Archives for category: Pasta

The other day I was in TK Maxx looking for a new coat rack. I generally have a good official reason to go to TK Maxx, but the subtext is always that I want to look at the cheap cookbooks. I initially picked up Gwnyneth Paltrow’s ‘Notes from My Kitchen Table’  thinking it would be an amusing source of derision (I know, judging the efforts of others is not the most edifying way to entertain yourself, but so it goes sometimes). Well, the joke’s on me, because I ended up buying it. It turns out Gwyneth and I have similar taste (not in men, I hasten to add) – we both like food which is healthy without drawing attention to itself as health food; in other words, it’s tasty first and healthy second. I may have some issues with her obsession with something called Vegenaise and her objections to red meat, but I like the fact that she includes some baking recipes without refined white flour or sugar and suggests more natural sweeteners and wholegrains often, without being fanatical about it. It’s mostly quite simple stuff, but I like simple; lots of pasta, burgers, salads – everyday food, mostly, although there’s a recipe for perfect Chinese crispy duck I’ve got my eye on as a weekend project.

And it was from Gwyneth that I got the idea of making cavolo nero into a pesto, which I seized on because I often like the idea of eating things like cavolo nero more in theory than in practice. Combine it with anchovies, garlic and parmesan and it tastes a lot less bitter and good for you and a lot more salty and delicious. It also makes your pasta a glorious shade of green.

Cavolo nero pesto

Serves 4

Gwyneth suggests serving this with penne and peas, but I’m not sure I really felt the peas fitted in. When I had it again I put in some chargrilled purple sprouting broccoli which seemed a bit more harmonious (and another way of fitting in some healthy greens). It is more work, though. I say the mascarpone is optional because I left it out, simply because I didn’t have any, but I’m sure it would be a nice addition.

1 bunch cavolo nero (about a handful)
10 anchovies
1 small clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
80g mascarpone (optional)

To serve:
350-400g penne or other pasta
150g frozen peas (optional)

Steam the cavolo nero for 7 mins, or until tender. Put it in a blender with the anchovies, garlic, olive oil and pepper and whizz to a smooth paste. Stir in the mascarpone, if using.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta. If adding peas they can go into the pasta water for the last minute or two of cooking time. Reserve a little of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and combine it with the pesto. Use a little bit of the water if it’s too thick. Grate lots of parmesan on top to serve.

From Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘Notes from My Kitchen Table’


I used to have an allotment, and every year I would grow beetroot because they seemed to be the only thing guaranteed to survive my inept gardening. They also have a very long season. Consequently I would have to eat beetroot a lot, for months, and by the time I handed in the keys to my plot, about a year ago, I felt like I’d eaten my beetroot quota for life. But then I was at the farmers’ market at the weekend and they had these bunches of beetroot, and they looked so stylish with their glossy purple-tinged leaves and matt burgundy skin that I found myself putting some in my basket and taking them home.

The first of the beetroot I ate for lunch, cut into wedges and roasted with some maple syrup and thyme and balsamic vinegar, with griddled halloumi. It was very good. I was a bit hungover and it made me feel a lot better; I think beetroot is so vividly coloured that it seems as it it must be incredibly good for you. In the afternoon I made a beetroot cake with most of the rest of the beetroot (the recipe for that will follow soon). And for dinner I made an impromptu pasta dish with the leaves, based on the limited contents of the fridge/cupboards. Usually whenever I have beetroot leaves I do a Nigella thing with lots of soy sauce and soba noodles, but since I was out of soba and had expended all my energy on the cake I came up with something else with the requisite strong flavours and earthy savouriness to match the bitter leaves.

Spaghetti with beetroot leaves and toasted garlic breadcrumbs

Serves 2

If I have bits of stale bread I make them into breadcrumbs and keep them in the freezer – they can be used straight from frozen. I would have liked to put some anchovies in with this, except I’d run out, but they could go in with the garlic. Some chilli might also be good at that point.

