Bolognese for ballerinas

spaghetti bolognese

We’re nearing the end of the school half-term holidays. It’s been a lovely week of movies (Mr Peabody and Sherman in 3D at the cinema and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 on DVD, both of which get a big thumbs up from my girls), baking (my eight-year-old Jess created a superb Victoria sponge with her very own recipe mango buttercream topping, while Mia elected to make double chocolate chip cookies although Mummy did most of the work), library outings, times tables testing, story writing, soft toy safaris, Sir Frances Drake research, and dance shows.

Baking Collage

Jess and Mia have been rehearsing for months and months for their big dance show with the Susan Hill School of Dancing. This finally culminated in much-anticipated performances at the end of the half term break at the Forum Theatre in Bath. The girls and their friends had a day of dress rehearsals on Thursday, followed by matinée and evening shows on Friday and Saturday. I helped out back stage on the Thursday and Friday, which was great fun but truly exhausting. I thought being responsible for two children was full on, but looking after a group of 13 five-year-old girls was something else, and not to be repeated too quickly!

Sadly, Jess was forced to miss her Saturday performances as she fell ill with a bug – she was absolutely gutted, but at least she got to dance on the Friday. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see her as I was back stage, although friends who were in the audience tell me she danced beautifully. So this weekend, poor old Jessie has spent most of the weekend on the sofa under a duvet. She’s off her food – always a sure-fire sign she’s unwell – although I have succeeded in tempting her with a little fresh melon and chicken soup with rice. I’ll post the recipe for the soup very soon.

Dance Collage

Earlier in half-term week my mission had been to feed my two ballerinas with lots of nourishing food to keep their energy levels up for all that dancing. And so the obvious dinner after their gruelling Thursday of dress rehearsals had to be their all-time favourite, spaghetti Bolognese.

Spaghetti Collage

Spaghetti Bolognese has been both of their favourite meals since they were old enough to pick up a fork and spoon. Whenever I make it, I always make sure there’s some left over to go in the freezer for an easy supper another day.

spaghetti bolognese

Everyone has their own Bolognese recipe. Mine varies depending on what I have in the house.

Sometimes mine will have a drop of red wine in there, and sometimes it won’t. Sometimes there will be peppers or mushrooms (much to Jessie’s dismay as she’ll have to pick them out), or perhaps some smoked bacon. If I have a Parmesan rind lurking in the fridge, I’ll chuck that in during the cooking to give it a scrumptious flavour boost. I don’t always add caraway seeds, but I thought I would this time so I can enter it into this month’s Spice Trail challenge, which has caraway as its theme. I think the caraway adds a lovely intense and slightly sweet flavour to the Bolognese, and I quite often use it in casseroles and other slow-cooked meat dishes.

Bolognese sauce

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
500g minced beef
400g tin chopped tomatoes
beef stock cube or pot
½ tsp caraway seeds
dash Worcestershire sauce
Parmesan rind (optional)
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and gently fry the chopped onions, carrots and celery until soft – around five minutes. Add the garlic and fry for a couple more minutes before adding the minced beef. Stir to break up any lumps and cook for two to three minutes until browned.

Pour in the chopped tomatoes. Half fill the tomato tin with hot water and pour into the pan. Sprinkle in the beef stock cube, or ‘plop’ in the stock pot. Add the caraway seeds, a dash of Worcestershire sauce and the Parmesan rind if you happen to have one left over.

Give it all a good stir and allow to simmer for half an hour or so. If it starts to look dry, add a little more water. Before serving, give it a taste and add a little salt and pepper if needed, and remove the Parmesan rind if used.

Serve with pasta, ideally spaghetti, and a grating of fresh Parmesan cheese on top.

spice trail badge square

I’m adding this Bolognese to February’s Spice Trail, hosted by yours truly, as it features caraway seeds.

family-foodies-valentine

I am also sharing this with February’s Family Foodies, hosted by Eat Your Veg and me, which this month has a Love theme. Spaghetti Bolognese is definitely a dish cooked with love for my loved ones, big and small.

Watercress and pistachio pesto

spaghetti with watercress and pistachio pesto

I was recently given a new hand mixer and so, naturally, the first thing I had to try it out on was homemade pesto.

