Monthly Archives: November 2011

Pumpkin Mac ‘n Cheese

I’ve not gone all American, just paying homage to a couple of recipes for Pumpkin Macaroni Cheese that I recently read on US blogs over Thanksgiving time: Brokeass Gourmet and The Garden of Eating. Being new to this world of blogging I’ve being doing a bit of reading myself of other blogs and Twitters, and I’ve found some great sites just like these two.

This recipe has rekindled my old love affair with macaroni cheese.  Mac cheese was always my ultimate comfort food, my mum without fail would make this cheesy treat when I was feeling poorly. The last few years though I’ve rarely made it, in part because my daughter Francesca has never liked creamy cheesy sauces, and it’s fallen out of my comfort food favour, preferring instead a simple casserole or pie. But this one is simply divine, bringing a slightly more grown up depth with the inclusion of pumpkin, onion and thyme. A fabulous dinner for kids, they’ll love it…although I have to admit Francesca still refused to budge on her dislike of macaroni cheese!

I’ve adapted my recipe from both these sites. They finish the dish in the oven with a breadcrumb topping.  I was intending to do this, but had two hungry mouths to feed and simply ran out of time, so I served up straight out of the saucepan. One of the recipes also uses tinned pumpkin which is something that doesn’t exist outside the US, and besides here at Chez Foti we still have a considerable surplus of pumpkins to get through!

If you don’t have any pumpkin or it’s not particularly flavoursome, substitute with butternut squash. I like to add a smidgen of english mustard to my cheese sauce, as it heightens the flavour of the cheese.

Enough for a family of four:

350g pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled

olive oil

salt & pepper

225g macaroni

a small onion, or half a normal sized, finely diced

40g butter

40g plain flour

a few springs of thyme, leaves removed (optional)

350ml milk

90g cheddar cheese

½ tsp english mustard (optional)

Preheat your oven to 200°C/Gas 6. Peel and cut the pumpkin or squash into roughly 1 to 2cm cubes. Place on a baking sheet or tray and rub in a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Place in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes until soft and slightly browned.

Meanwhile cook your macaroni according to packet instructions.

To make the sauce place the butter in a saucepan and melt over a gentle heat. Add the onion and saute for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly, until the onion is translucent. Now add the thyme. With the pan still on a little heat add the flour and whisk vigorously with a balloon whisk until combined. Add a little milk and continue to whisk vigorously, continue to add the milk in this way until you have incorporated it all.  Don’t worry if you have a few lumps at this stage, they’ll eventually go. Continue to stir or whisk the sauce constantly over a gentle heat until it is fully thickened and starting to simmer, this will take a few minutes. When simmering, take the pan off the heat and stir in the cheese and mustard (if using).

Once the pumpkin is roasted, mash roughly with the back of a fork and add to the cheese sauce. Combine the sauce with the pasta and serve immediately….unless obviously you have a little more time than me and want to bake it. If you do place in a buttered ovenproof dish and top with a little extra cheese and a handful of breadcrumbs and bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden and bubbling.

Here’s Jacques rather messily tucking into his Mac ‘n Cheese, refusing to use a spoon and only hands today. That’s my boy!


November in the Garden…..

November has been a bit of a sad month in the garden.  Lots of ends and not so much new growth.  Most of the ‘summer’ veggies have now given up and succumbed to the cold, the last of the courgettes, french beans and sweetcorn have been picked and eaten. I still have the odd pepper, chilli and aubergine hanging on out there, but they’re very small and a little on the pathetic side. Jacques kindly picked the last of the red chilis for me last week, and scarpered off with them to get a sneaky chomp (lucky for him they’re mild as mild can be!):

Jacques scarpering with a couple of chilis!

One of my last wee aubergines

The annual herbs are starting to die back now too, and I still haven’t stripped the basil to make oodles of pesto as I’ve been meaning to for weeks now.

On the positive side we still have a few precious carrots left, and the couple of rows of babies I sowed about two months ago are getting bigger by the day, though I doubt they’ll be ready for eating until well into the new year. Carrots I’ve realised are incredible slow growing, especially in the colder months.  I really must try to succession sow them better next year so we have a more constant supply all year round.

Baby Carrots!

We’re also still eating lots of lovely swiss chard. Swiss chard is a fairly new veg to me and I love it.  So easy to grow and apparently particularly hardy, lasting a good 18 months or so out here if you’re lucky. You just keep picking the leaves and they magically grow back again.  And so great to cook with too, very versatile, and a lot like spinach but a little more robust. I use it regularly in soups, casseroles, stir fries and curries.

