Vegetarian Gravy

Most great gravy recipes are based on the juices from roasted meat. When cooking for vegetarians that is, of course, out of the question so, how do you pack flavour into a vegetarian gravy?

The key is to remember that gravy is just another word for sauce, and the French have spent hundreds of years creating and refining the art of sauce-making. Taking cues from that tradition, making a thick, rich, glossy and flavourful gravy isn’t hard at all.

As with all cookery, building flavour is a simply a matter of understanding where flavour comes from, and sensibly layering it into the sauce. The caramelised onions provide the base flavour, the butter adds richness and unctuousness, the wine brings aroma and the Marmite and mustard bring punch.

This gravy is not second-class, it has become my regular go-to recipe. You can (as I have) fearlessly serve it alongside roasted beef or a nut roast and everybody will be delighted.

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RECIPE makes enough for six people

2 onions, thinly sliced

50g unsalted butter

2 tbsp olive oil

100ml Madeira or Marsala

600g dark vegetable stock

1 tsp Marmite (or similar yeast extract)

4 tsp vegetarian gravy browning (Bisto is vegetarian-friendly)

1/2 tsp English mustard powder

a small knob of butter to finish


METHOD

In a large pan, melt the butter with the oil (the oil prevents the butter from burning) then fry the onions over a medium-high heat until they are well coloured and starting to catch. Stir frequently but not constantly.

Meanwhile, prepare and heat the vegetable stock and add the Marmite to it.

Add the Madeira/Marsala to the pan and it should bubble vigorously, for a bit of fun you can set light to the alcohol fumes as they bubble off – just be careful. Scrape any caramelisation from the bottom and sides of the pan, then after a minute add the vegetable stock and bring it to the boil.

While bringing it to the boil, combine the gravy browning with the mustard powder and then add a little water to make a thin paste. When the gravy is boiling, add the paste and stir constantly until the gravy is thick.

Sieve out the onions, and test and adjust the seasoning. You can now leave it to sit until you are ready to eat.

Just before serving, reheat the gravy and when it is hot add a small knob of butter and whisk it in until the sauce is glossy. Transfer to a warmed jug and serve.

Yorkshire Puddings

They are big, they are ugly, and they are light and delicious!

Yorkshire puddings are one of those things that people tend to struggle with. They either don’t rise, or they collapse, or they’re greasy and chewy, or all three. It doesn’t need to be that way, you just need three things: a good batter recipe; well-developed gluten, and heat.

The key is time. If you are going to be cooking a roast dinner at, say, 5pm, then make your Yorkshire pudding batter at lunchtime. If you give your batter a good long beating and then plenty of time to sit, then the gluten in the flour will develop, giving the puddings lots of strength. You also need plenty of heat; heat when you add the batter to the tin, and lots of heat in the oven. The batter will spring up, and as the heat hardens the mixture the strong gluten will enable them to hold up and they won’t collapse. There is no need to use self-raising flour, or any raising agent at all. If you get plenty of air into the batter then that will do the trick.

The result will be great big puddings that literally leap out of the tin. They will have lots of air in them so they will be light, and not at all stodgy. Try it, you’ll never look back!

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RECIPE makes 12

115g plain flour, sifted

a pinch of fine sea salt

2 large eggs

140ml whole milk


METHOD

Several hours before cooking (or the night before, just leave the batter in the fridge) sift the flour into a mixing bowl with a pinch of fine sea salt. Lightly beat the eggs together, and start to whisk the flour and salt gently before you add anything else.

While whisking, gradually add the eggs, with a little of the milk, to make a smooth paste. When all the eggs have been incorporated, gradually add the rest of the milk, increasing the whisking speed. Obviously this is much easier if you are using a stand mixer. When everything has been added then whisk the mixture at high speed for three minutes or so, this will get air into the mixture and also work the gluten in the flour. Now just leave the batter to stand, and go and do something else with the rest of your day.

