Category Archives: Recipes

Pumpkin Soup topped with Bacon, Crème Fraîche and Toasted Seeds

Every Halloween I have to make something with pumpkin. I imagine I’m not the only one. It would be an absolute crime to buy a pumpkin for carving purposes and to throw away the insides! Well, not actually crime (as far as I know) but it would be very, very wasteful!

Last year I used mini pumpkins – munchkins – and stuffed risotto into them. This year I made pumpkin soup. Perfect for Halloween and also for any evening when you’re just too tired to chew! The pumpkin can be substituted with butternut squash if you’re not making this in October.

Utterly warming, soothing and delicious… it went down very well – and quickly!

Pumpkin Soup topped with Bacon, Crème Fraîche and Toasted Seeds
Serves 4

– 1kg pumpkin flesh (that’s about 1 medium or 2 smaller pumpkins)
– 7 tbsps olive oil
– 1 cinnamon stick
– ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
– 25g salted butter
– 1 large onion
– 500ml hot vegetable stock
– 6 tbsp crème fraîche plus extra for serving
– 160g smoked bacon lardons

1. Preheat oven to 200°/Gas Mark 6/400° Fahrenheit. If you want to serve the soup inside a hollowed out pumpkin then cut the top off of it, scoop out the seeds and fibres from the middle and set aside the seeds for later. Using a knife and a spoon, scoop out the pumpkin flesh leaving around 1cm of flesh around the sides of the pumpkin.

2. Place the pumpkin onto a foiled baking tray and cover with 4 tbsps of olive oil. In a pestle and mortar, crush up the cinnamon stick as much as you can and scatter it across the pumpkin. Finally using a micro-grater grate the nutmeg onto the pumpkin as well. Season the pumpkin with salt and pepper and using your hands smoosh together all of the spices, seasoning and oil with the pumpkin. Roast in the oven for 35-40 minutes until tender and slightly browned.

3. When the pumpkin has been cooked take it out of the oven (leave the oven on though) and set aside, melt the butter in a large saucepan. Dice an onion and add to the saucepan. Fry for 10 minutes in the butter until soft. Add the pumpkin and then the stock and simmer everything together for 20 minutes.

4. Now it’s time to blend the soup! You can use a food processor or a hand blender. I used a hand blender with a small processing bowl and blitzed it in batches to get a smooth finish. Once processed, transfer to a smaller saucepan to warm through again. Add the crème fraîche and stir through, season to taste.

5. In a frying pan, add 1 tbsp of olive oil and fry the lardons until crispy. Scatter the pumpkin seeds onto a foiled baking tray, cover with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and place in the oven for 7-10 minutes.

6. Serve the soup in individual bowls or inside the pumpkin you hollowed out earlier. Finish with a swirl of crème fraîche and a generous topping of seeds and bacon. I served my soup with some tiger bread as well, because as bread goes, with its crackled crust, this looks the spookiest for a Halloween soup! Then it’s just a matter of dipping, dunking and devouring!


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Butternut Squash and Ricotta stuffed Cannelloni topped with Chestnuts

Leaves on the ground. Check. Temptation to put the heating on. Check. Getting darker earlier. Check. Urgent need for comfort food. Check. Yep, it’s autumn.

As the nights draw in, I love filling my cupboards with pasta, chocolate and cans of soup whilst also making sure there’s plenty of red wine in the rack too. Oreo cookies washed down with Malbec is a great supper when it’s too cold to venture out for supplies! :-)

Seriously though, here’s a scrummy autumnal recipe that will hopefully make you feel all warm inside… and full as well!

Butternut Squash and Ricotta stuffed Cannelloni topped with Chestnuts 
Serves 2

– 1 butternut squash
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 tablespoon of thyme leaves picked
– 100g Ricotta cheese
– 2 large handfuls of finely grated Parmesan
– ¼ whole nutmeg, finely grated
– Cannelloni (8-10 tubes)
– 150ml white wine
– 150ml double cream
– 1 clove of garlic, crushed
– Packet of vac-packed Chestnuts

1. Preheat oven to 200°/Gas Mark 6/400°F. Peel and dice the butternut squash. Put into a bowl with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of picked thyme leaves. Season and mix well before turning out onto an oven tray. Roast for 35 minutes or until tender and golden. Remove from the oven and mash up with a potato masher.  Leave your oven on for baking the pasta later.

