Pigs in blankets and roasted sprout macaroni cheese

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‘Pigs in blankets macaroni cheese?’ I hear you cry! Why yes, you have indeed read the title correctly and I applaud you for making the most wonderful decision to click on it and read on to sate your curiosity. Now I love a Christmas dinner as much as the next, however, the trimmings are the best bit; think unctuous bread sauce, fragrant stuffing, bitter, yet most welcomed, sprouts and, wait for it, pigs in blankets. For this macaroni recipe I have taken elements of my favourite festive foods and melded them to make the ultimate festive indulgence so draw up your shopping list, fire up the oven and get cooking!

Ingredients- serves 6
For the sauce
50g unsalted butter
50g plain flour
2 tsp mustard powder
400ml double cream
400ml milk
60g parmesan
500g macaroni- cooked and drained well

For the rest
20g unsalted butter
2 large banana shallots- sliced
300g sprouts
1 tbsp olive oil
12 cocktail sausages
6 rashers of streaky bacon
50g panko breadcrumbs

1. Get started by preheating the oven to 200c/ 180 fan. Wrap the pigs in blankets by winding half a rasher of streaky bacon around each cocktail sausage and placing on a baking tray. Allow a slight overlap as the bacon will shrink back a little when cooking.

2. Clean and chop the sprouts and place on a separate baking tray. I cut larger sprouts into quarters and left smaller ones in half but you can do whatever takes your fancy; slices also work well but remember these will need less cooking time. Toss the cut sprouts in the olive oil, season with a little salt and pepper and roast at the same time as the pigs in blankets for around 20 minutes or until tender and until the sausages are cooked through.

3. Take a small frying pan or saucepan and melt the 20g of unsalted butter ready for the shallots. Cook on a low heat on the hob until the shallots are turning a light golden colour; remove from the heat and set aside.

4. Next up goes the sauce! In a large pan melt the 50g of butter and add in the flour; cook together to form a roux. Gradually pour in the milk and cream and keep stirring so no lumps form; if they do, then remove the pan from the heat and whisk the sauce until the lumps disappear. Simmer until the sauce thickens and then remove from the heat before adding the majority of the parmesan. Season to taste.

5. When the sauce, sprouts, sausages and shallots are cooked and ready then combine them all and stir well to ensure all ingredients are well incorporated. Add to the cooked pasta and divide between 6 individual ovenproof dishes or 1 large one. Grate the remaining parmesan into the panko crumbs and top the pasta; for a twist, you could crisp up some extra bacon and also add this to the crumb mix which is delicious too. Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until golden and bubbling. Serve with a simple side salad if you like.

Pigs in blankets and roasted sprout macaroni cheese- the ultimate festive treat!

Squash and blue cheese macaroni bake

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Before thoughts turn to Christmas food and festivities, there’s time for one more recipe to get you through once you’ve had enough roast potatoes and sprouts! This squash and blue cheese bake is simple and can be made in advance so it is perfect for a casual dinner as well as if you’re entertaining. I have used coquina squash for this which makes a change to the usual butternut squash. Coquina squash is slightly more sweet and the flesh is soft and tender which lends itself perfectly for roasting. To offset the sweetness I have used a creamy blue cheese and some salty pancetta to give the dish a lift. I served this in individual dishes but you can make a larger one if you prefer.

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Ingredients- serves 4
1 coquina squash
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp olive oil
30g plain flour
30g unsalted butter
150ml double cream
150ml milk
200g blue cheese such as dolcelatte or gorgonzola
250g macaroni
50g cheddar
50g parmesan
4 slices of pancetta

1. Get going by preheating the oven to 180c/ 160 fan ready for roasting the squash. Use a sturdy sharp knife and halve the squash lengthways. Scoop out the seeds, drizzle with the olive oil and place one garlic clove in each of the hollows. Roast for around 50 minutes or until tender. When the squash is ready, use a spoon to scoop out the flesh and place in a bowl. Squeeze out the roasted garlic and add to the bowl with the squash. Use the back of a fork to mash it down until smooth and set aside whilst you make the base for the sauce.

2. Bring a large pan of water to the boil and cook the pasta until al dente as per the packet instructions; drain well and set aside.

3. Use a medium sized saucepan and add the flour and butter. Heat gently so the butter melts and combines with the flour to make a roux. Gradually pour in the milk and cream, stirring all the while so no lumps form. Increase the heat a touch and keep stirring until the sauce thickens. Remove the pan from the heat and add the blue cheese as well as most of the cheddar and parmesan (reserving some for the topping).