When the time comes to cook, get your oven up to 220C/ 200C fan/ gas 7. This might not be possible, or advisable if you are cooking something else in there at the same time, but get it as hot as you dare. In a 12 hole metal muffin tray, pour a little vegetable oil into each hole and put it into the oven for a few minutes to get hot.

Go back to your batter and give it a final whisk for a minute or so, to wake it up and ensure that everything is evenly distributed.

Take the muffin tray out of the oven and put it on the stovetop, with a burner underneath it on a high heat. This will keep the oil very hot while you work.

Now, quickly – but carefully – ladle the batter into the muffin holes, filling each approximately half-full.

Quickly again, put the muffin tin back in the oven, close the door and DO NOT OPEN IT FOR 20 MINUTES.

After twenty minutes, you will be greeted with the best Yorkshire puddings you have ever eaten. I promise.

Garganelli with Salmon and Prawns

Two places you should never allow me to enter without somebody keeping a close eye on me: 1) a charity shop, and 2) a good delicatessen.

In the first I’m liable to walk out with an armful of old cookery books, and in the second I’m prone to loading myself up with obscure liqueurs (oh yes, I have a growing cocktail and aperitivi obsession) and obscure foodstuffs that catch my eye – like garganelli pasta (pictured below).

I never fail to be amazed at the way that plain old pasta can taste so different just because the shape of it is different. The shape and decoration of pasta can indeed offer a different ‘mouth feel’, fooling your palate somewhat*, but the real difference is that various shapes catch and hold sauce in different ways.

This recipe is a classic example of that. You can substitute penne for the garganelli if you don’t have a deli near you that stocks it, but it will be a very different dish. The quill shape of the garganelli catches and holds the seafood and tomato within it, while the external grooves allow the sauce to collect and stay attached while you bring it to your mouth.

Make it with penne, and while it is still delicious, you have to spend the effort of gathering all of the different elements together on your fork, for each and every mouthful. Even so, this is well worth making even if you only have penne – spend the effort, you will be rewarded.

Garganelli

* If you think this is mumbo-jumbo, there is a fascinating book – ‘Gastrophysics’ by Professor Charles Spence – which examines the ongoing research into how we actually experience flavour, and how inventive chefs such as Heston Blumenthal are using that science to enhance their food, without changing the food itself.


RECIPE serves 4 

350g salmon fillets

200ml dry white vermouth

a small handful of fresh basil leaves, plus extra for garnish

150ml double cream

6 ripe plum tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped

350g garganelli

125g king prawns


METHOD

Pour the vermouth into a wide, shallow pan with the basil leaves and some seasoning. Bring it to the boil, then put the salmon fillets – skin side up – into it, cover it and hold it at a very gentle simmer for four minutes. Carefully remove the fish and set aside to cool slightly.

Add the cream and tomatoes to the vermouth in the pan and bring back to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and leave it to reduce and thicken for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large saucepan of salted water at a rolling boil. Cook until the pasta is just al dente. My pasta takes just under ten minutes, so I set it going ten minutes into the sauce reduction time.

Just before the pasta is ready, check and adjust the seasoning of the sauce then put the raw prawns into the hot sauce to cook, and flake the salmon into large pieces then add that to the pan together with the drained pasta.

Toss well so everything is coated in everything else, scatter some more basil leaves over the top and serve immediately. This is best accompanied by a bowl of rocket dressed with a little lemon juice.

Roasted Tomato Soup

At this time of year it can be hard to get hold of ripe, tasty tomatoes and even if you can, expect to pay through the nose for them. That means that this wasn’t exactly a good time for my lovely wife to request a big pot of tomato soup for her lunchtime meals for the next few days.

Fear not. I’ve been cooking long enough now to know that even the humblest, firmest, blandest tomato, if treated correctly, can reveal from deep within itself the most spectacular flavours. If you don’t believe me, then this recipe will be an eye-opener. I simply picked up a couple of cheap nets of B Grade tomatoes from my local supermarket, which cost just a couple of pounds altogether. I shudder to think how good this soup would be at the height of summer when tomatoes are at their best.

