Archive for the ‘pasta & rice dishes’ Category

dsc00141After sitting down & making a list of- what I consider to be- the most well-known Greek dishes, I thought I would take the opportunity to post my own version of some of the listed items. So I start with number 36, ‘pastitsio’, which is (as Maria at ‘Organically cooked’ says) the ‘Greek lasagna’.

We make pastitsio very often here at home, as I’m sure is the case in every Greek home. The recipe I present is very close to the Italian¬† ‘rigatoni al forno’, or indeed to lasagna, but there are a few subtle differences, starting from the pasta shapes used.

This is my submission to this week’s Presto Pasta night, hosted at Once upon a feast. While this recipe, if you make it from scratch on a weekday night, is certainly not ‘presto’ at all, it can be transformed into a presto recipe by completing some of the steps in advance. I give guidelines on how to do this throughout the recipe.

Pastitsio, my own version, loosely adapted from Maria’s recipe in ‘Organically cooked’


For the mince sauce (basically this is a bolognese sauce), you need:

  • 500 gr. (or 1 kilo, if you want this really generous) lean ground meat (pork, beef or a mixture) (Maria at Organically cooked makes the point– rightly- that fatty mince won’t reduce enough to get that dry consistency you want for pastitsio)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, pureed or very finely chopped (optional)
  • 150 ml dry red wine
  • 1 large carrot, chopped finely
  • 1 piece of celery, finely chopped
  • a small amount of streaky bacon or pancetta (unsmoked)
  • a jar of tomato passata (or you can use chopped tomatoes, perhaps 2 tins are necessary for this)
  • 1 teaspoon of tomato paste
  • salt, pepper, oregano to taste
  • 2 bay leaves
  • You can also add mushrooms (chopped) & red peppers (chopped), as Maria suggests in her own version. I haven’t yet tried these additions, but I’m sure they’ll be delicious in the pastitsio

dsc00144For the pasta you need:

  • 500g fat macaroni with a hole in the middle (Maria suggests Barilla No 10; you can also use rigatoni for this & it’ll be fine, but I think it’s much more authentic- I mean, close to the way it’s done in Greek kitchens- if you manage to find the correct pasta shape)
  • 250g grated cheese (Maria suggests regato, gouda or edam; I’ve also successfully made this with feta cheese, cheddar and of course parmesan to sprinkle over. All have been good choices. You can be creative in your choice of cheese)
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the bechamel sauce, you need:

  • 500 ml milk (preferably, full fat). You need to heat this- e.g. in the microwave- before you make the bechamel
  • 35 gr. flour
  • 60 gr. butter
  • grated nutmeg to taste
  • some semolina (this is my addition; I use about 1-2 tablespoons, maybe a bit less if you’re unsure about this step. It does make the bechamel taste wonderful & somewhat sweet & fragrant. You’ll have to try it to see!)


