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.

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Beef Pie

One of the most useful additions to my kitchen over the last two years has been the cast iron casserole dish we were given by my fiance’s parents as our engagement present. Countless stews, casseroles and curries have been cooked and served in this beautiful royal blue pan. It is the  most versatile piece of cookware we own, perfect for making stock out of a leftover chicken carcass or making batches of soup for weekday lunches.

My advice if you’re looking to splash out on a present for a foodie, a cast iron casserole dish is a fantastic idea if they don’t already own one!

Onto the recipe… This is an adaptation of a recipe from Rachel Allen’s Easy Meals with more emphasis on vegetable content to bulk up the dish. I bought a pound of stewing beef from one of the butchers in the English Market and after 2 hours of cooking in the oven, it was falling apart in the pan and tasted absolutely amazing.

Beef Pie

Beef Pie Slice

Beef Pie

adapted from Rachel Allen’s Easy Meals

serves 4

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil
454g stewing beef, cut into 2cm chunks
salt & black pepper
2 tbsp flour
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1cm cubes
2 large leeks, trimmed and cut into 3cm pieces
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tbsp tomato paste
200 ml red wine
300ml beef stock
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 strips orange peel
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs rosemary
200 g ready rolled pastry
1 egg, beaten

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 160C.
Pour the olive oil into a casserole dish on a medium-high heat, season the beef with salt and pepper and, when hot, add the beef to the pan. Fry for 3-4 minutes until well browned, then stir in the flour and cook for a further minute.
Add the vegetables, tomato paste and garlic. Stir together and cook for 5 minutes or until the vegetables have softened. Add the wine, vinegar, orange peel, bay leaf and rosemary, along with the beef stock. Season with salt and pepper, then stir together, bring to the boil and cover with a lid.
Place in the oven and cook for 2 hours or until the beef is tender. Remove from the oven and turn the temperature up to 220C.
Cut the pastry to fit the top of the casserole dish, leaving an extra 1cm on the edge. Make a hole in the centre with a sharp knife, and add the pastry on top of the filling.
Return the dish to the oven, and bake for a further 12-15 minutes until the pastry is crisp.

Vanilla Shortbread

I am not the biscuit fan in our household. I never crave the chocolate indulgence of cookies or the buttery taste of shortbread. I have never debated whether a Jaffa cake is a biscuit or a cake, or whether to get the McVities or the Jacobs version. The idea of dipping a biscuit into a cup of tea confounds me- why would you do that to a nice cup of tea?

However my fiance‘s weakness is for biscuits in every form. M&S’s chewy double chocolate cookies are winners and every coffee break in the morning needs to be accompanied with at least 2 biscuits. In our desire to cook and bake more food from scratch, we decided to tackle biscuits recently, starting with shortbread.

Shortbread really is one of the simplest recipes out there, most commonly made with three ingredients- butter, sugar and flour. The combination of creaming butter and sugar and then folding in the flour makes a crumbly dry biscuit. Adding egg yolks to the recipe gives a much sturdier and less crumbly texture, and also seem to make the biscuits store better in an airtight container.

Shortbread

Vanilla Shortbread

Ingredients

325 g plain flour
200 g cold cubed butter
125 g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 egg yolks

Instructions

Place the flour and butter in a food processor and whizz until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, vanilla extract and egg yolks. Pulse for a minute until it comes together.
Turn the dough out onto a piece of clingfilm and shape into a log. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan. Cut the log into 5-8mm thick slices and place on a baking tray lined with baking parchment.
Sprinkle over a bit of caster sugar and bake for 20 minutes until golden around the edges.
Allow to cool and then store in an airtight container.

Avoca Lamb Burger

Perhaps my most favourite lamb burger recipe, but made extra special with an additional salsa to top the whole creation.

Avoca Lamb Burger

Avoca Lamb Burgers with Fiery Tomato Salsa

adapted from A Year in Avoca

serves 4

Ingredients

Burgers
454g minced lamb
1 egg, lightly whisked
2 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs
1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 red chilli, de-seeded and diced
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
20g fresh mint
1 tsp ground cumin

Salsa
1 punnet cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 small red onion, very finely diced
1 small red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley or coriander
sea salt & black pepper

To Serve
4 ciabattas/ baps
Baby spinach leaves
Manchego or strong cheddar cheese
Garlic mayonnaise
Slices of red onion

Method

1) Place the lamb, egg, breadcrumbs, onion, garlic, chilli, cumin and herbs in a bowl and mix well. Season with salt and pepper and divide the mixture into 4 burgers.

2) Fry or grill the burgers for 6-8 minutes on each side until the burger is cooked through.

3) Meanwhile, combine all the salsa ingredients and mix well.

4) Place the burgers on ciabatta with salad, cheese, red onion and garlic mayonnaise, and topped with the tomato salsa. Serve with side salad and potato wedges.

Sweet Potato, Carrot & Coconut Soup

While I might not love everything winter has to offer (colds, heating bills, rain, etc), I absolutely adore winter cooking in all its forms but especially soup.

Soup is very possibly the easiest lunch you can throw together on a lazy weekend morning to cure a hangover or cold, and even then it’s so simple to double or triple the recipe to stock up your freezer… and all you need is a few fresh vegetables, some simple store cupboard ingredients and a blender.

I started off my soup making many years ago in college with ‘refrigerator soup’, made from the leftover vegetables in my vegetable drawer which were starting to look a little worse for wear, whatever dried herbs or spices I could lay my hands on and some stock.

I still call upon this recipe from time to time to use up leftover carrots and sweet potatoes, but sometimes you need some other ingredients to make it taste amazing. Adding some fresh coriander leaves, a tin of coconut milk, fresh chillies and lemongrass elevates a simple Saturday lunchtime soup to something utterly luxurious and mouthwateringly delicious.

This recipe is all about the coconut milk which is added right at the end of the cooking process and lends the soup a silky texture and a very distinctive taste. As with all soups, you can really adjust this soup to your own tastes. Add extra spices or more chillies if you want more heat, or even replace the sweet potato with butternut squash, but do not leave out that tin of coconut milk.

The leftovers from this soup will keep for a few days in the fridge and tastes great reheated for lunch the next day.

Sweet Potato, Carrot and Coconut Soup

Sweet Potato, Carrot & Coconut Soup

serves 6

from A Year in Avoca

Ingredients

2 large onions, peeled and chopped
50 g butter
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
1 lemongrass stalk
600 ml vegetable stock
1 x 400g tin of coconut milk
handful coriander leaves
salt & black pepper

Instructions


1) Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a low heat and then add the onions. Cook for 10 minutes or so until the onions have softened.
2) Add the potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and chilli to the pan and saute for 1-2 minutes. Gently bruise the lemongrass stalk and then add to the pan along with the vegetable stock. Season well, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes until all vegetables are tender.
3) Remove the pan from the heat and add the coconut milk and the coriander. Remove the lemongrass stalk from the pan- this may have fallen apart during cooking so do double check that you removed all the lemongrass.
4) Blend the soup until smooth and adjust the seasoning. Reheat gently and serve garnished with some chopped coriander leaves.