Crazy Cheesy Baked Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

A couple of weeks ago I was craving something cheesy, creamy and pasta-y. I searched my new Nigellissima book for a recipe but nothing quite hit the spot, so I just decided to make it up. Interestingly, whilst Googling, most of the American blogs were showing something that looked very similar to what I know as cannelloni, but calling it manicotti. This sounded way more exciting so I was calling it baked manicotti all the way through the cooking process til Ben said “…sooo, it is just cannelloni?” Yes babe, yes it is. Cannelloni!

Although the dried cannelloni tubes were super cheap in Sainsburys, I decided to go for the fresh lasagna sheets instead, thinking it would be easier to roll the filling up in them rather than trying to stuff it into little skinny shells. On reflection, we realised we could just buy the cheap dried lasagna sheets and boil them til they are pliable, to achieve the same effect. The fresh lasagna sheets were delicious but they were pretty expensive and quite frankly, January is not the time to be chucking money at fresh ready-made pasta!

I started off the filling mixture by sauteing garlic and fresh basil leaves in olive oil, to infuse the oil which would in turn flavour the spinach. I’ve learnt with spinach you have to add a lotttttt of seasoning otherwise it can be incredibly bland. I love the flavour of spinach on it’s own but it really is better with a bit of garlic, salt and pepper.

I’m afraid we are briefly reverting back to iPhone photos as I did not have my new camera at this point!

IMG_5724

 

Note the basil, which came from our little herb windowsill! (Ben’s Herb Box has yet to be re-filled this year!)

IMG_5725

 

I then added the spinach (I used frozen, defrosted in the microwave as it’s how I roll) and cooked it for a few minutes in the oil.

IMG_5726

 

I then added the spinach mixture to a bowl of ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, 2 beaten eggs and seasoning. I let this sit for a little bit while I made the tomato sauce.

IMG_5732

The tomato ‘sauce’ is just a couple of cartons of chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, fresh basil and seasoning. I let it simmer for about 15 minutes until it thickened.

IMG_5733

And then, it was just a case of layering! I’m very sad and really enjoy this bit; such satisfaction to see the final product! I laid out the fresh pasta sheets and spooned the mixture along one of the edges.

IMG_5734

 

IMG_5735

 

Then I rolled it up! And laid them all in a lasagna dish next to each other, like little sardines in a tin!

IMG_5737

IMG_5739

 

I then poured the tomato sauce all over the tubes, making sure they were all covered so we wouldn’t get any nasty burnt bits on the edges.

IMG_5742

 

Then covered it all with MORE CHEESE! You really can never have enough cheese in a recipe. Although, this recipe is just about my limit for cheesiness, you have been warned! I think only our baked tortellini dish is cheesier…and that is a whole new level of cheesiness.

I used medium cheddar, expertly grated by my boyfriend as I cannot be trusted with our Ikea grater (the first time I used it I grated the heel of my hand and still have the scar…it was deep.) followed by a generous sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

IMG_5743

IMG_5744

 

25 minutes later (quite a short cooking time as the pasta is fresh!) I lifted this beauty out of the oven.

IMG_5745

IMG_5750

 

(I love how in my photos it looks like I’m cooking for a family of 6 and in reality it is just me and Ben)

It was perfect! It was a real medley of textures with a lovely crunchy, cheesy topping, al dente pasta and smooth, creamy filling. It was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten and I’ve battled not to make it every night since.

And heres a confession – I confidently piled two tubes onto my plate with some nice fresh, crunchy salad to balance the richness. And shock horror, I could only eat one!!!! The cheesiness really did beat me and I had to admit defeat and return my second tube to the baking dish, head hung in shame. This dish served two of us for 2 nights and 1 lunch! Pretty impressive.

Next time I make this, I’m going to make a few changes. As previously mentioned, I’m going to use dried lasagna sheets and boil them. Not only are these a lot cheaper than fresh pasta sheets but I also think they’ll look nicer than the fresh ones. They are long and thin and will produce much shorter tubes, leading to a much less daunting plateful!

