Mushroom, pesto and cream lasagne

This great big plate of vegetarian delight comes from Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries.

It’s something of a cooking marathon his – I think that beginning to end took about 2 hours. That’s because you have to cook the mushrooms and onions, plus you have to make the pesto, and in our case we also had to make béchamel sauce. None of these tasks are particularly strenuous, but together they add to the time and coordination required.

Once you’ve got everything ready, alternating layers of pasta and mushroom filling are put into a dish, and then topped out with the pesto and finally the béchamel. It takes about 40 minutes in oven at the end, so this clearly isn’t a quick thing to throw together but the end result is a really nice take on lasagne and despite being vegetarian it completely satisfied us two omnivores.

A friend of ours managed to cut down the prep time by using ready made pesto and béchamel sauce which still produced something tasty – you can check out the evidence on his Instagram here.

Tagliata for Two

We’re revisiting a classic tonight, Nigella’s Italian themed Nigellissima – it’s the book which first got me into cooking properly and not just buying quiche and frozen pizza from the supermarket every week! This dinner is actually composed of two recipes from that book, but tagliata for two is the “main event”.

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The meal is pretty straightforward to make. You oil some steak and then fry it, then transfer to a marinade of olive oil, red wine vinegar, chilli flakes and oregano. Then you remove the steak and thinly slice it, and put some chopped cherry tomatoes (I accidentally used plum) in the marinade and serve it up.

For a bit of something extra on the side, I also used Nigella’s recipe for mushrooms in garlic – nice and easy and a bit of extra vegetable on the side.

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The resulting meal was nice but nothing to write home about. Trying to combine all the various elements, time got a little bit away from me and I ended up serving a fairly cold dish. Mostly my fault, but it didn’t help the end result. Nothing wrong here, just nothing all that exciting.

Turkey Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

Making a bundt cake recently reminded me of what a wonderful book Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen is, so I went rummaging through it for recipes which I’d still not tried and found this one. I was attracted to it because the picture in the book shows the meal simmering in a yellow casserole dish very similar to the one we own!

The recipe is in two parts – making the sauce is pretty simple because you just blitz some veg in a food processor and then gently fry it for a bit before adding a tin of plum tomatoes and some water and letting it simmer.The rest of the ingredients go to making the turkey meatballs which require very little effort. I’d forgotten how easy Nigella’s recipes can be!

You then gently place the meatballs into the liquid (they pretty much float on top) and let them cook whilst the sauce simmers. Mine took a bit longer than expected because I had halved quantities, but had to use the full amount of water to ensure there was enough liquid for the meatballs to float in. It reduced down to a really tasty tomato sauce, although the meatballs weren’t the most exciting things I’ve eaten. Some pasta on the side and this made for an easy and tasty supper – and relatively low fat with the turkey mince, too.

Meatballs and Tomato Sauce

We’ve had a copy of Nigella Bites on the shelf for a few years now but never seem to really use it. I’m not sure why, so I dusted it off and decided to give her homemade meatballs and pasta sauce a try. The full recipe actually includes making your own pasta, but that was a step too far for a dinner that I’m cooking after a long day at work!

Making the meatballs is pretty easy, mixing mince with egg, salt, pepper, oregano and breadcrumbs. This is then shaped into balls which go in the fridge whilst you get on with the sauce. The sauce is pretty simple too – chopped onion, garlic and oregano are fried in butter before adding tomato passata and water. A pinch of salt, pepper and sugar gets added too. Bring it to the boil and add a little milk, then put the meatballs in the simmering liquid. Wait for them to change colour before stirring and then cook for about 20 minutes.

By the time it’s ready the sauce has really thickened up and the end result is rather special. We enjoyed this one a lot – very satisfying, even if it does take longer to make than just whacking some pre-prepared meatballs in a jar of pasta sauce.

Hunter’s Chicken

We’ve had Hunter’s chicken (chicken a la cacciatore) a few times in the past – both Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver have recipes which we’ve tried and enjoyed. It turns out there’s another recipe for it on the Homemade By You site so we decided to give their version a try. 

The basic ingredients are pretty much the same, but I’m not convinced that the olives are needed. This version takes much longer than Nigella’s but produces a very rich and delicious sauce.

We made a last minute decision to switch from mashed potatoes to polenta instead (greed caused this – we only had one potato!) which worked really well and was more authentically Italian anyway. The end result was quite salty but very hearty and satisfying. 

Hunter’s chicken is a bit of a vague name which encompasses a variety of recipes. I’d find it tough to say which I prefer the most but we’d definitely recommend this one. 

Anna del Conte’s Lamb Ragu

A few years ago Mark worked with an Italian lady who gave him a copy of Anna del Conte’s “The Gastronomy of Italy”. It’s a truly beautiful book but not one we’ve cooked from very much. Whilst having a browse I spotted a recipe for lamb ragu which reminded me of a similar recipe in Nigella’s repertoire. Nigella is a fan of Anna do this makes sense and there are strong similarities between the recipes. 

That said, Anna’s is somewhat more involved with mushrooms, red wine and red wine vinegar. There’s also a lot cooking things and then taking them out of the pan for a bit. I took the lazy route and skipped as much of this as possible, trying to turn it into a (nearly) one pot. 

End result? Big flavour. Big success. A bit more fiddly than Nigella’s but a more rounded result. I’ve got a feeling we’ll be coming back to this book. 

Pasta with Smoked Mackerel, Marsala and Pine Nuts

I’ve got a sweet tooth and I’m lazy, so this one is right up my street. Sultanas and Marsala make it nice and sweet, plus the fact you’re using pasta and smoked mackerel means there’s almost no cooking involved.

It come’s from Nigellissima (you can even download the specific episode here), and like many of the recipes in that book there’s very little washing up involved.

Time for some of Nigella's Italian inspiration – pasta with Marsala, smoked mackerel and pine nuts.

A photo posted by Two Hungry Boys (@twohungryboys) on

It's @nigellalawson's pasta with smoked mackerel, Marsala and pine nuts for dinner tonight.

A photo posted by Two Hungry Boys (@twohungryboys) on