Category Archives: vegetarian

Vegetable lasagna: chargrilled courgettes with a multitude of greens.

I’m actually on deadline for two pieces as I start on this. But what the hell. I see it as a warm up.

Every day I look for healthy things to make my family. And if the quest for healthy things is satisfied, my children will invariably not be impressed. The reaction to this was “but where is the pasta” followed by “it isn’t actually half bad”. My youngest – the harshest critic and who would, like her nonno, live off bread and Parma ham if she were able to – ate some. I can’t say she was a fan.

But I thought this was delicious and satisfies that urge for something healthy but tasty. And it has almost a kilo of green leafy stuff in it.

It’s adapted slightly from a Donna Hay recipe. I just love Donna.

Ingredients

About six courgettes, sliced lengthways. Not too thick, not too thin. You’re going to chargrill them.

Lots of extra virgin olive oil but not that super expensive stuff

An onion, chopped up so tears stream down your face

2 x clove of garlic, chopped small (I can’t bear to crush them)

A small bunch of oregano chopped up

Salt and pepper

About 300-400g kale, trimmed of the big thick stems in the middle – rinsed

About 300g spinach – rinsed

500g or thereabouts of ricotta

15g fresh parsley finely chopped (either sort)

Rind of an unwaxed lemon

About 100g of grated mozzarella

About 100g of grated parmesan – like with the mozzarella I do it by eye and depending on size of container.

(quantities of cheese don’t have to be super exact but don’t veer off too much. Don’t sweat it if you only have 80g of each, say).

HipstamaticPhoto-578332785.064248

Before the oven

 

What you do

I do love a recipe you can make in stages and this is one such. First you oil each side of the courgette slices and chargrill them.

[I use a griddle pan which I bought years ago. It’s a Le Creuset one and it’s big and rectangular shaped and you lay it across two rings. I use it for so many things: not just veg but also making toasted sarnies. I also have a griddle ‘press’ that I used to press things down on. I just looked and my Le Creuset griddle costs £160 now! But I bought it nearly 20 years ago and it’s still going strong so it is worth it on a per use basis. The press I have is something like this.]

So griddle the slices until they are marked and a bit cooked through. Put to one side. If you plan to make this later you can just put it in a lidded Pyrex and put in the fridge, otherwise just keep on a plate until you are ready to assemble.

Then you chop the one onion with the two cloves of garlic and gently saute with the handful of oregano and a little olive oil. I add the seasoning at this point:  a good pinch of sea salt and some black pepper which I always angrily grind over food, as if in a fury. When the onion is translucent set the mixture to one side. Or put it in the fridge until needed.

Now you blanch the spinach and kale and you will think “how can we eat all this green veg?” but you can because it will reduce down. What I do is blanch it, drain as best I can, then I whizz the lot up (in batches unless your food processor is ginormous) in a food processor, and then I sit it over a fine sieve atop a bowl and press down with a potato masher. Because I make this in stages, and not in a great rush, I sit it over a fine sieve over a bowl for an an hour or so. You don’t have to whizz it up, it’s perfectly fine as it is, but you will need to carefully drain it in some way. You could sandwich it between two tea towels you don’t much care about. You then mix the drained veg with the onion and garlic and herbs. What I do is add it to the pan this is in, and for a few minutes just gently steam any remaining water out of the veg.

At some point you introduce to each other, via a fork: the ricotta and the lemon rind and the parsley.

So you now have essentially three things: courgettes, ricotta mix and veg/onion mix which you can assemble now or store for later.

It’s hard to say what size dish to use. Within reason you can use a normal family-supper sized dish. But I favour a square one that is about 25/26cm. Lightly oil the bottom, then when you are ready to cook you preheat oven to 220C.

Start with a third of the courgettes. On top of this put a half the ricotta, then half the greens, then sprinkle on a third of the cheeses.  Repeat and end with a layer of  courgettes and the last of the cheese. Mine was crammed to the top so I put it on a baking sheet in case it erupted (it didn’t). Cook for about 12-15 mins until golden and bubbling and crisp on the top. I didn’t taste it during making it and honestly expected something pretty healthy but bland. Well, no. It was really delicious. I served it with a crisp green salad made with a sharp dressing. Half of it fed four of us, but I suspect for people with larger appetites it won’t go so far.

HipstamaticPhoto-578336868.528218

A cross section

Peanut butter and date protein bars (with a bit of chocolate on top)

These came about after a desire to find something in the supermarket that was, basically, just dates and a nut butter. Because that is something I crave post-workout. I also wanted something which was as delicious as the protein bars that my ex-trainer used to get me which used to be so tasty I daren’t look at the ingredients, but they were also so filling that, with a glass of water (you should always drink a glass of water with protein bars) they’d often see me onto the next meal.

Then one day, I saw that Donna Hay published a recipe for something called peanut butter choco-coconut protein bars and I adapted them. I now make these regularly and eat them post work out, or if I haven’t got time for a meal (which is rare but does sometimes happen) or if I just fancy a little treat during the week when I try to really watch what I eat (one has to be realistic and these hit the I need a treat button without making me feel like I’ve fallen into the abyss of unhealthy eating). They also don’t make me crash, blood sugar wise and I would now, honestly, have these over pretty much any chocolate bar.

You can experiment with the amount of protein powder you put in – I did and I put more in than Hay originally suggested. But if you do that, I recommend you do so in 10g increments.

