Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Simple Supper

In a couple or so days it will be February, so time for us to think about sowing a few seeds to begin sprouting on our windowsills.  This year, more than ever before, we really should try and 'grow our own' - as least as much as we can - for our farmers now have saturated fields to get drained and ploughed before they can begin to sow/plant this year's produce, and - if the bad weather continues - they maybe even have to miss this year having a crop that will grow.   If this happens, it will lead to even higher priced fresh produce whether grown in this country or imported. 

There are some vegetables that are still available and reasonable in price, especially if we seek out those that are 'second grade' (in other words mis-shapes).  These are usually better in flavour than those perfect look-alikes (becoming more and more tasteless) that our supermarkets seem to think we prefer (we don't!), so today am including some in today's recipes.

Most of us eat well enough anyway, and often we don't need to cook a substantial meal, so why not occasionally keep it simple, and always cheap?  Make sense (at least to me as I'm getting lazier and more miserly as each day passes).

Today's recipes are based mainly on pasta as this is an inexpensive 'ingredient' (comes in various shapes and sizes) that most of us keep in our storecupboard.  In fact, all the recipes I'm hoping will be able to be made 'from what we already have'.  Never let it be said I encourage anyone to go out and actually BUY an ingredient they are missing.  Always use an alternative, a similar 'substitute'.  Or choose another recipe!

The first recipe makes good use of carrots (inexpensive enough especially if you can buy 'pony carrots'), as - when grated - these help to make a really good, thick, and very satisfying sauce.
The 'meaty' part of this dish comes from sausages (or sausagemeat - which is sometimes cheaper) -and one 'banger' per person would be more than enough, so it hardly breaks the bank.   Use good home-made stock if you have some, but no reason to be ashamed if you make 'instant stock' using water and half a stock cube. 

As ever, the cheese could be stale Cheddar (the harder it is the finer it grates) or the more expensive Parmesan, it doesn't really matter, and - if you can - use macaroni, pasta penne, fusilli, or another small pasta shape that will hold a sauce. 
The important thing to remember (because it really does help to save money) is that - traditionally -Italians serve more pasta and less meat sauce that we do in the UK.  Here we tend to put a small amount of pasta onto a plate then heap the sauce on top.  In Italy they make a small amount of meat (or other) sauce, then add lots of pasta to this, tossing it together so that each piece of pasta has a light coating of the sauce, with every mouthful full of flavour.  You get the idea?
This is a very economical way to use meat, (so next time you are making 'spag bol' bear this in mind).

The advantage of this next dish is that - once made - it can be kept in the fridge for up to three days, and also freezes well, so even if only needing one or two portions at any one time, worth making the lot and freezing the surplus.

Pasta with Sausagemeat and Carrots: serves 4 - 5
8 oz (225g) good pork sausages (or sausagemeat)
1 tblsp sunflower oil
small knob of butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 medium carrots, grated
1 x 400g (14oz) can tomatoes, pureed
4 fl oz (100ml) chicken or beef stock
1 tsp dried oregano or marjoram
salt and pepper
12 oz (350g) macaroni or similar pasta
3 oz (75g) grated Parmesan or other hard cheese
Remove the skins from the sausages, and set the meat aside..  Heat the oil and butter in a pan over medium heat and cook the onion for a few minutes until softened, then add the sausagemeat, breaking it up with a fork, and frying gently until it is lightly browned.  Add the carrots and stir these into the sausagemeat and onions, then add the pureed tomatoes, the stock, and the dried herbs. Cover pan, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes.  Taste and add seasoning only if you feel it needs it (some sausages are spicier than others).
Meanwhile, cook the pasta as per packet instructions, then drain and add to the pan of 'sausage and carrot sauce'.  Toss together, then serve in one large, or individual dishes (can be chilled/ frozen at this point).  Serve the grated cheese separately to sprinkle on top.

Next recipe is a very simple 'peasant' dish, and looking at the list of ingredients I wouldn't blame you for believing it isn't worth the eating.  Believe me it really does taste good, the toasted crumbs giving an unexpected nutty flavour.
If you can use the quick-cook spaghetti, you can make the sauce in the time it takes the water to boil and the pasta to cook.  It's that quick and easy.

