Pasta with Cauliflower, Anchovies and Chilli

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Pasta with cauliflower, anchovies and chilli

Last week I excitedly collected my first ever veg bag.  After meaning to order one for some time and not quite getting around to it, I finally sat down at my computer and set up a standing order to Local Greens.

There are many veg bag/box schemes out there, but two things attracted me to Local Greens.  First, the veg they provide is from producers as near to south east London as they can manage, reducing food miles and connecting local people with their landscape.  Second, and more importantly, they deliver their veg bags to local ‘collection points’ rather than your home, for you to collect at your leisure.  The issues around home delivery has deterred me in the past from ordering a weekly veg bag or box:  neither my husband nor I are regularly at home during the week, and we live in an apartment building with no convenient place to leave it.  Our Local Greens collection point is the local pub, a few hundred yards away from our house, who will hang on to it for a couple of days so that I can pop in and pick it up when it suits me.

For the home cook, the thrill of fresh produce in the kitchen is unrivalled, and the advantage of receiving produce chosen for you is that you will often receive items that not only would you not have chosen yourself, but that perhaps you have never cooked with before.  Last week’s bounty was all somewhat familiar, but I did find myself with a cauliflower, my least favourite vegetable.

I am still haunted by years of overcooked white mush on the side of a roast dinner.  It must have been in vogue in the 90s to boil it for so long that any hint of structural integrity disappeared, traumatising generations of children.  I have tried to find ways over the years to make this cruciferous monster palatable.  Most of them involve curry as the crevices of a cauliflower soak up the spices rather well.  I turned to my old friend Google for some inspiration and found that many advocate the pairing of cauliflower with pasta. Hmm.

The problem that we’re going to have here is that both ingredients are intrinsically bland; which is why both are so often doused in cheese sauce.  Blending two bland ingredients is only really successful when stronger flavours are introduced, which serve both to perk them up and hold them together.  Cue my two favourite storecupboard staples: anchovies and chilli flakes.  Adding these both to the olive oil at the beginning of the cooking breaks down the anchovies and creates a flavourful paste which gently coats the other ingredients.  I also added a little tomato puree to give the paste more flavour and substance.

The result is a pasta dish that showcases the subtle flavour of the cauliflower perfectly with the other ingredients.  Of course, it would be unjust not to add just a little cheese at the end.  Pecorino is my choice, but other hard cheeses would be just as complimentary.

Pasta with Cauliflower, Anchovies and Chilli

400g dried tortiglioni, rigatoni or other large pasta tubes
1 medium cauliflower, divided into florets and stalks and leaves discarded
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
8 anchovy fillets
Large pinch dried chilli flakes
1 tbsp tomato paste
Grated pecorino, to serve

Cook the pasta according to packet instructions. Drain and reserve some of the cooking water.  Keep warm and set aside.

Blanch the cauliflower florets in salted water until they are just tender.  Drain and put in a bowl of ice water to stop them cooking any further.

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large frying pan, or chef’s pan, and add the garlic, anchovies and chilli flakes.  Stir over a medium heat until the garlic turns golden and the anchovies break down.  Do not let it brown.  Stir in the tomato puree.

Drain the cauliflower florets and toss them, with the pasta, in the anchovy mixture.  You may want to do this in a new large pan or bowl as the frying pan will likely be too small.  Check the seasoning.

Serve in large bowls with a good grating of the pecorino.

Serves four.

One Year Ago:  Leftover Roast Chicken

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Toad in the Hole for British Sausage Week

Toad in the Hole

Toad in the Hole

This weekend I visited two south-east London markets in one day.  ‘Double-marketing’ as my friend Jassy called it.  I went to the brand new Peckham Market and then walked down the Queens Road, through New Cross and on to Brockley Market, one of my long-time favourites.  Needless to say I ate far too much.  More on that later…

At Brockley Market, right on the far side, is a stall called The Butchery, at which I am a frequent visitor.  Their moniker can leave you in no doubt as to what they sell, but gives little clue to the fact that they are one of the best butchers in London.  To discover that, one has to try them for themselves.  I first discovered them when their shop appeared on Forest Hill’s London road a couple of years ago, before that they had a pop-up shop that was part of the SEE3 project, supported by Mary Portas, to regenerate parts of Forest Hill and Sydenham.  Since then, I have visited them mainly at their stall at the market which has a good selection of their full range.  Their excellent bacon makes it into my shopping bag with some regularity, and I find I can pick up some excellent cheaper cuts too, like the beef shin I used in my beef shin, black bean and chipotle stew.

