Nigella is my joy. Posh boy goes in for successful older woman with nice houses in West London and an aura of fragile infallibility – I know, cliche. But her cooking is wholesome, attractive, not too difficult and, above all, filling. So she is directing the first few weeks of this culinary journey of mine.
Dish number one is relatively straightforward: a pasta bake. How have I not made one before? I have, but always tomato based and it’s never been brilliant. I have adapted this from Simply Nigella‘s leek pasta bake. I think all main meals require meat, so ‘vegetarian’ was the first thing to go and chicken has found it’s way in there. I’ve also cooked the chicken in spring onions for some complimentary flavouring to the leeks.
Stages: cook main ingredients and set aside, make roux and then the white sauce, mix all ingredients, cook pasta, combine and then bake.
Good things: pretty easy to make, and super tasty considering how few flavoured ingredients there are. Lots of cheese makes it filling and thick.
Bad things: grating basically half a block of cheese is… grating, for want of a better term. (Where is sous-chef Nik when you need him?) Also, underneath the brown top it looks quite mono-colour, but then again it is a pasta bake…
Ingredients (serving 4)
- 175g chicken fillets cut into thirds (half a packet)
- 2 spring onions
- 125g of trimmed leek (more or less 1 leek)
- 125ml of white wine (half a mug)
- 250ml cold water (1 mug)
- 1 teaspoon Sea salt flakes
- 250ml blue lid full-fat milk (1 mug)
- 40g soft unsalted butter
- 40g plain flour
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 25g parmesan, grated
- 150g cheddar, grated, (I used Cathedral city)
- 250g penne
- Two saucepans
- Sieve and a colander
- Wooden spoon
- Pyrex measuring jug
- Pyrex baking dish / baking tin / anything that you can bake it in
For me this is key. I like to prepare everything I’m going to use in advance. It’s far too stressful measuring x-amount of flour with a pot boiling on one hob and a pan slowly slipping off of another.
- Preheat oven to 220 C.
- Chop the 175g of chicken fillets into thirds, set aside with 2 spring onions roughly chopped/cut up. [Plate 1]
- Chop up the 125g of leeks into 1cm slices.Might want to clean. [Plate 2]
- Put the 125ml of wine and the 250ml of cold water into a large glass. Feel free to measure with a mug. [Large glass 1]
- Put the 250ml of milk in a mug. [Mug 1]
- Set aside the 40g of unsalted butter and, separately, the 40g of plain flour. [Ramekin 1 & 2]
- Grate the 25g of parmesan, set aside. Grate (for hours on end) the 150g of cheddar. [Bowl 1 & 2]
- Set aside 250g of penne. [Bowl 3]
- Get out 2 saucepans and on the hob. Fill one with water and put the heat on so it’ll be boiling by the time we want to put the pasta on.
Stage 1: Cook the main ingredients
- Put some oil in one of the saucepans (as I said, the other one we’ll use for the pasta). Fry the chicken and the spring onions until the chicken has been browned. Only needs 5 or so mins. Set aside.
- Then whack in the leeks, with the white wine and cold water mixture and the 1 teaspoon of sea salt flakes, cover with a lid and cook for about 9-10 minutes. Give it a robust stir mid-way through. Do not chuck it away.
- Drain the cooking liquid through the sieve into the Pyrex measuring jug, and then set aside the leeks with the chicken and spring onions.
Stage 2: mustard roux and leeky white sauce
- Add the milk to the cooking liquid in the pyrex measuring jug. If the line doesn’t reach 500ml, top it up with a bit more milk.
- Make sure there’s no leek left in the saucepan.
- Melt the butter in the saucepan on a medium heat. Keep the heat on. Add the flour and mustard and use the whisk to to form a roux. Should only take a min or two, it’s super quick. Take off the heat.
- Pour in the milky-leek liquid in small-ish stages, just so you’re incorporating the roux into the liquid at every stage with the whisk and getting rid of the lumps.
- Put the medium heat back on. Return to the wooden spoon and stir continually for 10 mins until it gets thick. You’ll kinda know.
- Turn off the heat. Add the parmesan and four fifths of the cheddar (approx 125g). Mix it in thoroughly until no lumps/melted in. Season with pepper to taste.
- Add the chicken, spring onions and leeks to the sauce and mix.
Stage 3: bake
- By now, the other saucepan should be boiling. Add the penne. Cook for 11 minutes or so (depending on the packet, I’d do nearer the bottom end of the spectrum it gives).
- Once finished, drain with a colander.
- Add half of the sauce to the baking dish. Add the penne. Then add the rest of the sauce. Mix it well. Sprinkle the leftover cheddar on top.
- Add to the oven and bake for 20-25 mins. I’d turn around in the oven half way through. I like it when it’s a bit more brown on top.
- Leave for 5-10 mins to stand, although please don’t let it get cold!
I put far too much on a plate, but was pleased with the final result. Enough left over probably for two lunches. I think if you wanted to serve large portions to all four people at a dinner party, maybe be a bit more generous with the ingredients but not a lot more.
I’d also use that whole 25 minutes for cooking, as I wanted it a bit more brown on top. Perhaps put more cheese on top to go crisp and golden. Nigella suggests grilling for an extra few mins on top of the bake if it’s not brown enough for you, which is a great suggestion but I was hungry and late getting started.