The wonderful Swiss Chard

My broccoli’s still going great guns too, which is lucky as it’s the kids fave veggie!  It’s so much tastier and sweeter than anything commercially grown.

The beetroot, sowed about two months ago, is now baby beetroot and ready to start eating, though I’m going to leave most of it to grow to full size. And it’s lovely, so so sweet. I’m very impressed at how easy and quick growing it is. Fabulous roasted (have you tried my Roasted Veggies with Couscous & Feta recipe?) or used in salads…watch out for my baby beetroot and goats cheese salad recipe coming soon!. I’ve also recently discovered that the beetroot ‘greens’ can be used just as spinach and are very tasty indeed.

Baby beets!

Last but not least that’s ready to eat at the mo are celery and the odd lettuce.  The former’s a bit disappointingly scraggy, but nevertheless great to use in soups and casseroles.  Lettuces a tad on the small side, but still useable. My rocket finished a couple of weeks ago.

At the beginning of the month I sowed some garlic, broad beans and cauliflower seeds:

And I’m pleased to say that the garlic has all come through, it should be ready for harvesting early next summer.  My first attempt at growing garlic this year was pretty successful, it didn’t exactly look perfect but tasted great and was really really strong, we’re still using it now. The broad bean shoots have also majestically appeared, they should be grown up and ready for the pot in the Spring. The cauliflowers haven’t showed yet, I think I sowed them too late in ground that was too cold. The savoy cabbages that I sowed some time early October are still very very small, I’m not sure if they’ll make it into old age to be eaten….I think they went in way too late too….eh well.

A Garlic Shoot

A Broad Bean Shoot

Baby Savoy

I had been fully intending to grow lots of veg to be eaten over the winter, but somehow or other managed to miss the summer time slot for sowing all the winter roots, cabbages and greens. But it was an extremely hectic and fun summer!

Unfortunately with less to harvest we’ve seen a big increase in our food bills again.  After an amazing summer of barely buying a salad or veg since June, we’re suddenly faced with a relatively bare garden. Next year with better planning and know how I’m hoping we’ll be in a very different situation. This year has been my first attempt at veggie growing, actually it’s been my first attempt at growing anything living at all (apart from two babies!), so all in all it’s been pretty successful. But with lots and lots of valuable lessons learned for next year.

Well that’s it for the November round up! Hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Louisa


Friday Night Fish & Chips, with homemade Tartare Sauce

Fish & Chips, now where do I start?  I LOVE FISH & CHIPS, if anyone asks me what’s the main thing I miss about living in the UK, the answer’s always Fish & Chips….family and friends aside it is in fact the only thing I truthfully miss!  F&Cs were our standard ‘too lazy too cook’ take away supper, usually on a Friday night, and even ranked above a curry!.

Obviously living in France you just don’t get F&Cs, these funny French people don’t know what they’re missing!. So I started to make my own…usually as a Friday or Saturday night treat for the family. Mine are way healthier as I don’t own a deep fat fryer. Nor do I ever want to, not for health and safety reasons you understand, but for the fact I know we would use it just a little too much!. My chips are oven baked and my fish breadcrumbed and fried in just a little oil. And do you know what, they’re really really good.  Not the same as battered and deep fried, but still really good.

To save on time you could always breadcrumb a large batch of fish fillets or fingers and freeze them, then bring out and use just as you would shop bought ones. For the breadcrumb outer layer I use  a 50/50 mix of breadcrumbs and polenta; the polenta adds a little extra crispy crunch.

And if you’re going to go to the trouble of making your own fish & chips, why not make some tartare sauce to have on the side?.  I’ve really got into making my own mayonnaise lately (which is the base for tartare), and as long as you make it in a food processor you’ll be amazed at just how quick it is….and how good!  Admittedly, the first time I attempted to make mayonnaise I did so by hand with a whisk, and whilst it tasted divine I wasn’t exactly in a hurry to be making any more! The recipe makes way too much for one meal, but keeps for up to a week in the fridge.  A great excuse for another fishy dinner.

Fish & Chips for a family of four:

400g sustainable white fish fillets

2 tbsp plain flour

1 egg, beaten

a handful of white breadcrumbs

a handful of polenta

sunflower oil

800g Desiree or other floury potatoes (about 3 large), peeled

salt & pepper

some lemon slices

Preheat your oven to as hot as it will go  230 – 250°C/Gas 9.

