Spicy Chipotle Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chilli

This week I started with a medium veg box (less roots) and once again, Mexico was my first thought. Sweetcorn, sweet potatoes peppers and coriander and, I hate to say it but it might have been the hint of Autumn in the air,  which made me think of this “Spicy Chipotle Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chilli”.

Spicy Chipotle Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chilli

I have made it many time before and I love it because it is so versatile. You can have it on its own,  with rice, in a jacket potato, add a tortilla wrap and you have a burrito or serve it up in Taco shells. You can even liquidise it and have it as soup. Or how about in an enchiladas or quesadilla. Add what you like – charred sweetcorn, tomato salsa, guacamole, sour cream or cheese. The possibilities are endless.

Taco Shells

Spicy Chipotle Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chilli
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
4 sticks of celery, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
3 large garlic cloves, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 to 2 teaspoons sea salt
1 to 2 teaspoons crushed Chipotle Chillis
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried marjoram or handful of fresh oregano
1 bay leaf
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
Juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
Small bunch of coriander, finely chopped
Heat oil in a heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat; add onion and celery. Reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes or until tender. Add bell peppers and continue cooking for a further 10 minutes or so. Stir often to avoid burning. Stir in garlic, and cook about 1 minute. Add chilli, the salt, the herbs and spices. Stir and cook 1 minute. Next add the sweet potato. Give everything a good mix and add tomatoes and enough water to cover the sweet potato. Simmer, uncovered, about 30 minutes until the sweet potato is cooked. Stir in beans, and continue to cook 10 minutes. Remove bay leaf, and stir in lime juice. Finally add the coriander and adjust the seasoning to taste.

guacomole

Guacamole

Guacomole can be used to heat up a dish or cool it down so bare this in mind when adding the chilli. The most important factor to perfect guacamole is using good, ripe avocados. Check for ripeness by gently pressing the outside of the avocado. If there is no give, the avocado is not ripe yet and will not taste good. If there is a little give, the avocado is ripe. If there is a lot of give, the avocado may be past ripe and not good.

2 ripe avocados
2 spring onions (finely sliced)
1 fresh red or green Serrano chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped
½ bunch fresh coriander, finely chopped
Juice of 1 fresh lime
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
Freshly grated black pepper
Drizzle of Olive Oil

Cut avocados in half. Remove seed. Scoop out and put in a mixing bowl. Using a fork, mash the avocado. Add the chopped onion, coriander, lime, salt and pepper and mash some more. Chilli peppers vary individually in their hotness. Start with a little, add more to taste. Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the guacamole to prevent oxidation from the air reaching it. Refrigerate until ready.

Sweet Potato Chilli

 

Mexican Tostadas

Finally this week, I have been focused on Mexico. I think it just must just be the sort of vegetables that are in season right now – cherry tomatoes, chillies. sweetcorn, avocadoes and chard all lend themselves handsomely to Mexican flavours and as sweet potatoes appear back in the boxes, I am sure I will be making a whole lot more. Mexican food may at first seem complicated but the essence of it is a selection of fillings which pretty much always comprise of a few staple ingredients – meat or vegetables with chilli (a huge assortment), black beans, re-fried beans, avocados, lime, sweetcorn, cheese, sour cream, queso fresco, salsa of some sort and coriander. These can be put together in any combination of your choice. Then there is the choice of vessel.
I decided to make Tostadas which are little, fried corn tortillas. You can do this quite simply yourself by buying ready made all corn tortillas but if you wished you can make your own. There is a recipe in Thomasina Mier’s book Mexican Food At Home but beware – it does require the purchase of Masa Harina flour, unless you already have some in the store cupboard.
If you didn’t fancy Tosdadas, which just happen to be my particular favourite when we occasionally visit to Wahaca, the following recipes would make equally tasty fillings for a Burrito, Taco or a Quesadilla, maybe with a little extra cheese.

 
To make the Tostasas
All corn tortillas
Vegetable oil
Lay the corn tortillas flat stacking them neatly on top of each other and using a pastry cutter, about 8 cms, cut three stacks of rounds. If you trim up what you are left with, you should have perfect shape for Tortilla chips. Heat about 200ml of oil in a shallow frying pan until it is sizzling hot (you can test it with a piece of off-cut tortilla – the oil should really sizzle when it goes in) and fry them in the hot oil until crispy and golden. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with salt. Fry the Tortilla chips the same way and serve with the salsa or avocado dip.

