Pumpkin Soup

Halloween is approaching and that means it’s time for all things pumpkiny and spooky. This week we are going for the pumpkin and next week will bring the horror. Whether you like Halloween or not, we can all agree that it does a great job at stopping Christmas from sneaking earlier and earlier every year so we should at least be celebrating that – however I have already seen Christmas decorations in shops…. It’s October…

In the UK pumpkins were not traditionally carved for Halloween. People used swedes and turnips and it was only after settlers returning from America were seen to carve pumpkins that the new tradition was created. You have to admit, pumpkins are far easier to hollow out and carve than a turnip… or a mangelwurzel. Pumpkins are now the most popular vegetable to use for carving jack-o-lanterns and can range in size from a tiny thing the size of your fist to vegetables so large that suddenly it makes perfect sense that Cinderella could travel to the ball in one. One tip for carving: don’t cut the top of the pumpkin to hollow it out, remove the bottom. The top of the pumpkin loses its structural integrity when you slice into it causing the jack-o-lantern to rot far faster and collapse in on itself whereas a pumpkin carved out from beneath will last much longer.

When it comes to cooking with pumpkin, the biggest issue faced is that of flavour. Pumpkins are bland. Ways around this include roasting the vegetable to help intensify the flavour, making sure that the pumpkin is super ripe when you use it and packing your pumpkin dish with herbs and spices and seasoning to give it any semblance of flavour. In my recipe, I have used sage, rosemary and thyme (no parsley here because this is not Scarborough). This is a really good ’go to‘ herb mix for lots of things. Rosemary, sage and thyme are classically used as roasting herbs, you can throw them in with your potatoes to infuse them with herby goodness or something like that. I am also a fan of chopping the herbs up super fine and kneading them into bread. This gives an absolutely delicious dough which works amazingly well for savoury sandwiches or even garlic bread!

Back to the pumpkin (because I went a little bit off topic there) and I would like to mention one thing before we get to the recipe: the seeds. If you are cooking with a pumpkin (or carving one), you are going to have to hollow it out. While there is lots of orange gunge there which can be discarded, there are also lots of seeds. These are worth keeping and rinsing off because you can toast them to make a delicious snack (or even a garnish for your finished soup). I would recommend doing this with a little salt or maybe even some cumin if you fancy an extra kick of flavour.

This soup, like most of my soups, is completely vegan so you can serve it to basically anyone. I hope you like it as much as I do!

 

 

 

 

 

Pumpkin Soup

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Work time 10 minutes

Serves 5

 

1.5kg pumpkin with the top and bottom cut off and the seeds removed

2 red onions

4 cloves garlic

3 tbsp olive oil

2 sprigs rosemary and thyme

4 sage leaves

500ml vegetable stock

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark six (200°C).

Chop the pumpkin into eighths and place onto a baking tray.

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Chop the onions into eighths and arrange around the pumpkin.

Add the garlic and herbs and drizzle over the oil.

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Sprinkle over about a teaspoon of salt and grind some black pepper on top.

Roast for twenty minutes.

 

Remove from the oven, scrape the softened pumpkin off the skin and tip it into a large saucepan along with the onion, garlic, herbs and stock.

Simmer for ten minutes until everything is soft.

Remove the thyme and rosemary and discard.

Blend the soup until it reaches a velvety consistency. If you prefer a thinner soup, add more stock.

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For a silkier soup, blend in another couple of tablespoons of oil or even melt in some butter.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with bread for dipping or roasted pumpkin seeds and chopped herbs. You could even treat yourself and swirl in a spoon of cream for an ultra-smooth bow of soup.

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This soup is delicious for lunch or a starter and with such a thick consistency, it holds garnishes and croutons really well (good for pictures really).

 

If you are a fan of vegetable soups, check out my recipes for butternut squash soup or even my bright purple sweet potato soup with coconut milk.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a delicious Halloween cake!

H

Bulgar Wheat and Quinoa Salad with Feta and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

What is a salad? It sounds like a simple question but have a think. Does potato salad (cooled boiled potatoes in a mayonnaise/yoghurt based dressing with the occasional onion) have any relation to the recipe below other than the fact that neither are served hot? If you look on the internet for the definition of a salad, you will find many different answers. Personally, I like the description of pieces of food, ready to eat, that are small enough not to need any more cutting, with a dressing of some description. This happily encompasses most salads that I have come across in the past and also describes both this salad and the aforementioned potato one too.