4. Take a frying pan and heat on a medium- high heat. Place the slices of pancetta in the pan and cook until crisp. Roughly chop the pancetta and add to the sauce. Add the roasted squash flesh to the sauce and stir well to combine. Stir the sauce through the cooked macaroni and place in an ovenproof dish or individual dishes. Top with the remaining cheese. Bake for half an hour or until golden and bubbling. Serve with a simple side salad.

Squash and blue cheese macaroni bakes- a twist on a well loved classic!

 

 

Scallop and cherry tomato tagliatelle

Sometimes ingredients are so fresh and delicious that very little needs doing with them in order to make a memorable dish that you will cook time and time again- this is one of those dishes! if you regularly read my recipes you will have worked out that I love seafood in its many guises and scallops are no exception. Sweet, tender and succulent scallops need to be paired with simple, clean flavours so you can appreciate their beauty. I have paired a classic base of garlic, a little chilli and sweet tomatoes to allow each flavour to sing.

To make this even more accessible, I have used bay scallops which tend to be easy to find and a little cheaper than their larger sea scallop counterparts. If, however, you do want to use the larger ones then go ahead. This is also quick to do so there is no excuse to pick up the takeaway menu after a day at work so read on and get cooking!

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Ingredients- serves 2
200g bay scallops
Glug of olive oil
1 garlic clove- crushed or finely chopped
1 red chilli- deseeded and finely chopped
200g cherry tomatoes- halved
60ml dry white wine
Handful of fresh basil leaves- roughly torn
30g unsalted butter
150g tagliatelle

1. Kick off by getting your pans at the ready- you will need a pan for the pasta so boil a kettle and bring the water to the boil. You will also need a pan that the sauce can simmer away in and one for pan frying the scallops. To make the sauce, simply heat a glug of oil over a medium heat and cook the garlic and chilli until softening, but make sure the garlic does not catch colour.

2. Throw in the halved cherry tomatoes and the white wine; simmer until the wine is reduced by half. Keep the tomatoes cooking away until the they reduce and the juice starts to make a sauce. Keep this on low. Meanwhile cook the pasta according to the packet instructions; drain well and set aside.

3. As the pasta cooks, take the remaining pan and heat the butter and a splash of oil over a medium to high heat. Pan fry the scallops until they are golden on the outside which usually takes a couple of minutes on each side but do keep an eye on them so they don’t overcook. As the sauce is finishing, add in the torn basil before tossing the pan fried scallops through so they are lightly coated in the sauce. Add in the drained pasta and serve!

 

Baked ricotta, spinach and mascarpone conchiglioni

Baked pastas are always comforting and are great for feeding a crowd. Conchiglioni shells lend themselves for stuffing with a whole range of ingredients but spinach and ricotta has to be one of the most classic and most delicious.

I have added a hint of chilli and lemon in the filling to really liven up the flavours and to be bring out the best in the creamy cheese and irony spinach. Ricotta can sometimes be a little claggy by itself so the mascarpone has been added to make sure the filling is smooth and creamy.

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Ingredients- serves 4
For the conchiglioni

400g conchiglioni
250g ricotta
100g mascarpone
100g baby spinach
Zest of half a lemon
1-2 tsp chilli flakes
Freshly grated parmesan- to taste
Slices of pancetta- optional

For the sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves- crushed
1 red onion- finely chopped
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar

1. Make the sauce first so that can be simmering away whilst you prepare the pasta. Add the oil to a saucepan and gently cook the garlic and onion until if it soft but not golden. Pour in the tomatoes and break any larger chunks with the spoon. Add the red wine vinegar and sugar and simmer until the sauce has reduced and thickened slightly. Remove from the heat and set aside.

2. In the meantime bring a large pan of water to the boil and cook the shells until they are just tender so check the packet instructions- they should take around 10 minutes. Drain well and allow to cool until you can handle them.

3. To make the pasta filling, simply combine all the ingredients apart from the spinach in a large bowl. I simply prepare the spinach by wilting in a pan or popping the bag of spinach in the microwave for around 1 minute until cooked- do remember to check if the bag of spinach you have is suitable for this though! Squeeze as much excess liquid from the spinach and roughly chop before adding to the cheese mixture. Carefully fill each shell.

4. Take a large ovenproof baking dish that can fit the shells snugly. Pour in the tomato sauce before arranging the shells on top. Finish with some freshly grated parmesan and bake in a 200c/ 180 fan oven for 25-30 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling and the parmesan is golden. You might also like to crumble over some crispy fried pancetta if you like- dry fry slices of pancetta in a pan before removing and allowing to crisp up. Sprinkle over before serving.

