I can think of a few things as comforting as a tasty tomato sauce poured generously over spaghetti. So for your convenience here is the quick recipe that has received top hits from all of Lia’s Kitchen readers in 2012.
And if you fancy a variation don’t forget another favourite: Lia’s Kitchen carrot and tomato red sauce.
We found the main ingredient for this new red carrot pasta sauce at the roadside between Temple Bar and Criblyn villages in Ceredigion, Wales.
A compulsory stop to find our bearings and the way to the little thatched cottage that would be our home for the weekend revealed a roadside stall with bunches of fresh organic carrots, homemade jams and eggs. This was still one of those places where you are trusted to pick what you want and leave the money.
We arrived ravenous at the cottage with a bunch of fresh small organic carrots, and fettuccine pasta, tinned plum tomatoes, the basics of garlic, salt and pepper, and the luxury of cinnamon in our travel cook box.
The recipe came together in my mind when I remembered an interview of Anna del Conte, the Italian food writer who raised awareness of Italian cuisine in the UK in the late 70s, and her mention to finely chopped carrots as a main ragu ingredient.
I coarsely grated the carrots for my recipe to infuse the sauce with the bright orange colour and the organic carrot flavours of this star ingredient. The result: a pure delight and a fool-proof vegetarian ragu sauce that is guaranteed to please and comfort. Yum!
- 7-8 small and fresh organic carrots, coarsely grated
- 2 tins of plum tomatoes
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 tsp cinnamon powder
- 1 tsp sugar
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- Half a pack of fettuccine or other dried pasta (120g)
Coarsely grate the carrots after you have washed them well. No need to peel really fresh and young carrots.
Finely chop the onion.
Sweat and sauté the onion on low heat for a few minutes. Use a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.
Add the grated carrots and a couple of pinches of salt, and sauté in low heat for another ten minutes or so.
Add the two tins of plum tomatoes and a teaspoon of sugar.
Mash with a wooden spoon; add another pinch of salt or two, one or two teaspoons of cinnamon, stir and cover.
Simmer on low heat for thirty or fourtyfive minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed and the sauce has reached a thick ragu consistency.
Cover and let the sauce rest for at least fifteen or more. This helps the sauce bind and the flavours come out, patience is a key.
Serve with half a pack of fettuccine, strong crumbly cheddar and coarse pepper (we used Barbers cruncher, a West Country mature, sweet and crunchy cheddar) .
This recipe makes two very generous portions but you can share between three or four.
How did Petra and her recipe enter my life? How do you summarise a friendship?
I will never forget the first time I saw Petra’s smiley face in the corridors of City and Regional Planning, Cardiff University, when she came over to Wales as a visiting researcher. I remember long nights with emotional conversations and loud laughter. I remember dancing at the Toucan on St Mary Street and Journeys on Clifton Street.
In August 2011, I found Petra again. Crete returned to me a friend, as well as serenity and a sense of home. But then again that is also what a good friend gives. I hugged Petra tightly after 5 years during which our individual journeys were coinciding and sometimes merging in the ether, without us knowing: searching, coping, understanding and finding.
In Crete, the land that generously offers good food and sun, we met and talked about food, love, life and dreams again. It’s good to be reminded of all that bonds you deeply with another person.
My friend Petra loves food, cooking and life. She is also a rural sociologist who is passionate about sustainable food and approaches the subject from a cultural angle: understanding cultures and consumerist patterns, and changing attitudes. She teaches and researches at the University of Wageningen, the Netherlands and build a ‘Food Cultures and customs’ course in 2010. And last year Petra was also a part-time organic farmer for the growing season. What a woman!
Petra writes for a couple of blogs: the rural sociology group blog, university of Wageningen and Pure Food links, a sustainable food network blog. Recently, she visited Brasil and, in a couple of entries at the end of October and November 2011, she tell us about national school food programmes, and particularly Dos Irmáos School ,the Rio Grande do Sul, which she visited. Legislation requires that 30% of fresh produce used in school food comes from local farms: shortening the supply chain with various possible good impacts for the environment, economy, etc. springing to my mind at first glimpse.
Apart from the curry she recommended this month, when I think of Petra and food two dishes spring to mind: garlic and chilli prawns served with fresh bread, and roast lamb. I remember a roast lamb dinner when suddenly it dawned on us that everyone around the dining table was a Libra, with the exception of me who was born on the cusp: what a strange coincidence that so many of us hanging out regularly, making lasting friendships, were born within a month of each other either in the same year or a couple of years apart either way.
I adapted Sarah Raven’s chickpea curry recipe recommended by Petra and whilst cooking her felt presence in Cardiff once again.
