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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Channa Masala with Spinach

When I served this up for dinner the other night my partner announced that he didn’t much like chickpeas and he didn’t much like spinach but it was the best vegetarian dish he had ever eaten. Praise indeed! Probably why it is one of the most popular curries in India.

Channa Masala with Spinach

You could use fresh tomato instead of tinned and another leafy green such as chard can replace the spinach.

2 large onion, finely diced

3 medium cloves garlic, grated

Large knob ginger, scraped and grated

1 or 2 fresh chilies (depending on size and heat) finely chopped

2 tablespoons (30ml) coconut oil, vegetable oil or ghee

1 teaspoon ground cumin seed

1 tsp garam masala

1 (14-ounce) can whole tomatoes

2 (14-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 small bunch fresh coriander, roughly chopped

Large handful of spinach

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil or ghee in a large heavy based saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and a large pinch of salt and cook for about 10 minutes until really soft and beginning to brown. Add a little water if necessary. Add garlic, ginger, chilli and spices and cook for a minute or two more. Add the tomatoes and rinse out the can with a little water and add that two with pepper and salt to taste. Cook down gently for 10 – 15 minutes or so adding more water if necessary. When the sauce tastes really nice, it is done. Adjust seasoning. Add more spices if necessary. Puree with a hand bender. You want a spicy, savoury gravy. Add the drained chickpeas and allow to cook a little to allow all the flavours to amalgamate. Remove the stalks from the spinach, wash and drain. Roughly chop the leaves if they are large. Add to your chickpeas mixture and cook the spinach for a few minutes or so until just done. Add the coriander and serve with rice and/or naan.

Golden Beetroot, Fresh Goat’s Cheese, Baby Spinach and Toasted Walnut Salad

When I went to work in California back in the 90’s it was a revelation of the importance of ingredients. This concept, of not merely buying but “sourcing” was only just beginning in London at the time, but in California everything was obtained from specialist suppliers.

What a long way we have come with every menu in town listing artisanal this and rare breed that. Anyway, one of the ingredients I was most excited about seeing all those years ago was all the different varieties of beetroots in the farmers market.  Deep golden yellow, creamy white, deep purple and even pink and white striped. So it brought back memories when I saw that Riverford where now growing bunched golden beetroot and this recipe is in honour of them.

Golden Beetroot, Fresh Goat’s Cheese, Baby Spinach and Toasted Walnut Salad

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/3 cup (80ml) extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

A couple of handfuls (about 70g) baby spinach leaves

450g beetroot, any colour, roasted, peeled and cut into wedges

150g soft goat’s cheese, crumbled

75g toasted walnuts

To roast beetroot, scrub and wrap individually in tinfoil. Roast in the oven at 180C for about 45 minutes until a skewer inserts easily. Leave wrapped up until cool. Unwrap and slip off the skins with your hands.

Whisk the lemon juice, olive oil and Dijon mustard together in a small bowl. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Place the spinach in a bowl. Add half the dressing to the spinach mixture and toss well. Divide among 4 serving plates (or leave in the large bowl if desired), then scatter with beetroot, goat’s cheese and toasted walnuts. Drizzle with the remaining dressing and serve immediately.

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Saag Paneer

I don’t know why but I had never tried Saag Paneer. Whenever I go out for an Indian meal,  I guess I have always opted for Saag Aloo and so it never got a look in. Well that is a thing of the past. It is sublime. An Indian spiced, creamed spinach – what a great combination.

Neither did I know that you can make your own Paneer. I have to admit though that I didn’t. I got mine from Waitrose!

