Penne Carbonara

I was once told by an Italian that the way I pronounced penne actually sounded like pene, the Italian word for penis. And no matter how much I tried to correct my pronunciation, it always caused a riot of mirth whenever I started talking about pasta. So maybe I should only whisper the name of this dish in the vincinity of any Italian-speakers out there. Just in case.

I realise that this carbonara may be my first savoury recipe post of the year! Shock, horror! What a glorious thing it is too. As with most pasta-based dishes, it is surprisingly quick and speedy to concot, as well as being perfect for dinner à deux. I’d never cooked this before, so turned to Google for a quick skim. The sheer volume of different recipes out there, in all shapes, sizes and uctuousness, is quite mind-boggling.


In the end, I went for a trusty James Martin recipe, which requires a rib-sticking quantity of double cream. I had only a dribble left over from making this summer berry cheesecake, so substituted the remainder with single cream. The quantity we made could easily serve 4, but you can adapt it for 2 just by halving the ingredients.

I realise that the way I’ve made this, it’s not strictly speaking an authentic carbonara anymore. However, the mushrooms and spinach do add a zazzle of colour, texture and some veg so I’m not complaining!


By the way, the mirth I generated amongst Italians was not limited to pasta dishes alone. Chicken Katsu was thought to be very amusing too. I don’t think I should elaborate on this.

Penne Carbonara

Adapted from James Martin on BBC Food

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 150g pancetta, cubed
  • 150g mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 handful fresh spinach
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 25ml double cream
  • 75ml single cream
  • 50g finely grated parmesan (reserve some for sprinkling)
  • 350g penne
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Heat the oil in a frying pan until hot, then add the pancetta and cook until crispy. Add the mushrooms and when almost cooked, throw in the spinach until just wilted. Set to one side.

In a large bowl, mix the egg yolks, cream and most of the parmesan, reserving some for sprinkling later. Season well with salt and pepper.

In a pan of salted boiling water, cook the penne until done. Drain, then add to the bowl of cream mixture, and stir continuously until smooth. Add the parsley.

Dish the pasta into bowls, and season again with salt and pepper. Garnish with a sprinkling of parmesan, and a little sprig of parsley. Serve outdoors in the summer sun, with a simple tomato salad on the side.


Salted Caramel

Saturday was a Salted Caramel Day.

Let me start with why. I adore Waitrose’s caramel dipping sauce. It’s like thick, edible gold, rich and scrummy. Sadly, I don’t live near enough Waitrose anymore to get my caramel fix whenever it rolls by (sob, sob). But I did buy a pot of double cream, and turned to the internet to see what solutions it could come up with.

The result was this:DSC07328


I first cooked Rachel Khoo’s recipe from The Little Paris Kitchen. I don’t own the cookbook, but watched her cooking from YouTube. Video link here. I love her cutesy vintage dresses, fringe and red red lipstick. Oh, if only I was Rachel Khoo.

The second sauce I whipped up was from another doyen of the kitchen, Nigella. Her recipe was really straightforward. I cooked it a little longer than the recipe stated just because I wanted this one to turn out a gloopier thickness.

Needless to say, both caramels were very, very tasty.

Rachel Khoo’s caramel was like eating a handful of Wether’s Originals toffees, melted down into this….


Nigella’s caramel was a lighter shade of gold, and sweeter too. I was a wimp when it came to adding salt, and erred on the safer side of that half teaspoon, but next time I’d be much happier going with a full whammy.


I can’t resist saying that my fridge looks incredibly tempting with these pots of edible gold hiding inside. Mmmmmm, just think how amazing these would be on pancakes tomorrow!

Winter Roasted Medley

Do you ever go shopping and come away with a heap of things but not the item you originally went to buy?

Yup, today, that was me. I went to Sainsburys intending to buy a loaf of bread, and came out with two bags bulging with veg. So this is my effort to use some of it up – throw it in a tin into the oven, and hey presto.

photo 1

With roasting, getting crispy edges is imperative, which can be difficult unless you spread everything out with plenty of space. Ideally, two tins would be perfect, but my flat oven only has one shelf, so in the end, I had to sacrifice some of the crispness (the idea of cooking everything indivdually crossed my mind but I don’t have that much time to spend on a fairly simple recipe).

Many souls on the internet have been raving about the joys of roasted broccoli. It’s nice, but I prefer it sauteed as retains a little crunch and texture, and the colour of the broccoli itself stays brighter.

