Tag Archives: veg

Guy’s Newsletter: miffing vets & demonising foes

Happy New Year. With the festivities over, we hope you return to routine life well fed, well rested and full of good intentions to eat more vegetables. Meat and five veg is so last century; we are on a mission to make it ten or even 20; good for our health, and good for the planet. We reckon that ‘meat as a celebration or seasoning’ is a good approach – one we’ve been peddling for a good long time and that seems increasingly on trend. I really do believe in the joy of veg, so I am resolved to do a bit more encouraging and celebrating and a bit less lecturing and preaching. Resolution number one.

Over the break I caught up on my mail, including a number of messages from vets irritated by my December newsletter titled ‘Dying for Cheap Meat’, where I focused on how over-prescription of antibiotics in agriculture contributes to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. On reflection I regret the unjustified swipe at vets in general; many are actively fighting over-prescription and I shouldn’t have tarred all of them with the brush prompted by the irresponsible minority. If you’re a vet, but not one of those vets, I am sorry. It wasn’t my first such blunder and I hope I’ve learned my lesson. Resolution number two.

One particularly thoughtful vet reminded me of a wise aunt, who, after hearing me on the radio bad-mouthing Monsanto, advised me not to “Demonise my foe”. Overstating an argument by selectively gathering only the evidence that suits your position and then getting angry and indignant can make for a good read, but too often alienates potential allies and undermines your point; you are liable to win the battle but lose the war. This is what puts me off most blogs and social media. So I go into the New Year resolved to be more considered in my missives and to help turn our collective hopes of positive change into reality – a better approach than wielding the crude tool of angry jabs – even when I’m especially incensed about an issue. The challenge is to manage it without being boring, but I will do my best. Resolution number three.

Guy Watson

12 veg of Christmas – 5 festive leftover recipes

Don’t view leftovers as second-class food; with the right treatment you can often make meals even tastier than the first time around. Here are a few recipes to use up any leftover festive veg and turkey.

turkey quesadillas

autumn-veg-quesadilla1 small to medium-sized butternut squash, peeled & diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 red or white onion, finely diced
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp paprika
1-2 fresh chillies, deseeded & finely chopped
leftover turkey, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 tbsp olive oil
sea salt & ground black pepper
4 large flour tortillas
a little oil for brushing
large handful coriander leaves
200g grated cheddar

Preheat oven to 190’C/Gas Mark 5. Toss the squash, pepper, corn, onion, spices, chilli and olive oil in a large baking dish. Season. Roast in the oven for 30-35 minutes, until the squash is tender. Add the leftover turkey after 25 minutes so it can warm through. Brush each tortilla on one side with a little oil. Put one of the tortillas in a large non-stick frying pan, oil side down. Sprinkle some cheese over one half of the tortilla, then the veg mixture, then a few coriander leaves. Fold the other half of the tortilla over to make a half circle, gently pressing down with your hands to flatten. Gently cook for a minute or two, until the tortilla is crisp and golden brown (keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn). Carefully turn over using a large fish slice and cook on the other side. Keep warm in a low oven while you repeat with the others. Cut each one in half to serve.

turkey risotto

3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1l chicken or turkey stock
splash of white wine
400g risotto rice
300-500g cooked chicken or turkey
1 tbsp fresh mixed herbs, chopped
4 tbsp parmesan, grated
salt & pepper

In a large heavy-based saucepan heat the oil and gently cook the garlic and onion until softened but not coloured (about 5 minutes). Meanwhile, in a separate pan bring the stock to a gentle simmer. Add the rice to the onion and garlic and stir until coated in oil. Cook for a couple of minutes, until the rice is translucent. Add the wine to the rice and cook until absorbed, then add a few spoonfuls of stock to the rice and stir well. Cook until most of the stock has been absorbed before adding another spoonful. Continue cooking and gradually adding stock until the rice is creamy but al dente (you may not need all the stock). Fold in the cooked turkey meat, fresh herbs and parmesan. Season well and serve.

parsnip, Brussels sprout & bacon potato cakes

serves 4
This is a jazzed-up version of bubble and squeak and can be adapted to finish up all sorts of leftover vegetables, though parsnips, sprouts and bacon is a particularly satisfying combination. A poached or fried egg or sausages would be a good addition.

parsnip-sprout-bacon-potato-cakes200g parsnips, peeled & cut into even-sized pieces (alternatively, you could use leftover boiled, steamed or roasted parsnips)
3 tbsp olive oil
300–400g potatoes, peeled & cut into even-sized pieces
200g Brussels sprouts, outer leaves removed
8 rashers smoked streaky bacon, finely sliced
polenta flour (or use ordinary plain flour), for dusting
salt and black pepper

