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

Adventures in Miso

Miso aubergines and brown rice. Chopsticks from my trip to Tokyo

Miso aubergines and brown rice. Chopsticks from my trip to Tokyo

Relax, I won’t be posting yet another recipe for pumpkin-shaped biscuits or ‘spooky’ cupcakes.

I have had quite a few conversations about Hallowe’en this week, mainly asking me what I am doing.  Well, actually… absolutely nothing.  Being a 30-year-old childless woman with a flat quite inaccessible from the street, it seems that Hallowe’en is not meant for me.  That being said, I do rather like seeing all of the neighbourhood kids walking about all dressed up with their little bags of swag.  When we were children, we loved Hallowe’en, despite the fact that we were forbidden by our parents from going trick or treating.  We had a party at school with fancy dress, apple bobbing and ghost stories.  My mum would dress me up as a witch and my brother as a devil.  I think she may have been trying to tell us something.

So my week has actually been rather normal.  No quest for orange food colouring (completely unobtainable in the second half of October) or joining the everlasting queue outside the Angels fancy dress shop on Shaftesbury Avenue.  During this very normal week, however, an unexpected parcel arrived at my desk:  a jar of Yutaka miso paste.  Something I had actually been meaning to buy for some time, but had not got around to.

Sure, something that has been made by fermenting soya beans with salt and fungus doesn’t sound appetising, but it is one of my favourite flavours.  I first fell in love with it when I travelled in Japan, and this intensified when I went on a Japanese food-binge on my return to London.  In the west, we most commonly encounter it in miso soup, but is used in a range of other Japanese and fusion dishes.  It’s umami flavour with a slight hum of fermentation, lends itself well to a range of fish, beans and vegetables.

Aubergine works especially well with miso as it soaks up flavour when cooked.  Some recipes advocate grilling or roasting the aubergines with a miso glaze, and others recommend marinating the aubergines in the miso sauce to maximise the flavour.  The recipe I have been working on is far quicker, and therefore very suitable for a speedy weeknight supper.  The aubergines are fried; first in sesame oil and then in a miso sauce that also combines rice wine, mirin, sugar and vinegar to provide a balance of flavours.  A few dried red chillies provide just enough heat without overwhelming the other flavours.  I served mine with brown rice and sugar snap peas for a healthy vegan supper.

Miso Aubergines

2 large, or 3 medium, aubergines
5 tbsp sesame oil
2 dried red chillies
4 tbsp Shaoshing rice wine
4 tbsp mirin
4 tbsp caster sugar
3 tbsp rice vinegar
4½ tbsp red miso (I used Yutaka)

Cut the aubergines into bite-sized pieces and lay out on a tray.  Sprinkle with salt to draw out some of their liquid and leave for ten minutes.  Wipe away any moisture with kitchen paper.

Heat the sesame oil in a wok and, once hot, crumble in the red chillies and add the aubergine.  Stir fry for about eight minutes until the aubergine is tender and starting to brown.  Turn the pieces occasionally with tongs.

Meanwhile, combine the rice wine, mirin, caster sugar, rice vinegar and miso in a bowl and whisk together to a smooth sauce.  Lower the heat under the wok and add this sauce.  Cook over a medium heat for a further eight minutes.  In this time, the sauce will reduce and thicken and form a glaze for the aubergine pieces.  Serve right away.

One Year Ago:  Gingerbread Cake

A Good Vegetarian Curry

Lentil, pea and potato curry

Lentil, pea and potato curry

I first made this lentil, pea and potato curry about ten years ago when I was trying to teach myself to cook vegetarian meals beyond my usual repertoire of Quorn spaghetti bolognaise (from a jar) and pasta with roasted pepper (from a jar).  You can see a theme appearing here.  I have not always cooked, you see.

Since then, however, I have probably made this curry a hundred times.  For me, it seems to be the answer to so many cooking conundrums:

Pressed for time?  Make the curry.
Skint?  Make the curry.
Under the weather? Make the curry.

As life in our glorious capital imposes one or more of these upon us frequently through our long working hours, extortionate rents and close proximities to our fellow commuters, you will not be surprised by the frequency at which it appears on my table.  This curry takes no more than 40 minutes from chopping the onion to putting the mango chutney on the side of your plate and ripping yourself a slice of naan bread, and there are no complicated processes to it whatsoever.  Many of the ingredients can be taken from the storecupboard, so, providing you have built up a fairly decent collection of spices, it will cost you very little to make.  I very often have red lentils and chopped tomatoes in the cupboard, an onion and a potato in the larder and some peas in the freezer, leaving me very little to buy.

By far, though, the best feature of this curry is that it heats up beautifully.  My husband has been home early from work almost every night this week, but usually he arrives home barely an hour before I have to go to bed.  I’d almost forgotten how nice it is to have him around in the evenings.  One of the challenges of being on different schedules is finding meals that can be eaten at two different points throughout the evening.  It’s not really practical for me to eat so late, so I have to cook something that can either be assembled and cooked quickly when he comes in (for who wants to cook after working that late?) or that can be heated up.  Not having a microwave is an additional challenge.  This curry heats up well in a pan, and even benefits from sitting around for a couple of hours to let the flavours develop.  With a bit of freshly-cooked rice and a naan, it is a stress-free late night dinner.

As far as failsafe dishes go, this curry is definitely one of mine.  Best eaten in winter.  This curry is both vegetarian and vegan.

Lentil, Pea and Potato Curry

Olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
100g red lentils
400g tin chopped tomatoes
250ml coconut milk
250ml vegetable stock
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp salt
1 tsp brown sugar
150g frozen green peas
2 tbsp chopped coriander
1 tbsp lemon juice

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and gently cook the onion over a medium heat until soft and translucent – approximately 10 minutes.  Stir in the garlic, ginger, ground coriander, ground cumin, ground turmeric, chilli powder and ground cinnamon and cook for another couple of minutes.

Add the potato and red lentils and stir to coat.  Turn up the heat a little and add the chopped tomatoes, coconut milk, vegetable stock, garam masala, salt and brown sugar.  Stir well and bring to the boil, before lowering the heat and simmering for about 20 minutes, until the potato is tender.  Add the peas and cook for a further five minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in the coriander and lemon juice.  Serve with rice and naan.

Adapted from a recipe by Meditterasian.

One Year Ago:  Fig, Ginger and Spelt Cake

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

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

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