Squash, Sage & Pork Carbonara

Apparently, 6th April is World Carbonara Day, and I've just finished reading this wonderful article by Manuela Spinelli of Eurotoques Ireland on the heart pounding merits of a good classic carbonara, and also reminding us that the principle of Italian cuisine is "generally three ingredients that marry together and become a paradise of flavours." I shudder to think what Manuela would say to me on spying the mushrooms I love to put in my carbonara, along with parsley and the wrong kind of pork and cheese.

I spent most of my childhood arguing with people that macaroni cheese wasn't in fact just macaroni pasta and cheese sauce. Vehemently did I protest that there was meat in it and something calle "rattatoo-ee", whatever the hell that was. It wasn't until I was well into my 20's that I had my first taste of what the rest of the world understands to be "Macaroni Cheese" and to be honest I didn't rate it much at all against my mum's version!

We've all been there…a great BBQ was had by all, but there was too much food bought/brought and nobody ate as much as they thought they could handle, and as a result you have been left with a load of cooked sausages. What to do with them? There's only so many sausage sandwiches one can eat after all! Well, I can help you out of your conundrun!

Squash, Sage & Pork Carbonara

Apparently, 6th April is World Carbonara Day, and I’ve just finished reading this wonderful article by Manuela Spinelli of Eurotoques Ireland on the heart pounding merits of a good classic carbonara, and also reminding us that the principle of Italian cuisine is “generally three ingredients that marry together and become a paradise of flavours.” I shudder to think what Manuela would say to me on spying the mushrooms I love to put in my carbonara, along with parsley and the wrong kind of pork and cheese.

But as much as my Carbonara a la Anglaise may be derided for tearing up the Italian cuisine rule book, I feel quietly confident that the recipe below for a very un-Carbonara-like-Carbonara would warm the cockles of your heart all the same. Just like the real Italian classic, it has three primary flavours, but that aside, this would probably have Italians the world over rolling their eyes at my incredulity and arrogance, while also unable to deny the glorious flavour triumvirate that is Squash, Sage and Pork.

Squash, Sage and Pork Carbonara

In these times of Covid-19, when more than ever nothing should be going to waste in the kitchen, this recipe was born from the necessity to use up a couple of sausages and half a butternut squash. There is also sage, one of my favourite herbs for chilly days, a gentle hit of chili, garlic (because: well, garlic…!), and some lemon to freshen the whole thing up. It’s a surprisingly easy dish to make, but apologise to the evening’s pot-washer in advance as it definitely isn’t a one-pot wonder!

Top Tip! This dish will feed two people with plenty of left over sauce. This sauce can be thinned out a little the next day and heated up, drizzled with some chili oil and crème fraiche and served up with some thick crusty bread for a hearty soup for one the following day!

Ingredients:

  • Half a butternut squash, peeled and chopped into medium chunks
  • 2 pork sausages, skinned and ripped into small bite sized pieces
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • Red chili: either a few dried flakes or some fresh – to taste, background heat only!
  • Handful of sage herb, leaves only
  • 1 tbsp of fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp of sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Long pasta: either spaghetti or linguine
  • Olive Oil and Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Parmesan Cheese

Method:

  • Steam the butternut squash until tender.
  • Place a large pot of well salted water onto boil. Just as the butternut squash is tender throughout, place the dried pasta into the boiling water.
  • Meanwhile, in a frying pan cook down the sausage meat in a little olive oil until browned and glistening. Take out of the pan and place on kitchen paper.
  • Reserve the meat cooking juices in the frying pan, and cook slowly the sliced garlic. Drain and place onto a piece of kitchen paper.
  • Just before the pasta is cooked, place the tender butternut squash into a blender with the garlic, chili, lemon juice, sea salt, a generous twist of pepper, most of the sage and remaining meat juices from the frying pan. Add a little dash of water, (I use the water from steaming to retain the flavour), to help it along and blitz until completely smooth. Set aside.
  • Drain the cooked pasta and place back into the saucepan. Dress the pasta with some Extra Virgin Olive Oil and set aside.
  • Back to the frying pan and fry off the remaining sage leaves until crispy. Drain on kitchen paper.
  • Pour the butternut squash sauce over the pasta a little at a time to coat it thoroughly and luxuriously. Don’t worry if there is a lot of sauce left over – you can have that for lunch tomorrow!
  • Portion out onto warmed plates, top with nuggets of the browned sausage meat, crispy sage leaves, a final flourish with the pepper grinder and plenty of grated parmesan cheese.

Enjoy with a chilled, crisp white wine!

My Mum’s “Not Very Macaroni Cheese” Macaroni Cheese

I spent most of my childhood arguing with people that macaroni cheese wasn’t in fact just macaroni pasta and cheese sauce. Vehemently did I protest that there was meat in it and something calle “rattatoo-ee”, whatever the hell that was. It wasn’t until I was well into my 20’s that I had my first taste of what the rest of the world understands to be “Macaroni Cheese” and to be honest I didn’t rate it much at all against my mum’s version!

 

So over all these years I have stuck pretty darn close to my mum’s traditional recipe – wherever she got it from. The only change I have made is that I make my own cheese sauce to go on top rather than the packet Schwarz mix mum used, but to be honest for this particular dish, I would quite happilly use a three-cheese packet mix – just for the pure nostlagia of the dish.

