Baby Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds

Finally the aftermath of moving house is calming down, it is too wet for me to start the epic job of putting the allotment to bed for winter and I don’t have any Riverford lunches this week, and as a result I actually had some time to do some cooking this week.  It is often difficult to find the time to experiment with new recipes for my Riverford Lunches and Dinners and I always feel that I need to keep on finding new and exciting ways of using veg, if I am going to keep on inspiring you. I opted for a large veg box (original) and I couldn’t wait to get started.

Large veg box Wk 17

I was very keen to test out a salad recipe that my sister in law served up last weekend for lunch and everyone was bowled over by. It comes for Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem which is one of my favourite cookbooks but I had somehow managed to overlook this recipe. It is a perfect blend of sweet and sour, crunchy and chewy and salads really don’t get much better than that. 1 am sure with its combination of almonds, dates and spinach it has got to be pretty good for you as well.

Spinach Salad with Almonds & Dates

Baby Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds

1 tablespoon wine vinegar
½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
3 ½ ounces dates (100 grams), preferably Medjool, pitted and quartered lengthwise
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (30 grams)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 small pitas (about 3 1/2 ounces, or 100 grams), roughly torn into 1 1/2 -inch pieces
½ cup whole unsalted almonds (75 grams), coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons sumac
½ teaspoon chili flakes
5 to 6 ounces baby spinach leaves (150 grams)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Put vinegar, onion and dates in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and mix well with your hands. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes, then drain any residual vinegar and discard. Meanwhile, heat butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add pita and cook for 4 to 6 minutes, stirring all the time, until pita is golden. Add almonds and continue cooking until pita is crunchy and browned and almonds are toasted and fragrant, about 2 minutes more. Remove from heat and mix in sumac, chili flakes and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside to cool. When ready to serve, toss spinach leaves with pita mix in a large mixing bowl. Add dates and red onion, remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, the lemon juice and another pinch of salt. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately.

Red Onions

Bacon, Tomato, Avocado and Mayo Sourdough Sandwich

Finally for this week, I tackled Avocados yet again. No one can ever get bored of avocados. They are just such a delicious, perfect thing. But being so perfect, it is quite difficult to find recipes for them, when they are quite happy just being left alone.

So I thought long and hard about what my real favourite way to eat avocado was. And what came in top, higher even than that fabulous 70’s diner party classic of Avocado Stuffed with Prawns and Marie Rose Sauce, came my all time, absolute favourite of Bacon, Tomato and Avocado Sandwich with Mayo. Super simple, super good. Few top tips. Use good bread. I used Gail’s Sourdough, lightly toasted. Use good bacon. I like smoked streaky. The hint of smoke adds flavour and I like my bacon super crisp and only streaky can crisp up to perfection. Start on a lower heat with a little oil and render down the fat in the bacon, before turning up the heat and crisping it up to perfection. Some people like to dip the toast in the rendered bacon fat. I am quite the opposite, I dry my bacon on kitchen paper, but however you like it, I don’t think I really have to say anymore. The photos say it all.

Avocado and Bacon Sandwich 2

Bacon, Tomato, Avocado and Mayo Sourdough Sandwich
Serves 1
2 slices sourdough bread, lightly toasted
½ a perfectly ripe avocado
½ a perfectly ripe large tomato
1 tbsp. Mayonnaise
5 rashers good quality smoked streaky bacon

Heat a frying pan with a little sunflower oil. Lay out your bacon rashes and cook gently to render the fat. Then turn up the heat and crisp up completely on both sides. Drain on kitchen towel. Meanwhile spread mayonnaise on one piece of toast. Top with bacon, then tomato slices. Season with a pinch of salt, top with avocado and finally the top piece of toast. Eat immediately.


Celery Soup, Blue Cheese Crostini

This week I got a Small Veg Box Less Roots which had leeks, green cabbage, mixed salad leaves, avocados, celery and sweetcorn.

I have cooked a Riverford Lunch this week already and I have a SuperClub on Thursday so I thought I would test out a recipe I am serving at both. I think people forget about Celery Soup. I suppose it just sounds a bit dull. Celery is one of those vegetables that everyone throws into their stocks, stews and sauces but never rarely let’s steal the show. But I love its clean, fresh and savoury taste. It is important to sweat the celery down for a long time to intensify the flavour and let it caramelise a little. I always think with soups, that the initial cooking is the most important. All the flavour should be released at this stage and the boiling at the end when the liquid is added should be minimal. I love this soup with its pale green hue. It could almost be a Farrow and Ball Colour. I like It with the salty kick of the blue cheese crostini but some prefer some crispy bacon scattered on top instead or just a drizzle of olive oil. Give it a try!

