Mushroom & Lentil Pappardelle Bolognese

If there is one thing that I really, really miss, it is Bolognese sauce; one made properly from an authentic and traditional Italian recipe. By definition a Bolognese sauce is thick, aromatic and meaty, my wife is a vegetarian so by definition she cannot and will not eat Bolognese.

I do make a proper Bolognese occasionally, when we have a large family gathering for example, but that doesn’t cover those evenings when I have a yearning for forbidden fruit. I have experimented with making my own vegetarian versions, and scoured the recipe books for more ideas, but I have never quite managed to nail it.

Yesterday evening it finally happened, and I have Jamie Oliver to thank for it. Tucked quietly away in a quarter page of the Jan/Feb 2017 issue of Jamie Magazine is this amazing recipe which, with just a couple of tweaks, hits the nail absolutely on the head. The secret, I find, is mushrooms. By the time this sauce is finished there is no visible sign that they were ever there, but their impact is huge, imparting a succulence to the finished dish that is the closest you will ever get to a true ragu while completely avoiding meat.

My vegan daughter will be visiting soon, I can’t wait to see her reaction to this.

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RECIPE – serves 4

for the tomato sauce:

2 tbsp olive oil

2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 tsp dried oregano

2 tins of chopped tomatoes

1 tsp fish sauce

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

for the soffritto:

1 carrot

1 onion

2 cloves of garlic

1 stick of celery

olive oil

fresh bay leaves

½ a bunch of fresh thyme, leaves picked

for the ragu:

4 large portobello mushrooms

100 g dried Puy lentils

400 ml dark vegetable stock

to serve:

350 g dried pappadelle

½ a bunch of fresh young basil leaves

Parmesan cheese

to make it vegan:

use wholemeal pasta, and a vegan cheese substitute


METHOD

First, prepare the tomato sauce: add the garlic with 2 tbsp oil in a large cold pan and heat over a medium flame, cook gently for a minute or two until aromatic, then add the chilli flakes and oregano. Cook for a further minute, allowing the flavours to infuse the oil, then add the tomatoes and fish sauce. Mix thoroughly, bring to the boil, then simmer gently for an hour to allow the sauce to reduce, thicken and intensify. It should have reduced by about half in this time.

After an hour, add the red wine vinegar and cook for a couple of minutes. Do not season the sauce at this point. You can set the sauce aside for a few hours or overnight to allow the flavours to develop further. You can of course just carry straight on…

While the tomato sauce is bubbling away, make the soffritto: peel the carrot, onion and garlic, trim the celery and roughly chop it all. Add to a food processor and pulse until everything is finely chopped.

Heat a good splash of oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the chopped veg mixture and bay leaves, pick in the thyme leaves, turn the heat down low, cover with a cartouche and soften for around 20 minutes.

*Tip: Sweating vegetables under a piece of parchment is known as using a cartouche. It is a way of cooking that simultaneously sweats and steams the vegetables, extracting maximum flavour in minimum time.

Cut a square of baking parchment that is slightly larger than the surface area of your pan, push it down so it sits on top of your sweating vegetables and then tuck the sides down so the vegetables are completely covered. Keep the heat low and after a few minutes check to see that nothing is catching on the bottom of the pan, then re-cover and continue to sweat them until they are as soft as you need them to be and the aroma is filling your kitchen.

Blitz the mushrooms in the food processor until finely chopped. Add to the pan and cook for 3 minutes, until softened.

Stir in the lentils and stock, reduce the heat to low and pop a lid on. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. If you made your tomato sauce earlier then add it now, if it is still reducing then just add it when it is ready.

When the lentils are almost done, cook the pappardelle according to the packet instructions in salted water at a rolling boil, until al dente.

Season the Bolognese sauce now, once the lentils are fully cooked, then drain the pasta and stir it through the Bolognese sauce. Pick the basil leaves and sprinkle over the Bolognese with a good grating of Parmesan to serve.

