Smashed peas on toast

Got smashed recently? Nah, me neither. It’s not so good for us in these already anxious times (and it is Dry July, after all). Personally, I got really tired of all the ‘wine mum’ memes on social media during lockdown. There’s nothing like being encouraged to join a tribe to make me want to run screaming in the other direction. I also interviewed a couple of experts who had some sobering things to say about using alcohol as a lockdown coping mechanism. It’s more common sense than rocket science, but both seem to be in short supply.

A much cheaper, healthier and family-friendly way to get smashed is to try these peas on toast. You can be fancy, and serve them on little crackers or crostini when you have a few people over for dinner, or you can turn them into dinner if you eat them with a poached or fried egg on top. As it is, this amount serves two generously – and makes a good working from home lunch. Cheers! 

Smashed peas on toast

I prefer baby peas (sweeter and cuter) to ordinary ones for this dish, because the big ones can be a bit mealy. But use whatever you have. 

  • 4 tsp butter or olive oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled and sliced
  • Finely chopped red chilli, to taste (optional)
  • A handful of fresh parsley and mint, finely chopped
  • 2 cups frozen peas
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • A handful of fresh parsley and mint, finely chopped
  • 4 slices bread – preferably baguette, pita, or wholegrain toast

Melt half the butter or olive oil in a small pot set over medium heat. Add the garlic, followed by the peas and the water. Crush the peas with a potato masher or a fork as they cook, until you have a rough puree (this will take about three minutes). Stir in the chopped herbs. While the peas are cooking, toast the bread and spread with the remaining butter or olive oil. Arrange the toast on a plate and pile the crushed peas on top, allowing for a bit of artistic scattering. Season well with salt and pepper and serve.

Crunchy cheese, potato and onion bake

When all this is over, I’m going to declare a fatwa on potatoes and cheese. We’re a potato-based household at the best of times, but right now it feels like we’re practically living on them. I’d do anything for a bit of variation on the cheese front, too. Just before lockdown started I had a wedge of my favourite Whitestone Aged Windsor Blue that I ate all too quickly. And oh, to be able to eat any of the cheeses I ate in France last year…

However, in the spirit of being grateful for small mercies, even the most ordinary potatoes and cheese can make life seem a little brighter. This is a riff on my sister-in-law Jenny’s famous cheesy potatoes (I aspire to make them as well as she can). If you squint, it’s sort of a poor man’s tartiflette – I made this Thomasina Miers’ tartiflette many times in France with enormous wheels of reblochon last year. And one day, I will again.

CRUNCHY CHEESE, POTATO AND ONION BAKE

Serves 4

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

If you’ve got cold leftover roast or boiled potatoes, you can use them instead – just blanch the spinach or silverbeet in boiling water, then add it to the potatoes and crush. Also feel free to swap the bacon for ham (or a small amount of anchovies, or olives). Other good additions include cherry tomatoes, little florets of broccoli or cauliflower, chunks of other cheeses – whatever your lockdown cupboards or fridge offers up.

  • 5 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 large onions, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 6-8 large agria potatoes, scrubbed and cut into large chunks
  • 200g spinach or silverbeet, washed and roughly chopped
  • 150g streaky bacon, diced
  • 2 cups grated tasty cheese

Heat the oven to 200C. Put 3 Tablespoons of the olive oil and the sliced onions in a roasting dish and toss well. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes while you’re getting the potatoes ready.

While the onions are cooking, cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 15 minutes, until just about falling apart when prodded with a fork. Drop the spinach into the pot and cook for two minutes, then tip the whole thing into a colander and leave to drain.

Remove the onions from the onion and take most of them out of the dish. Layer some potatoes and spinach on top, crushing the potatoes with a fork, followed by some grated cheese and bacon. Repeat these layers, ending with cheese and bacon. Season well with lots of black pepper, drizzle over the remaining olive oil and bake in the oven for 40 minutes, until everything is crunchy. Eat with lots of hot mustard and something green.

