Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash Crumble

One of the best things about cooking is how easily most mistakes can be rectified. A good sauce can cover up a multitude of sins and, in many cases, is the reason a dish tastes so good. They provide a way to add flavour to food without having to do too much extra cooking; they can save a piece of meat that has been a little overcooked by reintroducing moisture; and of course they can make or break the balance of a dish.

This recipe is based on one of the five “mother” sauces of French cooking – the béchamel. White sauces like this are cooked by making a roux from flour and butter and then adding milk to thin it down to the desired consistency. Personally, I like the cheat’s version where you whisk the flour into the milk so it is no longer clumpy, add the butter and then heat the sauce until it thickens. The cheat’s method is incredibly useful for a basic béchamel with no added frills as it avoids any problems of the roux burning. A true béchamel presents an extra chance for flavour – you can infuse the milk with herbs, spices and other tastes before you add it, giving another dimension to the dish.

The béchamel sauce did not actually originate in France. It was bought over in the early 1500s from Tuscany, Italy. Known as the Salsa Colla (or “glue sauce”) because of its gummy consistency, the sauce was altered from its base components of flour, butter and milk by adding stock and cream. This action not only added a lot of flavour, but changed the sauce from a béchamel to a velouté – one of the other five base sauces. The three other sauces that I haven’t mentioned yet are the espagnole – a brown roux based sauce with dark veal stock instead of milk, the hollandaise – made by emulsifying butter and egg yolks with a little vinegar and the sauce tomate – a basic tomato sauce. The velouté is like a cross between the béchamel and the espagnole, a light roux is made and then stock is added to thin it down. The sauce is then thickened again using cream and egg yolks to give a velvety mouth feel.

In the recipe below, I use a Mornay sauce – a term I only learnt when researching for this post. This sauce is almost identical to the béchamel except it includes grated cheese, traditionally gruyère, which is melted into the base white sauce. The Mornay is used in most recipes for macaroni and cheese – although in my recipe, I am pretty sure that there is more cheese than anything else – and in the same vein, I am using it here inside the crumble to add moisture and flavour instead of pouring it over the top of the finished product.

This recipe is a great dinner to prep ahead of time and also keeps well in the fridge which is ideal as leftovers mean less cooking the next day! You can tailor the vegetables in the base to your favourites or even just change them every now and then to keep the food interesting. I love this and I hope you do too.

 

 

Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Crumble

Prep time: 45 minutes

Cook time: 45-60 minutes

Serves: 6

Cost per portion: around 75p

 

 

 

200g butternut squash – cut into small cubes (around one or two centimetres)

200g sweet potato – cut into small cubes (a lot of supermarkets sell prebagged mixes of butternut squash and sweet potato; if you prefer, you can just use one of these instead of cutting your own veg. It saves a lot of time)

1 medium onion

50g butter

25g flour

100-150g grated cheddar cheese

250ml milk

Salt and pepper

 

For the crumble

100g flour

100g butter

35g porridge oats

60g grated fresh parmesan

3 grinds of pepper

 

Melt 25g of butter in a pan.

Finely dice the onion and fry it in the butter for a few minutes until it turns translucent.

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Add the sweet potato and butternut squash and pan roast for around ten minutes. Stir it every few minutes to ensure the vegetables are evenly heated and the ones at the base don’t burn.

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Pour the vegetables into an oven proof dish.

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Put the milk and flour in a pan (you can use the one which the veg was cooked in to avoid extra washing up).

Use a whisk to mix them together to avoid any lumps of flour.

Add the remaining 25g of butter to the sauce mix and gently heat whilst whisking continuously.

After a few minutes, the sauce will begin to thicken as the flour cooks.

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Once the sauce has thickened up and is beginning to bubble, remove it from the heat and stir through the grated cheese, pepper and a little salt (to taste). You want to let the latent heat of the sauce melt the cheese as melting it over the stove will cause the cheese to go stringy.

When you can no longer see anymore cheese in the pan, pour the sauce over the vegetables and stir them together in the oven dish.

 

For the crumble, rub the butter into the flour.

Stir through the rest of the ingredients and then pour the crumble over the vegetable mix.

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Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200°C).

Bake the crumble for 45 minutes or up to an hour for an extra crispy crumble. If the crumble starts to turn too dark, cover the top with foil and continue to cook.

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This crumble is stunningly good and can be prepared ahead of time. Just pop it in the oven an hour before you wish to eat and relax!