Heat the oven to 200°C/Gas 6. Toss the parsnips with salt, pepper and about a tablespoon of the oil. Spread over an oven tray and roast for about 40 minutes, until soft and beginning to caramelise. Remove, allow to cool then roughly chop. While the parsnips are roasting, boil the potatoes in salted water until soft, about 20 minutes. Drain well and mash while warm. Keep your mash as dry as possible so that the cakes hold together; if it seems wet stir it over a low heat for a few minutes.
Cook the sprouts in plenty of salted boiling water until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain well and cut into quarters. Fry the bacon over a medium–high heat with a drizzle of oil in a large frying pan (preferably non-stick) until really crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Keep the oil left in the pan to fry the cakes. Mix all the veg with the bacon and season with salt and pepper. Dust your hands with flour then mould the mixture into burgersized patties. Add the remaining oil to the frying pan, place over a medium heat and fry the cakes in batches until they are golden brown, about 5 minutes per side. Add more oil to the pan if you need it. If the first cakes have cooled down by the time you have fried the last, you can reheat them all in the oven for 5–10 minutes, until piping hot.

Variations
* Replace the parsnips with roasted beetroot or squash for striking coloured alternatives.
* Use raw grated apples instead of bacon for a vegetarian option.
* Experiment with your greens: try cabbage or kale.

creamy sprout, leek & smoked ham pancakes

makes 4, prep 15 mins, cook 30 mins

creamy-sprout-leek-ham-pancakesfor the pancakes:
100g buckwheat flour
1 egg
300ml milk
50g butter, melted

for the filling:
25g butter
1 leek, finely shredded
200g brussels sprouts, thinly shredded
25g buckwheat flour
300ml milk
75g strong cheddar cheese, grated, plus a little extra for sprinkling
2 tsp dijon mustard
small handful of roughly chopped dill leaves (optional)
1 pack of Riverford smoked ham

make the pancakes:
Put the flour and a good pinch of salt in a bowl. Crack in the egg, add a splash of milk and whisk together to form a thick, smooth paste. Gradually add the rest of the milk, whisking as you go. Add a teaspoon of the butter to the batter. Use kitchen paper dipped in a little of the butter to grease a non-stick pancake pan (or a 20-21cm frying pan). Ladle in enough batter to just cover the pan, rolling it around to spread it out. Cook on a medium high heat for 1½ mins, until small bubbles start appearing and the underneath is golden. Carefully turn it with a fish slice or spatula. Cook for approx 1 minute more, until the other side is golden too. Remove to a plate, cover with greaseproof paper or foil, and repeat until you have 4 good pancakes (sometimes the first one can go awry).

make the filling:
Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Add the leek and sprouts and fry on a low heat for 10 mins, until softened. Add the flour and stir for 2 mins. Gradually stir in the milk, then add the cheese. Simmer for a few mins until the cheese has melted and the sauce thickened. Season and stir in the mustard and dill. Lay the pancakes on a grill tray. Lay slices of ham over half of each pancake, then add a couple of spoonfuls of the filling. Fold the pancakes over, sprinkle a little extra cheese on top and grill on a low to medium heat, until the cheese has melted and the tops of the pancakes are a little crispy. Or you can warm them through in a medium oven if you prefer.

Brussels sprout & pancetta pasta with sage & roast garlic cream

serves 4
Roasting garlic gives it a sweet, caramelised flavour that suits this dish, but it does take a little time, so you might as well roast several heads and save some for other dishes. If you’re short of time, just add a couple of crushed or finely chopped garlic cloves towards the end of the onion cooking time. We’ve gone for a spelt pasta because we like its nutty flavour alongside the sweet garlic sauce, but any pasta will do.

brussels-sprouts-pancetta-pasta1 whole garlic bulb
200ml double cream
1 tbsp olive or sunflower oil
250g pancetta or streaky bacon, diced
1 onion, very finely sliced
6–8 sage leaves, finely shredded
small glass of white wine (optional)
400g dried spelt or other pasta
500g Brussels sprouts, outer leaves removed, halved or quartered, depending on size (keep a little of the core intact so the pieces hold together)
4 tbsp Parmesan, finely grated
salt and black pepper

