Penne with tomato sauce

September 18, 2007

Penne with tomato sauce

I guess posting a recipe for pasta with tom sauce is liking writing a recipe for a cheese sarnie – it’s a patronising statement of the bleedin’ obvious.

My excuse is I wanted to show off a recent addition to my gadget collection – a food mill. Being a luddite I’m suspicious of all things electrical in the kitchen (including my oven) and prefer the reliability and control of grinding, slicing, whipping-up and mushing by hand. I also like the shiny gleaming curves of the mill, and its exuberant handle, which looks like the gear stick on the old Renault 4 my mum had when I was a kid. It’s a bugger to clean, mind.

I guess most people have their own favourite way of preparing tom sauce for pasta, even if it’s just opening a jar of Dolmio. Another excuse for including mine here is that it’s also a way of using up any stray carrots cowering in the shadowy recesses of your veg tray. I like my tom sauce sweet and simple, without herbs, occasionally without even garlic, but always enriched and sweetened at the end with butter.

Tomato sauce for penne

1. Finely dice an onion, a carrot and a couple of sticks of celery. Slowly saute them in butter or olive oil (not extra virgin). After these have started to soften, mash a garlic clove and stir that in.

2. Add a tin of Italian tomatoes (or skinned ripe fresh toms if you’re lucky enough to have a supply) and season well. Cook over a high heat, stirring regularly, for a good 15 or 20 minutes until the toms have broken down and the veg are soft.

3. Pass the sauce through the food mill, using a medium-holed attachment. Put it back in the pan and, if too thick, loosen with a splash of water. Check the seasoning.

4. Add the penne (cooked al dente, natch) to the pan, a good schlep of butter and a grating of parmesan. Mix it all up well and serve immediately. Good olive oil, extra grated parmesan and pepper should be out on the table for everyone to help themselves to.

Penne with tomato sauce


Tomato omelette

September 16, 2006

Tomato omelette

Brunch is a wonderful concept. Breakfast for layabouts. An excuse to start the day with such gastro-oddities as devilled kidneys, hot-smoked fish, muffins and hollandaise sauce, perhaps even cold curry.

Brunch seems to conjure up bygone times. The indian summer of the Empire. Lazy Edwardian mornings, playing crouquet on obsessively manicured lawns. Punting down the Isis. Jolly japes and pin-stripe slacks. That kind of malarkey.

Today we celebrated the arrival of the weekend with a brunch of sweet, creamy coffee and tomato omelette, cooked Lizzy David-style.

Tomato omelette

1. For two people, take 3 or 4 tomatoes. Skin them. Chop them into small pieces. Stew slowly in butter, with plent of seasoning and a touch of white sugar. You want a thickish sauce. Add fresh herbs such as parsley or marjoram if you’ve got any in the fridge or garden.

2. Whisk together four eggs. Season. Add a gulp of butter to your usual omelette or pancake pan and place over a medium heat. When the butter starts to froth, add half the beaten eggs.

3. Straight away, as the eggs begin to set, use a spatula to pull an edge of the omelette towards the centre. Tip the pan to allow the egg mixture to pour round, filling the gap. Do this a couple of times.

4. When the omelette still has some soft egg on the surface, add a tablespoon or so of the tomato mixture in a line down the centre. If you like, sprinkle with some grated parmesan.

5. Roll the omelette over the tomato, and slide on to a plate.

Best consumed with crusty bread and the Guardian Sports section; with the Archers omnibus harmlessly burbling along in the background, anticipation of Arsenal v Man U building.

Grill pan alley

August 2, 2006

Grilled pears

Maths chick is away for a few days, visiting the olds in Spain. Gastropunk is left to his own devices.

But what’s the fun in a veg box that you can’t share? It’s a lonely pursuit. Like being a veg-box hamster, running endlessly on a wheel, never getting anywhere. At night I dream I’m condemned to endlessly roll a giant water-melon up Muswell Hill, only to slip near the top and watch it roll back down, crushing half of Crouch End into a big pink, pulpy mess.

Perhaps it’s time for a holiday.

Anyway… I’ve rediscovered the joys of grilling this week. I have a canary-yellow cast-iron Le Creuset grill that has largely lived a decorative existence up until now. A recent comment left by babylemonade (nice pseudonym, by the way) threw up the concept of a grilled pear and tomato salad. Seemed like an idea worth half-inching. So we did.

And once you’ve got a griddle all hot and ready for action, you may as well indulge in an extended grilling sesh. Here’s a couple of combinations we thought worked well…

  • Grilled aubergines, tossed with chopped garlic, olive oil, green chilli, seasoning and bucket-loads of parsley
  • Grilled pears, tossed with tomatoes, walnuts, balsamic vinegar, a little sugar and olive oil

Grilled salads

Maths chick’s top grill-pan tips:

  1. get the griddle smoking hot before adding anything to it
  2. if necessary, lightly oil the poor veg you’re about to frizzle, rather than the pan
  3. don’t fiddle with the griddle – leave the veg in one position to ensure strong black stripes – it’s all in the visuals, man

Anyone else have any favourite griddle-pan recipes?

Pesto ingredients

When faced with great raw ingredients it’s usually a good idea to do the obvious. This week’s box had a decent size bunch of powerfully fragrant basil. Had there also been a bunch of fine tomatoes it would have been fitting to arrange them, sliced on a big white plate and break the basil over, along with olive oil and generous seasoning. In the absence of tomatoes the only respectful option seemed to be pesto.

Now I could be wrong, but my belief is there’s a French and an Italian version of pesto sauce. The Italian version, obviously, is the one most people are familiar with – the thick sludgy paste of fresh basil, olive oil, pinenuts, parmesan and, optionally, garlic. On the other hand, there’s the southern French version – pistou. This is basically a garlic and basil butter added to soup rather than eaten with pasta. There’s a recipe in Elizabeth David’s French Country Cooking, if you’re interested.

