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.

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.

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.

Greek Octopus Stew

Have you not had enough of all this roast turkey/goose/stuffing/cranberries chat? I know I have and without actually eating any of it! Our Christmas tradition involves cockerel stew served with pasta, and a lemony-eggy chicken soup on Boxing Day to help the hangover. But whenever I’m in Greece I also try to take advantage of all the nice seafood here. This octopus stew is one of my favourite dishes – if you don’t fancy a bird anymore then give it a go.

As is the case with quite a lot of seafood, you need to cook octopus either for seconds or hour(s). Anything in between, and it’ll be tough. I normally grill my octopus, and have it drizzled with red wine vinegar and some chips on the side, but this stew is also a great (and very traditional) way of having it. The meaty chunks of octopus cook in the sauce long enough to give the whole dish a strong seafood taste and a thick gravy that you will want to lick off your plate.

To prepare my octopus, I remove most of the skin on the inside of each tentacle (the opposite side from where the suckers are!). I’m sure you could just leave it, but if it’s quite a big octopus the skin tends to be quite thick and I don’t like it. You can (should) of course use the head, but I’d remove the skin from that too.

My normal portions of pasta are bigger than average, but when you cook it in sauce it somehow goes a long way. We had 500gr between 4 of us for dinner and a light lunch the next day. I think that 300gr would be more than enough for dinner for 3. We use short tubes of pasta (kofto) for this dish. If you can’t find them, you could use macaroni or pasta shells.

Greek Octopus Stew

Ingredients (serves 3)

1 medium-sized octopus, chopped in 2 inch pieces
1 medium onion, finely chopped
olive oil

1 small glass of red wine
1 can of good quality tomatoes
4 allspice berries
1 bay leaf

300gr pasta
lots of ground pepper
salt to taste
sprinkling of oregano
fresh chopped parsley (optional)

First, place the octopus pieces in a large pot (it will need to fit the pasta later) and let them simmer over a medium heat. You don’t need any water as they will release a lot of (very red) juices. Reduce until you have a thick red coating all over your octopus. Add the chopped onion and some olive oil, and let it all fry slowly until the onion is soft.

Turn the heat up, add the glass of wine and let the alcohol evaporate. Add the tomatoes, enough water to cover the octopus and the allspice and bay leaf. Let it simmer slowly for an hour.

Add the pasta and some more water (but not too much, you don’t want to end up with a soup). While the pasta is cooking, keep an eye on it and add more water if it’s getting dry. You want to end up with a thick sauce. Season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with the oregano. Enjoy.

Oxtail Ragu

About a month ago, I went to a butcher and found some oxtail. I had never had it before but had seen this recipe and was keeping my eye out for it. I made a ragu and used my pasta machine for the first time to make the pasta for it. It was pretty amazing but since I then went to Greece for a few weeks, I forgot to blog about it. Now I’m back and it’s cold so I started craving the rich, thick, meaty sauce on eggy pasta. No doubt I’ll be making it again soon.

The recipe is fairly similar to a standard ragu recipe with an extra step to remove the meat from the bone. I’ve changed the original recipe slightly to use spices I am obsessed about had in hand.

Oxtail Ragu (recipe adapted from Hollow Legs)

Ingredients (serves 4)

1.2 kg oxtail (bone included), cut into pieces
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
Half a bottle of red wine
1 tin of tomatoes
1 tsp Marmite
a sprinkle of dried oregano
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3-4 all spice berries
2 aubergines, chopped in finger-sized pieces
Salt and pepper

In a large saucepan, brown off the meat. Take it out of the pan, add some olive oil and the onions and fry until soft. Add the garlic and fry for a further couple of minutes, making sure it doesn’t burn. Add the meat back in the pan together with the wine and let it boil so that the the alcohol evaporates. Add the tomatoes, some water, the Marmite and the herbs and spices and simmer for at least 2 hours (but the longer the better).

When the meat feels soft, take the pieces out and remove it from the bone. Add the meat piecesback into the pan, together with the aubergine and a little more water. Let it simmer for an hour. Serve with pasta.

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.

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.

