It’s rhubarb season! The word “forced” used to lead me to believe that this kind of rhubarb is somehow inferior, but I have since come to love this delicious late winter treat. Lifting sections of the rhubarb roots and bringing them under the cover of a greenhouse or other warmer place, shutting out all light, creates stems that grow pale. This means the light-starved plants desperately reach out in search of light and thereby produce smooth, bright crimson stems (rather than green ones created post photosynthesis). The Rhubarb Triangle in West Yorkshire produces some of the world’s finest. Forced rhubarb is less bitter than the traditional, non-forced stalks and needs less sugar to balance the tartness. Pretty in pink and less astringent – perfect!
Rhubarb and apple crumble
Serves 4 – 6
Ingredients for the fruit filling
500g rhubarb, washed and sliced into 1/2 cm pieces
2 apples, cored and thinly sliced
zest of 1 orange
juice of 2 oranges
40g dark muscovado sugar
1 cinnamon stick, broken into 2 or 3 pieces
Ingredients for the topping
85g cold unsalted butter (preferably organic) or ice cold coconut oil, cut into little cubes
50g mixed nuts, roughly chopped (I used a combination of almonds, pecans and walnuts)
30g demerara sugar
70g muesli base (mine is a mix of oat, rye and quinoa flakes, but you can use any combination)
70g wholemeal rye flour (or use wholemeal spelt or you favourite gluten-free mix)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (370°F).
- Mix all the ingredients for the filling in a large bowl, then transfer to a medium ovenproof dish and cover with a lid or foil. Bake for 45 minutes (or until the fruit is tender when tested with a sharp knife), stirring carefully half-way through the cooking time.
- In the meantime, place all the topping ingredients apart from the butter in a bowl and mix well. Now add the butter (or coconut oil) and quickly rub into the dry ingredients until it comes together and you are able to form large clumps. Spread the clumps out on a baking sheet and place in the oven with the fruit. The crumble topping should be ready after about 30 minutes, but use a spatula to turn the pieces over gently half way.
- To serve, divide the fruit amongst 4 – 6 bowls, spoon over the delicious juices, scatter the crumble over the fruit and serve with vanilla-sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream of your choice.
Note: If you use coconut oil and gluten-free flour, your crumble will be a much finer texture, but still crunchy and delicious.
My biggest gripe with classifying something as an of-the-moment superfood, is that it inevitably leads to that food going “out of fashion” at some stage. It is such a shame, as many so-called superfoods really are fantastic, nutrient-dense foods that have a lot to offer. It was kale this and kale that for quite some time, but this wonderful veg seems to have fallen out of favour. Don’t be a fashion victim! Add this brunch dish, that I developed for the M&S Super Brunch Campaign, to your Boxing Day brunch, and rediscover an old favourite.
The Caesar-style dressing is delicious with the astringent greens and complemented by the sweet potato pancakes. I used the tiny copper pan from the new M&S chef range to make perfectly shaped individual portions.
This is a fantastic meal, be it for breakfast, brunch or a light supper. Like most things in life, it tastes even better with an egg on top.
Serves 4 – 6
Ingredients for the rösti
4 medium (about 800g) sweet potatoes, peeled
2 spring onions, finely sliced
2 medium eggs, lightly whisked
40g (about 1/4 cup) wholemeal spelt flour or flour of your choice (I use a gluten-free mix)
butter or ghee for frying
Ingredients for the kale
5 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained and chopped
1 small garlic clove, peeled and chopped
small pinch of coarse salt
60ml (1/4 cup) mayonnaise, preferably home-made
15ml (1 tablespoon) freshly squeezed lemon juice
15g (1/4 cup loosely packed) finely grated Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper
300g kale, thick stalks discarded and torn or chopped into bite-sized pieces
- For the kale: make the dressing, by placing the anchovies, garlic and salt in a mortar and pounding them together until you have a paste.
- Stir in the mayonnaise, lemon juice, Parmesan and pepper, and set aside.
- For the rösti: boil two of the sweet potatoes in a little water until they are just tender around the outside (do not let them get too soft!). Remove from the pot and allow to cool.
- In the meantime, coarsely grate the other two sweet potatoes and mix with the spring onions, eggs and flour.
- Finally, coarsely grate the slightly softened sweet potatoes and carefully combine with the rest of the ingredients.
- Heat a little butter or ghee (or coconut oil) in a frying pan until hot (but not smoking), then add enough batter to make a patty shape. Press down on the batter to ensure it is compact and will hold together.
