Butternut Squash Macaroni

We picked up a copy of Gennaro’s Italian Home Cooking recently to expand our repertoire of Italian classics. This book is all about BIG cooking – most of the recipes feed 8-12 people so we’ve had to scale things down a lot! This recipe jumped out at us as, even though we’re inching towards spring, we’re not quite ready to give up our beloved butternut squash yet. You can use any pumpkin or squash for this dish. His recipe made 8 servings so we decided to make half and freeze half of what we made, and we are so glad we did. We made a pretty special mac and cheese with the other half – unfortunately this was so exciting that we forgot to take photos!

Ingredients – serves 4

  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • 1 small red chilli, finely chopped
  • 1-2 sprigs of rosemary
  • 1/2 butternut squash (about 500g clean weight), cut into small cubes. We cubed all of our squash and froze half so we have that to look forward to sometime too!
  • Salt & pepper
  • A small handful of parsley, finely chopped
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • 250g macaroni
  • (optional: a few drops of white truffle oil)
The truffle oil is sort of (but not really) optional
The truffle oil is sort of (but not really) optional

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and when hot add the chilli, garlic and rosemary. As soon as the garlic starts cooking add the squash/pumpkin cubes and stir well to coat in the lovely flavoured oil. Season well with salt and pepper and stir in the chopped parsley. Turn the heat right down and cook gently for around 20 minutes, stirring regularly, until the squash is almost cooked.

Chopped Squash

Add the stock in, turn the heat back up and bring to the boil, then tip in the macaroni and turn down to a simmer. Cook this until the pasta is al dente, stirring frequently. You may have to top up the water a little, we didn’t need to. This is where Gennaro’s recipe ends but we decided to make this dish just a little more luxurious! Serve onto warmed plates or bowls and if you wish, add a couple of drops of white truffle oil to each plate – pure decadence! The truffle made this dish for us, we tasted some of the reserved pasta in the pan which we froze and we definitely preferred the truffled up version. Serve with a side salad, we had ours with a lemon vinaigrette to cut through the richness of the truffle.

Squash macaroni cooking

This is such a lovely dish, we can totally imagine it being brandished with pride for a huge Italian family! It’s a nice trans-seasonal dinner too, it’s still quite wintery but not too heavy, perfect for these chilly spring days.

Squash Macaroni Done

Sweet Chilli Salmon Skewers

We’ve blogged loads about our love for south-east asian flavours – especially chilli and lime (we have recipes for Thai-style Sea Bass, Thai Noodle Soup with Crispy Tofu, Thai Green Curry… you get the idea!). This recipe for sweet chilli salmon skewers couldn’t be easier, but it’s impressive and the flavours really pack a punch! We’re getting a bit of help from Mr. Vikki’s Chilli Jam here, which we got for Christmas from Fats’ parents. You can use any sweet chilli sauce though, or even make your own!

Ingredients for 2 people:

  • 1 tbsp Chilli Jam/Sweet Chilli Sauce
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 salmon fillets
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 100g tenderstem broccoli
  • 1 pak choi, thickly sliced
  • 100g sugarsnap peas
  • 500ml jasmine tea
  • 180g white rice

Chilli Jam and Jasmine Tea

Start with the marinade by mixing together the chilli jam, lime and 1 tbsp of the vegetable oil in a bowl. Cut the salmon into chunks and coat it well with the marinade. Leave for at least 20 minutes or so. When they’ve finished marinading, skewer your salmon cubes and prepare them for a grilling – we did this by resting the skewers over a roasting dish lined with kitchen foil – the foil should ensure that the salmon gets cooked from both sides.

This was taken pre-foiling of the roasting dish... Don't forget! Looks good though, right?
This was taken pre-foiling of the roasting dish… Don’t forget! Looks good though, right?

Make your jasmine tea (brew for about 5 minutes in a jug), and add to a pan (being sure to sift out any leaves!), topping up with water as necessary. Bring to the boil and add the rice, cooking for about 12 minutes. Put your salmon skewers under a hot grill at the same time – they should take about 12 minutes too.

