08 March 2012

jamie's 30 minute meals: pregnant jools' pasta with crunchy chicory and watercress salad, and little frangipane tarts

If there's one thing that can motivate anyone to make a quick meal, it's a hungry pregnant woman. In this, Episode 2 from Series 1 (watch here on 4OD) Jamie explains that this recipe was invented when a pregnant Jools Oliver wanted pasta with ragu sauce and she wanted it NOW!

I love pasta and often knock up pasta sauces from bare looking store cupboards. It's the ultimate quick, easy, not to mention totally scrumptious meal, so the half hour target should be no problem at all. As usual, I get all the equipment ready: food processor out, pans and boards out, kettle on.

The first thing to prep is the veg for the ragu, and I love Jamie's way of just whacking it all in a food processor - 3 carrots with the ends off (no need to peel), 5 spring onions trimmed, 2 sticks celery with the ends cut off, and 1 whole red chilli. Thirty seconds and it's done, blitzed with in an inch of it's life. It goes into a hot pan with a splash of olive oil.

Next I process 6 good quality pork sausages, and a heaped teaspoon each of fennel seeds and dried oregano. According to Jamie, this is going to give me real "pimpage" when it comes to flavour. In putting the sausage mix into the pan I find that it kind of clumps together, and try as I might to break it up with a spoon, it still seems lumpier than I'd like. Never mind... plough on.

To the puddings! I do like it when a 30 Minute Meal includes a pudding - it always seems more impressive to pull off multiple courses in 30 mins rather than one dish with sides.

Jamie uses ready made mini-tart casings, as do I. Nothing wrong with that. And he fills them with the easiest tart filling in. the. world. In a bowl I mix 100g butter, 100g sugar, 100g ground almonds, 1 egg, a pinch of salt, 1 tea spoon vanilla extract, and the zest of half an orange.

Fill each pastry case first with a teaspoon of raspberry jam then a teaspoon of frangipane mix, then another teaspoon of jam and another tea spoon of frangipane, so that it gives a marbled effect when cooked. Pop it in the oven for 18 mins at 180-190C. At this juncture Jamie is at 10 minutes, I am at 12. Not bad.

I fill my pasta pan with the boiled kettle water and season. As Jamie wisely advises, "if you don't season your pasta it will taste like thin air". Then my pasta goes in (I add enough for 2 people, but the rest of this recipe serves 4-6).

Now back to the ragu sauce. I add 4 tblsp balsaminc vinegar, a couple of cloves of crushed garlic (I chop it up this week rather than struggle with my darned cheapo crusher), and when the balsamic has evaporated off a bit, I add 1 tin of plum tomatoes. It is kept on a high heat to boil down and thicken up.

Jamie is up to 19 minutes now and I have caught up - this is looking positive. So onto the salad. Jamie uses red chicory but as usual, fancy leaves like this are not available in Asda, so I've just got my bog standard bag of washed mixed leaves. I pile onto the serving plate, sprinkle with sea salt and delicate shavings of parmesan, then take to the table with lemon wedges and olive oil for self-dressing.

The penultimate task is to get the pasta together. There is way too much sauce for two people's needs, so I set some aside for another night. Then I do as Jamie says and before draining the pasta I scoop out a mug of the starchy cooking liquor. Once drained the pasta goes into the ragu and is tossed together with some of the cooking water to loosen up the sauce. Jamie adds chopped Greek or globe basil but again, this is unheard of at Asda, so I stir through a handful of chopped normal fresh basil before plating up and taking to the table along with a block of parmesan and a grater.

Finally, my frangipane tarts come out of the oven and onto a board with creme fraiche and orange wedges on the side. And as Gordon Ramsey would say, "Done!"

Total cooking time: Pretty much bang on 30 minutes
Delays encountered: None, but I did take my butter for the frangipane mix out of the fridge an hour or so before to soften. If I hadn't done this, dealing with hard butter might have cost me a few mins.

The verdict? Well, a pleasure to cook, and less pressure timing wise than the other meals I've tried so far. The fennel seeds were the signature flavour in the pasta, very tasty indeed. However, it did suffer texture-wise from lumpy sausage meat. The salad was average, but I blame myself with my substitute leaves. But the real star of the show this week, and definitely going on the list of things to cook again, are the frangipane tarts. Seriously, absolutely heavenly...melt in the mouth... Jamie, you are a genius.

The score: 8/10

Next week on Thirty Minute Thursdays: sea bass and crispy pancetta, with sweet potato mash, asian greens, one-minute berry ice cream and sparkling lemon ginger drink.

01 March 2012

jamie's 30 minute meals: killer jerk chicken, with rice and beans, refreshing chopped salad and chargrilled corn

After the success of last week's duck salad, I was really looking forward to trying out my next 30 minute meal, and to save me having to make decisions about which to cook next, I've decided to work through the TV series in episode order. So this is Series 1, Episode 1 if you want to watch it online over at 4OD. Let's begin!