- Fry for roughly 5 minutes on each side, or until golden and crispy. Carefully remove with a spatula and keep warm while frying the rest.
- Whilst your final rösti is frying, gently wilt the kale in a little water over a medium heat. As soon as it is tender, drain, return to the pan and stir through the dressing.
- Serve the dressed kale on top of the rösti with or without eggs.
*This blog post was written in collaboration with M&S. All content and photos my own.
I love brunches so much, that I centre most of my social engagements around them (click here and here for some easy recipe ideas). Not too early, with an array of delectable foods to choose from, most often vegetable-heavy, and no rush to leave, it is by far my favourite kind of meal. I especially like being creative and pushing boundaries when it comes to menu ideas, so I really enjoyed collaborating with M&S on their Super Brunch campaign using their new Chef range cookware. The products are well-designed, solid and beautiful to look at, and being part of a brunch initiative has me smiling from ear to ear. These pears would make a great addition to any brunch spread, but would also be a spectacular dessert, perhaps with a few candied macadamia nuts scattered over the top.
A lot has been written about curcumin, an active compound in turmeric believed to have many health benefits since they are powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agents. But interestingly enough, turmeric is not that easy for our bodies to assimilate, as most of it is metabolised by the liver before being absorbed. Studies have now shown that eaten with even just a tiny amount of black pepper, absorption of the curcumin is a lot higher, because the chemical compound “piperine” in the pepper inhibits this metabolisation. Bioavailability of curcumin is also higher when eaten with a fat, as it can then be directly absorbed into the bloodstream through the lymphatic system thereby in part bypassing the liver.
Turmeric poached pears with macadamia nut cream
Ingredients for the pears
6 – 7 ripe but firm pears
5cm (2”) piece of fresh turmeric, scrubbed cleaned (or peeled if not organic) and thinly sliced
thumb-sized piece of ginger, scrubbed cleaned (or peeled if not organic) and thinly sliced
a few gratings of coarse freshly ground black pepper
500 – 600ml dry white wine
40ml (2 1/2 tablespoons) maple syrup
Ingredients for the macadamia nut cream
140g (1 cup) macadamia nuts, soaked in filtered water for 2 – 4 hours
80ml (1/3 cup) reduced poaching liquid
- Peel the pears, taking care to leave the stalk in tact. Place the pears, turmeric, ginger, black pepper and white wine into a medium, deep saucepan like this one I was recently sent by M&S, and set over medium heat.
- Cut a circle out of greaseproof parchment paper just large enough to fit into the saucepan and lay over the pears in the wine (this is called a cartouche and prevents the liquid from evaporating too quickly whilst the fruit is poaching).
- As soon as you see tiny bubbles form under your cartouche, turn the heat down very low and allow the pears to poach for 15 minutes. Test with a sharp paring knife – the pears should be tender, but not too soft.
- Remove the pears carefully with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Turn the heat up high and boil the wine with the flavourings until it has reduced by about two thirds to three quarters. You will need about 160ml (2/3 cup) of reduced liquid.
- Now add the maple syrup, whisk and set aside to cool slightly.
- To make the macadamia nut cream, rinse the soaked nuts and place in a blender with roughly half (about 80ml) of the reduced poaching liquid and a small pinch of salt. Blend until the cream is very smooth – if you do not own a high speed blender, you might have to keep going a bit longer.
- Serve the pears with the cream and remaining poaching liquid.
*This blog post was written in collaboration with M&S. All content and photos my own.
A relative unknown a few years ago, South American-born Quinoa has since crept into our hearts and is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. This little pseudo-grain is very nutritious, rich in protein and gluten-free to boot, making it an ideal addition to any meal. It is most often cooked and prepared in the same way as rice, but I love grinding and making a delicious breakfast porridge with it. You can also make puffed quinoa as if you were making popcorn. Heat a large heavy bottomed pot (cast iron ones work best) and add about half a cup of quinoa. Keep shaking the pot until most of the seeds have popped. If your pot is deep enough, you won’t need a lid to keep the little nippers at bay. Tip them out onto a baking sheet to cool and use in muesli, as a topping on yoghurt or in recipes such as these squares below.
Puffed quinoa squares
The squares make an excellent after-school snack, as they are a mini version of a complete meal.
