Cider-roasted sausages and vegetables

I know my last post was about sausages, but they ARE my favourite thing. Plus they’re just so easy to conjure up into a dinner mid-week, when faffing around with other meat just seems like a lot of effort.

I got this recipe from my Mother-in-Law last year; when my husband was working away for weeks at a time last summer I ate this at least once a week. It’s so easy but really tasty, and has lots of lovely veggies in so at least feels healthy!

You can roast whatever vegetables you like really; below is what I use on a regular basis. It would be really good with some lovely young beetroot in there too, skins on and quartered up. You can obviously also accompany it with any veg you like, tenderstem broccoli or asparagus are my favourites!

Cider-roasted sausages

Serves 2

6 sausages

2 small handfuls new potatoes (I used Anya potatoes in the pictures below)

1 red pepper

1 medium red onion

1 wine glass of cider

Olive oil

1 tablespoon thyme

To serve

Green vegetables

 

Method

Heat the oven to 200C. In a roasting tin, drizzle some olive oil and add the sausages and the new potatoes, halved or cut into chunks if they’re large. Roast for around 20 minutes, or until the potatoes and sausages are turning brown.

Slice the pepper into chunky strips and cut the onion into wedges. Put these into the roasting tin and toss to get covered in oil. Sprinkle everything with the thyme.

Roast everything for a further 15 minutes, by which time the vegetables will be turning brown. Pour in the cider (you need enough to cover the base of the tin) and return to the oven for another 10 minutes or so, until the liquid has reduced down and made a sticky sauce.

Steam or boil your vegetables for serving and pile everything up together. Tuck in!

Oven-baked risotto with leeks, asparagus, bacon and poached egg

I love risotto, but I rarely make it. It’s one of those things that I eat while my husband is away because he’s not overly keen on it (another thing I don’t understand), but also a lot of the time I just can’t face standing by the stove for 20 minutes stirring it until it’s cooked. I know it’s not exactly hard work, but a lot of the time when I’ve just got home from work I just want to shove something in the oven and sit down until it’s cooked.

As you can imagine, when I saw the recipe for an oven baked risotto I got a bit excited. This opens up SO many possibilities, not only to eat it more often, but also to experiment with more elaborate ingredients. If I’m not standing stirring the risotto, I can be cooking up some other things to put in. I went to a restaurant in Birmingham called Bank a few months ago, and had the most amazing haddock and leek risotto with a poached egg on top which was complete heaven. I LOVE poached eggs on anything, it seems common sense to add one to the top of a risotto so the yolk mixes in to all the creamy rice, yummmm.

Risottos are such a great way to use up leftover bits of veg that otherwise won’t go very far, or they can be made into something delicious with just some freezer ingredients (peas, broad beans, french beans etc). As long as it’s got lots of cheese in, it’s a winner. I’d recreated the above risotto (without the haddock since I didn’t have it) already, but I fancied trying out a baked version to which I could also add some crispy bacon that can be cooked in the oven alongside the risotto. The result was nothing short of AMAZING. It was so easy and quick, and the resulting risotto was super creamy and the rice was cooked to just the right consistency. I did, however, sustain the most painful burn I’ve EVER had, because I made the foolish mistake of grabbing the saucepan handle when I was stirring the risotto right after it had come out the oven. After running it under cold water for ages I finally ate the (albeit lukewarm) risotto with a wet lump of tissue stuck on the burn before I could run to my resident first aider (my husband’s cousin who lives opposite) who administered me with some rather amazing burn gel. Who knew being a food blogger was so dangerous?

Injuries aside, I will definitely be making this again, and again and again. With loads of different ingredients. It’s SO easy and convenient. What’s not so convenient is the burnt on milk in the saucepan but hopefully that’s nothing an overnight soak won’t fix. I got the recipe from the BBC Good Food website but tweaked it a little. This is how I did it.

Oven baked risotto with leeks, asparagus, bacon and poached egg

Serves 2

1 medium leek
Knob of butter
Olive oil
150g risotto rice (I used arborio)
350ml vegetable stock
125ml milk (I used semi skimmed but use whatever you drink!)
Around 10 asparagus spears
4 rashers bacon
2 eggs

Method

Melt the butter in a pan which can go into the oven, and add a drop of olive oil. Slice the leeks and add them to the pan and cook them gently for 5 minutes or so to soften. Once the leeks are soft, add the rice and stir. Wait until the rice has absorbed the butter and then add the stock and the milk. Bring everything to the boil and then cover the pan with a lid/foil and put into the oven at 200C.

