Friday, 5 August 2016

Savoury Cake with Spiced Onions & Chickpeas

Savoury Cake with Spiced Onions & Chickpeas

Have I told you about Band of Bakers? If not, it's probably about time I did. It's my fourth baby (my first was a cat and the middle two are human). Founded by Gemma and I in 2012 out of a mutual love of cooking, baking, eating, talking and, well to be perfectly honest, drinking.

Band of Bakers is a bake club. A bit like a book club, but with a lot less reading and a lot more baking. And some sleepless nights. Sugar fuelled and stuffed to the gunnels it is virtually impossible to nod off until the early hours after an event. 

The itinerant Band of Bakers roves around our gorgeous little corner of SE London, hosted by generous local business owners The PalmerstonThe Crooked Well and Brickhouse Bakery every couple of months. Each event is themed so you rarely taste the same bake twice. Except at our retro event when there were no less than THREE black forest gateaux. But, you know, cherries and kirsch.

For the last innovation-themed event before our summer break I baked this savoury cake. It's kind of a riff on a cornbread, but with warm spices and gorgeously fragrant curry leaves. I had a bag of yellow pea flour lurking in my cupboard, which is produced by Hodmedods, a Suffolk-based independent business sourcing and supplying British-grown pulses, grains and flours. A naturally gluten free flour, milled in Essex from British-grown split peas, it is high in protein and a great alternative to gram flour. The idea was for bakers to create a bake using ingredients or techniques they had never used before. So this was my contribution - a simple, delicious savoury cake. Great served with dal and raita or as a pre-dinner nibble with drinks. Leftovers make for a good picnic or lunchbox filler.

Savoury Cake with Spiced Onions & Chickpeas (gluten free)

Ingredients

For the cake:

150g course gluten free polenta 
75g fine ground yellow pea flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp garam masala 
250g whole milk yogurt
2 medium eggs
50g butter

For the topping:

2 tbsp groundnut oil
2 tsp black mustard seeds
large pinch asafoetida 
2 large onions, sliced 
10-12 fresh curry leaves
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp soft brown sugar
1-2 tsp tamarind paste
1/2 400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Method

In a large bowl, mix together the polenta, yellow pea flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt, turmeric and garam masala. In a separate bowl, beat the yogurt and eggs together then stir into the dry ingredients and mix to form a smooth batter. Put to one side whilst you make the topping.

Pre-heat the oven to 220C.

Put a heavy based frying pan over a medium heat. Add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the black mustard seeds and asafoetida. Wait for the mustard seeds to begin to pop (about a minute) then add the onions and fry for around 10 minutes, until they have softened and golden. Add the fresh curry leaves, ground turmeric, chilli powder, salt, black pepper and brown sugar and stir to coat the onions. Finally, add the tamarind paste and chickpeas and stir to combine.

Put the butter in a 20cm x 30cm rectangular roasting tin and put it into the oven until the butter has melted and the tin is piping hot. Pour the batter into the tin and quickly put the onion and chickpea mixture over the top (I find that the easiest way to do this is with your fingers). 

Put the roasting tin back into the oven and cook for about 10 mins, until golden brown.

Serve hot or cold.


Thursday, 7 July 2016

Banana Sourdough Pancakes

Banana Sourdough Pancakes

Feeding my boys is a full time job. Or at least it feels that way. No sooner have the early morning cries for porridge been met than fruit needs distributing and packed lunches assembling. There's bread to be baked for sandwiches, fritters to be fried, chickpeas to whizz up into houmous, vegetables destined for soup to be chopped. All before the morning school run.

