Cauliflower cheese

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In the modern world, we are constantly bombarded with messages of healthy eating, clean eating (no phrase annoys me more!) and food fads but sometimes we all need proper comfort food. It’s a time to forget calorie counting once in a while and eat what makes you happy and cauliflower cheese is definitely one of those meals! Cauliflower cheese needs no introduction as it is exactly what it says it is- no pretention! It can be the main event or a side dish for a whole host of dishes. It also allows you to play around with a mixture of cheeses to make it as savoury as you want and cheese sauce is also a perfect way to use up any odds and ends of cheese that may be lurking in your fridge. In this recipe, I have given you the basic cheese sauce recipe that I use but feel free to add blue cheese if you like as cauliflower can stand up to the sharpness of it. Fried off cubes of pancetta are also a welcome addition!

Ingredients- serves 3-4
1 cauliflower
45g plain flour
45g unsalted butter
250ml double cream
300ml milk
50g cheddar
50g parmesan

1. Kick off by preparing the cauliflower. Clean it and cut into large florets. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil and boil until the stems are just tender- it will continue to cook when it is baked so it needs a bit of texture still at this stage. Drain well and set aside while you make the sauce.

2. For the cheese sauce, use a pan and heat over a medium heat. Melt together the butter and flour to form a roux. Gradually add in the milk and cream; making sure you keep stirring to ensure that no lumps form. If any lumps start creeping in then remove the pan from the heat and whisk it like your life depends on it before returning to the heat. Continue to stir and simmer until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat and add in the parmesan and season to taste.

3. Choose an ovenproof roasting dish that will fit the cauliflower in a single layer. Arrange the florets and pour over the cheese sauce. Top with grated cheddar and a little extra parmesan if you like. Bake at 200c/ 180 fan for around 30 minutes or until golden and bubbling. Serve immediately.

Cauliflower cheese- like a cheesy hug for soul!

 

 

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Truffle and parmesan risotto

This is not just any old risotto, this is a deliciously indulgent risotto making the best of Italian ingredients so it is perfect for a celebration. Truffles have become more accessible and can be bought in most good supermarkets or specialist food markets. Black truffles are cheaper than their highly prized white counterparts making them ideal for trying truffles for the first time. Truffles are wonderfully earthy and pungent and are best served when they are just warmed through to really bring out the flavours.

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Ingredients- serves 2
Knob of unsalted butter
1 garlic clove- crushed
1 shallot- finely chopped
200g risotto rice- I use carnaroli
60ml dry white wine
600ml hot vegetable stock
50g freshly grated parmesan
20-30g black truffle

1. Take a large pan that is suitable for cooking the risotto in. Heat the pan over a low heat and melt the butter. Gently cook the garlic and shallot until they are softened but not yet catching colour. Add in the rice and stir thoroughly to combine and so the butter coats the rice grains.

2. Pour in the white wine and simmer until reduced by half. Now for the stock! Add a little at a time and wait for the rice to absorb it before adding the next lot. Stir during this part of the process to give a creamy finish.

3. When the rice is cooked but remains al dente (soggy risotto rice is a definite no- no!), remove the pan from the heat. Take the truffle and grate half of if and thinly slice the rest. Stir in the parmesan, grated truffle and a little more butter; allow to the risotto to stand for a moment or two so the truffle warms and releases its flavour. Sometimes truffles come with some truffle juice, if it does then also add this in to boost the flavour even more. Serve immediately in warmed bowls and top the risotto with the sliced truffle.

Truffle and parmesan risotto- pure indulgence!

Crab and spring onion macaroni

Crab and spring onion macaroni is a decadent twist on the classic macaroni cheese which begs to be cooked and savoured. I have used brown and white crab meat and I find this gives much more flavour compared to only using white so do look out for both. A hint of fresh red chilli would also be delicious in this recipe if you want to spice things up a bit but go easy as you don’t want to overpower the delicate crab. Compared to my usual macaroni cheese, this uses a small amount of good quality parmesan cheese so keep it simple. I have included panko as a topping mixed with parmesan which gives an added texture and crunch.

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Ingredients- serves 2
30g unsalted butter
30g plain flour
200ml milk
200ml double cream
40g parmesan
100g crab meat- half brown, half white
3-4 spring onions- shredded
200g macaroni
20g panko breadcrumbs (optional)

1. Start by preheating the oven to 200c/ 180 fan whilst you cook the pasta as per packet instructions; drain well and set aside. To get going with the sauce take a medium saucepan and melt the butter and flour together to form the base of the sauce. Gradually pour in the milk and cream and keep stirring so it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan; bring to a simmer and cook until thickened.

2. Remove the sauce from the heat and add half of the parmesan cheese as well as the crab meat. Stir well to combine before popping in the shredded spring onion. Add the cooked macaroni into the sauce and ensure that each piece is well coated in the sauce. Place in an ovenproof dish before topping with the remaining parmesan and panko breadcrumbs, if you’re using them.

