Pear and stilton gnocchi

This recipe sounds ultra-fancy, but it can be knocked up in fifteen minutes, making it a very sociable dish for guests. And it’s cheap – a couple of pears, an onion, garlic, cheese, and some gnocchi comes to about £2 per serving. Pear and stilton is such a complimentary combination – don’t feel alarmed. Here’s some rare pictures of me cooking in my gorgeous student kitchen, curtesy of my wonderful photographer (and friend), James.

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Pear and stilton gnocchi (serves 2; vegetarian)

 Ingredients: 

  • 1 onion (I find brown works best, but shallots would also be banging)
  • 2 ripe pears, peeled and sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 100g stilton
  • 500g gnocchi

Method:

  1. Heat a saucepan with a tablespoon of olive, then fry off the onions for 5 minutes on a gentle heat. Add the sliced pear, followed by garlic and rosemary. Cook for about 10 minutes, while the gnocchi is cooking, stirring occasionally.
  2. Boil a pan of water, add the gnocchi and cook for 3 minutes – be careful to not over cook.
  3. Take the saucepan off the heat, and stir in the drained gnocchi. While still very hot, crumble the stilton over, and mix gently until creamy.

4. Season with pepper, and sprinkle over some nuts for added texture – pine nuts, cashews or walnuts work well.

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happy guests

Autumnal menu reivew at The Oddfellows

My first impressions of The Oddfellows are from comedy and cocktail nights in the upstairs speakeasy; the vintage interior offers sophisticated quirks and charms that are a luxury for students, and the vast array of spirits and ales are incredibly exciting. The cocktails are an absolute delight – these experimental and delicious concoctions are overshadowed by popular and inexpensive cocktail bars in the city, attracting students from the deep, dark depths of their deadlines. If you’re in need of a cosy space for an uninterrupted first date, then students, leave the sugary, syrupy cocktail pitchers at Firehouse and head across the road to The Oddfellows. If conversation is sparse you can discuss the eccentric decor, like the giant pine cone chairs, or the animal heads hanging from the walls.

Sometimes I just hate breaking the news that I’m vegetarian to the restaurant owners overseeing my reviews, particularly after first-glance at a lavish meat feast of a menu consisting of duck breast, black pudding mousse, chorizo couqettes…the chefs certainly know how to curate a menu according to season. So when my lovely server, Ryan, recommended the last of the venison on today’s specials board I didn’t want to announce “I’m afraid we’re (referring to my lucky reviewee partner and myself) vegetarian”. And that’s made awkward more so by the fact that the only vegetarian main on the menu was a risotto, albeit a luxurious, al dente, creamy risotto. Although, I do prefer it when a menu is composed of a few extensively and passionately designed dishes. Situated on a table with full view of the happenings of the kitchen, the solo chef on this Monday evening knew his way round the elaborate yet tempting menu, juggling the orders for hungry diners.

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The dish that deserves the spotlight from this three course is surprisingly a simplistic vegetarian starter, which merely thinking about is making my mouth water. On paper, it’s rather unexciting: Goats cheese mousse, quince purée, and butternut squash. This restaurant certainly loves its mousses and purées. The goats cheese mousse melted in the mouth – it wasn’t overpowering or too rich like you’d expect it to be but was the perfect, soft accompaniment to the crunchiness of the butternut squash – which there were only three cubes of – a tad ungenerous, if not to emphasise the mousse as centerpiece.

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An additional vegetarian starter on the specials board also caught my eye: salad of roasted heart of artichoke, giant caramelized shallots, served with a concentrated spinach and basil dressing, and a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds. This was a wholesome and more filling starter compared to the first. But starters aren’t meant to fill you up, they’re there to whet your appetite for the next courses, and the goats cheese mousse was incredibly exciting, making me anticipate the what would come next.

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Up next was unfortunately the only vegetarian main up for grabs: creamy roasted cauliflower risotto with truffle oil. It didn’t disappoint in taste and appearance however; the charred cauliflower with truffle oil against the luxurious base of al dente (cooked to perfection in my books) risotto rice really worked. If you prefer less rich, less creamy risotto then this may not be for you – it’s truly indulgent.

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I’ve never had parfait before, so the dessert was an appealing excuse to try it I’m also a sucker for all the components of this dessert: peanut butter, caramelized banana and salted caramel sauce. I thoroughly enjoyed the way this was assembled, rather than merely plated; it was similar to the artistic arrangement of the winning starter.

