Tomato, ricotta and green veg pasta

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Table manners are coming along nicely.

Serves 2

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons ricotta

200ml passata

1 head broccoli, florets separated, stem peeled and sliced

2 tablespoons frozen peas

Grated zest of half a lemon

1 tablespoon pine nuts

Wholewheat pasta to appetite

Grated cheese to serve (we had Cheddar)

Gently fry the ricotta in the olive oil for a couple of minutes. Add the passata, lemon and pine nuts. Simmer.

Meanwhile put the pasta on to boil, adding the broccoli for the last five minutes and the peas for the last two. Drain, stir the sauce through, season and sprinkle with grated cheese.

Shove fistfuls into your mouth.

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Not Heinz tomato soup

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And yet, strangely, very much like Heinz tomato soup.

Serves 2

1 tin of cherry tomatoes or plum tomatoes (cherry are a bit sweeter, but plum are fine)

1/2 a slice of white bread

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt

Water from the kettle

Bring the tinned tomatoes and their juice to a boil in a saucepan and add the torn up bread, sugar, vinegar and cayenne. Turn the heat off, leave for 5-10 minutes for the bread to absorb the liquid, and then puree, thinning to the right consistency with hot water from the kettle if you need to. (We have it a bit thicker than Heinz, but – importantly – thin enough to drink through a bowl with a built in straw.)

Season and liquidise. You can also add any leftover roast red onion, pepper or carrot (anything red-hued), if you’ve got it, before you puree.  Reheat gently, checking the seasoning, and serve with bread and butter.

 

Slow-cooked lamb ragu

Here’s Bert in his autumn knitwear, no doubt thinking about dinosaurs. At the moment I have to dance like a dinosaur every night before bed. ‘Are you a dinosaur rex? Then dance!’ I don’t feel that I’m allowed to answer, ‘no. No, I’m not.’

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Serves 4-6 (or 2 with leftovers for a pasta bake)

Splash of olive oil

2 carrots, grated

1 leek, sliced

5 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon dried oregano or finely chopped leaves

1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary or finely chopped leaves

Finely grated zest half a lemon

1 tin plum tomatoes

1 dessert spoon tomato puree

Salt and pepper

500g of a lamb leg, ideally whole with bone in; if not, diced

Pasta and parmesan to serve

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 2 (140-150).

Fry the carrots, leek and garlic gently in the olive oil till they soften. Add the herbs, puree and lemon zest then nestle the lamb in the middle and tip over the tinned tomatoes. Season, bring to a fast simmer/ slow boil and cover with a lid. Put in the oven and slow cook for 4-6 hours, by which time the lamb should fall apart and the veg should have dissolved into the tomatoes. Pull the meat off the bone with a fork and stir into the sauce. If it’s slightly watery you might want to reduce it a little on the hob before serving.

Stir the sauce through hot pasta and add grated parmesan at the table. Bert had red pepper batons on the side, I had buttered, wilted spinach.

Bert’s latest thing when I serve him dinner is to push it away complaining that it’s ‘too nice’. This wasn’t too nice. I’m so confused – should I be pleased or offended?

Anyway, we’re going to have a pasta bake with the leftovers stirred into pasta and topped with bechemal sauce and then mozzeralla, and baked in the oven for 30 minutes. It’s really no wonder I need to be on the 5|2 diet – it’s Friday and I’m already thinking about Monday’s dinner.

Afterwards we had warm, homemade chocolate (and beetroot) brownies and cream, with chocolate oozing out into pools on the plate and the beetroot undetectable, just giving a bit of extra richness and depth. They were definitely not ‘too nice’ to eat.

10 minute toddler pizza

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10-minute, toddler pizza to be grammatically correct.

I always imagined myself cooking with my child and finally Bert has been kind enough to indulge me – we cooked a whole pizza together from scratch.

The recipe is based on the average toddler’s attention span when Peppa Pig’s not in the room. Instructions for toddler cooks follow.

