Feta and ratatouille crumble

Sweet and succulent Mediterranean vegetables layered with salty, crumbly feta cheese are topped with a cheesy, soft crumble to bring you comfort and warmth on a cold and dreary autumnal evening.

I love ratatouille. Originating from Nice in France, it’s a traditional stewed vegetable dish made up of many of my favourite veggies. It’s so colourful, so healthy, and oh so tasty. I think it’s highly underrated.

My first memory of trying ratatouille was as a teenager. In the summer holidays, I often went round my friend Jade’s house and we’d eat whatever we could find in the kitchen cupboards; cold baked beans (still a fond snack to this day), pasta, soup and the like. But by far the most memorable was tinned ratatouille. Never once had I come across this creation. This rich, tomatoey vegetable goodness. We’d warm it up and eat it on its own while watching music channels. I always remember it being absolutely delicious, even out of a tin.

This version I’ve put together is a little on the naughty side; incorporating cheese and butter into the mix. But with four different vegetables, the good outweighs the bad.

Ingredients

  • 1½ tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large red onion, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 courgette, chopped into small cubes
  • 1 aubergine, chopped into small cubes
  • 2 peppers: I used green and orange, chopped into small chunks
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 80g feta
  • 120g plain flour
  • 65g butter, softened
  • 10g cheddar, grated
  • Handful of fresh basil, finely chopped
  • Plenty of seasoning

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 50 minutes to an hour
Serves 3 with a side dish (or 2 greedy people)

Method

  1. Put a large frying pan on a medium heat and pour in the olive oil.
  2. Add the onion and garlic and fry for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Stir in the aubergine and sprinkle over a teaspoon or so of salt to help it cook. Cook for three minutes or so.
  4. Tip in the peppers and cook for another couple of minutes.
  5. Drain the chopped tomatoes in a sieve to get rid of the watery liquid.
  6. Pour the tomatoes into the frying pan along with the courgette and basil and stir well. Lower the heat very slightly and leave to cook for 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables soften.
  7. Turn the oven on to gas mark 5.
  8. While you’re waiting for the vegetables to cook, make the crumble. Pour the flour into a deep bowl. Chop the butter up until small chunks and tip it into the bowl. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour for a few minutes, until they form a breadcrumb consistency.
  9. Tip the cheese into the bowl, add plenty of seasoning and mix the cheese in with the breadcrumbs.
  10. When the vegetables have softened, pour them into a medium sized baking dish and evenly disperse them along the bottom of the dish. Season well. Crumble over the feta cheese and top with the breadcrumb mix, making sure the cheese and breadcrumbs cover the ratatouille evenly.
  11. Put in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the crumble has browned on top.
  12. Serve with a side of vegetables, like sweetcorn or broccoli.

This recipe was inspired by Plum Kitchen’s ratatouille and goat’s cheese crumble

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Mushroom and red onion pizza

This delicious vegetarian pizza has a thin and crispy base, with a joyously juicy homemade, garlicky tomato sauce beneath comforting melted mozzarella and cheddar cheese. It’s topped off with mouthwatering mushrooms, sweet red onions and fresh basil leaves. It’s simple and satisfying and is cheap to make.

Make a couple of these and impress your friends at a dinner party, or cut it up and serve it as finger food as part of a birthday buffet. This recipe can easily be adapted if you fancy adding different toppings.

Mushroom and red onion pizza

I always forget how easy it is to make pizza from scratch. And with this recipe, you needn’t buy any obscure flour; you can get a nice thin crust with the plain stuff. The only issue is the washing up afterwards!

I was on holiday in Sardinia, Italy, a few weeks ago and it struck me how many of the pizzas there had only one or two toppings. In the UK, and with takeaway pizzas especially, a vegetarian pizza usually consists of mushrooms, sweetcorn, peppers, onion et al, which I very much enjoy, but sometimes it’s nice to just pick out a couple of your favourite veggies and appreciate them on their own.

