Golden Beetroot Pasta with fresh herb pesto

Golden beetroot pasta_1Golden beetroot is a beautiful vegetable. It is characterised not only by its wonderful, sweet and earthy flavour (which is slightly milder than its red counterpart), but also by its stunning, unbelievably vibrant, bright yellow colour. Beetroot is in season from the late summer months, but this golden variety has such a fabulously autumnal appearance that – as far as I’m concerned – it easily rivals the pumpkin as the most seasonally evocative vegetable. (And, of course, you don’t have to attempt to carve a golden beetroot into intricate Halloween shapes in order to achieve this effect).

Although it is a traditional – heritage – variety, golden beetroot declined in popularity from the end of the nineteenth-century, giving way to what is now the more common red / purple variety. It has recently been experiencing something of a revival though, and is more often found in stores and markets than it was just a few years ago. If you haven’t already tried it, it’s definitely worth a go…

The pesto for this dish is made with a mixture of fresh herbs, and is the perfect thing to do with any that are hanging around in the fridge, perhaps in danger of going to waste. I used basil, mint, chives and parsley, although almost any of the soft herbs will work well. It is – apparently – always best to include a large handful of parsley though, which helps to balance the overall flavour. But of course this recipe is also great made with a store-bought pesto, so feel free to substitute that instead.

Recipe: Golden Beetroot Pasta

For the herb pesto:

Ingredients:
A handful each of 3 or four different soft leaf herbs
Large handful flat leaf parsley
½ clove garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
½ cup/100ml extra virgin olive oil
you may need less oil than this depending on which herbs you use
1 tbsp freshly grated Pecorino cheese (or Parmesan)
If (like me), you don’t use all the pesto for this recipe, then it keeps well in the fridge for a few days, or can even be frozen for future use

Method:

Place the all the herbs and garlic into a food processor and pulse several times.

With the motor running continuously, slowly add the olive oil until a thick paste is formed.

Add the Pecorino and pulse two or three times.

For the golden beetroot pasta:

Ingredients:
2 golden beetroot
Olive oil
Salt
1-2 tbsp herb pesto
A couple of handfuls of rocket
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Enough pasta for two servings
Optional: Goats’ cheese, to serve
Serves 2

Method:

Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C / Gas Mark 6

Carefully wash the beetroot under cold running water – making sure not to break the skin – and pat dry with kitchen paper. Cut away the leaves, keeping at least 1″ of stalk.

Place in a large roasting tin, and add some olive oil – rolling the beetroots in it in order to make sure they are well covered. Sprinkle with a little salt.

Bake in the preheated oven for 40 – 45 minutes or until the beetroot is soft but not shrivelled. Leave to cool slightly, then cut away the root and stalks, and rub the skin away. Chop the beetroot into small dice, and keep warm.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta so that it’s ready just as you finish cooking, peeling and chopping the beetroot. Drain and return to the pan. Add 1-2 tbsp pesto (according to taste) and stir thoroughly.

Add the rocket, stir again – allowing the rocket to wilt – then add the cooked beetroot.

Finish with some cubed or diced goats’ cheese (optional), and serve with a fresh green salad.

Adapted from: britishfood.about.com
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Posted in Food, Lunch, Recipes, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

Student Recipes – Day 7: One-Tray Roast Chicken and Vegetables

one-tray roast chicken and vegetables_7A home-cooked roast dinner is one of the meals most frequently missed by students. Often representing a strong sense of family it is, of course, linked to more than just the food itself, but it’s one home-comfort that can be fairly easy to reproduce. And while I’m not attempting to persuade anyone that this will be as fabulous as something that you’d get at home, this recipe for one-tray quick roast chicken is still a good option – especially when you consider how much more straight-forward it is to make than a traditional roast. You can decide which vegetables to use according to what you’ve got and what you fancy. So, you might prefer to use regular instead of sweet potatoes, or perhaps add a couple of parsnips. Pumpkin or squash would also work well. It’s really up to you.

