Monday, August 20, 2007


This is really a thick, rich mushroom stew - the lentils and onion providing a complex savoury background to woodland porcini. You would want to eat this on an autumn day after conkering - or a bleak August day blackberrying, as I've just done! It was a recipe that, upon reading and even upon sniffing the simmering pan, I doubted would come together so well as it did. Lentils and mushrooms just make sense, in theory, but this didn't really come together until the very last stages.

I should also say that I have adapted this from a recipe in 'Fagioli'; Judith Barrett's version does not feature ordinary mushrooms. I am serving this with farmhouse bread (picture to follow) and spiced plum crumble. Having soup is a great excuse to eat pudding! This serves two at dinner or four as a starter.

1/2 cup lentils verde, washed and checked over
1 onion, finely chopped
2tbsp olive oil
2 large bay leaves
1 large tomato, chopped
1/2 cup porcini mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes
1 cup finely-diced chestnut (ordinary) mushrooms
3 cups hot water

First soak the porcini and set aside. In a soup pan, warm the olive oil and add the onion and bay leaves; stir to soften and sizzle. After a couple of minutes - or when it's ready - add the chopped tomato and mushrooms. Continue to stir until most of the liquid has gone and the vegetables are soft. Drain and finely-chop the porcini and add it to the pan with the green lentils and 4 cups of warm water. Bring to a fierce boil, lid off, and set the timer for 10 minutes. After that, turn the heat down to a gentle putter, and cook for another 35 minutes. You may want to add a little more water to reach the right consistency.

Make sure it's hot, remove the bay leaves and, if you like, garnish with a swirl of cream - it's rich enough to take the dilution - and chopped chives. Or a swirl of truffle oil and chopped rosemary... or whatever you have to hand... if you haven't already started eating!

Thursday, August 02, 2007


The super-sweet red pepper brings something special to hummus, with a throaty kick at the very end. Serve it with raw carrot and toasted pitta, cut into strips. Or you could serve a big dollop with a plate of roasted vegetables - squash, aubergine, tomato - as a simple dinner.

1 can chickpeas, drained (equivalent to 200g cooked chickpeas)
2 heaped dessertspoons Tahini (sesame seed paste, from supermarket)
Juice of 1 small lemon
3 cloves garlic, peeled
3 "Peppadew" peppers (from a jar)
2tbsp olive oil
1tsp salt
1tsp pepper

Using a food processor, blend the lemon juice, tahini and garlic with a few of the chickpeas, ensuring the garlic is finely pureed before continuing. Add the olive oil and most of the chickpeas, and blend to a smooth puree. Now add the seasoning, and the rest of the chickpeas, and the peppers, and pulse-chop until you get a textured hummus. Taste to see if it needs more lemon juice or seasoning. If it's too thick, add extra olive oil or a bit of warm water, and pulse to combine.


An oven-simmered tomato sauce, enriched with red wine, stirred into fresh penne and sliced sausages - just the thing for an autumnal sort of summer day. Eat with fresh bread.

1 punnet plum tomatoes (about 500g)
1 onion, sliced
1tsp olive oil
175ml red wine (a rich one like Shiraz)
175ml vegetable stock
4 vegetarian sausages - I like Cauldron's Lincolnshire
2 handfuls penne
Parmesan and fresh bread, to serve

Start a few hours before tea, or the night before. In an ovenproof casserole, soften the onion in the oil very slowly, until translucent. Add the tomatoes, crush with a wooden spoon, then add the lid and leave on a low heat for a few more minutes. Finally tip in the wine and stock, bring to a bubble, then replace the lid. Now you can either leave it on the hob on the lowest heat, or put the casserole into the oven at about 120 deg for anything up to two hours. Either way, keep checking: you want to slowly achieve a thick, reduced sauce with onion pieces that melt into the goo.
You can keep this aside now - until ready to eat. At which point, grill the sausages, then slice roughly, and add to the pan, returning it to a gentle heat. Bring another pan of water to the boil and throw in the penne, then cook for 10 minutes. Finally combine the drained pasta with the sauce, stir well, and serve onto warm plates.

Garnish generously with freshly grated parmesan.