Recipe: pasta alla vodka

This year we’ve eaten a lot of pasta. I think we needed it this year more than ever. To me, a nice pasta dish is really comforting, especially if it is of the creamy Roman kind, but it also helps that so many pasta dishes are easy and quick to make. It seems much needed from time to time, this year when we have spent so much more time in our kitchens.

Pasta alla vodka has become a firm favourite that we eat quite often, and the creamy tomato-y sauce with a hint of vodka is just the best when in need for a bowl of comfort. I use Bon Appetit’s recipe and like them I prefer to make it with a medium-sized rigatoni.

Obviously one can eat pasta any day of the week but I’ve found it especially nice to make it on Fridays to celebrate the end of the working week with a quick but lovely pasta dish and a glass of wine. It sets one up for the weekend ahead, even in a lockdown.

Pasta alla vodka with rigatoni, serves 4

Adapted from Bon Appetit’s recipe.

500 g medium-sized rigatoni

1 medium onion, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled

115 g Parmesan cheese, finely grated

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tube (127 g) double-concentrated tomato paste

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (can be omitted)

60 ml vodka

180 ml double cream

basil leaves for serving

Boil the pasta al dente according to the instructions on the packet. Pour the oil into a large saucepan and place on medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, just until onion is starting to brown around the edges, approx 5–7 minutes. Add tomato paste, and red pepper flakes if using, and stir until the paste evenly coats the onions. Continue to cook, stirring often, until the paste is deep red and starting to brown on bottom of pot, approx 5–7 minutes. Add the vodka to deglaze pan and stir to incorporate, scraping the bottom of pot. Reduce the heat to low. Using a heatproof glass measuring cup, scoop about 60 ml boiling water from the pasta pot, then add the cream to it and slowly pour it into the tomato paste while stirring. Remove from heat. Reserve about 150 ml of the pasta water and add the cooked rigatoni to the sauce. Add some of the pasta water to the pot and stir on low heat as the pasta continues to cook and the sauce thickens. Gradually add half of the Parmesan, stirring constantly to melt the cheese. You should have a smooth, glossy sauce that coats each piece of pasta. Season with salt and divide pasta among bowls. Top with remaining cheese, drizzle with olive oil and scatter basil on top.

Recipe: Cheat’s carbonara

You know how it’s a complete no-no to have cream in your pasta carbonara?! Well, during lockdown I had to forgo my principles a little when I was short on eggs. The honesty box for eggs at the village farm was under high demand and sometimes you were unlucky and went without.

So I ended up adding a little cream to my egg yolks and parmesan and it was actually so much easier to make a carbonara that way. No holding of breath and giving a silent prayer that it would turn out ok. It just worked, so for us non-Italians I actually think this is the best way to learn how to make this dish. And then when you’re confident and can make it in your sleep, make it without the cream and experience the authentic version, because it’s pretty great. Yes, better than this version with cream. But when you’re low on eggs or tired one night after work, then this is my go-to!

Cheat’s carbonara, serves 2

Very similar to proper carbonara, but much easier to make!

1 large free-range egg yolks

40g Parmesan cheese, plus extra to serve

2-3 tbsp cream

150g good quality pancetta, diced

200g dried good quality spaghetti

1 clove of garlic

extra virgin olive oil

black pepper

a pinch of salt

Put the egg yolk into a bowl, finely grate in the Parmesan, season with pepper, then mix well with a fork and put to one side. Cook the spaghetti in a large pan of boiling salted water until al dente.

Fry the pancetta in a little oil over medium-high heat. Peel the garlic and crush it and add it to the pan for flavour – remove if it browns or when finished cooking. Reserve some cooking water and drain the pasta and add it to the pancetta pan. Toss well over the heat so it really soaks up all the flavour, then remove the pan from the heat. Transfer the pasta back to the spaghetti pan, season and add a splash of the cooking water, then pour in the egg mixture and the cream. Mix well (I like to use tongs to move the pasta around in the pan), adding more cooking water (if needed) until lovely and glossy. Serve with a grating of parmesan and extra pepper. 

