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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Vegetable Cheesy Tart

Finally (you might think), a savoury recipe! I get the idea to some people I come across as someone who merely feeds off dessert. Let me assure you, that is not the case. It’s widely renowned that I have a (massive) sweet tooth and, to be perfectly honest, desserts appeal to me a lot more than a chicken breast – this sounds wrong on so many levels, but I’ll just carry on. Come think of it, I have two punnets of blueberries in the fridge which I NEED to use. Will have to come up with something quick. Now, back to this recipe. The inspiration comes from Giallo Zafferano, the Italian equivalent, if you want, of the BBC Good Food website. This tart features on the website under the name of ‘Italian rustic tart/pie’ and has a fancy lattice pattern on top. I modified the recipe to suit my needs, but if you want the lattice on top, then by all means do make it.

The filling is encased by a very cheesy crust, made with Parmigiano Reggiano. Please don’t get Parmesan cheese, that tastes nothing like the real thing. I chose a good mature cheddar for the filling, which marries the ricotta and the vegetables beautifully. I also added an egg to the filling to make it set more, you’ll see when you cut it that it is crumbly as it is already. Last note, I added some dried herbs, namely oregano and sage, to boost the earthy and rustic feeling of the tart – once again, if you have fresh herbs, then don’t be scared to use them. The quantities indicated below make enough pastry and filling to line two tins. Depending on how deep your tins are, I managed to make two tarts using a deep 20cm fluted tin and a 10x25cm rectangular fluted tin.

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Ingredients (for the cheese shortcrust pastry)

  • 200g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 400g plain flour
  • 100g Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 4-5 tbsp water

Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 100g peas (frozen is fine)
  • 200g carrots, finely diced
  • 200g courgettes, finely diced
  • 350g asparagus
  • 400g ricotta
  • 100g mature cheddar
  • 1 tbsp whole milk
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp dried sage
  • 100g black olives, drained and sliced
  • olive oil
  • pepper

Method

  1. To make the shortcrust pastry, tip the flour, salt, cheese and butter in a food processor and process until thoroughly blended and the consistency of bread crumbs. If you prefer, you can also do this by hand by rubbing the flour and cheese mixture into the butter. With the motor running, slowly start adding the water, one tablespoon at a time. Check your pastry before adding more as it will start to clump together when it’s ready.
  2. Tip it out of the food processor and gently knead for a couple of minutes to bring the whole pastry together. Shape in a ball, flatten to a disc, wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for at least 1 hour to relax.
  3. In the meantime, start making the filling. Blanch the asparagus in a pan of boiling water, then drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process. Slice in rounds, then set aside. Pre-heat your oven to 180C.
  4. Ensure the courgettes and carrots are finely diced, then tip them in a frying pan with a drizzle of olive oil and the garlic, then gently cook over a medium heat until still crunchy but slightly softened. Towards the end of the cooking time, add the peas and the asparagus, then season with pepper and some salt (be stingy with salt as there is more cheese coming later). Set aside.
  5. Drain the ricotta in a sieve to get rid of the excessive moisture. Dice the mature cheddar cheese finely, then add them to the ricotta together with the egg, herbs, milk, olive slices and some pepper. Mix together, then add to the cooled vegetable mixture.
  6. Take the pastry out of the fridge, then roll out half to line a 20cm fluted tart tin. Make sure you push the pastry into the edges, then roll a rolling pin over the top to cut off the excessive pastry and use your fingers to push the pastry slightly above the edge of the tin. This way, when the pastry cooks, it will shrink back to the level of the tin and you won’t end up with no pastry left. Small note: I usually chill the pastry case for another 30 minutes once I rolled out the pastry and before I blind bake it. This ensures the pastry doesn’t shrink as much as you give the gluten in the pastry time to relax again in the oven.
  7. Prick the base of the pastry case with a fork, then blind bake it using the required beans/weighs for 20 minutes. Remove the beans/weighs and return to the oven for another 7 minutes, to cook the base.
  8. Spread enough filling into the pastry case to reach the edges, then bake for a further hour. Keep an eye on the tart and check it regularly to ensure the top is not burning. When cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before transferring onto a serving dish.

