Wednesday, 31 October 2012


Do you like to dunk your bread in some soup? Do you like beans on toast?  If so, this is the meal for you, combining, as it does, both those culinary textural delights.  I had a head of Cavalo Nero in the fridge, it is cold and drizzly and dark outside, so this Tuscan speciality was just crying out to be eaten.  It is a thick - REALLY thick - bean and vegetable soup that is ladled over a slice of chargrilled country bread, and is totally scrummy.  Cheap too, so it qualifies for the Under a Fiver challenge and will feed 4 people handsomely.  In a large pot, sweat 2 large onions, 2 sticks of celery and 2 carrots - all peeled and finely-chopped (I peel the celery by running the potato peeler from top to bottom to remove the stringy filaments).  Use a good couple of tablespoons of olive oil.  After 10 minutes, tip in a drained 400g can of borlotti beans, a 200g tin of Chair de Tomate or really good tinned chopped tomatoes, a teaspoon of chopped fresh rosemary and the leaves picked from a branch of thyme.  Pour over about a litre of boiling water from the kettle.  Add some Marigold veg stock or just salt and pepper, cover and simmer for a good half-an-hour.  Stir from time to time, and mash the beans against the side of the pot to thicken the soup.  Take a head of Cavalo Nero (or the big outer green leaves of a Savoy cabbage) and cut across the head into thin ribbons.  Simmer in the soup for 10 minutes, then drizzzle over a further 2 tablespoons of olive oil and leave, covered, to one side for a few minutes.  Whilst this is happening, cut 4 big pieces of good country bread - sourdough or a French Pain de Campagne or equivalent.  Drizzle with oil and toast on a chargrill pan or under the grill, then rub each side with a cut clove of garlic.  Place a slice of toast in the bottom of shallow bowls and ladle over the thick beany soup.  Sprinkle with grated parmesan and drizzle on a little more olive oil - your best, green, peppery one - and eat, feeling the central heating effect filter through your blood vessels!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Spiced Roast Parsnip and Carrot Soup

It has suddenly turned a bit nippy in the south of England (snow and blizzards in Scotland - brrrrr!) so a good soup is what is needed to warm you from the tip of your nose to the ends of your toes, and this one certainly did.  If you like Curried Parsnip Soup, if you like Carrot and Coriander soup, and if you like a bit of a warm chilli kick in your food, then this is just the ticket.  You need to peel and dice 2 large parsnips (and I mean large - the mud-encrusted ones in our veg-box probably weighed 250g each) and you then need to peel and dice the equivalent weight of carrots.  Also peel a couple of garlic cloves, but keep them whole.  Now, toss them all in a tablespoon of oil (I like English cold-pressed rape seed oil, but then again, I am a food snob!) and roast on a baking sheet for about 20 minutes until nearly tender and tinged with a little brown here and there.  Whilst this is happening, peel and chop a large onion and also a leek, if you have one (white part only).  Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large pot over a medium heat and allow the onion and leek to sweat and soften - don't colour them.  Trim and de-seed a red chilli (we had some wonderful Devon-grown hot little ones delivered in the veg box) and add to the onions too.  Now, assemble the following in a little bowl: 1 heaped teaspoon of ground coriander, 1 level teaspoon of ground cumin, 1 level teaspoon of ground ginger and half a teaspoon of turmeric.  Boil the kettle.  When the veg have roasted, remove from the oven.  Add the spices and veg to the onions and leek in the pan and stir well for a minute or two - don't let the spices catch, but allow them to release their fragrance in the oil.  Pour over boiled water from the kettle to cover the veg by about half-an-inch, then add a couple of teaspoons of Marigold stock powder or your preferred brand of veggie stock (or make your own!).  Allow to simmer for about 15-20 minutes, then blend in your usual way (I use a stick blender).  Thin with a little more stock if it is too thick.  Reheat and serve with a little natural yoghurt swirled in, and fresh coriander leaf if you have any.  Spme naan bread to dunk is good, too.   Lovely, and there is plenty for hubby to take to the rugby tomorrow evening to keep the chill out.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Pears Poached in Caramel with Toasted Brioche and Creme Fraiche

