Decadent Mushroom Pasta Bake

This post marks the end of the second year of That Cooking Thing’s existence. When I started back in August of 2017 I had no idea that I would still be creating weekly recipes two years later. Many blogs seem to fizzle out within a few months of their inception and, to be honest, that is kind of what I expected to happen with this one. I was going into the Master’s year of my undergraduate degree and really didn’t have the time to spend writing weekly posts and making pretty dishes for the Instagram but here we are – procrastination is a powerful motivator for things you do not have time to do. I am now coming towards the end of my second degree and even with the working life looming ahead I hope to continue this blog for the foreseeable future.

I thought that it would be nice to revisit an old recipe and jazz it up for the final post of the year. This recipe was the second savoury one I posted: a chicken and mushroom pasta bake. I like to think that I have come on in my techniques and cooking ability since then, and this updated recipe hopefully shows that. The biggest difference from the original recipe is that this one is vegetarian; there is no chicken to be found in this dish. You could, of course, add chicken if you so wished and it would still taste excellent, but with the growing number of vegetarians and vegans in the world I like to make sure that my recipes are as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. I still eat meat (although with the current political climate and possibility of a significant change in the UK’s food standards, I cannot say that this will not change in the near future) but lots of people don’t and I like to make recipes which do not come across as meaty ones that have just had the chicken or beef etc. removed. Vegetarian recipes should not need meat to be delicious!

Instead of a stock and cornflour-based sauce, the sauce for this bake is based around mushroom paste. The first thing you do is blend mushrooms until they are almost a puree (a far finer chop than you would use to make a duxelle) and then cook them to drive off all the liquid and really intensify the mushroom flavour. This mushroom paste, when mixed with cream cheese, will become the base of the sauce. It should be noted that this sauce can be put on anything you like – it doesn’t have raw egg or cornflour so you can just eat it as it is. You could even serve it as a mushroom pate! The remainder of the mushrooms are then cooked down and the liquid they release is collected and stirred into the sauce to slacken it. All this liquid will be absorbed into the pasta when it cooks in the oven giving it a far stronger mushroomy flavour. I went a bit wild and bought some posh woodland mushrooms for this as I wanted it to be a bit celebratory and didn’t want to use just the standard mushrooms but obviously the recipe does work just as well with those.

Cheese is an important part of this dish. Whilst most pasta bakes have a crust of cheese on top, this one also has chunks of mozzarella stirred into it so when the bake comes out of the oven and is served, all of the stringy goodness can be seen and it is really satisfying finding a big blob of cheese in the middle of your portion. Other cheeses could be added too: goat’s cheese works well with mushrooms, parmesan is always welcome in this kind of dish and cheddar is good too if you don’t want to go out and buy special cheese just for this. The final decoration on top of the cheese crust – finely chopped parsley and basil – is sprinkled over the bake after it comes out of the oven. This prevents the herbs from burning but also means that the aroma isn’t driven off during cooking. The heat from the pasta bake will wilt the herbs and cause them to release their fragrances before propelling the smell of fresh basil through the room as the herbs heat up.

I hope you have enjoyed the blog so far and that you use the recipes. If you do, let me know in the comments or tag me on Instagram @thatcookingthing – you could also use #thatcookingthing because I seem to have commandeered the hashtag. If you have friends who would like these recipes, let them know about the blog because I would love to help and inspire more people in the kitchen.

See you next week for the third year of That Cooking Thing!

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Decadent Mushroom Pasta Bake

Serves 5-6

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

 

Ingredients

750g mushrooms

1 large onion

50g cream cheese

20g parmesan

400g mozzarella

1 mushroom stock cube

4 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic

30 ml milk (optional)

250-300g pasta

5 grinds black pepper (or more to taste)

3 large basil leaves & a few sprigs parsley

 

 

In the bowl of a food processor, blend 250g of the mushrooms with half an onion, two cloves of garlic and 60ml water until it is a thick paste (it doesn’t have to be fully pureed).

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Pour this out into a large pan and cook until the majority of the liquid has boiled off (about 10 minutes). It should be rather sludgy at this point.

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Tip the mushroom paste into a bowl and add the cream cheese. Stir to combine.