Using bulgar as the base of a salad is something I would never have thought of doing until a couple of years ago when I helped with preparation for a party and was asked to make the recipe which this is based on – Mary Berry’s Herbed Quinoa and Bulgar Wheat Salad with Lemon and Pomegranate. That recipe is delicious and I would recommend trying it. The recipe below is close but not the same as I ate this quite a lot at university and ingredients like chives and pomegranate syrup (or molasses) were not easily available without driving out of the city. This led to a couple of ingredients being removed from the recipe, a few proportions being tweaked (because I love sun dried tomatoes and feta) and more dressing being included because I love this dressing. I also started substituting some of the olive oil in the dressing with the sun-dried tomato oil because I didn’t want to waste it and sun-dried tomatoes are not exactly student friendly when it comes to budgeting.

I feel as though I believed all salads were leaf based with lettuce, spinach, cabbage etc. forming the main constituent of the dish. I had ignored things like pasta and potato salad because I cannot stand mayonnaise and both of them tend to be coated with the stuff. It seems odd that I never thought much about this because I have known what Israeli salad is for a long time and I just classed the word “salad” as part of the name and not a description of the dish itself. Of course carbs like cous-cous or bulgar or barley (I’ve seen that one before) can be used as the base of salads. They turn the salad from a side dish into the main course as the carbohydrates help fill you up. They also tend to have lots of herbs and flavour which makes them wonderful to eat.

The recipe with today’s post does not contain either cucumber or raw tomato which is one of the reasons I like it so much. It proves you can have a delicious salad without either of them which is important as I feel that most people view both cucumber and tomato as staple ingredients in a salad. They do not have to be!

Let me know what you think if you try this one for yourself.

 

 

 

Bulgar Wheat and Quinoa Salad with Feta and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Work time: 10 – 15 minutes

Cooking and cooling time: 2 hours

 

300g bulgar wheat and quinoa (most stores now sell these mixed but if you can’t find that, just mix the two together with a 1:1 ratio)

150g drained sun-dried tomatoes (keep the oil they come in as this will be used later)

150g feta

Seeds of half a pomegranate

2 tbsp chopped parsley

2 tbsp chopped mint

2 tbsp chopped basil

3 tbsp lemon juice

3 tbsp honey

1 ½ tbsp olive oil

1 ½ tbsp sun dried tomato oil

 

Cook the quinoa and bulgar wheat mix according to the packet instructions. Tip into a large bowl and leave to cool.

Roughly chop the tomatoes and add them to the cooled carbs.

Crumble the feta into the bowl and gently stir everything together.

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Sprinkle over the herbs and the pomegranate seed and stir again.

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In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, honey and both oils before pouring this all over the salad.

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Season with a little salt and pepper. Mix again and serve.

This can be stored for a few days in the fridge but make sure that the herbs don’t go off as they will be the limiting factor.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. I don’t have any other similar recipes to this uploaded yet but I hope to pup some more up in the future. If you are interested in other dishes that work well as a cold lunch, check out my recipe ginger tofu – it’s packed with flavour, is easy to make and if you follow a plant based diet, you will be happy to know that it is completely vegan.

 

Have a good one and I will be back next week with some sort of meringue-based treat.

H

Sourdough Pizza

I finally bought a pizza stone a couple of months ago after restraining myself for years. I had never cooked with one but they are supposed to make your pizza better and I had been having issues with a soggy and undercooked pizza crust for quite some time. The result? Crispy crust, quick cooking time, all round better pizza in my opinion.

Question: what is a pizza stone? Answer: it is a relatively simple way of recreating the conditions found inside a pizza oven without having to go out and build yourself a new, extraordinarily expensive piece of kit. The moment the dough hits the stone, it is exposed to a huge amount of heat which makes the yeast go crazy giving a super puffy, air-filled crust. The pizza stone retains its heat well so the addition of a (comparatively) cold pizza on top of it does little to lower its overall temperature. This causes the base of the pizza to cook fully and quickly, giving a solid, crisp base that will not be soggy. Any sections of dough which may be a little wet quickly dry, as the pizza stone is porous and thus pulls moisture out of the base of the crust again leading to a crispier base… I think there may be a pattern here. Basically, this can all be summed up as: the pizza stone ensures the crust is cooked quickly and properly and – most importantly – fully before the toppings begin to burn.

