Chicory, watercress, pear & walnut salad

This recipe adapted from Raymond Blanc’s website has become one of our favourite winter salads. I can commend it to anyone looking to use up the last of their Christmas stilton as, although it is particularly nice with Roquefort, it also works well with other varieties of blue cheese. I have used St Agur, Gorgonzola picante and, yesterday, Stilton, all to good effect. The cheese for the dressing really needs to be at room temperature to make it easier to cream with the tepid water, but keep the cheese for the salad cold in the fridge ready to be crumbled over at the end. The pear should be ripe but still firm – better too firm than too soft for this recipe.

I have added watercress to the original recipe, as I love the taste of it and think the dark leaves complement the pale chicory and cheese. The salad looks particularly pretty if you use a mixture of white and purple chicory, but this is far from essential. We were out of chives yesterday, but they are definitely worth including. Serves two (or four as a starter, should we ever be able to entertain again).

For the dressing

  • 25g Roquefort or other blue cheese
  • 20g tepid water
  • 1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ground black pepper

For the salad

  • 2 small or 1 large head of chicory
  • 50g watercress
  • 50g walnuts
  • 1/2 medium Conference pear
  • 1/2 stick celery
  • 20g Roquefort
  • 1 tsp chives

To make the dressing cream the Roquefort or other blue cheese to a smooth paste in a large bowl using a spatula. Mix in the warm water and white wine vinegar and whisk until smooth. Then whisk in the olive oil little by little until well amalgamated. Season the dressing to taste with freshly ground black pepper. You shouldn’t need any salt as the cheese will make the dressing quite salty already.

To assemble the salad, wash and quarter the chicory lengthways and, if you are using a large head, cut the pieces in half again. Peel the pear if you don’t like the skin, and slice it thinly lengthways then across in half again if the pieces are rather large for a forkful. Finely slice the celery. Pick and wash the leaves of the watercress and spin them dry in a salad spinner or clean tea-towel. If you have time, toast the walnuts briefly in a dry frying pan before roughly chopping them. Finely chop the chives.

Add the chicory, watercress, walnut, pear and celery to the dressing in its bowl and turn gently to mix them together. Crumble two thirds of the cold Roquefort into the salad and toss it again before arranging on two plates. Crumble over the remaining blue cheese and sprinkle with the chopped chives.

Jan’s lemon drizzle cake

If you want a change from rich Christmas bakes, here’s a lighter cake that is quick and easy to make. This recipe was given to me many years ago (2002!) by a publishing friend. I haven’t made it for ages, but it’s really good, moist and lemony. It is also an excuse to buy lemon curd, which is so nice on muffins or toast at tea-time and also makes a fine topping for pavlova, mixed into some whipped cream with some raspberries!

  • 110g butter
  • 100g caster sugar + 2 tbsp for drizzle
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 lemon
  • 100g plain flour
  • 40g ground almonds
  • 1 heaped tsp baking powder
  • 2 dstsps lemon curd
  • 1-2 dstsps natural yoghurt

Grease and line a 1lb baking tin. Heat the oven to 170 C fan, then reduce to 160 C fan when you put the cake into the oven.

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and grated rind of the lemon. Sieve together the flour and baking powder (the original used 140g self-raising flour instead of the flour/ground almonds/baking powder so you can leave out the almonds if you prefer) and beat in together with the lemon curd. Add enough yoghurt to give a soft, almost dropping consistency.

Put in the lined baking tin and bake for 40-50 minutes until it is risen slightly and springy. Beat together the juice of the lemon and the extra 2 tbsps of sugar. When the cake comes out of the oven, prick a few holes in the cake and pour over the drizzle. Leave to cool before cutting.

This cake will keep for a few days wrapped in greaseproof and then foil or an airtight tin, and it also freezes well.

Christmas Stollen

I used to be a devotee of traditional Christmas Cake, but my Dutch partner introduced me to home-baked Stollen – an entirely different thing from the dense, overly sweet version you can buy in the shops – and that is now our Christmas baking tradition. Although an enriched bread, it is much lighter than Christmas cake, yet still has the seasonal tastes of dried fruit, citrus peel and marzipan.

