Asparagus (or courgette or pea) carbonara

I’m rushing to get all my asparagus recipes written up. The ‘asparagus’ collection if you will. Here’s a tasty carbonara that’s lovely with asparagus but also good with courgettes or peas. Lexie likes cracking eggs so this is a good recipe to make with her, although Finn is too little to have raw egg.

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I usually make this with penne or spaghetti but recently have made it for Lexie using my favourite kids pasta Stellette, little stars that cook in 5 minutes and are suitable for baby Finn to eat. Chifferi rigati which is like mini macaroni also cooks in 5 mins.

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Asparagus carbonara

  • 2 egg yolks
  • bunch of trimmed and washed asparagus, sliced into 5mm rounds, or peas, or sliced courgette
  • 75ml double cream
  • 30g grated parmesan, plus more to serve
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • a sprigs worth of fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves
  • handful of chopped fresh parsley
  • pasta (roughly 250g)

Blanch the asparagus for a minute or two, drain and set aside. Heat a little oil in a pan and fry the bacon with the thyme leaves so it’s nice and crispy. Just before it’s done add the garlic and asparagus. Mix the egg yolks with the cream and parmesan and season with salt and pepper. Cook the pasta and when cooked and drained, add to the bacon mix. Finally stir in the egg mixture off the heat and serve quickly, ideally on warmed plates if for grown ups, with extra parmesan.

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Vongole for Valentines!

Ha ha naff title of the day! For last year’s Valentine’s post we made these silly heart shaped biscuits that didn’t really work. The origami message hearts were fun too but this year I’ve gone even simpler, what with having a baby and all. Some pretty cut and stick hearts…

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Along with some heart shaped balloon cards for Lexie to colour in and glitter. Obviously I’m biased but how amazing is her penmanship? (I love the heart where she obviously couldn’t be bothered anymore on the right below.)

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We’ve also been listening to ‘love’ music (in particular this song) and I’m contemplating trying some sable heart shaped biscuits with Lexie this afternoon because sugar cookies really don’t taste very nice. For us big people I’m leaning towards having spaghetti vongole. This has become my recent favourite ‘special occasion’ recipe and we had this for my birthday in January. (We tend to cook the same recipes for important days – Christmas/New Year’s Eve or birthdays – usually crab linguine or steak and chips.)

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As my favourite blood oranges are also in season I’m dreaming about some sort of campari blood orange cocktail for the aperitif, ideally with a plate of iberico ham from Borough market. The classic campari cocktails are the negroni or, my personal favourite, the sbagIiato (which means ‘mistake’ – apparently invented when a barman added prosecco instead of gin into what was supposed to be a negroni). Both of these would be nice with a splash of blood orange. As we don’t have any gin or vermouth I’ll probably make blood orange campari spritzes. This is a take on a cocktail my wonderful neighbour used to make for me 2 summers ago. We’d sit supping these delicious spritzers with our feet in the paddling pool in our communal back garden while our little toddlers splashed around – bliss! I’ll also ask Lewis to make me his yummy chocolate mousse pots for desert.

Blood orange campari spritz

Get a glass and add a shot of campari, a shot of white wine, a shot of blood orange juice. Stir and add some ice then top with fizzy water and stir again. This can be a tall or a short cocktail. Enjoy!

Spaghetti alle vongole

  • 500g small clams
  • spaghetti (dried)
  • knob of butter
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • ½ medium-hot red chilli, finely chopped
  • 100ml dry white wine
  • Small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • Zest of ½ a lemon and a spritz of juice
  • Salt and pepper

Rinse the clams in cold water and scrub a bit. Then put in a large bowl, cover with cold water and salt generously. Leave for 10-20 mins – my family say this is to make the clams feel they are back home in the sea. Then drain and rinse well to remove any grit.

Put the spaghetti into a large pan of salted boiling water and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, put half the butter and all the olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat and soften the garlic and chilli.

Add the drained clams, and turn up the heat. Pour in the wine, cover and leave for a couple of minutes until most of them have opened. Discard any that are still closed. Add the others to the garlic/chilli pan.

Drain the spaghetti and add to the pan along with the remaining butter. Toss well and leave for a minute, then stir through the chopped parsley, lemon zest and juice, season to taste and serve.

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Crab linguine with Albert – Lexie’s other boyfriend

This is another mother-in-law recipe that has become one of my all time favourites. It encompasses all my favourite ingredients – salt, lemon, chilli, garlic, olive oil. We make it regularly buying dressed crabs for ease, but nothing will beat eating this in the Scottish Highlands. The local fisherman delivers crabs caught that morning directly to my mother-in-law’s house.

