Quick Pasta Alternative

second-quick-pasta-01Our private name for Spaghetti Aglio e Olio has always been quick pasta or Schnelle Nudeln to be precise, obviously in reference to the short preparation time and minimum effort required.

Here’s another lovely quick pasta dish, with the added bonus of increased capacity for using-up leftover vegetable:

Fettuccine with Sage Butter, Nuts and Stuff

I start with a small amount of vegetables. I happen to have half a bulb of fennel and half a small squash in the fridge, on another day some Swiss chard or cauliflower might do the trick or perhaps thin stripes of Savoy cabbage or Italian Cavolo Nego will join the party.

Bring a pot of pasta cooking water to the boil.

Meanwhile, toast a handful of nuts in a non-sticking frying pan. We had pistachio nuts and pumpkin seeds, but walnuts or Macadamia would also be great. Salt slightly and set the nuts aside but keep the pan.

Dice the veg and using the same pan to caramelise lightly in a little bit of butter except when using cauliflower.
When using cauliflower, cut into small chunks such that each has a flat side, and dry-roast in the same pan at moderate heat. When using cabbage greens such as stripes of Savoy cabbage or Cavolo Nero, stir-fry dry for two minutes, then for another 30 seconds with added butter.

Season to taste with salt and pepper, then set aside.

Add a teaspoon of salt and 250 g of good quality egg Fettuccine to the boiling pasta water, reduce the heat and stir gently once the dry pasta begins to soften up to avoid lumps.

Clean, dry and chop a large handful of fresh sage leaves into very fine bits. Melt 75 g of butter until it begins to foam, then add the sage and stir occasionally for a minute.

Drain the pasta and dress with the nuts, vegetables and sage butter.

I added little pieces of blue cheese but I suppose the addition of cheese is optional.

Quick and easy.

Party Bread Rolls

P20150926112635.JPGThese savoury bread rolls make for great finger food to take along to a party and share. They are easily adjusted to vegetarians or vegans and can be very delicious, especially when straight from the oven.

I make a basic bread dough and let it rise for half an hour, then roll it out. This needs to rise for another 30 to 45 minutes, preferably in a warm and damp environment. I usually put it into the oven, covering the inside of the door with a tea towel wet with hot water.

Meanwhile, collect an assortment of “toppings”. Semi-dried tomatoes work great, salami or Chorizo slices, goats cheese or Swiss Gruyere, chopped olives, rosemary, fresh thyme, basil. Whatever your garden has to offer, or that magic cupboard in the larder. Perhaps you could even use up one of those jars of relish, pickles or chutney?

Spread and sprinkle the toppings of your choice across the surface of the bread dough, then roll up into one large roll and cut into slices.

Now lay out the slices on a tray with baking parchment and let recover from the ordeal for another 30 to 45 minutes, again preferably in a warm and not dry environment, then dust lightly with flour and bake at 200 C until ready within approximately 15 minutes.

Brombeer Rahmkuchen

This is perfect all year round, but it is particularly attractive now, before the first soft fruit ripens and the larder wants emptying of last year’s jam.

Brombeer Rahmkuchen, as we call it, or Blackberry Baked Custard Cake, as you might want to call it.

This works with more or less any kind of jam so long as it isn’t too runny, provided that you rename the cake appropriately.

Make a sweet yeast dough cake base from 200 g of flour for a simple 28 cm round backing tray.

Line the baking tray with baking parchment. Roll out the dough, transfer onto the parchment and into the tray.

Whip up a medium-sized jar of Blackberry jam and spread evenly across the top, then let the dough with topping recover for half an hour.

Heat the oven to 180 C.

Whip up half a pint of double cream with 2 or 3 free range egg yolks and a tablespoon of vanilla-infused sugar, then gently pour on top. Dust lightly with ground cinnamon, then bake until it looks right, approximately half an hour if memory serves me right.

Take it out a few minutes before it becomes as dark as the one in the picture.

Let cool down on a rack for at least 20 minutes before cutting.

Devilled Eggs

DSC_0264Everybody loves these, and most people usually say “oh! I remember we used to make those, too!”

Everybody used to make devilled eggs for all occasions some time during the past century. Not so for us. We still make them and still love them and whenever we offer some, at most one is left over if nobody dares take the last one. Otherwise none.

Hard-boil half a dozen of medium-size free range eggs, then shock in very cold water and peel. Cut right through the middle, arrange the egg white halves on a serving plate and collect the yolks in a small mixing bowl. Add the devil in the form of a very generous amount of mustard, and perhaps a small amount of soured cream to make the mix lighter. Mix well with a fork or a hand mixer, fill into a piping bag and into the waiting egg whites.

Optionally decorate with a caper or a sliver of red peppers, although I find this is taking the retro look too far. For a more refined look and for far more fiddly preparations consider using Quail eggs.

