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

Lamb Rogan Josh

Lamb rogan josh

Lamb rogan josh

Things have improved vastly in the past few days, so much so that I am writing this post from the number 12 bus on my way into the office.  My shoulder has almost completely recovered and the sun is shining in through the window.

Now I am no longer injured, I will be able to go ahead with my plan to go indoor climbing on Friday evening.  Wednesday was Ollie’s and my nine-year anniversary.  We decided a while ago to scrap this one as we now have a wedding anniversary to celebrate each June, but shortly after reconsidered and decided instead to use it as an opportunity to do something in London that we have never done before, something perhaps a bit crazy and off-the-wall.  So Friday you will find me scrambling up a wall in a disused biscuit factory in Bermondsey.  How I love making new traditions.

As well as this, I followed an old tradition of asking Ollie what he would like for dinner that evening.  Asking that of somebody who loves food so much often gets an unpredictable answer, but this time he said exactly what I expected him to say:  he wanted a curry.

Curries are so perfect for this time of year, not only because they are warming, but because autumn produce lends itself so well to being cooked in this way.  Take a little look at the Eat the Seasons blog and you’ll see listed there a number of vegetables, meats and fish just dying to be cooked up in spices.  I decided to make a lamb curry, as we had eaten two chicken dishes earlier in the week, and to make the most well-known lamb curry of all: the rogan josh.

The problem with making curry on a weeknight is that you need one that can be cooked in a relatively short time.  Unless you want to eat at 11pm, slow cooking or lengthy marinading is out – best to leave those for the weekend.  This recipe, based on one by Anjum Anand, manages to get a deep rich flavour without either of these processes.  Lamb leg meat is the best for this type of curry, but it can be pricey, so use neck fillet instead if you are watching the pennies.  The lamb is cooked first in the spices, and then cooked down in water several times to create a deep rich sauce.  The whole cooking time is no more than an hour and can easily be reheated.  Best eaten with a cold bottle of Brewdog‘s Punk IPA.

Lamb Rogan Josh

Vegetable oil
10 black peppercorns
10 cardamom pods
4 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 onion, finely chopped
500g lamb neck fillet
6 garlic cloves
1inch piece of ginger, peeled and quartered
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp ground fennel seeds
1½ tsp garam masala
Salt
2 tomatoes, pureed
3 tbsp natural yoghurt
Bunch fresh coriander, leaves only, chopped

Heat the vegetable oil in a very large saucepan and fry the peppercorns, cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon for a couple of minutes until fragrant.  Add the onion and cook on a medium heat until translucent and starting to brown, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Add the lamb and cook for about five minutes until browned all over.

Puree the garlic cloves and ginger together in a food processor with a tablespoon of water until they come together in a rough paste.  Add to the lamb, stirring to coat, and cook for a further five minutes.

Stir in the ground coriander, ground cumin, cayenne pepper, ground fennel seeds, garam masala, salt, pureed tomatoes and yoghurt.  Reduce the heat to low and cover with a lid, cooking for 10 minutes.

Add 2-3 tablespoons of water to the mixture and cook on a medium heat for a further 8-10 minutes, stirring continually, until the sauce has thickened.  Add a little more water if the sauce begins to dry out.

Pour in enough boiling water to cover the lamb and bring to the boil.  Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the sauce is thick and the lamb is cooked and tender.

Serve with rice, naan, chutney and raita.

Serves 2-3.  Adapted from a recipe by Anjum Anand.

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

A Chocolate Beetroot Cake for Chocolate Week

Chocolate beetroot cake

Chocolate beetroot cake

This week, 13th – 19th October, is Chocolate Week, and I’m struggling to find anything I don’t like about this.

Right now I am a bit of a sorry picture.  I have a bit of a cold and a bout of asthma, so am sat wheezing away on my big couch under a blanket.  The weather in south east London has become even more dismal – all grey skies and rain lashing against the window.  Thank goodness for Netflix and Green & Black’s Maya Gold: the two things that are making today somewhat bearable.

Chocolate is a wonderful thing, for it always has the power to make you feel better, whether your woes are emotional or physical.  A neighbour of my grandmother’s use to give us chocolate when we fell off our bikes and went running to her with grazed knees and dirty tears.  It sounds silly, but it worked.  Now, in my thirties, I tend to reach for a bar when I’ve had a bad day at work.  It has the same effect.

I tend to use chocolate in baking mainly for special occasions, for huge, multi-layered birthday cakes or decadent desserts for massive family gatherings.  With my lurgy keeping me from any kind of company, I needed to bake something far easier, more wholesome and more humble.  I had a bag of mixed beets I bought for a mid-week salad, so decided one could be spared for a cake.

I remember a while ago when the idea of using vegetables in cakes became big, spurred on by the resurgence of the carrot cake.  Suddenly we were all baking from the vegetable patch, with varying degrees of success.  Two such cakes that have survived in my repertoire are the lemon-courgette cake and this chocolate beetroot cake.  Adding vegetables certainly gives cake a new dimension, plus has the added benefit of getting more veg into your diet.  Speaking of which, a friend of mine writes a very good blog about getting your children to eat more vegetables by sneaking it into their food.  It’s called Sneaky Veg and has some brilliant recipes.

This chocolate beetroot cake is from Nigel Slater’s Tender, one of my favourite cookbooks.  It has quite a few processes and is a little time-consuming, but the end result is worth it.  It’s not too sweet but has the richness of chocolate and the sweet earthiness of beetroot.  The topping is a simple smear of creme fraiche topped with poppy seeds, although I used mascarpone as the shops of East Dulwich only had half-fat creme fraiche, which is far too runny.  Don’t bother using the expensive varieties of beetroot for this cake, as you don’t really see them once baked.  The good old purple kind will do just fine.

Chocolate Beetroot Cake

250g beetroot
200g dark chocolate
4 tbsp espresso (I used Workshop Coffee’s Cult of Done)
200g unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 eggs
190g caster sugar
135g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp cocoa powder
Creme fraiche or mascarpone
1 tsp poppy seeds

Preheat the oven to 180ºc.  Spray a 20cm round loose-bottomed cake tin with cake release spray (I use Dr Oetker’s) and line the bottom with a circle of greaseproof paper.

Cook the beetroot whole in a pan of salted water until tender.  Remove and cool under cold running water.  Peel and blitz to a rough puree in a food processor.  Set aside.

Melt the chocolate in a large bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Once melted, remove from the heat and stir in the espresso.  Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the bowl.  Leave them there for a few minutes to allow them to melt.

Separate the eggs.  Set the yolks aside and whisk the whites in a bowl, or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, and whip until stiff peaks form.  Add the sugar and continue tho whisk until glossy.

Stir the chocolate mixture so the butter is fully incorporated.  Beat in the egg yolks then fold in the beetroot puree.

Using a large metal spoon, fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, being careful not to knock out too much of the air.  Do not overmix.  Finally, sift in the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder and fold this through.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared cake in and put in the oven, turning the heat down to 160º.  Bake for 40-50 minutes until the edges start to come away from the sides of the tin.  There may be a slight wobble in the centre, but this is OK as it will solidify as it cools.  Leave it to cool completely in the tin before removing.

Spread over the creme fraiche or mascarpone using a palette knife and sprinkle with poppy seeds.

Adapted from a recipe by Nigel Slater.

One Year Ago:  Pumpkin Pie