Why good food is all about the right ingredients
Rather than a restaurant chef, I’m a home cook, so it all comes down to simplicity,’ says Rosie Birkett, 33. ‘I grew up eating vegetables my dad grew himself in the vegetable patch.
‘I’m also completely led by the seasons, what’s growing wild in the nature reserve where I live and what’s in my organic veg box usually forms the backbone of what I’m going to cook, along with some good organic meat.
‘If you go to the trouble of sourcing good ingredients you’re halfway there, as it’s simple to create a feast.’
A SUNNY DISPOSITION
For Rosie, going organic means feeling safe in the knowledge that the farmers and food producers are in it for the right reasons: to produce nutrient-rich ingredients with a less devastating effect on the environment, rather than turning as much profit as possible as part of a huge, industrialised machine.
‘When you buy or grow organic food, you have a guarantee that it has been farmed or raised in the most natural way possible – in healthy, fertile soils that promote biodiversity rather than chemical-led monocultures,’ insists Rosie.
‘You know that polluting chemical fertilisers have not been used, that animals have been reared with the highest possible welfare standards – without the routine use of antibiotics, sun on their back, access to clean water and shade, rather than standing in a box neck-deep in their own excrement.
‘One of my favourite novelists, Wendell Berry, says eating is “an agricultural act” and I completely agree: it’s important and empowering to understand how the way we shop, cook and eat affects the world around us, as well as our own health.’
ROMANESCO CHEESE PIES
‘I confess I am a little bit in love with romanesco cauliflower (also known as broccoflower). It is, to me, the most beautiful brassica of them all. Having first spotted it while working in Italy where it beautifies many a fresh-food market stall, I now buy it whenever I see it. Visually and texturally, it’s a feast: its swirling green florets a cross between broccoli and cauliflower, and it works with the same ingredients as its siblings, especially compatible with strong, hard cheese.’
You will need
• 225g organic plain flour
• Pinch of salt
• 120g unsalted organic butter
• Ice cold water
• Butter, for greasing
• Plain flour, for dusting
• 1 organic romanesco cauliflower, cut into little florets (remove the stalk, but save it to roast another time)
• 3 organic eggs
• 150g organic Pecorino, Gruyère or other similarly potent hard cheese, finely grated
• 30g organic Parmesan, finely grated, plus more to finish
• 30ml double organic cream
• 150ml organic whole milk
• Pinch of red chilli flakes
• Salt to season
• Freshly ground black pepper
12-hole muffin tin
1. To make the pastry, sift the plain flour and a pinch of salt into a bowl, add chilled unsalted butter, cubed, and lightly rub them into the flour until you have a breadcrumb consistency, or whizz the flour and salt briefly with the butter in a food processor then transfer to a bowl. Make a well in the middle and add 2-3tbsp of cold water. Mix it in and gather the dough together with one hand to form a ball. If it’s too dry, add 1tbsp of cold water a drop at a time until the dough comes together. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill in the fridge for around 30 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350ºF/Gas 4 and lightly grease the muffin tin. Roll out the chilled pastry on a lightly floured work surface to 2-3mm thick and cut out rounds slightly bigger than the holes in the muffin tin. Line each hole with the pastry so that it’s level with the top of each hole.
3. Chill the pastry for 15 minutes, then use a fork to prick the base of each case. Line with pieces of baking parchment and fill with baking beans. (Scrunch up the baking parchment before you line each case and it will be more pliable and fit more snugly into the holes.)
4. Bake ‘blind’ for 10-12 minutes. Take out of the oven, remove the beans and parchment, and bake for a further 3 minutes to avoid a soggy bottom. Remove from the oven (keep the oven on) and leave to cool while you make the filling.
5. Blanch the romanesco florets in salted boiling water for barely 1 minute – just until they turn bright green – and drain. Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and add the cheeses, cream, milk and chilli flakes. Season with salt and pepper, and whisk to combine.
6. Divide the filling between the cooled pastry cases, leaving about 1cm of space to add the romanesco and allow for the custard to expand.
