On Autumn and Squash

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Autumn leaves in East Dulwich

I feel I have to warn you that this is yet another post about butternut squash.  I understand if you want to stop reading right now.  I also feel that I should state an additional caveat: this probably won’t be the last one this year.

I am, as you may have already figured out, addicted to squash.  The big orange pumpkin-like ones, the reddish-brown cricket ball ones, the green ones that look a bit like marrows, and the humble butternut.  Few things signal the arrival of autumn than the sight of these piled up in baskets at the farmers market, still caked in a little bit of mud.

I think my love of them came from my years of vegetarianism, when they were in just about every dish I ate.  I remember the first time I tried one, however, I was not too impressed.  My mother, who cooked swede with Sunday lunch since the beginning of time (and still does!) brought one home from the supermarket ‘for a change’.  After eyeing it suspiciously for a while, she peeled and de-seeded it, cut it up, boiled it and mashed it with a little butter and some black pepper – eactly as she did with the swede.  Needless to say I was not fussed, however that was before I discovered that you could puree it into soup, roast it with allspice and even turn it into dessert.  Now I could never be without it.

Now it seems to be making its way into my cooking with some regularity.  This week I made two dishes of butternut squash, although one was to use up the leftovers of the other.  First, I made a warm salad of butternut squash, lentils, walnuts and feta, all roasted up with a bit of curry powder.  This was concocted simply because I had a lot of lentils and walnuts – my cooking really is inspired by little more than what I happen to have in the kitchen at any particular time.  As this did not use up all of the squash and feta I bought, the leftovers made their way into a simple galette, which was sliced up for lunchboxes.

Somewhere between both of these, I started making plans for a butternut squash curry.  I think I need to branch out a bit more.

Warm butternut squash and lentil salad with feta and walnuts

Warm butternut squash and lentil salad with feta and walnuts

Warm Butternut Squash and Lentil Salad with Feta and Walnuts

½ large butternut squash (you will use the other half in the other recipe), peeled and cut into 1inch pieces
1 large eschalion shallot, finely chopped
Olive oil
2 tsp curry powder
100g green lentils
125g chopped walnuts
100g feta, cut into small cubes
Handful chopped coriander leaves
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
Sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200ºc.  In a bowl, toss together the squash, shallot, olive oil and curry powder until the squash pieces are coated.  Spread them out over a baking sheet and bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes, until the squash is tender.  Set aside to cool a little.  Meanwhile, cook the lentils according to packet instructions and drain.

In a large bowl, combine the warm squash, lentils, walnuts, feta, coriander and lime juice.  Check for seasoning before serving.

 

Butternut squash galette

Butternut squash galette

Butternut Squash Galette

For the pastry
175g plain flour
Pinch salt
100g cold butter, cut into cubes
50ml sour cream
2 tsp lemon juice
50ml water
Beaten egg, for glazing

For the filling
½ large butternut squash
Olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
100g feta, cut into small cubes
Parmesan, to finish

To make the pastry, combine the flour and salt in a large bowl then rub in the butter with your fingers until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.  Mix together the sour cream, lemon juice and water in a separate bowl, and gradually add enough of this mixture to bring together a soft dough.  Transfer the dough to a floured surface, shape into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour until needed.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200ºc.  In a bowl, toss together the squash, olive oil and salt until the squash pieces are coated.  Spread them out over a baking sheet and bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes, until the squash is tender.  Set aside to cool a little.

Heat some more oil in a large frying pan and gently cook the onions over a low heat until they are very soft and translucent, but not browned.

When you are ready to roll out the pastry, transfer it to a floured surface and roll out to a 30cm circular shape.  Carefully pick up the pastry using a rolling pin and place it on a baking sheet (it may hang over the edges a little at this point, but this is OK.  If it overhangs by more than two inches, you will need a bigger baking sheet.)

In a large bowl, combine the squash, onion and feta and check the seasoning.  Spoon this mixture into the centre of the rolled pastry and spread out, leaving a two inch border around the edge.  Fold the excess pastry over the filling, leaving the middle open.  Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with a little grated parmesan.  Bake in the oven for around 30 minutes until the pastry is browned all over.  Serve in slices.

