There’s only so many times a woman can see kale pasta on Instagram before she is compelled to make it. I think this recipe trend has come to us from the US, like avocado toast and using Brussels sprouts in literally everything. I predict the broccoli ‘grilled cheese’ will soon take over. You wait.

Part of kale pasta’s appeal is the wacky colour but it also reflects the fact that we’ve swung from despising and mistreating cruciferous veg to appreciating their bold, iron-rich flavour. I’m also desperate for greens at this time of year when so much focus has been on sweet gnarly roots like carrots and parsnips.

Spring is coming and this is the kind of cheerful bowl that bridges a seasonal gap. I wanted to garnish it with salted ricotta but that’s quite hard to find around these parts so I subbed in grated halloumi which did a pretty fine job. You’re likely to want about 50% more of it than you see in this photo. At least, I did.

Rigatoni with Kale, Walnuts and Halloumi Recipe

(makes enough for 500g pasta)

250g kale, ribs removed
3 cloves garlic
75g Parmesan, grated
70g walnuts
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons lemon juice
Black pepper
Halloumi, to garnish

Bring a large pan of water to a boil and put the kale in it. Bring back to the boil, cook for 30 seconds, then drain.

Toast the walnuts in a dry pan, moving them around over medium heat until they smell delicious. Take care not to burn them.

Add the kale to a blender with the garlic, Parmesan, walnuts, olive oil and lemon juice. Add lots of black pepper and check for seasoning – you might want a bit of salt but bear in mind the halloumi will be salty.

Serve stirred through hot pasta with a splash of the pasta water for silkiness and top with grated halloumi.

Sorry about the basic recipe title but ‘conchiglioni rigati stuffed with sprouts, greens and ricotta in a three-cheese sauce’ just seemed ridiculous, and my brain is on holiday until January 2nd.

I made this with the aim of using up all the Christmas cheese. Just when I thought we were finished I found a whole wedge of Colston Bassett, a substantial nub of Cheddar and a hefty slice of Mrs Kirkham’s lurking, so I’ve combined them with two more types of cheese to make this gigantic pasta bake. Believe it or not, we still have cheese leftover.

I had to use some finely sliced Brussels sprouts because this has been the year of #sproutcontent, particularly on my Instagram feed, and I’m chuffed that so many of you have made my sprout kimchi recipe. I combined them with cavolo nero, spinach and ricotta and stuffed the mixture into shells which were baked in the sauce, with more cheese on top for luck.

This was impossible to resist hot and bubbling from the oven, despite the fact that rich food fatigue is definitely setting in. To that end, make sure to eat it with a sharply dressed salad which will counterpoint some of the richness.*

*help you eat more pasta bake.

Super Cheesy Stuffed Pasta Shells Recipe

Approx 30 large pasta shells (conchiglioni rigati)
150g sprouts, finely sliced
7 large cloves garlic, crushed
200g spinach
200g cavolo nero, leaves stripped from stalks
500g ricotta
Butter, for cooking
A few pieces of blue cheese, such as Colston Bassett or Stichelton
Parmesan, for grating on top

For the bechamel

1 litre milk (I used semi-skimmed)
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 bay leaves
10 peppercorns
70g plain flour
100g butter
100g blue cheese such as Colston Basset or Stichelton, crumbled
100g cheddar, grated

Heat the milk gently with the onion, bay leaves and peppercorns – stirring – until it begins to simmer, then turn off, cover and set aside for 20 minutes or so.

In the meantime, wash the spinach and cavolo nero and place in a saucepan. Put a lid on and gently heat until wilted. Drain, then run under cold water until cool. Place in a clean tea towel and squeeze out as much water as possible. Chop finely.

Heat a knob of butter in a pan and gently cook the sprouts and garlic until softened and smelling great. Combine with the spinach and cavolo nero. Add the ricotta and mix well. Season with salt and set aside.

Cook the pasta shells in boiling salted water until just half cooked (they will continue cooking in the oven later). Run under cold water to cool them down. Stuff each with some of the greens and ricotta mixture. Set aside in a bowl.

To finish the bechamel, strain the milk and add back to the pan. Add the flour and butter and heat on a medium heat, whisking all the time until nice and thick. Melt in the cheese and taste – add salt if necessary. Cover and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Cover the base of a large ovenproof dish with the bechamel. Arrange the pasta shapes on top, stuffing side up. Crumble the remaining blue cheese on top and cover with grated Parmesan. Bake for 20-25 minutes until bubbling and beginning to golden. Finish under the grill for 5 minutes to brown the top (watch carefully!).

