Gruyère, Spinach and Bacon Quiche (with Walnut Pastry)

This is another great summer dish and a creative variation on the ‘quiche’ theme. Sometimes I wish I could just pack a big carrier bag and go on a picnic somewhere sunny. Unfortunately, the weather in this country doesn’t allow me to go very far before pouring rain down on me and, after some sunny spells in the past few weeks, you’ll all be pleased to know the weather is back to being cold and bleak. Just wonderful. That said, even if you can’t organise a picnic somewhere, this shouldn’t prevent you from making this dish from scratch and from enjoying it with a fizzy cocktail, possibly in good company.

Rather than being encased by a traditional shortcrust, this pastry is made up of flour, butter and finely ground walnuts. With that in mind, it helps if you have a strong food processor, as the nuts will need to be pulverized. Please be gentle when you handle it as the pastry is very brittle. After all, nuts are not as sturdy as the combination of butter and flour. I have amended the recipe for the pastry to include a whole egg, but if you prefer you can just use the yolk. Needless to say, if you don’t like bacon or would like to make it a vegetarian dish instead, just leave it out. The filling is rich enough as it is and bacon here only brings saltiness and a bit of texture.

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Ingredients (for the pastry)

  • 350g plain flour
  • 100g shelled walnuts, finely ground
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 200g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp cold water

Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 150g bacon lardons
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 300g baby leaf spinach
  • 5 large eggs
  • 300ml double cream
  • 150g gruyère, grated
  • 3 tbsp breadcrumbs
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. To make the pastry, add the flour and salt to the finely ground nuts in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until combined. Add the chilled and cubed butter, then pulse again until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. With the motor running, add the egg and pulse until the mixture comes together. You might not need to add the water but, if you do, just pulse again afterwards to combine the ingredients.
  2. Tip the pastry out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly to make it even. Shape it into a ball, then flatten it into a disc, wrap it in clingfilm and chill it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, fry the bacon in a frying pan over medium heat until crispy, then remove with a slotted spoon and dry on kitchen paper. Add the onions to the frying pan, then cook until translucent. Tumble in the spinach leaves and wilt down, mixing constantly.
  4. Transfer the onion and spinach mixture to a sieve and press gently with a wooden spoon to extract as much juice as possible. leave to drain and occasionally squeeze some more juice out.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
  6. Take the pastry out of the oven, then roll it on a lightly floured surface to line a 23cm fluted tart tin. You are looking for a 4mm thickness. Cut the excess off by rolling your pin over the top of the tin, then gently ease the pastry in shape and press it lightly upwards, so that the pastry is slightly taller than the dish. Prick the base with a fork and chill for another 30 minutes.
  7. Line the inside of the pastry case with baking parchment, then fill it with baking beans and blind bake the case for 15 minutes. Remove the parchment and the beans, then bake for another 20 minutes until the case is golden and completely dry.
  8. To assemble the tin, spread the spinach and onion mixture on the bottom of the tart case, then sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top. This will ensure any remaining liquid seeping out will be absorbed and won’t give you a soggy bottom. Scatter the bacon lardons on top.
  9. In a jug, combine the eggs with the cream, cheese and some seasoning, then pour over the rest of the filling. Bake for 50 minutes, until golden.
  10. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin, then unmould and serve. Best enjoyed at room temperature or cold.

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Orange Rice Cake

Imagine rice pudding in cake form. Rather, a very creamy risotto you can slice. Really, there is no other way to describe this rice cake. And by ‘rice cake’ I don’t certainly mean the cardboard-cum-polystyrene small ones people on a diet seem to be swallowing all the time. This is a cake, except instead of flower and butter, the main body is provided by a creamy risotto with the addition of eggs. Rice cake is a traditional dessert in the North of Italy. In fact, it originated in Emilia Romagna, the region I come from. The cake was originally created for the so-called ‘Decorations’ Day’ (Festa degli addobbi), during which the whole town celebrated the 10th anniversary of their parish by decorating their windows with colourful drapes. As with every traditional dessert, there are many variations. This version is from Gennaro Contaldo.

Let me explain a few things. First of all, I know the amount of milk indicated might look like a lot but, believe me, it will boil down and get absorbed by the rice. Also, the final consistency of the rice should be extremely creamy and not stiff or dry. Then, this cake has been flavoured with orange zest, juice and extract. Go for liqueur too if you want to (in fact, the original recipe asked for it). Much in the same way, feel free to leave out the sultanas if you don’t like them. Last piece of advice: use a 25cm springform cake tin. I foolishly started to use a 23cm one, but as the amount of mixture is quite abundant, I wisely transferred everything to a bigger tin. Wise choice. The cake will rise and fall back on itself as it cools down. This is perfectly normal and is due to the presence of egg whites.