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If you liked this, you should definitely check out my recipe for macaroni and cheese or if you are looking for something a bit more on the sweet side, why not treat yourself to a delicious honey cake?

Have a good one and I will be back next week for a delicious bread recipe.

H

 

 

Ginger Tofu

Herbs and spices enhance a dish in a way that nothing else can. Spices add layers of flavour whilst herbs provide a freshness that lifts a dish to another level. The difference between a herb and a spice is the region of a plant where they are found. Herbs are the leaves of a plant (like basil or mint) whereas spices can be the root (ginger), the seeds (caraway) or the bark (cinnamon). Some species of plant can provide both herbs and spices like coriander from which we use both the leaves and the seeds. The powdered coriander you buy is made by grinding the seeds.

While herbs and spices are found mostly in savoury foods, there are several which are used in sweet dishes too. People are often afraid to use herbs in desserts which is understandable, herbs have relatively strong flavours and you wouldn’t normally put leaves in a pudding but sometimes it just works. Basil pairs beautifully with white chocolate, peaches, strawberries and mango; mint pairs with dark chocolate; sage and thyme work wonderfully with citrus flavours; saffron gives an incredible yellow colour to a dish and of course, sweet tea flavoured dishes – especially matcha green tea with white chocolate – are very in at the moment. Spices, on the other hand, are used all the time in sweet treats without anyone batting an eyelid: chilli chocolate, gingerbread, cinnamon rolls and pfeffernüsse immediately come to mind. Of course we cannot leave out one of the most common spices used today, in fact this item is so common that it is never really considered a spice, cocoa. Chocolate comes from the seeds of a plant making it a spice!

One of my favourite spices is ginger. It has grown on me a lot over the past few years and now I love it. It’s such a versatile flavouring, you can use it dried or fresh in dishes to give them a spicy kick without making them too hot or just use a little to pack a dish full of flavour. The ginger that we know and love is the root of the plant Zingiber Officinale. It is related to galangal (which it can be substituted for in recipes) as well as turmeric – a spice which provides a vibrant yellow colour at a more affordable price than saffron – and cardamom although we only eat the seeds of the cardamom flower. The zingy nature of ginger makes it a delicious flavour to pair with garlic and chilli. Many of my dinners at university were flavoured with some combination of these three, the proportions adjusted depending on how I was feeling at the time.

The recipe below has ginger as a dominant flavour and when mixed with the soy, honey and sesame oil, creates a sauce which is incredibly more-ish. This dish is amazing both hot and cold so can be whipped up for dinner and then the leftovers can be taken to work and eaten for lunch the next day.

Quick disclaimer: Whilst people get very worked up about reheated rice or eating it cold, they never seem to worry about it when eating sushi and other such dishes. Of course there is a chance that reheated rice can give you food poisoning, there is a chance that any type of food could give it to you. The main issue with rice is a bacterium which lives on the surface of dried rice and isn’t killed by cooking – in fact, it’s the cooling cooked rice that it feeds best on so the moment the rice is cold, place it into the fridge and you should be alright for a few days. I wouldn’t advise keeping rice for more than two days but if you do, make sure you reheat the rice fully until it is steaming. I have never had a problem with rice but it never hurts to be careful.

Enjoy the recipe. This sauce can be used for chicken and beef too if you aren’t a fan of tofu, just substitute them in when cooking and make sure to cook all the meat through properly.

Ginger Tofu

Time: 30 minutes

Servings: 3

Cost per serving: around £1.50

40g peeled ginger

2 cloves garlic

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 ½ tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp honey

400g firm/extra firm tofu (not silken)

2 ½ tbsp vegetable oil

1 tsp cornflour mixed with 1 tbsp water

1-1.5 cups rice

1 onion

1 carrot

80g edamame/soya beans

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp Sushi vinegar mixed with 1 tsp sugar and ¼ tsp salt (optional)

1tbsp chilli oil (optional)

Place the rice into a saucepan and rinse a few times by half filling the saucepan with water, swilling the rice around until the water turns cloudy and then draining it.

For one cup of rice, add one and a half cups of water to the pan (scale this up for more rice) and bring to the boil over a high heat. Turn the heat down and simmer the rice, covered for about 15-20 minutes.

(If using a rice cooker, rinse the rice and put it into the cooker with the instructed amount of water and turn the rice cooker into cook mode – if it finishes early, it will keep the rice warm.)

