Noodle(ish) Soup

I woke up this morning to find a day filled with autumnal light, clear blue skies and a crisp wind. Beautiful and nostalgic as I always find autumn to be. Although a long deep winter is ahead, there is nothing more special than this time of year. I thought, how appropriate to make a hot and spicy soup for lunch. I felt like something fresh and round in flavour with noodles to add substance. This recipe I have adapted quite dramatically from 'New Year Noodle Soup', listed on 101 Cookbooks, which is packed with pulses and a decadent topping. I have drawn inspiration from the use of chinese noodles in combination with curry flavours, I found the idea of this match rather exciting. I'm not particularly hell bent on being a purist and sometimes a mix up leads to wonderful things. This is a bowl of pleasure. 

My recipe is very simple and has only a few ingredients at its heart. I have used red lentils as the only pulse, in a rich curried broth poured over chinese noodles and topped with yoghurt to relax the heat. As ever, adjust the quantities to suit your taste, play around with different spice combinations too. The main aim is to have a broth that is rich, hot, spicy and a little sour. Adding spinach and fresh coriander gives added depth and complexity. I really love this soup, it's easy, its interesting and it warms the deepest part of you. 

Recipe (serves 4)

1 red chilli, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp fennel seeds
an inch of fresh ginger, sliced into thin matchsticks
1 large shallot, sliced length ways
1 lime
half a cup red lentils
1 Lt good vegetable or chicken stock
500g baby spinach
small bunch fresh coriander, chopped
250g medium egg noodles
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin

Cook noodles as directed, drain and rinse in cold water. Add a touch of oil to stop them sticking. Set aside. In a medium saucepan saute shallot, garlic, chilli, fennel seeds and ginger until lightly golden. Add curry spices and fry until their aroma is released. Add lentils, stock and juice of the lime. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add extra water if the broth seems too thick. Add spinach and coriander, simmer until heated through. You can now either add the noodles to the broth and heat them up or pour the broth over noodles in serving bowls. Serve with yoghurt and an extra squeeze of lime.


Apple Frangipane Tart

I have a total love affair with ground almonds. They can be added to cakes to give moisture and density, they can replace flour to create the most sumptuous of crumbs. They can be creamed to form frangipane to fill tarts and galettes with glorious richness. And then there is marzipan, a much maligned and hated almond creation, but with a little patience and the right exposure, therein also lies delight. On their own in pastry, with fruit or with chocolate, there can be no end to their praise.

This recipe is for a frangipane tart, ground almonds creamed with butter, sugar and eggs to fill a sweet shortcrust shell and topped with apples. Golden, sweet, light and crisp, this makes a perfect dessert, coffee cake or breakfast treat with yoghurt. There are two ways to make it and both yield delicious results. I have chosen to bake the pastry blind, then fill the shell and return it to the oven to bake the filling. This gives a slightly crispier base. It is also completely fine to miss out this step, fill the raw pastry shell and bake all at once. Baking it all together, allows the apples to cook more thoroughly. But, if you want really soft apples and are going for either method, poach the apples for a few minutes before adding them to the filling. You can be as decorative or rustic in your apple design as you fancy, I  felt like chunky apples with lots of frangipane rising up in between. For a little more flair, use thinly sliced apple arranged in the french tart tradition.

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry Recipe 
(makes about 500g)

250g flour
150g unsalted butter
50g icing sugar
pinch salt
1 whole organic egg and 1 yolk

In a food processor blitz flour, butter, sugar and salt until the mix resembles sand. If working by hand, rub butter into dry ingredients with your fingertips until there are no large lumps. Lightly beat egg and yolk with a fork. Tip mix from processor into a bowl. Create a well in the centre, add egg and begin to work the flour mix in from the sides. When ingredients have just come together, knead quickly into a soft dough. Don't overwork. Form a ball, cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Use as needed.

(serve 4-6)

300g sweet shortcrust pastry
3 apples, peeled, cored and sliced into wedges (poach if desired)

Frangipane Filling:
100g unsalted butter
100g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
2 organic eggs

Preheat oven to 190C or 170C fan.
Remove dough from the fridge and allow to stand for 30 minutes before rolling, this prevents it from  stretching. Roll out pastry about 3-5mm thick. Line a 20cm flan/tart tin. Trim edges. Cover with cling film and freeze for at least 30 minutes. Line with baking paper and fill with baking beans. Bake blind for about 15 minutes until pale gold, remove beans and bake for a further 10-12 minutes until golden and cooked through. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

In the meantime, to make the frangipane, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating on high to incorporate without splitting. If the mixture is still splitting, you can add a tablespoon of flour. Add almonds and mix until smooth and creamy. This can be made ahead of the time and refrigerated for up to 4 days.
Once cooled, spread frangipane evenly over the base of the pastry case. Arrange apples in circles over the top. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Return to the oven and bake for 30-50 minutes until filling is set, puffy and golden.

