Celery and Stilton Soup – and Easy Garlic Breadsticks

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We love a bit of Stilton cheese with a glass of port over Christmas, but now it is dry January and the remains of the cheese need using up. Of course, you can use another blue cheese or strongly flavoured cheese for this.

To go with this I have baked some Easy Garlic Breadsticks. Yes, breadsticks means breadsticks 😉 (if you didn’t see this epsiode of HIGNFY, go to about 19:50 and see Maureen Lipman doing a Mrs May..) It is rare for us to eat white bread, but this is such a great way of making croutons! A half sized, ready to bake baguette makes 6 sticks and they keep quite well wrapped in foil, or leftovers can be broken up for use as a croutons for soups or salads. I first made them during one of our photography courses, and they were a great hit (you’ll find them in my Focus on Flavour book). Conversation stoppers though, as you can’t hear anything over the crunch…  I like them with a Caesar salad too.

I’ve included some golden paste in the recipe – you really don’t notice the flavour of turmeric, but it adds a lovely golden colour. I like to include it as often as I can in cooking, especially if I haven’t had it in yogurt for breakfast.

A bowl of this soup (145 kcals)  with one or two breadsticks (91 each) makes a lovely lunch or can be part of a fast day meal.

Stilton and Celery Soup
Serves 6
A great way of using up some blue cheese, which combines so well with celery to make a rich, satisfying soup. Terrific with a crunchy garlic breadstick!
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
40 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
40 min
Ingredients
  1. 7g unsalted butter (50)
  2. 1 onion, chopped (45)
  3. 100g potato, peeled and diced quite small (80)
  4. 4 medium sticks (about 300g) of celery, in thin slices (50)
  5. a splash of water
  6. 1.2 litres vegetable stock, made with 1 tsp of Marigold stock powder (15)
  7. 150g Stilton cheese, crumbled (615)
  8. freshly ground black pepper
  9. 1 tsp golden paste (11)
  10. a few celery leaves, to garnish
Instructions
  1. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan, then add the onion, potato and celery.
  2. Stir well and add a splash of water to stop them sticking.
  3. Cover with a lid and braise gently for about 10 minutes, until softened.
  4. Add the stock and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked through.
  5. Blend (ideally with a stick blender in the pan) and then add the cheese, pepper and golden paste.
  6. Mix well until the cheese is melted.
  7. Serve garnished with some chopped celery leaves.
Notes
  1. Per serving: 145kcals, 10g Fat, 6g Carbs 7g Protein
Focus on Flavour http://www.focusonflavour.com/
Easy Garlic Breadsticks
Yields 6
Ready to bake baguettes have a long shelf life, or can be stored in the freezer. They make lovely crunchy breadsticks with a soft centre.
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
20 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
20 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 ready to bake baguette (368)
  2. 1.5 tbsp olive oil (179)
  3. 1 clove garlic, finely chopped (5)
  4. Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 200c (fan).
  2. Mix the garlic with the olive oil and seasoning.
  3. Cut the bread lengthwise, then cut each half into 3, aiming for a triangle shape cross-sectiom.
  4. Lay on a non-stick baking sheet and brush with the oil, making sure that the garlic is reasonably evenly distributed.
  5. Bake on a middle shelf for about 15 minutes, until golden.
  6. Serve while still warm.
Notes
  1. Per stick: 92 kcals, 4g Fat, 12g Carbs, 2g Protein
Focus on Flavour http://www.focusonflavour.com/

Golden tangle pie

Golden Tangle PieContinuing with my theme of using turmeric in more dishes and making delicious, healthy, well balanced meals…

When you are cutting back on starchy carbs, but not cutting them out altogether, a little filo pastry can provide a fantastic (and also quick and easy) topping for a pie. 

Here I have layered some softened leeks and mushrooms, followed by chopped cooked turkey, and pieces of cooked ham, topped with a creamy sauce with added golden paste. Then taking one sheet of filo per person, I cut each sheet into small squares and scrunched these up to cover the top of the dish. Sprayed or brushed very lightly with olive oil, then baked in a hot oven for about 20 – 25 minutes, until crisp and golden.

