Walnut Pesto

This time of year, wander the local hedgerows and lanes around here with a carrier bag and you could bring home a bountiful supply of free food. My absolute favourite, for two main reasons, is walnuts. First reason is they are free. Second reason is they taste amazing.

walnut pesto
Walnut Pesto

With a big bowlful of walnuts on the kitchen counter it’s hard to resist using lots straight away in recipes like Spiced Apple Cake with Walnuts or Walnut Bread ( easy in the breadmaker and great with another seasonal favourite Potimarron and Leek Velouté ). If kept dry and away from the sun, walnuts will last for ages so we fill our pockets every time we go for a walk and make sure we squirrel away a good stash. When the walnuts started to fall to the ground this year, my step-daughter happened to be staying with us and suggested we make pesto. One jar of pesto will keep in the fridge for several days and will be OK if you keep the surface covered with olive oil though it might go a bit brown. You could also freeze small quantities for adding to pasta for example. Half of our first batch was stirred into tagliatelle, the second half was spread onto fresh whiting and baked (called merlan in France, it’s a reasonably priced fish similar to cod or haddock), served with salted potato wedges and fresh salad. You could  also spread it on bruschetta, dollop some in your soup, make a toasted sandwich, stir some into mashed potato, or put it on a pizza.

So here it is, the ever so simple but very impressive Walnut Pesto.

walnut pesto ingredients
Ingredients for Walnut Pesto

You’ll need a blender or stick-blender to make this, and if you want to store it, a sterilised jar with an air-tight lid. None of the ingredients are measured exactly, which is a good excuse to keep tasting it to get the balance and seasoning to your taste.

A few handfuls of fresh basil leaves
Walnuts2 cloves garlic
Olive oil
Lemon juice
Sea salt
Ground black pepper
Parmesan cheese, grated

blend the ingredients
Blend the ingredients in a blender or with a stick blender

Put all the ingredients in the blender and whizz to a pulp, adding more oil if necessary and seasoning to taste. Use straight away or seal in a jar and refridgerate.

Spiced Apple Cake with Walnuts is a delicious moist cake that can be served while still warm or stored for several days in an airtight container – if it lasts that long. It’s also a good way to use up some seasonal produce, and freezes well. I’m posting the recipe in my next post.

Moroccan Style Stuffed Tomatoes

As the summer harvest of tomatoes threatens to overwhelm you, Stuffed Tomatoes are a great supper idea using storecupboard ingredients.

bowl of tomatoes
Stuffed tomatoes are a great way to use up some of your summer harvest.

It’s high summer and the vegetable garden is in full production. The tomato plants are heavily laden with fruit and with every sunny day that passes the pile of tomatoes in the bowl on the kitchen counter grows ever higher.  You’ll be hard pushed to eat them all in salad so see how to use tomatoes in various sauces or serve as a delicious Tomato and Red Lentil soup in my previous posts.  For a delicious meal idea, stuffed tomatoes are really satisfying and tasty. They take a little time to prepare but you can make more than you need and they will safely store in the fridge for another time.

For this recipe you’ll need some of the large beef tomatoes (coeur de boeuf in France) which are ideal because they have few seeds and make a good sized portion when stuffed. For a good filling you need to create flavours that will pack a punch. You can use fresh herbs or spices, dried fruit and chopped nuts, any rice or grain, or breadcrumbs, then add some protein in the form of meat, tofu or cheese, either feta, mozzarella or a strong cheddar. I combined some brown rice with quinoa to make a Moroccan style filling using cinnamon, dried fruit and cashew nuts with some cheddar cheese. Cous cous would be more appropriate if you have some.

4 large tomatoes
120g rice or grains (approx. 30g per large tomato), cooked
olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tspn cinnamon
roughly chop a handful each of cashew nuts, sultanas, dried apricots
fresh mint, chopped
70g strong cheddar cheese, grated
salt & pepper

scooped out tomatoesStart by cutting off the tops of the tomatoes and scooping out the flesh. Leave the edges quite thick otherwise the tomato will collapse in the oven. Put the tops to one side and the flesh in a seperate bowl, you’ll use this as part of the filling. To get rid of a lot of the moisture inside the tomatoes, sprinkle with a little salt then turn upside down onto a plate with a piece of kitchen towel on it and leave while you make the filling.


stuffed tomato fillings
You can add a variety of ingredients to the rice and tomato mixture including fresh herbs, dried fruit, nuts and cheese.

