Summer

Poppy

Oh my giddy aunt, it feels as though summer is almost upon us, and not a moment too soon.  What’s even more wonderful is that the evening light is only just fading at 10pm which always makes me feel as though we have much more ‘day’ in our lives.

It does, of course, also mean that everything is growing, blossoming, and generally shooting up at quite a rate of knots which has led me to declare that our garden is, officially, a wildlife garden.

Meanwhile, the wee boy has become very interested in the difference between bees, wasps and mosquitos – don’t ask, I’ve no idea why they have been included in the stripy wee beasties category – and as a consequence we have spent some time this afternoon ‘bee spotting’ in the garden, disturbing quite a few hidden cats in the process.  I never realised there were so many kittens in our area, but it turns out, there are at least three that are trying to invite themselves into our home.

This was personified today whilst I was cooking the obligatory weekly dose of spaghetti bolognese.

We already have a couple of cats who read the invisible ‘please, move in’ sign outside our door many years ago, but since the wee one inadvertently broke the flap piece of our cat flap recently, others have taken advantage of being able to silently enter the kitchen and make their way over to the bowls of food which, thanks to the warm weather, have not immediately been gobbled down.  Or, alternatively, sneak in at the dead of night and cosy themselves up on the sofa.

Interestingly, these visitors are all kittens.  The ginger and white one who managed, today, to eat half the food before we even noticed he was in the house, looked up at us as if to say, ‘What is your problem?’ before continuing to eat.  I physically removed him from the kitchen and popped him outside only to find, about ten minutes later, that we were living in Groundhog Day.

None of this detracts from the delight of summer being round the corner, and to that end, we are as I write this, eating the most delicious strawberries.  And nothing says summer, like the sweet taste of strawberries.

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Cannelloni

Cannelloni #2

Cannelloni is one of my favourite types of pasta.  And not just because the tubes look great in a jar.  Very much like lasagne, it give you the taste and texture of pasta, but with much more equanimity of flavour.  Which is sometimes just what you need.

My favourite way to fill cannelloni is with spinach and ricotta cheese.  This does, however, come with a small caveat.  Be prepared to get messy.  Of course there may well be a very tidy way of filling the tubes, but, as yet, I haven’t found it, so instead wade in with the full knowledge of what is before me.

The other wonderful thing about this recipe is that, even when you are a little tight on time, if you have everything ready to go, it takes no time at all.  Well, not to prepare, anyway.

Whizz up some homemade Italian tomato sauce, and spread it in the bottom of an ovenproof dish so that it is just covered.  Then, wilt a bag of spinach in a pan, transfer into a bowl, and roughly chop with scissors.  Add one pot of ricotta cheese, or, if you’re wanting a more healthy version, a pot of cottage cheese.  Add salt, pepper and grated nutmeg.  Mix together, and start stuffing.  Place each stuffed cannelloni tube on top of the tomato base until you run out of space.

Now here’s a thing.  I always cover the cannelloni with a cheese sauce, but you could, if you fancy it, just cover with a white (bechamel) sauce and put grated cheese on top.  Bake in the oven for approximately 45 minutes at around gas mark 5.  Take it out of the oven and let it stand for a few minutes before serving.

Of course you could, if you so desire, fill the tubes with bolognese, or anything else that takes your fancy.  Which is also another wonderful thing about cannelloni.  It lends itself to experimentation.  Perfect.

Macaroni Cheese

macaroni cheese

I have a strange relationship with macaroni cheese.  It evokes very fond memories of my big sister and I being left ‘home alone’ whilst ‘the Runtles’ went out.  Usually on a Saturday evening.  Usually for something to eat.

Consequently, we had to make our own tea, and, as a treat, were allowed to open a tin.

*leaves slight pause for the excitement to die down*

So, aside from Tomato Soup, which was an obvious favourite but really had to be left for ‘poorly days’, there was a whole section on the ‘tinned food shelf in the cupboard’ dedicated to Saturday tea food, our favourites of which were tinned Ravioli, tinned Spaghetti Bolognese and tinned Macaroni.

Invariably I plumped for the tinned Macaroni Cheese and would warm it up in the pan, plop it into a bowl, add a spoonful of Branston Pickle, put the bowl and a drink on a tray, and carry it, with an inner glee, into the lounge.

You see not only were we allowed food from a tin, we were also, as a special treat and as long as we kept the food on a tray, allowed to eat our tea in the lounge.  In front of the television.

