Tag Archives: pesto

And more salad…

Poppy in wild flowers June 2017

The hot weather may have come to an abrupt end and the water butts are now replenished, but the salad season continues here. It fits with the burgeoning cut-and-come-again lettuce that reshoots virtually as soon as you’ve picked it – I’ve given bags away to friends and family and still have plenty – with another row coming ready soon. Even so, now, when the heat is off temporarily, is the perfect time to do some more succession sowing of salad crops. Most seeds don’t germinate well in extreme heat and dry conditions, so now’s the time to take advantage of the respite and resow lettuce, rocket, carrots, beetroot, annual herbs and other salad leaves. My parsnip seeds have failed completely this year, both sowings, so I’ll use the space for more carrots and beetroot, both quicker to germinate and grow than parsnips, which need a long growing season. I usually find parsnips incredibly trouble-free, but every five years or so they refuse to cooperate, for whatever reason – growing conditions, the seeds themselves, who knows? Other plotholders have struggled too, so I know it’s not just me.

The tomatoes aren’t quite ready yet, although they are looking phenomenally healthy this year – another couple of weeks, I reckon. I’m growing just two varieties this year, the ever-delicious Sungold and old-fashioned favourite Ailsa Craig. In the meantime, I’ll just have to use bought tomatoes for this recipe, one of my go-to summer salads. I’m not sure where it came from in the first place, as it’s now a much-used page in my recipe scrapbook. I suspect it may have been a Good Housekeeping recipe, tweaked down the line, but basically anything goes.

Warm Mediterranean Chicken Salad (serves 6)

Med chicken salad

200g couscous
300g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 red pepper, chopped
50g black olives, pitted and chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tbsp capers, drained
2 tbsp pesto ( I use homemade broad bean pesto, or Delia’s basil pesto, but bought works well too)
9 tbsp virgin olive oil
1 small, hot cooked chicken (or use 3 chicken breasts, fried in strips for 5-10 minutes)
100g feta cheese, chopped (or use goat’s cheese)
Handful fresh basil leaves
Seasoning
Lettuce or salad leaves to serve

Put the couscous in a bowl, then add 225ml boiling water. Cover and leave to one side for 10 minutes or so.
Mix together the chopped tomatoes, pepper, olives, garlic, capers, pesto and 8 tbsp olive oil in a large bowl. If using a whole chicken, strip the meat from the bones and cut into bitesize pieces, then add to the bowl containing the tomato mixture. Toss gently together and season.
Add the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil to the couscous and mix lightly with a fork. Combine with the tomato mixture, and finally add the chopped feta or goat’s cheese. Sprinkle basil leaves on top. Arrange in a large salad bowl lined with salad leaves and serve so the chicken is still slightly warm, although it tastes good cold too the following day.

Another favourite salad for summer days is a Roasted Vegetable Salad, again served with couscous, although you could use rice instead. Simply chop courgettes, peppers, tomatoes, onions and garlic into chunky pieces (aubergines work well too), sprinkle with fresh basil leaves (or rosemary works well too), drizzle with olive oil and season, then place in a roasting tin and roast at 180°C fan/Gas 5 for 45 minutes or until just starting to brown. Meanwhile steam the couscous as above (100ml of boiling water per 60g couscous per person is my rule of thumb), leaving to stand for 10 minutes or so. Stir in 1 tbsp pesto, then spoon into a serving dish. Top with the roast vegetables, still warm if you like, and sprinkle over some feta or goat’s cheese. Delicious 🙂

Roast veg salad in bowl

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Germination Blues

Alliums

It’s been a funny start to the growing season – but then don’t we gardeners say that every year, no matter what the conditions?! This year feels to have been trickier than most, however, not helped by my having been away or otherwise engaged (son’s wedding plans gathering pace…) for the last three weekends. The second half of May is always the busiest in a gardener’s calendar, so things down at the plot had really run away with me.