And that's how weekdays go, in a bit of a blur of the day to day routine. I try (but in reality fail) to fit everything in - always on my feet, mostly in the kitchen, with my two year old by my side. He loves nothing better than getting his hands on anything and everything. So we cook, chat, eat and play our way through our days together. Stopping for coffee mid-morning. Our daily ritual whether we're at home or out. Lunch at midday. And now, whilst the sun shines, he can spend his afternoons outside in the garden digging up the lawn, collecting snails, balancing precariously on the upturned butler's tray and festidiously ensuring that all of the stones from the garden path are distributed across the grass (it would be entirely misleading to call it a lawn), whilst I flit in and out. Playing, pegging out washing and feeling permanently guilty for not giving enough of my time to anything or anyone.

When the weekend arrives our shoulders visibly drop, we breathe more deeply, the pace slows, and getting dressed before breakfast is not an option. Cups of tea are drunk whilst still hot. And so, once the demand for porridge has been satisfied, there is the time and head space for something different. Packing a picnic and heading to the woods, cycling in the park, a trip to the theatre. Or simply kicking back at home, reading endless stories and eating pancakes.

These banana sourdough pancakes are our current favourites. My boys love them. I love them. Especially with a drizzle of Peckham Honey.

Banana Sourdough Pancakes with Peckham Honey

Inspired by my hatred of waste, I make these pancakes with the unfed sourdough starter which would usually otherwise be discarded after feeding the mother (I keep mine in the fridge as I generally only bake sourdough once a week). This recipe is adapted from Vanessa Kimbell's recipe for Sourdough Scotch Pancakes which is on the Bakery Bits website.

Ingredients

125g sourdough starter
1 medium egg, beaten
90ml whole  milk
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (optional)
1 medium banana, mashed
100g pasta / 00 flour (I used Dove's Farm pasta flour)
1 tsp baking powder
groundnut oil for frying

Method

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sourdough starter, egg, whole milk, vanilla bean paste (if using) and mashed banana.

Sift the flour and baking powder into the batter and stir to combine.

Put a pancake pan or heavy based frying pan over a medium heat. Add 1 tbsp groundnut oil to the pan and swirl around to coat the bottom of the pan. Pour any excess oil into a small bowl and put to one side. Pour a heaped tablespoons of batter into the frying pan, leaving a little room between each one (I usually fit 4 at a time in my medium sized pan). Allow to cook for a minute or two until the pancakes are a light golden brown colour, taking care not to overcook them. Using a fish slice, turn the pancakes over and cook in the same way on the other side.

Using the excess oil which you put to one side, continue to cook the pancakes using up the rest of the batter.

Keep the cooked pancakes warm in the oven (170C/150C fan) until you have finished cooking them all. I like to serve them with fresh fruit and a little honey, but you could add bacon and maple syrup or greek yogurt and fruit compote, or just eat them as they are.

Friday, 20 May 2016

British Asparagus Crostini with Parsley Pesto



Pesto - pounded sauce by any other name - is my current obsession.

It all started with a long, lazy Easter weekend with family on the outskirts of Paris. Four days of cooking, eating, drinking good wine and putting the world to rights. The all important drinking nibbles created by the lovely Lisa (cookery teacher and food writer at bien cuit gluten free) included a radish top pesto. A resourceful vibrant green dip for our crisp, pink French breakfast radishes.

The pesto love-in continued when I returned home to find that my friend Jassy had posted her recipe for Wild Garlic & Pistachio Pesto. Bereft of wild garlic but with an abundance of parsley I set about pounding roasted garlic and some nibbed pistachios which really were well past their best. I skipped the parmesan because we were eating this particular pesto with a creamy little burrata. But thinking about it, I rarely put cheese in my pesto these days - I prefer the clean taste of the nuts and herbs - making it naturally vegan.

This recipe came about, as many do, from opening the fridge door and creating something new. It's so easy to get stuck in a rut cooking the same meals week in week out, especially when there are little (demanding) mouths to feed. But I get bored. There is no pleasure in food that is solely for fuel, which is the way some meals can begin to feel when you're feeding a family. My boys would eat the same handful of meals in rotation given half a chance, with pasta and my 'pasta sauce' topping the list by a long way. That may make for an easy life now, but I wouldn't be doing my job (and what I truly believe is an important one) of exposing them to a myriad of flavours, textures, smells and sensations to set them up for a lifetime of enjoying food. So I cook for me, for them and for their future selves.


