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  • Nettle (or Spinach!), Pine Nut and Feta Pasties

    I love to eat nettles – to my way of thinking, they’re one of the most underused free ingredients that we have access to all year round. If you like spinach, there’s no reason for you to be pulling up nettles from your garden to put on the compost heap. If you have a patch where nettles like to grow in your garden, just regularly trim them back to the ground to encourage new, tender shoots to appear. These are the ones that you need to cook with. Nettles are edible at any stage of their growth, but once they have flowered the taste can be bitter and they’re a bit stringy so it’s best to look beneath the flowering nettles for the new ones that are just coming up.

    Choose the first 3 or 4 top leaves of each nettle

    Nettles only sting you while you’re collecting them, so use rubber gloves. The sting disappears the moment the nettle comes into contact with heat, so there’s no danger of you stinging your mouth! Give the nettles a good wash when you get them into the kitchen, like you would with spinach, give them a quick shake and then steam them with the washing water still clinging to them.

    These pasties are perfect picnic food, especially if you make the small ones. The nettles can be replaced with spinach or chard leaves and the pine nuts can be replaced with any nut that you have to hand, or be left out completely.

    Makes 3 large or 15 small pasties

    You need to collect 250g of nettles for this recipe, which is a good half a carrier bag full. If you find you haven’t got enough when you get home, you can either go hunting in your own back garden or add some spinach or watercress leaves. Only pick the tops of nettles that aren’t flowering – the first 3 or 4 leaves. Use rubber gloves!

    Pastry:

    Do what you normally do for pastry – either buy 2 blocks ready-made, or if making from scratch, make an amount using 250g plain flour.

    For the filling:

    250g nettle tops/spinach/chard, thoroughly washed and put into a colander to drain

    1 medium onion, finely chopped

    1 clove garlic, crushed

    ½ pack of feta cheese, crumbled

    A handful of pine nuts toasted (you could use toasted, chopped hazelnuts or cashews if you haven’t got any pine nuts)

    A pinch of nutmeg (optional)

    A squeeze of lemon

    1 egg beaten

    Salt and black pepper

    Make the pastry if making from scratch, or get the ready-made pastry out of the fridge.

    Preheat the oven to 180C, Gas 4. Line a baking sheet with non stick baking paper.

    For the filling: using scissors, chop the nettles roughly and then tip them into a large saucepan with just the water that is still clinging to the leaves.

    Wash the nettles

    Turn the heat to high and leave the nettles to wilt in the small amount of water that is in there. If the nettles are dry, just add a tiny splash of water. This will only take a couple of minutes. Leave to cool.

    Heat a splash of oil in a frying pan and cook the onion and garlic over a medium heat, until soft and translucent.

    Squeeze as much water as possible from the cooled, cooked nettles (the sting will have completely disappeared by now) and add them to the onion. Mix well and leave to cool.

    Tip the cooled mixture into a bowl and add the crumbled cheese, chopped nuts or pinenuts, nutmeg, a squeeze of lemon juice and some black pepper. Taste for seasoning, don’t forget feta is salty anyway. Add salt if needed. Mix together thoroughly with ¾ of the egg (leave the rest for glazing the top of the pasties).

    Roll the pastry out until about as thick as a 2p piece. Cut either into 3 large circles or squares or 15 smaller circles or squares, depending on what size pasty you want to make.

    Mix the leftover egg with a little milk or water and moisten the edges of the first cut out pastry with it.

    Using a teaspoon, place the filling on one half of the pastry (don’t overfill or the pastie will burst during cooking)

    Fold the pastry over the filling and press the edges together to seal. Place on the baking tray.

    Repeat until all of the pastry and/or filling is used up.

    Brush with any remaining egg mixture and bake until golden brown – approximately 10-15 minutes for small pasties and 25-30 for large pasties

  • Meat Free Monday – Egg & Potato Curry.

    One of the first kits that we made was Timatar Masala. It means ‘Tomato Mixture/Blend’ in English – it sounds much better in Indian!

    It has more whole spices in it than any of the other curries that we make, which gives it a lovely authentic taste. It’s one of the first curries that I ever learnt to make and so has a special place in my heart. It’s Indian home cooking at its best – this kind of curry is the Indian housewife’s ‘go to’ mid week curry. If you’ve never tried making a curry with bone in chicken, this is the one to try it with. The bones add a richness to the dish – add a few new potatoes and you have a thing of beauty! Simmer it long and slow, or for a more carefree dish just add a splash more water and put it in the oven on low oven (160C ish) in a casserole dish and leave it to cook for a couple of hours until the meat is falling from the chicken legs/thighs. Delicious.

