Cauliflower cheese

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In the modern world, we are constantly bombarded with messages of healthy eating, clean eating (no phrase annoys me more!) and food fads but sometimes we all need proper comfort food. It’s a time to forget calorie counting once in a while and eat what makes you happy and cauliflower cheese is definitely one of those meals! Cauliflower cheese needs no introduction as it is exactly what it says it is- no pretention! It can be the main event or a side dish for a whole host of dishes. It also allows you to play around with a mixture of cheeses to make it as savoury as you want and cheese sauce is also a perfect way to use up any odds and ends of cheese that may be lurking in your fridge. In this recipe, I have given you the basic cheese sauce recipe that I use but feel free to add blue cheese if you like as cauliflower can stand up to the sharpness of it. Fried off cubes of pancetta are also a welcome addition!

Ingredients- serves 3-4
1 cauliflower
45g plain flour
45g unsalted butter
250ml double cream
300ml milk
50g cheddar
50g parmesan

1. Kick off by preparing the cauliflower. Clean it and cut into large florets. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil and boil until the stems are just tender- it will continue to cook when it is baked so it needs a bit of texture still at this stage. Drain well and set aside while you make the sauce.

2. For the cheese sauce, use a pan and heat over a medium heat. Melt together the butter and flour to form a roux. Gradually add in the milk and cream; making sure you keep stirring to ensure that no lumps form. If any lumps start creeping in then remove the pan from the heat and whisk it like your life depends on it before returning to the heat. Continue to stir and simmer until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat and add in the parmesan and season to taste.

3. Choose an ovenproof roasting dish that will fit the cauliflower in a single layer. Arrange the florets and pour over the cheese sauce. Top with grated cheddar and a little extra parmesan if you like. Bake at 200c/ 180 fan for around 30 minutes or until golden and bubbling. Serve immediately.

Cauliflower cheese- like a cheesy hug for soul!

 

 

Squash and blue cheese macaroni bake

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Before thoughts turn to Christmas food and festivities, there’s time for one more recipe to get you through once you’ve had enough roast potatoes and sprouts! This squash and blue cheese bake is simple and can be made in advance so it is perfect for a casual dinner as well as if you’re entertaining. I have used coquina squash for this which makes a change to the usual butternut squash. Coquina squash is slightly more sweet and the flesh is soft and tender which lends itself perfectly for roasting. To offset the sweetness I have used a creamy blue cheese and some salty pancetta to give the dish a lift. I served this in individual dishes but you can make a larger one if you prefer.

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Ingredients- serves 4
1 coquina squash
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp olive oil
30g plain flour
30g unsalted butter
150ml double cream
150ml milk
200g blue cheese such as dolcelatte or gorgonzola
250g macaroni
50g cheddar
50g parmesan
4 slices of pancetta

1. Get going by preheating the oven to 180c/ 160 fan ready for roasting the squash. Use a sturdy sharp knife and halve the squash lengthways. Scoop out the seeds, drizzle with the olive oil and place one garlic clove in each of the hollows. Roast for around 50 minutes or until tender. When the squash is ready, use a spoon to scoop out the flesh and place in a bowl. Squeeze out the roasted garlic and add to the bowl with the squash. Use the back of a fork to mash it down until smooth and set aside whilst you make the base for the sauce.

2. Bring a large pan of water to the boil and cook the pasta until al dente as per the packet instructions; drain well and set aside.

3. Use a medium sized saucepan and add the flour and butter. Heat gently so the butter melts and combines with the flour to make a roux. Gradually pour in the milk and cream, stirring all the while so no lumps form. Increase the heat a touch and keep stirring until the sauce thickens. Remove the pan from the heat and add the blue cheese as well as most of the cheddar and parmesan (reserving some for the topping).

4. Take a frying pan and heat on a medium- high heat. Place the slices of pancetta in the pan and cook until crisp. Roughly chop the pancetta and add to the sauce. Add the roasted squash flesh to the sauce and stir well to combine. Stir the sauce through the cooked macaroni and place in an ovenproof dish or individual dishes. Top with the remaining cheese. Bake for half an hour or until golden and bubbling. Serve with a simple side salad.

