Hello 2015! It feels like it’s been forever since I blogged but when Christmas came, I was all about the doing, not the writing which soon evolved into the eating and the sleeping. Maybe a little drinking. Essentially, it was time to relax and enjoy all the preparations I’d put in place. By ‘eck, did we eat well! So well in fact I’ve made a little decision that if you follow me on Facebook, you’ll already know about. Yes, that’s right – for January 2015, I am vegetarian. Let me elaborate.

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It’s not without precedent – I was veggie for 3 years before I met Hungry Hubby and I do eat an awful lot of meals which don’t contain meat anyway. Only, this time, after eating so much rich food which was heavy on the meat portion of my plate, I was left feeling uneasy about eating any more. We all go a little overboard at Christmas – it’s a celebration and statement of generosity, in all respects especially food. Feasting is hard wired into us from Ye Olden Days when you really couldn’t feast all year long and had to save and make sacrifices to have a great big hunk of roasted meat to reign supreme over your Christmas table. Having really struggled to make any meaningful progress in exercising enough for some considerable time now, lots of naughty, lazy food habits had crept in and it just felt absolutely right to ditch the meat and rejoice in the world of vegetables for a short period at least. It’s about getting good quality vegetable matter into my body which is nutrient rich and often low calorie. It’s also about saving a little on the food bill yet being able to spend a little extra on top quality veg by cutting out the considerable expense of fresh meat and fish. It’s in no small way about reducing the demand for meat even if it is only a teeny weeny protest coming from one part time meat-eater anyway. I just have to be very careful I don’t replace all the meat on my plate with stodgy carbs and fatty, salty cheese – oh so tempting that it is 😉

I’ve already gotten into the habit of having a fruit smoothie for breakfast and a homemade soup for lunch during the week and will be continuing in this vein. I’ve dug out all my vegetarian cook books and bought Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Everyday and I must say, it’s added a lot of fuel to the flames of my imagination for veggie dinners. I’ve ordered in a ton weight of fresh veggies and restocked the condiment cupboard. Whilst I’ve been meat-free since New Year’s Day, it’s not been until now that I have made something worth talking about from all the flora in my fridge. Hungry Hubby wants to cut back and become healthier too and I knew he’d had enough animal products when I uttered the words “hubby, I think I’m going to go vegetarian for January” a week ago and his response came immediately – “me too”. Now, if you are super strict, you’ll need to source suitable cheese products which don’t use rennet but otherwise, I give you my roasted squash, celeriac and caramelised onion lasagne.

My most favourite type of cooking (as opposed to baking) is done in stages over a leisurely day at home. Weekends and holidays are the only time I get to cook the way I love the most. I feel deprived of the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that I was somehow involved in getting dinner on the table when I bung something in the slow cooker with 5 minutes prep or flash fry and go. This lasagne is certainly multi-stage and takes time pottering about the kitchen but it is all easy and you can do a lot the day before or break it up however feels best to you and do it over a Saturday and a Sunday. If you don’t make the pasta yourself (although I think you should) then buy some fresh lasagne sheets and save a fair old bit of the work. I make caramelised onions all the time – they are something I have in sterilised jars in the fridge the majority of the time and if you want, you can make a huge vat of them to keep chilled until you need to pep up a stew, top a pizza or make an extra special cheese toastie with. You could buy a jar if you like and cut the time out for this stage too but don’t buy an onion “jam” as that will be far too sweet and do taste test first to ensure they aren’t overly sweetened regardless. Roasting the butternut squash and celeriac whole is both lazier and better than peeling, chopping and steaming them. They come out sweet and concentrated in taste and it keeps them form being too watery. As we don’t have (the sadly delicious) fatty and calorific meat to bump up the calories, you can use a little sage butter to stir into the vegetable purées without guilt. I have foregone the tomato sauce completely as a great fear of mine is that vegetarian cooking can all come to resemble an amorphous, otherwise-unidentified-ratatouille if you stir a can of tomatoes into everything and this bianco version is gentle, creamy, soothing and allows the squash, celeriac and sage to sing as through the ricotta rich white sauce topping, reminiscent of that old veggie favourite; spinach and ricotta cannelloni. Which I will be making as soon as Ocado restock their frozen spinach!

