Sunday, March 28, 2010

'Spring' Pasta with Fresh Garden Herbs

Just finished cooking my classic 'French Style' Roast Chicken - which I'll write about another time - and as I was sorting out some pictures I came across a lunch I made the other day which I thought I'd share. It's so wonderfully simply and tasty, it seems selfish to keep it to myself!

It's actually based on a recipe from Antonio Carluccio, but what's nice about it is that it's not really a recipe at all, more a guide. It's the kind of thing you can usually throw together at the last minute from pretty much what you have in the garden, so can be invaluable for these sort of quick lunches or light suppers. The core of it is the making of a sort of lightweight pesto to dress pasta. Here's the recipe for two people.

  • First get some water on the boil for pasta as normal. Remember water for pasta should be generously salted - most of the salt stays in the water, so it's not all going into you.
  • Gather a good handful or two of whatever fresh herbs are growing well, and for that matter whatever you fancy. For this one I had a few leaves of sage, a few of mint, about 10 leaves or so of basil, some parsley and a few sprigs of thyme. In the past I've also used majoram, rosemary, lemon balm, black peppermint, oregano, wild garlic, literally anything will work. Personally I think mint works especially well.
  • Next add a few nuts, between 10-20 - usually these would be pinenuts, but for this one I used toasted hazelnuts that I'd kept in a jar left over from winter. Doesn't really matter what, you can pretty much choose whatever you like again.
  • Put all these together and roughly chop them, leaving some large pieces of nut and herb here and there (but making sure you're not going to choke anyone!).
  • Now get the pasta in the water and cook as normal, usually I'll go for something long like linguine or spaghetti.
  • In a separate pan, large enough to add the pasta in later, melt a large knob of butter and a good glug of olive oil. Finally chop a garlic clove (or crush it for a more intense flavour) and add it to the oil on a low heat to infuse.
  • Grate a generous handful or two of paremsan, and add it to the herbs, ready to go in with the garlic. Keep a little aside to finish.
  • Once the pasta has about a minute or so to go, stir the chopped herbs, nuts and parmesan into the oil, butter and garlic and leave it on the heat to warm through.
  • Finally drain the pasta, and toss it into the herby buttery mix - make sure you leave a fair bit of liquid in the pasta, as it will emulsify with the mixture and create a light sauce.

Enjoy - with a nice glass of red, some toasted bread, and good company in the sunshine :-)

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Cauliflower Arancini and Ratatouille with a Rocket, Basil & Wild Garlic Pistou

Spring is back, at least according to the Met Office it is, and with Spring comes the welcome return of Wild Garlic. It's quite abundant down in Devon already, though you'll have to know where to look. Our usual spot is only lightly covered at the moment, just enough for the wild garlic pistou from the title, but we have found huge amounts growing in another spot nearer Exeter - but that's for another story, and hopefully lunch tomorrow.

Two odd things about this dish, not only the wild garlic pistou but also the arancini, both of which were something of leftover specials, as befits the end of a busy week.


If you've not come across arancini before they're an Italian speciality, made with leftover risotto. Quite simple to make, and sublime to eat - one of those things that somehow tastes much better than it deserves too, if that makes any sense! You simply take some cold leftover risotto, and pack it around a small cube of cheese (often mozzarella) or possibly some meat sauce (bit more tricky) to create something the same shape and size as a scotch egg. Next do the usual flour, then egg, then breadcrumb thing to coat (we usually do ours twice, for extra crispyness) and shallow fry for 10-15 minutes until well browned. By now the smell will be driving you too insane to cook any longer, so you'll have to stop cooking them anyway so you can get stuck in.

Ratatouille with a Rocket, Basil & Wild Garlic Pistou

This was a bit of an odd one really. A fridge with one lonely courgette, a half eaten pack of basil, some rocket which had seen better days, two peppers (one with a bit cut off which was ... well, you're getting the picture by now). Basically an ideal start to make something kind of like ratatouille and kind of like pistou.

First the ratatouille ...
  1. First off cut a red onion into half inch sized pieces, and get these frying in a shallow pan with a little olive oil and butter. You're looking to get these quite caramelised to bring out the sweetness of the onion.
  2. Once the onions are about 2/3rds done, add in the peppers cut into strips about 1cm wide (mixing my measurements a bit here!). I had a green one and a yellow one, but any will do. Green's a good idea though to add a little bitterness into the dish. These need to be cooked for about another 10 minutes, tossing now and then, aim to soften them and add a bit of colour.
  3. When the onions and peppers are done, put them on into another deeper dish (this is going to be the one for cooking the finished ratatouille).
  4. Now back in the same pan that fried the onions & peppers add the courgette sliced up into average thickness discs. Fry these till golden on one side, flip over and fry till golden on the other side, then into the same pan as the onions and peppers.
  5. Now deglaze the pan you used for frying with a half glass or so of white wine, and put this into the other pan. 
  6. Add a tin of tomatoes to the onions, peppers and courgettes and cook this mixture for about half an hour till the tomatoes are tender. Break up any large chunks as you do so, and check the seasoning is good.
Now the Rocket, Basil & Wild Garlic Pistou ...

Pistou is kind of like a French Pesto but without the pine nuts, so I'm taking liberties a bit with the name. Very simple to make, and easy to balance flavours to suit your own tastes - or (more likely) to suit what you have in the fridge!

Here's how I did mine this time:

  • Half an ordinary bag of rocket
  • Half an ordanary pack of fresh basil
  • A good handful of fresh wild garlic
  • About 25g of freshly grated parmesan
  • Salt & pepper
  • Olive oil
First mix all the herbs into a food processor together with a good glug of oil to get things started (this is the lazy method - though chopping or a pestle and mortar would be just as good). Give them a few good pulses until they're starting to form a very basic paste. Add in the parmesan and seasoning, a little more olive oil and start to blend until you've got a smooth sauce. The amount of oil you'll need will depend on how much of everything you've got, what you're looking for is a creamy consistency - it shouldn't take much work or much oil. On that note, it doesn't matter if the herbs are a little wet beforehand, it'll just get emulsified in the process.

Only one more thing to do - once the ratatouille is ready, just spoon a good couple of tablespoons of the pistou mixture into it and give it a good stir, and you're done. Lovely cripsy arancini with a herby and aromatic vegetable side dish. Healthy, tasty, cheap - who could ask for more.

P.S. Any pistou left over makes a great sauce for pasta, adding to pizzas, or just added on the side of a meat course. It should keep in the fridge for a week or so, but it depends on the wild garlic a bit.


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