Spaghetti carbonara

Carbonara is the dinner I cook if I have nothing else in the house, but I don’t want to go down the road of fish fingers and beans (which is my default ‘I can’t even face actually TOUCHING the food’ dinner). I tend to always keep a pack of bacon in the fridge, because it keeps for ages and can be used in so many different ways. I’ve also normally got eggs, unless I’ve used them all, along with a block of parmesan (currently I’ve got a block the size of my head in the fridge, you can never have enough), so it’s a great fallback dish.

I know it’s not going to win any ‘healthiest dinner’ awards, but it’s really really quick to make (it only takes as long as it takes to boil the pasta, plus about 3 minutes more), and it tastes amazing. I think it’s elegant enough to serve for a dinner party, and it’s a great one to cook if you’ve got a friend coming over because it’s so quick there is plenty of time for chat and there’s no prep or anything involved!

I love the combination of salty, creamy and cheesy, and the nutmeg is the perfect sweet, spiced note on top of everything else. Nutmeg always reminds me of the rice puddings my mum used to make, it’s one of the most nostalgic foods I can think of! You can use the traditional cubes of pancetta, although I tend to find them quite tough sometimes because of the chunks of fat (I’m REALLY fussy about fat on meat, I usually cut most of it off if it’s not crispy), so I use rashers of pancetta or smoked bacon instead and I think I like the texture of this more with the silky pasta. I also always use linguini for this, I suppose then I shouldn’t be calling it Spaghetti Carbonara, but I really don’t think Linguine Carbonara has the same ring to it…

I don’t know where this recipe is from; I’ve probably taken elements from here there and everywhere. I don’t bother weighing anything out or any of that annoying business, this is relaxed cooking at its finest.

Spaghetti Carbonara
Serves 2

4/5 rashers pancetta/smoked bacon
200g spaghetti/linguine (a reasonable handful)
A knob of butter
1/2 glass white wine
2 large eggs
A handful of grated parmesan
A pinch of nutmeg, grated
A splash of double cream if you have it
Pepper

Method

If you time this right you can do everything in just the time it takes to cook the pasta. The first thing I do is put some water on to boil and start cooking the pasta. Once the pasta is in the pan, snip the bacon into a large frying pan (large enough to take the cooked pasta) with a drizzle of olive oil and fry until crisp.

While the bacon is frying and the pasta is boiling, beat together the eggs, parmesan, nutmeg, pepper (you don’t need salt because the bacon and the cheese are salty enough) and cream if you’re using it (you don’t have to but it makes it richer and creamier. I only use it if I have some in the fridge).

Once the bacon is ready, pour in the white wine and simmer until it’s reduced down and syrupy. Hopefully by this point the pasta will be ready. Drain it, turn the heat down on the bacon pan, and add the knob of butter to the bacon and winey juices. Add the pasta to the bacon pan and toss in the butter and juices until the pasta has absorbed it all.

Take the pan off the heat, and add the eggy mixture. Toss through until it’s formed a thick, silky sauce all around the pasta. If you don’t take the pan off the heat, the egg in the sauce will cook and it will go really weird. There will be enough heat in the pasta and the pan to cook the sauce enough.

Now, serve and enjoy! Ultimate comfort food.

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!

Chicken, leek and bacon pie

This is a recipe that I’m slightly obsessed with at the moment. For me, the combination of chicken, leeks and bacon is a complete winner – the leeks are sweet and soft, the bacon is smoky and salty and the chicken provides some chunkier texture which pulls everything together.

If you’re not sold on it just by seeing the words CHICKEN, LEEK and BACON together, then maybe the recipe will sway you. It’s really easy and doesn’t really require any specific measurements. I just kind of throw it all together and put as much in as looks right!

