Thursday, May 27, 2010

Beetroot Soup

Most weeks, we get a few beets in our veggie box. I have romantic ideals of making beet pasta, but where I think I'll find the time I don't know. Most weeks, I save up my beets then make this fantastic soup.

The page of the recipe book is splattered with red; it looks like something out of a crime scene. But the soup is so simple that I don't think I need the book anymore.

This freezes well, but we eat it so quickly that I usually just place any leftovers in a jar in the fridge door, sloshing out a cupful for an entree at dinnertime, and a bowlful for lunch the next day.

Beetroot Soup

- approximately 700g beets, scrubbed
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tbs balsamic vinegar
- yogurt, to serve

Place the beets in a saucepan of cold water, bring to the boil and boil for 1½ to 2 hours, depending on their size. Check them with a knife; they are cooked when they offer no resistance.

When they are ready, use a slotted spoon to scoop them out. Save the cooking liquid. Remove the beet skins and any odd hairy bits. Puree in a food processor or blender, along with the mustard and vinegar. Add enough of the cooking liquid to make it a pleasing consistency.

Serve with a swirl of plain yogurt, and pass the pepper grinder.

Adapted from the indispensable How to Eat: Pleasures and Principles of Good Food by Nigella Lawson.

(Local: beets, yogurt. Non-local: Dijon, balsamic vinegar.)

Green Pie

In a family of young children, it helps to have staples: foods that turn up again and again, and that the kids like. We have a list on our fridge of the ten dinners my children have agreed to eat. When, in their fickleness, they point to the meal on their plate and say 'don't like it!', I point to the list and remind them it's not an option.

A very loose interpretation of spanakopita features on this list. Perhaps it would be better to call it 'green pie', although we so often fill it with rainbow chard and beet leaves that it is, more properly speaking, a murky red. We make it from whatever's at hand: silver beet, rainbow chard, beet leaves, spinach; parsley, mint, dill, fennel tops; brown onions, spring onions, red onions, shallots; pine nuts, walnuts or no nuts at all. Sometimes I even hide a layer of mushrooms under the green stuff. My kids confuse them with the pastry and gobble them down – but that's our little secret.

In short, it's a filo pie stuffed with a great wodge of green stuff, a heap of herbs, and a bit of egg and cheese. And, most of the time, my kids like it.

Green Pie

- half a pack of filo pastry (180g). Note that the pastry needs to be at room temperature before you can make the pie; check the instructions on the packet for how long you need to leave it out.
- 1 hefty bunch rainbow chard, silverbeet, beet leaves or spinach or a combination, washed and chopped
- a slosh of olive oil
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- a bunch of spring onions, chopped
- 375 g feta cheese, crumbled (less is okay, but don't skimp too much: the feta's salty tang cuts through the green stuff and renders it not just palatable, but divine!)
- 4 eggs
- 1 bunch parsley, chopped
- 1 bunch dill, mint or fennel tops or all or none of these herbs
- a big lump of melted butter
- optional: a handful of pine nuts or walnuts. If you are using walnuts, chop them. (Local walnuts are easy to find; pine nuts can be gathered from the foreshore at Queenscliff!)

Drizzle some olive oil in a warm wide sauté pan and add the onions. Sauté until they are translucent, then add the spring onions and sauté a little longer. Add the greens, clap on the lid and steam until they have softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the lid, and cook away any residual water in the pan.

Stir in the chopped herbs, and leave to cool a little.

When you are ready to make the pie, heat the oven to 180. Lightly beat the eggs and stir through the greens; then add the crumbled feta cheese.

Brush a rectangular dish (I use a 8" by 11" glass dish because that's all I have, but a metal tin would make the bottom of the pie deliciously crisp) with melted butter. Line it with two layers of filo. Brush the filo with butter, and continue layering and buttering until it is 8 to 10 sheets thick.

Fill the dish with the green mixture, smoothing it into the corners.

Add another two layers of filo, brush with butter, and if you are using the nuts, sprinkle them over the pie at this point. Then continue layering and buttering until the filo is used up. Tuck in the edges, ensuring everything is nicely buttered, pop it into the oven, and cook for 35 to 45 minutes until all is golden.

Leave to rest for a few minutes before serving.