Normally I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to pesto. I could eat basil and pine nut pesto every day and never tire of it. It brings back very fond memories of inter-railing around Europe with my best friend after our A-levels. The only food we could really cook in our basic hostel kitchens was pasta and pesto from a jar. Washed down with a cheap bottle of plonk, we couldn’t have been happier. And then we ate fresh pesto in Italy and we were happier still.

But as my husband isn’t much of  a pesto fan, I have started to experiment with different variations. Wild garlic pesto was a big hit last year and I look forward to picking some again from the local hedgerows when spring finally decides to turn up here in Somerset.

One of my favourite food bloggers is Louisa at Chez Foti who happens to be a bit of a pesto aficionado. I love the look of her stilton, walnut and parsley pesto and will be trying it soon. In this same blog post Louisa helpfully listed a whole menu of ideas for anyone wanting to dabble in a little pesto experimentation.

One of her suggestions was watercress, which is a particular favourite ingredient of mine. And so I came up with this recipe for watercress and pistachio pesto. I thought it might be a little peppery for the children but that wasn’t an issue at all. They wolfed it down and came back for more. A definite success. Bear in mind that if you do add the Ricotta at the end, you’ll need to use the pesto within a couple of days. If you leave it out, the pesto will keep in a glass jar in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

making watercress pistachio pesto

Watercress and pistachio pesto

Serves 6 to 8

80g watercress
1tsp rock salt
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
60g Parmesan, grated
60g shelled pistachio nuts
150 ml olive oil – the best quality you can afford
2 tbsp Ricotta cheese

In a blender, process the watercress, salt, and garlic until well chopped. Add the Parmesan, pistachio nuts and olive oil and blend until fairly smooth and creamy.

Scrape into a bowl and fold in the Ricotta cheese. Serve with pasta of your choice. Personally I always go for spaghetti with pesto.

spaghetti with watercress and pistachio pesto

If you have featured a pesto recipe on your blog, please feel free to include a URL in the comments below and I’ll be more than happy to  link up to it!

I am entering this recipe in the #TuscanyNowCookOff. It might not be the most authentically Italian pesto, but it might possibly get through on creativity!

Spaghetti with wild garlic pesto

I’ve been swept away on an aromatic love affair with wild garlic in the last few weeks. As well as my delicious wild garlic risotto, it has also featured in many salads and has livened up our mashed potato. But this whirlwind romance is set to end all too soon. While there are still lots to be seen in the local hedgerows, it won’t be long before their leaves wither and the flowers wilt.

I have, however, come across the perfect way to capture this garlicky essence of early spring – by making up a large jar of wild garlic and walnut pesto. Divine.

This recipe comes from River Cottage, who say it will keep it in the fridge for up to three weeks and can also be frozen. They also say it makes 5 x 200g jars but I only got one large jar out of it. It’s not a problem though as I think this will keep us going quite a while.

The pesto tastes fresh and green (if you know what I mean) and packs a strong tasty punch so you don’t need too much of it. For its first outing, I served it very simply stirred through a dish of spaghetti and only needed to  use a couple of spoonfuls to get the full effect. I’m looking forward to trying it as a crostini or pizza topping next and, according to River Cottage, it’s also good stirred into soups and stews.

Spaghetti with wild garlic pesto

100g wild garlic leaves (carefully washed – I found a couple of slugs in mine!)
50g spring onions, chopped
50g walnut pieces
200ml good olive oil
70g Parmesan cheese, grated
1 tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
spaghetti, allow 75-100g per person

Remove any thick stalks from the wild garlic and put in a food processor with the walnuts, spring onions, and 150 ml of olive oil.

Give it all a good blitz until everything is finely chopped and you have a beautifully thick, vibrantly green salsa.

Stir in the grated Parmesan, salt and sugar. Then pour into sterilised jam jars.

The advice here from River Cottage  is to ensure you press the pesto down well with the back of a spoon to get rid of any air bubbles and leave room at the top of the jar for a layer of olive oil. Every time you use the pesto, mix in the oil before you take a spoonful, and replace with another layer of oil before replacing the lid and returning to the fridge.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions. Drain and stir in a spoonful or two of the wild garlic pesto to taste. Enjoy!