Then there was the unseasonably warm weather over Easter, followed by an unexpectedly sharp frost at the end of April which decimated all my shooting dahlias at the allotment and seems to have had a disastrous effect on germination, both on the ground and in the propagator at home. No sign of carrots or parsnips, sown under fleece at the end of April, and those beetroot that did germinate have been chomped by slugs – unprecedented as beetroot are normally impervious to mollusc attack! In the conservatory, aubergines and tomatoes germinated as usual, as did my sweet peppers, but chillis have been a disaster, with one weedy looking plant, despite a second sowing. Peas and sweet peas too have been very poor, although I suspect the mangetouts sown in the open ground have been the target of mice, rather than solely germination problems. Courgettes and squash have fared little better, resulting in a meagre three courgette plants and four squashes in total, again despite a second sowing. I’m beginning to wonder whether there was something wrong with the seed compost!

Ah well, having returned from my various travels this week, I’ve managed to spend a couple of sessions down at the allotment on the balmy evenings we’ve been having and am finally feeling that order has nearly been restored. I’ve sown more root crops and peas, planted out the sweet peas I bought on offer in Homebase to make up for my poor showing and sown more mangetouts. I’ve weeded the salad crops which were being taken over by chick weed, horrible stuff that it is, and taken out the spent brassicas, flowering spinach and overblown winter rocket to make space for the courgettes, sweetcorn and French beans – this weekend’s job. Oh, and I’ve planted the new dahlias bought from Sarah Raven as tubers earlier in the season and all now making sturdy plants, alongside last year’s in the ground which have recovered, albeit slowly, from their premature frosting. Looking good…. I’m hoping to have some ready for the wedding flowers at the end of July, so fingers crossed.

Basil

On the plus side, the asparagus has been excellent this year and the broad beans are as good as ever. Tonight’s dinner saw me making the first broad bean pesto of the season, but with half mint, half basil, as the basil in the conservatory hasn’t quite reached jungle proportions yet. Delicious in a simple pasta dish with onions, bacon and a few extra broad beans. If you’ve never eaten freshly picked broad beans, there’s just no comparison with the shop-bought or frozen variety – I urge you to give them a go!

This weekend’s first task will be to sow my French beans straight into the ground (no runners this year; now there’s just me, I really prefer the finer taste of the French variety and I certainly don’t need the gluts that invariably accompany runner beans!). I also need to plant up my summer containers at home and mow the allotment grass, always last on my agenda, although it makes such a difference when it’s all neat and tidy. Here’s hoping the weather holds up – happy gardening!

Poppy in the wheat field

New Year Feasts

christmas-walk-2016-bewl

As 2016 draws to a close, the last week of the year always seems to be a blur of festive food, shared with friends and family. A treat for those of us who live alone to cater for a larger number for a change and an excuse to cook those more extravagant recipes you can’t justify on a daily basis. I’ve had family to stay since the day before Christmas Eve, but yesterday was our largest family get-together; so hard to tie in everyone’s calendars as children grow older and different constraints come into play.

new-years-lunch-2016

One of my go-to dishes for gatherings is a venison casserole: partly because my kitchen isn’t huge, so cooking a roast for a larger number is rather a logistical challenge, and with only one oven, casseroles are often the easiest option. This time, I had the brainwave of marinading the venison, from my local farm shop, the day before, then cooking in the oven first thing in the morning, moving to my warming oven after two-and-a-half hours, thus freeing up my oven to be turned up to a higher temperature for jacket potatoes and a vegetarian squash, beetroot & lentil Wellington – perfect! In my 3/4 range (all that would fit in my kitchen), I’ve only ever used the narrow warming oven for warming plates before, but it kept the casserole on a very gentle simmer until we were ready to eat – well worth remembering for the future.

Venison Casserole – serves 8-10

1.5kg stewing venison, diced
600ml red wine
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs rosemary
4 garlic cloves, chopped
4 red onions, chopped
2-3 sticks celery, chopped
250g streaky bacon, diced
Olive oil
250g chestnut mushrooms, quartered
250g pack peeled chestnuts
4-5 tbsp plain flour (or use rice flour for gluten-free guests)
450 ml hot venison stock (or any stock you have available)
2 tsp redcurrant jelly
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
Seasoning

Trim venison if necessary, then place in a large bowl with the wine, bay leaves, rosemary and garlic. Cover and leave overnight in the fridge or a cool place.

