Fresh tomato sauce with ricotta and pecorino – to serve with spaghettini

I’ve just read ‘Dear Francesca’ from cover to cover. The recipes use a relatively small range of ingredients to create wonderful food. This is one of the first recipes I tried, using a tray of cherry tomatoes that had ended up in my fridge, along with some of the staples from the book: ricotta and pecorino. 

I didn’t have spaghettini, so I used spaghetti, which is very slightly thicker. It was fine, I had no complaints. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 tbsp good extra-virgin olive oil
  • A punnet of cherry tomatoes, or a couple of good handfuls, quartered
  • a clove of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 180g spaghettini (or enough pasta for 2 people, whatever your usual measure is, I allow 60 to 75g per person)
  • salt and black pepper, freshly ground
  • 2 tbsp ricotta cheese
  • two good pinches of dried oregano
  • freshly grated pecorino

METHOD:

  • Heat the oil in a pan, and add the tomatoes and garlic. Turn the heat down low and let them cook for ten minutes. There will be a bit of sizzling. 
  • Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling water, according to the instructions. 
  • When the tomatoes are completely softened, add the oregano and the ricotta cheese, and mix well. Check for taste and add salt if required. 
  • When the spaghettini is cooked, drain it, return to the pan and add the sauce, pecorino and a grating of good black pepper. 

 

Nightingales and Roses

When I was 10 years old, we moved to Teheran. My dad is a civil engineer, and he was working for Sir Alexander Gibbs, specialising in dams and irrigation. The Shah of Iran was investing in infrastructure, building the Lar dam in the Alborz mountains, to the north of Teheran. 

We lived in north Teheran, in a dilapidated house that belonged to a dentist. It had a walnut grove, cherry trees, red and white mulberry trees, and a pomegranate tree. It was lovely. Our family employed Zara, a woman from Tabriz in the north west of Iran, to help out. She cooked us traditional Persian food. 

Particular favourites included Lubiya Polo, barbary nan, thick white yoghurt sold in blue-glazed earthenware bowls, nougat, salted pistachios, chicken stuffed with walnuts and plums. Zara showed us how to wash long-grain rice and cook it so it formed a delicious buttery crust at the bottom of the pan. I’ve longed to try these dishes again, and I’d love to revisit Iran to eat these dishes as an adult. 

It is only in the last few years that I have been able to find recipe books for Persian delicacies. Nightingales and Roses has to be the best. It is written by Maryam Sinaiee, who was born in Teheran, and only moved to the UK in 2011. She writes a food blog, and keeps alive the very strong tradition of Persian cookery. The book takes care to explain the balance of ingredients, how meals are structured and how the seasons bring their own flavours. The recipes are easy to follow, and any new techniques are well explained. 

An excellent book. 

 

Lamb stew with dried limes, vegetables, and borlotti beans (Khoresht-e Gormeh Sabzi)

I can’t believe I haven’t shared this recipe before. It uses the vegetables that are making a come-back after the winter, and is also a good way to use some of the Allium triquetrum leaves as they start to grow. It is a very unusual flavour for western palates, the dried limes and turmeric give the stew a rich flavour. I used the recipe in ‘Nightingales and Roses’ and added the vegetables growing in the garden. I wonder what it would be like with a bit of lovage?

INGREDIENTS

  • 3-4 dried limes (from Persepolis or other online shops)
  • 100g parsley
  • 100g coriander
  • 100g spinach or chard
  • 1 handful of kale tops
  • 1 handful of Allium triquetrum or inner leaves from small leeks
  • olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 500g lamb (from shoulder or best end of neck) in large pieces. 
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 can borlotti beans, drained 

METHOD:

  • Cover the limes in hot water, and weigh them down with a small plate so that they soften over the next couple of hours. 
  • Strip the leaves from the parsley and coriander, and rinse all of the green vegetables, and leave to dry. 
  • Heat 2 tbsp oil in a casserole dish and cook the onions until they are golden.
  • Add the lamb and turmeric and fry until the meat is browned. Add enough stock or water to cover the meat and bring to a slow simmer. Continue to cook on a low heat for an hour. 
  • Use a food processor to chop the green vegetables finely. You’ll need to do this in batches. 
  • Heat 2-3 tbsp oil in a pan and add the chopped vegetables, and cook until they begin to darken. Add the fried vegetables to the stew. 
  • Add the limes to the stew. To enhance the flavour, stab them a few times before putting them in. Braise for another 30 minutes
  • Add the borlotti beans and simmer for another 30 minutes. Check the flavour and add salt to taste. 

We had this with plain rice, and it was phenomenal. The main part of the stew is the beans and vegetables, with lovely tender lamb morsels. 

The QUICK After-Work Vegetarian Cookbook

My copy of the Quick After-Work Vegetarian Cookbook is so old the binding is going, and the pages are getting a little yellow. To my shame, I only ever made two recipes in it; Mexican rice, and cheesy polenta. I have recently tried some of the other recipes and they have been excellent. The ingredients are generally easy to source locally, and the cooking techniques are easy too. There are over 120 recipes to choose from, including such classics as Fettucine with carrot carbonara, and Balaton Hotpot

I hadn’t realised, until I searched online, that this is one of a series of books, including an Indian version, one for summer ingredients and another for the winter. I am tempted but my recipe book collection is rather large. Although the recipes aren’t glamorous, they are tasty and filling; I would say that this would be an ideal first recipe book for any vegetarians, as they head off for pastures new. 

