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.

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