When I started writing this post we were basking in sunny weather now it’s a tad cooler and damp…I’m not complaining we have had lots of sunshine in Cumbria this year. I’m planning to enjoy some summery food and this homemade basil pesto really is a taste of summer.
It takes me back to sunny Italian holidays where beautiful food and eating together were really at the heart of family life. Here the homemade pasta itself was very important and was served with just a tiny amount of sauce rather than being flooded with sauce as is more the case here. Indeed it was often just served with oil and parmesan. The key was good quality pasta either fresh or a superior variety. Here we can buy better quality ones such as Barilla or De Cecco made from the finest durum wheat. For some strange reason I’ve often found this in bargain shops such as Poundland, so if you see it you can stock up!
Cook the pasta in lots of salty water in a big pan and don’t overcook it, it should be served ‘al dente’ -with a bit of bite when you test it. to You do need a lot of basil so, if you have a greenhouse, you could make a mental note to grow your own next year. Traditionally the pesto is made in a mortar and pestle but I am using a food processor for ease.
Give it a go and I promise that you too will be transported to sunnier climes.
I have a soft spot for anything Spanish having lived in Madrid for a number of years and this Tortilla Espanola was one of my favourite ‘tapas’. Cut up into squares and served with cocktail sticks it is served to accompany a drink. Many bars serve a selection of tapas: slices of salty Serrano ham, cubes of Manchego cheese, hot and garlicky prawns and…….I’m right back there now. Little tapas were originally served free but nowadays you are likely to be charged for them. You can also ask for larger portions and go from bar to bar ordering their speciality tapa. There is even a verb ‘tapear’ which means to have tapas!
This tortilla is a simple peasant dish of potatoes and eggs, quick to prepare and very cheap to make -it is a good standby meal as you will probably have all the ingredients already. I apologise to my Spanish friends in advance but I usually don’t make it in the traditional way but in a microwave -yikes, that’s almost committing treason tampering with a national dish.
Also, I have a nifty trick for turning the tortilla over using two plates rather than the precarious putting the plate on top of it and inverting the frying pan -it can end up with a clatter of pan and plate and …..a mess of tortilla on the worktop or worse. You be the judge you may enjoy the drama of the traditional method -you could even exclaim a flamboyant ‘ole’! as you do it!
This is a take on the famous Turkish dish ‘Imam Bayildi’, a delicious combination of baked, silky, smooth aubergines with an aromatic stuffing. Legend has it that the Imam fainted with pleasure after tasting it. I’m not sure if I fainted the first time but it has become one of my all-time favourite dishes. If you are planning on improving your diet by eating less meat then this is a great dish, if you are cutting out dairy products as well then it is also suitable for a vegan diet. Personally, I’m going down the road of eating less meat and making sure that the meat I eat is better quality and the result of a higher welfare standard.
You could serve these aubergines as part of mezze type meal (lots of little dishes served before a meal). These could be hummus, falafel (see my own recipe for these), spicy sausage, cheese, stuffed vegetables, olives and tzatziki etc. I love all these little dishes, with bigger portions, for a pick & nibble more sociable sort of meal.
Give it a go, try not to faint and enjoy this meal with friends.
Spicy pumpkin soup with chilli croutons topped with crispy onions is perfect for Halloween, Bonfire night or any other wintery cold night -it will warm the cockles of your heart! Serve it up with a hot toddy of cider, orange juice, rum, sugar and a little freshly grated nutmeg-delicious
I loved Halloween as a child despite being completely terrified. I anxiously peered around every corner expecting witches & ghosts (or worse) to appear. I used to try walking backwards to keep a look out but it never really worked out. My heart rate has just gone up just remembering about the spooky parties we used to have and…………I’m still frightened of the dark!
The bright orange pumpkin was the centrepiece so I have used the flesh to make this creamy, silky soup. You can make it as spicy hot as you like or just omit the chilli. I have also added red lentils to make it more nutritious so you could serve it as part of a meal for those that prefer not to eat meat . The homemade croutons make all the difference and I make them a lot with all sorts of soups. Once you have tried homemade ones you will never break a tooth again on the hard, oily ones you can buy. You can leave the chilli out if you wish and just have them cheesy. I make various sorts of croutons depending on the sort of soup I make flavouring them with eg ground coriander, garlic or fennel seeds -just partner them with some sort of strong cheese. Frizzled onions too are a delicious topping-I’m never keen on bought caramelized onions as they are usually too sweet but these are lovely.
