Red Onion and Rosemary Focaccia.

When I was making pizza dough this week, I made up an extra batch for Focaccia. Focaccia is quite simply an Italian bread, similar to a deep-pan pizza that, no matter the topping, should involve a generous amount of Olive Oil.  This acts to produce a golden brown, crispy crust that is to die for.  It has to be fresh out of the oven.  Don’t ever believe that it is worth buying a Focaccia from a supermarket shelf.  It will inevitably be a complete contradiction of what it is meant to be – slightly stale, dry and dreary.  You have to make it yourself. And it will be anything but!

I love this time of year when all the alliums are out and so I topped my Focaccia with caramelised red onions, which I just cooked slowly with some extra virgin olive oil, a great way of using up a glut of onions.

Red Onion and Rosemary Focaccia.

½ batch of pizza dough

6 red onions

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Malden sea salt

Rosemary

Lightly oil a large metal frying pan or a metal dish with olive oil. Press in the pizza dough. Allow to prove for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cut your onions really thin. Use a food processor if you have one. Add to a heavy bottomed saucepan with lots of olive oil, a pinch of salt and some freshly groung black pepper. Very finely chop your rosemary and add that too. Cook over a medium heat until almost dissolved. Keep an eye on them so they do not catch. Cook them for as long as you have got. Check for seasoning. Preheat your oven to 200C. Add your onion mixture all over the dough, but not quite at the edges. Sprinkle with Malden sea salt. Bake neat the bottom of the oven to ensure that the top gets cooked in the same time as the bottom. Bake until deep-golden brown. Remove the Focaccia from the tin to allow the bottom to cool. Eat warm.

Roast Small Red Onions, Shallots and Garlic

Obviously, being a Riverford customer, I am the kind of person who appreciates that to avoid wastage my vegetables are not necessarily always going to be all the same size. But then again, I am also not necessarily the kind of person who has time to peel and chop tiny onions. After all, it takes twice as long as peeling large onions and I never seem to have enough time as it is. So when cooking a roast for my family last week, I rather lazily just chucked all the abandoned, left over small onions in the oven with the chicken. That was it – no peeling, no chopping, just whole – skins and all.  They came out looking pretty much the same as when they went in, but when you peeled back the skin you could squeeze out the melted onion middle and do you know what? They were everybody’s favourite part of the meal.

roast-baby-red-onions-shallots-and-garlic

Roast Small Red Onions, Shallots and Garlic

There is no recipe, because it is too simple – take small red or brown onions, shallots and whole unpeeled garlic cloves and put them on a lined baking sheet (this will save on the washing up.) Put them in the oven at 180C for about 20-40 minutes depending on size. Garlic cloves will cook quicker and obviously, the smaller onions first. You know they are cooked when you can really squish them. Remove them as they are done and leave in the larger ones for longer. Chuck them in with your roast, alongside some sausages or just serve them up with lots of other roast veg. Peel back the skin and squeeze them out. I like to sprinkle a tiny bit of sea salt on them as I eat them or dip them in any extra olive oil from roasting the potatoes.

small-red-onions

Soupe au Pistou

I never like to admit it, but I am a bit behind on my veg box. I seem to have been so busy with work and kids and endless things that they need for school before the end on term, that I am constantly pushed for time. This is one of my favourite soups, a French version of the better known Minestrone. I first remember seeing Soupe au Pistou in Marie Claire magazine probably about 30 years ago, when the food writer was a little known guy called Nigel Slater. I can still remember the photos and it looked so simple yet sophisticated.

What is great is, although it takes a little time to make what with all the chopping, it uses up lots of veg. You can be experimental with the ingredients but I piled in heaps of onion, celery, carrots, courgettes and broad beans.

If you too are pushed for time you can buy ready cooked beans and even buy some good quality pesto rather than make your own.

Soupe au Pistou

Soupe au Pistou

Try to have all the vegetables diced about the same size, which makes for a nice presentation. Of course, you can vary the vegetables according to what’s available. If you wish to use canned beans, use 1 400g tin on haricot or cannellini beans. For vegans, leave out the Parmesan.