Tangle Pie

This would work equally well with fish or lentils, in fact there are probably hundreds of different possibilities! This is one of my favourite things to do with the Christmas leftovers – I put up a picture last year, but here is the recipe, complete with calorie counts.

Tangle Pie

My luxury version comes out at
Per serving:
490 kcals 25g Fat, 28g Carbs, 38g Protein
You could reduce this by 100 kcal per portion by using all semi-skim milk and swapping the cheese for a tsp of tamari soy sauce. So a delicious fast day main dish at only 390 kcals! Counts would be similar if you used about 100g of white fish or cooked lentils per person, instead of the meat. Calorie counts in brackets.

Golden Tangle Pie
Serves 4
A lovely crunchy topping on a luscious creamy base. Mmm, works brilliantly with leftovers, or a great alternative for all kinds of pie. Layer the vegetables, followed by the meat, fish, beans or lentils, pour over the sauce and scrunch the filo on top. Quick and easy to prepare, delicious to eat! Calorie calculations are for the 'luxury' version, using cream and cheese in the sauce, and turkey and ham for the base.
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
25 min
Total Time
40 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
25 min
Total Time
40 min
Ingredients
  1. 300g cooked turkey or chicken, chopped into chunks (510)
  2. 130g cooked ham, cut into cubes (117)
  3. 7g unsalted butter (50)
  4. 2 medium leeks, sliced (100)
  5. 100g mushrooms, sliced (22)
  6. 4 sheets filo pastry (264)
  7. 1.5 tsp olive oil (60)
White sauce
  1. 15g / 1 tbsp butter (102)
  2. 20g plain flour (68)
  3. 200 ml semi skimmed milk (80)
  4. 100ml cream (292)
  5. 1 egg, beaten (72)
  6. 50g grated cheese (203)
  7. ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  8. pinch cayenne powder
  9. sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  10. 2 tsp golden paste (22)
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 180c (fan)
  2. Melt the butter in a frying pan and gently sauté the leeks and mushrooms, until softened.
  3. Meanwhile, to make the white sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour.
  4. Stir well and cook over low heat for a minute or so, then gradually add the liquid, stirring well after each addition to keep it smooth.
  5. Keep stirring until it comes to a simmer, then add the beaten egg, seasoning, grated cheese and golden paste and mix in well.
  6. Put the vegetables in the bottom of an ovenproof dish.
  7. Layer the meat, fish or pulses on top.
  8. Pour the sauce over.
  9. Now cut the filo pastry into 3 strips and each strip into 3 squares or rectangles.
  10. Scrunch up the pastry and distribute evenly over the top of the pie dish, then spray or brush lightly with olive oil.
  11. Bake in the oven for about 20 - 25 minutes, until crisp and golden.
Notes
  1. I used a mix of milk and cream, as that is what I had leftover. A little cream does give a lovely luxurious texture, but you could cut the calories down by using all milk. Of course, you can use non-dairy milk if you prefer.
  2. The cheese again, adds a little extra savoury kick to the sauce,and I had some scraps to use up - but for a non-dairy dish, you could add some other flavouring, such as soya, worcestershire or nutritional yeast.
Per serving
  1. 490 kcals 25g Fat, 28g Carbs, 38g Protein
  2. You could reduce this by 100 kcal per portion by using all semi-skim milk and swapping the cheese for a tsp of tamari soya sauce. So a decent fast day main dish at 390 kcals!
Adapted from Hairy Dieters
Adapted from Hairy Dieters
Focus on Flavour http://www.focusonflavour.com/

I’ve got a lovely bunch of – Coconuts!

It’s coconut day! I am often tempted by a fresh coconut, especially if when I shake it, it has plenty of water inside. But then it sits in the fruit bowl, waiting… well today is the day!

Here is our coconut friend. 

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I start by making holes in and draining out the coconut water. This makes a fabulous electrolyte-balancing drink on a 5:2 fast day. In the UK you can buy coconut water ready prepared, probably made from green coconuts, which have a lot more liquid. But I can’t buy that here in France, so getting it from a coconut is the only way…. They have to be fresh though; if they have been sitting on the supermarket shelf for weeks, the liquid dries out and the flesh can go bad. So always give a coconut a good shake before buying it.

