Fennel, Potato and Parmesan Gratin

Anyone who knows my cooking will know that I make quite a lot of gratins. I love the idea for adding a hidden layer for vegetables, be it leeks and mushrooms, chard, kale, cavalo nero or some other leafy greens or cabbage and bacon. I like to use a variety of different root vegetables too and I have experimented with mushroom and leek, beetroot, parsnip, sweet potato, jerusalem artichoke and kohl rabi to name but a few. But this Potato and Fennel Gratin was a new idea and although it sounds plain, it is one of those dishes which somehow manages to taste more than the sum of its parts. It is somehow deeply satisfying and I implore you to give it a go.

Fennel, Potato and Parmesan Gratin

750g potatoes, peeled

500g trimmed fennel

750mls double cream

250mls milk

3 garlic cloves

Small bunch of thyme

Pinch chilli flakes

50g freshly grated parmesan

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the cream, milk, garlic cloves, a pinch of chilli flakes and the bunch of thyme in a heavy bottomed saucepan and infuse over a low heat for as long as you have got. Check that it does not boil over, or catch as it reduces. Preheat the oven to 170C. Meanwhile thinly slice the potatoes and the fennel. A mandolin or a food processor is good for this. In a large gratin dish, put a layer of half of the potato, top with the fennel and then finish with the rest of the potato slices. Season the cream well with salt and pepper. Remember it has to season all the potatoes and fennel as well so it should be quite salty. Pour the cream mixture through a sieve over the potatoes. Scrape the sieve to make sure that you squeeze though all the garlic and the juices from the thyme. Press down the potato so that the cream mixture comes up to the top of the top layer of potato. If not, top up with a little milk. Scatter over the parmesan. Cover with tin foil and cook slowly in the oven for about 1 – 1 ½  hours until a blunt knife inserts easily all the way through. Remove the tin foil and allow the parmesan to brown to your liking. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.

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Potato, Leek, Chard and Blue Cheese Pie

I am going through a bit of a pie faze at the moment. Everything I make just seems to have to have a layer of puff pastry on top. My latest is this delicious Potato, Leek, Chard and Blue Cheese Pie. It is a bit heavy on the carbs but since it is packed with healthy vegetables, it is a great way of helping you get your 10-a-day too!

Potato, Leek, Chard and Blue Cheese Pie

Depending on the chard, you could use the stems too. Chop them up and blanch them with the leaves. Feel free to play around with the vegetables – a combination of pretty much anything would work, but the addition of mushrooms might be particularly nice!

600g Maris piper potatoes, peeled and cut into 4cm chunks

75g butter

2 leeks, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, grated

1 head of chard

1 packet ready rolled all butter puff pastry

200g blue cheese, crumbled

1 egg, yolk only

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the potatoes in a pan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10-12 minutes until tender. Drain, allow to steam-dry for a few minutes, then mash roughly. Stir in 25g butter and season. Cover and leave to cool. Remove the leaves of the chard from the stems. Cook in a pan of boiling salted water for about 2-3 minutes. Remove the chard with a slotted spoon and spread out on a dry, clean tea towel. When cool, use the tea towel to squeeze out any excess liquid. Roughly chop the chard. Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter in a pan over a medium heat. Add the leeks and cook for 10-15 minutes until soft and beginning to caramelise. Add the garlic and fry for a minute more and finally add the chard leaves. Stir well, season and leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 200°C, gas mark 6. Spoon in the mashed potato into a pie dish. Scatter the blue cheese over the top and then the leeks. Lay a piece of puff pastry over the top and trim round the sides. Press down the edges with a fork to seal. Whisk the egg yolk and brush the top of the pie. You can chill the pie at this stage and bake the next day. Cut a few slits in the top of the pie so the steam can escape. Bake for 40-45 minutes until golden. Serve hot or warm.

Tartiflette

Just as I thought the weather was getting warmer, temperatures dropped accompanied by a bitterly cold wind. I need sustenance fast and nothing is going to sustain you more than the famous French dish from the Savoy region in the French Alps – Tartiflette. A mixture of Reblochon cheese, bacon lardons, potatoes and onions, it is rib sticking rich and guaranteed to warm you up.

Tartiflette

Serves 6

1.3kg (3lb) waxy potatoes

1 tbsp olive oil

250g (9oz) chunky bacon lardons

2 onion, finely sliced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

4 tablespoons Creme Fraiche

1 Reblochon, about 350g (12oz)

Sea salt and freshly Ground Black Pepper

Peel the potatoes and cut them into slices about 1” thick. Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until just tender. You should be able to easily insert a knife. Drain. Heat oil in a sauté pan and cook the lardons over a medium heat until crispy and golden brown. Turn down the heat, add the onion and a good pinch of salt to help them cook down and cook until soft and beginning to colour. Throw in the garlic and cook for a further couple of minutes. Add this to the potatoes and gently combine. Finally stir in the Crème Fraîche. Give one final stir and tip the whole lot into a oven-proof dish. Season with pepper.

