Tag Archives: Spinach

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.

Ingredients

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

Directions

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.

Enjoy!

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.

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Spinach and feta “quichelets”

I have a tendency to bookmark recipes involving spinach. It’s a habit that I picked up in St Andrews, thanks to Kat. She’s on medication that basically limits the amount of alcohol that she can drink to about 2 glasses of wine a day. Which wasn’t ideal for dinner parties (because unfortunately the 2 glasses a day aren’t transferable to the next day if you haven’t consumed them). However, she also had to limit the amount of vitamin K because it has the opposite effect on the medication to alcohol. So clearly, if she ate more vitamin K, she just had to balance it with an extra glass of wine or three and vice versa… Spinach is jam-packed full of vitamin K, so whenever I had Kat for dinner, it was highly likely that spinach would feature at some point. I didn’t want Kat to have to feel limited to drinking less than everybody else, because that’s just not fair. Of course, the obviously sensible thing to do would have been for everybody else to cut down on the amount of wine being consumed… but as fourth year undergrads, let’s be realistic here.

In fact, Kat was first prescribed this medication over the summer of 2010, which she unexpectedly spent living with me in St Andrews – this was the summer that definitely cemented our friendship. We spent a large part of the summer perfecting the amount of spinach required to balance out various quantities of wine and gin. We got it down to a fine art. This wasn’t quite as irresponsible as it sounds since Kat was conveniently having plenty of check-ups to check the levels of her medication throughout the summer. Kids: don’t read this and think it’s a smart idea to play Russian Roulette with your health, it’s not and that’s really not what I’m suggesting you should do. Rather hypocritical, I know, but I felt a disclaimer was probably a good idea.

So anyway, as a result of this, I have lots and lots of bookmarked recipes involving spinach. This particular recipe is adapted from a wonderful little cookbook that Craig (who was also involved in many of the spinach vs wine/gin experiments) gave me for Graduation, so I never got around to trying it out before I moved from St Andrews. The original recipe has been bookmarked for a long time, partly out of habit, partly because it uses egg yolks (I’m always looking for recipes that use up egg yolks) and partly because it sounded delicious. And it turned out scrumptious, as I was expecting – I’ve tried the spinach and feta combination before, and have always enjoyed it. I decided to make these as mini quiches (or “quichelets” as I like to call them), as suggested in the book, but it would also work as a larger quiche, particularly if you want to make this as a main course rather than a starter or light lunch.

Spinach & feta “quichelets”

Serves 6 as a starter
Adapted from Baking – 100 everyday recipes

You could, of course, just make one big quiche, but making the mini quiches doesn’t take that much more time and effort (just the time to cut the pastry from the tartlet tins). A larger quiche will take longer to bake – I can’t give you a time estimate, so I’d suggest just monitoring it, and toasting the pine nuts in a small frying pan and just topping the quiche with them when it comes out of the oven. I always add a tiny bit of Dijon mustard to the bottom of all my savoury tarts and quiches because I find that it subtly heightens the flavours, but it is entirely optional. If you’re not a big fan of cheese, you may wish to reduce the quantity of cheese down to about 100g.

Ingredients

Quiche pastry (click for recipe – it’ll make twice as much as you need)
2 tsp Dijon mustard
250g fresh spinach
1 tbsp butter
150g crème fraîche
3 egg yolks
2 tsp ground nutmeg
150g feta (pick one that crumbles easily)
25g pine nuts

Directions

1. Grease and flour six 9 cm tartlet tins (or one large quiche tin). Divide the pastry equally into six and roll out each portion to about 4mm thick and line one of the tartlet tins. Prick with a fork and refrigerate for about 30 mins. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C.

2. Line each pastry case with baking paper and fill with baking beans. Blind bake for 10 mins.

3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, lightly beat together the egg yolks, crème fraîche and ground nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper (don’t be afraid to be a little heavy-handed with the pepper). Set aside.

4. Blanch the spinach for 1 minute in a large pot of boiling water. Drain and squeeze all the water out (having just been in boiling water, the spinach is very hot – I’m not sure how you would do this if you don’t happen to have asbestos hands like me… Use the back of a spoon perhaps?). Roughly chop the spinach (again, good luck if you don’t have asbestos hands). In a frying pan or wok, melt the butter and add the spinach and cook over a low heat to evaporate any remaining water.

5. Add a tiny dollop of mustard to each blind-baked pastry case and spread evenly. Crumble the feta and split evenly between the six tartlets. Stir the creamy egg mixture into the spinach, mix well, and spoon over the feta. Bake for 10 mins (if you’re making a large quiche, the cooking time will be a bit longer).

6. Sprinkle the pine nuts over the mini quiches and bake a further 5 mins.

7. Remove from the oven and serve immediately accompanied with a green salad or allow to cool on a wire rack.

Enjoy!

