Monday, 30 April 2012

Tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms

This is one of my all time favourite pasta dishes. I love porcini mushrooms but unfortunately it's very difficult to buy them fresh here, even in the autumn, when they're in season. Happily, good quality dried porcini make an excellent substitute.

Some Italians add cream to the sauce but I think it masks the flavour of the mushrooms so I prefer to keep it simple. I've used tagliatelle here but pappardelle and fettuccine both work well too.

RECIPE - Serves 2

200g tagliatelle
40-50g dried porcini
1 shallot, finely chopped
half a glass dry white wine
1 tablespoon passata
a handful fresh parsley, chopped
extra virgin olive oil
a knob of butter
salt and pepper
fresh parmesan to serve

Put the dried mushrooms to soften in a jug of warm water for about half an hour.

Take the mushrooms out of the water (but make sure you don't throw it away as you will need it later on) and rinse them well, making sure there are no tiny particles of grit or soil left lurking in any crevasses. If they're very big, you can roughly chop them but don't make them too small. Filter the mushroom water by pouring it through a sieve lined with a sheet of kitchen towel.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil and the knob of butter in a pan and add the finely chopped shallot. Cook over a gentle heat until soft. Add the mushrooms and carry on cooking for a few minutes.

Throw in the wine and let it bubble and absorb. Then add some of the mushroom water and let it absorb. Stir in the passata and cook for a few more minutes, adding more mushroom water if it seems to be getting too dry. Stir in the parsley and a good grinding of black pepper. Add salt to taste.

Cook the tagliatelle while you're preparing the sauce. When the pasta is ready, add a ladleful of the cooking water to the mushrooms. Drain the pasta and add it to the mushroom sauce, mixing everything together gently. Serve with a generous grating of fresh parmesan.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Apple and cinnamon cupcakes

These, like nearly all cupcakes, are really easy and quick to make and because they're not iced, they're ready to eat practically straight away. I used to (and still do on occasion) make a big version of these but nowadays I prefer the little ones purely because I hate peeling apples - you see, only two are needed in this recipe whereas there are three or even four in the full-sized cake.

I add cinnamon here because I think it has a natural affinity with apples but you can leave it out if you prefer.

RECIPE - makes 12

125g butter, softened
125g caster sugar
2 large eggs
125g self-raising flour
2 apples, peeled and finely chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon

12-bun muffin tin lined with 12 cupcake or muffin papers

 Pre-heat the oven to 200°C

Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Sieve the flour and cinnamon and fold in, then add the apples and stir well to combine.

Spoon the mixture in to the cases, filling each case as equally as possible.

Put in the oven and bake for about 20-25 mins or until the cakes are cooked and golden brown on top. They take slightly longer to cook than normal fairy cakes because of the addition of moist apple.

Remove from the oven. Take the cakes out of the tin as soon as possible (without burning yourself of course) and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Serve dusted with icing or caster sugar. I love to eat these still warm from the oven.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Chicken with capers and rosemary

White-wine vinegar is used here to marinate the chicken; this works with the capers to give a lovely tangy flavour to the dish. Cooking with vinegar is quite common throughout Italy and in France, 'poulet au vinaigre' is considered one of the classics. GL's nonno, from Puglia, carried on adding vinegar (or chillies) liberally to his food even in his twilight years, causing much consternation to his family as Italians seem to think that the elderly should only eat bland, insipid food.

I always empathised with nonno as I've loved the sharp taste of vinegar since I was a little girl, when I would even take sips direct from the bottle if no-one was around. If you don't share my love of the stuff however, don't worry - in this recipe it just adds a pleasing hint of tartness in the background rather than overwhelming acidity.


Serves 3-4

Approx 8 pieces chicken (in the photo I''ve used boneless thighs but I often use drumsticks too)
1 onion
1 clove garlic
3 sprigs rosemary
half a glass of white-wine vinegar
half a glass of dry white wine
1 tablespoon capers
extra virgin olive oil

Peel and slice the onion into rings and put them in a dish with the crushed garlic clove and a sprig of rosemary. Place the chicken on top, pour over the vinegar and leave in a cool place to marinate for about 30 mins.

