Roasting all the things

We didn’t really know what to have for dinner, but we also had a lot of random vegetables that we had to eat before they went off. One pepper… another single potato… an aubergine… a fennel… What to do with all these bits and pieces?

The answer, obviously: roast all of them in the oven!

Then we had them with some olive oil (of course), a bit of chorizo and a fried egg (“for protein” 😅). And I made a salad for lunch the following day ✌🏻

Ingredients

Basically any random vegetable that you might have in your fridge, but in our case:

  • 1 potato
  • 1 aubergine
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 onion
  • 1 fennel
  • Tomatoes
  • Garlic cloves
  • Olive oil
  • Paprika
  • Pebrella (if you have it) or oregano
  • A piece of chorizo (optional)
  • One egg per person (optional)

If you skip the chorizo and eggs, this could be a totally vegan dish. Do as you feel!

Preparation

  1. Put some water on a pot so we can lightly boil the fennel before roasting it (that way it will be tender). Set the heat to high.
  2. Set the oven to 200C
  3. Cut any ugly bits off the fennel, chopping off the ends and perhaps the outside leaves. Wash off any soil. When the water is boiling, add the fennel to it.
  4. Prepare one or more trays (depending on how many vegetables you want to get rid off), oiling them lightly or perhaps adding some aluminum wrap if you don’t want things to stick to your tray
  5. Peel or wash very thoroughly the potato (sometimes I like to keep the skin), and slice lengthwise. Lightly cut the flat sides so they get better cooked. Then place on the trays.
  6. The aubergine is pretty tedious to peel, so I don’t. Wash it carefully and slice it like the potato, and place on the tray too.
  7. Peel a few garlic cloves, slice them and place them on the aubergine slices. It adds a nice garlicy flavour!
  8. Peel the onion, slice it in four parts and place on the tray.
  9. When the fennel seems to have softened a bit, take it out of the pot, and (slice in 3 or 4 parts, place in tray)
  10. This is our tray of things that will take longer to cook: Aubergine, potato, fennel and onion
    Add a bit of olive oil and salt, and place in the oven so it starts cooking. 
  11. And now for the tray of delicate things that take less to cook: the tomatoes and pepper.
  12. Wash the pepper and slice longitudinally. Remove any seeds, and place on the tray.
  13. Wash the tomatoes and slice in somehow thick slices (don’t go too thin or they just evaporate down to nothing). Place in the tray, and then add some olive oil to everything, and sprinkle with pebrella or oregano over the tomatoes.  And place it in the oven.Pepper and tomatoes on the tray
  14. Keep an eye on the food as it cooks. Some things take less to cook, so you might need to take a tray out and remove some of the ingredients to prevent things from burning. Vegetables being roasted in the oven
    TIP: If it’s hard to look at the tray underneath because the oven light is on top, you can use your mobile phone’s flashlight function as a “lantern”.
  15. When things are cooked to your liking (e.g. some people prefer the potatoes more done and crispy, others prefer them tender…), arrange them in dishes, ready to serve. Roasted vegetables
  16. Optional: Right after turning the heat in the oven off, take a piece of chorizo, peel the skin off, slice it in two and place them in the oven to gently warm up while we cook the eggs. This will release its smokiness and soften the fats, so it’ll take a darker colour. Chorizo pieces
  17. Optional: Fry the eggs, and place on the dishes. Fried egg
  18. Add some paprika on top of the potatoes. I’m using smoked paprika like the one in this recipe.
  19. And there we go! Ready to eat 😋

Roasted vegetables with egg and chorizo

We had never roasted fennel before, and this was such a nice surprise. It turns way mellower than when raw, and the aniseed flavour is sort of surfing on top of a gentle wave of sweetness. It conjured visions of walking across fields on a slightly chill, crisp Autumn Sunday morning; muddy boots and all.

You would wonder: can a roasted fennel do ALL THAT to your mind? And my answer is that the only way to find out is to try it by yourself.

 

Roasted artichokes

Artichokes in salad
Artichokes in salad

We sourced a few good looking artichokes at Natoora and I couldn’t resist turning them into a lightweight dinner! This style of dinner is very common around my home area as it won’t have you digesting heavy stuff for hours, and so you can sleep well.

