At this time of year I get all the spices out of the cupboard and start to use those that I forgot about over the summer months. I found a tub of my homemade keema spice mix and although I know it’s delicious with lamb I wanted to try and make a veggie version. After trying out a few different vegetables and quantities I decided that I like this version of my vegetable keema rice the best. Not only is it easy and filling, it’s also got four different veg in and loads of texture from that crispy paneer.
Sometimes there’s nothing better than a sandwich. It could be a properly crusty, thickly sliced loaf filled with simple cheese and chutney, a bagel filled with pastrami, gherkins and mustard or some thin rye bread topped with smoked fish and herbs. I don’t think I could ever tire of something that you can just grab and eat with your hands. My salami and mozzarella open ciabatta is just the thing for a simple, no fuss, full of flavour dinner. Don’t tell anyone but I could have eaten all four pieces to myself.
I often make macaroni cheese, or some variation of it. I like to play around with adding vegetables, different cheeses or flavours in the sauce. This three cheese and cauliflower macaroni cheese is one of the most delicious I’ve made. The combination of Emmental (for sweetness and stringiness), Cheddar (for bite and cheesiness) and Parmesan (for savouriness) means you get the best of all the cheeses! And don’t worry, there’s a cauliflower in there too; to add a little vegetable healthiness amongst all that indulgence.
Sometimes I end up with an awful lot of veg in my fridge. I use bits and bobs throughout the week but despite my best brassica consuming efforts I still get left with some of it. These leftovers often end up in a soup (my autumn minestrone is a great way to use kale) but recently I wanted to make something different. I really like green veg with pasta so I grabbed my veggies, some gnocchi and cheese and set about making a gnocchi, kale and spinach gratin.
You will need (for two big portions):
Beetroot is one of my favourite vegetables; it’s sweet, earthy flavour is like nothing else. I like to roast it with other root veg, boil it and add a little rich balsamic vinegar for a simple side or salad and I have tried smoking it on the barbecue in the past too. This latest batch of beetroot however I decided should be turned into a beetroot and feta dip. Firstly because the colour would be glorious and secondly because I wanted something punchy and full of flavour to serve with some delicious sourdough.
There’s something about an iceberg lettuce and I feel it is sometimes a little overlooked. When it’s properly crunchy it’s so refreshing and I think rather delicious. My Smoked Chicken Caesar Salad is a recipe which is perfect for the hot weather we are having at the moment. I didn’t make the dressing myself but a homemade dressing would be fantastic. Personally I didn’t fancy all that whisking, I much preferred the idea of sipping a well iced beverage outside. As green beans are in season at the moment it would have been rude not to add a handful.
You will need (for two):
- 1 smoked chicken breast (or pack of smoked chicken)
- Handful green beans
- ¼ iceberg lettuce, washed and shredded
- Large handful mixed salad leaves
- Good quality Caesar dressing
- Crusty bread
If you can get your hands on some smoked chicken from your butcher I find it always has a great flavour and a delicious texture. I have seen it in supermarkets too which would be good to use. Dice or slice up the smoked chicken and put to one side.
Tip the green beans into a pan of salted boiling water and cook for two minutes then drain. You want them to retain some bite.
Layer all the ingredients up in a bowl, drizzle over the Caesar dressing (I am pretty liberal with mine!) and then add some shaved Parmesan over the top.
Serve with a nice crusty bread.
I made an extra serving of this and had it for leftovers for lunch the next day. A few of the salad leaves looked a little sad but as the flavours had had time to mingle together it had a great flavour.
Where’s the bacon? Well, because I used smoked chicken in this recipe I don’t feel that bacon is really necessary but you could add some if you so wish. I also didn’t add any croutons as I prefer to share some warmed bread which you can rip in to and mop up those last bits of dressing in the bowl. Crisp leaves, flavourful chicken, savoury Parmesan and sweet green beans; all rounded off with rich Caesar dressing, this is simple food at its best. Using some hot smoked salmon would be delicious in this recipe, especially with a little sliced cucumber.