 

Ivory Coast Soup

DSC_0521This is a lovely vegetarian option for when you feel like saving the planet: a pan-roasted ginger and pumpkin soup with fresh spinach, seared feta cheese, pine kernels and toasted pumpkin seeds.

It’s fairly quickly made, looks good, tastes great and helps save the planet!

Remove skin and seed from a nice squash or pumpkin, then dice the flesh and dry roast it in a non-sticking frying pan until is is nicely caramelized. I include a dried red chilly, two large gloves of garlic, a teaspoon of coriander seeds, two star anise and a few twigs ot thyme for flavour.

Add a pint of water, a pinch of salt and a large thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, grated. Stir, turn the heat down and let simmer gently for a few minutes.

Toast a handful of pine kernels and set aside.

Toast a handful of pumpkin seeds until they are popping nicely, set aside.

Wash and drain the fresh spinach.

Now return to the soup. Remove chilly, anise and twigs, then blizz the rest in a blender, adding a little more water if necessary. Season to taste and keep warm.

Heat some olive oil with a glove of garlic, then add the fresh spinach to moderate heat. Close the lid to let steam gently.

Cut a generous piece of feta chesse per portion and put in a non-sticking frying pan and reasonably high heat. The idea is to heat it up, partially melt it and, if your feta is sufficiently dry, lightly caramelize it around the edges.

Finally, the assembly:

Mix the pine kernels with the spinach and build a nest in the middle of each plate, then put the feta on top. Surround it with the soup. Try to marble the soup with soured cream or double cream, which looks good and rounds the flavour, then sprinkle the toasted pumpkin seeds around the perimeter. Add a drizzle of chilly oil or pumpkin seed oil.

 

Steak Tartare

DSC_0239Not everyone’s thing but I don’t want to go long without: Steak Tartare, a spiced preparation of raw beef that goes well with fresh bread, French fries or Bretzeln. The leftover makes my favourite breakfast.

I use 150 to 200 g Beef Sirloin per portion, allowing some off-cuts for the cat and some left-overs for tomorrow’s breakfast.

Carefully clean the meat by removing all sinew, fat and skin, then mince it.

Add one fresh, organic, free-range medium-sized egg yolk per portion, a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of mustard, a very small and very finely diced onion and two teaspoons of capers, drained and chopped slightly.

Mix with a fork, adding a drizzle of good olive oil as you go along.

Form into a ball, cover with clingfilm and keep chilled until supper time. Eat within a few hours.

We eat it with French fries and a side salad, or on a buttered slice of bread, and of course with fresh Bretzeln.

Slow Wonders

This is another one of those concept dishes rather than an actual recipe.

The concept here is to go over the Farmer’s Market on a Saturday morning or stumble into the local butcher’s shop, then prepare a meal for slow cooking based on whatever was available or discovered in the fridge or larder.

Preparation takes about an hour, followed by an afternoon free for frolicking. Return hours later to a satisfying stew, on the table and ready to eat within minutes if you plan it right.

You’ll need a slow cooker or an oven with a low temperature cooking programme, or simply an oven which can hold 65 to 75 C for a couple of hours. You could even dig a traditional cooking pit! The trick is to stay below 80 C and leave the dish in peace for a couple of hours.

I like a piece of meat. Lamb shanks or leg slices, goat, mutton, high rib of beef or venison leg are my preferred choices. Clean the meat from sinew and remove skin, perhaps remove some of the fat.

Then clean a curiosity shop of vegetables. You will need onions and lots of garlic no matter what, also peeled waxy potatoes unless you wish to serve the meal with bread or other carbs, or no carbs at all!

Pretty much all vegetables that are in season are fine by me. Fennel, parsnips, savoy cabbage. Tomotoes, beans, peas. I’d stay away from courgettes or aubergines on this occasion but even cauliflower works thanks to the low temperatures.

Clean, peal, dice.

I caramelise the meat by searing in clarified butter on the cooker, using the same casserole dish that I plan to use for the whole process.

Remove the meat, then lightly caramelise the vegetables in the same pot with the help of olive oil or clarified butter.

Season to taste with salt, black pepper, red chillies, thyme, rosemary, lovage, star anise and cinnamon. Bring the meat back, add 75 ml of wine and 75 ml of water. Close the lid, put into the oven and forget about it for a couple of hours, four hours at least, five or six won’t give you trouble.

Allow for even longer if you are using tough meat such as ox tail, but for the types of meat listed earlier, four to six hours are just fine.

Smoked Haddock with Lentils Ragout

IMG_20171202_194403.jpgPretty quick and easy to prepare and very satisfying on a cold day: Poached smoked Haddock with a poached egg, served on a bed of green lentil ragout.

