'Root & Leaf' cookbook: Recipes from butternut squash laksa to steam-fried buns

Although not a vegetarian, Rich Harris and his family are on a mission to eat less meat and fish and instead challenge themselves to make vegetables the star of the show

Rich Harris
Thursday 09 August 2018 12:43 BST
(Photography by Martin Poole)

Butternut squash laksa

Serves 4

It may seem like a daunting list of ingredients, but this fragrant spiced noodle soup is surprisingly easy to make and is ready in a little over 30 minutes. If you’re making a special trip to buy the ingredients for this recipe, I’d suggest making a double batch of the paste and freezing half for use another time. A good laksa should be piping hot, vibrant and fresh, so serve it the moment it’s ready.

1 butternut squash, approximately 1kg
3 tbsp coconut oil or vegetable oil
400g can coconut milk
1.2l vegetable stock
6 lime leaves, stems removed
2 tbsp no-fish sauce
1 tbsp palm sugar
Juice of 1-2 limes, to taste
200g dried rice noodles

For the paste

3 dried red chillies, deseeded
30g piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
3 shallots, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
3 Thai red chillies, deseeded and chopped
2 lemongrass stalks, outer tough layers removed, chopped
6 lime leaves, stems removed
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
3 tbsp coconut oil or vegetable oil
2 tbsp ground turmeric

To serve

200g beansprouts
4 tbsp roasted peanuts, crushed
1 Thai red chilli, finely sliced
1 small bunch of mint, leaves picked and torn
1 small bunch of coriander, leaves picked and torn
1 small bunch of Thai basil, leaves picked and torn lime wedges

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Line a roasting tray with greaseproof paper. Cut the squash in half through the middle. Peel the thick stem section and cut into 2cm cubes. Toss in 2 tablespoons of the oil, tip into the lined roasting tray and roast for 30 minutes until tender.

Remove from the oven and set aside. Peel, deseed and coarsely grate the remaining squash.

For the paste, put all the ingredients, except the turmeric (which has a habit of staining everything), into a small food processor and blend until smooth. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the paste with the turmeric, and fry, stirring, for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.

Add the grated squash and fry for a further 2 minutes. Pour in the coconut milk and stock and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes until the squash has softened.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the no-fish sauce, palm sugar and lime juice to taste. Leave to cool slightly, then pour into a liquidiser and whizz until smooth. Return to the pan and keep warm. Meanwhile, soak the noodles in boiling water for 10 minutes, then drain, rinse under cold running water and drain again. To serve, divide the noodles, roast squash and beansprouts between four warmed serving bowls.

Pour the soup over the top, then sprinkle with the peanuts, sliced chilli and herbs. Serve with lime wedges.

(Martin Poole)

Steam-fried buns

Makes 24

This recipe is based on a combination of steamed bao buns and steam-fried shuijan bao. It’s one of those recipes that can go in one of two directions; either pillowy, soft steamed buns, or golden, crispy buns with a light, steamed top. Whichever way you choose they’ll be delicious and incredibly moreish. If you don’t mind the extra washing up you could split the recipe and go for the best of both worlds.

For the filling

75g dried shiitake mushrooms 
1 tbsp groundnut oil or vegetable oil 
30g fresh ginger, peeled and grated 
6 spring onions, finely chopped 
2 tbsp dark soy sauce 
1 tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce 
1 tbsp cornflour 
100g water chestnuts, finely chopped 
Pinch of white pepper

For the dough

300g strong white bread flour 
7g sachet fast-action dried yeast 
2 tsp baking powder 
2 tbsp caster sugar 
½ tsp fine sea salt 
180ml warm water 
3 tbsp groundnut oil or vegetable oil, plus extra for oiling

First make the filling. Soak the dried mushrooms in boiling water for 15 minutes, then drain and leave to cool slightly. Remove and discard the stalks, then finely chop the caps. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a high heat, add the chopped mushrooms and fry for 5 minutes. Add the ginger and spring onions and fry for a further couple of minutes. Whisk together the soy sauce, oyster sauce and cornflour in a small bowl until smooth, then pour into the pan. Stir everything together, cook, stirring, for 1 minute until thickened. Tip the filling mixture into a bowl and stir in the remaining ingredients. Cover and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Divide the filling mixture into 24 equal-sized pieces; it may sound like a faff, but if you weigh the pieces of filling to make sure they’re all the same, you will end up with even, perfectly cooked buns as a result. Roll each piece of filling into a ball.

For the dough, mix together the flour, yeast and baking powder in a large bowl. Add the sugar and salt to the water and stir until both have dissolved, then pour into the flour mixture with the oil and stir to form a dough. Tip the dough out onto a work surface and knead for 10 minutes until smooth and stretchy. Alternatively, you can use a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook to make this stage easier on your arms.

Divide the dough into 24 equal-sized pieces, weighing the pieces for accuracy as with the filling. Roll each piece of dough into a ball, then flatten each out into a thin round about 8cm in diameter. Place a ball of filling in the centre of each dough round, then gather the sides up and pinch together to seal. Flip the parcel over and press down to flatten slightly. Transfer the buns to a lightly oiled baking tray, cover with clingfilm and leave to rise at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Now here’s where the recipe splits and you can either steam the buns or steam-fry them (or do both).The choice is yours.

To steam the buns: cut small squares of greaseproof paper and stick one to the underside (ie the sealed side) of each bun. Sit the buns in a bamboo steamer, leaving a 3cm gap between each one to allow them to rise. Cover and steam for 8-10 minutes until risen. Take care when removing the steamer lid – tilt it away from you as you lift it to stop any condensation falling onto the tops of the buns, otherwise it will ruin their neat, shiny tops.

