Whole Cauliflower with Muhammara

This week (January 2018) there has been outrage that M & S should be charging £2.50 for a slice of cauliflower ‘to roast’ plus a few extras. Buy a whole cauliflower and have fun! I have just found a brilliant recipe from the pile of cuttings which I am ruthlessly editing. Thomasina Miers is always good with spicy dishes and her Whole Cauliflower with Muhammara is no exception.

‘Muhammara?’, you ask. Apparently it’s a dip with its origins in Aleppo. The chillies used are ‘Aleppo chillies’. I bought mine on line from Amazon and they are a revelation; mild but tasty. Use them in place of paprika with chicken.

The muhammara can be made in advance as it will keep in a closed jar in the fridge for up to three days.

1 cauliflower
½ tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp thyme leaves
20g butter, softened
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the muhammara:
3 red peppers
100g walnuts
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin seeds, coarsely ground and toasted
½ tsp chilli flakes, preferably Aleppo chillies
100ml olive oil
2 tsp pomegranate molasses
30ml red wine vinegar

First, skin the peppers by piercing them a few times with a sharp knife and placing them on a baking tray. Roast in a hot oven (230°C) for about 30 minutes, turning them occasionally, until the peppers are blackened and soft on both sides. Put into a bowl and cover with cling film.

Mix the smoked paprika, thyme and butter. Season generously. Cut the base off the cauliflower so that it will stand and take off all but the smallest outside leaves. Rub all over with the paprika mixture.

Place the cauliflower snuggly into a casserole dish. Add half a mug of water down the inside of the dish, cover the pot and roast the cauliflower in the oven (200°C) for 30 minutes. Take off the lid and continue cooking for about 15 minutes or until the cauliflower is soft when pricked with a knife.

While the cauliflower is roasting, prepare the muhammara. Remove the skin, seeds and stalks from the peppers. In a blender, blitz the walnuts, garlic, salt, chilli and cumin to coarse crumbs. Add the peppers and blitz briefly.

Combine the oil, pomegranate molasses and vinegar. Add these to the mix in the blender and blitz for a second.

Cut the cauliflower into quarters and serve hot with the muhammara in a bowl on the side.

I like to serve this with fried halloumi or grilled lamb chops generously sprinkled with sumac or more Aleppo chillies.

Shepherd’s Pie

It was a great surprise to receive an email from a German student who had stayed with us over six years ago. Viola is now a highly qualified engineer on a global scale. We hope to see her in Bath if she has any free time on a visit to England.

She remembered my Shepherd’s Pie and so here is the recipe. Perfect comfort food!

Jocasta Innes has a touching tribute to Shepherd’s Pie in the revised edition of The Pauper’s Cookbook (the best student cookbook ever and a classic from the 1960s). She had been amazed to realise that no recipe for Shepherd’s Pie had been included in the first edition. She writes, ‘Perhaps I thought it too familiar to be worth including’. Never!

Shepherd’s Pie can be made with freshly minced lamb or minced lamb left over from Sunday lunch. .

600g lean lamb, minced
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and grated
100ml lamb stock (or red wine)
Generous shakes of Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp tomato purée
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
600g floury potatoes
50g butter
Full milk

Pour the oil into a large casserole dish and, when hot, fry the chopped onion until soft. Add the minced lamb and cook until it is browned. With a wooden spatula, move it around the pot to prevent big lumps forming. Add the stock (or red wine), grated carrot, bay leaf, tomato purée and some good shakes of Worcestershire sauce. Season. When bubbling, put the lid on the casserole and let it simmer gently for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and cook them in salted water .Drain thoroughly and return them to the pot. Add most of the butter and enough milk to mash them into soft, but not soggy, mashed potato.

Remove the bay leaf before putting the lamb mixture into a baking dish. Cover it with the mashed potato and, using a fork, fluff it up a little and mark it with fork tracks. Finally, dot over the remaining bits of butter.

Cook in a medium hot oven for about 30 minutes or until the top is browned and bubbling.

Guten Appetit Viola!

Bolognese sauce

Sorting out bits of paper to send to my accountant before the end of January, I am finding much more tempting reminders of events during the last tax year.

