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.

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.


The transformation of paprika into this vital element of Hungarian cuisine is a curious and fascinating story. Like the meeting of two people who seemed fated to fall in love, the marriage of paprika and Hungarian cooking was almost predestined. (George Lang The Cuisine of Hungary, 1985)

A bottle of Hungarian wine made me promise to make goulash. A Gallup Poll of 1969 listed goulash as one of the five most popular meat dishes in America. Now desperately unfashionable, it is hardly ever found in cookery books or on menus. I plan a revival.

The word goulash comes from the Hungarian guylás herdsman, hús meat. It isn’t in the first edition of the OED but is in the Supplement. The first example of its use is dated 1866 and appears in a letter written by the Crown Princess of Prussia, ‘I have all their favourite dishes cooked for them – goulash for the Hungarians, and polenta and macaroni for the Italians’.

So off to find a good goulash recipe but Ahhh! I have a copy of George Lang’s The Cuisine of Hungary. In his book, a whole chapter is devoted to traditional stews. Goulash (or gluyás as Lang never translates from his native Hungarian) was known
in the 9th century. Meat was cooked, dried and stored in bags made from sheeps’ stomachs. It was reheated with water for use.

The essential spice was caraway. Paprika was added later. Soured cream is frowned upon and using wine Lang declares to be ‘Frenchifying’ a great Hungarian dish. Of course, there are lots of regional variations so that is a good excuse to use what you want. Lard is the fat of choice but smoked bacon or lardons can be substituted.

Paprika, a capsicum, brought from the Americas by Christopher Columbus, was first cultivated in any quantity in Spain and Turkey. From Turkey it moved to Hungary probably via Bulgaria. Hungarian paprika is considered the best. There are various varieties which will be chosen according to the dish. Paprika bought in supermarkets unhelpfully says ‘product of more than one country’. Smoked paprika should never be used.

Finally, George Lang answers an important question. Is goulash a soup or a stew? The answer is that it can be both. More stock makes it a soup and less a stew.

George Lang’s Kettle Gulyás

2 medium onions
250g smoked lardons (or 3 tbsp lard)
1.2 kg stewing steak
2 clove garlic
2 tbsp paprika (George Lang lists ‘Noble Rose’ paprika)
2 green peppers
1½ tsp caraway seeds
400g potatoes
2 ripe tomatoes

Peel the onions and chop them coarsely. Fry in a large casserole dish over a gentle heat with the lardons or lard. Cook until the onions are soft but not coloured.
Add the beef. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so that all the beef is browned.

Using the blade of a knife, crush the garlic and caraway seeds with a little salt. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the garlic mixture and paprika and stir around using a wooden spoon. As soon as the paprika is absorbed add cold water to the casserole – how much depends on how liquid you want the final dish to be.
Put a lid on the casserole and return it to the heat. Let it cook gently for an hour.

Skin the tomatoes and cut into chunks, Core the green peppers and slice into rings. Peel the potatoes and cut into 2cm dice.

Add the tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and more water, if necessary, to the goulash and leave to cook for a further 1 – 2 hours or until the meat is tender and the potatoes soft. Check for seasoning.

Little dumplings
1 egg
3 tbsp plain flour
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vegetable oil

Mix all the ingredients together and spoon ¼ teaspoon portions onto the top of the steaming goulash. Cook for 2-3 minutes.

Serve the goulash piping hot in deep bowls.

Illustration of a Hungarian Toasting Scene

Butter bean mash

Rain drove me in from the allotment and I decided to clean the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard. Found a packet of butter beans close to their use by date and remembered a butter bean mash – or perhaps it was called purée – being praised on the recent series of Masterchef.

Soak the beans over night and then let them cook in water until soft. Salt only in the last minutes of cooking. Drain (but hold back a little of the liquid). Using a blender, make into a mash adding enough of the reserved stock, olive oil and lemon juice to give the right consistency and taste.

I served it with sausages and buttered carrots flavoured with cumin and coriander leaves. Simply delicious!

Coriander leaf illustration by Carrie Hill for the book The Allotment Kitchen by Susan Williamson

Nettle soup

Troika Steppes, our thoroughbred horse, has come back to Burcott for his summer holidays and will have a rest from racing until he returns to Fergal O’Brien’s yard late in the summer. Everyone and every horse was delighted to see him. Petroc, his half brother, was especially intrigued to find out who was in the next-door stable. Last year I had promised Liam, whose mother Hayley works in the yard, that I would make him nettle soup and Troika’s return seemed the right occasion to celebrate by fulfilling my promise.

