Spaghetti Carbonara, Re-visited*

Classic Spaghetti Carbonara

Classic spaghetti carbonara: one of my absolute favourites. You can’t go wrong with bacon & cheese, and it’s also quick to make. Tops 45 minutes for prep and cooking maybe? What do you think?

A quick internet search suggests that the conventions are pretty much set: we need spaghetti, bacon, garlic, olive oil, parmesan cheese, egg, black pepper, and salt. I cheat a bit and add a little whole milk to the egg + cheese mixture, but that’s about it. I don’t remember which recipe I referred to initially but usually use 1 large egg to about 0.5 cup of Parmesan cheese, with extra for serving, for 2 big portions. Do use a good quality cheese and make sure you save a little of the hot pasta water for the sauce.

The only downside to carbonara is that you can’t really keep leftovers, but I guess W and I generally don’t have a problem cleaning off our plates when it comes to pasta :D.

Buon appetito!


*Re-visited because I posted a recipe a long while back on a rather unorthodox take on carbonara with ham and spinach (my Italian friends, please forgive me)


Creamy Pasta Gratin with Mushroom, Chicken, and Kale

Creamy Pasta Gratin with Chicken, Mushroom & Kale

This pasta gratin is something that I had in my head to create for a long time, and I finally did it! The combination of mushroom, chicken, and kale turned out really well. The kale in particular was a great addition because the green gave the dish extra colour, in the way that parsley would, but it tasted better than parsley.

The sauce is just a basic bechamel (white sauce). I think of my mom whenever I cook this kind of sauce because it was she who first taught me how to make it for a tuna macaroni bake one afternoon when I was back home for the summer. I treasure that memory deeply, and I think it’s because we naturally cling to memories of our parents teaching us how to do something new.

The bechamel recipe I learned from Mom is most probably from the 12th edition of the Fannie Farmer cookbook, which was a culinary bible if you will for many home cooks throughout the 20th century—Wikipedia tells me it was first published in 1896! Bechamel makes for a simple base for any white sauce you’ll ever need to make. Add herbs like thyme or rosemary or nutmeg, or minced garlic and onion, to give it extra flavour.

Creamy Pasta Gratin with Mushroom, Chicken & Kale

Ingredients (for 3 portions)
0.75 lb dried pasta, your pick
0.5 lb chicken breast, diced and marinated in salt and black pepper
6 large mushrooms, diced into same size as chicken
kale leaves, 3-4 stalks worth, chopped finely
1 cup cheese mix, your pick (mozzarella, cheddar, etc)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced finely
1 tablespoon + extra olive oil

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk + a bit extra
salt and black pepper

1. Cook pasta as per package instructions. Tip into an oven-safe 8×13 dish or equivalent.
2. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (about 205 Celsius).
3. Bechamel sauce: in a small saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Gradually add in flour, mixing it in thoroughly. When flour is well incorporated with butter, add milk. Heat to boil, then simmer while stirring thoroughly. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Set aside.
4. Heat olive oil on medium heat in skillet. Pan fry chicken, leaving to brown on one side before flipping.
5. When chicken is thoroughly cooked, remove from pan. Add extra olive if needed, then cook garlic and mushrooms together until fragrant. Mix in kale last and cook until soft.
6. Mix in chicken, mushroom, kale mixture with pasta in oven-safe dish ready for baking. Pour in bechamel sauce and stir to mix.
7. Top pasta with cheese and extra black pepper.
8. Bake until cheese is nicely colored, at least 20 minutes.

Tuna and Green Pepper Pasta Casserole

Desperate times call for creative measures. It was coming to the end of the week when the fridge was slowly depleted of fresh produce but luckily I had a can of tuna, a lonely green bell pepper, dried pasta, and some leftover cheese and half-and-half. Casserole time!

Casseroles have always been associated, in my mind at least,  with American/Western European families eating healthily and cheaply. I love the idea that they have carbs, protein, and vegetable all in one dish.

Tuna and Green Pepper Pasta Casserole

tuna2Not so great picture – yummier than it looks, I promise

Ingredients (serves 2):
1 can tuna, drained
1 green bell pepper, chopped into small pieces
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cups dried pasta – I used shells
1 tablespoon olive oil OR butter
cracked fresh black pepper
150 grams cheddar cheese, grated
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, optional

1 cup half-n-half (50% whole cream, 50% light cream)
0.5 cup milk
0.5 teaspoon salt
save about 1-2 tablespoons of the starchy water from the cooked pasta

0. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. (205 Celsius)
1. Cook pasta as per package instructions in salted water.
2. Heat medium-sized skillet on low heat with olive oil (or butter, your preference). Saute onion and bell pepper slowly.


3. When onion and bell pepper soft and fragrant, add tuna.
4. Heat tuna and vegetable mixture through.
5. Crack black pepper over mixture.
6. Check pasta. When ready, drain but retain some of the starchy hot pasta water.
7. Add half-in-half, milk, and salt to tuna mixture.
8. Add a tablespoon of the starchy pasta water to mixture.
9. In a breadloaf tin, first layer the bottom with a little bit of creamy tuna mixture, second pasta, third cheddar cheese. Repeat twice. On the last (top) layer, put any remaining cheddar cheese and Parmesan if using. At this point I try to make sure there are no gaps in the dish. I also add a little bit of water (no more than 0.5 tablespoon) around the sides to keep the pasta moist.


10. Put into oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Really loved how the saltiness from the cheese and tuna mixed in with the sweetness of onion and bell pepper. One really can’t go wrong with cheese right? I used a mixture of sharp cheddar and Parmesan. I always keep a tub of grated Parmesan in my fridge. A friend once told me that Parmesan has lots of MSG – no wonder I like it so much.

