Leek and Potato Soup

Washing the leeks in cold water to remove grit
Washing the leeks

A very delicious and simple no fuss Leek and Potato soup, which has the merit of being veggie. Much better than you might imagine. This is based on a Delia recipe. Lovely warm. Can also be served chilled as Vichysoisse

Ingredients

  • 4 large leeks
  • 1 medium onion, chopped small
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced, about 1cm cubes is fine
  • 50g butter
  • 1 litre vegetable stock (I use Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon, it’s indispensable)
  • 250 ml milk
  • salt and freshly milled black pepper
To serve:
  • Snipped fresh chives or chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons cream or crème fraiche

Method

Cooking the leeks and potatoes in butter
Cooking the leeks and potatoes in butter
  1. Start by trimming the leeks, discarding any tough or scraggy outer layer.
  2. First, cut the bottom half off each leek (the white bit) a short distance below the point where the leaves splay. This bit doesn’t have any soil or grit and can be quickly cut in half lengthwise and sliced.
  3. Split the top sections in half lengthways and slice them quite finely, then wash them thoroughly in two or three changes of water to get rid of any grit. Drain well.
  4. In a largish saucepan, melt the butter, then add the leeks, onions and potatoes.  Season with some salt and pepper, then cover and let the vegetables sweat over a very low heat for about 15 minutes. You don’t want any colouring or browning.
  5. Then add the stock and milk, bring to simmering point, cover and let the soup simmer very gently for a further 20 minutes – take care, if you have the heat too high the milk in it may cause it to boil over.
  6. Now you can put the whole lot into a blender – leave it to cool first – and blend to a purée.
  7. Blend the soup in batches, then return the soup to the saucepan and reheat gently, tasting to check the seasoning.
  8. Add a swirl of cream or crème fraîche to each serving and sprinkle with freshly snipped chives (fabulous) or parsley.
I like croutons with this.

Croutons

Bag of frozen croutons
Frozen croutons

Croutons are often a lovely addition to a soup. They give a texture and some carbohydrates if they are needed. If you serve them in a bowl then folks can add as many or as few as they prefer.

The trouble with croutons is making them. Usually, when you think of them it’s all a bit too late and you don’t have any suitable bread and myriad other reasons why you just won’t bother.

The freezer is your saviour here. I keep a bag of pre-cut croutons in the freezer for just such occasions. You can make them in about 15 minutes with almost no effort.

Whenever I have leftover homemade bread (either from the breadmaker or handmade) I cube it up into croutons. My preferred size is quite rustic, about 1.5cm (⅔”) square. I also trim the crusts as they can go quite crusty and hard. Leave them on if you prefer. Keep a poly bag in the freezer and add croutons every time there’s some leftover bread.

Croutons don’t keep well when cooked. They can dry right out and become overly firm and crunchy. You need to serve them within 10-15 minutes of being ready.

If they are larger sized I find they have a nice crunchy outside but a slightly softer centre which is the preferred texture as far as I am concerned. I also prefer white bread croutons as I think that is nicer than some of the denser types of bread.

Method

  1. They defrost in 10 minutes in a warm kitchen, if you spread them around, while the oven is warming to about 180C.
  2. Put them in a big enough bowl and add a glug of some vegetable, or olive oil if it’s not too strong.
  3. Stir them around so they absorb the oil, adding more if you need it. When you cook them any excess will come out.
  4. Spread them on an oven tray and put them in the oven for 5-6 minutes till they look a golden brown but not too dark
  5. Put them in a serving bowl lined with some kitchen paper to absorb any excess

Ragu (Bolognese Sauce)

This is now my favourite Ragu sauce for pasta. It’s not a traditional Bolognese sauce but this is how I like it.
You can do this with beef, or pork, or a mix of pork and beef. I like the mixed pork & beef mince. You can either get pork and beef and grind it yourself or you can buy it ready minced.
I suggest you make a double batch. Have a fresh egg pasta, ideally tagliatelle, with the sauce. Or Gnocchi is good. Bag up a couple for the freezer. Or make a lasagne. A homemade lasagne with fresh homemade pasta sheets is a bit of work, but a joy.
Serve with grated parmesan or a lovely creamy pecorino if you have.

