Roast Sweet Potatoes, Pears and Chick Peas with Prosciutto

Regular Café Cat readers will know that I’m a great fan of roast vegetables and love trying new combinations. This dish using sweet potatoes and pears, combined with chick peas and topped with crispy prosciutto is a real winner.

Roast Sweet Potatoes, Pears and Chick Peas with Prosciutto

1 large or two smaller sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large thick wedges
3 large pears, unpeeled and cut into six or eight, lengthwise then cored
1 can chick peas, rinsed and drained
About ¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper
100g thinly sliced prosciutto (I used Aldi Black Forest Ham)

Pre-heat oven to 200°C. Place all ingredients except prosciutto in a large bowl and mix well. Line a large shallow baking tray with baking paper then spread the vegetables over the tray in one layer. The paper is to make washing up easier but is optional. Bake vegetables for about half an hour or until cooked and starting to brown around the edges. Re-arrange them halfway through cooking time, so they cook more evenly.

In a non-stick frying pan put a tiny bit of oil then cook the prosciutto until crispy. Serve on top of the vegetables.

Serves 3-4

Variations: use pumpkin instead of sweet potato, apples instead of pears, thinly sliced bacon instead of Prosciutto. To make the dish more substantial serve it on a bed of lightly dressed rocket and scatter some crumbled feta or goat’s cheese over the top. Vegetarians can just leave out the prosciutto.

Roast Parsnips & Jerusalem Artichokes with Onion Puree & Parsley Oil

Also known as sunchokes or topinambours, Jerusalem artichokes belong to the sunflower family. In early winter, after the flowers have died down, the tubers can be harvested and eaten as a root vegetable.

We grow them in our veggie garden at the farm (you need a bit of space or they can take over) and while I like them, I have to agree that our kids’ nickname, fartichokes, is very appropriate. I prefer to use them in recipes where they’re combined with other vegetables, to reduce the windy effect.

Serve this dish with roast meats or as a side dish at a barbecue. If you don’t have any Jerusalem artichokes use more parsnips or substitute potatoes. The onion puree should have been a pale colour, but when the onions were frying I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Still tasted good!

Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Chilli

500g Jerusalem artichokes, cut into 2-3cm chunks
500g parsnips, cut into even-sized chunky sticks
2 Tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Onion Purée:
2 large onions, finely chopped
25-50g butter (you decide!)
3 Tbs cream or sour cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Parsley oil:
A handful of fresh parsley
A few leaves of spinach or rocket
Olive oil
Salt to taste

Mix vegetables with oil in a bowl and add seasoning. Line a baking tray with baking paper then tip vegetables onto tray and spread into one layer. Bake at 200°C for 30 mins or until tender and browned at the edges.

Meanwhile cook onions in the butter for 10-15 mins or until soft, stirring often. Place in food processor with cream or sour cream and process till smooth, then season to taste.

For the parsley oil, pour boiling water over the parsley and spinach or rocket, then refresh under the cold tap and squeeze out excess water. Place in food processor, then add olive oil with motor running until you have a bright green sauce. Add salt to taste.

Spread onion purée in serving dish. Arrange roast vegetables on top, then drizzle with the parsley oil.

Serves 6

Armenian Moussaka

I have two recipes for Moussaka. One is a traditional Greek Moussaka which I make with minced lamb or beef. The other one is called Armenian Moussaka. It’s much quicker to make and a dish I invariably serve the day after we’ve had roast lamb. The quantity of meat is flexible and it’s a good way to introduce kids to eggplant.

Armenian Moussaka

1 very large eggplant (aubergine) or 2 medium
olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tin condensed tomato soup (see notes below)
1 beef stock cube, crumbled
¼ cup red wine or dry sherry
2-4 cups leftover roast lamb, cut into 2cm cubes (see notes below)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
About 1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 180°C.  Fry eggplant slices in olive oil on both sides until golden. You will need to do this in 2 or 3 batches. Drain on paper towels. Wipe out the pan with paper towels and add a little more oil. Gently fry onions and garlic until soft then add the meat, tomato soup, stock cube and sherry or wine. Season to taste then simmer for a few minutes, stirring often.

In a greased lasagne-type dish layer half the meat mixture, then half the eggplant slices, the rest of the meat, then the rest of the eggplant slices. Sprinkle with grated cheese and bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden and bubbly. Serve with a mixed salad.

Serves 4-6

Note: The original recipe used a tin of chopped tomatoes and half a cup of thick leftover gravy from the roast lamb. So you can either use that or replace the two with a can of condensed soup. if you don’t have any leftover roast lamb, use minced fresh lamb or beef. Once the onions and garlic are soft, add mince and continue cooking and stirring for a few minutes until browned, then add tomato soup (or tin tomatoes and gravy), stock cube, sherry and half a cup of water and simmer for about 15 minutes until the excess liquid has evaporated, meat is tender and sauce is thick.

Lamb and Date Tajine in a Slow Cooker

The two most popular posts on Café Cat are both made in a slow cooker, so I thought it was time to post another recipe.

While I probably only use it four or five times a year, a slow cooker is great for winter, when we eat more casseroles. It’s also perfect when you want something which looks after itself as it cooks.

This Lamb and Date Tajine came from my friend Kien who lives in Amsterdam. I’ve cut down a bit on the liquid which is all you need to do to adapt any recipe for a slow cooker. I couldn’t find any really small onions so I used nine larger ones and cut them in half. As with all casseroles, the leftovers were even better when reheated two days later.

