Pasta carbonara is one of our staple weekday meals. It’s quick (it will be ready in the time it takes to boil the pasta), easy (the main techniques here are boiling, frying and mixing) and uses mostly store cupboard ingredients (dried pasta, dried chilli flakes, frozen peas). It’s also a handy meal to make after the weekend when you might have some extra bacon or eggs lying around that need using up.
We were taught this recipe by close family friends and have stuck incredibly faithfully to it ever since. This is a no-cream carbonara, which I gather is a more traditional Italian method (though please do correct me if I’m wrong). The sauce is made purely from beaten eggs, which do not require heating over the stove, but simply cook enough from the residual heat of the bacon and pasta. The only alteration we’ve made to the recipe is to add peas to the pasta water near the end of cooking – a suggestion by Jamie Oliver in one of his books (I forget which one!). The sweet peas are a lovely addition to the salty, creamy pasta and a good excuse to get some extra veggies in.
Ingredients (serves 2) 200g dried spaghetti or linguine 4-6 slices of streaky bacon 1-2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped Chilli flakes Small handful of frozen peas A large handful of grated parmesan 2 eggs, well beaten Salt and pepper
Method 1. Put a pan of water on to boil and season generously with salt. Cook the pasta according to the pack instructions (if you’re using fresh pasta then leave this until the last five minutes). 2. Chop the bacon into small pieces. You can use a sharp knife, but kitchen scissors make the job much quicker and easier.
It feels like there’s always a long gap between my latest blog posts, since I’ve only been posting one recipe a week for a while now. Life has been busy, especially what with a certain political event happening in my country next Thursday (oh, and I guess there’s that PhD thing to be getting on with too). As much as a healthy dose of democracy is wonderful (and necessary) in life, at times what you really need is a respite from excessive politics. And what is the greatest antidote to politics? No, not alcohol: that is fuel of politics (or at least, “politics” around the dinner table with friends and family). Chocolate. Chocolate is the answer.
This chocolate mousse recipe could not be simpler if it tried – in fact, it comes from a children’s cookery book that we absolutely loved as kids. Posh it up with berries and cream if you want to serve for a fancy dessert, but really this can be whipped up in an instant (barring the chilling time in the fridge) if life is getting just a bit much and you need a large dose of comfort.
Ingredients (serves 2) 60g good quality dark chocolate (about 70% cocoa solids) 2 eggs Sea salt Berries, or other fruit, to decorate
Crème fraiche for serving
Method 1. Break the chocolate into small chunks and place in a bain marie (a bowl placed over a pan of water, without the bowl actually touching the water) over a low heat. Heat slowly until the chocolate melts. Remove from the heat and set aside to allow the chocolate to cool.
2. Separate the eggs and beat the two yolks together well.
3. Pour the yolks into the cooled melted chocolate and mix well to form a thick, glossy mixture.
4. Add a large pinch of salt to the egg whites and whisk until the whites are fluffy and make stiff peaks when you lift the whisk.
5. Now the whisked whites need to be combined with the chocolate mixture – this is the trickiest step as you want to retain as much of the air that you just whisked into the whites as possible, so that the mousse has a lovely light texture. A good technique is to add about a third of the whites to the chocolate and stir fairly briskly to combine well and loosen the chocolate mixture. Now add another third of the whites, but this time fold gently with a large metal spoon until just combined – this should be a lot easier since the first batch of egg white went in. Finally fold in the remaining egg white, again folding gently.
6. Spoon the mixture into two small dishes or glasses and chill for at least a couple of hours before serving.
When you’re ready to serve, top the chocolate mousses with your chosen fruit and a small spoon of crème fraiche.
This is a rich pudding, with quite a bitter taste from the dark chocolate. You can use a lower coca content if you don’t like that bitter edge, but some gorgeously sweet berries will balance everything out otherwise. Comfort eat away!
The days are getting a little shorter, the temperature has dropped a noticeable few degrees and a few tell-tale leaves are already turning brown. It’s all pointing to the inevitable fact that Autumn is creeping up on us. Perhaps we still have a few more warm September days to come, but if not we have lots to look forward to: cold mornings with hot porridge, crisp afternoons with a bowl of soup or a steaming mug of hot chocolate and evenings wrapped in a blanket while tucking in to a hearty stew or a slice of pumpkin pie. Although eating apples aren’t quite ripe yet, the cooking apple tree at my grandparents’ house was laden with a huge crop of fruit. At the weekend we helped strip the tree bare, ending up with buckets and boxes and bags of cooking apples. A traditional apple pie made with short crust pastry is a beautiful thing, but here is something just a little bit different – miniature individual apples pies made with puff pastry.
I’ve been planning to share a recipe for puff pastry with you for a while now, and pastry week on Great British Bake Off seemed like the perfect timing. Puff pastry is a scary beast for most people, and we always hear chefs telling us not to bother making it from scratch, but to buy the ready-made pastry available in the shops. Now there’s nothing wrong with using shop-bought puff pastry – it’s relatively cheap, easy to store and use and cuts down cooking by a reasonable amount of time – and I often do so. However, “rough puff pastry” is actually very, even surprisingly, straightforward to make. Granted, “proper puff pastry” is a little more complicated, but this quicker version below produces beautifully light, flaky, buttery pastry.
Ingredients (makes 12 individual pies) 190g flour Pinch of salt 125g chilled butter, cut into cubes 100ml iced water 400g cooking apples (about 4 small apples) 2 tbsp sugar 1 tsp ground cinnamon 1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/Gas Mark 6 and lightly butter a 12-hole muffin tin. 2. Add the butter to the flour and salt and mix to coat.
3. Add 10 tbsp of the iced water, stirring with a knife to roughly combine. Add a little extra water if the mixture seems much too dry, but don’t worry that the mixture doesn’t come together completely – you need to be able to gather the mixture together with your hands, but you don’t want it to be wet.
4. Flour a surface and tip the pastry out, forming into a rough rectangle with your hands.
5. Gently roll the rectangle longer. Again, don’t be scared if the mixture cracks a little at this point, it will become smooth soon.
6. Fold the top third down on itself, and the bottom third up over this.
7. Turn the pastry 90 degrees and repeat this process of rolling and folding. Repeat a total of 4 or 5 times, until you have a lovely smooth block of pastry. Wrap in cling film and put in the freezer for 15 minutes while you make the filling. (If chilling for longer, leave it in the fridge and take out 10 minutes before you need to roll, so that it’s not too hard. This pastry can be frozen if you want to store for another day.)
8. Peel, core and chop the apples into very chunks. Mix together with the sugar, cinnamon and vanilla extract.
9. Remove the pastry from the freezer and roll out to a half centimetre thickness on a well-floured surface. Move quickly at this point, since the high butter content of the pastry will make it sticky and hard to work with if it gets too warm. Use a pastry cutter to cut 12 circles of pastry and gently press them into the buttered tin. Fill with a large spoon of the apples.
10. Dab a little egg around the edges of the pastry using a pastry brush to help stick the pie tops and bottoms together. Cut another 12 circles of pastry, lay them over the filling and gently press round the edges with a fork. Brush egg over the tops of the pies and make two small cuts on the top of each pie with a sharp knife to allow any steam to be released from the pies during cooking.
11. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
These can be eaten warm from the oven, or you can let them cool completely and then reheat them at 180C for about 5 minutes. They will keep in an air-tight container for a couple of days.
Serve these with cream or ice-cream for dessert, or with a cup of tea in the afternoon. This is also how I usually make mince pies at Christmas time, replacing the apples with mincemeat, but for now miniature apple pies seem like the best way to celebrate the fact that Autumn has really arrived.