Serve with a sharp green salad.

Burn out is something I thought happened to other people. I’ve always worked hard at juggling various commitments – a tough career as a freelancer, editing a magazine, desperately trying to finish a PhD, my personal life – but it’s always been OK. Friends who’ve been on the receiving end of cancellations or people I’ve lived with might feel differently but I always thought I was holding things together quite well.

Until three weeks ago. I felt it creeping in before I was due to go away on a work trip but ignored the signs and ploughed on. I’m tough, I work hard, this is what I do. I got sick before a 24-hour journey involving three flights and had to take to bed with tonsillitis for two weeks. I had conjunctivitis in both eyes – a strong look – and ended up feeling pathetic. More than the physical sickness though I was just at the end of my tether – at the end of being committed to doing things, done with getting out of bed and definitely 100% through with cooking.

Trying to find energy to cook when you’re feeling down is bad enough but my problem is that I actually can’t. I genuinely seem to lose the ability and end up making horrible food. So many people say they cook ‘to relax’ or ‘forget about problems’ but that’s not my motivation at all. I cook because I love creating beautiful food and because I’m greedy. I cook because I have an idea of what I want to eat and nothing else will do. I cook because I like eating my own food better than almost anyone else’s.

When I’m upset, it’s like my anger channels into my hands and my mood darkens every dish. Once, during a particularly gloomy period, I didn’t cook for a whole six months.

The good news is I think this curse might be coming to an end. I made soothing chicken soup when I was beginning to feel better, trekking to the butcher to get chicken wings and carcasses (then lying down for an hour before I could begin). So when yesterday became the first time serious cooking was on the cards it felt fitting to make something fairly time-consuming, like pasta.

I had my first taste of sweetcorn ravioli at London’s super-hot-right-now 10 Heddon Street. Why have I never come across this before? I fell in love with the dish and made a note to rip it off as soon as possible. My take is packed with fresh corn cooked down with butter, shallot, an absolute metric f*ck tonne of smoked garlic and a swoosh of fluffy ricotta. I added salty crisp Parma ham and more melted butter on top, along with wilted basil and a heavy Parmesan snowfall. I made it and I didn’t immediately share it on Instagram as usual. Instead, I went to sleep on the sofa for an hour and was only woken up by the church bells ringing across the road – nowhere near as romantic as it sounds.

I still found myself itching to get here and start writing and had to check myself because old habits die hard. I’ve been writing and posting recipes on this site for nearly 12 years, which is an extraordinary length of time to do something you only get paid for occasionally. I guess it just has to be more on my terms now, as I learn how to balance this very weird life I’ve chosen to lead.

I think I might finally have the motivation again.

Sweetcorn Ravioli with Crispy Parma Ham, Butter and Basil Recipe

(makes around 30-50 ravioli, depending on the size of your cutter. Mine was quite small so made 50. You will feed 4 people with a big side salad)

For the pasta dough

200g 00 flour
2 eggs and 1 egg yolk
Pinch of salt
Fine polenta, for dusting

For the filling

3 cobs sweetcorn, kernels removed
Half a bulb (around 8 cloves) smoked garlic, crushed
3 cloves regular garlic, crushed
50g butter
3 heaped tablespoons ricotta
1 shallot, very finely chopped

For the topping

1 packet Parma ham or similar (around 6 slices)
Parmesan
Basil
Butter
Black pepper
Squeeze of lemon juice

Make the pasta dough first by making a volcano with your flour and sprinkling the salt on top. Place the eggs and yolk into the top of the volcano and bring it all together until you have a mass.

Knead for around 10 minutes for a good arm workout. It needs to be smooth and springy. Divide into 2 balls, wrap in cling film or a damp cloth and set aside at room temp for 1 hour while you make the filling.

Melt the butter and sweat the shallot and corn kernels in it for 10 minutes or so – do this on a very low heat so the corn doesn’t brown too much. Add the garlic and continue cooking for around 5 mins more.

Mix with the ricotta and season with salt. Set aside in the fridge while you roll out the pasta dough.

