Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Pumpkin, Bean & Potato Gratin

There must be loads of scooped-up pumpkin flesh languishing in fridges after the jack-o-lanterns are done, so here's one thing to do with it. The recipe would work equally well with flesh of a butternut squash.

This recipe should serve four as a vegetarian main, and takes just a little over an hour from start to serving, given that the pumpkin flesh is ready to be chopped. The potatoes can be par-boiled in advanced rather than 'during'.

The oven should be at 190C (fan), gas mark 5, shelf at the middle or just above. A large and a medium pan are needed, and a greased ovenproof gratin dish - I chose my dish once the main filling was ready, since it shrinks as it simmers. We didn't feel any side dishes were needed! If cooks want the dish just a little bit spicy, 2 teaspoons of ground cumin can be added at stage 4 - that's my choice.

Doh. Food eaten before I thought about a picture of it.

Pumpkin, Bean and Potato Gratin 

2 tbsp oil
450g pumpkin flesh, chopped coarsely into cubes
3 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced quite thinly
15g butter
2 medium onions, peeled & quite finely chopped
4 good cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
200g chopped cooked tomatoes
400g tin of haricot beans, drained
220ml double cream
75g grated vegetarian hard cheese or Cheddar 

1  Heat the oil in the large pan, then add the pumpkin and saute gently for about
       15 mins until tender.
2  Put the potatoes in the medium pan, cover with water, bring to boil for 5 mins.
       Then drain and set aside.
3  Add the butter, onions and garlic to the pumpkin, mix well and cook another
       5 mins.
4  Add the chopped tomatoes and haricot beans, mix and season well.  
5  Add the cream, stir and bring to the boil, then pour the mixture into the gratin
       dish and smooth over.
Cover with the sliced potato as a layer, then sprinkle the cheese evenly over.
7  Bake for about 35 mins until bubbling nicely. (If the dish is rather full, place a
       baking tray beneath it to catch any liquid spilling over.)

As mentioned, butternut squash flesh would be fine, though it might need a few more minutes to soften in the pan. The potato layer could be omitted, or the cheese omitted and the potatoes brushed with olive oil to crisp them up a little. Tinned butter beans make a good substitute for haricot.

Fresh tomatoes could be used, with a slit in each then plunged into boiling water for 3-4 minutes so that the skins can be removed. (Let them cool a bit first.) Alternatively tinned tomatoes are fine; I like half of a small carton of tomatoes from Sainsbury's.  

Any fresh herbs could be added at stage 4, such as snipped basil or sage. 

Monday, 8 August 2016

Stuffed Fiorelli Pasta + Spinach with sauce of parsley, nutmeg and vermouth

This dish can be prepped and served in 15 minutes. It does cheat with ready-made stuffed pasta and sauce granules, but the finished dish is, I think, a real pleaser and great value too. The quantities given serve two, and various substitutions are easily made.

Ready, steady ...

I've used Waitrose goats' cheese & caramelised onion fiorelli (at time of writing £3, or 2 packs for £4), but also good would be Sainsbury's or Asda's cheese or mushroom tortelloni (about £1.50). I like Bisto vegetarian parsley sauce granules (just add boiling water), and the vermouth is a basic brand. Spinach is from the garden, and is optional here. Some black pepper was ground over the pasta to serve, just before the sauce was added, but then I've a thing about black pepper and it isn't a must-do, so it's not in the ingredients list.

I served also small side salads made from just halved baby plum tomatoes, rocket and sliced red onion. These can be knocked up while water is boiling for pasta and sauce, or just before starting pasta preps.

handful of fresh spinach leaves (optional), any thick spines removed 
4 tbsp parsley sauce granules
1 tsp finely grated nutmeg
2 tbsp dry vermouth
1 pack stuffed fiorelli pasta (to serve 2)
two small sprigs of parsley or basil (again, optional)

Warm two pasta bowls or coupe dishes.
1  Put plenty of water in a medium pan and set to boil.
2  Meanwhile, shred the spinach (if using) and put in a small pan with a few drops of 
         water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 3-4 mins.
3  Bring a kettle to boil with about 300ml water.
4  Put the parsley sauce granules and nutmeg in a small measuring jug and fill to 
         200ml with boiling water from the kettle. Stir well until it starts to thicken, then
         stir in the vermouth.
5  Put the pasta in the medium pan of boiling water, turn down the heat and simmer 
         for 3 mins.  
6  Meanwhile, lift the spinach with a slotted spoon and drain, then spread over the
         bases of the bowls. Lift and drain the pasta in the same way and spread in
         the bowls. 
7  Pour the sauce over the pasta, and top each dish with a herb sprig.

