Herbs and greens pasta sauce

Ingredients for two

  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • one shallot chopped
  • two cloves garlic chopped
  • a couple of good slugs of dry white wine
  • a good sized zucchini chopped
  • a couple of tablespoons pine nuts dry roasted to a light brown
  • flat leafed parsley, perhaps one cup of leaves
  • maybe half a cup or more of pouring cream
  • chopped green rounds from spring onions
  • chopped chives, maybe half a bunch
  • parmesan grated for the table

Method

While the pasta is cooking, in a medium saucepan fry the shallots and garlic in the butter until softened. Add the wine and boil until the alcohol is burned off. Add the zucchini and cook at a lively pace, saucepan covered, until the zucchini is soft. Add the cream, pine nuts and parsley. Puree. I continued to add parsley until there was a noticeable green fleck to the sauce.

Keep warm on a very low temperature, season with salt and pepper. When ready to serve, stir in the chives and spring onion rounds leaving a handful for decoration. Put drained spaghetti in bowls, add the sauce, mix thoroughly and then sprinkle the green rounds on top.

Parmesan and more pepper are required at the table.

I think when I try this again I will use at least double the zucchini and less cream. I would also like to try vodka rather than the wine, which I thought was a bit sweet. Not clear to me that the pine nuts added to this.

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Parsley pesto

The simplest version, made for two.

  • olive oil
  • parsley including stalks – 1.5 bunches for two people – roughly chopped
  • maybe half a cup of pine nuts toasted
  • perhaps a cup of grated parmesan
  • one clove of garlic finely chopped

I layer these in a mixing cup: olive oil, parsley, a little of the garlic, some nuts, parsley, garlic, nuts, olive oil. Mash with a stick blender.

Add several dessert spoons of the pasta stock and then the cheese. Decide whether you’d like more liquid. I put in maybe half a dozen spoonfuls, but it will depend on your preferred consistency and how much olive oil you began with.

Put drained pasta in bowls, add a few spoonfuls of the pesto. Extra cheese and fresh pepper to be added as desired.

At the point of adding stock and parmesan, this simple combination is remarkably sweet. There are many things I might consider adding; for a start salted capers, anchovies, chillies, lemon are all on the table.

 

chickpea and vegetable soup

Nothing special here, just what was in the cupboard.

  • onion, peeled and chopped
  • carrot, peeled and chopped
  • potato, peeled and chopped
  • garlic, peeled and chopped
  • ghee or oil for cooking (I used grapeseed oil this time)
  • tin of chickpeas, hulled
  • ground cumin, coriander and chilli
  • water or stock
  • plain yoghurt, lemon and freshly ground pepper at the table

Obviously you can vary this at will or convenience. I used two medium carrots, maybe half a kg of potatoes, one onion. The key question may be how sweet you want it – and what colour.

On medium heat sauté the onion until it is softening, add the other vegetables and fry stirring for maybe 5 minutes. Turn heat down and add the garlic – no burning the garlic – and the ground spices. When the spices are thoroughly mixed in, add the water or stock along with the chickpeas. It doesn’t take long to take the skins off, you can do it while the vegetables are frying. It makes a big difference to digestibility, which is a literal pain for some people.

Bring to the boil and then simmer for 20 minutes covered. After the mixture has cooled a little you can puree it. It won’t be best on day one.

Serve alone, with toast or maybe a Middle East bread and with the accompaniments listed in the ingredients.

Pasta and chickpeas

It’s the basis of many a variant in Italy and I’ve decided to add it to our staples like this:

Ingredients

  • 1 tin chickpeas drained, rinsed, peeled
  • 1-2 tblesp tomato paste
  • some shallots finely chopped
  • fresh garlic finely chopped
  • small pasta shapes
  • anchovies mashed
  • salt and pepper
  • ghee
  • water/stock

Optional additions as you please….

  • parsley
  • chives
  • spring onion
  • spinach
  • lemon
  • bacon
  • parmesan grated for serving

I started out frying shallots and garlic in ghee, adding chickpeas and then the water or stock if you prefer and lastly the tomato paste. Let all this simmer on a low heat for 20 minutes. This can sit in the fridge once it’s cool.

When you come to preparing the meal, boil the pasta but keep it underdone, drain, put back in the pot and add however much of the chickpea mixture you want as well as the mashed anchovies which will melt through. While this is reheating and the pasta is finishing its cooking chop herbs or other last minute accompaniments. Add and stir through. Serve.

