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Another piece of pumpkin? Don’t mind if I do.

6 Nov

Normally we are left with a fair amount of pumpkin flesh after the annual Halloween carving. This leaves me with enough of a problem at the best of times, but this year Mrs G had excelled herself in the garden and produced three behemoths all of which needed using up so we could reclaim the kitchen from their mighty bulk.

This took a fair amount of willpower as I don’t find pumpkin to be the most exciting fruit in the world (it is actually a fruit isn’t it?).

The result was a three meal pumpkin marathon, using them in a slightly different way each time to try to trick the palate.

Day One: Pumpkin soup

Day Two: Roast pumpkin and red onions (to accompany a rack of lamb)

Day Three: Pumpkin risotto

This felt a little  bit like pulling this blog back to its roots as a frugal (but good) eating guide, so it appealed as a challenge. I can’t say I really revised my opinion of the big orange blighters though.

Pumpkin soup

I stuck to a well-reviewed Good Food recipe here, but followed the advice of one of the commenters and added some cumin and cayenne pepper to spice it up a little. This didn’t go unnoticed by Gastronomes Junior who did an impression of people who had been force-fed a chicken vindaloo, but they did pronounce it ‘OK’. Mrs G was more charitable and volunteered the opinion that it was ‘great soup’ on more than a few occasions. We had it with a chunky seedy bread and it was very pleasant. I wouldn’t go out of my way to make it again, but it consumed an entire pumpkin and for that reason alone deserves a place in the recipe folder for next year.

Roast pumpkin and red onions

This is a Bill Grainger recipe from his ‘Everyday’ book. I thought it would go nicely with a rack of lamb that was in the freezer and as the recipe called for a honey dressing for the pumpkin I though the rack would go well with a mustard crust. In the end the pumpkin was actually the star of this dish as the lamb turned out to be very disappointing. Even I can’t blame that on the pumpkin though – the meat was just too fatty to be pleasant. I would definitely make this again with a better cut of meat, or even as a one pot with some pancetta if I upped the quantities. As a side dish this hardly dented the pumpkin though.

Pumpkin risotto

Enthusiasm fading, but pumpkin surplus still weighing on my mind, the final (or so I hoped) recipe was a risotto. Googling ‘pumpkin risotto’ served up a plethora of options, but there was a common theme running through them all – sage. This was a problem as I was without sage. Remove the sage, and there was very little consistency in the recipes. Some involved puréeing the pumpkin, some frying, some boiling. Some added mushrooms, others were remarkably plain. I realised early on that not having the right ingredients for any particular recipe was going to involve some creativity, or to put it another way, making it up as I went along.

I fried some onion and garlic, then added some chopped mushrooms and pumpkin. Next in went some white wine and the risotto rice, followed by vegetable stock. The secret ingredient was tarragon and a sprinkling of parmesan which added a little flavour to this beyond a plain risotto, but to be honest I was slightly unnerved while eating it. Something just wasn’t right – I couldn’t say what, but I didn’t really devour it eagerly.

…Special bonus pumpkin pasta

I’m too good to you. Before this post was even published I decided that you would feel short-changed by only three ‘delicious’ pumpkin recipes and so I am bravely tackling day four of the endurance test.

This time pasta is to be the pumpkin vehicle of choice, but I’m not leaving anything to chance here and making sure I include a large helping of the Lazy Gastronome’s ingredient d’année – chorizo. With any luck it will mask the pumpkin blandness…read on for the results.

5 easy steps to the best pumpkin recipe of the week

1. Pan fry some onion and garlic for 5 minutes

2. Add a handful of diced pumpkin and fry for a further 5 minutes

3. Add a handful of diced chorizo and keep on frying, but with the heat turned low

4. Boil some pasta to taste and toss with shredded mozzarella

5. Eat – hurray, a great pumpkin recipe at last!

So after all that did I shift the pumpkin mountain? Actually I hardly scratched it. The last three recipes alone were serviced by less than one-third of a single pumpkin. They really are a pain in the neck to get rid of. Alas, I will now be getting rid of the rest in the compost heap which is perhaps the most fitting end. Back into the soil, ready to contribute to the growing of yet another ridiculous haul of pumpkins for next year.

Refreshing free-form halloumi and asparagus lasagne

26 Apr

Freeform halloumi and asparagus lasagne

I had a craving for lasagne last night. I also had a full fridge, but it wasn’t full of mince or mozzarella, so this required some creative thinking.

The answer was free-form halloumi and asparagus lasagne, or to give it its full title – free-form halloumi, asparagus, tomato, pesto, watercress…. lasagne.