One Year Ago:  Brioche Burger Buns

Leek and Cheddar Pie

Leek and cheddar pie

Leek and cheddar pie

I have a bit of a confession to make.  One of my favourite topics of office conversation to have at those pivotal points where the seasons are changing is the inappropriate attire of my fellow commuters.  It is barely ten degrees in central London today and I saw three people on Regent Street in summer dresses and sandals.  They must have an incredible immunity to cold or not look out the window before leaving the house in the morning.

Yes, London is under its familiar clouds once more.  It takes little more than a sharp gust of wind for me to start swaddling myself in knitwear and putting on the heating.  I think I have become more like this the older I get.  I love the cold weather, I just don’t like to be cold.  This is one of the reasons I am grateful for the abundance of coffee shops in London – a great, if slightly expensive, handwarmer.

Last night I was faced with three leeks and a defrosted pack of puff pastry that I took out of the freezer for some apple turnovers that never were.  There was nothing else for it but to make a pie.

There are a lot of debates flying around the internet at the moment about pie: most notably about whether it is a real pie if it has only a top crust.  Purists believe a pie should have both a top and a bottom crust to be given the moniker, claiming that a pie without a pastry bottom is merely a stew with a pastry lid.  Although I am inclined to agree, both do have their place, and the latter is often a good way to use up a small amount of leftover puff pastry that would not stretch to a top and a bottom.  Whether my pie would please the purists, I don’t know, as it is made on a baking tray and not in a pie dish.  However, it does have a top and a bottom.

This pie is from Nigel Slater’s Tender, one of my favourite cookbooks of all time, despite my inability to grow my own produce.  Grouping the recipes by ingredient, not by course, really helps give you some inspiration for leftover vegetables.  It is an incredibly simple pie to make – just perfect for a week night.

Leek and Cheddar Pie

650g potatoes, sliced ½cm thick
3 large leeks, white and light green parts sliced
50g butter
Olive oil
200g creme fraiche
175g mature cheddar, grated
A pinch of ground nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
500g puff pastry
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 200ºc.  Lightly oil a baking sheet.

Boil the potatoes in a large saucepan of lightly salted water until tender.  Meanwhile, heat the butter and olive oil, in a deep frying pan, or chef’s pan, and add the leeks.  Stir, cover and cook over a low to medium heat for about 10 minutes until tender.  Transfer both the potatoes and the leeks to a large bowl.  Allow to cool a little.  Stir in the creme fraiche, cheddar, nutmeg, sea salt and ground pepper.

Divide the puff pastry in half.  Roll out one half on a lightly-floured surface and use to cover the bottom of the baking sheet.  Spread the filling out on top of this, leaving a border of an inch on all sides.  Roll out the second half of the pastry and lay over the top of the filling.  Pinch and crimp the edges to seal in the filling.

Brush the pastry with egg wash and then use a sharp knife and any pastry trimmings to decorate.  Bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes until the pastry is golden.

Adapted from a recipe by Nigel Slater.

One Year Ago:  Southampton: a Tale of Two Burgers

Cheese and Bacon Scones

Cheese and bacon scones

Cheese and bacon scones

On Saturday night, our friends John and Heather invited us over to their flat to help finish off the drinks cupboard before they move into their new house next week.  Apparently we were just the people for the job, you know, the ones who could be relied upon to drink the place dry. What a nice reputation we have.  Before our foray into the depths of the booze cabinet, we celebrated our last night out in Crystal Palace with dinner at a new American-themed burger place on the triangle, Antenna Diner.

There’s no #burgerleague review for this yet, although I may pop back to do one.  It’s definitely not the most refined burger I’ve had, but OK if you really can’t be arsed to go into central London in search of one. One thing to note is that they do not sell alcohol.  They do make a rather good vanilla and maple syrup milkshake, mind, but it would have been far better with a double shot of bourbon in it. Just sayin’.

Antenna Diner

Antenna Diner

Anyway… the scones.  When visiting people, I often take them something home-baked.  In this case, it was something that could survive the journey on the 363 bus around the bumpy roads of Sydenham Hill, and something that could stay in my bag throughout dinner without slipping, melting or beginning to smell.  I have been making a lot of savoury scones lately and have found myself preferring them to the sweeter varieties.  These are almost the same recipe as the cheese, chive and mustard scones I made for the January Band of Bakers, but with the omission of the chives and mustard and the addition of some very crispy smoked bacon.

