sounds as though this single machine could replace a number of others including a jug blender, a food processor, a mixer, a slow cooker, a steamer and a grinder. But what’s it like in practice? To help me find out, I was loaned a Thermomix to put through its paces for a few weeks.

I was invited to attend a demo first, and was impressed to see how quickly the Thermomix could grind a fine flour from rice or hard lentils. I also watched the demonstrator blend solid frozen chunks of fruit into a smooth sorbet and chop, cook and blend vegetables into a tasty soup.

The Thermomix comes with a cookery book called Fast and Easy Cooking which provides recipes specifically written for the Thermomix. That may sound obvious, but actually, we found that the speed settings and durations for the chopping, blending and grinding functions in particular very different from our experiences with our Magimix food processor. Likewise, we needed specifics on temperatures and times for cooking.

As well as full recipes, there’s also a section at the front that gives settings for common tasks such as grinding coffee, making icing sugar from granulated, melting chocolate, grinding grains and spices, making breadcrumbs, grating cheese, peeling and chopping garlic, mincing ginger, whisking egg whites. crushing ice, mincing meat and making almond, soya and rice milk.

For our first meal made using the Thermomix we made basil tagliatelle (using the pasta verde recipe) and ragu bolognese.

 

Thermomix Basil Tagliatelle

Ingredients

The original recipe calls for 300 grams of flour, 3 eggs and 50 grams of basil, enough to serve 6-8.

We scaled it down to a third and started with 100 grams of flour, 1 egg and 20 grams of basil.

Perhaps our flour differed wildly from the flour used by the author of the recipe, but we added almost 100 grams again to bring the mixture together into a dough, and even then it was wetter than ideal.

Method

  • The first instruction called us to blend the flour and basil for 30 seconds at Speed 10.The results remain one of the single most impressive feats of the Thermomix for me; the flour and leaves vanished to be replaced with a fine and evenly ground pale green powder; not even a hint of dark leaf matter was visible and I was genuinely gobsmacked and delighted!

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  • We added the egg and kneaded for 1.5 minutes on the dough setting.

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  • Be warned that the machine moves when it’s kneading and Pete held it down to stop it walking off the work surface! We added extra flour to bring the wet mixture together into a sticky dough and kneaded a little more to incorporate it.

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  • We wrapped the dough in clingfilm and left it in the fridge for a couple of hours before making the tagliatelle.

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  • We used the pasta attachments for our KitchenAid to make the tagliatelle, which we did just as the ragu bolognese was finishing its cooking time, so we could cook the tagliatelle as soon as it was cut.

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  • As with all fresh pasta, it cooked within minutes.

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Thermomix Ragu Bolognese

Ingredients
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 3 pieces
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 clove garlic, peeled
50 grams olive oil
450 grams minced meat (ideally half beef and half pork)
50 grams dry white or red wine
400 grams tinned tomatoes or passata
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of nutmeg
Small handful of torn basil leaves, washed and dried

Note: The recipe also calls for 80 grams of celery, but since I hate the stuff, we missed it out. We used 500 grams of beef mince, red wine and tinned tomatoes.

Method

  • Put the onion, carrot and garlic into the TM bowl and chop for 5 seconds at speed 7.

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  • Add the oil and cook for 3 minutes at 100 C on Speed setting Spoon using Reverse Blade Direction.

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  • Add the meat and cook for 10 minutes at Varoma temperature on Speed setting Spoon using Reverse Blade Direction.

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  • Add the wine, tomatoes, bay leaf, nutmeg, salt and pepper and cook for 20 minutes at Varoma temperature on Speed setting Spoon using Reverse Blade Direction until the meat is tender and the sauce is reduced.

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I must admit, I didn’t believe for a moment that such a short overall cooking time would produce a decent result, as the ragu recipes I’ve made in the past have needed several hours of cooking.

But to my surprise, the ragu not only had a lovely and balanced flavour but it was perfectly cooked as well.

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It worked very well indeed with the basil tagliatelle and I thought the finished dish looked beautiful.

So far, so impressed. More posts on our experiments with the Thermomix coming soon.

 

Kavey Eats received a loan machine courtesy of Thermomix. (This is not a sponsored post).

 

Having been sent a Clonakilty black pudding and white pudding for St Patrick’s day, we ate half of each in a mighty fine fry up.

That left us half of each sausage, already sliced and fried, ready to use.

From the freezer, we pulled out a box of home-grown tomatoes, which I’d roasted with a little olive oil and pureed into a smooth, thick sauce, before freezing. For this quick and delicious dinner, we simply chopped the pudding slices into small pieces and mixed into the tomato sauce. Once heated, we stirred the chunky sauce through some pasta.

Absolutely delicious!

