Bolognese Macaroni Cheese

I’ve been having a massive craving for macaroni cheese for the last month. I blame the #meateasy.

On a hot Saturday, I woke up and knew what I wanted to eat. I’m not really big on light food when it’s hot. My cravings have nothing to do with the weather. So I made some macaroni cheese.

I had been thinking about a few versions, mainly Helen’s ultimate macaroni cheese and Ree’s fancy one. But then I had some bolognese leftover in the fridge and that combined with bechamel, cheese and pasta is basically pastitsio, one of my favourite Greek dishes. So I went for it.

The measurings in the recipe are vague. It could really be summarised in a few words: mix pasta, cheesy bechamel and bolognese sauce. Top with cheese. Bake. But here’s the (slightly) more detailed version anyway.

Bolognese Macaroni Cheese

Ingredients (enough for 6)

500 gr pasta

portion of bechamel sauce:
5 tbsp flour
5 tbsp oil/butter
1 – 1 1/2 pint milk
pinch of salt (go easy as the cheeses will be salty)
lots of ground pepper
pinch of nutmeg
bay leaf

a mixture of cheeses (I used gouda, pecorino and a couple of spoons of mascarpone)
leftover bolognese sauce (I used about 1 1/2 cups, you can certainly go for more as it was on the light side)
extra pecorino for the top

For the sauce: quickly fry the flour with the fat, making sure you don’t burn it. Turn the heat right down. Warm the milk in the microwave and add it slowly to the flour-oil mixture, making sure it’s fully incorporated at every step. Season with salt and pepper, add nutmeg and the bay leaf and let it come to boil while stirring very frequently, to stop lumps from forming. If it becomes too thick, add some more milk, whisk, and let it reach boiling temperature again. You want it relatively runny so that the end result isn’t too thick and stodgy. Remove the bay leaf.

Boil the pasta for 2-3 minutes less than what the instructions say. Toss with a bit of olive oil and set aside.

Add the grated cheeses to the sauce and stir until melted. Add the pasta and mix well. Finally, stir the bolognese sauce in.

Spoon the mixture into oven dishes (I used a couple as I didn’t have  a big one available). Top with more grated pecorino and bake in the oven at 180 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, or until the top is nice and golden.

As it’s quite an intense meal, I served it with some spring greens. I boiled them for 2-3 minutes – don’t overcook them as they will lose their vibrant green colour and most of their goodness. Steaming would work too. I then quickly fried them with a drop of olive oil, a finely chopped garlic clove, salt and plenty of pepper and nutmeg. It made for a great side dish.

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.

Prawn Spaghetti

This blog is dying, isn’t it?

I wish I had a good enough excuse for the absence, or even an exciting one, like being on holiday. Truth is, I’ve been lazy. And I was working a bit too. But mainly lazy.

This is not one of those blogs where you get loads of personal stories. I prefer talking about food rather than myself – well, on the blog at least! But you’re about to get some chat about something that is close to my heart.

Wireless.

I love wireless internet. Sometimes I wonder what life was like before you could have the internet in your bedroom, in your toilet, in the kitchen, surfing before going to sleep and first thing in the morning. Sad, right? Well, everyone’s got their addictions.

Anyway, two weeks ago the wireless broke for reasons that are far too geeky for me to fully understand. I thought a bit of detox would be good but in the end what suffered the most was the blog.

You see, I’m sitting in the living room at the moment writing this. At the same time, I’m watching the football with a few friends and drinking a Belgian triple. This little insight into my evening might explain a lot about the quality of this blog but I quite like the multitasking, even if I’m quite bad at it!

Now that I’m reunited with my love, I thought I’d finally share a recipe with the world. It’s very simple and perfect for the summer. It’s best done using fresh raw prawns, with the shell on. What I do when I find them is to get rid of the shell on the body, leaving the head and the tail on; that way, peeling while eating is really easy and you also get all the lovely seafood flavours from the shells during cooking. Also, use fresh tomatoes if you have some big, red, juicy ones.

I’m sure there are many variations of this recipe, this is just the way I do it, having put together my favourite bits from recipes I used over the years.

