Mushrooms with polenta

This is my favourite stand-by lunch or supper at the moment – it takes about 20 minutes, is easy, satisfying and really tasty. I found the recipe in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Veg Everyday!, when I needed to eat up some mushrooms and didn’t fancy my usual options: risotto, mushrooms on toast or mushroom tart (a puff pastry turnover, filled with creamy mushrooms – a delicious recipe given to me by my mother’s friend Sarah). The mushrooms are dark and winy and the parmesan-flavoured polenta soaks up the juices (use a substitute for the parmesan if you are cooking for a strict vegetarian).

I used chestnut mushrooms the first time – as that is what I had – but next time I got a mixture of chestnut and portabella, which was even nicer. I think the recipe would work fine with most kinds of mushroom, especially the dark flat-cap ones. Delicate varieties might not stand up to the robust wine and herb flavourings. You can stir some chopped rosemary into the polenta at the end, if you want to. These quantities are for one, as I cooked it.

Polenta:
100ml milk
100ml water
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
1 spring onion, trimmed
40g quick-cook polenta
a knob of butter
a good grating of Parmesan

Mushrooms:
small slug of olive oil
small knob of butter
175g mushrooms (see above)
1 clove garlic, minced
leaves from a sprig of thyme
40ml red wine topped up to 80ml with water
salt & black pepper

Put the milk and water in a pan with the bay leaf, thyme, spring onion and a good grind of pepper and heat to a simmer. Then put aside to infuse while you prepare the mushrooms.

Trim the mushrooms and slice them thickly. Put the oil and butter in a frying pan and put over a medium-high heat. When melted, add the mushrooms, turn the heat up and cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms have released their juices, and are starting to get drier again and caramelise. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for another minute.

Now add the wine and water (you could use stock instead of water if you have it to hand, or indeed just use 80ml of a good vegetable or mushroom stock if you prefer). I have recently acquired some little 90ml Duralex glasses and find them really useful for approximately measuring small quantities of liquid like this. Bring up to a simmer, turn down the heat and leave to cook until about half the liquid has evaporated (say 7-10 minutes). While this is happening, I prepare a green salad to eat with it. When the mushrooms are about ready check the seasoning and turn the heat right down while you make the polenta.

Fish out the bay leaf and thyme from the milk and bring back up to a simmer. Pour in the polenta, stirring all the while to get a smooth mixture. I use a silicone spatula for this, as it is useful for getting all the polenta out of the pan afterwards. Keep stirring over medium heat for one minute – no more, as the polenta thickens quickly. Then pull off the heat, stir in the butter and parmesan and scoop onto your plate. Top with the mushrooms, add a drizzle of olive oil and/or a few shavings of parmesan if you wish, and devour with the salad.

Escalivada or Catalan roasted vegetables

Eating Escalivada reminds me of long holiday lunches while staying with my friend who has a flat by the beach in Llançà in Catalonia. It is so simple to make, yet the combination of roasted vegetables is just right, making a delicious starter, light lunch or a side dish that seems to go with everything.

Yesterday we had it with a dish of warm lentils, rocket salad and an oozingly ripe goat’s cheese. The only thing it demands is a bit of advance planning, as the vegetables need to cook quite slowly in the oven. This quantity serves 4 as a starter or part of a main course. It keeps well in the fridge, so it’s worth doing more than you need,  providing an instant hit of sunshine for supper later in the week.

1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 medium onion
1 aubergine
olive oil
2 tsp sherry vinegar

Heat the oven to 190ºC/Gas mark 5 – though if you were cooking something else at 180ºC/Gas mark 4 that would be fine too; they would just take a bit longer to cook. Wash the peppers and aubergine. Cut out the stems of the peppers and pull out the fibrous inside and seeds. Slice off the top of the aubergine, and pierce it a few times with a knife (to avoid explosions in the oven). Cut the onion into two (or four if it is fat) – no need to peel it.

Put all the vegetables into an oven dish and rub them with olive oil (except for the onion skin). Sprinkle with a little salt and cover tightly with foil. If you prefer you can wrap the vegetables individually in foil, but this strikes me as more trouble than is necessary. Roast for an hour, then check how they are doing – you need to roast them until they are really soft and starting to collapse. They will probably need another 30 minutes, and I took the foil off for the last 15 minutes to speed things up.

When the vegetables are all really soft take them out of the oven and leave until they are cool enough to handle. Then peel the skin off the peppers and aubergine – it should just pull away really easily. Extract any remaining seeds or fibres from the peppers – the only remotely fiddly part of the recipe. Slice the vegetables into long pieces about 2-3 cm wide and arrange on a platter. Pull the pieces of onion out of their skin, cutting them away from the root, and slicing them in half lengthways if they are too large to fit on a fork. Add them to the platter. Drizzle with olive oil and sherry vinegar, and season to taste. Serve at room temperature.