This weekend, I was after some good sausages, with this week being British Sausage Week.  I must have been on the same wavelength as my fellow shoppers as, by the time I had arrived at Brockley Market and scarfed down my lunch (beef short rib braccos from The Roadery, if you’re interested) there was only one packet left in the whole market:  a packet of some rather sizeable pork sausages from The Butchery.  So large were they, in fact, that the cost of £6.60, nearly double that of supermarket sausages, barely caused me to bat an eyelid.  I was happy to pay this and to take them home.

These sausages had a very special purpose:  they were going to be made into one of my childhood favourites, a dish that I had not eaten in some time but had been craving ever since the weather turned cooler.  Toad in the Hole.  With such an unappealing name, it is easy to see why those who are unfamiliar would turn up their nose.  For the rest of us, mainly those of us who grew up in Britain, went to a British school or have British relatives, the combination of sausages and Yorkshire pudding, doused in gravy, is the ultimate in comfort food.  My mother, undisputed queen of all things batter, makes an excellent one.  Her secret is to make sure the fat in the pan is very, very hot before you add the batter.  She also makes excellent yorkies and pancakes using the same principle.

There’s not much else I can add except to say to use the best sausages you can find.  Make friends with your local butcher.  If you’re making a veggie one, Cauldron sausages are by far the best.

Toad in the Hole

6 sausages
Olive oil
150g plain flour
2 eggs
2 egg whites
200ml whole milk
Sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220ºc and lightly oil a tin or baking dish large enough to accommodate all of the sausages with some gaps in between.  Whilst the oven heats up, make the batter.  Beat the eggs, egg whites and milk together in a jog.  Place the flour in a bowl and gradually whisk in the wet ingredients until you have a smooth batter.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Place the sausages in the dish, add a little more oil and shake gently to coat.  Bake the sausages in the oven for 15 minutes.

Remove the sausages from the oven.  The fat should be spitting hot.  Stir the batter a couple of times and then pour it into the tray around the sausages.  Return to the oven for 20 minutes until the batter is puffed and golden.

Douse with gravy and serve with green vegetables.

One Year Ago:  Instagram Round-Up: October 2013

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

More Shrooms

Mushroom risotto

Mushroom risotto

First:  I had the flu jab today.  Winter is definitely on its way.

Second:  I’m really into risotto this week, so am posting the fourth recipe since beginning this blog.  Sorry.

This particular risotto is one that you’ve probably had a hundred times:  the classic mushroom risotto.  The stalwart of vegetarian options across the land, whether it be at a set-menu Christmas lunch or catered wedding.  As a former (lapsed) vegetarian, I have had the good, the bad and the ugly of mushroom risotto ranging from an utterly beautiful one in Rome, to one at a Hampshire pub with raw mushrooms and uncooked rice.  Although it seems like an easy meat-free option for a crowd, it is incredibly easy to balls it up.

For one, cooking time is essential.  The window for achieving the perfect al dente rice is small – a couple of minutes either way can give you crunch or mush, neither of which are particularly appealing.  Also, the best risotto are cooked in relatively small batches, to serve four or six.  When you consider pan sizes and hob sizes, even in commercial kitchens, this begins to make sense.  For this reason, risotto is perfect for the home cook, which makes sense as it originated as a peasant dish.

To make a good risotto at home, you need the right kind of rice, decent parmesan, patience and a strong arm for the consistent stirring (perhaps not the best dish for after a flu jab, which always gives me a dead arm).  I always use arborio rice as it is the most widely available.  If you can get hold of carnaroli, your supermarkets are obviously better stocked than my local one.  Good parmesan can be found more or less anywhere.  The other ingredients are less important – some will proclaim the superiority of home-made stock, but I have never found it to make much of a difference and often use cubes.  Which mushrooms you decide to use depends on your own tastes.  I love porcini for their strength in flavour and chestnut mushrooms for their woodiness, but have made some perfectly decent risotto using your basic button mushrooms from the supermarket.  Waitrose do a 300g box of mixed mushrooms which includes oyster mushrooms and those little Japanese enoki ones which makes things a bit more interesting.  I have an aversion to raw mushrooms, so always cook them separately first.

