Speedy Lunch: Gnocchetti al Basilico with Avocado and Tomatoes

As promised, here is the post about these cute little green fellas called gnocchetti al basilico (or basil baby gnocchi). Gnocchetti are essentially gnocchi, but smaller and of a slightly more tubular, non-fork-scored (oh dear) shape. These particular ones, which I bought from a main-stream Italian supermarket, have a rather strong basil flavour that makes them extra special. Because of their strong taste (and the fact that I didn’t have much time to make anything overly elaborate) I decided to accompany these gnocchetti al basilico with simply some fresh chopped tomatoes, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper. You can’t get any easier than this when making a main, or primo piatto like we say in Italian. This recipe is for two portions.

What you’ll need:

  • 500 gr gnocchetti al basilico (if you can’t find them anywhere you can either replace them with normal gnocchi and add fresh basil leaves to the recipe or follow Silvana Franco’s recipe on the BBC Food website)
  • 1 medium ripe avocado
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • A good sprinkle of Maldon salt
  • A generous dusting of freshly ground black pepper
  • A dusting of dried (or fresh) coriander

 Preparation:

Chop the tomatoes and avocado into small cubes of about ½ inch. Dress with half the oil and salt. Gently cook the gnocchi in a pot of simmering salted water for a minute or two, until they rise to the surface. Once they pop up, they’re cooked! Scoop them out as they rise with a slotted spoon making sure you drain as much water as possible off the gnocchetti and mix them with the tomatoes, avocado, the rest of the oil and the salt, adding pepper and coriander on the top. Done! Buon appetito.

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Easy-peasy Wonderful Mince Pies

It’s Christmas! And as such it’s time for Yuletide baking. With this in mind, I decided to bake mince pies. Initially I wanted to make pastry and mince meat, but when I realised just how much of a fuss it is, and considering that I am pretty busy, I decided to buy two different mince meat fillings from Waitrose and see which one worked best. This recipe will yield I’d say about 20 to 22 mince pies but I made 18 and used what was left of the dough to make heart- and teddy-shaped soft cookies to hang onto my Christmas tree.

 

What you’ll need:

  • 225 g cold butter, diced
  • 350 g plain flour
  • 100 g caster sugar
  • A pinch of salt
  • 400 g mincemeat (you can find ready-made mincemeat in most supermarkets. I tried the Classic Waitrose Mincemeat and the Cranberry and Port Waitrose Mincemeat, which was by far the best)
  • 1 small egg, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons of cold water
  • icing sugar, to dust

Preparation:

Combine flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Mix the beaten egg and water and set aside. Add the butter to the bowl and knead well. It will look like there is way too much flour to begin with, but trust me, keep working the mixture and feel free to count this as part of your workout for the week! When the dough is almost ready add half of the egg mixture and knead a little more, until you have a smooth ball of buttery dough. Wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for at least half an hour.

 

Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6/fan assisted 180°C. Butter 18 holes of muffin tins and line them by pressing big walnut-sized balls of pastry into each hole. Spoon the mincemeat into the pies. Pick slightly smaller balls of pastry from your Mother Dough Ball and pat them out between your hands to make round lids. Top the pies with their lids, pressing the edges gently together to seal the pies. Brush the tops with the rest of the egg mixture and bake for 20 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes and then sprinkle with icing sugar. I made two paper templates, a star and a holly leaf and held them over the mince pies while dusting the sugar to make them look extra cute.

Delicious Dairy-free Chicken and Vegetable Quiche

A couple of weekends ago, my friend Sara and I decided to make a healthy quiche which didn’t include tonnes of cheese as pies normally do. We decided to cut out the cheese completely and instead go heavy on the veggie goodness. Unfortunately by the time the quiche was cooked the sun had set and we had to take the picture of the final result with artificial light, but hopefully you should be able to get the idea of how delicious it looked (and tasted) nonetheless. By the way, all the pictures in this post were taken by Sara, the master of food photos.

This quiche is brilliantly healthy and because it has no dairy, it could easily become vegan if you decide to omit the chicken and swap the eggs with flaxseeds. 100 gr of chicken is a very little amount for a whole quiche but I decided to add it in to add some protein, as I did not include any cheese, and because I had defrosted it and wanted to use it. So feel free to add the double amount of chicken, if you like.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 tsp of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 120 gr chestnut mushrooms
  • 10 cherry tomatoes
  • 1 pepper
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 4 balls of frozen spinach
  • 100 gr chicken
  • 1 tbsp of coarse oats
  • About a couple of tsps of mixed herbs (marjoram, thyme, oregano and dry sage are all good)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp of soya milk (optional)
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • A dash of chili sauce or Tobasco (optional)
  • A handful of flour
  • 1 packet of Jus-Rol puff pastry (or you could make your own puff pastry)

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F/Gas 6). Pour the olive oil into a tissue and rub it thoroughly on a quiche plate, making sure to cover well the bottom and sides of it. Place the spinach in a small pot with about a tbsp of water and let thaw on medium heat. Grill the chicken in a non-stick pan. While the chicken cools chop the vegetables into about 1-inch (2.5-cm) cubes. Chop the chicken. Once the spinach is fully defrosted, spread it on a chopping board and leave it to cool, as you don’t want the egg whites to scramble when you mix them with the spinach later.

Place all the veggies and chicken in a big bowl and mix well. Add the egg whites from the two eggs (saving the yolks), oats, plenty of herbs, salt, a good dose of black pepper and a dash of Tobasco. If at this stage your mixture looks a bit too dry feel free to add the soya milk. If you are worried it might be too runny or wet add another spoonful of oats. Make sure you always stir well in order to get all the ingredients hobnobbing!

Get your puff pastry and knead it altogether. Make sure you’re working on a floured base as you don’t want your pastry to stick to your table/board. Roll it thinly, about 0.2 in (5 mm). You should have enough pastry there to place a whole layer on the quiche dish and save some on a side to cut the lattice pattern. Once you have spread the pastry at the bottom of the dish, pour all the other ingredients into it and then start cutting the pastry for the top pattern. The strips should be about ½ in (1.2 cm) wide. Try to keep them from breaking but even if they do it’s not too big a problem as you can always join to pieces of strips together.

Beat the egg yolks together and spread the liquid on the pastry with a brush. Place in the oven and leave to bake for a good 40 to 45 minutes as you want the vegetable juices to dry away and the pastry to rise beautifully.

Let it cool a little before slicing and then enjoy!