So Halloween has passed. On Saturday night we had kids banging on the door for trick or treat while I was busy getting the party ready and my friends were doing their make up in the bathroom. It felt like being teenagers all over again, running up and down the stairs with make up and clothes, while greeting strangers at the door. We gave the kids sweets and healthy tangerines (see the guest post here) and marvelled at the most outrageous outfits, while laughing at how some fathers often seem to be having more fun than their kids.
We were having a little do at our friends’ house and it went really well. I enjoyed making a pumpkin feast for everyone and it all worked out great. We had a welcome spiced pumpkin cocktail, with chilli popcorn and roasted pumpkin seeds served in hollow (plastic) skulls. For starters we shared some baked little pumpkins, stuffed with mushrooms, chard, creme fraiche, stilton and halloumi.
Then it was time for a few small Halloween themed pizzas, many of them with pumpkin in the topping. The real showstoppers, however, were the desserts. A really gory cheesecake my friends made and my first ice cream creations ever: a few sugar free ice cream spooky figures and a huge fig icecream in a brain shaped mould, topped with a blood-ish berry coulis mixed with damson jam. I have to thank a master ice cream maker for those, Richard Makin of Blu Top Ice Cream who a couple of weeks ago shared his tips to a small class of which I was lucky to be part of. He runs workshops from his London Kitchen Project base all the time, so if you are interested you can get in touch here
We ate until the wee hours then spent Sunday recovering and watching Twin Peaks. It was an amazing weekend, but perhaps a bit too heavy on the food. Even though we didn’t eat a lot of meat (we only had anchovies on one pizza and sausage onto another) nor drink excessively, I felt my system was a bit clogged. At this time of the year my body seems to feel this way quite easily. The cause I don’t think it is simply overindulgence, but also the change in weather, my whole being slowing down and preparing for winter. Winter does not have to mean hibernation though, so I promptly decided to start a war against torpor and give my whole body a proper reboot. A veg feast menu for this week, a bit more exercise than usual, fresh juices and a few cleansing herbs and tinctures to help the battle against sluggishness.
So far so good: on Monday I made a lovely minestrone with some frozen chicken stock, fresh and dry beans, cavolo nero, carrot, leek, shallots, potato and plenty of parsley. No pasta added, but a healthy grating of parmesan to add umami and depth to this humble but heart warming dish.
Yesterday I had two friends over for dinner and I made a bean casserole with a whole head of garlic, fresh tomatoes, celery and a lot of sage and thyme from the garden. I also roasted some of the remaining baby pumpkins with a sweet potato and mashed everything together adding thyme and a dash of chili oil.
In essence, I went back to my origins: the healthy and nourishing food of my childhood, made with ingredients of the season. On my table these days are also a lot of pears and persimmons: two autumnal fruits which in this country are often overlooked but that if eaten at the right time, in that small window of perfect ripeness, can make you forget about all the flat peaches and berries of summer.
I can’t possibly include all recipes I cooked this weekend and early week. So I chose two, the fig ice cream and the minestrone. I hope you will make them at some point.
Fig Ice Cream (adapted from the Richard Makin’s recipe)
Makes about 1Kg ice cream
1 pint milk
1 227g pot of double cream
120g granulated sugar (in the sugar free version I substituted this for 90g date syrup and 50g brown sugar syrup – it works but it gives a caramel like flavour to the ice cream and a slight brownish colour which I didn’t want in the ‘brain’)
50g skimmed milk powder
20g tapioca flour
1 vanilla pod
3 egg yolks
a dash of date syrup or brown sugar syrup
Mix the milk, cream and half the sugar in a pan on medium heat until lukewarm. In a bowl mix together the milk powder and tapioca, whisk in about half of the liquid mix and once all the powder is well dissolved, return to the pan. Add the vanilla and stir.
In a bowl beat the egg yolks and the rest of the sugar, add about half the milk and when well dissolved, return the egg mix to the pan with the rest of the milk. Stirring continuously to avoid the custard sticking to the bottom of the pan, heat up until almost boiling, then remove from the heat and cool down in a ice bath in your sink until it reaches room temperature.
If you have time, you can cover and chill the custard overnight. If not, you will churn your ice cream after the custard reached too temperature.
Cook your figs in a pan with some date syrup or brown sugar syrup, squashing them gently.
When they are cooked, mix them in with the custard.
Pour the mixture into the ice cream machine and set it on. If your custard is at room temperature it will of course take longer than if you took the custard out of the fridge. In any case you should have a freshly churned ice cream in about one hour.
At this stage you could have the ice cream right away (delicious, but VERY soft), or, if you want to shape it into a mould or enjoy it with a little firmer texture, put it in the freezer – into its mould or any other container – for another couple of hours.
Health score: 2
Minestrone (mixed vegetable and beans soup)
Makes about 6 large portions
400g borlotti beans, shelled
100g dried white beans, soaked
200g cavolo nero, washed and chopped in 1cm strips
3 carrots, washed, peeled and copped into 1cm chunks
1 large potato, peeled and chopped into 1cm cubes
1 courgette, cut in 1cm rounds
2 baby leeks, washed and chopped into 1cm chunks
3 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
3 bay leaves
1 sprig rosemary
500ml frozen chicken stock
water as needed
2 garlic cloves, crushed
10g parsley, roughly chopped
30g grated parmesan
3tbsp olive oil
salt to taste
Place all the beans, cavolo nero, carrots, potatoes, courgette, leeks, shallots and herbs in a large and tall saucepan, pour in the chicken stock and top with water until all the vegetables are below about 1cm water. Cover and bring to the boil.
Cook, with a lid on and on low medium heat, for about one hour until the beans are tender.
Stir in the garlic, parsley and parmesan and whizz a bit with a blender, to obtain a creamy soup with some whole pieces remaining.
Add olive oil, stir it in and adjust with salt and pepper.
Heath score: 10. The life giving properties of this soup will soon be recognised.