Roasted parsnip and carrot soup

When the weather is cold and grey my thoughts turn to comforting bowls of soup, as I discussed in my earlier post Top six soup to banish the winter cold. It’s that time of year again and, although I still cook those soups on a regular basis, I am always on the look-out for new favourites. This recipe from a Waitrose recipe card has shot straight into the list. It has the bonus of being vegan if you serve it with a non-dairy yoghurt.

I love parsnip soups, and although this soup won’t displace Pastenak and Cress Cream in my affections or our Christmas menu, adding carrots and kale and roasting the roots  gives a heartier soup with deep flavours lifted by the zing of cumin and lemon. Zing seems to be a favourite word at the moment, probably due to the fact that I am deeply immersed in reading Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat and watching her series on Netflix at the moment. She uses it to describe how you know when you have got the seasoning of a dish right and it zings in your mouth. And that is what struck me about this soup when Irene made it the first time: it was spicy and lemony and deeply savoury all at the same time.

So we made it again! This time with some tweaks – and an instructive mishap. The tweaks include adding some dried chilli flakes to give an extra kick of warmth, and adding more liquid as we found it was too thick and gloopy with the quantity of water suggested. However, you may like your soup thick in the Italian fashion, and you can always adjust the consistency by adding some water after blending. I  prefer the texture of those classic, light, creamy soups that Elizabeth David describes as being so typical of the French dinner table.

The mishap was with the kale crisps, which we found tricky to get right. The first time they weren’t crispy enough and the pieces of kale too large to eat easily from a spoon. So I tried making them smaller, but didn’t let the oven cool down enough before I put them in and ended up with crisps that were brown and charred, albeit very crispy. We found that making crisps with all the kale leaves made way too many, and having some kale in the fridge is no hardship (but see below). There are lots of great recipes for it, in a salad with quinoa, as a gratin with potatoes or just steamed as a vibrant green side dish. Here’s our version, which will make enough for 4-6 people, depending on how big a bowl of soup you need to lift your spirits in this gloomy weather.

500g parsnips
300g carrots
1 tbsp maple syrup
3 tbsp olive oil
150g kale on the stem
½-1 tsp dried chilli flakes
2 onions
2 cloves of garlic
2 tsp ground cumin
500ml vegetable stock
juice of ½ lemon
4 tbsp yoghurt (or non-dairy alternative)

Set the oven to heat to 200° C. Trim the kale leaves from the stems, which is much easier to do when you buy the kale on the stem, rather than ready chopped. Set half the leaves aside for making the kale crisps, put the rest back in the fridge for another meal, and finely chop the stems, trimming off any scraggy ends.

Roasted parsnip and carrot soup 4
Peel and trim the carrots and parsnips and cut them into 3cm pieces. Toss them with the maple syrup and 1 tbsp olive oil and put them into a roasting tin (if you’re thinking this doesn’t look like 500g parsnips, you’re right – second time round we made a half batch.) You can line the tin with baking parchment if you want to make the washing-up easier, but I don’t see that it makes much difference. Season with salt and black pepper and sprinkle over the dried chilli flakes – use the smaller quantity unless you want to taste the heat. When the oven has come to temperature put them in to roast for 20 minutes.

Roasted parsnip and carrot soup 2Roughly chop the onions and crush the garlic. Put another 1 tbsp of oil to heat in a large pan. When it is warm add the kale stems, onions and garlic with a good pinch of salt. If you don’t have another use for the excess kale leaves, you can shred them and add them to the pot at this point to give a stronger flavour. I added a few leaves as the quantity of stems looked rather meagre.

Cover with a lid and cook gently – and I mean gently – for 10-12 minutes, stirring from time to time until everything is soft and looking golden. If it shows any signs of sticking or browning add a splash of water to slow things down a bit. Don’t skimp on this slow cooking, as I was tempted to do, as it helps develop the flavour of the soup. Then take off the lid, add the ground cumin and cook for a further 3 minutes stirring regularly.

