Sunday, 28 December 2014

Christmas Barley, Butternut and Spinach Pie

Last year at Christmas veggie daughter decided to take a day off from vegetarianism and eat the turkey and all the trimmings with the rest of us. This year she is much more resolute, and turkey is definitely off limits, even if it is a pampered free range bird that spent its life listening to classical music and wandering outside every so often for a stroll in the sunshine. A Quorn fillet just wouldn't cut it, so I searched for a showstopping recipe to prevent her feeling left out on the big day. Various recipes were put to the diner for approval, culminating with her approving a BBC Good Food recipe for a layered barley, butternut and spinach pie with a hot water pastry crust.

With its triple layers of spinach and ricotta, barley and chestnut risotto and butternut and sage, it sounded suitably Christmassy and looked like a fitting centrepiece for a celebratory meal. I diligently read the recipe through, along with all the comments from others who had previously baked the pastry delight and discovered potential pitfalls, the main ones appearing to be that the recipe makes way too much filling for the size of pie, and that it needed a bit of spicing up. Some commentators didn't like the lemon zest, so I reduced the amount to a few strands rather than a whole lemon. 

Here is the recipe from BBC Good Food, with my changes (surprisingly few, as I normally change a lot more in any recipe I find).


For the filling

  • 1 small butternut squash (about 1kg/2lb 4oz), peeled and cubed
  • a glug or two of olive oil
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1" cube fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tsp kochujang (Korean hot chili paste - along with the sesame oil this was a nod to our time spent in Korea)
  • 3 onions, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 100g mushrooms, sliced
  • 85g whole cooked chestnuts, quartered (I used Merchant Gourmet vacuum packed)
  • 100g pearl barley
  • 1.2l vegetable stock
  • glug of red wine that was left over on the side
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • zest 1/4 lemon
  • 250g/9oz tub ricotta
  • 200g full-fat soft cheese
  • sage leaves picked and chopped
  • 400g spinach (I used frozen)
  • For the pastry

    • 700g plain flour
    • 140g butter
    • 85g/3oz white vegetable shortening (we used Trex)
    • 100ml milk
    • 1 egg, lightly beaten
Little basket of garlic purchased at Lidl's simply because it looked cute. Each bulb is a single clove, I'd never seen that before.
  1. Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6 and roast the butternut squash with 1 tbsp olive oil, the ginger, sesame oil, kochujang and a clove of garlic for 25-30 mins until tender, then set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, heat another glug of olive oil in a large pan and cook the onions and garlic for 10 mins until soft. Remove two-thirds, then add the mushrooms, chestnuts and pearl barley to the pan. Sizzle for a few mins, pour in the red wine and stock, then bring to the boil. Bubble for 30 mins, stirring frequently, until the barley is tender and sticky and there is no liquid left. Stir in the soy sauce, season and set aside.
  3. I don't think I have mentioned cheffy son yet. He is one of veggie daughter's two older brothers and is a keen cook and in fact can genuinely lay claim to the title of chef, being a part time grill chef at a station eatery in London.  During an expedition to the Thai food shop some fresh green peppercorns caught his eye. (We are lucky enough to have a Thai food wholesaler a mile up the road and a trip round their store is a treat. They also deliver online elsewhere in the UK The day we went, they had had an air freight delivery from Thailand and the array of fresh produce was impressive. We bought the peppercorns and cheffy son could not resist adding a few to the barley mixture. 
  4. Cheffy son adding fresh green peppercorns

3. While the barley layer is cooking, make the other layers. Stir the zest, ricotta, soft cheese and some seasoning into the reserved onions until smooth. BBC recipe called for parsley, which I had planned on taking from my parents' garden but forgot. I probably should have added basil instead.Take a third of the mixture and gently fold with the sage and roasted squash. For the final layer, boil the kettle, then tip half the spinach into a large colander. Pour over the boiling water to wilt, then repeat with the rest of the spinach. Tip the spinach into a colander and squeeze out all the moisture you can. Roughly chop, then mix into the remaining ricotta mixture. I foolishly only added half the spinach - if I make it again I would add the whole lot.

