Sage and Mushroom Gnocchi

Whenever I see a recipe in John Whaite’s Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients, I struggle to reconcile the idea that so few ingredients will yield an impressive meal – but every single time we’ve used the book he’s proven me wrong and this meal is no exception.

So basically you cook some onions and mushrooms, then add some sage followed by some white wine (although we used vermouth) and reduce. Meanwhile you fry up some gnocchi – they go nice and crispy on the outside, it’s a technique Nigella uses to create a sort of mock roast potato.

When you’re done, throw it all together and serve. You can also fry some sage leaves and add them for a bit of extra crunch. It’s quite carb heavy this meal but it’s tasty and easy to throw together.

Chicken and Tuscan Beans

I’ve never watched an episode of Lorraine in my life, but I knew that John Whaite had a cooking slot on her show. That led to me to an explore of the Lorraine website, where I found this recipe of John’s for chicken and Tuscan beans.

The ingredient list isn’t quite as short as you’d find in his Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients, but it’s not much longer. Fry the chicken thighs and some pancetta (we used smoked streaky bacon) in a wide casserole dish, then put to one side. In the same pan, now fry the onions, tomatoes and garlic before adding white wine (we used vermouth) and reducing. Finally add your tomato puree, rosemary, parsley, seasoning, cannellini beans and chicken stock then bring to the boil. You now put the chicken and bacon back on top and put the whole thing, uncovered, in the oven for 40 minutes.

Very easy, and only one dish to wash up afterwards!

Carrots with Lime and Thyme and Salmon

This recipe is another of the ones you’ll find in John Whaite’s Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients. The five ingredients are really simple – carrots, onion, fresh thyme, a lime and some salmon fillets (plus the usual seasonings and oil).

It takes quite a while to cook because the carrots need to roast in the oven for an hour before you add the salmon on top and cook for a further 15 minutes. We also did some new potatoes to serve this up with. To be honest, I thik my carrots could have used a little longer in the oven but that’s probably because I used regular carrots rather than baby carrots as John suggests.

End result was very tasty – the lime and thyme combination works really well with the carrots. Also the whole dish basically just uses one roasting tray so there’s very little washing up afterwards.

Chicken, Leek and Cider Pie

You may have noticed that we’ve been enjoying a few pies of late, and when our love of pastry called this time we turned to John Whaite’s Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients. It’s been a while since we cooked anything from this one, but this recipe was a perfect one to get us back on track.

This recipe takes quite a while though, and that’s even with shop bought puff pastry! First you have to cook the chunks of chicken, then set them to one side. Next you cook the leeks slowly in butter (about 20 minutes), and then return the chicken to the pan and add the cider which then simmers for about 40 minutes… a bit less for us though because I left the heat too high!

Next you have to let the filling cool a little before mixing in some creme fraiche and assembling your pie. John goes for individual pies with pastry lids – we just made a single giant pie and, as ever, made sure the pastry was all the way around and not just on top. A pastry lid alone is not enough!

The end result was utterly delicious. There’s a nice combination of sweet (from the caramelised leeks and cider) and tart/savoury (from the creme fraiche).

Whilst I probably prefer Diana Henry’s bird pie, this is much easier because it doesn’t require you to roast a chicken in advance. It’s not a quick recipe, but it requires a lot less forward planning… especially because the ingredient list is so straightforward.

Steak Pie

Sometimes only a pie will do. After the success of chicken pie last week it seemed appropriate to give a steak pie a try, but a quick skim of our recipe books didn’t really turn up anything suitable. So this recipe is put together from two places. Firstly, it uses the “Steak & Kidney Pie” recipe from Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat, but because we were making it for two people we had to scale down the ingredients and as part of this we ditched the kidneys. But rather than making a pastry using self raising flour as Nigella does, we fell back on the good old reliable shortcrust recipe and technique we picked up from John Whaite.

It takes a while to make this one. You chop the celery, carrot, sage and onion finely and fry for a few minutes. Then the beef is tossed in flour, pepper and nutmeg and browned in a pan. The beef is then added to the vegetables along with some stout and beef stock in a casserole dish, then popped in the oven with a lid on at 150C for 2 hours.

In the meantime make and chill the pastry and line a dish (should be a pie dish but we used a cake tin!), then transfer the cooked steak into it, glaze the top with milk and bake in the oven at 190C for about half an hour.

The resulting pie looked spectacular and tasted great. The only grumble was that it was a bit bitter – I think this was because in scaling down the ingredients I’d not used as much beef stock as I should have and used too much stout. But this wasn’t enough to detract from what was a bloody marvellous pie!