Celery Soup

Celery Soup, Blue Cheese Crostini
Serves 4
2 heads celery (washed and chopped)

Small bunch of thyme, wrapped up  in string
Generous glug of good quality Olive Oil
2 Pints of Vegetable stock or just water will do
250mls double cream
Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Blue Cheese
Crostini – cut thin slices of French bread and drizzle with olive oil and toast in the oven until golden brown

Sweat the celery and thyme in the olive oil for about 30-40 minutes over a low heat until just about to brown. The secret of this recipe is really giving the celery time to cook slowly now and intensify its flavour but do not allow to burn. Add the stock or water. The celery should just be covered with liquid. Add a good pinch or two of salt and slowly boil for about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the cream. Remove the thyme bundle and squeeze out the juices. Liquidize or whiz with a hand blender. Do this thoroughly. You do not want it to be stringy. It should not be necessary to strain but if need be, then do. (If your celery looks very stringy when you start, you could lightly peel it before chopping.) Add a generous pinch of freshly ground black pepper and more salt if necessary, to taste. Serve with the blue cheese spread on the Crostini.


Thai green curry with Butternut Squash

Next in my box was a butternut squash, a sure sign that autumn is coming and soon to be followed by Riverford’s ever increasing array of pumpkins and squashes. Having spent the whole summer soaking up as much sunshine as they possibly can, now they seem to reflect the sun with their deep orange hue. Their flavour is quite bland so they lend themselves beautifully to aromatic Thai flavours but also the spicy, salty, sour balance works perfectly to counteract their sweetness. Make sure you get the balance right and keep adjusting until perfect

Home-made green curry paste is really easy to make and so much better that anything you will ever buy ready-made in the shops. It is well worth the effort.

There are some great Thai shops in South- London. I often pop in to stock up on coconut milk, Tamarind, thick wide Thai rice noodles, Nam Pla (fish sauce), palm sugar, dried shitake mushrooms, sweet chilli sauce and shrimp paste. All of these ingredients keep really well so it is well worth the trip. Even the lime leaves and Galangal freeze well. I love to loose myself in these shops. They usually have a lovely array of fresh produce – baskets of limes, bunches of coriander, lemon grass, shallots, ginger, Pak Choi, Bok Choi and beautiful pea aubergines. Also look out for sweet, Thai or Holy basil which tastes really fresh, like a cross between normal basil and mint. It really gives an authentic Thai taste to your food especially in a green curry. It is like a short holiday to Thailand.

Butternut Squash Thai

Thai green curry with Butternut Squash

You can add all sorts of vegetables to this curry such as bean sprouts, sugar snap peas, broccoli, mange tout and mushrooms.

Serves 4

1 butternut squash
2 shallots (pealed)
3 cloves garlic (pealed)
1 large piece of fresh ginger (pealed)
2 sticks lemon grass sliced thinly
5 lime leaves
2 fresh green chillis (seeds removed)
1 large bunch coarsely chopped coriander leaves and stems
1 small bunch of Thai Basil
Vegetable oil
1/2 pint vegetable or chicken stock
1 can (14 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk
Nam Pla (fish sauce)

Trim off the stem and blossom end of the squash.   Halve lengthwise and scoop out and discard the seeds and fibres. Remove the peel and cut into large chunks about 1 inch pieces.  Toss lightly in vegetable oil, salt and pepper. Roast in a medium oven until golden brown and soft, about half an hour.  Do not over-cook.  You want the chunks to retain their shape.

Now make the green curry paste. In a liquidiser or with a hand blender, puree the shallots, garlic, ginger, chillis, lemon grass the lime leaves and most of the coriander.  Whiz until really smooth.  Add a little water if necessary.  You should have a bright green paste.