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 50-100g of pancetta (it’s even better if you can get proper Italian pancetta)
  • 2 garlic cloves, cut in half lengthwise
  • Bouquet Garni – Sprig of rosemary, Sprig of sage, Couple of fresh bay leaves. Chopped basil stalks can be good too if not too woody and just added to the soffrito.
  • Half bottle of drinkable red wine
  • Tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 1kg good fresh tomatoes, peeled and deseeded, then chopped. (Alternatively, I frequently use a couple of tins as the fresh ones are often poor)
  • 500g Minced Beef
  • 500g Minced Pork
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Finely chop the carrots, onion, celery. And the pancetta into matchsticks
  2. Put a decent amount of olive oil in a pot and fry off the carrots, onion, celery, with the garlic cloves in a pot and fry them moderately to make the soffritto. Keep stirring and the aim is to sweat them off but not brown them too much.
  3. Fry the pancetta until slightly crispy and add to the soffritto.
  4. In a separate frying pan brown the mince in some oil. Do it in parts. Grey steamed mince is not what we want. This needs a properly hot pan and the mince needs to brown. A slightly golden colour as the mince ever so slightly crisps is the desired outcome. You can actually hear the change in sound from a hiss to a more crackly sound as the mince begins to caramelise. This is what makes the flavour in your ragu. Put the cooked mince in with the vegetables and repeat until you are done. (Tom Kerridge cooks the mince spread thinly on a baking sheet and in a very hot oven until quite golden, I’ve not tried yet but seems like it could be easier and less smoky in the kitchen.)
  5. Now add the herbs in the bouquet garni to the pot, turn the heat up and add the red wine. Stir and cook it off until almost all of the wine is gone.
  6. Add the tomato paste and the tomatoes and stir it in. Bringing back to a gentle simmer.
  7. Put a lid on it and put it in a medium oven for about 90 minutes. Check it every 30 minutes or so. If it’s too wet and sloppy then leave the lid off so it reduces a bit. Don’t be frightened to give it another 30 minutes if it needs it.
  8. When you take it out the sauce should be rich and thick. If it’s not you can put it on the stovetop and reduce it down, but stand over it, stirring all the time or you will burn it.
I bag it up in single and double portions and freeze it so it’s a source of convenient meals. It’s one of those great discoveries in the freezer when you can’t be bothered doing much cooking and you find a leftover bag of ragu. A quick microwave and a boiling of spaghetti produces a delicious emergency dinner.

Thai Beef Salad

Thai beef salad with medium cooked steak layered on top
Thai Beef Salad

I love this Thai Beef Salad. Fresh lime leaves are essential I’m afraid. They give such an unmistakable zing.

I added some salad leaves and served it with a bowl of jasmine rice. Use whatever salad you prefer or have to hand. You need enough dressing to provide a liquid to blend into the rice. I spooned salad in beside the rice in a bowl and loved the mix of creamy bland rice and strong salad dressing.
I’m very lucky to have custody of my son’s lime leaf plant. I have a cutting developing. It lives outside in summer, but inside at all other times.

Ingredients

Dressing and Marinade (do multiple quantities if you are doing more steaks)

  • 1½ tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped palm sugar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger

Salad

  • Beef steak as much as you like, sirloin, rib eye, or rump according to preference
  • 200g tomatoes, whatever you like, cherry or cut up larger tomatoes
  • 1 cucumber, halved lengthways, sliced
  • 1 red onion, halved and cut into very thin slices
  • Anything else you fancy – avocado is nice, grated carrot, etc.
  • 2 fresh red chillies, as hot as you prefer, halved and deseeded, thinly sliced lengthways, chop lengths smaller if they are too long
  • 1 bunch fresh mint, leaves picked, large leaves torn
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander, leaves picked, lightly chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh Thai basil, leaves picked and torn, I just use regular basil if I don’t have Thai basil
  • Some salad leaves, as you prefer
  • 50g toasted peanuts or cashew nuts, roughly chopped
  • 2-4 kaffir lime leaves, centre veins removed, finely shredded

