The Cannelloni

This weekend I made mushroom and spinach cannelloni. I actually did.

I picked the cannelloni partly because I’m currently a pescetarian (after we visited a farm on Easter and the little piglets looked up at me with their little snouts and little eyes that pleaded “let us live!”… I’m hoping it’s just a phase though.) but mostly because I kept seeing cannelloni tubes at the supermarket and, never having known such things existed before, was intrigued. The recipe was from the Mary Berry and Lucy Young book Cook Up A Feast.

This weekend I made mushroom and spinach cannelloni. I actually did.

I picked the cannelloni partly because I’m currently a pescetarian (after we visited a farm on Easter and the little piglets looked up at me with their little snouts and little eyes that pleaded “let us live!”… I’m hoping it’s just a phase though.) but mostly because I kept seeing cannelloni tubes at the supermarket and, never having known such things existed before, was intrigued. The recipe was from the Mary Berry and Lucy Young book Cook up a Feast.

My fist hurdle came when preparing the ingredients. I innocently went to get the called for can of tomatoes but when I opened the cupboard door something threw itself off the shelf at high speed only to break it’s fall in the casserole dish, which naturally shattered. Great. What on earth am I supposed to cook the cannelloni in now? And if that weren’t enough, at that moment, as if inspired, an opened bag of spaghetti followed suit and emptied its contents everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. I’ll be honest, I didn’t take it well, I may have even in the heat of the moment used an expletive. Internally I rounded on my boyfriend, Conor. It never would have happened, I raged to myself, if someone hadn’t overstuffed the cupboard, if someone knew how to organize things, if someone hadn’t just shoved everything up there when they unpacked the shopping last time… And then it hit me. That someone was me. I overstuffed the cupboard, I don’t know how to organize things, and I had unpacked the shopping last time. Sorry Conor.

My next hurdle: mushrooms. The recipe calls for 500g of mixed mushrooms roughly chopped. 500g is a lot of mushrooms. More than a lot. It’s loads. Conor and I have an ongoing debate on how to clean mushrooms (we also talk about interesting things). I was taught, although admittedly I can’t remember by whom, that you should dab mushrooms with a wet paper towel, or cloth or whatever, so that the mushroom doesn’t absorb too much water. Conor insists this is rubbish and that you can just rinse them. So here it was, Sunday afternoon, and I was righteously giving each mushroom a tender loving sponge bath. I had got through perhaps ten when I thought to myself “I’m doing pretty well here!” and checked the pile of mushrooms to admire the hefty dent I felt sure I was making in it. My pile was still 500g of mushroom strong… minus ten. This was going to take ages. So very calmly I made sure that Conor was not only out of the room, but in a far away enough room that I’d have time to hide the evidence should he start heading towards the kitchen, and I started grabbing mushrooms by the handful – chestnut, shiitake, button alike – and shoving them under the tap. Water absorption… really? They were fine.

So. 500g of mushrooms now washed. 500g of mushrooms now to chop. I won’t bore you with the details, suffice to say it took half an hour.

Now to actually make the cannelloni. The first step is to fry the mushrooms with the spinach in a frying pan. It crossed my mind, while trying to fit the mushrooms and spinach into a British size frying pan, that either Mary Berry and Lucy Young have never actually seen 500g of roughly chopped mushrooms and 225g of roughly chopped spinach, or they have access king sized frying pans. Whichever it was, 725g of food does not fit into my frying pans. I somewhat lost my cool as my carefully washed and roughy chopped to perfection mushrooms cascaded to the floor and periodically flew across the room. Enter my boyfriend. Calm in the face of crisis (and always confused by my freak outs in the kitchen) suggested I cook them in batches. It took some serious explanations, and eventually a physical demonstration for me to understand how he intended me to do this, but admittedly it was a good idea.

The rest was pretty easy. For those with patience, dedication to mushrooms, and giant frying pans, this recipe isn’t too complicated. I found a smaller casserole dish to cook it in and was relieved to see the cannelloni tubes were actually much smaller than I had imagined and would fit into it- although that did make spooning in the eventually fried mushroom and spinach mix a bit fiddly.

It came out of the oven looking amazing, and, to my delight, potentially edible. Admittedly the presentation went to pot as I spooned it out onto the plates, but I am very proud to say that it was not only edible, but was actually quite tasty.

In the future, if I make it again I will: buy pre chopped mushrooms, rinse them from the start (only when Conor isn’t paying attention), get bigger frying pans, and cook the mushrooms for longer (not all of them were fried enough and were a bit tough after being baked in the oven).

Not bad for a first timer, right?