Updated: Easy Creamy Truffle Pasta

I last updated this recipe eight years ago, and it really is great as it is, but I recently adapted it into this creamier, more decadent version, and it’s too good not to share with you.

When you crave restaurant truffle pasta (like my favourite at Sorella) but don’t want to go out, this really hits the spot. Using truffle oil is of course miles away from fresh truffle, but as it’s much easier to get hold of it makes sense to keep a good bottle in your pantry for when the cravings hit.

Easy creamy truffle pasta, serves 2

3oo g good tagliatelle

50 g salted butter

50 ml double cream

about 1 tsp good quality truffle oil

plenty of grated parmesan

1/4 lemon

sea salt and black pepper

Cook the pasta al dente in salted water. Remove half a mug of pasta water and drain the rest away in a colander. Put the hot pan back onto high heat and add the butter. Let it foam and wait for brown flecks to appear. Remove from heat and pour in the cream while whisking. Let it thicken a little then add in a little of the pasta water and add the pasta. Add the parmesan little by little while stirring until you have a silky sauce. If too thick, add more pasta water. If too runny, put it back on medium heat and keep stirring. When the consistency is right, remove from heat and add the truffle oil. Add a squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper. Divide between bowls. Add more parmesan, a little more black pepper and maybe a few more drops of truffle oil.

Recipe: Orrechiette with Wild Garlic Pesto and Charred Broccoli

I made this dish just before lockdown, and then again in lockdown (but the pictures are from the first time I made it). It’s a perfect example of the kind of homemade food I want to highlight right now; inexpensive, nutritious and it allows for substitutions.

I was lucky to get hold of wild garlic even in lockdown (from Natoora and Natoora via Ocado) and it made me incredibly happy. If you live in an area where it grows you might still be able to forage for it, but you can of course use regular pesto (any green pesto in fact) in its place.

I use almonds in my pesto which makes it a little sweeter so charred flavours pair really well. (That’s how I got the idea for this dish in the first place). And the reason I used orecchiette was because I had some in the cupboard, but I also find it’s a good pasta shape to use with pesto. But you can use any similar pasta shape, I think the key here is that it’s not too big or too long.

Orrechiette with wild garlic pesto and charred broccoli, serves 2

250 g orrechiette

3 tbsp wild garlic pesto

mild olive oil

50 g grated parmesan

1 tsp finely grated lemon zest

200 g tenderstem broccoli

salt and pepper

Boil the pasta according to the instructions on the packet. Trim the broccoli. Keep 2 stems whole and chop the others into 2 cm long pieces. Blanch all the broccoli quickly. Drain and transfer to a hot and dry frying pan and cook for a few minutes on each side until slightly charred. Set aside.

Drain the pasta and reserve half a mug of pasta water. Transfer the pasta back to the saucepan but take it off the heat. Add pesto, a little olive oil and pasta water if needed. Mix until every piece of pasta is coated. Add more water if not loose enough and place on heat while stirring for a minute or so if too watery. Add half the parmesan and half the lemon zest. Add the small pieces of broccoli and mix well. Season and place in bowls. Add a long broccoli stem to each bowl. Scatter with parmesan and lemon zest.

Recipe: Lockdown Chicken and Courgette Pasta

Cooking every single day is in a way easier than cooking a few days a week like I usually do. Cooking every day gives you a different continuity and it makes it a lot easier using up leftovers. In my regular life I sometimes have to throw away leftovers I had planned to use up because plans changed and they got too old. I really don’t like that. But London life is (usually) fast pace with drinks here and dinners there and impromptu plans. Which I love. It’s less conducive to meal planning though. But I do utilise my freezer as much as I can even in normal life.

But using up leftovers has become a sport of mine in lockdown. I don’t want to throw a single little thing away. I keep parmesan rinds in the fridge until I can throw them into a béchamel sauce, and add the leftover grated carrot from a carrot cake baking session to a salad. If some vegetables need using up they get used in a soup, quesadillas, salad or frittata.

