Catalan Tuna and Potato Stew

This is a fabulously earthy stew that is so much more than the sum of its parts. I always find the best recipes invoke some kind of alchemy between a handful of carefully selected ingredients, and this one is pure magic.

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RECIPE serves 4

4 tbsp olive oil

2 red onions, peeled, halved and sliced

3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

1 heaped tsp ground cumin

1 heaped tsp ground coriander

100ml dry white vermouth

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

400ml fish stock

700g new or baby potatoes, skin on, scrubbed and sliced into 5mm rounds

700g tuna fillet

1 200g jar of stuffed green olives (stuffing of your choice), rinsed


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large casserole over a medium heat, add the onions with a pinch of salt and sweat them under a lid for around ten minutes, adding the garlic and chilli flakes when you judge that there are around 4 minutes left until the onions are sufficiently softened.

Add the dried spices and stir thoroughly, ensuring that they don’t catch on the bottom of the pan and the other ingredients are carrying the spices. Add the vermouth and let it bubble off for a minute or so, then add the tinned tomatoes and the fish stock, season lightly and add the potatoes.

Bring to a simmer, cover and cook over a gentle heat for twenty minutes or so until the potatoes are just soft but retain their integrity.

If you are preparing this dish in advance, this is the perfect place to pause.

If not already portioned, cut the tuna into 6 steaks, around 2.5cm thick. Brush with a little olive oil and season lightly on both sides.

Heat a frying pan over a high heat and sear the tuna for around 30 seconds on each side, just to colour the surface. Pop the seared tuna into the simmering broth and gently cover each steak with the potatoes and broth so they are submerged. Simmer for a few minutes until the tuna is just cooked through, then add the olives, stir, check the seasoning and serve in warmed bowls.

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Lime Cream Cheese Cake

Don’t be fooled by the name, this isn’t a cheesecake, rather it is a cake made with cream cheese. Now, that might strike you as a strange thing to use to make a cake, but actually it is no stranger than using butter, they are both dairy products after all.

The cream cheese adds a delicate, moist lift to the sponge itself, while the lime is sharp and exciting. Every time I make this sponge I wonder why I don’t make it more often, in fact I think I will make it again this evening…

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RECIPE

For the cake:

175g unsalted butter, at room temperature

150g full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature

the finely-grated zest of 2 limes

250g golden caster sugar

3 medium eggs, at room temperature

1/2 tsp vanilla extract (my own vodka vanilla extract works brilliantly)

225g self-raising flour

For the syrup:

4 tbsp lime juice

50g caster sugar

For the glaze:

150g icing sugar

the grated zest of a lime

approximately 20ml lime juice


METHOD

Heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4. Grease and line a 900g loaf tin with baking parchment.

Put the butter, cream cheese and lime zest in a mixing bowl and beat thoroughly until soft, fluffy and creamy. This is easiest done if you have a stand mixer with a beater attachment. Scrape the sides of the bowl down then gradually add the sugar, beating as you go. If using a stand mixer get it to maximum speed and beat, and beat, and beat… and when you think you’ve beaten it enough, beat it some more.

Meanwhile, break the eggs into a bowl with the vanilla extract and whisk them together. Gradually add the eggs to the beaten butter mixture, beating well after each addition. If the mixture curdles just add a tablespoon of the flour and beat it in – the best way to avoid curdling is to ensure that all of your ingredients are at the same temperature.

Once all the eggs have been incorporated, gently fold the flour into the batter using a metal spoon until it is just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin and bake for approximately 50 minutes until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Meanwhile, shortly before the cake comes out of the oven, prepare the lime syrup: put the lime juice and sugar in a pan and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved. keep it warm.

Keeping the cake in the loaf tin, place it onto a wire cooling rack. Prick the surface all over and spoon the hot syrup all over it, it will absorb into the cake as it cools. Allow the cake to cool completely.

When the cake is cool, loosen the sides with a broad knife and carefully lift out using the parchment as a support. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and grate the zest of a lime into it. Now gradually add sufficient lime juice to make a thick but runny icing. Spoon over the top and allow it to set.

Pearl Barley, Parsnip & Preserved Lemon Tagine

This simple, yet vibrant and elegant dish led to one of those happy evenings with everyone swooning over how lovely it was, and it continued the next day when leftovers were shared. Since I made it last week there has been a clamour for me to get it on the blog, so here it is.

