Easy Pesto Pasta recipe

When I was growing up, my dad was in charge of dinner once in a while, and his go-to was pesto. I have a special place on my palate for this style of pesto, and when I have a bit of fresh basil to use, I make a batch of pesto to keep in the fridge. I use the pesto in my spag bol, or as a spread on a cold chicken sandwich, but most especially for the fastest midweek dinner.

The pesto I make has walnuts, which may turn off a few due to taste or allergy, but you can substitute a nice hard, Italian cheese for the nuts if you prefer. Pine nuts are more traditional, but I find them expensive and less versatile than the walnuts, which also find their way into baked goods in my house. You can also add more olive oil than the recipe calls for to taste, but I usually add olive oil to the dish I’m using the pesto to flavour, so I use just enough to blend and preserve.

If you don’t fancy making the pesto from scratch, you can always tear in basil leaves and crush fresh garlic for the pasta recipe, and it’s still flavorful and quick. My kids aren’t the biggest fans of this pasta if it isn’t angel hair and the garlic is overpowering, but they never notice when it’s in the spag bol!  This dish takes all of 15 minutes, the longest step really is waiting for the water to boil. You can even make the pesto in the food processor while you wait for the water and then pasta. So quick, and so tasty!

You’ll need:

Pesto (food processor to a paste)

  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves, rinsed
  • 2 teaspoons (or two cloves) fresh peeled garlic
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup walnut halves or pieces
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Pasta

  • Angel Hair pasta (or spaghetti) to serve four (one handful usually does the trick)
  • ½ cup chopped onion (I use frozen)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 cup sweet peas (again, frozen)
  • ½ cup rough chopped walnuts
  • 1-2 tablespoons pesto from above batch (or a handful of basil leaves and a bit of garlic)
  • ½ cup shredded Parmesan or preferred hard cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The method:

Using a food processor, blend the basil leaves, garlic cloves and olive oil until smooth.

Add the walnuts and salt, and any more olive oil to keep the mixture smooth up to an additional tablespoon. The pesto paste should not clump up, but remain semi-liquid.

Pesto.jpg

Using a medium saucepan, bring 6+ cups of water to a boil for the pasta.

Break the pasta in half and add to the boiling water. Add salt and oil if you choose, but I usually don’t bother.

While the pasta cooks, scrape the pesto into an airtight container; this will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks!

Drain the pasta in the sink and return the pan to the cook top with a medium heat.

Add the onions, peas and oil and thaw/lightly fry the onions and peas.

Add the pesto you’ve created and the additional walnut pieces and stir into the onions and peas. This allows the garlic to fry off lightly before adding the pasta.

Return the pasta to the pan and toss lightly. You can also pour the pasta and sauce into a large serving bowl for tossing, it may provide more space for evenly coating the pesto.

Remove from the heat and either in the pot or bowl, add the cheese and toss again.

Salt and pepper to taste before serving. Enjoy!

Plated pesto pasta.jpg

Porky Pie recipe

Comfort food is delightful in the winter, when jumpers and jackets cover their calorific side effects. As we enter Spring, however, I try to lighten our meals a little, in anticipation of shorts and vest tops. This recipe is a mid-week crowd pleaser; not cottage, not shepherd’s, but porky pie. It’s a quick, healthy meal that doesn’t take more than 30 minutes from fridge to table.

Ground pork is lovely and lean, but still has fabulous flavour if you give it a chance to brown. I add chopped mushroom to the meat to add volume, texture and flavour, but the kids would never know it! This is a gluten-free recipe that could be vegetarian if you use Quorn instead of meat. The usual carrots and peas add even more veg, texture and freshness to this delicious favourite.

My kids aren’t fond of white potato mash – they prefer sweet potato, so I’ve made this with sweet potato mash many times and it’s wonderful. This recipe is more traditional, with white or yellow potato mash on top, but if you’re really pressed for time midweek, you can use instant mash potatoes to top the meat. This saves peeling, boiling and mashing yourself, and only involves the kettle and a bowl. For families with less pernickety children, the instant mash is a real timesaver, and adding a little dollop of crème fraiche or soured cream makes all the difference for the taste. The pork gravy tastes amazing no matter how you top it!

