Roast squash + a raw squash salad

roast squash edted

Greengrocer’s shelves are bulging at the moment with brilliant and weird pumpkins and squash, which is fantastic for those of us who love the stuff. There’s so much more to these versatile veg than carving Halloween heads – the sweet flavour and fleshy texture is fantastic in everything from soups and curries to risottos and salads. It’s also incredibly good for you.

Pumpkin patchWe always have a bit of fun picking our Halloween pumpkins at a local pumpkin patch. This decorative variety  is great for carving but is pretty bland, fibrous and watery to eat. Butternut is always lovely, but our favourite this year is coquina squash, with its firm but tender flesh and full flavour. A Crown Prince caught my eye the other day but it was a  disappointment – after roasting, the flesh was unappetisingly dry. Perhaps it was just one rotten apple.

Roasting squash at a highish heat is the best way to cook it, regardless of what you eventually use it for - the caramelisation really enhances it sweetness. The other night I tossed some chunks in a yummy concoction of  maple syrup, nutmeg, bay leaf, melted butter and olive oil and roasted chunks of squash for 30-40 minutes. Delicious. The version below is simply roasted because there are punchy flavours in the dressing (which was inspired by a Yotam Ottolenghi dressing in Plenty More). Don’t worry if you cook too much squash – leftovers are splendid mashed up into bubble and squeak. But if the onslaught of comfort food at this time of year gets a bit too much, it’s well worth trying squash raw. When I was designing recipes for a salad cook book recently, I experimented with raw grated squash and was surprised at its deliciousness, especially with a vibrant dressing.

squash salad

Warm salad of roast pumpkin and chestnuts

  • 180g coquina or other squash, cut into wedges
  • Olive oil, for drizzling
  • Sea salt flakes
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 60g vacuum-packed chestnuts, halved
  • a large handful of beet greens, baby kale, rocket or a mixture
  • 3 tablespoons Greek-style yoghurt
  • 1 teaspoon sriracha sauce
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 garlic clove, crushed
  • a handful of coriander, chopped

Heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Place the pumpkin in a baking tray, drizzle with olive and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes until almost tender. Add the chestnuts to the pan, turn to coat in the oil and return to the oven for a further 10 minutes. Meanwhile, stir together the yoghurt, sriracha, olive oil and garlic.

To serve, scatter the beet greens over a serving plate, drizzle with olive and toss. Top with the squash and chestnuts, drizzle over the yoghurt and scatter with the coriander. Serve immediately.

Raw pumpkin salad with coriander, jalapeno + lime dressing

Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side or starter

For the dressing

  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 4g or 4 tablespoons chopped coriander
  • 1 tablespoon chopped jalapenos
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Greek yoghurt
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • ½ garlic clove, crushed
  • freshly ground black pepper

For the salad

  • 400g peeled and deseeded butternut squash
  • 25g pumpkin seeds
  • 2 quantities coriander, jalapeno and lime dressing
  • sea salt flakes
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 avocados

To make the dressing, place all the ingredients in a screw top jar and shake vigorously until combined.

For the salad, grate the squash on the largest holes of a box grater. Place in a salad bowl with the pumpkin seeds and toss with enough of the dressing to coat generously. Add salt and pepper to taste, then set aside for 10 minutes.  Chop the avocados, add to the grated squash and drizzle over more dressing. Gently toss. Add more salt or pepper to taste. Serve immediately.








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Plum & almond tart

plum and almond tart

Sadly, plum season’s pretty much over but this is such a lovely tart to have in your pudding armoury – very simple but very good – it’s better posted late than never. I made the jam for this in the final days of summer (sigh) with fruit from a friend’s Scottish orchard. The plums were abundant – we spent a hot afternoon filling bags and not even putting a dent in the fruit that seemed to be left on the tree.

plum picking

The first batch of jam was a disappointment. I blamed the Aga but, in truth, I overcooked it and used too much sugar. The second batch was a winner: slightly tart with a hint of perfume from a small sprig of lavender added to the fruit pan.

To make the jam, I quartered the plums, discarding the seeds, and sprinkled over caster sugar in a ratio of 1kg plums to 500g sugar and left the fruit and sugar to macerate overnight. To cook the jam, I used a technique I found on bring the sugary fruit to the boil, simmer for 10 minutes then leave it to cool before returning to a simmer and repeating the cooling/simmering. I found that three lots of simmering for 10 minutes produced a really lovely set.