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This dish appears in the current issue (December 2017) of BBC Good Food Magazine.


RECIPE – Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil

2 onions, sliced

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tsp turmeric

1 heaped tsp paprika

2 heaped tsp ras el hanout

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

3 parsnips, cut into chunks

3 carrots, cut into chunks

2 preserved lemons (bought, or if using home-made use 1), chopped

200g pearl barley

1 litre vegetable stock

1 small pack parsley, leaves picked

1 small pack mint, leaves picked

150g green olives, chopped

juice of ½ lemon

pomegranate seeds, to serve

zest of a lemon, finely grated to serve

For the tahini yogurt:

160g thick Greek yogurt (or dairy-free alternative)

2-3 tbsp tahini

juice of ½ lemon


METHOD

Heat the oil in a flameproof casserole dish. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, cook for around 5 minutes until they are beginning to colour and soften, then stir in the garlic and spices. Cook for a minute or more until fragrant, then add the sweet potato, parsnips, carrots, preserved lemon and pearl barley.

Give everything a good mix and cook for a minute or so until the vegetables and barley are coated in the spices. Pour in the stock and some seasoning, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes or until the vegetables and barley are tender.

To make the tahini yogurt, mix the yogurt with the tahini, lemon juice and some seasoning, then add a splash of water to make it loose and spoonable.

Chop most of the mint and parsley leaves. Taste the tagine for seasoning, then stir through the chopped herbs, olives and lemon juice.

Scatter over the pomegranate seeds and the remaining herbs to add colour and texture, and scatter the grated lemon zest over everything.  Serve with the tahini yogurt.

Apple Compote

We always have a glut of apples at this time of year, thanks to our allotment-owning friends. Every year I dutifully wrap them in newspaper, store them in a cool, dry, dark place, and every year a good proportion of them still rot. Over the years it has made me much more cautious about storing apples that are in any way less-than-perfect.

I won’t throw the marked ones away though, instead we now make up a huge batch of silky smooth apple compote. You can use all eating apples, all cooking apples, or a mix of the two; the method is the same whatever you do.

Stored in an airtight container in the fridge this will easily keep for a few weeks, and will freeze for up to 3 months. It is great with muesli or granola for breakfast; with cinnamon and allspice stirred through it I have made some lovely individual apple pies, and it also makes a great base for an apple fool. It can also be served alongside pork dishes (rather than processed, jarred apple sauce) or used as an element of a lovely home-made granola.

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RECIPE 

apples: eaters, cookers or a mix

golden caster sugar, to taste

a little water


METHOD

Peel, core and finely slice the apples – be sure to remove every little bit of fibre from the core and peel, otherwise you can be sure it will catch in your teeth.

Put the apples in a large pan and add a good tablespoon of sugar and 2-3 tablespoons of water – just to stop them catching on the bottom of the pan. Cook, covered, over a gentle heat and stirring often until the apple pieces have completely dissolved and you have a thick, slightly translucent purée. It should take about half an hour.

Add more caster sugar to taste – enough to achieve a purée that is still on the tart side but not unpleasantly so. You can always add sugar when you serve it up, and in fact the slight graininess of just-sprinkled caster sugar on the compote is a pleasure in itself.

Leave to cool completely, then store in the fridge in a jar or Tupperware container.

Sauerkraut

I am a total beginner when it comes to home fermentation, though it is a topic that has intrigued me for a while now. I was pushed to actually give it a go a few weeks ago when I listened to an episode of BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme that gave a fermentation masterclass by Sandor Katz.

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I now have a 2 litre jar of home-made sauerkraut fermenting away – flavoured with juniper berries, caraway seeds and fenugreek seeds – and I have to tell you that it is delicious right now, and I believe that it will only get better. The trick is to keep on tasting it, every few days, until it is exactly how you like it then put it in the fridge to drastically slow the fermentation. Of course if, like me, you’re a newbie to kraut then you have no idea how you like it, so it’s all an experiment. I’m just going to keep it going as long as I can, I’ll soon figure out how I like it – if it lasts long enough. I’m already finding uses for it: as a condiment, tumbled over soups, tossed through salads and – my favourite so far – scattered over cheese on toast. I’m going to see if I can make use of it as a stock base as well; truly, the only limit seems to be your imagination.

