“Carnival Lasagna” from “Jamie Cooks Italy”

When we saw the name of this dish– Carnival Lasagna– it seemed the perfect thing to make as we head into the final weeks/days/hours of Andrew being at home before he heads off to the great adventure that is university life. Who doesn’t love a carnival? And indeed, this dish seems perfect for a big family gathering or a party. More pertinently, a carnival might also be just what we need as we all get a bit wistful about his departure.

We set aside a Sunday afternoon to get this done. You could just tell by looking at the three pages of photographs and one full page of instructions this was going to be a PROJECT. We were fine with that, because after all, isn’t that what Sunday afternoons are for?

It was a team effort. You have to make pasta dough for the lattice on the top, which Tim made. You also have to make meatballs and tomato sauce to layer in, which I made. We both kept an eye on the kilo of spaghetti we had to cook to put inside. Assembly was also largely a team effort.

You can imagine the relief we felt when it was finally time to eat. We figured it would be good, and we also figured that everyone would love it, given the ingredients.

The verdict? “This is just basically just spaghetti and meatballs, in pie form,” Andrew said after one bite. That’s really not the reaction we were hoping for after hours of cooking. But he was right. Even so, it was delicious, and it was even better as leftovers for lunch the next day.

This truly would be the perfect meal for a huge gathering of people. You could make it ahead of time, and put it in the oven when the guests arrive. Then once it’s time to eat, all you have to do is bake it and slice it. The picture above doesn’t really do it justice, but trust me, it’s a dramatic dish.

But when I make it again, I’ll modify some of the more fiddly bits. The meatballs, which are fried and then poached in the tomato sauce, were really good, but it took an age to fish them out of the tomato sauce. So the next time, I’ll just roast the meatballs like I always do, and then toss them in a bit of tomato sauce before layering them in– that will be much easier. Although the pie would be fine without the lattice on the top, it does add something extra to the dish, so I guess I would do that again. The next time I’d also add more prosciutto and cheese to the dish, but that’s just down to personal preference.

All in all, it was an excellent way to kick off a month of Italian eating with Jamie Oliver.

“Carnival Lasagna” from “Jamie Cooks Italy”

“Roasted Tomato and Anchovy Bucatini” from “Dining In”

I have three go-to tomato sauce recipes that I use. The first, for when I have done a bit of forward planning, is the tomato sauce from Polpo and requires 90 minutes cooking. The second, from Food52’s Genius Recipes, requires 60 minutes cooking. The third, a recipe of my own design, requires maybe 10 minutes (if that) to make. So I feel as though we’ve got tomato sauce covered over here.

But now I’ve got a fourth recipe to add to my repertoire. What Alison Roman wants you to do is to roast bog-standard tomatoes for 3 or 4 hours. Following that you do the usual routine: sweat an onion, add some spices and then add some anchovies for saltiness. Then you tumble in the now sweetened, softened tomatoes. You have to gently break them down and then you have the most glorious thick tomato sauce. You can thin it to your heart’s desire using some of the pasta water you’re making alongside it.

While, yes, this method does require more forward planning than I usually deploy, the result is absolutely worth it. Delicious and highly recommended.

(The picture doesn’t do it it justice, but trust me. Yum.)

“Roasted Tomato and Anchovy Bucatini” from “Dining In”

“7-Veg Tomato Sauce Packed with Hidden Goodness” from “Superfood Family Classics”

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Tomato Sauce or Vegetable Soup? You decide.

Sadly, this is yet another example from this cookbook of “Recipe You’d Give To Someone Who’s Just Had A Major Medical Intervention to Trick Them Into Thinking That It’s Just As Good As the Original.”

But here’s the thing: what’s so bad about fresh tomato sauce? I’ve got three basic recipes I make, depending on how much time I have (no time at all, one hour, a few hours). My go-to recipe, this one from Polpo, has both fresh and canned tomatoes and is full of goodness. There’s minimal fat (some olive oil to fry the onion) and the rest of it is tomatoes. What’s so bad about that?

In the description of this tomato sauce, Jamie writes, “Jam-packed with nutritious veg, this has to be one of the easiest ways to get extra veggie portions into our diet, as well as all sorts of brilliant micronutrients.”

Putting aside the term “micronutrients”– which sounds ridiculous to me because doesn’t every food have micronutrients in it?– why feel the need to put leeks, celery, carrots, courgettes, peppers, and butternut squash in a “tomato” sauce? And if you guessed that putting all those additional vegetables into a tomato sauce would make it taste more like vegetable soup and less like tomato sauce, you would be absolutely right.

I don’t want to beat a dead horse here– obviously this cookbook has not won me over– but this is just stupid. Fresh tomato sauce is pretty good for you too, so why not just make that instead?

As it happens, I was paging through “Jamie’s Dinners” from 2004 where he includes a recipe for tomato sauce. It is his fifth cookbook, and many of us would argue this was in the Golden Age of Jamie. Jamie HIMSELF says, “I’m a great believer in a simple tomato sauce.”

[Emphasis added. Obviously.]

What’s happened to that Jamie of old? Please come back, Jamie. We miss you.

