Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Pasta Pleasures

Yesterday's pasta-based recipes seemed to go down well, so more today. Not because I can't think of anything else to write about (far from it!), but as pasta is an economical ingredient with a long shelf-life, and almost any pasta dish can be adapted to use foods we need to use up, what better dishes to make when we have less time to spare cooking, and/or less money to spend.

According to recent research, we eat roughly 40% more food when depressed than we would do when happy with our lot.  Comfort eating I suppose, and considering - at least in the UK - we haven't anything much to be contented about (and not just the recession, the weather too...!) we need to make sure we choose to eat foods that are good for us, and leave the rest well alone.
Pasta dishes make good 'comfort eating', as quick to cook (some can be made ahead of time, also frozen), so another good reason to include more recipes today.

Firstly though, must welcome two new names to our happy band of cost-cutters.  A comment from Nikki who's husband is vegetarian, so some of yesterday's dishes were useful, and hope today's will be also. Group hugs from us all Nikki.
A welcome and hugs also to Pam (from Texas - originally from Huddersfield - and there must have been a culture shock on arrival in the US). Good to know there are still people out there who remember me the first time round.  

No jane, I have not yet sorted my freezer/s, only opening the door for a few seconds to remove on box of pre-cooked Beef Rib Trim (that my Beloved likes so much).  This was reheated yesterday and 'turned' into a beef casserole with the help of some cooked carrots and potatoes, some lightly fried onions, and a good helping of gravy (the meat stock - frozen with the 'trim' - thickened with Bisto 'Best').  For 'greens', I shredded and steamed - over the pan of carrots and potatoes cooked together - the last bit of white cabbage that I had (I have another whole white as yet unused as back-up in the fridge).  It all went together quite well, and B seemed happy enough.

For myself made a salad (grated and chopped winter veg) with a can of 'no-drain' tuna (I quite like this as there seems to be no liquid in the can at all).  Then ate a large navel orange.  Healthy enough but it didn't warm me up as much as the casserole would have done.  Mind you, the temperature has risen now higher than is 'seasonal', so managed without needing to put the central heating on during the day.  Was so cosy in bed last night that I decided to grab an extra few minutes when I woke, which turned out to be more than an hour because I fell asleep again (bonus was I had a long, long dream), so late starting my blog this morning/ No more 'chat' and straight on to the recipes.

As with most pasta recipes, we should be able to use almost any pasta shape that we have, although some work better than others according to if a sauce is used, or more 'chunky' ingredients.  Italians would throw up their hands in horror if I suggest 'pasta is pasta' (like I think potatoes are potatoes...), with little difference between one or t'other.  So my suggestion of using what we have is mainly for sheer economy. We can be more selective when can afford to be.

The pasta in this first recipe should be 'bucatini', this being like spaghetti, but a thicker, hollow version. Think long strips of macaroni and you're nearly there.  So why not use macaroni, pasta penne, or just spaghetti? Doubt even a Roman would notice the difference.
Bacon is included in this dish - and it truly does add a wonderful flavour.  If wishing to make this dish for vegetarians and non-veggies, cook the bacon separately, cook the other ingredients in just the oil, serve the vegetarian meal first, then finish off the dish by adding the bacon and bacon fat and continuing the cooking.  If you haven't any spicy chillis, then either add a dash or two of Tabasco, or hot chilli sauce, or stir a little chilli powder (to taste) into the pan when frying.

Many Italian dishes originate from small towns (or even villages) and this one comes from Amatrice (central Italy) - hence the name.  .
Bucatini all'Amatriciana: serves 4 - 5
2 tlblsp sunflower oil
7 oz (200g) streaky bacon, cut into matchsticks
1 onion, finely sliced
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
half a green or red chilli pepper, seeded and chopped
12 oz (350g) bucatini or spaghetti (see above)
3 oz (75g) Parmesan or Cheddar, grated
salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat and saute the bacon until it is starting to crisp up.  Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.
Add the onion to the fat in the pan (or use another pan and fresh oil for the veggie version) and saute for a few minutes until softened, then add the tomatoes and chilli and simmer (uncovered) for 15 minutes until thickened slightly.  Then add the bacon and continue to cook for a further 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta, then drain well.  Put into a serving bowl and mix with the hot sauce and half the cheese.  Add seasoning to taste.  Serve immediately, with the remaining cheese served separately.

