Sweet and Spicy Sicillian Pasta with Cauliflower

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Dishes in Sicily have Arabic influences and many contain that brilliant combination of sweet and spicy flavours. I love the combination of pine nuts and raisins in savoury dishes like spinach and, of course, I also love chilli. I was never keen on the idea of cauliflower or broccoli with pasta until I first cooked this a couple of years ago. It really works. I was lucky enough to find a Romanescu cauliflower in the organic supermarket. It is the green, pointy variety and has a lot of flavour but I have also cooked this with ordinary cauliflower You could try broccoli, although I never have. I used toasted sunflower seeds to replace the pine nuts as they are so much cheaper but they do not taste as food.

Serves 2-3
Preparation time 10 minutes
Cooking time 30 minutes

Ingredients
A small cauliflower cut into small florets
3 medium tomatoes finely chopped
A quarter of a large, red onion finely sliced
A large clove of garlic crushed
100ml white wine
A tablespoon of olive oil
A small handful of raisins
A teaspoon of dried oregano
A tablespoon of toasted sunflower seeds
A tablespoon of red vegan pesto
Half a teaspoon of dried red chilli or more of you like
Chopped fresh basil to serve
Salt and pepper to taste
400g of whole wheat pasta twists

Heat the oil and gently fry the onions, garlic and cauliflower until the onions are soft and starting to caramelise. Add the tomatoes, raisins, oregano, wine, chilli and pesto, bring to the boil and then turn down to a simmer. Cover with a lid and cook for about 20 minutes until the cauliflower is just soft and the sauce is thick. Add the sunflower seeds. Meanwhile cook the pasta. Combine the pasta and sauce and season. Serve with basil to garnish.

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Roasted Figs and Toasted Walnuts

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Part of me is a little sad that we are now into the fig and plum season and the strawberries and cherries are over but part of me is also nostalgic for the crisp days of Autumn. It also helps that I love fresh figs. I was able to buy 4 beautiful specimens in my corner supermarket for 59 cents each. I love them raw but roasting them briefly in the oven makes them even more succulent.

Serves 2
Total preparation and cooking time 10 minutes

Ingredient

4 fresh, ripe figs
4 teaspoons agave syrup
A small handful of walnut halves
Soya cream to serve

Cut the figs in half and drizzle with the syrup. Place the figs and walnuts in a baking tin and roast at 170 Celsius for about 8 minutes until you can start to smell the toasted walnuts. Remove from the oven and crush the walnuts with the back of a spoon. Serve the figs with the walnuts sprinkled over and soya cream poured on top.

Luca’s Green Pea and Avocado Guacamole

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This recipe is for baby Luca. I hope he likes it. I spent a bit of time looking into what babies eat and I think this is safe. It is very fashionable now to make baby food from fresh ingredients and I think that is a great thing, giving babies a wonderful start in life and hopefully helping to minimise the chance of developing a taste for sugary and salty food.

I started making pea guacamole as my husband, Dave, cannot eat avocado. As Dave is away at the moment I am able to make it with avocado but adding sweet, baby peas makes it even fresher tasting. As this is for a baby, I have left out the chilli but you could add fresh or dried chilli to your taste.

I ate this on toast for breakfast and as a side dish to the pea and leek risotto I made earlier in the week.

Serves 2-3 people
Total time 10 minutes

Ingredients
Half a large, ripe avocado
150g of frozen baby peas defrosted
A tablespoon of olive oil
Quarter of a clove of garlic
A medium spring onion roughly chopped
A few leaves of chopped, fresh herbs – coriander, parsley or basil would work
Half a medium tomato roughly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Place all of the ingredients in a blender and blend to a smooth paste. You will need to shake the blender quite a bit and you can add a tiny bit of water if needed.

Creamy Curried Mushroom and Leek Toasts

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I did not want to cook an elaborate meal just for one. I had some lovely, firm chestnut mushrooms which I bought in the bio-supermarket and a leek left over from the risotto recipe. Both really lend themselves to a creamy sauce. You can buy soya cream in many supermarkets in the UK and in bio-supermarkets in Germany. It is worth keeping a small carton in the cupboard as it can be used in many dishes and served with fruit as a dessert.

Serves 1
Total time 15 minutes
Half a large leek thinly sliced
Two handfuls of chestnut mushroom thickly sliced
A tablespoon of soya cream
Olive oil for sautéing
A large pinch of curry powder
Half a clove of garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
A large sliced of multigrain bread toasted
Chopped fresh parsley to finish

Gently heat the oil in a shallow pan and sweat the leeks until they are becoming soft. Add the mushrooms, garlic and curry powder and cook for about 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the vegetables are cooked, pour in the cream and stir through so that all of the veg are covered. In the meantime prepare the toast. Serve the mushrooms and leeks on top of the toast and garnish with parsley.