Saag Paneer

Coconut oil

1 onion

2 cloves of garlic

1 thumb-sized piece of ginger

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 teaspoons garam masala

½ teaspoon turmeric

2 ripe tomatoes

2 large handfuls of fresh spinach

100 ml double cream

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the paneer: OR 1 block of ready made Paneer (226g)

1.5 litres whole milk

1 lemon

To make the paneer, line a sieve with a large piece of muslin and place over a bowl. Heat the milk in a large heavy-based pan over a medium heat. Gently bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer.  Gradually add 4 tablespoons of lemon juice, stirring continuously so the curds and whey separate. Carefully pour the mixture into the sieve so the curds collect in the muslin. Place under cold running water to get rid of any whey, then gather up the muslin and squeeze out the excess moisture. Keeping the muslin bundle in the sieve, cover it with a plate and top with a few heavy weights (a couple of tins work well). Place in the fridge for 1 hour 30 minutes to set.  cut the

Cut the paneer into 2cm chunks. Heat some coconut oil in a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat, add the paneer and fry for 5 minutes, or until golden, stirring frequently. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a double layer of kitchen paper to drain.

Peel and finely chop the onion and finely grate the garlic and ginger. Return the pan to a medium-low heat, adding a splash more oil, if needed. Add the cumin seeds, fry for 1 minute, then add the onion and cook for around 8 minutes, or until softened. Stir in the garlic, ginger, garam masala and turmeric. Halve, deseed and very finely chop the tomato, add to the pan and cook for a further 10 minutes, or until softened but not coloured, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile blanch the spinach in a pan of salted boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a dry tea towel to cool. When cool enough to handle, use the tea towel to squeeze the excess water from the spinach. Roughly chop.

Stir in the spinach, cover and cook for 5 minutes, then stir in the cream, paneer and a splash of boiling water. Reduce the heat to low and cook for a further minute or two with the lid off, or until reduced to a deliciously creamy consistency. Season to taste and serve immediately.

Spinach & Ricotta Gnocchi

I don’t think there is a nicer way of cooking spinach than Gnocchi Verdi. Also known in different parts of Tuscany as malfatti (badly made), ravioli nudi (naked ravioli) or topini verdi (little green mice). Gnocchi are among the oldest foods in Italy, and the spinach ones are a specialty of the Casentino, an area east of Florence where greens grow wild on the hillsides.

Although easy to make, I have to admit, that I do have a few horrific memories of gnocchi dissolving into a spinachy mush whilst cooking. There are a few key points to remember – really squeeze all the water out of the spinach. I used 700g of spinach and ended up with 300g with which I made half a batch of the recipe. I got 22 gnocchi which would serve I suppose 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course. The next point is to chop the spinach really well. And finally, it is really important that the water does not boil fast when cooking them. It should simmer, not boil and the gnocchi will eventually float to the surface when they are done. Be patient, it will happen and they will be delicious.

Spinach & Ricotta Gnocchi

Adapted from The River Cafe Cook Book

Serves 4 as a main course

50g butter

a bunch of fresh marjoram

500g blanched spinach leaves squeezed dry (about 1.25kg raw spinach)

sea salt

300g fresh ricotta cheese

90g plain flour

3 egg yolks

1/2 nutmeg grated

150g parmesan freshly grated

sage butter

Blanch the spinach in a large pan of salted water for a minute or two. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain well in a colander. When cool enough to handle squeeze out the water really well. Chop well.  Melt the butter add the marjoram and cook for a minute. Add the spinach and stir to combine the flavours. Season well and leave to cool. In a large bowl lightly beat the ricotta with a fork then sieve in the flour. Add the egg yolks the nutmeg and parmesan and finally fold in the cooled spinach mixture until well combined. Taste for seasoning. Dust a baking tray with flour or semolina.

Using 2 dessert spoons take a small spoonful of mixture and using the one spoon mould the mixture so that it forms a gnocchi. Place on the floured baking tray. The gnocchi should all be the same size about 2cm diameter.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil then lower the heat to a simmer. Gently place the gnocchi in the water in batches it is important not to overcrowd the pan. When the gnocchi come back to the surface remove carefully with a slotted spoon and briefly place the spoon on kitchen paper to drain off excess water.

Serve immediately in warm plates with sage butter and extra parmesan.

