Spaghetti with agrodolce carrots

Do you have any idea how long it takes you to grate a carrot?

It’s not a competition or anything, but it takes me about 40 seconds to peel and grate one large carrot by hand. If I’m using the grating attachment on my food processor, this task takes about about 15 seconds, but that does’t account for getting the machine set up (or cleaning it afterwards). Not bad eh?

I’ve been thinking deeply about grated carrot recently after seeing a tweet from a high-up in the horticultural world that said packaged grated carrot was ‘flying off the shelves’ in New Zealand supermarkets. You read that right. People apparently prefer to pay nearly four times as much for pre-grated carrot rather than spending less than two minutes doing it themselves at home. A 250g packet of grated carrot (wrapped in plastic) will cost you about $2 – the same as a kilo of whole carrots (that you can put straight into your non-plastic bag).

To me, this is a very bad sign. Is the ability to buy pre-grated carrot a new status symbol? 

I know we should be pleased that people are eating grated carrot (I suspect this is the Nadia Lim effect), but shouldn’t we also be concerned that priorities are getting seriously out of whack? I get that life can be full-on and fraught, but are you really ever too busy to grate a carrot? 

I might be old-fashioned but I believe that being able to operate a traditional box grater without shredding your knuckles is a key life skill for every member of your household. It’s a companionable task that can be done while chatting to the main cook, thereby assisting them to get on with the rest of the meal a bit faster. Who knows, it might even give you more time to chat over dinner later?

SPAGHETTI WITH AGRO-DOLCE CARROTS

Serves 4

Agrodolce might sound like a kind of pesticide, but it’s an Italian term that roughly translates as sweet and sour. If you’re using a food processor to grate the carrot, do yourself a favour and use it to chop the onion, garlic and parsley too.

  • 1 cup raisins
  • ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 4-5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large onions, finely sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • A large pinch of salt
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and grated
  • A handful fresh flatleaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 450g dried spaghetti

Pour the vinegar over the raisins. Add a splash of boiling water, stir and set aside.

Heat 4Tbsp of the olive oil in a large, heavy pan. Add the onions, garlic and salt. Saute gently for 10 minutes, until the onions are soft and starting to colour. Add the carrot and cook, stirring, for another 3-4 minutes. Add the raisins and their soaking liquid. Toss through and continue cooking until the carrots are soft (just another minute or two). Remove from the heat.

While the onions are cooking, cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente (about 9 minutes). Drain well, reserving about ⅓ cup of the cooking water. Return the carrots pan to the heat and add the spaghetti, the reserved cooking water and the parsley, tossing well to combine. Season well with lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Divide between four warmed waiting bowls and serve immediately. Eat with freshly grated pecorino romano or another hard cheese (not pre-grated, if you please) as you wish.

Fancy more ways to utilise your newfound (or refound) grating skills? You might like this classic French Carrot Salad, or my Ultimate Carrot Cake.

Creamy parsnip soup

I’m currently trying to get to grips with a range of different French idiomatic expressions involving food, such as ‘raconter des salades’ (literally: to tell some salad – to spin a story), and ‘la moutarde me monte au nez’ (literally: the mustard goes up my nose – I’m getting really angry).

This has reminded me of two things – one, teaching a Khmer colleague in Cambodia the New Zealand expression that ‘it’s all going to custard’ and two, of the English saying that ‘fine words butter no parsnips’. The former is a way of saying that everything is going wrong, but the latter is somewhat harder to explain. I think it means that fancy words mean little, but I’m not entirely sure. However, I am much more certain about this parsnip soup, which is entirely fine and yet contains very little butter. I’m not telling you any salads, I promise.

Creamy parsnip soup

Serves 4-6

60g butter

2 tsp olive oil

2 large onions, finely diced

3 large cloves garlic, finely sliced

1 kg parsnips (about 8 large ones), peeled and cut into chunks

1 sprig fresh thyme

4 cups chicken stock

Juice of one lemon

½ cup cream, plus a little extra for drizzling

Heat the butter and oil in a large, heavy pot. Add the onions and garlic, and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the parsnips and cook for a further 10-15 minutes, until softened and starting to turn golden. Add the chicken stock and simmer gently for another 5-10 minutes, until the parsnips are soft. Remove the thyme, and puree with a stick blender or a mouli. To make it really silky, push the puree through a sieve (tedious, but worth it). Stir in the lemon juice and cream, then return to the heat and warm through (don’t let it boil) before serving.