Here’s the recipe:

Cannelloni

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 500g mixed mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 225g baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 400g can tomatoes, drained and juice disgarded
  • 2tbsp pesto
  • 75g freshly grated parmesan
  • 12 cannelloni tubes
  • For the sauce

  • 75g butter
  • 75g plain flour
  • 900ml hot milk
  • 100ml double cream
  • 2 heaped tbsp pesto

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the mushrooms, and fry over a high heat for 2 mins, or until just cooked. Add the garlic and spinach and toss together until the spinach is just wilted. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and set aside to cool.
  2. To make the sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan, whisk in the flour, and cook for 1 minute. Whisking all the time, gradually blend in the hot milk and the cream and bring to the boil. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, remove from the heat, and stir in the pesto.
  3. Put the tomatoes into a mixing bowl, add the cooled mushroom mixture, the pesto, and one – third of the Parmesan. Stir to combine.
  4. Preheat the oven to 200 Celsius (180 fan / 400F / Gas 6). Meanwhile, fill the cannelloni tubes with the mushroom and spinach filling, diving it equally among them.
  5. Spoon one – third of the sauce into the base of the ovenproof dish and arrange the filled cannelloni on top in neat rows. Pour the remaining sauce over the top and sprinkle with the rest of the Parmesan.
  6. Bake for 30 – 35 mins.

Preparation time: 20 minute(s)

Cooking time: 30-35 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 6

Fresh and Sweet Pea Soup

Pea soup is a traditional Thursday food in Finland. The tradition goes back all the way to the 15th Century when Finland used to be Catholic. People used to fast on Fridays so it was important to eat something nutritious and filling the day before. Although Finland became Lutheran in the 16th Century, the tradition lived on. Today many schools and the Army serve pea soup on a Thursday. For the same reasons, pea soup is also eaten on Shrove Tuesday, day before the fast begins.

Most pea soup eaten in modern day Finland is made with dried peas and is sold in 400 gram tins. As my corner shop doesn’t carry any dried peas, I decided to make up the recipe with fresh ones. Better for it. The soup turned out lovely, fresh but also sweet and filling. I’ve not added any ham to keep this vegetarian but if you feel like it, throw in a couple of handfuls of diced ham about a minute before taking it off the heat.

Fresh Pea Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 onion
  • 500 g fresh frozen peas
  • 500 ml vegetable stock
  • knob of butter
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • salt
  • 1/3 tsp white pepper
  • egg

Method

  1. Sauté the chopped onions with the butter for about four minutes
  2. Meanwhile, place the egg in boiling water for 10 minutes
  3. Add the stock, peas, a pinch of salt, white pepper and the mustard
  4. Bring it back to boil and once it does, leave it to simmer for another four minutes
  5. Blitz with a hand mixer until almost smooth
  6. Serve with half a hard boiled egg
  7. Garnish with small basil or mint leave but don’t use olive oil as I did. It just doesn’t go with it

Quick notes

I’ve tagged this as vegan which it obviously isn’t. But if you substitute butter with vegetable oil and leave the egg out, the pea soup suddenly become suitable for vegan diets. This recipe serves two as a main or four as a starter.

Preparation time: 2 minute(s)

Cooking time: 15 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4

Gherkin Soup with Dill

Last summer, we had a lovely dinner at Fishers in the City, a very nice fish restaurant in Edinburgh. I can’t remember what I had but Darina’s starter was much more memorable; gherkin soup. I had never heard of such soup before and apart from few recipes online, it’s not well know. Perhaps that’s because gherkins aren’t as popular in much of English speaking world as they are in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.

This recipe is a sort of a combination of the few I could find, taking the best bits and keeping it very simple. Unlike many vegetarian soups I think the gherkins bring a bit more body and distinct flavour.

We had this as the soup course on our Christmas meal this year. It’s great as it’s easy to make, I’ll make mine in the morning and heat it up for serving.

Polish Gherkin Soup with Dill

Ingredients

  • 120 g diced onions
  • 150 g diced potatoes
  • 150 g diced carrots
  • 150 g gherkin, sliced into strips
  • 5 tbsp cream
  • 1 tsp vegetable stock powder
  • gherkin brine
  • 1/2 tbsp dill
  • Flour
  • Butter
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Method

  1. Heat butter in a small sauce pan and lightly fry the onions in it for 3 minutes or until soft. Be careful not to brown them
  2. Add potatoes and carrots, and generously cover with water
  3. Bring to boil and let it simmer till carrots are almost cooked
  4. In a small bowl, dust the sliced gherkins with flour so they’re covered and then add to the pan
  5. Add cream, stock and seasoning to taste. Omit dill if gherkins are preserved with it. You can also use a splash of gherkin brine to enhance the flavour
  6. You can also add a little bit of finely chopped red chillies to add warmth
  7. Let it simmer for another 10 minutes

Preparation time: 5 minute(s)

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Number of servings (yield): 4

Carrot and Swede Casseroles – Finnish Christmas Classics

These two casserole dishes are must-haves in Finnish Christmas table. They’re side dishes to the main but especially carrot casserole would make a great vegetarian main anytime of the year.

