Tag Archives: Vegan

A Silky Soup for September

Spiced and Silken Roast Vegetable Soup

A Change in the Seasons

OK, so I was clearing out the fridge, but this is a great way to use the last tomatoes and aubergines of the season, and the first sweetcorn of the next one.

At the moment, we are trying to avoid calorific food, but I am determined that does not mean that we will miss out on flavour. This is easy when you can pack your salads and other dishes with loads of fresh herbs, but as we near the end of the herbs in the garden, I am looking to spices to plug the gap. And they are doing a great job.

My Sister just had her hen do, and I made everyone roasted aubergine with a chermoula spice rub. Partly because I was doing vegetarian, and also partly as part of my quest to make more middle eastern food.

When I found a couple of aubergines in the fridge, I initially thought I was going to make a chermoula and aubergine soup. When you roast or burn aubergine in its skin, it develops a lovely smoky, silky texture, as you can see from Baba Ganoush and similar dips. That was also going to give the soup a richness without the need for fat or cream, which is perfect for how I’m trying to eat at the moment.

As I kept poking, the fridge also relinquished some tomatoes and half a red pepper. In the spirit of not wasting food, I decided that they could go in the soup as well. And since I was already roasting the aubergines, I may as well roast these too, making the oven use more efficient, making it easier to peel the veg, and also to develop a bit of flavour, especially of the later developing vegetables that may not quite reach their full potential.

At this time of year, the sweetcorn are just appearing too. The Big Guy loves fresh corn, and we had a few cobs, though not yet from our garden. Since the soup was to be spicy and smoky, I didn’t want to just let the golden little kernels cook in the soup itself, I wanted them to add to the overall smoky flavour, so I decided to put a cob under the grill until the kernels were browned.

I had also intended to use some preserved lemons to add to the soup, in keeping with the chermoula idea. I was going to chop them fine, and use them to garnish the soup, but when I tasted it, it definitely didn’t need a sour salty note. Instead, I opted for a spoonful of yoghurt, to counter the fact that the chilli I had used was much hotter than expected!

This soup is great for the start of September, as the summer turns to autumn, and the nights get that bit colder. And it turns out that aubergines are great to add creaminess to a soup without the need for dairy too.

Recipe: Spiced and Silken Roast Vegetable Soup

Ingredients

2 medium aubergines

½ red pepper

6-8 tomatoes

4 cloves of garlic, still in their skins

salt and pepper

2 tbsp olive or vegetable oil

1 cob of corn, with the husk removed

1 medium onion, chopped

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped

1 tsp ground coriander

750 ml vegetable stock

2 tbsp natural yoghurt

Method

Heat the oven to 200 °C

Cut the aubergine and the tomatoes in half. Arrange the aubergines, pepper and tomatoes in an ovenproof dish, and season with the salt and pepper. Slosh over 1 tbsp of the oil, and toss the veg to coat with the oil. You want the aubergine and tomato cut side up; but the pepper skin side up, because you want it to char.

Put in the oven to roast for 30-40 minutes, until the vegetables have taken on a bit of colour. After about 15 minutes, add the garlic cloves, so that they don’t burn to a crisp. You want them to be golden and soft, not crunchy.

Once the vegetables are roasted, put the grill on high, and put the corn underneath it. You will need to turn it as it cooks. If you have a separate grill, which I don’t, you can do this at the same time, it may take a while.

Meanwhile, dry fry the cumin until it is fragrant, then grind to a fine powder in a pestle and mortar, or a spice grinder.

Sweat the onion in the rest of the oil, until translucent. Add the chilli and cook for another minute on a gentle heat, then add the spices, and just cook through.

Squeeze the garlic from their skins, and add to the spice and onion. Allow to sweat on a gentle heat while you scrape the creamy flesh from the aubergine. Add this to the saucepan, and cook for 2-3 minutes to combine the flavour.

The tomato and pepper should also be really easy to skin as well by now. Mine just slipped off. Discard the skins, as these are indigestible, and hopefully the pepper skin will have blackened and blistered, so will be bitter and unpleasant anyway.

