Sunday, 9 December 2012

Sausage au vin

This side of Christmas I’m generally onboard with winter. Not the cold wind whipping me off my bike, but I enjoy the annual hunker down. I’m a home person really and when it’s getting colder I do take considerable pleasure in staying indoors, shutting the curtains to the rest of the world and putting something in a casserole pot for a long slow braise. Braising is very peasant-y, I like that, it means it’s honest, devoid of pretence and it very rarely goes wrong. This casserole uses hearty ingredients, making the most of a few cheap sausages and a really good grain. So my suggestion on this Sunday evening is to get right into the hunker down with a bowl of sausage au vin.

Serves 2-3

6 good sausages (I used a Toulouse version)
1 red onion, quartered
1 stick celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
150g pearl barley
½ bottle red wine
1 pint vegetable stock
2-3 sprigs rosemary
1 tsp dried thyme leaves

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. In a large pan or hob-friendly casserole dish, fry the sausages in a little oil until they are browned all over, then remove from the pan and set aside. Add a little more olive oil to the pan and fry the onion, celery and carrot until soft. Add the garlic and fry for a minute longer.
  2. Return the sausages to the pan with the pearl barley, give it a good stir, then pour in the wine and enough stock to cover all the ingredients. If using a saucepan, transfer the sauce to a casserole dish with a lid. Nestle the rosemary sprigs among the sausage and sprinkle over the thyme and some black pepper. Place in the oven for about 45mins-1hour until the sauce is thick and the pearl barley is cooked. Check on it halfway to make sure there is enough liquid for the pearl barley to cook.
  3. Remove from the oven and taste, sausages can be salty so you may not need any extra salt but season to your own taste.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Pistachio pesto

Writing a book, travelling to research it and studying for a cooking diploma have kept me away from both the kitchen and this blog of late. And now all of those things have conspired to lead me into a financial cul-de-sac… skint, brasic, penniless. However you want to put it I’m now having to be extra frugal in the kitchen, but I’ll be dammed if that’s going to stop me eating tasty food. In fact it’s making me be a lot more creative. Faced last night with a stub of grana padano, some parsley and a lemon, I decided to add a few extra ingredients to make a tasty pesto. Since my dreaded pine mouth experience of winter 2010, I’ve avoided pine nuts with my trademark hypochondriac precision as the infliction left me unable to taste food or drink without an acrid, bitter taste for two weeks, which is more than this food writer’s nerves can take. So I thought I’d take my lead from the Sicilians who use pistachio in pesto as well as pine nuts and the result was extra creamy and delicious, I also like a little zing and spikiness so lemon zest and chilli flakes have been added, but they’re not essential. This is left-over store-cupboard fodder at its frugal finest. In your face flagging bank balance!

50g shelled pistachio
28g pack of fresh basil
handful flat leaf parsley
30g grana padano
zest of 1 lemon
pinch chilli flakes
olive oil

  1. Add all the ingredients except the oil to a food processor and blitz until the pistachios have broken down but some are still a bit chunky – scrape down the sides with a spatula as you go to make sure it is evenly blitzed. Then, with the food processor still running drizzle in about 100ml of olive oil or 2 big glugs.
  2. When cooking your pasta add a couple of tablespoons of the starchy cooking water to loosen your pesto and serve stirred into pasta and topped with shavings of grana padano.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Sicilian caponata

I seem to be on a bit of an Italian theme at the moment and it's no bad thing. I want fresh whole ingredients quickly and simply transformed into tasty healthy food – something the Italians have been doing for centuries. When I speak to those of you who are making the recipes I put on here, it seems that most of you are looking for easy, healthy midweek meals. Something to pop on the stove walk away for 20 minutes and forget about while you pour a glass of wine and put your feet up. So this one keeps it simple. It's a one-pot stew, a bung it all in and let those Mediterranean flavours work their magic. Have it with bread, a jacket potato or simply with a couple of shavings of parmesan. Buon appetitio!