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Pizzette – Party Finger Pizzas

This is a very handy and easy dish for parties and get-togethers. In fact, I wonder why I never made it before. Pizzette are a traditional party food back in Italy and my mum would sometimes make these on a Sunday afternoon for me to have a small party all by myself. The handiness is all in the size because, luckily or unfortunately (you decide), you can put one of these straight into your mouth. In Italian we say that ‘una tira l’altra’ (one follows the other) to stress how moreish these are. They also come in hand – pardon the pun – if your guests are already trying to juggle a drink and a plate with other canapés. These go straight for the mouth in one painless gesture. Very handy, you see?

Needless to say, the topping is highly customizable. The one you find here is the traditional Margherita topping, but please feel free to experiment with alternative ones. Anchovies, tuna and peppers are all stables on a party table back in my home country. The recipe is from Trattoria da Martina, although it appears Anna Gennari is the original author. I have slightly modified the topping quantities. Throughout the recipe I will also share with you a couple of tricks I use when making pizza here in the UK. I find the ingredients contain a lot more water if compared to the ones readily available in Italy, especially mozzarella. This also means that when you are baking them, the pizzas always come out soggy due to the amount of water released.

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Ingredients (for the dough)

  • 500g strong bread flour
  • 50g unsalted butter, softened
  • 125ml water
  • 125ml whole milk
  • 7g sachet instant dried yeast
  • 20g caster sugar
  • 5g salt
  • 1 medium egg

Ingredients (for the topping)

  • 20ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 500g polpa di pomodoro (you can find this in any large supermarket, it’s like a coarser passata)
  • 15g caster sugar
  • 10g salt
  • 200g mozzarella
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano

Method

  1. To make the pizza dough, put the flour, salt, sugar and dried yeast in the bowl of a freestanding mixer equipped with the hook attachment. In a saucepan, heat the milk and water until lukewarm. Turn on the mixer and slowly add the liquid to the flour, then tumble in the egg. Slowly add the butter while the mixture still roughly mixed, then let the ingredients combine thoroughly. The mixture will be very wet at this stage, but don’t worry.
  2. Once you have worked the mixture in the mixer for a good 5 minutes, oil your work surface and your hands and turn the dough out onto it. Knead it for a good 5 to 10 minutes until fully combined, pliable and shiny. The oil will prevent the dough from sticking to the work surface and will allow you to knead it. It will slowly be absorbed in the mixture, but don’t be alarmed as this will only add up to the texture and the flavour.
  3. Turn the kneaded dough into an oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and let it prove in a warm environment for at least 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  4. In the meantime, prepare the topping. Pour the polpa di pomodoro in a fine sieve and drain off the excess water. Pour the remaining tomato pulp in a small bowl and add the rest of the ingredients but the mozzarella. Drain the latter from its water, then cut in thick slices and pat with kitchen paper to absorb the excess moisture. You might need to change the paper twice or even three times, depending on the quality of the mozzarella used. Set the topping ingredients aside.
  5. Once the dough has doubled in size, remove the clingfilm, punch back the dough to its original size and tun it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll out to the thickness of about 5mm. Flour an 8cm round pastry cutter, then use it to cut out small dough rounds. These will be your pizzette. Place these on baking trays lined with baking parchment, then cover with a towel and let them prove for another hour or until doubled in size.
  6. Pre-heat your oven to 200C. Dice your mozzarella into small cubes.
  7. Use the back of a teaspoon to press slightly onto each dough round and make a small indentation. This will host the tomato sauce and the mozzarella. Spoon small amounts of the tomato sauce onto the cavity (be careful not to put too much!), then sprinkle some of the mozzarella on top. Bake each batch of pizzette for 15 minutes, until the dough is nicely golden and the mozzarella on top has melted. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the side, although these are just as delicious when warm.

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Onion & Cheese T&S Loaves

Don’t be fooled, T&S is only an abbreviation for ‘tear and share’ and not some mystical spices or mysterious ingredient I used to make this stunning bread. The idea behind it (nor mine, but hey) is to create a big loaf you can tear in pieces and enjoy in small quantities, rather than having to cut yourself a slice every time. The recipe had been looking at me for a while, begging to be tried out, from the first GBBO book. I remember one of the wannabe bakers making it on the show and Paul Hollywood convinced it wouldn’t work right until the end, when he finally tasted it. In your face, Paul.

