Category Archives: General foodie news

Potato Capers

We had planned to be in Greece at this time giving a culinary tour of Syros but as we’re grounded we’re enjoying lots of Greek recipes which can be made anywhere! Syros is where we first encountered capers growing on shrubs that cling on the rocks overhanging the sea. Capers grow on small shrubs that grow wild in stone walls and crevices all over the Mediterranean. They are used to liven up all manner of salads, sauces, pastas and fish dishes adding a salty citric kick.

Capers are flower buds which need to be harvested early in the morning before the buds open, and rushed home to be preserved in salt or pickled in vinegar. Once preserved they keep for a long time and they are widely available in Ireland. My preference is for capers preserved in salt, they are fatter and more succulent but use whatever you have or can lay your hands on.

 

This recipe is to celebrate the arrival of the new potatoes, it’s fresh and zingy as summer food should be with herbs, feta, capers and a yoghurt, olive oil and lemon dressing.

Potato and Feta Salad

 

500g small waxy potatoes

4-5 spring onions or one red onion

1 tbs capers – rinsed well

2tbs black olives

100g feta

handful flat leaf parsley

handful mint

100mls olive oil

1 tsp Dijon mustard

juice ½ lemon

2 anchovies (optional)

3tbs natural yoghurt

 

 

Soak the capers in a bowl of fresh water

Cook the potatoes gently with their skins on, this will take 15-20 minutes depending on size. Take off the heat, drain and  cool then peel and chop into a large dice. Season with a little salt.

Tidy up the spring onions then chop finely or peel and finely chop the red onion

Rinse the capers in a sieve under the tap

Chop the parsley and mint

Put the potatoes, spring onion, capers, black olives and chopped herbs into a bowl and crumble the feta on top.

To make the dressing put the Dijon mustard, anchovies – if you are using them, olive oil, lemon juice and yoghurt into a jug and buzz until smooth, or, chop the anchovies finely and whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl

Pour the dressing over the salad and gently toss together.

 


Where did I see that recipe?!

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I had definite ‘food slump’ last week, my brain just didn’t want to know what to cook so I ended up leafing through cookbooks in search of inspiration. At some point I came upon a recipe for barley risotto with feta which was interesting on two fronts. One being that I had piece of locally produced ‘Greek’ style goats cheese in the fridge and the other that barley grows here in Ireland and therefore hits the sustainable list.

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However between reading and making the dish I found I couldn’t remember where I’d seen the recipe. I checked through several books until I figured i’d better just get the dinner on the go or we wouldn’t be getting any.  I free styled the recipe but one detail which I thought that I had remembered was the cooking time – 20 minutes – which I had obviously got very wrong as the barley took a good hour to become nicely nutty and toothsome. In fact if I had thought about it all I would have realised that barley is not a fast cooker but luckily hunger is the best sauce and when the risotto was ready it was eaten with gusto. Just have the crossword handy to occupy yourself whilst loitering and stirring.

Tomato, Fennel and Barley Risotto

1 large onion

1 bulb fennel

75g butter

25mls olive oil

300g pearled barley

1 glass white wine

300mls tomato passata

1.2litre stock (approx)

200g local goats cheese or feta

rocket or basil pesto to serve

Peel and chop the onion finely. Heat a medium saucepan, add 25g butter, the olive oil and chopped onion, Cook on a medium heat.

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Cut the fennel in half lengthwise then slice thinly lengthwise. Add the fennel to the onions, sprinkle a little salt and stir well.

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Cook so that the onions and fennel are sizzling nicely without browning until they melt down, 10-15 minutes.

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Add the pearled barley and stir well until well mixed then add a glass of wine. Allow the wine to bubble up and reduce then stir in the passata. Bring everything to a bubble then begin to add roughly one fifth of  vegetable stock at a time, stirring very 5 minutes and adding more stock as needed to keep it cooking and from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Taste when the stock is used up and if the risotto is not ready add a little water and continue cooking.

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Dice the remaining 50g butter and dice the goats cheese.

When the risotto is to your liking take off the heat and beat in the butter. Beat being the operative word as this will make the risotto creamy. Stir three quarters of the goats cheese through. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper if needed,

Spoon into shallow bowls, top with the remaining cheese and drizzle over a little pesto.

