Pork Shoulder Ragu with Pappardelle

As we start the new year and H. and I once again are back to being separated throughout the week, I decided I wanted to try to institute a ritual of cooking together one evening on the weekends. Depending on schedules, this isn’t always possible of course, but it’s something we love to do and winter is the perfect time for it. There are additional challenges, however, when we don’t live together. The only way to do this is to plan ahead, and plan carefully. No problem — I am a born planner! I started by compiling a list of a few dishes I wanted to make and then assigned them different dates. First up was this pork shoulder ragu.

This is a great dish for chilly, rainy days, which we have had every weekend of 2018 so far. There is something so comforting about putting something in the oven for several hours and letting science take over. It takes time to cook this, but not a lot of effort. The smell was amazing throughout the late afternoon, and the results were good. The meat was extremely tender — melt-in-your-mouth — and very flavourful.

However, while I enjoyed it, unfortunately this was too rich a dish for me overall. I actually felt slightly nauseous afterwards….It was a lot with the pasta and cheese, and I couldn’t finish mine. It needed something to cut the fat, and even though we had it with a peppery salad, it was still a bit too much for me (H. loved it though!), and I am not rushing to make this again.


pork ragu


“Ravioli” with Cavolo Nero & Goat’s Cheese

This recipe caught my eye because it simply looked good in a recent edition of my delicious magazine. It also falls into a category — vaguely healthy-sounding pasta dish — that usually appeals to me. This one was unusual because it uses fresh lasagne sheets as the pasta — the “ravioli” aren’t really ravioli.

The sauce is made in a food processor with a combination of cavolo nero (boiled for a minute to make it soft, then water squeezed out), olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and salt. The accompanying paste is soft goat’s cheese, walnuts (I used toasted almonds), sage, lemon juice, and oil, again made in a food processor. To assemble, you cook the lasagne sheets, and then “layer” the three components, beginning with sauce, then noodles, then goat’s cheese paste. Repeat. Top with Parmesan or Pecorino.

This unfortunately did not pack enough of a punch taste-waste for me. The sauce was a bit bland and watery. The recipe says to squeeze out as much water from the cavolo nero as possible, which I did, but I still found it lacking. I also found the noodles too thick. It was an experimental meal I guess — not a bad one, but one I won’t be making again.

lasagne ravioli

“Green Goddess” Mac & Cheese

The term green goddess seems to be everywhere these days. I’m not particularly fond of it, since it seems to be one of those terms that can be appropriated for everything from smoothies to face masks, but I’ve left it in the title because it sounds better than ‘healthier mac and cheese’ or ‘mac and cheese with kale, basil, and spinach.’

I’ll get straight to it: this was a real winner for us. I added in curly kale in addition to the basil and spinach. It’s fairly easy to make — pureeing the greens just takes a bit of extra time. There’s still lots of cheese, but you do feel a bit better eating this knowing that there is some healthy bits! It was absolutely delicious and will become a part of my regular rotation of meals.


Hamburger Helper Casserole

This is the ultimate throwback. When I saw this recipe I knew immediately I had to try it. Yes, I ate Hamburger Helper as a child, and to me it evokes a lot of nostalgia. Also, it’s fall now, and the perfect time for casseroles.

This is a one-potter and very easy to make. I won’t lie in that I was a little bit nervous about the flavour combinations as it contains ingredients I wouldn’t normally put together. I omitted the celery and corn. So…..drum roll…… itt must have been 15+ years since I have had HH, but as soon as I took my first bite, I was transported back to my mum stirring at the stove in our old house! Nag (recipe creator) nailed it! And H., who has never had HH, loved it too. I urge those of you who grew up with this to try it! 🙂



Zucchini & Basil Pasta Salad

Since we’re heading into summer, zucchini and pasta seem to be everywhere these days. It’s a good and dependable combination (see two previous dishes I’ve made — both excellent — here and here). As I was making this I was asking myself how many zucchini pasta dishes one needs in their repertoire. Not many I don’t think.