2. Mix together 100g of ricotta, 1 large handful of grated Parmesan and ¼ whole nutmeg grated in a bowl. Add the mashed butternut squash, mix everything really well and season to taste.

3. Now get the cannelloni and stuff it with the butternut squash mixture. I used a piping bag without a nozzle to do mine. If you haven’t got a piping bag you can do the old Jamie Oliver trick of using a large sandwich bag with one of the corners snipped off. Any leftover mix can be spread along the sides of your ovenproof dish.

4. To make a creamy sauce to top the pasta, mix the double cream, white wine and garlic together on a low heat. Heat until it has reduced by about half. Season and pour over the filled pasta. Finally scatter over the other handful of Parmesan along with a large handful of roughly chopped vac-packed chestnuts. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the pasta is cooked. Serve with some buttered spinach to compliment the sweetness of the pasta dish. Eat before finding yourself a duvet and hitting the sofa.

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Salmon en Croute with Pesto and Creamed Spinach

Q: What do you do if all your fridge contains is 1 salmon fillet, a sheet of puff pastry, a sad-looking, half-eaten jar of green pesto, some spinach and double cream?

A: In true ‘Ready Steady Cook’ style, take a few minutes to stare intently at the ingredients and then set about making Salmon en Croute with Pesto and Creamed Spinach!

This is the situation I found myself in on a recent Thursday before the ‘Friday big shop’ arrived. As usual on a Thursday the fridge was bare apart from a few leftover ingredients. Please excuse any vague cooking instructions as this was cooking off-the-cuff!

Salmon en Croute with Pesto and Creamed Spinach
Serves 1

– 1 salmon fillet
– 250g sheet of puff pastry
– Tablespoon of green pesto
– A few gratings of Parmesan
– A few gratings of lemon zest
– 100g spinach
– 15g butter
– Tablespoon of double cream
– 1 egg, beaten

1. Roll out the pastry quite thin. Place the salmon in the middle. Season it well and spread the pesto on top. I also found some Parmesan and a lemon and so gave a grating of each of these onto the pesto for a bit of added flavour.

2. In a saucepan, heat the butter on a medium heat and when melted, add the spinach. When the spinach has wilted add the cream. Stir well until the spinach has cooked. Transfer to a bowl and put in the fridge to cool. Preheat the oven to 180°/350F/Gas Mark 4.

3. When the spinach has cooled, spoon it on top of the pesto. Assess how much of the pastry you need to wrap the salmon and trim off any excess. Wrap the salmon in the pastry and then turn it over onto a foiled tray so any folds you made are now on the underside.

4. Carefully score the top of the parcel with a criss-cross pattern and brush the salmon en croute with a beaten egg.

5. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until nice and golden. Serve with whatever you like. My bare fridge contained a few cherry tomatoes so those were halved and mixed with balsamic and extra virgin olive oil and placed on the plate along with a few more spinach leaves.


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Food Miles: Cornwall

Ok, so only 300 miles travelled this time! In fact, we travel them a fair amount since we have family in Padstow. The to-do list when we visit is always the same:

– Pasty
– Ice Cream
– Rick Stein Fish and Chips
– Paul Ainsworth Number 6

We never fail to complete our to-do list… probably because we are quite dedicated to it! Within hours of arriving we were down at The Chough in Padstow for an award-winning traditional steak pasty hot from the oven. A complete meal in your hands.

We then completed our second self-assigned task of fish and chips from Rick Stein’s relatively new chippy. You may have to queue, but it’s really worth it. The calamari (if in season) is my favourite though you’ll find all the traditional cod and plaice in fluffy Steins batter (which you can buy and take home). Side orders of mushy peas, garlic mayo and bread and butter are a must. You can also down an Oyster while you wait. There are cheaper chippys in town, but I think this is worth the extra.

Just 24 hours later we had our table at Number 6 – which has been made even more popular since Paul Ainsworth’s appearances on The Great British Menu in the South West category for the past couple of years. The food always amazes, for both its taste and its fun presentation. We ordered a duck ragu starter (Paul told us it only took a week to make the ragu!), melt-in-your mouth pork belly and ‘A Taste of the Fairground’ for dessert – the winning Great British Menu dish from Paul’s first year in the competition. Plus we ordered his dessert from this year’s competition too – a chocolate cake with a golden caramac sauce and pistachio cake. Yummy doesn’t even cut it.

