Crab mac ‘n’ cheese

In the book she published last year (Cook, Eat, Repeat) Nigella rails against “the insidious encroachment of the American appellation of mac ‘n’ cheese over here”, but then admits defeat and offers this take on an opulent, defiantly American pasta dish. We’ve eaten it twice, most memorably for lunch on Christmas Eve 2020, the plague year when Christmas was cancelled and we had to massage the rules in order to gather à six. Rich and comforting, it is elevated nursery food that should, in my opinion, be eaten in winter, en famille, with a green salad to offset the decadence.

Serves 4 generously

Ingredients

200g Gruyère, grated
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
2 tbsp plain flour
½ tsp ground mace
½ tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp Aleppo pepper, or hot smoked paprika, plus more to sprinkle at the end
500ml full fat milk
2 tbsp tomato purée
60g unsalted butter
400g conchiglie rigate pasta
200g mixed white and brown crabmeat (50/50)

Method

Combine the grated cheeses in a bowl. Mix the flour with the spices in a small cup. Pour the milk into a measuring jug and stir in the two tablespoons of tomato purée. Put a pan of water on to boil for the pasta.

In a heavy-based saucepan that will be large enough to hold all the pasta + sauce later,, melt the butter over a lowish heat, then peel and mince or grate in the garlic and stir it around in the pan quickly. Turn the heat up to medium and add the flour and spices. Whisk over the heat until it all coheres into an orange, fragrant, loose paste; this will take no longer than a minute. Take off the heat and very gradually whisk in the tomatoey milk, until it’s completely smooth. 

Put back on the heat, turn up to medium and cook, stirring, until it has thickened and lost any taste of flouriness; this will take up to 5 minutes. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce.

Take the pan off the heat and stir in the grated cheeses. Put a lid on the saucepan, or cover tightly with foil, and leave on the hob, but with the heat off, while you get on with the pasta.
Add salt to the boiling water in the pasta pan, then add the pasta and cook according to the packet instructions, though start checking it a couple of minutes earlier.

When the pasta is just about al dente, add the crabmeat to the smoky cheese sauce, then once you’re happy that the pasta shells are ready, drain them, reserving some pasta-cooking liquid first, and drop the shells in. Stir over lowish heat until the crabmeat is hot. If you want to make the sauce any more fluid, add as much of the pasta-cooking water as you need. Taste to see if you want to add salt.

Serve sprinkled with Aleppo pepper or hot smoked paprika.

Pears in Marsala

Here’s another trusty old recipe from Delia Smith’s Winter Collection (see blinis, colcannon potatoes, mushroom risotto, hot citrus pudding, pumpkin soup). It’s a 70s classic that has stood the test of time, perhaps because as a fruit-based dish it offers a lighter alternative to the heavy sweetness of other traditional puddings. The original is made with red wine but Marsala has a more complex flavour, or you can save money by using strong dry cider instead. ‘Each version has its own particular charm,’ says Delia.

Serves 8

Ingredients

8 large hard pears
550ml Marsala
50g caster sugar
2 whole cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla pod
1 rounded dessertspoon arrowroot
500ml crème fraîche

Method

Preheat the oven to 130°C (110 fan).

Peel the pears, leaving the stalks intact, then slice off a thin disc from the base of each so they can sit upright. Lay the pears on their side in a large casserole dish, sprinkle over the sugar, pour in the Marsala and add the cinnamon sticks and vanilla pod.

Bring everything up to simmering point, then cover the casserole and bake the pears for about 1-1½ hours. Turn the pears onto their other side and return to the oven for a further 1-1½ hours. Cooking time will depend upon how hard your pears were to start with.

Transfer the pears to a serving bowl to cool, leaving the liquid in the casserole. Remove the cinnamon sticks and vanilla pod and place the casserole over direct heat. In a cup, mix the arrowroot with a little cold water to make a smooth paste. Whisk this into the casserole and bring the syrup just up to simmering point, so that it thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and when it is cool, spoon the syrup over the pears, basting them well.

Cover the pears with foil or clingfilm and put them in the fridge to chill thoroughly. Serve them sitting upright in individual dishes with the sauce spooned over and crème fraîche on the side.

Pumpkin soup

A chance encounter in Gunnersbury Park last month prompted the recording of this recipe. Running – or rather shuffling – along on my first Park Run since March 2020, I spotted a stall setting up for the fortnightly artisan market and returned to purchase four tea towels on my way home: you can see Kate Guy’s designs (all food and recipe-related) here. We discovered a shared enthusiasm and Kate invited me to contribute a seasonal soup recipe for illustration in her forthcoming calendar project. So here is Delia’s Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Melting Cheese, earmarked for October in Kate’s calendar because that’s when pumpkins are in plentiful supply. Rather than just carving an over-sized one for Hallowe’en, grab something a little smaller and make this soup or a pumpkin pie. Diced and grated cheese, and croûtons too, add body and variety of texture.