For the soup

1 cup (200g) dried beans (haricot or cannellini) or 400g tin of beans

2 bay leaves

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, peeled and diced, or 4 leeks, cleaned and sliced

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or dried oregano

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

2 medium courgettes, diced

200g shelled  broad beans

200g fresh shelled peas (or frozen)

6 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced or thinly slice

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

100g dried pasta; any small variety will do, such as orzo, vermicelli, elbows, or shells

For the pistou

1 large clove of garlic, peeled

pinch of salt

2 cups (40g) packed fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil

1 small tomato; peeled, seeded, and diced

1 1/2 ounces (45g) Parmesan cheese, grated

Rinse and sort the beans. Soak the beans overnight covered in cold water. The next day, drain the beans and put them in a large saucepan with the bay leaves and enough water to cover the beans. Cook the beans for about an hour, or until tender, adding more water if necessary to keep them immersed. Once cooked, remove the beans from the heat and set aside. Alternatively use 1 tin of canned cannellini or haricot beans.

In a large heavy bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the onions or leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent. Add the thyme or marjoram, diced carrots, zucchini, garlic, and salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are completely cooked. Add the cooked beans and their liquid, then the peas and pasta, plus 2 2l water. Bring the soup to a boil, and simmer a few minutes until the pasta is cooked. Bring a small pan of water to the boil and boil the broad beans for 1-2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and plunge into cold water to refresh. Slip the broad beans out of their outer shell. When the soup is cooked, check the seasoning and add the broad beans.

While the soup is cooking, make the pistou. Pound the garlic to a paste in a mortar and pestle (or use a food processor) with a generous pinch of salt. Coarsely chop the basil leaves and pound them into the garlic until the mixture is relatively smooth.Drizzle in the olive oil slowly, while pounding, then pound in the tomato and cheese. Taste, and season with more salt if desired.

To serve: Ladle hot soup into bowls and add a generous spoonful of pistou to the centre and swirl gently. Keep extra pistou within reach because you’ll likely want to add more to the soup as you go.

Note: If the soup is too thick, thin it with additional water.

Courgettes

Chilled Salad Soup with Crème Fraiche & Herbs

Finally some real sunshine at the weekend, almost summeresque and as always in the heat, I get to thinking about chilled soup.

Here is a recipe for one of the best and a great use-up of any salad leaves you happen to have. You can use anything from rocket to batavia, watercress to baby gem. I like a big handful of fresh spinach too, for a beautiful deep green hue. There is baby spinach in the boxes now so you can just chuck it straight in. Don’t forget the herbs. I particularly like basil or chives. For the base you can use spring onions, leeks or bunched onions, whatever you have. The potatoes can be any variety too and you don’t even have to serve it chilled – it is delicious hot too!

Chilled Salad Soup with Creme Fraiche & Herbs

Chilled Salad Soup with Crème Fraiche & Herbs

Good glug of extra virgin olive oil

2 onions, peeled and chopped (could be a few spring onions)

250g potatoes, peeled and chopped into even sized pieces

450g to 500g assorted green lettuce & salad leaves (such as batavia or baby gem lettuce, sorrel, watercress, rocket, spinach and nettles)

Herbs of your choice – mint, chives, basil etc,

250ml Crème Fraiche

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

Sweat the onion down in a good glug of extra virgin olive oil for about 10 minutes or so until just beginning to colour. Add the potatoes and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook for about another 10 minutes or so. Cover with water and cook just until the potatoes are soft. Add more water if necessary.  Remove from the heat and stir in all the greens/herbs and whiz up with a hand blender. Adjust the consistency. It should not be gloopy but also not too thin. Add the Crème Fraiche and check seasoning. Serve hot or cold. You can add a swirl more of Crème Fraiche or add a few freshly chopped herbs.

Spinach

Turlu Turlu

Good to my word, I tried out a fresh tomato sauce, just to see how it turned out. As far as I know, there are two schools of tomato sauce. The Italian version which consists of no more than olive oil, garlic and tomatoes and maybe a little basil, or the French version which can contain pretty much anything. I believe that this is because the Italian version relies heavily on superb ingredients, including very good tinned Italian plum tomatoes, so I decided to opt for the French. I used some onion, celery and garlic in my base, sweated down with olive oil and I added some wild dried Oregano. The results where certainly good enough for this week’s recipe of Turlu Turlu. This is a sort of Turkish Ratatouille, and just the sort of recipe I love. It literally means hotchpotch and can incorporate any number of different vegetables mixed with chickpeas, tomato sauce and lots of herbs. It is a great use up dish and I had a whole array of vegetables in the bottom of my fridge, which all went in, including beetroot, parsnips, red onions, red peppers, courgettes, sweet potatoes, fennel and carrots and of course, the tomatoes. But you could have added potatoes, squash, green peppers, cauliflower, aubergine or any other vegetable you have to hand.

veg for Turlu Turlu

This recipe seems a little more complicated than it is, but only because I insist on separating the vegetables up which cook better on their own. They need a lot of room and different times and this way, all your vegetables are perfectly roasted. It is worth the effort.