For two people the first time I did this I added a small bunch of parsley, half a bunch of chives, the white of a spring onion and before serving sprinkled snipped spring onion greens on top. The second time I made the addition finely chopped spinach.

The possibilities are endless, one could add an Indian element by sprinkling garam masala on top. Fresh chillies would work well too.

It can be as soupy or stewy as you please. Part pureeing the chickpeas is an idea I have not explored yet but will obviously enhance a move from the one to the other.

This is cheap, healthy and tastes great. It is also quick and flexible – in Italy carrots and celery may be added, but I wanted something that wasn’t an echo of minestrone. You could also make in large quantity and freeze the first part of the recipe, the stock/chickpea/tomato paste combo.

 

Vegetarian carbonara

It feels like yesterday, but evidently it was just over two years ago that I wrote a post on carbonara.

Much more recently we went to Maccaroni Trattoria in Melbourne and tried their vegetarian version of carbonara, which replaced the bacon with zucchini. Alice and I enjoyed it so much that we both thought in terms of cooking it at home. I certainly haven’t exactly done that, if for no other reason than the restaurant version had cream, whilst mine stuck to the traditional carbonara only egg attitude.

Ingredients for two

spaghetti
olive oil
3 eggs
parmesan, grated
pepper, freshly ground
2 medium zucchinis grated
shallot, chopped finely
garlic, chopped finely

Method

While the spaghetti is cooking:

Mix one egg per person and an extra yolk per two people.  Add parmesan, perhaps a cup, leaving some for the table. Add lots of freshly ground pepper.

In a large pan, I use a wok, heat olive oil and gently fry the shallot until soft, add the garlic, mix, add the zucchini and gently fry until softened.

Keep a cup of the cooking water before you drain the spaghetti.

Then, as for the normal version, put the pan back on the heat, add the spaghetti. Mix and then add the egg/cheese mixture, turn quickly if not frantically, take it off the heat, you don’t want scrambled eggs. Add some of the cooking water you saved, still stirring in a completely panicked way. It all seems to come together into a nicely silken coating needing nothing more than loads and loads of extra pepper as you eat. This is not to say that the panic was unnecessary, it is probably an essential ingredient. This dish doesn’t want you to think you are in control.

The lack of meat for taste made me add the shallot and garlic. I might also have added parsley. I should have added only some of the cooking water, but I tossed in a whole cup and this was okay – a bit runnier than it should be, but that was a good excuse to overdo the cheese served at the table.

I would happily have this any time, and surely it would be a happy marriage to combine the two versions, using both pancetta and zucchini. I will report on that some time.

A pesto conversion

For years I’ve been using Stephanie Alexander’s pesto recipe. As it’s the other side of the world, I’m relying on the internet to give me an accurate rendition, but it’s something like this:

  • a big bunch of basil (she says a firmly packed cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts toasted
  • 60g parmesan grated
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil

I don’t add salt and pepper at this stage.

You puree these and mix in some hot water from the cooking pot to thin the consistency.

That’s always done me, I like the balance. But the other day at Bottega Rotolo I got talking to Rosalie Rotolo-Hassan who mentioned that in her cooking classes she’s always modified it by adding a little asparagus and making half the nuts unsalted pistachios, also toasted.

I’ve been dying to try this variant, picked up some of the last asparagus around today and some really ordinary hydroponic basil as I couldn’t find any that had been properly raised. Now we have:

  • a big bunch of basil
  • no garlic because I forgot
  • 1/4 cup of pine nuts and raw unsalted pistachios, toasted separately as they need different amounts of time
  • 60g of horribly expensive parmesan because we couldn’t figure out the price until we got home and looked at our receipt and went arrgghhhhhhhhhh
  • 4 asparagus pieces steamed until softish
  • olive oil, but slowly added and not nearly as much as 1/2 a cup

I left out the cheese to be added at the table. I pureed the rest, with maybe a couple of tablespoons of oil to begin with and then added a bit more later. I also added hot cooking water to reach the consistency I wanted.

The asparagus made it creamier and added to the sense that less oil was required compared with usual. Having said that, it’s all to taste of course. I did not in the least miss the garlic – loved the gentle taste of this.

Pepper and parmesan to taste at the table.

Serves two to three – we found that because it didn’t give the usual pesto punch that we added more of it than we usually would.