    Timatar Masala also lends itself amazingly well to any kind of vegetable, so it’s ideal for you to add your left over veggies and a can of chickpeas/beans to.

    For a fantastic Meat-Free Monday, try an Egg & New Potato curry, it sounds strange, but works amazingly well! A friend of mine keeps Quails and I bought a dozen gorgeous little eggs to use in a curry, but you can use 6 normal eggs if you prefer.

    Make the Timatar Masala up to where you’ve added the tomatoes and have let them cook until glossy. Boil the eggs and shell them. Boil the new potatoes (you’ll need about 8 small ones or 4 big ones). Sprinkle the eggs with salt and turmeric and set to one side.

    Heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan and add the eggs and potatoes. Shake them around until they start taking on some colour and then add to the curry with 50-100ml water (or coconut milk).

    Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 5 minutes. At this point, leave the curry as long as possible so that the flavours can soak into the potatoes and eggs before serving. Taste before serving and add more salt/sugar if necessary. Stir in some fresh chopped coriander if liked.

  • Maltesers and Milky Bar Cake – it’s Easter!

    If ever there was a good time to make a truly indulgent cake, it’s at Easter. Alternatively, you could always make it after Easter to use up the Easter eggs!

    The cake itself is just a chocolate Victoria sandwich and you don’t have to use Maltesers for the top, you can pile it high with your favourites.

    I always start a cake by weighing the eggs. Use 3 or 4 eggs, depending on how deep you’d like your chocolate sponge to be. Once you’ve weighed the eggs, write down the weight and make sure that you use the same for: butter, sugar and self raising flour (plus 1/2 tsp baking powder). When it comes to adding the cocoa powder (not drinking chocolate) I prefer to dissolve a couple of tablespoons with a tablespoon or so of boiling water – stir to make a paste (use a splash more water if you need it). Add this after you’ve creamed the butter and sugar together and then mix well before the next step. When the mixture has been made, it should drop from a spoon with some gentle encouragement. If it doesn’t, just add a splash of milk. Bake in two lined Victoria Sandwich tins.

    You’ll need 125g of Milky Bar but don’t eat the rest, you’ll need to melt it to put on top of the finished cake! You’ll also need a small bar of your favourite milk chocolate for decorating the top, too.

    For the icing, you’ll need:

    175g butter, 175g icing sugar, 125g Milky Bar, 1tsp vanilla (optional)

    Melt the Milky Bar and leave to cool. Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the cooled chocolate and beat again until really light.

    Sandwich the cake together with a layer of Nutella (or similar) and using a piping bag (optional) pipe half of the icing over the nutella layer before putting the other layer of cake on the top.

    Spread the rest of the icing on to the top of the cake and gently press the Maltesers into the soft icing – don’t push them too far in, it’s just to make sure that they don’t roll off. Cut some of them in half to drop into any gaps and give a different texture. Drizzle over the leftover melted Milky Bar and some melted milk chocolate. Sprinkle over some edible glitter or sprinkles (optional)

  • Lentil and Spinach Pakora

    Pakora (aka Fritters) are a fantastic addition to any Indian meal or perfect to serve with drinks. As with all Pakora, they use only a few fresh ingredients, making them a great, cheap choice for parties.

    Because they’re made with lentils, they are light and fluffy inside and crisp and golden on the outside. Filled with spinach, coriander, spring onions and chillies (if you ignore the fact they’re deep fried…) they’re a health food!

    Spinach & Lentil Pakora – makes around 24

    186g Moong dal (these are skinned, split mung beans and are available from supermarkets in the World Food section, or Indian stores)

    100g pre-washed and dried, finely shredded spinach (I grab a handful and roll it up into a cigar, then finely slice my way along)

    4 spring onions, washed, dried and finely sliced

    Small handful of washed and dried coriander leaves, roughly chopped (you can use parsley or any other mild tasting herb, if you prefer)

    2 green chillies (you can use more if you prefer, or leave them out completely)

    1/8tsp (pinch) of baking powder

    1/2 – 1 tsp salt

    Soak the Moong dal for 4 hours in water.

    Drain, rinse and put into a food processor with 4fl oz water and whizz together until smooth, light and fluffy. This should take about 5-6 minutes in 1 minute bursts. Each time, scrape down the sides of the processor before whizzing for another minute.

