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Vegetarian Dishes & Vegetables

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The thing I love about this rain, this totally, completely prolific rain, is that it carpets the mother-in-law’s garden with a lush verdant cover of edible treasure – namely wild garlic. This year it’s been bountiful: tiny fountains of pungent foliage, with their paper-like white buds, have scattered themselves all over the vegetable patch, filling the air with a sweet tang.

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Wild garlic – also known as ransoms, buckrams, wood garlic, and bear’s garlic or bear leek (for which it’s Latin name, Allium ursine, is given as brown bears just can’t get enough) – is a wild member of the chive family, and native to Europe and Asia.  Historically, it has been used in various ways and I was most interested to discover its juice can be used as a moth repellent and disinfectant, and that in Switzerland, in the 19th century, cows were fed the stuff to produce garlic-flavoured butter, which was in favour at the time.  Now, sadly, farmers view wild garlic as a pest because it adds flavour to meat and dairy, which is a great shame as its natural antiviral properties could be of great benefit to livestock.

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Saying this, wild garlic offers many health-giving properties when used regularly, and may relieve a variety of digestive problems (colic, indigestion, wind, diarrhoea), chest conditions (asthma, bronchitis, emphysema), and circulatory diseases, and reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure.  In fact, recent studies in Germany show wild garlic is a cut above the common garlic (Allium sativum) we all use in our kitchens, containing more magnesium, manganese and iron, and four and a half times more sulfur.  Sulfur is known to balance blood cholesterol and prevent heart disease, strokes and other arteriosclerosis disorders.  Like common garlic it has antiviral properties, however, unlike its poorer relation, which leaves an odour after it’s eaten because its sulfur is bound to protein, wild garlic’s sulfur compounds are free form… so snogging is definitely in order.

As well as its medicinal qualities, wild garlic is incredibly delicious and the whole plant is useful in the kitchen – from the white bulbs so enjoyed by bears and wild boar (chopped up like spring onion in stir fries and soups for us humans), to the green leaves (in salads and omelettes), and buds and flowers within (scattered through salads and on pasta).  Which leads me to my recipe…

Pesto is a beloved way of using wild garlic by many a cook, and my recipe favours roasted hazelnuts (in their skins) to the more traditional pine nuts that one would use when making Italian pesto Genoese.  In her wonderful book, ‘The Flavour Thesaurus‘, Niki Segnit points out that, “research has shown that the key hazelnut flavour compound increases tenfold when the nuts are roasted“, and here roasted hazelnuts harmoniously balance the mildly fiery wild garlic with their nutty, buttery sweetness.

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Stirred into freshly cooked pasta, it offers the taste of a just rained-upon woodland in spring with all the financial perks that foraging offers.  I mean, there’s nothing quite like digging through the undergrowth and picking your own food, especially if it means avoiding the supermarket and its expensive, plastic-wrapped flaccid bunches of basil.

Wild garlic is an excellent ingredient with which to start your foray into foraging as it colonises in woodlands and is not difficult to spot.  Children love exploring and as wild garlic so often grows near bluebells, you’ll have your wee ones enraptured by the offerings of the great outdoors.  You just have to make sure you’re picking the right plant (and not the deadly Lily of the Valley or similar, whose leaves are not unlike wild garlic), however, snapping a leaf and smelling it helps, as does a pocket guide like the excellent ‘Food for Free’ by the formidable Richard Mabey.

My children adore this pesto on spaghetti and it gives me great pleasure to see them scoff a bowl, with some steamed broccoli thrown in, what with the proliferation of snot we have seen in recent months.

This is an incredibly easy and delicious recipe, and can be made in advance as it stores well.

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Ingredients

250g wild garlic leaves (I also pick the buds and flowers, which are delicious and look beautiful scattered through pasta)
125g roasted hazelnuts with skins on (walnuts also work beautifully or a mix of the two, and you can use peeled blanched nuts but you’ll get a subtler flavour)
50g parmigiano-reggiano or pecorino, grated
50ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra
Sea salt and freshly milled black pepper to taste

Makes enough to fill a 250g jar and will store in the fridge for a week or so

Method

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Pick, wash and dry your wild garlic.  Remove the primary veins and stalks, and keep the leaves.  (Remove the primary veins and stalks by splitting apart the leaves – I do this to achieve a smooth pesto without any stringy bits.)

