Tomato and ricotta puff pastry tart

At this time of year tomatoes are bursting with juice and packed full of flavour so it’s the ideal season to make the most of them. Great tasting tomatoes need little done to them in order to bring out their best so this tomato and ricotta tart is a perfect way to enjoy them. I also have it on good authority that any leftovers are ideal for an easy lunch the next day!

Supermarkets and farmer’s markets are making it easier and easier to get hold of heirloom (heritage) varieties so get shopping and choose your favourites. I have used yellow and red tomatoes in order to add extra colour to the tart but use whatever tomatoes you can find and like.

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Ingredients- serves 2-3
1 sheet of ready made puff pastry
Selection of tomatoes- approx. 300g
200g ricotta
Fresh basil and oregano
Salt and pepper
1 egg- beaten

1. Preheat the oven according to the instructions on the pastry packet as these can sometimes differ. About ten minutes before you want to make the tart, remove the pastry from the fridge and then roll out. Take a small dining plate and place it upside down on the pastry. Carefully cut around it. Take a small knife and lightly run the blade about 1cm from the edge of the sheet to form a border.

2. In a bowl, combine the ricotta, torn fresh basil and oregano (if you can find it) and season well. If you can’t find fresh oregano then you can use a little dried oregano instead but go easy on it. Spoon the ricotta mix on the pastry sheet and spread evenly using the back of a spoon; leave the border clear of the cheese otherwise it won’t puff up.

3. Cut the tomatoes into rounds and arrange on the tart base. When ready to cook, carefully brush a little beaten egg on the border of the tart and bake for around 20 minutes until golden and crisp. Serve with a side salad and buttered new potatoes.

Tomato and ricotta tart- a perfect way to enjoy the best of the season’s produce!

 

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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!

 

 

Pancetta wrapped cod loins with tomato and asparagus orzo

When the sun comes out, it’s time to get outdoors and enjoy a colourful meal before the clouds threaten again. In the UK we are about to see the end of this year’s asparagus season (boo!) so this is a perfect way of enjoying it before it goes. Orzo is rice grain shaped pasta which is great for cooking in risotto style as it is here as well as using for pasta bakes and salads. Unlike classic risotto, the stock can be added all in one go rather than one ladleful at a time. Next time you cook this try playing around with combinations such as cherry tomato, chorizo and red pepper which are equally as delicious.

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Ingredients- serves 2
Glug of olive oil
1 red onion- finely chopped
2 garlic cloves- finely chopped
50ml white wine
200g orzo
150g cherry tomatoes- halved
100g asparagus- chopped
300ml vegetable stock
Slices of pancetta
2 cod loins
1/2 tsp paprika

1. Add a glug of olive oil to a large pan that is large enough to hold the orzo. Gently cook the onion and garlic together until softening but not so they are turning golden. Pour in the white wine and simmer until it is reduced by half.

2. Stir in the orzo until it is well coated in the onion mixture. Pop the halved tomatoes and chopped asparagus into the pan. Add the stock little by little until the orzo starts to turn tender and the tomatoes will break down to form a light sauce. If you are using fine asparagus then you may like to add this in slightly later in the cooking of the orzo. You are aiming for the asparagus to retain a little crunch to add texture.

3. Meanwhile, you can prepare the cod. Preheat the oven to 180c/ 160 fan. Depending on how big the cod loins are and the size of the pancetta slices, lay -pancetta slices on a chopping board so they slightly overlap and are the length of the cod loin. Season the cod well with salt, pepper and paprika and wrap one of the cod pieces in it; repeat for the other loin. Take a small frying pan and add a small splash of oil, heating it to medium. Place the wrapped loins seal side down into the pan and fry for a couple of minutes. If the pan you are using is ovenproof then pop the cod straight into the oven for around 10-12 minutes until the cod is cooked. If it is not ovenproof then use a baking sheet to cook the cod on instead. When the pancetta is cooked and crisped it is ready to serve on top of the orzo. Serve immediately.

Pancetta wrapped cod loin with tomato and asparagus orzo- a colourful dish to cheer up anyone’s day!

 

Paneer, split pea and spinach curry

Paneer is a firm Indian cheese which is one of my all time favourite things to use in a curry. It holds its shape when cooked and takes on flavours perfectly. Paneer is also a good way of introducing even the most avid meat fan to vegetarian curries. I have used an old faithful curry paste blend that works well every time. I started the curry off the day before so the paneer had plenty of time to marinade however a couple of hours ahead would be fine if you don’t have the time. This curry is gently spiced so you can taste each element however if you want to ramp up the heat then go ahead by adding more chilli powder, or fresh chilli if you prefer.