Chard and sweetcorn

Swiss Chard and Smoky Pan-Toasted Sweetcorn
Kernels from 2 ears sweet corn
1 tsp smoked paprika
Pinch of smoked chipotle chilli
Extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
1 handful red, yellow or green chard
Pinch of smoked chipotle chilli
Sea salt
Cut the sweetcorn from the cobs. Do this by first removing the husks and then top and tail each cob to give it a secure base and cut each one in half. (As in photo)

Removing corn kernals

Stand each piece upright and using a sharp knife cut downwards releasing the individual kernals. Heat a large heavy frying pan over medium-high heat until very hot. Add a little oil and the corn kernels and cook, shaking the pan and stirring, until the kernels brown, about 5 minutes. Be careful because the corn can pop. Season with salt and add the chilli and smoked paprika. Shake well and remove corn from the heat.

Steamed Chard

If the chard has a large stalks (this is not usually the case early in the season) separate the chard stalks from the leaves and chop both leaves and stalks roughly, keeping them separate. Add the stalks to a pan of boiling salted water and cook for 2 minutes and then add the leaves as well and blanch briefly. Remove and spread out on a dry tea towel to cool. When cool use the tea towel to squeeze out as much water as possible. Cut the garlic into very thin slithers. Heat a little more olive oil in a saucepan and fry the garlic until just turning light golden brown. Add the Chard and season with salt and mix well. Fry briefly and remove from the heat. Add the corn and stir through and check the seasoning. I like these topped with sour cream.

Cherry Tomato and Black Beans Salsa

Cherry Tomato, Black Bean and Coriander Salsa
8 ripe cherry tomatoes
½ tin of black beans (drained)
2 spring onions
1 lime
Small bunch of coriander
1 – 2 small fresh red chilli
Sea salt
A glug of extra virgin olive oil

Cut your tomatoes into quarters and chuck them in a bowl. Finely shred the spring onions and add them. Squeeze the juice from the lime and add ½ to the tomatoes with a good pinch of salt and a glug of olive oil. Roughly chop the coriander and add that two. Remove the seeds from the chilli and finely chop. Add ½ to begin with. Stir in the beans well and check seasoning. It should have a good kick, so if it is too mild add more chilli. Add move lime or olive oil to taste. Top with creamed avocado.

Creamed Avocado
This is simply Guacamole without all the ingredients. Since the same ingredients are in the salsa, there is no need to add them twice. I especially omit the chilli as the salsa should have more than enough. The avocado topping is there to cool your mouth down.

1 avocado (perfectly ripe)
Juice of ½ a lime
Tbsp. of sour cream
Handful of coriander, washed, drained and finely chopped
Sea salt.

Mash up the avocado until completely smooth. Add the lime, sour cream and finely chopped coriander. Add salt to taste.

Beetroot Tostadas

Beetroot, Cumin Seed, Sour Cream and Coriander with Feta
This one is not strictly Mexican. In fact I have no idea if they have beetroot in Mexico. However I just felt that these Mexican flavours go so well with beetroot, I had to try it and I was really pleased with the results.
Most Mexican recipes call for queso fresco, which literally means fresh cheese. It is hard to find in England unless you make your own but feta cheese is a good substitute.

1 large beetroot
1 tsp cumin seeds
1-2 tbsp sour cream
Large handful of coriander, washed, drained and finely chopped (save a few extra leaves for decorating.)
100g feta

Pre-heat oven to 180⁰C. Wash the beetroot and trim of the tops and tail. Wrap it well in tin foil and put in the oven. Cook for about 40 minutes to 1 hour. A skewer or knife should insert and pull out again without any effort. Allow to cool until you can handle. Slip off the skins with your hands. (You can wear disposable gloves if you have any.) Finely dice the beetroot and put in a bowl with the cumin seeds, sour cream and coriander. Season well with salt and taste. Serve with crumbled feta and a few extra coriander leaves.

