Roasted Aubergine, Feta and Mint Salad

Aubergine and Feta salad

At this time of year I am happy to eat salad after salad.   By this I don’t mean just a regular green salad with a vinaigrette.  Rather piles of fresh crunchy vegetables with handfuls of fragrant herbs, texture from seeds or grains, creamy feta, labne or ricotta and all anointed with a punchy dressing designed to bring the components together.

I like a classic Nicoise or a retro Coronation as well as the next person and a perfectly made Caesar is a thing of joy.  More often though my salads will be veggie based, at once healthy and delicious whilst celebrating the bounty of salad leaves and vegetables spilling from the shelves during the summer months.  Tomatoes, courgettes, beans of all kinds, beetroot, aubergines, carrots, peppers either raw, steamed or roasted.   Loads of verdant green herbs bringing all their gorgeous flavours to the party and lots of salady leaves.  If there is meat or fish it will often be almost as a seasoning, some small cubes of chorizo or bacon for example or salty slivers of anchovy.

You will find lots of suggestions here, Green Beans with Tomatoes and Chorizo (September 2013), Christmas Salad (December 2013), Favourite Green Salad (January 2014) and Roast Vegetables with Pomegranate Molasses (July 2014).   I turn to all these regularly and honestly, never get bored of them.  Todays salad is a new kid on the block and celebrates that trinity of good friends aubergine, feta and mint.  I often use these ingredients in other dishes but this time wanted them to shine and along with some bulgar for body, leaves of rocket and a garlicky dressing it is a stellar combination.

Aubergine and Feta salad 2

Aubergine, Feta and Mint Salad

I have mentioned previously my determination to find a way to make all vegetables agreeable to my children but it would seem that aubergine may be my nemesis…..

2 aubergines, sliced and then cubed

1 tablespoon olive oil

100g bulgar wheat

1 large handful of mint, torn

100g feta (more if you like) roughly cubed

1 large handful of rocket

1 clove of garlic, crushed or finely chopped

1 teaspoon runny honey

Juice of 1/2 lemon

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200, turn the aubergine cubes in the oil and spread out on a baking tray (you may need two), sprinkle with salt and roast for 20-30 minutes until golden.  Put the bulgar wheat into a bowl with a pinch of salt and cover with boiling water to about 1cm over the bulgar and leave for 10 minutes.  After this time taste a bit, if it is still a little hard leave for a few more minutes before draining.   Meanwhile make the dressing by mixing the garlic, honey, lemon juice and oil, season with salt and pepper until you are happy with it.  Mix the bulgar with most of the dressing and then gently mix in the aubergine, feta, rocket and mint.  Taste for seasoning and just before serving pour over a little more dressing.  Serves 4 alongside other things.

 

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Orzo with Bacon, Tomato and Cream Sauce

Orzo with bacon and tomato

This is a winner.  A little girl (aged 3) recently came to stay and when it came to teatime she wasn’t in the mood for any nonsense.  I was fairly confident she would like this as my children adore it, even my son who is absolutely not the first to request pasta, ever.

When  the time came to serve though, I realised I had forgotten the vagaries of young children and must admit, felt a brief tremor of nerves.  Hurrah, it was a huge success and she polished off three helpings much to the panic of my daughter who was eyeing the reducing seconds in the pan with alarm.

So offer this with confidence and not only to children, I make no secret of loving it and am often to be caught sneaking a spoonful or two from the pan before it disappears.

Orzo with Bacon, Tomato and Cream Sauce

Orzo is a rice shaped pasta we have a particular fondness for but use any small shape you like. I keep those little rectangular packs of pancetta in the fridge and along with some small packs of passata in the larder this becomes an almost store cupboard supper.

125g orzo

1 teaspoon olive oil

100g pancetta, pack sizes vary and a little more won’t hurt if that is what you have

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

100g passata

2 tablespoons cream

A few sprigs of parsley, chopped

Parmesan

Cook the orzo according to the packet instructions, probably around 11 minutes.  Meanwhile put the pancetta into a large frying pan with a teaspoon of olive oil and cook until well coloured and crispy in places.  Add the garlic and cook for a minute before adding the passata, stir and cook for a few minutes before adding the cream.   Drain the pasta retaining a little of the cooking water.  Put the pasta into the sauce, stir until combined adding a little of the cooking water if you need it to loosen the sauce.  Grate over some parmesan, add the chopped parsley and serve with more parmesan to hand.  Serves two adults or three children.

 

 

 

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Cinnamon Pannacotta with Maple Syrup Apples

Cinnamon Pannacotta

To me this has a faintly Autumnal air about it and I had been saving it until the end of the Summer but then someone asked me for the recipe.  In truth it is good any day of year and as apples are around all the time a good one to have up your sleeve.