Nettle Soup recipe from The Allotment Garden by Susan Williamson and Carrie Hill

Rhubarb Frangipane Tart

We are now in full rhubarb season . I’m very pleased with this recipe in which the rhubarb is lightly stewed before being placed in the tart. By using the excess juice in the glaze, all the flavour is kept and the tart has a good texture..

Rhubarb Frangipane Tart

Make rich shortcrust pastry using 175g plain flour, 100g butter, yolk of 1 egg, a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of icing sugar Chill in the fridge before use

400g rhubarb, cut into 2cm chunks
2 tbsp granulated sugar
100g ground almonds
100g caster sugar
100g butter, softened
1 large egg
1 tbsp double cream
Zest and juice of ½ orange
Dash of Campari (optional)
2 tbsp apricot jam

Illustration of Rhubarb by Carrie Hill for The Allotment Kitchen by Susan Williamson

Carefully roll out the pastry and line a greased pastry dish (or four individual dishes).This pastry is very short but any tears can be repaired by stretching the pastry towards the breaks and pinching the sides together. Trim the edges of the pastry and bake blind in an oven at 180°C for about 15 minutes,so that the pastry is a little cooked but not coloured.

Stew the rhubarb in a saucepan over a gentle heat with the granulated sugar (do not add water)) for about eight minutes or until juice is released but the rhubarb pieces still retain their shape.

Illustration of Rhubarb chunks by Carrie Hill for The Allotment Kitchen by Susan Williamson

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and caster sugar, Add the egg, beaten, and fold in the flour, almonds, cream, orange zest and juice, and Campari, if using.

Spread the almond mixture over the pastry base and, keeping back all the liquid, place the rhubarb pieces tightly on top. Bake at 180°C for 45 minutes or until the filling is coloured and cooked in the centre. If the pastry edges of the tart become too brown, strips of aluminium foil can be fashioned to fit over them.

While the tart is cooking, strain the reserved rhubarb juice.and heat it in a pan with the apricot jam, Stir until the jam is melted. Brush this over the tart when it is taken from the oven..

Serve warm with crème fraîche
Other tarts using juicy fruit could be made in the same way. Cherries or plums could be used in place of the rhubarb substituting lemon for orange and replacing the Campari with kirsch (for cherries) or brandy (for plums).

Scallops with Chorizo

The Hebridean Smokehouse (www.hebrideansmokehouse.com) supplied us so well with delicacies for Christmas that we had a repeat order for Easter. Their smoked scallops are delicious!

Scallops are all the rage at the moment, for us anyway, My daughter has just bought a farmhouse at Orient, on the north tail of Long Island, that lists a scallop hut among its features. Talking to American neighbours on the bus home from town produced this excellent recipe.They acknowledged Nigella Lawson.. I already know her similar recipe for lightly floured scallops with bacon and sherry which she judges to have ‘the right balance between nursery comfort and dining-room elegance’.
Scallops with Chorizo:
125g chorizo thinly sliced
500g scallops
Juice of ½ lemon
Finely chopped parsley
In a hot frying pan,dry fry the chorizo slices for about two minutes until crisp on both sides. Using a slotted slice, remove them  from the pan but retain the fat. Fry the scallops in this fat for about a minute on each side. Pour over the lemon juice, return the chorizo to the pan to warm.
Serve immediately on a plate with the chopped parsley scattered over.

Banana Bread

A busy weekend. We have Li-Yun staying with us for her last break before’ A’ levels begin. Lots to play for as she has offers from both Warwick and Durham to study physics. On Sunday I visited my aunt in Henley. She is 101 and very frail but the carers are brilliant. Hopefully she can enjoy the lemon cake I baked for her.

Li-Yun has moved from being vegetarian to vegan and I learnt fast that this is a whole new ball game. Mostly it’s butter that I have to be aware of not using. Her only concession is to occasionally eat the eggs that we get from Julie, our ‘Egg Lady’ in Pennybatch . And so, with this compromise, we were able to make banana bread for an impromptu tea.
I used what was to hand and looked through Anna Jones’s ‘A Modern Way to Eat’. My banana bread owes homage to hers.
Delicious banana bread that is moist and yummy by The Allotment Kitchen and Susan Williamson
To make one small loaf:
125g plain flour
100g ground almonds
125g light brown caster sugar
50g poppy seeds
A pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 eggs
2 tbsp natural yoghurt (or plain soya yoghurt)
Zest and juice of i lemon
2 bananas
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp treacle (I used Madeiran treacle but honey or maple could be substituted)
1 tbsp tahini paste
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp icing sugar
Mix all the dry ingredients in a large basin. Blend all the liquid ingredients and then add the bananas and blend briefly,  keeping the bananas in small chunks.
Gradually add the liquid ingredients to the dry and mix lightly to combine. Spoon into a greased and lined loaf tin and bake at 180°C for about 35 minutes or until the bread is firm to the touch.
To make the icing combine the tahini paste with the icing sugar and enough lemon juice to the consistency of icing you require.

