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

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

Kohl Rabi

This week I started with a medium vegbox less roots which contained wet garlic, bunched onions, broad beans, garden peas, swiss chard, mixed salad leaves, mini cucumbers, red pepper and the dreaded kohl rabi,

I decided to get to work straight away on the Kohl Rabi as it is one of those vegetables that no one really knows what to do with. Looking like an unwanted alien, it is of the cabbage family but with the smell of mild turnip. It actually doesn’t taste of anything much but it has a great texture. So many recipes seem to be merely an excuse to get rid of it, so I wanted to try embrace it but use gutsy enough flavours to hide the rather unappetizing smell – unless you are a turnip lover. On the plus side, kohl rabi is really good for you. Higher in vitamin C than oranges it is a powerful antioxidant and contains phytochemicals which appear to have an anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.

I have researched long and hard on your behalf and come up with three salads which most celebrate the Kohl Rabi.

Kohl Rabi Remoulade

Kohl Rabi Remoulade
Remoulade is usually made with raw celeriac and delicious with cold meats.
1 medium kohlrabi
A squeeze of lemon juice
4 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. Grain mustard
4 tbsp. Mayonnaise

Peel the kohlrabi and cut it into matchsticks about 3mm thick, either by hand or using a mandolin. Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl. Season well and mix in the kohlrabi.

Asian Coleslaw with Peanuts & Chilli

Asian Coleslaw with Peanuts & Chilli
½ large kohl rabi, peeled and finely grated
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
1 red pepper, de-seeded and thinly sliced
100g beansprouts (optional)
2 tbsp crushed roasted peanuts
1 bunched onions, finely sliced
Small bunch coriander
For the dressing:
1 tbsp thai fish sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 ½ tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp lime juice
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 red chilli, finely diced

Whisk all of the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl and set aside. Pick the leaves from the coriander. Mix together all the vegetables, add the coriander leaves and toss with the dressing. Pile on a serving plate. Sprinkle with the roasted peanuts.

Kohl Rabi and Fennel Salad with Dill

Kohl Rabi and Fennel Salad with Dill
Great with fish, especially fatty fish like salmon or mackerel as the sharpness of the lemon cuts the fattiness of the fish.
I head of Fennel, tough outer leaves, stalk and tops removed, very finely sliced preferably on a mandolin
½ Kohl Rabi, peeled and very finely sliced preferably on a mandolin
½ lemon, juiced
Very good extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Small bunch of dill, finely chopped

Mix the lemon juice with a good pinch of salt. Mix well and add the olive oil, about 3 times as much oil as lemon. Taste and adjust. Add the fennel and kohl rabi and most of the dill. Serve with a little more dill or fennel fronds sprinkled on top.

Kol Rabi

Spinach and Feta Filo Pie

Finally for this week – spinach! The types of spinach available from Riverford vary throughout the year and although they will work with any spinach recipe, the cooking methods will change.

With true spinach or baby spinach it wilts easily and can be cooked without blanching. Simply melt a little butter in the bottom of a heavy based saucepan. Make sure the bottom is coated with butter as it will stop the spinach sticking. Add the spinach and a pinch of salt and cover. Steam for a minute or two. Remove the lid and stir. Cook covered for one or two minutes more until all wilted. Tip into a colander, spread out well and allow to drain. Perpetual spinach is actually a chard and from the beet family. It has a much longer season and is easier to grow. This type needs to be blanched in salted boiling water for one to two minutes. Remove and spread out on a dry tea towel to drain. When cool, use the tea towel to squeeze excess water from the spinach. This then should be lightly sautéed with olive oil or butter and seasoned to taste.

Today we are making a Spinach and Feta Pie based on the Greek classic “Spanakopia” and it occurred to me that it could also be easily made using spring or summer greens which I promised you more recipes for. I love this pie, still warm, for lunch with a side salad.

