Penne Arriabbiata

Classic southern Italian dish. Rich and fiery. It’s quick to make and tastes so much better than the stuff from the jar. Note also that despite what non-Italians seem to think, there is no cream in this dish. It’s rich enough with the oil and garlic. Although the quantities of these seem large, they really make the sauce and if you cut down, you only have a wishy-washy tomato sauce. You’ll notice that there seems to be very little sauce for the quantity of pasta but this is typical of Italian pasta sauces: the idea is to generously coat the pasta, not have the pasta swimming in a pool of sauce. This recipe scales easily but be careful with the bird’s eye chillies: they vary in heat and their effect is not always proportional to their amount. You can always adjust the amount next time if you don’t have enough heat, but your dinner guests may never forgive you if you burn the mouth out of them!

Note: You can make a non-vegetarian variation by adding some fried bacon strips or similar at the very end.

Summary

Makes: 4 mains, 6 starters
Preparation: 10 mins
Cooking: about 30 mins

Ingredients

500g
1
6 cloves
5
75ml
500g
Tomato passata
Medium onion
Garlic
Bird’s eye chillies (!!!)
Good olive oil
Penne rigate

Method

Chop the onions finely. Chop the garlic very finely or use a garlic crusher. Break up the chillies.

Pour the olive oil into a medium saucepan and place over a medium heat. There should be enough oil to comfortably cover the bottom of the pan. Don’t be tempted into using too small a pan as the sauce can spit a bit later. Generally, the saucepan should not get more than a quarter full when making the sauce.

When the oil starts to get hot, which you can tell by the fact that it becomes fragrant, add the onions and chillies, followed a minute or so later by the garlic. Fry until the onions are soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the passata, mix and bring to the point of boiling. Then turn down the heat very low and let the sauce simmer gently uncovered, stirring occasionally.

Place a large pot containing 5 litres of salted water onto a high heat. When boiling add the penne. Reduce the heat a little but ensure that the pot is still boiling. The time depends on the pasta and you should refer to the instructions with the pack, but 10 minutes is a good guideline to start testing for dried pasta and about 4 minutes for fresh pasta.

When the pasta is done al dente, drain and return to the pot. Add the sauce, which by now should be lovely and thick, since most of the water will have evaporated, and mix well.

Serve immediately in warmed shallow bowls. Pasta doesn’t wait!

Split Pea Soup

Split Pea Soup

A real winter warmer or just perfect for the Irish summer! Familiar from northern and central Europe: Erbsensuppe in Germany; Ärtsoppa in Sweden. If you add a couple of Frankfurters/Wieners or a meatier sausage such as Bockwurst or Mettwurst you get what the Germans call an Eintopf or a one-pot meal. In Sweden split pea soup is traditionally served alongside pancakes and lingonberry sauce. Some people like to put a spoon of mustard on the lip of the bowl and take a small amount with each spoonful.

Summary

Makes: 2 mains or 4 starters
Preparation: 10 min
Cooking: 1 hour

Ingredients

250g
1
1
1
1 stick
200g
50g 

1 litre

Split green peas
Good-sized floury potato (such as Kerr’s Pink)
Medium onion
Medium carrot
Celery
Left-over ham or bacon (in one piece if possible)
Unsalted butter
Splash of oil
Water
Salt (probably not)
Pepper

Method

Rinse the peas and pick over to remove any grit. Chop the onions roughly. Dice the carrot and celery into pieces of similar size to the onion. Peel the potato and cut into 8 pieces.

In a medium sized saucepan melt the butter over a medium to low heat. Add a splash of oil (sunflower, olive, etc) to help stop the butter burning. Add the onion, carrot and celery. Cover and sweat for 10 minutes or so. Add the peas, potato and meat. Season with pepper and add water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer gently for 45 minutes. At this stage the peas should still have the faintest bite of bite. Don’t let them go to a mush.

Lift out the meat and cut into small pieces. Use a potato masher to mash the contents of the pot. Don’t overdo it: leave some texture! Add the meat back into the pot and adjust the seasoning. You really shouldn’t need any salt as ham or bacon is usually quite salty.

Serve in warmed bowls and enjoy with some crusty bread.

