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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.
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.
Tonight we are attempting to make gnocchi for a Jamie Oliver recipe with a stilton and pear sauce. Jamie uses bought gnocchi but I’ve never found the supermarket stuff to be very good. So I thought I’d give it a go – will let you know how it turns out.
Jamie suggests its best eaten in front of a movie, so with the wood burning stove on I think that’s what we’ll do. Have a lovely evening whatever you’re eating.
I am really enjoying our meat-free month and not really finding it a challenge so far – it’s really great to be trying out a lot of recipes that I would usually not cook because we seem to default to others. The only downside was this evening realising that we couldn’t eat fish and chips at the pub – I was pretty gutted.
Monday 16th January
Dev-Mex Pumpkin Soup from the Riverford Cookbook. Pumpkin and tomato soup with a hint of chilli, topped with crumbled tortilla chips, avocado chunks tossed in lime juice, grated Jarlesburg, and coriander.
Utterly, utterly amazing. It’s always those dishes that you want to like, but don’t think you really will, maybe because it contains an ingredient you don’t think you like, and WHAM – so delicious! If there’s one recipe so far I would recommend you make, it would be this one.
Tuesday 17th January
Mushrooms, creme fraiche and pasta. This is Hugh’s mushroom risioniotto…at least I think that’s what it’s called. He does make up some odd names. It’s basically tiny pasta that looks like rice, I love it, it’s very comforting and moreish – probably because you can eat big mouthfuls of it along with some rich sauce. The mushrooms were simply fried in butter until they start to go golden, then some wine and creme fraiche stirred through to make a sauce. I miss calculated the amount of mushrooms and did half the recipe…turns out it was only for 2 people so I definitely won’t mess this up next time, as it did need more mushrooms.
Wednesday 18th January
Roasted tomato and mozzarella risotto. Another from Hugh’s trust Everyday Veg book, and one that we had been cooking regularly before we even considered doing a meat-free month. Yes, perhaps eating tomatoes in January isn’t the most seasonal choice, but my body was craving it and they were bought from Unicorn Grocery in Manchester so not as bad a supermarket tomatoes.
Hugh’s recipe uses a roasted tomato sauce that he also provides a separate recipe for – I just sliced a whole load of plum tomatoes in half and roasted them in the oven with olive oil, sliced garlic and herbs until they were soft and gooey. I think pop the whole lot through my mouli, a carboot bargain that I couldn’t now live without. If the Dev-Mex Pumpkin Soup was my top recommended recipe, the mouli would be my top recommended piece of kitchen kit.
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.