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Do you ever eat a meal you’ve cooked numerous times and think, “perhaps this is my favourite meal ever”? I do. I always seem to be wondering what my favourite food or meal is, that if I had one last dinner to enjoy what would I choose?
I’ve decided that this is perhaps mine.
Someone on Instagram mentioned they’d love a recipe for my tomato pasta after I shared a picture on our Wales holiday. And although I almost don’t think it’s worthy of being called a ‘recipe’ or for me to tell anyone how to make something so simple, here it is.
It is basically pasta with a tomato sauce made from fresh tomatoes, cooked very quickly. I’m sure that I was inspired to first make this after watching a TV programme where an Italian chef on the Amalfi coast in a very posh hotel was making a tomato sauce for pasta this way.
I’m pretty sure that the quality of your tomatoes matters in this dish, after all you’re hardly adding any other flavours and if you use out-of-season-wishy-washy pale looking tomatoes I think it would taste pretty miserable. So finding good quality tomatoes, preferably in the summer months when they are at their ripest and in-season is essential.
I have used all kinds of tomatoes to make this sauce – larger ones cut up, cherry tomatoes left whole, cherry tomatoes cut in half, cherry tomatoes cut into quarters, multi-coloured tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, or a mixture of whatever I have to hand.
All you want to ensure is that they are roughly the same size so that they cook at the same rate.
We British are always talking about the weather, it seems we are unable to have a conversation with anyone without mentioning it. So here I am, talking about the weather – but what incredible weather it has been this past week!
Mr Rigg is convinced this is our summer, last year March was stonking hot, this year maybe it’s May. I do hope this isn’t the end of hot, sunny weather for the rest of the year, just a few more occasional weeks like this would satisfy me.
Like everyone I’m sure, we’ve been out in the garden, down on the allotment, cooking and eating outside, and quickly getting in a tan in case this really is our one and only week of warm, cloudless skies.
Some of our many meals eaten outside (and some even cooked outside!) have included this new favourite pasta dish of prawns, rocket and sundried tomato paste…
A rather scrummy and also new favourite omelette with colourful cherry tomatoes from our local farmer’s market, crispy Serrano ham, shavings of sheep’s cheese and snipped chives from the garden…
I am a huge mushroom fan in all their shapes and sizes. I have found a way to cook them that I just love – I’ve had too many of those soggy watery mushrooms that I was determined to find a way to make them taste how I like them.
I cook them over a really high heat in a big knob of butter until they release all their juices. Then I continue to cook them until all the juices disappear, then they start to brown and caramelise a little around the edges. This is how I like my mushrooms. Once their like this they are delicious and you can then do all kinds of things to them (aside from eating them just like this) to make different meals.
So I’m lagging behind on updating what we’ve been eating on our meat-free month, so I will speedily try and do some catching up. On the weekend we had a day at home and a day visiting family. Visiting family wasn’t a big deal as my parents don’t really eat meat, in fact I’m sure my mother was quite pleased!
On Saturday morning before we headed off to Leicester to see my granny and meet my parents, we whipped up a quick salad from Hugh’s Everyday Veg book to take as our lunch offering (we were each making something). We also had made a birthday cake as both my parents’ birthdays are in January – pictures of that to follow.
Saturday 14th January
Pearl barley salad with roasted squash and fennel, lemon juice, parsley and cheese. This is a fresh wintery salad with the roasted squash and fennel tossed through the cooked pearl barley, and the other bits added to taste. I am neither a huge fan of squash or fennel, but all together it was delicious. I am learning to trust a few certain chefs to the point where I know I can make most of the recipes, irrespective of whether we think we like the ingredients, and know that we’ll love it.
My mom loved the salad and decided she might give in and buy the book – although she refused to watch anymore of the TV series after Hugh slaughtered a sheep during one episode and didn’t think it was appropriate for a programme encouraging vegetable eating. I do see her point, although I understand Hugh’s motivations to encourage us to eat meat that is well-cared for. Mommys.
(Sorry for the measly picture – I forgot to take any photos on Saturday so this is my leftover lunch on Monday)
Sunday 15th January
Broccoli and chilli pasta. Penne pasta with steamed broccoli that had been tossed in lightly cooked garlic and chilli flakes and a good knob of butter. I used to eat broccoli pasta all the time at University, but in the past few years haven’t been enamoured by the idea so have been reluctant to make it. I’m so pleased we did though because there is something very comforting about this combination. We didn’t follow a recipe we just made it up as we went along – some of the best cooking is done this way I think.
My meat-free month thoughts at the end of week 1
Last night we were chatting about how we were finding our meat-free month so far. We’ve both had the odd pang for meat, salty crisp bacon in particular. Bacon, egg and toast even more specifically for me. But otherwise, I haven’t really had any meal where I’ve missed meat. Mr Rigg says the one meal we’ve had that he would have enjoyed more with the addition of meat, again bacon, was the colcannon baked potatoes with the poached egg.
I am feeling much more cheerful about what we are cooking and eating, and I am excited about carrying on this way. It is great to be challenged to come up with interesting and diverse meals that don’t contain meat or fish, and in the process we are discovering some firm new favourites, which we might not otherwise have found.
It also makes me want to carefully look at and work out how much meat we eat in the future – I’m sure somewhere I read guidelines on the suggested weight of meat we should each eat a month, I believe this was from a sustainable point of view, but probably also good for your health.
Yesterday saw the start of our meat-free month. I must say it hasn’t felt too momentous a change yet, because on average we eat a few meat-free dishes a week and most meals only have a small amount of meat in them. But I’m sure it will feel more of a challenge as the weeks go on, like tonight I couldn’t help but think that crispy bacon or pancetta would have been a nice addition – aah!
