Flageolet Beans

Flageolet beans are my favourite bean, reminding me of life as a student in France a lifetime ago. When I’ve been overdoing the animal fats and the spending in restaurants, these beans put me back on the road to financial and physical health without feeling like fasting. Once in a while are a much healthier accompaniment to roast lamb than roast potatoes and yet they’re ultra satisfying to eat.

Here are the beans we had with our Easter Lamb. I’m popping them in the freezer until they are needed for a quick supper because that’s how versatile they are. At £2.19 for 500g (enough for about 8 people) they are also satisfyingly frugal. So you can feel like an Elizabeth David original and feed a large family or a table of friends for the price of a cappuccino.Beans

Here is how to cook them.

Start the night before and soak the beans in plenty of cold water. When you’re ready to cook them next day drain the beans and think what deliciousness you are going to add. If they are an accompaniment to roast meat you can just cook them in stock and some fresh thyme if you have some. A glass of white wine never hurts either. If they’re the main event then finely chop and onion or two and sweat them in a heavy pan with some olive oil. You may even have some soffrito or mirepoix in the fridge, homemade or bought. If you’re a carnivore then some finely chopped smoked bacon or ham really adds magic at this stage. Sweat your vegetables etc until they are softened and then add the beans and plenty of Marigold stock to completely submerge the contents of the pan. Bring to the boil and then cover and turn the heat down to a bare simmer and cook for a couple of hours. Add more liquid from time to time as needed. If it’s too runny remove the lid and allow the stock to evaporate once the beans are cooked.

You can cook this on the hob or in the oven but it’s easier to keep an eye on the hob.

This dish is real comfort food with some good bread and fresh green cabbage. Grilled radicchio can make it more sophisticated. Eat with a good spoonful of yoghurt or creme fraiche. It’s high in protein, low fat and cheap to make. Soak your beans tonight and get started.

Beautiful Borscht

Beautiful Borscht

Recently I was raving about the health-giving properties of beetroot and so I thought it time to make my first beetroot soup or Borscht. I looked at lots of recipes on the internet and decided that what I needed was the usual blend of aromatics to get the thing going (carrot, celery, onion) and some raw beetroot. The only change from my usual vegetable soup was introducing beef stock (not for everyone I realise) so I bought some fresh in the supermarket. The soup was a great hit – so much so that I forgot to take the final picture so you will just have to imagine a beautiful dish of steaming hot beetroot coloured soup garnished with yoghurt, freshly grated raw beetroot and a few seeds. Take it from me this is a very cheap dish that is really worth trying and if you’re vegetarian simply replace the beef stock with the usual Marigold vegetable stock or freshly made vegetable stock. For more of a meal in a bowl you could make some simple dumplings, boil them separately to keep them white and then add them to each bowl carefully. Boiled potatoes would also work well.

The recipe

Peel and chop as finely as you can bear to a few carrots, onions and a stick or two of celery. This is your Mirepoix which I am thrilled to say I had ready in the freezer from when I was Cooking the Fridge. Peel and chop the beetroot. (Disposable gloves are handy. especially if you’ve just had your nails done.) Keep back one peeled beet to grate into the soup before serving.

Sweat the vegetables in a stock pot with a tablespoon of the oil you like and the lid on. Keep the heat low so there’s no sticking and be patient. After 15 minutes add your stock of choice and simmer for about half an hour . I used Waitrose beef stock plus some home made chicken stock from the freezer. Add a glass of red wine if you like.

When the beetroot is soft enough to eat turn off the heat and allow to cool before liquidising. You can serve this hot or cold or freeze it of course.

The garnish : the amazing seeds that go with everything and are also cheap to buy and healthy to eat!

Saute a handful of pumpkin seeds with a handful of sunflower seeds a little Maldon salt and a teaspoon of oil in a frying pan until the seeds start popping. I was going to toast pine nuts but I was feeling mean and pine nuts are more expensive than face cream. As I stood at the cupboard hesitating these unloved seeds caught my eye and I gave them a shot instead – what a delight! They are so tasty I had trouble keeping enough back for the soup garnish. You can garnish anything with them but salads and vegetables are a great place to start.

When you are ready to serve choose a dish that sets off the soup to advantage (for me that means a large white pasta dish with a rim and I’m giving you a link here because I think these dishes radically improve the presentation of just about every food I know). Grate the raw beetroot and put a bunch in the middle of the soup next to a large spoonful of yoghurt (or fromage frais or goat’s cheese or sour cream). Add a sprinkle of the seeds and you have a beautiful looking first course or lunch.