Add the flesh of the tomatoes and the pepper, along with any juices in the roasting dish to the saucepan. Add the stock, and bring to the boil. Cover the pan and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Blend the soup with an immersion blender or a food processor, until it is smooth and rich.

Run a knife down the corn, to remove the kernels, which should be brown and succulent, not black.

Divide the soup between 2 bowls, add a tablespoon of yoghurt to each, and sprinkle the corn kernels over the top.

Perfect to come home to after a day’s foraging, whether that be outside or in the fridge!

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Of Gluts and Gluttony

Courgette & tomato "Pasta"

Courgetti Spaghetti

Have you ever planted too many courgettes, or even had an exceptional year, and not known what to do with your excess? I’m sure that this has happened at some time to most gardeners, and you have been desperately trying to give them away to friends, relatives, passing students, and anyone who knocks at the door. Not to mention trying to pickle, grate or shove them into fritters, soups, salads, stews, cakes and on your breakfast.

This year, many of the courgettes seem to have got off to a very slow start, due to the weather, but we are now finally starting to see them take off.

This is a recipe that I use both to use up excess courgettes, and also because it is a tasty, and unusual take on a ratatouille.  It is also a low carb alternative to pasta, as well as being a quick and easy supper.

I have made this for many years. Sometimes, I make it even lighter, by keeping the cherry tomatoes whole, leaving out the onion, and grating in some lemon zest. I find this version needs a little more parmesan, and that you need to mix this in over the hob.

This courgette pasta is actually a version of Pasta Neapolitan.Using the courgette as pasta is also a nice alternative with many other pasta sauces – I have also tried it with al’arrabiata and puttanesca to great effect, but I also imagine it would be good with pesto, carbonara, mushroom-based sauces, and even bolognese, if you are careful not to add too much liquid  to the sauce.

I like to use herbs liberally in this dish, for an extra fresh kick. Always thyme, and I like to add oregano. Rosemary or basil would also work well. Play around with it, and see what you like best.

Simple & in Season Blog Badge

I am entering this into Simple an in Season for August, hosted by Ren of Fabulicious Food. There is nothing more seasonal than using a glut of your vegetables, and this dish really couldn’t be simpler.

If you do try this recipe, please leave me a comment and let me know which herbs you used, I’m always interested to hear what people have done with my recipes, and learn new variations.

Recipe: Courgetti Spaghetti

Ingredients

1 Medium onion, finely diced

A Little olive oil for frying

2 Cloves garlic, crushed to a paste

4-5 Sprigs thyme, leaves only

200 g Cherry tomatoes, halved

2 Courgettes

A little lemon juice

2 Large sprigs oregano, leaves only, finely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

A little freshly grated parmesan cheese to serve

Method

Sweat the onion off in a little olive oil, until the onion pieces are translucent. Add the garlic and thyme and cook out for a minute.

Add the cherry tomatoes, and cover the pan, to encourage the tomatoes to break down and cook out. Once the tomatoes have broken down a bit, uncover the pan, and allow to cook down on a low heat.

Top and tail the courgettes. Using a mandoline, and being careful of your fingers, make juliennes of the entire length of the courgette, to resemble spaghetti. You can julienne them by hand if you don’t have a mandoline, but this is time-consuming. Instead, take a vegetable peeler and peel the courgette lengthways to give you thin papardelle sized strips.

Cover the courgette strips with cold water with a little lemon juice in. This will stop the courgette from browning, while the sauce  cooks down.

When the sauce has been cooing for at least 15 minutes, and has thickened a bit, blanch the courgette strips in boiling salted water for 2 minutes. You want the courgette to retain some bite, but take the raw edge off. Drain well, and leave in a colander, for at least 10 minutes. You can squeeze a splash more lemon juice over them to prevent browning.

Because the courgette is much more watery than normal pasta, you want to cook the sauce down until it is fairly thick, otherwise the courgette will flood the sauce and dilute it.

