Thursday 25 May 2017

Recipes: Brenda Costigan with delicious Mediterranean meals

Spaghetti is rarely a demanding dish but it does love your company, says Brenda Costigan, and these delicious Mediterranean meals can be prepared in no time at all

COURGETTE CARBONARA
COURGETTE CARBONARA

It is not difficult to cook pasta, but, as the Italians say, "spaghetti loves company", so don't leave the kitchen and allow the pasta to boil away unchecked. It's nicest when it's still al dente, or has bite.





Use a large saucepan of salted water -- about three litres for every 500g (1lb 2oz) pasta, adding about one teaspoon of salt to every litre of water. I often add a stock cube to the water, to make a very light stock. The water should be boiling briskly as you drop in the pasta. Stir it with a spoon to prevent any clumping together, then cover with a lid and bring back to the boil. Then remove the lid completely and adjust the heat so that the water boils briskly but gently, and not enough to boil over. Stir the pasta occasionally to prevent it from sticking.

If the pasta is going to be served straightaway, it should be tender, but the 'soul' -- the innermost part -- should be still just firm. If the pasta is going to get a second cooking -- as is required for macaroni cheese -- stop the cooking while the bite is still rather firm.

Have a colander ready in the sink and drain off the cooking liquid as soon as the pasta is ready. It is also a good idea to save a mugful of the cooking liquid in case the pasta is over-drained and you wish to moisten it later. Serve your pasta with the appropriate sauce.

If you're serving the pasta cold in a salad, take special care not to overcook it and, once the pasta has been drained in the colander, run some cold water on it to help cool it down quickly and to prevent further cooking. Put into a bowl, add in a tablespoon of olive oil and toss.

SPAGHETTI WITH GARLIC AND OLIVE OIL

Very typical of Southern Italy, where olive oil is in abundance, this recipe is simplicity itself -- spaghetti tossed in garlic and olive oil! It is important to choose a nice, flavoursome extra-virgin olive oil for this. Though not part of the traditional recipe, the addition of the crunchy crumb topping recipe might appeal to you, see below. Serves 4.

You will need:

400g (14oz) spaghetti

3 large garlic cloves, chopped

150ml (1/4pt) olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Small handful of torn fresh basil leaves

Grated fresh Parmesan (optional)

Crunchy crumb topping (optional) see above

Cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling salted water -- or a light stock -- until it is just tender. When it is cooked, drain it and put it into a warm bowl. Meanwhile, gently heat the chopped garlic in the olive oil to release the flavour of the garlic. Pour the olive oil and garlic mixture over the cooked spaghetti and toss everything together, seasoning generously with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the torn fresh basil leaves and grate some fresh Parmesan on top, if you are using it, or add the crunchy crumb topping, see below.

SPAGHETTI CARBONARA

This is a very handy meal-in-a-dish. After the piping-hot pasta has been drained, the raw egg mixture is added, and the heat cooks/scrambles the egg, which clings to the spaghetti. Bacon is another ingredient of a carbonara. Serves 2.

You will need:

225g (8oz) spaghetti

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small garlic clove, chopped

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion (optional)

2-4 back rashers, chopped

110g (4oz) small button mushrooms, halved or quartered

175g (6oz) cherry tomatoes, halved

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Lump of butter

4-5 eggs, whisked lightly to mix evenly

1 tablespoon milk or cream

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling salted water -- or a light stock -- until it is just tender. When it is cooked, drain it and put it into a warm bowl. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a frying pan and fry the chopped garlic and the finely chopped onion, if you are using it, until they become soft. Lift them out with a perforated spoon and put them to one side. Then fry the chopped rashers until they become nice and golden and lift them out.

Using the same oil -- or, if you think it is a bit salty, wipe it out and use fresh oil -- fry the halved or quartered button mushrooms until they brown. Then add the halved cherry tomatoes and cook them a little to soften them, seasoning with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put the fried onion, garlic and rashers back on to the pan to keep everything warm.