Cut the potatoes into 1 cm thick slices lengthways, then each slice into 1cm thick chips.  Place in a large pan of boiling salted water and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the water and drain well.

Place the chips on a baking sheet or roasting pan, drizzle with a little sunflower oil, salt and pepper and mix well until all the chips are coated (there shouldn’t be any excess oil in the pan).

Place in the hot oven for 15 to 20 minutes, turning every few minutes to prevent burning.  They’re ready when golden and crisp.

Whilst the chips are in the oven, prepare your fish.  Check the fillets for bones and remove if you find any. Cut into two large grown up pieces and two smaller child size ones….or cut thin strips across the fish to make fish fingers (I make two per child).

Now assemble three large flat bottomed bowls or dishes.  In the first place the flour, the second the beaten egg and in the third the breadcrumbs/polenta. Dip each fish piece first in the flour and completely coat, then in the egg (again completely coat) then the breadcrumbs.

Heat 3 tbsps of sunflower oil in a large frying pan until very hot.  Add the fish pieces and fry for 5 to 8 minutes (depending on the thickness of your fish fillet) turning once until golden brown and crisp.  Remove from the pan and drain on kitchen paper.

Serve immediately with the chips, slice of lemon, peas and tartare sauce.

Here’s a pic of Jacques eating his first ever takeaway fish & chips, whilst at my mum and dads house in the UK this summer.  Needless to say he enjoyed them about as much as his mother!

 Tartare Sauce:

1 egg

½ level tsp salt

½ level tsp mustard powder

½ clove of garlic, peeled

100ml sunflower oil

75ml olive oil

pepper

1 dessertspoon lemon juice

1 tbsp flat leaved parsley

1 heaped tbsp rinsed capers

4 cornichons (baby gherkins)

Break the egg into your food processor and add the salt, mustard powder and garlic.  Whiz up a little.  Combine the two oils in a jug.  With the food processor whizzing, start to add the oil (through the processor feeding tube) in a very slow steady trickle, pouring as slowly as possible.  The mayo will seem very thin at first, don’t worry as the more oil you add the thicker it gets. Continue until all the oil has been incorporated.

Now add some pepper, the lemon juice, parsley, capers and cornichons to the processor and whiz again.  It’s ready when it’s as course or fine as you want it to be. Adjust the salt, pepper and lemon juice to suit. Et voila tartare sauce made in minutes!


Comfort Cottage Pie

The weather’s suddenly turning a little colder here, you can see the snow on the Pyrenees and we’re lighting fires most days – no central heating @ Chez Foti:-(. So it’s time to bring on the cold weather food. Yipppppeeee.  It’s a close call but I’m reckoning I love all those winter warming slow cooked stews, casseroles, roasts and pies more than summer food.  They reach out and give you a big foodie hug just when you need one. And rich comforting cottage pie, done right with a bit of care and attention, is my winter food heaven.  Love it, the kids love it, everyone loves it don’t they?

Normally when I’m making meaty sauces or bases I bulk out the meat with lots of veggies, but there’s something about keeping a cottage pie intensely beefy and simple, refraining to mess too much. My one veggie addition though is the humble parsnip. Added to the potato topping with a little horseradish, you get a little sweet kick, that’s oh so lovely against the beef.  And horseradish and beef are obviously a match made in foodie heaven!

Enough for 4 adults, (or like us, enough for a family of 4, with portions left over for the kids to eat the next day):

olive oil

1 large onion, finely diced

2 small carrots, finely diced

1 celery stalk, finely diced

600g good quality lean beef mince (preferably from a butcher who can mince the meat in front of you)

1 heaped tbsp plain flour

1 large glass of red wine

1 heaped tbsp of tomato puree

500ml beef stock

1 tsp of worcester sauce

2 bay leaves

3 sprigs of thyme

salt & pepper

For the topping:

620g potatoes, peeled and chopped

350g parsnips, peeled and chopped

2 tsp cream horseradish

70g butter

50ml milk

salt & pepper

In a large saucepan heat a good glug of olive oil and add the onion, carrots and celery.  Cook over a medium heat for about 10 minutes until soft, stirring regularly.

Turn up the heat and add the beef.  Cook for about 5 minutes until browned.

