Category Archives: Vegetarian

Italy

There’s no doubt in my mind that first and foremost I’m an Italophile (yes it’s a word – I checked). Forget France or Spain – It’s got to be Italy every time, for so many reasons: the people, their innate style, the organic (and terrifying) approach to driving, the lack of cynicism and abundance of friendliness, the ability to enjoy life without doing so in a state of inebriation and, most of all, the best food in the world. By far. For me, it’s the way Italian dishes employ ingredients in such an incredibly simple, sympathetic way and with great respect. No fuss. No mess. No overly rich sauces. Food where everything on the plate contributes to making the dish perfect, with nothing in there that doesn’t need to be. I’m actually salivating right now (although maybe that’s because someone just shoved a chocolate brownie under my nose).

Anyway, I recently started regularly cooking risotto and after a few attempts, I think I just about have it down. To be honest it’s not so difficult, just more time consuming than you would expect. Here goes…

Mushroom risotto

You need a litre of good chicken stock for this dish, which I suggest you make, but if you have to you can buy ready made.

Start by chopping a few handfuls of whatever mushrooms you fancy (I used organic chestnut mushrooms) and take a small handful of dried porcini mushrooms and pop them in a glass of hot water for a little while. Fry the mushrooms in butter with plenty of salt and pepper and set aside for later.

Next, finely chop an onion and a clove of garlic, and fry gently without taking on any colour in butter and a little olive oil. Once softened, add your arborio (risotto) rice (a mug of rice should be enough for two people) and completely coat it in the oniony oil. Add a glass of wine to the pan and gently stir as the liquid reduces. Then add a ladle of the chicken stock and continue to stir.

Each time the liquid reduces, add another ladle and keep stirring. Now just keep doing this until the rice is almost cooked (but still has a bite) and the whole dish starts to look a little creamy. Add seasoning as necessary, remembering that the chicken stock already will have been seasoned.

Stir in all your mushrooms and keep on the heat for a few more minutes before grating loads of good parmesan into the pan, followed by a handful of chopped parsley.

Serve.

Receive praise.

Cauliflower

I’m not sure what it is about cauliflower that turns some people off – it makes a fantastic puree to sit under a slab of beef fillet, or a sweet pan-fried scallop (I don’t think I have that recipe in here, but I’m going to add it for sure). It provides the most important chunky bits in a jar of piccalilli (thinks back to years gone by with his mother forcing dollops of yellow gunk on his plate to go with the cold turkey and ham – actually pretty special stuff, as long as it’s home made – the shop bought stuff is shit, lets be honest). But most important of all, without cauliflower, we would never have the joy of cauliflower cheese. And so I say to those people: you’re all nobs – you don’t know what you’re missing…

This is, I think, the best cauliflower cheese you will ever have eaten – oh yes…

Cauliflower Cheese – for a few people

Take a cauliflower, cut the core in half and pull it into two big pieces. Next, cut out the core and pull the cauliflower into decent sized florets. Keep some of the outer leaves – there’s nothing wrong with them and they deseve to sit alongside the rest of the cauli when it goes into the oven…

Put the florets into a pan of boiling salted water and cook for about 5 minutes, then drain and put them into a casserole dish along with the outer leaves that you set aside.

Chop a red chilli (I know I use chillies all the time, but believe me it really works in here – just gives it an extra depth and a little splash of red), and sprinkle over the cauliflower.

Now make a quick roux – melt a really large knob of butter in a saucepan, add a 3-4 heaped tablespoons of flour and mix together over the heat, add two big glugs of marsala and whisk, then slowly add milk, constantly whisking (I think you’re supposed to use a wooden spoon but it’s far too much work and one of those whisks that has a flat bottom works so much better in my experience). You probably need between a quarter to half a pint. When you’re done, you will have a rich thick sauce. Now pour in a few glugs of double cream, a big tablespoon of dijon mustard and season with salt and pepper. Oh yep – forgot the cheese. Grate mature cheddar (as much as you want depending on how cheesy you want it – I think I used about 100g), and then give it all a good stir.

Now we all have different tastes with regards to how thick things should be, so I’ll let you decide what works for you – what you should know however is that the sauce will thin very very slightly in the oven as the cauliflower loses some of its water during the cooking process (and when it cools it will thicken like mad).

