Absurdly addictive asparagus

This recipe combines so many of my favorite flavors and is going to be a firm favorite. Such a heady combination of leeks, pancetta, orange zest, pine nuts and parsley added to the asparagus is without doubt the best asparagus recipe I’ve encountered.

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Serves 4

4 oz pancetta, cut into 3/8 inch to 1/4 inch dice
1 tbsp butter
1 lb asparagus, woody ends trimmed and sliced into 2 inch pieces on the bias
1 1/4 cups leek, thinly sliced crosswise (white and pale green parts only)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon orange zest
2 tbsp toasted pine nuts
1-2 tbsp Italian parsley, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large non-stick pan, sauté the pancetta, stirring frequently, over medium heat, until crisp and lightly golden.
Add 1 tbsp of butter to pan. Add the asparagus pieces and leeks and sauté until the asparagus is tender crisp, about 3-4 minutes.
Add the garlic, lemon and orange zest, toasted pine nuts and parsley and sauté for about 1 minute, until fragrant.
Season to taste with freshly ground pepper and salt and serve immediately.

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Asian sweet potato gratin.

If you like dairy-free food and Asian flavors, this is a great twist on a heavier, creamier potato gratin.
Sweet potato and peanut butter might sound like a bonkers pairing, but combined with the flavor powerhouses of chili, ginger and lime, the result is magical.

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Serves 2, but easily can be augmented

3 sweet potatoes
8 fl oz of coconut milk
1 tbsp peanut butter
A stem of lemon grass
A thumb of ginger
1 chili
1 lime
1 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat your oven to 350 F
Scrub 3 sweet potatoes, then slice as thinly as you can.
Place the slices in a medium sized baking dish.

Finely chop a chili. Peel a thumb of ginger with a teaspoon and roughly chop. Take 1 lemon grass stem and remove the tough outer leaves.

Zest the lime and juice half. Tip in 1 tbsp peanut butter, the lemon grass, chili, ginger, lime zest and the juice into a food processor.

Pour in 8 oz coconut milk. Blitz to combine all the ingredients.
Taste and season.

Pour the coconut sauce over the potato. Mix with your hands then flatten.
Cover the dish with foil and seal the edges tightly. Cook for 30 mins.

Remove the foil and cook for a further 20 mins till golden.

Check the sweet potatoes are cooked and soft by piercing with a knife. If still firm, place back in the oven and cook for a further 5-10 mins.

Butternut squash, mustard and Gruyere gratin

I love anything that has cream, cheese and vegetables in it and you might want to think about changing up your Thanksgiving meal by adding this to the repertoire.I highly recommend it.

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A small knob of butter (1 tbsp)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 or 3 garlic cloves, peeled and squashed
10 decent sized-sage leaves
10 fl oz pot double cream
6 fl oz whole milk (or use cream instead for an extra luxurious dish)
2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, quartered and thinly sliced (about 2lb 2oz prepared weight)
1/4 tsp hand grated nutmeg
8 oz Gruyère, grated

Heat the butter and oil in a large frying pan. Add the onions and cook slowly over a low-medium heat, stirring every now and then, for 10-15 mins until golden and soft.

Meanwhile, put the garlic and half the sage in a saucepan, add the cream and milk, and heat gently, not allowing the mixture to boil, for 5 mins. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool for 10 mins, then fish out the sage and garlic. Stir in the mustard and season well.

If cooking straight away, heat oven to 350 F.
Layer the squash slices, (sprinkling a little grated nutmeg on each layer)the onions, most of the cheese and the infused cream into a large baking dish, finishing with a layer of cream. Once you’ve used the ingredients up, scatter with the remaining cheese and put the remaining sage leaves on top. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 45 mins.

Uncover the dish and increase the heat to 400 F. Cook for a further 20-30 mins until golden brown and tender all the way through. Leave to cool for 10 mins before serving.

“Vaghareli Makai” (Spicy corn with peanuts, lime, cilantro and mustard seeds)

This is a real gem from Heidi Swanson’s new book “Near and Far” What a stunning array of flavors!

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The original recipe called for “2 small red chiles” so you can use whatever kind of chile pepper you want, depending on how hot and spicy you like things. If you are avoiding nuts then use pumpkin seeds. To make it vegan, Heidi recommends using sunflower oil in place of the butter.

2 small red chiles, stemmed, seeded (if desired), and sliced
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
One 1-inch (3cm) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
¾ teaspoon sea or kosher salt
2 tablespoon clarified butter (ghee)
1 ½ teaspoons yellow or brown mustard seeds
3 cups (450g, about 3 large ears) fresh corn kernels
½ cup (60g) roasted peanuts
1 cup (30g) chopped cilantro
lemon or lime wedges
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

1. In a mortar and pestle, or with a mini food processor, grind the chiles, garlic, ginger, turmeric, and salt to a paste.