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Put the wild garlic leaves into a mixer, along with the roasted hazelnuts and grated parmesan cheese.

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Blend until you have a smooth but still slightly coarse paste and then, whilst blending, pour in the olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Use immediately, stirred into freshly cooked linguine, spaghetti or other pasta…

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… and if there’s any left over store in the fridge for up to a week in a air-tight container covered with a splash more oil.

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For the last two months, the mother-in-law’s psychotherapist boyfriend has been living with us.  Until now.  It was only ever going to be temporary but he moved out early one morning after a late-night bust-up.  (If you could call arguing with a psychotherapist a bust-up.)

He’s gone to stay with another therapist.  I’m sure they’ll talk a lot.  But he’s left Sid – the goldfish – here, swimming melancholically and forgetfully around his chipped glass world.  The children are curious; overzealous, really.  Zippy recently told Sid that she’d like to eat him.  She had just fed him, so I suppose she’s working her way up to a small-holding.  I informed her that Sid, like the fish in the mother-in-law’s pond, are ornamental – “only for looking at and talking to” – although if I had it my way, I’d free them all, as there’s nothing more disconcerting than watching a majestic, shimmering creature traveling aimlessly around a very, very small circle.

It rained this afternoon, so to busy myself and the kids we painted a pillowcase (we’re making a flag, not auspiciously decorating the psychotherapist’s ex-bed linen) and then made some kick-ass popcorn.  This is a family-friendly snack to end all snacks: moreish beyond belief and not unhealthy.  In fact, it’s actually nutritious if you have the right ingredients (by which I mean no added salt or sugar).  Here’s why…

Popping corn is a 100% wholegrain meaning it’s naturally high is dietary fibre.  It’s also low in fat, sugar- and salt-free, and high in calcium, iron, phosphorous, zinc, niacin, riboflavin and polyphenols (antioxidants that help prevent heart disease and some cancers).  Peanut butter (and other nut butters) add to the nutritional benefits as it provides protein, vitamins B3 and E, magnesium, folate and another antioxidant in the shape of p-coumaric acid.  And Walter C. Willet, the Professor of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, has this to say about the brown, sticky stuff: “Unsalted peanut butter, with 5 milligrams of sodium, has a terrific potassium-to-sodium ratio… Over the years, numerous studies have shown that people who regularly include nuts or peanut butter in their diets are less likely to develop heart disease or type 2 diabetes than those who rarely eat nuts.

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Maple syrup is just scrummy.  Absolutely the best thing that trees have produced since oxygen, wood, paper, coal, fruit and homes for small creatures.  Gosh, trees are fricking awesome.  Anyway, back to maple syrup… Yes, it consists primarily of sucrose but it also contains lots of potassium, zinc and manganese, and compared to honey, has 15 times more calcium and a tenth of the sodium.  And again, like popping corn, scientists have recently discovered that maple syrup consists of natural antioxidants phenol compounds that block two carbohydrate-hydrolyzing enzymes that contribute to type 2 diabetes.  This included five new compounds that have never before been detected in nature.  In your face, table sugar!

Unlike the highly-saturated fatty coconut oil used in commercial food processes, raw virgin coconut oil is composed mainly of medium-chain triglycerides and is naturally saturated and free from trans-fatty acids.  Made using fresh coconuts that have had their oil pressed out of them and then simply filtered, it is unbleached and unpasteurised.  It’s incredibly heat-stable, meaning that it suits frying and other methods of cooking at high temperatures.

