Butternuts for roasting

This week I’ve got the last of this season’s butternut squash. After this any of the stuff you see around is most likely to be from another hemisphere. I love  butternut but not enough to have it make a journey from Argentina. If you haven’t cooked it before, butternut squash makes all kinds of wonderful soups, gratins and stews. It’s also great served on its own (roasted, boiled, steamed or fried) then dressed with a little sea salt, olive oil and the tiniest dash of balsamic vinegar.

Flavourwise, its earthy and quite sweet (which makes it a great weaning food for babies) and goes very well with garlic, leeks, onions, potatoes, chiles, maple syrup, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, parsley, sage and orange. Most recipes call for just the flesh and getting the skin off does look daunting but it’s not really. I find the best way is to quarter it first and then peel. After that, take out the seeds and stringy bits and cut the flesh as required. And what a lot of people don’t know is if you roast your butternut the skin ends up soft enough to eat which makes things even easier.

One of the simplest ways to cook butternut comes from a friend who reckons she got the recipe in New Zealand.You basically cut your butternut in half and stick in the oven so it really couldn’t be less labour intensive…..

Sweet roasted Butternut

You’ll need:

Butternuts (of course!!!!)


Brown sugar

Sea salt

Cinnamon or chili

Clean the skin and cut the butternut in half, then roast it softside up for 20 minutes. Turn it over and smear the flesh with butter, brown sugar, a generous pinch of sea salt and either a pinch of cinnamon or chili.

Butternuts with sugar and cinnamon

Return to the oven and roast for a further 30 to 40 minutes depending on the size of your squash or until the flash has caramelised.

This is fantastic served with lamb, pork or some baked feta cheese with a cous cous salad dressed with olive oil, toasted pine nuts and plenty of chopped rocket or flatleaf parsley.

Roasted butternut

With the weather so horrible it had to be soup today and I made one of my favourites –  butternut, with Parmesan and thyme. It’s quite a simple recipe but it gives knockout results. I’ve served it on Christmas day it’s that good. The sharp salty tang of the cheese combines with the thyme to give an almost meaty flavour that’s incredibly moreish. There’s a little cream in there too which means it’s nicely filling aswell.

Butternut Soup with Parmesan and Thyme (for 2 as a lunch or 3 as a starter)

You’ll need:

500gr peeled butternut

60ml olive oil

1 small onion chopped

4 cloves garlic finely chopped

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried

750ml vegetable stock (as usual I cheat and use Marigold)

2 tablespoons double cream

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan and some Parmesan shavings for garnish (make these with your veg peeler)

Sour cream for garnishing at the end – not absolutely crucial and some regular cream or yogurt will also do fine

Heat the olive oil in a pot over a lowish heat then very gently sweat the butternut for about 5 minutes then add the onion, garlic and thyme. Continue cooking gently for another 10 minutes. Turn up the heat a little and add the vegetable stock in 3 stages stirring well between each addition. Bring everything to the boil then reduce to a gentle simmer, season with salt and pepper then cover and continue cooking for a further 25 minutes.

Butternut soup

To finish the soup off add 2 tablespoons of double cream and the grated Parmesan. Check and correct the seasoning if necessary then cook for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before blending until smooth adding a little more stock if necessary to get the consistency you want. Before serving reheat and garnish with a drizzle of sour cream if you have it and some Parmesan shavings. Don’t forget that soup freezes really well so it’s worth making a double or triple quantity you can use spuds and/or carrots to make up any shortfall on the butternut front.


A soup for every day

January 28, 2013

Lentil soup

This is the soup we eat right through the winter. It’s very tasty, easy to make, nutritiuous,  you can make vast quantites of it to freeze or stash in the fridge and very importantly it’s super, supercheap. So what goes into this wonder lunch/dinner/snack? Well, pretty much anything, especially the kind of stuff that’s in season at the moment (leeks, onions and roots… lots and lots of roots) The base is red lentils which take the same time to cook as most root veg (20mins) and then it’s whatever’s in the fridge really. Before you leap here’s a few ground rules

First stage 

Start by gently frying your onions or leeks when they’re soft you add lots of garlic and some chilli . A bay leaf in the pot is also very good at this stage.

