Like many households, I’m sure, pasta is our go-to meal. When we don’t know what to cook, you can bet it will end up involving pasta. Whether it’s my tomato-free bolognese, a decadent carbonara or gut-lining mac’n’cheese, we love the carby-comfort food hit.
Recently, though, we’ve been trying to experiment a bit more. When we say “oh, we’ll have pasta” we try to pick out a new recipe, try a new combination. Even, as in this recipe, to try something new with an ingredient we rarely use.
Fennel is something I’m a bit scared of, to tell the truth. I have never liked aniseed, going as far as retching when the Liquorice Alsorts were bought out on family car journeys. It was a Dynamo Pizza (now sadly removed from the menu) that first got me eating fennel – the combination of just al-dente fennel with ham, mozzarella and pomegranate seeds was a delight. And so I agreed to try out this pasta dish. And a few additions later, we have a firm favourite…
Recipe (to serve 2)
1 tbsp olive oil, plus a little extra virgin olive oil to drizzle before serving
1&1/2 tsp fennel seeds
3 garlic cloves,crushed
1 lemon, both the zest and the juice – if we have half a lemon hanging around in the fridge we’ll sometimes add extra too
1 fennel bulb, finely sliced, fronds (the green flowery bits) reserved
1/3 pack parsley, chopped (I’m not a fan of parsley but it does work here)
Parmesan, or other similar hard cheese
Heat the oil in a frying pan cook the fennel seeds until they pop (about 90 seconds over a not-too-high heat). Add in the garlic and allow to cook for a minute or so, but don’t let it colour. Throw in the lemon zest and half the fennel, lower the heat and cook for 10-12 mins or until the fennel has softened – cook the pasta whilst you’re waiting.
Add the cooked pasta to the frying pan, along with a few tablespoons of pasta water (reserve a bit more, just in case). Toss together, along with the remaining raw fennel, parsley and lemon juice. Season well, then pile into bowls, topping with the fennel fronds, a drizzle of oil and a generous serving of parmesan. Perfect with a glass of chilled white wine!
We found this was a gorgeously light pasta dish, yet still full of flavour. The contrasting textures of the pasta alongside the cooked and raw fennel added extra interest. All in all a rather yummy dish!
Since becoming allergic to tomatoes, one of the biggest things I’ve missed has been spaghetti bolognese and lasagne. I love pizza as much as the next person, but white pizzas are pretty damn good. Sure, I can’t eat regular curries any more but I’ve developed a love for tandoori chicken instead. But Bolognese? Try finding a tomato-free version and you’ll see what I mean!
But then I used the excuse of W being away to get a bit creative in the kitchen (i.e. make a shit tonne of mess). I’d been eyeing up various ‘nomato’ and ‘nightshade-free’ red sauces for a few years, but I’d always been scared to make them. Actually, I tried once but it was overly carrot-y and not a success. This time I did a lot of research, then ignored everything, combined a few recipes and hoped for the best…
And it worked.
My God, is this red sauce a wonderful thing! Apparently it doesn’t taste exactly like tomatoes (I don’t remember) but it is pretty damn close. It’s amazingly versatile and works in all kinds of recipes – including on a pizza to make the best pepporoni one I’ve had in years (sure, I love white pizzas, but there’s something about a greasy pepporoni one that I hadn’t realised I was missing out on!).
The tomato-free Bolognese, though, is where this nomato sauce really shines. The Bolognese is rich, almost creamy. The meat is soft and tender, the sauce is silky. You would never guess it’s lacking what is supposedly a vital ingredient! Everyone has their own secrets to a good Bolognese. Katy adds HP Brown sauce, and both soy and Worcestershire sauces to hers. I have seen many people add chicken livers, something I’m determined to try the next time I get control of the shopping trolley. And of course, there is Marcella Hazan’s recipe, often described as the Holy Grail of Bolognese. All I can say is that we love this recipe; full of flavour and just damn delicious. I’m now craving it as I type!
Oh, and if you’re feeling more virtuous? I can highly recommend this Bolognese served over courgetti and boodles (softened in a little garlic olive oil for 2 mins). Just don’t skip the parmesan!
