Avocado Walnut and Bacon salad and ‘Ile Fanac’

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Back on home ground in France last weekend, I spent a lazy afternoon on the sleepy ‘Ile Fanac’ close to where I live.


Wandering around this little verdant gem nestling in the river Marne at Joinville le Pont in the east of Paris, is like stepping into a bygone age. Free from traffic and hustle and bustle, you’re likely to be accompanied on your stroll by one of the resident cats, to the gentle whir of insect wings and the methodical lapping of oars hitting the water as rowers skim past hidden from sight by a curtain of Weeping willows. Puts me in mind of a poem by W.B. Yeats
“…I know the leafy paths that witches take.
Who come with their crowns of pearl and their spindles of wool,
and their secret smile out of the depths of the lake;
I know where the dim moon drifts, where the Danaan kind
Wind and unwind dancing when the light grows cool
On the island lawns, their feet where the pale foam gleams
No boughs have withered because of the wintry wind:
The boughs have withered because I have told them my dreams…”

If any of you have seen the film ‘A good year’ staring Russell Crowe, this magical place recreates that atmosphere perfectly (even down to the tennis court) all that is missing is the man himself!

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As I do not have a garden, this is where I take a book and sit on a bench at the tip of the island overlooking the boats moored on the bank opposite.

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All this greenery made me crave a crisp green salad, and as avocados  are abundant at the moment they seemed the perfect ingredient to compliment the island – green, gently, calming and a little exotic.


Avocados are hailed as being a superfood, having beneficial effects on the cardio vascular and digestive systems, reducing incidence of diabetes and cancer, improving liver function, and calming acne and arthritis.

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I just tossed some mixed leaves in a dressing of olive oil with a little splash of chili infused olive oil and some sweet apple vinegar.
Then added some steamed new potatoes, chopped walnuts, finely sliced spring onions (green and white), a teaspoon of capers and some crispy bacon lardons (leave out for veggie option).
Top this with half a sliced avocado per person tossed in lemon juice to preserve the colour and served in small salad bowls – a taste of spring in a dish……..

Now for a little more exploring this magical place – I wonder where those steps, that door and that gate lead to……follow me

 

QUIRCA d’ORCA AND FRESH PESTO PASTA WITH GREEN BEANS AND POTATO

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To bring my little Italian detour sadly to an end. I hesitate before revealing the name of this veritable little ‘Brigadoon’ of a village…..the added bonus being the journey to get there took us through some of the most stunning countryside in Tuscany

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My daughter, Kate, bought us a book about the loveliest ‘secret’ villages in Tuscany for Christmas last year and it is in this book that I stumbled across ‘Quirca d’Orca’ I must add that I am not too worried that I am going to introduce it mass tourism, as it took us three attempts to actually find it and that was with the GPS. It obviously evaded others also, as we spent about four hours in this lovely little hamlet, and only saw two other non residents’  (an American couple)

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The almost hidden entrance to the village

 

Sleepy little back streets, a plethora of medieval buildings (many 12th and 13th century) an Italian garden and ancient ruins. Add to this some gorgeous little restaurants and very friendly locals and you have the recipe for a perfect Tuscan Sunday afternoon.

 

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We ate in one of these little restaurants that boasted pasta made from its own organic flour from its own mill, and our very simple pasta dish took a full 25 minutes to prepare, and we, being French (well one of us French and the other indoctrinated!)  used to eating lunch MUCH earlier than the Italians, were the first to arrive.

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Our table for two!

 

I tried to emulate the dish back at the apartment (by using ‘fresh’ pasta from the local supermarket (I know this is a contradiction of terms…..)

The results were very good, but not in the same league………But here goes………

Ingredients
Serves 2

6 (3 if serving as a starter) ‘Fresh’ lasagne divided into four (place each sheet long size across the top and cut in half and half again)

A handful of fresh green beans

1 medium (small) waxy potato

1 tablespoon of fresh pesto (see below)

1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

Freshly grated parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper

Fresh basil leaves and a little freshly squeezed lemon juice to garnish

Method

Cook the potato whole in boiling salted water for around 20 minutes until just cooked, remove from pan and leave to cool a little while cooking the pasta and green beans.