This is the first meal in this series that uses meat / poultry, and I’m going to suggest that you buy free-range or organic chicken for it. As a less expensive alternative, the RSPCA Freedom Food chickens would be my second choice (in the UK). You should be able to shop for all of these in a supermarket, but if you’ve got access to a good butcher, then speak to them about your options. Although free-range / organic / welfare meat is more expensive, I firmly believe that we all have a responsibility to support more ethical farming practices such as these. And although it is more expensive, it’s still possible to incorporate these sorts of choices into a modest food budget by simply eating less meat / poultry (which can be a good idea for other reasons too). Following the meals in this series provides a good introduction for how you might go about doing this.

Straight-forward though it is, this is a meal that’s impressive enough to share with a friend or housemates – even family – if you feel like doing that. Equally, you can save what you don’t eat until the following day, when you can have it as another easy dinner option (but make sure that it’s thoroughly re-heated before you eat it). Alternatively, you’ve got the basis for a great lunch (or two) – if you remove the cooked chicken from the bone and mix it with the roasted vegetables, then you can make a great sandwich, use it to fill pitta bread, or turn it into a wonderful pasta salad.

[This is the seventh (and last) in a series of posts – you can find the first one here – prepared in response to a request from Jess, who has recently moved to London where she is a full-time student at LAMDA]

Recipe: One-Tray Roast Chicken and Vegetables

Ingredients

4 chicken thighs
¼ lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp mixed dried herbs
Olive oil
A selection of assorted vegetables
This is what I used:
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
2 large courgettes, cut into large pieces
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into medium-sized pieces
1 red pepper, cut into large pieces
1 red onion, cut into medium-sized pieces
This makes 2 portions

Method

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F / Gas Mark 6.

Put the vegetables in a large flat bottomed roasting tray.

Add a tbsp or two of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Mix everything together until it’s all lightly oiled.

Cut off any excess fat from the chicken thighs, but don’t remove the skin completely.

Add them to the roasting tray with the vegetables.

Squeeze some lemon juice over each of the thighs, season with a little more salt and pepper, and mix everything together again so that the chicken is coated with a bit of the oil. Rearrange so that the chicken pieces are nestled into the vegetables, making sure that they’re skin-side up.

Sprinkle over the dried mixed herbs.

Put the tray into the oven and roast for 50 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the chicken thighs. Check that the chicken is cooked by inserting a skewer into the largest thigh – if the juices run clear then it’s cooked (if it’s pink then it needs to be cooked a little longer).

When everything is fully cooked, serve the chicken and vegetables onto a warm plate.

And if you fancy, tip some of the cooking juices straight from the pan over the chicken and / or vegetables before eating.

Posted in Food, Meat, Recipes, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Student Recipes – Day 6: Hearty Lentil and Spinach Soup

Hearty lentil and spinach soup_2Lentil soup is hearty, filling, tasty and comforting. And as with all the recipes in this series, it’s also inexpensive. Besides all that, lentils are nutritious; an excellent source of low-fat protein – making them a particularly valuable addition to a vegetarian or vegan diet – as well as fibre and micronutrients (including a range of vitamins, plus calcium, phosphorus and iron).

There are a number of different kinds of lentils (including red, green and Puy), and they come in various guises. Canned lentils have already been cooked and can be useful for all kinds of salads and side dishes. But as well as being cheaper, dried lentils tend to result in less waste (it might be difficult to know what to do with ½ can of  leftover lentils). You don’t need to soak dried lentils before using them so they’re often just as convenient anyway, especially if you’re adding them to soups, stews and casseroles. Soaking them does reduce the cooking time, but they don’t take very long to cook in any case – about 40 minutes for green lentils, and less for other varieties. You should, however, rinse lentils before using them and pick out any that don’t look look.

If you aren’t used to cooking with lentils, then it seems as though they can take a bit of getting used to. But once you’ve added them to your repertoire it’s quite likely that you’ll begin to wonder how you ever managed without them: green lentils also work well as a stuffing for other vegetables; red lentils are used to make dhal; and the most majestic of lentils (the Puy lentil) is simply fantastic as an accompaniment to fish and meat (and can work particularly well in a sausage casserole). Perhaps I’ll get round to featuring some more of these recipes in future posts.

Hearty lentil and spinach soup_1

Anyway, this recipe – for a hearty lentil and spinach soup – makes enough for two generous portions, but if you’re after something lighter then it easily becomes enough for four. You can have it for lunch or supper, and it tastes great heated-up the next day (especially if you throw in another handful of spinach as as you’re reheating it – just before it’s served). The cheese is optional, but it does work really well, so do add some if you can. And whenever you have it, it also goes well with some crusty bread, or even toasted pitta.

