My Spaghetti Puttanesca.

SAM_2767

It’s been a while, I know.  What better way to return than with a fool-proof, hearty pasta dish?  This recipe is for a sauce that I simply cannot stop making right now.  It’s so tasty, that I keep looking for excuses to eat it at all times of day.

The danger with posting recipes for well-known dishes, is that somebody somewhere will grumble about what is included and what is not.  Puttanesca is a tomato-based sauce that generally contains anchovies, capers, onions and garlic.  I say generally, because like all recipes as old as this, variations are abundant.

I love the origins of this sauce (google it) and I love how easy it is to adapt to what ingredients you have at any time.  At the moment, I use lots of garlic, lots of olive oil, good French olives and anchovies in olive oil.  It would be easy to include fresh herbs and other vegetables too.

My one tip for this sauce is: The longer you take, the better it tastes.  This sauce benefits from long, slow cooking to achieve a rich, punchy flavour.  No need for red wine, stock or anything else…just time.  I usually leave it to bubble away gently for an hour and then toss some spaghetti in it.  Sublime.

 

My Spaghetti Puttanesca sauce.

3x 400g tins chopped Italian tomatoes

1 large red onion (sliced)

2 handfuls of good quality black olives (pitted)

5 cloves garlic (peeled and halved)

1x 200g tin anchovies in olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

black pepper

SAM_2765

I love how easy this is!  I use a 20cm cast iron casserole, but any deep pan will do.  Put the pan on a low heat on the hob and add the chopped tomatoes, garlic, anchovies (and the oil they were stored with), onion and a good few glugs of your best olive oil.  How much is a glug?  Well, put it this way, I love olive oil, so I put a lot in.  You’ll need at least 5 tablespoons.

Once in, give the ingredients a good stir and then leave them to become friends for the next forty minutes to an hour.  Remember, don’t rush it!  Simply return to give everything a good stir every now and again.  You’ll see the sauce turn into a deep, hearty, bubbly, lava lake of loveliness.

If you want to add capers or use brown onions instead of red, you can.  If you don’t like olives, don’t add them.  If you prefer less garlic, tone it down.  This is a versatile sauce that you can make for YOU.  Please yourself and your family by tailoring it to your tastes.

When you’re happy with the thickness of the sauce, taste it and add sea salt and pepper if it needs it.  Be careful with the seasoning; anchovies disintegrate during cooking and will season the dish for you, so any extra salt should be added with care.

Toss your favourite spaghetti in and serve with crusty bread and a smile!  Once the spare sauce has cooled, I keep it in the fridge for the coming week and use it whenever I am peckish.  Yum!

SAM_2766

 

Advertisements

Soutzoukakia.

SAM_1606

As Europeans begin to ask more questions about where their meat comes from and sales of supermarket beef drop, I think it’s a good time to share a recipe that champions good quality beef in a very comforting way.

I love meatballs and there are some great recipes out there.  Already, I’ve shared my recipe for Keftedes (Greek meatballs), but today I want to share one for soutzoukakia (soo-zoo-ka-ki-yah). These are usually little sausage-shaped meatballs which are more like kofta and are served in a tomato sauce.  They’re gorgeous and a little spicier than ordinary meatballs.

My mum makes killer meatballs, maybe the best, but my recipe comes close; certainly close enough that I feel no shame in sharing it with you.  These beauties melt in the mouth and will permanently stain whatever clothing they touch, so cover up when you tuck in.  They’re great with all kinds of food, but I love them with a fresh cabbage salad and chunky chips.  They freeze well too, so make a big batch and then tub it up for a rainy day.  We had some on pasta recently and it was a real treat!

Soutzoukakia

For the meatballs

750g minced beef

2 large onions (quartered)

1 slice of white bread

handful of fresh coriander/dill (chopped)

12 fresh mint leaves (finely chopped)

3 tblspoons dried oregano

1 tblspoon ground cumin

3 tspoons cayenne pepper

2 tspoons ground cinnamon

half tspoon ground nutmeg

salt

pepper

For the sauce

3 tins chopped tomatoes (about 400g each)

10 garlic cloves

1 glass red wine

1 cup beef stock

1 tblspoon tomato puree

2 tspoons cinnamon

1 bay leaf

1 tspoon dried oregano

salt

pepper

Make breadcrumbs with the white bread and pour into a large mixing bowl with the beef.  Puree the onions and garlic in a food mixer and add to the beef.  Next, add all of the meatball ingredients to the bowl and use your hands to squeeze everything together until fully combined.  This takes some time and is best done when the minced beef is at room temperature.

You can leave the mixture overnight to let the flavours develop, or you can get on with making the meatballs.  Wash your hands well and leave them wet if you are going to make the meatballs immediately.  This prevents the mixture from sticking to your fingers.  Break off small chunks (or whatever amount you would like) and roll into a little ball.  Set to one side ready for frying.

In a large casserole, gently heat enough olive oil to cover the base.  Add the meatballs in batches and get some nice colour on them before removing them.  Let them drain on kitchen paper in a bowl.