Method

  1. Whisk together lime juice, garlic, fish sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger and palm sugar in a jug.
  2. Place the steak in a suitable dish. Cover with enough of the dressing to marinade in the fridge for a couple of hours. Remember that you must NOT use the marinade dressing in the salad as it has been in contact with the raw meat. You have to discard later.
  3. Prepare your salad vegetables
  4. Toast your cashew or peanuts in a dry frying pan, set aside to cool
  5. Cook your steak as you prefer and let it rest somewhere warm. Be careful of temperature and turning the steak as the marinade has sugar in it. This will make it char to black quite easily on the outside, so some care is required not to burn the outside.
  6. Make up a bowl or tray with the salad leaves and other salad items.
  7. Slice up the steak to thin ribbons and place on top of the salad
  8. Drizzle with the remaining dressing (NOT the marinade) and sprinkle with the nuts
Serve with on its own with some jasmine rice, or as part of a larger Thai meal.

Oxtail Ragu

Beefy oxtail ragu makes a delicious rich sauce for pasta. Serves 4 as a main or 6-8 as a starter. Takes a few hours to cook, but not much time to prepare. Great to make the day before needed and this also makes it easier to remove the layer of fat from the casserole before serving.

Ingredients

  • 2 carrots
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 stick celery
  • 1 leek if you have it
  • 2 chopped cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1kg Oxtail
  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 sprig sage with 2 large leaves

Method

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 140C fan
  2. Chop the carrot, onion, celery and leek into a fine dice.
  3. Make a soffrito (Heat the olive oil and add the diced veg and the garlic and sweat them off in a casserole pot till cooked but not browned)
  4. While the soffrito is cooking brown the oxtail pieces in a frying pan with some of the olive oil
  5. Add the browned oxtail to the casserole
  6. Add the herbs and pour in the red wine and bring to a simmer
  7. Put the casserole in the oven and cook for 4-5 hours until there is a rich dark sauce and the oxtail is tender
  8. Once cooked take the casserole from the oven and let it cool enough that the oxtail can be removed to a plate to strip the meat from the bones. Collect the meat in a bowl.
  9. Remove the herb stalks
  10. The casserole of ragu will have a decent layer of fat. Either skim this off with a large spoon and discard. Or, chill the sauce in the fridge overnight and the fat will harden and can be easily removed.
  11. To serve, recombine the pieces of oxtail meat with the ragu in a small pot and heat
Best with a chunky pasta like pappardelle. Serve a portion of pasta in a pasta bowl, spoon over some ragu. Serve with a cheese like pecorino or ossau iraty.
Variant
  • This would also make a lovely ravioli. Perhaps 3 medium sized ravioli with homemade pasta per person. With a some of the ragu, with only a small amount of sauce, for the filling. Use the rest of the sauce to dress the ravioli. Perhaps some sort of creamy horseradish drizzle would lift it to something pretty special.

Risotto Alla Milanese – Great With Osso Buco

Risotto Alla Milanese is a simple saffron risotto often served with Osso Buco.
The texture and wetness of the risotto is important. There is nothing worse then claggy, stodgy risotto. Equally, you don’t want it too soupy, especially if serving with Osso Buco which will have a wet gravy. If, when it has rested it seems too “dry” then adding a ladle of the remaining stock can loosen it up just before serving.
Traditionally this also had some bone marrow in it. I don’t even attempt this, for two reasons. Firstly, it’s much harder to get. Secondly, it’s very rich and if you are serving this with Osso Buco, which is already rich, then it’s all a bit too much.

