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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Creamy cauliflower risotto with a crispy anchovy crumb

I am (slowly) writing a new book about cooking with vegetables and finding new ways to use old favourites is leading me in some interesting directions. If you only ever serve the humble cauliflower baked with a cheese sauce, you’ll find using it to make this creamy risotto a revelation. The Italians routinely use cauliflower (and broccoli) in pasta sauces to great effect but using it in a classic white risotto not only adds an extra dimension of creaminess, but it also makes a little rice go a long way making it a perfect budget dish for serving a lot of people. The real star of this risotto though is the addition of the crisp anchovy and chilli breadcrumb topping – it adds a savoury crunch and cuts through the richness of the risotto. I made extra and sprinkled it over pasta dishes and a delicious dinner party starter of mozzarella and charred peppers because it’s so yummy.

This recipe serves four

  • 1 small cauliflower
  • 1 litre of hot chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons of light olive oil
  • 80g butter
  • 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed or grated
  • 2 sticks of celery, strings removed and finely chopped
  • 250g risotto rice
  • 100ml Noilly Prat or dry white wine
  • A handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 100g freshly grated Parmesan 
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Crumb topping: 2 small slices of stale white bread (sourdough for preference), 1 small tin of anchovies, 1/2 tsp chilli flakes (it keeps well in an airtight container)

To make…

  • Make the crumb topping. Tear up the stale bread and whiz it up to coarse crumbs in a food processor. Add the chilli flakes, the anchovies and all the oil. Whizz again until thoroughly combined. Heat up a little olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan and fry for a few minutes until crisp being careful not to burn them. Remove from the heat, set aside and allow to cool – any you don’t use here will keep for a couple of days in an airtight container.
  • Break the cauliflower into florets and reserve the core.
  • Heat the stock and add the cauliflower florets to cook through for about 6 minutes.
  • Finely chop the cauliflower core, onion and celery and grate the garlic.
  • Add about 20g of the butter and the olive oil to a large pan, heat gently and add the cauliflower core, onion, celery and garlic. Stir for about 15 minutes until soft but not coloured. Once the vegetables are soft, pour in the rice, stir and turn up the heat.
  • Cook for about a minute, add the Noilly Prat or wine and keep stirring to burn off the alcohol.
  • Now add a pinch of salt and then a ladle of the hot stock. Keep stirring and gradually adding ladles of stock until it is absorbed. The stirring makes the risotto creamy and should usually take about 15 minutes for the rice to be cooked. You are aiming for it to be soft with a slight bite – like cooking pasta ‘al dente’.
  • Add the cauliflower florets and crush it down into the rice. Add a little more stock or hot water to loosen it up again if it looks too stodgy.
  • Remove your pan from the heat, stir in the remaining butter and the Parmesan and adjust the seasoning with the black pepper, you shouldn’t need to add much in the way of salt because of the salt in the stock and the cheese. Cover and allow to sit few a couple of minutes so it becomes even creamier.
  • Just before serving, stir in the chopped parsley.
  • Serve it immediately in warmed bowls and top with the crisp anchovy crumbs. Delicious!
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Aromatic pork with ginger and soy

This is probably one of my favourite far-eastern supper dishes. Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients, it’s all available from most supermarkets these days and the cooking method is very simple – prep and then braise in the oven for a couple of hours. The mix of hot, sweet, sour and savoury in the sticky sauce is just delicious with the melt-in-the-mouth chunks of pork and the crisp topping of shallots and spring onions. I serve it with plain jasmine rice and a fresh pineapple relish. Lightly stir-fried pak choi works well as a side-dish if you want to serve some extra greens with it.  It’s a great Saturday night sharing dish with friends and family.