Heat the oil in a large casserole and gently fry the chopped onion, celery and bacon until softened – about 10 minutes. Set aside using a slotted spoon. Drain the venison from the marinade, reserving the marinade to add later. Add more oil to the casserole if necessary, then brown the venison in batches. Return all the venison to the pan when all the meat is browned and sprinkle over the flour, stirring well for 2 minutes or so. Add the reserved marinade and the stock and bring to the boil, stirring.

Return the bacon, onion and celery mix to the pan, add the quartered mushrooms and the chestnuts, thyme leaves and redcurrant jelly. Cover the casserole with a lid when simmering, then cook in a pre-heated oven at 150°C, Gas 3 for 2 1/2 hours, or until the venison is beautifully tender.

Serve with buttered jacket potatoes, braised red cabbage (see below) and/or a Christmas coleslaw of shredded red cabbage, fennel, apple, red onion, raisins and garlic with a lemony mayonnaise & yogurt dressing. A warming feast for a cold, bleak winter’s day.

To ring the changes, and despite the fact that there were no vegetarians amongst us, I accompanied the venison with a squash, beetroot & lentil Wellington that had caught my eye in the Christmas edition of the BBC Good Food magazine. I always buy this foodie magazine in December, mainly for the lovely calendar, but it often comes up trumps with novel and different-sounding recipes. This was intended to be a vegan recipe, but I adapted it to include cream cheese and milk. I have no doubt that it would have been delicious just as it was, however – and definitely worth remembering if you’re catering for vegan guests!

Squash, Beetroot & Lentil Wellington with Kale Pesto – serves 8

1 pack ready-rolled puff pastry
1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cut into small chunks
250g raw beetroot, peeled and cut into small chunks – I used the stripey Chioggia variety, but any would do
2 red onions, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
Olive oil
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
2 sprigs rosemary, chopped leaves
250g pouch ready-to-eat Puy lentils (or soak and cook your  own if you have time)
250g pouch prepared chestnuts, chopped
100g kale, chopped, thick stems removed
1/2 lemon, rind and juice
2 garlic cloves, chopped
4 tbsp cream cheese or goat’s cheese (omit for vegan version)
Freshly grated nutmeg
Seasoning
Milk or egg to brush (use almond milk for vegan version)
Sesame seeds to sprinkle

Toss the prepared onion, squash, beetroot and garlic in a roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil, add chopped rosemary and thyme, season, then roast at 180°C for 45 minutes until just tender. Stir in lentils and half the chestnuts, and set to one side.

Place the chopped kale into a pan of boiling water and blanch for i minute until wilted. Drain and run under cold water to cool. Squeeze out excess water, then blitz in a food processor with the lemon rind and juice,remaining 2 garlic cloves, the remaining chestnuts, seasoning and a glug of olive oil. Finally add the cream cheese or goat’s cheese if using. (I added wild garlic too when cooking again in April, blanching with the kale – an inspired addition!)

Roll out the pastry to a larger rectangle on a floured surface. Spread the kale pesto down the central third of the pastry. Gently spoon the squash and lentil mixture onto the pesto. Brush the side thirds with milk or beaten egg and cut into inch-wide strips not quite reaching the middle third. Fold over the short ends or the rectangle, then gradually fold the outer thirds over the squash and lentil mound to overlap and form a long oblong. Brush with more milk or egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Can be left to chill overnight if you have time (and space in your fridge!). Otherwise cook at 180 – 200°C for 45 minutes to 1 hour until crisp and golden brown. Serve warm.

The Good Food recipe made individual Wellingtons (using two packs of pastry), but this worked well as one large pie – more filling per helping too! Even my very definitely non-vegetarian father (a confirmed meat-eater at 83!) loved this and came back for more – praise indeed…

My final recipe for the braised red cabbage is one of my winter stalwarts. Made entirely in the microwave, it lends itself well to preparing ahead and reheating, or even making in a lrge batch and freezing to bring out through the winter as required. Ideal for accompanying winter casseroles, hotpots and hearty winter meals.