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Beam Me Up Spuddy!

Here’s a recipe to teleport you to Greece from your own kitchen using the humble spud.

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Just imagine the blue sea, the blue skies, sitting outside a taverna and all those tray bakes of vegetables, meats and fish. The Greeks are masters at traybakes and the tavernas often have rows of different dishes which have been slowly cooked in an oven displayed on the counter.

The slow cooking is key, generally the dishes aren’t complicated but cooking slowly creates intense flavour that hasn’t shooshed off into the stratosphere it’s just settled quietly in the pan

This dish is real simple spring food, potatoes roasted into sweet submission with olive  oil, oregano and lemon juice. Delicious with nearly everything and the bonus is it’s made with ingredients you might well have in the house.

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Greek Lemon Roasted Potatoes

 

1kg potatoes

2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 tsp dried oregano

1 lemon, juiced

75mls olive oil

Salt

100mls vegetable/chicken stock

 

Oven 190c

Peel the potatoes then cut into large chunks.

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Toss with a generous glug of olive oil, chopped garlic, oregano and salt then put them in a single layer on a baking tray and bake for 20 minutes. Take the tray from the oven, give the potatoes a shake then pour the vegetable/chicken stock over the potatoes.

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Bake for another 20 minutes then take the tray out again, shake the potatoes and sprinkle over the lemon juice . Bake for 15 minutes more or until the potatoes are golden and beginning to crisp.

Scrape out all crusty bits when serving.

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Is it Bunday?

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Every Easter we bake hot cross buns. In fact I have eaten hot cross buns on Good Friday more or less all my life. Not for religious reasons but because it’s a seasonal culinary treat. A brief interlude when I lived in Belgium, but otherwise I’ve always lived in one bun country or another.

Ever since the coronavirus lockdown I have been taking it very easy in the mornings, we’ve even become confused as to what day it is, but this morning i woke early and hopped up to put the buns on. It’s great to have a mission for the day even if it’s only to make buns. Hot cross buns are made with a brioche type dough but with added fruit and spices. Deliciously simple if you have time – which we do have right now. There’s no problem waiting for dough to rise, sure what else would we do?

Hot Cross Buns – makes 20 (plenty to share with the neighbours)

250mls milk

250mls water

1kg flour – maybe a little more

1dsp dried yeast or 20g fresh yeast

100g sugar

100g butter

2 eggs

2tsp cinnamon

2 tsp cake spice

100g currants

100g raisins or sultanas

100g candied peel

a small piece pastry dough to make the crosses

egg wash – egg  mixed with little milk

I use Dcl (freeze dried yeast) but fresh yeast is good too. The sachets of quick yeast are not suitable for this method. If you are using fresh yeast just mash it with little sugar before adding to the liquid.

Heat the milk and water to blood heat- the temperature you would comfortably bathe a baby in. Be careful, too hot and it will kill the yeast.

Put the liquid in a large bowl and sprinkle over the dried yeast and a teaspoonful of sugar. give the bowl a shake then leave until the yeast re-activates and pops to the surface. If you are using fresh yeast stir into the liquid.

Whisk some flour in until you have a thick batter. Add the sugar, 2 eggs, the spices and fruit then mix well.

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Melt the butter, stir into the batter then begin to add more flour. Stirring the flour in until the mx begins to leave the sides of the bowl.

Turn the mix out onto a clean, well floured surface. Scrape the bowl out then begin to bring the dough together . This is where a dough scraper or egg flip come in handy to prevent the dough getting stuck all over your hands. Flip the dough , adding more flour to the counter ( not on top of the dough) until it comes together. Continue kneading with your hands. Knead until the dough is bouncy and stops picking up flour.

Clean the bowl, dry and wipe around a little oil. Put the dough in the bowl then leave in a warm place to rise. Sunshine is ideal but otherwise any warm spot –  not direct heat .

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When the dough has doubled in size tip it to onto a lightly floured surface – this is where the oiled bowl comes into play – and knead once more. Put the dough back into the bowl and leave to rise once more.

Heat the oven 180c.

Line your baking sheets with parchment paper

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Roll the dough into a fat sausage, cut into two or three pieces lengthwise then cut into equal sized pieces – you should end up with 20-22 bits. Roll each piece into bun and place on the baking tray. Leave to rise until double in size.

