Ready Steady Cooks Viral Antidote 7: Chestnuts, octopus and garlic

Gill was having a laugh, I think. And her chestnuts are out of date. I’ve been saying that for years, actually:  Gill – your chestnuts are out of date, get them seen to!  She offered me a can of Octopus, a bag of vacuum packed chestnuts (out of date) and garlic.

Try as I might, I could not work up a recipe that was palatable with that concoction, so instead I’m offering a number of suggestions.  The first being to throw that bag of out of date chestnuts away.  Sell-by dates are not necessarily consume-by dates of course. So if they were close to the consume-by date I would probably use them.

Chestnut and Tofu sausages

If you have in-date chestnuts though, you can do no better than go to another page on this blog and find a post that tells you how to make vegetarian sausages from vacuum-packed chestnuts.

Chestnut and Jerusalem Artichoke casserole

Another favourite of David’s is chestnut and Jerusalem artichoke casserole. Sweet, nutty, savoury all in the same mouthful. Sometimes if I am feeling generous I will make some wholemeal hot water crust pastry, and put the leftovers in a pie the next day.

Do the usual and sweat some onions and chopped carrot and celery in olive oil and grate some garlic in at the end.  Then add the bag of vacuum-packed chestnuts, a couple of large chopped fresh tomatoes, a couple of chunked carrots and 500g washed Jerusalem artichokes.  These do not come in nice neat uniform sizes so you might have to chop them into chunks if some are as big as your knuckles!  Add some seasoning, a good sprinkling of chopped fresh thyme and chopped fresh parsley, a tablespoon of Energita yeast flakes (wholefood shop), half a glass of dark sherry (the stuff my mother drinks, not your best Amontillado), about 500ml stock and 125g chopped mushrooms.  Simmer away gently without a lid.  Check your seasoning at the end.


For tapas, just open that tin of octopus Gill, and drain off the oil. Slice the bigger pieces into thin strips and lay on a plate with thin strips of roasted red pepper – along with olives, little cubes of bread fried in olive oil, fresh tomatoes and basil, hummus and baba ganoush.




Octopus in paella, well that’s a different thing altogether.  My favourite paella contains rabbit, octopus, squid and white fish. Maybe a prawn or two. Everyone has their favourite recipe and this is mine.  It does not claim to be completely authentic and Spanish amigas and amogos may turn their heads in horro at this stage!

For four, use a suitably sized paella pan. I don’t have a gas stove so I use our portable camping stove or cook the paella out in the campervan on the drive!  First, joint your rabbit and cut it into chunks rather than legs, arms, saddle and loin. Easiest way is to cut it into joints then chop up the pieces. Leave the bones in. Use half the rabbit for four people. You don’t have to use rabbit at all; if you prefer you can use chicken.   In fact any bird.

Add two finely chopped onions and a finely chopped carrot and a finely chopped stick of celery to the pan with more olive oil than you would usually use.  Fry gently till soft.  This is the sofritto.  Turn up the heat and add the rabbit, stirring all the time and letting the rabbit get a bit brown. Now add the garlic (too early and it will stick and burn) then chopped red pepper, then sliced squid, a drained tin of octopus or fresh chopped tentacles.  Keep stirring as it all cooks.  At this point add a generous mug of paella rice and stir it round in the juices.  Add a glass of white wine if you wish and let it splutter and reduce.  Now add 1 litre of hot and well seasoned fish stock and a small packet of paella seasoning (you can get it in the supermarket or deli’s). Or if you cannot find it use a teaspoon of smoked paprika and a large pinch of saffron slaked with hot water.  Cook it gently, gently,  keeping an eye on it and adding more liquid as you go.  It will probably take between 25 and 30 minutes.  Stir a little if you must and keep topped up with liquid – the paella, not you!  After 15 minutes add chunks of white fish if you wish, such as cod and push these down into the rice.  Add prawns at the end and make sure they are completely pink before you serve them.  Check seasoning.

Mussels and clams are popular additions but I don’t eat them – an aberration of advancing years is that my gut no longer tolerates them. That is why they don’t appear in this recipe.

The final thing to achieve is the authentic crispy bottom. Yes – a great paella should have a crispy bottom and it is called socarrat.  To achieve it (if it hasn’t already done so of its own volition) turn up the heat to crisp (not burn) the bottom for a couple of minutes.