 

Beetroot – great tidings of comfort and joy!

My first day at school introduced me to two things I immediately fell in love with. My Kindergarten teacher Mrs Heilbron who smelled of Yardley’s Apple Blossom was the first object of my adoration. Unlike my precarious relationship with my mother, she was predictable and easy to please. Sadly Mrs Heilbron with her exciting name and her delicate beige shoes for difficult feet of a certain age passed out of my life at the end of the year when I moved up to Transition. (Enter Miss Mainwaring, another name that fascinated me but not an easy woman to fall in love with which sadly, may be why she remained grey-haired but unmarried.)

What mysteries and surprises it brings, one’s first adventures away from home. There was another girl called ‘Elizabeth’ for starters! And then there were the biscuits. My mother’s kitchen ran to fig rolls (my mother’s favourites), Nice biscuits with their coating of sparkling sugar crystals, custard creams, malted milk and (high days and holidays) Huntley and Palmers milk and honey which were exotically oval and had not only a dab of cream like the custard creams but a window in the top filled with honey.  At four and a half I thought I had biscuits covered. But no! When break time came we all headed for the little cloth pockets on the wall with our names on where we put our biscuits on arrival. Bourbons, digestives, biscuits in foil wrappers, pink wafers, chocolate fingers emerged from other children’s pockets – a whole world of biscuits I had never seen.

 

 

But what about the beetroot? Get to the point, woman. Thank you, I’m coming to that, as advertised, never fear. Now I cannot share with you the kindness of Mrs Heilbron but the second revelation of that long-ago day was beetroot. In my school lunch I tasted my first beetroot in tiny delicious cubes and was bowled over by the fabulous new taste and the memorable colour. Since then I have of course encountered beetroot in other places but it’s never tasted the same as I remembered. I will draw a kindly veil over the mistake that is beetroot in vinegar. I mean, really. Vacuum packed, pre-cooked beetroot was okay but very messy and unexciting in taste. Once transported to a kitchen of my own complete with recipe books and the choice of what to eat I tried beetroot again. This time I fell prey to cooks who recommend baking beetroot in the oven and then ‘sloughing off the skin with a paper towel’. LOL. Great way to burn your fingers and stain everything within reach. The beetroot tasted okay but it simply isn’t worth it. I resigned myself to a beetroot-free life.

Step up Nadine Redzepi once more. (Yes, you’re sick of hearing about her but I’m not done yet.)  Her recipe for sweet potato cakes with cumin beetroot and salted yoghurt revealed to me that you can perfectly well eat beetroot raw and it tastes the way I remember it all those years ago.  It’s probably even better for you as well and oh boy, you won’y believe how good for you it is. You can add the cumin and olive oil and lemon juice that the recipe requires – or not. It’s delicious either way and now I discover it has its own website AND its benefits include the following :

  1. Lowering blood pressure
  2. Preventing or slowing the progress of dementia by increasing blood flow to the brain
  3. It contains a powerful antioxidant and antioxidants prevent against heart disease and stroke, slow the growth of cataracts, slow ageing and generally turn you into a bionic human being
  4. antioxidants are anti-inflammatory so good for infections and all kinds of inflammation
  5. It acts as a natural viagra by increasing blood flow to the genitals
  6. It actually makes you run quicker

I mean what more do you need? It’s not even expensive and you don’t have to buy it online from specialists. Finally this is how you prepare it without staining your hands. Peel with a potato peeler and grate or chop wearing, Ta-Da! disposable gloves. These are also invaluable for peeling and grating raw turmeric, celeriac, stoning damsons and anything else that stains.

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So I shall be introducing beetroot into every week’s menu and trying out the Beetroot and Chocolate Cake recipe on the beetroot website. I shall report back, natch. I am a great fan of things that taste great and do me good and I’m adding raw beetroot to the precious hoard.

 

 

 

Colds and flu

Colds and flu

Miserable winter ailments call for direct action and no action is more direct than this amazing tea I just made myself : ginger and turmeric.

ginger and tumeric tea

Here is a use for the peelings and odds and ends from your cooking with fresh turmeric and ginger. I was making a carrot and butternut squash soup with ginger and turmeric and amassed a panful of peelings and offcuts which I boiled up with water for 20 minutes or so. It takes on the amazing colour quite quickly but keep tasting to make sure it really has infused.

