There’s something special about watching the steam rise from a hot bowl of soup after you’ve been working in the garden all morning; you just know it’s going to fill you up. My smoked bacon and kale soup came about simply to use up some ingredients in the kitchen. I cooked up enough for six portions so there’s plenty in the freezer for a wet and windy day. We have rather busy weekends and when lunchtime comes it’s nice to stop, take some time and eat something nourishing.
This is a recipe I have actually made and eaten in a few different guises. Once I added the same ingredients but made it into a macaroni cheese, another time I added similar ingredients and had a cold pasta salad. My creamy bacon, spinach and pea pasta is a real favourite in our house for two reasons: we almost always have all the ingredients, and it’s cheap and quick to make. I don’t know what it is about peas and pasta but I love the combination of silky, smooth pasta and squeaky peas. With so many things going on at the moment, the World Cup, Wimbledon about to start, this excellent weather and doing up the house anything that takes less than half an hour to make is my best friend.
You will need (for two people):
- Olive oil for cooking
- 1/2 mug frozen peas
- 2 nuggets frozen chopped spinach
- 100g (ish) smoked bacon lardons or pancetta
- 300g crème fraîche
- 150g pasta
- Salt and pepper
- Parmesan to serve
Add a little olive oil into a frying pan and add the bacon. Fry over a low heat until the fat starts to melt out of the bacon.
While the bacon is frying bring a large pan of salted water up to the boil. Add the pasta and cook according to pack instructions.
Turn the heat up on the bacon so it turns brown and crispy then add the peas and spinach. Leave to cook for 2-3 minutes and break the spinach down with a wooden spoon. Stir the crème fraîche into the pea mixture then bring to a gentle simmer.
Drain the pasta reserving a small amount of cooking water.
Add a little salt and plenty of pepper to the peas and bacon before mixing with the pasta and cooking water to make a smooth sauce.
Top with grated Parmesan before serving.
If you haven’t tried frozen spinach it is such a great ingredient. I chuck it in everything from sauces to soups and pestos. Fresh spinach would be delicious to use and if any arrives in the veg box I would definitely use that instead; just wilt it first, squeeze out the moisture and roughly chop before adding in. Salty, smoky bacon with sweet peas, earthy spinach, pasta and a sharp creamy sauce is such a great combination. I think I’ll try stirring this mixture, without the crème fraîche, through a risotto soon too.
I love how a recipe evolves over time. Many risottos have been made in my kitchen over the years and I have to say a pea risotto has got to be one of my favourites. This recipe for pea, bacon and sundried tomato risotto is, in my opinion, the very best it can be. Other variations have included chorizo, fried speck, mint, goat’s cheese or spinach but this combination of ingredients gives such a variety and depth of flavour that is hard to beat.
You will need (for two people):
- 1 small onion, finely diced (preferably not a red onion)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small garlic clove, crushed
- 4 sundried tomatoes, finely chopped or sliced
- 175g risotto rice
- 500-600ml hot vegetable or chicken stock
- 1 mug full frozen peas
- Small knob of butter
- 4 rashers smoked bacon, chopped
- Salt and pepper
- 25g Parmesan cheese, grated
Start by adding the oil and onion to a saucepan and frying gently for at least 15 minutes until the onion is softened and not coloured. Add the garlic and sundried tomatoes and continue frying for a few more minutes.
Stir the rice into the onion mixture and cook for another minute or two before adding a little vegetable stock.
Add a little vegetable stock to the rice mixture at a time stirring well between each addition and ensuring the stock has been full absorbed before adding the next.
While the risotto is cooking you’ll need to get a small pan of water boiling for the peas and a frying pan heating up for the bacon.
Test the rice to see if it’s cooked and if so, remove the pan from the heat, pop the lid on and leave to one side for five minutes.
While the risotto is resting cook the peas in the boiling water and fry the bacon until crispy.
Blend the peas with a little butter to make a rough puree. If you’d rather add the peas whole that’s no problem, I just love the bright green colour blending them gives the risotto.
Stir the peas, bacon and Parmesan into the risotto, check the seasoning and add a little salt and pepper if it needs it.
At the heart of any good risotto is of course the perfectly cooked rice, cheese and onion combo. Adding the sundried tomatoes gives such a punchy, savoury flavour which coupled with the sweet peas and salty bacon is just the best. Slightly different to my normal weeknight recipes where I try to use as few pans as possible this recipe is definitely worth the extra washing up.
