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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Triple Layered Carrot Cake with Orange Cheese Frosting

Has it ever happened to you to see a recipe or a dish made somewhere, whether online, on TV or in a restaurant, and to desperately want to make it at home? Well, this is the story behind this recipe. Jo Pratt made it on Perfect… and it hit me immediately because, let’s be honest, it’s very impressive. A carrot cake on three layers of thick sponge with a creamy zesty filling and caramelised pecans on top? I’m very easy to convince. The thing is, it took me an entire afternoon scavenging the Internet to actually find the recipe. As always, I only vaguely remembered where and when I’d seen it and the world wide web is full of carrot cake recipes. Anyway, this is a very indulgent, spicy and comforting one, which promises to be a showstopper if you have people for dinner or simply as a centerpiece.

A couple of recommendations. First of all, grate your carrots by hand using a grater. I’m all for simplicity in the kitchen, but if you use a food processor it means you’ll have more washing up to do and your carrots will also end up being more damp and wet. Stick to the old method, trust me. Secondly, this recipe is highly customisable. In fact, the one below is not the original one you can find online. If you don’t like the caramel on top (my partner didn’t), then simply swap it for toasted pecans/walnuts/hazelnuts or choose a topping of your choice. You can also change the spices in the cake. My best friend will probably try and replicate this in Italy, where you can’t get allspice: you can use clove instead. Lastly, weigh your carrots before you peel them and average by excess. If you end up with more carrots than necessary it’s not the end of the world.

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Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 300ml flavourless vegetable oil (sunflower, not olive oil)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 200g soft light brown sugar
  • 150g golden syrup
  • 345 wholemeal plain flour
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp each of ground ginger, allspice and ground clove
  • 150g sultanas
  • 400g carrots, grated
  • 50g desiccated coconut

Ingredients (for the orange cheese frosting)

  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 200g cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 500g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp honey (optional)
  • zest of 2 oranges
  • 1 tsp orange essence or liqueur

Ingredients (for the pecan topping)

  • 100g pecans
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 75g caster sugar

Method

  1. Grease and line 3 x 20cm sandwich tins and pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  2. In the bowl or a freestanding mixer, whisk the eggs, light brown sugar, golden syrup and oil together for a good 5 minutes on high speed, until light, fluffy and pale in colour.
  3. In a bowl, mix all of the other ingredients together. Once the egg and sugar mixture is ready, fold in the rest of the ingredients and mix to a smooth batter. Don’t be over concerned about knocking the air out. The cake contains plenty of raising agents anyway and the sponges will turn out just fine.
  4. Divide the mixture evenly in the three tins, smooth out the top surface, then bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Check with a skewer for doneness before removing the sponges and allowing them to cool completely on a cake rack.
  5. While the sponges are cooling, make the caramelised pecans. Toss the nuts with the sugar and the allspice in a shallow non-stick pan, then place over high heat and cook, tossing frequently, until the sugar has caramelised. Tumble on a tray lined with oil baking parchment or a silicone mat, then leave to cool completely. When cold, use a knife to break the brittle into rough pieces.
  6. Wait until the sponges are ready to assemble to make the orange cheese frosting. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, add the softened butter, the cream cheese and the orange zest, then beat on low speed with the paddle attachment until creamy and combined. Add the icing sugar in two batches, mixing carefully on medium speed to incorporate it all. You can add the honey in between the two batches, but make sure you do add the orange essence or liqueur then. Give the mixture a final beating to make it into a smooth, creamy and fluffy icing.
  7. To assemble the cake, position the first of your sponges upside down on your cake board or serving platter, the cover the flat surface only with a third of the orange cheese frosting. Repeat with the two remaining sponges and the rest of the icing, then top with the caramelised pecans.

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Red Velvet Melting Moments

I have to be honest with you: there’s not much red going on in these and neither is there any velvet. The recipe is from Edd Kimber, the first winner of the GBBO series, who states he decided to combine two of the main classics: melting moments and red velvet. The thing is, these remind me more of whoopie pies and, as I said at the beginning, the red hue does not come through once baked, possibly because these are too dark. That said, they are very nice and I have had quite the positive feedback from these, including my hairdresser, who is usually subjected to pictures of my creations but had never got a chance to taste them herself.

