Grilled salad of courgette, chicory, basil and mozzarella from ‘The Natural Cook’

The umming and ahhing is over. The decision has been made. Our house is now officially on the market and we’ll soon be leaving the sticks and heading back to the big city. Bristol, to be precise, which isn’t exactly a heaving metropolis and is actually one of the most laid back, greenest and coolest cities I know.

Bristol was home for us until our first daughter was about eight months old, at which point we decided family life meant a bit of the good life, the country life. And while we’ve loved it here and having space and green fields around us, a veg patch and apple trees, foraging in the hedgerows, picnics by the stream and drinking scrumpy at the annual village fete, it’s now time to crank the pace back up again with a bit of inner city living. You can take the girl of out of the city, but you’ll never take the city out of the girl, it would seem.

There are lots of things I’m looking forward to about being back in a city. One of them is not having to drive so much to get, well, anywhere really. I love the idea of being able to walk back home after a night in a restaurant, or at least being able to afford the taxi fare. And one of the restaurants I intend on visiting as soon as we’re in Bristol is Tom Hunt’s Poco on Stokes Croft, with its emphasis on seasonal ingredients, thrifty cuts of meat and sustainably sourced fish, most of which is sourced from within a 50-mile radius, and at the same time producing the minimum of food waste. Continue reading “Grilled salad of courgette, chicory, basil and mozzarella from ‘The Natural Cook’”

Quick and easy gazpacho

gazpacho

I like to think of this as a summer salad in a soup. A beautifully refreshing, fragrantly deliciously ice-cold soup, perfect on a hot, sticky day.

It’s an excellent way to use up those salad ingredients that have been sat in the fridge just a little too long. I always seem to be over ambitious when I buy salad stuff. Ideally you should buy your salad the day you’re going to eat it – ideally from a fabulous farmer’s market where all the produce has been grown within a few miles’ radius. But like most people, I do a weekly shop at the supermarket and by the end of the week, the contents of the salad drawer are beginning to look a little sad. This soup is definitely the solution.

What’s more, it’s a cinch to make too. I can’t be bothered to peel and seed my tomatoes, or peel and salt the cucumber, as gazpacho recipes usually demand. Clearly if I were entertaining and out to impress, I might push the boat out and make a little more effort. But when I’m rustling up a speedy lunch, I simply bung everything in a food processor, give it all a quick whizz and in seconds you have the most glorious gazpacho. Job done!

gazpacho

Quick and easy gazpacho

Serves 2

Half a cucumber, chopped
750g ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 spring onions, sliced
handful fresh mint, roughly chopped
handful fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling
juice of half a lemon
celery salt
pepper

This really couldn’t be easier. Simply place the cucumber, tomatoes, spring onions, herbs and garlic in a food processor and blend. I like my gazpacho to be quite smooth, while my husband prefers it a little chunky. So we usually end up somewhere in between.

Stir in the olive oil and lemon juice, and season with celery salt and pepper to taste.

Chill in the fridge for a couple of hours. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and, if you like it really cold, a couple of ice cubes.

gazpacho

I’m entering my quick and easy gazpacho into a number of blog events…

no+croutons+required

No Croutons Required is a monthly blog event for soups and salads suitable for vegetarians, hosted by Lisa’s Kitchen and Tinned Tomatoes. I think this soup fits the bill.

vegetable palette800

Vegetable Palette is a new vegetarian blog challenge from Allotment 2 Kitchen, which calls for dishes made from fruits or vegetables of a chosen colour. July’s theme is red, so I think this tomato-based soup is perfect.

Extra-Veg-Badge-003

With all that tomato and cucumber, I think this gazpacho definitely qualifies as a serving of Extra Veg, which is the theme for the blog challenge hosted each month by Fuss Free Flavours and Utterly Scrummy, and this month is being guest-hosted by Juggle Mum.

family-foodies

Of course, I’ve got to enter my soup into July’s hosted Family Foodies, the blog challenge I take turns in hosting with Louisa at Eat Your Veg. This month the theme is Chill Out, Baby!

fsf-summer

Al Fresco is the theme for this month’s Four Seasons Food, a seasonal blog event hosted by Eat Your Veg and Delicieux. I reckon this gazpacho would make a lovely lunch to eat out on the patio.

cooking with herbs

Basil is the theme for July’s Cooking with Herbs challenge hosted by Lavender & Lovage, and as my soup features lots of lovely basil (and mint too), I’ve just got to enter it.

simple

And finally, with all those seasonal salad goodies, I’ve got to enter it into Ren Behan‘s Simple and in Season challenge, hosted this month by My Custard Pie.

