Category Archives: Wheat free

Besto pesto

Pesto is not something I have ever made particularly successfully. Lord knows why. It is not difficult or complicated. My eldest can make it before she takes her coat off (but has washed her hands) after school. But the pesto I make never makes me shut my eyes, momentarily transported, and go ‘mmm’.

A friend called Vonetta first made me pesto, with farfalle shaped pasta, when I was in my 20s. Incredibly, I had never had it before. It does not feature highly in the cuisine of my father’s province: Parma, nor my mother’s: Avellino.  Italian cuisine is incredibly regional you see – there is very little cross fertilisation; each region fiercely proud of everything they do and determined it can’t be bettered. They rarely invite in new dishes, however old.

I made this pesto in a great rush, after tearing the recipe out of a magazine (the superb Donna Hay’s) as an afterthought. As I orchestrated dinner, and everything came together a bit too fast, a bit too suddenly, I didn’t have time to taste anything until I was sat at the table, and then I was blown away.

This pesto was the basis for another dinner, which I will post another day, which was so successful, that my youngest, who likes almost nothing savoury that I make aside from my sourdough bread, ate four helpings.

For now, here is the pesto recipe, ever so slightly adapted:

Ingredients

80g baby spinach leaves

25g basil leaves

150g roasted cashew nuts – these are absolutely key, and they must be roasted. I gave mine about 4 mins at 190C, watch them carefully.

1 clove of garlic

1 teaspoon of salt (I used pink Himalayan salt just because I had that in)

The juice of half a lemon

The zest of one small lemon

2 tablespoons of olive oil

2 tablespoons of water

Method

(Note: no parmesan, that is correct!)

Put the spinach, basil, cashew nuts, garlic, salt, lemon juice and rind in a food processor until everything is well chopped and blended. While the motor is running slowly add the oil and water. Scrap down the sides of the processor if need be so everything is finely, and uniformly, chopped. That’s it. Use it there and then, keep it for a few days in the fridge or freeze it for another day. It’s superb in pasta, of course, but also spread as an extra layer in sandwiches, in salad dressings or used on cauliflower pizza.

Zingy green smoothie: cucumber, spinach, apple, mint, lime, ginger

I know there are loads of debates about smoothies and how much sugar they contain. I agree that you should consume more vegetables than fruit. But, if you eat the whole fruit – either by actually eating it or blitzing it into a smoothie – then you get lots of fibre (both insoluble and soluble), vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The rise in diabetes isn’t due to people eating too much fruit in its whole, natural form; it’s eating too much refined sugar in sugary drinks and too many refined carbs that busts your pancreas.

Anyway, this smoothie is really zingy and my partner loved it, but my youngest struggled with it – she prefers something that contains banana/berries at its base.

I always put a cube of frozen spinach into my smoothies. Okay, not always, but mostly.

Anyway, for this one you need, for four small glasses:

About 20g frozen spinach (or fresh of course)

Half a thumb size of ginger – be careful, if it’s fresh and good it’ll be quite powerful. I used half a thumb size and it was a bit too much for the children, adults loved it though

The juice of one lime

Half a bunch of mint, you know those bunches you get in the supermarket that cost about 85p (rip off)

Half a small cucumber, washed, not peeled and cut into chunks

One medjool date to bump up the sweetness and fibre a bit but you can leave this out

Apple juice. I get mine from our local farmer’s market, it’s really good but if you can’t get really good apple juice then blend in an apple (not the pips) and some water

Put all the ingredients in a blender/Nutribullet and taste it: because lime sizes vary and the recipe isn’t precise, you may need to add that date, or a bit more apple juice or water or cucumber. The ginger and mint are strong tastes, the cucumber calms it all down, the apple juice adds liquid and sweetness.

i think this would be really good if you had a cold. I can still feel the zingy effects over an hour later.

 

Farinata and Friday night Tray of Treats

We used to do our main shopping on a Saturday as this is how things naturally fell, and it coincides with market day. And I do love a market. This meant that, come Friday, the fridge was a little bare and, often, my partner would be away on Friday. He is really good at conjuring something out of nothing in the kitchen, a skill my mother also has but not one that I’ve inherited.