Mix together the oyster sauce and the soy sauce in a bowl, and heat the rest of the oil in a wok. Add your veg to the wok, keeping aside the green parts of the pak choi, and cover in your sauce. Toss to coat the veg and stir-fry for about 5 minutes.

Stir-frying veg

If you’ve timed it right, everything should come together at the same time. Plate it up with an extra wedge of lime to squeeze over and enjoy!

Salmon Skewers Done

Top 10 Foodie Moments (Part 2)

Ok so here we are carrying on with our top foodie moments. Check out our post from yesterday to see our numbers 10 – 6. These five were really hard to come up with, we’ve had so many incredible moments, hopefully in another few years we’ll have a whole bunch more memories jostling for top spot!

5. Balcony food in Montefrio, Spain

We have the extreme good fortune of having a family friend who let us stay in her beautiful house in Spain for two weeks in September 2011. Bird had been before with her parents in 2009 and was so excited to show Fats the incredible view from the balcony! We cooked a lot while we were there – the dish in the photo is some chicken fajitas (we think!) but the stand out dish we made while there was a delicious pork and chorizo stew which is basically made the same as this recipe we posted recently, only using some of the region’s famously tasty pork. We ate in candlelight so as to attract as few insects as possible but it also added a little something to the meal! The place we were staying in was not touristy at all; it was a typical Andalucian village, and the food we got was wonderful – especially the pork and chorizo! Going on a self catering holiday is such a world away from staying in hotels, you really get to get stuck in and get a feel for the local food – perfect for us.

Chicken Fajitas on the balcony... Simply wonderful
Chicken Fajitas on the balcony… Simply wonderful
Yes, this was the view while we were eating dinner! The stunning Montefrio
Yes, this was the view while we were eating dinner! The stunning Montefrio

4. Spiced lamb meatballs on our first night in Marrakech

We’ve described how to make these beautiful little meatballs in this post from a while back, as well as the drama of arriving in Morocco! Our riad was a perfect haven, once we’d established we were getting dinner we were seated in one of the recesses off the indoor courtyard, on low seats, dimly lit and served some of the simplest, but most beautiful food we’ve ever had. We started with a salad consisting of lettuce, red pepper and olives with a citrusy dressing. Then onto the main event – a tagine was brought out and the lid was whisked off dramatically to reveal the meatballs covered in baked eggs with their little flecks of smoked paprika. We barely said a word to each other for the first few minutes, we were so busy stuffing our faces! This is one of the dishes we’ve managed to recreate most successfully and still make regularly, we had some friends over for dinner on Tuesday and this made up part of the Middle Eastern spread we served them. The heady mix of relief, extraordinary surroundings and delicious food make this one of our best memories.

This was the view from the roof terrace of our riad. The smoke in the distance is from the food stalls in the Djema el-Fna (the main square) - spectacular!
This was the view from the roof terrace of our riad. The smoke in the distance is from the food stalls in the Djema el-Fna (the main square) – spectacular!

3. Macarons and Champagne in Paris

Yeah, we know, it’s a tad pretentious right? But it also had to be done! We went to Paris in February 2012, right in the middle of a severe cold snap, it didn’t get above freezing the whole time we were there. This was a bit of a double edged sword – it meant no queuing times, we got to the front of the queue for the Eiffel Tower in less than 10 minutes which is practically unheard of! It also meant that we couldn’t bear to be outside for long, our wonderful weekend consisted of dashing from museum to cafe to art gallery to cafe to the hotel to dinner. Not that we’re complaining, there’s never enough opportunities for an espresso  in Paris! This day we’d ventured to Ladurée – famous as one of the best macaron makers in the world. We passed up on the ruinously expensive (but surely worth it!) afternoon tea in favour of a box of macarons packaged in a beautiful pistachio green box to take back to our hotel room. The flavours we went for were rose, dark chocolate, salted caramel and pear and chestnut – all were amazing but we think the rose and salted caramel were our favourites. We also happened to get a free dinky bottle of champagne from the hotel so we had an indulgent half an hour snaffling macarons, sipping champagne and watching the snow from our window.