Ingredients

  • 100g mozzarella, half grated and the other half chopped into rough chunks
  • 25g mature cheddar, grated
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • 4 mushrooms (I used closed cup), sliced
  • ½ red onion, thinly sliced

For the pizza dough:

  • 200g plain flour
  • 7g yeast packet
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 125ml warm water

For the tomato and garlic sauce:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ red onion, thinly sliced
  • 200g chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Seasoning
  • 5 or 6 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 15-20 minutes
Serves 2

Method

  1. Make the tomato sauce: put a medium to large frying pan on a medium heat and pour in the olive oil. Add the onion and fry for five minutes, or until softened, stirring frequently.
  2. Add the crushed garlic and mix in with the onion. Fry for a further two minutes.
  3. Pour in the chopped tomatoes, squeeze in the tomato puree, and add the sugar and seasoning.
  4. Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. When the tomatoes are bubbling, reduce the heat. Mix in the chopped basil leaves and leave to simmer while you prepare the dough.
  5. Put the oven on to gas mark 8 to heat up.
  6. Make the dough: tip the flour into a large bowl along with the yeast, sugar and salt. Mix together.
  7. Pour in the water and mix together well with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together to form a sticky dough.
  8. Sprinkle a generous helping of flour onto your work surface, pick the dough up out of the bowl and begin to knead it for five minutes, or until it is smooth.
  9. Using a brush, grease a baking tray sized approximately 25cm longways with olive oil.
  10. Sprinkle some more flour onto the work surface and use a rolling pin (or wine bottle if you don’t have a pin) to roll out the dough so it’s nice and thin, and will cover the baking tray.
  11. Give the tomato sauce a stir and take it off the heat.
  12. Carefully pick the pizza dough up off the work surface and onto the baking tray. Trim the edges with a knife if it’s a bit too big for the tray, so it’s nice and neat.
  13. Put the tomato sauce into a measuring jug, or container with high sides. Use a hand blender to blitz the sauce and make it lovely and smooth.
  14. Pour the tomato sauce over the dough and use a knife to spread it out evenly.
  15. Sprinkle over three quarters of the mozzarella cheese and cheddar, then the onion and mushrooms. Then sprinkle over the rest of the cheese, followed by some chopped basil leaves.
  16. Place in the oven on the middle shelf, for 15-20 minutes, or until the base and the cheese have turned golden.
  17. Serve with a mixed green salad and wash it down with a full bodied bottle of wine.

Halloumi, asparagus and thyme roasted potato salad

I first tried halloumi cheese about ten years ago. One of my very talented friends, the wonderful Charlotte, put on a dinner party for a group of us for her birthday; a very civilised thing to do at the age of 17. As soon as I tried it, I loved it and have never looked back.

Halloumi is a Cypriot cheese made from sheep and goat’s milk. Its texture is like no other cheese. It’s chewy and squeaks against your teeth as you bite into eat, which may sound a bit odd, but is so satisfying. It tastes super salty and is simply delicious.

Of the many cheeses I appreciate, halloumi has got to win the award for being the fun cheese, because it’s usually served as a vegetarian option at events like summer barbecues and in American-style diners where indulgence is encouraged.

I wouldn’t advise eating this cheese raw, it’s very much a food that should be cooked, either by frying, grilling, barbecuing or baking it. It’s really versatile and can be used in a wide range of dishes, especially fresh, warm salads.

I put this halloumi, asparagus and potato salad together with ingredients I had in the fridge. I hadn’t initially intended to include potatoes, but I had some spuds that really needed using up (at the point where they were sprouting) and thought they would add an earthy and filling base to the meal.

Halloumi, asparagus and potato saladThe mixed salad leaves add a lovely crisp crunch and the silky smooth baked asparagus spears compliment the salty halloumi delightfully. The honey and mustard salad dressing adds some moisture to the dish and contrasts well with the salty cheese.

This is a really fresh dish that can be served as a light dinner or a hearty lunchtime treat.

Ingredients

  • 1½ tbsp sunflower oil
  • ½ tbsp olive oil
  • 200g pack of halloumi
  • 250g asparagus
  • 4 small to medium white potatoes
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • 4 large handfuls of salad leaves – I used a Sainsbury’s watercress, rocket and spinach salad bag
  • Plenty of sea salt and cracked black pepper

For the dressing

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tbsp lemon juice
  • ½ tsp wholegrain mustard

