Puy lentil and mushroom Bolognaise

As I said, I have been using up lentils this week, and what better way than this fabulous lentil Bolognaise. It is healthier, quicker, cheaper and makes so much less mess as there is no meat to brown off. You can use it just like Bolognaise too – in a lasagne, in a baked potato, on polenta or on pasta as I did. I really cannot rate it enough.

Puy lentil and mushroom Bolognaise

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 sticks celery, finely chopped

2 carrots, finely chopped

2 onions, finely chopped

300g chestnut mushrooms, finely sliced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

250g puy lentils

150ml red wine

1 tablespoon tomato puree

800g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 litre vegetable stock (I make mine with kello stock cubes)

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried oregano

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and gently fry the carrot, celery and onion for about 10 minutes, until they begin to soften. Add the mushrooms and garlic, cooking until the mushrooms are cooked through, release their liquid and begin to fry. Add the tomato puree and fry for a minute or two. Add the red wine and reduce for a few minutes. Season well and add the puy lentils and the tinned tomatoes, stock and herbs and simmer for 25-35 minutes, until the lentils are cooked and your ragu is nice and thick (you may need to add extra stock/ boil away any excess depending how long it takes the lentils to soften). Check seasoning.

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.

Inzimino di Ceci – Chickpeas with Swiss Chard

When Rose Grey was serving this dish up at the River Café over 25 years ago, most people in England didn’t even know what Chard was. Now a days we are so much more educated and I grow so much of the stuff on my allotment I barely know what to do with it. This simple dish of chard and chickpeas is a great way of using it up.

Inzimino di Ceci – Chickpeas with Swiss Chard

Adapted from The River Cafe

Serves 6-8

175 g (6 oz) dried chickpeas, soaked overnight (or use 2 tins)

1 large garlic clove, peeled

1 tin good quality plum tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, peeled and very thinly sliced

6 tablespoons olive oil

900 g (2 lb) Swiss chard leaves, washed and large stems removed

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 red onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 carrots, peeled and cut into small pieces

2 dried chillies, crumbled

250 ml (8 fl oz) white wine

3 handfuls flat leaf parsley

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Extra virgin olive oil

Drain the chickpeas and place in a saucepan with water to cover, add the garlic, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 45 minutes or until tender. Keep in their liquid until ready to use. Fry the thinly sliced garlic in some good olive oil until light golden brown. Add the tinned tomatoes with some water to rinse out the tin and season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon and gently reduce. Blanch the chard, cool, squeeze out excess water and chop coarsely.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a large pan over medium heat, add the onion and carrot, cook slowly for 15 minutes or until the carrots are tender. Season with salt, pepper and chilli. Pour in the wine and reduce almost completely. Add the tomato sauce and reduce until very thick. Add the chard and chickpeas and mix. Season and cook for 10 minutes. Chop two thirds of the parsley leaves, and add to the mixture with the lemon juice. Serve sprinkled with the whole parsley leaves and a little extra virgin olive oil.

Asparagus with Hollandaise

I made hollandaise the other day for my Eggs PSB and I had forgotten how totally sumptuous it is. I know it is terribly fattening but there is no better way to enjoy your asparagus at the start of the season and do it full justice.  Do not be afraid of hollandaise. It is no more than a hot mayonnaise and can be made in the time it takes to cook asparagus.

Asparagus with Hollandaise

1 large bunch asparagus

For the Hollandaise sauce

1 small onion or shallot, very finely chopped

50mls white wine vinegar plus a splash for poaching the eggs

125g good quality butter, cut into cubes

2 free-range egg yolks

Sea salt

Squeeze of lemon

Put a large saucepan of salted water on to boil, big enough to fit in the asparagus. Snap the stems of the asparagus to remove any woody ends.  The asparagus with naturally snap were it becomes tender. Find a bowl big enough to fit over the saucepan.

To make the hollandaise: In one small pan melt the butter and put to one side. In another small pan, heat the onions, vinegar and a little water. Boil until the liquid has reduced to around a tablespoon (keep an eye on it, as the liquid will suddenly reduce very quickly). Take off the heat immediately and strain through a fine sieve. Put the reserved liquid in your bowl (you should have just over a tablespoon) and discard the onion. Add the egg yolks to the bowl. Add your asparagus to the simmering water. Place the bowl over the top and whisk the yolks vigorously until pale in colour and voluminous (this will take a minute or two but work quickly to avoid over-cooking and scrambling the eggs). Your yolks should be thick and foamy. Remove from the heat immediately. Still whisking constantly, start adding the butter, drip by drip initially. Don’t add the butter too quickly, or the mixture will split. Keep adding and whisking, so the mixture emulsifies and looks glossy; this will take about 3 minutes. Season with salt and a squeeze of lemon. Keep warm and remove your asparagus from the water. Drain well and serve with the hollandaise.

