Tag Archives: Pasta

Creamy mushroom orzo

I mentioned the other day a while ago that I’d borrowed Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Everyday! from the library (before tangentially enthusing about my love for Auckland’s public library system…) and tried the chachouka recipe from it, which turned out brilliantly.  And then, aside from a brief (though enthusiastic) mention in a Sunday Smiles post, I never spoke about the book again, which could suggest that none of the other recipes appealed to me, or none of them worked.  What actually happened is that I cooked several recipes, loved them all and had so many others bookmarked to try out that I realised that this was a book worth buying – it was clearly not going languish on my bookshelf, gathering dust.  So that’s precisely what I did: I bought a copy.  But I never quite got around to blogging about those recipes, mostly because I didn’t take photos – I struggle with savoury food photography because I’m not terribly imaginative and I’d usually rather eat my meal hot rather than having to take photos of it whilst it cools.  And I’m also usually hungry.

I did, however, take photos of the creamy mushroom orzo, which was the second dish that I tried from the book (ages ago when mushrooms were still in season over here in the southern hemisphere…  Good timing if you’re in the northern hemisphere though!).  I love mushrooms and often cook them in a cream and wine sauce – my version of the French stalwart that is champignons à la crème.  I’ve always served them with toast, and would never have thought to add orzo, which is a great idea – it makes this more of a substantial meal and more practical to take as a packed lunch (always a bonus).

I don’t think larger pasta would work nearly as well, it would over-power the dish in terms of texture (does that even make sense?), whereas with the orzo, this dish is still all about the mushrooms and the sauce, and the orzo is more of a background addition that fills it out.  This is really a wonderfully comforting (but not heavy) autumnal or wintery dish.  I really like the addition of the balsamic vinegar – it adds a subtle extra dimension to the flavours, and goes so well with the mushrooms.  Since this recipe is very much made from scratch, I’m submitting it to this week’s Made with Love Mondays over at Javelin Warrior.

Creamy mushroom orzo

Serves 2-3
Adapted from River Cottage Veg Everyday!

Flavourful dark mushrooms, such as chestnut or field mushrooms, are best if you can get them – I used portobello mushrooms since I didn’t have much choice in terms of varieties.  Do use a good quality balsamic vinegar as it will impact the flavour of the dish.


500g mushrooms
Knob of butter
4 cloves of garlic
Small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, to serve
150g orzo pasta (aka risoni)
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
½ tsp dried thyme
100ml dry white wine
75ml crème fraîche (reduced fat is fine)


1.  Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, ready to cook the pasta whilst the sauce is being prepared.

2.  Brush the mushrooms, trim the stipes (stems/stalks) and slice thickly.  Melt the butter in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat.  Add half the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until starting to caramelise and the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated.  Remove to a plate and repeat with the other half of the mushrooms (doing it in batches avoids the mushrooms stewing in an overcrowded pan).

3.  Whilst the mushrooms are cooking, chop the garlic cloves and set aside.  Separately, strip the parsley leaves from their stalks, chop and set aside.  Once the second batch of mushrooms is nearly cooked, add the orzo to the boiling water and cook for the amount of time specified on the packet until al dente.  Drain as soon as it is cooked.

4.  Return the first batch of mushrooms to the frying pan, along with the garlic, balsamic vinegar and thyme.  Cook for about 2 mins, stirring frequently.  And the wine and simmer until it has mostly reduced, then reduce the heat a little and add the cream, stirring until just starting to simmer.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

5.  Stir the drained pasta through the mushroom mixture, along with most of the parsley.  Serve immediately, garnished with the remaining chopped parsley.




Filed under Recipes, Savoury Foods

When is a carbonara not a carbonara?

Winter is definitely starting to creep up on us…  It seems that with the exceptional Indian summer that we’ve had, autumn has been completely by-passed.  The temperatures have dropped a little during the day (ok, so it was still 17°C outside yesterday lunch time, but inside the lab it felt like about 15°C.  Which is really cold when you’re just sitting at your desk not moving much) and rather a lot during the night – it’s cold first thing in the morning.  I think I’m going to have to dig out my bed socks soon (I am obviously the epitome of hotness, in case you didn’t know) and switch to my warmer duvet (though I don’t think I’ll be needing my full-on winter 14.5 tog one here… that might be a little much).  Despite the weather taking a turn for the colder, at least the sunny weather is forecast to continue for at least the rest of this week.  Sunshine makes everything better.  So does pasta.