The Times from March 2017 carries the headline, The Great Bolognese Battle which all started with Mary Berry admitting she added cream and white wine to her ragu. No great crime, especially as both Elizabeth David and Antonio Carluccio use white wine and Anna del Conte specifies full-fat milk in her recipe. To use garlic would be a far worse transgression.

The consensus is that Anna del Conte’s recipe for ragu is the best. It is the one that Nigella Lawson loves. I’m pleased that my version, which I have been cooking for over 30 years, is much the same. I use exactly the same ingredients with the exception of pork.Also, I prefer to use smoked, not unsmoked, lardons.

Tomato sauce is so versatile as a cooking ingredient | TheAllotmentKitchen.com

50g unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil
100g smoked lardons
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1 celery stick, finely chopped
350g good quality minced beef
75 ml red wine or Marsala
2 tbsp tomato purée, diluted in a little chicken stock
A grated nutmeg
70-80 ml full-fat milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the butter and olive oil in a large casserole and gently fry the onions. When soft, add the lardons and cook until they colour. Add the carrot and celery and let them cook gently for about five minutes until they are soft. Add the beef and let it cook until it is coloured. Use a wooden spatula to break up any lumps.

Pour in the wine and cook briskly for a few minutes. then add the tomato purée, diluted in a little stock (or water), the grated nutmeg, season with salt and pepper. Cook for about five minutes and then add the milk which should come level with the meat. Let the sauce bubble before turning down the heat very low and letting the sauce cook, uncovered, for two hours. Alternatively, cover the casserole and let the sauce cook in a low oven until thick and dark.

Use as the basis for lasagne or serve with penne or tagliatelle.

Spicy Fish and Tomato Pie

New Year’s Eve supper with our friends Penny and Peter had to be cancelled. Instead we had an Epiphany Lunch. Cooking for lunch is always much more relaxed and this was no exception.

750g tomatoes, preferably plum tomatoes,skinned and chopped
Olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1½ tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp kaloonji seeds (optional)
½ tsp chilli flakes
Small bunch dill, finely chopped
500g cod or halibut
300g salmon
225g frozen king prawns, shelled
6=7 sheets filo pastry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fish illustration for The Allotment Kitchen by Susan Williamson and Carrie Hill

Kaloonji are Indian onion seeds. I like to use them in spicy tomato dishes. They can be bought on line from Red Rickshaw (www.redrickshaw.com). Don’t worry if they are not to hand for this recipe.

To make the sauce, using a large frying pan with a lid, fry the onion in a little oil until soft. Coarsely crush the fennel and kaloonji seeds (if using) and chilli flakes. Add these to the pan and fry for a minute or two until the seeds have browned and aroma is released. Add the skinned tomatoes, season well and cook for about 20 minutes with the lid on, stirring from time to time, until the tomatoes are soft and the sauce is thick. Put to one side and leave to cool.

Fry the prawns in a little oil until all have turned pink. Strain and leave to cool.

Skin the fish and check for bones. Cut into 2cm chunks.

Oil a deep pie dish and line it with three or four sheets of filo pastry, laid at angles to each other and brushed with olive oil. Mix the tomato sauce with the fish and prawns and add the chopped dill. Put the filling into the centre of the dish. Turn the ends of the filo sheets in over the pie, brushing each with olive oil. Lay three sheets of filo pastry on top, again alternating the direction at which they are placed and brushing each with oil. Tuck any extra bits of pastry down the sides of the pie. Give the top a final brush with oil.

Cook at 200°C for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and make deep cuts in the pie to mark four or six slices. Lower the heat of the oven to 180°C and return the pie to cook for about 40 minutes or until it is well browned on top.

Serve hot with a green salad which includes rocket and fennel.

Bergen Fish Soup (Bergensk Fiskesuppe)

An exciting Christmas for us this year, spending two days in Bergen and then heading north on a Hurtigruten cruise to Tromsø. Bergen is famous for its rain which didn’t disappoint. The weather was mild until we crossed the Arctic Circle. Then it was cold and Northern Lights appeared dancing around in the night sky. In Tromsø, which we had last visited three years ago, we felt very much at home.