Use a rolling pin to roll each pasta ball into a strip 1cm thick. This makes it easier to pass through the pasta machine. Of course, you can roll it by hand but be prepared for a proper workout. Pass it through, working through the different settings until it’s as thin as possible – this is setting number 6 on our machine.

Scatter a work surface with polenta. Lay one strip of pasta down on it and use a ravioli stamp or cooker cutter to gently mark your ravioli so you know where to put the filling. You can also do this without a cutter, just by cutting around the filling afterwards.

Place half teaspoons (or larger, depending on cutter size) onto the pasta, then wet the edges using your finger. Lay another sheet on top, gently pressing around each dot of filling to remove air. Stamp out the ravioli and set aside on a tray scattered with polenta.

Heat the oven to 180C and crisp up your Parma ham by laying it on a baking sheet and baking for around 10 minutes, turning halfway through. Melt some butter and wilt a handful of basil leaves in it.

Cook the ravioli in boiling salted water for a few minutes. Garnish with ham, basil butter, a good squeeze of lemon juice, Parmesan and pepper.

They’re called radiatori because they look like little radiators! I hope that pleases you as much as it does me. They’re also the perfect shape for grabbing onto a crumbly ‘sauce’ like this one, or a more traditional pesto. This smoosh of toasted walnuts, anchovies, breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley and lemon bound with olive oil makes a luxurious, wintry pasta sauce and also an excellent stuffing for fish on the BBQ – particularly mackerel.

I’ve served it on a swirl of fluffy ricotta (given a little more sharpness with natural yoghurt) so there’s a lovely hot-cold contrast going on and the cheese brings some creaminess. Serve with purple sprouting broccoli, chilli flakes and a flurry of Parmesan shavings for a pasta dish that will bust through any amount of miserable, drizzly weather.

Radiatori with Walnuts, Ricotta and Broccoli Recipe

Serves 2 very generously (i.e. greedily)

For the pesto

Makes enough for 6-8 servings of pasta (keep leftovers in a jar in the fridge, covered in olive oil)

200g walnuts, toasted in a dry pan
80g wholemeal breadcrumbs (or regular white crumbs)
4 cloves garlic
12 anchovy fillets
Handful parsley leaves
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
Olive oil

To serve

300g radiatori (I bought mine in Sainsbury’s!)
Large handful purple sprouting broccoli
125g ricotta
Heaped tablespoon natural yoghurt
Parmesan
Chilli flakes

Make the pesto by blitzing the walnuts in a blender until finely chopped but stop before they turn to a powder/paste. Mix with the breadcrumbs. Bash the garlic and anchovies to a paste in a pestle and mortar and mix with the breadcrumbs, parsley and lemon juice. Add a slug of olive oil until you’ve got a pesto-ish mixture.

Cook the pasta until al dente, reserving a little pasta water. Cook the broccoli until al dente and drain – not long just a few minutes.

Gently whip the ricotta and yoghurt together and divide between two large bowls. When the pasta is cooked lob in as much ‘pesto’ as you like and stir with a little of the pasta water to loosen. Crumble extra ‘pesto’ on top. Serve on the ricotta with the broccoli, Parmesan and chilli flakes.

I’d been thinking about clams for days. Shells clacking as they’re tossed through steaming pasta, starchy water dripping through the late February sunlight. Their sweet meat is like tiny treats to slurp from exploded hinges as saline juices mingle with the honk of garlic and fermented depth of miso.

We made this riff on spaghetti alle vongole into a Friday lunchtime treat, threading tangles of crisp, salty agretti (monk’s beard) through the dish to bring freshness and colour. This Italian coastal plant is very popular on London menus at the moment and I couldn’t resist buying a bunch in Peckham’s General Store. It’s not the kind of vegetable I’ll buy often (too expensive) but the thought of it playing with the white miso and clams was too much for this hopeless ingredient spod to resist.

We ate it with a half bottle of chilled rosé hanging about in the fridge and plenty of bread to squidge into the clammy juices leftover. It felt as good as a holiday.

Spaghetti with Agretti, Clams and White Miso Recipe

Serves 2

250g spaghetti
250g clams (I didn’t weigh them tbh but just grab a nice big load of clams from a fishmonger, a couple of handfuls per dish if you like)
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons chilli flakes
1 heaped tablespoon white miso, mixed with a little of the pasta cooking water until dissolved
A large knob butter (don’t be shy, use about 25g)
200g agretti
Splash of white wine

Put the pasta on to cook in plenty of boiling, salted water.