If baking all at once, line the tin as above without freezing. Fill with frangipane and apples. Bake for 55 minutes to an hour until pastry is golden and the filling is cooked.


Courgette and Heirloom Tomato Salad

I wasn't sure about just writing of a little salad that I made all on its own, but I feel that it deserves it's own post. Partly because I made it to be eaten for lunch as a whole meal on its own, and partly because this is a salad that would make a great addition to any meal. The thing is, that it's also spectacularly beautiful. The colours just sing of summer. The ingredients are perfectly matched... bitter, salty, sour, sweet and creamy. A plate of heavenly bliss. I'm never sure that salads can really have recipes, unless for some reason the quantities have to exact (still not convinced). I think salads are a collection of textures and flavours that can be constructed in any way. After years of paring down my salads from containing everything in the fridge, I now make simple salads with few ingredients that compliment each other distinctively. 

This salad is made with whole leaves of ruby gem lettuce, which can be used like spoons or wraps to be filled up with the other ingredients. They are also perfectly bitter and crunchy. I found beautiful heirloom plum tomatoes with the most incredible colour, sweet and not too sour. I took a courgette, sliced it thinly lengthways and grilled the slices on a hot pan with no grease. Once coloured evenly and lightly cooked through, they added a lovely dimension of creaminess. Pieces of salty feta sprinkled with nigella seeds provided the final gilding. I made a mustard dressing (see here for recipe) for a little heat and we happily munched it away. Perfect for lunch served with a fresh baguette and a glass of cold white wine.


Stuffed Red Peppers

My great aunt is always going on about how life is too short to stuff mushrooms, or anything for that matter, but I have to say, I disagree. The urge to stuff vegetables is very rare but when it takes hold, a scrummy meal is always in store. The usual favourites are peppers, aubergines and butternuts but I've come across recipes for carrots, marrows, tomatoes and just about anything. The task of stuffing a vegetable seems arduous but something incredible and magical occurs when it eventually comes out the oven, that the process is surely worth it. I wanted to have a simple, filling supper and sometimes it's nice to have a neat little parcel than something like a stir fry. The thought of red peppers roasted in a hot oven, stuffed to the gills with rice, feta and a bit of veg set my mouth watering. You can use just about anything to fill the ruby cavities of these natural vessels, so use this recipe as a base and experiment.

Recipe (serves 2)

2 or 3 large red peppers
half a cup of brown rice
1 shallot, chopped
few leaves chard, roughly chopped
1 carrot, grated
handful of chestnut mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
quarter of a cup of feta, crumbled (use more if desired)
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 200C. Cook rice in double the amount of water until soft and the water is absorbed. In a pan saute the shallot in a little olive oil until translucent. Add carrot and garlic and saute until caramelised. Add mushroom and allow to brown. Finally add the chard and just cook through. Add the cooked rice and mix thoroughly, then add the feta and mix again until just combined. You don't want it to melt completely. Season to taste. To prepare the peppers cut a circle into the flesh about an inch away from the stem to form a lid. Clean out the seeds from the inside. Stuff the cavity tightly with the rice mix and place the lid on to seal it.  You will probably have some of the rice mix left over which is just as good eaten on its own. Place peppers on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil. If the lid keeps falling off when the pepper is lying down, prop it up with a bit of foil. Roast off for about 45 minutes or until there is good colour on the skin and the pepper is cooked through. When cut into the stuffing should be juicy and divine. Serve as is or with a green salad.


Bean and Chorizo Soup

Last week we went to Garcia's in Portabello Road and picked up a few little bits of Spanish heaven. I couldn't resist making this glorious soup with spicy chorizo sausage as one of the star ingredients. Packed with protein and flavour, this soup is incredibly hearty and makes a whole meal on its own. The key is to cook it slowly over a few hours and then allow to rest until the next day. The flavours will be well developed and come into their own. Utterly moreish!

This soup is based on the Spanish stew 'Caparrones' which is made with a particular type of red kidney bean stewed with chorizo. There are many variations of this traditional recipe, some calling for the addition of vegetables or other meats. I have paired mine down to just a few ingredients to give them room to shine. Feel free to use red kidney beans, butter beans or cannellini beans for this recipe. I also like to add both hot and sweet Spanish pimenton for added flavour and strength. If you can't find this variety of spice then use a good smoked paprika as a substitute. The soup should be really rich and spicy, my recipe has quite a bit of kick so adjust the chilli and pimenton to suit your taste. I think the best way to serve this, is topped with a poached egg, it adds an extra depth of creaminess and makes this humble plate of food sing. Thick cut roasted potato wedges make a divine accompaniment too. 