The risotto should take about 18 minutes to cook. Chop the asparagus into pieces and get a pan of water ready for the egg. When the risotto’s got about 5 minutes left, add the asparagus spears and add a little more water/milk to the risotto if it looks a bit dry. Put the bacon rashers on a baking tray and put them into the oven.

Once the bacon has been in a few minutes, poach the eggs. Once everything is cooked it’s just a case of piling everything on top of each other, and seasoning the risotto to taste. I would normally have snipped the bacon into pieces once cooked so that I could easily eat this with a fork, but in my burned, fragile state I didn’t get round to that! You can, of course, put some parmesan in/on this – I didn’t this time in the interest of trying to be healthy but normally I would fill it with cheese!

I will never go back to making a risotto the normal way now, I’m coverted for life!

Pizza

Making pizza has been a bit of an ongoing saga for me. Unfortunately, there is a very fine line between tasty pizza and cardboard, so getting the recipe right is crucial. After several years of sporadic attempts, I’ve finally found a recipe and a method that works and now we eat homemade pizza almost every week!

The pizza dough recipe I use is from the Jamie Oliver book ‘Jamie at Home’. Below is the recipe as it appears in the book, but I halve this amount because the full amount makes so much dough, even in my largest bowl it oozes over the sides as it rises and is in danger of bursting the cling film! I guess I could split it into two bowls, but that means more washing up. Also I find it harder to handle that much dough (being a weakling) and it takes so much longer to knead, so in my mind it’s better to make it twice as often but use half as much effort.

Even with half the amount of dough, it makes four generously-sized pizzas. The dough freezes amazingly well, so when I make it I use half there and then, and then stash the rest in the freezer and thaw overnight when I want to use the next lot. Obviously if you did want to make the full batch then you can freeze all the rest! The pizzas I made today were from a frozen batch so I don’t have any photographs of the dough being made, just from the stretching out onwards.

Pizza Dough

Makes around 8 pizzas

1kg strong white bread flour or Tipo ‘00’ flour or 800g strong white bread flour or Tipo ‘00’ flour, plus 200g finely ground semolina flour
1 level tablespoon fine sea salt
2 x 7g sachets of dried yeast
1 tablespoon golden caster sugar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
650ml lukewarm water

Regular (coarser) semolina for stretching out the dough

A note here: I use Dove’s Farm organic strong white bread flour (which I LOVE) and I buy semolina flour from the farm shop. For my most recent batch I’d run out of semolina flour though so I just used all bread flour, it’s no big deal. I also add more olive oil and a bit more caster sugar than the recipe says, because I think the dough benefits from being quite sweet and, combined with the olive oil, helps to eliminate all traces of carboardiness.

Method:

(NOTE: This is not the method from the book. This is how I do it)

The first thing I do is measure out the warm water, add the sugar, yeast and olive oil, and stir. Leave this to start getting frothy while you weigh out the flour.

Weigh out the flours and salt and sieve them either into a bowl or straight onto the work surface. To be honest, I used to put it on the worktop, but you need to make a well in the centre and pour the wet ingredients in, and quickly mix together to form the dough. Those moments are SO frantic, trying to contain the liquid and stop it pouring over the flour mound and onto the floor, that I just can’t cope with it! Now I just mix it in a bowl, which is far more civilised and less likely to induce a heart attack. I just add the liquid slowly and fork liquid and flour together until they come together to form a dough, then bring it together with my (floured) hands at the end. Depending on the flour you have in the bag you might need more/less liquid each time you make it. If I need to add more liquid, I usually use half olive oil and half water.

Whatever method you’ve used, once you’ve got a ball of dough you need to start kneading. Flour the work surface and your hands, and knead the dough. If you’re unfamiliar with kneading, you basically just grab the top and bottom half of the ball of dough with each hand, and, using the heels of your hands, pull them apart to basically stretch and tear the dough. Then bring it together again and repeat the same thing. Turn it over and rotate it as you go, keep flouring the surface (or the dough, if it’s a bit sticky) as you need to, and after a while you’ll notice that the texture of the dough changes completely. It will be much more elastic, and really smooth. Once you’ve reached this point, form it into a ball and put it into a floured bowl, dust the top with flour (this stops it sticking to the clingfilm) and then cover with clingfilm.