When the sauce is almost too thick, add the oregano and mix through. Continue to cook on a low heat, and taste. You can add a little sugar (less than ¼ tsp) if you think you need a little more of the tomato flavour to come through. If you use very ripe tomatoes, you should not need this.

Add te well-drained courgette to the sauce, over the heat. You just want to combine the sauce and the courgette. The courgette is likely to start giving off water, so keep the heat on low while you mix  it all in, and season it to taste. Remove from the heat, and serve immediately, with a little parmesan cheese. Or leave the cheese off, for a simple, seasonal, vegan supper.

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Fairies That Can Really Pack A Punch

Marinated Tinkerbell Pepper Salad

Fairy Salad

I recently got hold of some small Tinkerbell Peppers, of assorted colours. They are like bell peppers, but smaller. They are officially a dwarf sweet pepper, but it has given me some ideas for what to call those that I grow, which sometimes turn out not to reach their full size!

I jest. I saved the seed, and I’ll be planting some of these to see if I can grow them next year. We’ll see how successful I am. I hope they’re not F1 hybrids.

Tinkerbell Peppers in Perspective

Fairy-Sized

I recommend this variety, they are small, but perfectly formed, and have quite a lot of flesh for such small peppers, and they have much better flavour than the greenhouse varieties that we get from supermarkets. They would be great for stuffing to use as canapés, on the barbecue or even simply in salads.

I always knew I was going to marinate these peppers, which I often do to larger varieties, to serve with homemade burgers and veggie burgers at barbecues. At the moment, I am also trying to find ways of injecting a lot of flavour into salads, without adding too much by way of fat (more on that soon).

I also have some very good smoked Maldon sea salt, which complements the smokiness of the charred peppers perfectly. I usually char the peppers on my hob, but these were tiny little things, and I wanted to add to the salad by charring some ciabatta, so I used my griddle pan. A fairly recently lit barbecue would also be a great way to char the peppers, and the bread can char just before you serve it. The delicate smoke of the salt enhanced the smoky flavour of the peppers.

It struck me that I could use the peppers and the marinade to dress a nice salad. However, the salad would have to stand up to the punchy marinade, so a normal butterhead lettuce wouldn’t cut it (and this would definitely be no place for an Iceberg). I think any of the mustard greens would be suitable, as would watercress, and some of the foraged greens that are abundant at the minute (e.g. wood sorrel, sorrel, fat hen, chickweed). I had rocket, chickweed and parsley in the garden, so I used those. I bulked it up with some baby spinach. The iron and peppery flavours were just what was needed.

I have also found apple mint and sumac great for adding a lot of flavour to salad leaves, without resorting to cheeses and too much dressing.  If you have any other tips for creating good flavours, I’d love to hear them.

This entry is part of the 52 Week Salad Challenge, where they are currently discussing pests. I know Michelle would love to hear from you if you have anything to add about the bane of slugs or other nuisances.

Recipe: Smoky Tinkerbell Pepper Salad

Ingredients

For the marinated peppers:

5-6 Tinkerbell peppers (or one or two large ones)

A little oil for the griddle pan

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tbsp blackberry vinegar (or sherry or red wine vinegar will work, even balsamic if you have to)

1 clove garlic, very finely sliced

Small pinch of dried chilli flakes

Good pinch of smoked salt (or normal sea salt)

Black pepper to taste

For the salad:

4 thick slices of ciabatta

A little extra virgin olive oil

A bunch of rocket

A large handful of baby spinach

Bunch of chickweed, chopped if the stalks are long

Bunch of parsley, leaves only

¼ cucumber, diced

8-10 cherry tomatoes, halved

Method

Heat a little oil in the griddle pan.

Halve and deseed the peppers. Put skin-side down in the hot pan, and leave until the skin chars and blisters. You may need to press them down a little on the rounded bits to get the skin to char evenly. Don’t worry that the skins go black.

When the skins are blackened and blistered all over, place them in a plastic bag, a bowl covered with cling film, or in an airtight container, and seal. Allow to cool for 5 or so minutes, when you will be able to rub the skins off easily.