Yes, it's a fairly frenetic 15 minutes, but this is because the spinach, pasta and sauce should all be ready at the same time and each is very quick to cook!

As above, any filled pasta would work, and instead of spinach a few cooked peas could be scattered among the pasta. 

Packet sauces would be fine too, and Bisto does drums of plain white sauce granules which, like the parsley version (but not the cheese version) is suitable for vegetarians. The white sauce could be flavoured with grated vegetarian cheese or snipped soft herbs.

Dry sherry could take the place of the vermouth, and instead of a herb sprig to garnish, snipped coriander or parsley leaves could be sprinkled over the whole dish. 

This blog is not usually price-conscious, but the above recipe really is economical! Unless you serve it with a posh Italian red wine, that is.


Monday, 21 March 2016

Shortbread with (or without) Stem Ginger

Shortbread, the real thing - surely everyone loves it? Not difficult to make, and it lends itself to interesting flavourings. The option here is stem ginger (clue is in the title ...), but this shortbread without it is delicate and delightful too, I think.

This recipe takes very roughly 60 minutes to prepare including chilling, and about 25 to bake, allowing for varying ovens and depending on the size of your biscuits, as they say. Here's a very artistically posed picture of four made with the ginger:

(Well my great uncle was an artist. But not a cook.)

I like to make these small, about 5cm x 3cm, on a baking sheet but of course they can be larger and even hand-pressed into a square or round tin (for 'petticoat tails'). At the smaller size the quantity of dough makes 25 or so. Either way, the baking sheet or tin is best lined with parchment.

Shortbread with Stem Ginger
120g plain flour
55g semolina flour
60g caster sugar
120g butter, softened a little
4 pieces of stem ginger, chopped fairly finely

1  Sift the two flours into a medium bowl. Add 50g of the caster sugar, the butter and 
         3/4 of the ginger, and blend together. Then knead the dough on a floured board 
         (or with dough hook) until smooth. Rest in the fridge for about 15 minutes.
2  Roll out or press the dough to a thickness of about 7-8mm, and cut into pieces of the
         size of your choice. Rectangles are traditional and easier to avoid waste than if
         you choose circles.
3  Place the pieces, a little apart from one another, on the baking sheet and prick each
         2-3 times with a fork. Press one small piece of the remaining ginger into the top
         of each.
Bake for about 25-28 minutes until firm and golden brown, watching carefully for the
         final few minutes.
Leave on the baking sheet to cool a little, then sprinkle with the remaining 10g of caster
         sugar. Cool completely and store in a tin.

No ginger on top of these
Instead of stem ginger, I fancy using dried lavender next time, since it's lovely in muffins and creme brulee. Not a fan of millionaire's shortbread, but a pattern of thin lines of flavoured icing piped over the biscuits could work well. Thinking strawberry, lemon or orange. Or, for special occasions (e.g. Easter), the biscuits could be a little bigger and have a name piped on each. To be dry, you could pipe 'biscuit' on them.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Candied Walnuts - you can't eat just one ...

Here's one of my favourite sweet nibbles, just right if you've finished the Quality Street, After Eights, liqueur chocolates and so on.

Ready in 20 minutes plus a little cooling time. Pecan nuts would work well too, and maybe macadamia, but probably not harder nuts like brazils or almonds.

Candied Walnuts
20g butter
20g caster sugar
200g walnut halves
pinch of salt

1  Heat the butter and sugar gently in a medium pan, stirring at times, until the
       butter melts and sugar dissolves.
2  Add the nuts and salt and allow to bubble very gently for 12-15 mins, stirring
       often, until the nuts are well coated and starting to caramelise.
3  Tip onto baking parchment, separate the nuts, and leave to cool.
4  Store in a tin.