So here’s the start of our meat-free diary…
Monday 9th January
Winter veg stir-fry. Egg noodles, carrots, parsnips, mushrooms, and shredded sprouts, all bound together with a delicious sauce of soy sauce, mirin and Chinese five spice.
From River Cottage Everyday Veg
Tuesday 10th January
Cavolo nero pesto pasta. A homemade pesto made from boiled cavolo nero and garlic, drained and blitzed up, with olive oil, salt, pepper and Parmesan. Stirred through hot spaghetti and sprinkled with a tiny bit of grated cheese.
Dinner tonight was in a hurry – thankfully just the making part, the eating was a little more relaxed. We made a trout, pea and chive pasta with a silky coating of creme fraiche.
First I steamed the trout fillets and then used the pan of water to cook the pasta and peas together. The pasta we used was a small-ish tube cross shell – perfect for scooping up the peas!
Once the pasta was cooked and drained, I used some of the reserved cooking water to thin out the creme fraiche into a nice sauce. Into this went the chopped chives, then the peas and pasta. The final step was to season with salt and pepper and stir through the flakes of trout.
It tasted even better than I hoped, definitely one to make again. Is anyone else suffering from work and life overload and struggling to feed themselves well? I feel like I’m living on bread and dairy at the moment, and I long for the salads and fresh dinners of summer sat on the patio.
When it comes to pasta bakes, I’m usually pretty unadventurous – favouring a simple tomato sauce and lumps of fresh mozzarella or the grated version. Cooked until the cheese top is golden and crisp.
Last night I decided we needed a bit of a shake up. Still featuring lots of cheese, of course, I made a cheesy broccoli pasta bake. So simple, and yet it tasted nicer than I thought it would.
Heat your oven up to about 180 – 200°C. Cut the broccoli up into bite-sized pieces. Pop a pan of water onto boil and add your pasta.
You want to just undercook the pasta (it carries on cooking in the oven), and add the broccoli for the last few minutes to cook a little. Drain the pasta and the broccoli.
While the pasta is cooking, make a cheese sauce. I use equal amounts of butter and flour to make a roux, then add hot milk a bit at a time, and stir like mad with a whisk to keep it smooth. Bring to the boil and keep whisking – this was my job when I was growing up.
Add lots of grated mature Cheddar to the sauce and stir in until melted. Pour the cheese sauce over the drained pasta and broccoli and mix together.
Put the whole lot into an ovenproof dish, sprinkle over an extra bit of grated cheese and bake for 20-30 minutes until golden and bubbling.
I would pop this firmly in the category of ‘Comfort Food’. Good for cold wintery nights or when you’re feeling low. This is food that hugs you.
This week I am taking a few days off from work and have left Mr Rigg and our menagerie of animals behind in Cheshire. I am visiting my family in the Cotswolds and trying not to get too hot in this almost unbearable humidity.
My mom’s garden is full of bee’s swarming over her lavender hedges, whilst everything else is looking a little thirsty. We’ve done a bit of shopping, sat for a while to chat and drink coffee and strawberry lemonade (delicious) in Made By Bob, took Alfie the family deerhound for a walk in search of a little owl that is nesting in an old tree (sadly we didn’t see it), and ate a scrummy courgette risotto.
Tonight we are planning a summer vegetable pasta dish, using vegetables from my mom’s allotment – the last of the broad beans, French beans and an assortment of courgettes. All mixed together with a health glug of good olive oil and lots of garlic.
We also rescued a rather forlorn butterfly from the village church, who was covered in cobwebs. We freed him from the dust and webs and set him on a bunch of purple wisteria flowers – he happily tucked into the nectar and I took a few snaps.
Will be back towards the end of the week no doubt with a full round up of making clotted cream ice cream, homemade scones, strawberry jam and other bits and pieces! But for now, I’m enjoying not being tied to the laptop.
So my afternoon at the local food event was good. It’s always lovely to meet other people who are running similar projects, be inspired by others and generally network. I would prefer more ‘doing’ at these events and less listening – I come home feeling inspired by what I’ve heard, but I would have liked to do more group problem-solving.
The lunch I must tell you, was really miserable. Perhaps my work running community events and conferences makes me hyper-critical, but I would have thought that an event on local food should have a vibrant, seasonal lunch of local produce. The only obvious local produce was the apple juice (from Eddisbury Fruit Farm), but otherwise it was miserable beige food (read: soggy garlic bread with cold melted cheese) and a few token carrot sticks.
But enough of that, tonight I made up a delicious pesto using some slightly-too-old peas and a bag of sugar snap peas that were in desperate need of being eaten. I was also in real need of green, vibrant vegetables for tea.
Homemade pea and sugar snap pesto
So I quickly cooked the sugar snap peas and ordinary peas (that I’d podded first – possibly one of my favourite jobs ever) in boiling water. I allowed the sugar snap peas a few minutes longer, but really only let them turn a bright green before draining them and cooling quickly in iced water.
I popped them into my handy small blender, along with some walnut oil (thought I’d try something different), sliced mint from the garden, grated Parmesan, salt and pepper. I whizzed it all up, added some more oil to loosen it, adjusted the seasonings to taste and hey pesto (sorry…it was too irresistable!) my pea pesto was finished!
After cooking the pasta, I added the pesto along with a splash of the pasta water and mixed it in. For an extra dash of colour, and in the spirit of using as much of my edible garden as possible, I added a few lilac mint flowers to finish it off.
This is not a powerful, punchy pesto like the basil version. It is subtle, with the sweetness of pea, the earthy nuttiness of the oil, and the savoury-salty flavour of Parmesan. Lovely, seasonal, and a great way to use up forgotten vegetables.