Mushrooms with Taleggio and Tomato Sauce

My friend Jane made this for our Reading Group recently and it was so delicious that I immediately asked for the recipe. It is gloriously quick and easy to put together yet tastes rich and complex. It really does take 10 minutes to assemble and only 15 minutes in the oven, so it’s on the table in under 30 minutes. Make a green salad while it’s in the oven and you have the perfect mid-week vegetarian supper, lunch or, with a starter and dessert, dinner.

The recipe originally came from the Waitrose magazine, and there is a more complicated version in Ottolenghi’s Plenty, as well as a number of other variants online. I made it with sage, as I didn’t have any thyme, and can report that thyme tastes better. If you had some home-made tomato sauce to hand then that would be good here. The only problem with using passata is what you do with the rest of the carton, as I never seem to think of another suitable recipe to make before it starts going mouldy – any ideas?

Quantities here are for two but can easily be multiplied as required.

150g passata
2 large portabella or field mushrooms
100g Taleggio
a few sprigs of thyme
2 small slices of sourdough (or ciabatta)
1 tbsp olive oil

Heat the oven to 200ºC Fan/220º C/Gas mark 7. Pour the passata into an ovenproof dish. Trim the stalks of the mushrooms and wipe the caps (you can peel them if they are damaged, but I rarely find this is necessary). Place them on the passata, stalk side up.

Slice the Taleggio and divide between the two mushrooms. Strip the thyme leaves from the stems and scatter the leaves over.

Tear the bread into small pieces into a bowl and toss with the olive oil. Scatter over the dish and bake in the oven for 15 minutes until the cheese has melted, oozing into the sauce, and the bread is golden.

There, I told you it was easy!

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Salade Niçoise

I can’t quite believe I haven’t already posted a recipe for salade Niçoise, as I must have made it every summer since I was a teenager. Deciding on what exactly should or should not be in a salade Niçoise is a contentious issue: while Simon Hopkinson thinks that tuna is redundant but includes green beans and artichoke hearts, Rowley Leigh says that the salad shouldn’t have any cooked vegetables in it. My salade Niçoise has evolved from the version I learnt from my mother, which had hard-boiled eggs, potatoes, green beans, tomato, tuna and black olives served on a bed of lettuce. I now tend to include anchovies, and variously cucumber, red pepper, spring onions and/or capers. See below for a vegetarian variant of the salad too.

Finding the sort of really ripe, flavourful tomatoes that you can buy as a matter of course in the south of France is always a challenge unless you grow your own. I find large slicing tomatoes (like Jack Hawkins) better for this than regular ones, and you can sometimes get good heritage varieties in supermarkets now as well as at farmers’ markets. I have specified ridge cucumber as they are less watery; if you’re using a standard cucumber it’s worth scooping out the seeds before you chop it.  I don’t always pit the olives, though your guests will thank you if you do. I can see that cheap tinned tuna brings little to the taste or texture of the salad, but since discovering tuna bottled in oil I have become more enthusiastic about it – feel free to omit or include as you wish.

A vegetarian version can be made by leaving out the tuna and anchovies, in which case I would add some artichoke hearts (I’m not a big fan, but several recipes include them) as well as a red pepper and capers which, along with the black olives, will give the salty tang and layers of flavour you want. I’m not sure it will quite qualify as an authentic salade Niçoise, but it will be a delicious lunch.

In any case, this recipe has no pretensions to being an authentic, perfect or definitive version – it’s just what I like to eat for lunch on a sunny day, ideally sitting in the shade with a glass of chilled rosé. It looks particularly good laid out on a large platter, with good bread alongside.

For 4

4 eggs
4 new potatoes
120g green beans
200g ripe tomatoes
½ ridge cucumber
1 jar of tuna (optional)
4 spring onions
6-8 anchovy fillets
1 tbsp capers
75-100g black olives
Little Gem or other leaves to serve
A handful of parsley and/or basil

Dressing:
1 clove garlic
1 rounded tsp dijon mustard
2 tsps red wine vinegar
5 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil
salt & black pepper

Salade NicoisePut on a small pan of water to boil. Prick the egg shells at the broad end and, when the water reaches the boil, lower them into the pan, turn the heat down to a simmer and put the timer on for 8 minutes. While they’re cooking, top and tail the green beans. Wash the salad leaves – this time I used a combination of Little Gem and a few leaves of red chicory – spin to get rid of any excess water, and pop them in the fridge to stay crisp. As soon as the eggs are done, scoop them out into a colander and run under the cold tap to stop them cooking. Bring the water back to a simmer and cook the beans for 4-5 minutes. Tip them into a sieve, run under cold water (which will help keep them bright green) and set aside to drain.