I’d also like to try and make the filling in general a bit cheaper; I already used frozen spinach instead of fresh seeing as I had some in the freezer and I’m also going to experiment with different cheeses. We were shocked at the price of cottage cheese! I’m not even joking! Crazy money. I think playing around with low fat cream cheese would work quite well. The ricotta isn’t too obscenely priced (I think it was £1 for 250g?) and is an essential ingredient so I’ll let that one slide.

Overall this was an insanely delicious dinner and I think I even preferred it to lasagna! And I REALLY like lasagna. Give it a go if you like cheese even the tiniest bit, you will not be disappointed.

 

Advertisements

Pan Fried Gnocci with Pesto and Ricotta Cheese

We’ve been eating regular boiled gnocci for quite a while now but it was not until recently that I came across the idea of pan-frying it, after watching a classic Nigella episode in which she did just that. The recipe is called ‘Rapid Roastini’ and she basically treats the gnocci as a potato accompaniment to meat, rather than the base of a pasta dish. Very interesting!

I tried out the pan fried gnocci with a few simple ingredients in order to let the gnocci be the star of the show. I started by boiling the gnocci for a few minutes according to the instructions on the packet. I then drained it and transferred it to a hot pan with a splash of olive oil and lots of salt and pepper.

After about 10 minutes of pan frying, the gnocci were crispy, crunchy, golden little nuggets. Don’t they look amazing!? I had to forcibly stop myself ‘testing’ them as the number in the pan was dwindling at an alarming rate.

I was STILL in the thick of my pesto phase when I made this dish so added a generous spoonful to the pan along with some sliced, deseeded cherry tomatoes. We always deseed our tomatoes as I hate when they go all watery – I recently discovered Our Lady Nigella does too, therefore this is the way forward. I also added a few big handfuls of baby leaf spinach in order to up the nutrients and general goodness in what has the potential to be a pretty unhealthy dish. The spinach wilted and mixed in perfectly with the pesto and tomatoes to form a pretty convincing sauce. I think this would be a perfect way to sneak in some extra greens for kids (or fussy boyfriends!)

I did consider adding some chicken or Quorn chicken pieces but decided it didn’t really need it. I do think the addition of some protein could make it into a more substantial dish though.

I topped the gnocci mixture with a few tablespoons of ricotta cheese and placed it under the grill for a few minutes. Ricotta cheese doesn’t really melt or obviously change as most cheeses do but it did add another depth of flavour to the dish. And clearly, cheese is always going to be a successful addition to dinner.

(Can you see how much salt is on there!? I do like a bit of food with my salt.)

This was such a simple, delicious plate of food. I bought all the ingredients again the following Friday night and made the exact same dish because it was just that good. It consists of 5 ingredients and comes together in less than 15 minutes –  the perfect simple recipe for a Friday night when you just want something a bit more special than a pizza. 🙂

TJ’s Bistro – Paignton

On our first night in Paignton we arrived at our luxury hotel (Travelodge) and freshened up before heading out for dinner. I had hoped we would eat at The Boathouse restaurant which has a lovely, inexpensive menu and is literally across the road from the Travelodge but unfortunately they were too busy to seat us. Onwards, then, to town!

My second choice for dinner was TJ’s Bistro, the number 1 restaurant in Paignton according to Tripadvisor which offers a choice of main meals or tapas style dishes. I generally treat Tripadvisor reviews as the gospel if there are a lot on any one place – we’ve eaten at a lot of restaurants this way and have never been disappointed! So, although TJ’s didn’t look a lot from the outside (which I had also been warned of by the reviewers!) we decided to go for it. You enter the restaurant through a little door to some stairs which take you upstairs to a lovely outside verandah with lots of chairs and tables. The view from here was spectacular!

There is a large, airy conservatory area behind the verandah and the indoor section holds the kitchen, bar and a waiting area with sofas and comfy chairs. There were a couple of tables in this bit that I am glad we didn’t get as it was pretty dark in there.

A lovely man asked us if we were looking to stay for a meal and we said yes. He said if we waited 5 or 10 minutes he’d have a table for us as a group was just finishing. Perfect! We wandered over to the bar area and ordered drinks before realising there was no-where to sit. The man noticed this and after giving us our drinks informed us that we could sit out on the verandah and he’d come and get us. Doubly perfect.

