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CASA’s Maria Broadbent shows us how to have a fabulous festive season while being kind to the environment



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After the unprecedented disruption of Covid last Christmas, most of us will be looking to make the most of Christmas 2021. Many will also wish to be mindful of our impact on the environment, whilst ensuring we have a wonderful festive season. As always in my article I aim to help strike a balance, so my motto this year is ‘quality not quantity’.

The what. . .

Experiences rather than gifts – an IOU for January to bring cheer into the new year.

Practical gifts rather than frivolous gifts in excessive packaging.

Fewer but better quality ingredients (again look at how much packaging).

Making food and gifts from scratch – this creates new memories, passes time and saves money!

Use up all the old wrapping paper and cards left from previous year.

Cut up old cards to make tags – retro, but it works.

Buy a tree with roots and plant out in the new year,

invest in an artificial tree or even find some old branches from pruning and decorate these.

The how. . .

Buy a cupcake and add a voucher for afternoon tea.

Get people to give you a list of what they need – avoid fads and unnecessary gadgets.

Go back to the traditional Christmas recipes and values.

Your gifts do not all need to co-ordinate!

Decorating can be creative and much more environmentally friendly – use foraged items and decorate using old decorations in a new way.

roasted vegetables (53152135)
roasted vegetables (53152135)

SEASONAL VEG AS A MAIN. . .

Vegetables are not just an accompaniment. At this time of year there are plenty of root vegetables, which make a substantial base for the main part of your meal. Seasonal vegetables include beetroot, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, onions and celeriac. Tasty, inexpensive and easy to find and hard to spoil in the kitchen. . . what more could you ask?

It is important to include some protein in with the vegetables, however the protein can be the side order rather than vice versa. The recipes I have included in this article can have meat, fish, cheese or vegan protein added to turn them into a complete nutritional feast.

Conversely, the roasted root vegetables would make a superb accompaniment to any kind of roast meat. I am serving these on Christmas Day with duck cooked two ways. A confit of duck leg, plus duck breast cooked pink.

The veg tagine could be served with a side of halloumi or it could have chickpeas added. It’s important to remember the protein aspect of a vegetarian or vegan dish is what helps the diner feel full for longer.

I am hoping that these innovative ways of cooking vegetables will help those of you catering for households of mixed dietary needs. I know as a restaurateur and chef that guests in the restaurant have increasingly diverse diets. I spend a lot of time creating recipes that can be adapted yet remain inclusive of all.

To link this part of the article with my quality over quantity piece I would suggest Googling online for food gifts and preserves etcetera to prepare in advance for Christmas. I would certainly recommend having a go at preserving your own lemons, making your own lemon curd, plus, of course, the perennial Christmas cake. There are a plethora of recipes available online for all of these creations – pick one that suits your personal taste.

The preparation for Christmas lasts longer than the event itself, therefore it is imperative to enjoy the journey without being too destination focused!

SEASONAL VEG TAGINE

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for frying veggies

2 sweet potatoes, cut into 1cm cubes

½ winter squash, cut into 1cm cubes

1 pack vacuum-packed cooked chestnuts

3 shallots

1 teaspoons cumin seeds

1 teaspoons coriander powder

½ teaspoon turmeric powder

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

½ teaspoon ground ginger

4 cloves garlic

1 preserved lemon

Handful fresh coriander, plus a little for garnish

200g tinned chopped tomatoes

1 cinnamon stick

3 bay leaves

100ml orange juice (preferably freshly squeezed)

12 dried apricots, cut in half

Water

(Salt if not using preserved lemon)

Method:

In a food processor, process the shallots, garlic, preserved lemon, fresh coriander and spices (except the cinnamon stick) with your olive oil, until you have a little paste.

Put olive oil into a large non-stick pan and start frying your sweet potatoes.

Now add the onion paste together with the cinnamon stick, so that all the spices and their flavours are released into the vegetables – it starts to smell great at this point!

Add the remaining ingredients, then add the water gradually until the tagine is a thick stew consistency. Cover the tagine, turn the hob as low as you can (a diffuser is a good idea) and keep stirring regularly. It takes around 30 minutes on a low heat for the sweet potato to cook through, the flavours to mingle and develop.

Check the salt level is to your taste. Garnish with fresh coriander and pomegranate seeds.

Delicious with rice, couscous or flatbread.

You can add chilli flakes if you like it spicy.

For protein, you can add:

Chickpeas

Chicken

Or simply serve alongside roast lamb or pan fried hallloumi.

CELERIAC AND POTATO GRATIN

Ingredients:

250g good-quality potatoes (King Edward or Desirée)

200g celeriac

1 small clove garlic, crushed

150ml double cream

150ml milk

Freshly grated nutmeg

25g butter (plus some for buttering dish)

Salt and freshly-milled black pepper

Optional cheese to top

Method:

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 2, 300°F (150°C).

First, peel the potatoes and celeriac and slice them very thinly (a mandolin is excellent for this, if you have one).

Then, in a buttered gratin dish, arrange a layer of potato slices, a sprinkling of crushed garlic, pepper and salt and then a layer of celeriac and seasoning. Repeat until all used up.

Now mix the cream and milk together, pour it over the potatoes, sprinkle with a little freshly-grated nutmeg, then add the butter in flecks over the surface and grated cheese if using.

Bake on the highest shelf in the oven for 1½ hours.

ROASTED ROOT VEG

Ingredeients:

2 beetroot, peeled

3 carrots, peeled if ugly!

2 sweet potatoes, skin on

2 parsnips, cored, skin on

1 teaspoon harissa powder

2 teaspoons ground coriander

½ tsp ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoon turmeric

2 tablespoons marmalade

1 teaspoon oil

Method:

Cube all the veg into chunks. Mix all the spices together. Mix the oil and marmalade, rub into the veg and then add the spices – rub through thoroughly.

Roast at 180 for around 30 minutes, turning once halfway through.

This is a great accompaniment to roast meat, smoked tofu and would be great with date and tamarind sauce.

DATE & TAMARIND SAUCE

Ingredients:

200g dates

100g tamarind paste

6 tablespoons maple syrup

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground ginger

2 teaspoons salt flakes

2 teaspoons lemon juice

800ml hot water

Method:

Blitz all ingredients together and then put into a pan and heat until thick.

If you want to serve it with roast pork, I would add some apple sauce 50/50 at the end.

This can be served hot or cold.

Take a new year’s cruise. . .

Once again I have created a Mediterranean Cruise menu for New Year's Eve! Starting with a premium pink Cava with a selection of cold nibbles on arrival. These include our wonderful new Suffolk cured meats from Dingley Dell pigs, outdoor bred on the Suffolk coast. The next round of warm tapas has salty charred padron peppers, oozing croquetas and brandy-flamed chorizo. We then journey to Italy for a duo of seafood cicchetti, delicious handmade (in London by Italians) smoked salmon tortelloni and king prawns cooked in garlic. Greece welcomes us for the next round with slow-cooked lamb, oven roasted potatoes and a vibrant Greek salad. A trio of desserts incorporates an element from each of these destinations. I discovered in Corfu that their speciality is kumquats! To complete your feasting (we usually serve French cheese), for a number of reasons we are showcasing the best of British cheese.

There will be wines, cocktails etc available on the evening with suggested pairings to complete your culinary journey.

Maria Broadbent is owner of Mediterranean restaurant CASA in Risbygate Street, Bury St Edmunds

Call 01284 701313

Visit casabse.co.uk