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…

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!

Roasted cauliflower and hazelnut salad

img_2207At the farmer’s market in Marylebone last weekend I bought a beautiful big cauliflower, and then had to go on a search for good things to do with it. This Ottolenghi recipe from Jerusalem roasts the cauliflower, giving it a really nutty taste which is accentuated by the toasted hazelnuts, with celery and parsley bringing freshness and crunch. I only used half the cauliflower, as it was so big, (this is what I did with the rest of it) and have adjusted the quantities in the original recipes a little.

Eating cauliflower as a salad always reminds me of the first time I was served warm cauliflower dressed with a mustardy vinaigrette (do try it*) at the house of a friend whose mother was of French and Russian extraction;  both she and her food seemed terribly glamorous. I first had clafoutis there too.

This salad is good as a starter, as a main with, say, other grilled vegetables or chick pea salad or as the accompaniment to, for example, grilled mackerel. This quantity feeds 3 or 4 depending on how you’re serving it.

1 small or half a large head of cauliflower, broken into florets or thickly sliced (approx 450g)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 stick of celery
20g hazelnuts
small bunch flat-leaf parsley
40g pomegranate seeds (approx ½ a small pomegranate)
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground allspice
1 dstsp sherry vinegar
1 tsp maple syrup
salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220 C/200 C Fan. I tend to slice the cauliflower, after having cut the florets away from the main stem, which gives pieces with an attractive tree-shape, and avoids the difficulty of trying to get neat florets of the same size.

img_2210Mix the cauliflower with 2 tbsp of the oil in a large roasting tin, spread it out and add salt and pepper. Roast for 25-35 minutes until the cauliflower is tender, with some brown crispy bits. Tip into a large mixing bowl and leave to cool. Meanwhile trim the ends of the celery stick and slice it on the diagonal into pieces about 0.5 cm thick. Wash the parsley and pick off the leaves.

Turn the oven down to 170 C/150 C Fan. Spread the hazelnuts on a small baking tray and roast until the skins are dark brown and cracking, which took 12 minutes in my oven, but can take another 5 minutes. I usually give the pan a shake at half time, and you do need to watch them carefully so they don’t burn (really the only remotely tricky bit of this recipe). When the nuts have cooled enough to handle, tip them into a tea towel and rub off the skins, then roughly chop them.

img_2211Add the nuts, celery, parsley, pomegranate seeds, 1 tbsp of oil and the other dressing ingredients to the dish of cauliflower and turn carefully to mix. Check the seasoning and serve at room temperature.

 

 

  • If you want to try cauliflower in vinaigrette, just trim away the leaves and any extra stem, steam the whole head until just tender and then pour over a vinaigrette made with dijon mustard, white wine vinegar and olive oil. Much more delicious than it sounds, and it looks striking when served too.

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.

Pumpkin rice

IMG_2111

This dish is based on the recipe for Jewelled pumpkin rice from the Moro East cookbook. It is the version I cooked for a big group of friends on holiday in Catalunya, where a few of the ingredients from the original (cardamoms and dried barberries, for example) were not available – hence the absence of ‘jewels’ (if you have barberries, or currants, then add 15g of them with the pistachios). I used paella rice, rather than basmati, which gives a slightly different – though I think equally nice – texture. I also reduced the quantity of rice and halved the quantity of butter to make the dish a bit lighter. In Catalunya the saffron came in a little folded paper packet, just the right size for a dish like this. The buttery saffron finish makes a big difference to the golden look and fragrant taste of the dish, so don’t be tempted to omit it. This was the perfect dish to show off the beautiful home-grown pumpkin that our friends Sue and Steve had brought with them.

We served it with fillets of halibut that Steve had rolled (securing the rolls with toothpicks) and baked (at 190 C from memory, for 15 minutes) with just a little lemon rind, seasoning and olive oil on them: a useful way of cooking a lot of fillets in one baking tray, attractive and easy to serve. It was followed by a big green salad with some local cheese – queso curado, semi-curado and cabra – and a Tarte aux Reine Claudes. The quantities here serve 6.

500g peeled and seeded pumpkin or squash (from 750g pumpkin)
1 tsp fine sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil
a big pinch of saffron
50g unsalted butter
6cm cinnamon stick
4 allspice berries (if you have them)
2 medium onions
50g shelled pistachios
½ tsp ground cardamom (if you have it)
200g paella rice (such as Bomba)
300ml vegetable stock

Preheat the oven to 210ºC Fan/230ºC/Gas 8. Put the rice to soak in tepid salted water. The original quantity of rice for this amount of pumpkin was 300g – if you want to to make a more substantial dish use the larger quantity of rice and up the amount of stock accordingly (to 450 ml).

Cut the pumpkin into 2cm cubes (original recipe suggests 1 cm dice, but I prefer the pumpkin in larger pieces), toss with the olive oil, sprinkle over half the salt and spread in a baking sheet. Roast for 25 minutes or until tender.IMG_2107

Mix the saffron with 3 tbsps boiling water, add 20g of the butter, which should melt, and put aside. Thinly slice the onions.

