We’ve become a bit of a laughing stock among our friends for our soup obsession – they’re just so comforting, easy and good for you! They are also one of the most flexible meals out there, they can be light or hearty, winter-y or summer-y and can incorporate nearly any ingredients you have lying around. This one was partly inspired by the flavours in one of our favourite pasta dishes and partly by the fact that we bought 10 sausages when they were on offer and then divided them up and froze them, it’s been a sausage fest here lately *snigger*.
Ingredients for 2 people:
1 tsp olive oil
1 small white onion, finely diced
1-2 sticks of celery, finely diced
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
(optional: a pinch of dried chilli flakes)
1 tin of butter beans
1 tin/carton of chopped tomatoes
1 beef stock cube made up with about 200ml hot water
Start by taking the skins off the sausages, squidging all of the meat up and then rolling into small balls. Pop them in the fridge for later.
Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the onion and celery together for about 5 minutes. Add in the fennel seeds (and chilli flakes if you’re using) and cook for a further minute until they smell beautifully aromatic.
Tip in the butter beans, the tomatoes and the beef stock, topping up with a little more water if necessary. Bring to the boil and cook for around 10 minutes, then drop in the sausage meat balls. Don’t stir for the first 5 minutes while the meat cooks or you’ll break them up. Cook for about 15 minutes then season to taste and serve. It’s extra good with some crusty homemade sourdough!
Roast chicken is a classic, and one that can’t easily be improved upon but we’ve found a way which means you still get a classic roast but with a bit of a twist, and the moistest chicken ever! This could make a lovely alternative Christmas dinner for a smaller family or a special dinner any weekend. The chicken sits on a bed of sliced fennel, onions and celery covered in white wine which you can then turn into a delicious sauce at the end. We used a small-medium chicken here so obviously adjust the cooking times if you’re using a bigger one – this recipe is forgiving, you can cook it for a little longer than you should and still have lovely chicken, with no hint of dryness. We served ours like a traditional roast dinner but this would work really well with mashed potato and vegetables or in the summer with bread and salad.
1 free-range chicken
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried thyme
1 bulb of fennel, chopped into 1cm strips
1 large onion, chopped into 1cm strips
2-3 sticks of celery, chopped roughly
1 large glass of white wine (about 200ml)
Salt and pepper to season
Heat a large oven-proof casserole dish over a medium heat. Preheat the oven to 180C. Pour the oil into the casserole dish and when it’s hot add in the thyme. Then pop the chicken in, breast side down to start colouring the skin to encourage it to go nice and golden in the oven. You’ll have to tilt the chicken and move it around, we found that using your hands is the easiest way to do this, just watch out for hot oil! After about 5 minutes the skin on the breast should be lightly golden so take the chicken out and pop it back on it’s plastic tray while you put the vegetables in. Put all of the vegetables into the pot and stir over the heat for a few minutes until they start to cook, but you don’t want them to colour. Pour over the wine after this time and then put the chicken back on top, breast-side up this time. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and rub with a little extra olive oil if needed.
Put the dish in the oven, leave the lid off for around half an hour to help the skin crisp up, then put the lid on and leave for 1 hour. Check the fluid levels occasionally and top up with a bit of water if necessary, there should be around 2-3 inches of fluid in the bottom at all times. After the hour take the lid off and leave to brown for another 10-15 minutes and then take out of the oven.
Put your chicken to rest on a board, loosely covered with foil, and then you can make a gravy out of the wine/stock if you wish, or you can just serve it as it is. It would be perfect left as it is for a light summer lunch with bread and salad… you could pop the sauce into a bowl for people to dip their bread into! We decided to thicken ours slightly as we were serving it in more of a traditional roast dinner style. To do this simply place about 1 tsp of butter in a small sauce pan, add 2 tsp of plain flour and a little of the stock, stir to make a paste. Then keep adding the stock slowly, making sure it’s completely incorporated before adding the next spoonful. Cook this for around 10 minutes to make sure the raw flour taste is completely gone. You can make it to whatever thickness you fancy, we wanted quite a thick sauce this time so didn’t add too much of the stock and then let it reduce well.
