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.

Spanish Supper with a Lancashire Twist

We’re trying another of Diana Henry’s recipes here from A Bird in the Hand. This is actually the very first recipe listed in the book, so I’m not sure why it’s taken us so long to cook it. Technically it’s a Spanish dish, but calls for morcilla – Spanish blood sausage – which we don’t have easy access to. However, we do live in the north west of England, close to Bury – home of Bury black pudding which makes an excellent (and regional!) substitute.

I was born and raised with black pudding and never thought anything of it, so it was a bit of a shock to me when I discovered that some people are squeamish about it. There was a local butcher (Thornley’s) in my home town of Chorley which was renowned for its black pudding. They had their own abattoir, and my School used to organise field trips there… but fortunately the place had closed by the time I reached that age!

When my sister got married, we had various nibbles before the main meal and one of them was a black pudding canape… I remember that they all vanished quickly because they were so tasty, and then some of the guests began to feel regret when they realised what they had eaten. They still enjoyed them though.

I finally converted Mark to black pudding with a stay at the fabulous Jesmond Dene House. Their breakfast came included black pudding and Mark had been so impressed with everything else we ate there, he gave it a go. I wouldn’t say that he’s as much of a fan of the stuff as I am, but he certainly has grown to like it.

Anyway, this recipe is pretty simple. Brown the chicken, then fry the black pudding. Take them out and fry the onion, and deglaze the pan with 200ml of dry sherry. Put the chicken and black pudding back inside, put a lid on and put the whole thing in the oven for 40 minutes. When it’s done, add a swirl of double cream and some toasted pine nuts. We also had some mashed potatoes on the side to help mop up all the creamy and meaty juices.

I liked this one a lot, but then I’m biased. Don’t let the black pudding put you off – it’s a cracking taste!

Afghani Style Stew with Pine Nuts

Recipes have been a bit thin on the ground this week because I’ve been ill. I had an ill fated attempted at cooking a Nigel Slater lamb casserole earlier in the week and I’m going to blame the illness because it was a disaster – possibly the single blandest meal I’ve ever had.

I’m on the mend now, but feeling the need for something healthy so where else to turn but good old Thrive on Five? Five portions of veg in one meal must help get me on the road to recovery.

This recipe isn’t the easiest – get all the chopping and prepping done first because it’s a tight turnaround between adding each set of ingredients, and if you don’t keep stirring the pan then things will burn and taste bitter. I thought I’d managed it but got caught out and half way through the recipe I tasted it and thought it was disgusting.

By the time I got to the end though, things had improved. The yoghurt helped balance out the bitterness and the end result wasn’t half bad. Lots of vegetables and lots of spice. We also followed it with a dessert of cherries, strawberries and banana so I think that’s 8 portions of fruit and veg just at dinner time… I’ll be back to full health in no time.

Salmon in a Creamy Herb Sauce with Spinach

I think I overstretched myself with this one – an attempt to mix up two recipes. The main is salmon in a cream and herb sauce from Nigel Slater’s The 30-Minute Cook. To accompany it, I thought that a spinach dish from Nigella;a Feast would fit the bill. We don’t actually have a copy of Feast, but this recipe is available on her website.

It didn’t go to plan though. In short, my salmon was thick and took longer to cook than expected which meant I had some rapidly cooling potatoes and spinach whilst my salmon was getting more and more burnt on the outside. As a result, the creamy sauce ended up being a bit of a non-starter.

That said, despite the disappointment we both managed to polish off what was on our plates, so it can’t have been too bad. I think that in hindsight I was asking for trouble, taking two recipes which are quite quick to prepare individually, but which in combination meant there was little margin of error.

Carrot and Courgette Cake

The folks who wrote Thrive on Five are clearly masters of witchcraft. This is a recipe which shouldn’t exist because it defies everything we know about healthy eating.

In short, this is a cake, a slice of which counts as two portions of fruit and veg. That’s right – a slice of cake which gets you 40% towards your daily goal of health. And there’s a lot of healthy stuff in here – carrots, courgettes, bananas, apricots, sultanas and pine nuts. There’s unhealthy stuff too – sugar, flour and oil – so enjoy it in moderation!

We made a slight deviation by replacing rapeseed (canola) oil with olive oil, since we know that works really well in Nigella’s chocolate olive oil cake. The end result is lovely – moist, very cakey and sweet but you’d never know there was so much healthy stuff in it. The house also smells amazing when making this – first of pancakes, then of cake. Wonderful stuff!

Polpette

Another attempt to increase the quantity of vegetables in our diet, polpette are “vegetarian meatballs” – in this case roasted fennel, pine nuts and pumpkin seeds flavoured with garlic and chillies. The recipe comes from Jamie Oliver’s website.

This wasn’t quite the quick meal we’d hoped for, it taking 25 minutes to roast the vegetables before pounding into the breadcrumb mixture for the balls. But it was certainly easy, essentially just putting everything into the food processor before scooping balls of mixture onto a baking sheet.

The roasting time does give time to prepare a tomato sauce, which we deviated from a little through the use of roasted shallots, and garlic oil rather than yet another clove of garlic.

Caponata

A Sicilian vegetable stew (any rustic food containing any two of pine nuts, anchovies, raisins, sultanas, or lemon turns out to be Sicilian!) we had never had Caponata before. Consisting of diced, fried aubergines, to which shallots and chopped plum tomatoes are added, seasoning came from the addition of brined capers and a large dash of red wine vinegar.

Dressed in basil leaves and toasted pine nuts, this would admittedly be seen more as a well-presented appetiser by most people than a mid-week evening meal. We ate it, as recommended by the source of this recipe (BBC Good Food), scooped on to slices of garlic-rubbed, toasted ciabatta.

A light, very tasty meal.

Which left plenty of room for a slice of cake afterwards.

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.

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

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Moroccan Chicken Pilaff

An old favourite from Lindsey Bareham’s One Pot Wonders. Hints of Indian from the turmeric and cinnamon, hints of North Africa from the preserved lemon and sultanas, and a European edge from the toasted pine nuts. Made with basmati rice rather than long grain (a happy accident last time I made it). Also deviated from the cooking method: the recipe says to finish off covered in the oven, whereas I just cover and leave on a low flame. You get a slightly crispy layer of rice on the bottom, but it’s actually pretty good!

A one pot wonder tonight courtesy of Lindsey Bareham – Moroccan Chicken Pilaff.

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Flash Fried Moroccan Chicken

A quick and easy dinner tonight – 20 minutes for the chicken to sit in the marinade, then 10 minutes of cooking it and the couscous. This one comes from The 30-Minute Cook by Nigel Slater.

Ingredients at the ready for some of Nigel Slater's flash fried Moroccan Chicken.

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It’s maybe not the healthiest of meals but it’s very tasty. It goes nicely with the couscous but we’ve also had this previously – as Nigel suggests – with orange, pepper and cinnamon.

The finished product – flash fried Moroccan chicken with couscous and mint – delicious and quick!

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