Add the red wine, turn down the heat a little and cook until the wine has nearly all evaporated. Add the flour, stir briskly then immediately add the tomato puree, beef stock, bay leaves, thyme, worcester sauce and seasoning. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile pre-heat your oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6, and make your potato topping.

In a large pan of boiling water boil the potatoes and parsnips until soft. Drain and allow them to steam  and dry out for a few minutes. Mash with the butter, milk and horseradish.  Season to taste.

Place the beef in an openproof dish (remembering to remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs).  Spoon on the mash. I like to shape my mash with the back of a fork, as that’s what my mum’s always done.

Bake in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes until golden on the top (and if it’s not you can always pop it under the grill for a few minutes).

Serve piping hot with a nice green veg on the side.  We had ours with steamed home grown broccoli. Enjoy your winter warming food hug!  Here’s Jacques getting down to a bit of serious eating with his Oogaa bowl and train spoon:


Couscous with Roasted Veggies & Feta

A very easy recipe today, but oh so tasty; one of my standard dinners when I’m feeling a bit on the lazy side. It was my Big Bro Ben who first dished this up for me several years ago, and I’ve been making it pretty regularly ever since!  I actually always keep a slab of feta in the fridge for this very dinner.  Great for all the family too, and a good way to inject your wee ones with oodles of lovely veggies.  Mine love the natural sweetness of roasted veg, and always seem to eat way more than if they were just plain steamed or boiled.

If you want to meat-up your dinner it’s lovely served with some spicy sausages on the side, Philipe likes a couple of Merguez.  Merguez are spicy North African lamb or beef sausages that are soooooo good……and oh sooooooooo bad for you and are easily available to buy here in France, but a little harder to come by in the UK or elsewhere.

Like all my roasted veggie recipes you really can use pretty much any veggies you have lurking in your cupboards, fridge or garden.  For this dinner I used all veg picked from my garden and roasted up some lovely baby beetroot (their inaugural use of the season!), a carrot, some squash, half a courgette, a couple of baby aubergines (sadly almost the last of the year) and a couple of small peppers (also nearly finished).

Chop all the veggies to a similar bite size piece, though I tend to cut harder root vegetables a little smaller than others, and fill up an oven tray or baking sheet until it’s full. Don’t fill any more than a single layer or the veggies will be a tad on the soggy side rather than crisply roasted.  Whilst this always looks like an alarming amount of veggies, they really do cook down a great deal so make sure you fill it up!  And even if you do have some leftovers they’re great eaten the next day in a sandwich with a bit of goats cheese, feta or hummus.

I like adding a touch of balsamic vinegar at the end of roasting, it adds an extra level of sweetness which is a particularly nice contrast to the salty feta.

For a family of four:

1 onion (preferably a red onion), roughly chopped

4 cloves of garlic, left whole with skin on

Enough veg to fill a single layer on your baking sheet or roasting tray, cut into bite size chunks (you could use any combination of courgettes, peppers, aubergines, carrots, parsnips, squash, pumpkin, beetroot, swede, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, green beans….)

olive oil

salt & pepper

a handful of parsley, stalks removed and roughly chopped

balsamic vinegar (optional)

200g feta, roughly chopped

200g couscous

Preheat your oven to 220°C/Gas Mark 7.  Place your veggies, onion and garlic cloves on a large baking sheet or tray, and combine with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, a generous grinding of black pepper and a little salt. Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes (turning at least once) until the veggies are all cooked through and a little browned.

While your veggies are roasting, prepare the couscous.  Because couscous varies in size, it’s best to cook to packet instructions. With the couscous in a largish bowl, I ordinarily  I add the same quantity in boiling water as weight of couscous, for example for 200g of couscous I would add 200ml of boiling water.  I also add a touch of olive oil and a little salt and pepper, then cover the bowl tightly and leave for 5 minutes. Fluff up the couscous with a fork and add a little more boiling water if it seems dry.

Once the veggies are cooked remove the tray from the oven, add the parsley, the roughly broken up feta (I crumbled the feta on my veggies afterwards today, but it’s also pretty nice warmed up in the oven until it goes slightly gooey) and a dash of balsamic vinegar if using, stir around a little and put back in the oven for a minute or two to melt the feta a little.

Serve the veggies on top of the couscous. Yum…..I hope you agree?!


Kids Fish Pie!


