food for thought

by michelle

Archive for the ‘pasta & grains’ Category

red lentil pasta + salad

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Red lentils are an excellent source of protein and this vegetarian pasta is satisfying and so full of flavour.

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 finely diced onion, 1 finely diced carrot and an equivalent amount of finely diced celery. Cook until the onions are soft and translucent. Add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste and cook for a few more minutes. Deglaze the pan with some white wine and cook it all away. Now add a tin of chopped tomatoes and 1 cup of water. Add 3-4 cloves of crushed garlic, 2 teaspoons of ground cumin, ¾ of a cup of red lentils and some chopped green olives to taste. Bring to boil and simmer until the lentils are cooked, adding more water as necessary. Season with salt to taste and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain the pasta and toss it with the sauce adding some pasta water until the sauce sticks well to the pasta. Serve with a generous sprinkling of feta cheese. 

I served mine with a fresh salad of spinach, zucchini and pine nuts with a simple olive oil and lemon juice dressing.

Written by michelle picker

August 7, 2019 at 12:12 am

prawn and zucchini pasta

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A delicious meal even with store-bought pasta.

The flavour of this pasta dish is greatly enhanced by using the prawn (shrimp) heads and shells. Peel raw green prawns, approximately 6 to 8 per person. Slice the prawns in half lengthwise and set aside. Boil a large pot of salted water for the pasta and when it’s boiling, add your pasta. Cook the pasta to perhaps a minute less than the packet suggests. Meanwhile heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large saucepan and add all the heads and shells. Allow them to cook over medium heat for as long as possible to get all their flavour into the oil. When you’re satisfied remove them from the oil and discard them. Now, with the heat on low to medium add some finely minced garlic to the oil along with some dried chilli flakes to taste. Fry briefly then deglaze with some white wine and allow it to cook away. Now add some zucchini cut into small strips and after a minute or so the prawns. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add grated lemon zest and lemon juice to taste and finish with some fresh dill. When the pasta is ready, drain it and retain the water. Add the pasta to the prawns and zucchini and add some of the pasta water. Add enough pasta water so that the sauce coats the pasta. Serve immediately

Written by michelle picker

June 26, 2019 at 12:09 am

leek, butternut and pea risotto with tarragon

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One of France’s fines herbs, tarragon is traditionally used with fish, chicken or eggs. Fragrant, bittersweet and with a mild anise flavour it shines in this vegetable risotto.

I like to make my risotto in a pressure cooker. To cook the rice, first toast it lightly in a good olive oil before adding double the volume of hot chicken stock and seasoning with salt. Cook at pressure for 7 minutes then release the pressure and open. If you prefer a different method, then go ahead and cook it your way. Meanwhile, in a heavy-bottomed pan heat some olive oil and fry a large finely chopped leek until wilted. Deglaze with some white wine and cook for a few minutes. Add cubes of butternut pumpkin and cook until they are just becoming tender. Add fresh or frozen peas and continue to cook a little longer then set aside. When the rice is done, add the vegetables to the rice along with ¼ – ½ a cup of finely grated parmesan, plenty of freshly ground black pepper and the leaves of 2 – 3 sprigs of fresh tarragon. Stir well to combine.

Written by michelle picker

April 24, 2019 at 12:12 am

warm vegetable and quinoa salad

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Here’s a quick, delicious and satisfying meal.

Rinse some quinoa allowing approximately ½ a cup per person. In a medium saucepan bring some water to boil. Add the quinoa and cook until it still has some texture but is no longer crunchy. Meanwhile prepare the vegetables of your choice – I cooked leeks, pumpkin, parsnip, turnip and okra. If you use okra, wash and trim them and place them in some acidulated water before using. In a large sauté pan with a lid, heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil until hot then add the vegetables. If some vegetables are quicker to cook than others then you will have to add them in order of cooking time. Season the vegetables with salt and freshly ground black pepper and add some herbs – I used sprigs of thyme and fresh bay leaves. Cover and continue to cook over high heat, stirring the vegetables only occasionally so that they become a bit charred. When the quinoa is cooked place it in a strainer, rinse under cold water to cool and leave to drain. When the vegetables are ready put them in a serving bowl with the drained quinoa and some crumbled feta. Dress with lemon juice and more olive oil and toss well to combine.

Written by michelle picker

March 13, 2019 at 12:17 am

home-made pasta with home-made pesto

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Pasta isn’t really too difficult to make, but somehow I hardly ever get around to it. Having just made a pesto, though, it seemed fitting to have a home-made pasta with it. The result was definitely worth it!

