Beef and squash lasagne

Order a lasagne in the UK and it’s generally served as a main course consisting of two or three layers of pasta sandwiched between thick layers of tomato sauce and minced beef, however lasagne in Italy is very different. It’s made up of thin layers of sauce between several layers of pasta, as it’s served mostly as il primo (first course). In Italy lasagne is made with many variations, beef, pork, a mix of beef and pork mince and during autumn and winter you see lots of squash added to the dish. Several years ago when I tried my first squash lasagne it was made up of around 12 layers of pasta with the sauce. To be honest I find it a little bit bland and remarking upon this a friend told me, it is bland so that il secondo (second course) will shine.

Thinking about this I decided that after the luxury of Christmas and New Year food maybe I could do with something less rich, so I decided to make my own squash lasagne  So here’s the ingredients: 40g pumpkin or squash, 40 g walnuts, 400 g beef mince, 250 ml passata, 150 ml vegetable stock, salt, white pepper, cinnamon, garlic salt, 4 medium shallots.

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Roast the pumpkin and walnuts in the oven at 180° (fan) until soft and as the squash is roasting fry the mince in a dry pan and then sieve off any fat. Chop the shallots finely and sweat them down in a little olive oil. Add the squash, mince and shallots to a bowl and season with salt and pepper: As squash can be bland be generous with the seasoning. Add 2 teaspoons of garlic salt and 2 of cinnamon then mix together. Add the mixture to a saucepan with the passata and stock and bring to a simmer for around 15 minutes. Let the mixture cool then add to your serving dish. (I had an aluminium tray left over from Christmas so used that – see above).

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Now if you don’t make your own pasta; which very few Italian people actually do, I advise always buying a good quality brand and my brand of choice is always De Cecco. Sorry to ruin that romantic notion the TV chefs will have the UK public believe, but most Italians actually buy dried pasta for everyday meals.

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Layer the dish with sauce and pasta and repeat until the dish is almost full, leaving just enough room for the sauce. For the sauce make a standard white sauce and add to it a tablespoon of the pumpkin mix and a generous amount of grated cheese of your choice; I used grana padano as that was what was in the fridge at the time. Make your sauce so that it has a molten cheesy consistency and cover the lasagne and top with grated cheese and pop into a pre-heated oven 180° (fan) for 20 minutes. (Don’t let it stand uncooked as the pasta will curl up).

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Once golden on top remove from the oven and serve immediately or let it cool and reheat later for supper. This recipe makes enough for 4 portions served with salad or vegetables as a main course or 6 portions served as a primo.

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Courgette and Lemon Cake

Yesterday at the supermarket we ran into a friend who had been working in her orto and she kindly gave us some of her surplus round courgettes. So when I got home I looked at these lovely sunshine coloured globes and wondered what to do with them. Then the word, cake popped into my head and I thought: I know, I’ll make a carrot cake but without carrots I’ll use courgettes.

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So I adapted my carrot cake recipe and here’s the ingredients: I used:

350g grated courgettes. 200g soft brown sugar.  300g plain flour. 2 tsp baking powder.      3 eggs.125ml sunflower oil. 1 tsp butterscotch essence. Zest of a lemon. Juice of half a lemon.DSCF2250

First squeeze as much water out of the grated courgettes then add them to a bowl alongside the oil, eggs, sugar and lemon juice and zest. I added the butterscotch essence as I had no vanilla, but to be honest it didn’t add anything to final cake flavour. Mix together then fold in the flour and baking powder, but don’t over mix it.

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    Make sure you have the oven pre-heated to 180C (160C fan) gas mark 4. Grease and line the base of your chosen cake tin and fill with the cake mixture.

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Bake in the middle of the oven for 40-45 minutes until it’s golden coloured and the kitchen smells all nice and cakey. (that’s a correct technical term – Mary Berry told me)*

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Similar to carrot cake it’s a dense crumbed cake but unlike carrot cake I decided not to do a cheese frosting and opted for Mary Berry’s recipe for lemon drizzle, which is 50g of granulated sugar and juice of a lemon. Mix together and pour over the warm cake. Let it cool and then scoff at will.

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* blatant lie

Al Fresco Dining

One of the best things about living in a country with a temperate climate in early autumn, is the ability to still eat al fresco. In summer eating outside can be plagued with all manner of problems, flies, mosquitos and ants to name a few, but in autumn when the dreaded mozzies have faded away outdoor eating is a pleasure. A few weeks back when we finally had our cooker fitted we had friends around for a traditional (English) Sunday roast dinner. The weather was good, and as we sat tucking into roast potatoes and chicken it was hard to believe we were in the tenth month of 2013.

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A couple of weeks later I decided to invite a few people over for an afternoon of al fesco dining, and as my mate: partner in crime so may say, was over from the UK it seemed a good idea. I checked the weather forecast and it all seemed okay, until a week before the proposed date, when the forecast was for thunderstorms and torrential rain. “Oh well,” I said the the OH, “Looks like we’ll have al fresco, inside. If we have the door open we can call it in fresco.” My attempt at humour instigated just a reedy snigger from OH and a roll of the eyes.

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So al fresco day was upon us, I spent the previous afternoon prepping, and the morning; with my OCD in overdrive making canapes and antipasti. The mini porchetta were in the oven as was the Sicilian lemon chicken and the Abruzzi green torte was cooling. All this kitchen activity is of course accompanied by the shuffle of the iPod, and as I take the riccotta torte from the fridge the excellent new single, Loud Like Love by Placebo is replaced by Bauhaus’s, Kick in the Eye B-side, Satori. The rain has been continuous all morning and as the final dishes are finished people begin to arrive, then as the last of my guests park their car, the rain stops and the sun peeks out from behind a grey cloud. It’s still a little chilly but everyone gathers together, half of us are standing on the patio outside the front door while the rest are just inside the kitchen.

The weather may not have been perfect for out gathering, but as the last of the guests leave we give ourselves a self-congratulatory pat on the back, and vow next time to do any group gatherings in the summer, and to hell with the mosquitos.

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