Kate’s Marvellous Medicine

Let me say straight off that my sister named this post. It wasn’t my idea to put myself in the title, but she insisted. I’m not altogether sure whether it’s a compliment or a dig – after all, she was likening my style of cooking one evening to George’s method of creating a medicine for his Grandma in Roald Dahl’s story of George’s Marvellous Medicine:

George had absolutely no doubts whatsoever about how he was going to make his famous medicine. He wasn’t going to fool about wondering whether to put in a little bit of this or a little bit of that. Quite simply, he was going to put in EVERYTHING he could find. There would be no messing about, no hesitating, no wondering whether a particular thing would knock the old girl sideways or not. The rule would be this: whatever he saw, if it was runny or powdery or gooey, in it went.

It all started with a fridge full of leftovers. There was half a chunk of cooked beef brisket, a slightly bendy parsnip, the bulb end of a small and apparently seedless butternut squash and a couple of boiled potatoes. Because of my inability to keep tabs on the contents of the vegetable drawer when in a supermarket, there were also about three separate bags of carrots, all in various degrees of freshness.

It all needed using and O wasn’t around to judge, so I decided to throw everything together into a sort of parsnippy, potatoey, carrotty, beef stew. With a tiny bit of butternut squash. So what if it’s Summer?

The tiny amount of butternut squash that I could add to the stew became even smaller when I discovered the seeds clustered in the very end of the bulb. Lucy became rather excited at this point and rescued the seeds from where I’d scooped them out onto the pile of peelings designated for the compost bin. In a moment of brilliance, she doused them in olive oil, sprinkled them with sea salt and roasted them in the oven until they turned golden and puffed. Wow. They were absolutely delicious, each seed exploding in your mouth with an intense, toasted popcorn flavour. From now on, I’ll be buying butternut squash for the seeds alone!

It was then that things started to become more complicated. A couple of the girls’ friends from the village popped in and commented hungrily on the tasty smells coming from our kitchen. I took pity on them and found myself inviting them to stay for dinner. Uh-oh. What had started out as a meagre stew for my sister and me now needed to expand rapidly to satisfy the appetites and expectations of four ravenous children as well.

Carrots. Kids like carrots and I had a vegetable drawer full of the things. I chopped them all up and added them to the pot. I also poured in a tin of tomatoes for good measure. As I stirred the stew however, I had a growing feeling of unease. No way were the children going to eat this. It was far too lumpy. All those carefully diced vegetables and finely sliced onions just weren’t the sorts of things I could imagine disappearing quickly from the plates of these girls.

The Magimix food processor comes in handy for moments like this. The stew transformed into broth at the push of a button. Instead of serving it with mashed potato, I could now present it as a pasta sauce. No problem.

Only there was a problem. It wasn’t until after I’d added the beef to the mulch that I realised it was still too grainy – I hadn’t blended it for long enough, and now it was too late to tip it back into the Magimix for another attempt. I looked for a more hopeful second opinion, but Lucy agreed. No way were the children going to eat this.

That was why things got messy.

I know it doesn’t look good, but sieving the whole mixture was a master stroke. The liquid that drained from the lumpy, gooey mulch was smooth, clear and perfectly flavoured with a balance of carrot, tomato, parsnip and butternut squash. Far from having cooked up something destined only for the dustbin, we had created an award-winning pasta sauce.

Fortunately, the girls thought so too.

It doesn’t happen very often in my experience of cooking for children, but what better endorsement is there than plates like these?!

The only downside was that Lucy and I were left with a pan full of mush for our dinner. Yum.

This was when Lucy came up with the title for this post. She watched me pull a random selection of spice jars from the shelf and dump the powders indiscriminately onto the top of the mulch.

“Great,” she commented. “Kate’s Marvellous Medicine.”

I gave it a stir, shoved it in the oven and ignored it until the children were in bed.

Eh voilà!

Beef curry.

It was a tasty one, too. Even Lucy said so, which is quite something considering that she had witnessed the madness of the whole evening’s cooking process!

Barbie Pasta

It was the last evening that Rose and I spent together. I had promised to make something for our dinner that I was sure she would never have experienced before …

Simon Rimmer‘s recipe sounds innocuous enough. It’s simply called Tagliatelle with Beetroot and can be found on page 123 of  his cookbook, Rebel Cook. However, as Simon writes,

Any dish that looks like Barbie made it and tastes as fantastic as this has to be tried. What you’ll get is a spicy, vibrant and yes, pink but scrummy pasta, with a wicked kick. Bring it on!

(which is also why it’s known as Barbie Pasta in our household).

Rose emailed me recently to ask for the recipe – so this blog post is entirely Rose’s fault 😉

I have to tell you, Rose is a super-speedy pasta roller. Seriously, Tommy Zoom has nothing on this. Just look at that pasta whizz!

Okay – only kidding. But I’m not joking about this recipe. It really is truly pink. And it really is truly scrummy.

Barbie Pasta (adapted from The Rebel Cook)

2 shallots
1 garlic clove, crushed
125ml/4fl oz white wine
225ml/7 1/2fl oz chicken stock
8 fresh beetroot, cooked and diced (not the pickled-in-vinegar sort)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
250ml/8fl oz sour cream
1 tbsp horseradish cream
400g/13oz cooked fresh tagliatelle
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fry the shallots and garlic in olive oil until softened. Add the wine. Bring to the boil and reduce by two-thirds.

Add the chicken stock and bring back to the boil. Reduce by about half.

Stir in the diced beetroots, cinnamon and sour cream. Reduce until the sauce is thick.

Fold in the horseradish cream (Simon Rimmer also adds dill here).

Stir in the pasta and serve immediately with grated Parmesan.

Spinach Cannelloni

With some leftover bolognaise sauce and a bunch of fresh spinach growing in the garden, cannelloni seemed to be the obvious choice for last night’s dinner. It would be quite a marathon to produce this meal from scratch, but it’s the sort of thing that’s easy to assemble in stages.

I made the pasta in the morning and left it to rest in the fridge while I filled the paddling pool for the girls. In between mopping up their dripping footsteps on the kitchen floor and handing out cups of apple juice, I managed to mix the filling for the cannelloni – finely chopped fresh spinach, a tub of ricotta, freshly ground black pepper, a teaspoon each of dried parsley, basil and oregano, a handful of grated Parmesan, a dash of grated nutmeg and an egg to bind it all together. This too went to ‘rest’ in the fridge beside the pasta dough.

All I needed to do later once the girls were asleep was to make a bechamel sauce, roll out the pasta and put the bits together. The one part I missed out was pre-cooking the lasagne sheets. Having visions of a sticky, gooey mess, I’ve avoided this so far when making my own fresh pasta for lasagnes – and, so far, I seem to have managed to get away with it. Last night however, I really should have given the cannelloni tubes a bit of a head start. Next time …

Here then was the finished assembly…

Spinach Cannelloni

… a small amount of bolognaise sauce covering the bottom of the dish, eight cannelloni tubes of freshly-made pasta filled with spinach and ricotta nestling together, a pouring of bechamel sauce, a cover of large, homegrown spinach leaves, the remaining bolognaise sauce spooned over the top and a final sprinkling of grated mozzarella.