Prawn Spaghetti with Feta Cheese

Ingredients (serves 2)

200 gr fresh big prawns
a splash of balsamic vinegar

1 onion, chopped
1 chilli (without the seeds if you don’t like it too spicy), finely chopped
1 green or red pepper, chopped
1 courgette, thinly sliced (optional)
1 cup of fresh tomatoes, skinned and processed until smooth (or finely chopped tomatoes)
a pinch of oregano
salt, pepper, olive oil

250 gr dried spaghetti
crumbled feta to serve

In a large frying pan, heat a splash of olive oil and fry the prawns until pink, turning half way. When cooked, add some balsamic vinegar and wait for a couple of minutes until it evaporates. Remove the prawns and set aside.

Using the same pan, fry the onions in a little olive oil until soft. Gradually add the chilli, the peppers and the courgettes and cook for 5-10 minutes. When the vegetables have softened, add the tomatoes and a bit of water, as well as the seasoning, and cook until the sauce has thickened and the courgettes are cooked through.

Boil some pasta and while that’s cooking, add the prawns back in the sauce for 5 minutes. Serve with some crumbled feta cheese on top.

(Healthy-ish) Spinach and Feta mini-pies

What do you do when you’ve spent three days eating huge amounts of spit-roast lamb for lunch and dinner?

Apparently, you find yourself ordering a crepe at that (life-saving) 24h sandwich shop. At 4 in the morning. I can’t even remember what was in there, but there was definitely cheese, chips (yeah, obviously) and mayo. And probably some meat.

Greedy.

I woke up with no hangover – thankfully all those calories didn’t completely go to waste. But I was really hoping to eat something slightly healthier and preferably green-coloured. I don’t think my mum has ever seen me so excited about spinach.

The recipe is of course quite vague, since this is how mum described it to me. Actually, her first sentence was “Make some dough” and she was not going to offer any further explanation. Thankfully she saw the blank look on my face and got the hint.

Spinach and Feta mini-pies

For the dough

500 gr all-purpose flour
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
enough water to make a dough (~1/2 pint)

Simply mix the flour with the oil and the salt and then add water gradually and knead until you have a dough. You want it as wet as possible without sticking to your fingers or the bowl. Knead until smooth and let it rest. In the meantime, prepare the filling.

For the filling

200 gr spinach
6-7 spring onions
a bunch of dill
150 gr feta, crumbled
2 tbsp rice, washed
olive oil
a pinch of salt and some pepper

First of all, wash your greens and chop them up. In a big bowl, mix with the cheese and the rice. Add some pepper, a little bit of salt, depending on how salty your feta is, and drizzle with olive oil. Mix to combine.

By now the dough should be ready to be used. Cut off an apple-sized piece and place it on a lightly floured surface. You want to roll it out to a rectangular shape, a bit like in the picture below, but probably a bit thinner than mine. Make it thin enough so that you can just about see there’s spinach inside when you fill it and roll it up.

Add some of the mixture in the middle and then roll it into a long cylinder. Squeeze the ends of the dough to seal them and roll it in this kind of shape:

Brush top and bottom with some olive oil, place on a tray and cook in a preheated oven (180 degrees) for about 30-40 minutes or until golden brown. My mum turned them round towards the end, but I forgot to. Not sure how much of a difference it makes but you should probably do it anyway.

I think mine also needed a bit more cooking, but I was in a hurry. I reheated a couple the next day, and they were nicer, so leave yours until they look a bit darker than the ones on the picture.

I really love making a big batch of these and having them for lunch the next day too. You can also have them as a light dinner or serve them as a side to something meaty (in Greece we had them with some lamb – of course!).

You can add less authentic things in there too, like some kind of meat, diced finely. Just don’t skip the rice, it makes a big difference as it absorbs the liquid from the spinach and stops them from turning soggy.

