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It’s getting towards the end of the best season for leeks. Pretty soon, the big ones will start to realise it’s spring and want to bolt to seed.  if you have leeks hanging on in the garden, it’s a good time to use them, before they start developing the hard core they get as they go to seed. Ever since I figured out how to make pastry with olive oil and low fat yoghurt,  rather than butter, pies and tarts have become a reasonable midweek regular meal rather than a “sometimes food”, and leek tarts are a good way to use lots of leeks.

My chooks have already realised it’s spring.  A good number of my chooks are geriatric. They earn their keep just with their weed clearing, pooing and scratching, and they only lay well for a few months in spring.  But when they are all laying, eggs feature in a lot of my cooking.

This is a late  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge recipe this week – time just ran away on me.  But your fast, easy, healthy, midweek vego recipes are welcome in the comments.

The Recipe:

Makes 6 large muffin sized tarts. Recipe doubles fine.

The Pastry:

Into a food processor or a bowl, put 1 cup of wholemeal plain flour and a good pinch of salt.

Put a couple of good dessertspoons of low fat Greek yoghurt in a cup, then top it up to half full with olive oil. You want it about half and half – ¼ cup of each. You don’t need to mix them.

Tip the cup all at once into the processor or bowl and blitz them together.  In a food processor it’s just a couple of seconds, but you can do it just by stirring.  Knead just enough to combine into a dough.  It needs to be quite moist so don’t add any more flour than necessary, and don’t overwork the dough or it will get tough.  Put the dough in a plastic container in the freezer to cool while you make the filling.

The Filling:

Sauté 2 cups of chopped leeks in a little butter or oil (or a mixture of the two). I use the whites and pale green part, and save the dark green leaves for stock.

Use the (unwashed) food processor, or an egg beater to beat together:

  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup white wine (or substitute a squeeze of lemon juice in water, and use ordinary thyme rather than lemon thyme).
  • a dessertspoon of lemon thyme
  • a good grating of black pepper

Chop 60 grams of low fat feta cheese into tiny cubes and stir them in.

Let the leeks cool a little while you roll out the pastry, then stir them into the egg mix too.

Assembling and Baking:

The pastry is quite fragile.  The easiest way to roll it out is to put a sheet of greaseproof paper on your bench top, put the ball of dough on it, and cover with another sheet.  Roll the pastry out between the two sheets, turning once or twice to un-wrinkle the paper. You can then peel the top sheet of paper off, cut the dough to fit your muffin tins, flip the lot and peel the other sheet off. Roll the scraps out between the greaseproof paper again.

I have a small bowl that cuts circles of dough the perfect size for my Texan muffin tin, and this recipe makes just enough to fill it.  Really though you can make them any size or shape you like.

Grease the baking tins lightly, line with pastry, and spoon in the eggs, cheese and leeks mix.

Bake in a medium oven for around 20 minutes till the pastry is golden.  Serve with a salad or steamed vegies on the side.

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I’m starting to pick the first of the season’s real spinach.  I have silver beet growing most of the year – there’s a couple of months in midsummer when it’s a bit too vulnerable to fungus diseases, grasshoppers and bolting – but with successive planting I can get it most months.  And it will substitute nicely for spinach in most recipes.  But there are some recipes where only real spinach will do. And real spinach is a delicacy this far north.  I can plant in Autumn with successive planting through to midwinter, and harvest from June through to September, but as soon as the days start to lengthen and the weather gets warmer it bolts.

Real English spinach is milder and more tender than silver beet. It takes less time to cook and works better in gnocchi. It is really rich in antioxidant beta carotene, iron and folic acid, and the bit of lemon juice in this helps make the iron available. Mushrooms are loaded with dietary fiber and a good source of potassium, copper, selenium, and B vitamins. With some eggs and feta for protein, this makes a very healthy  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge dinner.  And not much cheating either – this comes together really easily within the half hour of the rules of the  Challenge with just a little bit of multitasking.

The Recipe:

Makes 2 adult serves. Double the recipe for more.

Put a kettle on to boil. The gnocchi needs to cook in lots of boiling water.

Mushrooms:

Get a large, heavy fry pan with a little olive oil hot, then fry over a high heat:

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 200 gm mushrooms, sliced

The idea is to caramelise, not stew, so you need the pan hot. Halfway through the cooking, add a little knob of butter.