I have used metal trays for baking pizza and, while they do work, the best method I know still involves preheating the tray and then transferring the pizza onto it. Unlike the stone, metal is not porous, so any steam which may escape through the base of the pizza is trapped against the dough – causing it to be reabsorbed and softening the dough. Some methods of cooking use both a pizza stone and a metal sheet. The pizza goes on the preheated sheet and the stone rests on a wire rack directly above the pizza. Again, this is recreating the conditions of a pizza oven where extreme heat is being blasted at the pizza from all directions, the base of the oven, the roof, even the walls all help cook the pizza.

When it comes to hand stretching dough, I have found that the best way to learn is watching online tutorials. Written instructions are ok but it is so much easier when you can see what is going on. It may split the first time… or the second… or even once you think you know what is going on but this is fine – I just stitch it all back together and after the cheese is added, no one will be able to tell. Stretching the dough by hand, in my experience, is the best way to get a puffy crust on the pizza. When you stretch it, the dough from the centre of the pizza is slowly transferred to the outside. This can weaken the centre of the pizza though so make sure to keep an eye on it and if any bits seem dangerously thin, try and avoid stretching them any more than necessary.

Sourdough pizza (like normal sourdough bread) takes time and you need to plan ahead if you want to eat it. Luckily, the majority of the time needed is resting and proving so it is not too time consuming when you are actually making it. I prefer the taste of sourdough bases but let me know what you think if you try it. If you don’t have a sourdough starter, you can always make your own or you could get some from a friend. I am sure there will be someone in your local area with one who would be happy to donate a little to you.

 

 

Sourdough pizza:

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Rest time: 16 hours

 

To reactivate the starter:

½ cup sour dough starter

1 cup strong white flour

1 cup water

 

For the dough:

75ml water

500g flour

2 tbsp olive oil

10g salt

 

For toppings: tomato passata, mozzarella, any other toppings of your choice

 

Mix the starter with one cup of flour and one cup of water. Cover and leave overnight. You can use the starter straight from the fridge, no need to warm it up as that is what this step will do.

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After sitting overnight, the starter should be very bubbly.

 

In the morning, add the flour for the dough, 25ml water and oil to the reactivated starter. Mix until it forms a shaggy mess – it need not all stick together at this point. Cover and leave to rest for 30 minutes to an hour.

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Sprinkle over the salt and the rest of the water and knead to combine.

Knead the dough for five to ten minutes until it is smooth and elastic.

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Cover and leave to rise for six or seven hours. I would set this up before work and leave it in a cool place throughout the day.

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About an hour before making the pizzas, split the dough into four and shape each quarter into a ball. Cover and leave again for half an hour to let the gluten relax.

 

Place a pizza stone into the oven and turn your oven to the highest setting (mine is gas mark 9 at around 250°C). ALLOW THIS TO HEAT UP FOR AT LEAST HALF TO THREE-QUARTERS OF AN HOUR.

Take one of the balls of dough and flatten it using your fingertips. Stretch the dough until it is the same size as your stone. This can be done by picking it up at the edge and rotating the dough so its own weight stretches it. This ensures the dough in the middle of the pizza is nice and thin and the edges are a bit thicker so you get a good crust. You could also use a rolling pin if it is easier for you.

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Spread the tomato paste out from the centre until it is half an inch from the outside of the dough.

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Grate/thinly slice the mozzarella and sprinkle it over the pizza. Top with your favourite toppings.

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Using a single, swift motion slide a peel underneath the pizza. (A peel is just a large, flat paddle. It might be worth practicing getting the pizza onto and off of the peel before you add the toppings (as in when it is just the base)). You cannot build the pizza on the peel as it will stick if it is left there too long. If you do not have a peel (like me) you could use a cake lifter or even make the pizza on baking parchment and slide this parchment from a normal baking tray onto the pizza stone.

By gently shaking the peel, slide the pizza onto the pizza stone and bake for five to ten minutes (depending on your oven temperature). When the pizza is done, it should be able to be tilted by lifting up one side as the base will be cooked and a little crispy.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you would like to have a go at normal, non-sourdough pizza, check out my recipe. The crust is super light and fluffy and it tastes amazing. I have been known to lightly brush the outer crust (without the toppings) with garlic oil and give it a sprinkle of sea salt for extra flavour.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a delicious sweet treat.