Baked ricotta, spinach and mascarpone conchiglioni- make this part of your culinary repertoire to feed a crowd!

 

 

Porcini mushroom, tomato and pancetta pasta

This is one of my go- to recipes for the middle of the week when you are after a satisfying yet lighter meal so I know you’ll love it too!

If there is one thing I can’t resist it’s a good old mushroom! Any variety keeps me happy however porcini keeps me very happy! In the UK you can pick up some decent dried mushrooms so I have used these here. You can use porcini by itself or a mixed selection of wild dried mushrooms if you can get them. The delicate earthiness of the mushroom weighs up the mouthwatering saltiness of the pancetta beautifully.

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Ingredients- serves 2
50g unsalted butter
50g pancetta- cubed
1 crushed garlic clove
20g dried porcini or mixed wild mushrooms
6 vine ripened tomatoes
1 small red chilli- dried or fresh
Handful of torn basil
150g dried penne or gigli

1. Before anything else you need to rehydrate the mushrooms by soaking them in  warm water. This usually takes around 10 minutes andthe mushrooms should feel soft when they are ready. Try and buy the best quality mushrooms you can and you really well tell the difference; your after decent sized pieces rather than mushroom dust!

2. Get a small non- stick pan and fry the pancetta cubes over a medium heat until they begin to turn golden. I don’t add any extra butter or oil to fry these as the natural fats do the trick. Remove the pancetta from the pan and blot on kitchen towel.

3. For the next stage you need a medium sized pan and melt 30g of the butter over a moderate heat. Add the garlic and snip the chilli into the pan and cook for 2 minutes. As a self- confessed chilli lover I think there is a time and place for dried chilli and this is one of them. Remember that dried chillies also contain seeds so remove them if you prefer a milder heat.

4. Quarter the tomatoes (or into sixths if they are larger) and add to the pan with the chilli and garlic. Simmer over a low heat for 10 minutes so that they tomatoes begin to reduce down and create a sauce. I then add the pancetta, softened mushrooms and the torn basil back into the pan and simmer for another 15 minutes. I  add some of the basil at this stage and save the rest to serve so it doesn’t disappear to nothing or go bitter. The sauce should be chunky and thick so that it coats the pasta.

5. Cook the pasta as per the cooking instructions and drain well. Add the remaining butter to the pasta and stir so each piece is coated. Combine the pasta and sauce and then it’s ready to go! Tear over a little extra basil and offer parmesan alongside. Using the best parmesan you can afford adds a little touch of luxury.

Porcini and pancetta- a perfectly moreish combination!

Crab and spring onion macaroni

Crab and spring onion macaroni is a decadent twist on the classic macaroni cheese which begs to be cooked and savoured. I have used brown and white crab meat and I find this gives much more flavour compared to only using white so do look out for both. A hint of fresh red chilli would also be delicious in this recipe if you want to spice things up a bit but go easy as you don’t want to overpower the delicate crab. Compared to my usual macaroni cheese, this uses a small amount of good quality parmesan cheese so keep it simple. I have included panko as a topping mixed with parmesan which gives an added texture and crunch.

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Ingredients- serves 2
30g unsalted butter
30g plain flour
200ml milk
200ml double cream
40g parmesan
100g crab meat- half brown, half white
3-4 spring onions- shredded
200g macaroni
20g panko breadcrumbs (optional)

1. Start by preheating the oven to 200c/ 180 fan whilst you cook the pasta as per packet instructions; drain well and set aside. To get going with the sauce take a medium saucepan and melt the butter and flour together to form the base of the sauce. Gradually pour in the milk and cream and keep stirring so it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan; bring to a simmer and cook until thickened.

2. Remove the sauce from the heat and add half of the parmesan cheese as well as the crab meat. Stir well to combine before popping in the shredded spring onion. Add the cooked macaroni into the sauce and ensure that each piece is well coated in the sauce. Place in an ovenproof dish before topping with the remaining parmesan and panko breadcrumbs, if you’re using them.

3. Bake for 30 minutes until the topping is golden and bubbling and serve right away with a side salad if you like.

Indulgent crab and spring onion macaroni- a sumptuous twist on a comfort food favourite!

