Spinach and Mushroom Lasagne with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

IMG_4270As much as I love the spinach and mushrooms in this lasagne, the red pepper sauce is the star of this dish. It’s my take on a sauce in Mildreds, The Cookbook, where it’s served with penne and boiled vegetables. Even if you don’t fancy cooking or eating lasagne right now, do give the sauce a try. I was instantly addicted, and a batch of this (divided into 4 portions) is now a staple in my freezer. IMG_4268 To make the sauce lighter (and vegan), I use soy cream instead of the double cream they use at Mildreds. I’ve also adapted the recipe to fit whole tins and jars. It could just be me, but one roasted pepper or one tomato left in a tin usually ends up mouldy in my fridge. IMG_4263 A note on pasta sheets: I’ve used shop-bought ‘fresh’ ones (eerily long shelf life, though) that don’t require pre-cooking. In my experience, whether or not you have to pre-boil lasagne sheets depends on the brand you use, and on the cooking time. I tend not to boil them first, even with dried ones, unless they are very thick.


Ingredients IMG_4261 For the sauce  – 1 onion, chopped – 1 celery stick, chopped – 1 carrot, peeled and grated (the one I used was 165 g, unpeeled weight) – 2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely – 400 g tin of whole tomatoes – 350 g roast peppers (I used a 465 g jar with brine, undrained weight), roughly chopped – 1 tsp (coconut flower) sugar – 1 tsp coarse sea salt – freshly ground black pepper – 250 ml soy cream You’ll probably have about 1/4 of the sauce left after building your lasagne. Fridge or freeze for later use. It will be like having money in the bank, believe me. For the lasagne – 500 g fresh spinach leaves (I always chop fresh spinach so it doesn’t clump together so much ) – 400 mushrooms, sliced not too thinly – lasagne sheets PreparationIMG_4253 – Preheat oven to 200°C – Start by making the sauce. In a large pan, fry onion, celery and carrot in oil until softened. – Add the garlic and fry for one more minute. – Add all the other sauce ingredients, except the cream. – Bring to a boil and then simmer, stirring regularly, for 20 minutes (lid off) – Stir in the cream and simmer for another 10-15 minutes. – Blitz the sauce with a (stick) blender and set aside. – Wash your pan and wilt the spinach in it. In a sieve, press out the excess moisture with the back of a spoon (or just squeeze with your hands). Set aside. – In the same pan, fry the mushrooms in oil (I use chilli oil here) until softened but not cooked through. Drain in a sieve. -Build your lasagne in a rectangular oven dish (the bottom of the one I used measures 16×25 cm). Start with a layer of sauce, followed by  1/4 of the spinach and mushrooms and lasagne sheets. Repeat until you’ve used up all your ingredients, ending with a layer of pasta sheets topped with sauce. – Cover the dish with aluminium foil and bake for 20 minutes. – Remove foil and bake for 10 more minutes. – Take the dish out of the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes before cutting into the lasagne.

Two for One: Artichoke/Basil Spread and Pasta Sauce

IMG_3305One of the things I love about cooking is the feeling that on one hand you are chopping, stirring, beating, stewing as countless people have done before you, while on the other you’re creating that unique dish at that particular time for those specific people. It’s being part of an age-old tradition and heritage while at the same time completely doing your own thing. In that sense, I think you could call cooking one of the most postmodern activities out there; everything’s already been done a million times over, so originality is out, but what a wealth of experience to work with and make your own. I think there is freedom in there, somewhere.IMG_3298

Having just said that, you probably won’t be too impressed with me telling you this is my own creation. But it is, within the pesto, spread, pasta sauce spectrum, anyway. 😉 Right, let’s ditch the philosophy and get our hands dirty (another thing I love about cooking; it’s a perfect mix of creativity and comforting routine chores). IMG_3300

I love the flavour of marinated artichokes but unless you buy really good ones from a delicatessen, they almost always have tough, wooden bits in them. This is why I decided to blitz jarred, supermarket-bought artichokes into a pasta sauce with some other ingredients, creating an unforeseen second dish; an excellent spread to serve with crackers and drinks! The artichoke and basil mixture has just the right texture and flavour for it. If you’re after the spread, simply blend together the sauce ingredients mentioned below (see ‘preparation’ also, though). If you want to make a main, follow the entire recipe.


Serves 2

Ingredients 
– 180 g wholemeal spaghetti or pasta of your choice
– 3 tbsp/30 g pine nuts

For the sauce
– 1 x 295 gr jar of marinated artichoke hearts (in brine, not oil)
– 15 g basil leaves
– 1 heaped tbsp nutritional yeast (you could use parmesan)
– 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
– 1/4 tsp of fine sea salt (or to taste)
– pepper, to taste
– 3 tbsp/45 ml extra virgin olive oil

Preparation

– Cook pasta according to packet instructions.
– Meanwhile dry-fry the pine nuts in a skillet to toast them. Be careful not to burn them, they should be golden.
– Blitz all the sauce ingredients, except the oil, in a (mini) food processor or with a stick blender.
– Add the oil gradually in a thin stream while still blending.
– When the pasta is almost cooked, hold back 1/4 cup/60 mls of the starchy cooking water.
– Gradually stir this water into your artichoke mixture to loosen it up. Go easy and see how much you need, the sauce should coat the pasta but not be thin.
– Drain the pasta when cooked and put it back in the pan. Mix in the artichoke and basil sauce using salad cutlery or similar.
– Divide between bowls, sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and serve.