And this chicken and courgette pasta is one example of using up every single little bit of chicken meat. One night we had a roast chicken with potatoes, gravy and vegetables. Two days later I reheated some of the leftover chicken pieces for lunch and made a potato salad with some already cooked new potatoes. After that there weren’t that much meat left, even though I picked every last little bit off the carcass before it went into the stock pot. So the obvious answer to how to use up the rest was of course pasta. Mixing proteins with carbs and some veg and lots of grated Parmesan is one of the best magic tricks of the kitchen craft.

This one, with lemon, soft courgette, plenty of olive oil and said parmesan felt very appropriate of spring but I could myself eating it on a sunny patio with a glass of ice cold pale rosé too.

Lockdown chicken and courgette pasta, serves 3

300 g tagliatelle

1 medium courgette, cut in half lengthways and sliced

approx 100 g leftover roast chicken

50 g parmesan, finely grated

lemon zest from 1/2 large lemon

50 ml olive oil

25-50 ml pasta cooking water

salt and pepper

Add a little olive oil to a roasting tray and add the courgettes. Toss in the oil, add salt and pepper and cook in 200C for 10- 15 minutes, until soft and a little browned.

Cook the pasta according to the instructions in saucepan.

Add the chicken pieces to the courgette to heat up and add more olive oil. Add the lemon zest and some of the parmesan and mix. Add the cooked pasta. Reserve a mug of pasta water and pour some into the roasting tray with the pasta. Add more parmesan and put the roasting tray on medium-low heat. Stir the pasta with tongs until it has the sauce consistency you like (a little gloopy). Add more pasta water if needed. Adjust the seasoning and divide between bowls. Add more grated parmesan to finish.

Updated: Tagliatelle with Tomato, Burrata and Crispy Parma Ham Crumbs

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As you may know by now, I like to change and perfect recipes until I’m 100 per cent satisfied. Take the dish of Spaghetti with tomato, burrata and crispy parma ham for example; it’s utterly delicious and I have cooked it many times since it’s inception, making little changes here and there, really evolving the recipe until it’s in Goldilocks words is ‘just right’. 

So, let me present to you the new and improved version of my tomato, burrata and crispy parma ham pasta!

The flavour was spot on from the beginning, but I found that the pasta shape could be improved upon and this creamy tomato-y sauce coats tagliatelle so much better than the more slipper spaghetti. And the parma ham. Although perfectly crisp and delicious it just didn’t work as well with a whole slice on top (both aesthetically and flavour wise) as the parma ham chopped small and covering the whole dish like sprinkles on an ice cream; deliciously interspersed with every bite! And it turned out the addition of parmesan was actually redundant. I can’t believe I just wrote than sentence, but sometimes less is more. Just trust me on this. Instead I added more burrata and a little more cream to the sauce so the dish is now rather indulgent. And so it should be!

Small changes, absolutely. But worth mentioning as the impact is huge and I always strive for pasta (and burrata!) perfection.

So do try this at home; it’s almost as fun to make as it is to eat!

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Tagliatelle with tomato, burrata and crispy parma ham crumbs, serves 3

400 g tagliatelle

6 slices parma ham

1 garlic clove, finely chopped 

1 tbsp light olive oil 

270 g cherry tomatoes, halved 

100 ml white wine

chopped basil

2 tsp caster sugar 

salt, black pepper

6 tbsp tomato sauce 

1 tsp herbs de provence

50 ml double cream

To serve:

2 smaller or 1 large burrata, at room temperature

more chopped basil

Pre-heat the oven to 200C fan. Place the ham slices on parchment covered baking tray and put it in the oven for 7 minutes or until crisp. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Once cool, chop into small pieces. 

Cook the spaghetti al dente according to the instructions on the packet. In the meantime, make the tomato sauce. Add oil to a medium sauce pan and put it on medium heat. Add the garlic and shortly after the cherry tomatoes. Let them soften and caramelise. Once mushy add the wine and basil and stir occasionally. Add sugar to taste.