Ingredients (Nomato Sauce – generally makes 4 big portions and 1 smaller one)
2 red peppers
1 red onion
2 white onions (big-ish ones if possibly, if yours are smaller chuck another one in)
5 sticks of celery
2 garlic cloves
3 dried bay leaves
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 litre of vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
3/4 of a vacuum pack of beetroot
I’m afraid there’s a lot of chopping here (though you could definitely use a food chopper to save time!).
Slice your peppers and pop in a baking dish. Roast for 20-30 minutes until the skin is blackened. Transfer to a bowl, over with sling-film and leave to cool before removing and discarding the skins.
Finely chop your onions, celery and carrots. Pop into a large pan with a little olive oil and a pinch of salt, and saute over a low heat for a good twenty minutes. You want them to soften and sweeten, but not brown. Add the garlic and bay leaves and increase the heat; fry for two minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and let it bubble away, before adding the stock and the cooled roasted peppers. Bring to the boil, then allow to simmer for half an hour, or until the vegetables are soft. Top up with more water if necessary.
Slice the beetroot into smaller pieces, then add to the pan along with the soy sauce. Cook for around 10 more minutes, then leave to cool before pureeing until smooth. Portion up and freeze. I find this works amazingly well in my Bolognese recipe (below), but I’ve also used it in curries, tagines and to top a pizza. It’s a great way of adding extra vegetables in too!
Ingredients (Ultimate Bolognese, for two greedy people, or two normal people with leftovers for lunch)
250g beef mince
1 white onion
1 stick of celery
2 garlic cloves
1 small glass of red wine
50ml full-fat milk
1 portion of nomato sauce (around 3 ladelfuls)
1/2 beef stock cube
Dried herbs – I usually go for a pinch each of basil, oregano and thyme
This isn’t a quick Monday-night dinner, I’ll admit. This is a lazy Saturday evening meal, or a Friday night treat. I’ll usually crack open a bottle of red and stand stirring, wine glass in hand. However, for a quicker version: omit the celery, carrot and milk, only simmer for as long as you have time for. It’s definitely worth trying the full recipe though…
Finely chop the vegetables. Pop a fry pan onto a medium head and add the mince (no added oil!) – fry until browned all over, then tip into a bowl. Add a little olive oil to the pan, then add the vegetables and fry until soft and the onion is slightly golden. Add the garlic and herbs, along with the mince. Fry for a few more minutes, then tip in the glass of wine. Allow to bubble away, turn the heat down, then add the milk. Cook, stirring, until the milk has almost evaporated away before adding the nomato sauce and the stock cube.
Turn the heat to the lowest setting and allow to simmer away for at least an hour, stirring every now and then, adding a touch of hot water if it’s starting to catch. The end result will be melt-in-the-mouth, super savoury and almost creamy. A proper bowl of comfort food served over spaghetti – and even better added to homemade cheesy bechamel in a lasagne!
This isn’t the most attractive of dishes, I fully own up to that. It’s quite possibly the pink-est thing I have ever cooked, have ever eaten. W (quite rightly, though I wasn’t impressed at the time) claimed it looked at bit like brains.
I spoke about my love for beetroot a few weeks ago (when I published my Beetroot, Black Pudding & Goat’s Cheese Salad recipe), but here we go again. For years I shied away from it, and when I did try it I thought it tasted of soil. Not particularly offensive, but not particularly pleasant either. It’s only been in the last year or so that I’ve actively enjoyed eating it, something I have our engagement meal to thank for. Now not only do I love it in it’s own right, it’s also absolutely essential for me in my No-mato sauces.
Now, I get that to the non-beetroot lover it’s not a great vegetable. It can be bitter yet sweet, and of course it’s quite an earthy taste to become acquired too. This is a recipe I would highly recommend to someone not to sure about it. Sure, the colour is off-putting, but the flavour is muted by the mascapone, the texture is that of a classic risotto – very creamy. It’s also pretty cheap to make, so it’s been a favourite of mine over winter!
2 beets from a vac-pack (freeze the remaining ones – or chop and roast for scattering on the top)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 stick of celery
1 garlic clove
150g risotto rice
Small glass of white wine, optional
Around 500ml hot vegetable stock
Handful grated Parmesan
2 tbsp mascapone – or a soft goat’s cheese is excellent (and my favourite!)