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When the buns have doubled in size roll out the pastry quite thin then cut into strips.

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Glaze the buns with egg wash then lay the pastry over the buns to make a cross, then egg wash once more

Bake for 20 minutes or until golden,

Cook 2tbs sugar with 2tbs water. Boil for one minute then brush over the buns

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Time for a cup of tea!

 


Time for Chickpeas

This is a recipe from the ‘live to be one hundred’ collection. Revithnos is a chickpea soup from Sifnos in Greece.  It’s cooked slowly using just a few key ingredients – chickpeas, onion, olive oil, lemon and bay leaves. The slow cooking makes the chickpeas velvety soft in an emulsion of olive oil and onion which is brightened up with a squeeze of lemon juice. I seldom cook this dish as it takes a long time to cook but time is something we have plenty of at the moment. Although don’t confuse taking time with having to do a lot as after the initial cooking of the onions and bringing everything to the boil this more or less looks after itself.

Today’s revithnos did take a long time, especially as our Irish bought chickpeas must have been sitting in a warehouse for months if not years. I soaked them for 48 hours then cooked then for five hours by which time we were hungry and the dish was not ready so we resorted to blasting them in the pressure cooker for 10 minutes. They were good, softer would have been better but our appetites got in the way of culinary excellence.  Next time I will seek out fatter and younger chickpeas but I still love the simplicity of this dish and even old chickpeas make a richly satisfying  one pot wonder

Here’s the recipe although the cooking times are variable and it’s also possible to cook this entirely stovetop – or blast it in the pressure cooker if your hunger gets the better of you.

 

 

Revithnos – Chickpea Soup

 

350g chickpeas

150mls olive oil

2 large onions

2-4 cloves garlic

1 -2 bay leaves

big strip of orange peel – skin only

lemon juice

salt and pepper

water

a handful of parsley

 

Soak the chickpeas over night then drain well.

Peel the onions and garlic and chop finely.

Put the olive oil into a heavy pot and heat gently. Add the chopped onion and cook until the onions melt down but don’t let them brown. Stir in the chopped garlic and cook for a further two minutes then add the chickpeas , orange peeland bay leaf. Stir everything together for a few minutes then add enough water to cover everything by 2-3cm. Bring to the boil, reduce to a low simmer and cover with a tight fitting lid. Cook for one to one and a half hours or until the chickpeas are soft.

Stir in the juice of a lemon , add a little more water if it looks like it’s getting dry and season with a little salt. Pop the pot into a low oven , 150c, oven for an hour.

Serve with a little chopped parsley. 

 


Posh Carrot Salad

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This is just what we need at this time, carrot salad elevated to a vegan prawn cocktail status. It’s guaranteed to cheer up the day and boost our immune systems.

This is a rehash of a salad that we’ve been eating for years but re-assembled. The carrots and avocado are a great source of vitamin C and antioxidants and the toasted seeds provide omega 3’s and crunch.

I enjoy eating this dressed with a little vinaigrette but a drizzle of olive oil and squeeze of lemon juice would be good too.

 

1 ripe avocado

2 carrots

20g sunflower seeds

1 tsp soya sauce or tamari

1 tsp Dijon vinegar

1 tbs vinegar – your best

3-4 tbs extra virgin olive oil

Carefully split a just ripe avocado in half and remove the pit. Peel each half  – the skin should peel back with very little assistance with a knife. Just nick the skin with a knife and with a bit of luck the skin peel back by hand. Put each half in a small bowl.

Peel and grate the carrots then pile the carrots on the avocado

Heat a dry pan and gently toast the sunflower seeds then toss together with a little soya/tamari sauce.