Preparation

  1. First chop their stems, and also a few of the outside leaves (as they’re hard, have spiky bits and that’s not nice). Then cut them in halves:

    Artichoke sliced in half
    Artichoke sliced in half
  2. Put them all on a pan, add some oil and salt, and set them to a high heat
  3. Wait until they got some colour in one side. Then turn them around and brown them on that side too. If they’re cooking too fast and you fear they’ll burn, reduce the heat!
  4. Add some water – about a centimeter tall, cover, and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat and let the artichokes soften in the water
    Artichokes roasting in the pan
  5. Once the water has evaporated, check the artichokes are soft (I just “lightly” punch them with a fork). If not, you can either add a bit more water and repeat the process, or keep them on a very low heat for longer.
  6. Done! Ready to eat!

In this case I served them with some escarole salad, tomatoes and cucumber, and just a touch of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It is way more filling that you’d imagine, because the artichokes are so full of flavour, and the other vegetables were really high quality so it was a really sensational dish 🙂

Other ways to serve them:

  • with toasted bread and olive oil. I would prefer wholemeal baguette style bread, but any good bread could work.
  • with an omelette (possibly a simple egg one)
  • with pan fried chicken breasts

Rambling time

Escaroles seem quite uncommon in the UK, but I grew up eating them during winter months, and I miss them, so I was very excited that Puntarelle & co had them in stock. The taste is quite different from your every day lettuce: peppery, spicy, a bit sour. I figured liking them is certainly an acquired taste because my very English partner didn’t like them at all! 😆

In the same vein, finding good artichokes in London’s markets is quite the challenge. Forget supermarkets—I’ve never, ever, been able to find artichokes which were not weeeeell past their best times.

But it’s hard to tell from the outside because to know for sure you’d need to slice open the artichoke and see if it is still a bud, all green and undeveloped, and it has not started to turn into the bloom before the flower (which is what artichokes are, after all).

One way to test this is to gently squeeze the artichokes and see how they respond. They should be flexible; if they’re stiff it’s too late. But sometimes it’s hard to say…

Another way of testing is to use your nose: fresh artichokes have a very ‘green’ and characteristic smell. But this doesn’t work with supermarkets because the produce has been in a fridge for so long it just doesn’t smell of anything anymore. And shops tend to be cold as well, which doesn’t help with releasing aromas. So you could only use this in fresh markets.

When the flower develops, the “core” of the artichoke turns into stems and it’s absolutely vile to eat because it’s like eating spiky hairs that make a ball at the end of your throat. Urghhh. It’s also incredibly difficult to slice, as it hardens. I’ve lost count of the amount of artichokes I’ve had to throw away after I tried to salvage some of their contents 😱

It is a complex problem that feeds itself:

  1. They are still a ‘weird’ vegetable and the demand is pretty low, so the food chain doesn’t prioritise getting good quality artichokes fast to the UK. And then they spend way too long in the shelves
  2. When people buy them and find a disgusting vile old artichoke they never buy them again, and so the demand keeps being low
  3. Back to step one 😭

Still, I keep trying to find decent ones, because they can be so delicious!

Amusingly enough in Spain you can not only easily find artichokes, but even the stalks of the plant, called pencas, which are eaten in stews and salads. Nothing goes to waste!

Courghetti with tomato and onion sauce

Courghetti with tomato and onion sauce

This is fun to make (spiralising things is so much fun), and fairly quick to prepare. Plus it’s quite filling AND lightweight – courgettes are basically water!

You will need a spiraliser, or you can buy pre-made courghetti, although I’ve never tried those and I’ve no idea how bad or good they are!

Ingredients (for two people)

  • Two medium sized courgettes (about 15 cm length)
  • 1 onion
  • 3 or 4 garlic cloves
  • One 400g tomato tin
  • Olive oil
  • Optional: Parmesan cheese and butter (leave out if vegan)

Preparation

  1. Start by washing and spiralising the courgettes. I make one pile per courgette, as it makes it easier to separate the portions later
  2. Peel and chop the onion and garlic cloves
  3. Put oil on a pan, and start frying the onion and garlic
  4. In parallel, wash and chop the parsley, and add it to the pan as well
  5. Once the onion is pretty soft, move everything to one side, like in the picture
  6. Add some more oil, and set to a very high heat
  7. When the pan is very hot, add the contents of the tomato tin to it, and fry on a very high heat for about 1-2 minutes or until you think things are going to burn! Stir frequently during this time. The goal is to get the tomato to lose its acidity
  8. Now reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes
  9. Optional: add a dash of butter now to get a deeper body. Mix it well until it dissolves.
  10. Slowly add about 200ml of warm water to compensate for the evaporation.
  11. Add a tablespoon of paprika, and mix well
  12. About 10 minutes in the simmering, try a bit of the sauce, and add salt and pepper to taste, mix well and try the sauce again. It might still be a bit acidic, but don’t add sugar – just wait for longer!
  13. Depending on the quality of the tomatoes, you might need to wait for longer. It usually pays off to wait as the flavour gets more developed and interesting. So you might need more than 20 minutes.
  14. Once the sauce is ‘done’, turn the heat off.
  15. To cook the courghetti, add some oil to another pan, and set on a very high heat.
  16. When the pan is very hot, add a ‘pile’ of courghetti, and stir continuously. We don’t want anything to get stuck, and we want the cooking to be homogeneous. We also don’t want the courghettis to get too soft, so that’s why we need the heat to be very high, so they cook outside but not too much inside. If the heat is too low, they will start releasing water, and the result will be too “liquidy”.
  17. Once one pile is cooked, place on a deep bowl, and go to step 15 to cook the next, until all have been cooked.
  18. Pour the sauce on top of the cooked courghetti
  19. Optional: add a good dose of grated Parmesan cheese
  20. Add some pepper
  21. Optional: add a dash of the best olive oil you have