Finely chop the onion, celery and garlic, then fry in the olive oil or 5-7 minutes over a low heat. Turn the heat up, stir in the rice until well coated. Pour over the white wine, then allow to evaporate whilst stirring. Add the stock gradually, a ladleful at a stir, stirring often. Keep adding stock until the rice is cooked (but still with a little bite). If you run out of stock, just use a little water.
Whizz the beetroot in a food processor to make a purée. Stir most of the Parmesan, the beetroot purée and the mascapone through the risotto. Season well, then leave to rest for 5 or so minutes. Served scatter with the remaining Parmesan. If you’ve roasted some beetroot, add it to the top or (as I did here) fry some cubes of black pudding to scatter over.
The perfect dish to begin falling in love with beetroot!
Are you a beetroot fan? What’s your favourite type of risotto?
I love risotto. The carbines of the rice, the creaminess of the whole dish, the cheesiness. The fact you can eat with a fork, bowl in hand, snuggled on the sofa. A bowl of risotto is my ultimate comfort food and my go-to meal if I’ve had a bad day.
And it so happens that the one bad thing about living with W is that I can’t indulge my passion for mushroom risotto. I’ve loved all things mushroom since my early teens and despite trying, nothing will convince my fiance to eat them. Rather than give up my risotto love-affair, we’ve come to the agreement that I can try numerous other recipes on him. This is the second and was the one I was most nervous about – the last time I tried butternut squash (four years ago) I hated it. I’ve pretty much avoided it, apart from in spicier soups, ever since. Now it’s my new obsession.
This butternut squash risotto is slightly different from my usual recipes in that some of the squash is blended down, which adds an extra creaminess and cuts down the need (though not my desire!) for excessive cheese. The goat’s cheese stirred through adds a savoury tang which in my opinion is completely necessary against the sweetness of the squash. The celery adds a bit of bite. The roasted squash adds texture and a different layer of flavour. And of course, it’s scattered with parmesan for that salty kick.
This meal was only made better than I timed it to perfection. It was just ready for dolloping into bowls when W walked through the flat doors AND Bake Off was just starting. Doesn’t get much better than that! It does take a little bit longer than my standard risottos, just under an hour, but that’s because of the faff that comes with prepping a squash. It’s completely worth it and standing there stirring (with wine) counts as therapy, right?!
Ingredients (for 2)
1 small butternut squash
750ml stock (we usually use chicken as I have a minor reaction to most vegetable stock cudes)
30g unsalted butter
2 celery sticks
4 garlic cloves
3 dried bay leaf
150g risotto rice
2 tsp soft goat’s cheese
parmesan to serve
Peel the squash and separate the rounded send from the slender top. Chop the slender end into 2cm cubes, toss in a little oil, season lightly and roast in the oven with two cloves of garlic (peeled and halved) at 200C, stirring occasionally, until golden brown on the outside and soft in the centre. I found this took around the same length as the risotto did to cook. Cut the fatter end in half and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Again, chop the flesh into 2cm pieces and pop into a small pan with the stock and bay leaves. Poach on a gentle heat whilst the risotto cooks.
Finely chop the onion and celery, then fry gently in the butter until soft. Add the garlic and risotto rice and increase the heat slightly – stir constantly for around two minutes before adding a ladle of stock from the pan (try not to add any of the squash). Keep stirring until the stock is absorbed, add another ladle and repeat until the rice is almost cooked; around twenty minutes.
Discard the bay leaves and transfer the poached squash into a blender. Process until smooth, then add to the risotto along with the goats cheese. Stir to combine, season with plenty of black epper, cover and leave to rest for 4-5 minutes. Divide into bowls, scatter with the roasted squash pieces and finish with a lot of little parmesan.
This was the perfect warming dinner for a cold Autumnal night – which really took us by surprise here in London in early October! All of a sudden the balmy summer evenings were gone, I needed a scarf to walk home in, and I just made it to the flat in the light. I do love Autumn, but I also miss the lighter evenings. Still, not too long to Christmas now… #24sleepstilSanta! We also found this recipe great for using up a super-cheap pumpkin following halloween. At 30p I couldn’t resist!