7. Arrange the romanesco in the filling, keeping half of it above the filling for presentation (you want to see those gorgeous florets) and grate over a little bit more Parmesan. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the custard is set and the pastry is golden and crisp. Cool on a wire rack.
‘When I was in Mexico, I was lucky enough to stay with my Mexican friend Becky, who is a brilliant home cook. The night I arrived in the sweltering heat of Playa del Carmen, she helped me acclimatise with the most delicious fiery-hot enchiladas and freezer-chilled tequila. I’ve always been partial to a huevos rancheros, but Becky introduced me to this alternative egg dish of ‘migitas’ or ‘migas’ – fried corn tortilla, egg and onion hash best served with avocado and a hot salsa. Make sure you fry the corn tortillas until they’re nice and crispy! I like to use both plain and blue tortillas for colour: you can get corn tortillas online or from Mexican grocers.’
You will need
• 3 large organic eggs
• Pinch of sea salt
• Pinch of ground cumin
• 1tbsp of milk
• Vegetable or groundnut oil, for frying
• 3 corn tortillas, cut into squares, triangles or strips
• Knob of butter
• 1 small white onion, finely sliced
• 1 green jalapeño chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
• 1 red jalapeño chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
• 1tbsp of chopped coriander leaves
• Chipotle salsa or regular salsa
• 1 ripe avocado, stoned and sliced
• Lime wedges
1. Lightly beat the eggs in a jug with the salt, cumin and milk. Set aside.
2. Heat 1tbsp of oil in a heavy-based frying pan (skillet) and fry the tortilla slices until they’re crispy all over. Transfer to a plate covered with kitchen paper to drain, and sprinkle them lightly with salt. Add a knob of butter to the pan and fry the onion and chilli until soft and the onion is starting to colour. Pour in the seasoned beaten eggs, followed by the crispy tortillas, and cook for a couple of minutes, until the eggs are just cooked but still fluffy and moist.
3. Divide the migitas between two plates, garnish with fresh coriander leaves and serve with salsa, avocado and lime wedges.
BLUEBERRY, BASIL AND ALMOND PUDDING PIE
‘I’d never tasted blueberries like the ones I ate in Vancouver, where punnets of them set you back just a few bucks during the summer season. Baked into this simple dessert with ground almonds and fragrant basil leaves, they make for a squishy, sweet, gorgeously light dessert that’s just the ticket for summer. I use half ground almonds and half whole, skin-on blitzed-up almonds to give a bit of texture and rusticity, and the result is rather lovely – the squidgy, ever-so-sweet fruit melding with the sponge and the crunchy almonds.’
You will need
• 5 large basil leaves
• 380g blueberries
• 20g plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted
• ½tsp of baking powder
• 90g ground almonds
• 90g whole, skin-on almonds, blitzed until roughly ground
• 60g golden caster (superfine) sugar
• 4 organic eggs, at room temperature
• Organic sour cream, plain yogurt or crème fraîche, to serve
8in round springform cake tin or flan dish, greased
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160ºC fan/350°F/Gas 4. Grease the cake tin or flan dish with butter and place the basil leaves on the bottom of it. Pour over the blueberries and set aside. Combine the flour, baking powder and almonds. In another bowl whisk the sugar and eggs for about 3 minutes until frothy. Gently fold in the flour and almonds, keeping as much air in the mixture as you can. Pour the mixture on top of the blueberries, let it settle for a couple of minutes, then cook for 35-45 minutes, until the batter is golden and the blueberries’ juice is bubbling up the sides of the cake tin.
2. Remove the tin from the oven and run a palette knife around the edge to loosen the pudding. Leave to stand for a few minutes, then put a wire rack on top of the tin and flip it upside down to cool on the rack.
3. This is nice served warm, with a big dollop of sour cream, plain yogurt or crème fraîche, or kept in the fridge and eaten cool at any time of the day.
When it comes to organic feasts, some restaurants are leading the way and making it easy to shun those pesky pesticides, says Stacey Smith.
Read more: The best organic restaurants in London