I adore Pannacotta, there is something about the creamy wobbliness that is irresistible.  Usually I make a vanilla version which I can then serve with any fruit that happens to be in season, pureed gooseberries, rhubarb and blackcurrants all being favourites.  Should the fruit bowl be bare however, then a good chocolate sauce (one without cream) makes them a pudding of dreams.  You can find my Vanilla Pannacotta here (July 2014).

This one came about because I’d made a note ages ago to combine cinnamon with apples and maple syrup and eventually got around to having a go.  A favourite North American combination I suspect and a possible Jelly Bean one too if that is your thing.  I tried pie and crumble and whilst a good combo the individual flavours got a little muddled.  An ice cream was a nice idea but try getting apples to make themselves heard against cinnamon in an ice cream.  This pannacotta really works though.  Gently bosky sweetness from the cinnamon goes so well with the creaminess of the pannacotta which is kept the right side of too rich with the addition of yogurt.  The apples and maple syrup compliment each other politely, allowing both to show themselves off.

Cinnamon Pannacotta with Maple Syrup Apples

On another occasion just make a panful of these sweet, soft apples and serve over vanilla ice cream.

200ml whole milk

100ml single cream

100ml Greek yogurt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

60g caster sugar

2 gelatine leaves

2 eating apples such as Braeburn, peeled, cored and finely sliced

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons maple syrup

Put the gelatine in a bowl of cold water to soften.  Heat the milk, cream, cinnamon and sugar until it just reaches boiling point.  Remove from the heat and add the squeezed out gelatine, whisk well and leave to cool, stirring occasionally.  Whisk in the yogurt and divide between 4 ramekins or small metal moulds.  Put into the fridge for at least 4 hours to set.  About 20 minutes before serving prepare the apples,  melt the butter in a frying pan and cook the apples gently in this for about 10 minutes until turning golden brown and becoming floppy.  At this point add the maple syrup and cook for a further 5 minutes until the apples are well coated and the syrup reduced.  To serve, dip each ramekin briefly into hot water before turning out onto a plate and serve with the apples.  Serves 4.

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Smoked Haddock and Chive Risotto

Smoked haddock and chive risotto

We are in the midst of that horror that is house buying.  The house selling seems to be a dream but the purchase is causing unknown stress and as such I am in need of great comfort.   What could be more reassuring and bolstering than risotto.  Cosy, creamy and requiring very little effort to eat, sofa food if ever there was.   As it oozes gently across your plate you just know it is going to make you feel better.  That, and the bar of chocolate to follow….

For this I have chosen smoked haddock because I find it an old fashioned, nostalgic ingredient which in itself brings me comfort.  Purists may recoil at the hint of yellow coming from this fish and by all means use undyed if you prefer.  The haddock I purchased did, clearly, have a belt of sunshine yellow about it but as it was good quality I wasn’t going to let it bother me.  Indeed I rather like the jolly jauntiness of yellow and it certainly makes this uplifting to look at along with its green chive freckles.

Parmesan I know is not traditional with fish risottos but I do think cheese goes rather well with smoked fish so personally, I am all for a good grating but I leave that up to you.  One final suggestion I make is a poached egg.  The golden yolk breaking over the risotto is a fabulous addition and would make this go further should you wish to feed more souls in need of comfort, or otherwise.

Smoked haddock and chive risotto 2

Smoked Haddock Risotto with Chives

I am not keen on fish stock unless I have just made it so tend to use chicken or vegetable, either works fine.  That I can use stock cubes if necessary makes this a superb store cupboard supper as smoked haddock is happily stored in the freezer and the chives can be growing in a pot or your garden.   Onions, lemons and arborio rice I always have in the larder.   Finally, you will have to stand and stir this for around 20 minutes but the beauty of being trapped stove side is that you are unable to help anyone find their homework, walk the dog, hang the washing out……

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion finely chopped

200g arborio rice

1 wineglass dry white wine

500/600ml stock (see introduction)

Juice of half a lemon

Chives, about 10g, finely chopped

250g smoked haddock, cut into pieces

Salt and pepper

Make your stock if using cubes or heat it up if is already liquid, either way keep it hot by or on the hob.  Melt the butter and oil in a large pan and cook the onion for 5 to 10 minutes until soft but not coloured and then add the rice.  Give it a good stir to ensure all the grains are well coated.  Add the wine and stir until it has been absorbed by the rice.  Then add the stock a ladleful at a time, stirring continuously until each addition is absorbed.  Towards the end of this process you should taste a grain of rice as different brands vary but I suspect it will take around 20 minutes.  When it is nearly done add the fish and your final slosh of stock and continue stirring.  Finally add the lemon juice and taste for salt at this point as you may not need much depending on the saltiness of your fish but add lots of pepper and most of the chives.  Stir and leave it to stand for 2-3 minutes.  Sprinkle with the last of the chives and serve.  Enough for 2.