This recipe takes about 10 minutes to prepare from start to finish, and makes a big enough bowl of popcorn for a family of 4

Ingredients

75g popping corn
3 tablespoons smooth or crunchy peanut butter (allowing a little more for crunchy) or other nut butter, no added salt or sugar ideally
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons raw virgin coconut oil
1/4-3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (depending on how hot you like your munchies)
A sprinkling of sea-salt if required

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Method

Heat a heavy-bottomed pan and add 1 tablespoon of the coconut oil.  Add the corn kernels and cover tightly with a lid.  Shake the pan continuously – holding the handle on the lid as you do so – as this helps to prevent the kernels from catching at the bottom and encourages popping.   You will start to hear the corn pop and then eventually slow down to a halt.  This process takes about 5 minutes.

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Transfer your popcorn into a mixing bowl and remove any unpopped kernels.

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Using the same pan, heat your peanut butter and remaining tablespoon of coconut oil over a low heat until it melts down a little.  Add the maple syrup and cayenne pepper, stirring off the heat, so that it forms a paste.  Immediately pour the mix onto your popcorn, working through carefully with a spatula or wooden spoon until it’s all coated.

Tip the popcorn onto a non-stick baking tray and spread out the pieces to separate them using your fingers.  Sprinkle on some good quality sea salt, like Maldon, if you’re using.  Allow to cool and enjoy immediately!

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This popcorn will store for a good few days in an airtight container, if it survives that long!

Alternative flavour: Za’atar & Olive Oil Popcorn
Make your popcorn in very much the same way but drizzle on some extra virgin olive oil and a good sprinkle of za’atar and sea salt before serving.

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Every Wednesday, the mother-in-law welcomes a meditation group into her home. This small, quiet gathering of mostly women centres itself in the living room of the house bringing with it a humming, wombish equanimity that soothes the middle of the week, when the infant residents are peaking in their puissance and my maternal stability threatens a wobble.

One of the abhyasis (practicants) is Edna, a lovely Israeli woman who runs Edna’s Kitchen, a local food company making incredible, authentic middle eastern food. She recently gave us a pot of her beetroot hummus to sample, which was so utterly moreish I just, well, had to make more.

If we were to talk about food in terms of fashion, hummus would probably be placed somewhere alongside the Converse hi top. Outside their natural habitat (the Middle East/the basket ball court) they’ve been pop cult since the 1970s and have, in recent years, become so prolifically and commercially manufactured that everyone has eaten it and worn a pair, probably at the same time.

Beetroot isn’t as trendy as kimchi or a pair of McQueen ‘bumsters’ (ok, so my knowledge of haute couture stopped somewhere around 1996) but it’s definitely not as common as sliced white or a Burberry umbrella. It’s also an amazingly versatile ingredient (try making beetroot and chocolate brownies, they’re bloody gorgeous) and incredibly healthful.

Beetroot provides a rich source of strong antioxidants and nutrients, including magnesium, potassium, Vitamin C and sodium. It also contains betaine (which also gives it its crimson colour), a compound vital to cardiovascular health in that it reduces the concentration of homocysteine, a naturally occurring but harmful amino acid cysteine which contributes to the onset of heart disease and strokes. Recent studies have shown that it also helps to reduce blood pressure and increase stamina and performance (Lance, you should have hit the beets), and that betaine may protect against liver disease caused by alcohol abuse, protein deficiency or diabetes. Interestingly, beetroot has been used since the Middle Ages to treat illnesses of the blood. You definitely want to be eating this stuff.

It’s also worth noting that beetroot is cheap as chips and environmentally friendly to boot – it’s best-suited to northern European climates, so perfect for British soil, and rarely needs treatment with pesticides. This red orb can do no wrong.

A super-quick and easy-peasy recipe (if you have a food processor), this spiced beetroot hummus is heavenly with fresh pitta (here’s my recipe for that). Although today I had mine slathered on rye with some home-cured salt beef brisket. To. Die. For.

Ingredients

300g raw beetroot or around 250g ready-cooked beetroot (in water NOT vinegar/brine)
3 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste)
1 400g can of chickpeas, drained (260g drained)
Juice of 2 lemons
3 large cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon dried coriander
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper

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Method

If using raw beetroot, wash before cooking and then cover with cold water in a saucepan. (It’s not necessary to peel the beetroot.) Bring to the boil and then simmer until tender (around 1 hour depending on the size of the beetroot). Drain and leave to cool slightly before handling so you can peel the skin; it should just come off under some cold running water.

