Staring in earnest at the variety of the vegetables we’d had delivered last week, it soon became apparent that the weekly food bill would somewhat increase dramatically if we were to merely treat these organic delights as supplementary flavours within a dish.
It’s often been the case that I have tended to select a source of protein, such as fish or meat, and then cook up some veggies or serve up a salad to go alongside. But what if these inexpensive items, produced solely by Mother Nature (with the help of a raft of friendly farmers) could be the heroes? What if meat and fish were cast aside to allow these seasonal stars to shine? Sounds interesting, I thought. Let’s do it. And let’s start with Swiss Chard.
It reminds me of a cross between celery, spinach and pak choi. I could be completely faltered in my thinking. But none-the-less, this little bunch of stems and leaves was an ingredient I had never tried before, let alone cooked with.
After a long time spent rummaging through my cookbooks (unsurprising, seeing as I now own 107…) and flicking straight to indexes to hunt this vegetable down, I realised that actually, there is a lot you can do with it, from roasting to stir frying, tossing it a sauce, turning it into a gratin…you name it, you can cook with it.
But what really caught my eye was how it can be substituted for other ingredients in recipes, without causing any detriment to the former guise or the new creation. Cauliflower cheese without the cauliflower? Easy, if you switch it for Swiss Chard, as the awe-inspiring, king-of-the-kitchen-garden, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, advises in his River Cottage Veg Everyday cookbook (which, as a word of note, has become my veg-based bible and which, as a second note, is proving to be worth its weight in gold).
So Wednesday night’s tea was Cheesy Chard, which I added to slightly by turning it into a pasta bake, simply by throwing in a handful or two of cooked wholewheat penne. Absolutely delicious and it cost no more than about £1 a head (if that…if I could be inclined to work out the exact maths. Which I probably should, actually).
Then came Saturday night – the evening of the week where time is less pressured and you can potter about in the kitchen, cooking up something tasty and satisfying with very little constraint. I always like to celebrate a Saturday with a more substantial meal – what I would call a real ‘dinner’ (unlike our weekday meals, which are simpler and supper-sized in their proportion). Last night was no exception.
I’d been aching to get my hands on the tender stem broccoli all week. Usually, as previously suggested, it is most often categorised as a portion of ‘green’ that sits alongside a more substantial, perhaps meat-like counterpart, but under the new regime, it was time to create a dish that truly centred upon this cruciferous creation from the soil.
And thus the Broccoli and Cheddar Risotto was born. And boy, was it a mighty-fine discovery. Stalks and all went into a bubbling base of Arborio rice, onion, garlic, white wine and good-quality vegetable stock, just about halfway through its cooking time. Once the rice was aldente, I added a generous handful of grated extra-mature cheddar, followed by a splash of seasoning and a few stirs. Into a bowl and onto the table it was placed, where it went down a storm, quite frankly.
Much like the Cheesy Chard, it was an inexpensive, fulfilling meal that really showcased just how creative you can be with your cooking when you focus your attention on those arguably under-appreciated elements.
There’s much to be said for making a humble vegetable the hero ingredient on your plate. Not only is it cheaper (which is a hugely important factor for The Pinny Project challenge) but it’s also a great way to make your meals robustly nutritious. Indeed, what I’ve discovered to be even more inspiring, is the fact that it can offer a whole new approach to meal planning and cooking; one that you might have barely considered before.