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. 

Italian stewed lentils

This recipe is a classic side dish, to be served with Cotechino or Zampone. I often add a side serving of mashed potato and cabbage as well. I have also made it with tinned brown lentils when I was in a hurry and it was still grand. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • Approx. 300g brown lentils, such as Puy lentils
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • A sprig of fresh mint
  • A clove of garlic
  • 2-3 tbsp good olive oil 
  • Salt and pepper

METHOD:

  • Rinse the lentils in cold water. 
  • In a medium pan, heat the olive oil and then over a very low heat, cook the chopped onions, around 10 minutes, so they are soft. 
  • Add the lentils and then add a litre of hot water, and bring to a simmer
  • Add the mint and the whole clove of garlic, cover and cook on a low heat for around an hour and a half. Keep checking that the pan to make sure it isn’t burning. You can keep the lentils at a simmer in the oven as well. 
  • Once the lentils are tender, season with salt and pepper, and a drizzle of very good olive oil. 

Moro, the cookbook

I was excited when this book was published, a collection of recipes from Spain, North Africa and the Levant. The ingredients are simple, and the recipes are easy to follow. The flavours are outstanding. 

The story behind Moro, the recipe book is a tale of two people both called Sam, a husband and wife team who own Moro restaurant in London. They were already in love and inspired by Moorish influences on the food of Spain and the Mediterranean, so when they married, they took a camper-van and went on a food adventure, researching techniques, flavours, and the culture that brings the food to the table. 

In 1997, they opened their first restaurant in London, and in 2010 they opened their first tapas bar, Morito. They also have a news page on their website that occasionally showcases other recipes. There are other recipe books as well, since this first one: Casa Moro, Moro East and Morito. 

I was so excited to visit, can’t remember the year, but I can remember that I had their outstanding Seville Orange Tart. There are several of their recipes on this site from the first book, but you’ll just have to get your own copy. 

Jamie Oliver – The Naked Chef

This is the first recipe book that Jamie Oliver released, the cover has him looking fresh-faced and fashionable. I hadn’t seen the television programmes, but he was everywhere, it was hard not to be aware of the impression he was making at the time. The naked recipes aimed to strip food back to the basics of technique, good ingredients, and a twist of modernity. 

Unfortunately, he rather put my back up. I can’t work out exactly why. You don’t have to be young and trendy to cook, just like you don’t have to be a man or a woman, old or young. Anyway, I got over that little hurdle and tried out the recipes. The next hurdle is that most of the delicious fresh ingredients that he specifies are not available in the co-op, or have to be transported for miles and miles, so they are not as fresh or as fancy. 

The saving grace is, however, that if you do find a recipe in the book for which you can assemble the ingredients, the food is really delicious, and the directions are easy to follow. I haven’t got rid of the book, and I’m using it a little more. 

If you want to see what the hype was all about, and why I still have the book, it is available second-hand if you google, or available new here:

https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-naked-chef/jamie-oliver/9780141042954 

 

Kibbeh

This is a classic middle eastern dish, found all around the Levant and beyond. I derived this recipe from ‘Moro’ – but I wouldn’t have been able to do it without a really good mincer. I borrowed one as part of a bid to make white pudding, of which, more later. There are some good YouTube videos out there showing the technique, and many many versions. It is easier than it looks at first sight. 

INGREDIENTS:

Outer layer:

  • 250g very lean lamb, minced twice, second time on a fine setting
  • 1/2 small onion, grated finely
  • 125g fine bulgur wheat
  • salt and pepper

Filling:

  • 1/2 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 150g lean lamb, minced once on a medium setting
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of Baharat spice mix (or 50/50 cinnamon and allspice, with a pinch of paprika)
  • 3 tbsp pine nuts and flaked almonds
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander, chopped
  • 1 small bunch fresh parsley, chopped
  • salt and pepper

To serve

  • Greek yogurt, flavoured with mint, salt and pepper, crushed garlic, and a drizzle of best olive oil