Today I baked fish pie in my gorgeous Oogaa bowls, much to the delight of my kids! Their favourite dinner IN their favourite bowls, Jacques was literally climbing on the table to get his fingers in the pies! Oogaa produce fabulous feeding products for babies and young children, in gorgeous designs and colours that are fun and so adorable. We now have the range of colours and Francesca frustratingly will only eat out of a bowl that matches her outfit of the day (as girls do!). Jacques loves their squidgability (I think I just made up a word here!) and loves to chew and play with them after his dinner, or put them on his head. He also has a rather unnerving tendency of flinging his bowl as far and fast as he can once he’s finished eating so Mummy’s very happy to have silicone non-noisy non-breakable dinnerware!. Mummy’s also happy that they’re so incredibly useful, they can be baked in the oven, put in the microwave to warm up food, put through the dishwasher and even used to store food in the freezer. And being silicone, so wonderfully safe! For more information on Oogaa have a look at their lovely website: www.oogaa.com.

Although named Kid’s Fish Pie, it’s most certainly not just for kids, and can be very much enjoyed by grown ups too! I baked my pies individually in Oogaa bowls today (as well as a separate dish for my husband and I), but you could also use a large and deep ovenproof dish for everyone.

Enough for 4 adults (or like us, for a family of 4, with portions left over for the kids to eat again the next day!)

400g of sustainable white fish fillets (or combination of salmon and white fish)

500ml of full fat milk

1 bay leaf

salt & pepper

50g butter

40g plain flour

80g Cheddar cheese, grated

½ tsp of English mustard (optional)

2 eggs, hard boiled

80g frozen peas, cooked

2 large handfuls of fresh spinach, washed and finely chopped, wilted

2 tbsps chopped fresh chives, finely chopped (optional)

3 tsps of lemon juice

For the Potato Topping:

700g potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

40g butter

3 tbsp milk

salt & pepper

Preheat your oven to 180°C/Gas 4.

Place your fish in a saucepan and pour over the milk, a little seasoning (none or very little salt if you’re cooking for wee ones!) and the bay leaf. Slowly bring to the boil and allow to simmer for about 5 minutes until the fish is cooked.

Meanwhile cook the potatoes for the topping in a pan of boiling water. If you haven’t already done so you can hard boil your eggs in the same pan (they take 8 minutes in boiling water). When the potatoes are cooked drain out the water, pouring the water over the fresh spinach as this will be enough to wilt it ready for the pie. Mash the potatoes with the butter, milk and a little seasoning.

Drain the fish from the milk, retaining the milk for the sauce. Check the fish for bones, roughly break into pieces and set aside.

Now to make the cheese sauce. Place the butter in a large saucepan and heat over a very gentle heat until melted. With the pan still on a little heat add the flour and stir quickly and vigorously with a wooden spoon or a balloon whisk until combined. Add a little milk and continue to stir or whisk vigorously, continue to add the milk in this way until you have incorporated it all. Don’t worry if you have a few lumps at this stage, they’ll eventually go. Continue to stir or whisk the sauce constantly over a gentle heat until it is fully thickened and starting to simmer, this will take a few minutes. When simmering, take the pan off the heat and stir in the cheese and mustard (if using).

Now you can assemble your pie or pies. Place the fish pieces evenly in a large ovenproof dish or individual dishes or bowls. Roughly chop up the eggs and scatter on to the fish, along with the peas, spinach and chives (if using). Drizzle over a little lemon juice. Pour over the cheese sauce. Top with the mashed potato.

Bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. For a crispy browned top place briefly under a hot grill.


Boulangére Potatoes

Whilst I absolutely adore Dauphinoise potatoes they aren’t exactly the healthiest of potato side dishes, especially with the amount of cream I love to add. Boulangére potatoes are however an extremely healthy alternative that are in my book equally as tasty.  Try them and you’ll be amazed! Interestingly named as in France they were originally given to the local boulangerie to slowly bake in their bread oven.

Great served with a sunday roast or a rich casserole or stew. You can make them plain or add plenty of fresh thyme or rosemary.  Yesterday I made mine with thyme and served with roast chicken, lovely!

Enough for 4:

750g Desirée or other floury potatoes, peeled and very finely sliced

1 very large or 2 small onions, peeled, cut in half and very finely sliced

a few springs of fresh rosemary or thyme (optional)

200ml vegetable or chicken stock

100ml milk

30g butter

salt & pepper

Preheat your oven to 180°C / Gas Mark 4.

Very finely slice your potatoes and onions.  If using thyme strip the leaves from the stalks; if rosemary remove from the stalks and roughly chop.

