Ultimate slow cooked bolognese

A great bolognese should be in everyone’s culinary repertoire so let me share mine with you. The key to a beautiful bolognese sauce, or ragu, is slow cooking so be patient! Also remember that Italians traditionally serve this with tagliatelle so use a good quality pasta so the sauce clings to every strand. If you’re not a huge fan of mince then substitute it with diced beef but remember that this would cook better in the oven on a low heat to ensure the meat falls apart.

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Ingredients-serves 4
2 tbsp olive oil
400g beef or veal mince or half and half
1 onion finely sliced
2 garlic cloves crushed
200g chestnut mushrooms- sliced
Handful of rehydrated dried porcini mushrooms
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 celery sticks- finely sliced
1 carrot- finely chopped
Small pack of pancetta cubes
120ml red wine
400ml tinned chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp dried oregano
Beef stock cube
1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
400g dried spaghetti or tagliatelle

1. To start, take a large pan and heat 1tbsp of the oil over a high heat and brown off the mince which will take a few minutes. I often use veal mince as it has a lower fat content and gives a lighter bolognese.

2. In a frying pan sautee the chestnut and porcini mushrooms until golden. Mushrooms need to be cooked over a high heat to draw out the water

. 3. Take a heavy based pan (time to crack out my Le Creuset again!) and heat the remaining oil over a medium heat.Cook the onion, celery, carrot and pancetta until it all begins to soften and then add the garlic into the pan for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Pancetta cubes are easy to find however if you want to ramp up the flavour even more then look for a small block of pancetta which you then cut yourself. This tends to have more flavour and a smokey note which you don’t get with precut cubes so head to the local deli and treat yourself!

4. Next the tomato puree goes in to cook off for another couple of minutes, followed by the red wine and aim to reduce this by half. Pop the bay leaf in and sprinkle the oregano.

5. Stir the tomatoes and balsamic vinegar in and crumble in the stock cube which will add an additional depth of flavour. Season to taste, bring the bolognese up to a simmer, cover and cook on the hob for 1- 1 1/2 hours or until the sauce has reduced and thickened. I also keep some of the porcini mushroom liquor back and add a little to give an extra meatiness.

6. When the bolognese is nearly ready cook the pasta and drain well. I add the pasta into the sauce to ensure each stand if pasta is well coated. Divide the bolognese between the bowls and serve with parmesan.

A classic dish to please any family! I mean who wouldn’t want this simmering away on their hob?…

 

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Indulgent autumn gnocchi

Gnocchi AKA little pillows of joy are the star of this dish! Combine this with seasonal vegetables, a dash of creme fraiche and a liberal helping of hunger and you have the perfect dinner. If you can’t find speck, then a good parma or serrano ham can be used.

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Ingredients- serves 4
40g unsalted butter
Pack (approx. 70g) speck- cut into thin strips
250g chestnut mushrooms- washed and sliced
1 banana shallot- finely sliced
2 garlic cloves- crushed
60ml dry white wine
3 tbsp creme fraiche (full or half fat)
Handful of shredded curly kale
Salt and pepper to season
400g pack of ready made gnocchi

1. Boil a kettle of water and cook the kale in a large pan for 3 minutes- refresh in cold water, drain and set aside.

2. Start off with melting half of the butter in a large non- stick frying pan over a medium heat. Pop in the strips of speck and fry until starting to crisp up. Remove from the pan and set aside on a piece of kitchen paper.

3. Next you need to fry the mushrooms until the water evaporates (you don’t want a watery sauce!) and the mushrooms turn golden. Again, remove from the pan and set aside.

4. Add the remaining butter and cook the shallot and onion until softened. Pour in the wine and cook until it has reduced by half. Stir in the creme fraiche, season to taste, and simmer for a couple of minutes whilst you cook the gnocchi. Gnocci only takes 2 minutes so drain when the gnocchi rises to the surface in a boiling pan of water.

5. Stir the mushroom, kale and speck through the sauce before also adding the cooked gnocchi. Cook for a further minute to make sure it is all heated through and serve in warmed bowls. A sprinkling of parmesan is also called for!

A warming autumn gnocchi which is a sure fire pleaser!

Fiery n’duja and slow cooked vine ripened tomato fusilli

N’duja is an utter joy to behold so if you haven’t tried it before read on. Think spicy, think flavoursome, think n’duja. It’s an Italian soft, spreadable sausage style meat that is so versatile and has become more available over the last couple of years so look out for it in your local Italian delicatessan. I love it in simple pastas so give it a go! I use one from www.eatdrinkideas.co.uk who you can also find on a Saturday at the St Albans farmer’s market.

