The Musette: beignets de fleurs de courgettes

Went down to my local market this morning and all the vegetable stall holders had beautiful golden courgette flowers. I first ate these stuffed many, many years ago at a Father’s Day Luncheon at Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons – such a delight. Since moving to France this is one of my favourite summer treats, despite them being deep fried! I bought some and rushed home to prepare them for lunch.

 

Ingredients (12 pieces, starter for 4 hungry cyclists or main course for 2)

  • 20g (3/4 oz) aquafaba or 1 large egg yolk
  • 125g (1/2 cup) self-raising flour
  • 175ml (3/4 cup) ice-cold sparkling water
  • 1/2 tsp ground tumeric
  • pinch sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 12 courgette (zucchini) flowers

Method

1. Firstly, if necessary, separate the flowers from each courgette and check them for insects, remove the stamens, cut any large ones in two, and set them all aside. Save the courgettes (zucchini) for another dish, another day.

2. Heat a 10cm/1 litre (4 cups) depth of oil in a suitable deep, heavy-based saucepan until it registers 140°C (285°F) on a frying thermometer.

3. In the meantime, make the batter: sift the flour and  turmeric together and add the salt and pepper into a large mixing bowl, then whisk in the aquafaba, olive oil and sparkling water. The batter should be quite light.

4. Cook 2–4 courgette flowers at a time, depending on their size and the diameter of your pan: dip the flowers into the batter to coat, then carefully lower them into the hot oil. Deep-fry for 1– 2 minutes, until puffed up, crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper. Serve with lemon wedges and, if you like, a spicy sauce. I love Sriracha mayonnaise (vegan mayonnaise mixed with Sriracha sauce)!

The Musette: white Gazpacho or Ajo Blanco

In last year’s post for traditional gazpacho, I promised you recipes for white and green ones too. Following hot on the heels of yesterday’s recipe for green Gazpacho, here’s my recipe for the white version. It’s deliciously refreshing and aside from being a great starter, it also makes a wonderful canape  – so beloved of the French. The combination of cucumber, grapes and sherry vinegar is perfectly balanced while the alliums add sharpness, but mellow if you refrigerate the gazpacho overnight and serve it the next day (which I recommend). This is another perfect summer soup. And it’s so easy to make.

Ingredients (Serves 4 hungry cyclists)

  • 2 cups cubed stale white bread from a sourdough type loaf (crust removed)
  • 360 ml (1 1/2 cups) cold filtered water
  • 1/3 cup whole, blanched almonds, toasted 
  • 2 fat garlic cloves, roasted and crushed 
  • 2  finely chopped salad onions (scallions)
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled and cubed
  • 3/4 cup green grapes
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 1/2 tsp sherry vinegar
  • sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
  •  chives, finely chopped, to garnish 

Method

1. Place the bread cubes in a bowl and pour 120 ml (1/2 cup) water on top to soften them.

2. Place the toasted almonds and roasted garlic in a blender and purée until finely ground. Add the onions, cucumber, grapes, oil, vinegar and softened bread to the blender along with the remaining water.

3. Purée until smooth. Taste and season as needed. If necessary, add more filtered water (or yoghurt, see below) to the soup to achieve desired consistency.

4. Serve chilled in bowls or glasses garnished with chives and a swirl of fruity extra-virgin olive oil.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. As mentioned above, this soup benefits from a night in the fridge to allow the flavours to deepen.

2. if you prefer a smoother, silkier textured soup, just sieve it and then froth with a stick blender.

3. You can make some substitutions but remember the soup needs to remain a pale green colour!

4. Instead of thinning the soup with filtered water, you can use yoghurt. For a vegan version, use almond rather than coconut yoghurt.

 

The Musette: green Gazpacho

Last summer, when I posted my recipe for traditional Gazpacho, I promised you ones for the white and green versions too. For some reason, I never got around to doing them!

Belatedly, here’s the recipe for the green one, the white follows tomorrow. It’s another equally refreshing cold soup, ideal for warmer weather.

