Lola and Finn's Mum

Lola and Finn's Mum

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A Taste of Tuscany - Peposo, or Beef and Peppercorn Stew

By now, you will probably have noticed my love of stew. It's not just it's 'one pot' appeal, it's also one of the most comforting meals you can bring to the table in my opinion. Its smell slowly creeps through the house as it cooks, it's the meal you can plonk in the middle of the table and allow everyone to dig in, and, well, it just puts a smile on my face and makes me content every time I make one. In search of happiness as I am, I love finding and trying out new stews, especially ones that are rustic, peasanty and rich in taste and hopefully not in cost.

My love of beef stew and the vigorous heat of black pepper led me to this recipe, again from Bocca by Jacob Kenedy. I halved the recipe I am about to give you and bulked the meal out with mashed potato and green beans. I think cannellini beans and crusty bread would be great too and possibly a more authentic Italian accompaniment. I concur with Kenedy when he says that leftovers would make a good sauce when mixed with pasta. The two pasta monsters who inspire my food musings would no doubt agree.

If you are concerned about the effect of the peppercorns on the taste of the stew, you'll be pleased to know that they give the stew an edge rather than dominant peppery taste. It is more side show rather than main event.

Peposo, or Beef and Peppercorn Stew, adapted from Bocca by Jacob Kenedy

Serves 4 as a main


80ml extra virgin olive oil
1kg braising beef; (I used flank) cut into chunks
2 onions, diced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
25 whole peppercorns
15g coarsely ground black pepper
250ml red wine (open one that you intend to drink with the meal, and if you're me, pour yourself a glass to have whilst cooking)
1 bay leaf
1kg tinned tomatoes. (I used tinned cherry tomatoes).


Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed stewing pan or something similar.

Season the meat well with salt and brown well over a medium heat - about 15 minutes.

Add the onion and garlic and cook for another 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until they are well softened.

Add the whole black peppercorns, ground black pepper and bay leaf and fry for a minute or so before adding the wine and tomatoes. Taste for seasoning and then bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat and cook, lid on, for 1 and a half hours until the meat is tender. Taste again for salt and adjust accordingly.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Paired down, 'hob to table', Moussaka

Much as I adore Greek food, I do have issues with its occasional fattiness (unless I have just been unlucky in my choice of Greek restaurants) and tend to shy away from things like moussaka, with the aubergine, soaking oil up like a sponge, lamb mince, tasty and fatty, topped with the bechemel sauce. I prefer something a little lighter or cleaner tasting on the palate. When I saw this variation of a moussaka, I felt that I had found a leaner, cleaner alternative that I, and more importantly, Lola and Finn would grow to love.

I also think it is relatively faff free, and can do its thing whilst you are busy chilling out somewhere drinking tea, reading recipe books and dealing with crazy children (if you're anything like me that is...)

I have adapted this recipe to suit my needs; the original recipe for the moussaka comes from those clever people at Good Food. They suggest grilled pitta bread and a green salad to accompany this, which is fine, but I don't feel that 'salad' and 'November' are rightful bedfellows. so I am going to swerve the salad, pass on the pitta and plump for potatoes a la Tamasin Day Lewis, Greek stylee.

Hob to Table Moussaka, adapted from

2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for roasting the aubergine
1 large onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp dried oregano
500g lamb mince
400g tin chopped tomatoes
lamb stock, use the empty chopped tomato tin, about 1/2 to 2/3 (I used a knorr lamb stock cube)
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 large aubergine
200g feta cheese crumbled
2 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped


Cut up the aubergines into pieces, as big or as small as you would like, place them on a baking tray and drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 20 - 25 minutes at a hot temperature until they are browning.

Heat the oil in a large, shallow pan. Toss in the onion and garlic and fry until soft. Add the mince and stir fry for 3-4 minutes until browned.

Season and simmer: Tip the tomatoes into the pan and stir in the tomato purée, cinnamon, oregano and lamb stock, then season with salt and pepper. Leave the mince to simmer for 20 minutes, adding the roasted aubergines half way through. The mince should not be dry and should have moisture but the sauce will have reduced.  Check the seasoning again and adjust if necessary.

To serve: Sprinkle the crumbled feta and chopped mint over the mince. Bring the moussaka to the table as the feta melts and serve it with greek potatoes (see below) or a crunchy green salad and toasted pitta.

For the Greek potatoes - recipe from Tamasin Day Lewis' 'Good Tempered Food'.

900 g potatoes, cut into chunks
2 onions, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
handful of oregano, leaves picked and chopped (or use half a handful of dried oregano)
300 ml extra virgin olive oil
juice of 2 lemons
salt and black pepper

 1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas 6.

