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Maria Broadbent, of CASA in Bury St Edmunds, challenges us to look at how we cook at home



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There are few pleasures in life that top the experience of good food, good wine and good company. The last two years have underlined how important the interaction with others is to our well-being, especially our mental health. There are some interesting facts and observations on our relationship with food and I want to challenge our current approach to cooking at home.

I worry that so many children, and indeed adults, no longer have any connection to or understanding of the journey their food has undertaken to reach their plate. Food prices, as we know, are going up. This though needs to be set against the backdrop of what percentage of our disposable income is allocated for our food/cooking budget compared to say 50 years ago. In the 1950s, we spent around 33 per cent of our income on food shopping, by 2016 this figure had fallen to just 10.5 per cent. This is due to a number of factors, including large scale farming, cheap imports and supermarket buying power. If more people understood the effort, money and resources involved in getting the food to their plate, I do believe we would be far more mindful of waste.

A problem with anything that has a reduced value is that it is deemed more disposable. This could therefore be why so many people throw away perfectly edible food. Food waste accounts for six per cent of greenhouse gases – a major contributor to climate change. An interesting fact (I love an analogy!) is that ridding our habits of food waste would be the environmental equivalent of taking one in four cars off the road! Why then are so many people feeling such a financial squeeze? Well, households do not feel the benefit of this reduction in food costs because housing costs as a percentage have doubled. Add to this that people are less likely to cook from scratch, using ready-made and convenience foods far more now than even a decade or so ago – and it is easy to see why there is a financial and health impact on many household.

Red cabbage (54785682)
Red cabbage (54785682)

From my Grandad with LOVE

My love for good food and the connection with where and how it is produced began with my earliest memories. We lived next door to my Grandad and despite being injured in the First World War and only having the use of one arm – he grew so much food. He had fruit trees, a greenhouse packed with tomatoes and cucumbers, plus a huge vegetable patch with so many different vegetables. . . it was wonderful. I clearly remember helping plant seeds, including peas and runner beans. The whole process of growing your own veg is so rewarding. From tying beans to the ‘wigwams’, unearthing new potatoes and taking them straight to the kitchen to cook and prising sleepy broad beans from their blankety beds – nature is a total miracle. The added bonus of anything that is uprooted or picked from a plant and cooked immediately is that the sugars in the produce do not have time to convert to starch. The result? Sweet, full of flavour ingredients that need minimal effort.

My Grandad and his post war(s) ethos, produced delicious simple food, in much the same way we now admire the Italian style of food and cooking. It is strange to think that we watch all these cookery programmes about food, recipes and the provenance of ingredients, yet still follow ingrained habits that do not emulate our aspirations. Even as a chef, I am guilty of this at home sometimes. I do fear we have, as a nation, become vicarious foodies. We fulfil a need within ourselves by watching others explore and cook. . . and then order in pizza! I do wonder that the over complicated nature of these is off-putting. There are statistics to demonstrate the amount of people cooking is inverse to the number of cookery programmes. So rather than encourage, they maybe intimidate.

So today I’m going with good quality ingredients, simply cooked. I try every month in this article to dispel the fear and reluctance to embark on recipes and produce tasty dishes that you can easily and willingly tackle. I would be keen to know what you would like in upcoming columns. Please let me know by emailing bookings@casabse.co.uk. Whether that is recipes, preparation techniques or organizational skills.

Butternut squash (54785684)
Butternut squash (54785684)

SEASONAL VEGETABLES IN FEBRUARY

Apples

Beetroot

Brussels sprouts

Carrots

Celeriac

Chicory

Jerusalem artichokes

Kale

Leeks

Mushrooms

Onions

Parsnips

Pears

Purple sprouting broccoli

Red cabbage

Salsify

Savoy cabbage

Spring greens

Spring onions

Squash

Swedes

White cabbage

STUFFED BUTTERNUT SQUASH

Use the basic principle and make your own filling with what is lurking in your fridge. I have used a BBC recipe as a base but have tried to show how you can mix it up using a recipe as a guide. . . be brave!

Ingredients:

1 medium butternut squash

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 pinches each of 2 spices of your choosing (ras-el-hanout, cinnamon, ground all spice, cajun etc)

1 onion

160g button mushrooms or cooked chestnuts

1 garlic clove

50g walnuts – or a nut of your choice (or use the chestnuts here, plus mushrooms)

25g dried cranberries (or another dried fruit)

1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey

6 sage leaves or the equivalent of rosemary, thyme or herb of your choice

160g kale, washed and chopped

100ml white wine (or rosé)

150g breadcrumbs (made from ends of old loaves)

Method:

Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Cut the squash in half through the middle lengthways and scoop out the seeds using a spoon (don’t discard them). Drizzle the squash halves with 1 tablespoon of oil and rub this in all over. Season and transfer to a baking tray, cut-side up. Roast for 50 mins-1 hour until tender through to the middle when pierced with a fork and lightly caramelised.