Cook the pasta and green beans together in boiling salted water for around 7 minutes until ‘al dente’, drain and separate the pasta from the beans and toss the pasta in the fresh pesto (you can of course use shop bought, but it is so simple to make your own, trust me!) mixed with half of the olive oil to ‘loosen’ the mixture a little.

Slice the cooled potato and gently toss this along with the green beans into the pasta.

Drizzle with the remainder of the olive oil and a little freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper

Italy on a plate!

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For the pesto

50 gm of pine nuts

50 gm of freshly grated parmesan cheese

A large bunch of fresh basil

1 large clove of garlic

3 tablespoons of olive oil + extra for storage

Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper to taste

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Method

Lightly toast the pine nuts and leave to cool

Put the cooled pine nuts, parmesan and basil in a food processor and blend for 20 seconds son the slowest speed

Add the olive oil a tablespoon at a time, checking the consistency

Add a little salt and pepper to taste

What you do not use, can be stored in the fridge in a sealed jar, covered in a little extra oil and kept up to two weeks. To make a lighter sauce for pasta, the pesto can be mixed with crème fraiche, to give a milder flavour and a more fluid consistency.

 

ORVIETO AND TIANS DE LEGUMES

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A quick note to any new followers who may be confused by my little sojourn into Italy. This is an annual event that adds a little extra twist to my regular ‘Franglais’ posts, but please come on the little detour with me, especially if you love Tuscany as much as I do…

Orvieto was the surprise little gem that we ‘discovered’ when we ventured south over the border into Umbria. I was struck by how dramatically the countryside differed from the sparse, yellow ochre rolling hills, and ice-cream cone poplars of Tuscany, to a greener, lusher landscape of vineyards, sunflowers and olive groves, and less angular trees.

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Gorgeous medieval Orvieto!

 

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Tourists were thin on the ground and we only saw one very small group of Americans (about 6-8) with a private Italian guide and another very small group of Japanese (less than 20) in and around the cathedral.

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We almost had the place to ourselves!

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The cathedral is an impressive building with distinctive grey and white striped brick sides and back and an intricate front façade of mosaics, bass reliefs, spires and sculptures, bronze doors and a stained glass window, but it is the interior that blows you away. Notably the ‘Cappella Nova’. A huge 15th century ceiling fresco, which, in my opinion, rivals the Sistine Chapel, depicting scenes from the Book of Revelation (the coming of and reign of the Antichrist, and the Judgement) My photos just do not do it justice.

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Having less tourists there was a very relaxed, unhurried, friendly and welcoming atmosphere of a small village, while some lovely buildings to rival larger towns.

Two unimpressed locals!

When I asked Monsieur le Frog which had been his favourite day, rather than give his usual Gallic shrug and say ‘Je ne sais pas’ he instantly said ‘maybe’ Oriveto……….he is French after all………

I chose Tians de Legumes to team with Orvieto as, even though it is a French Provincal dish, I did make it with the tomatoes, courgettes and aubergine from the garden at Cetona, and I think that the rustic red appearance of the dish compliments the town (I am the woman who matched ‘chick pea curry’ with the ‘Paris Catacombs’ as I thought the chick peas resembled the skulls!)

A Tian is traditionally made with ‘rondelles’ of tomato, courgette and aubergine stacked against each other (upright), but as I was only making a very small one for 2 people and did not have my usual earthenware dish, I stacked my vegetables flat side up as in a hotpot. As it is ‘country food’ I usually use whatever I have to hand, and on this occasion I also used a potato. I have also seen recipes using red peppers.

Ingredients Serves 2 with some left over for lunch the next day! 1 medium aubergine1/4” thickness

1 large courgette (If you can get yellow courgettes rather than green ones, these are much nicer in my opinion) slied ¼” thickness

1 medium waxy potato sliced ¼” thickness

2 large beef tomatoes sliced ¼” thickness

1 small shallot

3 cloves of garlic

Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper, teaspoon of dried thyme

Olive oil

Parmesan cheese or mozzarella (optional)

Method

Prepare the dish by rubbing it with butter and garlic and sprinkle with the finely chopped shallot

Traditionally arrange the vegetables standing upright in rows if using a lasagne dish or circles if using a round dish (as explained mine is a break from tradition as I was cooking it in my little Italian kitchen, so this is the Lindy’s ‘Franco / Italian’ version!)