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Once cooled, roughly chop up the beetroot and place in the food processor with the tahini, drained chickpeas, lemon juice and crushed garlic. Flick the switch and blend to a consistency that you are happy with (I like my hummus smooth). You should have a beautiful, light crimson-coloured paste.

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In a heavy-bottomed frying pan, heat the olive oil and then add the sesame seeds, cumin seeds and coriander. Fry, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, for no more than 2 minutes making sure that the seeds don’t catch and burn. Remove from heat and add about two-thirds of this oily seed mix to the blender, along with some freshly-milled black pepper and salt (if you use). Whiz up again for a moment.

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Spoon the hummus out into a dish and put the last third of the oily spice mix on the top. Eat.

The hummus should store for a good few days in the fridge, unless you’re my family and it goes in a few minutes.


Glossary

Kimchi – snazzy sauerkraut (or what they call fermented cabbage in Korea); as seen (albeit as Choucroute) in The Independent’s Ten Ingredients for 2013
McQueen Bumsters – what people aspired to wear when I went to the London College of Fashion for a TERM (see here)

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orange_bay_jelly5This recipe was inspired by one of my favourite cookbooks, ‘A Year in My Kitchen’ by Skye Gyngell. It’s a beautiful book in every sense of the word – the recipes, the writing and the photography.

Skye Gyngell’s recipe is for blood orange and rosemary jelly. I make mine with other sweet orange varieties (like navel or valencia) which are readily available, but I have also used blood oranges when in season. I replace the rosemary with fresh bay leaves (we have numerous bay trees growing in our garden – they are prolific multipliers) and find that they add a lovely bittersweet floral scent and an ever so delicate flavour to the tangy orange. You can use dried bay if you can’t get hold of fresh leaves but use less as they have a more concentrated flavour, as with all dried herbs.

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My recipe uses considerably less sugar than most others – just 2 tablespoons – so it’s relatively child-friendly for a dessert, especially for a jelly. Blood oranges can be more tart than other types of sweet oranges as they contain hints of raspberry in their flavour profile. So when using the sanguiferous variety you could up the sugar content of my recipe if you want to (Skye Gyngell recommends 100g of caster sugar for 600ml of blood orange juice).

This is an incredibly easy and quick recipe, and looks beautiful on the plate – meaning it’s perfect for children to help make or a cute little number to put together for a grown-up feast. The jelly is best served on the day it’s made but will happily sit in the fridge overnight to be gobbled up for lunch the next day.

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Also, it’s worth noting that I personally use vegetarian gelatine in the form of agar agar although my recipe denotes amounts for agar-agar, leaf and powdered gelatines. Agar agar is a mixture of complex carbohydrates (rather than animal proteins) and minerals derived from gelidium seaweed species of Red Sea algae. It gives you a more set and chewy jelly compared to the silky, melt-in-the-mouth jellies you get from using gelatine. (Find out more about agar agar at this great site). However, do refer to the instructions on all vegetarian, leaf (or sheet) or powdered gelatine packets as strength differs from product to product.

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Serves 4

Ingredients

500ml freshly squeezed orange juice (I use navels, Valencias or blood oranges, depending on availability) plus a little extra for serving (about 8 oranges worth, depending on their size)
1 orange for serving
2 tablespoons caster sugar (I used golden)
3 fresh bay leaves (or 1 dried bay leaf)
1.5 teaspoons of agar agar or 3 sheets of medium-strength leaf gelatine or an 11g sachet of powdered gelatine
Sunflower oil for greasing moulds
Individual pudding/jelly moulds or a muffin tray (this is what I use and it makes 4 perfect little jellies!)

Method

Lightly crush your bay leaves (or bay leaf, if using dried) between your fingers to release their flavour and scent, which will infuse the jelly. Add the bay to a saucepan and pour on the orange juice and sugar. Place the pan over a gentle heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.

