These days some of my friends are making it very easy for me to decide what recipes to write about. Yesterday a friend told me that she was making some cupcakes and thought of me, which was very very nice of her, me thinks. Today I had a little chat with another friend of mine about the joys of pasta, and how it can be classified as comfort food. As a typical Maltese I enjoy a nice plate of pasta once in a while, not only because it is one of the easiest things to prepare, but because there’s nothing better than pasta with a sauce made from simple ingredients. The Italians serve pasta as a primo, which is as it should be. But unfortunately in general we (as in non-Italians and not as in Maltese please) have made the portions bigger and bigger.
Cooking with chorizo is one of my favourite things to do. It wasn’t common in recipe books at all but lately it’s becoming more and more popular. It’s cured and smoked, and it can be eaten as is, but it gives a great depth of flavour when incorporated into your cooking. It is very strong and salty so go easy with it, but be brave and try it. For those who are new to it (just like me a couple of months ago) here’s something you should consider – a recipe which I tried recently from James Tanner Takes 5. (You know how much I like this book so I won’t bore you again!) It’s quick and uncomplicated. Simple enough, but you will want a second helping. James’ recipe calls for penne, and I can see why. I used tagliatelle instead and if he were here he would probably tell you to use whatever you like. However if you like to eat bite-sized chunks of meat and pasta at one go, then it’s penne all the way!
A little note about the ingredients before you start. If like me you don’t have sherry vinegar in your pantry, try using some white wine vinegar instead, and please don’t panic when you see that this recipe needs whipping cream. You don’t need it…really. James suggests using half-fat crème fraiche instead and it works fine. Tried and tested. Don’t let it heat up too much though because it tends to curdle. James cooks with shallots, most probably because they will give you a delicate flavour which is needed against the chorizo. I must confess that I didn’t have those so I used one common onion. I could have tried using spring onions instead. Also you can adjust the pasta quantity depending on how many people you’re having over for lunch. The quantities below are James’. Serves 4.
350g dried penne
250g chorizo, cut into diagonal thin slices
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
125ml whipping cream or half-fat crème fraiche
Cook the penne according to the packet instructions.
In the meantime, slice the chorizo, and heat the olive oil in a pan. Tip in the shallots or onion and soften over medium heat for around 2 minutes. Add the chorizo and crank up the heat until it starts to release some of it’s oil.
Add the sherry vinegar and leave to cook for around another minute or so over high heat and stir to deglaze your pan. Pour in the cream or crème fraiche, but don’t boil it if you’re using the latter. Just let it heat up and remove at once from the heat. Season with some fresh ground pepper.
Drain the pasta and add the sauce on top into warm individual bowls.
Enjoy with a glass of chilled white vino and eat it in the garden!
I’ve been really busy these past few weeks and haven’t had time to bake. After moving and a few other hassles, I went down with a small bout of fever. No time to think and definitely in no mood to work. My mind couldn’t stop thinking about what to do next though and this morning I remembered that I had this cupcake recipe in line for ages now. When I was young a cupcake-making day was always exciting, so for old-time’s sake here is one I found on Nigella Express (page 187). I didn’t follow through with the coloured cream though, since I had some leftover chocolate icing in the fridge and used that instead. Here’s the recipe.
125g soft butter
125 plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 200ºC/392ºF/Gas Mark 6. Line a 12-muffin tin with muffin papers of baking paper.
In a bowl if mixing by hand, cream the butter and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy and changes colour to a pale yellow.
Add the eggs one at a time and continue beating. Fold the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and vanilla extract.
Divide the batter evenly into the muffin papers and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the little cakes turn golden. Tip the cupcakes onto a wire rack and leave to cool. Cover with any icing you prefer.
So easy to make and perfect for these summer evenings, when you still feel the urge to bake but you know you won’t cope with the oven for very long. Enjoy!
I know that I have already said that I am moving house. Moving day/s (it could take a couple of days I guess) will be Monday. So I am writing this in my tiny living space which is currently home to numerous boxes, not with nostalgia, but with a mix of tiredness and excitement. We will have loads of help too and I will feed a small group of friends at the end of the day, though I haven’t decided yet what to cook. I’m looking forward to it and I do feel grateful and blessed. These have been hectic days and I think I need a holiday. What I really need though is a Keep Calm & Carry On poster! I hope to be back soon. In the meantime Keep Cooking…
I like to try two similar recipes using one base ingredient and compare tastes and textures. The reason is simple really: this happens because usually I have one ingredient I buy too much of. The idea for the cake in the previous post and this one here came from having a couple of unused fruit lying around.
