Sausage, sweet potato and spinach lasagne

Sausage, sweet potato and spinach lasagne

This recipe is one for those days when only something a bit more carb heavy and comforting will do, but at the same time you don’t want healthy eating to go completely out of the window. It was actually born because me really really craving lasagne but only having sausages in and not really being entirely enthusiastic about the whole rigmarole of making bolognese and bechamel sauce on a Thursday night. Still out of laziness comes a lot less food waste and overhearing D telling his friend about a really night lasagne I had made for him, so the recipe seems to have been successful in our house.

To make enough lasagne for 4 people you will need:

1 red onion

1 clove garlic

400g pork and leek sausages removed from their skins

3 large handfuls sweet potato chunks (I used frozen sweet potato)

3 large handfuls fresh spinach

1 teaspoon marjoram

1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes

150ml creme fraiche (I used low fat but all types work)

20g parmesan (plus extra for the top)

Salt and pepper

Approx 230g passata infused with herbs

125g buffalo mozzarella

4-5 lasagne sheets

 

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Peel and chop the onion and peel and crush the garlic. Fry on a gentle heat until soft. Add the skinned sausages and sweet potato chunks and season with the salt, pepper, marjoram and chilli. Cook over a medium heat, breaking up the sausage to smooth out, until the sweet potato has started to soften and the sausage is cooked.Add the spinach, creme fraiche and parmesan and stir until the spinach has wilted and the parmesan has melted into everything.

In a medium casserole dish make a smooth layer of this mixture. Top with your lasagne sheets (no need to pre cook). Pour over your passata. Break your mozzarella over the passata and grate over more parmesan and pepper.

Cook for about 20-25 minutes until the cheese on the top is golden.

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I think this will become part of our regular repertoire.

Campania, Italy

Campania, Italy

As I mentioned in my previous post our trip was split between Rome and Sorrento in the South of Italy. The train network across Italy is actually really good and we actually had a lovely journey from Rome to Naples travelling first class on a very peaceful train. However, as I mentioned before the train journey from Naples to Piano di Sorrento (where we stayed) was busy and so hot I could practically feel the beads of sweat forming. I must stress though, none of the rest of our journeys on the Circumvesuviana were as crowded or as intensely warm (although their lateness caused an issue a couple of times). (Also make sure you pay for any Circumvesuviana tickets in Naples with as close to the exact change as possible. The guy in the ticket office is notorious for ripping Tourists off by giving the the incorrect change. I must stress this was not an issue in any of the other stations and the service is very inexpensive in general.

Onto the major positive – we got to visit Pompeii. Both of us had been desperate to visit the site since childhood. We were both absolutely overwhelmed by the size of it as we had underestimated this and were expecting a village rather than a city. Although it is boiling (take a lot of sun cream if visiting in the Summer) and I would urge you to remember a drink there are places to refill your bottles so you needn’t spend a fortune on staying hydrated. Anyway, it was a fascinating place and definitely a place I highly recommend visiting. Although in some ways it was sobering imagining a whole city wiped out within hours.

We also visited the main town of Sorrento and some local beaches which were so beautiful and typically Italian. Although the beach near our hotel was one where you have to pay for its use, this actually made it more secure and we felt comfortable leaving our belongings on our sun loungers while we swam in the sea.

However, one of the holiday favourites was a boat trip around Capri which stopped off at Positano. Both of which are two of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Swimming off the boat with a view of Capri was a wonderful experience. We had a few hours happily looking in all the little shops and exploring Positano. I would love to go back and spend more time in both of these places. I think that’s the thing with travel, it always gives you a thirst for more.

Fortunately, or unfortunately Piano di Sorrento absolutely ruined both of us for pizza. We discovered a pizzeria next to the station called Pizzeria All’Angolo. Popular with locals and tourists alike, we enjoyed some fantastic pizza and local wine. The waiters and the staff were all so friendly and welcoming to us and every time we have had pizza since our return we lament that it is not at this particular pizzeria. (It was also as inexpensive as it was delicious, who says you always have to pay through the nose for unforgettable dining experiences?) Although the restaurant overlooked a station car park we actually had quite a companionable time spotting local cats and giving them names. It’s the simple things in life that provide the most amusement.

