Pappardelle with mushrooms

A few years ago, I considered getting a vegetable box. What can I say? I was just married, living in what the estate agent called Hampstead (it was really Swiss Cottage), working with a whole bunch of well-groomed City types and spending my Sunday mornings in my local coffee shop reading the Sunday Times. A vegetable box would have completed the picture. I looked on the websites of Abel and Cole and Riverford Organic, glossing over the problem of having a weekly delivery to our third floor flat when we were both at work every day, and excitedly told Jon all about it.

He wrinkled his nose. “So each week we get a box of random vegetables, which someone else has picked out, some of which we don’t like, and then we pay more for the privilege of knowing that they are grown on some farm not very near us?” It did sound a bit barmy, then, so we went off to Waitrose (of course) and, crazily enough, picked out a selection of vegetables that we both liked and wanted to use.

I mentioned that episode to a friend and he told me that I had missed the point of vegetable boxes. Apparently the whole fun of it is that you get interesting vegetables (for which read beetroot, or turnip) that you wouldn’t otherwise buy, and then the challenge is to make something out of it that you wouldn’t have otherwise made. It all sounds a bit Blue Peter and not really the way I like to shop or eat. Generally in this house we pride ourselves on not having very much wastage. We bake our bread and then when it is stale, turn it into breadcrumbs. We freeze leftover portions or take them to work for lunch. We use up vegetables in soups and fruit in pies and sorbets. But sometimes we’ll buy something because I have a specific recipe in mind, and then I don’t need very much of it and we have loads of it lying around. I confess that I would probably forget about it and let it languish in the bottom drawer of the fridge for a few weeks, but if there is a loose end in the fridge Jon is on it. “Half a bag of spinach? What are we doing with that?” “There are two leeks and half a swede, what’s happening with them?” It’s like having my very own awkward vegetable from the vegetable box, but I generally choose the vegetable and it’s not a horrible turnip. But the challenge is still on.

That is what happened this week with mushrooms. We had a load of different ones – shiitake, portabellini, chestnut – some of which I’d used to make a mushroom ragu to have on polenta squares as a starter for lunch on Saturday (to be blogged another time). I had a hunt around for a nice recipe to use them up and found a Spanish mushroom and lentil recipe which looked nice, but then I had lentils for lunch and didn’t want them. With Yom Kippur tomorrow, if we didn’t eat them tonight we’d have them hanging over our heads until Thursday and I knew we had to get them out of here before then. I had things to cook for Yom Kippur tonight and couldn’t be bothered with anything complex, and really just wanted something delicious and simple and comforting.

Step forward, Jamie Oliver, with your simple, light and quick pappardelle with mushrooms. I’ve laughed at Jamie on this blog before for his nonsense malteser ice cream recipe, but I know that really, like this pasta, he is a good, simple, hearty fellow, and he means well. This is a super quick, easy weeknight dinner. A bit of a carb-fest, and not massively high in protein (eeeek) but using egg pasta helps, and if you use shiitake mushrooms you get a bonus portion of vitamin D, and the parsley gives you some equally elusive vitamin K. It’s surprisingly filling, too.

Serves 2

  • About 400g mixed wild mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 dried red chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Small bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped.
  • Fresh egg pappardelle for 2 (about 250g)
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Clean the mushrooms and slice them thinly
  2. Put the olive oil in a very hot frying pan and then add the mushrooms, frying quickly. Add the garlic and chilli and some salt and pepper.
  3. Continue frying for 4 or 5 minutes and then turn the heat off, and add the lemon juice and half the chopped parsley. Check the seasoning.
  4. Meanwhile, bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta.
  5. When it is cooked, pour a little of the pasta water into the frying pan with the mushrooms, drain the pasta and add to the frying pan, tossing to coat with the liquid and mixing the mushrooms in.
  6. Serve, garnishing with the rest of the parsley.

For the baby-friendly version, as above but without the salt (and maybe without the chilli, depending on how your baby deals with chilli). You will have to cook the pasta separately, because the salt in the water is essential for the adult version.