Still, this works very well as a meal in its own right, maybe bulked out with some cooked shredded meat for extra protein. I think this dish probably works best in its Christmassy incarnation – as it is the perfect, perfect companion to a roasted hunk of meat.

photo 2-1

Winter Roasted Medley

  • 3 roasting potatoes, scrubbed and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1/2 small butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 small red onion, cut into wedges
  • handful of broccoli and cauliflower florets
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200˚C. Parboil the potatoes in salted water until they are soft when you stab them with a fork. Drain throughly. In a roasting tin, toss the butternut squash with 1 tbsp oil, and roast for 15 minutes.Then add the onion, parboiled potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower, and toss together with another tbsp oil. Season well. Roast this for a further 25-30 minutes, tossing throughout until some of the edges brown and become lightly golden, and serve hot.

Creamy Mushroom Risotto

A very blustery run today, although the sun was out which never fails to cheer me up. I’m finding my usual route getting a bit slippery and slidey, and there are still some fallen trees from the St Jude’s storm, so it’s a bit of an obstacle course at times!

Today’s recipe is going to be very seasonal, with a warming creamy mushroom risotto. Yesterday I went out for dinner with A, and he had a mushroom soup that was very good. Suffice to say that today I got a craving for fungi.

Risotto is just right for this time of year – starchy, creamy and yet not wholly unvirtuous. I cooked it in the later hours of the afternoon listening to the radio. It gets very dark these days, so apologies for the poor photo!


Creamy Mushroom Risotto

Adapted from BBC Food

  • 1 tsbp dried porcini mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 squeeze garlic puree
  • 225g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
  • 350g arborio rice
  • 150ml white wine
  • 2 tsp vegetable stock powder (I use Marigold bouillon)
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper
  • knob of butter
  • freshy grated parmesan to serve

Soak the porcini mushrooms in a litre of boiling hot water for 10 minutes. Drain the mushrooms, but save the soaking water. Add the stock powder to it. This will form your stock for the risotto. Simmer the stock in a pan over a low heat to keep it hot.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy based saucepan and add the onion and garlic. Fry over a gentle heat for 2-3 minutes, until softened. Add the chestnut mushrooms and fry for a further 2-3 minutes, until softened.

Stir in the rice and coat in the oil. Pour in the wine a little at a time, stirring, until the liquid has been absorbed. Add the stock, a ladelful at a time, simmering and stirring until all the liquid has been absorbed. Keep adding stock this way until the rice has plumped up and become tender.

Chop up the soaked porcini mushrooms and stir into the risotto, along with the parsley, butter and salt and pepper. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan, and a sprig of fresh parsley to garnish.

Friday Lasagne

It’s been a really tough week, and there are few things better than rounding off Friday with a spot of homemade lasagne, a good book, new Cath Kidston pjs, and a handful of dark chocolate-and-ginger biscuits. The lasagne is a bit different from my other recipe although it runs along the same lines – I just chucked in a lot more veg to bulk it out, and give it a higher nutritional value.
Lasagne always seems to taste better when the ragu has been cooked in advance. So a great thing is to assemble the ragu in the middle of the week when you have a spare moment, let it bubble away whilst you’re catching up on some TV, and whip it all together in a matter of minutes on Friday evening.
Friday Lasagne 
  • 400g organic pork mince
  • half a leek, sliced finely
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 6-8 mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 courgette, diced
  • 150ml red wine
  • stock cube, dissolved in a little hot water
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • salt, pepper
  • fresh oregano leaves
  • 50g salted butter
  • 2 spoonfuls of flour
  • pint of milk
  • grated nutmeg
  • packet of fresh lasagne sheets
  • half a ball of mozzarella torn into strips
  • handful of grated cheddar

Brown the mince in a pan until thoroughly cooked. In another pan, sautee the leek, carrot, mushrooms and courgette until soft. Combine the vegetables and mince together in one pan, then stir in the red wine, and leave to simmer on a low heat until the liquid has reduced completely. Then stir in the stock thoroughly. Mix in the tin of chopped tomatoes. Swill the tin with a little water and tip that into the simmering mince mix as well.  Leave to simmer on a low heat until the liquid has almost completely reduced. Season with salt, pepper and fresh oregano leaves. If you’re not making the lasagne immediately then leave it to cool down, and put it into a bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge for about 2 days maximum until needed.