Porky Pie recipe.png

You’ll need:

  • 1lb ground pork
  • 1 cup chopped white onion (I use frozen)
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup chopped brown mushroom
  • 1 cup chopped or grated carrot
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon chicken stock concentrate, or ½ cube dried chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup frozen sweet peas
  • Optional 1 additional tablespoon Worcestershire sauce near the end
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 cups of white potato mash (if not using instant)
  • 3-5 medium russet potatoes
  • 1 cup low fat milk
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional ½ cup shredded cheese

The method:

If you’re making your own mash, get a pot of water on the cooker to bring to the boil, and wash and quarter your potatoes so they’re ready to add to the water straight away.

Choose a nice wide pan for browning your meat and bring it to a medium-high heat. Add the chopped onions, ground pork and Worcestershire sauce and mix together, breaking up the meat and distributing the onions and sauce.

Leave the meat for a good 2 minutes to allow one side to brown deeply. Resist the temptation to stir as you want the flavour to stick. This is a great time to chop mushrooms and carrots.

Add the dry spices to the meat before your next stir and coat the meat before leaving it for another 2 minutes.

Add your chopped mushroom and carrot once the meat is mostly browned and mix into the mixture well.

Next, add the chicken stock and tomato paste, and perhaps a splash of water to help dissolve, but the meat and veg will have produced a bit of liquid to help stir into the gravy.

Porky Pie filling

Add the frozen peas and distribute into the mixture, reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Allow the mixture to simmer covered for about 10 minutes.

While the meat is simmering, whip up your mash with either the kettle water and packet, or the boiled potatoes you’ve drained in the sink. If making from-scratch mash, I add the boiled potatoes back to the pan with the butter and use a fork to smash. I add 1% milk, and salt and pepper to taste. The handful of shredded cheese is optional, but adds colour and creaminess.

After about 10 minutes, taste the pork and add one more splash of Worcestershire to taste. I love the flavour, so add that last minute splash before it goes into the oven. You’re fine to use salt and pepper to taste if you prefer.

Pour the meat mixture into the bottom of a baking dish (I use a square non-stick) and cover with your mash.

Spreading potatoes on porky pie.jpg

Slide the pie into a preheated oven at 200C/400F for about 15 minutes. It doesn’t take long for bubbles, so an additional baking tray underneath is advised. Allow the pie to cool slightly before serving and enjoy!

Porky Pie close-up.jpg

Sparkly Mummy

Lazy lasagna recipe with midweek meatballs

My children motivate most of my meal planning; it needs to be fast, full of nutrition and tasty! Not much to go on, I know, but I find a way. This recipe blog catalogues some of my favourite solutions for the midweek freak out that can become the answer to “what’s for dinner?” As much as I love to cook, I’m an essentially lazy chef, so I need cheats like the “meatballs” my kids love. They don’t realise that traditional meatballs are huge, hand-shaped and time consuming, but they squeal with delight when they see my pasta with meatballs all the same.

I call this a lazy lasagna because using linguine instead of lasagne sheets saves so much time! I also use sausages for the meatballs; mild Italian pork is not spicy but flavourful. In the UK, I used to buy gluten-free sausages for their high meat content – I don’t need all of the bread fillers. I’ve been known to de-case the sausages for lovely ground pork, but in this recipe, I’ve left the sausages in their casing and slice them towards the end. I can usually have this meal on the table in about 45 minutes, but it can be even quicker if you’re super talented and have three pots on the stove going at once. It may create more dishes, but that’s not always a bad thing if it calms the starving hordes a bit sooner.

Don’t get me wrong, nothing can replace a true restaurant-style al forno lasagne, but this recipe has so much of the flavour without the fuss, it’s got to be tried. I don’t like the meal to be too rich or the kids won’t like it, so the addition of vegetables and ricotta help to keep it fresh and light. Most American-style lasagna is layered with ricotta and spinach, and egg even for the oven baking, and takes ages to layer and then bake. This method takes half the time but packs a powerful lasagna punch.

ways tocook.png

You’ll need:

  • 1lb (6 large) sausages (I use mild Italian or gluten-free)
  • 1 tablespoon veg oil of choice for searing the sausages
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion (I use frozen)
  • 1 cup shredded carrot (I use pre-shredded/julienned)
  • 2 x 8oz/400ml tins of chopped tomato (or 1 chopped and 1 sauce if you need less chunks)
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon fresh minced or dried garlic
  • ½ teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon Italian spice mix of choice (mine has thyme, rosemary, basil and parsley)
  • 1 cup of chopped spinach (I use frozen)
  • 1 teaspoon chicken stock concentrate
  • 2 cups of water for the sauce
  • Linguine pasta (one handful dried pasta made enough for 4 people)
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • ½ cup grated or shredded parmesan
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

The method:

I try to have as many things going at once as possible to cut down on the time, but you can use the same pot for your sauce after searing the sausage if you have time and want fewer dishes.

