Favourite Five Chestnut Recipes

Across Europe and the US, people have been out and about on the streets, frantically shopping for presents and visiting the sales. Many will be fuelled with piping hot chestnuts, roasted in barrels and sold by street vendors. The piping hot nuts are a Christmas tradition across the northern Europe and beyond. Chestnuts are a great ingredient for our home cooking too; whether in sweet or savoury dishes, they are a seasonal highlight.

Chestnut & Sage Soup – Sauté half an onion in a little oil and butter until soft and translucent. Add a few chopped sage leaves and a finely chopped clove of garlic, before 100g cooked chestnuts, a couple of chopped large potatoes and 1/2 litre of vegetable stock. After 30 minutes of simmering, whizz with the blender, then add 25ml of milk, reheat and serve topped with a few sliced chestnuts and crispy sage leaves.

Sweet Chestnut Purée – In a saucepan, combine 300g nuts, 220g sugar and 250ml water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 25-35 minutes until the majority of the liquid is evaporated. Remove from heat, add a little vanilla paste, then strain the nuts (reserving the liquid). Whizz the nuts in the food processor until smooth, before adding the syrup slowly to get the right consistency. Chill and use to fill your next sponge cake.

Chestnut, leek, apple and Stilton crumble – This is based on a great recipe from Leiths Vegetarian Bible. Sauté an onion and a couple of leeks, stir a little flour into the mix, cook for a minute, before adding 300ml of stock. Add a 225g pack of chestnuts, a little thyme, and bring to the boil, simmering for a 15 minutes until the chestnuts are tender. Peel, core and quarter a couple of apples and add them and the chestnut mix to an ovenproof dish. Make a crumble from 110g flour and 55g butter, adding some Stilton into the crumble once made. Top the chestnut mix with the crumble and bake for half an hour at 190°C.

Chestnut Stuffing – A simple traditional stuffing for the festive bird (or just to have on its own). Mix a good sausage-meat with chopped chestnuts, an egg, some breadcrumbs, a little fresh sage, salt and pepper. Cook in the roast, or in a dish separately for half an hour.

Quince & Chestnut Frangipane Tart – Although a version of this tart was included in the Favourite Five Pear recipes; this chestnut version is great. Swapping the usual ground almonds for ground chestnuts gives it a lovely nuttiness and the perfumed quince is perfect for a cold winter’s evening.

Roasted Carrot and Cumin Soup with Labneh

With weather a little colder in the last few days, and certainly as a way of warming up after yet another drenching, soup is firmly back on the menu. Our carrots at the allotment have been pretty good this year, but due to the clay soil I only every grow small varieties like Chantenay  and Paris Market. Although this means I have a good amount of carrots, their small size also results in their being eaten up speedily. All this means we don’t have any carrots in storage. However, the other day I was given a load of carrots by a friend, with the mission of turning them into something yummy. My go-to use for a carrot glut is carrot and coriander soup, but we’d had that last week, so an alternative was needed. Roasting the carrots was needed to get the best of their (slightly past their best) flavour, so I added some cumin, onions and garlic when they went in the oven. The resulting spiced carrots made the perfect base for a sweet, spiced warming soup. Topped with cool slightly sharp Labneh it was just what was needed.

You will need

700g carrots, peeled and roughly chopped (larger chunks take longer to roast, so vary times accordingly)
3 cloves of garlic
1 onion (chopped into eighths)
Salt & Pepper
2 tsp of cumin seeds (slightly crushed)
drizzle of olive oil
1l good chicken stock
Labneh, freshcoriander and zaatar to serve – I made my own labneh, by straining 450g of yoghurt with a pinch of salt overnight.

Preheat the oven to 200˚C. Add the chopped carrots, garlic and onions to an oven tray, sprinkle with the cumin, salt and pepper and olive oil. Toss the vegetables to ensure they are all covered in the oil and seasoning. Roast for 30 mins or until partly browned. Once the carrots have started to caramelise, pour them into a saucepan and add 1l stock. Bring to the boil and simmer until the vegetables are soft and tender. Whizz in the food processor and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Serve the hot soup with a spoonful of the labneh (or Greek yoghurt if you want) and a sprinkling of zaatar and fresh chopped coriander.

