Category Archives: Vegetarian

Eat your beetroot

No, really! This easy combination of carrots, beetroot and herbs is the only way I’ve ever managed to get them down. I used pre-cooked beetroot from the supermarket, which I’m fairly sure falls on the “sensible shortcut” spectrum of prepared food use (as opposed to the “New Delia” lunatic side. Seriously, tinned minced lamb!?).

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A lasagna with pesto and mushrooms for the first day of spring

This recipe is adapted from:

“The Kitchen Diaries” (Nigel Slater)
I must spend hours reading and re-reading cookbooks, mostly for pleasure but quite often for those moments of desperation where not a single recipe is right for what you feel like eating. On a day when we’re feeling most definitely under the weather, and time seems to be going backwards rapidly into winter, this recipe, hitherto completely ignored, jumped out from the page. This is a silky, rather than bolstering lasagna, where the textures of vegetables, pasta and sauce melt into each other, making the individually strong flavours come together.

Not a dish to throw together this one – there are three components, the bechamel, pesto and mushroom mixture – so it probably takes a good two hours from start to finish. (I had to run to the supermarket for pine nuts, so it’s a bit difficult to judge). However, the pesto just requires turning on a food processor, so if a bechamel doesn’t daunt you, then all there is to do is a bit of chopping and sautéeing for the mushrooms. Then comes the fun bit of layering the ingredients in the dish – I always use my oven-proof pyrex dish that I use for trifle too as I love seeing the different layers waiting for the final meld. Then it’s ready for the oven, at which point there’s time to open a self-congratulatory bottle of red wine and put your feet up for half an hour before lunch. There’s nothing worse than eating when not relaxed, and nothing better than the calming knowledge of having a dish cooking to perfection in the oven. Leave the washing up until later, and let the wonderful aromas of pesto and parmesan waft around the house until everyone’s ready to eat.

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Guy’s Tomato Sauce

This recipe is taken from:

“Amaretto, Apple Cake and Artichokes: The Best of Anna Del Conte” (Anna Del Conte)

I’m always searching for a quick and easy tomato sauce, as it forms the basis of so many recipes. I have this ideal of a freezer chock full of home-made stock and sauces, ready for whatever culinary whim comes my way. However, since my freezer at the moment is just big enough to accommodate a couple of ice-cube trays and the odd wine cooling emergency, that’ll have to wait. But this sauce, one of the many tomato sauces in Anna Del Conte’s fantastic book, will be first on my freezing list.

The one thing that I’ve learned about sauces living in Italy is the art of the barely-moving simmer. If you want your sauce to have depth of flavour, you need to be prepared to cook it for at least an hour on the lowest possible gas so it just burbles. This sauce is simplicity itself to prepare, but the only thing it needs is time. My rule of thumb for sauce quantities is one 400g tin of tomatoes for every two people. Quantities below are for two, multiply for the freezer accordingly.

I first cooked this to serve with zucchini and feta cakes.

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Zucchini and feta cakes

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This recipe is adapted from:

“The Kitchen Diaries” (Nigel Slater)

As I’ve mentioned, here in Milan we’re going through something of a heat wave, so I thought I’d at least nod to summer and make these delicious little fresh tasting cakes. Well, that, and the fact that I had a bag of courgettes lurking at the bottom of the fridge looking a bit sad and neglected.

Nigel Slater’s recipe included dill as a main seasoning, which I have to say that I’m not a fan of, unless it’s fringing some excellent gravlax. I used the aromatic fresh herbs that are around right now – a mixture of fresh marjoram, oregano, lemon thyme and flat-leaved parsley – but you could use, I think, any selection of soft-leaved fragrant herbs with great results. A bit of mint would be lovely, I’m sure.

Really, rather than cakes, these remind me of individual frittatas but where eggs are used just to bind them together, rather than being the main ingredient. It struck me as I was cooking them, that you could probably cook one big cake filling the whole frying pan rather than individual ones. This would also help to cut the fat used for frying too.

The original recipe suggests that you serve the zucchini cakes with a fine-quality coarse chutney, which I think would be spot on for a summery lunch, with some crusty white bread along side. We were eating this quite late in the evening, and it was a very dark night, it being only March, so a completely salady supper seemed wrong. I decided to make a tomato sauce to go alongside, and serve rice instead of bread.

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Leek and potato soup

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Here in Milan, we’re having a pseudo-spring. It’s 21°C, sunny and judging by the resident birds on my balcony, the animals are full of the joys of it too. The cherry blossom is nearly over, and they’re having to fly in frozen mimosa for the Festa Della Donna on March 8th, and all this after only a few days of having to wear a winter coat. I think everyone feels a bit guilty about enjoying this weather, what with the tv news blaring on about climate change, and the uncertainty of whether winter’s going to come back and give us one last nip before a proper spring. It certainly does feel a bit weird to have skipped straight from autumn back to sunshine.

This one’s another winter warmer – judging by the sky today, it’ll probably be the last of the year. I didn’t cook it to warm us up, but because we needed a bit of TLC, and this is classic comfort food, for me at least. I know that it is not a good idea to associate food with psychological reward, or use it as an emotional crutch, or as comfort. But given that I do, together with most of the population, I think if you balance this with some food that actually does you good (soup rather than the proverbial Cadbury’s Milk Tray), then you’re not going to enter that cycle of feeling rubbish because you ate rubbish because you felt rubbish.

This is my soul food, simple though it is, and it is perfect with buttered wholegrain bread, preferably nubbly with seeds, and some sort of cheese, either grated on top, or in chunks to eat alongside. I used grated parmesan because it was around, but I longed for some cheddar, grated thickly on top and melting oozingly into the soup.

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Mushroom risotto

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I have a risotto jinx, which I try to overcome periodically. I’m not going to list the things that have gone wrong with mine, in order not to jinx any readers in return (that’s some very Italian thinking for you), but suffice it to say that I have somehow made risotti that were both too crunchy and too mushy… yeuch. I know that the method I’m following is right (thanks mum), but somehow that doesn’t usually translate into the actual execution. However, yesterday’s attempt wasn’t too bad when measured on the Husband Eagerness For Seconds scale… so I think it’s fit to share.

Obviously the more wild and interesting your mushrooms are the better. Yesterday I could only get boring old champignons, but I soaked some dried porcini in boiled water and added these to the sauté, which helped to deepen the flavour. I also added some of the soaking liquid to the stock.

This recipe is more than enough for two, but with the leftovers you can follow Nigel Slater‘s advice and make shallow-fried risotto patties – I’m going to try that one over the weekend.

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Filed under Recipe, Rice, Vegetarian