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Ingredients

  • 1.7 litres whole milk
  • 300g arborio (risotto) rice
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 orange, zest and juice (roughly 100ml)
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp orange extract
  • 40g sultanas

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Line the bottom of a 25cm springform cake tin with baking parchment, then grease the sides. Set aside.
  2. Place the milk, vanilla extract, sugar and orange zest in a big saucepan, then bring to the boil. Add the rice and simmer over a medium heat for about 25-30 minutes. Remember you are looking for a creamy consistency. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  3. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the orange juice. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff.
  4. Add the yolk and juice mixture to the cooled rice. Slowly fold in the egg whites, the sultanas and the orange extract.
  5. Pour into the greased and lined tin, then bake for 50-60 minutes. You might have to cover the cake with foil midway through baking if the top starts browning too quickly.
  6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Dust with icing sugar (optional) and enjoy.

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Curried Chicken and Mango Salad

I don’t know about you, but to me nothing says ‘summer’ more than a big helping of salad. I’m not one of those people who prepare salads all year round. Rather, I quite enjoy getting down to it when it gets warmer and sunnier outside. There’s something about mixing fresh leaves and adding juicy and crunchy vegetables to it that just reminds me of a day out basking into the sunshine. I also like to think vegetables are at their best in summer, what with having been kissed by the sun. I have to say, so far we’ve had two whole weeks of complete sunshine here in Leeds. Needless to say, the following one (last one) was a succession of storms and heavy rains, as it is usually the case in the UK. Nevertheless, I am now in full summer mood and the food I prepare has clearly been influenced by that.

This is a very simple and fresh salad. The contrast of flavours (sweet, spicy and sour) is just wonderful. As it only takes about 30 minutes from start to end to prepare, I suggest you keep this at hand on very busy days and, if you wanted to, you could prepare all of the ingredients beforehand, grill the chicken too, and then you’d be left with a mere assembling job. The original recipe called for a dressing made out of Greek yogurt and mango chutney. Not wanting to open a jar of chutney just to use a couple of tablespoons, I decided to make my own dressing using maple syrup instead. After all, if it’s warmth and sweetness we are after, then the possibilities are endless (try pomegranate molasses!).

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Ingredients

  • 1 ripe mango, sliced and cubed
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 4 chicken breasts, cut into long strips and then halved
  • 4 tbsp thick Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 lime, juice only
  • 4 tsp curry powder
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 gem lettuces or 1 big lettuce head
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper

Method

  1. First, put the chicken strips in a large bowl. Add 2 tsp curry powder, plenty of seasoning and drizzle with some olive oil. Mix thoroughly to ensure the chicken pieces are evenly coated.
  2. Heat your griddle pan on high heat, then cook the chicken strips in batches ensuring the outside turns a deep golden brown and the meat is tender and juicy on the inside. Alternatively, you could roast the chicken pieces for about 30 minutes at 180C in the oven. I find it doing on a griddle is a lot easier (even if it fills my house with smoke). Once the chicken is cooked, set aside to cool down slightly, then slice into smaller pieces.
  3. To make the dressing, combine the maple syrup, Greek yogurt, lime juice, 2 tsp curry powder and some pepper in a bowl. The consistency will be runny but should still hold its shape. Set aside.
  4. To assemble the salad, tear the lettuce leaves and arrange them on a serving platter (or on the dishes). Scatter the mango pieces and the red onion, then arrange the chicken pieces in between and on the leaves. Finally, drizzle with the prepared dressing and serve immediately. Best enjoyed cold or at room temperature.

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Galettes Bretonnes

Sometimes, when I feel like pottering away in the kitchen but making a whole cake sounds like a gargantuan challenge (not to mention most of the times there is already one staring back at me on the window sill), I prefer to make something quick, easy and intriguing. Biscuits or brownies are my choice of preference and these make no exception. In French, ‘galette’ has a plethora of meanings. To quote Monique from Miel & Ricotta,

‘Galette’ is the fourth most popular word in French. Liberté, egalité, fraternité and galette. In France, round things are referred to as ‘galette’. The famous cpes are called ‘galettes’, as are frangipane tortes, waffles, a piece of bread and these biscuits. Then you move away from food and you discover that some cushions are called ‘galettes’, a vinyl is a ‘galette’ and the word also indicates the weigh of a dose of crack (now that you know this, you can be confident next time you order some). The spare wheel on cars is a ‘galette’, money is referred to as ‘galette’ and if you fall down while skying, then you also made a ‘galette.’

