Category: Seasonal recipes

From the Witch and other Cooks whom the Witch admires


Casting around for a some different way to use my Crown Princes (see ‘Z is for Zucca Ivernale’), I found this risotto recipe from north Italy.  You can use any kind of pumpkin, or butternut squash (which is more readily available in UK supermarkets).  It will make you a dish to sustain body and soul.

Some say that Antonio Vivaldi was fond of this dish, so it would only be fair prepare it to the accompaniment of his Four Seasons: Winter.

Antonio Vivaldi, composer of The Four Seasons, and greatest baroque musician of all time, enjoyed a spot of pumpkin risotto when his muse sulked

Serves 4


  • Pumpkin, or butternut squash 600g (or a bit more if you like)
  • Onion, 1 medium
  • Garlic, 1 large clove
  • Oil (not olive), 1TB
  • Butter, 1 thickish slice
  • Risotto rice (sold as arborio or canarole rice in the UK), 200g
  • Dried sage*,  2 generous pinches
  • Marigold stock, 500ml
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning
  • Grated parmesan to serve

* I like sage, but if you don’t, use rosemary or thyme instead

To make

  1. Prepare the pumpkin, or butternut squash.  Remove the seeds, peel and chop into small chunks, a bit larger than poker dice.  Steam until just tender – about 10 minutes.  Drain.
  2. While this is happening, peel and chop the onion, and crush the garlic.
  3. Heat the oil and butter together in a saute pan. (The butter gives flavour, the oil stops the butter from burning – neat, eh?)**
  4. Gently fry the onion till soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and fry for a few more minutes.
  5. Then add the rice and stir till the grains are shiny.
  6. Add 1 ladle full of stock and stir well to ensure that nothing is sticking on the bottom of the pan.  Turn the heat down, and continue to cook gently with the lid off, stirring from time to time.
  7. After about 3 minutes, most of the stock will have been absorbed.  Add another ladle full of stock, as well as the steamed pumpkin and the sage.  Continue to simmer and stir as before.
  8. Carry on adding the stock and cooking.  You may not need all the stock, or you may possibly need more.  Taste for doneness: you are aiming at a soupy consistency, but the individual grains of rice should have a bit of bite – al dente.  
  9. You will notice that the pumpkin sort of disintegrates, giving the risotto a beautiful overall golden colour.
  10. Season to taste and serve in bowls with grated parmesan.
  11. Buon appetito!


**Thank you Mum for this excellent tip!




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Snowy fields near Kedleston Hall, Derby

Winter has at last arrived – and it is mid January!  We had a night of hard frost followed by a flurry of snow on the weekend.  There has lately been an uncoupling of time and temperature, and things have gone askew.  Warm winters can be more disturbing than cold summers.  A bit like when Tiffany Aching dances with the Wintersmith and, mistaking her for the Summer Lady, he falls in love with her.

Haven’t read ‘Wintersmith’ by Terry Pratchett yet?  You have a treat in store.

This is the time of year to keep body and soul together.


One way to do this is to put a pinch of ground ginger in your tea.  It doesn’t matter what kind of tea you drink, or whether you have milk or not.  Just take a little pinch and stir it in.  You will barely taste it, but it has a magic effect.  If you have a cold, it will make it better.  If you don’t have a cold, it will prevent you getting one.  This clever tip came from the Indian check-out lady at my local Sainsburys, and I can vouch that it works.  Do try it.

Three wise colleagues recommend ginger ale if you are suffering from morning sickness.  And the next time you are on an ocean cruise, they swear there is nothing more effective than ginger ale to quell the nausea of sea-sickness when the going gets a tad squiffy in the Azores.


As promised, here is a zucca recipe for cold winter days. It’s hearty, healthy and delicious. You can use any kind of pumpkin, or butternut squash.