Sole with Light Parsley Dressing and Spaghetti

pan fried sole with light white sauce and spaghetti

not the most refined of plates but who’s judging?

This dish was an experiment: I’ve never cooked sole before, nor have I ever made a dressing with parsley. But it was so much fun to cook!

I picked up sole in the first place because recently I’ve been trying to find alternatives to foods that I normally pick up on the weekly grocery run. Lemon Sole for some reason is cheap here compared to sea bass, plaice, cod. I’m not quite sure why though. It’s surprising because sole seems to me to be a more delicate fish compared with cod, which in this country is often battered and deep fried for fish n’ chips. I like the chips but don’t understand battered cod — why would you do that to a nice piece of white fish?

Well I wanted to do sole justice, so I paired it with a light white parsley dressing (I thought a full-on sauce would overpower the fish), and spaghetti tossed in olive oil, parsley and garlic. The flavours blended well. I think the star was the parsley – it’s a herb with personality, but  not too overbearing and it goes well with sole and spaghetti. I then made a dressing using milk and butter for the base and had fun with it, improvising by adding a bit of Dijon mustard and minced yellow onion to give it extra kick.


Sole with Light Parsley Dressing and Spaghetti

Ingredients, for 2 portions
2x lemon sole fillet (approx 250 grams)
spaghetti, 150 grams
parsley, 10 stalks, chopped finely
garlic, 2 cloves, minced
1/2 small yellow onion, minced
milk, 1/4 cup
butter, 3 tablespoons
Dijon mustard, 1/2 teaspoon
olive oil
sea salt and black pepper to taste

1. Bring dried spaghetti to boil in pot of salted water.
2. Crack a little bit of sea salt and black pepper on both sides of the fish. Set aside.
3. Heat pan on medium heat. Wait for pan to heat up, then add olive oil to hot pan.
4. Pan fry sole fillets, pressing down gently on the fish to make sure each side cooks evenly. Add one tablespoon of butter to the pan as the fish is cooking. It should take no more than 2 minutes on each side. You might have to turn down the heat to low-medium at this point to avoid burning the butter.
5. Remove cooked fish from pan. Turn down heat to low-medium heat if you haven’t already. Check on your spaghetti.
6. For the dressing: in a little olive oil, fry the yellow onion, two minutes. Tip in the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter to pan and milk, mix, then add chopped parsley and mustard. Cook for another minute, then pour this mixture into a small bowl.
7. Your spaghetti would most likely have been done during step 6. Drain away the hot water. Then in the previous fish pan, turn up the heat. Sautee the garlic with some olive oil, and when the garlic’s edges are turning golden, tip in pasta. Toss in some parsley, sea salt.
8. Once pasta is mixed well with the other ingredients, plate up with the fish and dressing. Garnish with extra parsley.

This was one of the more involved dinners of last week, but as I said, really fun to make because everything cooks very quickly so I never got bored and wandered off to do something else. It’s incredibly satisfying when cooking becomes more than just the means of getting to an end (dinner!), when you enjoy preparing the food as much as you do eating it, no?

Done in 40 minutes – Sirloin Steak with Cheesy Penne and Broccoli

Sorry for the slight hiatus, everyone. I’ve been a little distracted recently but I’ve really missed blogging. Somehow I’ve fallen into learning bits of programming after work/reading (i’m reading a book written by a former undercover FBI agent who infiltrated the American mafia!)/stoning in front of the computer. I know. No excuses. So here we go: what I whipped up for tonight’s dinner in 40 minutes.

pan fried sirloin steak, cheesy penne, stir-fried broccoli with mushroom


Mmmmmm I do love steak! Partly because it’s so easy – coarse sea salt and ground black pepper on each side, stick it on a hot pan, leave it to brown on each side before turning (approx 4 minutes on each side), done. No recipe needed for that, surely. And for the sides – a quick soy sauce, mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine), and oyster sauce stir-fry with broccoli and mushrooms, and a cheesy penne.

I improvised on the penne because there was some leftover cheddar in the fridge, and was really pleased with the results. I had it in my mind to go for a ‘mac and cheese’ kind of taste, so I simply melted butter, cheddar cheese, and milk into the pot of hot, freshly cooked penne with some of the remaining hot water used to boil the pasta.

Turned out to be a nice American-ish meal (if hunks of red meat, fatty carbs and Chinese stir-fries can be associated with the US of A), very appropriate for watching the presidential election results coverage! Oh how I miss the US. Living in England is great (anyone else see some good fireworks shows over the weekend/on Monday night for Guy Fawkes?), but have to say that the food here is at times quite dire. Or perhaps I’m just all pub-ed out (I count probably 4 pub meals in the past two weeks – not good for the wallet… …).

Hoping that I can get away without providing a recipe for this, as I haven’t measured anything. What I would say is that for the penne, the ratio of butter : milk : cheese should be half tablespoon butter:3 tablespoons milk: 4-5 tablespoons cheese. Those are my estimates for the amounts I used for 150 grams of uncooked penne (2 portions), so scale up/down depending on how much pasta you are cooking. 🙂

Ok so maybe I’ll come back to this post and write up the recipes another time, if anyone’s interested. Otherwise, I’d like to make this blog more about sharing thoughts and experiences of cooking and food in general – rather than a step by step document of How Sheila Cooks Food. I’m probably the least precise person I know so I find retrospectively writing up recipes a slight chore! (Anyone else with me on this?! Or am I just lazy? 😦 – wait don’t answer that…!)