If you’ve got a pepper or some fennel  they can go in with the onions as it’s good to cook these guys until they’re really, really tender and this won’t happen if you add them later.

Next step

The spices also go in here and these, my friends,are up to you.  Some quick ideas that will never fail you are:

  • cumin seeds and/or cracked coriander seeds
  • any curry masala you like will work
  • your basic fresh chilli and ginger mix is always good and perfect for warding off colds and flus right now
  • A spoonful of thai curry pastes are a great quick fix and nicely followed up with some coconut milk when you add stock and lime juice when you serve

Let these cook for a minute or two (especially the chill and ginger) and add any mix you fancy of the following:

Sweet Potatoes




Jerusalem Artichokes




To this then add well rinsed red lentils. As a rule of thumb the ratio I use is for every 4 cups of veg I add a cup of lentils. Finally add stock – about a litre (Marigold usually) for every 5 cups of veg and lentils (ie 4 veg + 1 lentils) . Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer and leave for about 20 minutes.


When everything is tender,blast with your blender til smooth. Serve topped with yogurt and toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds or drizzle with chilli oil or lime juice – whatever you like. Feel warmer immediately !!

Apologies for being so remiss on the recipe front of late – we’ve been very busy with the 8 week Healthy Eating Programme. Now that we’ve got everything up and running and things are a bit more settled I’ll be resuming normal service.

Have a great weekend,


 sweet potato soup

Ok,  it’s not pumpkin but sweet potatoes are about as seasonal as you can get right now and very similar so you can try this one with any leftover pumpkins you have around. This soup is just perfect for this time of year. Warm and comforting, very moreish and almost filling enough to be dinner – if it’s not enough a cheese course afterwards will sort things out or there’s always the trick or treat bag……..

Pumpkin ghosts

Bacon is a brilliant foil for sweet potato. You get that lovely balance of sweet and salty. I added in a Parmesan rind for an extra savoury hit and I think that that’s what makes it so satisfying. I’ve been growing sage (is it me or is this one of the slowest growing herbs ever??) and decided to add a few leaves into the pot then fry some more til crunchy for the top. These really make it along with a little drizzle of sour cream. If you don’t have sage no worries, some toasted pumpkin seeds make a great topping too. All in all, most satisfying and ready in a decidedly unscary 30 minutes.

Sweet Potato soup with pancetta topped with crispy sage and sour cream (enough for 2-3 hungry people or 4 as a starter)

You’ll need:

Olive oil

2 onions roughly chopped

100gr pancetta or streaky bacon chopped

600gr sweet potato peeled and cubed

6 or 7 sage leaves

1 litre chicken or vegetable stock

1 Parmesan rind roughly 4cm x 4 cm

To garnish:

10-12 sage leaves

Vegetable oil for frying

A little sour cream

Begin by heating a generous glug of olive oil in a pot. Add the onions and let them fry gently for about 2 minutes before throwing in the bacon. Continue cooking over a low to medium heat until things start to really soften and change colour. If you haven’t already prepared them, this is the time to get the sweet potato ready. When the bacon and onions have nicely darkened to a lovely golden brown tip in the sweet potatoes and sage leaves. Stir everything together and slightly brown the sweet potatoes before pouring in the stock. Season with a generous pinch of salt, add the Parmesan rind then bring everything to the boil. Lower the heat then simmer for about 20 minutes until the spud has softened. Take off the heat and let things cool down a bit before blending til smooth. Check the seasoning, adding black pepper, more salt if you think it needs and even a squirt of lemon juice if feel a little kick is called for(up to you).

To finish

Heat a little vegetable oil in a small pan. Fry the sage leaves til crispy. Drizzle a teaspoon of sour cream on top of each soup bowl then finish with a few sage leaves.


This week all our bags have a head of celery from Marc Michel’s Organic Life farm. It’s not everyone’s favourite I know, but it is brilliant behind the scenes flavour builder in soups and stews. Chop a few stalks and fry it up with the onions when you start (and that goes for this week’s recipe top) for a more rounded finished dish.

It’s lovely in a simple salad with walnuts and  Parmesan shavings dressed with lemon juice and olive oil but if you want something a bit more robust the recipe I posted last year for a stew with chorizo is so tasty I promise it will convert any celery hater.

