Squash caponata

I thought I should start the New Year as I intend to go on, after too long a gap, by sharing this recipe, which has already become a keeper. Here’s to enjoying more delicious food in 2020…

I have always liked caponata, so when I spotted a recipe by Anna Jones for a winter version made with roast squash I immediately tore it out of the Guardian Feast section to try. It was so delicious that I made it on repeat at home, and then again when I went to stay with my vegan brother. It is blissfully easy to make, and can be eaten as a vegan main course, with a salad and good bread, as a starter or side dish.

I think the flavours are best when it is eaten warm or at room temperature, but it is good hot from the oven too.  It keeps well in the fridge for a few days and is also really easy to scale up and down, whether to make enough for a crowd or just use up that piece of squash that has been lurking in your veg drawer. 

  • 2 tins plum tomatoes
  • 1.1kg squash (or pumpkin)
  • 3 medium red onions
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 4 tbsp basalmic vinegar
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 50g black olives
  • 3 tbsp capers
  • 50g raisins
  • 20g parsley

Heat the oven to 240° C/220° C Fan/Gas 9. Peel and deseed the squash, and chop it into roughly 2cm chunks. Peel the onions and cut each into six pieces. Peel the garlic cloves and squash them with the side of a knife.

Empty the tinned tomatoes into a large baking tray, breaking them up with a spoon or your hands (you can use tins of chopped tomatoes if you prefer, though you lose a bit of texture). I still use my mother’s sturdy roasting pan for this sort of dish. Add all the prepped vegetables, then drizzle over 3 tbsp each of basalmic vinegar and olive oil and grind over some salt and pepper. Put into the oven and roast for 35 minutes. 

While it is cooking pick off the leaves of the parsley – they are part of the salad, rather than a garnish, so don’t stint or chop them. When all the roasted vegetables are soft and starting to char at the edges add the olives, capers and raisins, mix well and return the pan to the oven for 15 minutes.

When the caponata comes out of the oven stir through the remaining 1 tbsp of vinegar and the parsley leaves. Either serve straight away or leave to cool a little. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Happy New Year!

 

Carrot and bean dip

I was prompted to post this by my friend Sue, who asked me for the recipe after we made it during our holiday in the Auvergne. It is very easy to whip up and is a pleasant change from ordinary houmus. Irene originally found a recipe for it online, but we could never find that recipe again, so this is a reconstruction, informed by some online browsing.

If you’re pushed for time you can boil the carrots rather than roasting them, though roasting does give a sweeter flavour, and it is incredibly easy, especially if you pop them into the oven when you’ve got it on to cook something else. You could use crushed raw garlic, if you prefer.

This quantity makes enough to accompany drinks for 6 and, as part of a selection of four different nibbles or snippets, it was enough for a drinks party for 20 last night.

  • 1 tin cannellini or butter beans
  • 3 carrots
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1½ tsp coriander seeds
  • sea salt and black pepper

Heat the oven to 180°C (or thereabouts – just adjust the cooking time if you’re cooking them with something else that needs a slightly different temperature). Scrub or peel the carrots, trim the ends and cut into rough chunks. Sling into a roasting pan with the garlic, a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes until tender to the point of a knife, then put into a bowl (if you’re using a stick blender) or the food processor. Alternatively, boil in lightly salted water for about 10 minutes.

Heat a small frying pan over medium heat. Toast the cumin and coriander seeds, shaking the pan occasionally, for a few minutes until you start to smell them (do not leave them, as they can burn quickly). Tip out, allow to cool for a few minutes, then crush to a powder in a spice mill or mortar and pestle. You can, of course, use ready ground spices if you haven’t got seeds or are in a rush – but it really is worth the bother if you have time.

Drain the tin of beans and tip into the bowl or food processor on top of the carrots. Add the lemon juice, tahini, 3 tbsps olive oil, ground spices and a good grind of black pepper. Squeeze the garlic out of its paper cases (or peel and crush in a garlic press if you’re using it raw) and pop that in too. Then blend or pulse until you have a puree – you can decide how rough or smooth you prefer it. Taste for seasoning – you may need more oil, salt or lemon juice.