Carrot Casserole

Ingredients

  • 75 ml rice
  • 200 ml water (or water carrots were boiled in)
  • 350 ml milk
  • 500 g carrors, sliced and boiled
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pinch of white pepper
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/2 tbsp syrup
  • 1 egg
  • breadcrumbs and butter for crusting

Method

  1. Start by boiling the carrots in barely enough water.
  2. Keep the water and use it to boil your rice. Once rice has absorbed all the water, add milk and simmer on lowest heat for 45 minutes.
  3. Mash your carrots and add other ingredients. I usually add rice last, little by little, and make sure there’s not too much of it. You can make this as little or much ‘carroty’ as you want.
  4. Divide in batter into two, buttered, tin foil trays. This will make two roughly 400 gram trays. Level the tray and sprinkle breadcrumbs on top. Bake for 45 minutes in 200°C with a knob of butter on top.

Preparation time: 1 hour

Cooking time: 50 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 6 as a side

Swede (or Rutabaga) Casserole

Ingredients

  • 650 g swede, diced
  • 120 ml cream
  • 40 ml breadcrumbs (plus extra for topping)
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • pinch of white pepper
  • butter

Method

  1. Boil your swede and mash when ready
  2. Add other ingredients and mix well
  3. (Sometimes swedes (and Swedes) can be a bit bitter, if so add more syrup)
  4. Divide into two buttered tin foil trays. This should make two 400 gram trays
  5. Level the tray and sprinkle breadcrumbs on top. Bake for 45 minutes in 200°C with a knob of butter on top.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes(s)

Number of servings (yield): 8 as a side

Vegetarian Mushroom Pâté

Want that special vegetarian friend or wife to love you even more? Try this excellently simple and pretty quick mushroom pâté. You can serve it hot straight off the pan or keep it in the fridge for a fair few days. Excellent on top of some toasted French bread.

Vegetarian Mushroom Pâté

Ingredients

  • 150 g oyster mushrooms
  • 150 g button mushrooms
  • Basil
  • 3 Spring onions
  • 2 shallots
  • Garlic
  • 2 tbsp sour cream
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Coarse mustard

Method

  1. Fry chopped mushrooms, spring onion, garlic and shallots in a bit of butter and on low heat until they stop giving moisture. Be careful not to let them get brown.
  2. Half way through above, add basil, thyme and seasoning.
  3. Mix in mustard and sour cream.
  4. Take off the heat after about a minute or so
  5. Divide into ramekins and garnish with a sprig of thyme.

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Number of servings (yield): 4

Stinging Nettle Pancakes with Morel Mushroom Stew


For a long time, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with stinging nettles. Nettles is one of the first plant of the spring you can forage for food. It marks the beginning of the summer as it’s often the first thing in our garden to end up on our plates. Unfortunately, it just keeps growing ever bigger and in larger quantities. It attempts to infiltrate its stingy stems everywhere, between the raspberry bushes, strawberries and any free space you can find in the garden. I’ve been trying to turn my hate for into love by using it’s stems for colouring wool, but the colour only ends up being a bleak greyish-green.

Luckily, nettle pancakes, by themselves or with mushroom stew, are delicious!

Nettle Pancakes

Ingredients

  • 3 litres of small nettle leaves, washed
  • 30 cl plain flour
  • 10 cl barley flour
  • 80 cl milk
  • an egg or two
  • 1/2 tsb salt

Method

  1. Mix the dough until smooth and add finely chopped nettles
  2. Let it sit for an hour
  3. Cook on a hot skillet with butter

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Cooking time: 1 hour(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4

Morel Mushroom Stew

Ingredients

  • 200 g morel mushrooms (boiled twice to remove poison)
  • 35 g butter
  • 1/2 onion
  • salt
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 20 cl cream

Method

  1. Fry the mushrooms on a dry frying pan for a moment until excess water has evaporated
  2. Add butter, onion and salt, and fry for a few minutes
  3. Add plain flour and fry a bit more until slightly browned
  4. Finally, add cream and let the stew sit for about 10 minutes until serving.

Preparation time: 1 hour (if using fresh morels)

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Number of servings (yield): 4