For more sauciness, add 6 tbsp tomato sauce and the herb de Provence. Add the cream and lower the heat while the sauce is thickening a little. Season to taste with salt, pepper and sugar.  

Drain the pasta and add it to the saucepan. Mix throughly and divide between bowls. Top with the burrata torn into smaller pieces. Finish off with chopped basil and scatter generously with the crispy parma ham crumbs.    

Recipe: spaghetti carbonara with girolles

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As we’re bang in the middle of the mushroom season (and it looks like a great mushroom year this year, judging from the bounty my foraging friends present) I thought it appropriate with a little homage to the lovely girolle. Which also happens to be one of my favourite mushrooms!

I think mushrooms and pasta go well together, and I have several great recipes on the blog already, but as I learned to perfect a proper carbonara I couldn’t help but experiment with it too. You see, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that the addition of girolles to the creaminess and saltiness of a carbonara would work really well, and so I tried it out on my favourite guinea pigs; my best friend, her husband and my boyfriend.

As I really wanted the girolles to take center stage I was afraid the salty pancetta would take over, but with the double amount of girolles compared to pancetta in weight, it worked really well. I also fried the mushrooms separately to the pancetta, adding plenty of butter, garlic and seasoning to really make them hold their own.

Hope you like my little experiment as much as I do. For me, this is just the perfect Friday night pasta, especially in autumn, obviously paired with a large glass of smooth red wine and great company.

Spaghetti carbonara with girolles, serve 4

6 egg yolks 

80 g parmesan + extra for serving

175 g good quality pancetta, diced

350 g fresh girolles, washed and patted dry

2 tbsp butter

400 g dried good quality spaghetti 

2 garlic cloves

olive oil

salt and black pepper

Put the egg yolks. in a bowl and grate the parmesan into the bowl. Add some pepper and mix thoroughly with a fork. Put to the side. Cook the spaghetti in salted water according to the instructions on the packet, until al dente. 

Fry the mushrooms in butter and a little oil on medium-high heat. Finely chop a garlic clove and add it to the pan. Season well. Pour the mushrooms into a bowl and leave to cool a little. Fry the pancetta in oil on medium-high heat. Peel a garlic clove, crush it with the palm of your hand and add to the pan – remove it if it browns or when the pancetta is cooked. Drain the cooked pancetta on kitchen towel. 

Fill a mug or small jug with pasta cooking  water and drain the pasta. Mix the spaghetti with the pancetta and mushrooms and remove from heat. Pour everything back into the pasta pan, add some pepper and some of the pasta cooking water. Add the egg and parmesan mixture and mix well. Add more pasta water if the mixture is too dry. Divide into bowls and serve with grated parmesan and black pepper. 

Recipe: open crab lasagne with white wine and tomatoes

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Sometimes recipes, or recipe ideas – to be more exact, pop into my head without any context (or warning) at all. But then I do think about food an awful lot… This open crab lasagne happened just like that. I was thinking of what I could cook for the weekend and suddenly this idea formed of an open crab lasagne.

And it turned out really well! The white wine, cream and tomatoes compliment the crab beautifully without overpowering the seafood. I really wanted this dish to taste of fresh crab, although in a ‘pasta with a creamy sauce’ kind of setting. And I find it genius using lasagne sheets like this (obviously not my idea in the first place), as it puts the focus on the crab and not the pasta. I hope you enjoy this little dish of mine as much as I did!

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Open crab lasagne with white wine and tomatoes, serves 2

4 lasagne sheets 

1 tbsp butter + 1 tbsp neutral oil 

approx 120 g cherry tomatoes, cut in half 

50 ml white wine

150 ml double cream

1/4 vegetable stock cube

100 g fresh crab meat (white and brown)

1/2 lime, zest only

dill, finely chopped + extra for serving 

parsley, finely chopped

salt & pepper

dried edible flowers for serving (optional)

Boil the lasagne sheets until soft in salted water. Heat up a non-stick frying pan, add butter and oil and when melted the tomatoes. Let them caramelise and soften for approx 5 minutes. Pour in the wine and let it boil for a minute or two. Add the cream and the stock cube and stir. Let it thicken for a few minutes. Add lime zest and season to taste. Add half the crab meat and all the herbs (apart from the garnish).

