Good things: August 2014

Last week I got an advertising-type email from a gym that reminded all recipients that ‘summer bodies are made in winter’. Reader, I threw it in the rubbish.

I don’t know about you, but I’m hoping kaftans and elasticated waistbands are going to be the height of fashion in summer 2015. Various things – birthdays, parties, stressful life events – are conspiring against my ‘summer body’.

Homemade-Pasta-Atlas-Marcato-Machine

Firstly, I found this – a pasta machine at a charity shop for $20, still in its original box, with its original warranty and instructions. I’ve always, always wanted one to play with and although I’ve only used it once so far, I can see plenty of pasta in my future.

Eclairs-With-Coffee-Custard-Chocolate-Icing-And-Walnut-Praline
Eclair image thanks to my colleague and co-baker Lisa

I know DIY pasta has a difficult reputation but it was a cinch compared to some of the things I’ve been making lately. In a moment of weakness I joined the Wellington On a Plate Bake Club team at work, which has meant many a late Sunday night making pies, slices, cakes and eclairs.

The upshot of all of this is that I won our in-house contest against some seriously tough competition and now I have to join the winners of 80+ Bake Clubs this Sunday morning for the final Bake-Off. I normally go for a run on Sunday mornings – but if the gods have decided I need to be in a room full of cakes, I can only go along with their wishes.

Perhaps I’ll take inspiration from these cute cupcakes – these are made by 15-year-old Emily, of three winners in the Better With BRITA contest. Emily, who made bespoke cupcakes for each of the judges – it takes a special kind of talent to make a miniature BRITA water jug out of icing – joins Alex, who made gluten-free brownies and Rekha, who made samosas, at The Big Feastival in London at the end of the month.

I’d love to join them, but my real goal for August is to make something out of My Paris Kitchen. If you haven’t got a copy of this yet, you’re missing out. My lovely sister-in-law gave it to me for my birthday and I think it’s a strong contender for book of the year.

My-Paris-Kitchen-David-Lebovitz-Book-Of-The-Year!

How has August been for you?

Pasta with sausage, cream and tomato

You might think, gauging from recent blog posts, that we have been existing on chocolate smoothies, cake and biscuits. It’s a bit like photo albums (remember them, fellow oldies?), where the main players are either on holiday or celebrating a major life event. Don’t even start me on Instagram and its artfully displayed kale and kohlrabi smoothies. Either way, what you see is not necessarily what you get.

Easy Recipe For Pasta With Sausage And Tomato And Cream

Strangely, the reverse is also true. This pasta may not look anything to boast about, but it has been a much-appreciated addition to my after-work winter repertoire. It’s quick, simple, sustaining and doesn’t require any fancy ingredients so you don’t have to disturb that exotic diorama you’re composing for tomorrow’s Instagram shot.

Pasta with sausage, cream and tomato
If you’re cold and weary and really need the comfort that only a bowl of pasta can provide, this is the dinner for you. It makes a great weekend lunch too, but you’ll to follow it up with a bracing walk in the great outdoors or an hour of sofa snoozing afterwards. Use the best sausages you can find. I’ve made the assumption that if you’ve got this far, you don’t need me to tell you how to cook pasta.

1 Tbsp olive oil
4 good quality sausages
1 small onion, finely chopped
a clove of garlic, finely chopped
a tin of Italian whole peeled tomatoes
a good splash – 100ml or more – cream
enough pasta for four
Parmesan, to serve
salt and pepper

Put a medium-sized heavy pan over high heat and add the olive oil, followed by the onion and garlic. Turn the heat down, then squish the sausage meat out of the casing and into the pan so it forms tiny, rustic meatballs. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and the sausage is browned. Tip in the tomatoes and stir well, then let cook for 10 minutes over medium heat. Just before you’re ready to serve, pour the cream into the sauce and let it come to just before boiling. Taste and season with salt and pepper as necessary. Toss the pasta through the sauce, then serve at the table with lots of Parmesan. Serves four.

What’s your current winter comfort food favourite?

Sophie’s sort-of Sicilian spaghetti

At the moment I’m deeply involved in The Leopard, the famous Italian novel that charts the decline of a noble Silician family during the late 19th century. At a really basic level it’s a bit like a (less violent) version of The Godfather, or The Sopranos. Maybe all life is like that. Anyway, apart from the epic themes of struggle and change and death there are some great descriptions of feasts eaten and given. It’s one of those books where you know it’s all going to end in tears, but you’re compelled to keep reading. I highly recommend it.