Thin Spaghetti with Herbs and Crumbs: serves 4 - 5
12 oz (350g) quick-cook or thin spaghetti
5 tblsp olive oil
1 onion, very finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 oz (50g) fresh parsley, very finely chopped
half tsp salt
half tsp dried oregano or marjoram
ground black pepper
5 tblsp fresh breadcrumbs
1 oz (25g) butter
Start by cooking the pasta as per pkt instructions.  Meanwhile, heat 3 tblsp of the oil in a frying pan and saute the onions, garlic and parsley until lightly coloured.  Add the salt, dried herbs, and plenty of pepper (or to taste). 
At the same time, using another small frying pan, heat the remaining oil and butter together and saute the breadcrumbs until golden.
Drain the pasta and put into a warmed serving dish, then pour the hot parsley-and-oil sauce over and finish by sprinkling the breadcrumbs on the top.  Serve immediately.

This next recipe is fun to make (also good to eat).  It's a great way of serving home-made chicken or beef stock as a soup in its own right, as all you have to do then is make the cheese pasta, and drop it into the soup to cook.
In Italy, especially in the Bologna area, this cheese pasta (aka 'Passatelli) is only served after Easter, as it traditionally heralds in the spring and summer.  But we could make this and eat it any time of the year.
Most of us have a colander we could use to form the 'Passatelli', but the traditional  'spaghetti-like' strands of the cheese paste are best made using a mouli-mill (food mill - using the largest holes), or a potato ricer.

Passetilli: serves 4 -5
3 oz (75g) grated Parmesan cheese
2 oz (50g) fine breadcrumbs
1 oz (25g) butter
3 eggs
grated nutmeg
2.5pints (1.4ltrs) good chicken or beef stock
Put the cheese, breadcrumbs, butter and eggs into a small saucepan, and mix together to make a cheese paste.  Flavour with nutmeg, then heat gently, stirring, for a minute or two to bind the lot together.  Meanwhile put the stock into a large pan and heat until simmering.
Put the cheese paste into a mouli, potato ricer, or colander, holding this over the pan of stock. Press the paste through, in long strands if possible, directly into the stock, allow to simmer for a minute or two (and don't be concerned if the strands lose their shape.  This is normal.).  Then serve.

Here is an unusual and very different and attractive way to serve pasta.  The recipe for Bechamel sauce was given the other day, otherwise make a thick white sauce (dare I suggest using Bisto granules?), preferably flavoured with a bay leaf, and certainly season it well.
The pasta to use should be either the thin spaghetti (aka vermicelli, or spaghettini), or the thin noodles (tagliatelle).  Gruyere cheese is the best to use for this dish, but another easily-melting cheese could be used instead. 

Goes without saying I am suggesting using the scraps left after slicing a home-cooked ham, rather than go out and buy some.  The 'sauce' should be 'salsa di pomodoro' (recipe also shown) and this is worth making ourselves - and in bulk - as it freezes well and can be used with many different pasta or other Italian dishes, but I have suggested using the ready-made passata for those who just can't be bothered (and shame on you if this is so).
Either make this dish in one large mould to divide up, or use individual moulds and serve as a 'starter' when entertaining (and no reason why we can't 'entertain' our immediate family instead of just serving 'supper', especially as once the moulds have been filled, they can be chilled for a few hours before being cooked).

Pasta Tibales: makes 6 small or one large
half oz (15g) butter
half oz (15g) breadcrumbs
half pint Bechamel sauce (see above)
6 oz (175g) pasta (see above)
4 oz (100g) Gruyere cheese, diced
4 oz (100g) cooked ham, diced
half pint tomato Passata (or use recipe below)
Use one large mould, or (pref) six individual moulds (each approx 6 fl oz/175ml capacity), and butter the inside thickly, then coat with some of the breadcrumbs. 
Cook the pasta to just 'al dente' stage (no further as it will carry on cooking in the oven), and drain (but it should still be dripping with water).  Put the wet pasta into a bowl and add the Bechamel sauce.
Half fill the moulds with the pasta mixture, then add a layer of cheese and ham, then top up to the brim with the rest of the pasta.  Sprinkle the top with the remaining breadcrumbs (then if not cooking immediately, cover and chill in the fridge for several hours). Bring to room temperature before baking, or allow an extra five minutes cooking time.
Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 20 - 25 minutes, then run a knife round the inside of the mould and turn out onto a serving dish.   Pour the hot tomato passata into a gravy jug, and serve separately so that everyone can pour as much or as little over the 'timbales' as they wish.

salsa di pomodoro (tomato sauce):
2 x 14 oz (400g) cans plum tomatoes
1 onion, chopped
1 carrots, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
5 tblsp olive oil
few fresh basil leaves, OR...
...a pinch of dried oregano/marjoram
salt and pepper
Put all ingredients - except the seasoning - into a saucepan, then simmer over very low heat for at least one hour, then puree in a blender, food processor, or rub through a sieve.  Season to taste with salt and pepper
(tip) if you like the flavour of garlic, start by lightly frying a chopped clove in the oil, then remove the garlic, adding the garlic-flavoured oil to the other ingredients.

