Fennel salad

This is so easy – just slice and bung on a plate – that I hesitate to call it a recipe. Let’s call it an assembly.

A fennel bulb has an aniseedy, aromatic taste. Its flavour is very smooth, with no hint of acid to lift it, so I like to add some lemon juice whether I’m roasting it or eating it raw. It’s a lovely, underused vegetable – try making this very quick salad next time you have a pizza. It’s a great accompaniment to tomato-rich foods.

To serve two, you’ll need:

1 fennel bulb
1 shallot
1 small handful parsley
Juice of half a lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Slice the fennel bulb into thin rings, and arrange to cover a plate. Reserve the herby tops of the bulbs. Slice the shallot finely and separate into rings. Lay these on top of the fennel. Squeeze over the lemon juice and drizzle the olive oil over, sprinkle over salt and a generous amount of pepper, then leave at room temperature for at least half an hour for the flavours to meld. Just before serving, garnish with the reserved fennel tops and the parsley.

Celeriac purée

Celeriac pureeThese days, few of the vegetables you’ll find in the supermarket are truly seasonal. We’ve got year-round mange tout peas (I remember the days when my parents grew them in the garden – the season only lasted for about about a month, but my, were we sick of peas at the end of that month); year-round broccoli and year-round cauliflower. Spring cabbage appears in the shops in summer, autumn and winter, and out-of-season asparagus is there whenever you want it. It doesn’t taste of anything, but if you want it, it’s there.

Happily for those outraged by man’s twisting of nature, here are a few season-specific things that you won’t find all year round. Some English root vegetables in particular are only easy to find in the winter (for the most part – there’s always bound to be someone bussing turnips in from Australia in high summer), and they’re wonderful in the cold months. It makes sense really – these roots are the energy store of the plants, and so they’re full of sugars and other nutrients.

Celeriac is one of my favourite winter roots. It’s the taproot of a celery plant (not the same one you use to dip in your hummus or to stir your Bloody Mary), but tastes much richer, deeper, creamier and sweeter than celery. I know people who can’t bear celery, but who will happily munch on celeriac; they’re really very different flavours. This vegetable isn’t readily found outside Europe, but if you are an American reader and happen upon one in a market, snap it up so you can impress your friends with your cosmopolitan cooking.

Although modern ‘best before’ stickers tend to suggest you can only keep your celeriac for a week or so, the root will actually keep in the fridge for a month or so if wrapped in plastic to keep it nice and humid- inside your fridge it is dark and cold, which fools the root into thinking it’s still underground – the celeriac won’t be any the worse for it.

celeriacThe celeriac is a knobbly, rough-skinned vegetable, and its flesh is very hard. Make sure you have a very sharp knife to remove all the skin and nubbly bits, and to cut through the solid root. It makes a lovely soup (which I really ought to blog some time), and it’s great raw in coleslaw. One of the very nicest of French crudités is simply grated raw celeriac blended with a little home-made mayonnaise. But for my money, one of the best things you can do with a chunk of celeriac is to cook it until soft, mash it with a little potato, push the resulting mixture through a sieve and whip it with butter and cream for a very fine and rich side dish.

To make celeriac purée as an accompaniment for four, you’ll need:

1 large celeriac, about 20 cm in diameter (anything larger than this may be a bit woody)
2 medium potatoes (choose a variety which is good for mashing)
100 ml double cream
2 heaping tablespoons salted butter
2 level teaspoons salt (plus more to taste)

Using a very sharp knife, peel the celeriac and cut it into 2 cm square chunks. As soon as you have cut a piece, put it in a saucepan of cold water to stop it from oxidising and turning brown. Peel the potatoes and cut them into chunks about twice the size of the celeriac pieces, and add them to the pan. Warm a mixing/serving bowl.

Bring the potatoes and celeriac to the boil, put the lid on the pan and simmer for 15 minutes. Poke the vegetables with a fork to check they are soft (if they are not, cook for another 5 minutes). Drain and use a potato masher to mash the celeriac and potatoes until they are as even as you can manage.

