Friday night pasta

In our house, Friday night is pasta night. It's a tradition that's been going on for years and years and it just doesn't feel like the end of the week without a bowl of pasta and a glass of red wine.

R usually cooks on Friday night and his pasta is covered with a rich tomato sauce, flavoured with garlic, olives and oregano, that takes well over an hour to cook.

If I'm in charge of dinner, then I want something much, much simpler.

My version of Friday night pasta is a one pot pasta, made with fresh tomatoes and spinach. It's a recipe I spotted on the clever Lottie and Doof's website and it originally comes from a Martha Stewart magazine, of all things.

Crammed into one pan it's hard to believe this can make a delicious meal...

Crammed into one pan it's hard to believe this can make a delicious meal...

It's a clever recipe, where both the pasta and the sauce are cooked in one saucepan. It seems to break every rule of pasta cooking and I'm sure I can hear the purists tutting already, but it's really, really good. The pasta exudes a starchiness, which combines with all the vegetables to make a delicious sauce.

My version, of course, has a lot more vegetable than the original - 340g of tomatoes and a bit of onion just doesn't cut it for dinner in this house. So I've upped the amount of tomatoes I use, added in some spinach and I also sneak some lentils or chickpeas in there, for extra veg and protein. All of this can be done, with no negative impact on flavour.

I love this meal, love how it tastes and love the simple alchemy that occurs in the saucepan.

One Pot Pasta with Tomato & Spinach

To make this meal you just pile all the ingredients together in one pan, add in some water, cover with a lid and then leave to cook slowly, for about 10 minutes. As with all my favourite recipes, it's very flexible - as long as you have tomatoes and pasta, you can make this meal. I frequently add in frozen spinach instead of fresh, swap between chickpeas and lentils and use garlic instead of onion. In the picture above I've added dried oregano, but at other times I'll sprinkle in some dried chill flakes, chopped olives or capers for extra oomph.

Makes 3 - 4 serves, depending on your appetite. I always make extra, as it's quite delicious the next day.

The main ingredients for One Pot Pasta

The main ingredients for One Pot Pasta

Ingredients:

1kg tomatoes

1 onion

1 large handful fresh spinach - see notes below

150g pasta

1 cup cooked or canned lentils or chickpeas

1 tablespoon olive oil

Extra flavours - see notes below

100g feta or parmesan

What to do:

Prep the vegetables: Wash and then roughly chop the tomatoes. Add these to a large saucepan (with a lid). Cut the onion in half and then thinly slice each half. Thoroughly wash the spinach. Add both the onion and spinach to the tomatoes.

Add the rest of the pasta & sauce ingredients: Add the pasta, lentils / chickpeas, olive oil and any flavourings to the pan, together with 2 cups (500ml) of water. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook the pasta: Cover the saucepan with a lid. Bring to the boil and then turn down the heat to a gentle simmer. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until the pasta is al dente and the sauce has thickened. I use a pair of tongs to turn the pasta a few times, during cooking, to prevent it sticking.

Serve with the feta or parmesan sprinkled on top.

Not the prettiest meal, but quite delicious.

Not the prettiest meal, but quite delicious.

Cooking Notes:

You don't have to be careful when chopping the tomatoes, a rough chop is fine. The original recipe uses cherry tomatoes, which would be lovely, but a kilo of regular tomatoes is generally so much cheaper than a kilo of cherry tomatoes, so the regular tomatoes win.

If you don't have any fresh spinach, you could also make this with a couple of nuggets of frozen spinach

I always add some kind of extra flavour to this meal. Either a tablespoon of dried oregano, a large pinch of dried chilli flakes, some chopped olives, a spoonful of capers, fresh basil - all are delicious.

This meal keeps really well in the fridge overnight - the flavours meld together and it's quite delicious the next day. I wouldn't freeze this meal.

It's also quite delicious topped with a poached egg!

Nutrition Notes:

  • Suitable for vegetarians

What's your Friday night go-to meal?

Spiced Peanut Butter Muesli Bars

Muesli bars make a great snack, however many of the brands available from the supermarket are crammed with dodgy sounding ingredients, so why not make your own?

Spiced Peanut Butter Muesli Bars

I've been making these muesli bars for a couple of years now. They originated from a recipe on Teresa Cutter's site. However, over time, I've tweaked the original, adding ingredients and changing the method until they've morphed into this current incarnation. 

My latest change has been the addition of peanut butter to the mixture which, along with the spices and golden syrup, gives a spicy and treacley flavour to the finished bars.

The bars are slightly crumbly, which is a texture I like. If this is a problem for you, then just add another egg which will help further bind them together. Makes 16 serves.

Ingredients:

½ cup peanut butter
½ cup golden syrup
3 cups natural muesli
½ cup ground flaxseeds
1 teaspoon mixed spice
2 eggs
¼ cup pepitas* or flaked almonds

What to do:

Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Line a 20cm square baking tin with baking paper.

Melt the peanut butter & golden syrup: Spoon the peanut butter and golden syrup into a small saucepan and place over a low heat. Melt the ingredients, stirring occasionally, until thoroughly combined and smooth - you do need to watch this, as the syrup has a tendency to start boiling, before the peanut butter has become runny.

While the peanut butter & golden syrup are melting: In a large bowl, roughly combine the muesli, ground flaxseeds and mixed spice.

Whisk the eggs: Crack the eggs into a separate bowl and whisk together. 

Mix all the ingredients: Once melted, pour the peanut butter and golden syrup into the muesli. Add the whisked egg and then, using a spoon, mix all the ingredients together until they are thoroughly combined and gloriously sticky.

Get the bars ready for baking: Spoon the muesli mixture into the prepared baking tin and press it down firmly – I find it easiest to do this with the back of a wet spoon. Scatter the pepitas or almonds over the top, squashing them down slightly into the muesli mixture.

Bake the muesli bars: Cook for 30 – 35 minutes, until golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack until they are completely cooled. Cut into 16 squares using a sharp knife and enjoy. 

Store the cooked muesli bars in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days, or freeze them individually. 

Cooking Notes

Pepitas are dried pumpkin seeds. While you can find them un-hulled, salted and / or roasted, I always buy the raw hulled seeds. These are green and flat-ish in shape. Pepitas can be found in some supermarkets and all health food shops.

There are lots of ways to vary these muesli bars and make them your own. You could use different muesli blends, or make up your own muesli from rolled oats, dried fruit, nuts and seeds. One of my favourite combinations is dried fig and ginger. I make this with a combination of oats, walnuts, chopped dried figs, together with ground ginger and chunks of crystallised ginger.

Nutrition Notes

  • Can be made gluten free by using a gluten free muesli.
  • Suitable for vegetarians.
  • Lactose free.
  • Can be made low salt, as long as you use a no added salt peanut butter.

Have you ever made your own muesli bars?