Sesame Salmon, Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Sweet Potato Mash

We had a fish-hating visitor staying with us last week, so in deference to her we had ten days of lentils, pulses, vegetables and soups. All lovely stuff, but man did I miss the fish…

It was the salmon fillets that initially attracted me to this recipe in the current issue of BBC Good Food magazine, that and the fact that every ingredient here works perfectly with everything else.  What I wasn’t prepared for was just how good the sweet potato mash was (I wax lyrical about it here), and the alchemy that occurs when you put this particular set of ingredients together in this way. The first mouthful was a ‘WOW’ moment, and it only got better from there.

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RECIPE – serves 2 

For the marinade:

1/2 tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp dark soy sauce

a large knob of fresh ginger, finely chopped

1 fat garlic clove, peeled and crushed

1 tsp runny honey

For the sweet potato mash:

2 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into wedges

1 lime, cut into wedges

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 red chilli, de-seeded and thinly sliced

a pinch of sea salt

And the rest:

2 boneless, skinless salmon fillets

250g purple sprouting broccoli

1 tbsp sesame seeds


METHOD

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan / Gas 6.

Mix the marinade ingredients together in a small bowl.

Pat the salmon fillets dry with kitchen paper and season lightly, then line a baking tray with baking parchment and spread the purple sprouting broccoli in a single layer. Then put the salmon fillets on top of the broccoli and spoon the marinade over the salmon and broccoli. Roast in the oven for 12-15 minutes until the salmon is just cooked.

Meanwhile, make the mash: scrub the sweet potatoes clean and cut away any rough bits, otherwise leave the skin on. Cut each potato into eight wedges, and the lime also into eight wedges. Put the sweet potato and lime wedges into a large glass bowl and cover with cling film.

Microwave on high power for three minutes. Leave to stand for a couple of minutes then microwave for three more minutes. Repeat this process until the sweet potato is completely soft; it took me a total of 11 minutes of cooking – I judged that the last blast in the microwave should only be two minutes.

Remove from the microwave and take out the lime wedges. You should see a puddle of hot lime juice in the bottom of the bowl, leave that there and roughly mash the sweet potatoes with the lime juice, using a fork. Add the chilli and sesame oil with a small pinch of salt, then mash until fairly smooth.

Check the seasoning of the mash, scatter the sesame seeds over the cooked salmon and serve the mash, salmon and broccoli with a simple green salad.

The Most Incredible Sweet Potato Mash EVER!

I can be a bit of a snob in the kitchen; for example, in my house the microwave gets used to reheat leftover curry and that’s about it. The concept of actually cooking with it is entirely alien to me. So, when I spotted this recipe for microwaved sweet potato mash in the current issue of BBC Good Food magazine I was dubious that I would get the results that I wanted.

What swayed me toward making the mash in the microwave, rather than roasting the sweet potatoes then scooping out and mashing the flesh as I normally would, was the tantalising prospect of what the limes in the recipe would do when they were microwaved with the sweet potato.

What happened next was very exciting indeed: this is without doubt THE most perfect sweet potato mash I have ever tasted. The magic is what happens when the limes release their juice into the sweet potato, and sesame oil turns out to be the perfect seasoning for sweet potato.

It is one of those side dishes that not only tastes wonderful but is low-calorie while being filling – so it is perfect for those following the 5:2 diet, or any diet at all – it is completely dairy-free yet deliciously creamy so it is perfect for vegans. It will work alongside a whole host of dishes, for all tastes and from many cuisines. This has gone straight to the top of the ‘must make again, and soon’ list, I shall be experimenting like crazy…

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RECIPE – serves 2 as a side dish

2 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into wedges

1 lime, cut into wedges

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 red chilli, de-seeded and thinly sliced

a pinch of sea salt


METHOD

Scrub the sweet potatoes clean and cut away any rough bits, otherwise leave the skin on. Cut each potato into eight wedges, and the lime also into eight wedges. Put the sweet potato and lime wedges into a large glass bowl and cover with cling film.