I’m not bad at cooking but I need to a) be in my own kitchen b) have ingredients c) have a plan. Thus it was that, often, on a Friday, I would want and need to pull together a dinner for me and the children made out of not very much. And this is where I invented the Tray of Treats.

This is basically a fun and slightly misleading name for leftovers and bits dragged out of the depths of the fridge and cupboards. Although, these days, it’s become such an institution that we do tend to shop specially for Tray of Treats, back in the day it was crudites, bits of cheese, ham, bread sticks and whatever else could be cut up and look small and canape sized.

This is where these farinata come in. (Farinata literally means a ‘flouring’.) They are great as last minute bread, easy to make, gluten free and need almost no prepping. The slathering of extra virgin oil and salt makes them, so don’t skimp on this bit, because that would be to miss the point of them.

I use a 26cm skillet and it makes two big ones, which you slice up into wedges. Chickpea, or gram flour, is high in protein so these are gut-bustingly filling. These are also great little snacks to serve with a drink of an early evening.

150g chickpea flour

Two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil plus extra for drizzling and cooking – use the best you have

half a teaspoon of baking powder

One teaspoon of salt, plus sea salt for sprinkling

Fresh rosemary sprigs, chopped

Pour the flour, the two tablespoons of olive oil, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl and, using a balloon whisk, whisk through 300ml of cold water. I use filtered water. If you use normal water be aware you might get a bit of scum on top of your batter after resting, if so, just skim it off. I never get it, and you may not.

Whisk this up until you get a batter. Now if you want to make the farinata now, rest the batter for ten minutes and heat up the oven to 240C, if not, put it in the fridge for later and just remember to heat up the oven before you start. The batter keeps for a day or so so you can also make one pancake today and one tomorrow (they are delicious with curries).

When ready to cook, put some extra virgin olive oil – about a tablespoon – in a frying pan that can go in the oven. I know it seems wrong to use extra virgin to fry with, and I don’t normally, but it works here trust me. Spread the olive oil around so it coats all of the pan, let it heat up and then pour half the batter in. When the mixture starts to bubble, scatter over the snipped up rosemary leaves and cook until the sides are golden, then transfer to the oven for ten minutes.

You know it’s ready when it’s crisp at the edge and has a soft centre. Flip it out of the pan (it should come out easily) sprinkle with sea salt and drizzle, generously, with the extra virgin olive oil. And marvel, at how few ingredients can make something so delicious.

My lovely Italian friend Sonia, who is a very talented chef, and from Livorno (where farinata originates, although it’s called torta di ceci there and they sometimes have it in between two slices of bread!), contacted me to tell me that the way I make it isn’t authentic: you shouldn’t use rosemary or extra virgin olive oil as it ‘overpowers the delicate taste of the chick peas’. This is apparently how you do it properly (it’s in Italian, sorry). But I love my way so will continue to do it like that, but, you know, authenticity is important so it’s good to know what one is mucking about with…

Lovely, nutty tasting (but with no nuts) poppy seed oatcakes

These are wonderfully nutty tasting, and you’ll be convinced there are nuts therein. But there are no nuts. They are very frangible, so don’t roll them too thin, and when cooked don’t be too rough with them. Lovely with some cheese, of course, but I also sometimes have them for breakfast with some almond butter and a smidge of apricot jam on top.

Being full of oats ‘n’ seeds, they are particularly good for you, too.

(Note: I’ve put these under gluten free, oats are naturally gluten free but some have gluten in due to the manufacturing process so look at the packet your oats come in.)

These are from Hugh F-W’s Light and Easy book.

150g medium oatmeal

150g porridge oats (not the jumbo variety, if you have those, give them a quick spin in a food processor)

One tablespoon of ground linseeds

One tablespoon of poppy seeds

One tablespoon of sunflower or pumpkin seeds, or half of each

half a teaspoon of salt

75ml of sunflower or other tasteless oil

You will also need 100-150ml of boiled water

Baking parchment

 

Oven to 180C.

Put all the ingredients, save for the oil and water, into a bowl. Make a well in the middle and now add the oil and mix the ingredients around. Add 100ml of just boiled water and mix to a sticky wet dough, if you need to, add up to 50ml more but try not to if possible. This will seem like an unpromising dough and won’t be like a smooth dough, such as you may be used to.