Escalivada is a great accompaniment to fish or lamb or chicken, or you can simply eat it with some good bread and a glass of wine. And pretend you are by the sea in Catalonia…

Poussin with peppers

img_2430This is an attempt to reproduce a recipe that Marlene cooks often though I don’t know how close it is to the original. It is ideal as an easy way of having a sort-of-roast dinner for one and is lighter and a lot quicker to make than full-on roast chicken. Roasting the poussin over peppers with stock keeps the poussin tender and moist, and gives you lots of  delicious vegetables and juice, best soaked up with basmati rice. The chilli and paprika give a welcome kick of heat to meat that can be a bit bland.

img_2432I cooked it for a solo Sunday lunch, with some lovely fresh cavolo nero and it fitted the bill perfectly.  The plump poussin I cooked made enough for two meals for me, but don’t count on having leftovers if you’re hungry !

1 poussin
1 tblsp olive oil
small onion
1 tsp paprika
1 clove garlic
1 red chilli
small red pepper
1 stick celery
2 sprigs thyme
2 tomatoes
½ lemon (optional)
100ml chicken or vegetable stock

An hour before you start cooking take the poussin out of the fridge to bring it to room temperature. Heat the oven to 200ºC. Choose an ovenproof pan that is the right size to hold the vegetables with the poussin on top. Ideally, you want an oven dish which will go on top of the stove as well, but if not – mine didn’t – you’ll need a medium frying pan to start things off. Heat half the oil in your oven dish or frying pan, season the poussin and quickly brown it on all sides, then set aside.

Put the kettle on to boil and pop the tomatoes into a heatproof bowl. Roughly chop the onion, pepper (you can use yellow or green peppers if you prefer) and celery. Finely chop the chilli any garlic (adjust the amount of chilli according to what type you have and how hot you like your food – I used one medium fairly mild one). When the kettle boils cover the tomatoes with boiling water and leave for a couple of minutes. Fish them out, run under the cold tap, score the skin with a sharp knife and it should then come off easily. Cut out the cores, and chop the tomatoes roughly.

img_2427Add the rest of the oil to the frying pan, and fry the onions gently until they are soft, adding the paprika after a couple of minutes and cooking it out thoroughly. I used less than 1 tsp of paprika, and thought it needed more, but the strength of paprika can vary, so you may want to be more cautious. Add the red chilli and garlic, fry for a minute or two, then add the rest of the vegetables. Cook until they are all softened, stirring from time to time – a good 5 minutes. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.

By now the oven should have reached temperature. If you have been using a frying pan, turn the vegetables into the oven dish. Add the thyme (and some celery leaves if you have them) to the bed of vegetables. Put the lemon half into the poussin and lay the poussin on the top. Moisten the layer of vegetables with stock – you may not need all of it – and put into the oven. Roast for 15 minutes, then check: add a little more stock if necessary and turn the bird if it is browning unevenly. Now is the time to start cooking the rice.

Roast the poussin for a further 15-20 minutes until the juices run clear. Take out of the oven, cover with foil and leave to rest for 10 minutes. Cut the poussin in half and serve with the vegetables and rice, spooning the  juice over liberally. And to be totally authentic put some Sambal Badjak on the table for those who like to add a bit of extra heat!img_2434

Mushrooms with polenta and gorgonzola

img_2389It had been a long day, it was raining and I was in serious need of comfort food – and a supper that didn’t involve going shopping first. I had some kale, the end of a packet of Gorgonzola, and a packet of chestnut mushrooms in the fridge – not very inspiring.

As soon as I spotted this recipe for mushroom ragout with polenta I knew it fitted the bill, as I had polenta in the cupboard and, unusually, a few dried porcini mushrooms too. Although I had to adjust some of the ingredients – no flat mushrooms only chestnut ones, Marsala instead of red wine, and gorgonzola instead of taleggio – my version was still really tasty – and comforting. I found this quantity of polenta rather more than I could eat, so if you’re not ravenous you might want to cook less.

Solace for one wet, weary person

a few porcini mushrooms
a large knob of butter
1 shallot, finely sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
Leaves of 2 sprigs of thyme
175g mushrooms, sliced
good slug of Marsala
60ml vegetable stock
25g gorgonzola

Polenta:
125ml milk
125ml water
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
60g instant polenta
12g butter
15g grated parmesan (or vegetarian alternative)

Start by putting the porcini in a small bowl, covering with 40ml of hot water and leaving to soak for 20 mins. Put the milk and water into a saucepan with the bay leaf and thyme, and heat to boiling point. Pull off the heat and leave to infuse while you get on with slicing the shallot and mushrooms. Measure out the polenta and make up the stock. I used a scant ½ tsp of Marigold bouillon with boiling water – it would be better still if you are organised enough to have cubes of home-made stock in your freezer – I’m not there yet!