Microwave on high power for three minutes. Leave to stand for a couple of minutes then microwave for three more minutes. Repeat this process until the sweet potato is completely soft; it took me a total of 11 minutes of cooking – I judged that the last blast in the microwave should only be two minutes.

Remove from the microwave and take out the lime wedges. You should see a puddle of hot lime juice in the bottom of the bowl, leave that there and roughly mash the sweet potatoes with the lime juice, using a fork. Add the chilli and sesame oil with a small pinch of salt, then mash until fairly smooth. Check the seasoning and serve.

Moroccan Prawns with Paprika and Honey

It’s been a while since I made a stir-fry. I kept telling myself I didn’t have time to make one… if you have ever made a stir-fry you will know how absolutely ridiculous that statement is. There is generally a lot of chopping involved in a stir-fry, but the cooking takes mere minutes. This recipe doesn’t even involve much chopping, so it’s super-quick.

The paprika, ginger and honey do a sexy little dance on your tastebuds, it’s a bit like sweet ‘n’ sour but not quite – however you care to define it, it is absolutely delicious. It works all by itself with some flatbread as a starter, or you can cook up some Basmati rice and it makes a great evening meal. I made this with Basmati rice with butter and lemon, I cannot begin to tell you how well they go together.

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RECIPE – serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course

50g butter

4 tbsp olive oil

3 banana shallots, finely chopped

1 long green chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped

3 fat cloves of garlic, finely sliced

a big thumb of ginger, finely chopped

1 tsp paprika

250g peeled raw tiger prawns

250g large tiger prawns, shell on

the juice of half a lemon

2 tbsp runny honey

the zest of half a lemon

a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

lemon wedges, to serve


METHOD

First, prepare all your ingredients, this cooks quickly so you need to have everything to hand.

In a large pan or wok, melt the butter with the oil and when it is hot fry the shallots for a couple of minutes until translucent.

Add the chilli, garlic and ginger and cook for a further couple of minutes, then add the paprika, stir thoroughly then add all the prawns. Stir-fry over a medium heat – adding the lemon juice part-way through – for a few minutes until the prawns are just pink, they will cook on so take them off the heat sooner rather than later.

Once you have taken the wok off the heat, add the honey to glaze the prawns, stir well then add the lemon zest and parsley, then adjust the seasoning and take it to the table.

Perfect with flatbreads as a starter or, my favourite, with Basmati rice with butter and lemon.

Beer and Cheese Bread

I’m always wary of flavoured breads; whether store-bought or home-made, quite often the loaf ends up too dry, too dense, too bland, too intense or just too weird to be a success. I keep on trying them out though, I used to make an incredible sun-dried tomato loaf, I must dig that recipe out…

I wouldn’t be sharing this recipe if it wasn’t impressive; I have only made it once and half of it is still in the freezer, but my wife made me promise that we would never, ever be without some of this on hand. She doesn’t praise easily, so I take that as a big thumbs-up.

Perfect alongside soup, or as an accompaniment to cheese, the flavours are interesting enough to enhance whatever you serve it with, while not being so dominant that they will be overpowering. It’s got great texture too; the secret is in a long, slow prove followed by a blisteringly hot oven so you get lovely aeration throughout the loaf.

Your choice of ale will have the biggest effect on the flavour. Stout will bring with it a rich, treacly darkness, while a pale ale or lager will be softer and more subtle. I tend to use whatever I have to hand – in this case a rather good home-brewed stout – but feel free to experiment.

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RECIPE 

250ml ale

4 tsp caster sugar

1 tbsp dry yeast

600g white bread flour

320g wholemeal flour

200g cheddar, grated

75g Parmesan, grated

50g milk powder

1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt

1 1/2 tsp English mustard powder

2 large eggs, beaten

2 tsp fennel seeds

egg white, to glaze (optional)


METHOD

Gently warm the ale to blood temperature – any hotter and you run the risk of killing your yeast – add the sugar and the yeast, stir and set aside to activate while you prepare everything else.