2. Heat the clarified butter in a wide skillet. Add the mustard seeds and cook, stirring until they pop, which will take a minute or two. Stir in the corn kernels and cook a few minutes, stirring frequently, until they just start to feel tender, which will take a couple of minutes.

3. Stir in the peanuts, half of the cilantro and half of the red chile paste. Cook for another minute then taste. If desired, for additional heat, add more of the chile paste and perhaps a bit of salt. Remove from heat and add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice.

Serve the spiced corn over rice, or as a side dish, topped with the remaining cilantro and sesame seeds.

Have lemon or lime wedges handy for guests to add as they wish. Any leftovers can be reheated in a skillet with a little more clarified butter.

Grilled zucchini with ricotta and pomegranate molasses

This fast, simple but stunning side dish by chef Timothy Hollingsworth makes grilled zucchini so much more interesting. Featured in Food and Wine Magazine.

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Servings: 6

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
2 lbs medium zucchini or yellow squash, quartered lengthwise
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and Pepper
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
2 tbsp loosely packed tarragon leaves, chopped

Put the pumpkin seeds in a small skillet over moderately low heat and cook, stirring, until toasted, 3 to 5 minutes.
Light a grill or use a very heavy ridged pan over a hot gas flame.
Toss the zucchini with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the zucchini over high heat, turning once, until charred and just tender, about 7 minutes.
Transfer to a work surface and cut into 1-inch pieces. Arrange on a platter and top with dollops of the ricotta and the toasted pumpkin seeds. Season with salt and pepper.
Drizzle the zucchini with the pomegranate molasses, garnish with the chopped tarragon and serve.

Stilton and thyme polenta mash

I love polenta and this recipe with the stunning addition of Stilton cheese and thyme is a winner.
Especially lovely served with a stew or braise or even a selection of honey roasted vegetables, such as parsnips, carrots, celeriac and red onion tossed with olive oil, honey, thyme, rosemary and bay leaves.

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Serves 4

7 oz “easy cook” polenta
3 pints water or a 50/50 mixture of broth and water
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
5 oz Stilton cheese, crumbled
1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped

Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the salt and olive oil.
Remove from the heat and slowly pour in the polenta, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon or strong whisk.
Return the saucepan to the heat and keep stirring until the polenta is thick and smooth.
The polenta is cooked when it falls away from the sides of the saucepan and is no longer granular in texture. It should be the consistency of mashed potato. Stir in the Stilton and thyme.

Roast butternut squash stuffed with Medjool dates, cashew nuts and cilantro couscous

I just love winter food especially when it’s anything to do with butternut squash. This one is from Skye Gyngall and is gorgeous with such interesting flavors.

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Serves 2 and could easily be augmented

1 small butternut squash
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
a decent drizzle of olive oil
a good splosh of white wine
sea salt and ground black pepper

For the stuffing

6 oz instant couscous
2 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, finely sliced
1 small leek, finely sliced
4oz cashew nuts
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 cardamon pod, crushed open with the flat of a knife
2 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
2 tbsp desiccated coconut
1 tsp hot curry powder
6 Medjool dates, chopped
1/2 bunch of cilantro
1/2 bunch of flat-leaf parsley
1/2 bunch fresh mint
juice of 1/2 lemon

Peel the squash, cut it in half lengthways and scoop out the seeds. Place the squash halves in a shallow roasting dish and sprinkle over the garlic slivers and thyme. Drizzle over the olive oil, pour over the white wine and season with salt and pepper.
Cover with foil and roast in an oven preheated to 350 F for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for about 10 more minutes until the squash is tender.
This may take a little longer depending on the size of your squash. Check it’s doneness as you would a potato and remove from the oven. Leave the oven on.

While the squash is cooking, prepare the stuffing.
Put the couscous in a bowl, pour over about 1/2 cup cold water or chicken broth and leave to soak.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan, add the shallot, leek, cashews, mustard seeds, cardamon pod, ginger, coconut and curry powder and fry gently until the shallot is soft and the aroma from the spices is making you hungry!
Turn up the heat and add the couscous to the pan, stirring thoroughly.
Remove from the heat, cover with a lid and leave to cook for 10 minutes.
Stir again to fluff up the grains, then add the dates, herbs and lemon juice and season to taste.
Stuff the squash with the couscous and return to the oven for about 20 minutes.
Serve immediately