Drain the tofu and place it between two boards. Press down on the top board and drain off any excess liquid that comes out of the tofu.

Cut the tofu into small cubes, I tend to do one horizontal cut through the block and then several along each edge giving me around 40 small pieces.

Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a large, non-stick frying pan. It is important to use a non-stick pan as tofu can be a real pain to cook in stainless-steel.

Add the tofu to the oil and leave to fry – I like to add salt and pepper to the tofu while it is frying to season it.

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While the tofu is cooking, grate the garlic and the ginger into a small bowl.

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Stir the honey, soy sauce and one tablespoon of the sesame oil into the ginger and garlic mix.

Once the tofu turns golden on the base and starts to go crispy, turn it over and cook the other side. It will take about five minutes per side to start going crispy.

While the second side is cooking, finely slice the onion into half moons. Thinly slice the carrots into two inch long thin strips. A julienne peeler is ideal for this.

Once the top and bottom of the tofu are crispy, add the sauce mix along with one quarter of a cup (60ml) of water. Be careful as it will spit when you add it to the pan.

Allow the mix to bubble for a minute to cook the garlic and ginger before pouring in the cornflour slurry and stirring to coat the tofu.

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Pour the tofu into a dish and use a spatula to scrape out as much of the sauce as possible.

Add the remaining vegetable and sesame oil to the frying pan and heat.

Tip in the onion, carrot and edamame beans and fry until the beans are cooked. This will ensure that the onion and carrot still have a little crunch.

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I like to add a tablespoon of chilli oil at this point to give the vegetables a little kick.

When the rice is cooked, drain off any water that may be left, place a lid onto the saucepan and allow to steam for a minute to make sure the rice is dry.

Stir together the sushi vinegar, salt and sugar. It may be necessary to heat this in the microwave for ten seconds or so to help everything dissolve.

Pour the seasoning over the rice and gently stir it through.

This can be eaten hot or allowed to cool and then taken for lunches at work or on the go. The seasoned rice will keep in the fridge for a few days (long enough to eat it all safely) and the tofu and veg will also keep in airtight containers. Cold tofu tends to have a slightly firmer texture than warm tofu; personally I prefer the former.

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All packed up in a lunch box and ready to go.

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you like tofu, check out my delicious tofu curry – the tricks in it can be applied to any curry to make them vegetarian/vegan or if you would like something a little bit sweeter, check out how to make some delicious, crumbly shortbread.

Have a good one and I will see you next week with a recipe for an annual favourite – the honey cake.

H

Onion Soup

I have found that whatever I am making for dinner, my recipes tend to start out the same way: dice/slice/cube the onion and lightly sauté it in a pan. Onions are a great way to bulk out a dish and add a wonderful flavour but they are rarely showcased as the main ingredient. This is a massive shame as onions are delicious and deserve to be shown the respect they are due.

The origin of the onion is not well known as the original wild onion variety is now extinct – and has been for some time. The cultivated version that we know today has been around for over five millennia and has been cultivated by different cultures around the world over this time period.

One of the most famous traits of the onion is that cutting onions makes you cry. This is an evolutionary defence mechanism in which damage to the flesh of an onion starts a chain reaction in which enzymes within it cause the production of syn-Propanethial-S-oxide – or as normal people call it, “the stuff that makes you cry”. This gas irritates our eyes when we cut onions but more importantly for the plant, if it gets attached by pests whilst growing, the gas makes it painful to eat the onion so the pests will move onto a different plant. The gas is sulphur based and the majority of the sulphur in an onion is located near the root end. This is why people advise not cutting off the bottom end of an onion until you have cut up the rest of it as this will reduce the irritation on your eyes. Another interesting thing about this onion based tear gas is that if you cut up enough onions, your eyes will get used to it and you will stop crying – you can actually become immune!

Onions make a great star ingredient for many vegetarian dishes. French onion soup – for which the recipe is given below – is a fantastic example of this. It’s warm, filling, packed full of flavour and completely vegetarian (even vegan if you replace the butter with olive oil). Onion tarts are another popular dish. I am very partial to a tart we make at home which has red onions and balsamic vinegar with a little cheese and a scone like base. Goats cheese and red onion are another classic pairing. Of course we cannot forget one of the most popular forms of the onion – the pickled onion. Soaked in a spiced vinegar, these are often served as a side dish, are popular in sandwiches and together with cheese, bread and sometimes ham, make the Ploughman’s lunch.