“7-Veg Tomato Sauce Packed with Hidden Goodness” from “Superfood Family Classics”

“Meatballs” and “Tomato Sauce with Butter & Onion” from “Food52 Genius Recipes”

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I’ve loved many of the recipes I’ve made from “Genius Recipes” this month, but I approached this one with a fair amount of trepidation.  I already have a Genius Recipe for tomato sauce and meatballs– from Polpo (first reviewed here), which everyone loves very much. Why mess with success?

I was right to be sceptical.

As this is a food blog, let’s review this particular dish by using a Praise Sandwich. For those among you who are unfamiliar with this term, it means you start with the compliments, put the criticism in the middle, and then finish with a compliment. Apparently using this method is supposed to make hearing criticism easier to stomach. Or something.

Everyone agreed that the tomato sauce was delicious. In fact, I made it again earlier this week when I needed some tomato sauce for chicken parm night. (It is Revision Week here, ahead of internal exams next week, so it’s been a week full of our favourites, and chicken parm is one of them.)

The tomato sauce differs from the Polpo version in that you only used canned tomatoes for this one– Polpo uses a mix of fresh and canned– and also it is a bit quicker to make– 45 minutes compared to 90 minutes for Polpo. But the key difference is the inclusion of a fair amount of butter, as well as an onion that you cook whole with the tomatoes, but then take out before using the sauce. I wasn’t sure about the butter, as that seemed an odd addition to a basic tomato sauce. But what the butter did in the end was add a dairy creaminess, not unlike what you’d have if you’d added cheese.

Half of the family liked this tomato sauce better than the Polpo version, the other half disagreed, preferring the Polpo tomato sauce. This was definitely a split decision.

Where we were all unanimous, however, was in our universal dislike of the meatballs. They weren’t bad, they just weren’t as gloriously delicious as the Polpo version we have come to know and love. I’ve made them countless times since I first tried them in March 2013, and they’ve been a winner. Every time. You’ve got to like those odds.

So in short, a mixed decision. I definitely would make the tomato sauce again (particularly when I don’t have enough time, or I’m in a holiday house, where access to a variety of ingredients is limited) but I won’t make these meatballs again.

But frankly, I’m being picky. In our family, you can never go wrong with spaghetti and meatballs for dinner.

If you’d like to try the recipes mentioned above for yourself:

The Polpo tomato sauce recipe can be found by clicking through here;

The Genius52 tomato sauce recipe can be found by clicking through here;

The Polpo meatball recipe can be found by clicking through here; and

The Genius52 meatball recipe can be found by clicking through here.

“Meatballs” and “Tomato Sauce with Butter & Onion” from “Food52 Genius Recipes”

“Pork & Beef Polpette with Basic Tomato Sauce” from “Polpo”

Tim: You made the spicy hot ones, right?

Maureen: Ha ha ha.

Nicholas (9): NOOOOOOOO! You know how I feel about spicy food.

Tim: Ha ha. I’m just trolling you.

Nicholas: I do taste some spice in these.

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Maureen: I don’t know why. There’s no hot spices  in there. (Editor’s Note: This is a TOTAL LIE. There is a pinch of chilli flakes and a fair amount of black pepper. Those parents in the audience, however, will understand why I did not divulge this to my spice-averse children.)

Andrew (13): I think the meatballs and the tomato sauce are very nice.

Maureen: This tomato sauce is delicious. You need to do some forward planning with it though, since it takes at least an hour and a half to make. Today it cooked for a little longer than that, which probably made it even better. I like how you use a combination of fresh tomatoes and canned tomatoes, it gives it a much more interesting taste.

Tim: Was it complicated to make?

Maureen: Not at all. It just takes a lot of time. I think the meatballs are also great. They call themm polpette, but I can’t help myself. They are meatballs to me. I think I have found my go-to meatball recipe.

Tim: This meal is a triumph!

Maureen: I agree. This is absolutely full of yum. Would you like me to make it again?

All: Yes!

“Pork & Beef Polpette with Basic Tomato Sauce” from “Polpo”

“Meatzza” from “Nigellissima”

Want to try the Meatzza yourself? The recipe can be found on the Nigella Lawson website by clicking through on this link.

Maureen: So I think this is like a meatloaf, but in the shape of a pizza. What do you think?

Nicholas (9): Is this from the new cookbook?

Maureen: Yes. Nigella’s latest tome, which is all Italian cooking. I think we will enjoy this month.

Andrew (Now 13! Happy Birthday!): It’s OK. These are two things that don’t need to go together. They work fine together, but I don’t see the point. Either have pizza or have meatloaf. Why make it one thing?

Nicholas: I think it’s AMAZING. It’s like a meatloaf, but with the added tomato sauce and cheese on top. Delicious.

Maureen: I’m with Nicholas on this one. I think it’s good, and I suspect that I will make it again.

Andrew: Don’t get me wrong. It’s good, but it’s not my favourite.

Maureen: I don’t know, with time it might become your favourite.

Andrew: Nah.

Tim: I’m with Andrew on this one. I don’t see the point of this.

Maureen: What do you mean? It’s not meatloaf, it’s not pizza: It’s meatzza!

Tim: Nope. Not buying it.

Maureen: A house divided on the Meatzza. Controversial.

“Meatzza” from “Nigellissima”