Whether pesto or pistou – both feel right. What feels wrong is all the other strange concoctions masquerading as pesto. Like a veg-box Zammo, just say no to coriander, sun-dried toms, mint, olives, lemongrass and all other strange pesto-a-likes. Or anything out of a jar. Shameless gastro-snobbery, I know.

For me, making pesto gives even more pleasure than eating it. The intense smell that rises when you pound the basil in a pestle and mortar is one of those definitive cooking aromas – up there (almost) with onions softening in butter or lamb on a barbeque. Making it in a blender makes a smoother sauce, and just as tasty, but the process offers far less therapeutic value.

As I sit writing this post, stiffening-up after a day of lugging soggy concrete around the garden, I can almost still smell yesterday’s bowl of garlic-intense pesto. Home-made pesto has to rank as one of the finest pleasures available to the smug veg-box enthusiast.

Friday night is curry night. Saturday or Sunday is good too. It takes time to cook, and is best enjoyed at leisure, in front of an Alan Partridge DVD or Match of the Day.

Curry Friday

Curry is great for using up old veg – an entire cuisine designed to hide the flavour of gently rotting produce.

This is my all-purpose curry recipe for when I can’t be bothered to wade through Madhur Jaffrey to find an authentic korma or jalfrezi recipe:

Chop a couple of big onions, a few cloves of garlic and a big lump of ginger into small bits. Fry slowly in a big saucepan with several gulps of sunflower oil and/or ghee. When the onion is transparent, blitz with a hand-blender. Now, make a paste of water with a teaspoon or two of ground turmeric, paprika, cumin and coriander. Cook in the onion paste for a good 10-15 minutes. It should be starting to resemble a curry now. Maybe add a couple of chopped tomates at this point. Or not. Season well.

Now add whatever veg you have left-over. Par-cook if using root veg. Just bung in other stuff – cabbage, spinach, peppers, courgettes. Whatever you fancy. Pretty much anything goes in a curry. Towards the end, after maybe 1 or 2 hours of slow cooking, add a flat tablespoon or so of garam masala. This adds a strong fragrant spiciness to the final taste.

Serve with your favourite curry accompaniments. For me it’s got to be minty yoghurt, mango chutney, naan or chapattis (a speciality of her-indoors), dhal. Maybe rice cooked with a couple of cardamon pods and some lemon zest. And a couple of cans of luke-warm bitter.

Then my favourite bit – cold curry for breakfast. Slobby, spicy, oily bliss.


Originally uploaded by tostadora.

The new box is arriving soon, or is already gracing your fridge with fresh, sprightly produce. But you still have a couple of carrots, some wilting celery, a couple of onions and a couple of kilos of cabbage from last week's box.

It's frustrating, but I just can't stand to compost these left-overs so I find it useful to have a couple of stand-by dishes for using up all-and-sundry. Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink recipes.

One of these ultra-useful dishes, during the summer at least, is Minestrone. I got the original recipe from Claudia Roden's 'The Food of Italy', a practical, unfussy collection of Italian recipes, organised by region.

Here's watcha do. More or less…

Sweat chopped onions and garlic in olive oil. Chop into smallish cubes the following [delete according to availability]: courgette, peppers, fennel, potatoes, tomatoes, celery, carrots. Add them to the onions to sweat and mingle. Season.

At this point it cen be good to add some extra flavourings – try cubes of pancetta, fresh herbs (bay, thyme, perhaps oregano or marjoram), any hard parmesan rind lying around. Allow the flavours to mingle over a low heat.

After a while, add some water or light stock – enough to cover and a bit more. Season and simmer until all the veg is cooked. It's quite a delicate flavour at this point.

Towards the end I like to add some green veg – finely chopped spring greens or cabbage, peas, broad beans or spinach. Don't cook to long or it'll lose that fresh verdant green colour.

It's a subtle flavour so its good to add some potency – a big bowl of fresh pesto, torn basil leaves, parmesan or pungent extra-virgin olive oil. Put all these things on the table and let people grate, pour or spoon-on to their heart's content.

Now you can start on the new stuff with a clear vegbox conscience.

Making piperade
Tuesday dinner

Originally uploaded by tostadora.

London bakes in a sweaty smogy heat. The tube is hell. I need cooking therapy. I get home and look in the fridge – a big plump shiny pepper is sitting up and begging to be eaten.

This beauty deserves special treatment so I turn to the inspirational 'Roast Chicken and other stories'. This book is as good as everyone says it is, if not better. It falls open at a recipe for piperade – a kind of posh scrambled eggs from the Basque region.

I have distant memories of whipping up endless dodgy piperades in a microwave during my days as a KP (kitchen porter for the uninitiated) back in Derbyshire. Its time to revisit an old friend and make amends.

Here's what I did…

Skin peppers and tomatoes and chop, also chop a small amount of garlic and put together in a bowl. Fry some thin bacon bits or rashers until crisp, put to one side. Fry up some croutons using some dense bread and olive oil, also put aside. Whip up 2 eggs per person.

When you're ready to eat, heat olive oil in a nice heavy pan, add the pepper-tomato mixture and the eggs. Stir over a low heat – you're making posh scrambled eggs – of course you know what you're doing. Season well and add chopped herbs if you've got them – I added chives and coriander which worked most fine and dandy. Stir in the croutons. Serve up and sprinkle the bacon on top.

We both agreed it made a fine light and refreshing summer supper.

Optional extra for world cup gastro-hooligans – smother the whole thing with half a litre of Great Britain's finest Daddy Sauce.