I'm particularly fond of almonds with asparagus, but toasted pine nuts or cashews would work pretty well too. I'm all for using up what's in the cupboard rather than spending money on yet more ingredients to languish in their packets, unloved and forgotten.

Ingredients

1 ready to bake half ciabatta
2 tbsp olive oil
125g ricotta
10 fat spears asparagus, washed and woody ends removed

For the pesto:

25g blanched almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
1 roasted clove of garlic
large pinch of maldon sea salt
40g flat leaf parsley, washed
juice of half a lemon
freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Method

Slice the ciabatta into 10 slices, discarding the crusts at each end. Place on a baking sheet and brush both sides of each slice with a little olive oil. Toast under a hot grill on both sides until golden brown. Transfer the toasted bread to a wire rack to cool.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Cook the asparagus in the salted water for 3-4 minutes until just cooked. Drain the asparagus and plunge into cold water to cool. Drain and then dry on kitchen paper. Slice each spear in half and then slice the thicker end in half lengthways, so that you have 3 pieces of asparagus, roughly the same length, from each spear. 

To make the pesto, using a mortar and pestle, pound the roasted garlic clove and salt to form a paste. Add the chopped toasted almonds and pound again until some of the almonds start to break down. Roughly chop the parsley (including the thinner stalks) and add this along with the lemon juice, black pepper and olive oil and continue to pound until you have a rough, chunky pesto. 

When you are ready to serve, spread a little ricotta on each crostini, top with the asparagus and a teaspoon of pesto. Drizzle with a little extra olive oil before serving.


Friday, 29 April 2016

Leek, Jersey Royal & Cheddar Galette with Sprouted Spelt & Hazelnut Pastry



The beginning of this year was fairly full on in our house. Exhausted, yet with much partying to be done, something had to give. There were a few more take aways, leftovers began taking up permanent residence in the fridge and the cupboards seemed to be filling up with food that I couldn't find the time to cook. The nap-avoiding Baby R had reverted to newborn sleeping patterns and I was bumbling from day to day on a few hours broken sleep (and gin, always gin). When we finally surfaced some time in late February the kitchen cupboards were fit to burst. Leftovers from catering for my birthday tea party, tins that had just kept arriving in the weekly shop, half packets of five different types of rice. 

Ridiculous really for someone who usually uses up every last scrap of leftovers. 

So I set about cooking and eating the cupboards. Family meals created to use up all of those odds and ends of pulses, grains, frozen scraps of fish, limp herbs and vegetables way past their best. It's quite a cathartic process - stripping everything back, being creative and avoiding waste (before starting all over again). A handful of the more photogenic meals made it onto my instagram feed under the hashtags #cookingthecupboards and #eatingthecupboards.

Returning from my (all too brief) trip to visit my sister in Vietnam and back in my kitchen this week I found some sad looking leeks which I'd ordered from Farmdrop before I left, a handful of leftover Jersey Royals and that packet of Rude Health sprouted spelt flour which has been slowly creeping to the top of the cooking the cupboards list (slowly, simply on account of the fact it hadn't yet been opened and therefore could wait patiently a little longer…).

Galettes are a great starting point if you're new to baking tarts or quiches. No careful precision or blind baking required. Simple and rustic (or rough and ready, whichever way you look at it). I usually bake sweet galettes, so this recipe is my first foray into the savoury sort. They are relatively quick to make and bake too, making them a good option for family meals, packed lunches or weekend picnics.


Jersey Royals really are the kings of the potato world. Their distinctive flavour works so well in this tart, but if you can't get them they can be substituted with other new potatoes. The best Jersey Royals to buy are the ones still covered in mud and soil which protects them in transit. Just wash gently to help keep their papery skins intact.