Serves 2, and a leftover lunch

1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 aubergine, cubed
5 very ripe large tomatoes, chopped (or 1 tin chopped tomatoes)
1/2 courgette
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp dried oregano
1 bunch fresh basil
10-15 large pitted green olives
2 tbsp capers
2 tbsp sultanas
Parmesan and toasted pine nuts, to serve

1. In a large pan fry the onion in a little olive oil until soft, add the garlic and stir. Add the aubergine and fry for a couple of minutes. Then add the chopped tomatoes, courgette, red wine vinegar and oregano and fry for about 5 minutes.

2. Add a handful of chopped basil leaves, the whole olives, capers and sultanas, stir and cover with a lid. Turn the heat down and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked through but not mushy yet.

3. Scatter with fresh basil leaves, torn, some parmesan and pine nuts.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Rack of lamb with braised lentils and salsa verde

It's been a long time since my last post, a busy schedule and the tail end of winter conspired to leave me less than inspired in the kitchen. Now I seem to have emerged from my hibernation to a very wet spring, but at least we can still have the tastes of spring on a plate. And this spring lamb dish was inspired by my boyfriend, Luke, who loves a good rack of lamb. Here it's been given an Italian pairing with braised lentils and salsa verde, the lentils still hearty on a cool evening and the fresh, zingy salsa transporting me to a warm verandah in a southern Italian villa. Well, until the sun decides to shine I'm going to keep things bright, cheery and healthy in the kitchen and with all those lovely lentils, fresh herbs and a gorgeous piece of lamb this dish tops my spring-eating list.

 Serves 2

1 rack of lamb
2 tsp dijon mustard
1 piece stale bread
3 cloves garlic
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves picked
2 lemons, zested
1 onion
200g puy lentils
1 pint vegetable stock
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
a few sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 bunch fresh parsley
5 small anchovy fillets
1 tbsp capers juice of
1 lemon

 1. Preheat the oven to 180C, 160C fan. Using a teaspoon coat the rack of lamb with the mustard and set aside. Blitz the bread, 1 clove of garlic, the rosemary, zest of 1 lemon in a food processor until it is crumbs. Place the crumbs on a plate and then roll the rack of lamb over the crumbs, until well coated.

 2. Fry the onion and garlic in a little olive oil until the onion is soft. Then add the lentils and stock, white wine vinegar, thyme, bay leaf and season with black pepper. Bring to the boil and simmer for 25 mins.

 3. Roughly chop the parsley, anchovies, capers and place in a small bowl, then add the lemon juice and remaining zest and 2 tbsp of olive oil. Mix and season with salt and pepper to taste.

 4. After the lentils have been simmering for 5 mins place the lamb on a baking tray and roast in the oven for 20 mins, until the coating is brown and the lamb is just blushing in the middle.

 5. If the lentils are running low on water add a little more stock. When they are soft but not yet mushy turn them off and ladle into bowls. Remove the lamb from the oven and place on top of the lentils and scatter with the salsa verde.

 Now, sit back with a glass of Chianti on that southern Italian verandah, bliss!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Smoked mackerel kedgeree

I loathe February with every inch of my being. It's cold, dark and so, so boring. I'm going to lay the blame for my less than sunny temperament on, well, the lack of sun itself. Most of us in the UK get to this time of year and we haven't seen any of the warm yellow stuff in quite a while, which means we're all a bit low on the sunshine vitamin D. This actually doesn't account for me being grumpy, but it isn't so good for our teeth and bones. So in a bid to combat British winter and up my vitamin D this dish is packed with it from both the mackerel and the eggs. I've used the combo in a family favourite, my mum is Anglo-Asian and this is a lightly spiced and comforting dish I grew up with. Enjoy.

Serves 3-4

1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
300g basmati rice
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp curry powder
3 whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon
100g frozen peas
3-4 smoked mackerel fillets
3 tbsp greek yogurt, plus extra to serve
4 hardboiled eggs, peeled and halved
handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
1 lemon, cut into wedges

1 In a large saucepan fry the onion and garlic in a little vegetable oil until soft and starting to brown. Then, add the rice and stir before adding enough boiling water to cover the rice plus about a cm on top (about 550ml).

