Pasta with Prawns and Pernod

Back in March I posted a recipe for Chicken with Pernod, given to me by my cousin Mary Beth. Pernod adds a wonderful depth to any sauce. Once you’ve made it you will understand why this chicken dish was the most popular in Renés restaurant.

Today’s recipe is a loose interpretation of one by British food writer Simon Hopkinson. In his version he keeps the heads and tails from the prawns and makes a bisque-like, smooth sauce to go with the pasta, by pushing everything except the prawns through a sieve. This is my chunky version. French in style, with lots of butter and cream, this recipe is not on the Weight Watchers diet, but it is absolutely delicious and perfect for a special occasion. We had it to celebrate a birthday in Covid lockdown.

400g raw shell-on prawns, fresh or thawed from frozen (see note)
50g butter
2 shallots or a small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
1 Tbs Pernod
¾ cup white wine
2 ripe tomatoes or 8 cocktail tomatoes, chopped
150 ml cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
150g dried long pasta (linguine, tagliatelle, fettuccine)
Grated rind and juice of ½ a lemon
1 Tbs chopped dill

Peel prawns and put the pasta on to cook in plenty of boiling, salted water until al dente. Heat the butter in a large frying pan and gently cook the onion and garlic until soft and translucent, stirring from time to time. Add the prawns and cook, stirring, for a minute or two, until they change colour. Add the Pernod and wine and cook on a moderate to high heat to reduce by half. Add the tomatoes, cream, lemon rind and juice and cook, stirring, for 3-4 minutes, until the sauce has thickened a bit. Season to taste.

Mix cooked pasta into the sauce with the chopped dill, saving a few sprigs to garnish.

Serves 2

Note: if you only have cooked prawns, add them to the pan a bit later, with the tomatoes and cream. If you are making the recipe with peeled prawns, either cooked or raw, you will need about 200g.

Zucchini Fritters with Corn and Bacon

This recipe, from one of my favourite recipe websites called Mind Food, makes a delicious light lunch or dinner.

400g zucchini, washed and coarsely grated
½ cup self-raising flour
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
50g feta cheese, crumbled
1 egg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 rashers bacon, rinds removed
1 Tbs olive oil
1 cob fresh corn, kernels removed (or substitute frozen)
1 Tbs snipped chives
1/3 cup sour cream
Extra virgin olive oil to garnish

Sprinkle a good pinch of salt over the zucchini, mix through then leave to drain in a colander for 20 minutes or so. Squeeze out as much moisture as you can then place in a large mixing bowl with the flour, two cheeses, egg and seasoning to taste. You probably won’t need any salt having salted the grated zucchini.

In a large non-stick frying pan fry the bacon until crispy on both sides then drain on paper towels and keep warm. Place the corn in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Wipe out the frying pan then heat the tablespoonful of oil and fry the fritters for about 3 minutes each side, using about a quarter of the mixture for each fritter. Just scoop it out using two or three big spoonfuls for each. If the pan is large enough make all four at the same time. If not make two and keep them warm while you make another two. Drain well on paper towels, then arrange one on each of 4 warmed serving plates.

Drain corn and mix it with the chives, then divide amongst the four fritters. Top each with a dollop of sour cream and a folded slice of crispy bacon. Drizzle a little olive oil around each serving.

Serves 4

Variation: top with a slice of smoked salmon or trout instead of the bacon.

Char Kway Teow

We lived in Kuala Lumpur for three years in the mid-1980s. The street food sold by people called hawkers was fantastic and my favourite dish was char kway teow.

A delicious mix of rice noodles, prawns, egg, garlic and other flavourings, I’ve tried many times to make char kway teow taste exactly the way I remember it. Unfortunately I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not possible. Even my Malaysian friends agree with me. You need to go to Malaysia or Singapore for the real thing.

My recipe has been adapted and tweaked over the years to produce a dish which might not be 100% authentic, but which you can make easily at home with readily-available ingredients. In Malaysia they add blood clams, known as kerang. If you can find them that’s wonderful, throw them in, but I just leave them out.

Fresh rice noodle sheets which you cut into strips are available in Asian grocers, but the ready to eat rice noodles sold in most supermarkets work well. Not quite the same, but still delicious. If you’re going to make a trip to an Asian grocer for the noodles you will also be able to find Chinese sausage and garlic chives there, as well as all the sauces.

This recipe serves 2. If you need to serve more people, make another batch, don’t double the recipe.