Rhubarb, Rosewater and Pistachio Pavlova

I was sure I had come up with the perfect Easter dessert last week with my Rhubarb, Almond and Vanilla Trifle – that is until I thought up this Rhubarb, Rosewater and Pistachio Pavlova. Be careful when you use rosewater, it can vary massively in potency. I was used to a rather wishy washy version and was a little too liberal with the almost essence strength of the Nielsen-Massey brand I was sampling. The result was rather like eating a bar of soap. Don’t get me wrong, I highly recommend the brand, but just use it sparingly.

Rhubarb, Rosewater and Pistachio Pavlova

800g rhubarb stems, cut into small batons

200g golden caster sugar

2 vanilla pods, split in half lengthways or vanilla bean paste

350mls double cream

1 tsp rosewater (try Nielsen-Massey)

2 tbsp. sugar

For the meringue

4 large free-range egg whites, at room temperature

250g golden caster sugar

1 tsp cornflour

1 tsp white wine vinegar

100g pistachios, roughly chopped

Heat oven to 140C/120C fan/gas. Using a pencil, mark out the circumference of a dinner plate on baking parchment. Whisk the egg whites with a hand mixer until they form stiff peaks, then whisk in the sugar, 1 tbsp. at a time, until the meringue looks glossy. Whisk in the vinegar, cornflour and vanilla.

Spread the meringue inside the circle, creating a crater by making the sides a little higher than the middle. Bake for 1 hr, then turn off the heat and let the Pavlova cool completely inside the oven.

Place the rhubarb batons in a large pan along with the sugar, vanilla and about 200ml water. Bring to a gentle simmer, then cook very gently until just soft. Discard the vanilla. Remove the rhubarb from the pan, reserving the cooking liquid.  Reduce the rhubarb cooking liquid until thick and syrupy. Leave rhubarb and syrup to cool (can be made up to 2 days ahead and chilled until needed). To serve, whip the cream until it just forms peaks. Carefully ripple the rhubarb purée through the cream. Plate each meringue and spoon on some of the rhubarb rippled cream. Top with the remaining batons and spoon some of the rhubarb syrup on top and around the plate.

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Cauliflower Pakora with Raita

One of the most stressful SuperClubs I have ever done, was at St Mary’s Wimbledon and I did an Indian themed dinner. The starter was Vegetable Pakoras and Onion Bhaajis. But for some reason, the oil, no matter how long I heated it for, would not get hot enough. I tried big pans, and little pans, I tried turning off all the other burners, even turned off the oven, but no matter what I did, the oil was not hot enough for frying. And with 70 people turning up for dinner and no starter …not much fun! Anyway, I guarantee, these are super simple and are stress free.

Cauliflower Pakora with Raita

1 medium-large cauliflower (about 800g), trimmed

Sunflower oil, for frying

For the batter

150g gram flour (chickpea flour)

½ teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

A good shake of cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

For the raita

6 heaped tablespoons plain (full-fat) yoghurt

A large handful of mint or you could try coriander, chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the raita, mix all the ingredients together, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Cut the cauliflower into small florets, no more than 2cm across in any direction, discarding nearly all the stalk.

For the batter, put the gram flour, baking powder, ground spices and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine and get rid of any lumps. Slowly whisk in 175ml cold water, which should give you a smooth batter with a similar consistency to double cream. Add a little more water if necessary – different brands of gram flour will vary in how much they absorb.

Add the cauliflower florets to the batter and turn them, making sure they are all thoroughly coated.

Heat about a 3cm depth of oil in a heavy-based pan over a medium-high heat. When the oil is hot enough to turn a cube of white bread light golden brown in 30–40 seconds, start cooking the pakoras, a few at a time so you don’t crowd the pan. Place spoonfuls of battered cauliflower – just a few florets per spoonful – into the hot oil. Cook for about 2 minutes, until crisp and golden brown on the base, then turn over and cook for another minute or two.

Drain the pakoras on kitchen paper, then serve piping hot with the raita for dipping.

Rhubarb, Almond and Vanilla Trifle

I love rhubarb. I was trying to think of the perfect Easter desert and Rhubarb trifle sprang to mind, and then I just could not stop thinking about it. Layers of stewed rhubarb, vanilla custard, rhubarb jelly, sponge, cream and of course sherry. I chose a light almond sponge and soaked it with Pedro Ximénez sherry, which if you haven’t tried before, it is time you did. It gives trifle a sophisticated edge and quashes any old-fashioned associations of sherry being just a drink for grannies.

Rhubarb, Almond and Vanilla Trifle

Almond Cake

110g ground almonds

140g caster sugar

4 eggs

Stewed Rhubarb and Jelly

800g Trimmed rhubarb (top and tailed)

200g Unrefined golden granulated sugar

Vanilla bean paste

Gelatin leaves

Vanilla Custard

570ml/1 pint milk

55ml/2fl oz single cream

1 vanilla pod or ½ tsp vanilla bean paste

4 eggs, yolks only

30g/1oz caster sugar

2 level tsp cornflour

Pedro Ximénez

Toasted flaked almonds, dusted with icing sugar

½ litre double cream

2 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

First make the sponge. Beat eggs and sugar until light and frothy. Add almonds and beat for 10 minutes. Pour mixture into a greased and lined 7-8 inch low square baking tin.