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Yes that beach is in Scotland. The weather is always changeable in this part of the country but last summer we were blessed with a run of glorious sunny days. Lexie was overjoyed to be on the beach and ran headlong into the freezing Atlantic sea completely nonplussed. Usually the weather is more like the picture below taken the year before. I couldn’t find a picture of the crabs but here is one of me with a lobster that was also part of our special delivery.

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Crab linguine ticks a lot of boxes. It’s often our Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve main course. Recently it’s been my go-to dish if cooking for girl friends because it’s luxurious yet ready in the time it takes the pasta to cook. Perfect for a midweek lunch with Caroline who was visiting with her son Albert. By perfect I mean as perfect as lunch with two awake two year olds will ever be (Lexie: “Mummy need wee wee”… Albert: “Mummy I need wee wee NOW” etc). It was so lovely to see them. I mean how can you not adore a little boy who arrives to see your daughter like this…

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Albert is Leo’s main competitor. Him and Lexie have been friends since they were 6 months old as we lived over the road from each other. Caroline and I found the local area difficult and we both ended up moving after a year, in their case to Brighton by the sea. It is such a shame we don’t get to meet up as much anymore – I mean just look at these two!! I’m already picturing my grandchildren with Albert’s amazing hair.

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We all ate linguine but the kids had peas and parmesan instead of crab. I’m not sure when I’ll give Lexie crab – can two year olds eat crab? In any case ours had lots of chilli so wasn’t kiddie appropriate. The crab was yummy as always but I’ll probably aim for something even easier next time we are all together. The kids were way too excited to eat and after the various wee stops/spillage wipe ups etc our pasta was pretty cold. But it was fine because we had bubbles! And strawberries and cherries in garden after lunch which were very popular and made up for the lack of lunch eating. Come back and see us soon Albert and Caroline!

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Crab linguine

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 10 mins
Budget: £10 (£5 crab, £1.50 parsley, 50p lemon, 50p chilli)
Ease: Easy
Serves 2-3

  • 1 dressed crab per 2 people
  • Olive oil
  • 1 crushed garlic clove
  • 1 red chilli finely chopped
  • Lots of chopped parsley
  • 1 or 2 lemons
  • Salt and pepper
  • Linguine

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Start by making the crab mixture. Scoop the prepared white and brown crabmeat into a bowl adding a generous amount of olive oil. Add the chopped parsley, crushed garlic and finely sliced chilli – I wear rubber gloves and use scissors to chop chillis and avoid getting any on my hands (I wear contacts and also worry about touching Lexie with chilli fingers). Mix it all together with a spoon and season with salt and pepper to taste. Start cooking the linguine and just before it’s ready squeeze some lemon into the crab mixture. Drain the pasta reserving a tiny amount of the cooking water. Mix the crab into the pasta so that the linguine strands are all nicely coated. Serve with extra olive oil for drizzling and more lemon slices. We always seem to add loads of extra salt and lemon. Serve quickly because it cools down fast but, having eaten it cold this very day, I can say it’s still tasty cold! Not optimal but still good!

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I love the two pictures below of Lexie in Brighton last year on a trip to see Albert.

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Leo and Lexie eat pesto – it is a success

Sarah is one of my oldest friends. We met at secondary school but lost touch during our early 20s. By chance we both moved to Waterloo and bumped into each other in Borough market. Our kids are 5 months apart and it was so brilliant living by such a good friend during pregnancy and that difficult first year! I was very sad when Sarah and little Leo left us to move to a humongous house in West London 😦 Thankfully there is a speedy train between us so meeting up is not impossible (it’s still not the same Sarah!! We miss you!!).

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Leo and Lexie have a special relationship. It’s safe to say I consider him to be my future son-in-law (although he has a lot of competition from Albert… and Louie…). Apologies in advance for the photo overload – these two are just too cute. Most of the photos are from Lexie’s second birthday party which was loosely themed ‘Confetti and Cake!’

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Leo now has a baby brother Charlie, in those pics above Sarah is heavily pregnant! The other week we hopped on the train and went to visit this little family. Sarah prepared the most delicious pasta pesto using a recipe she adapted from the Eagle gastropub’s cookbook reducing the garlic and salt. I was secretly hoping the kids wouldn’t finish theirs so I could have more but they scoffed the lot! They also tried to feed the baby pasta which they found hilarious!

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Sarah kindly gave me her recipe and here it is. This is great to make with kids if you have a food processor. Lexie absolutely loved helping me – all she had to do was press the scary button on the magimix which terrified her at first and then became such a big thrill!