Bergen Fish Soup (Bergensk Fiskesuppe) was on every menu. Alan Davidson rightly calls it, ‘one of the best soups in the world’. It can be thicker or thinner and the fish can vary but always the fish is the freshest.

I base my version on the recipe in Signe Johansen’s book, Scandilicious. The mussels (or clams could be used), brandy and white wine are luxuries that you may wish to omit for a midweek meal.

Prawn with shell on illustration for The Allotment Kitchen by Susan Williamson illustrated by Carrie Hill

100g cooked shell on prawns
1½ litres fish stock
1 bay leaf
Handful parsley
12 whole black peppercorns
2 carrots, finely diced or grated
2 celery stalks, finely diced
1-2 leeks halved and finely sliced
100ml dry white wine
50ml brandy
300ml double creeam
100g salmon fillets cut into small pieces
170g white fish (cod, haddock or pollock), skin removed and cut into small cubes
100g mussels
Salt and freshly grated black pepper

Shell the prawns. Keep the shelled prawns in the fridge. Put the shells in a saucepan with a lid together with half of the fish stock, bay leaf, peppercorns and most of the parsley. Cover and let simmer for 15 minutes or so.

Place the rest of the fish stock in a large saucepan, again with a lid, and add the carrots, celery and leeks. If using grated carrots, these can be added later as they will not take long to cook. Cover and let simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the vegetables are just cooked.

Strain the fish stock with prawn shells and add some of the stock to the pan with the stock and vegetables but hold back a little to be able to judge the thickness of the soup. Any extra stock can be frozen and kept for later use.

Add the brandy, white wine and cream. Return the pan to a simmering heat and add the salmon, white fish and mussels. Cook for a further 3-4 minutes. Lastly add the prawns and let them cook for a minute.

Season, Check the consistency of the soup, adding more stock if necessary. Discard any mussels that haven’t opened. Serve hot with finely chopped parsley and chives scattered on top.

This soup goes well with crispbread or dark rustic bread or toast.


We haven’t had waffles for some time but they are the perfect pudding for a cold evening when family visit. Everyone was relaxed and snug around the table in the kitchen.

Our waffles were served with a choice of Shropshire prune purée, apple purée, maple syrup or ice cream.

I find making waffles a good way to entertain and engage small children. This is a very good recipe, taken from Signe Johansen’s excellent book, Scandilicious.

230g plain flour
¼ tsp baking powder
70g caster sugar
Pinch of salt
70g melted butter

Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, and then stir in the rest.
Stir it together until it becomes a sticky batter, reluctant to drop from a spoon. Set the batter aside for at least half an hour for the flour to swell. Butter the waffle iron and let it heat up until the butter bubbles and then pour a ladle of the waffle mixture over the sections of the iron. Close the lid and let cook until the waffles are brown and crispy on the outside. Sprinkle over sugar and serve hot.

Waffles Shropshire prune apple purée maple syrup ice cream Allotment Kitchen Susan Williamson illustrator Carrie Hill

Mr Guiness’s Cake

A newspaper cutting, ‘How to make Mr. Guinness’s cake’ was the first entry in what had once been my recipe scrap book with a wonderful jungle scene on the cover. Now just a loose page, the cutting has to be 40 years old. The recipe still holds good and the cake gets made at least twice a year; for St Patrick’s Day and as a pre-Christmas cake. Times change and I have had to convert this recipe to use metric measurements.

Old Guiness Cake Recipe

250g butter
250g soft brown sugar
4 eggs (lightly beaten)
320g plain flour
2 level tsp mixed spice
250g seedless raisins
250g sultanas
125g mixed peel
125g walnuts, roughly chopped
8-12 tbsp Guinness

With a wooden spoon, cream the butter and sugar together until light and creamy. Gradually beat in the eggs together with the flour and mixed spice.

Add the raisins, sultanas, mixed peel and walnuts. Mix well toether.

Stir four tablespoons of Guinness into the mixture and mix to a soft dropping consistency.

