Monthly Archives: December 2009

Potato and Celeriac Mash

Celeriac doesn’t merely look unappetising in the shop: it looks like some kind of strange alien pod, that in due course will hatch a monster, or crawl away under its own steam. Shame, as it’s rather tasty.

Peel and chop equal amounts of celeriac and potato. The celeriac is “peeled” by dint of hacking off the outside with a large knife, until all the dirt, tentacles and other hideous bits have gone, and you’re left with something that looks like a giant lump of parsnip flesh. Both should be chopped into pieces roughly an inch across, I think.

Put them in a pan and pour over just enough cold water to cover, add some salt and bring to the boil. Once they’re boiling, reduce the heat, and give them about 15 minutes. After that, test with a skewer: you don’t wash them to turn into slush, but you want them soft enough that you’ll be able to do battle with a potato masher and not emerge red faced and defeated.

Drain, and mash. I added milk and crème fraîche, because that was what was on hand.


Bangers and Mash (Again)

Christmas Dinner pretty much happened as expected: foie gras, smoked duck, roast goose, and a pudding made with Guinness. Consequently, the last couple of days have been spent on a diet of tea, toast and fruit juice. (OK, there may have been a port and stilton binge, but the less said, the better.)

Sausages (pan fried) and celeriac mash today.

There are two schools of thought re cooking sausages. The first approach is to bung them in a roasting tin, and sling them into a medium oven (about 150ºC) for an hour, which crisps them all over, and results in nice crunchy skin. The second, championed by Matthew Fort, is to put them in a pan on a very gentle heat, for around an hour. I’m normally a follower of the first method, as it’s foolproof and requires no intervention. Today, I went for the pan.

I had a lot of trouble finding an exact setting for the gas low enough to cook them gently enough so as not to burn, and hot enough so as to cook through. This required a great deal more attention and faffing than I’m accustomed. End result was very juicy, very flavoursome sausages, and a load of sticky goo at the bottom that made good gravy. Chewy skins, though.

Whatever method you follow, don’t prick the sausages. That just lets the flavour out.


Theoretically, these are a healthier alternative to fries. However, I eat more of these, so I think that probably cancels out any virtue.

  1. Get the oven going at about 200C, a bit less if it’s a fan oven.
  2. Wash your spuds thoroughly, but don’t peel. I normally end up chucking them in the sink and getting busy with a Brillo Pad.
  3. Slice them into wedges. Well, duh. Small spuds probably need to go into six, larger spuds eight, and huge spuds probably twelve. You know how big you like them.
  4. Plunge them into boiling water (just enough to cover them, the less the better) brought back to the boil, and simmered for about five minutes. (Alternately, you could steam them.)
  5. Drain them, and let them cool enough so that you can handle them safely.
  6. Pop them into a large bowl with enough olive oil to coat them and salt to taste.
  7. Then, onto a baking tray with the skin side down. This maximises the area of potato exposed to the heat.
  8. About half an hour should do the trick, if not, crank the oven up as high as it will go, and give ’em another five minutes.

Sour cream and harissa, please. (Or the tomato chilli relish discussed previously.)


You could add paprika, pepper, and/or other spices to the olive oil and salt mixture. No need for fancy oil, either.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Anyone expecting a slew of Christmas recipes is in for bitter disapointment.

A gentleman – whose potatoes I am not worthy to scrub – will be doing the cooking. We shall sit down at 2 and rise at 11, sated, if somewhat worse for the wear, with our arteries creaking and groaning under the strain.

Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Tomato Chilli Relish

This is quite potent.

You will need:

  • one medium onion
  • one tin (450g) of chopped tomatoes
  • six cloves of garlic
  • 60mL red wine vinegar (you could use Balsamic, if you wanted)
  • a tablespoon chilli
  • salt, pepper, sugar, 6 cloves

Finely slice the onion, and gently fry in enough olive oil to keep it moist, but not so that it’s swimming. A quick grind of salt, and about half a teaspoon of sugar will help it on its way.

Whilst that’s happening, peel and chop the garlic. When the onion is soft and squishy, move it to one side, add the garlic, and fry for a minute or two; still on a gentle heat. You may need an extra splash of olive oil.

