Pesto Pasta

I generally wouldn’t choose to eat Italian food in a restaurant, but when I’m at home sometimes I find pasta to be a real comfort food. It’s great after a long gym session when I can really appreciate a mountain of carbs like this and I think everyone loves pesto. If you buy the pasta ready-made it can be really quick to throw together too. Here I’ve used fresh pasta from the supermarket which doesn’t taste any different from when I’ve actually made pasta. I got the recipe from ‘Gino’s pasta’.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 500g tagliatele pasta
  • 50g fresh basil
  • 50g pine nuts
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 130ml olive oil
  • 25g parmesan (more to serve)
  • 150g frozen peas
  • salt and pepper

Method

1.) Put the basil, pine nuts and garlic in a food processor, pour in the oil and blitz until smooth.

2.) Grate 25g parmesan and add to the pesto mix. Grate a bit of extra parmesan for a garnish.

3.) Cook the pasta until done. 1 minute from the end, add the peas and cook until hot. Drain off the water then add the pesto into the pan with the pasta. Sprinkle in some salt and pepper and stir through.

4.) Serve into dishes and garnish with a bit more parmesan and that’s all there is to it!

Mascarpone stuffed pasta shells

I always used to love these conchiglie shells when I was a kid. They taste like every other kind of pasta but have the bonus of catching the sauce inside. So this recipe is a nice comfort food for me (I guess I can’t blog about potato smileys!). A base of rich Bolognese sauce holding shells are stuffed with creamy indulgent mascarpone and mozzarella. I spotted the recipe on BBC Good Food but for me 250g pasta shells was too much pasta for the amount of mascarpone so in the recipe below I’ve cut it down to 200g. I also think you’d benefit more from the mozzarella being placed on top of the shells and grilled at the end rather than stuffed in the shells.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 200g giant pasta shells
  • 200g mascarpone
  • bunch basil
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 30g parmesan
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 celery stick
  • 1 carrot
  • 250ml red wine
  • 400g quorn mince
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 400g passata
  • 200ml beef flavoured stock (or vegetable)
  • pinch sugar
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Method

1.) Put a kettle on to boil and measure out the pasta into a pan. Boil until soft but not too soft as you’ll have to handle them to stuff them. Leave them to one side so they cool enough to handle.

2.) Peel and finely chop the onion and carrot. Finely chop the celery. Make up the stock.

3.) Heat the tbsp oil in an ovenproof pan and add the veg and sauté until soft.

4.) In the meantime, peel and chop 3 of the cloves of garlic.

5.) When the veg is soft, add the garlic and continue to sauté for another minute or two.

6.) Add in the mince and cook until it’s defrosted completely.

7.) Add the wine and continue to cook until it’s mostly evaporated

8.) Add the tomato purée and stir, add the bay leaves then add the passata and stock.

9.) Turn up the heat to a boil then turn down to simmer and simmer until the sauce is just a little less thick than you’d want for a normal Bolognese (about 40 minutes)

10.) In the meantime, stuff the pasta shells.

11.) Make the mixture for the pasta shells by adding the mascarpone to a bowl and beat it well.

12.) Peel and chop finely the garlic and add to the mascarpone. Also finely chop the mozzarella and the basil and give it a mix with the mascarpone.

13.) Fill up the pasta shells with the mascarpone mixture and set aside until the sauce is ready.

14.) Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C/180 degrees fan

15.) Place the shells open side up on top of the tomato sauce and bake for 20 – 30 minutes until bubbling.

16.) While this is baking, grate the parmesan

17.) When done, sprinkle over the parmesan and serve.

Mac and cheese

Despite living in the US for 3 years, I didn’t come across mac and cheese too often except as a side at BBQ restaurants. However, what’s not to love about pasta baked with cheese and topped with more cheese. As I’m still clinging onto my New Year’s weight loss resolution I used the recipe from Skinnytaste’s blog incorporating butternut squash into the sauce. This makes it much more acceptable for me as I can’t eat a meal without vegetables but if you’re on the hidden veg train this is a really good way to do it. You can’t see or taste the squash in this recipe. My only gripe with the recipe on the website is that there just isn’t enough cheese, so I’ve increased the amount in my ingredients below. You could play around with the type of cheese too. I subbed in some applewood smoked cheddar just because it caught my eye. Due to a butternut squash shortage?? I used a pack of pre-made root vegetable mash though this did cut down on both time and washing up.

Serves 5-6

Ingredients

400g tub root vegetable mash

285g dried macaroni pasta

120ml vegetable stock

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/2 tsp garlic paste

salt and black pepper

130g breadcrumbs

2 tbsp grated parmesan

1 tbsp butter

1.5 tbsp plain flour

2 cups milk ( I used soya milk)

80g gruyère

80g smoked cheese

100g spinach

Method

1.) Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C

2.) Add the pasta to a pan of boiling water and cook until soft

3.) Make up the vegetable stock and add to a food processor along with the root veg, onion powder, garlic and salt and pepper

4.) Blend the mixture until smooth

5.) Once the pasta is done, drain and set aside in a large mixing bowl

6.) In the pan, melt the butter and add the flour to make a paste. Cook on a low heat for 5 minutes to cook down the taste of the flour, whisk in the milk in increments. When it thickens, add more milk until all of it is used up.

7.) Grate the gruyère and the smoked cheese (the smoked cheddar was too soft to grate so I just crumbled this up – it will melt in the milk).

8.) Add the cheese to the milk, stir until it melts. Add the spinach and let it wilt.

9.) Take the pan off the heat and add the puréed vegetable mixture.

10.) Stir this into the pasta in the mixing bowl.

11.) Pour the pasta into a baking tin. Mine was a 30cm glass pie dish.

12.) Bake the pasta for 25 minutes.

13.) In the meantime, grate the parmesan and mix in a bowl with the breadcrumbs.

14.) When the pasta is done, take the tin out of the oven and switch the oven to the grill setting.

15.) Sprinkle over the breadcrumbs and put the dish on the top shelf of the oven for 5 minutes.