This first week back at work has been a bit of a shock to the system, hence why I haven’t been writing quite as much. Considering that for two and a half weeks I have done little more than watch television, drink gin and wrestle the top off the tin of Quality Street, this new routine of turning up, logging on and grinding down is harder than I expected. This, coupled with the constant talk of diets, sobriety and exercise, and the monumental rain storms that have hit London in recent days, is enough to make me want to crawl back under the duvet for another couple of weeks. At least until the worst of new year pandemonium is over.
By the time I get home; drenched, knackered and bored to death by somebody’s detox plan; the prospect of doing anything is, frankly, unappealing. My usual enthusiasm for getting into my kitchen, radio on, and cooking away the woes of the day, is somewhat diminished. So much so that last night, if somebody had handed me a Pot Noodle and a kettle, I might have considered it as a viable dinner option. I am certain that this phase will soon pass and my evangalism for cooking will soon return, probably after a good night’s sleep and a couple of days away from the tube, but in the meantime I need easy things I can make with a scowl.
The four things that always make me feel better when I’m in such a mood are old Cary Grant movies, tea, cheap milk chocolate and anything made with the magical combination of pasta and cheese. I have the first three in abundance, so just had to set about making myself a comforting supper with the fourth. I very seldom make a pasta bake, the memory of those awful jars that you slosh over dried pasta and stick in the oven still haunt me, but for some reason it just seemed to fit the occasion. Also, I had a ball of mozzarella in the fridge, leftover from the new years eve pizza, that was on its sell-by. I was planning to add some sausage meat to this dish to make it more substantial – either by finding the huge packets of sausagemeat found in supermarkets around Christmas time or by taking the skins of regular sausages – but had a change of heart when I came across the black pudding.
I was convinced that the smoky meatiness of the black pudding would make a very flavoursome pasta bake. Although it did not hold its shape as well as chunks of sausage would have, the way the black pudding breaks down into crumbs and almost coats the spirals of pasta is quite endearing. It acts in a similar way to mince when you use a meat sauce or a ragu. I also saw an opportunity to add a vegetable to this dish – inspired by my friend Mandy’s blog, Sneaky Veg, where she hides fruit and vegetables in more or less everything – and found a shredded savoy cabbage to have just the right level of robustness to stand up to the black pudding. Although experimental, the result was very pleasing. I put a portion into a large bowl, made a cup of Earl Grey, got the Dairy Milk out of the fridge and curled up on the couch to watch Operation Petticoat. And I immediately felt better.
Black Pudding and Savoy Cabbage Pasta Bake
- 250g black pudding
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 500g passata
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- ½ tsp dried rosemary
- 300g fusilli pasta
- ½ savoy cabbage, sliced
- Sea salt and black pepper
- 250g ball mozzarella
- Handful grated parmesan
- 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan. Crumble the black pudding into large pieces and gently fry for 5 minutes until browned. Add the passata, tomato puree and rosemary and simmer for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to packet instructions. Add the cabbage for the last few minutes of the cooking time, then drain well.
Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 400ºf / gas 6. Add the tomato and black pudding mixture to the drained pasta. Season with the salt and pepper and toss together well. Spoon into a ovenproof dish. Break up the mozzarella and scatter across the top, followed by the parmesan and breadcrumbs. Bake in the centre of the oven for 20 minutes.