Rigatoni with tomatoes, eggplant and mozzarella

This was one of those recipes I tried when desperate to expand my repertoire – it’s a Jamie Oliver special – and is now a regular when those eggplants are all gloriously firm and shiny and call my name at the fruit and veg shop.

Rigatoni w/ tomatoes, eggplant and bocconcini
Adapted from Jamie’s Dinners, Jamie Oliver

  • 500g rigatoni
  • 1 firm, ripe eggplant
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2x400g tins chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tblsp balsamic vinegar
  • a bunch of fresh basil – stalks sliced, leaves ripped
  • 4 tblsp double cream*
  • 200g cows milk mozzarella (or bocconcini or ricotta or fetta)
  1. Slice the eggplant into 1cm thick slices then into 1cm cubes
  2. Heat a few big glugs of oil in a large saucepan
  3. Add the eggplant and stir as you do so it all gets coated with the oil
  4. Cook for about 8 minutes until it starts to soften up nicely, then add the onion and garlic (every now and then when I make this the onion just doesn’t soften up or colour nicely so I know just cook the eggplant with the onion and garlic together over a lowish heat until it’s all sofened and starting to get those lovely caramel colours on the onion)
  5. Add the two tins of tomatoes, the vinegar and the basil stalks and simmer for about 15 minutes. (sometimes I also add a jar of sugo here as well)
  6. Season with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper – you can add some crumbled up dried chillies at this stage
  7. Simmer for around 15 minutes – cook the pasta during this stage
  8. Add cream to sauce (I don’t do this anymore)
  9. Add pasta to the sauce then rip up the mozzarella or bocconcini or crumble the ricotta or fetta and stir through with the ripped up basil leaves.
  10. Serve w/ freshly grated parmesan – you could, as Jamie suggests, tip the lot into a baking dish at this stage, top with cheese and reheat as a baked pasta if you so wished.

Divine.

Soba Noodles with Sesame Seeds

So my love affair with Nigella continues unabated. Tonight’s dinner is going to feature her sake steak and these sublime noodles.

When she made these I knew I would make them one day. It’s the sort of savoury dish that I adore. And then someone mentioned two-minute noodles as a great afternoon tea option for kids but you see, I can’t come at two minute noodles, they just seem so, so very fake. So refined that the only goodness they’re giving you is the feeling of being full and well, I can eat cake, slice, chocolate, chips to do that.

So I made these instead and you know what? The whole thing took me four minutes – the time it took the noodles to cook. So ok, it was probably more like 10 minutes if you count waiting for the water to boil and then draining the noodles at the end, but still, they are so very good and so very nutritious who cares.

Nigella’s Soba Noodles with Sesame Seeds
Forever Summer, Nigella Lawson

  • 75g sesame seeds
  • salt
  • 250g soba noodles
  • 2 tsp rice vinegar
  • 5tsp soy sauce
  • 2tsp honey
  • 2tsp sesame oil
  • 5 spring onions*
  1. Toss the sesame seeds in a dry pan over high heat until they’re golden brown and then tip into a bowl
  2. Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add some salt and cook the soba noodles according the the instructions on the packet (mine – from Woollies – take 4 minutes), drain them and then plunge into a bowl of iced water
  3. In the bowl you’re going to serve them in, mix the vinegar, soy, honey and oil
  4. Finely slice the spring onions, add to the dish with the noodles and then give it all a good toss
  5. Add the sesame seeds and toss.

Nigella advocates leaving for half an hour for the flavours to develop, but I have no idea what that would be like as they were eaten immediately in our house.

* The first time I made this I didn’t have any shallots in the house so I used some very finely chopped Spanish onion instead. I think it would be far better with the spring onions and shall report back after tonight if that is the case.

Lasagne

Ahhh, an oldie but a goodie. Show me a child who doesn’t like lasagne and come, let them sit by me. That’s right. Despite making a lasagne every raves about, it really doesn’t do it for me. I prefer Nigella’s take on it – to make the bolognaise, the bechamel and to them smooch them through penne and bake – if I have to eat something of this ilk. I don’t know, it’s just not my thing.