First, roast your garlic. Heat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4 and follow the method on page 284. Once cooked, leave to cool slightly, then separate the cloves and squeeze the skin to release the flesh. Save half for another day and mix the remainder with the cream. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan, add the pancetta and fry, stirring now and then, to brown it. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon. Add a splash more oil if the pan seems dry, lower the heat, add the onion and fry very gently for 10 minutes until softened. Stir now and then to stop it catching. Add the pancetta and sage to the onion. Turn up the heat and stir for 2 minutes. If using the wine, add it now and let it reduce for a couple of minutes, then add the garlic cream and let it bubble away for a couple more minutes. Meanwhile, put two pans of salted water on to boil. While the onion and pancetta are cooking, add the pasta to one pan of boiling water and cook according to the packet instructions. Drain, reserving a little of the pasta cooking water. Meanwhile, blanch the Brussels sprouts in the other pan for 3–4 minutes, depending on size. Drain. Stir half the Parmesan into the sauce, then toss in the cooked pasta and sprouts, adding a little reserved pasta water to thin the sauce if needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste then serve sprinkled with the rest of the cheese.

Visit the recipe pages on our website for further recipes, or add organic veg to your order.

For more ideas for a Christmas rich in veg, download our seasonal booklet full of recipes and tips from our Riverford cooks and you, our customers. Available to download here: www.riverford.co.uk/christmas-veg.

12 veg of Christmas – vegetarian Christmas dinner mains

Whether you’re a vegetarian or fancy something different this year, try these recipes for a vegetarian Christmas dinner main. The go-to dish for non-meat eaters is usually nut roast but these recipes are a little different, and in true Christmas spirit are abundant in cheese, pastry, and good old winter veg.

squash, kale & stilton pie

squash-kale-stilton-pie1 small (750g-800g) butternut squash, peeled & chopped into 1-2cm dice
1 large red onion, finely diced
2 tbsp finely chopped rosemary leaves
200g curly kale, washed, leaves stripped from their stalks
4 tbsp double cream
200g blue cheese, crumbled
2 ready-rolled puff pastry sheets
1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat your oven to 220˚C/gas 6. Toss the squash in just enough oil to coat and season. Roast in a baking dish for approx 30 mins, or until just tender. Fry the onion and rosemary in 3 tbsp oil on a low heat for 10 mins, stirring now and then, until softened. If it looks like catching at any point, add a splash of water. Cook the kale in the pan of boiling water for 4 mins, until softened. Drain, refresh in cold water, then drain again and squeeze out any excess moisture. Finely chop. Mix the squash, onion, kale and double cream. Season and cool for 15 mins. Mix in the blue cheese. Unroll the pastry sheets and cut into quarters. Lay 4 pieces on a lightly greased baking tray, score a 2cm border inside the edge of each and pile the veg within it. Dampen the pastry border with some water. Lay the other 4 pastry pieces over the top. Gently stretch to cover, pressing the edges down well to seal. Pull the edges up and over slightly to confirm the seal. Brush the top with beaten egg and bake for 25-30 mins, until crisp, puffed and golden.

leek & tomato crumble

2 tbsp olive oil
600g leeks, trimmed & sliced
450g tomatoes, cut into wedges, seeds removed
300ml veg stock
300g cream cheese
1 tsp dried thyme or 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
for the crumble:
150g butter
275g plain flour
150g cheddar, grated
100g chopped mixed nuts, toasted

In a large pan, heat the oil and gently fry the leeks for 8 mins, until softened. Add the tomatoes and cook for another 2 mins. Add the stock, cream cheese and thyme. Stir to combine, until the cream cheese has melted and you have a creamy sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste and transfer the mixture to a baking dish. In a large bowl, rub together the butter and flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs (or blitz in a food processor). Add the cheese and nuts and sprinkle the mixture over the leeks. Bake in the oven at 190˚C for 20-30 mins until the topping is golden.

Christmas pie with greens, chestnuts & feta

The pie can be made in advance and frozen uncooked. Defrost before putting in the oven.

400-500g chard, spinach or kale (be generous if using spinach)
200g cooked, peeled chestnuts, roughly chopped
100g walnut pieces, toasted
80g currants, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes & drained
200g feta cheese, crumbled
leaves from 4 sprigs thyme
1 level tsp ground cinnamon
1 level tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground allspice or ground cloves
3 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp olive oil
salt + pepper
500g all butter puff pastry