To make the pie, brush a 900g loaf tin with a little oil. Make 3 long triplelayer strips of foil and lay these across the width of the tin to help you lift out the pie to serve. Tip flour and 3 tsp salt into the largest bowl you have and gently melt the butter, shortening and milk with 200ml water in a pan. Once melted, increase heat until bubbling fiercely, tip onto the flour, then quickly beat with a wooden spoon until combined. Once cool enough to handle, knead until it comes together, then tip onto your work surface. Set aside a third and roll the rest into a large rectangle – big enough to line the tin with a little overhanging.Ease into the tin, pressing evenly into the corners and sides – you can be rough with it. Cheffy son always insists on checking Escoffier or Larousse before attempting anew recipe. Escoffier did once let us down quite severely with his gnocchi recipe, and he didn't have anything useful to say about hot water crust pastry. Larousse was very similar to the BBC so despite cheffy son's admonitions I stuck to the BBC recipe, although Larousse did let me know not to overmix the pastry in order to stop it becoming greasy.

Spoon in the spinach layer, smooth the surface, then repeat with the barley and finally the squash layer. Dome the squash mix slightly to give a rounded top. Roll out the remaining pastry to fit, brush the edges with some egg, then press the lid over the top. Trim the excess and crimp or pinch to seal, then decorate with pastry trimmings cut into leaves  Can be covered and chilled overnight. The pie was massive - the recipe says serves 4 to 6, but they must have extremely hearty appetites. It would probably serve nearer ten, and we are definitely big eaters.

Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6 and put a large baking sheet inside. Brush the surface of the pie with egg, lift onto the heated baking tray and bake for 30 mins, then reduce the heat to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4 and bake for a further 1 hr 30 mins until the pastry is golden brown and feels hard. I pressed a couple of cranberries into the pastry about an hour before the end of cooking. The pastry looked done after about 45 mins, but I covered it with foil and continued to bake it. Stand for 15-20 mins – the pie will stay warm. Gently tip out the pie, or use the foil strips to lift out carefully. This was quite a tricky three person operation, with me, cheffy son and not-so-cheffy son each manning one of the foil straps, but the pie was safely removed from the oven and if I say so myself, looked rather impressive (especially if you ignored the slight bulges on the side, which gradually became cracks. This may have been due to the pie having about 30 mins less than the stated time as I didn't want it to burn, but it would probably have benefited from the full cooking time). And the verdict? Delicious! But very filling. The meat eaters (well, all apart from grandad, who never turns down any food) were too stuffed to try it, but served cold it was a delicious Boxing Day lunch. Cheffy son and I plan to make hot water crust pastry again to encase a lovely pork pie, but that does not belong on veggie daughter's blog.
Anticipation as the pie is cut!

Behold the beautiful layered effect inside the pie!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Butternut Squash and Sage Risotto

An old favourite recipe given to me by my friend Melissa, and adapted over the years. It didn't use to have the sage, smoked paprika and garlic, but they add some good extra flavours, otherwise it can be a bit sweet. I also added some tarragon this time, but didn't really notice the flavour. The other day I saw a butternut risotto on a menu in a pub and they were serving it with goat's cheese, which I think I would like.

1 shallot
1 onion
1 clove garlic
a few sage leaves, chopped finely
1 butternut, peeled and cut into chunks of about 3cm
1 litre veg stock (I used Knorr stockpot)
1 mug risotto rice (Arborio)
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried tarragon
1 bay leaf
olive oil
small glass of white wine
freshly ground black pepper
parmesan /vegetarian hard cheese

1. Finely chop the shallot and onion and fry gently in some olive oil in a large heavy saucepan until softened, but not too brown.

2. Add the crushed garlic, herbs and spices, and the butternut, stirring around for a minute or two. Then stir in the rice and the white wine, giving it a good stir to coat the rice.

3. Add the hot stock a ladleful at a time, stirring frequently, allowing it to be absorbed before adding the next one.

4. Keep adding stock until the rice is cooked al dente and the risotto is not too soupy. Add a good grinding of black pepper and serve immediately with shards of cheese made using a vegetable peeler (or grated).

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Homity Pie

A vegetarian friend made this for us years ago using the Cranks recipe. It's a tasty recipe, but a little on the dry side. I added more cream and some frozen spinach to moisten the filling. I also swapped in a sweet potato as I didn't have quite enough potatoes. I accidentally overcooked the potatoes and sweet potatoes in the pressure cooker and they disintegrated; it's best to leave them firmer so you get nice chunks of potato. The sweet potato cooks quicker than the normal potato - I've just seen a recipe on the pieminister website which says to bake the sweet potato.