Vegetarian Balaton-style hotpot

I made this and it was good, so I looked up to find out more about this cooking style. One-pot cookery is a very simple style of preparing a meal, perfect for unsophisticated cooking facilities. A goulash is just such a dish, and around lake Balaton, the style of goulash includes sour cream and potatoes, caraway and paprika. 

This vegetarian version comes from The Quick After Work Cookbook, for which I shall have to provide a review soon.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 green pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 75g long-grain rice
  • 1 large potato, around 250g, chopped into 2cm chunks
  • 1/4 tsp caraway seed
  • 2 tsp Hungarian paprika
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 3 tbsp sour cream
  • 300ml stock or water
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 can of red kidney beans, haricot beans, or borlotti beans. 

METHOD:

  • In a medium pan, gently fry the onions and green pepper until the onions are browning. 
  • Add the rice and potato, and cook for another minute
  • In a measuring jug, mix the stock, sour cream, salt and pepper, paprika, caraway seed and tomato puree, and pour the mixture into the pan and stir. 
  • Bring to a simmer, cover and reduce the heat and cook for 20 minutes
  • Add the beans, any extra water, and cook for another 10 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked. 

 

Spiced lamb heart stew

This recipe is probably not that authentic, but it is based on a US recipe for a Moroccan stew. I have adapted it to use locally available ingredients and metric measures. I feel very strongly that if we are to eat meat at all, it should be local, and there should be no waste. This ‘nose to tail’ approach covers ingredients that are not commonly available in supermarkets, but can be acquired locally, before they are discarded.

Before you start, be aware that this recipe requires marinating overnight, and a slow cook the next day, so not a quick cook. I managed to set the oven onto automatic, so it was ready when I came home. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 lamb hearts
  • 100ml good quality olive oil
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp fennel seed
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 100g sliced dried apricots
  • 2 medium onions, sliced thickly
  • 50g chopped black olives
  • 500ml stock
  • 4 large carrots (or squash or pumpkin or sweet potato) in 1 inch chunks

METHOD:

  • Prepare the hearts. cut away the coronary arteries around the top of the heart, as well as the auricles (small flaps at the top) and then cut the muscle into 1 inch chunks, or as close as possible. Put them in a sealable container and add the marinade ingredients as you prepare them. 
  • Grind the fennel seed in a mortar and pestle, and add this to the lamb hearts along with the cumin, coriander and turmeric.
  • Add the grated ginger, crushed garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. Mix well together. Seal the container and put it in the fridge overnight.
  • The next day, slice the onions into thick slices. Fry in olive oil, over a low heat, for around ten minutes, until soft and brown, and transfer to a casserole dish. 
  • Remove the meat from the marinade, and fry in the same pan to brown it, and then add it to the casserole dish. 
  • Add the vegetables, stock, the marinade, cinnamon stick and bay leaves to the pan, and bring this to a simmer, check the seasoning, and add salt and pepper to taste. 
  • Cover and cook at 180C for 2 hours. Remove the cover for the second hour, to reduce the gravy a little. 
  • I garnished this with chopped parsley and coriander. 

Fettuccine with Carrot and Tarragon Carbonara

The last of last year’s carrots, and the best of this spring’s eggs, with some fantastic pasta from the co-op. I pulled the inspiration for this recipe from one of my older recipe books, The Quick After-Work Vegetarian Cookbook. It has several ‘go-to’ recipes in it, but I often tweak them to suit my taste. This one, I tweaked the quantities to suit two quite hungry people. 

INGREDIENTS (PER PERSON):

  • 1 carrot
  • 1 egg
  • 25g butter
  • 75g pasta
  • 25g pecorino 
  • 1/2 tsp dried tarragon
  • salt and freshly grated black pepper

METHOD:

  • Put a pan of salted water on to boil while you prepare the other ingredients. 
  • When the water comes to the boil, add the pasta, and cook as instructed on the pack, usually around 8 minutes. 
  • Peel and chop the carrot finely. 
  • Melt the butter, and add the dried tarragon and carrots, cook gently for around 7 minutes until the carrots are tender. 
  • Beat the eggs and then add the grated cheese, a pinch of salt and a good grating of pepper. 
  • When the pasta is done, drain it, return it to the hot pan, add the hot carrots and butter and then stir in the cheese and eggs, which will cook in the heat of the pasta. 
  • Serve in warmed plates. The egg should still be a little runny, like the centre of an omelette. 

A light, sharp-flavoured green salad and a light fresh white wine would go well with this. 