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Sarah’s pasta with pesto

  • A large bunch of fresh basil
  • 45 g approx of pine nuts
  • 2 1/2 heaped tbsp of grated parmesan
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled (or even 1/2 garlic clove)
  • Salt – Sarah left this out for the kiddies
  • 100ml olive oil
  • Pasta

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Either chop the basil, pine nuts and garlic by hand then pound in a pestle and mortar, or pulse in a food processor. Then slowly add the oil either by hand or in the processor still. Finally stir in the grated cheese by hand. Season to taste with salt if using. Cook the pasta as per the packet instructions and – importantly – when draining do it very quickly so a little of the pasta water is retained. This will help loosen up the pesto sauce. Add 2 tbsp of pesto per 200g of pasta or to taste, mix well and serve with extra parmesan. I only mixed a tiny bit of sauce for Lexie as it has raw garlic which is hard to digest. Err on the side of caution if serving to little ones.

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  • An even simpler ‘cheat’ pesto that is ideal for little ones is pasta with a little olive oil and lots of chopped basil and grated parmesan – tastes very similar and is lighter on little tummies.

A spring minestrone

There are buds on the magnolias and the garden is full of daffodils and crocuses – signs that spring is on the way! We have one back garden and access to two beautiful communal gardens and while I never managed to do any gardening last year, I did note down all the flowers that bloomed throughout the year. I’m filled with anticipation of what is to come.

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One of the gardens overlooks the old church, now an orchestra rehearsal and recording studio. When the weather is warm and the church windows open we get to hear the performance by the visiting orchestra of the day – the Royal Philharmonic, the English Symphony Orchestra to name a few. There are two ancient cherry blossoms and I cannot wait for them to bloom. Last year Lexie and I spent many an afternoon lying in their shade, reading books, having ice creams and, if we were lucky, listening to the orchestra’s music.

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Lexie really loves minestrone and, seeing as there was fresh chicken stock from Sunday’s chicken, I made a spring version with no tomato. It’s adapted from a Jane Grigson recipe that calls for spring greens and butternut squash as well as the usual potato, pasta and beans. If you haven’t heard of Jane Grigson she was born in 1928 and a protege of Elizabeth David. Her book Good Things is a classic – a celebration of the seasons and the foods they bring. I made this soup listening to some beautiful Debussy flute, daydreaming about endless days in the garden and all the flowers yet to bloom, the magnolia, the camelias then the glorious summer roses, agapanthus and chrysanthemums…

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Spring minestrone

Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 20-30 mins
Budget: £5-10 (£1 butternut squash, £1.50 leeks, £2.50 pancetta, £1 spring cabbage)
Ease: easy
Serves 4

  • 1 sliced onion
  • 3 sliced leeks
  • 1/2 diced carrot
  • 1/2 stick celery chopped
  • 1 peeled and cubed potato
  • 1/2 butternut squash diced
  • 2 cloves garlic sliced
  • A large handful of spring cabbage, rinsed and sliced
  • 2 sticks of thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • A handful of fresh chopped parsley
  • A handful of pasta
  • 1 tin of cannellini beans or chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • Grated parmesan
  • Olive oil
  • Pancetta
  • Chicken stock

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Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the onion, carrot and celery and cook on a gentle heat for 10 mins. Add the garlic, squash, potato and the bay leaf and thyme, pour in the stock and cook for 10 mins. Then add the spring cabbage and the pasta and cook for another 10 mins. In a separate pan fry the pancetta in a little olive oil and set aside when done. The minestrone should be ready and just before serving add the beans so they heat through. When it’s ready, garnish with the chopped parsley and pancetta and serve with grated parmesan and olive oil for drizzling.

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Spaghetti with prawns and aubergine

They said on the radio it’s been the wettest January in 250 years. Unsurprisingly I’ve started dreaming of summer, blue skies, the sea the sea…

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Every summer we spend a week at Lewis dad’s house in Provence near Cassis. It’s on the coast and the light is incredible – a never ending horizon of blue. Thinking of these far off summer days I put on some Francoise Hardy and Serge Gainsbourg then made this wonderful recipe of my French mother-in-laws I had for the first time on one of these holidays.

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Spaghetti with prawns and aubergine

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 20-30 mins
Budget: £10-15 depending on prawns (£5 for 6 prawns, £1.50 tomatoes, £1.50 basil, £1 aubergine)

  • 3 prawns per person (sounds stingy but they are huge and it’s all about the amazing juices they release into the pasta)
  • 6 vine tomatoes
  • Chopped fresh basil
  • 1 aubergine sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 or 2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Make this fresh tomato sauce. Put the pasta on to boil as per the packet instructions (usually 8-10 mins). Put the aubergine on a baking tray, season and rub with oil and crushed garlic. Grill until turning golden on both sides, remove and set aside on a plate. Season the prawns and mix in a bowl with some oil and crushed garlic. Heat a griddle pan as hot as it will go and fry for roughly 3 mins on each side or until the prawns are happy and rosy. Set aside on a plate (this is also how you do the prawns for my garlic and lemon butterbeans recipe). Once the pasta is done, drain and mix into the tomato sauce. Serve with the separate plates of aubergine, prawns and basil so everyone can help themselves. Remember a spare bowl for the prawn shells and lots of napkins! Lexie loves loves loves prawns – look at her little mitts grabbing them below!