    Mix in the other ingredients with 1/2tsp of the salt at this stage. Don’t be tempted to add any more spinach, coriander or spring onion than stated above in the recipe, if you overload the mixture the pakora will turn out to be heavy and chewy instead of light and fluffy. Taste and add more salt or chilli if it’s needed.

    Fill a pan no more than half full of oil and heat to 190C, or set your deep fat fryer to 190C. You can tell when it’s ready by dropping some bread into the oil – it should turn golden brown in 10-15 seconds. Another way to find out is to put the handle of a wooden spoon into the oil – little bubbles should appear around it.

    Gently slide small dessert spoons of mixture into the hot oil. Don’t overcrowd the pan because it will make the pakora soft instead of crisp. You may be able to get around 8 pakora at a time into the pan. They should have lots of smaller bubbles around them. The photo below is of the first four pakora going into the pan which means there are a lot of larger bubbles around them. Turn your heat down slightly so that the bubbles are smaller than this, otherwise the pakora will brown too quickly.

    Using a slotted spoon, turn the pakora over so that they cook on both sides and fry until golden brown. Lift out onto kitchen roll to drain. Repeat with the remaining mixture.

    You can cook the pakora in advance and then reheat, covered at 180C for 10 minutes, although they won’t be as crispy as they are when served fresh from the pan.

    A dip would be great with these, such as raita.

  • Horseradish Greens

    I’m a huge fan of Horseradish. Like dill, just the smell of it makes me hungry and when you look at the medicinal benefits, they are both used to increase appetite!

    Before chillies were brought over from Portugal, it was horseradish that separated the men from the boys. It has a completely different heat to chillies – chillie heat sticks to the tougue with it’s potent barbs – horseradish heat comes from chemical compounds being crushed together and so affects your sinuses rather than your tongue! No surprise then, that horseradish has been used for centuries to cure sinus problems.

    During the 18th century, the most popular documented way to get rid of a sinus infection was to put 1/4 tsp of freshly grated horseradish on your tongue and ‘hold it in your mouth until all the flavour is gone’. It goes on to say that ‘this will immediately cut through the infected mucus and let it drain down the throat. This will relieve the pressure in your sinuses and help clear infection.’ ! I’ve never tried this remedy- it makes sense – but if you’ve ever peeled and grated fresh horseradish root, you’ll know that the smell affects your eyes and nose far more than any strong raw onions, so I think I’d only try it as an absolute last resort…

    Now’s the time for you to look out for horseradish growing wild. It’s easy to spot if you know what Dock leaves look like, they’re very similar. If you’re unsure, rip a piece of the leaf off and give it a smell. You’ll know immediately whether it’s Dock or Horseradish, the leaves have the same delicious fragrance as the root.

    Horseradish greens

    After the first few cold nights, the soft green leaves will rapidly turn brown and die back, which means that the leaf markers won’t be there any more. So when you’ve found your horseradish plant, make sure that you mark it with something like a painted stick or stone so that when you come back to dig up your root, if the leaves have vanished you’ll still know where to start digging.

    Horseradish Greens as a side dish

    Most people know that horseradish root tastes amazing with most roast or baked things (including roast beetroot – yum!), but what a lot of people don’t know is that the leaves of the horseradish are delicious too. Horseradish greens are an absolute delight prepared simply or used in a stir fry. They have an irony rich cabbage flavour, but are quite pokey with a horseradish mustardy taste.

    It’s best to select the newest leaves from the centre of the plant (the outer ones are completely edible, but tougher and more irony) and just take as many as you need for your dinner, they don’t freeze well.

    Pick and take home just the amount you’ll need for your dinner.

    Prepare them as you would spring greens, by cutting out any tough central ribs and chopping into pieces.

    Remove the central rib and cut into pieces

    Steam them for no longer than 5 minutes and then stir in a knob of butter, some salt, pepper and a grating of nutmeg.

    If you’re new to Horseradish greens, it might be a good idea to mix them with a cabbage of your choice as an introduction to their amazing flavour. The next time you cook them – you’ll want them ‘neat’!

    Steamed Savoy cabbage and Horseradish greens

    You can also use the leaves as a wrapper for Dolmades or to wrap pre-cooked vegetables in a cheese sauce, or rice mixtures before being baked in foil in the oven. The Horseradish leaves impart a delicate flavour to their contents.

    If you’re only going to try one new thing during the next week, make it Horseradish Greens!