Ham hock, leek and mustard ‘macaroni’ bake

Now let’s start with the name of this dish- ham hock, leek and mustard macaroni bake. If you look at the photo you will see that, indeed, I have not used macaroni but instead riccioli (I used Rummo’s version which you can find at www.pastarummo.it) which lends itself to holding a creamy cheese or vegetable sauce however the name ‘macaroni bake’ was sure to grab your attention so now you are reading you may as well continue…

Ham hock is everywhere these days and ready cooked hocks are easy to get hold of so treat yourself to one for this recipe. Of course, if you fancy cooking your own you have so many options for the leftovers- think pea and ham hock soup on a chilly evening for example or (and more probable) make twice the amount of this pasta bake and indulge for dinner and lunch the following day!

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Ingredients- serves 2
250g riccioli
30g unsalted butter
30g plain flour
1 tbsp dijon mustard
300ml milk
300ml double cream
1 small to medium leek- washed and shredded
100g ham hock- shredded
Liberal amounts of parmesan
50g panko crumbs

1. Start off by preheating the oven to 200c/180fan. Boil a pan of water and cook the riccioli as per the packet instructions. Drain when it is al dente and set aside. Take a medium pan and heat the butter and flour together over a medium heat. Continue to stir whilst the butter combines with the flour and slowly pour in the milk and cream. I mix the milk and cream together before using to make this even easier. Gradually pour in the milk and keep on stirring to avoid lumps! When all the milk and cream has been added bring to the boil before lowering to a gentle simmer and cook until thickened.

2. Meanwhile you can prepare the leeks. Make sure the leek is washed well as grit can often be lurking! Soften the leek in a small pan with a small amount of butter and season with pepper. When the sauce has thickened add as much parmesan as you like to add an extra savouriness and stir through the leek, shredded ham hock and mustard. Taste and adjust the seasoning as required. Add the riccioli to the sauce and stir well to coat each pasta curl.

3. Place the pasta in either one larger ovenproof baking dish or two individual ones if you would like to present your guests with one each. Take the panko crumbs and grate some parmesan through so you have a cheesy, crunchy topping. Sprinkle over the pasta and bake for around 25-30 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the topping is golden. Serve with a simple dressed side salad and dig in!

Ham hock, leek and mustard bake- a great way to discover a new pasta shape and keep the family happy!

Carmarthen ham, asparagus ribbons and ricotta fusilli

This has to be one of the quickest recipes around so there’s no excuse not to get cooking in the week. Keep it simple and keep it delicious! I love the lightness ricotta brings which makes the other ingredients sing!

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Ingredients- serves 4
300g dried fusilli
1 banana shallot- finely sliced
2 garlic cloves- finely chopped
1 small red chilli- deseeded and finely chopped
4 slices of Carmarthen or Parma ham- cut into pieces
150g asparagus- ribboned with a vegetable peeler
4 tbsp ricotta

1. Start off by boiling a large pan of water and cook the fusilli according to packet instructions. Meanwhile take a large frying pan and heat a glug of vegetable oil over a medium heat. Pop in the shallot, garlic and chilli and cook out for a minute or so. Next up goes the asparagus and ham. Cook for an additional couple of minutes until the asparagus has a slight crunch to it and the ham is cooked through.

2. Drain the pasta well, add a little olive oil and stir through the ricotta whilst the pan is on the heat. Add in the asparagus and ham mix and combine. You may also like to top with a parmesan and panko crumb for added texture. Simply take the panko and parmesan and toast in a dry pan before sprinkling over.

A light, fresh pasta for a summer day!

Chilli sesame crusted tofu

Time for another tofu post I feel in an effort to get this bean curd beauty back in vogue! This gives the tofu such a savoury hit that it goes well in rice and noodle dishes so be as creative as you want. I like to use smoked tofu to add an extra flavour dimension but plain tofu is just as delicious.

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Ingredients- serves 2
1 block of firm tofu- plain or smoked
1 egg
4 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp red chilli flakes
Small pack of panko crumbs

1. Start off by blotting the tofu with kitchen towel to remove any excess moisture before cutting into bite sized pieces.

2. Crack an egg into a bowl, whisk lightly and set aside. Combine a mixture of panko crumbs, chilli and sesame and lay out on a plate. The quantities of sesame and chilli can be altered depending on your tastes but try to get a balance between the heat of the chilli, savouriness of the sesame and crunch of the crumb.

3. When you are ready, drop the tofu chunks in the egg before rolling each piece in the crumb mix. Make sure each side is well coated. Meanwhile, heat vegetable oil in a pan so it is around 3cm deep (now is not the time to walk away and leave this!) and heat. When the oil is hot enough, shallow fry the tofu in small batches so it is golden and crisp. Remove the tofu with a slotted spoon and blot on kitchen roll.

Serve immediately with your choice of rice or noodle dish.

Crispy chilli sesame tofu- a crunchy new way of trying tofu!

Golden artichoke and spinach gratin

This little number is simple, delicious and so easy so you have no excuse but to give this a try. Usually jarred artichokes are associated with antipasti but use them in a different way and let them speak for themselves.

I served it with roasted garlic and thyme new potatoes which were finished off with garlic sea salt alongside a beautiful fillet steak with a red wine, aged balsamic and shallot reduction (recipe below). Unfortunately only a photo of the gratin and spuds made it- the rest disappeared before my very eyes (I hate it when food does that!!!).

