Roasted Squash (Zucca al Forno)

It is squash time of year again and you just know you are going to be inundated with them. This is really the simplest way of dealing with them. No need to skin them, it all goes in, even the seeds. Eat it on its own, as a side dish or chuck into salad, pasta or soup.

Roasted Squash (Zucca al Forno)

1 large squash, whatever you have got

1 pinch dried red chilli

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

1 large handful fresh sage leaves

1 stick cinnamon, broken into pieces

olive oil

Preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Halve the butternut squash, remove and reserve the seeds, then cut the squash into slices or chunks with the skin left on and put in a bowl. Add the whole sage leaves, the pieces of cinnamon, a pinch of chilli flakes, salt and pepper and enough olive oil to rub the whole lot over all the squash pieces so they are well covered. Place the squash in one layer in a roasting tray. Sprinkle over the seeds, cover tightly with tin foil and bake for 30 minutes, or until the skin of the squash is soft, then remove the foil and cook for another 10 minutes until the squash is golden and crisp. Remove the cinnamon.

Celery Salad with Dates, Almonds, and Parmesan

When you get to my age and you have been cooking as long as I have, it is really hard to find recipes that are fresh, exciting or different but this simple celery salad is really quite stimulating. I’m not even that keen on fruit or nuts in savoury dishes but the celery, lemon and the chilli really balance out the sweetness. It made a very tasty lunch!

Celery Salad with Dates, Almonds, and Parmesan

Serves 2

½ cup/large handful raw almonds with skins

8 celery stalks, thinly sliced on a diagonal, use leaves too

6 dates, pitted, coarsely chopped

Zest of one lemon plus 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chunk of Parmesan, shaved

4 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Very small pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

Toss almonds, celery, celery leaves, lemon zest and dates in a medium bowl; season with salt and pepper. Mix the lemon juice and olive oil together well. Add a small pinch of chilli flakes and mix through the salad. Serve with shavings of parmesan.

Mediterranean Vegetables Roasted with Lemon, Yogurt, Tahini & Pomegranate

You may think you have heard and seen this recipe in many guises before but don’t judge a book by its cover. This is a really interesting version in a few ways. First of all, the use of whole lemon just chopped up and roast with the veg. I showed you how to make preserved lemons the other day but this is even more simple. Secondly the tahini dressing which I would have been tempted to drizzle on top of the veg, here is used as a base to the vegetables, more like polenta or mash. It turns a plate of roast veg into a proper lunch.

Finally, the fact that the chickpeas are used twice, once in the dressing but the bulk of them are roast with the veg and the resulting crispy morsels add great texture and interest to this dish.

Mediterranean Vegetables Roasted with Lemon, Yogurt, Tahini & Pomegranate

You can use any combination of veg you like. A combination of root vegetable would work well.

Serves 2

1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped

1 aubergine, diced

1 red onion, halved and cut into thin wedges

1 unwaxed lemon, ¼ chopped (skin and all), the rest juiced

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to drizzle (optional)

400g can chickpeas in water, drained

1 garlic clove

2 tbsp tahini

3 tbsp natural bio yogurt

seeds from ½ a pomegranate

fresh parsley or coriander, chopped

Heat oven to 240C/220C fan/gas 7. Put the vegetables and chopped lemon in a large flameproof roasting tin and drizzle with 1 tbsp oil. Massage into the veg so they are all well coated, and season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, then put the tin on the hob and fry, stirring, for 5 mins until starting to char. Stir in two handfuls of the chickpeas, sprinkle them with salt and roast the whole lot in the oven for 15 mins or so. Stir from time to time to ensure even roasting.

Put the rest of the chickpeas in a bowl with the garlic, tahini, yogurt and lemon juice and blitz with a stick blender until really smooth and thick adding a tablespoon or two of water to get it to the right consistency.

Spoon the yogurt tahini onto two plates and top with the roasted veg, pomegranate seeds and parsley or coriander. Drizzle of extra oil, if you like.

Apple Strudel

At this time of year, there seems to be apples everywhere. People keep on trying to give them to me, but I have got far more than I can cope with of my own. This delicious apple strudel uses loads of Bramley’s and will have you wanting all the apples you can get hold of!

Apple Strudel

750g/1lb 10oz Bramley apples, peeled, cored, quartered and sliced

1½ tsp ground cinnamon

½ unwaxed lemon, zest only

2 tsp lemon juice

100g/3½oz golden caster sugar

75g/2½oz raisins

95g/3½oz butter

40g/1½oz white breadcrumbs

6 large sheets filo pastry (or 10-12 smaller ones)

1 tbsp icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 190C/170C Fan/Gas 5. Line a baking tray with baking parchment.