It was really lovely sitting outside in the warm air with a beautiful view of the harbour below and I was almost disappointed when the guy called us a few minutes later! Almost. We grabbed our drinks and were led to a lovely big table in the conservatory area where we started to peruse the menus. There wasn’t much on the main menu that tempted us so we decided to order a selection of Tapas dishes as we don’t often get to try Spanish food.

We actually ordered rather a lot of food but, in our defence, we were starving. It was almost embarrassing telling the waitress what we would like…almost.

We started with the breads and assorted dips. We love a bit of carb to start a meal so ordering this was a no brainer.

We were impressed with the presentation and the actual food was delicious! There were two types of bread which we only realized when we stopped stuffing it in our respective mouths for just a second; a plain ciabatta and a strong olive flavoured crusty number. The dips were olive oil, dark, sticky balsamic and a slightly random combination of what we thought was sweet chilli dipping sauce and mayo. Nice! But probably our least favourite of the three.

After we’d finished our starter, our main courses started to come out and pretty soon our table was full. I had to move the candles over and our waitress removed our excess wine glasses…embarrassing! We each ordered three dishes and shared the perennial tapas favourite, patatas bravas.

For my first dish I ordered deep fried goats cheese. Deep. Fried. Goats. Cheese. How could this not be amazing? The cheese was encased within a dense, hearty batter that would have been quite at home in the fish and chip shop, none of this ‘light tempura’ nonsense thank you very much. It was drizzled in honey and topped with a juicy orange slice. This was possibly the richest thing I’ve ever eaten and it ticked all the boxes – sweet, salty and tangy with a complex combination of textures – I sliced it like a pizza and nibbled on wedges in between my other courses because it didn’t really go with anything else. This was a dish with flavours unlike anything I’d experienced before though and it did work well amongst the more savoury dishes I had ordered. A palate cleanser, if you will!

My second dish was one of the most expensive on the menu, oops! I chose the bacon wrapped scallops and my excitement levels were almost uncontrollable when they arrived.

Unfortunately, as you can probably tell from the photo, they weren’t great. I was expecting a real crispy bacon wrapping but it was undercooked and flaccid. In the end I pulled it off because it was actually detracting from the scallops which were beautifully cooked. It’s not like me to turn down bacon! This was probably best though because it saved valuable tummy space for all the other delicacies on the table.

Ben ordered a few veggie dishes to enjoy with the patatas bravas – vegetable fritters, jalapeno poppers and spicy lentils. The spicy lentils looked slightly uninspiring but tasted delicious with a deep tomato flavour and strong hit of chilli.

The poppers were jalapeno peppers stuffed with cream cheese and battered. You really can’t go wrong with that combination and this effort from TJ’s was lovely. I was reluctant to try them at first as I’m a chilli wuss but Ben persuaded me and I thoroughly enjoyed my sample.

His favourite dish though was the ‘vegetable fritters’ which came out completeley different to how we were expecting – he was pleasantly surprised to see that they were tempura battered whole vegetables like aubergine, courgette and pepper. This was a huge portion and he was unable to finish it even with my added valiant efforts! The fritters were served with a minted mayonnaise which we were initially sceptical about but which actually went really well with the dish.

Our patatas bravas was a good sized portion with perfectly cooked potatoes and a nice, tangy tomato sauce. But, is it wrong that we missed the ‘con queso’ version that we normally have at La Tasca? You can take the kids out of a chain restaurant but you can’t take the chain restaurant out of the kids!

My final dish came out a few minutes after the others. I have to say I was quite disappointed when it was served, mainly due to the size which was a far cry from the amount I would expect to receive for a dish that cost £7. This was ‘lobster thermidor’ and it consisted of 3 king prawns and two thin medallions of lobster meat in a creamy cheese and mustard sauce.

Hmmm. It was nice, but I was expecting a hot, bubbling cheese crust and a slightly larger portion size. Had I known, I would have ordered a different, cheaper king prawn dish as this was not what I expected when I chose lobster thermidor.

