Nigel Slater's vegetarian winter recipes | Vegetarian food and drink (2024)

Nigel Slater recipes

A plate of steaming carbs is the perfect antidote to a chilly day. Nigel rustles up a cottage pie full of mellow flavours

Nigel Slater

Sat 11 Feb 2012 19.05 EST

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The snow that made the garden such a magical sight last winter is still nowhere to be seen. The mild temperatures have already encouraged young growth on the raspberry canes, roses and even the chard, so I have been out with the pruning sheers, working till my fingers can take no more. The crisp remains of last year's runner beans have been yanked out; the soggy nasturtiums are on the compost and, at last, the barbed and trailing stems of the loganberries have been pruned and tied back into some sort of order.

Any outside work at this time of year leaves me numb with cold. There are gashes along my arms from tugging out blackberries and pruning the wine berry plants that did so well. Such days call for the sort of easy-to-eat, steaming carbs you tuck into with a fork, such as shepherd's pie or macaroni cheese; but I am in the mood for something more interesting, that I have never made before.

I see no reason why I have to use minced meat in pie. Lentils or even some of the smaller beans like the diminutive ivory haricot would make an appropriate alternative. It occurs to me that if they are cooked till almost soft rather than their usual nutty texture, lentils would be rather good under a cloud-like crust of mashed potato. They would need a bit of help, maybe from onions, mushrooms and herbs and perhaps a spinach leaf or two, some deep savour from posh, long-matured vinegar or perhaps a bit of Marmite, and a good, long cooking so the flavours have time to mellow.

An afternoon in the kitchen has resulted in a pie that is just what I need when I come in from the cold. A big pie, one that has rich, copious and savoury filling and a truly comforting crust. To add interest to the potato top, I added plenty of butter and a couple of handfuls of chopped spinach leaves lavished with enough butter to stop them scorching in the heat of the oven.

The weather has to be really quite cold for me to eat piled plates of pasta, but its moist starchiness is exactly what's wanted when Ihave been working outside on awinter's day. The aubergine, in all its purple-black glory, was inspiration for my pasta sauce, baked till soft and toast-coloured on its cut edges, mashed with lemon juice and olive oil then stirred through cooked orecchiette with big, peppery basil leaves. It is a simpler version of one Ido in midsummer with pine kernelsand mint – and better, I think. The warmsilkiness was soothing forsomeone returning from the fruit patch scratched and bloodied.

Lentil and spinach cottage pie

Serves 6
onions 2 medium to large
carrots 2 medium
celery a small stick
dark, open mushrooms 350g
olive or rapeseed oil
garlic 3 cloves
bay leaves 2
thyme 3 or 4 short sprigs
lentils a 500g jar
vegetable stock 500ml
spinach 500g
balsamic vinegar 2 tsp

For the potato crust:
large, floury potatoes 1kg
butter 75g, or olive oil 3 tbsp
spinach 100g

Finely dice the onion, carrot and celery, then cook in a deep casserole over a moderate flame for 10 minutes or so till the onion is almost tender. Finely chop the mushrooms and add to the mixture. Peel and finely slice the garlic and stir in after the mixture has been cooking for 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves and thyme, then the lentils with their bottling liquid, and stir briefly, pouring in the stock. Bring the stock to the boil then turn the heat down and leave to simmer for a good 20 minutes. Season with salt, black pepper and the balsamic vinegar to taste.

Peel the potatoes, cut them into pieces and boil in salted water for 20 minutes or so till tender. Mash with the butter or oil. Beat with a wooden spoon till light and fluffy.

Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Wash the spinach and, if the leaves are large, tear them into pieces then, while they are still wet, pile 450g of them into a pan with a lid and steam, with the occasional stir, for a few minutes till they start to collapse. Cool them under the cold tap, wring them out thoroughly then stir them into the lentils. (Don't add the spinach raw to the lentils: the leaves will produce a lot of water and you'll be left with lentil soup.) Fold the remaining uncooked spinach into the mashed potato.

Tip the lentil mixture into a baking dish and pile on the potato. It may sink slightly into the lentils. Bake for 50 minutes to an hour till the edges are bubbling.

Orecchiette with aubergine, basil and lemon

It is worth noting that my starting point for this recipe contained toasted pine kernels and fettucine. I should have known that wouldn't work, the carefully toasted kernels falling off the ribbons of pasta. Then I proceeded to trofie, the squiggly pasta, but that didn't look good on the plate. I have ended up with ear-shaped pasta and no pine kernels. You will need some Parmesan to pass around. The olive oil is an important part of the dish, so choose a good, fruity one.

Serves 4
300g dried pasta such as orecchiette

For the sauce:
aubergines 2 large
olive oil
onions 2 large
basil leaves a large handful
½ a lemon

Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Slice the aubergines in half lengthways, make shallow cuts almost down to the skin in a criss-cross fashion then brush with olive oil. Bake for 30 minutes or until the skin is charred, and the flesh soft to the touch. Alternatively, prick the whole aubergines all over with a fork then grill till the skin darkens and the inside is soft.

Meanwhile, peel and very finely slice the onions. Then let them cook over a moderate heat with a little olive oil till very soft, deep bronze and lightly caramelised.

Scrape the flesh out of the aubergine skins into a mixing bowl. Leave the flesh in rough pieces or mash it to a pulp. Beating constantly, pour in the olive oil a little at a time – you need about 8 tbsp. Shred the basil and fold into the aubergine sauce with a seasoning of salt, plenty of pepper and a shot of lemon juice to make it sing.

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling, heavily salted water till al dente, then drain it lightly, keeping a tbsp or so of the cooking liquid behind in the pot. Toss gently with the aubergine sauce and divide among four warm bowls, topped with the cooked onions and a few more torn basil leaves.

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Nigel Slater's vegetarian winter recipes | Vegetarian food and drink (2024)


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