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.

Spinach and ricotta ravioli with pine nuts

I admit it, I’m a huge sucker for kitchen gadgetry, but only where it’s actually useful or is going to do a job that I either wouldn’t be able to do myself or would take me ages by hand. Cue the pasta machine, a present from my husband (then boyfriend) several years ago. I love homemade pasta and I love the process of making it; it’s theraputic and is really much less effort than you might realise. I also like that rolling the pasta through the machine is a two-person job – it’s one of the only kitchen activities I can coax my husband into joining in with (I think he likes turning the crank and fiddling with the knobs (no double entendres intended!)).

If you don’t have a pasta machine then you can most definitely do this by hand! You will just need to roll out the pasta with a rolling pin and then dollop the mixture on to the pasta, cover with another sheet and then seal together. It will be a bit more time consuming though but not too much. To give you an idea of time, from making the pasta to finishing eating the ravioli it was around an hour and a half. Not a huge amount of time for a completely made from scratch dinner!

I wanted to make some ravioli for my dad for a Father’s Day dinner as it’s his favourite thing, so I thought it best to test out the ravioli attachment we got for the pasta machine AGES ago that had previously sat unused, before attempting it on the day. So I thought I’d use spinach and ricotta for the filling as I’m sort of obsessed with spinach at the moment. I just kind of made up the filling so I’ve got no exact measurements – I just kept tasting it until the flavours and the seasoning were right. The amounts I’ve specified below should get you somewhere near the perfect flavoured filling!

You could obviously fill these with whatever you want – just whizz up meat and cheese or tomato, goats cheese and softened red onions, butternut squash and sage… the list is endless. Or go with your favourite type that you would usually buy in the supermarket. It will definitely taste better!

If you want to increase the quantities then for the pasta it’s 100g of flour to each egg, and ‘one egg’ of pasta is roughly enough for one person.

Spinach and ricotta ravioli

Serves 2

Pasta

200g plain 00 flour (you can use ordinary flour but it won’t be as silky smooth. You can get 00 flour now in most supermarkets)

2 large eggs

Pinch of salt

Filling

5 generous handfuls spinach

2/3 garlic cloves (depending on how garlicky you like it!)

Knob of soft butter

3 heaped dessertspoons ricotta cheese

Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Tomato sauce

200ml passata/chopped tomatoes

Half a glass red wine

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 tablespoon oregano

Salt and pepper

Pinch of sugar

To serve
Handful of pine nuts

 

Method

For the pasta: Weigh out the flour and tip onto a work surface. Add the salt. Make a well in the centre and crack the eggs into it.

Then, mix the eggs into the flour until everything is combined. Yes this is messy and at times difficult, and I know I said I didn’t mix my pizza dough this way because it’s too hard to cope with. BUT, it’s much easier with eggs because of how gelatinous the whites are – the watery liquid of the pizza dough just runs all over the place  whereas this is much easier to keep under control. ANYWAY, bring everything together and then knead the dough until it’s nice and smooth and elastic. You might need more flour – it depends how absorbent your particular flour is. Just add more if it’s a bit sticky (flouring your hands isn’t a bad idea either). Once the dough is smooth form it into a ball and cover with clingfilm. Leave for 30 minutes (unrefrigerated) for the gluten in the flour to do its thing.

Whilst the pasta is resting you can get on with everything else. For the filling, wilt the spinach in a pan with some olive oil. Then, add the spinach and all the other ingredients into a processor (or if you don’t have a processor then mince the garlic, finely chop the spinach and then mix everything together, beating in the softened butter). Once it’s all pureed decant it into a bowl and put to one side.

For the tomato sauce, fry off the garlic in the oil and then add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 5-10 minutes until hot, then leave the heat on low to keep the sauce warm. Put the pine nuts in a dry pan and toast until golden.

When the dough is ready, either roll out in a pasta machine if you have it, or by hand. The pasta machine is SO fun though, if you’re serious about pasta then I strongly advise buying one! This is the one I have – the ravioli thing that comes with it was crap though, it all stuck to the tray and I couldn’t get it out, hence why we got the ravioli attachment! Below are some pictures showing the stages of stretching out the dough and then putting it into the ravioli maker. The ravioli maker did make the filling ooze out the sides a bit – I think this is because the filling was quite loose and goopy. Next time I might make it thicker  and stiffer so that it doesn’t spread so much when the machine squeezes it through.

Whether you’ve used a machine or done it by hand, once you’ve filled the ravioli you need to leave the pasta to dry before you cut it. If you don’t let it dry then it just falls apart when you try and lift it into the pan – as it dries out it gets less fragile. You don’t want to ruin all your hard work at this stage! You should only need to leave it for 15 minutes or so. I took this time to do some clearing up as by this stage my kitchen closely resembled a bomb site.

Once the pasta is dry, put it into a large pan of very salty water, and boil for just a few minutes. It’s worth gathering all the ravioli up onto a plate and sliding it into the water all at once – if you do it piece by piece then the ones you put in first will be cooked by the time you’ve got them all in! NB: don’t put them into a pile before the pasta is dry – it will all stick together in a lump and will be good for nothing! (I’ve done this exact thing with tagliatelle – not good) The pasta won’t take long at all to cook. When you drain it in the colander, drizzle it with some olive oil to stop it sticking together and shake it well to make sure it’s all coated with the oil. Then add the ravioli to the sauce and mix everything together.

Decant into bowls/plates and scatter with the pine nuts to serve. Enjoy!

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…