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 pumpkin, approx 1.6kg
1 tbsp groundnut oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
850ml vegetable or chicken stock
450ml whole milk
25g butter
Salt, pepper and nutmeg

To serve
110g Gruyère or Fontina, cut into 5mm dice
50g Gruyère or Fontina, coarsely grated
6 tsp crème fraîche
Croûtons (see below)
Flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 240°C (220 fan).

Cut the pumpkin into eighths through the stalk and scoop out the seeds. Brush each section with oil and place on a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper and then roast for 25-30 minutes until tender. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the onion and cook gently for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the stock and milk and bring slowly to simmering point. Scoop out the pumpkin flesh and add to the stock along with more salt and pepper and nutmeg. Simmer gently for 15-20 minutes.

Blend the soup to a purée in two batches and pass through a sieve to remove any fibrous bits. Taste and season well. When ready to serve, re-heat it gently just up to simmering point and stir in the diced cheese. Ladle into soup bowls, garnishing with a teaspoon of crème fraîche, grated cheese, croûtons and parsley.

Croûtons

75g bread cut into small cubes
1.5 tbsp olive oil
A little salt

Pre-heat the oven to 170 fan.

Put the cubes of bread in a bowl with the oil and a pinch of salt and stir to coat evenly. Arrange on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes or until they are crisp and golden. Be warned: you must use a timer because it is very easy to forget these and burn them. Allow to cool and leave aside until the soup is ready, or store them in a tin or jar.

Vegan apple pudding cake

Stretching the blog’s rules again, I’m recording this brilliant recipe because it’s hard to believe it is completely vegan. It comes from Meera Sodha’s column in the Guardian’s Saturday food supplement Feast, and I’ve made it three times this year – every time to astonished acclaim from family, friends and colleagues. It has enough apple in it to be potentially good for you, a crunchy brown sugar top and soft, puddingy insides.

Serves 8-10

Ingredients

For the apples

2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 2cm cubes (175g prepared weight)
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
40g soft brown sugar

For the cake batter
200g self-raising flour
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
160g soft brown sugar
120ml olive oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
100ml non-dairy milk
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

For the top of the cake

2 granny smith apples, cored and sliced
1 tbsp soft brown sugar

Method

Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6, and line a 20cm springform round cake tin with greaseproof paper.

In a medium bowl, mix the apple cubes with the cinnamon and brown sugar, and set aside.

Measure all the dry ingredients for the batter into a large bowl, stir to combine, then pour in the wet ingredients and beat until you have a smooth batter. Tip in the cubed apples and their sugary, cinnamony juices, stir to combine, then scrape the batter into the lined tin.

Fan the sliced apples in a circle to cover the top of the cake, sprinkle over the remaining soft brown sugar, then bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 50-60 minutes, until the cake has risen, the apples on top are golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Serve warm or cold.

Lentil rissoles

During my flirtation with vegetarianism in the early 1990s I learned to make these by experimenting with a recipe from a cookbook in Granny’s impressive collection (I think it was in the Sainsbury’s vegetarian food paperback). The Hungarian paprika flavouring has crept in because we’re often faced with a glut of piros arany, which Babú brings back in suitcase-loads from Hungary, along with csipős zöld paprika, bonfire cheese, Hungarian mayonnaise, pálinka and beigli. Piros arany – either csipős (spicy) or csemege (mild) – is a key ingredient in our bográcsgulyás and pörkölt and it really isn’t essential in these rissoles but they are, frankly, otherwise a bit bland. You could probably achieve a similar effect with Korean gochujang paste, which has become easier to source since Nigella plugged it on TV last year.

Makes 6-8 rissoles

Ingredients
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 stick celery, diced
90ml light olive or groundnut oil
250g green lentils
600ml vegetable or chicken stock
1.5 tbsp piros arany (csipős or csemege) or gochujang paste or similar
2 bay leaves
2 bunches of thyme
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp chopped parsley
200g breadcrumbs
50g seasoned flour
2 eggs

Method

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a heavy saucepan and cook the onion, carrot and celery on a low-medium heat for about 8 minutes until soft. Add the lentils, stir to coat in the vegetable mix, and then add the stock, piros arany, bay leaves and thyme. Bring to a boil, then cover, turn the heat down and simmer for 40 minutes until the lentils are soft and starting to collapse. Check and stir from time to time: add a little more stock or water if it’s starting to dry out, but be careful not to make it too sloppy because you’ll struggle to shape any rissoles from it! Once the lentils are cooked, remove the bay leaves and thyme and stir in salt, pepper, parsley and 50g breadcrumbs to firm up the consistency. Leave to cool with the lid off until you can handle it with your bare hands: at least 1 hour.