Have a brilliant Hallowe’en,


Moroccan parsnip soup

This week brings the first of this season’s parsnips which for me always mean autumn. A member of the carrot family, they are sweet with a gorgeous earthiness so they work really well with things like butter, garlic, parsley, potatoes, honey, curry, cinnamon and nutmeg. They can be boiled, pureed, mashed and deep-fried but I think roasting really brings up their lovely flavour and it really couldn’t be an easier way to go. Simply peel and cut them into even-sized chunks then heat some olive oil in a roasting tin. Toss in the parsnips and roast for about 45 minutes. As you’d expect, these are brilliant with an roast dinner but you can also use them with veggie meals like say, a spiced (try cumin, chilli and garlic)  cous cous.

My recipe this week is for a warming Moroccan style soup with cumin seeds, Harissa and lots of garlic (great for fighting oncoming colds as the weather starts to turn wintery). Harissa, if you haven’t had it before, is a thick spicy Moroccan chilli paste you get in Middle Eastern shops and good delis. This soup has heat but won’t blow your head off. We all had it for dinner last night and the kids ate it quite happily. If it’s more fire you’re after just add more Harissa.

Moroccan style soup with parsnips, chickpeas and Harissa served with garlic scented toasted breadcrumbs

You’ll need:

1 medium onion

Olive oil

2 medium carrots (roughly 200gr)

2 medium parsnips (roughly 250-300gr)

2 bay leaves

5 cloves garlic roughly chopped

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

2L vegetable stock (Marigold as always unless you make your own)

1 tin chickpeas


To garnish;

A handful breadcrumbs

1 clove garlic

Olive oil

Begin by chopping the onion then throw it into a pot with a generous dash of olive oil. Sauté over a lowish heat and get on with dicing the carrots and parsnips. Throw these into the pot along with the bay leaves. Add a little more olive oil if you think things might burn,  then cook everything for about 5 minutes.  Add the  garlic and cumin seeds. Keep things cooking for another 5 minutes stirring well to make sure nothing burns. Add the stock, chickpeas (rinsed and drained), 2 teaspoons of Harissa paste and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to the boil then cover and cook over a low heat for 30 minutes.
Just before you serve prepare the garlic breadcrumbs – fry a clove of garlic in some olive oil over a low heat for a couple of minutes, remove the garlic and add a handful of breadcrumbs and toast until golden brown over a low heat. Sprinkle on top of the soup and serve.
Variations: Most veg works in this kind of soup,  you could throw in some diced red pepper and fresh or tinned Tomatoes would be great as well. Some fresh parsley or coriander is lovely on top too.
Have a great week,

Courgette and parmesan soup  with a crunchy pepper salsa

Unless there’s an Indian summer on the horizon it looks like we’ve had our lot. I don’t normally make soup with summer varieties but this week it feels like the only way to go. I unearthed a couple of Parmesan rinds in the fridge the other day and decided to use them with this week’s courgettes. Those rock hard rinds should never be thrown away because they are brilliant for soups. When they sit in liquid they release a goergeous salty savouryness that adds loads of flavour. There doesn’t seem to be any use by date to this so always keep them.

The soup I made was simple – courgettes, spud, onions, garlic and a little marjoram. The Parmesan rind brings it all together and gives the dish a lovely depth.  To add a bit more punch and texture I made a crunchy salsa with Ramiro pepper, garlic scented breadcrumbs and a little balsamic to serve on top. This recipe makes enough for 2 but if you have more courgettes I’d recommend making a double quantity.

A summer soup with courgette and Parmesan with a crispy Ramiro pepper salsa

You’ll need:

1 medium onion, roughly chopped

Olive oil

2 cloves garlic, roughlychopped

A pinch dried marjoram (or oregano)

1 bay leaf

300gr courgettes sliced and quartered

200gr potato peeled and diced

A piece of Parmesan rind about 3cm x 3cm

750ml vegetable stock (as always I go for Marigold)

For the crispy salsa

1/2 Ramiro pepper very finely chopped

1/2 small onion very finely chopped

1 tablespoon parsley finely chopped

2 cloves garlic finely minced

A small piece fresh chilli

2 heaped tablespoons breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper

Balsamic vinegar

Begin by heating a generous glug olive oil in a pot over a medium heat. Throw in the onions and toss for a few minutes until soft then add the garlic, marjoram, bay leaf and a pinch of fine salt. Saute for another minute then add the courgettes and potatoes. Continue cooking for another five minutes. Throw in the Parmesan rind followed by the stock. Bring everything to the boil then turn the heat down and simmer for 20 minutes while you get go with the salsa….