Ingredients

  • 25-30g butter
  • 1 medium onion very finely chopped
  • Risotto rice, 80-100g per person
  • 100ml of white wine or vermouth
  • A good pinch of saffron
  • About 500ml of chicken stock. You need to vary for the number of portions and rice quantities, but start using boiling water if you run short.
  • 100g Parmesan, finely grated, adjust to taste
  • 25-40g cold butter, cubed

Method

  1. To make the risotto start by softening the onion gently till it is soft. This can take 10-20 minutes. You don’t want colour, no golden onions here.
  2. Put the stock pot beside the risotto pot and warm it up till it’s at the gentlest simmer, put a ladle in the pot.
  3. Add the rice and stir until the grains are hot and well coated in the butter
  4. Add the vermouth or wine and let it simmer down, the alcohol will burn off
  5. Add some salt, probably about a teaspoon, you can adjust at the end. Remember the butter might be salted.
  6. Now ladle stock, a couple of ladlefuls at a time, into the rice. Stir the rice more or less continuously until the stock is mainly absorbed, then add some more of the stock, and continue. The stirring brings out the starch and creates the creaminess of texture.
  7. After the first ladleful add the saffron. I put two-thirds in a mortar and pestle and grind it, washing the grounds out with a little of the stock into the risotto pot. Add the remaining threads, these are nice to see in the finished risotto.
  8. You have to test the grains to see if it is ready. Cooking will take 15-20 minutes. When the rice grains are just losing their dry firmness in the centre it’s time to stop.
  9. Now for the “mantecatura”, which is just making it creamy. Add the half the parmesan, and the cold butter cubes. Beat these in with a wooden spoon for a minute or so till all is incorporated and creamy.
  10. Serve in bowls with a sprinkle of parmesan and freshly ground pepper.

Osso Buco – An Italian Classic

Raw veal shank slices for Osso Buco
Raw veal shank slices for Osso Buco

Osso Buco is a classic Italian dish. It is slices of veal shin, slow cooked in a wine and stock gravy, with the bone in. It literally means bones with holes. Nowadays you should use high welfare rose veal from the UK.

The quantities suite 4 people, reduce as required. Some recipes have a little tomato passata or puree in them but I don’t think this is required.
The Gremolata is a great addition to the dish because the sauce is rich and buttery. It cuts right through. The lemon zest and parsley gives a fabulous zing. Some recipes have crushed garlic in the gremolata but I omit as I find it can be a bit too raw and electric flavoured. Add what you like. I chop the parsley onto a board and then zest the lemon skin over the chopped parsley, this works well.
Traditionally served with Risotto alla Milanese which is a simple saffron risotto.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 25g flour, to dust
  • 4 pieces of veal shin, about 4cm thick, if you can get them, or if they are thinner that’s fine, they may be slightly quicker to cook. You don’t need to trim any fat from this as it will mostly render down, and the outer ring holds the piece together.
  • 50g butter
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stick, finely chopped
  • 1 head of garlic, cut horizontally
  • 2 strips of lemon zest, just slice down the side of a lemon cutting the yellow rind off, about 2cm wide
  • 4 sage leaves, if they are very large then reduce the quantity, sage is a powerful flavour and needs to be in balance
  • 200ml white wine
  • 200ml good chicken stock
For the gremolata
  • 1 unwaxed lemon, zest finely grated. If you can’t get unwaxed them just rub and wash a lemon to remove the wax.
  • 3 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Method

  1. Use a hob-proof casserole dish wide enough to hold the meat in one layer, over a high heat, and add the oil. Put the flour on to a small plate and season generously, then use to coat the meat. When the oil is hot, add the meat to the pan and brown well on both sides until golden and crusted. Set aside on a plate. You will probably get enough salt from the seasoned flour so don’t add more till you check the seasoning when it’s cooked.
  2. Turn the heat down and add three-quarters of the butter to the pan. When melted, add the onion, carrot and celery, plus a sprinkle of salt, and cook until soft. Add the garlic halves, lemon zest and sage to the pan and cook for a few minutes more.
  3. Turn up the heat then add the wine to the pan. Return the meat, standing it on top of the vegetables, and bubble until the wine has reduced by half. Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer.
  4. Turn the heat right down, cover and simmer for one and a half to two hours, carefully turning the meat over every 30 minutes, until it is tender enough to cut with a spoon. Meanwhile, mix together the gremolata ingredients.
  5. Dot with the remaining butter and allow to melt into the sauce, then serve with the gremolata and Risotto alla Milanese or wet polenta.

