A Salad for the Allotment

Since the Bakehouse has taken more of my time, I’ve spent less time at the allotment than I had been (and probably less than I should). With sightly less baking and teaching to do, I’ve managed to grab some moments to hit the plot and enjoy an open air lunch. There’s nothing better than a picnic, and having you’re own bit of ‘countryside’ to sit in and relax with a meal is brilliant. Packed lunches; whether taken to the allotment, in a picnic basket, or eaten at work; needn’t be boring. They shouldn’t be an excuse for an unhealthy mishmash of packets either. It takes very little effort to produce something which is both healthy and delicious.

I recently got contacted by the team from Simply Health, who were looking for some healthy packed lunch ideas. I like to use allotment produce, so a salad using the newest of beetroot and fresh herbs seemed a good idea. I love the earthy sweetness of the anti-oxidant rich beets, and teamed with the saltiness of a cheese like feta, its perfect for a summer packed lunch. Lentils are brilliant for salads, adding bite and a good source of protein and carbohydrates.BEETROOT

Beetroot, Feta and Lentil Salad

You will need (serves 2)

A bunch of beetroot
200g green lentils (Puy lentils are the best as they retain their bite the best)
Bay leaf
200g feta or similar cheese
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
pinch of salt and a few twists of black pepper

 

Start by trimming the beetroot of  the leaves (which if young can make a great salad), then cut into bite size chunks. Toss in a little olive oil and roast in a hot oven for 3o-40mins, until the beets are soft and slightly charred. Remove from the roasting tray and retain the beetrooty oil to make the dressing. Whilst the beetroot roasts, place the lentils in cold water with a bay leaf and bring to the boil; you can now get pre cooked lentils in packs, which saves time on this, but I like to always have a supply of lentils cooked and in the fridge, so cooking from scratch allows me to make more than I need. Lentils need about 25mins to cook, but check after 20 as its important they retain a bit of bite. Once ready, drain, and make the dressing by combining the retained oil, mustard, vinegar, and seasoning. With the lentils still warm, pour the dressing into them and stir, allowing the lentils to absorb some of the dressing’s flavour.

To prepare the salad, combine the lentils and beetroot, along with the finely chopped mint. Crumble the feta into this mix, before gently stirring the ingredients to ensure that every mouthful includes all the flavours. If you wanted, you could add salad leaves at this point (something peppery like watercress would go well), but I like the earthy nature of this salad as it is. Pop the completed salad in a sealable container and take it on your travels, to work, or (like me) to the allotment. Just remember a spoon or fork to eat it with!

 

Favourite Five Chestnut Recipes

Across Europe and the US, people have been out and about on the streets, frantically shopping for presents and visiting the sales. Many will be fuelled with piping hot chestnuts, roasted in barrels and sold by street vendors. The piping hot nuts are a Christmas tradition across the northern Europe and beyond. Chestnuts are a great ingredient for our home cooking too; whether in sweet or savoury dishes, they are a seasonal highlight.

Chestnut & Sage Soup – Sauté half an onion in a little oil and butter until soft and translucent. Add a few chopped sage leaves and a finely chopped clove of garlic, before 100g cooked chestnuts, a couple of chopped large potatoes and 1/2 litre of vegetable stock. After 30 minutes of simmering, whizz with the blender, then add 25ml of milk, reheat and serve topped with a few sliced chestnuts and crispy sage leaves.

Sweet Chestnut Purée – In a saucepan, combine 300g nuts, 220g sugar and 250ml water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 25-35 minutes until the majority of the liquid is evaporated. Remove from heat, add a little vanilla paste, then strain the nuts (reserving the liquid). Whizz the nuts in the food processor until smooth, before adding the syrup slowly to get the right consistency. Chill and use to fill your next sponge cake.

Chestnut, leek, apple and Stilton crumble – This is based on a great recipe from Leiths Vegetarian Bible. Sauté an onion and a couple of leeks, stir a little flour into the mix, cook for a minute, before adding 300ml of stock. Add a 225g pack of chestnuts, a little thyme, and bring to the boil, simmering for a 15 minutes until the chestnuts are tender. Peel, core and quarter a couple of apples and add them and the chestnut mix to an ovenproof dish. Make a crumble from 110g flour and 55g butter, adding some Stilton into the crumble once made. Top the chestnut mix with the crumble and bake for half an hour at 190°C.

Chestnut Stuffing – A simple traditional stuffing for the festive bird (or just to have on its own). Mix a good sausage-meat with chopped chestnuts, an egg, some breadcrumbs, a little fresh sage, salt and pepper. Cook in the roast, or in a dish separately for half an hour.

Quince & Chestnut Frangipane Tart – Although a version of this tart was included in the Favourite Five Pear recipes; this chestnut version is great. Swapping the usual ground almonds for ground chestnuts gives it a lovely nuttiness and the perfumed quince is perfect for a cold winter’s evening.