It was, as the title of the post implies, pretty refreshing and although I had a big portion I felt as though I definitely could have managed some more. On the scale of faff, from ‘so quick you can cook it quicker than you can say it’ to ‘start the prep a week before because there are 100 processes’ this fell somewhere in the middle. Total prep and cook time was around 45 minutes, but it was 45 minutes of near constant effort.

That effort was well worth it and I’m already planning some refinements for another attempt in a few weeks. It will probably work just as well with whatever vegetables you choose to fill it with. The pesto was definitely trying to overpower the asparagus, but the asparagus just about held its own.

Ingredients (for 2)

8 sheets of dried egg lasagne
2 plum tomatoes
1 pack of halloumi
200g of asparagus
5 tablespoons of green pesto (from a jar)
Olive oil
Chilli-infused oil (optional)
Parmesan shavings
Black pepper

Preparation

Heat the oven to 170°c.

Cook the lasagne sheets according to packet instructions.

Meanwhile slice the tomatoes into thick slices and pan fry over a high heat until slightly charred on both side. Reserve the tomatoes for later.

Repeat with the asparagus spears until charred, and reserve.

Repeat with the halloumi (you getting the idea here?).

Mix the pesto with a good glug of olive oil, or chilli oil, to loosen it up.

Place 2 sheets of cooked lasagne on a non-stick baking tray and start to layer up your lasagne – halloumi, asparagus, tomatoes, pesto, lasagne. Repeat until ingredients are used up, topping off with a lasagne sheet and some black pepper.

Tip over any juices that are left in the frying pan, or pesto oil.

Place in the oven for 7 minutes.

When cooked through remove and push watercress leaves between some of the layers. Top with some parmesan shavings.

 

 

Lightning quick Thai butternut squash curry

18 Apr

Quick butternut squash thai curry

Yesterday I was planning on cooking some purple flowering brocoli with a Thai dressing,  but as that didn’t seem to constitute an entire meal, was hoping to serve it with a piece of meat. Rummaging in the freezer only turned up an uninspiring selection of cuts, but more helpfully did turn up a frozen moussaka which was the path of least resistance to dinner and the brocoli remained in the fridge.

Twenty-four hours later I was still in the mood for Thai, but the brocoli was demoted from star to supporting artist in a very quick red curry dish that was based closely on this recipe from Tesco.

The variation in my version came from substituting mushrooms with the purple sprouting brocoli. I can’t say whether or not this was an improvement or not, and the brocoli didn’t seem to totally fit, but it felt like an awful lot of my five a day in one dish. I also couldn’t 100% argue that the tomatoes were a perfect bed fellow to a creamy coconut sauce, but there was definitely contrast to the flavours.

Butternut squash is a wonderful vehicle for a Thai sauce, particularly when it’s done well enough to melt in the mouth.

Wild garlic pesto

10 Apr

Wild garlic pesto

I’m not one for foraging, not for lack of desire, but more because I have an excellent sense of my own mortality. I have no desire to end up at A&E of an evening having my stomach pumped to remove the consequences of mixing up a delicious edible wild herb with ‘black devil killer wort’ or such like.

However, one piece of the free harvest it’s more difficult to mistake is wild garlic which seems to thrive in most wooded areas where I walk the dogs. It’s a voracious spreader and so although you shouldn’t go digging up whole clumps it can probably cope with you plucking a few handfuls at a time (please check though that you have permission to do so first). There’s no mistaking it. Pick a leaf, snap it and rub it between your fingers. A garlic infusion will fill the air.

Having said there’s no mistaking it, not doing so relies entirely on smell as it’s pretty similar to the poisonous lily of the valley in appearance. If you are olfactorily challenged, take a friend with you.

The easiest and most delicious thing to do with wild garlic is to turn it into a pesto. In the photo on this post Mrs G did just that and we served it with gnocchi. Totally delicious, and the principal ingredient is free and plentiful!

Ingredients

Handful of wild garlic leaves
Half a block of feta
2 tablespoons of pine nuts
Pinch of salt
Splash of olive oil

Preparation

This couldn’t be easier. Blitz all the ingredients in a food processor. Stir into pasta or gnocchi.

The magic ingredients that never fail

29 Feb

Do you have a go-to ingredient in your fridge – something that you reach for when you know that what you are cooking needs a little pep? I don’t mean spice, although it might be. I’m talking about something that makes you think that there is nothing this ingredient can’t achieve.

I have two and I’m about to reveal them.