The trick is to slow-roast the tomatoes with a few aromatics, and to be brave with the garlic. When it is roasted, garlic takes on a deeper, richer palette of flavours, nothing at all like the pungency of the raw version. I used a whole head of garlic for this soup yesterday, and nobody in my house had bad breath last night.

You can, if you wish, add some double cream to this soup just before you serve it. In my opinion though, it is rich and creamy enough as it is.

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RECIPE serves 4 

1.5kg ripe tomatoes, halved

4 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, sliced

1 whole head of garlic, cloves separated, peeled and left whole

75g tomato puree

2 tsp dried thyme

50g caster sugar

1.5 litres vegetable stock

a small bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped


METHOD

Heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas3.

Place the halved tomatoes in a large, deep roasting tin, together with the onion, garlic cloves,  tomato puree, thyme and sugar, and drizzle the olive oil over it all. See the picture above. Using your hands, mix everything together, pushing anything that is likely to burn rather than caramelise (such as the ends of the onion slices) down under the tomato halves.

Roast in the middle of the oven for between 60 and 75 minutes, keeping an eye on it. You want the tomatoes and onion to start to brown and caramelise, maybe even char a little in places, but burning is not good.

When cooked, transfer the juicy, pulpy contents of the roasting tin to a large pot, add the stock and season lightly, then bring it to a simmer.

Remove the pot from the heat, and add the coriander. Leave it to cool slightly, then using either a stick blender or a worktop blender (in batches), blitz until it is smooth.

Check and adjust the seasoning and serve, drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil, and/or perhaps a dollop of double cream.

Potato Pastry

This idea is pure genius.

I saw it in a Hairy Bikers’ diet book, but a quick internet search told me that it’s not a new idea at all. I must have been walking around with my eyes shut…

It is simply a development of potato gnocchi, kneading some flour into dry mashed potato to make a dough. It is amazing though, I made a chicken pie last week and didn’t tell anybody that the dough wasn’t regular shortcrust – nobody knew. The edges catch and crisp just like shortcrust, and the ‘mouth feel’ is almost exactly the same, it’s just lower in calories. You can use it pretty much anywhere you would normally use a savoury shortcrust pastry.

The only thing it has against it is that it doesn’t reheat very well, it tends to go soggy, so if you make a pie with it be sure to eat the whole thing! The recipe quantity below easily makes enough to cover a standard pie-dish.

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RECIPE

275g floury potatoes (e.g. Maris Piper, Roosters)

40g fridge-cold butter, diced

80g plain flour

1 or 2 tbsp semi-skimmed milk

a pinch of salt


METHOD

Peel and cut the potatoes into large pieces, so they don’t absorb too much water, then put into cold water and bring to the boil. Just as the water comes to the boil, turn the heat right down and let the potatoes slowly poach. This will ensure that they cook through and is another way to ensure they don’t absorb water. When tender, drain the potatoes and space them out on a wire rack to dry thoroughly.

When completely dry, mash them without adding any butter or moisture.

Put the diced butter and flour in a food processor and pulse until it forms crumbs. Add the flour and butter to the mash with a tablespoon of the milk and a pinch of salt and gently bring it all together into a dough, if it is a little dry and not holding together then add a little more milk – a tiny bit at a time. Handle it as lightly as possible, and when it holds together, shape it into a ball, wrap it in cling film and chill it for at least 30 minutes before rolling it out, as you would for shortcrust pastry.

When rolling, be sure to turn it around on a floured surface regularly to ensure that it doesn’t stick. Don’t try to roll it too thinly, it needs to be slightly thicker than normal pastry in order to hold together when you pick it up to drape over your pie.

Glaze with a beaten egg and cook it as usual. You can use this in any situation that normally requires shortcrust – it makes a great pie lid, can be used to make pasties and hand-pies, even sausage rolls.