Lamb and Date Tajine in a Slow Cooker1kg lean lamb cut into 2cm cubes (shoulder, leg)
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp fresh ginger, coarsely grated
Pinch of saffron
1 Tbs olive oil + extra
18 whole small onions, peeled
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbs plain flour
1 Tbs tomato paste
1 cinnamon stick, broken in two
450ml lamb or beef stock
4 Tbs chopped fresh coriander
Rind of one preserved lemon, diced (see note below)
100g dates, sliced
1 Tbs honey
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Marinate meat with ground coriander, ginger, saffron and olive oil for 24 hours in the fridge. Brown lamb all over in 2-3 batches in a non-stick frying pan over moderately hot heat – there’s no need to add any oil as there’s oil in the marinade – then place in slow cooker.

Add a little oil to the pan with the whole baby onions and cook until lightly golden all over, then add to slow cooker. Add garlic to the pan and cook gently for a minute or so, adding a little more oil if necessary. When soft add flour and continue to cook for a minute or so, stirring. Add stock gradually, stirring until thickened, then add to slow cooker with the cinnamon stick and tomato paste. Cover and cook on High until it starts to bubble, then turn to Low and cook for 6-7 hours or leave it on high for 3-4 hours. It might suit you to cook it for longer if you have to go out. Cooking times vary from slow cooker to slow cooker.

When meat is tender add honey, dates and preserved lemon and season to taste with salt and pepper. Preserved lemons are salty so you probably won’t need any salt. Cook for another hour or so. Garnish with fresh coriander and serve with couscous.

Serves 4-6

Notes: While lamb is more authentic in a Moroccan tajine, cubed lean beef also works well in this recipe. Preserved lemons are sold in some gourmet shops. They give this recipe a distinctive flavour, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for them next time you’re in a gourmet shop. One jar is enough for several recipes. Or you can make your own as I do.

Cauliflower & Stilton Soup with Pesto

On a cold wintery day a bowl of steaming soup hits the spot. I’m not a great fan of blue cheese, eaten on its own, but I do like the more subtle flavour you get when you use it in a soup or salad dressing.

We were recently served a soup like this (without the pesto) at a cocktail party at the Press Club, in small espresso cups. I suspect they added at least 2 cups of cream, which was delicious and okay in such small servings, but not what you want to indulge in for lunch.

Cauliflower & Stilton Soup with Pesto

50g butter
1 onion, finely diced
1 cauliflower, trimmed and cut into pieces (stalks are fine too)
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock, preferably home-made
1 cup cream
100g Stilton, or another blue cheese
Milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To serve:
Pesto

Melt butter in a large heavy-based saucepan and cook onion over moderate heat, stirring oven, until soft and translucent. Add cauliflower and stock and simmer for 20 mins or until cauliflower is tender. Cool a bit then blend until smooth in a blender, adding the cream, the blue cheese and some milk to keep things moving. Tip back into the saucepan, adding enough extra milk to achieve desired consistency. Season to taste. Reheat and served topped with a swirl of pesto.

Serves 6

Pea & Ham Soup

David and Amy brought a delicious glazed ham to our Christmas celebrations. When we finished it I froze the bone and today, in early March when the weather is much cooler, I’m using it in a good old-fashioned Pea and Ham soup. Growing up under the influence of my mother’s “war mentality” makes it hard for me to throw away anything which could be turned into a meal.

This soup will “warm the cockles of your heart”. Having typed that I thought “what a strange expression” and decided to look it up.

One site which explains such expressions says: Something that warms the cockles of one’s heart induces a glow of pleasure, sympathy, affection, or some such similar emotion. What gets warmed is the innermost part of one’s being. The Oxford Dictionary simply says it means to give one a comforting feeling of contentment. 

There are all sorts of theories as to the origins of this saying, the most popular being that the ventricles of the heart are shaped like cockles, a popular shellfish when I was growing up in England. We used to buy them doused with malt vinegar at seaside resorts on the south coast, such as Margate and Ramsgate. It took an hour to get there by train, but in summer we often went to the coast for two weeks and stayed in a bungalow or caravan in Leysdown or Seasalter.

As kids we thought a trip to the seaside was heaven. There was candy floss and pink and white striped sticks of candy which was called rock – an appropriate name as you just about broke your teeth eating it. And there were amusement parks, where you could scare yourself to death on the roller coaster or win a hideous pink teddy bear on the shooting range. The water was always freezing but we swam anyway and came home with sand stuck to everything. Happy days.

I was never very fond of cockles or whelks (sea snails) preferring the juicy pink shrimps also sold on the seafood stalls. An even smaller shellfish called a winkle had a tiny body which had to be removed from its shell with a pin – a tedious task, which is probably why I didn’t like them. My mother loved them. Sometimes we took some home and she ate them for tea, with brown bread and butter.

I am pleased that the “war mentality” gene has been passed on to our three offspring and their partners who also run households with my mother’s motto “waste not want not.”

Pea & Ham Soup1 cup yellow split peas
1 ham bone (see note below)
About 2 litres chicken stock, preferably home made
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 clove garlic crushed
1 tsp dried thyme or 1 Tbs fresh
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Fresh parsley, coriander or thyme

Wash peas and soak overnight or for several hours in cold water, then drain. Put peas and stock in large pan with ham bone and simmer 2 hrs with a lid. Add vegetables, herbs and simmer for half an hour. Remove ham bone and cut off any meat. Cut it into small pieces and put it back into the soup. Add more water if soup has become too thick and check seasoning. Reheat soup and serve topped with chopped fresh herbs and some crusty bread.

Serves 6-8

Note: if you don’t have a ham bone, most supermarkets sell ham hocks or meaty bacon bones which can be used instead.