Give it a stir every so often and cook until the onions are soft and the mushrooms brown. Tip out into a bowl.

The Spinach Gnocchi:

While the mushrooms are cooking, blanch a big handful of spinach – about a packed cupful – in boiling water for just a minute.  Drain well, pressing down to drain off all the water.  Then blend the drained spinach with:

  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup OO bakers flour (I use the bakers flour that I use for my sourdough)
  • 150 gm low fat feta cheese

I use my food processor, blending just for a minute or so, to make a stiff batter that still has flecks of green rather than an overall green-ness.

Flour your benchtop well and tip the mix out onto it.  Put an handful of flour on top and you should be able to knead. Knead in enough extra flour to make a smooth, non-sticky dough.

Divide the dough into two and roll out into two long snakes about 2 cm diameter. Cut the snakes into 2 cm slices and use a fork to squash each gnocchi slightly.

Boil the gnocchi in two batches in a big pot of boiling water for just a couple of minutes until they float to the top.  Remove them with a slotted spoon into a colander.

Finishing:

Get the pan you cooked the mushrooms in hot again.  You may need to add a little more olive oil.  Add the drained gnocchi and cook for a couple of minutes, turning gently, till the gnocchi get a little bit of colour. Add the mushrooms back in, along with:

  • a good handful of chopped parsley and chives or spring onion greens
  • a squeeze of lemon juice (adjust to taste)
  • a good grinding of black pepper
  • a little bit of salt – doesn’t need much – the feta is salty.

Toss to combine, top with a grating of parmesan, and serve.

Please feel free to join in the Vego Tuesday Challenge –  fast, easy, healthy, in season, real food –  and add your link or recipe in the Comments.

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I love my kitchen. It has a great big central kitchen bench in the middle of an otherwise very compact space (in a very compact house). I means cooking can be a social activity – several people can chop and stir and roll and fill at once.  Kids can sit up at a stool and be involved, and if they play it right get to listen in on adult conversations.

It only works though if it is not cluttered.  There are bowls of fresh fruit and veg, and a vase of flowers, and a few tools in daily use, like my garlic rock and mortar and pestle,  allowed on the bench, but nothing else.

Which brings me to my pasta maker.  I’ve just got one, yesterday, at a garage sale. I’m not sure at all whether it will be a stayer. The Rules of the Bench mean that it has to live up on a shelf and there are very few kitchen tools that are valuable enough to be taken down and used regularly to earn their space. Mostly I find the effort of washing up, putting away, pulling down, setting up is more than it’s worth.

With pasta, up until now I’ve always just gone with a rolling pin.  Lasagna and tortellini are easy peasy.  Tortellini are even easy and fast enough for the Tuesday Night Vego Challenge. I’ve been playing with a few different tortellini lately, but this has been our favourite.

The Recipe:

Makes two big serves, or three normal ones.

Pasta by Hand:

Put a kettle full of water on to boil. You will need a big pot of boiling water to cook the tortellini.

In a food processor, blitz until the dough just comes together (just a few seconds)

  • 1 cup of bakers flour (I use the same Laucke Wallaby Unbleached Bakers Flour that I use for my sourdough, but any high gluten flour will work)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 dessertspoons (or 1½ US tablespoons) of olive oil
  • good pinch salt

Flour the workbench and knead very briefly, then leave it to rest for a few minutes while you make the filling.

Lemon Feta Filling

You don’t need to wash the food processor.  Just blend together until smooth-ish

  • 160 gm feta (low fat is fine)
  • 4 dessertspoons (or 3 US tablespoons) plain yoghurt
  • 8 – 10 green olives (or you could substitute capers)
  • a good teaspoon of lemon rind ( I like a heaped teaspoon, but I really like citrus flavours)
  • Grind of black pepper
  • A tiny bit of fresh chili or chili powder

Assembling

Divide the pasta dough into 15 little balls about the size of a large macadamia in its shell.

Flour the bench well, and with a floured rolling pin, roll the balls out very thin.  (If you flip them several times while rolling, you’ll find you can easily get them very thin without sticking.)