Pour this mixture over the cauliflower and give it a nudge so that it’s penetrated fully. Put it the oven at 180 degrees c and cook for 35-40 minutes.

It will come out golden brown and gloopy – perfect with a crusty loaf!

Enjoy…

It has been a while…

…but I had dinner with Tom a couple of nights ago and he told me that he had actually read this blog and used some of the recipes (in fact all of them as it turns out), so it is with renewed vigour and inspiration that I return to have another go at bashing something out regularly enough that I will have the courage to ask someone to start sending traffic this way.

The problem is that my kids (and yours, I might guess) display a somewhat limited sense of adventure when it comes to food and as a result, Friday Night Pasta tends to be the only thing they ask for, regardless of whether it is indeed Friday night, Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. I just have to be strong. That said, Friday night pasta is a goodie, and one that I don’t think I’ve covered as I always thought it too simple – but it is probably a good way of easing myself back in – I’ll add a photo next time I cook it (next Friday I would imagine), but in the meantime…

Friday Night Pasta
Finely chop a decent sized onion and three cloves of garlic and fry them in lots of olive oil. Add oregano, salt, black pepper and caraway seeds to the pan (have you noticed how many spices start with c?).
As they are frying gently, add boiling water to a pan along with salt and oil, and add whatever dried pasta you fancy – I like to use penne or rigatoni.

Add the onions to the a saucepan of tinned chopped tomatoes and let them simmer together as the pasta is cooking. Add a dash of red wine if you fancy a little deeper flavour.

When the pasta is ready, drain it, add it to the sauce and if you have it, throw in a handful of chopped basil.

Serve it in bowls, grate parmesan all over and if you fancy, drop a big dollop of yoghurt or soured cream on top (and if you need to spice it up, just a few drops of tabasco).

Kids are happy, I’m happy…

Really, really good rice (Iranian style)

I promised this last night and I just had a meeting cancelled, and its Friday, and this will only take a few minutes, and I’ve got P on my mind so this seems like the perfect time to explain how to make the best rice you have ever tasted. Seriously seriously good rice. Just give it a go and tell me that I’m not right – I challenge you…

I’m going to do this in proportions – I’ll leave the quantities up to you although to be honest there is absolutely nothing wrong with cooking too much rice – in fact you should try to cook too much rice – soo many things can be done with leftover rice, so just go crazy. Saying that, I reckon that half a mug of rice should just about do for one person…

Anyway, measure out how much rice you want and put it into a saucepan. Make sure it’s plain Basmati rice – no other rice will work for this recipe. Then pour in cold water from the tap and clean the rice by agitating it with your fingers. Pour out most of the water (while keeping the rice in the pan – it’s easier than it sounds) and refill with fresh water. Keep doing this until the water stops getting cloudy (this is you removing the excess starch from the rice), then drain off the remaining water.

Now add fresh water – one and a half times as much water as you had rice (that doesn’t read particularly well – so if you had a cup of rice, add a cup and a half of water…)

Add a LARGE knob of butter, a large sprinkle of salt, give it a good stir and put it on a medium heat on the hob. Uncovered. Once it comes to the boil, watch it closely.

As soon as the water level is just above the rice, put the saucepan lid, wrapped in a clean tea towel, firmly onto the pan. You need to make a tight seal so steam can’t escape. Now turn the heat to its lowest setting. Seriously – find the smallest ring on your hob and turn it down as far as it will go.

Now leave it for 40 minutes. Yes I know, but just give it a try. And don’t be tempted to have a peek. 40 minutes, all closed up and then open the lid to the best rice you ever had. It will have a golden crunchy crust on the bottom and the rest will be light and fluffy. Break up the crunchy bottom, give it all a little mix and serve it up. Oh yes…

Goat’s cheese tarts

It’s the weekend again and the shorts are back!

I pick them up at 5 and we come straight back for our now traditional meal of penne with tomato, garlic and basil sauce (with a dash of cream of course)In the morning we go to Tesco (I know, I’m sorry but we don’t have local shops any more and I can’t afford Waitrose at the moment – I will sort this out at some point I promise) and I notice that egg sizes at Tesco have gone all MacDonalds – you can now only buy eggs in Medium, Large and Very Large…Just pick up a carton of 6 medium eggs and have a look inside. Tiny. That’s what they are.