Without meaning to blow my own trumpet, these are the most outrageously moreish thing I have ever baked.  The punch of the strong cheddar, combined with the smoky crunch of the bacon creates a salty, savouriness meaning that you both find it difficult to stop at one, and find yourself craving a cold lager.  Split and spread with some good butter, these are a wonderful hangover cure after a night of drinking your friends dry.

Cheese and Bacon Scones

  • 5 rashers smoked back bacon
  • 250g low-fat plain yoghurt
  • 25ml whole milk
  • 15g caster sugar
  • 400g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • ½ tsp fine salt
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 50g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 200g strong cheddar, grated
  • 1 egg, beaten

Start by frying the bacon in a pan until very crisp.  Set aside until cooled and then chop or crumble into small pieces.

In a small bowl, mix together the yoghurt, milk and sugar and set aside.

Sift the flour, salt, cream of tartare and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl.  Rub in the butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Stir in the cheese and bacon.

Using a palette knife, stir in the yoghurt mixture until a sticky dough is formed.  Use the moisture in the dough to pick up any loose bits of flour from the bottom of the bowl.  Turn out on to a floured work surface and pat into a round approximately 4cm thick – try not to knead the mixture as this will create a tough texture.  Cut the scones out using a metal cutter and place them on the baking tray.  This mixture should yield about 12 scones, but it will depend on the size of the cutter you use.  Brush with the beaten egg and bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes until golden brown and risen.

Stuffed Squash

On Monday I attended the charity pub quiz at The Actress to raise money for Parkinson’s Disease. Quizteama Aguilera, despite our exemplary knowledge of lost 90s britpop tunes, did not manage to wint he quiz but, due to the generosity of local people and businesses there were a number of prizes, so we came away with vouchers for MEATLiquor, which we will all very much enjoy spending.  The pub’s landlord, Neil, is also running the marathon for this cause. His JustGiving page can be found here.

Due to a few Monday-night G&Ts and a full-on fridge raid when I got home, I have been trying to eat relatively healthily for the rest of the week, especially with the first fitting of the wedding dress looming.  A lone round of goats cheese in my fridge was threatening to jeopardise this, particularly due to its proximity to a jar of home-made red onion chutney and half a packet of crackers.  If I didn’t turn this into a meal, the temptation to have yet another midnight snack would be too high.

This week, the John Lewis Food Hall had a delightful basket of various different kinds of squash: pale butternuts, the teeny yellow ones and some beautifully vibrant orange acorn squashes. I popped one of the latter into my basket along with a leek, a red onion and some reduced-priced mushrooms.

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Once home, I halved the squashes and scooped out the seeds and stringy mush from the centre, which left very deep scoops.  I scored the squash, rubbed it with olive oil and roasted in the oven for about half an hour until tender.  In a frying pan, I lightly sautéed the thinly sliced onion and leeks and finely chopped mushrooms in some butter, thyme, salt and the tiniest pinch of chilli flakes and used this to fill the cooked squash.  A crumble of the delightfully smelly goats cheese and a sprinkle of pine nuts later, it was ready to be returned to the oven for ten minutes.  The cheese melted and pine nuts lightly toasted, all it needed was a little drizzle of olive oil before eating in front of the TV.

Gruyere, Mustard and London Pride-Caramelised Onion Puffs

Puffs

Last Thursday was the eagerly anticipated Band of Bakers ‘Baking with Cheese’ event at The Crooked Well in Camberwell.  There is often a push to get more savoury bakes on the table, not only so that we can all kid ourselves that we’re eating dinner rather than platefuls of cake, but also to limit slightly the sugar rush we all experience upon arriving home.  I have had many a sleepless night after gorging myself on sweet treats at Band of Bakers.  This was the event for that to happen; for the first time we had more savoury bakes on the table than sweet.  It took all of my self control not to do a complete sweep of the table and retreat to the corner to eat my spoils.

Before I go on to what I made for this event, I have a couple of favourites that I need to mention.  Jamon and manchego scones by Ben; feta, ricotta and cheddar filo pies by Mandy; and little cheese buns with gruyère, smoked salmon and dill by some unknown genius (make yourself known please!)