For the lentil ragout, finely dice a medium-sized onion, half a fennel bulb, 2 cloves of garlic and one medium sized carrot. Melt a walnut-sized piece of butter and an equivalent amount of olive oil in a pan, then fry the diced vegetables until they begin to caramelise. Add one cup of green (“french”) lentils, two cups of cold water and one chicken stock cube.

(Really, a stock cube. It helps cook the lentils much faster than you’d think.)

Add a twig of thyme or lovage, cover and let simmer very gently. This takes about 30 minutes from now.

Meanwhile, clean the undied smoked haddock but leave the skin on, cutting portions of about 220 g per person. Heat a pint of milk in a pan, add three bay leaves and half a dozen of crushed juniper berries. Check the temperature; you want the milk hot but well below the boiling point. Gently add the fish, skin side down, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. When it is boiling, add a generous splash of vinegar and let the temperature drop to just below the boiling point. Crack one egg per portion into a cup, then gently drop the egg into the hot water. Let them float for 5 minutes.

Sample the lentils ragout. Season to taste with salt, mustard, and balsamic vinegar or balsamic glaze.

Plate a good portion of the lentils ragout, topped with the fish, skin now removed, and a poached egg on top. Chilly oil, pumpkin oil or more balsamic vinegar make for a decorative splash.

Serve with fresh bread and everybody will love you.

Winter Warmer

DSC_0402

A lovely little winter warmer dish, quick and easy to make with winter vegetables:

Parsnip and potato mash with seared Duck breast, served with mixed cabbage stir-fry and sage butter.

Begin by getting the mash under way: peal and clean the potatoes, peal one to 1 1/2 parsnip per diner. Remember to remove the fibrous parsnip core. Dice and put into a pot, add one finger’s width of water and a pinch of salt. Close the lid and steam for approximately 25 minutes until tender. The exact time depends on the size of your dice and potato variety, so check with a spoon or kitchen knife.

Meanwhile, prepare the duck breasts. I use smaller fillets, one per diner: trim the skin by cutting away excess, leaving a nice rectangular piece, which I cut crosswise every 5 mm. Trim remaining fat, sinew or blood vessels.

Clean and cut the cabbage into large pieces. I find a mixture of Savoy Cabbage and Red Cabbage works well, but some Chinese Cabbage left-overs or Cavolo Negro also fit in well enough.

Peel and crush two large gloves of garlic, cut one small bulb of fennel into shavings.

Pre-heat the oven to 160 C.

Meanwhile, finish the mash: drain the excess water, then add a cup of hot milk and a two-walnut sized piece of butter. Whisk with an electric mixer or mash it in the good old way using a masher, then set aside.

Heat a frying pan (one with a fire-proof handle) with a small amount of clarified butter (ghee). Salt the duck skin and sear the breast, skin-side down at moderate heat until the fat is rendered out well and the skin has a nice honey colour. Take your time for this. Now turn the breasts skin side up, transfer the pan into the oven and set your timer for 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven after 5 minutes, place the breasts on a board to rest for another 5 minutes at least. Meanwhile…

Heat another frying pan to medium-to-high heat. Melt a spoon full of clarified butter, then add the garlic, fennel shavings and cabbage. Stir occasionally to achieve light caramelization throughout. Add salt to taste when your’ done frying, and never add water.

Finely chop a handful of fresh Sage leaves. Melt a generous amount of butter (say, 50 g per diner), heat it up until it is foaming but not yet browning. Quickly fry the sage leaves and remove from the heat.

Assemble with the mash in the centre of the plate, the sliced breast on top, surrounded with cabbage stir-fry. Drizzle the sage butter generously over the cabbage. Done!

Custard

DSC_0239So rewarding, and so simple to make. No need for mysterious powder or ominously yellow stuff from a tetra pack; just make your own. It’s quick and easy to make, delicious, and free from artificial stabilisers, preservatives, colouring, other E-numbers and whatnots. You don’t even have to faff about with the Bain-Marie if you are careful.

Follow these steps:

Have 5 fresh medium sized free-range eggs ready at room temperature.

Mix half a pint of double cream with half a pint of whole milk and gently heat the mix in a saucepan. Use one with a heavy bottom so that it retains some heat when taken off the fire.

Meanwhile, separate the five eggs. Keep the whites for something useful; we only need the yolks for custard. Whisk the yolks with four to five generous tablespoons of sugar (80 to 100 g) until foamy. Add the seeds from one vanilla pod, or an equivalent amount of vanilla essence.

When the milk-cream-mix reaches boiling point, remove it from the heat, then whisk in the egg mix. Whisk vigorously for one minute more than you think necessary. The residual heat is enough to cook the egg but you must avoid scrambled egg, especially near the bottom and the edges of the pan.

Pour into a suitable jug or container and let cool down to room temperature, then chill in the fridge until it is time to serve it, perhaps with a fruit crumble.