Ingredients (serves 4 hungry cyclists)

  • 500g (1lb) green tomatoes
  • 2 celery sticks (including the leaves) or small fennel bulb
  • 4 spring onions (scallions)
  • 1 large cucumber approx. 350 g (12 oz), peeled
  • 1 fresh green chilli, including pith and seeds (or less if you don’t want it too spicy)
  • 4 fat garlic cloves
  • 200g (7 oz) baby spinach leaves
  • 25g (5 tbsp) fresh basil leaves
  • 10g (2 tbsp) parsley leaves
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin peppery olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste

Method

1. Roughly chop the all the vegetables and herbs, place in a blender, or food processor, with the vinegar and oil, and blitz the soup until it’s smooth.

2. If necessary, add filtered water to obtain the desired consistency. Season to taste.

3. Leave overnight in fridge or for a minimum of 4 hours for the flavours to develop.

4. Check seasoning again. Serve with fresh basil leaves or a spring onion (scallion), croutons and/or a swirl of fruity virgin olive oil – enjoy.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. If you want a smoother, silkier textured soup, just sieve it and then, before serving, froth it with a stick blender.

2. You can substitute some of the ingredients as long as they’re greenish in colour. For example, you could use green grapes instead of cucumber, rocket instead of spinach, or even radish tops. As with most things, it’s a question of trial and error, and taste.

3. If you don’t like the hit of raw garlic, roast it first in its skin, though you’ll probably need to use twice as much.

4. Also, feel free to bulk the soup out with some stale sourdough or similar bread. Consequently, you may need to use more filtered water. Or use if for croutons to top the soup when it’s served.

The Musette: nut butters and seed pastes

When I first dipped my toe into the vegan world, I bought both almond and cashew nut butters. I found the first had a slightly bitter back note and the latter was too sweet. I tried other brands, but they were all the same. Well I thought: “How hard can it be to make my own?”

The answer, as many of you will know, it’s no effort at all. I now regularly whip up all manner of butters, pastes and spreads. Here’s my recipe, if you can call it that, for my Homemade Almond and Cashew Nut Butter. This amount generally lasts me about a month.

Ingredients

  • 140 g (1 cup) cashews
  • 140 g (1 cup) skinned almonds
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt

Method

1. Pre-heat oven to 185ºC/350ºF/ 165ºC fan/Gas Mark 4 to gently toast the nuts, helping them release their oils. Around 5-8 minutes should be enough. Note: cashews will brown quicker than almonds.

2. Tip nuts into food processor, add salt and pulse. You’ll need to stop and frequently scrape down the sides of the bowl. The nuts will go through various stages. Be patient, unless of course you’ve got one of those super duper processors/mixers than achieves the correct consistency in mere nano-seconds.

3. Stage 1 is what I’d call finely chopped.

4. Stage 2 is where the mix hugs the side of the bowl.

5. Stage 3 is where it starts to come together.

6. Stage 4 is wet sand.

7. Stage 5 is big clumps – not far to go now.

8. Stage 6 is the desired creamy consistency. Stop now and fill a sterile jar. I find one with a wide-neck is always easier for butters.

Tahini Paste

I had another situation earlier this week with which you may also be familiar. I fancied some homemade hummus – is there any other sort? Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)?  Check.  Olive oil?  Check.  Lemons?  Check.  Garlic?  Check.  Tahini paste?  Oh no!

Again, don’t let that stop you. As I discovered, it’s super simple to make yourself and tastes way better than store-bought! Tahini paste is simply sesame seeds  – I use whole ones – that are toasted and processed with a light-tasting virgin olive oil to make a paste.

As a rule of thumb, I use 1 cup of sesame seeds to 1 tbsp  olive oil. But start by toasting the seeds, as per above. Again, they’ll take 5-8 minutes to toast.

The processing is slightly different, although the paste goes through similar stages, you may need to add extra olive oil to obtain the texture you require.