Preheat the oven to 200˚C. Line a baking sheet with non-stick parchment paper. Pull any hard stalks from the greens, wash the leaves and blanch them in boiling salted water until just tender (or steam them). Drain and rinse immediately under plenty of cold water. Drain again and squeeze out the leaves, chop finely and place in a mixing bowl. Add the chestnuts, walnuts, currants, thyme, spices and olive oil. Set aside 2 tbsp of the beaten egg, then add the remaining egg to the leaves and combine everything thoroughly. Add the feta and mix in carefully so that the pieces of cheese do not break up. Season with salt and black pepper. On a lightly floured surface roll out the pastry 3mm thick into a rectangle roughly 25 x 30cm. Pile the filling in a thick tube along the shorter edge and carefully roll up into a cylinder. Brush a little egg where the pastry joins to seal and trim off any overlapping pastry. Place on the baking sheet. Brush the pie with the rest of the egg and cut a few diagonal slashes in the pastry so steam can escape. Bake for 30-40 mins or until golden and the pastry is cooked through. Serve with cranberry sauce.

spanakopita with spring greens & leeks

serves 4-6, prep 15 mins, cook 50 mins

spanakopita-with-chard-and-leeks500g spring greens or spinach
2 tbsp oil for frying
500g leeks, trimmed, sliced in half lengthways, then shredded
100g melted butter
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp dried mint
4 eggs
200g ricotta (or cottage cheese)
200g feta
handful chopped parsley
handful chopped dill
250g packet filo pastry
2 tbsp poppy seeds

Bring a large pan of water to the boil and blanch the leaves (spinach or spring greens) for 2 mins. Drain, plunge into cold water to stop the cooking and keep the colour, then drain again. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out any excess liquid with your hands, then roughly chop the leaves. Heat the oil and fry the leeks for 6 mins. Add the garlic and mint and fry for 2 mins. Leave to cool, then mix in the chopped leaves. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Stir in the ricotta, crumble in the feta, then add the veg and herbs and stir gently to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the filo from the packet and lay it out. Cover with a clean, slightly damp tea towel to stop it drying out. Brush the bottom of the dish with a little butter. Lay out a sheet of filo on your work surface and brush with a little melted butter. Lay inside the baking dish; you want some overhanging. Repeat with half the filo, buttering each layer as you go. Spoon in the filling and even it out. Lay over the rest of pastry, brushing each sheet as before. Tuck in the edges and brush with butter to seal. Sprinkle with the poppy seeds. Bake for approx 40 mins, depending on your oven, until golden and crispy.

leek & smoked cheese pithivier

serves 4-6
Pithivier is a circular puff pastry pie with a curved pattern cut into it. You could add some sliced mushrooms to the leek mixture.

leek-and-cheese-pithivierknob of butter
1kg leeks, finely shredded
100g cream cheese
sea salt & ground black pepper
80g smoked cheddar cheese, grated
2 tbsp chopped chives
2 sheets ready rolled all-butter puff pastry (you need about 600g if making your own or rolling out a block; roll to about ½-¾cm)
1 egg yolk, mixed with a splash of milk

Melt the butter in a large pan. Add the leeks and cook gently for about 10 mins until soft. Add the cream cheese and stir until melted. Season well. Turn off the heat and stir in the cheddar and chives. Leave to cool completely. Roll out one piece of the pastry on a lightly floured work surface and use a dinner plate as a template to cut around to make a circle. Spread over the leek mixture, leaving a gap of 5cm all the way around the pastry circle. Roll out the other half of the pastry and lay over the top. Press the edges down to seal. Trim the edges. Brush with eggwash. Use a sharp knife to score curved lines on top of the pie and the edges. Bake at 180°C for about 30 mins, until the top is golden brown and the pastry cooked through. Serve warm.

Visit the recipe pages on our website for further recipes, or add organic veg to your order.

For more ideas for a Christmas rich in veg, download our seasonal booklet full of recipes and tips from our Riverford cooks and you, our customers. Available to download here: www.riverford.co.uk/christmas-veg.

12 veg of Christmas – 5 Christmas leek recipes

Guy says
leeksOur leeks are pulled, stripped and trimmed by hand. Surviving the grim hardship of a January day spent bent over in a windswept field with 5 kilos of mud clinging to each boot also requires a zen-like quality possessed by only a small minority. I reckon the pickers deserve to be paid more than bankers but I’m not sure we would sell many leeks if they were. The winter-hardy varieties ready at Christmas tend to be shorter and stouter with darker leaves, and arguably they taste better for the climatic hardship they have experienced.

Prep
Leeks tend to harbour a bit of mud. If you have only one to clean, cut it in half lengthways, leaving the root base intact. Hold each half under the cold tap, root end up, fanning out the leaves with your fingers. For a bigger batch, it’s easier to slice the leeks first: cut off the root base and the dark green top and use the white and paler green section. Let the rings soak for a few minutes in a bowl of cold water so the dirt sinks, then drain in a colander.