Recipe (serves 4)

1 hot chorizo cooking sausage, sliced
1 medium shallot, sliced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tin (400g) cannellini beans
1 tin (400g) chopped tomatoes
4 fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp or 1 cube vegetable stock
small bunch flat leaf parsley
2 tsp Spanish pimenton 
small red chilli, sliced
olive oil

In a heavy pot place chorizo, onion and garlic with a few splashes of olive oil. Allow to fry on a medium heat for a few minutes until soft. Add pimenton and chilli, fry for a bit longer. Add fresh tomatoes, allow to reduce. Add chopped tomatoes, about 400ml (a tin full) of water, stock and the tomato paste. Bring to the boil and then reduce heat to low and simmer for an hour with the lid on. Add chopped parsley and the beans, simmer for a further hour until thickened. Add a little bit more water if it seems more like a stew than a soup. Leave to rest either for a few hours or better still, until the next day. Serve piping hot, topped with a poached egg and a drizzle of olive oil.


Sunday Lunch

Fabulous, lazy Sunday arrived and it was time to feast! A menu of vegetarian happiness was brewing in my mind... I wanted a sweep of colour and texture to fill us up and make us smile. I was brought up in a house where less was definitely not more when it came to food. We were always allowed to help ourselves and eat as much as we cared for. This is the heart of my own table and our custom of eating. Food equals love.

The company of special friends is an inspiration. A time to eat together, share thoughts and laughter. I decided on easy going fare, bowls and platters laden with fresh ingredients to be dipped into at will. Not too much cooking aside from a vegetable tart, the table was a feast of mediterranean summer. Lentil salad, butter bean pate with pita chips, green salad with beetroot, avo and feta, a tomato and courgette tart, and to finish, the freshest madeleines with a super fruit salad. 

I adore this salad, it is fantastically simple, so tasty and only gets better with time. You can use any pulses for this really and I often make a mixed bean version. Quantities again are really up to you and adjust heat and seasoning to your taste. It does require a fair bit of olive oil so be prepared to add more if necessary. Mix all the ingredients together and make sure they are well combined. The flavour should be a good balance of acidity and earthiness. The lentils will absorb all the flavours and if made a day in advance, will taste all the more divine.

To serve four

400g lentils
half a red onion, finely diced
half a clove of garlic, finely sliced
small bunch coriander, chopped
half a red chilli, roughly chopped
olive oil
1 and a half lemons
salt and pepper

The best thing I ever learnt from my mum was the secret of keeping avos from going brown. No need to use lemon juice or boil them or slice them in a certain way, an avo will stay beautifully green in the presence of its seed. So my salads always look like this, with the queen pip sitting on her throne. I used ruby gem lettuce for extra crunch, the leaves are themselves like little spoons to scoop up all the jewels with. Sweet roasted beetroot, creamy avocado and salty feta make this salad a delight.

Sooo scrumptious this combination of butter bean pate and pita chips is! I make this bean pate regularly in place of hummus and it goes wonderfully with everything. These pita chips are my idea of bliss. They are just plain pitas spruced up by lightly coating them with melted butter, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and then getting them crispy in a hot oven.

For the bean pate, blend all the ingredients until smooth and silky. Garnish with nigella seeds and olive oil.

400g tinned butter beans
clove garlic
handful flat leafed parsley
juice of a half a lemon
few glugs olive oil
salt and black pepper

Puff pastry is an incredibly versatile canvas on which to create whatever takes your fancy. Kept cold and baked in a hot oven, it never fails. This tomato and courgette tart is easy and impressive. I love tomatoes in every conceivable manner and this makes for a lovely treat. I decided to add thinly sliced courgettes to a base of tomatoes, dotted with thyme and olive oil. Baked until golden, puffy and crisp then finished with mozzarella torn into pieces. Drizzle with olive oil and season to taste.

I'm not that interested in fruit salad and it pretty much never features on our table but strangely I felt like some. This is my perfect bowl, with no apples or citrus anywhere. Banana, mango and blueberries, subtle, sweet and gorgeous with yoghurt. It also makes the perfect partner for the loveliest of madeleines.