You’ll need around 5 minutes or so for the next bit so when the pasta is around 5 minutes from being cooked, start the sauce. Melt the butter in a large, lidded frying pan with a small splash of olive oil. Add the crushed garlic and chilli flakes and cook out for a minute or so, stirring.

Add the clams and agretti, then turn up the heat to medium/high and splash in the white wine. Put a lid on and let them steam for around 4 minutes, or until all the clams have opened up.

Remove the lid and mix in the miso. Splash in a ladle of pasta water too, then drain the pasta and toss it all together. Serve immediately with good bread for those juices.

Anchovy and bottarga pasta

I know, you’re never going to remember the name of that pasta shape but don’t worry, this is freakin’ fabulous with basically any pasta – I know this from extensive experience. A great choice would be orecchiette or ‘little ears’ which is what they use down in Puglia when they make their famous broccoli and anchovy arrangement.

As I said on Instagram when I posted a snap, this recipe is proof that with the best ingredients you can make incredible food in no time at all. It uses really excellent bottarga and anchovies both from Lina Stores in Soho, part of a hamper they sent me before Christmas as a promotional effort. If you’ve never been then really, get over there – I’m a long-time customer as it’s a real goldmine of Italian ingredients and one of the very best delis in London, full stop.

This is such a simple dish. You gently cook garlic in butter (olive oil would be more traditional but I love the richness of butter on pasta), then melt in those beautiful anchovies. Next add some blanched and roughly chopped Tenderstem broccoli, chilli flakes and a good squeeze of lemon juice and let it sizzle for a few minutes. The hot pasta is added in one steamy swoop and the lot stirred together and slipped into bowls before topping with crisp crumbs and a shower of golden roe.

It’s probably my favourite pasta dish of all time, actually. Anchovies are one of the world’s greatest ingredients and the quality of these was outstanding – you’ll need to gently tease the flesh from the whole fish (easy) before melting them into the sauce because they’re packed as whole fish, not teeny, aggressive fillets. It’s got everything: garlic, chilli heat, salty fish and lemon plus CARBS. You’ll always be able to rely on Food Stories for carbs, guys, no matter what happens.

Fusillata Casareccia with Anchovies, Broccoli and Bottarga Recipe

Pasta of your choice for 2 people
200g Tenderstem broccoli
4 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
Chilli flakes, to taste
8-10 anchovy fillets (or to taste)
Juice of half a lemon
Handful breadcrumbs, toasted until golden
Bottarga
Butter or olive oil

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente.

Put the Tenderstem into a pan of boiling water. When it comes back to the boil, drain.

Heat a knob of butter or splash of olive oil in a frying pan and gently cook the garlic for a minute or so, stirring. Melt in the anchovies. Add chilli flakes and the broccoli. Stir to coat and add lemon juice.

Once pasta is cooked, drain reserving a splash of cooking water. Add both to the frying pan. Stir well.

Transfer to bowls then grate over bottarga and add crumbs. Yeah, it’s really simple.

Conchiglioni Rigati Stuffed with Spinach and Ricotta

I have a lot of love for unfashionable foods. There’s a Delia Smith rice salad recipe from the ’90’s, for example, that I adore; it includes tinned tuna, diced red peppers and an actual vinaigrette dressing on the rice. I know. Prawn cocktail is another excellent example, as are steak slice, cod in parsley sauce or corned beef and pickle sandwiches.

I feel like gigantic stuffed pasta is going the way of rice salad. These pasta shells are something I remember seeing often on US blogs around 10 years ago, and this recipe does feel very American somehow. The fact that it’s slightly dated just makes me love it more.

Conchiglioni Rigati Stuffed with Spinach and Ricotta

I wrote recently that spinach is one of my favourite vegetables and my mate texted me all like, ‘f*cking SPINACH?!’ and I said yeah.. before I realised that it’s only one of my favourite vegetables when it’s mixed with either white cheese in a pie/borek or with copious amounts of ricotta for pasta. And here we are.

The stuffed shells are sitting in a rich and sweet but actually quite basic bitch tomato sauce that’s really easy to make, and I ramped up the excitement a little bit by adding an anchovy crumb on top. More carbs = more fun.