  • Start by making the meat sauce (which is basically a bolognese sauce). This step can be completed way in advance, you can even have bags of bolognese sauce stocked up in your freezer
  • Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot
  • Saute the onions and garlic till soft & translucent
  • Add the bacon or pancetta & cook until reddish & fragrant, but not until completely crispy
  • Add the mince and let it brown all over. The more time it is given to sizzle in the oil, the tastier it becomes
  • When it is well-browned, pour the wine over it, and let the mince cook to draw out the flavour of the wine
  • If you do decide to use the finely chopped vegetables, add them into the mixture at this point, so that they will blend in with the mince, turning them over to mix them in well
  • Now add the tomatos and paste, along with just enough water to cover the mixture up to no more than 0.5cm above the mince mixture (what I do is, I slosh some water around in the empty, tomatoey passata bottle, & use that). Maria rightly notes that it is important to not have too much water or tomato sauce, because mince cooked for pastitsio (as well as moussaka and papoutsakia) must not be made into a sauce, as for spaggheti bolognese. It will be added to thick spaghetti which will become soggy if there is too much liquid in the mince. I would say that you can go a bit more liberally with the sauce if you’re using rigatoni, which can hold up more ‘saucey’ sauce!
  • Add the salt, pepper, bay leaves & oregano, cover the pot, and let the mince cook for at least 40 minutes, till most of the liquid has been absorbed. I actually usually let this cook for 2 hours or so, on a very very low heat.
  • Now make the pasta. When it’s ready, add the pasta to the meat sauce in a large pyrex dish (preferably an oval one) & at the end complete the last step, which is the bechamel sauce.
  • Boil a large pot of water and add the pasta as the water boils.
  • Cook it till al dente, and drain it well.
  • Sprinkle it with salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper.
  • Pour the macaroni into your pyrex dish.
  • Sprinkle the grated cheese into the cooked pasta, so that it melts with the heat from the pasta.
  • Now pour over the cooked mince and mix it into the pasta.
  • As Maria suggests, if you think there is too much mince mixture & your pyrex dish is already full, put the remaining mixture into a container and deep-freeze it. The next time you want to eat spaghetti bolognaise, all you will have to do is defrost it and boil up the spaghetti.
  • Sit the pyrex dish¬† (containing your pasta & meat sauce) on the table & prepare the bechamel. Again, this stage can be completed in advance- but not too much in advance; maybe in the morning or early afternoon. If you do this in advance, simply cover the bechamel with cling film (so that it doesn’t form a skin) & put in the fridge. Then the only thing you’ll have to do when you want to make the pastitsio is cook your pasta, reheat the meat sauce & bechamel, put everything together in a large pyrex & put the whole thing in the oven.
  • Maria suggests you can make the bechamel, saving yourself time and hassle, by using the same pot that you used to cook the mince. She says it also gives the sauce a meaty taste. I’ve never tried doing this, but I certainly will next time I make pastitsio.
  • Melt the butter in a heavy based pot. When it starts sizzling, add the flour
  • Cook the 2 together until they become a light brownish ‘biscuit coloured’ paste.
  • Remove from the heat (or you can just lower the heat very much) & start adding the heated milk, bit by bit. Go slowly at first, & thoroughly mix so that the milk becomes incorporated, but then you can go a bit more quickly.
  • Around halfway through making your sauce, add the semolina & mix thoroughly. I use a small hand held whisk for this.
  • Mix the sauce continuously, with a wooden spoon, till it thickens. Don’t leave the pot at this stage, as the sauce might stick to the bottom.
  • When the sauce sets, pour it evenly over the mince and pasta. Sprinkle some grated parmesan cheese over the top of the sauce.
  • Grate some nutmeg over the sauce.
  • Put the pastitsio n the oven & cook until the top has taken a golden colour (usually about 20 mins-half hour, but make sure you keep checking it).
  • Maria notes: when the pastitsio is done, leave it to cool before cutting, so that it is allowed to set to a point that makes the dish easy to cut and serve. Cutting it when it is still hot will only spoil its appearance, making it less appetising. If the pastitsio is mainly for freezing, make sure it has cooled right down before cutting it.
  • Enjoy with a nice, large green salad & perhaps a cold glass of white wine.

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I’ve been making a lot of risottos recently… Waiting for labour to ‘hit me’ (I’m now in the last few weeks of pregnancy), I somehow need comfort food, and what’s more comforting than a good risotto? Usually I just follow my own recipes & ideas, according to what we have available in the fridge… and I think that’s the way to go with risotto. Once you have the basic technique down, you can play with it & adjust to what your mood dictates or what your fridge allows.

This is a lemon & leek risotto… we make it quite often at home & top it up with an egg & lemon sauce (in greek this is called ‘avgolemono’). So this is a kind of greek-ish risotto (or at least that’s the way we like to think about it!)

Leek & lemon risotto (serves 2)

Ingredients (take this just as a blueprint):

  • 200 grams risotto rice e.g. arborio (use 100 gr. dry risotto rice for each person)
  • 1 large lemon or 2 small ones (you’ll be using the zest of 1 of the lemons, too)
  • 1 litre vegetable or chicken stock (I wouldn’t be too bothered by the quantity of stock. Just fill a small pan with the stock & use that; It’s better to have too much than too little)
  • 2-3 leeks, washed & chopped up
  • 1 or 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 onion, chopped up in small pieces (or alternatively, a couple of shallots)
  • olive oil & unsalted butter to cook in
  • salt & white pepper
  • some grated Parmesan cheese (according to taste)