Bake in oven for 30-45 minutes at 170c. Cut into cubes when cold.

Next, stew the rhubarb. Cut the rhubarb into 1 cm chunks. Put into a large heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the sugar and 200mls of water. Stir well. Cover and cook on a medium heat. The lid will help the rhubarb cook down. Once the rhubarb has released enough liquid to cover itself, remove the lid, reduce the heat and gently poach until all the rhubarb is cooked through. It is nice if there is still some texture though and not a puree. Check the sugar. Add vanilla and strain the cooked rhubarb through a fine sieve collecting the juice in a measuring jug.

Soak the number of gelatin leaves required for the amount of rhubarb liquid you have in the jug. Soak them in cold water until softened (check the packet instructions for the correct amount of gelatin to use for the volume of rhubarb juice.) Place the rhubarb juice into a clean pan over a low heat and warm through gently. Gently squeeze the excess moisture from the gelatin leaves and add them to the pan, whisking until dissolved.

Bring the milk, cream and vanilla pod to simmering point slowly over a low heat. Remove the vanilla pod (wash the vanilla pod, dry and store in jar with caster sugar to make vanilla sugar). Whisk the yolks, sugar and cornflour together in a bowl until well blended. Pour the hot milk and cream on to the eggs and sugar, whisking all the time with a balloon whisk. Return to the pan, (add vanilla bean paste or extract if using) and over a low heat gently stir with a wooden spatula until thickened. You can just bring it to the boil and it will not split because of the cornflour, but whisk well all the time.

Whisk the cream with the vanilla and sugar until soft peaks. Add half the diced sponge to the bottom of your serving bowl. A glass bowl is nice as it shows the layers. Drizzle the sponge with a generous dose of sherry and then top with stewed rhubarb. pour over half of the jelly and put in the fridge to set. When set, add half the custard and once again put in the fridge to set. Repeat the layers and then top with the whipped cream. Finally, finish with the toasted almonds.

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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.

Grilled Squid with Fennel and Saffron Risotto

I’ve been thinking about making Fennel Risotto for quite a while now, but I felt it needed something just a little bit more to make it special. I thought of mixing in some crab, which would have been delicious but when I saw some nice fat tubes of squid for sale in the fishmongers, I knew that would be the perfect combination. Usually I do squid with Risotto Nero, blackened with the ink from the squid, but I think this makes a nice, more summery variation.

Grilled Squid with Fennel and Saffron Risotto

Serves 2

4 fat tubes of squid

100g butter

2 bulbs of fennel

200g risotto rice

200mls white wine

1 litre hot stock (can use good quality stock cubes such as kello)

1 tsp ground fennel seeds

Pinch saffron

Pinch chilli flakes

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Remove any tough outside leaves or stalks from the fennel. Save any fronds for a garnish. Cut the fennel in half and slice thinly. Melt ¾  the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the fennel and a good pinch of salt and gently fry without colour until softened for about 10 minutes.  Add the rice and cook for a minute more and then add the wine. Keep stirring. It is banging the grains of rice together which releases the starch which makes your risotto creamy. Add the fennel to the hot stock and gradually start to add the stock a ladleful at a time. When the liquid has just about been absorbed, add another ladleful of stock. Keep cooking like this for 20-25 mins until the rice is chewy but not chalky. Add the fennel seeds and chilli, plenty of freshly ground black pepper and check for seasoning. Add the rest of the butter but do not stir, and leave to sit covered for a minute or two. Heat a griddle or BBQ until smoking hot. Cut through one side of the squid and open out flat. Season and brush with olive oil. Grill first on one side and then the other. The squid should curl up when cooked. Give the risotto a final stir and serve with the squid and any chopped fennel fronds you may have.

Roast Cauliflower and Chorizo Rice

The combination of roast cauliflower, chorizo and rice is delicious, It doesn’t really matter what rice you use, although obviously the cooking method will change. You could use basmati and create a pilaf or Arborio rice for a risotto, but I chose paella rice as it has a clear connection with chorizo, whereas the others don’t.

Roast Cauliflower and Chorizo Rice

Serves 4

I large cauliflower, cut into florets

1-2 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika

Olive oil, preferably Spanish

2 onion, finely sliced

2 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped

400g good quality chorizo, diced

2 chicken or vegetable stock cubes to make 750mls stock

1 pinch of Saffron

250g paella rice

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Toss the cauliflower florets in some olive oil, smoked paprika, salt and pepper and roast on a lined baking sheet in the oven at 180C for about 30 minutes until golden brown. Put a glug of oil into a large heavy bottomed shallow casserole or paella pan on a medium heat, add the onion and fry for around 10 minutes, stirring regularly until completely soft. Add the chorizo and fry to release the oil. Next add the garlic and fry for a minute more. Meanwhile dissolve the stock cubes in 750 of boiling water and add the saffron. Next add your rice to the onions with a good pinch of salt. Pour in the stock and let it bubble away gently, stirring from time to time to avoid sticking. Top up with more stock if it becomes dry and the rice is still raw. After 30 minutes, check the rice is tender and cook a little longer if needed. Season to perfection and serve straight away.