The decoration on top is highly optional. I do like the ridges as they add an extra dimension and I had eyed this type of cookies a while ago, so wanted to give them a try. The filling is a standard cream cheese one, but feel free to use your favourite butter icing recipe instead or substitute that for an equal amount of jam, for instance. The original recipe also called for lemon extract in the filling, but I decided to ditch that and keep it nice and simple instead. A gentle dust of icing sugar at the end would probably increase the dramatic effect.

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Ingredients (for the biscuits)

  • 250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • red food colouring
  • 225g plain flour
  • 35g cocoa powder
  • 85g icing sugar
  • 30g cornflour
  • 1 tbsp milk

Ingredients (for the cream cheese frosting)

  • 50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 125g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 50g full-fat cream cheese

Method

  1. Line two baking trays with parchment.
  2. To make the dough, put the butter and vanilla into the bowl of a freestanding mixer equipped with the paddle attachment, then beat on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add enough colouring to tinge it a deep red, then sift the remaining biscuit ingredients into the bowl and mix until it comes together to form an uniform dough. Add the milk if you see the mixture is too dry.
  3. Using your hands, roll the dough into small balls (even number!) and place them onto the prepared baking trays, leaving some space in between them. Dip a fork in plain flour, shake the excess off, then press it lightly onto each of the biscuits, leaving an indent and pressing the biscuits a little flatter.
  4. Transfer the trays to the fridge for at least 30 minutes. I like to give them an extra 5 minutes in the freezer right before I bake them.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 160C.
  6. Bake each batch for 20-25 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to cool on the trays before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. To make the filling, cream the butter with the icing sugar and vanilla, then beat together until light and fluffy. Add the cream cheese and beat until just combined. Transfer the filling to a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle, then pipe a good dollop onto half of the biscuits and sandwich with the remaining ones.

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Lasagne alla Bolognese

This is a dish which is very close to my heart and embodies, in quite a lot of ways, my idea of pure comfort food. It reminds me of home and the smell and the taste evoke soothing childhood memories. There are, I suppose, different ways of tackling a lasagna. Much in the same way as pie, the filling can be varied to include meat, fish or vegetables (or, indeed, a combination of those). One think I will not stipulate on is, however, the presence of a solid and homemade béchamel sauce. It is so easy to make it only took me one go to learn how to prepare it and it beats those awful jars of pasty white sauce hands down. I particularly like the fact the recipe below does not require fancy herbs or sauces and it is indeed make with hearty ingredients which we can all find in our local supermarkets.

Also, if you can, try and use fresh lasagna sheets rather than the dried variety. The latter usually requires to be pre-cooked to be softened, which usually means either boiling it or soaking it water. The fresh lasagna sheets provide all of the comfort of the ready made pasta but with none of the fuss as they can be used straight away. The quantities below make a good size lasagna which can easily feed 8 (6 in my flat, were portions are a bit on the heavy side). You’ll also need a big roasting dish to accommodate it all and make sure your béchamel sauce is a bit on the runny side as this will help the filling cook with the lasagna sheets.

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Ingredients

  • 250g packet of fresh lasagna sheets (contains approximately 12)
  • 500g minced pork
  • 500g minced beef
  • 500ml jar chunky tomato passata
  • 100g pancetta slices
  • 70g pancetta cubes
  • 3 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 2 leeks, washed and finely chopped
  • 500ml beef stock
  • 150ml full-bodied red wine + 1 glass
  • 1L whole milk + 1 glass
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 100g plain flour
  • 200g Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • salt & pepper
  • olive oil