Initially, I was intent on making brownies:  a hybrid of my salted caramel brownie and my cheesecake brownie, which would end up as the incredibly rich combination of chocolate, salted caramel and vanilla cheesecake, however after making the impromptu chocolate-coconut brownie earlier that week, I changed my mind and went for savoury instead.  A while back, I found a recipe for Joy the Baker’s French Onion Soup Puffs, using gruyère cheese, and decided to adapt it slightly to make a London-inspired version for this event:  the gruyère, mustard and London Pride-caramelised onion puffs were born. 

Despite the fact that I do not drink beer at all (I have tried to learn to like it for about 15 years and have so far failed), I am a big fan of using it in all forms of cooking.  Its versatility means that it lends itself to everything from beef stew to chocolate cake, and a slosh in an onion soup is nothing short of heaven.  Guinness, obviously, is my cooking stout of choice, however when something a little lighter is required, I almost always opt for London Pride (it would be rude not to, after all).  The onions used in the puffs in this recipe are caramelised simply in butter for 45 minutes or so until soft and broken down, and then boiled rapidly in a generous amount of London Pride which, when it reduces down, gives it a dark silkiness and a malty beer flavour.

These little puffs, one bite or two at the most, are a tangy mixture of these onions, gruyère and a little smear of wholegrain mustard, encased in crispy puff pastry.  They are incredibly quick to make, especially if you use shop-bought pastry, and make a great vegetarian party snack.  Using pre-rolled pastry is the easiest way to go as the thickness is just about right, if you’re using a block of pastry or home-made, roll it out to about half a centimetre.  If I were making them for carnivorous friends, I might also include the smallest smidge of shredded beef brisket. 

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Gruyère, Mustard and London Pride-Caramelised Onion Puffs
Recipe makes about 15 puffs

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 large onions
  • Salt and pepper, halved and thinly sliced
  • 125ml London Pride ale
  • 2 sheets ready-made puff pastry, or make your own (see above)
  • 4 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 150g gruyere cheese, finely grated
  • 1 egg, beaten

Start by caramelising the onions:  heat the butter and olive oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat until the butter has melted.  Tip in the onions and stir so that they are evenly coated in the butter mixture.  Turn down the heat to very low, put on the lid and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and broken down – this should take about 45 minutes.  Once the onions are soft, turn up the heat and pour in the London Pride, gently stir the onions, scraping off any bits that have stuck to the bottom and continue to cook until the liquid evaporates.  Leave to cool in the pan whilst you make the pastry puffs.

Preheat the oven to 190ºc / 375ºf / gas 5.  Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper.  Using a 5cm cutter, cut 30 rounds from the two sheets of puff pastry and arrange half of them on the prepared baking sheets, putting the other half to one side – these will be the lids.  Brush the rounds on the baking sheets with egg wash and top each one with a small smear of wholegrain mustard.  Add a pinch of gruyère, followed by a teaspoon of the onion mixture. 

Brush the remaining rounds with beaten egg and place, egg-side down on top of the cheese and onion mixture.  Pinch the edges of the pastry together to seal and crimp with a fork.  Make two very small holes in the top of the sealed parcel and place on the baking tray.  Brush with the remaining beaten egg and bake in the oven for approximately 20 minutes until risen and golden.

Any leftover onions are fabulous in a sausage sandwich.

Adapted from a recipe by Joy the Baker

Shahi Paneer Parcels

Shahi paneer parcels with mint-chilli chutney

Shahi paneer parcels with mint-chilli chutney

Once, when I was a vegetarian, my parents invited all of their friends over for a drink and we ended up ordering a Chinese takeaway. Not able to partake in the shared dishes, I ordered my own portion of salt and pepper tofu, stir fried vegetables and boiled rice.  45 minutes later, the food arrived.  Delayed to the table by a phone call, I realised, to my utter despair, that they had absent-mindedly put my boiled rice on their plates, leaving me with the three portions of special fried rice, studded with the little bits of chicken and prawn that I could not eat.  I ended up having a very carb-light, and disappointing, dinner.  The moral of the story: when people are hungry, and a little drunk, they don’t always think.