H

 

 

Royal Paneer

Using cashew nuts as a thickener is something that I have been hearing about for several years now but never actually tried for myself… until this recipe. They are somewhat of a miracle ingredient in this regard, as they provide not only their thickening properties but also their flavour – and their fat content. The flavour helps to meld the other ingredients together whilst mellowing out anything that would be too strong, and the fats and cashew oils help give the sauce a smooth consistency.

This thickening quality isn’t only a property of cashews. My mother makes a delicious cauliflower and almond soup which uses ground almonds to achieve its velvety texture; I have used peanut butter to make sauces which thicken considerably upon cooking; and walnuts are often used in gravies to give them extra texture. Any raw nut butter will work for thickening sauces as the thickening agent (the starch contained in the nuts) has not been cooked yet. It works just like adding flour or cornstarch to a sauce to thicken it (except the nuts also add fat and flavour). The nuts can be ground in advance and added to the cold sauce (or whisked into the hot sauce and cooked for two minutes), added whole to the sauce at the start and then blended at the end or a small quantity of the sauce can be mixed into a nut butter (to slacken it) before whisking this back into the original sauce and cooking out the nuts.

Fat is necessary for making a good, smooth, sauce. The fats in this recipe come partly from the vegetable oil (to sauté the onion and prevent the butter from burning later on) but mainly from the cashew nuts and the butter. Fats give a smooth mouthfeel to sauces which is unobtainable in almost any other way. People talk a lot about avoiding vegetable oil because it is unhealthy and replacing it with things like coconut oil or nut butter but all they are doing is replacing one fat with another – because you need it for BALANCE. The fat will help cut through acidity from the tomatoes and rawness from the onion – but remember that fats need seasoning. If you add fat, you need to add salt. I’m not saying that you have to put in an artery solidifying quantity of the stuff, just enough to help cut through the fat. People will often look at a recipe and see a tsp of salt and just ignore it because salt has been villainised but really, it is necessary for a healthy diet. Like all things, the answer is moderation. If you are cooking for yourself and not eating ready meals, too much salt is unlikely to be an issue as fresh ingredients do not contain much salt (in most cases). That teaspoon of salt in the recipe suddenly isn’t much when you see that the recipe serves six people so don’t just leave it out. It is there for a reason – it will make the food taste good!

Tomato isn’t always used in royal paneer and I have seen recipes both with and without it. Often the tomato (and sometimes the butter) will be replaced by yoghurt which gives an intense creamy richness to the sauce. It is still highly spiced though so don’t worry about a lack of flavour. The term Shahi comes from the title Shahansha which was given to emperors, kings and other royalty in Iran. It refers to the luxurious texture of the sauce and the richness it contains.

The sauce freezes really easily and can be easily made in a batch in advance and defrosted when needed. Just make sure to re-season when you reheat the sauce.

 

 

 

Royal Paneer (Shahi Paneer)

Base sauce mix:

2 tbsp vegetable oil

50g butter

8 garlic cloves – peeled

1 inch piece of ginger – peeled

1 tbsp cashew nuts

2 bay leaves

2 onions

2 large, ripe tomatoes (or 200g tinned tomatoes)

2 tbsp tomato paste

3 cardamom pods

8 black peppercorns

2 dried chilis

2 cloves

1 cup (250ml) water

2 tsp sugar

½ tsp salt

 

To finish the sauce:

1 tsp chilli powder (Kashmiri chilis give the best red colour)

1 tsp turmeric

2 tsp coriander

1 tsp cumin

½ tsp fenugreek powder (if you have it)

50g butter

1 tbsp vegetable oil

 

To finish:

450g paneer

Chopped coriander

3 tbsp double cream

 

Instructions:

Grate the ginger and tip it into a large saucepan with the vegetable oil and the butter.

Add the cardamom, peppercorns, cloves, bay leaves, garlic cloves, dried chilis and cashew nuts and fry until the aromatics of the spices are released. Be careful not to burn them!

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Roughly chop the onion and add it to the saucepan. Sautee until the onion becomes translucent.

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Core the tomatoes and roughly chop them.

Add them to the onion along with the water, salt and sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook for fifteen minutes until the tomatoes have fully broken down.