METHOD:

  • Start by making the outer layer. Wash the bulgur wheat with water, and set aside
  • Mix the minced lamb with grated onion, salt and pepper. 
  • ‘Kneed’ the bulgur wheat for around five minutes and then mix well into the minced lamb, to make a stiff paste. Set aside in the fridge. 
  • Next, make the filling. Toast the nuts in hot olive oil. As soon as they start to brown, scoop them out of the oil and set them aside. 
  • Fry the chopped onion in the olive oil very slowly for around 15 minutes, until caramelised. 
  • Add the lamb and Baharat spice mix and turn up the heat a little, to start cooking the lamb. Break up the lamb with a spatula as it cooks. Add a spoonful of cold water to slow the cooking a little, and cook until the pan is dry. 
  • Add the nuts and the chopped herbs, salt and pepper and remove from the heat. 
  • To make the kibbeh, take a ball of the casing about the size of a golf ball, and hollow it out, making a thin-walled cup of paste, and then fill this with the fried lamb filling, and seal it shut, making something lemon-shaped. Continue this way until all the mixtures are used up. 
  • Deep-fry the kibbeh in hot olive oil for around five minutes, turning to ensure they are brown all over. 
  • ALTERNATIVELY put half of the casing at the bottom of an oiled baking dish, add all of the filling and cover with the rest of the casing. Cook for 15 minutes in a hot oven. 

Serve with the yoghurt garnish, fresh flat-breads, and a  sharp green herb salad. For a more substantial meal, serve with a vegetable pilau. 

White pudding – first attempt

I tried making white pudding last weekend, what a palaver. I learned a lot. I made a huge amount of mess, and had difficulty finding a recipe. First top tip, use a sausage machine, probably impossible without. I used a fairly basic one that I then saw new on ebay for less than £40.  

INGREDIENTS:

  • 250g white perinephric lamb fat
  • 500g fine oatmeal, toasted in the oven
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 leek, finely chopped
  • 4 tsp celery salt
  • 2 tsp ground white pepper
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • White pudding skins (I used Ox runners from Scobies direct)

METHOD:

  • Soak the toasted oatmeal in around 750ml of water
  • Put the fat through the mincer on a medium setting
  • Fry the chopped onion and leek in a little fat on a low heat, until very soft. 
  • Mix the soaked oats, fat, onions and leek with the salt and pepper, and work to a smooth paste
  • Put it through the mincer on the finest setting. 
  • Soak the casing in cold water to get the salt off, and then load it onto the large nozzle on the machine. I used a tea towel to push it on, as it was slippery as anything. 
  • Feed the mixture back through the mincer and into the casing, being sure not to over-fill – the mixture should be about as thick as a nice sausage. 
  • Tie the puddings into loops, and then put into a large pan of boiling water, and simmer for about 3/4 hour. 
  • Cool the puddings and store them in the fridge or freezer. 

Italian Food, by Elizabeth David

Elizabeth David started writing about food in the 1950’s, inspired to learn about and describe the food she tasted first as a student at the Sorbonne in Paris, and then when she lived in countries around the Mediterranean. Her books are not like most recipe books. The food is described in context, aimed at an audience for whom this was exotic and new. The recipes recall the regions where they come from, the fresh ingredients at the heart of the cuisine, and the places she first tasted them.

The recipes sometimes lack exactitude,  but they also offer the options for easing the recipe to account for the ingredients to hand. They teach you to cook and to taste, and to learn about food. There are few illustrations, mostly sketches of implements, and the recipes are very many. This is a book that remains influential in the development of post-war cookery in the United Kingdom, such is its ability to explain and inspire. 

I have many recipe books, but if I am stuck for something new, if I have an ingredient I want to test, I will often pull this book off the shelf, and find myself leafing through the pages. I commend it to you. 

It is available from many online book sellers. I like the review on the Waterstone’s website (click to link to the book page)