Melt the butter and cream together in a milk pan, and bring to a very low simmer as you sieve the purée.

Push the mashed mixture through a sieve using the back of a ladle. You can also use a mouli or food mill if you have one. The resulting purée will be extremely smooth. Put the purée into the warmed bowl and use a hand whisk to whip the butter and cream mixture into the purée with the salt, and serve immediately. This is particularly good with rich meat dishes and roasts.

Mexican squash and corn cream

butternut squash pureeDo try this one – it’s seriously good and has worked its way up to being a frequent star alongside my roast dinners. This silky, sweet puree works unbelievably well as an accompaniment, especially with poultry – I hope some of you will try it with your Christmas turkey. It’s rich and packed with flavour; and like many recipes which utilise creamed corn, it’s a favourite with children. It also works as a great quick main dish (and is lovely if you’re entertaining vegetarians – try it over rice with an interesting salad).

Butternut squash originates in Mexico, and it has an affinity for other Mexican ingredients like the corn, the coriander and the chillies. I’ve used crème fraîche here to loosen the mixture – an authentic Mexican dish might use crema, the thick, Mexican, sour cream, but really the difference between the two products is minuscule. If you can’t find smoky ground chipotle chillies where you are, just substitute your favourite crushed, dried chillies or chilli powder.

To serve two as a main dish or about four (depending on greed) as a side dish, you’ll need:

1 butternut squash
1 can creamed corn
3 heaped tablespoons crème fraîche
1 tablespoon salted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¾ teaspoon ground chipotle chilli
1 large handful roughly chopped coriander

Peel the squash (you’ll find a serrated knife the best tool for this job – that peel is tough), remove the seeds and stringy pith, and chop the flesh into pieces about an inch square. Cover with water and simmer for 15 minutes until the pieces of squash are tender and soft when poked with a knife.

Drain the water off and return the squash pieces to the pan. Add the corn, butter and crème fraîche to the pan and mash with a potato masher off the heat until smooth. Season with the salt, pepper and chillies – you’ll find this dish will require quite a lot of salt for maximum flavour because of the natural sweetness of the vegetables.

Return the pan to a low heat and bring to a gentle simmer. Remove from the heat again and stir in the coarsely chopped coriander. Serve immediately.

This squash and corn cream freezes well.

Onion rings

onion ringsIf the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, these things are gastronomic Viagra. These onion rings have sweet, tender middles and a fantastically crisp coating. I use a tiny amount of parmesan cheese in the breading, which doesn’t give the onion rings a cheesy taste, but does make them deeply savoury and helps create the excellent colour. Cornmeal (rough polenta) gives them a wonderful crunch, and rice flour a pleasing crispiness.

Rice flour is a useful ingredient to keep in the kitchen. It’s usually available in Indian and Chinese grocers, and it has one very useful property – coatings made with it stay crisp even after the food has cooled. This makes it invaluable for summer picnics, when you can make breaded chicken, cool it on a rack, pop it in some Tupperware, drag it in a knapsack over miles of public footpath and take it out hours later, still crispy. These onion rings were never going to get the chance to go cold, but they do benefit from the delicate crisp you get from rice flour.

I always use a wok and a jam thermometer for deep frying; this way, you get through much less oil, and can easily control the temperature. When we finally get around to remodelling the kitchen and I have a bit more room to play with, I may end up buying a machine for deep frying; but deep frying is a cooking method I only use about five times a year, so I’m not completely convinced it’s worth the money and the counter space.

You’ll probably have some breading mixture left over. Just pop it in a bag and freeze it – you’ll find you can use it directly from the freezer on another occasion.

To make onion rings to serve four (or fewer, depending on greed), you’ll need:

2 large onions (buy the biggest ones you can find)
5 heaped tablespoons cornmeal (coarse polenta)
5 heaped tablespoons rice flour
3 tablespoons finely grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon Madras curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
Milk to soak
Flavourless oil to deep fry

Slice the onions into thin rings (about half a centimetre thick). Set the oil to heat. Mix the cornmeal, rice flour, parmesan, curry powder and salt in a large bowl.

