I never get colds and am so under the weather. A couple of  trips out in the torrential rain to get Dan have done me in. Auggie thought I had to be kidding, couldn’t we just leave him there? Only Lee was safe playing with his butterfly, eating his book, safe in his mobile hothouse. Unlike the others he loves being under that plastic pram cover. Auggie tries to get in beside him and is given short shift by Lee. Nice try kid, I’d be in there myself if I could….

The upshot is that our oven is now on every afternoon warming the kitchen and cooking dinner.We’ve been too busy drying off to faff around chopping veg for soups so I’ve been roasting up whatever’s around whole or halved. Yesterday it was leeks, butternuts and carrots in olive oil with rosemary. I then browned a handful of pancetta in the soup pot, adding hot stock, and a handful of red lentils then roughly chopped up the roasted veggies and throw them in. You let things simmer for about 15 minutes then blend to the texture you like and season to taste. That was dinner sorted while everyone dried off and had hot chocolate.

Fruit is another thing that’s magic done in the oven and at this time of the year you get a lovely mix of end of summer and  start of autumn varieties. At the moment plums don’t have the sugar of the high summer varieties but they work beautifully baked with pears. I also love some dried figs in there too but fresh are obviously wonderful but they can be trickier and pricier to track down.
A few weeks ago there were still peaches and nectarines around and and they work really well in this recipe. You can do this kind of dish in under an hour but like most roasting, it tastes better if you give it plenty of time. An hour and a half plus will give you super-sticky, almost chewy fruit gently spiced that’s aching for a dollop of cream.ice-cream or greek yogurt and maybe a handful of crumbled biscuits. We had some with a cheese cake last night and it was as good as it sounds.

Slow baked spiced fruit

You’ll need:

3 large red firm plums (or 5/6 small ones)

6 dried figs

4 medium firm pears

1/2 glass red wine

3 heaped tablespoons light muscovado sugar

The spices

1 cinnamon quill

4 pieces mace

7-8 peppercorns

1/4 teaspoon  ground ginger

4 star anise

Small pinch ground cloves

Peel, core and quarter the pears.  Halve  the plums removing the stones. Place in an ovenproof dish along with figs and cinnamon quill. Mix the rest of the spices with the wine and sugar then pour over the fruit. Cover the dish with tinfoil and  bake for 30 minutes at Gas mark 5.Remove the foil and gently turn the fruit over to make sure all sides get coated in wine then return to the oven and bake for a further hour or so until the liquid has reduced to a sticky caramel.  Eat warm or at room temperature.

This week we have a Red Pepper in all our bags. Always very popular, Peppers are just so versatile. Raw they can be chopped into any salad or sambo and they are a great dipper for lunchtime humus. They have lots of natural sugars which really come to the fore when they are cooked slowly.Treat them like Onions and you won’t regret it – lots of time over a low heat will give you Peppers that melt in the mouth and are amazing  in all kinds of salads and of course pasta. Try dicing one up and frying it slowly with an Onion in plenty of Olive Oil until it becomes completely soft and almost mushy. Throw in a few cloves of Garlic towards the end (earlier and it’ll burn) then serve with pasta and plenty of grated Parmesan or Pecorino Cheese. A little Chilli will always taste good in this kind of dish as will some Black Olives and finely chopped Parsley.

If you don’t want to fry, roasting your Pepper will give you the same kind of texture and a little more flavour to boot. Simply stick it in the oven (Gas mark 6) for about 25 minutes or until the skin has completely wrinkled. After it comes out of the oven the trick is to put it in a plastic bag where the steam produced will help lift the skin off the flesh. Allow the Pepper to cool down in the bag then take it out, carefully cut it in half and remove the seeds inside, peel off the skin then either slice or dice it up. The environment will not thank you for turning on the oven to roast one Pepper so I usually roast mine on the cooker top over a gas flame. To do this, simply sit the Pepper on top of the burner and allow the skin to completely char on one side before moving it around to char the other side. When the whole thing is completely black (about 15-20 minutes) remove it and do the plastic bag thing as I’ve described. Getting the skin off will be messier but the payback is that the flesh takes on a gorgeous smokey flavour.

