Moroccan parsnip soupThis week brings the first of this season’s parsnips which for me always mean autumn. A member of the carrot family, they are sweet with a gorgeous earthiness so they work really well with things like butter, garlic, parsley, potatoes, honey, curry, cinnamon and nutmeg. They can be boiled, pureed, mashed and deep-fried but I think roasting really brings up their lovely flavour and it really couldn’t be an easier way to go. Simply peel and cut them into even-sized chunks then heat some olive oil in a roasting tin. Toss in the parsnips and roast for about 45 minutes. As you’d expect, these are brilliant with an roast dinner but you can also use them with veggie meals like say, a spiced (try cumin, chilli and garlic)  cous cous. My recipe this week is for a warming Moroccan style soup with cumin seeds, Harissa and lots of garlic (great for fighting oncoming colds as the weather starts to turn wintery). Harissa, if you haven’t had it before, is a thick spicy Moroccan chilli paste you get in Middle Eastern shops and good delis. This soup has heat but won’t blow your head off. We all had it for dinner last night and the kids ate it quite happily. If it’s more fire you’re after just add more Harissa.

Moroccan style soup with parsnips, chickpeas and Harissa served with garlic scented toasted breadcrumbs

You’ll need:

1 medium onion

Olive oil

2 medium carrots (roughly 200gr)

2 medium parsnips (roughly 250-300gr)

2 bay leaves 5 cloves garlic roughly chopped

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

2L vegetable stock (Marigold as always unless you make your own)

1 tin chickpeas Harrissa To garnish;

A handful breadcrumbs

1 clove garlic

Olive oil

Begin by chopping the onion then throw it into a pot with a generous dash of olive oil. Sauté over a lowish heat and get on with dicing the carrots and parsnips. Throw these into the pot along with the bay leaves. Add a little more olive oil if you think things might burn,  then cook everything for about 5 minutes.  Add the  garlic and cumin seeds. Keep things cooking for another 5 minutes stirring well to make sure nothing burns. Add the stock, chickpeas (rinsed and drained), 2 teaspoons of Harissa paste and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to the boil then cover and cook over a low heat for 30 minutes.
Just before you serve prepare the garlic breadcrumbs – fry a clove of garlic in some olive oil over a low heat for a couple of minutes, remove the garlic and add a handful of breadcrumbs and toast until golden brown over a low heat. Sprinkle on top of the soup and serve.
Variations: Most veg works in this kind of soup,  you could throw in some diced red pepper and fresh or tinned Tomatoes would be great as well. Some fresh parsley or coriander is lovely on top too.
Have a great weekend,
Sarah

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It happens. They get left in the bowl and sudddenly it’s too late, no-one wants them. Don’t throw them out they’re are great for all kinds of things. Smoothies are an obvious and super fast approach. Yogurt, milk, a little ice if you like (I don’t) and you’re set. A lot of recipes specify a sweetener but you really don’t need one. A handful of berries, dollop of  tahini, peanut, or any other nut butter along with  also makes this very special.

At the moment the whole back to school thing has me in a spin, scrambling around trying to remember mid-afternoon snacks that tide kids (and sometimes grown-ups) over till dinner (while trying to figure out what’s actually for said dinner….) Smoothies are perfect and this one is very popular at the moment….

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Super-healthy Chocolate Banana Smoothie

You’ll need:

200ml milk

2 dollops yogurt

1 heaped tablespoon cocoa powder

2 tablespoons flaxseed oil (brilliant source of Omega 3 oils)

1 heaped tablespoon flax seed (for fibre)

1 large ripe banana

Put everything in a blender and blast til smooth. Serve cold.

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The other great way to deal with old bananas is of course banana bread. For portability muffins are a good way to go. Same mixture different mould and slightly less time in the oven. Lately I’m on a coconut buzz so instead of the usual walnuts there are coconut flakes in this recipe. To plump up the sultanas I soak them in my fav Bengal Spice tea but you can use regular or any other kind you like. These muffins (or buns if you want to make something a little more manageable sizewise) will keep for a few days in an airtight tin.

Banana and coconut muffins

You’ll need:

100gr butter room temperature

100gr moscovado sugar

150gr wholemeal flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 large eggs

2 teaspoon cinnamon

A pinch of allspice if you have it

A pinch of salt

250gr really ripe bananas

100gr flaked toasted coconut

100gr sultanas

Anything from an hour to 15 minutes before you begin put the sultanas into half a cup of tea in a pot. Bring to the boil then simmer until most of the water has evaporated. Allow to cool down while you get on with everything else.