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Whilst your pan is heating, and if using leaf gelatine, soak the gelatine sheets in a bowl of cold water for 5 minutes. Then remove from water and squeeze out excess liquid. If using powdered gelatine follow the packet instructions for use. If using agar agar, soak in cold water and remove after 5 minutes but then add to the saucepan and boil together with the juice, sugar and bay for another five minutes – this activates the setting agents in the agar (gelatine has a lower setting temperature so you never add gelatine to liquid if it is still boiling).

Once your juice has come to the boil, remove from the heat and add the gelatine (if you’re using agar agar skip this step as you have already added your setting agent). Stir to ensure the gelatine has completely dissolved.

Then, using a sieve, strain the juice into a jug to remove the bay leaves and pith.

Using a little oil, wipe round your moulds before pouring in the warm liquid. Set aside to cool completely and then pop in the fridge for a couple of hours to set.

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When ready to serve (ideally on the day you make them), briskly dip the bottom of the mould (or muffin tray) in warm water and run a palette knife around the edge of the jelly to dislodge. Squeeze a little juice and place a slice or two of orange (peel and pith removed) on each plate, and complete with your little wobbly jelly balanced atop.

Empanadillas_1Empanadillas are simply delicious, crescent-shaped little pies that are traditionally filled with fish or meat and a base of tomato, garlic and onion sauce.  Hailing from medieval Spain (and before that probably coming from the east via the Indian samosa), the empanada is the people’s snack of much of Southern Europe and Latin America.  Its name derives from the Spanish verb empanar ~ to coat in bread (I love the Spanish.  But then I’d love anyone who had a verb for coating in bread), and it disguises itself across the world going by pseudonyms like cornish pasty, borek, kibbeh, roti, knish, stromboli and calzone.  But the basis is much the same: something scrummy wrapped in bread.

This recipe for empanadillas is borrowed and bent from Claudia Roden’s magnificent new tome, ‘The Food of Spain‘.  I am eternally in awe of Claudia Roden and her service to food.  My recipe differs in that I use tinned mackerel (instead of tinned tuna) with the addition of smoked paprika to make use of an incredibly underrated fish and a superb, traditional Spanish spice to enhance the flavours of the sauce and vegetables.  I also use spelt flour (or farro, as it is known in Italy where it is traditionally used to make pizza bases) instead of plain flour, as it’s more nutritious than plain wheat flour (higher in protein, fibre and vitamins and minerals) and has a slightly nutty taste that adds depth to the rich olive oil pastry.

Mackerel is a star both in terms of taste and for its sustainability status.  Its rich, earthy flavour holds its own against acid-tomato sauces (especially this one flavoured with smoked paprika and olives) and, compared to tuna and salmon (which are hugely over-fished species mostly caught in dubious, polluting and damaging ways), it is low in the food chain, fast growing, sustainably-caught and incredibly good for you (you know, full of those essential omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA).  I use tinned mackerel (in olive oil, if you’re asking) for this recipe because, well, it’s so darn good and very affordable.

Like ordinary paprika, smoked paprika is made from the ground, dried fruits of sweet (or chilli) red peppers.  However, it is then smoked over oak fires to create its supremely deep flavour and scent, typical of the Western region of Extremadura in Spain where it has been produced since the 1500s.

These empanadillas are relatively easy to make and are perfect warm from the oven or cold as a snack.

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Ingredients


The Pastry
125ml olive oil, plus extra for greasing
125ml warm water
1/2 teaspoon salt
375g spelt flour
2 egg yolks, beaten

The Filling
1 red pepper
2 tablespoons of sweetcorn (either tinned or cooked from frozen)
1/2 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tablespoons of olive oil
250g tomatoes, peeled and chopped
125g tinned mackerel, drained and flaked between your fingers
A handful of black and/or green olives, stones removed and chopped into pieces
2 tablespoons of chopped coriander and/or parsley
Sea salt and cracked black pepper

Makes around 20 empanadillas

Method

Preheat your oven to 350°F / 180°C / gas mark 4.

Make the pastry by mixing the oil, water and salt in a bowl with a fork.  Slowly add the flour, initially mixing with the fork to make a soft, pliable dough.  Then continue to work the pastry using your hands, before kneading briefly.  The dough should be nice and smooth.