Other great places to eat in and around Padstow include Rojano’s – an Italian restaurant recently acquired by Paul Ainsworth, with a well-thought out menu and well-flavoured food. The Basement Café is a fab place for a huge doorstep bread sandwich at lunch and is just a waddle away from the Bin2 wine shop were you can sup on a glass of wine on the patio. Just a 20 minute drive down the coast from Padstow takes you to Watergate Bay, home to Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall. With a beach view, it’s best to visit at lunchtime and enjoy some of the best Italian food I’ve had outside of Italy. We had starters of deep-fried courgette flowers stuffed with ricotta, mint and pea shoots along with an unusual but delicious risotto of peach, prosecco, mint and mozzarella. Followed by mains of pork ragu pasta and gnocchi we failed to make it to dessert :-(

Before leaving there was just enough time to squeeze in a Cornish cream tea (cream first and then the jam) and buy 12 pasties for our freezer. I think it’s safe to say that the cream tea has now earned its place on the ‘to-do list’ for our next visit. Dribble.

Banana and Nutella Cornish Pasty
Makes 2

A sweet Cornish Pasty using one of my favourites – Nutella!

– Plain flour for dusting
– 250g sheet puff pastry
– 2 bananas
– 2 tablespoons of Nutella
– 2 teaspoons demerara sugar
– 1 egg
To serve:
– Icing sugar
– Vanilla ice cream

1. Preheat your oven to 180°/Gas Mark 4. Flour a work surface and your rolling pin. Divide the 250g sheet of puff pasty into two. Roll out each portion fairly thinly until you have a pastry which you can cut an 8″/20cm circle out of it. Find something to use as a template and cut a circle and then discard the extra pastry.

2. Fold the pastry circles in two to make a crease in the middle and lay back out. You only want to fill the top half of the circle so you can use this line as a guide. Dollop the Nutella equally between the top halves of the two circles of pastry. Spread it a little but it is important to leave a good border around the edge of the pastry to seal it later.

3. Cut the bananas into rounds and place on top of the Nutella. Be careful not to overfill – you may not be able to fit the whole banana into the pastry. Finish with a sprinkling of sugar.

4. Beat the egg into a small dish and using a pastry brush lightly brush it around the edge of the circle of pastry. Now fold the bottom half up and seal the edges well with your fingers.

5. Next comes the crimping of the pasty! It’s not easy but thankfully YouTube is here to help! Check out this clip or freestyle something to seal the pasty! You could always use a fork and press it along the semi circle.

6. Egg wash the top of the pasty and place into the oven for 30-35 minutes until golden. Allow to cook slightly before dusting with some icing sugar and serving with vanilla ice cream. Sticky, gooey and delicious!


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Food Miles: Amalfi Coast

I was super excited to be visiting Italy again this summer after a gluttonous weekend in Milan in February.  This time we packed our bags for the Amalfi Coast where the food, people and scenery are completely different from that of Northern Italy. We had already been to Sorrento a whole 7 years ago – eugh getting old – and eaten our weight in Neopolitan pizza, downed with shots of limoncello. This time we stayed in the smaller town of Positano, a little further down the coast.

Soon after arriving we went in search of a lemon granita to cool us down. Amalfi lemons grow all over the coastline and up to the size of footballs. As well as making their way into granita and limoncello there’s also a tasty local dish of grilled mozzarella with lemon leaves where the gooey cheese is perfumed with the lemon from the leaves. Absolutely delicious. After our granita (we liked the stall at the top of the pedestrianised part of town), it was time for a light lunch at La Pergola – a little restaurant on the seafront. We had a great insalata caprese and some arancini filled with a Milanese risotto and served with a rich tomato sauce. Not a bad start to a week away!