2. Spread the potatoes in a roasting pan or gratin dish into which they will fit snugly.
Scatter over the onion, garlic and oregano. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Pour in the olive oil and lemon juice. Add enough water to barely cover.

4. Bake for 45 minutes, turning the mixture over from time to time, or until the potatoes are cooked through.

5. Serve the potatoes with plenty of the oily, lemony juices if you like that sort of thing.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

More from the pudding club - Tasmanian Lemon Pie

I really do adore lemons and dislike faff, so this recipe is one that is a winner for me. I was quite taken with the idea of a pudding that was quite light, but satisfying. The first time I made this, I halved the quantity that you see here to produce a yield to serve 2 to 3 people (pre Lola and Finn!) and whilst I liked the spongey bit and the curdy bit that this pudding produces (basically, a sponge top with a creamy lemony underneath), I wanted more lemon, but then I am the one who fishes out the lemon which lies fallornly at the bottom of a glass of lemonade and devours it like I haven't eaten for days, which hopefully goes some way to explaining my doubling of the lemon content in the recipe below. You may want something less zingy.

I adore this with double cream. Tamasin Day Lewis recommends clotted cream. Her advice is excellent.

Tasmanian Lemon Pie - adapted from 'West of Ireland Summers' by Tamasin Day Lewis

  • 125 g butter, softened
  • 280 g vanilla sugar (or sugar with a few drops of vanilla - your choice!)
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 4 tbsp plain flour, sifted
  • 400 ml plain flour
  • grated rind and juice of 2 lemons (though I would use 4, as I am after real tang!!)

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas 4. Lightly grease a 2-litre baking dish.

2. Using a standing mixer or electric hand beater, cream the butter with the sugar for 4-5 minutes until pale and fluffy.

4. Add the grated rind and juice of the lemons.

5. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Using a metal spoon, fold lightly into the mixture to incorporate air.

6. Pour into the baking dish - the mixture should come about 5cm up the side of the dish.

7. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until slightly brown on top and obviously set, but faintly shuddery.

8. Serve warm with cream.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Emergency Pudding - Mixed Berry Samosas

Pud (or dessert for American viewers) is pretty important to some in this house and whilst I enjoy creating something when I have the time to, there are occasions when it's the afterthought after cooking the main meal. Often I would skip the pud as it is not crucial to me personally but there are others for which a meal is not a meal without a sweet conclusion. That being the case and the fact that the previous day I had failed to produce something resembling 'dessert' meant that however haphazard, on the hoof and possibly ill conceived, something had to be done.

Inspiration came from the depths of the freezer in the form of a bag of frozen mixed berries and some sorry looking filo pastry leftover from a baklava adventure. I set to work, mostly by instinct as you will see from the vagaries of the ingredient list below and produced something pretty OK. Crisp crunch of filo, hot, slightly sour (in a nice way) berries tempered by sweet custard, though if I had my way it would have been vanilla ice cream to accompany them. I love hot and cold combinations, but we are Brits and custard is the choice of many, not least Phill. I aim to please.

Now I am thinking about it, I would produce these again as humorous dessert after an Indian meal. I would opt perhaps for a sweetened mango filling and I would serve with a generous spoonful of kulfi to create the sweet/crisp/cold experience that I love.

As I say, there is a certain flexibility about the ingredients here. I'm pretty sure you could use any fruit combination you were in favour of. I imagination apple and cinnamon would be extraordinarily delish, but you're in charge. Think of the filling of any crumble that you enjoy and then just start folding away.

Mixed Berry Samosas - makes 9 - 12, depending on your generosity

500g bag of mixed berries, defrosted if frozen
a few drops of vanilla
a pinch of cinnamon
sugar to taste (I used about 150g but it was a sour mix of berries. You need to add a bit and taste the mixture until you're happy with the sweetness).
3 - 4 sheets of filo pastry, defrosted if frozen
about 100g of melted butter
extra sugar for sprinkling


Prepare your fruit filling. With defrosted berries I just mixed the vanilla, cinnamon and the sugar in and tasted until I was happy with the filling. With bigger, harder fruit I suggest cooking the fruit through and allowing the mixture to cool. The cooking time is only 10 minutes once the samosas are made and any fruit that is raw or hard to begin with won't get cooked or warmed through.

Lay out the filo one piece at a time. Keep the other sheets under a damp cloth to stop them drying out. Cut each sheet into three and brush liberally all over with melted butter.