Set up your assembly line: put the flour in one bowl, whisk the eggs in a second, then put the remaining breadcrumbs in a third. Shape the lentil mixture into large round patties and coat each in flour, egg and breadcrumbs in turn. If you need to firm the rissoles up and have time, refrigerate for half an hour or more.

Heat the rest of the oil in a large frying pan and cook the rissoles on a medium heat until browned on both sides and hot all the way through. Finish off in the oven (160 fan) if you’ve chilled them before cooking and suspect they might still be cooler in the middle. Serve with tsatsiki or any sauce of your choice.

Grilled pepper salad

This is very much a family invention and therefore open to as much variation as you like. It’s a colourful accompaniment to a summer barbecue and can be made well in advance. Just save the addition of the basil until just before serving. Red and yellow peppers are easier to peel than green ones (which are simply unripe versions of their primary-coloured counterparts) and they’re sweeter too, but if you’re after more variegation use as many colours as you like.

No basil in the fridge, so oregano was used here instead

Serves 6 as a side

Ingredients

2 yellow peppers
2 red peppers
2 fat cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper
A handful of basil leaves, torn or shredded.

Method

Heat your grill on its highest setting.

Slice the base off each pepper, remove the core, then cut the body into quarters or thirds, according to its natural segments, and shave off the white parts and the seeds. Arrange each pepper segment on the grill pan and grill until dark and blistered all over. Remove from the grill, cover with a tea towel and leave the skins to loosen, until the flesh is cool enough to handle.

Peel each piece of pepper and then slice into strips. Arrange in a serving dish, scatter over the garlic, slosh over the olive oil and balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Give it all a stir and taste to check the seasoning. Just before serving, stir in half the basil leaves and scatter the rest on top.

Strawberry Truffles

Before this year, I had only tried my hand at truffles once: they were (allegedly) Earl Grey flavoured and, frankly, a bit meh. Then your father gave me a terrific little book called Amaze Balls full of sweet and savoury recipes for round, bite-sized snacks. The strawberry truffles (or my raspberry variation) have proved a real hit at parties and they make great presents too. 

Makes approximately 30 balls

Ingredients

For the truffles:
150 thick double cream
25g unsalted butter
2 tbsp strawberry or raspberry liqueur (Chambord is recommended)
150g dark chocolate (70-75 % cocoa)
1 tbsp Greek yoghurt

For the coating:
Raw cacao powder
Freeze-dried strawberry or raspberry pieces

Method

Put the cream, butter and liqueur in a small saucepan and slowly bring to a simmer.

Blitz the chocolate in a food process and, with it still running, slowly pour the cream mixture onto the chocolate and keep blending until the mixture is smooth. Add the Greek yoghurt and blend briefly to combine.

Transfer to a clean bowl and cover with cling film; it will be quite runny and will need to set in the fridge for 6 hours or overnight.

Remove the truffle mixture from the fridge and dust your hands with cacao powder. Then take teaspoons of the mixture and roll them into balls before coating them with the freeze-dried strawberries. If you run out of the latter (easily done – as evident from the pictures above), just roll the balls in cacao powder: they’ll still look and taste great. Chill again for an hour before serving.

These will last for at least 7 days in the fridge.

Gravadlax

The Scandinavian method of curing raw salmon with salt, sugar and herbs gets an eye-catching twist with the addition of beetroot here – apparently a Finnish variation. You can use other fish too – trout, for example, or mackerel (which will take only about 3 hours to pickle.) The accompanying sauce is a particular family favourite – Babú has been known to eat it by the ladleful – and is the only purpose for which I ever use the darker brown French mustard. 

Serves 6

Ingredients

200g beetroots, uncooked, peeled and grated
20g fresh dill, finely chopped
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp vodka
600g salmon fillet, scaled and de-boned
1 orange, zest finely grated
2 tbsp sea salt
Radishes to serve (optional)

Method

Place the salmon skin side down on a piece of clingfilm. Mix the salt and sugar together, and rub evenly over both sides of the fish.

In a small bowl mix the beet, orange, dill and vodka, then press this all over the salmon. Wrap up the clingfilm, then wrap in foil, put on a plate and place another plate on top with a weight on it. Chill for 36 hours.

