Pasta Carbonara

Pasta carbonara served with steamed vegetables
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 for pasta carbonara
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
Olive oil

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.
Chopped streaky bacon for spaghetti carbonara
3. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and add the garlic and a pinch of chilli. Mix in the hot oil for a few seconds.
Frying garlic and chilli in olive oil for pasta carbonara
4. Add the bacon and continue to cook until crisp. Turn the heat to low, or even off, once the bacon is cooked to your liking, to avoid burning while the pasta finishes boiling.
Frying garlic and chilli in olive oil for pasta carbonara
Bacon fried in garlic and chilli
5. Add the peas to the pasta water for the final 3 minutes of cooking.
6. Drain the pasta and return to the pan, adding the bacon and a handful of grated parmesan. Mix well.
Mixing the crispy bacon and grated parmesan with the cooked spaghetti
7. Slowly add the egg, mixing as you go – a helper in the kitchen is useful at this point! Season to taste with a little salt and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper.
Mixing the crispy bacon and grated parmesan with the cooked spaghetti
Pasta carbonara served with steamed vegetables
Serve with a green salad or some steamed vegetables, or if you’re having one of those days when only double-carbs will do then some garlic bread might be required. A little extra grated parmesan for sprinkling on top is nice too.
Spaghetti carbonara topped with grated parmesan and served with steamed vegetables
Once you’ve got to grips with this recipe, which I guarantee won’t take long, you can adjust the taste to suit your preferences. Use smoky bacon instead of regular, add extra chilli or garlic, or throw in some sliced mushrooms that are lurking in the fridge. A perfect weeknight dinner.

Fresh Pesto

Homemade fresh basil pesto
There is something utterly intoxicating about the smell of fresh pesto: the fragrant scents of basil and pine nut oil, mixing with the heady smell of garlic and the pungency of parmesan is enough to drive me c-razy. I really think I could eat an entire batch with a spoon, straight from the blender container. Spread it on some toasted sourdough and top with cherry tomatoes: divine. Stir it through fresh pasta and sprinkle with extra parmesan: I’m in food heaven. Obviously you can use whatever pasta you like – fresh egg pasta from the shop or just dried store-cupboard pasta. But if you’re feeling like a real treat then you can follow my recipe for homemade pasta dough. I cut the pasta on the thinnest setting, because it reminds me of the fresh pasta that my parents would always buy from a local Italian deli when we had fresh pesto for dinner, and that makes me happy.

To call this a recipe is really a gross exaggeration. We’re basically grabbing a pile of ingredients and letting the blender do all the work. I’ve given you the rough quantities that I used in our pesto on Sunday, but there’s no right answer here and it can change from batch to batch. This is my mum’s recipe and her classic answer to a question about quantities is “some”, which tells you all you need to know about making pesto. You can make your pesto personal to your own taste by adjusting the amounts of all the different flavours after the first blend. You can even go fancy and toast the pine nuts or add other green leaves like rocket, but in my opinion this is the best version of pesto. Ever. Keep it simple folks.

The only secret here is good quality ingredients: use the best olive oil and parmesan that you have or can afford and it will lift the flavour of the pesto by an unimaginable amount. You will need a surprising amount of basil leaves, and so it’s probably most economical to buy a couple of plants from the supermarket, cut most of the leaves off to use in the first batch, but keep enough on the plant so that you can water it and bring it back to life: hey presto, pesto all summer!
Ingredients for homemade basil pesto
Ingredients (makes a generous serving for 4)
Basil leaves from 2 – 2½ plants (or 2-3 small bunches of basil)
3 small handfuls of pine nuts
2 small handfuls of grated parmesan
3 crushed garlic cloves
4-6 tbsp good quality olive oil
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Method
1. Cut the leaves from the basil plant, or from the stalks if you are using bunches of picked basil. Squash the leaves inside the blender container and top with the pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, olive oil and a generous amount of seasoning.
Ingredients to be blended for fresh basil pesto
Ingredients to be blended for fresh basil pesto
2. Blend until smooth. Taste to check the seasoning and adjust as you like.
Blended homemade basil pesto
Blended homemade basil pesto
Use on the day of making, or you can put it in a jar or tupperware container, drizzle the surface with olive oil and store in the fridge for at least a week.
Homemade fresh basil pesto
We had the pesto with my homemade tagliolini, and a simple green salad. With a bottle of wine and some lovely company, it was the perfect Sunday dinner.
Pesto, homemade pasta and salad for dinner
Homemade tagliolini with fresh pesto and salad
Do you have your own pesto recipe? What do you do differently?