Washed Chard

Smashed Broccoli

Broccoli is another vegetable which is sometime hard to think of something new to do with. It is not as versatile as cauliflower and although it does lend itself to grilling or barbequing, I don’t like it roast. It is a fine line between delicious and memories of school dinners. This recipe for Smashed Broccoli challenges those sensibilities by requiring you to cook the broccoli somewhat more than modern etiquette allows. It will not work unless you go a few minutes beyond your comfort zone. Don’t forget to use the stalks as well. Just trim off the tough outer layer and cut the pale green stem into even sized chunks. There are other recipes out there for smashed broccoli with all sorts of extra additions from yoghurt to chicken stock but take my word for it – it needs nothing more than lots of butter and salt. I cannot tell you how delicious it is, just give it a go.

Broccoli Florettes

There is no real recipe as such. Cut your broccoli into even sized pieces and cook in plenty of salted boiling water. Cook just a little bit longer than you are used to, until really soft, but still retaining its bright green colour. Drain well. Tip back into the saucepan and add plenty of really good butter and some sea salt to taste. Crush with a potato masher. You want to retain some texture.

Smashing Broccoli

Ham Hock, Cannellini Bean and Runner Bean Soup

I started this week with a small veg box (less roots) and being the time of year, I was confronted with yet more runner beans. I hate to sound a little dismayed but sometimes a particular vegetables begins to get you down. It is not that I don’t like runner beans, it is just two things that upset me. Firstly that I feel that runner beans are usually best when really fresh just lightly boiled or steamed with a little butter but that does not make a very exciting blog post. Secondly, it is very hard to find really good recipes with runner beans that justifies the extra work rather than just boiling or steaming them and serving them with a little butter. Whatever you do decide to do with your runner beans, make sure you take the time to quickly run a peeler down each side of the bean to remove any stinginess before you cut them up. This little tip improves their texture tenfold.

Peeling Runner Beans

Believe it or not, I go to great lengths to think up recipes which I feel are not just an excuse for using up a vegetable. I am very determined that every recipe that goes in this blog is something that you are really going to want to eat. Or at least something that I am really going to want to eat. I was thrilled with my first idea for a Salad Nicoise with runner beans, favourably substituting the traditional French beans. But I looked out the window and it was pouring, literally bucketing it down. Not salad weather I thought, I will have to try harder. More warming, comforting soup weather. We all need comforting when August feels more like winter.

What I love about this soup is that it is supper quick. I have written about the joys of ready cooked, pulled ham hock before and here it is combined with lots of lovely vegetables, cannellini beans, pasta and runner beans. I really feel the runner beans are not an afterthought, but somehow belong in this recipe.

I got a complimentary bunch of basil in my box which you could whiz up with a little olive oil and add to your soup if you like but a little grated parmesan is my favourite addition. Apart from that, your only other decision is what pasta to use. I opted for the very pretty looking Mafalda Corta which is from Campania in Italy but I found in Waitrose. In the past I used anything from Orzo to alphabet pasta or broken spaghetti. I have got to say that it was most definitely a perfect meal to cheer you up on a very wet summer’s day.
If you want to cook your own ham hocks, place them in cold water, bring to the boil, then add a carrot, onion, leek and stick of celery (all chopped in half), some thyme and white pepper-corns. Simmer for a couple of hours until you can pick the hocks up and the meat falls from the bone.
To adapt for vegetarians, exclude the ham hock and use vegetable stock or water.

Ham Hock soup with Parmesan

Ham Hock, Cannellini Bean and Runner Bean Soup
180g ham hock, cooked and shredded
1 litre chicken stock or use good quality stock cubes (or use the liquid from cooking the hocks)
2 carrots peeled and sliced into 5mm thickness
1 large onion peeled and chopped
2 sticks of celery sliced into 5mm lozenges
1 small leek shredded
A handful of runner beans
A tin of cannellini beans drained
80g dried pasta
Olive oil
Wash the vegetables. Then in a large pan add the olive oil, carrot, onion, leek and celery season with salt and pepper. Sauté for five minutes until they start to soften but without any colour.
Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Check seasoning and if it needs salt add some now. Add the pasta and cook as per packet instructions. Meanwhile peel your runner beans down each length with a peeler. Top and tail the beans and then cut diagonally into thin strips. When the pasta is done, add the ham-hock, runner beans and cannellini beans and bring to the boil. Cook until runner beans are done. Check seasoning. Serve with a drizzle of good olive oil, parmesan or basil oil.