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Ingredients- serves 4
Glug of olive oil
2 garlic cloves- crushed
1 banana shallot- finely sliced or chopped
2 tbsp n’duja (or more if you like it even spicier!)
8 vine ripened tomatoes
Small handful of flat leaf parsely- finely chopped
Salt and pepper
300g pasta such as fusilli

1. Heat the oil over a medium heat in a saucepan and pop in the banana shallot and garlic to cook for a couple of minutes until starting to soften. I love using banana shallot (which is not actually a shallot, but a cross between a shallot and an onion) to add a gentle sweetness but you can add a small onion if you prefer.

2. Take the equivalent of 2 tbsps of n’duja and stir into the pan. The heat will break the meat down and it will melt into the shallot and garlic. Remember that n’djua can be quite spicy so you can always add a bit more as you go but you can’t take it back out again! You can try a bit before you add it if you’re not sure how hot your n’duja is.

3. The tomatoes need their seeds removed before cutting into small chunks. I leave the skin on for an extra texture however you can take these off if you prefer. Add these to the pan along with the parsley and season to taste.

4. Simmer the sauce for around 45-60 minutes until thickened. Have a quick taste and you can add a little more n’duja at this stage if you want a bit more kick! Just before the sauce is ready, prepare the fusilli, drain well and stir through the sauce to coat each piece. I sprinkle a bit of extra parsley to serve along with parmesan.

N’duja- once you have discovered it you will wonder how you went all these years without it!

Asian duck noodles

This is a perfect midweek noodle dish. Fresh duck can be used but it also works well with any leftover duck meat you may have. I prefer using tat soi in this recipe as it brings a slightly mustardy flavour which works well with the blend of spices so do try it. If you prefer a sweeter finish then pak choi is ideal.

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Ingredients- serves 2
2 duck breasts- cut into thick slices
2cm piece of ginger- grated
1 garlic clove- crushed
1tsp ground five spice
1/2 tsp corn flour dissolved in 2 tbsp water
1 tbsp dark soya sauce
3 tbsp oyster sauce
100g rice noodles
Glug of sesame oil
2 tbsp vegetable or groundnut oil
1 red chilli- finely sliced
3 spring onions- finely sliced
2 heads pak choi or tat soi
Handful of beansprouts

1. Take the slices of duck breast and add the garlic, ginger and five spice mix to it in a bowl to marinade. Leave for a few minutes but you could also do this the night before. Combine the corn flour paste, soya sauce and the oyster sauce in a small dish and set aside. Boil a kettle and pour over the noodles for a couple of minutes, drain and add a little sesame oil to stop the strands from sticking together.

2. Heat 1 tbsp of the oil and heat over a medium/ high heat. Fry the duck slices until seared and the edges start to go golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the rest of the oil and cook the red chilli and spring onion for a couple of minutes. Add the sauce mixture and cook for a further minute.

3. Add the pak choi or tat soi depending on what you prefer and cook until wilted down. In goes the bean sprouts to give a nice crunch before adding the duck and noodles back into the pan to heat through.

Rich duck and asian spices- a match made in heaven!

Sausage, squash and sage pasta bake

Pasta has to be one of the most used ingredients in the average household however what you do with it needn’t be average. Butternut squash has to be one of my favourite autumn vegetables and it brings an appealing flash of colour to any dish. Fresh sage must be used here as the flavour of dried sage is too harsh with the delicate flavours of the squash and cheeses.

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Ingredients: serves 4  (can be halved for 2)
1 butternut squash
2 tbsp olive oil
Handful of fresh sage roughly chopped
8 seasoned pork sausages
Pinch of nutmeg
350g rigatoni or conchiglioni
50g unsalted butter
50g plain flour
850ml milk
50g parmesan
Small ball of mozzarella chopped
Drizzle of truffle oil (optional)

1. Get cracking on the squash by peeling and deseeding it. With a sturdy knife, cut the squash into small cubes and place in a microwaveable dish with a tablespoon of water. Pop it in the microwave on a high heat for approximately 10 minutes or until tender.

2. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan and cook the sage leave for 1 minute until fragrant. Pop the sausages out of their skins and roll gently into balls which are the size of hazelnuts. Add these to the pan with the sage and cook until golden.

3. Add half of the squash to the sausages. Take the remaining squash and mash with a pinch of nutmeg and season with salt and pepper before setting aside.