Put a good knob of butter into a large-ish frying pan. When it sizzles add the chopped shallot and cook for a few minutes. Then add the garlic and thyme leaves and cook for another minute. Squeeze out the dried mushrooms, keeping their soaking water. Turn up the heat and add the porcini, then after a minute add the rest of the mushrooms and cook over a high heat for 4 or 5 minutes, stirring all the time so they don’t catch, until they are soft. Add a good slug of marsala (or red wine) and let it bubble up and reduce for a minute or so. Finally add the mushroom soaking water and stock, reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the sauce has reduced and you have the consistency of a stew.

img_2385After the mushrooms have been simmering for 5 minutes or so put the grill on to heat and make the polenta (and if you’re having greens, which I recommend, now is the time to steam them). Heat the flavoured milk and water back to the boil and pour in the polenta in a thin, steady stream, stirring hard all the time. Let it cook for a minute or two, then stir in the butter and parmesan (this is not a recipe for those who are wary of butter!). Pour into an ovenproof dish and create a dip in the centre.

img_2387When the mushrooms are ready pile them on top of the polenta, dot the gorgonzola over the top and put under the grill for about 3 minutes or until the cheese has melted. I do think it is best served with a big pile of fresh greens to counteract the richness of the buttery, cheesy polenta. I think it would be a good vegetarian dish for a crowd too, as the mushrooms could be prepared ahead and gently reheated, so that only the polenta would need to be done at the last minute. It would look good served on a big platter so that everyone could dig in – just multiply the quantities up to suit.

Poulet au vinaigre

img_2371After a day walking in the countryside in glorious winter sunshine on Sunday we were ready for a proper dinner. I had noticed an interesting recipe for Poulet au Vinaigre in the Guardian’s Cook supplement – I am really enjoying the articles by Iranian-American Samin Nosrat in her residency.

As it is a classic French recipe I thought I’d have a look at other recipes too, only to find that none of my cookbooks included the dish, not even Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This may be a reflection of the fact that I have fewer classic French cookbooks than I thought (a good excuse for a trip to the bookshop?). Searching online led me to Diana Henry’s recipe in House and Garden magazine, and it was this that Irene used as a base (I was strictly sous-chef on this occasion).

These quantities are for two generous portions (don’t be fooled by the picture above – we had seconds!). We served it with parsnips rather than the boiled waxy potatoes that Diana Henry recommends, and some broccoli – a green salad afterwards would probably be a more authentic way of getting your greens. To start we had prawn and avocado salad – sounds posh but I had a few prawns left from making fish pie on Friday and half an avocado that needed eating – and berry and frangipane bake for dessert. A delicious end to a beautiful day.

10g butter
4 chicken joints
1 large or 2 small shallots
2 large cloves of garlic, unpeeled
2 tbsp white-wine vinegar
150ml dry white wine
2 tbsp chicken or vegetable stock
1 tbsp brandy
1 tsp dijon mustard
½ tsp tomato purée
2 tbsp double cream

Poulet au vinaigrePeel the shallot(s) and chop finely. Melt the butter in a sauté pan, which has a lid. Dry the chicken and cut away any excess skin or fat. Put the chicken pieces into the pan, skin side down first, and brown them on all sides. Add the shallots and garlic and cover the pan. Turn the heat right down and cook gently for 30-40 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

After about 20 minutes put the oven on and heat to 130ºC/Fan 110ºC/Gas mark ½ – this is to keep the chicken warm while you’re finishing the sauce. Once the chicken is done, tranfer it to an oven-proof serving dish, loosely cover with foil and pop into the oven.

Pour the fat out of the pan but don’t wash it. Add the vinegar and stir to incorporate all the nice sticky bits from cooking the chicken. Boil quickly until you have about a third of the liquid left, then stir in the wine, stock, brandy, mustard and tomato purée, mixing well. Boil this until reduced to sauce consistency, then push it through a sieve into a clean saucepan, squashing the garlic cloves so that their soft flesh is added to the sauce. Add the cream and bring to the boil. Pour the sauce over the warm chicken in its dish and serve.

The original recipe finished the sauce with little cubes of cold butter whisked into the sauce (after  you’ve added the cream), but Irene decided that this would be a bit too rich for a Sunday supper – maybe something for a grander occasion. The dish is also supposed to have a garnish of a large plum tomato, skinned, de-seeded and cut into strips, but there were no tomatoes in the house on Sunday. It was nonetheless extremely tasty and satisfying, the tartness of the vinegar adding complexity and depth to the creamy sauce. Highly recommended.

