Asparagus carbonara

So without further a do, I mean it has been eight weeks or something now, I have a new recipe, asparagus carbonara. A dinner born as a way to help make use of the gorgeous and abundant cherry tomatoes thriving in back yard. It’s such a joy to pick a new harvest each day with Thea, to subliminally teach her where food comes from as well as recognise colours. But why the lapse in sharing this simple recipe?

Well. The cooking continues in my kitchen, but that little window when Thea has her nap that I used to reserve for writing down my recipes. Gone. Used now by me also for some daytime shuteye. And it’s not even a choice. I’d love to stay up and be productive but my body hits a wall and it’s all I can do to read Thea a story, usually Peepo, settle her into her cot and then climb into bed myself.

Daytime naps are one of life’s little luxuries though. A mini holiday during the day. And the way I like to look at it, exclusive time for me and my 20 week bump. Lying on my side, hand on tummy, feeling the tiny little kicks that never fail to make me smile. I know. Half way. And thankfully growing well.

asparagus carbonara

Speaking of holidays. We are off to Fiji next week and I am so excited. Excited to spend time as three, swimming and relaxing. Spending our days at a different pace. My reading material is children’s fiction, Harry Potter and The Dream Snatcher – glorious worlds that I can easily lose myself in and may even be able to finish while away with Thea. I have also prepared a list potential restaurants, because holidays are as much about eating as they are unwinding. I know I will find inspiration for new recipes to bring home with me. Be patient until I share them.


Asparagus carbonara

For 4.

  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • about 200-300g cherry tomatoes
  • a handful of  black olives
  • 4 clove garlic
  • 1 to 2  birdseye chilli, chopped
  • 30g butter
  • 4 tbsp oil
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta
  • 400g spaghetti or your favourite pasta
  • sea salt
  • black pepper

Snap the woody ends from the asparagus and then cut the spears into three. Cook these for about 3-5 minutes in boiling water, drain and then plunge into cold water, chilled with ice if you have a spare tray handy in the freezer. This step stops the asparagus cooking so that it retains its bite and colour. When the asparagus has completely cooled, drain and dry.

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half.

Pit the olives and then slice lengthways. You can put these three items into a bowl now ready to add to the pasta later.

In another bowl, place the yolks, milk, feta, salt and pepper and mix well.

Now chop the garlic and chilli and fry gently in the oil and butter until the garlic is fragrant but not coloured.

At this stage, everything is ready and you could go and bath children, have a bath yourself, open a bottle of wine and read a magazine, do the washing up. Whatever. The point is that when everything is done up to this task, the prep can be left and then continued on with again later.

Put a large pot full of water on the stove and bring to the boil. Drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook for about 10 minutes.

While the pasta is boiling, add the asparagus, tomatoes and olives to the garlic and chilli, gently heat and keep warm.

When the pasta is done, drain and then return it to the pot in which it was cooked. Working quickly, add the asparagus mixture to the pasta and gently stir and then straight away add the yolk mixture. Continue gently stirring the pasta. The yolks will cook with the pasta’s residual heat and a glossy coating will develop over everything in the pot.

Check for seasoning and enjoy.

Like this recipe. You might like spaghetti carbonara

Easy chicken pasta with feta and veggies

With less than six weeks to go, I’m starting to get nervous. Can I really run the 42 kilometres that is the Sydney marathon. I’ve been diligently training since January for number 27 on my list of 100 things to do in my life. Yep. Running for nearly five consecutive hours, rubbing my skin raw, bruising my toenails and generally exhausting myself has been an ambition of mine for a while. I’m curious to know if I have what it takes to complete the course. I’m definitely not a natural runner. I have stamina. But I’m not a runner. A swimmer maybe. Even a sprinter. Present me with a challenge though and I will grit my teeth, dig in my heels and give it my all. I slightly underestimated how much more I would need to eat though to help me achieve my goal. And although pasta isn’t my go to meal every night of the week, it’s definitely featuring more frequently, to provide the much needed energy. Like this fresh and easy chicken pasta that we had last night.