Favourite Five Pear Recipes

Our little pear tree has been a real success this year. So small that there is no way it could support a partridge for a Christmas card photo shoot, it has had a really good crop of beautiful fruit. I’ve come to pears late in my life; as a child I always saw them as grainy, crunchy and not entirely appealing, but as an adult I’ve grown to appreciate the moment in time when a pear is a perfect sensuous fruit. There is little better than a perfectly ripe, juicy, pear just sliced and eaten; but they’re a brilliant ingredient too and appear in some of the family’s favourite dishes.

Roasted Roots, Pears and Lentil salad – Roasted pears are a warm, sweet, caramelized delight, and combined with earthy vegetables like beetroot and carrot, and nutty green lentils, make a super winter salad. This salad is an adaptation of the salad posted the other day, using pears instead of apples and blue cheese instead of goats cheese.

Gluten-free Pear and Chocolate Tart – This has become a big hit with my son and is made by both his grandmothers whenever he goes to visit, indeed one of them was the first to make it and it has been passed around the family and enjoyed by all. Having made a gluten free pastry case, the filling to this tart is made of quartered pears in a chocolate almond. To make the sponge, combine 125g ground almonds, 125g softened butter, 95g caster sugar and two eggs, before mixing in 185g warm melted chocolate. Place the quartered peeled pears in the blind baked pastry case, then pour in the filling. Bake for 45 minutes at 190°C.

Pear, Red Cabbage and Walnut Slaw – Fruit in slaws is a real favourite of mine. I love how apple adds a contrasting sweetness to my beetroot and carrot slaw. This version is a nod to the classic Waldorf salad. Combine shredded cabbage, thinly sliced pears, sliced celery and some roughly chopped toasted walnuts. Add a splash of cider vinegar to some mayonnaise, season, then add to the fruit and veg. Make sure the dressing is distributed evenly, then serve.

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Poached Pears – Such a simple dessert, but one which really enhances the flavour. Combine 3 cups white wine, 3 cups of water, a knife tip of vanilla paste and 3 cups of sugar to make a poaching liquid. Warm the poaching liquor, peel the pears and place in the saucepan. Use a piece of baking parchment to form a lid and poach for 10-15 mins (depending on how ripe you fruit is). When soft, take off heat and serve immediately, or pop in the fridge with the poaching liquid until needed. Super as a pudding, but equally good on top of your breakfast porridge.

Pear Frangipane Tart – I love frangipane, and it goes brilliantly with pears. In the past I have used ground chestnuts instead of the usual almonds, giving it a slightly sweeter nuttiness. Use just pears, or combine with poached quince for a more autumnal decadent tart.frangipane tarts (2)

 

Autumnal Root Vegetable Salad with Goats Cheese and Lentils

During the spring and summer, there’s not much more I like than to have a fresh salad, using what I can find at the allotment to make a delicious lunch. As the weather cools and the days get shorter (and wetter it seems), my love of the salad is replaced by a desire to eat warm comforting food like jacket potatoes, stews, and soup. However, the root vegetables are often at their best during this period and I’ve become to realise that they are just as good in a salad as a juicy tomato, or crunchy cucumber. When roasted, their inherent sweet earthiness is perfect to team with the slightly bitter leaves of chicory or rocket, providing both a fresh and comforting taste. So today, I’m having an autumnal salad of roasted carrot and beetroot, green lentils and a little goats cheese. Perfect.

roasted veg salad

You will need (for two people)

2 medium sized beetroot chopped into eighths
2 medium carrots, cut into small chunks
1 crisp apple, cored and cut into eighths
1tsp. caraway seed
dash of olive oil
100g Goats cheese

For the lentils
100g green lentils
1 bay leaf
350ml water (or vegetable stock)
A small handful of finely chopped parsley

For the dressing
3tbsp olive oil (I used the drained oil from the roasted vegetables)
1tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 clove of garlic crushed (I used a roasted clove of garlic I put in with the vegetables)
1/4 tbsp honey
pinch of salt and a few twists of black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C, then toss the chopped vegetables in a roasting tin with the caraway seeds and olive oil. Roast in the oven until soft and slightly caramelised; depending on the size and variety of your roots they may need different times, I tend to start with the beetroot, add the carrots 10 minutes later, the apples 10 minutes after that. It usually takes 30-40 mins in total.

roasted veg

Meanwhile place the lentils and bay leaf in a saucepan with the stock or water and bring to the boil. Partially covered with a lid, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the lentils are just tender. Drain away any excess liquid and discard the bay leaf. Season the lentils with a little salt and pepper, before putting to one side.