I put the coconut in a zipped plastic bag and smash it onto the concrete outside, until it is broken into several pieces. I was really lucky with this one, the shell broke off cleanly, leaving the flesh with it’s skin in a few big chunks. Rinse in cold water.

Then I take a few pieces (about 60g) and make slivers using a swivel potato peeler. These go on a baking sheet, to be toasted in the oven.

The remaining flesh is peeled – I find slicing it off with a small sharp knife the easiest way to do it. Then cut into chunks. A few chunks get set aside, just for the joy of eating some fresh coconut.  Put the rest into a blender along with about 250ml water and blend until the coconut is finely chopped and looking creamy, adding some more water if it seems a little dry. 

Turn out the flesh and liquid into a sieve lined with a piece of muslin, over a bowl. Add a little more water to the blender and whizz up to get the last bits of coconut, then add that to the sieve. Gather up the cloth and squeeze to get out as much liquid as possible.

Turn out the remaining coconut flesh and spread over a baking sheet.

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Heat the oven to 160c (fan) and toast the coconut flakes and flesh, turning occasionally until dry and lightly golden. The flakes will only take a few minutes, keep an eye on them. The flesh will take longer; just turn and spread out again a few times, until pale golden and almost dry.

Now you have coconut milk, coconut flakes and dry (dessicated) coconut, as well as a small glassful of coconut water. The dry coconut doesn’t have so much flavour, as so much of the fat has gone into the milk; but it is a great source of fibre and is a good addition to curry or dhal, or a great topping for a dessert.  I store it in a plastic box with a lid. You could grind it up to make coconut flour too. I haven’t tried that yet.

dscf6349I’m going to use the milk in a coconut and lime ice, which will be served topped with toasted coconut flakes. Yummy! The milk is not as creamy as the cans or packs you can buy, as they usually are thickened with guar gum; but the flavour is lovely. Instead of a sugar syrup I will use a few teaspoonfuls of Agave syrup, which will just take the edge off the sharpness without adding a lot of calories. 

How many calories in all these various coconut things is a bit of a puzzle. A typical coconut is 1405 calories. I weighed the flakes before and after and they work out to less than 8 calories per gram. Dessicated coconut is less than 7 cals per gram and I have ended up with about 100 grams of that. So by a process of elimination, I reckon the coconut milk is about 600calories. But hey, it’s not a fast day, so we don’t need to worry too much. Coconut is full of good things and is said to be a boost for our immune systems, helping to protect against viral and bacterial infections. With the number of people around that seem to have suffered from something or other these last few weeks, I think we will be glad of some extra support in that.

A midwinter treat, that reminds us of far off shores and sandy beaches, heat and sunshine. I should coco…. 😉

 

A golden start to the day…

In my last post I talked about Golden Paste. I’ve just made another batch.

Golden Paste

Ingredients

  • 75 grams / ½ cup turmeric powder
  • 250 ml / 1 cup water
  • 125 ml / ½ cup water extra, if needed
  • 7.5 ml / 1½ tsp ground black pepper
  • 70 ml virgin coconut oil or virgin olive oil

ingredients for golden paste ingredients for golden paste

 

 

 

 

 
Method

  • Add turmeric to water in a pan.
  • Stir over a gentle heat for 6 to 10 minutes, until you have a thick paste.
  • If necessary, adding a little more water.
  • Turn off the heat and add the pepper and oil.
  • Stir to mix thoroughly and leave to cool.
  • Store in a jar in the fridge. I like to use 2 smaller jars which fit on the top shelf of the door.

Makes about 400ml – 828 kcal – so just over 10kcals per tsp.

making the paste

adding oil and pepper

stir to mix well

 

yogurt with golden paste, fresh figs and hazelnuts

yogurt with nuts and fruit stirred in, and sprinkled with dried fruit, nuts and seeds

Typically, we start the day with some Greek style yogurt, mixed with about a tsp of golden paste, and topped with some  fresh fruit and crushed toasted hazelnuts.

