I got really over-excited at the 20% off Le Creuset sale at John Lewis, and was delighted to get home late this evening and find that my pie dish (in ‘cassis’) had arrived. I’d planned to make the courgette and rice filo pie from River Cottage Veg Every Day! at some point this week, and this seemed like as good a time as any. It’s delicious and very easy, and I’ve just made it having been to one of those drinks parties where people keep topping up your glass so you lose track of how much you’ve had, so I can vouch for its simplicity.

Courgette and rice filo pie (from River Cottage Veg Every Day!)

500g courgettes, coarsely grated
75g long-grain rice
1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped (I love onion in all its forms, so I put a whole one in)
75g hard goat’s cheese or mature Cheddar, grated (you might like to add some feta too, adjusting the seasoning accordingly)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp olive oil
A handful of dill, chopped
A good handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
250g filo pastry (if you can get a slightly larger pack, do – you always end up with one really raggedy sheet per packet)
75g unsalted butter, melted
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C.

2. Mix the courgettes, rice, onion, cheese, eggs, olive oil and chopped herbs together in a large bowl, and season well with salt and pepper. It really does need quite a bit of salt, especially if you’re not using feta.

3. Lightly brush a sheet of film pastry with melted butter, and use it to line an ovenproof dish – leave the excess hanging over the sides. Repeat this with all but the last sheet of pastry, lining the dish the whole way round.

4. Pour the filling into the pastry-lined dish. Fold the excess pastry over to cover the filling, dabbing with melted butter to encourage the pastry to hold together. Crumple the last sheet of pastry in your hands a bit, before placing it over the top of the pie and tucking in the edges.

5. Brush the top with a bit more butter, and bake for 45 minutes until golden. Depending on how late it is and how tipsy and/or hungry you are, you could eat this with some Turkish-/Greek-influenced mezze dishes, or just shovel a slice down and go to bed.

My birthday, falling as it does on the last day of August, marks the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. I can’t feel particularly sad about waving goodbye to the hot days for another year, not least because a) this is England, for gawd’s sake, and b) I hate being too hot. I hate picnics (I am forever plagued by wasps and dogs), sunstroke, and the indignity of sleeveless tops. (However, I can’t express my joy at the coming of autumn better that Eva Wiseman did in the Observer on Sunday.)

So, a year older and wiser, I am newly obsessed by the cosiness of autumnal comfort food. (If you don’t see much of me for the next few months, check my bed and then my kitchen.) Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Every Day! is my new favourite kitchen tome; I made the squash and fennel lasagne yesterday, and tonight seemed like a good time to try the swede and potato pasties. Even if they didn’t taste great, these would be worth making for the lovely rootsy savoury smell that wafts around your house while they’re in the oven; luckily, they’re also absolutely delicious. I’m taking one in for my packed lunch tomorrow (with age cometh thrift).

Swede and potato pasties (from River Cottage Veg Every Day!)

Makes 4

For the pastry:

300g plain flour
A pinch of sea salt
150g chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

For the filling:

225g potato
125g swede
75g carrot
1 small onion, grated
Leaves from a handful of parsley, finely chopped
Leaves from a few sprigs of  thyme, chopped
1 teaspoon vegetable bouillon powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
50g strong Cheddar, grated (Hugh says this is optional. I say: sling it in.)
30g butter, melted

To finish:

1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon milk, to glaze

  1. To make the pastry, mix the flour and salt together, then add the pieces of butter and toss them in the flour until each little cube is separately coated. Add about 150ml of chilled or iced water to form a fairly firm dough. (Clumsy as ever, I added a little too much, but a well-floured work surface and rolling pin did the trick.)
  2. Shape the dough into a rectangle with your hands on a well-floured work surface, and then roll it out away from you, in one direction only, until the rectangle is about 1cm thick. Fold the far third towards you, then fold the nearest third over the top of that – you’ll now have a rectangle made up of three equal layers. Give the pastry a quarter turn, and repeat the rolling, folding and turning five times. Wrap the pastry in cling film, then chill in the fridge for between 30 minutes and an hour.
  3. Preheat the oven to 190°C. If there’s someone in your house who likes a bit of painstaking chopping, call them into the kitchen at this point.
  4. Peel the potato, swede and carrot and cut into 3–4mm dice. This is quite pleasing really, once it’s done. Put the chopped veg in a bowl, along with the grated onion, herbs, bouillon, seasoning and cheese. Melt the butter and stir that in last.
  5. Roll out the pastry to 3mm thick, and cut out 4 circles using a small plate (around 19cm diameter) – you’ll probably have to squish together the trimmings and roll them out again for the last one.
  6. Divide the vegetable mixture between the four pastry squares, keeping it to one side of each circle. Brush the edges with a little water, fold over the other half of pastry, and crimp the edges together securely. Patch up any holes that appear as you stretch the pastry over – you don’t want leaky pasties.
  7. Line two baking sheets with baking parchment. Place the pasties on the sheets, and brush them with the egg glaze. Bake for 35–40 minutes until golden brown.