To make the dressing, just add the dressing ingredients into a jar with a screw-top lid; cap and shake vigorously to emulsify. Pour some dressing into the lentils when they’re still warm, stirring in a small handful of finely chopped parsley as you do.

To serve, combine the dressed lentils with the roasted vegetables and apple. Divide between two plates, top with broken pieces of soft goats cheese. then drizzle with a little more of the dressing.

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How to make Gluten-Free Pumpkin Cupcakes

GF Pumpkin cup cakesThe pumpkins and squashes we have in the UK almost always end up in delicious savoury dishes, like those mentioned in my Favourite Five recipes, but in the USA and Canada they also have a tradition of using pumpkin in sweets and cakes. Famously this is in the form of pumpkin pie, which interestingly actually originates on this side of the Atlantic, with pumpkin pie recipes being found first in English cookbooks’such as Hannah Woolley’s The Gentlewoman’s Companion (1675).  Given our transatlantic cousins’ love of the sweet use of the pumpkin, I thought it was about time I embraced it too. Cupcakes are always a big hit in our family; so, with pumpkins ripened on the allotment, and children (and adults) keen on an after-school snack, I made these Gluten-Free Pumpkin Cupcakes.

You will need (makes 24)
Cakes
300g self-raising gluten-free flour
200g light brown sugar
100g caster sugar
2tsp mixed spice
2tsp bicarbonate of soda
150g sultanas
A pinch of salt
4 beaten eggs
180g unsalted butter, melted
zest 1/2 an orange
1 tbsp orange juice
300g pumpkin purée. (I roasted the pumpkin in two halves, then puréed the flesh, and used the leftover purée for soup)

Icing
100g icing sugar
1 tbsp orange juice
splash of food colouring

Heat your oven to 160°C and prepare the muffin/cupcake tin with paper cupcake wrappers. Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl and add puréed pumpkin.  Beat the eggs and combine with the melted butter, orange zest and juice. Stir the dry ingredients into the dry mix, ensuring that it is thoroughly mixed.  Pour the batter into the muffin tin, leaving a little space for the mixture to rise in the oven. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes until golden and brown, place on a rack, and allow to cool. To make the icing, combine the orange juice and icing sugar to get the desired consistency, then carefully add the colouring, before mixing. Spoon the icing into a piping bag and pipe the cobweb design.

How to make Nasturtium Capers

When we were in Sicily this summer, one of the ingredients which I found in the market of Ortigia was capers. The region, and especially the island of Pantelleria, is famous for these little preserved flower buds, and they appear in many of Sicily’s traditional dishes. I love the saltiness of them, the way they bring a real punch to dishes. Back here in the UK, we can get capers in the shops, but they’re not nearly as good as those from the Ortigian market.

We don’t have our own home grown capers; but the allotment is awash with nasturtiums, and the seeds of this butterfly-like flower can be brined and pickled in the same way as capers to produce a good home-grown alternative. Picked whilst still green, soaked in brine, and pickled in vinegar infused with allotment herbs; these nasturtium ‘capers’ can be used like their Sicilian cousins.

You will need (Makes 2 x 115g jars)
15g salt
100g nasturtium seed pods
A few peppercorns
A few herbs; I used fennel tips and a bay leaf or two
1 tsp sugar
200ml white wine vinegar

Make a brine by dissolving the salt in 300ml of water. Clean up the seeds, discarding any seeds which are yellow or brown, as these won’t be tender and full of flavour after pickling. Put the remaining seeds into a bowl and cover with the cold brine, before leaving for 24 hours. The next day drain the seed pods and dry well. Pack them into small, sterilised, jars with the peppercorns and herbs, leaving 1cm at the top so the vinegar will cover the seeds well. Bring the vinegar and sugar to the boil, then pour over the seeds and seal the jars with sterilised vinegar-proof lids. Store in a cool, dark place and leave for a few weeks before eating. Use within a year.

