Butternut squash soup

It might just be damp outside but I can feel a proper cold snap coming and when a friend wrote on Twitter she’d seen frost I knew it was time rescue some vegetables from the allotment.
The problem with frost is it’s frozen water from the air but it will also mean frozen liquid in all my surface lying beetroots and squashes. They go mushy as the molecular structure changes as it freezes and defrosts and while this is great when you want to tenderise something like squid it’s less great when you want to preserve structure or flavour.
Butternut squash properly stored lasts for months so I cut mine, making sure to leave plenty stalk – this is where moisture can get in and you don’t want that.


So with a few hardening off in my spare room (radiator turned off) I thought I’d whip up a favourite winter soup recipe with a butternut.
This comes from Dom Chapman the head chef at the fantastic Royal Oak pub in Berkshire and alumni of Heston Blumenthal’s kitchens.
I used a fresh red chilli added at the beginning instead of the cayenne and very little milk as I like my soup thick and this came out thinner than I expected. I also roasted the skins of the butternut tossed in olive oil and on a baking tray for 30min at 150C then scattered on top

Ingredients (makes four generous servings)

Butternut squash soup
1kg of butternut squash
1 large onion
200g of butter
1l of water
700ml of milk
1 pinch of cayenne pepper


1. Peel the butternut squash. Cut it in half lengthways and scrape the seeds out. Then slice the squash with a mandolin as thinly as possible

2. Halve the onion, peel and slice as thinly as possible

3. Take a pot large enough to hold all the ingredients and melt 150g of the butter over a low heat, being careful not to burn it. Add the onion and butternut squash and sweat off over a low heat for 10 minutes

4. Turn the heat up and add the water, then simmer for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are completely soft

5. Remove from the heat and liquidize the soup. Pass through a fine seive. Now add the milk to obtain the right consistancy. The soup should be silky-smooth. Be careful you do not add to much milk, so diluting the flavour

6. Finish the butternut squash soup by whisking in the rest of the butter and check the seasoning. Stir in a dash of cayenne pepper just before serving







I live in South East London which is near the county of Kent which is often referred to as “the garden of England” because of the high levels of fresh produce grown there.
There are a couple of farmers markets near me and aside from apples and vegetables around this time of year you also see nuts – Kent cobnuts.
They look a bit like hazelnuts and tend to come in their shells, either still partially green or brown as autumn progresses.

I picked up two small boxes for £3 which gave me about 700grams.
After grabbing some old newspaper I set about them with some nut crackers and ended up with around 400grams of kernels.
Raw they taste fresh and creamy and delicious but I took half and added them to a brownie recipe I often use and they were delicious.
The rest I roasted in a 150C oven for 45 minutes as they store better that way and have been steadily working my way through them a handful at a time with a glass of wine in front of the television. Delicious.


Beetroot and chocolate brownies

I’m in a race against time to eat all the root vegetables on my allotment before the first frosts turn lovely earthy beetroots to slush.
So like the courgettes before I am trying recipes of every kind – soups, roasted, dips and, err, cake.
I first tasted this combination at the River Cottage Canteen in Axeminster and it was great.
It might sound funny but I guess it’s no different to the principles of carrot cake whereby the vegetable adds moisture and bite.
It doesn’t matter what kind of beets you use, I put in a mixture of boltardy and golden but I guess the really red ones make the cakes even darker?
Tip, use a pair of washing up gloves to stop staining your fingers when grating the cooked and cooled beets.
I’ve cooked a beetroot and chocolate fondant pudding recently but this is more of a crowd pleaser.
Thanks to the River Cottage website for this recipe.


Ingredients (makes around 20)

250g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
250g dark chocolate (about 70% cocoa solids), broken into pieces
3 medium eggs
250g caster sugar
A pinch of sea salt
150g self-raising flour (wholemeal ideally but white works well too)
250g beetroot, boiled until tender, cooled, peeled and grated


1) Grease a shallow baking tin, approximately 20 x 25cm, and line the base with baking parchment.
2) Put the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl and melt them together in the traditional way, over a pan of hot water.
3) Whisk the eggs and sugar together in a large bowl until combined then beat in the melted chocolate and butter until smooth. 4) Combine the salt with the flour, sift them over the chocolate mixture, then gently fold in with a large metal spoon. Fold in the grated beetroot – be careful not to over-mix or it will make the brownies tough.
5) Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the top with a spatula.
6) Bake for 20 – 25 minutes; when the brownies are done, a knife or skewer inserted in the centre should come out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Don’t be tempted to overcook them or they will be dry.
7) Remove the tin from the oven and leave on a wire rack to cool before cutting in to squares.