Salt and Snow in Austria

I’m writing this now from the safety of my home and my head is not sunburnt anymore, my legs are not in a stupid amount of pain from skiing and my tastebuds have almost recovered from the salt overdose. The weather was beautiful, the snow was fine (although melting quickly) and the food was filling and intense. That much became clear after the first lunch:

By the way, don’t ask me what any of the dishes are called. My friends told me loads of times but my German skills are non-existent and I’ve completely forgotten. My normal approach was to check what people around me were eating and then point at it until someone told me the name. It worked, I think.

Anyway, the heart-attack in a bowl above consisted of some pasta/gnocchi, loads of cheese, crispy onions and tasted quite good despite (or maybe because of) the fact that it was swimming in fat. My heart was racing and it wasn’t because of the skiing-induced adrenaline.

 

Well, here’s to hoping all the bad food is cancelled out by the fresh air, the amazing views and the physical exercise. Who knew that going down a hill could be so tiring.

We stopped at a hut, and I saw someone eating this giant ball of goodness and I wanted one. I was warned by Phil that it is weird but I wanted to give it a go anyway. Well, it was weird. It’s like a giant steam sponge, which is great, and it’s surrounded by vanilla custard which is even better. But then, rather than throwing some chocolate on the top and in the middle, someone decided it would be a good idea to fill it with some fruity jam with Stroh and sprinkle it with enough ground poppy seeds to get you arrested in most countries. It promised so much but it ended up being plain odd.

And this must be the highlight of our culinary experience, although possibly not in a good way. Cheesy sausage. A sausage oozing with cheese at every touch of the knife. Make your own jokes.

I realised today that I had to add salt to my food twice to be able to taste it. Austria, you have destroyed me. There goes my career as a food critic. But it was a sacrifice worth making since this was a great week with beautiful weather, enough skiing and loads of food and drink. A refreshing Almdudler in the sun is a beautiful thing and it is in that and many other respects that the Austrian Alps are so much better that the French ones.

Cheese and salami pie (Greek #6)

I’m talking about a Greek style pie of course, which involves layers of phyllo pastry on the top and bottom with a filling of your choice. Most common example I suppose is the spinach pie or Spanakopita. The one I made is loosely based on Pastourmadopita and it was made in an effort to use up all the graviera cheese that was sitting in the fridge for a couple of weeks. It turns out it’s quite tricky to eat 1.5 kilos of cheese before it starts turning mouldy.

The recipe originally uses kaseri, a cheese with similar texture to cheddar. The one I had, graviera, is a hard salty and spicy cheese, which doesn’t melt as well. In this case it didn’t matter, as I made some bechamel sauce for the filling, but if you are not doing that you probably want to use a meltier cheese. If you can’t find graviera you can instead use some Pecorino. I also substituted pastourma, a type of cured beef, for some peppery salami I had brought back from home.
Cheese and Salami Pie
Ingredients:
1 pack phyllo pastry (~8 sheets)
olive oil for brushing
sesame seeds for sprinkling

  

For the filling:

400gr cheese, grated
1/2 salami, chopped

2 medium-sized tomatoes, no seeds or excess juice, chopped
1-2 red pointy peppers (or any other kind you prefer)
bechamel sauce* (use just enough to bind everything together without making it too saucy, see below)
ground pepper

Grill the pepper(s) until lightly charred and then chop them, discarding seeds.

 

Mix all the filling ingredients together and add the bechamel sauce. You probably don’t need any salt, as the cheese will be quite salty, but you can give the filling a taste and adjust it accordingly. Place half of the phyllo sheets on the tray, brushing with olive oil between each layer. Top with the fillling.

  

Fold the edges of the phyllo on top, cover with the rest of the sheets (brushing with olive oil again!) and tuck the ends inside the tray. Use a knife to cut through the top layer down to the filling, making sure you don’t cut all the way to the bottom phyllo layer. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

  

Cook in a preheated oven at 180 degrees for about half an hour or until golden on the top.

Serve it with some salad on the side.

You can see that I didn’t do a great job when I tucked my phyllo sheets in as some of the filling escaped but it didn’t really matter. The flavour and smell are brilliant. The salami is spicy and strong-flavoured and makes for a great addition to a standard cheese pie. The pie is quite heavy because of all the cheese and the sauce, but the peppers and tomatoes make it more aromatic and somehow it tastes lighter because of them.