Separate the rings out. Dip each ring first into the milk, then dredge them in the breading mixture. Drop the rings into the hot oil (your thermometer should have a ‘deep fry’ marking on it – otherwise, use a machine) in small batches, and fry for about two minutes, until golden brown. Remove to a tray lined with kitchen paper in a single layer, and keep the tray warm in a very, very low oven while you cook the rest of the rings.

I served these with a steak (on which I’d used Paul Prudhomme’s Magic Blackened Steak blend – a hearty recommendation here if you can get hold of some) and mashed potatoes.

Sweet potato and halloumi sauté

Sweet potato and halloumiSweet potato is a great winter ingredient – all that sugar and gorgeous colour make for a really uplifting meal. The tuber is so packed with sweetness that cooking it in this way will make the edges catch and caramelise in the butter, leaving each soft little cube with a coating that’s halfway between chewy and crisp. Alongside the salty halloumi, this mixture of textures and flavours is a real winner.

This dish makes a really tasty main course for vegetarians. I also like it as a side dish with some good sausages. The magic in this is all in the spicing – it’s worth taking the time to set to the spices with a mortar and pestle until they’re really well blended (you can also use a coffee grinder) – whatever method you choose, make sure that the anise and cloves in particular are well-pulverised, because neither ingredient is good to bite down on in large chunks. You’ll end up making more spice mixture than you need, but I view this as a time-saver; just pack the extra mixture into a freezer bag and pop it in the freezer. Next time you come to cook this dish, you can use the mixture directly from the freezer.

To serve four as a side dish or two as a main course, you’ll need:

1 sweet potato
1 block halloumi
1 large shallot
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon flaked chillies
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon onion salt
1 ‘petal’ star anise
3 cloves
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Take the cumin, fennel seeds, chillies, cinnamon, onion salt, anise and cloves, and grind them thoroughly in a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder. Peel the sweet potato and cut it into large dice, about the size of the top joint of your thumb. Sprinkle two teaspoons of the spice mixture over the sweet potato pieces and toss well until they are coated. Cut the halloumi into dice the same size as the sweet potato pieces and dice the shallot finely.

Heat the butter in a non-stick frying pan over a medium-low heat (make sure you use a non-stick pan or this dish will stick like glue) until it starts to foam, and tip in the spiced sweet potato. Sauté gently, turning the pieces every few minutes, until the sweet potato is soft all the way through (about 20 minutes).

Turn the heat up a notch and add the shallots and a crushed clove of garlic to the pan. Stir well to distribute the shallots and garlic around the pan, then add the halloumi, making sure that all the halloumi pieces are in contact with the bottom of your pan. Cook for another five minutes without stirring, turn the halloumi pieces and continue to sauté for another five minutes. The shallots should be brown and a little gummy, and the halloumi should be seared a golden colour where it’s been in contact with the pan.

Turn out into a heated serving dish and garnish with parsley.

Creamy cucumber salad

Here’s an eastern European way with cucumbers. This is particularly lovely if you can get your hands on home-grown cucumbers, which are often sweeter than the ones you find at the greengrocer. The cucumbers and some shallots are salted to drive out excess moisture and make them extra-crisp, then chilled and tossed in sharp dressing with crème fraîche. The mildly acidic dressing reacts with the cucumbers to form a lovely, lightly foaming texture. This salad is delicious with rich meats and with oily fish.

To serve four as a side dish, you’ll need:

1 large cucumber
1 banana shallot
3 heaped tablespoons crème fraîche or soured cream
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
4 tablespoons snipped chives
Salt and pepper

Slice the cucumber and the shallot as finely as possible, and layer the slices, sprinkling them with salt as you go, in a colander. Put a heavy plate on top of the slices inside the colander, and leave it to drain for four hours. Blot the cucumber and shallot pieces on kitchen paper and put in a large bowl, then chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

Add the chilled crème fraîche, some pepper and the vinegar to the dish and toss the salad vigorously with two spoons. The mixture should be looking frothy. Return to the fridge for half and hour, toss again, dress with the chives and serve cold.