Sicilian spaghetti
I made this on Friday night, having opened the pantry and fridge and thought: ‘I only went shopping yesterday, why is there nothing to eat?’ It’s a really good storecupboard sort of dinner and is child-friendly too, especially if your child has a thing for dried fruit, tuna and nuts. I watched Sophie Grigson make it on TV once, about 15 years ago, and I’ve been making it ever since even though I’ve long since lost the notes I made of whatever quantities she used. This is how I made it on Friday night and it was a huge success.

1 red onion, finely chopped
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 x 180g tin of good quality tuna in olive oil
two handfuls of raisins or currants
two handfuls of pine nuts, toasted (I use roughly chopped toasted almonds instead, or sunflower seeds if we are especially poor)
1 cup black olives, stoned
a generous amount of fresh parsley, finely chopped
extra virgin olive oil
enough spaghetti for three people – for us that’s about 250-300g)

Put the onion and red wine vinegar in a small bowl and leave to steep while you get on with organising everything else. Put the water on to boil for the pasta, and add everything except the spaghetti to the onion mixture. Toss together, add a slosh of olive oil and season to taste.
Cook the spaghetti until it is al dente and drain, then toss it through the sauce. Take a block of Parmesan to the table and let diners add it as they wish. Threaten any non-eaters with a horse’s head in their bed. Serves three.

Finsbury Park pasta and proscuitto

I invented this quick, delicious spaghetti when we were living in our first London flat. It was a neat place (if you ignored the crack house two doors down, the overland train out the back windows and the bus route out the front) and we had lots of visitors. Now we live in a house in Wellington that’s probably three times as big, with neighbours who play classical guitar and invite us over for dinner, with trees and sky out the windows. We still get lots of visitors, though they don’t look as frightened when they appear at the door.

Spaghetti with roasted vegetables and proscuitto
This is a very vague recipe that can be altered to fit whatever vegetables you have lying around. In Finsbury Park I relied on whatever looked best at the 24-hour ‘Local English Mediterranean Superstore’ on Seven Sisters Rd, though I was careful not to buy any of the vegetables that had been sitting out in the traffic fumes all day.

For four people:
A slosh of olive oil
2 red onions, chopped
3 zucchini, sliced into coins
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 peppers, cut into large dice
2 handfuls of green beans or broccoli, in bite-size pieces
1 cup black olives, stoned
1 punnet cherry tomatoes
1 packet proscuitto
Parmesan and fresh parsley, to serve
500g good quality spaghetti

Heat the oven to 220C. Put the onions, zucchini, garlic, peppers and beans/broccoli in a roasting dish and toss through the oil. Roast for 20 minutes, until they start to turn golden. Stir, then tip in the olives and tomatoes. Lay the proscuitto over the top. Return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes, until the tomatoes are at bursting point and the proscuitto is crisp.
While this is happening, cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, then toss through the roasted vegetables. Divide between four bowls and top each one with the shards of proscuitto, grated Parmesan and finely chopped parsley.

Mac Attack

Whoever wrote ‘comfort me with apples’* obviously didn’t ever sit down to a bowl of macaroni cheese. The Boy Wonder hates it, thanks to some traumatic childhood experience, so it has attained almost mythic fantasy food status for me because we never have it. In the weekend, when I was working and solo parenting and gardening and cleaning (and everyone else was partying, including our neighbours), I made some as a special treat. The Small Girl, being an avowed lover of all things pasta, adored it, but not as much as her exhausted, cheese-and-carbohydrate-craving, mother.

Instant Macaroni Cheese
This is essentially a Nigella Express recipe, but with a little less cheese – and no macaroni, because I use rigatoni or penne instead. The bigger shapes are better because they fill up with the sauce like miniature cannelloni. This quantity is perfect for one adult and one child, especially if the adult is ravenous. I know the evaporated milk makes it sound like one of those ‘4 Ingredients’ dishes I was snooty about last week, but trust me, it really is good. And there aren’t any dishes!

125g rigatoni or penne
1/2 cup evaporated milk (the ‘lite’ version is fine)
2-3 handfuls of grated cheddar
1 egg
pinch of smoked paprika and/or cayenne pepper
salt and pepper

a little extra grated cheese and some stale baguette, for crumbs

Preheat the oven to 200C. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. While it’s cooking, mix all the other ingredients together in an ovenproof bowl big enough to take the pasta. Drain the pasta, then put it in the bowl with the cheese mixture and stir until it’s well coated. Sprinkle over the extra cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until golden and crunchy on top. Be careful if giving this to a small child – the sauce is hotter than napalm.

What’s your stress-busting dish of choice?

* I do know who wrote ‘Comfort me with apples’ (for I am sick of love) you know. I don’t just sit around with my nose in a recipe book. (And it wasn’t Ruth Reichl, neither.)