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Minestrone soup with ravioli

Life is running along quickly and already I’m begining to feel like I’m behind with sharing what we’ve been up to lately and more details on our trip to France.  I spent last night at Aspen B&B in Herefordshire and ate what can only be described as the best breakfast ever – Rob and Sally who run the B&B and passionate about ‘real food’ and so the breakfast is exquisitely sourced and prepared, plus if you want to talk food then this is somewhere you should book a stay.

What I wanted to share is a delicious meal we cooked last week, a simple vegetable minestrone with ricotta filled ravioli.  We have followed Jamie Oliver’s recipe from his Jamies Does… book which was lovely, but I had spotted this fancy sounding smoky minestrone with tortellini and basil pesto.

My way of cooking is often looking at an image of a plate of food, or reading a recipe, then making my version of it how I would like to make it.  So I never follow recipes like this very strictly.  We didn’t have bacon or pancetta in the house so I just skipped that, so really ours wasn’t a smoky minestrone, but it was damn delicious.

Minestrone soup with ravioli

I softened chopped onion and garlic, then added finely chopped celery, carrots and potato and let it cook a few minutes.  I also added some finely chopped red pepper that we had lying around in the fridge.  Next I added about a litre of stock (half homemade chicken stock we had left over and half organic Kallo veg stock), and about 5 or 6 vine tomatoes that I’d roughly chopped and a glug of passatta – this was instead of the tinned tomatoes.  I also omitted the chickpeas because I didn’t have any.

I brought this to the boil then let it simmer until the veg was pretty much tender.  I added two small finely chopped courgettes and gave it a few minutes, before adding the ricotta and spinach ravioli (bought I’m afraid, one day I’ll be able to claim I made it myself…oneday…) and some podded broad beans.  The final vegetable I added was finely sliced rainbow chard (rather than kale).

I seasoned with some salt (we are still using up a delicious pot of greyish salt brought back from France) to taste and ate mine with a large dollop of my favourite raw basil pesto.  Mr Rigg had his as it was.  The simplicity of ingredients seemed to create this incredibly delicate but flavourful taste – one of the best things I’ve made and eaten for a while.

Minestrone soup with raw basil pesto

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meat-free month

Yesterday saw the start of our meat-free month.  I must say it hasn’t felt too momentous a change yet, because on average we eat a few meat-free dishes a week and most meals only have a small amount of meat in them.  But I’m sure it will feel more of a challenge as the weeks go on, like tonight I couldn’t help but think that crispy bacon or pancetta would have been a nice addition – aah!

So here’s the start of our meat-free diary…

Monday 9th January

Winter veg stir-fry.  Egg noodles, carrots, parsnips, mushrooms, and shredded sprouts, all bound together with a delicious sauce of soy sauce, mirin and Chinese five spice.

winter veg stir fry

From River Cottage Everyday Veg

Tuesday 10th January

Cavolo nero pesto pasta.  A homemade pesto made from boiled cavolo nero and garlic, drained and blitzed up, with olive oil, salt, pepper and Parmesan.  Stirred through hot spaghetti and sprinkled with a tiny bit of grated cheese.

cavolo nero pesto

So my afternoon at the local food event was good.  It’s always lovely to meet other people who are running similar projects, be inspired by others and generally network.  I would prefer more ‘doing’ at these events and less listening – I come home feeling inspired by what I’ve heard, but I would have liked to do more group problem-solving.

The lunch I must tell you, was really miserable.  Perhaps my work running community events and conferences makes me hyper-critical, but I would have thought that an event on local food should have a vibrant, seasonal lunch of local produce.  The only obvious local produce was the apple juice (from Eddisbury Fruit Farm), but otherwise it was miserable beige food (read: soggy garlic bread with cold melted cheese) and a few token carrot sticks.

But enough of that, tonight I made up a delicious pesto using some slightly-too-old peas and a bag of sugar snap peas that were in desperate need of being eaten.  I was also in real need of green, vibrant vegetables for tea. 

Homemade pea and sugar snap pesto

So I quickly cooked the sugar snap peas and ordinary peas (that I’d podded first – possibly one of my favourite jobs ever) in boiling water.  I allowed the sugar snap peas a few minutes longer, but really only let them turn a bright green before draining them and cooling quickly in iced water.

I popped them into my handy small blender, along with some walnut oil (thought I’d try something different), sliced mint from the garden, grated Parmesan, salt and pepper.  I whizzed it all up, added some more oil to loosen it, adjusted the seasonings to taste and hey pesto (sorry…it was too irresistable!) my pea pesto was finished!

After cooking the pasta, I added the pesto along with a splash of the pasta water and mixed it in.  For an extra dash of colour, and in the spirit of using as much of my edible garden as possible, I added a few lilac mint flowers to finish it off. 

This is not a powerful, punchy pesto like the basil version.  It is subtle, with the sweetness of pea, the earthy nuttiness of the oil, and the savoury-salty flavour of Parmesan.  Lovely, seasonal, and a great way to use up forgotten vegetables.

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On Thursday two bundles of squeaky green garlic scapes arrived in my veg box from Northern Harvest.  I’ve had garlic scapes before, but they were thin  and spindly, these were much fatter and incredibly beautiful with their bulging flower heads tightly encased in a wafer thin skin.  Garlic scapes have all the taste of ordinary garlic, but more subtle, and with a fresher, grassier tang.

I decided to make a garlic scape pesto, using a bunch of the garlic scapes (stalks chopped and flower heads), a handful of pine nuts, lots of olive oil, and some grated Parmesan. 

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Blitz up the garlic scapes and pine nuts in a blender, before adding the olive oil.  Add more oil to get the desired consistency and salt for flavour.  Tip the pesto out into a bowl, add the grated Parmesan and some ground black pepper. 

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But what to do with the freshly made pesto?  N was making pizzasusing bases that we’d frozen, so I thought why not try using the pesto to make a sort of garlic pizza bread.  It was gooooooood.  Simply spread the pesto over your prepared pizza base…

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…bung in a hot oven (250°C) for about 6-8 minutes until the dough is golden at the edges and the pesto sizzling.

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Raw this pesto has quite a kick to it, but none of the lingering, overpowering garlicky taste that a clove of garlic has.  But cooked it mellows out, has a softer garlicky flavour and is altogether very enjoyable.  It made quite a lot of pesto so I’ve popped one pot in the freezer for another day, and one in the fridge to use this week. 

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Eat the Earth

I love food, especially locally grown and seasonal food. This is my place to share my food finds and the food I like to eat.

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