Finely chop the rest of the onion and sauté it in a pan with the remaining oil.

While the onion is cooking, chop the remaining mushrooms into quarters (or sixths depending on their size).

Once the onion turns translucent, add the mushrooms and another 60ml water. Cover with the lid of the pan and leave to simmer for five minutes. Give the mushrooms a stir and let them cook for another five minutes.

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While the mushrooms are cooking, start cooking the pasta. You want to take it off the heat and drain it about two minutes before the packet says it will be done as it will continue to cook in the oven and you don’t want it turn mushy.

Drain the liquid from the cooking mushrooms into the mushroom paste and stir it through. Taste and season with salt and pepper. This will become the sauce.

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Once you are happy with the seasoning, stir in the cooked mushrooms.

Grate two thirds of the mozzarella and chop the rest into 1cm cubes. Finely grate the parmesan. Set the cheese aside.

Drain the pasta and stir through the sauce.

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Allow to cool for a minute and then stir through the chunks of mozzarella, the parmesan and half of the grated mozzarella. Do not stir it too long as the heat of the pasta will start to melt the cheese. You just want it evenly distributed.

Tip the pasta into a greased dish and top with the rest of the mozzarella.

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Bake for 40 minutes at gas mark 6 (200°C) until the top of the bake has turned golden and crispy.

Finely slice some fresh basil and parsley and sprinkle this over the top once the pasta bake is removed from the oven. The heat of the bake will cause the herbs to release their oils and the aroma will come out without the herbs drying and burning as they would in the oven.

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I hope you enjoy the recipe. I have made this several times recently because it is just so good! I also take it for lunches because it tastes fab cold as well as hot. If you like mushrooms, you should have a look at my mushroom carbonara dish as it is amazing – you could even make your own fresh pasta for it.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with an amazing recipe for a truly celebratory cake.

H

 

Fresh Egg Pasta

Pasta: the king of comfort foods. It doesn’t matter how bad a day you’ve had, pasta will always be there to make you feel better. As a staple food of the student diet, pasta was one of my main sources of carbs while I was doing my undergrad degree; but, as much as I love the easy to handle/buy/use dried pasta, it just wasn’t as good as the fresh stuff. Whilst I wouldn’t have made fresh pasta regularly if I had my pasta machine up at university, because – let’s be honest – no one has time for that, it would have been nice to have the opportunity when the cravings arose.

You can make pasta with basically any type of flour, but traditionally you would use durum wheat flour. Durum wheat is significantly harder than standard wheat (it is more difficult to grind up) and dough made from it doesn’t stretch in the same way that bread dough does. If, like me, you don’t happen to have durum flour (or pasta flour/ type 00 flour) lying around, you can simply use plain flour, which has a lower gluten content than bread flour. Egg pasta will be softer than the dried pasta you can buy and if you wish to have an end result which would be considered al dente, you would need to let the pasta dry out after you have cut/shaped it (it doesn’t need to dry fully but if you make it and boil it immediately, the pasta will come out very soft).

Pasta is one of the most famous things to have come out of Italy. In fact, so much is eaten there that the demand exceeds the quantity of wheat which can be grown in the country so flour has to be imported to produce enough pasta to feed everyone who wants it. Whilst there are mentions of Lasagna going back to the 1st century CE, the pasta and lasagne we know today did not emerge until around the 13th and 14th centuries. Dried pasta was incredibly popular owing to its ease of storage as it could be taken on voyages and long journeys without rotting. Unlike fresh pasta, dried pasta doesn’t contain any egg. It is comprised of flour, semolina and water so once it has been dried pre-packing, there is nothing left that could go off!

Like most doughs, pasta needs to rest before it is rolled. This allows the flour to fully absorb the water (from the egg). The resting also lets the gluten strands relax which gives the dough a smoother finish. In reality you should let your dough rest for at least an hour and then give it another quick knead before rolling but, using the method I outline below, you can just about skip this and reduce your resting time to about ten to fifteen minutes. I tend to find that the penultimate thinness setting on my pasta machine gives the best results as the thinnest setting results in soggy pasta without any sort of texture. Of course this will depend on the type of wheat you use, the resting time of the pasta if you wish to dry it a little before cooking and the ratio of ingredients and none of this even accounts for personal taste but, for me, setting five of six gives the optimum results.

