Snacks and Starters

Asparagus Tart with Brie and Capers Dressing

This is a lovely tart, ideal for sharing with friends as a starter or as a light but delicious lunch

Serves 4 – 6

What you need…

1 baking sheet

500g ready-made puff pastry

1 egg, beaten

500g asparagus

250g Brie, sliced

Sea salt and black pepper

for the dressing

2 tablespoons capers

2 tablespoons olive oil

A squeeze fresh lemon juice

What to do…

Roll out the pastry to a large rectangle, around 23cm x 30cm. Using a knife, score another rectangle 2.5cm inside the edge, without cutting right through the pastry. Brush the 2.5cm ‘frame’ with the beaten egg and place on a baking sheet. Chill for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200°c / 400°f / gas 6.

Trim the asparagus to fit across the inside of the frame. Blanch for 3 minutes in boiling, salted water then, drain in a colander and ‘refresh’ with cold water. Set aside the asparagus in the colander.

Bake the pastry in the oven until lightly browned. Remove and then discard the top couple of layers of the inner (scored) rectangle to prevent having a ‘soggy bottom’ underneath the asparagus.

Arrange the asparagus inside the pastry frame, top with the cheese and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes or until the pastry is gorgeously browned and the cheese has melted.

Mix together the dressing and drizzle over the tart.

That’s it – serve your asparagus tart with brie and capers dressing straight away and enjoy. A glass of crisp, dry white wine wouldn’t go amiss!

A Quick Aside…

The image shows the tart made for just two people, using half the ingredients – a lovely little mid-afternoon snack!

Inspired By…

Woman and Home magazine (torn out several years ago!)

How Easy…

Really very easy, especially as it looks and tastes so yummy!

 

Haggis with Scallops, Caramelised Pear and Beurre Blanc Sauce

Yes, I know it sounds revolting and I was met with considerable apprehension when I announced that I was serving this up. But after the first tentative mouthful, it was proclaimed as really tasty and a culinary success! Haggis, let’s face it, gets bad PR but honestly, this is a really rich, lovely winter dish. Written up here as a starter, it can also be served as a main course, adding green vegetables (steamed leek and cabbage) and potato (Dauphinoise would work well). So, give it a go and be happily surprised!

Serves 4

What you need…

1 x 450g good quality Haggis (I used Simon Howie’s Haggis Company).

Splash of olive oil

12 good sized scallops, hand-dived if you can spare the pennies

Sea salt and black pepper

for the beurre blanc sauce

2 shallots, finely chopped

20ml white wine vinegar

40ml white wine

40ml water

75g butter, cut into small chunks

Sea salt and black pepper

for the caramelised pears

50g butter

2 tablespoons soft dark brown sugar

3 pears, unpeeled, cored and chopped into 1 cm pieces

What to do…

To cook your haggis, follow the instructions that it comes with. In my case, it was simply to wrap the haggis, skin and clips intact, in foil and pop in a saucepan of water, bringing it to the boil before gently simmering it for 45 minutes.

For the sauce, pop the shallots, vinegar, white wine and water into a saucepan and cook on a moderate heat until the liquid is halved. Remove from the heat and add the butter chunks one at a time, using a balloon whisk to ensure that each chunk is fully blended in before adding the next. Once it is all added, season with salt and pepper and return to the hob, keeping it warm on a low heat.

For the caramelised pears, heat the butter and sugar in a small saucepan on a moderate heat until they are both melted, stirring regularly. Tip in the chopped pears and gently stir them in, ensuring they are all evenly coated with butter. Reduce the heat and just leave them in the pan for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. They will finish up golden and delicious.

Finally, about five minutes before you are ready to serve, splash a little oil in a frying pan and when it’s hot, chuck in your scallops. Fry them for two minutes on each side until they are golden brown. Season.

To serve your haggis with scallops, caramelised pear and beurre blanc sauce, simply provide each person with one generous slice of haggis in the centre of the plate, topping it with the seared scallops, scatter the pears around the side and drizzle the beurre blanc over the pears.

The vinegar and wine in the beurre blanc sauce provide a gently, slightly sharp contrast to the richness of the haggis and the sweetness of the pear provides a perfect foil to the meat’s depth of flavour. It really works beautifully – simply delicious!

Inspired by…

Loch Fyne Restaurants currently have a version of this on their menus. I hope my interpretation does it justice!

How Easy…

Not difficult but loads of pots and pans, especially if it’s being served with accompaniments for a main course.

Whilst the haggis is cooking, you have plenty of time to make the beurre blanc and then the caramelised pears, just keeping both of them warm until you are ready to serve.

Roast Asparagus in Parma Ham Parcels

This is an ideal canapé to have with pre-dinner drinks, or perhaps to hand around as part of a canapé selection at a Christmas drinks party. These delightful little morsels are absolutely lovely, ideally accompanied by a rather pleasant glass of fizz.