Some vegetarians will eat fish, so this might be a 'feed all' dish.  Anchovies do help to add flavour, so worth using, but if you haven't any then you could use anchovy paste, or omit this fish altogether and just settle for the sardines.  If using anchovies, freeze any surplus (with or without the oil), so they can be added to other dishes in the future.
We have a choice of two pastas for this dish, one being pasta penne - this shape soaks up the sauce both internally an externally, the other being spaghettini (aka vermicelli), a thin type of spaghetti, so the sauce coats only the surface of the pasta.  Pasta penne is the one I prefer, mainly because this is always in my larder, being one of the most useful pastas to have.  But if you have neither, then use what you do have.
As the fish is canned in oil, then why not use some (or all) of this oil to saute the onions instead of using just olive oil?
Penne con Sarde: serves 3 - 4
5 tblsp olive oil (see above)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 x 47g can anchovy fillets, chopped (opt)
approx half a 400g can chopped tomatoes
1 oz (25g) raisins
2 x 120g cans sardines in oil, drained (see above)
salt and pepper
12 oz (350g) pasta penne, or spaghettini (see above)
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
2 os (50g) lightly toasted breadcrumbs
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and saute the onions and anchovies until softened. Add the tomatoes and raisins and cook for 10 minutes before adding the sardines.  Reduce heat and simmer for five minutes, then add seasoning to taste.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta as per packet instructions (to 'al dente'), drain well, then add to the sauce.  Stir everything together, fold in the parsley and breadcrumbs, and serve immediately.

We don't associate curry with Italian dishes, but they do have some wonderful mild versions, and here is one.  The pasta for this dish is 'linguine' (a flat type of spaghetti), but you could use the wider 'tagliatelle'.
This is another 'store-cupboard' type of meal (not a million miles away from a 'Carbonara'), and many of us should have all the ingredients to hand (in larder, fridge or freezer). For economy use less prawns and more pasta.  With two egg whites left over, why not make use of these and make some meringues or macaroons?  Or - you could use two whole eggs with a tablespoon of cream and then no need to have spare whites.
Pasta with Prawns: serves 3 - 4
12 oz (350g) linguine or other long, thin pasta
3 oz (75g) butter
12 oz (350g) frozen peeled prawns, thawed
1 tblsp curry powder (or mild curry paste)
4 tblsp white wine (opt)
half pint (300ml) fish or chicken stock
2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg (see above)
4 oz (100g) grated Parmesan or mature Cheddar
salt and pepper
3 tblsp finely chopped fresh mint
Start cooking the pasta as per packet instructions, and while this cooks, heat half the butter in a large frying pan and saute the prawns and curry powder together for a few minutes (if prawns are already cooked, just fry the curry powder and add the prawns nearer the end of the cooking time).
Add the wine to the pan and boil over high heat to reduce, then add the stock . Put the eggs into a bowl with the cheese and mix together.
When the pasta is cooked, drain lightly (it doesn't matter if it stays a bit wet), and add to the frying pan with the remaining butter (cut into pieces), and the egg/cheese mixture (adding prawns if using the cooked/thawed ones).  Stir over a low heat until the sauce has thickened and is coating the pasta. Add seasoning to taste, sprinkle over the mint, give one final toss, then serve immediately. 

Final recipe today has nothing to do with pasta, but due to the comments sent it, thought that this might make good use of excess of carrots (several readers buying these a sackful at a time as this works out much cheaper - by weight).  From my notes I see this recipe has been posted before, but newer (and maybe even older) readers may have missed seeing it first time round, so here it is again.

Unlike many muffins - best eaten on the day of making - these carrot muffins keep moist for up to 5 days in an airtight container (or can be frozen for up to 3 months), perfect for those lunch-boxes.
If you haven't mini-muffin tins, use regular sized one in which case the mixture should make between 9 and 12 muffins.  Allow a little extra time for cooking.  They should be risen and firm to the touch in the centre when lightly pressed.
Carrot Muffins: makes 18 mini-muffins
4 oz (100g) self-raising flour
half tsp mixed spice
4 oz (100g) caster sugar
3 fl oz (75ml) sunflower oil
2 fl oz (50ml) milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
5 oz (125g) carrots, peeled and grated
Sift the flour and spice together over a bowl and stir in the sugar.  Mix in the oil, milk, and egg, then finally the carrots, stirring well to combine.
Put a heaped teaspoon of the mixture into 18 paper-case lined mini-muffin tins, then bake for 12 minutes until risen.  Cool before storing in an airtight tin (up to 5 days) or freeze in a rigid container for up to 3 months.