Leave the dough to rise in a warm place. I don’t have an airing cupboard or even any proper radiators, so I just turn the oven on low when I’m kneading the dough, and leave it for 5-10 mins to get warm. Then I just put the covered bowl in there and shut the door.

When the dough is ready it should have doubled or more in size. Once it’s risen, remove the clingfilm and knock back the dough (this is basically just punching the air out with your fist, immensely satisfying).  Now you’re ready to stretch it out. I always stretch my dough out with semolina rather than flour, because it gives the dough a nice sweetness and makes the crust really crunchy. Also I find it easier to push the dough around as the semolina works better to stop it sticking to the surface, I find. So sprinkle the surface liberally with semolina, and knead the dough a little more so it’s smooth again. Then divide your dough into however many pizzas you’re making, and take one of the pieces.

Stretching out the dough is hard to explain and even harder to photograph. I basically do the following things, in roughly this order:

I push the ball of dough into a flatter disc with my fist.

Then I push the edges of the dough out with my fingertips and spin the dough so it stays roughly circular.

I then pick it up in one hand, hold it on the edge and hang it like in the picture. Then I use the other hand and pull the dough apart bit by bit, and rotate it. Basically you want to try and thin out the middle, so doing this uses the miracle of gravity and the dough’s own weight to stretch it out further.

After that you should have a bigger circle of dough that’s pretty thin in the centre but still thick and doughy on the edges. Press the edges out with the heel of your hand whilst pushing away from you to thin it out as much as possible.

Once the dough is almost there, lift it onto your baking tray. If you wait until it’s too thin then you risk tearing it when you put it on the tray. It’s no biggie if you do tear it, just pinch the sides of the hole together to repair it. You should repair any holes, because otherwise when you get the sauce on it will seep through the hole and stick to the tray. DO NOT WANT.

Once it’s on the tray, you can use your fingertips to squash out the thicker edges until it’s as thin as you want it.

Now it’s ready to load with good stuff. As far as sauce is concerned, I usually make mine with passata, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar and oregano. Although today I’d been gardening for 7 hours and was pretty tired, so I cheated and used some sauce from a jar, and there is no shame in that whatsoever! I also like making a pepperonata for the base instead of using tomatoes, which is just peppers softened down in some olive oil until they’re almost a mush. So tasty!

As for toppings, you don’t need me to tell you that the possibilities are endless. You can make it meaty, veggie, vegan, anything!

My favourite at the moment is a bit of a half and half: I had spinach and asparagus on one side, ham and artichokes on the other, and an egg in the middle.

For the spinach, I just heated some olive oil in a pan and added garlic. Once the smell of the garlic hits you from the pan, add the spinach and cook until wilted down. When it’s wilted add a squeeze of lemon juice (I use just less than half an average sized lemon), salt and LOTS of pepper. As you can see, I don’t wilt mine down too much and I don’t squeeze all the water out of it either, because I figure you’re just losing all the nice olive oil and lemon juice you put on it! It doesn’t make the pizza soggy anyway which is the main thing.

Then it’s just a case of assembling everything, and tearing the mozzarella on. I NEVER slice the mozzarella for two reasons: 1) I like the way you get thicker chunks if you tear it, which melt better and 2) it goes further if you tear it into smaller lumps.

I then just drizzle the edges in olive oil and put it in an oven preheated to full whack (on my oven this is about 230 degrees C)

For the egg, I don’t put it on at the start because I like a runny yolk. I leave the pizzas in the oven for almost 10 minutes (or until the start juuuuuust going golden at the edges) and then take them out. NOW, I’ve had too many disasters with breaking the yolk on eggs when I’ve put them on the pizza, and, rather embarrasingly, have been so irrationally angry I’ve thrown utensils across the kitchen. I JUST LOVE A NICE RUNNY YOLK OKAY?! I’ve therefore now adopted the method of breaking the egg into a small glass and then pouring it on to the pizza, that way if it breaks I can just try another one. No more tantrums!

So, once the egg’s on the pizza, return it to the oven for 3-5 minutes until the white is cooked and, if you like a runny yolk as I do, the yolk is still nice and wobbly. Then I just top the pizza with a really good grinding of black pepper (I swear I’m not as obsessed with pepper as I appear…) and a good grating of parmesan. Enjoy! And if you don’t manage to eat it all, any leftovers are really good as lunch the next day too….