Veg for Ham Hock Soup

Vegetable Fritters

As always in late summer, I am overrun with courgettes and spinach so it was really nice to find a recipe which combines the two. They are also a good way of using up any broccoli including purple sprouting, peas, sweet corn, carrots, beetroot, cauliflower or a favourite of mine – Jerusalem Artichokes. You can vary the spices and herbs accordingly. I tried several attempts to perfect these fritters and turned to Japanese Tempura recipes to fine-tune the results. Another variation is Pakora, an Indian version made with gram flour, the batter encases the vegetable which is cut in larger pieces and results in a crisp outer shell and the vegetable inside is almost steamed, onion bhaji being the most famous example.

It is fun to choose a fitting dip to accompany your fritter of choice. You can go Asian, try a salsa – verde or rosso, a yoghurt based dip or a flavoured mayonnaise add some chilli or try guacamole. But if you are short on time, they are just delicious with a wedge of lemon or lime.

The feta can be replace with the more traditional Robiola cheese but it is hard to find. If you have never paid a visit to Vallebona I strongly recommend it. As a supplier to some of the best Italian restaurants in England, they have a beautiful shop in the middle of the most unpromising site of Weir Road Industrial Estate in Wimbledon. As soon as you walk in the door you are overwhelmed with their wonderful array of fabulous cheeses, meats, wines and breads all sourced fresh from Sardinia. Go on a Saturday and they have tasting. I have to warn you that it is not cheap, but I guess food this good is always going to come at a price. They now are open for pre-booked lunch and pop-up dinners. I haven’t been, so let me know if you go.

Courgette Fritters 1

Courgette, Spinach, Feta and Herb Fritters
It is possible to replace the flour with something gluten-free such as buckwheat flour but add ½ tsp of baking powder to add a little lightness.
4 courgettes (approx. 500g)
1-2 handfuls of true spinach
3 spring onions (finely chopped)
20g Parmesan (grated)
150 grams feta cheese
1 small bunch dill
Zest of a large lemon
50 grams self-raising flour
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs (beaten)
Vegetable oil (for frying)
Coarsely grate the courgettes. Put in a bowl with the chopped spring onions. Add the chopped dill, parmesan, lemon zest, flour, egg yolks and season well with salt and pepper. Stir well and then crumble in the feta and add the spinach. Whisk the egg whites into firm peaks and gently fold through the courgette mixture. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan and drop dessertspoons of the mixture into the hot oil, flattening the little cakes down with the back of the spoon as you go. Keep them quite small so they are easy to flip. Cook these little patties for about 2 minutes each side until golden, and then transfer to kitchen paper and then a couple of waiting plates.

Courgette Fritters 2

Charred Corn, Scrunched Kale and Sweet Potato Salad

Judging by how quiet the roads still are, I am assuming that most people are still away. And with the rather disappointing weather of late, who would blame them. But I am back from my holidays in the South of France so it is time to get blogging again and I will be concentrating on healthy eating. As always the markets in France were piled high with fantastic vegetables. They really put the English to shame in their conviction of taste over appearance on the veg front. No perfectly uniform, identical greenhouse grown Dutch vegetables here. All sorts of knobbly and imperfect specimens make it to the market stalls which are inspected and chosen with much consideration, conversation and examination.

Market France

But as fantastic as the vegetables were, it appears to have been the Croissant and cheese that made the biggest impact on my diet and weight. So now I am back, I am focused on “healthy eating” and thought I might try a few recipes from a new book I just bought “A Modern Way to Eat” by Anna Jones. I was particularly looking for a new recipe for sweetcorn and thought that “Charred Corn, Scrunched Kale and Sweet Potato Salad” sounded wholesome.

I have never been a massive raw kale fan so I was keen to see how the “scrunching” works which Anna says is equally good with spinach, Cavolo Nero and spring greens. “I keep the kale raw, which might seem a bit unusual. I love to eat kale raw – but I always scrunch it with lemon or lime juice and a pinch of salt first. This does something amazingly fresh and different to it – the cellulose breaks down, so it softens and sweetens into buttery little ribbons. It is a super-quick and because you aren’t cooking it all the nutrients stay intact” and I have to say that that it did make a difference and the whole salad was really delicious. I just changed the honey for maple syrup and added a little chilli to the sweet potatoes. The caramelised beautifully but keep an eye on them as they burn easily.