Tortilla With Chorizo – A Spanish Classic

Tortilla with Chorizo and a Salad
Tortilla with Chorizo and a Salad

Many countries have their own version of an open omelette like this Tortilla with Chorizo. The Italians have frittata, the Spanish tortilla. In France it is Spanish omelette. You can make this veggie by adding more onion and no chorizo. Red pepper could appear, it’s up to you.

The time-consuming part of the recipe can be done in advance. That’s cooking the onion and potato with the herbs. It can be done well in advance, then reheated and cooking the chorizo for a few minutes, before adding the egg and spinach.

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 400g/14oz new (salad, waxy) potatoes, cut into 1.5cm pieces
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped or crushed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 thyme sprig
  • 1 rosemary sprig
  • 1 tsp Espelette pepper or smoked paprika, and perhaps some hot paprika or chilli powder
  • pinch sea salt
  • 120g cooking chorizo, cut into small dice
  • 15g flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 80g spinach, chopped
  • 8 free-range eggs, beaten

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 150C Fan
  2. Heat the oil a medium sauté pan or frying pan with a lid over a medium heat. Gently fry the potatoes, onion, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, Espelette pepper and salt for 13–15 minutes. Stir regularly to avoid any colouring.
  3. Add the chorizo and fry for 5 minutes with the lid on so the flavours mingle.
  4. Pick out the bay leaves any large sprigs of herb, then add the parsley and spinach and stir for 30 seconds. I put the lid on to cause the spinach to wilt down slightly, otherwise, it can be a bit unruly. Remove from the heat, add the eggs and stir until evenly mixed.
  5. Pour the egg mixture into a 20cm non-stick, ovenproof frying pan (or, if it is suitable just use the pan you have been cooking with) and place in the oven for 15 minutes, until cooked. Leave to rest for 5 minutes before turning out on to a board or a large serving dish.
  6. Cut the tortilla into 4–6 wedge-shaped slices and serve warm.
Tortilla with Chorizo offers hundreds of opportunities for interpretation using different vegetables and herbs – be as creative as you like.

Beef Stroganoff – A ’70s Classic

Beef Stroganoff is a really nice dish much maligned by its ‘70s reputation. There are lot’s of variants, but here’s mine. Another tip of the hat to Felicity Cloake.
Key points in this are:
  • You are preparing a sauce for a steak with onion, mushroom, stock and soured cream
  • Then you are essentially cooking a steak to your preference, with seasoning, and letting it rest before cutting into strips
  • Serve the steak and sauce together with rice or frites or sauteed potatoes.
These quantities should serve 4, about half a steak per person. Adjust quantities for your preferences.
Some of this can be made in advance, specifically cooking the onions and the mushrooms. It’s then just a case of cooking the steak and amalgamating all the other ingredients.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium-sized sirloin steak
  • Salt
  • Ground allspice (I think this needs to be here as a flavour element, but find your own strength preference. I like a light sprinkle on the steak)
  • 50g butter
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 300g white or chestnut mushrooms, left whole if small, or cut in halves or quarters
  • 250ml sour cream
  • 1 tbsp Sarepska or Dijon or English mustard to your taste
  • 150ml beef stock (I find the decent supermarket liquid stocks pretty good and a lot less faff than making your own. They have long shelf lives too. If you have homemade then use it. You also will get something like 500ml in the supermarket stock. Freeze the leftovers in measured amounts, say two bags of 150ml, and they can be used for future adventures.)