The sprouted spelt flour from Rude Health is delicious in this pastry and combined with the roasted hazelnuts gives the pastry an intense, rich nutty flavour. And it's also really good for you. It is more expensive than normal spelt (or other flour) though, but definitely worth trying. If you'd rather stick with what is already in your cupboards, rather than buy more ingredients, then you can replace the 160g with standard plain flour or spelt flour, but I'd opt for wholegrain (or a mixture) rather than all white.

Ingredients

For the pastry:

30g blanched hazelnuts
160g Rude Health sprouted spelt flour
80g unsalted butter
pinch of salt (optional)
50ml cold water

For the filling:

500g leeks, washed and trimmed
1 tbsp groudnut oil
4 or 5 Jersey Royal potatoes (or other new potatoes), cooked and sliced
1 large free range egg
3 tbsp double cream
1 tsp dijon mustard
freshly ground black pepper
75g mature cheddar, grated
salt to taste (optional)
1 tbsp parmesan or vegetarian equivalent, grated

1 free range egg, beaten (to glaze)
1 tbsp toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped (to serve)

Method

Begin by making the pastry. 

Preheat the oven to 170C. 

Put the hazelnuts on a small baking tray and roast for 7-8 minutes until golden. Leave to cool completely then put them into a food processor or blender and pulse until finely ground. 

Put the flour, salt (if using) and butter in a mixing bowl and rub together with your finger tips until they resemble breadcrumbs.  Stir through the ground hazelnuts. Add the cold water, a little at a time, and bring together to form a ball, handling the pastry lightly and as little as possible.  Flatten into a patty, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C. 

Slice the leeks into 5mm rounds and wash thoroughly in several changes of water. Heat a frying pan over a medium heat, add the oil and then the leeks. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, until the leeks are soft but still have a little bite. Put to one side to cool.

In a small bowl beat together one egg, double cream, mustard, black pepper and salt (if using). Stir in  the cooled leeks.

Line a large baking sheet with non-stick baking parchment or a silicone liner. Roll the pastry out until it is about 3mm thick and lay it on the baking sheet. If you're using the sprouted spelt flour you may find that it is a little tricky to roll out as it can be quite fragile. Any little cracks can be squished back together - so long as there are no big holes or cracks for the filling to leak through you're winning.

Scatter the grated cheddar onto the pastry, leaving a 4-5 cm gap all the way around the edge. Spread half of the leek mixture over the top of the cheese, followed by a layer of sliced potatoes and finish with the rest of the leek mixture. Top with the grated parmesan (or vegetarian equivalent).

Carefully fold the edges of the pastry over the filling, making little tucks where needed and plugging any little tears or holes as you go. Brush the pastry with the beaten egg.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the pastry is cooked. Transfer to a wire rack. Sprinkle with the chopped toasted hazelnuts and serve hot, cold or at room temperature.






Saturday, 9 April 2016

Wild Garlic Socca & Whipped Feta



Each year, as the vibrant green, pungent leaves start creeping onto menus and into recipes, I wonder why I didn't take my friend Danny up on his offer last year (and the year before, and the year before that…) of a clump of wild garlic from the bountiful supply in his garden. He's a dealer you see. If you need to get your hands on any of the green stuff, he's your man. But alas, I failed and my garden is ransom-free. 

I could take myself off foraging. I really could. Although that would probably involve levels of organisation which are a little beyond my abilities during the Easter holidays when my days are filled with giant cardboard structures, never ending stories of monstrous monsters made of slime, my 5 year old's new found love for knock knock jokes, dens, mud, sticks and endless cries of "book, now".

My first stash of the season came courtesy of Tim at Franklins Farmshop. I took it swimming with me. The aroma filling the changing room after half an hour in the pool may have gained me a few strange glances. Then Farmdrop came up trumps with the bounty, along with some other quite simply stunning vegetables and salads.