In another airtight container mix a dressing of the extra virgin olive oil, the vinegar, garlic, chilli flakes, the salt and a little pepper. The acidity of a dressing tends to be a matter of taste, so adjust this to your liking.

While the skinned pepper halves are still warm, add them to the marinade, cover, and set aside for a while – at least half an hour – to allow the flavours to mingle. At this stage, you can use the marinade peppers as a side dish or relish too, if you like.

Drizzle the ciabatta slices with some olive oil, and put in the warm griddle pan. You should be able to hear it sizzle, as you put them in. You want a nice striped toast to the bread, so once it is in, resist the temptation to keep moving and checking it.

I used ciabatta rolls, cut in half, so I only toasted the cut side. Leave this for at least 3 minutes, until you can smell the bread toasting. If you are using bread slices, then turn it over, and char the other side, again resisting temptation to move it around. The second side will need slightly less time. Leave to cool slightly.

Meanwhile wash the salad leaves and prepare the cucumber and tomatoes. When the bread is ready, dress the salad in the peppers and marinade, tossing to mix it well.

Serve the salad over the toasted bread, and pour over any remaining marinade.

You will have a smoky, hearty salad, that does not leave you wanting. The marinated peppers may have a fairy’s name, but they really do have a giant flavour.

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Flowers and Spice and All Veg – Nice!

Moroccan Vegetable Stew with Cous Cous and Coriander yoghurt

Souk Food

The other day I wrote about going foraging with Liz Knight with Mum on her birthday. What I didn’t mention is that she also had one of the stalls at the Tudor Farmhouse Market. She sells all manner of spice rubs, sauces, and syrups at fairs and some shops, and they are also available online.

We came away with a honeysuckle and tarragon syrup, and a Wild Rose el Hanout, based on the Moroccan spice mix. The original translates as “head of the shop”and is a blend of the best spices that a merchant has on offer, and is therefore supposed to act as both a luxury product and the best marketing tool that the merchant as at his disposal.

As the name suggests, the Forage version uses wild roses and spice, giving a heady blend that is every bit as luxurious as the Moroccan version. Liz also recommends adding it to a fish and tomato stew, which I will definitely be trying. If you haven’t managed to get hold of a pot of this lovely spice rub, you can use Ras el Hanout instead.

You may also remember that I resolved to make more Middle Eastern food back in January. I had a Moroccan spice, although Morocco is not exactly the Middle East, I was thinking of the fragrant dishes and spices that also encompass much North African cuisine. This seemed like a good place to revisit those resolutions, and get the whole commitment to them kicked off again.

I made this for a vegetarian dinner party. Because I used fresh tomatoes, I found that the sauce was quite liquid. I actually liked it that way, but you could thicken this by using tinned tomatoes, or add some tomato puree to the stew about 15 minutes before the end of cooking.

It is traditional to keep the vegetables quite big in Moroccan cooking, which also cuts down on the preparation time, making this a pretty easy evening meal.

I garnished it with some yoghurt with chopped coriander stirred through, although it is perfectly good without it, so you can leave this out if you want a vegan dish.

Recipe: Moroccan Vegetable Stew and Couscous

Ingredients:

For the Stew: 

2 shallots, peeled and quartered

1 red pepper, cut into very large dice

2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

2 tsp wild rose el hanout

2 carrots, cut into chunks

1 large courgette, quartered lengthways, then in cut into chunks

1 aubergine, cut into chunks

About 400 ml vegetable stock (enough to come about 2/3 of the way up the pot)

1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed

4 tomatoes, quartered

Bunch coriander, including the stalks, chopped

For the Couscous: 

400 g couscous

500 ml vegetable stock

Zest of 1 lemon

1 tsp wild rose el hanout

2 tbsp good olive oil

This recipe serves four people

Method

 

On a low heat, soften the shallot for about 3-4 minutes in a deep saucepan. Add the pepper, and continue to soften. When you can see changes in the flesh of the pepper, after about another 5 minutes, add the wild rose el hanout, and the garlic, and cook until the fragrance hits you.