Interspace the vegetables with some fine slices of garlic (between the potato and aubergine is a good place)

Sprinkle with some freshly grated parmesan (or equivalent) cheese, cover with foil and bake in a moderate oven for around one and a half hours until all the vegetables are soft

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Remove the foil for 10-15 minutes and turn up the heat a little to slightly brown the top (mine was browned a little too much – but I was not used to using a gas oven)

Allow to stand for 3-5 minutes before serving to allow the juices to settle. Alternatively this is also delicious cold as a relish or salad.

Serve as an accompaniment to meat (goes really well with chicken) or serve as a veggie starter.

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This dish is even better the next day and will keep for two days in the refrigerator.

 

 

 

 

 

Sugar Plum Parcels and The Fairy Glenn

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This post has been a long time coming. It was in fact planned to run consecutively after my last, but the thunderbolt that is ‘Brexit’ hit us and sent me into a free fall, that to be honest I have not yet recovered from and won’t be discussing it on hear at the moment as it is just too raw, so please respect this and don’t try to draw me into comments or arguments.
Also other recent events in Europe left me feeling that things needed to be said, but again, to disturbed too actually say anything.
My views, if anyone is interested, have been expressed perfectly by ‘Osyth’ on her wonderful blog ‘Half Baked in Paradise’, which is well worth checking out even if you are not interested in my views………..

Back to this post which provides a little bit of magic and much needed escapism from the world and its problems into ‘fairyland’.
The Fairy Glenn or Fairy Village, can be found (if you look very carefully) In the lovely’ Vale Park’ in ‘New Brighton’ (for more on this delightful family resort a beach pebbles throw from Liverpool) then look at my previous post, ‘New Brighton and Caramelised Mango’.

‘Fairy houses’ have been constructed from driftwood washed up on the excellent beach and stones and pebbles, and children have been encouraged to make their own using dolls and trinkets and ‘treasures’. Some of the results are a little bizarre, must most are magical and I have just posted photographs of a small selection to give you an idea.

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Who lives in a house like this

Or these

Plums, particularly sugar plums, were made famous by a fairy in Tchaikovsky’s ballet ‘The Nutcracker Suite’ and this has a particular resonance with my childhood as I spent most of my early years pouring over pictures of ballerinas and trying to mimic their poses in front of the huge mirror in the fire place in my bedroom, dreaming of one day floating like a fairy across the stage in an ethereal bell shaped ballet dress, a dream which was destined never to realised as I was physically and temperamentally  more suited to hammering it out in my red tap shoes………

Plums are now just coming into season – though still a bit hard and sharp for eating raw in my opinion, so I have opted cook them in a deceivingly simple dessert.
So put a little magic in to meal times and try my ‘Sugar Plum Fairy Parcels’………………………..

 

Ingredients

1 medium / large ‘firm’ plum (prune) of any colour or variety per person

 
Ready-made puff (pate feuilletee) pastry cut into squares large enough to wrap each plum

30g powdered almonds (poudre d’amandes)

3 dessertspoons of castor sugar (3 cuillere a soupe de sucre en poudre)
(I used Madagascan vanilla sugar for extra flavour and these quantities were plenty for 6 parcels)

A knob of butter per plum

Beaten egg yolk to glaze the pastry

Method

Mix the powdered almonds and sugar

Scoop out the stone from the plum and fill the cavity with the almond / sugar mixture

Top with a knob of butter

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Place in the centre of a pastry square and fold up the edges, squeezing together with the tips of your fingers

Brush with the beaten egg yolk and bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees for around 25 minutes until the pastry is golden and the plum juice bubbling

Sprinkle with a fairy dusting of sugar while still hot

Serve cold or warm (not hot) with a little crème fraiche

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Lindy’s mango Chutney and New Brighton

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Mangoes are still in season, but some are going a little ‘ripe’ perfect for making Mango chutney to serve with some nice barbeque’d meats.

The weather has been perfect for ‘al fresco’ eating here in Liverpool, but sadly not so in Paris where the river Seine has burst its banks and the lovely island near to my home, where I love to sit and read, is also submerged.