Again, spoon into a wide-necked jar and keep in the fridge for a couple of months, or however long it lasts.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. Do NOT leave the kitchen while the nuts and/or seeds are toasting. They go from toasted to burnt all too quickly. I typically use a timer.

2. Alternatively, use untoasted nuts and seeds.

3. Nut and seed butters are all about the quality of the base ingredients. Use the freshest products you can find, preferably organic.

4. Always put the finished product into a sterilised jar and keep in the fridge.

5. You can ramp up the flavour in the nut butter by using a different mix of nuts, by adding cinnamon or vanilla, or indeed a couple of tbsp cocoa and a drizzle of maple syrup for a better and more flavourful nutella-type spread.

6. Tahini isn’t just used in hummus, it’s a popular staple in Middle Eastern, Greek, and East Asian cooking.  It’s used in Turkish dip Tahin Pekmez – a sort of Turkish peanut butter and jelly – with Middle Eastern dishes such as falafel and in mutabal. My beloved likes it on grilled lamb and shwarma.

 

 

The Musette: vegan lentil ragu

I asked my two sisters what they’d miss most if they became vegan. Totally unprompted, they both said “Spag Bol” to which I replied “You know you can make a delicious ragu sauce with lentils don’t you?” They weren’t convinced so I just had to make it for them.

Ingredients (enough for 6 hungry cyclists)

  • 3 tbsp olive oil 
  • 2 medium-sized onions, finely chopped
  • 3 carrots, finely chopped
  • 3 sticks celery, finely chopped
  • 3 fat garlic cloves, crushed
  • 500g (1lb) dried green lentils, preferably Puy
  • 2 x 400g (14oz) cans chopped tomatoes 
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 2 tbsp red wine or balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp each dried oregano and thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 star anise
  • 1ltr (4 cups) vegetable stock
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 750g (26oz) pasta

Method

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onions, carrots, celery, herbs, garlic and tsp salt. Cook gently for 20-30 mins until everything softens and the onion becomes translucent.

Stir in the lentils, bay leaves and star anise and then the stock, bring to a simmer and cook until the lentils are tender, generally around 45 minutes. By then, the lentils will have absorbed most of the stock.

2. Add the vinegar and tomato purée, cook for a couple of minutes before adding the tomatoes. Bring back to a simmer, then cook for a further 45 minutes until the sauce is thick and rich. Season to taste.

3. If eating straight away, remove bay leaves and star anise and keep on a low heat while you cook the pasta, according to the instructions on the pack. I would typically use tagliatelle but other pastas work just as well. Cook the pasta al dente only.

4. Drain pasta well, saving a cup of pasta cooking water. Add pasta water and pasta to saucepan containing lentil ragu and toss to distribute sauce.

5. Divide the dish between pasta bowls or plates and grate over some vegan parmesan.

6. Alternatively, cool the sauce and chill for up to 3 days in the fridge or freeze for up to 3 months. Simply defrost portions overnight at room temperature, then reheat gently to serve.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. You can of course make the sauce in less time but it benefits from further cooking. For example, I would typically cook a meat ragu for at least 2 hours. I recommend using Puy lentils because they will stay whole but feel free to use others which will work equally well.

2. There’s nothing worse that overcooked pasta. Only cook it until al dente as it’ll continue to cook in the sauce.

3. When cooking pasta, always add the pasta to the sauce and not the other way round.

4. Equally you should always add some of the pasta water to the sauce, it makes it much silkier and helps it to adhere to the pasta.

5. NEVER, EVER add olive oil to the water in which you cook the pasta. It prevents the sauce properly adhering to and being absorbed by the pasta.

6. You can use the sauce as the basis for other meals. Here I’ve used it in a sort of shepherds/cottage pie, topped with mashed sweet potato.

You may be wondering why there’s no photos of my delicious lentil ragu tagliatelle. I was too slow with the camera, my sisters ate it pronto! They agreed it was as good as the real thing. But here’s one I made with penne instead.

