Pasta with Cauliflower, Anchovies and Chilli


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



Spaghetti with mushrooms, garlic and creme fraiche

Spaghetti with mushrooms, garlic and creme fraiche

This weekend I was a little bit under the weather, so consequently have done little beyond reading from under a blanket and finishing the second series of House of Cards.  I was, however, convinced to get out of the house for a bit to take a little walk to Brockley Market for some things that, I was promised, would make me feel better.

My first stop was Mike & Ollie, whose delicious wraps are always far too good to resist.  I went for the smoked mackerel wrap with apple and beetroot, which was both beautifully autumnal and a threat to any pale-coloured clothing.  On the subject of beetroot, I also picked up a some that made their way into a rather good cake.

A fridge forage that morning yielded some garlic, parsley, a bit of creme fraiche left over from the leek and cheddar pie, a red onion and a little parmesan.  Spaghetti and mushrooms would bring this together into a meal: the former I had in the cupboard, the latter I could get from the market.  I was hoping for a box of mixed wild mushrooms, but could not see any, so settled for a bag of field mushrooms instead.

This really is an incredibly quick supper, perfect for those days when you can’t bear to spend too much time in the kitchen.  Best eaten on the couch.

Spaghetti with Mushrooms, Garlic and Creme Fraiche

200g dried spaghetti
Olive oil
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
300g field mushrooms, halved and sliced
2 tsp finely chopped curly parsley
75g creme fraiche
1 tsp cider vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp finely grated parmesan

Cook the spaghetti in salted water according to packet instructions.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan, or chef’s pan, and sautee the onion until translucent – about 5-10 minutes.  Add the garlic to the onions after two minutes of cooking.  Add the mushrooms and cook until tender and browned.

Add 1 tsp of the parsley and stir in the creme fraiche and cider vinegar.  Cook gently until it begins to bubble.  Check the seasoning.  When heated through, remove from the heat and stir in most of the parmesan, retaining a little for the end.

Divide the spaghetti between two large bowls and top with the mushroom mixture.  Finish with the remaining parsley and parmesan.

Serves two.

One Year Ago:  Tarragon Chicken

The Best Meatballs Ever

Meatballs and spaghetti

Meatballs and spaghetti

As the days get shorter and the nights get cooler, I find that I spend more time at home than I did in the heady days of summer.  For one, pub gardens aren’t as fun if you have to put a coat on and huddle together.  Also, I find that my credit card bills from the holidays and living it up at a variety of weddings, festivals and trips to the seaside are so obscene that I reining it in seems the only option.

One thing I like to do on these cold evenings is fill up my freezer.  It’s probably the instinct for stocking up for winter kicking in, and all of a sudden I am digging out all of the Tupperware and filling it with things that I can eat later.  Hearty stews, soups and casseroles to be defrosted on a cold winter’s day when a trip to the supermarket is just too much to bear.  My two favourite things to keep in the freezer are meatballs and homemade tomato sauce.

Meatballs are a godsend as you can freeze them after they have been cooked and then, once defrosted, just heat them through in the sauce for about 10-15 minutes before serving.  A little fresh pasta and a sprinkle of parmesan and you have an excellent meal. 

I have tried a number of different meatball recipes, but these from the Polpo cookbook are my favourite.  They use pork and beef mince, which give them an excellent flavour, and the addition of a little pinch of chilli gives just a smidge of warmth.  The best thing about these meatballs is that they are cooked in the oven, rather than on the stovetop, which means that they do not have the crisp edges that frying gives and remain soft all the way through.  Because of this, they tend to break up less than other meatballs when cooked in the sauce.

The sauce is also from the same cookbook and uses both fresh and tinned tomatoes.  It too contains a bit of chilli for that extra warmth, which you can leave out or adjust to your own taste.  I have adapted the sauce from the original recipe by adding a little red wine vinegar and Worcestershire sauce to give it a little more depth. 

This recipe makes about 50 meatballs, which is more than any family can eat in one sitting.


1kg minced pork
500g minced beef
3 medium eggs
½ tbsp fine salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
150g breadcrumbs
Pinch dried chilli flakes
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Handful flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 220ºc / 425ºf / gas 7.  Lightly grease two baking trays.

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients by mixing together with your hands until fully combined.  You can make the meatballs any size you wish, but I always weigh out 35g of the mixture for each ball.  Roll into a sphere and place on the baking tray.  Repeat until all of the mixture has been used up.

