Pasta Mont’ e Mare

Or ‘Malfadine with Oyster Mushrooms and Samphire’ 😉
Usually, pasta mare e monti – sea and mountains, contains prawns and wild mushrooms, or sometimes artichokes or asparagus, depending on the season and the region of Italy it comes from – this recipe uses oyster mushrooms and samphire, (which is also known as sea asparagus) mainly because I like the wordplay, hence why I’ve switched the words around. I used Malfadine pasta (which is like tagliatelle with frilly edges) because it reminds me of ribbons of seaweed on the beach.
This recipe uses the same pasta bianca sauce method as Pasta Primavera.

Ingredients serves 2
250g Malfadine or pasta of choice.
50g oyster mushrooms
50g samphire, washed, picked over and any tough bits near the base discarded. You could use a seaweed like hijiki, if you don’t live somewhere that has samphire.
2 cloves of fresh garlic, finely minced
1-2 tablespoon olive oil or a knob of butter
10g plain flour added to
200ml cold water (this is about a scant level tablespoon of flour in a hi-ball glass of water)
Optional – 2 tablespoons soaking water from rehydrating wild mushrooms (I was soaking some Chinese black mushrooms for the next day so this is what I used), or 1 teaspoon mushroom bouillon powder – Totole, a Chinese American brand is the best I’ve found and widely available – or a small pinch from the corner of a porcini mushroom stock cube, Star brand from Italy is widely available in the UK – they are very concentrated and salty so I do mean just a pinch.

Cook the pasta in a large pan of salted boiling water as per the instructions on the packet until al dente. Meanwhile, tear the oyster mushrooms into strips down the length of the gills, and sauté in a little oil with a pinch of salt. Lift out of the pan and reserve. Make a paste with the flour and a little water until smooth, then add the remaining water and mix well. Heat the rest of the oil in the same pan and add the garlic, cook until fragrant (30 seconds), then add the flour and water and the mushroom stock, stirring continually for 4-5 minutes until the sauce slightly clears and thickens, (it should be an ivory colour and it will begin to bubble up and rise in the pan), check that the ‘raw flour’ taste has completely disappeared.
30 seconds before you drain the pasta, add the samphire to the cooking water to heat through. Strain, and fold in the oyster mushrooms and the sauce.
Oyster mushrooms have a certain peppery-ness and the samphire is naturally salty as it thrives by the coast, so you will probably need little, if any extra seasoning. You could also substitute a mixture of fresh and dried wild mushrooms.
50g of both oyster mushrooms and samphire equates to a large handful.
Please remember this was for a slightly posh birthday dinner – still only cost about 60-70p each.
So this is what we had for our main course – pudding was elderflower sorbet.


Pasta Primavera – asparagus, broadbeans and petit pois

…or how to make my favourite expensive vegetable go further.

This recipe uses a ‘pasta bianca’ sauce, but the way it is made in restaurants. I learnt the method from my friend Claudio, who is an amazing cook. It means you can make it vegan, or optionally vegan, adding parmesan to each plate separately if desired. I think this recipe, with asparagus, doesn’t need cheese – in fact, is better without it – but do as you will, dear reader 😉

Ingredients – serves 2 people, but it is easy to double it up

250g dry weight of ‘smooth’ as opposed to ribbed pasta (pasta liscia)
I used linguine, but I would have used penne lisce, if I’d had some – the important thing is that it is smooth to go with the silky texture of the vegetables.
125g (about half a bunch) asparagus – choose a bunch with thinner rather than thicker spears, as it gives the illusion of being more when they’re cut up
100g fresh or frozen broad beans, their inner skins removed – if you can’t get them, substitute frozen edamame/green soya beans
100g frozen petit pois
2 cloves of fresh garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon oil or a knob of butter
10g plain flour
200ml cold water (this is about a scant level tablespoon of flour in a hi-ball glass of water)
Coarsely ground black pepper, to taste.

Skin your broadbeans.
Put a large pan of salted water on to boil for the pasta.
Meanwhile, trim woody ends from the asparagus, and cut spears into 2-3 cm lengths. Bring a small pan of water to the boil, add asparagus and cook for a couple of minutes until done but al dente. Strain over a jug (the water is very good for you!) and refresh asparagus under cold water.
Add pasta to the big pan, and cook as per instructions on the packet until also al dente. While the pasta is cooking, make a paste with the flour and a little water until smooth, then add the remaining water and mix well. In a small pan over a medium flame, heat oil (or melt butter and when gently foaming), add garlic. When fragrant, about 30 secs, add flour and water mixture and stir continually for 4-5 minutes until the sauce slightly clears and thickens, (it should be an ivory colour and it will begin to bubble up and rise in the pan,) check that the ‘raw flour’ taste has completely disappeared and season – you might not need salt if you’ve used butter, but don’t forget it if you’ve used oil.
Two minutes before the pasta is ready, add the peas and beans to the water. Strain all in a colander, and return to pan, add asparagus and the sauce and mix through. Black pepper and/or parmesan are optional, but there should be enough vegetables in this to be brimming with taste as it is. The fresh garlic gives the sauce plenty of flavour.