3. Bake for 30 minutes until the topping is golden and bubbling and serve right away with a side salad if you like.

Indulgent crab and spring onion macaroni- a sumptuous twist on a comfort food favourite!

Butternut squash, sage and ricotta lasagne

The sweetness of the squash, fragrance of the sage and creaminess of ricotta are a divine match. The flavours need very little to bring the best out of them so keep the ingredients as simple as possible so you can taste each element. The secret twist to the creamy ricotta filling is a good helping of sweet roasted garlic which really takes it to another level. Ovenproof dishes come in such a range of shapes and size so, before you cook the lasagne sheets, try to work out how many sheets you need to fit yours. I always cook a couple of extra sheets in case they tear. The filling also works with cannelloni.

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Ingredients- serves 4
For the lasagne filling
1 butternut squash- cut into cubes
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
3-4 garlic cloves- kept whole and with the skin on
Handful of fresh sage
250g ricotta
Ground nutmeg
Lasagne sheets

For the béchamel sauce
500ml milk
1 onion- halved
2 bay leaves
2 cloves
50g butter
50g plain flour
Parmesan to top

1. Get going by preheating the oven to 180c/ 160fan. Place the cubes of squash on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Toss the cubes and add in the garlic cloves so each is coated in the oil and roast until tender. When it is ready, a knife will easily sink through the cubes. Place in a large bowl and set aside.

2. Whilst the squash is roasting you can get started on the béchamel sauce. Secure the bay leaves to the onion halves using the cloves- this way you don’t have to go fishing around the saucepan to find the cloves later on! Add the milk to a small pan and bring to a boil before removing from the heat and allowing the flavours from the bay and clove to infuse for around 20 minutes.

Take another pan and melt the butter and flour together until a paste, or roux, is formed. Remove the onion, clove and bay from the pan containing the milk and slowly add the milk to the pan with the roux. Keep stirring so lumps don’t form! Simmer and stir until it thickens before removing it from the heat ready to pour over the lasagne.

3. Stir the ricotta through the squash cubes so well combined. Finely chop the fresh sage and add to the bowl along with 1tsp of ground nutmeg; use fresh nutmeg if you can. Taste and adjust the seasoning to suit you. Set the mixture aside whilst you prepare the lasagne sheets. Don’t worry if the squash starts to break up; I sometimes mash down half of the squash and leave the other half in cubes to add a different texture and make smoother. Squeeze the tender roasted garlic from their skins and mix through well.

4. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and add the lasagne sheets to cook, a few at a time so the pan does not become overcrowded. Cook the sheets until parboiled- you can cook them without parboiling but I think this really does make a difference. Nobody wants to find chewy pasta in their mouthful!

5. Now to assemble the lasagne. I spoon a little of the béchamel sauce in the bottom of the ovenproof dish to stop the pasta sticking when baked. Lay sheets of lasagne to cover the bottom before adding a layer of the butternut squash filling. Add another layer of pasta and repeat until the filling has been used up and finish with a layer of pasta.

6. Pour the béchamel sauce over the lasagne and top with freshly grated parmesan. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until bubbling and golden. I usually cover the lasagne for the first half of the cooking time and then remove the foil for the end but it will depend on your oven as to if you need to do this or not. Serve with a simple side salad and dig in!

Squash, sage and ricotta lasagne- a satisfying vegetarian pasta dish which is perfect for a midweek meal or special occasion!

Spicy nduja macaroni cheese

Who doesn’t love macaroni cheese in its many, deliciously rich guises? This version of macaroni is a spicy revelation which needs to be part of your menu at home. Unlike when I make a classic version, keep the cheeses simple; I have used parmesan and cheddar as blue cheese would not go with the nduja.

Nduja is becoming more accessible and can now be found in a lot of supermarkets and Italian delis. I particularly like the version from Eat Drink Ideas- they can be found on St Albans Market on a Saturday as well as online here. It’s a soft salami which lends itself to use in a range of recipes such as soups, stews and pastas. As we are breaking with tradition, I have not used traditional macaroni, but instead I have gone for larger tubes which hold the sauce just as well.

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Ingredients- serves 4
400g pasta of your choice
40g butter
40g plain flour
200ml double cream
200ml milk
As much parmesan and cheddar as you dare!
1-2 tbsp nduja depending on how much spice you can handle

1. Preheat the oven to 200c/ 180 fan. Take a large pan of water and bring it to the boil; cook the pasta shapes of your choice according to packet instructions. Remember to keep the pasta al dente as it will continue to cook in the oven. Drain the pasta well and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Melt the butter and flour together in a pan over a medium heat and stir well to combine. Gradually pour in the milk and cream and keep it moving so lumps don’t form. Simmer and continue to stir until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat, season well and add in the cheese and nduja. The nduja will melt into the warm sauce; stir well to distribute. Add the pasta into the pan and make sure each piece of pasta is well covered in the delightfully spicy sauce.

