Minestrone soup with nettle and smoked cheese pesto

Easy minestrone soupI find that not having a fridge and cupboards constantly stocked means that you can set yourself a creative challenge to cook something delicious out of frugal ingredients. Whilst not everyone will have some smoked cheese lurking at the back of the fridge as I was surprised to find in mine today, you may have a small unkempt patch of nettles in the garden to forage and a lump of cheddar in the fridge. If you live near Frome and you like smoked cheese, the Wiltshire Smokehouse produce a really good one, which they sell locally and at Frome Farmers’ Market.

This easy soup recipe has been a family favourite for years now and is versatile with endless permutations, depending on which storecupboard ingredients you have. Add 50g of chopped pancetta or bacon with the onions, substitute the chickpeas for cannellini or flageolet beans, the spaghetti for whichever pasta you have to hand, the onions for leeks, carrots and peppers for French beans, broad beans or potatoes. The same goes for the pesto; you can also check out my recipes for wild garlic pesto or basil pesto. Or omit the pesto altogether and just add some finely grated parmesan or similar cheese at the end.

Serve with sourdough toast rubbed with a garlic clove and drizzled with olive oil and a green salad.

Serves 4

Ingredients

Minestrone

2 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 carrots, diced

1 red pepper, diced

Tin of chopped tomatoes

2 tbsp tomato puree

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp dried oregano

1 bay leaf

1½ pints of stock (I used Marigold bouillion)

Tin of chickpeas

1 tsp sugar

½ tsp salt

25g spaghetti, roughly broken, or macaroni

Nettle pesto

100g nettle tops, picked with rubber gloves and rinsed

50g finely grated smoked cheese

50g walnuts, roughly chopped

1 clove of garlic, crushed

250 ml olive oil

Method

Heat the oil and fry the onion, carrot and pepper for 10 minutes on a medium-low heat.

Add the garlic and cook for a minute or so.

Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, smoked paprika and herbs, cook for 5 minutes before adding the stock, chickpeas, sugar and salt. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the nettle and smoked cheese pesto. Blanch the nettle tops for 1 minute in boiling water and then cool by running cold water over them. Squeeze out the moisture and roughly chop the nettles. Blitz the walnuts in a food processor or in a jug using a stick blender, then add the rest of the ingredients and blend to a paste.

nettle pesto

Add the pasta to the soup and cook for a further 10 minutes.

Serve the bowls of soup with a dollop of pesto on each.

minestrone and nettle pesto

Children love the novelty factor of eating nettles and because this is a family-friendly meal and inspired by Italy, I’m entering this for the Family Foodies Italian challenge, hosted by Vanesther at Bangers and Mash, along with Louisa at Eat Your Veg.

As this soup is packed full with vegetables, I’m also entering it for this month’s Extra Veg challenge, hosted by Jo from Jo’s Kitchen, along with Michelle at Utterly Scrummy and Helen at Fuss Free Flavours.

Extra-Veg-Badge-003

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Wild garlic and feta quiche

Wild garlic and feta quicheThis is a seasonal allium-rich dish, full of spring onions, leeks and wild garlic, and a great quiche for a picnic. I’ve also made this recipe as 1½ times the ingredients and used the excess for making mini tarts in a jam tart baking tin, which are perfect for kids’ lunchboxes. Sometimes I make individual tarts instead of a whole quiche; use the same quantity as the recipe below but use a baking tin for tarts instead.

This is an easy quiche recipe as it uses a yeasted pastry, which is much simpler to cook with no need to chill beforehand or bake blind – and it never gets a soggy bottom!

I bought some lovely plump spring onions from VP Collins veg at Frome Farmers’ Market; it’s worth looking for these home-grown varieties, which are fuller in flavour than the supermarket kind. If you can’t find wild garlic, then substitute it with 250g spinach, wilted and squeezed of moisture. You can also substitute the feta for goat’s cheese, or any other strong cheese you have.

Ingredients

Pastry

120g plain flour

50g butter or margarine, melted

1 egg

1 tsp dried fast-action yeast

½ tsp salt

Filling

1 tbsp olive oil

1 leek, finely sliced

Bunch of spring onions, finely sliced

100g wild garlic leaves, shredded

100g feta cheese, roughly cut into small cubes

5 eggs, beaten

100ml milk

Pinch of salt

Method

Mix the pastry ingredients together and set aside for at least an hour, covering it with oiled clingfilm (you can also mix them the night before and put the pastry in the fridge, bringing it out an hour before you want to use it).

Grease a 25 cm quiche dish.

Roll out the pastry when it’s ready, and line the dish.

Preheat the oven to 180°C fan (200°C or gas mark 6).

Heat the olive oil on a medium heat and fry the leek for 10 minutes, then add the shredded wild garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes until just wilted. Add the spring onions and stir for another minute. Remove from the heat.

Beat the eggs and add the milk.

Place the leek mixture in the quiche case, dot the feta cheese on top before adding the egg and milk and salt.

Put in the oven for 30 minutes until firm in the middle and lightly browned on top. Leave to cool for 5-10 minutes before cutting.

wild garlic and feta tart

As this quiche has got three lots of veg, I’m entering it for April’s Extra Veg challenge, hosted by Jo from Jo’s Kitchen, along with Michelle at Utterly Scrummy and Helen at Fuss Free Flavours.