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Blend the sauce mix and push it through a sieve. It will be thick! You should be left with small bits of spice and tomato skin which can be discarded. The cashew nuts provide the thickness to the sauce which can be intimidating to start with but I guarantee it will strain!

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This is the sort of wastage you will be left with after straining (I would give it an extra push through the sieve after I think that everything that can strain has strained because there is always more).

 

Melt the butter in a large pan along with the vegetable oil and heat until it begins to foam.

Tip in the spices and lightly fry them until aromatic – this will bloom them allowing the spices to release their flavour into the rest of the sauce.

Pour in the strained sauce base and stir until everything is combined.

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Season with a little more salt and sugar to taste! You could also add some extra pepper or chilli if you wanted.

The sauce can now be frozen if you wish.

 

Finishing the dish method one:

Chop the paneer into ½ inch cubes.

Heat the sauce until it is bubbling, add the paneer and cook for five to ten minutes until the paneer is hot all the way through.

Stir through the cream.

Pour into a serving dish and top with chopped coriander and a small drizzle of cream.

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Method 2:

Add a little oil to the base of a non stick frying pan.

Chop the paneer into ½ inch cubes.

Fry the paneer until it is golden on the base. Flip the pieces and continue to fry until most sides of most pieces are golden.

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Pour over the sauce and heat until the sauce is bubbling.

Stir through the cream.

Pour the curry into a serving dish and top with fresh coriander and a small drizzle of cream.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. The sauce is incredibly flavourful but not spicy (unless you want it to be) so it is perfect for serving people who don’t like their food too hot. This makes a wonderful accompaniment to any curry as the fats in the sauce will help eliminate spice from other dishes but the paneer also stands up by itself as the main dish should you wish it to be.

If you would like to try a different (also vegetarian) curry, check out my recipe for a classic tofu based one or if you eat meat (or are happy to find your own meat substitute), why not treat yourself to a delicious Thai Curry.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with an amazing cultural pastry.

H

 

 

 

Vegetarian Dumplings

The biggest issue I have faced when creating vegetarian dumplings is that the filling does not stick together. When meat is cooked, the pieces bind together as they cook but this does not happen with vegetables. You can buy an enzyme called transglutaminase which will bind meat together when it cooks and can be used to make some very Frankenstein-esque meals, but no such thing exists for vegetables (as far as I am aware). The best way I have come across to bind fillings together is by using egg and flour. Both of these will help prevent your filling from tumbling out of the dumpling after you take a bite.

These dumplings fall under the heading of potstickers. This means that have been steam-fried. The dumplings are first lightly fried on the belly (the plump base away from the pleats) before water or broth is added and they are covered and allowed to steam. Once all the liquid has been absorbed the dumplings are again cooked uncovered, allowing the base to crisp up again to provide a wonderful contrast of textures. The dumplings should be cooked in a non-stick pan because I can guarantee that, if they are cooked in a regular pan, they will stick and tear. You could also cook them in a steamer or plain boil them – both of these methods work – but I think they are far nicer if the base is crispy.

There is some disagreement about overcrowding the pan when making potstickers. If the dumplings are pushed up against each other they will lightly adhere to their neighbours. This means that you can flip out the entire pan of potstickers onto a plate and they will stay in their beautiful formation. The counterargument is that, when the dumplings stick together, they will then tear when you try to serve them. This has never been too much of an issue for me – I find that they generally come apart without tearing and you can serve the entire batch on a central plate and people can take what they want. I have even seen recipes when people add seasoned cornflour water to the pan which cooks and crisps up a layer on the base of the frying pan and dumplings, which really does stick everything together and results in a more “tear’n’share” kind of meal.

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Of course you can use any filling you like with this cooking method. I used to eat a lot of turkey dumplings at university because the minced turkey was often reduced in shops, meaning that the meal was incredibly cheap – we are talking one to two pounds per person. I am also partial to beef dumplings but I do find that the quality of the minced beef is really noticeable in the final product. Pork and cabbage or kimchi is another popular filling, as is shrimp, so you can see how versatile these dumplings can be.

Let me know how you get on if you try them as I love hearing about your cooking!

