Week Twenty Four

It’s December!…And during these strange, uncertain times, there is at least one thing that we can be sure of…it will be Christmas soon, and of course, Christmas goes hand in hand with food! So, this week I’ve been getting my Christmas cooking list organised; even though there will be very little entertaining going on at home this year, I don’t see any reason why Nick, Felix and I can’t enjoy the menus I normally like to cook when entertaining for friends and family. Although I love cooking, I don’t necessarily like overcomplicated recipes, this definitely applies to those which I cook when I’m entertaining, I like dishes which don’t need too much last minute attention. So, over the next few weeks I thought that I would share a few of these recipes, which are equally suitable for midweek family meals as they are for special occasions.

This week’s Menu One is a fine example of a recipe which can be cooked easily for a midweek meal but is also special enough to be served as a festive treat, Duck breasts with Pomegranate and Walnuts. I think that I have mentioned before, that I like duck breasts as a midweek meal as they are so quick to cook – once the fat is rendered in a frying pan they just need about 10 minutes in the oven. The pomegranate and walnut sauce in this weeks recipe is also extremely quick to cook, so it really is an ideal midweek meal! I like to serve it with spinach and dauphinoise potatoes or if time is of essence, steamed potatoes.

Menu Two is a good family midweek pasta dish, Tagliatelle with Mushrooms and Chestnuts. It is a s a lovely winter vegetarian pasta recipe, I must admit that I often over indulge with rich meat dishes over the Christmas period so this recipe offers some light relief. Finally, Menu Three is another pasta dish, this one has an ‘Amatrice’ Style Sauce with pancetta and tomato, it is a real crowd pleaser and can be made in around 15 minutes, so it is a good recipe to have on your Christmas cooking list for a casual supper.

Who knows what Christmas will be like this year under the Covid conditions, but I think that even if we can’t entertain in the usual numbers, we can, without doubt, continue to enjoy the treat of some good food, and this week’s recipes are definitely the perfect starting point!…

Have a great week and enjoy cooking!

Menu One

Duck Breasts with Pomegranate & Walnuts served with Sautéed Spinach and Dauphinoise Potatoes (Serves 4)

This is such an easy, quick recipe but it looks so special that one would think you had spent hours in the kitchen – definitely my kind of recipe!! I like to serve it with sautéed spinach, which is super quick to make, and depending on time and the occasion, either with dauphinoise potatoes (I prefer the recipe without cheese for this dish) or steamed potatoes. The garnish of the coriander leaves and pomegranate seeds is very important, as they give the dish a lovely fresh, sweet tangy finish! I like to serve the duck breasts quite pink, but if you prefer them more well done, cook for a little longer.

4 duck breasts

2 medium onions, finely chopped

125g walnuts, roughly chopped

6 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

2 cloves garlic, crushed

200ml chicken stock

Coriander leaves to garnish

Pomegranate seeds to garnish

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Score the skin of the duck breasts, through the fat but not all the way through to the flesh,and salt them.
  2. Place the breasts in a dry frying pan, skin side down, over a low heat to render down most of the fat, this may take as much as 10-15 minutes. When the fat is rendered, turn up the heat to crisp up and brown the skin (about 2 minutes). Finally, turn over to sear the underside for minute or so.
  3. Place the duck breasts on a baking try and place in a preheated oven, 200’c fan, for 8-10 minutes (see note above)
  4. Meanwhile remove half the duck fat from the frying pan, add the onion with a pinch of salt, cook until soft and lightly golden. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute or so.
  5. Add the chicken stock, pomegranate molasses, walnuts and some seasoning to the pan, simmer for 5 minutes.
  6. Once the duck is cooked allow it to rest for 5 minutes before slicing.
  7. Serve on plates with the sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and coriander leaves.

