So it’s the Easter holidays and we’ve seen snow, the death of a former prime minister (politics aside, I grew up in the 1980s and having a female PM did make it entirely conceivable – and indeed normal – for a woman to be in charge, running the country – wise Hannah from Muddling Along has more on this very topic here), and – I am sure most of you are with me on this – eaten a lot of chocolate. We went away for a week to Northumberland with friends – 8 grown-ups and 8 children in one enormous house with an Aga, an open fire, a huge garden and a swimming pool (indoor, heated), some delicious meals and a lot of nice wine. As a result, am now on a bit of a health mission!
Coming home to London, the sun seems to be trying to come out and the buds and the flowers are opening. In honour of Spring I bought a large basil plant in Waitrose at the weekend. Having a pot on the windowsill always feels like I am bringing summer into the kitchen. I love the colour and smell of basil – that lovely green, so fresh, with that wonderful odour – it inspires me to cook simple, healthy dishes.
And so I bring you this very simple basil pesto. You need a decent, heavy pestle and mortar for this one. I know some folks swear by the food processor for making pesto, but I think, frankly, it’s too much hassle for such a simple sauce, plus I enjoy making it by hand. Oh, and I don’t bother toasting the pine nuts, either, but you can if you want to.
This is one to make when you get home tired from the park on a Saturday, or when the kids have had a party and are hungry but don’t want much, or simply for a weeknight post-work supper. Sometimes when I get home and am not sure what I am going to whip up, I start by just putting a saucepan of water on to boil – by the time it’s bubbling, I’ve usually thought of something to rustle together (a top tip).
You will need
Serves 2-3, but you can easily up quantities to taste
Small clove garlic, peeled
Pinch sea salt
Big basil plant, leaves removed and (ideally!) washed and patted dry
50g pine nuts
3tbsp Parmesan, grated
Extra virgin olive oil
Simply crush all the ingredients, bar the olive oil, in your pestle and mortar. If your mortar is very sturdy, you will even be able to do this one-handed. Hurrah indeed. Once it is all mashed together, drizzle in the olive oil until you get the consistency you like. Serve with hot, drained spaghetti or linguine – or other pasta shapes, with extra Parmesan grated on top if you fancy. Yum.
At present, on my health kick, I am into Seeds of Change semi-wholewheat tortiglioni pasta which is available in Waitrose, Tesco and other supermarkets. I find 100% wholewheat pasta a bit too ‘earthy’ tasting, but this is a good compromise. You still get some of the nutritional benefit of the whole grain – so, the B vitamins, vitamin E and fibre, plus a slower release of carbohydrates than white pasta – but it still tastes like ‘proper’ pasta. Plus the sauce clings to it well. Well worth a try, if you’ve had wholewheat pasta before and weren’t keen. Plus the children like it!
Ciao for niao!
Now the nights are drawing in, warm hearty fare is on my mind as I plan and shop for family suppers. Pasta with bolognese sauce is a firm favourite in our house, but it can be pretty time-consuming to make (and time is one thing I am always bit short of…) So, one way to speed things up is to use sausage meat for your meat sauce – you still get a really tasty savoury sauce, but it takes much less time to cook. I usually use pork sausages with some fennel in for a bit of extra flavour (and having read about ‘kind meat’ in Hattie Ellis’ brilliant book What to Eat? earlier this year, I do my best to select free-range pork sausages).
The most time-consuming bit is preparing the vegetables, but remember you can chop them in advance and simply keep them a bowl in the fridge with a bit of cling on top until you’re ready to cook later. You can do the veggies by hand, or just whizz them in the food processor or mini chopper to save time. Or even quicker, use a bag of ‘soffritto’ from Waitrose (who said you couldn’t cheat? I do!)
Note, you will need a decent sharp knife to slit the sausage skins.
Now there’s a wizard idea.
Super Sausage Pasta Sauce
Dash of olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, diced
1 stick of celery, diced
1 red pepper, diced
400g sausage meat (approx. 6 sausages)
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
A squeeze of tomato puree
1 tin chopped tomatoes (I’m a Napolina girl)
Salt & freshly ground pepper
What to do
- Sweat the vegetables in the olive oil over a medium heat until soft, stirring from time to time.
- Meanwhile, slit the sausage skins and remove the sausage meat.
- Add the sausage meat to the vegetables, and use your wooden spoon or spatula to break up the meat in the pan, until lightly browned.
- Add the red wine vinegar, and reduce. Once reduced, add the tomato puree and the chopped tomatoes and cook for approx. 20 mins until the sauce is reduced, thick and tasty. Season as required.
- Serve with pasta – we like farfalle or twists as the children tend to struggle with spaghetti.
Liz (aka TOHC) x