Day 12: a picture of something you love

I love the gnocchi bolognese recipe we got off a card from Waitrose.

Paraphrased, the instructions on the back say:

  • 500g beef mince
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic (aka lots)
  • 250g mushrooms, chopped / sliced
  • 440g jar tomato and herb pasta sauce
  • 500g gnocchi (potato is best)
  • 350g tub cheese sauce
  • 50g grated mozzarella, or whatever tickles your fancy.

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C / gas mark 4. Fry beef, onion and garlic until onion starts to soften.

2. Stir in mushrooms and cook for a further 5-6 mins until meat is browned. Pour the pasta sauce over, bring to the boil, season with black pepper, then cover and simmer for 15 mins.

3. Meanwhile cook the gnocchi according to packet instructions. Drain well.

4. Spoon half the Bolognese mixture into an ovenproof dish. Top with the gnocchi. Add the remaining Bolognese mixture, spoon the cheese sauce over the top, sprinkle with the mozzarella/whatever.

5. Bake on the top shelf for 30-35 minutes. Serve with salad and an excellent red wine.

Occasional recipes: Spicy bacon and pepper pasta

This comes to you courtesy of Ready Steady Cook and is what we had on Christmas Eve. The original plan was to have a suitably Scandinavian ham-based Yule feast, until we saw the price of ham. Bacon is equally pig-derived and a lot cheaper.

The original recipe is for 1, so scale up according to the number of diners. Lifted verbatim from the BBC:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • ¼ leek, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • pinch chilli flakes
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 150g fresh pasta, cooked according to packet instructions (We went for tagliatelle.)
  • handful basil, chopped
Fry the bacon in the oil. (Opinion varies in our household over this, one member maintaining that when you fry bacon its own fat is all the oil you need. The other, i.e. me and the one doing the cooking, maintains that a bit of olive oil will liven anything. So anyway.)
Add everything else and cook for a few minutes, then stir in the cooked pasta and basil and serve. Simple! The red pepper makes the whole thing exactly moist enough, and the colours – red pepper, green basil, white pasta – make the whole thing look good and Christmassy. This was an unintended effect but still a good one.

Occasional recipes: Paprika chicken with spicy red cabbage and beetroot

Haven’t done one of these for a very long time. I still feel a traitor to the childhood me when I serve up something with beetroot in it but trust me, it’s actually quite nice. Under the right circumstances. I.e. not boiled to within an inch of its life, like at school.


  • 3-4 chicken breast fillets. (If you get absolute slabs, like I did, experience shows you might want to slice them into thinner slabs …)
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 400g red cabbage, finely shredded nuked by food processor
  • 1 tsp crushed chillies
  • 250g beetroot, chopped. (Instructions from Waitrose say “fresh, scrubbed, trimmed and cut into matchsticks.” Ben says chopped. And have something to catch the drips, because opening and cutting up cooked beetroot is what badly planned open heart surgery must look like.)
  • paprika
  • 75g creme fraiche
Dust chicken breasts with paprika. Make several deep scores diagonally across the meat and fry chicken pieces in olive oil, scored side down. Reduce the heat to lowest setting and fry for 20 minutes, turning halfway through. (Be aware that the Waitrose notion of “lowest setting” might still be substantially higher than what your cooker goes down to.)
Meanwhile fry onion for about 5 minutes, add cabbage and chillies and cook for a further 5 minutes.
Add the beetroot, cover and cook for about 10 minutes.
Pile cabbage onto warmed serving plates, place a chicken fillet on top of each. Stir creme fraiche +1 tbsp water into pan juices, heat until bubbling and pour on top of chicken. Serve with buttered new potatoes.
At school I always found beetroot insufferably bland and often still do, despite my eyes having been opened as to the miracle that is borscht by a student trip to Moscow in 1987. But that same blandness and texture nicely complement and counteract the chillies. Trust me.
And if you can, follow this up with your wife’s apple and mince pie.