For this very reason, I often hide a portion of the vegetarian snacks when hosting parties.  There is nothing worse than having a vegetarian friend arrive at your house a little late only to find that the meat eaters have scarfed all of the goats cheese puffs and olive gougeres, leaving nothing for your meat-free guest to eat but a sad bag of kettle chips.  Of course, being a buffet nazi and screeching “leave them for the vegetarians!” is enough to kill any party atmosphere, so hoarding is actually a much better option.

Speaking of which, I have been working on a vegetarian party snack using paneer and one of the new Vini and Bal sauces.  Paneer is a bit of a divisive foodstuff: genius Asian vegetarian ingredient to some, tasteless rubber to others.  Of course, on its own it is a pretty unremarkable cheese, but it is a cheese that can go into a curry, which makes it a winner for me.  These paneer parcels are similar to a samosa and use the Shahi sauce from the Vini and Bal range, a tomato and cream based sauce, to create a slightly spiced cheese filling.  The addition of some black onion seeds, a chopped green chilli and some fresh coriander give it a kick and the paneer some much-needed flavour.  To accompany these parcels is a simple mint-chilli chutney that has a freshness to cut through the rich pastry and filling.

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The recipe below makes 15 parcels.  Double the recipe if you have a larger group of veggies in attendance.

Shahi Paneer Parcels

  • Olive oil
  • 225g paneer, cut into 1cm cubes
  • 1 tsp black onion seeds
  • 1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • Vini and Bal’s Shahi sauce
  • Small handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
  • 10 sheets filo pastry

Mint-Chilli Chutney

  • 3 tbsp finely chopped mint
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped coriander
  • 3 tbsp natural yoghurt
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat.  Gently fry the paneer for a few minutes until lightly coloured, then stir in the black onion seeds and chilli and cook for a few minutes more.  Pour over the Vini and Bal’s Shahi sauce and stir to combine.  Continue to cook over a medium heat for approximately 20 minutes – the sauce should thicken and reduce by about a third in this time.    Turn off the heat.

Lay one sheet of filo pastry on a clean work surface, brush with olive oil and lay another sheet on top.  With the pastry in ‘portrait’ (short edge facing you), slice in three lengthways, giving you three long strips.  Spoon a couple of teaspoons of the Shahi mixture on to the top of each strip, before folding over to enclose in a triangle, brush with olive oil and fold over again.  Keep repeating this process, folding in a triangle formation, until all of the pastry has been used up and the parcel resembles a triangular samosa.  Brush with olive oil and place on a baking sheet.  Repeat this until all of the filo and Shahi mixture has been used up.

Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden and flaky.  To make the chutney, pulse all of the ingredients together in a food processor and spoon into ramekins.

More abut Vini and Bal’s here

Inherited Bakes

Cheese, Chive and Mustard Scones

Cheese, Chive and Mustard Scones

The weather in London is bloody awful at the moment.  Barely a day goes by when I don’t get caught in a rainstorm and, as a result, my motivation to go out in the evening has somewhat diminished.  After being caught in a torrential downpour on Saturday I managed to drag myself out for a few drinks in Peckham.  After a couple of delicious Kir Royales at the Peckham Refreshment Rooms and some late-night cocktails and hilarious people-watching at Peckham Springs, I was very glad I did.  Since then, however, I have been coming straight home from work, changing into my pyjamas and hibernating.  Today is the most dismal day of all – the rain has not stopped all day and a slightly regrettable trip out on to the soggy streets of Fitzrovia has left me with damp jeans.  A most unpleasant feeling.

Tonight is the first Band of Bakers event of 2013, which means leaving the warm bosom of my couch yet again.  I am lucky to live so close to the venue and am looking forward to seeing everybody as it has been a while since our last event, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to force myself out.  The theme for this evening’s event is ‘Inherited Bakes’, meaning a recipe that has either been passed down through the family, or given to you by somebody else.  I was fortunate enough to have a grandmother who taught me to bake, so I have many items in my repertoire that were handed down to me.  Her tea loaf, for example, is something I truly treasure.  I toyed with the idea of making the bread pudding that was handed down from her own mother, but as the recipe was never written down, it will take me a while to figure it out completely.  Instead, I decided to make scones, which we would often bake together when I visited her house.  My job was always to rub the butter into the flour, never to add the liquid as I always seemed to add too much and ruin the batch.  Most often she would make savoury scones with cheese and sweet scones with currants which would always be spread with some amazing salted butter bought from the farm shop down the road that, sadly, no longer exists.  For my ‘Inherited Bake’, I have updated these two recipes and have created a savoury cheese, chive and mustard scone and a sweet currant and fennel seed scone.  The recipe for the former is below.