Put a generous teaspoon full, maybe two, of the mixture onto the filo. Working quickly, fold the filo over in a fashion which creates triangles, that is, fold a lower corner over the mixture and over towards the opposite edge of the filo. This should create a triangle shape. Then fold the triangle upwards and then over to the side, following this pattern until you find yourself at the top of the pastry. Ensure you press the edges of the samosa down as you fold to try to cut down on the escape of the filling. Two things are certain: Number one, by the last one you will have perfected your folding techniques and number two, they will look ramshackle and delightfully homemade. Part of their charm if you ask me.

Once folded, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.

Put in a preheated oven, 180c, for about 10 - 15 minutes. Keep checking them. They're done when the pastry is golden and the filling, if you can see it is hot and/or bubbling.

Let cool for 5 or 10 minutes or so, then serve with custard, cream, or, if you're me, vanilla ice cream.

Pudding. Sorted.

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Italian job: Potato Gnocchi with Sausage Ragu

I sometimes wonder whether we have Italian roots, the amount of Italian food we eat here. (With my colourful roots it is absolutely possible!) but though my children could probably live on pasta for evermore, I need a change and so I felt this was the answer to endless meals of fusilli or rigatoni.

Now, at the outset I think I should point out that this is the meal to choose on a Monday evening when you've just fallen in from work, tired, stressed and have hyperactive children turning your kitchen into a playroom. It's more an afternoon's work, and one where I play the role of an Italian mamma, pottering in the kitchen amidst the smell of a ragu blipping away on the stove and me absentmindedly rolling little potato dumplings whilst staring into middle distance, filling my mind with Italian thoughts (whatever they are!) Of course, you could roll and cook the gnocchi in advance, to warm through the ragu later, but that is up to you. 

This is the first time I have cooked gnocchi and whilst some seemed a little squidgy, they did seem to firm up a couple of minutes or so after. I was worried that they might disintegrate when placed in the ragu but they held up pretty well, though I stirred them in gently! The other good thing, as far as Lola and Finn are concerned, is that this ragu is very tasty and would be a great sauce to go with...pasta.

The original recipe which I have adapted suggested Italian style sausages with some flavour of fennel. I daresay if I looked hard enough, I would find suitable sausages but I used good quality pork and leek here, and fried off a teaspoon of fennel seeds with the onion to try to create a fennel influence. It may not have been authentic but it tasted good.

Potato Gnocchi with Sausage Ragu, adapted from Bocca, by Jacob Kenedy.

Sausage Ragu

4 tbsp oil (I used rapeseed; olive oil is fine)
1 onion, diced
454g Italian sausage (fennel seedy if possible, but pick good quality and slightly spicy), chopped into pieces.
1 tsp fennel seeds, if needed, if your sausages aren't fennel-ly
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 and a half tins of tinned chopped tomatoes (the ones with the Italian herbs in them might be nice!)
1 dessertspoon of dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste


About 800g of floury potatoes (I used Maris Piper)
2 large eggs
100g plain flour (and you may need extra - see method)
A sprinkling of grated nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

To serve: Parmesan or Pecorino cheese.

To make the sauce, fry off the onion in a suitable pan until softened and translucent, then add the sausages and fennel, if using. Cook until slightly browned. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, then add the chilli and the chopped tomatoes and oregano. Cook at a bare simmer for about 50 minutes or so until the sauce becomes concentrated and thick looking. Taste and adjust the seasoning. You're wanting a sauce that is quite strongly flavoured that will need to be punchy enough to flavour the gnocchi (or pasta!)

For the gnocchi, peel the potatoes, cut into chunks and boil in salty water. Drain, then mash or put through a ricer.

While the mash is still warm, add the eggs, flour and nutmeg and then season to taste. Ensure the mixture is well combined but don't beat it too much.

Take a small lump and roll on a floured surface. Test it in boiling water to make sure it will withstand cooking and not break up. If it doesn't you need to add a little more flour to stiffen the mixture.

Roll your gnocchi on a well floured board with well floured hands. Either make the mixture into the sausage shapes and then cut into smaller pieces about the same size and width, or else take bits of the mixture and roll into small balls.

Handle the gnocchi gently. Drop them into boiling salted water and then cook for 2 - 3 minutes, timing from when the gnocchi float to the surface. You're looking for something quite firm, but not like bullets. Once cooked they can be used immediately or else spread out on an oiled surface to chill. They can be reheated in water or directly in a sauce.

Add the gnocchi to the ragu, allow them to warm through and stir them through the ragu carefully. Serves on warm plates with plenty of Parmesan or Pecorino cheese.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...