This is what you need:

260g fresh Medjool dates. You can use others but these really do make the best bars. If you use dried dates, rehydrate them in boiling water for half an hour before use, then drain them.

25g raw cacao powder

100g salted peanuts and 40g of unsalted, raw, cashews (or use half and half, depends on how big you want the salted peanut hit to be). You can of course use 140g of any nut you want, roasted or raw. A few extra nuts if you want to chop and sprinkle on top

Two tablespoons of peanut butter (or any nut butter)

50g desiccated coconut

35g unflavoured protein powder (I use an organic whey protein powder)

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

45g cacao nibs

150g dark chocolate, melted

What you need

You can make this in a round cake tin – about 8/9″ would be ideal. I make it in my square cake tin which is 20cm. You might prefer the bars thicker but I like them like this. 20cm square is about as big as you want to go, any bigger and you’ll struggle to have enough chocolate to coat all the top – it just covers it as it is, but is still plenty, if you see what I mean.

Whatever tin you use, line with baking parchment.

Place everything except the cacao nibs and the dark chocolate (which you need to melt, for the topping) in a food processor and blitz til it’s all amalgamated – about one or two minutes. Right at the end, add the cacao nibs and blitz a couple more times.

Press this mixture into your prepared cake tin. Put it in the fridge for at least 30 mins.

Then you melt the chocolate either in the microwave or in a bain marie arrangement, and spread over the top. Add some chopped peanuts (or whatever nuts you are using) on the top if you like. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. As I said, in my 20cm square tin it’s just enough to cover. You don’t really want to up the chocolate, as then it becomes all about the chocolate and turns this from an interesting, not totally nutritionally devoid treat into something else…

Refrigerate until you need them, which will be soon. Cut into whatever shape you like. I do long thin bars, little squares or if I want to pack it in my bag for a meal replacement (which I would only do in emergencies) or a good snack later, I cut it into a bar shape and take it in my bag wrapped in foil and then eat it feeling really smug and happy.

They keep for at least a week in my house and have never been around longer than that.

 

Barbecued baked beans (in the pressure or slow cooker).

I’m not not a fan of baked beans, but I’d never think “ooh I must have some baked beans”. They feature very little in my life other than when my partner decides to have some on toast, from a tin, for lunch, when there is very little else to eat. Then, they are a Godsend.

So the idea of making them only really came to me because I was seduced by a photo of them in the recipe book that came with my Sage Fast Slo Pro (and this is the recipe below, with some adaptions). I am quite shallow.

Sourcing “dried small white beans’ which the recipe called for (I went for cannellini but you can also choose haricot) was really not easy, they were nowhere to be found locally to me (I live in the countryside) so in the end I had to resort to the evils of Amazon. But you will be able to find them in the supermarket, it’s just that mine didn’t sell them…

These are really easy, but bear in mind you will need to reduce the sauce at the end. If you have a pressure/slow cooker that allows you to do this, all you really need to do is stir occasionally – it took about 20 mins on medium heat.

Making things that are easily bought is often a double edged sword and the shop bought can easily out trump the home made. Hummus, for me, comes into this category. I have only once tasted home made that was better than shop bought (that was my friend Sarah who made it whilst we were staying at Sackville House together).

I made these because, seduced by the aforementioned picture, I had bought some dried cannellini beans some weeks before and forgotten about them. Then, when we found ourselves without “a hot meal” as my partner put it one Saturday lunchtime, I looked in the store cupboard and found we had all the ingredients (the original recipe calls for bacon, I have omitted it). It’s super easy to make, I don’t know how you end up with a smokey barbecue flavour, but you do. They are delicious, nutritious and it makes LOADS. We had enough for beans on toast for about ten people. They properly fill you up – which is rare for me. Six hours after eating, I still wasn’t hungry.

My children don’t like baked beans, so I can’t tell you that children will love it as I don’t know – mine certainly ate more than shop bought beans, but only marginally so. My partner who is a life-long baked bean fan, said they were fantastic and gave me a round of applause.

This is what you need

1 onion, sliced

1 tablespoon of olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed

500g small white beans, rinsed and picked over (I’m not sure what for, mine were all fine).

1 litre of water

125ml strong black coffee (I used a big tablespoon of instant espresso powder which I keep for making coffee cakes, dissolved in 125ml of hot water)

250ml passata

110g dark brown sugar (I’m sure you could alter this to use less but this is what the original calls for, I’m sure it still works out at having a lower sugar content than shop bought)

1 tablespoon of English mustard

1 tablespoon of black treacle

half a teaspoon of Tabasco sauce

1 and a half teaspoons of salt

2 tablespoons of white or cider vinegar (for the very end)

What you do

If you have a pressure/slow cooker which allows you to saute, put this function on, heat up the oil then add the onion and cook until soft – about five mins. If yours doesn’t have this function do this bit on the stove top in a frying pan/saucepan.

When soft, add the garlic and cook for a minute.

Now, either add the rest of the ingredients, minus the vinegar to the pot of your pressure/slow cooker, or now tip the onions/garlic into your pressure/slow cooker and then add the rest of the ingredients (minus the vinegar).

Select pressure cook 80kPa, natural steam release and cook for 35 mins (I like my beans really soft, you may prefer to do them for 30 mins) or select slow cooker mode for 10-12 hours on low.

When time is up, add the vinegar and you need to reduce the sauce right down until it’s syrupy – either in the pressure/slow cooker if you have a reduce function or decant into a large sauce pan and do it the traditional way. Mine took 20 mins.