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Ingredients- serves 2-3
For the curry paste
2 tsps of the following: ground cumin, ground coriander, chilli powder, turmeric
1 tsp amchur (mango) powder
1 tsp garlic puree or 1 crushed garlic clove
1 tsp ginger puree or 2cm piece of grated fresh ginger

For the rest of the curry
150g yellow split peas
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 block of paneer approx. 200g
1 red onion- finely chopped
1 tsp black onion seeds
6 plum tomatoes on the vine- chopped
100ml hot vegetable stock
100g baby spinach- shredded
Handful of fresh coriander- chopped

1. Get going on the curry paste by simply combining all of the listed ingredients with a splash of water to bring it together to form a relatively thick paste. Cut the block of paneer into chunks which are around an inch in size. Take half of the paste and add into a bowl with the paneer and ensure it is well coated. Cover the bowl with cling film and place in the fridge until you are ready to cook.

2. When ready to cook, the split peas need preparing before you get going with the rest of the curry. Place them in a large pan and add 400ml of water straight from the tap. Bring the pan to a boil, add the split peas, lower to a simmer and cook for half an hour until the split peas are tender. Keep checking the split peas as some may need slightly longer depending on the variety and size you use.

3. Meanwhile take a large wide bottomed pan (preferably non- stick!) and heat half of the vegetable oil over a medium to high heat. Take the marinated paneer and fry until it gets a little colour; turn the pieces regularly so the spice marinade does not catch. When they are golden, remove from the pan and set aside. If there are any pieces of marinade that have burnt onto the pan then give it a quick rinse as you will need to use this again.

4. Heat the remaining oil over a low to medium heat and cook the red onion gently. I always take plenty of time over making the base of my curry so the flavours develop. Cook the onion until translucent but ensure it does not colour too much as this can make onion taste bitter. When the onion is a minute or so away from ready, toss in the black onion seeds and finish off together. Spoon in the remaining curry paste that you reserved and cook gently for a few minutes.

5. Take the chopped tomatoes and add into the pan making sure they combine well with the onion mixture. Simmer until the tomatoes are reducing and thickening. The time this takes depends on the size of the tomatoes and how juicy they are but be patient as slowly cooking the tomatoes base will make all the difference.

6. When the split peas are cooked and tender, add these to the pan along with the paneer. Cover the pan and simmer again until hot and until the curry is the consistency you like. Along the way you may find that you want to add a splash of stock if the split peas get a little dry but, again, this depends on how juicy the tomatoes are. For the final few minutes of cooking, stir through the shredded spinach and finish off with some freshly chopped coriander. Serve the curry with your choice or rice or bread such as chapatis and enjoy.

Paneer, split pea and spinach curry- ‘the best curry you’ve ever made’ was the quote from my fellow diner so it must be a winning combination!

Duck speck, fig and caramelised red onion pizza

Pizza is one of the ultimate comfort foods but think beyond the classics like margarita and pepperoni and go off piste! Duck speck is a product that not a lot of people may be familiar with but is certainly worth acquainting yourself with it. It’s cured duck breast which is made using a concoction of herbs and spice and the fat content melts away in the cooking process. I pick mine up from Eat Drink Ideas on my local market and they can be found here. The smoky notes from the duck pairs perfectly with the delicate but sweet figs and the savoury onions.

The base of the pizza is traditional but I used a cherry tomato passata which is sweeter than usual passata which worked much better here. You can make your own if you fancy! I also prepared a garlic and rosemary infused oil to drizzle over before cooking to add another dimension and pull the flavours together. Make more than you need and then keep it in the cupboard for next time.

I use a pizza stone at home which I heat for around half an hour on the highest temperature that my oven can muster. Alternatively you can preheat a baking tray and use this instead but make sure you take care and dig out the oven gloves!

