Veg boxes are a bit like allotments, in that one always seems to be lacking in something one month only to have a glut of it the next. I was lamenting the lack of greens over January but I am now inundated with Chard, Cime di Rapa, Cavalo Nero and Spinach and Spring Greens. One of my favourite soups sprang to mind, a fantastic peasant soup, cheap and wholesome and packed with nutritious greens. If you had fresh tomatoes in your box this week, you could use them instead of tinned. Make sure you use proper rustic bread, preferably a bit stale, otherwise it will just dissolve. Also, invest in a good, peppery Tuscan olive oil. Riverford do a good one.
Ribollita literally means re-boiled or re-cooked in Italian and is meant to be re-heated. It tastes even better the next day!
2 red onions, peeled
2 carrots, peeled
3 sticks celery, trimmed
3 cloves garlic, peeled
Good Tuscan extra virgin olive oil
1 pinch ground fennel seeds
1 pinch dried red chilli
400 g good-quality tinned plum tomatoes
2 tins cannellini beans
300 g cavolo nero or chard, leaves, striped weight from the stalks
2 large handfuls good-quality sour-dough stale bread, torn into chunks
freshly ground black pepper
Finely chop your onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Heat a saucepan with a splash of olive oil and add the vegetables to the pan with the ground fennel seeds and chilli. Sweat very slowly on a low heat with the lid just ajar for around 15 to 20 minutes until soft, but not brown. Add the tomatoes and bring to a gentle simmer for a few minutes.
Add the beans with a little of the water from the tin and bring back to the boil. Shred your cavalo nero and chard and stir in to the soup (it will look like loads, but don’t worry as it will cook down.) Season well with sea salt and pepper. When the greens have cooked into the soup add the bread. The soup should be thick but not dry, so add a little more water if you need to loosen it. Add plenty of olive oil – you want to achieve a silky, thick soup. Check seasoning.
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.
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
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.