Farmdrop describes itself as being a bit like an online farmers market. A place where you can get delicious food and meet the local producers behind it. Farmdrop works in a different way to other online shops - rather than harvesting what is available and then selling it, the producers harvest, bake, catch once they have received your order. The result is fresher produce for you and no waste for them. Win win.

So, what to make once you get your mitts on some wild garlic? Well first up, I always replenish my stocks of wild garlic pesto and wild garlic oil (they keep brilliantly in the freezer). I also have my sights set on Fleur Bell's wild garlic & cheese scones which she baked for our last Band of Bakers event, seriously moreish. But what I'm making lots of right now, are these wild garlic socca.

Socca (or farinata) is a protein rich pancake made from chickpea flour. Naturally gluten free and dairy free its a great recipe to have up your sleeve if you are catering for anyone with food allergies or intolerances. Perfect for weaning babies and children as an alternative to bread or crackers, it can be used to dip, scoop or just eat as it is. I make it quite often for my boys (who are now 5 and 1).

In this recipe, the wild garlic gives the socca a gentle background flavour which works so well with the creamy whipped feta. I like to serve this for family lunch with some olives and sun blush tomatoes, but it would work just as well for pre-dinner nibbles or as a starter.

The lovely folk at Farmdrop are offering you £20 off a £40 shop if you would like to try them out for yourselves. All you have to do is place an order for £40 or more before the end of April and use the code REVOLUTIONGINGER at checkout to receive the discount. This offer is valid for one shop only until 30th April 2016.


Ingredients

For the whipped feta:

150g good feta
75g cream cheese
25-50g natural Greek yogurt
freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (plus extra to serve)

For the socca:

200g gram flour
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
2 tbsp olive oil
350ml cold water
a large handful of wild garlic, washed and finely sliced
oil for frying (I use groundnut)

Method

Begin by making the batter for the socca. Put the gram flour, salt (if using) and olive oil in a bowl and whisk in the cold water until you have a thin batter with no lumps. Put to one side.

To make the whipped feta, break the feta into chunks, place in a food processor and blitz until broken down. Add the cream cheese, half of the greek yogurt, lemon juice and olive oil and continue to blitz until smooth, adding the rest of the yogurt if the mixture is a little too thick (I find that the consistency of cream cheese and greek yogurt can vary quite a bit depending on the brains you use, so for a firmer whipped feta to use as a dip, you may not need all of the yogurt). Keep the whipped feta covered in the fridge until ready to serve.

When you are ready to make the socca, put a small frying pan over a medium heat. Stir the wild garlic into the socca batter. Put a little oil in the base of the frying pan (I do this by pouring about a tablespoon of oil into the frying pan, swirling it around and then pouring it into a little heatproof bowl. Then before frying each socca, I used a wad of kitchen roll to wipe the remaining oil around the base of the frying pan). Pour a ladle-full of batter into the frying pan and swirl around to cover the bottom, as you do when making a pancake. Fry for 2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and beginning to crisp at the edges. They are ready to eat straight away, or can be made ahead and then put into the oven (180 C / 160 C fan) for 5 minutes to reheat.

How much batter you will need depends on the size of your frying pan and how thick you would like your socca to be. I like to make them quite thin for this recipe so that my boys can spread them with the whipped feta and roll them up if they want to, but you may prefer a thicker, more robust socca to scoop the whipped feta up with.

Serves 4 as a light lunch or 6 as a starter

After writing up this recipe I opened up my brand new copy of Alice Hart's fantastic book, The New Vegetarian to find a similar recipe for wild garlic chickpea pancakes - great minds and all that…

I received a voucher worth £50 from Farmdrop to test out their online shop. 