I, however have been basking in the lovely sunshine in Liverpool while my new husband has been battling wind and rain in Paris.

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One of my fondest memories as a child was taking the train to New Brighton with my father to paddle in the sea and explore the many rock pools
New Brighton is Liverpool’s answer to ‘The riviera’! It is a lovely family resort with a promenade that stretches for 3.5 kilometers, making it the longest in the United Kingdom!
The prom is wheelchair, cycle and doggy friendly (there is even a special section of the beach for our four legged friends!)
There is a plethora of traditional Tea Rooms, wonderful Fish and Chip cafe’s and traditional British pubs.

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Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

There is a ‘pirate ship’, The black Pearl on the beach where children of all ages come dressed in their best eye patches and stripey T-shirts to ‘shiver their timbers’ on the beach.(more about my own ‘pirate’ connections coming soon) And a lovely park with a ‘Fairy Glen’ with delightful ‘fairy tree houses’ to discover (again, post to follow)

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‘The Black Pearl

Actually since beginning writing this post, as I have been so busy with other things, the weather has now took a turn for the worse – so I am going to serve my next mango chutney with a nice hot curry!

Ingredients

2 fresh mangoes cut into cm chunks

100gm unrefined brown sugar

100 ml white wine vinegar (I use Maille vinaigre de Chardonnay as it is less sharp)

1 medium shallot very finely chopped

2 cm of fresh ginger very finely chopped, or grated

1 small green chilli very finely chopped

1 clove garlic crushed

1 level teaspoon of cumin

A good pinch of fennel seeds

A good pinch of sea salt

The juice and zest of 1 small lime

Method

Dissolve the sugar in the wine vinegar over a low heat stirring all the time

Add the mango, shallot, ginger, garlic, chili, fennel seeds, lime zest, cumin and salt

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Simmer over a low – medium heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally

Add the lime juice and simmer for a further 15 minutes or until a loose ‘jam’ consistency

Pour into a preserve jar, seal and allow to cool

This chutney will last for up to a year unopened – once opened store in the fridge and eat within three weeks

The aroma when this is cooking is torturous – it is spicy and fragrant and you just want to dig your spoon in – but watch out you could burn your tongue – patience is a virtue…

This chutney is perfect with grilled summer meats, with poppadoms as a prelude to a curry, with cold meats and cheeses and really livens up a cheese or cold meat sandwich.
It is also perfect for giving as a gift

A bientot
Lindy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caramelised Mango and Coco lime custard

And Honeymoon in Malta part 2

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Mangoes are in season and those of you who have been following me for the last year or so have come to know how much I like my culinary journey through the seasons each year, so I created this dish which is the perfect marriage of flavours with the sweet sticky caramelised mangoes covered in silky, zesty coconut custard with the hint of lime and finished off with a crunchy topping of toasted flaked almonds……..

Speaking of perfect marriages, most of you will know that I was married recently and spent a romantic honeymoon on the romantic tiny island of Malta.
Last time I wrote about Malta’s seafaring history and the Knights of Saint John (see my last post on ‘Butternut Squash Lasagne and Maltese Honeymoon for more information) But I wanted to write a little more of what this lovely little island has to offer.

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Like this solitary tree, brave little Malta stood alone for many weeks during relentless bombardment during WWII

As I mentioned, Malta received the George Cross is the second highest honour that can be awarded in the UK (the first being ‘The Victoria Cross) and is an award for ‘gallantry’ given to civilians.
The island sustained more successive air raids than any other place during the second world war and a naval blockade which saw the population on the brink of dying from starvation.
During these air raids, three Gloster Gladiator bi-planes aptly named ‘Faith, Hope and Charity‘ formed part of what is thought to have been only around seven  or eight of these planes that held Maltese air defences for many weeks while waiting for reinforcements in the form of British Hurricanes.
So fierce were their counter attacks and so brave their resilience, that they forced Italian bombers to be escorted by fighters imagining that there was a squadron of between twenty and thirty!