All in all Italy is an unforgettable experience and I think a pretty perfect travel destination for D’s first trip abroad. However, 8 days was not nearly enough time to full explore Rome or Campania, let alone Italy as a whole.

Still, not to beat around the bush, the humidity did cause havoc with my hair and there were several days where I looked frighteningly like Hair Bear of the hair Bear Bunch. Still, it was worth it for such a wonderful holiday.

 

Rome

Rome

A month ago this week we flew to Rome and enjoyed the delights of Rome and Sorrento (but not really the delights of the Circumvesuviana from Naples to Sorrento without air conditioning on one of the sweatiest days of my life!). Anyway, I thought it would be nice to add a few more recent travel themed posts and as Rome is one of the most visited cities in the world it would be a good place to start.

We flew via Ciampino Airport and travelled round mostly on the Metro and on foot. I would really recommend buying a Roma pass; which as well as giving you a 3 day travel card for the Metro, also gets you into 2 attractions (we opted for the Coliseum and Castel Sant Angelo). I would really 100% recommend buying your tickets for the Vatican Museum before you travel, the queues were insane and we were grateful not to have to worry about queuing in the heat. On the subject of the Vatican, I would also plan what you want to wear in advance, make sure its an appropriate length and covers your knees and elbows otherwise you will be made to cover up, either in a shawl or paper trousers. I don’t know about you but paper doesn’t feature heavily in my travel wardrobe.

Apart from the above attractions we also paid a trip to the Pantheon, explored Trastavere and mistakenly attended Mass in the oldest Christian Churches in Rome (the congregation were so lovely to us and the church was beautiful). I certainly felt like we could have spent a fortnight there and not seen all of the wonderful museums, churches and historical sites.

I would also advise caution when it comes to things like touts, people coming up to you to try and sell you things outside tourist attractions etc. It can be difficult to walk past them politely but tickets are nearly always cheaper from attractions or online vendors and a lot of street sellers will try to rip you off (I feel pretty bad writing this as I am aware its to make ends meet, every beautiful place has some downsides).

However, I would recommend walking round the city and getting a feel of the place. Rome is so beautiful and has so many different areas. We stayed just down the road from the Coliseum in a hotel called Hotel Centro Cavour – the hotel itself was a good base and the staff were so friendly. Upon arrival the man on the reception gave us a map, added the best places to visit on your first visit and explained the best routes to each place.

Although Italy has a reputation for being more on the pricey side, we actually found it pretty reasonably priced for food and drinks. I don’t know what it is about European cities but one of the loveliest things about being on a city break is always sitting outside a bar in the early evening with a drink before the sun goes down.

On the topic of food, embrace gelato. It is one of my absolute favourite desserts and the flavour range is fantastic. I particularly loved raspberry, passion fruit and coconut flavours as the temperatures soared.

One last thing, I  saw another blogger recommend getting up as something ridiculous like 5am to avoid crowded places in more touristy areas. Its very rare something makes me get up this early when I am not in work, but I don’t think this is the sanest, or safest advice. However, if you DO want to visit some of the more popular places at quieter times; crowds tend to disperse around 7.30 to 8pm which provides ample photographic opportunity and a chance to see things at a more leisurely pace.

Pasta bake with sage and feta meatballs

Pasta bake with sage and feta meatballs

This is definitely a recipe of procrastination. I saw a picture on instagram of a meatball based pasta bake and resolved to make my own. This is a little faffy and requires a bit of early preparation but them end result looks pretty cool and this is definitely one of those you want to keep in reserve if you have to cook for somebody you’d like to impress. Also, for those of you who are more health concious or appreciate a bit of a healthy balance in your cooking I did actually make some courgetti (or is it zoodles) in amongst all the pasta which makes it feel less stodgy. Even D who can be a bit suspicious of courgettes commented how he liked that part. I think part of enjoying vegetables might just be having them might just be cutting them and seasoning them the right way. (However, I might reassess this opinion if/when we decide to actually have children).

Anyway, for this recipe it is better to make the meatballs in advance and allow them to chill and firm up. (It also makes them washing up seem less overwhelming) The actual construction of the pasta bake doesn’t take much time to put together.