Delicious nut roast

Nut roast with parsnips and cabbageThis is an Allegra McEvedy recipe, that convinced her that nut roast could be delicious! It was cooked by my friend Marion for a large lunch party recently and was such a hit with vegetarians and carnivores alike that several of us asked for the recipe afterwards.

It is straightforward to make, and you can prepare a lot of the ingredients ahead, so you only have to mix everything together and put it in the oven 40 minutes before you want to eat. Dare I say, this would make an excellent centrepiece for a vegetarian Christmas dinner – and fairly stress-free even for a cook who is also roasting turkey. I can also testify that any leftovers are delicious fried up with bubble and squeak!

100g almonds, skins on
100g hazelnuts, skins off
50g pecans
1 large leek, trimmed
150g vacuum-packed cooked chestnuts
splash of olive oil
1 shallot
1 heaped tbsp thyme leaves
100g Comté cheese, grated
1 eating apple, halved, cored and grated
handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
20g parmesan, grated
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 190ºC/fan 170ºC/Gas 5. As it’s heating lightly toast the almonds, hazelnuts and pecans on the tray for 12-15 minutes until they smell nice and nutty when you open the oven. (If you’re preparing ahead, you can roast the nuts while you’re cooking something else in the oven. Do watch them, though – I nearly burnt mine.) Tip them onto a plate to cool. Line a 450g loaf tin with buttered greaseproof paper.

Slice the leek in half lengthways, then slice finely, wash in a colander and leave to drain thoroughly. Chop the shallot.

Blitz the nuts in a food processor until you have a mixture of fine and chunky pieces. Chop the chestnuts to a similar consistency by hand, then mix it all together in a largish bowl.

Nut Roast mixturePut a splash of olive oil in a wide pan over medium heat. Sweat the leek, shallot and thyme for 10-12 minutes until soft but not coloured,adding a splash of water if they start sticking. (I prepared ahead to this point, popping the nuts and cooked leek mixture in separate containers in the fridge. When you’re ready to roast, remember to pre-heat the oven.) Stir the leeks into the nuts, together with the grated Comté, apple, parsley and eggs. Season well.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, packing it down as you go. Top with the grated Parmesan and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top looks invitingly golden. Leave to sit for 10 minutes before lifting out using the greaseproof paper and slicing thickly.

Marion served this with an amazing mushroom gravy, but I opted for tomato sauce (made as in this recipe with the addition of a fat clove of garlic minced and added a few minutes after the onions).

The roast parsnips I served as a side also went down well, converting one guest who said she didn’t like parsnips! If you haven’t already discovered their deliciousness they are really simple: cut parsnips into even sized chunks – say cut across into three, then halve the thinner bottom bits and cut the fatter end into four lengthwise. Preheat the oven to 230°C and put a roasting dish with a good slug of oil to heat in it. Steam the parsnips for 6 minutes. Carefully tip them into the hot fat and roast them for 20-25 minutes until golden brown, turning them after 10 minutes so they brown evenly.

As the nut roast is cooked at a lower temperature, I roasted the parsnips for 15 minutes while I was mixing up the nut roast, took them out and turned the oven down to 190ºC for the nut roast and then popped the parsnips back into the oven for a final 10 minutes while the nut roast was resting. All of which you can, of course, avoid if you have a second oven!

Potato and Kale Gratin

img_2209I came back from visiting my friends Mary and Allan with a bag full of wonderful produce from their allotment, including a big bunch of kale and a some potatoes, so this recipe is posted for them. I haven’t cooked it for ages: it’s from The Savoury Way by Deborah Madison, which was published over 25 years ago, but was clearly well ahead of its time, as it is right on trend now. Simple to make, vegetarian, includes kale (much-touted as the superfood du jour – or maybe du hier, by now) , with just a touch of luxury – gratin dauphinoise for the clean eating generation. I used single cream, as that is what I had, but I’m sure double cream would be even more delicious.

The gratin can serve as a satisfying centrepiece for the meal, or the accompaniment to a roast or some sausages. These quantities serve 4-6 (but the photographs show the miniature version I’ve made just for me).

500g waxy potatoes
1 large bunch kale
a little butter for the baking dish
200ml cream
salt & pepper

Scrub the potatoes – no need to peel them unless the skins are in bad shape – and slice about 0.5 cm thick. Put a pan of water onto boil, add salt and boil the potatoes for 5 minutes. Preheat the oven to 175ºC Fan/190ºC.

Carefully wash the kale, cut the leaves away from the tough stems and then them into large pieces. When the potatoes are done, scoop them out and put aside. Bring the water back to the boil and add the kale, pushing it under the water. Cook for 2 minutes and then tip into a colander to drain.

img_2208Grease a gratin dish with a little butter. Layer the kale and potatoes, pour the cream over the top and season with lots of pepper. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the cream has been absorbed and there is a golden crust at the edges.