There’s ragu, and then there’s proper ragu. You know the two kinds I mean; the quick one that we Brits chuck on top of a pile of spaghetti and the one that takes time, effort, care and attention to make. Don’t get me wrong, the former has its place but this recipe is for the latter; which incidentally freezes very well meaning it is perfect for cooking up a big batch and then reaping the rewards in the weeks to come. It has taken a long time to get this recipe to be my version of a perfect ragu so I hope you enjoy it.
For 8-10 portions:
I think I’m part Italian. More likely, I like to think I’m part Italian. The reason for this recent realisation is that Italian food is the food I crave the most; when I’m looking for inspiration I invariably turn my attention to that most wonderful of countries. Pasta is the obvious Italian ingredient to inspire meals but the rice dishes, salads, marinades, stews, cheeses, meats and sauces always make me feel like I’m having a little Italian getaway in my own kitchen. This ragu and aubergine pasta bake was inspired by Rick Stein’s recent series: Long Weekends. I’m sure my recipe is very different to theirs, I’m bound to have forgotten some ingredients or added others, but the principle is the same; great big, hearty portions of food. It’s worth getting hold of some fontina cheese for this pasta bake (more on that later).
You will need (for 4-6 portions):
- 3 tbsp olive oil for cooking
- 2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 sticks celery, roughly chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 slices pancetta, finely chopped
- 500g pork mince
- 500g beef mince
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 700ml passata
- 1 tsp sugar
- Salt and pepper
- 50g Parmesan, grated
- 200g orzo pasta
- 2 aubergines, sliced thinly
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 200g fontina cheese, grated
Put the sliced aubergine into a bowl with a sprinkle of salt and leave to one side while you start the ragu.
Start by getting a large saucepan on a medium heat and adding the olive oil. Add the onions, carrots and celery to a blender and blend until finely chopped. If you don’t have a blender you can finely chop them by hand (I blend to save time). Add the vegetables to the pan, pop a lid on and leave to soften for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the garlic and bay leaves to the pan and leave to cook for another five minutes.
Increase the heat slightly and add the pancetta, beef and pork mince. Stir often until the minces have gone brown and any water has evaporated leaving you with a dry-ish mix.
Add the tomato paste, passata, sugar and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Fill the passata jar up with a little water (about 150ml) and then tip this into the pan. Bring everything to the boil then leave the mix to simmer, with the lid ajar, for around 45 minutes and stir from time to time.
Wipe off any excess salt from the aubergine then add the 2 tbsp olive oil and mix into the aubergine well. You can either bake or fry the aubergine depending on your preference. Frying them gives a nicer finished texture but they can be a little oily and it takes longer to do as it needs to be done in batches. Baking them takes a little longer and the skins don’t go quite as crispy. Griddling would be fantastic. Whichever you choose, cook the aubergine slices and leave to one side.
The ragu mix should be nice and thick. Cook the orzo according to packet instructions, drain then stir into the ragu along with the Parmesan. Check the seasoning and adjust if needed.
You can make one big ragu bake or two smaller ones; I opted for two smaller so that I could have the leftovers the next day. Put half of the ragu mixture into the bottom of a baking dish. Put a layer of aubergine slices over the top and sprinkle over a handful of the fontina. Spoon the remaining ragu mix over the fontina then top with the remaining aubergine slices and finish with the remaining fontina.
Bake at 180C for 25-30 minutes until bubbling and golden brown.
Serve with a crisp green salad.
I hope that before you read the recipe you already knew that this was going to be pretty special. It is everything that I look for with hearty Italian food; perfect at this time of year when the days make you crave salad but the evening suggests you need stew. It’s a big dish and actually contains five different vegetables (and two cheeses and three meats!) so the flavours are complex and deep. Fontina is the best cheese for this; its low melting point means the inside layers are gooey and stringy but the top goes beautifully crisp and the tangy, slightly sweet flavour of the cheese is unique. You’ll need to find a cheesemonger to get hold of some, you can get it online too, it’s not easily available on supermarket shelves but once you’ve found it (and tried it) I think you’ll agree it was worth seeking out.
In case it has escaped your attention, September is the month where people make a fuss about organic; aptly named Organic September. I have to admit that the majority of food that I buy is already organic so for me I wanted to try some new organic ingredients that I hadn’t tried before. I loaded up my weekly veg box with tomatillos, Homity pies and all sorts. I was challenged as part of Organic September to make an all organic three course meal, for four people, which cost less than £30.
I have done a few dinner parties before but not a budget conscious one so I was looking forward to seeing what I could make without going over the allowance. Initially I thought a roast chicken would be quite a good idea but with the cold weather closing in I wanted to make something a bit more hearty and autumnal.