Bake the meatballs in the oven for ten minutes, turning once.  When ready to serve, poach in the tomato sauce for 10-15 minutes until heated through.  The meatballs can also be refrigerated or frozen at this stage.


Tomato Sauce

100ml extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ tsp fine salt
¼ tsp black pepper
Pinch chilli flakes
750g fresh tomatoes, quartered
3 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Heat 50ml of the oil in a large pan and saute the onion and garlic until soft, approximately 10 minutes.  Add the salt, pepper and chilli and stir in.  Add the remaining 50ml of the oil and the fresh tomatoes and cook on a medium heat for a further 15 minutes.

Add the tinned tomatoes and simmer on a low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the oregano, caster sugar, red wine vinegar and Worcestershire sauce.  Taste for seasoning.  Puree thoroughly using a hand blender.

Recipes adapted from ‘Polpo’ by Russell Norman

Black Pudding and Savoy Cabbage Pasta Bake

Black pudding and savoy cabbage pasta bake

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.

Dinner for One


Sometimes I fail spectacularly at having any decorum around mealtimes. For example, if you had visited me on any evening this week you would have found me curled up in the corner of my enormous couch with my plate perched precariously on the arm, eating what can only be described as a TV dinner.  My defence for this kind of sluttery rests on two main factors: one, my new job requires me to watch a fair amount of television; and two, we currently have a very temperamental boiler and heating system, so sitting at the dining room table looks less and less appealing as the temperature starts to drop in London.  Also, I have been dining alone for the past few weeks whilst Ollie has been working late and have been far too tired from my own work to set the table for one. Justification over.

Making dinner for one is also an exercise that has varying results.  I became quite au fait with solo dining when Ollie was touring with his band. Often I would be invited to friends’ houses for dinner, or would entertain people at home, but I would also crave my own company and nights in alone.  Whilst I love spending hours in the kitchen, I initially found that cooking a meal only for myself was a big effort and would often simply stir some pesto into some spaghetti or fix myself a sandwich.  After a while, I realised that there was a possibility for making excellent dinners for one, and began adapting recipes to make quick and easy single portions.

This recipe is one by the majestic Nigella Lawson from her most recent book, Nigellissima: pasta with mackerel, Marsala and pine nuts.  At first I was unconvinced about the combination of smoky mackerel, sharp pine nuts and sweet Marsala but after reading that her inspiration was one of my favourite seafood dishes, pasta con le sarde, I decided to give it a go.  In fact, it is utterly delicious – the many different ingredients create complex levels of flavour and texture that far surpass that of many other pasta dishes.  I first thought that the addition of pine nuts was a touch unnecessary, but they add a little extra oily richness to the oiliness of the mackerel.  This dish is also astoundingly quick to make – in fact, boiling the dried pasta is the most time-consuming part – the rest can be whipped up in a matter of minutes.  The quantities in the cookbook are for two people, but I have adapted the amounts and proportions slightly to make a generous meal for one.


Nigella Lawson’s Pasta with Mackerel, Marsala and Pine Nuts

  • 100g dried linguini
  • 30g sultanas
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp Marsala
  • 1 large smoked mackerel fillet, broken into large flakes
  • 1tbsp capers, drained
  • Few drops of cider vinegar
  • 25g pine nuts
  • Dill, roughly torn

Cook the pasta in a pan of boiling salted water according to packet instructions.  Drain the pasta, reserving a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid, and set aside.

In the meantime, warm the olive oil in a frying pan and cook the shallots until translucent, about two minutes.  Add the Marsala and let it bubble before immediately adding the mackerel, sultanas, capers and cider vinegar.  Once the mackerel is warmed through and the liquid absorbed, remove from the heat.

Put the drained pasta back into the pan with the reserved cooking liquid, the contents of the frying pan and half the dill and pine nuts.  Toss together until well combined before transferring to a warmed bowl.  Scatter the remaining dill and pine nuts over the top of the dish and season well.

Tagliatelle with Courgettes, Chilli and Parmesan

Tagliatelle with Courgettes, Chilli and Parmesan

Tagliatelle with Courgettes, Chilli and Parmesan

I am having one of those weeks where I simply don’t know where to start.  It is my last week in my job and the mountain of work I have to get through before Friday is occupying ninety per cent of my thoughts.  So much so that over the past few days I missed a friend’s birthday, nearly put hand soap on my toothbrush twice and forgot to place my supermarket order, missing my usual 6am Monday morning slot.  Finding my handbag in the fridge would not be a huge surprise right now.