Or stir in some chopped fruit and nuts with the yogurt and golden paste, then add ‘sprinkle’ (Formule Boost is our current choice, which is dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, almonds and crunchy toasted soya beans).

It’s a lovely breakfast and I always feel as though it is doing me good.

I found the golden paste keeps well in the fridge right through until it is time to make some more.

 

Having the paste on hand and ready to use, makes it easy to add to both savoury and sweet dishes. Turmeric is not just for curry!

Turmeric is my latest go-to spice

Did I mention Turmeric yet? Perhaps not. Since watching a recent ‘Trust Me I’m a Doctor‘ episode, I have been inspired to include more turmeric in our diet. In a really interesting piece of research, it was discovered that eating turmeric has effects on the methylation of DNA that are not achieved by taking supplements. It is hoped that this helps to unravel some of the negative changes that may occur, and in particular may help reduce our risk of cancer.

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The use of heat, and the addition of oil and black pepper helps to increase the bio-availability of turmeric, so the ideal way of adding it to our diet is to make a curry! But actually, you can use turmeric in many different kinds of dishes and even in desserts. An easy way to increase your use of it is to make Golden Paste – you cook turmeric powder in hot water and then add in coconut oil (or olive oil) and freshly ground black pepper. 

I’ve been experimenting with ways of using this. I’ve added it to bolognese sauce, stir fries, braised vegetables, in fact almost anything savoury can take the addition of some. We often start the day with some greek style yoghurt, with half a tsp of golden paste added in, some chopped fresh figs (which are abundant at the moment in our garden) and topped with chopped toasted hazelnuts. I also discovered that banana fried in butter with golden paste, honey and lime juice is amazing! For added spice benefits, I served it with fromage blanc mixed with ground cinnamon and decorated with lime zest.

Turmeric is often used as an inexpensive substitute for saffron, as it gives a strong yellow colour – the flavour is quite different, but it does tend to work agreeably with the same food partners. Here is my variation of an Ottolenghi dish. Roast Chicken with Turmeric, Hazlenuts and Honey.

Roast Chicken with Turmeric, Hazelnuts and Honey

Roast Chicken with Turmeric, Hazelnuts and Honey
Serves 4
A comforting family meal or an exotic dinner party dish, the delicate spicy flavours and tantalisingly crunchy topping make this easy dish a winner.
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
45 min
Total Time
1 hr
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
45 min
Total Time
1 hr
Ingredients
  1. 4 chicken legs, divided into thighs and drumsticks
  2. 2 onions, chopped
  3. 2 tbsp olive oil
  4. 1 tsp ground ginger
  5. 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  6. 2 tsp golden paste
  7. juice of 1 lemon
  8. 4 tbsp cold water
  9. sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  10. 100g shelled hazelnuts
  11. 35g honey
  12. 2 tbsp orange flower water
Instructions
  1. In an ovenproof dish, mix the onion, spices, oil, lemon juice, water and seasoning.
  2. Marinade the chicken pieces in the mix for at least an hour, or overnight in the fridge.
  3. Preheat the oven to 190c.
  4. Bake the chicken for 35 minutes on a middle shelf.
  5. While the chicken is cooking, spread the hazelnuts onto a baking tray and toast in the oven on a top shelf for about 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly golden.
  6. Allow the nuts to cool for a little, then rub in a clean cloth to remove the skins.
  7. Chop the nuts roughly and mix with the honey and flower water to make a rough paste.
  8. Remove the chicken and spread with the nut paste.
  9. Cook for a further 5 - 10 minutes, until the nuts are nicely browned.
Notes
  1. See the link on this page for the method for making golden paste.
  2. Alternatively you can use a good pinch of saffron strands.
  3. I used orange flower water, but rosewater would be more authentic.
  4. I served this with Green Beans with Hazelnuts and Orange (from The Cookbook by Ottolenghi) and Orzo (langues des oiseaux) pasta with vegetables.
  5. The calorie count is per serving: 450 kcals, 35g Carbs, 30g Fat, 18g Protein
Adapted from Ottolenghi
Adapted from Ottolenghi
Focus on Flavour http://www.focusonflavour.com/

Can you have too many courgettes? I don’t think so….. Greek-inspired Courgette Patties

fried courgette patties

One of my favourite discoveries last year, when I visited Greece, was Kolokithokeftedes – Fried Zucchini/Courgette Fritters. A delectable mix of crispy outside and soft interior. Returning home, I dug out a few recipes and inevitably, made some changes to come up with my own version, that fits in well with a Mediterranean style diet and one that is full of vegetables, nuts and, very importantly, FLAVOUR.