And if you think that this recipe sounds good then you might also want to look at these:

Lentil soup with lemon, bacon and mint

Lentil and roasted tomato soup

Hearty lentil and spinach soup_3[This is the sixth in a series of posts – you can find the first one here – prepared in response to a request from Jess, who has recently moved to London where she is a full-time student at LAMDA]

Recipe: Hearty Lentil and Spinach Soup

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3 tomatoes, cut into large pieces
150g green lentils, rinsed and drained
1.3 litres vegetable stock
            It’s fine to use a stock cube
A small handful of parsley, chopped
100g spinach
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Optional: A small handful of grated pecorino, or other hard cheese
Makes 2 generous portions

Method

Heat the oil over a medium-low heat in a large saucepan. Add the onion, carrot and dried herbs and sauté gently for 5 minutes.

Add the garlic and tomatoes and sauté for a further minute.

Tip in the lentils, stir, then add the stock and some salt and pepper.

Bring the soup to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.

Add the parsley and spinach and simmer for a further 5 minutes.

Check the seasoning, then spoon into bowls to serve. Sprinkle over the grated cheese, if using.

From: River Cottage Veg Everyday!, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Posted in Food, Lunch, Recipes, Soup | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Student Recipes – Day 5: Sardines on Toast

Sardines on Toast_4Toast forms the starting point for several popular student meals, with baked beans and cheese providing two of the most common toppings. It’s easy to understand the appeal of such an easy and convenient snack – which requires the bare minimum in terms of cooking, and uses just a small number of ingredients. And of course it helps when these are also items that are easily stored and often found in our kitchen cupboards and fridges.

This recipe – sardines on toast – maintains many of these advantages. But it has other things to offer as well… Not only does it have a more interesting and complex flavour (the result of adding just a few extra ingredients – things like garlic, lemon and parsley), it also provides a range of nutritional benefits. Sardines are an excellent source of protein, and also contain relatively high levels of various minerals, as well as vitamins A and D (which may be particularly relevant to people living in rather sun-deprived areas such as the UK). But as an oily fish, they are also a natural and important source of omega-3 fatty acids, which – notably – sardines retain even when canned (unlike tuna). They are also considered to be a sustainable fish (please look for the MSC – Marine Stewardship Council – certified sustainable seafood rating when you’re buying any fish), and are generally low in contaminants. And if none of that impresses you, then it might be worth noting that a 120g tin of sardines in spring water should cost about 50p from your local supermarket.

If you’d like to make this into a bit more of a substantial meal, then it also goes really well with a simple fresh salad, using lettuce leaves as well as anything else suitable that you happen to have in the fridge.

Sardines on Toast_1

[This is the fifth in a series of posts – you can find the first one here – prepared in response to a request from Jess, who has recently moved to London where she is a full-time student at LAMDA]

Recipe: Sardines on Toast

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped (optional)
Juice of ½ lemon
1 x 100g can (grilled) sardines, drained
The observant (and perhaps the pedantic) may notice that I’ve used fresh sardines here. I do regularly make it with canned sardines as well, which really are the ideal thing to use for both ease and convenience
2 slices brown bread
A handful of parsley, roughly chopped
Serves 1

Method

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat.

Put the garlic and red chilli (if using) into the pan, and cook for a couple of minutes.

Add the sardines and heat through for a few minutes until warm.

Toast the brown bread.

Stir the parsley into the sardines, add a squeeze of lemon juice, then divide between the toast and serve (alongside a simple salad if you fancy).

Adapted from: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com
Posted in Brunch, Fish, Food, Lunch, Nutrition, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Student Recipes – Day 4: Tomato, Chickpea and Spinach Curry

Tomato, chickpea and spinach curry_1One or other from a broad range of Indian curries is often suggested as another perennial student favourite, and while some recipes include a long list of ingredients that can appear daunting (and time consuming), home-made options can still be quick and simple to make. They can also be filling, tasty, and healthy, as well as relatively inexpensive.

