Monday, 28 July 2014

Beetroot roasted with woody herbs, truffle pecorino and lentils

This dish began with my weekly visit to Arthur's allotment in Ilkley, a short walk along the river from where I live. We are at the peak of the fresh beetroot season and I spotted neat rows of red veined leaves rising and waving from the earth as a gentle, summer breeze blew. I called to Arthur to establish his whereabouts and I found him in his little wooden shed, eyes sleepy from  a brief postprandial nap. Arthur told me he sowed the beetroot seed in modules and, when the seedlings were large enough he planted them out - usually in May. Growing a field of beetroot is back breaking work but he has done it for years and it is part of his garden calender.

"Beetroot do not keep for long in the ground. They must be harvested before the cold sets in" he tells me. I bought seven perfectly formed beetroot for £1.00. Arthur always makes sure he undercuts the local Tesco supermarket.

I love to roast beetroot and I have discovered a new way - the best yet. I was in a bit of a rush to cook dinner over the weekend and I thought wrapping each beetroot in a piece of foil was a time consuming fiddle. So what else could I use? In a flash, I remembered a stash of roasting bags.

I cleaned the beetroot, cut off their leafy tops and placed them in a clear roasting bag with a selection of woody herbs -  thyme, rosemary, sage and oregano; a dash of olive oil and a liberal pinch of flaked sea salt. I secured the bag with a loose knot and placed the bag in an over preheated to 200C. After 20 minutes I opened the bag and inserted a sharp knife into the centre of  one of the beets. The flesh gave way to the knife indicating it was cooked and I removed the bag from the oven leaving them to cool. Large beetroot will need longer to cook.

When the beets were cool it was time to test whether my new cooking method had worked. Perfect - caramelised sugars added depth to the earthy flavour of the beetroot. Sea salt had penetrated the silky smooth flesh and the aromatic volatiles oils released from the woody herbs had added to the complex earthy flavour. This is a great way of cooking beetroot quickly.

At the weekend I visited the Courtyard Dairy, Settle to buy cheese. I discovered pecorino, a sharp, young sheep's milk cheese cut with veiny threads of real truffle paste. I could smell it's heady scent as Andy Swinscoe, the Courtyard dairy's owner and cheese refiner, peeled a slither for me to taste. Andy suggested it would be great in a salad and so I had this in mind when I made this dish.

Beetroot roasted with woody herbs, truffled pecorino and lentils

Serves 4


4 beetroot, cleaned and tops removed
springs of rosemary, thyme, oregano and sage
150g Puy lentils
1/2 small red onion, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1/2 deseeded red chilli, chopped
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp good quality olive oil
Maldon sea salt and ground black pepper
25g truffled pecorino or 40g plain pecorino


Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6. Remove the tap root from the beetroot. Place the beetroot in a roasting bag with a little of the olive oil, a pinch of salt and a bunch of woody herbs. Fasten the roasting bag with a loose knot. Shake the beetroot in the bag to make sure they are covered with the herby seasoning. Cook the beetroot in the oven for twenty minutes or until tender. Remove from the oven and allow the beetroot to cool. 

Meanwhile cook the Puy lentils in twice their volume of boiling water for ten minutes or until tender to bite. Drain the lentils and allow to cool.

To assemble the salad. Place the lentils in a bowl and add the chopped red onion, tomato, parsley, and chilli and mix well. Add a good pinch of Maldon salt, lemon juice and two tablespoons of olive oil. Place two tablespoons of lentil mixture on each of four small plates. 

Peel the beetroot if necessary - sometimes the skins are good enough to eat - so you might not need to peel. You decide. Slice the beetroot into delicate discs and cut each disc in half so you have a pile of half moon shapes. Assemble four or five pieces of beetroot across the top of the lentils and top with slithers of pecorino cheese and some fresh herbs to decorate.

PS... Just in case you wondered what was for pudding. The answer is tayberries with some elderberry syrup and Greek Yogurt.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Home made beetroot and spinach tagliatelle

Years ago I watched pasta being made in Bologna, Italy when I was a student teaching English to an Italian family during my long summer vacation. The cook where I was staying made pasta by hand, left the dough to rest and rolled it into long sheets using a rolling pin. She then cut the pasta into tagliatelle or made little cap shaped pockets known as tortellini which were stuffed with either meat or cheese fillings and served in a delicious broth.