Braised Red Cabbage – serves 8-10

1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3 sticks celery (or fennel), chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds
450g red cabbage, shredded
50g raisins
3 tbsp red wine
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp ground allspice
6-8 juniper berries
1 cooking apple, diced
Seasoning

Put the oil in a large bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 1 minute 30. Stir in the celery, fennel seeds and 1 tbsp water. Cook for a further 3 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients, cover with clingfilm, piercing several times to allow the steam to escape when cooking. Return to the microwave for 3 minutes, then stir. Repeat twice more. At this stage, the cabbage can be left to stand until required and then reheated in the microwave for a further 3-4 minutes. Freezes beautifully too.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

poppy-christmas-day-2016

Beautiful broad beans

Just back from a fabulous week of yoga in the Spanish Alpujarras, I’m not even going to attempt to recreate the amazing vegetarian feasts we enjoyed on a daily basis in Las Chimeneas, not least because my tomatoes, peppers, courgettes and aubergines are still several weeks from being anywhere near fruition! To say nothing of cherries plucked straight from the tree, fresh peaches and apricots, and divinely buttery new potatoes….

Las Chimeneas salad lunch

What I do have, however, is a glut of broad beans, despite inviting friends to help themselves in my absence, and a plentiful supply of delectable English strawberries – perfect with my breakfast yogurt and muesli, as well as with meringue and whipped cream for the quintessential English pud. A week of heavy rain while I soaked up the Spanish sunshine has led to tremendous growth in the garden and at the allotment, so some of my broad beans have filled out rather more than I’d have liked: the ideal excuse to transform them into broad bean pesto! Having stripped my basil plants for Delia’s Pesto just before going away, I didn’t have quite enough fresh growth to harvest the 50g I needed for my standard Broad Bean Pesto, so a bit of adaptation was in order. Instead of basil, I chopped a generous fistful of fresh mint (Moroccan mint in my case, but ordinary garden mint would be fine too) and parsley, then filleted the broad beans after microwaving so that the end result was suitably emerald green and zingy.

Broad Bean, Mint & Parsley Pesto

Broad bean, mint & parsley pesto

12oz broad beans (after podding – you’ll probably need at least 2lb unpodded weight!)
1-2oz Parmesan cheese, finely grated
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Large handful garden mint, thick stalks removed
Large handful parsley, thick stalks removed
2-3fl.oz virgin olive oil
Seasoning

Steam or microwave the broad beans for 2-3 minutes then blanch under cold water. Unless your beans are very tiny, fillet the beans by removing the outer grey shells – a little bit fiddly, but worth it for the end result and bright green colour.

Place all remaining ingredients apart from olive oil in a food processor with the filleted beans and whizz until smooth, pushing down the sides as required.

Add the olive oil in a slow and steady stream until you have a thickish consistency. You may not need it all, so keep checking.

Will keep for a couple of weeks, covered, in the fridge, or you can freeze.

Having made this heavenly green concoction, dinner for the past two nights has been child’s play: linguine with baby broad beans, smoked salmon, onions and a creamy pesto sauce last night, then a seriously good oven-baked risotto with broad bean pesto and king prawns tonight – heaven on a plate! As usual, this is an adaptation of Delia’s standard oven risotto, but none the worse for all that:

Broad Bean & Prawn Risotto – serves 2-3

Broad bean risotto

1 small onion, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
Generous glug of olive oil
75ml dry white wine
160g risotto rice
500ml home-made fish or vegetable stock (plus extra just in case)
2-3 tbsp broad bean, mint and parsley pesto (see above)
100g shelled baby broad beans (or use frozen peas if you’ve used up all your beans in the pesto, as I did, and can’t be bothered to trek down to the allotment for more!)
Handful fresh mint leaves, chopped (save some to garnish)
100g raw king prawns, defrosted if frozen
75g grated Parmesan cheese
Seasoning

Pre-heat the oven to 160°C, Gas 6. Cook the onion and red pepper in the oil until soft and golden – 5-7 minutes.