Mix the apples with the cinnamon, lemon zest and juice, sugar and raisins. In a small frying pan, melt 20g/¾oz butter and fry the breadcrumbs until golden-brown, then add to the apple mixture.

Melt the remaining butter in a pan. On a clean, dry tea-towel lay a sheet of the filo and brush with some of the melted butter. If you have small sheets of filo then lay two side by side. Lay another sheet on top and repeat until you have used all of the filo.

Pile the filling along the length of the pastry along one side about 2-3cm/1in from the edge and using the tea-towel to help you, roll the pastry up to enclose the filling. Tuck the ends in and roll seam-side down onto the lined baking sheet. Brush with the remaining melted butter.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, until golden-brown. Leave to cool to room temperature and dust with icing sugar. Slice and serve with cream, ice cream or custard.

Butternut Squash and Spinach Gratin

Everyone knows I am always making vegetable gratins or all shapes and sizes, so it is a complete mystery to me why I have never before made a butternut squash variety. So, I put my mind to it and came up with the idea of putting a layer of spinach hidden in the middle.

Always trying to push the boundaries, especially time saving ones, just so I can share them with you, I experimented putting the spinach in raw and letting it cook in the cream I was really pleased with the result.

There is something so comforting about spinach and cream. Sort of nursery food. Just what we need as the nights draw in.

Butternut Squash and Spinach Gratin

I used baby spinach but I recon true spinach could work the same way as long as the stems where removed and it was quite small and tender. It would also have to be washed as true spinach can be gritty, and drained very well so that the gratin did not become watery.

1 large butternut squash

600mls double cream

100mls milk

3 cloves of garlic

Couple of sprigs of rosemary

2 large handfuls of baby spinach

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the cream and the milk in a large saucepan with the garlic and rosemary. Bring to the boil and then turn the heat right down and let the mixture boil away very gently for about 30 minutes. Make sure it does not boil over or catch on the bottom. Stir very now and then. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 170C. Peel the butternut squash with a knife. It is easier to do this if you cut it in half where the straight part of the squash begins to fatten.  Remove the seeds and cut the sqash into thin slices. I used a mandolin. Place half the slices in the bottom of a gratin dish. Add the spinach and cover with the remaining slices. Remove the cream from the heat and season really well with salt and plenty of pepper. Pour the cream through a course sieve over the gratin. Cover with tin foil and bake in the middle of the oven for about 1 hour, removing the tinfoil for the last 10 minutes. Leave to rest for 5 minutes before serving

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Steak, Guinness and Cheese Pie

Autumn is in the air and I am already craving for comfort food. The trouble about winter recipes compared to summer ones is they always take so much longer to cook. Gone are the warm evenings and just chucking something on the barbie.

Winter is all peeling, chopping, stewing and slow-cooking. What I like about this recipe from Jamie Oliver’s fabulous recipe book “Cook”, is that although it obviously needs hours to bubble away, the actual prep is really quick. There is no laborious and messy browning of the meat and the result is sensational. I usually make a double batch and put one pie in the freezer for a rainy day.

Steak, Guinness and Cheese Pie

Serves 4

3 red onions

3 cloves of garlic

2 carrots

2 sticks of celery

4 field mushrooms

a few sprigs of fresh rosemary

olive oil

1 kg quality brisket or stewing beef, cut into 2cm cubes

440 ml Guinness (no lager, please!)

2 heaped tablespoons plain flour

150 g Cheddar cheese

170 g all-butter puff pastry (I used ready rolled)

1 large free-range egg

Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/gas 5.

Peel and chop the onions, garlic, carrots, and celery, slice the mushrooms, and pick and finely chop the rosemary. Heat a lug of oil in a large ovenproof pan over a low heat, add the onions and fry gently for about 10 minutes, or until softened, stirring occasionally. Turn the heat up, add the garlic, carrots, celery and mushrooms, then mix everything together before stirring in the beef, rosemary, and a pinch of sea salt and 1 level teaspoon of black pepper. Fry fast for 3 or 4 minutes, then pour in the Guinness, stir in the flour and add just enough water to cover.

Bring to a simmer, cover the pan with a lid and place in the oven for 2½ hours, or until the meat is very tender and the stew is rich, dark and thick, stirring halfway. A perfect pie filling needs to be robust, so if it’s still quite liquidy, place the pan on the hob and reduce until the sauce thickens.

Coarsely grate the cheese, stir half through the pie filling, then transfer to a pie dish and leave to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, dust a clean work surface with flour and roll the pastry out to the thickness of a pound coin (or use ready rolled like I did.)

Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the pie filling. Place the pastry over the top of the pie dish pinching or folding and tucking in the edges to seal, piecing the pie with a knife once or twice to let out the steam. Beat the egg, then brush over the top of the pie and bake directly on the bottom of the oven for 45 minutes, or until the pastry is cooked, puffed and beautifully golden. Delicious served simply with peas.

Thai Salad with Peanut Dressing

I love the sweet and sour combination of this crunchy salad. Adjust the dressing until you have the perfect balance.

Thai Salad with Peanut Dressing

You can use any cabbage in this salad even red cabbage works.

For the Thai Peanut Dressing

2 tbsp creamy peanut butter

1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, from one lime

1 tablespoon soy sauce (use gluten-free if needed)

1 tablespoons sugar

1-inch square piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

1 Nam Pla

Pinch crushed red pepper flakes

For the Salad

½ pointed cabbage, shredded

3 carrots, peeled into ribbons

1  cucumber, halved lengthwise, de-seeded, halved lengthways again and chopped into 1cm chunks

1 cos lettuce, sliced into 1cm slices and broken up

2 medium spring onions, thinly sliced

1 bunch freshly chopped coriander

For the dressing, combine all of the ingredients in a blender and process until completely smooth. Use to dress the vegetables and serve straight away.

Sweet Potato Crisps

These sweet Potato Crisps make a delicious veggie snack and are great in the kids lunch box instead of boring crisps. It is a little hard to get them crispy but keep your oven low and wait until the edges are tinged with brown, but don’t let them go too far!

Sweet Potato Crisps

1 small sweet potato

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Heat oven to 160C fan. Slice the sweet potato thinly. The slices must be evenly cut so that they cook evenly. A mandolin is great for this. Toss with the olive oil and lay out on a lined baking sheet. Roast for 15-20 mins until crisp. Sprinkle with salt. Leave to cool.

Chicken & Courgette Tagine with Preserved Lemon & Coriander

Now you have made your Preserved Lemons in Salt you are going to want to use them!

 

Chicken & Courgette Tagine with Preserved Lemon & Coriander

Olive oil (or Argan oil if you have it)

1 kg of free-range skinless chicken thighs

1 heaped teaspoons of Ras-el-Hanout (Barts is excellent)

2 onions, finely chopped

2 large courgettes, very finely sliced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

Large pinch of saffron

½ a large preserved lemon, seeded and chopped

One bunch coriander, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a tagine or large saucepan with a lid. Fry the chicken until all sides begin to brown. Remove and add the onions.  Scrape to remove all the nice bits of crispy chicken from the bottom of the pan. Cook for onions for 10 minutes until soft and just about to brown.  Add the courgettes and a large pinch of salt and cook down slowly for about 25 minutes until completely collapsed and beginning to caramelise. Add the garlic, the Ras-el-Hanout, the cumin and a generous amount of salt and pepper.  Fry for a few minutes to release the spices. Add the chicken back to the pan and ½ pint of water and the saffron. Bring briefly to boil, reduce the heat right down and cover, but leave a crack for steam to escape. Simmer over low heat for thirty minutes or more. When the chicken is cooked, check the sauce. Add the preserved lemons and the coriander. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve with Cous Cous.

Preserved Lemons

I don’t think we ever think of lemons as having a season but now is the best time in the year for Spanish lemons which is where Riverford’s lemons come. So I decided to make a batch of Preserved Lemons. So you want to use the very best lemons you can find – organic and unwaxed. These lemons will keep for up to a year and are a fabulous addition to all sorts of dishes. You can use the lemons and I love the liquid as well in cous cous, salads and sauces and of course all sorts of Moroccan dishes including the classic Tagine.

Preserved Lemons in Salt  From Claudia Roden

Lemons (Organic, un-waxed if possible)

Kosher salt or Natural Rock Salt

Large Kilner Jar

Scrub the lemons under running water with a stiff brush to remove any dirt and impurities. Starting at one end, cut the lemons in half lengthwise, but stop about 1/2 an inch before you reach the bottom. Repeat the cut perpendicularly so you have cut each lemon lengthwise in a “X” formation, but not all the way through; they should still be attached at the bottom, about 1/2 an inch. Liberally sprinkle salt on the inside of the lemons. Hold them open with your fingers and really get the salt inside them. It is a little bit like those fortune-teller origami toys kids make out of paper. Place each lemon in the jar, pushing down on them and squeezing them to release the juices. Keep adding Lemons until you absolutely cannot get any more in. The lemons should be completely submerged in juice. If they are not, top up with some extra lemon juice. Seal the jar.  Let the jar sit at room temperature. Every few days, turn the jar upside down and shake it to distribute the salt and liquids. The lemons will be ready in three weeks, or so, when the rinds have softened.

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