My Weekday Spaghetti Bolognese

IMG_3206This is what I cook on those days when I just want to have a nice, healthy dinner on the table in under thirty minutes.

I am not claiming authenticity here (even just the fact that I use soy mince would make that a bogus claim). This is just a robust, flavourful tomato, mushroom and mince sauce, served with spaghetti or any other pasta, that hits the spot and is easy to make.IMG_3210

Now I know that a traditional, meaty bolognese sauce is simmered for hours but I don’t like to stew vegetarian mince too long because it doesn’t improve the texture, which makes this a schoolnight rather than a weekend dish.

If you don’t want to use soy mince, simply use more mushrooms.


Feeds 2/3 peopleIMG_3202

Ingredients
– olive oil
– 250 g mushrooms, sliced not too thinly
– 2 bay leaves
– ½ tsp chilli flakes (or to taste)
– 1 large onion, chopped finely
– 1 tsp dried oregano
– 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped/grated
– 1 tbsp tomato puree
– 175 g packet soy/Quorn mince
– 125 ml/½ cup red wine
– 400 ml tin chopped tomatoes
– 250 ml/1 cup vegetable or mushroom stock
– salt and pepper to taste
– 200 g (wholewheat) pastaIMG_3203

Preparation
– Boil water for pasta and cook according to packet instructions.
– Meanwhile, fry the mushrooms in olive oil until they are almost cooked but still have some bite left. Set aside.
– Heat a generous glug of olive oil in a wide, lidded pan on a medium heat and when hot, add bay leaves, chilli flakes and onion. Fry until translucent.
– Add the garlic and oregano, fry for about 30 seconds, then add tomato puree, fry for a few minutes.
– Stir in the mince, then pour in the wine. Keep stirring and let the wine absorb/evaporate. This won’t take long.
– Add the tomatoes and about half the stock (keep the rest handy).
– Stir in the cooked mushrooms, bring to the boil.
– Clamp on the lid, turn down the heat and let simmer for 10/15 minutes.
– Check if it needs a bit more stock, season to your liking, and serve with the pasta.

The Easiest Pasta Dish You Will Ever Cook.

 

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Now I thought my normal method of cooking a basic tomato and basil pasta was quick and easy but, boy, was I wrong. This one-pan pasta is even easier, does not (necessarily) need a single drop of oil and is incredibly tasty. You could add parmesan to this basically vegan dish but I really don’t think it needs it.

When I first saw this recipe on the Martha Stewart website, I thought it was a bit of a gimmick. A bit like a chocolate cake nuked in a mug in the microwave (which may well be delicious, I haven’t tried it). But it was one those recipes that just had to be tried, and I was pleasantly surprised (well, stunned) when it turned out to be a winner. To make a quick yet tasty pasta dish, I would normally fry an onion and some cherry tomatoes in olive oil, boil spaghetti in another pot and stir it all together with a few torn basil leaves and possibly some cheese. But in this case you just chuck everything in a pan with some water and cook it all in one go. The original recipe tells you to drizzle the finished dish with olive oil but I didn’t (forgot, I was peckish) and it was still delicious. So apart from this being the easiest pasta you’ve ever cooked, it could also be the healthiest. Score. 20140707-220252-79372275.jpg

I have adapted the original recipe for two people and fiddled with the quantities, especially the amount of tomatoes (I felt it needed a lot more of them). The only flaw I can find is that my dried linguine did not fit my largest pan, so I had to break it in half. No biggy but I would rather have left it whole. It’s an aesthetic thing.

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Although this dish really is incredibly easy to cook, you can’t just turn on the heat and walk away. You do have to keep the linguine moving from time to time, especially near the end of the cooking time, because otherwise it might stick to the pan. Cooking times for pasta vary, so have a bit of warm water handy to add if necessary. I started out with 400 ml of water and added a splash near the end, when it looked like it was all drying out a bit too much.  20140707-220254-79374047.jpg

 


 

Ingredients

180 g linguine

350 g cherry tomatoes, halved

½ large onion, sliced into thin half rings.

2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly

½ tsp chilli flakes (or to taste)

400 ml of water

salt and pepper

15 g fresh basil leaves, half left whole, the rest torn roughly

 

Method

1. Put all the ingredients except for the salt, pepper and the torn basil leaves in a large pan and bring to a boil over a medium-high heat.

2. Boil, moving the pasta around frequently until the pasta is cooked to your liking. This should take about 9-10 minutes, depending on the pasta you’re using.

3. Season to taste, scatter over the torn basil leaves and serve. It’s that easy!