16:00 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category ,

Spaghetti Bolognese

Bolognese sauce is a controversial issue, apparently responsibly for generation-long rifts and possible murders in Italian families with differing ideas as to how a ragu should be prepared. An Italian native will scratch his head when served Spaghetti Bolognese, as it bears hardly a passing resemblance to rag├╣ alla bolognese, the meat sauce from Bologna from which our interpretation takes its name. Officialy, Bolognese ragu should contain beef, pancetta, tomato puree, wine, oil, milk and a soffritto of minced onion, celery and carrot. It is never served with spaghetti, but tagliatelle instead.

The myriad of British versions are very different, but I think it's time to relax about authenticity and enjoy experimenting with this popular dish. Just don't call it Italian!

Bolognese is personal. Even in the UK, everyone has an opinion on how it should taste. Heston Blumenthal spent hours perfecting his very best version, only to have the patrons of his Bray pub vote almost unanimously in favour of Dolmio bolognese. It's a nostalgic, family-centric and comforting dish, and people like it to taste like the one their mother used to make.

This is my version of an anglicised bolognese sauce, and yes, it is very similar to the version my Mum makes, and my Dad come to that. Each of us has slightly different secret ingredients that we like to include so they are never identical, just the same but different. I think that's rather lovely.

To feed four:

400g extra lean beef mince.
Olive oil
1 chopped white onion
2 crushed cloves of garlic
Beef stock - you can crumble in a cube, or use one of those Knorr stock pot jellies, which I think are fantastic.
Tomato puree, about half a tube will do it.
A can of Italian tomatoes, San Marzano are the best, although very expensive to import.
A generous tsp each of dried italian herbs and dried crushed chilli flakes.
Lots of ground black pepper

The secret ingredients: (all optional, but advised!)
A slosh of balsamic vinegar to make the tomatoes sing
a squeeze of Heinz tomato ketchup for depth of flavour
A few drops of soy sauce or Umami paste to enhance the meaty flavours

Right. Heat a slosh of olive oil in a good sized saucepan and fry your onions and garlic until golden. Add the mince and brown, breaking up well, before stirring in your cheaty stock in cube or jelly form! When that is incorporated stir through the tomato puree, making sure to coat the meat with it throughly - this gives it a really concentrated tomato flavour. Add your tomatos and break up. As soon as the sauce begins to bubble, turn down the heat to a very slow simmer. Add your dried herbs and chillis, and a few turns of pepper. Add balsamic, ketchup and soy if using. Stir, cover and leave it alone to cook very gently for AT LEAST 4 hours. I mean it! Stir it every so often and add a little warm water if the sauce is becoming to dry.

Don't be tempted to eat it earlier, the long, slow cook gives the meat time to soften and the flavours time to marry and concentrate. Yum. It freezes beautifully too, so there's no excuse for not cooking an enormous batch to see you through on lazy evenings.

Serve with a long pasta of your choice, with some chopped parsley or basil to garnish and lots of parmasan cheese. We always eat it with a good green salad and a balsamic dressing. This picture shows the lovely mixed leaves picked from my garden, along with our homegrown radishes and some Italian tomatoes.

18:09 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Everything Pasta

This is my Mum's classic dressed-up version of Mac and cheese. So named because you can pretty much chuck anything in it. It's unbelievably good, and so versatile! It's a great midweek supper, quick and easy and uses up all the strange odds and ends of things that might be hanging around in your fridge. Put in what you think you'd like and what you have, but to get you inspired I can tell you what we used:

A rasher of bacon, grilled and cut into strips
A leftover sausage from breakfast, cut into chunks
A few chunks of chorizo
2 mushrooms cut into chunks
Some halved cherry tomatoes
Steamed broccoli florets
Sliced onion
A few sliced olives

So firstly you want to prepare your 'everything' - steam any veggies, cook off your bacon etc. Preheat your oven to about 180oc and then put some penne, rigatoni or fusilli pasta on to boil and make a cheese sauce.
This is a Delia cheese sauce recipe which works beautifully here. But feel free to use up bits of cheese that might be lurking in the fridge. If you think it'll go, chuck it in!

2oz/50g mature Cheddar, grated
1oz/25g parmesan finely grated
1 pint/570ml milk
1½oz/40g plain flour
1½oz/40g butter
pinch of cayenne pepper
a little freshly grated nutmeg
salt and freshly milled black pepper

Place the milk, flour, butter and cayenne pepper into a medium saucepan and place it over a gentle heat. Then, using a balloon whisk, begin to whisk while bringing it to a gentle simmer. Whisk continually until you have a smooth, glossy sauce, and simmer very gently forminutes. Then add the cheeses and whisk again, allowing them to melt. Then season with salt, freshly milled black pepper and some freshly grated nutmeg.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and add your 'everything'. Give it a good mix before stirring in the cheese sauce. Grate some extra cheddar for the top. Maybe a bit of mozzarella too if you have it? Sprinkle it over the dish and place in a hot preheated oven (180-ish) for about 20 minutes or until the cheese topping is melting and golden and starting to go crispy... mmm.

17:57 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Lemon, herb and parmesan crusted haddock fillets

This a recipe from the BBC's Good Food website. It's is such a great resource and brilliant for when you're completely lacking in inspiration as to what to cook for dinner.

I substituted the parsley for basil as I'm crazy about lemon and basil together. The flavours here were lovely, although it was a little dry. I'd make the lemon butter separately next time I think, or serve it on a lemon-spiked roux type sauce perhaps. I served this with new potatoes and broccoli but I think saute spuds and chard or kale would work even better to dress the dish up a bit.

For four you'll need:
50g breadcrumbs
grated zest of 1 lemon
25g grated parmesan
2 tbsp chopped parsley
salt and pepper
4 skinless fillets of firm white fish
50g butter
juice of 1 lemon

Mix the breadcrumbs with the grated lemon zest, grated parmesan, chopped parsley, salt and pepper.
Season the 4 skinless fish fillets. Pan fry in a little oil for 2-3 minutes until just tender. Turn over and sprinkle with the crumb mixture. Brown in the pan under a hot preheated grill for 2-3 minutes. Add the butter to the pan with the juice of 1 lemon. Melt around the fish and serve.