An unfashionable pasta salad

A couple of days of bad weather and I’ve started to panic that summer is already over – and that I haven’t made the most of it. Ridiculous really, because we should have another month or so of sunshine and barbecues and – with any luck – a proper holiday by the sea to come yet.

In the meantime, I’ve been digging out some old summer favourites. Seasonal recipes can be like clothes – what suited you one season might look terribly outdated the next – but this is still worth another whirl. It might be horribly out of date by the time the northern hemisphere summer rolls around, but the rest of you should give it a bash at your next barbie (mate)…

Nectarine Pasta Salad

Pasta salads might be a bit uncool and I know the ingredients for this sound unlikely, but I urge you to put your prejudices aside. It’s fantastic barbecue fodder as you can make it several hours beforehand and it goes really well with barbecued chicken pieces or pork kebabs. For best results, make sure the nectarines are perfectly ripe and don’t overcook the pasta. Serves six.

500 good quality penne or fusilli, cooked in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente (follow packet directions if you’re unsure) and drained

3 carrots, peeled and cut into julienne strips

1 kg yellow-flesh nectarines, cut into wedges

4 spring onions, sliced

Handful of fresh mint leaves, shredded (strip the leaves from the stems, roll them up into a parcel and snip them into ribbons with a pair of scissors – you’ll feel just like a proper cook off the telly)

Dressing:

4Tbsp olive oil

4Tbsp soy sauce

4Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted in a dry frying pan

4Tbsp finely chopped root ginger

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Combine the cooked pasta, carrots, nectarines and spring onions. Shake the dressing ingredients together in a screw top jar and pour over the pasta mixture. Stir well, then tip into a serving bowl. This can be made a couple of hours in advance and stored in the fridge, but make sure it has at least 20 minutes at room temperature before serving.

Sweet sweet Friday: Banana Parfait

Last week, when I was moaning about my fruitless search for a banana and chocolate semi-freddo recipe, lovely Peggy of Fake It ‘Til You Make It fame reminded me of the world’s easiest (and best?) dessert. It’s been hideously humid and sticky here (sorry, northern hemisphere readers) and this is just heavenly.

Banana Parfait
Gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free, fat-free, child-friendly, budget-friendly – there is a lot to love about this delectable dessert even before you taste it. You could always shave over some dark chocolate (or pour over some chocolate sauce (melt equal quantities of dark chocolate and cream), but it’s hard to beat as it is.

Are overripe bananas cluttering up your fruit bowl? Throw them in the freezer – you can peel them and wrap them in clingfilm if you like, but I just put them in, skin and all.
When you want to eat, take the bananas out (allow one per person) and peel off the skins with a sharp knife. Cut them into chunks and throw them in your food processor. Blitz until they have formed a smooth, icy puree (this makes a hell of a racket, but it’s worth it). Eat immediately. Chill out.

Do you have an end of the week sweet treat? Add a link to it here to spread the sweetness of Fridays…

Our daily bread

It’s the third week of 2011 and I have stopped buying bread. Well, I do have an emergency loaf in the freezer, but I am no longer a prisoner to the over-priced and not-that-great French bakery around the corner and I can smugly avoid the bread aisle at the supermarket. I haven’t gotten around to growing the sourdough starter yet (sorry Dom!), but definitely feel back in the swing of breadmaking.

These robust loaves have become our daily bread. They’re quick to make, have a good crust, a nice crumb and turn into excellent toast. The recipe comes from Stephanie Alexander’s The Cooks Companion, one of my most-used books for both recipe and reference purposes.

Country-style Crusty Bread
I have to thank my sister Marion for the baking paper technique described below – much easier than fluffing about with flour-covered teatowels and the like. This makes two loaves, so you have one to eat today and one to freeze.

800g unbleached strong flour
200g wholemeal strong flour
1Tbsp instant dried yeast
1Tbsp fine salt
2Tbsp olive oil
600ml lukewarm water

Put everything into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook and mix on low speed until you have a smooth but not sticky dough (about 8 minutes). If you don’t have a mixer, prepare to knead for about 15-20 minutes.
Divide dough in half (I weigh it to be sure) and put each half into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with tea towels and leave until doubled, about one hour.
Knock back and knead each piece for a couple of minutes, then return to bowls and let rise again for about 30 minutes, covered with tea towels again.
Gently form each piece into a loaf (“like a fat cigar,” Stephanie says) and place on a liberally floured piece of baking paper. Allow to rise for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220C, with a heavy baking tray inside. Carefully lift the baking paper and loaves onto the hot tray and bake for about 20 minutes, then turn over and bake for another five minutes (you can remove the baking paper at this point). The base of each loaf should sound hollow when tapped. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before cutting.

