Italian baked chicken with grapes followed by semifreddo with honey, figs and walnuts

Italian feast

Boasting honey, figs, grapes, nuts and sweet wine, this Italian feast would surely have won the approval of Bacchus himself. When I think about good food, when I dream about delicious dishes bringing together the simplest ingredients to create something truly magical, when I picture myself being served an incredible meal in an idyllic setting, I tend to find myself transported to Italy.

It’s been a few years since I’ve travelled in Italy and I long to return. My parents are in Tuscany right now and as you can imagine I am extremely jealous. My step-mum Sue has been sending me droolsome updates on Whatsapp, replete with photos, documenting their food adventures. There have been accounts of wonderful salads with chicken, ravioli in a walnut cream sauce,  the thinnest pizzas with just one or two toppings, grilled sea bass with roast courgettes, fritto misto in the lightest of batters, fagiolini with fine green beans and bacon in tomatoes and garlic. Oh and lots of gelati with figs and cherries… The list goes on. It’s been pure torture.

So when Expedia challenged me to come up with an Italian meal for their #expediaworldonaplate challenge, I knew I would be taking my inspiration from Tuscany. Continue reading “Italian baked chicken with grapes followed by semifreddo with honey, figs and walnuts”

Strawberry ice cream sundaes with rosemary shortbread

Strawberry ice cream sundae with rosemary shortbread4

I didn’t realise strawberries with rosemary was a particularly classic combination but on consulting the oracle that is Google I see cooks all over the world are pairing them. This is the first time I’ve tried them together and I think they make a brilliant partnership, especially in this spectacularly simple ice cream sundae.

And with rosemary biscotti being a bit of a winner on last week’s Great British Bake Off, I think rosemary biscuits could turn out to be rather trendy. Not that I keep up with cooking trends in the slightest. I’m always a tad late to the party on that score. I only tried matcha for the first time a couple of months ago, while coconut oil made its first appearance in my cooking just the other day.

But back to those sundaes…

I made the rosemary shortbread to accompany the Rich Clotted Cream ice cream we brought home with us from our recent visit to the marvellous Marshfield Farm. My kids demanded sundaes and as I’m the biggest sucker around for ice cream piled high in a tall glass, who was I to refuse? Strawberries were the obvious choice to go with clotted cream and shortbread seemed the obvious choice for strawberries. And then the rosemary outside the back door called to me, and this sundae was born. Continue reading “Strawberry ice cream sundaes with rosemary shortbread”

Tray-baked pork chops with rosemary and pears

pork pear rosemary

I’ve been making this dish for years. It’s a perfect meal for Saturday lunch when you want to get on with the weekend and not spend the day in the kitchen.

I regularly make this on Saturdays once the girls’ ballet lessons are out of the way (why, oh why did I go for dance lessons on a Saturday morning?) and it’s simply a case of throwing everything in a roasting tray, tossing in olive oil and bunging in the oven. Easy as. It doesn’t really warrant a recipe, but I thought I’d write it down anyway. It is actually based loosely on an early Jamie Oliver recipe, from his Naked Chef days, but even easier – if that’s possible.

So, simple and tasty and the kind of food I have to stop my children picking up and eating with their fingers, until I give in and join them.

pork pear rosemary

Tray-baked pork chops with rosemary and pears

Serves 2 adults and 2 children

3 or 4 pork chops – I used to share one between my two kids, but now they’re getting bigger they demand one each
several sprigs of fresh rosemary
6 large carrots, scrubbed and chopped into large chunks or quartered lengthways
3 pears, cored and quartered
4 large potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
6 garlic cloves
salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 220°C / gas mark 7.

Arrange the pork chops, rosemary sprigs, carrots, pears, potatoes and garlic in a large roasting tray.

Season well with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to make sure all the ingredients are lightly covered.

Roast in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until everything is nicely browned and turning the chops and vegetables once or twice during the cooking time. The pears will be squishy and the garlic oozy, while the pork chops will be sticky and the carrots will have that lovely caramelised thing going on. The kitchen will smell incredible.