And that’s it! Carve the chicken and serve with whatever you fancy. Here we have roasted potatoes, parsnips and carrots and some leeks and cabbage which were braised together in a little water and butter and of course some of the deliciously soft fennel, onions and celery. Even though this chicken was only supposed to feed 2-4 there was so much meat left on it, we boiled up the carcass to make soup which made at least 5-6 portions – you can’t get much better value than a chicken!
Sticking firmly to our autumnal theme here, we picked up 4 mini squash at the absolutely brilliant farmers market held at St Nick’s on a Wednesday. We’re not 100% that we have the varieties right but we think we have an onion squash (the orange/red one), a harlequin (the green and yellow patterned one), a mini tiger striped pumpkin (the striped pale yellow one) and a gem (the very dark green smooth one). We bought them not having a plan for what to do, we knew we wanted to keep it fairly simple so that the lovely qualities of each squash came through, and we veered away from soup because they’re so small it would have been very fiddly! The stuffing for this is inspired by a Jamie Oliver pasta recipe called “Pregnant Jools’ Pasta” which uses sausages to create a fast ragu to go with spaghetti. We love this dish, especially the combination of sausagemeat with aromatic fennel. This makes far too much stuffing mixture (about double) but it will freeze brilliantly and you can use it to whip up some quick stuffed vegetables another time.
We stuffed the two flat squash and cut the rounder ones into wedges, roasted them and had them along with nutmeg-spiced cabbage as a side. This is an extremely comforting, autumnal dish and because of the size of the squash it could easily be made after work too.
4 mini squash of any variety
50ml chicken stock
A small handful of sultanas
For the stuffing
2 pork sausages (we used Cumberland to remind Fats of home)
About 100g rice, cooked and cooled (we didn’t measure so this might be a bit out!)
1 tsp olive oil
1 stick of celery
1 shallot/small onion
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp tomato puree
Pepper to season
Carefully take the lids off the two flatter squash and scoop out the seeds. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Put a knob of butter inside each of the flat squash, put the lids back on and place in a roasting dish in the oven for 20 minutes to soften. Meanwhile slice the other squash into wedges and drizzle with olive oil and a little salt and pepper.
After the flat squash have had about 15 minutes add the wedges to the roasting dish. Roughly chop the carrot, celery and onion, peel the garlic and
add all of these to a food processor/mini blender and pulse to finely chop. Add the fennel seeds and pulse a couple of times more to combine. Heat the oil in a frying pan over a low heat and add the chopped vegetables. Fry these for about 5 minutes until softened. Squeeze two sausages out of their skins straight into the pan, then use tongs/a wooden spatula to break them up – this will become easier as they cook, you want them to break up so they resemble minced meat. Once all of the meat is browned and mixed with the vegetables add the balsamic vinegar, the tomato puree and a splash of water to create a rough sauce. Mix in the rice and turn off the heat.
By this time the squash should have had 20-30 minutes and be starting to soften. Carefully stuff them with the stuffing (they’re hot!) and turn the wedges of squash so they colour evenly. Return to the oven for another 20-30 minutes. When they’ve got about 5 minutes to go heat 1 tsp of butter in a large pan/wok and grate in about a quarter of a nutmeg with a fine grater. Add 50 ml of chicken stock and allow them to bubble together for a few seconds and then throw in the sliced cabbage. Toss to coat in the butter/stock mixture, add the sultanas and then cook for 5 minutes over a medium heat stirring occasionally.
Dish everything up and tuck in, snuggled up in a cosy jumper!
On a completely unrelated note, as we’re writing this we heard about the sad passing away of Lou Reed. He was one of our absolute favourite musicians, singing and dancing along to Transformer is one of Bird’s earliest memories. He had a pretty good innings and produced some incredible music both with The Velvet Underground and solo for decades and BBC 6 Music’s thoughtful honouring of him could not be more inspiring to write to.