Roasted butternut squash & thyme lasagna


I spoke too soon saying Spring had sprung in the UK and we should all start eating salad and drinking Caipirinhas in the garden! There’s still a chill in the air this week, so I’m making a warming, sweet and fragrant roasted butternut squash lasagna for dinner tonight. This can be made the day before and kept in the fridge till you want to bake it and it also freezes really well once baked. Roll on summer though!

Serves 4 – 6

200g butternut squash
3 tablespoons Olive Oil

For the tomato sauce

1 onion, finely chopped
1 x red pepper, deseeded & chopped
1 x clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 x 400g tinned Italian plum tomatoes
10 sprigs of fresh thyme (or 1 tablespoon dried thyme)
Salt & pepper
2 teaspoons dried oregano

For the Cheese sauce

25g unsalted butter
25g plain flour
400ml milk
100g grated mature cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon nutmeg powder
1 egg yolk
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 200c / 390f.

Peel,  deseed and chop the butternut squash into 2cm cubes, place in an oven dish and toss in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. I use the same medium sized dish I’m going to make the lasagna in, saves on dishes! Roast in the oven for 40 mins to an hour until browned and starting to caramelise.

For the tomato sauce, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a low/medium heat, add the onion and cook really slowly for about 10 mins until they are soft and translucent but not browned. Add the garlic and cook for a further 1 minute making sure the garlic doesn’t burn and go bitter. Add the red pepper and cook for 5 minutes until soft, then add the plum tomatoes, thyme, oregano and season with salt and pepper, then simmer for 15 mins, stiring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened and reduced slightly.

For the cheese sauce, melt the butter over a low/medium heat then whisk in the flour until combined to a thick paste, turn heat to low and whisk gently for 4 mins to cook out the flour a bit. Then gradually whisk in the milk, a little at a time, whisking to keep smooth and remove lumps until you have a smooth white sauce. Next stir in the grated cheese, nutmeg and give a good grind of salt and pepper. Stir on a low heat until smooth and velvety then leave to cool for 10 mins, after which stir in the egg yolk.

Add the roasted squash to the tomato sauce. Place half this mixture into the bottom of your oven dish, then cover with lasagna sheets (breaking sheets up to fit any spaces), then the remainder of the tomato and squash sauce, then another layer of lasagna,  then all the cheese sauce and bake in the oven for first 30 mins then cover with tin foil and bake for another 15 minutes. Serve with a fresh green salad of spinach and watercress.

Cannellini, chickpea and herby Greek keftedes


These little herby Greek style keftedes, oozing with melted Gorgonzola in the centre, are really versatile. They make a great little starter served with a some rocket and a squeeze of lemon, as a side dish to Patatas Bravas or even mixed through a good tomato pasta sauce and served with spaghetti…A la Cheatballs Marinara!!

Makes about 15 keftedes

1 x tin 400g cannellini beans
200g tinned chickpeas (half a regular tin)
1/2 onion
2 x cloves garlic
Bunch of fresh basil
Bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley
Salt & pepper
1 egg beaten
3 tablespoons plain flour
100g Gorgonzola
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
Lemon wedges to serve

Using a food processor with the chopping blade really finely chop the onion and garlic, then add the chickpeas, cannellini beans, parsley and basil and pulse until you have a thick, textured puree. Transfer into a mixing bowl and add the egg, flour, salt and pepper and combine. Chop the Gorgonzola into 2 cm cubes and keep to hand. Heat the olive oil on a medium/high heat in a non-stick frying pan and using wet hands (that bit’s very important, keep your hands wet or you can’t handle the mixture!) shape the mixture into golf ball sized portions, push a cube of Gorgonzola into the middle of each, shaping the mixture around the cheese and drop carefully into the hot oil. Leave untouched to brown on one side, then use a spoon to turn over and brown on the other side,  then try and lean each ball up against the side of the frying pan to brown the sides. Remove from the pan and drain on kitchen roll. These are great served on their own with fresh lemon, as a side dish or use them in a good tomato sauce with spaghetti.

Spring risotto with leek, pea and baby spinach


This is a fresh, green, Spring risotto that’s easy to prepare and goes down pretty well with a nice glass of wine. Once you’ve mastered a simple risotto of Arborio rice, stock and parmesan you can add infinite other ingrediants…Gorgonzola and wild mushroom, roasted butternut squash and pine nuts, asparagus and lemon…you get the idea!

Serves 4

1 x large leek  (approx. 200g) washed and sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 Knob of butter
300g Arborio risotto rice
1 x clove of garlic, minced
1175ml vegetable stock (or 1000ml veg stock and 175ml white wine)
100g frozen peas
100g baby spinach leaves, washed and well drained
65g grated parmesan
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, mint or basil
Salt & pepper

Top and tail the leek, cut in half down the middle and discard the outer layer,  wash it throughly to remove any grit stuck in the leaves, then finely slice. Heat the oil and butter over a low/medium heat in a large shallow heavy bottomed pan or frying pan and add the leeks, slowly cook them for 10 minutes until they are soft and sweet, add the garlic and cook for another 5 minutes. Meanwhile bring a pan with 1175ml of vegetable stock to the boil (or veg stock and wine) and keep on a simmering heat, add the risotto rice to the leeks and stir well to coat the grains in the oil, then add a ladle of stock to the rice pan and stir well until all the liquid is absorbed. Continue slowly adding the stock and stiring the rice, just before you add your last ladle of stock add the frozen peas so they defrost in the rice. At this point taste your risotto, the rice should be firm with a little bite (AKA al dente!) but if it’s too firm, maybe you think your kids won’t be impressed, then add another ladle or 2 of stock for a softer texture (Italians look away now at this blasphemy!!). When the rice is cooked, make sure the heat is very low and sprinkle the spinach leaves over the top of the dish, cover the pan and let the spinach wilt for 5 minutes. Stir the spinach through the rice and add the parmesan, chopped herbs and seasoning to taste.

