Easy, cheap, cook-ahead, mostly-from-the-storecupboard dinner! What’s not to love!!

I was not feeling great, needed something easy for me to cook, that did not require any shopping for ingredients despite the fact we were low on fresh provisions, was going to appeal to my girls and be low on carbs for my PT son. This is what I came up with…

2 x tinned tuna steaks in olive oil, drained and broken up roughly with a fork

a bundle of fresh spring greens

grated Cheddar cheese and last little bit of Parmesan

a small single portion of slightly under-cooked gluten free pasta

seasoned with black pepper ( I figured it would be plenty salty enough already without adding more)

And then all tossed together in a lasagna dish and covered with a béchamel sauce, roughly stirred through, before baking in the oven til it looked yummy (yes…that’s a technical cookery term!)

End result was an evening meal that was full of  tasty, cheesey tuna with al dente pasta and spring greens for four with enough leftover for three light lunches the next day – bargain!

When making béchamel sauce I always infuse the milk with bay leaves and fresh black pepper as a minimum requirement, variations on this that I enjoy are as follows:-

Ingredients
600ml/1½ pints milk
1 onion
1 bay leaf
2 cloves
6 black peppercorns
55g/2oz butter
55g/2oz plain flour
grated nutmeg (optional)
Preparation method
Bring the milk just to the boil with the onion pierced with the bay leaf and cloves, and the peppercorns.
Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 20 minutes before straining.
Then melt the butter in a non-stick pan, stir in the flour, and cook over a low heat for five minutes.
When smooth, start adding some of the strained milk. Stir until smooth, and then add more milk until the sauce is thickened.
Cook for 10-15 minutes to ensure the flour is cooked through.
Sprinkle with grated nutmeg, if desired, and serve

Ingredients
15fl oz/425ml milk
a few parsley stalks
1 bay leaf
1 blade of mace or a pinch of powdered mace (optional)
10 whole black peppercorns
1 slice onion, 1/4 inch (5 mm) thick
1½oz/40g butter
¾oz/20g plain flour
salt and freshly milled black pepper
Preparation method
First place the milk in a small saucepan and add the parsley stalks, bay leaf, mace (if using), peppercorns and onion. Then place it over a low heat and let it come very slowly up to simmering point, which will take approximately 5 minutes. Then remove the saucepan from the heat and strain the milk into a jug, discarding the flavourings.
All this can be done ahead of time, but when you want to make the sauce, use the same washed pan and place it over a gentle heat. Begin by melting the butter gently – don’t over-heat it or let it brown, as this will affect the colour and flavour of the sauce. As soon as the butter melts, add the flour and, over a medium heat and using a small pointed wooden spoon, stir quite vigorously to make a smooth, glossy paste. Now begin adding the infused milk a little at a time – about 1fl oz/25ml first of all and stir again vigorously. Then, when this milk is incorporated, add the next amount and continue incorporating each bit of liquid before you add the next. When about half the milk is in, switch to a balloon whisk and start adding large amounts of milk, but always whisking briskly. Your reward will be a smooth, glossy, creamy sauce.
Now turn the heat down to its lowest setting and let the sauce cook for 5 minutes, whisking from time to time. While that’s happening, taste and season with salt and freshly milled black pepper. If you wish to keep the sauce warm, all you do is pour it into a warmed jug and cover the surface with clingfilm to stop a skin from forming, then place the jug in a pan of barely simmering water.

A white sauce given extra flavour by infusing the milk with carrot, onion, celery, black peppercorns, mace and bay leaf for 30 minutes. Like hollandaise, mayonnaise and crème anglaise, béchamel forms the basis of numerous other sauces. It was named after its inventor, Louis XIV’s steward Louis de Béchamel. It’s a versatile sauce for all sorts of dishes including macaroni cheese, lasagne and croque monsieur.

Pasta with tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil

This is a classic pasta sauce dish – tomatoes with creamy mozzarella and fresh basil. Herbs and onions add extra depth of flavour.