How to make plum and lavender jam

Plum and almond tart (with crushed walnuts and lavender if you like)

The crushed walnuts that I added to the jam layer aren’t necessary, but add a little extra flavour and texture. This is very good eaten warm, with cold whipped cream, but it’s possible extra delicious the next day.

For the pastry

  • 250g plain flour, plus extra for flouring
  • 20g caster sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 125g cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

For the filling

  • 180g unsalted butter
  • 180g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 180g ground almonds
  • about 250g good quality plum jam
  • about 50g finely chopped walnuts (optional)

To make the pastry, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. Rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg, then mix with a palette knife or blunt-edged knife to form a dough. Shape into a disc – don’t knead – wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, for the filling, beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy, then gradually beat in the eggs. Stir in the almonds until completely combined.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and place a baking sheet inside. Roll out the pastry dough between 2 sheets of lightly floured greaseproof paper and use it to line a 25cm fluted tart tin. Press the dough into the edge of the tin, roll a rolling pin over the top and pull away any excess. Prick the base all over with a fork. Vigorously stir the jam to loosen, mix in the walnuts (if using) then spread over the base of the pastry case with the back of a spoon. Spread the almond mixture evenly over the top and transfer to the baking sheet inside the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the top is firm to touch and the pastry golden.

Plum and almond tart



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Chocolate parfait with honeycomb and berries

chocolaté parfait and honeycomb recipe

Hubby and I recently enjoyed a weekend of troughing at The Pig on the Beach - a quirky hotel and restaurant in a spectacular setting overlooking Studland Bay in Dorset. In a review, someone cleverer than I described it as the latest arrival in The Pig litter, as it’s the youngest sibling of branches in The New Forest, Bath and Southampton.

Anyone with any sense should book immediately. I had afternoon tea here a few years back when it was still the Manor House Hotel. Notwithstanding the stale scones and dated interior, it screamed potential, and it’s brilliant that the new owners have made the absolute most of it. The former holiday home of an aristocratic Dorset family, the house itself is slightly mad; original gargoyles and carvings still exist in some of the main bedrooms and fairy tale-style thatched cottages accommodate guests in the grounds.

Pig Hotel_exteriorIt’s lovely inside – full of antiques, quirky objects and squishy sofas. Outside a terrace opens out onto lawn, beyond which are fields that lead down to the sea. You can run down to a sheltered cove for a swim or set forth on a bracing walk to Old Harry’s Rocks if you like. But you might find it tricky to heave yourself off the sun loungers or forego a spa treatment  in the sweet little shepherd’s huts.

IMG_4845The walled kitchen garden underscores one of the main reasons to visit. Like all the other Pig hotels, every dish on the menu includes at least something foraged locally or grown in the kitchen garden. As a result, each pretty plate of food features flowers, herbs, fruit and vegetables picked fresh that day.

montage 1 pig

Everything we ate – and that was quite a lot – was delicious. My husband couldn’t quite bring himself to order The Pig’s famous Bath Chaps – a whole piggy mandible, still wearing a few of its teeth – but I, a bit like Hilary, tackled it because it was there. I recommend it for those with an appetite.

Bath Chaps at The Pig hotel

We swooned for the chocolate parfait and honeycomb pudding, so much so that I think we ordered it three times. I forgot to ask the chef to share his recipe – I frequently and unashamedly ask when I eat something wonderful. But I managed to devise a version of my own, inspired by the totally delicious one we ate at The Pig.

Parfait is simple to make. Because it’s whipped and aerated before going into the freezer, it doesn’t need churning, so you don’t need an ice cream maker to get it smooth and creamy. It does contains raw eggs, so only use very fresh ones from a reliable source, and avoid if you’re pregnant. I’ve deliberately made the parfait less sweet than you might otherwise like it because it’s designed to go with the sublimely sweet honeycomb. Oink!

chocolaté parfait wth honeycombChocolate parfait with honeycomb and raspberries

  • 300ml double cream
  • 1 tablespoon glucose syrup (available from Waitrose or cake decorating shops)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 100g dark chocolate, 70% cocoa, broken into small pieces
  • vegetable oil, for brushing
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • raspberries, to serve
  • floral honey for drizzling, to serve (optional)

Line a small loaf tin or freezer-proof container – about 400ml capacity – with cling film.