For this recipe you will need:

For the meatballs

375-400g mince (I just used half of one of those big packs you can buy)

2 cloves garlic

1 handful sage leaves

1 egg

100g (approx) feta cheese

2 slices brown bread

For the pasta bake

2 mugs full of pasta shapes

1 large jar of passata

1 teaspoon chilli sauce

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 courgette

Gouda or similar cheese

Salt and pepper

Serves 4

To make the meatballs first put the feta, bread and sage in a food processor and blend. To this add the egg and meat. Roll the meat mix into your desired meatball size and set aside to cool in a sealed box for a few hours.

Now I made a bit of a schoolboy error when I made this and thought it would be like lasagne where I could get away with not cooking the pasta but you do in fact need to cook this. If you try to cook it in the sauce you will be waiting for ages while your intended food recipients almost cry with hunger. Anyway, cook the pasta and brown your meatballs.

Put the pasta in a casserole dish (I used my beloved Le Creuset). Make a sauce by mixing together your passata, salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar and chilli sauce. Pour this over the pasta and spiralize or grate over your courgette. (I have one like this, thanks Grandma!). Top the courgetti with the meatballs and cheese. Bake in an oven preheated to 200°C for 30 minutes.

Delicious and filling when you’re in the mood for pasta.

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Spinach, goats cheese and pine nut cannelloni

Spinach, goats cheese and pine nut cannelloni

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If you want a recipe to cram about half a kilogram of spinach into your vegetable hating significant other, child or just somebody who is ridiculously picky about vegetables this might be a winner. Spinach has got so many wonderful anti inflammatory properties its nice that its so easily incorporated into a meal.

Anyway, I know pasta and gluten containing products have a bit of a bad reputation for being less healthy, or too heavy; but I did not find this recipe too stodgy. I remained nicely satisfied all evening. Which I think is the purpose of pasta, in moderation it fills you up and stops you creeping to the fridge for a mid evening snack. I admit I was pretty liberal with my cheese adding (I am a dyed in the wool cheese lover) but I used goats cheese and buffalo mozzarella which I find a bit easier to digest.

(As a side note if you do have coeliac disease or a wheat allergy and you do fancy trying this, I suggest you try layering the spinach and tomato with these lasagne sheets I looked up for you that are gluten free. I can be a gem sometimes)

Anyway, you might have noticed I do often cook with meat, but I am trying to incorporate more vegetarian meals into our diet. Unfortunately this is made slightly more difficult by the fact I am pretty intolerant to a lot of pulses (cry). I don’t particularly like my lentils to be served with a side of agonising stomach cramps etc. Anyway, back to the vegetarian meals; I feel if I can keep making vegetables more exciting I might be able to convince D of the merit of Meat Free Mondays….

To make enough cannelloni to feed 3 (or 2 if your male type person is feeling particularly peckish upon waking up from a night shift) you will need:

Approx 9 cannelloni tubes (you might need more or less depending upon how much filling you get)

About 400g frozen spinach (the water will evaporate)

1 glass white wine

fresh rosemary

1 small onion

1 large clove garlic

salt and pepper

vegetable oil

100g pine nuts

100g soft goats cheese

100g mozzarella

500g passata

Preheat your oven to 200°C. Peel and slice your onion and crush your garlic. Fry over a gentle heat until soft. Add your pine nuts and lightly toast before adding your rosemary, wine, spinach, salt and pepper.

Heat until all of the spinach has loosened and is cooked through. Add your goats cheese and stir until it is fully dispersed.

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Set aside the spinach to cool slightly. Using a teaspoon and your fingers stuff your uncooked cannelloni. If any Italian people want to correct me on how to do this in an authentic way please add a comment! Anyway I was obviously feeling pretty jaunty when I did my food shopping as you can see from the cannelloni I purchased.

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If you have any pine nuts leftover from your pasta stuffing endeavours never fear. Just set them aside for use as topping. (There’s no point wasting them).

Cover your pasta with cold passata. Dot over your mozzarella at random and sprinkle over your pine nuts and a little more rosemary. Season with more salt and pepper as desired. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the pasta is cooked.