What’s that? More aubergines? Yes actually, and I make no apologies because this Aubergine and Ricotta Gnocchi Bake is so good that I think we can all forgive if I’ve been a little heavy on the aubergine recipes of late. The key to this dish comes down to two things. Firstly, the aubergine has to be fried beautifully to make sure it’s soft, silky and golden brown. Secondly, adding a handful of cherry tomatoes really transforms the tomato base as it adds a wonderful freshness and sweetness. This is such a delicious vegetarian dish and one that feels at home as much now, in the summer, as it would in the autumn.
You will need (for two):
- 2 medium aubergines, cut into length slices, then halved and chopped into finger sized pieces
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- Olive oil for cooking
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 tin chopped tomatoes
- Handful really ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
- 200g ricotta cheese
- Pinch sugar
- Few sprigs fresh basil and oregano, roughly chopped
- Salt and pepper
- Parmesan cheese
Get a large frying pan on a medium heat and add a little oil, you need enough to just cover the bottom of the pan. Add the aubergine and fry until golden brown and soft. You may need to do this in batches depending on how much aubergine you have and how big your pan is. Once the aubergine is done place it on some kitchen paper to remove any excess oil.
Add a little more oil to the pan and add the onion. Fry for around 10 minutes before adding the garlic. Continue to fry for a few more minutes then tip in the chopped and cherry tomatoes.
Bring the tomato mixture to a simmer and continue to simmer until it’s reduced by around a third then add the sugar, salt and pepper, basil and oregano.
Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the gnocchi according to pack instructions; but drain them around 30 seconds before the pack says to. The gnocchi will continue to cook in the oven.
Remove the tomato sauce from the heat and stir in the ricotta and aubergine.
Drain the gnocchi and add to the tomato and aubergine mix, stir everything together well and then put into an oven proof dish. Grate over a little Parmesan.
Bake in a preheated oven at 200C for around 20 minutes or until the top is golden and bubbling.
You could definitely try using any shape of pasta rather than gnocchi if you wanted to. I know you shouldn’t really cook with basil but I actually like the way the leaves wilt and give their subtle flavour over to the sauce once they are cooked. It’s great to dive into this dish and get a forkful of everything: sticky gnocchi, soft aubergine, creamy ricotta, a chunk of tomato, a bit of basil and a bit of punch from the Parmesan. I don’t think a few slices of fried courgette would go amiss either.
There have been several aubergine themed recipes on the meal plan and blog recently, I just can’t seem to eat enough of them! The combination of aubergine and tomatoes is a hard one to beat, it’s one of my absolute favourites. Even better when the veggies are roasted to intensify the flavour and served with cheese. My roasted aubergine and tomato pasta is the culmination of many attempts to get it just right. Dicing the aubergine up like this not only means a quicker cooking time but more aubergine surface area to soak up all that olive oil.
You will need (for two):
- 1 large aubergine, chopped into cubes around the same size as the cherry tomatoes
- 2 handfuls cherry tomatoes
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed but skins left on
- 150g pasta
- 125g mozzarella, torn or chopped into small cubes
- 3 sundried tomatoes, finely diced
- Few sprigs fresh basil, roughly torn
Tip the diced aubergine, tomatoes and garlic onto a non-stick baking tray. Add a good glug of olive oil along with some salt and pepper and mix everything together with your hands so that everything is well coated in oil and seasoning.
Roast everything in an oven at 190C for 25-30 minutes or until the tomatoes are just starting to split and the aubergine is turning golden brown.
While the aubergine is roasting cook the pasta according to packet instructions.
Drain the pasta well and tip in the roasted veg (discarding the garlic) along with the sundried tomatoes, basil and mozzarella.
The hot pasta will start to melt the mozzarella which in turn will get all tangled with any caramelised bits of tomato or aubergine that you scraped off the tray. The silky aubergine, sweet tomato, creamy mozzarella, fresh basil and intense sundried tomato are such fantastic flavours together. I am yet to try batch cooking this and freezing it and I think without the cheese it would freeze quite well. You can serve it over pasta or use it as a bruschetta topping; I would be the last person to judge you if you just ate it on its own. Another version with ricotta will be experimented with soon too. Any excuse for more aubergines in my kitchen.