After chilling, unwrap the fish and remove the coating (scrape or rinse off). Slice thinly down to the skin and arrange the slices, slightly overlapping on a serving plate or on individual plates. Garnish with dill sprigs and, if you like, sliced red radish. Serve with the sauce below.

Mustard & Dill Mayonnaise

Ingredients

1 large egg yolk
2 tbsp French mustard
1 tbsp white sugar
150ml groundnut or sunflower oil
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp finely chopped dill
Salt and pepper (ideally white)

Method

Whisk the egg yolk with the mustard and sugar in a medium-sized bowl, drip in the oil drop by drop whisking all the time until the mixture has emulsified, then add the vinegar and dill and season with salt and pepper.

Alternative scotch eggs

There has been much experimentation chez Collier with scotch eggs in the past couple of years. A BBC Food recipe was my original source for smoked salmon scotch eggs, while a recent recipe by Thomasina Miers prompted me to come up with a vegetarian version of chorizo scotch eggs – I order the meat-free sausage mix and vegan chorizo from Amazon. Both can be made with normal hens’ eggs or with dinkier quails’ eggs, which take a while but make very pretty canapés. Simply replace the large eggs in the recipes below with a dozen (or more) quails’ eggs. Serve with a sharp mayonnaise, marie rose sauce, tartare sauce (recipes all here) or, in the case of the chorizo ones, piccalilli.

Top: vegetarian chorizo quails’ egg scotch eggs with piccalilli
Bottom: smoked salmon quails’ egg scotch eggs with tartare sauce and marie rose sauce

Smoked salmon scotch eggs

Serves 4 

Ingredients

5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 salmon fillets, boneless and skinless, about 240g
200g good quality smoked salmon
1 lemon, zested, then cut into wedges to serve
½ small pack dill, chopped
½ small pack parsley, chopped
1 tbsp capers, chopped
50g plain flour
good pinch cayenne pepper
100g panko breadcrumbs
vegetable oil for frying

Method

1. Put 4 of the eggs in a large pan of cold water and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat, simmer for 5½ minutes, then remove and transfer to a bowl of iced water. Once cool, gently tap all over on a work surface and peel carefully, so as to keep the eggs intact. If you’re using quails’ eggs, put straight into boiling water and simmer for 1 ½ minutes.

2  Blitz the salmon, smoked salmon, lemon zest and some seasoning together in a food processor to form a paste, then stir through the herbs and capers. Divide the mixture into four balls. Pat the eggs dry, then flatten a ball in the palm of your hand and tease it around one of the eggs until completely covered. Repeat with the remaining eggs. Set aside.

3.  Set up your assembly line: put the flour in one bowl, stir in the cayenne pepper and season. Crack the remaining egg into another and whisk, then put the breadcrumbs in the final bowl. One by one, dip the Scotch eggs into the flour, egg and then the breadcrumbs. Set aside on a plate or tray.

4.  Fill a heavy-bottomed pan two-thirds with oil and heat to 180C or until a piece of bread browns in 20 seconds. Working in batches, fry the Scotch eggs for 5 mins until deep golden, drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with flaky sea salt and a little more cayenne. Serve with a sauce of your choice and lemon wedges for squeezing over.


Vegetarian chorizo scotch eggs

Makes 6

6 eggs
150g meat-free sausage mix (eg. Granose Lincolnshire)
200g vegan chorizo (eg. meatless Chilli Kabanos)
1 big handful parsley, roughly chopped
1 small bunch thyme, roughly chopped
20g finely grated parmesan

For the coating

50g plain flour, seasoned with salt, pepper and any spicing you fancy
2 eggs, beaten
100g panko or fine breadcrumbs
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying

Lemon wedges and sauces to serve

1. Hydrate your meat-free sausage mix as directed on the packet. Remove the chorizo from its skin and blitz in a food processor to crumble it.

2. Put the eggs in a large pan of cold water and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat, simmer for 5 ½ minutes, then remove and transfer to a bowl of iced water. Once cool, gently tap all over on a work surface and peel carefully, so as to keep the eggs intact. If you’re using quails’ eggs, put straight into boiling water and simmer for 1 ½ minutes.

3. Mix the sausage ‘meats’, herbs and parmesan in a bowl, scrunching it all together until sticky. Divide into six even-sized balls, then wet your hands and flatten one ball in your palms, making it as thin as you can without it falling apart. Gently shape it evenly around one peeled egg, moulding it until the egg is sealed all over. Repeat with the rest of the eggs, then set aside.

4. Set up your assembly line: seasoned flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs. Pour enough oil into a deep pan to come 5-6cm up the sides and heat to 160C-170C. Roll each egg in the seasoned flour, followed by the egg and then the breadcrumbs.