Fiinely chopped peppers

Heat a tablespoon olive oil over a medium heat. Add the garlic, toss for about 30 seconds until it has softened but not changed colour then add the breadcrumbs. Toss with the garlic then add the pepper, chilli onion and parsley. Saute everything for about a minute then turn up the heat a little and add a dash of balsamic. Allow it to burn off, stirring all the while then turn off the heat. Add a tiny pinch of salt and a good grinding black pepper.

To finish the soup, remove the bay leaf and Parmesan from the pot then blast til smooth with your hand blender. Check your seasoning and consistency (you may like to add a little more water or stock) then serve topped with the crispy salsa. As I finish writing this the sun is now blasting into the kitchen. Indian summer!? Let’s hope so. This soup tastes even better in a sunny garden.

Have a great weekend,


Swede as

May 27, 2011

I know about 5 people who get excited about swede and I’m guessing you’re not one of them. It’s great as part of a roast dinner – braised in stock, mashed with lots and lots of butter and a generous handful of fresh thyme leaves or in a gratin with pancetta and cream.  However, swede’s, um…….. ultra-rootiness (to put it mildly!) means that it is  rarely used as a stand-alone main ingredient. It’s just a bit too hardcore for most people and that’s fair enough. I’ve been wondering how to get around this for a while – after all swede is one of our indigenous varieties. It’s local, seasonal and above all, great value for money.

Last week I tried a soup with coconut milk and Thai red curry paste. I know, a very far cry from how you normally approach swedes, but it worked really well.  All that earthiness is taken down a few notches by the red curry while the coconut adds a lovely mellow note to the sweetness. Swede, you’ve met your match.

It’s a very simple soup really. Lots of onions fried up in coconut oil then some red curry paste, a few kaffir lime leaves and a dash of Nam Pla (fish sauce from the Asian supermarket), the guts of a swede and some veggie stock. About 10 minutes prep followed by 20 minutes cooking then a blast with the blender and you’re done.

As with all root veg soups, I added a handful of red lentils to fortify things plus give you the option of not bothering to cook anything else if energy levels are low after work.  This soup freezes really well and will keep in the fridge for days so it’s a brilliant standby. It’s filling but a bowl of rice or some bread are needed to complete things or you may find yourself attacking the ice-cream with more fervour than usual later on….

Thai red curry swede soup with coconut and lime

You’ll need:

3 medium onions chopped

Coconut or vegetable oil

1 teaspoon of Thai red curry paste

1 tin coconut milk

2 kaffir lime leaves – if you don’t have these it’s ok just add extra lime at the end

1 -2 teaspoons Nam Pla

600gr swede (peeled and cut into chunks)

1 cup of red lentils rinsed

1 litre vegetable stock

A lime

To garnish: chopped coriander

Heat a tablespoon of coconut oil in a pot and add the onions. Saute until soft and starting to change colour. Stir in  curry paste and the kaffir lime leaves then add the coconut milk and a dash of Nam Pla.  Stir well to mix all the ingredients together then throw in the swede. Pour in the stock and allow everything to come to the boil then turn down the heat and simmer over a mediumish heat for about 20 minutes until the swede and lentils are fully cooked. Take off the heat and puree with a handblender until completely smooth. Taste and add a little salt if you think it needs it then add a decent spritz of lime. To serve, top with coriander.

I promised to talk healthy eating this week but really I must preface this by saying that if you’re eating fresh seasonal fruit and veg right through the year you’re pretty much there. January, is of course the month to up your game. As I learn more about nutrition,  healthier eating has become about eating more grains. Wheat, the one we eat most of in this country isn’t that good for us. Compared to other grains it rates pretty poorly on the nutrition stakes plus it’s quite hard to digest which means it bloats and slows you down and that’s never good.