Extra-Veg-Badge-003

Baked wild garlic falafel

wild garlic falafelI recently tried making some baked falafel, using a brilliant recipe by Jessy Ellenburger at Instructables. Continuing my wild garlic fetish, which seems to be my theme of April, I decided to make a similar recipe, replacing the usual falafel herb ingredients of parsley and coriander with yep, you’ve guessed, wild garlic. Baking means that this is a healthy and super-easy falafel recipe.

I love a good sauce with my falafel and so whisked up an easy tahini sauce (see below) to go with them, along with the Israeli zhoug, an easy recipe for green chilli sauce shared with me by my friend Marie. To finish it off, I made a simple tomato salad sprinkled with finely shredded wild garlic. I added more wild garlic to the salad leaves that went in the pitta, for a real wild garlic extravaganza!

easy tomato salad with wild garlic

Ingredients

2 tins of chickpeas, drained

50g wild garlic, roughly chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 tsp cumin

1 tsp coriander

½ tsp salt

Pitta breads, extra wild garlic, salad leaves, tomatoes and tahini sauce (see below) to serve

Serves 4

Method

Heat the oven to 180°C. Whizz the chickpeas and wild garlic in a food processor until mixed but not blended to a paste.

Add the onion, spices and salt.

Form into small walnut-sized balls and flatten slightly.

uncooked wild garlic falafel

Place on an oiled baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, turning them over halfway through.

Meanwhile, make the tahini sauce by whisking together 4 tbsp of light tahini, 3 tbsp water and juice of a lemon, plus a crushed garlic clove and a pinch of salt.

You could also make some zhoug at this point – see my recipe for this here.

Serve the falafel stuffed in pitta with salad, drizzled with the tahini sauce and zhoug, alongside a tomato salad (see above.)

wild garlic falafel in pitta breadI’m entering this seasonal dish in Ren Behan’s Simple and in Season, hosted this month by Helen at Fuss Free Flavours.

Easy chana masala (chickpea curry) with wild garlic

easy chickpea curry with wild garlic

The season for wild garlic is so unfairly short (from around mid-March to late April, depending on where you live) that I can’t help but shoehorn this pungent plant into as many dishes as possible this time of year. But wild garlic is optional in this recipe, being easily replaced with spinach or chard or left out altogether.

Chana masala is a brilliant budget dish,and even better value when you use a foraged ingredient. It’s also quick, vegan and easily thrown together with store cupboard ingredients, assuming you have a few basic spices to hand. Having said that, chole masala is a spice mix that may be hard to find (where I live anyway) but is worth the effort to track down.

Chana masala is delicious on its own, or served with rice or chapatis and yoghurt with chopped fresh coriander.

I’m entering this for Karen’s April Cooking with Herbs challenge over at Lavender and Lovage. Because this is an ultra-thrifty dish, I’m also adding it to this month’s Credit Crunch Munch, hosted by Michelle at Utterly Scrummy Food, along with Camilla at FabFood 4 All  and Helen at Fuss Free Flavours.

Cooking with Herbs Lavender and Lovage

Ingredients

2 tbsp sunflower oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

4 cloves of garlic, crushed

thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled, grated and finely chopped

1 green or red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

2-3 fresh tomatoes, finely chopped

2 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp tumeric

1 tsp garam masala

1 tsp chole masala

tin of chickpeas

2 handfuls of wild garlic, washed and shredded

Salt to taste

Rice or chapatis to serve

Serves 4

Method

Heat the oil and fry the onion for 10 minutes on a low heat until translucent.

Add the garlic and ginger and cook for a few minutes.

Add the spices and cook for a few more minutes before adding the tomatoes and a mug of water.

Simmer for 15 minutes, add the chickpeas and heat through for 5 minutes.

(If using spinach, throw it in during the last five minutes of cooking time; chard will need shredding and adding a bit earlier, or rinse it and wilt it first in a separate pan for 5 minutes before adding to the chana masala.)

Add the wild garlic and stir through until wilted and season.

chana masala with wild garlic

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Wild garlic pesto

Wild garlicTo celebrate the first days of spring this weekend, I picked big handfuls of wild garlic from the nearby woodland, which is carpeted a deep emerald green this time of year. With the distinctive scent of garlic in the air, you know that spring has really arrived.

Wild garlic pesto is not for the faint-hearted; it’s powerfully pungent and assertive, in a raw onion kind of way. It works best with the obvious pasta pairing, or with new potatoes and green beans or peas, or on toast with a soft cheese. A recent discovery was that it’s a perfect partner to the somewhat bland but still delicious home-made gnocchi (I used Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe in his book Veg).

I’ve used walnuts here but you can use any kind of nuts really, such as hazelnuts, cashew nuts or pine nuts. The same goes for the cheese; occasionally I’ve made it with plain old Cheddar but the stronger the better, flavour wise, although the wild garlic does tend to dominate whatever you throw at it.

Wild garlic by itself is also great stuffed into roast chicken; just bung in a couple of handfuls when you put the bird in the oven and then eat it as another vegetable with the meal. Or use it in a quiche; wild garlic and feta cheese is one of my favourite fillings. The garlic only needs chopping and then wilting slightly before you put it in the pastry shell.

Ingredients

30g walnuts

50g wild garlic, washed, dried and roughly chopped

50g parmesan or hard strong sheep’s or goat’s cheese, finely grated

1 tsp lemon juice

Salt to taste

50 ml olive oil to cover

Serves four

Method

Finely chop or whizz the nuts in a food processor, before adding the wild garlic. Stir in the parmesan, lemon juice and salt, and just enough oil to make a thick paste. The pesto will keep in a jar in the fridge for a few weeks covered with a layer of oil.

Wild garlic pesto