Category Archives: Side dish

Roasted Leeks

Cost: £1 or so. Serves 6 as a side dish.

Ten years ago when I was in the Sixth Form, I remember looking in the common room fridge and being terribly impressed by our collective healthiness. It was filled with fruit, individually packaged salads, and low-fat yoghurt. I felt a few calories lighter from even looking inside. This lasted until I glanced at the bin, which contained only chocolate bar wrappers, crisp packets and fizzy drink cans.

Generally, I find it relatively easy to make good food choices in the supermarket. My husband is especially good at saying “no” to processed foods when standing in front of the chocolate aisle. I buy from the “bowl shops” at least twice a week – the temporary stands that sell fruit and vegetables in £1 bowls, the choice and quantities varying slightly according to whatever happens to be available at this time of year. It’s pretty good, because it sort-of encourages seasonal eating, and there are no non-fruit-or-vegetable items to provide temptation.

However, come the weekend, and the pantry/fridge is still full of vegetables, getting slightly past their best – and it’s a situation that does not tend to resolve itself with extended avoidance (my go-to method for problem solving). This happened the other day with some leeks which had been bought when they were squeaky-fresh, bursting with vitamins and flavour, and were languishing reproachfully on the vegetable shelf *cough* two *cough* weeks later.

Roasting is a great way of bringing out the flavour left in slightly tired vegetables. With leeks, they can easily dry out though, so they need a quick boil first before a blast in the oven to add a tinge of char and caramel, flavours brought out with olive oil, salt, balsamic vinegar and garlic.

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Baked Courgette Fries

Cost: minimal, around 40p for a two-person serving

The courgette plants we grew from seed are now sprawling triffids that dominate the vegetable patch. A couple of courgettes reach frankfurter-size on a daily basis now, and I try to pick them before they get too big. A month or so ago we only had flowers, which are rather lovely stuffed with ricotta and herbs, brushed with olive oil and grilled until they crisp up, and these alone would be worth growing the plants for, but now it is almost August and we have a full on glut.

With such excess, it is easy to get into slightly dangerous habits. Courgettes sautéed in butter with caramelised onions and crispy nuggets of bacon was an early favourite, served with pasta and topped with cheese. The pasta was wholewheat but let’s be fair, if this was a nod towards healthy eating, healthy eating’s response would have been an almighty blanking. “Um, I think not!”

This recipe, however, is satisfying on all sorts of levels. It is quick, cheap and easy – but it is also extremely healthy and utterly delicious. Courgette fries are a mainstay of some fancy burger restaurants such as Byron; the tinge of green hints at a virtue their potato counterparts could never attain. But most recipes call for deep frying – this method does produce crisply perfect fries, but they are greaseless and retain a depth of flavour, a certain sweetness of the courgette, and a moistness as well. The courgette inside is moist but not mushy, the burnished carapace breaking apart to yield a velvety interior. They really seem like an indulgence – a luxury even, but are so quick and easy (30 mins from start to finish) and very healthy, chips that make you feel better, not worse after eating them.

Courgette fries

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Summer Tomato Tart

Cost: about 80p, or £1.60 with mozzarella to serve. Serves 2 as a main course or more as a side dish.

A summery version of the Savoury Spring Tart – or really, for this almost-summer that we find ourselves in now, when we’re still willing the good weather to fully take hold, but meanwhile ingredients need a bit of helping along. We made two versions of this tomato tart, one with gorgeous, pungent vine cherry tomatoes (from Lidl!) and one with those watery supermarket tomatoes that cost almost nothing but taste of exactly nothing. For tomatoes like these, which don’t really stand up to eating on their own, the flavour is encouraged along with a slick of tomato puree and a tangle of caramelised onions, as well as a grinding of flaky Maldon salt before the heat and extra time in the oven reminds them of what tomatoes are supposed to taste like and burnishes the pastry to a deeper gold. The onions in this version also protect the pastry from sogginess, but with really good cherry tomatoes they aren’t really needed to help the flavours sing.

Cherry Tomato Tart

Pale Tomato Tart (good cherry tomatoes)

Golden Tomato Tart (with    watery tomatoes that need a bit of help)

Golden Tomato Tart (with watery tomatoes that need a bit of help)

Both of these are very enjoyable – the paler tart with cherry tomatoes is more delicate and the tomatoes aren’t cooked as much as they are warmed, the oven heat just ripening them a little more, and the tart really just shows them off. The darker tart is more complex, with punchier flavours – more umami, salt and sugar, a symphony rather than a solo.

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Aubergine Basil Salad

Cost: £2, including the basil, but living basil is quite happy in a sunny spot indoors, so hopefully you would only need to buy this once!

Roasted aubergines, slightly charred without, silk and velvet within, are topped with a rough but fragrant pesto whizzed up in the food processor. This quick vegetarian side dish is nut-, gluten- and dairy-free. We served it as part of a buffet lunch on Easter Sunday, where everyone helped themselves – served alongside slow roast lamb, jewelled couscous, roasted sesame cauliflower, halloumi salad, garlic and coriander hearthbreads, homemade hummus and cherry tomato salsa. A few people very kindly and politely asked for the recipe – and I am delighted to give it out!

Aubergine salad

 

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Savoury Spring Tart

Cost: about £1.50 – £2, but really it’s a tart to make out of the bits and pieces left in the fridge by the weekend. Serves 4 as a main course or 6-12 as a side dish.

This tart was an unexpected delight – eaten in warm crumbly wedges outside for lunch on the lawn, and then leftovers enjoyed on the sofa the following evening. The pastry is from Nigella Lawson’s luscious How to be a Domestic Goddess, and it is my favourite for any savoury tart. She says that it is too friable for a large tart and makes little individual ones, but I’ve had reliably good experiences with making a 23cm fluted tart – it is golden, and as short and crumbly as a shortbread biscuit, very slightly flaky and with an almost-sweet edge from the semolina. Whilst it has elements in common with a quiche, the ratios of the filling are reversed to give a healthier, more flavourful tart – rather than ingredients fossilised in waxy dairy, here the pastry is generously heaped with a ribbony tangle of soft, sweet leeks, with nuggets of bacon and little juicy peas nestled within. The filling – eggs, cheese and milk (no cream) is lighter than for a quiche, and just keeps everything moist and in shape.

Leek and Bacon Tart

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Jewelled Couscous

Cost: minimal, really – about £2 and it serves 6-10, more if you are serving it as a side to something like Slow Roasted Lamb alongside maybe some baby spinach, grilled aubergine slices, fried halloumi with mint and lime, cucumber-yoghurt salad, and/or garlic flatbreads.

A lovely friend asked for this recipe earlier this week – which was pretty surprising, since it’s from a lunch we held about two years ago! Well, Wikipedia informs me that the first written references to couscous date from the 13th century so I suppose some things never get old. Anyway, this isn’t so much a recipe as a shortcut to an extra side dish for a non-traditional roast lunch – particularly nice in summer, I think. I always like couscous because it’s quick, easy and satisfying in a way that warm carbohydrates are, and here we combine it with a colourful confetti of roasted and fresh vegetables.

[No photo as it wouldn’t have occurred to us to take one at the time…but I bet that 13th century recipe doesn’t have one either]

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