Risotto is a particular kind of comfort food that seems to have been designed for those days that you had a shocker at work, missed the train and got caught in the rain on the way home.  Up the parmesan if your day has been particularly bad, and follow it up with a dessert of Nutella eaten straight from the jar with a spoon.  Bikini season is ages away, after all.

Mushroom Risotto

25g dried porcini mushrooms
350g mixed mushrooms
Olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
250g arborio rice
150ml white wine
1l vegetable stock
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp mascarpone
50g parmesan, finely grated
1 tbsp chopped parsley
A few drops of truffle oil

First, prepare the mushrooms.  Place the porcini mushrooms in a bowl and cover with boiling water.  Leave them to soak for around 30 minutes.  Drain and reserve the water.  Roughly chop and set aside.

Slice the mixed mushrooms and fry in a little oil until tender.  Set these aside also.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan, or chef’s pan, and gently cook the onions and garlic until the onions are translucent, approximately five minutes.  Add the rice and stir to coat in the oil.

Add the white wine and allow it to bubble up until it has evaporated.  Add the drained porcini water and allow it to do the same.  Be careful not to let any grit from the bowl get into the pan.

Stir in the mushrooms and start adding the stock, a ladle at a time, waiting until it has evaporated before adding the next one.  Keep adding the stock, stirring constantly, until the rice is al dente.  You may not need all of the stock.  This should take about 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in the salt and pepper, mascarpone, parmesan, parsley and truffle oil.  Serve in large bowls.

One Year Ago:  The Chocolate Behemoth

Apple and Stem Ginger Crumble

In the days since I last wrote, there has been a birthday.  On Saturday night, eleven friends gathered in Honor Oak to wish our friend Dan many happy returns.

Photo by Claire Chapman

Photo by Claire Chapman

The venue was Sodo, a new(ish) restaurant specialising in sourdough pizza.  There is a lot of good pizza in London right now, and although I was reprimanded by our waitress for my use of the ‘F’ word (Franco Manca), they are among those who lifted it from late night junk food to respectable dining option.  Others include the magnificent Pizza Pilgrims, Homeslice‘s gargantuan offerings and, my personal favourite: The Gowlett in Peckham.  The pizzas at Sodo were also very good, with that charred and flavoursome dough that comes with using a sourdough starter, and good toppings.  We shared a classic anchovy/caper/olive pizza and one from the specials menu with five cheeses.

The following day, after both a late night and a troubled one (I blame the cheese), Ollie and I decided to have a quiet day at home which, for me, always means spending some time baking.  I had some Bramley apples in the fridge, given to me the weekend before by my lovely friend (and apple dealer) Aimee, which would go to ruin if not used soon.  With the dark nights drawing in and nothing to do except watch television, I decided to make a crumble.

Nothing screams ‘autumn’ like hot crumble and cold custard.  I have this rule that a hot dessert must be accompanied by something cold (cold custard, cold cream, ice cream) and vice versa.  Never hot-with-hot or cold-with-cold.  Many disagree, but that is how I like it.  This crumble is a very simple combination of chopped apple, chopped stem ginger, a little syrup from the ginger jar and a sprinkling of sugar, topped with an oaty crumble.  I used four pieces of stem ginger as we both like it fiery.  If I was making this for others, I would probably tone it down to three.  Feel free to use a different crumble mix if oats aren’t your bag, or a ready-made one if you’re feeling super lazy.

Apple and stem ginger crumble

Apple and stem ginger crumble

Bake in your favourite dish.  This crumble will serve about six people, perfect for a large family lunch.  If you, like we, are a family of two, there will be lots for leftovers.  Eat straight from the fridge with (hot) custard.

Apple and Stem Ginger Crumble

650g bramley apples, peeled, cored and cut into cubes
4 pieces stem ginger, finely chopped
3 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp syrup from the stem ginger jar
75g rolled oats
100g demerera sugar
100g plain flour
75g butter

Preheat the oven to 200ºc.  Lightly butter an ovenproof dish.

In a large bowl, combine the apples, stem ginger and sugar.  Mix with your hands and arrange in the bottom of the buttered dish.  Pour over the ginger syrup.

In a separate bowl, mix together the oats, demerera sugar and plain flour.  Rub in the butter until you have a rough crumble, then sprinkle it over the apple mixture, covering it completely.  Pat the crumble mixture down gently with your hands and bake in the oven for 30 minutes until golden brown and bubbling at the edges.

