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.

Beetroot Waldorf Salad

I got a juicing box this week but funnily enough it wasn’t a juice which first sprang to mind – it was a salad. A good old fashioned Waldolf Salad. Created at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1896 not by a chef but by the maître d’hôtel Oscar Tschirky, the Waldorf salad was an instant success and famously features in Fawlty Towers!

The original version of this salad contained only apples, celery and mayonnaise but beyond that no one seems to be able to agree. Some add lettuce, grapes or raisins, often walnuts and most recently the mayonnaise has sometimes been replaced with more healthy alternatives such as yoghurt. Since there are so many variations, I thought I might add my own rather unusual ingredient of beetroot and I thought it worked very well.

Beetroot Waldorf Salad

2 apples, cored and sliced

6 sticks of celery, chopped

2 beetroot, peeled and grated

A handful of walnuts, lightly toasted in the oven

6 Tbsp mayonnaise

Juice of half a lemon

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Method

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Stir in the apple, celery and beetroot. Scatter with walnuts.

Thousand Island Slaw

When I was a kid one of the first things I ever learnt to make for myself to eat, apart from of course countless cakes and biscuits, was a salad that I recreated from Tootsies burger restaurant in Wimbledon village. They had the highly sophisticated, so I thought at the time, salad mix of red cabbage, grated carrot and most exciting of all – sweetcorn. I suppose that the influence had come from an American slaw, but to me it was revolutionary. And most exciting of all was there was a choice of four dressing. This was back in the day before the idea of “choice” was really embraced in restaurants. French Dressing, Vinaigrette, Blue Cheese or my absolute, total favourite Thousand Island Dressing. I loved the stuff! I still knock up “Thousand Island Slaw” as I have now named it using whatever I have at hand. My kids love it too!

Thousand Island Slaw

A selection of what you have to hand. I recon fresh sweetcorn would be lovely. Just boil the cobs and then cut down the husks to remove the kernels.

Pointed cabbage, red cabbage, savoy cabbage etc. very finely shredded

Carrots, peeled and grated

Thousand Island Dressing

5 tbsp. mayonnaise

2 tbsp. tomato ketchup

Juice of half a lemon

Dash of tobacco

Mix up the dressing ingredients and adjust to your taste. Dress the salad and serve.

Courgette, Goat’s Cheese, Red Onion and Olive Pizza

Once again stuck for lunches for the kids?  Make up a batch of pizza dough below and they can top it with whatever they like leaving you free to do the same.

Courgette, Goat’s Cheese, Red Onion and Olive Pizza

For the pizza dough

500g strong plain white flour, plus extra for dusting

1 tsp salt

7g sachet fast-action yeast

2 tsp. sugar

325mls warm water

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing

For the pesto

40g fresh basil leaves

25g pine nuts

1 garlic clove, crushed

4 tbsp olive oil

25g finely grated parmesan, or vegetarian alternative

For the topping

2 medium red onions

4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

200g soft, fresh rindless goat’s cheese (from a log)

2 medium courgettes

Oregano, fresh or dried

20 good quality black olives, pitted

Whisk the yeast, sugar, oil and water together. Add the flour and salt to a food processor. Add the yeast mixture and combine until the dough comes together. Allow to carry on for 5 minutes or so to knead the dough. Drop into a clean bowl (or the stand mixer bowl), cover with cling film and leave in a warm place to rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Heat the oven to 200°C/fan180°C/ gas 6. Peel the onions, leaving the root end intact. Slice each through the root into thin wedges. Put into a small roasting tin and toss with 2 tbsp of the extra-virgin olive oil and some salt and pepper. Spread out and roast for 20 minutes until tender and brown-tinged. Remove and turn the oven up to 250°C/fan230°C/gas 9, or as high as it will go. Place a baking sheet or pizza stone in the bottom of the oven to get super hot.

For the pesto, put the basil, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil in a food processor, then whizz to a coarse paste. Scoop into a bowl, stir in the parmesan, then season well with salt to taste.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, knock it back, then knead once more until smooth. Break off pieces of the dough, shape each piece into a ball, then roll each into rounds. Dust well with flour. Keep them around 10” as it is easier to work with.

Top and tail the courgettes, then cut them lengthways into ribbons using a vegetable peeler or mandolin. Drop them into a bowl and toss with the rest of the extra-virgin olive oil, the chopped oregano and some pepper. Don’t add salt until just before you use them, otherwise they’ll wilt and go floppy.

Flour a flat baking sheet and add a pizza base. Roll out again back into shape. Spread pesto over the surface, leaving a small rim clear round the edge. Top with the roasted onion wedges and twists of courgette ribbons. Scatter with goat’s cheese and the olives. Slide onto the hot tray or stone in the oven.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, turning the pizzas around halfway through so they cook evenly, until the crust is crisp and golden. Slide them onto a wooden board, cut into thick slices and serve.

