It’s All About Da Herbs!

leadareo_herbFresh herbs  – What’s not to like? Apart from the sticker shock when you pick up one of those miserly bags from the supermarket. But it doesn’t have to be that way as they are so easy to grow from seed, even in small spaces. I read somewhere that 90% of all the_TDF4594 nutrient goodness is lost within 10 minutes of picking. Whether that’s true or not it’s so nice to grab a handful of the stuff to add flavour to the meals we cook.

Some of our herbs we grow in raised beds – Chives, Sage, Rosemary, Oregano, Thyme & Chamomile. Mint grows in pots as you don’t want to let it loose in open ground!

We grow our herbs in an enclosed aero-hydroponic system. The plants sit in small net pots filled with clay pebbles with their roots growing in the air. A water pump then pumps nutrient rich water through a sprinkler system that sprays the roots. surplus water drains back into the tank and recirculated. Periodically the water and nutrients are topped up, to make sure the growing conditions are optimum. Having said that they seem to grow pretty strongly even if neglected a little once they are established.

At the end of a growing season we empty the nutrient rich water into either our raised beds, garden or use to feed the fruit trees. So nothing is wasted.

Our hydro-aerponic tanks hold 40 small pots, so it is quite large but with everything hydroponic is is very scaleable. There are plenty of DIY hacks on the internet and even small scale windowsill options available.

With a system like this most commercial growers heat the water and provide additional artificial lighting to increase production yields. We don’t do this in the polytunnel , but it doesn’t seem to be a problem at the moment even with the off and on sunlight we’ve been having throughout July.

So what do we grow?

  • Basil Genovese
  • Cilantro (aka coriander)
  • Italian Flat Leaf Parsley
  • Dill

We tried growing Russian Tarragon from seed, as French Tarragon is propagated only by cuttings, but frankly we found it had none of the aniseed tones of its European counterpart.

So What to do with loads of herbs?

Here are just a few suggestions…

Nando’s style Macho Peas – Whole peas covered with mashed peas, mint, flat leaf parsley and red chili. Try swapping out the herbs for dill or basil. glass_herbOur favourite was basil and chili combo._BYS0025

Always looking for ways to spice up my veggies, I found a recipe for Bakla (broad bean salad) in “Middle Eastern Cookery” by Arto Der Haroutunian. Usually made with the whole young pods and eaten whole, I adapted the recipe for a quick mid week meal as I didn’t have time to follow the recipe to the letter but made use of the main ingredients, broad beans, mint and the aeroponic herbs  Dill and Parsleybroadbean

Cook the beans in water with a little allspice
Once cooked, drain and sprinkle the fresh herbs over the beans and chopped scallions
Toss in lemon juice and olive oil and serve.

Salad Dressing to accompany seafood and shellfish
Flat leaf parsley
Squeeze of lemon
Hemp or Olive Oil
Spot of Balsamic Vinegar
Whizz that up in a blender or food processor to toss with crisp green lettuce and french bean salad.

Not Your Mother’s (Gran’s?) Pressure Cooker

leadimageLet’s get over this first: They’re safe to use.

The days of fear that gripped households as they cooked with these unexploded aluminium bombs in the 50’s, that if misused or badly built, would eject the contents of the pan skywards (at best) are gone! They went on the scrapheap for decades but they deserve a comeback because they really create an amazing cooking environment.

Many contemporary chefs are turning once again to the pressure cooker to create some awesome food. In this YouTube clip, several chefs expound the virtue of this way of cooking.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4nOIRoe6mU

And in Modernist Cuisine, The Art & Science of Cooking, an encyclopaedia to the science of modern cooking, (Sticker Shock Alert! OMG! Christmas list for a rich aunt?…) one of the authors, Nathan Myhrvold believes pressure cookers are the must have kitchen tool for making stocks.herbs

The reason?

Pressure cooking, is moist cooking.
The temperature at which water boils rises when pressure increases. When the pressure cooker gauge is showing 1 red ring, the boiling point of the water can be around 120 degrees centigrade. Water will not boil inside a pressure cooker because the pot is sealed. As water vapour vaporises inside, it raises the ambient pressure  which in turn increases the boiling point. As long as the pressure cooker is sealed and no water vapour is escaping, the pressure inside will stay high enough to stop the water from boiling.

