Steaming veg

Situation: 12 short hours to next box delivery. Left in fridge: 1 fennel (all frond and no bulb), 1 trusty carrot, a single surviving courgette, half a punnet of mushrooms, the last sorry remnants of once-proud bunches of parsley and tarragon. Mission: produce a meal fit for a middle-manager.

Solution: steamed veg and mushroom butter

Ok, this should be easy…

1. Leave a few ounces of butter out the fridge to soften up. Once soft, use a fork to mash up and soften further. Add finely chopped mushroom, garlic, ham, tarragon, parsley. Season well, loads of pepper please.

2. Steam whatever veg you’ve got, chopped into thick slices or chunks. Tastes better if there’s a good combination of strong colours and shapes. Quartered fennel makes any dish of humble veg look handsome.

3. I didn’t think of this until too late, but… a neatly trimmed poached egg on top would’ve added a yolky richness to the dish.

Current music of choice in the VBD kitchen: Karen Dalton’s ‘You never know who’s going to love you the best’, Dylan’s new album ‘Modern Times’, Neil Young’s ‘After the Goldrush’. Can’t beat the old hippies.

Conversation topics of choice at the kitchen table: bathroom fixtures, the entertainment value of political melodrama (Blair vs Brown), best ever 7-letter Scrabble words, the genius of the opening credit-sequence of the TV show Shameless, crochet.

Friday night is curry night. Saturday or Sunday is good too. It takes time to cook, and is best enjoyed at leisure, in front of an Alan Partridge DVD or Match of the Day.

Curry Friday

Curry is great for using up old veg – an entire cuisine designed to hide the flavour of gently rotting produce.

This is my all-purpose curry recipe for when I can’t be bothered to wade through Madhur Jaffrey to find an authentic korma or jalfrezi recipe:

Chop a couple of big onions, a few cloves of garlic and a big lump of ginger into small bits. Fry slowly in a big saucepan with several gulps of sunflower oil and/or ghee. When the onion is transparent, blitz with a hand-blender. Now, make a paste of water with a teaspoon or two of ground turmeric, paprika, cumin and coriander. Cook in the onion paste for a good 10-15 minutes. It should be starting to resemble a curry now. Maybe add a couple of chopped tomates at this point. Or not. Season well.

Now add whatever veg you have left-over. Par-cook if using root veg. Just bung in other stuff – cabbage, spinach, peppers, courgettes. Whatever you fancy. Pretty much anything goes in a curry. Towards the end, after maybe 1 or 2 hours of slow cooking, add a flat tablespoon or so of garam masala. This adds a strong fragrant spiciness to the final taste.

Serve with your favourite curry accompaniments. For me it’s got to be minty yoghurt, mango chutney, naan or chapattis (a speciality of her-indoors), dhal. Maybe rice cooked with a couple of cardamon pods and some lemon zest. And a couple of cans of luke-warm bitter.

Then my favourite bit – cold curry for breakfast. Slobby, spicy, oily bliss.


Minestrone

Originally uploaded by tostadora.

The new box is arriving soon, or is already gracing your fridge with fresh, sprightly produce. But you still have a couple of carrots, some wilting celery, a couple of onions and a couple of kilos of cabbage from last week's box.

It's frustrating, but I just can't stand to compost these left-overs so I find it useful to have a couple of stand-by dishes for using up all-and-sundry. Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink recipes.

One of these ultra-useful dishes, during the summer at least, is Minestrone. I got the original recipe from Claudia Roden's 'The Food of Italy', a practical, unfussy collection of Italian recipes, organised by region.

Here's watcha do. More or less…

Sweat chopped onions and garlic in olive oil. Chop into smallish cubes the following [delete according to availability]: courgette, peppers, fennel, potatoes, tomatoes, celery, carrots. Add them to the onions to sweat and mingle. Season.

At this point it cen be good to add some extra flavourings – try cubes of pancetta, fresh herbs (bay, thyme, perhaps oregano or marjoram), any hard parmesan rind lying around. Allow the flavours to mingle over a low heat.

After a while, add some water or light stock – enough to cover and a bit more. Season and simmer until all the veg is cooked. It's quite a delicate flavour at this point.

Towards the end I like to add some green veg – finely chopped spring greens or cabbage, peas, broad beans or spinach. Don't cook to long or it'll lose that fresh verdant green colour.

It's a subtle flavour so its good to add some potency – a big bowl of fresh pesto, torn basil leaves, parmesan or pungent extra-virgin olive oil. Put all these things on the table and let people grate, pour or spoon-on to their heart's content.

Now you can start on the new stuff with a clear vegbox conscience.