The Musette: roasted carrot and chickpea salad

Last week while suffering from cabin fever, I couldn’t be bothered to go out shopping. So meals were made from whatever was lurking in the fridge, freezer or pantry. Luckily, I always have a few staples including chickpeas and a bag of organic carrots, the latter being my go-to backup vegetable because they last forever. Is it just me who does this?

This salad is going to forever change the way you look at those carrots. They’re tossed with a sprinkle of ground coriander (cilantro) and roasted until lightly charred, then paired with warm chickpeas that have been rendered sticky with a mix of citrus juice, chilli flakes and garlic. A nutty, herb-packed dressing brings it all together over a bed of peppery rocket (arugula). In a couple of simple steps, carrots go from standby side dish to the star turn in a (vegan) dinner-worthy salad. I should add that my beloved was away on a business trip so no need to worry about him though I know he’d have been happy with this as a side dish

Ingredients (serves 4 hungry cyclists)

  • 1 kg (2 lbs) organic carrots, peeled and sliced on a diagonal into thick discs
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil, preferably olive oil
  • 2 tsp ground coriander, divided into two
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 660 g (23 oz) cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 120 ml (1/2 cup) juice from medium orange/several tangerines
  • 2 fat cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp dried chilli pepper flakes
  • 2 big handfuls rocket (arugula)
  • 120 ml herb dressing (see below)
  • handful (1/2 cup) chopped, toasted, skin-on almonds

Herb Dressing

  • 8 tbsp (1/2 cup) freshly chopped fresh herbs, I used parsley and (cilantro)
  • 4 tbsp (1/4 cup) tahini
  • Juice and zest of organic lemon
  •  1 tbsp filtered water
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC/(400ºF)/180ºC fan/Gas mark 6 and line a rimmed baking tray with aluminium foil.

2. Put the carrots on the baking tray. Drizzle with the oil, sprinkle with 1 tsp ground coriander, pinch of salt and pepper, and toss to evenly coat. Spread into an even layer. Roast, stirring once halfway through, until tender and lightly browned, about 30 minutes total.

3. While the carrots are roasting, make your herb sauce. Put all the ingredients in the small bowl of a food processor and process until the herbs are finely minced and the sauce is well-blended, 1 to 3 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, put the chickpeas, orange juice, garlic, remaining 1 tsp coriander, pinch of salt and red pepper flakes in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the juice is reduced by half and the chickpeas sticky, about 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat.

5. Divide the rocket between 4 bowls. Top each bowl with the chickpeas and a spoonful of remaining juice, add the roasted carrots.

6. Drizzle with the dressing, sprinkle with chopped almonds and a handful of remaining fresh herbs used for the sauce.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. The carrots, chickpeas, and dressing can be prepared up to a day in advance and stored separately in airtight containers in the refrigerator. Reheat the carrots and chickpeas before serving.

2. Leftovers will keep for a day stored in an airtight container in the fridge. Leftovers without the rocket and sauce can be happily stored for several days.

3. Use whatever fresh herbs you happen to have handy, a single herb or a combination of several. If you’ve fresh carrots, don’t forget you can use the carrot tops as well.

4. This is a handy dandy sauce that pairs well with loads of dishes. Use it to top grain bowls or spoon it over grilled meat, fish, or veggies. The coolness of the herbs also makes this sauce a good fit for spicy foods. It’ll keep in an airtight container for several days in the fridge.

5. If you’ve used chickpeas from a can or jar, don’t forget to retain the aquafaba – it’s a substitute for egg white in vegan dishes.

6. If you don’t have any tahini, don’t despair. Just make a typical French vinaigrette dressing using lemon (or orange) juice in place of vinegar.

The Musette: honey baked feta cheese

This is the third and last of Marcus Waring’s recipes which I’m trying from his New Classics cookery book this month. Of course, it won’t be the last recipe of his that I try. I have all of his cookery books and they’re big favourites of mine.

This is a very versatile vegetarian dish. You could serve this as a starter, lunch-time main course or before dessert – we are in France – for a different take on the cheese course. However you decide to serve it, this simple dish of creamy, tangy feta grilled until melting and slightly crisp is transformed thanks to heady, fragrant lavender and fresh thyme. The homemade rye crisps served alongside are great for dipping and scooping into the melted cheese, and are incredibly simple to make – all you need is half a loaf of rye bread and a garlic clove!