I can’t take the credit for this dish though. In what feels like another lifetime now, while at University in Glasgow, I used to work at Dimaggios, a hugely popular American Italian restaurant in the city’s West End. I was the cashier slash coffee maker slash telephone answerer. It was my first real insight into the fast paced and often frantic world of hospitality. And I loved it. There was the erratic happy one minute shouting at everyone the next head chef, who scared the hell out of me. Then there was moody pizza chef, who equally scared me, yet despite his demeanour, made really good pizzas. And the espresso with three sugars downing manager, who never said very much unless I did something wrong, and then he’d say even less, shake his head and purse his lips to form an expression of much dissapprovement. He definitely scared me. They were all big personalities and I was just a shy student learning about myself and experiencing life freely for the first time.

After a busy shift I would often order this easy chicken pasta for dinner. It was named fusili el Greco, signaling to the little cubes of feta cheese scattered through it no doubt. There was also roast chicken, cherry tomatoes, carrot batons and snow peas, lots of olive oil and garlic. Considering the number of other dishes that were on offer, with lashings of cream and rich tomato sauces, I wonder now what it was about fusili el Greco that I liked so much. I think its simplicity. The colourful crunchy vegetables, salty squares of cheese, and garlicky olive oil coated spirals of pasta. Undeniably fresh, yet still very satisfying. Delicious hot or cold.

I find it funny reminiscing about a job that I used to do while studying for an English degree. My dad always told me, just get a degree. It will stand you in good stead for the future, whatever you end up doing. I so wholeheartedly believed him, that it never once crossed my mind that hospitality might be an industry that I should explore more fully. My role at the restaurant was simply for extra cash, right. Just because I felt so at home working there, loved the thrill of a fully booked restaurant on a Friday night and was always sneaking glances into the kitchen to catch a glimpse of the action, I was going to work in marketing, advertising or publishing. Right. Well as it turns out now. No. And answering that question brings me full circle. Because I’m not a runner. Right. Well, in five and a bit weeks, I might prove myself wrong. Again.

Easy chicken pasta

Enough for 4, or 2 dinners and then 2 lunches the next day.

  • 1 chicken breast
  • 1 red onion, thickly sliced
  • 200g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 carrots, cut into batons
  • a handful of snow peas, tops trimmed and cut in half on the diagonal
  • 1 long red chilli, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 100ml beautiful extra virgin olive oil
  • 200g feta, cut into cubes
  • 300g fusili pasta

Roast the chicken breast at 180C for 25-30 minutes and leave to cool. When its cool enough to handle, shred the chicken into large strips. Doing this with your hands rather than a knife adds a lovely texture to the dish.

Bring a big pot of water to the boil and cook the carrots and snow peas for about 3 minutes so that they retain some crunch. Scoop them out of the pot with a slotted spoon and plunge them into cold water (iced cold water if you can). This will stop the vegetables from cooking and help keep their colours bright. Once cool, drain and set aside.

You can now add the pasta to the same water that you have just cooked the veggies in. Cook for 10 minutes. Drain but do not rinse and set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, over a low heat, cook the onion in the olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and chilli and cook until the garlic becomes fragrant, another 5 minutes or so.

Now add the carrots, snow peas, halved cherry tomatoes and chicken to the pot and stir so that all the flavours combine and everything is heated through. Add the pasta and the feta, stir again, drizzle in some more olive oil if you like, a little sea salt and some black pepper.