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I can always tell when D particularly likes a meal as he is always up for seconds.

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This might take a little longer to make than most midweek meals but I can assure you the extra effort was well worth it.

Jakes – Harrogate

As mentioned in my previous posts I had my friends AW and RC to stay last weekend. At the time when they arrived at midday on Saturday, J was still at my house. So, having no bread in my house and 4 very hungry people to feed, I suggested a lunchtime visit to Jakes. Now Jakes is really near where I live and I have often walked past it on my way into the town centre, staring longingly at the cakes in the window. Alas, the staff have never taken pity on me pressing my nose up against the window staring at homemade brownies and pastries. This has possibly something to do with the fact that A) I hardly look malnourished and B) I generally look a bit too pleased with life to need cheering up with baked goods.

RC and AW tried the strawberry and vanilla milkshakes. They both said later that they enjoyed them and that they were tasty.

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Strawberry milkshake
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Vanilla milkshake

J and I both had a pot of tea each. For some reason I didn’t think they were worthy of a picture.

AW, RC and I all chose to have steak and caramelised onion on ciabatta. These were really tasty and sorted my hangover fuzzy head right out. I also thought the meat was really juicy so I was happy with my choice.

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J decided to have the chargrilled chicken, avocado and chilli jam sandwich on foccacia. This was also tasty, although I found the avocados a little under ripe. Over all it was a really nice combination of flavours and J seemed to enjoy it.

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I appreciate that this looks like a paving sized slab of bread…

Being a hardcore chocoholic I finished with a brownie. It was delicious, well worth the shop window food lusting.

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Yum yum yum

J had a flapjack. It was also pretty tasty and not exactly the same as all the other flapjacks you seem to get in shops at the moment.

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I really enjoyed my lunch at Jakes and I would definitely go back for a lunch or an evening meal. If you go at a busy time (such as a Saturday lunch time) be prepared to wait a few minutes for table service, the layout of the restaurant means that staff members might not see you as soon and you want their attention. The staff are all polite and welcoming though and there is a very relaxed atmosphere in the restaurant.

You can find out more about Jakes here.

Vivido – Harrogate

So tonight my friends and I decided to have a casual meal out and a catch up after work. We actually do all work in the same place, but it gets busy and its nice to spend quality time together outside of work. My friend DC suggested Vivido as it has a decent early bird menu and she’d heard some good reviews.

Inside Vivido is a spacious restaurant with a relaxed modern feel. Luckily as it was a Tuesday night the restaurant was quiet and we could sit by the window. Now I love sitting outside or by the window in restaurants. I think it’s because I am basically a big nosy kid who wants to know everything that’s going on. Anyway, it was pretty lovely sitting by a window, with the sun shining drinking wine and eating pizza.

We all decided to order from the early bird menu which is basically 2 courses and a glass of wine or a soft drink before 7. The normal menu looked absolutely lovely and we all were going pretty dizzy with the choice, but thriftiness won us all over.

ED ordered whitebait to start. I’ve never tried it before (I used to be shockingly fussy when I was younger). The batter was lovely and crispy and ED said it reminded her of eating it on holiday.

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Here fishy fishy fishy

DC, Miss S and I all had insalata caprese which was tomato and mozzarella salad with a green pesto dressing. The mozzarella was good quality, as were the tomatoes. Sometimes simplicity is best and this was one of those times.

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Cheesy

For main course Miss S and ED had salmon tagliatelle which they both enjoyed. I tried some and it was pretty nice, despite me not being particularly enamoured by cooked salmon.

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Pre parmesan
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Post parmesan

DC and I opted for pizza with prosciutto. The base was thin and crispy and the pizza was really tasty. I’ve not had pizza since approximately January and this one was pretty decent. Not the best I’ve ever had, but I really enjoyed it.

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Pizza pizza pizza

ED and I chose not to have dessert we were both pretty full) but DC has a sweet tooth so she and Miss S shared a slice of chocolate fudge cake. Doesn’t it look glorious? I was pretty damn jealous!

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Now I would say that the menu we dined off was pretty fantastic value really. It has made me very keen to try other things on the Vivido menu so I will definitely be visiting here again.

You can find more information about Vivido here.