200g spaghetti, wholewheat or spelt would work well
olive oil
2 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
100g or so breadcrumbs (a couple of big handfuls)
leaves from one bunch of beetroot (about 5 beetroot)
parmesan, to serve

Put the spaghetti on to cook. Heat a decent amount of olive oil in a frying pan and fry the garlic until it starts to smell garlicky. Add the crumbs and a pinch of salt and stir, frying until the breadcrumbs turn crispy. Meanwhile discard and yellowy or not so nice looking beet leaves, give them a rinse, and separate the leaves from the stalks. Roughly shred the leaves and finely chop the stalks. Throw them in with the spaghetti for the last couple of minutes of cooking time.

Drain the spaghetti, reserving a couple of tablespoons of pasta water. Mix in the breadcrumbs, grind over some black pepper and grate over lots of parmesan. Add a bit of the pasta water if the pasta looks too dry.

I’ve been struggling to find anything I wanted to write about, lately. I’ve been eating out a bit too much – just last week, I had five spice braised beef brisket and the best ma-po tofu at Sojo, amazing sushi (as always) at Edamame, an OK smoked haddock macaroni cheese at The Red Lion and salmon with caponata at a little pub near my parents’ (owned by Deborah Mitford!). Which is all well and good, but since I don’t really do restaurant reviews it doesn’t leave me much to work with. And I love eating out – in fact, as the evidence suggests, I find it nigh on impossible to resist an invitation to eat out – but I’m never happier than when I’m in my kitchen with a jotted list of recipes to try out and full cupboards and plenty of time. So, thank you Bill Granger. Thank you for bringing me back to kitchen harmony with these excellent light and juicy meatballs. I thought I had meatballs pretty much covered, but it turns out what I was missing was something paler, with a delicate touch of chilli and a heavier smack of bacon. And, the chance to use my own homegrown multicoloured cherry tomatoes, which always makes me feel very smugly domestic.

Spicy chicken meatballs

Serves 2

Now, this recipe calls for chicken mince, which is not so readily available. Unless you have your own mincer (I wish I did) you have a few options: 1) ask a friendly butcher to mince some chicken for you; 2) substitute turkey mince, which has the bonus of being cheap and stocked in most supermarkets; 3) what I did, which was to buy some chicken, chop it roughly and pulse it in the food processor. Don’t go too far, texture is a good thing. I used a breast and a thigh, but obviously you can use light or dark meat as you prefer.

2-3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 chilli, deseeded and thinly sliced (or one, if you like it hotter)
250-350g minced chicken (see notes above)
2 tbsp breadcrumbs
25g smoked pancetta, chopped small
2 tbsp chopped parsley
250g cherry tomatoes
125ml chicken stock

to serve:
pasta (Bill suggests wholewheat fusilli, I used spelt spaghetti)
parmesan shavings

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a saucepan and fry the onion and garlic over a medium heat until softened. Add the coriander and chilli and cook for a further minute.

Mix together the chicken mince, breadcrumbs, pancetta, parsley and onion mixture. Season well, pinching off a small amount of the mix and frying it in the saucepan to test the seasoning. When you’re happy with the taste, refrigerate the bowl for 30 minutes to firm up. Heat the oven to 200c.

When cold, roll the mixture into small meatballs – around 8-10 – and place on a baking tray. Drizzle with oil. Put the tomatoes on a second tray, drizzle with the remaining oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the meatballs and tomatoes in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the tomatoes are starting to split and the meatballs are golden brown. In the meantime, you can start getting the pasta ready.

Put the stock and tomatoes back in the saucepan, add the meatballs and simmer for 5 minutes. It occurred to me that it might be nice to add a splash of wine as well at this point, if you had some open.

Spoon the meatballs and sauce over the pasta and shave some parmesan over the top.

Adapted from Bill Granger’s ‘Every Day’