Due to me cutting out my 'rambling', seem to have managed to complete today's blog in less time than expected.  This will allow me more time to trot off into the kitchen and sort out my own cooking.  Have to say that when writing about food, copying out recipes etc, by the time I get into the kitchen I've almost had my fill.  Really don't feel like dealing with any more cooking, unless quick and easy.  What does that make me?  A bit of a waste of space perhaps. 

Today is very dull, very windy, and rain spattering the window as I write.  Instead of worrying about improving the land, better drainage etc, the government now seems to want to build new train tracks for a planned 'fast-speed' train.  The reason why we need one - according to our PM - is that other countries on the continent have them (so presumably we want to keep up with them).  Has it ever occurred to him that most of those countries are much MUCH larger than ours, so they probably need to cut down travelling time to get from one end to the other.

Why do we need fast trains.  To get to London more rapidly they say.  Why would we want to do that?   What's wrong with catching an earlier train and eating a leisurely breakfast en route?
Many years ago I had occasionally and temporary work as a food stylist at a studio in Manchester (we lived in Leeds at that time). As I had to be at the studio by 8.30am each morning, this meant an early start and I could have caught the express from Leeds to Manchester.  In fact I did the first day, but it was full of busy and stressed commuters, and these 'vibes' I found unpleasant.  The remaining days of that particular 'job' I caught an earlier train that sauntered through the countryside stopping at every small station en route.  The carriages were barely half-full, and this made for a very relaxing trip. I also chose to return the 'slow way', but not by the same route, so had a double whammy of 'scenic routes.  The only drawback was because we finished work when the photographer had completed the task in hand (mid-evening more often than not), I did not reach home until nearly 11.00pm, then had to tumble out of bed by 6.00am next day to catch that early train.  But worth it.  It really was.
Believe me I've travelled on enough fast trains, packed with commuters, to make me realise that this is the worst way to get to work.  There are better ways.

Anyway, as the proposed 'fast train' is planned only from London to Manchester, forking to reach Leeds, hardly worth all the fuss and bother.  Would make more sense if it was fast-tracking from London to Aberdeen.
I asked B if it was to be a 'straight through express' and he said "no, it would stop off somewhere else, probably Birmingham'".  This means that everyone who wants to 'fast track' to London, will have to live close to the 'new' stations or they will be adding more than the 'saved time' to use said trains.  If they continued to catch their 'regular' train from the station closer to home, I bet there wouldn't be that much difference in time saved. Not enough to make any difference, and that's all that matters.

Speed is not essential (though it seems as though this is the way the world is going).  No-one has moaned because Concorde can no longer take us Brits to the US (and other places) it less than half the time it took before.  We seem quite happy to have settled back into the long haul again.  So let's not waste our precious money on something that we really don't need, and use it to make our lands well-drained and fit to grow produce.

If this country is so short of money that cuts have to be made here there and everywhere, then where is this money coming from to pay for the high-speed trains and tracks?  Let's get the nation securely back on its feet first. 
In the 20 years it will take to get this new venture 'on track', by then most business will be conducted via computers, so very few people will need to have to scamper down for a face to face meeting (and having had many of those myself know these tend to start either mid-morning, or as a 'working lunch').  Who needs to be in London early, leading to being wedged like sardines in the Underground carriages as another 'quick' way to get to the venue (everyone else just on their way to 'ordinary' work at that time).   Of course there are taxis!   Which brings me to the cost of it all.  Extra fares for the privilege of fast-tracking, higher taxi-fares (because these will undoubtedly rise), so who will then be able to afford to use the speedy transport.   The trains have to be full to make them pay their way.  Full of what?  Millionaires? Of course not.  They have their own helicopters, cars and chauffeurs.  I rest my case.

There was me about to sign off, and I started to ramble (aka 'moan') again. Always got a bee in my bonnet about something these days.  Old age I suppose.  I'm even moaning about that.  Perhaps we should all stand up, have our say, and be counted.  We have only ourselves to blame when things happen that we might have been able to prevent - had we shouted long and hard enough.   My 'yelling' is mainly confined to my blog.  Those who use 'Twitter' could spread their feeling around, and someone might listen.  Isn't there a saying, something to do with 'a butterfly flapping its wings in South America, can be the cause of a hurricane the other side of the world'?  So let all of us start doing a bit of 'flapping', and bring some sense into the running of this country (meanwhile I'll start by trying to put my own house in order).

However slow your day may be, then consider you will have more time to enjoy it.  Hope you do so.  May be a late start (again) tomorrow as it is Norma the Hair day.  Doubt I will be up early enough to write and publish before she comes.  So expect me around noon (or just after).  See you then.