What’s your ultimate cosy-night-in comfort food? Also, how on earth do I get someone to eat mushrooms?!
An evening out involving delicious food and handsome date? Who was I to say no…? Bella Italia recently invited me and W to try out their new Student menu and we jumped at the chance.
Bella Italia is a family favourite as it has enough choice for everyone. Out of my parents and my sister, one is allergic to citrus, one to tomatoes (shifty eyes…), and one doesn’t eat cheese. It can cause problems when eating out! We all have a great choice at Bella Italia so it’s our go-to for a family meal, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s great value too. And with this menu it’s even better…
For just £5 with a valid NUS card students have a pretty huge menu to choose from. It’s shorter and more basic that the regular menu, but FIVE pounds?! A KFC can cost more than that…
I was also pretty impressed that there was a good choice of non-tomato options. I was expecting to be lumped with carbonara (no complaints!) but even I had options. Including two pizzas. Most places can’t manage a tomato-free pizza when charging £10+ but here it is possible. Impressed to say the least!
In the end I did go with carbonara, and very nice it was too. Especially after my customary heaping of parmesan and black pepper. A massive plateful, creamy sauce, and beautifully cooked pasta.
W made his own pizza, adding ham and chicken. It was “mightily delicious” – he really enjoyed it. For £5 our mains were excellent value, cheaper than some ready meals and a darn sight nicer. They certainly didn’t skimp on the amount of meat on his pizza, or the portion size of my dish!
I accompanied my meal with a Bella Fresca – a combination of peach puree, rum and some other alcohol. I found it sweet, fruit, refreshing and with a great kick. Whilst it was pricey at just short of £6, most cocktails at Bella Italia are 2-for1 with the student menu which makes them slightly more affordable.
We were pretty full after our mains (not bad for £5) but shared three desert shots. Banoffee Pie wasn’t great, rather artificial tasting and a bit gloopy. Panna Cotta was the best, tart cherries, sweet syrup, creamy base. The Amaretto Chocolate was good, but scarily rich and a little too cold.
Service was excellent, friendly, smiley, without being awkward or over-the-top. I’d perhaps suggest they don’t flash the lights on and off with a Happy Birthday (I’m badly affected with dizziness when there are flashing lights), but other than that I thoroughly enjoyed my evening. After this carb-fest then a weekend away I definitely need to get back to my healthy-eating!
Have you ever been to Bella Italia? What did you think? What’s your favourite Italian restaurant?
Having lived in student halls for nine months too long (bad experience) I know just how difficult it is to cook with a dodgy oven, little space, limited food storage and below-par equipment, so when SACO contacted me about their latest challenge I couldn’t not accept. They wanted bloggers to create a two course meal for two, under £20 and only using equipment found in their holiday apartments. Got to say, those apartments are better stocked than the kitchen in my halls was! Most look pretty cool too!
I decided to go for something relatively simple, something I’d cook often but with a summery twist. Plus they compensated the cost of ingredients, so I couldn’t resist splashing out on chorizo and prawns. I planned a paella, but I had the wrong type of rice, the wrong type of pan. Plus I burn things easily. Risotto it was. As for the starter, this was something born out of an accident last year when I ended up with extra mozzarella. I love it, and quite often eat it for dinner (after an office lunch at Prezzo) or cold in my lunchbox. I also wanted something that would work well alongside the risotto if timings get difficult (they often do away from home), so I’m happy to say they go together perfectly. A really yummy meal!
Now I didn’t weigh anything, and got on with it straight from work. I had two courses on the table in under an hour – so it’s a pretty quick dish. Here we go;
Get in, throw your bags on the floor and preheat the oven to 180C. Dice a small onion and soften in olive oil over a low heat.
Slice a part-baked roll (one for each person) in half, spread each half with a teaspoon of red pesto, and top with slices of mozzarella. Throw in the oven, they want 15-20 minutes; keep an eye on the cheese as you don’t want it to burn.
By now the onions should have soften. Tip in some chorizo (I’m loving the pre-diced little packs from Sainsburys at the moment, as it means I’ll actually eat the amount before it goes off) and let it release its oils. Add sliced garlic, paprika and whatever herbs you have to hand. Stir a spoonful of the red pesto in too.
