• Flour Power

    My children never know what to expect for supper on a day when I've been giving one of my demonstrations. Last week they tucked into a delicious but slightly bizarre mix of chicken leg, puy lentils, wild mushroom sauce and tagliatelli. Luckily like most children they never seem to put more than one element of a dish on their forks at a time so didn't question the combination but enjoyed each in its own right, although I don't think puy lentils are in any danger of becoming one of Rupert's ever changing top 5 foods.

    They were, however, particularly impressed by the quality of the pasta which had been made earlier that day by a lovely group who came to a session arranged specially for them, covering everyday family suppers with the thrills and plenty of very floury spills of pasta making thrown in.

    None of the 6 had ever made pasta before but approached the challenge with great enthusiasm and were clearly delighted by their extremely successful results. It does seem extraordinary that 100g flour and an egg can be transformed so easily, with just a bit of elbow grease thrown in, into silky smooth pasta which really does taste so much better than the dried shop bought varieties. Of course the latter will always have a very valid place in everyones' cupboard as a versatile everyday staple with a good long shelf life but it's such a treat now and then to enjoy the freshly made version. It not only wins hands down on taste and texture but also provides the added satisfaction (I would never say smugness but...) that comes with having created it yourself.

    We enjoyed the spoils for lunch as the hero ingredient in a kind of "open lasagne" filled with roast sweet potato, goats cheese and curly kale and topped with wild mushroom sauce and I hope my recipe did their wonderful pasta justice. At least everyone agreed that it had been worth going the extra mile (or actually machine setting) to roll the dough out as thinly as possible as it really does expand in every direction while cooking. The amounts here will serve 4.

    Sweet potato and mushroom lasagne

    Lasagne made with 2 eggs and 200g of “00” flour

    1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes

    Olive oil

    1 tsp Smoked paprika

    100g Soft rindless goats cheese

    30g dried wild mushrooms

    175g chestnut mushrooms, sliced

    1 sprig thyme

    20g butter

    Splash marsala

    150ml double cream

    Squeeze lemon juice

    150g Curly kale, stalks removed, shredded and washed

    Salt

    Heat the oven to 180°C. First put the dried mushrooms into a bowl, cover with boiling water and leave for 20 minutes. While they are soaking, peel the sweet potato and chop it into 2cm pieces. Toss with some olive oil, smoked paprika and salt and arrange in a single layer in a roasting tin. Roast for 25 minutes until soft and beginning to blacken on the edges.

    Cook the curly kale for a couple of minutes in boiling water and drain well. Return to the heat with ½ of the butter and stir to drive off the excess water. Mash the sweet potato very roughly with the back of a fork and stir through the broken up goats cheese and kale.

    Meanwhile, make the wild mushroom sauce. Strain the wild mushrooms, pushing them down to extract as much of the liquid as possible. Save the liquid for later. Roughly chop all the mushrooms. Heat ½ a tablespoon of olive oil in a large sauté pan and add both types of mushrooms, a pinch of salt and the sprig of thyme. Cook whilst stirring frequently until they are soft and no longer releasing any liquid. Add the rest of the butter and keep stirring for a few minutes. When the butter has been absorbed, add a splash each of Marsala and the mushroom soaking liquid and when it has reduced, the double cream. Keep stirring until the cream is bubbling and beginning to reduce. Add the lemon juice and check the seasoning. If the mixture gets too thick, let it down with more of the mushroom soaking liquid.

    Cook the pasta for 2 minutes in well salted boiling water, drain and then assemble the dish. Put a piece of pasta in the middle of each plate and top with some sweet potato, kale and goats cheese. Place another piece of pasta on top and spoon some mushroom sauce over the top.

    On a similarly home made theme, several people who have come to my demonstrations have asked for the recipe for the scrummy cookies which I always make to have with coffee when they first arrive. These cookies are brilliantly practical, as well as delicious, as you can make up the dough in advance and leave it in the fridge. When you want to bake them you just scoop however dollops you want onto a baking try and stick them in the oven; no rolling, cutting or or flour involved. It's perfect for me when I want to give my guests home made biscuits fresh from the oven but certainly don't have time to bake from scratch before everyone arrives. So here it is and I do hope you give them a try; just try to resist tasting the raw dough or they might never make it into the oven! This amount makes stacks so I normally halve it. It's a bit of a bore using 1/2 an egg but you could always use the other half along with some flour and breadcrumbs on a nice piece of fish.

    Gooey nutty chocolate cookies

    200g unsalted butter, soft

    200g light brown soft sugar

    125 vanilla caster sugar (or plain is fine)

    1 egg (large)

    320g plain flour

    1tsp bicarbonate of soda

    1 tsp baking powder

    1 tsp sea salt

    300g chopped chocolate, whatever colour you like or a mix of dark, milk and white

    100g hazelnuts, roughly chopped

    Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric whisk until it's light and fluffy; a couple of minutes should do it. Beat in the egg until it's all well combined and then stir in the flour, bicarb, baking powder and salt (rub it with your fingers as you sprinkle it in to break up the flakes). This will form a fairly stiff dough into which you then need to stir the chopped chocolate and hazelnuts. The mix will sit happily in the fridge for a few days if you need it to, and can make it last that long.

    When you're ready to bake, heat the oven to 180C and, using an ice cream scoop, put balls of dough on a lined baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until they're nearly cooked through but still look a tiny bit raw in the middle; they will firm up as they cool and if you let them cook all the way through you won't get that satisfying squidgy bit in the middle. They will be too floppy to move straight away but as soon as you can transfer them with a palette knife or something similar to a cooling rack.

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