So, what’s it all about, and how do you make it? I’ll let an expert tell you, here is Sandor Katz:

“The fermentation of cabbage into sauerkraut is not the work of a single microorganism. Sauerkraut, like most fermentations, involves a succession of several different organisms, not unlike the life of a forest, in which a series of different trees follow each other as the dominant species, each succeeding type altering conditions to favour the next. The fermentation involves a broad community of bacteria, with a succession of different dominant players, determined by the increasing acidity.

Do not be deterred by the biological complexity of the transformation. That happens on its own once you create the simple conditions for it. Sauerkraut is very easy to make. The sauerkraut method is also referred to as dry-salting, because typically no water is added and the juice under which the vegetables are submerged comes from the vegetables themselves. This is the simplest and most straightforward method, and results in the most concentrated vegetable flavour.”


RECIPE – by Sandor Katz

1 kilogram of vegetables per litre. Any varieties of cabbage alone or in combination, or at least half cabbage and the remainder any combination of radishes, turnips, carrots, beets, kohlrabi, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, shallots, leeks, garlic, greens, peppers, or other vegetables.

Approximately 1 tablespoon salt (start with a little less, add if needed after tasting)
Other seasonings as desired, such as caraway seeds, juniper berries, dill, chilli peppers, ginger, turmeric, dried cranberries, or whatever you can conjure in your imagination.


METHOD – by Sandor Katz

Prepare the vegetables.

Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and reserve. Scrub the root vegetables but do not peel. Chop or grate all vegetables into a bowl. The purpose of this is to expose surface area in order to pull water out of the vegetables, so that they can be submerged under their own juices. The finer the veggies are shredded, the easier it is to get juices out, but fineness or coarseness can vary with excellent results.

Salt and season.

Salt the vegetables lightly and add seasonings as you chop. Sauerkraut does not require heavy salting. Taste after the next step and add more salt or seasonings, if desired. It is always easier to add salt than to remove it. (If you must, cover the veggies with de-chlorinated water, let this sit for 5 minutes, then pour off the excess water.)
Squeeze the salted vegetables with your hands for a few minutes (or pound with a blunt tool). This bruises the vegetables, breaking down cell walls and enabling them to release their juices. Squeeze until you can pick up a handful and when you squeeze, juice releases (as from a wet sponge).

Pack the salted and squeezed vegetables into your jar.

Press the vegetables down with force, using your fingers or a blunt tool, so that air pockets are expelled and juice rises up and over the vegetables. Fill the jar not quite all the way to the top, leaving a little space for expansion. The vegetables have a tendency to float to the top of the brine, so it’s best to keep them pressed down, using one of the cabbage’s outer leaves, folded to fit inside the jar, or a carved chunk of a root vegetable, or a small glass or ceramic insert. Screw the top on the jar; lactic acid bacteria are anaerobic and do not need oxygen (though they can function in the presence of oxygen). However, be aware that fermentation produces carbon dioxide, so pressure will build up in the jar and needs to be released daily, especially the first few days when fermentation will be most vigorous.

Wait.

Be sure to loosen the top to relieve pressure each day for the first few days. The rate of fermentation will be faster in a warm environment, slower in a cool one. Some people prefer their krauts lightly fermented for just a few days; others prefer a stronger, more acidic flavour that develops over weeks or months. Taste after just a few days, then a few days later, and at regular intervals to discover what you prefer. Along with the flavour, the texture changes over time, beginning crunchy and gradually softening. Move to the refrigerator if you wish to stop (or rather slow) the fermentation. In a cool environment, kraut can continue fermenting slowly for months. In the summer or in a heated room, its life cycle is more rapid; eventually it can become soft and mushy.

Enjoy your kraut!

I start eating it when the kraut is young and enjoy its evolving flavour over the course of a few weeks (or months in a large batch). Be sure to try the sauerkraut juice that will be left after the kraut is eaten. Sauerkraut juice packs a strong flavour, and is unparalleled as a digestive tonic or hangover cure.