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The photo isn’t the best as it’s from about seven years ago but the taste of this onion tart is simply stunning.

I hope you enjoy the recipe and that it opens the onion up to far more possibilities in your kitchen.

 

 

 

Onion Soup

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 90 minutes

Serves 4

Cost per serving: around 60p

 

 

3 medium onions

3 cloves garlic

2 tbsp olive oil

25g butter

3 tsp sugar

1/4 cup (60ml) cooking sherry

750ml vegetable stock

Salt and pepper to taste

 

 

Thinly slice the onions and add them to a pan with the oil and the butter.

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Lightly sauté until the onions are translucent.

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Finely crush the garlic and mix it in along with the sugar.

Allow to caramelise for at least three quarters of an hour stirring every fifteen minutes.

Add the sherry and simmer for another fifteen minutes.

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Stir in the stock and cook for another half hour to allow the flavours to meld.

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Serve with croutons or crusty bread for dipping.

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This soup keeps well in the fridge – but never seems to last longer than 48 hours in my house anyway.

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a big fan of soups, check out how to make my butternut squash, curried parsnip or tomato and red pepper soups or if you prefer sweet dishes to savoury ones, why not try to master the art of macarons?

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a classic British biscuit.

H

 

Salmon Curry

Curry powder is a wonderful thing. It makes life a lot easier when you can buy a premixed spice blend to make dinner with but sometimes it just isn’t quite the right ratios for what you are looking for and you have to make it yourself.

Unlike most curry powders, the spice mix I’ve used in this recipe doesn’t contain either pepper or ginger but instead replaces them with tamarind paste giving a slight tang to the curry which goes perfectly with mango chutney. Tamarind paste is one of my favourite ingredients in cooking. It gives sourness to dishes which provides a depth of flavour otherwise lost if you replace the tamarind with lemon or lime juice.

Tamarind grows in pods with a fleshy interior and large flat seeds. The young fruit are very sour and are used in savoury dishes and as a pickling agent owing to the high concentration of tartaric acid in the flesh. As the fruits age and ripen, they become significantly sweeter and start to be used in jam and desserts instead. One of the most eaten dishes which uses tamarind as a primary flavouring is Pad Thai. The sauce uses both tamarind and sugar along with several other seasonings and this mixture of sour and sweet is almost impossible to stop eating.

The recipe below doesn’t use tamarind as a primary ingredient but the addition of it gives the curry sauce a hot and sour flavour which pairs beautifully with a slightly sweeter accompaniment like dahl. The coconut milk gives a creamy, velvety mouth feel to the sauce helping offset the aggressive flavours in the curry without taking away from the taste. Of course depending on how spicy you like your curry, you can add more dried chilli or even fresh chillies during cooking to take your meal from a gentle warming feeling to melt your face off hot. One of the best things about this dish is how quick it is to prepare. The whole thing can be done in about ten minutes. I use a rice cooker at home and I tend to let it finish cooking the rice before I start cooking the salmon for this. The speed of this dish makes it perfect for a weeknight dinner especially if you are getting home late and don’t want to spend ages slaving away over a hot hob.

As always with this kind of meal, you can exchange the salmon for chicken or another choice of meat or fish or even make a tofu or vegetable curry. Just make sure to cook everything first before you add the curry sauce as the sauce cooks very quickly. If you want to cut time even further, you can make up a large batch of curry powder by premixing the spices and just taking a tablespoon as and when you want to make this dish.

Salmon Curry

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Serves: 2

Cost per serving: around £2

½ tsp turmeric

½ tsp chilli powder (or more if you like it spicy)

1 tsp tamarind paste

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

3 large cloves of garlic – minced

½ tsp salt

200ml coconut milk

2 salmon fillets with the skin removed cut in half width-wise

2 tbsp vegetable oil

Mix the turmeric, chilli powder, cumin, coriander, garlic, salt and tamarind in a bowl with 160ml water (2/3 cup).

Heat the vegetable oil in a large non-stick frying pan until it starts to glisten.

Place the salmon fillets into the pan careful not to get splashed by hot oil. Place the fillets with the side that the skin was on upwards.

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Sear the salmon for around four minutes until the underside starts to go golden.

Flip the pieces of salmon and pour in the spice mix. This will bubble a lot so be prepared for a large quantity of steam.