  • Bring the stock to the boil & then let it very gently simmer in a saucepan at the back of your stove top
  • Melt the butter (about 1 1/2 tablespoons) with a couple of drops of olive oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat
  • Add the chopped onions & leeks & saute until soft, making sure they don’t burn at all. You want them translucent & white, not reddish
  • Add the rice & stir for about a minute, until it’s well covered with the buttery onion
  • Add the white wine, let it bubble & stir until it’s evaporated, about half a minute (but play it by ear)
  • Start adding the hot stock to the rice, a ladle full at a time; simmer until each ladle full of stock is absorbed, stirring continuously
  • Continue doing this, ladle full by ladle full, until the rice is al dente & not chalky (personally I don’t like it TOO al dente though! You have to taste & see how you like it) This will take about half an hour all in all, a bit more- a bit less
  • You may not need all of the stock, or alternatively you may need to add hot water from the kettle
  • Mix the lemon zest into the risotto, adding a bit of salt & white pepper according to taste (make sure you don’t over-salt this because the stock contains some salt
  • In a small bowl beat the egg or 2 eggs, the juice of one lemon, a bit of Parmesan (not too much) & some more white pepper
  • When the risotto is ready take it off the heat & add the bowl of eggy lemony mixture (in Greek we call this avgolemono)
  • Give it a good stir, the sauce will softly cook just by the heat of the risotto
  • Serve with more grated Parmesan. Eat immediately!

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My misguided effort to cook everything (EVERYTHING!) from Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to eat’ continues. OK sure, I’ve loved this cookbook for ages, but trying every single recipe from one cookbook- however beloved- is slightly….errrrmmmm, obsessional, for lack of a kinder word, don’t you think?

Whatever. It is what it is, and for now I’m continuing my quest! This is also my entry for the long-running ‘Presto pasta night’, at Once upon a feast. I think this recipe is suitable for the event: I mean, it’s pasta. And it’s presto! (you can make it in half an hour or so). Presto Pasta Night is a lovely, long-running event which includes- in the archives of all the roundups- countless easy, quick, delicious pasta recipes. It’s worth taking a look at Ruth’s blog & checking out the roundups…

This is a light, quite tasty, easy to make dish that Nigella includes in her ‘low fat’ section. So it’s good if you’re trying to shift those stubborn 10 pounds, but don’t want to give up pasta altogether. To be honest though, I have to say I was underwhelmed by it: I expected it to be better. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I used only white crab meat (couldn’t find brown). In any case, it’s an easy everyday supper that you don’t have to think twice about making- and as long as you can get hold of some good crab meat, you may well have better luck than me.

Fine pasta with crab (serves 2)


  • 1 clove garlic, chopped finely (or minced)
  • 1/2 red chilli, sliced finely, with seeds (I’m not a fan of very hot tastes, so I used chilli oil instead, which worked very well)
  • fresh coriander (1/2 supermarket plastic envelope or 1/4 bunch from market)
  • grated zest of 1 lime
  • 2-3 spring onions, sliced finely
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil (I used chilli oil instead)
  • 35 gr. brown crab meat
  • 150 ml white wine
  • 150 gr. linguine or egg tagliolini (I used egg taglierini! Is it the same thing s tagliolini, I wonder?!)
  • 60 gr. white crab meat
  • squirt of lime juice
  • fresh flat-leaf parsley


  • Put water on for the pasta
  • When it’s almost boiling, start on the sauce (I would suggest that by this point you should have already done all the necessary chopping & preparing, so put on the water to boil AFTER you’ve done all that prep work)
  • Sweat the garlic, chilli (if using), half the coriander, half the lime zest & the spring onions in olive oil (or chilli oil) until softened
  • Add the brown crab meat & white wine & simmer for about 10′, stirring occasionally, until it reduces & thickens
  • Add salt to the boiling pasta water & put in the pasta
  • Just before the pasta needs draining, stir in the white meat, remaining coriander & remaining lime zest into the sauce
  • add a drop or two of lime juice
  • Before draining the pasta, keep a mug of cooking water
  • Add the cooking water to the sauce & transfer the pasta & sauce to a boal
  • make sure the sauce coats the strands of pasta
  • add some flat-leaf parsley, just chopped
  • My addition: add, if you want, a bit more freshly squeezed lime juice. I thought it suited the pasta sauce very much, gave a nice freshness to it.
  • Eat immediately!

If you’re interested in trying out other recipes for pasta with crab, here’s a couple of recipes I found:

Linguine with crab and artichokes, from Tara at Seven Spoons

Tagliolini with crab and lemon, from the London Times

Sicilian style crab pasta, from the BBC Food website

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Goal 153 is a useful one. Not just because it’s a good reminder to try out new recipes for my cookbook collection each week. But also because, as it turns out, it’s a good way to help me clear out my cookbook collection & donate or sell some of the books I don’t use much!