Add the carrots, courgettes and aubergine to the pan, and cook down for 5-10 minutes, until the courgettes and aubergines start to give and soften. You will need to stir them well when the veg first go in, to distribute the spice mix, then occasionally as they cook down.

Add the stock, and bring to the boil, cover, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are soft.

While the vegetables are cooking, make the couscous. In a large bowl, stir the wild rose el hanout and the lemon zest through the couscous. Add the warm stock, so that it covers the couscous by bout 1cm. Cover and set aside to allow the couscous to absorb the stock.

Add the chickpeas, tomatoes and the coriander to the stew, and warm through for five minutes.

Add the olive oil to the couscous, and fluff up with a fork.

Serve the stew atop the couscous.

I liked this couscous so much, it s difficult to imagine that I won’t be stirring through some wild rose el hanout every time I make it from now on. At least until the jar runs out.

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Beans, Beans are good for your …Burgers!

Bulgur & Bean Veggie Burger

Barbecues – Not Just for Carnivores

You may have gathered by now that I like to barbecue. We don’t have a fancy grill or gas burner, and rely on simple charcoal. I don’t really see the point in lighting up a barbie if it is only going to be the two of us, so I tend to supersize mine, and invite loads of people. I’m pretty well-practiced at it now, and can happily cope with 20-30 guests.

We fill a baby bath with ice, for the drinks to chill in, and I set about making the things that will go onto it, with various salads, and dips. There are a few things that must feature – ribs, sausages, vegetable skewers, and of course burgers. I make my own meat burgers, and I don’t leave out veggie friends.

BBQ used as heat for guests

Burn All The Things

Of course, as is tradition, I do all the prep work, and step back to let the Big Guy get the glory, as he (and often a few other grill kings/ queens) ‘caramelises’ my food.

I am not a fan of fake meats. I know that they have saved many a vegetarian at a barbecue, but they just aren’t for me. These vegan burgers are not pretending to be meaty, I think that their flavour and texture is good enough to speak for themselves. And they are great in a bun!

The recipe is a good basis for a veggie burger. From here, you can change the spice mix, substitute coriander for the parsley, use fresh chilli instead of the cayenne pepper, or add nuts or some other vegetables to the mix. I have made a few variations myself. I’d love to hear your variations, and maybe steal them give them a try.

These burgers keep well in the fridge or freezer, and you can cook them in a frying pan too, if you don’t have enough people round light the barbecue.

You may have noticed that a lot of my recipes have been veggie or vegan lately. This is because a friend recently cycled the Dunwich Dynamo, and I agreed to “sponsor” him by signing up to reduce my carbon through Do-Nation. This is a great way of getting people to do a few simple green actions for a short period of time, to see how they get on. It is also a lovely way to help people to feel involved in supporting your event without asking them to donate money, which can be a little awkward in these straightened times. The actions themselves are not too difficult to achieve, and it may get a few people to continue to do them, after all it is supposed to take 30 days to form a habit, so after 2 months it may be second nature.

Peter managed to smash the carbon target that he set himself at the start. I chose the Veg Out option. I really don’t eat all that much meat, so for two months, I have pledged to cut it even further, and also to go vegan a couple of days a week.

The Dunwich Dynamo took place over the weekend, and so far reports are that my friend is very happy, and a little sore, but I expect that there will be no lasting problems. Congratulations Pete, on getting your friends to take some small carbon friendly actions, and for the epic ride!

Bulgur & Bean Burgers Ready to Grill

Grill Ready

Ingredients

200 g dried beans, or one can. I usually use kidney or brown beans here, but the variety is really up to you.

1 onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp cumin seeds

½ tsp cayenne pepper

100 g bulgur wheat

400 ml vegetable stock

1 tbsp soy sauce

Good bunch of parsley, finely chopped

Method

If you are using dried beans, soak them for a few hours. Drain then bring them to the boil in fresh, unsalted water. Cook until they are tender. You’ll probably need at least 40 mins for this, but it depends on the age of the beans. Don’t be tempted to salt the beans, or you will make the skins tough.

