Virtuous vegetables

JAN BILTON
Last updated 15:21 15/11/2012
Rocket, pesto, pasta and pumpkin
Jan Bilton

Rocket, pesto, pasta and pumpkin

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It is no secret eating plenty of fruit and vegetables is essential to good health. However, not all of us reach the ideal levels of five-plus servings a day.

A serving is about a handful. Consequently, a child's serving will be smaller than an adult's. And the veges don't have to be enjoyed separately.

One of the best ways to persuade children to eat their share is to combine vegetables in dishes such as spaghetti bolognaise, with diced onion, carrots, mushrooms, green and red peppers, courgettes, tomatoes and fresh herbs.

As I was experimenting with seasonal veges for this article, I was introduced to BeFresh, little packets that you stick to the inside front of your refrigerator's crisper bin, which help fruit and veges stay fresh longer. They last a month and are available from supermarkets.

All fruits and vegetables give off ethylene gas as they ripen. The domestic refrigerator acts as a trap for the ethylene gas, thereby quickening the ripening process. BeFresh neutralises ethylene gas in the fridge - more than doubling the shelf life of the stored produce. It delays wilting and yellowing of leafy green vegetables and decreases decay and wastage in most fruits.

Seasonal winners

Cavolo nero: The firm, flavoursome, blue-black, highly nutritious leaves of cavolo nero require more cooking than other types of cabbage. Popular in Italian cookery, cavolo nero is available from specialty greengrocers and farmers' markets - or my home garden. It's best cooked, but raw baby leaves can be added to salads.

Globe artichokes: The globe artichoke is a member of the thistle family. To prepare, first remove the stems. Boil artichokes for about 25 minutes, adding a squeeze of lemon juice to help prevent discolouration. Turn upside down to drain. Remove the tough leaves and the choke. The leaves can be pulled away, one by one. The closer the leaves are to the centre, the more tender they are, as is the heart.

Wild rocket: The tiny pointed leaves have intense piquant flavour popular in pestos, salads, stir-fries and savoury muffins or scones. Wild rocket is easily grown from seed - and can readily take over your garden! Use young leaves as the older ones tend to be tough. Wild rocket is also readily available in bags from supermarkets.

ROCKET PESTO, PASTA & PUMPKIN

Rocket pesto

1 bunch (100g) wild rocket, coarsely chopped

cup basil leaves

2 large cloves garlic, chopped

50g pine nuts or almonds

cup each: Finely grated parmesan cheese, extra virgin olive oil

Freshly ground salt and black pepper to taste

Vegetables and pasta

3-4 Tbsp olive oil

600g crown pumpkin, peeled, seeds removed

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

200g dried fettuccine

8 stalks asparagus, trimmed and halved

80g each: salami (diced), wild rocket leaves

To make the pesto, place the rocket, basil, garlic, nuts and parmesan in a food processor. Process until finely chopped. With the motor running, gradually pour in the oil, mixing until a paste is formed. Season.

Makes about a cup.

To prepare the vegetables, first preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Brush a roasting pan with olive oil.

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Cut the pumpkin into 2cm cubes. Place in the roasting pan. Season. Drizzle with olive oil. Roast for about 20 minutes, until golden and just tender. (Alternatively, place in a large casserole and cook in the microwave for about 5 minutes.)

Meanwhile, cook the fettuccine according to the packet instructions. Add the asparagus pieces during the last 3 minutes of cooking. Drain well and place in a large bowl. Add the pumpkin, salami, rocket leaves and 3 Tbsp of rocket pesto. Gently toss to combine. Serve in bowls and drizzle with a little more pesto.

Any leftover pesto can be covered and refrigerated for 2-3 days and enjoyed as a dip, on canapes or salads. Serves 4.

GNOCCHI WITH CAVOLO NERO

Use silver beet leaves if cavolo nero is unavailable.

100g cavolo nero, leaves only

25g butter

2 shallots, thinly sliced

400g potato gnocchi

150g feta or blue cheese

cup cream

White pepper to taste

cup finely grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Blanch the cavolo nero in boiling water for about 2 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Chop.

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the shallots and cavolo nero and saute for 1-2 minutes, until the shallots have softened.

Meanwhile, cook the gnocchi in a large saucepan of boiling water until they float to the top.

Drain well and place in a 25cm x 17cm baking dish. Add the cavolo nero mixture.

Crumble the cheese over the top and cover with the cream. Season and sprinkle with the parmesan.

Bake for 30 minutes, until bubbling. Excellent served with a crisp salad. Serves 4.

BRAISED PEAS & ARTICHOKES

This dish could be served as an accompaniment to a main meal or as a light meal topped with softly poached eggs and grilled bacon.

cup olive oil

2 Tbsp each: finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, lemon juice

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 cups frozen peas

4-6 prepared fresh or canned artichoke hearts

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a deep frying pan over medium-high heat.

Add the chopped parsley, lemon juice and garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Add the peas and artichokes.

Cover and cook for 3-4 minutes or until heated through. Season. Serves 4.

TASTY CRUSTLESS VEGETABLE QUICHE

1 large onion, diced

25g butter

6 eggs

2 Tbsp chopped parsley

1 tsp each: Chopped tarragon, marjoram, thyme

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 cups milk

cup + 2 Tbsp self-raising flour

1 cups each: peeled, diced and cooked potato, kumara

1 cups grated tasty cheddar cheese

cup each: Diced red pepper, chopped blanched asparagus or beans

Preheat the oven to 190C. Lightly grease a six-cup, 22cm-diameter quiche pan or pie dish, about 5cm deep. (I used Jamie Oliver's fluted pie dish.)

Saute the onion in the butter, until soft.

Combine the eggs, herbs, seasonings, milk and flour, until smooth. Fold in the remaining ingredients and pour into the prepared pan.

Bake for about 50-60 minutes, or until golden and set. Serve hot or cold with salad. Serves 6.

- The Marlborough Express

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