If I know I’m going to sear meat for colour and flavour, I usually take it out of the fridge to allow it to come closer to room temperature before frying. This is usually about an hour before I get started – I just leave the packet on the sink.

Warm a pan and the veg oil to a medium-high heat before adding the sausages. Try not to move them for about 3 minutes before turning. The longer you can leave them sitting, the better colour they’ll get. Don’t worry about cooking them all the way, they’ll finish in the sauce.

While the sausages are browning, bring another pot to a medium-high temperature with the olive oil and onions. Once the onions begin to sizzle, add the carrot and dry spices and mix in well.

Once the onions and carrots have been coated with the spices and fried for a minute or two, add the tins of tomatoes.

Be sure to turn your sausages to get colour on as much of the casing as possible. I use a cast iron pan for this job.

You can get a medium-sized sauce pan started with boiling water for your pasta. I almost never use a huge pot of water as it seems a waste and takes ages. I break my handful of pasta in half before adding it to the boiling water with a splash of oil. As long as you stir once in a while, there’s plenty of space for the pasta to cook.

Add the chicken concentrate and water to your tomato sauce, then add the water and spinach and bring it all to the boil. I usually cover the sauce and only slightly reduce the heat to keep a rolling boil going without the splattering. This will help the sauce break down quickly.

Once the sausages have lovely colour on most sides, go ahead and add them to the sauce and the re-cover the pan. The sausages will finish cooking in the sauce after another 10 minutes or so, and their juices will flavour the sauce.

Once the pasta is cooked to your preferred texture – we go slightly softer than al dente – drain and lightly rinse your noodles.

Add the ricotta, parmesan, salt and pepper to a small bowl and mix well.

Toss it together to coat the pasta with the cheese and set aside.

Cheese on pasta.jpg

Check your sauce is reducing and the carrots and tomatoes have softened. Go ahead and remove the sausages from the sauce, onto a plate for slicing.

Slice the sausages into equal pieces so they’re, you know, meatballs! Return the sausage and any juices from the plate back into the sauce and allow it to simmer for another 5 minutes uncovered.

Chopped sausages.jpg

When you’re ready to serve, add the pasta to the sauce and toss it all together. You don’t want to overdo it, or it’ll start to turn to mush, so a few quick turns to pull the sauce from the bottom should be fine. You can also serve the sauce ladled over the pasta if you prefer.

Once you’re happy with the temperature for serving, pile onto plates and enjoy! My kids are temperature adverse, so the cooled pasta with the hot sauce meets their requirements without really needing to reheat. It’s not the most beautiful meal in the world, but it’s got everything you need for a lazy lasagna experience. Hope you enjoy it!

Sparkly Mummy

One-pot tuna pasta recipe

I’m all about the quick, 20-minute meal to feed the hungry crowd, and this version of classic tuna pasta is dead easy. I really like the sweetness added by frying off a few onions in butter before adding the tuna. Usually, tinned tuna is simply stirred into the dish, but I fry it a bit with the onions as I break up the meat, and it just adds a depth of flavour without being labour intensive.

You can use gluten-free pasta if you prefer – any shape will do – but I like standard macaroni for this dish. I know it’s tempting to use a tin of condensed cream of mushroom or chicken soup, but I promise this is just as easy and less gloppy. I only want one pot to clean, so I boil the pasta and peas together, make the sauce while they drain, and then toss it all together again. Easy peasy.

tuna-pasta-in-the-bowl

You’ll need:

  • 2 cups dry pasta
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 4-6 cups water

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup chopped white onion (I use frozen)
  • 2 TB butter
  • 1 tin of tuna
  • 1 tsp dried garlic
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • 1 cup single cream or half and half
  • 1 cup shredded cheese of choice (I use mild cheddar for the kids)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional splash of milk to loosen the sauce as preferred

The Method:

Bring a pot of water to the boil and add your pasta. Adjust the quantities for a larger pot, but this should easily feed a family of four to five people.

After half the cooking time for your pasta, add the frozen peas and bring back to the boil.

Once the pasta is tender, drain the pasta and peas and allow to rest while you use the pot.

pasta-and-peas

Add butter and onions over a med-high heat and allow the onions to go translucent.

Add the tinned tuna and break it up, coating it with the butter and onions, and allow the mixture to fry slightly.

Add the dried garlic and oregano, and mix well before pouring in the cream. Stir well, continuing to break up the tuna and allowing the cream to warm.

