Sunday 26 June 2011

There’s something about beetroot!

Beetroot and Broad Beans

Beetroot is not a big hit in my household. Dean and Nina are not fans (only when I use them to make chocolate brownies or cake). I am on a quest to see if they can develop a taste for it. It is in season now and so it’s a good time to make something with it. As far as I can remember, beetroot was always served on salads (especially next to boiled eggs) or as the very famous borscht (a traditional Eastern European soup). In retrospect, not very often used to its full potential. I try and cook this sanguine root in different ways. Roast a beetroot and serve it with a beautiful goat’s cheese and you are in heaven. Eat them raw in salads. Beetroot loves things like soft cheese, capers, sour cream, tarragon, dill...

There is something about a colourful plate that excites my taste buds straight away. It works on almost all my senses.

I normally buy beetroots with their green leaves on as I like sautéeing them. You can also use them to add to soups; or simply boil them and serve with butter, salt and pepper.

There is a great gastronomic world out there for the use of beetroot, don’t let them be just an accessory to your boiled egg salad. This time around, I decided to try a risotto recipe which I share with you here. It was a success. Both Dean and Nina loved it, she even scraped the plate. Good points for me!

Boil the beetroot until tender and dice them into small chunks
You can use the greens from the beetroot...
and sautee them with garlic.
This is my beeautiful risotto!
Beetroot risotto with lemon-tarragon oil, goat’s cheese and broad beans
Adapted from a recipe by Dennis Cotter (For the Love of Food)
Serves 4
I must say that it is one of the most beautiful risotto I’ve seen. This meal is not only beautiful to look at but delicious and healthy too.


For the lemon-tarragon oil
150ml organic extra virgin olive oil
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2-3 tbsp of fresh tarragon leaves, roughly chopped

For the risotto
400g beetroot
2 tbsp organic extra virgin olive oil
1.1 litres of vegetable stock
250g Vialone Nano rice (you cal also use Arborio or Carnaroli)
2 small onions or a big one, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, sliced
125ml red wine
30g organic butter
10g podded fresh broad beans
120g fresh goat's cheese or any other soft curd cheese, crumbled
Sea salt and black pepper


To make the lemon oil, combine all ingredients in a jar and shake well. Set aside. You can prepare it a day ahead.

Wash the beetroots well, leave the skin on and boil them for 20-40 min (depending on their size), until they are tender. Stick a knife to check if they are already cooked, but avoid checking them too often as we don’t want them to bleed the colour too much.

When they are done, drain off the water (but don’t throw it away! With this water you can make a lovely and natural red coloured jelly for the kids or a stock. This water contains many minerals and is a great source of antioxidants, so why waste it? Use organic beetroot if possible). Cover the drained beetroot with cold water and, with the tap running, pull their skins off. This will avoid staining your hands too much.

Preheat the oven to 180°C

Chop the beetroots into 1cm size pieces and toss them with the olive oil and salt. Place them in an oven dish and roast for 15 minutes.

While the beetroots are in the oven, bring a small pan of water to the boil and cook the broad beans for 5 minutes, until tender. Cool in cold water and peel them off from their skins. Split the beans in half, dress them in a tablespoon of the lemon-tarragon oil and set aside.

Keeping the oven on, remove half of the beets and put them in a blender or food processor with about 400ml of the vegetable stock. Blend until it looks like a smooth liquid*. Now, add it to the rest of the stock. Bring it to the boil and hold it at a low simmer
*If you have a juicer you can actually juice the beetroots and add the juice to your stock,  but as Dennis Cotter highlights, roasting them improves the flavour.

Return the rest of the beetroots to the oven for 10-15 minutes more, until they start to caramelise. Reserve.

In a wide, heavy pan over medium heat, heat two tablespoons of olive oil and sautée the onions and garlic for 5 minutes. Lower the heat, add the rice and toast it for seven to eight minutes, stirring often. Add the red wine and simmer, stirring, until it has been absorbed. Add a ladleful or two of the hot beetroot broth. Stirring often, let this simmer until it is absorbed, then add more broth. Continue in this way until the rice is just tender and almost dry. It will take about 15-20 minutes.

Now, add the roasted beetroots and butter. Stir and season with salt and pepper.

Serve the risotto on warm plates. Drizzle the lemon-tarragon oil around them and scatter the broad beans and the crumbled goat’s cheese over each plate.