For many years I have used Delia Smith’s Stollen recipe, but after doing the (highly recommended) Puff pastry course this year I felt emboldened to experiment and see if I could create something even better. I compared the quantities and methods of several recipes, and adjusted the ingredients to our tastes: no glace cherries, lots of peel and dried apricots rather than currants. Feel free to adjust the dried fruit to your preferences, just keeping the overall quantity the same. I used Puff bread guru Nicola Lamb’s brioche method for making the original dough in the mixer, and rested the dough in the fridge, which I think helped to develop the flavour and give a better rise. I also find it convenient to be able to take a break in proceedings, as the long bulk rise and proving times mean that you are otherwise tied to the house for the best part of six hours!

One of the recipes I tried was by Richard Bertinet, which included creme d’amandes, as well as chunks of marzipan. The creme d’amandes filling was delicious – imagine an almond croissant crossed with brioche – but I found encasing the gooey filling in the bread dough was quite a challenge, so rather a lot of it ended up on my baking sheet. I also made the mistake of using chunks of commercial marzipan, which was actively unpleasant. I normally make my own marzipan and was mystified when my sister-in-law said she didn’t like marzipan: now I understand, if she’s only ever had the packaged variety.

So my recipe specifies home-made marzipan, which is hardly any trouble, and makes all the difference to the final stollen. The end result is a light bread, not too heavily fruited, with a delicious soft almond marzipan centre. I have used less butter than Delia suggests but you could increase the butter to 110g using exactly the same method if you prefer something a bit richer. The stollen is delicious unadorned when first baked, and then toasted and buttered a day or two later. It also keeps well in the freezer if you don’t want to eat it all at once (or you can batch bake and have one to eat later).

Do measure out the butter and milk (and take your egg out if you keep them in the fridge) in advance, so that they come to room temperature. Yeasted dough doesn’t like the cold, and trying to incorporate fridge-cold butter into brioche-type dough is asking for trouble.

  • 350g strong white flour
  • 50g sugar
  • 8g salt
  • 7g instant dry yeast
  • 150g milk
  • 1 large egg (75g)
  • 90g softened butter
  • 50g sultanas
  • 70g candied citrus peel
  • 40g soft dried apricots
  • 25g flaked almonds
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 20g melted butter
  • icing sugar to finish
  • For the marzipan:
  • 80g ground almonds
  • 80g caster sugar
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 small egg

Mix the flour, sugar, salt and dried yeast in the bowl of your mixer. Fit the dough hook and add in the room temperature milk (slightly warm yours if it has come straight from the fridge) and beaten egg. Mix the dough on medium speed for 5-7 minutes until it is starting to become stretchy.

Now increase the speed of the mixer and start adding the butter in small pieces (about 1 tbsp each), waiting until each one is absorbed before adding the next. To begin with it may look as if the dough is splitting apart but keep going. Mix at high speed until the dough is shiny and elastic.

If you are doing this by hand, mix all the dry ingredients in the bowl then add the milk, egg and softened butter and mix until the dough starts to come together. Now knead the dough for 5-7 minutes. The dough may be a bit sticky, but don’t be tempted to add flour (wet your hands if it’s sticking too much). You may not get quite the same results as using a mixer, because adding the butter at the beginning can reduce the rise (do the Puff course if you want to learn how to incorporate the butter separately by hand!).

Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover (I use those disposable shower caps which I no longer need now that travelling is not possible) and leave it to rise somewhere warm and draught-free for 1-2 hours. The dough should roughly double in size and the time this takes will be affected by the temperature in your house. Mine took an hour and a half in the airing cupboard.

Now punch down the dough – you should be able to see the air bubbles you are pressing out – and put it in a closed container in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. You can go directly to the next step if you prefer or are short of time, in which case you can put the dough back in the mixer to mix in the dried fruit.

Meanwhile, prepare the ingredients for the filling. Make the marzipan by mixing equal quantities of ground almonds and caster sugar with the zest of half a lemon and enough beaten egg for the mixture to just come together. For 80g of almonds and sugar you will probably only need about two-thirds of the egg. Mould the marzipan into a log (or two if you’re making two half-size loaves, which I prefer) and rest it in the fridge.

