Friday, 22 June 2012

Penne al Forno

Penne al forno is a classic Italian baked pasta dish and one of the world's greatest comfort foods. It is a winner with children too. Americans call it 'baked ziti' and use canned tuna or ground beef in the sauce. My recipe is cheap simple and tasty, using smoked bacon and cheddar cheese sauce.



Ingredients:

250g dried durum wheat pasta quills (penne or ziti)
Plenty of boiling water
2 tsp of salt
4 tablespoons of olive oil
4 rashers of good quality smoked bacon, finely diced
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, mashed
1 500g carton of sieved tomato passata
1 can of chopped Italian tomatoes
A generous pinch each of dried oregano and basil
1 tsp of sugar
1 tbsp of plain flour
250g grated mature cheddar cheese
Milk as required (see Method)
Milled black pepper and salt to taste
Fresh basil leaves to garnish.

Method:

Pasta: Boil the pasta in plenty of salted water and a drizzle of olive oil until it is slightly soft and nutty in texture. Do not overcook it at this stage because the cooking process is finished in the oven as it bakes. Drain the pasta and set aside.

Sauce: Using the same pan wiped dry, add 3 tablespoons of olive oil to heat until the oil is very hot. Add the finely diced bacon and fry until crispy. Add the onion and stir-fry with the bacon until it begins to soften. Add the garlic and stir for a few seconds to combine it. Add the passata and chopped tomatoes and bring to the boil, then reduce to a fast simmer. Add the dried herbs and sugar. Season with milled black pepper and simmer for 20 minutes, adding more water if the sauce begins to dry up. Taste and adjust seasoning where necessary. Remove the pan from the heat and add the cooked pasta to the pan. Stir to mix then transfer the mixture to a baking pan or oven-proof gratin dish, leaving enough room on top to accommodate the cheese sauce.

Cheese sauce: In a small saucepan, heat the remaining olive oil and add the flour. Stir to mix until all the flour is oily. Add milk and stir until the sauce thickens. Keep stirring and add more milk until you have a thick roux sauce. Add 2/3 of the grated cheese and stir to make a rich cheese sauce. Now layer the sauce over the pasta mixture. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the sauce and season with more milled black pepper. Bake at 200 C (350 F) for 30 minutes until the cheese sauce starts to brown and bubble. Remove from the oven and allow it to stand for 10-15 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.

Serving:

Serve generous portions on a plain white pasta plate with crusty Italian bread and a green salad on the side. Have plenty of Chianti Classico and/or Peroni beer to hand. Take your time and enjoy the food and the company - Italian style!


Dedicated to my dear friends and colleagues at Circle Housing Group.





Monday, 4 June 2012

Veggie Vegan Koftes in Curry Sauce

My introduction to this dish was cooked for me by a wonderful Sikh lady many years ago in Hong Kong. I have long striven to perfect the recipe and bring it close to the original. The genius of this dish is in the cross-cooking of the koftes from frying to poaching them in the sauce.



The original recipe calls for bottle gourd or dudhi (calabash), but courgettes (zuccini) are a very close approximation which is readily available to me.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

Koftes:

Oil for deep frying
2 large courgettes (zuccini), grated
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of toasted cumin (jeera) seeds
6 spring onions very finely chopped
2 teaspoons of grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons of crushed garlic
1 cup of gram flour (besan)*

Curry Sauce:

2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
A pinch of panch poran or cumin seeds (optional)
2 cups of finely chopped or blended onions
1 tablespoon of grated fresh ginger
4 cloves of crushed garlic
4 teaspoons of mild Madras curry powder
1 cup of canned chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup of garden peas
2 whole hot green chilli peppers
1 cup of good vegetable stock
A generous pinch of fresh coriander (cilantro)
salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Koftes:

Mix all the koftes ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir to form a stiff batter, adding a little water if the mixture is too cloying, or a little more flour if too loose. Shape handfuls of the batter into small balls or quenelles and fry until brown. Set aside.

Curry Sauce:

Heat the oil until hot and add the panch poran or cumin seeds, fry until they start to pop. Add the onions then stir and fry over a medium heat until the onions soften and begin to brown. Add the garlic and ginger and continue to stir and fry until a characteristic sweet smell comes from the pot and the mixture browns as the onions caramelise. Add the curry powder and stir for 1 minute. Add the stock, peas, tomatoes and chillies and stir to mix. Simmer for at least 15 minutes then add the cooked koftes. Stir very gently so as not to break up the koftes and slow-simmer until the koftes are heated through. Season to taste then add the coriander garnish. 

Serving:

I like to serve this on steamed basmati rice with Indian mixed pickle and a naan, pitta bread or other flat bread on the side. Excellent with a cucumber and mint raita or with Greek tzatziki.

Notes:


I once served this dish to some of my army friends, and it wasn't till after the meal they discovered it had no meat in it; one of them asked me what meat it was, and I said, "Courgettes"!



The kofte mix can be fried in patties and served as veggie burgers. They also make nice vegan sausages.



Veggie koftes are a great snack, served like falafel with salad in warm pitta bread pockets with hot pepper sauce.



*You can use plain (general purpose) wheat flour, spelt flour, polenta or cous-cous instead of gram flour, but gram flour (besan) is best if you can find it. It is possible to make besan by grinding dried chick peas or yellow split peas (channa) in a coffee grinder until it is a fine powder.





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