Puttanesca Style Haddock Stew

The official name of this recipe is “puttanesca style monkfish stew” but the supermarket didn’t have any monkfish and we ended up going with haddock instead. It’s another recipe from John Whaite’s Perfect Plates in Five Ingredients. As such, it’s another pretty straightforward recipe – although I think using anchovy stuffed olives is a bit of a cheat to get down to the give ingredient minimum; I’m pretty sure you could use separate olives and anchovies to make this.

The first bit is really easy – just bash together chopped garlic, chopped chilli and stuffed olives in a mortar and pestle. Then fry the resulting paste until it becomes aromatic and add the chopped tomatoes. Bring it to the boil, turn down to a simmer and sit the fish on top. Cover the pan with a lid and leave it for about 10 minutes.

To serve, I added some plain cous cous on the side for a bit of carb. For such a simply recipe it makes a good puttanesca sauce with a great flavour.

Secret Ingredient Chocolate Fudge Cake

Well, this is a strange one. The recipe comes from John Whaite’s Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients, and whilst it looks like a run of the mill chocolate cake, one of these five ingredients is definitely not like the others. Yes folks, this cake really does include a tin of condensed tomato soup.

It would be fair to say I was very suspicious when making this, and the smell of tomatoes whilst making the mixture was much stronger than I had imagined – although I did use a bit too much soup (the tin we bought was bigger than the quantity required and I only spotted just before the last drops went in!). Once the cake batter is made it goes into two sandwich tins and bakes in the oven for about half an hour – and out comes chocolate cake! Quite an attractive looking one, too.

Meanwhile you make some chocolate icing/ganache from a mixture of water, cocoa, butter and muscovado sugar. I found that the quantities in the recipe produced about 25% more than I needed. However, I did find icing the cake to be quite tricky because both my sponges were quite domed, and when I assembled the cake the top sponge broke up a little bit – the icing ended up being more of a glue to hold the whole thing together.

The resulting cake is really nice, really rich and really fudgey. I’m not sure whether that’s due to the tomato soup, or if it’s the massive (and I do mean massive) quantities of sugar and cocoa used in the cake. Are they there in their own right, or to mask the flavour of tomatoes? I’ve no idea, but the cake will be demolished by us two I can assure you of that.

Sausage with Apples and Sauerkraut

I was late home from work, so whilst this recipe took 40 minutes in the oven it was still very welcome because of the virtually effortless preparation. You can find the recipe for this in John Whaite’s Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients.

Preparation is so simple it’s almost unbelievable. Put the sausages in a casserole dish with a little olive oil. Throw in some quartered apples (not peeled or cored) and onion, then bung a few sprigs of thyme on top. The whole thing then goes in the oven for about 30 – 40 minutes.

Once it’s done, top with a bit of sauerkraut and that’s it.

The taste combination is really great – apple and sausage always works well in my book. The sauerkraut gives a really nice contrast to the sweetness of the apple and onion too. Thumbs up from this hungry boy!

Smoked Haddock with Braised Chorizo and Leeks

Tonight we’re trying another one of John Whaite’s Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients. Those five ingredients for tonight’s dinner are chorizo, leek, chicken stock, smoked haddock and capers.

It’s a one pot meal and is very easy to make. Fry the chorizo for a few minutes, then add the chopped leeks and fry a little bit more. Pour in the stock, then put the whole thing in the oven (covered with a lid) for about 40 minutes. Remove the lid, sit the cod on top and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes. Once it’s done, flake the fish into the pan and serve up with a few capers scattered over.

We added some of Mark’s homemade sourdough on the side (for “mopping up” duty) and also finished off some of the bulgur wheat salad he’d made for yesterday’s dinner. This meal of Mr Whaite’s didn’t need any accompaniment though – it was incredibly tasty and the taste far surpassed the amount of effort which went into making it. Good call, Mr Whaite.

Four Hour Pasta Sauce

A recipe for tomato sauce doesn’t sound too exciting, but this one comes from John Whaite’s Perfect Plates in Five Ingredients. Because the pasta is one of those five ingredients, this seems like an incredibly simple recipe! The only caveat is that it takes a long time – four hours!

Skin the plum tomatoes, roughly chop them and sprinkle with a little salt. Fry some chopped red onion and garlic. Add the peeled tomatoes which have been roughly chopped, along with some seasoning, a healthy glug of red wine (John suggests Malbec and we didn’t see any reason to disagree!). Stick the whole thing in the oven with a lid on it and leave to cook for 4 hours.

When it comes out, it doesn’t look too much like pasta sauce but stirring it quickly changes things – the tomatoes fall apart and you suddenly have a rich pasta sauce. We served it with tagliatelle and a little pan friend pancetta, and there was enough sauce to freeze half for a future date. We also found a slug of balsamic vinegar pepped things up.