Method

  1. Allow the steak to rest out of the fridge for about hour to come to room temperature (you should always do that anyway.)
  2. Melt the butter in a pan and cook the onions gently till they are soft, this usually takes 20-30 minutes
  3. Remove the onions onto a plate to the side and cook the mushrooms to your liking, also removing them when cooked and set aside with the onions
  4. Now add the mustard and soured cream to the empty pan, stirring to amalgamate.
  5. Whisk in the beef stock, slowly at first as this makes it easier to incorporate
  6. Add the onions and mushroom back to the pan and bring back to a simmer. At this stage the sauce is ready and you reduce/taste/season as much as you prefer.
  7. Before cooking season the steaks to your taste with salt and the ground allspice
  8. Now cook the steaks to your preferred amount. I like medium rare.
  9. Let the cooked steaks rest just as you would normally do for about 5 minutes
  10. Just before serving you can cut the steak up. Depending on preference you can trim the fat or leave. Cut across the steak into 1cm wide strips.
I don’t cook the steak further or add it to the sauce as this can make it chewy, in my opinion.
How to serve? It’s up to you. I like it with rice. So I serve in a bowl with plain basmati rice. Then I spoon over the sauce, and then I add the strips of beef on top so they can be seen. You might prefer the beef first and then the stock. It can probably stand a small sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley
Traditionally it’s served with a sort of straw potatoes or frites but this can create quite a bit of last-minute cooking, making chips to be crisp etc. Or buy some frites from M&S. Would also work with some rosemary roasted new potatoes I think.

Sausage Casserole with Tomatoes and Harissa

Cooked Sausage Casserole with Tomatoes and Harissa
Sausage Casserole with Tomatoes and Harissa
Sausage Casserole with Tomatoes and Harissa makes a lovely TV dinner as it can easily be served in a bowl with a slice of crusty bread and butter. The quantities below are enough for two people but can be increased very easily for a larger crowd.

The sauce is quite liquid because of the stock but this works well, especially if you use bread to mop it up.

For the harissa, you need to find the level that works for you. I like it to have a mild harissa flavour and a little spicy heat, but not too much.

I generally use Cumberland sausage, but any could work. I don’t think I’d like anything too strongly flavoured or conflicting to allow the flavours of the spicy tomato sauce to shine through. Avoid creating a competing flavour dimension because that won’t work so well.

Based on a Nigel Slater idea. There are hundreds of sausage casserole recipes and it’s hard to go wrong if you vary the ingredients a bit. Have fun experimenting.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 large sausages
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2-3 sprigs of rosemary
  • 2-3 tsp harissa (I often have rose harissa and this works well)
  • 4 medium tomatoes roughly chopped
  • 1 tin of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed. Depending on how much you like beans you can put in the whole tin, or just a portion of the tin.
  • 200-300ml of chicken stock

Method

  1. Brown the sausages in an ovenproof dish in some of the oil. Turn them regularly so they brown as evenly. Set the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Remove the sausages once browned.
  2. Add the remaining oil and the onion to the pan and cook till it is slightly softened and golden
  3. Add the finely chopped leaves from the rosemary sprigs to the onions with a pinch of salt
  4. Add the Harissa and the roughly chopped tomatoes, cooking them for a few minute to soften them
  5. Add the beans and the stock and bring the mix to a boil
  6. Put the sausages back in the pan, season with some salt and pepper
  7. Bake in the oven for a further 25 minutes. Best done uncovered but this might depend on how “wet” it is, probably governed by the amount of stock you added.

 Variants

  • Add any root vegetables you prefer, you might want to reduce the beans a bit: potatoes, carrot, parsnip, turnip, fennel
  • Other vegetables could make an appearance eg. some sweet red pepper
  • Stir in some baby spinach when you remove the casserole from the oven. It will incorporate in a minute or two.
  • Some herbs might work well, specifically flat leaf parsley, perhaps some oregano.