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Malta’s glorious coastline

Being an island, Malta has miles of beautiful coastline, beaches and fishing villages, and of course, the Grand Harbour at Valetta, but the interior is not to be overlooked
We did this by means of an open topped tourist bus which allowed us to ‘hop on hop off’ around the island (there are in fact two tours, one taking in the north of the island, which I have featured here, and another the south) One ‘sight’ that is possible to see from the bus, if you do not want to go into the interior, is the Church of ‘Our Lady of the Assumption’ at Mosta, also know as the ‘Rotunda of Mosta’ and ‘The Miracle Church’, as during WWII the people of Mosta were at prayer in the church (which has one of the largest domes in Europe) when the air raid sirens sounded, many chose to remain inside the church which took a direct hit from a bomb, that passed through the centre of the dome and rolled down the aisle and out of the main door without exploding and the church and all inside were saved.

               The Dome  where the bomb passed straight through the center without exploding

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View of the dome of the church at Mosta as seen from the bus

One of the stops is an interesting craft center which is housed in former WWII aircraft hangers, this is where my new husband bought me a lovely silver Maltese 8 pointed cross necklace and we bought a gorgeous hand embroidered table cloth and place mats

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Former WWII air craft hangers now serving as a Craft Village

Another must is ‘The Silent City’ (the ancient capital of Malta) Mdina. Mdina which dates back more than 4000 years is one of Europe’s first walled cities, and it is said to be the place where Saint Paul lived after being shipwrecked on the island in 60AD.
This tiny medieval city was once home to many noble families throughout the years (Normans, Sicilians, Spanish) so it has many impressive palaces, bearing the crests of these families, but it is in the city’s narrow winding streets that its charm lies, and the best way to see it (though not to photograph it!) is in the back of a romantic horse drawn carriage ride (we were on honeymoon after all…..)

Mdina’s back streets and the discreet sign showing the way to the ‘Fontanella Tearooms’ with arguably the best view (and cakes!) in Malta

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Your carriage awaits madame

The Fontanella Tea Rooms are also a must, tucked away down a winding backstreet, the sign is easy to miss, but if you find yourself in Mdina, seek it out, if not for the cakes, then for the view, or both!
I opted for an orange and almond gateau and my husband chose, predictably, a dark chocolate and strawberry one, both were equally delicious, as we shared each other’s.
A significant event for us was our hands brushing together as we sat side by side at a function on the very first night that we met (10 years ago to the day before the day of our wedding). My natural instinct was to pull abruptly away, but when I looked down and saw these two hands together, they ‘just looked right’ so I let mine linger a little too long and the rest is history……It seemed fitting then that we took this ‘hand shot’ of us both sporting our sparkly new wedding bands.

Breathtaking view from the terrace of the Fontanella tea rooms

Speaking of desserts, lets get to the recipe, all this ‘armchair travelling’ builds up an appetite……….

Ingredients
Serves 4

1 large ripe mango peeled and sliced into 1/2 inch (1cm) thick wedges

30 g slightly salted butter

1 sachet of vanilla sugar (1 dessertspoon of unrefined castor sugar)

1/2 pint (300mls) coconut milk

1/2 pint (300 mls) double cream

3 large free range egg yolks

1 large free range egg

1 tablespoon (30g) castor sugar

the zest of 1 large lime

A good handful of flaked almonds

Method

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed frying pan and saute the mango slices sprinkled with the vanilla sugar, turning once until caramelised on both sides.

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Divide the mango between four serving dishes and set aside to cool

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Mix the eggs and remaining sugar in a large basin

Heat the coconut milk and cream in a saucepan with the lime zest

Add the hot milk to egg and sugar mixture, beating continually with a whisk to avoid lumps

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Return the milk and egg mixture to the pan and reheat, still stirring continually until it thickens into a smooth ‘custard’

Pour the custard over the mango and leave to cool

Immediately before serving ‘toast’ the flaked almonds in a nonstick pan and sprinkle over the top of each dessert and simply enjoy

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Butternut Squash Lasagne and Maltese Honeymoon

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Following our magical wedding day last month, we shared a romantic honeymoon on the island of Malta, staying in a lovely hotel overlooking Valetta harbour.