Heat the remaining 30g of butter in a broad pan with a good lid (a le Creuset casserole or sauté pan is ideal) with the cinnamon stick and allspice until it foams. Add the onions and the rest of the salt and cook gently for 10 minutes or so until the onions are soft and beginning to colour. Now put in the pistachios and cardamom and cook for a further 10 minutes until the onions are golden.

IMG_2108Drain the rice and add it to the pan, stirring it into the onions before adding the hot stock. By now the pumpkin should be done. Scatter it over the top of the rice, cover the pan with a sheet of greaseproof paper and the clamp on the lid. Cook for a fairly high heat for 5 minutes, then turn down to a gentle simmer for a further 5 minutes. Remove the lid and the paper and drizzle over the buttery saffron liquid. Replace the lid and leave to rest, off the heat, for a further 5-10 minutes.

IMG_2110The stock will all have been absorbed by the rice, the pumpkin tender and the whole dish looking golden – a perfect dish to celebrate the autumn harvest.

Fennel and blood orange salad

Fennel and blood orange saladI love the dramatic colour of blood oranges (or blush oranges, as they seem to have been renamed in Waitrose – why?), and this salad shows them off to perfection. It is very simple, but looks great, can be prepared an hour or so ahead and is such a good combination of flavours, especially at this time of year when one is desperate for fresh flavours and crisp textures after all the cold-weather comfort food we have been eating.

This salad is the ideal starter before a substantial main course, but I think it would also work as a side with something like duck breast, or a lentil salad. Good vinegar is essential – the sweet-sharpness of sherry vinegar is a great foil to that of the oranges. Serves 4

2 heads fennel
3 large or 4 small blood oranges
salt and pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp sherry vinegar

Trim the fronds from the fennel, chop them finely and put on one side. Trim off the stalks and base of  the fennel bulbs, sit them upright and cut downwards into very thin slices. Arrange onto the four serving plates – I found I didn’t need all of the fennel to make four servings – drizzle over the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Fennel and blood orange saladUsing a serrated knife cut away the peel from the blood oranges. I cut off the top and bottom first, then work in strips cutting down and round the orange, keeping the knife as close to the pith as possible – a serrated knife really makes this much easier. You want to get rid of all traces of pith without losing too much flesh or juice. Then slice the oranges across into 0.5 cm slices and arrange five or six slices on top of each plate of fennel, removing any pips or pith from the centre as you go. Drizzle ½ tsp of sherry vinegar over each serving of oranges and sprinkle with the reserved fennel fronds. A final grind of black pepper and you’re ready to serve, ideally with some good sourdough bread. If you wanted extra greenery, some rocket might make a good addition.

Chard gratin

imageThe vegetable stall at the Farmers’ Market had the most wonderful big bunches of rainbow chard last week, which prompted me to cook Lucy Boyd‘s recipe for chard baked with  crème fraîche. The brightly coloured stems of the rainbow chard turn the cream the colour of saffron and make for a very pretty dish. Irene made this the first time for me when I had just come back from a trip and it became an immediate favourite. Alone, it is a lovely lunch or light supper, but it is also a perfect accompaniment for plainly-cooked fish, game or meat.

Last night I served it with lamb steaks for a late supper with a friend after going to a concert. Beforehand I marinaded the lamb steaks in olive oil, lemon juice and rosemary, and blanched the chard. When we got back I just had to toss the chard with the garlic and pop it into the oven for 10 minutes, while I cooked the lamb steaks on the griddle. It meant supper was on the table in not much more than 20 minutes – enough time to have a glass of wine and nibble some pistachio nuts – and it went down very well, followed with Poached pears and chocolate cream.

I have reduced the amount of crème fraîche and parmesan somewhat to make it a little lighter than the original. You can also use cavolo Nero, though I haven’t tried that yet. I forgot to weigh my bunch of chard – Boyd recommends 500g chard for 4, so these quantities are for 2.

250g Chard, preferably rainbow chard
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large garlic clove
3 tbsp crème fraîche
35g Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 220ºC/ 200ºC/Gas 7 (unless you plan to complete the gratin later, as described above) and put on a pan of water to boil.

Wash the chard carefully, trim the stems from the leaves and cut off the dirty ends of the stems. Cut the stems into pieces about 1 cm long. Bunch the leaves together and slice them crosswise into three or four.

When the water boils add the stems, put the timer on for 1 minute, then when it rings add the leaves and cook for a further 4 minutes. Drain the chard in a colander and rinse briefly under cold water to stop the cooking, separating the leaves with tongs so they don’t clump together.

Peel and thinly slice the garlic. Heat the olive oil in a large frying-pan over medium heat and add the garlic. Just as it starts to colour add the chard leaves and stems and toss using tongs to coat them with the garlicky oil.

Tip the whole lot into a gratin dish, season with salt and pepper and dot the crème fraîche over the top. Finally, grate the parmesan over the top, drizzle over a little more olive oil and bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes until hot and sizzling.