I used to dislike mac and cheese with an unholy passion. It was at the top of my “things you couldn’t pay me to eat” list, together with fish pie and recognisable offal *boke!* To be fair, I’m not a cheese fan at the best of times (and yet the stinky cheese board always ends up next to me at dinner parties >.<) but I blame my almost obsessive contempt for the cheesy pasta on school dinners whose mac and cheese was utter utter utter foulness! It must have been made from a powder mix because it was always oddly gritty and a little watery. I don’t think I ever touched it again after leaving school, not even in a poshed up Italian restaurant “four cheese pasta” style. But you can’t be married to an American and avoid the stuff forever… So it was with huge trepidation that I agreed to let Hubby reintroduce me to this dish last year, and thank God I did because it is, quite honestly, one of my favourite things that he cooks for me now, much to his disbelief and amusement.
He also can’t leave well enough alone so it’s gone through several iterations, from a roux based sauce to a now wine based one (Hubby says – Thanks Heston!). Not that it tastes remotely boozy, the alcohol is well cooked off to leave just the delicious flavour of the wine behind which sets the mixture of cheeses up perfectly. Try it this way and I promise you’ll never do this with a roux again 🙂
"Boozy" Mac & Cheese
A classic American dish, updated with a wine based cheese sauce.
160g block of strong/sharp cheddar (Isle of Mull extra mature is our current fave)
60-100g block of Taleggio (or any full fat semi hard non-cheddar cheese, emmental or brie would also work)
100g Philadelphia cream cheese, full fat
250-350g fusilli or penne
500ml white wine (Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio work well)
500ml hot chicken stock
1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper
1 tbsp corn flour (1.5 tbsp at a push)
1. Pour the white wine into the medium saucepan and place over a medium to high heat for about 10-15 minutes, until the wine has reduced right down to approx 50ml/quarter cup.
2. While the wine is reducing, roughly grate your blocks of cheese into a mixing bowl – if the non-cheddar is a softish cheese it might be easier to just tear it into small pieces. (Hubby says – This really can’t be too cheesey so don’t be stingy with the cheese, and if you have leftover bits of different cheddars taking up space in the fridge then mix them all in too). Sprinkle the corn flour over the grated cheeses and mix with your fingers until it’s thoroughly coated the cheese
3. Fill the large saucepan with water and place over a high heat until its boiling. Salt liberally before adding the pasta – you want to time this with When the wine looks to have reduced right down. Cook the pasta for 10 mins, or according to the packet instructions.
4. While the pasta is cooking, add the chicken stock to the wine reduction. Whisk gently and return to the boil. Once it’s bubbling away, add the grated cheese and cornflour to the wine/stock mix and stir slowly with the whisk until the cheese has melted right in. Add the Cayenne pepper too. Leave on a low heat while the pasta cooks.
5. Just before the pasta is ready, add the cream cheese to the wine/stock/cheese mixture and gently mix with the whisk until it’s all incorporated and looking like a happy cheese sauce. If the sauce doesn’t look thick enough at this point, mix a bit of cornflour with water and add to the cheese mix. A minute or two cooking should thicken the sauce nicely. Remove from heat.
6. When the pasta is ready (you’re aiming for al dente), drain, and then return the pasta to the saucepan it was cooked in. Pour the cheese sauce over the cooked pasta and mix well (if a film has appeared on the cheese mix while it was off the heat just whisk it back into the sauce first). Season with black pepper and mix again, and then transfer it all to your baking dish.
7. Cover the pasta with a bit more shredded cheese and put in the oven under the grill until the cheese is melted and nicely gratinated.
Also nice with a bit of shredded ham hock stirred through it if you don’t want something meatless.
I found this recipe yeeeeeeeeeeears ago in one of those supplements that Sainsburys magazine used to do. There’s no date on it that I can find, but given that it talks about gnocchi being a “recent arrival on the supermarket shelves” (!!) I guess I’ve been making it for a while… 😉 I credit the recipe’s survival on my bookshelf to it being a truly wonderful comfort food dish, all carby and silky and unctuous (what a fab word!) thanks to all that oozy melted gruyere. It’s quite rich so probably isn’t something you’ll make often, but you’ll enjoy the arse off it when you do!
Some random thoughts – Four cloves of garlic might sound a bit much, but I do think the dish needs it to balance the strong cheese, but you might want to tone it down if you’re planning on being sociable afterwards. Speaking of strong cheese, if gruyere is too much for you then fontina or comte would make a good substitute. And if you want to show off then you could make your own tomato sauce from scratch – Hubby does this just to put me to shame, I must “ask” him to blog it for me now that I think about it…
Gnocchi in a Tomato & Basil Sauce
A delicious pasta dish with a silky, unctuous tomato and cheese sauce that is perfectly comforting.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the medium saucepan over a medium-high heat, then add the onions and sautee for about five minutes until they’re soft and the edges are browning. Add the garlic and sautee for another 2-3 minutes before adding the tomatoes (tin and puree). Season well with salt and black pepper and then pop the lid on to cover and simmer gently for about 15 minutes.