Slice the Reblochon and lay on top of the potato. Bake in an oven, preheated to 190°C/375°F/gas mark 5, for 15 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Serve immediately.

Aloo Gobi

Riverford supply a variety of different potatoes throughout the year. The qualities of the potato of the moment are always written on the bag ranging from floury to waxy, it is important to choose the right potato for the recipe. Waxy potatoes will never make a good chip, or roast potato for that matter. On the other hand, if you choose a floury potato for your Spanish omelette, you are going to end up with mash. I particularly like the selection of waxy potatoes which Riverford offers. These are quite hard to get hold of in England apart from the obvious new potatoes or Charlotte, which are usually sold very small, making them laborious and time consuming to peel. They are best left whole with their skins on.

Aloo Gobi requires a waxy potato which holds it shape. I used the Alouette potatoes which often turn up in the boxes at this time of year. I like to roast the cauliflower in a little coconut oil and add it at the end to give the finished dish more texture. Serve up on its own with a nan or alongside your favourite curry.

Aloo Gobi

Coconut Oil

2 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced

1-2 small green chilli, chopped

Large knob of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

2 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into even small bite size pieces

1 large cauliflower, broken or cut into large bite size florets

1 bunch fresh coriander, roughly chopped

 

Heat some coconut oil in a large heavy bottomed saucepan.  Add the onion and cook until they become creamy, golden, and translucent. Add the mustard seeds, cumin, turmeric and salt. Continue to fry for a minute or two more but do not burn. Add chopped chillies (according to taste). Add ginger and garlic; mix thoroughly. Cook a few minutes more. Add potatoes plus a few tablespoons of water and stir well to ensure that they are coated with the curry sauce. Cover and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes.  Keep checking and stirring every now and then so that it does not catch and burn.  Add a little more water each time if necessary. When the potatoes are about half cooked, add the cauliflower, stir well and cover again.  Leave for a further 10 minutes of so until the potatoes and cauliflower are cooked.  Stir in the cardamom and coriander and adjust seasoning.  Try not to stir to much at this stage so as to keep the texture.  Allow to sit for a while to allow flavours to infuse.

Potato Latkes

I have a fridge full of potatoes as the moment and I don’t even remember how they all got there. So I was thinking of interesting things to do with potatoes and remembered making delicious Potato Rosti in one of the Restaurants I used to work in. I started looking up recipes for this Swiss fried potato cake but they seemed over-complicated and confused. No one seemed to agree on what sort of potato to use – waxy or floury and some recipes mentioned boiling the potatoes first before grating them.I wanted something quick and easy for the kids tea.

So I turned instead to a less known cousin of the Rosti – Potato Latkes. Being almost identical but thinner, they are much easier to cook and there is less chance of an overcooked outside and a raw middle. There is nothing worse than a raw potato. What I can’t agree on is the traditional accompaniment of sour cream and apple sauce when what they really need is my favourite – sour cream and sweet chilli sauce. Delicious.

Potato Latkes

2 large potatoes (450g)

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil

Peel potatoes and coarsely grate by hand, transferring to a large bowl of cold water as grated. Soak potatoes 1 to 2 minutes after last batch is added to water, then drain well in a colander. Spread grated potatoes and onion on a kitchen towel and roll up jelly-roll style. Twist towel tightly to wring out as much liquid as possible. Transfer potato mixture to a bowl and stir in egg and salt.

Heat 1/4 cup oil in a 12-inch non-stick frying pan over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches of 4 latkes, spoon 2 tablespoons potato mixture per latke into skillet, spreading into 3-inch rounds with a fork. Reduce heat to moderate and cook until undersides are browned, about 5 minutes. Turn latkes over and cook until undersides are browned, about 5 minutes more. Transfer to paper towels to drain and season with salt. Add more oil to frying pan as needed. Serve hot.

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Homity Pie

It is funny how vegetarian cooking has gone in and out of fashion through the years and even more so, how the recipes have changed in style . It all started with Cranks which actually opened before I was born, but it was still fashionable when I was student, when being vegetarian was almost obligatory.  I remember waiting desperately for Cranks cookbook to come out so that I could try and recreate their legendary Homity Pie. I can’t remember if I ever made it back then, but I googled it the other day and came up with the original recipe which, not very surprisingly was really dated and uninspiring. Now a days it would have about twenty more ingredients in it. But I was drawn by it’s old fashioned simplicity, although it needed some serious alterations – It recommended putting the filling into a raw pastry case, which I thought sounded unwise, and indeed the pastry came out completely uncooked and soggy on the bottom. Anyway, a few tweaks here and there and my Homity Pie came out even better than I remembered it. I have to admit, that although Homity Pie should be made with wholemeal pasty, I cheated with some ready-made, ready-rolled shortcrust pastry, which made up for the extra blind-baking time.

