Three Cheese Pasta
Large conchigli (sea-shell shaped) - allow approx 3-4 shells per portion.
Allow 1.5 litres (2 3/4 pints) of water and a tblsp of salt for every 100g (3 1/2oz) of dried pasta. Bring the water to the boil with the salt. Add the pasta and stir well, cover with the lid just to bring it back to the boil. Then cook it without the lid to prevent the water boiling over. Cook until al dente (bite to the tooth). It should be tender but still have a slight resistance.
500g (1lb) fresh spinach washed and trimmed
85g (3oz) ricotta
170g (6oz) gorgonzola cheese, cut into small cubes
85g (3oz) parmesan cheese, grated
2 cloves garlic crushed
1/2 tsp of fresh ground nutmeg
salt and freshly ground black pepper
50g (2oz) pine nuts, lightly toasted
To make the filling, rinse the spinach and using only the water left clinging onto the leaves, place into a pan, cook for 5 minutes until wilted and tender. Drain and chop the spinach into fine shreds. Combine with all the other ingredients in a bowl and mix together well to form a paste (remember to put aside a little of the parmesan cheese to sprinkle over the stuffed shells). Spoon the filling into the shells and set aside.
Remember when you’re cooking fresh pasta, that it will take only a few minutes to cook and requires 25% less water because it does not expand to the same degree. Despite the recommendations on packet I like to cook my pasta al dente (which means ‘to the tooth’) so that it's soft on the outside but has a firmer texture on the inside. It's nicer on the palate and holds the sauces better.
When draining pasta, there is no need to completely dry it off. If you keep the pasta slightly moist, it will, in fact, help the sauce to coat it better.
The quickest way to stop the pasta cooking when you take it off the heat is to run it under cold water. This is known as refreshing. It is ideal if you wish to store pasta, for a short while without affecting its quality or becoming overcooked.
The Mornay Sauce
100g (4oz) butter
100g (4oz) flour
1 litre (1 3/4) pint of milk
1/4 tsp nutmeg
75g (3oz) cheddar cheese, grated
1 tsp ready-mixed English mustard
fresh black pepper
onion clouté - 1/2 onion studded with 2 cloves (optional)
For the Mornay sauce, melt butter in a pan. Add the flour and stir well, but do not brown, cook for 1-2 minutes over a gentle heat. Remove from the heat to cool very slightly. Warm the milk in a separate pan being careful not to boil it. Add a ladle of milk to the roux and stir in well. Return the roux to the gentle heat. Stir until the milk has been well incorporated. Continue to add the milk and stir a little at a time. (At this point you can also add the onion clouté if you choose). Add the nutmeg. Simmer the sauce gently and add the cheese and mustard and stir well, until the cheese has melted. Serve immediately or store in a double boiler covered with lightly buttered paper or cling film.
Avoid lumps in your sauce simply by warming the milk before you add it to the flour gradually. You know the sauce is done when it coats the back of your spoon, without any lumps of course!
Roasted Plum Tomato, and Mozzarella Salad
8 large plum tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly vertically
2 tblsp olive oil for cooking
1 tblsp castor sugar
3 sprigs of fresh thyme salt/pepper
2 mozzarella cheeses
2 tblsp virgin olive oil
salt/fresh black pepper
1 tbsp thyme leaves
Cut the tomatoes in half lengthways and place into an ovenproof dish. Scatter the garlic slithers over the tomatoes. Drizzle over the olive oil. Sprinkle the castor sugar evenly and add the sprigs of fresh thyme. Season with salt and pepper and place into a pre-heated oven at 150 degrees C/300 degrees F/Gas mark 2 for 40 minutes. When ready, remove from oven and leave to cool Place tomatoes neatly into a serving bowl/dish or plate interspersed with the mozzarella slices. Drizzle over the virgin olive oil and season. Decorate with roughly torn fresh thyme and pan juices from the tomatoes.