Heat the oven to 180°C. Cook the rice or grain according to the instructions. In a little olive oil, fry the onion and garlic. When the onion is soft, add the tomato flesh, simmer, stirring frequently to prevent it sticking, until the mixture has reduced to a pulp. Add the cinnamon then stir in the rice and all the dry ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste then off the heat, add the cheese and mix thoroughly.

stuffed tomatoes
Stuffed Tomatoes, an tasty summer meal.

Take an ovenproof dish and brush the base with a little olive oil. Place the tomatoes in the dish and spoon in the filling making sure it is pushed in well leaving no space. Any left over filling can be served cold along with a plate of fresh salad and grated vegetables. Replace the tomato lids to prevent the filling from drying on the top. If you prefer, you can cover with some tin foil instead. Place in the oven for about 30 minutes or until the tomatoes are tender and the skins are slightly wrinkled. Serve hot with some green salad. A little mashed potato with olive oil would be lovely.


Rainy Monday Baking

Unseasonal cold and continuous rain has meant hardly any time spent in the garden this month. It’s depressing for someone who needs the sun to shine on her shoulders every day. Looking on the bright side, there’s more time to be creative indoors and there’s always things to do in the kitchen. First on the list to do yesterday was my weekly batch of home-made yoghurt (which took a full 8 hours to set without some sun to speed up the process). Then I started preparations for some fruit buns for the freezer. They’re easy to take out individually and microwave for 30 seconds to believe they had just come fresh out the oven.

Crunchy Top Lemon Cake, recipe by Mary Berry
Crunchy Top Lemon Cake, recipe by Mary Berry

More of the buns later but while the dough was rising, I made Mary Berry’s Crunchy Top Lemon Cake. It’s such a simple recipe made  with a few, relatively inexpensive ingredients but the result is a rich tasting and moist cake that would grace any tea table and impresses all those who eat it. When you take the cake out of the oven, spoon over a syrup made from the juice of a lemon and some sugar and let the cake absorb it while cooling. This cake is absolutely delicious, probably the best Lemon Cake I’ve made and best served (in my opinion) still ever so slightly warm with a huge mug of Earl Grey tea. Now back to the buns…

Smarties Brioche, recipe by The Hairy Biker’s

I’ve been making variations on a brioche recipe and some very successful Hot Cross Buns I made at Easter which turned out to be really soft and tasty. Since I got my KMixx mixer, I’ve been adapting recipes, making them all-in-one and then leaving the dough hook attachment to do all the hard work. It’s sometimes difficult to know when the dough has been kneaded sufficiently but Paul Hollywood (of Great British Bake-Off fame) in his recent series on bread, gave out a very useful tip. The dough is ready when you can pull it and it’s elastic enough to stretch without pulling apart. This method really works, try it.

I add dried fruit, a mixture of what I have in the kitchen – at the moment I have some lovely large dried cranberries which go well with raisins and currants but you could just keep to currants or try adding in some glacé cherries or mixed peel.  I also find that some lemon zest adds a nice flavour but this isn’t essential.

Normally, I divide the dough in half once it’s risen and make half into ordinary buns, and half into Chelsea Bun style rounds, adding fillings like cinnamon with butter and brown sugar, chocolate chips or mixed chopped nuts. Smarties (or M&M’s) are good fun and give a satisfying crunch. Yesterday, I wanted to use up a pack of marzipan I’d had in the cupboard for a long time (past it’s best before date but who cares?) We are both crazy about marzipan and the idea of hot fruit buns with almond paste melting through the centre had us salivating at the thought.

So, to the recipe then, which is an easy all-in-one for a mixer with a dough-hook.


625g strong white flour1tsp salt
45g unsalted butter, grate into the bowl if it’s fridge cold
85g sugar
1 lemon, zest only (optional)
1 sachet fast action yeast
1 large egg
275ml tepid milk
150g mixed dried fruit

For the filling

100g ready to use marzipan
or 2 tsp cinnamon, 40g soft butter, 40g demerara sugar
or 1/2  tubes Smarties or a packet of M&M’s
or a filling of your choice
If you want to glaze the top of the buns, use 1tbsp of golden syrup, gently heated, then spread over the buns while still hot.