(Backyard: parsley, mint. Local: rainbow chard, olive oil, onions, spring onions, eggs, feta, nuts. Partly local, partly not: filo pastry.)

Root Vegetable Soup

It was a grey old Saturday morning and I needed a little comfort food. Rolling around in our crisper were turnips, carrots, pumpkin, and a lone parsnip. What on earth could I do with a single parsnip, and a surfeit of root vegetables? Turn them into soup, of course!

The parsnip and carrots made it oh so sweet, balancing out the white pepper note of the turnips.

We had a little double cream leftover in the fridge and added a dob to each bowl – but the soup was almost as delicious the next day even without the cream.

This soup freezes well. Whenever I make soup, I freeze any leftovers in individual portions – there's nothing like soup for lunch on a cold day!

Root Vegetable Soup

- 2 tbs unsalted butter
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 large carrots, chopped
- 1 kg other root vegetables – parsnip, pumpkin, turnips, swede, celeriac, rutabaga – peeled and chopped
- 1 large potato, peeled and chopped
- 2 litres water, veggie stock or chicken stock (I used homemade chicken stock made from the carcass of a roast chicken, onion, celery, carrot, bay and peppercorns)
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ cup parsley, finely chopped

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and bay leaf, and cook gently until the onions are translucent.

Add the root veggies and sauté for 5 to 10 minutes until glistening.

Pour in the stock and stir carefully, scraping up any veggies stuck to the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer, then cover and simmer gently until the veggies are quite soft, 30 to 45 minutes.

Remove the bay leaf. Process the soup in a food processor or large blender, and return it to the pot. Add the parsley, season, and serve.

Adapted from The Ultimate Cook Book: 900 New Recipes, Thousands of Ideas by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough.

(Backyard: bay leaf, parsley. Local: onion, carrot, potato, other root veggies. Somewhere in Victoria: butter.)

Two pounds of potatoes

We've never been big potato eaters; we eat rice and pasta instead. But over the last few years we've been trying to eat more locally – and we live in potato country. And recently, we signed up for a veggie box scheme. Each Saturday, boxes are delivered from a local organic farm to a house nearby; and each Saturday, we go pick up our box, have a chat, and heft our box home.

My hope was that the veggie box will make me feel more in touch with the land and the seasons – and it will compel us to eat local food. But I realised at our first pick up that it's better than that: just by dropping in once a week to pick up my box, I will feel more connected to my suburb. The scheme is run by two lovely people, and other participants come and go. Soon there will be a dozen more people whose faces I might recognise as I walk along the streets.

And as for the box: wow! Our first box was incredible. On top lay cobs of corn. We demolished them for lunch. They were so sweet they needed neither salt nor butter; they exploded with juice. We ate them with a beet and mint salad, and raw summer squash sliced paper thin, drizzled with olive oil and lemon. I exclaimed and sighed and licked my fingers and reached for more. Saturday lunch became a feast.

What else was in the box? So many veggies: turnip and tomatoes, beets and broccoli, snow peas and summer squash, cucumbers and capsicum and cabbage, celery, lettuces and a solitary onion, and two pounds of potatoes. Various apples, sweet and crisp and enough to make sauce, and nashis sized small for a lunchbox. A centipede, a slater and a dun coloured beetle, which I tossed into the garden. I washed the veggies and loaded the fridge. Combined with the fruit, herbs and veggies in our own garden, we won't need to buy any more produce.

I'm feeling inspired, but it requires a different approach. Instead of shopping for ingredients, I'm reading for recipes. I made a simple beetroot soup which will brighten my lunch – but potatoes? My kids have never loved them, 'not even mash'*, but I guess it's time to learn. And this is where it gets difficult. We live in a culture where we can have what we want whenever we want it; everything is always available. So this choice to limit our options to what's in the box feels challenging. After all, my family prefers rice to potatoes, even if rice cannot be grown here. It's hard to relegate it to a treat.

But I figure we'll do what we can. Perhaps in this challenge, I'll find a new sort of freedom. I may be hemmed in by what's in the box, but I'll be free from concerns of distance or land care, or how the veggies were grown. And anyway, I have to admit I like a puzzle – even if it means cooking potatoes.

*Lola: "And I don't like potatoes, not even mash, so don't even try." (Lauren Child, I will not ever never eat a tomato, a most excellent book for a fussy eater.)