How to make fridge pickles

If you’re an organised person, you’ve probably spent the last month pickling and bottling your summer harvest. (If reports of queues outside New Zealand supermarkets were anything to go by yesterday, then you probably spent yesterday panic-buying hand sanitiser and disinfectant.) Not me, on either count. As in most parts of my life, I’m the cricket who sang all summer and then realised they should have been storing stuff away for winter. I mean, you should see my Kiwisaver.

The good news is that you can have your fun – and your pickles – without all the hassle you might think is involved in such a task. Once you learn how to make fridge pickles, you’ll be every bit as smug as one of those people who does everything in advance.

How to make fridge pickles

To make a basic cold pickle brine, use a 1:1 ratio of water to vinegar, plus salt, sugar and flavourings (whole spices, garlic, chillies) to taste. Use your favourite kind of vinegar – I think white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar are best. Here’s a sample pickling brew to give you an idea:

  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar

Put everything in a small pot set over medium heat. Stir well until the mixture is hot and the salt and sugar are dissolved. Add the spices/flavourings of your choice – about 1 tsp whole seeds to a cup of brine. Taste it to make sure you like the flavour – adjust the salt and sugar accordingly.
Pack whatever washed (and/or peeled) vegetables you want to pickle in a sterilised jar (cleanliness is even better than godliness when it comes to pickling – wash jars in hot soapy water, rinse well and heat in a 120C oven for 20 minutes. Soak lids in boiling water for 10 minutes, then dry thoroughly with a clean tea towel). I recommend the following, either separately or in a mixture:

  • Carrots – slice them into long strips, lengthways
  • Cucumbers – slice them into long strips, lengthways
  • Chillies – keep them whole
  • Radishes – slice them into discs or batons
  • Zucchini –  slice them into discs or batons

Make sure the vegetables take up all the room in the jar – but leave about a 2cm gap at the top. Pour over the brine to cover the vegetables, making sure there are no air bubbles (tap the jar on the bench to pop them, or poke around with a skewer). Seal tightly and store in the fridge until you’re ready to eat. These pickles can be eaten after 48 hours – and you’re best to consume them within two months.

Thanks to Amber Sturtz (of Taco Addicts fame) for an excellent pickling tutorial at a recent Welly Hospo Wahine event.

Chocolate avocado butter (aka woke Nutella)

I’m not particularly proud of myself for this, but I developed a bit of a Nutella habit when we were in France. You know how it goes – warm, crusty baguette, cold, unsalted butter, a dollop of shiny, Wonka-esque Nutella – it’s pretty irresistible.

In my defence, the country basically runs on the stuff (which is why strikes at the factory are always taken so seriously). I know that’s no excuse – France runs on cigarettes too, but I managed to not start smoking – but no one’s perfect. I mean, at least I wasn’t eating foie gras for breakfast, right?

Now we’re back in New Zealand, I wouldn’t dream of buying Nutella, especially not when there are some very good local alternatives (such as the so-good-it-sold-out-in-a-day Kindness Spread from Good Bitches Baking and Fix & Fogg). But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss having chocolate for breakfast. Here’s a rather more woke version of the dreaded Nutella that you can whip up in seconds.

Chocolate avocado butter

Recently I lunched at Inca, Nic Watt’s new Peruvian-Japanese joint in the fancy new Westfield Newmarket. I’d go again for the sashimi, personally, but they also do a nice line in table theatre by making guacamole in front of you. You could always do the same with this chocolate avocado butter at home, perhaps as part of a Christmas breakfast?

  • 1 generous Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 generous Tbsp honey or maple syrup
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 perfectly ripe avocado
  • Finely grated orange or lemon zest
  • Optional extras: Finely grated dark chocolate, a pinch of cinnamon, a sprinkle of chilli flakes

Beat the cocoa, honey and salt together until well combined. Mash in the avocado and beat until smooth. Stir in the orange or lemon zest. Taste – it may need a touch more salt, or a drop of juice for acidity – and add the optional extras if you fancy. Slather over a piece of sourdough toast. Alternatively, eat from the bowl as if you’re eating Nutella from the jar. Cover any leftovers and store in the fridge for up to a day.

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.