Add the cheese a bit at a time, stirring well into the creamy tuna in about three batches. Feel free to add more cheese than stated if you love it!

tuna-pasta-sauce-with-cheese

Allow the sauce to begin to bubble slightly before returning the pasta and peas. Mix well and give it a taste to add salt and pepper as you see fit.

This couldn’t be faster for a midweek meal; most ingredients are staples! Hope you enjoy this no-fuss version of a classic tuna pasta. If you just can’t live without the cheesy-baked top, go ahead and throw it into a baking dish and cover with shredded cheese. I didn’t have the time to oven bake, and this was on the table in 20 minutes! It left me time to play some Uno with the kids.

Sparkly Mummy

Midweek Moussaka recipe

Autumn is a great time to try harvest foods like aubergine and make casserole bakes that warm the house. Greek food is something I rarely make at home, preferring to indulge at a restaurant or friend’s home, but this moussaka recipe is hard to resist. Moussaka is a bit like Greek lasagne: usually layered, meaty and loaded with cheese. The béchamel sauce may be daunting, but I’ve made this recipe a mid-week version that will hopefully calm your aversion. Something magical happens in the oven when the sauce thickens and browns across the top – it’s absolutely worth a try.

My family enjoy this dinner so much. I don’t think there’s anything better than sweet and savoury to get kids interested. The meat is browned with cinnamon and balsamic vinegar, and the béchamel is creamy with milk and parmesan cheese. The aubergine, or eggplant, is lightly fried in olive oil, but I use cubes rather than taking the time to thinly slice for layering. The final product is worth every ounce of effort, and I guarantee this moussaka recipe takes less than most. Even if you think you don’t like aubergine, I think you’ll be surprised at how flavourful, hearty and delicate this dish really is.

Midweek Moussaka Recipe

You’ll need:

  • 2-3 aubergines/eggplants peeled and cubed
  • 2-4 TB olive oil
  • 1 lb minced beef (the leaner the better so you don’t have to drain)
  • 1 cup chopped white onion
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp garlic granules
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 8oz tin of tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 4 cups warm milk
  • ½ cup salted butter
  • 6 TB all-purpose flour (not self-rising)
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1-2 cups grated parmesan cheese

The method:

To begin, peel the aubergines and cube them into 3 cm/1 inch cubes. Some say you should salt the aubergine to absorb water … I usually can’t be bothered, but give it a try if your eggplant seems particularly wet.

cooking-the-aubergines

In a large pan, warm a tablespoon or two of olive oil before adding about half of the aubergine cubes. Be sure to leave space between pieces and fry off in two or three batches. Allow the slightly golden-edged aubergine to rest on kitchen roll while you finish batches and the meat.

Once you’ve spent ten minutes or so lightly frying the cubes, you can reuse the pan for the beef.

Add the chopped onion, minced beef and dry spices to the pan with what remains of the oil and any aubergine bits.

Cooking mince for moussaka.jpg

Allow the meat to brown nicely before adding the tomato sauce and balsamic vinegar. Bring to the boil before reducing the heat to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Now is a good time to preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

While the meat simmers and reduces, it’s time for the béchamel sauce.

I begin with using a microwave-safe measuring cup or bowl to warm the milk. Microwaving 3-5 minutes on high should do the trick, but you want to be sure the milk is nearly boiling.

In a non-stick pan, melt the butter and add the flour. I use gluten free, and may use a bit less than stated above, but the roux you create will be thick. Mix well with a rubber spatula until smooth.

Gradually add the hot milk, stirring quickly to smooth into the roux. This sounds intimidating, but it’s really going to come through for you.

Once the milk is fully incorporated into the butter and flour, allow it to lightly boil over a low heat and thicken slightly. Remove from the heat and mix in ½ cup of the parmesan.

Cooking bechamel and tomato sauce for moussaka.jpg

Now for the assembly: pour the partially-fried aubergine cubes into the bottom of a large baking dish. Sprinkle about ½ cup of the parmesan cheese over the top of the cubes.

Moussaka ready to bake.jpgPour the meat mixture over the aubergine and add another layer of parmesan sprinkle before pouring the beaten egg over the top.

Pour the slightly cooled béchamel sauce over the top and give it a little wiggle to settle the casserole before popping it in the oven.

Bake at 180C/350F for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the top is golden and solid. Allow the dish to cool before serving to preserve the layers, or dish up straight away if you’re not fussed about presentation.

Enjoy!

plated-moussaka

Sparkly Mummy