Once the garlic is soft and translucent, move it to one side, and add the chilli. I’m just using the minced stuff that comes in jars, pickled with vinegar. Fry the chilli for about a minute, and then add the tomatoes.

Bring it to the boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Add the vinegar, another teaspoon of sugar, half a teaspoon of salt, the cloves, and a very thorough grind of pepper.

Simmer gently. Taste from time to time, and decide whether you fancy more sugar, salt, vinegar, etc.

As it reduces, it will change hue from a cheerful orange to a more ominous dark red, and after about an hour, it should have reduced and become thick and sinister. You could shove a handheld blender (purée wand) into the mix at this point, or just leave it as it is. I’d pick out the cloves first, in either case, so they don’t come as a horrid surprise.

Serve hot or cold with sausages, potato wedges, etc.

Super Fast Pasta

The snow is snowing, the wind is blowing, …

…and I’m tired. This is what I do when I’m hungry, in a hurry, and nobody is watching.

Get some pasta going in a pot: conchiglie is the way forward with this kind of dish. You’ll need another pan in which to cook the sauce, and big enough to hold the cooked pasta as well.

For each person, finely chop 1-2 cloves of garlic, and gently fry in olive oil. Meanwhile, sieve a tin of chopped tomatoes until almost all the juice has run off and you’ve only got the flesh left. Once the garlic is translucent and golden, tip the tomatoes in, plus salt, pepper, half a teaspoon dried oregano and a quarter teaspoon of dried basil. Bring to the boil, and reduce to a bare simmer. This will have taken about five minutes, so let it simmer away for another five, or whenever the pasta is done.

When the pasta is ready, drain it, and then tip it into the saucepan of sauce, add a splash of your best extra virgin, and stir furiously. This is where the shell shapes of the conchiglie come in handy, as they will scoop up and hold the meagre amount of sauce. Serve in pre-heated bowls with plenty of Parmesan, and a glass of quaffing wine.


Depending on what else you’ve got in the cupboard, you could add…

  • some chilli, when you’re frying the garlic, just enough to add a bit of zing
  • some anchovy fillets, either with the tomatoes or just before serving
  • some chopped up olives, after the garlic
  • a splash of cream, if you have some handy
  • some capers, but only just before serving – cook ’em and they’re foul

Party Rice

Ooof. It’s that time of year, so I guess I must be having a party, which means coming up with a way of feeding lots of people. How about this?

It’s neither paella nor risotto, but nevertheless, rather good. It has evolved over some time, starting with a recipe from Silvana Franco.

For every four guests, you will need:

  • chilli (will vary on your chilli, but suggest enough to add a tingle, but not enough to make it hot)
  • 2 fat cloves garlic, or as much as you dare (I keep on saying that with garlic, don’t I?)
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 red capsicum
  • 100g peas (or beans, mangetout)
  • Kalamata olives (as many as you like, but leave the stones in)
  • 200g long grain rice (not arborio or anything fancy, just basic long grain)
  • 900 mL stock
  • turmeric (half a teaspoon)
  • paprika (half a teaspoon)
  • salt/pepper, plus lemon wedges to garnish

Here’s how:

  1. Thinly slice – don’t crush – the garlic, and fry gently with the chilli in some olive oil
  2. Slice/dice/whatever the onion and capsicum, and add – keep on frying ’til soft
  3. Make the necessary arrangements to have the stock ready and hot
  4. Add a bit more oil and the rice, turn the heat up and fry the rice as you would if you were making a risotto
  5. Add the turmeric, paprika and olives
  6. pour over the hot stock, stir vigorously
  7. Turn the heat right down and leave for 15 minutes – the heat should be high enough to cook the rice, and low enough so that it doesn’t burn on the bottom – check occasionally – the ideal situation is to get it slightly crunchy underneath – so regular stirring is not on
  8. Add the peas about five minutes before serving

In Advance

You can prepare this in advance, by getting up to the stage where you fry the rice, and then adding only 200 mL of concentrated stock, stirring to deglaze the pan, and then covering and allowing to cool. The following day, spread the rice out in a roasting tin, add 800mL hot water, and pop in an oven on about 150C for about 20 minutes.