These are great fried, but actually easier to make and probably healthier too, if you bake them. Instead of breadcrumbs, I use ground almonds, which help to make them more protein-rich and lower in carbs.
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You can vary the herbs and spices, but for me, mint and basil or oregano, along with freshly toasted and ground cumin and coriander, plus a little smoked paprika, have become the favourites. Add some finely chopped chilli for a bit of a hot kick.

This is good with larger courgettes too, though for the best flavour and texture I choose medium sized ones – up to about 15cm long. You can use any summer squash, as shown here, I have used a mixture of yellow patty pan squash and courgettes.

*It’s important to remove moisture, so after grating them, I lay them on a cloth and then gather it up into a ball and squeeze out as much liquid as I can.
grated courgette and squash

Greek Inspired Courgette Patties (Kolkithokeftedes)

Makes 12 – 15

  • 3 med – large courgettes (about 750g), grated and squeezed * (120 kcal)
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped (44 kcal)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (9 kcal)
  • ½ green or red chilli, finely chopped (optional) (2 kcal)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten (63 kcal)
  • 3 – 4 tbsp fresh herbs, finely chopped (parsley/mint/basil/oregano/coriander) (9 kcal)
  • 100g ground almonds (579 kcal)
  • 100g feta cheese, crumbled (264 kcal)
  • 25g parmesan cheese, grated (80 kcal)
  • freshly ground black pepper and sea salt to taste
  • 1 tsp ground cumin (8 kcal)
  • ½ tsp ground coriander 
  • ¼ tsp smoked paprika (2 kcal)
  • olive oil for frying or baking (40 kcal per tsp)

Mix all the ingredients, except the olive oil, in a bowl. 
mix all ingredients in a bowlall mixed up ready for making courgette patties
If you are going to bake them:

Heat the oven to 200c. Spray or brush a non-stick baking sheet with olive oil. With damp hands, take about a tablespoonful of the mixture, form into a rough ball and then flatten into patties. Lay them on the sheet and finally spray or brush very lightly with a little more oil. Bake on the top shelf for 25 to 30 minutes, turning half way through.

courgette patties ready to go in the ovenbaked courgette patties

If you are going to fry them:

Heat a non-stick frying pan over med-high heat and add enough olive oil to just cover the base. Using a damp spoon, put spoonfuls of the mix into the hot oil and fry on both sides/all over until nicely browned. In Greece I have seen them all shapes and sizes, so go with what suits you!

Kolokithokeftedes at taverna in Limonaria, Agistria couple of examples of Greek kolokithokeftedesKolokithokeftedes near Kalamaki Marina

Either way, lay onto some paper towel to absorb any extra oil. Serve hot, warm or cool.

Delicious served with Tsatsiki (Yogurt and Cucumber dip) and/or a Tomato and Chilli Salsa. 

If you make 12 from this quantity, each one will be just 98 kcal, plus a little for the oil they are cooked in. In the following calculations, I have allowed for 2 tsps, which is approximately what I needed when baking them

Per Patty: kcals 105
Carbs 5.6g Fat 7.7g Protein 5.0g

Thai Salmon Patties with Pickled Vegetable Ribbons <250kcal

Thai Salmon Patties with Pickled Vegetable RibbonsI was reminded of these when a member of the 5:2 Intermittent Fasting Diet group on Facebook asked for a fishcake recipe that didn’t require the use of breadcrumbs or mashed potato. I can’t wait for our next 5:2 fast day to do them again! Pickled vegetables are quite a thing now, turning up regularly on Masterchef as an accompaniment. It’s a great way of adding some zingy flavour without a lot of calories.