Charred Sweetcorn, Sweet Potato and Kale Salad

Charred Corn, Scrunched Kale and Sweet Potato Salad
4 sweet potatoes, washed and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon runny honey
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
250g head of curly kale
Juice of ½ a lime
2 corn on the cob
1 ripe avocado, peeled, destoned and sliced
For the dressing:
Juice of ½ a lime
A handful of cashews (soaked overnight if you have time)
½ a bunch of fresh coriander
2 tablespoons coconut milk

Method

Preheat your oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/gas 6.

Place the sweet potatoes on a roasting tray with the paprika, cumin, honey, a good splash of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Toss together, then roast for 40 minutes, until soft on the inside and charred and caramelised outside.

Strip the kale from its stems and rip or chop it into little bite-size pieces. Put into a large bowl, squeeze over the lime juice and add a pinch of salt. Use your hands to scrunch the kale for a minute or so, then place to one side.

Next, heat a griddle pan until screaming hot. Add the corn and char it on each side, turning it from time to time. Once charred all over, let it cool, then cut the kernels from the corn cobs and add them to the bowl of kale.

Put all the dressing ingredients into a blender with 2 tablespoons of water and a good pinch of salt. Blitz until almost smooth and grassy green.

Taste, and add more lime juice or salt if you think it needs it.
Add the sweet potatoes to the kale and corn, then add the avocado to the bowl too.

Pour over the dressing and toss the lot together.

Sweet Potatoes

#cooktogether

As I have mentioned, I have recently sold my house and I am now living temporarily at my parents’ house for a month until I can move into my new house next month. This has certain pluses and minuses but one big plus, it has to be said, is that we currently live in a 10 minute walk to Wimbledon Village.

Our latest weekend activity has been wondering around lovely shops, looking at lovely things which we can’t possibly afford. Nowhere more so than at the Le Crueset shop in Church Street where I could spend hours admiring pots and pans which are simply never going to be a justifiable necessity in the long list of necessities in my life. I did however pick up a free leaflet publicising the gorgeous new “Ink Range” and the cover featured some rather nice looking soda bread baked in a heavenly Le Creuset dish. Just happens that I was planning to try a recipe for soda bread cleverly incorporating carrots and beetroot and happily both of these vegetables turned up in my veg box this week.

Bread is always a great thing to cook with children and I thought I might take some photos for Riverford’s Cook Together Campaign #cooktogether. Unfortunately, I am not clever enough to work out how to upload them! Never mind. She still had fun.

Amelie cooking 1

Carrot Soda Bread on Plate

Carrot and Pumpkin Seed and Beetroot and Caraway Soda Breads

175g strong bread flour
175g wholemeal or spelt flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
large pinch black pepper
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
200ml natural yoghurt
olive oil

For the Carrot and Pumpkin Seed
50g pumpkin seeds
2 carrots
For the Beetroot and Caraway
1 medium sized beetroot
1 tsp caraway seeds

Preheat your oven to a good, high temperature (200⁰C Fan) and oil a large pan or Le Creuset or a baking sheet. Toss all of the dry ingredients (flours, salt, pepper and soda) into a large bowl and stir to combine.

In a separate mixing jug, measure out the yoghurt and an equal volume of cold water. Whisk the two to combine, and gradually pour into the flour mixture. Stir well between pouring the yoghurt into the dry mixture, ensuring that everything is well combined.
Divide your dough into two equal amounts.
Peel your carrots and grate them into the large bowl.
Peel your beetroot and grate them into another bowl.
Add the carrots and sunflower seeds to half your mix.
Add the beetroot and caraway seeds to the other half.
Roll into even sized balls adding extra flour if to wet and place in the Le Crueset or onto the baking sheet.
I also thought it might be nice to top the rolls with some other seeds – maybe some sunflower seeds on the carrot ones and some poppy seeds on the beetroot.

Place in the pre-heated oven for 40 minutes.

Once baked, allow to cool sufficiently before slicing. My loaf sounded nice and hollow when the base was tapped; this tells you that the bicarbonate of soda has reacted with the moisture and acidity of the yoghurt, producing tiny pockets of carbon dioxide to give rise to the bread. Cutting the bread before it is cool is like cutting it before it’s done baking; let the starch set, or you end up with a dense dough-like texture.

Soda Bread in Pan

Swiss Chard, Red Onion and Crème Fraiche Tart with Olives

I am always asked for more recipes for leafy greens. It is not surprising since one type or another is usually available all year long. Starting with spinach around May, joined by Spring Greens and then Summer Greens a little later on, with Savoy cabbage close behind and on through to January. Kale kicks in around September and Cavalo Nero around November and carries on until April when the Spinach starts up again and so on.

