A Hallowe'en supper for 4-6
With Hallowe'en just a few days away here's a sophisticated supper for those of you who don't have to go out trick or treating . . .
Hot Chilli Butternut Squash Soup
Butternut squash makes terrific soup with a super-smooth velvety texture and fabulously festive colour.
1 large butternut squash (about 1-1.2kg)
4 tbsp sunflower or light olive oil
1 large onion - or 2 medium ones - peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic
1 1/2 tsp each of coriander, cumin and paprika
A good pinch of saffron (about 20 filaments)
1 1/2 x 400g cans premium peeled plum tomatoes
850ml homemade vegetable stock or stock made with Marigold vegetable bouillon powder
About 1/2 tsp hot pepper sauce - or more to taste
3 fresh corn tortillas
250ml corn or sunflower oil
1 small carton sour cream
3 tbsp picked coriander leaves
Heat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas 5. Wipe the butternut squash with a damp cloth, cut in half lengthways and scoop out the seeds. Put 2 tbsp of the sunflower oil in a roasting tin, turn the squash in the oil then lay them in the tin cut side down. Bake for about 40 minutes until soft. Remove from the oven and set aside for 10-15 minutes until cool enough to handle.
Meanwhile soak the saffron in 2 tbsp of warm stock. Fry the onion gently for 10 minutes in the remaining oil until soft but not coloured. Add the crushed garlic, cumin, coriander and paprika and cook for a minute then add the plum tomatoes and their juices. Crush them with a wooden spoon and cook for about 5 minutes until you have a pulpy sauce.
Scoop the pulp out of the squash, place half of it in a blender or food processor along with any juices in the baking tin, and half the tomatoes, onions and soaked saffron and blitz until completely smooth. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Pour the soup back into a large saucepan and stir in the stock. Add hot sauce and salt to taste.
To serve cut the tortillas into fine strips. Heat 250ml of corn oil in a wok over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes and drop in the tortilla strips a few at a time. They should puff up and crisp in about 15 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen towel. To serve ladle the soup into bowls, drizzle over a swirl of sour cream, top with a few strips of crispy tortilla, and scatter over a few coriander leaves.
Wine suggestion: Big buttery chardonnays go well with butternut squash or you could try a viognier.
Beef, Fig and Chestnut casserole
I was inspired to make this by an article by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in the Guardian which suggested using chutney as a quick way to add flavour to a tagine. Coincidentally there was a jar of fig relish sitting on the counter of my local butchers which, together with a glut of red wine left over from a tasting, prompted me to make this deliciously festive recipe.
1 kg thickly sliced shin (leg) of beef, preferably organic
4 tbsp sunflower or light olive oil
2 medium onions, peeled and thickly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, scrubbed and cut into chunks
1 1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp smoked pimenton or paprika
1 tbsp tomato paste or 2 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp plain flour
250ml full-bodied red wine + extra to finish the dish
250ml beef stock made with 1/2 an organic beef stock cube
2 tbsp fig relish or conserve (I used Trucklements organic fig relish)
100g vacuum packed chestnuts
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cut the beef up into generously sized chunks, cutting away any excess fat (but not the connective tissue which will give the stew its flavour). Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a casserole or frying pan and brown the meat well on all sides (you might need to do this in two batches) Remove the meat from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the remaining oil to the pan and fry the onions over a low heat until beginning to soften (about 5-6 minutes). Add the garlic, cook for a minute more and then add the carrots, stir and fry for a couple more minutes. Sprinkle the vegetables with mixed spice and pimenton, stir and cook for a few seconds then stir in the tomato paste and the flour. Cook for a minute then add the red wine and stock. Bring to the boil, stirring until thickened then stir in the fig relish.
Return the meat and any juices to the pan, bring back to simmering point then cover the pan and turn the heat down to the lowest possible setting (or put in a low oven ( 150° C/300° F/Gas 2). Cook for 3 - 3 1/2 hours until the meat is completely tender. If the stew is cooking too quickly (the top should barely tremble) turn the heat down or remove the lid (You can also do this if you want to thicken the sauce). You can cool the stew at this point and reheat it later or refrigerate it and serve it the next day.