Roasted parsnip and carrot soup 3

By this time the carrots and parsnips should be tender and golden too. Turn the oven down to 160°C straight away. Tip the roasted roots into the pan and add the stock and 750ml-1 litre of boiling water.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Tear the reserved kale leaves into smallish pieces for the crisps; the original recipe suggests 4-5 cm pieces but we found these a bit big, so I would aim for 3cm. Toss with the remaining 1 tbsp oil, a little lemon juice and some salt and pepper. Spread on a baking tray and roast for 5 minutes. Then check and turn them over and cook for a further 5 minutes. They may need a little longer, but do check them regularly if you want to avoid incinerating them as I did.

Meanwhile blend the soup in batches, adding more water if necessary. Put back into the pan to reheat, and season with lemon juice. We used more than the suggested 1 tbsp, but you may want to start with that and adjust to your taste. Serve with a good dollop of yoghurt (or a dairy-free alternative to keep it vegan), some freshly ground black pepper and the kale crisps. And forget about the January weather for a bit!

Roasted parsnip and carrot soup 1

 

Aubergines, Chickpeas, Walnuts & Dates

Ten days ago I was lucky enough to be given Diana Henry’s book Simple: Effortless food, big flavours, and I have been obsessively cooking my way through it ever since. It really lives up to the promise of the title: lots of recipes that are simple enough to tackle when you’re  tired after a busy day, yet taste good enough to revive you – or fool guests into thinking you have been slaving over a hot stove for hours. I’m also delighted to find that Diana Henry has lots of recipes on her website (as well as those behind the Telegraph’s paywall) if you want to check them out before you commit to buying a book.

This satisfying combination of aubergines, chickpeas, walnuts & dates has the most wonderful tahini dressing, which I am planning to use for lots of other grain-and-vegetable salads in the near future. Aleppo pepper is also known as Turkish pul biber, which I found in Waitrose, but you can substitute a mixture of cayenne and paprika if you can’t find it – or don’t want another container in your spice drawer. The original recipe had a little date syrup drizzled over the dish at the end, which I omitted (though I did wonder about using pomegranate molasses instead). This is a perfect recipe for the sunny but autumnal weather we’ve been having in London, when you want something warm and reasonably substantial yet with the flavours of warmer climes.

These are the quantities for 4. As I was cooking just for me, I made it using a third of the quantity and had enough for one generous portion, plus a side for the next day, when it was just as delicious. The first day I served it on a bed of rocket, and second time round with quinoa and salad – the quinoa was particularly good with it. Henry recommends serving it with couscous or alongside lamb or grilled mackerel.

3 aubergines (about 750g)
3 smallish onions
6 tbsp olive oil
3 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp pul biber/Aleppo pepper
salt & pepper
400g can chickpeas
squeeze of lemon juice
half a small packet of coriander leaves
5 Medjool dates
15g walnuts

Dressing:
50ml tahini
50ml extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
4 tbsp Greek yoghurt (or Dairy-free alternative)
juice of ½ lemon

Heat the oven to 190ºC/Gas mark 5. Cut the aubergines across into fat slices and then halve the larger slices. Peel the onions and cut them vertically into wedges. Put both into a large roasting tin and mix together with all but 1 tbsp of the olive oil, the cumin, pul biber, salt and pepper. Roast for 35-40 minutes, turning everything about half way through.

Put all the dressing ingredients into a small blender or a bowl with 50ml of water and either blitz or whisk until it’s thoroughly blended and the consistency of thick cream. Check the seasoning, adding more lemon if necessary.

Pit and chop the dates, roughly chop the walnuts and toast them for a few minutes in a hot frying pan if you have the energy (I didn’t). Pick the coriander leaves off the stems and chop.

Five minutes before the aubergines are ready heat the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil in a pan. Drain and rinse the chickpeas and heat them through in the oil for a few minutes. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and tip onto a serving platter – over rocket, couscous or quinoa if you wish. Spoon the cumin-roast aubergines and onions on top, generously drizzle with the dressing, then scatter over the coriander, dates and walnuts.