Apparently the recipe dates from the rationing during the second world war and comes from the West Country.

Homity Pie

Serves 4 - 6
For the pastry

3 oz wholemeal flour
3 oz plain flour
1.5 oz butter
1.5 oz white vegetable fat
2 tbsp cold water

For the filling

a medium sweet potato
(potato and sweet potato together about a total of 650g)
1 oz butter
dash of sunflower oil
1 red onion
1 yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp mixed herbs
75g frozen spinach
100 ml sour cream
100 ml single cream/milk (mixture of the two)
1 egg beaten
150g cheddar
salt and pepper

1. Make the pastry by pulsing the flours and fats in a food processor (or rubbing in) until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the water and form a dough, then roll it out and line a pie dish (about 25cm diameter).

2. Slice the onions into rings

3. Gently fry the onions, garlic and mixed herbs in a mixture of butter and sunflower oil until softened and slightly golden. Stir in the frozen spinach and heat gently until it melts and mixes into the onions.

4. Peel and cook the potatoes and sweet potatoes. Chop and add to the onion mixture, along with seasoning and half the cheese.

5. Pile the cooled mixture into the pastry case , Beat together the creams/milk and egg, then pour over the potato mixture. Grate nutmeg over the top and sprinkle remaining cheese over.

6. Bake in preheated oven at 200 C for around 40 mins.

We dived in before I remembered to take a photo! 

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Summer Rolls in December

These little appetiser rolls are a nice antidote to wintry weather. The ingredients are fresh and colourful and very healthy. Serve them with a Thai Sweet Chili dipping sauce or Ponzu sauce (a Japanese citrus soy sauce). I am rather heavy handed, so my rolls are not very elegant and I tend to overfill them, but they taste good. Next time I might try tossing the noodles with a little soy sauce just to add a bit of extra oomph.

You need to get hold of some rice paper wrappers and some rice vermicelli. Fortunately there's a Thai shop in our town. If you are really stuck, they can be ordered online. The other ingredients are more readily available.

Rice paper wrappers

Summer Rolls

12 rice paper wrappers, 6 inch diameter are good.
75g instant rice vermicelli, soaked for a few minutes in boiling water, then rinsed in cold water
a red, yellow or orange pepper (or a mixture of the different colours)
a medium carrot
half a cucumber, peeled and de-seeded
half a mango
a couple of tablespoons of chopped salted peanuts
fresh coriander, basil, mint or Thai basil (any combination), washed
sweet chili dipping sauce or ponzu sauce

1. Cut up all the veg into matchstick strips (julienne as it is referred to in cheffy circles)

2. Put some warm water in a bowl large enough to take the rice paper wrappers.

3. Soak one of the wrappers for a couple of minutes until softened. Take out and place on a clean tea towel, putting in the next one to soak.

4. Put a couple of the herb leaves across the centre of the wrapper, then place 2 or 3 sticks of each vegetable/fruit and about a tablespoon of noodles on top, leaving a couple of centimetres on each side. Sprinkle over the peanuts, then roll up tightly, folding in the sides to form a neat roll. I have trouble with this.

Fold in the edges to make a neat roll

5. Put on a plate covered with cling film (to stop them sticking). Continue in this way until you run out of ingredients.  Be prepared to slap away hands that try to take the rolls as quickly as you can manufacture them. Cover with cling film and chill until you're ready to serve them.

6. Seafood eaters might appreciate the addition of a prawn or two with the herbs...

Red peppers and aubergines stuffed with a leek and tomato barley risotto

This was delicious, with a lovely rich tomato garlic flavour and a great texture from the barley. I forgot to take a photo, but it looked nice and I'll try to remember to take one next time I cook it. My biggest critic gave it the thumbs up with as much enthusiasm as a 16 year old can muster for her mother's cooking.