Riverford leek & smoked cheese pithivier

Pithivier is a circular puff pastry pie with a curved pattern cut into it. You could add some sliced mushrooms to the leek mixture.

leek-pithivierknob of butter
1kg leeks, finely shredded
100g cream cheese
sea salt & ground black pepper
80g smoked cheddar cheese, grated
2 tbsp chopped chives
2 sheets ready rolled all-butter puff pastry (you need about 600g if making your own or rolling out a block; roll to about ½-¾cm)
1 egg yolk, mixed with a splash of milk

Melt the butter in a large pan. Add the leeks and cook gently for about 10 mins until soft. Add the cream cheese and stir until melted. Season well. Turn off the heat and stir in the cheddar and chives. Leave to cool completely. Roll out one piece of the pastry on a lightly floured work surface and use a dinner plate as a template to cut around to make a circle. Spread over the leek mixture, leaving a gap of 5cm all the way around the pastry circle. Roll out the other half of the pastry and lay over the top. Press the edges down to seal. Trim the edges. Brush with eggwash. Use a sharp knife to score curved lines on top of the pie and the edges. Bake at 180°C for about 30 mins, until the top is golden brown and the pastry cooked through. Serve warm.

leeks with garlic cream & tarragon

serves 4-6 as a side

leek-cream-tarragonknob of butter
2 large leeks, trimmed & washed
2 garlic cloves, peeled & chopped
125ml double cream
handful tarragon leaves, chopped

 

 

Halve the leeks lengthways, and slice into 1cm slices at an angle. Gently heat the butter in a saucepan add the leeks, season and cook on a low heat for 15-20 mins until soft, tender but not coloured. Place the garlic in a small pan with the cream and bring to a simmer. Cook gently for 10 mins until the garlic has cooked, and the cream has reduced and thickened. Fold into the leeks, adjust the seasoning and add the chopped tarragon.

lemony leeks

serves 4-6 as a side
A sweet and sour poaching liquor can simply lift humble vegetables to a new level. This would work equally well with cauliflower, romanesco, or carrots. You’re looking for a good mix of sweet and sour, so tweak the lemon and sugar to taste.

600g leeks, trimmed
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed or chopped
2 lemons
100ml good olive oil
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1 tbsp dried dill

Peel off any tough or muddy outer leaves from the leeks and chop into 5cm lengths. Soak in a bowl of cold water to remove any grit, turning now and then, and rinse. Put the olive oil, garlic, 1 tbsp of the sugar, the lemon juice and 300ml water in a pan. Add the leeks and gently toss together and bring to a simmer over a medium heat for approx. 15 mins, or until the leeks are soft. Add a splash more water if needs be to stop them drying out. Stir the parsley and dill into the cooked leeks. Check the seasoning and adjust sugar, lemon juice or salt while the leeks are still warm to give a good mix of sweet and sour. Serve the leeks on a platter or in a large bowl, with the poaching liquor spooned over the top. For a more intense flavour, reduce the liquor down a little before pouring it over.

leek and feta fritters

serves 4
A very moreish starter or light lunch with a bitter leaf salad. The dip includes sumac, a deep-red, lemony spice used a lot in Middle Eastern cuisine. It’s increasingly available in supermarkets, but if you can’t find it, use a little extra lemon juice and a couple of grinds of pepper instead.

for the fritters:
3 leeks, washed, trimmed and finely sliced
25g butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large eggs
50g crème fraîche
70g self-raising flour
30g gram (chickpea) flour (or just use a total of 100g self-raising flour)
1 tsp baking powder
80g feta, crumbled
small bunch of tarragon, leaves chopped
cayenne pepper
dash of milk (if necessary)
sunflower oil, for frying
salt and black pepper

for the dip:
zest and juice of ½ lemon
150g crème fraîche
sumac (or see introduction for alternative)
lemon wedges, to serve

Heat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Lightly fry the leeks in the butter and oil in a frying pan over a medium heat until starting to soften, about 7 minutes. Whisk the eggs and crème fraîche until light and starting to increase in volume. Sift in the self-raising flour, gram flour, if using, and baking powder and gently mix into a batter. Fold in the leeks, feta and tarragon. Add a pinch of cayenne and some salt and pepper. You should have a consistency that will drop slowly from a spoon. If too dry, add a dash of milk; too wet, add a pinch of flour. Pour oil into a frying pan to a depth of about 5mm and heat until a test teaspoonful of batter sizzles immediately. Using a spoon, add three or four separate dollops of batter to the pan. Push each one with the back of the spoon until you have small patties about 8cm across. Cook until golden, about 3–4 minutes on each side. Remove the cooked fritters to a baking tray and repeat until you have used up the batter. You may need to heat up fresh oil between batches if it starts to run dry. When all are done, place the fritters in the oven for 10–12 minutes to warm through. Meanwhile, make the dip. Mix the lemon zest into the crème fraîche with a pinch of salt and add the lemon juice to taste. Sprinkle liberally with sumac and serve with the lemon wedges.