As for my tomato sauce – I am not sure it was good enough to just serve on its own with pasta but I will keep working on it and let you know how I get on.

Turlu Turlu 2

Turlu Turlu
Serves 4
1 red onions, cut into into 8 wedges through the root
1 large red bell pepper, de-seeded, and cut into large bit-sized chunks
1 head fennel, cut into into 8 wedges through the root
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into large bit-sized chunks
1 parsnip, peeled and cut into large bit-sized chunks
A few beetroot, peeled and cut into large bit-sized chunks
3 courgettes, cut into 1cm slices, slightly on the diagonal
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes, or to taste

For the sauce
6 Large ripe tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
2 small onions, finely sliced

1 tin chickpeas, drained
Freshly chopped coriander
Freshly chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 200˚C. Toss the red onion and red pepper with some coriander, cumin, chilli flakes, salt, black pepper and olive oil. Tip onto a tray and put in the oven. Toss the fennel with some coriander, cumin, chilli flakes, salt, black pepper and olive oil. Tip onto a tray, making sure as much surface area as possible is in contact with the tray and put in the oven. Combine the root vegetables – parsnips, beetroot and sweet potato. Toss with some coriander, cumin, chilli flakes, salt, black pepper and olive oil. Tip onto a tray and put in the oven. Toss the courgettes with some coriander, cumin, chilli flakes, salt, black pepper and olive oil. Tip onto a tray, make sure as much surface area as possible is in contact with the tray and put in the oven. You will have to check your veg regularly, and rotate veg to ensure even cooking, When your veg are cooked and a little caramelised remove them. Each tray will slightly different time. Meanwhile make your sauce. Sauté the onion and celery slowly in plenty of olive oil, for a s long as possible. Meanwhile, put a large saucepan of water on to boil. Cut a small cross in the top of your tomatoes. Add them to the pan of boiling water and boil for 1-2 minutes, until the skins begin to come away. Remove them with a slotted spoon and plunge them into a bowl of cold water. Remove the skins and roughly chop. Add the garlic to the onions and fry a minute more before adding the tomatoes. Cook down gently until the tomatoes have completely dissolved, Season with salt and pepper and oregano. Puree with a hand blender.

Just before your final tray of veg is ready, add the chickpeas and tomato sauce to the tray and return to the oven for 5 minutes. Then remove and add all your veg together. Stir gently to avoid mushing up the veg. Allow to cool slightly before adding your herbs. Serve warm or room temperature.

Turlu Turlu 3

Fillet of Wild Salmon and Vegetable Bake with Lemon Mayonnaise

There was just a hint of Spring in my veg box this week. I got a medium box (less roots) and the courgettes, fennel and cime di rapa all reminded me of my allotment in a few months’ time. Along with the ramano peppers (which I could never hope to grow) and the sunny, but very cold morning, I could almost feel the promise of the warmer, longer days ahead.

I thought I would share a really quick and easy recipe this week. Often when I have been working all day (which for me of course means cooking) the last thing I feel like when I get home is prepping a whole lot of veg. But I am loathed to give the family processed food, especially when I have spent the day making sure someone else’s family eats well. This is a great recipe for using up lots of veg, which also keeps kids and adults happy alike and it is none other than “a bake”.

A “bake” really doesn’t conjure up a good image for me – vegetable bake, tuna bake, cheesy bake – just the names fill me with repulsion. But there is no reason why a bake should not be a beautiful thing and happily, it is always all cooked in one pan, which saves on washing up as well.

Fillet of Wild Salmon and Vegetable Bake 3

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to it my kids, aged 9 and 11, they are happiest eating nothing more complicated that some meat or fish, some potatoes and some vegetables. But it is so important to keep it varied, interesting and full of flavour for the adults. So this first recipe is just very simply a selection of all your family’s favourite vegetables, baked all together with a lovely piece of fresh wild salmon.

Choose a selection of seasonal vegetables which compliment, rather than overpower the fish. This week’s selection of fennel, ramano peppers and courgettes, along with some cherry tomatoes and potatoes left over from last week’s box, were perfect. This dish also makes a great alternative to a roast at the week-end especially when entertaining. If you want to impress, make a lovely sauce to serve along side it. I made a simple lemon mayonnaise. Don’t be scared of mayonnaise, it is easier than you think. But I have given you a couple of other alternatives. Salsa Verde , Salmoriglio or a delicious Anchovy and Rosemary Sauce to drizzle over your fish, are a few of my other favourites from my River Café days.