- 1.5 -2 cups of brown rice
- 3-4 cups of boiling water
- 2 onions
- 5 garlic cloves
- Approx 500 gr of green and purple curly kale
- 2 tins of cooked chickpeas (drained well)
- 2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 small sweet potatoes peeled and diced
- 2 tspns, spice of life curry mix
- Approx. 50 gt grated ginger
- 1 red chilli pepper
- Approx. 250gr mixed mushrooms (portabella and chestnut in this occasion)
- 1 stick lemongrass
- Juice and zest of 1 lime
- 1 tin of coconut milk
- 1 bunch fresh coriander
- A pinch of shrimp paste
- Some paprika
- Salt and pepper to season if required
- Put the rice on to simmer: its preparation should take as long as cooking your curry.
- Remove the stems from the kale and chop the leaves in strips. Blanche or Steam them for 5 minutes, drain well and set aside.
- Peel, chop, dice and steam the carrots and sweet potatoes for 10 min. Drain and set aside.
- Fry the onion gently in the oil until soft. Add the curry powder, fresh ginger, chili, salt and pepper and stir.
- The Spice of life curry powder I used is mixed in house by Gareth, in house, and contains coriander, cumin, fenugreek, garlic, paprika, turmeric, pepper, curry leaf, asafetida, ginger, chilly, mustard, cassia, cardamom, mace & bay.
- Next, add the garlic and then the mushroom, lemongrass and lime juice and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add the cooked chickpeas (drain and rinse tinned ones), coconut milk, mushrooms, shrimp paste and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Finally add the kale to the chickpea mixture. Sarah Raven’s sauce adds soy and fish sauces at this stage, but I replaced this with just a bit of shrimp paste, the size of a very 2 peas.
- Scatter with coarsely chopped coriander, over a good portion of rice.
Tip: I froze a couple of portions of the curry and save for yummy lunches this week. This dish was as delicious when defrosted and consumed two weeks after I cooked it.
This recipe is dedicated to Denise, an extraordinary lady, working at the PDSA in Cardiff.
If you are looking for a simple and light recipe that satisfies your winter cravings in a guilt free manner, I think you are at the right blog.
Our household is on a health buzz this January, probably like you are, and we feel a lot better for it. The recipe below is the lighter alternative to aubergines recipes like Melanzane al Parmigiano or Moussaka and it is a lot quicker to prepare too.
Many people mistake me for a vegetarian! This is because I don’t normally eat meat more than once a week or every week: there are just too many food groups to choose from! I grew up eating red meat once a week and our family fasted/detoxed a few times a year for 2-3 weeks, gradually giving up different food groups: staring from meat, chicken, fish; moving to dairy; then giving up seafood and sometimes even giving up oils, fats and spices.
It is fascinating that various cultures and denominations incorporate at least one period of cleansing and self discipline in their calendar year. Whatever your way of going through such a process may be, most of you who have will agree that it is worth it.
And why not go a step further this year: why not commit to eating good healthy food all the time? Why not eat less and better sourced meat for ethical, environmental and health reasons? Why not eat less but buy better quality ingredients? And then we can talk about our energy levels and fitness: you might even shed a couple of kilos or more, and maintain that loss in the long term.
Thanks to Dan Green for the fantastic photos, as ever! And for teaching me technicalities and how to select images!
Aubergine bake recipe, feeds 4-6
Ingredients for a 25cm x35cm baking tray
For the first layer
3-4 large meaty aubergines
For the third layer
1 large onion, sliced
2 bell peppers, one red and one green
1 tin of pre-cooked puy lentils
6-8 chestnut or other mushrooms, roughly chopped or sliced
A couple tbspns chopped parsley
A handful of ground pimento berries
For the third layer
300gr grated cheddar or parmesan cheese OR a mixture of the two
- Prepare and start cooking your basic tomato sauce. I suggest you use parsley for this recipe. 25min
- Start by cutting off the stem and ‘nose’ of your aubergine. Slice thickly: 2-3cm slices. Each aubergine should give you at least 3 slices. 2-5min.
- Salt the aubergines and let rest in a large bowl for 20min whilst your tomato sauce is cooking. This process removes excess water from the aubergine and makes the grilling faster. You can skip this step as your aubergines will grill anyway. 20min, optional
- Coat a large non-stick pan with some olive oil and grill the slices in high heat, pressing down firmly with the spatula to quicken the cooking process (removes excess water). For each grill batch you can coat the pan with some olive oil. 15min.
- Layer your baking tray with the cooked aubergine slices, snugly and leaving no gaps.
- Prepare layer 3: sauté the onion, pepper and mushroom is a tiny bit of olive oil for 10-15 minutes. Season with some salt. Drain and add the precooked puy lentils. Grind a small handful of pimento berries in a pestle and mortar and add to your mixture. Once all juices are absorbed, a coupe of minutes after adding the lentils, remove from heat. Season to taste, if needed. You can prepare this layer as you are grilling your aubergines. 15min
- Preheat your grill! 10min.
- Add Layer 2, the tomato sauce, which should be cooked by now, evenly to your baking tray on top of the aubergines. Seconds.
- Add Layer 3 evenly on top of the tomato sauce. Seconds.
- Grate your cheeses to finish off. Seconds.
- Place under the grill for 10-15 minutes or until golden. 15min.
- Cool down for 10-15 minutes and enjoy! 15min.