Heat a little oil in a frying pan (with a lid), and brown the chicken pieces on all sides. When golden brown, pour in the wine, add the onions from the marinade and about half the vinegar and the rest of the rosemary. Cook partially covered over a medium heat for about 20 mins, turning the chicken halfway through.

Add the capers, salt and pepper and leave to cook uncovered for a further 10-15 mins, or until the chicken is cooked. If it looks as though it's getting too dry, add a little more wine, water would be fine too.

Serve the chicken on a plate with onions, capers and juices poured over.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Trout fillets with courgettes and cherry tomatoes

This is fresh and light, perfect for a sunny spring day.

I’ve used trout here but I often use salmon fillets and actually, I don’t see any reason for not using other types of fish either – sea bass and cod would be good variations.

RECIPE  - serves 2 people but quantities can easily be doubled

2 fillets trout (or other fish, see note above)
About 9 cherry tomatoes
1 courgette
Handful fresh basil leaves
Extra virgin olive oil

Cut the courgettes into quarters lengthways and then into about 2cm pieces. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan and add the sliced courgettes. Cook over a medium heat for 5 mins until they begin to brown, then add the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Stir and cook for a further 5 mins. Remove from the heat, add the basil leaves, roughly torn, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Cover with a lid and leave to rest while you cook the fish.

Heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan and add the fish fillets, skin-side down. Cook over a moderately high heat for 4 mins so that the skin becomes crispy. I then put a lid on, turn the heat down and cook for another few minutes until done. I do this because I am not very adept at flipping the fish over in the frying pan and it usually breaks but you can obviously turn it over to cook it on the other side if you prefer.

When the fish is cooked to your liking, carefully remove to a plate and spoon the courgette and tomatoes over the top. Finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a few more basil leaves. This is good served simply with some boiled new potatoes, lightly crushed with olive oil and sea salt.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Coconut and Cherry Slices

My Aunt has a whole repertoire of recipes for bars and slices and these have been a favourite of mine since I was little. I loved how the chocolate layer at the bottom went slightly granular after being cooked in the oven. Even people who say they don't like coconut eat these and they're great for the gluten-free brigade as well. They are known as 'picnic slices' in my family and are indeed well-suited to outdoor eating although they are also perfect with a cup of tea or coffee to combat mid-afternoon slump. For some inexplicable reason, nobody made these for years and when I decided I wanted to resurrect them, I couldn't even find the recipe. Happily however, my mum came across it when she was sorting out her cookbook cupboard last year and they have since made a successful comeback, appearing at most family gatherings throughout the year.


200g milk chocolate
75g soft butter
150g caster sugar
150g desiccated coconut
75g sultanas
75g glace cherries, chopped
1 egg

A baking tin, 17 x 26cm approx, greased and lined with greaseproof paper

Preheat oven to 140°C

Melt the chocolate and spread it evenly over the bottom of the tin. Leave to cool.

When the chocolate has hardened, cream the sugar and butter together. Add the egg and mix again.

Mix in the remaining ingredients and spread evenly over the chocolate base, smoothing the top.

Bake in the oven for 40-45 mins.

Leave in tin till cold, then remove and cut into slices.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Pasta with tuna, olives and capers (pasta al tonno) - a store cupboard standby

I don't think I'm alone in having days when I can't face yet another trip to the supermarket, and I get home tired and hungry, longing for a hot bath, a nice meal and a glass of wine. This dish is one of my standbys for any such day. It's made with things you have sitting in the pantry and it's incredibly quick and easy, taking about 12 minutes all in. Please don't think of it as settling for second-best however; this recipe is satisfying and completely delicious.

RECIPE (serves 3-4)

350g spaghetti
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
130g tin of tuna
pinch of dried chilli flakes
400g can chopped tomatoes or passata
1 tablespoon capers (I like the small nonpareilles ones)
2 tablespoons black olives, roughly chopped
handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped (optional)
salt and pepper

Cook the pasta according to packet instructions.

While it's cooking, heat the olive oil in a pan and add the garlic. Cook gently for a minute, then add the tomatoes and chilli. Cook for about 5 minutes then add the tuna, capers and olives. Cook over a gentle heat until all the ingredients have warmed through and season to taste.

Drain the pasta and toss together with the sauce, adding more oil and/or black pepper if you want.

Sprinkle with chopped parsley if you have any around and serve.