Tag Archives: Pasta

Butternut Squash and Ricotta stuffed Cannelloni topped with Chestnuts

Leaves on the ground. Check. Temptation to put the heating on. Check. Getting darker earlier. Check. Urgent need for comfort food. Check. Yep, it’s autumn.

As the nights draw in, I love filling my cupboards with pasta, chocolate and cans of soup whilst also making sure there’s plenty of red wine in the rack too. Oreo cookies washed down with Malbec is a great supper when it’s too cold to venture out for supplies! :-)

Seriously though, here’s a scrummy autumnal recipe that will hopefully make you feel all warm inside… and full as well!

Butternut Squash and Ricotta stuffed Cannelloni topped with Chestnuts 
Serves 2

– 1 butternut squash
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 tablespoon of thyme leaves picked
– 100g Ricotta cheese
– 2 large handfuls of finely grated Parmesan
– ¼ whole nutmeg, finely grated
– Cannelloni (8-10 tubes)
– 150ml white wine
– 150ml double cream
– 1 clove of garlic, crushed
– Packet of vac-packed Chestnuts

1. Preheat oven to 200°/Gas Mark 6/400°F. Peel and dice the butternut squash. Put into a bowl with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of picked thyme leaves. Season and mix well before turning out onto an oven tray. Roast for 35 minutes or until tender and golden. Remove from the oven and mash up with a potato masher.  Leave your oven on for baking the pasta later.

2. Mix together 100g of ricotta, 1 large handful of grated Parmesan and ¼ whole nutmeg grated in a bowl. Add the mashed butternut squash, mix everything really well and season to taste.

3. Now get the cannelloni and stuff it with the butternut squash mixture. I used a piping bag without a nozzle to do mine. If you haven’t got a piping bag you can do the old Jamie Oliver trick of using a large sandwich bag with one of the corners snipped off. Any leftover mix can be spread along the sides of your ovenproof dish.

4. To make a creamy sauce to top the pasta, mix the double cream, white wine and garlic together on a low heat. Heat until it has reduced by about half. Season and pour over the filled pasta. Finally scatter over the other handful of Parmesan along with a large handful of roughly chopped vac-packed chestnuts. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the pasta is cooked. Serve with some buttered spinach to compliment the sweetness of the pasta dish. Eat before finding yourself a duvet and hitting the sofa.


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Pasta alla Norma

I’ve probably mentioned more than once that I have a fiendish love of aubergines. I like them best when they are olive oil sodden but smoked aubergines in a baba ganoush dip are equally as good.

Sicily is one of the best aubergine destinations on the planet. After spending 2 weeks there in 2007 and doing lots of sightseeing, the most memorable parts of my trip were mounds of caponata as well as this Sicilian aubergine dish – Pasta alla Norma. It’s quick to make and easy to please and here’s the recipe.

Pasta alla Norma
Serves 2

– 3 tbsp olive oil
– 1 onion, finely chopped
– 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
– 2 anchovy fillets in oil, drained and chopped
– 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
– Small pinch of chilli flakes
– 1 aubergine
– Dried pasta (tube shaped pasta is good, I used De Cecco’s Tortiglioni). I used about 250g for 2 people but I am known to good too much pasta!
– Small handful of basil, chopped plus a few extra leaves for serving
– 2 tablespoons of ricotta
– 50g Parmesan, grated

1. Fry the onion in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil on a medium-high heat. When soft, add the 2 cloves of crushed garlic followed by the anchovies and tin of tomatoes. Season well with salt, pepper and a small pinch of chilli flakes. Cook the sauce for at least 30 minutes on a low heat, or for up to an hour if you have the time. If at any time the sauce runs dry, don’t worry, just add a little water to the mix.

2. Halve the aubergine lengthways and then cut into vertical strips. Then slice the strips into 4 or 5 pieces width ways so you end up with little rectangles of aubergine. Fry in a pan on a medium-high heat containing the other 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Fry until golden and if the pan gets dry, drizzle over a little more oil. Drain and set aside.

3. Cook the pasta according to the pack instructions in salty water until al dente. Drain and add to the tomato sauce. Add the aubergine and the basil and stir well. Turn off the heat but leave the pan on the hob and allow everything to cook together for a few minutes.

4. Traditionally Pasta alla Norma is topped with ricotta salata which is ricotta that has been salted and dried. It is harder in texture to standard ricotta and can therefore be grated. However, you’ll be hard-pushed to find some without visiting a specialist shop. Instead, I spoon the pasta into bowls and add dots of standard ricotta around the dish. Top with grated Parmesan and decorate with a few basil leaves. Eat immediately!

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How to… make Parmesan Crisps

I love Parmesan Crisps! These intensely cheesy little gems can be used to top anything from risotto to pasta from soup to salad! If you ask me, they look a bit chefy as well, so they are great to impress your friends with. If you have friends who are impressed by cheese. I know I do. Anyway here’s how I make them.