If you’re feeling a fancy you can add some chopped parsley or coriander as a garnish. Serve with bread sticks, crackers, flat bread or – my current favourite – fennel tarralini for dipping.

Thanks to Sue for prompting me to post the recipe and for all the (very professional) photographs.

Sweet potato cakes

These sweet potato cakes are dead easy to make, and perfect for brunch or supper. You could also make smaller cakes and serve them as a snack with some salsa or chutney. We had them for brunch with a poached egg on top and a fresh, crunchy salad. To keep it vegan, serve a sliced avocado or a good dollop of coconut yoghurt alongside the potato cakes instead of the egg. This is a very useful recipe when you have left-over roasted or boiled sweet potato – sometimes you can only get enormous ones, which are far too big to get through all at once.

The potato cakes are very soft – you could use more cornflour and chill them for longer if you want firmer, neater patties – but I don’t mind them being a bit wonky, and they held together fine in the pan. Adjust the chilli content to your taste, and chilli flakes would work too if you don’t have any fresh chilli. You could, of course, omit the ginger and chilli and use parsley and lemon zest instead of coriander and lime zest if you wanted a milder, more soothing brunch. Serves 2.

1 large sweet potato (about 300g)
2 spring onions
1cm ginger
1 clove garlic
1 red or green chilli
zest of 1/2 lime
6 sprigs coriander
1 tbsp cornflour
salt and black pepper
2 tbsps quick-cook polenta
1 tbsp olive oil

Salad
2 tomatoes
5cm cucumber
6 radishes
1 stick celery
Coriander leaves
juice of 1/2 lime
2 tbsp olive oil

To serve (optional):
2 eggs or 100g coconut yoghurt
1 avocado

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Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Peel the sweet potato and cut into small chunks. Add to the boiling water and simmer for 10 minutes until tender to a fork, then drain thoroughly in a colander.img_5453.jpg

 

Trim and finely chop the spring onions, peel and grate the ginger and garlic, de-seed and finely chop the chilli and put into a bowl with the zest of lime. Finely chop the coriander, including any soft stalks, and add that too. Tip the drained sweet potatoes into the bowl and mash them into the other ingredients.

 

Add the tablespoon of cornflour and mix well. Then spread the polenta onto a plate. Take a quarter of the mixture, shape into a pattie and dump on top of the polenta. Carefully turn it over (using a spatula helps) so that it is completely coated in the polenta.

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Move the potato cake onto a plate or board and do the same with the rest of the mixture to give four sweet potato cakes. Pop them into the fridge to firm up for a few minutes while you clear the decks, make salad and lay the table.

 

For our salad we just diced the vegetables listed and dressed them with lime juice and olive oil. Diced red pepper or red onion would also be nice, as well as or instead of the ones listed. Or you could just prepare a regular green salad.

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Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan. If you’re having poached eggs put a shallow pan of water on to heat.

When the oil is hot use a spatula to transfer the potato cakes into the pan and leave to cook undisturbed – resist the urge to fiddle with them – on a medium heat for 5-7 minutes until the bottom is crisp and golden. Turn them over carefully with the spatula and cook the other side.

Slice the avocado, if having, and squeeze over a few drops of lemon or lime juice to stop it discolouring. If you’re having poached eggs, about 3 minutes before the potato cakes are ready crack each one into a cup and slip into just simmering water. Cook for 3 minutes or until done to your taste. Use a slotted spoon to scoop each one from the water and blot any excess moisture with a kitchen towel.

Serve the potato cakes with their sides and salad for a satisfying, spicy brunch.

Sweet potato cake and egg

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

 

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.

Lentil and sweet potato pie

This vegetarian version of shepherd’s pie, from A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones, proved to be perfect for dinner on an autumnal day when neither of us felt like cooking anything too demanding. This was partly because I was having a bake-in, making brownies and a fig and blackberry tart, inspired by one I’d eaten at Allegra McEvedy’s wonderful wine bar Albertine (only thing wrong with it is that it’s not round the corner from my flat!).