Peppers cooked this way are good enough to eat on their own with a dressing of Oil and Vinegar (a little crushed garlic will give it bite if you fancy something like that) but it is really  superb with Cous Cous and this recipe keeps really well so if you’ve any leftovers it’s perfect for lunch the next day…

Cous cous and roasted red pepper salad

Cous cous and roasted red pepper salad

Toasted Cous Cous salad with Roasted Red Peppers, Feta, Toasted Pine nuts and Rocket

You’ll need:

1 Cup Cous Cous

1 Roasted Red Pepper (see above)

150gr Feta

2 Handfuls Rocket or 1 of Flatleaf Parsley or basil  if you prefer

3 Tablespoons Pine Nuts

Olive Oil

Balsamic Vinegar

Prepare the Cous Cous by toasting it on a dry frying pan over a medium heat. When  it starts to turn golden brown turn down the heat and add a cup and a bit of hot water. Stir furiously until the Cous Cous grains have absorbed all the water and doubled in size, add a generous glug of Olive Oil then turn off the heat. While the Cous Cous cools down, toast the Pine Nuts on a dry pan until golden,  dice the Red Pepper then mix both through the Cous Cous along with the Rocket or Parsley. Crumble the Feta and throw it in then dress the lot with Balsamic, Olive Oil, Salt and Pepper to taste.

This week you have  a Round Courgette in your bag. The idea was to give you 2 equal-sized specimens which you could stuff (I know, a bit seventies but  in a good way!!) and wow your friends and family with. But alas, with organics things don’t always pan out as planned (dammit!). Left to their own devices, vegetables  grow at different rates to (wildly) different sizes so most of you have one Courgette that should be big enough to share for a lunch if you put it with salad and bread. Shirley Conran famously said that life was too short to stuff a mushroom and I’m sure she would have felt the same about a Courgette. If you agree, chop it up and treat it as you would any other courgette (that’ll teach it not to grow to our exact requirements!). Last night I kept it pretty simple and used this week’s Cous Cous salad minus the Rocket as a stuffing. To liven things up I added a little Cumin Seed but that was it and there was enough salad left over for lunch today.

Stuffed Courgette with Cous Cous, Roasted Red Pepper, Pine nuts and Feta.

You’ll need:

Some of the Cous Cous salad from above without the Rocket as it doesn’t cook well but with some chopped flatleaf Parsley if you have it. The quantity will depend on how big you Courgette is – sorry!!

A round Courgette

1 Teaspoon Cumin Seeds

Prepare the Cous Cous filling as described above leaving out the Rocket and adding some chopped Parsley if you have it. Cut the top off the Courgette to make a “lid”  (about an inch from the top should do it). To hollow out the Courgette  cut round the inside about 1/2 inch from the skin then scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Chop this up then cook over a medium heat in Olive Oil along with the Cumin Seeds until the Courgette has reduced to about a quarter of what it was. Add enough Cous Cous mix to fill the Courgette, stick the lid on and bake for about 40 minutes. Serve hot or warm with a salad.

Our mediterranean and fruit selections have Figs this week which, as you probably know, are a real end of summer treat. Eat them straight up or get all fancy and make the classic Parma Ham, Goat’s (or fresh) cheese salad on a bed of this week’s Rocket. Drizzle the lot with honey and a little Olive Oil. If you’re making the roast Courgette recipe stick the Figs in the oven for 2 0r 3 minutes to really bring up their flavour before you put the salad together. Yum!!!

Finally, this week’s spuds are the Charlotte variety brought to us by Denis and Duncan Healy. I opted for them because they were just so fresh this week having only been dug out of the ground on Wednesday. We’ll go back to the Sharpe’s Express variety we’ve been enjoying over the past while (thanks for all the lovely comments about them by the way) next week.

Enjoy the recipes,

Have a great weekend,

Sarah