That said, everything else was delicious and we really enjoyed our meal here. The service was lovely and the views can’t be beaten – get here early to enjoy a few drinks out on the balcony before your meal or better yet, pick a warm evening and eat al fresco! We really did feel like we could have been in a Mediterranean harbour whilst we were in TJ’s and I think the food and relaxed eating style enhanced this. Our meal came to about £60 with a couple of drinks each and it was a lovely, relaxed way to kick off our minibreak. TJ’s, we will be back!

BBQ Seitan ‘Ribs’

For our second experience with seitan, it was time to get trashy. The posh, dinner-party-worthy stuffed roulade was a distant memory and I treated Benj to a bit of an indoor cowboy cookout complete with mock barbecue ‘ribs’, corn on the cob and fluffy mashed potatoes.

I followed the recipe for seitan ‘ribz’ from Fat Free Vegan Kitchen with a few tweaks and lazy-boy changes, notably the complete omission of my own homemade BBQ sauce and the introduction of one Budweiser Honey BBQ glaze that we were both extremely excited for. That is, until I checked the back of the jar in a rare ‘lightbulb’ moment to see that the ingredients included worcester sauce, which included anchovies. Not very vegetarian. This would be fine, except we’d already bought the sauce and were nanoseconds away from slathering it all over the very much vegetarian ribs. Plus, both of us had an alcoholic beverage in hand, thus removing the ability to replace the offending item. So, I ended up making my own BBQ sauce after all! Which turned out wonderfully, despite the limited ingredients on hand.

The recipe was really easy to follow and once the dough was made (literally a 5 minute job!) I pressed it into a glass baking dish and cut it into strips to replicate actual ribs. It looked so appetising!

Not. It looks like brains, lets be honest. But I was confident it would be a flavour sensation with some quality oven time, a generous covering of sauce and a stellar line-up of side dishes.

Once the seitan had baked for about half an hour I removed it. I was really impressed with the texture of it – much like the roulade it was chewy and dense with a lovely browned, slightly crispy top from the oven. I’ve bookmarked lots of recipes for boiled seitan and we’ll definitely try it one day but for now I can’t stop making the baked version!

So the seitan was out of the oven, cooling slightly on the counter and all ready for some serious sauce application and then we had Saucegate. I was slightly livid because the whole meal was based around this sauce and now poor Benj couldn’t have any. Panic not, my boy! I hit up Google and using a combination of about 5 ‘Simple Barbecue Sauce’ recipes I came up with a satisfactory combination that miraculously mixed together to actually taste like BBQ sauce.  For the record, I used ketchup, brown sugar, mustard powder and soy sauce in varying amounts until I hit the jackpot. Heated up gently in a pan it was even better! With the seal of approval from Ben, we were back on track. Wearing my special smug face which I reserve exclusively for kitchen successes, I sliced the rib slab into two (cutting the dough before cooking it was a real help as the perforation ensured a clean cut afterwards) and put them into two different baking trays as we now had a Code Red veggie vs meaty situation on our hands and needed to avoid cross contamination.

Ben said I was more than welcome to use the homemade BBQ sauce since I made a lot but I really had thought of nothing but the Bud sauce since we bought it a few hours earlier, and nothing was going to get in the way of that. I do think the surprise addition of anchovies in the sauce has made Ben think a lot more about what he’s buying though and he thanked me profusely for ‘saving him’ afterwards! Bless. It’s surprising how many products that you would never think twice about do contain animal products.

I spread the Bud sauce on my ribs and the homemade one on Ben’s and we put them in the oven to finish off for the last 10 minutes. I was hoping the sauce would get a bit caramelised and sticky and seep into the seitan. Yum!

While the ribs were finishing off we completed our side dishes. Lovely, fresh whole corn on the cob with butter and salt alongside smooth, fluffy mashed potatoes with milk, garlic and slightly more butter than was really necessary. After years of forgoing mashed potato I am now firmly back in the MP camp after learning to make it myself. My favourite way to eat the carby wonder product is still in baked form (with super crispy, olive oiled and salted skin) but I find myself longing for the comfort of mash a lot more now.

