Sunday, 20 April 2014

Artichokes in spring

I walked into the greengrocers in Ilkley where I live and saw a basketful of large artichokes from France.Two things caught my eye. Their beautiful mauve, scaly bracts and their size. If artichokes are large their 'hearts' are big enough and nutty enough to stuff and make a satisfying meal. If they are too small I don't really think they are worth bothering with.

Fresh artichokes are mostly about texture. They can be eaten raw, or cooked al dente so their texture is similar to a wet walnut. They taste nutty too and have a satisfying bite and a gentle earthy flavour. They lend themselves to being stewed in chunks or if left whole, then stuffed and baked. They mingle well with robust Mediterranean flavours and textures.If they are freshly picked they are also beautiful served simply with a little seasoned butter, vinaigrette or freshly made Hollandaise sauce.

An artichoke is an immature thistle. If you cut a cross section through the artichoke you will see that it is made up of lots of tiny flowers. An inflorescence that has the appearance of a single head but is in fact a composite flower. If left to mature the artichoke will develop into a tall purple thistle. Artichokes are a member of the sunflower family.

The artichokes photographed here looked full of promise and I decided to prepare their hearts with a simple stuffing of sour dough bread crumbs, garlic, onions, anchovies and herbs. I placed them in a covered Le Creuset pan with a glass of white wine and cooked them covered for half an hour in a hot oven.

The only thing I would say is that preparing artichokes involves a great deal of rather beautiful vegetable debris - purple heart shaped leaves, lots of fluffy golden hair etc. So get your compost bin ready.

If you want to grow artichokes you need a sunny spot. They are large architectural plants and made a statement in any garden. The seeds are large and quick to germinate. They are easy plants to grow if you have space. But you better get on with it if you want some artichokes this year. The good news is you still have time.

Stuffed artichokes

Serves 2 as a starter or light snack


2 globe artichokes
1 small onion finely chopped
1 glove garlic, finely chopped
50g sour dough or other good bread made into breadcrumbs
1 tbsp parsley,chopped 
1 can of anchovies, drain but retain the oil 
tbsp of stoned green or black olive (optional)
1 tsp thyme, chopped 
zest and juice of a lemon
salt and black pepper
olive oil
1 wineglass of white wine


To watch a video of how to prepare a globe artichoke scoot over to the Guardian's website to view or else stick with the written instructions here. To prepare the artichoke trim 5cm below and above the base of the choke. Peel back the outer leaves to reveal the fleshy, creamy coloured base. Zest the lemon and keep on one side. Cut the lemon in half and rub the cut surface of the lemon over the creamy surface of the artichoke. Take a pointed teaspoon and insert it into the centre of the artichoke and scrape out the hairy inside. Place the prepared artichokes in an oven proof dish which has been lightly oiled with olive oil.

Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6 

Prepare the stuffing:
Gently fry the chopped onion and garlic in a little olive oil until soft. Place in a bowl with the breadcrumbs and parsley. Chop drained anchovies and add them to the breadcrumb mix together with the olives thyme and lemon zest. Season well and add a little of the anchovy oil to the bread crumbs. 

Place half of the filling in each artichoke and scatter any remaining stuffing over the top. Pour the wine around the artichokes and dribble a little olive oil over the bread crumb stuffing. Cover with foil. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for a further 10 minutes to brown the breadcrumbs. 

Serve with warm, crusty bread and maybe some baked vine tomatoes and roasted garlic. 

Monday, 14 April 2014

Peppers stuffed with rice, saffron, pine nuts and mushrooms

Serves 4


For the tomato sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic
400g can plum tomatoes
pinch dried chilli flakes
1/2 tsp caster sugar
pinch sea salt  and grind of black pepper

For the stuffed peppers
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
3 fresh plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
100g Portabello mushrooms, finely chopped
salt and pepper
1 tsp dried oregano or 2 tsp fresh oregano
2 tbsp pine nuts
200g risotto rice
500ml vegetable stock
1 pinch of saffron (optional)
4 large peppers, red, green, orange or yellow


To make the tomato sauce: sweat the onion and garlic in olive oil until soft. Add the canned tomatoes, chilli flakes, sugar and seasoning. Cook gently for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little. Liquidise with a stick blender to a smooth sauce. Set aside.

To make the stuffed peppers: sweat the onion in the olive oil until soft. Add the chopped fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, oregano, pine nuts and seasoning. Continue to cook until the mushrooms are soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add the rice, stir well and pour in the vegetable stock followed by a pinch of saffron and cook uncovered over a low heat for about 15 minutes. The rice should be slightly underdone and most of the liquid should be absorbed. 

To stuff the peppers. You have two choices. You can either cut the tops off the peppers or you can cut length ways through the pepper and its stalk, as in the photograph above. Either way, remove the seeds and the the white pithy ribs from each of the peppers. Fill the peppers with the rice filling and replace the tops. If you have cut lengthways through the pepper just fill each half of the pepper. Place two or three tablespoons of tomato sauce in a small baking tray and sit the filled peppers in the sauce. Cover with foil and cook in an oven preheated to 200C/ Gas mark 4 for one hour. Remove the foil and cook uncovered for a further 15 minutes.  

Cooking peppers  and aubergine is a litmus test of how well a chef can cook. It is surprising how often these stalwart Mediterranean vegetables are served underdone. 

Peppers and aubergine are best cooked by a combination of roasting and steaming to render them soft, followed by short a period of roasting to caramelise their juices and concentrate their flavour. Preheated the oven to 200C/Gas mark 4. Place aubergine and or peppers on a baking tray or a roasting dish with a lid and dribble with olive oil or a sauce. Cover the tray with a lid or foil and cook for about 20 minutes to allow the moisture from the vegetable to be released. This softens the flesh of the vegetables. Then when the pepper or aubergine is silky soft and almost cooked it can be uncovered to caramelise its juices and develop deep flavours. Allow plenty of time to cook peppers and aubergine.Forty minutes should do it. 