Sieve the flour, cinnamon, allspice, baking powder and salt together and set aside. If the butter isn’t nice and soft stand it in the mixing bowl in a basin of hot water for a few minutes then cream it with the sugar til pale and fluffy. Add an egg and continue beating til fully incorporated. Add about half of the flour, beat then add the other egg, beat well then add the rest of the flour.

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Mash up the bananas and beat them into the mixture then add in the sultanas followed by three-quarters of the coconut. . Mix well then spoon into moulds and top with the rest of the toasted coconut which goes deliciously chewy in the oven.

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Bake  at Gas Mark 5/190 degrees for 30 minutes. Enjoy!

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High summer means basil and while sometimes our homegrown stuff doesn’t get enough sun to compete with its Italian cousins this year that’s not a problem – Yay!!! It’s hard to resist making pesto the first time I get basil each year(I hate the stuff in jars) so that’s what I did last night. To get over the pine-nuts costing more than gold problem, I used toasted sunflower seeds instead and they were just grand (and way more local as pine nuts usually seem to come from China which seems like a long way to me). Obviously pasta pesto makes a grand dinner in itself and it was hilarious watching not so baby (18 months already!!!!)Lee shoveling spaghetti into his mouth like a walrus last night but basil is a natural bedfellow for this season’s peaches so I couldn’t resist a salad as well.

I decided to use beet greens as a base and if you’re not familiar with these guys you’re in for a treat. You know the way beetroot is soooooooo good for you? Well, the leaves are actually better for you than the actual beets. Yes! But you have to get them fresh so use them today rather than than let them wilt as they will quite quickly. The colour is amazing – gorgeous ruby stems with dark green leaves so they make everything look fab. Throw them into any salad or juice as soon as you can – your body will thank you.

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Back to our salad – I chopped up the leaves and stems pretty finely, tossed a handful of  toasted sunflower seeds through them along with some goat’s cheese and chopped peach. The dressing was simple, olive oil and white wine vinegar (3:1) then a drizzle of honey over everything just before I served.  Delicious.

Toasted sunflower seed pesto (this will make enough for the salad which serves 2 plus a decent size bowl of pasta for one)

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You’ll need:

60gr basil

3 tablespoons sunflower seeds

2 cloves garlic roughly chopped

5 tablespoons olive oil

a generous pinch coarse salt

2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Begin by toasting the sunflower seeds till golden then set aside to cool down completely. Take the basil leaves off the stalks and put into a mortar along with the garlic, olive oil, salt and sunflower seeds. With a pestle pound  to  your desired consistency then stir in the cheese. Needless to say, normally I’d be using a hand blender for this sort of thing if I could but with this kind of quantity you don’t quite have enough to go electric so scale up if you can. Store in a jar under a layer of oil for up to 2 weeks (but it won’t last that long!)

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A salad of Beet greens, peach, goat’s cheese and pesto and toasted sunflower seeds

You’ll need:

1 Bunch beet greens

1 ripe peach

120gr goat’s cheese

2 tablespoons sunflower seeds lightly toasted

Olive Oil

White wine vinegar

Honey

A generous dollop of pesto (as above)

Finely chop the beet greens and stems then wash and dry everything. Peel and chop your peach. Combine the seeds, greens, stems, and peach. Crumble in the cheese. Lightly dress with oil and vinegar. Top with the chopped peach and a generous dollop of pesto. Finally drizzle with a little honey and serve. Summer is served. 🙂

Have a brilliant weekend,

Sarah

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This week we have more of Mick Gordon’s brilliant spring onions. In our house they’ve been working their way into pretty much everything we eat for the past few weeks – buckwheat noodles with tofu, coriander and peanuts for lunch yesterday. Another noodle salad with prawns, tons of  (Mick’s) spinach, coriander and a ponzu. rice wine vinegar and honey dressing a few nights earlier (no soy as we’d run out which I thought would be disaster but it turned out to be a blessing  as it made everything fantastically fresh and summery). Then today’s lunch of avocado with Marc Michel’s lovely lettuce, some leftover fish and yet another impromptu ponzu, honey dressing.