It’s on the weekly rotation at the moment as Felix loves it and Jasper eats it. I also get two nights out of it and sometimes enough bolognaise sauce left over to get a dinner out of that as well. That my friend is called a win win win.

Lasagne
The Bolognaise sauce

  • 2-4 onions, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, chopped
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, smooshed
  • 1kg beef mince
  • 500g pork mince
  • 1 cup of red wine (optional, I only add if I’ve got a bottle open)
  • 2-4 tbls tomato paste
  • 500ml sugo
  • 2x400g tins chopped tomatoes
  • stock or water
  • flat leaf parsley and basil
  1. Heat a little oil in a big saucepan and saute the onions, carrots and celery slowly. I’m talking 30 minutes at least. Add the garlic about half way through. Keep it quite wet, if it dries out add some water.
  2. Add the meat and cook until browned through
  3. Add the wine and cook out until alcohol smell has dissipated
  4. Add tomato paste and cook it out for a minute or so
  5. Add the sugo and tinned tomatoes and enough stock that it gets good boiling/simmering movement.
  6. Reduce heat and simmer for at least 2 hours
  7. Near the end of cooking I added a big handful of fresh herbs and check seasoning.

Bechamel sauce

  • 4 tbs butter
  • 6 tbs plain flour
  • 1 litre milk (I use skim)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan
  2. Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes or so
  3. Add milk gradually at first to ensure you don’t have any lumps, then pour it all in
  4. Stir fairly constantly over medium heat until it thickens
  5. Turn off the heat and add the parmesan
  6. Season with salt and pepper

Lasagne sheets
I know some of you will just go ‘pfff’ at this, as I did when Joke told me he cures his own bacon (or something like that) but I can taste the difference, so this is what I do.
I use ones which you have to cook first. They’re thicker and this brand is fantastic. I figure when Antoinette who runs the best (dare I say only really decent one) Italian deli on the Northern Beaches will only stock this one it has to be good. I also occasionally use the Latina fresh variety when the thought of getting the pack into the car and out of the car and into a deli and out of a deli and back in the car and home makes my head explode.

Building your lasagne
My beautiful friend Linda who also happens to be Italian told me once that lasagne is all about the layers and that there has to be lots of them. She doesn’t even make it with bechamel. Just lasagne sheets and bolognaise. And mine never gets close to hers in flavour. She made it once, for Chef’s 30th when a few of us went to the farm where we were married. That dinner, where copious amounts of alcohol were consumed with almost equally massive amounts of food is one of my most favourite memories of all time.

Start with a layer of the meat sauce, then pasta, then bechamel and so on
Sometimes I throw in a layer of ricotta – if I have it in the fridge.
Sprinkle some cheese over the top and bake at 180C for 40minutes to an hour.
Sometimes I make smaller ones in tin containers that I then freeze, because this level of effort for one dinner is just madness. But the above recipe makes a lot of bolognaise and you should have some left over to make spag bol the next night or freeze for another day at least.

Spaghetti with cauliflower strascicata and pennies dropping

Jared Ingersoll’s Spaghetti with cauliflower strascicata (but made with broccoli)

Adapted from Danks Street Depot  

 

  • 1 packet spaghetti, cooked and drained
  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 head of broccoli (if using cauliflower the recipe stipulates 1/2 head)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 3 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • 2 large red chillies, chopped (seeds in if you like it hot) – leave out if making for kids
  • 1 tblsp capers, rinsed and chopped
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives, deseeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs, toasted in a 160C oven until golden
  • 200g parmesan, finely grated
  • 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
  1. Cook the spaghetti then drain and toss through a little of the olive oil
  2. cook the broccoli in the rest of the olive oil
  3. once it starts to colour add the garlic, then the anchovies, capers and olives (and chillies if using)
  4. cook until the broccoli is nice and soft
  5. add half the parsley and the spaghetti and toss thoroughly
  6. once the spaghetti is nicely reheated add the breadcrumbs, parmesan and left over parsley
  7. As the parmesan starts to stick to the bottom of the pan use a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan
  8. Serve with a wedge of lemon – totally lifts the whole dish.