You need waxy salad potatoes for this recipe – Charlottes, Maris Peer or Pink Fir Apples if you can get them. Unless you are using up left-over cooked potatoes, wash the potatoes and cut in half if large. Bring another pan of water to the boil, add the potatoes and cook for 15-20 minutes until tender to the point of a knife. Drain and leave the cool.

To make the dressing, crush the garlic in a garlic press (or with a knife on a board using a little salt). In a small bowl or jar, mix together with the mustard, wine vinegar and some salt & freshly ground black pepper, then whisk in the olive oil (or just pour in, put the lid on and shake if you are using a jar) until it is all emulsified and a glorious sunny yellow from the mustard. Everything up to this point can be done ahead of time if you wish.

Shell the eggs when they are cool enough to handle, and cut each one in half – the yolks should be only just set and deep yellow (not those nasty over-cooked, grey-ringed yolks reminiscent of school salads). Cut the tomatoes into chunks, discarding the seeds if watery. Trim the end of the cucumber and scoop out the central seeds if necessary. Cut into quarters lengthwise and then into chunks. If you are using them, thinly slice the spring onions and red pepper. Cut the potatoes into fork-sized chunks. Finely chop the herb(s).

When you are ready to assemble the salad, lay the lettuce out on the platter or plate and arrange the potatoes, beans, tomato and cucumber on top. If using the tuna, drain it thoroughly from the oil (or brine) it has been preserved in, and distribute it in chunks over the vegetables. Arrange the halved hard-boiled eggs and tear the anchovy fillets (if using) over them. I sometimes get fancy and arrange them in criss-crosses over the eggs, which looks pretty, but is far from essential. Add any other vegetables you are using, and then scatter the black olives and capers over the top. Drizzle the dressing over everything, and finish with the chopped herbs.

À table, mes amis!

Chicory gratin

Known in Dutch as Witlof met ham en kaas, this is Irene’s comfort food – the dish her mother makes for her when she goes to visit. These quantities will make lunch or supper for four, needing only some boiled potatoes or crusty bread to mop up the sauce. You could have some green beans or salad alongside too, though that would not be traditional, or serve it as a side dish with roast pork. The dish can be assembled in advance, just leaving the final baking in the oven until just before dinner.

You can, of course, also omit the ham to make an equally delicious chicory gratin for a vegetarian meal (use vegetarian cheese if preferred).

In the UK we tend to eat chicory raw in salad, but it has an excellent and distinctive flavour when cooked, and is a good foil to game or meat. There is an excellent Constance Spry recipe for braised chicory as an accompaniment to pheasant which I should also post.

4 large or 8 small heads of chicory
30g butter, plus extra for buttering the dish
1 onion
1 clove garlic (optional)
2 tbsps vermouth
30g plain flour
250 ml vegetable stock (or milk if preferred)
100 ml single cream
100g gruyere or mature Gouda or Cheddar cheese
8 thin slices of ham, preferably dry-cured

Bring a pan of water to the boil. Trim the root ends of the chicory and cut them in half lengthwise if they are large. Blanch in the boiling water for 8 minutes and then empty into a colander to drain.

Heat the oven to 180 C. Chop the onion finely. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and over low heat cook the onion gently until it is really soft, without letting it colour. Finely chop the garlic and add it to the onion after a few minutes.

When it is soft, add a good splash of vermouth to the pan and let it bubble up for a minute or two. Then sprinkle over the flour, stir thoroughly into the buttery onion and cook for a few minutes until the flour starts to look and smell biscuity. Meanwhile, heat the stock (or milk) to a simmer. Over medium heat pour the hot stock onto the roux and stir like mad with a wooden spoon or whisk, until the mixture is smooth. Turn the heat down and cook gently, stirring regularly and reaching right to the edges of the pan so that the sauce doesn’t catch. After about 10 minutes the sauce should be smooth and quite thick.

Pour in the cream, stirring. Grate the cheese, stir half into the sauce and heat for a moment to melt it. Check the seasoning, adding salt, pepper and freshly-grated nutmeg to taste. Set aside. Butter a shallow ovenproof gratin dish.

Squeeze the drained chicory to get rid of as much liquid as possible. Wrap each chicory (or half head) in a piece of ham and arrange in the gratin dish. Pour over the cheese sauce and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Put into the pre-heated oven and bake for about 30-35 minutes until the sauce starts to bubble. If you have prepared the dish in advance and it is cold it will need a bit longer in the oven. If necessary flash it under the grill to brown the cheese.

Serve with boiled potatoes, and green beans or salad if you wish.

Roast red peppers stuffed with lentils

Straightforward to make, satisfying, a foretaste of summer and good for you – what more do you want? Oh, and it can easily be vegan, so this is altogether a useful recipe to have in your repertoire. I added some goat’s cheese, but I’m sure the dish would have been just as tasty without it. The recipe was inspired by one of those Waitrose recipes on cards that I glance at but rarely get round to cooking.