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Serves 2

Method

1. Half-fill a medium saucepan with cold water, add a sprinkle of salt and bring it to the boil.
2. Meanwhile, peel the potatoes, give them a rinse and then chop them up – to about half the size of a standard roast potato. When the water is boiling, carefully lower the potato slices into the pan and boil gently for 5-10 minutes, until they begin to soften, but don’t let them cook to the point of becoming fluffy.
3. As the potatoes are cooking, put the oven on to gas mark 6. Pour the sunflower oil into a large baking try and sprinkle over the dried thyme. Place in the oven to heat up.
4. Drain the potatoes in a colander and shake off any excess water. Take the baking tray out of the oven and tip the potatoes into the tray, distributing them evenly. Use a wooden spoon to cover the potatoes in the thyme and oil, then season well and put in the oven for 30 minutes, turning them over with the wooden spoon half way through so they crisp up on all sides.
5. While the potatoes are cooking, chop the woody ends off the asparagus spears and then chop each of the spears in half. After 30 minutes, take the baking tray out of the oven and make some room for the asparagus spears, so they are only one layer deep. Coat them in the oil from the pan and pop the tray back in the oven for 15 minutes.
6. Next, chop the halloumi block lengthways into six chunky slices.
7. Put a large frying pan on a medium heat and drizzle in the ½ tbsp olive oil. Add each of the halloumi slices to the pan and fry for 10 minutes or so, turning every few minutes so they turn a golden brown on both sides.
8. While the halloumi is cooking, mix together all of the salad dressing ingredients in a jug.
9. Check on the potatoes and asparagus. When the potatoes have crisped up and the asparagus has softened, they’re ready to serve.
10. Lay the salad leaves in the bottom of large pasta bowls or plates and scatter over the potato slices. Place the bottom slices of the asparagus on top, and then lay the tips over the top of them in the other direction, so they make a sort of asparagus noughts and crosses shape. Place the halloumi slices on top and drizzle over the salad dressing.

Asparagus and mature cheddar quiche

As we say goodbye to the frosty winter and welcome the hope of spring with open arms, it’s time to start thinking about what tasty seasonal vegetables we can cook with.

This cheesy springtime quiche is the perfect main event for a light Sunday lunch. Or treat yourself in the week and take a slice to work with a leafy green salad on the side. 

Asparagus is very much a springtime vegetable; the British asparagus season traditionally runs from April until June.

The tangy flavour of the fresh and tender green vegetable stems offset the rich and creamy cheddar cheese in this quiche beautifully. But I think my favourite element has got to be the cheese pastry. It adds an extra dimension to the tart; a subtle richness to the crust. What a treat.

Asparagus and mature cheddar quiche

I served this dish on Mother’s Day with an aubergine and chickpea salad, as well as a mixture of rocket, spinach and watercress. And all three went down a treat – clean plates all round!

Ingredients

  • 140g plain flour
  • 85g butter, cubed
  • 85g mature cheddar, grated

For the filling

  • 4 eggs
  • 175ml milk
  • 100g mature cheddar, grated
  • 300g asparagus, trimmed and cut in half lengthways

Preparation time: 30-40 minutes
Cooking time: 50 minutes
Serves 6

Method

1. To make the pastry, put the flour in a bowl. Tip in the butter and rub it into the flour with your fingertips until it resembles thick breadcrumbs.

2. Add the first batch of grated cheddar and mix in to the flour with a wooden spoon.

3. Add 3-4 tbsp of cold water and mix thoroughly, until the pastry forms a ball. Pick it up with your hands, wrap in cling film and chill for five minutes.

4. Meanwhile, grease a loose-bottom tart tin (I used a cake tin which worked fine).

5. Heat the oven to gas mark 4.

6. Lightly dust a work surface with flour, and use a rolling pin to roll out the pastry until it’s 1-2cm thick.

7. Line the tin with the rolled out pastry and chill in the freezer for 20 mins.

8. While you’re waiting, crack the eggs into a jug, whisk, then add the milk and whisk again.

9. Remove the pastry from the freezer and cover it with baking paper. Fill with baking beans (or rice if you don’t have any baking beans) and cook for 15 minutes.

10. Take the tin out of the oven and tip the rice away. Carefully remove the baking paper, then return the pastry case to the oven for 10 minutes.
11. Sprinkle half of the second batch of grated cheese over the pastry case, then add all of the asparagus spears. Pour over the egg mix and top with the remaining cheese.

12. Bake in the lower half of the oven for 50 or so minutes, or until the egg mix is set and the top is golden brown.

13. Serve with a green, leafy salad and some crusty bread, or a couple of side dishes of your choice.

This recipe was inspired by BBC Good Food.