Minted Pea and Leek Risotto with Rocket and Cashew Pesto

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In the supermarket today, the only decent produce was some huge leeks. I have never made a proper risotto before with Arborio rice. It surpassed my expectations and was quite filling. I picked the rocket and fresh mint from the school garden this afternoon.

If you do not want to use wine then you can replace all of the liquid with vegetable stock.
This is another recipe where the magic, ground nuts can be used to enrich a dish without the need for cheese.You could also toast some pine nuts to sprinkle on top.

Serves 4
Preparation and cooking time 50 minutes

Ingredients
The Risotto
125g of Arborio risotto rice
A very large leek finely sliced
A tablespoon of olive oil
A clove of garlic crushed to a paste
100g of defrosted frozen or fresh baby peas
A handful of finely chopped fresh mint
1 and a half tablespoons of ground almonds
200 ml of water
150ml of white wine
Salt and pepper to taste

The Pesto
3 large handfuls of rocket
A handful of toasted cashews (unsalted)
2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
A clove of garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

The Risotto
Gently sweat the leeks and the garlic in the olive oil until they are very soft. Add the rice and a mixed cupful of wine and water. Stir and keep stirring until the liquid is absorbed. Keep adding the liquid a cupful at a time and stirring until the rice is just soft. Add the peas and mint and stir. Season to taste and the stir through the ground almonds.

The Pesto
Place all of the ingredients except the oil in a food processor and blitz until smooth. Drizzle in the olive oil until the pesto binds and forms a smooth paste. Season to taste.

Serve the risotto with a spoonful of the pesto on top.

Simple is Best Lentil Soup

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Lentil soup is my favourite dish when I need something comforting but quite ascetic. There has been a lot of socialising over the weekend and I am feeling a little sluggish. When Dave and I crossed Turkey on our motorcycle in 1997, lentil soup was essential to our survival as the weather was so cold. They serve it for breakfast in huge bowls with a whole loaf of crusty, white bread on the table. It is unbeatable as a breakfast dish on a cold day.

I never vary the way I cook this. I am so attached to the way it tastes that I would not want to spoil my simple recipe. However, you can use either split red lentils or chana dahl. Both are equally as good. Chana dahl needs to cook for longer and you get a firmer consistency with the lentils. This works well in the pressure cooker if you are in a hurry.

Serves 4
Preparation time 10 minutes. Cooking time 1 hour for chana dahl or 35 minutes for red split lentils

Ingredients
250g of red split lentils or chana dahl
1 medium onion finely chopped
1 large tomato finely chopped
A vegetable stock cube
A teaspoon of oregano or marjoram
A handful of fresh coriander
A crushed clove of garlic
800ml of boiling water

Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for 35 minutes for red lentils or an hour for chana dahl. Season to taste. If using chana dahl, take two cups of the soup and blend before returning to the soup. Serve with a squeeze of lemon juice and garnish with more fresh coriander.

Roasted Corn and Pepper Salad with Black Beans

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Yesterday, my friend Claudia gave me some fresh, green peppers of the pointy variety (like large chillis). We don’t have a special word for these in the UK. We had the peppers barbecued last night while sitting in her garden, under a huge walnut tree, in idyllic surroundings, yet right in the centre of Berlin.

I already had some fresh corn in the fridge as well as the coriander and a tin of black beans in the cupboard so it was easy to throw this together.

This is a complete meal but would also go well inside a tortilla with some guacamole or pumpkin hummus. You could also add fried slices of tofu or toasted peanuts for a crunch.

Serves 6 as a side dish or 2 as a main course
Preparation time 12 minutes. Cooking time 30-40 minutes

Ingredients
2 green peppers or 3 large, green chilli peppers
2 whole corns on the cob
A tin of black beans well rinsed
6 cherry tomatoes halved
4 spring onions (scallions) finely sliced
Plenty of chopped fresh coriander, mint and basil
A tablespoon of olive oil and lemon salad dressing
A small red chilli chopped very finely
Salt and black pepper to taste

Place the corn and peppers in an oven-proof dish and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes. The peppers should be very soft with the skin starting to char. Leave to cool. Remove the corn from the
cobs and place in a large bowl. Chop the peppers roughly and add to the corn with the beans, tomatoes and onions. Stir in 2 handfuls of the mixed, fresh herbs and drizzle over the dressing. Add the chilli and stir well. Season to taste. Place in the fridge to chill for about 30 minutes.