 

 

 

Vegetarian Dumplings

Prep time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

 

400g firm tofu

2 bunches spring onions

5 garlic cloves

1 inch peeled ginger

1 medium heat chilli (or more if you prefer)

1 medium carrot

Half a cabbage

150g mushrooms

1 tbsp tomato paste

3 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp rice vinegar

1 tsp sugar

4 tbsp plain flour

1 egg

A couple of grinds of black pepper

1 tsp salt

Two packets of dumpling skins

 

Crumble the tofu into a sieve and then gently press on it to squeeze out lots of the liquid. You will get a good third to half a cup of liquid out of the tofu. Tip this squeezed tofu into a large bowl.

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Finely chop the spring onion, chilli and mushrooms and add these to the tofu.

Finely slice the cabbage, grate the carrot and add to the rest of the veg.

Grate the ginger and the garlic into the vegetable mix.

Whisk together the egg, soy sauce, vinegar, tomato paste, sugar, cornflour, salt and pepper.

Pour the egg mix over the vegetables and tofu and use your hands to mix until everything is coated.

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Fill your dumpling skins and pleat the edges. For instructions on how to pleat properly, see my recipe for beef dumplings. You can also just fold them over and crimp the edges with a fork if you don’t want to go to the effort of pleating the entire batch.

 

Pour a thin layer of a oil to the bottom of a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. MAKE SURE THIS FRYING PAN HAS A LID FOR THE NEXT STEPS.

Add the dumplings to the pan belly side down. Try to pack the dumplings in so they are touching each other. Overcrowding is not an issue!

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Fry for three minutes until the base of the dumplings are a deep golden brown.

Pour in 100ml water and cover immediately. Be careful as this water will spit when it hits the pan.

Cook covered for about three to five minutes until the water is fully absorbed into the dumplings. The skins should have started to turn translucent. If they haven’t, add another few tablespoons of water and cook again.

You want to make sure the pan has basically boiled dry as this will allow the bases of the dumplings to crisp up again.

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To serve, place a large plate upside down over the pan and quickly invert the frying pan to flip the dumplings onto the plate.

 

For a delicious dipping sauce, allow people to mix soy sauce, rice vinegar and chilli sauce (I use sriracha) in a little ramekin to make their own personal sauce.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a fan of dumplings, check out my recipe for the beef variety and you can even use my turkey burger filling in them!

 

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for an absolutely stunningly good tart (and it’s even vegan – but you wouldn’t know from the taste).

H

Decadent Mushroom Pasta Bake

This post marks the end of the second year of That Cooking Thing’s existence. When I started back in August of 2017 I had no idea that I would still be creating weekly recipes two years later. Many blogs seem to fizzle out within a few months of their inception and, to be honest, that is kind of what I expected to happen with this one. I was going into the Master’s year of my undergraduate degree and really didn’t have the time to spend writing weekly posts and making pretty dishes for the Instagram but here we are – procrastination is a powerful motivator for things you do not have time to do. I am now coming towards the end of my second degree and even with the working life looming ahead I hope to continue this blog for the foreseeable future.

I thought that it would be nice to revisit an old recipe and jazz it up for the final post of the year. This recipe was the second savoury one I posted: a chicken and mushroom pasta bake. I like to think that I have come on in my techniques and cooking ability since then, and this updated recipe hopefully shows that. The biggest difference from the original recipe is that this one is vegetarian; there is no chicken to be found in this dish. You could, of course, add chicken if you so wished and it would still taste excellent, but with the growing number of vegetarians and vegans in the world I like to make sure that my recipes are as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. I still eat meat (although with the current political climate and possibility of a significant change in the UK’s food standards, I cannot say that this will not change in the near future) but lots of people don’t and I like to make recipes which do not come across as meaty ones that have just had the chicken or beef etc. removed. Vegetarian recipes should not need meat to be delicious!

Instead of a stock and cornflour-based sauce, the sauce for this bake is based around mushroom paste. The first thing you do is blend mushrooms until they are almost a puree (a far finer chop than you would use to make a duxelle) and then cook them to drive off all the liquid and really intensify the mushroom flavour. This mushroom paste, when mixed with cream cheese, will become the base of the sauce. It should be noted that this sauce can be put on anything you like – it doesn’t have raw egg or cornflour so you can just eat it as it is. You could even serve it as a mushroom pate! The remainder of the mushrooms are then cooked down and the liquid they release is collected and stirred into the sauce to slacken it. All this liquid will be absorbed into the pasta when it cooks in the oven giving it a far stronger mushroomy flavour. I went a bit wild and bought some posh woodland mushrooms for this as I wanted it to be a bit celebratory and didn’t want to use just the standard mushrooms but obviously the recipe does work just as well with those.