Tip in the risotto rice (150g is good for two portions) and stir constantly for two minutes. Pour 1/2 pint of boiling water into a jug, then add 1/3 of this to the pan. Stir well, cover with a lid and leave for about ten minutes.
Add another 1/3 of the stock, stir well, leave for ten minutes, then repeat. Leave the lid off for the last ten minutes, add a handful each of prawns, and stir as often as you can bear to. You want it to be slightly less wet than a usual risotto, a little more paella like.
Check the rice is cooked to your liking, season to perfection (is it Jamie Oliver that says that in virtually every recipe?!) and serve up.
Disclaimer: I was invited to take part and reimbursed for my ingredients. I wasn’t expected or asked to add an opinion on SACO apartments, and I’m not affiliated with them in any way.
As you may know I’ve holidayed in Edinburgh for the past two years; I adore the city, and I really love what I’ve seen of Scotland. One of my dream holidays in the next few years is to finish a stay in Edinburgh with some form of road trip around the country. One of the things I love about Scotland is the food. Nothing too fancy, but everything is tasty, hearty and well seasoned – too many people are shy with the salt and pepper! When Sykes Cottages asked me to come up with an interesting Haggis recipe I was embarrassingly excited; I love haggis but have never cooked it myself. I was actually quite shocked at their statistics; nearly two-thirds of people wouldn’t order haggis if they saw it on the menu. I’ve got to say there are things I’d place ahead of haggis, but its definitely not a no-go area for me! Thinking about my recipe, I wanted something quick and easy, but still comforting. Haggis isn’t meant to be light and healthy really! I’ve actually never had it ‘as it comes’, I’ve eaten it stuffed inside a chicken breast (pretty good) and in a fritter. A word about the Fritter – I highly recommend you visit Maison Bleue if you find yourself in Edinburgh. Pretty damn good set menu at roughly £30, but £15 if you’re a student and its a Tuesday. One of the most interesting (in a good way!) meals I’ve had, and they definitely don’t skimp on portions. But yes, I highly recommend their Haggis Fritters. Anyway, all the times I’ve enjoyed Haggis it’s been in quite a complex form. I didn’t want that, so I thought about the flavours – peppery and meaty. Then I realised it would be pretty nice in a carbonara. I was right, it was fantastic. I used a pattie of haggis as it was the easiest option for one. So cheap too! Just to let you know, my regular carbonara comes very highly praised by my boyfriend. I’ve never planned to publish it on here and its not a dish that takes kindly to sitting around being photographed, but here it is. Aren’t you lucky?! To make it haggis-less, just fry chopped bacon until crisp, and add a good amount of pepper to the cheese mix. Ingredients
Decent knob of butter
1 round of haggis
Cheese – I went for parmesan and a good grating of a Scottish cheddar
Pasta – spaghetti is best really
First of all put your pasta on to boil. I find 10 minutes is about right for most pastas. Meanwhile fry your haggis in butter – I crumbled mine up completely, but you could leave it in bigger chunks. I’d say crumbled is easier if you’re just starting out with haggis though! And while that’s frying, crack and egg into a bowl, beat and add your grated cheeses. Now my secret for carbonara – take a tablespoon of the boiling pasta water (while the pasta is still cooking) and dribble it into the egg-cheese while beating with a fork. Do the same with another teaspoon. The water should just melt the cheese, make a smooth mixture, and lighten the end sauce. Once the pasta has boiled, drain, and tip straight in with the haggis. Toss together. Turn the heat off, and wait a few minutes. Tip the egg mixture gradually (tossing well between additions) into the pasta. If it starts to scramble don’t add any more; wait another minute. Once all the egg is in, if its not quite cooked enough to your liking (I’m not fussy about really runny egg!) put the pan back on a very low heat. Then serve, and eat as quickly as possible. Trust me, cold carbonara isn’t a good thing!
Disclaimer: I was sent the personalised apron and £15 to cover ingredients costs (treated myself to posh parmesan!) by Sykes Cottages, but all opinions are my own. I genuinely love haggis!
Whats your opinion of haggis?