Cheese, Chive and Mustard Scones

  • 250g low-fat plain yoghurt
  • 25ml whole milk
  • 15g caster sugar
  • 400g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • ½ tsp fine salt
  • 1½ tsp mustard powder
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 50g salted butter
  • 300g strong cheddar, grated
  • 3 tbsp snipped chives
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Twist of black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220ºc / 425ºf / gas 7.  Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

In a small bowl, mix together the yoghurt, milk and sugar and set aside.

Sift the flour, salt, mustard powder, cream of tartare and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl.  Rub in the butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Stir in the cheese and chives.

Using a palette knife, stir in the yoghurt mixture until a sticky dough is formed.  Use the moisture in the dough to pick up any loose bits of flour from the bottom of the bowl.  Turn out on to a floured work surface and pat into a round approximately 4cm thick – try not to knead the mixture as this will create a tough texture.  Cut the scones out using a metal cutter and place them on the baking tray.  This mixture should yield about nine scones, but it will depend on the size of the cutter you use.  Brush with the beaten egg and grind a little black pepper on the top and bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes until golden brown and risen.

Rough Puff: a Quick Guide to Making Your Own

I just realised that this was my first post of 2014, so Happy New Year!

My Instagram feed has been filled with photos of the food shopping of people far more virtuous than I.  It seems that people have been out in their droves buying vegetables and fish for the new year’s detox.  Whilst I too have been on the scales and shocked into losing some of my festive plumpness, I have not been so quick off the mark.  My vicious hangover dominated what I ate on New Years’ Day and I ended up ordering a rather large Indian takeaway that I felt far too ashamed to post to my healthy-eating followers.  That being said, onion bhajis, chicken tikka masala, saag aloo and peshwari naan was exactly what we needed.

My plan then was to set about getting rid of the leftover cheese from the mountains I had bought for our New Year’s drinks.  We had the odds and ends of a Red Leicester, some Stilton and a range of festive cheddars.  Unable to face yet another meal of cheese, crackers and chutney, I decided to put them into a mushroom, cheese and potato pie.  With the London weather rapidly deteriorating into a mass of cold, wind and rain, and one of Ollie’s friends coming for supper, it seemed like just the thing.  I also had some flour and a whole pack of butter from some brioche buns I was supposed to make but didn’t, so also set about making my own rough puff pastry topping.

Mushroom, Cheese and Potato Pie

Mushroom, Cheese and Potato Pie

I always cringe a little when I see TV chefs advising the use of shop-bought pastry in their recipes.  Learning how to make pastry has been a bit of a lifelong journey, from making shortcrust in my Nan’s kitchen as a little girl to still fighting with collapsed choux some 25 years later. Don’t get me wrong, I will pick up some ready-made pastry when in a rush, but will always find unwrapping a beige block and dumping it on the work surface a little uninspiring.  Homemade pastry tastes so much better and I rather enjoy the process of making it. The only one that is a massively time-consuming pain in the neck is puff pastry.

I can honestly see why people buy ready made puff, for who has time in their everyday lives for the layering and buttering and maintaining the constant temperature that making puff pastry requires. It is a complete faff. However, making rough puff is an excellent substitute and far easier.  Instead of adding the butter between the layers, it is added to the flour at the very beginning in cubes and then simply rolled and folded repeatedly to form the layers.  Once cooked, the butter melts to form flaky ‘pockets’.  You don’t get the same rise as you would with puff pastry, nor are the layers as defined, but you still get a good flaky pastry that is good to use for a tart, pie lid or pasty.

Below is a recipe for rough puff pastry. Another good recipe to use if you want something different is Dan Lepard’s Rough Puff Dripping Crust, which uses a mixture of butter and beef dripping for a slightly more substantial flavour.  I have also added the recipe below for the cheese and potato pie.

