Baked ricotta, spinach and mascarpone conchiglioni

Baked pastas are always comforting and are great for feeding a crowd. Conchiglioni shells lend themselves for stuffing with a whole range of ingredients but spinach and ricotta has to be one of the most classic and most delicious.

I have added a hint of chilli and lemon in the filling to really liven up the flavours and to be bring out the best in the creamy cheese and irony spinach. Ricotta can sometimes be a little claggy by itself so the mascarpone has been added to make sure the filling is smooth and creamy.

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Ingredients- serves 4
For the conchiglioni

400g conchiglioni
250g ricotta
100g mascarpone
100g baby spinach
Zest of half a lemon
1-2 tsp chilli flakes
Freshly grated parmesan- to taste
Slices of pancetta- optional

For the sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves- crushed
1 red onion- finely chopped
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar

1. Make the sauce first so that can be simmering away whilst you prepare the pasta. Add the oil to a saucepan and gently cook the garlic and onion until if it soft but not golden. Pour in the tomatoes and break any larger chunks with the spoon. Add the red wine vinegar and sugar and simmer until the sauce has reduced and thickened slightly. Remove from the heat and set aside.

2. In the meantime bring a large pan of water to the boil and cook the shells until they are just tender so check the packet instructions- they should take around 10 minutes. Drain well and allow to cool until you can handle them.

3. To make the pasta filling, simply combine all the ingredients apart from the spinach in a large bowl. I simply prepare the spinach by wilting in a pan or popping the bag of spinach in the microwave for around 1 minute until cooked- do remember to check if the bag of spinach you have is suitable for this though! Squeeze as much excess liquid from the spinach and roughly chop before adding to the cheese mixture. Carefully fill each shell.

4. Take a large ovenproof baking dish that can fit the shells snugly. Pour in the tomato sauce before arranging the shells on top. Finish with some freshly grated parmesan and bake in a 200c/ 180 fan oven for 25-30 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling and the parmesan is golden. You might also like to crumble over some crispy fried pancetta if you like- dry fry slices of pancetta in a pan before removing and allowing to crisp up. Sprinkle over before serving.

Baked ricotta, spinach and mascarpone conchiglioni- make this part of your culinary repertoire to feed a crowd!

 

 

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Singapore noodles

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OK so Singapore noodles are not an authentic Chinese dish but they are well known and loved in Chinese takeaways up and down the country so I couldn’t resist whipping them up at home. After raiding the freezer, I chose to use prawns and chicken as the main stars of the show here with some added crispy fried tofu for an added crunch to finish the noodles off. The tofu is also a good replacement for egg if you prefer. If you fancy egg instead then lightly beat a couple of eggs and add at the end of cooking so it scrambles through the noodles. Pork is often used in Singapore noodles so you can pick and mix your favourites.

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Ingredients- serves 4
200g rice vermicelli noodles
Half a block of firm tofu (optional)
1 tbsp cornflour
  tbsp groundnut oil
2 garlic cloves- crushed
1 inch piece of fresh ginger- grated
1 onion- thinly sliced
1 carrot- thinly sliced
100g sugar snap peas- thinly sliced
Small tin of bamboo shoots- thinly sliced
1 red pepper- finely sliced
2 heads of pak choi- shredded
200g raw shelled king prawns- deveined
2 chicken breasts- sliced
100g beansprouts
1 tbsp medium curry powder
1 tbsp shaoxing rice wine
1/2 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 tbsp soy sauce

1.Make sure all your ingredients are fully prepared before you start cooking anything.  heat up your wok. When you’re ready to go, soak the vermicelli rice noodles according to packet instructions before draining well. I usually halve the lengths of noodles to make it much easier to toss all the vegetables and meat through later.

2. As the noodles soak you can prepare the crispy tofu if you are using this. Take the tofu and pat it dry to remove excess water. Use your fingers to break up the tofu so it is crumbled. Toss the pieces in the cornflour Take a frying pan and heat 1 tbsp of the oil to medium. In a couple of batches if needed, fry the tofu until golden and crisp. Remove from the pan using a slotted spoon and blot onto kitchen towel. Set aside.

3. Grab your wok and heat the remaining 1 tbsp of oil over a medium heat. Fry the garlic and ginger for a minute. Add in the vegetables apart from the beansprouts and cook until they are softening before adding the chicken and prawns.

4. Add half of the curry powder and stir well to combine before adding the drained noodles along with the beansprouts. The rest of the curry powder, rice wine, sesame oil and soy sauce needs to go it at this point. Make sure the noodles are well coated in the powder and cook until heated through. Toss through the crispy tofu and reserve a little to top the noodles with. Serve in warmed bowls.