With Ocado unable to deliver for another 36 hours, last night’s dinner was a ‘what-can-I-make-from-what-I-have-in-the-fridge’ affair – an exercise that both tests your creativity and gives you a cavalier attitude to sell by dates.  Luckily, I had half a bag of courgettes, not quite ready for the bin, some chillies, some basil and half a tub of creme fraiche left over from Ollie’s moules mariniere.  I also had two eggs and a bag of type ’00’ flour. Voila pasta.

Making your own pasta is time consuming, however if you have shop-bought pasta, this dish will take ten minutes at the very most.  A lot of people have been using vegetables, such as courgettes cut into ribbons or spaghetti squash, in place of pasta lately, so you could up the quantities of the sauce and have it without the pasta but, being a glutton in the midst of winter, I prefer it with a steaming tangle of fresh tagliatelle.  The quantities of the recipe are tailored for my own taste, but I add an extra half a chilli when making the sauce for Ollie as he prefers spicier food.  Feel free to add any other ends of veg you have kicking around the veg drawer too.

Tagliatelle with Courgettes, Chilli and Parmesan

  • Enough pasta for two (see guide to making your own here)
  • Olive oil
  • Four large courgettes
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • Juice of one large lemon
  • 1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced
  • 3 tsp creme fraiche
  • Handful finely grated parmesan
  • Five or six large basil leaves, roughly chopped

Cook the pasta in salted water. Drain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and cook the garlic for a couple of minutes on a low heat without letting it brown.  Slice the courgettes into ribbons using a potato peeler and add to the pan.  Increase the heat to medium and cook for five to seven minutes, tossing occasionally.  Using kitchen tongs, remove the courgette ribbons from the pan and set aside.

Add the lemon juice and chilli to the pan and cook for a couple of minutes.  Stir in the creme fraiche and cook for a further minute until bubbling.  Return the courgette ribbons to the pan, along with the grated parmesan and chopped basil, and toss the mixture together.  Heat through and serve on top of the pasta.

Serves two.

Pasta: a Quick Guide to Making Your Own

Although pasta has become one of the main staples of our diet, very few of us actually make our own.  I am lucky enough to live in an area that has some fantastic Italian delis within a short drive of my flat – Italo in Vauxhall and Gennaro in Lewisham are my local favourites – both sell great fresh and dried pasta, so why bother making it?  The truth is that making pasta is a bit of a faff.  For one thing, you need equipment; I know many blogs will tell you that you can make fresh pasta with nothing more than a bowl, wooden spoon, rolling pin and knife but, let’s face it, this is a huge effort.  I will argue that, unless you are very well practiced, you will need a food processor and a pasta rolling machine.  In addition to this, you have to allow chilling time and drying time, which turns making a batch of tagliatelle into a whole-evening activity.  And you need to buy specialist flour that it expensive.  It almost isn’t worth it.

Only it is.  Making your own pasta is like making your own bread: the freshness alone gives it the edge over anything you can buy.  There is only a couple of hours between measuring out the flour and eating the finished pasta, so you can actually taste the richness of the egg yolk and the slight graininess of the semolina.  There is none of the sticky, starchy coating that you often find on shop-bought pasta, and it cooks evenly and in a couple of minutes.  I have been making my own pasta since receiving a pasta rolling machine for Christmas a few years ago – if you want to start making your own pasta, I would definitely recommend investing in one.  I have a KitchenCraft model that you can pick up in most department stores for around £25.  You can also buy an attachment for your KitchenAid, although these are considerably more expensive.  You push the dough through a thin slot using a crank, almost like you would use a mangle.  Gradually reducing the width of the slot both thins out the pasta and stretches it, creating a beautifully translucent yellow sheet.  My pasta rolling machine has a number of cutter attachments for making spaghetti and tagliatelle, or you can make ravioli by adding pockets of pre-cooked filling along a sheet, topping it with another sheet and cutting out shapes with a pasta wheel or cookie cutter.