Staple Side Dish – Sautéed Spinach with Garlic (Serves 4)

2 large bunches of baby spinach (washed) – about 400g

Olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, sliced

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the garlic and sauté for about 1 minute until the garlic is beginning to brown.
  2. Add the spinach, turning it over to coat in the olive oil. Place a lid over the pan and cook for 1 minute. Remove the lid and stir. Return the lid and cook for a further minute.
  3. The spinach should now be wilted, add a drizzle of olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Staple Side Dish -Simple Dauphinoise Potatoes (without cheese) Serves 4

15g butter

1kg floury potatoes, such as Maris Piper

400ml double cream

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Rub a gratin dish liberally with the butter.
  2. Peel the potatoes and slice them thinly.
  3. In a large bowl whisk together the cream, garlic, nutmeg and season well with salt and pepper. Toss the potatoes in this cream mixture.
  4. Layer the potatoes in the gratin dish, spreading them flat and evenly, pour over any remaining cream.
  5. Place in a preheated oven, 160’c fan, for 1 – 1 hour 15 minutes. Every 15 minutes or so press the down the potatoes with a spatula to stop them drying out. The gratin is ready when the top is golden and bubbling, and the potatoes are tender. You may want to turn up the oven to 190 -200’c for the last 5 minutes of cooking to achieve an extra golden crisp.

Menu Two

Tagliatelle with Mushrooms & Chestnuts (Serves 4)

This is a beautiful pasta recipe with lovely earthy flavours. It is particularly comforting during the winter months, however I cook it all year round as we like it so much. Unusually this pasta dish calls for Comté cheese to be grated over it, it really is a delicious addition, complementing the sweetness of the chestnuts. I use the vacuum packed bags of cooked and peeled chestnuts – ‘Merchant Gourmet’ is a good brand. It is worth investing in a quality bottle of truffle oil for this recipe, as it really does enhance the flavour.

This recipe is from one of my favourite cookbooks ‘Nina St Tropez’ by Nina Parker.

4 tablespoons olive oil

500g chestnut mushrooms, sliced

400g tagliatelle (gluten free if required)

4 cloves garlic, finely diced

150g cooked chestnuts chopped (see note above)

4 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped

2 tablespoons crème fraiche

4 tablespoons truffle oil

Comté cheese, grated to serve

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan, add the mushrooms and cook until they have shrunk in size by about a half.
  2. Add the garlic to the mushrooms and let it cook for a few minutes before adding the chestnuts and seasoning generously.
  3. Meanwhile cook the tagliatelle according to the instructions on the packet until al dente.
  4. Before draining the pasta, add about three or four spoonfuls of pasta cooking water to the mushroom mixture to loosen it.
  5. Finally add the drained tagliatelle to the mushrooms along with the chives, crème fraiche and truffle oil, taste to check the seasoning.
  6. Sprinkle with cheese and serve!

Menu Three

Amatrice Style Pasta – All’Amatriciana (Serves 4)

This is a great sauce for pasta, traditionally served with bucatini, but also, in my opinion, great with spaghetti, or dare I say it penne (I’m sure some Italians would disagree!). Whatever pasta you choose, I can assure you it will be a very delicious sauce, ready in 15 minutes – it’s a great crowd pleaser! The recipe calls for Pecorino cheese rather than the traditional Italian Parmesan cheese, Pecorino is saltier and gives this dish a tangy flavour which I particularly like, but you could substitute it for Parmesan if you wish.

This recipe is taken from Antonio Carluccio’s cookbook ‘Passion for Pasta’.

3 tablespoons olive oil

150g diced pancetta

1 small onion, chopped

1 small chilli pepper, chopped

450g tomato passata

400g bucatini pasta or spaghetti (see note above)

50g freshly grated Pecorino cheese (see note above)

  1. Heat the oil in a frying pan, fry the pancetta, the onion and chilli for 3-4 minutes until slightly brown.
  2. Add the tomatoes and cook for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet until al dente.
  4. Drain the pasta and mix with the sauce.
  5. Serve sprinkled with the grated cheese.

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