Singapore noodles- a takeaway favourite that is simple to recreate at home!

 

Paella

After a recent trip to the local market and the purchase of some fabulously fresh and juicy prawns as well as succulent squid, a colourful paella was the natural choice to make to enjoy the ingredients at their best. Paella hails from Valencia and traditionally includes rabbit however these days you find paella containing a range of meat and seafood. I have used a combination of chicken, chorizo, prawn and squid but simply replace the chicken with rabbit if you like. Rabbit is easily accessible all year round and is also relatively economical.

So, as this trip to the market progressed I found myself drawn to a local cookware shop where a rather large (46cms to be precise) paella pan landed in my hand. A paella pan is worth the investment and you can find them in a range of sizes. A paella pan is flat and shallow which cooks the rice evenly. Paella rice should be firm but tender; don’t confuse it with risotto rice as this is more creamy. For this reason paella rice should not be stirred too frequently so avoid the urge!

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Ingredients- serves 6
Glug of vegetable oil
2 red onions- finely chopped
4 garlic cloves- crushed or finely chopped
150g chorizo- sliced
6 large vine ripened tomatoes- chopped
3 chicken breasts- cut into inch pieces
500g bomba paella rice
600ml hot chicken or vegetable stock
Saffron threads
3 jarred roasted red peppers- sliced
100g garden peas- shelled
3 small squids- cleaned and cut into rings
Shell on whole king prawns- as many as you fancy!

1. Heat the paella pan over a medium to high heat on the hob before adding a good glug of oil. Pop in the onion and cook until softened before adding the garlic for another minute or two. Add the chorizo and chicken; cook until the chorizo is starting to crisp on the edges and the chicken is just cooked on the outside. Next the chopped tomatoes go in and these need cooking until the chunks are breaking down.

2. Add the paella rice and stir well to combine so the grains are coated in the tomato mixture. Put the saffron threads into the hot stock and pour all the stock into the pan. Stir so the rice is evenly distributed in the pan. Pop in the sliced red peppers and sprinkle in the peas; simmer for around 20 minutes and stir from time to time. Test the rice and when it is a few minutes away from being ready, add the prawns and squid rings. The prawns are ready when they turn a beautiful blush pink and the squid will be tender. Finish with some chopped parsley if you like and serve immediately.

Prawn, chicken and squid paella- a perfect dish for a summery day!

 

Roasted vegetable and feta filo pie

Who doesn’t love a good old pie from time to time?! Well this roasted vegetable and feta pie ticks all the boxes but is lighter than a pie you may devour through the winter months. Filo is light and crisp and is perfect for a light lunch or dinner. I have used a selection of vegetables with a Mediterranean vibe but you can mix and match until your heart’s content.

In order to keep the pastry crisp I have chosen to part roast the vegetables in advance so it draws out some natural moisture before popping into the pastry case. Unlike other pies this does not require precise tin lining so think of it as a free form pie that is perfect for pie making novices and well seasoned cooks alike. You will require a pie tin which is around 20cm in diameter which will feed 2 very hungry people or 4 for a lighter dinner.

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Ingredients- serves 4
1 packet of premade filo pastry
30g unsalted butter
1 tbsp basil pesto
1 aubergine
1 courgette
1 red and 1 yellow pepper
1 red onion
2 garlic cloves- kept whole
Glug of olive oil
100g feta

1. Preheat the oven to 200c/ 180 fan. Do check the cooking instructions on the packet of filo as temperatures may vary from brand to brand so adjust accordingly. Whilst this is heating, cut the vegetables into small chunks and place on a baking tray with the garlic cloves, seasoning and olive oil. Toss so they are well coated and roast for a few minutes until beginning to soften.

2. In a small pan, melt the butter over a low heat. Use a pastry brush and brush a little of the butter in the tin. Take one the first filo sheet and lay in the tin before adding more butter to this sheet. Repeat until the sheets of filo are all layered; I offset each layer so they can be gathered more easily to form a crust. If you layer the sheets like this you should end up with a star formation. The last layer should be brushed with pesto so the vegetables will sit on top.

3. Take the roasted vegetables and scatter some of the feta amongst them before placing in the lined pie tin. Gather the loose edges of the filo and you can either bring them into the centre of the tin or, as I did, fold them in to form a crust so you can see the colourful vegetables in the middle. If you do this then add a little more feta crumbled over the top before popping in the oven for 15-20 minutes (depending on the pastry cooking time on the packet) until the filo is crisp and golden. Serve with a side salad and some buttered new potatoes if you like and dig in. The pie is also great for lunch the next day if there are any leftovers but this is highly unlikely!