Serves 2

150g strong, white flour

1 teaspoon instant yeast

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 dessert spoon olive oil

100ml hand hot water

Dessert spoon of tomato puree, the posher the better (we had Italian sun-dried tomato paste – Bert’s middle-class creds are firmly in place)

Grated mozzerella cheese (we used about half a bag)

Cherry tomatoes

More olive oil to drizzle in a small jug

Get someone else to preheat the oven to as hot as it will get. (We’ve moved house so no more Aga instructions – gas mark ones. We’ll get to the twenty-first century eventually.) Gas mark 9! That’s about 240 degrees celsius.

Standing on a little stool, measure the flour into the bowl, looking very serious. (Someone else better check the numbers.) Add the salt, yeast and olive oil. Tip the water in wildly and cackle manically. Mix together with chubby hands. Get someone else to knead until springy. Put the bowl next to the oven while you prepare your toppings.

Using a round-ended, serrated knife, cut cherry tomatoes in half with great concentration and an air of vast authority.

Flour the surface with a wild flourish and roll out the dough to approximately an inch thick, suggesting ‘Mummy try’ to roll it to a thin circle. Help transfer it to a thin baking sheet (we have round ones with holes in the base). Squeeze tomato puree into one corner and suggest ‘Mummy try’ to spread it evenly. Sprinkle chunky handfuls of mozzerella all over then put all the cherry tomatoes in one corner. Drizzle the olive oil over one small corner and allow your mother to drizzle a little over the rest.

Into the oven for about 7 minutes – enough time for one and a half Peppa Pigs.

 

Buttery tomato pasta sauce

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I didn’t make this, Bert’s dad did. Me and Bert created masterpieces from dinosaur stickers while alarming and intriguing phases like ‘it’s taken a whole pat of butter!!’ floated through from the kitchen. I imagine he’s setting up a rival blog as we speak.

It’s a much softer, mellower tomato sauce than the usual. It was delicious.

Enough sauce to serve 6-8 people

2 tins of plum tomatoes and their juice

5 TABLESPOONS OF BUTTER!!!

1 onion, peeled and halved

Pinch of salt

A few torn basil leaves and grated Parmesan to serve

The tomatoes, butter and onion go in a saucepan with a little salt. Bring to a simmer and stir now and then to break up the tomatoes. Cook gently for 45 minutes – the sauce should be reduced and the tomatoes a thick pulp. Remove the onion.

Stir enough through cooked pasta to coat it thickly but not drown it. Top with a few torn basil leaves and a sprinkling of Parmesan.

Bert took a mouthful then stared dreamily into space. I asked him what he was thinking about – green, roaring dinosaurs of course!

 

Tomatoey meatballs

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Three things I never thought I’d do as a parent:

  1. Watch hours of Peppa Pig with my eyes closed and my cheek resting on his shoulder, pretending to be awake and merely affectionate
  2. Lie about the presence of chocolate buttons in the house
  3. Buy shoes that light up when he runs

Serves 4

For the meatballs

500g mince – a mixture of beef and pork is ideal; if not, just beef

6 tablespoons breadcrumbs

1 egg

2 tablespoons grated parmesan or pecorino

2 tablespoons passata

3 cloves garlic, crushed

A few sprigs of basil, leaves finely chopped, or two teaspoons of dried basil

Salt and pepper to taste

For the sauce

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

500g pack of passata, less the two tablespoons you’ve already used

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1 desertspoon balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper

To serve

Chopped basil

Grated parmesan or pecorino

Spaghetti

Mush all the meatball ingredients together in a bowl with your hands; ideally, with latex gloves on so you feel like a lab technician. Form into walnut sized ball – if you’ve still got your CSI gloves on this is easier. Brown the top and bottom of the meatballs for a couple of minutes in a wide, deep frying pan in a splash of olive oil, then add the sauce ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes. I did it right to the point of starting simmering, then finished it off when The Toddler was back in residence. Put the spaghetti on to cook when it’s been simmering for 20 minutes or so.

When it’s done, carefully remove the meatballs, pour the sauce into the cooked spaghetti,  mix thoroughly to coat and stir through the chopped basil. Serve the tomatoey spaghetti with meatballs on top, and add cheese at the table. Stirring through the sauce first is a Mr Me and Bert trick.