200g rice noodles (see note below)
2 Tbs vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
12-15 peeled and deveined prawns (preferably uncooked, but cooked also work)
1 lap cheong (Chinese sausage) thinly sliced (see note below)
Good pinch of crushed dried chillies, to taste (or add a little Sambal Oelek paste)
2 eggs, beaten
2-3 tsp soy sauce, to taste
2-3 tsp kecap manis (see note below)
2-3 tsp oyster sauce
1 bunch garlic chives or spring onions
200-250g beansprouts

If using rice noodle sheets (available in Asian stores) cut them into 1cm strips and separate them with your fingers. If using ready to eat rice noodles, cut the end off the bag and zap it in the microwave for 1 minute.

If using garlic chives (available in Asian stores) cut them into 4cm lengths. If using spring onions, cut them into 4cm lengths, then shred them lengthwise.

Heat oil in a wok over high heat. Add the garlic, prawns and sausage and stir-fry over high heat for a minute or two. Add the noodles and the crushed dried chillies and toss well to combine. Let the noodles get a bit stuck and charred, before you scrape them off.

Push everything to one side, pour the eggs into the space and cook them like scrambled eggs or omelette, allowing them to set, then breaking them up.

Add the garlic chives or spring onions, the beansprouts and the 3 sauces. Start with a couple of teaspoons of each, taste and add more if necessary. Gently mix everything together. The beansprouts and chives or spring onions will still be raw and crunchy.

Serves 2

Notes: (1) in Australia shelf-stable (long life) rice noodles are located in the Asian aisle of big supermarkets under the Wokka brand. Inside the packet are two packets each weighing 200g. I used one for this recipe. You might also find ready-to-eat rice noodles in the refrigerated pasta and noodles section of your supermarket. (2) Chinese sausage is sold in a shelf-stable (long life) packet in the Asian aisle of Woolworths and Coles. (3) if you can’t find kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) use more ordinary soy sauce and add a good pinch of sugar.

 

Quick Lemon Loaf

I had a sudden urge to whip up a cake in Covid lockdown. We have heaps of lemons on our tree at the moment so I didn’t have to think too far about which flavour.

There’s just the two of us at the moment and no visiting allowed, so I didn’t want to make anything huge. This little loaf was perfect and SO lemony! Lemons vary in size and the amount of juice they produce, but you will need about 3 lemons for this recipe.

125g butter at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
1½ cups self-raising flour, sifted
Grated zest of 2 lemons
¼ cup lemon juice
Syrup:
6 Tbs lemon juice
6 Tbs icing sugar

Grease and line a loaf tin with baking paper, or use a silicone pan (shown in the photo) which doesn’t need to be lined. Preheat oven to 180°C. Mix butter and sugar in food processor until smooth and creamy, stopping halfway to scrape down the sides. Add the eggs and when combined add the sifted lour and lastly the lemon juice. Scrape into the loaf tin and smooth the top.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown and firm to touch in the middle. A skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean. Don’t overcook or cake will be dry and crumbly.

Meanwhile for the syrup mix the lemon juice and icing sugar in a small bowl. When cake is ready prick it all over with a toothpick or skewer to make holes right to the bottom. Pour the syrup slowly and evenly over the hot cake. Leave to cool.

 

Pasta with Chicken, Bacon, Artichokes & Spinach

Roast chickens were half price when I did my supermarket shopping this week. They are always handy to have in the fridge to whip up one or two quick meals.

I used one drumstick and one thigh to fill a couple of wraps for lunch. Onto the wraps I spread some home-made mayonnaise, then topped with the chicken, a few roasted pumpkin cubes with pesto (leftover from the previous night’s dinner), some lettuce leaves, grated carrot and a little Tomato Kasaundi – a delicious curried chutney which isn’t on Café Cat yet, but will be in due course. You could use another chutney. Invented on the spur of the moment, this wrap filling was a winning combination.

In an attempt to follow a fairly low carb diet we don’t eat a lot of pasta – maybe once or twice a month. When we do, I like to make something tasty with lots of additions, so it’s not all pasta. The only thing I had to nip to the corner shop for was the spinach, everything else was in the fridge or pantry. If you don’t have a cooked chicken in the fridge you could pan-fry one chicken breast instead.

250g pasta of your choice
80-100g chunky bacon bits (lardons)
2 Tbs olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 cooked chicken breast, shredded or chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup artichoke hearts (from a jar or can), sliced
2 cups baby spinach leaves, firmly packed
1/3 cup cream
To serve:
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, keeping 1 cup of the cooking water, then put back into the pan with the reserved liquid.

Meanwhile cook the chunky bacon bits in a non-stick frying pan until browned and crispy. Remove from the pan. If you like discard the bacon fat but I usually keep it. Add the oil and onion to the pan and cook, stirring often, until soft and starting to brown. Add the onions to the pasta with the bacon, chicken, garlic, artichokes, spinach and cream. Turn on the heat just long enough to heat everything through, stirring. Season to taste.