Choose a very strong cheddar for this one. The more mature, the better. The reason being the bread here is pretty much flavourless and the real kick comes from the onion and the cheddar in the small buns. The pattern, moreover, very honeycomb-like, is totally non compulsory. If you wish, you could also make bigger buns and arrange them differently. These will also last for a while in a sealed container, so that if you don’t manage to eat them all while warm and fresh from the oven (a temptation hard to resist, let me tell you), you can also enjoy them later in the week as a perfect accompaniment to soups and other big and bold dishes.

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Ingredients

  • 450g strong bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 x 7g sachet fast-action yeast
  • 300ml lukewarm water
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 120g mature cheddar, grated

Method

  1. Start by putting the flour, sugar, salt and yeast in a big bowl or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer equipped with the hook attachment. Make sure to put the salt and the yeast well away one from the other.
  2. Start the engine of the mixer or make a well in the centre (if you’re making this completely by hand) and pour in the oil and the water. Mix this in to form a soft but not sticky dough. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
  3. Turn out the dough onto a working surface and knead by hand for about 5 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball and put into a big oiled bowl. Cover with clingfilm and leave to prove for a good hour or until doubled in size.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Put some olive oil in a saucepan over a medium to low heat and add the onions. Cook for at least 15 minutes or until soft but not coloured. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
  5. Once your dough has proven enough, punch it down, turn it out onto a working surface and knead until smooth. Divide into 19 even pieces (I used scales to measure) and roll each one into a small ball. Once you have rolled them all, use the palm of your hand and your fingers to spread each ball into a small disc, then divide the onion and about 75g of the cheese among the discs.
  6. Wrap the dough around the mixture and pinch at the top to seal, then roll out again to a ball and arrange on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Ensure the seam is down and arrange in a honeycomb structure (3, 4, 5, 4 then 3 balls respectively). Leave about 1cm between each balls but try to squeeze together as much as possible. Cover loosely with clingfilm and leave to rise for about 40 minutes until doubled in size. Close to the end of the rising time, pre-heat your oven to 190C.
  7. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the buns, then bake for 25-30 minutes. or until risen and evenly golden brown. Leave to cool slightly on a wire rack and serve warm or cool completely.

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Gingerbread & Blue Cheese Canapés

If you make the pain d’épices, what best way to use it up than making these very festive and extremely easy canapés? These come from Elle à table, a French magazine I bought on my last trip to Paris. And they were called “calissons”, in honour of the almond-shaped traditional French candies. Truth is, however, that you can make them in different shapes. For instance, I chose holly leaves.

The combination of gingerbread and blue cheese, I will admit it, is a weird one. When served at my Christmas party, only one of my friends swore by these canapés, while most of the other ones said they were nice but not their cup of tea. The tang of the blue cheese marries well with the sweetness of the dried fruit on top, while the gingerbread at the base provides a more earthy note and a cake-like consistency. I won’t take it personally if you decide not to try these, as they are a bit of an acquired taste.

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Ingredients

  • 150g St. Agur or soft blue cheese (Gorgonzola, just to name one)
  • 3 tbsp mascarpone cheese
  • 10 slices of pain d’épices
  • 6 dried apricots
  • 3 dried figs

Method

  1. Start by using the chosen cookie cutter to cut shapes in the gingerbread slices. Set them aside. In a bowl, beat the mascarpone and the cream cheese until soft, then set that aside. Finely chop the dried fruit and combine them in another bowl.
  2. Now start assembling. Place your cookie cutter back on the gingerbread slice, then dollop about 1 1/2 tsp of the cheese mixture on and use a teaspoon to spread it inside the cutter. Push slightly on the cheese mixture and hold the cookie cutter to ease the contents out, then arrange on a serving platter and sprinkle some of the chopped dried fruit on top. Repeat with the rest of the gingerbread and the blue cheese.

