Tag Archives: basil

Recipe: Watercress and Avocado Pesto


If I was asked what my number one tip for a new vegetarian would be, I wouldn’t hesitate to advocate for the inclusion of large amounts of green leafy vegetables, especially for women. My favourite cooked green vegetable is kale (how fashionable!), my favourite raw green leafy source is watercress. I don’t know if it’s appeared on the Daily Mail’s ‘superfood’ list yet, but it has more vitamin C than oranges and more calcium than cow’s milk. It’s strong, peppery flavour means you can get interesting tasting salads without having to load up with dressings.

The British watercress season is just starting and if you can get an independent brand of watercress like John Hurd’s, I urge you to try it. It’s more expensive but I think the increase in flavour makes it worth it.

I’ve put it in an easy pesto here. It would work with hot pasta or on a pasta salad. It tastes so good you won’t worry about how good it is for you!

 photo Watercress20amp20avocado20pesto_zpsyf0i6jb1.jpg

80g watercress
1/2 large, ripe avocado
1/2 pack of basil leaves
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 lemon, juiced

Add the ingredients to a food processor and process on pulse until they form a smooth paste.
Remove from the bowl and season carefully (it won’t take much).
Serve over hot pasta.
Serves 2

Recipe: Summer pasta


My brother Jon and my sister-in-law Maria are both excellent cooks. They’re not vegetarian, but I always get fed well when I go to stay. And one of my brother’s pasta recipes reminded me of summer, so let’s pretend that autumn’s not sneaking up on us rapidly.

First time around, both Jon and I put mushrooms in, as we happened to have some lurking around and outstaying their welcome. Jon adds parsley as well. I made the recipe again and replaced the mushrooms with feta cheese, and the parsley with basil. This one had a lighter, less earthy taste. But you might want to dial back on the capers and/or olives if you don’t like dishes too salty.

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Clove of garlic, crushed

Couple of spring onions, finely chopped

Half a chilli, finely chopped

Handful of small tomatoes, halved

A dozen small black olives, finely chopped

1tsp of capers

Feta cheese

Fresh basil

While the pasta is cooking (penne or fafalle is probably best), sweat the garlic, chilli and spring onions very gently in a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the tomatoes, olives and caper, and warm through. Drain the pasta and mix the topping through it. Add plenty of torn basil leaves and ground black pepper. If you’re veggie rather than vegan, it benefits from feta cheese crumbled on the mushroom-free version or some hard pasta cheese (Tesco’s is very good) on the original. Parsley works better than basil on the mushroom dish.

Recipe: Pasta with Roast Vegetable Sauce


This is a great vegetable-packed pasta sauce that doesn’t feel like you’re eating a lot of vegetables in it. It has a deep flavour (aided by the balsamic vinegar), but the effort required is minimal. You could even roast the vegetables the night before and then this is a quick pasta sauce that can cook while the pasta is boiling.

Roast Vegetable Sauce photo DSCN1642_zpsadbab607.jpg

1 aubergine, cut into 2cm dice
1 pepper, cut into 2cm dice
1 courgette, cut into 2cm dice
6 cloves garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp basil leaves, chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
Spread out the aubergine, pepper and courgette over one or two baking trays.
Toss the vegetables in the olive oil until they are all coated.
Season with salt and black pepper.
Wrap the garlic cloves in a square of kitchen foil and put on one of the trays.
Cook the vegetables for about 30-40 minutes.
Once the vegetables are cooked, scrape them into a saucepan.
Squeeze out the roasted garlic cloves into the pan.
Add the tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and one tablespoon of the basil leaves.
Simmer for 5-10 minutes.
Serve with pasta, with the remaining basil leaves sprinkled over the top.

Serves 4

Recipe: Puttanesca Adagio


A while back I made a quick and fresh version of Pasta Puttanesca. At the time I promised that I would post the recipe for the slow version of the sauce later on. Well, it’s a wet and windy winter’s day here, so I think now is the time for a dish with all the gutsy flavours of the mediterranean on a plate.

Make now mistake, there are BIG flavours in this dish. This has been much helped by the genius idea I found on the Guardian website, to replace the anchovy in this recipe with greek style olives – not greek olives, note, but the salted, slightly wizened kind of black olives a la greque. You can find them at delicatessen counters. Their deep saltiness is a perfect replacement for the salty fish.

I’ve set the cooking time at 40 minutes, but that depends on how low your stove’s simmering point is. This is one to keep an eye on. And I’m afraid, a certain amount of stove-top splatter is inevitable. It’s a small price to pay for a delicious sauce like this.

I’ve said this will serve 4, but it really depends on how much sauce you like with your pasta. This is quite strong though, so you probably won’t need as much as you might think.