I love how a recipe evolves over time. Many risottos have been made in my kitchen over the years and I have to say a pea risotto has got to be one of my favourites. This recipe for pea, bacon and sundried tomato risotto is, in my opinion, the very best it can be. Other variations have included chorizo, fried speck, mint, goat’s cheese or spinach but this combination of ingredients gives such a variety and depth of flavour that is hard to beat.
You will need (for two people):
- 1 small onion, finely diced (preferably not a red onion)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small garlic clove, crushed
- 4 sundried tomatoes, finely chopped or sliced
- 175g risotto rice
- 500-600ml hot vegetable or chicken stock
- 1 mug full frozen peas
- Small knob of butter
- 4 rashers smoked bacon, chopped
- Salt and pepper
- 25g Parmesan cheese, grated
Start by adding the oil and onion to a saucepan and frying gently for at least 15 minutes until the onion is softened and not coloured. Add the garlic and sundried tomatoes and continue frying for a few more minutes.
Stir the rice into the onion mixture and cook for another minute or two before adding a little vegetable stock.
Add a little vegetable stock to the rice mixture at a time stirring well between each addition and ensuring the stock has been full absorbed before adding the next.
While the risotto is cooking you’ll need to get a small pan of water boiling for the peas and a frying pan heating up for the bacon.
Test the rice to see if it’s cooked and if so, remove the pan from the heat, pop the lid on and leave to one side for five minutes.
While the risotto is resting cook the peas in the boiling water and fry the bacon until crispy.
Blend the peas with a little butter to make a rough puree. If you’d rather add the peas whole that’s no problem, I just love the bright green colour blending them gives the risotto.
Stir the peas, bacon and Parmesan into the risotto, check the seasoning and add a little salt and pepper if it needs it.
At the heart of any good risotto is of course the perfectly cooked rice, cheese and onion combo. Adding the sundried tomatoes gives such a punchy, savoury flavour which coupled with the sweet peas and salty bacon is just the best. Slightly different to my normal weeknight recipes where I try to use as few pans as possible this recipe is definitely worth the extra washing up.
It was one of those days where I wanted something simple but interesting. A dish which would take a few minutes to make and take plenty of time to enjoy eating it. I tried something similar to this artichoke and red pepper gratin when in France last year and have wanted to have a go at making it myself for ages. It’s a perfect recipe for a rainy Sunday afternoon and although made from a few simple ingredients is so much more than the sum of its parts.
You will need (for two greedy people or four less-so-greedy people):
- 2 red peppers, thinly sliced
- 2 tins artichokes – see note below
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 tbsp olive oil plus extra for roasting
- 200g soft goats cheese
- 150ml double cream
- Salt and pepper
Note – I used tinned artichokes in water. If I made it again I would use the chargrilled artichokes in oil because they would give a lovely, smoky flavour but they would need draining really well.
Put the sliced peppers onto a baking tray and mix with a little oil and salt and pepper. Bake at 200C for 20 minutes until starting to char at the edges.
While the peppers are roasting add a tbsp olive oil to a frying pan with the garlic and thyme. Add the artichokes and fry gently for a few minutes.
Add the artichokes and peppers to a roasting dish.
Gently warm up the double cream in a small saucepan. Stir through the goat’s cheese and a good grinding of black pepper and carry on stirring until the cheese has fully melted into the cream.
Pour the cheese sauce over the vegetables then put everything back in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown on the top.
Serve with crusty bread.
The best way to serve this is at the table with a plate each and a serving spoon. You can scoop up as many artichokes and peppers as you like onto your plate and then load them onto crusty, ripped off pieces of bread and enjoy every mouthful. The sweetness of the peppers with the delicate, slightly grassy artichokes and smooth cheese sauce is truly delicious. A little bit of added thyme finishes everything off beautifully and if I could have got my hands on a fougasse to serve it with it would have been even better.