Homity Pie

8” Fluted pastry case

125g/4oz plain flour, plus extra for rolling

125g/4oz wholemeal flour

150g/5oz butter

1 free-range egg, beaten

Or 215g ready-made, ready-rolled good quality shortcrust.

For the filling

350g tasty potatoes, peeled and cut into 1cm slices

25g/1oz butter

1 tbsp olive oil

3 leeks, shredded and washed (or onions)

2 garlic cloves, crushed

100g mature cheddar cheese, coarsely grated

250ml/9fl oz double cream

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C/180C (fan)/Gas 6. Put the flour and butter in a food processor and blend until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg and pulse until the mixture just comes together as a dough. Bring the dough together and flatten into a round.

Put the pastry in the centre of a 20cm/8in pastry tin and carefully ease it over the base and up the sides of the tin. Line with baking parchment and bake until very light golden brown. Meanwhile cook the potatoes in boiling water for 15 minutes, or until just tender.

Melt the butter and oil in a saucepan and fry the leeks gently for 15 minutes, or until soft and pale golden-brown. Add the garlic and cook for two further minutes, stirring regularly. Add the garlic and fry for minute of two more. Add ½ the cheese and season well. Add the potatoes and spoon the filling mixture into the pastry case. Pour over the cream and allow it to drizzle down between the layers. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Place the tin on a baking tray and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the top is pale golden-brown.

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Leek and Taleggio Pie

I think I must have been super hungry when I was researching this week’s recipes. This pie in particular, with it’s pastry, potato, cream and cheese. I must have been ravenous! But it turned out to be really delicious and served alongside a nice crisp, healthy salad, I wasn’t hungry any more!

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Leek and Taleggio Pie

Serves 2-4 (depending on how hungry you are)

1 large baking potato, peeled and diced

2 large leeks, washed and sliced into rounds

A knob of butter

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

50ml double cream

200g Taleggio or similar cheese, cut into chunks

1 sprig thyme, leaves picked

500g packet of ready-rolled all-butter puff pastry ( you may need 2 packets of some brands)

1 egg, for washing

Heat an oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Cook the baking potato in boiling salted water until just tender, then drain and set aside. Cook the leeks over a medium heat in the butter until tender. Season well with salt and pepper. Set aside. In a bowl, mix the cooked potato with the leeks, cream, Taleggio and thyme leaves and season well. Lay one sheet of pastry on top of a 25cm non-stick (or lightly buttered) pie dish and press into the base – there will be an overhang, which can be trimmed off. Spoon the leek mixture into the prepared dish and place the other sheet of pastry on top. Crimp around the sides to seal, trim and then brush the top with egg and make an incision in the middle of the lid to let the steam escape while it’s in the oven. Cook the pie for 30 40 minutes until the pastry has turned golden and crisp. Rest for a few minutes before serving.

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Patatas Bravas

I guess it depends on where you had your first tapas on holiday in Spain, as to how you like you Patatas Bravas but it seems I must have been it a different Tapas Bar to everyone else. I remember quite dry, spicy, crispy fried potatoes. What I don’t remember, is what every recipe I can find’s interpretation, which is fried potatoes, covered in chunky tomato sauce. Anyway, to set the record straight, here is my version. Your first Patats Bravas may also not have been drizzled in Allioli either but once you have tried it this way, there is no turning back.

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Patatas Bravas

Serves 4

1Kg waxy potatoes

Spanish olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 red chilli, finely chopped

400g tin chopped tomatoes

½ tsp sea salt

1 tsp smoked paprika

Allioli to Drizzle on Top

1 tbsp sherry vinegar

1 egg yolk

1 clove garlic, crushed

Light olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200C. Peel the potatoes and cut into rough 2cm chunks. Put a roasting tray into the oven and leave to heat for 5 minutes. Toss the potatoes in plenty of olive oil and tip into the hot roasting tray. Bake for about 45 minutes, turning regularly to ensure they are evenly crisp and golden.

Meanwhile, make the sauces. Put 2 tbsp oil into a heavy-bottomed pan on a medium heat, and cook the onion for about seven minutes until golden and soft. Put in the chilli, and cook for another couple of minutes, then add the tomatoes, salt and smoked paprika and stir well. Bring to the boil, and then turn down the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes until thick and dark. Adjust the seasoning if necessary. It should be pretty spicy. Liquidise (or hand-blend) your sauce until smooth.