 

 

 

 

Fresh Egg Pasta

Serves: 3 or 4 (depends on your portion size – serves more if you are making ravioli)

Work time: 30 minutes

Resting time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 3 minutes

 

Ingredients:

200g plain flour (type 00 pasta flour if you can get it)

2 eggs

2 tbsp olive oil

Pinch of salt

 

Bowl method:

Stir the salt into the flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre.

Add the eggs and olive oil and stir to combine.

When the mixture has mostly come together, pour it out onto a work surface and knead for five minutes. You do not need to knead the dough until it is completely smooth – this will come later.

Wrap the dough and leave to stand for ten minutes.

Table Method:

Make a pile out of the flour on a work surface (make sure to leave plenty of room around the outside.

Use your fingers to make a hollow in the centre and circle them outwards until you have a large ring of flour.

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Add the eggs, oil and salt to the centre of the ring.

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Use a fork to whisk together the eggs and oil and slowly bring in the rest of the flour from the edges.

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Once the egg and oil mixture starts to thicken as you slowly add the flour, stop using the fork and use your hands to bring the dough together fully.

Knead for five minutes. You don’t need to continue until the dough is smooth as this will come later.

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Wrap the dough and leave to stand for ten minutes.

 

Making the pasta:

Roll the dough through the widest setting of a pasta machine. You may have to slightly flatten one edge to get it to go through. Do not worry if it rips and is ragged.

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After the first pass through the pasta machine.

Fold the dough in half and repeat on the widest setting.

Continue to roll the dough through, fold once and reroll until the dough has become smooth and there are no tears.

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IF THE DOUGH STARTS TO BECOME TOO STICKY AND STICK TO ITSELF, DUST IT WITH FLOUR.

Move your pasta machine to one setting thinner (mine works upwards with higher numbers meaning thinner pasta but I do not know if this is true for all machines) and roll the pasta through.

Continue to decrease the distance between the rollers rerolling the pasta through each setting.

If the pasta sheet becomes too long, cut it in half and do each part separately. I find that this recipe gives about four or five pasta sheets as if I didn’t cut the pasta, it would not be manageable.

 

Lasagne:

Use the pasta sheets from the penultimate thinness setting and cut them to the size of your dish. Use instead of normal shop bought lasagne sheets.

 

Ravioli:

Take a sheet of dough on the penultimate thinness setting and cut it in half.

Make small dollops of filling in on one of the halves.

Make a ring of water around each dollop of filling.

Gently lay the remaining pasta over the top and press down around each section of filling to seal. You should try and seal as close to the filling as possible to ensure there is no air in the ravioli.

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These are stripey ricotta and lemon ravioli.

Use some sort of cutter (either a biscuit cutter or some sort of knife) to cut out the ravioli. Do not cut too close to the filling as you don’t want them to burst when cooking.

Cook the ravioli for three minutes in a pan of boiling, well-seasoned water.

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Linguini and other pasta shapes

Most pasta machines come with some sort of linguini or tagliatelle cutter on them.

Roll out the dough to the thinnest setting and then roll the sheet through the linguini attachment (or other).

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The moment the pasta comes through, dust it with flour and make sure each piece has a light coating to stop them sticking to each other. You can now leave the pasta to one side while you shape the rest – do not worry if it dries out as it will rehydrate in the cooking water.

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Pasta with garlic and chilli.

For other pasta shapes – follow the instructions on the machine that makes them. If they are handmade shapes, there are lots of videos on the internet which can help you.

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Spicy arrabiata pasta

 

This recipe is super easy to make and really versatile. There has been at least one occasion when I was craving pasta and the shops were shut so I made it myself at home. If you are a fan of pasta dishes, you should check out my recipes for beef lasagne and spinach and ricotta lasagne. If you are more of a fan of pasta with sauces, why not try a bolognaise?

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a new sweet treat.