Whisk the vinegar together with the vinegar using a fork then slowly whisk in the olive oil Season with a little salt or a few drops of soya/tamari sauce

Scatter the seeds over the carrots then drizzle over a little vinaigrette

Any left-over vinaigrette can be stored in the fridge – jam jars with lids or recycled mozzarella tubs work well here

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Baracoa and Coconut Fish

IMG_6971Three weeks ago we were leaving Cuba after this little adventure. It was our second visit, having explored the ‘top’ end last year I was quite smitten, and wanted to see more. Below is a tale of our trip to the other end which proved quite challenging as  catching a bus in Cuba is complicated but it’s like a distant memory in the shadow of what’s going on in the world today

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Although the Cubans are really struggling at this time – one tanker of oil is delivered every fifteen days from Russia for the entire population of more than eleven million – it was the country that accepted the ‘coronavirus cruise ship’ which had been refused entry by other Caribbean countries.  The passengers were given medical care where appropriate and then flown home. It’s an extraordinary country, crippled by sanctions but perhaps compassion comes easier when people are used to having less? Perhaps that’s what we all have to gain whilst the world on pause. I’m fascinated by this country which survives on so little yet has so much – education and medical care for everyone, enough to eat (even though it’s no culinary hotspot) and most importantly time for each other . 

So here’s where I was last month!

 Baracoa, in Guantanamo province, is the oldest and most remote town in Cuba. At the very easterly tip of the country it’s the most Irish of Cuban towns. Add on twenty degrees and you could be home. The weather changes constantly, clouds rolling in dumping rain, the wind from the sea and then sunshine- you never know what you’re going to get. This of course means that it is green. Very green, lush with vegetation and jungle.
We travelled there from Santiago de Cuba crawling along on a bus that winds up and down the densely wooded mountains on a concrete seamed road. It’s the kind of ride where the gears grind and you know that you are doomed if the brakes fail as the bus climbs higher and higher and the jungle turns to Pine trees.

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The bus arrives at a tiny bus station beside the bluest sea with the town stretching back a few blocks all higgeldy piggeldy, it’s still recovering from Hurricane Mathew which made a good attempt at levelling the town. The houses are single storey and colourful with the obligatory verandas where families sit and everyone shouts and laughs with the neighbours.

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In the centre of the town is the Plaza Independencia with a church on one end, the post office, telephone centre and bars all around the tree shaded centre where the benches are full of people trying to get an Internet connection and there is music and dancing at night.

IMG_7046The fridges in the bars are empty bar water and rum. The embargoes are really hitting this small town perhaps because it the last on the delivery route but the rum is good and there’s ice for the mojitos.
We stayed in a casa particulare, a Cuban bed and breakfast which is the best bet for breakfast and dinner. Our host Leonardo let me into his kitchen so that I could watch him prepare this dish for our dinner.

IMG_6947It’s a traditional recipe from Baracoa, a ‘Lechita’ which is fish cooked in a coconut sauce. He made the coconut milk from fresh coconuts and cooked the fish for one hour in the sauce which had me pretty horrified as that’s a long time to cook fish. It tasted fine but the texture became a bit like meat. Personally I’d cook the fish for far less time but that is optional. One of the ingredients is achiote, which is the ground up seeds from an indigenous plant that grows in Cuba and Mexico. It gives colour and a little earthy taste. 

Lechita de Pescado

1 can coconut milk + half can water

1tbs achiote paste
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
A large handful fresh coriander, chopped, leaves and stems
1 green chilli , seeds removed if you don’t like hot
A little oil to fry
 600g  firm  white fish,like ling or monkfish
Salt and black pepper
Gently heat the coconut milk until it begins to boil then add the achiote, chopped onion and garlic, chopped coriander and chilli. Simmer for fifteen minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Divide the fish into four portions . Heat a frying pan and add enough oil to just cover the bottom then fry the fish on each side for a couple of minutes. Carefully lift the fish and submerge into the sauce then leave to cook for a further 10 – 15 minutes.
Serve with rice.

Avocado Ceviche Dreams

This seems a long time ago now although it was only last month. It’s a little recipe that I write for the local paper, the West Cork People. I didn’t take my laptop on this trip so never published what I had written, so here’s a little escape from the coronavirus………..It seems like another world now

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This month (February!) we are eating our way around south east Mexico. We flew into Cancun and travelled down the Caribbean coast of Quintana Roo towards Guatemala. It’s very beautiful, the water is crystal blue and but it comes with full on tourism and touts so we decided to head away from the coast and explore the Yucatan and towns of the interior. The land is lush, green and gently undulates. No mountains here and strangely no rivers, instead there is a network of water that travels underground popping up in cenotes.