Put the flour, salt, butter, sugar, lemon zest if using, yeast and the egg into your mixer bowl. Using the dough hook attachment on the minimum speed, mix the ingredients then very slowly pour in the milk. Once a dough is formed, turn up the speed slightly and knead for 5-10 minutes. You can add the mixed dried fruit half way through and continue mixing. The dough is ready when it doesn’t break when you pull it apart, it should be elastic and soft.

The dough is ready when it's elastic and soft.
The dough is ready when it’s elastic and soft.

When you are satisfied that it’s ready, remove the bowl, cover with some cling and leave to rise. It’s ready when it’s doubled in size (it will take several hours in a cold kitchen).

Lightly grease a large baking sheet with butter. On a lightly floured worktop, knock back the dough and make a large ball. At this point I divide it into two and make half into buns. Divide the dough into equal size portions, and roll into smooth buns – you should get 8 large buns from half the dough. Place them well apart on the baking sheet, cover with some greased cling film or a clean teatowel and leave to rise.

For the Chelsea style buns, grease a baking tin with butter. Roll out the other half of the dough into a large rectangle. Now you can spread on your chosen filling. If you want to try the marzipan filling, line the base of your tin with greaseproof paper. From my experience if you don’t line it, the marzipan will stick to the bottom and make it difficult to get the buns out.  Roll out the paste as thinly as you can and cut it into a rectangle slightly smaller than the dough.  Starting from the long edge, roll the dough tightly like a Swiss Roll with the filling inside.

Place slices into a greased and lined baking tin
Place slices into a greased and lined baking tin

It’s quite robust, you can press quite hard making sure it’s all tightly rolled. Then using a sharp knife, divide the roll into equal size slices, you should get 8-10 pieces. Place the pieces evenly over the baking tin leaving space between them for the dough to spread and rise. Cover with some cling film and set aside to rise.

Once the dough has risen and the slices have doubled in size and joined up in the tin, heat the oven to 220°C. Bake for about 10 minutes – the buns will be done first – take them out as soon as they are evenly browned all over.  Glaze the buns while they are still hot then put them on a wire rack to cool. The Chelsea style buns will take a few minutes longer to cook and are done when they are nicely browned and firm to the touch. Don’t be tempted to overcook them because of the filling – they are better served soft and moist. Leave these in the tin to cool slightly before turning out onto a cooling rack and removing the greaseproof paper. They are delicious served warm.

Fruit buns with marzipan, fresh out the oven.
Hot Cross Buns
Hot Cross Buns

If you want to make the classic Hot Cross Buns, follow the same recipe but add 2tsp mixed spice with the lemon zest. Make a flour and water paste and using a piping bag, make a cross on each bun before you put them in the oven. Glaze with warm golden syrup and leave to cool.

Roasted Almond and Sesame Seed Loaf

Here’s a recipe for a really tasty nut roast that is a little different and a little bit more luxurious than a basic lentil loaf – perfect for a Sunday roast or supper for friends.

I found the recipe a month or two ago in a collection of vegetarian recipes published in the mid-90’s. It’s so delicious served hot with a mushroom sauce, we’ve eaten it several times since. I find it will keep for a few days wrapped in foil or cling film in the fridge and reheats nicely in the microwave.

Savoury Roasted Almond and Sesame Seed Loaf

2 tbspn olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
60g risotto rice
300ml vegetable stock
1 large carrot, grated
1 large leek, chopped finely
2-3 tsp sesame seeds, toasted
60g chopped or flaked almonds, toasted
60g ground almonds
90g strong Cheddar cheese, grated
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp dried mixed herbs or fresh herbs, finely chopped
salt and pepper

30g butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
125g button mushrooms, finely chopped
30g plain flour
300ml vegetable stock

1. Heat the oil in a deep frying pan and gently fry the onion for 2-3 minutes. Add the rice and cook for 5 minutes, stirring now and then. Add all the stock, stir whilst bringing it to the boil then leave to simmer for 15 minutes or until the rice is tender. You might need to add a little more water.

Onion and risotto rice
Simmer the onion and risotto rice in the stock

2. Put another frying pan on a gentle heat and wait until it’s hot before putting the sesame seeds and almonds in to roast. Stir constantly while they brown, taking care not to let them burn.