Squash and blue cheese macaroni bakes- a twist on a well loved classic!

 

 

Sea bream with fennel, onion and pancetta

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Sea bream is one of my favourite fish so there’s nothing better than pairing with other fresh ingredients to bring out the flavour of it. This recipe does not require a huge amount of ingredients so it is simple to achieve when you want something delicious but without the faff! For ease I have cooked the dish in the oven to make sure the fennel is well roasted which brings out the sweetness however it could also be made on the hob top if you prefer.

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Ingredients- serves 2
2 sea bream fillets
Glug of oil
200g new potatoes- thinly sliced
1 white onion- finely sliced
1 fennel bulb- finely sliced
3 slices of pancetta
Juice of half a lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 180c/ 160 fan. Take an ovenproof wide bottomed pan and heat the oil in the pan in the oven. Season the potato slices add to the pan and roast in the oven until turning golden and tender; this may take a little while so take your time and check them from time to time. Reserve the fennel tops and set aside.

2. Add in the onion and fennel slices continue to cook until both are softened. Roughly chop the pancetta and add to the pan; cooking until crisp. Take a frying pan, add another small amount of oil and heat to medium- high; season the sea bream fillets and fry skin side down for a couple of minutes until the skin is crisp. Remove from the pan and place on top of the potato, onion and fennel. Cook for around 10 minutes until cooked through. Take the reserved fennel tops and scatter. Squeeze the lemon juice over before serving.

Sea bream with fennel, onion and pancetta- make the most of fresh ingredients with this simple supper!

 

 

Wild boar forest pie

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Wild boar is a meat that a lot of people have heard of and maybe seen on a restaurant menu but few have cooked at home. To get the maximum flavour and richness from wild boar it needs to be cooked low and slow so this pie recipe is a perfect introduction to it. In keeping with autumn ingredients I have paired the boar with the earthiness of porcini as it is wild mushroom season after all. This pie can be made in advance and is a great crowd pleaser. I made the boar sauce a couple of days before I needed it which really intensified the flavour. Not only do you get a pie recipe with this but you can also use  the wild boar base as a ragu which is delicious with pasta or creamy polenta so you get two ideas for one here!

Now just a quick word about mashed potato. I know potato ricers are popular up and down the country for a super smooth mash but I prefer to use a little (read ‘lot’) of elbow grease and mash for England with a good old stick masher! Yes, it is more time and labour intensive but it is still just as smooth so pick your weapon of choice and get mashing!

pie

Ingredients- serves 4
Vegetable oil
400g wild boar- diced into large chunks
1 large white onion -chopped
2 garlic cloves- crushed
Small pack of pancetta (optional)
20g dried porcini mushrooms- soaked
1 carrot- finely chopped
2 celery sticks- finely chopped
1 tbsp tomato puree
100ml red wine
400g tinned chopped tomatoes
300ml beef stock
Fresh thyme, bay leaves and 4 juniper berries
5 Maris Piper potatoes- peeled and halved
Unsalted butter
Milk
Salt and pepper

1. Get cracking by preheating the oven to 160c/ 140 fan. Take a large casserole pan and heat a good glug of oil over a medium to high heat. Add the chunks of boar and cook to brown them off. You can do this in a couple of batches so you don’t overcrowd the pan as this does not make for beautifully golden meat. When browned, remove the boar and set aside.

2. Next up keep the meat juices in the pan and cook the garlic, onion and pancetta (if using) until the onion is softened and the pancetta is turning golden. Pop in the carrot and celery and cook for a further couple of minutes. Stir through the tomato puree and make sure it is all well combined.

3. Add the red wine and reduce by half before the stock, tomatoes and porcini go in. Pop in the herbs, juniper berries and season. Cover the pan and cook in the oven for 3 hours until the boar is tender and simply falls apart. Towards the end of cooking check the boar and the sauce should have reduced down; if it is still a bit too loose, simply remove the lid and finish off or simmer on the hob with the lid off. When the sauce is thick, remove from the heat and set aside as you make the mash.

4. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Boil the potatoes until they are tender when you prick them with a knife; drain well. Now for the bit that takes tasting to get spot on! Mash the potatoes like your life depends on it and add as much butter as your heart will take so give a creamy mash. Add a glug or two of milk if you like. Keep tasting as you go (I know, such a hardship!) until you end up with a creamy, well seasoned mash.

5. When the boar has cooled slightly, tip it into a large ovenproof dish and you are ready to top it with the potato. Now here comes another choice for you: to pipe or to dollop (very technical!) that is the question? I kept it simple for myself on this occasion and spooned some of the mash on before using the back of a spoon to smooth it over the boar. Take a fork and use the tines to lightly make indents. Top with a little freshly grated parmesan if you like and bake at 200c/ 180fan for around 30 minutes until bubbling and golden.

Wild boar and porcini forest pie- time to reinvent the classic cottage pie!

 

 

 

Pancetta wrapped cod loins with tomato and asparagus orzo

When the sun comes out, it’s time to get outdoors and enjoy a colourful meal before the clouds threaten again. In the UK we are about to see the end of this year’s asparagus season (boo!) so this is a perfect way of enjoying it before it goes. Orzo is rice grain shaped pasta which is great for cooking in risotto style as it is here as well as using for pasta bakes and salads. Unlike classic risotto, the stock can be added all in one go rather than one ladleful at a time. Next time you cook this try playing around with combinations such as cherry tomato, chorizo and red pepper which are equally as delicious.

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Ingredients- serves 2
Glug of olive oil
1 red onion- finely chopped
2 garlic cloves- finely chopped
50ml white wine
200g orzo
150g cherry tomatoes- halved
100g asparagus- chopped
300ml vegetable stock
Slices of pancetta
2 cod loins
1/2 tsp paprika

1. Add a glug of olive oil to a large pan that is large enough to hold the orzo. Gently cook the onion and garlic together until softening but not so they are turning golden. Pour in the white wine and simmer until it is reduced by half.

2. Stir in the orzo until it is well coated in the onion mixture. Pop the halved tomatoes and chopped asparagus into the pan. Add the stock little by little until the orzo starts to turn tender and the tomatoes will break down to form a light sauce. If you are using fine asparagus then you may like to add this in slightly later in the cooking of the orzo. You are aiming for the asparagus to retain a little crunch to add texture.

3. Meanwhile, you can prepare the cod. Preheat the oven to 180c/ 160 fan. Depending on how big the cod loins are and the size of the pancetta slices, lay -pancetta slices on a chopping board so they slightly overlap and are the length of the cod loin. Season the cod well with salt, pepper and paprika and wrap one of the cod pieces in it; repeat for the other loin. Take a small frying pan and add a small splash of oil, heating it to medium. Place the wrapped loins seal side down into the pan and fry for a couple of minutes. If the pan you are using is ovenproof then pop the cod straight into the oven for around 10-12 minutes until the cod is cooked. If it is not ovenproof then use a baking sheet to cook the cod on instead. When the pancetta is cooked and crisped it is ready to serve on top of the orzo. Serve immediately.

Pancetta wrapped cod loin with tomato and asparagus orzo- a colourful dish to cheer up anyone’s day!

 

Porcini mushroom, tomato and pancetta pasta

This is one of my go- to recipes for the middle of the week when you are after a satisfying yet lighter meal so I know you’ll love it too!

If there is one thing I can’t resist it’s a good old mushroom! Any variety keeps me happy however porcini keeps me very happy! In the UK you can pick up some decent dried mushrooms so I have used these here. You can use porcini by itself or a mixed selection of wild dried mushrooms if you can get them. The delicate earthiness of the mushroom weighs up the mouthwatering saltiness of the pancetta beautifully.

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Ingredients- serves 2
50g unsalted butter
50g pancetta- cubed
1 crushed garlic clove
20g dried porcini or mixed wild mushrooms
6 vine ripened tomatoes
1 small red chilli- dried or fresh
Handful of torn basil
150g dried penne or gigli

1. Before anything else you need to rehydrate the mushrooms by soaking them in  warm water. This usually takes around 10 minutes andthe mushrooms should feel soft when they are ready. Try and buy the best quality mushrooms you can and you really well tell the difference; your after decent sized pieces rather than mushroom dust!