Put a spoonful of filling on each circle. Use a pastry brush, or just your fingers dipped in water to wet the edges.  Fold the tortellini over and seal together like a little pastie.  With the fold towards you, bring the two corners round towards you and squeeze them together.

Cook in a big pot of boiling water for just a couple of minutes till they float to the surface.

The Sauce

And while they are cooking, again you don’t need to wash the blender. Just blitz together:
  • a tomato
  • a good handful of sweet basil
  • a little swig of good olive oil

Drain the tortellini, divide into bowls, spoon over a few spoonfuls of sauce and gently toss, and top with a grating of parmesan.

Have you been doing the Tuesday Night Vego Challenge? Links to fast, easy, healthy, midweek vego recipes are welcome.

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zucchini and feta patties

It hasn’t been a great year for zucchinis. This La Ninã year has been so wet here, that they are only having a short life before succumbing to fungal diseases.  The trombochino though is loving it.  Because it climbs, the vines and fruit are up off the ground and get better air flow.

It’s the difference between growing commercially and home gardening, and one of the reasons why I think the permaculture is hard to monetise. Permaculture systems have a lot more value and productivity than can be easily turned into money. Commercial growers would grow one or the other. Too much variety and you don’t get enough of any one thing at one time to make up boxes for sale.  Home growers are best off planting one or two vines of each, each month. You have insurance against weather conditions – too dry for trombochino and we eat zucchini, too wet for zucchini and we eat trombochino.  January’s planting gets frizzled in a heat wave and December’s can bridge the gap. February’s planting gets 125 mm of rain in three hours and can’t learn to swim fast enough, and it’s ok, December’s is still hanging in there.

It means that even in this least zucchini friendly year for a long time, my repertoire of zucchini recipes is still getting a workout.

The Recipe

This  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge recipe really does come together in a lot less than half an hour.

(makes about 15 patties)

Grate 180 grams of low fat feta cheese and 3 medium sized zucchini (about 1½ cups of grated zucchini).

Mix with

  • a large spring onion, finely chopped
  • a handful of sweet basil, finely chopped
  • a clove of garlic, crushed or chopped
  • one, or more, or less, chilis, finely diced
  • 3 eggs
  • ¾ cup wholemeal self raising flour

Use wet hands to shape the mix into patties and shallow fry in olive oil till golden.

Serve with a salad or vegetables or as is, with a salsa or dipping sauce. We had it with the last of last year’s Chilli Jam. I’m waiting for the lemons now to make a new batch.

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Have you noticed yet that I have a certain amount of experience with zucchini recipes? There is a Marge Piercy poem that I think perfectly sums up zucchini: Attack of the Squash People. I thought I had learned the lesson: One, no more than two, zucchini each planting break.

But then this year I discovered trombochino.  I like climbers in my fortress fenced up-gardens  – they maximise the use of space – and I really like trombochino. They taste pretty much like zucchini – a bit firmer and denser, like zucchini minus the middle bit.   But I don’t know whether it is just this year – it has been a perfect curcurbit year, cooler and wetter than usual but with the long, light days of summer – but the trombochino are triffid-like taking over the garden. I leave bags of them in the roadside mailbox. The chooks refuse to eat any more.

This is the third in the Tuesday Night Vego Challenge series. It’s an old favourite. It uses about 4 medium zucchini.  Eight if you double the recipe – it also makes good leftovers for lunch. Makes a small dint.

The Recipe:

Makes four large serves.

This can be done in half an hour but you have to really multitask at the beginning because most of the half hour is baking time.

  • Oven on to heat up.  You need a fairly hot oven.
  • Kettle on to boil for water for pasta.
  • Food processor out.  You can do it all without a food processor, just with a grater and a blender or eggbeater, but I can’t promise half an hour.

Part 1: Pasta

Cook a cup of pasta in boiling water till just cooked. Don’t overcook it.

  • Macaroni, shells, or small spirals work best.

Part 2: The Crumble

Crumb

  • two slices of heavy wholegrain bread and mix with
  • two dessertspoons of olive oil and
  • a dessertspoon of grated parmesan.

I do this in my food processor. Leave the crumbs a bit coarse, not too fine.