Puttanesca Adagio photo DSCN1063_zps3a32ebc0.jpg

4 tbsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 chilli, chopped
500ml passata or (500ml tinned tomatoes and 1 tbsp tomato puree)
8 greek style olives, chopped
2 tbsp capers, chopped
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and add the garlic and chilli.
When the garlic starts to brown, add the passata, olives, capers and oregano.
Stir and then let the mixture gently simmer, uncovered, for 40 minutes.
Season with black pepper (you shouldn’t need salt).
Serve over pasta with the fresh basil sprinkled on top.

Serves 4

Recipe: Vegetarian Pasta Puttanesca


Pasta Puttanesca is one of those dishes which prompt an ‘Ooooh MATRON’ moment. A puttanesca is a little prostitute. Cue recipes for Tart’s Spaghetti (Delia) and Slut’s Spaghetti (Nigella) or Prostitute Pasta (my inner 12 year old). No one is sure where the name comes from, whether it’s a quick dish to be cooked and eaten between clients or from the hot and gutsy nature of the ingredients. And they are full-flavoured – garlic, chilli, tomatoes, olives, capers and anchovies.

There are two methods of making this dish that I’ve found. You can go for slow cooking with tinned tomatoes and let the flavours build as the sauce reduces, or you can go for quick cooking and fresh tastes. As we’ve got the best of the fresh tomatoes now, I decided to go for the quick cook version here. I’ll do the slow recipe when the weather is colder and wetter.

The main problem with making this recipe vegetarian (and vegan actually) is how to replace the anchovies. You can just miss them out entirely, which is a perfectly acceptable solution, but it misses the background depth of flavour that the anchovies give to the dish. A certain welly is missing. I thought long and hard about what to use to replace it. Marmite? Vegetarian Worcestershire Sauce? Mushroom Ketchup? Miso paste? I thought about all of them and ended up discarding them as being alien to the mediterranean flavours of tomatoes, olives and basil. At least, that’s my opinion in the fresh version, I may revisit this for the slow-cook recipe. In the end I went for balsamic vinegar. Now, I’m not going to pretend that it has the same flavour of anchovies, but it does give a background strength of flavour that doesn’t overpower the more delicate version with fresh tomatoes.

A quick note on the tomatoes. These have to be the ripest of tomatoes or you’re wasting your time making a fresh tomato sauce. As far as I’m concerned, if you have to add tomato puree to boost the flavour, you may as well go with tinned tomatoes from the start. A quick tip on preparing the tomatoes as well. If you want to cut down the pain of skinning tomatoes, try grating them. Cut them in half and then use the coarse side of a box grater. This leaves you with the pulp but without the skin. Or you could get with the quick and dirty nature of the dish and just leave the skins on!

pasta puttanesca photo DSCN0894_zps8e56b7bb.jpg

250g pasta (I prefer rigatoni or penne)
3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
1/3 red chilli, chopped
6 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp capers, chopped
12 black olives, pitted and chopped
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp fresh basil, chopped

As soon as you put your pasta on to boil, heat some good olive oil in a small frying pan.
When the oil is hot add the garlic and chilli.
As soon as the garlic starts to brown add the tomatoes, capers, olives and balsamic vinegar.
Stir for a minute on a high heat and then lower the heat and let the sauce simmer and reduce while the pasta cooks.
Season with salt and pepper.
When the pasta is cooked and draining, turn the heat off the sauce and stir in the basil.
Add the drained pasta to the sauce and stir thoroughly.
Serve in warmed dishes.

Serves 2

Recipe: Pasta and asparagus with lemon and basil


Asparagus season is my favourite time of year. As a vegetarian I’m really pleased to see a vegetable take pride of place on menus and cookery magazines. The British asparagus season is one of the triumphs of the culinary calendar and well worth waiting for. I’m lucky to have a nearby deli that gets a supply from a local farm. As I can’t grow it myself, this is the next best thing. Freshness is the key to the flavour. If you’re buying from a supermarket check that it’s British asparagus, the stuff shipped from Peru (why?) is only an expensive disappointment.

The first bunch on the year is only served one way – boiled and served with melted butter for dipping. After that, I start looking for something different, but I still want to retain the flavour integrity of this very special ingredient.

This recipe is nearly as simple as serving it with melted butter. I think it showcases the best of Italy and Britain – good ingredients, cooked simply and left to speak for themselves. And use the best olive oil you’ve got for this. It’s a celebration of the season.

Pasta with asparagus photo DSCN0731_zps2a301cc6.jpg

200g pasta (rigatoni or penne)
1 bunch asparagus (about 10-12 spears)
1 fat clove garlic, crushed
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp olive oil
2 fresh basil stalks, finely shredded

Put the pasta on to boil in plenty of salted water.
Break off the tough end of the asparagus spears and trim off the pointy leaves on the stalk below the tips.
Cut off the tips of the asparagus spears and slice the stalks on a steep diagonal.
Three minutes before the pasta is due to finish cooking, add the asparagus to the pan.
Add the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and basil to a bowl and mix throughly.
Season with salt and pepper.
Drain the pasta and asparagus.
Toss in the dressing and serve.

Serves 2
You can add a grating of vegetarian parmesan-style cheese, but personally, I prefer this dish without.