Baked mozzarella balls

I recently bought bucket of little mozzarella pearls, thinking that they would be really easy for pizza, pasta bakes, etc. Usually I’d buy the small tubs at the supermarket which hold probably 12-15 balls of mozzarella which is plenty for two pizzas. I soon realised, then, that having this BUCKET of mozzarella would take me a while to get through, most probably not before they’d gone off if I were using them at my usual speed. I was having evil thoughts about deep-frying the whole lot, which would almost certainly have induced some sort of dangerous arterial contraction, so I decided against it.

Instead, though, I thought about baking them, because there’s much less fat involved that way, and though you’re still eating loads of cheese there is just something that sounds so much worse about deep-frying cheese, right?

It’s a fairly tricky process but the result is worth it. I will put a disclaimer here that these are NOT as delicious as deep-fried mozzarella, as you can’t get the exterior quite so crispy and the interior quite so gooey without it all just oozing everywhere. But as a slightly healthier alternative, they’re really not bad. It took me a few goes to get the process right but I got there in the end. I decided to go with semolina instead of breadcrumbs for the coating, as semolina is crunchier and slightly sweet which I think goes really well. Also there is no fussing around with making the breadcrumbs or anything beforehand. The only thing I might try again is toasting the semolina before coating the mozzarella, so that it’s EVEN crunchier when the mozzarella is baked.

These would be really nice to serve as appetisers or as party nibbles (I was thinking that they would be great alongside some chorizo crisps made in the same way I made the crispy chorizo in my last post). There is a bit of faffing and watching them like a hawk, but I think it pays off!

 

Baked mozzarella balls

Below are the quantities for around 12 mozzarella balls, just increase as necessary.

12 mozzarella pearls

1/2 cup semolina

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon parmesan, grated

 

Basil leaves and tomato sauce to serve

 

Method

The first thing to do is drain the mozzarella balls and put them in the freezer for around 15 minutes. When you take them out you want them to be REALLY firm but not totally frozen.

Whilst they’re in the freezer, combine the semolina with some seasoning and the grated parmesan in a freezer bag. Line a baking tray with parchment and preheat the oven to 220C.

Working quickly, get the mozzarella pearls out of the freezer and tip them into the freezer bag. Give them a good shake until they’re coated in the semolina mixture and then tip everything onto the baking sheet. Put them into the oven for around 1 minute and then take them out and test their firmness. If they’re getting very soft, then slide the parchment onto a plate and refrigerate for a few minutes, before putting back into the oven. If after the first minute they’re not too squidgy (it really depends on your oven) then put them back in for another 30 secs-1min and test again. Once squidgy put on a plate in the fridge and repeat the process, until the semolina is crispy and the cheese is gooey but not oozing into a flat mess on the tray. I grated a bit more parmesan over them at this point actually; cheese-on-cheese, what could be better than that?!

Once they’re out of the oven, serve immediately. I like these speared on a cocktail stick with a baby basil leaf and dipped in tomato sauce. Yummmmm.

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.

Quick pasta and hot cross bun ice cream sandwiches

I had all these good intentions of cooking a really nice dinner last night but then I sort of got sidetracked on the way home (buying plants for the garden, rock and roll) and ended up getting home late. Instead of the more elaborate dinner I had planned to cook, I ended up cooking my failsafe dinner (well, apart from fish fingers, waffles and beans): tomato linguine.

I’m not even going to write a recipe because it’s so basic. It was just linguine with tomato sauce, and a handful of rocket on top drizzled with olive oil and balsamic glaze, and topped with parmesan shavings. It’s still tasty though, so I thought it warranted an appearance here. The mix of the balsamic with the tomato sauce in the pasta is really good, and the rocket is a nice texture against the pasta.

To make up for my low effort dinner, I felt like I wanted something for pudding. As I’d bought a pack of hot cross buns from the supermarket, and since they’re my first of the year (I can’t quite believe it), it had to be something involving those. Given my  recent obsession with making everything into a sandwich, I figured I’d do the same again, so I toasted the hot cross buns and put a scoop of cinnamon ice cream inside. This was INSPIRED, because it tasted amazing. Also we ate them like sandwiches which is one of those things that sort of feels wrong but at the same time SO RIGHT. If only the ice cream hadn’t run out because we’ve still got two hot cross buns left…