When I returned to England I began making my own pasta. I had to find short cuts because I was not strong enough, or skilled enough, to make it without the help of modern appliances. I used a food processor to mix the dough and a pasta machine to roll the dough into large sheets before cutting it into the shapes I wanted. The results were always good.

One thing I have never done, in the years since, is make coloured pasta. I always thought adding either cooked beetroot - to colour it red , or spinach - to colour it green, would make the pasta dough wet and unmanageable. But I was wrong. Prompted by a glut of beetroot from Arthur's allotment (photo below) a few hundred metres from my house in Ilkley I decided to try it out. If you like pasta you should too.

Jamie Oliver's original 'Naked Chef' book has the subject covered well apart from the quantities he suggests. I used 250g pasta flour per batch, half the quantity Jamie suggests. Jamie's 500g of flour batch would be too much for most people even if cooking for a crowd. But the recipe is sound and makes fabulous pasta which can be cooked fresh fresh or dried thoroughly and stored for later. 

Just a note about portion size: I allow a small 50g per person rather than the usual 75g - 100g per person for regular dried pasta. Pasta made with eggs tends to be richer and therefore I think you need less. But it is up to you. Somewhere between 50g and 75g per person is ample for most appetites. 

I buy my pasta flour from Shipton Mill or from Booths supermarket who have the best flour selection of any major supermarket. If you cannot find pasta flour use strong plain flour.  

To make beetroot and spinach pasta

Serves 4


  • 250g pasta flour (Tipo '00')
  • 2 medium eggs, lightly beaten and placed in a small jug

For beetroot pasta: 1 small cooked beetroot, puréed
For spinach pasta: 150g spinach steamed for 3 minutes, drained and puréed


For beetroot pasta. Place 250g pasta flour in the bowl of a food processor. Set the food processor in motion and gradually add half the beaten eggs followed by the puréed beetroot. Mix for about 30 seconds and then stop the motor and scrape around the sides of the food processor bowl to ensure you have incorporated all the flour into the pasta dough. Set the food processor in motion again and gradually add a little more egg until you have made a ball of pasta dough. The ball of pasta dough should be smooth and elastic to touch. Remove the pasta dough from the bowl of the food processor, place it in a plastic bag in the fridge to rest for at least half an hour.

For spinach pasta. Repeat as a above but substitute the puréed spinach for the beetroot.

To roll out the pasta dough:

Remove the pasta dough from the fridge and its plastic bag and place on a floured chopping board or work surface. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Take one piece of dough and dust with a little flour ready to roll out with the pasta machine. Return the other 7 pieces of dough to the plastic bag to prevent from drying out.

Fix the pasta machine to a clean work surface or table and dust the rollers with a little flour. Begin rolling the first piece of pasta dough through the rollers set at the widest setting. Reduce the width of the gap between the rollers by one 'notch' and roll the pasta again. Dust the pasta dough with a little flour if you need to avoid it sticking to the the rollers. Continue to roll the pasta until you have reached the penultimate setting on the pasta machine. The length of pasta should be a few millimetres thick.

Dust the length of pasta with some more flour and then fold the length of dough in half and half again. Cut the pasta into lengths 2cm wide and then unravel the strips of tagliatelle to hand over the backs of chairs to dry (see photographs A & B below).

When to eat the pasta?

The pasta can be eaten after partially drying in a warm dry room for 2 hours or when completely dried after at least 8 hours. When the pasta is brittle and snaps easily it is ready to be stored in a sealed container or tall glass jar.

A) Fold the length of dough in half and half again. Cut the pasta into lengths 2cm wide.
B) Unravel the strips of tagliatelle to hang over the back of a chair to dry.

Simple seasonal recipes for fresh pasta meals

At this time of the year meals are often inspired by the young, fresh  produce from my small front garden which I have laid out like a French potager. This year I have grown climbing courgettes. The plants are leggy and strong growing with brilliant yellow flowers that gape like the mouths of young blackbirds. The flowers are good to eat sliced up and cooked briefly in a little olive oil and garlic and scattered on pizza or pasta. The thick stigma and style at the centre of the flower tastes particularly good. 

There are also broad beans which appeared after the crimson flowers faded. I prefer growing the variety with deep crimson flowers.

Mint is one of my great pleasures as it works so well to flavour both sweet and savoury dishes and is growing abundantly at the moment. Not to forget the latest crop of young garlic which tastes so strong and delicious - I use it sparingly. So there are some great  seasonal options for sauces for my spinach and beetroot pasta. 