Rough Puff Pastry

  • 250g plain flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 250g cold butter, cut into small cubes
  • 150ml cold water
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Put the flour and salt in a large bowl and stir in the cubes of butter, keeping them intact.  Mix the water with the lemon juice and gradually stir into the mixture until a shaggy dough forms.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and pat into a square.  Roll out into a rectangle, about 30cm x 12cm.  Fold the dough, like a letter, three times and turn so the long edge is facing you.  Roll out into a rectangle again and repeat the folding process.  Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Repeat this process three times and chill the pastry in the fridge until needed.

 

Mushroom, Cheese and Potato Pie

  • 1kg floury potatoes, peeled and sliced into ½cm slices
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 250g chestnut mushrooms, quartered
  • 250g portobello mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp creme fraiche
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • 200g hard cheese, cut into small cubes
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • 1 quantity of rough puff pastry (see above)
  • 1 egg, for brushing

Preheat the oven to 180ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.

Cook the potato slices in a large pan of sightly salted water until they are tender. Drain and set aside.  Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and sauté the onion until softened and translucent, about 5-10 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and the garlic, and a little more oil if necessary, and cook until the mushrooms are tender.  Add the creme fraiche, thyme and seasoning and simmer for a couple of minutes. Do not let the creme fraiche reduce too much.

Add the mushroom mixture and the cubed cheese to the potatoes and gently toss together, try not to break up the potatoes too much.  Spoon the mixture into a large pie dish.

Roll out the pastry and lay it over the top of the pie.  Trim off the excess pastry and firmly crimp the edges.  Make a small hole in the centre of the pie to let out steam and brush the whole of the pastry with egg wash.  Bake in the centre of the oven for 25 minutes until the pastry is golden brown.

Adapted from a recipe by Pieminister.  Serves six.

Parsnip, Sage and Blue Cheese Risotto

My local fruit and veg shop, SMBS Foods in East Dulwich, sells such enormous bunches of herbs – far bigger than those packets that you get in the supermarket – that I always end up with a week of meals planned around them.  After picking up a bunch for yesterday’s lentil soup, I find myself with an abundance of sage.  This is far from a problem as common sage, or salvia officinalis to use its Latin name, is an excellent winter herb as its pungency lends itself to a range of meats and root vegetables.  Sage and onion stuffing and butternut squash and sage risotto are seasonal classics.  I also love a scattering of crispy sage leaves on top of a white pizza with sausage. Cold weather heaven.

This particular dish was a triumph in the game of let’s-use-up-what’s-in-the-fridge, played by those too lazy to brave the abominable London weather and make a trip to the shops.  It used up the last of the Christmas ingredients still hanging around from before our trip home, most notably a few scratty old parsnips and the end of a wedge of Stilton, far past its best.  Making a risotto is a great way of saving these kinds of odds-and-ends from the bin, so I usually keep a stash of arborio rice in the cupboard (it can also be used to make rice pudding).  I roasted the parsnips first in a little olive oil and sea salt and then stirred them in towards the end of the cooking as they taste much better than if you try to boil them in the stock with the rice.  The crumble of blue cheese at the end means that you can forgo the usual risotto staples of parmesan and butter, making it (very) slightly more virtuous.

Parsnip, Sage and Blue Cheese Risotto

  • 4 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into large dice
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • 2 eschalion shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, finely diced
  • 1 stick celery, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 large sage leaves, finely chopped, plus extra for the topping
  • 350g arborio rice
  • 125ml dry white wine
  • 1l vegetable stock
  • Black pepper
  • A chunk of blue cheese

Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 400ºf / gas 6.  Place the parsnips on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.  Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until they are tender and brown.  Remove from the oven and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan (I use one with straight sides) and saute the shallots, carrot, celery, sage and garlic until soft – do not let them brown.  Add the rice and stir until thoroughly coated in the oil.

Turn up the heat slightly and add the wine.  Allow it to bubble away and cook until it is almost evaporated.  Start to add the stock, a ladle at a time, adding the next ladle when the previous one has evaporated. Stir constantly.  When most of the stock has been added, stir in the cooked parsnips breaking them up just a little.  Add the remaining stock if necessary.  Check the seasoning.

When the risotto is cooked, remove from the heat, crumble over the blue chese and stir through.  In a separate pan, heat some oil and quickly fry a few sage leaves over a high heat until they are crisp.  Crumble these over the risotto and serve in large warmed bowls.