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Cookery: Cold day, hot food

21 January 2009

by Terence Handley MacMath

I AM TOLD that the weather is getting warmer. But, meanwhile, hot food disappears gratefully, and none faster and more gratefully than this winter Tagine, which can use up winter vegetables. For four people (or two very hungry people):

root vegetables (carrots, parsnips,

sweet potato, celeriac, fennel, onions) according to availability


prunes and/or apricots

cashew nuts

1 carton passata/tin tomatoes

olive oil


chili paprika



couscous (or pasta or rice)

fresh parsley to garnish (or other green herbs)

Heat the oven to Gas 6/200°C/400°F. Peel and cut the root vegetables and peppers into bite-sized chunks. Toss them in olive oil and seasoning, and roast for about half an hour. Soak a cupful of dried fruit in the tomato juice, with a cup of water added, for as long as you can.

Lightly cook the spices in the oil for a minute or two, about a teaspoon of each according to taste. Add the tomato and dried fruit, and allow the sauce to thicken for a few minutes. Taste and season, adding a little honey for sweetness. Add a table­spoon of cashew nuts for each per­son. Serve the vegetables on a bed of couscous, and spoon over the sauce.

Carlo — the man who helps keep my car on the road — tells me that in Italy they had a vegetarian Lasagne for Christmas dinner. So I go back to my Italian vegetarian recipe book, get more ideas from Carlo, and the result is a little different:

sheets of lasagne (pre-cooked)

1 carton passata

1 large onion

1-2 large garlic cloves

olive oil

500g (1lb) mushrooms



about 114g butter (about 4oz)

250ml (½ pint) milk

nutmeg and seasoning

60g (2oz) plain flour

eggs (1, plus 1 for each person)

mozzarella cheese

Parmesan cheese (grated)

Make a good tomato sauce by frying the onion and garlic in a little olive oil, and adding the tomato passata. Let it all simmer until thick. Make a mushroom sauce by chopping the mushrooms finely and stewing them in a little butter. Make a fennel sauce in the same way, and purée the result.

Make a béchamel sauce by melting 60g (2oz) butter in a pan with 60g (2oz) flour. Cook for a minute or two, and add 250ml (½ pint) milk. As it thic­­­kens, add seasoning and a little freshly grated (if possible) nutmeg. When it is thick and smooth, cool slightly and break an egg into it. Stir well.

Cook the spinach. Slice the mozza­rella thinly. Heat the oven to Gas 6/200°C/400°F. Layer all these ingre­di­ents into a large square dish, inter­leaving them with two layers of lasagne, keeping plenty of the béchamel sauce for the top.

Lastly, break in as many eggs as you wish, and top these with the rest of the béchamel and plenty of Par­mesan. Bake for about 30 minutes.

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