Next, add the cream and about 3/4s of the basil, and give everything a good stir. Turn the heat up a little and cook for another 15 minutes, giving it a stir every now and then. No lid this time, you want the sauce to reduce and thicken slightly.
About five minutes before the sauce will be done put the kettle on and pour the hot water into the large saucepan and set it over a high heat. When the water is properly boiling, salt the then place the gnocchi in the water.
Put the grill on high so that it can preheat while the gnocchi cooks, which should only take a minute or two before they start bobbing up to float on top of the water, at which point scoop them out using a draining spoon and place them straight into the ovenproof dish (about 1.5 litre/2.5 pints capacity).
Once all the gnocchi is in the dish, pour the tomato sauce all over them and then gently turn the gnocchi over in the sauce so that they’ve all got a good coating of the stuff. Next, sprinkle the cheese over the top before popping it under the grill to get the cheese bubbling. It should only take 2-3 minutes but leave it under for longer if you prefer your cheese brown in bits. Finally, scatter the rest of the basil over the top and serve! I can highly recommend having some crusty bread on hand to scoop up the dregs of the tomato sauce, it’s too tasty to waste 🙂
Adapted from Sainsburys Magazine
Adapted from Sainsburys Magazine
– sorry for the awful pun in the title, I just couldn’t resist 😉
Or, in English, Pasta in a Spicy Tomato Sauce! The original version of this recipe came from one of those cooking-pasta-for-dummies type cookbooks, not that I’m mocking it because it elevated my old student cheapy staple of “bacon and tomato pasta” into this, which is just as easy but a wee bit more sophisticated (especially if you go with pancetta) and a lot more tasty.
I also remember the book saying that this dish’s name literally means “angry” pasta because of it’s spicy heat. I promise that “angry” will be the last thing you feel after eating this though 🙂 Despite the fairly economical ingredients, it’s a really tasty little dish. It’s also extremely generous with the olive oil and quite rich as a result.
One last thing, I sincerely believe that lashings and lashings of parmesan make this dish, so don’t be afraid to grate more than what the recipe says – I usually grate about double!
A tangy tomato pasta with lovely kick of spice, and rich with bacon and good olive oil.
1 packet of pancetta/streaky bacon, cut into thin strips
1 can chopped tomatoes
1/8 tsp crushed chillies (or more if you like the spicy)
salt for seasoning
6 medium-sized fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
2 tbsp freshly grated pecorino romano/parmessan
If you're planning to be sociable after eating this then 1 clove is probably enough. And if you don't have a handy herb garden or even herb box to pick your basil from, dried basil or frozen will do just fine. If you don't have any basil at all, you won't miss it overly. Honest.
Finely dice your onion, mince your garlic and cut your pancetta/streaky bacon into thin strips.
Put all but 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and the onion and garlic in the pan over a medium high heat, and cook until the onion starts looking transparent.
Then add the pancetta/bacon strips and cook until they are well browned but not crisp.
Next, add the tinned tomatoes, the crushed chillies, a little salt (the pancetta/bacon is already salty so seriously, just a little salt for seasoning will do) and a slosh of balsamic vinegar just to take off that tinny edge that canned tomatoes often have (fifi's top tip... if you don't have any balsamic vinegar handy, a generous pinch of sugar will also work).
Turn the heat right up until the sauce starts bubbling away and then reduce the heat and leave to simmer for 20 minutes without a lid.
Once the 20 minutes is up, taste and season as needed, and add more chillies if the sauce isn’t quite “angry” enough for you. Leave it to simmer away while you cook the pasta, so another 10-20 minutes depending on how much puttering around you do while getting the pasta ready.
Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, salt generously and add a slug of oil, then tip in your pasta and give it a stir.
Cook per the packet instructions until the pasta is al dente, then drain before tossing the pasta into the tomato sauce in its pan.
Stir in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the cheese (I save a little to sprinkle over the top just before serving) and stir everything together. Serve asap. Simples!
Adapted from a "How to Cook Pasta" book found in my student days.
Adapted from a "How to Cook Pasta" book found in my student days.
Before I got married this was my go to dish at least twice a week (ok, maybe three times a week… don’t judge me!). You could be forgiven for thinking it was because it’s so easy to make – I swear it takes longer to clean up afterwards than it takes to make it – and you’d be partly right. But the fact that it’s insanely tasty and, with the abundance of cherry tomatoes and rocket, really fresh is what elevates it from just ‘an easy supper’ to a ‘a delicious and easy supper’! And whenever Hubby goes back to the States without me, my tastebuds revert back to singleton status and it’s pretty much guaranteed that I’ll be getting stuck into a bowl of this before his plane has even reached the Atlantic!
Green and red pesto both work with this dish (Hubby prefers red). I also tend to use the whole packet of rocket for two people, but that’s only because I love rocket (I am reliably informed that in America it’s called arugula). And if there are any leftovers (big big if in my household!) this is good cold, like a pasta salad, for lunch the next day.