Serve with a big dollop of mayonnaise, homemade preferably, or the best shop-bought you can afford.

Cooking-with-Herbs

 

As rosemary is used in abundance in this dish, I’m entering it into Cooking with Herbs hosted by Karen at Lavender & Lovage where the themed herb this month is rosemary.

April’s Recipes for Life challenge: get cooking with pork, sweetcorn and tomatoes

Take part in the Recipes for Life food bloggers challenge and you could see your dish featured in a new charity cookbook!

We’re already into month three of the Recipes for Life challenge and I’m rather excited about the three ingredients we’ve been set for April by the SWALLOW cookery club. They are: pork, sweetcorn and tomatoes.

Like last month, they might not at first appear the most obvious of culinary combinations. But give it a few moments’ thought and I’d be surprised if a whole host of tasty meal ideas don’t start whirring around your brain!

The rules of the challenge are the same as before; simply come up with a wholesome, delicious and easy-to-cook recipe featuring this month’s three key ingredients, and which members of the cookery club at SWALLOW can cook themselves.

Through its Fit for Life programme, SWALLOW runs cookery courses for adults with learning disabilities, giving them the skills and confidence to prepare simple, inexpensive and nutritious meals. They are looking for new recipes to cook on the course, and ultimately to include in their new cookbook.

So what meal could you rustle up with pork, sweetcorn and tomatoes? You can use any pork-based product you fancy – a whole joint or chops, bacon or ham, sausages or mince. The sweetcorn can be fresh, on the cob, tinned or frozen. And the tomatoes can again be fresh, tinned or perhaps sun-dried – you might even get away with a puree or passata. So you see, it’s really a rather versatile shopping list this month.

Recipes for Life: how to enter

  1. Display the Recipes for Life badge (shown above and below) on your recipe post, and link back to this challenge post.
  2. You may enter as many recipe links as you like, so long as they are based on the three main ingredients selected for this month and accompanied only by basic store cupboard items.
  3. Send your recipe URL to me at vanesther-at-reescommunications-dot-co-dot-uk, including your own email address and the title of your recipe or post. The closing date this month is Tuesday 23 April 2013.
  4. If you tweet your post, please mention #RecipesforLife, @BangerMashChat and @SWALLOWcharity in your tweet and we will retweet everyone we see.
  5. Feel free to republish old recipe posts, but please add the information about this challenge and the Recipes for Life badge.
  6. As entries come in, links to these will be added to this page and at the end of the month there will be a round-up of all entries received.
  7. SWALLOW staff and members will choose their favourite recipe at the end of each month, and the winner will receive a small prize.
  8. A selection of recipes entered each month will be featured in the SWALLOW cookbook to be published later this year, helping the charity to raise much needed funds for its ongoing work.

Pork chops are a firm favourite in our house – they’re almost as popular as sausages. When I was told the trio of ingredients for April, I knew I’d have to get in there first with some chops. So here’s my entry to get things started…

Buy your pork chops from the butcher and ask for them to be cut nice and thick – they stay much more moist and succulent that way.

I like to roast my corn on the cobs in the oven in a little butter with whatever herbs I have available; the end result is so much sweeter and tastier than if you simply boil them.

corn on the cob

The spicy tomato relish includes some optional extras such as olives and capers but don’t worry if you don’t have these or you don’t like them – the relish tastes just as good without. And some simple mashed potato on the side is perfect for soaking up all those delicious buttery, meaty juices.

Rosemary and garlic pork chops with roasted corn on the cob and spicy tomato relish

Serves 4

4 thick pork chops
3 sprigs rosemary
6 cloves of garlic, crushed
4 tbsp olive oil
1 lemon
salt and pepper

4 corn on the cobs
50g butter
fresh or dried herbs (I used fresh thyme and sage)
salt and pepper

For the tomato relish

1 tbsp olive oil
Half an onion, chopped
1 tsp paprika
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp red wine or cider vinegar
2 tsp sugar
salt and pepper
30g capers (optional)
30g black olives, roughly chopped (optional)
Handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped (optional)

Start by preparing the marinade for the pork.