Here is one of my favourite recipes for Chard although it would work equally well with perpetual spinach. Would you believe that in my day this tart was actually on the menu as a starter at The River Café. Not quite what you expect from a Michelin stared restaurant but I guess that is why it was such a unique restaurant.  This is one of those recipes which somehow tastes greater than its sum of ingredients. This as usual is to do with the mixture of Umami flavours. Umami is known as the fifth flavour and is found in great quantities in Parmesan Cheese and Chard so when the two are brought together, it becomes something else.

I am a great fan of ready rolled all butter puff pastry which can be easily found now a days in most supermarkets. Make sure it is all-butter; its ingredients should not list much more than butter and flour. It can be kept in the freezer until needed and quickly topped with all sorts of vegetable so it is a great use up lunch or supper.

Use-up is very much on my mind at the moment as I am not only off on holiday soon but when I get back I am moving house. So, as you can imagine our household is overflowing with suitcases and packing boxes – basically chaos!. Due to these rather major events, I shall not be blogging for a few weeks but I will never stop in my pursuit of finding great recipes to help you use up your vegboxes and I am sure that the markets in the South of France will inspire me as always, so I hope to return rejuvenated in a couple of weeks with new ideas.

Chard tart on plate

 Swiss Chard, Red Onion and Crème Fraiche Tart with Olives
1 packet of ready rolled all-butter puff pastry (230g)
3 Red onions, finely sliced
Leaves from 1 sprig of thyme
Olive oil
½ head of wet garlic or 4 garlic cloves
300g Swiss chard
10 stoned black olives, chopped if large
1/2 tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3-4 tbsp. Crème Fraîche
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Heat a little olive oil in a pan, add the onions and thyme and cook gently for about 10 minutes, until soft and just beginning to caramelise. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Lay the pastry out on a baking sheet and put in the oven until puffed up and golden brown on the to and the bottom.
Meanwhile, if the chard has a large stalk (this is not usually the case early in the season) separate the chard stalks from the leaves and chop both leaves and stalks roughly, keeping them separate. Add the stalks to a pan of boiling salted water and cook for 2–3 minutes, until tender. Remove the stalks with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the leaves to the boiling water and blanch briefly. Remove and spread out on a dry tea towel to cool. When cool use the tea towel to squeeze out as much water as possible. Cut the wet garlic or garlic into very thin slithers. Heat a little more olive oil in a saucepan and fry the garlic until just turning light golden brown. Add the Chard and season with salt and mix well. Fry briefly and remove from the heat. Spread the onions all over the pastry base, just leaving a narrow edge. Top with the chard and then sprinkle with the chopped olives, Parmesan and a few blobs of crème fraîche. Bake in the oven for a further 10-15 minutes, until lightly browned.

Chard Tart 1

Blackcurrant Jelly and Ice-cream

It’s blackcurrant season and for the first time ever, that I have noticed anyway, Riverford are supplying their own. These specimens are actually from my allotment where we have produced a bumper crop this year. Blackcurrants tend to need cooking (unless you are my son Daniel who eats them, along with the gooseberries by the fistful.)

Blackcurrants from the Allotment

With some fruit such as bananas or raspberries, they are so perfect as they are it seems a bit of a waste of time to start fiddling around with them. But blackberries need a bit of sugar and removing some of the pips certainly makes them more palatable to me. When I was a kid on holiday in the South of France, of all the vast selection of fantastic ice-creams and sorbets on offer, it was the Cassis sorbet that was my absolute favourite. The perfect balance of sweet and sour and bursting with the deepest flavour. But I recon I have found a recipe to beat it – Blackcurrant Jelly. When I tasted the results I was instantly transported back to being 11 years old, bright sunshine, relishing in the amazing intensity of flavour, like nothing I had tasted before. Of course all jelly needs ice-cream and a good quality vanilla is the perfect accompaniment. Save back a little of the syrup when making and add to a glass of Champagne (or Prosecco) for a Kir Royal.