4. Heat the oven to 200c/ 180fan and cook the pasta according to the packet. Rigatoni works well with the sausage but conchiglioni also works well as the sauce fills the shells so choose whichever you prefer. Whilst the pasta simmers, take a saucepan and melt the butter before adding the flour and keep it moving until it forms a base. Carefully and slowly add in the milk and continue to stir to avoid any lumps forming. Next add the mashed squash, parmesan and more seasoning.

5. Take a large baking dish and layer the left over squash over the bottom. Drain the pasta and stir through the sausage and cheese sauce. Grate over the parmesan and dot on the chunks of mozzarella before baking for 30 minutes until golden and bubbling. You may also drizzle over a little truffle oil before baking to give it an extra richness.

An indulgent pasta to warm up a chilly Autumn day!

Chestnut mushroom and porcini risotto

Picture the scene: you come home from a hard day in the office and want to spoil yourself with a luxurious yet simple dish. Well this hits the spot so kick off your shoes, throw on your apron and get stirring!

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Ingredients- serves 2 (double for 4)
50g unsalted butter
1 banana shallot finely chopped
1 crushed garlic clove
100g chestnut mushrooms sliced
10g rehydrated dried porcini mushrooms
175g arborio rice
600ml good vegetable stock
60ml dry white wine
40g grated fresh parmesan
Handful of chopped flat leaf parsley
Drizzle of truffle oil

1. Heat half of the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic and cook until softening. Pop in the chestnut and porcini mushrooms and cook for a couple more minutes. Make sure your mushrooms are finely sliced so any natural water can evaporate quickly.

2. Stir the rice through the mushrooms so the rice is well coated before adding your first ladle of hot vegetable stock. Stir and then stir some more until the stock had been absorbed. Carry on doing this until all the stock had been added and the rice has become soft and plump. This should take around. 20 minutes however some arborio rices may take a few minutes longer. If you need an extra splash out two of stock then go ahead as you want to achieve a creamy risotto.

3. When the rice is ready pop in the wine and stir well to absorb. Risotto purists may put the wine in first before any stock has been added however putting it in afterwards adds an edge which you just don’t get the other way around. When the wine has absorbed add the remaining butter,  parmesan and parsley. Cover the pan for a minute or two.

4. Serve your creamy risotto in warmed bowls and drizzle a little truffle oil over as well as an extra grate of parmesan.

Unctuous, silky risotto- the perfect midweek treat.

Autumnal sausage and bean stew

There’s a distinctive chill in the air so this recipe is a perfect autumnal warmer. I have used a good quality beef sausage as a bit of a change but you could easily swap it for pork sausages if you prefer. I have used beef sausages from Chiphall Farm who use Woodland Jersey herd meat so check them out http://www.chiphallfarmshop.co.uk to support excellent Hampshire producers.

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Ingredients- serves 4
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion finely sliced
2 garlic cloves crushed
3 celery sticks finely sliced
1 tbsp tomato puree
100ml red wine
300ml beef stock (vegetable stock if using pork sausages)
400ml tinned tomatoes
400g tinned butter beans and 400g tinned cannellini beans drained and rinsed
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
Pinch of caster sugar
Salt and pepper to season

1. Preheat the oven to 190c/ 170 fan and leave to warm up whilst you get started with the rest. Heat the oil in a heavy based casserole pan over a medium heat and brown the sausages until they are golden all over; this should take about 10 minutes to get a good colour on them. When they are ready, set them aside to keep warm.

2. I then add the onion to gently fry off in the residual sausage fat as this adds an extra layer of flavour. If you find that a lot of fat has come out of the sausages you can drain some of this off if you lilke. A higher quality sausage usually produces less fat so that’s worth remembering. When the onions are nearly ready, add the garlic and celery and cook for 1- 2 minutes.

3. Squeeze in a tablespoon of tomato puree and cook this off well for another couple of minutes. Add in the red wine and simmer this to reduce it by half to cook off the booze. If using pork sausages you may also like to try using white wine for a lighter flavour to balance the pork.

4. Add the stock, tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, pinch of caster sugar and season well. Bring it back up to a gentle simmer for a few minutes before adding the beans and sausages to the pan. Cover the pan and cook in the oven for an hour. The stew will have thickened and a rich, comforting meal will be your reward. Serve in warmed bowls with some bread on the side to soak up the juice.

Autumnal sausage and bean stew- a perfect meal for the changing season!