Pasta e Faggioli

When I saw the fresh Borlotti beans on Riverford’s website, I just had to have some. I had difficulty with growing mine this year on the allotment. Too cold, too wet, whatever! It was it was a great disappointment, especially after a bumper harvest last year. Never mind, Riverford sent me a huge, lovely bag full. They are so much nicer fresh than dried or tinned. All fat and plump and creamy inside. I decided to use them for two recipes this week. The first is a classic Pasta e Faggioli which literally means Pasta and Beans – it always sounds so much better in another language. This is a real peasant dish with inexpensive, rustic ingredients but a double helping of carbohydrate to keep you fuller, longer.

Borlotti Beans in a pan

How to cook Fresh Borlotti Beans
store
Keep in their paper bag in the fridge until you are ready to cook them. They should keep for at least a week.

prep
Split open the pods to get to the beans inside. No need to soak before cooking.

boil simply
Put the shelled beans in a pan with just enough cold water to cover. Add a clove or two of peeled garlic as sprig of rosemary (tightly tied in string or an elastic band so that the flavour escapes but not the leaves) and maybe a fresh red chilli. Boil for 20-30 mins until soft. Add a little more water if needed. Just before the end of the cooking time, add a good glug of olive oil. mush up the garlic cloves and season well.

Pasta e Fagioli in a bowl

Pasta e Faggioli
There is no need to add the bacon if you are vegetarian or the parmesan.
Extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
150g smoked bacon, thinly diced
2 medium onions, finely diced
2 medium carrots, finely diced
2 medium ribs celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp tomato puree
Chicken stock or good quality chicken stock cubes
1 cup of cooked Borlotti beans
1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary, very finely chopped
3/4 cup dried pasta, such as macaroni or ditalini
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the pancetta and cook until crispy and the fat has rendered, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, celery and rosemary and increase the heat to medium; cook, stirring frequently, until the onions become translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more, stirring constantly so the garlic doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. Add the tomato puree and cook for a minute more. Add a litre of chicken stock and bring to the boil. Season well with salt and pepper. Add the dried pasta to the pot and stir to incorporate. Turn the heat up to a gentle boil and cook until the pasta is tender but still firm to the bite, anywhere from 8-12 minutes depending on the type of pasta you used. Add the cooked beans and check seasoning. Drizzle each portion with a touch of extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with more cheese, if desired. I think the flavour gets better if you leave the soup for a while but it will keep drinking up the stock so you may need to let it down a bit again.

Borlotti beans in shell

Indian Spiced Cabbage

Next up this week – the king of cabbages – The Savoy. A sure sign that winter is coming but before you get depressed remember that cabbage has everything you need to get you through a long, hard winter – vitamins A, C, K and B6, folate, potassium, manganese, thiamin, calcium, iron and magnesium.

I love mine spiced up with a few Indian flavours and lots of chilli. This is one of my favourite recipes and you can make it with any sort of cabbage or greens. It is lovely served alongside a curry or just on its own with poppadums and chutney. I am always amused by the mention of asafoetida powder. This is a rarely heard of herb in England but a popular addition to many Indian curries and not necessarily for its taste rather than for its medicinal properties. Asafoetida is a powerful anti-flatulent, reducing the growth of indigenous microflora in the gut. Amazingly it usually turns up mostly in Indian bean, chickpea and lentil recipes and those containing brassicas. Where more fitting to find such an ingredient as in this spicy cabbage.

I love cooking with coconut oil and it is now readily available and Riverford also stock it. I use it for many Indian dishes but please do not believe the hype. It maybe super tasty but It is not super good for you, so like with all fats, use sparingly.

Spicy Cabbage

Indian Spiced Cabbage
½ Savoy cabbage, shredded
1 -2 green chili, depending on spiciness
1⁄2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1⁄2 teaspoon cumin seed
1⁄4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1⁄2 teaspoon Garam Masala
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon grated garlic
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1-2 teaspoon coconut oil
1 small bunch of coriander, chopped
1 dash asafoetida powder
Sea Salt

Heat the coconut oil in a large heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the cumin seeds, turmeric, mustard seeds and the asafoetida powder. Add ginger, garlic, chillies and onions. Cook till the onions are a little soft. Add the cabbage. Add salt to taste and cook for about 5 minutes or so. Adjust the cooking time depending on how you like your cabbage. I like mine quite crunchy. Finally add the chopped coriander.