 

Butternut Squash Falafel with Tahini Sauce

The thing I hate most about the school holidays, apart from having two squabbling children under my feet for most to the day, is having to produce endless lunches.  Weather permitting the best option by far is picnics every day. Kids are out of the house, so much more space, less mess and no clearing up. These falafel are great stuffed in a pitta with some salad. They are baked rather than fried, so healthier too. Add some hummus for the kids and chilli sauce for you.  Lunch sorted!

Butternut Squash Falafel with Tahini Sauce

1 small butternut squash

3 tins chickpeas

Small bunch of chopped coriander

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 cloves garlic, minced

45g gram flour

Cayenne pepper, to taste

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

Tahini Sauce

3 tablespoons tahini

Juice of half a lemon

1 teaspoon salt

Pre-heat oven to 180C. Peel butternut squash, cut in half, lengthwise, remove seeds and chop into bite size pieces. Toss the butternut squash with salt, pepper and olive oil and tip onto a backing sheet lined with greaseproof paper. Roast butternut squash until fork tender, 40-45 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes.

Place butternut squash in a food processor and blitz until smooth. Add the chick peas and pulse until you have a course mixture. Add mixture to a large bowl. Add the coriander, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, garlic, flour and cayenne to bowl and use your hands to mix until everything is evenly combined. Form the mixture into patties (however large or small your like) and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush the top of each falafel with a small amount of olive oil and bake falafel patties at 180 until browned on both sides, flipping once, 35-40 minutes.

Make the sauce while the falafel is baking. Mix all ingredients together the tahini and lemon juice and salt in a small bowl. Add enough water until you get a drizzling consistency. Drizzle desired amount of sauce on top of falafel before enjoying and eat with salad or in a pita if desired.

Chilli Cheese Cornbread

Corn bread doesn’t usually have sweet corn in it. It is the corn from the polenta, or corn-meal which provides the corn aspect. But this version is so much better, with fresh corn on the cob, caramelised onions, cheese and chilli. A winning combination.

If you have any left, toast it in a frying pan and serve it up along side a chilli, black bean chilli, with some fried eggs and bacon or rather strangely it went very well with my Labneh with Roast Beetroot & Sweet and Sour Onions.

Chilli Cheese Cornbread   

olive oil

2 red onions

2 corn on the cob

4 large free-range eggs

325 g coarse cornmeal or polenta

250 ml full-fat milk

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tsp sea salt

6 tablespoons plain flour

140 g mature Cheddar cheese

2 fresh green chillies

Preheat the oven to 180C. Lightly oil a loaf tin.

Peel and finely slice the onions. Melt some olive oil in a saucepan pan on a medium heat, add the onions, then fry gently for 15 to 20 minutes, or until caramelised, golden and sticky.

Hold the corn cobs upright on a board and carefully run a small knife from the top of the corn to the bottom, cutting all the kernels off.

Add to the caramelised onions and cook for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl, then mix in the cornmeal, milk, baking powder, flour, sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper.

Grate the cheese and add. De-seed and finely chop the chillies and add along with the cooled onion and corn mixture.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Put the cornbread into the oven for 35 minutes, or until golden and cooked through.

Cool for 15 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack or serving plate. Serve straightaway – it’s unbelievably good when it’s warm.

 

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Labneh with Roast Beetroot and Sweet and Sour Red Onions

I know this is maybe a little weird, but I recon this is honestly the nicest thing I have made in quite a while. It is strangely moreish and I polished off the whole lot whilst writing this blog.

Lebanese food has always been one on my favourites and I always order Labneh as part of the meze. But it is so easy to make your own. Buy the best yogurt that you can.

Labneh with Roast Beetroot and Sweet and Sour Red Onions

Serves 2

250 g Greek yogurt

1 kg raw beetroots

Sweet and Sour Red Onions

1 large red onion

1 tbsp. dark muscovado sugar

2 tbsp. red wine vinegar

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

a few sprigs of fresh flat-leaf parsley

Mix the Greek yogurt with a good pinch or two of salt and wrap in a clean J-cloth, fasten with string and hang it over a bowl over night to strain it. I hang it off the tap over the sink.

The next day, pre-heat oven 180C. Scrub the beetroot and wrap each one in tin foil. Put in the oven for about 45 mins to 1 hour. A skewer should insert easily into the centre of the beetroot. Leave to cool. Then make the sweet and sour onions. Peel the onion and slice as finely as you can, into rings. In a bowl, combine the sugar and ½ a teaspoon of sea salt with the vinegar, stirring until dissolved. Add the shallots and leave to stand for 45 minutes, stirring every so often. Unwrap the beetroot when cool and with your hands, slip off the skins. You can use surgical gloves if you like.