3. Tip the pasta into an ovenproof dish and top with some extra cheese; bake for 30 minutes until golden and bubbling. Leftovers also reheat really well if you give the pasta a quick blast in the microwave (if there’s any left of course!).

Spicy nduja macaroni cheese- a modern twist on a classic!

Cheese, spinach and mushroom baked gnocchi

Ah gnocchi- one of the great Italian exports which is a firm favourite in the household! Gnocchi can pretty much cope with any sauce that you throw (or daintily stir!) at it and is the perfect vehicle from which to serve a rich, wickedly indulgent and creamy sauce. I have used chestnut mushrooms in this however a combination of mushrooms or wild mushrooms would also be delicious. I have cut down the time by leaving the gnocchi to cook in the sauce so there is no need to boil them before baking as they will still go perfectly tender.

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Ingredients- serves 4
400g gnocchi
40g unsalted butter
40g plain flour
200ml double cream
200ml milk
50g blue cheese such as dolcelatte
50g freshly grated parmesan
2 cloves of garlic- crushed
1 red onion- finely chopped
200- 250g chestnut mushrooms- sliced
Small pack of baby spinach- washed and shredded

1. Start by preheating the oven to 200c/ 180 fan in preparation for later. You need to make the cheesy sauce and it really could not be simpler (well, short of using premade of course!). Take a medium saucepan and melt the butter and flour together. Stir to ensure it is smooth and there are no lumps which will help later on. Gradually add in the milk and cream whilst keeping the mixture moving! Bring to a boil before lowering to a simmer and keep going until it is thickening.

2. Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in most of the cheeses, making sure to keep some back for the topping; season to taste. Meanwhile take a frying pan and heat to medium/ high. Quickly cook the garlic and onion together before adding the mushrooms and cooking until tender. Mushrooms lose natural moisture when over a high heat which avoids potential soggy messes in the pan!

3. Add the cooked mushroom mixture into the cheese sauce and stir through the shredded spinach. It should start slowly wilting in the residual heat from the sauce. I love spinach so the more the merrier! Take an ovenproof baking dish and throw in the gnocchi before topping with the sauce. Stir gently to combine so each piece of gnocchi is well coated. Sprinkle the leftover cheese on top and bake for approximately 30 minutes until golden and bubbling!

Cheese, spinach and mushroom baked gnocchi- a quick midweek treat that will have the family going back for more!

Ham hock, leek and mustard ‘macaroni’ bake

Now let’s start with the name of this dish- ham hock, leek and mustard macaroni bake. If you look at the photo you will see that, indeed, I have not used macaroni but instead riccioli (I used Rummo’s version which you can find at www.pastarummo.it) which lends itself to holding a creamy cheese or vegetable sauce however the name ‘macaroni bake’ was sure to grab your attention so now you are reading you may as well continue…

Ham hock is everywhere these days and ready cooked hocks are easy to get hold of so treat yourself to one for this recipe. Of course, if you fancy cooking your own you have so many options for the leftovers- think pea and ham hock soup on a chilly evening for example or (and more probable) make twice the amount of this pasta bake and indulge for dinner and lunch the following day!

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Ingredients- serves 2
250g riccioli
30g unsalted butter
30g plain flour
1 tbsp dijon mustard
300ml milk
300ml double cream
1 small to medium leek- washed and shredded
100g ham hock- shredded
Liberal amounts of parmesan
50g panko crumbs

1. Start off by preheating the oven to 200c/180fan. Boil a pan of water and cook the riccioli as per the packet instructions. Drain when it is al dente and set aside. Take a medium pan and heat the butter and flour together over a medium heat. Continue to stir whilst the butter combines with the flour and slowly pour in the milk and cream. I mix the milk and cream together before using to make this even easier. Gradually pour in the milk and keep on stirring to avoid lumps! When all the milk and cream has been added bring to the boil before lowering to a gentle simmer and cook until thickened.

2. Meanwhile you can prepare the leeks. Make sure the leek is washed well as grit can often be lurking! Soften the leek in a small pan with a small amount of butter and season with pepper. When the sauce has thickened add as much parmesan as you like to add an extra savouriness and stir through the leek, shredded ham hock and mustard. Taste and adjust the seasoning as required. Add the riccioli to the sauce and stir well to coat each pasta curl.

3. Place the pasta in either one larger ovenproof baking dish or two individual ones if you would like to present your guests with one each. Take the panko crumbs and grate some parmesan through so you have a cheesy, crunchy topping. Sprinkle over the pasta and bake for around 25-30 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the topping is golden. Serve with a simple dressed side salad and dig in!

Ham hock, leek and mustard bake- a great way to discover a new pasta shape and keep the family happy!