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Pasticcio – perfect ways with roast lamb

Storm damage June 2017

I was fully intending to go to dance this evening, but a trickily formatted text took longer than I expected and by the time I’d walked the dogs, I was already late. Instead, I decided to make the most of the sun that had finally appeared on this wet and windy June day – much needed rain for the gardens, I should add. It was just a bit of a shock after all the lovely sunny days of late!

Rather than leaping about to funky dance routines, I repaired the damage I’d wreaked at the weekend when dashing outside in the dark to pick some mint for a mint tea and clumsily knocking over one of the trays of leeks I’d carefully pricked out only the previous weekend. Typical! Then I salvaged some of the day’s storm damage by tying in madly waving clematis and climbing roses and harvested a top-heavy allium and some floppy rose stems that had been flattened by the wind. The upside of storm damage is a vase of beautiful flowers for the house. This particular rose, David Austin’s Generous Gardener, is a beautiful shell pink, but very vigorous in its growth habits, despite being cut down very low each spring.

I usually have an omelette or a meal from the freezer (made earlier by my own fair hands, of course!) when I go to dance, so today was an ideal opportunity to cook from scratch instead and use up the leftover meat from Sunday’s roast lamb. This evening’s dish is based on a recipe in a Milk Marketing Board leaflet I’ve had since the early 80s. A friend gave it to me then, so it may even date back to the late 70s, but I do still refer to it from time to time. Called “Clever with Cream”, it extols the virtues of cooking with cream and every page has a heading beginning with ‘C’ – tonight’s was Cashwise with Cream, for a supposedly economical recipe. Cooking with leftover roast meat is very thrifty, of course, but delicious too.

Pasticcio (or Pastitsio) is a Greek-inspired dish, although I don’t claim this to be in any way authentic. I’ve had it in Greece, certainly, but this is my take on the original recipe, tweaked and adapted over the years, to suit whatever I have available in the fridge. I usually make a large dish and freeze what I don’t use immediately, but it’s great for a crowd as you can prepare it earlier, then cook as you need it. You can use fresh meat, rather than roast lamb, and the original recipe suggests using a mixture of pork and beef mince – anything goes!

Pasticcio – serves 6-8

Pasticcio

2 onions, finely chopped
2-3 sticks celery, finely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large carrot, diced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 bay leaves
1 tsp cinnamon
fresh herbs, finely chopped, to taste (I used rosemary, thyme and parsley, but the original recipe suggests dried oregano – very 70s!)
300-450g roast lamb (entirely flexible; use what you have! Or use fresh lamb mince if you prefer, but cook for longer initially)
1 large tin chopped tomatoes
red wine (to taste)
1 tbsp pesto (optional – I had some of last week’s broad bean pesto in the fridge, that’s all!)
2 tbsp tomato purée
250ml vegetable stock – as required
seasoning
225g macaroni (or penne/fusilli pasta)
60g butter
450ml milk
40g plain flour
freshly grated nutmeg
150g Cheddar cheese, grated
100ml single cream
1 egg

Fry the chopped onion, celery, carrots and garlic gently in a glug of olive oil until nicely softened and golden. Meanwhile, chop the roast lamb roughly in a food processor, then stir into the sautéed vegetables. Cook for another two minutes, then add the tinned tomatoes and tomato purée (and pesto if using). Stir in the cinnamon, bay leaves and herbs, then add a glug of red wine and some stock. Roast meat tends to absorb the liquid as it cooks, so you may need to top up as it simmers – with either wine or stock, as you prefer! Season and leave to simmer for 10-20 minutes while you get on with the rest.

Cook the macaroni or other pasta in a large pan of boiling, salted water for 10 minutes. Drain, then return to the pan with 20g of the butter and freshly ground pepper and leave to one side, covered.

Meanwhile, prepare the Béchamel sauce: I have to confess I don’t measure out the ingredients for a traditional white sauce, just do it by eye, but I have noted the quantities from the original recipe if you’re less familiar with the process. Melt the remaining 40g butter in a saucepan, then stir in 40g plain flour and cook for a minute or so. Gradually stir in the milk, using a small wire whisk to prevent lumps, then add grated nutmeg and 50g grated cheese and season well. Turn off the heat and stir 1-2 tbsp of sauce into the meat mixture.

