Monday 19 December 2011

Good for Chest-nuts

Chestnut tree

Chestnuts are definitely the sign that Christmas is here! I thoroughly enjoy the smell of them being roasted by the street vendors in town, and then eating them from a paper cone.

Chestnuts have a sweet flavour and they are delicious boiled, roasted, sautéed, added to soups and casseroles, used in baking, as flour etc. For thousands of years chestnuts have been a staple food in the Mediterranean area. Ancient Greeks and Romans attributed  several medicinal properties to chestnuts, like protection against dysentery, poisons and even against the bite of a mad dog.

Before I break for the holiday season, I’m posting a recipe of chestnut soup with porcini mushrooms, which gives it a lovely earthy taste. I made a slightly adaptation on Alain Ducasse’s recipe. As the master says, this should be a simple way of cooking these lovely nuts.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy celebration around a table.

Let indulgence begin!

                 Fresh chestnuts in their shells      picture by John Wright
Cooked chestnuts
The rest of the ingredients
Dice the mushrooms
Sautee chestnuts with celery and shallots
My chestnut soup!

Chetsnut soup (a la Alain Ducasse)
Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course

This is a lovely dish to start a Christmas dinner. It’s packed with healthy nutrients.

4 slices of organic unsmoked bacon
1 shallot, chopped 
1 celery stick, chopped 
1 garlic clove, chopped 
600g organic peeled chestnuts, fresh boiled, defrosted or vac-packed
1 bay leaf
5 whole peppercorns
1 litre vegetable or chicken stock, or water 
40g dried porcini or 80g fresh ones

Preheat the oven to 120C. Lay the slices of bacon in a heated flameproof casserole dish. Colour well both sides. Take them out and keep them hot. Add the shallots, celery, and garlic to the bacon fat. Stir for 2 min. Add all the chestnuts to the casserole dish, Sweat for 3 min, stirring. Take out about 10 of the chestnuts and set aside. Add the bay leaf and the peppercorns, followed by the stock or water. Put the pan in the oven and bake for 45 minutes.

In the meantime, chop the mushrooms into small dices (if using dried ones, soak them first, then slice when soft).

When the chestnut casserole is done, take the bay leaf out and blend the soup thoroughly. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Keep hot. Cut 2 reserved slices of bacon onto lardons and cut the 10 reserved chestnuts into quarters. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a sautée pan and brown the chestnuts for 2 minutes. Add the diced mushrooms. Salt lightly and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the sliced bacon, stir and adjust the seasoning. Put this garnish in the middle of each soup plate. Pour the hot soup around it. Sprinkle with mushroom flakes and serve hot.

The main ingredient and its healthy benefits

Chestnuts (Castanea sativa): Studies have shown that chestnuts can aid in the treatment of convulsive cough (whooping cough) and in any other condition of the upper respiratory system. They are the only nuts that contain vitamin C (100g of chestnuts provide 45% of its recommended daily dosage) and are low in fat.  
Chestnuts are a great source of protein, which makes them a good body building food.
A chestnut congee is particularly useful as a tonic for the kidneys. It also strengthens the knees and loin, and helps those who suffer from haemorrhoids.
Chestnuts support the care of the teeth and gum, especially advanced gingivitis (pyorrhea). The nuts are alkaline, which make them a good choice of food to help neutralize excess acid in the blood, facilitating their elimination in the urine.
As they are low in sodium and high in potassium, they are recommended for people who suffer from high blood pressure. 

Caution: Chestnuts contain 52% of water, which makes them quite susceptible to mould and bacterial growth. Make sure you keep them covered and refrigerated.

Till January!

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Aubergines to save the day

Last week was very rushed. Nina’s been having loads of Christmas activities and I had a lot of chores to get done before I went away for the weekend. So, all this is to say that I didn't quite have the time I wished I had to experiment with a dish I had in mind for leftover roasted whole aubergine. I need to come up with something easy and quick. Inspired by Dennis Cotter (my favourite vegetarian chef), I made a pasta that is one of my favourites and I now share with you. Handy for the frantic pre-Xmas weeks.
Cut the aubergine in strips
The ingredients. My chili is literally chilled, I keep a handful
 in the freezer. I picked it in Summer from my garden
It might not look super appetizing but it tastes delicious.
I promise!

Aubergine, date, honey and feta cheese pasta

This is a lovely dish with a good source of dietary fiber.  


Cut the aubergines in small strips and fry them in olive oil with red onions for a minute. Add 1 chopped garlic clove, ¼ tsp of cumin powder and 1 small fresh chili (deseeded). Continue frying them until the aubergines are browned. Now add now about 2 Tablespoons of slivered almonds.
Put a pan of water to a boil. Cook about 200g of pasta,following packet instructions.
When the pasta is done, add it to the pan of vegetables. Add 4 dried dates, 1 dessertspoon of raw honey or maple syrup, salt and black pepper. Serve in bowls with crumbled feta cheese, olive oil and a squeeze of lime juice on the top.

Some of the ingredients and their healthy benefits

Aubergine or Eggplant 
(Solanum melongena): Aubergine is a great source of bioflavonoids. It has antioxidant properties due to a compound (Nasunin), that can prevent the formation of free radicals and protect against cell damage. Aubergine eliminates excess iron in the blood. It contains a good amount of vitamin C, B vitamins, copper (for protection of the cardiovascular, skeletal, and nervous systems), magnesium (nature’s natural relaxant), manganese (very beneficial for a good digestion), phosphorus (important for proper kidney function and needed for healthy bones, teeth, muscles and nerves); and potassium (for proper nerve and muscle functions). Aubergine plays an important role in lowering blood cholesterol.

