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Duck Ragu with Handkerchief Pasta

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There are many recipe variations for this Italian classic duck ragu, some focusing on spice and meat, others red wine and a rich tomato sauce. Traditionally duck was considered food for the poor and its ragu was served with a sturdy rustic pasta made from buckwheat, called bigoli (also made with duck eggs). Nowadays most recipes will suggest serving the ragu with pappardelle or gnocchi. Both are a good match, but I also like finesse of these paper-thin handkerchief pasta. They allow the rich heavy sauce to dominate, whilst adding a light texture to the dish. All you need to finish it off is a generous drizzling of good olive oil, and some shavings of parmesan cheese.

INGREDIENTS:

4 duck legs
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small carrot, grated
1 stick celery, finely sliced
1 dried red chilli
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tbs chopped parsley stalks
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbs tomato paste
250ml red wine
1/2 cup water
400gm tin plum tomatoes
Salt and pepper

FOR THE PASTA:

200gm 00 flour
2 medium eggs
2 large pinches salt
1 tbsp olive oil
Fine semolina for dusting

METHOD:

1. Fry the duck legs in some olive oil until sealed and skin is browned. Remove from pan and set aside.

2. In the duck fat, fry the chopped onion on a medium – low heat for 10 minutes until soft. Add the grated carrot and celery, cook a further 5 minutes, before adding the garlic.

3. Next add the tomato paste, stir and cook for 1 minute or so before adding the oregano, nutmeg, cinnamon and chilli. Cook for a further 1 -2 minutes.

4 . Pour in the wine and bubble away until liquid is reduced by half.

3. To this mixture you can now add the canned tomatoes and water. Stir well and return the duck legs to the pan. There should be enough sauce to cover the meat nicely. If your sauce is to thick you can add a little more water until the consistency is right.

4. Season with salt and pepper, bring to the boil, cover with a lid, and turn down to simmer for 1 hour. Check ragu occasionaly to make sure the sauce does not become too dry. You can add splashes of water as you go if needed to loosen up.

5. While this is cooking away you can make the pasta: Combine all the ingredients and mix into a dough, kneading until smooth. This may take up to 10 – 15 minutes so be patient. The dough should not be dry and falling apart. If this happens you can add the tinniest drop of water, bit by bit until the dough is smooth and forming well. Be very careful though as once you add to much water and the dough is wet it becomes harder to save. If your dough happens to be to wet, you can add a little more flour until the consistency is right. The trick is in the kneading, you must keep going until you have a silky smooth dough.

6. Wrap your pasta in cling film and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes to set.

7. To create the pasta shape: Dust the pasta pieces with the semolina as you go, and gently feed through your pasta machine, narrowing the setting until the pasta is approximately 1mm thick. Keep dusting with the semolina to prevent it from sticking together. Lay out your pieces and cut into squares or rectangles, whatever size you like.

8. Remove duck legs from the sauce, and with a fork shred the meat from the bone. Discard bones and return meat to the sauce.

9. In a large pan of boiling salted water, gently boil the pasta for 1 – 2 minutes.

10. Place the pasta sheets evenly onto a large plate or bowl and spoon over the ragu sauce. Drizzle generously with olive oil and shavings of parmesan cheese.

Smokey Prawn Tapas

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A quick easy smokey prawn tapas dish to eat with crusty bread, salad or a side of vegetables. Perfect for when you have limited time to cook as it takes roughly 15 minutes to prepare.

I like keep a stash of prawns in the freezer, they defrost so quickly and the process can be speed up by running them under hot water. Tapas dishes heat up really quickly on the stove top so its best to maintain a medium heat, otherwise your tomato mixture will dry out to fast and not develop flavour.

Of course you can use a regular saucepan if you don’t have tapas dishes. Add as much chilli as you like, or substitute parsley for coriander or basil if you prefer.

INGREDIENTS:

Olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 onion very finely chopped

Fresh red chilli, chopped

1 tbsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

200g raw prawns (shells removed. For decoration you can leave a couple with the head and tails on)

1 can of chopped tin tomatoes (or 1 and 1/2 cups fresh chopped tomatoes can be substituted)

Good splash white wine

2 tbsp finely chopped parsley (or coriander if you prefer)

lime or lemon wedge to garnish

METHOD:

1. Place two tapas bowls on the stove top, add olive oil to both dishes. Share the minced garlic and onion between the two dishes and cook a couple of minutes until softened (If you don’t have tapas dishes a regular saucepan will do).

2. Add the smoked paprika, cayenne pepper and chilli cooking for a minute or so, followed by the tomatoes. Now add a good splash of wine and using a fork crush tomato pieces, cooking on a gentle heat so the mixture doesn’t dry out. You can add a small amount of water if this happens.

3. When the tomatoes have a sauce like consistency add the prawns and cook until coloured but still tender. Be careful not to over cook the prawns or they will become rubbery.

5. Stir in the parsley. Season with salt and pepper.

6. To serve: drizzle the tapas dish with good olive oil and garnish with a lemon or line wedge. Best eaten with fresh crusty bead, garlic bread, salad or a side of vegetables.

Tomatoes a la Creme

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Tomatoes a la Creme

Tomatoes a la Creme, although originating from France in the 1920s, has been a popular dish in many countries for decades. Inciting romantic verse and fond memories from grown-up children who recall happy moments in the kitchen watching their mothers and grandmothers make and serve the simple but delicious dish.

Maybe the thing that gets to the heart of people with Tomatoes a la Creme is the simplicity of ingredients. Tomatoes, butter and cream are easy to obtain all year round and when put together carefully, result in rich satisfying flavours that resemble dishes with much longer cooking times and a hint of dreamy sunlit days in the countryside.