For the pesto wash a bunch of basil and make sure it’s as dry as possible. This is the secret to keeping your pesto green – too much water will make it a very dark colour. In a food processor combine the basil with ½ a cup of lightly toasted pine nuts, ½ a cup of dry-roasted cashews, a finely diced clove of garlic, ½ a cup of good olive oil and a pinch of salt. Process to a consistency you like. Remove the pesto to a bowl and add ¼ of a cup of grated Parmesan, mixing by hand. For the pasta, I chose to use my stand mixer with a dough hook. Slowly combine 350g (12½ oz) of finely milled “00” flour, ¼ of a teaspoon of salt, 2 large whole eggs and 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Mix until the dough forms into a ball. If the mixture is too dry add an egg yolk. Continue to mix on low for 10 minutes or so until you have a soft and smooth dough. Roll pieces of the dough through a pasta machine, folding the dough a few times and rolling it out before setting the machine to a thinner setting. As the pasta becomes thinner, it’s not necessary to keep folding it. Depending what sort of shape you intend to make, it’s also not necessary to make the pasta too thin. If you intend to make spaghetti, it will cut better a little thicker. As you cut your pasta, toss it in a little flour to keep it separate. When you’re ready to cook, make sure you generously salt the water and when it’s boiling, drop the pasta in and cook for 2-5 minutes depending on the thickness. When the pasta is al dente, strain it and retain some of the cooking liquid. Place the pasta in a bowl, add the pesto and some of the cooking liquid and toss to combine. You will have to judge how much cooking liquid to add to get the desired consistency. The pesto should be sticking to all the pasta. Finally, serve topped with some freshly grated Reggiano parmesan.

Written by michelle picker

February 20, 2019 at 12:17 am

Posted in pasta & grains

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noodle salad with cucumber and poppy seeds

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Another delightful salad from the cookbook Plenty by Yotam OttolenghiTart apple, cooling cucumber, pickled onions and fresh herbs. What a great combination.

In a small saucepan combine 60ml (2 fl oz) of cider vinegar, 30g (1 oz) of caster sugar and 60ml (2 fl oz) of water. Bring to a boil over high heat until the sugar has dissolved and continue to cook for a few minutes to reduce by one third. Finely slice 1 red onion and finely julienne a 5cm (2″) piece of ginger and place them in a small bowl. Pour the hot liquid over them and allow to pickle for 1 hour. Meanwhile, break 150g (5 oz) of flat rice noodles into 15cm (6″) pieces and place them in a large bowl. Pour boiling water over them to cover and set aside for 10-15 minutes. When the noodles are soft drain them and put them in a large serving bowl. Toss them with 1 tablespoon of oil and allow  to cool. Blanch and drain 200g (7 oz) of edamame beans, core and slice 1 sharp green apple into thin wedges, de-seed and julienne 2 red chillies, roughly chop 10g (⅓ oz) each of fresh mint and tarragon and cut 2 large cucumbers in half lengthways, scooping out the seeds and cutting them into thin long strips. Add all the prepared vegetables and the pickled onion and ginger to the noodles. Add 1 tablespoon of poppy seeds, some more vegetable oil, 1½ teaspoons of salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Toss well and serve.

Written by michelle picker

January 17, 2018 at 12:17 am

Posted in pasta & grains, salad

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barley, lentils and mushrooms with fried onions

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Once again Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe imparts amazing flavours to a vegetarian meal.


In a small bowl cover 20g (¾ oz) of dried porcini with 1¾ cups of boiling water and leave to stand for an hour. After an hour, remove the mushrooms and strain the liquid through a very fine sieve to remove any grit, then return the mushrooms to their liquid. Place 120g (4¼ oz) of barley (pre-soaked) and 170g (6 oz) of brown lentils in a large saucepan. Add 4 times the volume of cold water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a rolling simmer and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Drain, transfer to a bowl and leave to cool down. Cut an onion into thin slices lengthways and toss in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of flour. Heat oil in a medium saucepan (enough to cover the onion slices in batches) to high heat and fry the onion in batches for three to four minutes, until golden-brown. Remove them to a plate lined with paper towel and set aside to cool. Slice a second onion into wider wedges. In a large sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over high heat and fry the onion wedges for five minutes until charred and soft. Stir in 1½ teaspoons of ground cumin, 1 teaspoons of ground allspice and 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Next add 4 sliced large mushrooms, the finely sliced rind of 1 lemon and ½ a teaspoon each of sugar and salt. Fry until the mushrooms start to soften then add the porcini and all their soaking liquid. Boil rapidly for five minutes, reducing the liquid to approximately ½ a cup. Reduce the heat and add the lentils and barley plus 1 tablespoon of dried mint, 1 teaspoon of dried dill leaves, ¾ of a teaspoon of salt and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Cook for a minute more then remove from the heat and add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Serve garnished with the fried onion and chopped parsley with sour cream on the side.

Written by michelle picker

May 5, 2017 at 6:05 am