Lightly fry the paste in a wok or large pan for a minute or two in a little oil to release flavours.  Add the stock and bring to a gentle boil.  Add the chunks of cooked squash and any other lightly cooked vegetables and then coconut milk.  At this stage try not to boil again as this will kill the flavour of the coconut.  Remove from heat and season with first Nam Pla (which is very salty), further salt if necessary, freshly squeezed lime juice and the remaining coriander.  Adjust seasoning.  It should be a fragrant combination of sweet, sour and spicy.  Serve with Thai rice or noodles.

Butternut Squash

Kale Chips

This week I opted for a small veg box (less roots.) I was very keen to get hold of some Kale, to try out “Kale Chips” and it is in most boxes this week. I have read up on Kale Chips, a super-foods, health phenomenon from a few years back, and I was a bit dubious about the whole thing.

First of all they were hailed as a healthy alternative to chips – well, sorry, who are they trying to kid? They are not chips, they are cabbage leaves. Second of all, don’t tell me they are super healthy. They are strangely quite delicious, but what makes them so, along with the crunchiness is the oil and salt! I have eaten many a crispy seaweed from the Chinese takeaway (no more than deep fried cabbage with salt and sugar) but I never once thought of it as a healthy option. Having said that, you are still getting some of the nutritional benefits of one of the healthiest foods on the planet so it can’t be all bad!

Kale is low in calorie, high in fibre and has zero fat. Kale is high in iron. Per calorie, kale has more iron than beef. Iron is essential for good health, such as the formation of haemoglobin and enzymes, transporting oxygen to various parts of the body, cell growth, proper liver function and more. Kale is high in Vitamin K. Eating a diet high in Vitamin K can help protect against various cancers. It is also necessary for a wide variety of bodily functions including normal bone health and blood clotting. Also increased levels of vitamin K can help people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Kale is filled with powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants, such as carotenoids and flavonoids help protect against various cancers. Kale is a great anti-inflammatory food. One cup of kale is filled with 10% of the RDA of omega-3 fatty acids, which help, fight against arthritis, asthma and autoimmune disorders. Kale is great for cardiovascular support. Eating more kale can help lower cholesterol levels. Kale is high in Vitamin A. Vitamin A is great for your vision, your skin as well as helping to prevent lung and oral cavity cancers. Kale is high in Vitamin C. This is very helpful for your immune system, your metabolism and your hydration. Kale is high in calcium. Per calorie, kale has more calcium than milk, which aids in preventing bone loss, preventing osteoporosis and maintaining a healthy metabolism. Vitamin C is also helpful to maintain cartilage and joint flexibility.

Enough? So the final verdict is that apart from making my whole house smell of cabbage, they were surprisingly enjoyable  and more nutritious than a chip!

Kale Chips

Kale Chips
1 bunch kale
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon seasoned salt

Preheat an oven to 160 degrees C.  Line a baking tray with parchment paper.Strip the leaves from the stalks of the Kale. If large, tear into pieces. Wash and thoroughly dry kale with a salad spinner. It is very important that the leaves are dry. Drizzle kale with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and lightly massage the oil into the leaves. Lay out on the tray with plenty of room. The leaves must not overlap.
Bake until golden brown all over,  not burnt, 10 to 15 minutes. As with most things in the oven, you will find that the back and front of the tray cook quicker than the middle. Rearrange half way through to ensure even cooking. Eat straight away.


Savoy Cabbage with Parmesan, Balsamic and Prosciutto

Finally for this week, the simplest recipe of all. I never thought of eating Savoy cabbage raw but the combination of flavours in this recipe are really sublime. This recipe is one that we used to serve at The River Café and famously comes from Modena, the home of Balsamic vinegar and also fabulous Parmesan from Emilia-Romagn.

It is one of those recipes which somehow tastes so much greater than its sum of parts. Having said that the ingredients must be super good. Obviously, first of all a lovely, fresh savoy cabbage and then tip top quality Parmesan Reggiano, really good, aged balsamic and a really tasty, peppery, Italian olive oil. Finally of course the prosciutto should be top quality too. I recommend some from San Daniele, just a little further north-east from Modena which produces some of the best prosciutto in the world.

Savoy cabbage in Bowl

Savoy Cabbage with Parmesan, Balsamic and Prosciutto
Also good with other cabbages or even fennel.
Serves 4
½ a savoy cabbage, sliced very finely
2 tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp good Italian Extra Virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A chunk of parmesan Reggiano slivers
Thinly sliced prosciutto or other ham, to serve

Mix the olive oil and balsamic vinegar together and season well. Add the shredded and mix well. Shave or crumble in the parmesan. Serve with the prosciutto.