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Pasta with Black Pudding, White Pudding & Roasted Tomatoes

Serves 2

Ingredients
200-300 grams fried, chopped black and white pudding
200-300 grams tomatoes, roasted then pureed
120 grams pasta, choose your preferred shape

Note: we cook 120 grams of pasta when cooking dinner for 2, but understand that some prefer larger quantities, so cook your usual amount!

  • Combine cooked and chopped black and white pudding with roasted and pureed tomatoes. Heat. Once pasta is cooked, stir through the sauce and serve.

 

When we made this and as I wrote this post, I was chuffed to bits my new recipe idea, but of course, like all good ideas, others got there first, as I discovered reading the newspaper a few days afterwards. Do click through to see Niamh’s Spaghetti Corkese recipe.

 

People assume that because I’m so obsessive about food, I must surely be an experienced cook who has turned her hand to most of the common recipes and many of the more unusual or elaborate ones besides.

Truth is, I am neither as adventurous or experienced a cook as you might think.

I love eating, of course – I am certainly an adventurous and experienced eater (though many of my food friends beat me hands down).

But when it comes to cooking, although Pete and I do some great cooking at home from time to time, we also flake out with ready made chicken Kiev and oven chips and a repertoire of easy, familiar and no-brainer dishes that we make again and again.

However, having attended a pasta making course earlier in the year, and then won a pasta making attachment for Intergalactic Unicorn not long afterwards, it was time to jump over this mental hurdle and make our own at home.

For our first attempt, we made a plain and simple tagliatelle using the pasta dough recipe that came with the attachment.

For our second attempt, we got a bit fancier and made ravioli parcels with a ricotta, lemon, parmesan, fresh pea and herbs filling.

Tagliatelle

The dough was decent, the attachment worked like a dream.

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Before too long we had satisfying piles of freshly cut tagliatelle.

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Our only mistake was not buying in any semolina, which Anna (the tutor for the pasta making course) recommended as a good way of stopping the pasta sticking to itself. Flour is too easily absorbed into the pasta whereas a roughly ground semolina is much easier to brush off the pasta.

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Despite the excess flour covering the pasta, it cooked quickly and didn’t clump together too badly.

We served it with a simple wild garlic, mushroom and bacon sauce.

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And it was good, if we do say so ourselves!

Ricotta, Lemon, Parmesan, Fresh Pea and Herbs Ravioli

Using a basic pasta dough recipe again, our second pasta making session resulted in beautiful ravioli filled with a ricotta, lemon, Parmesan cheese, fresh peas (from the garden), mint and basil leaves mixture.

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We served them with a simple lemon and basil butter – basil leaves wilted in butter with a little lemon juice stirred in.

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With the exception of the peas, which I left whole to add some texture, the other ingredients were combined in the Magimix. Next time, I’ll use the mixer to process the herbs, cheese, lemon zest and juice and then stir the resulting mixture into the ricotta, as I think this would result in a thicker textured mixture. The peas were lightly stirred in last.

I went by taste when making the mixture but you can see my approximate quantities in the photo above.

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We should have cranked the pasta into thinner sheets but were worried that we’d find it hard to handle. The ravioli were delicious but certainly not as thin and delicate as the ones you find at posh restaurants. Still satisfying though!

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Finding enough work surface to lay out the pasta and make the ravioli proved a challenge.

The filling being a little too soft made it hard to feel whether or not one had trapped any air bubbles inside the parcels. A firmer mixture would make it easier to push out the bubbles on sealing, I think.

But none of the ravioli popped open on cooking.

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The finished dish was pretty darn good. Pete found our filling a touch too lemony but my sister and I liked the citrusy kick.

For a great plain pasta dough recipe, see this post.

Next time, we may vary the pasta dough recipe, adding in some spinach or beetroot or other colouring and flavouring ingredients. Any recommendations?

 

I have a confession. Until a couple of months ago, I had never made pasta. Not once!

So when I was invited by Hubbub to attend a pasta and risotto course run by Anna Colquhoun, the Culinary Anthropologist, I was delighted.

Anna is living the dream many hobby food lovers harbour. She gave up a high level job to study at the Tante Marie Cooking School in San Francisco, and then took more specialised courses at other schools, including the San Francisco Baking Institute. This was followed by internships at a number of restaurants including Alice Waters’ famous Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Anna and her husband Matt then embarked on a year of travelling around Europe, Turkey and North and West Africa, soaking up all they could learn about cuisines as varied as Spanish, Slovakian and Senegalese. Anna researched and learned as much as she could about how to cook the food she and Matt encountered.

