Archives for category: Vegetables

The other day I was in TK Maxx looking for a new coat rack. I generally have a good official reason to go to TK Maxx, but the subtext is always that I want to look at the cheap cookbooks. I initially picked up Gwnyneth Paltrow’s ‘Notes from My Kitchen Table’  thinking it would be an amusing source of derision (I know, judging the efforts of others is not the most edifying way to entertain yourself, but so it goes sometimes). Well, the joke’s on me, because I ended up buying it. It turns out Gwyneth and I have similar taste (not in men, I hasten to add) – we both like food which is healthy without drawing attention to itself as health food; in other words, it’s tasty first and healthy second. I may have some issues with her obsession with something called Vegenaise and her objections to red meat, but I like the fact that she includes some baking recipes without refined white flour or sugar and suggests more natural sweeteners and wholegrains often, without being fanatical about it. It’s mostly quite simple stuff, but I like simple; lots of pasta, burgers, salads – everyday food, mostly, although there’s a recipe for perfect Chinese crispy duck I’ve got my eye on as a weekend project.

And it was from Gwyneth that I got the idea of making cavolo nero into a pesto, which I seized on because I often like the idea of eating things like cavolo nero more in theory than in practice. Combine it with anchovies, garlic and parmesan and it tastes a lot less bitter and good for you and a lot more salty and delicious. It also makes your pasta a glorious shade of green.

Cavolo nero pesto

Serves 4

Gwyneth suggests serving this with penne and peas, but I’m not sure I really felt the peas fitted in. When I had it again I put in some chargrilled purple sprouting broccoli which seemed a bit more harmonious (and another way of fitting in some healthy greens). It is more work, though. I say the mascarpone is optional because I left it out, simply because I didn’t have any, but I’m sure it would be a nice addition.

1 bunch cavolo nero (about a handful)
10 anchovies
1 small clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
80g mascarpone (optional)

To serve:
350-400g penne or other pasta
150g frozen peas (optional)

Steam the cavolo nero for 7 mins, or until tender. Put it in a blender with the anchovies, garlic, olive oil and pepper and whizz to a smooth paste. Stir in the mascarpone, if using.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta. If adding peas they can go into the pasta water for the last minute or two of cooking time. Reserve a little of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and combine it with the pesto. Use a little bit of the water if it’s too thick. Grate lots of parmesan on top to serve.

From Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘Notes from My Kitchen Table’


OK, so Nigel calls this a ‘beetroot seed cake’ but I find seedy beetroot cake more amusing, like it wears a stained mac and hangs around in dark bars. Which is in fact completely inappropriate, because this is one of the most wholesome cakes you could hope to come across. Not only does it have seeds in it, and a vegetable, but you can swap some of the white flour for wholemeal or spelt quite safely. If you wanted to make it almost completely healthy, you could leave off the icing, but I think the sugariness is a nice contrast – as Nigel points out, the cake itself has a fairly muted sweetness. If it sounds so far like a cake you’re not really going to get excited about, let me tell you, it is delicious. Usually when I bake things I send the leftovers off with Tom to work so I don’t have to eat them all, but this cake I cut in half first so I’d have a few slices left to look forward to with a cup of tea. This is definitely a cup of tea cake. It’s not going to give you a sugar high and then dump you, it’s going to provide you with the gentle reassurance of a warm and well loved jumper.

A couple of notes on the method – the main drawback of this cake is the amount of mess it creates. I recommend wearing an apron so you don’t spatter yourself in beetroot juice. Otherwise, the cake is quite forgiving – I used different flour, different sugar, different oil and lime juice instead of lemon and didn’t whisk my egg whites properly (did I mention I was a bit hungover?) and it turned out more than fine. One thing though, that I don’t recommend: I used some hemp seeds in my seed mix and they were a bit too hard and crunchy. So stick with the more traditional seed varieties.

Seedy beetroot cake

Serves 8-10

225g self-raising flour, or 150g self-raising flour and 75g spelt/wholemeal flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
a scant tsp baking powder (use a heaped tsp if using spelt or wholemeal)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
180 ml sunflower oil (can be swapped with half nut oil – I used half olive and half walnut)
225g light muscovado sugar
3 eggs, separated
150g raw beetroot (about 2 medium sized beetroot)
juice of half a lemon or a whole lime
75g sultanas or raisins
75g mixed seeds e.g. pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, linseed

for the icing:
at least 8 tbsp icing sugar – I found I needed about 12 for a good covering
lemon juice or orange blossom water
poppy seeds (optional – I didn’t have any)

Heat the oven to 180c and grease a standard sized loaf tin.

Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and cinnamon. Beat the oil and sugar in a food mixer (or food processor, or by hand) until well creamed, then beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Grate the beetroot and fold it in, then add the lemon/lime juice, sultanas/raisins and seeds. Fold in the flour mixture.

Beat the egg whites until fluffy but not quite at stiff peak stage. Fold gently into the mixture and pour into the tin. Bake for 50 mins – 1 hour, covering the top with a piece of foil after the first 30 mins so it doesn’t burn. Leave it to cool for 20 mins before turning out of the tin.