If you’re in the mood for more winter soups, check out my latest crop of recipes on bite.co.nz.

Sweetcorn now in stock

One of the most endearing scenes in the movie Big (where Tom Hanks plays a little boy magicked into a man’s body) is when he picks up an ear of baby corn and eats it, typewriter-style, at a fancy event. Of course, baby corn usually tastes of nothing but tin, but at least you don’t have the problem of what to do with the cobs afterwards.

If you’re getting through a heap of sweetcorn this summier, let me introduce you to an excellent kitchen hack: you can turn those nibbled cobs into the sweetest, most flavoursome stock ever. It doesn’t make them fit into your worm farm any easier, but at least you’re extracting maximum value first.

SWEETCORN STOCK

Gather as many cobs as you have – ideally 4-6 – and put them in a large pot with half an onion, a well-washed carrot and a stick of celery. Cover with cold water. Cover the pot and set over medium heat. Let it come to the boil, then simmer gently for 40 minutes. Cool and strain into suitable containers with lids. Refrigerate and use within five days, or freeze for up to three months. And if you’re wondering what to do with sweetcorn stock, the following recipe should do the trick nicely.

SWEETCORN AND KUMARA CHOWDER

Save this for a rainy day (there’s bound to be one along soon!)

2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, finely diced
½ teaspoon flaky sea salt
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon chipotle in adobo sauce (roughly 1 chipotle, with a bit of sauce around it)
3 ears sweetcorn, kernels shaved
1 medium kumara, peeled, diced
2½ cups sweetcorn or other vegetable stock
⅓ cup creme fraiche, plus a little more for garnishing if desired

Melt the butter in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is beginning to soften. Add the salt, turmeric and chipotle. Add the corn kernels and kumara. Stir well, then add the stock. Bring to a gentle simmer, then cover and cook for 10-15 minutes, until the kumara is soft.

Remove from the heat and puree, either using a stick blender, a food mill or a food processor. Return to the saucepan and taste for seasoning – add more salt if needed. If the soup seems very thick, add a little boiling water. Stir through the creme fraiche and reheat gently. Serve hot, garnished with a little extra creme fraiche and a drizzle of chipotle sauce.

Pearl barley, lemon and avocado salad

Spring is a tricky time of year for salad lovers. In theory we should all be eating new baby greens and skipping about the place like newborn lambs. In practice, at least in Wellington, we’re as likely to be huddled over the soup pot muttering incantations to the weather gods. The following salad is my answer to this kind of climatic conundrum – it makes use of the things that have now sprung back into season (avocados, parsley, lemons), but it has enough heft to keep you warm on a less-than-optimal day. It also makes a great take-to-work lunch, even if it’s not warm enough to sit outside and eat it.

Pearl barley, lemon and avocado salad

Serves 4-6

Pearl barley is brilliant for salads like this as long as you remember to keep it in balance with the other ingredients – I can happily eat it unadorned but that can be a bit confronting for first-timers. I aim for a 50-50 ratio: 50 per cent barley, 50 per cent other things. Meyer lemons (actually a lemon-mandarin hybrid) are sweeter than ‘real’ lemons and have golden skin and flesh.

1 1/4 cups pearl barley

3 large Meyer lemons, washed

6 spring onions, finely chopped

1 avocado

3 big handfuls fresh mint and flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

4-5 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Put the pearl barley in a sieve and rinse well under the cold tap. Tip the barley into a medium saucepan and add 2 1/2 cups boiling water. Set over medium heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes, until the barley is tender and has absorbed most of the water. Set aside to cool completely.