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Orange & Marzipan Hot Cross Buns



My overwhelming memory of homemade hot cross buns is of tough, practically inedible, crosses. So  distracting were they, that I have no recollection of the buns themselves. Although I very much doubt that they were of the soft, rich, pillowy variety. More likely, they would have been simple, spiced wholemeal buns with sultanas but no mixed peel (definitely no mixed peel, given my Mum's well documented dislike for it). And so, as I grew up, I found myself drawn to the bakery-bought buns with their doughy crosses, saving myself a small fortune on emergency dentistry. 

Then one day, a local friend left a small package on my doorstep on his way home from work. Four of his freshly baked stem ginger hot cross buns. They were everything a homemade hot cross bun should be: rich, sweet, spiced and packed with fruit. Best of all, the crosses had just the right amount of bite. His tip, for this (then) hot cross bun novice, was to use milk instead of water to make the paste for the crosses. Years, and many buns, later I still prefer milk for my crosses.

I seem to have inherited my Mum's aversion to mixed peel. Unless it's homemade candied orange and lemon peel of course, but with two small boys constantly around my ankles and the near incessant cries of Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, I was not going to find the time to set about making any in time to put it into this year's hot cross buns (there's always next year). I used a mixture of Turkish black sultanas and golden sultanas. The orange flavour in these buns comes through well without the peel, but you could use ready mixed dried fruit or make up your own mixture of sultanas and good quality mixed peel.

I have adapted my recipe this year to adopt Felicity Cloake's method of infusing the milk for the dough with whole spices. It gives the buns a gentle, more subtle, spice. So many shop bought buns have a harshness to them due to over-spicing, which our palates are probably more accustomed to now, so these buns do taste quite different. But do give this method a go, even if just for that gorgeous background flavour of cardamon.


Ingredients

For the buns:

220g dried fruit 
finely grated zest of 2 oranges
3 tbsp cointreau
3 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
240ml whole milk 
1 cinnamon stick
3 cardamon pods, bruised
3 cloves
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
500g strong white bread flour
75g golden caster sugar
10g fast action yeast (I use Dove's Farm Quick Yeast)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 medium eggs, beaten
50g unsalted butter, softened
120g good quality marzipan, diced

For the crosses:

4 tbsp plain flour
3-4 tbsp milk

For the glaze (optional):

2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp water

Method

Start the day before you want to bake your hot cross buns by preparing the dried fruit. Put the dried fruit, orange zest, cointreau and orange juice into a small pan over a low heat. Heat gently, stirring often, until hot. Remove from the heat, cover and leave overnight (or for at least 4 hours) until the fruit has soaked up all, or most, of the liquid.

Put the milk, cinnamon stick, nutmeg, cloves and bruised cardamon into a small pan over a low heat. Bring to the boil, remove from the what and leave to infuse for 1 hour. 

Mix together the flour, caster sugar, salt, ground ginger and yeast in a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer). Strain the milk through a sieve. Add to the milk, butter and eggs to the flour and mix to form a sticky dough. Tip onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for about 10 minutes (or knead with a dough hook in your stand mixer), until you have a smooth, elastic dough.

Put the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover and leave to prove until it has doubled in size (around 2 hours).

Tip the proved dough onto a lightly greased work surface and knock out the air. Scatter the soaked dried fruit and cubed marzipan onto the dough and knead until evenly incorporated. Divide the dough into 15 equal pieces (you can do this by eye, or alternatively by weight which will give you more even buns). 

Roll each piece of dough into a ball and place in rows on a lightly greased baking sheet. Cover and leave to prove until they have doubled in size. 

Preheat your oven to 210 C.

To make the crosses, mix the plain flour with enough of the milk to make a thick paste. Transfer the paste to a piping bag fitted with a fine nozzle. Pipe crosses onto the buns, or if you don't have a piping bag, use a teaspoon to draw the crosses. Bake the buns for about 20 minutes until golden brown (depending on your oven, they may need up to 5 minutes more).

Whilst the buns are in the oven, make the glaze (if using). Mix the sugar and water in a small pan and heat until the sugar has dissolved but not coloured.