Tips…

Surface growth – The most common problem that people encounter in fermenting vegetables is surface growth of yeasts and/or moulds, facilitated by oxygen. Many books refer to this as “scum,” but I prefer to think of it as a bloom. It’s a surface phenomenon, a result of contact with the air. If you should encounter surface growth, remove as much of it as you can, along with any discoloured or soft kraut from the top layer, and discard. The fermented vegetables beneath will generally look, smell, and taste fine. The surface growth can break up as you remove it, making it impossible to remove all of it. Don’t worry.

Develop a rhythm – Start a new batch before the previous one runs out. Get a few different flavours or styles going at once for variety. Experiment!

Variations – Add a little fresh vegetable juice and dispense with the need to squeeze or pound. Incorporate mung bean sprouts . . .hydrated seaweed . . . shredded or quartered Brussels sprouts… cooked potatoes (mashed, fried, and beyond, but always cooled!) . . . dried or fresh fruit… the possibilities are infinite . . .

Curried Fish Pie

If you’re not a fan of curry, fear not. The spices fade into the overall mix of heady flavours and aromas and there is no heat to speak of. This just leaves you with a fish pie taken not just to the next level, but the level beyond that.

I love fish pie; whether topped with mashed potato or puff pastry it is one of my ultimate comfort foods. I thought my existing recipe couldn’t be bettered, but when I spotted this while browsing through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘River Cottage Every Day’ there was no question that I would make it, and no question that we would love it.

Hugh is one of that all too rare breed of cookery writers whose recipes work, every single time, and they are always delicious. I have cooked probably close to a hundred of his recipes now, and without exception they have been loved by us all. The trouble with that is: how do you get time to cook new stuff?

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RECIPE – Serves 6

For the fish:

600g of firm white fish fillets, I use a mix of hake, haddock and sea bass
200g kippers
750ml whole milk
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
A few peppercorns

For the pie:

75g unsalted butter
75g plain flour
1 tablespoon sunflower or groundnut oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoon curry powder or curry paste (I use Mauritian curry powder)
2 handfuls of raw peeled prawns (optional)
a small bunch of chopped coriander
250g puff pastry
A little beaten egg for glazing


METHOD

Put all the fish in a pan and add the milk, onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf and peppercorns. Place over a low heat. As soon as the milk comes to a simmer, switch off the heat and cover the pan. The fish will carry on cooking in the hot milk. After about 5 minutes, it should be just cooked through; if not, leave it in the hot milk for a little longer, then drain in a sieve placed over a bowl, reserving the milk. Discard the vegetables, bay leaf and peppercorns.

Now make a béchamel sauce: melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and stir well to make a roux. Cook gently for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly, then gently whisk in a third of the fishy milk until the sauce is smooth. Add another third of the milk, whisking all the time until the sauce is again smooth, and then the final third, so that you end up with a smooth, creamy sauce. Season with salt and pepper, turn the heat down low and cook very gently for 2 minutes.

Peel the skin off the fish, check for any bones and gently break the flesh into chunks. Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the onion and cook gently for about 5 minutes, until translucent and soft. Stir in the curry powder or paste and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Add the curry-flavoured onion to the béchamel, then stir in the flaked fish, the prawns, if using, and the coriander. Taste the sauce and add more salt, pepper or curry powder/paste if you think it needs it.

Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface and cut it to fit the top of the dish. Put the filling into the dish. Dampen the rim of the dish, lift the pastry over the filling and press down the pastry edges to seal. Brush with a little beaten egg and place in an oven preheated to 200C/ Fan 180C/ Gas 6. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden and puffed and the fishy sauce is bubbling underneath.

Serve with peas and broccoli, with smooth buttery mash. Yum!

Pretzels

There seem to be several thousand different ways to make pretzels, and I’m sure that most of them work, though one or two recipes that I have tried have been abject failures. All that matters is the end result, and this method – which I found in The Great British Bake Off Christmas book – delivers every time.

You can make pretzels sweet as well as savoury, just sprinkle them with demerara sugar instead of salt before baking.

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RECIPE – makes 8 large pretzels

175ml hand warm water

1/2 tsp caster sugar

1 1/2 tsp active dried yeast

300g plain flour

1/2 tsp salt

3 tbsp bicarbonate of soda

1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp melted butter

flaky sea salt (or demerara sugar if making sweet pretzels)


METHOD

Mix the warm water with the sugar and yeast and leave in a warm place for 5-10 minutes until the mixture starts to bubble.