Homemade pasta

Ah, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve just come back from a skiing holiday in Austria and I am still trying to recover from a silly amount of muscle pain and a salty food and beer overdose. All in all, a successful holiday. Photos (mainly of food and snow) will follow.

I took my netbook with me hoping to write a couple of posts and keep up with a bit of work, but in my search for wifi all I found was giggles from the locals. I managed to locate a computer with The Internet on it, in a hotel basement, but I couldn’t bring myself to stay down there for long when the sun was shining and the pistes were waiting!

Anyway, enough with the Austria talk, since it (probably) belongs to a different post. I though I’d tell you about a little adventure I had before I left. It was after a long day of work so I came back completely exhausted and brain-dead. Alex wasn’t around which can only mean one thing: pasta for dinner! It was going to be an easy, straightforward meal, until I read this post.

I had tried once before to make my own pasta and decided to dive into the most difficult recipe I could find: Soft egg ravioli. Well, the egg wasn’t too tricky, but the pasta was so difficult to roll out that I spent literally hours trying to make half a dozen of them. I decided I would not try it again without a pasta machine. But Dawn claimed that it was pretty straightforward even by hand, and I decided to give it a go.

Well, she was right! It was actually so good and so easy that I made it again the next day. Here is the recipe, although I haven’t done anything different than she did.

Pasta Dough (from Kitchen Travels)

Ingredients (1 egg per slightly greedy person)

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading and rolling
4 eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Sift the flour into a large bowl or a clean surface. In another bowl, beat the eggs, olive oil and salt until smooth. Mix with the flour until it has all been incorporated. Knead until smooth. 

It didn’t take me more than 10 minutes of kneading until the dough looked smooth and elastic. Wrap in cling film and let rest for half an hour. I took advantage of that time to make the sauce.

Cut in 4 equal pieces and roll each one out onto a thin sheet. The pasta will get thicker when cooked so make sure you make it thin enough. Dust your surface and rolling pin with flour so the dough doesn’t stick.

It only takes 5 minutes to roll out and the dough is very nicely behaved.

I cut it into strips using a pizza cutter but you can use a knife or cut them into circles/squares and fill them with whatever you fancy.

Cook in salted water for about 4 minutes, although it depends on how thick they are. Serve with your favourite sauce.

The taste and texture is so much better than dried pasta (although I’m still a huge fan of course!) or even store-bought fresh egg pasta. You can easily make a very simple tomato sauce while the dough is resting and you have yourself a really tasty and surprisingly quick meal! I had mine with a roast tomato and aubergine sauce and loads of grated cheese on the top. For two days in a row.

I suppose the point of this post is to urge all of you pasta lovers to go ahead and make your own pasta if you haven’t done it before. Do not be intimidated if you haven’t got fancy equipment. Kneading and rolling is pretty therapeutic and the result will be worth it!

Rabbit Stifado (Greek #9)

When I blog about Greek food I try to avoid using Greek names to describe dishes as I find it a little bit pretentious and possibly quite confusing for non-Greeks. I will definitely be found guilty of doing the exact thing I’m pretending to dislike around this blog, but I do at least make an effort. Sometimes, it’s just a bit silly to say Courgettes, Aubergines and Potatoes baked with Tomato and Olive Oil rather than just Briam.

I was thinking about an English name for this dish the other day while watching Masterchef when Gregg spoke the words “She’s making a Beef Stifado. Will it be enough to get her through to the next round?”. Well, if the word is good enough for Gregg, then it’s good enough for me. Because Gregg isn’t pretentious at all. Fact. So there you go: we’re almost at the end of the Greek month (the word month used in the most general way possible) and we are having Rabbit Stifado.

Rabbit is a controversial meat I suppose, but I feel that we should eat most things and eat them in moderation. And if you think about it, rabbits have probably enjoyed a much better life than those battery chickens that haven’t got the space or the energy to move.

Having said that, I managed to persuade Alex to do the dirty job of cutting it in pieces. It didn’t look like a great job. It was a bit messy but the idea is to try and cut it in half following the spine and then remove the 4 legs and any other meat pieces from around the main bone. We threw that away. If you want some proper advice on preparing the rabbit, there are quite a few useful videos on YouTube that we only thought of looking up after we had finished.