Oh madeleines, madeleines how do I love thee! Marcel Proust wrote poetry about madeleines, he was moved by the beauty of their shape. Small shells. I have been enthralled by these handfuls of beauty and have long hunted for a fool proof recipe. I have finally found it!! The most important thing with madeleines is temperature, chilled and rested batter in a searingly hot oven is the secret to their success. Eaten a few minutes out of the oven, fresh as can be, there is nothing more heavenly. These have raspberries for hearts.

Recipe (by Fanny author of like a strawberry milk)
Makes 12-14

80g butter, at room temperature
100g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
pinch of salt
100g plain flour, sifted
1/2 tsp baking powder

Cream butter with a tablespoon of sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. In another bowl, whisk remaining sugar, eggs and salt until pale and doubled in volume. Gently fold in flour and baking powder into the egg mixture. Scoop out a third of the batter and add to the butter, mix vigorously. Transfer back to remaining batter and fold in very gently. Scrape the batter into a piping bag and chill for at least three hours.

Preheat oven to 220C for half an hour. Butter and flour a madeleine tin.
Pipe batter three quarters of the way up the prepared moulds. press a raspberry into each one. Reduce the oven to 180C and bake for 14 minutes or until the edges are golden and the bump begins to brown.
Allow to cool for a few minutes and remove from the tin.


Chard and Potato Dhal

Dhal is one of the weekly features on our table, it is a wonderful thing to make and even more lovely to  eat. The pungent smells of spices frying with garlic and onion permeate the house with delight. Each ingredient is added, building to become a layered feast of fragrance, taste and texture. It is the simplest of dishes, from humble origins, it can take centre stage or be a delicious accompaniment. It has become the king of choice for me when cooking Indian food. In its basic form it is a preparation of lentils or pulses. I usually make mine with red lentils and sometimes add other ingredients to my basic recipe. This week I decided to use chard and potato.

My recipe has developed over a number of years and is very different from traditional dhal, which is often quite plain in flavour, this is anything but. Spices can be very overpowering and getting the right balance is rather tricky, I like using a combination of whole and ground spices. Below are the quantities for this recipe but you can always increase the quantities and make up a batch for future use. Adjust the spices for your preference. I also love quite a bit of heat so also adjust the chilli element to your taste. Dhal is always better the day after it's made, when the flavours have been allowed to settle and develop. It's rare that we are able to stay away from the pot for too long, but there's usually a bit left over to be enjoyed the next day! Serve piping hot with yoghurt and naan bread.

(serves 4)

1 onion, sliced into quarters
an inch of ginger, thinly sliced into tiny matchsticks
1 hot red chilli, thinly sliced
1 potato, cut fairly chunky
4 or 5 big leaves of chard
2 or 3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lemon
small bunch fresh coriander, chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
half a cup red lentils
2 tsp or a cube of vegetable stock
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp coriander seeds
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
2 cardamon pods, seeds removed
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp garam masala
olive oil
salt and pepper

Grind up whole spices using a pestel and mortar. Chop stems of the chard into small pieces and cut the leaves up loosely. Put onion, garlic, ginger and chilli with some olive oil into a heavy bottomed pot. Gently saute on a medium heat until soft. Add all the spices (whole and ground), stirring frequently, allow to fry and brown until you can smell their aroma. Reduce heat slightly, add chard stems and potatoes, fry for a few more minutes. Wash lentils and add to the pot. Mix. Cover with water, add stock, juice of half the lemon, salt and pepper. Stir to incorporate. Bring to the boil, then turn down heat and simmer for 20 minutes until potatoes are just tender and not falling apart. Add tomato paste and chard leaves. Add more lemon if you think it needs a bit more acidity. Simmer until cooked and sauce has thickened. Keep stirring to avoid sticking. Finally add fresh coriander before serving.

Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! So Good!!!!


Market Treats and Little Cakes

Sometimes lunch is made up of all the incredible goodies food markets can provide. This Sunday was to be one of those days. We spent the weekend milling around some of London's best and came home armed with a decadent spread. A spanish theme prevailed. Our table was adorned with large emerald green olives, mature manchego cheese, quince paste, thinly sliced chorizo and italian salami. The only thing I made, was a bowl of crushed tomatoes with garlic and olive oil to go with St. Johns sublime sourdough bread. This feast of exquisite flavours was demolished immediately with a glass of crisp rose. Perfect indeed!

I am not really a lover of sweet, my preference for savoury always trumps it but I feel our most treasured of meals should be rounded off with it. I had a date with a punnet of blueberries, these little jewels needed a makeover. I often make a blueberry and almond cake but wanted something between a financier, muffin and cupcake. So I scoured around for some recipes and found one that brought all these things together. The recipe is for blueberry muffins but I didn't want them to be so dense and high, so I halved the recipe, used a bit more fruit and only filled the cup cake cases up half way. This created the perfect little cake I was after. Soft, sweet and light as a feather.