 

Steak and Kidney Pie

We had a really good bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape, and when I googled what we should eat with it, the answer was steak and kidney pie. I made this, and it was delicious. The basic recipe is in Maw Broon’s cookbook

INGREDIENTS:

  • 375g Bells ready-rolled puff pastry
  • 2 sheep’s kidneys
  • Approx 150g mushrooms, roughly chopped. 
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 50g butter
  • 450g steak
  • A little water
  • Milk or beaten egg to glaze

METHOD:

  • Turn the oven to 220C
  • Dice the steak into large chunks. Peel the kidneys of their membrane, and cut out the central fibrous tissue. Coat the meat in seasoned flour. 
  • Fry the onion gently in the butter until translucent, for around five minutes. 
  • Add the mushrooms, and continue to fry gently for another three to five minutes. 
  • Mix in the meat, and fill the pie dish with the mixture. The dish should be fairly full. Add a little water. 
  • I needed to fold the rolled pastry in half, and then gave it a gentle roll to ensure it was just a shade larger than my dish. Wet the edge of the pie dish and trim a strip of pastry, and press this onto the wetted edge of the pie dish. Cover the pie filling with the pastry, pierce a few holes to let steam out, and decorate as you wish. 
  • Glaze the pastry with egg or milk. 
  • Cook in a hot oven, 220C until the pastry is golden, and then turn the heat down to 180C and cook for a further hour and a half. 

We had mashed potatoes and garlic cabbage with this. 

 

Dear Francesca

I bought this book, ‘Dear Francesca‘  for myself for Christmas, along with a bag of cooking essentials from Valvona and Crolla, an Italian shop in Leith Walk in Edinburgh. Valvona and Crolla has been an institution in Edinburgh since 1934, and when I was a student there in the 1980s, no picnic was acceptably provisioned until we bought something there. The shop is fabulous, long and with high ceilings, hung with hams and with shelves loaded with carefully chosen produce. 

I was delighted when they opened a small cafe at the back, and delighted again when they started selling their stock online. I’m now delighted a third time with this book. 

Written by Mary Contini, from one of the many Scottish Italian families in Edinburgh, this book tells the stories of the families that came from impoverished areas of rural Italy, from the countryside near Rome. They bought with them a direct knowledge of the ingredients they had produced from the land, and the recipes that can be made from them. They changed the food culture in Scotland. 

There are ice-cream parlours, fish and chip shops, delicatessens and restaurants, linked together from that period. A special treat when we went to visit my grandparents, was to call at Luca’s ice-cream shop in Musselburgh. All round Scotland, Italian families brought their values – use fresh local ingredients, waste nothing, honour tradition and quality, cook with style. 

The book is not a classical recipe book, more of a history and demonstration of regional food. Mary Contini successfully weaves together the family stories, the history of Italians in Edinburgh, the food and the recipes. Many of the ingredients called for in the book are in the Valvona and Crolla store cupboard hamper. 

I’ve tried out several recipes from the book, divine, simple and authentic. Her descriptive language for cooking techniques has taught me more than most. A good gift to myself and a good gift to others. 

 

Spiced pumpkin risotto

This recipe is from the Naked Chef, by Jamie Oliver. It has rather a lot of ingredients, but the flavour is amazing, so it is really worth it. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 butternut squash or onion squash
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp dried thyme leaves (or add fresh thyme while you are cooking the risotto)
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tsp hot chilli flakes, or two small dried chillies
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 litre hot vegetable or chicken stock
  • another tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 head of celery, finely chopped
  • 2 more cloves of garlic
  • 400g good risotto rice
  • 100ml dry white vermouth or dry white wine
  • 70g butter
  • 100g parmesan
  • 2 heaped spoonfuls of mascarpone

METHOD:

  • Turn the oven up to 200C and start to prepare the spices. Put the dry herbs and spices and the salt and pepper into a spice grinder, or grind with a pestle and mortar. Once it is all in a fine powder, crush the garlic, and pound it in, and mix to a paste with the olive oil. 
  • Next, prepare the squash. Peel it if you are using a butternut squash and you don’t like the skin. Cut length wise into eights (half, half and half again) and scoop out the seeds. Rub the squash all over with the spice mixture, and lay it out in a small roasting dish. Roast for thirty minutes in the middle of the oven. 
  • The roasted squash is just lovely as it is, and if you wish, you could add chickpeas to the recipe. For the risotto, set it aside to cool, and then chop finely. Chop one half more finely. 
  • Make sure your stock is good and hot to make a good risotto.
  • In the risotto pan, head olive oil, and then gently cook the onion and celery for 3 to four minutes, before adding the garlic. Once the vegetables look soft, add the rice and turn up the heat a little. Continue to cook until the rice is turning translucent. Keep stirring so the rice doesn’t scorch or stick. 
  • When the rice is ready add the wine or vermouth and the thyme leaves, and keep stirring. Once the alcohol has boiled off, start adding the stock and the roughly chopped half of the chopped squash. Add the stock slowly, a ladleful at a time,  and keep checking the flavour and texture of the rice. I found the squash quite salty, so you don’t need to add masses more. Wait until each addition of stock has been absorbed by the rice before pouring more in. The rice will be ready when it is tender but still with a hint of a bite to it. 
  • When you think it is just about ready, turn off the heat, and stir in the rest of the pumpkin, the butter, mascarpone and parmesan. 

This makes four very large or six modest portions.