gnocchi with asparagus and pancetta

IMG_8624Before making this, I’d only ever had gnocchi once before, and I didn’t like it all that much. It was drenched in a sweet, brown sauce. The sauce was overpowering, and totally distracted you from the gnocchi and other components of the dish! You couldn’t get away from that sauce very easily. I was quite put off after that. But then I found out that gnocchi doesn’t necessarily need a heavy sauce – it goes just as well, and if not better, with Italian simplicity. I tried it another time, and completely changed my mind! It’s actually quite delicious.

Gnocchi is a sort of pasta, made with potato, flour and egg. If you’re in Rome, it’ll probably be made with semolina flour; usually supermarkets stock a variety from buckwheat flour. Gnocchi are tiny little dumplings, shaped into ovals. You can have a go at making them from scratch, but from a packet they are just as good! If you buy a dry-cupboard variety, they’ll last for months – and when you are ready to use them, they only take 2 minutes to boil. It’s incredibly versatile. It’s often used as a starter, scattered with breadcrumbs and cheese and baked in the oven. But like the recipe below, it can also be lightly tossed in pesto for a  quick supper. It’s also a fantastic accompaniment – a replacement for ordinary pasta or potatoes to crisp pan-fried fish. They might be little, but they are tasty, and most definitely filling. A small pack usually says it “serves 3” – you might read in disbelief, but once you’ve eaten a few, you’ll realise you were wrong!

Ingredients

  • 1 pack of gnocchi
  • 2 dessert spoons of pesto
  • 1 pack of pancettaIMG_8622
  • 3 sprigs of asparagus per person, ends trimmed
  • A handful of pine nuts
  • Torn basil, to serve
  • Grated parmesan, to taste

Method

  1. Place a large frying pan over a medium heat, and add a little oil. Add the pancetta and asparagus, and sauté until the asparagus has softened slightly and the pancetta is beginning to brown.
  2. In a large saucepan, bring water to the boil. Add the gnocchi, and boil for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add the pine nuts to the asparagus, and toast until lightly browned.
  4. Drain the gnocchi, return to the pan, and stir through the pesto.
  5. Plate up the gnocchi, arranging the asparagus, pancetta and pine nuts on top. Top with parmesan and the torn basil, and serve!
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paprika lamb with chickpea stirfry

With the arrival of March, we are closer to Spring. The sun will return at last, and daffodils and tulips blowing in a light breeze will become a familiar sight once more. Lamb always makes me think of Spring, it’s the perfect DSCF7106roast for Easter. Although Spring doesn’t arrive until March 20th this year, this recipe allows us to jump ahead into the spring mindset. This is no Easter roast though – it’s another tasty way to enjoy this tender meat, coated in hot, smoky paprika and sprinkled with fragrant oregano. As the chops are massaged with the paprika spice and herbs, their flavours permeate the meat, but does not overpower it. Fried for only a short time, the taste is locked in, whilst the meat stays tender, remaining deliciously pink in the centre. Plus, far away from the wintry stews we’ve been indulging in so far this year, the chickpea stir fry is light and full of flavour. Whilst the garlic and chili provide a warm kick to the stir fry, the chickpeas are soft with a bite; the chunky vegetables lend their own textures and flavours with each mouthful. A brilliant accompaniment to the lamb, this dish will transport you in time forward to the arrival of Spring.

Ingredients

  • 2 lamb chops
  • ½ courgette, chopped into thick chunks
  • ¼ aubergine, chopped into thick chunks
  • ½ red pepper, finely sliced
  • Good handful of cherry tomatoes
  • ½ 400g tin chickpeas, drained
  • ½ red onion, finely sliced
  • 1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 red chili, finely sliced
  • Hot, smoked paprika
  • Dried oregano
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Olive oil

Methods

  1. Season the chops with salt, pepper and the paprika. Sprinkle on both sides with a little oregano, and set aside for later. DSCF7107
  2. In a large saucepan, heat a little oil, and fry the onion for 8 minutes, until soft. Reduce the heat and the garlic, red pepper and courgette and stir fry for 5 minutes. Add the aubergine, cherry tomatoes, chickpeas and sliced chili. Stir well to combine, and leave to warm through on the hob, until the cherry tomatoes have blistered. Season well with salt and pepper.
  3. Meanwhile, fry the lamb chops in a separate saucepan for 2 minutes each side. Then, when still pink in the middle, transfer to a plate and add the chickpea stir-fry. Season again, and serve!

(adapted from recipe by Jamie Oliver)

mushroom and parsley risotto

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I sometimes think that risotto is one of the most versatile dishes I know. Almost anything can be put in with the rice, and a delicious dish will always be the result. With a bit of time spare at the weekend, you can really put in the effort to create something amazing. For example, roasting vegetables and garlic in olive oil, and then taking effort to infuse the risotto rice with Moroccan spices, before combining the two for a dish full of colour and flavour. Or, say, a sweet potato and rosemary risotto – taking time to whizz up the sweet potato in a blender for a brilliant bright orange colour. Maybe, if you’re going to roast vegetables and garlic, you’d like to roast tomatoes to complement the earthy flavour of a turmeric-yellow risotto. Just to name but two examples. If you’re interested. But just as easily, within 20ish minutes, you can add mushrooms, tease out and enhance their flavour with parsley, and have a satisfying dinner.

Ingredients

  • Button mushrooms, to taste, halved
  • Arborio risotto rice, approximately 100g per person
  • 250ml hot vegetable stock per person
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely sliced
  • Grated cheddar cheese, to taste
  • Knob of butter
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Method

  1. Heat in a large saucepan a little olive oil with some butter, and add the risotto rice. It is important to remember that the size of the pan must reflect the amount of rice – keeping it on ‘one level’ during cooking ensures half doesn’t out-cook the rest! This means you will have an evenly cooked meal. Stir the risotto rice in the oil and butter continuously, until the edges of each grain become slightly transparent.
  2. Add the sliced garlic, and fry until it smells aromatic. Then, add a ladle of hot stock, and stir. It is incredibly important to add the stock gradually – as it is added, it is absorbed by the rice, cooking it. If it is added too quickly, it will evapourate away but the rice may remain slightly raw. DSCF7055
  3. Half way through adding the stock, stir in the mushrooms, and sprinkle with the parsley. They will cook in the stock, and will darken in colour and reduce in size. Keep adding the stock to the mushrooms and the rice. As it is added, it should begin to form a small sauce, and the rice should be tender but with a slight ‘bite’ in the centre. Add another ladle of stock as the previous one is absorbed almost fully – if you run out of stock, just use boiling water. This process should take around 20 minutes.
  4. Keep on the heat for 5 minutes more to ensure it is all warmed through. Risotto is not meant to be thick, but creamy and spill onto the plate – if yours is too stodgy, add a little more hot water.
  5. Once the risotto is cooked, take it off the heat, add a knob of butter, and place a lid on the pan. Leave for 2 minutes, and add the grated cheddar.
  6. Leave the risotto with a lid on again for around 5 minutes, to allow the flavours to combine, absorbing the butter and cheese for extra ‘ooze’.
  7. Pour the risotto into a deep bowl. Drizzle a little oil over the top, if it needs further breaking up to ‘ooze’. Season, top with a little more parsley, and serve.