Pasta with Cauliflower, Anchovies and Chilli

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Pasta with cauliflower, anchovies and chilli

Last week I excitedly collected my first ever veg bag.  After meaning to order one for some time and not quite getting around to it, I finally sat down at my computer and set up a standing order to Local Greens.

There are many veg bag/box schemes out there, but two things attracted me to Local Greens.  First, the veg they provide is from producers as near to south east London as they can manage, reducing food miles and connecting local people with their landscape.  Second, and more importantly, they deliver their veg bags to local ‘collection points’ rather than your home, for you to collect at your leisure.  The issues around home delivery has deterred me in the past from ordering a weekly veg bag or box:  neither my husband nor I are regularly at home during the week, and we live in an apartment building with no convenient place to leave it.  Our Local Greens collection point is the local pub, a few hundred yards away from our house, who will hang on to it for a couple of days so that I can pop in and pick it up when it suits me.

For the home cook, the thrill of fresh produce in the kitchen is unrivalled, and the advantage of receiving produce chosen for you is that you will often receive items that not only would you not have chosen yourself, but that perhaps you have never cooked with before.  Last week’s bounty was all somewhat familiar, but I did find myself with a cauliflower, my least favourite vegetable.

I am still haunted by years of overcooked white mush on the side of a roast dinner.  It must have been in vogue in the 90s to boil it for so long that any hint of structural integrity disappeared, traumatising generations of children.  I have tried to find ways over the years to make this cruciferous monster palatable.  Most of them involve curry as the crevices of a cauliflower soak up the spices rather well.  I turned to my old friend Google for some inspiration and found that many advocate the pairing of cauliflower with pasta. Hmm.

The problem that we’re going to have here is that both ingredients are intrinsically bland; which is why both are so often doused in cheese sauce.  Blending two bland ingredients is only really successful when stronger flavours are introduced, which serve both to perk them up and hold them together.  Cue my two favourite storecupboard staples: anchovies and chilli flakes.  Adding these both to the olive oil at the beginning of the cooking breaks down the anchovies and creates a flavourful paste which gently coats the other ingredients.  I also added a little tomato puree to give the paste more flavour and substance.

The result is a pasta dish that showcases the subtle flavour of the cauliflower perfectly with the other ingredients.  Of course, it would be unjust not to add just a little cheese at the end.  Pecorino is my choice, but other hard cheeses would be just as complimentary.

Pasta with Cauliflower, Anchovies and Chilli

400g dried tortiglioni, rigatoni or other large pasta tubes
1 medium cauliflower, divided into florets and stalks and leaves discarded
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
8 anchovy fillets
Large pinch dried chilli flakes
1 tbsp tomato paste
Grated pecorino, to serve

Cook the pasta according to packet instructions. Drain and reserve some of the cooking water.  Keep warm and set aside.

Blanch the cauliflower florets in salted water until they are just tender.  Drain and put in a bowl of ice water to stop them cooking any further.

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large frying pan, or chef’s pan, and add the garlic, anchovies and chilli flakes.  Stir over a medium heat until the garlic turns golden and the anchovies break down.  Do not let it brown.  Stir in the tomato puree.

Drain the cauliflower florets and toss them, with the pasta, in the anchovy mixture.  You may want to do this in a new large pan or bowl as the frying pan will likely be too small.  Check the seasoning.

Serve in large bowls with a good grating of the pecorino.

Serves four.

One Year Ago:  Leftover Roast Chicken

Lamb and Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

Lamb and lentil shepherd's pie

Lamb and lentil shepherd’s pie

Tomorrow is my birthday and I had hoped this week would be a little quieter than usual so that I could have some time to prepare myself for becoming a year older.  In fact, the opposite happened and I have been busier than ever.  Such is often the way.  This also means that I have not had time to write up a shepherd’s pie that I cooked a couple of weeks ago that was more successful than I anticipated.

It started with us cooking a the lamb shawarma from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem for a family Sunday supper.  I usually look to Ottolenghi for my vegetarian recipes, but could not resist this lamb.  It has had a post-it marking the page for longer than I care to admit.  If you have the book, it is worth making for an alternative Sunday roast: it is marinated in no less than 11 spices and slow roasted for about four and a half hours.  We served ours with the usual array of kebab accompaniments – shredded iceberg, pickled chillies, hot sauce and a little hummus – and with a butternut squash, lentil and feta salad on the side.

Of course, we had some lamb left over, although not a great deal as we were all rather hungry.  Once I had shredded it from the bone, there was about 250g of meat, which would make a very skimpy Shepherd’s pie indeed.  I almost popped it in a tupperware to use for sandwich meat, and then remembered that I used to pad out vegetarian ‘shepherd’s’ pies with lentils and that it could also work well with the lamb.  As it happens, it worked perfectly.  Not only did it stretch the filling to make a pie for two people with a little leftover, but it added another dimension of texture to the shredded lamb. I was worried that the spices from the shawarma would overpower the dish a little, but in the end I could barely taste them, save for a bit of extra heat.