Baked Bramley Apples and Custard

A curious thing happened at our dining table yesterday evening…

We had eaten and we were all feeling pretty full by the time I pulled these baked apples out of the oven. We very rarely have any kind of dessert, none of us has a particularly sweet tooth; I only cooked this because it looked interesting and, for a dessert, it’s low-calorie (around 270 kCal per serving).

I didn’t much fancy it, thinking I would have a couple of bites to test it. Another at the table was extremely dubious about the entire concept, and the third flat-out refused to eat it as he hates mushy things.

Anyway, there we were, chatting away, politely nibbling away from our bowls. Some little time later I realised that my bowl was empty. It wasn’t only mine, so were the other two. That tells you all you need to know about this incredibly simple, incredibly moreish winter dessert.

The original recipe is by Tom Kerridge. Sir, I salute you.

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RECIPE serves 4 

75g sachet of low-fat instant custard

400ml skimmed milk

4 medium Bramley apples

40g amaretti biscuits, crushed

the zest of an orange

30g raisins

1 tsp ground allspice

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cardamom seeds

1tbsp soft light brown sugar

a scattering of flaked almonds


METHOD

Heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas3.

Pour the custard powder into a large heatproof jug. Heat the milk on the stove-top until it reaches scalding point (just below the boil) then pour it , while whisking continuously, onto the custard powder. When it is smooth and free of any lumps, set it aside for now.

Remove the cores from the apples, leaving a good-sized hole so you can fit the filling into it.

In a small bowl, mix together the crushed amaretti biscuits, orange zest, raisins and spices.

Pour the custard into a small roasting tin, then place the apples on top of the custard. Spoon the filling into the core-holes. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and sprinkle with the brown sugar and scatter over the flaked almonds. Bake for a further 15-20 minutes until the apples are soft all the way through.

Serve each baked apple with a portion of the hot custard.

Pasta in Parchment with tuna, tomatoes and potatoes

Quite often, the deciding factor in my cooking a recipe I haven’t tried before is that it is in some way unusual, therefore offering a chance for me to learn something new. I spotted this recipe in Ursula Ferrigno’s ‘Truly, Madly, Pasta’ and the idea of cooking pasta in a paper bag was too intriguing to ignore.

You can’t really go wrong with Italian food, it is largely based on simplicity, using fresh ingredients and flavourful aromatic combinations. Pack all that into a paper bag, so all the flavours and aromas are locked in… well, how could it go wrong? Even if I did manage to somehow get it wrong, I would have a salvageable basis for another meal at the end of it.

My only real concern was the pasta. It is part-cooked before going into the paper, and once in the paper there is no way to test if it is done until you serve it, so I was totally reliant on the recipe-writer getting her timings right.

I needn’t have worried, the pasta was cooked perfectly, the only amendment I made to the original recipe was putting the tuna steaks in raw (Ursula Ferrigno pre-cooks those as well). As it stands now, this is a delicious, versatile, quick and easy midweek pasta recipe that also has the ‘wow!’ factor when you bring it to the table.

You can leave the potatoes out if you wish, they are primarily there to add textural interest, but with them left in this is a hearty dish indeed.

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RECIPE serves 4 

250g tuna steak, chopped into 2cm cubes

150ml dry vermouth

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

grated zest of one lemon

2 sprigs of rosemary, broken into pieces

8 new potatoes, peeled (or scrubbed) and cut into small dice

12 ripe plum tomatoes, deseeded and roughly chopped

handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped, plus more to serve

350g spaghetti

2 tbsp olive oil


METHOD

Place the tuna in a bowl with the vermouth, garlic, lemon zest, rosemary and some seasoning. Leave to marinate for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ Gas 6.

Towards the end of the marinating time, cook the diced potatoes in boiling salted water for approximately six minutes, until tender, and drain. Combine with the tomatoes and parsley.

At the same time, half-cook the spaghetti. Use just over half the time suggested on the packet, the brand I use is al dente in ten minutes, so I cooked it for six. Drain and set aside.