Weigh out the dried fruit and cut the peel and apricots into small pieces. If you can get it, the candied peel that comes in big pieces has much more flavour and a better texture than the tubs of ready cut peel. My sultanas and apricots were looking a bit dried out so I soaked them in water (you could of course use a tablespoon or two of brandy or rum if you prefer).

When you are ready to proceed take the dough out of the fridge and let it come to while you mix the filling ingredients together in a bowl. Lightly flour your bench and put your dough smooth side down on the surface. Flatten it out to a rectangle about 25 x 25 cm. Spread half the filling over the bottom half of the dough, and fold the top half of the dough down over it. Now stretch the dough a bit sideways, add a quarter of the mixture and fold the dough in from the left. Now turn the dough over so that what was the right hand edge is on the left, gently press it out sideways and repeat the fold to incorporate the last quarter of the filling. Finally press it back out and repeat the turns, to ensure the fruit is evenly incorporated. Don’t overdo this as the dough will become sticky and the fruit will start popping out. Form the dough into a ball, put it back in its bowl and leave to rest for 30 minutes.

Grease a baking tray (or two) or line with silicone paper and take the marzipan out of the fridge Flatten the dough to a 25 x 20 cm oblong and place the log of marzipan down the centre (or divide in half and shape two separate loaves). The marzipan should be just short of each end so you can completely enclose it in the dough. Fold each side of the dough over to cover the marzipan, pinching the edges to seal. Place the stollen seam side down on the prepared baking tray, cover with a cloth and leave it to prove for around 2 hours until it has doubled in size. About half an hour before it is ready pre-heat the oven to 170 C fan.

Bake the stollen for 30-35 minutes until it is golden brown. Check after 20 minutes as you may need to turn the temperature down to 150 C fan if it is browning too fast. Transfer it to a rack. While it is still warm brush it with the melted butter and sieve icing sugar generously over it.

The stollen will last for four or five days, and a freshly baked loaf (or half of one) keeps well in the freezer if you have made more stollen than your household can (or should) eat in a few days – hence my preference for making two smaller loaves.

Parsnip and mushroom Wellington

This is the dish I made when my brothers came to see me last Christmas, so it brings back happy memories, as well as being a poignant reminder that we won’t be able to meet this year. Although it involves a number of steps, it is well worth the trouble for any special occasion and was as popular with omnivores as with my vegan brother. Besides, if you’re in lockdown like me, what else are you doing? The recipe, which is by Maria Elia, was in delicious. magazine last year.

I have given the ingredients and method for each element of the Wellington, as you can prep them in advance to avoid a kitchen marathon before dinner – but do check all the ingredient lists before you go shopping. I used a porcini and truffle paste in the mushroom filling instead of the truffle oil. The original recipe suggests adding dried cranberries on top of the parsnips, but I have never been able to see the point of dried cranberries (some cranberries I added to the compost heap didn’t decompose and I have been suspicious of them ever since). You’ll need around 45g if you feel differently. I have given the quantities for a large Wellington to feed 8, but I actually made a half quantity, which might fit the bill if your festive meal will be for a smaller group this year. The original article give a recipe for gravy using the porcini soaking water and parsnip trimmings: gravy is definitely a good idea, but I have suggested adding some mushrooms to give a richer flavour.

Note that the finished Wellington needs to be chilled for at least 30 minutes before you bake it. I suggest making the puree, roasted parsnips and mushroom filling in the morning, then you can assemble the Wellington at tea time and put it in the fridge, leaving you free to welcome your guests. All you have to do is pre-heat the oven, prepare your chosen vegetables and glaze the Wellington before you put it in the oven.

Butter bean puree

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 fresh sage leaves
  • 200g tinned butter beans
  • 1 tsp sherry or balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp truffle oil

Finely slice the onion, chop the garlic, strip the thyme leaves from the stem and chop the sage leaves. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, and add the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes and then add the garlic and herbs. Continue to cook until the onion is soft and caramelised, which will take another 5-10 minutes. Transfer to a food processor with the butter beans, vinegar and truffle oil, and pulse until they form a rough puree (or use a stick blender).

Roast parsnips

  • 3 large, evenly-sized parsnips (around 750g)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp dijon mustard

Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Peel and quarter the parsnips, keeping the peel to add flavour to your gravy if you wish. Toss the parsnips in the olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. Roast them for 20-25 minutes until golden and almost tender, turning them once or twice so that they cook evenly. Coat them with mustard and leave them to cool.

