30 September 2011

Butternut Pumpkin Soup

This is the classic autumn soup (sorry, yes, it's a soup again), using what must be one of the tastiest pumpkins there is. Punch Phoron, a mild but very harmonious Indian spice mix, as well as the dry sherry complement its flavour very elegantly.

What you need

  • 1 butternut pumpkin, de-pipped and cubed
  • 3 tblsp rapeseed or sunflower oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped finely
  • 3+ cloves of garlic, pressed
  • 1 tblsp+ punch phoron (Indian spice mix consisting of fennel, fennugreek, cumin, onion and mustard seed)
  • 100 ml dry sherry
  • 1 tblsp vegetable stock powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 250 ml fresh cream (leave out if you want a vegan dish)

What you do

  1. Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan, add the onions, the garlic and the punch phoron. Stir until the onions are golden, beginning to brown.
  2. Add the butternut pumpkin cubes and stir to coat evenly, then stir in the vegetable stock powder (or cube).
  3. Pour in the sherry and reduce while stirring. Then cover with water and allow to boil for about 15 min (until the pumpkin is soft enough to squash to a pulp if pressed against the side of the pan.
  4. Use a liquidiser or a food processor to make the mixture into a smooth soup. If it is too thick, add water to achieve the thickness you like.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Before serving, add the cream, either to the pan with the soup or into the individual plates. In any case, make some nice whorls with the richly yellow soup and the white cream…


If you find you have more people at the table than expected, you may want to add a potato or two just after the coating of the pumpkin. Potatoes add volume but not necessarily enhance the flavour of the butternut pumpkin.
This too is a lovely supper dish, served with fresh bread and cheese and a big green salad to start with. We had a great early autumn dinner in the garden with our friends, perhaps one of the last dinners al fresco this year…

You can use the five seeds either as a powder or as seeds. If you do the latter, dry-roast them until their delicious smell hits your nostrils. Of course you can then grind them yourself in a mortar or coffee grinder that you only use for spices (a bit of a luxury but well worth it as freshly ground spice masalas are so much more flavoursome than the ground stuff you buy). You can also skip the grinding but you will end up with mustard and onion seeds in the soup as they are so tiny they will not be liquidised. This may or may not look nice, depending on your point of view, but the taste is not actually affected.

19 September 2011

Sweet Potato and Carrot Cream Soup

The leaves are beginning to turn, the orange pumpkins are on display along our country roads and the temperatures are dropping. This is a dish for the time of year.

What you need

  • 2 sweet potatoes, about 500 g, cut into cubes
  • 3 largish carrots, about 350g, cut into cubes (go by proportion and weight rather than number of items)
  • 2 tblsp rapeseed or sunflower oil
  • 1 tblsp Madras Curry
  • 1 tblsp garlic and ginger pulp (equal amounts of garlic and fresh ginger, keeps in the fridge if made in larger portions)
  • ½ medium sized onion, finely chopped
  • vegetable stock
  • optionally, 1 handful of garden peas
  • 1 handful of walnuts, pecan nuts or almonds, coarsely chopped and roasted (without fat in a frying pan)
  • 200 ml cream, whipped for a more frothy texture of this soup.

What you do

  1. In a heavy pan, heat the oil and add the curry powder, the onions and the ginger/garlic pulp.
  2. Add the sweet potatoes and the carrots and stir until they are evenly coated.
  3. Cover with vegetable stock (more liquid can be added if you prefer a slightly less thick soup), and simmer until the vegetables are soft.
  4. Put in the liquidiser or puré with a hand mixer.
  5. Return to the pan and add the peas if you use them allowing them to simmer for a few minutes (I like them when they are still pretty hard.
  6. Put a portion of whipped cream into the soup bowls and gently add the soup. 
  7. Sprinkle with the roasted nuts and serve with a chunk of fresh bread. 


 A recipe for my lovely wife Caroline’s Apple Bread, which is also very seasonal and compliments this slightly sweet-tasting soup ideally, will follow soonest.

10 September 2011

My Flämechüeche (fam-Chüeche ?)

 This is my take on a kind of Alsatian pizza dish (minus tomatoes) called Flämechüeche, which is made with bacon on top. As we sometimes eat fish but usually no meat, I came up with an alternative topping, smoked salmon. The rest, the crème fraîche and the pecorino romano, which is reminiscent of pizza pugliese, came about  because the combination of onions and something with an acidic flavour (usually lemon juice) goes well with smoked fish.
If you have the dough ready, this is a really quick dish.

What you need

  • 150 ml crème fraîche
  • 80-90 g coarsely grated pecorino romano
  • 1 larghish onion (about 120g), chopped or sliced
  • 2+ cloves of garlic, pressed
  • if necessary a little salt, pepper, perhaps some cheese mix or cajun spice for a bit of punch
  • 500 g Italian-style bread (recipe below; also check out the remarks)
  • 200 g smoked salmon cut into strips (Alternatively use the same amount of smoked bacon).

What you do

  1. Mix all ingredients, the crème fraîche, the pecorino, the onion and the garlic and season if necessary.
  2. Roll out 500 g dough to about 35 x 45 cm.
  3. Spread the cheese etc. mix evenly all the way out to the edges of the dough. (If using bacon, about 200g, put it on now.) 
  4. Bake in a preheated oven at 200° until the topping is lightly browned.
  5. Take out and cover with the strips of salmon, then serve immediately.

Italian-style bread (can be used for pizza or bread rolls)

1 kg flour (See below)
1 tblsp sea salt
4 tblsp olive oil
1 cube fresh yest (42 gr)
ca 450 ml warm water.

