Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Good things come in small (filo) packages?

I was still thinking about green stuff when I read somewhere about spinach with tea-soaked raisins and pine nuts. As ideas sometimes do, it wedged itself in my head and at the next available opportunity I set to exploring this combination which I think is pretty well-known, though I have never heretofore either eaten or made it.

I decided on filo pastry - I suppose I was thinking of spanakopita and how happily spinach and filo get on in that. I made my filling with spinach, tea-soaked raisins (do you really need to soak them?), walnuts (which are more economical than pine nuts), ricotta and egg. I baked them and I sat as they took on a golden crispiness, hopefully anticipating the finished product.

And... well, as I bit into layers of flaky, then chewy pastry, and got a mouthful of slightly bitter spinach, I must admit to feeling a little deflated. What makes spinach go bitter? How do I get it less so?

However, I'd made a batch so I took one to work as part of my current drive to take packed lunches as often as possible. And, happily, it surprised me by being much better cold. Easy to eat, filing, and not at all bitter on the second day, I enjoyed the moist spinach filling, the juicy raisins and crunchy nuts.

Not perhaps the most succesful of ventures, but a pretty decent addition to my lunchbox repertoire. This is the recipe - adapt it as you see fit. I think blue cheese might fit in nicely instead of the raisins, or parmesan and dried tomatoes...

Spinach, raisin and walnut parcels

  • Melt a knob of butter in a frying pan and drop a large bag of fresh spinach leaves in it, turning it over until all just wilted - leave to cool for a few minutes whilst you:
  • Mix together a tablespoon ricotta, one beaten egg, salt, pepper and a touch of nutmeg
  • Add a handful of chopped walnuts and a handful of raisins that have soaked in tea for half an hour or so
    Squeeze as much juice out of the spinach as you can, chop fairly finely and add to the mixture
  • Arrange 5 filo sheets in a cross shape by layering them in alternate directions, brushing each one with melted butter as you go
  • Put a large dollop of spinach mixture in the middle and fold in the sides one at a time, pressing down to get a tight fit
  • Coat in melted butter and put on an oven tray in a 190C preheated oven
  • Cook for about 20 minutes until golden-brown and crisp

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Green and lovely

When I chopped this beautiful pointed cabbage in half and sneaked a couple of those creamy white, crunchy baby leaves into my mouth, the sweet crunch and the sheer joy of all those squeaky green leaves almost made me sad to adulterate it at all...

But then I tried this recipe that I saw a couple of months ago in Yoga Journal of all places, and oh, it didn't hide this cabbage's loveliness, it elevated it into one of the most satisfying pleasing dishes I have eaten recently.

That made me happy.

It's a gratin. The inside is creamy and full of green cabbagey goodness, and the top is cheese and breadcrumbs - and I can not believe there is anyone who can resist a cheese and breadcrumb topping on anything. (But maybe that is just me?)

I used a pointed cabbage for this recipe as I mentioned; the author of the article favours swiss chard and kale, but the original recipe calls for savoy cabbage, so go with what you like. Cheese is flexible too. Try gruyere instead of the cheddar and parmesan I used or any other hard tasty cheese you fancy. This is the version of the recipe I used:
Green Gratin
  • Slice one onion in to the thinnest slices possible
  • Melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat, add the onion, reduce the heat to low and cover to let the onions sweat, stirring them occasionally until they are very soft
  • Cut one pointed cabbage into very thin slices and add them to the onion. Cover and cook for 10 minutes or so until it has all wilted.
  • Remove the cover and continue to cook, stirring, until the cabbage is soft - about another 10 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 400F
  • Grease a baking dish and set aside
  • Sprinkle a teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and a tablespoon of plain flour over the cabbage, increase the heat, stirring still, and add one cup of milk a little at a time as you continue to stir, creating a sauce for the vegetables
  • When it has thickened (about 5 minutes), spread the mixture evenly into the prepared baking dish. Mix 2 tablespoons grated parmesan with 2 tablespoons grated cheddar and 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs and scatter over the surface.
  • Bake for about 20 minutes until the top is crusty and golden and the edges are bubbling - about 20 minutes

The original recipe apparently came from 'Great Greens: Fresh, Flavorful and Innovative Recipes' by Georganne Brennan, which looks really interesting.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Yay - how cool is my lunch box?