Serves 4 – 6

  • Zucca 750g
  • Continental lentils 120g
  • Vegetable oil 2TB
  • Onion 1 large
  • Garlic 2 cloves
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Brown sugar, a pinch
  • Tomatoes, 1 large tin (400g)
  • Bay leaves 2
  • Thyme 2 tsp
  • Parsley, a small bunch

To make

  1. Soak the lentils overnight in cold water.
  2. When you are ready to cook,  drain the lentils, cover them with fresh water and cook them in a pan with the lid on until tender, about 30 -35 minutes. Keep a cup of the cooking liquid (you may need it later) and drain the rest.
  3. Prepare the pumpkin by peeling it (careful!  See Z is for Zucca Invernale), removing the seeds and cottony fibres, then cutting the flesh into small, neat chunks.
  4. Peel and chop the onion and the garlic.  Heat the oil in a large saute pan and sweat them together for about 3 minutes.
  5. Stir in the pumpkin.  Season with the salt, pepper and sugar.
  6. Mix in the lentils and the tomatoes.  Add the herbs and cook together for another 20 minutes with the lid on, until the pumpkin is soft and tender.  (This is why the pumpkin chunks need to be small – too big and they take ages to cook.)
  7. Add some of the lentil cooking liquid if necessary.  The mixture should be quite moist, but not runny.
  8. Chop the parsley up fine.
  9. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.  Sprinkle with chopped parsley.
  10. Enjoy!

(This recipe comes from Anton Mosimann’s book Naturally. )

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Chef Anton




I find myself at the dusty, neglected end of the alphabet among the letters less frequently used.

There is nothing dusty about zucca invernale, though.  I recently visited an old friend who lives in San Remo, in Italy.   She took me to the local Saturday market, where we were accosted by a cheery (and very handsome) young stall holder, with a fag clamped in the corner of his mouth: the new season Scillian oranges had just arrived and would we like to try some? They were delicious, and my friend bought some.  I looked at the other produce while they exchanged easy banter in Italian – the small narrow artichokes with the long stems, the Abbots pears – when my eye was caught by what looked like a street entertainer’s balloon, blown when the street entertainer was rather pissed. It was sturdy and very, very long, with smooth golden skin.  I think I know my veg, but this was new to me. “What’s that?” I asked pointing.  “Ah, zucca invernale”, came the reply and he obligingly chopped off the end with his enormous knife so I could see the inside.  It was bright orange with large seeds, and  I knew at once it was of the tribe of Pumpkin.  This one was about as long as a trombone, and he asked how much we wanted. My friend told him, and he cut her a section.  She paid,  and we went off to finish our market business

When we got home, she prepared it and said that it made a nice pumpkin risotto. We spent the rest of the day in her kitchen, catching up with each other’s lives, and cooking.  By dinner time, we had consumed rather a lot of wine and  completely forgot to make the risotto di zucca; but it mattered not.  She saved me the seeds, which I dried on a bit of kitchen roll, and I will plant them this summer.


When I got home, I looked up invernale and found that it means ‘of the winter’. And now that I think about it, zuccini is what the Italians call courgettes, meaning ‘little zucca’.  It all starts to make sense! I think ‘long winter pumpkin’ would be a fair translation.

As an allotmenteer, I love the different sizes and shapes of pumpkins. This year I grew Crown Prince. (See below: they are ripening in my sun porch, so handsome.  I am puffed up with pride.)

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Crown Prince: a large winter squash, or a small winter pumkin?

So why won’t I be gowing the Princes, or their gnarlier cousins, again this summer?  I could be seduced by their names alone: Turks Cap, Lakota, Black Futsu, Rouge Vif d’Etampes, Kabocha – and their flavours are said to have both depth and sweetness.  The answer is: because they are bloody difficult to cut.  As a cook, I value my fingers.  The combination of round, ribbed shape, cumbersome weight and thick, tough carapace can be lethal when trying to cut into manageable pieces.

Which is why I’m going to try the zucca invernale: you just cut off a section: easy.  And, it will remind me of my friend in Italy.