Shepherd’s salad – Coban Salatasi

Turkish saladIf you go to Istanbul expecting kebabs, meatballs and other chunks of protein, you might be pleased to find that there is also a rich tradition of salads, cooked vegetable dishes (especially aubergine) and dolmades, or stuffed vegetables. This simple salad pops up all over the place, and it’s a really good accompaniment for meat dishes – the fresh vegetables and tart lemon juice counter the wonderful oily richness of Turkish food like nothing else.

I made this last night, but the photo at the top of the page is of an identical salad I ate in a little restaurant next to the Bosphorus – unfortunately, I still don’t have my camera so couldn’t photograph last night’s version. Mine turned out pretty much exactly like the restaurant one, though: this is a very quick, very easy dish with half an hour’s thumb-twiddling in the middle.

To serve four, you’ll need:

4 medium tomatoes, very ripe
1 very mild onion
1 cucumber
1 large handful flat leaf parsley
1 mild green chilli
6 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of half a lemon (and more to taste)

Slice the onion very finely and chop the parsley roughly. Put them together in a bowl and squeeze over the juice of half a lemon and two tablespoons of olive oil. Set aside for thirty minutes before you put the rest of the dish together.

When the thirty minutes is up, dice the tomatoes and peel and dice the cucumber – the pieces of tomato and cucumber should be small and even. Slice the chilli into thin rings. Mix the chilli, tomatoes and cucumber together in your serving dish and dress with the remaining olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. Place the onion slices and parsley on top of the dish and pour over any oily juices from the bowl. Bring the salad to the table with the onion on top, then allow the diners to mix it up themselves.

Spicy couscous

It took me a while to come around to couscous. My first (and second, and third, and fourth) experience with it was disappointing – in France, there are lots of Moroccan couscous restaurants serving wet, wet stews and dry, dry couscous to soak up your sauce with. Back when we lived in Paris, these restaurants were actually a lot of fun with friends…but they weren’t somewhere I looked to for delicious carbohydrate.

So I steered clear of couscous (which is not a milled grain, but actually almost a kind of pasta, made by rolling damp semolina flour between the hands and then powdering the resulting ‘grains’ with dry flour to stop them sticking) for some years, until we went to a friend’s house here in the UK and she served a flavoured couscous. This wasn’t stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth dry like the stuff I’d had before – it was moistened with lots of sweet butter and spiked with spices, onion and a clever agrodolce – a vinegar/sugar mix. The addition of a small amount of a good vinegar lifts the flavour and really enlivens the spices, without adding any vinegary, sour taste – try it. It’ll surprise you.

Since then we’ve eaten couscous several times a month. It’s a great accompaniment to middle-eastern dishes, and it also goes surprisingly well with grilled meats. Couscous keeps well, once cooked, in the fridge, and can be eaten cold (very good as a salad at a picnic with some chopped tomatoes, celery, cucumber and olive oil thrown in) or reheated in the microwave.

To make couscous as an accompaniment for four, you’ll need:

4 shallots, chopped finely
1 stick celery, chopped finely
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large knobs butter
1 teaspoon cumin, crushed in a mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon coriander, crushed in a mortar and pestle
1 inch-long piece cinnamon
1 teaspoon Ras al Hanout (use Belazu brand if you can find it)
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon caster sugar
250g couscous
450ml chicken stock
Salt and pepper

Fry the shallot, celery and garlic in a large, heavy-bottomed pan in the olive oil and a knob of butter, until the shallots are translucent. Add the cumin, coriander, cinnamon, Ras al Hanout, bay leaves, a teaspoon of salt and a generous amount of freshly ground pepper, and continue to fry for two minutes until the spices are giving up their aroma.