The following is taken from Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess, which as I think I have said before, it is a must for all home bakers to have. But I will not go into that again, don’t worry! What I will tell you now is that on page 33 there’s a recipe for Banana Bread. Nigella has adapted it from Jim Fobel’s Old-Fashioned Baking Book: Recipes from an American Childhoodand it’s very similar to the first banana loaf recipe I wrote about. There’s some alcohol in it in the form of bourbon or dark rum as she suggests. I had neither on hand so I used some brandy. It is simple, delicious and ideal for sharing. You will end up with a heavier cake but adding the alcohol plumps up the sultanas and makes them tastier. You will need:
75ml bourbon or dark rum (or brandy)
175g plain flour
2 teaspooons baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ teaspoon salt (optional)
125g unsalted butter, softened
150g caster sugar or soft brown sugar
2 large eggs
Around 300g (without the skin) very ripe bananas, mashed
60g pecans or walnuts, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Place the sultanas and the alcohol in a small pan over the heat. As soon as it starts to boil, remove from the heat and let it soak for around an hour or until the sultanas have absorbed most of the alcohol. Drain using a sieve.
In the meantime preheat the oven to 170ºC/338ºF/Gas Mark 3 and grease and line a loaf tin (23 x 13 x 7cm).
In a medium-sized bowl put the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt and stir everything together well.
Now mix the melted butter and sugar in a large bowl and whisk together; then add the eggs one at a time and continue whisking.
Add the mashed bananas, walnuts, drained sultanas and vanilla extract. Mix lightly and start pouring the flour mixture slowly. Add half and beat, then add the other half and beat again.
Pour the completed cake batter into your loaf tin and bake in the middle of the oven for around 1 to 1¼ hours, always keeping an eye on it. When ready the skewer or knife used to check it shouldn’t come out clean because you want a gooey cake. Don’t worry because the cake will continue to cook when you take it out of the oven while cooling. Leave to cool for a while in the tin, then take it out on a rack. If you line the cake with overlapping baking paper (see my lemon cake from a while back) handling it will be super easy.
Nigella’s variation of this cake, which I still have to try would be to replace 25g of the plain flour with good quality cocoa powder and adding 100g of dark chocolate chunks or chocolate chips. I’m sure I will like it!
A couple of months ago I wanted to bake something light and fluffy for tea. I didn’t want to make another chocolate cake; that would have been too boring, even for my self-confessed love of the stuff. So I flipped through the books and found two lovely cakes. I couldn’t choose between them and I tried them both. On two different days in case you ask. The only problem was that when J processed the photos for me I couldn’t remember what cakes they were and where I got them from. Eventually J was the one who did the identifying; nothing out of the ordinary really – it happens. I need to improve my note-keeping…
The following is a recipe which I had in my notes for more than ten years now. It’s a good recipe for Banana Nut Loaf. You can make it quickly if you have people coming over for tea on a Sunday, you can whip it up for yourself and your family, and leave it in the kitchen for anyone who might like something sweet in the afternoon. The original recipe calls for wholemeal self-raising flour but I tried it with half wholemeal and half white once, and it still worked well. If you use plain wholemeal, then mix two teaspoons of baking powder with the flour. The recipe below is close to the one in the book but with a slight variations. It yields one loaf cake.
125g soft butter
230g soft brown sugar, plus 1 extra tablespoon
225g wholemeal self-raising flour
50g dessicated coconut, plus 2 extra tablespoons
15og banana, mashed
40g walnuts, chopped
½ teaspoon mixed spice
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4 and grease and line a loaf tin with baking paper. (Believe me, this will really keep the cake nice and moist so don’t skip the lining bit.)
In a large bowl mix the softened butter, the 230g of the sugar, eggs, flour, 50g coconut, banana and milk. Whisk all the ingredients together but don’t over beat.
Now spoon half of your cake batter into the loaf tin. In a small bowl use your hands to mix half the walnuts, mixed spice, the 1 extra tablespoon of sugar and the 2 extra tablespoons of coconut.
Sprinkle half this mix on to the batter in your tin. Then carefully pour in the remaining cake batter. Smooth the surface with a spatula and add the remaining spice, nut and coconut mix on top.
Bake the cake for around 1 hour, keeping an eye on it every now and then to make sure the surface doesn’t burn. If this happens cover it loosely with a piece of foil after 25-30 minutes. Check that the cake has cooked through by inserting a skewer or knife. It’s well worth the wait.