Makes about 40
200g (1 1/2 loosely packed cups) soft, dried prunes
125ml coconut water, at room temperature and preferably raw (i.e. unpasteurised)
150ml (125g or 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) liquid coconut oil
125ml (1/2 cup) raw honey
Pinch of sea salt
5 cups puffed quinoa (home-made or store-bought)
90g (1 cup) toasted desiccated coconut
70g (1/2 cup) shelled hemp seeds
70g (1/2 cup) shelled sunflower seeds
- Soak the prunes in the coconut water whilst you get your other ingredients together.
- In a powerful blender, blend the prunes, coconut water and enough of the coconut oil to give you a smooth paste. Scrape into a bowl.
- Add the rest of the oil, honey, salt, quinoa, desiccated coconut and seeds, and stir until well combined. Your mixture needs to be sticky and hold together when pressed.
- Line a 34cm x 26cm (9” x 13”) tin or oven dish with greaseproof paper, then press the mixture into the tin and refrigerate until set (at least a couple of hours).
- Turn out onto a chopping board and cut into squares. They will keep a week or so in the fridge, and freeze really well.
Zucchini. Courgette. Summer squash. Or baby marrow, as it is called in South Africa. I have a love-hate relationship with this veg. It tastes great grilled, marinated or slathered in dressing, but it is not the most nutrient dense choice, and I struggle to get it down raw (I know, I shouldn’t be admitting this, given the current zoodle fad…) And it really is a tad boring, if you’re honest. Having said that, it is a regular in my shopping basket, as its neutral taste means it is a good canvas for more exciting things, and makes it rather versatile from being grated into omelettes, breads, fritters and even brownies (check out the recipe in my book!), to featuring in beautiful sides such as a this one. Another surefire way to make the most of the humble zucchini, is this gluten- and grain-free quiche. It looks spectacular and tastes pretty darn good too.
Crustless Courgette Quiche
The leek and egg mix forms a rather delicious grain-free base and helps keep the courgette slices upright. Feel free to add a large handful of good quality grated Parmesan to the filling if you like – it will make it even more delicious!
Knob of butter or glug of extra virgin olive oil
2 leeks, trimmed, cut in half length-wise and thinly sliced (about 250g)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons mixed dried herbs such as oregano, thyme, parsley and marjoram
9 medium eggs, whisked
125ml (1/2 cup) milk of your choice
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 medium courgette (about 550g), trimmed
1/3 red pepper, finely diced
soft goats cheese (optional)
- Butter a 27/28cm oven-proof round dish and pre-heat the oven to 180°C/360°F.
- In a medium saucepan, sauté the leeks, onion and dried herbs with some of the salt over a low to medium heat until soft. Scrape into a bowl and allow to cool.
- In the same saucepan wilt the spinach (the water left over after washing should be enough), then remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
- Use a mandolin (or a very sharp knife) to thinly slice your zucchini. Thin enough to bend, but thick enough to stand up on its side (about 3mm).
- Add 125ml (1/2 cup) of the whisked egg to the cooled leek mix. Spread this over the bottom of your buttered dish.
- Place the wilted spinach in a blender with the rest of the eggs, milk, salt and cayenne pepper, and whizz until the spinach is well blended.
- Now start placing the courgette slices into the leek “base”, starting along the edge of the dish, for stability, working your way inwards. Leave a little space between the “petals” of your rose, if possible. I steamed the slightly thicker rind pieces first, before slotting them into the rose, as they aren’t malleable enough otherwise.
- Now carefully pour the spinach egg mix in between the courgette petals, ensuring an even distribution.
- Finally scatter the little red pepper dice into the centre and bake for roughly 1 hour or until set in the centre.
- Serve with a mixed salad, soft goat’s cheese and additional red pepper dice.
Some mornings I just need things to happen a little quicker than usual. Avocado on a slice of rye sourdough will always be a favourite, but for something different try baking this loaf the day before. It was born out of my eternal quest to incorporate more vegetables into our daily eating and the kids love it with raw lightly salted butter. As a special treat (and to keep it dairy-free), slather it with the apple coconut butter below. This gorgeous spread keeps well in the fridge for a week or so and is equally delicious stirred into hot porridge, as a topping on pancakes, or on crunchy toast.
Sweet potato loaf
5 medium organic free range eggs, lightly beaten
520g (about 2 cups) mashed cooked sweet potato
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
100g (just over 3/4 cup) coconut flour
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
50g (about 1/3 cup) dried cranberries, soaked in juice from 1/2 an orange for at least 2 hours
60g (1/2 cup) pecan nuts, roughly chopped
some coconut sugar to sprinkle over, optional
- Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F (or 160°C in a fan oven).