Roasted vegetable and feta filo pie- a taste of the Med at home this summer!

 

Nduja and cherry tomato vongole

Now if you’re expecting a traditional spaghetti vongole then think again! Vongole is a classic Venetian clam pasta dish but this is a twist on it. I have used a touch of nduja which is a Calabrian spreadable salami to add a chilli hit along with some vine cherry tomatoes which give the pasta a wonderfully light, summery feel to it. It is also a perfect way to try clams in pasta if you haven’t had them before. I also used linguine instead of spaghetti for a change and the sauce clings perfectly to it.

Clams can be bought fresh or you can also get them jarred in good Italian delicatessens. I was recently bought a jar so used this and I was pleasantly surprised! They needed very little preparation apart from a quick drain and I then removed any that were already open and any pieces of broken shell and away I went!

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Ingredients- serves 2
200g linguine
1 tbsp olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves- finely chopped
1/2 tbsp nduja
50ml dry white wine
100g vine cherry tomatoes
250g clams or one jar of clams- washed and drained
Fresh basil- chopped

1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil for the pasta and cook according to packet instructions. The pasta will be finished off in the sauce so aim for al dente; drain and set aside whilst you crack on with the sauce.

2. Take a wide pan and heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the garlic cloves and cook for a couple of minutes until starting to soften. Stir in the nduja so it starts to break and melt into the oil before pouring in the wine. Simmer until reduced by half. Take the cherry tomatoes and quarter them. Add the tomatoes in and simmer until the tomatoes start to reduce and thicken. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.

3. When the tomatoes are nearly ready, add the drained linguine into the pan and combine with the sauce so it is well coated. Carefully tip the clams into the pan, cover for a couple of minutes and steam until the shells open. Discard any that do not open. Finish with the basil and serve in warmed bowls immediately.

Nduja and cherry tomato vongole- a summery version of an Italian classic that is perfect for dining al fresco!

 

Chilli cheese crushed potato stack

After making this chilli cheese crushed potato stack and posting a photo on Twitter I had no idea how popular this would be- retweets, likes and views coming left, right and centre but for very good reason! I was aiming to create a proper comfort dish and it hit the spot so read on… Not only do you get the recipe for the stack but you are also getting my much loved chilli recipe. The combination of spices and chilli gives heat, sweetness, smokiness and an overall well rounded savoury hit. I love the combination of cascabel and smoked chipotle chillies but ancho chillies are also fabulous if you can only find these.

I would advise making the chilli the day before you want to eat it so the flavours have plenty of time to develop. I simmered mine the day before for an hour before then finishing it off the next day. If you want to add beans then be my guest by this is a chilli for meat lovers.

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Ingredients- serves 4
1 tbsp vegetable oil
400g beef mince
1 large red onion- finely chopped
3-4 garlic cloves- crushed or finely chopped
1 tbsp each of ground cumin, ground coriander, paprika and oregano
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
200ml hot beef stock
1 tsp treacle
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
2 cascabel chillies
4 chipotle morita chillies
400g new potatoes
Butter
Cheddar cheese to top
Fresh jalapenos- finely sliced

1. Start by taking a pan and adding a glug of oil. Brown off the mince over a medium to high heat; if it is particularly fatty then drain off most before lowering the heat and adding the onion in. Cook until the onion is softening but not colouring and then add the garlic in for another minute.

2. Add the spices and herbs into the pan and stir well so the meat is well coated. Squeeze in the tomato puree and cook for two minutes. Pour in a little of the hot beef stock to help deglaze the bottom of the pan before pouring in the rest along with the tomatoes. Pop the cascabel and chipotle chillies. Stir through the treacle. Simmer the chilli for at least an hour and a half; leave overnight if you can.

3. When you are ready to assemble the dish, preheat the oven to 180c/ 160 fan. Bring a pan of water to the boil and cook the potatoes until just tender. Drain well and lightly crush with a fork. Toss a good amount of butter through it (don’t hold back!) before placing the potatoes in an ovenproof roasting dish. Roast by themselves for 20-25 minutes until they turn golden and crispy in places. Spoon over the chilli and top with a liberal helping of grated cheese before returning to the oven. Cook until the cheese is melting. Finish with a sprinkling of freshly sliced jalapeno and serve with soured cream, if you like.

Chilli cheese crushed potato stack- forget your normal baked potatoes and give this a try!