The best restaurants are slightly out of town in the hillside village of Montepertuso. Don’t let the out-of-town location put you off though because the restaurants will come and collect you in a minibus and drop you back… for free! You do have to endure the slightly hair-raising ride up the winding mountain roads, swerving Vespas, but it’s worth it for the food at the top. By far the best place we went to was La Tagliata. There’s no menu, just a set price of 35 Euros for an absolute feast. Everything is home grown and so the menu is adapted to what’s in season and to what Mamma and Nonna feel like cooking! After we were seated we were served a welcome bruschetta topped with home grown tomatoes, basil and olive oil. Such a simple dish but with Italian grown tomatoes and basil and local extra virgin olive oil, it’s raised to new delicious heights. Next came an antipasti platter filled with more goodies from the garden – a dish of fagioli beans, chickpeas and peas covered in herbs and oil along with some melanzane parmigiana, a dish of spinach, potatoes and rapa and a plate of homemade ricotta and mozzarella with parma ham. And then comes the obligatory pasta course! We were treated to an assortment of “Nonna’s special pasta”, porcini fusilli, ricotta ravioli and gnocchi. All delicious though naturally very filling and we hadn’t even got to our main course. Eeeek!

The name La Tagliata means ‘cut of meat’ so it’s no surprise that the main course is a full-on meat feast which would probably feed 4, not 2 people! Accompanied by crispy fries and a lovely dressed salad the meat platter overflowed with grilled pork, rabbit, steak, chicken and spicy sausage. It’s a serious case of the meat sweats by the time you’ve finished. The dessert was squeezed in just before we burst – another selection of homemade goodies – an almond cake, profiteer rolls and “Mamma’s cake”. With just enough space for a complimentary limoncello shot, we waddled out and bundled back onto the now very heavy minibus back down to Positano.

Melanzane Parmigiana
Serves 2

Sorry that this is fast becoming an aubergine blog but I can’t help being crazy-obsessed with them. But so are the Italians, so I’m in good company. The Amalfi coast is home to melanzane parmigiana, a layered dish of fried aubergines, passata and cheese which is baked until gooey. Tasty hot or cold, I can’t get enough of it.

– 4 aubergines
– Salt
– 2 tbsps good olive oil or extra virgin olive oil
– 1 clove of garlic, crushed
– 1 anchovy fillet, chopped
– 3 cans peeled plum tomatoes
– Handful of fresh basil
– 12-16 tbsps olive oil
– 150g Parmesan, finely grated
– 1 ball of Mozzarella, chopped thinly
– Small handful of soft breadcrumbs

1. Trim the aubergines and slice them lengthways into 1cm slices.

2. Sprinkle the slices of aubergine fairly generously with table salt on both sides. Place into a colander and leave for 1 hour. This should take the bitterness out of the aubergines and will help them not to absorb too much olive oil when fried later on. After an hour, rinse the aubergines well so they won’t taste salty and pat dry with kitchen towel. Cover and leave to one side.

3. Now it’s time to make the tomato sauce for the Parmigiana. Heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil on a medium to high heat. When warm, add in the chopped garlic. Fry for a minute or so which will allow the garlic to give off an aroma but won’t be enough to burn it (which tastes gross). Add in the chopped anchovy along with the tomatoes. Break the tomatoes up best you can with a wooden spoon. When the sauce starts to bubble, turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook like this for 30 minutes. A few minutes before the end of the cooking time, season with pepper (the anchovy will make the sauce salty enough) and tear in most of the basil leaves.

4. While the sauce is cooking, you can start frying the aubergine slices. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to a frying pan on a medium-high heat. Fry the aubergine slices in batches until soft and golden on both sides. Although salted, the slices will soak up a lot of the oil so you’ll need to add a splash when the pan gets dry and another couple of tablespoons at the start of each batch you are frying. When cooked, set aside on some kitchen towel to drain.

5. Now comes the big build! First, preheat your oven to 190°/Gas Mark 5/375°F. Take an ovenproof dish and place a couple of big spoonfuls of sauce at the bottom. Give a generous scatter of Parmesan on top followed by a layer of aubergines. Keep repeating until the sauce, aubergines and cheese are finished. Arrange the Mozzarella slices on the top of the dish with some remaining basil leaves. Finally scatter over the breadcrumbs and then bake for 30 minutes.

6. If you can, leave it to rest for 15 minutes before serving. I managed to wait for just 5.


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Pasta alla Norma

I’ve probably mentioned more than once that I have a fiendish love of aubergines. I like them best when they are olive oil sodden but smoked aubergines in a baba ganoush dip are equally as good.

