Food for friends

Pasta with chicken, peas and rosemary cream

Pasta with chicken, peas and rosemary cream

 

BOTH OF THE dishes on these pages are comfort food at its best. They are perfect for an evening when you want to invite a few pals around to dinner, or need to feed a bunch of people with some very basic ingredients and not too much faffing around. They are also the sort of thing you could prepare the night before and leave to cool, before storing in the fridge.

The base of the cream sauce can happily go in the fridge, ready to crack on with the next evening. Pasta can always be cooked in advance, then drained and rinsed under cold water until completely cool. Pour a few glugs of olive oil on it – to keep it from congealing and sticking into a big block – and again, keep it in the fridge overnight. The you just have to dunk it into boiling water for about a minute, drain it, and carry on as normal.

The chicken pieces can also be sautéed in advance, then cooled down and set aside in the fridge until ready to be added to the sauce and heated through till piping hot. Which means this dish could be assembled in less than 10 minutes once you have your prep done.

The milk tart is one I’ve been keen to try as it sounds both creepy and delicious at the same time, if you know what I mean. I tried the recipe from Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros and it was a disaster. Despite feeling both disappointed and vindicated that it was indeed rather creepy, I decided that it couldn’t be such a favourite in South Africa for no good reason.

Emboldened by a simpler version in Lilly Higgins’s new book, Make, Bake, Love, I was delighted to find a cracker of a recipe. This is a great book, especially if you have young, keen bakesters at home. I tweaked the recipe ever so slightly by adding just the egg yolk to the pastry (rather than the whole egg) and a sprinkle of Demerara sugar to the topping.

I incorrectly read the amount of vanilla essence and thought it was just one teaspoon, but realised that you need one tablespoon, which seems a lot, but is warranted. This is one of those recipes though that I would probably splash out and get vanilla pods for. Possibly two, as the seeds speckled through the filling would be lovely. I would add the seeds to the milk while scalding it, with the pods themselves, and simply retrieve the pods at the end.

PASTA WITH CHICKEN, PEAS AND ROSEMARY CREAM

Serves 4

Ingredients

100ml cream

150ml chicken stock

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

4 sprigs rosemary and thyme

Big knob butter

Good glug or two of olive oil

4 chicken breasts cut into strips

Salt and pepper

1 glass of white wine

300g frozen peas

Approximately 100g Parmesan, grated

400g macaroni

Method

Heat the cream, chicken stock, lemon juice and zest, garlic, rosemary and thyme in a saucepan until simmering and let it bubble away gently until reduced by about half. Set aside.

Heat up the butter and olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan and fry the chicken, possibly in two batches, until golden brown and cooked through. Season really well. When you’re finished cooking the chicken, you can add in the glass of wine to de-glaze the pan and let it simmer and bubble away. Add the chicken, and pan juices, to the cream sauce and keep warm.

Cook the macaroni in boiling water until cooked, then drain and season. Put the pasta back in a large saucepan, mix with a small glug of olive oil and add the peas. Heat gently, adding the cream sauce and chicken. Mix everything together and season well. Spoon into a bowl and top with Parmesan.

MILK TART

Ingredients

240g plain flour

150g butter, cubed

30g icing sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 egg yolk

Mix the flour, butter and icing sugar together in a food processor until it starts to resemble breadcrumbs. If your kitchen or your butter is very warm, it may even start to form a ball. Add the egg yolk and, after a few spins, it will come together. Flatten it out into a flat disc, cover with cling film and chill it, while you get going with the filling. I found this pastry very tricky to work with, but the result is fabulous – a short, crisp, buttery bit of deliciousness.

Filling

1 litre full-fat milk

1 big knob butter

2 eggs

150g caster sugar

3 tbsp corn flour

3 tbsp plain flour

1 tbsp vanilla extract

Ground cinnamon and Demerara sugar to sprinkle on top

Method

Heat the milk and butter until nearly boiling in a large, heavy-based saucepan. Beat together the eggs and sugar until they are pale, light and creamy and doubled in volume. Add the corn flour and regular flour and continue to beat. Finally add the vanilla extract. Add a few ladlefuls of the scaled milk to the egg and sugar mixture and whisk. Pour this mix into the big saucepan with the hot milk and butter. Put it on a very gentle heat and do not abandon it. It will thicken within seconds on a very gentle heat.

Keep mixing with a wooden spoon or whisk. It will start to feel like a runny bechamel sauce. Keep mixing, but if you feel you have burnt the bottom of the saucepan, don’t scrape. Simply decant whatever will easily pour into clean saucepan. The sugar and flour help stabilise this and prevent it from turning eggy, so don’t worry if you see the odd simmering bubble escaping.

Allow the mixture to cool and rub the surface of the mixture with a good chunk of butter, which will help prevent it forming a skin.

Roll out the pastry to fit a 24-centimetre tart tin with a removable base. I find this much easier to do between sheets of cling film. Then transfer the pastry into the tart tin. Line the tin with parchment paper and dried beans or rice and bake at 180 degrees/gas mark 4, for about 20 minutes. Carefully remove the parchment paper and beans and return the pastry case to the oven for another 20 minutes so that it completely dries out and goes a lovely golden-brown. Allow it to cool fully, then pour the filling in and refrigerate it until it has set. Decorate with cinnamon and Demerara sugar and serve thick slices with some raspberries.