Now you need two sheets of baking parchment to roll the dough out. Not too thin. Cut into squares – just free form with a knife, you don’t need to be madly exact. Hugh recommends cutting the square in two so you get triangles and I like this shape, too.

Don’t be tempted to use a cookie cutter. But do ball up and re-roll any off cuts. I shaped the last one by hand, in a butter-patting style.

Put on baking parchment lined baking tray and cook for 20-25 mins until just coloured. These give out a lot of steam (cos of the water) so be careful when you open the oven. You don’t want them too cook too much and be too dark, but equally they do need to be cooked so if your oven is temperamental, check after 15 minutes. The surface should be dry – no bubbling bits of steam – but not too coloured. Mine took about 22 minutes in a quite fierce oven. You may need to cook in two batches, I did.

This makes about 20-24, depending, on course, on the size.

 

Date and ginger biscuits (gluten, refined sugar and dairy free)

I haven’t gone gluten, or dairy free. I am incredibly fortunate that I can, thus far at least, eat what I want. And I do. Last night I stuffed my face with cheesy Wotsits (I love a flourescent food stuff sometimes). Today, for the first time in eight years, I went into a supermarket and bought a loaf of white sliced and we had toasted sandwiches for Sunday lunch.

But generally, I do eat really well and also, I do like to try new things and double-also I like to have a little biscuit or something every day, and it kinda helps, now that I’m no longer 19 years old and seven stones, to think of my health ‘n’ stuff.

(Whilst I’m vaguely on the subject of healthy eating, has anyone else noticed that saying you’re on a ‘whole food plant based’ diet seems to have replaced saying “I’m vegan”? I’m not saying this recipe is vegan btw, because it’s not – it contains eggs – but I’ve noticed this phrase a lot lately..)

So I found these in Hugh F-W’s new book Light and Easy (which thus far I really like although have only tried a few things). They are choc-full of good-for-you ingredients, have no refined sugar, no dairy, no wheat, no gluten and although they absolutely won’t be to everyone’s taste, they are to mine and also my youngest loves them (incredibly). They are not overly spicy or gingery, and make a great little snack when you need a treat. But are also – thanks to the fibre and protein – rather satisfying and sustaining.

You need:

200g pitted dates

15g peeled ginger, roughly chopped

2 eggs

250g ground almonds (this is not a cheap biscuit recipe..)

a quarter of a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

One and a half teaspoons of ground Chinese five-spice

Pinch of salt

Flaked almonds for topping if you so wish

What you do:

Oven to 170C. Baking parchment or magic carpet type sheet onto a baking sheet.

Put the dates and ginger into a food processor. Not a blender, but a processor (it’s sticky and if you put this in a blender I wouldn’t want to be you cleaning up afterwards). Whizz up for a couple of minutes until the mixture is really sticky and everything is evenly chopped up. This is also the time you realise you have bought unpitted dates as the processor will start making an awful sound and then start smoking.

When the mixture is all mixy, then you add the eggs and process again until you get a nice sloppy mixture – takes seconds really. Now add all the other ingredients and pulse for a few times until everything is, how can I put this? Mixed. You will have a very sticky dough. Either drop spoonfuls onto the tray or wet your hands slightly, roll into a ball and then flatten – which is what I do. I make mine about 5cm wide. They don’t really spread out so you can pack them fairly tight – but not touching – onto a baking tray. Top with flaked almonds if you so wish (this is my addition).

I bake mine for 15 minutes and this is plenty. Hugh says 20. They should be golden but not too dark and have a ‘slight give’ in the middle. I can lift my straight off the tray, with my hands, onto a wire rack to cool.

That’s it. Eat and feel virtuous.

Chocolate and nut oat bars

I live in hope of finding some sort of cereal bar, that I can make, that my children will like. I think a good cereal bar is an excellent thing to be eaten when you don’t have much time, but need something that will keep you going. But so many bought cereal bars are full of crap.

Many years ago, I co-ran a parenting website called I Want My Mum (because that’s all I said when I was pregnant and not long after having my baby, “I want my mum, I want my mum!” I would lament. Luckily she wasn’t far). I posted a recipe on there for some sort of healthy cereal, chewy bar. Loads of people went crazy for it, saying that their children loved it.

