Tahini biscuits

Tahini has taken years to grow on me. I think it might be one those foods that you first either love or hate. Even if you do hate it, I still think you should give it another try. The first time I tried tahini I was disgusted. It just seemed like really bad peanut butter and I couldn’t work out why anyone would eat it. I gave tahini another chance a few years later in a cake and really didn’t like it! But I didn’t so much HATE it. It wasn’t until years later that I became a full-on convert when I tried the tahini sauce at Ottolenghi in Islington, paired with juicy-fried aubergine slices. Such garlicky and great-tasting tahini sauce that was. These days, I use tahini all the time, at any chance I get . Most often, I crush a little garlic with salt, whisk in some tahini and add a dash of water. This elixir is just divine served with baked or grilled fish, or sometimes I add a bit of ground up nuts and then use it as a salad dressing for farro. Yummo.

I must admit, I’ve always been a bit of a conservative and have mostly stuck to using tahini in savoury dishes. But boy was I missing a trick; tahini can really lift a bored or tired bake. I think I’ve made these particular tahini biscuits about four or five (!) times this year and for someone who really despises making recipes over and over again that’s really saying something. This recipe is from Ruby Tandoh, most known for being a finalist in The Great British Bake-Off, but also now talented food writer. Her recipes are exactly what I look for: unexpected yet genius flavour combos and informative, unpatronising and well-crafted writing. With the masses of cookbooks being churned out these days, it is increasingly hard to find recipes that are different and still offer something of value, more than the ‘been there, done that’ ones, and I find myself turning more and more to Ruby Tandoh as a reliable source. These tahini biscuits remind me of these other really tasty tahini biscuits in one of my favourite cookbooks of all-time, Claudia Roden’s A New Book of Middle Eastern Food. The thing that gives these biscuits another dimension of flavour is the lemon zest. Each time I make these biscuits, they always taste different depending on the size of the lemon or what kind of tahini was used. I like that a lot. These are so melt-in-your mouth and crumbly that you once to pop you won’t be able to stop. If I feel like I’m getting a bit boring, I sometimes go ‘crazy’ and add a bit of honey instead of the full amount of sugar for a slightly chewy texture. Another good addition is vanilla pod seeds instead of the lemon. Rebellious times!

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Tahini lemon biscuits
Makes about 20–24

120 g butter, softened
120 g tahini
120 g sugar
zest of 1 or 2 lemons
240 g plain flour
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
pinch sea salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a baking tray with baking paper.

Cream the butter, tahini and sugar until pale and fluffy. Mix in the lemon zest. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Gently stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture, using the back of a spoon to combine.

Roll out into balls and space them apart on the baking tray. Pat each down with your fingers, or use a fork to make a crosshatch patter on top of the biscuits. Bake for 12–15 minutes, or take it a bit further for more brownish edges like in the photo above. Remove from the oven and let them sit on the tray for about 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Dunk into a cuppa tea and enjoy!

(Recipe from Crumb by Ruby Tandoh, Chatto and Windus)

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Some pumpkins do ‘ave ’em

As the weather turns full-on winter, I lean towards food that is richer (fattier) and sweeter (fattier again). Not to say that this recipe for pumpkin risotto is in fact ‘fatty’, but I do like to add a lot of butter to it even if it’s not altogether a ‘must’. This dish is definitely on my list of satisfying comfort food and can be made with pretty much any squash, or perhaps even sweet potato. I would recommend using pumpkin/squash that you absolutely love the taste of, and it needs to be fresh because it’s flavour and sweetness will impart to the whole dish. Unlike other pumpkin risotto recipes I’ve made before, this version calls for pumpkin that is simmered gently in milk until very tender. It is then mashed into a puree with bone broth (or vege broth). This milky pumpkin-enriched broth is then used to plump up the grains of rice. I am a real fan of this method because it makes the risotto rice all the more ‘pumpkinny’. And I do love a good pumpkin or squash. There are so many varieties and they are all quite subtle in taste and texture. I don’t like the pale-flesh ones such as the spaghetti squash or turk’s turban, which I find a bit too watery in texture. In the UK, I loved autumn because onion squash would appear in my weekly vege delivery box. Onion squash is similar to the infamous crown prince pumpkin but it has a unique nutty sweetness and is so lovely and smooth in texture. I’ve been trying to find it here, but I can’t seem to track it down! As I wait for my onion squash to find me, I am enjoying trying the different varieties that can be found at my local farmer’s market. IMG_3701 Pumpkin and sage risotto
Serves 4

200 g pumpkin/squash cut into wedges, plus 350 g pumpkin/squash flesh, diced
10 sage leaves
250 ml /8 fl oz whole milk salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, diced
1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
80 g butter
nutmeg
350 g risotto rice
80 ml vermouth
1 litre chicken stock or vegetable stock
50 g freshly grated parmesan

Put the pumpkin wedges on a baking tray and sprinkle with salt, scatter over the sage leaves, and drizzle with olive oil. Bake in the oven, while you make the risotto, for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and tender.

In a small pan cover the diced pumpkin with the milk.  Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes, or until the pumpkin is tender. Using a slotted spoon, lift the pumpkin from the milk into a small bowl and set aside. Mash the pumpkin pieces with a fork into a puree. Add knob of butter, salt, black pepper and a grating of nutmeg. Add the stock or water to the leftover milk and set over a low flame.

In a large heavy-based pan, heat the oil and melt half of the remaining butter. Add the onion to the pan and sauté it gently over a medium heat until soft and translucent. Add the rice to the pan and stir well to coat in butter and oil. Add the vermouth to the pan and let it bubble away and absorb. Start adding the milk/stock, a ladleful at a time, stirring the risotto as you do so. Add a little more once the previous ladleful has been absorbed. The rice is cooked when it is tender and creamy but still firm to bite. Take the pan off the heat and then leave the risotto to sit, covered, for 1 minute. Beat in the remaining butter and the parmesan, taste, season with salt if necessary, and then serve with a slice or two of roasted pumpkin and sage.

(Recipe adapted from racheleats.wordpress.com)