Sometimes I think I could eat the entire pie, but really this serves 2 greedy people, with maybe a bit to spare for lunch the next day

Chicken, Leek and Bacon Pie Filling

4 boneless and skinless chicken thighs (Sainsbury’s do good free-range ones and they’re super cheap)

A few rashers of bacon

2 leeks

A few carrots

A few tablespoons of plain flour

A large knob of butter

A tablespoon of dried thyme

1/2 glass white wine (optional)

Glug of liquid chicken stock or stock cube

Salt & pepper

Pastry

I use the half-fat-to-flour method that my nan used, and for the fat part use half butter and half vegetable fat (my nan used lard, can’t bring myself to use it though)

I use about 80g of butter to cover an enamel pie dish around 20cm in diameter so 160g of plain flour, plus a pinch of salt. If you want to make the pastry richer you can use an egg yolk but I only tend to do that for sweet pastry cases, the butter makes this rich enough for a savoury dish, in my opinion.

Method:

Heat a small amount of oil to a saucepan or casserole, and snip the bacon into the pan and leave to get crispy (if it doesn’t go crispy now it never will, I can’t stand that wobbly white fat on bacon, yuck)

Meanwhile,  chop the leeks finely (I usually cut them in half lengthways, in half again, and then finely slice) and add them to the pan with a large knob of melted butter to get soft in all the bacony juices. Peel and chop the carrots into 1.5cm -ish chunks.

When the leeks are soft, snip the chicken thighs into the pan (I barely ever use a knife to cut meat!) and fry until it’s all turned white. Add the carrots in and stir. Add 2-3 tablespoons of flour, salt and pepper (not too much salt, the bacon will be salty), and a good tablespoon of dried thyme. Stir in with everything else until the flour has combined with the buttery juices to make the roux which will thicken your sauce.

Add a generous glug of liquid stock, or a stock cube crumbled, and add enough boiling water to cover the mixture. Then add the white wine, and stir everything until combined. Simmer the mixture for around an hour or until it’s a nice thick consistency. The chicken should fall apart easily and the leeks will have almost melted into the rest of the sauce.

While the pie simmers away, you can get on with the pastry. One thing I will say: PASTRY IS EASY. Honestly. Do not fear it, especially if you have a food processor as it makes the whole thing incredibly easy and fast!

Just make sure the butter is really cold, straight from the fridge. Weigh it, and cut it into cubes. Add it to the processor with the flour (don’t need to sift, woo) and salt. Run the processor until the flour and butter look like breadcrumbs. While the motor is runnng, slowly add cold water until the mixture starts to come together into a dough in the processor. Then turn it off, take the dough out, squash it all into a ball, form it into a patty and wrap it in cling film and leave it to chill in the fridge for half an hour. This method is great because it involves little handling of the pastry so it keeps it cool.

If you don’t have a processor you can still do it by hand. Just dice up the butter nice and small, and add to the flour and salt. Rub the two together with the tips of your fingers, until you reach the breadcrumb consistency. Then slowly add the cold water until it comes together as a dough, and then squash it together, make the patty, clingfilm and refrigerate as usual.

When the pie mix is cooked, add it to your pie dish, and then roll out the pastry. I usually just roll it out into a rough circle and then squash it into the tin (nothing fancy here) and trim the edges. Then just lightly slash the top (not all the way through the pastry) with a sharp knife and make a hole in the centre for the steam to escape. Brush the top with a beaten egg or some milk and put in the oven for 20-30 mins until golden and crisp.

I usually eat this with loads of green vegetables (it is especially good with the new season asparagus). Enjoy!

Little Bubbas

I have been craving a visit to Ed’s Easy Diner for ages now, and despite talking about it the other night, we decided against driving the 2 hours to London, having an Ed’s and then driving the 2 hours back (yes, if you haven’t been, it’s THAT GOOD). Also I saw this post on Niotillfem featuring meatball sliders which made me want a burger even more.

At Ed’s I always have a Big Bubba. A Big Bubba is a regular burger with American cheese (we call it plastic cheese in our house) and super-crispy sweetcure bacon. So I attempted to recreate this at home, IN MINIATURE. Oh yes.