It may be completely my fault, or it may be the particular cookbook’s fault… but in a word, this recipe was a disaster! It’s ‘spinach and chick peas in spiced yoghurt’, served over rice or other grains… and it’s from ‘On rice’ by Rick Rodgers, a book that’s been sitting on my bookcase for years untouched, untried, unread. It’s a good-enough idea, I suppose. A cookbook dedicated to toppings for rice. I’m a fanatic rice- eater (my mother used to joke that I should be named a honorary Chinese) which is why I bought this book. However, none of the recipes have really appealed to me, or at least not enough to drag me to the kitchen. So I decided to try out a simple dish for lunch. As I said, it may be my mistake, because I made too many changes to the recipe, but it just wasn’t great. Also, the sauce/topping looked nothing like the picture in the book. So much did I not like it, that I immediately added this book to my ‘give-away-or-sell’ pile. So satisfying to add books to that pile, especially these days when we’re trying desperately and urgently to declutter and free up space in preparation for our baby (expected to be born in the summer). Here’s the recipe, including my changes. Try it at your own risk! I take full responsibility for my sloppiness & mistakes in making the recipe, but not for the recipe itself.

Spinach & chick peas in spiced yoghurt


  • Steamed rice (I used cous-cous because that’s what I had sitting around)
  • 2 pounds (about 1 kilo) tender fresh spinach, well rinsed (I used frozen spinach, all right, sue me!)
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil (I used garlic oil instead)
  • 2 large onions, cut into thick half moons
  • 2 tbsps minced fresh ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced (I ommited this, because of using the garlic oil)
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 can chick-peas, drained & rinsed
  • 1/2 tsp salt, or more as needed
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper, or more as needed
  • 1 cup plain lowfat yoghurt (I used 0% greek yoghurt)
  • 1 tsp cornflour


  • Prepare the spinach leaves (coarsely chop the leaves, and set aside separately from the stems). I ommited this whole step because of using frozen spinach
  • In a large non-stick skillet, heat the oil over medium-low heat
  • Add the onions & cover. Cook until onions are very soft, about 10′
  • Uncover & increase the heat to medium-high. Cook until onions are golden-brown, about 5′ (note: careful not to burn the onions!! so be careful with the timings)
  • Add the ginger & garlic (if using) & cook for one more minute
  • Add the spinach stems (if using fresh spinach) & the garam masala
  • Stir until the stems are softened, about 1′
  • In batches, stir in the spinach leaves, allowing 1 batch to wilt before adding the next
  • Stir in the chick-peas, salt & hot pepper
  • Cover & cook until the spinach leaves are tender, about 5′
  • Reduce the heat to low
  • In a small bowl, stir together the yoghurt & cornflour
  • Pour into the skillet & stir until the yoghurt is heated through, about 1′ (more or less)
  • Taste & season with more salt & pepper, if needed
  • Eat!

If anyone is interested to cook this & see how it turns out, I’d be interested to find out how it went…

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Salad with salmon & udon noodlesMy slightly-obsessional adherence to my list of goals continues. Let’s see for how long I can carry this on, taking into account that my pregnancy is making me more and more heavy & immobile.

I have to say that yesterday’s lunch (part of goal 154, cooking main dishes from various food blogs) was wonderful. Not too heavy, not too calorific, quite tasty, and very easy to make. I got the idea from Lizzie at Hollow Legs, who made a salmon & udon noodle salad. I made some slight changes, but the recipe is more or less the same as Lizzie’s. So this makes it part of goal 154, cooking from other people’s blogs.

Salmon and Udon Noodle Salad (for one or two)
  • 2 salmon fillets
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 1″ ginger, grated
  • 1 red chilli, sliced finely I used a bit of red-hot cayenne pepper which worked very well
  • 1 tbsp coriander and 1 of mint, chopped
  • 2 tbsps fish sauce
  • 2 tsps sugar


  • Combine the above ingredients and coat the salmon fillets in them
  • Leave to marinate for 30 mins
  • Place the salmon fillets including the marinade in a foil pouch and bake in the oven for 10 – 15 minutes, or until just done
  • Leave to cool
  • Assemble a salad with whatever veg you have – I had mixed leaves (Lizzie also suggests mushrooms, butter beans, spring onion and cherry tomatoes)
  • Cook some udon noodles and run them under a bit of water to refresh (not too much water or they’ll become soggy)
  • Toss in soy sauce and lay over the veg mixture (I omitted the soy sauce because I’m trying to avoid eating too much salt since I’m pregnant. It was still delicious and fresh-tasting)
  • Flake the salmon on top, and combine it all with the juices from the foil pouch. Or just serve the slightly-warm-still salmon with the salad, and the noodles on the side.

Makes for a lovely, easy lunch for a warm day in May.

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