The least complicated way to make ‘curry’ is to use a prepared curry powder which is readily available to buy in supermarkets and other stores. It’s essentially a Western invention, and ingredients commonly include coriander, turmeric, ginger, fenugreek, cumin, mustard and pepper. These powders are usually available in a range of strengths –from mild to hot – so it’s easy to select something that’s suitable for your tastes.

Alternatively, you can use garam masala, which is also a spice blend, but in this case is based on a mixture used in north Indian cooking. It contains slightly different ingredients, and often includes cloves and cinnamon which can give it a slightly sweeter (arguably rounder, warmer and more subtle) flavour than curry powder. Of course, both are fairly standardised in their ready-made Western forms, which tends to override the complexities of regional and cultural differences found elsewhere.

Anyway, I used a medium curry powder to make this recipe, which overall contributes to a tasty and healthy vegetarian supper. I served it with (brown) rice – although warm pitta bread would also have gone well – and didn’t bother with the optional garnishes of plain yoghurt and coriander. What you don’t eat can be frozen, or reheated the next day.

Tomato, chickpea and spinach curry_2

[This is the fourth in a series of posts – you can find the first one here – prepared in response to a request from Jess, who has recently moved to London where she is a full-time student at LAMDA]

Recipe: Tomato, Chickpea and Spinach Curry

Ingredients

1 tbsp oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
2cm piece fresh root ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp curry powder
I used a medium curry powder, but you can use whatever suits your particular tastes
400g can chopped tomatoes
400g can chick peas
250g bag spinach, roughly shredded
Optional:   1-2 tbsp natural yogurt
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
This makes 2 portions

Method

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and cook the garlic, onion and ginger together for 5 minutes until softened and golden.

Add the curry powder and cook for a minute, stirring continuously to stop the spices sticking.

Add the tomatoes to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the chick peas and bring to the boil. Leave to simmer for 10 minutes.

Stir in the shredded spinach and cook gently for a couple of minutes until it has wilted into the sauce.

You can serve this with rice (as I did), or even with a couple of warm pitta breads.

And if you fancy, the dish can be finished with a spoonful of natural yogurt and some chopped coriander.

Adapted from: http://www.Waitrose.com
Posted in Food, Recipes, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Student Recipes – Day 3: Roasted Ratatouille Pasta

Roasted vegetable pasta_6As well as being quick and easy to cook, pasta is inexpensive and incredibly versatile, making it an ideal staple for busy students. And whilst white pasta doesn’t have a particularly impressive nutritional content, using a whole wheat variety will at least provide you with some fibre. Plus, it’s not difficult to make a tasty sauce using plenty of vegetables, so that the overall result is really quite a healthy meal.

Traditional ratatouille is a French dish of stewed vegetables, and recipes range from the ridiculously complex to the very simple. Although the former is likely (some would argue), to have a superior – and possibly more authentic – taste, those requiring a minimal amount of preparation can still be very good. I particularly like the idea of roasting the vegetables, which not only gives them a fantastic flavour (especially if they’re left to char or caramelise slightly at the edges), but also means that they demand very little attention once you’ve got them in the oven.

You can serve this dish on its own, but it also goes really well with a fresh green salad if you’ve got the time and inclination to make one (see yesterday’s post for some suggestions).

This makes enough for two portions. You can share it with a friend, or save half for the next day, when it can be eaten cold (or re-heated) for a quick supper or lunch. You could also make the roasted ratatouille mixture (without the pasta) to fill pitta bread, which makes another great midday meal.

A note about fresh herbs: It might feel slightly decadent for students to buy and use fresh herbs (especially if there’s concern that they’ll go to waste), but they really can make an incredible difference to the taste of food. Perhaps start with basil and parsley – two particularly flavourful and versatile varieties – and see how you go. If you’re not convinced, then you can use mixed dried herbs here instead, but the result probably won’t be quite so good.

[This is the third in a series of posts – you can find the first one here – prepared in response to a request from Jess, who has recently moved to London where she is a full-time student at LAMDA]

Recipe: Roasted Ratatouille Pasta

Ingredients
1 small aubergine, trimmed and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 courgette trimmed and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 red onion, sliced
1 green pepper
This is a good combination of vegetables – and roughly fits with the idea of a traditional ratatouille – but it’s perfectly fine to substitute what ever you happen to have available
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
200g tomatoes
            That’s about 3-4 medium sized tomatoes
Enough pasta for two portions
            I like to use whole wheat penne pasta
A handful of basil leaves, roughly torn
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Optional: a handful of grated pecorino or other hard cheese
This makes 2 portions

Method

Heat oven to 220°C / 425°F /Gas Mark 7.

