Saturday, November 23, 2013

Celebrating fresh greens

We all know eating a wide palette of colours where food is concerned is good for you but naturally green food (I'm talking plant food and maybe the odd bit of mouldy cheese rather than artifically coloured over-processed food) is essential to providing your body with the nutrients it needs to thrive. 

Yaya has a friend, Andrea, a lovely friend whose garden grows beautifully bountiful fresh greens and we were the thankful recipients of an abundant quantity. Fresher than what could be bought through a supermarket, we decided we had to put it to good use as soon as we could. There was rosemary, parsley and thyme (and chives) followed by a large bunch of silverbeet. It was so abundant we spread the spoils over a number of meals and this is the result.
 To anyone who was raised with the music of the 60's, the herbs brought the lyrics of a song to mind and with a little addition of sage from our own stores, we had the makings of what I like to call:
Simon and Garfunkel Rack of Lamb!

I confess to not really knowing what the song actually meant when I was humming along to what seemed to be a fairly mournful tune but I was caught by the lyrical harmonies and that was enough.

As it turns out, explanations for the "parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" line, which is the common thread in each verse, vary between the four herbs being considered powerful medicine at the time the original folk song(s) on which the modern day version is based, was written (a time of plagues, pestilence and curses) to them being a placeholder because the original line was long forgotten! One commentator even speculates to them being the common herbs used for stuffing a fowl which seems a likely explanation in these days of foodie conversations but a little less likely in the psychadelic 60's and whilst the rest of the song consists of the singer asking his/her true love to perform impossible tasks to prove their love.

However you like to interpret the song, that line got stuck in my brain so when presented with three of the four herbs, and wondering what to do with them, it seemed obvious to use them in combination to make a herb crust for a rack of lamb, a dish which seems more at home in that era than now!

Bunch of parsley
2 sprigs of rosemary leaves stripped from the stalk
4 sprigs of thyme leaves stripped from the stalk
4 large sage leaves
2 thumb-size pieces of parmesan
1 large (or 2 small) pieces of fresh bread
4 cloves of garlic
10 grinds of Salt & pepper
2 tablespoons crushed macadamia nuts (optional or exchange with other preferred nuts like pine or almonds)

Pulse all the above in a mini food processor until the mix comes together into a paste - add a little olive oil if the ingredients feel too dry.

Remove any superfluous fat from the rack of lamb then pack the top of the rack with the herb mix and press down quite hard to mould it onto the rack.

Place rack on a foil-lined baking tray and cover with another piece of foil. Bake in a moderate oven (180 degree fan-forced) for 20 minutes, remove foil covering and bake for a further 15 minutes, check for doneness (cut through the middle of the rack to ensure it is cooked through, if not, return to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes) then rest for ten minutes and serve with vegetables or salad.

With lots of herbs left over and having recently purchased the Allergies book from the Wellness Trilogy of "4 Ingredients" author, Kim McCosker (the other two books in the series are Diabetes and Gluten Free/Lactose Free), we came across her recipe for Herbed Hash Browns. The recipe seemed too good to be true. I'd made potato cakes before but it had always taken an egg to bind them well enough to hold together into a pattie and now that I didn't eat eggs, well, I was up for the challenge. Her recipe contained only potato, garlic, rosemary and oil for frying with seasonings of salt and cracked pepper. Not having to be limited by four ingredients yet wanting to be true to the recipe to be able to test it, I added only thyme to the mix (we'd already used the chives in another undocumented dish) but next time would probably add that with a grating of parmesan (unless I had dairy challenged people dining with me of course!).

4 medium or 2 large potatoes (we used the Carisma Low GI potatoes from Coles)
2 sprigs of rosemary leaves stripped from stalk
2 sprigs of thyme leaves stripped from stalk
4 cloves of garlic
Cracked pepper & salt to taste
Grapeseed (or other neutral vegetable) oil for shallow frying, (optional - oil spray to help crispen)

Finely mince the herbs and garlic and put into a medium bowl.