Remove the buns from the oven and brush the tops with the glaze. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Makes 15 buns




*When I baked these buns again for our Band of Bakers 'Spring Bakes' event last week I queried whether adding the fruit before the first or the second prove made much difference to the buns, resulting in a bit of a debate. I'm not sure it makes that much difference, but I prefer the texture of the buns using the method in my recipe above. The issue is that both the addition of the spice and the fruit slows down the rate at which the dough proves, but in testing this recipe I haven't found that adding the spices to the milk slows down the first prove significantly. Some recipes opt for a 3 stage prove - proving again once the fruit has been added, but before shaping into balls. Which method do you prefer? 

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup with Harissa Oil



The sun came out today. It brightened up my day.

If I ignore the cheeky bitter wind, my winter coat and bright yellow woolly scarf I can almost (almost) imagine that the warm rays on my face are from the evening Andalusian sun. I close my eyes, feel the heat and I'm back in the little garden of our white washed holiday home high up above the Sacramonte. Dusk is falling, heads pleasantly fuzzy from just one too many glasses of sherry. Giant, sweet red peppers are blistering in the embers of the barbecue, destined for lunchtime salads of salty anchovies, sun ripened tomatoes, crisp white onions, vibrant parsley and generous amounts of local olive oil.

Flavours, smells, feelings, colours that map out our year in family meals and holidays. Weeks under the blistering Spanish sun, long Easter weekends with family in France, lazy summer lunches in the little garden of our London home.

And so, with the first glimmers of springtime sunshine streaming through the windows, a little warmth creeping in, I crave the vibrant colours of my last holiday under the bright blue Malaga skies. This, the simplest of soups to make, yet visually stunning, bridges the gap between desire and reality. The essence of my summers in a comforting bowl of warm soup.

A perfect starter for a relaxed Easter Sunday lunch with family and friends, it can be made ahead of time and is great for babies and children too.

Ingredients

For the soup:

3 red bell peppers
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large red onion, finely chopped
2 (400g) tins whole plum tomatoes
1 tsp low Marigold low salt vegetable bouillon (optional)

To serve:

Natural whole milk yogurt
1 tsp harissa (I used Belazu Rose Harissa) mixed with 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

Method

Begin by preparing the red peppers. The easiest way to do this is on the gas hob (if you have one) - keep the peppers whole, place them over the flame and keep turning the peppers until their skin is black and blistered. Put the whole peppers into a plastic bag and seal (or place in a bowl and cover with cling film). Leave until cool enough to handle and then remove all of the skin, which should peel away easily, core and seeds. (If you don't have a gas hob you can achieve the same result by putting the peppers - sliced in half lengthways - under a hot grill). Roughly chop the peppers and set aside.

Put a heavy based saucepan over a low to medium heat. Add the olive oil and then the chopped red onion. Cook gently, stirring often for 8-10 minutes until the onions are soft, but not coloured.

Add the chopped red peppers, plum tomatoes, vegetable bouillon (if using - I don't use stock or salt when cooking for babies under 12 months) and 400ml boiling water to the saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 5 minutes.

Remove the soup from the heat, transfer to a blender and blitz until smooth. Put the pureed soup back in the saucepan, season to taste with freshly ground black pepper and salt (if using).

To serve, ladle the soup into warm bowls and top each one with a desert spoonful of yogurt and a little harissa oil.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Butternut Squash, Smoked Haddock & Kale Tart with Wholemeal Walnut Pastry



Autumn in a tart. Nutty, wholemeal pastry packed full of some of my favourite autumnal ingredients. 

I am slightly obsessed with Autumn. It's the one time of year when the seasonal fruit and vegetables really do match up to the gorgeous golden colours of the leaves. The exciting autumnal produce - sweetcorn, squash, leeks, plums, kale, figs, cabbage - has me running to my kitchen. 