Some of the main ingredients and their healthy benefits

Beetroot (Beta vulgaris)Contains Betain a nutrient that increases digestion and prevents heart and liver diseases. It provides lots of fibre and that’s probably why it has shown to improve bowel function - It moistens the intestines, relieving constipation and regulates digestion. Studies have shown that beetroot strengthens the heart, regulates cholesterol leves, lowers blood pressure and benefits the liver. Beetroot colours can show up even in your urine or faeces, which is a harmless condition called beeturia.

The juice of beetroot with carrot is a perfect combination to regulate hormones and relieving the symptoms of the women going through menopause.

Beetroots are great source of betacarotene, vitamin B6, folic acid, manganese, silicon and potassium. It is also is a very good source of iron which can prevent anaemia especially for people who follow a vegetarian diet.

Beet greens have a higher concentration of calcium, iron and vitamins A and C than beetroots.  It’s high in sodium, so little salt is required.  Caution: Those who suffer from kidney problems should avoid eating too much beet greens due to its high oxalic content, as it inhibits calcium metabolism.

Olive Oil (Olea europaea): contains essential fatty acids and possess antioxidant properties. Olive oil prevents oxidation of cholesterol and helps prevent atherosclerosis and ischemic heart diseases, stimulates the secretion of bile, lowers levels of triglycerides, regulates blood sugar. Olives/olive oil are very important in prevention and treatment of systemic inflammation conditions like asthma, arthritis and cancer. Research has shown that oleic acid, found in olive oil, substantially lowers the levels of the gene that causes breast cancer by up to 46 percent.  

Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus): has a sweet and peppery taste similar to anise, dill, fennel and liquorice. Its essential oil has antimicrobial activity against a bacteria (Bacillus subtilis) that resembles the pathogen that causes anthrax. It is an antioxidant. Tarragon has been traditionally used in herbal medicine for the treatment of diabetes.
That was yummy, mummy!
Till next week!

Monday 20 June 2011

An Italian summer on a plate

                                a sunny day in Tuscany                 photo by Thomas Gast

Following the excitement of getting a pasta machine as a present, I couldn’t help myself and spent days with an Italian theme in my kitchen. With so many colourful vegetables in season now, I have the best of both worlds and I’m making the most of it.

I remember going to a food festival years ago and Giorgio Locatelli was there teaching some of his dishes. He cooked this mouth-watering Summer vegetable pasta. I never forgot it. Every Summer, I inspect my fridge to see what I can use, and make this recipe. It’s a last minute thrown together meal. You can add any vegetable of your preference here.

courgettes, carrots, peas, asparagus, tomatoes
courgete flowers and basil. Some of the ingredients
place them in all in a deep pan
If cooking fresh pasta, open the dough and pass it through
the pasta machine to make the tagliolini
sprinklle some pecorino cheese on the top and voilá!
Summer vegetable pasta
Serves 4
This combination of summer vegetables is full of flavours and nutrients. This is a nourishing and nutrititious meal, ideal for a light supper.


If you are not making your own fresh pasta, you can use a good quality dry long pasta like spaghetti, tagliolini or linguini. But if you are, follow the steps here ( I used:
A glug of organic extra virgin olive oil
2 small garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
2 small courgettes, finely sliced (see pic above)
1 big carrot, finely sliced
6 asparagus spears, finely sliced
10 pods of fresh peas
10 small plum tomatoes, cut in half
4 courgette flowers
Fresh basil, roughly chopped
2 tbsp of white wine
Sea salt and black pepper

I normally like to add spring onions and parsley too, but I had run out of them. You can also add any other herbs you like. Just create your own Summer vegetable pasta!


Fill a large pan with water and bring it to a boil.

Heat another large pan and add a few glugs of olive oil. Add garlic and fry for 2 minutes (do not let it burn). Add one by one the courgettes, carrots, asparagus and peas. Sautée them well for a minute or so, then add the tomatoes. With the heat in high, add the wine and let it evaporate. The vegetables should be nearly ready. Season, cover them and let them simmer for 5 minutes. They should be crunchy and not over stewed. Now add about two ladles of vegetable stock or water and turn the heat completely down.

Take the dry or fresh pasta and add to the boiling water. The fresh pasta would cook for about 4-5 minutes (taste it for texture, it should be al dente). If you’re cooking dry pasta, follow the instructions on the package but start cooking it earlier.

Drain the pasta and stir it into the vegetable mix. Serve with grated pecorino or parmesan cheese and fresh basil. Enjoy!