I love these biscuits as they could be considered a salty version of standard shortbread, and yet they are much more than that. First of all, the dough is quite sticky and needs swift hands to work it due to the higher ratio of egg and butter to flour. Then, the addition of both sugar and salt really lifts the flavour as the saltiness tingles your tongue and makes more akin to a sweet cracker. Lastly, the shiny coating on top provides an extra layer of texture when you bite into them. In a word, moreish.

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Ingredients

  • 60g caster sugar (golden or plain)
  • 100g softened salted butter (preferably Guérande) OR unsalted butter + 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 140g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg yolk + 1 tsb double cream (for the coating)

Method

  1. Put the butter and sugar in the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, then beat together until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk, vanilla extract and flour, and mix until combined.
  2. Turn out onto a work surface and briefly knead to incorporate all of the ingredients. Be quick as the dough will be sticky. When done, shape into a ball, flatten it to a disc and warp in clingfilm. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Roll out the dough between two sheets of baking parchment to approximately 4mm thick, then remove the top one and use a 6-7cm fluted cookie cutter to stamp out as many shapes as you can, without removing the biscuits. Cover the stamped dough with the other baking parchment sheet and return to the fridge for at least 20 minutes. This will ensure the dough firms up, so it will be easier to remove the cookies before baking.
  4. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment, then remove the cookies from the stamped dough and arrange on top. Considering you will need to re-roll the dough and chill it in between stamping and moving the biscuits to the lined baking tray, you might want to either wait to bake them all together or use smaller trays and alternate baking with chilling.
  5. Once you are set to bake, pre-heat the oven to 210C.
  6. In a small bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolk and the double cream. Use a knife to create a criss-cross pattern on the cold cookies, then use a brush to cover them in the yolk mixture. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until deep golden brown. Remove to a wire rack and let them cool completely. Enjoy!

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Sweet and Sour Tempura Chicken

This is my first attempt at tempura. I have to say, I always thought it would be this extremely complicated procedure but, as it often happens, I was completely wrong. Deep frying the chicken pieces in a tempura batter keeps the moisture inside the chicken and, what with the batter itself not being extremely thick but, rather, crisp and light, the overall dish gains a completely new dimension. I have to admit I kept on eating the chicken pieces while I was waiting for the noodles to cook because they are just too good. If you’re a beginner with tempura like I was, please don’t panic. It’s easier than it looks and once you drop the chicken nugget in the scorching hot oil, nature will follow its course.

Rather than the more conventional rice, I decided to serve the chicken on a bed of noodles. The main reason being this week we already had quite a lot of rice, but in fact it also provides a much welcome alternative to the traditional recipe. The contrast between the crispy vegetables and chicken and the soft yet not mushy noodles is just phenomenal. I also like the fact the whole dish has very warm colours, what with the red and the orange provided for by the carrots and peppers. Needless to say, you can always substitute the vegetables with some which might suit your taste better (pak choi might be good). Last, but not least, do not freak out if the chicken cools down too much by the time your vegetables and/or noodles are ready. Once assembled, the sauce and side will slightly warm the chicken pieces up, bring the whole dish together.

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Ingredients (for the sauce)

  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp sherry
  • 1 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 50ml water

Ingredients (for the tempura)

  • 85g plain flour
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • 1/2 table salt
  • 200ml fridge-cold sparkling water
  • a few ice cubes

Ingredients (for the stir fry)

  • 2-3 skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1L groundnut oil, for frying
  • 2 red peppers, finely sliced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and finely sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • 1 thumb-sized ginger piece, finely sliced
  • noodles or rice, to serve

Method

  1. Start by cutting the chicken breasts in bite-size pieces, then add them to a shallow dish and pour in the soy sauce and sesame oil. Set aside for later. Line a large plate with chicken paper.
  2. Combine all of the sauce ingredients in a small bowl, then set aside.
  3. Heat the groundnut oil in a deep fryer or a deep saucepan until it reaches 180C. To make sure, drop a cube of bread in the hot oil. If it browns quite quickly, then the oil is ready.
  4. Prepare the tempura batter only just before you are going to use it. Whisk the batter ingredients in a bowl and add the ice cubes. Quickly dip the chicken pieces in the batter, then drop them in the hot oil. Don’t overcrowd the pan and fry in batches if necessary. The chicken is ready when it is a deep golden brown all over. Feel free to test one by cutting it open with a knife. Once each cube has been fried, set aside on the kitchen paper to drain.
  5. Heat a wok to hot, then drizzle some groundnut oil and stir-fry the vegetables with the garlic and ginger for about 3 minutes. Pour in the sauce, then let it bubble down to a thick and glossy sauce.
  6. In the meantime, cook the noodles in plenty of water. When ready, drain them and toss them briefly with the vegetables and sauce, then arrange on a plate and top with the chicken pieces. Enjoy.