All I can say is, play around, don’t waste anything. Every bit can be used. Chop the green bits into any salad or use as a garnish (remember the darker the colour the better it is for you) and  the whites can be thrown into salads or minced into dressings. It goes without saying that a quiche or tart with these guys would be amazing. If you can’t bear the thought of dealing with pastry (or maybe I’m projecting) a fritatta is a good compromise as I suggested last week. Gruyere, goat’s cheese or a good cheddar are all good partners here……..

There are other ways to go……… our recent arctic temperatures had me looking for ways to get the oven on so I decided to roast up the onions and serve them with a sun-dried tomato and roasted hazelnut pesto. Yummmmmmmmmm! The pesto is beyond moreish and a cinch to make. Make a double quantity and keep in the fridge for sambos and dips. We brought a tub to Africa day yesterday and it kept everyone big and small happy.

After about 30 minutes in a hot oven the onions wilt to a soft, sweet luscious mess which is offset beautifully by the slightly spikey pesto. Serve with bread or wedges of polenta. Add some goat’s cheese and a green salad and you’ve got lunch or a light supper for two sorted.

Roasted Spring Onions with Sun-dried Tomato and toasted hazelnut pesto 

You’ll need:

1 bunch spring onions

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For the pesto

A handful toasted hazelnuts

2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 small handful parsley

1 clove garlic

A pinch of Maldon salt

Give the onions a clean then put on a baking tray, cover, drizzle with olive oil and place in a hot oven to roast for half an hour.

To make the pesto, roughly chop the garlic then blast with the other ingredients to a rough paste

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When the onions are ready, serve alongside the pesto with plenty of napkins for all the drips!

Have a brilliant week,

Sarah

Brussels sprouts with orange

So, with just a week to go I thought it would be good to get in some sprout practice. I needed some anyway. It’s been a while and I’d forgotten how good they are.  So there’s the traditional Irish approach – boil ’em up for say, 20 minutes, 40 some would argue, til they’re nice and soggy. Then, leave in the oven for about 45 minutes, or cool then microwave for 2 – 5 mins.

It’s tempting I know but I’m going to propose something a little different. Lightly steamed then tossed in a very hot pan til beginning to blacken then spritzed with orange juice and a dash of balsamic and finally, topped with crispy breadcrumbs. Very delicious and, ready in under  10  minutes.

Pan-fried Brussels sprouts with orange and a dash of Balsamic with crispy breadcrumbs

You’ll need:

400gr brussels sprouts

olive oil

1/2 orange

Balsamic vinegar

A handful breadcrumbs

Wash and prepare the sprouts. If they are big, cut them in half but if they’re small leave them as they are. Steam them for about 2 minutes until they are barely al dente. Heat a generous dash of olive oil in a large pan and when it is hot throw in the sprouts and toss until they have started to blacken on all sides.

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Squeeze the juice of the  half orange into the pan and continue tossing until it has been absorbed. Add salt and pepper then turn off the heat. Heat some olive oil in another pan and add the breadcrumbs and fry until golden. Top the sprouts with the breadcrumbs and serve.

Have a great week,

Sarah

Fennel Pasta

Fennel tends not to feature on most people’s top ten veg list. Even though it grows quite happily for us in Ireland we don’t have any tradition of cooking it so most people draw a blank (it’s famed anise aroma means it’s not the kind of veg you can throw into anything). It’s a shame because it has lots to offer.

Nutritionwise, it’s got high levels of potassium which is very good for your heart as well as a good mix of minerals like copper, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and selenium, vitamins like C and B-6 and folic acid, essential oils  anethol, estragole, and fenchone (fenchyl acetate). anethol is especially useful as it has been found to have anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. Phew!! Not bad for something that only has 31 calories per 100gr.

In the kitchen it is delicate and sweet and has that beautiful anise aroma which is brilliant for waking things up on the dinner plate especially at this time of year when the temptation to eat lots of heavy comforting food really takes over. It’s great for balancing those heavier wintery dishes – try the classic and oh so simple salad of shaved fennel with Parmesan, lemon and olive oil with baked potatoes for an easy supper that comforts but also leaves you able to walk around afterwards. Or how about a slab of chilli baked feta with a salad with this week’s red cabbage, some perfectly ripe Hass avocado, finely chopped fennel, toasted seeds and a smattering of chopped coriander? That’s tomorrow’s lunch sorted….

