Friday, 30 August 2013

Cavolo Nero

I love Italian food. If I had to pick one thing to live on for the rest of my life it would probably be pasta. So versatile, so classic, so soothing, so flipping delicious. I probably have some kind of pasta dish at least once a week but it is hard sometimes to make it more exciting and do something different with it.

I went to Sicily over the summer and it was a vegetarian Italian lover's dream! The local cuisine doesn't really involve much meat so there were plenty of delicious pastas and risottos and pizzas to choose from. And ice cream of course. I thoroughly recommend a visit if you get the chance.

Cavolo nero literally means black cabbage in italian, although it's more similar to kale. I had never seen it let alone eaten before it turned up in my veg bag last week. You can immediately just how tasty and healthy this veg is; a deep, deep green, it is absolutely choc full of vitamins K, A and C, and rich is lutein-which helps to keep eyes healthy. It is traditionally used in an Italian dish called 'ribollita', which literally means 'reboiled' as it was a way of using up leftovers. So I thought I'd give this historically important and famous dish a go myself, but with a bit of a twist of course!

pasta ribollita
Serves 4

a good glug of olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 carrots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 jar of tinned tomatoes
1 tin of cannellini beans
500ml vegetable stock
spring of rosemary
sprig of thyme
a hearty bunch of cavolo nero, shredded (not the tough stalks)
200g pasta
salt & pepper
vegetarian parmesan (optional)

Fry the onion, carrots and garlic on a medium heat with olive oil for about 10 minutes until soft.

Add the tomatoes, stock, beans, rosemary and thyme. Cover and simmer for about 40 minutes.

Add the cavolo nero and the pasta and season to taste. (You may need to add a bit more stock to cover the pasta.) Cook for another 10-12 minutes until the pasta is al dente.

This dish is traditionally a soup, so you will have quite a lot of liquid. However, I have since eaten the leftovers which had dried out a bit and it was just as good! For more of a sauce constintency, don't add as much stock/cook the sauce down for a bit longer.

Serve piping hot in bowls with a sprinkling of veggie parmesan.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

brilliant beans

So I didn't think I liked broad beans. Oh, how wrong I was!

My memories from eating them when I was younger were that they were huge, had an odd, tough texture and didn't really taste of much. Well, thank you Local Greens for making me change my ways.

These gorgeous things were so fresh, succulent, full of flavour - and the most brilliant bright green. You really could taste their freshness and didn't need to do much to get the best out of them.

What I did do with them though, was inspired by that high street classic we all know and love; good old Marks & Spencer. They do a delicious salad with broad beans, feta, quinoa and all sorts of other goodies in it. I have been tempted by it for lunch a few times, but as it weighs in at an outrageous £4 something, I have instead picked myself up off the floor and gone for the boring but economic egg or Ploughmans instead.

I do try though to take my lunch to work most days, so decided to use our broad bean beauties to make my own version of this- in your face M&S!

This salad was perfect for all that glorious hot weather we had-like summer on a plate. It's basically all of my favourite things in one dish, and very quick to make.

I was lucky enough to have to go some training near Borough market that week, so of course I had to stop by to check out what was on offer. I managed to restrain myself and not buy too much, but did leave with some super tasty avocados that were a great addition to this dish.

I also want to tell you about my seed mix (I know, you've been dying to know, right?). You may see these guys pop up quite a bit in my cooking, as I can't get enough of the stuff! Seeds are a great source of healthy fats, protein and all sorts of important vitamins and minerals. Plus, I find they add a wonderful crunch to salads. I buy a pre-mixed pack from Holland & Barratt called 'Salad Sprinkle' which has pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and pine nuts. Yum! I also use a milled seed mix for smoothies and breakfast, but more on that another time. To the recipe!

broad bean, avocado and feta quinoa
Serves 2

50g quinoa
about 6-8 broad bean pods
2 spring onions, finely shopped
1/2 cucumber, peeled and chopped
handful of mint, finely chopped
olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1 avocado, cut into chunks
big chunk of feta
mix of seeds 

Cook quinoa in boiling water (I add a pinch of vegetarian stock powder-Boullion is best) for 10-15 mins.

To save on time and washing up, I add the pods to the quinoa pan about 2 mins before it is done. Once cooked, drain the pan and run the whole lot under cold water. Pop the beans out of their pods and throw the quinoa and beans into a large serving bowl.

Add the cucumber, spring onions and mint, drizzle with the lemon juice and olive oil, and mix well. Season with black pepper.

Finally, add the avocado, crumbled feta and a sprinkle of seeds. Garnish with extra mint.

(No photo I'm afraid; it got gobbled up too quickly. But I'll remember next time so watch this space...)

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Live Local Greens

It was with great anticipation that I went to collect my first ever Local Greens bag. I couldn't wait to see what amazing veg I would be getting that week, and all organic and locally sourced.

Local Greens is a volunteer-run, not-for-profit organisation that provides a weekly veg bag scheme in Brixton, Camberwell, Herne Hill and Dulwich. All the veg is locally grown, from organic or spray free farms. I was excited to start using them as I have wanted to go organic for a while for health and environmental reasons, and it feels good to be supporting a local organisation.

Well, the first bag was such a treat! It definitely was a great introduction to the world of veg bags!

We got:
Red Kale
Summer Squash (if anyone knows the official name for this I would love to know! Sort of looks like a UFO...)
Broad beans
Little gem lettuce

Now, I'm a very keen cook and like to think I am quite adventurous when coming up with recipes, but I have to say it was a little bit daunting to be faced with all this wonderful, but somewhat unusual, veg and knowing what to do with it all. With that in mind, I shall endeavour to bring you my trials and tribulations of cooking with a Local Greens veg bag, hopefully with some tasty recipes along the way!