Conchiglioni Rigati with Spinach and Ricotta

Conchiglioni Rigati Stuffed with Spinach and Ricotta Recipe

200g conchiglioni rigati (you’ll need around 20 shells but cook a few extra in case they break)
600g spinach, washed
250g ricotta (get the best quality you can find)
225g sourdough breadcrumbs
50g tin anchovies in oil
Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
1 onion, finely chopped
8 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
1 large glass red wine
3 tins chopped tomatoes (again, quality matters here)

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a saucepan and soften the onion gently without colouring for around 10 minutes. Add the wine and let it be absorbed, stirring it to prevent sticking. Add the garlic and let it cook, stirring, for a minute or so.

Pour in the tomatoes, add some salt and pepper then put the lid on and cook for 45 minutes covered. Take the lid off and reduce by 1/4.

Make the anchovy crumb by melting the anchovies in their oil in a frying pan. Add the crumbs and fry, stirring, until crisp but not too golden (they will carry on toasting in the oven).

Cook the pasta shells until they are halfway cooked – they still need to be quite hard as they’re going to carry on cooking in the oven. Drain and run them under cold water to cool them down.

Put the washed spinach into a pan over a low heat with a lid on and let it wilt down (you’ll probably need to do this in two batches). Run it under cold water to cool it down, then squeeze out as much of the liquid as you can, using your hands. Roughly chop the spinach then mix it with the ricotta and lemon zest, plus some salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 180C.

When the tomato sauce is ready, add it to a large dish or roasting tray. Stuff the spinach mixture into the pasta shells and place them on top. Top with the crumb. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden.

Crab Lasagna recipe

Oh readers, how I have failed you. It has been a full five months since I promised I’d fill this site with more crab recipes. Crab, as I’ve mentioned too many times, is one of my favourite foods and although I will always love eating them simply cooked and served with mayonnaise best of all, it would be criminal not to experiment. I would be letting the side down. 

In the archives, then, you will find Louisiana crab cakes, crab fried ricehot crab dip and now, this.  Get your baggiest pants ready my friends because this arrangement of carbs and crabs (*notes important order of letters*) is going to beat you into submission until you are a quivering wreck of happiness, belly up like a flailing beetle.

Crab Lasagna

If this lasagna were a particularly camp and bitchy young fashion magazine employee it would walk, steps crisscrossing one another like knives in a vicious sashay, telling everyone it would slay you. And it will. This is possibly one of the richest dishes I’ve ever made, despite attempts to curtail said richness with the addition of lemon and herbs. It’s the kind of dish you eat a small portion of then ask for another but regret it, like the kid who makes himself sick on chocolate cake then voms it up on someone’s white sofa.

So yeah, it’s really great. Make it. You’ll need four full crabs so maybe this is one best left for when you want to really impress someone or put them off crab for life. Could go either way.

Crab Lasagna Recipe

This fills a 9 x 9 x 2 inch baking dish.

The meat from 4 cooked and prepared crabs (white and brown), or just buy 4 whole dressed crabs
500 g ricotta
1 handful tarragon, finely chopped
1 handful chives, finely chopped
50g butter
50g all-purpose white flour
500ml whole milk
Juice of 1 lemon
White pepper
Pecorino
Lasagna sheets

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Separate the white and brown crab meat. Mix the white meat with the chopped herbs, ricotta and lemon juice. Season with salt and white pepper.

Melt the butter in a pan, then add the flour and stir vigorously to form a paste. Add a little of the milk at a time until all the milk is incorporated, stirring constantly until you have a smooth, slightly thickened sauce. Season and mix in the brown crab meat.

Dip the lasagna sheets in very hot water (easiest in a baking dish). Layer up in alternating layers so white mixture, pasta, brown mixture, pasta and so on. Finish with an aggressive grating of Pecorino.

I struggle to remember how long we baked this for – 20 minutes or so I should think. Just bake it until it’s golden on top, basically.

Sorrel fettucine with brown shrimp sauce

This is the first of 4 recipes I created in partnership with Vitamix and Great British Chefs (that means they paid me to write ’em). 

I used to have a *cough* slightly unhealthy relationship with pasta. I love all carbs, truth be told, but pasta, well, that’s right up there with the foods that make me completely lose control. I would boast of my ability to consume enough for four people, which makes me shudder now when I think about it – what was it with that phase where we boasted about gluttony? It was definitely a thing on Twitter, like a f*cked up competition to show who liked food the most. I guess we just grew out of it.