I served mine with sweet potato fries (although I also did normal fries because my husband won’t eat sweet potato. I don’t know what’s wrong with him) and onion rings. I bought the onion rings though; one gadget I’m really trying to hold off buying is a deep fat fryer because I will gain 5 stone instantly by frying cheese EVERY DAY. One thing I will say before the recipe is that please, for the love of god, use SMOKED STREAKY BACON. There are far too many burgers out there that are being topped with limp, pale, chewy pieces of back bacon, which is an unforgivable crime. Crisp, streaky bacon is a winner every time, and it has to be smoked. ALWAYS.

Ok, now I’ve got that off my chest, the recipe…

Little Bubbas

Serves 2 (makes 4 Little Bubbas)

For the burgers:

250g pack of lean mince beef

Salt and Pepper

Splash of worcester sauce

Pinch of oregano

1 egg, beaten

Smoked streaky bacon (I used 1 rasher per burger)

1/2 slice plastic “American” cheese per burger

4 small round rolls

For the fries:

Sweet potato or regular potato, cut into thin batons, skin left on

Olive oil (or any oil, really)

Salt

To make the burgers, put the mince into a bowl and break it up a bit with a fork. Then just add in a pinch of salt, a LOT of pepper (I always think beef is better with lots of pepper), a splash of worcester sauce and a pinch of oregano. You could really use any herb – fresh chopped parsley would be good, but I would put in more than a pinch in that case. I only put in a little bit of oregano because I didn’t want them to taste too much like meatballs!

Beat the egg and add just a small amount to the beef mixture (if you add it all it will go slimy and won’t stick together!). Keep adding small amounts until you think there is enough to bind the mixture, and mash it all together with a fork.

To shape the burgers, I used a pastry cutter which is roughly 5/6cm in diameter. I just put the cutter on a plate, and mashed the beef into it, pressing it down as much as possible (especially round the edges) then lifted the cutter off and did the same for the rest. Once they’re all made, cover the plate with clingfilm and leave in the fridge for about 20-30 minutes so that they firm up a bit.

Meanwhile, you can get on with slicing the potatoes. Cut them into matchstick sizes, and, if you’re using regular potatoes, boil them for about 3 minutes (this means that they get really nice and fluffy inside).  If you cook them longer they’ll probably disintegrate, so if you’ve cut them really thinly then boil them for less time. I didn’t bother to boil the sweet potatoes because they’re quite soft and cook quicker than normal potatoes anyway, but I just put them in the steamer pan above the normal potatoes for a minute or so.

Drain the potatoes in a colander and leave them there to steam dry for a few minutes. If they go in dry they will crisp up quicker in the oven. Once the fries are dry, put them on a baking sheet lined with parchment if your trays aren’t non stick (I find potatoes stick to trays REALLY badly and just end up as mush once you’ve scraped them off, so disappointing), and drizzle them with oil. Get involved with your hands to make sure they’re all coated and spread them out into one even layer. They all need to be in contact with the bottom of the tray to cook the best.

Put them in a hot oven (~200-220 depending on how impatient you are!) and leave them to cook for around 15-20 minutes. I like the ends of my sweet potato fries to be pretty burnished (read: burnt) so I put them all in at the same time. If you don’t, then I would cook the sweet potato fries for about 5 minutes less.

Put your griddle or pan or whatever you want to cook your burgers on to heat up, or if you want to grill them, put the grill on to heat up. Get the bacon ready to cook however you like (I put mine on a tray in the oven, it’s just easier!)

Once the pan/grill is hot, drizzle some oil onto the burgers if you’re using a pan (always oil the meat and not the pan, otherwise you’ll just smoke the house out) and cook them to your liking. Put the bacon on to cook. If you’ve compressed the burgers enough they should hold their shape well during cooking.

Once everything’s cooked it’s really just an assembly job with the cheese and the bacon – I just sprinkle the fries with some salt and enjoy!

If you’re a veggie, I think these would be awesome with falafels instead of the meat, and a huge dollop of hummus. Yummmm…