Simple things poured over pasta. It feels like cheating, but nuts to it: Nigel Slater’s made a career out of it. Well, plus a shit-tonne of other stuff, and being actually talented, and writing quite well most of the time. But the point stands – dumping big flavours over boiled starch feels like lazy blogging, but I still like to share the permutations that work.
This is another of those “barely a recipe” posts where it’s mostly in the title, but you get a lot of flavour for really not much effort.
Striking-looking leafy vegetables are an odd compulsion, I’ll admit, but I love them. Chard, cavolo nero, chicory, any greens you could name – I just can’t walk past them at the market. On saturday, and actually for the first time, the one I couldn’t walk past was radicchio.
It looks like a particularly aggressive lettuce, and it’s basically Italian chicory. Sometimes radicchio has the long slender shape of standard chicory (Treviso radicchio), sometimes it’s smaller and rounder (The Verona or Chioggia varieties). In all cases it has most of chicory’s bitterness, although I found it easier to cook out. Being round and mostly red, I think mine was Chioggia, but I’m not massively sure this matters.
I’m not sure if the asparagus season was really late this year (I’m rubbish at remembering seasonality) or if the supermarkets are just importing a lot (I was in a hurry forgot to check), but there’s a lot about at the moment. This suits me. I get to eat a lot of it, and gradually save up the stalk trimmings for soup.
It’s hot, and I was tired and not particularly hungry, so just griddling it and throwing a couple of flavours into the mix works really well.
I’ll give a recipe, but it’s pretty cursory. Like so many of the best things, you heat it up and cover it in cheese.
…or “twice baked potatoes”, or “fully loaded skins” if that floats your boat.
Over lunch on Saturday, Kit – somewhat left-field – suggested potato skins for dinner. They’re a greasy, joyous bar grub classic, and I agreed in a second.
They also go by more names than Gandalf. Well, ok, they go by a shade under half as many names as Gandalf if we’re being pernickety, but that’s not the point. The point is that dishes with multiple vernacular names are a searchability (and SEO) headache, but I’m fairly sure that whether we’re calling them stuffed skins, loaded skins, or twice baked potatoes, they’re all the same filthy/gorgeous greasy carb pile.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has, in Veg Every day, something he calls a “vegiflette toastie”. It’s veg-filled cheese on toast, loosely inspired by tartiflette. Funnily enough, a heap of stuff, fried and baked with cheese and potatoes, loosely inspired by tartiflette is one of my own staples.
I like to fry potatoes and onions, plus something else that’s lying around (often bacon), then sprinkle over flour, let out with milk, and melt in a fuckload of taleggio. Once it’s amalgamated, you bake it for a bit to finish. It’s tasty, and non-trivially indulgent.
Hugh suggests chicory in his version, which isn’t something I cook with much, so I tried it. The chicory was added towards the end, to just soften a little and cover in sauce. In with the potatoes and onions I fried leftover cauliflower and loads of thyme and garlic. The cheese happened to be manchego.
It works as well as any other variant on the cheesy potato bake theme. The chicory gives off quite a bit of water as it wilts, so this one was a little sloppy. It also has a bitter, astringent tang that works well with the rich sauce, but some may find off-putting.
Cabbage is great. Not your soggy schooldays slop, mind – wilted to hell and smelling of damp flatulence and disappointment. No, We’re talking fresh, crisp, savoury cabbage, cooked with a bit of respect for texture rather than a thinly-repressed loathing for children.
Ok, so there’s sauerkraut – that’s soggy and awesome, but the point stands. Cabbage rocks. It is particularly good when shredded fine and cooked in the run-off fat and juices of a joint of ham.
Yesterday, I had a powerful craving for the stuff, and decided to just throw some together with other flavours I liked.
Ok, so, there’s not a lot to see here – it’s just more in the genre of “put roughly three savoury things over pasta”.
One of the things I brought back from Rome was a decent-sized chunk of prosciutto. It was bloody delicious, and it wasn’t even one of the better bits in the shop. No, the chap in Volpetti managed to up-sell me on an end piece, after I’d obviously betrayed my pork lusts and stocked up on salami.
I am glad he did.
Casting about for something to do with it, I ended up just slicing it thin-ish and tossing it over pasta with ricotta and wilted spinach and rocket. On the one hand that’s barely a recipe; on the other, it was one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth.
Seriously. The prosciutto wasn’t overpoweringly salty, the fat was rich and creamy, and that cured, rich, piggy taste was fucking close to perfect.
Tomatoes are splendid, aren’t they? I think they’re probably at their best used fresh and sparingly, so a little of the acidity comes through. Oh, they’re great cooked down, rich and deep, too. But there’s something about dicing them fine and throwing them in with something as it fries that just works.
That’s what this is.
Fennel sausage, taken out of its skin and fried in lumps with a fine-diced onion, then thin slivers of mushroom, chilli, and garlic, with the tomato in at the end. A glug of sherry as it cooks down for 5 minutes, then toss it over pasta and you’re done.
This is so simple it barely counts as cooking, and you’re hard-pressed to make it take more than 20 minutes. But it’s tasty. The sausage is dense and rich, with the fennel coming through nicely. One large tomato seems to do the trick, in a nicely understated way, but it would take more.
The sausages are actually from Asda. I’m not massively proud of that; but, credit where it’s due: their weird regional range is not bad. The cooking chorizo is the weakest. The fennel sausages the best, and the bratwurst are far from poor.
It seems you basically can just bung any old spare vegetables over pasta with a handful of soft cheese and get a good result. This has rarely been more obvious in my cooking than earlier this week when I decided top roast some garlic and toss messicani in the pulp, along with whatever came to hand. In this case it was blanched green beans, black olives, and mozzarella.
I’d do it again – the garlic settled into the background and wasn’t overpowering, and the beans worked just fine. The olives didn’t really add anything, so they need to be swapped for something. But the mozzarella is a definite keeper. Half melting as it tosses through and blending for a creamy flavour with the garlic, it made for an excellent pairing.
This could definitely be the basis for something, and I’ll do it again at some point and work out quite what.
Update: I’ve flagged a version of this one for the putative book.
I spent February vegetarian. There – I said it. I’m not ashamed, either, although I’m not exactly proud of the fact that I called it “Veguary”.
Given my near-sexual ecstasy at the prospect of rillettes and cassoulet, “why?” is a perfectly valid question.
It was largely an experiment, to be honest. But I do feel a bit iffy about the macroeconomics and ecology around the contemporary Western diet, and eating less meat (along with one or two other dietary shifts) seems like a decent enough first step. Mostly though, it was to make cooking more interesting.
I’ll write more about Veguary in future, I’m sure. But armed with the River Cottage Veg everyday book and a fair quantity of enthusiasm, I set about it, and I survived, and I learned a lot.
One of the main things I learned was how to make things I genuinely enjoy eating that take less than half an hour to cook. The less healthy lesson I picked up was that many of these dishes are basically just pasta with some kind of vegetable, and a metric fuck-tonne of goats’ cheese dumped over the whole thing.