This dish looks easy by appearances, but is a bit of a faff (how’s that for a nice English word). My tolerance for faff is quite high if the outcome is good, although I realize more and more that time is becoming an increasing pressure — I’ll never have as much time to dedicate to cooking as I did when I was in Germany, until maybe I’m retired. In this case, I’m not sure the effort was worth it.

Preparing this is a four-step process: frying the zucchini, making the basil “sauce,” cooking the noodles, and then throwing the dish together. None of it is difficult, but it’s a bit more effort than one would normally go to for weeknight pasta I’d say. I followed Ottolenghi’s recipe closely except I substituted the edamame for peas. Never again. I just don’t like peas in pasta.

I’d rate this a 5/10 — it didn’t pack nearly enough punch as I thought it would — although H. thought it should be given a much higher score! I’d been planning on saving some of it for today but he ate it all. I guess I had high expectations for this combination and it wasn’t a winning one for me unfortunately.


Broccoli & Gorgonzola Tagliatelle

This is a great spring pasta dish. I found the recipe in an old delicious magazine and adapted it based on what I could find.

This dish is straightforward to make and manages to be light yet filling and decadent yet not indulgent. It even looks a bit summery. I used Gorgonzola in place of Dolcelatte and pine nuts instead of walnuts, and I personally think it worked very well. I’d recommended using the best pasta you can find. I normally use (dried) wholewheat, but this time decided to go for fresh and I do think it made a difference.


My new favourite pasta

Introducing my new favourite pasta dish…

Bacon, sauteed leek, and Parmesan spaghetti

Surprisingly, this is my own creation! (There are not too many of them on this blog). And it happened so randomly: I was scrounging away looking for a quick pasta I could make to take with me for lunch. I’ve made a couple of time since and it’s a great staple that’s also quite versatile.

How to make it:

  1. Cook 4-6 strips of bacon.
  2. Meanwhile, salt a pan of water and bring to a boil; cook pasta of choice (I used wholewheat spghatti) to just post al dente.
  3. When the bacon is finished, take it out, and in the same pan, season and then sautee the leeks in the bacon fat [you may have to remove some of the fat; the bacon here isn’t as fatty as in North America]. Sautee the leeks until they are your preferred ‘doneness.’
  4. When the noodles are finished, drain them (keep a bit of water so they don’t stick together) and transfer to a big bowl. Chop or tear the bacon and add it, along with your choice of oil or butter (I used EVOO).
  5. Add in the leeks and grated Parmesan. Season to taste. Viola!

Like any pasta this has easy (and possibly more delicious?) substitutions: pancetta for the bacon, and other types of cheese — aged Asiago or Grana Padano maybe?

There is chicken in this photographed version; one time I made it I threw in a chicken breast.

Zucchini Pasta Bake

One of my favourite pastas ever is this one (a Mimi Thorisson recipe). There is something about the combination of zucchini, cheese, and pasta that I really love. The zucchini somehow seems to keep it much lighter – perfect for summer.

So, as soon as I started seeing zucchini at the farmers market I knew I had to try this dish from Smitten Kitchen. I used a pasta bought from my recent trip to Italy called gnocchetti. Supermarkets there always seem to have much more interesting shapes (not to mention be more affordable — when I looked this type of pasta up at UK supermarkets, it was over £6 a kilo and I paid less than €2 for 500g). Gnocchetti comes from Sardinia and was historically made by pressing the dough on the bottom of a wicker basket. (As soon as H. laid eyes on the bag, he proclaimed that they looked like maggots!).

The dish involves a few different steps — preparing the zucchini, cooking the pasta, making the bechamel — but it comes together quickly, and it’s definitely worth it. Both H. and I thought it was the perfect summer dish — easy to make, not too heavy, and really tasty. The only thing that would make it better, for non-vegetarians of course, is adding bacon. 😉




PS: for more zucchini recipes, see a roundup here.

Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Roasted Cauliflower & Spinach

Another one of my great Christmas presents was the new Sprouted Kitchen cookbook from M. For those of you who are familiar with the blog, the book contains a lot of new material and is in general a great addition to any bookshelf. The book focuses on healthy whole foods, and while a lot of the recipes lean towards what I would call summer cooking, there are several in there that are good for this time of the year too (which in the UK so far this year can hardly be called winter, but rain and wind season I’ve decided).

Cauliflower may be becoming all the rage in 2014 (!), but I have been on a kick ever since I made this salad about 9 months ago. Roasted cauliflower is so tasty and healthy and can be added to a really wide variety of meals.

This pasta dish was adapted from the roasted cauliflower capellini in the cookbook. It is perfect for a filling weeknight meal. The main ingreidents are wholewheat pasta, cauliflower, and spinach (note the recipe calls for basil). These are added to a “sauce” of browned butter, salt & pepper, and balsamic vinegar, and topped with cheese. I even forgot to add the vinegar (whoops), and it was still delicious.

I was worried this would be a little too “healthy” for H. (he prefers his pasta with tomatoes and cheese), but it definitely got his stamp of approval. Definitely a new addition to the weeknight repertoire.

wholewheatspag (not the best photo!)

Lunches part 3

Part 3 in my lunch series has been a long time coming — it’s been almost a year (!) since I posted Part 2 (Part 1 here). To give a quick summary, this series is about lunch items that can be prepared quickly and that take the dullness out of what is often for a lot of people a ‘throwaway’ meal.

7. Leftover vegetarian chili
Yes, it may seem a bit odd to includes leftovers in this feature, but this really makes the best lunch, especially on a winter’s day. You can make the chili the night before or even freeze it in advance (it’s easy to throw together and once assembled you can leave to simmer for as long as you like). The way I make it would perhaps be considered by some as a ‘loose’ version of chili, but I’ll share my method regardless: sautee garlic (and onion, if you wish) in a bit of olive oil. Add 2 (400g) cans of chopped tomatoes, followed by whatever veg you like (I like carrots, peppers, and some tomatoes). Add 2 cans of red kidney beans, + spices (I used a little cumin, ground coriander, garam masala, and my personal favourite to add to a chili, a little cinnamon). Simmer (the longer the better). Best with a bit of grated cheddar, chopped fresh coriander, & a dollop of sour cream on top! This makes enough for 2 meals for 2; adjust as necessary.

8. Cheat’s tomato soup
I’m calling this a cheat’s soup because it’s not made with fresh ingredients which for some reason to me feels like cheating! However I’ve made this loads of times and enjoyed it each and every one. What is imperative for this recipe is the tomatoes — find ones that are good quality. I cannot stress this enough. To make, simply sautee a little garlic and/or onions in some oil, add 2 cans of diced tomatoes along with salt and pepper, and simmer for anywhere between 10-20 minutes. Then puree the soup and add in a dollop of cream or creme fraiche (you do not need a lot to create a bit of a ‘creamy’ feeling). My favourite garnish herb for this soup is dill, but lots of others would work too. Best served with crusty bread!

9. A version of Ottolenghi’s conchiglioni
I am even surprising myself that I’ve included an Ottolenghi dish in this series, however this is a great-tasting pasta and has to be one of the easier dishes in his repertoire! It’s also, in Ottolenghi’s words, comfort food at its finest. The recipe is from Jerusalem. I have made it several times with many substitutions and variations. The basic ingredients you need are pasta, plain Greek yogurt*, feta cheese, basil, chili flakes, and nuts. *When I first told H. that I was making pasta with yogurt he had a confused and disgusted look on his face. I promise that it works though! To make it, simply prepare the pasta as directed, and once cooked combine with a large dollop of yogurt, some basil leaves, chili flakes, feta, and nuts as desired (pine nuts work the best in my experience). You can also mix spinach leaves in which I’ve found to work really well.