Beautiful Basil…

It’s getting to the time of year when most of my gardening time is spent watering and harvesting. The first wave of beans and the raspberries are now coming to an end, but tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, summer squash, Swiss chard and perpetual spinach are growing abundantly, and the first chillies are ripening. 
For these vegetables I’ve been trying out some new ideas, most of which I have captured on my Pinterest board – Seasonal Specials

I also have some fabulous Basil plants. This year I have Purple, Sweet Green Genovese and Thai varieties. 

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So, what to do when you have a fabulous amount of basil? I make Basil Oil – it is wonderful drizzled over fish, chicken, anything with tomatoes, roasted vegetables, cheese…. This and the other following recipes are from my first book Focus on Flavour.
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Basil Oil 

I came across this in a book by Annabel Langbein and it was an instant hit with me, because I adore basil and mourn the end of the growing season. This is the perfect way to preserve the intensity of its flavour and colour. It gives a terrific visual lift to the Tomato and Feta Tartlets as well as giving its heady herbal warmth to chicken, fish, potatoes or other vegetables.

  • 1 cup tightly packed basil leaves
  • Boiling water
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ tsp sea salt

Pour the boiling water over the basil leaves and immediately refresh under cold water. Drain well and blot dry with paper towel. Blend with salt and olive oil until smooth. Store in the fridge or freeze in ice cube trays.

Approx 120 calories per tbsp

Tomato and Feta Tartlets with Basil OilTomato and Feta Tartlets with Basil Oil  

These little tarts are really yummy. A wonderful mixture of tastes and textures. You could use mozzarella instead of feta.

Serves 6

  • Ready rolled Puff Pastry (373 kcal)
  • 3 – 4 large ripe tomatoes (100 kcal)
  • ½ pack (75 grams) feta cheese, sliced (200 kcal)
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • 3 tbsp Basil Oil (360 kcal)

Preheat oven to 200ºC. Cut out circles about 10cm diameter from the pastry. Lay onto a baking tray and prick the bottom with a fork. Chill for 20 minutes.

Slice the tomatoes and layer on the pastry, alternating with the cheese. Drizzle with basil oil and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Bake for about 10 minutes until golden brown. 

Serve with a drizzle of basil oil on the plate.

Approx 175 kcals per serving

I also love to make my own Pesto, but instead of using Pine Nuts, I use Walnuts

Walnut Pesto 

Until I discovered Basil Oil this was the only way in which I could capture the wonderful aroma of basil to use beyond the season when it grows fresh. We have plenty of walnuts here, so I used them instead of pine nuts and I think they give the pesto a really fantastic flavour. It also tastes delicious without the cheese for vegans or those avoiding dairy products. 

I use this with pasta for a simple starter or lunch dish, mix it in to a vegetable soup just before serving, or spread over meat or fish (see Chicken Pesto Parcels).

  • 1 cup basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup shelled walnuts
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • 25g finely grated Parmesan or other hard cheese (optional)

90 calories per tbsp
Fat 9.5g, Carbs 0.6g Protein 1.6g

Put the basil, garlic, walnuts and salt into a blender with about half the olive oil to mix to a paste. Stir in the cheese, if using. Transfer to a screw-top jar and pour in extra olive oil to cover completely. Screw on the lid and store in the fridge. Mix well before using and recover any remaining paste with olive oil again. Keeps well. 

Chicken Pesto Parcels 

A super simple way of dressing up a piece of chicken, full of flavour and great for a 5:2 fast day

Cooking the chicken wrapped in paper helps to keep all the flavour and juiciness in. This is a great way to cook if you need to cater for different preferences – meat, fish and vegetarian parcels can all be cooked at the same time without transferring their flavours. 

Serves 4

  • 4 escalopes of chicken (or turkey) (164 kcals per 100g)
  • 2 tbsp Walnut Pesto (180 kcal)
  • 4 slices Bayonne ham (183 kcal)

Preheat the oven to 200ºC.

Spread the pesto on the chicken. Lay the ham on top. Roll up each one and place into the centre of a sheet of baking paper, then fold up and seal into parcel. Bake for 30 minutes at 200ºC.

Lovely served with braised endive in a cheesy sauce.

Approx 250 calories per serving (based on 100g chicken)

Salmon Stuffed with Pine Nuts and Herbs <200 calories

Salmon Stuffed with Pine Nuts and HerbsSalmon is one of my go-to ingredients for a fast day, when I focus on “mainly plants and protein” and I always have some fillets in the freezer. This recipe makes a good change from my usual technique of putting it on a pile of sliced vegetables and wrapping it in paper parcels. I will defrost the fish first.

This recipe is in my book 5:2 Healthy Eating for Life, but as I had included it in this week’s meal plan, and highlighted the photo, I thought I should share it here.

The original idea came from a New Zealand cook, Annabel Langbein, from her excellently-titled 2003 recipe book “Cooking to Impress without Stress”. 

You can use walnuts instead of pine nuts and vary the herbs. I plan to serve it with a spoonful of tsatsiki (greek yogurt with salted, drained, finely chopped cucumber and mint), but it would be lovely with a chilli and tomato salsa or on a non-fast day, a hollandaise sauce would be super.

A rainbow of steamed seasonal vegetables and perhaps a few baked mushrooms add visual appeal, flavour and plenty of fibre. Today we will be having swiss chard and carrots, plus some slivers of raw vegetables – my new kitchen gadget, a super-duper Mandolin, is going to be put to use! 