Italian sausage, chard and pine nut spaghetti

Italian sausages are not just your usual sausage! They are packed with fennel and seasoning and you can often find chilli versions which are equally delicious. They can be cooked whole or, as I have done in this recipe, the sausage meat can be removed and cooked separately. I have paired the sausage with chard which is in plentiful supply all year round. It can be substituted for spinach or cavolo nero if you like but I love the way the slight bitterness of the leaves balance with the rich sausage. When it comes to pasta, you really do get what you pay for. I absolutely love Garofalo’s long spaghetti which you can find here. Each strand is half a metre long so grab a fork and get twirling!

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Ingredients- serves 2
200g spaghetti
1 red onion- chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
4 Italian sausages- meat removed from the skin
400g passata
200g chard
Handful of pine nuts- lightly toasted in a dry pan

1. Start by bringing a pan of water to the boil. To prepare the chard you need to remove the stalks and keep the leaves separately as they both need slightly different cooking times. Roughly chop the stems and blanch for 1-2 minutes and blanch the leaves for 3-4 minutes; drain well and set aside. When the leaves are slightly cooled, roughly chop. Bring another pan of water to the boil and cook the spaghetti according to instructions.

2. Take a frying pan and add a glug of oil over a medium heat. Add the onion and garlic along with the chilli flakes (if using) and cook for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, use the sausage meat which has been removed from the skins to form little balls. I make mine about the size of a hazelnut so you get lots of little bites throughout the pasta. Add the sausage balls into the frying pan with the onion and garlic and frying until golden.

3. Add the passata into the pan and bring to a simmer. The sauce is designed to give the spaghetti a light coating and by the time it has simmered it really does reduce down so don’t be alarmed if it seems a lot for two people. Add the drained chard stems and leaves and cook for a further 5 minutes. When ready, tip the cooked spaghetti into the pan and toss so each strand of pasta is coated in the sauce. Serve in warmed bowls with the toasted pine nuts sprinkled over and a good grating of parmesan to finish.

Italian sausage, chard and pine nut spaghetti- a celebration of Italian flavours!

Five a day roasted vegetable sauce

Every now and again I get a fancy for vegetables and lots of them! This roasted vegetable sauce is perfect for ensuring your family get their five a day and is great with gnocchi and pasta or even with cous cous. I chose to use baby courgettes and baby aubergine alongside pepper and onion to give vibrant colour and a balance between sweet and savoury. Feta was made to be paired with such flavours so a liberal sprinkling of this over your finished dish really lifts the flavours. The sauce should be chunky with a light tomato coating- I used Cirio Tuscan chopped tomatoes which have the perfect ratio of sauce to tomato chunks. You can find them at http://www.cirio1856.co.uk.

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Ingredients- serves 4
4 garlic cloves- kept whole
1 large red onion- peeled and cut into small wedges
1 red and 1 yellow bell pepper- chopped
Handful of baby courgettes- chopped
Handful of baby aubergine- chopped
Handful of black olives- optional
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Chilli flakes
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
Fresh basil

1.Preheat the oven to 180c/ 160 fan ready for the veggies. Take a large roasting tin and place all the chopped vegetables into it including the whole garlic cloves. Drizzle with a good amount of olive oil and season. I used smoked sea salt which is fabulous with roasted vegetables. Roast for around 15 minutes until everything is tender- test with a knife, if it goes into the vegetables easily then it’s ready!

2. Take a large frying pan and add a small glug of oil over a medium heat. Rescue the garlic cloves from the vegetable tray and squeeze out the tender and wonderfully fragrant garlic. I then fried off the garlic with a touch of chilli flakes (or as much as you dare!) for a minute or two before scattering the vegetables into the pan. The chilli should enhance the flavours rather than drowning them out. Pour in the tinned tomatoes and cook for around 10 minutes on a simmer so the tomato brings the sauce together and the flavours develop even more. Finish with a liberal sprinkling of freshly torn basil leaves and away you go! Serve with gnocchi or pasta and feta over the top if you like. Mozzarella would also be delicious. Any leftovers can be easily reheated or blitzed into a smooth sauce or soup for the freezer.

Chunky roasted vegetable sauce- get your five a day in the most effortless way!

Crab, king prawn and rocket spaghetti

As I’m writing this I’m sitting with the heating cranked up and considering reaching for a blanket to try and warm up so such a light pasta recipe may sound a little strange for a winter’s day. It’s simple really, I love seafood and sometimes these cravings have to be indulged regardless of the season!

Crab pasta recipes usually use white meat however I have chosen to use half white and half brown meat as this really ramps up the flavour. The addition of baby plum tomatoes are also lovely if you like. The sweetness of the crab and prawn pair perfectly with the gentle heat from the chilli and kick of acidity from the lemon so read on and get twirling that spaghetti!