My three course menu ended up being as follows: Pea and Bacon Soup (recipe in this post), Beef Cooked with Beer and Onions (see below) and Blackberry and Pear Pavlova (recipe for this one to follow). My total spend in the supermarket to get all the ingredients I needed was £25.85. I already have organic flour, sugar, vegetable stock and oil in my cupboards so if you don’t the spare change allows you to pick up these bits too and have plenty leftover to use in future. I used my change to pick up some lovely organic bread to serve with the soup.
Pea and bacon soup is one of my favourite combinations but as I don’t have a freezer I have nowhere to keep frozen peas so don’t get to make it very often. Not to worry though as my recipe conveniently uses a whole bag of peas at once. It makes four big portions, or four smaller ones for your dinner party with two left for lunch the next day.
You will need (all ingredients organic):
- 1 bag frozen peas (750g)
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
- 600ml hot water with 2 tsp vegetable bouillon powder stirred in
- Oil for frying
- Salt and pepper (not organic)
- 6 rashers of bacon, diced
Start by frying the onion and potato together over a low/medium heat with a little oil until softened.
Add the stock and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
Stir in the peas and return to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 3 minutes.
Blend the soup with a hand blender or in a food processor then pour back into the pan to keep warm. Check the seasoning and add any salt and pepper as needed.
While the soup is keeping warm dry fry the bacon in a frying pan until brown and crispy.
Serve up the soup with the bacon on top.
I love what a fantastically vibrant colour the soup comes out. It’s light and fresh but without being too frugal. The sweet peas and salty bacon are classic companions and the potato gives the soup a lovely texture. A sprig or two of mint would be a good addition if you have any hanging about.
With the starter all eaten it was on to my Beef with Beer and Onions. A delicious and slightly cheaper version of Boeuf Bourguignon I love this recipe. It’s one I’ve made before so you can find the recipe here. Slow cooked (for a no fuss dinner party) and simply served with some mashed potatoes and some shredded cabbage that came in my veg box.
Everything was followed up with my Blackberry and Pear Pavlova, the recipe for which is here. Have you given something new and organic a try this month?
Potatoes, sliced and baked with cream have to be one of the best things ever. At least in my opinion. Maybe a little bit of garlic, or some sliced onion, even some smoked bacon added for extra deliciousness. Although undeniably tasty they always feel more suited to the colder months than in the middle of summer. Don’t worry though, I’ve found a way round this; and I had a swanky new baking dish to try out. By adding some summer greens and using a lighter sauce my summer green, smoked bacon and potato bake fills that dauphinoise hole perfectly.
For two (very generous portions) you will need:
- 500g Jersey Royal potatoes (or new potatoes), scrubbed and sliced (2-5mm ish)
- 1 onion, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 6 slices smoked streaky bacon, cubed (or lardons)
- 6 big leaves from summer greens
- 25g butter
- 25g flour
- 400ml milk
- Small handful Parmesan, grated
- Salt and pepper
Start by getting the bacon on a low heat in a frying pan and cooking until the fat starts to melt. Add the onion to the pan and cook with the bacon for around 20 minutes. Add the garlic and turn the heat up a little for another five minutes until the bacon and onion are golden brown.
While you are waiting for the onion put the sliced potatoes into a pan of cold salted water and bring to the boil. Boil for 6-8 minutes or until the potatoes are just soft, drain and set aside.
Remove the middle stalks from the summer green leaves then roll and slice the leaves. Put the sliced greens in a steamer above the potatoes. Steam for two minutes then set aside with the potatoes.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan on a medium heat then add the flour. Cook for a minute before whisking in the milk. Continue whisking until the sauce thickens. Add a generous amount of black pepper, a little salt and the Parmesan.
Layer up the potatoes, greens and bacon mix in a dish finishing with a layer of potatoes on top. Pour the sauce over everything then bake in a preheated oven at 180C for 20-30 minutes until golden brown on top.
You may notice that my potato bake is served in a very lovely Le Creuset baking dish. I was sent one to have a play with as this colour, Ink, is new out. I think we all know that the Le Creuset brand goes hand in hand with durability and quality and this dish is going to be indispensible in my kitchen. I love cooking with really good equipment and it seemed fitting that I should cook up a new take on one of my favourite dishes in my new dish! I really like how the colour fades up the sides and although the same quality that you would expect from Le Creuset it is amazingly light weight.