Ingredients (serves 4 – 6 depending on appetite):
350g of organic lean minced beef
1tsp of olive oil
Half a red onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, diced
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
400g tin of ratatouile (I like the Epicure brand, or of course you could make your own if you have the time)
1 green pepper, 1cm diced pieces
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bay leaf
Small bunch of fresh thyme
Freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of salt
Apx 200g of any kind of pasta – doesn’t have to be macaroni: Conchiglie or Fusilli work well as well.
For the cheese sauce make a basic roux and add plenty of strong cheese.
Method:
In a frying pan, brown off the beef without adding any extra oil. When browned, turn out onto some kitchen paper.
Put the pan back on the heat and add the olive oil, onion and garlic and fry until onion is soft.
Add into the pan the peppers and cherry tomatoes, bay leaf and thyme, cook for a minute or so.
Add the tin of ratatouille and the chopped tomatoes, stir and then add the beef back into the pan.
Season well with plenty of black pepper.
Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to low and cook through, stirring occassionally for about 15 minutes.
Season with a small pinch of salt at the end. You don’t need much if you are using the tinned ratatoille as there will be plenty of salt in that.
Meanwhile, put the pasta on to cook remembering to season the boiling water well. Drain when the pasta is just a little over al dente.
Make the roux, add milk and cheese and stir until combined and thickly coats the back of the spoon.
Put the grill on to high.
Pour the pasta and the meat mix into a lasagne / casserole dish and mix through.
Pour the cheese sauce on top and grate a little more cheese over the top.
Place under the grill and cook until the cheese starts to brown – personally the more “burny bits” the better! Should take about 5-8 mins.
Dish out a portion on each plate and serve with a fresh salad of salad leaves with cracked black pepper and a spritz of lemon juice.
Delve in hungrilly and Enjoy!

What to do with Leftover BBQ Sausages?

We’ve all been there…a great BBQ was had by all, but there was too much food bought/brought and nobody ate as much as they thought they could handle, and as a result you have been left with a load of cooked sausages. What to do with them? There’s only so many sausage sandwiches one can eat after all! Well, I can help you out of your conundrun!

The recipe below is a variation of a “Pasta al Forno” dish that was published in Olive Magazine in 2013. I have included a note after this recipe on how to make the original which is also yummy and appears regularly in my repertoire for fast, tasty weekday food!

Ingredients (serves 2-4, depending on appetite!):

Cooked sausages (enough for two per adult) cut lengthways and quartered
1tsbp of fennel seeds
1 clove of garlic
2-4 dried chilli pods (depending on your need for heat!)
2 tblsp of tomato puree
1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
1 large / 2 small red bell peppers
1 tblsp of fresh chopped rosemary (if you only have dried use 1/2 tblsp)
50g pasta per person
Some cheese for grating over: Pecorino / Parmesan / Gran Padano etc
Freshly cracked black pepper and sea salt to season
Method:

Place a pan of salted water on the heat for the pasta.

Dry roast the fennel seeds slightly for a few minutes, careful not to burn them.
Pop the fennel seeds, chilli pods and garlic in a pestle and mortar and bash together.
Heat a small lug of olive oil in a frying pan to a medium heat and pop in the fennel/chili/garlic mix. Cook off for a couple of minutes.
Add the tomato puree and mix in with the aromatics; cook out for a minute or two.
Add in the tinned tomatoes and cook for a couple of minutes.
Meanwhile prepare you red peppers by deseeding, taking out the pith and cutting into roughyl 2cm pieces. Add to the pan and stir.
Add in your chopped sausages, turn the heat down and cook through until bubbling.
If the sauce becomes a little dry, add some water a little at a time. I use the tomato tin to get any left over tomato juice as well.
Place the pasta in to the boiling water. In the picture below I have used wholewheat pasta, but any pasta you have will do as long as it’s not the miniature stuff!
Chop the rosemary and add to the sausage mix along with a decent grind of fresh black pepper and some sea salt to season. Stir and cook through.
Drain the pasta. Check the sausage mix for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
Pour the sausage mix into the pasta; mix together and serve immediately on warmed plates.
Grate over a generous amount of the cheese and serve with a simple leaf salad with lemon dressing to freshen the palate.
And Enjoy….!

NOTE:

The original recipe in Olive Magazine is for Rigatoni al Forno. Using pretty much the same ingredients but with fresh, high meat content sausages (I like to use Gubeen Italian Sausages to enhance the fennel seed and garlic flavours) and rigatoni pasta the following method would apply:

Deskin the sausages and place into a medium hot pan, cooking and breaking down the sausages as you go with the wooden spoon.
Then add the aromatic mix above with the rosemary; tinned tomatoes and puree, cook through. Add salt and pepper at the end.
Cook the rigatoni. Mix the pasta and meat mix together and place in a lasagne disj (or similar).
Grate 100g of Gran Padano over the top and then grill until the cheese melts and browns.
Al Forno literally means “from the fire” and this is where this dish is served straight from the grill / oven etc straight to the table still all hot and bubbling. People then help themselves!

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