I only eat wild salmon, when in season, as I find farmed salmon is too fatty for me. There seems to be a good supply of sustainable Alaskan Wild Salmon available, very reasonable and full of flavour. Obviously I would prefer to shop more locally than Alaska so If you are worried about your carbon footprint then at least make sure that the vegetables are locally sourced. One last tip about salmon: don’t overcook it. As soon as you see white liquid coming out of the salmon, that is albumin and it’s a protein, and is a sign you’re your salmon is done. Remove immediately from the oven and your fish should be still pink and juicy inside.

This bake works well with sausages as well and can take a heartier selection of veg. Think butternut squash, sweet potatoes, parsnips, red onions, carrots or beetroot, along of course with the veg I used for the fish. It is a really good way of using up vegetables at the end of the week from your veg box. Come to think of it, if you have got a lot of veg to use up, you can always leave out the fish or meat and just have the baked veg. It is just delicious on its own.

Fillet of Wild Salmon and Vegetable Bake

Fillet of Wild Salmon and Vegetable Bake with Lemon Mayonnaise
2 generous slices of wild salmon, with or without skin
2 bulbs fennel, trimmed of excess outer leaves, save fronds
2 courgettes, cut into ½ inch slices on the diagonal
Large handful of cherry tomatoes
Couple of handfuls of new potatoes, boiled in salted water until cooked
Extra Virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.
Cut the fennel into 4 or 6 pieces lengthways, depending on size. Cut the potatoes in half or if very small leave whole. In a large baking dish toss all of the vegetables with 3-5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Make sure the tin is big enough. If the vegetables are too crowded they will sweat instead of bake. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Try and make sure that the potatoes are facing down and that the fennel and courgettes are also flat side down. The more surface area that comes into contact with the bottom of the pan, the easier the vegetables will brown. Bake for 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Remove the pan from the oven and push the vegetables to one side. Season the salmon with salt and pepper and place it in empty space you made in the baking dish. Return the dish to the oven and bake for another 10 minutes, based on thickness of the salmon. Scatter with the chopped fennel
fronds.

Lemon Mayonnaise

Lemon Mayonnaise
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Zest of one lemon,
juice of half a lemon
100mls rapeseed oil
50 mls extra virgin olive oil

Place the egg yoke in a bowl and add the mustard, the lemon zest and the juice of half a lemon. Add a good pinch of sea salt. Whisk very well, using an electric whisk if you have one. Don’t worry if you don’t, you just have to work harder. Very slowly add the rapeseed oil, especially at the beginning. Keep whisking until all the oil is amalgamated and them slowly add the olive oil. Check seasoning.

(If your mayonnaise splits, add a tablespoon of boiling water in a large metal bowl. Very slowly whisk in your split mayonnaise. It should come back together. Then add your remaining oil just as normal.)

All sauce recipes below are adapted from The River Cafe.
Salsa Verde
I vary this recipe according to what I am serving it with. I prefer to go easy on the mint as it can end up tasting a bit toothpasty and instead I opt for basil, dill, chives or the fronds from the fennel tops. Just get a good tasting balance.
1 large bunch Flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/2 bunch Mint leaves
Very good extra-virgin olive oil
3 Garlic cloves
100g Capers
50g Anchovy fillets
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons Red-wine vinegar

In a food processor chop the garlic, capers and anchovies. Add the mustard and vinegar, season and add some olive oil and purée until well amalgamated. Add all the herbs and whiz and more olive oil to achieve desired consistency.

Salmoriglio
In a pestle and mortar, pound 4 level tablespoons fresh Thyme or preferable fresh Marjoram or a very good quality dried Oregano with 1 teaspoon sea salt until completely crushed. Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Pour 8 tablespoons of very good, peppery extra virgin olive oil slowly into the mixture. Add a little freshly ground black pepper.

Anchovy and Rosemary Sauce
2 tbsp. fresh young rosemary leaves, very finely chopped
12 anchovy fillets
Juice of 1 lemon
150mls very good extra-virgin olive oil

Place rosemary leaves in a mortar and grind as finely as possible. Add anchovy fillets and grind to a paste. Add lemon juice, mix well, and then, stirring constantly, add oil, a few drops at a time. Transfer sauce to a small bowl.

Fillet of Wild Salmon and Vegetable Bake 4

Banana & Pecan Bread

I always have bananas in the fruit bowl. They are the most perfectly packaged high nutritious snack. Yes, they may be high in sugar but at least it is unrefined sugar and it is so much better than reaching for a chocolate bar.

Bananas help overcome depression due to high levels of Tryptophan, which is converted into serotonin — the happy-mood brain neurotransmitter. They sustain your blood sugar level, are high in fibre, magnesium, B-vitamin, iron and potassium with can help lower your blood pressure.