Method

  1. First of all, you need to start making your Bolognese sauce as the longer it cooks, the more flavoursome it will be. Ideally, you want to slow cook it for at least 2 hours, although 3 is definitely better.
  2. Start by preparing the so-called ‘soffritto’, that is by gently frying the chopped carrots, celery sticks and leeks in a dollop of olive oil. On lazy days, I just tumble the vegetables in the food processor and let it do the work for me. This also ensures the mixture is very fine, which is ideal for the sauce as you don’t want big pieces of carrots looking at you. Cook the vegetables over medium heat for approximately 5-10 minutes, until slightly golden and translucent.
  3. In the meantime, finely chop the pancetta slices and add them, together with the pancetta cubes and the two types of mince, to the vegetables. Cook for another 7 minutes over a medium-to-high heat. Pour in the 150ml wine, then let that bubble down over high heat and keep on stirring to ensure the meat is cooked and there is no residual water on the bottom of the pan.
  4. Add the chunky passata, a third of the stock and the tomato puree. Season with salt and pepper, turn the heat down to low and simmer gently with the lid almost fully on for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Check your sauce regularly and slowly add the rest of the stock a ladleful at a time when the mixture looks a bit on the dry side.
  5. While your sauce cooks, you can make the béchamel sauce. Start by melting the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then take it off the heat and add the flour all at once. Use a wooden spoon to mix the flour into the butter until fully combined, then put it back on the heat and gently cook the flour for a good 4 minutes.
  6. In the meantime, heat the 1L milk in another saucepan. When the flour and the butter mixture (called roux, by the way) is cooked, slowly add the milk, stirring constantly. At this point, I find it easier to switch to a balloon whisk, but if you prefer to use a wooden spoon, be my guest. Gently stir (or whisk) the mixture to get rid of any flour lumps, then  keep on stirring over medium heat until the mixture slowly starts to thicken. You need to mix constantly otherwise it will catch on the bottom of the saucepan and getting rid of the lumps will be a big headache. Your sauce is ready when it covers the back of the wooden spoon, at which point remove it from the heat and stir in the nutmeg and some seasoning. Transfer to a jug or a flat container, cover the surface with clingfilm and leave it to cool at room temperature.
  7. About half an hour before your Bolognese sauce is ready to go, add the remaining glasses of milk and wine, then season generously. Let it bubble until the sauce is on the thick side and it tastes, well, delicious! When ready, remove from the heat and leave to cool ever so slightly before assembling the lasagna.
  8. To assemble the lasagna, start by buttering the oven dish you are going to use and by spooning about 2-3 ladlefuls of the Bolognese sauce on its bottom. You don’t want it tightly covered, but aim for a buffer layer which will prevent the lasagna sheets from sticking to the dish. Pre-heat the oven to 150C.
  9. Place a first layer of lasagna sheets on top of the sauce, then cover with plenty of béchamel sauce. You don’t need to drown the pasta sheets, but aim for a nice and even layer. Cover with a good layer of the Bolognese sauce, then scatter about a third of the Parmigiano Reggiano on top. Repeat with more pasta sheets, béchamel sauce, Bolognese sauce and Parmigiano. Cover with a last layer of pasta sheets. Combine about 2 ladlefuls of the remaining béchamel sauce with the remaining Bolognese sauce, then spread that on top of the dish, ensuring there are no gaps and the pasta sheets are fully covered. Scatter the leftover Parmigiano Reggiano on top.
  10. Bake for about 45-50 minutes. The lasagna is ready when the top layer is of a golden brown colour and the sauce has bubbled on the sides. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for about 15 minutes before eating. Enjoy on its own. A side salad would just be pure heresy.

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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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Haddock with Courgette and Spinach Gratin

I strongly feel we don’t eat enough fish. Actually, let me rephrase that. Every self-respecting foodie and environmentalist knows world fish stocks are plummeting due to unsustainable farming/fishing and excessive consumption. However, I agree with Delia Smith when she says the British don’t eat enough fish – despite living on an island – because they are scared of cooking it. I love fish. To me, a bowl of home-made fish soup can be the perfect ending to a stressful and manic day. A good fish baked in a salt crust is simply divine. However, my partner is more oriented towards meat and doesn’t like fish which tastes of, well, fish (duh!): this means we don’t eat as much sea products in my household as I would like to. I do compensate with sushi and sashimi whenever I can, but I have also came to the conclusion that if I manage to make the flavour of the fish very interesting and enrich it with other tones, then my partner will love it too.

This recipe started as a celeriac gratin on one of the BBC Good Food magazine but I changed it to courgettes as I couldn’t find it in my local supermarket and it definitely works. Choose a flaky white fish for this, for instance haddock or cod, as you will need a meaty fish to counteract the creaminess of the vegetables. The fish is poached rather than roasted, which keeps it really moist and succulent. A sprinkle of paprika on top will enhance the flavour of the dish and provide a colourful touch. In addition, despite the presence of cream, this dish is not as heavy as it might look like, so don’t feel guilty to indulge and have second helpings!

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Ingredients

  • 500-600g white flaky fish fillets, such as haddock or cod, cut into 4 portions
  • 300g fresh spinach
  • 2 courgettes, thickly sliced
  • 200ml double cream
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • butter (for greasing)
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 200C and butter a large gratin dish.
  2. Tip the spinach in a colander and sit in the sink. Slowly pour a kettle of boiling water on the leaves and wilt them, then run under cold water to cool them down. Squeeze any excess water out of the leaves with your hands and set aside.
  3. Tip the courgette slices, spinach and cream in the gratin dish. Season and toss everything together. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  4. Remove the vegetables from the oven, then lay the fish pieces on top of them. Sprinkle with the paprika and season with salt and pepper, then cover with the foil again and return to the oven for another 30 minutes.
  5. Remove from the oven and serve while hot.

