Roasted pumpkin, orange and rice

I don’t want to scare you, but I am having a love-in with brown rice at the moment. In the weekend I made an amazing salad with brown rice, red onion, fiery orange pumpkin, virulent green spinach and orange, err, oranges. It was packed with flavour and surprisingly light to eat, plus it made for several excellent work lunches. Soon I will be eschewing fossil fuels and running away to live in a commune. Want to join me?

Roasted pumpkin, orange and brown rice
This looks more complicated than it is. The hardest part is usually breaking open the pumpkin – but I take care of that by going outside, lifting the pumpkin above my head and then smashing it down onto the concrete. It’s surprisingly therapeutic.
The pumpkin roasts in the oven while the rice cooks on the stovetop, then you can potter around and make the dressing at your leisure. Don’t try making this with white rice, it won’t be the same. But you could give it a go with red quinoa or amaranth for extra health bonus points.

300g brown rice, rinsed in running water until it runs clear
450ml cold water
600g peeled and de-seeded pumpkin, chopped into 2cm cubes (about 800g with the skin and seeds still intact)

1 red onion, peeled and diced, put into a bowl and sprinkled with 60ml rice vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
3 handfuls baby spinach or rocket
100g whole almonds, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
2 lovely oranges, peeled, depipped and diced

1 clove garlic, crushed
A good pinch of flaky sea salt
2 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp peanut oil
2 Tbsp rice vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
juice of one orange
½ tsp honey

Deal to the pumpkin first. Preheat the oven to 200C and grease an oven dish with a tablespoon of olive oil. Tip in the pumpkin and drizzle with another tablespoon of oil. Bake for around 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin is cooked and beginning to crisp up. Set aside.
Put the well-washed rice and water in a medium saucepan. Cover and bring to the boil. Let simmer for 12 minutes, then turn off the heat (DO NOT lift the lid) and let sit for 15 minutes. The rice should be perfectly cooked and all the water absorbed.
Next, make the dressing. Crush the garlic and salt together with the blade of a knife, then scrape into a screw top jar. Add the honey, juice and vinegar and shake well. Add the oil and shake again until well mixed. Taste for balance and adjust accordingly.
When the rice and pumpkin have cooled down a little, tip both into a serving bowl, Pour about half the dressing over the top and toss through gently. Drain the onion, then add to the rice with the oranges and spinach. Pour over the remaining dressing and toss gently. Sprinkle the almonds on top.
Best served at room temperature. This makes an excellent packed lunch or serve it alongside a piece of fish with some greens. Makes enough for four lunches or six to eight side dish servings.

What’s your favourite thing to do with brown rice?

Salmon and apple sliders

Last week I walked past a cafe that had been one of the hottest tickets in town when I was a student.
I remembered how my boyfriend (cringe) and I would go there on a Sunday morning sometimes and eat focaccia with smoked salmon and apple while we read the paper, feeling very sophisticated and urban.

The cafe has long since changed hands and I think I’d cross the road if I saw the (ex)boyfriend coming towards me, but having just re-visited the salmon and apple combo, I can confirm it’s still good.

Hot smoked salmon and apple sliders
Forget the focaccia, darling and chuck out the ciabatta, these days it’s all about sliders. In case the rebranding revolution hasn’t reached you yet, sliders are baby burger buns and they are the bread on everyone’s lips.
Al Brown is responsible for their rise to prominence here and it’s funny watching people who wouldn’t dream of raving about a mini burger going all ga-ga over them.
If you happen across some, or happen to make some, here’s what you can put on them. Or, if you want to party like it’s 1993, this mixture still works well on focaccia. It’s good for brunch, lunch or as a substantial canape.

Bread of your choice
Hot smoked salmon
Apple, thinly sliced
Creme fraiche or Greek yoghurt

Gently warm the bread or buns (wrap in foil and put in a low-ish oven for 10 minutes). Slice the buns in half and butter lightly.
Top with rocket, then wafers of apple, then chunks of salmon. Scatter capers on top, then dollop on a bit of creme fraiche or Greek yoghurt. Grind over lots of salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Nigelissima and polenta gnocchi

News that Nigella is working on a new Italian-themed book and TV series has filled me with a mixture of joy and gloom. It’s not that I don’t love the thought of another book, but I fear it will induce more wittering on about how soothing it is to stir risotto.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never found making risotto to be soothing. It’s repetive, boring and not to be done if you’re the sort of person who multi-tasks in the kitchen (or has a small child underfoot). I don’t mind doing it if I have absolutely nothing else to do, but I fear my life has little room for mindless stirring a la Nigella, who always paints a cosy picture of making risotto while you have a glass of wine.