Then add honey to taste! It’s that simple and the taste is so powerful you just know your cold or flu is on the wane as soon as it hits your throat. It taste nice too!in the cup

 

 

Now for a super cheap and delicious supper dish which you can tweak as you will. This is another one from the Redzepi cookbook I have been banging on about. Basically blanched greens topped with mashed potato with as much butter as you can force the potatoes to absorb. On top you pop a poached egg and some fried breadcrumbs.

mashed potato, egg and greensI used this new method for poaching where you tie your egg in oiled clingfilm and simmer for 4 minutes. It worked but it made the egg very small … Anyway, the dish is comforting and might benefit from a little more excitement in the form of bacon crumbled from the grill, chilli or anchovies. Or you can have it as a side dish with fish ir meat.

Redzepi suggests shavings of truffle which, guess what? I did not have to hand but would probably be pretty good if you did. I might try with truffle oil next time.

Pasta with Broccoli and Gorgonzola

IMG_0835This is a nice simple recipe and totally delicious, suitable for vegetarians and adaptable if you are counting calories – what more can you want?

 

Ingredients

100g of your favourite pasta per person

1 large head of broccoli (trimmed and broken into florets) for 2-4 people (see below)

2 oz Dolcelatte or Gorgonzola per person

1 onion, finely chopped

olive oil

 

Method

  1. Sweat your finely chopped onion in a pan with a glug of olive oil.
  2. When the onion is cooked, boil a large pan of water for your pasta and briefly cook the broccoli heads in it.
  3. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and add them to the pan with the onion.
  4. Cook your pasta in boiling water according to the instructions on the packet – usually 8-10 minutes. Drain.
  5. During the last few minutes of the pasta cooking time add the cheese cut into large cubes to the broccoli and the onion and put a very low heat under it. Be warned, you just want to melt the cheese very gently. If you give it too much heat the cheese will completely disappear.
  6. Add the broccoli etc to the pasta and spoon into dishes.
  7. Add a handful of toasted pine nuts or hazelnuts or walnuts to each dish.

 

Calories

Ordinarily, pasta is heavy on the calories but you can easily reduce the carbs in this dish by increasing the broccoli and reducing the pasta for those who are watching their weight.

Cooking the Fridge

One of the things I love about leaving England to drive back to Italy for a while is what I call Cooking the Fridge. Despite my careful planning, two days before leaving I find myself with a fridge full of things I don’t want to throw away. Follows an enforced cooking session as I empty the fridge and stash things in the freezer for when we return which leaves me feeling frugal and virtuous and stores up treats for later. Win, as they say, win.

This time my fridge yielded the stock from a beef casserole which happily went with a glut of carrots and onions (how many did I imagine I needed?) to make carrot and onion soup. The beef casserole was a proper daube with lardons flamed in Cognac before a long slow cook so the stock is pretty impressive. I’ve added water to make enough liquid for the soup but it still socks you in the mouth with its taste.

I’ve chopped the unending celery, onions and carrots  and all the herbs in the garden for a mirepoix ready for osso bucco or lentils in December. And the entire bag of shallots lurking in the salad drawer has made a single jar of caramelised onions for an onion and goats’ cheese tart in December. Just cook the slowly with a dribble of oil and a spoonful of dark brown sugar. Add a dash of salt at the end.

Then there’s some broccoli which has fallen through the net until today. I have whipped it into edibleness by roasting it with nuts and spices and covering in a rich cheese sauce. I find roasting it first really adds to the flavour.IMG_0817

 

Potatoes and eggs have succumbed to an ad hoc gratin with the remains of the cheese.

IMG_0815 Cooking apples have been stewed (in the microwave) against future porridge delights or Winter crumbles.

So why not look in your fridge now if you have a slow day and cook the lot. Let me know what unusual things you make!

Here is the happy outcome of the day.IMG_0818

The Mrs Tiggywinkle feel of putting things in jars is unbeatable. And that reminds me of the fermentation I promised a while ago. Sandor Katz is the god of fermentation and once I had heard him on the radio and seen him on youtube I just had to have a go. As you can see I have experimented with pickling French beans, tomatoes and cabbage and it had already begun to bubble before I left. I’m new to this so I don’t know what state they will be in in four weeks time but I shall report back.

If you would like to learn about fermentation you could do a lot worse than listen here and look here for instruction. Great news : fermented foods are now fashionable as health foods because they replenish the healthy bacteria in your gut, keeping your weight down and your digestion working well.