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Pasta with Duck Ragu

Duck is a bird which doesn’t belong to the British culinary tradition as much as it is present in the Italian one, especially in the North. More expensive than a traditional chicken, its meat tends to be more gamey and rich in flavour and, unlike chicken, ideally lends itself to lengthy and stew-like dishes. In Italy, the origin of this ragu, as always, is very disputed. Some believe that in the sixteenth century duck was first used by Catherine de’ Medici who, thanks to her mixed Italian and French background, was more open to culinary innovations. The river Arno, in Tuscany, was home to plenty of birds which were not exploited in the kitchen before and her idea was to make ragu out of them. However, others believe the recipe actually originated in the Veneto region, where the so-called anatra muta (muscovy duck, Cairina muschata) had been long domesticated and a lighter version of the modern ragu was eaten with bigoli, a type of pasta which resembles spaghetti, only thicker and hollow inside.

It’s interesting to notice how the Venetian vernacular word for ‘duck’ is ‘arna’, which bears a strong similarity to the name of the Tuscan river. I wonder whether this might explain a couple of things. Nevertheless, duck in the UK is commercially available either in supermarkets or from your local butcher. For this recipe, I suggest going for breast rather than leg. Although the original recipe (from the BBC Good Food magazine) suggested to use leg, I find it too fatty, not meaty and not suitable for this sauce. Duck breast has the advantage of having a very stringy texture, which resembles that of pulled pork. I find it very satisfying to bite into a shredded piece of meat in a ragu, but be free to experiment with leg as well. In addition, as with all ragus, this is a slow cooked sauce. Ideally, you want to cook it for a minimum of 2 hours, although I slowly simmered for 4 hours and the meat was succulent, tender and juicy. You don’t have to do much in the meantime either, just stir it occasionally, which means you can get on with your domestic chores and still enjoy a wonderfully rich meat sauce with your pasta.

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Ingredients

  • 4 duck breasts
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp plain flour
  • 250ml full-bodied red wine
  • 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
  • 250ml strong chicken stock
  • 3 rosemary sprigs, leaves picked and finely chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 600g pasta (I used manfredine, but any tubular or long pasta would do)
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • Parmesan, to serve

Method

  1. Heat some olive oil in a large pan. Add the duck breasts and brown on both sides, then set aside to cool slightly.
  2. Add the onions to the pan and cook until softened, for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then stir in the cinnamon and flour and cook for a further minute, stirring frequently so as not to let it catch on the bottom of the pan.
  3. Take the skins off the duck breasts and return them to the pan, then add the wine, chicken stock, tomatoes, herbs, sugar and some seasoning. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to a gentle simmer, cover with a lid and leave to cook for 2 hours, stirring every now and then.
  4. Lift the duck breasts out of the pan and put them on a plate/chopping board. Using two forks, pull the meat apart, then return to the sauce. Add the milk and simmer, covered, for another good hour.
  5. Remove the lid and simmer, uncovered, for another 45 minutes, until the sauce has thickened nicely and is not watery anymore.
  6. Cook the pasta according to packet instructions, then drain and toss with some of the sauce and a cup of the reserved pasta cooking water. Sprinkle with some parsley and decorate the plate with either grated Parmesan or cheese shavings.

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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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Salmon and Ginger Fishcakes

My partner’s Christmas presents was a massive Magimix food processor, something I had my eyes on for quite a while. Despite already having a food processor, I hated it. To be perfectly fair, we’d bought it a while ago because I wanted one and, having just moved into a new flat, we went for the cheapest option, Russel Hobbs. I think it probably worked fairly average for the first couple of months and then things started to go a bit pear-shaped. Because of the way it was designed, the plastic tube holding the blades kept on being pushed upwards, thus coming off its base and jamming the whole thing. It took me ages to simply process, let’s say, vegetables and making shortcrust in there was a big no.