Make the bechamel by melting the butter in a pan, then stirring in the flour, and finally the milk bit-by-bit to form a smooth sauce. Season with a dash of nutmeg.

Pour 1/4 bechamel onto the base of an ovenproof dish and cover with a layer of lasagne sheets. Spoon in 1/3 of the ragu. Then spoon the second 1/4 of the bechamel over this, followed by lasagne sheets, and another 1/3 ragu. Spoon over the third 1/4 bechamel, then another layer of lasagne sheets, the final 1/3 ragu and top with the final 1/4 bechamel. Sprinkle with cheese, and pop into the oven to cook for around 30 minutes until golden and bubbling.

Crème au chocolat

Auf wiedersehn, mes amis!

I’m off for several weeks, but have scheduled a couple of blog posts to go up for the duration of my absence. Meanwhile, I leave you with a luscious chocolate cream recipe instead.


This was actually originally intended to be a chocolate crème pâtissière today but I sometimes have an inability to follow recipes, so it turned out too thick. It’s shiny, and pipes wonderfully out onto the Ottolenghi chocolate tarts as you can see in the photo. I’ve also used it as a tart filling in its own right too, but it works best with a bit of added contrast. I’m guessing it can also be incarnated as a pudding, plopped into some smart ceramic ramekins with a few artful berries or so.


Crème au chocolat

  • 200g semi-skimmed milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp cornflour
  • 200g dark chocolate, melted
  • 20g soft unsalted butter

Heat the milk in a saucepan until it reaches boiling point. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour together. Add a few spoonfuls of milk to the egg mixture, then slowly pour in the rest of the milk, whisk well as you do this to prevent the egg from scrambling.

Tip the eggy milky mixture back into the saucepan and heat again, whisking constantly, until you bring it to the boil. Heat for another few minutes – you may notice it has started to thicken at this point. Don’t stop whisking or it will get lumps.

Take the pan off the heat, and pour in the dark chocolate. Keep whisking away, until it is smooth and the chocolate has completely incorporated. Finally, add the butter, and keep mixing. The cream will develop a glossy sheen at this point. You can pipe it out while it is still mildly warm as it holds its shape excellently. As with most chocolatey desserts, it only improves with keeping overnight.

The Perfect Baking Chocolate

“Only use the best chocolate money can buy. Anything less than 70% cocoa solids will destroy your cake/biscuits/mousse and all your time and precious money will be wasted.”

This statement (or a variant of it) crops up time and time again. Food writers, bloggers, cookbook recipes seem obsessed about the cocoa content when it comes to cooking with chocolate. But how true is it really? Should we really be eschewing much maligned cheaper chocolate in favour of the cocoa content? I had a look online to see what others out there said.

David Lebovitz, in his excellent blog recommends using mid-range chocolate with a cocoa content of 35-64%. His reasoning behind this is that the depth of flavour you get in more expensive chocolate brands can get lost in the cooking process. He also had the interesting idea, which I’d very much like to try in future, of using chocolate extract to boost the flavour in baked goods. So I decided here to conduct my own experiment. I selected a range of chocolates – some of the cheapest and most expensive varieties out there, and baked a batch of brownies all to the same recipe. The chocolates I tested (in ascending order of price):

  1. Morrisons value
  2. Sainsburys Basics*
  3. Cadburys Bournville*
  4. Tesco 74% dark chocolate*
  5. Waitrose Continental chocolate*
  6. Green & Blacks Cook’s chocolate
  7. Lindt cooking chocolate*
  8. Lindt 70% dark chocolate*
  9. Valrhona Noir cooking chocolate

My main findings were that the Morrisons chocolate brownies lacked a certain depth of flavour whilst the Green & Blacks had a slightly bitter note I actually found rather unpleasant. All the other chocolate brands produced delicious results.

I’ve assigned an asterisk (*) next to all the brands I would use most commonly in cooking. All in all, it’s just common sense. Simply the best chocolate to use in baking is the sort you enjoy eating au naturel anyway. I personally prefer a sweeter dark chocolate such as Bournville, but to others, Green & Blacks would be more to their taste.


It also depends on the dessert itself. Sweeter brownies seem to pair up better with sweeter dark chocolates, but I say still go for 70% cocoa content when you are making something knee-breakingly decadent. Just experiment, and see what you like the best!