- Grease a medium sized loaf tin and line with parchment paper, allowing the paper to overhang on the long sides.
- Beat together the mashed sweet potato and the eggs until smooth, light and fluffy.
- Sift in the baking powder, add the salt, coconut flour and grated ginger, and mix well.
- Stir in the soaked and softened cranberries, any remaining orange juice and chopped nuts.
- Let the batter sit for 10 minutes to give the coconut flour time to absorb the liquids.
- Pour the batter into the prepared tin, sprinkle over a little coconut palm sugar if using, and bake for 50 minutes or until the top begins to brown and a toothpick inserted in the centre of the bread comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before slicing. Store covered for a couple of days at room temperature or in the fridge for several days. You could also freeze it. Like most gluten-free breads, it is quite fragile and can’t really be slotted into a toaster, but I do sometimes toast it in a medium hot pan in some butter or coconut oil.
Apple and coconut butter
This will only really work if you have a high-speed blender, as the coconut butter is quite solid in anything other than very hot weather and you will end up with a lumpy mess. But if you don’t own one, try gently heating the coconut butter and then stirring in the apple sauce. It won’t be as spreadable, but still pretty darn delicious as a topping.
160ml (2/3 cups) home-made or store-bought apple sauce
70g coconut butter (also called coconut manna or creamed coconut) at room temperature
squeeze of lemon juice
- Pour the apple sauce into the blender, then cut the coconut butter into small chunks and add. If the fat has separated and formed a layer on top of the more crumbly coconut component, make sure you include some of the fat when adding to the apple sauce.
- Blend until smooth. Scrape down the sides once or twice.
- Add lemon juice to taste, blending in between additions.
This is hands down one of my favourite brunch dishes! If you have cooked butter (gigante) beans handy – I usually have portions of cooked beans in the freezer – this is a cinch to make. Enjoy either on its own with a side of crunchy greens, or with a crispy fried egg.
1 small’ish red onion
large pinch of sea salt
pinch of dried chilli flakes, depending on your heat tolerance
1 teaspoon smoked paprika powder
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
250g cherry tomatoes, halved
250ml chopped tomatoes with the juices (either use half a 400g can of tomatoes or chop fresh ones)
a few large spoonfuls of cooked beans
- Gently sweat the onion in some olive oil or butter with the salt, chilli flakes and paprika.
- Add the thyme leaves and cherry tomatoes and cook over a medium heat until the tomatoes have softened.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and cook until the juices have reduced and thickened.
- Stir in the cooked butter beans and serve as soon as they are heated through.
Do you often have a bite of a tomato and wonder why you even bother buying them? Although beautifully uniform and bright red, commercial tomato varieties often lack taste.
One of the reasons for this was the move by tomato growers in the 1930’s towards tomato mutations with a “uniform ripening” gene, which ensured the fruits would ripen evenly from stem to tip, without leaving a harder, green part around the stem, deemed undesirable by consumers at the time. Unfortunately this mutation has a side-effect: by disabling the gene that creates the darker green colour around the stem, the chlorophyll (or chloroplasts), which converts sunlight into sugars for the plant, is removed, leading to a less sweet and tasty fruit. Thankfully some families and growers have passed the seeds from older varieties down from generation to generation because of their valued characteristics and taste. These heirloom varieties – now available at most markets – are usually much more tasty, albeit a little more expensive.
We’ve had a few very wet days lately, which meant the wonderful summer produce I bought at the market over the weekend had to find a rather more wintry purpose. I’ve always loved roasted tomatoes, but stuffing these beauties elevates them to the most perfect light meal imaginable.
If you cannot find heirloom tomatoes for this recipe, use 4 large regular tomatoes. For the oven-roasted cherry tomatoes, cut 2 punnets of cherry tomatoes in half, toss in red wine vinegar and olive oil, season with salt and pepper, then roast cut sides up in a medium hot oven until caramelised (about 1 – 2 hours). I usually have a jar of these in my fridge, but you could also replace them with 60g of finely sliced marinated sun-dried tomatoes and increase the amount of rice slightly. Use the scooped out tomato flesh in your next batch of tomato soup or sauce, or blend with a pinch of salt and strain through a muslin cloth to make the most delicious tomato broth.