Enjoy this? Then you might like spaghetti carbonara

My spaghetti carbonara

A tree falling on your house will do that. Get you out of your daily groove. Throw your life into disarray as you are one minute you are cozily reclined on the sofa sleepy and content after dinner, and quite literally the next, without a home at all. The past two weeks since the dramatic and scary event have tumbled past in a blur, of packing and unpacking, redirecting mail and all those other logistical adjustments that come with having a change in your fixed address. There has been little in the way of culinary adventures. Dinners have been quick and easy, tried and tested recipes. Fuel to punctuate the day. The spaghetti carbonara last night is worthy of a mention though. A dish I’ve made many times that for some reason came together deliciously well.

Inspiration for the comforting bacon and egg pasta dish came from half a dozen assorted pieces of smoked speck hanging in a row above the glass display fridge, of a now local deli. Seeing the cured meat suspended in a line made me want to make carbonara. To cut up the pork into little cubes and fry them in a blob of butter and a glug of olive oil until the fat starts to render and they caramelise and brown. I asked for enough speck to feed four people for dinner and with it neatly wrapped in waxed paper, knowing that I had all the other ingredients that I would need on hand, headed home inspired to make dinner.

Living with Ma and Pa, as we will be until our home is repaired, means a wonderful assortment of new food sellers to explore, brimming with inspiration of things to try out in the kitchen. The same deli I bought the speck from stocked whole pickled cabbages. The imagined taste of the sharp, punchy leaves sparked the desire to make a wintry dish of slow roasted pork knuckles. Individual portions of moist, sweet meat encased in their own armour of salty, crunchy crackling. Perfect with some silky mashed potato spiked with white pepper.

There’s also a twice weekly farmer’s market I’m hanging to get to know. Hopefully there will be some stall holders selling robust root veg. Celeriac, carrots, parsnips, wonderful to bake, roast and puree, to warm the soul during the cooler months. Perhaps like this with lemon, garlic and some coriander seeds. There’s also a covered weekend market, several vendors offering a landscape of neat little mounds of pungent yellow, orange and red spices, sticks of cinnamon, shards of cassia, ideal for perking up long simmered stews. I am genuinely excited to be able to share the results of my exploration when the proverbial and actual dust has settled. For now though. Spaghetti carbonara.





Spaghetti carbonara

  • 400g pancetta, speck or bacon, essentially cured pork (belly), preferably in a piece so that you can cut it up yourself
  • 1 tbsp each of butter and olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 tbs milk
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • 3/4 packet dried spaghetti
  • a few tablespoons of pasta cooking water
  • lots of black pepper
  • grating of nutmeg

Carbonara is a very quick dish to make and one that requires a little bit of haste towards the end, so being organised and following the steps below will help make the perfect pasta dish.

First, bring a large (5 litre) pot of salted water to the boil.

Now cut up the pancetta into bite size cubes and slowly fry them in the butter and oil (the oil will prevent the butter from burning). The pancetta will happily caramelise over a low flame while you get on with the rest of the dish.

Next separate the eggs so that you have 4 yolks. Freeze the whites for meringue or macaroon making. Add the milk, parmesan, black pepper and nutmeg to the yolks and gently combine.

With the pancetta gently browning and the egg mixture ready, cook the spaghetti until el dente, about 10 minutes. While the pasta is bubbling away, chop up the garlic and add to the pancetta.

Ok. Time to assemble the dish.

You have the pasta cooking, the pancetta and garlic sautéing  and the egg mix ready. Place a strainer in the sink and when the pasta is ready, drain it. Don’t drain it completely though. Leave some cooking water in the bottom of the pot, perhaps 2-4 tablespoons.

Now, tip the pasta back into the pot along with the pancetta and egg mix and stir everything thoroughly to combine. The residual heat from the just cooked pasta and warm pancetta will cook the yolks, but because there is no direct heat, they won’t be scrambled. The little bit of pasta water and milk will help to make a beautifully silky sauce to coat the spaghetti.

Due to the salt in the pasta cooking water, the garlic and the smokiness of the pancetta, salt shouldn’t be necessary, but just check before you sit down and enjoy.

Enjoy this recipe? Then you might like classic spaghetti and meatballs