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Tagliatelle With Mushrooms & Mint

Traditionally, mushrooms work well with either garlic, cream, thyme, Marsala – or even a combination of the four. This time, let me suggest a slightly more unusual pairing: mushrooms and mint. Despite being skeptic myself at first, I have to say this idea, as proposed in the latest issue of the La Cucina Italiana food magazine, is one to keep. The mint, with its sharp and pungent flavour and smell, perfectly complements and offsets the darker and more earthy tones of the mushrooms. The Parmesan flakes and the walnuts, casually scattered on top, add both texture and little pockets of saltiness and roundness.

The original recipe asked for porcini mushrooms. Unfortunately, I haven’t managed to come across fresh porcini mushrooms anywhere so far, so had to use chestnut ones instead, which worked just as well. Enjoy this dish on a cold winter day as pure and blissful comfort food.

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Ingredients

  • 500g chestnut mushrooms
  • 250g tagliatelle pasta (fresh or dried)
  • 6 walnut halves
  • 2 shallots
  • about 70g Parmesan, finely grated
  • 1 lemon, zest of
  • 10 leaves of mint
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper

Method

  1. Start by cleaning the mushrooms and slicing them fairly finely. Set aside. Finely chop the walnut halves, then set aside. Finely chop the shallots and add to a large frying pan with a drizzle of olive oil.
  2. Finely chop the mint leaves, then mix with the lemon zest and set aside.
  3. Sautée the shallots over a medium heat for a couple of minutes, until slightly golden and translucent, then add the mushroom slices and cook down for a good 7 minutes.
  4. In the meantime, put a large pan of salted boiling water over high heat and throw in the tagliatelle. Cook them according to the packet instructions (I love them al dente and I think they work better this way for this recipe).
  5. Once the mushrooms have cooked down and they have yielded their water, increase the heat under the pan and let that boil off. Season the mixture with salt and pepper, then add the mint and lemon zest mixture. Cook for exactly one minute, then remove from the heat.
  6. Sprinkle the grated Parmesan over the bottom of another non-stick frying pan (I have indicated 70g above, but the quantity might vary according to what size pan you use), then set that over a medium heat and let it melt to a golden slab. Remove from the heat after a couple of minutes or you will burn the cheese. Let it cool in the pan, then use a rubber spatula to remove it from the pan and break it into shards.
  7. Once the pasta is cooked as you like it, drain it and toss the tagliatelle in the pan with the mushroom sauce. Tumble it onto a serving dish and sprinkle with the walnuts and the Parmesan shards. Serve immediately.

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Fried Peppers with Cheese

This is a traditional Bulgarian recipe (or so I have been told), very easy to prepare but full of flavour. It is usually served as a starter or as a light snack, but you can easily turn this into a main dish. Use red peppers for best flavour and a nice chromatic contrast with the filling, yellow is fine too. I wouldn’t use green, but then again it’s completely up to you.

I decided to serve this with a nice and fresh salad made with leftovers. Seeing as you only need half a block of feta for the filling, I used the rest for the salad, added some sweetcorn I had in the fridge and pepped it all up with paprika, black pepper, some oil and some coriander.

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Ingredients

  • 4 long peppers
  • 50g plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • olive oil
  • 100g feta, crumbled
  • 2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp chilli powder

Method

  1. Cut the peppers in halves, scoop out the seeds and the white core, then place under a preheated grill, skin side uppermost. Cook until the skin is charred and blackened. Place them on a plate, then cover with clingfilm and leave to steam for about 10 minutes.
  2. Using a sharp knife, carefully peel away the skin from the peppers.
  3. In a bowl, mix together 1 egg, the feta, parsley and chilli powder. Divide evenly among the pepper slices.
  4. Reshape the peppers to look whole. Prepare two shallow bowls, one with the remaining egg slightly beaten and the other one with the seasoned flour. Dip the whole peppers in the beaten egg, then in the flour. You can create a double coating if you want to.
  5. Pour some olive oil in a frying pan, then gently fry the peppers on both sides for about 4 minutes a side. Drain them on kitchen paper before serving them.