You will need… a couple of small handfuls of micro grated Parmesan (for 2 crisps) and a can of Fry Light or other olive oil spray.

What you do… start by grating the cheese and putting your grill on…

…then put a frying pan sprayed liberally with the Fry Light, on a medium to high heat…

…sprinkle the Parmesan in whatever shape you like in the pan. Don’t pile the cheese too high and keep the cheese gratings close to one another so that they stick together…

…after a minute or so, the sides of the crisps will start to golden and the cheese in the middle will be bubbling away…

… transfer your frying pan to the grill and give the cheese at least 30 seconds underneath it until the top of the cheese is golden too…

… very carefully loosen the cheese off of the frying pan using a rubber spatula. The cheese may still be quite gooey so you have to edge it away from the pan bit by bit and carefully…

… place the crisps onto a wire rack to cool for 30 seconds. This will make them harden up. Then you’re ready to transform an everyday meal to something that looks like it could just have come out of a Michelin star kitchen!

Oh and you can jazz up your crisps as well! Try freshly ground pepper, poppy seeds or a drop of truffle oil.


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Food Miles: Las Vegas

Las Vegas is mostly about gambling and drinking and then you eat when you have the time! When you are eventually  peeled off of the Blackjack table, there are a ton of restaurants to choose from no matter how much you have to play with.

Las Vegas caters for every taste too – the themed hotels have similarly themed restaurants and scattered along the strip you’ll find steakhouses, burger joints, Mexican and Oriental restaurants. As far as I know, there’s no typically Nevadan cuisine… Nevada is simply better known for gambling, drive-thru nuptials and quickie divorces (usually in that order!)

Eating in Las Vegas
There are plenty of world-renowned chefs with restaurants in Las Vegas, but for me Vegas is all about THE BUFFET. A tactical meal out, the trick is to try a bit of everything before deciding what you actually want to eat. Do not eat any bread and do not drink too much liquid – these are rookie errors! It’s great value for money too, so your drinking and gambling fund remains untouched :-). Most hotels on the strip have a buffet, though The Bellagio and The Wynn are considered the best. Lunch is generally better value; some hotels will offer a higher priced gourmet buffet at the weekends as well as a brunch buffet too. Expect to queue for a while at peak times, but it’s so worth it!

We revisited The Bellagio Buffet and I was pleased to see that they are still serving up their spider crab claws. I helped myself to 4 or 5 though some diners had mountains of them. With a little salt and lemon, they got my appetite going for my sushi course :-). The Bellagio sushi bar serves sashimi, nigiri and California rolls so I helped myself to everything that didn’t contain avocado (see the about me section). And when I was finished with that, I was well and truly ready for my starter. This sounds bad, but this is how to do a buffet! And frankly, if it’s wrong, I don’t want to be right!

Starter options are different prepared salads, a DIY salad bar, Mediterranean vegetables, and ceviche. My lifelong love of grilled Mediterranean vegetables is still going strong so I went for aubergines, “zucchini” and peppers along with some of the ceviche and a tomato, mozzarella and pesto salad.

Whilst still able to breathe and talk, it’s time for the main course just as an impatient Mr. B. was finishing his (don’t worry, he had another). I skipped the Beef Wellington and Pizza and loaded up on some Italian-American Manicotti and Tortellini along with a dollop of creamed spinach, a couple of lamb cutlets and some spicy sausage and paella for good measure. Whew. I think I need new jeans.

The dessert bar looks like a work of art and as such cannot be ignored!! At this point, I managed an amazing mini crème brûlée loaded with vanilla seeds, a chocolate macaroon and a mini custard tart. Oh my.

This buffet will basically be all you need during a weekend stay! But if you do need something else here are a couple of suggestions.

Mon Ami Gabi – http://www.monamigabi.com/ charming French themed bistro in Paris with good steak and accompanying sauces. Try the mussels for a tasty starter too.

Roy’s – http://www.roysrestaurant.com/locations/NV/las_vegas.asp excellent service and great fusion food for when you fancy a break from the strip.

Finally, a bit of advice from our flight departure board (of all places)…

Luxury Mac and Cheese
Serves 2

Inspired by the menu at The Fix, Bellagio, I thought I’d try my take at a decadent mac ‘n’ cheese. Perfect for big wins but not too much of a belly buster :-).