For the bread I usually use about half spelt and half flour but it is also possible to use all wheat or all spelt. The amount of liquid differs because spelt absorbs liquid differently from wheat. Although I prefer whole meal most of the time, this bread becomes lighter if you use white flour.
The recipe makes about 3 pounds of dough. What I do not use up right away I usually cut into lumps of 250 g, flatten a bit and freeze with a piece of baking paper between the flattened lumps to prevent the dough from sticking together. This defrosts in next to no time and works great for a quick pizza or a quick F(l)amechueche...

05 September 2011

Quick “Pomodoro Crudo” Pasta Sauce (and, free of charge, Cajun Spice mix)

This is not quite the traditional approach to raw tomato sauce as it incorporates elements of another of my favourite pasta sauces, Pesto Trapanese, a Sicilian version of pesto.
It is of course also a great quick fix recipe using up the tomatoes from our garden, which are beautifully ripe at this time of year and taste like tomatoes should  taste

What you need

  • 1 pound of tomatoes, more if you like, skinned and cubed
  • a handful of almonds coarsely chopped
  • 1 bunch of basil, chopped
  • 80 gr parmesan or pecorino romano, chopped (or a good buffalo mozzarella)
  • 2 cloves of garlic pressed,
  • cajun spice and salt or herb salt to taste
  • optionally: some very high quality olive oil and a few dashes of good balsamico vinegar.

What you do

  1. Put on the pasta water with salt (enough that it tastes as salty as sea water, I’ve been told).
  2. Dip the tomatoes into boiling water for a short time, till the skin ruptures, then pull off the skin and cube the tomatoes, discarding at least some of the slobbery seed stuff.
  3. Put the basil, the pressed garlic, the cajun spice and the salt into a bowl. Mix in the tomatoes.
  4. Chop the cheese and peeled almonds coarsely and mix in too. Optionally add a little olive oil and, if you like a dash of balsamico vinegar, white if you are fussed about the colour.
  5. Drain the pasta, perhaps keeping a bit of the cooking liquid to mix with the sauce.


If you find your pasta are done before you are ready to serve them, take them out before they are completely done and wash them under cold water until they are completely cool. To prevent sticking, especially with spelt pasta, you may want to add a bit of olive oil. This will keep in the fridge for a day if covered with cling film or in sealed container.  Before you actually serve them up, immerse the pasta in vigorously boiling water just enough to get them hot again.
This pasta sauce lives or dies with the quality of the ingredients, but it is a testimony to what I admire most about cooking, especially Italian cooking, to combine flavours that in combination are so much more than their individual flavours would suggest. Insalata Caprese is a prime example, basil, tomatoes, mozzarella (not the putty sort you usually get in supermarkets though!), salt, pepper, high quality balsamico vinegar and olive oil is as simple as it is wonderful; many of the ingredients of that masterly combination are of course represented in this pasta sauce.
Oh and for all those who are interested, a spice mix which goes well with almost anything as a slightly more intriguing flavour than perhaps pepper:

Cajun spice

60 g     paprika
30 g     black pepper
2 tblsp cayenne
2 tblsp onion powder
2 tblsp garlic powder
2 tblsp dried lemon zest
1tblsp  dried tarragon
1tblsp  dried basil
1 tsp    salt
Combine all the ingredients in a sealable container and shake. In an airtight jar, this will last a few months…

02 September 2011

Summer Vegetable “Non”-Gratin

This dish is also suitable for vegans.

What you need

  • 700 g waxy potatoes, sliced
  • Olive oil for frying the first layer
  • 2 medium-sized onions, chopped small
  • 2-3 peppers of different colour (looks nice), diced
  • ½ cucumber or equivalent amount of courgettes, sliced
  • 1 tblsp instant vegetable stock
  • 4 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, sliced
  • berbere (Ethiopianspice mix; I get mine from these folks)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, pressed
  • a few small pieces of butter
  • 50-100 ml dry sherry
  • salt and pepper
  • optional: grated parmesan or pecorino romano (obviously leave this out for vegan dish)

What you do

  1. In a pan that you can also put in the oven, heat up some olive oil and fry the first layer of the sliced potatoes. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Mix the onions and the peppers and spread over the potatoes. Season again with salt and pepper.
  3. Layer the mixture with the sliced cucumbers or courgettes and season with pepper and the instant vegetable stock.
  4. Add a layer of tomatoes, seasoned with berbere and the pressed garlic.
  5. Cover with the remaining sliced potatoes, season again with salt and pepper or berbere and add the butter flakes. 
  6. Put in the middle of the oven preheated to 175°C.
  7. After 15 minutes or when the potatoes at the top start looking crispy, evenly distribute the sherry over the top. If you use cheese sprinkle this on now
  8. Bake for another 10 minutes, perhaps with a bit of grill heat.
  9. Serve with a salad and some fresh bread or pita bread. 


This can also be served as a side dish, but then the portions should be a bit smaller.
If you want the dish to be done more quickly and the veggies to be still relatively al dente, pre-steam the potatoes. You may then get away with 15 minutes of baking instead of 30 minutes.
This  is a typical summer dish, lighter than a gratin because it contains no milk, cream or cheese – of which more in winter – and it really makes use of the cornucipia of fresh veggies from our garden. Feel free to experiment with what you can get in that department and feel free to add whatever you have in the garden or the fridge in the way of fresh vegetables. It is usually a good idea to put the smaller ones like peas or beans (best blanched or briefly steamed first as they take longer to get done than the peppers, courgettes or tomatoes).