Ingredients (serves 2 as a main course, or 4 as a cheese course or starter)

  • 200g (7oz) feta cheese
  • 1/2 loaf rye bread
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 fat garlic clove, halved
  • 2 tbsp runny lavender honey
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme, take off leaves
  • 2 lavender sprigs, or 1/2 tsp dried lavender
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/(400°F)/gas mark 6.

2. Cover the feta with kitchen paper and leave at room temperature for at least an hour to absorb all the excess moisture.

3. Cut the bread into very thin slices. Place them in a single layer on 2 baking trays. Brush with the olive oil and rub each slice with a halved garlic clove.

4. Bake the bread in the oven for 5 – 7 minutes until lightly golden and crisp.

5. Remove the bread, keeping it warm, and turn the oven to its grill setting.

6. Remove the kitchen paper from the cheese and place the feta in an ovenproof dish just large enough for it to fit snugly. Drizzle the honey on top, then add the thyme and lavender. Season well with salt and pepper and grill for 5–10 minutes until golden and bubbling.

7. Remove the cheese from the grill. Serve the feta immediately with the bread crisps.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. The feta is the star of the show. Buy it from a cheese shop rather than packaged from a supermarket. I’ve tried both and it does make a difference.

2. Marcus’s recipe calls for rye bread and I understand why; it’s got a closed tight texture. I’ve tried it with spelt and sour dough, both were fine though it does help if the bread’s not fresh. Or you could use store-bought rye crackers.

3. Marcus’s recipe uses 4 tbsp of honey which we found to be too much and I’ve reduced it to 2 tbsp.

4. Don’t overdo the lavender or the cheese will taste soapy – not ideal!

5. You do need to use fresh thyme, dried won’t cut it here.

The Musette: harissa marinated lamb

Here’s the second recipe from this month’s Great British Chefs Cookbooks Challenge and it’s another one from Michelin starred chef Marcus Waring’s book New Classics. All the recipes are (thankfully) much geared towards the home cook  – you won’t need any Michelin stars to attempt them – while still containing all the incredible flavours and textures that made Marcus such a superstar chef.

This lamb recipe is a stunning main which celebrates Middle Eastern flavours of spicy harissa, crushed pistachios and spiced yoghurt. But what elevates this dish from good to great is the brining of the meat before cooking. This makes it more tender, while the harissa marinade ensures it has bags of flavour.

Ingredients (enough for 4 cyclists)

Marinated lamb

  • 4 pieces of lamb, around 200g (7oz) each
  • 2 tsp harissa
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 30g (1oz) pistachio nuts, toasted and roughly chopped

Lamb  brine

  • 140g (5oz) table salt
  • 1 ltr (4 cups) filtered water
  • 1/2 tsp white peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves

Fresh mint chutney

  • 6 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp caster sugar
  • 4 shallots, finely sliced
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 bunch mint, leaves separated and finely chopped

Yoghurt dressing

  • 150g (5oz) Greek yoghurt
  • 1/4 cucumber, finely grated and drained
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds , toasted and crushed
  • 1 tsp harissa
  • sea salt to taste

Method

1. For the brine, place all the ingredients in a saucepan with 500ml (2 cups) filtered warm water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 2 minutes then remove from the heat and add 500ml filtered cold water. Allow to cool completely.

2. Add the lamb to the brine and place in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours.

3. Mix the harissa paste with the olive oil. Rinse the brined lamb under cold running water and pat dry with kitchen paper. Rub the harissa mixture over the lamb rumps, cover or place them in a container and chill for at least 6 hours (or overnight).

4. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/(400°F)/gas mark 6.

5.  To make the fresh mint chutney, heat the vinegar in a small saucepan, add the sugar and dissolve over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat and add the shallots. When cool, add the oil and set aside until ready to use.