Favourite Five Pear Recipes

Our little pear tree has been a real success this year. So small that there is no way it could support a partridge for a Christmas card photo shoot, it has had a really good crop of beautiful fruit. I’ve come to pears late in my life; as a child I always saw them as grainy, crunchy and not entirely appealing, but as an adult I’ve grown to appreciate the moment in time when a pear is a perfect sensuous fruit. There is little better than a perfectly ripe, juicy, pear just sliced and eaten; but they’re a brilliant ingredient too and appear in some of the family’s favourite dishes.

Roasted Roots, Pears and Lentil salad – Roasted pears are a warm, sweet, caramelized delight, and combined with earthy vegetables like beetroot and carrot, and nutty green lentils, make a super winter salad. This salad is an adaptation of the salad posted the other day, using pears instead of apples and blue cheese instead of goats cheese.

Gluten-free Pear and Chocolate Tart – This has become a big hit with my son and is made by both his grandmothers whenever he goes to visit, indeed one of them was the first to make it and it has been passed around the family and enjoyed by all. Having made a gluten free pastry case, the filling to this tart is made of quartered pears in a chocolate almond. To make the sponge, combine 125g ground almonds, 125g softened butter, 95g caster sugar and two eggs, before mixing in 185g warm melted chocolate. Place the quartered peeled pears in the blind baked pastry case, then pour in the filling. Bake for 45 minutes at 190°C.

Pear, Red Cabbage and Walnut Slaw – Fruit in slaws is a real favourite of mine. I love how apple adds a contrasting sweetness to my beetroot and carrot slaw. This version is a nod to the classic Waldorf salad. Combine shredded cabbage, thinly sliced pears, sliced celery and some roughly chopped toasted walnuts. Add a splash of cider vinegar to some mayonnaise, season, then add to the fruit and veg. Make sure the dressing is distributed evenly, then serve.

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Poached Pears – Such a simple dessert, but one which really enhances the flavour. Combine 3 cups white wine, 3 cups of water, a knife tip of vanilla paste and 3 cups of sugar to make a poaching liquid. Warm the poaching liquor, peel the pears and place in the saucepan. Use a piece of baking parchment to form a lid and poach for 10-15 mins (depending on how ripe you fruit is). When soft, take off heat and serve immediately, or pop in the fridge with the poaching liquid until needed. Super as a pudding, but equally good on top of your breakfast porridge.

Pear Frangipane Tart – I love frangipane, and it goes brilliantly with pears. In the past I have used ground chestnuts instead of the usual almonds, giving it a slightly sweeter nuttiness. Use just pears, or combine with poached quince for a more autumnal decadent tart.frangipane tarts (2)

 

Autumnal Root Vegetable Salad with Goats Cheese and Lentils

During the spring and summer, there’s not much more I like than to have a fresh salad, using what I can find at the allotment to make a delicious lunch. As the weather cools and the days get shorter (and wetter it seems), my love of the salad is replaced by a desire to eat warm comforting food like jacket potatoes, stews, and soup. However, the root vegetables are often at their best during this period and I’ve become to realise that they are just as good in a salad as a juicy tomato, or crunchy cucumber. When roasted, their inherent sweet earthiness is perfect to team with the slightly bitter leaves of chicory or rocket, providing both a fresh and comforting taste. So today, I’m having an autumnal salad of roasted carrot and beetroot, green lentils and a little goats cheese. Perfect.

roasted veg salad

You will need (for two people)

2 medium sized beetroot chopped into eighths
2 medium carrots, cut into small chunks
1 crisp apple, cored and cut into eighths
1tsp. caraway seed
dash of olive oil
100g Goats cheese

For the lentils
100g green lentils
1 bay leaf
350ml water (or vegetable stock)
A small handful of finely chopped parsley

For the dressing
3tbsp olive oil (I used the drained oil from the roasted vegetables)
1tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 clove of garlic crushed (I used a roasted clove of garlic I put in with the vegetables)
1/4 tbsp honey
pinch of salt and a few twists of black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C, then toss the chopped vegetables in a roasting tin with the caraway seeds and olive oil. Roast in the oven until soft and slightly caramelised; depending on the size and variety of your roots they may need different times, I tend to start with the beetroot, add the carrots 10 minutes later, the apples 10 minutes after that. It usually takes 30-40 mins in total.

roasted veg

Meanwhile place the lentils and bay leaf in a saucepan with the stock or water and bring to the boil. Partially covered with a lid, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the lentils are just tender. Drain away any excess liquid and discard the bay leaf. Season the lentils with a little salt and pepper, before putting to one side.

To make the dressing, just add the dressing ingredients into a jar with a screw-top lid; cap and shake vigorously to emulsify. Pour some dressing into the lentils when they’re still warm, stirring in a small handful of finely chopped parsley as you do.

To serve, combine the dressed lentils with the roasted vegetables and apple. Divide between two plates, top with broken pieces of soft goats cheese. then drizzle with a little more of the dressing.