Spinach tagliatelle with young courgettes, lemon and basil

Serves 4


4 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 long red chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped 
8 - 10 small finger length courgettes and their flowers if you have them
1 tbsp pinenuts
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 handful fresh basil
200g spinach tagliatelle
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
90g Parmesan cheese, grated


Prepare a large pan of salted boiling hot water for the tagliatelle - but don't cook it yet!
Place the olive oil, garlic and chilli in a hot pan and fry for 30 seconds without colouring. Slice the courgette into quarters, lengthways and toss in the hot, garlicky oil. Add the pine nuts. After 2 minutes add the lemon juice and basil and cook for another minute. Slice 3 of the courgette flowers and throw them in with the courgettes for the last minute of cooking.

Meanwhile cook the tagliatelle in the prepared salted water until al dente - about 4 minutes. Drain the tagliatelle and toss it with the courgettes. Season to taste and add the Parmesan cheese. Dribble with a little more olive oil if you need to loosen the sauce. Serve with some more torn basil and a sprinkling of cheese. 

This recipe is adapted from Jamie Oliver's recipe. I have added a little chilli and some chopped courgette flowers.

Beetroot pasta with broad beans, mint and goat's cheese

Serves 4


4 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 pieces of dry cured bacon, chopped (optional)
500g young broad beans, shelled
200g beetroot tagliatelle
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
100g soft goat's cheese
1 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped


Prepare a large pan of salted boiling hot water for the tagliatelle  and the broad beans - but don't cook it yet!
Place the olive oil, onion and garlic in a hot pan and fry for 30 seconds without colouring. Add the dry cured bacon and continue to cook until the onion and bacon begin to brown.

Meanwhile add the tagliatelle to the prepared salted water. After one minute add the broad beans to the same water. Cook the tagliatelle for about 4 minutes by which time the young broad beans will be cooked too. If the broad beans are quite big you might need to steam them seaprately until cooked and then add them to the onions and garlic.

Drain the tagliatelle and broad beans and toss with the bacon (if using) and onion mixture. Throw in small pieces of soft goats cheese into the pasta and scatter with the chopped mint and season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dribble with a little more olive oil if you need to loosen the sauce.

Arthur Baxter has been growing fruit and vegetables for over 60 years. Courgettes from my garden.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Aubergine with tahini, yogurt and pickled radish

"Do you think it suits me? My nephew Lewis asked as he tried on a dark, navy blue, linen shirt in the Fara Workshop just off the Angel, Islington, North London. "Yes" I replied in truth. He returned to the changing room, dressed and took the shirt to the counter. "A great shirt at a great price" I thought as the sales assistant began to fold it up ready to place in a bag. Lewis had a second thought. He intercepted the assistant as she began to package the shirt and asked "Ohh...can I wear it now?" The shirt was unfolded and he returned to the changing room to switch the shirts on his back.

I love sewing and if you do too check out the Fara Workshop, a social enterprise, where great clothes are made from donated fabrics and clothes. Any profits go to the Fara Foundation a registered charity in the UK and Rumania. They run inspirational workshops too in their spacious modern looking building. 

It was lunch time so we made our way to Ottolenghi's on Upper Street and had a great meal of colourful salads and beautifully prepared morsels of meat and fish with a sumptuous cake to finish. 

The one dish that caught my eye and captured my imagination was a dish of baked aubergines topped with Greek yogurt combined with tahini, garlic and lemon. Small, wafer thin, pink discs of pickled radish finished the dish and looked stunning. The pickled radish needs to be made the day before.

On my return home I looked through the Ottolenhi cook books and could not find the recipe but I really wanted to make it. So below is my version of the Ottolenghi dish. The tahini stirred into Greek yogurt with lemon juice and garlic makes a fine dressing. This dish will only be a success if the aubergine is cooked well (the texture should be soft and giving), and the balance of flavours in the tahini is right. So be sure to check the balance of flavours before you serve.

To complete the meal I made some simple bread dough with organic white  flour, rolled thin  and a little larger and rounder than a pita. And while the oven was on I baked some sticky, caramelised onions.