Some of the ingredients and their functional properties

Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis): contains selenium, calcium, zinc, copper and folic acid. It has some powerful compounds (indoles, isothiocyanates and sulforaphane) that promote cellular regeneration with anti-cancer properties. It is a powerful stimulant to the liver and kidneys. Studies have shown that asparagus protects the liver from the effects of the alcohol. It is a natural diuretic and helps to cleanse the arteries of cholesterol and is useful to control hypertension. It is used to alleviate menstrual difficulties. Caution: avoid eating asparagus when there is an inflammation related to the kidneys as it can irritate the organ even more.

Carrot: mentioned on this previous post

Courgette or zucchini (Cucurbita pepo): has a cooling and refreshing property. It is also diuretic, helps to reduce constipation and can be protective against colon cancer. It contains B vitamins, potassium, zinc and bioflavonoids. It helps reduce blood pressure by counteracting the effects of sodium. Its skin is a good source of dietary fibre.

Fresh Peas (Pisum sativum): are a source of protein, carbohydrate and fibre. They're a mild laxative. They strengthen the spleen, pancreas and stomach, and harmonize digestion. Peas contain B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, vitamin K, potassium, iron and carotenes.

Tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum) stimulates the regeneration of liver tissue, tonifies the stomach, purifies the blood. It helps relieves high blood pressure and headache. Altought tomato is an acidic fruit, it alkalizes the blood after digestion. Tomato contains the powerful antioxidant Lycopene. It has been shown to increase its antioxidant properties, when cooked or consumed with  olive oil, avocado or nuts. The carotenoids present in tomatoes are fat soluble and are well absorbed into the body with the fats mentioned above. Caution: Everyone should avoid  consuming a large amount of tomatoes in any one day as it upsets the balance of calcium metabolism, especially if you suffer from arthritis.

Till next week!

Sunday 12 June 2011

A fish deesh!

Windsor Castle Pub, Notting Hill - where I learnt to cook
some traditional English meals

Thanks to my Spanish classmate and old friend, Fernando, I got my first job in the kitchen of a pub called Windsor Castle, in Notting Hill Gate – 19 years ago. It used to be one of the best beer gardens in London. On my first day in the job, I got the task of peeling two sacks of potatoes... Woohoo, nice… I think my back and neck have never been the same since. At least Fernando was there helping me with the task and making me laugh while sharing stories of his “socializing” with Pedro Almodovar (I am still waiting to see the pictures of those parties). Fernando was older than me, had done lots of travelling and had a fascinating life experience. He was hilarious, very generous, a bon vivant, enthusiastic and mad - a real life Almodovar character. God knows where he might be now. We unfortunately lost contact.

I digress, sorry. Anyway, few weeks later I got promoted to be the cook/chef’s assistant and instead of peeling potatoes I got to fry them. Nice...Then, when they realized my full potential from peeling and frying potatoes, I got promoted again and this time I was much happier. I learnt to make various traditional English dishes, including the famous, and not so much loved, steak and kidney pie. The first dish I learnt to make, and loved straight away, was Kedgeree! It became one of my favourite dishes and still is.

Kedgeree is a British version of an Indian dish called khichari (rice cooked with lentils).It was adapted when the British colonized the Raj. Nowadays you can find it in many versions. The chefs go crazy, introducing different types of smoked fishes, adding creams, yoghurts, all sorts of spices etc. I like to keep it simple, only varying the use of herbs and cooking with wholegrain basmati instead of white rice.

This one is for you Fernando, wherever you may be!

some of the main ingredients for kedgeree
cover the smoked haddock with water
sautee onion with garlic, curry powder and mustard seeds
My kedgeree!

Serves 4

If you don’t fancy a full English breakfast at the weekends (or during the week, if you like), this recipe is a great meal to start the day. It’s packed with flavours and a great source of protein and complex carbs.


200g naturally smoked haddock
2 Bay leaves
4 eggs
170g Basmati rice
400ml water (add more if rice needs more cooking) 
1 tbsp olive oil
A knob of butter
1 Onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp mustard seeds (optional)
small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
A knob of ghee or clarified butter
Sea salt and pepper


Pour enough water to cover the fish into a shallow pan. Add the bay leaf, cover and bring to the boil and simmer for 5 min. Remove the fish and set aside. Remove the bay leaf.

When the fish is cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones and flake it.

Boil the eggs for 10 minutes. Reserve.