I've seen a few recipes for barley risottos recently, one of which called for pot barley. I've only ever seen pearl barley in the local supermarket, so I used that, but I did a bit of research into the different types. Who knew! According to you can get whole grain barley, which has only the outer husk removed. Pot barley and pearl barley have been polished in a pearling machine, pearl barley for longer. It seems the polisher polishes away a lot of the goodness of the grain, but it makes it lovely and shiny. Pot barley retains the bran layer. According the whole grains council website, the most healthy type of barley is hulled or hulless barley, so I will try to get hold of some of that to up the smugness factor nutritional benefits when I cook it next time.

I found a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe online for barley tomato and garlic risotto, which I used as a basis to get the cooking times and quantities about right, but I changed the ingredients and seasonings quite a bit. He calls for feta cheese scattered on the top, which I think would be perfect, but sadly I'm the only feta fan in the family, so I dolloped some Philadelphia that needed using up on a couple of the peppers instead, which was ok but not great as it's not really a good melting cheese. Some parmesan sprinkled over at the end might be nice.

(The original recipe was in the Guardian,

I have to admit that the meat eaters in the family also enjoyed a side dish of boiled smoked gammon, done in the pressure cooker, which went very well with the barley. My ladle was itching to scoop some of the ham stock into the risotto as I'm sure it would have imparted a delicious extra flavour to the barley, but I kept it under control and stuck with veg stock.

Red Peppers and Aubergines stuffed with a Leek and Tomato Barley Risotto

serves 4

3 tbsp olive oil (I substituted part of it with some from the jar of sundried tomatoes)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and put through a garlic press
3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
500 ml hot veg stock (I used Knorr stockpots) with 2tbsp tomato puree stirred in
200g barley
2 medium aubergines
2 red peppers
3 sundried tomatoes (the type in a jar of oil) chopped
1 bay leaf
1 leek, washed and chopped
dash red wine
a couple of handfuls of chopped kale, leafy bits only, no tough stems 
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp chili powder (or to taste)
1 tsp sugar
black pepper
(I didn't add salt as the stock contains enough)
some cheese (optional, see above)

1. Cut the peppers in half, remove the seeds and pith, rub with olive oil. Cut aubergines in half, scoop out most of the flesh, but leave some around the inside of the skin. Rub with olive oil and put cut side down on a baking sheet. 

2. Gently fry the chopped leek, the aubergine flesh, and the garlic in the olive oil/tomato oil until softened.

3. Add the chopped tomatoes (both types) wine, spices, bay leaf, veg stock, sugar and barley and simmer over a low heat, stirring occasionally and adding extra stock if it gets dry and starts to stick.

4. Once the barley is simmering away, roast the peppers and aubergines outsides up in a hot oven (200C) until they are softened and slightly browned (about 15 mins or so, I didn't time it).

5. Add the kale to the barley mixture after about 40 mins of cooking and continue cooking until the barley is done but still has a bit of bite, in total about 50 minutes. The stock should mostly be absorbed, add more if it dries out to stop it sticking. 

6. Taste and adjust seasoning. You could just serve it in bowls at that stage if you didn't want to put it in the peppers and aubergines.

6. Spoon the risotto into the peppers and aubergines, top with cheese (one that melts properly, not like Philadelphia) and finish under the grill for a few minutes until the cheese melts and browns slightly.

It seems Yotam is a fan of barley as there is another recipe for Yotam Ottolenghi's pot barley with lentils, mushrooms and fried onion that I like the sound of here:

Sunday, 7 December 2014

A bucketful of chicken drumsticks

We had a barbecue. We had invited lots of people. We had a bucketful of chicken drumsticks marinating in a delicious five spice, ginger, garlic and sesame marinade. My daughter counted the drumsticks and thought of the flock of now dead chickens that had supplied them. It turned her vegetarian. Well, to start with she still ate fish. And on the odd occasion was known to give into the urge for a big juicy steak. But a year and half later she's a proper vegetarian and whilst she would happily live off macaroni cheese and instant noodles, I feel I need to provide a more varied and balanced diet. So I'm going to record my recipes, successful and otherwise, here. I say 'and otherwise' as a result of the heavy, dense sweet potato gnocchi I inflicted on the family a couple of days ago. Fortunately the 'and otherwise' meals have so far been in the minority. The rest of the family are not veggie. We are quite happy to go without meat quite a lot of the time. But not all the time. So some of these recipes will have meaty or fishy additions that our resident veggie girl can ignore.