Where do we start? Could I cook without it? Is a kitchen a kitchen without it?  Grate into olive oil and chopped basil leaves and then add to mashed potatoes for Skordalia and dip raw vegetables into it; mash with butter and load onto bread and toast it; stuff a chicken with 20 cloves and taste it; bake a whole head of garlic in a terracotta dish then squeeze out the caramelised cloves onto bread or roast vegetables; stud a leg of lamb with garlic cloves and rosemary stalks.  Best of all plant it.  I must have planted about 60 garlic plants – it works in pots as well as in the ground – this year.  Here’s some advice on growing garlic from The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight.

We use so much garlic the vampires will never get us!




#12Days Appetisers – a little cheesey/pineapple one Tone? Day 9

images-3Whilst reading this blog you should be listening to Demis Roussos.  Treat yourself and click the link for a blast from the past.  This one’s for Barbara who inexplicably asked for suggestions for appetisers.

Now I’m not a great appetiser cook to be honest. It’s all too fiddly for me. However when we were in New York I spent many hours in Kitchen Arts and Letters determined not to buy. However the proprietor reminded me that I could save excess baggage charges if he mailed them to me at home and they would also be tax free. It took me about three months to realise of course that I still spent the money and the postage, just saved on the tax.  But it is a gorgeous shop and I recommend it if you are in New York. It has coffee and chairs and I stayed there five hours.  One of the books I purchased (before having the best pedicure ever on 5th Avenue, watching well coiffed women in spiky heels, whose clothes cost more than my house, marching past for their ‘quick wax darling’) was Martha Stewart’s Appetisers. So, Barbara, you are in luck.

Before we delve into Martha, I will just recommend a couple of things. One is to make it easy on yourself.  Please don’t use piping bags and dots of caviar.  Don’t butter bread  carved into tiny squares.  Don’t make swans out of radishes. Keep it simple.

Another is to keep charcuterie in mind. Think lots of plates of proscuitto or Iberico jamon, sharp little olives, salami or french saucisson, cornichon, quail eggs halved and spiced with a sprinkling of smoked paprika, hot radishes accompanied by bowls of salt, dotted around the room.

Another is toasted bruschetta topped with chopped tomato, olives and fresh basil, seasoned with seasalt and a grind of black pepper.  Or little toasts spread with smoked mackerel pate perked up with horseradish.

Consider offering tiny shots of gazpacho (you can buy it ready made) served ice cold with a splash of vodka and a little sprinkle of celery salt and a little celery stick to stir (you got it – it’s a Bloody Mary)! Or you can do the Virgin Mary option minus the vodka. You can buy little plastic shot glasses in Makro or Poundland for practically nothing.  This is what I did img_3444for Paul’s private view a couple of years ago, which just proves the point that I can do appetisers on a grand scale if needed – I just prefer the easy life!

When we were in Le Puget earlier in the year the charcuterie was served with tiny, buttery, parmesan biscuits. About the thickness of a one pound coin I have since replicated them at home.

Use your food processor for this.  Pulse 100g cold butter with 100g plain flour with a pinch of cayenne pepper and a teaspoon of mustard powder. Then grate in 50g each of strong cheddar and parmesan. Mix together then add a tiny splash of one beaten egg and pulse again till it almost comes together. Turn out  knead it slightly and wrap in clingfilm and put in fridge for half an hour while you have a coffee. Then roll out to about 1.5cm thick and use a small cutter.  Brush the biscuits with remaining egg and sprinkle with a little more parmesan. Place the rounds on parchment paper on a baking tray and bake at 180C for 10 minutes then remove from the oven and allow to cool on the tray. Guaranteed to be gone in 10 seconds flat!


Now, consulting Martha,  if you really must mess around with fiddly things, she suggests the following:

  • Mini empanadas, which are just circles of pastry filled with something tasty. Little two-bite Spanish pies that look like Cornish pasties to you and me.
  • Prawns on sticks – what could be simpler?
  • Puree’d vegetable dips – colourful but oh so boring
  • bacon wrapped bites – bacon wrapped round things like shrimp, figs, dates, chillis. Really, isn’t life to short?
  • Crudites with dips – do you really want a dip that someone else has dipped their celery stick in for the third time?
  • proscuitto wrapped round asparagus or breadsticks – pur-lease

Believe me. Keep it simple.  Plates of charcuterie, good bread, some shots, little triangles of watermelon with feta, olives, cornichon, good tomato salsa on buschetta, home made grissini maybe should be the limit of your cooking. Make them with bread dough, roll  into thin sticks, cover with fennel or poppy seed or parmesan and bake for 5 minutes.

Shirley Conran said “Life’s too short to stuff a mushroom”.  She was right!

And here’s the link to Abigail’s Party  …… Now. Where’s my Demis Roussos? And my cocktail sticks?