Occasionally I manage to grow some good cauliflowers, and when I do I appreciate these two simple recipes. I call both of them “cauliflower a la Grecque” – my versions of French versions of real Greek cooking. They do actually taste very good even though they may not be strictly authentic.
Part of the trick of cooking cauliflower is to catch them just as they soften, but before they go mushy. Your nose can help here. You get to recognize the the change of smell when they are done.
A cauliflower, broken into florets
Olive oil: two measures
Lemon juice: one measure
Prepare a dressing in a bowl by whisking together the olive oil and lemon juice – just enough for the amount of cauli you have. Steam the cauliflower in a covered pan with just a bit of water until it softens, and drain it. Add the florets to the bowl and gently mix with the dressing. Serve either warm or cold.
Cauliflower in Tomato Sauce
A cauliflower, broken into florets
I like to make enough tomato sauce to have some left over for dishes like this. Tomato sauce made with onions, garlic and oregano works well, but other sorts are good too. Just add the florets to a pan with enough sauce to cover them when you mix them together. You may need to water the sauce down a bit to stop it sticking and burning. Cover the pan and steam until the cauliflower is just done. Serve hot.
Jenny Ward brought this amazing Persian dish to one of our autumn shows, where it was quickly polished off. Not only is it delicious, but it also uses up lots of courgettes – just the sort of recipe we need!
500g of courgettes – in 5mm slices
1 small onion, finely chopped
Handful of dill and parsley, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, grated
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
4 tbsp olive oil
Fry the onions in 2tbsp olive oil until soft. Remove from the pan. Then fry the courgettes in batches until coloured and remove from the pan. Add more oil if needed. Whisk the eggs and milk in a bowl, then add the rest of the ingredients. Pour the mixture into the pan, and cook on a low light. Finish off under the grill to brown the top.
An Indian recipe for spinach, this works with cabbage or kale, too.
I learned this wonderful way of cooking spinach so long ago I almost forgot where it came from. I think it was a Sikh friend who showed it to me, but it doesn’t just go with Indian cooking – and it works with other greens besides spinach. I like it with cabbage, and even kale sometimes. This should be enough for two people who really like their greens.
200 g or 300 g spinach
knob of ghee or else cooking oil and a knob of butter
about 2cm of fresh ginger root, grated
clove of garlic, pressed or chopped fine.
Wash the spinach well and drain. Heat the ghee (or oil and butter) with the garlic and ginger in a pan until it starts to sizzle. Then throw in the spinach, still wet, and cover the pan. Cook gently, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is soft and smells delicious. With other greens you may need to add just a bit of water to stop it burning.
Jerusalem Artichokes are related to sunflowers so will grow tall and eventually have small yellow flowers. The sprouts are brittle so take care not to break the growing tip when planting them. Its best to harvest them all in the autumn or over winter, and then replant each year – otherwise they get very congested.
They are delicious roasted, and I like them as soup. Here is a simple recipe:
Peel the artichokes using a vegetable peeler or a teaspoon, this is not absolutely necessary but makes a better coloured soup.
Fry gently with a couple of cloves of garlic in some oil or butter. Don’t let it burn.
After a few minutes, add enough water to cover and cook with a lid on for about 20 minutes until the artichokes are soft.
Add a handful of parsley and liquidise to a smooth texture. I usually add milk to this, I’m going to try oat milk next time.
JAs contain inulin, a starch which encourages healthy gut bacteria but they can make you pretty windy, you have been warned!!
I struggle to find things that work on my plot, but French beans Borlotti beans are my favourite…
I thought I would stick my oar in and recommend growing borlotti beans. I struggle to find things that work on my plot and have more failures than successes, but French beans and recently, borlotti beans are my favourite and make me happy!
Growing borlotti beans turn into lovely purple pods that start to look dried out at the end of summer and that’s when I pick them. Simmer the beans in water with a bay leaf, rosemary and garlic for about 30 mins, then add salt and let stand for 10 mins. Drain, add some olive oil and lemon juice and eat. They are creamy and tasty and you can eat them in salads, as a side dish or add them to a stew, whatever you fancy. So nice and so easy.