Brrr... Winter in Paris
Brrr… Winter in Paris
Mmmm..... Slightly pretentiously arrayed champagne and macarons. We were destined to be food bloggers from this moment!
Mmmm….. Slightly pretentiously arrayed champagne and macarons. We were destined to be food bloggers from this moment!

2. Wine tasting on Santorini

So for those of you who haven’t been or drooled over pictures, Santorini was once a large circular island, and was blown up by the volcano in it’s centre which, after a few eruptions left a stunning crescent moon shaped island complete with a jawdropping caldera. Perched on top of the middle of this caldera we found a vineyard with wine tasting facilities. This was actually on the same day as our no. 8 moment – mixed meze – what an amazing day! For the bargain price of €12 we were served 5 generous glasses of wine, 4 normal wines of the region and 1 glass of the local vinsanto – a syrupy sweet dessert wine. Along with this came breadsticks, cheese and olives – amazing value. Perhaps our brains were a bit fuddled even before the wine but we forgot to snap a picture until we’d drunk most of it! We also had the terrace completely to ourselves for about an hour, we made a hasty retreat as a coach party turned up. It was one of the most tranquil hours, sipping beautiful local wine with great conversation, perfect weather and the craziest view!

That view is simply breathtaking - we're so lucky!
That view is simply breathtaking – we’re so lucky!

1. Picnic in a storm in Florence

We’ve already touched on this one in this post but it really is our favourite memory. Funny how the most humble meals can be the most memorable. The day started with a trip to an absolutely beautiful food market in Florence – the Mercato di San Lorenzo – just north of the Duomo. After managing to stop ourselves from buying everything we laid eyes on we ended up with some vine tomatoes, fresh ricotta, a creamy gorgonzola, two slices of different foccacias and some plums. We then hiked up to the other side of the Arno to get the best view of the city. Climbing up through rose gardens to be greeted with one of the most famous vistas.

We were up on the Piazzale Michelangelo admiring David’s turquoise arse when a serious storm rolled slowly in, so of course we hung around watching the spectacle until fat drops of rain started landing on us. Hastily packing up the camera (Fats) and clamping arms down to save flashing everyone as the wind howled (Bird) we scurried down the hill. Sheltering under a tower for a few minutes we eventually decided to just make a dash for it and aim for the arches of the Uffizi gallery.

David's arse has never looked more dramatic!
David’s arse has never looked more dramatic!
Yep, it's heading straight for us. Just a few more snaps!
Yep, it’s heading straight for us. Just a few more snaps!

We made it there just as the heavens fully opened, the sort of rain which causes flash flooding! It was busy with many other trapped tourists… however none of them had brought a picnic along! We opened our beautiful brown-paper-wrapped packages and had the best picnic either of us has ever had. The tomatoes were like nothing we’d ever experienced before – the sweetest, most flavourful tomatoes imaginable (we had been promised as much by the lovely Italian lady who sold them to us), and they complimented the cheeses perfectly. Wherever you go on holiday we fully recommend ditching the restaurants and cafes in favour of a simple picnic from a market for at least a few meals – local, fresh food at it’s best!

The remains of our lunch in our Florence hotel room. What an amazing day!
The remains of our lunch in our Florence hotel room. What an amazing day!

So, those were our top 10 foodie moments so far – they were so much fun to write, and a great way to celebrate our 100th post – here’s to many more! What are your top foodie moments?

Top 10 Foodie Moments (Part 1)

It’s our 100th post! We weren’t sure when we started this blog back in July that it would get past the first month but we’ve absolutely loved writing it, and we’re so chuffed that so many of you read our babbling on. To mark this little milestone we thought we would share with you some of our absolute favourite “foodie moments”. You know when everything just comes together? The food, the company, the view, the atmosphere all combines to make a memory that never fails to raise a smile. Well – these are ours. We’ve split this post into two so as not to cause eye-strain from reading it all in one go! We battled this out over cups of tea in bed one Saturday morning, so many great memories failed to make the top 10… we love eating! So without further waffling, here’s our top moments counting down from 10 to 6.