Nasturtium capers

Favourite Five Pumpkin & Squash Recipes

Last weekend we went to the Slindon Pumpkin Festival, enjoying the amazing display produced using these autumn fruits. Nothing says autumn more than a pumpkin or winter squash. They echo the changing colours of the foliage of our trees; transforming from the green of the summer to the blue-grey, orange, cadmium, gold, and yellows of autumn. As an ingredient, they bring an earthy sweetness, bringing a warming richness to a plethora of dishes. I love them and never manage to grow enough on the plot, despite annual attempts to have vast numbers of plants. Still, with the various pumpkin and squash I do grow, I like to make these Favourite Five dishes.

Blue Cheese, Squash and Rosemary Gnocchi – I love the pillowy lightness of good gnocchi. They’re soft and go brilliantly with the punchy flavours of squash, blue cheese and rosemary. Simply roast the squash and a few quartered red onions, combine with blue cheese and rosemary and mix into cooked gnocchi. For more details check out this post.

Butternut Squash Soup – Soup is perfect for this season, and simple to make. Heat some olive oil and throw in a finely chopped onion, celery, carrot, garlic, rosemary leaves and a a few chilli flakes. Cook for ten minutes, until the veg is sweet and soft. Add in the peeled and chopped squash, a litre of good chicken stock and simmer for roughly half an hour. When the squash is tender, remove from the heat and whizz in a blender until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and serve with a few crispy sage leaves on top.

Pumpkin Risotto with Sage and Walnuts – Start by making a simple risotto bianco, before adding pumpkin purée to the rice during the last few minutes. In a separate pan heat some butter until frothing, adding a few sage leaves until they are crispy. Remove and add some chopped bacon and walnuts, frying until nicely coloured. When the risotto is almost finished, take off the heat, add a good knob of butter and some Parmesan, put the lid on and leave for a few minutes. To serve, ladle out the risotto and top with the walnuts and bacon, and the crispy sage leaves.

Roasted Squash and Puy Lentil Salad – Roast a squash, cut into 2cm cubes, with rosemary and garlic for 30 minutes until soft and just starting to brown. Meanwhile, cook some Puy lentils and then mix with mustard and honey dressing. Toss lentils with the squash, season and serve, with the addition of a few toasted walnuts.

Roasted Pumpkin Purée – Peel and cut your pumpkin or squash into large chunks and place in a roasting tin. Toss with olive oil, a few sprigs of rosemary and a couple of cloves of garlic. Roast in a medium oven for 40 minutes until the pumpkin is soft. Peel the roasted garlic and whizz the contents of the roasting tin, seasoning as required. Delicious as an accompaniment to sausages.

How to make Beetroot & Apple Slaw

Beetroot are earthy and sweet in taste, and a great vegetable for this time of year. This season we have grown two varieties; the classic ruby red Boltardy and the striped Italian version Chioggia. It works brilliantly in early September salads like this slaw.

beetroot

You will need 
1 beetroot
1 apple
1 carrot
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
1 squeeze lemon juice

Use a box grater or food processor to grate the vegetables. Mix together with the lemon juice, then the mayonnaise, and season as needed. This slaw is great as an accompaniment to pork dishes. beetroot slaw

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Favourite Five Apple Recipes

favourite five Apples, and specifically British apples, are my favourite fruit. I love the variety in flavours that apples bring, from sweet and juicy, to crisp and sharp. I think that there is no better apple than a British one, so always have a self-imposed break from apples once the supplies of home-grown fruit runs out. I don’t see the point in importing foods which we grow so well anyway. Seasonality also has the advantage of allowing my palate to enjoy the plethora of other fruits available, and truly appreciate the first apple of the year. We have a really early apple tree (Beauty of Bath), so the first apple of the season is always one of our own and munched during the summer holidays. But, whether Cox, Russet, Windsor, Bramley, or any other of the 1,900 different varieties of apple trees held at the National Fruit Collection in Kent, they are a super ingredient for either sweet or savoury dishes.

