Root Cause

It may well be the case that every shop in town thinks it’s Christmas Eve already, judging by the abundance of glitter and flashing lights.  And yes, most pubs, restaurants and caf├ęs have been touting for your staff do business since July.  Sure, John Lewis has started screening it’s Yule-themed advert (not a patch on last year’s, by the way).  But, in my rather stubborn book, it’s still very much autumn. After all, the yanks have only just celebrated Thanksgiving and that’s the most autumnal holiday there is (apart from Halloween, of course).

So I’m still stuck on root vegetables and making the most of them.  Pumpkin in particular, at the moment, as I managed to track down a can of pumpkin puree (not as widely available here as it is in the States).  I wanted to make the most of it, without resorting to making a whole pie, so did a bit of experimenting.

I’ve also recently made some celeriac soup with chestnut and sage gnocchi and scones with parsnip, cheddar and cracked black pepper.  Proof if you ever needed it that these knobbly, rather ugly looking vegetables are capable of beautiful things.



Cheddar, Parsnip and Black Pepper Scones
(adapted from the Leith’s Cookery Bible’s classic scone recipe)

You will need:
225g Self raising flour
pinch of salt
black pepper
30g butter, diced
1 large parsnip, coarsely grated
60g strong cheddar cheese, grated
150ml + 2 tbsp milk

Method:
1.  Preheat the oven to 200C

2.  Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl.

3.  Rub in the cold butter until the mixture is breadcrumb-like.

4.  Add the grated parsnip, 50g of the grated cheddar and a good deal of ground pepper.

5.  Make a well in the mixture and add 150ml of the milk, stirring to form a sticky dough.

6.  Turn onto a floured work and knead until just smooth.  Form/cut about 10 mini scones or 6 large ones, using a cutter, ramekin or glass (whatever you have to hand).

7.  Transfer to a floured baking sheet and brush with the remaining milk.  Sprinkle with a bit more of the grated cheese and a little cracked black pepper.

8.  Bake in the top section of the oven for about 20 minutes, until risen and golden.  Serve immediately with lots of butter.

Celeriac Soup with Chestnut and Sage Gnocchi

You will need:

For the soup:
1 onion, sliced
olive oil
1/2 celeriac, peel and chopped roughly
1 clove garlic, minced
salt, pepper
chicken stock
some torn sage leaves, to serve

For the gnocchi
500g spuds, peeled and cut into chunks
1 egg yolk
15 g Parmesan
100g plain flour
20 g butter, softened
100g chopped chestnuts
handful sage leaves
salt, pepper

Method:

1. Add the chunks of potato to a large pan and cover with water.  Add a bit of salt to the pan and bring to the boil.  Simmer until the chunks are completely cooked through and mushy.

2.  Meanwhile, slice the onion and fry in a little oil over a low heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pan.  Once the onion is cooked and slightly translucent, add the chunks of celeriac and minced garlic.  Cook for a further minute or two, stirring constantly.

3.  Add enough stock to the pan to cover the vegetables.  Simmer over a low heat until the celeriac is just tender.

4.  Once the potatoes are cooked, drain and return them immediately to the dry pan.  Put back onto a low heat to completely dry them out, taking care not to burn them.  Remove from the heat and mash thoroughly or add to a food processor and blitz until smooth.

5.  Mix in the egg yolk, cheese, butter and chopped chestnuts (if you are using a food processor you can add them whole) until thoroughly incorporated.  Season liberally with salt, pepper and chopped sage leaves.

6.  You should now have a sticky dough.  On a floured work surface, roll out sections of this dough into long sausages, about 2cm in diameter.

7.  Using a kitchen knife, cut off small chunks of the sausage so that you have little oblong gnocchi shapes.

8.  Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the gnocchi in batches.  Once they float to the top of the pan, they are done- this should only take a few minutes.  Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to some kitchen roll to dry.  You can use the gnocchi straight away or cool and freeze for later.

9.  To serve, drain the celeriac, but hang on to the stock.  Puree the vegetables with a stick blender and return to the pan, adding in the reserved stock until the soup reaches your desired consistency.  Season with salt and pepper.

10.  Heat a little olive oil in a small frying pan and fry 3-4 gnocchi per serving, flipping and moving them around the pan constantly.  They should begin to colour a bit and form a slight crust.

11.  Serve the soup in hearty bowls and top with the gnocchi, some torn sage leaves and a drizzle of olive oil.  The gnocchi are also delicious served on their own with a bit of sage flavoured butter and lots of Parmesan.  