Ingredients

To serve
  • 400g/14oz pasta of your choice, cooked according to packet instructions
  • 150g/5oz ball Italian mozzarella (or same weight of bocconcini, small balls of mozzarella)
  • handful fresh basil leaves

Preparation method

  1. Heat the oil in a wide frying pan over a gentle heat.
  2. Add the onions and fry gently, stirring frequently, until translucent. They should be softened and not browned. Don’t rush this stage – it should take about 8-10 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute or so to soften.
  4. Tip in the fresh or tinned tomatoes and the tomato puree and stir.
  5. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper, sugar (if using), the bay leaf and thyme.
  6. Bring up to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer very gently for 20-30 minutes, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes have reduced down to a thick sauce. You may need to add a little water to prevent it from catching.
  7. When the sauce has been simmering for 10-20 minutes, bring a large pot of well-salted water to the boil and cook your pasta according to the packet instructions.
  8. When the pasta is cooked, drain.
  9. When the sauce is cooked, taste for seasoning and add salt and freshly ground black pepper if necessary. (At this stage, the sauce can be cooled and then frozen in containers for several months.)
  10. When you’re ready to serve it, tear the mozzarella into chunks and add to the sauce. Tear the basil leaves and add to the sauce, then turn off the heat from under the sauce.
  11. Remove the bay leaf and thyme.
  12. Pour the sauce over the pasta and serve.

Spinach: love that lil’ green biatch of green goodness

Sophie messaged me just the other day with this one….  It is a so off the chain unexpected combination in a muffin that I feel we must try it! Both spinach and muffins are great, plus spinach with goats cheese is a winner so why limit them to filo pastry???

 

Spinach and goat's cheese muffins

Spinach and goat’s cheese muffins

These light and fluffy spinach and goat’s cheese muffins are an easy, savoury American-style bun. With Parmesan and cayenne pepper as well as spinach, even Popeye would approve of this snack.

Makes 9
Takes 45 minutes to make, plus cooling

INGREDIENTS

  • 25g butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 200ml milk
  • 100g spinach
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • Good pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 50g fresh Parmesan, finely grated
  • egg, lightly beaten
  • 200g rindless goat’s cheese

METHOD

How to make spinach and cheese muffins

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan170°C/gas 5. Lightly grease 9 holes of a deep muffin tin with a little butter.

2. Place the milk and butter in a large pan over a high heat. When the butter has melted, stir in the spinach and bring just to the boil. Remove from the heat and pour into a liquidiser orfood processor. Whizz until the spinach is finely chopped. Allow to cool for 5 minutes.

Tip: Allow the milk to cool a little before you add it to the dry ingredients, or the baking powder will start working before it gets into the oven. Don’t be tempted to use goat’s cheese with rind on – it doesn’t melt nicely. These muffins taste best when eaten within 24 hours, but you can freeze them, wrapped in a plastic bag, for up to 1 month.

3. Sift the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into alarge bowl. Add the cayenne and some freshly ground black pepper. Stir in the Parmesan. Add the egg and the spinach mixture, then beat with a wooden spoon until just mixed. Divide between 9 muffin holes, filling each about half full.

4. Add a little goat’s cheese to each muffin hole. Top with the remaining mixture, followed by a little more cheese, pushing the cheese down into the mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until risen and firm to the touch. Leave to cool for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack. Serve hot or cold.

 

Source: http://www.channel4.com/4food/recipes/popular-ingredients/5-ways-with-spinach/display/image/spinach-and-goats-cheese-muffins

 

I am a lover of spinach and fully intend to check out the other recipes in the article

 Spinach and egg pizza: http://www.channel4.com/4food/recipes/popular-ingredients/5-ways-with-spinach/display/image/spinach-and-egg-pizza

Spinach and egg pizza

Palak paneer: http://www.channel4.com/4food/recipes/popular-ingredients/5-ways-with-spinach/display/image/palak-paneer

Spinach and gruyere lasagne: http://www.channel4.com/4food/recipes/popular-ingredients/5-ways-with-spinach/display/image/spinach-and-gruyere-lasagne

Spicy spinach dhal soup with yoghurt: http://www.channel4.com/4food/recipes/popular-ingredients/5-ways-with-spinach/display/image/spicy-spinach-dhal-soup-with-yoghurt

 

I am perturbed/saddened to hear/see certain reputable sources quoting facts about current farming methods etc diminishing the nutritional merit of spinach and other vegetables, including organically farmed samples. These sources advocate supplementing vitamins and minerals to ensure optimum health. Sadly I feel inclined to allow their evidence may well have a place in today’s compromised politics- however whilst it may be true that spinach packs a weaker iron punch than it used to as far as my palette is concerned it still delivers a welcome touch to my taste buds. I just frickin’ like it!!!