Serve the pasta topped with grated Parmesan and freshly ground black pepper.

Serves 2-3

 

Unbaked Granola Bars

These quick and easy granola bars are a welcome, healthy addition to children’s lunch boxes and provide a delicious snack for the rest of the family. They don’t require any baking and are perfect for kids to make themselves.

Both recipes are fairly flexible, so feel free to substitute different seeds or nuts or to leave out something you don’t like or don’t have, such as coconut. The second recipe has honey as a sweetener, while the first one relies on dates for sweetness. Both contain chocolate chips, but leave them out if you prefer. If you don’t have all the seeds, double up on the ones you have.

Superfood Granola Bars
1 cup peanut butter (or another nut butter)
2 cups pitted dates, pureed in food processor
3 Tbs cocoa powder (optional)
1 cup porridge oats
¼ cup coconut flakes or desiccated coconut
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt (optional)
2 Tbs sesame seeds
2 Tbs flax seeds
2 Tbs hemp seeds
2 Tbs chia seeds
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
¼ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup almonds (or walnuts, peanuts, pecans, hazelnuts or macadamias)
½ cup chocolate chips

Place peanut butter in a small bowl and zap in the microwave for 20 seconds, or until softened. Add the pureed dates and, if using, the cocoa powder and mix well. Place remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl, add the date mixture and mix thoroughly.

Grease a shallow square or oblong dish or container. This can be metal, glass, silicone, ceramic or plastic. Mine was 20cm or 9″ square dish and I sprayed it with oil. If the container is too big the muesli bars will be too thin.

Tip mixture into the container and use your hand or the bottom of a glass to flatten it evenly. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours, then cut into bars. Stored in an airtight tin they will keep for a week or more, though I doubt they will last that long.

Makes 12-16

Rice Krispie Granola Bars
2 cups Rice Krispies or another brand of puffed rice breakfast cereal
1½ cups porridge oats
¼ cup coconut flakes or desiccated coconut
¾ cup honey
1 cup peanut butter (or another nut butter)
1 tsp vanilla essence
¼ cup chocolate chips (dark, milk, white, your choice)

Place Rice Krispies, porridge oats and coconut in a large mixing bowl. Heat honey in a saucepan or in the microwave, just enough to make it liquid, then mix in the peanut butter and vanilla till smooth. Mix into the dry ingredients and lastly add the chocolate chips.

Grease a shallow square or oblong container. This can be made of metal, glass, silicone, ceramic or plastic. Mine was 20cm or 9″ square and I sprayed it with oil. If the container is too big the granola bars will be too thin.

Tip mixture into the container and use your hand or the bottom of a glass to flatten it evenly. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours, then cut into bars. Stored in an airtight tin they will keep for a week or more, though I doubt they will last that long.

Makes 12-16

 

 

 

 

Tahini Cookies

The Middle Eastern paste known as tahini can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes. Made by pulverising sesame seeds, it’s an integral ingredient in hummus, a dip we’ve all grown to love since it has become widely available in supermarkets and delis.

These very quick and easy cookies use tahini, combined with ground nuts and honey or maple syrup, and don’t contain any butter or oil.

2 cups ground almonds or walnuts (make in the food processor then measure)
½ tsp salt
¾ cup tahini
½ cup maple syrup or honey or half and half
2 tsp vanilla essence
To decorate:
Pecan or Walnut halves

Preheat oven to 150°C. Place ground nuts and salt in a bowl. Place tahini, maple syrup or honey and vanilla essence in a small saucepan and heat, mixing, just enough to make it smooth. Mix into the dry ingredients.

Pinch off pieces the size of a large walnut and roll into balls. Arrange on a biscuit tray lined with baking paper, leaving enough room for them to spread. Press each ball with your finger to flatten slightly, then decorate with a pecan or walnut half and press them in.

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool then store in a sealed container.

Makes 16-20

Note: I didn’t have quite enough ground nuts so I used 1½ cups of ground nuts and ½ cup plain flour. If you want to make them gluten-free, just use ground nuts.

Melon, Buffalo Mozzarella and Prawn Salad

I’ve tweaked this recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi and added prawns, which aren’t in his original version. The result is a light and healthy salad which will serve four as a starter or two as a main.

You may have noticed that I use this serving dish a lot. It’s one of my favourites from a pottery called Bison, located just outside Canberra in Pialligo.