Frijoles refritos are easy to make, and Borlotti beans work really well.
Refried beans (frijoles refritos) go with lots of Mexican or Tex/Mex dishes, like quesadillas, huevos rancheros, burritos, or as a dip for tortilla chips. They turn out to be easy to make, and the Borlotti beans that many of us grow work especially well.
One cup of dried beans makes two or three cups of frijoles refritos, depending on how soft you want it.
one cup of dried beans
about 60ml (quarter cup) of oil or lard
one onion, finely chopped
two or three cloves of finely minced garlic
Soak and cook the beans as usual. Drain them, but save the cooking water separately.
In a heavy frying pan, sauté the onions in the oil until they start to brown. Add the garlic, and sauté a bit longer.
Add a big spoonful of the beans, and mash them in well with the onions. Fry them for a while, then add some more beans and mash them in with the rest. Continue until all the beans are fried. This process causes a reaction between the starches and proteins in the beans (a Maillard reaction, if you want to know) which brings out the special flavour.
Now add a bit of the cooking water at a time, mashing it in as you go, until you get the right consistency. Make it a bit sloppier, actually, because they set firmer once they cool. I like to make the dip version quite soft.
Salt the mixture to taste. Beans stand quite a bit of salt sometimes. Keep tasting as you go.
A Japanese favourite Okonomiyaki is a cabbage ‘pancake’.
A Japanese favourite Okonomiyaki is a cabbage ‘pancake’. It’s really delicious and easy to make. This recipe is an Anglo-Japanese version. Whilst it’s not totally authentic, because it uses easily accessible ingredients, it’s still close to the original, and just as tasty.
It is not so hard to cook dried beans on your stove top.
Here is the method of cooking dried beans which I have refined over many years. It is easy, and it gets rid of the indigestible substances that give beans such a bad reputation. You don’t need any special equipment like pressure cookers – it works well in a covered pan on your stove top. In fact, I prefer doing it this way because I can monitor when they are done more easily.
Enough for 2 or 3 people, and combines well with one tin of tomatoes:
One cup of dried beans
Soak the beans overnight in plenty of water. Ok, you do have to think ahead a little. If you have to leave them a second day, just drain them and give them fresh water until you are ready to cook. Remember, they will swell to more than twice their original volume. When you are ready to cook, drain the beans. Bring a pan of water to the boil, and tip in the beans. Get them boiling again, and boil for a further two or three minutes. Drain again and discard the water. This gets rid of most of indigestible stuff without losing the flavour.
Now cover the beans in new water and simmer with a lid on the pan until they are done. Keep an eye on them so they don’t dry out and burn. And how do you know when they are done? Lift a few beans out on a wooden spoon and blow on them. If the skins start to split and peel back they are about ready. Let a couple cool down and taste them. Repeat until you are satisfied. If the skins split in the pan they are a bit over done, but it is not a disaster. Near the end of the cooking, adjust the salt to taste. Salting them at the beginning is supposed to slow down the cooking, but I don’t know if this is really true. As a guide, our beautiful white Aztec beans (a kind of runner bean, really) take about 20 minutes. Borlottis take 30 or 40, and red kidney beans a bit longer. Beans that have been stored for a long time take longer to cook.
Now drain them, and carry on with whatever recipe you are using.
A beetroot recipe which is both different and delicious.
At certain times of year allotments offer an embarrassment of riches for us growers. Finding new and exciting ways of cooking our favourite vegetables can be as challenging as keeping the couch grass at bay.
Here’s a beetroot recipe which is both different and delicious. Easy to make, but impressive enough to garner you plaudits from the family, it’s a great way to use up some of your beetroot harvest.
Thanks to The Guardian’s 10 best beetroot recipes 23rd Feb 2013: Original recipe by The Fabulous Baker Brothers: Glorious British Grub by Tom Herbert and Henry Herbert (Headline)
75g golden caster sugar
40g of butter
A splash of red wine vinegar
1 tsp of honey
7 thyme sprigs
4 fresh beetroot
250g of puff pastry (ready-made life’s too short to make puff pastry!)