2. Get a small non- stick pan and fry the pancetta cubes over a medium heat until they begin to turn golden. I don’t add any extra butter or oil to fry these as the natural fats do the trick. Remove the pancetta from the pan and blot on kitchen towel.

3. For the next stage you need a medium sized pan and melt 30g of the butter over a moderate heat. Add the garlic and snip the chilli into the pan and cook for 2 minutes. As a self- confessed chilli lover I think there is a time and place for dried chilli and this is one of them. Remember that dried chillies also contain seeds so remove them if you prefer a milder heat.

4. Quarter the tomatoes (or into sixths if they are larger) and add to the pan with the chilli and garlic. Simmer over a low heat for 10 minutes so that they tomatoes begin to reduce down and create a sauce. I then add the pancetta, softened mushrooms and the torn basil back into the pan and simmer for another 15 minutes. I  add some of the basil at this stage and save the rest to serve so it doesn’t disappear to nothing or go bitter. The sauce should be chunky and thick so that it coats the pasta.

5. Cook the pasta as per the cooking instructions and drain well. Add the remaining butter to the pasta and stir so each piece is coated. Combine the pasta and sauce and then it’s ready to go! Tear over a little extra basil and offer parmesan alongside. Using the best parmesan you can afford adds a little touch of luxury.

Porcini and pancetta- a perfectly moreish combination!

Kale, butternut squash and pancetta gnocchi

Kale, butternut squash and pancetta gnocchi combines many of my favourite ingredients in a light yet rich sauce to welcome in autumn in the coming weeks. Food should be colourful and vibrant and it certainly is! I have used a simple white sauce base with a touch of parmesan, garlic and red onion to lift and enhance the flavours of the vegetables but it would also be delicious with a mascarpone sauce if you prefer. Gnocchi is easy to buy and quick to cook and, as I baked it, I didn’t need to boil it before cooking so it’s even quicker!

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Ingredients- serves 4
500g fresh gnocchi
Olive oil
75g cubed pancetta
2 cloves of garlic- crushed
1 red onion- finely chopped
1 small butternut squash- cut into small dice
200g bag of kale- washed, tough stalks removed and shredded
Small handful of fresh sage- finely chopped

For the white sauce
40g unsalted butter
40g plain flour
250ml double cream
250ml milk
75g freshly grated parmesan

1. Get started by preheating the oven to 180c/ 160 fan; you don’t want the oven too high so the vegetables and gnocchi don’t catch and burn. Take a large frying pan and add a glug of oil over a medium heat. Fry off the pancetta cubes until turning slightly golden, remove from the pan and set aside. Use the frying pan again and cook the onion and garlic for a couple of minutes until beginning to soften before adding the diced butternut squash. I fried the onion and garlic in the pan with the remaining pancetta juices for extra flavour. Turn the heat down to low/ medium and cook for a further few minutes. Add in the shredded kale, sage and cooked pancetta and cover the pan with a lid or foil. Cook down until the butternut squash is tender and the kale is steamed.

2. Meanwhile, you can make the white sauce. Take a medium pan and melt the butter and flour together over a medium heat. Mix together the cream and milk and gradually add to the pan; don’t rush it! If lumps appear, simply take the pan off the heat and whisk it until they disappear and continue on. When the sauce has thickened, take the pan off the heat, season and add half of the parmesan (the rest will be used as a topping for the gnocchi bake).

3. When the squash and kale mix and sauce is ready, take a large roasting dish and place the gnocchi in the bottom. Add the white sauce of the vegetables and make sure each piece is well coated before tossing through the gnocchi. Sprinkle the remaining parmesan over the top and a drizzle of oil and bake for half an hour or until golden. I covered the dish with foil for the first half of cooking and then removed it to finish it off. Serve is warmed bowls and dig in!

And there you have it- kale, butternut squash and pancetta gnocchi with a light creamy sauce. The perfect way to get in the autumnal mood! I mean, look, who could resist these colours in the pan?…

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