Salmon Stuffed with Pine Nuts and Herbs
Serves 4
A delicious and simple way to jazz up a fillet of salmon - it's quick too! You can prepare the stuffing while the oven is getting up to temperature.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
8 min
Total Time
18 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
8 min
Total Time
18 min
Ingredients
  1. 4 salmon fillets (each about 100g), skinned
  2. Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  3. 1 bunch flat leaved parsley, finely chopped
  4. 1 tsp capers, roughly chopped
  5. 2 tbsp pine nuts or chopped walnuts
  6. sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
To serve
  1. 6 lemon wedges
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 220ºC (fan)
  2. Lay the fish onto a non-stick baking sheet.
  3. Cut a diagonal slash in the top of each one.
  4. Mix the parsley, nuts, capers and lemon zest together and stuff some into each piece of fish.
  5. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and squeeze lemon juice over.
  6. Bake for 6 – 8 minutes.
  7. Serve with a wedge or two of lemon to squeeze over.
Notes
  1. Defrost frozen fish before cooking - but you can slice the diagonal while still frozen, which speeds up the defrost time.
  2. Per serving: 186 kcals
  3. Carbs 2g Fat 10g Protein 21g
Adapted from Annabel Langbein
Adapted from Annabel Langbein
Focus on Flavour http://www.focusonflavour.com/

Roast Pumpkin and Glazed Walnut Salad <200 kcals

Roast Pumpkin and Glazed Walnut Salad

Roast Pumpkin and Glazed Walnut Salad

Glorious colour to brighten up a dull day. This would be very good with some bacon lardons running through it, or topped with chopped feta or blue cheese or slices of taleggio. You could also dress it with toasted pumpkin seeds.  As an alternative to pumpkin, use butternut squash

Serves 2

  • 300g pumpkin, peeled and cubed 102 kcals
  • 1/2 tbsp sunflower oil 62 kcals
  • 1/2 tsp aged balsamic vinegar 3 kcals
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 25g walnut pieces 155 kcals
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup 52 kcals
  • 2 tbsp walnut or cider vinegar 6 kcals
  • 75g rocket leaves 19 kcals

Preheat the oven to 180c (fan).

Put the cubes of pumpkin on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil and vinegar and season with salt and pepper.

Roast for 25 – 30 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft and starting to brown.

Heat the maple syrup and vinegar in a small pan until they are well combined then toss the walnut pieces in to coat thoroughly.

Dress the rocket with the pumpkin and walnuts, drizzling over any remaining dressing.

Serve warm.

Per serving: kcals 199
Carbs 22g Fat 12g Protein 6g

Broad Bean and Walnut Salad

I just love this time of year, when there are fresh broad beans to pick from the garden!

Here is a salad to celebrate delicious broad beans.

Broad Bean and Walnut Salad

Broad Bean and Walnut Salad

Ingredients:

Broad beans, lightly cooked
Red onion, finely sliced
Spring onion, finely sliced
White Radish, finely sliced
Walnut pieces, toasted
Parsley, chopped
Vinaigrette made with walnut vinegar*

This would work so well with a light fresh goat or sheep’s cheese, like feta! For my meat-eater I served it with some slivers of serrano ham and rosette sausage.

I had it on a pile of green leaves with some Cantal cheese and sliced tomato.

I haven’t calorie counted it as I didn’t weigh the ingredients, but it is the sort of healthy food that can be part of any day of eating.

*vinegar aromatised with walnuts is a common ingredient here in South West France, where walnuts grow happily. If you can’t find it, then you could use some walnut oil to get that lovely nutty flavour.

I used white radish as the red radishes looked a bit wilted in the shop, but they would be so pretty in this salad.

Hazelnuts would work too, as an alternative to walnuts.

Leek and Crunchy Carrot Gratin

This is a very flavourful vegetarian main which is low enough in calories to have on a 5:2 Fast Day or as part of a calorie-counted healthy eating plan :-
Leek and Crunchy Carrot GratinOr serve as a side dish with chipolata sausages :-

Leek Gratin with Chipolatas

 The calculations for calories came out differently on MyFitnessPal than on my recipe card, below. Either way, no more than 265 kcals for the portions of gratin shown here.

The caraway seeds add a really interesting flavour. 

Leek and Crunchy Carrot Gratin
Serves 5
A yummy leek based vegetarian main dish, or a good accompaniment to sausages (baked in the oven at the same time). With the vegetables, milk, cheese, breadcrumbs and nuts, this has a good balance of ingredients.
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Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
25 min
Total Time
45 min
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
25 min
Total Time
45 min
Ingredients
  1. 500g leeks, cut into chunks
  2. 150ml vegetable stock or water
  3. 1 tsp caraway seeds
  4. sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  5. 250ml semi-skimmed milk
  6. 10g unsalted butter
  7. 1 tblsp plain flour
For the topping
  1. 60g fresh wholewheat breadcrumbs
  2. 2 medium carrots, grated
  3. 75g grated hard cheese
  4. 15g chopped walnuts
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 180c.
  2. Put the leeks in a saucepan with the water and seeds.
  3. Bring to the boil, cover and then simmer for 7 to 10 minutes, until the leeks are softened.
  4. Remove the leeks with a slotted spoon to a baking dish.
  5. Pour the remaining liquid into a jug and make up to 300ml with milk.
  6. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour to make a roux.
  7. Gradually add the liquid, beating well after each addition, to make a smooth sauce.
  8. Simmer the sauce for a couple of minutes, stirring.
  9. Check the seasoning.
  10. Pour over the leeks.
  11. Mix all the topping ingredients together and sprinkle over the top.
  12. Bake in the oven for 20 - 25 minutes, until golden.
Notes
  1. I used oddments of cheese that I had left - a little cheddar, some comté and some crumbled blue sheep's cheese, which gave an interesting mix of flavours.
Adapted from The Ultimate Healthy Eating Cookbook (1999), consultant editor Anne Sheasby
Adapted from The Ultimate Healthy Eating Cookbook (1999), consultant editor Anne Sheasby
Focus on Flavour http://www.focusonflavour.com/