My Spaghetti Puttanesca.

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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

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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!

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All you Cannes eat.

Basking in sunshine, Cannes attracts the wealthy and the vain in their thousands each year.  Through the air wafts a heady mix of Chanel and arrogance that almost masks the aroma of fresh bread from boulangeries that line the busy roads.

Between the Hermes-clad stick figures and noisy Ferrari’s, a small family make their way to see a proud grandfather and share some bread and grilled sardines on his balcony.  It’s the simple things that bring the most joy.

My father-in-law grew up in Cannes and still lives there, swimming each day and grabbing bargains from the fish monger.  Cannes isn’t the friendliest place I’ve visited, in fact, the summer heat is matched only by the frosty reception from the bourgeois beach crowd and the crinkly old coffin-dodgers.  However, there’s some good food to be had!

My father-in-law likes to swim in the morning and then return home for a big lunch just as the midday heat is peaking.  Freshly grilled sardines, saucisson, salad, merguez sausages, paella, steak hache, olives, roasted peppers, cheese and of course, baguette.

Just round the corner was a beautiful little boulangerie and patisserie that makes the most delightful baguette.  Crispy, light and fluffy inside.  Parfait!  I became very fond of their bread and brought some home with me.  Traditional French bread recipes do not use preservatives, so baguette should be eaten on the day it is baked.  I had some left over and couldn’t bear to throw it away.  The following recipe is a great way to use up any stale bread and I’m sure that bread lovers will agree with my decision to find a use for the spare baguette.

Spaghetti with bread crumbs

75g dried spaghetti

7 anchovies

half a red onion (chopped)

8 Kalamata olives

1 clove garlic (chopped)

1 tblspoon olive oil

35g stale baguette

a handful of flat leaf parsley (chopped)

half tspoon dried oregano

This recipe is for one serving, but a quick glance at the ingredient list and you’ll see how easy it is to make this for more people.

I made bread crumbs by blitzing the baguette in a food processor.  I then heated a little olive oil in a small pan and fried the crumbs with the oregano until they were a deep brown colour, but not burned.  I put these to one side.

Meanwhile, I began cooking the spaghetti in boiling salted water.  Some people recommend adding a drop of olive oil to the water, but this is completely unnecessary as long as you give the pasta a stir to stop it from sticking.

Next, I heated the garlic and onion in olive oil until cooked and then added the anchovies.  I broke the anchovies up into the onion and cooked them for a further minute or so.  I stirred in the parsley and the mixture was finished.  The anchovies are salty, so I didn’t need to season the mixture.

I drained the spaghetti, added it to the anchovy and onion mixture and tossed it to make sure that the spaghetti strands were coated.  Finally, I added the bread crumbs and ground a little black pepper over the pasta.  I added whole Kalamata olives at the end, but you could use any olives that you like.  My wife suggested adding squid to this dish which is a great idea.  Maybe next time I’ll use a variety of seafood and a little squeeze of lemon.

Always take your culture with you.

Leaving Crete behind was a doddle for me.  I was five and plane journeys are another adventure with disappointingly small windows.  It was only as me and my younger brother grew older that we began to cling more and more to the scraps of Crete that were still within our grasp.  Vital to our connection was, and still is the food.  Our food.

We were blessed with a fantastic cook in the shape of our mum and even more important was her own passion and skill for creating Greek dishes.  Our weekly menu might include at least one well cooked Greek meal among the chips and potato waffles prevalent on English dinner plates.  The smell of cinnamon in meat dishes and oregano sprinkled on for good measure.  These are lingering memories that mingle with images of whole roasting trays lined with rows of stuffed peppers and bubbling pans of deep red lava dotted with meatball islands.  Finishing every meal by casting aside the fork and tearing up crusty white bread to get every last drop of flavour off the plate.  Every last drop of Crete.

One of our family favourites is without doubt pastitsio (pass-teech-ee-oh).  A dish of this lasted a couple of meals because of its size and in my opinion, the second sitting was always superior- the flavours had completely developed and the dish held itself together well.  Mum reckons it’s best straight out of the oven, but I think that’s her English attitude towards food and I can’t convince her otherwise.

Essentially, pastitsio is a construction job that yields a satisfying outcome.  I would love to demonstrate some sort of skill in preparation or dazzle with exotic ingredients that evoke rural Greece and its traditions.  However, the ingredients are basic and the method couldn’t be simpler.  I’ve adapted the recipe to suit my own taste and lifestyle.  This is another way of saying that I season it just the way I like it and I use ingredients that will allow me to get in from work and still get it on the plate without major effort.

Pastitsio.  My pastitsio.

500g minced beef

1 packet thick macaroni

1 large onion (finely chopped)

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 glass red wine

1 tblspoon tomato puree

2 tblspoons dried oregano

2 tspoons ground cinnamon

1 tspoon ground nutmeg

Cheddar cheese (grated)

olive oil

salt & pepper

1 jar white lasagne sauce

The sauce must be thick.

I always chop the onion and fry it with the mince to begin with.  Before the meat is fully cooked, I add the cinnamon.  Adding it at the start means that the flavour will carry through the whole dish.  Too much cinnamon ruins everything so go easy.  It’s a nice background flavour and nothing more.  I also add the oregano and stir the beef thoroughly.  Once you’re happy that the mince is browned, add the tomatoes and gently simmer.  Add the puree at the same time and stir through.  Once it has reduced a little, add the wine.  I tend to bring everything to a rapid boil to get rid of the alcohol and then reduce the heat after a couple of minutes and simmer.