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‘Honeyroom’ with a view

It was our first time to this tiny jewel in the Mediterranean, which received the ‘George Cross’ in 1942 from king George VI of the United Kingdom in recognition of the bravery of its inhabitants during the second world war, and even though the island gained independence from Britain in 1964, becoming a ‘Commonwealth State’ with the queen as its sovereign, and then a republic in 1974, the Georges Cross still features on its flag, and the Maltese are very proud of their heritage.

The distinctive Maltese yellow limestone that gives the island its ‘sunny’ appearance even on a rare cloudy day

It was not only the British who saw the strategic advantage of having a base in the southern Mediterranean, lying only 50 miles south of Italy, 176 miles east of Tunisia and 207 miles north of Libya, but the Island has also been conquered by the Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, The Knights of St John, and French (Napoleon requesting permission to pull into port for water and supplies, sneakily disguising his intention to occupy the island!)

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Today The port of Valetta is invaded by cruise liners, but elsewhere on the island the distinctive colourful fishing boats rule the waves

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All these cultures have left their influence be it on the architectural styles or cuisine, and in fact we ate mainly a mixture of meaty, hearty Maltese stew, with a distinct north African influence and delicious sea food and pasta (hence I have chosen a pasta dish to feature today)

Typically Maltese casement windows in a ‘Spanish / moorish’ style

Of all these, it is the Knights of Saint John that seem to have left the most lasting impression, with the magnificent St John’s Cathedral in Valetta housing a museum displaying a multitude of memorabilia, including armor and richly embroidered costumes which we were not allowed to photograph, I have however taken some pics of the really stunning interior

The sumptous interior of the Cathedral of St Jean the baptist with the original oil painting of the                                                                  beheading of the saint by Carravaggio

In 1530 the King of Spain, who was at this time ruler of Malta, gave sanctuary to the Knights who had moved from place to place around Europe for seven long years after they were expelled from Rhodes, the only thing asked in return was that they presented the king with a falcon every year.
The knights also bestowed the island with its symbol, the unique 8 pointed ‘Maltese’ cross (of which I received a lovely silver replica on a necklace as a present from my lovely new husband) representing the 8 obligations of the knights:-
To live in truth.  Have faith. Repent one’s sins.  Give proof of humility. Love justice. Be merciful. Be sincere and whole-hearted. and to Endure persecution”. What a wonderful ideology!
With time, the eight points also came to represent the eight “langues” (national groupings) of the noblemen who were admitted into the brotherhood, namely those of Auvergne, Provence, France, Aragon, Castille and Portugal, Italy, Baviere (Germany), and England (with Scotland and Ireland).

The British naval heritage is also very evident and they ceremoniously fire the cannon on the battlements each day at midday and four in the afternoon.

Cannons seen from the fort and the fort seen from the sea

As it was our honeymoon, we wanted to relax after the frenetic wedding preparations, so we did not see as much of the island as it deserved, so we will definitely be going back sometime in the future……..

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Music is the food of love, but pasta comes a close second……..I have a confession this delicious dish was actually created and cooked by my lovely daughter, Natasia, who is following in my culinary footsteps, but I contributed by eating it and loving every mouthful………

Ingredients (serves 4)
1 small medium squash (cut into cubes)
1 medium yellow pepper (finely sliced)
A block of Feta cheese with herbs (crumbled)
4 sheets of fresh lasagne
300 mls of whole milk
1 tablespoon of cornflour
30 gms of slightly salted butter
100 gms of white cheddar cheese (grated)
Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper to taste
Garlic salt to taste (optional)
Olive oil

Method
Roast the squash in olive oil for 15 minutes until softened and allow to cool a little before mixing with the pepper and feta cheese and season with salt, pepper and garlic salt if required
Put half into a lasagne dish and top with two of the pasta sheets
Cover with the remaining squash, pepper, cheese mixture and top with the remaining two pasta sheets
Make a bechamel sauce by melting the butter in a saucepan and add the cornflour, making a smooth paste, then whisk in the milk a little at a time and heat gently until thickens into a sauce, then pour the sauce over the dish.
Top with rated cheddar, cover with foil and bake in a preheated oven for 30 minutes at
180 degrees / gas mark 6
Remove the foil and cook for a further 10 minutes until the top is golden
Serve immediately with extra fine green beans (and maybe, like us, a little garlic bread)

squash las 1Delicious – thank you Natasia xx