Place a 9” square baking dish (2” deep) into the oven to warm up. Add the rice to the onions and peppers in the pan and stir through to get a good coating of butter. (It will look as though there’s not nearly enough rice at this stage, but it swells during cooking.) Add the wine, pesto and the stock, season and bring to boiling point. Add the shelled baby broad beans or frozen peas, if using.

Transfer the contents of the pan into the warmed dish, stir and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Then stir in the raw prawns, 2 tbsp Parmesan and add more stock if it’s all absorbed – I find it always needs more, so make sure you allow extra. Return to oven and cook for a further 15 minutes, before serving with extra cheese and more chopped mint to garnish.

You could, of course, use the standard basil-based broad bean pesto and use pancetta or bacon instead of prawns – anything goes!

Arise, Sir Basil

I don’t know whether it’s just me, but the mere mention of the herb Basil always makes me think fondly back to the 60’s children’s TV programme of my childhood, The Herbs, featuring who else but Sir Basil and Lady Rosemary – alongside Parsley the Lion and Dill the Dog, of course! Basil is rightly known as the King of the Herbs and I certainly can’t imagine my summer cooking without it.

Herbs TVI grow it from seed each year, starting it off in late March in my propagator. It usually germinates quickly, but it’s important to let it grow on in the seed pot until it is large and sturdy enough to handle – pricking the seedlings out too soon inevitably results in failure. I pot the sturdy seedlings on into their final terracotta pots, about 4 plants to a 6-8” diameter pot, using a mix of John Innes soil-based compost (preferably not peaty) and horticultural grit, then top-dress with more grit to ensure good drainage. I leave my basil plants growing in the conservatory, but I imagine they would be happy in a sheltered spot outside in a good summer or in a greenhouse of course, where they also make perfect companion plants for tomato, the distinctive smell allegedly deterring whitefly. I have to confess that the proximity of basil didn’t deter whitefly on my aubergine plants last year in the conservatory, but I’ve grown my aubergines from seed this year, so we shall see!

If you haven’t got your own propagation facilities, you can also grow your own basil either by pricking out the growing plants you can buy in supermarkets, or, even easier, placing a few stems of basil in a jar of water, where they will quickly form roots, then you can pot them up and keep your supply growing – running out of basil doesn’t bear thinking about!

BasilLast week came the moment I’d been waiting for – the first pesto of the year. Often it coincides with the first broad beans from the allotment, but the cold spring has delayed their arrival in sufficient quantities for Broad Bean Pesto, so I resorted to my favourite standard pesto recipe, from Delia Smith’s original Summer Collection. It’s simplicity itself and sooo much nicer than bought pesto.

Delia’s Pesto

Pesto2oz fresh basil leaves

1 large clove garlic, crushed

1 tbsp pine kernels

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1oz Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, finely grated

Salt & black pepper to taste

Put the basil, crushed garlic, pine kernels and olive oil in a food processor with the seasoning and process until you have a smooth purée. You may need to stop and push it down the sides every so often. Then add the cheese and whizz again until blended. Transfer to a jar (if not intending to use it all straightaway) or a serving bowl. It should keep for a week or so in the jar if kept covered in the fridge – great with pasta or in a rice salad.

Last week I served it with bacon, onions, asparagus and linguine and added the pesto to a cream sauce. Tonight I simply added the pesto to softened onions, bacon and mushrooms, then tossed in the linguine – delicious!

Pesto pastaI also love basil simply chopped with quartered cherry tomatoes, preferably home-grown, a clove of garlic, crushed, seasoning, a pinch of sugar, splash of olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar. Allow to infuse for a while at room temperature then serve on toasted, garlic-rubbed sourdough or ciabatta bread, possibly with a smear of soft, mild goat’s cheese (our local Stonegate Dairy goat’s cheese is sublime here) between the bread and the tomato mix, for the perfect Tomato Bruschetta. The tomatoes aren’t ready yet, although they have finally gone outside, but a girl can dream….

Summer has finally arrived!