Tesco started selling this pasta last year.

At this point, it’s a good idea to get the pasta going.  If you can’t get the long macaroni in the photograph, do what my mum had to do for years- use penne.  Cook it according to the packet instructions and set aside in water until needed.  I season the meat sauce towards the end and keep tasting it.  The sauce needs to be quite thick, but not dry.  Once you’re happy with the sauce, it’s time to begin construction of the pastitsio.  I begin with a layer of the macaroni and then alternate between that and the sauce. until I reach the top of whichever deep dish I’m using.  Recently I’ve tended to use a circular ceramic dish because it’s the deepest thing I’ve got and pastitsio is a tower of awesomeness, not a flimsy lasagne.  When you’re nearly at the top, use a final layer of macaroni and then pour on the cheat ingredient- white sauce from a jar.  Some may tut in disgust, but it’s not very often that I make my own bechamel.  If you want to, fill your boots.  Grate or sprinkle the nutmeg onto the white sauce and then top with as much grated cheese is you can lay your hands on.

Macaroni, sauce, macaroni, sauce. You get the idea...

The best thing here is that you don’t need to do anything else until you want to eat.  This can be made in the morning and then put in the oven later that day.  Middle shelf at 180 degrees is enough to heat this through.  Obviously it will depend on how deep your dish is.  Mine was large and needed a while.  It is really important that you let the cheese melt and then go really brown and golden before removing it from the oven.  You can always grill the cheese if it isn’t brown and crispy enough.  My advice on serving is to eat it the next day.  If you really can’t wait, then give the pastitsio time to cool so that it firms up.  This will make it so much easier to cut and serve.  This is key to making a good pastitsio.  It should be able to stand on its own once cut.  It’s filling, but serving it with a nice cabbage salad with oil and lemon really helps cut through the rich flavours.  This is a slice of culture, memories and hearty nourishment.  It’s great at any time of year too.  Enjoy.

Is it as good as mum's?

Mushroom & black pudding ravioli.

Almost two years ago, my mum came round for dinner and I made a small starter of wild mushroom ravioli served with a little rocket and some crispy slices of black pudding. The combination of black pudding and mushrooms worked well and since then, lots of different ideas have been floating around in my subconscious.

The success of my first pasta attempts emboldened me enough to resurrect this flavour combination and see if I could make it work as a whole dish. Here is my recipe and a few photographs of that successful experiment. Is it something you’d eat?

Mushroom & black pudding ravioli with creamy mediterranean herb sauce

For the pasta-

300g ’00’ flour

3 eggs

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tsp salt

For the filling-

250g chestnut mushrooms (sliced)

150g Bury black pudding

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tsp salt

For the sauce-

150ml double cream

large nob of butter

small bunch of thyme

small bunch of oregano

salt & pepper

I combined the ingredients for the pasta in a bowl and mix to a soft dough.  I then kneaded the dough for ten minutes until it was smooth and silky.  Then it was time to chill the dough by wrapping it well in clingfilm and putting it into the fridge for an hour.  I fried the mushrooms on a very high heat until they began to brown and set them aside.  Then I sliced the black pudding thinly and fried it at an equally high temperature, making sure to break it up and cook it until it was crispy.  Once it had cooled, I blitzed it with the mushrooms using a hand blender.  A little seasoning finished the filling.

Back to the pasta.  I don’t have a pasta machine.  I may well invest.  Apart from great results and inner satisfaction, rolling your own pasta also provides you with a workout.  Slightly out of breath (but no less happy), I made sure that I could see through the pasta before stopping.  At this point, I spooned the filling onto the sheet of pasta at regular intervals.  I used a pastry brush to wet all around the filling.  This would act as glue when the top sheet was laid upon it.

Ravioli waiting to be cut.

The hardest part was laying the top sheet over the filling and getting rid of all the air in between.  This is where the water helped to bind the pasta.  Pressing firmly around the filling, I pushed as much of the air out of the sides as possible.  This would prevent the trapped air expanding in the pan and bursting the ravioli.  Admittedly, as a novice, I hated this part of the process and was extremely relieved when it was accomplished.  I hadn’t done a great job of shaping the pasta sheets into regular shapes.  This made cutting a little tricky.  All went well, though one thing I’ll remember for next time is to leave less pasta between the filling and the edge of the ravioli.  Frightened of the ravioli not being secure, I left far too much pasta around the edges.

Fresh ravioli and some herbs from the garden.

I started the sauce a few minutes before dropping the ravioli into a pan of boiling water.  Loads of butter into a milk pan.  Chopped fresh oregano and thyme straight into the foaming butter.  Then the double cream with brisk stirring and a little salt and pepper.  More butter if necessary and then a gentle simmer.

The ravioli needs three or four minutes of cooking once it has risen to the surface of the water.  In terms of taste, the flavours all worked well and the creamy sauce softened what is quite a bold pasta dish.  In retrospect, I would serve two or three ravioli with this sauce as a starter.  It was way too filling as a main.  It’s a really distinctive dish and one that I’m proud of.  It’s certainly a great way to enjoy Bury’s best in a unique format.

A lovely dish, but so filling.