This lovely dessert is simpler than it sounds, and is a variation on a rather more elaborate recipe by Raymond Blanc, where he encases the poached pears in a 'charlotte' of brioche and bakes it.  He suggests the simpler version of poaching the pears in caramel sauce and serving it with a slice of toasted brioche with a spoonful of creme fraiche, so this is the route I took.  We had more of the perfect little baby Williams Pears from Riverford this week, so peeled them and poached them in the rich caramel sauce which is made thus: dissolve 5 tablespoons of caster sugar with 2 tablespoons of water in a heavy pan over a low heat.  Turn up the heat, and cook to a good golden caramel, not quite as dark as you would for a creme caramel but a good dark colour all the same.  DON'T stir it whilst this is happening, else the sugar will crystallise and be ruined.  If necessary, just swish the pan occasionally.  When the correct colour is attained, take off the heat and immediately add 100ml of double cream - take care as it will spatter.  When it has all subsided, return to a low heat, add 25g of butter and a tablespoon each of lemon juice and either Calvados, Cognac or Poires William if you have it.  Now submerge 8 small or 4 larger peeled pears in the sauce, cover, and simmer until tender.  This depends on size and ripeness, but our baby pears were done in about 8 minutes.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool with the lid on, then transfer the pears with all their delicious caramel sauce to a bowl and refrigerate.  You can eat them as they are with vanilla ice cream, toasted nuts, shortbread, whatever floats your boat.  Or, if you have some brioche knocking about (as you do), toast a small slice per person, and serve the sweet bread with the pear, some sauce and ice cream or creme fraiche.  Perfect.

Roasted Squash with Merguez-Spiced Chickpeas

I am so in love with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's "Veg Every Day" cookbook - a constant source of inspiration for using up the veg from my Riverford box.  We've eaten much more healthily (and cheaply) with the arrival of both these essentials in our lives!  The party last night gave us another opportunity to try out one of the recipes, and this was a delicious, cheap and filling dish to plonk on the table alongside all the other goodies.  I was so busy yesterday, I forgot to take pictures of most of the food, so I will simply link to the channel 4 website which gives both the recipe and a nice picture of the finished dish.  There is no meat in this - the reference to merguez relates to the classic seasoning for the North African sausage, which is put to use in a seasoned oil to dress the veg and pulses - a heady blend of garlic, caraway, fennel seed, cumin, smoked paprika, rosemary and Cayenne pepper.  I used tinned chickpeas rather than cook my own (I never seem to be able to get the chickpeas soft when I prep them from dry, and the 'East End' brand provides lovely soft, yielding peas) and I also cheated massively by using a bag of frozen butternut squash from Waitrose - what a BRILLIANT timesaver!  Anyway, a really nice dish, and one for the under a fiver thread too.

Roasted Carrot Hummus

So, a mammoth cookathon over the last 48 hours, starting with a cookery day hosted by Sophie Grigson on Moroccan and North African food - more on that later!  We were at a friend's for a party last night and we all contributed various dishes on the theme of mezze and tapas.  I have been wanting to try this Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe for a while, so this was a perfect opportunity.  You start off by mixing a dessertspoon of honey in a bowl with 3 tablespoons olive oil, a teaspoon each of ground cumin and coriander and some salt and pepper.  Peel 4 cloves of garlic and add to the oil.  Peel 500g of carrots and cut into 5mm slices, then toss in the spicy oil.  Scrape all of this onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and roast for 35 minutes or so until the carrot is soft and slightly caramelised.  Cool a little, then scrape into a food processor.  Add the juice of half an orange and half a lemon, 3 tablespoons of tahini and 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Blend until smooth, adding a little more juice if it needs thinning.  Taste and adjust the salt and pepper if necessary.  I have to admit that, straight after mixing, I wasn't impressed with this - it seemed too sweet.  However, 8 hours later at the party, it had mellowed into a mildly spiced, fruity, sweet and savoury whole and was delicious with crusty bread and pitta toasts.  One to make again, just follow my advice and make it in advance!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