To make the Allioli, put the egg yolk in the small bowl of a food processor  along with the garlic and 1tbsp sherry vinegar (or use a hand-blender). Add 1 tbsp olive oil and whizz until incorporated, then drizzle in the rest of the olive oil with the motor running, until you have creamy mayonnaise-style sauce. Season with salt to taste.

Take the potatoes out of the oven and mix through some tomato sauce. You may not need all of it. The potatoes should be just coated. Return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes. To serve, drizzle with plenty of Allioli. Serve hot.

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Sausages Stew with Braised Fennel and Lemony Potatoes

I am always looking for new things to do with fennel. This next recipe is based on a recipe which we saw on Rick Stein’s Mediterranean Escapes. It was called Fennel Sausages with Lemon Potatoes. It comes from Puglia, in Italy and it sounded delicious. The fennel is excellent at cutting the fattiness of the sausages and lemon gives a delicious clean fragrance. I always find it really difficult to find good Italian sausages. You can get them at Vallebona which is always worth a trip, but only opens Saturdays and I always seem to forget. However, I do drive down Leopold Road every day and have discovered that Roberts & Edwards do their own Italian Sausage.  It is not terribly authentic and heavier on the chilli, than the fennel, by quite delicious all the same. If I am using these sausages I add a couple of heads of fennel and a teaspoon of fennel seeds to the recipe to compensate for flavour. I also add a little more liquid than Rick, as I quite like the stew-like consistence that it results in. I think of it as a “Summer Stew.” I have amended his recipe but you can find the original in  Mediterranean Escapes or even watch it online.

Sausages Stew with Braised Fennel and Lemony Potatoes 2

Finally, I usually throw in a few chipolatas from my daughter who prefers a plainer sausage, and this simple dish then happily pleases the whole family and is ready in no time at all.

Sausages Stew with Braised Fennel and Lemony Potatoes

Sausages Stew with Braised Fennel and Lemony Potatoes

Serves 4

The perfect sausages for this dish are those from specialist Italian or Continental delicatessens, Luganega, which come in one long length

Based on a recipe by Rick Stein From Rick Stein’s Mediterranean Escapes

450g/1lb luganega sausages (available from specialist Italian or Continental grocers), or other nice meaty pork chipolatas

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced

2 heads of fennel, trimmed and each cut into 6 or 8 wedges through the root.

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

750g/1½lb small waxy potatoes, peeled and each cut into quarters

½ lemon, pared zest and juice only

4 fresh bay leaves

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Twist the sausages into 7.5cm/3in lengths and separate them into individual sausages.

Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a 26cm/10in shallow flameproof casserole dish. Add the sausages and fry until nicely browned all over. Lift them onto a plate and set aside.

Add the fennel, onion, garlic and another tablespoon of oil to the casserole dish and fry until soft and lightly golden. Stir in the potatoes, lemon zest and juice, bay leaves, ½ teaspoon salt and ten turns of the black pepper mill. Top with the sausages and add enough water to cover the potatoes and fennel

Cover tightly with the lid and bake for 30-40 minutes until the potatoes are tender. You can also do this on the stove top if you like. Adjust seasoning before serving.

fennel

Smoked Haddock, Mustard Mash, Spinach and Poached Egg

And for my final spinach recipe of the week, a real suppertime favourite in our family. Smoked Haddock, Mustard Mash, Spinach and Poached Egg. This is founded on real nursery (minus the mustard) comfort food and bound to cheer you up after a hard day.

Try and find undyed smoked haddock. The smoking process should give the fish a delicate tinge, not an alarming deep shade of orange.

“en papillote”

I like to cook my fish simply steamed in the oven. This is called “en papillote” in French which translates as in parchment. There is no great description in English, but it is a super quick and easy way to cook your fish to perfection. You can use traditional greaseproof paper, or even easier tin foil. If you seal it well the package will puff up when cooked so you know when it is done. (Make sure the package is quite flat before it goes in the oven, as in the  picture below, so you know when it has puffed up.)

“en papillote” 1

I have given you a brief description of how to make a parcel but if you want more help, have a look at youtube.

Preheat the oven. Bring your oven up to 350F/180C. Add a tray to the oven. Take a large sheet of tinfoil or grease-proof. The tinfoil should be a rectangle, the grease-proof cut into a circle. Lightly grease the paper or foil with a little olive oil. Place the fish in the middle and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dot with a knob of butter and fold the paper or foil in half. For tin foil, neatly double fold each edge. For the grease-proof, start at one edge and start folding the edges in small inch sized folds until you have reached the other side of the semicircle.

Place on the hot tray in the oven and cook for 10 minutes or until well puffed up.

Smoked Haddock, Mustard Mash, Spinach and Poached Egg

Serve with some mashed potato with a teaspoon or two of Dijon mustard stirred in at the end, some wilted spinach (see spinach)  and a freshly poached egg.

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