H

Mushroom Carbonara

I feel that for my own health and safety, in what is quite possibly a vain attempt not to be taken out by the carbonara mafia, I should start this post by saying that THIS IS NOT A TRADITIONAL CARBONARA. I will explain how to make the classic version of this dish but, for those of you who have not come across it before, this is very much a vegetarian alternative. Also, I would like to make it clear now that I do eat meat and this post is in no way passing judgement on anyone for their food choices: meat, fish, vegetarian, vegan or otherwise.

The main aim of this recipe is to show that you do not need to use a meat substitute to make a delicious vegetarian version of a classically meaty dish. A lot of the time vegetarian food can come off as a poor imitation of meat-based foods but if you just do away with the pretence and accept that dish is going to be different from the meaty version then a lot of problems can be solved. By all means take inspiration from a meat-based dish as a lot of cuisines have iconic meat and fish dishes woven into their culture and it would be a shame to completely ignore these if you choose to go vegetarian (or vegan). However instead of trying to find something like chicken flavoured Quorn steaks or beef style soya mince to replace the meat, why not use something that can be proud of what it is instead of pretending to be something that it isn’t?

The most common complaints that I have heard from meat eaters about vegetarian food is that it lacks flavour or body – body as in substance, not as in the dead body of an animal. Items of food such as tofu are particularly good at getting around this problem by having texture (if it is pressed and cooked well) and can also absorb lots of flavour from whatever they sauce they are in. For this recipe, the mushroom is the star. The mushrooms are seared until all of the liquid has come out and they start to brown. This browning occurs as a result of the Maillard reaction when sugars and amino acids in the mushrooms react with each other. The result is a wonderful depth of flavour which makes the dish far tastier. Mushrooms have a very distinct texture (one which not everyone likes) but it is a texture none the less. By searing them, the mushrooms do not end up boiling in their own juices which would lead to them going soggy so they give a lot of body to the dish.

At the start I said that I would explain why this is not a traditional carbonara – and I’m not just talking about the mushrooms. A true carbonara sauce does not have onion in it but more shocking is the fact that there is no garlic. For anyone who knows me or has followed this blog for some time, you may have noticed that almost every savoury recipe I have starts with garlic – in fact, I will be providing you in a few weeks with a recipe which has two whole bulbs of garlic in it.

Back to classic carbonara, the only things in the sauce are olive oil, guanciale (pork cheek), egg, pecorino cheese and pepper (and maybe some salt – that depends on you). To make this, you first cut the pork into small cubes and fry it in the olive oil until all the fat has rendered out. You then whisk together the egg, cheese, salt and pepper. The still hot, cooked pasta is added into the pan with the pork followed by the egg mixture and everything is then stirred until the egg has thickened from the latent heat in the pasta and the pan. You can then serve the dish and garnish with more cheese, pepper and sometimes fresh herbs.

The recipe below is a great way to enjoy carbonara without the meat – great for vegetarians or people who don’t eat pork. There is an alternative to the classic carbonara, created by Roman Jews where the pork is replaced with carne secca, a cured, salted beef. Alternatively, you could just have the pasta with the egg and cheese sauce and forgo any sort of meat or veg if you do not want to meddle with the tradition too much.

I hope you enjoy the recipe as much as I did when I was making it. I discovered that a little goats cheese instead of some of the parmesan works wonderfully well with the mushrooms so why not give that a go too if you like this?

 

Mushroom Carbonara

Serves 2

Time: 20 minutes

Cost per portion: around £1.25

 

150-200g pasta

200g mushrooms

3 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion

4 cloves garlic

1 whole egg

2 egg yolks

80g pecorino romano or parmesan cheese (I prefer parmesan myself)

1½ tsp salt

5-10 grinds of black pepper

1 tbsp chopped parsley (optional)

 

Place a pan of water onto the stove to heat. Add 1tsp salt.

Destalk the mushrooms before chopping them into quarters. Chop the stalks in half lengthwise

Heat a large empty pan for about a minute.

Add the oil to the pan. It should begin to shimmer immediately and coat the base of the pan.

Tip in the mushrooms and gently toss to coat with the oil.

Leave the mushrooms for around five minutes until they begin to brown. They will release liquid in this time which will boil off immediately. At this point, you should begin to cook the pasta in the water you heated earlier.