Meanwhile, wash the reserved squash seeds in a sieve, removing any stringy pieces of flesh, then pat dry with a tea towel. Tip the seeds into a bowl, drizzle over 2 teaspoons oil and toss with pinch of each of the spices and a pinch of salt until coated. Transfer to a baking parchment-lined baking tray and roast on the shelf below the squash for 10-15 mins until golden and crunchy, stirring halfway through to ensure they roast evenly. Leave to cool on the tray.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a wide pan over a medium heat and fry the onion for 10 minutes until soft. Add the mushrooms or chestnuts and garlic, and cook for another 10 mins until the mushrooms are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the nuts, remaining spices, dried fruit, maple syrup/honey, sage and kale. Cook for a few minutes more until the kale has started to wilt, then stir in the wine or stock along with some seasoning. Continue to cook until the liquid has mostly evaporated.

Remove from the heat and stir in the breadcrumbs until combined (add a splash more wine or stock if you need to soften the bread). The mixture shouldn’t be dry and crumbly and should hold together when pressed. Season well.

When the squash is tender, scoop out a hollow channel in the neck of the squash to make a gap for the filling. (You can keep the scooped-out flesh for soups or purées.) Spoon in the filling, packing it into the squash and piling up slightly. Drizzle over a little oil and roast for 20-30 mins until lightly crisp on top. Scatter with the squash seeds and slice to serve.

BRAISED RED CABBAGE WITH HALLOUMI

The sweetness and acidity of the cabbage is the perfect balance for the creamy, salty halloumi. It does also equally delicious with pork or beef.

Ingredients:

Olive Olive Village Halloumi (can be ordered from CASA)

1kg red cabbage, remove tough outer leaves and stalk, then thinly slice

450g onions (I like to use red onions), thinly sliced

450g cooking apples, peeled cored and cut up small

½ teaspoon ground all spice

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 tablespoons brown sugar or maple syrup

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Generous pinch of salt

Method:

Preheat oven to gas mark 2, 300°F (150°C).

Mix everything, bar the halloumi, together thoroughly. To speed up the process, you can give it a 10-minute blast in the microwave on full power, stir and then another 10 mins on medium. It will still need to go into a roasting tray, covered with foil, if microwaved it will only take about 1¼ hours, if oven cooking from raw allow 2-2½ hours.

It will reheat and freeze – so very versatile.

We recommend this particular halloumi as it is pure goat’s milk and therefore is not squeaky, doesn’t weep when you cook it and it tastes awesome! For the halloumi, simply heat a non-stick pan over a medium heat. Add a generous amount of vegetable oil and pan fry the sliced halloumi for around 3 minutes on each side. Keep turning it and you are aiming for soft and squidgy in the middle and crispy but not burnt on the outside.

Celeriac (54785687)
Celeriac (54785687)

CELERIAC REMOULADE (SORT OF COLESLAW)

Many vegetables can be substituted in this dish – mange tout, spring onions even peppers. It is about using up what you have!

Ingredients:

650g celeriac (you can boil the remainder with some potatoes and make creamy celeriac mash)

6 tablespoons mayonnaise (light is fine)

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

½ lemon, juice only

Salt and pepper

Optional extras:

A handful toasted fennel seeds and/or a splash of Ouzo/Pernod)

Method:

Peel and either cut the celeriac into matchsticks or if you have a food processor use the grater attachment.

Mix with the lemon juice immediately. Mix the remaining ingredients together and combine with the celeriac. I also add some grated carrot sometimes and even thinly-sliced mange tout, peppers and/or spring onions. It is a great way to use up bits and pieces – don’t be scared to experiment!

Mushroom (54785689)
Mushroom (54785689)

MUSHROOM OMELETTE (THE ULTIMATE FAST FOOD)

This makes a quick, simple, and low carb breakfast or serve this with the coleslaw for lunch or dinner.

Ingredients:

2-3 eggs per person (depending on how hungry people are)

4-6 mushrooms, sliced or chopped

1 teaspoon oil, plus a knob of butter

1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs – I prefer parsley

Salt and pepper

Method:

Break the eggs into a bowl or jug, add a pinch of salt and a grinding of black pepper plus the fresh herb. Beat thoroughly with a fork and put to one side.

Take a non-stick frying pan and heat to a medium-high heat, add the oil and the mushrooms – fry until nicely browned. Add the knob of butter, stir, and immediately add the egg mixture. Using a fork (ideally a wooden or plastic so not to scratch the pan), start dragging the mixture to the centre of the pan and let the mixture run to the edges. You should end up with a pleated/folded effect.

When the egg is nearly set (how runny is very much personal choice), fold the omelette in half. Cook for another 1-2 minutes and then slide on to a plate to serve.

You do not need to use mushrooms you can simply make a fresh herb omelette or add some cooked ham or grated cheese before folding in half.

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

Call 01284 701313

Visit casabse.co.uk