4 slices of goats cheese
salt & pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Place a smallish, heavy, oven safe frying pan over a medium heat. Add the sugar to the pan and stir till it dissolves, then add a big pinch of salt, all the butter and a splash of red wine vinegar. Keep stirring till it has turned mahogany brown. Take care not to let the sugar burn.
2. Add 1tsb of honey to the pan. Pick the thyme leaves from the stalks and add them too.
3. Cut the cooked beetroot into nice fat slices and carefully (so you don’t burn your fingers) arrange the slices on top of the caramel to fill the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry so it’s big enough to cover the beetroot, then place it on top, tucking the edges down into the pan. Put the whole lot in the oven for 30mins or until the pastry is golden brown.
5. Wearing oven gloves, place an upturned plate over the frying pan (it should be bigger than the pan) and, holding the two together, flip the lot over. Leave it for 30 seconds to let the caramel fall from the pan onto the plate, then slowly lift the pan.
6. Serve by the wedge while still warm, with a disk of cheese on top and, if you fancy, a drizzle of honey.
An old French recipe. Don’t be fooled by the name; it’s actually a cake.
Living in England we are so lucky to be able to enjoy a regular harvest of apples in a vast array of different varieties. The abundant apple trees at the allotment first deliver a delicate beauty in spring, when festooned with fragrant blossom. Then in the autumn months we can happily enjoy a bountiful harvest of sweet, juicy apples.
Although I have tried to select my apple varieties to ensure they store well it’s inevitable that I will have to freeze some to use in the coming months. At home we have a production line going to core, peel and slice the apples, soak them in lemon water and freeze them, thereby keeping them fresh and delicious.
One of the reasons we do this religiously is because I have discovered an amazing apple cake recipe which, once the freezer is full of apples, we can enjoy until supplies run out.
This is an old French recipe for apple biscuit, don’t be fooled by the name, it’s actually a cake. Biscuit was originally a dough cooked twice, (bis for twice, cuit for cooked). The biscuit was very hard so it would keep for months, a staple food for sailors. The original ‘biscuit’ then developed into meaning ‘a light cake’, a staple for baking. Today it means a soft as well as a dry cake. This apple biscuit is soft and light and showcases the apples to perfection.
The recipe is from a very old cookbook I have called The Heritage of French Cooking by The Scotto Sisters and Annie Hubert Bare (Limited Editions Booktitles).
4 large apples, I use dessert apples.
A knob of butter
2 tablespoons of brandy (calvados is great but any brandy will do)
6 1/2 oz / 200g plain flour
3 tablespoons of cornflour
6oz/ 185g caster sugar
pinch of salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 tsps baking powder
3fl oz / 90mls orange juice
5fl oz / 155mls groundnut oil
45g of flaked almonds
1. Preheat the oven to 350f / 180C/ gas 4. Grease a 20cms cake mound.
2. Peel, core and chop the apples into thin slices. Melt the butter in a large frying pan and add the apples. (I add mine straight from the freezer if using pre-frozen apples). Fry for 2 mins on each side or until the liquid has evaporated and the apples are golden but dry looking. If using brandy pour the brandy over the apples and flambé. Shake the pan till the flambé dies down. Put the apples onto a plate to cool down.
2. In a bowl combine the flour, cornstarch, sugar, salt, cinnamon, vanilla essence, baking powder, orange juice, oil and eggs. Mix to a smooth batter.
3. Pour one third of the batter into the cake mould. Arrange half the apples on top to completely cover the batter. Cover the apples with half of the remaining batter. Arrange the remaining apples* on top and finally cover with the left over batter.
4. Sprinkle the flaked almonds on top of the cake and bake in the oven for 55mins. Once cooked let the cake cool for 5mins then unmold and serve warm, or at room temperature, on its own or with fresh cream.
*for an alternative version I substitute the top layer of apples for a layer of blackberries which is equally as delicious. If using frozen blackberries these should be de-frosted before use and the excess liquid drained off to prevent the cake becoming too wet.