A Simple Apple Pie – There is no better dessert than an apple pie. I like to use a combination of stewed apple and slices of apple in my pies. By stewing some of the fruit first with a little sugar, you get a soft sweetness with the addition of fruit with a bit of a bite. The joy of a pie is its simplicity, its fruit and a pastry top. The top can be puff-pastry, shortcrust pastry, homemade, or (dare I say it?) shop bought. Top the fruit with the pastry, give it a wash with egg white and a sprinkle of sugar and bake til golden. Serve with cream, custard, ice cream, even mascarpone.

apple pie

Apple & Blackberry Jelly -This is inspired by The Pig in Brockenhurst, where my son enjoyed an apple jelly at the end of a delicious meal. Its a simple dessert; so evocative of childhood, but also the waning of the summer and the coming of autumn. Take some apple juice and heat it with a little sugar (depending on how sharp the juice is). I use leaf gelatin, which needs three sheets to soft set 500ml of liquid. Prepare the leaf gelatin by soaking it in cold water for a few minutes, squeeze the excess water from the gelatine and stir into the warm juice until completely dissolved. Pour into small glasses and drop a few blackberries into each glass. Place in the fridge for a few hours until set.

apple and blackberry jelly

Apple Cake – This a deliciously moist gluten-free cake, based on one in Nigella’s Feast. I use whichever apples I have in the house to make the puree and often make too much, in order to enjoy it with porridge in the morning. The cake itself is a simple process, blitzing together the puree and eggs, ground almonds, caster sugar and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, before pouring into the cake tin.

Pork Chops with caramelised apples and sage crème fraiche – This is a great way to serve pork chops or steaks. Start by frying two quartered and cored apples in 20g melted butter and a small spoon of light brown sugar. Cook for 5 mins, until golden and tender. Remove from the pan and keep warm. Add a little oil to the pan and cook four pork steaks for 5-6 mins per side, until cooked through and golden. Stir in 100ml Crème fraiche and 15ml chopped sage. Serve the pork with the apples, mash and perhaps green beans.

Waldorf Salad – Combine 1sliced apple, a chopped stalk of celery, 50g of walnuts and a handful of rocket in a bowl. Mix a little lemon juice with 1/2 tsp. of grain mustard, then stir it into 100ml of mayonnaise. Toss the salad ingredients in the mayonnaise and serve.

What’s in your favourite five apple recipes?

Foraged Food – Moules Marinière

Moules Mariniere

The allotment provides us with a lot of our food; we harvest lots of fruit and veg from the standard sized allotment chunk of land. However, when it comes to protein we struggle. Short of eating the plethora of slugs which attempt to sabotage our vegetable growing, or the masses of woodlice which have taken a liking to our apples, its pretty hard to produce meat protein on an allotment. But what about chickens I hear you say? Well, yes they would do the job nicely, but we’re not allowed to keep livestock on our plots, so that’s not possible for us.

I’m always up for free food sources; whether the leftover veg at the local grocers, bin diving at supermarkets, or foraging the hedgerows of Sussex, I tend not to let the opportunity pass. Whilst down at the beach the other day we came across a load of mussels. Not massive examples of the common bivalve, but large enough to give us a little free protein in our diet. Having watched the recent BBC Horizon programme on the environmental effects of eating meat, I’d been reminded that mussels are a great source of protein, and are one of the most environmentally friendly methods of getting meat into your diet. Plus, if you forage them they are free! I should add a caveat here. I know that the mussels I foraged were from a safe source; a couple of months back I had a conversation with someone who had been eating for years, mussels, shrimp, even lobster, all caught on this beach. Obviously, its also only ok to forage mussels if there are lots there to take and they’re of a decent size.rockpooling

Moules Marinière

You will need (serves 2)

About 1kg mussels (cleaned, rinsed, and checked over for ones which don’t close)
1 shallot (finely chopped)
1/2 clove garlic (finely chopped)
1/2 tbsp. olive oil
1 small glass of white wine
50ml double cream
Black pepper to season

Fry the shallots and garlic gently in the oil until they are soft and translucent. Turn the heat up and then pour in the wine. Bring to the boil for a minute, throw in the mussels, then give the pan a shake. Cook the mussels for a few minutes until the majority of the mussels have opened to show their vibrant orange interiors. Pour over the cream, add some black pepper and then transfer to a dish to serve. I always think you need either bread or French fries to accompany this.

moules