The cooking technique is key: don’t kill it will too much heat. Gentle heat and slow cooking will soften the tomatoes, allowing the juices to flow into the pan and add the wonderful base flavour to the butter and cream. Although adequate seasoning of salt and pepper will complete the recipe, adding a few leaves of thyme or basil enhances the dish nicely as well. Serve with crusty bread or as a side to meat and fish.

INGREDIENTS:

3 medium-size ripe tomatoes
A large knob of butter
Salt and pepper
3 heaped tbsp creme fraiche or double cream
Thyme leaves or basil (optional)

METHOD:

  1. Cut tomatoes in half and prick all over with a fork. Melt butter in a skillet and add tomatoes cut side up. Cook for 2 minutes over a medium-low heat.
  2. Turn tomatoes over, lower heat and cook for 10 minutes. All the juices should be running out into the butter. (If you wanted to add some thyme leaves now would be the time to do it).
  3. Add cream and let it gently bubble away for a minute or two, ensuring the sauce does not dry out.
  4. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper.
  5. If you are using basil as a garnish instead of thyme then sprinkle with chopped basil now.

Tomatoes a la Creme

Slow Cooked Beef Ragu with Red Wine, Porcini Mushrooms and Bone Marrow

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beef ragu

This is a truly satisfying and comforting dish that warms the belly and heart. Slow-Cooked Beef Ragu with Bone Marrow served on pappardelle pasta. The rich sauce is infused with porcini mushrooms and red wine then topped with parmesan and olive oil. Beef brisket is a wonderfully cheap cut of beef that benefits from slow cooking and melds easily into a rich sauce, resulting in plenty of flavour.

Ingredients:

800gm beef braising steak
Olive oil
1 large red onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1 celery stick, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Small bunch each of rosemary, thyme and oregano, leaves removed and finely chopped (substitute 1 tsp dried oregano if fresh unavailable).
1 tsp dried chilli flake
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms plus boiling water
2 glasses red wine
300ml beef stock
2 x 400gm tinned tomatoes
2 marrow bone pieces (approx 10cm)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons butter
Fresh or dried pappardelle
Parmesan cheese and olive oil for garnish

Method:

  1. Heat some olive oil in a crockpot, le creuset or other stove top casserole pot. Fry braising steak briefly on a high heat until browned. Remove from and set aside.
  2. Add onions to the pan and cook until soft. Next the grated carrot, celery, garlic, chilli flakes, and herbs continuing to cook over a low heat for 5 minutes or until softened.
  3. Place porcini mushrooms in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Soak for 10 minutes. Once ready drain mushrooms, reserving liquid. Chop mushroom into small pieces. Strain liquid to remove any grit and reserve for cooking.
  4. Return beef to pot along with red wine, bring to boil then turn to simmer and let it bubble until most of the liquid has cooked away.
  5. Next add beef stock, tinned tomatoes, porcini mushrooms and their liquid and cracked black pepper. Bring to the boil. Then cover and turn to simmer. Cook for 2 – 3 hours depending on your stove and cooking pan. The ragu is ready when the sauce has reduced down to a thick consistency and the beef is soft and pulls apart into juicy strands.
  6. While the ragu is simmering away, heat oven to 200 degrees. Place bone marrow on a tray and roast for 20 minutes. When cooled down scoop marrow out of bones and set aside.
  7. Boil water with some salt and cook pappardelle according to packet instructions. Drain when ready reserving some of the cooking liquid.
  8. To finish the sauce, at the end of cooking stir in the bone marrow and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add butter, stirring through until melted along with some of the pasta cooking liquid to loosen the ragu. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
  9. Divide pappardelle into bowls, cover with ragu, grated parmesan and drizzle with good quality olive oil.

beef ragu

Grilled Asparagus, Courgette & Mozzarella in Lemon Basil Oil

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Grilled Asparagus

Italians treat vegetables with love and care, respecting the art of cooking them without adding meat due to historically not affording the luxury on a regular basis. It’s a fact that vegetables leave you feeling lighter, digest easier and the nutrition from greens is a must to keep you going.

This Italian recipe, classically grilled and charred vegetables doused in good quality olive oil, basil and lemon is deeply satisfying. The bread has to be superior, white, oily and crusty on the outside. Rubbed with oil, grilled and then rubbed again with garlic, the delicious base lays the foundation for the crunchy charred green vegetables topping.

I made this for lunch, stacked on toast. For a dinner option try adding cannelloni beans, or spiralled pasta and a little parmesan to beef (!) it up.

Grilled Asparagus

 

INGREDIENTS:

Olive Oil
200gm asparagus
1 courgette, sliced into thin strips
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
125g buffalo mozzarella
1 tbsp Olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp capers, chopped
2 tbsp basil
Sea salt & cracked black pepper
1 tbsp lemon rind
Good quality bread for toasting
1 garlic clove

 

METHOD:

  1. Heat griddle pan on stovetop.
  2. Put sliced onion in a small bowl and cover with cold water. Let sit for 10 minutes, then drain. This will help take the overpowering onion taste away.
  3. Rub asparagus and courgette in a little olive oil. Griddle in pan until soft and charred lines appear.
  4. To make dressing, mix olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, lemon rind, chopped capers, salt and pepper and whisk together with a fork.
  5. Tear buffalo mozzarella into medium sized pieces.
  6. When vegetables are ready, place in a bowl along with the onion and some additional salt and pepper.
  7. Cut bread into thin or thick slices (whatever you prefer). Rub with a little olive oil. Griddle in pan until browned and charred lines appear. Cut garlic clove in half and use it to rub each piece of toast.
  8. Pour dressing over courgette asparagus mixture, coat evenly. Next add in mozzarella.
  9. Serve in a bowl or large plate alongside toasted garlic bread
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