Put the flour into a bowl and make a well in the centre, add the yeast and stir with a wooden spoon until you have a loose dough. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes until the dough starts to loose it’s stickiness.

Flatten and spread the dough out into a loose square, and sprinkle the salt over it. Knead for a further five minutes, this will distribute the salt thoroughly throughout the dough. When the dough is smooth and elastic, roll it into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl, covered with cling film or a damp cloth, in a warm place for 1-2 hours until it has doubled in size.

Heat the oven to 170C/ Gas 3. Put about 1 1/2 litres of water in a large pan with the bicarbonate of soda and bring it to the boil.

Meanwhile, punch the dough back down and give it another brief knead, then cut it into eight equal pieces. Roll each piece out into a long thin rope, about 45cm (18 inches) long.

Take one end of the rope and bring it to the centre, then take the other end of the rope and bring it across the first end and twist it underneath to form a knot in the centre, then bring it to the middle. Press the ends tightly on the top edge of the dough rope to seal them – see the picture for the end result.

Gently lower each piece of shaped pretzel dough into the boiling water using a slotted spoon, you can probably do 3 at a time. After about ten seconds they will start to rise to the top, but allow them to boil for 30 seconds before removing with a slotted spoon and placing onto a baking sheet lined with parchment while you do the rest.

Once the pretzels have all been boiled, brush them with the egg and butter glaze and sprinkle with the sea salt. Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 45 minutes until they are a deep and glossy brown, and crisp. Cool on a wire rack before eating – you might want to have the dough for eight more proving in a corner, these go fast!

Perfect Bread Machine Loaves

I make bread at home at least once a week, and though I will make it by hand as often as I can – just for the pleasure of it – there is no disgrace at all in using a bread machine. I’ve been ill for a few weeks, so I have been filling my time doing a lot of experimenting with small differences in how my bread is made, both by hand and by machine.

I have come to a few surprising conclusions, chief among which is that for a standard white loaf there is no need to pay top-dollar for the ‘best’ bread flour. Whether you judge a loaf on its taste, on its ‘crumb’, on its chewiness, its looks or its crust, there is absolutely no difference between the own-brand flour from my local Lidl and the most expensive boutique flours. Under identical conditions, back-to-back tests illustrate that all of the characteristics of a loaf are determined by the kind of yeast you use, and what the baker does, not the flour.

I know that is close to heresy in some peoples’ eyes, but there it is.

I have been reading some fascinating books about bread; seriously, I had no idea that such a narrow subject could be so diverse and fascinating. I’m not yet at the point where I can offer a masterclass in bread-making, but I am willing to offer a couple of tips that will improve the bread that comes out of your bread machine.

The first tip concerns how you add the ingredients to the bread machine. All the instructions that I have ever read direct you to put all the ingredients into the pan, select the appropriate settings, turn it on and walk away for a few hours. That, after all, is what a bread machine is all about.

But what if I told you that by being just a little more organised and doing five minutes preparation, a couple of hours before you turn the machine on, you will get a machine loaf that is probably 98% as good as a loaf made by hand? Interested?

All you need to do is take a little of the water, a little of the flour, all of the yeast and all of the sugar specified in a recipe, put it into a small bowl and mix it all together with a fork so you end up with a smooth, very sloppy porridge consistency. Now cover it with a damp cloth and walk away for a few hours.

When you come back to it and lift the cloth, you will find that the top is covered in foaming bubbles and smells a little like beer. It will also have grown; by how much depends purely on how long you left it – don’t leave it too long, a few hours only, otherwise you run the risk of exhausting the yeast.

Now grab a fork, or a whisk, and whip the mixture for a minute or two. You will find that it is all stringy, like melting cheese. That is the gluten, developing before you even begin kneading. The smell and the volume increase is the yeast, digesting the sugar and flour and releasing carbon dioxide as it does so.

Now add all of the remaining flour, water, oil and salt to the bread machine pan, pour in the yeasted mixture, give it a stir with the fork to combine it all, then walk away.

When you come back after the 4 or 5 hours the bread machine cycle takes, you will find that your loaf looks, smells and tastes remarkably better than it used to. The loaf will be slightly bigger, with a more pronounced crown, and when you cut into it you will find that the crumb (the distribution of air bubbles) will be uneven and more open. On tasting it you will find that it has a little more ‘body’, is a little chewier and has a flavour all its own. All this just from pre-activating the yeast and the gluten.

