A piece of Amatrice

Another large manuscript came in yesterday, hence the delayed post.

An Amatrice-style sauce — spicy, tomato-y and with plenty of bacon — was my scheduled experiment for this week. I cooked half a head of garlic with the bacon, because I like the stuff and it needed using up; it certainly didn’t hurt the flavour at all!

Technically, I should have used the ‘traditional’ tomato sauce, with sautéed onion and so on, but owing to time and resource constraints I simply used a small tin of chopped tomatoes instead, and let the sauce simmer and reduce while I cooked the pasta (fusilli tricolore — yum!).

It worked out very well indeed! The grated pecorino romano that I stirred into the pasta before adding the sauce really helped up the umami and other flavours, and the sauce itself was the ideal consistency — not too runny or too thick. I was a little worried about that, I will admit, because I added the rinsings of a jar of home-made chutney to the sauce as well, which made things quite liquid initially. Everything was all right, though 🙂

In view of the fact that a new Asian food shop has opened in my area recently (so many different snacks! So many types of mochi!), I’ll be cracking open my Asian Adventures cookbook and trying out a few of those recipes — should be fun!


Old favourite

Just did pasta e piselli con la pancetta this week, at least partly because I had a largish bag of frozen peas sitting in my freezer and taunting me…

I usually use tinned marrowfat processed peas for pasta-and-peas recipes, as a timesaver and because I like the texture, but the frozen peas turned out pretty well. I added them to the bacon, onion and garlic as soon as the recipe allowed and cooked the mixture with the saucepan lid on for the maximum time given in the instructions. The peas were cooked to perfection!

The only other tweak I made was using double quantities of bacon (while everything else was half quantities). It certainly didn’t hurt ^^

I still have some peas left over after this, but I’m planning to try making katsudon in a few weeks, so they’re earmarked for that 🙂

Nibbling upon ‘nduja

(Apologies for late post — very large manuscript in yesterday. Awkward to wrangle, but yay for paid work!)

I’ve been following the Hairy Bikers’ latest TV series, Mediterranean Adventure, and it’s pretty darn interesting. The topic of today’s post is a thing they looked at in the first episode — ‘nduja, spicy spreadable sausage from Calabria in Italy.

As I recall the bit where the Bikers watched a traditional ‘nduja maker at their work, this delicious stuff is made with very fatty pork (more fat than meat), vast amounts of fiery peperoncino and salt to preserve — kneaded together, extruded into pig gut, smoked and hung for a few months to mature. I got pretty curious about what this stuff was like (I’m a sucker for charcuterie and similar things), so I decided to get myself some.

I was originally eyeballing a 180g jar of ‘nduja paste (direct from Amazon), but then I happened upon this listing — cheaper than the jar, more than twice as much ‘nduja per item and coming directly from a seller based in Calabria. I leapt at the opportunity 🙂 (It arrived less than 48 hours after I placed the order, which is absolutely brilliant!)

The ‘nduja itself was pretty darn good — a very bright, clear, powerful spicy hit that fades after a few seconds to a pleasant, smoky warmth, with a background of richness from the pork fat. I found the spicy flavour to be almost overwhelming on my first try, but repeated nibbles have helped me adjust. It goes very well on generous chunks of buttery, toasted wholemeal bread, and a little experimentation has revealed that, stirred into sautéing onions, ‘nduja also goes very well in pasta sauces — especially the tomato-y ones, which have the right sort of sharp-savouriness to complement the spice and cut through the intense richness of the pork fat.

I’ll definitely be getting this again!

There shall be prawns for tea

With pasta in a creamy tomato sauce!

I had a bash at ‘Penette alla Ines’ this week (the recipe only seems to appear in the Robert-Budwig-illustrated edition of The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces). Pretty straightforward, really, although I didn’t have the time or energy to make the required quantity of tomato sauce the day before — I fudged things by sautéing up all the necessary onions and garlic at once, throwing in the wine, tomatoes and prawns and letting thins simmer for a bit. I also had to add the cream, parsley and pepper after stirring the tomato sauce into the pasta, so as not to make the tomato pan overflow.

It turned out pretty darn well, though 😀 Very tasty, although the cream and tomato notes were somewhat stronger than the prawns — probably because I used cheap frozen ones…

Not-so-blue(fin) tuna

I don’t really believe in Blue Monday and that sort of thing, but it has been a pretty gloomy and wet sort of a day…

Things were rather brightened, though, by the success of my latest pasta experiment — an uncooked tuna sauce which was very quick to prepare. Tinned tuna in oil (skipjack, no mater what the post title says), parsley, basil, lemon zest, walnut pieces (pounded up finely in a pestle and mortar), a splash of Worcestershire sauce and enough olive oil to help everything be distributed evenly over the pasta without clumping or falling off.

