Mafalda Corta pasta with parsley pesto and pepper sauce

I’m a big fan of Sainsbury’s ‘Taste the difference’ range of dried pasta and I’ve tried most of the range now. The Italians use specific pasta shapes to work with particular types of sauces and the Mafalda Corta I used for this recipe with its frilled edges is perfect for my fresh parsley pesto and roasted pepper sauce. Fresh parsley is rich in vitamins K and C, so important for winter health to help ward off those misery-making colds, and the roasted peppers bring a little bit of summer flavour and vibrancy to the dish.

Mafalda Corta

Serves 2, takes about 40 minutes

  • 150g dried Mafalda Corta pasta
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Large bunch of curly parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 30g Parmesan cheese broken into chunks
  • 30g pine nuts
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 pointed red or yellow peppers

To make…

  • Preheat the oven to 200ºC
  • Place the peppers and the garlic on a shallow roasting tray and roast for 30 minutes until the skins are blistered. Set aside to cool. Remove the skin from the peppers and deseed. Halve and cut into strips. Put your serving bowls in the oven to warm in the residual heat once you turn off the oven.
  • Cook the pasta in a pan of boiling salted water according to the packet instructions. It’s usually about 12 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, make the pesto. Add the Parmesan chunks to a mini food processor and whizz for a minute until it forms coarse crumbs. Add the pine nuts and olive oil. Slip the garlic out of its skin and add. Whizz for another 2 minutes. Add the parsley, stalks and all, in stages. Pulse for about 30 seconds each time until it forms a paste. Season with a little sea salt and black pepper. Loosen with a little more olive oil if necessary.
  • Drain the pasta, return it to the pan and toss with the pesto and stir in the pepper strips. Serve in warmed pasta bowls. Delicious!
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Bloody Mary Brisket

I do love a good bloody Mary so when I came across this Jamie Oliver ‘Comfort Food’ recipe for a brisket cooked slowly in bloody Mary mix, I just had to give it a go. I added some beef stock to the sauce (so it’s more of a ‘bloody bull’ really) but pretty much kept to the rest of the recipe. This cooks slowly in the oven for a good six hours or more, so be sure to keep the onions and celery quite chunky so they don’t dissolve into the sauce.  Serve with bitter greens and mash enriched with a couple of tablespoons of creamy horseradish – it’s an absolute must, it really lifts the dish to another level.

Bloody Mary Beef

  • 1kg piece of brisket
  • 1 head of celery, cleaned, trimmed and chopped into large chunks 
  • 3 medium onions, peeled and cut into eight chunks
  • 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • juice of a whole lemon
  • 1 500g carton of passata
  • 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons of Tabasco
  • 3 tablespoons of vodka
  • 1 tablespoon of port
  • 1 Knorr beef gel stock pot made up with water into 400ml of stock
  • To serve: mashed potatoes with 2 tablespoons of creamed horseradish, steamed kale or purple sprouting broccoli

To make…

  • Preheat the oven to 130°C.
  • Season the brisket with salt and pepper. Place an oven-proof cast-iron casserole on the hob on a high heat, add the oil and then brown the brisket on all sides. Remove the brisket and keep to one side. Add the onion and celery chunks and cook gently until slightly softened.
  • Replace the brisket and nestle it in amongst the vegetables.
  • Pour over the passata, port, vodka, Tabasco, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, beef stock and add the bay and rosemary.
  • Bring it to the boil, cover and cook for 6 hours until tender and falling apart. Check the seasoning before serving; add salt, pepper and more Tabasco to taste. Remove the whole herbs and the brisket string. Pull the meat apart with a fork.
  • Serve with horseradish mash and greens. 
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Baked chicken in harissa sauce

I love this chicken dish, one of those ‘What’s left in the fridge on Friday?’ recipes that just turns out to be a big hit. The yoghurt and rose harissa sauce is rich and spicy a bit like a Middle Eastern curry that goes perfectly with chicken and would probably work well with lamb too. It’s an easy ‘made ahead’ dish, looks impressive and is quite inexpensive to make. If you marinate the chicken overnight, you can have supper on the table in an hour and a half and it can cook away nicely while you get on with something else.