Fresh Pasta

  • 150g type ’00’ flour
  • 2 tbsp semolina
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp water (if needed)

Put the flour, semolina and egg yolks into a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  When you pinch the mixture, it should come together as a dough.  If it feels too dry, add the water a splash at a time until it reaches the right consistency.  It should not come together in the way that pastry does when made in the food processor, but should be moist enough to squeeze the mixture together into a very firm dough.  Knead the dough for a couple of seconds, then wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for one hour.

Divide the dough into two halves and set one aside.  Take the other half of the dough and, using your fingers or a rolling pin, flatten the dough until it it about half an inch thick.  With the roller on the widest setting, roll through the pasta, guiding it with your hand on the way in.  Fold the pasta in half width-ways and put through the roller, then fold in half lengthways and put through the roller.  Repeat this process two or three times until you have a smooth rectangle.  Turn the next setting, narrowing the rollers, and roll the pasta through three times, guiding it with your hand.  Repeat this process on five further settings until you have a thin sheet – do not use the last two settings as they tend to make the pasta a little too thin.  To make it easier to roll, I often join together the ends of the sheet at around the third setting and roll through the pasta on a loop.  Carefully remove the pasta sheet from the pan and cut as you wish.

Makes enough tagliatelle or ravioli to serve two, or six medium-sized lasagne sheets.

Orzo with Courgettes, Pine Nuts and Bacon

Orzo with Courgettes, Pine Nuts and Bacon

Orzo with Courgettes, Pine Nuts and Bacon

As we pulled out of our street this morning and drove past Peckham Rye Park, I realised that it was winter.  It wasn’t the people walking by in scarves or the fact that we could see our breath that gave it away, but the carpet of frost stretching from one side of the field to the other.  Just as we started to settle into autumn, the seasons are on the change again.  As is often the way in the colder months, I go into hibernation mode – putting off leaving the house until the last minute in the morning and eagerly anticipating walking back through the door in the evening – and find myself craving serious amounts of carbohydrates.

I also become unspeakably lazy by the middle of the week.  I start off well, but the laborious commutes by underground, long days in the office, dark mornings and even darker evenings, sap away my energy.  By the time Wednesday evening comes around, I am good for little more than reading, eating and watching television – all from the comfort of the couch.  On the rare occasion I am tempted out, I go swathed in knitwear, insulated by gin and in pursuit of food.  When at home, I want meals that take no longer than 20 minutes.

Orzo has quickly become one of my favourite ingredients and I have recently taken to keeping a bag in the cupboard for those moments when you need a speedy meal.  It crosses the boundary between rice and pasta, so can be used as a substitute for either.  You can boil it and stir into other ingredients to make a speedy pseudo-risotto or ‘orzotto’, can cook it in stock as a handy side dish, or can simply stir through some pesto for a, literally, five minute meal.  As with risottos and pastas, you can combine it with any number of ingredients that you have languishing in the bottom of the fridge and create a satisfying meal.  At the very most, you might have to pop to the corner shop.  This dish used up a few bacon rashers I had leftover from the lost weekend, a couple of courgettes that were about to venture beyond their best, an old chunk of parmesan, a little leftover wine (see: lost weekend) and the end of the rocket and pine nuts I bought for the leftover roast chicken salad.  You could add in and substitute just about anything – just use this recipe as a guide for quantities and go crazy in the kitchen.

A note on bacon:  There is no denying that bacon adds a beautiful salty, meatiness to a dish that cannot be replicated by any other ingredient.  When I was a vegetarian, heaven knows I tried.  The best bacon to use for this recipe is one that has a little fat, such as streaky bacon – pancetta also works well.  If you cannot find this, lardons or back bacon will also work fine, but you may need to add a little extra oil when cooking as they do not yield as much fat.  I used smoked bacon because I prefer the taste, but feel free to use unsmoked if the mood takes you.  The equivalent pancetta or lardons to 4 rashers of bacon is approximately 150g.

Orzo with Courgettes, Pine Nuts and Bacon

  • 300g orzo
  • 4 rashers bacon (see notes above)
  • 1 large onion
  • Olive oil
  • 250ml white wine
  • 2 large courgettes
  • Handful rocket
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 50g parmesan, grated
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts

Cook the orzo in salted boiling water according to packet instructions.  Drain well and set aside.

In a large saucepan, gently fry the onion in the olive oil until slightly translucent.  Cut the bacon into small pieces, approx 1″ squared and add to the pan.  Fry until cooked, adding a little more oil if necessary (see notes on bacon above).  Add the wine to the pan and allow it to bubble away until reduced by half.  Add the courgettes and cook for around 10 minutes, until they are tender.