Anyway – we get the food for the weekend – the obligatory pain au chocs, nibbley bits for Saturday night in front of the telly, and the main ingredients for our DATW meals. I also spend half an hour thinking about what I’m going to cook this Christmas – it’s started already – by the time we get to the day I’ll have a full spreadsheet with timings covering every minute of the day and every single things that will pass through anyone’s lips throughout a three day period. Bit sad really. Someone told me the other night that lists are something specific to our generation and that our kids manage without. How can that be? Lists to me are the very foundation of my ability to function as a human being – in fact there are very few things I can achieve without a line or ten on a piece of paper…We get back and I get going with our lunch – lasagne – I’m not even going to bother – there isn’t a cook book in the land that doesn’t cover this one…
Anyway – Saturday night and after the kids go to bed I decide to use up some left over puff pastry – Goats cheese and red onion tart
I use a baking tray with the moulds for making little tarts and pies (about 5cm in diameter). Grease the tray and cut the puff pastry (bought not home made) to fit the moulds with a litte bit sticking up out above the tray. Fill the cases with a couple of spoonfuls of mild goats cheese (spoon the cheese loosely so that you don’t have densely packed cheese). Then fry a red onion in a pan with a little butter and a spoonful of sugar until is softens. Spoon the onion over the tarts and put in an oven at 190c for 10-15 mins, until the pastry is golden brown and the cheese is bubbling. Serve with rocket dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil…

Bruschetta and the shorts

Friday 6.30 until Sunday 6.30. Two days of the shorts – I love it.
Friday night supper is quick and easy – I never show off on a Friday – best to start simple and build up over the weekend to a climax at Sunday lunchtime. So this time it’s sausages and mustard-mashed potato.

Saturday morning and it’s off to the shops to get food for the weekend, then back for a really easy breakfast of pain au chocolat and croissants for the kids – smoked mackerel and buttered toast for me (although William steals half of it). Then off to Play Space – a rubber-clad indoor playground full of single parents desperately trying to snatch a few peaceful moments over a luke warm cup of machine-made crappucino. Still – the kids love it…

Saturday lunch and it’s the shorts favourite –
Chicken goujons in pitta with salad and a sweet chilli dressing.
Cut the chicken into strips and drop into a bowl with one beaten egg. In the meantime make some breadcrumbs from any left-over white bread or baguette and add tarragon, flour, salt and pepper. Pull the chicken out of the egg and roll around in the breadcrumbs then place in a hot frying pan with a couple of mm of olive oil. Fry for five mins on each side and then serve in toasted pitta with the salad and sweet chilli sauce. They love it…
After lunch and I’m watching them create weird miis all afternoon on the wii – mainly obese ones called fat kid, fat lady, fat girl etc – what is it about kids and fat people??
Saturday Supper – the X-factor excitement builds as we approach Saturday evening, only to be briefly dampened by a dismal firework display courtesy of a Tesco firework family pack – never again – next time I’ll go back to the local guy who makes his own rockets and bombs. Fairly hit and miss on the safety front but considerably more exciting – and it’s only once a year isn’t it?
Garlic bread with tomato and basil
Half fill a small mixing bowl with plain flour, add a sachet of yeast to half a mug of warm water and mix them together with a little salt, sugar and a good glug of olive all. Mix it all together and knead with floury hands for about five minutes than leave it in
a warm place while the oven warms up to 250c (with a large baking tray warming up inside). In the meantime chop three cloves of garlic finely and mix with a really good chunk of butter, salt and pepper. Chop a handful of plum tomatoes and put into and bowl with a handful of chopped fresh basil, another good glug of olive oil, a tiny splash of red wine vinegar, salt and pepper.
Get the dough, split into two and roll one piece out and place on the hot tray pricking it and rubbing olive oil all over. Put it in the oven for about five minutes, take it out and cover with the garlic butter then put back into the oven for another five minutes.

Take it out, cut it into pieces and cover with the tomato and basil. Shorts destroyed in seconds… twice…
Next stop Simon Cowell…