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Gently stir the mushrooms to turn them over so they begin to brown all around.

 

While the mushrooms are cooking, finely dice the onion and slice the garlic thinly.

In a bowl, whisk the eggs and yolks before grating in the cheese and whisking again.

Add ½ tsp salt and the pepper to the egg mix and whisk again.

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Once the mushrooms have browned, add the garlic and onion.

Stir while they are cooking to avoid the garlic burning. You don’t really want to brown, just cook them through.

Drain the pasta just before it is fully cooked as it will finish cooking with the mushrooms. Make sure to reserve a cup of water from the pasta before you drain it.

Add a quarter of this reserved water to the mushrooms. The water will boil immediately and deglaze the pan, lifting up all of the mushroom flavour that is stuck to it.

Tip the pasta into the pan with the mushrooms and continue to cook until all of the water is gone. Turn off the heat and leave for two minutes to cool a little.

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Whisk one third of the remaining water (60ml) into the egg mix. This will temper the eggs so they do not scramble when they hit the hot pasta.

Tip the egg mix into the pasta and stir continuously for a few minutes until the liquid has thickened into a creamy sauce as the egg cooks. Make sure to stir across the whole base of the pan to ensure the egg doesn’t cook unevenly. If the sauce gets too thick, add a little bit of the reserved pasta water.

Stir in the parsley and serve.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a fan of mushrooms and pasta, why not check out my mushroom pasta bake – it is one of the first things I posted on this blog; if you are vegetarian just ignore the chicken in it as the dinner works perfectly well without it. If you are looking for something a little bit more on the sweet side, why not make yourself some miniature almond cakes? They are divine.

 

Have a good one and I will be back next weeks with a deliciously flaky baked dish.

H

Meatballs

I felt that it would be quite poetic to start the second year of this blog’s life with a similar recipe to the start of the first year. The similarity between the ingredients in a bolognaise sauce and meatballs in tomato sauce is remarkable with the main difference in the recipes I use being the addition of carrots to my bolognaise sauce.

There are recipes for meatballs dating back to around 200BC and, realistically, the modern-day recipes haven’t changed tht much since then. There are lots of different variations with different meats, seasonings and bulking agents such as breadcrumbs, but the basic premise is the same. Meat is mixed with flavourings and then compressed into a small ball and cooked.

As you can imagine, there are many ways of cooking meatballs, the most common being frying and baking. Frying the meatballs allows the Maillard reaction to occur all over the surface of the meatball. This is the reaction which causes caramelisation to happen giving a little crunch to the outside of the meatball and helping develop the flavours. The Maillard reaction takes place when amino acids and sugar react on the surface of food between 140 and 165°C. It’s different to standard caramelisation because it does not just depend on the sugars in the food caramelising by themselves and it is also completely non-enzymatic.

Baking in the oven also allows the Maillard reaction to take place but this mostly occurs along the contact point between the meatballs and the baking tin (turning half way though increases the area over which this reaction occurs improving the overall flavour).The hot air in the oven also hardens the outside of the meatballs and it dries them out helping them hold together better when mixed into the tomato sauce.

Another method of cooking meatballs is steaming, however unlike frying and baking this gives a very different result as the steam doesn’t cause the meatballs to brown at all. Steaming also allows the fat in the meat to drip off during cooking which I have found removes a little of the flavour. Braising is the final relatively common method of cooking. It is a combination technique which starts by frying the outside of the meatballs to get a crispy, caramelised exterior. Once the outside is cooked, a sauce is poured over the top of the meatballs, they are covered and then left to cook in the sauce. This technique allows the flavours to meld between the meat and the sauce far better than placing the fully cooked meatballs into the sauce when you serve them.

I prefer to eat meatballs with pasta rather than in sandwiches or by themselves. Meatball pasta bake is a particular favourite of mine with a good crispy layer of cheese on the top (it’s the Malliard reaction rearing its beautiful head again) but sometimes I’m just not patient enough to wait for a pasta bake so spaghetti and meatballs it is!