The Result?

The flavours and aromas of the food are all sweated out of the ingredients and as the liquid vaporises on the lid the moisture and flavour is retained in the sealed pan. Also cooking food at high temperatures can produce a Maillard Reaction, this is what happens when food is browned and caramelised, infusing a greater depth of flavour in the food.

Pressure cooking is also fast, it cooks in less time than most conventional methods of cooking.

Enough of the science stuff here’s something fun to do with a pressure cooker.

Not got the time to cook a whole roast chicken? Bung it in a pressure cooker! IMG_4812Really? Yes Really!
It comes out so juicy and tender and falls off the bone.
All within 25 minutes.

I was using the chicken to make a chicken chili verde, so I used the following poaching ingredients:

  • Fresh Tarragon
  • Fresh Thyme
  • A couple of Bay Leaves
  • 10 Szechuan Peppercorns
  • Half a red onion
  • A Carrot roughly chopped

Put the cooking rack in the bottom of the pan and add 2 cups of water (or whatever the manufacturer recommends)
Put the chicken in the pot breast side upIMG_4748
Seal the pressure cooker and bring up to high pressure – for my cooker that means I see 2 red rings on the gauge.
Once it’s reached pressure cook for 25 minutes.
Don’t forget leave the lid on for the pressure to drop naturally and so all the vapours drop back into the pan and use the liquid at the bottom as stock.

I used mine in the chili verde that I served with red rice and broad bean guacamole.

There was even chicken left over for the next day. Enchiladas anyone?

herbs2

Any Night can be Pizza Night

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Homemade pizza is one of our favourite foods. So simple and so much fun!

There are two pizza books on my kitchen shelf, that I would not be without. The first is Pizza Pilgrims by James & Thom Elliot. A couple of guys who travelled through Italy in a 3-Wheeler Van learning to cook real Neapolitan pizzas, and then came back to make great simple authentic pizzas in London. The second is American Pie by Peter Reinhart also the author of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.

American Pie contains my favourite go to dough recipe, so the book is getting rather dog-eared now.IMG_6889 I usually make a big batch at a time as it freezes well. It’s also a very forgiving recipe, the dough doesn’t seem to mind being mixed by hand, planetary mixer or spiral mixer. It makes a really tasty thin, crisp base even if you cook your pizza in a normal oven.

I tend to omit or reduce the amount of salt and sugar used in recipes (just our preference), so for my pizza dough I changed the quantities used. I also adapted the recipe to work with dried active yeast (readily available in UK supermarkets), instead of instant yeast. If using instant yeast just add it to the dry ingredients and mix.

NEO – NEAPOLITAN PIZZA DOUGHIMG_6883

10 cups 00 flour
3 teaspoon salt
Yeast  *see below
4 tablespoons olive oil
500ml room temperature water

DRIED ACTIVE YEAST PREPARATION

2/3rd tsp sugar
100ml water (taken from the 500ml)
2 tsp yeast
Dissolve the sugar in the water.
Mix in the yeast and leave in a warm place for 15 minutes.
This is now ready to use with the other ingredients.

The Pizza Pilgrims insist the best pizza sauce is made from uncooked San Marzano tomatoes that have been squished to a light pulp and sprinkled with salt. Getting my hands on those in my little Welsh Valley is nigh on impossible – or is it?…IMG_8065

I managed to locate a pack of seeds and I’ve a handful of plants growing in the greenhouse and polytunnel! Can’t wait for them to ripen! If you can’t buy it – grow it!
At the moment I use Italian whole plum tomatoes and carefully remove them from the juice and mash the fruit.

Some of best garlic bread is the simplest to make when you’re using a wood fired oven.

Take a piece of pizza dough.
Roll it out.
Dot with garlic, butter (or olive oil) and maybe a sprinkling of parmesan and poppy seeds.

”Pizza is like sex. Even when it’s bad it’s good”
Mel Brooks