I got...

Homemade bread, Moro Carrot Salad, Rhubarb and strawberry compote...
The carrot salad is straight out of the first Moro book and has been put to service a good few times now because it's really very good. You just:
  1. boil 4 or 5 (preferably oldish) carrots, whole with their skins and tops and tails on until soft
  2. when cooked, let them cool, and then scrape the skins off with fingers or knife and slice
  3. toast a couple of teaspoons of cumin seeds in a dry pan over a low heat until fragrant and starting to colour
  4. bash up the cumin seeds a little, and add to the juice of one lemon and about an equal amount of olive oil (and some chopped garlic if you so desire)
  5. Mix the carrots with a big bunch of chopped coriander and the dressing

Lovely as part of a mixed mezze

As for rhubarb and strawberries, well you don't need me to tell you how good those two are together - I just boil them with a little brown sugar and freshly squeezed orange juice. But if you fancy something in a whole different league of rhubarb and strawberry chic check out this incredibly beautiful creation from La Tartine Gourmand's talented Bea...

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Breaking it down

So, it's been a bit quiet round here. Not so much a feast as a famine of words. And after all that about posting once a week and so on...

This is what happened. This time it wasn't simply my natural tendency to laziness and abandonment of projects. I've been working away a lot again, eating crap, eating junk, eating far too much. And then in the few days I had back home I would suddenly get panicky about posts and about making something 'good'. I would spend some obscene amount of money at the supermarket with some hasty idea in my head - something photogenic and impressive. And then it would be a bit ill-thought out and not so good and I would feel all disappointed.

And then I started to wonder what I was doing... This did not accord with my position on food, the reason I started this blog. I was getting all caught up in the end result and losing sight of what inspired it all in the first place. It wasn't the number of posts or the photos and whatnot. It was an appreciation of good food, of food as nourishment and joy and as something which draws links all over our world, that is important and inspiring. Wanting to share that.

I don't believe in buying a whole bunch of new things frantically, stressing over the cooking, not enjoying the end result, throwing stuff away because you bought too much.
I wondered what happened to the days when I shopped once a week and I had a cupboard full of veggies and fruits and staples and I made dishes depending on what I had, what needed using up. Sure, I'd be inspired by recipes, by reading, books and magazines. I still love the art of food, the experimentation, the craft of it. Sure, I'd buy special ingredients and plan stuff. But I'd fit it around being sensible and resourceful and thrifty.

Alongside this, I was putting in less effort. I was buying all my lunches and dinners, and it was making me feel dissatisfied, or nauseous, or sticky or gross. Disappointed...

So, first of all I decided to spend a week recording everything I ate, thinking about it as I ate - about how it made me feel, and where it came from, being more conscious of my eating. Trying to get back in touch with food, with my beliefs on food, trying to identify better what it was that made it good, what made it bad. Which was really interesting for me. I may post a link to this at some point.
And now I am just trying to get back into the routine of making lunch, of shopping wisely, of thinking about what I eat. Of delighting in food again.
And mostly that has just been big fresh salads - grated carrot and new potatoes and lettuce drenched in vinaigrette, juicy tomatoes and smoked mackerel or houmous or grilled halloumi. Or things unashamedly simple like the roasted vegetables in the picture at the top of this post.
Not particularly pretty, and nothing like the recipes I aspired to be churning out weekly. Not really postable lamentably...

But good. And now I'm going to try and experiment and find some new recipes and work that in to the mix. And hopefully I'll have more exciting things to post soon...
For now, here are the veggies above - eminently simple but really rather good. Broccoli turns sweet and crispy like the 'seaweed' in Chinese restaurants - slightly barbecue-y and very moreish. Fennel is delicate and slippery and sweet and roasted tomatoes just make my tastebuds sing...

Roasted Summer Vegetables

Roast fennels chopped in quarters, big stalks of broccoli and tomatoes with a liberal splash of olive oil, a teaspoon each of salt and sugar and a good grind of black pepper for about an hour at 180C.

And enjoy.