Savoy cabbage

Sweetcorn Chowder with Red Spring Onions & Smoked Paprika

When I was a kid, sweetcorn was my absolute favourite, I loved in on the cob, I loved it straight out of a tin and crab and sweetcorn soup was always my first choice at a Chinese restaurant.

Then, many years later I went and worked in San Francisco for a few months at a restaurant called Chez Panisse. My favourite place to hang out during my rare time off was Fisherman’s Wharf, with its fantastic array of restaurants and shacks selling Clam Chowder served up in a hollowed out baby loaf of San Franciscan sour dough bread. Yum!

My version here uses sweetcorn instead and I have added a touch of smokiness with just a hint of smoked paprika but it is super delicious with a little smoked bacon or smoked haddock as well.

It really is one of the ultimate comfort dishes, more a meal than just a starter and in keeping with my quick and easy theme this week – super simple! I would love to bake a loaf of sourdough to serve it in, but that is not so quick and easy!


Sweet corn Chowder

Sweetcorn Chowder with Red Spring Onions & Smoked Paprika
Serves 2
2 stalk celery
1 medium onion
Olive oil
Fresh thyme or ½ teaspoon dried oregano
500 ml semi-skimmed milk
250g waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into little cubes
3 spring onions
2 heads of sweetcorn, removed from the cob
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chop your celery and onion. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over a medium heat. Add the celery, onion, and herbs and fry until the vegetables start to brown. Add the sweetcorn and season with salt and pepper and continue to cook for a few minutes more. Pour in the milk, add the potato and bring to a boil, stirring the whole time so the soup doesn’t stick to the pot. Cook until the potatoes are tender, but not mushy – this will take around 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, trim the ends off the spring onions and slice them thinly. When the potatoes are tender, check the seasoning and sprinkle with spring onions and smoked paprika and then serve.

Red Spring Onions

Beetroot and Horseradish Gratin

This week I got a small veg box with roots especially because I knew it contained beetroot and I had a particular recipe in mind. I adapted this original recipe for Beetroot Gratin which I got from my very well used copy of the Riverford Farm Cook Book, by adding horseradish to it when I was cooking it to serve with a piece of roast beef for Sunday lunch. It is a fantastic combination and really a truly delicious dish. It is always a favourite at my Riverford Lunches or the SuperClubs and in fact at the last SuperClub in Putney’s St Marys that I served it, at a man came up to me afterwards and said “I don’t like beetroot and I do not like horseradish but I love that!”
What I also adore about this dish is the colour that results from the combination of deep purple beetroot and cream creating a splendid, shocking pink. So I was a little dismayed when my beetroot this week turned out to be yellow! Luckily I had a few of the usual variety left in my fridge from last week so I did a mix, purely so I could get some of that pink. And with the mixture of all the colours, I was even more pleased with the results than ever.

Beetroot gratin in a bowl

I do love all the different coloured beetroot that are around now a days but they do tend to be a little drier than the purple variety, so I have added a little extra cream in this recipe. If you are only using purple, then you could possibly cut back a little. Finally, if you can’t get hold of fresh horseradish you can use a very good quality jar of horseradish sauce. I recommend Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference made with fresh cream. You basically want to look for one with a high content of horseradish (at least 28%) and not too much else. Remove one tablespoon of cream for every tablespoon of sauce you add.

Beetroot gratin in a dish

Beetroot and Horseradish Gratin
1kg beetroot, peeled
300ml double cream
1 stick fresh horseradish, peeled and grated (watch your eyes)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat an oven to 160°C/Gas Mark 3.
Thinly slice the beetroot either by hand, with the slicing attachment of a food processor or with a mandolin; it should be about 2–3mm thick.  Mix a couple of tablespoons of horseradish with the cream in a small pan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for about 10 minutes. Mix well and season with salt and pepper. Taste. It should be really quite potent. It has to flavour all the beetroot so add more horseradish if necessary. Put the sliced beetroot in a bowl and mix thoroughly so the beetroot is coated with cream. Arrange in a 30cm gratin dish, cover with foil and bake in the oven for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for a further 10 minutes or until the beetroot is tender.

Graated Horseradish