I can understand the urge to grab a quick takeaway on your way home from a tiring day at work. But think about it, you don’t know what really went into it. Arguably one of the most convenient “kind-of-ready-made” food is pasta. Who doesn’t have a packet of pasta lying around in the cupboard right now? So let me give you a couple of ideas which work for me when I’m in a I’m-hungry-NOW mood.
One thing which I am really loving right now is pappardelle. They are so good for lapping up any kind of sauce. They also offer some variety on a plate, unlike the usual spaghetti. I like any flat pasta – be it linguine, tagliatelle, fettucine, mafaldine etc. They tick all the hunger boxes for me. I have to admit it though: there are few things in life better than spaghetti carbonara, but obviously, take it slow with that!
But how about a nice summery pasta concoction washed down with a fresh white glass of vino? Ahh I have dreams about that – me, in a summer garden calmly *cough* wolfing down a lovely biggish bowl of pasta with fresh vegetables with a prawn or two thrown in, at least for those who love them like I do. If you don’t then leave them out and substitute them with either a light meat option like leftover chicken or turkey that was already cooked, or another vegetable. It’s your pasta, you’re the cook so do whatever you like. That’s freedom! There will be no exact quantities for this. Let this be your guide and go with whatever your gut tells you (excuse the pun).
Pasta with Prawn and Fresh Tomatoes (For 4).
500g fresh or dried pappardelle
1 tablespoon or so mild olive oil (not extra virgin)
1 onion, finely chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
150g small plum or cherry tomatoes, cut in half
6 large chestnut mushrooms, cut into quarters
100g or so shrimps or 8 uncooked prawns, de-veined
Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. In the meantime gently fry the onion, garlic and chilli flakes in the olive oil for a couple of minutes.
Quickly add the plum tomatoes and the mushrooms. I like everything to be al dente, so throw in the prawns, leave until they turn pink and toss everything with the pasta. Serve instantly with a drizzling of extra virgin olive oil (now you can since here it only serves as a dressing), freshly ground pepper and some fresh lemon juice. Ready? Now let’s eat!
For a vegetarian option try the following:
While the pasta is cooking, gently fry in olive oil some chopped onion, finely chopped garlic, chilli flakes in a hot pan. Throw in some chopped zucchini (courgettes) and mushrooms. When cooked through but still firm, add some chopped fresh tomatoes and there you have it. Toss with the pasta, serve as the recipe above and go eat this in the garden. Bliss!
You know the drill: you go to the shops and buy something which is not one of your usuals. It has been a while though since I’ve gone on a shopping strike recently. Well not really…not a 100% because you can’t do that…but I had this packet of dried conchiglie lying around in my pantry not doing much. I got so tired of looking at it that I decided to use some of it.
There’s no denying that pasta and pizza are great for pantry clearing. They also come in handy when you’ve either forgot to do the shopping or when you’re too tired to think after a day’s work. The following is a take on an easy recipe which is very popular in Malta. Fact is that back home we love our food, baked dishes being some of our favourites. Baking with pasta or even rice is quick, practical and it’s the kind of food which you can freeze and reheat. It will also keep well for two to three days in the fridge. You can use other types of pasta if you like, but conchiglie give you bulk without having to pile up the pasta for decent thickness and presence. I like to make this in summer or when I don’t feel like faffing about with lasagne.
For this recipe, which serves up to 6-8 people (always depending on your guests’ level of hunger) you need:
750g conchiglie, cooked al dente & drained
For the ricotta mixture:
250g fresh spinach, steamed & cooled
salt & pepper, to taste
2 eggs, lightly beaten
For the tomato sauce topping:
1 -2 onions, chopped
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon curry
½ teaspoon mixed spice
1 tablespoon dried basil
salt & pepper, to taste
For the cheese topping:
50g grated Red Leicester, Cheddar or any other hard cheese you like
Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4/350ºF.
In a large bowl mix the cooked pasta, steamed spinach, ricotta, salt and pepper. Steaming the spinach is ideal if you don’t want a sloppy mixture. When you are happy with the seasoning, add the beaten eggs and mix everything until well combined.
To prepare the tomato sauce, you don’t need to cook it on the stove. Just mix well your ingredients in another bowl.
Spread a tablespoon of olive oil on the bottom of a rectangular ceramic or glass baking dish, and also spread a thin layer of your tomato sauce. Tip in the cooked pasta and ricotta mixture into the dish and spread evenly. Then spread the tomato mixture over the pasta.
Grate the cheese all over and bake for around 45 minutes, but keep an eye on it once in a while. You could serve this alone or with some green salad.