2 Add all of the spices and cinnamon stick. Bring to the boil and simmer for 7 minutes covered with a lid over a low heat. Then add the peas and continue to cook for another four minutes. If the rice is dry and not yet cooked you can add some more water and cook for a few minutes longer. If it looks too watery leave the lid off for the final minutes.

3 Take the skin off the mackerel fillets and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Add to the rice, stir and cook for a minute. Just before serving stir in the greek yogurt and some of the coriander.

4 Serve sprinkled with more corainder the hardboiled eggs, greek yogurt and lemon wedges.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Artichoke and goat's cheese risotto with chilli gremolata

I came up with this recipe last week when my vegetarian friend Amy came for dinner. I love risotto, it's so simple and flavoursome. I find restaurants often overload the rice dish with cream and butter, which ruins it for me and for my waistline. This risotto takes the strong flavour from the goat's cheese to add richness, so you don't need to add too much. The gremolata is an Italian seasoning usually made of parsley, lemon and garlic it can be added to meat dishes or pasta and I've added chilli to this one for a contrast with that creamy goat's cheese.

Serves 2 greedy girls

4-5 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
250g risotto rice
250ml white wine
1.5 pint vegetable stock
1 jar marinated artichokes
100g strong goat's cheese
25g parmesan, grated

For the gremolata
handful of parsley, finely chopped
zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 a red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 In a large saucepan, fry the shallots in a little olive oil until soft and starting to brown, then add the garlic and fry for a minute or two longer. Add the rice and give it a good stir to coat the rice in oil.
2. After a couple of minutes add the wine and stir and season well. Then spoon in a ladle of stock wait until nearly all of the liquid has been absorbed before adding another ladle of stock. Repeat until all of the stock has been used or the rice is cooked yet still has a bite to it. If it is too dry add more stock.
3. Meanwhile combine the gremolata ingredients in a small bowl and give it a good stir.
4. When the risotto is nearly cooked add the artichoke hearts. Tear the goat's cheese into strips, reserving two slices. Add the goat's cheese and a big pinch of parmesan and stir until melted. Taste and season if necessary.
5. Spoon the risotto into bowls it should not be too firm and should have a slight creamy sauce consistency. Add a slice of goat's cheese to each bowl and sprinkle with the gremolata and parmesan and serve.

Try this with fennel as well simply add chopped fennel to the frying onions and garlic.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Curried parsnip soup with caramelised onions

January is such a gloomy month, the joy of Christmas is over, the coffers are running low and it's oh-so-cold out. Well, for me, it's the perfect time of year to hide away in my kitchen and cook up some nutritious and delicious delights. Soups are quicker than you think to make and a whole pot can last you all week for work lunches – perfect if you're watching the pennies. Why not while away an afternoon making this velvety sweet soup? Guaranteed to spice up the darkest of January nights.

2 onions
1 inch stick of ginger
3 cloves of garlic
5 parsnips, diced
1 pint vegetable stock
400ml coconut milk
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp cumin seeds
natural yoghurt

1. Finely chop one onion, the ginger and garlic. Fry the onion in a little oil in a large saucepan until just starting to brown and then add the ginger and garlic. Fry for a couple of minutes and then add the parsnip.

2. After a couple of minutes more pour over the stock and bring to the boil. Leave to simmer for 10 minutes.

3. Add the coconut milk, garam masala, ground cumin and coriander and simmer until the parsnip is completely soft. Meanwhile slice the remaining onion into thin slices.

4. Using a hand blender, pulse the soup until completely smooth. Leave on a very low heat to simmer.

5. In a frying pan, fry the onion in a little vegetable oil and add the cumin seeds. Fry the onion on a low-ish heat for 5-8 minutes until they are caramelised and dark in colour.

6. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with the caramelised onions, drizzle with yoghurt and serve with bread.