 

 

Meatballs

Makes around 50 meatballs ~ 8 portions

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Cost per portion: around 60p

 

500g beef mince

1 medium onion

1 egg

¼ cup flour

¼ cup breadcrumbs (optional)

4 large cloves of garlic

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (optional)

2 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Place the onion, garlic and parsley into a food processor and pulse until they are chopped very finely – drain off any excess liquid produced. If you don’t have a food processor, just chop the onion and garlic as finely as you can.

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Break up the mince with your hands, add the onion, egg and oil and gently stir to combine.

Sprinkle over the flour, salt and pepper along with the breadcrumbs (if you are using them) and gently stir in. The aim is to not turn the meatball mix into a pulp though if it does become mushy, it will still work.

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The mix can now be placed into the fridge for up to 24 hours.

 

When you want to cook the meatballs, turn the oven to 200°C (gas mark 6).

While the oven is heating, line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Use a tablespoon to measure out the mix and with damp hands, compress each tablespoon into a ball and roll it to make it smooth.

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Bake the meatballs for 30 minutes turning them after the first 20.

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Halfway through, you can see that the meatballs have started to harden on top.

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The meatballs can now be frozen, served in a sandwich, on pasta, pizza or even just eaten as is!

 

Basic Tomato Sauce

Serves: 3

Cost per portion: about 50p

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 15 -60 minutes

 

2 tbsp olive oil

1 onion – finely chopped

3 cloves of garlic – finely chopped

1 tin chopped tomatoes

¼ cup tomato paste

½ cup water

Salt and pepper to taste

½ tbsp chopped parsley/basil – optional

 

Place the oil and onion into a heavy based pan and fry the onion until it is translucent.

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Add the garlic and fry for another two minutes.

Pour in the tomatoes, tomato paste and water and bring to the boil.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Let simmer for at least fifteen minutes. If you can, place a lid on the pan and let it simmer for an hour. If the sauce becomes too thick, add a couple of tablespoons of water. Alternatively, you can place the fried onion into an ovenproof dish along with the other ingredients. This can then be covered and cooked alongside the meatballs in the oven.

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If you prefer your sauce smooth, use a stick blender to puree the lumps. I like to puree it a little but not too much so the sauce still has a little bit of texture.

Stir in the chopped herbs and simmer for another five minutes before serving.

This sauce freezes magnificently and can be used on both pasta and pizza.

 

Serve the meatballs and sauce with pasta for a delicious, filling dinner.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you liked this, you should definitely check out my bolognaise recipe or if you are looking for something a little bit sweeter, why not make yourself an amazing chocolate and hazelnut tart?

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a classic piece of patisserie – the macaron.

H

 

 

Spinach and Ricotta Lasagne

Lasagne is a comfort food. Layers of steaming hot pasta and filling with a crispy cheese topping; what is there not to love? It’s so versatile too as you can put whatever you like inside. My two favourite fillings are the one given below and also bolognaise (as is given in my recipe for Beef Lasagne).

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With the first recorded recipe dating back to the 14th century, lasagne is one of the oldest foods I have researched for this blog. The original recipes used fermented dough, not pasta, and the dough was rolled out and boiled before being layered with the filling. Traditional lasagne de carnivale from Naples is stuffed with sausage, meatballs, boiled egg and Neapolitan ragu. Outside Italy, most people use a thicker ragu akin to bolognaise sauce inside and béchamel sauce on top. You may notice that I don’t put béchamel sauce on my lasagne but that is just because I don’t like it. You are perfectly welcome to swap the top layer of filling for béchamel sauce if you like and then continue with the recipe.

Spinach and ricotta is a classic pasta filling. It’s used in cannelloni, tortellini and ravioli as well as several other filled shapes. It’s incredibly easy to make at home and it is simple to tweak the recipe to your requirements – be that stronger cheese, more spinach or you just want a little extra garlic.

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The recipe is particularly good for feeding a crowd as you can get six solid servings out of it!

 

 

Spinach and Ricotta Lasagne

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Serves 6

Cost per portion: around £1.20

 

Ingredients:

750g ricotta cheese

400g frozen spinach

1 clove garlic (minced)

2 eggs

150g grated cheddar cheese (or 100g parmesan)

Salt and pepper to taste

60ml water

1 packet fresh lasagne sheets

150g mozzarella (grated)

 

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5 (1900C)

Place the spinach in the microwave with a little water and heat on the maximum poser to defrost. Make sure to stir it every few minutes.

