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.

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.

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.

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!