Tomato & Walnut Salad with Pomegranate Dressing

I came across this Turkish salad in the excellent Moro cookbook. Walnuts feature a lot in Turkish cuisine, as does pomegranate molasses, although this is even more common in Persian dishes. The dish is simple to prepare: just make sure the tomatoes are ripe, in any case riper than those in the photo. Pomegranate molasses can be found in most Middle Eastern food shops: the Iranian 1 & 1 brand is very good. You can substitute ingredients in many dishes but I haven’t come across anything else quite like pomegranate molasses. It’s worth looking for and a bottle keeps for ages.

Summary

Preparation: 10mins
Serves: 4

Ingredients

500g
100g
4 tbsp
1 tbsp
2 tbsp
4 tbsp
1
Pinch
Ripe cherry tomatoes
Walnut halves
Flat leaved parsley
Water
Pomegranate molasses
Good olive oil
Small clove of garlic crushed
Cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste


Method

Wash the cherry tomatoes, halve and transfer to a bowl. Unless you are lucky enough to be able to get fresh walnuts, it’s best to blanch them in boiling water for a minute or so to remove any trace of bitterness, then rinse under the cold tap to bring back to room temperature. Put in the bowl with the tomato halves. Chop the parsley and add to the bowl too.

Next prepare the dressing by combining the water, pomegranate molasses, olive oil, garlic, cinnamon, salt and pepper with a whisk or similar until well blended. Add to the bowl with the tomatoes and mix gently until everything is nicely coated.

Serve immediately with some bread to mop up the dressing.

On a Wild Goose Chase

We had recently booked dinner at Mint in Ranelagh, Dublin to celebrate Anna’s birthday. On the appointed day, we got dressed up in our finest and made our way to the restaurant, looking forward to another great meal from Dylan McGrath’s kitchen. However, when we got there, we found the place closed up, looking normal except closed. After the phone rang out a couple of times, we came to the conclusion that Mint had gone out of business. This is a shame as the food was excellent but the small size of the restaurant probably made it difficult to build up any kind of a cushion when times were good.

However, we were very disappointed that the restaurant had not bothered to phone its customers with reservations to let them know that it was no longer in business. This is only common courtesy and the least that could be expected. In our case, Mint is not too far from where we live, but you could imagine being somewhat riled if you’d driven a couple of hours to get there, or worse still, arranged an overnight stay in Dublin.

So in future, Dylan, show a little more respect for your customers!

In the event, we found a free table in the Wild Goose at the other end of Ranelagh village. This is a nice restaurant with a very good wine list, a lot of which is available by the glass. Although the Thursday, Friday and Saturday prices are still a little out of kilter with the current economic climate, there are very good 2 and 3 course options available on Wednesday and Sunday evenings. We had dry-aged rib eye and rack of lamb for mains and both were excellent, which along with a nice bottle of Zisola from Sicily ensured a good evening was had.

Piquillo Pepper, Preserved Lemon and Caper Salad

Piquillo Pepper, Preserved Lemon and Caper Salad

This great salad is based on a North-African recipe presented by Claudia Roden in her book Arabesque. Her version used plain roasted red peppers but I find the flavour of the Piquillo peppers adds a new dimension to the dish. These peppers come from northern Spain and after roasting over a wood fire are peeled and preserved in cans. They have a complex slightly smoky and very slightly spicy flavour. You won’t find them in the supermarket but you should be able to source them from Spanish delis or other specialist food shops. As mentioned above, if you can’t find them, don’t panic, just substitute roasted red peppers. Preserved lemons are used extensively in North-African cuisine and have a very distinctive, but non-lemony, flavour. Try to use capers preserved in salt as these tend to have a better texture than those in brine or vinegar.

Summary

Preparation: 10mins

Ingredients (per person)

4
1
1tsp
Piquillo peppers
Preserved lemon
Capers
Good olive oil
Flat-leaved parsley Pepper

Method

Open out the piquillo peppers flat and cut into four or so strips. You can save a bit of time by cutting them while they are still whole, but just be careful to remove any rogue seeds. Make sure to keep any juice that is present. Place the peppers along with any captured juice into a bowl. Quarter the preserved lemons and remove the flesh. Cut the remaining skins into small squares. Place the preserved lemon, along with the capers into a sieve and rinse under the cold tap to remove excess salt. Transfer the lemon and capers to the bowl with the peppers.

Add a little olive oil, to ensure the ingredients are nicely coated. The amount will depend on how much juice you got from the peppers, but keep it to the minimum. Season with freshly-ground pepper. You won’t need any salt due the the saltiness of the lemons and capers.

Serve sprinkled with freshly-chopped parsley.