We removed the ribs from the oven and the sauce had indeed caramalised nicely, making them smell amazing and even look very similar to actual ribs!

The final verdict? These are amazing! I actually preferred them to real ribs because they are so much easier to eat and obviously a lot less messy. Plus unbelievably lower in calories and fat which is always a bonus (especially when you are still soldiering on with My Fitness Pal, as I bravely am. I’ve lost nearly a stone though! I love seitan!!)

I love how the mashed potatoes in that photo would almost not look out of place on a pavement…if you catch my drift.

The recipe made enough for 8 ribs and due to the thickness and sheer size of each one, we could only manage a pitiful 3 each. Embarrassing. That meant leftovers though! Lunch the following day, in a bread roll with extra sauce. Yum!

Please make these if you have any interest in vegetarian barbecue food – they were so quick and easy and so much more exciting than the usual veggie burgers or sausages that find their way onto barbecues in the summer. Surprise the vegetarian in your life!

You could even push the boat out and make BONES for the ribs a la A Vegan For Dinner! Love that commitment!

Piccola Roma – Bishops Waltham

We’d been wanting to try this new Italian restaurant for ages but only got a chance last Thursday, a good excuse to celebrate the start of the long weekend!

We went for drinks in the newly refurbished Crown Inn beforehand – absolutely beautiful inside and worlds away from it’s previous incarnation – I actually struggled to believe it was the same pub once we were inside! Definitely worth a visit if you are in the village and the perfect place for a cozy glass of wine before dinner.

We arrived at Piccola Roma about 8pm and it was very quiet in the small restaurant with only a couple of tables occupied. The lovely owner greeted us and said we could pick any table we wanted, a huge bonus in my book! We chose a little table for two right in the window and ordered a glass of wine and a beer.

The decoration is really lovely inside with dimly lit tables and a generally romantic atmosphere. There was a couple on the table next to us and a family  on a larger table near the door. There was a huge print of the Colosseum stretching over the wall next to us which got us chatting about how much we’d like to visit Rome one day.

We perused the menu first and decided to share a couple of starters in order to leave room for what sounded like a stellar line-up of main choices.

We ordered mixed olives and the bruchetta. Both came out looking magnificent!

The olives were perfect – fat, pitted and doused in a flavourful garlic, chilli and herb oil. The bruchetta was presented as a trio and we halved each one to ensure a complete tasting experience. My favourite was the chopped olives – perhaps an olive overdose for some given our second starter but the intense olive hit was just perfect teamed with the crispy grilled bread. The mixed pepper and sliced tomato bruchetta were also lovely and we obviously scraped the plate clean of balsamic glaze.

I was having some trouble deciding what to order for my main and was stuck between a having a bowl of cheesy, creamy, comforting tortellini or just going for it with a massive steak. The owner came over and chatted to us for a bit and eventually I plumped for the steak after she declared it “the best I’ve ever eaten!” Obviously biased but I’m not going to let a declaration like that pass me by and before I knew it I’d ordered it, medium rare please.

Ben was absolutely spolit for choice at this restaurant and had a choice of at least 3 different main courses! We had seen on the online menu that they served an aubergine parmigana which he was quite keen to try but after asking our server we learned it had been taken off due to lack of interest. Unfortunate but understandable. In the end he went for the pesto pasta with a side salad of onions and tomatoes.

Our main courses were brought out and I literally could not have been more excited to see the sheer size of my steak. Ben said as soon as he saw it he knew we’d be coming back! It was a 10oz rib-eye steak with a creamy dolcelatte sauce, chips and a salad. I have recently become obsessed with blue cheese and have been adding it to pretty much everything I eat so the chance to have a steak slathered in it pretty much made my day.

We were both impressed because I have only ever had a steak like this in Florida – sitting proudly on the plate, taller than everything else. Normally I get a bog-standard sirloin or similar which, while delicious, cannot match the impressive appearance of a fillet or rib-eye. The steak was perfectly cooked and in fact next time I may have to chicken out somewhat and order it medium as  the thick, meaty centre was very very rare. As it should have been! Only I wasn’t expecting the sheer girth of it and overcompensated thinking they would err on the side of caution.