Food waste is one of my biggest bete noires, so the thrill of creating a new meal from old leftovers is pretty unrivalled as far as culinary thrills go.  I have always found more satisfaction in creating something from the odds and ends of the fridge than having a whole supermarket full of ingredients at my disposal.  This is partly why I shop daily rather than do a big ‘weekly shop’ – it is far easier to see what you already have, and then figure out something to do with it.  A shepherd’s pie, or cottage pie, is a perfect way of using up leftovers: the meat, old bits you have lurking around the veg drawer, and the ends of bags of potatoes.  As far as the filling goes, you can add in more or less anything you like.  The idea of creating this as a completely new dish seems like an odd one.  Some people do this with mince, which I prefer not to use if I can help it.

Lamb and Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

100g dried green lentils
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 celery sticks, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp dried thyme
100ml red wine
250g leftover roast lamb
100ml chicken stock
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp tomato puree
Salt and pepper
750g potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 tbsp salted butter
Grated cheese, for topping

Cook the lentils according to packet instructions and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 200ºc.  Heat the oil in a large frying pan, or chef’s pan, and cook the onion, carrots and celery over a medium heat until soft but not browned, approximately 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and thyme in the last two minutes of cooking.

Pour in the wine and increase the heat a little to let it bubble.  Cook for a couple of minutes until it has reduced a little.  Add the lamb, stock, Worcestershire sauce, tomato ketchup, tomato puree, salt and pepper.  Cook on a medium heat for around 15-20 minutes until the mixture has thickened and most of the liquid has been reduced.  Stir in the lentils and transfer to a suitable pie dish.

Meanwhile, cook the potatoes until tender.  Drain and mash with the butter and a little milk until smooth.  Check the seasoning.

Pipe or spoon the mash over the lamb mixture and top with a layer of grated cheese.  Bake in the oven for around 30 minutes until the top has browned and the edges are bubbling.  Serve with green vegetables.

One Year Ago:  Cornish Pasties

Toad in the Hole for British Sausage Week

Toad in the Hole

Toad in the Hole

This weekend I visited two south-east London markets in one day.  ‘Double-marketing’ as my friend Jassy called it.  I went to the brand new Peckham Market and then walked down the Queens Road, through New Cross and on to Brockley Market, one of my long-time favourites.  Needless to say I ate far too much.  More on that later…

At Brockley Market, right on the far side, is a stall called The Butchery, at which I am a frequent visitor.  Their moniker can leave you in no doubt as to what they sell, but gives little clue to the fact that they are one of the best butchers in London.  To discover that, one has to try them for themselves.  I first discovered them when their shop appeared on Forest Hill’s London road a couple of years ago, before that they had a pop-up shop that was part of the SEE3 project, supported by Mary Portas, to regenerate parts of Forest Hill and Sydenham.  Since then, I have visited them mainly at their stall at the market which has a good selection of their full range.  Their excellent bacon makes it into my shopping bag with some regularity, and I find I can pick up some excellent cheaper cuts too, like the beef shin I used in my beef shin, black bean and chipotle stew.

This weekend, I was after some good sausages, with this week being British Sausage Week.  I must have been on the same wavelength as my fellow shoppers as, by the time I had arrived at Brockley Market and scarfed down my lunch (beef short rib braccos from The Roadery, if you’re interested) there was only one packet left in the whole market:  a packet of some rather sizeable pork sausages from The Butchery.  So large were they, in fact, that the cost of £6.60, nearly double that of supermarket sausages, barely caused me to bat an eyelid.  I was happy to pay this and to take them home.

These sausages had a very special purpose:  they were going to be made into one of my childhood favourites, a dish that I had not eaten in some time but had been craving ever since the weather turned cooler.  Toad in the Hole.  With such an unappealing name, it is easy to see why those who are unfamiliar would turn up their nose.  For the rest of us, mainly those of us who grew up in Britain, went to a British school or have British relatives, the combination of sausages and Yorkshire pudding, doused in gravy, is the ultimate in comfort food.  My mother, undisputed queen of all things batter, makes an excellent one.  Her secret is to make sure the fat in the pan is very, very hot before you add the batter.  She also makes excellent yorkies and pancakes using the same principle.

There’s not much else I can add except to say to use the best sausages you can find.  Make friends with your local butcher.  If you’re making a veggie one, Cauldron sausages are by far the best.

Toad in the Hole

6 sausages
Olive oil
150g plain flour
2 eggs
2 egg whites
200ml whole milk
Sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220ºc and lightly oil a tin or baking dish large enough to accommodate all of the sausages with some gaps in between.  Whilst the oven heats up, make the batter.  Beat the eggs, egg whites and milk together in a jog.  Place the flour in a bowl and gradually whisk in the wet ingredients until you have a smooth batter.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Place the sausages in the dish, add a little more oil and shake gently to coat.  Bake the sausages in the oven for 15 minutes.

Remove the sausages from the oven.  The fat should be spitting hot.  Stir the batter a couple of times and then pour it into the tray around the sausages.  Return to the oven for 20 minutes until the batter is puffed and golden.

Douse with gravy and serve with green vegetables.

One Year Ago:  Instagram Round-Up: October 2013