Sorrel

So at last I get home to find that the pathetic little sorrel plant I shoved in before I went away in July, the one that looked as though it might not survive the weekend, has taken over the world. Or at least my herb garden.  I have a great nostalgia for sorrel. Some time before the Flood you used to see it on French menus but now, not so much. As a student  I used to feel very French buying small, expensive bunches of sorrel in M & S on Kensington High Street but I don’t think I have seen it on sale these many years. In my mind it has taken on a mythical status and its taste has been elevated in memory to something near divine. Have you tried it? It’s lemony and refreshing and delicious with fish. So it is a delightful surprise to come home to sorrel with ambitions to march on Moscow which has started by annexing all available space in the zinc manger that is my herb garden. It is a divided affair, the manger, otherwise both sides would have fallen to the sorrel. I’m secretly delighted with this occupying force although I do wonder what has happened to the horseradish that went in at the same time.

herb garden

So what am I going to do with it? Interestingly recipes for things containing sorrel are only in my oldest cookbooks. Nigel Slater’s volumes on his garden produce do not mention it and a cursory glance at Diana Henry also draws a blank. A quick scroll though google, however, confirms what I remember. Sorrel dissolves even better than spinach with butter over a little heat. It lacks that blood and gravel taste of iron that people who don’t like spinach don’t like. With seasoning and an egg yolk or some cream or stock it is a ready made sauce. No blender to wash up! I can see it is going to be my mystery ingredient for the Autumn entertaining that is on the horizon.

It will also be keeping some pretty grand company as I am proud to tell you I have in my freezer, direct from the French field it grew up in, a poulet de Bresse. Such a song and dance has been made over this chicken (not least by Alistair Little) that when we passed a sign on the French motorway advertising Bresse as the next exit I brought the full force of my charm to bear (and a little hysteria) to persuade the driver to turn off so that we could buy one. I don’t know how it is in your car but in ours it doesn’t matter which of us is driving the power goes straight to our heads. Coffee stops, loo breaks and even medical emergencies simply cut no ice with the one behind the wheel, especially when abroad. If you want to stop do not begin your sentence ‘Shall we …?’ or ‘We could …’ or ‘Oh, look …’  Deaf and head down, the driver’s instinct is to Keep Going at all costs. The inviting lay-by, service station or out-of-the-way country restaurant is merely a cloud of dust behind you before you finish. Rather, shout ‘STOP!’ in such a way that obedience is instinctive but not so that the driver has a heart attack.  (I suggest you practise before setting off.) To maintain the effectiveness of this technique I recommend limiting it to once every five hundred miles or so. Anyway when I tell you I came home holding aloft a poulet de Bresse as though I had won Wimbledon and did a victory lap of the kitchen, you will appreciate why.

I will keep you posted when we eat it but it will be cooked with love, I promise, not shoved into a cold oven I meant to put on half an hour earlier and then heated to spontaneous combustion temperature because we’re all hungry. Perhaps some boiled potatoes with a sorrel sauce? Meanwhile I am planning a sorrel risotto with or without a few prawns. Here I am rerunning the risotto recipe that I gave some months ago to which you add your sorrel at the end. But first you need to plant your sorrel and there is no problem buying a plant online from a website like this. Make sure you give it some decent soil in a pot as big as you have room for. Like most plants it likes plenty of sunshine and plenty of rain but if we are lucky with the rest of September there is time to get one established before Winter. Here is the monster that was planted in July.

sorrel 1

In cooking sorrel disappears much like spinach so although it is lovely to have a few leaves in a salad, it is best kept for soups and sauces unless you’re going to give it the run of your borders.

Sorrel Risotto

500 g risotto rice (Replace 250g of the rice with finely diced vegetables (carrots, celery, courgettes) if you are watching the calories.

50 g butter

50 g olive oil

1 onion or leek finely chopped

2 litres of beef or Marigold vegetable stock (hot)

2 glasses of white wine

an egg yolk beaten with half a cup of double cream

as much sorrel as you can muster

  1. Saute the onion unbelievably slowly until it is translucent.
  2. While the onion is softening wash and chop the sorrel and melt it in some butter over a low heat. When it is like a puree, turn off the heat.
  3. Add the rice and saute for a minute or two before adding the wine.
  4. Stir until the wine is completely evaporated and the rice is dry again.
  5. Add the stock one ladleful at a time until it is all absorbed. This should take 20 minutes but I find it takes longer, so be patient.
  6. Turn off the heat and add the pre-cooked sorrel, salt and pepper, the egg yolk and cream. Check the seasoning again.
  7. Leave to ‘mantecare’ (to cream) for 3 minutes and then serve.

This risotto is great with grilled white fish on top or a few sautéed prawns. It goes equally well with ripe and mild Dolcelatte but to my mind Parmesan overwhelms the sorrel. You could leave out the egg yolk and cream and put a dollop of burrata into each portion before serving.