6. To make the yoghurt dressing, mix all ingredients together in a bowl and season to taste.

7. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. When hot, place the lamb in the pan, if relevant fat-side down first. Cook for 5–8 minutes, until the fat begins to render and turn a lovely golden brown.

8. Turn the lamb over and seal on all the other sides for a further 5 minutes, then place on a foil-lined dish in the oven. Bake for 5–10 minutes, depending on how pink you like your lamb. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and leave somewhere warm to rest for 5 minutes.

 

9.  Finish the mint chutney by adding the chopped fresh mint. Serve the lamb with the mint chutney and yoghurt dressing, sprinkled with the pistachio nuts. Eat with a large green salad, roasted vegetables or couscous.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. Again, I have tweaked the recipe a bit. I used lamb leg steaks rather than rump of lamb, but I think any cut of lamb would work. You just need to adjust the cooking times.

2. Do make the mint chutney and yoghurt dressing, they add a lot to the dish.

3. This is the first time I’ve brined lamb though I’ve previously done so with chicken and pork. It really added something to the dish and while it takes some time, it’s so worth it.

4. If you don’t have any Greek yoghurt, strain natural yoghurt in a sieve lined with kitchen paper.

Header image: Spring Lamb© Alistair Cunningham

The Musette: aubergine, buckwheat and cashew tangine

This month’s recipes from the Great British Chef’s Cook Book belong to Marcus Waring and come from his recently published cookery book New Classics. When I lived in London, I was fortunate to eat in some of his restaurants  – divine! I have all of his previous cookery books which contain some of my “most cooked” recipes and, even though they are very much geared towards the home cook, they still contain incredible depth of flavours and textures. I frequently dip into them when I want to impress my French friends and prove that the English can cook. Of course, Marcus is probably now better known for his role on MasterChef: The Professionals.

This is one of three recipes from New Classics and my beloved is certainly hoping (and praying) I’ll cook all three of them. But I’ve started with this vegan take on a tagine which includes an incredible homemade spice mix that gives real depth of and layers of flavour to the dish. Marcus’s recipe uses freekeh, a type of ancient wheat grain with a nutty taste, which I’ve substituted with buckwheat because it’s what I had in the cupboard and it has a similarly satisfyingly chewy texture, plus it goes perfectly with the crunchy cashews and soft, yielding aubergine. It’s a great, healthy dish that ticks all the boxes in terms of flavour and texture and was even better reheated the following day!

Ingredients (enough for 4 hungry cyclists)

Tagine

  • 100g (1 cup) cashew nuts
  • 200g (2 cups) buckwheat, freekeh or quinoa
  • 4 tbsp coconut or vegetable oil
  • 3 medium onions (approx. 250g/9 oz), finely chopped
  • 3 fat garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 thumb-sized knob fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 400ml (1 2/3 cup) passata, or a 400g (14 oz) tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 250ml (1 cup) vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 1 tsp pomegranate molasses or black treacle
  • 50g (1/2 cup) raisins or currants
  • 2 tsp saffron strands, soaked in 1 tbsp of warm water for 10 minutes
  • 2 aubergines (approx. 500g/1 lb), cut into 2cm dice
  • 1 bunch coriander, chopped
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Spice mix

  • 2 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp ground tumeric
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/(400°F)/gas mark 6.

2. Put the cashew nuts on a roasting tray and bake for 5 minutes until golden. Remove, leave to cool, then chop roughly. Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C/140°C fan/(325°F)/gas mark 3.

3. Cook the buckwheat/freekeh/quinoa for half of the time stated on the packet instructions, then drain and leave to cool.

4. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large casserole dish over medium heat. Add the onions, season with sea salt and pepper and sauté for about 10 minutes until they are soft but not coloured. Add the garlic and ginger for the last 3–4 minutes, then add the tomato purée, the passata or chopped tomatoes, stock, vinegar, molasses or treacle, raisins or currants and saffron to the casserole and remove from the heat.