Pancetta

Not to be confused with lardons, or ‘bacon bits’, proper Italian cubed pancetta is a miracle ingredient. Pasta, risotto, lentil dishes, stews – it works with and enhances them all. Sometimes it’s the main player such as in my instant carbonara recipe. More often it’s the sidekick, augmenting the principle meat, or adding a saltiness to vegetables. For some reason I haven’t had in the fridge for the last couple of weeks and I’ve really missed it. Why I haven’t had it in stock is anyone’s guess as it lasts forever (slight exaggeration), so there is no excuse for not stocking up.

Chipotle paste

The chili pepper is dead – long live chipotle paste. It’s not appropriate for everything, but the smokey heat of this miracle paste is a quick and easy way to add spice to all mexican food like my chorizo, chipotle and potato wraps. I believe I’ve only scratched the surface of its versatility.

What are your never-fail ingredients? Please use the comments below to let me know!

The snack of kings – fresh made bread and butter

6 Feb

Fresh made bread and butterI was working at home today and feeling a little peckish and a little unwell (paradox eh?) but the house was not blessed with snacking opportunities.

I was about to eat the table when I remembered that I had baked a lovely crusty loaf the day before and it was sitting on the worktop waiting to be scoffed.

Delicious seedy bread with a thick smear of butter (olive spread to be precise)  – can there be anything nicer in this world?

I’ve always loved bread, but it’s something I’ve never taken the time to bake in large quantities. This effort was a bit of cheat. – Allinson Seed & Grain White Bread Flour. I mixed it in the breadmaker, let the dough rise once, removed and kneaded it, then let it rise again over the woodburner for an hour.

Leaving aside the fact that it could have had a little more salt, it was a near-perfect loaf (not that I’m taking the credit).

I’m resolving to bake more because the next time I want a snack, I know what I’ll be craving.

(Probably) the best pizza dough in the world

5 Feb

Home made pizzaMrs G made the assertion the other day that home-made pizza is massively superior to the shop-bought version and probably better than anything you would find in a restaurant.

I’m not 100% sure that I agree with her, but I am of the opinion that one of the ingredients is best when it comes from your kitchen and that’s the dough.

At this point I should own up to the fact that I don’t hand knead my pizza dough from scratch, but I do make it in my breadmaker. It’s one of the simplest doughs there is – flour, water, olive oil, salt, sugar and yeast. 90 minutes of grinding, stirring and rising later and it’s ready.

Can there be a better sensation in this world that taken a freshly-risen dough and molding it into shape? It’s a velvet cushion for your fingers – like all the best stress relieving toys in the world, all rolled into one.

And the taste and texture once baked is fantastic. The crusts on the pizza rise quickly into delicious peaks – crusty on the outside, soft and smooth on the inside. I never find anything like it from the supermarket where the crusts are flat and unexciting, or even from the restaurant where the dough is tossed so thinly as to make it almost non-existent.

Strangely, the closest thing to it commercially is from Pizza Hut (Deep Pan of course) where the dough is actually thick enough to have some presence.

If you don’t like pizza then can I suggest to you that you make pizza dough in the breadmaker anyway and turn it into rolls? It’s actually superior to most of the recipes you get for rolls anyway.

Dough recipe

Makes enough for 2 large pizzas

450g strong white bread flour (although plain works brilliantly as well)
275ml water
2 tsp caster sugar
2 tsp salt
2 tsp olive oil
1 packet of quick rising yeast (for breadmakers)

Run it through the dough setting on your breadmaker – mine takes 90 minutes

Fat babies – not a pepper substitute

21 Jan

Fat babiesWe’ve been growing fat babies in our vegetable patch for a couple of years. Also known as Achocha, this weird looking vegetable (a fruit to be exact) markets itself as two ingredients in one.

When young the spiny fruit are supposedly a cucumber substitute. This I can believe. They are watery and slightly tasteless, but inoffensive.

When mature they become less watery, the skin separates from the seeds and advocates claim they are a substitute for peppers.

A few months ago I had a chance to test this out. It’s the end of the season and the harvest was in. Fat babies were all over the kitchen and needed to be consumed.

Options were limited. The following day the kitchen was being ripped out and cookware was not easily accessible. I decided to sweat down some red onions, slowly fry up some fat babies in an effort to caramelise them and toss in the remains of a Sainsbury chorizo. Toss it in some pasta and you have the dish of kings – right?

Wrong.

Fat babies are not a pepper substitute. They never grow out of their cucumber phase. They need a gallon of parmesan to provide any taste. They are spiky to boot.

I’m not 100% sure that had I used red peppers instead it would have been any better, but I know for sure I will be harvesting the fat babies a little earlier next year. Or baking them in a chili for 2 hours.