5.  Once the oil is hot, fry the eggs three at a time for three to four minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are golden. Scoop out and drain on kitchen paper. Serve with the lemon wedges and a green salad, with piccalilli or tartare too.

Chicken shawarma pie

Rules, especially arbitrary, self-imposed ones, are made to be broken. I am flouting a founding principle of the blog today in choosing to share this recipe, because we’ve only eaten it once, two months ago, and it therefore does not qualify – by any stretch of the imagination – as an established family favourite. I’m quite sure it will be up there before long, though, and encourage you to get making it because it really is ‘a wow of a pie’, as its creator Sami Tamimi (in his wonderful book Falastin) describes it. The list of ingredients is long and the method is protracted but I promise it’s worth the effort.

I forgot the chilli flakes here!

Serves 6

Ingredients

750g chicken thighs, skinless and boneless
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
¾ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp ground turmeric
¾ ground cinnamon
⅛ tsp ground cloves
90ml olive oil, plus extra for greasing
2 tbsp cider vinegar
2 baking potatoes (450g), unpeeled and cut into ½cm-thick rounds
45g unsalted butter
1 onion, thinly sliced (150g)
200ml chicken stock
5g parsley leaves, roughly chopped
5g coriander leaves, roughly chopped
8 sheets (30 x 38cm) of good-quality filo pastry (170g)
1 tsp nigella seeds
¾ tsp Aleppo chilli flakes or ⅟₃ tsp regular chilli flakes
Salt and black pepper

Tahini sauce
50g tahini
80g Greek-style yoghurt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp lemon juice

The recipe in Falastin specifies a 23cm springform cake tin but I suspect that any oven-proof dish – and not necessarily a round one – would be fine.

Method

Put the chicken into a large bowl with the garlic, ginger, ground spices, 1 tbsp of oil, the vinegar, 1 tsp salt and a generous grind of pepper. Mix to combine, then leave to marinate for at least half an hour, or overnight in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 180 fan.

Mix the potatoes with 1½ tbsp oil, ¾ tsp salt and a good grind of pepper. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking tray and spread out so that they don’t overlap. Bake for 20 minutes, then increase the oven temperature to 220 fan. Remove the tray from the oven, flip over each potato slice, then return to the oven for another 10 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the oven and set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 180 fan again, or turn it off for now and preheat again later, before you bake the pie.

Put 15g butter and 1½ tbsp oil into a large sauté pan and place on a medium-high heat Once hot, add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally , until softened. Add the chicken and cook for about 10 minutes, until lightly brown, then add the stock, ¼ tsp salt and a good grind of pepper. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat to medium. Simmer gently for 25 minutes, or until the chicken is just cooked through. Increase the heat to medium-high and continue to cook for about 8 minutes, or until the liquid has thickened and reduced to about 4 tbsp. Remove from the heat and leave to cook for about 10 minutes, then use two forks to shred the chicken into large chunks. Sitr in the herbs and set aside.

To make the tahini sauce, put the tahini, yoghurt, garlic, lemon juice, ⅛ tsp salt and 2 tbsp water into a bowl. Whisk together until smooth, then set aside.

Melt the remaining 30g butter and combine with the remaining 2 tbsp oil. Line the base of a 23cm springform cake tin with baking parchment and lightly grease the sides with some of the butter mixture. Lay a sheet of filo out on a clean work surface and brush with the butter. Transfer this to the tin so that the base is covered and the filo rises up and over the tin’s sides. Repeat with the next sheet of filo, brushing it first with butter, then arranging it in the tin, rotating it slightly so that the excess hangs at a different angle. Continue in this fashion, brushing each piece generously as you go, until you have used up 6 pieces of filo in total and tha base and sides are all covered.

Next, add the potato slices, overlapping slightly, so that the base of the pie is completely covered. Top with the chicken mixture and gently push down to even out. Lastly, spoon over the tahini sauce, spreading it gently to coat the chicken layer. Brush a piece of filo with butter and fold it in half horizontally, like a book. Place this over the tahini layer, tucking in the filo around the filling. Brush the top with the butter mixture, then repeat with the last piece of filo, angling it to cover any exposed areas. Now fold over the overhang, crinkling up the filo to create a nice ‘crumpled’ effect on the top. Brush the top with the remaining butter, sprinkle with the nigella seeds, place on a tray and bake at 180 fan for 60 minutes, or until deeply golden.

Leave to cool for about 15 minutes before removing from the tin. Sprinkle with the chilli flakes and serve with a crisp green salad.