Turn into a prepared 18 cm round cake tin and bake in a moderate oven (175° C) for the first hour, then turn down the oven a little and cook for a further 1½ hours or until the cake is lightly browned and firm to the touch. Alternatively cook the cake in a cake baker for 2-3 hours.

When cooked, leave the cake in its tin to cool. Then remove from the tin, prick the base of the cake with a skewer and gently spoon over 4-8 tablespoons of Guinness.

Wrap the cake in foil and store in a cool place for a week before eating.

Red Cabbage and Pears

Getting ready for a week of Christmas parties and celebrations. The main feast is for the family next weekend. Red cabbage is on the menu and I’m always glad to make this robust dish. It’s big, bold and generous. It is also better made a day in advance which is a great bonus when there is so much cooking to be done.

Red cabbage and pear illustration by Carrie Hill for The Allotment Kitchen by Susan Williamson

Based on the recipe in The Cuisine of Hungary by George Lang.

125g smoked lardons or finely chopped smoked bacon
1 large onion, chopped
1 firm red cabbage, core removed and finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 ripe pears peeled, cored and chopped
1 lemon, halved
1 glass red wine
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp honey

Honey pot and spoon illustration by Carrie Hill for The Allotment Kitchen by Susan Williamson

Brown the lardons (or bacon) in a heavy pot until golden.
Add the chopped onion and let the mixture cook gently until the
onion turns blond and gives off juice. Add the cabbage, garlic,
caraway seeds, and a little water. Cover, and cook until the
cabbage starts to soften.

Add the salt, pepper, and then the pears, lemon halves,
red wine and vinegar. Cook, covered, for 15 minutes and then add the honey.

From now on, cook on a very low heat, or in the oven at about
130°C. Check from time to time. If the cabbage is beginning to dry out, add a little more water. If the cabbage is ‘swimming’ take off the lid and let enough of the liquid steam away.

This dish can take an hour or more to cook. It is even better if
cooked the day before it is to be eaten and reheated carefully.
Remove the lemon halves before serving.

Indian Spinach with Dill

Dill transforms the taste of spinach. They can be cooked together melted in butter but better still when spices are added.

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 onion finely chopped
2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
1 green chilli
300g spinach
handful of dill, chopped

Row of six spinach leaves illustration by Carrie Hill for The Allotment Kitchen by Susan Williamson

To make the ginger garlic paste, peel a piece of ginger about 2 cm long and blitz in the blender with 4-5 skinned garlic cloves and a little water. Strain for use. Alternatively make a bigger batch and keep it stored in a designated ice tray in the deep freeze.

Pour the vegetable oil into a large heavy bottomed frying pan, add the cumin seeds and heat. When the cumin seeds turn brown, add the onion and fry for about five minutes until soft and a little coloured. Add the ginger-garlic paste, a green chilli finely chopped (but not deseeded) and stir around for a minute or two. Add the spinach and dill. Stir until melted. Season with salt.

Perfect with a simple chicken dish.

Bunch of spinach illustration by Carrie Hill for The Allotment Kitchen by Susan Williamson

Pumpkin Tart

Pumpkin Tart (Tourte de Citrouille) – a new take on pumpkin pie and a curious find in Elizabeth David’s French Country Cooking. I have no idea of its region of origin.

I first made this recipe years ago and will make it again today for Thanksgiving.

500g pumpkin, diced
60g sugar
1 teacup fresh cream
20 prunes
60g butter

Very rich short crust pastry

250g plain flour
175g very cold butter
1 egg yolk
Approx. 1 tbsp cold water
A pinch of salt

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and add the butter cut into
chunks. With your finger tips rub the butter into the flour. Add the egg yolk and enough water to make a dough. Knead lightly for a few minutes. Form into a ball and wrap in cling film to chill before use.

Prepare the pastry and leave in the fridge for at least an hour

Cook the pumpkin in the butter until reduced to a purée. Add the soaked and stoned prunes, the cream and sugar and keep aside.

Roll out the pastry and cut two rounds the size of the pie dish. Line the dish with one round,, put in the pumpkin mixture. Cover with the second round of pastry. Cook in a fairly hot oven, turning it down after 10 minutes.