I refrained from draining the tuna (since it was in oil anyway), didn’t run the sauce through a food processor (ekk… I prefer a bit of texture) and used the juice of the lemon as well as the zest, so as to avoid wastage. This is kind of in line with the principles of ‘cucina povera’ (lit: ‘poor kitchen’) discussed in the first episode of Hairy Bikers’ Mediterranean Adventure, which focused on the southern parts of Italy, which are traditionally much poorer than the north of the country.

One thing that really caught my attention from that episode was the bit about ‘nduja, a fiery spreadable sausage from Calabria (chiefly Spilinga and surrounding areas) — especially the part where the Bikers assisted an expert ‘nduja maker in creating a batch from scratch! I am a bit of a sucker for this sort of thing, so I’ve been nosing around the web for a decent supplier. It should be a very interesting addition to cheese sandwiches or a tomato sauce!

Chocolate and peanut butter Baklava

Cooking Without Limits


With Chocolate baklava in my mind, I changed a little bit the recipe and I made a new dessert.  I add peanut butter and I made another great easy dessert. You can make it with your kids for Christmas or any other time.

To get it very crispy I used olive oil only to brush the dessert at the end.


  • Phyllo dough
  • Nutella
  • Peanut butter


Preheat oven to 220°C. Take 4 sheets of phyllo dough and put it on a baking sheet in a baking tray. Put a big layer of Nutella on top of the phyllo dough and on top of them add another 4 sheets. Add a layer of peanut butter on top.

Roll everything slowly not to break it and then put it in the oven. Bake it for 20 – 30 minutes. Check it from time to time so it doesn’t burn.

This extra…

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Quiet week

It’s been pretty quiet here — just easing into 2018, really

I made farfalle con le fave al prosciutto (pasta with ham and broad beans) yesterday — had to leave out the one stick of celery, but otherwise I stuck pretty much exactly to the Diane Seed recipe (second result). It turned out deliciously, as recipes from The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces are wont to do 🙂

I’ve been reading La Belle Sauvage recently — it’s pretty good! Pullman retains his magical touch and worldbuilding skill from the His Dark Materials trilogy, and builds on it subtly and skilfully. The plot and pacing are just right, moving fast enough to keep the reader enthralled without leaving them in the dust (Hah! Pun not necessarily intended). The canoe whose name gives the book its title is almost a character in its own right, and you *will* come to care about its fate as much as that of Malcolm, Alice and baby Lyra — a testament to the skill of the author. There are some lovely little continuity nods and calls-forward to the HDM trilogy, some obvious (such as appearances by Mrs Coulter, Lord Asriel and so on) and some less so — for example, astute readers might remember a Dame Hannah Relf from two brief scenes in Northern Lights and Amber Spyglass respectively. She puts in multiple plot-significant appearances here as a young Scholar, and is one of my favourite characters 🙂 I’m not sure how much more I can say without delivering spoilers, but rest assured, if you liked His Dark Materials you will definitely like La Belle Sauvage (and hopefully the rest of the Book of Dust trilogy).

Happy new year!

Here’s to 2018! Skaal! [a Nordic toast meaning roughly ‘Good health!’]

The lack of post last week was due to a very restful soporific state induced by vast quantities of delicious food — roast chicken with bacon, stuffing, sprouts and roast spuds (and I made a veggie-soss-and-roast-veg risotto for my mum — I used this recipe as my jumping-off point, omitting the wine and preparatory sausage-browning (which wasn’t necessary as mum’s preferred brand of veggie sausages cooks so quickly) and using a good strong cheddar instead of parmesan at the end — it was extremely well received!).

Since then I’ve been snacking away on various types of pate, cheese and festive nibbles from my usual supermarkets — yum yum!

I’ve also been experimenting with pasta dishes containing asparagus, and I’ve come to the conclusion that they should all include sautéed onion and garlic, and perhaps a bit of stock, even if the recipe as written doesn’t call for them — I’ve found that the flavour can be a bit pallid otherwise.

The Hairy Bikers’ 12 Days of Christmas (published 2010)

A very seasonally appropriate book review this week!

The Hairy Bikers’ 12 Days of Christmas is a glorious cornucopia of festive recipes suitable for any mid-winter feast or celebration, lavishly illustrated with full-colour photographs of every dish, which are sure to get the digestive juices flowing 😀

The book follows a rough timeline from the run-up to Christmas Eve through to Twelfth Night. It starts off with chapters on ‘Getting ahead’ (things such as gravlax, Christmas pudding and sorbet, which can be started a few days in advance), ‘Edible gifts’ (chutneys, fudge, infused alcohol and so on) and ‘Festive feasts’, which starts on page 42 — a nice little coincidence for Hitchhiker’s Guide fans — and covers delightful things one can do with soups, duck, venison and so on. My two favourite recipes from this section are the glorious honey-glazed gammon and the Christmas pudding fondants (Christmas-pud-type desserts with a melty chocolate centre).