If you are using tinned beans, drain and rinse them, and heat them in fresh, unsalted water.

It is best to work with warm ingredients, as they bind a bit better, so try to get all the ingredients cooked at roughly the same time. If you are using dried beans, they will need to be started first, if you are using tinned, they should be warmed through as you come to the end of the bulgur preparation.

In a dry pan, toast the cumin seeds until they give off their characteristic scent. Keep them moving, as they will catch quickly. Once they are done, remove immediately to a mortar or a spice grinder.

Add a little oil to the warm pan, and sweat the onion on a gentle heat. You don’t want to colour the onion.

Meanwhile, grind up the cumin, and add the cayenne and garlic, and grind up to a paste. Add to the translucent onion, and fry until the aroma begins to waft.

Add the bulgur and stir to coat all of the grains in the onion and spice and oil. Add the stock, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the stock has been absorbed.

When the beans are done, drain, but don’t discard the cooking water. If the burger mix is too crumbly, you can add a bit of this to help it to bind.

Mix the soy, beans and parsley into the bulgur mix. Use the stalks of the herb too, as they pack loads of flavour. Set aside about a quarter of the mixture, and then pulse the rest in a blender until it is comes together. You want it to be sticky, but not a paste.

Add the reserved mixture from earlier, for texture and stir well.

Make patties by rolling lumps into balls in your hands, and then flattening on a board to make the burger. They will look surprisingly round. This is normal.

Chill for at least an hour before you grill them, to help them retain their shape. Grill or fry on either side over low coals. Preferably on a summer’s day. You may be able to make great burgers, but you can’t control the weather!

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A Soup for Summer

Summer Vegetable Nage

Summer Soup A-Swimming

For the past two years I have been experimenting with poaching. I have poached chicken, fish and even lamb. I love the tenderness that poaching lends meat, and it makes it really difficult (though not impossible) to  over cook.

The basis of a really good poached dish is the poaching liquid itself. This can be really simple, such as using water and maybe a few drops of vinegar when poaching eggs. More commonly, the poaching liquor, or nage is used to impart flavour and herbal notes to the thing you are poaching.

Nage comes from the French verb nager: to swim. The basis is a really good stock, and probably adding extra vegetables, which are then discarded.

Lately, nage has come to mean a delicate broth that gets served with the dish, but that can hold its own on the plate. The vegetables that were added for flavour are usually still removed. I hate wasting perfectly good food like this, and have been thinking that the basis of a poaching nage would make a delicious soup in its own right.

I had a vegetarian friend coming to dinner, the weather was stuffy, and I had broad beans, peas and herbs reaching their peak in the garden. I decided that I would experiment. The peas and beans should impart their soft sweet taste of summer, and the other vegetables needed a little bite. Unless you have few teeth, soft mushy vegetables are not pleasant, and certainly not what I wanted to represent a light summer soup. I served this dish as a delicate starter.

One of the herbs that I have in my garden is chervil. This delicate herb is often quite difficult to find in shops or markets in the Netherlands and the UK, but it really easy to grow, in the garden or on a windowsill. It has a delicate aniseed flavour but it really can add a lot to a salad, soup, fish or chicken dish, and will add a lot to a herb sauce. I really recommend that you have a go at growing this delightful little herb.

Herbs on a Saturday Challenge badge

Because I have used chervil and parsley in the soup, I am entering it in the June Herbs on Saturday, hosted by Karen Burns Booth at Lavender and Lovage. I really feel that this summery dish really captures the light herbal notes that are perfect for June.

The lemon zest trick was inspired by Nathan Outlaw, I think, but I’m not really sure where it came from. Don’t miss out that step though, it is important.

This soup really needs a good stock. You won’t be able to make it with a powder or a stock cube, it will be far too salty, and will also take away from the light herb flavours. Luckily, using the trimmings from the vegetables from this dish and a cabbage leaf or two, you can make a really good stock to use as the basis of the dish, with no waste. You definitely won’t regret it.