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Cenotes are deep fresh water pools, sometimes open and sometimes in caves with with stalactites and creepers hanging. They are very deep- up to 45 metres- and crystal clear, absolutely stunning. It’s possible to jump into them and swim, strangely enough even though they are so deep they are not cold and there are plenty of fish which nibble your toes. The city centres are old colonial style which sprawl out to poorer areas. We’ve explored Valladolid, Merida and Campeche.

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We  seek out the markets which are overflowing with avocados, mangos, chillies and just about every conceivable fruit and vegetable that grows in the south. The sounds, smells and colours are amazing and an interesting place to buy breakfast/brunch. Quesadillas, negritos, empanadas, tacos, gorditas, enchiladas, polcans, panouches, chilaquiles, huaraches… The list is boggling but we are beginning to navigate our way around the menu.

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The one thing that they all have in common is corn. Each is made from ground corn be it a fresh tortilla, a fried tortilla or made from masa(corn dough) that is wrapped around a filling then grilled or deep fried. Topped or filled with shredded pork, turkey , pork, fish, prawns or refined beans, cheese , pink pickled onions, avocado, radishes, shredded cabbage and served with a variety of salsas this food is bright and diverse. Not a spud in sight! The salsa are nearly as varied as the tortilla dishes. The pico de gallo – diced tomato, chilli, onion, coriander and lime juice is fresh and zingy but the habanero salsa – which is the most popular can blow your head off

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For the rest of the day there are taquerias on the street that churn out tacos and various cantinas that serve bigger meals. In the interior the food is pretty meaty and on the coast the menu is seafood.
We’ve been poking our noses into kitchens, picking people’s brains for recipes and were lucky enough to spend on evening cooking with a Mayan lady that we were introduced to. She made us real Mexican/Mayan home cooking. One recipe was this ceviche – without fish – as she explained, ceviche is a process not a fish dish. It was fresh and delicious, perfect scooped up with totopos (tortilla chips). It could also be piled on top of a burger, fish or grilled meats or just enjoyed as a salad. And better still the ingredients are available in Ireland. It’s important that the avocados are ripe which could take some forward thinking. If they are a bit hard , put them I the fruit bowl with a ‘do not eat me’ sign for a few days and they will ripen.

Avocado Ceviche

1 cucumber
1 small-medium onion
3 ripe avocado
A handful fresh chopped coriander
A pinch of crushed oregano
A pinch of black pepper
1 tbs olive oil
Juice 3-4 limes – depends how juicy they are
A good pinch of salt.

Cut the cucumber in half then scoop out the seeds then cut it into strips lengthwise and dice.
Peel and chop the onion finely
Cut the avocado in half, remove the stone then slice in strips (without going through the skin) then into a dice cutting the other way. Scoop the avocado from the skin with a spoon.
Add all of the above ingredients together then mix gently. Taste and add more salt or lime juice if needed.

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Home alone with Lemons

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I’ve been holed up with a box of lemons – literally. I inherited an entire box when we closed the shop this week because of the coronavirus and have been merrily making my way through it ever since.

I have a big kilner jar of pickled lemons , or should I say pickling lemons as they’re not ready to eat yet. I found the recipe in the Guardian, a lemon pickle to eat with samosas which required 25 birds eye chillies which I just happened to have in my chilli bucket.

IMG_7363We recently harvested the last of our chillies in our tunnel to make room for this years seeds and now we have quite some chillies to make our way through. The pickle sounds exciting  – lemons, chilli, nigella seeds, mustard seeds, oil , vinegar and what sounded like an alarming amount of salt – !00g salt and only 2tbs sugar.

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It has me curious. Anyways it’s going to take two weeks before I can try it so l have to be patient.

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The rest of the lemons, bar a couple held back for the gin and tonics, were finely sliced and left over night in water. I put them into a big pot today, added sugar and cooked them for more than an hour .They made the house smell a lot better than sanitiser!

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Here’s the recipe, scale it back to make less. I think one quarter would make a sensible family amount unless you are marmalade freaks. It  does taste seriously good. Lemony, sweet and sharp at the same time – just as marmalade should taste.

 

Lemon Marmalade

 

25 lemons

3.5 litres water

4kg sugar

about 20 clean jam jars

 

Wash the lemons well and slice very thinly with a sharp knife.