Melt the butter in the rinsed-out saucepan, then add back in the spaghetti and heat it thoroughly. Next, mix the eggs with the milk or the cream, whichever you are using, and stir this mixture gently through the spaghetti. Then add in the cooked ingredients from the frying pan. Stir gently and serve immediately while the egg is still soft. Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan.

COURGETTE CARBONARA

(Pictured)

London's River Cafe has a recipe in its cookbook which uses fried courgettes instead of rashers, for a tasty vegetarian option of this handy recipe. I chopped the courgettes up in small pieces, but use larger chunks if you prefer. Serves 2-3.

You will need:

200-300g (7-11oz) tagliatelle

4-6 tablespoons olive oil

1 garlic clove, whole

350-500g (11-16oz) courgettes, diced

1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped

3-4 eggs, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons water, milk or cream

Freshly grated Parmesan

Cook the tagliatelle in plenty of boiling salted water -- or a light stock -- until it is just tender. When it is cooked, drain it and put it into a warm bowl. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a heavy pan or saucepan and fry the clove of garlic for a minute to flavour the oil, then lift the garlic out. Add enough of the diced courgettes to cover the base of the pan or saucepan, whichever you're using, in a single layer, and fry them until they are golden all over. Lift them out on to kitchen paper, and continue the process until all the courgettes are done. Fry the chopped chilli as well.

Return the cooked pasta to the rinsed-out saucepan. Mix the water, milk or cream, whichever you are using, with the beaten eggs and stir this mixture evenly through the pasta, along with the fried courgettes and chilli. As soon as the egg mixture is softly cooked, serve, with some fresh Parmesan grated over the top.

PASTA WITH CHERRY TOMATO, SPRING ONION AND CAPER SAUCE

I envy those who live in a Mediterranean climate, where tomatoes ripen to a wonderful, rich flavour. However, adding a splash of balsamic vinegar seems to replace some of the missing sunshine. Prepared in a jiffy, these fresh cherry tomatoes and spring onions are lightly fried in olive oil. Serves 4.

You will need:

Pasta of your choice (eg spaghetti or tagliatelle), enough for four -- 110g (3 1/2oz) each

4 tablespoons olive oil

Small lump of butter (optional)

3-4 garlic cloves, crushed

225-300g (8-11oz) cherry tomatoes, halved

3-4 tablespoons spring onions, chopped

2 tablespoons capers (drain off the brine)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon herbes de Provence or oregano

About 2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (to taste)

Handful of torn fresh basil leaves

Freshly grated Parmesan

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water -- or a light stock -- until it is just tender. When it is cooked, drain it and put it into a warm bowl.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and the butter, if you are using it, in a saucepan, then add the crushed garlic and fry it for a few seconds to soften it.

Add in the halved cherry tomatoes, followed by the chopped spring onions and the capers. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper and add the herbes de Provence or the oregano, whichever you are using.

Bring to the boil and then add in the balsamic vinegar and simmer for about three minutes or so, until the tomatoes have softened, but don't allow them to go into a mush. Return the cooked pasta to the pot and add in the tomato sauce and half the torn fresh basil leaves.

Toss and serve, topped with the remaining basil and some freshly grated Parmesan.

Crunchy Crumb Topping

Fried fresh breadcrumbs give a delightful crunch to a pasta dish. I like to use wholemeal breadcrumbs, and I combine them with some herbs and seasoning. Serves 4.

You will need:

About 3-4 tablespoons olive oil (not extra virgin)

75-110g (3-4oz) breadcrumbs, preferably wholemeal

1/4-1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the breadcrumbs and fry them until they are lovely and crispy. Ensure you stir them frequently to prevent them from burning. Cooking them will take a good five minutes or so.

Season the breadcrumbs with the dried oregano, and some salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Spread the fried breadcrumbs out on a plate and keep them warm, then scatter on to cooked pasta.

L







Promoted articles

Editors Choice

Also in Life