Basil and garlic focaccia

 

Whenever I bake bread I always find myself marvelling at just how easy it is to make something that tastes and looks so good for such remarkably little effort.

While it might take a little time and is therefore not the kind of foodstuff I fancy making after a long day at work, baking bread is definitely my idea of a perfect weekend activity. And home-baked bread makes for a perfect weekend lunch, served still slightly warm from the oven with a spread of tasty cheeses, cold meats, olives and salad.

Baking often makes me a little nervous as the end result is usually meant to look neat and tidy. But thankfully bread is different and focaccia in particular should look a little rustic and rough around the edges. Which is obviously another reason why this is my kind of bread.

You can top your focaccia with whatever you fancy really – a light scattering of your favourite herbs, cheese, olives, or maybe someone caramelised onions and sun-dried tomatoes. But here I use my all-time favourite: basil and garlic.

Basil and garlic focaccia

500g strong white bread flour
15g salt
15g sugar
10.5g dried yeast (one and a half 7g sachets)
300ml lukewarm water
Semolina
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Large bunch of basil, finely chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
Half a lemon
Salt and pepper

Put the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a large bowl and mix together. Make a well in the middle and pour in the water. Gradually work the dry ingredients into the liquid to form a soft dough. If it’s still a little dry, add a drop more water; if it’s too sticky, add a little more flour.

Flour the work surface and tip out the dough onto it. Knead the dough for five to ten minutes until it is elastic and smooth. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise in a warm, draught-free place for around an hour, until it has doubled in size.

Remove the dough from the bowl and give it a punch to knock the air out of it. Knead for another minute or so.

Split the dough into half. Roll each half into a rough circular shape about half an inch thick. Place the dough on a baking tray dusted with semolina.

In a small bowl, mix together the chopped basil, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Smear generously over the top of each piece of dough. Then push your fingers deep into the surface of the dough to make those little holes you always see on focaccia, allowing the flavours to get down deep inside the bread. Leave in a warm spot for another 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

When the dough has risen again to just over an inch thick, bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until the top is a beautiful golden colour. Drizzle the bread with a little more olive oil and sprinkle sea salt over the top. Leave to cool slightly but try to eat while still warm if you can.

As my focaccia features lots of lovely fragrant basil, I’m linking up with September’s Herbs on Saturday blog challenge, hosted by Karen at Lavender & Lovage. I’m looking forward to working my way through the delicious looking recipes that have been submitted so far, including Recipe Junkie’s rosemary focaccia!

Pappardelle with courgette and basil

In the last year we have dramatically reduced the amount of meat we eat in the Bangers & Mash household. Don’t get me wrong, I could never give up meat entirely. I enjoy it far too much.

But there is no getting away from the fact that meat is expensive, both on the pocket and as a global resource. Good quality meat that has been responsibly reared and farmed is not cheap to produce. And I refuse to buy cheap meat because I dread to think what conditions the animals have been kept in.

So a major part of reducing the cost of our weekly meals has been to reduce the amount of meat we consume: less of it but good quality stuff when we do. I’m sure this must be much better for us from a health point of view too.

At first it was difficult, especially I think for my husband who has taken a little while to convince that you can have a fully satisfying meal without any meaty component. But for me it’s turning into quite an adventure, discovering a whole new world of vegetarian cuisine.

This pasta dish, pappardelle with courgette (zucchini) and basil, is one we eat quite often, particularly in the summer when courgettes are in abundance. I have actually been making it for years – it has been my staple dish whenever veggie friends came over for a meal. Now we eat it with or without the vegetarian guests.

It’s based on a Jamie Oliver recipe. He makes it with tagliatelle but I tend to use whatever pasta happens to be in the cupboard. Pappardelle is my favourite for this. Oh yes, and I use much more garlic than Jamie.

Pappardelle with courgette and basil

5 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
4 courgettes, sliced very thinly
juice of 1 lemon
handful of fresh basil, torn
400g pappardelle (or pasta of your choice)
salt and pepper
100g parmesan cheese, grated

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta according to the packet instructions.

Gently fry the garlic in 4 tbsp of olive oil for a minute, then add the sliced courgette and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the lemon juice and basil and cook for a few more minutes until the courgette is tender.

When the pasta is ready, drain and combine with the courgette. Season to taste, add most of the parmesan and remaining olive oil and mix well. Serve with some more torn basil and a sprinkling of parmesan.