Monthly Archives: June 2016

Cavolo Nero, Cannellini Beans and Chipotle

cavolo nero, cannellini bean and chipotle

I first encountered cavolo nero in Tuscany over 30 years ago. It was part of a bowl of ribollita, adding a silky texture to that wonderfully thick soup made with cannellini beans, cavolo nero and stale bread amongst other ingredients put to nutritious use. I was bowled over by the flavour of that simple dish and packed into my suitcase bags of dried cannellini beans with which to make the soup in my own kitchen. The problem, decades ago, was that cavolo nero was not easy to come by. Nowadays my supermarket stocks it from time to time and whenever I spot those long, dark green leaves just bursting with vitamins, I pop a few bags full in my basket. To my mind it is the best of the green leafy vegetables. It has a far better taste and texture than kale, is more versatile than spinach due to its thicker leaves and is a deeply attractive colour when cooked.

In this recipe I have retained the Tuscan pairing of cannellini beans with cavolo nero and have hopped continents to add in a chipotle chilli. This magical chilli provides just a touch of heat and a whole lot of smoky flavour which has guests guessing. It is well worth experimenting with if it is not yet part of your culinary repertoire.Pulses are an important part of the diet when lowering cholesterol and this quick and tasty dish will help you feel full of beans.

For 4 people:

1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
250g chestnut mushrooms, chopped
1 tin cannellini beans, drained
1 bunch cavolo nero – about 10 stalks
250g vegetable stock – I use Marigold bouillon
1 chipotle chilli

Heat the olive oil gently and sauté the onions until soft. Add the garlic and cook for about 2 minutes so that the aroma is released but the garlic does not burn. Add the mushrooms and stir. Continue to cook on a medium heat until the mushrooms release their juice. Add the stock and the chipotle chilli as well as the drained cannellini beans. Continue to cook for 5 minutes.

In the meantime wash and shake dry the cavolo nero and tear the leaves off the stalks. Add the torn leaves to the pot, cover and steam for a further 5 minutes or until the leaves have wilted. I like the leaves to retain some texture.

I like to serve this dish with a bulgur wheat risotto but you could also serve it with a pile of brown Basmati rice.

Teach Your Children Well – 29 June 2016

This week I am feeling so downcast by the political situation in the UK that it is hard to concentrate on the pesky issue of lowering cholesterol. I feel more concerned about the political turmoil and the future opportunities for my children’s generation than I do about the future of my cardiovascular health. But maybe the two are not mutually exclusive.

Talking of the future of the next generation, the weekends these days are filled with university open day visits. I have been surprised to discover that self-catering facilities have the sort of kitchens that would not look out of place in an IKEA catalogue – spacious, bright, funky chairs at large kitchen tables, multiple hobs and fridges. Viewing several of these on Saturday, I was just itching to get cooking. I wondered how much real food is prepared in these kitchens in any academic year. One of the tour guides opened a freezer to show prospective students (or the parents) how the space is divided up. As I suspected the freezer was packed tight with boxes of pizza and oven chips. In the corner of the kitchen there was a pile of empty bottles presumably awaiting recycling. The pile was sizeable and composed mainly of alcohol empties. Perhaps the less parents see of these kitchens the better.

This experience set me to thinking about preparing my son for a self-catering life that is not composed of endless dinners of pizza and oven chips. Eighteen years of eating lots of fruit and veg, wholemeal pasta, brown rice, loads of grains, fish and fowl and a small amount of red meat, homemade bread – all this is but a distant memory if he does not learn to cook. He makes a good cheese omelette and a mean toastie, can put together a simple pasta sauce and recently roasted a chicken under instruction. So the bones are there.

How many students are ready for a future in which they will have to take care of their own nutrition? Our schools do little to prepare our children for an independent life – oftentimes they are not even prepared for being independent thinkers. Cooking should be as much part of the curriculum as PE. Nutrition and eating well is every bit as important as exercise.

Back in my student days I learnt to make pasta and not much else. No one had taught me to cook before I left home. On campus I ate the cheapest meal deal in the lunch canteen – usually large slabs of macaroni cheese. Along with my peers I ate at late night greasy spoons. I did no exercise aside from running to lectures that I was usually late for. I put on a whole lot of weight in the three years that ensued. It took another three years to get back to my normal size.

This morning I paged through a Student Cookbook to see if it might offer inspiration to my son but in fact it was far too complex for a student. Who takes an electric mixer to university? Some of the recipes were time consuming with ingredients unlikely to be available in the campus grocery shop. I assured my son that I will teach him to cook a few dishes that are quick and easy – one fish, chicken, egg, veggie, and of course, pasta dish– macaroni cheese probably as it is a favourite. After all it takes the same time to put fish fingers on an oven tray as it does to put a fresh fish fillet on an oven tray. A squeeze of lemon and a grinding of black pepper and supper is almost ready. I feel a new cookbook coming on.