10. Mackerel on the seafront in Brighton

Mackerel is so fresh in Brighton, you can buy it straight out of the old fishermen’s huts on the beach, and they also cook it fresh for you there. A perfectly cooked fillet or two of mackerel, crispy skin and all, in a fluffy bun with salad while you sit with the sun beating down on your back and people watch, just bliss! We got these while visiting Bird’s parents, an ice cold beer in hand, on one of those magical completely cloud-free weekends that you occasionally get in Brighton.

9. Cafe Rouge in Bristol

A bit of a soppy one here… this was our first date *vomits*. We went to Cafe Rouge and then to see The Imaginiarium of Doctor Parnassus at The Watershed. Bird had a salmon salad Niçoise and, like the forgetful sod he is, Fats can’t remember! It was all washed down with a bottle of white wine, lovely service and incredible conversation. The nerves and excitement probably make this memory stand out more than other, possibly better food-wise, memories but it will always be treasured.

8. Vegetarian meze on Santorini

We’d gone for a visit to Ancient Thera during our holiday island hopping in Greece. Ancient Thera is an amazing set of ruins on top of a dramatic cliff (most of Santorini is on top of a dramatic cliff) and although we wussed out and got the coach up there we decided to walk down the other side to see the famous black sands and try to find some lunch. After half an hour clambering down in midday heat we were desperate for a drink and some great food. On inspection however the only place we could see open had some cheesy parasols on the beach and a small shaded garden area outside the restaurant. Too tired and hungry to argue by this point we nipped inside and we were so glad we did! We opted for the vegetarian mixed meze and got two beautiful platters of food – sadly we can’t remember exactly what we had, there was fava, dolmades, vegetables in flaky pastry and many other delights. All topped off with a view of the crystal clear water and black sands, pretty tough to beat!

The restaurant is somewhere down there in Perissa! Shot taken from Ancient Thera on Santorini
The restaurant is somewhere down there in Perissa! Shot taken from Ancient Thera on Santorini
Delicious Meze on Santorini
Delicious Meze on Santorini

7. Nannini, Siena

The. Best. Coffee. Shop. Just incredible. This old-fashioned feeling cafe has great glass counters displaying a mindblowing array of baked goods, every biscuit imaginable, delicate pastries, larger cakes – all you can do is gawp for a good few minutes. You select what you want, tell them what coffee you would like and pay at the counter and then take your receipt round to the coffee bar and tell the barista exactly what you would like. As with most cafes in Italy you will pay a premium for sitting down so we opted to have ours standing at the bar. The coffee was some of the best we’ve ever tasted and the biscuits were divine, especially the ricciarelli which are the famous almond biscuits of the region. We didn’t stop smiling for a moment we were in there and went back for a second helping the following day!

Nanini in Siena
Nanini in Siena

6. Bell’s Diner, Bristol

Bell’s Diner is a delightful restaurant in Bristol, tucked away in the most unlikely of places on a quiet residential street in Montpelier. Our visit was a rather wonderful surprise present from Bird for my 23rd birthday – I was told to dress smart, and be ready at half 7… She picked me up in a taxi and whisked me off for a quite astonishingly good evening of food. This was our first seriously good meal out in Bristol, an eight-course extravaganza of exquisitely prepared food (with wine flight, of course!). On the menu was tomato caviar served in an eggshell, scallop and belly pork served with apple and chorizo, rabbit with lemon risotto topped with Parmesan foam, and more besides! The staff were lovely – we felt very uncouth when we had to ask we should to go about tackling one particular dish, and the sommelier was a lovely, warm, enthusiastic but very shy french man who gave introduced each glass as if he’d grown the grapes himself! Bell’s diner has had a bit of a makeover – it’s now a trendy bistro joint – but we fully intend to pay them another visit.

Stay tuned for our top 5 foodie moments – we’ve loved writing these, they’ve really brought a massive smile to our faces!

Update: you can find our top 5 foodie moments here!