Place the pork chops in a large dish. Pull the rosemary leaves off the woody stems, roughly chop and give them a good pounding with a pestle and mortar. Put the rosemary in a bowl with the crushed garlic and olive oil. Chop the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the bowl. Chop up the lemon skin, give it a good bash with the pestle and mortar and add to the bowl with a little salt and pepper. Mix it all together before pouring onto the meat.

Get your hands in and rub the marinade all over the chops so they are well smothered. Cover and leave for a couple of hours.

Prepare the corn on the cob by firstly placing them on large sheets of foil. Generously smear each cob with butter, season and sprinkle over your chosen herbs. Wrap the corns in the foil, leaving a little room for the steam.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6.

When the pork is marinated, place on a wire rack over a roasting tray and bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, depending on how big your chops are. Turn halfway through the cooking time. The chops are cooked when there is no sign of pink inside and are nicely browned on the outside.

Roast the corn in the oven at the same time, placing them directly on the oven shelf. They should take around 20 minutes. Test the corn with a sharp knife and remove from the oven when they are just tender. Leave wrapped in foil until you’re ready to serve.

While the chops and corn are cooking, make the tomato relish. Heat the oil in a frying pan and gently soften the onion until it is golden. Add the paprika and cook for a minute or two before stirring in the chopped tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. If you are using, also add in the capers and olives. Cook gently for 10 to 15 minutes until the relish has thickened. Mix in the coriander right at the end.

Keep the relish warm until the pork chops and corn are ready and serve on warmed plates, ideally with some mashed potato on the side. That’s what I call proper family grub – it’s definitely finger licking good!

April’s entries

  1. Slow Cooker Sweet & Sour Sausages from The Crazy Kitchen
  2. Sausage Chilli from The Garden Deli
  3. BBQ Pork Ribs with Sweetcorn Salsa from Under the Blue Gum Tree
  4. Slow Cooker Pork Creole from JibberJabberUK
  5. Sausage Pesto Pasta from The Crazy Kitchen
  6. Oven Baked Tortilla from The Crazy Kitchen
  7. Pulled Pork Wrap with  Tomato and Chorizo Salsa and Sweet Sweet Sweetcorn from Spurs Cook
  8. Pork, Sweetcorn & Tomatoes with Vermicelli Rice Noodles from Fun as a Gran

  9. A Very Retro Sweet and Sour Pork from Chez Foti
  10. Cheat’s Ciabatta Pizza from Bangers & Mash
  11. Sausage Chilli (Again) from the Garden Deli and Bangers & Mash
  12. Red Rice Accompanied by Pork, Sweetcorn and Tomato from Fun as a Gran

Slow roasted pork neck in thyme, rosemary & bay with mint flatbreads

Generally in January I yearn for rib-sticking, stodgy, winter warmers; the kind of hearty, satisfying food that provides an extra layer of insulation against the cold and damp outside.

But occasionally I find myself craving sunshine food; dishes that remind me of blue skies, eating al fresco and the scent of honeysuckle. And this slow roasted pork does exactly that. The sweet, fragrant and tender pork neck is shredded and served simply with flatbreads, salad and tzatziki, very reminiscent of incredible gyros we enjoyed on holiday in Kefalonia last summer.

Pork neck is a very cheap cut of meat but you’ll probably need to ask your butcher for it. Ours doesn’t have it out on the counter as it’s not all that popular; he normally uses it in his sausages. But it is perfect for slow cooking – so delicious and full of flavour, especially when you marinade it in plenty of herbs, garlic and lemon juice. Don’t be tempted to rush the roasting. For a wonderfully succulent texture, the pork neck will need around four to five hours in the oven.

Slow roasted pork neck in thyme, rosemary and bay

Serves 4

1kg pork neck
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
large bunch of fresh thyme, leaves stripped
2 large sprigs of rosemary
1 lemon
handful of bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6. You begin with a high temperature to get it started and then whack it right down low to slow cook.