Now don’t get me wrong, the actual recommended portion size for pasta is just ridiculous. When I first started properly exercising I decided to measure out the portion that was recommended on the packet and, after re-reading it several times and looking for noughts I might have missed, stood back, pointed at it and laughed out loud. It’s basically the size of my hand, which is, I dunno, a regular sized hand really – the point here is that it was significantly smaller than any portion of pasta I’d ever eaten. Depressing.

This pasta is green, though, which means it’s healthier and you can eat as much as you like. Really, that’s a genuine grown-up science fact. I added lemony sorrel to the dough which you make by wanging everything into the Vitamix. The shrimps, of course, love a bit of lemon and this is such a cheerful, highly seasonal dish. Make it while you can before both sorrel and shrimp are gone.

Sorrel Fettuccine with Brown Shrimp Sauce

This serves two people, I SUPPOSE.

Pasta dough

1 egg yolk
2 handfuls of sorrel leaves
150g of 00 flour
1 egg
1 pinch of salt

Brown shrimp sauce

100g of brown shrimp
3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
40g of butter
1 red chilli, finely sliced
parsley, chopped
1 lemon, juice and zest
salt

To begin, place the egg and egg yolk in the Vitamix, add the sorrel leaves and secure the lid. Select Variable 1, switch the machine to Start and slowly increase the speed to Variable 10. Once leaves have broken down into a purée, stop the machine and add the flour and salt. Pulse on Variable 8 until the dough starts to come together.

Remove the lid, scrape down the sides and add a little more flour if the dough looks too wet. Pulse a few times more then empty out onto a clean, floured work surface

Knead the dough for 3–4 minutes until the dough becomes elastic and the shape bounces back when you prod it with your thumb. Wrap in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes

Once the dough has rested, roll out using a rolling pin (or using a pasta machine if you have one) until it’s 1–2mm thick (it’s easier to handle if you do this in 2 batches)

Cut the pasta into fettuccine strips – around 6mm wide. Make sure the pasta is dusted in flour so it doesn’t all stick together. Place a pan of salted water over a high heat and bring to the boil

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a pan and add the garlic and chilli, cooking until softened. Add the shrimps and warm through gently

Cook the pasta in the boiling water – it will only take 2–3 minutes to cook, cooking in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding the pan

Add lemon juice, chopped parsley and seasoning to the shrimps, drain the pasta and combine with the sauce. Serve warm with a sprinkling of lemon zest

I was all geared up to tell you about a pie recipe I’ve been working on; a pie recipe that is, frankly, cursed. I’ve just made it for the third time and I’m still not happy with the damn thing. A friend actually said to me, ‘why bother though?’ Yeah, not sure really. Maybe I need closure.

So, here’s a recipe for an excellent chicken dish I made today because I have a head cold and need comfort. You know when you’re clearly not well but still have a tiny bit of enthusiasm so attempt to leave the house, and then regret it? That’s what happened when I went to the butcher for this chicken. I struggled into Peckham, ran into a friend, chatted to her while standing five feet away, sweating, croaked at the butcher for some meat, then scuttled home and lay down for three hours before I could even contemplate cooking.

It was definitely worth the effort, though, even the part where I decided to cook the orzo in the same pan, which necessitated standing over it for ten minutes, adding chicken stock and stirring, like making risotto. There was no way the accumulated fat and sticky brown bits were going to waste and anyway, stirring results in a creamy texture. Maximum comfort achieved.

I used butter to fry the chicken because I am sick and that is allowed. I can basically do anything I like. The pasta soaks it up, along with the chicken fat, released from its crisp, bubbled skin. A friend at the gym gave me the wild garlic (the gym! Irony! LOL!) as she has tons in her garden, and thankfully I’d whizzed it into a pesto yesterday because getting the blender out is annoying for a perfectly well person, let alone me. It’s not even like it lives at the back of a cupboard but there’s something about washing the individual parts, the blade, the little bits that get stuck in the rubber seal… NO. I wouldn’t have coped.

It’s perfect on top of this dish, a bright splash of spring flavour that can find the taste buds despite everything. It’s a foil for the rich pasta and a cheering green – flowers added for extra gaiety. I ate it in bed, naturally, the cats reaching a tentative paw forwards every now and then, hoping for a scrap of meat. We all curled up afterwards and fell asleep again and – I shit you not – I actually dreamt of that sodding pie.

