Crudités with Ranch Style Dip (aka Creamy, Beany, Dreamy dip)

Here’s an antidote to all the rich, filling and wintery Christmas foods that have been on offer in excess over the last few days. How about reviving yourself with a platter of tempting crudités or raw vegetables with a creamy and zingy dip? This is my take on a ranch style dressing or ‘bagna couda’ – a thick, easily dipped into sauce that has all the creaminess and tang but with no cream in sight. The blitzed cannellini beans add all the creaminess you need, all with a good dose of beany protein!

The veg could be lightly cooked, but I prefer a range of raw vegetables for crunch and somehow it just feels healthier – this is after all, a lunch to get you back on track after all the festivities! Radish, cucumber, carrot, celery and pepper are no brainers, but if you haven’t tried it before give the cauliflower and little gem leaves a go – perfect for dipping. Serve the dip at room temperature or for a bit of a difference serve it warm to contrast nicely with the cool vegetables.

Ranch Style Dip/Creamy, Beany, Dreamy Dip (dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, sesame-free, soya-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan)

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makes 1 generous bowlful

  • 1/2 – 1 clove garlic, crushed to a puree with some salt
  • 1 tsp capers
  • 1 tin cannellini beans, drained
  • 2 tbsps water
  • 2 1/2 tbsps vinegar
  • 1/4 cup mld flavoured olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • balsamic vinegar to taste (i used about 1 tsp)
  • small handful of parsley, finely chopped

– In a food processor, whizz together the beans with the water until smooth.

– Add the capers, salt, vinegar and oil. Whizz.

– With the motor running, add the oil until the mixture resembles a thick mayonnaise

– Add the parsley and balsamic. Taste and adjust to taste.

– Serve cold, room temperature or warm with any vegetables of choice

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Panzanella

It may feel horribly wintery, suddenly cold and dark all the time, but the tomatoes available are still sweet and delicious. The perfect time to inject a ray of sunshine into your day with this unashamedly bright and summery salad. It certainly made our day a bit brighter when we ate it for lunch on a grey day this weekend. I’ve read all sorts of recipes for this classic Mediterranean salad, some recommending leaving the dish for up to a day before eating. Personally, I prefer the bread croutons to retain a good crunch and crispness. I am not really a fan of soggy bread in a tomato salad. Forgive me if this is ‘wrong’! Hence I would recommend leaving the dish for up to half an hour before eating, giving the best of both worlds – your croutons retain some crunch but have also absorbed plenty of the vinegary dressing. Delicious!

Panzanella (dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

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serves 2-4

  • 2 ciabatta rolls
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 10 ripe tomatoes ( a variety if possible)
  • 1 shallot, finely sliced
  • 1 tsp capers
  • 1 handful olives
  • handful basil leaves, roughly torn.

for the dressing:

  • 1 tbs red wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper
  • pinch of sugar

– Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade/Gas Mark 6

– Cut the rolls into rough cubes, drizzle with the oil and bake for 10-15 minutes until toasty and golden. Sprinkle with the red wine vinegar.

– Place the sliced shallots in cold water and leave for about half an hour to take the strength out. Drain.

– Roughly chop the tomatoes and mix with the other ingredients. Mix in the dressing.

– Add the crispy bread cubes and toss well.

– Leave for 15 minutes at room temperature

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Squash Ravioli with Sage Oil and Pine Nuts

Since making egg-free fresh pasta works so well, why not tackle stuffed pasta? Over the past year I have searched everywhere for dairy-free filling inspiration; books, magazines and the web, but the only versions I have ever found are heavy on ‘vegan cheeses’ which I’m not too keen on. Their taste can range from insipid to truly unpleasant, and on the whole I reckon ‘real’ ingredients are better than imitations.  Then last week I watched an episode of the Hairy Bikers on my way home from work and their squash stuffed pasta caught my eye – a real dairy-free filling for stuffed pasta at last! My version had a couple of tweaks including more onion and nutritional yeast to give a savoury balance to the sweet squash filling. I know one traditional Italian filling is pumpkin and amaretti biscuits, so I might try and make some eggless amaretti biscuits for next time, but these were really rather tasty, and great with a sage and pine nut oil.

Use my egg-free fresh pasta recipe, found here.

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Squash Filling (dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan)

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serves 4

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped
  • 1 red onion, fairly finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • Salt and pepper

– Roast the squash with a drizzle of oil and some red onion for 25 minutes
– Add the red onion and roast for another ten minutes
– Tip into a food processor. Add the yeast and blitz until the squash is smooth but some small bits of onion remain.
– Cool

To assemble:

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– Place small dollops of filling on a sheet of pasta.

– Gently place another sheet on top, and press around the dollops to make sure there is no air in the pockets. Cut out with a cookie cutter, make sure the edges are pressed firmly together.

– Place on a floured (or preferably semolina covered board) and let air dry.

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– To cook, gently place in boiling water and bubble furiously until the parcels come to the surface (2-4 minutes)

– To make the sage oil – fry sage leaves in oil until crispy, remove the leaves and set the oil aside

– Serve with sage oil, crispy leaves and pine nuts (if you can tolerate them).

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Courgette/Zucchini Carpaccio

I’m over-run with courgettes – kind friends and relatives keep leaving them on the doorstep, so I’m having to be inventive as we’ve made them into ratatouille, courgette soup, and courgette ribbon pasta. All delicious, but these yellow ones deserved special treatment. I saw a photo of a similar dish to this in a gorgeous French food magazine. Carpaccio plates can look so simple and stunning but you often miss out as a vegetarian. Well, no more! These delicately dressed, blanched courgettes make an elegant, light starter and are going to leave a memorable impression on any who eat them.

The other vegetable that kind people leave me with is runner beans….. does anyone like runner beans? If anyone can give me a way to use them up I’d be most grateful. I certainly won’t be repeating my runner bean chutney disaster from the other year!

Courgette Carpaccio (dairy-free, egg-free, peanut-free, nut-free, sesame-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan)

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serves 2, multiple the recipe for more

  • 1 courgette
  • a small handful of pine nuts or sunflower seeds
  • 2 sundired tomatoes, cut into small slices
  • a handful of pitted balck olives
  • olive oil (i had basil oil which worked wonderfully)
  • balsamic vinegar
  • parsley, basil or rocket leaves
  • salt and pepper

– Boil the courgettes whole for 5 minutes. Then drain and refresh in iced water

– Slice into long, thin strips

– Place onto a plate

– Drizzle with a little oil

– Arrange the tomatoes, olives, pine nuts and parsley/basil on top

– Drizzle with a little more oil and a few drops of balsamic

– Season and serve.

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Homemade Egg-free Gnocchi

Like most families, we eat a lot of pasta, so I decided to mix things up a bit with some home-made gnocchi. Lots of recipes seem to include egg, but this one is simply potato and flour. The resulting dumpling is light and needs to be treated with care, but the texture is not at all stodgy and works wonderfully with a rich tomato sauce.

Homemade Egg-free Gnocchi (dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan – gluten-free if use gluten-free flour)

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Serves 2

  • 2 baking Potatoes
  • 1-2 tbsp Flour

– Bake the potato and then mash or rice the insides ( you want the potato to be as dry as possible)
– Beat in the flour, and bring together to a soft dough
– Split into four pieces and roll each into a long sausage shape
– Cut into 2cm length pieces and press a fork onto each to give a lovely gnocchi shape
– Leave to dry
– Bring a pan of salted water to a rolling boil
– Add a few gnocchi and cook briefly until they rise to the top (it takes 30 seconds max)
– Drain on kitchen paper
– Serve topped with your favourite sauce

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