Determined not to make the same mistakes as last week, I make sure I have not only my pans out, oven on, and kettle boiling, but also as many of my ingredients laid out in advance as possible: I've rooted through my spice cupboard, and collected the required rosemary from the garden all before 'starting the clock'. Hmm, isn't this cheating a little bit Jamie? Oh well, *shrugs*, with my worktops littered with ingredients I seem to have already made progress on last week, achieving the kitchen bomb site stage much earlier in the cooking process, (in other words, before I've even begun).

The chicken breasts (1 each) are seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil and placed skin side down in the hot griddle pan. I then blend up 4 spring onions, 5 garlic cloves (but experience the same delay as last week with my blunt crusher), 1 whole chilli (rather than scotch bonnets with the seeds removed), dried thyme and a dried bay leaf (don't have any fresh), a level teaspoon each of all spice, nutmeg and ground cloves, 6 tablespoons of rum, 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar, salt, pepper, 3 tablespoons of olive oil and about a tablespoon of brown sugar (improvising as I kick myself for forgetting to buy honey).

My chicken skin is looking crispy now, so I put it in an oven dish, and pour over the sauce. This is a mistake - I was supposed to lay the chicken into the sauce, leaving the skin uncoated to keep crisp. I then forget to top this with the fresh rosemary sprigs I had painstakingly pre-collected, and put the chicken in the oven at 200c.

My cobs of corn (1 each) go into a pan of boiling water, and we're 10 minutes in - on schedule!

Now to make the rice and beans. I use scissors to cut 2 spring onions into a little oil in a thick bottomed pan. In goes a cinnamon stick (v. impressed with myself for having some of these in the back of the spice cupboard), salt and pepper and enough rice for two people (Jamie recommends 250g for four). I don't have the fancy pots of ready made fresh stock, so I crumble in a stock cube and cover the lot with boiling water. Jamie then adds in black beans, but my Asda didn't sell them, so I used a tin of borlotti beans I had in the cupboard, er because, they looked darkish in colour on the tin! Please don't judge me Jamie! Lid on, full heat.

Jamie's half way and happily, I'm only a couple of minutes behind him. Next, into a bowl goes half a tub natural yoghurt, chopped coriander, salt and pepper and the juice of 1 lime. I garnish with coriander and the ubiquitous Jamie drizzle of olive oil. The cooling yoghurt is the first thing on the table.

The corn comes out of the water and into the griddle pan that had the chicken in it, for charring.

Now for the chopped salad, and for some reason, (perhaps cocksure and complacent having got two elements on the table already), this is where I start to slow down. I chop up a red pepper, a couple of handfuls of mixed bagged salad, and more coriander onto a board. Jamie suggests that I "embrace whatever's down the market" so I don't feel too bad about using the bagged salad instead of his elusive chicory. I'm making a mess as the greenery tumbles over the edge of the board, but Jamie says mess is okay. Happy days!

As instructed, I make a well in the middle of the heap and grate in a small piece of onion (messy and a bit fiddly), about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the juice of half a lime and a pich of salt, then using my "fairy fingers" I dress the salad. Jamie says it'll fall everywhere, and it does. Finally, I cut some cress onto the top. Jamie's at about 21 minutes, I'm at 26, but I still think I can make the finish line in 30.

Time to dish the corn. I don't manage to get it quite as nicely blackened as Jamie, but it'll do. It goes on to a plate with a squeeze of lime and yes... you've guessed it, a drizzle of olive oil, to "make it sing".

The rice is ready, so I fluff it up with a fork and sprinkle with coriander before taking to the table.

The chicken comes out, and I kick myself again for not having any honey to drizzle over, as I think it would have been a nice touch.

And that's it, done! In pretty much 30 minutes... well 33 to be exact. A lot less time than it took to clean up!

Total cooking time: 33 minutes
Delays encountered: my annoyingly blunt garlic crusher, slow chopping of the salad, washing hands after handling chicken, chilli etc

So, the whole shebang looked fairly comparable to Jamie's but the taste? Well, it didn't blow me away. The chicken was pungent and fire-in-mouth hot, making the yoghurt a necessary and welcome cooling accompaniment. The salad was nothing startling. The corn was er... corn. My favourite part of the dish was probably the rice and beans - the spices and cinnamon turned what can often be a bland support act into a fragrant and flavoursome starring role. Would I make it again? Honestly, no. Just not my cup of tea.

Score: 6/10

Next week on Thirty Minute Thursdays: 'Pregnant Jools's Pasta' with crunchy chicory and watercress salad, and little frangipane tarts.