Anyway, while idly flicking through Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking a while ago (thanks Dom!) I realised where Nigella got her love of stirring from.
Hazan writes at length of the horrors of instant polenta and how hideous it is compared to the real thing, which should be lovingly stirred for hours over an open fire etc etc. But she redeems herself by sharing a method for practically no-stir polenta, which still takes a while but is not so needy. That’s the sort of cooking I like.

Polenta Gnocchi
I can’t convince anyone in my house to love wet polenta, but they do deign to eat it in a sort of gnocchi form. You make the polenta (by whichever method you prefer) and leave it to set in a slab. Then, a few hours later (or the next day), you cut it into cubes, drizzle them with olive oil and scatter lots of grated parmesan over the top. Bake them in a hot oven for 20 minutes or so, until everything is golden and crispy, then serve atop a puddle of tomato sauce (the sort you make from simmering tinned tomatoes, garlic and onion, not the sort that comes in a squeezy bottle).
Or, just drizzle it with olive oil, then toss through some walnuts and chunks of blue cheese about five minutes before it’s cooked. Delicimo, as Nigella might say.

Bloody Mary Scones

Last week I went on a plane ALL BY MYSELF. It was pure luxury. No one sat on my lap, no one spilled water on me, wiped snot on my shoulder or asked me to read them a story. I laughed at the ridiculous inflight safety video, read the airline magazine and looked out the window. It was bliss.

It also reminded me of the times when I used to fly a lot and how much I looked forward to asking the hostie for a Bloody Mary. I never really went in for alcohol at altitude, but a nicely spiced Bloody Mary was my treat to myself – a signal that good times were about to begin. Strange really, because I never drank them on the ground. Anyway, those days have long gone, but as I sat and watched the clouds flutter past I had an idea. And this is the result.

Bloody Mary Scones
These ravishing red scones are my entry for this month’s Tea Time Treats, a blogging event run by the lovely Karen of Lavender and Lovage and Kate of What Kate Baked. They’re not the loftiest of scones, but that’s partly because I was trying to cut them out with the rinsed-out tomato tin and things got a bit ragged. There’s no vodka in this recipe, but you can always add a splash if you feel that way inclined.

1Tbsp olive oil
4 spring onions, finely chopped
4 ribs of celery, de-stringed and diced
1 x 440g tin of tomato passata (I used a tin of Watties crushed and sieved tomatoes)
1Tbsp worcester sauce
2Tbsp olive oil (extra to the one above)
1 egg
3 cups plain flour
2Tbsp baking powder
a generous pinch of salt and lots of black pepper
1Tbsp sugar

Preheat the oven to 220C and put the oven tray in to heat up (don’t grease or flour it).
Saute the spring onion and celery in the first measure of olive oil until soft – about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool for five minutes. Add the rest of the wet ingredients – tomato passata, worcester sauce, olive oil and egg – and stir to mix.
Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl, then pour in the tomato mixture.
Mix  lightly with a knife until a soft dough forms. Tip out onto a cool floured bench top and pat into a flat shape about 2.5cm high. Cut into squares and put immediately on the hot oven tray that has been waiting in the oven for this moment. Leave about a thumb space between them so they have room to nearly join up while cooking.
Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden, crusty and risen.

The Black Forest Sandwich

Want to see what I had for lunch the other day?

This is a Black Forest sandwich – my entry for Urban Harvest’s inaugural sandwich competition.
I took two slices of Simply Paris chocolate bread and slathered them with cream cheese, then added slices of black doris plum (I initially wanted to use cherries, but they’re now out of season until next Christmas, sob!). Then I sliced and toasted a handful of almonds and scattered them on top. A light dusting of icing sugar and voila, a sandwich so good I ate it all greedily before remembering that I needed to photograph it as well.

If you’re a luncheon sausage and tomato sauce sort of sandwich eater, then this obviously isn’t the thing for you. But if you’re a fan of luscious chocolate bread, tangy cream cheese, juicy plums and crunchy almonds, you’re going to love it. Excuse me while I go and make another one for breakfast…

The Urban Harvest sandwich comp closes this week. Find out more here. (And if you REALLY think it looks good, please go here and ‘Like’ it. Thanks!