Thai Salmon Patties with Pickled Vegetable Ribbons

I had always thought that fish cakes needed potato or something to hold them together, but not so, these work beautifully. I like to make them small so that they cook quickly and the centre stays moist and pink. 

I’ve usually done the fish patties with salmon, but they would work equally well with any firm white fish or tuna or swordfish.

As an alternative to rice wine vinegar, try apple cider vinegar. I use maple syrup as it mixes in easily, but you could use coconut sugar or raw brown sugar instead. A little sweetness adds to the complexity of flavours.

Cucumber and carrots are obvious candidates for pickle, but you could use courgettes, beetroot, cauliflower or fennel as alternatives and slices of red onion instead of spring onion.

Serves 2

  • 250g salmon fillets 244 kcals
  • 2 tsp grated root ginger 4 kcals
  • 1 tbsp chopped coriander leaf
  • 1 tsp Thai red curry paste 10 kcals
  • 1 tbsp Tamari soy sauce 16 kcals
  • 1 tsp maple syrup 12 kcals
  • 1/2 tbsp rice wine vinegar 6 kcals
  • 1 carrot 26 kcals
  • 1/2 cucumber 18 kcals
  • 2 spring onions 10 kcals
  • 1 tbsp groundnut oil 120 kcals

Put the salmon, ginger, coriander, Thai curry paste and Tamari into a food processor and whizz until the fish is minced. With damp hands, form into 6 patties. Keep them cool while you prepare the vegetables.

Mix the vinegar and maple syrup in a bowl.

Peel the carrot and cucumber into long strips or ribbons and cut the spring onion into long slivers. Add to the bowl and toss together well.

Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat and fry the patties for a couple of minutes on each side, until just cooked through.

Serve immediately with the vegetable pickle.

Per serving: kcals 228
Carbs 12g Fat 11g 7g

For a main meal, also serve some steamed broccoli and wilted spinach.

Thai Salmon Patties with Pickled Vegetable Ribbons

This recipe is in my book 5:2 Healthy Eating for Life, available on Amazon in kindle or print format.

Courgette Bruscetta with crispy Jambon Cru

Ok, I’m guilty of an Italian/French fusion in my title,  but hey, I’m embracing being a European and thoroughly enjoying being under the influence of a bit of Mediterranean panache when creating delicious vegetable-based dishes. My inspiration came many years ago, from a one of the River Café books – hence the use of bruscetta rather than tartine. Don’t be put off if you are a veggie – this is fab without the meat and I have further suggestions below.

Sauteed Courgettes with Herbs, Garlic and Lemon

Courgettes with Herbs and Lemon

If you grow courgettes, it is almost inevitable that you will have a glut at some point, even if you do try to keep picking them when they are small. This is one way of making them so tasty that even a veteran courgette-disliker can be won over. For other suggestions, do look at my Tuscan Zucchini soup and also my Seasonal Specials board on Pinterest, where you will find links to recipes for Zucchini chips, Kolokothikeftedes (Greek courgette fritters), Curry Marinated Squash Salad and more besides.

When I first created this recipe for my elderly mother, who loved ‘things on toast’, I grilled the jambon cru because she found it hard to manage raw. It worked beautifully. Now, I tend to cook the ham quickly on a fairly high heat in the frying pan, before sauteeing the courgettes and garlic, then it can drain on kitchen paper while the vegetables are cooking – you may get a crisper result baking in the oven at about 220c, but it seems a shame to turn it on just for that.

If you are a vegetarian, I suggest a topping of parmesan shavings or fried halloumi. If you are a vegan, perhaps some crispy fried onions, or some toasted chopped pine-nuts or walnuts. 

Courgette with herbs and lemon

You could equally use this over a pile of tagliatelle or orecchiette, or maybe crozets, the little squares of buckwheat pasta. In which case, I would probably toss the pasta in some basil oil and parmesan cheese, or pesto. Or it would pair wonderfully with Aligot (mashed potato with garlic and cheese).  If you you stick with toast, then choose from wholewheat, or a substantial pain de campagne or ciabatta, that can stand up to being rubbed with garlic….