Friday Night Fish : Creamy Seafood Tagliatelle

In our house, Friday night is fish night, and it has been for as long as I can remember. Friday mornings involve a trip to Eddie’s Seafood Market, an amazing fishmonger in Edinburgh which offers up a huge range of fresh seafood from crabs to monkfish to sole to scallops to cod roe to mussels to mackerel, and much, much more. Rick Stein named it as one of his Food Heroes, so take it from him if you won’t from me! Friday evenings start with the lights being dimmed and mum lighting the Shabbat candles. The melodious tones of Alanis Morissette or Joni Mitchell often float through the house. Sometimes things are a bit more upbeat and we’re going 70s style with Billy Joel, Elton John or David Bowie. There’s wine chilling in the fridge, fresh bread on the table with real butter to slather over it and a general feeling of contentment that the weekend is beginning.

So I guess this recipe is the first of my odes to glorious Friday nights. (We actually ate this dish on a Sunday. So sue me.) I made homemade tagliatelle, a recipe for which I will post soon, promise, but you could use bought fresh or dried pasta. I chose prawns and cute little baby scallops, but if you’re taking a trip to your local fishmonger, or even the supermarket, then don’t be restricted by that – go for whatever looks fresh. If you pick mussels or clams then I would clap a lid on top of the pan after the wine and cream goes in, until they have opened up. This feels like a truly indulgent pasta dish, but it’s actually not too rich. Crème fraiche is quite aciditic, plus the white wine and the lemon juice cuts through the creaminess of the sauce. The chilli adds a perfect hint of heat.
Ingredients laid out for creamy seafood tagliatelle - prawns, scallops, creme fraiche, white wine, lemon, chilli, garlic, shallot and parsley
Ingredients (serves 3)
1 shallot
Bunch of flat leaf parsley
3 cloves garlic
1 red chilli
1 lemon
1 small glass dry white wine, plus a large one for the chef
300g dried or fresh tagliatelle, or homemade pasta made with 300g flour and 3 eggs
1 tbsp olive oil
175g scallops
200g king prawns
2 heaped tbsp crème fraiche
Salt and pepper

Method
1. Finely chop the shallot and parsley and crush the garlic. Finely slice the chilli. I used about ¾ of the chilli, but you can test a small piece of yours to see how hot it is and make a judgement from there. Juice the lemon and measure out the wine.
Ingredients chopped on a board and ready for the pasta sauce
2. Put a pan of water on to boil and liberally season with salt – apparently pasta should be cooked in water as salty as the Mediterranean Sea. Cook the pasta according to the instructions. Dried pasta will probably take about 10-12 minutes so get it on now. Fresh pasta will take 4-5 minutes and homemade pasta only 2 minutes, so wait until the sauce is nearly ready before cooking.
3. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the shallots for 2 minutes.
4. Add the garlic and red chilli and fry for a minute.
5. Increase the heat under the frying pan and add the seafood for 2-3 minutes until it starts to become opaque (fancy word for the seafood gaining colour and being less see-through) .
6. Add the wine and allow the alcohol to cook for 2 minutes.
7. Add the crème fraiche and bubble the sauce for 2-3 minutes. Note: this is the time to chuck your fresh pasta in the pot, if that’s what you’re using.
4 pictures showing the steps of making the pasta sauce - fry the shallots, add the garlic and chilli, add the seafood, add the wine and creme fraiche
8. Finish the sauce with the lemon juice, parsley and season with salt and pepper. Drain the pasta and mix through the sauce.

Serve with a green salad, crusty bread and another large glass of chilled white wine.
Large serving bowl of seafood tagliatelle sprinkled with parsley and served along side a glass of white wine
When I was little, I remember it being such an exciting feeling to be allowed to stay up a bit late, join mum and dad at the table and taste some unusual new seafood or have a sip of wine. Now I’m allowed to decide my own bedtime, but it’s still just as lovely to relax lazily with the perfect combination of company, music, food and wine.

I guess that it comes with the territory of being an insane food-lover that most of my fondest memories tend to involve food in one way or another, and I’m sure there will be more to come on the blog. Do you have any particularly happy food-related memories? I’d love to hear them if you do.

Anyway, enough of these sentimental, and probably tedious, ramblings. Whatever you’re doing tonight, I wish you the most lovely of Friday nights…