I recently took part in a fun Twitter challenge. Jenny Linford (@jennylinford) invited her followers every day for a week to name their seven favourite cookbooks. As well as making my choices, which wasn’t easy, I so enjoyed browsing the hashtag #7favouritecookbooks. Of course many of the books mentioned were my own favourites too while some I’d heard about but never owned (and now want to!) and some I’d never come across but now want to explore. The books in my selection were well used by me, obviously, and in several cases constituted just one example of work by my favourite cookery writers like Delia Smith and Diana Henry.
Recently for friends I made the roasted vegetable couscous dish in Delia’s Summer Collection, one of my seven choices. They all remarked how the dish had stood the test of time and that it reminded them what an excellent book it is. We agreed on what an impact it had had and how it had changed the way we cooked: suddenly we were needing fresh coriander and limes all the time and as for roasting vegetables as an alternative to boiling or frying them, this was a revelation.
I make this type of roasted ratatouille all the time now, sometimes with the harissa dressing and couscous, but mostly to serve with roasted or barbecued meat. Leftovers are delicious warm or cold with a dollop of hummus. This summer I’ve been making a similar dish which particularly complements fish, but also goes well with meat; it’s the Sicilian caponata. The authentic way of making it is to fry each vegetable separately but the other day I thought I’d try roasting them all together in the same way I’d do the roasted ratatouille; this seemed to me to be the ideal Aga way. Only the tomatoes are prepared separately and then added at the end.
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced (save the frondy tops)
2-3 large, ripe tomatoes (I used plum; you could use tinned if you don’t have any fresh ones)
1/2 glass red wine
2 tbsps red wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
Handful of green olives
2 tbsps capers
Basil leaves (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place the aubergine, onion, garlic, peppers and fennel in the small Aga roasting tin
Season and stir in about 3 tbsps of olive oil, coating everything
Slide the tin onto the top set of runners in the roasting oven and roast for 30 to 40 minutes until the vegetables are soft and slightly charred in places
Meanwhile put the tomatoes in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Leave for a couple of minutes, then drain under cold water and peel off the skins and deseed. Chop the flesh
Put the wine, wine vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to the boil on the simmering plate. Add the chopped tomato and cook in the simmering oven until the mixture has reduced to a thick sauce. Season and stir it into the cooked vegetables.
Leave to cool to room temperature before mixing in the olives, capers and the basil or fennel fronds
I’ve been enjoying January so far. After the pressures of December, taking life at a slower pace is fine by me. I don’t mind the weather either, as long as my house is warm, and when I’m outdoors, being half-Norwegian I know that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing. I relish the changes of seasons that we have in this country. Last weekend we went to stay with friends in the Scottish Borders. We were only away three days but it felt longer and was a lovely break. It was grey and cold but we had packed waterproofs and lots of layers and strode out across the beautiful countryside.
Without having to sacrifice my desire for comfort food during this long, cold month I have more or less stuck to my plan not to cook meat during the week. There was a blip last Monday when I made a chicken pie because I wanted to use up the remains of the roast chicken we’d had the day before. First I made stock with the carcass, and then made the pie filling using some mushrooms, bacon and thyme and of course the chicken and stock. I took Nigella’s advice and added a tablespoon of Marsala too: delicious. I topped the pie with some good quality shop-bought puff pastry. The rest of the time we’ve been eating dals and rice, pasta with tomato-based sauces and vegetable curries.
This week I made a stew with some squash, sweet potato and chickpeas and that’s the recipe I’m going to give you in this post. It’s ridiculously easy to make* and can be adapted to whatever you have in your kitchen. It’s basically an Angela Hartnett recipe which was in her Sunday Telegraph column last weekend, the theme being one-pot meals. She used pumpkin but said it would work with any root vegetables and/or gourds. She accompanied it with toasted pitta bread; I served ours with rice.
*Angela instructs us to throw everything into the pot at the same time, even the onion, but the onion didn’t soften to my satisfaction (I had a feeling it wouldn’t) even though I cooked my stew for longer than the prescribed 30-35 minutes, so I’m suggesting softening the onion in a little olive oil before adding all the other ingredients.
Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato and Chickpea Stew
About 350g diced butternut squash and sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, sliced
1 x 400g tin chickpeas in water
1 x 400g tin cherry tomatoes, including the juice
Juice and zest of 1 orange
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
¼ tsp each of ground coriander, cumin and chilli flakes
Plain yoghurt, seasoned
Gentle heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof saucepan or sauté pan on the simmering plate and add the onion slices
Stir and cook until softened (as you know, the best way to do this is to cover the pan and place it in the simmering oven for 15 minutes or so)
Add all the remaining ingredients except for the yoghurt and coriander. Season and mix well
Put the lid back on and place the pan in the roasting oven (with the rack on the third rung from the top) and cook for 30-35 minutes or maybe longer if your squash is still hard, as mine was. If you’ve started it in good time, you could just remove it to the simmering oven now and leave it there until it’s time to eat
Scatter over the coriander and serve with rice or toasted pitta bread. Put the yoghurt in a bowl on the table for people to help themselves.
Having consumed during the Christmas period one massive turkey, a Norwegian spiced pork belly, a baked ham and a venison casserole, we are craving vegetables in this house. Sprouts, red cabbage, salads and lots of fruit also featured heavily on the menu but meat predominated. I’m not saying we’re going in for Veganuaray or any other New Year trend; it’s about needing to reset our dietary priorities. This month I’m going to cook without meat during the week but we’ll continue to have a roast or other meat dish on Sundays.
With this in mind I was delighted to pore over one of my Christmas presents from my sons: Joe Trivelli’s book, The Modern Italian Cook. I confess I was not familiar with Trivelli, who is head chef of the River Café, but I am glad to have been introduced. And Diana Henry, whose recipes you know I love, gave it a mention in her Telegraph column. If that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is.
It’s a beautiful book and I want to make everything in it but so far I’ve only got as far as making one of the dishes twice, first as a starter on New Year’s Eve and then last night we had it as our main meal with some fresh bread to mop up the juices. The recipe works well in the Aga.
Jerusalem artichokes with fennel and peas
Serves 4 (or 6 as a starter)
500g Jerusalem artichokes
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed
½ large or 1 small red onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
500g frozen peas
10 mint leaves
2 parsley sprigs or a handful of chopped parsley
Sea salt, black pepper and extra virgin olive oil
Peel the artichokes and cut into wedges. Keep under water to stop them discolouring.
Remove any stringy-looking outer parts of the fennel and cut into thin wedges. Toss in some lemon juice to prevent them discolouring
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a heavy-based, wide pan with a lid and sweat the onion with a pinch of salt. You could place the pan in the simmering oven at this point
Once the onion is soft add the garlic and a minute or two later the fennel. Stew with the lid on for five minutes (or longer if you put it in the simmering oven)
Add the Jerusalem artichokes, peas and some black pepper and continue to stew. Trivelli says to do this for 10 minutes over a low heat but my artichokes needed a lot longer than this (in the simmering oven) before they were soft. In fact, to try to speed things up I put the pan in the baking oven for a while. And Trivelli is right to say that Jerusalem artichokes cook unevenly: I found that when some wedges were soft and tender, others were still hard. But your patience will be rewarded, I promise you
Once your artichokes are cooked, check the seasoning, add your herbs and stir them through with some extra virgin olive oil