The second tip concerns salt. I used to think that salt was included in bread dough purely to add flavour to the finished loaf; not so, actually salt plays a crucial role in gluten development.  If you make bread, or you watch any baking programmes, you will be aware that bread dough is kneaded in order to activate the gluten proteins in the flour. Without going into the chemistry of what happens, and in simplified layman’s terms, by working the dough the protein molecules combine into longer strands, and it is these strands which give the bread the strength to trap air and rise. The presence of salt in a dough gives the gluten greater structural strength, so it is better able to hold onto the carbon dioxide released as the yeast feeds on the flour, sugar and water, trapping it as the bread proves, and then holding it when the loaf goes into a hot oven, at which point the trapped air expands and the loaf springs into its final shape.

Paradoxically, though salt is necessary when the gluten has developed, it actually inhibits the initial development of gluten. Experiments show that adding the salt later means that your finished loaf has greater structure for the same amount of kneading, or, if you’re making it by hand, you can get away with kneading the bread less.

So, if you’re using a bread machine to make a basic white or wholemeal loaf (sample recipes are below), the first step is to pre-activate the yeast and gluten by mixing all the yeast with all the sugar and some of the water and flour, then leaving it for a couple of hours before whipping it and adding it, with all of the remaining ingredients, to the bread pan. This of course includes the salt, the absence of which in the initial yeast mixture allows the gluten to get a good head start in developing.

Both of these principles apply equally to hand-made loaves, and the trouble with all this is that I have been making some exquisite bread recently, and it isn’t good for my waistline…

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RECIPES 

White Bread Machine Loaf

Medium

Large Extra-Large
Strong white flour

400g

475g 550g

Dried active yeast

¾ tsp 1 tsp

1¼ tsp

Sugar

1 tsp

1½ tsp

2 tsp

Butter/olive oil

15g

25g

25g

Salt

¾ tsp

1 tsp

1¼ tsp

Water

270 ml 320 ml

360 ml

70% Wholemeal Bread Machine Loaf

Medium

Large

Extra-Large

Strong whole meal flour

300g

350g

400g

Strong white flour

100g

125g

150g

Dried active yeast

¾ tsp

1 tsp

1¼ tsp

Sugar

1 tsp

1½ tsp

2 tsp

Butter/olive oil

15g

25g

25g

Salt

¾ tsp

1 tsp

1¼ tsp

Water

280 ml

340 ml

380 ml


 

Squash and Sage Honeycomb Cannelloni

There is a reason that Italian families like to get together and feast: they get to eat food like this. It takes a little time and effort to make (though not too much) but it will comfortably serve six people until they burst, with a little left over as well!

It’s a similar idea to a lasagne, though with a very different – and impressive – look, and like lasagne it is deeply comforting. Be careful though, this isn’t diet food so you shouldn’t make it every day, or even every week, but as an occasional celebration meal this ticks every box.

To cut through the richness of all the cheese, the perfect accompaniment is a simple salad of segmented oranges tossed through a big bowl of rocket leaves.

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RECIPE serves 6

1kg of butternut squash – 400g diced into 1cm chunks, 600g cut into bigger chunks

4 tbsp olive oil

2 large onions, finely chopped

15 large sage leaves, finely chopped, plus a few extra (roughly shredded) for sprinkling

4 garlic cloves, crushed

500g ricotta

a pinch of sugar

a small handful of walnuts, chopped, plus a few halves for sprinkling

500g mascarpone

300ml full-fat milk

1/2 tsp of grated fresh nutmeg

100g grated parmesan, plus a little extra for sprinkling

500g dried cannelloni tubes

100g Gorgonzola, diced


METHOD

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6. Toss the 1cm diced squash on a baking tray with 2 tbsp of the oil and a little seasoning. Roast in the oven for 20-25 mins until the squash is tender and browning.

Meanwhile, put the bigger chunks in a microwave-proof bowl with about 200ml water. Cover with cling film, pierce a couple of times, and microwave on high, in several 4 minute bursts (with a few minutes rest between each burst) until really soft. Drain off the water and leave to cool for a little while.