Chicken Thighs with Orzo and Wild Garlic Pesto

4 large, skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
25g butter
175g orzo
1 shallot, finely diced
450ml chicken stock, hot

Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas mark 6

Heat a cast iron skillet or other oven proof dish on the hob over a medium heat and add the butter. When melted, season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper, then add them to the pan skin side down and cook until deep golden brown, about 5-8 minutes.

Turn them over so the skin is facing up and put the pan in the oven for 15 minutes (this time may vary depending on the size of your thighs). Remove from the oven and set aside on a plate.

Add the shallot over a medium heat and cook, stirring, for a minute or so. Add the orzo and stir to coat it. Add the chicken stock a splash at a time, stirring until all the liquid is absorbed before adding the next splash. Once the orzo is just soft, add back the chicken thighs.
Allow to reheat for a few minutes, leaving the orzo undisturbed so it goes crisp on the bottom of the pan. Top with the wild garlic pesto (or serve on the side).

Wild Garlic Pesto

200g wild garlic, washed and dried thoroughly
100g Parmesan, grated
100g pine nuts, toasted in a dry pan until golden
Lemon juice
Olive oil

Put the wild garlic leaves in a blender with the Parmesan and pine nuts. Transfer to a bowl and add enough olive oil to make a sauce. Add lemon juice and salt to taste.

Tagliatelle with Cauliflower and Crispy Capers

You may notice that things looks a little different around here. Finally, the site looks close to the way I wanted it before I hired a dodgy developer who tacked it together with sellotape then buggered off and left me to deal. I hope now that it will be a lot more user friendly, organised and easier on the eye. There’s still a lot of housekeeping to do, so please bear with me if something doesn’t work – I will get it sorted.

I noticed that there are only nine pasta recipes on this site, which makes no sense whatsoever for a writer who claims to be obsessed with the stuff. It’s a total disgrace. I promise to serve your carb needs better in the future starting right here and now with this recipe, which includes toasty cauliflower, anchovies and capers, the latter fried until crisp.

You can make the anchovies more or less of a thing here – personally, I love them so I add 8-10 fillets, but it’s up to you. Capers are brilliant fried, by the way. If you can, get the ones that come packed in salt as they have a much better flavour than those in brine. Rinse them, pat, then fry until their petals explode in the hot oil and they crisp up, salty and sharp. They may just be the best pasta garnish since oh, I don’t know, breadcrumbs fried in anchovy oil.

Tagliatelle with Cauliflower and Crispy Capers

500g good quality dried tagliatelle
8-10 anchovy fillets
1 large cauliflower, broken into florets
4 cloves garlic, 2 whole, 2 crushed
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
1 handful parsley leaves, roughly chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2-3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and dried on kitchen paper
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons oil, for frying (like groundnut or vegetable)
50g butter
Parmesan, to serve

Preheat the oven to 220C (425F). Toss the cauliflower with enough oil to coat plus salt, pepper, and 2 cloves of the garlic. Roast for around 40 minutes until tender and golden.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Heat the veg oil in a small saucepan and fry the capers in it until crisp, then drain on kitchen paper.

While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a pan and add the anchovies until they melt. Add the crushed garlic and chilli flakes and cook for a minute or so, stirring. Add the cooked cauliflower plus some salt and pepper and stir until combined.

When the pasta is cooked, drain and add the cauliflower mixture, plus some lemon juice and parsley. Taste for seasoning and serve with grated Parmesan and the crispy capers.

Ragu

You give me the richest ragu/That’s why I’m in love with you.

Those are Sade lyrics, in case I’ve lost any of my younger readers. She loved ragu, apparently. Couldn’t get enough.

This recipe is from Kenji Lopez-Alt’s book The Food Lab. In case you don’t know him, he writes The Food Lab column for Serious Eats and is also their Culinary Director, whatever that means. Sounds good though, doesn’t it? We’re huge Kenji fans in this house, so much so that we considered building a shrine to him in our living room. Possibly.

His ‘thing’ is that he does lots of recipe testing, to the point where he’s comparing 30 eggs boiled for 30 seconds more each time, side by side, to see which is the best, and he delves into the science of cooking in a Harold McGee kinda way.