Part 3: White Cheese Sauce

In a small pot, heat

  • a cup of low fat milk with
  • a cup of low fat cottage cheese and
  • 3 bay leaves,

till the milk starts to rise. It will curdle – that’s ok. Fish the bay leaves out.

While the milk is heating, tip the crumbles out of the food processor and (you don’t need to wash it), blend

  • 1 egg and
  • 2 big dessertspoons of plain wholemeal flour.

With the blender going, add the hot milk-cottage cheese mix. Pour back into the small pot and reheat, stirring with a wooden spoon, till it thickens. This will take just a minute or two.

Part 4 – Grated Zucchini and Feta

Grate

  • two packed cups of zucchini (or trombochino) and
  • 100 grams of low fat feta cheese.

Slice enough tomatoes to cover the top.

Assembling:

Mix the grated feta and zucchini into the white cheese sauce and tip the lot into a small baking tray.  I have a square, pyrex 21 cm dish that is perfect for bakes like this.

Cover the top with sliced tomatoes, then spread the crumble mix on top of them.

Bake in a medium hot oven for around 20 minutes till the top is golden and crunchy and the middle is hot all the way through.

Great on its own, or with a green salad, and makes good left-overs for lunch the next day as well.

Did your Tuesday Night Vego recipe feature zucchini too?  Feel free to leave links in the comments.

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I’m loving my gem iron.  I found it in an op shop, and it’s the perfect implement for breakfast baking because gems are so very fast.    This recipe takes just minutes to make – with a bit of practice you can probably have it on the breakfast table within less than 15 minutes. And gone within 20. If you can manage to make enough for leftovers, they go well in a lunch box.  If you can manage to make leftovers.

The Recipe:

Turn the oven on to  high and put the gem iron on the top shelf. It needs to be sizzling hot before you put the batter in.

For a dozen gems, mix together:

  • a generous ½ cup of  polenta
  • a generous ½ cup plain flour
  • good teaspoon of baking powder
  • good pinch salt

Whisk together

  • 1 large egg
  • a generous half cup of buttermilk (or substitute  plain low fat yoghurt mixed 50/50 with water)
  • a dessertspoon of olive oil

Mix the wet mix into the dry mix.  Just whisk them together – don’t overmix. You will end up with a  batter like muffin batter.

Take the hot gem iron out of the oven and put a tiny dob of butter in each hollow.  You only need a small teaspoonful altogether.  It will sizzle.  Tilt the iron to spread the melted butter.

Working quickly, spoon the batter into the hot gem iron, filling each hollow two thirds full.

Put a little cube of feta cheese in each gem, and spoon the rest of the batter in on top, so the cheese is in the middle. I made these with Danish feta, which semi-melted beautifully.

Put the tray back in the oven, near the top and up fairly high. Bake for around 6 minutes till the gems are risen, golden and set.

(The Breakfast Cereal Challenge is my 2011 challenge – to the overpackaged, overpriced, mostly empty packets of junk food marketed as “cereal”. I’m going for a year’s worth of breakfast recipes, based on in-season ingredients, quick and easy enough to be a real option for weekdays, and  preferable, in nutrition, ethics, and taste.  The Muesli Bar Challenge was my 2010 Challenge.)

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Soufflés have an undeserved reputation. I think they’re much easier and more forgiving than their rap. This one is basically just a white cheese sauce folded through beaten egg whites and baked. I can’t really say it’s fast enough for the Breakfast Cereal Challenge, but it makes a great brunch.

Ironically, soufflés are great for winter when chooks lay less and eggs are less in season, because they make eggs go a long way.  This recipe makes 5 eggs feed 4 hungry people, more if you have more accompaniments.

