Rick Stein’s Pasta Alla Norma

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This is a great interpretation of a pasta classic from the Mediterranean master himself. Watching repeats of any Rick Stein series is my favourite way to pass the time on a sick day, or a lazy Sunday and this pasta alla Norma recipe made me pause, rewind and grab my notepad.

A combination of ripe tomato, salt, squidgy aubergine, hot chilli flakes and al dente pasta gives a mouth watering combination of classic Italian flavour and a mountain of texture. The simplicity of it and the luxurious taste means it works as a refined weekend treat or a rough and ready mid-week quickie!

Watch Rick make the dish

To make pasta alla Norma:

Slice an aubergine in to batons, put in a colander, shake with lots of salt.

Put your preferred pasta (mine is spaghetti) in a pan of boiling unsalted water and simmer.

Tip onto a clean dry tea towel and pat dry.

Toss the aubergine into a pan of hot olive oil, lift back out into the colander and set to one side.

Chop and crush 2 garlic cloves together with a pinch of salt and fry in the same pan you used for the aubergine.

Add a teaspoon of chilli flakes and a large handful of fresh chopped tomatoes.

Tip in the aubergine and add some fresh black pepper.

Simmer on a low heat until the aubergine is warmed through.

Drain the pasta and tip into the sauce – mix and serve!

You can top your dish with crumbled feta, torn mozzarella, whole basil leaves, parmesan shavings or simply a glug of good extra virgin olive oil.

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Food as Gifts

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Giving food as gifts can be a fantastic way to keep the cost of Christmas presents down, but also to show off your culinary skills to your nearest and dearest!

Mince pies, Christmas puddings and panetonne are all great options for taking to parties or pulling out of the bag on Christmas eve/Christmas day with the in-laws. But if you’re thinking about sending a little token to those further away, it’s better to go for a jam, preserve or chutney.

Collect your empty jars throughout the year and buy some pretty labels to ensure you get pride of place in any relie’s cupboard above the kettle!

I did this last year with blackberries. A bit of greaseproof paper around the lid with an elastic band gives a ‚”homely” look and a personalised label will have your gran thinking you’ve walked straight out of the Masterchef kitchen.

For a savoury alternative, try this courgette chutney. It’s a little bit exotic but still moorishly sweet. I made this for my mum’s Mother’s Day gift this year and baked her a fresh loaf of country grain bread to spread it all over! Had I not arrived at her house to find her making bread, this would have been a lot more effective I’m sure, but the chutney went down a treat and keeps in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Food is a great way to bake, stir and fold your love into your Christmas presents – give it a go for 2012!

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Laab Neua – Thai Lettuce Rolls

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It is very rare that I will choose to cook something I don’t think I will like, but with a pitiful Thai repertoire it is time to start being brave and trying new things.

This weekend, my flavour of the month, Rick Stein took me back to Thailand with his Laab Neua (lettuce rolls). His description goes a little something like this: Stir-fried minced beef with lemongrass, chilli and roasted rice rolled in lettuce leaves.

What this title doesn’t tell you is how unbelievably good the end result is once you’ve mixed in the lime juice, fish sauce, mint and coriander! Ok, so the ingredients may be very similar to the Waterfall Beef Salad, so maybe I’m not that brave, but mince outside of a cottage pie? That is a little bit unusual!

Rick Stein must have a steel lined mouth to cope with the amount of chilli he suggests in his recipe for 4 – I toned it down slightly and simply halved the ingredient quantities to feed 2 as a main course. This really is one of the easiest, tastiest and cheapest Thai dishes I’ve made, a great addition to the list and one that I will probably use to create an authentic starter at my next Thai dinner party! A great alternative to my usual (and very messy) spring rolls.

Here is my recipe to feed 2 (or 4 as a starter):

250g lean minced beef (turkey mince also works as a lower fat option but will require longer cooking)
2 lemongrass stalks – very thinly sliced
4 shallots – thinly sliced
Juice of 2 limes
1 tsp dried chillies – ground into a powder
1 large fresh red chilli – finely chopped
1-2 tbsp fish sauce (to taste)
handful of coriander – roughly chopped
small handful of mint leaves – roughly chopped
2 tbsp rice (long grain, jasmine or basmati – whatever you have lying around)
1 iceberg lettuce
olive oil
black pepper

The time is in the prep for this one, as everything but the mince is served raw.

Whilst your slicing and chopping just throw everything into a bowl. Then squeeze in the lime juice and pour over the fish sauce.

Put the uncooked rice into a dry wok and put on a high heat. Toast until lightly browned, stir continually to avoid burning the grains. Then pound in a pestle and mortar (or in a cup with a heavy rolling pin) until partly ground.

Fry off the mince in a little bit of olive oil until it is just browned (don”t over cook) and season with a bit of black pepper. Add the mince to the salad mixture and stir. Carefully peel off 1 x iceberg lettuce leaf per person and spoon the salad mixture into the lettuce leaf bowl.

Serve open or roll the leaf around the mixture to make a wrap.

These gorgeously sweet and crunchy Thai lettuce rolls will test your spice threshold and if you’ve visited any market place in Thailand, will take you straight back. Try replacing the beef mince with pork or flaked fish.

Enjoy!

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Turkish Delight, Leeds

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My other half took me in to the depths of Leeds Market for lunch last week.

Those simple words “I don’t mind, you choose” led me past the fruit and veg, past the old lady manning the dusty greetings cards next to every type of button and wool you could imagine, and towards a quiet eastern European couple busying themselves in a 4ft by 4ft kitchen, walled with an off-white plastic kiosk.

Turkish Delight is one of the more random places I have sat down to eat lunch but I really enjoyed the food and the experience.

The menu is limited with a choice of about 5 dishes, but they vary from falafel wraps to lahmacun (dough topped with mince & onion). We tried nearly everything on the menu and our bill totalled under £10 (including 2 cans of Fanta!).

Leeds Kirkgate Market can be nothing short of a maze at the best of times, and Turkish Delight seems to be so exclusive it’s even off the map, but if you fancy an adventure into the Middle East for an hour on your lunch break, it is well worth finding!

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