Meanwhile, heat the oil and butter in a large pan. Add the onion and cook gently for 8-10 minutes. Stir in the curry powder and mustard seeds, then add the fish and stir gently.

In a separate pan, add the rice in a salted water (about 2 fingers above rice), bring to the boil and cover. Turn the heat down very low and cook for approximately 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and fluff up the rice with a fork.

Fold the onion and fish flakes into the rice, along with half the coriander and ghee.

Serve the rice onto warm plates, top with one hard-boiled egg (cut into quarters) per person and sprinkle with the remaining coriander. Squeeze some lemon on it. Enjoy!

Some of the main ingredients and their healthy benefits

Basmati rice: wholegrain basmati is an excellent complex-carbohydrate food. It is gluten free and low in fat and sodium. In India, rice symbolizes fertility, wealth and good health (that is why rice is still today thrown at newlyweds to bless them with healthy children and prosperity). Basmati rice is easy on the digestive system. According to Ayuverda Medicine (, rice balances Vata and Pitta doshas. Kapha types, however, should avoid eating rice too often. Basmati rice is a good source of the B vitamins, selenium and iron. White basmati rice contains the lowest glycemic index comparing with any other white rice types, but brown basmati has an even lower glycemic index.

Smoked haddock: smoking and salting is a traditional technique to preserve food naturally. Haddock is an excellent source of dietary protein, vitamin B12, selenium, sodium and potassium.

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) has anti-inflammatory properties and it is often blended in herbal remedies to help fight cold and flu. It may also facilitate the digestion of carbohydrates, alleviate indigestion and colic, lower bad cholesterol and prevent halitosis

Ghee (or clarified butter) is a butter that has had its milk solids removed. According to the Ayurveda Medicine, ghee promotes the healing of injuries and reduces inflammation of the gastro-intestinal tract, such as IBS, colitis and ulcers. It also helps food absorption and assimilation, enhancing the nutritional value of the foods we cook. It has antioxidant properties that boost our immune system. Ghee is a great choice for cooking as it has a high smoke point. 

Egg is a fantastic and inexpensive source of protein. It contains Lecithin which helps the body to break down fat and cholesterol. Lecithin is also a source of the B vitamin-like, Choline which is necessary for the brain development, at pregnancy, and also a necessary nutrient in preventing fatty liver (Choline is an important neurotransmitter involved in many functions including memory and muscle control). It contains also Biotin, another B vitamin-like, which is very important for the digestion of fat and protein and essential for the health of hair, skin and nails.
Egg also contains an antioxidant called Glutathione which prevents the formation of free radicals. It is very rich in Omega-3 fats, which prevents diabetes, obesity and depression. Contains vitamin A and E, Folic acid and Lutein (an antioxidant in the carotenoid family that helps keep the eyes healthy and safe from oxidative stress).

Till next week!

Monday 6 June 2011

How to make…

                                                              by vintage postcards
Fresh pasta!

Before my birthday last week my friend Simone asked me what I would like as a present. I never feel comfortable answering that question but I told her I had a wish list I made to myself in Amazon. Whenever I can afford, I go back to the list and buy one of the desired items. She could choose anything from books to kitchen gadgets, but she wanted to know  what I would really love from the list. “Well, as you are really insisting”, I said, “the pasta machine would be great”.  So, a pasta machine was delivered to my house with a lovely message from her, and the following warning: “If you ever give me a pasta maker for my birthday I will enter your name into my bad books”. I, on the other hand, couldn’t be happier!

I am like a child in my kitchen right now with my pasta machine. In fact, Nina is enjoying it pretty much too.
One of the challenges I like is  to try and make from scratch things that we find as convenience food in shops these days. I want to teach Nina the importance of finding out where the food she eats come from and what ingredients go into them. I find it very rewarding.  As a member of the Slow Food movement, I pay a lot of attention to the importance of growing food slowly, cooking food slowly and eating food slowly.

Good dry pasta is widely available but, whenever I can, I am going to make my own fresh stuff. And experiment with sauces and fillings.

From now on, I am looking forward to trying all sorts of pasta with my new toy. Thank you, Simone!

put flour and eggs into a food processor
whizz it until has a texture of fresh breadcrumbs
knead it until becomes smooth and elastic

Pasta dough


200g organic pasta flour (I used Doves Farm speciality which is a mixture of wheat and durum flour) or my friend Marina Fillippeli, who wrote the delicious Fresh Italian cookbook recommends 150g Italian 00 flour or fine plain flour and 50g semola di grano duro plus extra for dusting
2 large eggs


Place the flour on a clean surface. Make a well in the centre. Put the eggs into the well and beat them. Starting from the outside, work the flour into the liquid until a dough forms. You may need to add a little lukewarm water if the dough doesn't come together. Knead for about five to eight minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic. If you prefer to use the food processor (which I find it made my life much easier), Put the flour, and eggs in it and whizz until it has the texture of fresh breadcrumbs (see picture above).