Variations
* Add chopped, fried crispy bacon to the batter, or replace the feta with cooked, shredded chicken.
* Instead of tarragon use dill or mint.

leek and Parmesan tart

serves 4-6
The secret of this recipe lies in cooking the leeks long and slow, so that they become sweetly caramelised. The rest takes no time at all and you can exercise your imagination adding extra toppings.

leek-parmesan-tart3–4 tbsp olive oil, or 50g butter
6 large leeks, washed, dried and thinly sliced
bunch of thyme, tied with string
1 x 300g ready-rolled sheet all-butter puff pastry
25g Parmesan (or vegetarian equivalent), finely grated
salt and black pepper

Heat the oven to 200°C/Gas 6. Heat the oil or butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the leeks and thyme. Slow-fry the leeks until they are very soft and starting to brown, a good 10–15 minutes. Cover the pan initially to help them sweat, then take off the lid halfway through so the liquid evaporates. Stir at intervals to stop them catching. Season with salt and pepper then cool. Meanwhile, lay out your pastry flat on a lightly greased non-stick baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes until it has completely puffed up and is golden brown. (Check the bottom of the pastry is cooked too.) Flatten the pastry back down by covering it evenly with the leek mixture, leaving 5mm around the edge. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and any other toppings (see suggestions below) and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes, until the cheese has melted. Serve warm.

Variations
* Onions work as a replacement for or combined with the leeks.
* Experiment with extra toppings, just like a pizza: try anchovies, olives or different cheeses, such as mozzarella or goat’s cheese.

Visit the recipe pages on our website for further recipes, or add organic leeks to your order.

For more ideas for a Christmas rich in veg, download our seasonal booklet full of recipes and tips from our Riverford cooks and you, our customers. Available to download here: www.riverford.co.uk/christmas-veg.

Guy’s Newsletter: summer rain & sleepy potatoes

The August rains which ruined many a holiday have got our winter cabbages, leeks, kales, romanesco and calabrese broccoli off to a good start. The prospects for the later winter crops look even better as the slow drop in temperature prepares them for the first frost that typically arrives in early October. Meanwhile, when weather conditions allow, our farming co-op are busy harvesting main crop potatoes and getting them into store. The plants have been defoliated, either naturally through blight attacking the leaves, or through mowing the tops off followed by burning to prevent blight hitting; now we wait three weeks for the tubers to set a firm skin and for any blight spores on the surface to die before harvesting into one ton wooden bins. Few things smell worse than a potato store melting to slime with blight, so it is worth being patient. Initially the store is ventilated with ambient air to dry the tubers and allow any skin damage caused by the harvesting machinery to heal. After two or three weeks the fridges are switched on to bring the temperature down to 3.5°C over a month or so, and thus put the tubers to sleep. Valor, the sleepiest variety, will happily slumber on until next May or even June.

Those August rains were a mixed blessing; good for recently planted hardy winter crops needing to get established, less good for tender salads. Our spinach succumbed first to mildew brought on by the damp and evolution (new mildew strains have overcome the resistance bred into existing varieties), and then to nitrogen deficiency resulting from soluble nutrients being carried down through the soil profile by the rain; spinach is too shallow rooted and quick maturing to reach them. Later sowings are now recovering to some extent but you may have noticed your box greens tending more towards kale and cabbage as we look for substitutes for failing spinach. We are also struggling with a flush of the small leaved, succulent chickweed; it is often a problem in the autumn, establishing an interwoven mat which smothers out all but the most vigorous competition. Sorting the weeds from the crop is slowing the picking of salad leaves and spinach, yet chickweed is much prized in some parts of the world so I hope you will not be too indignant if a few harmless leaves make it through to your bags.

Guy Watson

Guy’s Newsletter: the three rules of flavour

A few years ago we scientifically tested every willing Riverford staff member for the sensitivity of their palate. The best formed a taste panel to assess the flavour of everything we grew; a good idea but, like so much science, it failed to deal with subjectivity and was excessively reductionist, tending to favour ubiquitous sweetness over anything challenging or complex. If we followed the panel’s guidance we would never have sold a radicchio, endive or cardoon. More recently we’ve put together a group of in-house chefs and food enthusiasts to assess our carrots, cheese, wine and olive oil. Last week we sat down to taste the tomatoes from our tunnels; as always, our cherry tomato Sakura won, along with some new trial orange and yellow baby plum tomatoes.

