More Quick Dinners

And from slow, lazy summer afternoons where I have time to produce such fancy food as summer pudding and the many-layered Moussaka, to after work ‘feed me now, I’m starving!’ moments (these generally occur from Monday to Friday). It is always helpful to have recipes that use stock cupboard items and that take half an hour maximum to prepare. I get home around 5.10pm on a weekday, Paul arrives home maybe 5 or 10 minutes later and if something isn’t ready within about an hour (or around the time King of the Hill starts), he’ll start snacking, thereby irretrievably denting his appetite (and mine, as I can never resist his sandwiches). Here then are some suggestions of quick evening recipes that provide satisfying home cooking (no colourings, microwave meals or jarred sauces here!), guaranteed to make you forget about a lousy workday.
P.S. These dishes serve two very greedy people.
Pasta with Spicy Sausage and Mustard:
Our current favourite dish, this is from Appetite by Nigel Slater. He uses Orichette pasta, which is shaped like little ears (hence the name). If you can’t get Orichette (which we can’t in our local supermarket), we often use pasta shells. I imagine that spaghetti or linguini would be great as well. I find that Orichette is a bit trendy at the moment anyway although it has a lovely bite to it that the plain shells don’t have. Besides, who thought of the ridiculous idea that pasta (or any other food for that matter) had to be trendy?
Half a packet of pasta (or however much you think the two of you can eat)
4/6 Spicy Sausages (we use Sainsbury’s Sicilian Pork and we use 6 not four, but whatever you like, providing they’re good quality!)
Little Olive Oil
Pinch or two Chilli Flakes (more if you like it muy caliente)
Tbsp Dijon Mustard
200ml Double Cream (or single if that’s all you have)
Some salt and pepper to taste
Fresh Basil Leaves
Glass white wine
Put a pan of water onto boil (enough for the pasta).
Meanwhile, skin the sausages. Heat a little olive oil in a heavy bottomed frying pan (you want the meat to stick slightly and leave those lovely sticky bits on the bottom of the pan to enhance the sauce, or deglaze, if you will). Fry the sausage meat until cooked through and turning golden brown.
Once the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until slightly al dente. Drain.
Add the white wine, let it bubble up and simmer for a minute or two before adding the chilli flakes and mustard. Scrape the bottom of the pan of its sticky sausage bits and cook for a minute more. Throw in the basil leaves, torn, and season to taste. Add the double cream and slowly bring to the boil so all the flavours amalgamate. Finally, add the al dente pasta, combining well. Taste for seasoning and serve.
Note: I have tried adding slowly fried onions to this but the flavour is completely drowned out by the loud mustard and chilli, so is a bit of a pointless exercise.

Another quick supper is Risotto (see recipe in previous post below). Don’t be scared by the slow cooking and painstaking stirring. It really is ready within half an hour, and that gives you plenty of time to cook some simple green beans with it and grill a piece of salmon or use up the Sunday roast chicken scraps by stirring them into the risotto. If you have had a really bad day at work, Risotto is a soothing balm for the ragged soul.

A flashy quick supper, if you’re feeling adventurous but lazy is from Tamasin Day Lewis’s Art of the Tart, Blue Cheese, Broccoli and Creme Fraiche Tart. This is a multi-layered but ultimately one pan (for the filling at least) open top pie, most ingredients you should have in your cupboard or fridge:
Tub Crème Fraiche (about 150ml)
70g Blue Cheese (the original recipe recommends Stilton I believe, but I prefer a milder Danish Blue)
100g cooked and chopped broccoli (the original states less broccoli but I prefer more)
Tbsp Capers, drained
4 Anchovies, chopped
Parmesan for sprinkling on the top
3 sprigs Thyme
1 small chopped onion
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
150g Puff Pastry, ready rolled if possible
Sweat the chopped onion in a teaspoon of olive until softened. Add the chopped garlic and Thyme. Cover and leave to cook, very gently, until everything is fragrantly soft to the point of melting. This will take about 20 minutes.
Add the cheese, broccoli, capers, anchovies and Crème Fraiche and warm through gently for about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and leave to cool.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 200c. Trim the puff pastry to the size of your baking sheet. Do not grease the sheet. Puff pastry gives out quite a lot of oil during cooking anyway.
With a knife, score a square within the puff pastry, an inch inside, without cutting right through, to make a frame or border if you like for the filling. Spoon the cooled mixture within the scored border and sprinkle with grated parmesan. Bake in oven for about 15 minutes or until puffy and the pastry is golden brown. Serve in large chunks with a green salad. I find that this is better when it has cooled down slightly although the recipe suggests serving it out. It is a bit trickier to cut when really hot.

Another tart with a heart for a quick supper is a puff pastry pizza, although I find that it bears little resemblance to a bona fide pizza. However, like it’s namesake, it is filling, moreish and fast food of a sort.

Cheats Pizza
Half pack puff pastry (about 250g or thereabouts)
2 onions, thinly sliced
couple springs Thyme
2 cloves Garlic, chopped finely
2 tbsp Olive Oil
4 or 5 vine tomatoes, chopped into quarters (or cherry tomatoes halved)
100g feta cheese (or goats cheese)
Dried Oregano
Good quality Olives, stoned if necessary and halved
Basil (or spinach) leaves
Preheat over to 200c.
Prepare the puff pastry in the same way as the Blue Cheese Tart above. Fridge for about 15 minutes or whilst you prep the rest of the dish.
Gently heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the onions, garlic and thyme leaves and cook slowly until they are meltingly soft and sweet.
Remove the puff pastry base from the fridge and spread the pan fried onions over the bottom of the pizza, inside the border as before. Dot the onions with the chopped tomatoes, olives and goats cheese, sprinkle with the oregano and grind over some black pepper. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and puffy, the cheese should be burnished and the tomatoes sweetly softening. Cover with the basil or spinach leaves and serve.

Toad in the HoleThis great British classic, which sounds like Lewis Carroll invented it, is simply sausages incased in batter and baked in a really hot oven. Very simple and quick particularly if you make the batter in the morning. The American’s have their own version (although, this seems to have passed on into the dubious annals of 1950s cookery) which involves frying an egg inside a piece of fried bread with a circle cut out of it, the egg being the toad, and the bread, of course, being the hole.

150ml milk
150ml water
salt and pepper
2 small eggs
110g Plain Flour
8 Sausages
2 Tbsp Lard
Prepare the batter: Whisk together the milk, water, eggs, plain flour and salt and pepper until smooth, making sure to whisk out any lumps of flour. Leave to stand for at least 15 minutes, the longer the better.
Preheat oven to 220c.
Put 2 tbsp lard in baking dish. Put baking dish in oven. You need the lard to be sizzling hot so that the batter starts cooking as soon as it hits the fat.
Brown the sausages in a hot frying pan. I like my sausages to have third degree burns and I find that they don’t always brown successfully in the oven. I am particularly particular about the browning of sausages but then, I am seeking help for my strange quirk(s).
Once the fat is hot and sizzling, quickly pour in the batter, it will fizzle as soon as it hits the pan, and arrange the sausages on the batter. During cooking, the batter will puff up (and the longer you have you left it, the more it will puff) around the sausages, nestling their burnished toads in a golden, crispy blanket. It should take approximately 30 minutes to cook, but do check after 20 minutes because cooking time varies depending on the size and material of your baking dish, oven temperature fluctuations etc.
Serve with lashings of mashed potato and onion gravy.

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