Place half the cooked pasta in the bottom of a greased rectangular lasagne dish and sprinkle with 1 tbsp grated cheese. Top with the meat mixture, then spoon the remaining macaroni on top. Finally, stir the cream into the white sauce (can be omitted for a less creamy result – or use yogurt instead) and then the beaten egg. Pour the sauce over the contents of the dish, covering all the pasta, and top with any remaining grated cheese.

Cook in a pre-heated oven at 180°C (fan) / Gas 5 for 25-30 minutes until nicely browned on top and piping hot. Leave to stand for a minute or so to allow it to set a little for slicing into portions, then serve in squares with a green salad. Enjoy! Freezes beautifully too.

Pasticcio serving with salad

The worse part of this recipe is the washing up, as it uses so many pans, but no more than a traditional lasagne and very much worth the effort. I usually try and wash up while it’s in the oven, rather than leaving it all until afterwards. Unless you have a willing sous-chef, of course – cooking with my mother around is always a delight as she constantly washes and dries up :-). This is cooking with leftovers at its best. So good.

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Spring is in the air…

Aquilegia and hellebore foliage

I can’t believe it’s over a month since I last wrote – so much for my good intentions! What with pressures of work, a skiing holiday, decorators in painting the kitchen /utility room after having a new oak floor fitted at the end of last year, a wedding food tasting and lots of family visits, blog-writing has definitely taken a back seat of late. This weekend was Mother’s Day, with one son and his fiancée home, then a trip over to my parents’ to see all the family on Sunday – and beautiful spring weather for once too!

The recent springlike weather has tempted me out into the garden to mow my lawn (just the once!), cut back my buddleias and the giant lavatera, prune the roses, dead-head last year’s hydrangea flowers and chop back any remaining perennials that I’d left through the winter to provide shelter and food for birds and insects. There was still a cold wind when I ventured out on Saturday afternoon, but I was determined to pot up my new dahlia tubers from Sarah Raven and the overwintered monster begonias. I also sowed the first batch of seeds, always an exciting moment: sweet peas in pots on the conservatory windowsill (I’ve reverted to trying some inside this year after such a late crop last year, but I will plant more straight into the ground later too, when the soil warms up). Tomatoes (my favourite Sungold and the old-fashioned Ailsa Craig), chillis (Summer Heat and Padron), Romano sweet peppers, aubergine Bonica, lobelia Crystal Palace, and the three leek varieties Bandit, Pandora and Nipper for a succession of leeks all through the autumn/winter – all now tucked up in the propagator. Let the season commence!

Back side bed

I’ve still to distribute last year’s compost around the garden, but there’s always next weekend… In the meantime, let me finish with a springtime lemon & ricotta cake I adapted from a River Café recipe. I had some ricotta in the fridge and fancied a light, lemony and gluten-free cake. This was the result – exactly what I was looking for. The original quantities make a huge cake – I didn’t have a tin big enough and there were only five of us for dinner, so I cut the quantities back by a third – perfect. I found the original recipe here if you’re catering for a crowd!

River Café Lemon, Ricotta, Almond & Polenta Cake – serves 10

Lemon ricotta cake

150g butter, softened
170g ground almonds (you could also use almond flour)
65g fine polenta (whizz in the food processor if you can’t buy fine)
finely grated zest of 4 lemons
170g caster sugar
4 large eggs, separated
200g ricotta
juice of 2 lemons
icing sugar, for dusting

Pre-heat the oven to 150°C.  Grease a 24cm round springform cake tin and line the base with greaseproof paper.

Combine the almonds and polenta (whizzed in the food processor for extra fineness if necessary) and add the lemon zest. Beat the butter and sugar together using an electric mixer until pale and light.  Add the egg yolks one by one, then add the almond mixture and fold together. Put the ricotta into a bowl and beat lightly with a fork, then add the lemon juice. Stir the ricotta into the cake mixture. Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until they form soft peaks.  Finally fold the egg whites into the almond mixture.

Transfer the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 40 – 50 minutes, until set.  Test by inserting a skewer, which should come out clean.  Leave in the tin to cool for at least 10 minutes before turning out. Dust liberally with sifted icing sugar before serving, and garnish with fine strips of lemon rind if desired.

I served it with a jostaberry purée from the freezer, but any red fruit coulis would be good – and it was delicious on its own too. Enjoy!

Standen March 2017
Beautiful Standen near East Grinstead – perfect Mother’s Day outing