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You can use the dough straight away or keep it, according to Claudia Roden, wrapped in cling film and at room temperature (not in a fridge) for as long as a day.

Now make the filling.  Grill (or char over a naked gas flame) the red pepper, turning every five minutes or so, until it is blackened and soft, and so that the skin may be peeled off.  Remove and discard the seeds, and chop the soft pepper into small cubes.

Next heat a large frying pan and cook the onion in the olive oil over a low heat, stirring regularly, until it is soft and translucent.  Add the garlic, smoked paprika and chopped tomatoes, and turn the heat up a bit, cooking this mixture until the liquid has evaporated and you are left with a thick sauce.  (This will take around 10 minutes.)  Now add the mackerel, olives, sweetcorn, chopped parsley/coriander, and season with salt and pepper.  Stir together well and remove from the heat to cool.

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Now make the empanadillas.  Divide your pastry dough into 4 pieces and do the following steps one batch at a time:

Roll each piece out thinly.  You will not need to flour the surface as the dough is very oily and will not stick.  Using a 10cm round pastry cutter, cut out circles of dough, making sure to reuse offcuts by rolling them back into balls, rolling them out thinly with the pin and cutting more rounds.  The dough is quite elastic so gently roll the pastry circles a little if you feel they have snapped back a bit and become too small, not worrying if the circle becomes a little malformed!

Brush the edge of each circle with the beaten egg yolk (you can just use your finger for this) and – I find picking up the round of pastry and doing the next step in the palm of my hand is easiest – put a generous dollop of filling into the middle before folding the circle in half to make a half-moon shaped pie.  Nip the edges together using your fingers, and then press down along the edge with a fork so that the pie has little pronged marks undulating their way around.  Do this until you have used up the pastry and filling.

Finally place the empanadillas on a baking sheet lined with lightly oiled tin foil, and brush the tops of each pie with the remaining egg yolk mixed with a little water.  Bake in the oven for around 30 minutes or until golden.

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Every week, the kids and I make a journey to this fantastic little organic fruit and veg wholesaler just behind the city train station.  Reuben falls asleep in the car listening to Radio 3’s morning lull of sonatas and symphonies, and stays that way whilst his sister bounds around the warehouse with an empty fruit box filling it up with delights of her choice.  This might be illegal (that I leave my son asleep in the car – not the bit about a human under 55 years old being exposed to Radio 3) but I park on the forecourt and watch him sleep as I shop.  Plus, you must never wake a sleeping baby.  Especially when buying aubergines.

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Aside from dropping my car keys down the toilet at said wholesaler (with her little brother still asleep in a LOCKED car), this week’s excursion saw Zippy choosing a winter squash.  She pulled out a darling little Orange Minikin, rolled it into her box, and then began her usual magpie activity of sneaking around the back of a giant box of cherry tomatoes before crouching down, nymph-like, to pop the little jewel-like fruits into her mouth.  Sadly, it is only my child who appears to partake in (or rather had INVENTED) this activity, whilst the other small people who accompany their grown-ups to the store play games like ‘holding hands’ and the ever-so-popular ‘helping’.  But, lucky for me, Ian (the grocer) turns a blind eye and I don’t have to embarrassingly count stalks before paying.  Every time.

The other night we cooked the squash.  I peeled and deseeded it, chopped it up, and roasted it simply in olive oil with a little sage (as it can be overpowering) and a generous couple of heaped teaspoons of one of my favourite spices, sumac.  I discovered sumac when living in the glorious north east London village of Stoke Newington.  Stokie – as it is affectionally known by the locals – has an enormous Turkish community and therefore a whole mezze of ocakbasis in which to indulge one’s appetite for grilled meats, vegetables and breads. Anyway, this deep-red and tangy-tasting spice is made from the crushed berries (or drupes) of the sumac shrub, and is incredibly popular in the middle east to add sharp lemon notes to a variety of dishes, including hummus, salads, kebabs and rice.

