Made to Eat

by Simone Conti

Mixed Vegetables Gratin

Serves 4
I’ve just come back from Italy where we had a lovely dinner with my brother and his family. My sister-in-law cooked some fantastic food. In particular she prepared this traditional dish from the area I originate from in Italy. It’s very easy to prepare and can be used as a side dish to a roast or on its own. There aren’t many ingredients so make sure you use a good olive oil because that is the main ingredient.

2 courgettes 
4 Spanish red peppers  
4 Portobello mushrooms  
8 medium size tomato 
200ml extra virgin olive oil   
1 small bunch of fresh parsley
1 sprig of Rosemary 
400g breadcrumbs   
Salt and pepper to taste


1. Wash the vegetables (though not the mushrooms), and slice the courgettes lengthwise. Cut the red peppers into quarters and remove the seeds, (I prefer Spanish peppers because they are sweeter).  Slice the tomatoes in half and remove the mushroom stem and put them to one side. 

2. Prepare two baking trays and line with baking paper.  Start to layer the sliced courgettes, red peppers cut in quarters, the halved tomatoes and mushrooms.  

3. In a large mixing bowl add the breadcrumbs, the olive oil (make sure it’s good  quality) salt and black pepper. Instead of chopping parsley and rosemary just break it roughly with your hands and add it to the mix. Chop the mushroom stems and add to the mix. Using a wooden spoon or if you want, mix everything with your hands, until you obtain a smooth mixture. Add extra olive oil if required.   

4. Once the mixture is ready, spread it on top of the vegetables.  Try to cover the vegetables as much as possible, leaving no empty patches. When all the vegetables and mushrooms are covered, drizzle a bit of olive oil all over and it’s now ready to go into the oven. Make sure you preheat the oven at 180oc or mark 6. Cook for 20-25 minutes, when it should have a nice golden colour.

It’s now ready to serve. Enjoy your lovely gratin vegetable.

Stuffed Butternut Squash ‘meatballs’

Serves 4
500g (clean weight) butternut squash 
100g grated parmesan cheese 
100g breadcrumbs 
1 egg
5-6 leaves of sage (feel free to add more spices/herbs according to taste) 
70g Cheddar cheese or any stringy cheese 
Olive oil   
Salt and black pepper to taste 


1. Start by preparing the butternut squash. Remove the skin and seeds and cut into slices 1/2 cm thick. Cover a baking tray with baking paper, then place the sliced butternut squash on it and cook in the oven at 200oc or mark 8 in a static oven, for 25 minutes.

2. Once the butternut squash is ready, place all the slices in a mixing bowl and mash with the help of a fork until it’s a soft and smooth texture. Add half the breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese.  Continue to mix with a fork or wooden spoon.  Add the egg next, salt, black pepper and sage (I don’t like to use a knife when cutting herbs, I prefer to break by hand). Keep mixing until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.  The ‘meatball’ mix is now ready.

3. Cut the cheese into cubes. Place some of mixture in the palm of your hand.  Place cubes of cheese in the middle and with both hands, compress it to make a ‘meatball’ (make sure the cheese always stays in the middle). This recipe should make around 16 ‘meatballs’, weighing around 40g each.

4. Place the rest of the breadcrumbs into a small bowl and one by one dip each ball into the crumbs. If needed add more breadcrumbs. Now cook the ‘meatballs’ in a frying pan over a medium heat. I usually fry with sunflower oil but it is an individual taste. 

Note: The perfect temperature for frying is 170oC so never put the heat up too high. Place the ‘meatballs’ in the frying pan (though not too many at once or it will affect the temperature of the oil). Leave them to fry for 3mins and then remove from the pan with slotted spoon and place on a serving plate onto some kitchen paper (to absorb the oil). Once all the ‘meatballs’ are fried they’re ready to serve. Enjoy your ‘meatballs’ with a stringy surprise!

Banana and coconuts tarts

Serves 4
The key to this recipe is the bananas. Make sure they are ripe and at the right point. If the bananas are still green they won’t caramelise and you’ll lose most of the flavour once the tarts are baked.  

400g puff pastry 
6 ripe bananas peeled 
50g butter, melted
2 tablespoons caster sugar 


1.  Preheat oven to 200oc or mark 5. On a lightly floured board, roll out pastry to 1/3 cm thick and cut four 10cm (4in) rounds. Place these on a greased tray and leave to rest at room temperature for 20 mins.

2.  Mash two bananas with coconut and spread evenly on the pastry. Slice remaining bananas on a slight angle, about 1/2cm (1/4 in) thick, and lay on top. Lightly brush pastry and banana with half the butter and sprinkle with sugar.  

3.  Bake in the middle of the oven until pastry is golden and bananas are lightly caramelised which should take around 15 mins.

4.  Brush the remaining butter over the tarts and bake for a further 2-3 mins.  

5.  Serve warm with runny cream or ice cream. Enjoy!!!!

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