Cheese is an important part of this dish. Whilst most pasta bakes have a crust of cheese on top, this one also has chunks of mozzarella stirred into it so when the bake comes out of the oven and is served, all of the stringy goodness can be seen and it is really satisfying finding a big blob of cheese in the middle of your portion. Other cheeses could be added too: goat’s cheese works well with mushrooms, parmesan is always welcome in this kind of dish and cheddar is good too if you don’t want to go out and buy special cheese just for this. The final decoration on top of the cheese crust – finely chopped parsley and basil – is sprinkled over the bake after it comes out of the oven. This prevents the herbs from burning but also means that the aroma isn’t driven off during cooking. The heat from the pasta bake will wilt the herbs and cause them to release their fragrances before propelling the smell of fresh basil through the room as the herbs heat up.

I hope you have enjoyed the blog so far and that you use the recipes. If you do, let me know in the comments or tag me on Instagram @thatcookingthing – you could also use #thatcookingthing because I seem to have commandeered the hashtag. If you have friends who would like these recipes, let them know about the blog because I would love to help and inspire more people in the kitchen.

See you next week for the third year of That Cooking Thing!

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Decadent Mushroom Pasta Bake

Serves 5-6

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

 

Ingredients

750g mushrooms

1 large onion

50g cream cheese

20g parmesan

400g mozzarella

1 mushroom stock cube

4 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic

30 ml milk (optional)

250-300g pasta

5 grinds black pepper (or more to taste)

3 large basil leaves & a few sprigs parsley

 

 

In the bowl of a food processor, blend 250g of the mushrooms with half an onion, two cloves of garlic and 60ml water until it is a thick paste (it doesn’t have to be fully pureed).

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Pour this out into a large pan and cook until the majority of the liquid has boiled off (about 10 minutes). It should be rather sludgy at this point.

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Tip the mushroom paste into a bowl and add the cream cheese. Stir to combine.

Finely chop the rest of the onion and sauté it in a pan with the remaining oil.

While the onion is cooking, chop the remaining mushrooms into quarters (or sixths depending on their size).

Once the onion turns translucent, add the mushrooms and another 60ml water. Cover with the lid of the pan and leave to simmer for five minutes. Give the mushrooms a stir and let them cook for another five minutes.

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While the mushrooms are cooking, start cooking the pasta. You want to take it off the heat and drain it about two minutes before the packet says it will be done as it will continue to cook in the oven and you don’t want it turn mushy.

Drain the liquid from the cooking mushrooms into the mushroom paste and stir it through. Taste and season with salt and pepper. This will become the sauce.

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Once you are happy with the seasoning, stir in the cooked mushrooms.

Grate two thirds of the mozzarella and chop the rest into 1cm cubes. Finely grate the parmesan. Set the cheese aside.

Drain the pasta and stir through the sauce.

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Allow to cool for a minute and then stir through the chunks of mozzarella, the parmesan and half of the grated mozzarella. Do not stir it too long as the heat of the pasta will start to melt the cheese. You just want it evenly distributed.

Tip the pasta into a greased dish and top with the rest of the mozzarella.

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Bake for 40 minutes at gas mark 6 (200°C) until the top of the bake has turned golden and crispy.

Finely slice some fresh basil and parsley and sprinkle this over the top once the pasta bake is removed from the oven. The heat of the bake will cause the herbs to release their oils and the aroma will come out without the herbs drying and burning as they would in the oven.

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I hope you enjoy the recipe. I have made this several times recently because it is just so good! I also take it for lunches because it tastes fab cold as well as hot. If you like mushrooms, you should have a look at my mushroom carbonara dish as it is amazing – you could even make your own fresh pasta for it.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with an amazing recipe for a truly celebratory cake.

H

 

Black Bean Burgers

Veggie burgers have a bit of a mixed reputation. A lot of the time they pretend to be meat and I always find that they are slightly disappointing as a result. The best veggie burgers I have eaten have always presented themselves as exactly that: veggie – not “beef style” or anything like that – just “veggie”.