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Keralan Fish Curry

I am by no means an expert when it comes to curries or Indian cuisine in general. I have a favourite Indian restaurants here in Leeds which serves beautiful food and we visit the place regularly. When it comes to recreating that vibrancy of flavours at home, however, I am a big fan of following recipes and not coming up with my own. I love coconut milk and its creamy sweetness, much as I adore it paired up with the spicy kick coming from chillies and the fiery warmth of ginger. Needless to say, when I saw an old episode of  Nigella’s Forever Summer where she prepared this delicacy, I could not but try it at home. This curry is, in her words, not an original one. If that is what you’re after, then this recipe will clearly satisfy your crave.

Kerala is a state in the South of India, home to many coconut trees, which feature predominantly in the local cuisine. This recipe uses turmeric to tinge the pale white of the milk a deep golden yellow and plunges a good dollop of tamarind paste to provide a much welcome sour counterpart to the sweetness of coconut. White fish works well with this. Please feel free to steer away from the usual choices (cod and haddock) and try something new. I used pouting, a white-flesh belonging to the cod family, which is much cheaper than its biological father and massively underused. It is widely available in supermarkets (if I found it, you can too) and fishmongers across the country.

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Ingredients

  • 1.25kg of firm white fish (cod, haddock, pouting, monkfish, etc.)
  • 2 tbsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 3 medium onions, halved and sliced in fine half moons
  • 2 long red chillies, sliced (seeds in)
  • 4cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced in small batons
  • 1 x 400ml coconut milk tin
  • 2 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 1 fish stock cube
  • olive oil

Method

  1. Cut the fish in bite-size chunks, then put it in a big bowl and dust with half the turmeric. Season with coarse salt, then use your hands to combine the ingredients and leave on the side.
  2. In a large saucepan, gently fry the onions in a drizzle of olive oil until slightly golden and translucent, then add the sliced ginger and chillies and cook for a further minutes.
  3. Add the rest of the turmeric and the ground cumin to the saucepan, then stir over medium heat until the vegetables are evenly coated and fragrant.
  4. In the meantime, pour the coconut milk into a jug, add the fish stock cube and pour in enough boiling water to bring it to 1 L. Add the tamarind paste and stir to combine.
  5. Add to the vegetables, then bring to the boil. The sauce is now ready and, once added to the saucepan, the fish only takes about 5 minutes to cook. Therefore, make sure you add it right before eating. The sauce can be re-heated before cooking the fish.
  6. Season with salt before serving, add more tamarind if you feel it needs it, then pour in dishes with some plain basmati rice and scatter with coriander. Enjoy!

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Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake with Sour Cream Frosting

As terrible as it may sound (I can already see the expression of pure horror depicted on your faces), this is actually a recipe derived and passed down from the time when nations were at war, food supplies were scarce and people had to be inventive. If we don’t consider the commercial recipes readily available on our supermarket shelves, mayonnaise mostly comprises egg yolks and oil, which provide the necessary fats to this cake without having to use any added butter. And yes, while it’s extremely easy to simply grab a jar of mayonnaise, if you want to be perfectly sure your cake doesn’t contain any nasty chemicals or unwanted salt/vinegar/pepper (you name it, it’s probably there), then you should make your own mayonnaise.

That said, a commercial variety would do just fine. This recipe comes from the Serious Eats food blog, which in turn derived the sour cream frosting from another blog. I have amended the frosting recipe anyway, but what follows is merely the translation (from US measurements) of the above recipe. This cake is moist, soft and crumbly and will keep for quite a long time without drying out. The frosting is rich and luscious and, contrary to what you might think, is really tastes of chocolate and is not excessively sweet.