Makes 10

What you need…

One flat baking tin, greased with olive oil

20 x asparagus spears, trimmed

10 slices prosciutto di parma

Sea salt and black Pepper

Parmesan cheese, grated

What to do…

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and drop the asparagus in. Cook in the boiling water for 2 minutes.

Drain and and refresh in cold water. Drain again and cool to the point that they are easy to handle.

Lay out one slice of Parma ham. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and Parmesan and then cut in half lengthways.

Using one ‘half slice’ of Parma ham, place two asparagus spears at one end and roll up so the Parma ham is the wrapping around your asparagus. Place on your baking tin.

Repeat until all the asparagus spears and Parma ham have been used up.

You can now leave them in the fridge for a couple of hours, enabling you to go and get ready for your guests.

When ready, pop the baking tin in the oven preheated to 200°c / 400°f / Gas 6 for 4-5 minutes and then serve. Absolutely delightful!

Inspired by…

I can’t quite remember – lots of people seemed to have included a version of this in their cookbooks but I think that Delia Smith was the original inspiration – she uses hard cheese rather than grated.

How easy…

Really, really easy and your Roast Asparagus in Parma Ham Parcels can be prepared ahead of time – bonus!

 

 

Butternut Squash Soup

This is a wonderful, warming, Autumnal soup that is so comforting but made extra special with one of my favourite additions: truffle oil! A lovely lunch on a dreary grey day, this soup is also an excellent dinner party starter and has been served up to most, if not all of our friends, all of whom love it!

Serves 6 – 8

What you need…

Glug of olive oil

1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning or sage

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

I red onion, roughly chopped

2 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

2 celery sticks, trimmed and roughly chopped

Three sprigs of rosemary

1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

1 Kg butternut squash

1 litre chicken stock (I use 2 x stock pots), heated

Truffle oil to serve (my favourite is Carluccio’s Olio al Tartufo Bianco – some other brands taste too oily)

What to do…

In a large saucepan, pour in your glug of olive oil and heat on medium.

Add the Italian seasoning, garlic, onion, carrots, celery, rosemary, chilli, salt and pepper. Turn down heat to low and leave to soften for 15 minutes.

Add the butternut squash and stock, bring to the boil. Then cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove the rosemary stems and then food-process the rest to produce this wonderful, thick autumnal Butternut Squash Soup.

Serve drizzled with a little truffle oil.

Tip…

I’ve taken to buying, garlic and chilli, amongst other herbs and spices, from the Waitrose Cooks’ Ingredients frozen range – they come ready chopped and so they get added to recipes via a quick shake or two, rather than being precisely measured out!

Inspired by…

Jamie Oliver

How easy…

It really doesn’t come any easier than this! You can also make it a couple of days before you want it – keeping it in the fridge – and it freezes really well. So, quite often, I’ll double up on the ingredients, freezing half.

 

 

 

 

Mixed Pepper Salad

Salads have become a bit of a thing for me and I’m renowned for creating something a bit different. Gone are the days of lettuce, cucumber and a bit of tomato! This mixed pepper salad has a warm, Mediterranean feel to it and brings sunshine to any plate!

Serves 4 as a side dish

What you need…

3 bell peppers (different colours), sliced

2 courgettes, sliced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

Splash of olive oil

10/12 asparagus spears, trimmed

10 cherry tomatoes, halved

A handful of basil leaves

A handful of lettuce leaves

for the dressing

1 tablesp olive oil

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

1 tsp Dijon mustard

What to do…

Preheat oven to 200°c / 400°f / gas 6.

Grab a deep, heatproof bowl and tip in the peppers and courgettes with the garlic and olive oil. Mix together and pop in the oven.

After 30 minutes, remove peppers from oven (they should just be beginning to char at the edges) and add asparagus. Stir in and pop back into the oven.

After a further 15-20 minutes (until the asparagus are cooked but not shrivelling) remove from oven, stir in cherry tomatoes and put to one side:. The tomatoes will soften in the heat of the oven-cooked vegetables as they gently cool to room temperature.

Just before you are ready to eat, take a salad bowl and mix together the dressing by stirring the ingredients together. Tip in the cooked vegetables, including the cooking juices into the bowl. Top with the basil leaves and lettuce. Mix everything together and serve, ideally with a barbecue.

Tips…

The quantities of each vegetable are purely personal – change according to taste. Lettuce leaves can be substituted with your salad leaves of choice, e.g. rocket, chicory.

I leave combining the dressing with the actual salad until we sit down at the table, thus avoiding soggy leaves!

How easy…..

Couldn’t be easier: a bit of chopping, a bit of wandering off whilst things are in the oven and a bit of mixing!

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