I wanted something I could get ready ahead of time since I had friends coming over, so gave his ragu recipe a go. It was fabulous, and had incredible depth of flavour, which is unsurprising considering it contained a paste consisting of anchovies, Marmite, soy sauce and chicken livers, and three kinds of meat. I also went to town with the quality of the ingredients, using Strianese tomatoes, the best Parmesan and hugely expensive pasta. It turns out that last move was a mistake.

Are you hungry? I asked my guests at around the 7.30pm mark. Yes, yes they were. “Magnificent!” I said, and proceeded to be very clever by adding my massively posh pasta to a pan of boiling water. Except it wouldn’t cook. It wouldn’t cook for like, an hour. Maybe more. Those attractive belts of flour and egg which had looked so appealing on the shelf turned into fat flaps of gummy gluten that just would not soften. We ate at around 9pm, after separating the pasta into two separate pans and burning ourselves twice. Someone was so hungry they went to the shop for spaghetti. “No!” I said, shaking from hypoglycaemia, “NO”. We will eat this f*cking clown shoes pasta, mainly because it cost me a tenner.” And so my friends suffered because I can’t control myself in expensive food shops.

Anyway, the ragu is fabulous and you must make it. I’ll admit that the blended chicken livers have one of the most unnerving textures I have ever come across in the kitchen, but you’ll just have to deal. This is an excellent recipe even if it is 100% faffier than any other ragu recipe you’ve ever made. I should also say that it took four hours to cook down, not two as stated in the recipe, which is quite a significant difference. One for the weekend.

Ragu Recipe

This recipe is from The Food Lab cookbook by Kenji Lopez-Alt, published by W.W Norton & Company. I halved the quantities in the recipe and converted them from American measurements, in some cases adjusting them very slightly. I also like to serve it with a gremolata (chopped lemon zest and parsley) which adds some freshness. The original recipe was for 8-10 servings, although I found this half quantity served 8, and you know how much pasta I can eat (at least 300g on my own. What?). 

60g chicken livers
2 anchovy fillets (more if they’re titchy, mine were a good size)
1/2 teaspoon Marmite
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
250ml milk
125ml cream (Kenji specifies heavy cream but I used single cream)
250ml beef stock (Kenji specified chicken but I bought beef because I hadn’t written it down correctly)
1/2 packet powdered gelatin (haven’t looked into why he uses powdered)
30ml extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, grated or crushed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Large pinch dried chilli flakes
Around 400g tinned tomatoes (I used slightly more in the end)
100g pancetta, diced
1/2 large onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1.5 stalks celery, diced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
225g minced lamb
225g minced pork
225g minced beef (Kenji said veal but I couldn’t get it)
8-10 sage leaves, chopped
1/2 bottle red wine
2 bay leaves
Handful basil, chopped
Handful parsley, chopped
1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
50g Parmesan, grated
Phew.

In a food processor, whiz up the chicken livers, Marmite, anchovies and soy. Set aside. In a bowl, combine cream, milk, stock and gelatin. Set aside.

Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a medium saucepan over a medium-high heat until shimmering. Add garlic, oregano, chilli flakes and cook for around 1 minute, stirring. Add tomatoes, with their juice and bring to boil over high heat. reduce to simmer and cook until liquid has reduced by about half. Set aside.

Combine remaining two tablespoons of oil in a large pot with a lid (you will cook the ragu in this) and cook the pancetta for around 6 mins until the fat is translucent. Add onions, carrots, celery and cook until softened but not browned. Transfer to a bowl.

Return the pan to the heat and add the butter, heat until the foaming subsides. Add the three meats and the sage and cook until meat is no longer pink (don’t brown it). Add livers mixture. Stir. Cook for five minutes. Add pancetta mixture. Stir. Add wine. Stir. Bring to boil, then simmer until wine is reduced by half.

Blend tomato sauce until smooth (easiest with stick blender). Add tomato sauce, cream mixture, bay leaves, half the basil and half the parsley to the pot. Stir. Bring to boil, reduce to very gentle simmer. Cover with lid left with slight gap. Cook for two hours. I cooked for two hours, then found it needed two more, one with the lid off. Use your instinct.

Add fish sauce and Parmesan. Season to taste. Remove from heat to cook for 30 minutes. Stir in remaining basil and parsley. Serve with sensible pasta and a gremolata of equal amounts chopped parsley and lemon zest.