Tricks and tips

I used this smoked paprika my mum brought me from Extremadura, a region in West Spain, renowned by the quality of their paprika!

Smoked paprika

If you have the chance to shop at a Spanish grocers, “Pimentón de la Vera” is the type of paprika you want to look for.

Also, depending on your spiraliser, you might get very long ‘courghetti’ so it might be interesting to cut the piles a few times with scissors before cooking them, so they’re not like 3 meters long and impossible to eat with a fork.

Arroz con acelgas (rice with Swiss chard)

This is an extremely cheap, easy to cook and comforting rice dish, very typical from the region I’m from. You can make it more “liquidy” or drier, depending on your tastes.

I used this Spanish recipe as reference, but altered a few things. Thanks, Kiko!

Ingredients

  • 140 g of round rice (paella or bomba varieties)
  • A bunch of Swiss chard
  • 1 onion
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 medium tomato (or a bunch of cherry tomatoes)
  • 100 g of cooked chickpeas (about half a 400g can, drained)
  • Paprika (not smoked)
  • Olive oil

This makes about 3 generous portions, or 4 if smaller. But it’s very easy to stretch it for more people by adding more water or rice.

Preparation

Takes about 45 minutes (15 min preparing, 30 min cooking).

You’ll need a big pot; cast iron pots (‘le Creuset’ style) are a very good option, although in Spain it’s often cooked on earthenware, but it’s a bit hard to find good quality affordable earthenware implements in the UK.

  1. Peel the garlic cloves, but don’t slice them
  2. Peel and chop the onion, it doesn’t need to be very finely
  3. Wash and chop the tomato
  4. Carefully wash the chard and discard “ugly bits” (we’re not the only ones who like chard – worms love them too!), then chop it in pieces of about 2cm wide
  5. Add oil to the pot, set on a high heat and fry the garlic and onion on itChopped onion
  6. Add the chard and fry it until it starts to soften (you should be stirring everything so nothing gets stuck or burnt)
  7. Add the tomato and fry it too
  8. Add a tablespoon of paprika, mix everything together
  9. Add the chickpeas
  10. Add about 600 ml of water for a dry version, or more like 800ml for a soup finish. Add a pinch of salt.
  11. Bring to a boil
  12. Reduce the heat, place a lid and simmer for about 10 minutes. This will extract all the great flavours from the vegetables.
  13. Add the rice (you don’t need to wash it; the starch will help us give a good depth to the dish). Stir around to make sure it’s evenly distributed.
  14. Optional: add food colouring. You could add saffron, turmeric, or the classic cheap version that we use in Valencia often – a spices mix for paella (often called “Preparado para paella”).
  15. Cook on a low-medium heat for about 20 minutes, with the lid on and slightly ajar to let the steam off, but don’t leave the pot unattended because…
    1. There might be a burst of boiling water come up and you don’t want it to overflow, asphyxiate your stove and cause a gas spill
    2. Or the rice might absorb all the water and run dry
    3. So if need be, add more water (specially if you want it to be more like a soup)
  16. Towards the 15 minutes mark, you want to start checking that the rice is cooked, and if that’s the case, turn the heat off! We aren’t cooking congee here.
  17. Serve on deep dishes or bowls, if having soup. And enjoy the smugness of having cooked a cheap and comforting dish! 😏

How to tell when rice is cooked?

  1. If you take a grain and it’s soft, but you can still feel some ‘crunch’ inside when you bite it: it’s still raw. Check again in a couple of minutes.
  2. If the grain is still sort of cylindrical and keeping the original raw shape, but inflated, and you feel no ‘solid crunch’ when biting it: it’s cooked!
  3. If the grain is starting to expand like fluffy clouds and dissolving in the soup: TURN THE HEAT OFF IMMEDIATELY AND REPENT. You’ll do better next time.