Mushroom & chestnut filling

  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 400g mixed mushrooms
  • pinch chilli flakes
  • 20g dried porcini mushrooms
  • 75g cooked chestnuts
  • 2 tbsp truffle oil

Put the dried porcini to soak in 250ml of freshly boiled water, and finely chop the mixed mushrooms. Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Add half the mushrooms and season with salt, pepper and chilli flakes. Cook over medium to high heat until all the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms have browned. Put on one side and repeat with the other half of the mushrooms.

Squeeze out the porcini, keeping the liquid to make gravy. Heat the last tablespoon of oil and fry the porcini until they are dry. Add to the cooked mushrooms together with the chestnuts and the truffle oil and mix well. Check the seasoning and leave to cool (this is important – warm filling makes the pastry hard to handle).

Assembling the Wellington

  • 175g cavolo nero
  • 500g vegan puff pastry
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Trim the cavolo nero, and cut in half lengthways, cutting away any tough stems. Blanch in boiling salted water for 4-5 minutes. Tip into a colander, refresh under cold water to stop it cooking, then drain thoroughly and pat dry with a clean tea towel.

Now clear your bench, get out a baking tray and have your prepared ingredients to hand. Roll the puff pastry on a sheet of baking paper to a rectangle 27 x 37cm (27 x 18cm for the half quantity). Spread the butter bean puree across the middle of the pastry, leaving a 3cm border (if you are making the full quantity your pastry will be twice as wide as the pictures below). Add half the cavolo nero leaves and top with half the mushroom filling. Arrange the parsnips evenly along the length of the pastry, then cover with the rest of the mushroom filling and finish with the remaining cavolo nero leaves.

Mix the maple syrup and oil and use it to brush the edges of the pastry (keep the rest of the mixture to glaze the Wellington later). Using the baking paper to help, roll the pastry tightly over the filling, as you would a swiss roll. Put it onto the baking try, making sure the seam is underneath. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (or up to a day).

Mushroom gravy

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot
  • 50g mushrooms
  • parsnip trimmings (optional)
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 100ml vegan red wine
  • porcini soaking liquid, made up to 400ml with hot water

Finely slice the shallot and mushrooms and heat the olive oil. Cook the shallot and mushrooms, with the parsnip trimmings if you wish, over a medium heat until golden and caramelised. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Add the red wine bit by bit, then the porcini soaking liquid, stirring continuously until the gravy thickens. Simmer for 5 minutes and season with salt and pepper. Then put through a sieve.

When you’re ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 200 C fan/gas 7. Lightly score the top of the pastry (rather than cutting through the pastry as I nearly did!) using a sharp knife, then brush the top with the maple syrup glaze. Bake for 30-40 minutes until puffed and golden. Leave the Wellington to stand for 5 minutes once you’ve taken it out of the oven. Reheat the gravy and transfer it to a hot jug. Slice the Wellington carefully with a serrated knife and serve with porcini gravy, sprouts or beans and roast potatoes.

If nothing else, we can still eat well this Christmas!

Bramble clafoutis

Another gem from my collection of cuttings, this pudding is an excellent answer to the question of what to do with blackberries, when you’ve finished making bramble jam and eaten enough blackberry and apple crumble (if that is possible). The recipe is from Valerie Wong’s Twinnydip blog, and was included in Felicity Cloake‘s Readers’ Recipes Swap column in the Guardian back in September 2013.

This version of clafoutis uses cream and ground almonds to make the batter a little richer than the everyday original from the Limousin. The light, tender custardy top sets off the dark, juicy blackberries perfectly. I cut the amount of sugar in the batter a little – feel free to add another 10g if you have a sweet tooth or very tart brambles.

The recipe starts by soaking the brambles in water with a little icing sugar in. I’m not sure why one does this, but am loath to leave it out, given that the result was so satisfactory. Does anyone know what difference it makes?

These quantities serve two generously and were a perfect fit for my 20 x 15cm enamel pie dish. It is best eaten warm, perhaps with a little extra cream (twinnydip suggest ice cream, but I didn’t fancy that).