When all of the meatballs have been cooked, keep the heat low and add the red wine to deglaze the casserole, stirring all the time with a wooden spatula or spoon.  Get all of the bits of meatball off the base and add the tomatoes and the beef stock.  Bring to a rolling boil and stir gently for around two minutes; just enough time to burn off the alcohol in the red wine.

Lower the heat and stir in the puree.  Bruise each garlic clove before throwing into the sauce.  Finally, add the dry ingredients and stir.  Once the sauce is simmering, gently add the meatballs and add enough stock to cover them.  Keep the sauce simmering for at least an hour with the lid off to reduce the liquid.  Stir from time to time and stop cooking when the sauce is nice and thick (or to your liking).  Taste the sauce and season it if necessary.  Remove the bay leaf before serving.

The good news is that soutzoukakia can be served with all kinds of things.  As I said earlier, I love them with chips and a crunchy cabbage salad, but they’re just as good with mash, roasted potatoes or in a hot baguette with some grated cheese on top!  You gotta love meatballs!

SAM_1607

The taste of home.

SAM_1354

I spent a couple of weeks in Crete rediscovering the tastes and smells from my early days there. It was surprising to find that the food which brought back the most memories was not the most memorable itself.

Sitting at a table by the sea, I looked at the myriad of plates and began to add this and that to my own. There was one dish, however, which I mistook for houmous until I tasted it. I dipped in some beautiful bread and suddenly I was four years old again. The taste was rich and comforting and so familiar. “What is this? I recognise the taste, but I don’t know it’s name”. It was fava.

The reason that I love fava so much is because it is a fantastic vehicle for olive oil. It’s very simple to make and there are very few ingredients. The main ingredient is yellow split lentils. When cooked down to a thick consistency, they carry the flavour of extra-virgin olive oil like few other foods can. If peasant food isn’t your thing, or you don’t care for the taste of good olive oil, this is perhaps your time to bail and return when there’s a pudding recipe (next week). If you are like me and crave the good stuff, then fava is a truly wonderful way to make use of that oil in your cupboard reserved for only your best dishes. Will fava wow your friends at a dinner party? Nope, but your tummy will love it!

SAM_1339

Fava

250g yellow split peas

2 onions (sliced)

1 garlic clove (chopped)

extra-virgin olive oil

juice of half a lemon

sea salt

Rinse the split peas in cold water and then put them into a pan of boiling water with the onions.  Bring back to the boil and simmer.  I usually put just enough water in to cover the peas and then add more as it is absorbed.  When the split peas are thick and mushy, I transfer them to a container that I can use my hand blender in without getting spattered.  I add the garlic, lemon juice and a lot of extra-virgin olive oil and blitz it.  The fava should be soft and full of the flavour of the oil.  Be careful not to add too much lemon juice and then season with a little salt until you’re happy with it.

I like eating fava on its own, but it’s also great served alongside fish and any Greek dishes.  Drizzle more oil onto it just before serving.  Fava refrigerates well and can be brought back to life in the microwave and the addition of (yet more) olive oil.  Serving it warm, rather than hot is the way to go.  So grab a chunk of your favourite bread and dive into my favourite comfort food!

SAM_1353

As fresh as it gets.

Man cannot live on cake alone.  I’ve tried.  To keep things fresh and light for the summer, I’ve been mixing up the evening meals to include things that make use of the herbs in my garden.  Mint, lavender, parsley, sage, thyme, Greek oregano and lemon thyme are all bursting into life right now, so it would be silly not to take advantage.

The recipe I’m sharing with you today is a far cry from the chocolate craziness that I’ve thrown your way before.  It’s really delicious, a doddle to prepare and it goes well with so many things that you’ll easily be able to make it a part of at least one meal.  All you need are some fresh herbs and a few minutes to make this classic crowd pleaser!

Tabouleh

4 tblspoons fresh mint (finely chopped)

1 bunch fresh parsley (finely chopped)

100g cous cous

half a cucumber (chopped)

1 onion (finely chopped)

4 ripe tomatoes (chopped)

juice of half a lemon

4 tblspoons extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

black pepper

I used cous cous to make my tabouleh which is a deal-breaker for many people.  Bulgur wheat is used in a traditional tabouleh.  Cous cous was all that I had to hand on the day that I made this and I’ve no regrets.  I also added a little more olive oil than stated in my recipe, but it’s really up to you to season this beautiful salad how you like it.

I cooked the cous cous for a few minutes in boiling water until soft and set it aside to cool.  I then lined a bowl with mixed leaves.  In another bowl I added the cous cous and the rest of the ingredients.  I gave them a good mix and kept tasting as I seasoned everything.  A little more lemon juice here, a bit of oil there…it was fun getting a nice balance.

Once everything was nicely combined, I tipped the tabouleh carefully into the bowl lined with salad leaves.

You can serve the tabouleh immediately or cover it and leave it in the fridge for an hour or so like I did.  The flavours were wonderful.  This is a seriously uplifting dish and one that benefits from the use of ultra fresh ingredients.  I can’t wait to serve this with some grilled lamb and lots of pita.