And there you have a delicious, exotic dinner on the table in 45 minutes, of which at least half can be spent reading the paper or, in my case, doing your piano practice.

Quinoa with greens and avocado

Over the last few years I have found myself cooking more vegetarian meals,  and this was boosted when I was given A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones by my lovely brother, who is now vegan. I had tried a few of Anna Jones’s recipes from The Guardian and am now thoroughly enjoying cooking my way through the book.

I already have a few favourites: the excellent Dahl with crispy sweet potatoes, Beetroot with salsa verde and Laura’s herbed green quinoa, which has inspired this recipe – a sort of cross with Ottolenghi’s Avocado, quinoa and broad bean salad, a much-loved regular on my table and at picnics.

The first time I read the recipe I didn’t have any broccoli or leek – key ingredients in Anna’s recipe – but loved the idea of herby green quinoa so I substituted broad beans and used chopped spring onions rather than the leek. I think you could use kale (along the lines of this Kale and quinoa salad) or lettuce instead of the spinach, too. I have since cooked something more similar to the original recipe, and both versions are good. The quantities here are for two people.

100g quinoa
1 tsp vegetable stock powder
100g frozen peas
120g frozen broad beans
3 spring onions (or 1 leek)
1 unwaxed lemon
extra virgin olive oil
½ a small packet of basil
½ a small packet of mint
80g spinach
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds or pine nuts
1 avocado
100g feta cheese (optional)

Rinse the quinoa in a sieve, tip into a pan and add 300ml of water. Bring to the boil, add the stock powder and stir, then turn down the heat and simmer for around 12 minutes until the seeds have opened into their distinctive curl and the water has been absorbed. Anna Jones cooks a lemon, halved, with the quinoa, which adds a certain tang, but I think I prefer just using the juice and rind in the dressing – take your pick. When the quinoa is about done, I usually turn the heat off and leave the quinoa to steam dry on the hot ring for 5 minutes.

While the quinoa is cooking bring a small pan of water to boil and cook the broad beans for 1 minute, then add the peas and simmer for a further 2 minutes. If you have purple-sprouting or tender stem broccoli, cut off the heads, chop the stalks and add them on top of the peas and beans to steam for a few minutes. Drain the lot and run quickly under the cold tap to stop the cooking. Finely slice the spring onion or leek, and if using leek, cook it slowly in a little olive oil for about 10 minutes.

Pick the herbs from the stems and chop them, keeping a few small leaves for garnish. Wash and shred the spinach. Toast the seeds or pine nuts in a hot dry frying pan for a few minutes, watching and stirring to make sure they don’t catch.

Put the quinoa, herbs and vegetables into a large bowl, zest the lemon over them and add a grinding of black pepper, the juice of half the lemon – you may want more – and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss together, check for seasoning, then crumble over the feta (if you’re using) and top each portion with the reserved herbs, some toasted seeds or pine nuts and half a sliced avocado.

Hazelnut cake

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On Friday we cooked an early birthday lunch for Irene’s niece, so a cake seemed the right choice for dessert. Finding big packets of ‘kosher for passover’ ground hazelnuts in the supermarket made me think about trying a hazelnut version of my favourite almond and orange cake (which, I now discover, is unaccountably not yet on the blog). I couldn’t resist looking at other recipes and adapting it, ending up with this cake: nutty, light but moist – just what I had hoped for. You could probably make it using only hazelnuts, but I think ground almonds help the texture and stop the cake being dry.

As ever with hazelnut desserts, this cake is particularly good served with raspberries and softly whipped cream (or crème fraÎche if you prefer), and I had some caramelised hazelnuts which I chopped and sprinkled over for contrasting crunch. I could, of course, have resorted to the traditional family birthday cake, but it was nice to try something new. As it was so well received, I expect to be making it again soon.

