Kale has had some brilliant press lately as a cure-all superfood. Whoever does its PR deserves one hellova pat on the back. I mean, it’s a cabbage. And although delicious, who ever thought that a cabbage could have so much appeal? Yet somehow kale is everywhere now- in juices, salads, stews and even crisps. A fad, perhaps, but this leafy veg actually deserves it’s moment in the limelight- it’s full of beta carotene, Vit C, K and calcium. It has a gorgeous, earthy taste and is genuinely versatile- steam it, bake it, have it stir fried, boiled, juiced or massage it (really) with some olive oil, lime juice and salt for a few minutes to tenderise it, then add pine nuts and cranberries for a salad worthy of a Californian health fanatic.
I’m putting my two cents in with my recipe for Kale pesto. My take has chilli and rosemary in it, for extra punch. I also bake the garlic and chilli in the oven first as I find this adds a lovely smoky flavour. This recipe makes a large amount- it should last you all week. Have it with pasta, gnocchi, drizzled on baked aubergine, roasted sweet potatoes or butternut squash, mixed with a little water for a salad dressing, spread on toasted bread or a homemade pizza, in sandwiches, mixed with mince and made into burgers, stirred through peas with a little goats cheese, in a potato salad, as a dip, dolloped on soup, with white beans, lamb, fish, chicken or swirled through mash. Your pick.
Frequent readers of this blog (all two of you) will note that there’s been a small change to the way I write recipes- I’ve now added imperial measurements, which I hope will be useful.
You will need:
200g/7oz kale (approx 1 bag), woody stems removed
4 garlic cloves
2 long red chillies
3 large sprigs rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped
1 lemon, juice and zest
25g/1/2oz Parmesan, grated
50g/1oz pine nuts, toasted
150ml/5fl oz extra virgin olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Place the garlic cloves (still in their skins) and chilli on a small oven tray and bake for about 20-25 mins, until the chilli is starting to char and the garlic is soft. Allow to cool completely.
2. Meanwhile, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the kale and simmer until just tender, about 3-5 min. Drain very well, squeezing out any excess water.
3. Place the kale, rosemary, lemon zest, Parmesan and pine nuts in the bowl of a mixer (or use a handheld blender). Squeeze the garlic out of their cloves and add these along with the chillies, removing the seed if you like. Whizz to a paste, then slowly drizzle in the olive oil with the motor running. Add lemon juice to taste and a little water if very thick.
There seem to be so many wonderful things in season at the moment. There’s all the summer abundance of fruit, berries, leaves and beans. Then there’s the exciting prospect of a more autumnal harvest right around the corner- blackberries, figs then eventually pumpkins, apples, cobnuts and game. So much to enjoy and so much to look forward to!
My greengrocer has been coming up trumps. I don’t know if the area is attracting a more discerning vegetable consumer (a belated Olympic effect, perhaps? The East End seems to be getting more gentrified by the minute), but suddenly I’ve got heritage tomatoes, baby aubergines and chanterelles on my doorstep. There are also beautiful courgettes, including the fat, yellow variety.
I think these in particular warrant a celebration and what better way than by turning them into the main affair? I first tried a version of this dish at Leiths for our ‘creative red mullet’ day by pairing thin strips of courgette with basil oil and pan fried fish. I love red mullet, but the courgette ‘pasta’ was a real revelation. I recognise that this may seem like diet food in disguise and I suppose it could be, but I promise you won’t miss the carbohydrate. However, if you do want to make it even healthier, tone down the olive oil.
You will need:
200g baby tomatoes
1 yellow courgette
1 green courgette
100g baby spinach
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 small red onions, sliced
handful of basil, torn
extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, juice and zest
Sea salt and pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 190 C. Slice baby tomatoes in half through their middles (they look prettier that way) and place on an oven tray. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast until cooked through and beginning to caramelise, approx 20-25 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, make your courgette tagliatelle. Use a wide peeler (like a speed peeler) to create thin slices of courgette, moving around the vegetable to get the right shape. You only want the outer, more dense layer of courgette (and the beautiful skins)- do not use the middle, water-logged seed-y part. You’ll end up with a long, rectangular bit of courgette, which you can discard or save for soups or stir fries.
3. Gently fry the onion until just soft. Add the garlic and spinach and heat until the spinach has just wilted. Off the heat, add the roasted tomatoes, lemon zest, basil, a drizzle of olive oil and season.
4. In a separate frying pan, add the strips of courgette with a splash of lemon juice and another drizzle of olive oil. You don’t want to fry the courgette as such, merely heat the strips through- the bite is part of the appeal.
5. Plate up the courgette and top with the tomato and spinach mixture. Finish with a grating of Parmesan and wolf down.
A weekend in Roma…. pasta, vino and churches. And best of all, I managed to pick up some beautiful zucchini flowers at the market on the Campo de’Fiori.
They were a bit squashed by the time I made it back to London (thank you EasyJet) but good for that delectable specialty- fiori di zucca fritti.
Now, I’m not really one for celebrating Valentine’s day and never have been. But it was the 14th and these beauties really needed cooking. They made a really fantastic starter for a slightly more elaborate supper… for me and my boyfriend… luckily my flatmate was in too, which took the whole candle-lit-dinner-a-deux thing down a notch. But truth be told, I think courgette flowers are a cause for celebration in and of themselves. I have never seen them for sale anywhere in London and really wish they were more widely available not just so that I could make this, but also to brighten up salads.
Having enjoyed them at many a Tuscan taverna, but never made fiori di zucca fritti from scratch before (and actually not having done very much deep-frying before either), I proceeded with some trepidation. Very hot oil is not to be messed around with. This fear manifested itself in the form of a rather short fuse which I took out on my sous-chef/boyfriend. I would like to apologise for that now. Soz.
I stuffed the flowers with ricotta, basil and olives (I’ve heard capers and anchovies are also a good bet), dipped them in flour and then a beery, floury batter before deep frying them. They did stick a bit to the bottom of the pan (not enough oil? Batter the wrong consistency? Answers on a postcard , please!), but they were very good and not at all dissimilar to the the ones I had eaten at a little family joint on the Piazza Farnese.
For the main course, I rolled some cuts of beef around a mixture of sauteed chestnuts, mushrooms and onion with the help of some toothpicks to hold it in place. Then seared them and popped it in the oven. Served with cabbage and hasselback potatoes.
Preparing the Hasselback spuds. You can just about see the wooden spoon in this pic.
Black nail polish optional.
What potatoes? Hasselback. So named after a restaurant/hotel on Djurgården in Stockholm. They look beautiful and taste great as they roast really well, turning crispy on the outside quite gradually while allowing the center of the spud to cook much quicker than your average roastie. They may look delicate, but the prep is actually really easy if you know how. The trick is to use new potatoes that are not too small, so that they can rest snugly in a wooden spoon. Then cut thin slices along the spud, the edges of the spoon will stop you from cutting too deeply. Easy.
I served this with some crunchy savoy cabbage and plenty of gravy made from deglazing the searing pan with red wine, stock and a bit of creme fraiche. And plenty of seasoning.
Pudding was oven roasted plums, with crumbled amaretti biscuits (from a little Roman bakery) and a creme fraiche dollop.
If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.