Home-made V8

I have been desperate to make my own tomato juice ever since I got a juicer so I was waiting to have a glut of tomatoes. Obviously I had to wait until winter was over to have any decent tomatoes at all, but then this week I seemed to have somehow collected three punnets. So without hesitation I chucked one punnet into my juicer. Absolutely nothing came out and when I peered inside, I seemed to have made little more than some tomato froth. Turns out you really have to cook the tomatoes to get the sort of juice I had in mind. There is a raw version but it is just not the same. So you simmer your tomatoes for about 25 minutes and push them through a sieve. No juicer required. However, if like me you wanted to use your juicer, there are all sorts of favours you can add to make your tomato juice a bit different. Mine ended up tasting a bit more like V8, but I didn’t mind, because I love the stuff. I added a little beetroot, which is great as it gives it a better colour, celery, parsley, spinach, watercress and a couple of carrots. Obviously salt, onion, pepper, sugar, Worcester sauce or tabasco can help add a kick, but that is up to you.

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Sausages with Lentils, Crème Fraiche, Mustard & Spinach

Usually I have a glut of vegetables of one sort of another, but at the moment I appear to have a glut of lentils. I must have read some article proclaiming the virtues of lentils and how super good they are for you and then subconsciously I must have picked up a bag every time I went shopping for the next month. Subsequently, this week, I have not one, but two lentil dishes for you. The first is a classic combination of lentils, crème fraiche and mustard served up with spinach and sausages. It is not exactly a stew, but it is nice to keep it a bit soupy. You can use any sort of spinach or some other greens, such as chard, kale or cavalo would work too, but you might like to blanch them first.

Sausages with Lentils, Crème Fraiche, Mustard & Spinach

Serves 4

8 good quality pork sausages

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

6 rashers streaky bacon, chopped

1 large leek, shredded, washed and drained

2 sticks celery, finely chopped

Small bunch of fresh thyme, tied into a bundle

2 cloves garlic, grated

250g lentils

Couple of large handfuls of fresh spinach, striped from stems and washed

250ml crème fraîche

1-2 tbsp Dijon mustard

Preheat the oven to 180C. Cook the sausages for 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally, until they are evenly browned and cooked through.

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Fry the bacon until crispy and then stir in the chopped vegetables and the thyme bundle. Cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened and are beginning to brown. Add the lentils and the garlic. Stir well and add 1 ½ pints of water. Simmer for about 20-25 minutes until the lentils are tender. Add water if necessary but by the time the lentils are cooked, you want most of the water to have cooked away. Season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove the thyme bundle, squeezing out the remaining juices. Stir in the crème fraiche and mustard and then the spinach. Return to the heat and cook the spinach until just wilted. Taste and adjust seasoning and add the sausages. Serve hot.

Spinach Wilted With Raisins, Pinenuts and Balsamic

The spinach looks so pretty at this time of year with its pink tinged stems and lush green leaves, I thought that I would cook a dish just in honour of it.  And I was particularly pleased with this Sicilian influenced dish with chilli, pinenuts and balsamic, lending the spinach a delicious sweet and sour flavour. Works well with others greens, such as chard too. You can use either true spinach or baby spinach but if using baby spinach you also have the option of turning it into a salad and leaving it raw.

Spinach Wilted With Raisins, Pinenuts and Balsamic

1 red onion

2 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced

extra virgin olive oil

350g spinach

50g pinenuts, toasted

50g raisins

1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

Pinch chilli flakes

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peel and finely slice the onion. Sweat it gently in a little olive oil and some salt for about 10 to 15 minutes until beginning to caramelise. Meanwhile, strip the spinach from the stems, wash it and left to drain in a colander for as long as possible.  Soak the raisins in a little boiling water. Add the garlic to the onions and fry for a minute or two more. Add the spinach with another pinch of salt and wilt until cooked. Add the balsamic and reduce until dry. Check seasoning and add the drained raisins, pinenuts and chilli flakes. Serve hot or warm.

