Thursday, 29 May 2014

Spinach, feta & beetroot cannelloni

1 beetroot, 200ml passata, 1 leek, 1 small white onion, 1 carrot, 400g spinach, 150g feta, 50g cheddar, 1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg, 12 cannelloni tubes, olive oil, 1/2 tsp rosemary, 1/2tsp basil, 1/2 tsp oregano, 1/2 glass red wine.
Serves: 4 Preparation: 30 minutes (plus overnight)

Words fail me to describe just how luscious this dish was. Spinach, as you know, is my absolute favourite and I would genuinely eat it three times a day without ever getting remotely bored of it. Mmmm spinach. But even those without my passion for it, will love the combination of tangy feta and fresh juicy spinach, smothered in a rich tomato and beetroot sauce
. For best results, prepare a day in advance. By allowing the pasta to rest overnight, the juices from the spinach will begin to soften it, meaning it can cook for less time in the oven and avoid that horrible "leathery" texture that can happen when the sauce isn't sufficient enough to "boil" it, as dried pasta really does require this.

1) Combine the fresh spinach, nutmeg and feta in a food processor until a thick puree has formed. Fill the cannelloni tubes using a teaspoon and a little patience and transfer to an ovenproof dish. 

2) Use the grate option on your food processor to blitz the onion, leek, carrot and beetroot together, then transfer the soffrito/mirepoix to a pan with a glug of olive oil and allow to sizzle for 5 minutes until soft and juicy. I like to add a glass of red wine for extra flavour and cook it off at this stage, but this is entirely optional.

3) Add the herbs and passata, then simmer for a further 10 minutes and set aside to cool down to room temperature before pouring over the cannelloni. Allow to rest in the fridge overnight.

4) Top with the cheddar cheese, cover with foil and bake in the oven for 20 minutes at 200 degrees. Remove the foil for the last 5 minutes, then serve hot.

Cauliflower mac & cheese


1 cauliflower, 100ml double cream or almond milk, 1 leek, 200g cheddar and gruyere, 2 cups macaroni, 1 tsp mustard, 1 leek, 1 tbsp butter.

Serves: 2 Preparation: 30 minutes

Mac and cheese and cauliflower cheese are both, individually, comfort foods of glory. In typical fashion for this greedy, cheese-obsessed foodie, I like to have my cake and eat it too, but this dish is surprisingly light and needn't be too cheese heavy, for those who may wish to cut down on their fat intake and it's a genius way of getting vegetables into children or adults who may be fussy about vegetables for reasons best known to themselves.

Cauliflower and almond are perfect partners, the nutty flavour of the almonds goes so beautifully with the cheese and by ramping up the savoury notes with leek and mustard, less cheese is necessary to achieve the desired results. Oh if you wish you can use double cream, but seriously - the almond milk gets a massive thumbs up from me here!

1) P
repare the cauliflower by removing the leaves and slicing the stem to the base. Slice around the stem to release the florets and add to a pan of boiling water. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the cauliflower is soft and yielding, but do take care not to overcook it or the taste will be impaired and let's face it - you're killing off the nutrients!

2) Slice the leek, add to a pan along with the butter and sizzle until soft. Transfer to a blender and pulse thoroughly, adding the almond milk, mustard and drained cauliflower bit by bit until a smooth puree is formed.

3) Simmer the macaroni for 6-8 minutes in boiling, salted water, then drain and return to the pan.

4) Pass the cauliflower, leek and almond mixture through a sieve and into the pan, adding half of the cheese (grated) to stir through the mixture.

5) Transfer to and ovenproof dish and top with the remaining grated cheese. Bake in the oven for 5 minutes at 200 degrees and then serve hot. I personally prefer a gooey cheese topping to a crispy golden one, and besides you don't want the gorgeous, unctuous macaroni to dry out, but this is of course a matter of taste. Should you be the sort of person who prefers a solid slab of pasta, then by all means cook it for longer! (I'm afraid I must judge you just a little though, especially if you also like mac and cheese pies... *rolls eyes*)

Chicken risotto


1 pint chicken stock, a good handful of roast chicken, 1 stalk celery, 1 carrot, 1 small white onion, 1 tbsp butter, 1 glass white wine.
Serves: 3 Preparation: 25 minutes

Because I'm a vegetarian, when I roast a chicken for my husband and son, there is inevitably a decent amount of meat remaining. As I always boil up the carcass for stock, chicken soup is often the next dish on the list - but why not utilise that lovely fresh stock and leftover meat for a chicken risotto?
All risottos (no matter what the ingredients) can be made in 3 simple stages. The first is called tostatura - coating the rice in fat, the second involves cooking off some alcohol and the third involves releasing the starch from the rice one ladle of stock at a time.

1) Finely dice, or blitz in a food processor the carrot, onion and celery in preparation for your soffrito/mirepoix or "aromatics" as we so unromantically refer to this magical mixture in England. Transfer to a pan along with a generous knob of butter and sizzle sizzle sizzle away until the onion, celery and carrot are completely soft. This takes around 10 minutes by which time the carrot will have bleached down to a rather pleasing golden orange.

Add the risotto rice and stir until the rice becomes transparent, revealing a white dot in the centre. Add a good glug of white wine and continue stirring until it has cooked off, then add the first ladleful of stock.

Continue adding the stock to the risotto, one ladle at a time, adding the chicken with the second to last ladle of stock. Serve hot, finishing with an indulgent dash of cream if you wish. Remember, risotto should be soupy, not solid!

Carrot, apple & cardamom salad


1 Carrot, 1 apple, 1/2 tsp freshly ground cardamom, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 orange.
Preparation: 5 minutes

To say a salad is supposedly a simple affair for lazy Summer days, the majority that I make involve very little of the "chuck it in a bowl and scoff it" mentality. But whilst life is too short for artfully decorating a plate with blobs of apple gel and dill emulsions at home, I do believe a little marinating goes a long way.

This salad is breathtaking in its simplicity - shaved apple and carrot with a gorgeous, zingy orange and cardamom dressing to bring out the flavour of the carrot and stop the apple from browning (should you wish to brown bag it.)

1) Peel the carrot and apple, discard the skin and then simply carry on peeling! Transfer the slivers of fruit and vegetable flesh into a bowl and set aside.

2) Combine the olive oil with the juice of the orange, season with a tiny smigdeon of salt (no, not a pinch - a smidge!), black pepper and the cardamom.

3) Pour the dressing into the bowl, toss the carrot and apple until the cardamom and pepper is evenly distributed and either serve or set aside until required.

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