2 heirloom beef tomatoes (about 800g), cut in half horizontally and flesh scooped out carefully
Ingredients for the filling
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large red onion, finely diced (about 1/2 cup)
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon mixed dried herbs (parsley, basil, tarragon, oregano etc.)
125g oven-roasted cherry tomatoes (about 1/2 cup firmly packed)
85g (1/2 cup) cooked brown long-grain rice
1 – 2 teaspoons lemon juice
100g tin sardines in brine or olive oil, drained and broken up slightly with a fork
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley and dill
150g fresh ricotta cheese, preferably made with unpasteurised milk from grass-fed animals
- Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/360°F.
- Heat a glug of olive oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion, celery, salt and dried herbs, and cook until softened (about 5 to 10 minutes).
- Now mix together all the ingredients for the filling, except the ricotta, and allow to cool.
- Fold the ricotta into the filling briefly, leaving it in tact as much as possible.
- Spoon the filling into the tomato halves, place into an ovenproof dish that fits them snugly and bake at 180°C/360°F for about 30 to 40 minutes (or until the tomatoes are very tender). If the filling is starting to get too brown after about 20 minutes, cover with foil.
- Serve with a crisp green salad and green beans, or on toasted sourdough.
I love greens and the spear-shaped wild garlic leaves (or ramsons and ramps) are no exception. This pungent member of the allium ursinum family is a wonderful combination of onion, garlic, spring onion and chives, with the added bonus of growing quite abundantly in woods and hedges during the spring months. The leaves can be quite stringy, so I often chop them up finely or process them, cooked or raw. The tiny white flowers are edible too and make for a beautiful garnish. This sauce will surprise you with its complexity, yet comforting more’ishness. Enjoy it with egg dishes (such as the fried egg and beetroot rösti below), stirred through pasta or risotto, and with any combination of cheese and carbs you can think of.
1 medium to large leek (about 200g), trimmed, cut in half lengthwise, sliced and washed
1 – 2 medium cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 bunch wild garlic (about 100g)
1 medium bunch parsley (about 50g), thickest part of stalks discarded
125ml (1/2 cup) extra virgin olive oil
squeeze of lemon juice to stir through just before serving
- Fry the leek and garlic in a little butter (or olive oil, if you keep the temperature nice and low) until tender and caramelised.
- Add the wild garlic and stir until wilted. Remove from heat.
- In a food processor, blitz all the leek mix and the parsley until finely chopped.
- With the motor running, add the olive oil in a steady stream through the chute. Add salt (and perhaps some freshly ground black pepper) and taste.
- At this stage I usually divide the sauce between two jars and freeze one of them. Add a squeeze of lemon juice to the other and have with pasta, egg dishes, mashed potatoes or anything cheesy.
I have an issue with Christmas decorations appearing in September. And hot cross buns being for sale all year long. They are such a treat precisely because they are usually only available during Easter – and, like fragrant strawberries in summer and nutty-sweet Jerusalem artichokes in winter, I so look forward to indulging in them for a brief period every year. Here is a recipe idea for a savoury dish making use of these little spiced buns and one of my favourite greens – cavolo nero.
Wishing you all a blessed Easter!
Hot cross breakfast bake
1 large onion, finely chopped
large knob of organic butter
50g (small handful) Tuscan kale / cavolo nero, leaves stripped from stems and roughly chopped
4 wholewheat, preferably organic, hot cross buns, sliced into 5 slices each (they can be a few days old)
3 pastured organic eggs
200ml (1/2 plus 1/3 cup) milk of your choice
small handful (about 20g) pine nuts, toasted in a heavy based pan until golden
large handful (about 40g) grated strong cheddar cheese
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.
- Heat the butter, add the onion and cook over a medium heat until soft and translucent. Now turn up the heat and cook for another 20 minutes, stirring regularly to avoid the edges catching.
- While the onion is caramelising, “steam” the kale briefly in a little water until bright green and wilted. Refresh under cold running water and squeeze out any excess liquid.
- As soon as the onions are golden and sweet, set aside to cool slightly.
- Butter each of the hot cross bun slices with butter and stack in an ovenproof dish. Scatter over the toasted pine nuts.
- Now place the onion, kale, eggs and milk in a blender and blend briefly until the kale is finely chopped (but not completely liquidised). Carefully pour this mixture over the hot cross buns and leave to stand for at least 20 minutes.
- Sprinkle over the grated cheese and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden and set.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.