As the chill of the winter continues to draw on, I fancied a warming pasta and pulled out a box of orzo from the cupboard.  (Orzo is a dinky grain-like pasta – meaning ‘barley’ in Italian, they also call it ‘big rice’ – and is just scrumptious in soups, salads and as a substitute for rice in risotto.)  We had some feta in the fridge and, well, that’s about all we needed to make this very simple and very delicious dish.

Ingredients

A small squash (a butternut would work well here)
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
2 teaspoon sumac
Sea salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
250g orzo pasta (macaroni would suffice but orzo is infinitely better)
100g feta cheese (or any soft goats cheese will do)
1 tbsp coriander or parsley (or both), roughly chopped

Method

Preheat your oven to 350°F / 180°C / gas mark 4 and then peel, deseed and cube your squash.  Place the squash in a baking dish and cover with the sage, sumac, olive oil, a good pinch of sea salt and a couple of cracks of freshly-milled black pepper.  Stir the ingredients together (I used my hands, they’re much more effective) and put in the oven for 30 minutes – or until soft and slightly caramelised – checking and turning with a spoon every now and then.

In the meantime, bring a big pot of water to the boil on the stove.  When the water bubbles, add a pinch of salt followed by the orzo and cook until tender (between 7-9 minutes).  Whilst you cook the pasta, chop your herbs.  Once the pasta’s cooked, leave draining whilst you complete the dish.

Once you have removed the squash from the oven add the tomato puree and lightly mash into the squash with a fork – this will be your pasta ‘sauce’.  Add the orzo and freshly chopped herbs to this mix, and transfer to a serving dish.  Finish by crumbling the feta cheese between your fingers and sprinkling over the pasta.

Glossary:
Orange Minikin – this nice little site tells you more about pumpkins
Ocakbasis – Turkish grill houses

Tonight the mother-in-law came home to discover the kitchen table laden with parsnip peelings, apple skins and egg shells. In the run up to Chanukah, I’d been experimenting with the humble latke. In truth, this scrumptious Jewish potato pancake – traditionally made combining grated potato and egg – doesn’t need meddling with. I mean it has been around for, like, a few hundred years. But I’d run out of potatoes.

Customarily devoured over Chanukah (as the oil they are fried in is symbolic of the miracle of the ever-lasting oil that burnt in the Second Temple in ancient Jerusalem), the latke is, in short, a sort of eggy rösti for those of you who are more au fait with Scandanavian cuisine. Imagine a bunch of chips getting together for an orgy in a non-stick pan… THAT is a latke. And anything that can be eaten with soured cream or apple sauce or salt beef gets a thumbs up in my book.

Prior to the introduction of the potato to Europe in the late sixteenth century, latkes were made using whatever vegetables, legumes, flours and cheeses were locally available to the Jewish communities at that time. In some communities, this still rings true. Being a fan of the local and seasonal club, I like the idea of employing the same ethos when making my latkes; as in tonight’s case, whatever was readily available in our larder during the five o’clock rush to get the offspring’s dinner on the table. (Or in Reuben’s case, on the floor. But he’ll get there.)

Along with the gorgeous Burford Brown eggs that I covet so, I had some muddy parsnips and russet apples at my disposal. I wanted to add a spice to the mix to perfume the latkes, so I scattered some fennel seeds into the raw egg seeing that both aniseed fennel and creamy parsnip are members of the same apiaceae (goodness knows how you pronounce that one) or carrot family (for us commoners).

After taking what seemed like 2 hours to work out how to affix the grater attachment to the mother-in-law’s food-processor (I probably would have saved time – although maybe not a finger – using the hand-grater), I whizzed up three parsnips and two apples (both peeled), and stirred these raw sticks into a bowl of two beaten eggs. After adding a couple of teaspoons of fennel seeds, a good twist of black pepper and a sprinkling of sea salt, I wet my hands and turned palmfuls of the mixture into flat patties, which were then browned (on both sides) in a hot pan of groundnut oil.

The latkes were delicious: a nice balance of sweet parsnip, tart apple and aniseed fennel. But I think they can be improved… so hold out for the next latke installment before the festivities begin.

Glossary
:
Chanukah – the Jewish festival of light. Find out more here
Chips
– french fries for you American folks

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