Grease an ovenproof dish and start assembling with a layer of the potato slices, followed by some onion slices, a fine scattering of thyme or rosemary (if you’re using) and a little seasoning.  Continue layering in this way until all the potatoes and onions have been used (retaining a few of the herbs), finishing with a layer of slightly overlapping potatoes on top.

Mix the stock and milk together and pour over the potatoes.  Scatter over the remaining herbs (if using) and a little seasoning.

Cut the butter into small pieces and dot over the top of the potatoes.

Place in the oven and bake for an hour, until the potatoes are soft and cooked through, and the top layer is crisp and golden.


Caldo Verde (Portuguese Greens Soup)

This was our Sunday lunch today!  We tend to have some sort of soup on Sundays for lunch (and Saturdays too for that matter!) followed by a proper ‘sunday lunch’ around 6ish.  Because the kids normally have a sleep at 12 for a couple of hours it’s too rushed trying to get lunch ready before then….nor do we have much of an appetite for a roast and pud at 11.30am! So today’s soup was this new-to-me gem of a recipe (although I’ve now made it three times in less than a week!), and the kids loved it too.

A big thank you to my friend Susie for emailing me it.  Susie and her partner Gary run a training retreat for cyclists and triathletes in the mountains of central Portugal (www.delucci.co.uk), and regularly cook up this fabulous soup for themselves and hungry guests, either as a filling starter or a light lunch or supper served up with a hunk of bread.

Very quick and easy to make, it’s filling, nutritious, warming and bursting with flavour.  You can use any greens in this recipe, I used savoy cabbage as it’s very much in season now (although admittedly I had to buy mine, as my Savoys are in very poor miniscule shape!) and it worked splendidly.  If you want to add less of the greens then do so to make a slightly thinner soup, add more to make it a heavier.

Enough for 4:

1 very large or 2 small onions, finely diced

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

olive oil

150g chorizo, sliced and each slice cut into 6/8 small pieces

600g potatoes (about 4 large ones), peeled and diced into 1cm chunks

700ml of chicken stock

300ml of water

2 bay leaves

salt & pepper

400g savoy cabbage or other greens, very finely shredded

Saute the onions and garlic with a glug of olive oil in a very large saucepan.  Cook until soft and translucent.

Now add the chorizo pieces to the onion and continue to saute for a few more minutes. Add the diced potatoes and stir well.

Pour in the stock and water to the onions and potatoes along with plenty of black pepper (you can add salt if you wish but the Chorizo and stock both contain plenty).  Simmer until the potatoes are soft and cooked through. Mash the potatoes into the stock (by using a potato masher).

Add your finely shredded greens to the soup.  If you want a heavy soup add as much as the soup will take!  If you want it lighter add less than my suggested 400g.

Simmer until the greens are cooked.

Adjust the seasoning and serve immediately with a large hunk of bread.


Roasted Veggie Lasagne

Everyone loves lasagne don’t they?  Even the most dedicated of meat eaters might just tuck into a vegetarian dinner if it happened to be lasagne?.  I make this quite often as the kids like it about as much as we do, and it’s much quicker to put together than a bolognese one.  Plus it’s a fab way to use up the excess veggies that always seem to be lingering.  You can add pretty much any veggies you want; once they’re roasted and covered in cheesy pasta layers they all taste pretty damned fab (and I’m sure your kids will agree).  I used in mine a possibly odd combination of red peppers, mushrooms, celery, french beans, aubergine, baby beetroot, carrots and a little swiss chard (the latter I added raw, finely chopped), but it worked very nicely!  A handful or two of cherry tomatoes work particularly well if you have them, as do courgettes, squash, pumpkin, mushrooms, spinach (no need to roast)…..the list could go on and on, but just chuck it in!

I tend to add quite a few fresh herbs to my lasagne as I grow them in abundance.  If you don’t have them to hand, don’t go to the trouble and expense of buying any especially to make this as it can manage without.  I either roast my veggies with lots of fresh thyme, or as I did today added a large handful of chopped parsley and basil to the veggies once they were roasted. I also used Grana Padano rather than it’s more expensive cousin Parmesan.  When making cheese sauces I always add a little english mustard. It somehow managed to eek out a stronger cheesier flavour, but it’s not essential and again if you don’t have it to hand don’t worry.

