When did it get so cold?! This soup is deliciously hearty; warming and fragrant, you can beat the winter blues! Without bacon, it is vegan and vegetarian friendly.
- 1 small butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks
- 1 red pepper, deseeded and sliced into 4 lengthways
- 1 large clove of garlic, or two medium cloves, left whole
- Vegetable stock cube
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp sage
- Bacon, if desired
- Heat the oven to 160 degrees.
- Scatter the butternut squash chunks onto a baking tray. Pour over a generous amount of olive oil, then sprinkle over the cayenne pepper and paprika.
- Peel the garlic, and crush under the flat side of a large knife. Nestle the squashed, whole clove in the middle of the baking tray. Season, then place the tray in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until soft and browned. Turn the squash to let the other side soften and caramelise.
- Remove the tray from the oven, and transfer the squash into a blender.
- Roast the red pepper in the same tray until soft, and add to the blender along with the cooking oil from the tray.
- Crumble the stock cube over the pepper and squash, and add enough boiling water to cover the vegetables. Blend until smooth, then transfer to a pan. Add more boiling water if the soup is too thick. Add the sage, and warm over a low heat.
- In a frying pan, crisp bacon, then slice into strips. Taste the soup, and adjust the seasoning if needed.
- Serve the soup topped with crisp bacon, alongside crusty bread.
What makes paella ‘authentic’ seems to be a contentious issue. Scroll through the comment section of almost any online recipe, and you won’t struggle to find the dispute. Lid versus newspaper, paella rice versus long grain, versus even risotto rice! Everyone’s having a go. One comment criticised a recipe’s authenticity, staking their claim to knowledge on their ex-partner’s brother’s father-in-law who was from Alicante. I have a friend who went to Alicante on holiday once (and doesn’t refrain from mentioning it), so maybe I too now understand Spanish cuisine. It isn’t the first time I’ve encountered these arguments, either: my first paella used a recipe branded as unauthentic.
But having made paella several times now, I have to come to a conclusion. What korma means to Britain, to Asia it does not. Do we squabble about it? No! Because we love the creamy, mild taste and savour those toasted nuts. And we still call it curry, even if it’s not really. If you’re still unconvinced, take a line from Shakespeare: “what’s in a name?“. The dish still uses rice, vegetables, meat or fish with largely the same cooking technique, whether in Britain or Spain. And it still tastes amazing. Paella is just the name attributed to dishes like this so people know what you’re on about! A name is by no means the most central part of a dish; that surely, would be its flavour. So very much in that vein, I urge you not to argue over whether the below is truly authentic paella. I’ll save you the trouble – growing scared of the ferocious rice-debate, I modified the paella I already knew how to make as I went along. Instead, focus on what it tastes like! And if you still can’t resist, I’ll let you call it Seafood Rice. If it makes you feel better.
- Short grain rice, roughly 3 handfuls per person
- 1kg mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
- 300g prawns
- 750ml fish stock
- 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
- 1 red onion, finely sliced
- 2 bell peppers, sliced into thin strips
- 5 salad tomatoes, diced
- A pinch of saffron, soaked in 1 tbsp of boiling water
- Smoked paprika, 1 tbsp. (or a little more, to taste)
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- Fresh parsley
- Heat oil in a large, deep frying pan over a medium heat. add the sliced onion, and cook for 5-8 minutes until it begins to soften. Then add the garlic and paprika, and fry for a further minute. Fry the prawns until slightly browned, and then remove to a plate.
- Add the rice to the pan, and stir to coat well in the oil and spices. Add the hot stock and the saffron along with its water, stir to ensure all the rice is submerged, then cover. Reduce to a low heat, and leave to simmer for 10 minutes.
- Then, add the sliced peppers and quartered tomatoes to the pan. Simmer for 5 minutes, until the vegetables are slightly al dente. Stir the rice. It should have absorbed the majority of the stock, but a small sauce should still remain. If the rice has no sauce, it is in danger of sticking to the bottom of the pan, add a little more stock or hot water.
- Now add the mussels, peas and return the prawns to the pan. Check the level of stock, and if not too dry, replace the pad lid. Simmer for 4-7 minutes, steaming the mussels open. It’s important to monitor the mussels at this stage, as the longer the mussels cook for, the less palatable they will become. To ensure the mussels remain juicy, do not allow them to overcook!
- As soon as the mussels have opened, remove them from the heat. Season, and scatter with fresh parsley. Serve with a wedge of lemon to squeeze over.
Make the most of what could be nature’s most weighty fruit – the humble pumpkin.
I can’t recall where I found this recipe now, but I have a feeling that it was in a promotional recipe book. Wherever it was from (and I promise to dig through the mounting piles of paper in my room to find out!), it is fantastic. I made it for my boyfriend, and as an avid meat eater, he was probably a little unnerved to discover that it was vegan – if something could taste this good without meat and dairy, what else would turn out to be lies?! But yes, the wonderfully creamy texture of this dish has absolutely no connection with a cow, or a goat, if that’s your milk of choice. It is the pumpkin that takes centre stage, rather than sliced chicken, or meat. Along with tomatoes, it gives the stew a vibrant hue that is cosy and inviting. And just one mouthful confirms that it tastes as good as it looks – the smooth consistency is deliciously welcoming, whilst the hint of chili from the cajun spice lends warmth. Though October famed, pumpkins are actually seasonal throughout winter, coming in in September and at their best from October to December. Which makes it the perfect muse for this wintry stew, spicy and comforting for when it’s just too cold outside.
Ingredients, serves 3-4, (can be frozen)
- ½ pumpkin, deseeded, peeled and cut into large chunks
- 1 pepper, deseeded and cut into thin strips
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
- 400g tin of plum tomatoes
- Tin of coconut milk
- Cajun seasoning – preferably one that has fennel included in it, such as Barts
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- Fry the sliced onion in a drizzle of olive oil, until they begin to wilt. This should take around 8-10 minutes. Add in the sliced peppers, and stir until they begin to colour.
- Add the garlic to the pan, and fry until it begins to smell aromatic. Add the Cajun seasoning to taste, and stir thoroughly to ensure all the ingredients are coated in the spices. Season.
- Place the pumpkin chunks into the pan, and fry until they are softened a little. Then, add in the tomatoes and coconut milk. Bring to the boil, and then reduce to a simmer.
- Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, until the pumpkin is softened through. Serve immediately, with boiled potatoes or crusty bread for dipping!
Serve, listen, enjoy.