However, as my recipe books have been in boxes while I am having some work done in my flat, I was looking for new ideas for supper that wouldn’t tax my already rather frazzled brain. I love both red peppers and lentils, so this jumped out at me. You could make it with ordinary red (or yellow) peppers, which might hold a bit more filling than these long thin romano peppers, though these do look nice and have a good flavour.

I’m not that fond of the sharp taste of sun-dried tomatoes, so just used cherry tomatoes instead, as the cheese would be adding some piquancy. However, I would recommend keeping the sun-dried tomatoes for depth of flavour if you’re not going to add cheese. The recipe specified a pack of ready-cooked lentils, which may  be useful if you’re short of time, but lentils are so quick and easy to cook that it never seems worth buying them pre-cooked, and I often have leftover cooked lentils in the fridge.

2 large red peppers
2 tbsp olive oil
1 leek
2 garlic cloves
3 sprigs thyme
1 tbsp capers
4 cherry or sun-dried tomatoes
100g lentils (or 200g cooked lentils)
1 tbsp lemon juice
grating of lemon rind
handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley
50g goat’s cheese (optional)
30g pistachios

Preheat the oven to 200° C, gas mark 6. Start by putting the lentils on to cook (unless you’re using ready-cooked ones). Rinse and cover with around double the amount of cold water, adding a bay leaf and a clove of garlic if you have them and are feeling fancy. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for around 15-25 minutes, checking regularly after 15 minutes as you need them to be just done, not mushy. Just tip up some extra water if they seem to be getting dry before they are tender. The cooking time given on packets of lentils is often too long in my experience, though this will obviously vary according to the variety and age of the lentils (the longer they’ve been in the packet, the longer they may take to cook).

Then halve the peppers through the stalks; don’t remove the stalks, as I did on auto-pilot, since they help the peppers to hold their shape in the oven. Carefully remove all the seeds and pith. Brush lightly with a third of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Put the peppers on a baking tray lined with greaseproof or baking parchment and roast for 20 minutes.

Slice the leek, finely chop the garlic and pick the leaves off the sprigs of thyme. Heat the remaining olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and gently fry the leeks, garlic and thyme for 10 minutes. Stir regularly and be ready to turn the heat down if the leeks or garlic show any sign of catching – you want them to be soft and golden with no bitter brown edges. Chop the tomatoes and add them to the pan with the capers and cooked lentils. When the lentils are ready, drain them and tip into the frying pan too. Stir everything together and cook for a further 5 minutes before adding the lemon juice, zest, parsley and pistachios.

By now the peppers should be done. Spoon the lentil filling into the peppers and top with the goat’s cheese if you are using it. Put back into the oven for 5 minutes. Serve with a green salad.

Tomato and Fish Curry

This delicious fish curry is based on a recipe by Bill Granger, aptly found in delicious magazine, and is perfect for an easy weekend dinner. I have adapted the quantities for the spice paste – what the Indonesians call the bumbu – as we like lots of ginger but a bit less tamarind, which is a strong flavour and can overwhelm the delicate taste of fish. There is a bit more spice paste here than you need, but it is tricky to make in very small quantities. It will keep for a couple of days in a sealed contained in the fridge and the leftover paste is useful to have on hand for a curry-in-a-hurry in the week ahead. A microplane grater makes easy work of grating the ginger, but you could just chop it finely if you don’t have one.

We also added some cherry tomatoes to add freshness and texture, and some sliced red chilli as a garnish, but these are far from essential if you don’t have any to hand. These quantities make enough for two (plus one additional portion of spice paste).

2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 dried chilli (or 1 tsp chilli flakes)
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp tamarind paste
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 tbsp mild olive oil (plus a little for the bumbu)
1 onion, sliced
1 tsp black mustard seeds
4 dried curry leaves
200g potatoes (new or Maris Piper)
200g chopped tinned tomatoes
6 cherry tomatoes, cut in half (optional)
150-200ml stock (fish or vegetable)
100ml coconut cream
300g firm white fish fillets (I used hake)
Big handful of coriander, chopped
1 red chilli, sliced (optional)
Lime wedges to serve

Toast the coriander and cumin seeds in a small dry frying pan for a few minutes until you can smell them. Tip into a pestle and grind them, crumbling in the dried chilli or chilli flakes as you go. Mix with the turmeric, tamarind paste, garlic and ginger, adding a little oil to make a paste.

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large frying pan with a lid. Gently fry the onions, adding the mustard seeds and curry leaves as they soften. After about 8 minutes, when the onions are soft and golden, add two-thirds of the bumbu (putting the rest in the fridge for another day) and fry for another two minutes. Cut the potatoes into chunks. Add the potatoes, the chopped and cherry tomatoes, stock and coconut cream to the pan and stir everything together. Bring to a simmer, cover with the lid and cook until the potatoes are tender (about 15-20 minutes – don’t be impatient about this, underdone potatoes are horrid)., by which time the sauce will have thickened a bit. Cut the fish into 3cm chunks and place on top of the sauce. Cover with the lid and cook for 3 minutes, by which time the fish should be opaque and just cooked through.