Dry ingredients
Put all the dry ingredients into a large bowl

3. In a large bowl, put the grated carrot, leek, cheese, eggs, mixed herbs, sesame seeds, almonds and the rice and onion mixture. Season and mix well. It should be quite moist.

almond nut roast mixture
Stir in the risotto rice and beaten egg to make a moist mixture, season with salt and pepper.

4. Pour the mixture into a lined loaf tin, firming it down with the back of a spoon. Bake in the oven for 1 hour, temperature 180ºC, until set firm and golden on top. Leave it in the tin for about 10 minutes.

almond and sesame nut roast
Just out the oven!

5. To make the sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan and gently fry the onion until golden brown. Add the mushrooms and cook for a further 2 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute before adding the stock a little at a time, stirring all the time to get rid of any lumps. Bring to the boil, make sure it’s smooth and season to taste.

6. Turn out the loaf and slice. Excellent served with roast potatoes and fresh green vegetables with the tasty mushroom sauce.

Roasted Almond and Sesame Seed Loaf
Roasted Almond and Sesame Seed Loaf served with green vegetables and a mushroom sauce.

Potimarron and Leek Velouté

As promised, here’s a wonderful recipe for a thick and tasty soup using a small pumpkin known as the Potimarron. The flesh is dense and flavoursome and is perfect for adding to curries, risotto, vegetable crumbles and stews because it doesn’t break up as easily as larger pumpkins and retains it’s buttery, nutty taste. When made into soup, it hardly needs any other ingredients but in this French recipe, it’s paired with leeks to give a lovely earthy and Autumnal thick soup.

Potimarron and Leek Velouté ingredients
Potimarron and Leek Velouté
½ potimarron or 1 small one (or substitute Butternut Squash, de-seeded and peeled)
2/3 large leeks
1 small onion
25g butter
Vegetable stock
Salt & Pepper

Start by preparing the potimarron. If you have a steamer, place the pumpkin in the steam for about 5 minutes to soften the skin- it makes it much easier to peel. Meanwhile, wash and chop the leeks and an onion.

Potimarron, peeled and chopped

Heat a large saucepan, melt the butter, then gently frythe leeks and onion until they are softened but not browned. Peel then chop the potimarron into large chunks and add them to the leeks. Stir in enough stock to cover the vegetables, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the potimarron pieces are tender.

Cooking the vegetables in the stock

Leave to cool a little then blitz in a blender for a smooth velouté. If it’s too thick, add a little water, season with salt and pepper to taste and reheat when you’re ready to serve. This soup tastes much better if it’s left for a day or more for the flavours to develop.

Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche swirled through the soup for an extra creamy taste.

Potimarron and Leek Velouté

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

I grew Butternut Squash for the first time this year. Just one plant, but it was so successful I wish I’d grown more. Up until now I’d relied on the wonderfully flavoursome potimarron – a small, densely fleshed pumpkin with a super nutty flavour and one of the most popular here in western France. You can roast it, make great soup (goes especially well with leeks and I’ll give you the recipe soon), risotto and curries. But I’ve found that Butternut Squash is equally as adaptable and there’s still plenty of dishes I want to try.

Potimarron and a Butternut Squash
Potimarron (left) and Butternut Squash

I love to cook on a dull, damp Saturday like today. First on the agenda was something tasty for lunch.  I started by roasting half a Butternut Squash I had left over from making a curry earlier in the week. The cut halves keep very well wrapped in cling film in the bottom of the fridge. The plan was to make Roast Butternut Squash soup and  some Soda Bread.

You need to start preparing this from scratch about an hour and a half in advance but you could easily roast the squash ahead of time or the day before and leave in the fridge until you’re ready. I find that if I roast both halves, we can enjoy an evening meal with one half such as  stuffed Butternut Squash with blue cheese and walnuts, then make a soup a day or two later with the remaining half.