While the spinach is defrosting put the ricotta, garlic, egg, 100g grated cheddar (or parmesan) and seasoning in a bowl and mix together. This will form a thick pasty filling.

Stir in the water to loosen up the mixture and set 60ml (a quarter of a cup) aside. This will be used on the top of the lasagne instead of béchamel sauce.

Remove the spinach from the microwave and drain through a sieve.

Use your hands to squeeze as much liquid out of the spinach as possible. You should end up with a solid ball by the end of it.

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Pull the lump of spinach apart and stir it into the ricotta mix and now is time to start building the lasagne.

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Lightly oil a baking tray and place a sheet of pasta on the base.

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Spread out some of the filling on top and add another sheet on that.

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Repeat this using up all the filling and finally top with the last sheet of pasta.

Spread out the spare cheese mixture from before and sprinkle on the mozzarella and reserved cheddar.

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Bake for half an hour and then increase the temperature to gas mark 6 (2000C) for the last ten minutes to crisp up the top.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you fancy making some dessert, check out my recipe for chocolate fondants or if you are looking for a slightly different main course, why not make yourself a Thai curry?

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a recipe for choux buns with a delicious filling.

H

 

One Pot Pasta

There is a big trend at the moment for one pot meals. Cooking your whole meal in a single pan is a fantastic way to reduce washing up and if you are cooking around other people, it prevents competition for cookware!

Like most cooking, one pot pasta is all about the ratios. You have to learn to adapt recipes to the type of pasta you use and the different ingredients as some will absorb more water than others. For example, mushrooms and fresh tomato will give out liquid whereas tomato paste will thicken everything up and therefore requires more stock to make it work.

Most one pot pastas have five base parts: pasta, liquid, meat, veg and cheese.

First of all, cook up the vegetables and the meat making sure the meat is seared properly before you add the liquid. Next add the pasta and liquid of choice and cook until the pasta is done. Finally, add the cheese which should help thicken up the sauce nicely so it is smooth and creamy.

Standard ingredients include:

Liquid: Chicken/beef/mushroom/vegetable stock, milk or a mixture of cream & stock

Meat: Chicken, meatballs, beef mince, pork mince or choritzo

Veg: Onions, garlic, tomato, mushrooms, sweetcorn or spinach

Cheese: Parmesan, Cheddar or Goat’s cheese

 

Obviously the list is only restricted by your imagination so you can add whatever you want but one pot pasta is about simplicity (and also normally using up leftover veg that you have lying around).

Below are the recipes for several one pot pastas that I have made recently all of which took around 20 minutes altogether!

 

One Pot Mushroom Pasta

1 cup pasta

1   cup milk

1 mushroom stock cube

½ onion

300g mushrooms

2 cloves garlic (minced)

Salt & pepper

Oil

Cornflour to thicken if needed

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Finely dice the onion and sauté in a pan with a little oil.

Chop the mushrooms – I generally cut them into quarters – and add them, along with the garlic, to the pan once the onions are translucent.

Fry the mushrooms with the onions for another two minutes and then add the rest of the ingredients.

Cook for about 10 minutes stirring regularly to prevent the pasta clumping.

If the sauce gets too thick, add a quarter of a cup of water and stir it through.

If the pasta is cooked and the sauce is still too thin, mix a tablespoon of cornflour with a tablespoon of water and add it to the pasta stirring it through. Cook for another 30 seconds to thicken the sauce and then serve.

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One Pot Arrabiata Pasta

1 cup pasta

1 ½ cup vegetable stock

¼ cup tomato paste (or replace half a cup of the stock with passata)

½ onion

1 chilli

2 cloves garlic – minced

Oil

Salt and Pepper

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I had some leftover mushrooms which I also threw in to the pasta along with some soya protein!

 

 

Dice up the onion and sauté with a little oil.

Finely chop the chilli and add it, along with the garlic, to the pan with the onion.

Continue to saute the vegetables for two minutes and then add the rest of the ingredients – adding salt and pepper to taste.