Serves 4 – 6

olive oil

a red onion, roughly diced

3 cloves of garlic, sliced

750 g of mixed veg, cut into a rough 1cm dice

a handful of black olives – roughly chopped (omit if you’re cooking for kids who really don’t like them)

a handful each of fresh parsley and basil – roughly chopped (optional)

salt & pepper

50g butter

40g plain flour

500ml milk

50g Parmesan or Grana Padano, plus extra for the topping

½ tsp of english mustard (optional)

220g dried lasagne sheets – normal or green

2 balls of Mozzarella, thinly sliced

Preheat your oven to 220°C/Gas Mark 7.  Place your veggies, onion and garlic on a large baking sheet or tray, and combine with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, a generous grinding of black pepper and a little salt. Roast in the oven for about 25 minutes (turning at least once) until the veggies are all cooked through and starting to brown a little.  Once roasted turn down the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

Meanwhile make your sauce. Place the butter in a large saucepan and heat over a very gentle heat until melted.  With the pan still on a little heat add the flour and stir quickly and vigorously with a wooden spoon or a balloon whisk until combined.  Add a little milk and continue to stir or whisk vigorously, continue to add the milk in this way until you have incorporated it all.  Don’t worry if you have a few lumps at this stage, they’ll eventually go. Continue to stir or whisk the sauce constantly over a gentle heat until it is fully thickened and starting to simmer, this will take a few minutes. When simmering, take the pan off the heat and stir in the mustard (if using) and Parmesan or Grana Padano.

Now you’re all ready to assemble.  Into a large ovenproof dish add about a third of your veggies and about a third of the olives and a generous sprinkling of basil and parsley (if you’re using). Layer the lasagne sheets on top and spread a third of the cheese sauce over plus a third of the Mozzarella slices.

Continue with another couple of these layers until you’ve used all your ingredients up, and you’ve finished with a thick layer of cheese sauce and plenty of Mozzarella.  Now add a fine layer of grated Parmesan to finish.

Place the dish in your preheated oven for about 30 to 40 minutes until the lasagne is cooked through and the cheesy layer on the top is nicely browned.


The Best Chilli con Carne ever!

This is a truly great recipe for chilli that I’ve adapted slightly from Allegra McEvedy’s Leon cookbook. Bursting with flavour and stuffed full of spices (and not just the normal chilli) it’s a real winter warming dinner.  Although it’s not particularly hot, if you don’t like much heat to your food tone down the chilli a little or omit altogether, which is something I often do so the kids can enjoy it with us too.

Using braising beef rather than mince also make this extra special; not only tastier and healthier, it’s great to know exactly what meat you’re eating!  I used pumpkin instead of carrots, which happily added a lovely sweet note to the chilli.

Please beware, this is not a quick chilli to make!.  It requires marinading the beef, preferably overnight, and a good few hours of cooking. So well worth it though!

Enough for 4-6 (depending on how greedy you want to be!)

1 heaped tsp dried chilli flakes

2½ tsp ground cumin

2 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp cinnamon

5 sprigs of thyme

5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

500g braising beef, cut into 2cm chunks

3 tbsp olive oil

1 heaped tsp cumin seeds

1 heaped tsp coriander seeds

½ red chilli, thinly sliced

2 large onions, diced

2 carrots or equivalent of squash or pumpkin, diced

1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

2 x 400g tins of kidney beans

salt & pepper

Firstly you need to marinade your meat for at least a few hours, preferably overnight.  Into a large bowl put the dried chilli, ground cumin, oregano, cinnamon, thyme and a couple of the sliced garlic cloves.  Mix together and add the beef.  Using your hands rub the spices into the beef and leave to marinade in the fridge.

Heat the olive oil in a very large saucepan or casserole.  Add the cumin and coriander seeds and cook on a gentle heat until you can smell the spices. Add the marinaded beef and thyme to the pan turning every few minutes. Fry until the beef has browned on all sides.

Add a little salt to the pan, as well as the fresh chilli, remaining three sliced garlic cloves, onions and carrots (or squash or pumpkin).  Stirring often continue to cook for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the chopped tomatoes, cook for a further 10 minutes.  Now add the kidney beans. Pour in enough water to just cover and gently simmer for an hour with the lid on.

Take off the lid and simmer for up to another hour.  The chilli is ready when the beef is completely tender and sauce nicely thickened.  If the sauce becomes too dry add a little more water.

Once finished adjust the seasoning to taste.

Great served with rice and a big dollop of sour cream on top of the chilli. Divine.


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