Roast Butternut Squash soup served with Soda Bread
Roast Butternut Squash soup served with Soda Bread

Roast Butternut Squash Soup  (serves 2)

1 half Butternut Squash

1 clove garlic

olive oil

1 onion, chopped

½ pint vegetable stock

salt & pepper

pinch fresh nutmeg

crème fraiche to serve (optional)

Begin by scooping out the seeds from the squash. Place the halved squash in an ovenproof dish, place a peeled garlic clove in the depression where the seeds were and pour in a good glug of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper then place in an oven (preheated to 180°C) until the flesh is soft when you insert a knife – about 45 minutes. When cooked, leave to one side to cool a little while you soften a chopped onion in some olive oil in a large saucepan. Remove the flesh from the skin of the squash with a spoon and add it to the onion, not forgetting any of the lovely seasoned olive oil and the roast garlic clove. At this stage I add a pinch of fresh nutmeg but you could experiment with different flavours –  a finely chopped fresh chilli added to the onion will give the soup a nice kick. Add the stock (adjust the quantity if necessary) and bring to the boil, then simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Whizz the soup into a smooth consistency in a blender or with a stick blender like me, taste and season if necessary. Serve with a swirl of crème fraiche and some fresh bread.

Soda Bread

This is ideal when you want fresh bread quickly as it takes less than an hour from start to finish and it looks great on the table. Serve warm.

170g plain flour

170g self-raising flour

½ tspn salt

½ tspn bicarbonate of soda

½ pint buttermilk

Begin by mixing the dry ingredients in a large bowl then add the buttermilk. If you can’t get buttermilk (soured milk), just add 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice to the milk, stir and leave to stand for 5 minutes. Add the buttermilk to the bowl and mix with a fork until it’s mostly combined then you’ll have to get your hand in there and bring it together into a soft dough. Lightly flour your work surface and just knead the dough lightly to bring it into a ball then place on a floured baking tray. Take a sharp knife and score  a deep cross into the top of the dough. Bake in a hot oven (200°C) for about 30 minutes or until golden brown and sounding hollow when you tap the bottom of the loaf.

Place the loaf on a cooling rack for 10-15 minutes before serving when you can just pull it apart and spread with butter. Delicious!

Tomato heaven

After all the hard work in planting seeds, battling against pests, coping with extreme weather and controlling weeds, the greatest pleasure from tending a vegetable garden has to be eating your own produce. This year is one of the best. Despite the heat and the drought, rain in July has given rise to the sort of lush growth I hope for and every day sees me bringing another hoard of vegetables into the kitchen.

Peppers and nasturtium flowers
Peppers and nasturtium flowers

Last week, we enjoyed Nigel Slater‘s idea for roast tomatoes with fresh thyme. Just place halved tomatoes close together cut side upwards in a dish with a sprinkle of olive oil, sprigs of fresh thyme, season and bake for 40 minutes in the oven (temperature 200 °C). They were absolutely divine. The flavour was so concentrated and the juice had almost caramelised in the dish. But now I need to get serious and preserve.
Yesterday I was processing tomatoes to make tomato and tomato and chilli sauces so we can enjoy their fresh flavour well into the winter. There are so many variations on making sauces but I’ve found that these two simple sauces are the most useful. I don’t measure ingredients, it’s largely guesswork and experience but nothing will be wasted if you find you need more or less of something, you can always adjust it the next time.
Firstly, roughly chop 2/3 onions and fry them gently until softened in a generous amount of olive oil. Add a couple of cloves of finely chopped garlic and for an arrabiata type sauce, one or two fresh chillis from the garden according to taste (powdered chilli is OK if you don’t have fresh). While the onions are cooking, skin the tomatoes and roughly chop them removing any woody core. You can remove seeds if you want, but I leave them. They’re OK in an unblended sauce, and if you prefer a smooth sauce you’ll remove them later.

Softening the onion, garlic and fresh chilli in olive oil
Softening the onion, garlic and chilli in olive oil

Add the chopped tomatoes to the onion, stir and leave them to gently simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir occasionally to stop the mixture from sticking to the pan. It should take about 40 minutes for a large pan full of sauce.

Pass the tomato mixture through a mouli
Pass the tomato mixture through a mouli

Leave the mixture to cool. Now you have a choice. According to your preference you can leave the sauce as it is or whizz it up into a delicious smooth sauce packed with flavour. Either use a mouli or whizz it in a blender and push the sauce through a seive to get the sauce to a consistency similar to passata, except yours will be a hundred times better. Don’t forget to season the sauce when you come to use it, salt and freshly ground black pepper will enhance the flavour. The sauce freezes really well – I measure portions into freezer bags but containers are better if you have them.

Smooth and tasty tomato sauce
Smooth and tasty tomato sauce

By the way, this tomato sauce, either version, goes superbly well with the delicious Savoury Courgette and Rosemary Rice Cake recipe.