While you’re waiting, cut one of the lemons into small dice – including the skin, but making sure to discard any pips. Put into a bowl. Add the zest and juice of the other two lemons into the bowl, plus the spring onions. Peel and stone the avocado and dice the flesh into the lemon mixture. When the barley has cooled, add this to the bowl with 4 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Fold together gently, then stir through the chopped herbs. Taste – add more oil if necessary and season well with salt and pepper. Pile onto a dish and serve. Any leftovers should be kept in a tightly covered container in the fridge. The avocado may brown a little but it will still taste good on day two.

Broccoli and the beautiful game

When Frenchman Arsene Wenger became the manager of the Arsenal football team in 1996, the players were not amused. Marie Antoinette might have been in favour of cake but Wenger took the opposite view: half-time Mars bars were out, broccoli was in. The proof was in the (lack of) pudding – within two years the team went from being lardy losers to league and FA Cup champions.

I haven’t played football since about 1985, but broccoli is still held in high esteem in my household. We call it healing broccoli and it’s the perfect panacea if you’ve been overdoing it in any way. I can’t promise these recipes will help boost your skills when it comes to the beautiful game, but they’re highly likely to score you points at dinner time.

SPICE-ROASTED BROCCOLI STEAKS WITH TAHINI-YOGHURT DRESSING

Serves 4

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

This should dispel any scary memories of over-boiled broccoli for good. You can skip blanching the broccoli if you like but it makes it much easier to cut it into steaks. If you can’t be bothered (and are ok with broccoli rubble going everywhere), add another 5-10 minutes to the roasting time. The dressing is optional, but addictive.

1 head broccoli, stalk trimmed

2 Tablespoons sesame seeds

2 Tablespoons almonds or walnuts, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspooon smoked paprika

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

For the dressing:

1 small clove garlic, smashed to a paste with ¼ tsp salt

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

3 Tablespoons tahini

1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup Greek yoghurt

2-3 Tablespoons water

Heat the oven to 210C and put a baking tray in the oven to heat up.

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Drop in the broccoli and cook for two minutes, then drain well.

Put the seeds, nuts, salt and spices in a large bowl. Mix well and add most of the oil. Stir through the broccoli until it’s evenly coated with the spice mixture.

Arrange the broccoli on the hot tray, drizzling over the remaining oil and any spice mixture that’s left in the bowl. Roast in the oven for about 15 minutes, turning half way through. Transfer to a platter, season with freshly ground black pepper and serve with the tahini dressing on the side.

To make the dressing, put the garlic paste, lemon zest and lemon juice in a small bowl. Mix well, then whisk in the tahini, olive oil, yoghurt and water (add a little extra water if it seems very thick). Taste for seasoning, then set aside. This can be made in advance and stored in a covered container in the fridge for a couple of days before using.

ORECCHIETTE WITH TOASTED BREADCRUMBS, BROCCOLI AND OLIVES

Serves 4

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

This is a guaranteed family-friendly no-waste dinner that will both encourage your children to eat their greens and use up that rapidly staling baguette in the bread bin. Work fast and you can have this on the table in under 20 minutes.

1 head broccoli, stalk trimmed

Salt

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 cups roughly torn stale bread

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

2 Tablespoons capers

¼ cup sundried tomatoes, chopped

¾ cup olives

350g dried orecchiette

Finely grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Drop in the broccoli and cook for two minutes, then lift out with a pair of tongs and drop into a sieve. Put the lid on the pot and set it aside – you’ll reuse this water to cook the pasta.

Set the broccoli on a board and chop into 1-2cm pieces (including the stalk). Return the pot of water to the heat. When it’s boiling, add a generous spoonful of salt and the pasta. Cook for 10-12 minutes (according to packet directions).

While the pasta is cooking, set a heavy frying pan over medium heat and add the oil. Add the breadcrumbs, garlic, capers and sundried tomatoes. Cook for five minutes, stirring often, until the breadcrumbs are golden. Add the olives and broccoli and toss over the heat for another 2-3 minutes.

Drain the pasta and add to the frying pan. Toss everything together, then divide between four bowls. Let diners help themselves to grated Parmesan at the table.