The insanely rich sauce complimented every single bite of the steak. I was so tempted to ask for more sauce (pretty much to just drink) but I remembered I am actually on a ‘diet’ (using the MyFitnessPal app, it’s amazing!) and although we had walked to the village and so burned an additional 300 odd calories, I really shouldn’t push my luck. As it was I really scraped my plate clean, using the chips more as a vehicle to get sauce into my mouth than a side dish in their own right. They deserved more than that really as they were lovely chips.

Ben was very happy with his main course and although it appears quite small and forlorn in the vast bowl, he was actually struggling to finish!

His side dish of onion and tomato salad was somewhat resplendent in appearance and rather stole the show from his main.

More balsamic glaze, score! He was pleased because the pasta was cooked al-dente (they actually state this on the menu and you can ask for it to be cooked longer if you prefer) and the pesto was fresh and flavoursome. The salad provided a lovely contrast to the pasta and helped break up the unavoidable monotony that afflicts most pasta dishes.

We were contentedly full after our main courses and I was pleased we had shared a starter (although does it really count as sharing if you order 2…) and happy to leave without dessert in order to avoid the wrath of MyFitnessPal. Our dinner came to £42 which we thought was really very reasonable with a drink each and starters. Saying that, I did order the most expensive thing on the menu so we could have quite easily kept costs down if I’d gone for the tortellini. Oops.

We will definitely be going back to Piccola Roma given it’s fantastic food, convenient location and friendly service. The owner was very pleasant to chat to and we learnt that she lived in Rome for 6 years and actually met her husband there, the chef at Piccola Roma! Fantastic to hear we were receiving real authentic Italian food and for me, lovely to hear the back story from someone who is so obviously passionate about Italy and Rome.

Potato Dauphinoise

On New Years Eve just gone, me and Ben were house-sitting for some friends of his Dad. As tempting as it was to go out, pay £20 to get into our local (normally free) pub, drink weak-but-overpriced cocktails all night, experience the anti-climax of midnight with people throwing up on the pavement next to us and then have to walk home because we couldn’t afford to pay £80 for a taxi, we chose to stay in.

We decided to spend the evening in their cosy house, cooking a lavish dinner and drinking copious amounts of vodka. As we both still live with our parents (my dream of a polka dot kitchen all of my own is still very much a dream…) it’s really nice when we get asked to house-sit and can cook in the kitchen, especially this particular house as it has a gorgeous, 1950’s style kitchen with cream appliances and duck egg blue accessories and I just love it.

We were originally going to cook a dish from Hugh FW’s Veg Every Day book that I bought Benj for Christmas but I impulsively decided I wanted to make potato dauphinoise, one of my very favourite dishes. I wanted to make something ‘meaty’ to go alongside it to counteract the creamy/heavy/carbyness, but we find this is quite difficult to do with vegetarian dishes. A lot of recipes involve cheese, lots are one-pot dishes that wouldn’t need a potato-based side and the rest are Asian/Oriental inspired.

It seems to be hard to replicate the British “meat, potato and veg” dish in vegetarian food, purely because veggie food is so often more successful when the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts (Quorn chicken fillets!) Quorn do a “steak” which is quite nice but I wanted something a lot more special for NYE. I think it’s the lack of ready formed fake meat that makes it tricky when wanting a ‘British plate’ as most of it is in minced or chunk format which needs to have more done to it than just slapped on the plate next to the side dish. Stuffed peppers would work, as would stuffed mushrooms, but I really am not the biggest fan of mushrooms unless they are very very finely chopped. Although, as you’ll see in this post, the times they are a’changing!

We did consider buying tempeh and I even considered making it for a few ambitious seconds but in the end I decided a tart would suffice. Still more unnecessary carbs but we were getting desperate at this point! My Dad made Ben an awesome mushroom tart for our annual Boxing day bubble and squeak and meat fest and we wanted to recreate it.