Aubergine with tahini, yogurt and pickled radish


Serves 2
  • 1 large aubergine, cut into rings 1.5cm thick
  • fine cooking salt 
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp Greek yogurt
  • 2 tsp tahini
  • squeeze fresh lemon to taste
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • small clove garlic crushed
  • 2 tbsp coriander, chopped
For the pickled radish
  • small bunch of radish, washed and thinly sliced
  • 250 ml white wine vinegar
  • 100ml water
  • 1 tsp fine cooking salt
  • 1 tbsp white sugar

Preheat the oven to 200C/ Gas mark 6
Place the aubergine rings in a colander resting on a plate, or something to catch the juice from the aubergine. Sprinkle the aubergine with fine salt and leave for 20 minutes for the salt to draw some of the moisture from the flesh. This process softens the aubergine and helps to achieve the delicate, silken, giving texture you want to achieve when it is cooked. When you see drops of liquid collecting on the plate, rinse the aubergine well. Shake and then wipe the aubergine rings dry and place on an oiled baking sheet. Dribble some olive oil on the baking sheet and wipe the slices of aubergine in the oil to ensure each piece is coated with a fine film of oil. Bake the aubergine in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until soft but not burnt. Sometimes I cover the aubergine with a sheet of foil or a lid of some sort during the early stages of cooking as this traps the moisture and results in the aubergine being simultaneously steamed and baked. This is the ideal way of cooking aubergine. You are aiming for a gently caramelised surface and a soft silken flesh. If you master this then you will be on your way to be a great cook of middle eastern food.  

To make the tahini yogurt dressing: place 4 tablespoons of Greek yogurt in a bowl with tahini, and lemon juice. Mix well and if the dressing become too thick just let it down with a little more lemon juice or water. Season with sea salt and black pepper.

To make pickled radish: Slice the radish thinly and place them in a jam jar. Combine the vinegar, water, sugar and salt in a small saucepan and heat gently. Bring to the boil, remove from the heat and pour over the sliced radish. After one day the radish will have turned a delightful neon pink and will be OK to eat but leave for a week for a better texture. I keep mine in the fridge and used in salads.

To assemble the dish:  Place the aubergine on a serving dish and top with a dollop of tahini yogurt. Place a disc of pink pickled radish on each piece of aubergine and scatter with chopped coriander.

The recipe for the flat bread can be viewed here but rather than roll into a tear shape as for pita bread roll into a thin disc measuring about 25cm across. I find rolling dough out on parchment paper makes it easier to roll thinly. The flat bred can be cooked in a very hot oven (240C/Gas 9) for 8 - 10 minutes on in a very hot preheated cast iron frying pan for the same amount of time.

The red onions were simply peeled, quartered and tossed in a mixture of a little flaked sea salt, soft brown sugar and a teaspoon of Balsamic vinegar and baked in a hot oven with the aubergine for 30 minutes.  A scatter of lemon thyme leaves finished them off. They are lovely to scoop up in the freshly baked flat bread.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Elderflower Champagne

At this time of the year the hedgerows are full of elderflowers. In the early morning light their flat white heads appear to hover in the dark green foliage. There are also soft pink and white bramble blossoms that signal their forthcoming dark autumn fruit. On my morning run through the woods I find more beauty in the form of hatched eggs shells and decide to celebrate this glorious time of the year by making a bucket of elderflower champagne. It should be ready for Le Grand Depart on Saturday 5th July. The race passes close to my house in Ilkley twice over the weekend.

To make 6 litres of elderflower champagne you will need:

  • 4 litres of hot water
  • 2 litres of cold water
  • 700g granulated sugar
  • Zest and juice from 4 lemons
  • 15 dry elderflower heads. Give them a shake to remove insects
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 6 one litre plastic screw top used carbonated bottles or 6 strong swing top glass bottles


Place the hot water and sugar into a clean plastic bucket and stir well until the sugar has dissolved. Add the additional 2 litres of cold water together with the lemon juice, lemon peel, vinegar and elderflower heads and stir gently. Cover the bucket with a clean supermarket plastic bag and leave in a cool place for seven days.

By this time you may see bubbles rising to the surface of the liquid which is evidence of fermentation. Strain the liquid through a colander and discard the elderflower heads and lemon zest. Repeat this process but this time strain through muslin to remove any fine debris.

Decant the liquid into sterilised swing top glass bottles or used carbonated water bottles (rinse them in boiling water to sterilise). The elderflower champagne will begin to ferment in the bottles over the next few days.  It is important to release a little of the pressure in the bottles every couple of days until fermentation has slowed down.

The elderflower champagne is ready to drink in one week but will keep for up to a year when it is then time to replenish your stocks and make some more.

A hatched egg I found in the woods. I am not sure which bird laid it but you can see where the chick has pecked the shell to get out.