This recipe is taken from the Dank Street Depot cookbook, but they use cauliflower and also put a couple of red chillies in there. I just used what I had, in that I used broccoli not cauli, didn’t have any herbs to speak of and also didn’t put nearly that amount of parmesan in it. But it was delicious and the kids loved it. Shame about the finger I nearly lopped off when chopping the olives.

*****

The boy made eyes at me all day yesterday. It came after I had thought to myself that he’d changed in the last 24 hours. Then those eyes, still deciding what colour they’re going to be, that look like pools of mercury cornered me so. Taking my breath away.
But he has. Changed that is. His face has changed shape ever so slightly and there is intent in his gaze.

 

He’s a screamer too, which has taken me a little aback.

 

He wakes with a good hearty yell and needs several of them before going off to sleep.

 

Tonight, I tried to settle him in his cot as he is very partial to going to sleep and then sleeping on me. And I am very nervy about setting up bad habits now. I know I know, it’s not even three weeks yet. But I know what I need to stay sane.

 

 

 

 

Badger wrote today about not being that much of a baby person and that she’s really glad it’s me here lactating not her. And the thing is, I hear her loud and clear. I guess it seems so contradictory to say that I’m not really a baby person when I’m here with number four (and that suddenly the idea of Chef getting the snip seems so… final, and maybe, just maybe I’m not ready to say goodbye just yet. If you get my drift.)
Like Badger, I enjoy my children the older they get. I suck up everything they write about read Badger, Blackbird and Suse with their older boys as it is so obvious how much they too enjoy each of their children the older they get.

 

I think I said it before, but I really do just ‘function’ through these early weeks and indeed years.

 

Having Jasper has given me the chance to enjoy those younger toddler years that I barely escaped with my life with Oscar and Felix. In fact Chef and I refer to them as the dark years.

 

But being back in the land with a toddler and a neonate ain’t no picnic and I’m not about to perpetuate some earth-mother myth that it is. I find it a bloody hard slog. I internally scream at least once a day. Progress (from the days of Oscar and Felix as toddlers) is that I can now see a bad day as just that and not spiral into an abyss of “holy fuck I’ve really ruined my life and this parenting thing is scary shit that I’m not cut out for and why is Chef just sitting on the lounge over there, Jesus Christ who did I marry and while I’m fuming why don’t I just eat a block of chocolate washed down with a bottle of wine followed by a large packet of chips with maybe half a cake as a digestiv”.

 

But that doesn’t lessen the number of bad days. Or OK days. Or fucking brilliant days.

 

And that scream? Used to be loud. And ugly. And directed at my children or my husband.

 

Now, just as there are bad days and good days, the scream is just a scream, simple frustration at trying to reason with a child to young to understand that watching Thomas the Tank Engine for six hours straight is ENOUGH ALREADY and tiredness from helping a newborn work out what on earth has happened to his safe, warm cocoon and negotiate his first few days in the world and exasperation with a nine year old asking “what next Muma” for the upteenth time.

 

But I know this time will pass quicker than it currently feels it is and that indeed I won’t ever really remember what it was like (hell, isn’t that why we all go back and do it more than once?).

 

And I look at my bigger boys with that swelling chest kind of pride.
Oh sure, they can shit me big time.
But it’s the honour in being a part of forming a person. Of being there each and every day and seeing their passions develop, of helping them through the rocky parts and of just hanging out that just rocks my world.
So while I am a pretty utilitarian when it comes to me as the mother of a newborn and toddler, while I tend to just clench the jaw, grit my teeth and beligerently tackle each and every day one by one I do so now with a quiet peace that the days I truly get a kick out of, dare I say enjoy are not that far away.

 

And in a funny way, knowing that makes me enjoy this time with Jasper and Grover in a way I never did with the first two.
Perspective is a wonderful thing isn’t it?