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Roasted Squash, Celeriac and Caramelised Onion Lasagne
Serves 6
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For the squash and celeriac
  1. 1.75kg butternut squash (one very large or two medium squashes should weigh about this amount)
  2. 800-900g whole celeriac
  3. 3 cloves of garlic
  4. 2 bay leaves
  5. A drizzle of olive oil
  6. 25g butter
  7. 2 tsp dried sage
For the onions
  1. 3 very large Spanish onions, peeled and finely sliced
  2. 1 tbsp butter + 1 tsp olive oil
  3. 2 bay leaves
  4. 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
  5. 2 tbsp Marsala wine
  6. Salt and pepper
For the white sauce
  1. 2 tbsp plain flour
  2. 2 tsp English mustard powder or 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  3. 2 tbsp butter
  4. ¼ nutmeg grated
  5. 500ml milk
  6. 250g ricotta cheese
  7. Salt and pepper
  8. 4-5 tbsp finely grated parmesan
For the pasta (optional – you can just buy approx 400-500g fresh lasagne sheets if you prefer)
  1. 200g tipo 00 flour
  2. 75g fine ground polenta (cornmeal)
  3. 2 large eggs
  4. 1 tbsp olive oil
  5. Salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Wash and scrub the butternut and celeriac very thoroughly. Place the squash on a baking tray but enclose the celeriac in a large piece of foil with the garlic, 2 bay leaves and a trickle of olive oil – close loosely around the root and place next to the squash. It has thinner skin than the squash and needs protecting to make sure it steams and softens, not dry out in the oven. Cook for 90 minutes until a small sharp knife can be plunged into both with no resistance. Leave until cool enough to handle. Reserve the garlic.
  2. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds, discard them. Scoop the super soft flesh into a large bowl. For the celeriac, cut away the skin with a small sharp knife then break into chunks and place in a second large bowl. The celeriac will need a blitz with a hand blender or a trip in the food processor to turn it into a smooth puree (with a tbsp or 2 of milk if needed) whereas the squash is soft enough to beat to a puree with a big fork.
  3. Squeeze the roasted garlic out of their skins and into a small pan with the 25g butter with the sage and a good amount of seasoning – I am never brave enough with the salt but love my black pepper. Do as you please. When bubbling and well combined, take off the heat and pour two thirds into the squash, the rest into the celeriac puree. Mix well, taste for seasoning and be bold! It can take a fair amount to make their flavours come through in the final dish.
  4. Caramelise the onions (or buy a jar and skip this step). Melt the butter and oil then add in the onions and bay leaves – on a medium heat stir well until the onions are slick with oil and then turn the heat down to low, cover and cook for upto an hour until they are completely soft and translucent. You will need to check in on them to stir and ensure they aren’t sticking.
  5. When soft and clear, take off the lid and turn up the heat to drive off the liquid the onions will have produced.
  6. Sprinkle on the sugar then stir in well, adding in the Marsala at this point – cook stirring constantly for another 5-10 minutes until browned and sticky. They will have shrunk in volume quite considerably. Take off the heat and leave to cool.
  7. Make the pasta by putting all the ingredients into a large bowl, seasoning well and scrunching then kneading by hand. You may need a tbsp or two of cold water to help bring it all together. It will be very stiff but knead until smooth, cover with cling and give it one hour (although upto 3 days is fine) in the fridge to relax and chill. Make yourself a coffee and go do the same!
  8. Make the white sauce by melting the butter and adding in the flour, mustard powder, seasoning and nutmeg. Stir over a medium-high heat until foamy and then pour in the milk, bit by bit, stirring all the way to incorporate all the liquid. Turn the heat up to high and cook until thickened. Take off the heat and beat in the ricotta until smooth. Leave to cool.
  9. Remove the pasta dough from the fridge and roll out with a pasta machine until very thin – mine is from Lakeland and I took it to setting 6. This is less than a millimetre thick. Lay out on the (very clean) work surface or kitchen table, slicing pieces to fit your baking dish.
  10. Use a deep baking dish (mine is 8×10 inches and about 4-5 inches deep but just go with what you’ve got, even use two dishes if necessary). Now it’s time to layer everything up and bake. Using a third of everything (apart from the white sauce – you need to leave a quarter to top the dish with) layer butternut, pasta, caramelised onions, pasta, celeriac purée, pasta then white sauce and a tbsp of parmesan. Repeat twice more then top with the remaining white sauce, dried sage, black pepper and the remaining parmesan.
  11. Bake at 200°C for approximately 45 minutes until cooked through and browned on top. Leave to stand for at least ten minutes before cutting and serving as it will be piping hot.
Every Nook & Cranny https://www.everynookandcranny.net/
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