Quinoa, feta & herb stuffed peppers with a yogurt & mint beetroot salad


Spring is in the air in London! So I can start cooking lighter, fresher meals and maybe a few less big pots of comfort food. These peppers are pretty special, stuffed full of the infamous quinoa, a South American grain which is probably the highest source of complex proteins, amino acids, calcium and iron that a vegetarian can eat in one sitting! It’s also really delicious, with a nutty savoury flavour, I’ve used white and red quinoa for this recipe which you might be able to find in the rice/dried pulse aisle in your supermarket, or possibly in the ‘speciality ingrediants’ section. If you can’t get hold of it then couscous, bulgar wheat or brown rice would work fine. This recipe also uses preserved lemon, these are a staple ingredient in North African cooking and can also now be bought in many big supermarkets or you might find them in a Middle Eastern/North African/Turkish food store if you live in a big city. It’s well worth getting a jar as they keep for ever in your fridge and it’s a brilliant ingredient. Again no stress if you can’t get hold of them, a regular plain old lemon will do!

Serves 2

Stuffed peppers
75g white quinoa
75g red quinoa
1 teaspoon Marigold reduced salt vegetable stock
100g Chesnut mushrooms, washed & finely chopped
2 x tablespoons preserved lemons, deseeded & finely chopped (or juice & rind of 1 regular lemon)
100g feta, crumbled
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon fresh parsley finely chopped
Salt & pepper
2 x large red or yellow peppers
Olive oil

Beetroot salad

100g precooked vacume-packed beetroots
3 tablespoons Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon fresh mint, finely chopped

Pre heat your oven to 180c / 355f.

Cook the quinoa in a large saucepan with 1 part quinoa to 2 parts boiling water, stir in the stock powder, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes until all the water is absorbed and the grains are slightly more translucent. Turn the heat off and leave to steam for about 5 minutes.

Heat the olive oil over a medium heat, add the mushrooms and cook for about 5-7 minutes until soft. Put the mushrooms and quinoa in a mixing bowl and add the preserved lemons, feta, sunflower seeds, parsley, season to taste and mix throughly.

Wash the peppers and using a sharp knife carefully trim the stalk to about 1cm, slice in half right down the middle and carefully deseed and remove the white pith so you have 2 equal halves to fill. Place in an oven dish, fill with as much mixture as fits in each half of the peppers, using a spoon to push the quinoa right in. Top with grated parmesan and drizzle over more olive oil, bake in the oven for 40 minutes or until peppers are starting to char round the edges. Any left over quinoa mix makes a brilliant cold salad the next day, either just as it is or with a drizzle of olive oil and vinegar.

To make the beetroot salad, finely slice the beetroots and place in a serving dish, in a small bowl mix together the Greek yogurt and fresh mint, spoon the yogurt dressing over the beetroot and serve together with the stuffed peppers and maybe a green salad.

Cashew & sesame stir fry with egg fried rice


This simple stir fry is all about the prep, then it only takes 15 minutes or so to make. Using nuts and seeds in vegetarian cooking is a great way to add another level of texture and flavour, plus with cashews and sesame you get added protein and calcium to your meal. If you build up a decent store cupboard of basic ingrediants, like soya sauce, sesame oil and Chinese wine then this is also cheap as chips!

Easy vegan switch, just leave out the egg from the rice.

Serves 4

For the stir fry
2 x medium carrots, peeled & finely sliced
1 x medium courgette, finely sliced
1 x medium red pepper, deseeded & finely sliced
150g Chesnut mushrooms, washed & sliced
135g baby sweetcorn, cut lengthways
2 x cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 x tablespoons unsalted cashew nuts, roughly chopped
1 x tablespoon sesame seeds

For the stir fry sauce
1 teaspoon corn flour
100ml Marigold reduced salt vegetable stock or miso
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine/Chinese cooking wine (or if you can’t get it then white wine or even white wine vinegar will do)
1 teaspoon brown sugar
Szechuan pepper (or regular black pepper)

For the egg fried rice
400g long grain white rice
3 spring onions, finely sliced
60g frozen peas
2 free range eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable or sunflower oil

Start with the rice, boil in a large pan for 7 minutes, add the frozen peas and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Drain the rice in a sieve and rinse thoroughly in cold water, put to one side for later.

Next make your stir fry sauce by dissolving the cornflour in the boiling stock or miso and then stirring in all the other ingredients, put to one side for later.

For your stir fry, heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan, add the garlic and let it sizzle for a few seconds, then add all the vegetables and stir fry on a high heat for 5 minutes. Add the sesame seeds and cashews and continue to stir fry for another few minutes. Add the sauce, let it bubble for a couple of minutes then reduce the heat to a simmer for 5 minutes to let the sauce thicken.

To make your egg fried rice, heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan, add the spring onions and fry for a few minutes. Then add the beaten eggs and scramble, next add the cold rice and peas and stir fry till really hot, finish off with the soya sauce.

Dish up and a happy belated Chinese New Year!