Serve with basmati or jasmine rice, with the coriander and sliced chilli sprinkled over the top and a lime wedge to squeeze over it. Steamed green beans, pak choi or broccoli make a good accompaniment.

Bergen fish soup

797162E0-E991-415E-B6DA-EE43FFF548A5My friend Philippa made this for us when we had a girls’ reunion in Celra. She had been shown how to make it when she was visiting friends in Bergen. It is simplicity itself to cook, but looks and tastes rather sophisticated. As you can make it with frozen fish fillets and a long-life carton of stock it is a useful store cupboard standby. Any firm fish fillets will work and you can adapt the green vegetables to what you have to hand. Some asparagus spears, a head of fennel, or some cavolo nero all sound appealing. I can see it becoming a regular at our table.

These quantities are for four, served with good fresh bread. The dried herbs are a good addition but not essential. Philippa used a French mixture of dried herbs for fish; fennel seed or dill would work well

We ate a big dish of griddled asparagus beforehand; a green salad – maybe with watercress and fennel or chicory – before or afterwards would be an alternative if you want to serve another course, though the soup is very satisfying.

1litre good quality fresh fish stock
1tsp dried herbs
400-500g salmon fillets (frozen or fresh)
4 medium potatoes
1 leek or a bunch of chives
200gms French beans or peas
200ml single cream
Chopped chives, dill or parsley to garnish

Wash the potatoes and dice into bite-sized chunks. Prepare whichever green vegetables you are using: wash and slice the leek, chop the chives, top and tail the beans and cut into 2-3cm pieces. Put the stock, herbs, vegetables and frozen fish fillets into a large saucepan and bring to a simmer. If using fresh fish fillets or vegetables that need less cooking (such as peas) add them to the soup after about 10 minutes.

Simmer until the potatoes are tender, which should be about 15 minutes. Check the seasoning and add a grind of black pepper if needed. Gently break the fish fillets into large bite-sized pieces and stir in the single cream. Spoon into bowls and scatter with the chopped herbs.

Now repeat on a regular basis…

(Thanks to Sue for the photo)

Beetroot Risotto

I have been meaning to try making beetroot risotto for some time, but what give me the final push was seeing a photo of a delicious-looking one made by my friend Steve, and then having it in the excellent restaurant Oliva in Rotterdam recently. There seem to be several different approaches: boiling or roasting the beetroot whole first, grating and chopping it, pureeing some or all of the beetroot or cooking it with the rice.

My recipe uses grated raw beetroot, which gives a good texture and has the bonus of cooking in about the same time as the rice and using only one pan (some recipes really should carry a washing-up warning). When I ate it in the restaurant, it was served with flakes of smoked trout, which was a great combination, so I served mine for supper with a fillet of smoked trout and a green salad. If you’re serving it on its own, you could top it with a handful of toasted walnuts or some diced blue cheese. I do recommend serving a salad alongside it, as the risotto is quite rich. Quantities serve 2 – I used 120g of rice, but if you are serving it on its own or are quite hungry I would use 150g rice and the larger quantity of stock.

25g butter
olive oil
1 shallot
1 clove garlic
175g beetroot (1 large or 2 small)
120-150g risotto
2 tbsp vermouth or white wine
450-600ml vegetable stock
30g parmesan
2 sprigs thyme

Heat the butter with a splash of olive oil in a wide saucepan. Peel and finely chop the shallot and garlic, and cook them gently in the butter and oil for a few minutes. Peel and coarsely grate the beetroot – using the grater attachment of the food processor is quickest and reduces the Lady-Macbeth-hands problem, but a box grater works fine (and is easier to wash up…). Heat the stock until just simmering or make up Marigold bouillon with boiling water (you could, of course, use chicken stock if you’re not vegetarian).

Tip the beetroot into the pan and stir for a couple of minute, so it starts to glisten. Now add the rice and cook for a minute until it starts to sound dry. Pour in the vermouth and stir vigorously. Then start adding the hot stock a ladleful at a time, stirring well with a wooden spoon, and waiting until it has been absorbed by the rice before you add the next ladleful.

In between stirring the risotto grate the parmesan and strip the thyme leaves off the stem. Add half the thyme leaves to the risotto. Now is also the time to wash the salad leaves and make a dressing for your green salad. After about 15-18 minutes most or all of the stock should have been incorporated, the beetroot be tender and the rice just al dente. When it is ready stir in three-quarters of the parmesan (and another knob of butter if you wish). Check the seasoning and serve with the remaining parmesan and thyme and your preferred toppings or accompaniments.