One Year Ago:  Nan’s Tea Loaf

A Soup of My Leftovers

Roast chicken, kale and lentil soup

Roast chicken, kale and lentil soup

In the last few days I have spent a considerable time complaining about three things:  being ill, having a sprained shoulder and that our precious Mk1 Golf GTI has broken down again.  It seems 30-year old things break down occasionally, myself included.

On Sunday I made the simplest roast chicken: half a lemon in the cavity, a little olive oil and a lot of sea salt on the skin to make it really crispy, roast for two hours. That’s it.  I always buy a large chicken, even just for the two of us, as I love to have leftovers.  Even once we have made a huge dent on the breast meat and thigh meat, and have devoured a wing each (the best bit), there is usually still enough for another large meal and a couple of sandwiches.  I have made a number of chicken pies with the leftover meat, especially in the colder months; in the summer it ends up in salads, like my chicken and bread salad with harissa and pomegranate seeds.  This time, it was destined for a soup – just the thing for a warming weeknight supper.

This soup is, as the best chicken soups are, based on a broth of chicken stock.  Home made, of course, is best, but if you don’t have it, stock cubes are fine.  This time, my broth was a mixture of both.  I usually decant chicken stock into old plastic soup containers, which hold about 600ml of liquid.  I only had one left, and the soup requires about 1200ml of stock, so I made up the rest with a cube.

Also in this soup is a healthy mixture of kale, onions, celery, green lentils and pearl barley.  It can be made in under an hour and is best served with crusty bread.  The crustier, the better.

Roast Chicken, Kale and Lentil Soup

Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
Large pinch chilli flakes
1 bay leaf
1.2l chicken stock
100g pearl barley
100g green lentils
Leftover roast chicken
75ml natural yoghurt
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Two large handfuls kale, shredded
2 tbsp lemon juice

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and saute the onion, celery and garlic until translucent – about five minutes.  Stir in the cumin, cinnamon, chilli and bay leaf and cook for a further couple of minutes.

Add the chicken stock, pearl barley and lentils, bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes until the barley and lentils are tender.

Add the roast chicken and the yoghurt and heat through without boiling.  Season with salt and black pepper.

Toss the kale in a little lemon juice then divide between two large bowls.  Ladle the soup over the kale, the heat will wilt it.

Serves two with extra for leftovers.  Adapted from a recipe by Gourmet Traveller.

One Year Ago:  Allspice-Roasted Pumpkin with Chickpeas and a Tahini-Lemon Dressing

Shrooms

Spaghetti with mushrooms, garlic and creme fraiche

Spaghetti with mushrooms, garlic and creme fraiche

This weekend I was a little bit under the weather, so consequently have done little beyond reading from under a blanket and finishing the second series of House of Cards.  I was, however, convinced to get out of the house for a bit to take a little walk to Brockley Market for some things that, I was promised, would make me feel better.

My first stop was Mike & Ollie, whose delicious wraps are always far too good to resist.  I went for the smoked mackerel wrap with apple and beetroot, which was both beautifully autumnal and a threat to any pale-coloured clothing.  On the subject of beetroot, I also picked up a some that made their way into a rather good cake.

A fridge forage that morning yielded some garlic, parsley, a bit of creme fraiche left over from the leek and cheddar pie, a red onion and a little parmesan.  Spaghetti and mushrooms would bring this together into a meal: the former I had in the cupboard, the latter I could get from the market.  I was hoping for a box of mixed wild mushrooms, but could not see any, so settled for a bag of field mushrooms instead.

This really is an incredibly quick supper, perfect for those days when you can’t bear to spend too much time in the kitchen.  Best eaten on the couch.

Spaghetti with Mushrooms, Garlic and Creme Fraiche

200g dried spaghetti
Olive oil
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
300g field mushrooms, halved and sliced
2 tsp finely chopped curly parsley
75g creme fraiche
1 tsp cider vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp finely grated parmesan

Cook the spaghetti in salted water according to packet instructions.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan, or chef’s pan, and sautee the onion until translucent – about 5-10 minutes.  Add the garlic to the onions after two minutes of cooking.  Add the mushrooms and cook until tender and browned.

Add 1 tsp of the parsley and stir in the creme fraiche and cider vinegar.  Cook gently until it begins to bubble.  Check the seasoning.  When heated through, remove from the heat and stir in most of the parmesan, retaining a little for the end.

Divide the spaghetti between two large bowls and top with the mushroom mixture.  Finish with the remaining parsley and parmesan.

Serves two.

One Year Ago:  Tarragon Chicken