Pasta with spicy roasted tomatoes

I am currently reading – or rather devouring – Rachel Roddy’s enchanting book Five Quarters (yes, I know I’m late to the party), so most meals in this house are currently Italian. This recipe is a collision between her wonderfully simple idea for spaghetti with roasted tomatoes and a Thomasina Miers recipe in the Guardian for Summer tomato tagliatelle with walnut and ‘nduja pesto. Miers’ recipe uses raw tomatoes and a delicious spicy ‘pesto’ made with ‘nduja, ground walnuts and fresh thyme. Both are highly recommended. The only issue is that in this country (especially in this lacklustre summer) most tomatoes taste of little and often have a watery texture. The beauty of Roddy’s recipe is that by roasting tomatoes in a generous quantity of olive oil even supermarket cherry tomatoes taste delicious.

I had cooked both recipes according to the instructions but yesterday, finding myself with some cherry tomatoes that were heading for the compost bin, some left-over ‘nduja and half a packet of fresh tagliatelle, I combined them. My next step is to try this recipe with one of the vegan ‘nduja equivalents on the market, as my hunch is that it is the punchy peppers that are the important element in the success of the dish. The other great thing about this recipe is that it is quick and easy enough for a weekday supper for two, which is what these quantities will feed.

Tagliatelle with spicy roasted tomatoes
  • 50g walnuts
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • several stems of fresh thyme
  • 200g cherry tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 20g ‘nduja or vegan equivalent
  • 1 tsp sherry vinegar
  • 200g fresh tagliatelle (or dried equivalent)
  • parmesan to serve
  • rocket or salad to serve

Heat the oven to 180C fan/200C. Put the tomatoes in a roasting dish, anoint with half the olive oil and some salt and roast for 20-30 minutes until they are soft and the oil is tinged red with the juices. Meanwhile, put the walnuts on a small baking tray and toast them in the oven for 6-10 minutes until they are pale gold (keeping an eye on them so they don’t burn). Both of these things can be done in advance when you’re using the oven for something else if you’re that organised and are trying to burnish your climate change credentials by minimising your energy use. You can also toast the walnuts in a hot frying pan on top of the stove if that is more convenient.

In a medium bowl beat the remaining oil into the ‘nduja to give a looser paste and add the peeled and crushed garlic clove and a big pinch of salt. Strip the leaves from the stems of thyme, chop them finely and mix them in. When the walnuts are cool enough to handle, chop them or pound them in a mortar to the texture of breadcrumbs. Stir them into the ‘nduja mixture with the sherry vinegar.

When the tomatoes are ready, scoop them all into the ‘pesto’, being careful to scrape all the juices and oil into the bowl, and mix together. Bring a large pan of water to the boil, salt generously and cook the tagliatelle according to the instructions – in my case, that was for about 3 minutes. You could, of course, make this with dried tagliatelle or spaghetti – just remember that it will take longer to cook. Scoop out half a cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the tagliatelle and put it back into the pan. Tip the spicy tomatoes onto the pasta, together with a tablespoon or so of the pasta water, lifting and mixing the two together with tongs or a serving spoon and fork until the tagliatelle is well coated and glossy with the sauce.

Serve with grated parmesan and a handful of rocket on top, or a salad on the side. And don’t blame me if you end up having the same thing for supper two nights on the trot!

Damson jam

The damson tree on my balcony gives me much joy, from its early white blossom through to the seductive dark bloom of the crop. I am sure the little tree would prefer to have its roots deep in the earth but until the day when I manage to get an allotment I will try to keep it going in its big pot. As well as being delicious in crumbles and tarts, damsons make one of my favourite jams – not too sweet, yet darkly luscious on toast or crumpets and good in a bakewell tart too. Damsons have lots of pectin so I have found it straightforward to make. I also like using a mix of damsons and blackberries.

Damson tree in blossom

Given the size of my crop, I only make jam in small quantities – gone are the days of processing tens of kilos of damsons produced by the mature tree in a previous home. My tree is Farleigh, which crops late (mid-September), but this year I have picked the fruit rather early – they were starting to fall and I didn’t want to lose them to the pigeons. These quantities make two jars but can obviously be multiplied up if you have more damsons. I have kept some of mine back for the freezer for puddings later in the year. I have been experimenting with reducing the sugar content and have gone down as low as 360g, which was also fine, so adjust to suit your taste. Using less sugar probably means that the jam wouldn’t keep quite as well, so may not be a good idea if you’re making a big batch for the store cupboard.

You will need two jam jars with lids that have been sterilised for 20 minutes in a low oven or by being immersed in boiling water plus greaseproof circles for the top of the jam; decorative gingham tops and fancy labels are optional. However, what is important in my view is a thermometer. I’ve tried all that business with testing jam on saucers in the freezer and never found it satisfactory – by the time you’ve decided the stuff in the saucer is set the rest of it is over-cooked. If you want to make jam just splash out a fiver and get a thermometer. I find I use mine for lots of other stuff too (making custard for example).

  • 450g damsons (or mixed damsons and blackberries)
  • 400g granulated sugar
  • 75ml cold water

Wash the damsons and remove any stems or leaves. Put into a large metal pan with the cold water and bring up to a simmer. Cook for about 10-15 minutes until the fruit has burst and softened. At this point the stones should have released from the flesh and you will be able to see them swimming to the top of the mixture like little red fish. At this stage I pull the pan off the heat and leave it to cool down so that I can pick out the stones. You could sieve the fruit, but that gives you a different texture, and I find it easy enough to fish the stones out by hand – use a disposable glove if you don’t want stained fingers. I never manage to get quite all of them at this stage, but usually manage to spot the escapees later before they get into the jar. If I’m using blackberries too I add them after I’ve removed the stones, as they cook pretty quickly.