*Approximate nutritional values*

  • Calories: 520 kcal
  • Carbs: 72g
  • Fat: 19g
  • Protein: 19g
  • Sugar: 2g
  • Sodium: 1766mg

Pesto

I hate “recipes” that are totally obvious. Why are people paying money for books with recipes like Malteser Icecream (recipe: 1 bag of maltesers, crushed. 1 tub of vanilla ice cream, slightly melted. Mix crushed maltesers into ice cream. Eat) That is not a fake recipe, by the way. That is from Jamie Oliver. Similarly, recipes for things like grilled fish (recipe: put fish on tray. Add olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill. Eat) These things are in the same category as warnings on the sides of bags of peanuts (“may contain nuts”) and “caution: hot” on the sides of takeaway coffee cups. Annoying, stupid, nannyish.

But. What if you write a food blog and you want to include things you eat quite regularly that you think others would enjoy, but those things are extremely simple to make? (As the writer of one such blog) I say, put it in, because others may not realise quite how simple it is, and anyway, this blog is free.

So, I want to talk to you about pesto. Pesto is a glorious and wonderful thing. So simple, so easy, so delicious, and pretty versatile. As it comes, it’s perfect on pasta or as a spread on top of fillets of fish. It is also great as a sauce for a fancy starter (I’ll blog about one later on), or in a salad (I made a great one a few weeks ago that I’ll blog about another time too). As long as you have a small food processor at your disposal, I literally cannot imagine why anyone would ever buy pesto, when it is so easy to make yourself, and so easy to tailor to your own tastes. It’s quite high in fat (and not especially high in protein) but it’s worth those aberrations from my nutritional plan as it is so delicious.

Now, here is an interesting question about pesto. Should it contain cheese? As an out of the closet cheese hater, I obviously say no. I don’t think it needs it. As far as my limited research has taken me, I believe that the Italians do not put cheese in their pesto (they may add some parmesan or grana padana at the table), and sometimes the French do. But what do the French know about cooking?

So my pesto recipe does not contain cheese. Second interesting question: what nuts should pesto contain? The conventional nut is the pine nut, and these are delicious. They are also the least nutritious and most fatty of all nuts. After my whole protein/general nutritional awareness started wearing off on Jon, he started hassling me every time we made pesto: “WALNUTS! Why don’t we make it with walnuts? They’re amazing for you.” So, we added walnuts. Then, “BRAZIL NUTS! Why don’t we add brazil nuts? They’re full of selenium, so good for you.” So, we added brazil nuts. But when we tried making it with just walnuts or brazil nuts, it wasn’t so great. The pine nuts are necessary for taste, but the other nuts are good additions to up the nutritional value. (That is my view. Jon wanted me to give, and I quote, “further credit to the walnuts. They add a real depth to the flavour.”) So – try it out. This is the kind of recipe you’ll make over and over again, so you can afford to be experimental. Obviously, the proportions and quantities of these nuts are up to you, and you may decide to just go with the basic pine nut version, which is totally delicious.

Basil, garlic, olive oil. These are the essentials that I haven’t meddled with, although I’ve seen and tried pesto using other leaves. I think they’re OK, but basil is the best.

And finally, salt. Pesto is one of Joe’s favourite foods, but I make his without salt. The baby-friendly version of pesto couldn’t be easier. You put all of the ingredients, without salt, into the food processor, and then extract your baby’s portion. Then add salt to the rest, and give it another whizz.

In the picture above we had it on pasta, with asparagus. Simply steam the asparagus, cut into small pieces and mix in with the pasta and pesto.

Basic pesto, with Jon’s nut recipe

Makes enough for about 2 adults and 1 baby

  • 25g fresh basil
  • 2 cloves garlic, with the last level of skin still on
  • 25g pine nuts
  • 50g walnuts
  • 3 or 4 brazil nuts
  • Approx 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt
  1. Put the garlic cloves and nuts in a dry frying pan on a medium heat. Stir until the pine nuts are toasted (the other nuts won’t change colour as much as the pine nuts).
  2. Remove the skins from the garlic, and tip, together with the nuts, into the food processor. Remove the stalks from the basil, olive oil and salt (or save the salt until later if making for a baby), and whizz.
  3. Adjust the olive oil and salt as necessary, and that’s it.

*Approximate nutritional values (adult portion)*

  • Calories: 438kcal
  • Carbs: 4
  • Fat: 45g
  • Protein: 7g
  • Sugar: 1g
  • Sodium: 1762mg