Tuesday 12 December 2017

Recipes: Brenda Costigan, with a simple Italian-inspired meal

Enjoy the holiday weekend, says Brenda Costigan, with a simple, Italian-inspired meal of select antipasti, baked penne with oven-roasted vegetables and mozzarella, and raspberry and almond tray bake with amaretti and Baileys ice cream

Brenda Costigan

Cooking takes time and if you want a sort of lazy, hazy holiday weekend, it is worth doing a certain amount of astute planning and maybe even a little preparation.

Take a leaf from the Italian custom and start your meal with a wonderful, trouble-free antipasti or, to be more precise, antipasti misto -- misto means mixed. This can be a colourful platter, or individual serving plates, with a small collection of delicious, ready-to-eat ingredients, either hot or cold.

My suggested main course is a tasty pasta dish, which includes oven-roasted vegetables moistened with pesto and mascarpone, and served with a green salad. Raspberry and almond tray bake served with some amaretti and Baileys ice cream -- a cheat's version -- is a fitting finish.


The preparation required for antipasti can be minimal; all that's generally needed is a little careful shopping. However, it does not mean piling a plate high with anything in the shops that seems vaguely Italian -- be selective. Bear in mind the main course to follow to avoid repeating ingredients, and choose a selection of tasty items from the following categories.

Meats: choose your favourite salami, there are lots of varieties available. Parma ham is also a good option.

Fish: little anchovy fillets in olive oil served with a little lemon juice squeezed over them are ideal.

Vegetables: There is generally a suitable selection available in good delis and farmer's markets that are prepared specially for antipasti -- try baby artichokes, one of my favourites, or sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil.

Grilled red peppers in olive oil are good and are easy to do yourself. Simply grill the deseeded, halved peppers until the skin begins to char or blacken lightly.

Cover with foil for 10 minutes to steam the peppers in their own heat. Then scrape the skins off. Arrange the strips of peppers on a plate and drizzle them with some olive oil, then season with a little freshly ground black pepper, salt and some crushed garlic.

Olives: a great standby, use green or black, stuffed or unstuffed, whichever you prefer.

Cheese: choose a soft one such as mozzarella, a semi-soft one like cambazola, or a harder one such as pecorino.

Breads: include bread sticks or some ciabatta or focaccia.


The flavour of the vegetables combines so well with the pasta and creamy mascarpone. This dish can be prepared the day before. Serves 4.

You will need:

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium/large onion, chopped

2-3 garlic cloves, chopped

110g (almost 4oz) mushrooms, cut in quarters or chopped

1 medium courgette, cut in chunks with a bit of green skin on each piece

1 large red pepper, deseeded and cut in chunks

1 large yellow pepper, deseeded and cut in chunks (optional)

3-4 red tomatoes, cut in chunks

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 small teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon oregano

350-400g (12-14oz) penne

About 3-4 tablespoons red pesto

200g (7oz) mascarpone

100g (3 1/2oz) Parma ham, cut in strips (optional)

200g (7oz) mozzarella, sliced

Preheat the oven to 210 C, 425 F, Gas 7. Put a wide roasting tin in the oven to heat.

Put the olive oil into a large bowl and add in the chopped onion, the chopped garlic, the chopped mushrooms, the courgette chunks, the red pepper chunks, the yellow pepper chunks, if you are using them, and the red tomato chunks. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, the sugar and the oregano. Toss everything together and put into the preheated tin, spreading the vegetables out in a thin layer. Put the tin in the preheated oven to cook for about 20-30 minutes until the vegetables soften and char a little at the edges.

Meanwhile, as the vegetables are roasting, cook the penne in boiling, salted water until the pasta is just tender. Drain, return to the rinsed-out saucepan and add in the red pesto and the mascarpone, stirring to coat the pasta. Then add the cooked vegetables. Mix everything together and then turn it all into a hot, ovenproof dish. Scatter the strips of Parma ham, if you are using it, and the slices of mozzarella over the top and drizzle with a little extra olive oil. If you're not serving the dish straight away, refrigerate it at this point. If you're serving it immediately, grill the dish until the cheese melts. Serve hot.