*About the bechamel sauce:
You can use your favourite bechamel sauce recipe; I make it the way my mum always does and these ingredients will make you just a bit more than what you need for the pie. Then you can eat the leftovers from the pot while your pie is baking.

3 tbsp flour
3 tbsp olive oil
milk
nutmeg
salt, pepper

Quickly fry the flour with the olive oil until it becomes a smooth paste. Turning the heat right down, add the (preferably warm) milk slowly and stir/whisk. I never know how much milk to use, I just keep adding it until the sauce reaches the right consistency. You want quite a thick bechamel for this recipe. Let it come to the boil, but keep whisking to avoid the bottom burning and the sauce turning lumpy. Add the seasoning according to taste (but remember that for this recipe, you are about to add salty cheese to the sauce).

Previously on Round the World in 100 Recipes:
Spetsofai
Stuffed Onions
Lihnarakia
Beef with Aubergines
Ladopita

Next time on Round the World in 100 Recipes: Meat Feast!

Lihnarakia (Greek #3)

I kept my word this time and made those Cretan treats I promised! They are called Lihnarakia and they basically consist of a sweet pastry enclosing a lemony, sweet, cheesy filling. And of course, with a good sprinkle of cinnamon on top. It was a bit of an adventure: Not only I’m not experienced with pastry, but I had never tasted one of these before today. Or seen one actually. But the idea sounded pretty good.

The cheese that is traditionally used is sweet mizithra. I couldn’t find it in England so I decided to ricotta as a substitute. I don’t know how traditional it is, since I’ve never actually tasted mizithra (shameful for a Greek, I know!). It tasted good though and that’s what matters! Having said that, it’d be great if someone who knows better can suggested a closer alternative or tell us how the two actually compare.

Anyway, on to the recipe, which I got again from Elias Mamalakis’ website. Unfortunately, I have been lazy and not changed the measurements from the confusing cups system to metric. I do think though that both the pastry and especially the filling are not too sensitive to changes of the ratios.

Lihnarakia (makes about 25- I halved it)

For the pastry:

1 sachet dry yeast
4 cups flour
1/2 cup olive oil
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs whipped with a pinch of salt
3 tbsp greek yogurt

Whisk the olive oil with the sugar until smooth and creamy. Add the whisked eggs, the sugar and the yeast mixed with a teaspoon of the flour. Mix until smooth and then slowly add the rest of the flour until it reaches a workable consistency. Transfer onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes. Place it back into the bowl and cover with a towel. Let it rest while you’re preparing the filling.

For the filling:

4 cups ricotta
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp lemon zest
1/2 tbsp cinnamon
2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
6 tbsp sugar

This is pretty straightforward as you can probably guess. Whisk everything together. Don’t worry if it’s not very smooth, as long as the bits are bits of cheese rather than bits of butter.

To assemble them, roll out the pastry into a thick sheet. I did this with my joke rolling pin so it must be quite easy with a proper one. Using a glass, cut circles of dough and then roll them out a bit more to make sure they’re not too thick. Put a spoon of filling in the middle.

I found the shaping a little bit tricky: the instructions tell you to lift the ends of the pastry and seal it at the top making 8 tips. I’m not sure if they are supposed to be completely sealed, mine opened up a little, either after shaping or during cooking. I don’t think it really matters.

For the top:

1 egg yolk whisked with a bit of water
1/2 tbsp cinnamon

Place them in a buttered tray and brush the tops with a little egg. Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake in a preheated oven (180 degrees Celsius) for 20-30 mins or until golden at the top.

They might sound a bit labour-intensive but the dough is really quite easy to handle and, after getting over the fact that you can’t seal them properly, the shaping is okay too. In any case, the flavour will compensate you for your effort! The pastry is crumbly and light while the filling is creamy and tastes fruity and sweet. Definitely worth giving them a go, and I’d love to hear about the results!

Previously on Round the World in 100 Recipes:
Spetsofai
Stuffed Onions

Next time on Round the World in 100 Recipes: I think I might be overdosing on aubergines.