Using a pestle and mortar, roughly crush the garlic cloves with the thyme, a handful of rosemary picked from the stalk and the juice of half the lemon. Put the piece of pork into a medium-sized ovenproof dish, pierce all over with a sharp knife and rub all over with the garlic and herb mixture so it penetrates the flesh.

Chop the remaining lemon half into half again and place in the dish alongside the pork with the rest of the rosemary and bay leaves. Cover tightly with foil and place in the oven. (If you’re using an Aga, place in the middle of the top oven.)

After 15 to 20 minutes, just enough time to really get the meat hot, turn the temperature down to 140°C/gas mark 1, or the middle of the simmering Aga oven.

Roast for four to five hours until the meat is tender and beginning to fall apart.

Remove the foil and increase the temperature to 200°C/gas mark 6 (back to the top Aga oven) again for another 10 to 15 minutes to brown the pork a little.

Shred the pork using a couple of forks and pile onto a large serving plate. Bring to the table with a simple salad, tzatziki and a stack of warm mint flatbreads (below).

Mint flatbreads

These flatbreads were inspired by a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe in his wonderful book Plenty. I’ve swapped coriander for mint, which perfectly complements the Greek-style pork and yoghurt.

280g plain flour
3tsp baking powder
1½ tsp salt
280g Greek yoghurt
1 tbsp dried mint
butter
olive oil

Place the flour, baking powder, salt, yoghurt and mint in a large bowl and mix together to form a dry dough. Add a little more flour it it’s a bit sticky. Knead the dough for a couple of minutes until it is smooth and stretchy. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for an hour.

Divide the dough into 10 to 12 pieces, form into balls and then roll with a rolling pin into round discs about 2mm thick.

Heat a knob of butter and a little olive oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat and fry the flatbreads, one at a time, for a couple of minutes on each side until golden brown. Add a little more butter and oil as required. Keep the flatbreads warm until you’ve cooked them all.

Enjoy with your slow roasted pork!

As this dish features lots of lovely herbs, I’m entering it into Lavender & Lovage’s Herbs on Saturday recipe challenge, which I also happen to be hosting this month!

Sausage, carrot and fennel bake

My family is rather partial to the odd sausage or two. Or three. In fact, we eat rather a lot of them in our house. And now that I’m trying to be a bit more creative with our food, I’m always on the look out for new ways to present the humble banger. This sausage, carrot and fennel bake, which first started life as a Leon vegetarian side dish, is a great meal.

I love Leon. I love their style, their ethos, their food. If I lived in London and had rather more money, I’d be eating there all the time. But as I don’t on either count, I have to make do with their cookery books. Leon’s focus is on fabulous ingredients:

When we first started Leon… we tried to imagine what a high-street fast food joint might be like in heaven: a place where fresh unprocessed, satisfying meals are served with pride. (From ‘Naturally Fast Food’)

That says it all. Leon’s approach to food is definitely the Bangers & Mash approach. My food might not always hit the same culinary heights but I’m aiming in the same direction at least.

In Leon’s Naturally Fast Food, there’s a delicious recipe for roast carrots and fennel in parmesan breadcrumbs. I discovered it on one of those common occassions when an item arrives in the veg box and I desperately needed ideas on what on earth to do with it. The item this time was a fennel. Obviously any proper foodie worth their salt would be going wild with excitement at all the possibilities presented by a fennel. I just needed to find something that the kids might actually eat. And this recipe worked a treat.

After making this dish a few times, it occurred to me that with the simple addition of a few sausages, this side dish could become an easy one-pan main meal. I tried it and it worked. One of my more successful experiments. So here it is. My sausage, carrot and fennel bake, with a little help from the kind people at Leon.