Make the icing by sifting the sugar and adding enough juice/orange blossom water to make a runny consistency – but thick enough so most of it stays on the top of the cake. Drizzle the icing over the cooled cake and sprinkle over the poppy seeds, if using.

Adapted from Nigel Slater’s ‘Tender: Vol. 1’

I used to have an allotment, and every year I would grow beetroot because they seemed to be the only thing guaranteed to survive my inept gardening. They also have a very long season. Consequently I would have to eat beetroot a lot, for months, and by the time I handed in the keys to my plot, about a year ago, I felt like I’d eaten my beetroot quota for life. But then I was at the farmers’ market at the weekend and they had these bunches of beetroot, and they looked so stylish with their glossy purple-tinged leaves and matt burgundy skin that I found myself putting some in my basket and taking them home.

The first of the beetroot I ate for lunch, cut into wedges and roasted with some maple syrup and thyme and balsamic vinegar, with griddled halloumi. It was very good. I was a bit hungover and it made me feel a lot better; I think beetroot is so vividly coloured that it seems as it it must be incredibly good for you. In the afternoon I made a beetroot cake with most of the rest of the beetroot (the recipe for that will follow soon). And for dinner I made an impromptu pasta dish with the leaves, based on the limited contents of the fridge/cupboards. Usually whenever I have beetroot leaves I do a Nigella thing with lots of soy sauce and soba noodles, but since I was out of soba and had expended all my energy on the cake I came up with something else with the requisite strong flavours and earthy savouriness to match the bitter leaves.

Spaghetti with beetroot leaves and toasted garlic breadcrumbs

Serves 2

If I have bits of stale bread I make them into breadcrumbs and keep them in the freezer – they can be used straight from frozen. I would have liked to put some anchovies in with this, except I’d run out, but they could go in with the garlic. Some chilli might also be good at that point.

200g spaghetti, wholewheat or spelt would work well
olive oil
2 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
100g or so breadcrumbs (a couple of big handfuls)
leaves from one bunch of beetroot (about 5 beetroot)
parmesan, to serve

Put the spaghetti on to cook. Heat a decent amount of olive oil in a frying pan and fry the garlic until it starts to smell garlicky. Add the crumbs and a pinch of salt and stir, frying until the breadcrumbs turn crispy. Meanwhile discard and yellowy or not so nice looking beet leaves, give them a rinse, and separate the leaves from the stalks. Roughly shred the leaves and finely chop the stalks. Throw them in with the spaghetti for the last couple of minutes of cooking time.

Drain the spaghetti, reserving a couple of tablespoons of pasta water. Mix in the breadcrumbs, grind over some black pepper and grate over lots of parmesan. Add a bit of the pasta water if the pasta looks too dry.

This recipe was published in the Guardian Weekend on 10th September. I was at work, and a collegue thrust it under my nose. I may have mentioned having a bit of a thing for tahini (and you can always tell who’s made a particular batch of houmous). When I looked at it again, later, I was rather excited to see that the head notes mentioned a lovely lady named Tara who I was at Ballymaloe with, and who has since snared the entirely enviable job of being one of Ottolenghi’s recipe testers. Apparently, after testing this one she pronounced that she could eat it by the bucketful, which is a) a wise verdict and b) a good thing because this recipe makes a (small) bucketful.

So I decided to make it this week as a sort of starter for a low key anniversary dinner to have with a certain person who also likes tahini a lot. And garlic. The good thing about long term relationships is you don’t have to worry about smelling like garlic anymore.

Tara has done a good job, because I didn’t want to change a thing about this recipe. Well, except I prefer to think of it as a ‘dip’ rather than a ‘spread’ – I don’t know, the word ‘spread’ just conjures up cheap margarine and sandwich fillings. Basically, you peel and deseed a squash and then roast it for a long time with salt and cinnamon and oil. It looks so appetising when it comes out of the oven, so golden and glowing, that I pretty much decided I would only roast squash like this from now on. Then you dump it in a food processor with tahini, garlic and greek yoghurt. That’s pretty much it, apart from decorating it with sesame seeds and coriander and date syrup. The full ingredients and method are online here:

I’m planning to post the other dishes I made for the dinner soon, for the minority who are interested in garlicky romance food.

I have had a cold for two weeks and counting. It peaked a week or so ago with hot sweats, multiple body aches and a permanent fistful of tissue before gradually tailing off to its present state of lingering not-quite-wellness. After plenty of time for reflection on the various appetites of a person in the throes of poorliness, I have come to the following conclusions:

Stage one: a desire for strong tastes discernible through a blocked nose, preferably Asian and therefore with a vaguely healthy, healing aspect and a good dose of chilli, garlic and ginger to chase out the germs.

Stage two: a descent into cravings for bland, comforting stodge, junk and nostalgic childhood snacks. Anything which can be purchased on a trip to the corner shop in tracksuit/pyjama bottoms or delivered to the door.