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Tagliatelle with girolles (or any mushrooms)

It’s raining it’s pouring…
Usually Lexie adores the rain as she has a thing for umbrellas and wellies.

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But even she has had enough of having to endure her pushchair rain cover every day since forever #toddlerproblems

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I don’t entirely mind the rain. The slight OCD that emerged in me when Lexie was born is grateful the streets are getting washed properly. I’m also glad that damp = good skin according to my mum. I quite like London in the rain, it feels right (as opposed to London in a heatwave which is hellish). I would however far prefer to be mushroom foraging in a dark, magical Basque forest than fighting with my umbrella on the pavement. I remember being a little girl on treasured mushroom hunts in the forests of Guipuzkoa. I was the assistant to my adored cousin Inigo, a landscape gardener and terrific chef, who would create the most fantastic dishes with our finds (some of his recipes to follow!). The pic below is us together in one of his favourite forests near Anoeta where he lives.

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The damp has been playing on my mind and all I can think about are mushrooms and how to eat them. A morning visit to my mother-in-laws gave me the chance to peruse her River Cafe cookbooks and stock up on herbs from her wonderful garden. I returned home laden with bundles of thyme, rosemary, sage and recipes for veal escalopes, baked porcini and girolle tagliatelle. I realise writing this I’ve also been heavily influenced by a post I read recently on the glorious Manger website.

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I needed a quick lunch and figured veal might be more fun for dinner with Lewis than with a tired toddler so pasta it was. I’ve got a standard mushroom tagliatelle I do with cream, bacon, onion and parsley (see recipe for this variation at bottom of the recipe). I far prefer this version. It’s much cleaner and allows the mushrooms to really take the stage rather than masking them with a rich creamy sauce. Lexie had my leftovers for dinner as a side with a ‘maybe tiny little’ (her words she says doing little lobster claw fingers in front of her eyes) slice of veal saltimbocca and some buttered spinach. She wolfed the pasta – by far her favourite bit of the meal!

EDIT: I now make this pasta recipe about once a week using the bog standard mushrooms and spaghetti from the supermarket because it takes exactly 10 mins, it’s really tasty and cheap. It’s basically one step up from pasta, butter and cheese which we also love to eat when in a hurry. I never use girolles because they are so pricy and also such a faff to clean. So if you want a cheap staple try this with button mushrooms and spaghetti. If you love that and want to push the boat out buy posh girolles and good tagliatelle. 

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Tagliatelle with girolles (or any mushrooms) 

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 10 mins
Serves: 2
Ease: Very easy
Budget: £5-10 depending on mushrooms (tagliatelle £2.50, mushrooms £3, parsley £1.50, lemon 30p)

  • 1/2 pack Tagliatelle or spaghetti
  • Girolle mushrooms (or any mushrooms – this is lovely with button, chestnut and portobello mushrooms = aka the ones that are cheap at the supermarket) – as many as you fancy
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 Lemon
  • Handful of parsley – chopped
  • 1 clove of sliced garlic
  • Parmesan

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If using normal mushrooms cut the ends of the stalks off then slice. Don’t wash them as mushrooms absorb water. If using girolles, clean them before slicing, so cut the ends of the stalks off then wipe with a damp cloth or brush with a toothbrush. This is really fiddly and don’t attempt this with a toddler under your feet, rather with a glass of wine listening to the radio watching the rain tinkle on the window!

Cook the tagliatelle as per the instructions and when done – usually 5-10 mins – drain, return to the pan with a big knob of butter and some salt. The mushrooms take about 3-5 mins to fry so its good to do have everything ready then start frying them once the pasta starts cooking. So heat olive oil in a separate frying pan to a high temperature but not smoking – I use about 3 tbsp. Add the mushrooms, season immediately and fry for a minute, then add the sliced garlic and fry for another minute on this high heat. Squeeze lemon juice on the mushrooms and reduce the heat adding the chopped parsley. Turn the heat off and as soon as the pasta is done add the mushrooms and mix. Serve with plenty of parmesan and lemon wedges.

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Here are some really good tips on how to clean and cook mushrooms – I knew about not washing them but I didn’t know how important it is to cook mushrooms on a high heat (it’s very important!!).

  • Variation: For those who like creamy pasta sauces try this: fry bacon then add chopped onion. Cook for a bit then add sliced mushrooms, some crushed garlic and maybe a splash of white wine. Sizzle and fry until you like the look of the mushrooms then season with salt, pepper and parsley. Add a swirl of double cream and turn the heat off. Mix in the cooked tagliatelle, season and serve with parmesan.