Cacio e Pepe

Pasta has been much in the news. Good on Mary Berry if she adds white wine and cream to her ragu. I bet it tastes good. Giles Coren found ‘depth and poetry’ in a typically Roman dish of spaghetti with cheeses and black pepper, Cacio e Pepe, that he ate in Stevie Parle’s new London restaurant, Palatino.

Stevie Parle, who knows a thing or two about spices, shared his recipe with readers of The Times.As always in Italian cooking, the quality and generosity of the ingredients is crucial. As he writes, ‘think of the pepper as a spice’ – which it is.

Simple as this dish sounds, the devil is in the execution. The sauce needs to be a thick and glossy emulsion to perfectly coat the spaghetti which should retain the ‘necessary bite’.

80g dried spaghetti per serving

Cook the spaghetti in a large pan of well salted water. When the pasta is half cooked,remove 100ml of the water and put it in a separate large pan with a generous pinch per serving of good quality ground pepper (Stevie Parle recommends Tellicherry). Boil to reduce by a quarter.

Then add 35g of finely grated Pecorino Romano and 25g Parmesan per portion and boil for no more than 20 seconds.Quickly strain the spaghetti while still a minute or two away from being al dente and add to the cheese and pepper sauce.

Continue to cook the spaghetti, stirring it around in the sauce using a rubber spatula. The sauce should become glossy and coat the pasta. If things start to go wrong, Stevie Parle’s tip is to add a little butter (for gloss) or a little of the pasta water (if the sauce is becoming stodgy).

Serve on hot plates with a little more ground pepper on top.

Lemon Tart

There must be something in the air, Suddenly lemon tarts and puddings are the rage. Two delicious sounding recipes by Rachel Roddy were published in Saturday’s Guardian but I had already decided which lemon tart to make for Sunday’s dinner. Really there could be no competition when Jane Grigson writes in her Fruit Book, ‘this is the best lemon tart I know’. I made my own version of a sweet crust pastry as I know it works for me. I also used the liquid from simmering the lemon slices in place of water to give the syrup an intensive flavour.

One and a half lemon and juicer painting by Carrie Hill for The Allotment Kitchen book by author Susan WilliamsonPASTRY
200g plain four
100g very cold butter
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 egg yolk
Pinch of salt

Put all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and lightly mix together to form a breadcrumb consistency. Beat the egg yolk in a small bowl with a teaspoon or two of water and mix into the pastry to form a dough. Wrap in clingfilm and store in the fridge for an hour or so.
Half lemon painting by Carrie Hill for The Allotment Kitchen book by author Susan WilliamsonFILLING
2 large eggs
100g caster sugar
150g ground almonds
100ml whipping cream
Grated zest of four unwaxed lemons
Juice of two lemons

Beat together all the ingredients.

Roll the pastry out  thinly to line a 20-22cm tart tin. Pour the filling into the pastry, tidy the edges of the tart,and bake in a medium oven for about 25 minutes until ‘nicely cooked and browned’.
Whole lemon painting by Carrie Hill for The Allotment Kitchen book by author Susan Williamson
2 unwaxed lemons
Juice of the two lemons not used for the filling
200g granulated sugar

Slice the whole lemons very thinly (discarding any pips). Put in a pan, cover with water and the juice from the two remaining zested lemons. Simmer gently for about 15 minutes until the peel is soft. Strain the lemon slices, preserving the liquid.

To make the syrup, in a shallow pan dissolve the granulated sugar in 100ml of the strained lemon liquid. When it is clear, bring it to boiling point and then let it simmer gently for two to three minutes. Add the lemon slices and cook for another 15 minutes until the slices are candied.

Arrange the slices over the tart. Check the consistency of the syrup. It may already be thick enough to brush over the top of the tart. If not, boil it down a little further before using.

This tart is delicious hot or cold, with or without cream.