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Ingredients- serves 2
200g spaghetti
Glug of olive oil
1-2 garlic cloves- finely sliced or crushed
1 red chilli- deseeded and chopped
60ml dry white wine
2 tbsp low fat crème fraiche
200g raw king prawns- deveined
200g crab meat- white or white and brown meat
50g rocket
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice

1. Start by bringing a large pan of water to the boil; cook the spaghetti according to packet instructions and drain when it is perfectly al dente. Drain well.

2. Whilst the spaghetti cooks, get going on the sauce as it won’t take long. I can’t stand pasta that is drained and then stands around for ages, slowly clumping into a wonderful mess so avoid! Take a large frying pan and add a glug of oil over a medium heat. Add the garlic and red chilli and cook for a couple of minutes until softening. Add the white wine and reduce the amount by half before lowering the heat. In goes the crème fraiche and simmer for a minute or two.

3. Pop the deveined raw prawns into the pan and cook for a further minute before adding the crab meat and rocket. Simmer until the prawns are a gorgeous blush pink and the sauce is warmed through. Season to taste. If the sauce looks a little dry then add a splash of the water from the pasta pan in to loosen it slightly. I try not to add extra crème fraiche as this tends to make it even thicker and a bit claggy. When the pasta is ready, add it to the pan with sauce and toss to coat each strand of spaghetti well and finish with a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice to really make the flavours sing. Serve immediately.

Butternut squash, sage and ricotta lasagne

The sweetness of the squash, fragrance of the sage and creaminess of ricotta are a divine match. The flavours need very little to bring the best out of them so keep the ingredients as simple as possible so you can taste each element. The secret twist to the creamy ricotta filling is a good helping of sweet roasted garlic which really takes it to another level. Ovenproof dishes come in such a range of shapes and size so, before you cook the lasagne sheets, try to work out how many sheets you need to fit yours. I always cook a couple of extra sheets in case they tear. The filling also works with cannelloni.

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Ingredients- serves 4
For the lasagne filling
1 butternut squash- cut into cubes
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
3-4 garlic cloves- kept whole and with the skin on
Handful of fresh sage
250g ricotta
Ground nutmeg
Lasagne sheets

For the béchamel sauce
500ml milk
1 onion- halved
2 bay leaves
2 cloves
50g butter
50g plain flour
Parmesan to top

1. Get going by preheating the oven to 180c/ 160fan. Place the cubes of squash on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Toss the cubes and add in the garlic cloves so each is coated in the oil and roast until tender. When it is ready, a knife will easily sink through the cubes. Place in a large bowl and set aside.

2. Whilst the squash is roasting you can get started on the béchamel sauce. Secure the bay leaves to the onion halves using the cloves- this way you don’t have to go fishing around the saucepan to find the cloves later on! Add the milk to a small pan and bring to a boil before removing from the heat and allowing the flavours from the bay and clove to infuse for around 20 minutes.

Take another pan and melt the butter and flour together until a paste, or roux, is formed. Remove the onion, clove and bay from the pan containing the milk and slowly add the milk to the pan with the roux. Keep stirring so lumps don’t form! Simmer and stir until it thickens before removing it from the heat ready to pour over the lasagne.

3. Stir the ricotta through the squash cubes so well combined. Finely chop the fresh sage and add to the bowl along with 1tsp of ground nutmeg; use fresh nutmeg if you can. Taste and adjust the seasoning to suit you. Set the mixture aside whilst you prepare the lasagne sheets. Don’t worry if the squash starts to break up; I sometimes mash down half of the squash and leave the other half in cubes to add a different texture and make smoother. Squeeze the tender roasted garlic from their skins and mix through well.

4. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and add the lasagne sheets to cook, a few at a time so the pan does not become overcrowded. Cook the sheets until parboiled- you can cook them without parboiling but I think this really does make a difference. Nobody wants to find chewy pasta in their mouthful!

5. Now to assemble the lasagne. I spoon a little of the béchamel sauce in the bottom of the ovenproof dish to stop the pasta sticking when baked. Lay sheets of lasagne to cover the bottom before adding a layer of the butternut squash filling. Add another layer of pasta and repeat until the filling has been used up and finish with a layer of pasta.

6. Pour the béchamel sauce over the lasagne and top with freshly grated parmesan. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until bubbling and golden. I usually cover the lasagne for the first half of the cooking time and then remove the foil for the end but it will depend on your oven as to if you need to do this or not. Serve with a simple side salad and dig in!

Squash, sage and ricotta lasagne- a satisfying vegetarian pasta dish which is perfect for a midweek meal or special occasion!