Sticky pork

  • 2tbsp light olive oil
  • 100g finely sliced shallots
  • 50g garlic, crushed
  • 25g fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1.25kg lean pork shoulder cut into 3cm chunks
  • 4 tbsp kecap manis (Indonesian soy sauce – you can find it in most supermarkets – I buy it from Sainsbury’s)
  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp Tamarind water (10g tamarind pulp soaked in 3 tbsp hot water) or from a ready-made jar
  • 1/2 tsp coarsely crushed black peppercorns
  • 3 medium fresh chillies, seeded and chopped
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • To garnish: 2 shallots, sliced and fried until crisp in a little oil and some finely sliced fresh spring onions
  • Pineapple relish: a small ripe pineapple – peeled and cut into 1cm pieces, small red onion – thinly sliced, a handful of fresh coriander, 2 tbsp white wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp each of sugar and salt. Mix everything together thoroughly in a bowl and leave to infuse for an hour before serving. 
  • Jasmine or basmati rice to serve

To make…

  • Preheat the oven to 160°C.
  • Heat the oil in a large cast iron pot. Add the shallots and fry until soft and then add the ginger, garlic a good pinch of salt and cook through for a minute.
  • Add the pork pieces and colour lightly. Stir in the kecap manis, soy, tamarind, chilli and stock. Bring to a simmer and then braise in the oven for a couple of hours until the pork is very tender.
  • Using a slotted spoon, remove the pork from the sauce and put it aside on a warm plate. Place the pot on the hob and boil the sauce rapidly until it’s thick and sticky. Check for seasoning, add the pork back in and stir.
  • When you’re ready to eat, serve it in a warmed dish and scatter with the crisp shallots and spring onion.
  • Serve with rice and the pineapple salad.
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Passion fruit crème brulée 

This delicious creamy dessert with the subtle tang of passion fruit is one of my new favourites. It’s a doddle to make and there’s nothing like the sharp crack of the crisp brulée topping when you break into it with your spoon. You need to make this the night before or, at the very least, a couple of hours beforehand to allow the custard to set and chill. Only add the brulée topping just before serving or it will go from being crisp to just sticky. I like these by themselves but almond thin type biscuits are a nice accompaniment.

passion fruit creme brulee

This quantity is enough to fill six 150ml ramekins i.e. a total of 900ml of liquid. Proper brulée dishes are shallow and wide but unless you already have a set, ramekins work just fine.

  • 100ml passion fruit juice squeezed from 6 ripe fresh passion fruits
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 600ml double cream
  • 130g golden caster sugar for the custard, an extra tablespoon to make the brulée topping

To make…

  • Preheat the oven to 120°C.
  • Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl until foamy.
  • Bring the cream and vanilla up to the boil in a non-stick pan. Pour it over the egg mixture and whisk rapidly.
  • Set a metal sieve over a bowl. Cut each passion fruit in half and scoop out the seeds and juice. Using the back of a soup spoon rub the flesh and seeds through the sieve – this should give you about 100ml of juice. Discard the seeds. Whisk the juice into the cream once it cools slightly.
  • Place the ramekins in a large roasting tray. Pour the cream equally into each dish and fill the tray with boiling water until it reaches about halfway up the side of each ramekin. Be careful not to get any water in the ramekins. Place the tray in the oven and allow to bake gently for about an hour. They should wobble slightly not set solid.
  • Remove the tray from the oven and lift each ramekin out carefully. Pour away the hot water. Allow the tray to cool, put the ramekins back in and chill them in the fridge overnight or for at least two hours before serving.
  • Shortly before serving, dust the top of each ramekin with caster sugar. Swirl it round to ensure it gets into the edges, tap out the excess onto the next ramekin and so on until all six are coated in sugar.
  • Using a blowtorch held about 10 to 12cm away from the surface, caramelise the sugar evenly. Leave them a couple of minutes to allow the sugar to harden and serve immediately. If you don’t have a blowtorch put them under a very hot *grill for a few moments.

*For those of you who subscribe to the #TheFridayRecipe email I mistakenly typed the word girl instead of grill here originally. Apparently it cheered up many a reader’s dull morning! You’re welcome : ).

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