Plain Jane Chow Mein

That most ubiquitous and basic of dishes from the Chinese takeaway, plain chow mein is actually a really good bench mark of the rest of their cooking – sadly, in the UK, it’s often swimming in oil and there’s never enough beansprouts for me, and by the time it gets home, usually the beansprouts are limp and the noodles too soft…whether that’s because they’ve been overcooked or because they were imprisoned in their container for too long, it’s hard to say.

Luckily, they are simple and quick to make at home – so quick, in fact, that it’s one of those recipes where you should have everything lined up and ready to go before you heat the wok – and when the recipe says 30 seconds, it really means 30 seconds.

If you want a really authentic Cantonese recipe, I highly recommend

I have never made her chow mein, but I’ve made quite a few other things from her site, and her recipes work. She is also from the ‘more beansprouts, please’ school of thought.

If, however, you don’t have all the sauces and oils her recipe uses, then this recipe might be the one for you.

Chow mein is traditionally made with egg noodles, fresh or dried – I hardly ever buy them myself, so I tend to use packet rice sticks…which would mean this should be called ‘Plain Jane Ho Fun’ – but that doesn’t scan so nicely….(might also attract spam from ‘adult content’ sites, and heaven knows, I get enough of that already.)

At a pinch, you can use the bargain basement 15p a packet instant noodles – it won’t win you any Michelin stars, but it makes them edible, and means you can throw away that disgusting sachet of soup base.

Ingredients – makes 1 portion as a main, enough for two or three as part of a meal with other dishes

1 portion of noodles – about 100g of dried noodles

1 large handful of beansprouts – about 150 g

½ medium onion

1 tablespoon of kecap manis or 1 tablespoon light soy sauce mixed with 1 teaspoon dark soy and 1 teaspoon of sugar.

1 ½ -2  tablespoons cooking oil – sunflower or peanut

To garnish – spring onion oil, optional


Precook noodles as per the packet instructions, but just slightly underdone – drain and run under cold water, and drain dry again. If you are using packet rice sticks, pre soak for 30 minutes in cold water and drain. Cut onion in half lengthways, and then slice lengthways. Line up all your ingredients, including the beansprouts in a heat proof bowl, as you’ll transfer them back, hot from the pan.

Wipe the wok with a scrap of kitchen towel dipped in oil. Heat the wok until there is a heat haze, and add the onion and allow to sear – not burn! You want them to stay crisp, but their natural sugars to be released. Add ½ tablespoon of oil and swirl around, then add the beansprouts and stir/toss quickly for 30 seconds – no more. The sprouts should just lose their raw taste, but stay white and crisp – cook them any longer and they start to leach out water. Transfer onions and beansprouts back to the bowl, add the rest of the oil to the wok and then the noodles – stir/toss continuously, so that they don’t stick together in a blob – a minute or so, slightly longer if you’re using rice sticks. Add the sauce and toss through for about 15 seconds – add the beansprouts and onions back, toss through and serve.

If you buy your beansprouts, make sure they are not soggy in the bag. If you sprout your own, the secret to getting them long and straight, is to put a slight weight on top of them – a damp clean dish cloth folded over should do, and sprout them in a dark cupboard, as though they were pushing up through the earth.

really red tomato sauce

There seems to be 101 recipes for tomato sauce – I’m not talking Heinz/condiment, I’m talking cooked, plain or otherwise, to serve over pasta, polenta, potatoes, whatever…so, personally, I totally reject the idea of adding carrots, celery etc – the holy ‘soffrito’ or ‘mirepoix’ trinity of some european cooking….this, below, is either tomato, tomato and onion or possibly tomato, onion and red bell pepper (spanish sofrito) sauce- I add garlic to everything I can, but you, dear reader, may do as you please 😉
The secret of keeping your sauce really red is to fry the tomato puree/paste before you add tomatoes, tinned or fresh, or any water…you might like to think of this as ‘fixing’ the colour, like using a mordant when you’re dying things with natural based dyes.