The quantities here are for a 15cm cake tin, serving four – double them to fill a 20cm cake tin, and give it another 10 minutes in the oven.

100g butter at room temperature
75g caster sugar
2 large eggs, separated
60g ground hazelnuts
40g ground almonds
25g plain flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1-2 tbsp orange juice

Heat the oven to 160ºC fan/180ºC/Gas 4. Grease the cake tin and line the bottom with greaseproof paper. If you can’t find ground hazelnuts, toast hazelnuts for 5 minutes or so (watch them closely so they don’t burn) in the warming oven, rub them in a tea towel to get rid of (most of) the skins and grind them to crumbs.

Cream the butter and sugar until pale and light – I made this cake in my mixer, but a hand-held beater, or a wooden spoon and elbow grease, would do the job equally well. Beat in the egg yolks with a spoonful of flour. Add the rest of the flour, baking powder and ground nuts. Mix in, adding the orange juice a bit at a time depending on how stiff the mixture is.

In a spotless bowl whisk the egg whites until stiff.  You could do this using the whisk attachment of the mixer, though I can never be bothered to transfer the cake mixture and wash and dry the mixer bowl in the middle of baking a cake to do this – and besides it is satisfying whisking egg whites with a balloon whisk in my beautiful copper bowl. Gently mix a large dollop of the egg whites into the cake mixture with a large spoon, then fold in the rest of the egg whites gently but thoroughly, keeping as much air in the mix as you can.

Turn into the prepared tin and bake for 30-35 minutes until it is firm, starting to brown and a wooden skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave in the tin on a rack for 10 minutes, then un-mould and leave to cool.

I prefer my cakes plain, but this would probably be delicious filled with a chocolate and hazelnut butter cream, or perhaps served with Travel Gourmet’s luscious-sounding Vanilla Ice Cream with Gianduioso, if you wanted a more indulgent dessert.

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.

Chicken with leeks and mushrooms

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Earlier this summer we had dinner with friends who had cooked a delicious casserole of chicken in sherry vinegar for us. The recipe comes from Delia Smith’s Summer Collection, a book which was a sensation when it came out  – introducing piedmont roast peppers and oven-roast ratatouille to a huge audience, to mention two of the recipes I still use regularly. However, I had never made this dish, possibly deterred by the thought of pouring over half a bottle of amontillado sherry into the pot, though why this should seem any more extravagant than using a similar quantity of any half decent wine I don’t know. Anyway, the results suggest that it is definitely worth it!

Having tasted it, I am now in search of a good opportunity to cook it, and in the meantime used some of its flavourings in this easy supper dish, which took under half an hour from start to finish. I picked up a chicken breast at the butcher on the way home, and had the other ingredients already in the fridge. You could use shallots rather than leeks (which would be closer to Delia’s recipe) and omit the mushrooms. Doing without the tarragon would be a loss, as it is such a distinctive flavour, but it’s not a herb that I always have to hand (and have never managed to grow successfully); I’m sure using parsley instead would result in a perfectly nice supper.

The quantities here are for one, as I cooked it, but could obviously be multiplied, though remember that you only need enough stock to half cover the chicken, so the quantity you need will depend on the size of your pan and how many chicken breasts you are cooking.

1 chicken breast
a good splash of olive oil
1 leek
4 chestnut mushrooms
50 ml sherry
1/2 tsp sherry vinegar
200ml stock
3 or 4 sprigs of tarragon
1 tbsp crème fraîche
squeeze of lemon juice

img_0397Start by putting the chicken breast on a board, cover it with cling film and give it a few bashes with a rolling pin so that it is a fairly even thickness. Slice the leek and mushrooms. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan, season the chicken breast with salt and pepper and brown it on each side.

Take the chicken out of the pan and put on one side. Add the leeks to the pan and allow to soften a little. Replace the chicken breast, pour over the sherry and sherry vinegar and let it bubble up for a few minutes. Add half the tarragon and enough stock to half cover the chicken and leeks, bring to a simmer and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.