Stage three: a determined attempt at fighting back accompanied by feeling well enough to cook again. Restorative, calming, soul-soothing preparations are the order of the day here.

I think I’ve found the perfect recipe for each of the three stages of the journey into sickness and back (sparing the worse elements of the middle stage). I hereby present to you part one: the sniffles…

Fish-fragrant aubergines

Serves 1 hungry sick person, or 1 with leftovers

Another gem from Fuchsia Dunlop’s ‘Sichuan Cookery’. There’s no fish in it, as you might think – the name refers to the method of cooking, which involves the same ingredients as would typically be used to prepare fish. Last time Tom made it for me, he inadvertently halved the recipe but left in the full quantities of garlic and ginger, which is how I’ve reproduced it here for extra immune system defence.

One more note – you really have to deep-fry the aubergines; I once tried shallow frying them and they took forever, cooked unevenly and soaked up a horrifying amount of oil. It doesn’t have to be really deep, deep frying, but the aubergine pieces should be immersed.

1 large aubergine
enough oil to deep-fry
1 tbsp Sichuanese chilli bean paste
3 tsp finely chopped ginger
3 tsp finely chopped garlic
75ml stock (preferably homemade chicken, if you have it)
scant tsp sugar
1/2 tsp light soy sauce
3/4 tsp potato flour, mixed with 1 tbsp cold water (cornflour can be substituted, but you may need to use more)
3/4 tsp Chinkiang or Chinese black vinegar
2 spring onions, green parts only, finely sliced
1/2 tsp sesame oil

Cut the aubergine into evenly sized chunks, slightly larger than bite-sized. Sprinkle the pieces with 3/4 tsp salt and leave for a minimum of 30 minutes to draw out the bitter juices (if you are using the smaller oriental sized aubergines, you can skip this step).

Heat the deep-frying oil in a wok to 180-200c, until it’s just beginning to smoke. Add the aubergines in batches and deep fry for 3-4 minutes until soft right through and golden brown on the outside. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen roll.

Drain off the deep-frying oil, give the wok a quick rinse if necessary, and return it to a high heat with 1-2 tbsp oil. Add the chilli bean paste and stir fry for about 20 seconds, so the oil is red and the paste evenly distributed. Add the ginger and garlic and stir fry for another 20-30 seconds, watching that they don’t burn.

Add the stock, sugar and soy sauce and mix well. Taste and season with salt if necessary.

Add the fried aubergines to the sauce and simmer gently for a few minutes. Sprinkle over the potato flour mixture and stir until the sauce thickens. Stir in the spring onions and vinegar and leave for a few seconds, just so the onions are no longer raw. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the sesame oil and serve.

I like this with plain rice or soba noodles.

From Fuchsia Dunlop’s ‘Sichuan Cookery’

“Why does your house always smell of Indian food?” Last week, I had lunch with my mum and introduced her to miso soup. In return, dropping me off, she made this bold generalisation about the culinary aromas that linger in our small (and inadequately ventilated) flat. She later conceded that it might not be entirely true, but then I do like to cook Indian food. I like to listen for mustard seeds popping in hot oil. I like the smell of coriander seeds ground in a mortar. I like the expectation that builds as the layers of spice and ginger and garlic and chilli meld and settle. And I really like discovering new, untried dishes which turn out to be so delicious you wish you had made twice as much.

This was translated in the book I got it from as ‘aubergine and peanut mash’, which is accurate enough, but I think ‘bharta’ is a nicer word than ‘mash’, and doesn’t make you think automatically of sausages. Before you, um, bharta the aubergines, you smoke them – the technique is probably familiar to you if you own either of the Ottolenghi books or want to, but to sum up: remove the top bits of your hob, i.e. the trivet/rack that the pans sit on, and one of the circular metal bits that goes over the flame. Cover the exposed hob plate with foil, poking a little hole in the middle, and replace the round metal thingy on top. Turn the hob on and hold the aubergine over the gas flame until it starts to blister and blacken, turning occasionally (tongs help here) until it’s burned all over and starting to flop and collapse, indicating that the flesh is cooked through and soft. Leave until cool enough to handle and then peel off the skin and roughly mash the insides with a fork. This is extremely useful for making baba ghanoush and other tasty things.

Aubergine bharta 

Serves 2-4 as a side dish

1 large aubergine
2 tbsp rapeseed/sunflower oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste (a 2:3 ratio of ginger to garlic, both peeled, chopped and blended to a smooth paste with a little water)
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp roasted peanuts
handful coriander leaves, finely chopped
lemon wedge

Prepare the aubergine as described above.

Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the cumin seeds until they start to darken. Add the onion and fry until soft.

Add the ginger-garlic paste and chilli and fry for a minute. Add the tomato puree, turmeric and coriander and cook for a couple more minutes. Season to taste.

Stir in the aubergine and peanuts, sprinkle with the coriander and serve with a lemon wedge.

From ‘Healthy Indian in Minutes’ by Monisha Bharadwaj