– 200g macaroni
– 15g salted butter
– 15g plain flour
– 350ml whole milk
– Pinch of English mustard powder
– 40g extra mature Cheddar
– 20g Gruyere cheese
– 20g Parmesan cheese
– Drizzle of olive oil
– 100g pancetta cubes
– A couple of drops of truffle oil
– A couple of thyme sprigs, leaves picked
– A knob of butter (for greasing an oven proof dish)
– 15g breadcrumbs

1. Start cooking the pasta according to the pack instructions and preheat your oven to 200°/Gas Mark 6.

2. Whilst the pasta is boiling, make a roux by melting the butter in a saucepan on a medium heat. Once it’s melted, stir in the flour using a wooden spoon and cook until its turned to a biscuit colour. Now whisk in half of the milk and once incorporated, you can add the other half with the mustard powder. Continue to heat this white sauce for 5 minutes or so until it’s smooth. Now take off of the heat and add all of your cheddar and half of the Gruyere and half of the Parmesan and then season well.

3. Fry the pancetta cubes in a drizzle of oil until crispy.

4. Drain your pasta and run it under some cold water before adding it to the sauce. When your pancetta is ready, drain it on some kitchen towel and add to the sauce as well. Give it a good mix and add a couple of drops of truffle oil along with some thyme leaves.

5. Grease your oven proof dish and transfer the macaroni cheese into it. Top with the breadcrumbs and the leftover cheeses before baking for 35-40 minutes. When it’s browned on top and looking delicious, take it out and serve soon as!

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Pasta Just-a Like-a Mamma Used To Make

I’m fast becoming a superfan of Lorraine Pascale. I end up itching to get into the kitchen and start cooking after watching every one of her episodes! I love her twists on everyday recipes as well as her vespa and smart car – she’s soooo cool.

I watched the first episode of her new Home Cooking Made Easy series with great interest, especially her cracked black pepper pasta. I’ve seen pasta dyed and flavoured with spinach, tomato and squid ink in the past but never with anything as simple as freshly cracked black pepper.

Lorraine served her pasta with a creamy pancetta, mushroom and parmesan sauce (recipe here).  But I fancied something slightly lighter and tomatoey so made myself a roasted garlic, tomato and mascarpone sauce – details below.

Given the time, making your own pasta is far tastier and satisfying than using the dried stuff not to mention bloomin’ impressive!

Cracked Black Tagliatelle Pasta
Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main

For the pasta:
– 400g ‘00’/very strong flour
– 4 eggs
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 1-2 tbsps freshly cracked black pepper

For my roasted garlic, tomato and mascarpone sauce:
– 8 cloves garlic
– Olive oil
– Salt
– 1 small fresh chilli, finely chopped, or a pinch of chilli flakes
– 2 cans of chopped tomatoes
– 2 heaped tbsps of mascarpone
– Small bunch of fresh basil

1. To make the pasta, put the flour, eggs, olive oil and black pepper into your food processor. Blitz for 30 seconds or so until it becomes like breadcrumbs.

2. Empty the dough out onto your work surface and knead a little until you have a neat and tidy ball of dough. Then wrap in cling film and leave it to rest for 30 minutes.

3. When your 30 minutes are up it’s just a case of feeding the dough through your pasta machine… though that can be easier said than done. Feed through in the smallest batches you can tolerate. Also, if you don’t have a pasta machine, you can try rolling it out but it has to be as thin as you can make it.

At this point, I have to apologise to my sister-in-law who could be reading this as I broke the pasta machine she lovingly purchased for me one Christmas. I also stupidly thought I could fix it myself so got out the toolbox and took it apart. I think the picture below says it all really and another one is on its way from Amazon. Luckily this happened towards the end of my dough! After looking online it seems that everyone has had problems with the mechanism on the Kitchencraft model – not just me – honestly!

4. When you’ve fed your pasta through all of the machine settings, you then need to fold and cut it to make tagliatelle. To do this, fold your strips in half length-ways, and again, and again, and again. Yes – 4 folds! After each fold, sprinkle the pasta with some flour to stop it sticking. Then you need to cut the pasta cigar you’re left with into 1cm strips width ways. You create these lovely little pasta pillows, which are already starting to look yummy.

5. When you’ve finished cutting, hang your pasta on a drying stand (or a coat hanger as Lorraine suggests) for at least 30 minutes before boiling it. Boil for 6 minutes, or until al dente. Always boil pasta in tons of water and you should add 12g of salt per litre. Yes – that’s very salty water! Never add oil as it makes the pasta slippery and absorb less of your sauce!

6. Now for the sauce….  simply drizzle your garlic cloves in olive oil and add a good sprinkle of salt. Then bake them in a 200°oven (Gas Mark 6) for 35-40 minutes so they are soft and gooey and not yet charred at the edges.

7. While they are in the oven, put a saucepan on a medium heat with a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the chilli along with a pinch of salt and cook for a minute.

8. Now add your cans of chopped tomatoes and turn the heat down to a simmer. Keep simmering until the garlic is ready and then pop the cloves out of their papery skin and roughly chop them before adding to your tomato sauce. Finally, stir through your tablespoons of mascarpone before adding your pasta and then a little basil to serve.

There you go, pasta just-a like-a mamma used to make!


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