Maybe I’ve led a sheltered life, but I think I’m right in saying that I don’t know anyone who actively dislikes garlic. Even the pickiest eaters amongst my acquaintance adore garlic bread, for example. But after reading this post on the beautiful Kitchenist blog, it’s come to my attention that some people actively avoid it (how??); or rather than doubling the quantity of garlic, as I often do, they’ll use just one clove maximum for everything. Most shocking of all, my friend Vicky told me this morning that her mum will open all windows and doors when Vicky’s cooking anything containing garlic. Isn’t that just all food?

Along with onions, garlic is one of the basics that I expect to use to start pretty much any savoury dish I cook. This tart from Ottolenghi’s Plenty really lets garlic take centre stage, and the sweet, caramelised cloves contrast well with the salty goat’s cheeses. It’s an impressive dinner-party centrepiece, and reheats well so you can make it in advance. Pair with a lemon-dressed green salad to cut through the delicious richness.

Caramelised garlic tart (adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi)

375g all-butter puff pastry
3 medium heads of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
220ml water
¾ tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp chopped rosemary
1 tsp chopped thyme, plus a few whole sprigs to finish
120g soft, creamy goat’s cheese – a Welsh one would be lovely here
120g hard, mature goat’s cheese – there’s a Cornish one in Waitrose that is both vegetarian and delicious
2 free-range eggs
100ml double cream
100ml crème fraîche
salt and black pepper

  1. Roll out the puff pastry into a circle that will line the bottom and sides of a 28cm, loose-bottomed tart tin, plus a little extra to hang over the edges of the tin. Line the tin with the pastry. Place a large circle of crumpled greaseproof paper on the bottom and fill up with baking beans. Leave the tin to rest in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Place the tart case in the oven and bake blind for 20 minutes. Remove the beans and paper, then bake for a further 5-10 minutes, or until the pastry is golden. Set aside. Leave the oven on.
  3. While the tart case is baking, put the garlic cloves in a small saucepan and cover them with plenty of water. Bring to a simmer and blanch the cloves for 3 minutes, then drain well.
  4. Dry the saucepan, return the garlic cloves to it and add the olive oil. Fry the garlic on a high heat for 2 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and water and bring to the boil, then simmer gently for 10 minutes.
  5. Add the sugar, rosemary, chopped thyme and ¼ teaspoon salt to the garlic in the pan. Continue simmering over a medium heat for 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the garlic cloves are coated in a dark caramel syrup. Set aside.
  6. To assemble the tart, crumble both types of goat’s cheese into pieces and scatter them over the bottom of the pastry case. Spoon the garlic cloves and their syrup evenly over the cheese – the deliciously caramelised garlic will try to stick together in clumps.
  7. In a jug, whisk together the eggs, creams, ½ teaspoon salt and some black pepper. Pour this mixture over the tart filling to fill the gaps, making sure that you can still see the garlic and cheese peeping through.
  8. Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C/Gas Mark 3 and put the tart in the oven. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the tart filling has set and the top is golden brown. In my oven, this took almost an hour in total. If the tart’s golden and cooked on top but still wobbly, remove it from the oven and don’t worry – it will set as it cools. Leave the tart to cool a little.
  9. When you’re ready to serve, remove the tart from its tin, trimming and tidying the pastry edge if needed, lay a few sprigs of thyme on top and serve warm (but not burning hot) with a crisp salad.

In a change from my usual, knee-jerk reaction to a birthday – bake a cake! – I decided to make something slightly different for my uncle’s 40th birthday last week. Well, not that different. It still involved baking. But I didn’t think I could come anywhere near the standard of the cakes made by the birthday boy’s partner, so I went for a chocolate and raspberry tart from Michel Roux’s Pastry (another one of my birthday presents).

I’m not one to shy away from making pastry anyway, but Michel’s pâte sucrée was the easiest I’ve ever made, in spite of the lack of an available slab of marble to make the dough on; his methods are clearly illustrated and straightforward. Hurray! The only blips were in my own amatueurish handling of the dough, probably rolling it too thickly and trimming the case a bit too short, with hindsight, and not supporting the sides adequately with baking beans (aduki beans don’t really do the job, I’ve discovered). The result was that the sides of the baked case had collapsed somewhat, as you can probably tell in the photos below; I like to think that it made it look more ‘homemade’, rather than just a bit ramshackle, but many more tarts will need to be made in an effort to improve on this front.

The difficult bit done, I finished the tart by filling the cooled pastry case with halved raspberries and chopped mint, then making a ganache with dark chocolate, cream, glucose syrup and butter, to cover the fruit. With a few more raspberries arranged on top, the tart was ready for chilling and dragging over to the other side of London. I hear it went down well, in spite of a hangover’s ability to confuse the palate, rendering it impossible to distinguish between mint and basil…

Prettier than I remembered it!*

Prettier than I remembered it!*

 

Wonky pastry.*

Wonky pastry.*

 

 

*Photographs courtesy of Ian Johnstone – thanks!