If you make this recipe in advance, take the dish out of the fridge at least an hour before serving to allow it to come to room temperature before you reheat it. Put it into a hot oven -- 200 C, 400 F, Gas 6 -- and bake it for about 30 minutes until it is piping hot and the cheese has melted. If necessary, give it a blast under the grill before serving.


I like the texture of baby gem lettuce; it's softer and creamier than iceberg and has more body than butterhead. A dressing of mayonnaise whisked with orange juice blends very well with these ingredients. Serves 4-6.

For the dressing, you will need:

About 2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise

About 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

For the salad, you will need:

2 heads baby gem lettuce, shredded, washed and dried in salad spinner

4-6 spring onions, chopped

1/4 - 1/2 cucumber, chopped

1 small eating apple, chopped (optional)

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped, plus a little extra to sprinkle on top

3-4 basil leaves, torn

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the dressing, put the mayonnaise into a salad bowl, and add enough of the freshly squeezed orange juice, whisking briskly, to make a moderately runny consistency.

Put the washed, shredded, dried baby gem lettuce into a bowl and add the chopped spring onions, the chopped cucumber, the chopped apple, if you're using it, the chopped fresh parsley and the torn basil leaves. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper and toss all the ingredients together. Scatter the extra parsley on top. Serve.



The sharp flavour of the raspberries is delightful with the almondy shortbread-like mixture. You can use fresh or frozen raspberries. I prefer to use frozen ones. Allow them to thaw before using them, but don't allow them to get too soggy and wet. If you're using frozen raspberries, the cooking time will be longer.

You will need:

250g (9oz) self-raising flour

50g (2oz) ground almonds

225g (8oz) butter, diced

250g (9oz) caster sugar

A few drops of almond essence, added to the beaten egg

1 large egg, beaten

350-450g (12-16oz) raspberries

75g (3oz) almonds, chopped

Cream, to serve (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180 C, 350 F, Gas 4. Lightly grease a baking tray, 23cm x 33cm (9in x 13in).

Put the self-raising flour and the ground almonds into a food processor, then add the diced butter and the caster sugar and buzz for a few seconds until the texture of the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Remove 175g (6oz) of the mixture and put it to one side. Add the almond essence to the beaten egg, then add the egg to the remaining mixture and buzz quickly again. The resulting mixture will be rather crumbly.

Scatter this mixture over the base of the tin, ensuring that you spread it out evenly. Pat it down to make a solid layer of base with no holes.

Next, spread the thawed raspberries all over the base, but leave a narrow margin free all around the edge. Mix the chopped almonds through the mixture you have put to one side,and then scatter this mixture over the rasperries and base in an even layer. Press it down gently.

Bake in the oven for 45-55 minutes, reducing the temperature to 170 C, 325 F, Gas 3, halfway through if it is necessary. Cool the raspberry and almond bake in the tin, standing it on a wire tray. Serve cut into squares, with cream if you are using it.


This is a cheat's recipe. You simply buy a block of ready-made vanilla ice-cream, let it thaw just enough to mix in the crushed biscuits and a slosh of Baileys, then pop it back into the freezer. Don't be surprised if the ice cream loses some of its volume when you stir it.

You will need:

1L (1 3/4pt) vanilla ice cream

225g (8oz) amaretti biscuits

About 4 tablespoons Baileys

Leave the vanilla ice cream out of fridge until it has barely softened.

Crush the amaretti biscuits fairly finely in a food processor or put them into a plastic bag and bash the bag with a rolling pin. When the ice cream is barely soft, put it into a bowl, add the crushed biscuits and the Baileys and mix through. Then put the bowl into the freezer. Allow the contents to chill until frozen. Serve.


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