Put the prepared vegetables and garlic into a roasting tin. Drizzle over the oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss together.

Roast for 30 minutes, then add the tomatoes and roast for a further 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the packet instructions, and drain once it is ready.

Put the cooked pasta into the vegetables, add almost all the basil leaves and mix together.

Serve and finish with a good handful of grated cheese, as well as the remaining basil.

Note: If you’re saving half for another day, then leave to cool completely before tipping it into a suitable container (with a tight fitting lid) and putting in the fridge.

Adapted from: www.bbcgoodfood.com
Posted in Food, Lunch, Recipes, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

Student Recipes – Day 2: Pitta Bread Pizza

Pitta Bread Pizza_11Linked to taste, convenience and affordability – as well as sociability –pizza (both frozen and take-away) is frequently listed as one of the most popular student foods. However, it also tends to be relatively high in calories, (saturated) fat and salt, while at the same time providing very little in terms of either fibre or micronutrients. As an alternative, these pitta bread pizzas remain convenient and affordable, are arguably much tastier, and will almost certainly provide a healthier option.

And when you create your own ‘pizza’ you can – of course – use whatever you want as a topping. You might get inspiration from something that you’ve eaten in the past, or you can see what you’ve already got in your fridge and make a selection from that (it helps that you don’t need very much of any one ingredient). The possibilities really are endless. Just remember that these pizzas are cooked for a relatively short time  – and that leaving them for much longer risks burning the bread –  so make sure that you slice or dice any vegetables that you use into fairly small pieces.

They also go very well with a simple fresh salad, made with some lettuce – I particularly like romaine –as well as any other ingredients you’ve got. This might be a chopped tomato, some cucumber and a couple of finely sliced spring onions (you may have already bought a bunch if you’ve made the pot noodle featured in yesterday’s post), it could be thin slices of carrot and / or courgette (you can use a vegetable peeler to do this), or perhaps some diced pepper and mushroom. And it’s easy to make a simple dressing by mixing 3 tbps of olive oil with the juice of ½ a lemon, to which you can add a little salt and freshly ground black pepper. This should be enough to last you for a few days, and it will keep well in a small screw-top jar.

Of course, pitta breads often come in bags of six, but there is no need for any to be wasted. Here are a few suggestions of other things that you can do with them:

  1. Make extra when you’re preparing these ‘pizzas’ for your evening meal. They’re good eaten cold (or can be re-heated) and make an easy and convenient next-day lunch
  1. Use them as an accompaniment to other meals later in the week
  1. Freeze them for future use – they only take a few minutes to defrost at room temperature

Pitta Bread Pizza_2

[This is the second in a series of posts – you can find the first one here – prepared in response to a request from Jess, who has recently moved to London where she is a full-time student at LAMDA]

Recipe: Pitta Bread Pizza

Ingredients
2 whole meal pitta breads
2 tsp tomato purée
½ tsp mixed herbs
1 tomato, sliced
¼ courgette, sliced
¼ pepper, sliced
A handful of grated cheese
I used pecorino, but you can use any hard cheese that you’ve got
Freshly ground black pepper
Optional: sliced black olives and fresh basil leaves (torn or cut into pieces)

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C / 400°F / Gas mark 6.

Spread 1 tsp of tomato purée onto each pitta bread, and sprinkle over the mixed herbs.

Cover with tomato slices, followed by the courgette and pepper.

Sprinkle the grated cheese over the top and season with black pepper.

Place on a baking sheet, and bake for 10-12 minutes until the cheese is melting and the vegetables have softened but are still crunchy.

Posted in Food, Lunch, Recipes, Salad, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Student Recipes Day 1: Home-Made ‘Pot Noodle’

Home-made pot noodle_5

Like many young adults, Jess has recently become a full-time student. In the pursuit of her goals, she has left her parental home in Sheffield and moved to London, where she is currently undertaking a foundation degree at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA). Yay Jess! Anyway, at 18 years old, it’s the first experience she’s had of living independently, which apart from anything else, means having to shop and cook for herself on a daily basis.