Also at the same as you cook the pasta, in a large frying pan, heat the oil until hot, remove the tuna from the marinade and set aside, and fry the marinade and its aromatic ingredients for a couple of minutes to burn off the alcohol and reduce slightly. Combine this sauce with the spaghetti, the raw marinated tuna, tomatoes and potato. Toss well.

Prepare four parcels with parchment paper, add one-quarter of the mixture to each and fold up loosely like an envelope. Fold in the edges and then fold over the top carefully to seal completely.

Place in the pre-heated oven for seven minutes. Serve at once, tearing open the bags at the table (while inhaling deeply!) and sprinkling with more chopped parsley.

Treacle Tart

I have eaten a lot of bad treacle tarts over the years, and more than a few of them I made myself. It took a while, but I finally figured out the perfect ratio of lemon, crumbs and syrup so that the result is light and airy rather than heavy and stodgy.

A traditional treacle tart uses breadcrumbs, but I have discovered that cake crumbs from a plain or vanilla sponge cake give a softer more velvety texture. If you haven’t got any leftover cake then make this tart using breadcrumbs as usual, but keep it in mind as an experiment next time you make a Victoria sponge.

The pastry here is a little tricky to work with because it is very short and crumbly, but it is well worth the effort. I’m sure you will agree when you feel it melt in your mouth.

This recipe requires a 23cm round tart tin, 2.5 cm deep.

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RECIPE serves 12 easily

For the pastry case:

175g plain flour

50g fridge-cold butter, cubed

50g fridge-cold vegetable shortening, crumbled

1 tbsp icing sugar

1 egg yolk

For the filling:

400g golden syrup

150ml double cream

1 large egg

100g breadcrumbs (or 100g cake crumbs if you have them)

60g ground almonds

the zest of a lemon, finely grated

2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice


METHOD

First, make the pastry case:

Put the plain flour, butter, shortening and icing sugar into a food processor and pulse a few times to mix it thoroughly. When it looks like fine crumbs add the egg yolk and pulse again, then add around a tablespoon of cold water a little bit at a time and pulse for a second until the pastry starts to come together. Take care not to overwork the pastry mixture, the beauty of this pastry is that it is soft and crumbly, doing too much to it is liable to make it tough. Empty it out of the food processor onto a lightly floured surface and gently bring it together into a smooth ball.

Wrap the pastry in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, roll your pastry out into a round until it is approximately the thickness of a pound coin, this should give you the correct diameter to fill your pastry case with a little left over that you can trim off later. Always keep your trimmings as you may need to make a couple of repairs.

Lift the pastry up onto a rolling pin, drape it over your tart tin and gently drop it into the tin. Using a small piece of pastry push the pastry gently into the corners and flutes of your tart tin so there are no air pockets. Trim off the surplus pastry from the edges of the tin and liberally prick the base of the pastry with a fork. Chill for another 30 minutes.

There is no need to butter or otherwise oil the sides of the tin, this pastry will come away easily once cooked.

Cut a piece of baking parchment large enough to completely cover the base and sides of the tart. Scrunch it up, then flatten it and place it in the pastry case, then fill with ceramic baking beans if you have them, rice or dried beans if you don’t. Now blind-bake the pastry case at 200C for 15 minutes; after this time remove the baking beans and parchment and return to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes until your pastry is golden and cooked through. Now turn the oven down to 170C/ gas 3.

*Tip: The best bit of baking wisdom I ever received was this: blind-baking is not part-cooking, it is pre-cooking. In other words, your blind-baked pastry case should be fully cooked when it comes out. That’s the 100% guaranteed way to ensure that you never suffer the baker’s nightmare of a soggy bottom. Some authorities suggest sealing the base of your pastry case with a thin layer of egg white; don’t bother, it doesn’t belong there and you will be able to detect it.