For all fruit and veg, great flavour comes from a combination of three things:

Variety: The more you intensively select for yield or early maturity, the more you lose less easily quantified traits like complex flavours and nutritional value. Over 30 years I have seen many of the varieties we selected for flavour dropped from breeders’ lists. Consolidation in the seed trade just adds to this; after a global buying spree Monsanto now owns a staggering 23% of the global seed trade and is negotiating to buy Syngenta who own a further 9%.

Growing conditions: Up to a point, slow, steady growth from a healthy, well balanced soil creates the best flavour. Excessive water and soluble nitrogen gives the luxuriant growth and high yields which look great in the field but disappoint in the kitchen. Too much stress can result in excessive bitterness, toughness and ‘off’ flavours, particularly in the brassica family, though in carrots and some herbs drought can result in incredible flavour, so it is hard to be dogmatic.

Harvest freshness and post harvest storage: Ideally fruit should be harvested fully ripe and never see a cold room, while green veg should be picked with the dew on them and eaten as soon as possible. Refrigeration can greatly extend life with variable impact on flavour; fine for salads, not great for courgettes.

Subjectivity can come close to snobbery and exclusivity but, without some trust in personal sensitivities, life would be very dull; a bit like supermarket veg.

Guy Watson

Guy’s newsletter: getting edgy with veg

As we plough in the last of our bolting leeks, kales, cauliflower and cabbage and see the back of the potato, beetroot and carrot stores, another farming year is consigned to memory and the accountants’ spreadsheets. I think they’ll show it to be a little better than average, mostly because of the weather but also boosted by a welcome renaissance in the eating of these more traditional veg. Kale has been riding that wave for a while now and after years of drifting in the sulphurous doldrums of neglected brassicas, even cauliflower seems to have made something of a comeback; I have seen it on fashionable menus roasted (good), baked brain like and whole (hideous to look at and worse to eat in my opinion), bashed with farfalle (dreadful), grated into cous cous (surprisingly successful) and served tempura style (excellent). I still think it is hard to beat the comfort of a reassuring cauliflower cheese on a January evening though.

Cauliflower does well in our mild Devon climate and, as we prepare to sow next year’s crop, I am tempted to up the acreage. But let’s not get carried away; a visiting journalist warned me last week that our white curds are already considered “a bit last year” in the metropolis. It’s hard to keep up with foodie fashion as tweeting journalists and hipster chefs compete to be edgy with veg. Of course we are grateful that what we grow is the subject of their twitter storm, however fleetingly its epicentre hovers over us, especially if it allows a humble cabbage grown on a Devon hillside to get a leg up over a jumped up bell pepper trucked from Spain (or worse still, molly-coddled in a fossil fuel heated greenhouse at home). It’s just a bit frustrating that the timeframes of fashion and nature are so disparate; by the time we have planted and nurtured our chioggia beetroot or purple carrots to harvest, it will be foraged nettles and broccoli sprouts that the twitterati are raving about. I might sow a few more caulis anyway; I reckon we will still be eating cauliflower cheese after the bloggers have moved on. There is so much to celebrate and be proud of in the rising interest in cooking, particularly with seasonal veg, and particularly among the youth, but no part of our farming is perfected without the repetition and tinkering that continues long after the catwalk has left.

Guy Watson

Guy’s newsletter: veg boxes; the vision & the reality

April and May are traditionally challenging months of self-denial for those living with a veg box. 20 years ago it was so hard to make a good box through the ‘hungry gap’ that many pioneering box schemes would close from March to July; some would limp through with repetitions of sprouting potatoes, woody swedes and blown cauliflowers, but either way it took a very committed customer to stick with them. However, this week’s boxes are fantastic. These improvements have come from a mixture of increased grower expertise, better storage, investment in polytunnels, our farm in France giving us a six week jump on the season, plus good, long term trading relationships with small scale growers in Spain and Italy. All in all it’s a long way from the first 30 boxes we packed on the barn floor 22 years ago.

Yet is this a compromise from the vision of those first tiny box schemes? Undeniably, but I would argue it’s a pragmatic, justifiable and sensible one; vision can be inspiring but seldom lasts without a fair degree of compromise. Most of those early box schemes have packed up; more have opened in their place but there seems to be a cycle driven by what a visiting academic writing her PhD on box schemes described as “mutual disappointment”. However ideological sounding and emotionally appealing, the veg box vision asked too much of growers and customers; the customers didn’t get the quality or variety of vegetables they wanted, and the farmers didn’t make the living they needed. It is very hard for one farmer to grow 100 crops well and even harder to do it on a small scale and produce food at an acceptable price without being ground into the dirt by the challenge. Even farmers like to take holidays now and then.