To kick off my Autumn cooking fest this year, the lovely folk at Wholegood sent me a (quite frankly ginormous) box of uber fresh, organic fruit and veg. This was the first of many new recipes I've developed over the past four weeks (cooking is one thing, finding time to write about it in the chaos of family life is another...).


I'm a big fan of savoury tarts. They're perfect for family meals, portable for packed lunches and great for using up veg or making a small quantity of cheese or fish go a long way. They can also be easily grabbed by small hands, making them really practical for weaning. With this in mind, I didn't  add any salt to this tart, other than the small amount of smoked fish. If you're not feeding small people, then do add a good pinch of salt to the pastry and season the filling to taste. 

If you don't eat fish, then this tart works brilliantly with blue cheese too - omit the smoked haddock and black peppercorns, skip the fish poaching step, reduce the quantity of whole milk to 150ml (and whisk it directly  in with the cream and eggs) and add 100g crumbled blue cheese with the vegetables. 

Ingredients

For the pastry:

25g walnuts
100g plain flour
60g wholemeal flour
80g unsalted butter
50ml cold water

For the filling:

1 small butternut squash (approx 500g), peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
2 tbsp olive oil
150g natural undyed smoked haddock, skin removed
175ml whole milk
5 whole peppercorns
3 or 4 big stalls of green curly kale
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
150ml double cream
2 medium eggs
nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper

Method

Start by making the pastry. 

Preheat the oven to 170C. 

Put the walnuts on a small baking tray and roast for 8 minutes. Leave to cool completely then put them into a food processor or blender and pulse until finely ground. 

Put the flours, salt and butter in a mixing bowl and rub together with your finger tips until they resemble breadcrumbs.  Stir through the ground walnuts. Add the cold water, a little at a time, and bring together to form a ball (you may not need it all), handling the pastry lightly and as little as possible.  Flatten into a patty, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Grease a 23cm deep fluted loose bottomed tart tin. Roll the pastry out until it is about 3mm thick and line the tart tin, trimming the excess pastry around the edge of the tin. Using a fork, gently prick the pastry in the base of the tin all over, without piercing the pastry. Put the lined tart tin into the fridge to chill for 15 minutes (or longer). 

Preheat the oven to 200C. 

Put the cubed butternut squash and 1 tbsp of the olive oil into a roasting tin and mix well. Roast for 25-30 minutes until the squash is cooked and beginning to brown at the edges. 

Whilst the squash is roasting, blind bake your pastry.  Remove the lined tart tin from the fridge, line with a piece of non stick baking parchment and fill with baking beans. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the baking parchment and baking beans and return to the oven for a further 6-8 minutes (or until the pastry is just cooked through and starting to turn  lightly golden). Remove from the oven ready to fill (see below). 

Whilst the squash and pastry are in the oven, prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Place a small saucepan over a low heat. Add the whole milk and the peppercorns and bring to a gentle simmer. Add the smoked haddock and poach for 5 minutes, or until cooked through. 

Drain the milk into a jug, discard the peppercorns and put the smoked haddock to one side until it is cool enough to handle. Once cooled, check for bones and flake into small pieces. 

Remove the thick stalks from the kale and wash well. Bring a pan of water to the boil, blanch the kale leaves for 1-2 minutes, drain and cool under running cold water. Squeeze out any excess water and shred finely. 

Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a small frying pan over a medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook for 10 minutes until softened. 

Mix the roasted squash, onion, kale, smoked haddock together with some grated nutmeg and freshly ground black pepper and spread out inside the blind baked pastry case. 

Beat the eggs, reserved poaching milk and double cream together and pour over the filling. 

Put the tart into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until lightly browned and set. 

Remove from the oven and place the tart on a cooling rack. Leave for 15 minutes to cool before removing he tart from the tin to serve. 

Thanks to Wholegood for sending me a big box of organic veg and fruit to cook with, including this butternut squash and kale.