I will let you know how I get on, when the Wheel of the Year has tilted.

Pumpkin/squash recipes to follow.




Yacon is one of the  ‘lost crop of the Incas’.  How intriguing is that?

I recently met a young woman from Colombia on a flight to Italy.  We had a surprisingly effective conversation, considering that she couldn’t speak English, and I can only bumble along in Spanish. She was from Medellin, where food is bland and fried, but enlivened by abundant tropical fruit.  I told her about my grandmother, Clotilde Narvais who came from Trujillo in Peru.  Warming to my subject, I showed her the photos of my yacon plants, grown on my allotment in Derby. She examined them politely: she had clearly never heard of the stuff.  Sensing my disappointment, she kindly observed that there were many different root crops (“racinas”) of the Andes, unknown in the West.

Which brings me back to the ‘lost crop of the Incas’.

Yacon is a tuber, rather like a small sweet potato in shape, which you peel and chop.  It is juicy, crunchy and tastes a bit like pears, so is perfect for winter salads.  And if you store it for a couple of weeks, the natural sugars become more concentrated, and it tastes sweeter.

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Yacon salad to keep you sparking through the wet and gloom this winter

As it was an unknown vegetable to me, I ad-libbed this salad with yacon, chopped green onion, coriander leaves, chopped green chilli, pomegranate seeds and a handful of currants, dressed with lime juice and salt.  The yacon was a calm, pure background to the other more fiesty flavours.

I originally picked up some yacon tubers at Pennard Plants , a plant nursery based in the west country, specialising in unusual edible plants and heritage seeds.  You may like to check them out.

I planted the tubers, which grew into large plants with huge, soft, felty leaves. I let them grow on, pretty much ignoring them, until the first proper frost killed the leaves, and that’s the signal to dig up the tubers.

Once dug up, you carefully separate the tubers from the crowns.  The tubers you wash and keep for food. They store well in a cool dark place, providing you with the basis for winter salads.  Keep the crowns in dry compost, (rather like you might keep dahlia tubers) in a cool, frost free place to overwinter.

Then in the spring, bring them into the light and give them some water. Once they have sprouted, you can plant them up in a pot, but remember they are tender, so grow them on in a frost free place.  When all danger of frost is past, plant them out in the sun and voila! you have new plants.


Yacon plant, a native of Peru

If you grow your own veg,  I would recommend this plant.  It’s easy to grow, requires no pampering and slugs are not interested.

And here’s a request.  If you come from Peru, or have eaten yacon before, would you kindly tell me if there are other ways to prepare it?

Muchas gracias!





Today is the fourth day of Christmas, and although I don’t have Four Calling Birds to share with you, I do have my friend Barbara’s recipe for  Cranberry Brownies.  As long as you can lay your hands on fresh cranberries, you can enjoy these most delicious seasonal Brownies, which by the way, are not brown!



  • Sugar 75g
  • Butter 175g
  • Eggs 4
  • Plain flour 150g
  • Baking powder 1 tsp
  • Ground almonds 100g
  • Mincemeat 400g, or one jar
  • Fresh cranberries 150g
  • Glace cherries 75g
  • Flaked almonds 50g

To make

  1. Heat the oven to 180 C, 350 F Gas Mark 4.
  2. Butter and line a large rectangular cake tin 20 cm x 30 cm.
  3. Cream the butter and the sugar till light and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs one by one, beating well in between.
  5. Sift the flour and baking powder into the mixture and fold in.
  6. Add the mincemeat, the ground almonds, the cranberries, the cherries and the flaked almonds and fold them all in carefully but thoroughly.
  7. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for about 35 minutes, or until a sharp knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.  If you think it is getting too dark on top, cover it with a piece of tinfoil and continue cooking.
  8. When done, take it out of the oven and let it cool.  Then cut into squares.

Barbara is an inspirational cook.  If you want to find out more about what she does, you can see for yourself.