Tip out on a clean work surface and knead for five to eight minutes.

Wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for at least one hour before using. You can keep the dough for up to 24 hours in the fridge but you need to wrap it tightly in cling film (I use the non PVC cling film which is much safer for our health. You can find them in major supermarkets). 

rolling the dough
Rolling the dough

If you don’t have a  pasta machine you can use rolling pin but you will need to work extra hard to get the pasta thin.

If using a pasta machine, open the dough with a rolling pin about as thick as a pen. Open the pasta machine rollers to their widest setting and roll the dough through. Keep rolling it through, reducing width between the rollers.

Keep going until the dough has gone through the narrowest setting. You may need to cut the sheet in half if it gets too long. Rest the other half on a floured clean surface and put a damp cloth over it, while you deal with the other half.

To roll by hand, cut the dough in half and roll it half at a time on a lightly floured surface until as thin as you want it. This is hard, because the dough is so stiff like a rubber, but that is the way that some of the Italian mama's still do it. Shape to the size you want.

sautee the onions and carrots. Add labneh when carrots are cooked
cut the pasta into square and add the carrot filling
mould the pasta gently around the filling
you can cut them into squares with a knife
My fresh ravioli pasta!

Homemade ravioli of sautéed carrot, labneh and fresh basil 
Serves 4

I know you all must be tired of seeing labneh in most of my recipes lately, but as I said in my previous post, I use it a lot this time of the year and why not! (But you can use ricotta instead).The diced carrots adds a lovely texture to it. This is a light and healthy dish with plenty of flavour.

To make the ravioli filling

2 tbsp organic olive oil
1 small onion, diced in small size
1 big carrot or 2 small ones, diced in small size
1 tsp of grated fresh ginger
2 tbsp labneh
1 tbsp basil leaves, chopped
A squeeze of lemon juice
Sea salt and pepper

For the sauce

3 knobs of organic butter
8 leaves of fresh basil
Juice of ½ lemon
2-3 tbsp of the cooking water from the pasta

Make the dough, then make the past into a sheet (see picture above).

Heat the oil, fry the onion for 2 minutes. Add the add the carrots and sautée them. Add the grated ginger and a squeeze of lemon juice. Season with sea salt and pepper. Add a bit of water and let it cook until soft. Add the labneh and fresh basil. Taste for seasoning.

Cut the pasta into squares (see picture above), then brush it with a little water. Add a teaspoon of the filling to the center of each square, then fold over in half. You can cut the ravioli into squares (like the pic above) or if you can find ravioli cutters in any kitchen store.

If you are not using the ravioli straight away , store them on to a flour dusted plate or tray and keep them in the fridge for up to 2 days.

Cook the ravioli in salted boiling water for 4 minutes and drain. Reserve some of the cooking water. Melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the lemon juice and reserved cooking water. Season with seas salt and toss the pasta in this sauce.  

Serve straight away. Place a serving of ravioli into each bowl or plate. Spoon the sauce over the ravioli, sprinkle some fresh basil and grated parmesan over them. Enjoy!

Some of the ingredients and their functional properties

Carrot (Daucus carota): is high in carotenoid, an antioxidant compound associated with many healthy benefits. They contain lutein and zeaxanthin (carotenoids present in our retina), which is why carrots are famously known for being good for your eyes. The carotenoids and vitamin A contents found in carrots are fat-soluble vitamins - when eaten with a little fat (olive oil, coconut oil, ghee etc) they are better absorbed by your body. Carrots are great for juicing and often chosen as part of detox programs. They also provide good levels of vitamin K, fibre, vitamin C, biotin, vitamins B1 and B6.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum): belongs to the same plant family as peppermint. It is often used in China to treat spasms of the intestinal tract, kidney diseases and poor circulation. Its oil relaxes the smooth muscle of the intestines and dilates small blood vessels. It has antibacterial activity and it is also used for prevention of worms. Basil contains powerful flavonoids (orientin and vicenin) that protect cells as well as chromosome structure against 
radiation and free radical damage.

Till next week!

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