Sausage, carrot and fennel bake

Serves 4

8 good quality pork sausages
500g carrots, peeled and cut into diagonal chunks
500g fennel, trimmed and cut into wedges
4 tbsp olive oil
a handful of fresh rosemary, leaves picked
100g stale white bread (if you only have fresh, bake a couple of slices in a low oven for 1o minutes)
4 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper
50g parmesan cheese, grated
Preheat the oven to 220ºC/gas mark 7.

Put 2 tbsp olive oil and the sausages into a large roasting tin and bake in the oven for 10 minutes.

In a bowl, toss the carrots and fennel in the remaining oil. Turn the sausages and then add the carrots and fennel to the roasting tin along with 75ml of hot water.

Put back in the oven for 15 minutes, then turn the vegetables and sausages and return again for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the carrots and fennel are tender and the sausages are browning.

Into a food processor, place the stale bread, rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper and blitz until you have fine, herby breadcrumbs.

Once the sausages and vegetables are cooked, sprinkle over the breadcrumbs and then scatter over the parmesan. Return to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes until the topping is golden and crispy. And serve.

For a slightly different take on the same dish, head over to Emma’s Kitchen. The lovely Emma saw a picture of my sausage and fennel bake on this blog a couple of weeks ago and rustled up her own version. It’s quite similar but she uses ciabatta for the topping and also parsnip and onion. I’ll definitely be giving it a try sometime soon!

Roast vegetable lasagne

Lasagne has always been one of my favourite foods. I loved it when my mother cooked it when I was little and I now love making it for my own children.

It’s not a quick dish to prepare though. In fact I used to think it was a bit of a faff. But these days, when I’m juggling work and family, it’s one of the meals I’ll make once the kids are tucked up in bed and I have the kitchen to myself, generally listening to Jo Whiley on Radio 2, all ready to eat the following evening. There’s nothing nicer than getting back from work and simply having to pop supper in the over and it’s all done.

We’re trying to eat less meat in our house. It’s partly to save money, partly for environmental reasons and partly to eat more healthily. And this is one of those vegetarian alternative meals where you really don’t miss the meat. It’s packed with big bold flavours and the aubergine and courgette give it lots of substance.

Because this meal is such a favourite with my clan, I’m submitting the recipe to The Pink Whisk Challenge, which is dedicated to raising awareness of Save the Children and the Hidden Hunger campaign.

Save the Children is asking everyone to Name a Day, a day when they will do just one thing to help save children’s lives. And they are asking David Cameron to do the same. It is a terrible fact that we live in a world with enough food for everyone, yet hunger is still able to kill 7,000 children every day.  Can you help Save the Children put an end to this Hidden Hunger?

All the recipes gathered for the Pink Whisk Challenge will be collated and published in a Save the Children e-book to be sold to raise awareness and funds for the campaign. Do you have a family favourite to add? Please do. You have until 31 March 2012. Full details over at The Pink Whisk.

Use lots of fresh rosemary and keep the vegetables nice and chunky

Roast vegetable lasagne

Serves 6

For the roast vegetables

1 small onion, peeled and quartered
3 courgettes, chopped diagonally into thick slices
2 aubergines, chopped into large chunks
1 red and 1 green pepper, deseeded and sliced
6 cloves of garlic, skins removed
handful of cherry tomatoes
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
salt and pepper
olive oil

For the cheese sauce

50g butter
40g plain flour
450ml milk
100g Cheddar cheese, grated
salt and pepper

For the tomato sauce

1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 x 400g tins chopped plum tomatoes
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

250g lasagne sheets
Extra grated cheese for sprinkling on top

Preheat oven to 200°C/gas 6.

Begin by roasting your vegetables. Place them all in a large roasting tray along with the rosemary and garlic. Season generously with salt and pepper, pour over some olive oil and toss together to cover the vegetables well. Roast in the oven for around 40 minutes, turning the vegetables halfway through, until they are tender and beginning to brown.

The roast vegetables with garlic and rosemary smell sensational

While the vegetables are roasting prepare the two sauces.

The tomato sauce is very simple. Fry the onions in the olive oil until golden. Add the tomatoes and balsamic vinegar and stir together. Simmer gently for around 15 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Season to taste.