LAMDAAnd it seems as though she’s been doing a pretty good job. Reports suggest that she’s using fresh ingredients, is making a lot of soup, and has discovered the convenience of cous cous. Yet despite her obvious capabilities, she has asked if I would provide her with some suggestions of quick, affordable and healthy meals that she could prepare easily after a long day at college. Actually, to be fair, she asked me for one suggestion. But after careful consideration I have decided to respond by providing her with a series of meals that she can prepare over the course of a week. Poor Jess. I hope she isn’t going to regret making her modest request.

Anyway, in an attempt to provide something that might actually be of use, I began by asking Jess a series of questions, which told me the following: she goes shopping once a week, and has very little time for cooking. She cooks for herself (rather than with / for her house-mates) and has a basic, but functional kitchen. She has limited storage (but this does include a cupboard shelf, as well as some fridge and freezer space), which is something that she has in common with most students living in shared accommodation. She also has a modest – but perfectly reasonable – budget for her food shopping, and is a really, really unfussy eater. Jess wants to eat healthily, and be able to manage her food / eating so that she doesn’t end-up wasting fresh ingredients. She also asked me about planning for lunchtime – LAMDA doesn’t have a canteen, but she does have access to a fridge, microwave and kettle.

Working within these parameters, I’ve devised what I hope will be an interesting and practical series of recipes that will be at least of some use to Jess, making healthier versions of what are reported to be some of the most popular student meals in the UK.

And what better way to start than with a home-made ‘pot noodle’…

Home-made pot noodle_7

I was actually really surprised by this – not only were the noodles and vegetables cooked, it also tasted pretty good. The ‘pot’ that you use does need to be covered once the water is added, and the kind of preserving jar that I’ve used here is ideal. The wide opening also means that it’s easy to eat from. If you don’t already have one then it could be a useful investment – mine cost £2.75 from a supermarket. Alternatively, you could use a small bowl or even a large mug (it’s important not to use something too big) and cover tightly with cling film.

It takes just a few minutes to prepare the vegetables, and then you leave it to ‘cook’ on its own. It really is the ultimate quick meal, and ideal for supper if you’ve had a long day, or just don’t have the time to cook. If you make it in this kind of jar, then it’s also pretty portable, so with access to a kettle, then it could make a great weekday lunch too. The finished product is really a noodle soup though, so make sure that you’ve got a spoon handy.

Recipe: Home-Made ‘Pot Noodle’

Ingredients

1 nest of thin, quick cook egg noodles
make sure that you use the type that will soften in boiling water without the need for pan-cooking – just check the packet for cooking instructions
¼ vegetable stock cube
if you wrap the rest in foil it will last for a few days and can be used for making soup or in other recipes
1 small carrot, peeled and very finely sliced
3-4 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
6 sugar snap peas / green beans / or frozen peas
you can use whatever you have in the fridge, but if you’re using the sugar snap peas or green beans then slice them into small pieces
1 leaf of spring greens or green cabbage, stalk removed and finely shredded
I used a handful of spinach leaves, but again you can use whatever you’ve got
½ tsp freshly grated ginger
¼ red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
You can just omit this if – like Jess – you’re not keen on chilli
Soy sauce
Juice of ½ lime

Method

Put all the ingredients, except the soy sauce and lime, in a ‘pot’.

Pour over boiling water to just cover everything, and press the ingredients down.

Cover and leave for 8-10 minutes, stirring once during that time.

Add the soy sauce and lime juice to taste, and eat.

From: River Cottage, Veg Everyday! Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Posted in Food, Lunch, Recipes, Soup | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Don’t try this at home: Pea and Mint Ice-Cream

Pea and mint ice-cream_2

I don’t like ice-cream. I tend not to mention it very often as people are inclined to react rather badly. But once they’ve overcome their initial shock, the conversation usually continues along these lines:

Q: Really?
A: Yes
Q: Not even vanilla / strawberry / chocolate?
A: No
Q: Why?
A: I don’t know

Pause.

Q: What about sorbet?
A: It’s definitely better than ice-cream
Q: Have you ever tried frozen yoghurt?
A: No

Silence.