Vegetarians avert your gaze now

Obviously you can add meat. Some possibilities:

  • start by gently frying some pancetta or sliced chorizo in the pan, until all the fat has oozed out, and then carry on as normal
  • add some leftover roast chicken or duck with the stock, or just fry up some chopped up chicken thigh fillets (don’t bother with breast meat, not interesting enough for this kind of recipe)
  • add some prawns or other shellfish at the same time as the peas
  • in theory, you could use saffron instead of turmeric, but I’ve never dared

Garlic Bread

For complete joy, the following Ten Step Method should be followed.

  1. buy a cryogenic baguette (the sort that’s packaged in a “protective atmosphere”, i.e. bag pumped full of nitrogen) that’s partially baked and meant for you to finish off in the oven at home
  2. crush two cloves of garlic (more, if I am coming to dinner)
  3. grate as much Parmesan as you dare (realistically about 25g)
  4. you could also add about a tablespoon of chopped up parsley
  5. mash together with 25g of softened butter (I don’t need to know how you softened it)
  6. cut baguette into slices…    …well, almost – you know what I mean
  7. put a wodge of the cheesy garlic butter in between each slice
  8. wrap in foil
  9. follow the instructions on the packet (probably 10min at 200C)
  10. exhibit extreme greed


Let’s go for the easy one. You will need:

  • 500mL milk
  • 25g butter
  • 25g flour
  • a quarter of a nutmeg
  • a bay leaf
  • salt/pepper

Bring the milk almost to the boil in a saucepan, and then turn off the heat, and add the nutmeg and bay leaf. Allow to cool: doesn’t matter if it’s cold, but it won’t work if it’s hot by the time you add it to the roux.

On the business of nutmeg, I would avoid the pre-ground stuff, and buy whole nutmegs instead. You can then grate them on the spot, using the end of the cheese grater you’d normally use for Parmesan. I’d use between a quarter and half a nutmeg for this recipe.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan and gradually stir in the flour to make a roux. The roux needs to be cooked gently for about two minutes, stirring gently but constantly. A flat ended wooden spoon is helpful at this point.

Don’t be tempted to cook the roux for more than that, as the flour will release too much starch, and your sauce will resemble concrete. Mind you, an under-cooked roux will cause the sauce to taste floury and horrid. If you see any brown spots appearing, then turn the heat down, and try to pick them out. Black spots really mean you need to start again.

You then need to add the milk to the roux. Start by adding about 50mL and stir like crazy. The contents of the pan will go horrid, but after a bit of stirring, the milk will be absorbed, and the consistency should smooth out. Add more milk, maybe 100mL this time, and again, blend in. Once you’ve gotten as far as having added half the milk, you can add the rest in one go, but the moral of this story is to start out small.

Now, you should have a saucepan of liquid that is – oh dear! – no thicker than ordinary milk, but hopefully the lumps will have been all eliminated in the previous stage. Now turn up the heat and stir: again gently but constantly, scraping the spoon across the bottom to stop anything from catching . It will start to thicken as it comes to the boil. Turn the heat off and keep stirring for about a minute, and then you’re done. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out, and you end up with something resembling porridge. If you’re putting this into lasagne, nobody will notice.

Fancy Stuff

You could also put a small to medium peeled onion in the hot milk, and even stick a few whole cloves into the onion. Obviously that’s just there to flavour everything, and doesn’t go into the finished sauce!


This dish really does need you to do your maths first about volumes, dimensions, number of sheets of pasta etc.

I don’t need to tell you how to make lasagne, but to feed six, I used…

  • 600mL Béchamel Sauce
  • 1.6L ragù (meat and tomato sauce)
  • 375g dried lasagne sheets (more in reserve)
  • 250g Parmesan
  • 200g gorgonzola

…which came to the top of a 22cm x 30cm x 5cm baking dish.

Some things to note…

  • I start with a layer of ragù on the bottom, then pasta, then béchamel – it’s much easier to spread the béchamel over pasta than it is over meat sauce
  • I finish with a layer of pasta, topped with either béchamel or ragù
  • allow the pasta sheets to overlap by about half an inch, as they will glue themselves together
  • never finish with a layer of pasta on top, as it will curl up and escape
  • I chopped up the gorgonzola and snuck it underneath the top layer of pasta
  • put about half the Parmesan on top about 10 minutes before the end, so it melts, rather than cooks, separates and goes horrible (the other half is for the table)

No photos, sorry. Too busy cooking and eating.