I have to admit it is an enormous fiddle to serve the soup in a pumpkin but it looked great in the photo and I have always wanted to try it! If you want to do that you really need a second pumpkin so that you can carve it out more carefully. Make sure that you leave thicker sides to make it more sturdy.
There is something very satisfying about making homemade soup so have a go at this seasonal favourite and don’t turn your back for too long…….
SPICED PUMPKIN SOUP WITH CHILLI CROUTONS AND FRIZZLED ONIONS
I like this family friendly, thrifty, and easy to make dish. There are a few, simple ingredients and you may have most of them already. It is much better with fresh thyme but you could use dried. Unfortunately this quickly loses it’s flavour as you only use a little at a time and the little jars can be hanging around in the kitchen for…a very long time!. Try growing your own. Thyme, like lots of herbs from warmer climes such as rosemary and sage ( I feel I should burst into song at this point), are very happy in pots. Buy small plants from a garden centre, which are cheap in summer, add some extra grit to make the compost free draining and site your pot in a sunny place-not too far from your door. Now you can pick as much as you need -fresh herbs make all the difference to your cooking.
I digress……the leeks, cooked slowly, go nice and creamy, make sure you keep stirring as leeks burn easily. I always make a white sauce in the microwave, I can hear ‘proper’ chefs tut, tutting but i find it a palaver making a proper roux with flour and butter etc etc. Not to mention the possible lumpiness, this way is so much easier and with the addition of some butter at the end I certainly can’t tell the difference. Add the cooked leeks and cheese and top with the breadcrumbs, thyme and grated lemon. I make the breadcrumbs from left over crusts of bread, if you have some and don’t want to use them straight away they freeze well.
Try this on a ‘Meat Free Monday’ – I’m sure you will want to make it any day of the week.
False modesty has never been my strong point so I can say, hand on heart, that this is really the best ever chunky guacamole ever! I’m a bit of a nibbler and dipper and would happily forgo any ‘proper’ meals for a life of nibbling and dipping. This guacamole is one of my favourites with a homemade hummus coming a very close second (recipe to come), perfect for sharing with friends (as long as they are not too hungry and leave me with none ) and for casual eating.The only slight problem is the general state of avocados available to buy-they tend to be rock hard so you need to plan ahead, buy them hard and leave them to ripen on a sunny window sill. I suppose I can see the supermarket’s dilemma (although I am not generally sympathetic to them) the problem is that you wait and wait for them to ripen and then they do and very quickly go over and spoil, blacken and strangely fibrous inside.
Now here is something rather delicious for you Spicy Falafel in Pitta Bread with a Tahini and Yoghurt dip..I would like this a lot for my tea tonight (can somebody make it for me?).
Much as I like a good steak it is very nice to have a meat free meal-I am quite happy to have them often, so ‘Meat Free Monday’ could happily become ‘Meat Free a few days of the week. Sunday is probably a step too far for me and I would have to stick to tradition and have a lovely joint of beef or a roast chicken sizzling away in my Aga, especially on a rainy, blustery Sunday. In this, North Western, part of the world we can expect a few of these…. On a more serious note we need to cut down on our meat consumption which, globally speaking, is just not sustainable. I won’t bore you with more important reasons to eat less meat-you will have to take it from me.
These chickpea little nuggets are high in protein and cheap to make. They are full of lovely fresh herbs such as parsley and coriander and fragrant spices. Tucked into warm pitta bread with some salad leaves they make a deliciously different meal. They would be good in a lunch box too-minus the dip
Oops just realised can’t have them for my tea tonight……………….REMEMBER TO SOAK THE CHICKPEAS OVERNIGHT! You could use tinned chickpeas if you are short of time and/or impatient but the freshly cooked ones are so much better.
SPICY FALAFEL WITH TAHINI AND YOGHURT DIP and PITTA BREAD
A pale winter sun is just making it’s way over Dent in the Lake District and it’s distinctly chilly. I want some warming food to cuddle up with and root vegetables are the seasonal stars. Here is a roasted roots recipe for a winters day.
Carrots, parsnips, swede and butternut squash are simply roasted in the oven until sticky and sweet …………………….If you can get them Jerusalem artichokes would be delicious as well, I must plant these this year and take care as they can be thugs in the veg patch. I have thrown in some sprigs of thyme a robust enough herb to cope with the flavours of the roots. I’m happy to eat these winter roasts on their own, perhaps with some shavings of salty Parmesan cheese, but they go well with chunky sausages (Cumberland of course!), roast chicken or any other meat.