*another pause to reflect on the absolute giddiness I still feel*

Now I know to many this is now de rigueur.  Indeed it may be said that sitting around the table is now the treat.  But then, as now, I hold very dear, time spent sitting round the table, with all it’s little rituals.  A table tells a story that unfolds through time, both physically and emotionally.

Anyway.  This is where the story takes an unexpected turn.  You see, although the build up was fabulous, the actual eating of said Macaroni Cheese was always a disappointment.  It got very boring, very quickly.  There was just not enough going on to entertain my palette, and inevitably, the slight taste of wallpaper paste would always come to the fore, leaving me dissatisfied and slightly irritated that I had, yet again, plumped for the tin of bland.  To be fair, on reflection they were all pretty disgusting.

As a consequence of this I have never had Macaroni Cheese as one of my ‘go to’ recipes, although I know for many, it is a comfort food extraordinaire.  I don’t think this position for me will ever change, but I have always wanted to rectify my slight apathy at making it.  Having made a few unconvincing attempts, I decided to give Nigella’s recipe a go.

I know what you’re thinking, why did I not try that recipe immediately?  And I’d like to give you an answer, I really would.  But unfortunately I’m not sure why I never tried it before.  Tell you what though, it’s absolutely delicious and most definitely my ‘go to’ macaroni cheese from now on.

So, down to business.  You cook 250g of macaroni.  Meanwhile put 250g of evaporated milk, 250g of grated cheese and 2 eggs into a bowl.  Mix.  Add the cooked macaroni.  Grate some nutmeg and add salt and pepper to taste.

Put into a dish and place in the oven, gas mark 7 for approximately 15 minutes.  To be honest it took more like 30 minutes in my oven, but then my oven has a mind of it’s own and is, as we all know, quite temperamental.

The most important thing to remember here is that the macaroni cheese should be spread out over quite a large surface area. Think width, not depth.

We ate it with steamed broccoli, but it would be delicious on it’s own or as part of a big dinner experience.  I believe our friends across the pond eat it as a complement to ham, others put it together with salad.  Whichever way you decide to eat this macaroni cheese, one thing is for certain, you will definitely be making it again.

Spaghetti Bolognese

Image

Spaghetti Bolognese is one of our family favourites and it genuinely takes hardly any time at all to make.  That is if you make it the easy way, which I do most of the time.  Occasionally, I do the whole chopping of carrots, celery, onions and garlic, slow frying in olive oil before adding the tomato puree, tinned tomatoes, salt and oregano, allowing it to cool then putting it in the fridge to use as a base for all thing pasta.  I then sit back, glowing in my domestic goddess prowess, feeling, if I’m honest, slightly smug.  Occasionally.

Most of the time though, I am not that organised, and end up chopping an onion and garlic, slowly frying in olive oil, adding the mince, browning, then adding a tin of chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, oregano, salt and a couple of cheekie ingredients, that may make the professional cook squirm with horror.  A splash of red wine vinegar, and a teaspoon of sugar.

Having admitted this culinary dirty secret, now may by the moment to share with you memories of a meal we had in Venice a few years ago.

Before that though, I feel I must add a context.  As a child we were brought up by a mum who loved to try out new things, so when spaghetti bolognese was introduced onto the scene, she decided to make it part of her menu.  We lived in a small place where these foreign foods were seen as something avant garde.  Thankfully, her desire to experiment with the ‘new’ far outweighed her desire to follow the chosen culinary path.  Aided, of course, by the then fresh face of Delia Smith.  And to this end, spaghetti bolognese was presented on the television as a food to be eaten with both a spoon and fork, which is what we did.

Forward to our trip to Venice many years later.  Whilst wandering around the beautiful alleys and bridges of a city which seems frozen in time, we came across what we imagined to be, a little gem of a cafe hidden away off the beaten track.  In all honesty, it’s probably frequented by all and sundry, but to us, it was a perfect ‘found’ secret.  As there was hardly anyone else in, we sat down and ordered.  I chose spaghetti bolognese and began to eat it, instinctively, with a spoon and fork.

The restauranteur of this tiny cafe looked on with a mixture of disgust and ratification of belief, before smiling in a condescending manner, and getting on with his day.  Initially, I was confused as to his reaction, then crestfallen to realise that I had confirmed all his preconceived suspicions.  As British people, we had no culinary cultural understanding whatsoever.

And so it is with the spaghetti bolognese I make now.  It may seem to others that I am making a complete culinary faux pas, but I promise you, it does taste delicious.

And by the way, I have upped my game and now only use a fork.