 

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Salmon with Pickled Cucumber

Salmon and Pickled Cucumber

I was asked recently for more supper recipes, easy, quick, everyday numbers to resolve that daily dilemma, what are we going to eat tonight?    Several ideas came to mind but this is the one I was cooking that night for supper and in itself presented me with a problem.  Could I actually offer this up as a recipe?  As you will see it contains very few ingredients and furthermore part of it is from a recipe I created last year, the Herby Ricotta with Pickled Cucumber (September 2014).   Surely no one needs the suggestion of salmon for supper but maybe the pickled cucumber is a bit of a departure?  Indeed the crunchy, sweet and sour elements of this go splendidly with the rich, oily salmon, quite a partnership.  Anyway I dithered for a bit before realising how mad I sound.  Get ahold of yourself I said.  This is not a dilemma, choosing names for your children, deciding which house to buy, what career to pursue – these could all be considered dilemmas but not whether this can be justified as a recipe or not.

That it is unbelievably quick and easy is hardly a problem; nor that it requires a shopping list you could probably fit on a stamp;  most crucially it is extremely good and of course, good for you.  If you aren’t a carbo phobe it goes perfectly with glorious, fudgy Jersey royals and a big green salad, heavy on the fresh mint, would also be just the ticket, a fab supper.

Salmon with Pickled Cucumber

I made extra of this last week and had it cold for my lunch the next day.  I ate it with a salad but couldn’t help thinking it would also make a stellar filling for a sandwich.

2 salmon fillets

1 teaspoon olive oil

A couple of chives, finely chopped

Half a cucumber

1 tablespoon caster sugar

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

Salt

Put the sugar and vinegar into a shallow bowl with a pinch of salt and leave to dissolve. Using a vegetable peeler, take long slices of cucumber avoiding the watery seeds in the middle and add to the bowl.  Leave for half an hour, stirring occasionally, for the cucumber to “pickle”.  Meanwhile brush the salmon fillets with the oil on both sides and put skin side down in a hot pan.  Leave for 5 minutes before turning and cooking on the other side for a further 5 minutes – this should be just right but cook a little longer if you prefer or your fillets are huge.  Sprinkle with the chives and serve with the pickled cucumber.  Enough for 2 but easily doubled, tripled….

 

 

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Grissini with Rosemary

Grissini

When I lived in London there were several favourite Italian restaurants that I would frequent from time to time.  There is something particular about entering such an establishment, the clamour and enthusiasm, the noise and bustle, the smell of herbs and garlic cooking that fills the air.   Following the greeting and seating a proper treat awaits you.  The grissini – slender, crunchy breadsticks all the better for gouging through the butter.  Not as filling as the proffered focaccia but the perfect nibble with a glass of wine whilst perusing the menu.  I love them and so do my family so we make our own.

Now I can’t pretend that dining in my kitchen offers quite the same experience.  Different certainly but just as much fun I would hope.   These grissini however are definitely up to those of nostalgic, rose or should that be frascati touched memory.   Crispy, savoury and in this case taken to new heights with the addition of chopped rosemary.   I serve these before and alongside lunch or dinner, take them on picnics and they are much in demand for packed lunches.   Very delicious and moreish to eat and so easy to make.  The rolling out takes me back to the days of plasticine and playdoh and is repetitive and relaxing, in a black clad Italian Mama sort of way.  Think Sophia Loren….

Grissini with Rosemary

Children love making these which is always a help and last week, rather than making the traditional stick shapes, my daughter fashioned each dough snake into an initial to place in each diners place at the table.  It looked charming and went down a storm.

250g plain flour

250g strong white bread flour

7g sachet yeast

7g fine salt

300ml lukewarm water

25ml olive oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary

Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 200.  Put both the flours, yeast and fine salt into the bowl of a stand mixer, turn it on and then add the water and oil until it comes together in a ball (you may need a drop more water).  Leave it kneading away in the machine for 10 minutes, adding the chopped rosemary for the last minute so it is evenly mixed through the dough.  Pinch off pieces the size of a large cherry and roll these out until about a foot long and pencil thin on a non-floured table or surface.  Gently and with fingers splayed seems the best way to do this.  Put them onto a baking sheet lined with parchment, sprinkle with sea salt and bake for 15 minutes.   After this time they should be golden brown and crispy, leave to cool on a wire rack and then store in an air tight container.   Makes around 40 grissini but if you get bored whilst rolling these out the dough will sit happily in the fridge for a day until you feel like making some more.   I’d say they last for a week but I’ve never had any hang around for more than a day or two.