Crab Chowder

This was inspired by a recipe in Olive Magazine but because we couldn’t be bothered finding string and didn’t read the recipe too closely it was made a little differently. We always thought chowder had to be really rich and creamy which isn’t really our cup of tea so when this recipe with a clear broth and then just a dollop of sour cream on top came along we had to try it! The result was vibrant, fresh yet still comforting because of the sour cream and the avocado slices on top. We made a simple white loaf packed with olive oil (based on our bread recipe) to have with this and it went perfectly. This also has to be one of the easiest meals – in 30 minutes you’ll have a pretty impressive bowl of food on the table!

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • One small white onion/half an onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large baking potato, peeled and diced into small cubes
  • 2 spring onions, sliced
  • A bunch of coriander, stalks sliced and leaves roughly chopped
  • 1 stick of celery, finely sliced
  • 1-2 pints of chicken stock
  • 1 large tin of sweetcorn, drained
  • 1 tin of white crab meat, drained
  • 1 avocado, cut into thick strips
  • 1 red chilli, thinly sliced
  • Soured cream
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
Make sure you use a nice ripe avocado - it should be a little soft. This one was perfect!
Make sure you use a nice ripe avocado – it should be a little soft. This one was perfect!

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over a medium heat and when hot add the onion, potato, spring onions, coriander stalks and celery. Cook this together for about 1-2 minutes and then pour over the stock. Simmer for around 15-20 minutes or until the potato is tender. Add in the sweetcorn and the crab meat, stir through to heat and then add in half of the chopped coriander leaves. Spoon into bowls and serve with the sour cream, chilli slices, avocado, lime wedges and the rest of the coriander sprinkled on top.

Crab Chowder Done

We’re loving South American flavours at the moment, especially lime and chilli. This was so fresh and warming and definitely takes less than half an hour – perfect for perking you up after a hard day at work!

Underground Cookery School

On Monday we had the extreme good fortune to be invited to the Underground Cookery School in Shoreditch, London. Having followed that up with a most excellent dinner with some good friends last night, it’s fair to say that right now we’re both feeling pretty tired. Not since our days as students have we come off the back of a Monday-Tuesday late-night double-whammy! As well as the exhaustion (being a foodie is hard!) we also feel extremely lucky, and we’re excited to tell you all about it (but please forgive us if we start talking jibberish).

The day started off like any normal Monday (work, ugh) but the morning flew by and come lunchtime we were able to sack off our day jobs and don our foodie mantles! We stopped at Friska on the way to the station to pick up some really excellent crispy pork pho (Vietnamese noodle soup – if you’re in Bristol, or Vietnam for that matter, try some!) and pretty shortly we were on our way to the big city.

Crispy Pork Pho from Friska... Great start to a foodie afternoon!
Crispy Pork Pho from Friska… Great start to a foodie afternoon!

Since we had a free afternoon and the whole of London at our disposal, we took a short wander through Hyde Park to stretch our legs and meet some of the locals (swans, a heron and a moorhen!) before heading to the Victoria & Albert museum. It was the first time either of us had been to the V&A, and it’s one of those places we could get lost in for days! Apparently if you were to see everything in the Louvre in Paris it would take you a solid week, and while we’re not sure it’s quite that big, it was nevertheless impressive. We wound our way through some 19th century sculpture, historic Japan, took in the gardens, stumbled around mediaeval Europe and finally, feeling quite overwhelmed, decided it was about time to find some good coffee.

Heron Hyde Park

Swan Hyde Park

Courtyard in the V&A... We've decided we need one for our house
Courtyard in the V&A… We’ve decided we need one for our house
Inside the V&A
Inside the V&A

Deciding to neglect tea and cake in the V&A for some strong coffee we did a quick Google and came up with Shoreditch Grind, a rather trendy looking place right on Old Street roundabout. We weren’t quite sure we were cool enough to go in – there was a cinema sign, neon and plenty of industrial barstools – but we put our best hipster faces on and went in. We knew right away that this was the place for us, the aroma of amazing roasted coffee hit us and shook any thoughts of tea from our minds! Fats went for a flat white while Bird chose a macchiato, both were incredible, they even rivalled our Bristol favourite, Small St Espresso.