As you know, I’m a big fan of brown rice and quinoa but recently I’ve been eating lots of spelt. Spelt is one of the most ancient grains and more importantly, the most nutritious. From what I can gather, it fell out of favour because wheat was easier and cheaper to grow so you never really see it. The now defunct Blazing Salads bakery (boo and double boo) used to make a fab spelt bread which showcased all the lovely nuttiness of the grain but you rarely see it outside the health food shop apart from that.  The Italians still cook with a pearled version of the whole grain called farro and you’ll find it in soups and risottos there. I’ve found farro very hard to track down here so have been using the whole grain kind with the full husk which means it has tons of fibre as well as all the B vitamins, iron, magnesium, niacin, thiamin, phosphorus and up to 15% protein!! You’ll get this in any health-food shop.







I usually make a kind of soupy stew which, as you can see, looks a bit like risotto. At this time of year we’re awash with carrots and parsnips and they work really well with the sweet nutty flavour of spelt.  For this recipe I also added some porcini to add some depth and meatiness to the dish so you get a rich, full-flavoured stew with lots of sweetness from the roots. As usual I serve this dish with a communal bowl of brown rice to complete the protein and make sure no one goes hungry. You can top it off with some Parmesan shavings but this month I’m really trying to take the pressure off my digestive system and cheese is particularly hard on it so I didn’t bother. Nobody complained…….

A rich wintery spelt stew with carrots and parsnips

You’ll need:

2 onions roughly chopped

Coconut or olive oil

2 sticks celery finely choppedPorcini

6 cloves garlic roughly chopped

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon dried thyme

500gr parnips

500gr carrots

10g porcini – these are dried cep mushrooms and you’ll find them in delis

2 cups spelt

2 litres vegetable stock – Marigold as usual

At least half an hour before you start cooking, put the spelt in a bowl of water to soak. This will cut down your cooking time and make it easier to digest. You can also put the porcini in a cup of warm water to soften them up for later.When you’re ready to start, heat some oil in a soup pot and begin to gently fry the onions. Let them cook for about 12 minutes before adding the celery, bay leaves and thyme. Allow everything to cook until the onions and celery are really soft and almost beginning to caramelize (this means more flavour for your finished dish). Add the garlic and a little more oil if you think it needs it and continue cooking for a further 5 or 6 minutes. In the meantime, drain the spelt and set aside. Take the porcini out of the water and finely chop them. Be sure to keep the water you steeped them in as this has lots of flavour. Add the porcini and stir well then pour in the steeping liquid too.  Stir everything well then pour in the stock and add the carrots and parsnips. Bring everything to the boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 1 1/2 hours until the spelt is cooked ie tender but still chewy.

Another great way to give the body a rest and your health a boast is to eat some veg only meals. A salad is the obvious way to go but in the winter you need more bulk than usual so you feel nice and full going out to brave the elements. This is tricky without grains or bread so I’ve been adding steamed sweet potato to mine which adds a lovely sweetness and leaves my belly nice and full. The one I made yesterday is in the photo. As you can see pretty much everything you can think of is in there.

I started off my peeling and chopping a sweet potato. I put the pieces in the steamer and after about 5 minutes added a generous handful of broccoli florets. When the broccoli is ready the sweet potato should be too (if not, just leave it for another minute or 2). Leave the sweet potato and broccoli to cool off and get on with the other ingredients. This part is completely a moveable feast and really depends on what’s in the fridge. Yesterday I chopped 1/2 an onion, 2 sticks of celery (great for crunch in any salad) and 1/2 red pepper. To this I added a big handful of the super-nutritious salad leaf purslane that came in my delivery yesterday and half the tray of purple cress that came too(you just snip them at the bottom where the roots all clump up). The dressing I keep very simple – about 4 desert spoons of olive oil or a mix of walnut and olive and 1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar. Yes of course I’m tempted to add seeds, nuts maybe some tahini to the dressing but leaving these out make it as easy as it can be for the body to process everything and make full use of all the good stuff in the veggies plus keeping things so simple means you’ll really taste the flavours.