The only trouble with bananas is, one minute they are sitting there, just a little bit green to eat and the next minute you turn round and the whole lot have gone black and the kids won’t touch them with a barge-pole.

I hate throwing food away! So here is a great use- up recipe. The blacker the bananas the better. Banana and Pecan bread! Never throw another banana away.

Banaana Bread

Banana and Pecan Bread
1 cup / 220g golden caster sugar
½ cup / 110g butter
2 eggs
2 cups / 300g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
Pinch salt
1 cup / 100g pecans
1 cup / 2 or 3 / 200g black bananas, mashed

Cream the butter and sugar, add the eggs one at a time and amalgamate. Add the banana and mix well. (I used a food processor for the whole thing.) Mix the flour with the salt, baking powder, baking soda and salt and add in batches into the mixture, beating each time but don’t over mix. Stir in the chopped pecans. Pre-heat your oven to 160⁰C. Grease a loaf tin. (I used silicone which was brilliant.) Poor in the mix ¾ to the top. (If you have a little mix left, put into cupcake wrappers and bake at the same time.) Cook for about 40 to 50 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

Banana Bread 3

Use-up Stir-fry

Spring greens are a thing of beauty, however I do understand when you have seen your hundredth one turn up in your veg box, you may not continue to think so.

I got a couple this week in my small fruit and veg box along with more carrots, another veg that often accumulates, spring onions, sugar snap peas and new potatoes. On the fruit front there was apples and raspberries. So to make sure that you do not despair of summer greens, I will be concentrating on them over the next few weeks starting with a fabulous use-up dish this week. This is the sort of recipe which clears out your fridge before your next veg box arrives because there are so many variants of ingredients you can use. And of course you could add some prawns, or chicken, pork or steak if you wanted.

I started with my spring greens, sugar snap peas, carrots and spring onions but I also discovered half a left over red pepper, some mushrooms and a few bunched onions, which all went in. The only staples that you really need are chillies, ginger, garlic and coriander and a lime, Teriyaki sauce and noodles.

There are several varieties of Teriyaki sauce. My kids like Waitrose own best probably because it is particularly sweet but if you want a healthier option Clearspring make an organic one. The sweetness is counteracted with some lime juice and if you want more salt, add a little soy or Nam Pla (Thai Fish Sauce) is also particularly good. On the noodle front, any will do. I used some old Pad Thai noodles which  where hanging around in the cupboard. More important is the ratio of veg to noodle. Your cooked veg quantity should be about equal to that of noodles otherwise it can get a bit heavy going. I have given you a rough recipe below but really it is up to you.

The only other thing which really is of help in use-up stir-fry is a Wok. If you don’t have one, don’t splash out on an expensive one. I got mine about 25 years ago for £10 and it is still going strong.

Stir-fry in bowl

Use-up Stir-fry

Serves 2 very generously

150g Pad Thai noodles (or any will do but vary cooking as instructed)

1 head summer greens

1-2 fresh red chillies

Large knob of ginger

2 cloves garlic, peeled

4 spring onions

2 small bunched onions

4 carrots, peeled

8 mushrooms

100g sugar snap peas

½ a red pepper

Sunflower oil

1 lime

Teriyaki sauce

Sesame oil (optional)

Soy sauce, Nam Pla or salt

Small bunch of coriander

Boil the kettle and pour boiling water all over the noodles so that they are submerged. Leave for 15 minutes. Meanwhile shred your summer greens, wash and drain well. Grate the carrots. Thinly slice the mushrooms and red pepper, removing any seeds. Remove the outer most layer from the spring onions and bunched onions and finely slice. (Don’t forget to use the green of the spring onions too.) Top the sugar snap peas and string if necessary. Finely chop the chilli, removing the seeds. With a teaspoon remove the outer layer of the ginger. Grate the garlic and ginger. Drain the noodles. Heat your wok or large frying pan with a little sunflower oil. Add the garlic, chilli and ginger. Fry for a minutes, stirring well. Add the spring onions, bunched onions, mushrooms, sugar snaps and red peppers. Stir-fry for a minute or two more. Next add the summer greens and carrots. Stir-fry until the veg has wilted. Finally add the teriyaki sauce and noodles and mix really well. Take off the heat and stir in your chopped coriander. Squeeze over the lime and drizzle with Sesame oil if using, Taste. If it needs more salt add soy or salt. Make sure you have the balance of sweet, salty and sour. Serve with a wedge of lime.

Stir Fry in Wok