Cook for around 15 minutes or until the pasta is cooked to your liking.

If the sauce isn’t the correct consistency, add either cornflour or water to adjust to a thick sauce which should coat the pasta

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One Pot Chicken Alfredo Pasta

1 cup pasta

1 cup milk

½ onion

1 chicken breast

2 garlic cloves – minced

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

¼ cup grated parmesan

Oil

Salt and pepper

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Finely dice the onion and sauté in a pan with some oil.

Chop the chicken into smallish chunks and add to the onion once it is translucent – also add the garlic at this point.

Sear the chicken until the outside is cooked before adding the rest of the ingredients except the parmesan

Cook for 10 minutes or so until the pasta is cooked.

Add the cheese and stir it through – this will help thicken up the sauce

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Hopefully these examples have given you some ideas for some different and exciting dinners. For another delicious easy meal, check out my recipe for Curried Parsnip Soup or if you fancy something a little sweeter, how about making some brandy snaps?

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a recipe for a chocolate and caramel cake – perfect for feeding a crowd!

 

H

 

 

Beef Lasagne

Batch cooking is a wonderful thing. It’s how I survive at university. The more food I can make in one go, the less effort I have to expend cooking over the next week which is ideal as the term starts to get harder. Like the majority of the recipes in my Cooking to Basics section, this lasagne a number of meals (depending on how hungry you are)! It’s very simple to make and even better, if you happen to have some bolognaise sauce in the freeze, you don’t even need to go to the effort of making the filling.

This is not a traditional lasagne. For a start, there is no béchamel sauce. This isn’t out of convenience, I just don’t particularly like it as I find that the lasagne ends up rather sloppy with a béchamel sauce and I don’t really like super sloppy foods. Instead, I have replaced it with a thin layer of seasoned tomato puree which does the trick very well and also reduces the time it takes to make the dish. Of course, should you really like béchamel sauce, you can just substitute this in instead of the half tube of tomato paste in the recipe. The lack of the béchamel sauce also makes it very easy to turn this recipe dairy free as you can simply substitute the mozzarella with a dairy free cheese (or even just leave it naked with the tomato on top)

If you are vegetarian, it is very simple to just substitute the beef for some form of soya mince or you can bulk out the sauce with mushrooms and other veg of your choice to make a wonderful veggie lasagne. I will often put a layer of spinach in mine as if I am using pre-made bolognaise sauce for the filling, it reduces the amount I need to defrost!

 

Beef Lasagne

Prep time: 30 minutes, Cook time: 45 minutes (excluding the filling)

Serves: 4-6                                                           Cost per portion: around 80p-£1

Ingredients:

250ml tomato passata

2 cloves of garlic

One large onion (or two small onions)

One carrot

One box beef mince

One box lasagne sheets

Half a tube of tomato paste

Mozzarella

 

Optional:

A glug of sherry or red wine

Basil

1 tbsp tomato ketchup

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Chilli

Salt

Pepper

 

Follow the instructions of my bolognaise recipe to make the filling of the lasagne.

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Lightly oil a deep dish.

Place a layer of the lasagne sheets over the bottom and add a thin layer of the filling.

Repeat this, alternating layers of the filling and pasta sheets until there is about 1 cm from the top of the dish (make sure the top layer is the pasta).

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Dilute the tomato paste down with water until it is still thick but you can spread it over the top of the lasagne (at this point, you can add pepper, chilli, garlic, or whatever spices you would like on your lasagne).

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Grate the mozzarella and sprinkle and even layer over the top of the dish.

Bake at gas mark 5 (1900C) for about 45 minutes to make sure the pasta sheets are cooked!

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The lasagne freezes really well which is ideal if you just want a quick meal slightly later in the week. Just wrap up individual portions and pop them into the freezer!

Let me know if you try this at home – give me a tag on Instagram (you can find me @thatcookingthing). If you fancy trying out some lovely warming, soup as the weather gets colder, check out my butternut squash soup or if you are looking of a quick and easy dessert, my tiramisu would be perfect for you!

Have a good one and I’ll see you next week with a recipe for millionaire’s shortbread!

H