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Friday, March 26, 2004

Hello everyone! Thank you for allowing me to be part of this blog after Elayne's pestering *wink and grin*. At the back of my mind, I've always wanted to be part of a group food-and-recipe blog and now my wish has come true!

I'm glad that some of you liked my mushroom-rocket-and-lemon pasta recipe and I hope that it turned out okay for you. I cook by feel and instinct so my recipes are nearly always rule-of-thumb stuff rather than functioning as precise pieces of culinary instructions--to my mind, food is all about individual taste and creativity. Everyone has their own version of something and it's nearly always different but equally good.

Since Frog posted her mac-and-cheese-from-scratch recipe, I've decided to begin my blogging adventures on this blog with one of my to-die-for pasta bakes which is basically a variation of mac-and-cheese:

Pasta bake with Roasted Butternut Squash, Roasted Garlic, Roasted Leek and Leftover Roast Chicken

Ingredients

Pasta mix:
1 small butternut squash
1 whole bulb garlic
1 large leek
1 large chicken leg, cooked
6 to 7 handfuls of short pasta (Use any shape--I used shells) or more depending on how many people you are feeding
Dried mixed herbs
Salt
Pepper
Olive oil

Cheese bechamel sauce:
100-120gm coarsely grated mature/sharp cheddar cheese
20 fl oz cold skimmed milk
2 and 1/2 oz plain flour, sifted (this is very important as it will prevent lumps in the sauce)
20-25gm cold-ish butter
2 bay leaves
Pinch of grated nutmeg
Salt
Pepper

How I Did It:

Start by pre-heating the oven to 180C, then begin preparing the vegetables.

Cut the butternut squash in half, get rid of the seeds, then slice into even-sized wedges.

Chop off the root and head of the leek, slice down the middle, wash out all the dirt, slice each side into 1cm-ish thick diagonal pieces.

Get rid of the papery outer skin of the garlic bulb, separate it into cloves.

Put the butternut squash and the leek into a roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle on the herbs, salt and pepper. Shove it into the oven for about 30-35 mins. Remove the pan from the oven, remove the leeks which should've roasted into soft fragrance by now, then take the loose garlic cloves, put them in the middle of a large-enough piece of foil, drizzle olive oil over them, scrunch up into a foil packet, chuck into the roasting pan, and return the pan (with the butternut squash and foil-packed garlic in it) to the oven for a further 15-20 mins. Turn the heat up to 190C. Take out and let it cool once that's done.

In the meantime, put the kettle to boil plenty of water. While this is going on, peel the meat off the chicken leg into small strips. Set aside.

Then, put the pasta to cook for 6 minutes (it will be soft but not quite done). Drain and set aside.

By this time, the roasted vegetables should be cool enough to handle. Remove the skins from the butternut wedges and slice the intensely sweet and more-ish flesh into small-ish cubes. Squeeze the garlic out of their papery skins--by now they are sweet and not at all potent.*

Thoroughly mix the pasta and veggies and chicken meat together in an appropriate-sized baking dish and set aside.

To make the cheese sauce:

Put everything except the cheese and salt and pepper into a appropriate-sized saucepan and cook on the highest heat on the hob. Keep stirring with a whisk to break up any stray lumps and to ensure that nothing burns on the bottom.

When the sauce gets hot enough for some steam to rise--but not to the boiling point--turn the heat down to the lower end of middle heat. Continue stirring and the sauce will shortly thicken. (At this point, turn on the oven again to pre-heat to 180C) When the sauce has thickened sufficiently, turn the heat to the lowest setting and chuck in the cheese. Stir until all has melted. Add pepper and salt.

Pour the cheese sauce on top of the pasta, taking care to cover ALL the pasta. Shove it in the oven and it will be ready to eat in about 40 mins. Remember to let the pasta settle before tucking into it!

*If you are worried about this, roast it for 25 mins to ensure that it has gone all sweet and pasty. If you are STILL worried about this, use 1/2 a bulb of garlic instead of one whole one

Enjoy!

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