Add the vinegar and sugar to the hot pan. It will bubble and spit. Keep the pan on the heat, stirring, until the vinegar reduces to a glossy syrup. Add the dry couscous to the pan and stir well to make sure it is completely mixed with the other flavourings. Pour the hot stock into the pan and put the lid on. Turn the heat down low and simmer for about 7 minutes, until all the stock is absorbed into the couscous. Take the second knob of butter and fluff it through the grains and taste to check the seasoning, adding more salt if necessary. Garnish with some fresh herbs – I like oregano and parsley.

Swedish cucumber salad

Cucumber saladHere’s another Swedish recipe for your smorgasbord. This salad is right up there with my favourite cucumber applications: it’s sweet and tart, and spiked with aromatic dill and plenty of black pepper. This is a fat-free salad, and its clean and crisp taste makes it an excellent side dish where you’re serving up oily foods. It works especially well, for some reason, with fish; this is just fantastic with salmon. If you want to serve up some smoked salmon (or, more appropriately, gravadlax) with your smorgasbord, make the dill sauce here on Gastronomy Domine, which tastes authentically Scandinavian and goes extremely well with these dilly cucumbers.

I’m enjoying cucumbers a lot at the moment, largely because my Mum has been growing some real corkers in her greenhouse. They’re smaller than the kind you buy at the supermarket, but are extremely sweet and with a good flavour. If you too are in a particularly cucumberish mood right now, have a quick look at my recipe for Chinese smacked cucumbers.

To make a Swedish cucumber salad to serve six to eight as part of a smorgasbord you’ll need:

2 cucumbers
2 tablespoons coarse salt
2 level tablespoons caster sugar (superfine sugar for Americans)
2 tablespoons boiling water
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 small shallot, minced
1 small handful dill, chopped finely

Slice your cucumbers thinly and arrange in a colander, sprinkling with the salt as you go. Put a bowl on top of the sliced, salted cucumbers and weigh it down with the set of weights from your kitchen scales (a heavy book will do the job too if your scales are digital). Salting and pressing the cucumbers like this will drive out some of their moisture, leaving them much crisper, and better able to take up the flavours of the dressing. Leave the weighted colander for an hour (keep it on the draining board so the drips can fall into the sink). Remove the cucumber pieces to a large bowl, chill for an hour and pour off any extra liquid they might have produced.

To make the dressing, dissolve the caster sugar in the boiling water, then add the vinegar, shallot and dill. Mix well, leave to cool (I give mine a quick shock in the freezer) and pour over the chilled cucumber. Serve immediately.

I’m very fond of cucumber salads, and there are several on this blog – click here for a few more.

Sage, onion and apple stuffing balls

Sage, onion and apple stuffing ballsThis was one of my Grandma’s recipes. She was not an awfully good cook (you can still make my mother pale by saying ‘trifle’ or ‘Grandma’s mushroom thing’ to her); she refused to turn the oven up to any sort of temperature which might make its insides dirty; she taught me to make an omelette out of nothing but eggs, butter, parsley and about half a bottle of Worcestershire sauce; and she used the kind of cottage cheese that comes with bits of pineapple in to make her lasagne. I miss her.

This recipe was one of her good ones, and we often make these very simple stuffing balls to accompany roast meats. To make about sixteen little balls, you’ll need:

1 packet sage and onion stuffing mix
1 large onion
5 leaves fresh sage
1 eating apple
500g good sausagemeat
3 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper

Make up the stuffing mix according to the packet instructions, adding one tablespoon of butter with the boiling water. I much prefer good old Paxo to the wholemeal, organic, lumpy brown premium brands, but feel free to go with your favourite. Chop the onion and cored apple into dice about the size of a woman’s little fingernail. Chop the sage finely.

Stuffing ballsPut the sausagemeat (if good sausagemeat isn’t available near you, buy some good sausages and pop the meat out of the skins), stuffing mix, chopped sage, apple and onion in a mixing bowl, and use your hands to squash and mix all the ingredients together with some salt and pepper. Divide the mixture into small balls and arrange in a non-stick baking tray. Dot the stuffing balls with the remaining butter. Cook for 40 minutes at 180° C (350° F) and serve alongside your Sunday roast.