Reheat the fruit over a moderate heat and add the sugar, stirring assiduously until it has all dissolved. I use a heat-proof spatula to scrape any sugar or juice from the side of the pan back into the jam at this stage to be sure that there are no remaining sugar crystals.

Now turn the heat up, bring the jam to the boil and cook without stirring until it reaches 105C. This should only take 5 minutes or so with this quantity, so start testing the liquid with the thermometer after just a few minutes, keeping your hands well away from the scalding jam. As soon as it has reached temperature pull the pan off the heat and leave it to settle for 10-15 minutes, skimming off any scum.

Two jars of damson and blackberry jam

Set the sterilised jars on a tray, in case of spills, and carefully pour the jam into them. Cover with the greaseproof circles and lids and allow to cool. I keep this in the fridge once the jar is open.

Busiate with Pesto alla Trapanese

I was shocked to discover that I haven’t posted on the blog since February. Lockdown fatigue had set in, and I had relapsed into cooking easy, familiar recipes (or succumbing to fancy take-aways) rather than trying out new dishes. Now that regulations have loosened a little, and the spring weather has improved, I have been enjoying meeting friends for walks and al-fresco lunches rather than spending time in the kitchen. So it took a kind gift from one of those friends – a packet of busiate with squid ink, brought back from a trip to Sicily in the before-time when such things were possible – to nudge me into cooking something new.

After fruitlessly checking all my Italian cookbooks for mention of busiate, I thought to search Rachel Roddy’s recipes on the Guardian online. Her partner is Sicilian so they spend summers there and she often posts Sicilian recipes. That’s where I found this recipe for Pesto alla Trapanese, a delicious vegan pesto for which busiate is the recommended pasta – though if you don’t have a good Italian deli nearby (or friends who can bring it back from Sicily for you) then casarecce or spaghetti also work fine. The black squid ink pasta made the dish look rather melodramatic and added a taste of the sea. The sauce tastes just as good with regular spaghetti.

I used most of one of those little plants of basil that you can get at the supermarket and some small ripe tomatoes, which were fiddly to skin but tasty. These quantities made enough for 2 very generous portions, with enough pesto left over to liven up some spaghetti for lunch the next day.

Busiate with pesto alla trapanase and griddled courgettes

The griddled courgettes are optional but they did go very well with the pasta.

  • 35g basil (weighed with stems)
  • 50g blanched almonds
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 75ml olive oil
  • 150g ripe tomatoes
  • 250g busiate or spaghetti
  • 1 large or 2 small courgettes
  • olive oil
  • parmesan (optional)

Peel the tomatoes by cutting a cross at the stem end, putting them in a small bowl and covering them with boiling water. Leave for a minute or two, then drain and once they are cool enough to handle you should be able to peel the skins away easily. If your tomatoes are large cut them in four.

Pick the basil leaves from the stems and blitz them in a small blender or food processor with the blanched almonds, garlic, olive oil and a pinch of salt. Once you have a smooth puree, add the tomatoes and blitz again. Season to taste. Put on a large pan of salted water to cook the pasta.

Heat a ridged griddle pan. Trim the ends of the courgettes and slice them lengthways or on the diagonal to give long thin fingers. Brush lightly with olive oil and griddle for about 3 or 4 minutes on each side until they are soft and golden with appetising grill-marks on them.

Once the pasta water has come to the boil add the pasta, stir and cook until al dente – the busiate took 9 minutes. Scoop out half a cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta in a colander. Add the pesto to the warm pan with a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water. Return the pasta to the pan and toss gently with a large fork and spoon or tongs, adding more pasta water if necessary, until the pasta is well coated.

Serve into pasta plates, add the courgettes and cover them with a good grating of parmesan (if you are using it – obviously not if you want the dish to be vegan).

Rhubarb, ginger and walnut crumble

Yesterday Irene made a crumble that was so delicious that she wanted to write it down so that she didn’t forget the quantities. The orange and ginger made the rhubarb really tasty, while the crumble was light yet crunchy thanks to the walnuts and demerara. The finished pudding looks really lush with the pink juices of the rhubarb bubbling up through the brown crumble. No photograph, alas, as we demolished it far too quickly!

It cheered us up and we can recommended it as a way of enjoying the early rhubarb and beating the winter blues. Quantities give 2-4 portions, depending on how hungry you are and what you eat beforehand.

  • 400g rhubarb
  • 1-2 heaped tbsps caster sugar
  • 1 orange
  • 2cm piece of fresh ginger
  • 70g plain flour
  • 0.5 tsp baking powder (or use self-raising flour)
  • 35g butter
  • 40g light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp demerara sugar
  • 35g chopped walnuts

Juice the orange and peel off three good pieces of the zest. Peel and finely slice the ginger. Cut the rhubarb into 3cm lengths and put in a pan with the ginger, orange juice and zest. Add sugar to taste – we like it quite tart as a contrast to the sweet crumble topping. Bring slowly to a simmer and cook very gently until just tender, which should take no more than 10-15 minutes. Watch it carefully as it can overcook very quickly.

Mix the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Cut the cold butter into cubes and rub it in with cold fingers. Stir in the sugars and chopped nuts – the demerara adds crunch but you can just use light brown sugar if you prefer.

When you’re ready to bake the crumble, pre-heat the oven to 185 C fan. Spoon the rhubarb into a baking dish, leaving most of the juice behind. Sprinkle the crumble evenly on top and bake for 25-30 minutes until the top is crisp and brown and the rhubarb juices are bubbling up. Serve with cold cream or hot custard.

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.