Finally, they make a fabulous present to take if you are going to friends for supper.

Grissini 2

 

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Weekend Food

Marble Cake close 2

We had a houseful over the weekend with extras for lunch on Sunday and whilst I wanted everyone to be well fed of course, the last thing on the menu was for me to be stuck in the kitchen (hissing) all weekend.  With ages ranging from 18 months to grandparents and childrens’ teas to add to the mix I had much to do.  Nothing for it but a bit of organisation, a good list and setting Friday morning aside to get ahead.  I thought I’d let you know what we ate and what I was able to prepare beforehand in case any of these tips help.

Saturday lunch was a picnic with Cannellini Bean, Parsley and Lemon Dip (April 2015) with grissini (recipe coming soon) and Wild Garlic Focaccia (May 2014) alongside a big plate of salami, a bowl of tomatoes and a good chunk of cheddar.  For pudding we had meringues with vanilla bean cream and chocolate sauce (recipe coming soon).  I made the grissini, focaccia, meringues and dip on Friday so putting lunch together on Saturday only took a few minutes.  Incidentally the dough for the focaccia will happily sit in the fridge overnight so it can be baked just before lunch.

Wild Garlic Focaccia

At tea the children had orzo with bacon and tomato sauce (June 2015).  Pudding, and for us to tuck into with a cup of tea, was a Chocolate and Vanilla Marble Cake (October 2013) which I made on Friday.  For supper we had Chicken with Harissa (October 2012) with Little Rosemary Roasties (March 2015) and my favourite Green Salad (January 2014) – couldn’t have been easier.

On Sunday we had Lamb which had been marinading in garlic, lemon and rosemary.  With this Fresh Herb Sauce (July 2013) but I used half mint and half parsley which made a funky full of flavour modern take on old fashioned mint sauce.  It went down an absolute treat.

Asparagus with parmesan

We didn’t need much for supper so I roasted several bunches of fabulous in season asparagus (June 2014) followed by Vanilla Pannacotta (July 2014) with poached rhubarb, both of which I made on Friday.

At each sitting I was delighted that the children scoffed everything except one who found the colour of the fresh herb sauce too alarmingly green.  Admittedly I gave myself quite I lot to do on Friday but I have to tell you it was worth it and it helped to know anything left to prepare was easy and also that so much was already in the fridge or cake tin.

Finally please don’t think there is even one iota of smuggery here,  I am rarely this organised but have proved to myself this weekend the virtue of planning and preparing ahead.  You may always be this organised but if not, I hope some of these tips and recipes might help you breeze through it next time you have a houseful.

One more thing, I finished off the leftover poached rhubarb and vanilla bean cream with a last meringue and it was fabulous.  It reminded me of a rhubarb pavlova that I made a couple of times last year and I will post that recipe soon.

 

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Cannellini Bean, Parsley and Lemon….dip

Cannellini bean dip

Now I will be frank and say I am a little nervous about the title of this – if my children were reading (having not previously tasted and devoured it as they do) I am pretty sure they would move on, pulses not being much to their liking.

For me, I struggle with the word dip, it is just a bit…. you know.  Dip covers a multitude and can be a tub of generic supermarket gunk or a red, oniony side dish to uh, dip things in.  Rarely have I come across anything with the moniker dip that I have wanted to love or, in many cases, finish.  This little beauty will, I hope, shatter all preconceptions.

It came about, as many things do out of my kitchen, from necessity over organisation.  I wanted something to offer with drinks but frankly the larder was pretty bare but for a few tins of beans.  I always have parsley, lemon and garlic on hand and so it was that these were the volunteers, the ingredients that stepped forward from a skeleton line up.

I actually made this three times over Easter, once to serve with said drinks and twice to put on the table along with a mezze type picnic lunch.  With some toasty baked pita my children scoffed this with unseemly speed and didn’t even stop when they discovered the star ingredient.  I could not believe my eyes at this nor my ears when they asked me to make it again.  Today we are having it with some roast chicken, new potatoes and a big salad.  It is really good, beyond easy and properly useful of have up your sleeve, but what are we going to call it?