When you’re ready to serve the stew, add the chestnuts and about half a glass of red wine and heat through.
Check the seasoning adding salt and pepper to taste. It should be quite rich and sweet but if you find it too much so (it will depend on the fig conserve and the wine you use) add a few drops of red wine or balsamic vinegar and cook until the vinegar taste disappears. You could serve this with mash (or a mixture of mashed swede and carrot) or pureed parsnips and a dark leafy green vegetable such as spring cabbage or cavolo nero.
What to drink: an Australian shiraz is excellent with this dish but you could also try an Argentine Malbec.
Roast pumpkin and pecan pie
This recipe may look slightly daunting but I promise you it is worth the effort (and the satisfaction of being able to use the leftover pumpkin from your pumpkin lanterns). You can use a can of pumpkin puree and ready made sweet pastry or a precooked pastry shell to save time but it won’t taste quite as good. Obviously you could also serve this at a Thanksgiving dinner.
For the pastry
250g plain flour
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp icing sugar
110g chilled butter
25g Cookeen or other vegetable shortening
1 egg yolk (save the white)
Pinch of salt
For the pumpkin puree
500g pumpkin flesh
1 tbsp bourbon or dark rum
1 tbsp light muscovado sugar
1/4 tsp mixed spice
15g chilled butter
For the pie filling
The pumpkin puree as described above
100g light muscovado sugar
1 tbsp maple syrup or clear honey
1 1/2 level tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
A pinch of salt
1 tbsp bourbon or dark rum
3 medium-sized eggs
2 level tbsp plain flour
150ml double cream
For the topping
50g shelled pecans
1 tbsp light muscovado sugar
You will need a deep flan tin 23cm across and 3.5cm deep
First make the pastry. Sift the flour, ginger and icing sugar into a large bowl. Cut the butter into small cubes, cut the butter into the flour then rub lightly with your fingertips until the mixture is the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs. Mix the egg yolk with 2 tbsp ice cold water, add to the pastry mix, mix lightly and pull together into a ball, adding extra water if needed. Shape into a flat disc and refrigerate for at least half an hour. (You can also, of course make this in a food processor)
Next make the pumpkin pure. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Scrape away all the pumpkin seeds and fibres surrounding them and cut into even-sized chunks. Put the chunks on a piece of lightly oiled foil. Sprinkle over the bourbon, sugar and mixed spice and dot with the chilled butter. Bring the foil up round the sides and fold over carefully to form a loose but airtight package. Place on a baking dish and cook for 40 minutes until the pumpkin is soft. Carefully open up the foil, cool for a few minutes then tip the pumpkin and juices into a food processor or blender and whizz until smooth.
Roll out the pastry and lower into the tin. Trim the edges and press the base well into the tin. Prick lightly with a fork and chill for another half hour. Cover the pastry case with foil and weight down with baking beans or dried beans. Bake at 200°C/400°F/Gas 6 for about 12 minutes then remove the foil and beans, brush the base of the pastry with the reserved egg white to seal it and return to the oven for about 3-4 minutes. Remove the flan case and lower the oven temperature to 190°C/375°F/Gas 5 .
Add the sugar and maple syrup to the pumpkin puree, then the spices, salt and bourbon. Add the eggs one by one, beating them in well then sift in the flour and mix lightly. Finally add the cream and pour the filling into the flan case. Put the tin on a metal baking tray, transfer to the oven and bake for about 50 minutes until the filling is just set and firm, reducing the temperature to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 after about 25 minutes.
About 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time chop the pecans finely (by hand, not machine - you don’t want to reduce them to a powder). Put them in a pan with the sugar and warm gently till the sugar starts to melt. Sprinkle the caramelized nuts evenly over the surface of the tart and return to the oven for 5 minutes. Take the tart out of the oven and cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting it. Serve lukewarm with lightly whipped, sweetened cream
What to drink: Muscats and moscatels go particularly well with this dessert
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