To steam-fry the buns: you will need to do this in batches. Cover the base of a large, lidded frying pan with a thin coating of oil and set over a medium-high heat. Arrange the buns in the pan, again leaving a 3cm gap between each to allow them to rise. As they start to sizzle, pour in enough boiling water to fill the base of the pan to a depth of about 1.5cm. Cover the pan, then cook for 8-10 minutes until the water has almost completely evaporated. Remove the lid and give the pan a gentle shake, then cook for a further few minutes until the base of the buns are golden and crisp. Flip over onto a serving plate so that the crispy sides are on top.

Note: don’t be tempted to halve the recipe as it doesn’t really split easily. Instead make the full batch and freeze half. They cook perfectly from frozen – just add an extra minute to the cooking time

(Martin Poole)

Gnocchi with caponata and burrata cream

This recipe is my version of a delicious dish that I ate at a Florentine restaurant called Il Santo Bevitore. It’s one of the best restaurants I’ve ever eaten at – one where clever cooking using the very finest, yet simple, ingredients makes a truly memorable meal. Everything we ate there was incredible, but this one dish really stood out.

For the gnocchi

Fine salt
500g desiree potatoes, peeled and quartered
100g 00 pasta flour, plus extra for dusting
1 medium egg, beaten
Fine semolina, for dusting the tray
Splash of olive oil, for oiling and frying
Large knob of butte

For the burrata cream

200g burrata​
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of sea salt

To serve

½ quantity of caponata (see below)
Grated parmesan

For the gnocchi, bring a large pan of water to the boil and salt it generously. Add the potatoes, reduce the heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes until tender. Drain thoroughly, then arrange the potatoes on a wire rack and leave to steam for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the burrata cream. Pat the cheese dry with kitchen paper. Tear into chunks, then put in a liquidiser with the oil and salt and blend for 4-5 minutes. The mixture will eventually thicken, and once it has reached the consistency of mayonnaise, stop blending and spoon into a bowl. Set aside at room temperature.

Press the cooked potatoes through a sieve into a large bowl. Add the flour, then very gently knead together, adding the egg gradually. As soon as the mixture comes together to form a soft dough, turn out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide it into four equal pieces, then roll each piece into a sausage shape around 1.5cm thick.

Dust a baking tray with fine semolina. Using a floured knife, cut the dough “sausages” into 1.5cm lengths and transfer to the prepared tray. Shake the tray occasionally to stop the gnocchi from sticking together. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, and lightly oil a tray. Cook the gnocchi in batches, for about 30 seconds at a time. They’re ready as soon as they float to the surface.

Transfer the cooked gnocchi to the oiled tray using a small sieve and leave to cool slightly. Heat a splash of oil in a large frying pan over a high heat and add the gnocchi. Fry for a couple of minutes, then add the butter and cook for a further minute until deep golden.

Drain on a tray lined with kitchen paper. Reheat the caponata, then divide the burrata cream between four warmed serving bowls. Top with the gnocchi, spoon over the caponata and finish with parmesan.


One of my favourite destinations for food has to be Sicily; the fresh produce is incredible, dishes are always simple and delicious and Sicilians are fiercely proud of the food they produce and serve. In my eyes Caponata is the dish of Sicily; it’s a simple collection of ingredients made better than the sum of their parts through slow, careful cooking. And like so many Sicilian dishes, no two Caponatas are ever the same. There are so many variations that it’s impossible to say what constitutes a truly authentic version, but the common denominator has to be the sweet and sour flavour. A good caponata should have plenty of vinegar and a level of sweetness from slow cooking whilst still retaining the texture of the individual vegetables.

Olive oil
2 large aubergines, cut into 2cm chunks
Sea salt
2 medium courgettes, cut into 2cm chunks
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 celery stick, chopped
1 tbsp caster sugar
150ml red wine vinegar
2 tbsp tomato puree​
3 plum tomatoes, peeled and diced
50g pitted black olives, torn
200ml passata​
1 small bunch of basil, leaves picked and torn
Freshly ground black pepper
Grilled sourdough, to serve (optional)

Heat a few spoonfuls of olive oil in a large frying pan, add half the aubergine and fry over a medium-high heat for 7-8 minutes until deep brown and caramelised, adding a pinch of salt towards the end of cooking. Transfer to a large plate or bowl. Repeat with the remaining aubergine and the courgettes, each time seasoning towards the end (adding salt too early will draw the moisture from the vegetables so that they’ll stew rather than caramelise).

Add more oil to the pan and fry the onion and celery for about 8-10 minutes until soft and starting to turn golden. Sprinkle in the sugar and pour in the vinegar, then leave to bubble for a couple of minutes. Stir in the tomato puree​ and cook for a further minute or so, then add the tomatoes and simmer for about 10 minutes until they start to break down.

Return the fried vegetables to the pan along with the olives and passata. Bring to a simmer, then cover the pan, reduce the heat and cook gently for 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool to room temperature. Stir through the torn basil and season to taste with salt and black pepper. The caponata is ready to eat straight away, but really benefits from a night in the fridge to allow the flavours to develop. Serve on its own as part of an antipasti, on top of some slices of grilled sourdough or as part of the gnocchi with caponata and burrata cream.

Recipes taken from ‘Root & Leaf by Rich Harris (Kyle Books, £19.99)

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