Not mine. My children have never liked any sort of bar that I’ve made, but they look at the Kellogg’s Special K Raspberry and Chocolate bars with longing every time they go past them in the supermarket aisle.

So I saw these in my Dale Pinnock Healthy Every Day book. He’s the one I got the chocolate/coffee smoothie idea from. I adapted his recipe, changing the proportions and also, he said you should sandwich the chocolate/peanut butter layer in between the layers of oats. But this didn’t look great to me, and also, in a bid to entice my children, I thought it’d be better to coat the whole lot in chocolate. I even wrapped them up in little bags to make them look shop bought. Did they love them?

No.

The ungrateful bastards. But I really like them (just as well as I have about 18 of them now) and if you need a healthy but delicious, quite treaty snack, you can try these. Or, if you’re lucky, your children might like them.

65g unsalted butter

50g coconut oil

45g raw honey

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

300g porridge oat flakes

125g 70% cocoa chocolate

80g nut butter of choice – not one that’s full of sugar but if your nut butter doesn’t have salt in it you may want to add a pinch

Melt the  butter, coconut oil and honey in a pan. Add a pinch of sea salt if your nut butter doesn’t have it. When melted, add the vanilla extract and the oats, and coat everything.

In a bowl atop another pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate and nut butter. When melted, add to the oat mixture and stir really well.  Tip into a tin (I use one that’s about 20cm square but you can see how much mixture you have so use a tin accordingly. I line mine with baking parchment to make thing easier). Then just chill for an hour or two, cut into slices and offer to your children and when they refuse, sit down and eat the lot yourself whilst writing them out of your will.

IMG_1243

A simple paella

Spanish folk: don’t judge me too harshly. I know this isn’t authentic. But it’s still delicious.

I first ate paella when I went to Spain with my homegirls, aged 18. What a holiday we had. Insane. Six girls in a non-tourist region of Spain…there was this little restaurant which made absolutely fantastic paella. And chips. The best chips and the best paella. I absolutely adore dishes that you can eat with just a folk, and not have to worry about gristle or bones or fat or nasty bits. Okay so we did have to shell the huge prawns that sat atop their rice deathbed, but stuff like that doesn’t scare me. This recipe doesn’t use shell on prawns so you can sit, cross-legged on the sofa and eat this with one hand, preferably with a fork in it.

Before this, I had never attempted to make paella at home. It seemed so scary, and it involved paella pans that you had to treat with love and care, lest they rust. Then I saw this recipe in Donna Hay’s Simple Dinners and we made it and we loved it. My children aren’t so mad on it, but the beauty of this dish (and oh there are so many beauties to it) is that you can pick out the bits you don’t like and eat those you do.

This is the perfect dish for when you don’t really know what to eat (meat? fish?) and don’t have much time, but still want something relatively healthy and comforting. If you ate everything in it you could get those ‘seafood pie’ mixes from the frozen compartments.  We don’t because my partner can’t eat bi-valves and those things usually have tons of mussels in them. But we did, as sharp eyed readers may note, add squid rings into this one.

Don’t be tempted to use chicken breast meat, it’s all about the tasty thigh meat here.

What you need for four good portions:

1 red onion which you have sliced

1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes (leave out for those that don’t like it)

1 teaspoon of smoked paprika

Half or so of a chorizo, it really depends how much you like it and what you’ve got

4-6 chicken thighs, de-boned, skin off, made all nice so you can just eat them without fear of scary stuff and cut into bite-sized chunks

250g short grain rice (no expensive paella rice, you don’t need it, but it must be short grain not wild or basmati or anything healthy, save that for another time)

1 litre of chicken stock

A quantity of raw prawns, again depends how much you like them. We use about 150g

A handful of coriander leaves, chopped up

200g or so of cherry tomatoes, halved

Lemon wedges

What you do:

Heat a large, deep non-stick frying pan over a good strong heat. add the onion, chilli if using, paprika and chorizo and cook for 3-5 minutes until it’s all golden looking. Now add the chicken and cook for five minutes, turning it so that all sides get lightly browned. Add the rice and stir until all coated, now add the stock and bring to the boil and cook for ten minutes. Add the prawns and cook for a further five minutes until they are pink and the rice is tender. Serve with the coriander sprinkled on top and the cherry tomatoes and a lemon wedge each.