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Artichoke gratin- serves 2
Half a jar of artichoke hearts- drained and blotted on kitchen roll
Two good handfuls of baby spinach- washed and roughly chopped
1/2 banana shallot- finely sliced
1 small garlic clove- crushed
80ml cream
Handful of panko crumbs

1. Preheat the oven to 180c/ 160 fan ready to receive the gratin. In the meantime, heat a little knob of butter in a frying pan and cook the crumbs for a minute- remove and set aside. Clean out the pan and add a little oil and soften the shallot and garlic. Pop in the artichoke and spinach and cook for a further couple of minutes until the leaves are wilting. Drizzle over the cream and season before simmering for a minute. Place the mixture into an ovenproof dish, top with the panko crumbs and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden and bubbling.

Red wine reduction
1 garlic clove- crushed under the blade of a knife
1/2 banana shallot- finely chopped
2-3 sprigs of thyme
1 tbsp good balsamic vinegar
100ml red wine
100ml beef stock
Knob of butter

1. Take the frying pan again and pop in the garlic clove, shallot and thyme and cook until turning lightly golden. Next in goes the balsamic vinegar and simmer for a minute until reduced and sticky. Pop in the red wine and reduce by half before adding the stock and reducing by around just over half again. When the reduction is ready simply finish off with a small know of unsalted butter and swirl in the pan. You will be rewarded with a deep, luscious and glossy sauce ready for the fillet steak.

Creamy Brussel sprout gratin

After a Christmas of boiling sprouts to within an inch on their lives and then serving them up only for family members to bemoan them, this poor old vegetable needs a revamp! This gratin pairs the earthiness of sprouts with the sweetness of shallot, saltiness of ham and luxury of cream so read on…

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Ingredients- serves 2
A small bag of sprouts approx. 250g- peeled and trimmed
30g butter
30g plain flour
150ml milk
150ml double cream
50g parmesan
1 banana shallot- finely sliced
4 slices of Parma ham or similar
30g breadcrumbs

1. Preheat the oven to 200c/ 180fan. Heat the butter and flour together in a saucepan before adding the milk and cream little by little. Make sure no lumps form! Bring to the boil when all the milk is combined before lowering a gently simmer to thicken the sauce.

2. Meanwhile, par boil the sprouts and set aside. Take a small pan and gently fry off the shallot until softened and turning golden. You can also either use the same pan to crisp up small pieces of the ham or you can add this uncooked later on so it’s up to you. I used Carmarthen ham which worked perfectly.

3. The sauce should now be ready to season and to stir most of the parmesan into. Reserve some to combine with the breadcrumbs (I used panko) for the topping if you like. Add the sprouts, ham and shallot to the cheese sauce before placing in an ovenproof dish to bake for 30 minutes or until golden and bubbling.

Serve as the main event or with a meat dish. It also goes well with a good piece of steak!

An indulgent gratin perfect to use the last of the Christmas sprouts!

Ruby chard gratin

We’ve all been there. You go to the market and buy a glut of veggies only for some of them to end up in the fridge for longer than others. Never fear! This gratin makes use of leftover chard and spinach would also work well mixed in too. Serve with a meaty main meal or double the quantities to have it as a main meal with crusty fresh bread.

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Ingredients- serves 2 as a side dish
1/2 pack of chard- washed
25g unsalted butter
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
100ml double cream
100g Gruyere cheese or similar- grated
100g breadcrumbs

1. First of all make sure that the chard is well rinsed and preheat the oven to 180c/ 160 fan. Remove the leaves and cut any thick stems in half lengthways to it all cooks evenly. Bring a pan of water to the boil and cook the leaves for 2 minutes before adding the stems until softened. You could also steam them if you prefer. Remove the chard from the pan and blot with kitchen towel to absorb any excess water.

2. Take a small pan and melt the butter over a medium heat. Add the mustard and then gradually stir in the cream until all has been added. Bring to a simmer for a few minutes before taking off the heat and adding half of the cheese and season to taste. Gruyere works well but parmesan would also do the trick.

3. Get a small oven proof baking dish and place the chard on the bottom before pouring over the cream mix. Top with the breadcrumbs (panko go well here) and bake for around 30 minutes until bubbling and golden. I also popped some thyme on the top.

Chard gratin- a colourful celebration of this beautiful vegetable!

Chicken, asparagus and pesto pasta bake

After a long day at work you want to come home to a warming meal which is quick and delicious. Look no further! Grab your shopping list and get going!

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Ingredients- serves 4-6
40g unsalted butter
40g plain flour
250ml milk
200ml double cream
Half a jar of basil pesto
50g parmesan- grated
3-4 skinless chicken breast fillets- cut into 2 cm slices/ chunks
1 garlic clove- crushed
400g penne pasta
100g asparagus tips
Small pack of cherry tomatoes- halved
50g white breadcrumbs- I used panko crumbs

1. Start by making the sauce and melt the butter and flour together over a medium heat to make a roux. When this is combined gradually add the milk and double cream- remember to keep stirring to avoid lumps but if you do spot a lump simply take the pan off the heat and stir until the lumps go. Simmer the sauce until it thickens before adding half of the parmesan, pesto and seasoning.

2. Heat a pan of water and cook the pasta until al dente before draining well and setting aside. The pasta will soften further in the oven when it bakes so don’t be tempted to over cook it now! In a frying pan heat a splash of oil and brown off the chicken pieces and a crushed clove of garlic. Add the asparagus tips and cook in the pan with the chicken until they start to soften.

3. Add the chicken mixture to the sauce base and pour over the pasta. The pasta needs to be put into an ovenproof baking dish and place the tomatoes into the pasta. Mix the remaining parmesan with the breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the top before baking at 180c/ 160 fan until golden and bubbling. You could also use mozzarella and parmesan as the topping if you prefer not to use breadcrumbs. I use panko breadcrumbs (a Japanese style crumb) as it gives a really crispy finish which you don’t always get with normal crumbs. Serve in warmed bowls with a simple side salad. Any leftovers will also make a delicious lunch the next day.

Chicken, asparagus and pesto bake- a new favourite to add to your midweek meal list!