  • 125g blackberries
  • 1 rounded tsp icing sugar
  • 25g ground almonds
  • 15g plain flour
  • 40g caster sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 120ml double cream

Heat the oven to 180 C/165 C Fan/gas mark 4. Soak the blackberries in cold water with the icing sugar for 10 minutes, then drain. Grease your pie dish and put the blackberries into it in a single layer.

Mix all the other ingredients together until smooth and pour over the blackberries. Bake for 20-25 minutes until puffy and golden. Allow to cool a little before serving.

Squash parcels with spiced tomato sauce

We tried this Nigel Slater recipe from the Observer and would definitely do it again. It is not too taxing to make for a weeknight supper, yet opening the parchment packages makes it feel special. Good bolstering food for this wet, wintry weather.

I also tried the orange and poppy seed cakes in the same article – though without the poppy seeds as I had run out. Lining muffin tins is fiddly, and the cakes themselves were little different from my regular lemon drizzle cake. However, they looked cute and the addition of crystallised orange peel as a topping was definitely a good idea. We wondered whether drizzle cake would be even nicer with chopped orange or lemon peel in the cake itself. I may experiment…

Back to the squash – these quantities are for two. Forgot to take any photos – will have to add them next time we make it!

  • 250g butternut squash (or pumpkin)
  • 200g tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 200g cherry tomatoes
  • 1 fat clove of garlic
  • 1 tsp red chilli paste
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar

Heat the oven to 200 C/Gas mark 6. Cut two pieces of baking parchment (or foil) about 30cm square.

Peel the squash or pumpkin, cut into 2cm cubes and put into a bowl. Roughly chop the tomatoes and mix them with pumpkin, 2 tbsps of olive oil, bay leaves and season generously with salt and black pepper. Divide the mixture between the two sheets of parchment and fold into a parcel, securing with a paperclip. Place on a baking sheet and bake for around 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Roughly chop the cherry tomatoes. Heat the remaining 1 tbsp of oil on a high heat in a wide, shallow pan. Add the tomatoes and some salt and pepper and cook them until they are soft and juicy. Peel and thinly slice the garlic and add to the tomatoes with some seasoning. Cook until the sauce thickens, stirring from time to time, before adding the chilli paste and cooking or a further 5 minutes. Finally, add the vinegar and check whether in needs any more seasoning.

Let people open their own parcel of squash at the table, and spoon over the spicy tomato sauce. If you wanted to add more heft, you could serve with some brown rice.

Chocolate mousse

Lockdown has intensified my search for treats that can be scaled down to quantities suitable for two. I really enjoy having a cake or dessert at the weekend, but so many recipes are designed for six or eight people and are tricky to make in smaller portions. However delicious something is, one doesn’t necessarily want to eat it three or four days in a row (quite apart from the impact on one’s waistline!).

Chocolate mousse is ideal – the quantity can easily be scaled up or down, it is quick to make and feels like a luxurious treat. The first recipe I learned when I was a teenager used only chocolate and eggs. I have since tried others which include sugar (not necessary), cinnamon (not an improvement in my book) or cream (which I prefer to serve alongside, leaving the mousse rich and dark). However, I think the addition of coffee in this recipe works really well, giving a deep, intense flavour.

Like many of us, I have been clearing out old files during lockdown, including my over-stuffed recipe folder, and found this recipe, which I had cut out of the newspaper. I hadn’t written any reference on it (tut, tut), but from the tone and the font I think it’s a Nigel Slater recipe from the Observer.

I used espresso powder, as I don’t have an espresso machine, but you could use 1 tbsp of espresso plus 1 dstsp of hot water if you make espresso at home.

For 2, in or out of lockdown

Chocolate mousse
  • 60g good 70% dark chocolate
  • 10g butter
  • 1/2 tsp espresso powder
  • 25ml very hot water
  • 1 large egg

Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Put the espresso powder into a heatproof bowl with the hot water and stir until it is dissolved. Sit the bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bottom doesn’t touch the water, and add the chocolate and butter. Push any lumps of butter or chocolate under the liquid, but avoid the temptation to stir the mixture until all the chocolate has melted. Then stir once and take it off the heat.