Macchiato and Flat White at Shoreditch Grind
Macchiato and Flat White at Shoreditch Grind

After working out how to sit on a barstool without almost falling off every few seconds we happily whiled away the hour or so before it was time for our cooking lesson. There was a brief thought of going somewhere else for a slightly more intoxicating drink (Dutch courage and all that) but a candle and a bar list was plonked in front of us so we settled in for a cider (Bird) and a beer (Fats). Minds lubricated and inhibitions fractionally lowered, we headed off to our first ever blogger event!

Dutch Courage!
Dutch Courage!

We’ve been to a couple of cookery schools in Bristol, but the Underground Cookery School is a bit of a different proposition to what we’ve experienced before – they promised a “fun and informal” approach to cookery, as well as a “Hoxton Brasserie” vibe – and it certainly delivered! On entering the stylish and modern underground kitchen/diner we were warmly greeted by Carlos, who immediately thrust a welcome glass of Prosecco into Fats’ hand while Bird dived straight in with some mussel de-bearding. After a few delicious canapés Matt – founder and head chef at the school – gave us a short introduction explaining what was on the menu (moules marinière, ballotine of chicken and tarte Tatin) before splitting us into two groups of 10 and setting us to work.

Canapés on Arrival
Canapés on Arrival

We started off by learning how to de-bone a chicken. This is a great skill to have, and is not something that we have done before. It was great to see an experienced chef do this with such ease, it immediately filled us with confidence! We’re going to blog a tutorial about this sometime soon, so watch this space. Once we’d de-boned it, we took the breast and flattened it with a rolling pin (by whacking it! Great way to unwind…) before laying it on a couple of leaves of lightly wilted cabbage and spreading with a mixture of cream cheese, leeks and bacon (definitely didn’t sneak a cheeky taste of that…) and rolling tightly in cling film and kitchen foil.

Chicken Ballotine
Chicken Ballotine

We were then shepherded quickly to the next lesson of the night, tarte Tatin. This was done in teams, with a couple of us slicing apples, a couple of us making caramel and the rest assembling and covering with pastry. This lesson especially was a great way to get to know some of our fellow bloggers – there was a really great atmosphere, and a bit of competitive spirit (who can assemble the most perfect tarte Tatin? Who can slice the thinnest apples??) didn’t hurt!

Tarte Tatin

Onion slicing like a pro came next, where we also learnt that they make you cry by wafting into your eye and promptly turning into sulphuric acid (we can thank our fellow blogger Heidi for that one!). Throughout the evening the chefs were absolutely great, taking a really relaxed approach and happy to go over anything again if we didn’t quite get it the first time.

Moules marinière turned out to be about the easiest thing we’d ever cooked! Cook off some onions and garlic, throw in a healthy slosh (like, half a bottle) of wine, reduce a bit, then in with the mussels until they open up! Toss in a bit of oil and parsley and serve. Just don’t eat the ones that stay closed.

Muscles

Moules

All of the food we cooked was totally delicious, and we shared a real combined sense of achievement (we were all eating each others’ food, so a bit of trust helped!). The wine and conversation kept flowing through dinner and too soon we had to run to catch our train home to Bristol (but not without boxing up our tarte Tatin for the road).

We had a great time at our first blogger event – we met some really great people and learnt some useful skills! Big thanks to Matt and the team, they really made us feel welcome. We can thoroughly recommend the Underground Cookery School for any event, we can’t imagine a better way to spend an evening. Here’s to many more blogger events to come!

The Underground Cookery School offer team building, hen parties and private events. They can be found near Old Street roundabout in London and at undergroundcookeryschool.com.

Dining

Prawn and Pea Spaghetti with Lemon and Fennel

Another one-pan quickie here, definitely with a spring influence – we went out and saw crocuses (crocuses? Croci? Apparently both are correct) and snowdrops in the sunshine today… blame that! Technically you do use two pans as you use one to toast the fennel seeds but this isn’t essential and they don’t exactly make much of a mess. So if, like us, you are ready for a little spring on your plate then give this one a try.