I find that every so often I really appreciate some starchy carbs and this makes a good way of using them, but if you wish to avoid them, then a big pile of dressed green salad, or perhaps a white bean puree would make a great base.

Courgette Bruscetta with Crispy Jambon Cru

Courgette Bruscetta with Crispy Jambon Cru

This can make a delicious starter or a light lunch.

Per person:

  • 2 slices of Jambon Cru (Bayonne, Serrano or Parma ham) (91 kcal)

for the courgettes:

  • 1 tsp olive oil (40 kcal)
  • 1 medium courgette (about 100g), sliced into thin round or diagonal slices (16 kcal)
  • 1/2 clove of garlic, peeled and finely sliced or chopped (2 kcal)
  • A sprig or two each of parsley, basil / marjoram and mint, finely chopped 
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • some finely pared zest of lemon

for the bruscetta:

  • 2 slices of bread (138 kcal)
  • 1/2 clove of garlic, peeled (2 kcal)

Heat a frying pan over fairly high heat and fry the ham on both sides until nicely browned. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.

Lower the heat to medium, then add the courgettes, garlic and a spray or drizzle of olive oil to the hot pan, along with about half of the herbs and season lightly. Smaller, fresh courgettes merely need to be sautéed for about 5 minutes, until lightly golden. For older courgettes, sauté for 5 mins, then cover with a lid and cook for up to 10 minutes more, until tender.

Meanwhile, toast the bread on both sides, then rub with the clove of garlic. 

Add the remaining herbs and lemon zest to the courgettes, spoon over the toast, and top with the crispy ham.

Per serving: 290 kcals
Carbs 29.6g, Fat 11.6g, Protein 18g,

Serving suggestion ; a little basil oil and a side salad of tomatoes in olive oil on some green leaves.

Tomato Tales – Sundried Tomatoes

A lot of people know that I love to grow tomatoes. A lot of tomatoes. Lots of different varieties. This year I think I have about 60 plants of 20 or so different sorts. Not only do I love to eat a simple tomato salad, I like to have enough tomatoes so that I can avoid buying canned tomatoes or pizza or pasta sauce altogether. I also generally find that those you buy from the supermarket are pretty tasteless, especially out of season, so I prefer to use my own frozen or sundried tomatoes instead throughout the winter and spring.

Tomatoes Galore

With the smaller tomatoes, I generally sundry them and then store them in olive oil. I find they only need 2 or 3 days in the sunshine. Cut them in half, lay them cut side up on a tray, sprinkle with sea salt. I usually put a wire rack over the top which keeps flies off successfully. Leave them in a sunny spot, but bring them in overnight or if there is any hint of rain.

Tomatoes drying in the sun

If it looks like they aren’t going to get fully dry because of poor weather, they risk going mouldy, so then I finish them off in the oven – at about 80c until they are the texture I like, which is still kind of soft, but crinkled, what the French would call mi-cuit. If you don’t have sunny weather at all, you can do the whole thing in the oven, or you could use a dehydrator. But I think the sunshine gives the most flavourful results and the best texture.

Sundried tomatoes

Once they are dried to your liking, you can store them in a jar of olive oil. I push in as many as I can fit in the jar and then pour in good quality virgin olive oil to completely cover them. Use a chopstick or spoon to ensure there are no air bubbles. I can get at least a whole tray full in one jar, so it is a good space-saving method of storing them. Keep them in a cool, dark place and I find they last at least a year and even two (on the occasions when I have made more than we get through).

Sundried Tomatoes

Another way of storing them that I am trying this year, is putting them in a ziploc bag and freezing them. I think this could be an excellent way of saving them to make a paste with later, or just to add them in to all sort of savoury dishes.