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Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 3 large eggs
  • 340g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 280g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 90g cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 315ml recently boiled water
  • 312ml mayonnaise

Ingredients (for the frosting)

  • 430g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 2 tsp espresso coffee
  • 560ml sour cream, at room temperature
  • 50g unsalted butter, softened
  • 150ml golden syrup
  • 1 tsp chocolate extract

Method

  1. Start by greasing and lining the bottom of 2 x 20cm deep cake pans with baking parchment. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  2. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, combine the eggs and sugar and whisk on high speed for at least 5 minutes until the mixture is pale, foamy and has doubled in volume.
  3. Switch the attachment to the palette/leaf one, add the mayonnaise and vanilla extract and combine thoroughly.
  4. In a bowl, sift the flour, raising agents, cocoa powder and salt, then add it to the wet ingredients. Combine thoroughly on low speed, scraping the bottom of the bowl from time to time. The mixture will be fudgy and rich at this point.
  5. Last, slowly pour in the water with the motor running and ensure the mixture is evenly combined. Scrape the bottom of the bowl to disperse the ingredients. The mixture will be very runny, but this is normal.
  6. Divide the batter evenly between the two tins and bake for about 30 minutes. Check with a skewer the sponges are cooked through, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. To make the frosting, melt the chocolate and butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan over a gentle heat, then add the espresso, whisk together and set aside to cool slightly.
  8. In a bowl, combine the sour cream, chocolate extract and golden syrup, then add to the melted chocolate (now at room temperature) and gently whisk to combine. The frosting will turn a lighter shade of brown and will be very soft and whipped.
  9. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. This will slightly harden the frosting and make it easier to spread. If the icing gets too hard, remove from the fridge and leave at room temperature to soften again.
  10. To assemble the cake, place one of the cooled sponges onto the plate/serving dish of your choice, then spread approximately one third of the frosting on top, making sure to get right to the edges. Dollop another third of the icing on top and spread that evenly, then gently ease the remaining frosting around the sides and spread using a palette knife to ensure a smooth finish. I have decorated the cake on top by scraping the icing in a whirlwind-like pattern and placing a chocolate in the middle, but you can choose to keep the cake very plain.
  11. Just a suggestion: this cake is delicious with a cup of fruit tea and some cream poured on top. Enjoy!

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Conchiglioni Bake

Today we look at a very easy yet delicious pasta recipe. In the UK, people are very fond of pasta bake and it is a cheap and cheerful way to dress pasta in a cheesy sauce and bake it, turning it into a wholesome dinner dish. Rather than using standard pasta, however, this recipe uses conchiglioni, a large shell-shaped pasta you can easily find in most supermarket nowadays. Faithful to the tradition, this pasta bake recipe is full of cheese, in the form of the comforting Parmigiano Reggiano and the salty Pecorino. Don’t worry, though, as you can easily substitute with your favourite cheese. A good mature cheddar or a soft Emmentaler would do this recipe justice too.

If you don’t want to use cooked ham, bacon (unsmoked, non streaky) is also a good choice. Alternatively, you could try and use Parma ham, sausages or leave the pig component out altogether and make it a vegetarian dish instead. This recipe is also very handy as it can be assembled the day before, then all you need to do is continue from step 8 the day you want to bake it. It also lends itself to freezing quite beautifully.

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Ingredients

  • 300g conchiglioni (pasta shells)
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 500g chestnut mushrooms
  • 150g cooked ham, diced
  • 2 courgettes
  • 100g Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
  • 50g Pecorino, grated
  • olive oil
  • parsley

Ingredients (for the béchamel sauce)

  • 500ml whole milk
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 50g plain flour

Method

  1. Start by making the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan over a medium heat, then take off the heat and whisk in the flour until you can’t see any more lumps. Put the saucepan back on the heat and gently cook until the flour slightly darkens in colour (the roux stage).
  2. Slowly start feeding in the milk and mix continuously to prevent large lumps from forming at the bottom of the saucepan. Always stirring with a wooden spoon, cook the sauce until it thickens and it covers the back of the spoon. Transfer to a jug, cover with clingfilm to prevent a skin forming and leave to cool.
  3. To make the filling, start by finely chopping the mushrooms and the garlic. Add them to a large pan with 8 tbsp of olive oil and cook over a high heat until nicely browned. Turn off the heat and add 2 tbsp chopped parsley. Stir that in, then leave aside to cool.
  4. Dice the courgettes and ham, then gently fry over medium heat in a saucepan with a drizzle of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, then set aside.
  5. Transfer all but a couple of tablespoon of the mushroom mixture to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, then add the courgette and ham mixture, half of the béchamel sauce, half the grated Parmigiano and the grated Pecorino. Pulse a couple of times to obtain a coarse but blended mixture.
  6. In the meantime, cook the pasta shells according to packet instructions, but drain them when they are slightly harder than al dente. They will cook in the sauce later on. Set them aside and drizzle them lightly with olive oil to stop them sticking.
  7. Fill the conchiglioni with the coarse mixture, then lay them side by side in an oiled oven dish.
  8. Mix the leftover béchamel sauce with the mushrooms you kept aside, then spread that on top. Spread the remaining Parmigiano on top, then grill in the oven for about 10 minutes or just until the top is golden.

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