This dish is quite forgiving if the rice is slightly overcooked and you’re aiming for a soup form; but under or overcooking would be Capital Sins when aiming for a dry form.

Alternatives

  • If you can’t find paella rice, replace it with risotto or arborio rice. Basically you want rice that can absorb liquid.
  • If you don’t have fresh tomatoes, you could replace them with some tinned tomatoes, about half of a 400g tin.
  • If you can’t find Swiss chard you can use spinach (or maybe kale?!)
  • You can replace chickpeas with other legumes you have handy. It’s about the protein: imagine you’re a peasant and need energy to do your labour!
  • You could also use good vegetable stock instead of water, if you want extra flavour, although this dish doesn’t really need it. But maybe you have the stock there and do not know what to do with it.

As you can see, this is a very accommodating dish.

Trivia

This is often eaten during Lent, as it is vegan! Although we didn’t call it vegan at the time. We just said it did not have meat. When Lent falls in February, and a cold spell happens, it’s very nice to eat a comforting warm soupy rice dish.

It’s also meant to be “poor people’s food”, which is not quite surprising given the ingredients. Swiss chard grow very well in the region, and you can even find them growing semi-wildly in the borders of built up areas nowadays.

I distinctly remember a schooltrip to a chapel on top a little hill that overlooks my hometown. We heard the teachers squeaking  with excitement as they realised that one side of the hill was covered with sort of wild chard, and it just took them a few moments to cave in to temptation and start foraging for the prettiest leaves, declaring:

Esto, ¡para el hervido de esta noche!

Or “this, for tonight’s boiled dish”.

And we did what children do: imitate the adults. We started grabbing leaves too, thinking we were doing great. My grandmother was extremely bemused when I showed up with a random selection of weeds and worm-devoured Swiss chard leaves! 😂

For the curious in you, read an explanation of what this boiled dish is!

Herb omelette

herb omelette
I tried to make coucou, but failed…

This morning I set out with the grand plan of making a delicious coucou, but I didn’t quite succeed. I was too cautious with the amount of herbs, added way less than I should have and so I ended up with a herby omelette, but actually that’s not a bad thing either!

Ingredients

  • Eggs (about 2-3 per person)
  • Herbs:
    • Dill
    • Chives
    • Parsley
    • Spring onions
  • Oil for frying
  • Hazelnuts

For reference, these are the herbs I used, before slicing them. Way too little!

the herbs: dill, chives, parsley, spring onions

Preparation

Takes about 30 minutes, for 2 people.

  1. Wash the herbs and remove any mushy bit if any. We want the best herbs for this!
  2. Then slice them sort of finely, with a knife or scissors, whatever is easier.
  3. I used already roasted hazelnuts, but if yours aren’t, lightly roast them now using a pan on a low heat, until they acquire some colour (I’m assuming you’re using hazelnuts without their skin on!).
  4. Crush the hazelnuts. I used a pestle and mortar.
  5. In a bowl, prepare the eggs: beat them until the yolks and whites are mixed.
  6. Add a generous amount of oil to a pan, then set on a high heat. When it’s hot, add the spring onions first as they’re the sturdiest of the set. Reduce the heat a bit. Stir to avoid burning the onions.
  7. When the onions are soft, add the chives, stir and wait until they get soft too.
  8. Add the parsley and dill, stir.
  9. Add the hazelnuts.
  10. Add the beaten eggs, mix everything nicely.
  11. Set a flat, wide dish aside. Oil it so it becomes a non-adherent dish. We’ll use it to flip the omelette!
  12. Using a spatula try to separate the omelette from the sides of the pan. When it stops breaking apart and seems pretty solid underneath, it’s time to flip it.
  13. Lift the pan from the heat, place it over the oiled dish and quickly flip it so the top bit is underneath now
  14. Lightly oil the pan again
  15. Using the spatula to kindly push, slide the omelette from the dish back to the pan. Holding the pan handle, give it a horizontal shake so the omelette stays flat and contents are nicely distributed (sometimes they can fold)
  16. You might need to flip the omelette a couple more times, just make sure it doesn’t get TOO dry
  17. And eat it!

I served it with one of the pitta breads from Thursday’s halloumi experiment, which I  toasted, sliced and infused with really great Spanish olive oil and some pepper and salt, plus also a few cute tiny tomatoes, because why not?

 

So, not exactly the kind of very green dish I thought I’d produce, but not bad either! It smelled and tasted great.