Next is ‘Christmas baking’ — fruity breads, stollen, mince pies and a beautiful Yule log, among other things — then come the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day chapters. The former has recipes such as Coarse Country Terrine (excellent made the day before), spatchcocked duck (one I’ve made a note of — I’m quite fond of roast duck) and special festive booze to help fuel the anticipation for the next day. The Christmas Day chapter starts with a recommended procedure/critical path for preparing Christmas dinner (starting with day-before prep), assuming a 6kg turkey, all the trimmings and a traditional Christmas pud to follow. This timeline is readily adaptable, so it can be used as a good guide whatever you’re making. As well as various traditional roasts, this section also contains recipes such as Jerusalem artichoke soup (with bacon and parsley croutons, though these can be omitted and a vegetarian stock used), potted smoked mackerel pate, goat cheese salad, various trimmings and sides (chipolatas and dates wrapped in bacon — yum!) and a few desserts as well.

Next is Boxing Day, with various ideas for using up leftovers, and light meals for after the previous day’s overindulgence. One thing I especially like the look of from this section is the goose risotto, which could easily be tweaked to use any sort of poultry. Then come sections on ‘Breakfasts and brunches’ and ‘Nibbles and telly snacks’, with lots of smaller, lighter meals to keep you going through the festive period.

Next is New Year’s Eve, with a venison roast plus various curries and special booze, and New Year’s Day. Possibly my favourite recipe from this section is the chicken liver parfait topped with cranberry butter. I love how it looks, and have enjoyed similar things bought from the supermarket, but sadly I never seem to have the time to try making it 😦 Other than that, the NYD chapter has lots of hearty casseroles to keep you warm.

Finally, there’s the Twelfth Night section, which has some creative little roasts, a fish pie and salmon coulibiac to round out the festive season in style and deliciousness.

After that, there’s just a list of recipes by meal type, then the index.

I can definitely recommend this book as a guide for festive kitchen wizardry this Christmas (or any other!) — and it can be dipped into for special occasions at other times of year as well!

Bon appetit!

Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Cooks and Good Food (second edition)

This is the first of a number of queued posts to cover the holiday season.

This week I’m reviewing Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter.

As the title and subtitle might suggest, this is a book about the science of food and cooking — it’s not really a recipe book, though there are various recipes scattered throughout the text. They mainly serve to illustrate points being made in a particular section, for example the recipe for ‘Cocoa-Goldschläger Ice Cream’ in the section on culinary applications of liquid nitrogen, which is placed near the end of the chapter ‘Fun with Hardware’.

After the indexes of recipes, labs/experiments and interviews comes a brief introduction in which Jeff Potter talks about learning to cook, and approaching it from a ‘geeky’ angle with many ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ questions about how it all worked, before talking about the importance of being smart and curious (as he defines geekdom).

Afterwards is the first chapter, ‘Hello, Kitchen!’. This chapter is aimed a little more towards readers who are relative culinary novices. It talks about “the ground rules for the game of learning to cook”, as the chapter-preface says, covering such topics as the importance of lateral thinking to resolve culinary problems, knowing one’s cooking style, how to read a recipe (and when to go off-recipe and experiment!) and the importance of presentation, as well as a run-down of the basics of kitchen equipment. This chapter did not contain much new information for me, though I did find the references to Duncker’s Candle Problem (given a candle, a box of thumbtacks and some matches, how would you attach the candle to the wall without causing a fire?) quite interesting as an illustration of lateral thinking.

The next few chapters cover the science of: the sensory aspects of food (‘Taste, Smell and Flavor’), ‘Time and Temperature’ and their importance for food safety and getting things properly cooked, ‘Air and Water’ and how they can affect the outcome of a recipe (for example, humidity and height above sea level can have a huge impact on breadmaking), and my two favourite chapters, ‘Fun with Hardware’ and ‘Playing with Chemicals’, which respectively cover the ways one can get really creative in the kitchen with various types of equipment and a good knowledge of chemistry.

At the back of the book are a couple of little appendices — one is ‘How to Be a Smarter Geek’, which recommends various resources for those who are interested in taking what they’ve got from the book and going further with it. The other appendix concerns ‘Cooking around Allergies’, and lists some of the most common food allergies (dairy, egg, fish and shellfish, peanut, tree nut, soy and wheat) and possible substitutes for these ingredients. This should be immensely helpful if you’re catering for someone with one or more of these allergies but aren’t sure how to do so safely.

All in all, this is a fascinating scientific exploration of the subject of food and cooking. Well worth reading in its own right and a good gift for any scientifically inclined foodies you might know!