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Friday 10 April 2015

Experiments with HelloFresh #3: Fennel & Olive Fettuccine with Fresh Parsley

No, I haven't forgotten how to count, this should really have been the final post, but I'm temporarily skipping the second for reasons I'll get into when I finally post it. I'll also do the summing-up with that post rather than this one, as it'll make more sense that way.

As much as anything on this blog makes sense, that is.

After doing things in my usual haphazard fashion on the first recipe, my girlfriend mentioned that, when she's cooking, she'll often do snippets of preparatory chopping throughout the day, by way of a five minute break from her studies. While I wasn't quite that organised, I did make a start on this earlier in the evening than with any of my previous efforts, and did most of the chopping in advance of any of the actual cooking. I also followed another bit of her advice: she'd seen and heard my frustration with all the 'finely chop ingredient x' malarky in the first post and, when it came to the garlic, she suggested I simply use our garlic press. The end result is basically the same, if not better, and saves on an awful lot of effort. It was also nice to have a genuine reason to use my mortar and pestle for a change, grinding the fennel seeds - I knew I'd bought it for a reason...

I was particularly tickled, too, when the instructions helpfully suggested a mandolin for thinly slicing the fennel. My girlfriend picked one up a while back and, while it's not quite fine enough to generate the 'almost translucently thin' slices the instructions specified, it certainly made short work of slicing the awkwardly-shaped fennel bulb.

Once the chopping was out of the way, I read through the instructions several times over. Unlike the first two recipes, there weren't any massive glitches in the ingredient quantities (although specifying '2 cups' of sliced fennel bulb seemed redundant considering only one bulb was provided, and I kinda had to use the whole thing one way or another), so I really just wanted to be sure of what I needed to do next at every step, and to get a vague idea of the timings before starting things off. The second step in the recipe is cooking the red pepper strips, for which it recommends "15 mins or until lightly charred on the outside". The next step is cooking the rest of the veg in a pan, eventually turning it into a sauce for the pasta. The timings seemed to match up pretty well, so I started each process almost simultaneously, just to see if I could keep things on track.

The sauce comes together in several short stages that I found reasonably easy to follow since I had everything ready-prepared around me. The only hitch I'd had was that this recipe calls for black olives, and I definitely didn't get any black olives in the box. Thankfully, my girlfriend really likes olives, so we tend to have some in stock. The only real difficulty then was that, again, it specified the olive content as '2 tablespoons', which I still say is an utterly ridiculous measure for bisected fruit. Still, the definition gleaned from the first recipe helped me choose the appropriate number of olives for this dish. When the tinned tomatoes are added to the pan, the recipe suggests adding sugar but I've never found that necessary - tomatoes are sweet enough and, coupled with the rest of the veg, there's enough sugar in there naturally for my tastebuds. And that's saying something.

Once everything is in the pan, the recipe instructs that the heat should be turned down low so the sauce can boil down and thicken up, and it's at this point that the pasta needs to be cooked. Personally, I found it amusing that the card includes a definition of 'al dente' under the heading 'Tip', but your mileage may vary.

Just to prove that I'm not consistently terrible at cooking, the pasta was done only moments before the oven's alarm went off to tell me that the red pepper strips were ready, so both elements were added to the sauce in the pan in good time. The final stage was chucking in the parsley and the cheese (which strikes me as odd, and one of the Gousto recipes did the same, where my girlfriend and I would normally tend to add the cheese on top, once the meal had been served... not least because it means you don't end up having to scrape congealed cheese off your pan when you do the washing up). With a final garnish of - oh, for fuck's sake - 'finely chopped' fennel fronds, dinner was served...

Based on the two recipes I bothered photographing myself, I have to conclude that there's something wrong with HelloFresh's photography or their Photoshop work, as both this and the 'Easter' Ragu were depicted as rather brown in the stock photos, while they tended more toward red when I'd finished cooking... and I'm pretty sure I didn't get anything that significantly wrong on either of these.

As we were eating, my girlfriend commented that the fennel was identifiable in the sauce, but not overpowering, as fennel can sometimes be - being almost licorice in flavour. I certainly enjoyed the dish, but have to say I found it rather bland overall... it's possible I gave it too few "good grinds of black pepper", or that the chilli was just cooked for too long - it didn't have the spicy kick I was expecting, given that the first instruction says to "finely chop as much of the chilli as you dare". Perhaps I'll have to try this one again, and deliberately try to spice it up as much as possible...

This was definitely the easiest of the three HelloFresh recipes for me to follow, though how much of that was down to me doing more preparatory work in advance, and how much was because the recipe is actually easier, I cannot say. What I will say is that the card reckons this should be done in about 25 minutes, and I took the best part of an hour over it. Admittedly, most of that was due to taking my time over the preparatory work and my neurotic re-reading of the instructions, but that's a hell of a discrepancy. Not to say I particularly rate myself as any kind of kitchen ninja, but the folks at HelloFresh do seem to presume a level of competence far higher than mine.
Probably the neatest presentation I've ever managed when cooking
for myself and my girlfriend...

If you think you might fancy giving HelloFresh a try (and are within the UK mainland), please feel free to use my referral code MPMDQT for an introductory discount. Yes, that also gets me a discount on my next order, but further deliveries are currently on hold while I complete this first set of recipes and consider how this system fits in with my current... erm... 'lifestyle'.

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