To cut a long story short, we made both the dauphinoise and the mini mushroom tarts and they were delicious. But, I overcooked the dauphinoise and it really annoyed me. REALLY annoyed me. Obviously, we ate all of it but ever since then I’ve been researching recipes and trying to figure out how and why I went wrong. I needed to make it again!

Dauphinoise take 2 occurred last Sunday. I bought all the ingredients again and launched into a second attempt at the dauphinoise. I knew that the first time, my mistake was putting the oven on too high so that the cream split immediately, causing a kind of unattractive spongy mass to form over the sliced potatoes, worlds away from the creamy, silky sauce I was aiming for. So, this time I was prepared to just take it slow, put the oven on nice and low and let it cook quietly away for a couple of hours.

The end result? Good…but still not perfect! The cream STILL curdled even though I only put it on about 150. It was salvageable though as I pressed down so the potatoes absorbed some of the water that was produced when the cream curdled. In the end it all sort of came together quite nicely, albeit still lacking in the sauce department. Again, we managed to force down the entire trayful as we do not discriminate when it comes to potato-based foods…but I was still a little broken-hearted.

Since my second attempt I have continued to Google extensively and came across a recipe that sounds to be pretty perfect, written by that founder of calm and collected cooking, Nigel Slater. He suggests mandolining the potatoes which is incidentally what I did the first time we made potato dauphinoise a couple of years ago and strangely opted out of these past two times. Although I like the idea of a satisfying bite of thick potato in each mouthful, it seems the very thinly sliced works better in this dish.

The tart this time was delicious with a much richer flavour than our first try. However, it was our first experience with ready-to-roll puff pastry and we unfortunately forgot to par bake it first so the bottom was slightly soggy. The filling was a lot nicer than our NYE attempt though; a simple mixture of chopped and caramelised red onions, very finely chopped button mushrooms (how brave of me!) and soya mince with lots of sage and rosemary. We also spread some caramelised onion chutney on the bottom of the tart which provided an intense hit of flavour.

Next time we make these (and there will be a next time!) I think we will revert back to the original smaller size for a more photogenic finish and make the filling a bit more generous in each.

A final shot of the dauphinoise looking almost acceptable…I’m sure you’ll be seeing this again very soon as I just can’t stop thinking about it!

Super Duper Butternut Squash And Goats Cheese Lasagna

I made this lasagna a few weeks ago on a Saturday night and to be honest not a day has gone by when one of us hasn’t mentioned it. In fact, just a week after the initial creation I had to go to Sainsburys and buy all the ingredients again because we just had to have it for dinner, it wasn’t even an option.

Butternut squash is one of my all time favourite vegetables and I really wanted to make a lasagna based around it, as something a bit different from the usual veggie mince ones we make. I also wanted to incorporate goats cheese as everything goats cheese touches turns to gold. I googled extensively for recipes but couldn’t find any that were exactly what I wanted so I decided to just wing it, lasagna is pretty forgiving when it comes to experimentation!

The only thing I would say is that this lasagna was quite expensive but I did have to buy all the ingredients from scratch as we didn’t have any. As a special treat I think I’m going to write out exactly what I did in case anyone wants to make it, please do because it really is phenomenal!!

So, to make this super duper Butternut Squash and Goats Cheese Lasagna you will need:

1 large butternut squash

2 medium sweet potatoes

500g baby leaf spinach (or you could use frozen, just drain it to within an inch of it’s life)

chopped tomatoes

lasagna sheets (dry or fresh)

grated cheddar cheese

goats cheese

white lasagna sauce (you should probably make it but I was already dreading the butternut squash chopping and so lazily bought a Dolmio jar)

sage

garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper

So! With all your ingredients lovingly lined up on the counter (or not if you’re not quite as sad as me) we can begin! First of all I tackled the squash. I bought a HUGE one so had to use a very large knife to even begin to make some damage. I peeled it first til I was down to the lovely orange flesh. I then cut it in half lengthways, scooped out all the seeds and sliced it into approximately 1 inch thick slices. Such a gorgeous colour!