Separate the egg, and beat the egg white to soft peaks. Use a finger to check that the chocolate mixture is just warm, then beat the egg yolk lightly and mix it into the chocolate with two or three stirs. Finally, fold in the egg whites slowly and firmly with a metal spoon, without knocking out all the air you’ve just beaten in.

Spoon the mixture into after-dinner coffee cups or small glasses, cover with cling film and chill for at least a couple of hours. Savour with a teaspoon, and a little cream or an almond biscuit on the side if you wish to gild the lily.

Almond Biscuits

This post is for Marlene, who used to make these delicious biscuits for tea when I was visiting. She kindly gave me a folder of recipes she had collected, including this one, which was originally part of a Good Housekeeping menu from 1982 for a September Dinner Party. The biscuits were to accompany a Grand Marnier Bavarois with Raspberry & Blackberry Sauce, which sounds amazing. The rest of the menu featured a starter of Chilled Ratatouille (including leeks & mushrooms – surely inauthentic) and Steak in Whisky served with watercress and Scalloped Potatoes – how tastes have changed!

Being able to give any dinner party seems a distant prospect as we edge back into lockdown, but baking is firmly on the agenda, and these biscuits give a very good effort to return ratio. I made the full quantity, but only shaped and baked half of it, putting the rest of the dough, tightly wrapped, into the butter compartment of the fridge to bake later. The biscuits do keep for a few days in an airtight container, but are particularly nice on the first day. The recipe makes 16 biscuits.

  • 75g soft butter
  • 100g granulated (or caster) sugar
  • 150g self-raising flour
  • 25g ground almonds
  • 1 egg yolk
  • a few drops of almond essence

Heat the oven to 160 C fan/180 C/Gas Mark 4. Beat the butter until soft and gradually beat in the sugar either by hand or in a mixer. Then mix in all the remaining ingredients, and knead lightly until the dough just comes together.

Divide the dough in half and roll each half into eight balls. If you want to keep half for later, wrap it tightly and pop it into the fridge (you could probably put it in the freezer too, though I haven’t tested that). Place well apart on a lined baking sheet and flatten each one with the tines of a fork. I always use a silicone liner as it works out cheaper than greaseproof paper and is wonderfully non-stick.

Bake in the preheated oven for 13-15 minutes until the biscuits are golden brown. Carefully lift off the baking sheet – a cranked spatula is ideal for this – and cool on a wire rack. As you can see mine came out a bit cracked and wonky, but they were delicious to eat!

Sourdough Crackers

Now that the temperature has dropped I am trying to revive my sourdough starter. As this involves regular feeding, I am also revisiting all the recipes I have found for using up the discarded starter!

Aside from making muffins, I have made sourdough crackers, which are incredibly easy and tasty. I started off with a recipe by @_alicepower_ that I found on Martha Delacey‘s Instagram feed, where you just mix 200g discard with 2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil, salt and seeds of your choice, paint it onto a lined baking tray (silicone mats or liners are ideal) and bake at 170 C fan until well browned, which takes 15-20 minutes.

This produces strongly savoury, yeasty crackers even from smelly old sourdough discard – great for snacks but a bit rustic, as you can see.

Sourdough crackers

I have since used a recipe I found on love and olive oil, which adds fresh flour to the starter. This produces a more elegant cracker, especially if you have a pasta machine. I don’t but am seriously considering acquiring one after seeing the neat, firm crackers that my friend produced with hers.

You can adjust the type of flour you use according to taste or what you have. The original recipe is American and uses all-purpose and whole wheat flour with a bit of rye. I have tended to use half strong flour (either white or wholemeal), though I haven’t done a comparative test, and if lockdown resumes strong flour may once again become a rare commodity. Adding a little rye flour is good for flavour, but you only need a couple of tablespoons, and the total quantity of flour should stay the same. Note that the quantities in this recipe are for a starter which has the same quantity of flour and water (aka 100% hydration), so if yours has less water in it you will need to up with water accordingly. I generally use 65% hydration for my starter, as it keeps better in the fridge, so I add 70ml water to this recipe.