On getting back home, she was asked to author Alistair Sawday’s Eat Slow Britain, relating the stories of 88 British food business from pig farmers to cheese-makers to bakers to vegetable growers to restaurants and more. All had in common a shared belief in slow food values.

And she also converted her home kitchen into a large welcoming space that is perfect for the small-group cooking classes she now runs.

Hubbub, based in the Arsenal/ Finsbury Park area, are a small business aiming to help Londoners make use of their local independent food suppliers. Customers can order via Hubbub from local shops currently including Frank Godfrey Family Butcher, Fin & Flounder, Earth Natural Foods, La Fromagerie, Saponara Italian Delicatessen, The Barnsbury Grocer, Hansen & Lydersen, Paul A. Young Fine Chocolates and Ottolenghi. The advantage to the customer is that, instead of paying delivery charges from all the invidual stores, Hubbub arrange collections, collate your order and deliver it to you in one go, and for one charge. At the moment, much to my dismay, they don’t cover North Finchley – their range is most of Highbury, Islington, Finsbury Park, Stoke Newington, Tufnell Park and Kentish Town. But they plan to roll out their model further afield, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

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We started a little late, but after a quick introduction from Anna, we got stuck in, starting by each making our own pasta dough (see recipe below).

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Anna favours doing this traditionally, by hand… which involves making a caldera of flour, breaking the eggs into it and then carefully mixing flour from the inner caldera walls with the eggs, without causing a breach and having the eggs escape! After what seems an age, the dough finally comes together, though it’s a really hard dough, and kneading it is difficult.

This is where experience is so important – Anna assures us that a hard dough is not a bad thing, and that it’s actually helpful, since the dough will soften and become much more elastic after resting. Somewhat dubious, we each divide our dough into two pieces, wrap in cling film, label with our names and leave to one side to rest.

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Whilst the dough rests, we make two fillings, one of ricotta and herbs and another of roasted butternut squash and parmesan cheese. We split into two groups for this, each group making one of the two fillings.

Fillings done and popped into the fridge, we retrieve our pasta dough. And just as promised, when we open them up, mine has just the right texture – soft and elastic yet firm.

Anna teaches us how to press our dough through the hand-cranked pasta machines and we’re grateful we’re in teams, as turning the crank, feeding the long ribbons of dough in and gently catching them as they come back out takes more than two hands!

If the dough gets too sticky, we sprinkle with flour, which it absorbs as it goes through the press again. But if it’s dry enough, we simply use a little semolina, less finely ground which means it doesn’t get absorbed into the dough so easily, and that stops the folds of dough sticking, but can be brushed off the surface easily when ready.

Some of the dough we cut into maltagliati and some into papardelle.

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first image courtesy of Anna Colquhoun

From the rest we make ravioli and tortellini, learning how to remove air bubbles, seal and shape.

The finished pasta is left to one side while we move on to make two risottos, a wild mushroom one to be served with truffle oil and a pea and parmesan one. Again, we split into two groups and one group makes each risotto. My team make the mushroom one.

Pete and I often make risotto at home – simple recipes using home-made chicken stock and adding either home-grown leeks with blue cheese or leftover roast chicken meat with spring onions.

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As soon as the risottos are ready, we grab plates, serve ourselves and sit down at the big kitchen table. By this time, I’m absolutely starving, so the hot, filling risotto is very welcome indeed. And whilst the thrown-together ones Pete and I make are always tasty, I admiringly admit that these two are definitely better!

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The course is running late – it’s a new one and Anna says she may have been over-ambitious about how much we could achieve in the time, so rather than cooking the pasta together and sitting down to eat at the table, Anna quickly demonstrates a mozzarella, basil & cherry tomatoes sauce and a gorgonzola, spinach & walnuts one, which we quickly taste, standing around the work station.

We are also invited to take some of the filled pasta with us to cook and enjoy at home.

And of course, we leave with all the recipes for the pasta and risotto we have made during the day.


Anna’s Basic Fresh Egg Pasta Dough Recipe

Fresh pasta dough can be made with just flour and water, or with a mixture of eggs and water, with whole eggs and/or egg yolks. The more egg you use the easier the dough will be to handle and cook, and the more yolks you use the richer its golden colour will be. Use genuinely free range eggs, as it is the hens’ diet of green things which makes their egg yolks orange. If you don’t have special ‘OO’ pasta flour (which is very fine, with a high protein content), you can use regular plain flour and the recipe will still work.