Recipe: Summer Vegetable and Herb Nage

Ingredients

Juice and zest of a lemon

700 ml of good quality vegetable stock (no cubes please)

100 g peas, shelled weight

200 g broad beans, shelled weight

2 shallots, finely chopped

4 summer carrots, finely chopped

1 bulb florence fennel, tough outer leaves removed and finely chopped

4 sprigs chervil, finely chopped (including stalks)

Small bunch curly leaf parsley, finely chopped (including stalks)

Any fronds from the fennel, finely chopped.

Salt to season

Method

Cook the lemon zest in a dry pan until you can smell the essential oils have been released. You will need to keep stirring, to help prevent burning.

Add the stock to the pan, and bring it to boiling point. Then lower the heat and simmer it for five minutes. Take it off the heat, and let it cool.

Cook the beans and the peas in unsalted boiling water. You can use the same pan, if you like, but the peas will need to go in after the beans have been cooking for a couple of minutes. Please take care not to over cook the vegetables. They really only need minutes, although the exact time will depend on their size. You will definitely not need longer than five minutes, even for large beans.

When cooked, drain the vegetables, and run them under a cold tap, or add to an ice bath to stop them cooking any further. Double-pod any broad beans bigger than half a centimetre in length. I know that this can seem like a hassle, but it really is necessary, and will give a much better balance of flavour overall.

When the stock is completely cold, add the lemon juice.

The next stages are very quick, so as not to overcook the vegetables, so please make sure that you have done all the chopping, don’t be tempted to continue chopping stuff while something  else cooks.

Soften the shallots for a minute or two on a low heat. You don’t really want the flavour of your best extra virgin olive oil here, so use a light olive oil, or sunflower oil. Be very careful, shallots can catch quickly, and you don’t want them to even start to colour. Keep stirring them.

Add the carrot and the fennel to the shallot, and sweat them all off for a minute, again, not allowing them to colour.

Add the cold stock, and bring it up to boiling point. Reduce to a simmer, and cook until the vegetables just begin to soften. This will take no longer than five minutes, as the vegetable pieces should be quite small.

Taste and season with a little salt if you need to. You don’t need pepper for this dish, it will totally change the delicate balance of the flavours.

Add the peas and beans, and simmer for about a minute to allow them to warm, but not really cook more.

Finally, stir through the chopped herbs and serve this light, refreshing summer soup immediately.

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A Test of My Nettle!

Edible hedgerow

An Edible Hedgerow

I love nettles – in tea, as plant food, in pesto.My favourite thing to do is to eat them as a vegetable,briefly wilted with chopped shallot that has been softened in butter. One of my favourite foods, made even better that they are in plentiful supply.

There are loads of good things about nettles: they are high in protein, and fibre, and rich in iron and vitamins A and K; they are a brilliant wildlife habitat; you are highly unlikely to get into trouble for picking them (although people might think that you are a little bit mad); and you get a double hit on them (in the wild), as you can pick them in the spring, and again in autumn. They are also really easy to identify.

As well as following some basic foraging rules, you will also need long sleeves and rubber gloves if you don’t want to get stung!

Flowering nettle

Too Late for this Nettle

If you are going for the wild variety, we are drawing towards the end of the first flush for this year. When the flower heads appear, almost like catkins (see above), the nettles will develop calcium carbonate crystals in the leaves, which are unpleasant to eat. However, if you strim back nettles, then they will grow fresh and you can eat them again. If you look carefully, you should still find some that are yet to flower, so just pick those.

Picking the nettle tips

Taking the Tips!

Because of the aforementioned abundance of wildlife, and the fact that even the tallest dog can’t reach, only pick the tips and the first two leaf bracts after them. These leaves won’t be tough, as some of the older leaves might.