Combine all the other ingredients in a very large bowl, using your hands mix it well and start to bring it together – it will be heavy and stiff at first because of the cheese. Now start to add the yeasted ale, a little at a time, bringing it together and kneading as you go. You may well need to add more than 250ml ale, so if the dough is still too dry once you have used what you measured out, just keep on adding more from the bottle until the dough is stiff and holds together.

Turn the dough out on to a lightly oiled work surface and knead for around 20 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. Work it into a ball.

This dough only requires one prove, so make it worth while.

Either use a round banetton, well-dusted with flour and covered by a large plastic bag that is in no danger of touching the dough as it rises. The loaf pictured was proved in a banetton. Leave the dough alone in a warm, still place to rise for between 1 and 2 hours, or until at least doubled in size and springy to the touch.

Alternatively, place the dough on a piece of baking parchment and glaze the unproven dough with the white of an egg. Put a bag over it, ensuring that it is in no danger of touching the dough as it rises and leave the dough alone in a warm, still place to rise for between 1 and 2 hours, or until at least doubled in size and springy to the touch.

Heat the oven to 250C, or as hot as your oven will go, with a baking sheet and a baking tray in the bottom of the oven to heat up. Turn the dough in the banetton onto the hot baking sheet (very carefully! Don’t burn yourself, or deflate the dough by being too rough), slash the loaf a few times with a razor blade or very sharp knife. Throw a cup of water into the hot baking tray in the bottom of the oven to make steam, and quickly put the dough on the baking sheet into the middle of the oven. Close the oven door and immediately reduce the oven temperature to 200C and bake 30-40 minutes in the falling oven until the temperature in the middle is 90C (I use an instant-read thermometer) or a skewer inserted comes out clean.

If you have proved your dough on a piece of parchment and glazed it, then carefully slide the parchment and dough onto the hot baking sheet. Slash the dough, make steam in the oven and bake as above.

Rainbow Bhajis

Oh my goodness.

I love onion bhajis, especially home-made, so when I spotted these variations in an old BBC Good Food magazine I just had to try them. I say again: Oh my goodness.

Subtly spiced, gorgeously colourful, easy to make and great as a starter or party snack, these little beauties have become a must-make alongside any and every curry I ever make.

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RECIPE – feeds 6 as a starter/side dish

For the batter:

4 tbsp curry powder

250g gram flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp garam masala

¼ tsp hot chilli powder

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

For the bhajis:

140g carrot, grated

2 tsp nigella seeds

100g parsnip, grated

2 tbsp desiccated coconut

small pack coriander, stalks only, finely chopped (use the leaves to garnish)

140g beetroot, grated

2 tsp fresh ginger, grated

1l sunflower oil, for frying

lemon wedges, to serve

lime wedges, to serve


METHOD

First make the batter, stir the curry powder into a little cold water to make a paste, then top up to a total of 250ml of cold water. Mix the flour, baking powder and spices in a mixing bowl, make a well in the centre, then pour in the curry water and gradually stir together to a smooth batter. Stir in the onions, then divide the batter evenly between three bowls. Leave the batter to relax for 30 minutes or so.

Stir the carrot and nigella seeds into one batch of batter, the parsnip, coconut and chopped coriander stalks into another, and the beetroot and ginger into the third.

Heat the oil in a fryer, a deep pan or a non-stick wok to 180C, or until a piece of bread browns in 20 secs. Starting with the parsnip and ending with the beetroot, add spoonfuls of the mixture to the oil, a few at a time, and cook for a few mins, turning occasionally until evenly browned and crispy. This will take about 4 mins. Lift out onto kitchen paper with a slotted spoon, sprinkle with a little salt and keep warm in a low oven while you cook the rest.

Serve the hot bhajis scattered with coriander leaves alongside lemon and lime wedges for squeezing over.