Wholewheat Penne with Pancetta, Onions & Spinach

I assume most people are like me, rushing home from work in the evening and trying to get dinner on the table. Some days I consider cooking anything for dinner an achievement, let alone cooking a healthy, well-balanced meal. On those days, the only thing stopping me from phoning the nearest takeaway is the thought of having to go outside to collect it.

The next easiest thing to a takeaway has to be a simple pasta dish which can will be on your table within 20 minutes without much work. I tend to keep my fridge stocked with pancetta, baby spinach, and decent parmesan, and my store cupboard always has onions, pasta and olive oil in it. With a little bit of love and effort, these simple ingredient can be transformed into something delicious and healthy.

This recipe isn’t so much a strict recipe as a method using some basic ingredients. If you have chorizo rather than pancetta, feel free to use that, or if you stocked up on courgettes recently, grate them up and use them instead of the spinach. Add some cherry tomatoes if you have a punnet of them in your fridge, or replace the onions with shallots if that’s what you have to hand.

Pancetta, Spinach & Onion Pasta

Wholewheat Penne with Pancetta, Spinach & Onions

Serves 2

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
2-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
200g wholewheat penne
100g cubed pancetta
100g baby spinach
salt & black pepper
Parmesan

Method

1) Heat the oil in a large sauté pan and add the onions. Saute for 10 minutes until they are softened, and then add the garlic.
2) Cook the pasta according to packet instructions.
3) Meanwhile, add the pancetta to the pan and season well. Add the spinach to the pan after 7 minutes and allow the spinach to wilt down.
4) When the pasta is cooked, reserve a mug of the cooking water. Drain the pasta and add to the pan with a splash of the cooking water. Mix well, adding another splash of water if needed, and season to taste.
5) Serve sprinkled with some grated Parmesan.

Pan-Fried Duck with Plum Sauce

Just a quick recipe from some cooking from this weekend! Duck is one of my favourite meats, so a quick recipe for pan-fried duck breasts is always a winner in my books.

The recipe for plum sauce makes far more than needed for 2 people, and it is very easy to preserve the remaining sauce in a sterile jar- there is enough for another 2 or 3 dinners.

As always, duck is a greasy meat but scoring the skin and then searing the breast skin-side down on a hot frying pan will cause the fat to render from under the skin and give you the most amazing crispy skin. I like my duck quite pink inside, so cook to your own preference.

Pan-Fried Duck Breast with Plum Sauce

Pan-Fried Duck Breasts with Plum Sauce

(serves 2)

Ingredients

2 duck breasts
1 thyme sprig, leaves removed
1 tsp oil

For the plum sauce:

1 shallot, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
250g dark red plums, halved, stoned and cut into small wedges
50g sugar
1 cinnamon stick
6 cardamom pods, crushed open and seeds crushed
50ml red wine
300ml beef stock
1 tbsp soy sauce

To make the sauce, fry the shallot in the oil for 5 mins until softened. Add the plums, sugar, cinnamon stick and ground cardamom, stirring for a few mins until the sugar has dissolved. Add the red wine and stock to the pan. Simmer for about 15 mins, stirring occasionally, until the plums are soft. Crush the plums against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon and leave the sauce to thicken.

Meanwhile, score the skin of the duck breasts with a sharp knife and season well with salt and pepper. Heat a small drop of oil in a non-stick frying pan and place the duck breasts in, skin-side down. Sprinkle with the thyme leaves and fry skin-side down for 6-7 minutes before turning. Cook for a further 5-6 mins for pink or 10-12 mins for well done.
When the duck is cooked, leave to rest covered with tin foil for 5 minutes. Slice the duck breasts thinly and arrange on a plate with mashed potatoes, wilted spinach and the plum sauce.

Roman Spring Lamb

Over on Twitter, there is a fantastic weekly cookoff on a Sunday evening, ran by @uluruarmagh. While I’ve only joined in recently, I have noticed I want to cook on every Sunday evening. Not only that, I now want to challenge myself to cook better Sunday dinners and try out new recipes which I haven’t tried out yet, like this lamb dish from The Silver Spoon.

It serves around 4 to 6 people, and can be easily stretched out with a couple of vegetable sides like the sauteed kale and carrots in this photo. Using tender lamb leg means that the cooking time is quite short for a Sunday roast- 40 minutes instead of the usual 90 minutes plus for leg of lamb. Of course, a cheaper and tougher cut could be used if the cooking temperature is lowered and the cooking time is increased.

Roasted Lamb

Roman Spring Lamb

from The Silver Spoon

Serves 4-6
1 kg leg of lamb
plain flour, for dusting
3 tbsp olive oil
3 fresh rosemary sprigs
1 garlic clove, crushed
175 ml white wine
5 tbsp white wine vinegar
4 potatoes, cut into cubes
salt & pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/ 170C fan oven.
2. Chop the leg into pieces and dust the pieces of lamb with flour.
3. Heat the oil in a wide roasting pan, add the lamb and cook over high heat, turning
frequently, for about 10 minutes until browned all over.
4. Season with salt and pepper, add the rosemary sprigs and garlic.
5. Add the wine and vinegar to the roasting pan and cook until the liquid has almost
completely evaporated.
6. Add 200ml boiling water and the potatoes, cover and roast for 40 minutes or until the
potatoes and meat are tender.
7. If the gravy seems to be drying out, add a little hot water mixed with white wine vinegar.
8. Transfer the lamb to a warm serving dish and serve while still hot.

Sautéed Kale

Serves 4

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 large bunch kale, stemmed, with leaves coarsely chopped
100 ml vegetable stock, white wine or water
Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and red-pepper flakes to taste
2 tbsp red-wine vinegar
1. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan set over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add
garlic, and cook until soft.
2. Add kale to the pan, turn the heat to high and add the stock. Use a spoon to toss the
greens in the oil and stock, then cover and cook for approximately 5 to 7 minutes, until it
is soft and wilted, but still quite green.
3. Remove cover and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until all the liquid has
evaporated, another 1 to 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and peppers, add vinegar
and toss to combine.