Take the lid off, turn the chicken over, add the mushrooms to the pan and cook for a further 5-10 minutes until the chicken and mushrooms are cooked through. Chop the remaining tarragon leaves.

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Remove the chicken and vegetables to the plate. If necessary, turn the heat up to reduce the amount of liquid to about a teacup-full, then stir in the crème fraîche and let it bubble for a few moments. Check the seasoning, adding a squeeze of lemon juice if needed. Pour the sauce over the chicken and scatter with the chopped tarragon leaves. I served this with rice, but new potatoes and some beans or peas would also be delicious alongside it.

Lamb burgers with tomato sauce and courgettes

Lamb burgers with tomato sauce me courgettesYesterday we wanted to have an early supper before going out, and I thought these lamb burgers would fit the bill. This combination evolved from a recipe in Lindsay Bareham’s The Fish Store. The burgers and courgettes can be prepped in ten minutes and only take about eight minutes to cook. Although the tomato sauce is better for puttering away on the hob for a while, it is dead simple – you won’t spend more than 30 minutes in the kitchen, tops. These quantities are for four, though you’ll probably have some tomato sauce left over. You can freeze the prepared meatballs, so it’s worth making more than you need and stashing them away for an easy midweek supper. See below for other serving suggestions before you go shopping.

50g pine nuts
3 tbsp olive oil
500g minced lamb
2 red onions
salt and pepper
pinch of sugar
¼ tsp allspice or cinnamon (optional)
2 cloves garlic
2 400g tins chopped tomatoes
600g courgettes
small handful basil

Heat a small frying pan over a medium high heat and toast the pine nuts, tossing them and watching like a hawk, until they are golden brown. Put aside in a dish to cool. Chop the red onion finely and mix into the lamb together with the pine nuts, allspice or cinnamon (if using), salt and pepper and a good drizzle of olive oil. Mix thoroughly with your hands until thoroughly combined. Divide the mixture into four, then shape each portion into two mini burgers. Put on a plate, cover with cling film and pop into the fridge to firm up while you get the tomato sauce on.

Chop the other onion, heat a slug of olive oil in a medium saucepan and cook the onion until it softens, stirring occasionally – about 5 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes (or use whole ones and crush them against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon). Bring up to a simmer, stirring, then put a lid on and let it simmer very gently on low heat until you are ready to eat – ideally, not less than half an hour, and up to an hour is fine. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a good pinch of sugar. You can do all of this in advance if you wish – the lamb burgers can be made the day before and kept in the fridge overnight if that is more convenient.

Wash, top and tail the courgettes, then slice them lengthwise about 0.5cm thick. The courgettes I was using were quite long, so I cut them in half first, to make the pieces easier to manage. Anoint them sparingly on both sides with the rest of the olive oil. About 10 minutes before you want to eat, take the meatballs out of the fridge and put a frying pan (preferably non-stick) and griddle pan or grill on to heat. I use two pans as my griddle pan is not that big and was needed for the courgettes (and don’t get me started on the difficulties of using the grill in the top of my oven – I still miss the excellent overhead grill on the gas cooker I inherited from my mother!). Put the lamb burgers into the frying pan over medium-high heat, cover with a splatter-screen if you have one, and cook for 4 minutes on the first side without moving them, and then 3-4 minutes on the second side. Meanwhile, griddle (or grill) the courgettes for a similar amount of time. The griddle pan gives them attractive stripes, but they will taste just as good grilled.

Chop the basil and stir half of it into the tomato sauce, which should have thickened up by now. Spoon the sauce onto the plates and place the lamb burgers on top of it. Sprinkle over the remaining basil and serve with the courgettes.

For a more substantial meal add rice, couscous or warm flatbread, and wedges of lemon might be nice to squeeze over the lamb burgers. You could also add a little chilli to the tomato sauce if you like to spice things up a bit.