 

But this realisation? Which softens me ever so slightly has made me realise and recognise some other things about myself…

– that I always say I love change and really? I don’t. Sure it depends on the situation but in all honesty I like order and structure and knowing what I’m doing today, tomorrow and where I’m headed beyond that. I write endless lists. I concoct six month, 1,2 and 5 year plans. On everything.

– that I’m easy going. I put this in the same category as all fat people are jolly and all black people can dance. I like things done certain ways and I get antsy when people do it differently. Even if it’s in their own home. This is bad. I know. I am better at not caring or being such a control freak these days, but that’s just because I’m tired and more focused on ensuring one of my kids isn’t drowning eating all the junk food playing doctors and nurses missing.

– that I’m taking it one day at a time, but I always have my eye on the horizon (I’ve been talking to people about work for goodness sake… and I don’t go back until February).

– I really need to learn how to relax. Without it involving eating or consuming alcohol.

– I can be perceived as exuding confidence and self-assuredness but in reality am plagued by self-doubt and need a lot of reassurance and positive affirmations from those around me. Not everyone mind you, I have particular people, mentors if you will, in all aspects of my life whose opinion I seek out and use as a kimometre.

– While in my work I adhere to the policy of “not a word too many” here I waffle on and on and on…

 

I saw my shrink today and we both agreed that I’m travelling ok considering the baby isn’t even three weeks old. I told him how on the days I feel like I’m being swallowed by the relentlessness of the routine (or lack thereof) of domestic oblivion I adhere to the policy of ‘just achieve one thing’. So instead of being overwhelmed by the “I have to clean the house” I work to the “just get one load of washing done”.

 

He told me about how today there is this absolute focus on “outcomes” and that it is such a bankrupt mindset in that it pays no heed to the effort put in to get to that outcome, the quality of the work along the way and so on. And that my attitude was the right way to go – I mean, what is the point of me having the outcome of “I must have the entire house cleaned and pristine” if reaching that outcome turns me into a suicidal mess?

 

Instead, I focus on just one aspect of the outcome, and the sense of achievement in getting that done probably gets me closer to the goal intact than if I started at our ensuite and worked my way through the house to the back doors. We also talked – a lot – about my mother. But that is for another time.

I don’t think I’ve said anything well here. I can almost hear the pissed-off-ness of those who are trying to have children or would love to have a brood and thinking how ungrateful I am or how different they would be if they had four children and the rest of you? Well the collective head tilt is going to give you all a stiff neck. Just take it as the ramblings of a tired woman who had baby vomit on her shoulder for so long it dried and went crusty before she noticed it and almost cut off a finger tonight when trying to make dinner with a crying baby and a toddler demanding The Woefuls Wiggles and Thomas on alternately after each story and whose favourite activity is now climbing onto the coffee table, then standing on the arm of the chair and taking flying leaps onto the lounge and two bigger boys being absolute legendary angels.

*****

Tuna pasta

You see that title – that would normally make me gag. But one of the crew at work bought her leftovers in for lunch last week and I basically craved it until I made it.

Tuna Pasta

  • 500g large penne
  • large nob of butter
  • 1-2 tbsp plain flour
  • 3-4 cups milk (or 1/2 milk and 1/2 water from the pasta (I only did this because I didn’t have much milk left and it made me feel good it was kinda lowfat)
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • a few button mushrooms, diced
  • 1/4-1/2 green capsicum, diced
  • 1x376g tin of tuna, drained
  • parmesan
  1. cook the pasta
  2. melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and cook off.
  3. Stir in the milk gradually and then the water until thick but not too gluggy – it should be runnier than you would make for say lasagne. (this time around I added some pesto – you know, to be a bit fancy)
  4. Saute the onion and carrot in a little olive oil then add the garlic, zucchini, mushroom and capsicum – cook for a couple of minutes (corn kernels would also be good here) <- you could also just blanche these to reduce fat content
  5.  Break up the tuna and gently stir through the white sauce
  6. Combine the tuna sauce with the pasta, grate some fresh parmesan over the top and eat.

Seriously people, it was SO good.