Harissa chicken

  • 2 tablespoons rose harissa paste (I use the Belazu brand – you can buy it at Sainsbury’s #BelazuFeasts)
  • 2 teaspoons of smoked paprika
  • pack or six  (to serve 3) or eight (to serve four) skin-on chicken thighs
  • 3 tablespoons of Greek yoghurt
  • 2 large cloves of garlic – grated
  • A jar of piquillo red peppers or two fresh pointed peppers, roasted
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and sliced
  • 4 medium tomatoes
  • A tablespoon of chopped parsley or coriander
  • 400ml chicken stock
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Basmati rice to serve

To make…

  • In a large mixing bowl, stir the yoghurt, minced garlic, harissa and paprika together. Trim the excess skin on the chicken thighs, add to the yoghurt mix and coat thoroughly. Cover with cling film and leave to marinate in the fridge for a couple of hours or, even better, overnight. Remove from the fridge and let it come up to room temperature for 20 minutes or so before cooking.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C. If I roast my own peppers, I put them in the oven now for 20 minutes and then skin and deseed them myself – you could use a ready prepped jar of peppers to save time. The peppers are added to the casserole towards the end of the cooking time.
  • Sauté the onions until golden in a tablespoon of olive oil either in a frying pan or straight into a casserole dish. I cooked mine in a large, shallow cast iron casserole dish which makes the dish ‘oven to table’ ready.
  • Add the chicken pieces and all the marinade to the onion mixture. Lay the chicken pieces skin-side up. Add the stock, stir, cover with the casserole lid and cook it in the oven for an hour.
  • After an hour, remove the chicken from the oven and take off the lid. The sauce should be thick and oozy but there will probably be quite a lot of oil on the surface. Tip the casserole slightly so the oil pools, skim off the excess with a soup spoon into a small bowl and discard.
  • Check the sauce for seasoning, add pepper and salt to taste. Cut the tomatoes into quarters and drain the peppers. Tuck them between the chicken pieces into the sauce and put it back into the oven for another 15 minutes. This should heat up the peppers and tomatoes without them disintegrating into the sauce. If you’ve used a shallow casserole like the one in the picture, the skin on the chicken should protrude from the sauce and crisp up a little.
  • Cook the rice. When it’s ready, remove the casserole from the oven and dress with the chopped parsley or coriander. Yum!


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Meatball carbonara

Meatball carbonaraI caught an episode of Jamie Oliver’s new ‘5 ingredients’ cookery show the other night and I thought I’d give his meatball carbonara a whirl. He’s very keen to prove that you don’t need a lot of skill, time or complex lists of ingredients to prepare good quality, freshly made meals and this turned out to be a tasty, easy midweek supper. This quantity serves two easily – the key is to use a good quality butcher’s sausage with a nice balance of pork, fat and rusk and to roll the meatballs in a fine dust of freshly ground pepper. I’ve also added a dash of chilli powder and ground fennel to the pepper to make the crust extra tasty.

  • 250g fresh tagliatelle or 125g dried 
  • 4 good quality butchers sausages – I use my normal ‘Mr. Hubbard’ sausages
  • Generous handful of curly parsley
  • 2 large eggs
  • 30g Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 3 teaspoons black peppercorns (I used a dash of chilli powder and ground fennel too)

To make…

  • Cook the pasta in a pan of boiling salted water according to the packet instructions, then drain, reserving a mugful of cooking water. (If you’re using dried pasta this will take about 11 minutes so you can do this bit first. If you’re using fresh, it will take about 4 minutes and you need to make the meatballs first).
  • Cover a clean kitchen surface or chopping board with a fine even dusting of freshly ground black pepper. Jamie did this with a mortar and pestle and then sieved it – I just used my pepper grinder on a fine setting, much quicker.
  • Slit the skins and squeeze the sausage meat out, then, with wet hands, quickly shape into about 16 even-sized balls. Each sausage can be pinched out to make 4 or 5 meatballs. Roll and coat them in the black pepper, then cook in a large non- stick frying pan (I used my high sided wok-style pan as it made it easier to add and coat the pasta in the sauce) on a medium heat with ½ a tablespoon of olive oil. Fry until golden and cooked through, turning regularly, then turn the heat off.
  • Finely chop the parsley, stalks and all, beat it with the eggs and a splash of pasta cooking water in a bowl, then finely grate and mix in three-quarters of the Parmesan.
  • Toss the drained pasta into the sausage pan, pour in the egg mixture, and toss/stir for 1 minute off the heat. The egg will gently cook in the residual heat – take it off the heat quickly or the egg will scramble. Loosen with a good splash of reserved cooking water, season with a few more twists of pepper, and scatter with the remaining Parmesan. Serve in warm bowls (I warm mine in the microwave), eat immediately!
  • NB: if you made the crispy anchovy crumbs in the cauliflower risotto recipe I published earlier and you have some left, they are really delicious sprinkled over this.
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Savoury drinks party treats, snacks and canapés

I know it’s only November but if you’re thinking about hosting a Christmas or New Year drinks party then here are a few tried and tested ideas for popular party treats and canapés that I think you’ll find helpful…..and delicious of course!

