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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Basque hake with clams

I have a confession – I don’t like fish. It didn’t use to be this way!! There was a time when sardines or seabass, a plate of oysters or mussels filled me with joy. Then I got pregnant and it all changed. Suddenly, and sadly ever since, I am one of those people who say they don’t like fish because it’s ‘fishy’.

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Lexie loves fish. Lewis loves fish. My mum is from the Basque coastline near San Sebastian where seafood reigns supreme. For their sakes I’m trying to like fish again! I’ve made some headway with seafood. There is no way on earth I could stomach a mussel or oyster right now but I have started eating crab.

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One of my favourite fish dishes used to be hake with clams and parsley. This is a staple of my family, especially my beautiful cousin Maite Miren and I always have it when I visit the Basque country. Hake is incredibly popular over there but very common in the waters around the UK. It’s mostly shipped to Spain which is a tragedy because it’s fantastic. Here is a photo of Maite with her two gorgeous daughters Sara and Andrea. I have no idea why they are so pouty in this photo so here’s a jollier pic of them with my other cousin Olatz (also beautiful!) during the famous ‘Carnavales de Tolosa’ (a week of fiestas before Easter, on the first Friday night the whole town buries a sardine at midnight, the next morning they dance la Diana around town and so on for a week… all in fancy dress!).

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If anything is likely to cure me of my fish phobia this is it so Maite sent me her recipe. Lexie and I bought top quality hake fillets from Applebees, the best fishmongers at Borough market (we also shared one of their delicious prawn wraps). Then we bought Palourde clams from the popular fishmongers in the middle of the market as Applebees didn’t have any.

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The verdict: this recipe is delicious… if you like fish! It’s very simple, the flavours are subtle so the hake and clams are the the stars of this dish. This is Lewis favourite style of Basque cooking. He’s not a fan of the mayonaisy/bechamely style of tapas that are also very popular. Lexie also loved it though I left the clams out for her, I’m not quite sure why. I liked the clams and the hake was cooked to perfection BUT it just tasted fishy!!!

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Hake with clams

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 5-10 mins
Budget: £15-20 – good quality fish costs lots of money (£13 hake, £4 clams, £1.50 parsley)
Ease: medium – there is a knack to cooking fish well that must be learnt by experience even though the recipe is simple
Serves 3

  • Hake fillets or steaks (fillets have no bones so better for kids)
  • Clams – as many as you fancy
  • Olive oil
  • A little flour for dusting
  • Salt
  • Big handful of chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 chopped garlic clove
  • 1/2 white onion chopped
  • 2 big glasses of white wine

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Start by cleaning the clams. My cousin always gives them a bath in salty water ‘to make them feel at home’ she says, and to release any grit. Check all the clams and discard any that are open – they should be tightly sealed shut. Drain then add the clams to a pan with a glass of white wine and cover. Cook on a high heat until the clams have steamed open – 3-5 mins approx. Set aside reserving the liquid.

Gently fry the onion and garlic in a frying pan that will be big enough to take the fish fillets. Fry for 10 mins or until the onions have softened but not browned. Salt and dust the fish fillets with a little flour, turn up the hob to medium hot, then add to the onions with the skin side up. Add the clam liquid and some more wine – this recipe is poaching the fish in the pan, not frying it. Cook for 2-3 mins then gently turn and cook for another 2-3 mins. The sauce should be bubbling down and you may need to add a little fish stock or wine for more liquid if the fillets are thick or if the sauce drying up. At the last minute add the chopped parsley and clams y listo! My cousin recommends serving this with chunky chips and a hardboiled egg (I’m not sure if she means a finely chopped boiled egg to sprinkle on top – will check). Lewis hates boiled eggs so we omitted this and we made rice instead which was fine as there is a lot of sauce. I gave Lexie the fish with a little rice and sauteed courgette and she ate it all happily.

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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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