Set aside 3 tablespoons of the cream and then, in a large mixing bowl, whip the remainder until soft peaks form. Be careful not to over beat the cream or it will be difficult to incorporate with the chocolate. Cover with cling film and transfer to the fridge

Place the glucose syrup in a pan with 100ml water and stir over a medium heat until boiling. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool a little. Next, melt the chocolate and the remaining cream together in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water. Stir to combine and then remove from the heat.

Beat the egg yolks with electric beaters until pale, thick and creamy. With the beaters running, add the glucose mixture in a very thin stream – the mixture will turn light and creamy. Beat in the melted chocolate a spoonful at a time. Take the cream out of the fridge and gradually fold in the eggy chocolate mixture. Pour into the lined loaf tin and transfer to the freezer. The parfait can take several hours to freeze so it’s best to make it the day before required. Remove from the freezer an hour or so before serving to thaw slightly

To make the honeycomb, line a shallow tin with baking paper or foil brushed with oil. Combine the sugar, golden syrup and honey in a large pan and stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Stop stirring but leave on the heat until the temperature of the mixture reaches 150°C. Use a confectionary thermometer for this, or test by dropping a little of the mixture into a glass of cold water. If it cracks and turns into a hard ball, it’s ready. If not, continue cooking. With a whisk at the ready, add the bicarbonate of soda, then remove the pan from the heat and whisk: the mixture will froth up dramatically. Quickly pour into the prepared tin and leave to harden – this might take an hour or more – then break into pieces or crumbs, whatever you prefer.

Cut the parfait into slices and arrange on plates with some raspberries, a scattering of honeycomb and a drizzle of honey if you like.

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edited main eton mess

In truth, the world doesn’t need another recipe for Eton Mess. They’re not exactly thin on the ground. But I’m sharing this because it’s such a favourite at Pen and Spoon HQ – it’s virtually synonymous with summer for us.

Although traditionally made with strawberries or bananas, this British classic really is a blank canvass to paint with what you fancy or have in the fridge. In my book, it has to contain fruit, cream and meringue, but beyond that I’m up for scoffing most variations (bring on the banana and caramel).

This version obliges you to make meringue rather than use the shop-bought stuff, but it’s really very little bother, especially if you don’t have to separate the eggs.  After I wrote a piece for the Guardian about the current egg-white craze in the UK and US, the kind ladies from Two Chicks liquid egg white company sent me some of their product to try.  Although I have an aversion to most pre-prepared ingredients (illogical, I know, as I happily cook with shop-bought pasta), I can report that these are brilliant. They whip well and save you the hassle of using up the yolks, or worse, throwing them out.

close up strawbsChocolate Meringue Eton Mess

For the meringue

  • 2 egg whites
  • a good pinch of cream of tartar
  • 120g fine caster sugar
  • 3 tablespoon cocoa powder, sifted

For the rest of the Mess

  • 500g strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • about 4 tablespoons icing sugar
  • 300ml double cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste

Heat the oven to 110°C/225°F and line a baking sheet with baking paper. In a scrupulously clean and dry bowl, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form that hold their shape. Very gradually beat in the sugar until glossy, then fold in the cocoa. If you don’t fancy the chocolate version, omit the cocoa from the egg whites, but add the scraped-out seeds of a vanilla pod to the cream.

Using a spatula, spread the mixture out on the prepared baking sheet to a thickness of about 1.5cm – it doesn’t matter about the shape as you will be breaking this up into bits. Bake for about 1 hour 15 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave the meringue to cool with the door open. This might take a couple of hours.

strawbs in tabAs soon as the meringue is in the oven, place half the strawberries in a pan and crush with a masher. Add the balsamic vinegar and half the icing sugar, and simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the fruit has cooked down to a thickish sauce. Set aside to cool. (I know you can simply blitz the fruit to a sauce in a blender with a little icing sugar, but it’s especially flavourful if you do it this way.)

cream being stirredWhen – and only when – the meringue is cold, whip the cream with the remaining icing sugar and cinnamon to a soft dropping consistency, being careful not to over-beat. Add more cinnamon or sugar to suit your taste.

choco shards

Crumble the meringue and fold through the cream. Gently fold through most of the strawberry sauce and most of the strawberries.

Distribute into bowls and serve drizzled with the remaining strawberry sauce and topped with the remaining strawberries.




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