Saffron is a very Spanish flavour but in truth not everyone likes it. So feel free to omit it from the recipe if you are not sure of this flavour. It can taste of the smell of pine needles. 

I love sweet red, yellow and orange peppers for this dish but I also like the more peppery taste of green peppers. This is a vegetarian dish but a little sautéed chorizo, minced lamb or beef added to the rice mixture would be delicious too.

Credit: Thanks Michael for the lovely plate. You are a star.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Chard and Parmesan soufflé with a purple and green salad

My front garden has to be cleared for new planting and so I pulled up the last of the rainbow chard and spinach and placed them in my trug. I cut chives, which I swear weren't there a week ago. I found lemon thyme in a pot and some pea shoots which I planted with my three year old next door neighbour Tilly and her mum, Emma. They are now a few inches tall with tendrils that wind around anything close. My trug filled up with possibilities and supper began to look good. It's a hybrid concoction somewhere between a soufflé and a fritatta studded with vegetables and a little cheese. 

I did get a help with the salad from M&S who supplied the purple sprouting broccoli which I teamed up, with strips of red cabbage, tiny ripe figs (how do they find ripe figs at this time of the year?) and dark skinned grapes. The salad was dressed simply with olive oil, lemon, salt and a little elderberry syrup made in the autumn. It was all looking very purple and green (think Siberian purple amethyst, tourmaline and emerald.)

I feel guilty buying figs and grapes with such a hefty carbon footprint. I vow to make amends somehow.

I have more good news this week (it keeps stacking up). I am joining my friends Jill Turton and Amanda Wragg at Squidbeak, Yorkshire's best independent review of  restaurants and accommodation to contribute recipes and photographs to their wonderful website. I am delighted. Those girls know a good place to eat when they see one so if you come to the gorgeous, dramatic county of Yorkshire, check out their recommendations here.

Chard and Parmesan soufflé with buckwheat and ground sunflower seeds

Serves 4-6


2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
large bunch chard or spinach, shredded
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 tsp thyme leaves, finely chopped
1/2 tsp chives, snipped up into 1/2 cm lengths
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
6 eggs
500ml milk 
60g ground sunflower seeds or any other nuts
60g buckwheat flour
25g Parmesan cheese grated, and extra for dusting
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
10g butter


Preheat the oven to 200C or Gas mark 6. Pour the oil into a frying pan and sweat the onion until soft. Stir in the shredded chard (or spinach), tomatoes, thyme and parsley and continue to cook for a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat.  Place the eggs in a bowl or jug and whisk with an electric beater until frothy. Stir in the milk flour, ground nuts and Parmesan cheese. Season with a little salt and pepper and stir through the cooked vegetables. Butter a 25 X 20cm baking dish and pour in the egg and vegetable mixture. Cook for approximately 30 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and dust with Parmesan cheese before serving.  

NB You can vary the vegetables and herbs depending what you have available. Adding buckwheat flour and ground nuts takes the place of potato in a fritatta and makes the dish more substantial because you are adding some extra unprocessed carbohydrate, fibre and beneficial oils from the nuts. 

Purple and green salad

Serves 4-6


200g purple sprouting broccoli
100g red cabbage, finely shredded
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
50g grapes and/or fresh figs
1/2 lemon
pinch sea salt
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp honey, pomegranate molasses (I used home made elderberry syrup) 
Pea shoots (optional)


Steam the broccoli for 3 minutes, and rinse in cold water. Allow to dry. Arrange on a plate with the other ingredients. Mix together lemon juice, salt, olive oil and syrup. Drizzle over the salad and serve. Garnish with pea shoots if you have them

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Aubergine, quinoa, feta and fresh herbs

This week I heard that I am to continue as a visiting lecturer in nutrition at the Department of Food Science at Leeds University for another three years. Great news as from time to time I need the use my training in nutrition for projects I am working on and I get to use the wonderful university library.

This week I have been coming up with more recipes for patients who are not able to eat fermentable carbohydrates which can cause bloating and pain in people with a sensitive gut. So without going into too much detail, here is a great recipe. This recipe does not contain any vegetable or cereal that may cause a problem. It is delicious and the sort of thing a whole family can share. 

Meat eaters can add cooked minced or shredded lamb to the topping. In which case add some chopped fresh mint to the mixture to make the flavours sing out. One word of note ...please take care to cook the aubergine well. Undercooked aubergine gives this wonderful vegetable a bad name. 

Serves 4


2 aubergines
cooking salt
olive oil
200g quinoa
2 tbsp pine nuts
100g cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp chopped chives
1 tbsp chopped parsley
150g feta cheese
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to garnish


Preheat oven to 200°C/Gas mark 6. Cut the aubergines lengthways into 1.5cm thick strips and lay on a baking tray. Sprinkle with salt and leave for 15 minutes. This softens the flesh of the aubergine. Rinse the aubergine slices well under cold water and pat dry. Lightly oil a couple of large baking trays and lay the aubergine slices in rows. Dribble with a little olive oil and place in the oven to cook until tender for about 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile place the quinoa in a pan with twice the volume of water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the quinoa until just tender. This usually takes between 8 and 10 minutes.Drain the quinoa and place in a bowl with the remaining ingredients. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasoning to your palate. Add a few more herbs and a little more feta cheese if you would like to.

When the aubergine slices are tender and beginning to turn golden brown remove from the oven and spread a tablespoon of quinoa mixture on the top of each aubergine slice. Return the aubergine slices to the oven and cook for a further 10 minutes.