Unwrap the strained yogurt and tip it into a clean bowl. Spread over the bottom of the bowl and up the sides. Arrange slices of beetroot on top. Season lightly with a little salt and pepper. Scatter over the onions and finish with parsley and maybe a drizzle of olive oil.

Peperonata

Peperonata is a Sicilian pepper stew and amazingly, for such a simple recipe, no two versions seem to be the same.  I add not only capers and basil but Balsamic vinegar to mine, just to really nail that sweet and sour kick, but I also leave out the tomato which is often present in other versions.  Use the best Balsamic you can, which not only means one obviously from Moderna, the home of  Balsamic vinegar but also one that has also been aged at least 12 years.  A decent one will set you back at least £12.00 for 250ml but it will be worth it.  You will not need very much and it’s mellow sweetness and integrated acidity will add an amazing depth and complexity to many sauces especially tomato based ones.

I love this pepper stew, not only on its own with a rocket salad but also with meat or fish, especially wild salmon or mackerel.  The acidity works really well to cut the oiliness of the fish.  All you need is a few boiled new potatoes and you have a little taste of much needed sunshine.

 Peperonata

6 peppers (red, yellow and orange are best)

Extra-virgin olive oil

1 red onion, peeled and sliced

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 medium-sized bunch of basil, roughly chopped

A handful of baby capers

A splash of very good balsamic Vinegar (Aged 12 years at least)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Start by slicing the peppers in half, scooping out the seeds and slicing into one-inch strips lengthwise. Now place a medium-sized heavy- based pan over a gentle heat. Add a tablespoon of the olive oil and allow to warm through. When the oil is warm but not hot, add the onions, a pinch of salt and sweat for 15 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Once the onions are soft and translucent, add the garlic and sweat for a further 10 minutes – the onions should not have browned at all. Add the peppers and stir to combine. Cook until the peppers are soft and almost falling apart; this should take about 45 minutes. Give the capers a good squeeze to get rid of any excess vinegar and add to the peppers. Drizzle with balsamic and season with freshly ground black pepper and salt.  Cook until the vinegar has the right sweet and sour balance.   Add the basil and taste for seasoning. Serve either warm or at room temperature.

 

Spaghetti with Spring Greens, Garlic, Chilli and Olive Oil

In a hurry? It doesn’t get quicker and more delicious than this!

Spaghetti with Spring Greens, Garlic, Chilli and Olive Oil

(Spaghetti Aglio, Olio & Spring Greens) – Jamie Oliver

2 cloves of garlic

1 fresh red chilli

1 head of spring greens

400 g dried spaghetti

extra virgin olive oil

1 large unwaxed lemon

Parmesan cheese

Peel and finely chop the garlic, deseed and finely chop the chilli and finely slice the spring greens. Wash and drain well. Cook the spaghetti in a saucepan of boiling salted water according to the packet instructions, around 8 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a glug of oil in a frying pan. Add the garlic and chilli and fry for a minute or so, until the garlic is starting to colour. Add the spring greens and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes or until the greens have wilted a little. Finely grate over the lemon zest. Drain the pasta and add it to the pan with a splash of the water it was cooked in.

Squeeze over the lemon juice and serve topped with a drizzle of oil and finely grated Parmesan.

Grilled Sweetcorn Slaw

Another salad featuring the wonder cure Apple Cider vinegar. This is quite an unusual recipe in that the slaw is lightly pickled and if there is one thing more fashionable and fashionably good for you it is pickled food.

Grilled Sweetcorn Slaw

Makes tonnes so feel free to half the recipe. Yotam Ottelenghi

100 apple cider vinegar

200ml water

¼ white cabbage, shredded (300g net)

3 carrots, julienned or grated (175g net)

1 small red onion, thinly sliced (140g net)

4 corn cobs, lightly brushed with olive oil (600g gross)

2 red chillies, finely chopped

20g picked coriander leaves

20g picked mint leaves

Olive oil

Salt and black pepper

Dressing:

50g mayonnaise

2 tsp Dijon mustard

1½ tsp sunflower oil

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 clove garlic, crushed

Place the vinegar and water in a small saucepan along with 1 tablespoon of salt. Bring to the boil and then remove from the heat. Place the cabbage and carrot in a bowl, pour over two-thirds of the salty liquid and set aside to soften for 20 minutes. Pour the remaining liquid over the onion and, again, set aside for 20 minutes. Rinse the vegetables and onion well, pat dry, place together in a large bowl and set aside.

Place a ridged char-grill pan on a high heat and, when it starts to smoke, lay the corn over it. Char-grill for 10-12 minutes, turning so that all sides get some colour (this will create quite a lot of smoke). Remove from the heat and, when cool enough to handle, use a large knife to shave off the corn in clumps and add to the salad bowl.

Whisk together all the dressing ingredients, pour over the salad and stir gently. Add the chilli, coriander and mint, along with a grind of black pepper, give everything another gentle stir and serve.