We all know about the obesity epidemic and might feel powerless to do anything about it. Teaching our children to cook is one way to ensure that they are able to feed themselves healthily once they are no longer eating their meals in our kitchens.

Roasted Butternut and Beetroot with Balsamic Glaze

Roasted Butternut and Beetroot with Balsamic Glaze From The Healthy Heart

I am a huge fan of roasting vegetables. Winter and summer sees me chopping up veg and popping trays full in the oven. Roasting adds such intensity to vegetables and is so simple too. For this recipe I kept colours bold. Butternut and beetroot are both sweet as is the red onion so a bit of a sharp note is needed so that the taste is not more like dessert than a side dish. A slug of balsamic vinegar usually does the trick for me.

This week I was sent a box of goodies from a company called Odysea that imports products from Greece. One of the many lovely items was a bottle of balsamic glaze. I have noticed this product in the shops for some time but never thought about buying it, preferring to use a really good quality balsamic vinegar for my salads and cooking. When I looked at the list of ingredients on the side of the bottle I discovered that the glaze mixes balsamic vinegar with concentrated grape juice. On tasting the glaze the intense flavour of grape was a pleasant surprise and sets the glaze apart from the usual vinegar. It is good enough to drink from a spoon.

For 4 people:

1 butternut – peeled, deseeded and sliced into lengths.
4 – 5 beetroot – peeled and halved, then sliced into lengths
1 large red onion – peeled, halved and cut into wedges
2 tablespoons olive oil
A good grinding of black pepper
Balsamic glaze – if you can’t get hold of this then you can substitute with a very good quality balsamic vinegar.

Heat the oven to 200 C.

Prepare the vegetables and place in a large roasting dish. Arrange the veg in one layer as far as possible. Pour over the olive oil and mix well. Give a good grinding of black pepper.

Place the tray in the hot oven and roast for about an hour and a half. You want the vegetables to be soft and beginning to caramelise.

Remove the vegetables, place them on a serving platter and drizzle over as much balsamic glaze as suits your taste. I like to ‘draw’ lines up and down the vegetables with the glaze.

Food of the Greek Gods

Low fat, no fat, full fat, healthy fat, eat fat, don’t eat fat – if you are as fed up as I am with all these contradictory messages then you can hardly bear to read another word about it. Yet, I suspect that we are going to be hearing more and more about the topic as the ‘facts’ continue to trickle down to the public from research new and some old but only recently revealed. I have written several times recently about this confusing argument in the nutrition world. How is it translating into action in my daily diet?

The biggest change is that I am feeling more relaxed about eating full fat products. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I am now avoiding eating low or no fat dairy. I have had enough of eating 0% yoghurts, for example, that only push more sugars into my bowl. Instead I have begun to buy full fat yoghurt and I must say that I have not yet noticed any weight gain. Perhaps this is because I have cut back in general on how much I am eating in the run up to summer. It would be nice to fit back into my summer trousers. I tried on a favourite pair the other day – lightweight, a neutral shade and not prone to creasing. What more can one ask of a pair of trousers? My side of the bargain is to be able to close the zip. I also have my annual cholesterol test in mind. As usual it is overdue – every year I seem to postpone it while I have a mad dash to knock off a few pounds and to get more lower cholesterol eating onto my plate.

I was recently invited to lunch at The Greek Larder in Kings Cross where my colleagues and I were treated to a tasting of some top quality Greek products imported by Odysea. While we ate our way through plates of mezze we were given a fascinating talk about Greek olives, honeys and details about how Greek strained yoghurt is made. This is the real Greek yoghurt, the full fat variety not the Greek styled low fat stuff. It was deliciously creamy and utterly lovely with a spoon of Pine and Fir Tree Honey which is unique to Greece and the Turkish coast and available in an upmarket supermarket.

This week I decided to buy some full fat Greek Strained Yoghurt. Having spent the past years eating 0% fat Greek Yoghurt I was a bit shocked to realised that my new purchase contained 10% fat. But I was even more surprised to discover, when reading the small print, that the 10% yoghurt only contained 2g sugar while the low fat one had 5.6g sugar. So you either eat the fat and less sugar or less fat but more sugar. I leave it to you to decide. For now I have decided to eat the full fat variety in smaller quantities as it tastes so creamy that one needs less to feel satisfied. Of course adding honey only brings the sugar back into the bowl so I put the jar aside and added a handful of juicy blackberries instead. Food of the Greek gods!