The sauce is simple, but very aromatic and I love the sweet onions. As it’s normally the case with stews, the longer you leave it to simmer, the better it becomes.


Rabbit Stifado

Ingredients (serves 4)


1 rabbit, cut into pieces
10 small onions or shallots, peeled
5 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 glass of red wine
1 cup creamed tomatoes and/or some fresh tomatoes, pureed
1 cinnamon stick
a few allspice berries
olive oil
salt and pepper

Fry the rabbit in a bit of olive oil. If you like, you can first roll the rabbit pieces in some flour and then fry them. Slightly healthier if you don’t. When it’s nicely browned, add the onions, the garlic and the wine and boil until the alcohol evaporates. If you have fried bits of meat stuck to the bottom of the pan you can use a wooden spoon to scrape them off. Then, add the tomatoes, enough water to almost cover the meat and the cinnamon, allspice and pepper and cover. Let it simmer for a couple of hours or longer if possible. The meat will just get more and more tender. When it’s done, season with the salt.

Serve with pasta or some good bread. I actually fancied some mash when I made it so I had it with that and it was really good with the lovely, thick sauce. The next day we had the leftovers on spaghetti, with some grated pecorino on the top. Very nice too.

Previously on Round the World in 100 Recipes:
Spetsofai
Stuffed Onions
Lihnarakia
Beef with Aubergines
Ladopita 
Cheese and Salami Pie
Pork Souvlaki
Homemade Pita

Next time on Round the World in 100 Recipes: Finishing off with a childhood sweet!

Beef with Aubergines (Greek #4)

Note to self: next time I’m ill, I should make soup. Not spend a couple of hours preparing something yummy and then not be able to taste it because my nose is blocked and my tastebuds have died.

I think it was nice. People that tasted it said it was nice. And you can’t really go wrong with beef and aubergines. And if there is one thing that can improve pasta, it’s cooking it in meat juice. Maybe I should start cooking all pasta in meat juice, or even better, roast it in butter and then simmer it in veal stock.

This dish falls under the kokkinisto category of Greek cooking, which translates as “made red” and is a general term for tomato stews. When meat is involved, I love using spices like cinnamon and nutmeg and the brilliant all-spice. It’s not a kokkinisto without them. My general rule is to go easy on them with beef, since it’s quite strong, but use them liberally with chicken. Chicken kokkinisto is definitely in my top 10 favourite dishes, in a similar way that the French (and not only!) love their coq au vin. It’s aromatic and saucy and rich, perfect winter food.

Hang on, I’m still talking about chicken? I’m making beef here. Concentrate.

Beef with Aubergines

Ingredients (serves 4 very hungry people)

1 kg beef, diced
4 large aubergines
500gr orzo pasta (or other small sized pasta)
3 large onions
1-2 glasses of red wine
1 can good quality chopped tomatoes (they really do make a difference)
1 carton creamed tomatoes (or enough to make the sauce red and tomatoey)
5-6 all-spice berries
half a teaspoon cinnamon
half a teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of oregano
olive oil
salt, pepper

First, chop the onions and fry them in the olive oil. When they start getting soft, add the meat and let it brown. Add the wine, wait for a few minutes for the alcohol to evaporate and add the chopped and creamed tomatoes. Cook for as long as you like – the longer the better as it will make the meat tender. Add the spices and pepper, but not the salt. Someone told me that it makes the meat tough if you add it early on. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s not a risk I’m willing to take. Especially with Sainsbury’s beef, you need all the help you can get.

Slice the aubergines, brush them with olive oil and grill them. Arrange on kitchen roll to get rid of any extra fat. Then slice them in quarters.

When your stew has stewed enough, add the aubergines, the salt, some boiled water and your pack of pasta. It is a bit tricky here: make sure you stir enough so the pasta doesn’t stick to the bottom but don’t add too much water or you will end up with a soup and don’t stir too much or your aubergines will disintegrate.

When the pasta is done, you’re done. Grate some cheese (preferably something salty and strong, like pecorino) and enjoy. It’s perfect for winter so if you try it, let me know how it went!

 

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

Next time on Round the World in 100 Recipes: This is scary.