The Recipe:

  • Find the right baking dish.  You need a ceramic or ovenproof glass baking dish, 21 cm diameter or 18.5 cm square, or some ramekins with a similar volume.
  • Turn the oven on to heat up to medium-hot.
  • Separate 5 eggs, being careful to get no egg yolk in the white. (I do them one by one, into a cup, so that if one egg yolk breaks it doesn’t ruin the whole batch).  You may find it a little easier to whisk the whites if the eggs are a day or two old – very fresh eggs can be a little harder to get stiff enough.  And you may find it a little easier with room temperature eggs, rather than straight out of the fridge. But really, it only makes a marginal difference.
  • Grate 60 grams of low fat feta cheese and 60 grams of low fat mature or vintage cheese.
  • Melt 2  dessertspoons of butter in a pot.  Add 4 dessertspoons of plain  flour.  (I used wholemeal plain flour because that’s what I had, but I sieved the bran out first.) Cook on a low heat for a few minutes until the flour bubbles, but don’t let it brown.
  • Pour in a cup of low fat milk, stirring all the while.  Keep stirring until it thickens.
  • Take it off the heat and straight away stir in the grated cheeses, so they melt through,  then whisk in the 5 egg yolks.
  • In a clean, dry bowl, beat the 5 egg whites until they are stiff. An old fashioned egg beater is the perfect implement – it takes literally less than a minute.
  • Gently fold the cheese sauce into the beaten egg whites.  Pour into your ungreased baking dish.
  • Bake for around 30 minutes, till it is risen and set.  Mine has never sunk through peeking, though it is best served straight away as it does deflate a bit as it cools.  I opened the oven half way through this one’s baking to add a tray of whole mushrooms and halved cherry tomatoes sprinkled with oregano, which made it into a real gourmet breakfast.

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For perfect poached eggs, you need very fresh eggs.  You can add vinegar to the water, get it swirling into a little whirlpool, do whatever you like, but you won’t get perfect poached eggs without very fresh eggs.  Fresh eggs cook in one little mound with the white all staying together and a yolk that is high and has a glaze of white over it.  The white sets while the yolk is still runny.  If your eggs are more than a couple of days old, boil or scramble them instead.  It just won’t do it.

From then on, it’s just a matter of a good sourdough toast to put it on (sorry, the infatuation with sourdough means serious contenders for the The Breakfast Cereal Challenge still have to go on top of sourdough). Then they just need a bed.

And we are harvesting the first of the season’s silver beet, which are the perfect bed for poached eggs. Silver beet is a superfood, very high in antioxidant beta carotene, which helps protect against all sorts of chronic diseases due to cell damage, including sun damaged skin.  It’s also a very good source of folic acid, which is good for the immune and nervous systems.  And it’s good for iron (specially if served with a good source of Vitamin C – hence some cherry tomatoes on the side) which helps red blood carry oxygen, which stops you feeling tired and run down.

And best of all, silver beet and white cheese like cottage cheese, ricotta or feta are just meant for each other.

The Breakfast Challenge??)

The Recipe:

Strip the silver beet leaves off the stalks and blanch for a couple of minutes in boiling water.  Drain very well, pressing down to squeeze out excess moisture.

Put them in a blender or food processor with a spoonful of white cheese and, unless you are using a salty cheese like feta, a pinch of salt.

Meanwhile, put some bread on to toast and break two very fresh eggs into a fry pan full of gently boiling plain water.  Put a lid on the pan and poach for a couple of minutes until the white is set.

Serve with chopped cherry tomatoes, both for the flavour and because the vitamin C helps your body absorb the iron from the silver beet.

Sally forth into the day feeling as invincible as Pop-eye!

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Not a great photo – I hadn’t intended to Witches Kitchen these.  I was just about to serve  out some left over vegetable soup for lunch and visitors turned up.  These came together in 20 minutes while chatting to the visitors, and with a few additions to the soup, made a knock up lunch into a feast.  They turned out so well, they had to go here.

The Recipe:

Turn the oven on to heat up.  These like a hot oven.

Into your food processor blend together, just until they are combined:

  • 1¼ cups of wholemeal self raising flour
  • good pinch of paprika
  • 4 good dessertspoons of low fat cottage cheese
  • one egg

You should end up with a soft dough that you can knead.

  • Strip the corn off a cob.
  • Chop one or two spring onions, greens and all.
  • Chop 50 grams of low fat feta cheese into little cubes.

Flour your work surface well, tip the dough out onto it, tip the corn, onions and cheese on top and knead the lot together.  You don’t need to knead much – not like bread – just enough to combine it all well.

Pat the dough out to about 3 cm thick and use a small glass to cut out scones.

Place them close together on an oiled baking tray.  Use your fingers to dob a little oil on the top of each scone.  Bake in a hot oven for about 15 minutes until they are lightly browned.

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