  • 200 grams sourdough starter
  • 70g plain or strong flour
  • 60g wholemeal flour (or wholemeal & rye)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dried herbs de Provence
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • maldon salt, for topping

Mix the sourdough starter with the flours, olive oil, herbs and salt in a bowl and knead until the dough comes together in a smooth ball. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 175 C/Gas mark 4 and line two baking trays with parchment or silicone mats. Cut the dough in half and put one half back in the fridge while you roll out the other.

Divide the dough into four and roll out each one into an oblong, either with a rolling pin or with a pasta maker (loveandoliveoil recommend a number 6 setting out of 8). Put two oblongs of dough on each baking sheet. Spray or brush lightly with water and sprinkle with the flakes of Maldon salt.

Bake until lightly golden brown and crisp, which should take 12 to 15 minutes. If the heat in your oven is uneven (true of most ovens), then swap the baking trays from top to bottom and turn then from back to front half way through. Allow the crackers to cool before transferring them to a rack, then repeat with the remaining dough.

I have found that the crackers keep for a week or two in an airtight container.

Bean and vegetable chilli

This is a relatively recent discovery. I am not one of those who got through student days on big pans of chilli and baked potatoes, and often find Mexican-influenced food a bit heavy. However, when Irene came back from the Netherlands with some bruine bonen, aka brown beans, I was on the hunt for recipes to use them.

I found Raymond Blanc’s adaptation of Bruno Loubet’s bean and vegetable chilli on the BBC Food website. Although Blanc’s recipes can seem rather finicky and detailed, I have always found them incredibly good and reliable. He tells you exactly what you need to know to get an excellent result.

That said, I have diverged from the master in a few respects with this recipe. He includes 100g brown sauce, but as I don’t use brown sauce for anything else I have omitted it, though I sometimes add a tbsp or two of good red wine vinegar if the flavour seems to need sharpening. Blanc uses kidney and flageolet beans (one tin of each), cooking the flageolet beans for 10 minutes in a pint of water, and using the resulting flageolet water to cook the rice. I have never tried this, as I have generally made it with dried beans – either brown, pinto or white beans – that I cook in advance.

It is the best bean and vegetable chilli that I have tasted – really savoury and satisfying – with the chopped vegetable base giving a rich taste and texture. Using the food processor makes it pretty quick and easy to make too. Vegans can make a replacement for the Worcestershire sauce by mixing 1 tbsp cider vinegar, 1.5 tsp soy sauce, ½ tsp each of mustard powder, ginger and brown sugar and a good pinch of cinnamon (or one of the many other suggested mixtures online). I am hoping that my vegan brother will try this out and give some feedback – or tell me about an even better chilli recipe!

These quantities serve 8 generously, but it is not the sort of dish to make in small portions.

 

  • 1 bay leaf
  • 200g dried beans (or 2 cans)
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 small or ½ medium onion (125g)
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 125g celery
  • 70g fennel
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 red pepper
  • 375g button mushrooms
  • 1 red chilli
  • 12g fresh ginger, grated
  • 100ml rapeseed oil
  • large pinch of sea salt
  • 100g tomato purée
  • 200g piquillo peppers (optional)
  • 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • brown (or white) basmati rice to serve
  • 40g grated dark chocolate (at least 70% – Blanc says 100%)
  • 10g coriander leaves
  • Lime wedges, guacamole and Greek yoghurt to serve (optional)

If you’re using dried beans soak them overnight. The next day cover them with fresh water, bring up the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until tender – this can take anything between 45 minutes to 1.5 hours depending on the type and age of your beans, so do cook them ahead of time – or follow Blanc and use tinned beans.

Toast the spices in a dry frying pan over low to medium heat for a minute or two until their scent rises, then set aside.

Roughly chop the onion, celery, fennel, carrot and red pepper into chunks. Put them into a food processor and add the crushed garlic, mushrooms, chilli and ginger. Pulse in short bursts until all the ingredients are finely diced. If necessary do this in batches to avoid over-loading your food processor.

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Put the rice on to cook. Heat the oil in a large saucepan or casserole and gently fry the toasted spices and diced vegetables with a large pinch of salt for 10 minutes.

Add the tomato purée, piquillo peppers and tinned tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes. Then stir in the drained beans and Worcestershire sauce and cook for a further 5 minutes. To finish, stir in the grated chocolate and check the seasoning. Scatter the chopped coriander on top and serve with the rice and your chosen extra toppings.

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