for a chunky base you may wish to start with onions – if so, for 4 ppl, chop 2 onions quite finely and lightly fry in 2 tablespoonsworth of oil until they turn translucent..then add garlic and fry for 1 minute further…
for a finer base, start with the garlic, minced, gently cooked for 1 minute until fragrant but not yet golden..I recommend 2 cloves per person serving, but do as you will 😉
Then add an equal amount (to the oil you have used) of tomato puree. Stir until the oil becomes orangey red and the puree becomes a shade darker…then you can add your can/carton(s) of chopped tomatoes, or chopped fresh tomatoes – preferably de-seeded (and, if you’re using them, finely sliced or pre cooked red peppers). Cook for a further few minutes, quite a few minutes if the peppers were raw, n.b. it is better to add raw peppers along with or even before the garlic, at any rate before the tomatoes if you’re using canned/carton toms- wait until the (raw) tomatoes give up some juice and/or the peppers soften – then taste – you might need to add salt, and/or a teaspoon or so of sugar. At this point, you can stop, and in a separate pan and a little oil, start to add other ingredients…herbs, chilli, fennel seed, even polpette or bolognese ingredients, then add in your really red tomato sauce and water, little by little, if you want a thinner, less rich sauce.
Re: bolognese sauce..I have been to Genoa, and it’s true that their pesto alla genovese is amazing and the very best I’ve ever had in a commercial premises – but I’ve never been to Bologna – is their meat sauce really that good? All I know is they have a bad arse reputation for some of Italy’s most brilliant and outspoken feminist thinkers…so, shout out to the Bologna massive anyway.
Above all, don’t overcook your version of this sauce – frying of the puree only impedes, rather than stops it going that dreaded washed out orange :-0 goodness, I sound like such a snob.

Linguine with sage and oyster mushrooms

…last thursday week’s lunch

I got really excited because Lidl said they were doing a special offer on asparagus for £1 a bunch, but when I got there with my tongue hanging out, the bunches were only 125g….whereas the veg stall on Bethnal Green Rd has 250g for £1.50, which is unfortunately in completely the opposite direction to Lidls…walked out without spending anything.
The following recipe probably didn’t even need the oyster mushrooms (I don’t normally think of buying them because they’re free in the woods all summer/autumn long) but sage loves mushrooms and mushrooms love sage and my sage bush has gone mental with the advent of some warm weather and I had been looking forward to a small treat and,and
…any excuse 🙂
There is a really good Turkish shop – the only one in the area – close to my house, which is also practically the only shop that sells some West Indian/African veg near here – the East End Food Centre on Commercial Rd – and I went to buy veg for the Jamaican Pepperpot…they happened to have some really fresh looking oyster mushrooms loose for £4.99 a kilo (Sainsbury’s charge £10 odd a kilo, prepackaged and often past their best), so I bought 50g, enough for one generous portion, for 25p.
This recipe evolved from the classic Italian ‘Ravioli/Gnocchi al burro e salvea’ – the addition of salt and garlic is to replace the butter and copious Parmesan traditionally used, but the method is pretty much the same.

Ingredients 10-15mins
per person
100-125 g linguine or pasta of choice, dry weight
approx 50g oyster mushroom/mushroom of choice (optional)
1 fat clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
Fresh sage – 4 or so leaves

In a large/big enough pan, bring copious water to the boil with a good amount of salt. Cover with a lid until it’s boiling, it saves energy. Add pasta, cover again until it returns to the boil, stir in case the pasta has stuck together or to the bottom of the pan. Put the lid on a slant, because otherwise it will boil over, but keep on a hard rolling boil until cooked al dente – follow guidelines on the packet more or less, but sample until it’s done to your liking. Drain, and if you’ve only got one burner like me at the moment, sprinkle with a scant teaspoon of oil and fork through.
Meanwhile/in stesso tempo, in a different pan, heat oil, and gently fry the smallest of your fresh sage leaves until still green but crispy. Remove with slotted spoon and reserve. Tear mushrooms by hand down the length of their gills, add garlic to oil, then larger sage leaves finely snipped with scissors/shredded with a knife, then mushrooms and (a two fingers and one thumb if you’re cooking for more than one, but don’t overdo it) pinch of salt, Saute for 2-3-4 minutes. In the original pasta pan, combine pasta ‘et al’, plate up, and add small crispy sage leaves as garnish.
Oyster mushrooms are quite peppery, but if you used any other kind of mushroom, or no mushrooms at all, you might want to add a twist of black pepper, but add it incrementally, as it can overpower/ overtake the sage – less is so often more 🙂

If you decided to be more traditional or you just can’t imagine pasta without Parmesan – then the garlic and the salt are optional – I really hope you know that the so called grated parmesan in a tub tastes like baby vomit, and that ‘fresh’ pre-grated/pre-shaved from the supermarket is a rip off…but likewise posh ‘Parmigiano Reggiano’ in a vacuum packed wedge is defeating the point ‘cos it’s all sweaty. The best deal in the UK is Sainsbury’s basic range ‘Italian Hard Cheese’, £2.89 for 200g – fine for cooking, grating and even shaving over salads. Also freezes fine. I use it sometimes, but I didn’t have any last thursday, and I’m a great believer in the principle of ‘if you can do without, without noticing the difference, then do without!’

I was a very happy kitten after eating this, which was just as well, considering the evening that awaited me….