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. 

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The price of milk, raw milk and making yogurt

When the price of food falls really low I get suspicious. I am even more suspicious when spokesmen from the supermarkets tell us we should be happy about it as Justin King, the Chief Executive of Sainsbury's did on the Today programme last Tuesday morning. Usually price cuts on commodities like bread and milk signal a deterioration in food quality and, or, food trading practices. Somebody or something will be loosing out. 

In this case it is the farmers and their cows. As the price of milk in supermarkets falls, as it has done in from £1.39 to £1.00 for two litres, it puts pressure on farmers to cut the price of milk at the farm gate. This means cuts have to be made elsewhere on the farm for the production of milk to stay economically viable or else the farm goes out of business. 

I went to talk to Emma Robinson and Ian O'Reilly at Gazegill Organic Farm, just over the Lancashire border in Rimington to find out more about why I should pay more for my pint of milk rather than less.

At Gazegill Farm Emma and Ian have a herd of 60 shorthorn cows which Emma milks twice a day. They are grass fed for most of the year. "The cows graze on meadows that have not been ploughed for at least 300 years" says Emma."The composition of the milk varies according to the season and the diet of the cows and this affects the flavour of the milk" she added. 

Short horn cows are beautiful cows known for the milk they produce which is rich in omega three fatty acids and perfect for making cheese and drinking. It has a good flavour. 

Shorthorn cows
Emma knows all the cows individually and takes great care when she milks them. Their teats are sterilized each time they are milked, she observes them carefully for signs that they may be unwell, she talks to them and makes sure they are not put under stress. They respond to her as if they know her. "If a stranger comes into the milking parlour than the cows will be tetchy" Emma adds. 

I asked Emma and Ian about drinking 'raw'milk which has not been pasteurised or homogenised. "The milk is safe to drink. It is tested regularly for E.Coli 0157 and the milking parlour is very clean."

"Because the cows are grass fed they are less likely to incubate E.Coli 0157 which is associated with grain fed, intensively reared cows" Ian tells me. 

They give me some raw milk to try and I love the flavour. It costs £1.25 per litre which makes it twice the price of supermarket milk. But it is worth it and have signed up for a regular delivery. 

Jenny Linford, a friend from the Guild of Food Writers has just published a beautiful book called 'the Creamery Kitchen' which entices readers to discover the age old tradition of making fresh butters, yogurts, creams and soft cheeses at home.  

I grew up with a Mum that made yogurt at home and so Jenny's book prompted me to make some first with whole raw milk and then with lactose free milk for patients who are lactose intolerant. 

The lactobacillus in yogurt removes most of the lactose in milk anyway so most people who are lactose intolerant can eat a small amount of yogurt. 

Both yogurts were mild, not too acidic and quite creamy to taste. 


I took the opportunity to spend some time in the lambing sheds with the ewes nursing their one day old lambs. The ewes were calm and trusting and were reasonably happy for me to photograph them.

...the lovely Gloucester Old Spots bounded up to me at the gate and started chewing my wellies!