Cannellini bean dip 2

Cannellini Bean, Parsley and Lemon Dip

Taste this when it is all whizzed together, it should have lots of lemon juice to give it zing and you will need a really good pinch of salt, possible two as pulses seem to lap them up.  Serve with chopped carrots, baked pita bread, breadsticks or alongside a roast chicken or with a collection of other mezze type dishes.

1 can of cannellini beans

1 small clove garlic

Half a small packet parsley, approx 20g

Juice of 1 large lemon

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Put all the ingredients into a small blender or a jug if you are using a hand held blender.  I find it easiest to put the lemon juice in first then you can pick any rogue seeds out easily, followed by the salt so it can dissolve in the juice.  The order doesn’t really matter though.  Whizz it all up, taste and check you are happy with it before decanting into a dish.  The four of us will polish this off between but that said, my husband and I could probably eat it all too.  You can double or treble easily if you have a crowd to feed.

 

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Little Rosemary Roasties

Rosemary Roasties

If I put these on the table they disappear.  Not so much a magic trick but more one of my families absolute top ways to eat potatoes.  One of my favourites to cook too as they couldn’t be easier and go with so many things.  More crunchy and full of flavour than boiled potatoes and quicker than traditional roasties but just as good.  I could eat these everyday.

Simply chop potatoes (no need to peel), tumble into a pan with some olive oil, salt and finely chopped rosemary.  Then roast.  In the meantime you can get on with something else and they will transform from hard little raw blocks into crispy edged, fluffy centred, rosemary scented bits of deliciousness.

If you want to make more of them you can lay some fish fillets over the potatoes for the last 10 minutes of cooking with a spritz of lemon juice and there you have it – fish and chips for supper with the absolute minimum of fuss and effort, no frying and no claggy batter.  I’ll be back after Easter!

Rosemary Roasties 2

Little Rosemary Roast Potatoes

I generally use baking potatoes because then I only have two to chop but you can easily use an equivalent weight of smaller potatoes.  I reckon on a regular size baking tray full of roasties for the 4 of us (two big and two smaller people).  If you are more or just hungry it couldn’t be easier to do several trays….

2 large baking potatoes, unpeeled

1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary

1 tablespoon olive oil (ordinary is fine, no need for extra virgin)

1 teaspoon salt, I like crunchy sea salt but use what you have

Preheat the oven to 200.  Chop the potatoes into 2cm dice (roughly 2cm, there is no need to get a ruler out) and put them onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment along with the rosemary, olive oil and half the salt.  Mix it well so that each cube is coated in oil and flecked with rosemary and then roast for 30 minutes, turning once half way through the cooking time.  When they are golden, crispy and thoroughly tempting sprinkle with the remaining salt and serve to thunderous applause.

 

 

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Raspberry Larder Pudding

Raspberry Larder Pudding

Remember I said I couldn’t imagine Sunday lunch without a pudding?  This one is another contender for the ‘had to be rustled up from an empty larder’ prize.   Our plans changed one weekend and we found ourselves at home, a main course had been found but a pudding was, of course, required.

I always have frozen raspberries tucked away and am never without a jar of raspberry jam for breakfast or just in case it is a day for scones.  In this instance I used the final jar of the Loganberry jam I made last summer and there couldn’t have been a more fitting or appreciative last hoorah for it.  I would get panicky if I didn’t have the wherewithal to make a cake in the house and so it was that all these ingredients made themselves available.

Raspberry Larder Pudding 2

This is essentially a light vanilla sponge atop a juicy, fragrant, sweet and sharp raspberry sauce – but it is so much more than merely that!  With cold double cream (for me) or further heady vanilla in the shape of ice cream (my husband and children) this is dream worthy.  Somehow a pudding of distant memory or perhaps just nostalgia as I don’t recall ever being given this as a child.

No matter, make this next time you need to rustle up afters a bit pronto and find yourself caught short in the shopping department.

Raspberry Larder Pudding

100g soft butter

100g golden caster sugar

2 eggs

125g self raising flour

2 tablespoons milk

150g frozen raspberries

1/2 jar raspberry jam

Icing sugar to dust

Preheat the oven to 180.  Place the raspberries in an ovenproof 1 litre dish and dot over the jam along with 2 tablespoons water, give it all a mix and set aside.  Cream the butter and sugar well and then add the eggs one at a time with spoonful of flour.  Finally gently mix in the reminder of the flour along with the milk and a pinch of salt.  Pour this batter over the raspberries, smooth to cover and bake for 35-40 minutes until just firm on top, you can put in a toothpick to double check, if it comes out clean it is done.   Dust with icing sugar if you like, serves 4.  This is easily doubled in which case you will need to cook it for about 1 hour.

Raspberry Larder Pudding 3

 

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