I wanted some comfort food when I got home yesterday evening, and a mushroom and spinach carbonara recipe that I’d seen in Cuisine over the weekend fitted the bill perfectly.  I’m not sure that it can quite be described as a carbonara – there’s no pancetta, and I used blue cheese rather than parmesan in the sauce.  But the sauce is made up of barely-cooked eggs and a touch of cream, so it is very carbonara-esque (though apparently there Italian-made carbonara doesn’t involve cream… according to Wikipedia, source of all knowledge).  Are there rules on what can and can’t be called a carbonara?  I’ll call it a carbonara until somebody informs me otherwise.  Mostly because I don’t really know quite what else to call it…

Reason #564 that I love NZ: you can get real shallots here.  So I’ve been adding shallots to almost everything lately because I’m still so excited about that.  Almost everything savoury, I should add, and this was no exception.  The original recipe calls for wide lasagne noodles, but half the fun of a carbonara is elegantly twirling it onto your fork and then inelegantly splattering it all over your chin.  I couldn’t find any tagliatelle, which is my favourite twirly pasta (very technical term), so I went with spaghetti, wholewheat of course, dahling.  I try to use wholewheat pasta whenever I can – it’s better for you after all, no more effort than using normal pasta and doesn’t even take much longer to cook (unlike wholegrain brown rice which takes forever to cook).  It’s a cheat’s way of eating slightly healthier.  Although perhaps slightly negated when you make cream-based sauces to go with it, but shhhh!  In my mind the spinach and wholewheat pasta totally counterbalance the cream, eggs and cheese in this recipe.  That’s how healthy eating works, right…?  Ok, ok, it doesn’t, and this isn’t the healthiest of recipes, but I’m not suggesting that you eat this everyday.  From time to time though, it makes perfect comfort food that can be prepared fairly quickly to boot, which makes it perfect to throw together after a long day in a cold lab.  Now, where did I put my bed socks…?

Mushroom & spinach blue cheese carbonara

Serves 2-3
Adapted from Cuisine (May 2012)

Since the eggs in the sauce are only barely cooked, make sure to use fresh eggs.  If you don’t like blue cheese, you can use 30g of parmesan, as specified in the original recipe, or 80g of feta.  I’m sure that a crumbly goat’s cheese would also work well.  If you are cooking this for vegetarians, make sure to pick a vegetarian-friendly cheese.  I use reduced fat crème fraîche, as that’s just what I always have in the fridge as it’s slightly healthier.  Don’t try and be healthier by using oil instead of butter for the mushrooms though – they won’t taste as good.


20g butter
250g Portobello mushrooms (other mushrooms would work fine)
1 shallot
1 clove of garlic
180g wholewheat spaghetti or tagliatelle
3 eggs
4 tbsp crème fraîche
80g creamy blue cheese, plus extra to serve
200g fresh spinach
Black pepper, to serve


1.  Bring a large pan of water to the boil with a little salt.

2.  Slice the mushrooms and finely dice the shallot and garlic clove.  Melt the butter in a large frying pan or wok over a medium heat and add the mushrooms, shallot and garlic.  Sauté for about 10 mins, stirring from time to time, until dark and tender.

3.  Meanwhile, add the pasta to the pan of boiling water, and cook until according to package instructions until al dente.

4.  In a small bowl, lightly beat together the eggs and crème fraîche.  Whisk in the crumbled blue cheese and set aside.

5.  Once the mushrooms are cooked, add about 4 tbsp of the pasta cooking water and the spinach (you can slice the spinach if you want – I totally forgot to do so) and stir for a few minutes until the spinach is wilted.

6.  Drain the pasta and return to the saucepan.  Add the egg mixture to the pasta over a low heat, and stir for about a minute so that the eggs begin to cook.  Add the pasta to the mushrooms and spinach fold together (depending on the respective sizes of your saucepan and frying pan/wok it might be easier to add the mushrooms and spinach to the pasta rather than the other way around).