 

 

I chopped these slices into cubes and put them onto a large baking tray to wait patiently for me while I sliced the sweet potatoes. I peeled those bad boys and cut them into cubes of the same size of the squash – let me tell you slicing sweet potato after slicing butternut squash is like a walk in the park, it was like cutting butter!

Once my potatoes were cut into neat cubes I added them to the baking tray, shook them around a bit and drizzled them with olive oil, salt, pepper and four whole garlic cloves (vampires love lasagna). I then added the MAGIC ingredient, sage! I used fresh sage which I really think is quite important in this recipe, it was only 78p so I pushed the boat out. I picked off about 5 leaves and dotted them around the tray.

 

 

Yummy! I popped the beauties in the oven for about 40 minutes at 180. Now at this point I found it to be a great time to grab a glass of vino and put your feet up, as all the manual labour was done and the rest of the recipe is just layering and arranging, very girly!

 

 

After about 40 minutes the squash and potato were smelling absolutely amazing and I was having great difficulty restraining myself from pouring the whole lot in a bowl and eating it in front of the TV with aforementioned wine. It was the sage that really made the flavours all come together; it goes all crispy and yummy looking so don’t throw it away, pop it in the lasagna! I squeezed open the garlic cloves which had roasted spectacularly and put the pulp into the lasagna too, waste not want not!

It was time to get serious now though. The moment every self-confessed lasagna freak loves, The Layering. There is something so theraputic about layering, I almost get into a kind of rhythm as I reach for each ingredient, watching my creation rise magnificently in front of me and imagining the guaranteed beauty of the cross-section once cooked. This lasagna is quite complex with quite a lot of layering possibilities. I started by putting the bag of spinach into a frying pan and turning the heat up until it started to wilt.

 

 

While it was wilting I assembled my ingredients – roasted squash and sweet potato, chopped tomatoes, lasagna sheets, white sauce and cheddar cheese. Layer me up baby!

 

 

Seriously, how amazing does that look? All those bright, gorgeous colours, it looks like a summers day! In fact I may have said just that, drunkenly, to my boyfriend as he came into the kitchen to check out my progress.

 

 

Now I feel I should explain the awkward elbowing/jostling for space effect occuring with the cheese. I actually ran out of grated chedder as I reached the surface and felt it would be a sensible idea to give my muscles a rest and just slice some. The second time I made this I ensured I had purchased enough goats cheese that there was enough to form a structurally strong layer on the top, thus negating the need for the not-quite-as-posh cheddar. As you can see from the photos, I created a simple layering system of lasagna sheets, butternut squash and sweet potato, tomatoes and spinach, followed by a sprinkle of cheddar cheese and a generous glug of white sauce. I then repeated the process 3 times (it was a MASSIVE dish!) although I should add that the bottom layer consisted of tomatoes as over the years we have learned that for some reason lasagna sheets cook better when they are not right on the very bottom of the dish. One of lifes great mysteries that. The top layer had obviously the added goats cheese and the rest of the white sauce, plus some torn sage leaves for extra flavour. The entire dish (extremely weighty!) went into the oven for approximately an hour on 180 as I wanted to be sure the lasagna sheets were fully cooked. Upon final inspection I was greeted with this beheamouth…

 

 

Which I’m sure you’ll agree, looked terrific. We were very very excited. Within about 10 seconds of me hauling the dish from the oven Ben was besides me, plate in hand, offering to carve.

 

 

And carve I did! We just had the lasagna, no side salad, no chips, nothing. You don’t need anything else!

 

 

It was just incredible. The flavour of the sage came through in every bite, the squash was perfectly cooked, the cheddar had melted into the sauce making it extra cheesy and the goats cheese on top was crisp and strong. I saved the top layer for my very last bite and it was so worth the wait! I’m not going to lie to you, we both went back for seconds and very nearly thirds but we stopped ourselves at the last minute. I let it cool, wrapped it in foil and put it in the fridge overnight and we had it for lunch the next day, still delicious! This is a huge lasagna and unless you’re insanely greedy like us it should make 6 portions, possibly even 8 if teamed with a substantial side.

Just writing this post has made the cravings flare again with such alarming ferocity that it may have to be on the menu for this Saturday nights dinner.