Pumpkin Garlic Knots
(Recipe from the Handle the Heat blog)

You will need:
230ml warm water
1 sachet (7g) fast action dried yeast
2 tbsp honey
100g pureed pumpkin (from a tin)
2 tbsp + 70 ml olive oil
1 tsp salt
525g strong white bread flour
3 cloves garlic, minced
sea salt and ground black pepper 

1 tsp dried oregano (or chopped fresh, if you have it)

Method:
1. In a small bowl, add the warm water and top with the dried yeast.  Allow to sit for a few minutes, until slightly frothy, active and smelly.  

2.  Mix in the honey, 2 tbsp of the olive oil and pumpkin.

3 Mix together the flour and salt in a large bowl.

4.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients then pour in your wet ingredients.  Beat with a wooden spoon until the ingredients start to come together.

5.  At this stage, turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic.

6.  Lightly oil the large bowl and place the dough into it with a sprinkling of flour.  Cover with a tea towel and leave in a warmish place until it has doubled in size- this may take a couple of hours- be patient and try not to keep checking it as that is sure to drive you potty.

7.  Preheat the oven to 220 C.  Tip the dough out onto a floured work surface and knock back slightly.  Tear off small sections of the dough- about 2 tbsps worth each.  Roll each section into a long sausage shape and tie into a knot.  Place onto an oiled baking sheet and continue to work your way through the dough.  You should get about 30 small knots.

8.   Bake in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, until golden.  Meanwhile, combine the remaining olive oil with the oregano, sea salt and black pepper in a large bowl.  Once the knots have come out of the oven and cooled slightly, toss them in this dressing mixture to coat.  Leave to dry out a bit before serving.  These are best when still slightly warm.  

Pumpkin and Ricotta Pancakes

You will need:
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
150g plain flour
1 tsp cinnamon
grating of nutmeg
200 ml milk
100 g ricotta
100g pumpkin puree (from a tin)
3 eggs

Method:

1.  Combine the baking powder, salt, flour and spices in a large bowl.

2.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together the milk, ricotta, puree and eggs until smooth and a bit frothy.

3.  Make a well in the bowl with the dry ingredients and add the liquid ingredients, beating to incorporate fully.   It will make for quite a thick batter.

4.  Heat a large frying pan with a little bit of oil.  Add a wooden spoon-full of batter to the pan, swirling to flatten a bit.  Once small bubbles begin to form on the tops of the uncooked side of the pancake, flip and cook for a further 30 seconds- 1 minute.

5.  Keep warm whilst you make the remaining pancakes.  Serve with lashings of maple or golden syrup.

Apples and Juniper Berries

This soup is a proper throwback to my Scandinavian roots.  I believe apple soup is particularly big in Norway, but the combo with juniper is very Swedish too.  Scandi cuisine often plays on sweet, sour and salty flavours and this soup does just that, with an emphasis on the sweet and sour.  The trick is to be a bit picky about the apples you decide to use.  Choose ones with a bit of teeth-sucking-oomph to them, or the soup will be too sickly sweet.

If apple soup sounds a bit strange, rest assured, the taste is not strong and apple works very well with the parsnip.  It is quite filling though,  so all you really need is a chunk of bread (preferably rye, of course) to go with it and you’ve got a complete lunch.  You could make it lighter by omitting the cream and just adding a couple of tablespoons of half fat creme fraiche instead.  This would also take it from a more autumnal soup into something a bit more summery, particularly if you replace the parsley with dill at the end (for an even more Scandi twist!). 

Apple, Parsnip and Juniper Soup

You will need:
3 quite tart apples, peeled, cored and chopped
2 large parsnips, peeled and chopped into chunks
2 celery sticks, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
1 thumb of fresh ginger, crushed
1 L chicken stock
250ml cider
250 ml single cream
1 tbsp juniper berries
4 whole cardamon pods
1 small cinnamon stick
bunch of fresh parsley or dill
olive oil
salt, pepper

Method:

1.  Ideally, you would have a scrap of muslin to hand which you could use to make a little bag for the spices for seeping in the soup.  However, if you don’t, a tea strainer works rather well I find.  Put the juniper berries, cardamon pods and cinnamon stick into the strainer.  I used a nice blue plastic one I got from my aunt for Christmas.   

2.  Heat the olive oil in a large pan and then add the chopped apple, celery, shallots and ginger.  Leave this to fry for a minute or two while you season with salt and pepper and lower the heat. 

3.  Get a sheet of baking parchment, large enough to cover the pan, and run it under the tap for a few seconds.  Squeeze out any excess water and place snugly over the ingredients in the pan (see photo above).  This will allow the fruit and veg to steam.  Cook this way for about 10 minutes.

4.  Remove the paper and add the stock, cider, spices (in the muslin or tea strainer).  Bring to a simmer and leave for about half an hour.

5.  Remove the spices and puree the soup until smooth with a stick blender or in a food processor.

6.  Bring to a simmer again and stir in the cream, if using.  Taste to season and add the chopped fresh herbs.