On average starters and desserts were priced at £5.50, and mains ranging from £13 to £19, so it’s a student treat, or somewhere to take when the parents visit for graduation perhaps. I would definitely go again if the options for vegetarians were increased and more varied, there’s much more scope for experimentation in the non-meat dishes. Otherwise I’ll just have to order three of the goats cheese mousse starter.

Truffles Pizzeria: restaurant review

Upon entering Truffles Pizzeria, the air was pungent with the luxurious smell and quality of truffle oil – as one of my favourite cooking ingredients, this was a good indication of what was to come.

Opened as a pizzeria only a year ago, amongst the dainty throng of local independents on Magdalen Road, business seems to be prosperous. Even on a Wednesday evening, tables were occupied or reserved; popular with local families, companionless individuals perhaps in need of a restful meal and some quality time to themselves, young 30-something couples and people popping in for a hump-day takeaway order. All students tend to migrate towards The Old Firehouse when pizza is fancied, but I recommend this restaurant for a more relaxed, intimate atmosphere, and for a greater selection of elaborate toppings.

Truffles Pizzeria is sadly lacking in a website and an accessible menu online, so I couldn’t do my favourite, unspontaneous habit and peruse the menu and decide what I was going to have beforehand. But its TripAdvisor profile, rating it #24 in the whole of Exeter, and at a stable 5 stars from over 100 happy customers, reassured my qualms concerning the menu. I can vouch that the pizza menu is extensive, for vegetarians and meat eaters alike, featuring experimental toppings like blue cheese, honey and walnut (without a tomato base) to the classic pepperoni. Pizzas are priced at approximately £11.50 each.

Typically I’d go for the most experimental, i.e. the blue cheese, honey and walnut combo, but I’ve seem to be recreating these same flavours again and again for my own recipes (like my pear and stilton flatbreads) because blue cheese and walnut are the recipe for a perfect marriage. On this occasion my reviewee date and I went for ‘The Autumn’, to enjoy the current seasonal flavours, and ‘The Vegetarian’. ‘The Autumn’ is apt for those with luxurious and expensive tastebuds as it was laden with mushrooms, pine nuts and truffle oil. The flavourful ‘Vegetarian’ option featured tender artichokes, sun dried tomatoes, green and black olives and caramelised onion. Both were a real treat, but ‘The Autumn’ was particularly distinct in flavour due to the drizzling of truffle oil and the abundance of toasted pine nuts.

The owner Chris is cheerful and welcoming, and the way he runs the restaurant truly reminds me of No 1 Polsloe’s style, as it has a lovely, personal touch which comes with independent businesses. For example, Chris recently invited in local primary school children to propose their own perfect pizzas, and the winning design made its way onto the menu. The walls are decorated with exceptional prints and drawings by local secondary school students, too.

I apologise that my photos aren’t up to my usual standard as the restaurant was romantically lit by candlelit, so the pictures do not do the pizzas justice. I would encourage you to try out Truffles whilst you have the chance before entering graduate life; it’s a perfect location for a cosy date. Alternatively, you can experience the pizza in the comfort of your own home with Deliveroo…

Truffles Pizzeria on Facebook

Truffles Pizzeria on TripAdvisor

 

Saag paneer

paneer is a fresh, unsalted white cheese – it requires no ageing so it can be made in no time at home. It’s a staple vegetarian Indian ingredient which holds its form well and is flavoured beautifully with turmeric and garam masala.

Saag paneer vegetarian & gluten free; serves 4

Ingredients:

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For the paneer: 

  • 1.5 litres whole milk
  • 1 lemon, juiced

For the saag: 

  • 1 medium sized brown onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 5cm of fresh ginger
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 vine tomatoes
  • 2 heaped tbsp coconut cream
  • 500g spinach
  • Salt and pepper

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Method:

  1. In preparation for the paneer, line a sieve with a large piece of muslin cloth over a bowl.
  2. In a heavy based saucepan, bring the whole milk to the boil and then leave to simmer on a low heat.
  3. Stir the simmering milk continuously with a wooden spoon while dropping in the lemon juice in a tablespoon at a time. Continue stirring until the curds and whey separate.
  4. Take off the heat and carefully pour into the sieve, so that the curds gather in the muslin. Gently rinse under cold running water. Squeeze the curd bundle to remove any excess moisture.
  5. Place the bundle back in the sieve, over the bowl, and place a 1kg weight on the cheese. Leave in the fridge for at least an hour to set.
  6. Once firmed, cut the cheese into 2cm chunks. Fry on a medium heat in chilli infused oil (if to hand) for 5 minutes. Add more oil if necessary, and ensure that the cheese retains its shape by only stirring occasionally. Remove from the pan and leave on kitchen roll whilst you cook the saag.
  7. In the same pan, add the chopped onion with cumin seeds and cook on a low to medium heat until softened. Stir in the crushed garlic, peeled and chopped ginger, garam masala and turmeric. Then add finely chopped tomatoes and cook for a further 8 minutes.
  8. Lower the heat, add the coconut cream and the spinach and cover with a lid to wilt the spinach. Add a splash of water if needed. Once a creamy consistency, serve immediately.

Pear and stilton rustic flatbreads

Pear and stilton rustic flatbreads vegetarian; serves 2

inspired by a BBC recipe for pear and stilton creamy pasta, I’ve caramelised them and popped them on a flatbread. With added extras, of course. 

Ingredients:

For the flatbread bases: 

  • 175g strong white flour
  • 120ml lukewarm water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dried yeast
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

For the toppings: 

  • 2 tbsp red pesto
  • 1 medium sized red onion, finely sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 pear
  • 100g stilton, crumbled
  • Handful fresh parsley, chopped
  • 8 fresh basil leaves
  • 10 walnuts, chopped

Method:

  1. Begin by caramelising the onion. Heat a saucepan with 1 tbsp olive oil, and drop in the finely sliced onions and a clove of crushed garlic. Cover the pan with a lid, and leave to stew for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.
  2. While the onions are caramelising, pre-heat the oven to 190ºc and make the bases.
  3. Sift the flour into a bowl with the salt and yeast. Make a well in the middle of the bowl, and then pour in 120ml lukewarm water, followed by 1 tbsp olive oil. Mix with a wooden spoon until it forms a smooth dough. On a floured surface, knead the dough for 5 minutes. Pop the dough back in the bowl and leave to rise for 25 minutes in a warm place.
  4. Slice the pear in 2cm thick pieces, and add them to the strewing onions to caramelise. If more moisture is needed, spoon in a tbsp of butter. Cook for 3-4 minutes, then take the pan off the heat.
  5. Roll out the risen dough into circular bases, and place on baking paper and onto oven trays.
  6. Assemble with the toppings! Begin by spreading a spoonful of red pesto onto the bases, followed by the caramelised onions and pears. Finish with the stilton, walnuts, parsley and basil. Season with salt and pepper.
  7. Cook in the oven for 16 minutes.

Anchovy and caramelised onion rustic pizza

Anchovy and caramelised onion rustic pizza serves 2; makes 2 individual pizzas 

all the favourite, albeit acquired, Italian flavours rolled into a single pizza

Ingredients

For the pizza bases:

  • 175g strong white flour
  • 120ml lukewarm water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dried yeast
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

For the toppings: 

  • 1 medium sized brown onion, finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 8 fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 tin of anchovy fillets in olive oil
  • Capers
  • Olives
  • 100g mozzarella, torn into 10 pieces

Method

  1. Begin by caramelising the onions. Heat a saucepan with 1 tbsp olive oil, and drop in the finely sliced onions. Add a clove of crushed garlic and a bay leaf. Cover the pan with a lid, and leave to stew for 45 minutes, stirring frequently.
  2. While the onions are caramelising, pre-heat the oven to 190ºc and make the pizza bases.
  3. Sift the flour into a bowl with the salt and yeast. Make a well in the middle of the bowl, and then pour in 120ml lukewarm water, followed by 1 tbsp olive oil. Mix with a wooden spoon until it forms a smooth dough. On a floured surface, knead the dough for 5 minutes. Pop the dough back in the bowl and leave to rise for 25 minutes in a warm place.
  4. While the dough is rising, make a basic tomato sauce for the bases. In a saucepan, cook 2 chopped tomatoes with 1 tbsp tomato puree on a low heat. Add the basil and chilli flakes at the end.
  5. Once increased in size, roll out the dough and shape into two individual pizza bases. Place on baking paper on a tray, ready for the oven.
  6. Assemble the pizzas! Coat the bases in tomato sauce, then spread over the caramelised onions. Drain the anchovies, and line them in a criss cross pattern. Add the capers, mozzarella, and olives – alternating to form an aesthetically pleasing pattern.
  7. Bake in the oven for 18 minutes.