5. Heat a dry large frying pan over high heat and, when hot, add the spices for the spice mix and stir them for 3–4 minutes until fragrant. Transfer the spices to a mortar and crush with the pestle. Mix with the flour and table salt in a large plastic bag or bowl.

6. Add 1 tbsp oil to the frying pan and place back on the heat. Season the diced aubergine generously with the spiced flour and fry it in the oil, in 3 batches, until golden, adding 1 tbsp oil to each subsequent batch.

7. Add half of the chopped coriander to the casserole,  the part-cooked buckwheat/freekeh/quinoa and the spiced aubergine. Sprinkle with three-quarters of the chopped cashew nuts.

8. Bring to the boil, cover with a circle of greaseproof paper, put on the the lid and transfer to the oven for around an hour until the buckwheat/freekeh/quinoa is tender and the sauce thickened. Serve sprinkled with the remaining coriander and cashew nuts.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. I’ve played a bit fast and loose with Marcus’s recipe yet it still tasted wonderful.

2. If you don’t have some of the ingredients in your cupboard think about what might be an appropriate substitution. That said, I think the aubergines are pretty central to the dish. However, I believe you could successfully substitute the cashew nuts with hazelnuts, almonds or walnuts.

3. I used buckwheat instead of freekeh but equally you could use quinoa, farro or barley. You need something with a bit of bite.

4. I had all of the spices but if you don’t have cumin or coriander seeds, substitute with the ground spice.

5. I had a tin of black treacle but couldn’t be bothered to open a new tin for just a tsp so instead used pomegranate molasses.

6. Always use a timer when roasting nuts in the oven because it’s so easy to leave them for too long and burn them!

 

The Musette: Cavalluci biscuits from Siena

Whenever we go to Siena, I hot-foot it to the nearest cake shop and buy some delicious Cavallucci biscuits. They’re one of the most well-known Christmas treats in Tuscany, dating back to Renaissance times when the church’s council handed them out to their congregation. Hailing originally from Siena, these old-fashioned biscuits have a soft crumbly texture and are made with plain flour, nuts, honey, candied fruit and spices.

Nobody knows the exact origin of their name which comes from cavallo (horse). Fitting perhaps since the famous horse race the Palio is held in Siena. Some believe that it comes from their shape, with a central furrow  – missing from mine – resembling a horse hoof, or perhaps because a little horse was once imprinted on top of them. Others point to how they were often consumed by roadhouses workers, where travelers would stop to rest and change their horses.

Ingredients (makes about 30)

  • 220g plain flour
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 15g honey
  • 70g walnuts or almonds, finely chopped
  • 40g candied orange and lemon peel, finely chopped
  • 80ml filtered water
  • 5g baking powder
  • 1 tsp aniseeds
  • 4g mixed spices (nutmeg, coriander and cinnamon)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/(350ºF)/160ºC fan and line a baking tray with baking paper.

2. Put the walnuts onto the tray and put them in the heating oven for about 5-7 minutes so they are lightly toasted, then chop them.

3. Put all the spices into a spice grinder and pulse quickly to combine them, or crush the aniseeds lightly with a mortar and pestle and combine with the other spices.

4. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Add the spices, candied peel and cooled, chopped walnuts, and mix. Make a well in the centre of the bowl.

5. Put the sugar, honey and water in a small saucepan and stir over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, simmer gently until the temperature reaches 120°C/230°F.

6. Tip the sugar mixture into the flour mixture, using a wooden spoon to combine the ingredients.

7. Form the mixture into walnut-sized balls, place them on the prepared baking tray and flatten slightly. Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly browned and firm on the base. Don’t worry if they’re really soft, they will harden slowly.

8. Cool on a rack, then dust with icing sugar. Stored airtight, and away from my beloved, they will keep for 2-3 months.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. I’ve made these with almonds and walnuts and the latter are superior in these biscuits. Of course, make sure your nuts are fresh, and preferably organic.

2. Use a lightly flavoured honey such as acacia or millefiori.

3. I’ve not frozen these biscuits but I’d suggest freezing the dough rather than the biscuit.