Makes approximately 600g (enough for 8 starters or 4 main courses)

Ingredients:
500g ‘typo OO’ pasta flour
4 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
salt
semolina flour

Method:

  • Mound the flour onto a clean work surface and create a large well inside so it looks like the crater of an exploded volcano. Crack eggs and the extra yolk into the well and add a generous pinch of salt.
  • Use a fork to whisk the eggs, then start bringing in the sides of the crater and incorporating flour. Keep mixing until you have a thick paste. At this point it may be easier to use your hands to knead in the remaining flour. Incorporate as much as possible – you want a stiff, smooth dough. If it seems too dry, sprinkle over a little water using your fingertips. Knead for 10 minutes – it will become smoother.
  • Cut the dough in two and wrap each piece tightly in clingfilm. Set aside for 30 minutes. If you like, you can make the dough several hours in advance, even the night before, in which case keep it in the fridge.
  • Assemble your pasta rolling machine and unwrap a piece of dough. Lightly dust a large area of work surface next to the machine with flour. Squidge the dough into a rectangular block, with one end tapered so that it can fit into the machine. Dust it with a little flour. With the machine set to its widest setting (usually 1), roll the dough through. Fold it in three like a business letter, prod it all over with your fingertips to seal, and repeat the process, feeding one of the open ends into the machine first. Keep repeating until the dough is smooth and silky. If it is sticking to the rollers you need to dust with more flour. If it is cracking up it may be getting too dry and you should use less or no flour.
  • Now feed the dough through each of the settings, getting thinner each time, until you get to the thinnest (usually 6). You only need go through each setting once, and this time don’t fold the dough between rolls. You should end up with a long, thin sheet of fine pasta, the width of the machine.
  • Sprinkle plenty of semolina on a lined baking sheet. Cut the pasta into your desired shape and store on the baking sheet dusted with extra semolina so that the pieces don’t stick. Cover with clingfilm and let rest for half an hour before cooking. Or keep it in the fridge and use within a day or two.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season generously with salt. Shake any excess semolina off the pasta and boil until al dente – usually just a few minutes. Unless your pot is huge you may need to do this in batches so as not to crowd the pasta. Drain pasta and let steam dry for a minute to remove excess moisture. Toss with your prepared pasta sauce or simply drizzle with extra virgin olive oil or meted butter and grind over some black pepper.

I really enjoyed the day and learned a great deal. My fellow students were similarly delighted, and we all left with a new confidence in making pasta at home. I particularly appreciated the small class size and the personal instruction it afforded.

Find out about upcoming classes at Anna’s website.

Kavey Eats was a guest of Hubbub and the Culinary Anthropologist.

 

I came to wild garlic late. Others have known about it’s deliciousness for many a year, but I first tasted it just a couple of years back.

Last year, I was determined to forage my own and use it in my cooking.

Here’s a quote from a previous post: By the way, in the UK, when we talk about wild garlic we’re usually referring to ramsons (allium ursinum), a wild relative of chives. From wiki, I learn that “the Latin name owes to the brown bear’s taste for the bulbs and habit of digging up the ground to get at them” which also explains another of it’s aliases: bear’s garlic.

My first stash came early in last year’s wild garlic season, courtesy of the lovely MarkyMarket, who generously shared his secret foraging location with me. I had been intending to make a soup but instead used only some of the wild garlic leaves to stuff a chicken before roasting. Lovely!

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With plenty of leaves leftover, I decided to blitz the rest raw with oil and pop them into the freezer, in tiny plastic boxes.

My second stash was foraged when the wild garlic was in flower, carpeting swathes of grassy roadside verges in rural Dorset. Much of this harvest was enjoyed as a wild garlic tempura, which was delicious!

Again, I had leftovers, and blitzed with oil before freezing in small portions.

In the year since then, we’ve gradually used up our stock making this delicious pasta which, after the first time we made it, has become a firm favourite. The mushrooms really absorb the flavours of the wild garlic and the rest coats the pasta nicely.

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In this instance, we happened to use one pot of frozen wild garlic leaves and another pot of frozen flowers and stems.

Wild Garlic Pasta

Ingredients
Some wild garlic leaves and/ or flowers on stems blitzed in vegetable oil
Bacon, pancetta or lardons, cut into small pieces
Mushrooms, sliced
Pasta of your choice

Note: If you are making this with fresh pasta, I would still blitz the wild garlic in some oil as the oil takes on the flavour and is absorbed by the mushrooms during cooking.

Method

  • Put the pasta on to cook (unless it’s fresh and needs much less time).

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  • Fry the bacon until cooked and just beginning to crisp, then set aside.

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  • In the same pan, slowly cook the mushrooms in the blitzed wild garlic and oil. (We give our frozen wild garlic and oil time to defrost before adding the mushrooms).

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  • When the mushrooms are ready (and the pasta is cooked), stir the bacon back in, drain the pasta well and stir it in too.

If you have found an abundant source of wild garlic near you (please forage sustainably), do consider preserving some as we did so you can enjoy this simple pasta dish year round.

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