I really enjoyed this as a meal with a cracking glass of Chablis. By keeping the skins on the potatoes the dish has a fantastic earthy flavour with the summer greens adding freshness, the bacon giving smokiness and the onion sweetness. I happily ate this on its own but it would be a very fitting side to all sorts of things.
Thank you to Le Creuset for the baking dish. All opinions expressed are my own.
I knew what I wanted these smoky cowboy beans to taste like before I made them. The thing I had to do was to work out which ingredients it was that I needed to mix together to make something that tasted like I wanted it to. After a few attempts, a bit of this, less of that and more of the other I have cracked it. Wonderfully smoky, sweet and sticky with a few spices and plenty of beans to make something substantial from ingredients you probably already have in your cupboards and fridge. Weeknight cooking at its best.
You will need (for two big bowls):
- 1 can borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
- Oil for cooking
- 4 rashers smoked streaky bacon, sliced
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 large garlic clove, crushed
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 450ml hot water
- 1 1/2 tbsp treacle
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- Salt and pepper
Heat a little oil in a large saucepan and add the bacon. Fry until the bacon starts to brown then add in the onion and garlic and continue cooking for around five minutes.
In a bowl mix together the tomato paste, hot water, treacle, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper. Add this to the pan along with the beans. (If you measure out the treacle first then pour over the hot water over the spoon it’s a really good way to get all the treacle off!).
Bring the pan to the boil then reduce to a simmer and leave for 15-20 minutes or until thickened.
I have to say that I prefer a 100% haricot bean version rather than the borlotti and black bean version here; I think it gives a slightly nicer texture but this is still very tasty. I have tried these cowboy beans with warm crusty bread, baked potatoes and rice and it works with all of them. I think this would be amazing in a burrito with some pulled pork too, I think I’ll need to try that. For something that takes hardly any time at all, is really filling and super tasty I don’t think dinners come much better than this.
I had a grand vision. A toad in the hole to rival all others; one that brought together two of my favourite parts of a Sunday roast in one delicious meal. Pigs in blankets meet Yorkshire puddings sounds pretty amazing to me and so sausage and bacon Toad in the Hole was born. One slight issue with the version that I made was that it was almost a total failure. However, I decided to post this anyway (I think these posts are just as useful as those that are successful) so that if you try it for yourself you can use my ideas at the end to have more success than I did.
You will need:
You will need (for four, or two greedy people i.e. me):
- 8 sausages
- 4 rashers streaky bacon, halved
- Oil for frying/baking
- 125g plain flour
- 1 egg
- 300ml milk
- Salt and pepper
What I did (see notes below about what to do instead!) was as follows:
Pour a little oil into each of the four holes in a Yorkshire pudding tin.
Wrap each sausage in a halved piece of bacon and place two into each hole of the tin.
Cook the sausages and bacon in a preheated oven at 200C for 10 minutes or so until starting to brown.
Mix together the flour, egg, milk and salt and pepper to make the pudding batter.
The sausages and bacon should have released a little of their own fat so you should have plenty to pour the batter into. Remove the tin from the oven and carefully pour the batter over the sausages into the hot fat.
Return to the oven for 35-40 minutes or until the puddings are risen and golden and the sausages and bacon cooked through.
I don’t think you have to look very hard to see that my Yorkshire puddings didn’t rise. Unfortunately when the sausages and bacon went into the oven they released a bit of water which I didn’t think would affect my Yorkies that much. Shows what I know. I think this is why they didn’t rise and looked more like pancakes. I also opened the oven a couple of times to try at let some steam out which certainly didn’t help matters. However, the sausages and bacon were from a local farm shop and they were really very tasty, even with a little bit of pancake stuck on, so it wasn’t all that bad.
If you fancy giving it a try (the idea itself I still stand by as a most excellent one) then I would wrap the sausages in bacon, secure with a cocktail stick and fry briefly first before putting into the oven a few minutes before the batter OR I think it would work well as one big Toad in the Hole rather than mini ones. If all else fails, make some pigs in blankets and Yorkshire puddings separately and just put them on the plate together. Think I’ll try that next time.
I always like seeing sweetcorn growing in the fields near where I live; it’s one of my absolute favourite vegetables. The only thing that is a little irritating is the inevitable corn-stuck-in-the-teeth situation which ensues after consuming corn from the cob. Particularly irksome if surrounded by unfamiliar company. Worth it though; especially if you’re lucky enough to have a 50:50 butter to corn ratio. If you’re looking for something different to try with your cobs, this sweetcorn chowder is my most favourite soup ever.