The delights of Turkish bread

The bread marathon continues apace – with a few disasters along the way. My in-laws, who mostly only eat white death from the supermarket, came to stay for the weekend and I dragged out an old favourite recipe for Turkish bread, which they seemed to love (or at least eat a lot of).

I tore this recipe out of a newspaper years ago and used to make it by hand, which is satisfying but quite messy. Now I use a mixer to do the trick and gain immense satisfaction from not having to scrape dough remnants off the work surface. The best thing about this bread, apart from its spongey texture, is that you can decide to make it at morning tea time and it’ll be ready for lunch.

Turkish Bread
These instructions are for making the bread by hand. If you’re making it in a mixer with a dough hook, use low speed and mix for a couple of minutes, then rest for 30 seconds. Repeat two or three times until you have a stretchy but still slightly sticky dough.

500g strong flour
2tsp sugar
2tsp salt
1 sachet dried yeast (or 1 1/2 tsp)
1 1/4 Tbsp olive oil
360ml warm water

egg wash (1 egg beaten with 3 1/2 Tbsp water)
3Tbsp sesame, cumin and/or nigella seeds (also known as kalonji or onion seeds)

Place the flour, salt, sugar, olive oil and yeast in a large bowl. Slowly add the water and mix well by hand. Drop onto a clean bench and begin kneading. The dough will be very wet but do not be tempted to add more flour.
Knead for five minutes, rest for 30 seconds, then repeat this process twice (so you’re kneading for a total of 15 minutes. By the end of this process the dough should be stretchy like a large rubber band (and your arms will be like jelly).
Rinse out your original bowl and dry, then oil it lightly. Place the dough in the bowl, turn to coat it with oil and cover the bowl with clingfilm. Leave in a warm place for an hour, until the dough has doubled in size.
Tip the dough gently onto a floured work surface and cut into three pieces. Gently pick up each piece of dough and tuck the edges underneath to form a tight oblong shape. Put each piece back on the floured bench and cover with a tea towel. Leave for 20 minutes.
Turn your oven to 250C. Uncover the dough and gently stretch each piece into an oblong shape, nearly the full length of a baking tray. Place on a lined baking tray. Brush each piece with the egg wash, then dimple them with your fingertips. Sprinkle with the seeds. Leave to rest for 15 minutes, then bake in the very hot oven for about eight minutes, until they are risen and lightly golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Pasta sorta alla Nigella

I like to think Nigella Lawson and I have a lot in common. We both love cooking and eating and feeding people, we both love buying cookbooks and bits of kitchen kit, we both have brown hair and beautiful daughters. We both have millionaire husbands and live in swanky Georgian houses in Belgravia… oh, hang on, that’s right, I knew there was something that didn’t quite match. For all our similarities, I doubt Nigella has the same sort of slightly sick feeling in the middle of January when she gets her credit card statement. She probably doesn’t look in her pantry and think, oh god, there’s nothing to eat and another week until pay day. But if she did, I like to think this is what she might come up with…

Pasta sorta alla Nigella
This is my entry for Forever Nigella, a new blogging challenge set by the wonderful Sarah of Maison Cupcake fame. The theme for this month’s challenge is ‘Seasonal Sensations’ – which I have interpreted as ‘making something sensational even when you are broke after Christmas’. I’ve taken inspiration from Nigella’s Ultimate Greek Salad (published in Forever Summer), which we have been eating almost constantly. But with no feta or olives left in the fridge, this is what I came up with to sustain us on a night when the cupboard was bare and the only thing we had in abundance was basil in the garden. Actually, the cupboard seems bare quite often at the moment, so we are eating like this a lot (which is no bad thing).

1/2 cup olive oil
1Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 red onion, finely sliced
1 clove garlic, smashed with a little salt
4-6 vine ripened tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sea salt
handfuls of fresh basil, roughly torn
225g pasta
salt and pepper

At least an hour before you want to eat (preferably two or more), put the olive oil, vinegar, onion and garlic in a small bowl. Stir well and cover.
Just before you want to eat, put the tomatoes, sugar and salt in another small bowl. Stir well and leave at room temperature.
When you want to eat, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain into a serving bowl, then tip the onion and tomato mixtures on top, followed by the basil. Grind over lots of black pepper. Toss well and congratulate yourself on another night of outwitting the bailiffs.