Wednesday, 2 January 2013

January in the kitchen (part 1): sugar and spice and a butternut

For many home cooks, January represents a month of paring back after the excesses of December; of a return to comforting foods with simple flavours. The danger in this, for me at least, is that these leanings can result in a month of puddings and pies, of mountains of mash and seriously little innovation.

This year I've decided to sweep away the New Year gloom and warm up with spicy-ness in place of stodge. Lingering in the veg cupboard this week is a pre-Christmas, medium-sized butternut squash (keeping well), a small red onion, some carrots (going a bit slimy) and three or four small leeks (which have seen distinctly better days). As anyone with a veg box, an allotment, or some other means of acquiring large quantities of vegetables will know, you will always have enough of everything to make excessive quantities to eat/freeze or need to make at least two recipes simultaneously to use everything up. As the mother of an almost-two-year-old I can multitask with the best of them, so here's my butternut combo for the first week in January. (Allow me a moment to bask in the glow that comes from having created not one, but two original recipes in one afternoon!)

Butternut, thyme and goats cheese pasties/Spicy orange soup

You will need:
x1 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced
x4-6 cloves of garlic (to taste)
x1 small red onion, chopped finely
x3 small leeks, cut into £1-coin slices
x3 or 4 medium carrots, peeled and diced
x1 litre of water
x200ml veg stock
A mild goat's cheese (one of those small round ones)
puff pastry (about 450g, ready to roll is fine!)
x1 medium orange, zest and juice
x1 medium egg, beaten
chilli flakes (to taste, or real chillies)
rosemary (to taste)
thyme (to taste)
olive oil
(optional) creme fraiche, cream, Thai hot chilli sauce to serve (with soup - it would just be plain weird with a pasty)

1. Chop the onion and add it to a pan with some olive oil to sweat for 5 minutes. Whilst the onion is sweating, chop a couple of cloves of garlic (our garden bulbs were a bit on the small side this year, so I used 3 cloves), and dice half the butternut squash. Add these to the pan with the onion, plus 1 tsp (or however much you fancy) chilli flakes and 2 tsp (again, or as much as you like) of dried thyme, and cook over a medium heat for five minutes to add some colour whilst you make up your 200ml vegetable stock. Add this to the pan, cover with a lid, bring to the boil then simmer gently for 10 minutes.

2. Wash and chop your leeks and add them to a large pan to sweat for 5 minutes in some olive oil. Chop the remaining half of your butternut squash, and add it to the pan along with 1 tsp chilli flakes, 1 tsp dried rosemary and 1 tsp dried thyme (again, amend these quantities as you like). Zest and juice your orange and then add the juice to the pan and heat gently for 1 minute. Give it all a stir and then add 1 litre of boiling water, bring the pan to the boil then cover and simmer for about an hour to an hour and a half.

Butternut and carrots, diced, plus the obligatory half-mug of cold tea
3. The stock in your first pan should now have been reduced to about one third the volume and your butternut should be cooked through.Take the pan off the heat and roughly mash into a lumpy paste. Allow to cool.

4. Take your pastry out of the fridge and on a lightly floured board, chop off about an eighth of your pastry block and roll it into approx a 15cmx15cm sheet. Add a dollop of the butternut mixture to each square, crumble some goat's cheese on top, then brush around the edges of the square with your beaten egg. Fold into a triangle, crimp your pasty edges, then transfer to a greased baking sheet. Repeat until you filling is gone (mine made 6 pasties). Stick your knife in for a steam hole and brush the tops with the rest of your beaten egg, then transfer to a fan oven at 180 C (210 C) for about 25 minutes until the pastry has turned golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before eating.

5. Some time after you've finished your pasty/ies your soup will be finished. Take it off the heat and either leave to cool and then refrigerate or freeze as is, or stick half/all of it in a blender and puree to a thick soup. You can add a dollop of creme fraiche or cream before serving, and I'll be adding some Thai hot chilli sauce to mine for an extra kick (I had to make the base soup relatively mild so that Izzy would eat it too!)

If you've stuck with me thus far, the keen-eyed amongst you might have wondered about where the orange zest went. I used this to whip up a batch of Abel & Cole's Citrus and Spice Shortbread for their January baking recipe photo comp.

So nice, a bit has already disappeared...
The shortbread is better than the picture - doubt I'll be winning any prizes this month!

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