I would love to credit this properly but I can’t for the life of me remember which foodie mag I found it in I’m afraid, but it’s so easy to throw together that there really wasn’t any need to hold onto the recipe.
By the way, please bear with me as I practice my food photography… Today’s attempt is brought to you by Super Macro and standing really close to the counter 🙂
Chorizo Pasta with Lashings of Cherry Tomatoes and Rocket
My go-to pasta dish. It's quick and SO tasty, serving up taste well beyond the effort it takes to make.
1 whole Chorizo sausage (The dried kind. This recipe uses the big U-shaped ones, so use two if you’re getting the smaller links).
1 pack Cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 packet of Rocket
1 1/2 tbsp Pesto
Olive oil for cooking
Penne or Fusili pasta
Salt for seasoning
Bring a large saucepan of salted water up to boiling before adding your pasta to it. Set the timer according to the pasta’s instructions and cook until al dente (usually around 10 minutes).
While the pasta is cooking, halve the cherry tomatoes and cut the chorizo into bite-sized pieces – I usually slice into pound coin sized pieces and then halve them again. Don’t forget to peel the chorizo casing off first! if you don’t it’s still edible, but a little chewier than it should be (says the voice of experience…)
When the pasta has cooked, drain it and set to one side. In the same saucepan, heat the oil and brown the chorizo for 1 or 2 minutes.
Then add the cherry tomatoes for about 1 minute, or until the skin is just beginning to break, before sloshing in a generous slug of balsamic vinegar and salt to season.
Next add the cooked pasta and the pesto, and stir it all up until the pasta is well coated in everything.
Finally, turn off the heat and add the rocket, stirring it all up again, and let the heat of the dish wilt the rocket a little before serving it up.
This is a favourite mid week/Friday night supper dish, perfect for when you’re tired and want something quick and fairly easy to rustle up that doesn’t skimp on flavour or comfort 🙂 I think it must have started off as a Carbonara, but time (and bad influences!) have morphed it into the boozy creamy pasta it is today that probably shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath as carbonara for fear of offending any passing Italians… But what this dish does have in common with Carbonara is that the sauce should coat the spaghetti and no more, rather than be something the pasta is swimming in.
What I really love about the sauce is how the wine gives it a slightly zingy note that really compliments the slight tang in the creme fraiche. For all that I call this a “boozy” sauce, it should be the flavour you taste rather than the alcohol.
And if you’re feeling particularly lazy (and who doesn’t mid week) you can sub cubed pancetta for strips, but I do think the strips work better. Streaky bacon also works if you can’t get pancetta strips, or if you just prefer bacon.
Spaghetti in a Boozy, Creamy, Pancetta & Mushroom Sauce
Wine, creme fraiche, pancetta - what more incentive do you need?
1/2 pack of mushrooms, diced (I prefer chestnut, and sometimes use the entire pack rather than just half...)
1 packet of pancetta strips
Small glass or miniature bottle (18.75cl) white wine (or buy a normal bottle of white wine, and drink the rest!)
2 generous tablespoons of half fat creme fraiche
Olive oil for cooking
1/2 pack of spaghetti
Salt and pepper to season
Parsley for garnish (optional)
Heat some oil in the frying pan and cook off the onions and garlic on a medium heat until the onions start to look transparent.
Add the mushrooms (you might need to add a little more oil if it starts to get a bit dry) and once they’ve cooked down too, remove the lot to a bowl.
In the same pan, add a little more olive oil and turn the heat up to high. Once the oil is heated up, throw in the pancetta. I don’t like my pancetta crispy for this dish but that’s a personal thing, so cook your pancetta to suit and once it’s how you like it add the onion, garlic and mushrooms back into the pan, season with salt and pepper, and then give it all a good stir.
Now add the wine. Once it starts to bubble, turn the heat down to medium and leave it to simmer for five minutes.
In the meantime, bring a large saucepan of salted water up to boil and once the five minutes is up drop your spaghetti in and cook per the packet instructions. This should give the wine in your sauce another ten minutes to reduce right down – you really don’t want there to be much wine/liquid left, just the lovely lovely flavour of it.
That said, don’t reduce it away completely! If after ten minutes there’s still a lot of liquid, turn the heat up and until there’s around 2 tablespoons worth of liquid in the pan.
This is when I usually grate up (or should that be grate down?) a very very generous amount of parmesan. It really is a component of the dish rather than a garnish, so don’t be shy. And I’d rather have too much of it than too little.
Just before your spaghetti is ready, stir the creme freche into the pancetta, mushroom and onions and warm through.
When your spaghetti is ready, drain, reserving a cup of the cooking water just in case, before adding it to the frying pan along with the grated parmesan.
Toss everything in the pan so that the spaghetti is coated with the sauce and melting parmesan. If it all gets a little claggy, add some of the reserved cooking water which should sort that right out.
Grind some black pepper over it, garnish with a little chopped parsley if you have any to hand, and dish up!
Delicious with a little home made garlic bread on the side 🙂 NOM!