Using a medium grater,
(too fine and your potato will turn to mush, too thick and the potato will not cook through evenly) shred the peeled potatoes into a colander to allow the liquid to drain as you continue to grate. When you finish grating all the potato, grab handfuls of the shredded potato and squeeze as much liquid out as you can, transferring the drier potato to the bowl containing the herbs while you squeeze the remainder. Once all the potato has been squeezed, mix through the herbs and seasonings thoroughly.

Heat a shallow frying pan with a tablespoon of oil on a medium setting. Kim recommends dividing the recipe into four cupfuls and flattening them out into patties but I used a large serving spoon which meant I ended up with about ten smaller but I think crispier hash browns. To my delight, the potato mix stayed together as long as I didn't turn them before they had a chance to brown and were moved easily from the surface of the frying pan. Before the first turn and after each subsequent turn, I also sprayed a little extra oil on the surface of each pattie, which meant a little extra fat (what diet??!) for a crispier result but if you're going for low fat, just add oil if the pan feels dry or your food starts to stick. (That was my conscience speaking, personally, I would rather not eat something every day to be able to really enjoy it on the odd occasion than eat a healthy version which dissatisfies due to cutting out all the "bad" stuff.) As my frying pan was small (and the oven was on anyway), I moved the cooked hash browns onto a baking-paper lined tray to make room for the remainder of the mix so they were served nice and hot and crispy once they were all ready. Now that I know this works so well, this will definitely be one of my regular recipes. Thank you Kim!

Silverbeet. A word to bring despair into many a culinary heart.

To be honest, I've never ever purchased a bunch of silverbeet in my life. I have heard stories of how awful it is. In the grocery stores it comes in such large bunches that I am overwhelmed and not sure that I could manage an entire bunch. And besides which, when you can get bagfuls of tender baby spinach leaves which can be eaten raw or cooked in seconds into a hot vegetable dish, well why would you? Well, when presented with such a fresh, luscious looking bunch, how could I not?

I decided to think of it as regular, albeit, giant spinach. I figured if I cooked it down, it would be practically the same but as I had already decided to make Spanokopita with the leaves, I decided to use the stalks first by adding it to a stir fry of asparagus. Hmm, first lesson in silverbeet cookery, unless you plan to process them with a food processor, forget the stalks. Just shear the leaves from the stalk with a sharp knife and discard. I came to this conclusion after cooking the said stalks and leaves together until the leaves were wilted and tender but still vibrantly green and the stalks were still like a coconut husk. I fished the majority of them out and used a pair of cooking shears to finely chop the most tender remaining bits which finally made them hospitable.

In the end, I supplemented the silverbeet with some languishing baby spinach and you couldn't tell one from the other so I guess win:win!

1 bunch of silverbeet finely sliced from the stalk (or 1 family sized bag of baby spinach leaves);
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 clove of garlic, finely diced
Salt & pepper to taste (go easy on the salt if your feta is already salty)
100-200 grams feta, finely diced or broken up into little pieces by hand (less if you like less cheese, more if you prefer it to be cheesier but then don't add too much salt in the beginning of the recipe)
4 sheets ready-made filo pastry (thawed if frozen and brought to room temperature but kept cool and moist in plastic wrap)

Add a little oil to a medium hot pan, stir fry the onion until softened and slightly brown, add silverbeet/spinach then garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Once the greens have wilted, take off the heat, drain in a collander and leave to cool. Mix the feta through the cooled green mixture and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Unfold the filo and place one layer on a baking-paper lined oven tray, spray with oil, place the next layer on and repeat until all layers have been sprayed including the top layer. Put spoonfuls of the filling mix along the long side of the pastry closest to you, leaving the opposite side and a couple of centimetres on the other three sides of the filling clear to the edge. Fold the short sides of the pastry over the ends of the filling, then, using the baking paper, bring the long sides of the pastry up and around the filling, as if you were making a Swiss roll, pressing firmly to encase and gently turning the roll until the seam is on the bottom.

Spray with a little oil then bake in a moderate (180 degrees C fan-forced) oven until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Slice and serve. (I served mine with some pan fried lamb cutlets.)

Thank you to Andrea, for the greens which helped make this happen!