Sundried tomatoes for the freezer

So to finish with, here is one of my favourite ways of using sun dried tomatoes

Melon, Cucumber, Goats Cheese, Sundried Tomatoes

Quercy Melon, Cucumber, Goat’s Cheese and Sundried Tomatoes

Per person

  • ¼ of a Quercy (charentais) melon, peeled, deseeded and cut into 3 wedges (41 kcal)
  • 40g of soft goat’s cheese (77 kcal)
  • a chunk of cucumber, halved, peeled, deseeded and sliced into thick chunks (8 kcal)
  • 6 small sundried tomatoes, or slices of 2 large ones (18 kcal)

Dress with a drizzle of vinaigrette made with olive oil, walnut vinegar, balsamic vinegar, grainy mustard, garlic, sea salt and pepper and scatter with some fresh basil or finely chopped mint.  Add about 40 kcals for a tbsp of dressing (ratio of olive oil to vinegar 1:2).

Per serving: kcals184
Carbs 18g Fat 10g Protein 7g

This makes a fabulous starter, or a light lunch. I really like it best with the soft goats cheese, like a buche fraiche (fresh log) that I can buy in the market, or the Petit Billy type of chèvre frais; but you could also use cabecou, or perhaps some sheep’s cheese like feta or buffalo mozzarella.

Melon, Cucumber, Goats Cheese, Sundried Tomato

This recipe first appeared in my book Focus on Flavour: Recipes inspired by living in South West France.

Bon Appetit!

Upside Down Fish Pie

This is dish I have made lots of times now. It is very forgiving of quantities, of the type of fish, of the herbs in the gremolata. You can peel the potatoes or not, use big or small ones, use red, white or spring onions, use whole small or larger halved tomatoes, or even some tinned or frozen tomatoes… It’s a great dish for preparing ahead, up to the stage where you add the fish for the final cooking time; so it works well for a dinner party with friends, all you need to serve alongside is perhaps a fresh green salad or lightly steamed green veg. I have served it on a fast day by using smaller pieces of fish and being mean with the olive oil and potatoes! It is quite substantial and satisfying. For a lower-carb version, you could swap potatoes for slices of summer squash.

Tip: I keep a bag of frozen breadcrumbs in a ziploc bag in the freezer, which makes it really easy just to grab a couple of handfuls to sprinkle over the top of a dish like this – it adds a great texture and saves the fish from drying out.

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Upside Down Fish Pie with Gremolata

This recipe has evolved from a recipe that I spotted in “delicious” magazine, where the potatoes are on the bottom and there are breadcrumbs sprinkled on the top. I particularly like it with salmon, but it works brilliantly with cod, haddock or for a real treat try it with sea bass.

Serves 4

  • 500g red skinned potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced 352 kcals
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced 44 kcals
  • 2 tsp olive oil 80 kcals
  • 100g cherry tomatoes, halved 16 kcals
  • 25g sundried tomatoes, sliced 64 kcals
  • 4 fish fillets 844 kcals
  • 1 red chilli, seeds removed, finely sliced 4 kcals
  • 8 slices of lemon 16 kcals
  • 60g wholewheat breadcrumbs 144 kcals
  • 1 tbsp olive oil 120 kcals

For the Gremolata

  • 6 marinaded anchovy fillets, chopped 24 kcals
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped 8 kcals
  • 1 tbsp olive oil 120 kcals
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • A bunch of parsley leaves, chopped 4 kcals
  • Preheat the oven to 180c (fan).

Brush a roasting tin with oil, then add the potatoes, onions into a roasting tray, drizzle with the remaining oil, season with salt and pepper and then mix together.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and dried tomatoes and cook for a further 15 minutes, by which time the potatoes should be nearly cooked through.

Mix the breadcrumbs with the olive oil in a plastic bag and shake to mix.

Put the fish fillets on top, decorate with lemon and chilli slices and sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top.

Bake for a further 15 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through.

Meanwhile, make the Gremolata by whizzing all the ingredients in a food processor to make a sauce.

Serve with the Gremolata drizzled over.

Per serving: kcals 460
Carbs 51g Fat 21g Protein 20g

If you have started the meal with a salad or a vegetable dish, there is no need to serve anything else with this, but a crisp green salad, some wilted spinach or steamed broccoli make a good visual contrast.

This recipe can be found in my book 5:2 Healthy Eating for Life, available from Amazon in print or kindle format.