Another way I like to use up my spinach is in Spinach Empanadas. I simply cook the spinach and add some grated Parmesan and salt and pepper. That is it. You can buy ready-made Empanada pastry oinline which comes frozen and you keep in the freezer until wanted just like Filo. I might try experimenting with some different filling for those too as it is a great way of getting vegetables in the kids and they can go in their lunch box too. Cornish pasties are the English version and just as delicious. Let’s face it – anything in good, golden brown, flaky pastry is going to be yum!

Filo and Feta Pie in dish

Spinach and Feta Filo Pie
400-600g spinach
Large knob of butter
4 spring onions
50g freshly grated Parmesan
200g crumbled feta cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
60 g (2 oz) butter, melted
8 sheets filo pastry

Depending on spinach cook as above. Heat some butter in a heavy-based frying pan and add the shredded spring onions. Cook for a few minutes and then add the drained spinach. Cook for a few minutes to remove all excess water. Season well to taste with salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Allow to cool. Add the beaten egg and stir well. Next and the Parmesan and crumbled feta. Preheat the oven to moderate 180°C (350°F/Gas 4). Lightly grease a 20 × 30 cm baking dish, preferably metal. Lay 4 sheets of filo pastry on the bottom, brushing between each sheet with a butter. Top with the spinach and cheese mixture. Finally top with the remaining filo sheets making sure each one is well brushed with butter. Brush the top with any of the remaining butter. Bake for about 30 minutes in the bottom of the oven or until the top is golden brown and the bottom is cooked through as well. Cut into pieces and serve warm.

Spinach

Pea & Prosciutto Cannelloni

This week I ordered a small vegbox (less roots) with bunched carrots, garden peas, perpetual spinach, cos lettuce, mini cucumbers and red and green peppers. I have to admit the veg was somewhat muddy and reminded me of the early days of vegboxes when you somehow felt that the muddier the veg the fresher they must be. Thankfully, this is not usually the case with Riverford veg and they typically turn up fairly clean, but not today.

The pea season is nearly at an end so I thought I would celebrate this by giving them a dish of their own. I had completely forgotten about ready to fill cannelloni pasta until I was asked to make a spinach and ricotta version for one of my clients the other day. It was super quick and simple to make and would have worked well with the spinach in this week’s box. I thought I would try it out with peas and ricotta instead and add some crispy prosciutto too but if you are vegetarian you can omit it. I recon there are all sorts of vegetable fillings I could think up. I might try one out with spring greens. I spent quite a long time playing around with the recipe and I would love to know what you think. You can do a tomato layer as well if you like but I didn’t think it needed it. I did think of adding mint but I don’t really like cooked mint – it can end up tasting a bit like toothpaste so I added a few sprigs to the salad instead.

Pea and Proscuitto Cannelloni and salad

Pea & Prosciutto Cannelloni
Serves 4
100 g prosciutto, slices separated
2 cups shelled peas
250 g fresh ricotta
Box of Cannelloni tubes (about 15)
100g grated Parmesan
Cheese Sauce
50g butter
50g plain flour
500mls milk
200g grated cheddar
Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 180°C fan. Cover a baking tray with greaseproof paper and lay out your prosciutto slices. Bake in the oven until crisp (about 5 minutes). Leave to cool and then crumble up into tiny pieces. Place peas in a saucepan of boiling water and cook for 2 mins. Drain and cool slightly. Mash the peas lightly with a potato masher. Combine prosciutto, peas, ricotta and parmesan in a medium bowl and season with plenty of sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Tip all your mix into a piping bag (or you can use a large freezer bag and cut off one corner) and pipe the mix into the cannelloni tubes. This seems a little awkward at first but once you get the hang of it, it is quite simple. Arrange in an ovenproof dish as you go.

To make the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat. Remove and stir in the flour. Return to the heat and cook until sandy. Remove from the heat and whisk in the milk. Return to the heat and whisk until thick. Boil for a minute or two. Remove from the heat and add the cheese. Stir until smooth and season well with salt and pepper. Poor over the cheese sauce and bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown and the pasta is tender. A blunt knife should easily insert. Serve with a salad maybe with a sprig or two of mint.

Pea and procuitto cannelloni