Sicily is one of the best aubergine destinations on the planet. After spending 2 weeks there in 2007 and doing lots of sightseeing, the most memorable parts of my trip were mounds of caponata as well as this Sicilian aubergine dish – Pasta alla Norma. It’s quick to make and easy to please and here’s the recipe.

Pasta alla Norma
Serves 2

– 3 tbsp olive oil
– 1 onion, finely chopped
– 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
– 2 anchovy fillets in oil, drained and chopped
– 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
– Small pinch of chilli flakes
– 1 aubergine
– Dried pasta (tube shaped pasta is good, I used De Cecco’s Tortiglioni). I used about 250g for 2 people but I am known to good too much pasta!
– Small handful of basil, chopped plus a few extra leaves for serving
– 2 tablespoons of ricotta
– 50g Parmesan, grated

1. Fry the onion in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil on a medium-high heat. When soft, add the 2 cloves of crushed garlic followed by the anchovies and tin of tomatoes. Season well with salt, pepper and a small pinch of chilli flakes. Cook the sauce for at least 30 minutes on a low heat, or for up to an hour if you have the time. If at any time the sauce runs dry, don’t worry, just add a little water to the mix.

2. Halve the aubergine lengthways and then cut into vertical strips. Then slice the strips into 4 or 5 pieces width ways so you end up with little rectangles of aubergine. Fry in a pan on a medium-high heat containing the other 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Fry until golden and if the pan gets dry, drizzle over a little more oil. Drain and set aside.

3. Cook the pasta according to the pack instructions in salty water until al dente. Drain and add to the tomato sauce. Add the aubergine and the basil and stir well. Turn off the heat but leave the pan on the hob and allow everything to cook together for a few minutes.

4. Traditionally Pasta alla Norma is topped with ricotta salata which is ricotta that has been salted and dried. It is harder in texture to standard ricotta and can therefore be grated. However, you’ll be hard-pushed to find some without visiting a specialist shop. Instead, I spoon the pasta into bowls and add dots of standard ricotta around the dish. Top with grated Parmesan and decorate with a few basil leaves. Eat immediately!

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The Luther Burger

Luther Burger

Never too much, never too much, never too much.

Well, in all honesty, 1 of these kind of was for me! And I blame my good friend Rich. You see Rich is doing something new every day in 2012 for charity and then blogging the results. Some of my favourites over the past 6 ½ months have got to be:

– Chased a duck
– Got chased my geese
– Crossed a ford (and lost his socks)
– Took a bath in a suit
– Ran around his garden, naked, in a snow storm (his wife told me he then caught man flu)

He’s also tried and cooked many new foods and dishes, a couple of which I’ve helped with:

– Made a Herman the German Friendship Cake
– Tried a stinging nettle curry
– Took on the cinnamon challenge (and failed!)
– Made a Celebrations toastie
– Cooked American pancakes with bacon and maple syrup
– Ate a curry cooked in a pineapple

You can read more about his exploits on his blog and make a donation here. You can also suggest something new and crazy for him to do!

A colleague of Rich’s suggested The Luther Burger as something new. The Luther Burger originates from Georgia, USA. It’s so called after Luther Vandross. The interweb doesn’t really confirm why, but it’s thought that he had one. Coming in at a massive 800-1,500 calories a Luther Burger is your standard burger, served in a Krispy Kreme doughnut. Oh Yes. Traditionally, the doughnut is opened and grilled on the inside, then eaten with the glazed side touching the meat, but we preferred ours the other way around.

When Rich suggested this to me, I was up for it. In my mind, it worked. After all, bacon and maple syrup work wonderfully together. Same goes for caramelised onions and barbequed meat. And the Luther Burger does work! It’s very tasty. But I just couldn’t eat a whole one again!

The Luther Burger 
Serves 1 (or 2 if sharing – recommended!)

-1 good quality beef burger
– A slice of burger cheese
– 1 rasher of smoky bacon
– 1 original glazed Krispy Kreme

1. Simply barbeque your burger and stack the cheese and bacon on top.

2. Open the Krispy Kreme and lightly toast the inside on the barbeque.

3. Serve the burger inside the doughnut with the glazed side on top or on the meat, as you prefer. Find someone to share it with you!


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