Onions

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

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

Shakshuka

Next this week I turned to the peppers. Peppers are one of those veg which sometimes seem to hang about in the bottom of the fridge until they are no longer looking their best.  No more – this is one of our favourite Brunch recipes and is especially good for a bit of a hangover, although it is not essential.

In Israel they eat it for breakfast and specialist restaurants serve nothing else. Originally from North Africa it is best eaten with chunks of really good bread to soak up the sauce. The vegetables can be cooked beforehand but the eggs must be done last minute to get your exact preference of perfection. I like mine yoks runny but the whites firmly set. If you have a glut of fresh tomatoes, it is great for using those up too along with your peppers, but if you have none to hand then you can use tinned.

Shakshuka in bowl

Shakshuka
Serves 2
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium brown or white onion, peeled and sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium green or red bell pepper, sliced
2 cups ripe diced tomatoes, or 1 can (14 oz. each) good quality tinned tomato
1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
Cayenne
Pinch of sugar (optional, to taste)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 eggs
1/2 tbsp. fresh chopped coriander (optional, for garnish)

Heat a deep, large skillet or frying pan (one that can go in the oven) on a medium heat and the olive oil. Add chopped onion, sauté for a five minutes or until the onion begins to soften. (You can cover the pan to help it along.) Add garlic and continue to cook a minute more. Add the bell pepper, sauté for 5-7 minutes over medium until softened. Add spices and sugar, stir well. Add the tomatoes (if you are using tinned add ¼ tin of water too.) Stir and allow mixture to simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes till it starts to reduce. Meanwhile pre heat oven to 170⁰C. Taste the mixture. Add seasoning and more chilli if necessary. It should be fairly hot. Make little holes in the sauce and crack the eggs, one at a time into each one. Pop in the oven until eggs are just set and the sauce has reduced. Sprinkle with Coriander and serve with fresh bread or Pitta.

Shakshuka with spoon

Baby Spinach, Wild Rice, Broad Bean, Grilled Asparagus & Courgette Salad with Crispy Onions

Finally for this week, another really delicious salad and a meal in itself. I am back to grilling veg again and although I know that grilling courgettes maybe a bit laborious, I cannot think of a vegetable which is more elevated by this simple process. The rather tasteless courgette absorbs the smoky flavours of the grill and is transformed into something quite exceptional.

The crispy onions are another favourite of mine and are such a marvellous addition to so many dishes. You can make up a batch and they will keep crispy for up to a week in an air-tight container. The oil, which you can re-use each time you make a batch, also serves as a delicious dressing and gets more intense the more times you re-use it.

I love adding a couple of handfuls of shelled broad beans to my salads. Their pale green colour so quintessentially says “spring” so get them whilst you can because along with the asparagus, they will be finishing soon.

I love the chewy texture and nutty taste of Wild Rice and it is super good for you too. It is a little hard to get hold of so stock up on it when you see it because it is one of my salad ingredient staples.

Crispy Onions

Crispy Fried Onions

Thinly slice a few large onions. Cut off the top end of the onion and peel the rest of it. Slice as thin as possible. A Mandolin is really good for this or you can use a food processor. Place a saucepan on a high heat and add about an inch of vegetable oil. You don’t want to use too much oil as the more intense the flavour the better. Heat the oil to 180⁰C using a thermometer. Add the onions slowly and deep fry until light golden brown. Be careful not to burn, stirring regularly, especially in the corners where the onions will cook most quickly. Remove with a slotted spoon, straight into a colander lined with kitchen paper over a bowl. Break up any clumps and leave to crisp up. Season lightly with salt. When cool pour the oil into a bottle for further use.