Fennel seeds toasting

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp fennel seeds, lightly toasted and crushed
  • Pasta of your choice
  • Raw king prawns, about 6-8
  • 1 large handful of frozen peas
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • A handful of parsley, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp creme fraiche
  • Salt & pepper

Lemon zest and parsley

Pop some water on to boil and when it’s boiling salt the water and drop the pasta in (pretty sure you don’t need telling how to cook pasta). When the pasta is a couple of minutes away from cooked add the peas to the pan. Once the pasta is cooked reserve about 1/2 a mug of the pasta water and then drain. Put the pan back over a low heat, add the fennel seeds, lemon zest, parsley, prawns and creme fraiche to the pan and stir over the low heat until the prawns are cooked. While doing this add in a little of the pasta water you saved as you need it until it looks like a perfect, creamy consistency. Season to taste and serve!

Pasta with raw prawns

Finished pea and prawn pasta

Ricotta, Aubergine, Prosciutto and Tomato Salad

This recipe was heavily inspired by a trip we took to Tuscany in June last year. We’re planning some special posts to celebrate 100 posts on the blog (only 4 more to go!) which will expand more on this and some of our other top foodie moments so keep an eye out for that! We had the most brilliant moment eating ricotta, a creamy gorgonzola, the most heavenly vine tomatoes, and two types of focaccia under the arches of the Uffizi gallery in Florence during a spectacular storm. Cuddled up together, in our anoraks (nerdy love), attracting all manner of jealous stares from everyone else who was trapped by the rain but hadn’t thought to bring lunch… the memory never fails to make us smile. We took a couple of elements of this perfect picnic, a bit of inspiration from a classic Tuscan dessert and added in our current obsession of chargrilled aubergine and a beautiful salad sprang into creation.

Salad Detail

Ingredients

  • Vine tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 aubergine, sliced into 0.5cm thick slices
  • 1 sweet, pointed red pepper
  • Ricotta
  • (Prosciutto – optional)
  • Mixed salad leaves – we chose lettuce and peppery leaves like watercress to add some bite
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt & pepper

Coat the tomatoes in 1tbsp of the olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper and then place in a dish and put into a preheated oven at 140°C – the idea is to cook these slowly, dry them out to concentrate the flavours. The tomatoes we had in Italy were the best either of us have ever tasted and we knew that we wouldn’t get anything that delicious here so by semi-drying them we’ve managed to get a little closer. These should take around 1 hour altogether.

Slow Roast Tomatoes

Once they’re in the oven it’s time to prepare the pepper. You know those whole roasted red peppers that you get in a jar? Well this is one of them, but done fresh so it doesn’t have any of that vinegar-y taste. You can start off just holding it over a flame but we ended up rigging up a little system with two skewers going through the length of the pepper so that we could get every bit charred. The whole thing needs to be pretty blackened, it looks scary but will taste like heaven! Simply hold over an open flame, rotating every now and then to char the whole pepper – this should take about 10-15 minutes. Once it’s done pop in a freezer/sandwich bag, seal and just leave it to cool, once it has the skin will just rub off leaving you with sweet, soft flesh.

Charring a Pepper

Pepper Charred

For the aubergine salt the slices – sprinkle table salt on and stand upright for around twenty minutes then dab with kitchen paper. Mix 1 tbsp of olive oil with salt and pepper in the bowl/ramekin and then brush the slices with this before laying them on a hot griddle pan. They should only take 1 minute on each side as they are quite thin, you’ll have to do this in batches but the salad is supposed to be warm, not hot so just pop the ones you’ve done on a plate.

Aubergine Chargrilling

Now it’s assembly time – scatter some leaves on a plate, add the tomatoes, slice up the red pepper and add this. Blob some ricotta on and then drizzle each blob with a little honey and crack some black pepper on – this is a classic Tuscan dessert which we tried while dangling over the Arno, using it in a savoury dish is a little unconventional but it really works.

Tasty Ricotta

Place on the aubergine and the prosciutto if using, we used about 3 slices between us. For the dressing just mix equal quantities of good quality balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil with salt and pepper and drizzle this on.

2 Salads

Salad on the Table

We’re submitting this recipe for Fromage Homage’s Cheese, Please! Challenge, this salad will forever remind us of one of the most amazing, joyful moments we’ve had and it’s been great playing around with the flavours and putting our own spin on it.