Braised Spinach and Cannellini Beans

Sad to get back from holiday but lovely to get home to a lovely box of fresh vegetables. It is such a great time of year for produce, it really is a pleasure cooking and not the chore that I have to admit, it sometimes does feel.  First up, I knocked up a really quick and easy recipe of Braised Spinach and Cannellini Beans. You can use any mixture of greens you like from mustard greens to kale to Cavalo Nero, but if you are not only using spinach and your greens are tougher, you will have to blanch them first in boiling water for about three minutes. Then drain and when cool, squeeze out the excess water before adding to the garlic oil. I decided, rather decadently, to add a little cream during cooking, as it goes so well with spinach and cannellini beans alike. You could serve this pilled on to a piece of Bruschetta or equally delicious, alongside a grilled lamb chop or a piece of roast fish. Adapt your herbs, depending on what you are serving it with. An anchovy might be nice too!

Braised Spinach and Cannellini Beans 1

Braised Spinach and Cannellini Beans

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

1 large bunch greens (such as spinach, mustard greens, kale, or Cavalo Nero) thick stems removed, spinach left whole, other greens cut into 1-inch strips and blanched first

1 can cannellini or haricot beans drained

2 teaspoons of very finely chopped rosemary

100mls double cream

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat 4 tablespoons oil in large heavy bottomed saucepan, over a medium heat. Add the garlic and dried crushed pepper; stir until garlic is pale golden, about 1 minute. Add the spinach by large handfuls and stir just until beginning to wilt before adding more, tossing with tongs to coat with oil. Add a good pinch of salt and any blanched, drained greens you might have. Remove the greens with a slotted spoon and gently squeeze any juices back into the saucepan. Add the beans and the rosemary, the cream and a little salt and pepper. Reduce down until you have a creamy consistency. Add the greens back and stir well. Allow to boil for a minute or two. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve warm.

Braised Spinach

Coconut and Spinach Channa Dal

I wonder sometimes that my recipes are getting too long and that you may be too pushed for time to give them a go, so this week I am going to keep it simple. First up a really delicious Coconut and Spinach Channa Dal. Although it takes an hour or so for the chickpeas to cook, the prep time is minimal and the result super satisfying.

Coconut and Spinach Channa Dal 2

Coconut and Spinach Channa Dal

You do not have to use chickpeas (Channa). If you prefer you could make Moong Dal (split yellow lentils), Toor Dal (yellow pigeon peas), Masoor Dal (red lentils), Urad Dal (split black lentils) or Mung Dal (mung beans).  You could cook this in the slow-cooker.

1 cup (235g) yellow split peas (Channa Dal)

2 tablespoons coconut oil

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1 large knob of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

2 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon salt

2 large handfuls of spinach, stem and main veins removed

½ tin of coconut milk

4 large garlic cloves, very thinly sliced

small bunch of fresh coriander, finely chopped

Heat a large saucepan over a medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of coconut oil and the onion. Fry gently for about 10 minutes until just beginning to caramelise and add the ginger. Cook for a minute more. Add the spices and briefly fry. Add the channa and about 3 cups (600mls) water and salt and bring to the boil.  Cover and cook very slowly on the stove top for an hour or so. I like my dal to have a little texture but it is up to you. Meanwhile, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the spinach and boil for 2-3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and spread out on to a clean dry tea towel to quickly cool. When cool, use the tea towel to squeeze out the excess water and roughly chop the spinach. When the chickpeas are cooked to your liking, add a couple of tablespoons of the creamiest part of the coconut milk and the spinach. Stir well and adjust seasoning. Add the freshly chopped coriander.

In a little saucepan put the last tablespoon of coconut oil and add the garlic slithers. Heat over a medium heat until the garlic is golden brown.  Remove immediately and spoon straight over the dal.  Do not leave the garlic in the saucepan for long as it will carry on cooking and may burn.

Coconut and Spinach Channa Dal