Now, I’m in food processor paradise. It may cost 6 times as much, but believe me when I say it’s worth it. I have now made pastry in there and it’s a total delight. User-friendly, very silent (I am still impressed) and extremely easy to clean. This also means I can now tackle the recipes I was a bit worried about before, including fishcakes. This recipe comes from the delicious. magazine online portal and it originally states to mince the fish and the vegetables by hand. I say, “why bother if the food processor can do it for you?” I whipped up these fishcakes in a second. Very easy to make, quite as easy to eat, especially if accompanied by the crunchy salad. A simple recipe for a mid-week supper which can be quickly converted into a packed lunch too.

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Ingredients

  • 400g skinned salmon fillet
  • 2 tbsp minced ginger
  • 4 spring onions
  • 1 red hot chilly, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cucumber
  • 1 red and 1 yellow pepper, finely sliced
  • 250g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • olive oil

Method

  1. Dice the salmon and add to the food processor together with the spring onions and the minced ginger. Pulse and/or process until thoroughly combined. Season well and transfer to a bowl, then cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for about 10 minutes to firm up.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the lime juice, sugar, fish sauce and rice vinegar with the chopped red chilli. Set aside until needed.
  3. Take the fishcakes mixture out of the fridge, oil your hands with a little bit of olive oil and divide it in about 8 portions, then shape each into a small patty. Heat some oil in a frying pan, then cook each fishcake for a couple of minutes a side.
  4. Arrange the vegetables onto a platter, then lay the cooked fishcakes on top. Drizzle with the reserved dressing and enjoy while warm.

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Mexican Pasta Bake

I love being creative in the kitchen. And if you can be creative and use leftovers at the same time, then even better. I wanted to make a pasta bake for dinner last time and, when faced with the prospective of baking the traditional British tuna and sweetcorn pasta bake, I decided to give it a twist using some ingredients I had leftover in my fridge and cupboards. Mexican-inspired was the choice of preference after I found a tin of baked beans, the abovementioned sweetcorn and some pinto beans in my cupboard, but the addition of a half a jar of red roasted peppers and some chipotle paste helped the dish to come together. Very easy, delicious and can be made with a little effort.

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Ingredients

  • 500g fusilli pasta
  • 1L whole milk, at room temperature
  • 100g butter, at room temperature
  • 100g plain flour
  • 85g red roasted peppers, drained
  • 400g can of sweetcorn, drained
  • 300g can of pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 250g smoked cheese
  • 100g chorizo sausage
  • 150g can of baked beans
  • 100g mascarpone
  • 3 tbsp dried oregano
  • 3 tsp chipotle paste
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • salt & pepper
  • chopped coriander, to decorate

Method

  1. Start by making the bechamel sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low to medium heat, then remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flour. Put the saucepan back on the heat and cook gently to create the so-called roux. You should get a smooth and golden-tinted paste, but don’t cook it too long or you-ll burn it. Start adding the milk by pouring it gently into the saucepan and mixing it in with a wooden spoon. Keep on stirring over a medium heat making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan until the mixture starts to thicken a little and covers the back of the spoon. This will take approximately 10 minutes. Remove the bechamel sauce from the heat, season with some salt and pepper, then stir in the ground cumin, chipotle paste and chilli powder. Cover with clingfilm to prevent a skin forming on the surface, then set aside.
  2. Put the sweetcorn, beans (both pinto and baked) and mascarpone in a big bowl, then mix to combine. Add the peppers, previously sliced into small strips.
  3. Slice the chorizo into pound coin slices, then quarter them. Heat a frying pan over a high heat, then tumble the chorizo in and cook until crisp. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain over some kitchen paper. Once cooled, add to the big bowl.
  4. In the meantime, cook the pasta according to packet instructions in plenty of salted boiling water. You want it al dente rather than mushy, as it will have to hold its shape. Once cooked, drain and tumble in the bowl with the beans and sweetcorn. Mix to combine and coat the pasta evenly with the mascarpone. This will prevent the pasta to stick. Add the oregano, then coarsely grate the smoked cheese and set aside.
  5. Pre-heat your oven to 180C, then take a big roasting dish.
  6. Remove the clingfilm from the spicy bechamel sauce and spread about 1 ladleful on the bottom of the dish to prevent the pasta from sticking to the dish. Use half of the pasta mixture to create an even layer in the roasting dish, then scatter with half of the grated smoked cheese. Cover with half of the bechamel sauce and spread it around.
  7. Top with the rest of the pasta, the remaining cheese and bechamel sauce. Bake it for about 35-40 minutes until slightly scorched on top. Remove from the oven and let cool down a little, then scatter with coriander and serve.

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