Remove from the heat and stir in the orzo.  Once combined, fold through the rocket, grated parmesan, salt and pepper and pine nuts until fully combined and the rocket has wilted.

Sausage and Mushroom ‘Orzotto’


The nights are gradually beginning to draw in, a little more each day. When once, just a few weeks ago, I was able to sit out on my balcony long into the evening, now I am more or less confined to the house as soon as soon as I arrive home from work.  The crisper air and dark evenings always bring with them a desire to nest, and the autumn colours in the market bring with them a particular type of food; autumnal food – shades of gold somewhere in between summer’s lightness and winter’s austerity.  Opening the fridge to these ingredients and their possibilities is enough to make you forget about the trip to the pub in favour of a warm night in.

Sausages, for me, are such a part of warming winter comfort food that, unless they are pulled, charred and smoking, from a BBQ, I find it almost impossible to eat them in the summer months.  The smoky meatiness lends itself so well to a host of other flavours that are best enjoyed whilst wearing a jumper, with the central heating on, watching all of the films you missed during the hot weather because the city gave you better things to do.  Whether accompanied by a heap of artery-clogging buttery mashed potato or plunged into a spicy bean stew, they cannot help but warm you through.  As a child, I always ate sausages on bonfire night, encased in a bun with ketchup spilling all over my gloves – they were a good and cheap way to protect us against the winter chill and momentarily distract us from the possibility of sparklers, something we would constantly harass our parents for.

This ‘orzotto’ recipe, a kind of risotto made with orzo, or risoni, pasta instead of the usual arborio rice, was adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg book – my go-to cookbook for cheap and healthy mid-week suppers.   Finding warming vegetarian suppers, whilst not a challenge, can often be monotonous, but this book draws upon a range of different cultures to provide enough meat-free meals to see you through the colder months.  Of course, I have done the unthinkable and added meat to this otherwise well-thought out dish.  This is not simply a carnivore’s reaction, after all, I was a vegetarian for almost twelve years, but instead a need to find a way to use up some sausages leftover from the weekend that were languishing in the bottom of my fridge.  On a trip to Brockley Market this weekend, I managed to procure some rather delicious sausages – venison, chilli and garlic and wild boar and apple.  The former were eaten at a late Saturday night BBQ, something my family insist on having each month, come rain or shine, but we could not manage the second packet.  Two made their way into a rather good Sunday morning sandwich, and I could not bear to let the rest go to waste.

When cooking with sausages in this way, as with adding them to the top of a pizza, I prefer to peel off the skins and use the meat in its rougher form – it is far easier to cook it evenly this way.  Some chunks of apple escaped from the sausage meat during frying, which was picked out and discarded and, although some small chunks remained, the flavour was very subtle and in no way overwhelmed the mushrooms.  As with any mushroom dish, the real beauty comes when you use a mixture of mushrooms to get a more interesting flavour and texture.  In this recipe I used a mixture of chestnut and oyster mushrooms.  Surprisingly, I did not include porcini as I often do in mushroom dishes as I thought the flavour too strong.  The orzo, when cooked properly, gives a velvety texture that it is difficult to achieve when using the various types of short grain rice preferred for a risotto, and the ritual of adding stock and stirring is also unnecessary, making this a somewhat lazy dish in comparison.  The sauce is similar to that of a mushroom ragout and would work just as perfectly with other types of pasta, particularly tagliatelle or pappardalle.

Sausage and Mushroom ‘Orzotto’ (serves two)

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Four sausages, skins removed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 500g mixed mushrooms
  • 200g orzo or risoni pasta
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 50g mascarpone
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Finely chopped parsley, to serve
  • Shaved parmesan, to serve

Put a large pan of salted water on to boil and cook the pasta according to packet instructions.  Once cooked, drain and set aside.

Heat half the oil in a frying pan and add the sausage meat.  Cook for five minutes until browned.  Add the mushrooms to the pan and continue to cook until caramelised.  Remove all of the contents from the pan on to a plate, heat the oil and cook the garlic and thyme.  Add the balsamic vinegar until it bubbles and return the sausage and mushrooms to the pan.

Reduce the heat and stir in the mascarpone.  Cook until it is just simmering.  Stir in the drained pasta and cook until heated through.  Season to taste and serve topped with the copped parsley and shaved parmesan.