So I cooked this comforting pie, fragrant with thyme and spices but requiring only some chopping, stirring and mashing, alongside the baking. It was a substantial dinner: I made a half quantity, and have almost two portions left, so the full recipe below would feed six generously and eight more politely, especially if you were serving a starter and dessert. I have slightly reduced the quantity of sweet potato, but feel free to add an extra sweet potato if you like lots of mash. Next time, I might try adding a bay leaf and some mushrooms to the lentils, as I think they would go well and ring the changes.

4 medium sweet potatoes
2 tbsps olive oil
4 spring onions
grated zest of 1/2 lemon

2 carrots
2 sticks celery
2 red onions
2 clove garlic
slug of olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
half a small pack of thyme
1 400g tin tomatoes
400g puy lentils

Cook the sweet potatoes until tender either by baking in the oven at 200ºC/fan 180ºC/gas 6 for 30-45 minutes (depending on size; remember to pierce the skins so they don’t explode), or boiling them in a pan of boiling water for about 15-20 minutes. I baked mine because I wanted some for making brownies too, and I had the oven on for pre-baking a pastry case. Heat the oven to 220ºC/fan 200º/gas 7 for the pie.

Peel and chop the carrots and onions, trim and chop the celery and finely chop the garlic. Put a large frying pan over a medium heat, add a slug of olive oil and, when hot, add the vegetables. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes until they are softening. Roughly crush the cumin, and add all the spices and the leaves of the thyme to the pan. Stir and cook for a few more minutes. Then add the tin of tomatoes, the lentils and two tins full of water. Crush the tomatoes a bit with your spoon and turn up the heat to bring everything to a brisk simmer. Give it a stir from time to time, and add a little extra water if necessary. After 15-20 minutes the lentils should be just cooked and the sauce thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Warm a little olive oil in a medium pan, chop the spring onion and cook it gently in the oil for a few minutes. Add the sweet potato and mash. Check the seasoning and add the lemon zest. Tip the lentil mixture into an oven dish and top with the mashed sweet potato, roughing up the surface with a fork. I added a  few knobs of butter on the top, because that’s what I do with shepherd’s pie to get a nice crispy top, but obviously don’t do this if you’re cooking for vegans.

Bake for 25 minutes until the top is golden and the pie is sizzling hot. I followed the recipe in adding some thyme to the top of the mash, but I don’t recommend this – the thyme just crisps up without adding much flavour and makes it look disconcertingly as if the pie is covered in dead flies!

Serve with steamed green, such as cavolo nero, kale, spring greens or cabbage. And don’t blame me if you feel very full afterwards.

Thai salad

This salad goes very well with a lot of the Indonesian dishes we like, providing a fresh, crunchy counterpoint to Nasi Goreng, Ajam Ketjap or Tomato and Prawn Curry. With some fried slices of tofu and rice (or Nasi Goreng without the bacon) it would make a good vegetarian/vegan meal – though you’ll need to use a little extra soy sauce instead of the fish sauce in the dressing.

1 cucumber
1 carrot
100g unsalted cashews
1 red pepper
2 spring onions
small packet of coriander leaves
small packet of basil

Dressing:
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 dstsp fish sauce
1 tsp white wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic
1 red chilli (or 1-2 tsp chilli sauce)
1 tsp sugar
White pepper

Roast the cashews in a frying pan preheated over medium high heat, watching and turning them for a few minutes until they are starting to brown and smelling delicious. Set aside to cool.

To make the dressing, crush the garlic, finely chop the chilli and then whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl or jar (and, no, I haven’t forgotten to list the oil – that’s one of the reasons the salad so light and refreshing). Check the seasoning – you can of course use black pepper if you don’t have white – and adjust to taste.

To prepare the salad, slice the cucumber and cut the slices in half. Grate the carrot on the coarse side of the grater. Thinly slice the red pepper and spring onion.

Combine the salad vegetables in a bowl. If you’re preparing ahead cover the bowl and dressing with cling film and keep in the fridge until you’re ready to eat. Then add the cashews and  toss with the dressing. Pick the leaves of the coriander and basil and create a bed of them in a shallow serving dish. Spoon the salad on top and serve.