Spaghetti with courgettes

This is probably one of my favourite lightning quick week night dinners during the summer when my allotment is throwing out courgettes like missiles.

It’s simple to make and contains chilli, garlic and salt – ingredients which go really well together – in fact the garlic I’ve used in the picture was also home grown.

The other lovely aspect of this dish is you can fiddle with the ratios depending on your taste and make enough for a a family or simply a meal for one.


 Recipe – serves one


Two average-sized courgettes (any variety and the fresher the better but you can also use big ones just cook down for longer)

Half a red chilli, finely chopped 

Half a garlic clove, finely chopped 

Pinch of salt and grinds of pepper

100g of pasta (I prefer spaghetti)

Splash of olive oil



1) Boil a saucepan of water and cook pasta as pack instructions.

2) Using a box grater grate the courgettes on the medium blades.

3) Heat oil in frying pan over medium heat and add chilli and garlic.

4) Add courgettes, stir and add a pinch of salt and couple of grinds of black pepper.

5) Stir occasionally while pasta cooks but do not let courgettes brown, you are trying to draw some of the moisture out of the vegetables not brown them.

6) Drain pasta and add to the courgettes, stir, transfer to a plate or bowl and grate over some Parmigiano-Reggiano if you have some.


Shepherd’s Pie with cheese champ topping

When the nights close in and the leaves start falling from the trees my mind turns to hearty oven cooked favourites like shepherd’s pie.
Here’s a belting one from Gordon Ramsay’s new book Ultimate Home Cooking.
He says it’s his “all-time favourite family recipe” and it’s certainly tasty and very easy to make.
I “pimped” mine by adding a chopped red chilli at the same time as the garlic and it gave it some underlying heat.
It’s just as tasty a day later reheated and served with buttered carrots or, as in this case, some cavolo nero from the allotment dressed in Di Simone olive oil and chopped anchovies.


olive oil, for frying

1kg minced lamb

2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1 red chilli, finely chopped

1 onion, peeled and diced

2 leeks, trimmed, halved lengthways andfinely sliced

1–2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tbsp tomato purée

100ml  red wine

250ml chicken stock

2 rosemary sprigs, leaves only, chopped

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


750g-900g potatoes, eg Maris Piper, peeled and cut into chunks

50g butter

3 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped

100g  Cheddar cheese, grated

50ml–100ml milk, optional

1) Preheat the oven to 180C. Place a large, wide frying pan or hob-proof casserole dish over a medium-high heat. Add a dash of oil and fry the mince in batches, seasoning each lot, until well browned. Add the garlic for the last 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

2) Put a little more oil in the same pan and cook the onion and leeks over a medium heat for 5–7 minutes, until completely softened. Add Worcestershire sauce to taste, then stir in the tomato purée.

3) Return the mince to the pan and stir well. Pour in the wine, scraping up any bits from the bottom. Bubble for a couple of minutes to burn off the alcohol, then add the stock and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer, then add the rosemary and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Cook gently for 10–15 minutes, until the sauce has reduced slightly and the flavours are well combined. Set aside to cool.

4) Meanwhile, prepare the topping. Boil the potatoes until tender, then drain and mash until smooth. Mix in the butter and seasoning, then add the spring onions and three-quarters of the cheese and mix again. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary. If the mash is too dry add a splash of milk to loosen.

5) Put the lamb mixture into a 28cm x 22cm (11in x 81⁄2 in) baking dish and top with the mashed potato. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and a little salt and pepper. Bake for 15–25 minutes or until the potato is golden brown and the meat is bubbling underneath, and serve.

Taken from Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Home Cooking