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Courgette Pesto Lasagna

My mum makes a mean vegetarian lasagna. And, as I discovered over the past few days, it’s the simplicity of homemade Italian dishes which I probably miss the most. And, weirdly enough, it wasn’t until now that I realised this, probably inspired by the small trip back home I embarked on to attend the wedding of a very good friend. It always amazes me how tasty Italian produce can be if compared to the one found in the UK (not to mention the size), so much so it needs very little manipulation to create a very interesting and effective dish.

This is a very creamy and tangy lasagna, full of flavour and very easy to assemble. I used mushrooms for extra meatiness and flavour, but mostly because after our weekly shopping trip today I realised my partner had slipped them in the trolley by pure accident. The recipe is so easy and immediate adding them felt like the right thing, but please feel free to use other vegetables to suit your taste and preference.

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Ingredients

  • 600g courgettes (3 big ones)
  • 1l whole milk + 150ml
  • 200g smoked cheese, coarsely grated
  • 200g fresh lasagna sheets
  • 200g rindless smoked bacon, cut into strips
  • 70g cornflour
  • 60g shelled pistachios
  • 30g grated Parmesan
  • 200g mushrooms, sliced
  • 5-6 mint leaves, freshly picked
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper

Method

  1. First of all, get the courgettes ready. Wash them, then cut the ends off and slice lengthways. Arrange them cut side up on a lined baking tray, then drizzle with some olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Finely chop the mint leaves and scatter on top, then roast at 180C for 30 minutes.
  2. Remove the courgettes from the oven, then put them aside to cool. Once cool, cut them into small cubes and blend them in a food processor together with the pistachios, lemon juice, 60ml water, 30ml olive oil and some salt. This will be your pesto. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  3. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a frying pan, then tumble in the bacon strips and fry until crispy. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside on kitchen paper. Tumble in the mushrooms and leave to cook in the bacon fat for about 7 minutes or until just softened. Remove from the heat.
  4. Pour the litre of milk into a saucepan, season with some salt and pepper and bring to the boil. In the meantime, mix the cornflour and the remaining 150ml milk in a jug. When the milk comes to the boil, pour the milky mixture in and let it come back to the boil, then tip in the grated Parmesan, stir that in and remove from the heat. This will be your white sauce.
  5. Spread some butter in a high-sided roasting dish (I used my Le Creuset cast iron pan), then spoon about 1 ladleful of the white sauce and spread it around. Top with enough lasagna sheets to create a nice and even layer, then top with more white sauce (about 1 ladleful again), scatter some of the bacon strips on top, then dollop about a third of the courgette pesto on it, scatter about a third of the grated smoked cheese and top with about half of the mushroom slices. Cover with some more lasagna sheets and repeat until you run out of all the ingredients.
  6. Bake in a preheat oven to 180C for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, let it stand for about 10 minutes, then dive in!

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Stuffed Tomatoes

This is a perfect example of how you can re-use your pasta sauces to create something which is equally as delicious. Normally I would just make enough pasta sauce to dress the pasta I am cooking, but for whatever reason I was left with plenty extra when I made this, so instead of freezing it, I decided to add my own twist to it and use two very plump beef tomatoes I had peeping at me from the fridge to create a new dish.

I find ricotta to be a very versatile ingredients. This creamy yet dry cheese is perfect in both savoury and sweet dish as it doesn’t have a strong flavour on its own, but it adds this wonderful creaminess to whatever it is used in and it marries beautifully with herbs, black pepper and Parmesan cheese (for a sweet version, try it with honey or jams). I used sausages in this recipe, but the equal amount of beef/pork mince with added herbs would work just as fine.

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Ingredients

  • 6 good quality herbs sausages, skin removed
  • 2 shallots, finely sliced.
  • 250g tub ricotta
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 50g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • ground black pepper
  • salt
  • 3 beef tomatoes
  • 100g creamy cheese, such as a mild cheddar, cubed

Method

  1. First, prepare the tomatoes. Use a sharp knife to remove the tops, then scoop the flesh out with a teaspoon and discard. Set the now empty tomatoes on a baking try lined with parchment, drizzle with some olive oil and roast for about 20 minutes in a 180C oven, until softened.
  2. In the meantime, put the shallots in a frying pan with a drizzle of olive oil and cook until softened, then add the sausagemat and brown all over, stirring occasionally. Add the tomato puree and stir again until fully combined. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  3. Tip the sausage mixture into a bowl, then add the ricotta, grated Parmesan, salt and pepper and mix to combine.
  4. Remove the tomatoes from the oven, then tumble 2-3 cubes of the creamy cheese inside and fit snugly at the bottom. Fill the tomatoes with the sausage filling, then top with the tomato top and roast for another 20 minutes, until piping hot.
  5. Serve with some salad or as a side dish.

Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake

I might have already said this, but I used to be scared of baked cheesecakes. Something to do with the water bath, probably. It’s funny how over time you grow more confident of what you can achieve and now, as it stands, I actually prefer baked cheesecakes to their non-bake cousins. A baked cheesecakes presents several advantages: first of all, it’s sturdier, which means I can get it off the tin base quite easily almost all of the time. Also, it’s firmer, meaning that with one night in the fridge the cheesecake lasts for a good 4-5 hours at room temperature without melting, while a non-bake one would probably be cream (cheese) after a mere 30 minutes. Lastly (but I’m sure there’s many more), you can play with fruit and ripple the cheesecake with sauces and different syrupy fillings because, as it bakes, the cheesecake will hold them inside. Pure bliss.

Anyway, this is a recipe I found in the July edition of the BBC Good Food Magazine. I merely amended some of the quantities and changed the tin. The original one looked stunning in a rectangular shape, but as I don’t have a rectangular tin with a removable base, I decided to opt for the more classic round one. Be aware, though, that these quantities yield quite a big one. I used a 26cm round springform tin and it was very full. It’s also a very rich cheesecake (if you have a quick look at the amount of cream cheese you will understand why), but not too sweet and extremely delicious. Ultimately, you can play with the design on top, which is always a bonus.

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Ingredients

  • 300g digestive biscuits
  • 140g butter
  • 250 + 25g golden caster sugar
  • 200g blueberries
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 900g cream cheese, full fat
  • 4 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 200ml sour cream

Method

  1. Start with the base. If you have a food processor, tip the biscuits and the butter (even chilled is fine) inside, then whiz until you get a sandy mixture. If you don’t have a food processor, put the biscuits in a bag, seal it, then have a proper go at them with a rolling pin (or a big glass, but use the base and don’t smash it). Melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat, then let it cool for a good 5 minutes. Transfer the biscuit crumbs to a big bowl, pour the melted butter on top and mix to combine.
  2. Pre-heat your oven to 200C. Butter your springform tin (especially the sides).
  3. Transfer the biscuit crumble to the tin and use the back of your hands to press it down firmly onto the base. Aim for an even layer.
  4. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and leave to cool.
  5. Move on to the blueberry sauce. Tip the 25g sugar and half the blueberries in a saucepan. Mix the cornflour with a tablespoon of water, then pour that in as well. Heat on a low to medium heat until the sugar dissolves, then increase to heat to high and let the mixture bubble away for a few minutes, until thickened. Keep an eye on it as it might stick to the pan. Once ready and jam-like, remove from the heat and leave to cool.
  6. In the meantime, prepare the filling. If you have a freestanding mixer, tip the ingredients in the bowl and use the paddle attachment. Otherwise, use a big bowl and electric whisks (it can also be done manually, but it will take time and patience).
  7. Put all of the cream cheese in the mixing bowl, then mix on low speed until the mixture is smooth. Add the remaining sugar and whisk again, then add the eggs, vanilla extract, flour and sour cream. Mix well to combine.
  8. Pour half of the cheesecake mixture over the now cooled base, then spoon over half of the blueberry jam and half of the leftover blueberries. Cover with the rest of the cheesecake mixture, then add the rest of the blueberry jam in big blobs and the remaining blueberries.
  9. Take a toothpick (or a skewer) and use it to ripple the blobs into the cheesecake.
  10. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 110C and bake for another 30 minutes.
  11. Turn off the oven (but don’t open the door!) and leave the cheesecake to set for 1 hour, then leave the oven door ajar and let the cheesecake cool for another hour.
  12. Transfer to the fridge for a good couple of hours or, even better, overnight.
  13. When ready, unmould from the tin and serve.

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