The most common problem faced by homemade bean burgers is that they become mushy. This is usually caused by over mashing the beans. The best way to combat this is to pack the burgers full of different vegetables with different textures. Make sure not to use a food processor as this will puree the ingredients – especially the beans – which will cause a lot more liquid to be released. I have found that the best way to mix everything together is with my hands which is a little messy but it prevents anything being mixed too aggressively. Precooking the onion and carrot will also cause some of the liquid in them to be cooked off, which again reduces the moisture content of the final mix. The flour which you add will help to bind the burger together and dry it out. Some people will also add tapioca starch or cornflour which thicken when cooked, and again these will help bind the burger and give it some texture.

When it comes to cooking fresh bean burgers, you want to avoid overcrowding your pan. If you are cooking for a lot of people the best thing to do would be to bake the burgers in the oven and then take them out a few at a time to crisp up the outside in a frying pan. After crisping the outside, the burgers can be kept warm in the oven while the rest are fried so everyone can be served at once. Adding a thin layer of flour on the outside provides a surface to fry and helps dry out the outer layer of the burger. This drying is what eventually makes the outside crispy as heating in oil drives off more and more water. The same result can be achieved without the flour but it really does speed up the process and give a much more even cook.

These burgers are not only vegan but can easily be made gluten free too so everyone can eat them. Instead of frying the burgers you can bake them in the oven for about 25-30 minutes at gas mark 6 (200°C) flipping them halfway through. This will not give you such a crunchy exterior but is obviously a little more healthy (although in my opinion, there is so much goodness in these burgers that it more than makes up for the oil that is absorbed during frying). As always, if you choose to fry the burgers, never leave the pan of oil unattended and, if you do end up with a fire, for the love of god do not pour water on it! Turn off the heat and if you can get close enough, lay a damp (but not dripping) tea towel or fire blanket over the pan. I don’t expect there to be an issue with this recipe because the oil shouldn’t be getting so hot that it reaches its flashpoint but it is better to be safe than sorry.

You won’t miss the meat when you try these burgers. They are filling, flavourful and look amazing. Let me know if you try them for yourselves!

Black Bean Burgers

Cook time: 20-30 minutes

Prep time: 15 minutes

Resting time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

1 can black beans – 400g

1 medium carrot

1 medium onion

1 small tin sweetcorn – about 200g (frozen sweetcorn will also work)

3 cloves garlic

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground chilli (you can reduce or increase this to your personal tolerance and enjoyment of spice)

½ tsp salt

Pepper to taste

1 cup flour + extra for dusting (you can use any flour for this – buckwheat flour will make these gluten free)

 

 

Finely chop the onion and the garlic.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and lightly sauté the onions and garlic until translucent.

Whilst the onion is cooking, finely grate the carrot.

Add the carrot to the onion and cook until it starts to soften. Remove the pan from the heat.

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Drain the black beans and tip half of them into a big bowl.

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Lightly mash them with a fork until all of them are broken up but not completely pureed.

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Drain the sweetcorn if you are using the tinned variety

Add the rest of the beans, the onion and carrot mix and the sweetcorn.

Mix well.

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Sprinkle over the spices, salt and pepper and stir through.

Add the flour and mix until combined.

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Split the mixture into quarters – these will become your four burgers.

 

Take one quarter of the mixture and shape it into a patty with your hands.

Place it into a small bowl of flour to dust the outside and lay it on a lined baking sheet.

Repeat with the remaining mixture.

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Place the burgers in the freezer for half an hour to firm up before cooking.

(The burgers can be frozen at this point.)

To cook the burgers, heat half a centimetre of oil in a large non-stick pan and add the burgers – you may have to cook them two at a time as you do not want to overcrowd the pan.

Allow the burger to fry on a medium heat for about five minutes until it has turned a deep golden brown on the base.DSC06003

Flip the burger and repeat. If you like a bit more colour on the burger, continue to fry on each side for a little bit longer.

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Serve in a lightly toasted bun with your choice of relish and salad. Here I have used a spicy tomato relish and added some fresh coriander.

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You can jazz these things up with any veg you fancy, I have seen many recipes for Mexican style burgers with lots of peppers and fajita seasoning. You could swap out the black beans for another type too if you prefer.

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If you are a fan of pulses, why not check out my recipes for falafel and hummus?

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a nice and easy sweet recipe.

H