The Churchill Cocktail

My hubby made me laugh by saying "ah, those were the days, when you could be pissed and gaga and still be Prime Minister after three strokes".  Wonderful, and this is what's missing in national politics today, I think.  Anyway, this cocktail was named after the great man himself (although he apparently hated Scotch.....).  It consists of (for 1 person) 3 parts of Scotch, 1 part fresh lime juice, 1 part Sweet Vermouth, and 1 part Cointreau.  Sweeten if needed with a teaspoon of sugar syrup.  I'll leave you to decide how big your parts are, fnar, fnar! (forgive me, I'm drunk).  For those concerned with provenance, this is from the Savoy cocktail book, by Harry Craddock (no relation to Fanny!! Fnar, fnar!)

Red Wine Poached Pears

I love this time of year - with all the fabulous Autumnal fruit and veg, you are spoilt for choice.  In this week's Riverford delivery were 8 perfect baby Williams pears, just crying out to be peeled and poached, so how could I resist?  I use Alice Waters' recipe from the Chez Panisse Fruit book - a source of constant inspiration and reliable classics.  Prepare the poaching base which is an entire bottle of good red wine - nothing vintage but it must be drinkable - with the pared zest and juice of a lemon and a cinnamon stick, with a cup of caster sugar.  Bring to a simmer in a non-reactive pot (i.e. not aluminium or copper), whilst you wash and peel your pears, keeping the stalk on if you can.  Using the tip of your paring knife, dig out a little of the core on the bottom.  Immerse the pears in the simmering wine, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the pears are tender - this will depend on the size and ripeness of your pears so keep testing after 20 minutes.  Turn off the heat and leave the pears to cool in the liquid.  An hour later, they will be buttery-tender and the most amazing colour.  Carefully remove them with a slotted spoon and put in a bowl.  Now, return the poaching liquor to a high heat and boil and reduce to about a cup/250ml, until thick and syrupy.  Your house will smell amazing!  Resist the temptation to drink this straight away and spoon carefully over the pears, leaving them glossy and glorious.  When cool, cover and refrigerate and serve just as they are or with creme fraiche, whipped cream, ice cream, Greek yoghurt, or - in our case - with some chilled creamy vanilla egg custard and sprinkled with toasted slivered almonds.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Hot and Sour Vegetable Noodle Soup

A friend gave me a bag of lovely crisp sugar snap peas during the week, and it was a toss-up between this or a coconutty laksa.  I wanted something spicy and cleansing, so went down the hot and sour route.  Use whatever veg you have to hand - in my case, some red pepper, mushrooms, beansprouts, onions and the said sugar snaps.  The ingredients here are for 2 people but just double for 4.  Prep the veg for a stir-fry and leave to one side.  Cook some noodles - entirely up to you what variety, but I went for medium rice noodles - one 'nest' per person.  Now prepare your broth: make up 700ml of veg stock using Marigold powder and bring to a boil in a pot.  Add a good thumb-size piece of peeled grated ginger, a grated clove of garlic and one finely-sliced hot red or green chilli.  Now add a tablespoon of tamari or light soy sauce, a tablespoon of rice wine vinegar and a teaspoon of brown sugar.  Add plenty of ground black pepper, or a little Szechuan pepper if you have it - careful, it'll blow yer socks off! Finely-chop around a tablespoonful of fresh coriander and slice a lime into 'cheeks' and keep to one side.   Keep this broth base simmering as you heat a tablespoon of light oil (I like rape-seed) in a wok and quickly stir-fry the veg, keeping them crisp and colourful.   In big, warm bowls, divide the noodles on the bottom, top with the cooked veg and pour over the simmering stock, to which you have added the coriander.  Serve right away, with the lime to squeeze over to enhance the 'sour' element, and perhaps some Tabasco sauce to add extra heat at the table.  Delicious, warming, reviving and incredibly healthy.