Summer 2019: Pot luck

At some point during last year I lost my cooking mojo. Work was manic; sporting, drama and other commitments meant that there were nights when we didn’t eat together; tastes became uber conservative, my psoriasis flared up and I needed to be selective about what I ate…. It was all too much and I settled for a few tried and tasted – and frankly boring options.

Now that life has settled and there is more headspace to plan and experiment I’ve rekindled my passion for being in the kitchen. I’m finding, trying out, adapting or developing a range of one-pot vegetarian or vegan supper dishes and if the leftovers work as next day’s lunch for someone, that’s even better.

Last night’s was a mix of chickpeas, puy lentils, halloumi, kale, sweet potato and squash, pesto, mint, smoked paprika – a version of a recipe found in this book.

Keep your eyes out for more during the summer.

#Slow food – Vegetable cassoulet for January’s good intentions

veg cassoulet

The tail end of last year was frantic with the completion of the education packs for the Abington Park Outdoor Classroom Project and now I’m onto my next project, adapting Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ for a stage production in June at a local heritage site. It’s back to work with a vengeance this week. I’ve cleared the decks of decorations, cut a few very early daffodils from the garden and settled down to scribble. Nourishing and wholesome food and plenty of fresh air is essential when I’m in full-on writing mode.

My Twitter timeline is full of people getting back to work and New Year’s resolutions to get fit and eat healthily. In this house there’s still time for dawdling over a bit of slow cooking in the kitchen and a walk or two in the wild and wet Wiltshire countryside which does tend to give you a healthy appetite for comfort food. Here’s one of our favourite recipes which ticks every box. And before you roll your eyes….yes, you can make a delicious cassoulet without meat! As I am a cook who rarely measures or weighs ingredients, you’ll have to forgive the approximate quantities.

1 cup dry beans ( cannellini,flageoulet or borlotti)
1 carrot, finely diced
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 small leeks. chopped
1 small parsnip, peeled and finely diced
about 1/2 lb  winter squash, chopped to coarse, 1-2″ pieces
about 1/4 lb  mushrooms, quartered

a handful of shredded greens
1 cup apple cider
1 cup passata

3 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
1/2 bunch fresh thyme
a few sage leaves, chopped (optional)
a sprig rosemary, chopped (optional)
1-2 cups fresh breadcrumbs (optional)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
for the roux:
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup plain flour

Soak beans overnight. Drain. Pour boiling water over beans to cover by at least 3 inches and cover. Let sit for 1 hour, and drain.

In a large, cast-iron pot, melt the butter and add the flour. Keep heat on low and stir occasionally for about 30 minutes, until roux is a medium, reddish chestnut-brown.

Add the onion, carrot, leeks and parsnip. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, on low heat. Add an extra tablespoon of butter if mixture feels very dry and is sticking too much to the bottom of the pot. Cook until all vegetables have reduced in size and released most of their juices, so that the pot is becoming dry again. Add the mushrooms, garlic, and the herbs. Once mushrooms have softened a little and garlic is fragrant, deglaze pot with the apple cider. Add the squash, bay leaves, tomato sauce, generous pinches of salt and pepper, and the drained beans.

Place cover on pot and transfer to a preheated low oven. Cook for 2 hours. Remove lid and check beans for tenderness. If beans are not soft enough and mixture is becoming too dry, add a little more tomato sauce or vegetable stock and cover again. If not, sprinkle the optional breadcrumbs across the top of the cassoulet, season with salt and pepper, and cook uncovered for another 15-20 minutes or until breadcrumbs are golden. Let cool a few minutes before serving.

Slow food #1 Butternut squash and lime soup

When the children go back to school and there’s a whiff of woodsmoke in the air the balance of time spent in garden and kitchen shifts ever so slightly. There’s plenty to harvest and forage on the plot or in the lanes and lots to do in the kitchen to preserve the bounty. Bottling, canning, chutney making, planning ahead for the next few months…… I love this time of year.

We are worshippers at the altar of ‘slow food’ on the plot.  In our case this means home grown or locally produced, seasonal, tasty, traditional,easy enough for the children to make – albeit with some help – and with ingredients  that are knocking about the house and garden.

I’ve decided to share some of our recipes with you from time to time. Some are family ones. Some are from my favourite cooks – famous and otherwise. The rest are the result of experimentation or happy accident. I hope you enjoy them.

So today how about this for an Autumn lunch to share with a friend who drops by unexpectedly? Butternut Squash and Lime soup – delicious with a hunk of soda bread.

Roast a chopped and peeled butternut squash in the oven until tender with a couple of cloves of garlic, a small chopped onion and a small bunch of thyme. I use olive oil and a drizzle of local honey. Roasting gives the soup a beautiful depth of flavour.

When tender pour on a generous pint of stock. Transfer it all to a pot or liquidiser. Add a few spoons of creme fraiche and the grated zest and juice of 2 limes. Either hand blend or whizz it up in the liquidiser. Reheat over a low flame. Serve with a scant handful of chopped parsley.

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