½ small red onion, thinly sliced
Grated rind and juice of ½ lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
250g peeled large cooked prawns (weight before peeling about 500g)
3-4 cups mixed salad greens (lettuce, rocket etc)
2-3 cups melon balls or cubes (rockmelon or watermelon or a mix)
1 avocado, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
1 whole ball Buffalo Mozzarella (100-150g) cut or torn into bite sized pieces
1 Tbs buckwheat groats (optional)
1 tsp black mustard seeds
2 Tbs fresh coriander leaves
3-4 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Mix onion with lemon rind and juice. Halve the peeled prawns horizontally. If prawns are small leave them whole. Add them to the onion with a pinch of salt and mix.

Arrange salad leaves in a shallow salad bowl. Arrange the melon balls, avocado and mozzarella on top. Arrange the prawns and onions over the salad and drizzle with the lemon juice. Place the buckwheat groats in a dry frying pan over moderate heat and cook, stirring, until lightly toasted.

Garnish the salad with the buckwheat, mustard seeds, coriander leaves and a generous drizzle of olive oil.

Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main

 

Minestrone

This traditional Italian soup is perfect for lunch or a light dinner in the cooler months of the year. Make a big pot at the weekend and serve it for lunch or dinner a couple of times through the week, or take some to work to reheat in the microwave.

There are as many recipes for minestrone as there are for bolognese sauce, so to a certain extent you can just use what you have on hand. Onion, garlic, carrot, tomato and celery are the basic essentials, while the other vegetables are mostly optional. If you have it in the fridge add it, but don’t make a special trip to the shops just to buy one zucchini or one potato.

In the minestrone I made for the photo I didn’t add any potato, zucchini, leek or spinach/cabbage. I did add frozen peas and the kernels from a cob of fresh corn which needed using up. The spiral pasta is bigger than the size I usually use in minestrone, but it’s what I had in the pantry. Vegetarians can just leave out the bacon.

Served topped with grated Parmesan and some crusty bread or toast, it’s guaranteed to warm the cockles of your heart, as my Irish grandmother used to say. In other words, it will give you a warm fuzzy feeling.

2 Tbs olive oil
1-2 onions, peeled and diced
1 leek, trimmed and diced (optional)
3-4 carrots, peeled and diced
2-3 celery stalks, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2-3 rashers bacon, diced (optional)
Kernels from 1 cob corn, or one zucchini, diced
2 cups frozen peas
2 cups shredded spinach or cabbage
1 large potato, peeled and diced (optional)
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried thyme
1 can cannellini beans, drained (or another bean)
2 x 400g cans tomatoes, whizzed in food processor
1 Tbs tomato paste
2 Tbs sherry (optional)
2 litres chicken or vegetable stock (or water + 2 stock cubes)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2-3 tsp sugar
200-250g small pasta
To serve:
Grated Parmesan cheese
Chopped fresh parsley

Heat olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan, then add bacon and the diced vegetables, but not the frozen peas and spinach/cabbage. Cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes or until vegetables are al dente.

Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to the boil, then simmer until the pasta is cooked. Add more water as required and check for seasoning.

Serve the soup topped with grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley, with fresh bread or toast.

Keeps in the fridge for 4-5 days and improves in flavour. Add water as necessary on reheating, if the soup appears to be too thick.

About 8 servings

Baked Fish Fillets with Barley Stuffing

This recipe is adapted from one I found on the New Zealand website Mind Food, which is linked to the magazine of the same name.

Barley is an underrated ingredient, but we love its nutty texture which lends itself to all kinds of recipes where you might normally use rice.

The original recipe for these stuffed fish fillets (actually they’re sandwiched together rather than stuffed) uses two large snapper fillets and serves 4-6. My version is about half the recipe, using two smaller fillets, which serves 2-4, depending on appetites. If you can’t find snapper, any firm-fleshed fish fillets would work.

Having made this recipe I think you could get away without the string. Just sandwich the fillets together with the stuffing and pack the rest around.

2 fish fillets weighing about 250g each
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbs lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Barley Stuffing:
½ cup pearl barley
2 Tbs pine nuts, lightly toasted
½ small onion (red or brown), finely chopped
½ preserved lemon, flesh discarded, rind chopped
2 tsp salted baby capers
50g feta cheese, crumbled
¼ cup chopped mint
¼ cup chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the stuffing, cook barley in boiling salted water for 30-40 minutes, or until tender. Drain well then mix with remaining ingredients.

Preheat oven to 200°C. Place one fish fillet on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Season on both sides then cover with the barley stuffing. Season the second fish fillet and arrange on top. Use kitchen string to tie the “sandwich” at 3-4cm intervals. Place any leftover barley stuffing around the fish package. Drizzle with 1 Tbs olive oil and lemon juice. Bake for 20 minutes, or until cooked through when tested with a fork or skewer.

Remove string and cut the fish downwards into between 2 and 4 servings. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of olive oil around the fish. Serve with a green vegetable such as peas or beans.

Serves 3-4