Meanwhile, make the filling:

in a large, heavy-bottomed pan, gently warm the syrup. Don’t heat it until it is hot, you just want to soften it so it flows well and will accept the rest of the ingredients.

Take off the heat and whisk in the double cream, then add the crumbs and ground almonds. Break the egg into a cup and gently break it all together with a fork, then add to the filling together with the lemon zest and juice. Stir thoroughly so that everything is completely combined, then pour it into the pre-baked pastry case.

Bake at 170C/ gas 3 for approximately 35-40 minutes, until the filling is set. You can tell when it is set by setting the tin on a flat, heatproof surface and pulling it gently but sharply backward and forward. If set, the filling will be bubbling like a volcano but will not wobble.

Allow the tart to cool until it is just warm before removing from the tin. Serve with custard, creme fraiche or thick cream. Yumptious!

Sweet Potato Saag Aloo

Saag aloo is usually made with regular potatoes but this sweet potato version from The Hairy Bikers is particularly luscious. The great thing about sweet potatoes is that they are richer in nutrients – particularly vitamin C – than white potatoes and lower in starch. They count towards your five a day too, while regular potatoes don’t.

This is a great meal if you are dieting, coming in at only 200 calories per serving and making you feel comfortably full. That means you can have a serving of rice and a couple of rotis with it, without bursting your waistband.

The secret to great flavour here is to use your own fresh curry powder mix. It’s not hard to make and my recipe is here.

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RECIPE serves 4 

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

20g fresh root ginger, grated

2 tbsp curry powder

2 medium sweet potatoes, diced

1 large ripe tomato, diced

300ml vegetable stock

a small bunch of coriander, stalks only, chopped

200g bag of baby spinach, picked over and thoroughly washed

To serve:

the zest and juice of a lemon

a few green chillies, sliced

a small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large flameproof casserole dish or a deep frying pan. Add the onion and cook it quite briskly until it’s softened and very lightly browned. Add the garlic, ginger and curry powder and stir until combined.

Add the sweet potatoes to the pan and stir to coat them with the garlic, ginger and spices, then add the tomato and the vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the stock to the boil, then turn down the heat, cover the pan and simmer very gently until the sweet potato is just cooked. This should take no longer than 10 minutes, but check regularly from 5 minutes as you don’t want the sweet potato to go mushy – it should still have a little bite to it. Loosen the sauce with a little more stock or water if necessary.

Add the spinach and chopped coriander stalks to the pan and cover the pan again until the spinach has wilted down. Stir very carefully to combine without breaking up the sweet potatoes.

At this point you can turn the heat off and leave it for for a few hours or overnight, the flavours will only get better. If you are going to eat it immediately, garnish with the lemon zest and juice and a sprinkling of finely sliced green chillies and chopped coriander leaves.

Serve with basmati rice and roti.

White Wine Veloute

The first time I made this simple sauce, a reduction of wine and cream, I was knocked out by its brilliance and simplicity. Every time I make it, I wonder why I don’t find an excuse to make it every night.

This sauce is fantastic with white fish and chicken, and with just a little thought you can add herbs and other aromatics to take it even higher. Using the best ingredients is crucial whatever you are making, especially when making a sauce. Make sure you use wine and vermouth that you would like to drink – if it’s a nasty wine it will give you a nasty sauce.

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RECIPE makes around 500ml

25g unsalted butter

3 banana shallots, finely chopped

200ml dry white wine

200ml dry vermouth

400ml fish, vegetable or chicken stock

300ml creme fraiche


METHOD

Melt the butter in the widest saucepan that you own. Stir in the shallots and saute gently for about ten minutes until soft but not coloured.

Pour in the white wine and vermouth, turn the heat right up and boil until the liquid has reduced by half – a wide saucepan makes this process quicker.

Add the stock, return to the boil and once again reduce the liquid by half.

Stir in the creme fraiche and simmer gently until the sauce is the consistency of single cream and will coat the back of a spoon.

Season to taste with salt and pepper and strain the sauce through a fine sieve.