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How to make Beetroot & Apple Slaw

Beetroot are earthy and sweet in taste, and a great vegetable for this time of year. This season we have grown two varieties; the classic ruby red Boltardy and the striped Italian version Chioggia. It works brilliantly in early September salads like this slaw.

beetroot

You will need 
1 beetroot
1 apple
1 carrot
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
1 squeeze lemon juice

Use a box grater or food processor to grate the vegetables. Mix together with the lemon juice, then the mayonnaise, and season as needed. This slaw is great as an accompaniment to pork dishes. beetroot slaw

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Favourite Five Apple Recipes

favourite five Apples, and specifically British apples, are my favourite fruit. I love the variety in flavours that apples bring, from sweet and juicy, to crisp and sharp. I think that there is no better apple than a British one, so always have a self-imposed break from apples once the supplies of home-grown fruit runs out. I don’t see the point in importing foods which we grow so well anyway. Seasonality also has the advantage of allowing my palate to enjoy the plethora of other fruits available, and truly appreciate the first apple of the year. We have a really early apple tree (Beauty of Bath), so the first apple of the season is always one of our own and munched during the summer holidays. But, whether Cox, Russet, Windsor, Bramley, or any other of the 1,900 different varieties of apple trees held at the National Fruit Collection in Kent, they are a super ingredient for either sweet or savoury dishes.

A Simple Apple Pie – There is no better dessert than an apple pie. I like to use a combination of stewed apple and slices of apple in my pies. By stewing some of the fruit first with a little sugar, you get a soft sweetness with the addition of fruit with a bit of a bite. The joy of a pie is its simplicity, its fruit and a pastry top. The top can be puff-pastry, shortcrust pastry, homemade, or (dare I say it?) shop bought. Top the fruit with the pastry, give it a wash with egg white and a sprinkle of sugar and bake til golden. Serve with cream, custard, ice cream, even mascarpone.

apple pie

Apple & Blackberry Jelly -This is inspired by The Pig in Brockenhurst, where my son enjoyed an apple jelly at the end of a delicious meal. Its a simple dessert; so evocative of childhood, but also the waning of the summer and the coming of autumn. Take some apple juice and heat it with a little sugar (depending on how sharp the juice is). I use leaf gelatin, which needs three sheets to soft set 500ml of liquid. Prepare the leaf gelatin by soaking it in cold water for a few minutes, squeeze the excess water from the gelatine and stir into the warm juice until completely dissolved. Pour into small glasses and drop a few blackberries into each glass. Place in the fridge for a few hours until set.

apple and blackberry jelly

Apple Cake – This a deliciously moist gluten-free cake, based on one in Nigella’s Feast. I use whichever apples I have in the house to make the puree and often make too much, in order to enjoy it with porridge in the morning. The cake itself is a simple process, blitzing together the puree and eggs, ground almonds, caster sugar and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, before pouring into the cake tin.

Pork Chops with caramelised apples and sage crème fraiche – This is a great way to serve pork chops or steaks. Start by frying two quartered and cored apples in 20g melted butter and a small spoon of light brown sugar. Cook for 5 mins, until golden and tender. Remove from the pan and keep warm. Add a little oil to the pan and cook four pork steaks for 5-6 mins per side, until cooked through and golden. Stir in 100ml Crème fraiche and 15ml chopped sage. Serve the pork with the apples, mash and perhaps green beans.

Waldorf Salad – Combine 1sliced apple, a chopped stalk of celery, 50g of walnuts and a handful of rocket in a bowl. Mix a little lemon juice with 1/2 tsp. of grain mustard, then stir it into 100ml of mayonnaise. Toss the salad ingredients in the mayonnaise and serve.

What’s in your favourite five apple recipes?

The Simple Things

Sitting on the roof terrace of our apartment in Ortigia the other week, espresso in hand, sun on my back, and enjoying the kind of noisy peace you get in a town. It occurred to me that one doesn’t need much to be content – happy even. Around me I could hear the bickering of other people’s children, the buzz of the ubiquitous scooter down the narrow streets and the hovering of the local Nonna. But on that terrace I was at peace. All I needed was the time to sit there and let all that was around, wash over me. It strikes me that that is not a bad plan for life in general. Keep it simple.View from apartment roof panaorama

The Italians certainly embrace simplicity with their food. An octopus salad is exactly that; octopus in the form of a salad, with perhaps a little lemon juice olive oil. Famously, pizza should only ever have three topping ingredients; tomato, cheese and one other. If the produce is of the best quality, why complicate it? The core flavours sing all the better.

A simple tomato salad
Tomatoes – a range of colours and sizes are best. Tomatoes always taste better straight off the vine, and certainly when at room temperature. Don’t keep them in the fridge!
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt & pepper
Basil

Slice the tomatoes into fairly thick slices, before tearing a few basil leaves over them. Season and drizzle with a little good extra virgin olive oil. Serve.

I often struggle with living in the moment and keeping things simple, getting caught up in the logistics of the event or the next meal to be planned. Simple meals need less planning, yet somehow bring more joy. Sometimes the simple things are the best.