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Let the mixture bubble for about two minutes to cook the spices and then add the coconut milk into the pan and stir this through.

Allow the salmon to cook for another few minutes until it is your desired doneness. This takes around three minutes for softer, flakier fish or five minutes for fish that is a little drier.

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Serve with rice and your choice of sides. I like to have this with dahl and mango chutney.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. Salmon is my favourite fish and the more ways I learn how to cook it, the more often I can eat it without getting bored. If you aren’t a fan of curry, my pan seared salmon with lemon cous-cous is also a super quick dish and is probably slightly healthier than this one as it doesn’t have coconut milk in it. It you are looking for something a little bit more on the sweet side, check out how to make yourself a peach galette. It’s a sweet pastry covered which doesn’t require any tins – all you need is a baking tray!

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe filled with chocolatey goodness.

H

Pea Soup

Pea soup is fantastic. Its fresh taste and bright colour make for an amazingly summery dish which is light and silky to eat. The additional effort required to strain the soup is most definitely worth it as it results in a smooth, velvety mouth feel; garnishing with a little herb oil (mint, thyme or garlic work best) gives a delicious, restaurant standard dish for very little extra effort.

Peas have been cultivated for almost 7000 years with records of them reaching back to the 5th millennium BCE in Egypt where they grew in the river delta of the Nile. Over the next few thousands of years, peas slowly migrated all over Asia. By the Middle Ages, the pea had made its way to Europe and nowadays they are everywhere.

The legume family, of which peas are a part, has formed a huge part of the human diet for millennia. From soya and broad beans to liquorice and peanuts, legumes permeate our lives and not just in their edible forms. Pernambuco, more commonly known as brazilwood outside of the classical music world, belongs to the same family as the common pea but is one of the most valuable woods on the planet with top end violin bows (which weigh less than 100g) costing thousands if not tens of thousands of pounds. Pernambuco was so in demand that there are currently severe restrictions on the cutting down and exportation of the wood to let the population replenish after years of over-harvesting.

Retuning from that tangent, there are several different species in the fabaceae family which are eaten; one of the most interesting to me is the butterfly pea. This strain is more known for its flowers than the peas it produces as the flowers are a vibrant shade of blue. They are used in teas along with other foods but the most fascinating thing is that the blue dye contained in them is an indicator. When in the presence of an acid (such as lemon juice) the dye turns from a deep blue to a bright pink. As a result of this, the butterfly pea flower has become incredibly popular in molecular gastronomy and in gimmicky drinks such as blue gin which turns a lurid shade of pink when the tonic is added.

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Butterfly pea flower tea with with lemon (left) and without lemon (right).

The soup recipe below gives a way for the flavour of the pea to shine through. It is very easy to overpower it with stock (a mistake you will make only once) but it is simple to prepare and will wow you and any guests you serve it to. Like any vegetable soup I make, I love to serve it with something bready for dipping. This time, I tried making green onion flatbreads which were delicious but it would probably have been easier to buy some nice sourdough from the local market. I also like to garnish my soups with a little flavoured oil and this time, I infused a little bit of olive oil with garlic and thyme by warming it gently and then letting the oil cool before straining out the solids. The thyme really does lift the soup to the next level!

I hope you like the recipe!

 

 

 

Pea Soup

Serves 4 or 5

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Cost per portion: around 25p

 

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion

2 large garlic cloves

1 litre weak vegetable stock (make it up to half strength as you don’t want to overpower the taste of the peas)

500g peas (fresh or frozen)

Pinch of sugar

1 teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme (optional)

Salt and pepper

 

Thinly slice the onion and place into a large pan with the oil.

Add the garlic and sauté for five to eight minutes until the onion goes soft.

Add the stock and bring to the boil.

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Once the stock is boiling, pour in the peas and cook for two/three minutes – check the peas to see if they are cooked through.

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When the peas are cooked, liquidise in a jug blender or using an immersion (stick) blender.

Strain through a fine metal sieve a cup at a time. Use a spoon to push the blended soup through the sieve and you will be left with a thick mush comprised of the pea skins which can be discarded.

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Season with salt and pepper and serve piping hot with bread for dipping.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you like soup, you should check out my recipes for butternut squash, curried parsnip and red pepper and tomato soups or if you would rather have something sweet, check out my recipe for lemon drizzle cake.

Have a good one and I’ll see you next week with a recipe for a delicious apple crumble.

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