You can almost feel their disbelief. I’m obviously not the person they thought I was. I’ve let them down. Most think that it’s weird, and by association assume that I must be too. What other dark secrets could I be hiding? Others just feel sorry for me. Who, after all, doesn’t like ice-cream? It’s associated with summer, birthday parties and holidays. It’s repeatedly listed as one of the most popularly eaten comfort foods. A quick search of the internet tells me that it’s commonly described as ‘yummy’ and that it tastes ‘awesome’, neither of which, incidentally, help to explain what it is that people find so irresistible. It also reveals that the ‘yummy-ness’ of ice-cream is frequently discussed in terms of toppings (especially by American consumers), but however delicious someone might find hot fudge, peanut butter sauce or caramel, that still doesn’t tell me what, exactly, is so good about ice-cream itself. And yet its popularity is clearly ubiquitous. Ice-cream is – apparently – so wonderful that people including Van Halen and Tom Waits have been sufficiently moved to actually sing about it.

alpha-amylaseOf course, food preferences are based on both taste and texture, with most people expressing a liking for creamy textures, as well as foods that melt in the mouth. Importantly, scientists have suggested that the rate at which this happens is influenced strongly by an individual’s ability to break down starch, which is dependent, at least in part, on the amount of an enzyme – amylase – that a person has in their saliva: more amylase means that starchy foods are broken down faster. Apparently, this might even explain individual preferences for different brands of ice-cream which contain varying amounts of added starch. And given that starch is broken down into simple sugars, this isn’t just related to texture but also to taste. So, it Amylasemight be that the amount of amylase that I have in my saliva is linked not only to the way I react to the texture of food, but also to my not having a particularly sweet tooth. Perhaps  this, then, is responsible for my dislike of ice-cream? I just can’t imagine that it’s going to help the next time someone asks if I’d like some.

I don't like ice cream_2I certainly agree that some of the flavours sound wonderful (although many don’t). A friend of mine has recently come back from a holiday in Italy, enthusiastic about the pineapple/basil/lime and ricotta/fig/caramel concoctions that she enjoyed whilst there. I have to agree that both sound absolutely incredible, and I’m positive that this really would have been ice-cream at its very best. But while I might have been tempted to try the first, I just don’t believe that the latter could possibly have been improved by turning it into a frozen purée. This, I suppose, is the crux of the matter. I just don’t understand the appeal of ice-cream. And, just as people who are passionate about ice-cream seem to have difficulty in explaining the attraction, I can’t really describe what it is that I don’t like about it. I just don’t. It’s cold. And wet. It melts. (But not – apparently – at the right speed for me). So, maybe my dislike for ice-cream really is best explained ‘scientifically’; the result of a simple biochemical reaction. But there is definitely an emotional response as well, and not just from those around me. I’ve always felt as though I must be missing out on something. Why can’t I like ice-cream? And just how much happier would I be if I did?

So, in the pursuit of happiness, I do periodically try ice-cream, hoping to have a sudden revelation about its true glory. (It hasn’t happened yet). But I’ve never been tempted to make it, until now. I came across this recipe accidentally and was immediately hooked (which seemed like a good start), intrigued by the idea of turning this classic pairing – pea and mint – into a spectacular dessert. It’s no secret that I adore mint, and love the fabulous flavour that results when it’s combined with peas. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but it might have been a hope that something that sounded so wrong, would just somehow have to be right. I’m afraid not. Perhaps not surprisingly, the dominant flavour was of peas (duh!), and although it has been growing on me (it really is an acquired taste even in tiny portions), it certainly isn’t going to convince me that ice-cream is either ‘yummy’ or ‘awesome’. And in case you’re wondering, no-one else likes it either, although we’re all very impressed with the texture of this home-made, hand-made ice-cream, which was actually more straight-forward to make than I imagined it would be. Of course, eating ice-cream that isn’t sweet contributes to a rather curious reaction, and it has occurred to me that using it as an accompaniment to something else might do a lot to improve the overall impression, but I have yet to discover what that might be. I would certainly welcome any suggestions.

But the real question is this… Do I now go ahead and make the beetroot and chocolate ice-cream that I’ve come across since?