While you’re doing this, put the remaining 2 tbsp oil in a large frying pan over a moderate heat with the onions, sage and garlic and cook gently until softened. Set aside to cool.

Now prepare the pasta: bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add six or seven cannelloni tubes at a time and boil for 2 mins, stirring occasionally so they don’t stick together. Lift out with a slotted spoon and drop into a basin of cold water so you can handle them. Use scissors to snip each tube in half, but don’t worry if the results are jagged because uneven bits that stick up out of the sauce add visual interest as well as charring and browning to add variety of texture and taste.

Mash the microwaved squash, or blitz in a blender, then mix with the ricotta until smooth. Season well and taste – it may need a little sugar to bring out the sweetness of the squash. Stir in the onion mixture and the walnuts, then gently stir in the roasted squash, being careful not to break it up.

Whisk the mascarpone with the milk, nutmeg, Parmesan and generous seasoning until smooth. Spread just over half the sauce into a big ovenproof dish.

Stand the halved cannelloni tubes upright on their smooth ends, snuggled together as tightly as possible, in the sauce in the dish. You can try piping the squash and ricotta mixture into the tubes, but really, life is too short. It is much easier just to take a teaspoon and roughly spread the mixture over the top of a few tubes at a time, pushing the mixture down into the tubes, and the gaps between them.

When all the filling is used up, dot the top of the cannelloni with diced gorgonzola, a few walnut halves and some shredded sage leaves, and drizzle the remainder of the mascarpone sauce over everything. Finish with a generous grating of Parmesan over the top, then bake, uncovered, in a 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6 oven for around 30 mins until the top is crisp, the sauce is bubbling and the pasta is softened.

Leave to rest for ten minutes and serve alongside a simple salad of segmented oranges tossed through a big bowl of rocket leaves.

Sage and Gorgonzola Risotto

This time of year is just perfect for the stodgy, warming comfort of a risotto. The sour tang of Gorgonzola is perfect for risotto, but if you find the flavour a little too strong you can substitute Dolcelatte, which is the same cheese but around 6 months younger.

To cut through the richness of the risotto, the perfect accompaniment is three segmented oranges tossed through a big bowl of rocket leaves. As my wife put it, this simple salad is an absolute triumph.

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RECIPE serves 4

1.2 litres chicken or vegetable stock

1 medium onion, very finely chopped

1/2 tsp dried sage

100g unsalted butter

400g risotto rice (I prefer carnaroli, but arborio is fine)

125ml dry white vermouth

150g Gorgonzola cheese, diced

2 tbsp single cream

4 fresh sage leaves, very finely chopped

a few fried sage leaves to garnish

a few crumbs of Gorgonzola to garnish

a little freshly grated Parmesan, as a seasoning


METHOD

Heat the stock to simmering point before you start, and keep it at a gentle simmer throughout the cooking time.

Heat a risotto pan, or large frying pan, over a medium high heat and melt 50g of the butter with a splash of olive oil (to prevent the butter from burning). Add the onions and dried sage and fry gently for around five minutes until the onion is meltingly soft but not browned.

Add all of the rice, turn the heat up and stir everything together so that each grain of rice is coated, and the grains are really hot. ‘Toasting’ the grains this way improves the final risotto, but take care not to brown or burn anything, constant stirring is essential.

Add the vermouth to the hot pan, the alcohol will sizzle off within 30 seconds, after which time you can begin to add the hot stock, one ladleful at a time, stirring constantly and only adding more stock when the previous liquid has all been absorbed.

When two-thirds of the stock has been added, stir in the Gorgonzola and melt it through the rice. Continue to add stock until the risotto is smooth and velvety and the grains are soft but still retain a little bite, this will take around twenty minutes and you must never leave the pan alone or your risotto will catch.

Remove from the heat and add the remaining butter, the cream and the chopped fresh sage. Stir it thoroughly and adjust the seasoning. The Gorgonzola is quite salty so you may not need to add any salt at all, though a generous grind of freshly-ground black pepper is a must. Cover the pan and set aside for a couple of minutes while you gently fry a few fresh sage leaves for the garnish.

Turn the risotto out onto a warm platter, garnish with the fried sage leaves and some small pieces of Gorgonzola that will slowly melt in. Grate a little Parmesan over each bowl to act as a final seasoning and serve alongside a rocket and orange salad.