Courgette, Asparagus & Broad Bean Salad

Baby Spinach, Wild Rice, Broad Bean, Grilled Asparagus & Courgette Salad with Crispy Onions

Serves 2 as a main

A Couple of handfuls of baby spinch (washed)

200g broad beans

1 bunch asparagus

50g Wild Rice (try Tilda)

2 courgettes

Crispy fried onions (see above)

Olive oil

Sea salt

First put your rice in a saucepan with plenty of cold water and a good pinch of salt. Boil gently for about 20 minutes until pleasantly chewey to eat. Drain. Meanwhile put another pan of water on the boil. Snap amy woody end off the asparagus and drissel with a little olive oil and sea salt. Slice the cougette into flat ribbons. A mandolin is brilliant for this, otherwise use a sharp knife. The slices should be about the thickness of a £1. Heat your grill or light you BBQ. Once the water is boiling add the shelled broad bean and boil for about 2 minutes. Drain and immediately refresh in cold water. Whilst you are grilling the courgettes and the asparagus, slip the broad beans out of their skins. Put the drained rice in a large bowl and add a tablespoon of the onion oil and a large pinch of salt. Taste it and notice how the flavour has come alive. Add the spinach and broad beans and gently mix. Tip onto plates and pile the courgettes and the asparagus (cut into 3cm lenghths) on top and finish with some crispy onions.

Asparagus

Spanish Omelette

 Being a bank holiday and the kids off school I know I am not going to have a whole lot of time for cooking this week. I ordered a small veg box original which came packed with lovely new potatoes, bunched carrots, bunched onions, baby spinach, courgettes & asparagus.

Box 2

First up I knocked up a Spanish Omelette with the delicious new potatoes and bunched onions. Waxy potatoes are imperative for this dish and Riverford’s new potatoes are perfect, especially as they are quite large, which makes them easier to peel. A good little non-stick, oven proof frying pan is important for omelette too. Try googling “GreenPan Rio 20cms” and you can pick a great one up for as little as £15.99.

Next, I can’t tell you how much time you will save in the kitchen with a good Mandolin. I find that the simple Japanese ones are the best. The best value one I found was “Grunwerg Benriner Mandolin” at Amazon for £17.14 – just do watch your fingers.

Don’t forget to order Riverford’s brilliant organic eggs as well. When choosing an olive oil – think “Spain”. You want something fruity, sweet and mild. Riverford have just started selling a new Andalucian olive oil “Nunez de Prado extra virgin flowers olive oil” which sounds delicious but is a little pricy. I promise to give it a try and let you know if it is worth it!

As always, there are numerous variations to my recipes and a few of my favourites are to add red pepper, chorizo or spinach. Serve up with some of Riverford’s excellent salad leaves. I always find this is one of the few meals the whole family enjoys, even though my daughter, as always ,insists on plenty of Tomato Ketchup.

Spanish Omelette

Makes two thin or one fat omelette

400g New Potatoes

4 or 5 Bunched Onions (depending on size and how much you like onions)

6 Eggs

Olive Oil

Sea Salt

Peel and slice your onions. Use the mandolin if you have one up until where the neck bends. Then you will have to use a knife. Slice as thin as possible right up to the green onion top. (You can use this thinly sliced in a salad like a spring onion.) Heat a generous glug of olive oil in a large saucepan, preferably on with a lid. (If not you can use a plate to cover it.) Sweat the onions on a low heat for about 5-10 minutes until melting but with no colour. Season with a good pinch of salt. Whilst the onions are cooking, peel the potatoes and thinly slice. A Mandolin is brilliant for this but if not use a knife. The potatoes should be about ¼ cm thick. When the onions are ready add the potatoes. Stir really well making sure each slice is separated and season with sea salt. Generously pour over some more olive oil, stir again and cover. Place over a low heat. After about 5 minutes remove the lid and carefully stir. Make sure that nothing is sticking to the bottom but try not to break up the potato slices. Cover and cook for a further 5 minutes or so until a blunt knife will easily insert into the potato. Leave covered to cool. Preheat your oven to 170 ⁰C. Meanwhile break your eggs into a large bowl. Whisk to break up the eggs. There is no need to season the eggs as the potatoes and onions should have enough salt. Tip the potato mixture into a large colander over a bowl and drain off the excess oil. Heat your small non-stick frying pan on a very low heat. Add a little of the drained oil (you can use re-use the rest in other cooking) and wipe round the pan with a piece of kitchen paper. Add the egg mixture and spread out so that it is even. Cook until the edges of the omelette are just set and put in the middle of the oven. Cook until completely firm. There should be no liquid in the middle when pressed. Allow to cool before turning out.

Omelette 2 Shrunk