PS – Kat, I wish I could have shared these quichelets with you!

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Salmon & spinach pie with mashed potato topping

I’ve previously mentioned the slightly epic amount of salmon that ended up in my freezer after working in one of the University’s research labs this summer.  I defrosted the last of the tails for Burns Night and made salmon quiche, but I still had some cooked salmon meat left over that didn’t go into the quiche, and I also had mashed potato left over from the haggis, so I decided to attempt making a salmon pie (I should add that I actually made this pie about 10 days ago, but have only just got around to posting about it).  However, I’m not particularly well-versed in making pies, so thanks to one of my friends who gave me basic instructions.

It turned out to be rather yummy and ridiculously easy – bonus!  Perhaps the best thing though is that not only did it create fridge space by using up lots of leftovers, but it is one of those one-dish main courses, which I love – no need to worry about making sure everything finishes cooking at the same time (not one of my strong points).

Salmon & spinach pie

Serves 2-3
Recipe vaguely based on instructions from a friend

Instead of the spinach, you can substitute almost any kind of cooked vegetables that need to be used up – for example, broccoli goes really well with salmon.  I decided to use herbes de Provence just because that’s what the salmon had been marinated in before being cooked, but you can definitely alter the pie’s flavour by playing with different herb combinations.

Ingredients

300g cooked salmon, flaked (and de-boned if necessary)
1 onion
2 garlic cloves
fresh spinach
3 tsp herbes de Provence
5 tbsp crème fraîche
Enough mashed potatoes to cover the top (this depends on the size of the dish you are using, but the potatoes can be spread as thickly or thinly as you want)

Directions

1.  Pre-heat the oven to around 160°C.

2.  Dice the onion, and finely chop the garlic cloves.  Sauté them in a wok or large pan until they start to turn golden, then add the (rinsed) spinach leaves and continue to sauté them until the spinach is very wilted.

3.  In a large bowl, mix the salmon, crème fraîche, herbs, some pepper and a pinch of salt.  Add the slightly cooled onion and spinach and mix well.  Add a little more crème fraîche if necessary.  Pour this mixture into an oven-proof dish and pack it down.  Spread the mashed potatoes evenly over the top of the salmon and spinach filling, making sure it’s all covered.

4.  Bake for about 30mins until heated through and the mashed potatoes have turned slightly golden.  Serve piping hot with a simple salad on the side.

Enjoy!

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Spinach & goat’s cheese muffins

Savoury muffins are so much fun and so versatile!  They’re perfect as party food, as nibbles for a chilled film night or if you just feel like having something for lunch that’s a little different but still fairly healthy.  I have a lot of love for muffins (sweet or savoury) so I always get enthusiastic about baking them, and these are no exception!  I also kind of love that they are green – I’m obviously easily amused…

Kat and I made these for a birthday nibbles-and-drinks that we threw for a friend the other evening.  They were snaffled up in no time – so I think it’s safe to conclude that everybody loved them!

Spinach & goat’s cheese muffins

Makes about 15 muffins
Recipe from Channel 4 Food

These are great both in the summer or the winter, and can be served warm or cold – perfect for picnics and packed lunches!  This is a fairly straightforward recipe, but my one main note is to remember to add the egg (no kidding, I know – but the first time we made these, we somehow forgot.  Ya, oops!)

Ingredients

25g butter
200ml milk
100g fresh spinach
250g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Several pinches cayenne pepper
Several pinches freshly ground black pepper
50g parmesan, grated
1 egg, lightly beaten
200g rindless goat’s cheese, chopped (if it has a rind, it tends to melt a bit funny)

Directions

1.  Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan oven 170°C/gas mark 5.  Line 15 muffin holes with paper liners, or set out silicone muffin moulds.

2.  Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl, and add the cayenne pepper and black pepper.  Stir in the grated parmesan, and set aside.

3.  Heat the milk and butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat.  Once the butter has melted, stir in the spinach and bring it just to the boil (the spinach takes up a lot of room, but quickly wilts).  Remove from the heat and pour into a liquidiser or food processor (I only have a mini blender, and it works perfectly fine for this, you just have to do it in several stages – takes a little longer, but not really much of an issue.  Make sure you don’t fill the blender up with the liquid though – it will go everywhere).  Whizz until the spinach is finely chopped, and allow to cool for about 5 mins.

4.  Add the spinach mixture and the lightly beaten egg to the dry ingredients, and mix with a big metal spoon until just combined.  Fill each of the muffin holes about half full with batter, and add some of the goat’s cheese.  Cover with the remaining batter, and top this off with any leftover goat’s cheese, pushing it down into the batter.

5.  Bake for 20-25 mins until risen and firm to the touch.  Turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool a little.

Enjoy!

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