The relentless march to scale and specialisation in farming, like in everything else, is as depressing as it seems inevitable. At Riverford we have put the brakes on this trend with our farming co-op sharing machinery and expertise and thereby helping to sustain the viability of smaller farms. I do occasionally romanticise about our early days harvesting carrots and potatoes by hand or picking spinach with scissors, but there is no way back; the only people wanting to live like peasants are those who haven’t tried it.

Guy Watson

Guy’s newsletter: hot & busy in the Vendée

A dry and sunny Easter gave ideal conditions to get ahead with planting at home; we are already irrigating in earnest to help the seedlings out and get the first lettuce, cabbage and spinach away to a good start. This meanwhile is being typed 250 miles south, under a tree on the banks of the reservoir of our farm in the French Vendée. As we come to the end of leeks, cabbage, purple sprouting and cauliflower at home I am here to check on the start of our hungry-gap-plugging French harvest. This morning we cut the first of a fine crop of outdoor lettuce and chard which are already chilling in the cold room ready for the trip north tonight; just as well, because it is already 25°C and climbing. The irrigation pump is purring away, sending water to germinate the first sweetcorn. Two weeks ago, many of our fields were too wet to travel on and our crops were being chilled by bitter easterlies; this week we are irrigating gasping plants and our peppers are keeling over from heat stress. The crop covers and low-level tunnels we use in early spring advance crops and keep off the wind, but the big question is always when to remove them. Ideally you pick a damp, warm overcast day to minimise the shock to the plants; if none are forecast, we take them off in the evening, water immediately, and hope.

In a bid to keep up we have brought in contractors for the heavy work of muck spreading and ploughing, allowing our team to pick in the mornings before moving on to sow and plant sweetcorn, peppers, chillies, sunflower, cape gooseberries, tomatillos, butternut squash and fennel in the afternoon. Every rusty wreck of a tractor is dragged from the back of the barn and every able body pressed into action in an attempt to keep up with the work; the next six weeks are critical here. Planting will soon be done but there is a scary amount of vegetables to be picked by a largely inexperienced team. The aim is to plug the hungry gap at home while we wait for those new season UK crops. To go from a plod to a sprint in just a few weeks and then back to a plod again is a management challenge, but we are getting better at it; my accountant even tells me that, for the first time, we made a very modest profit here last year.

Guy Watson

Guy’s newsletter: wild garlic & potato patience

I am in the midst of my annual wild garlic fest; whether mixed raw in a salad or sandwich, wilted into an omelette or over pasta, ground into pesto with roasted hazelnuts or melted into a risotto, the possibilities are endless. To add to that, unlike so much foraged food, wild garlic is quick and easy to use too.

Such is my enthusiasm that about eight years ago we started harvesting wild garlic from the woods and including it in the veg boxes; a few people said they would rather forage for their own, but the huge majority of you welcomed it, so we have continued. We did pause briefly after accidentally including a Lords and Ladies leaf in a bag; unfortunately wild garlic, known as ‘ransoms’ locally, shares its habitat with a number of mildly poisonous plants, most notably Lords and Ladies and Dog’s Mercury. Today our pickers are very careful and a second team sort through the leaves again in the barn before packing it into bags; even so, please keep an eye out for any odd leaves and if in doubt, discard them. Having said that, last year I nibbled the tiniest corner of a Lords and Ladies leaf as an experiment; it felt like a fox had sprayed in my mouth and I’d washed it down with sulphuric acid. Indeed a search of the web suggests the sensation in the mouth (caused by needle-like oxalate crystals) is so rapidly unpleasant that it would be hard to eat enough to cause lasting harm.

Meanwhile we have planted most of our early potatoes but it will be May before lifting starts even in the most favoured parts of west Cornwall and the Channel Islands; faster varieties like Rocket and Swift can be ready in April but they are invariably a disappointment when it comes to flavour. The remaining potatoes from last autumn’s harvest are being stored in the dark at 3°C and the most dormant varieties (mostly Desiree and Valor) will slumber on until May, as if they were lying dormant underground believing it is still winter above. We bring them up to 10°C before grading and bagging and you will find that from now on they will have a growing propensity to sprout; keeping them in the fridge helps if you have the space, but don’t worry about sprouting; they will still eat well provided there is no greening of the skins. They may even be sweeter.

Guy Watson