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Ingredients- makes a 12 inch pizza
For the dough
250g tipo 00 Italian flour
3g salt
5g fresh yeast
160ml lukewarm water

For the drizzling oil
50ml olive oil
1 large garlic clove- peeled
Small handful of rosemary

For the topping
4 tbsp cherry tomato passata
40g grated mozzarella for pizzas
1 tbsp olive oil
20g butter
1 red onion- finely sliced
1 tsp caster sugar
50g duck speck- cut into thin slices
2 large figs or a few smaller ones- cut into sixths

1. Start off by making the pizza dough in advance so it has plenty of time to prove. You can use a bread hook on a mixer or good old fashioned elbow grease for this. Add the flour into a bowl and add the yeast and salt into two separate sides of the bowl; ensure these do not touch when dry and the salt will retard the yeast’s action. Add the water and bring together to form a rough dough. If you are kneading the dough yourself then this will take around 10 minutes until the dough is ready or 5 minutes with a bread hook. When it is ready, roll into a ball, place on a tray and cover with a slightly damp cloth and leave to prove for 30 minutes.

2. In the meantime you can make the drizzling oil. Simply pour the olive oil into a small pan, add the rosemary and garlic; give the garlic a light bashing first to release the flavour! Heat the oil until small bubbles start to form on the bottom of the pan and remove from the heat. Allow to cool and set aside.

3. For the caramelised red onion, take a small pan and heat the oil and butter together over a medium heat. Add in the onion slices and cook for 10-15 minutes until translucent. Add the sugar and cook for a further 5 minutes until cooked down and sticky; remove from the heat and set aside.

4. When you are ready to cook the pizza, preheat your oven with either a pizza stone or tray to the hottest it can go. Roll out the dough as thin as you possibly can and place on the tray or stone. Using the back of a spoon, spread the passata on the base before sprinkling with the grated mozzarella and caramelised red onion slices. Distribute the sliced duck evenly followed by the fig segments. I placed these so the cut sides face upwards which looks great on the finished pizza. Drizzle with a little of the rosemary and garlic oil and pop in the oven for 10 minutes until golden, bubbling and irresistible!

Duck speck, fig and caramelised red onion pizza- put down the takeaway menu and get kneading!

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!

Warming chickpea and lamb kofta tagine

Treat yourself to this chickpea and lamb kofta tagine this week for a Middle Eastern flavour fix. This recipe is simple but packed with spices and vegetables which the whole family will enjoy. When you think of tagines you tend to think of fluffy cous cous which is served with it but with the chickpeas all you need is a fork! Flatbread is also delicious with it and a perfect scoop for the sauce.

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Ingredients- serves 4
For the lamb kofta
400g lamb mince- I used 20% fat
1 large red onion- finely chopped
2 garlic cloves- crushed
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper

For the sauce
1 red onion- finely chopped
2 garlic cloves- finely sliced or crushed
1 red pepper- finely sliced
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tbsp harissa
1 tin of chickpeas- drained and rinsed
2 tins of chopped tomatoes- blended with a hand blender
1 bag of baby spinach
1 block of feta- approx. 200g
Fresh coriander to serve

1. Start off by simply combining all the ingredients for the kofta, making sure you season it well. I don’t use egg or breadcrumbs because if you are using a good quality mince it will hold together in koftas after working it in the bowl. Get your hands into the mixture and start working the mince until it comes together and firms up. Shape into small sausage shape koftas. Take a frying pan and heat a little vegetable oil over a medium heat; fry off the kofta in small batches until they are golden on the outside. Remove from the pan and set aside; repeat until all have been fried.

2. Preheat the oven to 200c/ 180 fan for later. Now for the sauce! Take a large frying pan and heat a little vegetable oil. Cook the red onion, garlic and red pepper over a low to medium heat until softened and getting a little colour. I like to add salt to the onion at this stage to draw out some the moisture from the onion. Add in the cumin, coriander, paprika and cayenne and cook for a further minute before stirring in the harissa. I then add the rinsed chickpeas into the pan and toss in the spices so they get a lovely coating.

3. Add the tinned tomatoes in the pan and bring to a simmer. I blended the tomatoes using a hand blender for a smoother finish but you can keep them chunkier if you prefer. Shred the spinach roughly and add into the pan in a couple of batches to wilt it down. Next, pop the kofta in the pan and make sure they are covered with some tomato so they don’t catch in the oven. Top with crumbled feta and cook in the oven still in the frying pan for around 30 minutes until the kofta are cooked through and the feta is getting some colour. Finish with a sprinkling of fresh chopped coriander and away you go!

Chickpea and lamb kofta tagine- a warming and hearty meal perfect for a midweek dinner! One more photo? Go on then!

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