Blackcurrant Jelly 1

Blackcurrant Jelly
400g Blackcurrants
350g sugar
300mls water
1 sheet of gelatine (25g each sheet) for every 100mls (about 6)

Tip the blackcurrant into a large pan with the sugar and water and bring gently to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes and mash with a potato masher to break up the fruit. Tip into a sieve and press with a spatula to remove all the juice. Tip into a measuring jug. You should have about 500 mls to 600 mls. For every complete 100mls use one sheet of gelatine. Soak the gelatine in cold water until really soft. Remove and squeeze out any excess water with your hands. Reheat a little of the blackcurrant puree in a saucepan. When hot add the gelatine. Stir until completely dissolved. Mix in any remaining puree and stir well. Pour into Dariole moulds or ramekins and put into the fridge to set. When set, quickly put the containers in a bowl of boiling water, making sure none comes into contact with the jelly itself. Turn upside down and release the jelly with your finger into a bowl. Serve with ice-cream.

Spring Risotto in Summer!

Having dealt with the Kohl Rabi, next I turned my attention to the peas and broad beans and “Risotto” immediately sprang to mind. This is a popular choice in my house as it is one of the few dishes that the whole family can agree upon as liking unanimously without an argument – which is always a relief.

It was only when I started to grow my own vegetables that it occurred to me that what I thought as Spring vegetables where not actually ready until early Summer. Although asparagus and broad beans are the  first, closely followed by peas, without poly-tunnels and greenhouses you would be lucky to have any to hand by the end of April! Risotto however is of course an Italian dish and clearly Spring in Italy is somewhat warmer and more reliable than our own!

There are so many varieties you can make but here are a few key points to making it always delicious.

• You do not have to stir constantly for 20 minutes but remember that in stirring you are banging the grains of rice together which is what releases the starch and makes your risotto creamy.
• Always use a good quality rice – Arborio or Carnaroli
• Fry the bacon until really crispy – no one wants gristly bits of bacon in their Risotto
• Use good quality stock – homemade is best but it is fine to use bought stock (Riverford make their own) or good stock cubes like Kallo Organic.
• Always use butter, not olive oil. Risotto traditionally comes from the North of Italy where butter is readily available. (There are exceptions such as Artichoke risotto which is a Southern Italian dish and uses olive oil instead.)
• Everyone is always worried about overcooking risotto and making it mushy but an undercooked, chalky risotto is even worse!
• Add enough stock – it should be creamy, not stodgy.
• Season during cooking so that the rice absorbs the salt and it does not just coat the outside.
• Always add hot stock during cooking.

Pea, Broad Bean and Bacon Risotto

Pea, Broad Bean and Bacon Risotto
This is based on a Risotto Primavera, which means Spring Risotto and any spring vegetables can be used. Remember that Spring in Italy is more like Summer in England!
Serves 4
200g shelled broad beans
200g shelled peas
250g /16 rashers smoked streaky bacon cut into lardons (optional)
1 large onions (chopped very small)
1.5 – 2  pints good quality chicken or vegetable stock, preferably homemade or stock cube
100g butter
300g Risotto rice
100 mls dry white wine
100g Parmesan, finely grated

Drop the broad beans into boiling water and cook for 3 minutes, then drain and cool under cold water. Peel off the skins. Pour the stock into a pan and bring to a simmer.

Heat 3/4 the butter in a heavy, wide pan and add the bacon and fry cook until crisp. Tip in the onions and cook very slowly for 10 minutes until soft and see-through, but not brown, stirring often. Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon for a few minutes so it gets coated, but not coloured. Pour in the wine. Keep stirring for about a minute until the wine has evaporated. Now add 1-2 ladles of stock at a time stirring until all the liquid is absorbed, scraping the sides of the pan to catch any stray bits of rice. Continue to stir and add a ladleful of stock once the previous amount has been absorbed. The rice tells you when it needs more stock. Check for seasoning. Homemade stock has no salt – stock cubes are full of it, so season to taste but add early on so that the salt absorbs into the rice.

After about 15 minutes add the peas to the rice. Check seasoning. The rice should take another 5 minutes or so. Try the rice every few minutes – when done it should be softened, but with a bit of bite, almost chewy, and the risotto creamy – overcooking just makes it mushy but make sure your rice is not still chalky. Continue adding stock and stirring until done. Add the broad beans. Take the pan off the heat, add 3/4 of the parmesan and the rest of the butter. Put the lid on the pan and leave for 3 minutes to rest. Serve with the remaining Parmesan.

Broad beand shelled