Hazelnut and Nutella Brownies

When it comes to brownies, everyone has a very specific idea of what the perfect one should be like. Apparently there are three schools of thought – the cakey, the fudgy and the chewy. I ignore the first one as nonsense, and usually find the second one a bit too rich for my liking. And nuts or no nuts? Too much choice.

But as a lover of Nutella, I wanted to top these with a drizzle of the good stuff, and figured some hazelnuts would compliment it well. “The Boyfriend” moaned.

Hazelnut and Nutella Brownies (adapted from here)

Ingredients (makes 16 small squares)

4 oz. salted butter (plus a bit more for the tray)
4 oz. dark chocolate
1 cup (225 gr) caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup (110 gr) plain flour
3 tbsp cocoa
50 gr hazelnuts, roughly chopped
Nutella, for drizzling on the top

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (or 170 for fan assisted) and lightly butter and flour a tray. I used a square one, about 20cm each side.

Melt the butter and chocolate in a pot over low heat. Let it cool slightly and add the sugar and vanilla. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking until they are incorporated. Add the flour and cocoa, mix for a minute or two using a spatula or spoon and, finally, mix in the nuts.

Empty the mix into the prepared tray and drizzle/pour Nutella over the top. I warmed up the Nutella slightly by placing it on the radiator for a few minutes. Alternatively, you could spoon out little blobs of it and randomly throw them on top of the mix. You get the idea.

Bake for 35-45 minutes. You can test after half an hour by inserting a knife; it shouldn’t be completely clean but have a few small crumbs on it. Cooking times will depend on type and size of tray used and every oven works differently so keep an eye on it – you don’t want to overcook them.

So it turns out that these ended up being somewhere between chewy and fudgy – I might have slightly undercooked them but we did enjoy the texture a lot. The best of both worlds. I loved the hazelnuts and the Nutella topping. I’m making these again tonight and I have a feeling this will be my staple recipe from now on.

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Aubergine and Anchovy Pasta

This dish might not look like much, but it really does pack a punch. The aubergine makes the sauce creamy and thick, while the anchovies are really the dominant flavour. I’ve been quite vague about the amount of anchovies you should use in the recipe, as it really depends on your taste. I used four, and it was strong. I was not sure about the cheese/anchovy combination, but it works really well. Just don’t eat this before a date – you’ve been warned.

Aubergine and Anchovy Pasta

Ingredients (serves 2-3, depending on appetite)

300 gr linguine
1 aubergine
2-4 anchovy fillets, drained
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp tomato paste, dissolved in 1/2 cup water
freshly ground pepper
good pinch of dried oregano
grated pecorino or parmesan
fresh parsley, to serve

First, pierce the aubergine all over with a knife, place it in tray and under a hot grill and cook until it’s collapsing, with a burnt skin.

In the meantime, chop the anchovy fillets finely and grate the garlic into a paste (I do this using a microplane grater). Put some olive oil in a pan, cook the anchovies over medium heat until dissolved, and add the garlic. Cook for a further couple of minutes, making sure the garlic doesn’t burn.

Cut the aubergine in half and scoop out the soft flesh. Chop finely and add to the pan. Fry it with the anchovy/garlic paste for a couple of minutes, before adding the diluted tomato paste and letting the sauce simmer for 5-10 minutes. Season with pepper and oregano (the anchovies with make this salty enough so I doubt you’ll need more salt).

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water and, before draining, reserve 1/3 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the sauce and use the reserved water to bind it together. Sprinkle with the grated cheese and stir until melted. Serve with some chopped fresh parsley on the top.

Little Chef, Kettering West

For the last few years, everytime we’re on the motorway, I look at the Little Chefs along the way and remind myself to find a reason to travel south and visit Heston’s one. Obviously, I’ve never actually managed to organise it. The other day, I was looking through my Good Food Guide and came across Little Chef’s entry. Apparently, Heston has 3 now and, guess what, we’ve been driving past one of them about once a month on average. Including the day before I made this discovery.

Worry not though, as I managed to get my fix on my next visit of the A14. It took us a while to find it, because of Google Map’s incompetence (according to me) or my incompetence (according to the boyfriend). But when we walked in, all was good. I loved the diner-style decor, the staff was smiley and helpful and the menu looked good.

I was tempted by the Tag Bol (tagliatelle rather than spaghetti) – making a good Bolognese is a test every kitchen should have to pass before being allowed to serve food. But in the end, I couldn’t say no to the braised ox cheeks.

My picture just doesn’t do this dish justice. The cheeks were moist and tender, and any bits of fat running through the meat had been cooked for long enough to turn soft and pleasantly wobbly. The sauce was the real surprise for me, dark and intensely flavoured, and with the odd pearl onion adding sweetness. The boyfriend described the mash as “buttery but not greasy” and I happily used it to mop up the leftover gravy.

The steak and ale pie was almost as good, but ultimately I think I won with my choice. The filling was encased by a lovely, flakey and thin suet pastry. The not very attractive-looking green mush around it was a surprisingly good minty pea puree. I liked that a lot. The filling could have been a bit more flavoursome but this was still a good dish.

This is food you expect to find in a good gastropub, rather than on the side of a motorway. It might not be the prettiest location for a restaurant, but smart double-glazing makes for a pleasant eating experience and, to be honest, there’s something quite old-fashionedly romantic about pausing your journey to have a good, honest plate of food. We’ll be stopping there again.

High point: The sauce that came with the ox cheeks. And the staff. Really lovely without being even slightly pretentious. Very relaxed atmosphere.

Low point: Couldn’t find it on Google Maps. It’s not the Thrapston one, and it’s not Kettering East.

The money: Just over £20 for our two mains, a coke and a cappuccino. Massive portions. Really good value.

Go with: Co-travellers. Treat the driver (although in this case, the driver treated me).

Marmite pasta

This is a serious case of “don’t knock it till you’ve tried it”. There seems to be a trend for really simple pasta dishes recently (-ish), and this is my contribution to it. I’ve been eating it several times a week (unhealthy? what about all the vitamin B in Marmite?) and I’m currently having withdrawal symptoms because I can’t find any Marmite in Greece. I didn’t even like the stuff before I tried this.

A lot of the enjoyment comes from the texture, so cook your pasta al dente and choose a good shape. I love bucatini, there’s some good bite on it as it’s thick, but the hole running through the middle makes it light and fluffy. If you’re one of those people that don’t understand others’ obsessions with the geometry of pasta (I can’t wait to read my Christmas present), spaghetti will do just fine.

Marmite Pasta (thank you Nigella)

Ingredients (serves 1 greedy person – me)

150 gr pasta
15 gr butter
1/2 – 1 tsp marmite (depending on how strong you want the flavour to be obviously – I normally do something in the middle)
freshly grated pecorino (or parmesan)
ground pepper (optional)

Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente. Reserve about 1/3 cup of the cooking water – you’ll need that starch to bring the dish together. Drain the pasta.

Melt the butter in a pan, add the Marmite and the reserved water – stir until the Marmite has dissolved. Add the pasta back in the pan, then the cheese, and stir until everything is covered in gooey sauce and the pasta has turned a golden colour from the Marmite. You shouldn’t need any salt, but add pepper if you fancy it – I actually prefer it without. Serve immediately.