The recipe was from mylittlelunchbox.com, though I amended it a bit. I make double of the meatballs, freeze them and they make a good, harried-from-work, quick dinner, cooked from frozen with oven chips and peas on the side.

Fish stew

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Grumpy face. Got even grumpier in the few seconds after this photo was taken.

I looked at the fish pie mix in the fridge, thought about yet another fish pie and felt uninspired. This is a simplified version of a bouillabaisse.

Serves 3

1 glug olive oil

1 dessert spoon butter

1 onion, chopped

2 big garlic cloves, crushed

A few tarragon leaves, chopped (or some dried tarragon)

1 yellow pepper, roughly chopped

2 carrots, roughly chopped

1 can chopped tomatoes

1 dessert spoon tomato puree

1 pinch saffron

Salt and pepper

1 fish pie mix (salmon, cod, smoked fish)

Squeeze of the juice of half a lemon (another good reason to have a G&T later)

1 dessert spoon of butter

Melt the butter and oil and then cook the onion and garlic gently till transparent, then add the tarragon, veg, saffron, seasoning, tomato puree and tinned tomatoes (and half a can of water from the tap). Bring to the boil and then either simmer for 40 minutes or so, or slow cook (I put my in the Aga slow cooker for 3 hours). At that point, puree it, add the lemon juice and extra butter and tip in the fish, cooking till it’s tender – about 10-15 minutes.

We had ours with bread and butter.

Tomato, ginger and chicken curry

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Haven’t we made a beautiful boy?

Serves 3

2 chicken breasts (they were big, though; I’d go for three or four if they were small)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 piece ginger, grated or finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 small onions, sliced

2 teaspoons turmeric

1/2 teaspoon chili flakes

6 tomatoes, quartered

Salt and pepper

Small bunch coriander, stalks chopped and (separately) leaves chopped

Couple of tablespoons of water

Fry the onion, garlic and ginger till translucent and then add the chili, turmeric and chopped coriander stalks. Fry for another minute or so then add the chicken, frying till white, and the tomatoes, salt and pepper and water. Season, cover and cook for another ten to fifteen minutes.

Stir through the chopped coriander when you’ve taken the curry off the heat to serve. I dish up Bert’s before I add the herbs as helping him pick each small piece of leaf off is too much of an arse-ache not the best use of my time.

We had ours with rice and spiced cauliflower. Bert carefully laid each piece of cauliflower out in a neat row by his dish, making his point clear, though he did try some later.

Spicy lentil soup

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This is more a daddy-soup than a Bertie-soup. Bert would eat it though, with the smaller amount of chili.

Serves two cold, greedy people

1 onion, diced

1 carrot, diced

1 stick of celery, diced

1 red pepper, diced

Splash olive oil

1/4-1/2 teaspoon chili flakes

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

100g red lentils

1 tin chopped tomatoes and the tin full of tap water

Salt to taste

Fry the veg and spices in the olive oil, then stir through the lentils, tomatoes, water and seasoning. Simmer for 20 minutes then roughly puree. Eat with buttered bread and slabs of cheese.

 

Alphabetti Spaghetti

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I had seconds of this. And Bert’s leftovers.

I hope that this is in the same category as home made baked beans – wholesome and tasty, and not in the same category as home made custard creams – insane. I have made my own custard creams, but that was in a pre-child fit of whimsy.

Serves four, or two for lunch and leftovers for lunch tomorrow

200ml passata

50ml water and a bit of pasta water

Salt to taste

1 teaspoon brown sugar

2 carrots, grated

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

A lot of olive oil

A couple of handfuls of alphabet pasta

Fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil then add the carrots. You want enough oil for the carrots to be melting into it after a few minutes. Cook for around five minutes, till the carrots really soft, then add the passata and 50ml of water. Season to taste with salt and add the sugar. Cook for around five minutes again. Meanwhile put the alphabet pasta on to cook (mine takes 7 minutes).

Then puree the sauce, add maybe half a ladle full of the water the pasta was cooked in – enough to get it to a thick but runny consistency – and serve on hot, buttered toast.