I think the trick with fennel is to cook it a lot or not at all. There aren’t half measures. Long slow(ish) cook renders it tender and sweet with a melt in the mouth consistency. That’s why I favour the oven. Favourite approaches are quartered or sliced with butter and lemon or for the last word in moreish try it finely sliced and layered with Parmesan and sour cream, topped with bread crumbs and baked til crispy and golden. Yum!!

Of course there isn’t always the time for that kind of cooking. Slicing it finely will get around that. For this a mandolin is your best friend. I got mine a few years ago in Arnotts and haven’t looked back. I love it!!!! In a mere 2 or 3 minutes a large bulb is reduced to a pile of wafer thin layers. A whole new level of precision. A lot of patience and a very sharp knife will do the same thing but that’s never been my strong point ….

With the fennel shaved it cooks to sweet perfection in about the same time it takes to boil pasta making it perfect for a quick dinner or supper. I pan-fry it with a little chilli til it was crispy round the edges then tossed it with toasted pine nuts, crumbled feta and a spritz of lemon juice. Very delicious but a cinch to make this dish will set you up perfectly for an evening of pre-Christmas pints. Enjoy!

Fennel Pasta ingredients

Pasta with fennel, toasted pine nuts, feta and lemon

You’ll need:

1 bulb fennel (about 350gr)

1/2 fresh red chilli finely chopped

A handful pine nuts

100gr feta

1/2 lemon

olive oil

Pasta

Put on the kettle for the pasta then shave the fennel with a mandolin or knife to the thickness of a business or loyalty card (roughly 1/2 mm). Heat some olive oil on the pan and add the fennel and chilli. Put on the pasta and heat another pan to toast the pine nuts. Add the nuts to the pan and toast until stating to turn golden then take off the heat and cool down when. Remember to keep tossing the fennel so it cooks evenly and you can also add a generous pinch of crushed Maldon. When the pasta is done, drain it and set aside. The fennel should be ready at this stage – nice and soft and turning brown and crispy round the edges. Add the pasta to the fennel along with the pine nuts. Mix well adding a little more if you think it needs it. Now add the juice of the half lemon, the feta crumbled, lots of black pepper and the parsley. Mix again and serve immediately. Enjoy x

Flat bean and cous cous salad
There were quite a few leftover flat beans after last Friday’s then last Monday’s delivery runs so we’ve been having them every which way since then. Steamed  with a drizzle of olive oil, steamed and smothered with garlic butter (nom!), raw and chopped up small and tossed into salads with toasted seeds, with noodles and Parmesan for a mega quick dinner, Asian style with ginger dressings…. All good but this week’s recipe is still one of my favourite ways to eat them – in a  cous cous salad with some pan fried chorizo, a couple of handfuls of chickpeas, a really big handful of flatleaf parsley and, optionally, some crumbled feta.  It’s a dish that makes perfect sense to me, everything complements everything else and the result is so satisfying.
Toasted cous cous salad with flat beans, chickpeas and chorizoYou’ll need:280gr-300gr flat beans (about what you have in your bag this week) topped and tailed1 cup cous cous

1 onion finely chopped

A piece of chorizo 3 inches long

1/2 tin (a large handful) chickpeas)

A bunch flat leaf parsley

Olive oil

Lemon juice

Red wine vinegar

Begin by cooking your beans. Cut them in three so you have pieces about an inch and a half long. Drop into boiling water and cook until tender. Drain, rinse under cold water and set aside.

Prepare 1 cup of cous cous. My method involves toasting the grains on a dry (i.e.. no oil) frying pan over a medium heat and this gives them a lovely nutty flavour which adds to your final dish. When they start to turn golden add 2 cups of hot water, turn off the heat and stir until all the water is absorbed and the cous cous is cooked adding more water if necessary. If you find the grains are still undercooked simply turn on the heat again, add more water and cook until absorbed and the grains are done.

Add the chickpeas and onion and mix through the still warm cous cous. Season and set aside.

Roughly chop the chorizo and gently sauté in a little olive oil for a few minutes before adding the beans. Toss everything over a medium heat for another minute then mix into the cous cous making sure to get as much of the chorizo oil from the pan as possible. Dress with a little olive oil, lemon juice and red wine vinegar to taste.

Just before serving roughly chop the parsley and add that in. This dish is great on it’s own is also beautiful served with fish or eggs (I’m thinking omelettes and quiches rather than sunny side up though!)

Enjoy,

Sarah