7.  Split between pasta bowls, top with a little crumbled blue cheese, season with black pepper and serve whilst hot.


PS – The obvious answer to the question in the title is “when it’s in my belly” or some variation thereof.  Bonus points to you if you thought that to yourself on reading it.


Filed under Recipes, Savoury Foods

Random Recipe #3: Red onion & anchovy pasta

What was your first ever cookery book?  Does it immediately spring to mind or do you have to think about it?  Do you cherish it and remember flicking through the pages of exciting new recipes?  Do you still use it?  Are you wondering why I’m asking all these questions?  Well, this month’s Random Recipe has to come from our first ever cookery book.  After a bit of thought, I realised that mine is La Cuisine des paresseuses (Cooking for Lazy People).  Whilst it’s a great little book (full of quick and straightforward recipes – very useful as a student), its main sentimental value is that it was an 18th birthday gift from my French Aunt and Uncle rather than it being the first cookery book that I ever owned.  Before moving to university, I’d always used my mum’s many recipe books and cuttings, and consequently, on reading the challenge, I immediately thought of Je sais cuisiner by Ginette Mathiot, a stalwart of French cookery books.  I’ve flicked through that book countless times, and though I’ll be honest and admit that I didn’t cook that often, I did a fair amount of baking from it, so I’m definitely attached to it.  But I don’t actually own it.

So, cookery book memories aside, I got out La Cuisine des paresseuses.  Although I already used it for last month’s Random Recipe, I’m rather relieved, because as I’ve already mentioned, it’s full of straightforward recipes, and I have a dissertation deadline approaching far too rapidly for my liking, as well as a report and a presentation both due in for tomorrow.  (Before reading the challenge I had visions of having to attempt something insanely difficult from Le Larousse des desserts.)  The random number button on my calculator directed me to page 31, which was a recipe for… a basic vinaigrette.  Now I know I’d been hoping for something quick and easy, but really?  I wasn’t convinced that making a bog-standard vinaigrette quite fitted the idea behind the challenge, particularly since I always make my vinaigrette from scratch, and do so several times a week…  So I took the liberty of hitting the random number button again and turned to page 57: red onion and anchovy pasta.  Definitely sounds like student food…

As expected, the recipe was easy and fairly quick to prepare (hurrah!).  Most importantly though, it was tasty!  The red onions caramelised slightly to give a hint of sweetness, but this was counter-balanced by the anchovies, and the pine nuts added a subtle extra little something.  I was a little bit apprehensive about there being no mention of cheese anywhere in the recipe (pasta without cheese is an almost alien concept to me), but thankfully it turned out yummy anyway (which is probably why there was no mention of cheese in the first place – duh!).  My only issue with the recipe was the quantity that I ended up with – 250g of pasta to serve 2?  To be fair, the book doesn’t specify 2 of what – people, lions, elephants, dinosaurs?  With that in mind, it’s definitely one to make again!

Red onion and anchovy pasta

Serves 3-4
Recipe from La Cuisine des paresseuses

When I first made this recipe (thinking it served 2 people) I ended up with loads of leftovers.  Luckily it reheats very well in the microwave (though add a little bit extra oil so that it doesn’t dry out).  I also tried it with parmesan, which didn’t really add all that much to the flavour, so I’d say that’s optional.  If you don’t have any fusilli, any short pasta would work fine.


250g fusilli pasta
2-3 tbsp olive oil
2 red onions
6 anchovy fillets in oil
4 small handfuls of pine nuts


1.  Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta according to the cooking instructions on the back of the packet whilst preparing the rest of the dish.

2.  Finely-chop the red onion and the anchovy fillets.  Gently fry the onion in the olive oil in a frying pan.  After about 5 mins, add the finely-chopped anchovies and some black pepper and continue frying until the onion has softened, but not browned (I kept mine going on a really low heat until the pasta was done).

3.  Whilst the red onions are cooking, grill or toast the pine nuts for a few minutes in the oven or in a small non-stick frying pan (be careful not to burn them).

4.  Once cooked, add the pasta to the onion and anchovy mixture and mix well.  Split the pasta between plates or pasta bowls and sprinkle with the pine nuts.



Filed under Recipes, Savoury Foods