Place two low bowls or plates near the stove. Take one lasagne sheet at the time and place it in the frying pan to coat it with sauce. Move it to the bowls/plates and place one, a bit folded over, on each plate. Add a spoonful more of sauce on each plate. Place the second sauce-covered lasagne sheet in the bowls slightly overlapping the first one. Add more sauce and divide the crab meat. Decorate with dill and dried flowers. 

 

Recipe: orzo with bacon, mushrooms and parmesan

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When I think of this dish an image comes to mind, of Nigella in her silk dressing gown, opening that famous fridge door to get herself a late night snack. The leftovers from this dish would be perfect for midnight snacking and all you need is a bowl and a fork. But it’s really nice for supper a regular week night when you want something fast, easy and filling on the table in 15 minutes flat. It does that and more.

The comforting flavours of earthy mushrooms and salty bacon together with the silky orzo pasta comforts you from within. And it’s that comforting feeling that is sometimes most important for me when I cook for myself on a day that just feels a bit meh. May it be from the incessant London rain, the fact that the weekend feels far away or a rubbish day at work – regardless of the reason you will feel better after a bowl of this. Promise!

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Orzo with bacon, mushrooms and parmesan, serves 3-4

200 ml orzo pasta (the one that looks like rice)

1/2 stock cube, vegetable 

200 g chestnut mushrooms, sliced

1 small garlic clove, finely chopped

ca 120 g bacon, cut into small pieces

150 ml creme fraiche

plenty of grated parmesan

salt and black pepper

Cook the orzo pasta in plenty of water. Add salt and half a stock cube to the water for extra flavour. Cook until al dente (approx 10 minutes or according to the time on the packet). Drain and pour the pasta back into the pan. Stir in some oil or a knob of butter so it won’t become one sticky lump. 

While the pasta is cooking, fry the mushrooms in butter and oil mon medium heat and make sure not to crowd them. If you have a small frying pan fry the in batches instead. Add the garlic towards the end of their cooking time. Add salt and pepper and transfer to a bowl. Then fry the bacon pieces on medium heat until crispy and brown. Drain on kitchen towel. 

Mix the creme fraîche into the pasta, then add the mushrooms and bacon. Mix well and add in some grated parmesan. Season to taste. Serve in bowl and top with even more parmesan.  

Taking it easy

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I was ill again last week. So typical. So I stayed in bed Monday and Tuesday but felt better on Wednesday and could go to work. So the rest of the week I just took it easy after work, to rest as much as possible. I really don’t want to get ill again between now and Christmas (or on my Christmas break!), too much to do!

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The weekend was quiet as well, which was nice. On my lunch break on Friday I went to Whole Foods to buy some nice things for the weekend. Love it there and it’s a treat to go now when I don’t have one close to me anymore.

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I bought mussels that I cooked that night with white wine, cream and potatoes. So yummy!

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On Saturday we slept until noon, had poached eggs for breakfast and then went for a walk around Wimbledon Common. It air was crisp but the sun was out and it was perfect weather for an autumnal walk.

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When we got backed we watched a bit of the tennis and some rugby before going for a drink at the local pub followed by dinner nearby.

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Sunday treated me to another lie-in and then I pottered around, making pudding for supper and prepping ahead. For dinner I made a lovely pasta dish I will post about later, and lemon posset for pudding. Then we cuddled up on the sofa watching The Handmaid’s Tale and when I couldn’t take it anymore, an episode of Stan Lee’s Lucky Man.

The next month will be busy, but I hope I can squeeze in another cosy weekend without plans. Sleeping until one wake up naturally is just the best!