A very simple tomato sauce

For the cheese sauce, place the butter, flour and milk in a saucepan. Whisk over a gentle heat until it has thickened. Then stir in grated cheese until it has melted into the sauce. Again, season to taste.

When the vegetables are roasted, place a layer of these in the bottom of a large ovenproof dish. (Mine isn’t particularly large so I use a medium sized one and a small one.) Make sure you pull out the thick rosemary stalks. Nobody likes chewing on twigs.

Pour some tomato sauce over the vegetables and then cover with a layer of lasagne sheets. Repeat this process until you have filled your dish, ending with a layer of vegetables and then sauce.

Now pour over the cheese sauce. I like to wiggle the dish from side to side a little to make sure the cheese sauce seeps down the sides and through all the cracks.

Finally scatter some grated Cheddar cheese over the top. Place in the oven for about 30 minutes until the cheese is browned and bubbly and a knife inserted goes easily through the pasta.

Perfect served with a salad and some homemade garlic bread.

Who can resist the molten cheese on top of a big bowl of lasagne?

Three ways with butternut squash

Lorraine Pascale muffins
Riverford risotto
My soup

A rather large butternut squash arrived in our veg box last week. So as well as making my usual soup, I thought I’d try out a couple of new recipes on the family.

The first of these was a Lorraine Pascale recipe I’d seen her do recently on TV – pumpkin and rosemary muffins.

Pumpkin and rosemary muffins from a Lorraine Pascale recipe

It’s a great recipe, ever so easy, and would definitely recommend you try it. My husband and I enjoyed the muffins one lunchtime. We had them warm, with a little butter and some mature Cheddar cheese on the side.

Unfortunately our daughters were  not so impressed to find them in their lunch boxes at school and nursery. I think perhaps the rosemary was too overwhelming a flavour for them. Oh well, you can’t win them all, but you’ve got to try!

So I put the remainder in the freezer and I look forward to enjoying them at some point, sans enfants.

I won’t write out the recipe for pumpkin and rosemary muffins here but instead direct you to the BBC Food website.

The muffins used about a quarter of the butternut squash. I took another quarter for a squash risotto as inspired by the lovely people at Riverford Organic, who deliver our weekly veg box.

Riverford’s squash risotto

Now this was a success with the whole family, almost. The kids really enjoyed it, wolfing it down in seconds. It’s easy to eat, so very good for toddlers and babies getting to grip with new textures. My husband did quite like it I think, despite a few comments about the lack of meat. Which is normal from him.

This is another simple recipe. I only used half the quantities given in the Riverford recipe and I still had enough to feed two adults and two children, with a couple of portions left over for the freezer.

With the remaining half of the squash I cooked up a big pan of soup. Butternut squash makes for a very satisfying soup and children in particular love it, probably because they’re rather partial to those sweet flavours.

Roasted butternut squash with rosemary

I usually boil the butternut squash with the potato but this time it had already been roasted, as I’d needed cooked squash for the other recipes. I think I prefer it this way. It gives the soup a slightly more smokey flavour which is delicious.

Butternut squash soup

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 small butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and diced
1 potato, peeled and diced (if you like a thicker soup, add another potato)
1 litre vegetable stock, hot
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onion. Gently fry until golden.

Add the squash and potato and cook for a minute or two before pouring in the hot stock.

Bring to a gentle simmer, then cover and cook for 15 minutes.

Liquidise the soup until smooth using a handheld blender or in a jug liquidiser. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

It’s lovely to have homemade soup ready to warm up when you’re forced to grab lunch at your desk

As butternut squash is in season right now and in plentiful supply, I’ve entered this post into the Simple and in Season blog event for February over at Fabulicious Food.

I love the idea behind this blog event – highlighting the best of what’s in season now and sharing recipes using those wonderful ingredients.

Some gorgeous looking recipes have already been posted, and I look forward to seeing many more over the coming month.

If you’ve got a recipe using seasonal ingredients, you should check it out!