CautionAubergine contains a naturally-occurring substance found in plants called oxalates. Oxalates can become too concentrated in body fluids and crystallize, causing some healthy problems. People with kidney and gallblader conditions should avoid eating this vegetable.


Monday 5 December 2011

Going wild for mushrooms

                                Wild Mushrooms     by

Borough Market is one of my favourite places in London. Whenever I can, I pop down there on Fridays to get some delicious stuff. This Friday, I couldn’t resist the wild mushrooms at Turnips. They have been selling beautiful ones for years. I have always been fascinated by them. Some (like the Shaggy Parasol or Cep) look like props for Alice in Wonderland. I asked the seller to choose a selection for my risotto - rice and wild mushrooms are a perfect marriage.

Foraging is becoming very popular in the UK, and one of the most popular pickings are wild mushrooms. Make sure the person you are buying the wild mushrooms from is really knowledgeable and reliable, and you should only forage for mushrooms with someone who really knows how to distinguish the edible ones from the poisonous ones - some of them are known as death caps!

Most mushrooms we find in supermarkets are grown with the use of chemical fertilizers. Try and buy organic whenever possible.

There are many different species and ways of preparing them. Mushrooms have plenty of immunological benefits. Some people prefer to eat them raw but the best way is to actually cook them, as this will destroy the toxins that are present in all edible mushrooms.

On that note, I am off to cook mushrooms for tonight’s dinner.

Wild mushrooms display in Borough Market
Basket of Ceps
Basket of assorted wild mushrooms 
Basket of Portobella mushrooms
Oyster mushrooms in the background growing in
its own habitat
Oyster pink, King Oyster (Bolete), Shiitake, Enoki
My risotto selection: Chanterelles, Black Trompette,
Giroles, Pied Mouton and Blewit
Dried Porcini mushrooms soaked in boiling water
Brush them clean using a mushroom brush or a soft
Ghee, shallots, garlic, white wine, parsley and
pecorino cheese
My wild mushroom risotto! It was yum!
Wild mushroom risotto
Serves 4

Delicious, seasonal and healthy! Mushrooms are great protein source for vegetarians and vegans.

15g ghee or butter, plus another 20g to finish
2 small shallots (or 4 mini ones), finely chopped. You can also use onion instead
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
A pinch of dried porcini, soaked in boiling water (optional)
180-200g of wild mushrooms, brushed clean
150g Carnaroli or Vialone risotto rice
175ml of white wine
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
30g pecorino cheese, grated
A small bunch of parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper

Melt the ghee or butter in a pan and gently cook the shallots. Don't let them burn, just let them become soft and sweet. It takes about 5 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and cook for 2 min, then add the garlic and cook until softened. Add the mushrooms and continue to cook gently. When the mushrooms have softened slightly, turn up the heat and add the rice. Stir well to coat the rice and season with some more salt and pepper. Cook for a minute before pouring in the wine.

Stir well; allow the wine to become absorbed before you add your first ladle of hot stock. Let the rice and stock cook gently, stirring occasionally until it begins to look as though the stock has been absorbed, then add the next ladle. Continue to do this until the rice becomes softer and the sauce looks creamy. Then start tasting the grains. Check for seasoning but also feel their texture. If they are al dente, turn off the heat. Don’t worry if you didn’t use all the stock (or if you used it all just add some boiling water).

Stir in the rest of the ghee, pecorino cheese and parsley. Check for seasoning.

Serve on warmed plates! Enjoy!

Some of the ingredients and their healthy benefits

Mushrooms: Golden Chanterelle (Cantharellus), Black Trompette (Craterellus Cornucopioides), Girolle (Cantharellus Cibarius), Blewit (Lepista Clitocybe), Pied de Mouton (Hydnum Repandum) are all good sources of B vitamins such as B2, B3 and B5. They contain the minerals selenium, copper and potassium. Mushrooms have been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine, in several parts of the world especially in Asia.

A study made by Japanese researchers 30 years ago has shown that compounds found in mushrooms can be used for the treatment of cancer. Mushrooms increase white blood cell count and act as anticoagulants. Well-known medicinal mushrooms, like Cordyceps, Reishi, Shiitake and Maitake have long being used as remedy for liver disorders, hypertension and arthritis disorders.

Mushrooms can boost stamina and vitality. They can also promote normal lung function and support cognitive function. According to Paul Pitchford, the Chinese Ganoderma (Ling Zhi) mushroom tonifies immunity best and have a strong effect against tumors and cancers. 

The biggest myth about Candida is that eating mushrooms will make it worse. 
On the contrary, mushrooms are an excellent part of the diet for those with Candida and IBS sufferers. They can be useful in the fight against Candida Albicans. Scientific research has shown that some mushrooms are Candida-killers, help the immune system fight Candida Albicans and are excellent for Candida infection.

For more on their medicinal benefits, click here. For more info about mushroom picking, click here. Also if you want to watch an interesting TED talk by famous American mycologist and author Paul Stamets click here

Till next week!

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