Put the lemon slices in a large bowl and cover with the water and leave overnight.

The next day, put everything into a large saucepan and bring to the boil, then simmer until the lemons are very tender, about one hour.

Put a small plate into the fridge or freezer to chill

Add the sugar to the pot and bring to the boil. Keep the marmalade at a rolling boil for about twenty to thirty minutes. Do not turn to a low simmer as the marmalade needs to reach 104c to set. You need to keep the heat as high as you can without boiling over so stay close by. Fish out any stray pips that float to the surface. To check whether the marmalade is ready to set put a spoonful of onto the chilled plate and leave for a few minutes then gently push your finger sideways on the surface. If the marmalade is ready to set small wrinkles will appear. If this doesn’t happen put another clean plate to chill and boil the marmalade for another five to ten minutes then try again. If it’s ready take the marmalade off the heat and let it rest for ten minutes. This will stop the peel from sinking to the bottom of the jars. Wash the jam jars well and put them in a hot oven for five minutes. This will sterilise the jars and also prevent them from cracking when they are filled with the hot marmalade. Wipe any spilt marmalade from the sides and top of the jars with a clean cloth and cover with clean lids whilst still hot.

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Rocket Beans

One good thing the coronavirus has given me is some time. It all felt very stressful in the beginning but now with everything closing down, not having to organise work or rushing here and everywhere, everything has slowed down. I’m also avoiding wall to wall reportage, just listening to enough news to keep up, and thinking of all the things I can get done now that I have some time.

Funny how I want to fill it!

This is the first recipe since last year Halloween!

And here is what we had for dinner last night…..

Beans take time to cook – even if you open a can, they always benefit from a little bathing with the other ingredients.

This recipe is for beans cooked with melted down onion and fennel, cooked until just before they caramelise. I put in a Parmesan rind at the same time and this creates a creamy unctuous side to the whole affair but leave it out if you don’t have one or want a vegan version.

This recipe began as Beans and Greens in my repertoire but it was dark last night when I began to cook. Too late to pick greens but I had some rocket in the fridge that I made into pesto which I drizzled over  when serving. We ate the beans with chippy potatoes on the side.

Below are the instruction for cooking dried beans but last night I opened a jar!

 

Rocket Beans

150g dried cannellini beans or a can or jar drained and rinsed.

1 – 2 onions

2 stems celery

1-2 small fennel

2-3 cloves garlic

parmesan rind (optional)

olive oil

salt and pepper

1 glass white wine

 

 

100g rocket – chopped

1 dip pine nuts

100=150mls olive oil

1-2 cloves garlic- peeled and chopped

A squeeze of lemon juice

50g grated parmesan

 

Soak the cannellini beans overnight in cold water.

Bring enough water to cover the beans to the boil then drain and rinse the beans, tip them into the pot and bring back to the boil. When the beans are boiling turn to a low simmer and cook gently for 40 minutes then check them to see if they are tender, they will probably need more time so if they need longer cooking check every ten minutes until the beans are cooked. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid.

Whilst the beans are cooking, peel and chop the onions. Heat a saucepan, add enough olive oil to cover the bottom then add the onions. When the onions are sizzling reduce the heat and cook for five minutes.

Wash the celery and chop into four strips lengthwise then chop into a small dice and add to the onions.

Wash the fennel, chop in half then slice thinly and add to the pot.

Season with a little salt and freshly ground pepper – this will help the vegetables to melt down and add the Parmesan rind if you have one.

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Cook the vegetables gently until they are are soft and translucent, this will take 20-30 minutes, then peel and chop the garlic and stir in. Cook for another five minutes then add a glass of white wine, let it bubble up then add the drained beans and enough cooking liquid to just cover the beans. Use water or stock if you have opened a can/jar.  Season with salt and pepper then simmer the beans for 20-30 minutes. The liquid will reduce  – the beans shouldn’t be swimming in liquid when served but keep enough to have the beans sitting in a little sauce.

To make the pesto put all the ingredients into a jug and buzz with a handheld blender.

Adjust the consistency and season with a little salt

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To serve, put a ladleful of beans onto each plate and drizzle over a little pesto

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