Recipe: Pea and Mint Ice-Cream

Ingredients
300ml whole milk
200ml double cream
4 large egg yolks
100g caster sugar
350g peas
6-10 mint sprigs
2 tbsp crème fraîche
A little icing (powdered) sugar, if required
I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth, and therefore didn’t add icing sugar here. I’m increasingly convinced that it’s got to be the missing ingredient that would turn this into something amazing, So, If you do try this at home, I can only suggest that you add some!

Method

To make the custard, heat the milk and cream in a pan to just below boiling. Cool a little. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl, then pour on the hot milk and cream, whisking till smooth. Return to a clean pan. Cook gently, stirring all the time, until the custard thickens. Don’t let it boil or it will ‘split’. Remove from the heat and leave to cool until tepid, stirring often to stop a skin forming. Strain the cooked custard into a bowl, cover with cling film and cool, then chill.

Make a minty pea purée: simmer 350g peas with 2 mint sprigs until just tender. Drain, rinse under cold water and discard the mint. Blitz the peas in a blender with 4 tablespoons finely shredded mint and 2 tablespoons crème fraîche until smooth, adding a dash of milk if necessary. Stir the chilled custard and pea purée together. Taste and add a little icing sugar if necessary – the ice cream will seem less sweet once frozen. Leave to cool, then chill.

Once cold, churn the mixture in an ice-cream maker until soft-set, then transfer to a suitable container and freeze until solid.

If – like me – you don’t have an ice-cream maker, freeze in a shallow container, mashing with a fork at hourly intervals (at least three times) before the mixture is solid.

Transfer to the fridge 20-30 minutes before serving, to soften a little.

From: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, River Cottage Veg Everyday
Posted in Food, Recipes, Sweet things, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Make Mine a… Blackberry Bellini

Making Blackberry BelliniThe Bellini is a classic cocktail first served in Venice in the 1930s. It combines peach purée and sparkling wine, and is generally served as an apéritif, although it’s also popular as an accompaniment to a leisurely breakfast or brunch. Apparently, the only real way to make a Bellini is with puréed white peaches and Prosecco. And according to the experts there should be absolutely no exception to this rule. It seems that the stronger taste of Champagne overpowers the delicate flavour of the peach, and if more fruit is added then you risk the drink becoming too sweet (and too fruity). For aficionados it seems that adding anything else – I’ve seen suggestions from peach schnapps to orange water – is simply wrong.

But there are also those who are more than happy to make alternative versions of the classic Bellini, and although – technically at least – they’re probably not a Bellini at all, I’ve seen some wonderful sounding recipes using everything from mangoes to lychees.

Blackberries and blackberry puree

Suitably inspired, it seemed that this could also be an excellent way to use some of the beautiful blackberries that I picked recently – and I think that it worked out really well. Probably the only detail that made it anything like an actual Bellini was that I used Prosecco, but it may be that another sparkling wine would go just as well with the blackberry purée. Anyway, I think that it looked spectacular – it was certainly a glorious colour – and it made a great autumnal aperitif that was thoroughly enjoyed by all.

Blackberry Bellini

For the blackberry purée:
150g / 5 ounces blackberries
1 tbsp cold water
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Caster sugar, to taste (if needed)
For the blackberry bellini:
5 oz Prosecco
2 oz blackberry purée

Method

For the blackberry purée:

Put the blackberries in a small saucepan with the water and lemon juice. If you think that it’s going to be too tart, then add a little sugar. But be careful not to overdo this – you don’t want the purée to taste syrupy.

Bring to the boil over a medium heat. Put a lid on the pan, turn the heat down and leave to simmer gently for 5 minutes – stirring occasionally – until the berries begin to break down.

Remove from the heat and leave to cool a little.

Use a stick blender or food processer and blend until puréed.

Strain the berry mixture through a sieve set over a medium bowl and discard the solids.

Cool and keep in an airtight container until ready to use.

For the blackberry bellini:

Pour the blackberry purée into a champagne flute.

Top off with Prosecco, stirring as you go.

(Ideally, it seems that you should be aiming for about ⅓ purée to ⅔ Prosecco, but I wouldn’t worry about this too much and adjust according to taste).

Posted in Breakfast, Brunch, Drinks, Food, Fruit, Recipes, Seasonal | Tagged , , , , , | 22 Comments