Friday, 28 September 2012

Spaghetti and Meatballs

for the sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped finely
2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 sprigs of rosemary, leaves finely chopped
2 tsp dried oregano
2x800g tins of chopped tomatoes
pinch of chilli powder (optional)
pinch sugar (if needed, see below)

 for the meatballs
500g beef mince
500g pork mince
1 crushed clove of garlic
small bunch of flat leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped finely
3-4 anchovies, finely chopped/minced

1 tbsp olive oil
half a glass of red wine
750g spaghetti or other long pasta
Basil leaves
Freshly grated parmesan.

Start with the sauce. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, gently fry the onion, garlic, celery and carrot until they are translucent and softened. Add the  rosemary and oregano, and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in the tinned tomatoes, and sprinkle in the chilli powder. Turn the heat up to a simmer, and leave to gently bubble until it is thick and pulpy. Stir at frequent intervals so the bottom does not burn. Taste near the end- if the tomatoes turn out to be not so sweet, add a little bit of sugar. Be generous with the pepper grinder, but hold off on adding salt until the very end of cooking time.

While the sauce is cooking, mix together the meat, garlic, parsley and anchovies, along with a good amount of salt and pepper. Form into balls a little smaller that a walnut.

 In a hot frying pan, quickly brown the meatballs in batchs, setting them aside as the are done. When they are all browned, put them in the sauce and stir the in gently, being careful not not break them up. With the heat still under the pan used to brown the meatball, pour in the red wine, let it bubble up and cook off the harsh alcohol smell, then pour this into the sauce as well. Let everything cook together over a low heat while you get on with the pasta. Taste the sauce, and adjust the seasoning if you feel it needs it.

Drain the cooked pasta, and mix with the meatballs. Tear up to basil leaves and mix these in too. Serve with lots of parmesan.

If you make a big batch of sauce and only cook a small amount of pasta, I recommend using some of the meatballs and sauce to make a homespun meatball sub. Get a submarine roll, or french bread, fill with reheated sauce and meatballs, and sprinkle with a mixture of parmesan and mozzarella. Bake in a hot oven for a few minutes until the cheese is melty.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Coffee and Hazelnut Cake

Coffee and walnut cake is a classic teatime or mid-morning treat, and quite rightly. But it does surprise me that hazelnut, not walnut, is not paired with cakes more often, the two go together beautifully. Extrapolating from my time as a Barista, people like flavouring their lattes with hazelnut, so a hazelnut and coffee cake should also be popular.

In defense of the walnut, its nubbly and oily texture is far superior to the sharper, drier hazelnut. No matter, they just need a but more work before you add them to the sponge batter. So toast them to make the flavour really stand out, and rub off the unpleasant scratchy skins as thoroughly as you can. They need to be chopped quite finely, to avoid sudden, unpleasant hard lumps as you eat. But that's it, and its worth the small extra effort.

The recipe is essentially a Victoria sponge base, with some instant coffee, nuts and hazelnut liqueur. I looked up Nigella Lawson's recipe, and she uses espresso for a more intense coffee flavour. Not being a coffee drinker (just a coffee cake eater), I prefer the sweeter, more muted version, but you can replace the instant coffee with 4 teaspoons espresso if you like things a bit stronger. Also her icing uses 3 tsp espresso coffee in place of the instant I used.

For the sponge  
75g hazelnuts 
225g  soft unsalted butter (plus some for greasing)
225g caster sugar
200g plain flour
2 tsp coffee granules, dissolved in 1tbsp boiling water
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
4 medium eggs, beaten
2 tbsp Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur) or milk

For the buttercream frosting
350g icing sugar
175g unsalted butter, very soft
2 tsp coffee granules dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water
3 tbsp Frangelico
25g hazelnuts, from the 75g above
1-2 tsp cocoa

Preheat the oven to 200C. Line two 20cm sandwich cake tins with parchment, and butter the sides.
In a dry (non-oiled) frying pan, toast the hazelnuts over a medium heat, until their skins darken and they start to release their scent. Transfer them into a bowl- if you leave them in the hot pan they will continue to cook and probably burn. When they are cool enough to handle, rub them with your fingers to remove as much of the skin from them as possible. Chop 50g of them finely, and reserve the remaining 25g for decoration.

Cream the butter until it is very soft and light, and gradually beat in the sugar. Beat in a quarter of the beaten egg along with a spoonful of flour. Continue this until all the egg is used up. Now sift in the rest of the flour along with the baking powder and the bicarb. Fold this in, and then add coffee, nuts and Frangelico. Divide between the two cake tins, and bake for about 25 minutes.

Make sure the cakes are cool before you start decorating. For the icing, beat the butter to make sure it is truly soft. Sift in the icing sugar, beating it into the butter in stages. Once all the icing sugar has been incorporated, stir in the hot coffee liquid and frangelico.
Put one of the sponges face down on a plate. Spread the top surface with about a third of the icing. Place the other sponge, facing the right way up, on top. Spread with the remaining frosting, and decorate with the remaining hazelnuts. Sift the cocoa powder on top.