Recipe (by Krusty?)
Quantities here are half the original
8-12 little cakes

quarter of a cup butter
half a cup sugar
1 tsp oil
1 large egg
quarter of a tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup flour
quarter of a cup milk
200g blueberries

Preheat oven to 190C. Fill muffin tin with cupcake cases. Cream butter, oil and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add egg and beat until smooth. Beat in baking powder, vanilla and salt. Gently fold in flour and milk alternating. Add blueberries and fold in until just combined. Be careful not to over mix the batter to ensure lightness. Fill cases up to about half. Bake for 15-20 minutes until risen just above the case and golden brown.


Spinach and Feta Tart

For a little gathering I was asked to make something, and tarts of any kind are always the show stoppers. I think it has to do with the perception of difficulty involved in making them... I suppose it does seem crazy when you can buy beautiful ones from farmers markets, delis and maybe even a supermarket. For me there is huge enjoyment in making a tart from scratch, pastry and all. It is frustrating, nail biting and satisfying, pretty much what all baking or making feels like. There is also a huge sense of achievement when it comes out just right. My great aunt once said to me that with cooking it is always "hit and miss", I often think she's right and certainly when it comes to things involving pastry. I would definitely suggest giving it a go, perhaps even practicing it but absolutely don't give up because it's fantastic when it works. 

This post includes the recipe for shortcrust pastry but if it feels like a challenge too far then a good quality shop bought one will do just fine. The key to really fabulous shortcrust pastry is that it needs to be 'short' in its crumb, meaning it must be really light and flakey in texture. This is best achieved by using a combination of fats (butter and vegetable fat) and the dough not being overworked. The fats should also be as cold as possible and maintained that way. You can make the pastry by hand, which works well but you will need to work quickly in order to keep the fats from melting. The best and easiest way is to use a food processor. With any tart one of the most important aspects is to cook the pastry properly whether home made or shop bought. The pastry shell should be well done, golden and cooked through before putting any fluid into it. Nobody likes a soggy bottom!

These sorts of things can always go horribly wrong but it's challenging and fun, so why not try this out for a light lunch or supper this weekend. Served with a simple salad, it's a thing of triumph and beauty.

Shortcrust Pastry

300g plain flour
75g butter
75g vegetable fat
(you can use 150g butter if you don't have vegetable fat)
2-3 tbsp cold water
pinch of salt

Place flour, salt and fats in a food processor and blitz until the mix resembles bread crumbs. Add water and blitz again until the dough just comes together. Over mixing causes the dough to become tough and rubbery. If you are working by hand, cut or grate fat into a bowl with the flour. Work the fat in quickly until the mixture has no lumps in it. Add the water and mix into a dough. In both instances, remove dough from the bowl and knead briefly to bring together. Form into a ball and flatten into a disc. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. This allows the dough to settle and firm up before rolling out. The dough will keep in the fridge for up to a week and can also be frozen for up to a month.

Recipe (serves 6)

Shortcrust pastry
300g spinach
150g feta
300ml double cream
2 whole organic eggs and 1 yolk
Salt and black pepper

The ratio between pastry and filling is an important one, I prefer a thin base and more filling rather than the other way round. The pastry is just as special but you want your filling to really come through.

Roll out pastry to about 3mm in thickness and line a 25cm tart/flan tin, making sure the sides are well pressed into the corners and there are no bubbles on the base. Using a rolling pin, gently roll over the top to cut excess pastry off the sides. Lightly prick surface with a fork. Cover the whole thing in cling film and freeze for an hour. Preheat oven to 190C. Remove pastry case from the freezer, remove cling film. Line with baking paper and fill with baking beans or regular beans, these act a weight to keep the pastry from rising. Bake for 20-25 mins until the sides are a light golden colour, then remove beans and paper and return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes until the base is golden and cooked through. This process is known as blind baking. The pastry will shrink away from the tin slightly.

In the mean time, wash and wilt the spinach and then squeeze out any excess water from the leaves. Roughly chop or pull apart. Crumble feta. In a bowl mix together cream eggs and yolk, season with salt and pepper. Once you have finished blind baking the pastry case and removed it from the oven. Reduce oven to 180C. Fill the pastry case with a layer of spinach topped with feta. Carefully pour in cream mixture without spilling over the sides. Add another good grind of the pepper mill over the surface. Return to the oven and bake for 25-35 minutes or until puffy and golden. Remove and allow to cool for the filling to settle. Serve at room temperature.