Forgive me for including a cold dish in January, but as I have all the makings in my fridge/larder I'm therefore tempted.  Also see no reason why it cannot make a good supper dish (as long as eaten in a warm room, or with a hot pudding to follow).  If you can't face eating 'cold' at this time of year, then file this recipe away to make during our 'summer' (which may be sooner than you think as in recent years our really hot 'summer' weather - like a full week of it - has been at the end of April, last year it was at the end of March.  This year - maybe end of February???).

Beetroot is a lovely vegetable to use, but needs care as it can stain what it touches.  In this instance it colours not only the apple, but the pasta as well, turning the salad into pretty shade of pink. For best effect, use the shorter pasta shapes, such as macaroni, penne, fusilli etc.
If you haven't soured cream, use creme fraiche or Greek yogurt (or a blend of both).

Beetroot and Pasta Salad: serves 4 - 5
8 oz (225g) pasta, chosen small shapes
2 tblsp olive or sunflower oil
5 fl oz (150ml) soured cream
2 tblsp single cream
2 tblsp lemon juice
2 tblsp finely chopped shallot or spring onions
pinch salt
2 tblsp horseradish sauce
1 lb (450g) crisp eating apples, peeled/cored/sliced
1 lb (450g) cooked beetroot, diced
8 oz (225g) celery, sliced
chopped mint or chives for garnish
Cook the pasta to 'al dente', then drain and refresh under cold, running water. Drain well again and put into a bowl with the oil.
Using another bowl, make a 'dressing' by mixing together the soured cream, single cream, lemon juice, onion, salt and horseradish sauce.  Add the apples, beetroot and celery.  If not using immediately, keep this 'salad' chilled in the fridge.
When ready to serve, stir the pasta into the salad, pile into a serving bowl and garnish with the chosen chopped herbs.

That's it for today.  Have plenty of cooking that I should be doing, also sorting out the freezer/s, the only trouble is now -while the weather is still cold - the moment the freezer door is opened it makes me feel even colder, so keep putting this particular 'stock take' off for another day. 

Yesterday B finished off the last of the Bakewell, heating it in the microwave to serve with cream. He brought it into the living room to eat, and it smelled gorgeous!  How I wished I could have had some. Maybe next time.  My tummy is rumbling now at the thought.   That's the wonderful thing about home-cooking, it's not just the taste, it's the wonderful aroma that spreads around the house.  Bacon frying for breakfast, bread and cakes baked during the day, meat roasting in the oven.  The smell is the added bonus that cannot be matched in any other way.  So let's keep on cooking.

It's odd to think that winter is nearly over, and Spring is not far behind.  It's even begun to get light by 8.00am.  Somehow this is making me feel unsettled.  Perhaps natural, as all sorts of things begin to stir at this time of year.  Not least our emotions (and even a couple of months short of 80 I still feel there is life in this old dog yet!).  Let us hope I can stir myself enough to spend more time in the garden and grow food, rather than sit and smell the roses (not that we have any roses).

How are all you good readers getting on with the 'use what we have' challenge?  Or for that matter the 'cook a roast on Sunday' challenge (that began well in the Goode kitchen, but very soon fizzled out as although not expensive, was pretty boring due to eating the leftovers every day of the week)?  I''ve had to stock up with a few items (flour, eggs etc) as needing these for baking (for social club, charities etc), but these are kept separate from ordinary stock.  Even so, have manage to keep well within my 'top up' budget each week, so it's just a matter of working through what else there is left. 
I've not needed to order any more organic veggies from Riverford (since well before Christmas), but expect to do so soon, although the weather may have put the price up so much that I end up buying from the supermarket after all.   When on a budget, the money has to go as far as possible.  Personal choices, moral issues, any other good reason not to buy something or other, these occasionally have to be placed on a back-burner when there is not the money to buy enough food to keep a family healthy.  Food that is cheaper sometimes has to be cho(and I don't mean 'orrible stuff like sausages, beefburgers and fishfingers made from processed bits we'd rather not know about).  By 'cheap' I mean non-organic fruit, veg, meat, and so on and so forth.

Ah, well.  If life was how we wished it would be, there would be nothing for me to moan about, would there?   All I can do is try to find the best dishes to suggest we can make and eat during this time of recession, and how we spend our money and what we buy is up to the individual.   Just hope he recipes given are interesting enough.  Anything else you want to know, just ask.   Hope you can join me tomorrow for our 'virtual' chat over coffee.  See you then.