Fromage Homage

Moroccan Lamb Burgers

For some people their ideal romantic Valentine’s Day meal would be champagne, oysters and rose-water flavoured chocolate mousse all while bathed in the soft glow of candlelight. Us? Nah. We definitely see more romance in a beautifully crafted burger and a great cider. And this is a beautiful burger – delicately spiced lamb mince dotted with sweet apricots with a couple of chunks of griddled halloumi, a dollop of Moroccan chutney from this lovely company (thanks to Mumma and Papa Bird for that!), and drizzle of yoghurt all served in one of the gorgeous buns that we showed you how to make on Monday coated in a swirl of harissa. So grab someone, or several people, that you love and show them you care with this stunner.

Moroccan Lamb Burger

Ingredients for two burgers

  • 250g lamb mince
  • 1 tsp each of ground cumin and ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3-4 dried apricots, finely diced
  • A large pinch of salt
  • 1 heaped tsp tahini paste

To serve:

  • Two burger buns – you can buy them from a shop but try making your own with our recipe!
  • Halloumi sliced, chargrilled
  • Harissa paste
  • Yoghurt
  • Moroccan chutney (optional)
  • Salad

To  make the burgers simply squidge all of the ingredients together with your hands, shape into two patties and chill in the fridge for at least 20 minutes before cooking.

Moroccan lamb mince

Once you’re ready to cook you can either cook them entirely on the hob, entirely in the oven or a bit of both. We went for the latter option because they were fairly thick burgers and we wanted to make sure they cooked through but we also wanted some beautiful charring on the outside. Pop them on a hot griddle pan for about 1 minute each side and then put in a preheated oven at 190°C for about 10-15 minutes to finish them off. While they’re in the oven it’s the perfect time to griddled that halloumi until it’s perfectly golden.

Lamb burgers cooking

Halloumi griddling

Then you just get to layer up your burger! Obviously it’s completely up to you how you do it but we put a swirl of harissa on the bottom piece of the bun for a burst of heat, whacked the burger on, then the halloumi, then the chutney, then the yoghurt and served it with plenty of salad on the side. True love, Fats and Bird style.

Salad

Burger with halloumi

Burger with halloumi and sauce

Black Onion Seed Burger Buns

This time last year the idea that we would make our own burger buns would have been laughable! We’d only just managed to make a loaf of wholemeal bread, little did we know how bread obsessed we would become. So as not to make this a super long post we’ll be posting the recipe for the burgers that we filled these with in a day or two… keep an eye out for it, it’s a good’un! We had a look at a few different recipes online for burger buns and they all seemed to be roughly the same with slightly different amounts of milk/sugar/butter etc so we went with our usual option of winging it, and they turned out beautifully. These are topped with black onion seeds as we went for a spiced burger filling but obviously feel free to go for the more traditional sesame seeds on top.

Ingredients for 2 buns

  • 125g strong white flour
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried, fast action yeast
  • 50ml milk
  • 25ml water
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Black onion or sesame seeds

We made ours the same way we make standard loaves – just mix together the flour, sugar, yeast and salt, then rub in the butter to form breadcrumbs. Add in the milk and the water – you might not need all of it, ours needed a little more than shown but it will differ slightly for each attempt. It will be a fairly stiff dough but don’t worry, they turn out great! Knead for around 10 minutes until smooth and elastic and then leave to rise in a bowl covered with clingfilm until doubled in size – around 1 hour in a warm room. After this time knock back, divide into two and shape by rolling into a ball and then flattening with the palm of your hand or a rolling pin until they are about 10cm diameter and 2-3cm thick. Brush with the beaten egg, cover with clingfilm again and leave to rise for half an hour. Brush them again with egg after this time and sprinkle on the seeds and then put your oven to preheat at 200°C.

Black onion seed buns raw

Leave them to rise for half an hour while the oven heats up and then pop them in for about 12-15 minutes until risen and perfectly golden brown. Leave to cool completely and then serve!

Black onion seed burger buns cooked

This is obviously a little more complicated than picking a packet up at a supermarket but these are gorgeous, slightly chewy, soft burger buns and it really makes it feel more special doing it yourself.