Most supermarkets stock selections of mini-bites and canapés but it’s hard to beat a homemade selection on flavour or cost, especially if you’ve invited lots of people. Besides, you can always mix bought items like olives, crisps, pretzels (I found lovely snowflake shaped ones last year) and biscuits with homemade ones and still look like you’ve made a massive effort. As I’m usually not trying to compete with hotel-standard fare, I avoid anything that requires me to spend hours in the kitchen, serve it hot, buy special mini-crockery or anything that creates a big mess to clear up afterwards. Dotting a selection of nibbles about the rooms you’re using for your party using festive plates and bowls can make even a humble bowl of peanuts look special – I’ve accumulated lots of pretty glass dishes shaped like stars and serving plates that only come out at Christmas. It’s worth picking them up inexpensively in sales if you’ve got room to store them anyway.

Parmesan Shortbreads

Parmesan Shortbreads are completely moreish and ridiculously easy to make. I keep a roll of the dough in the freezer so I can whip up a batch anytime. I’ve found that Aldi is good place to buy reasonably priced blocks of Parmesan for recipes like this one.

party-sausagesThese little baby sausages are probably our most popular drinks party snack. You can find all the different marinades and recipes from this link for Mr. Hubbard’s marinated party sausages.


Sausage rollsI usually have to make a lot of these Pigeon Cottage Party Sausage Rolls and make sure there is a big plate in every room – there are never any left over! There are easy to make ahead and freeze well. You can easily mix this up a bit by using different kinds of mixed meat and change the spicing. My core recipe is minced pork, sage and onion but you could replace the sage with e.g. cumin seeds, chilli flakes and a dash of Madras curry powder, or a mix of dried oregano and hot paprika. Try minced lamb instead of pork to create a different flavour experience.

braesola-canapesI made this bresaola and grilled artichoke canapé for a new year’s eve party last year and they went down a storm. You’ll need a pack of bresaola slices (I used Sainsbury’s Finest) and a jar of grilled artichokes in olive oil (I found a good and reasonably priced one in Aldi). Slice down each artichoke heart to make 2 or 3 slivers depending on their size and wrap each one tightly in a slice of bresaola – dot a little of the olive oil under the outer edge to ensure they don’t unravel – place them seam-side down on the serving plate. Parma ham or proscuttio wrapped around small pieces of cantaloupe melon or mozzarella pearls are another tasty cured meat canapé and very easy to make.

chicken-liver-pate-canapesPâté or spreads on rye canapés. A pack of good quality German rye bread makes an excellent base for any number of smoked fish or paté canapés. It’s tasty and doesn’t go soggy if you make them ahead like a crisp crostini-type base might. A good canapé should literally be bite-sized and able to be eaten in one mouthful so don’t be tempted to make them too big. Simply cut the bread into small squares and add the pâté and spread/topping of your choice – homemade or good quality shop bought ones.

My favourite rye canapé topping combos are:

  • Chicken liver parfait topped with a sliver of cornichon or a few caper berries.
  • Smoked mackerel pâté topped with a sliver of cornichon, a few caper berries or a piece of dill pickle.
  • Smoked salmon pâté topped a piece of whole smoked salmon, a few caper berries or a piece of dill pickle.
  • Cream cheese mixed with finely chopped dill topped with a thin sliver/twist of cucumber (good for vegetarians), a small piece of smoked salmon, a small peeled cooked prawn or tiny cubes of beetroot.
  • Cream cheese mixed with a little creamed horseradish topped with a thin sliver or twist of roast beef.
  • Black olive tapenade topped with slivers or twists of salami

Indian dipsA pile of mini-poppadoms (most supermarkets make their own brands or stock Pataks) with Indian dips make a tasty alternative to more classical canapés. Serve with dishes of mango and/or lime chutney or finely chopped tomato and red onion spiked with lemon juice, a pinch of cayenne pepper and cumin and finely chopped fresh coriander stalks, or fresh Greek yogurt mixed with finely chopped mint.

Celery bites: wash and de-string the celery sticks. Fill the channel with cream cheese mixed with chopped dill, mint or a little basil pesto. Slice into bite-sized pieces and arrange on a serving plate. Serve chilled.

Cucumber bites: cut the ends off the cucumber and peel it roughly or run the tines of a fork down the length of it to create a striped effect. Cut it in half length-wise. Remove the seeds with a melon baller to create a channel for the filling. Fill the channel with cream cheese mixed with chopped dill, mint or a little basil pesto. Slice into bite-sized pieces and arrange on a serving plate. Serve chilled. You can also peel strips of cucumber lengthwise and create pretty rolls of cucumber ribbons stuffed with the cream cheese or some smoked salmon mousse.

Happy holidays!

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