I was originally going to enter this recipe into  Simple and in Season, for May, but the recipe needed a bit more testing. The first version I did was a bit mushy, so I didn’t make it. I am entering it for this month instead. Ren Behan at Fabulicious Food runs this challenge, and this month it is being hosted by Laura at How to Cook Good Food.

I love to entertain, and I also love to forage. I don’t often combine the two (unless it is booze) because I often think that people might not like the idea. However, I was having a vegan friend over for dinner, so many of my fall-back staples were off the menu. I had some freshly picked nettles, and I saw that Carl Legge had tweeted a link to his nettle gnocchi recipe. I was inspired, but couldn’t use the recipe, because he uses an egg as a binder. Instead, I have played with this a bit. I have to admit that I did not add enough flour to the first recipe, which was why it didn’t hold its shape. I apologise to my friends who had this as a starter that day, but I have improved on it now, to give the recipe below.

Jo's Version of Mr Potato Head

Soggy Gnocchi Disappointment: an Impressionist View

To make up for the gnocchi, Jo entertained us all with her food faces. This was a stray potato, with her partner as a size comparison.

Nettles go well with tomato sauces, but I decided that I was going to use a really simple pasta sauce (not at all traditional for gnocchi, but it went really well) of oil, chilli flakes and garlic.

This recipe is a good introduction to foraging, if you have always fancied giving it a go, but not dared so far. Nettles are easily accessible, and much tastier than you might think.

Nettle Gnocchi and Salad

Nourishing Nettles

Recipe: Vegan Nettle Gnocchi

Ingredients

200 g nettle tops, washed well in cold water

500 g floury potatoes. You want a variety that makes good mash

300 g plain flour, plus more for dusting

1 tbsp hemp oil (optional)

Salt

Pepper

You can also add spices to the dough, if you like, nutmeg is particularly good.

For the pasta sauce:

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced

Pinch of dried pepper flakes

Method

Firstly, remove the nettle stalks and discard.

Put the potatoes, with their skins on, in plenty of cold water and boil until they are just done and you can pierce to the middle. This should help stop them getting waterlogged, but only if they don’t overcook.Allow to cool slightly, then peel and mash them, preferably in a potato ricer or food mill, if you have one.

Add the nettles to boiling water and cook off briefly, the exact time will depend on the age of your nettles. Drain them, but don’t discard the cooking liquid. This is nettle tea, which is refreshing and all sorts of  good for you. You can drink it hot or cold, and it keeps well in the fridge.

Nettles retain more water than spinach, so use the back of a spoon and press them quite hard to get the liquid out of the leaves. Chop them roughly and mix well with the mashed potato, hemp oil, some salt and pepper, and any spices you are using.

An idea of how the  dough should look

The Dough Should Hold its Form Really Well

The exact amount of flour that you need will depend on the nettle and potato mix on the day. Initially, I used way too little, and the gnocchi were soggy. The best way around this is to tip the potato and nettle mix onto a floured surface, then add the flour, a little at a time and mix in well. You want to form a quite stiff dough, then knead it well. If you are unsure if there is enough flour, drop a test piece into some boiling water and cook for a couple of minutes. If it retains its shape, you have enough.

Bite sized gnocchi pieces

Bite Sized

Cut the dough into four. Flour your surface , and roll each piece of dough into a sausage 2-3 cm  in diameter. Cut these into 2-3 cm pieces. It is traditional to press a fork into each small piece to score it. The reason often given for this is so that a sauce can sit in the grooves. This is a great tip for a thicker sauce, like a tomato sauce or a ragù, but not really necessary for the sauce I used. I did it anyway, for aesthetics.

Marking grooves in the gnocchi to hold a sauce

Get Into the Groove

Get a fairly large pan of salted water to a rapid boil, and then drop the gnocchi in. They will take literally minutes to cook, so don’t be tempted to go and check e-mail or something similar.

The Finished Nettle Gnocchi

The Finished Product

For the sauce, gently heat the oil and garlic until the garlic starts to brown. Then add the chilli flakes. This sauce will take about the same time as the gnocchi, which will be cooked when they float. Drain, toss in the sauce, and serve immediately.

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