There are lots (and lots) of things I love about vegetables. One of them is their versatility. Take green leaves. On one hand, they can be ready to eat in a few minutes: steamed and simply served with a squeeze of lemon. On the other – and it’s this hand I’m waving this week – they’re at the ready to be suited and booted, and all dressed up to steal the show. I’m so excited the new season is upon us, with all the new offerings it brings.
Garlicky greens with fried black chickpeas and tahini soy dressing
One of the other things I love about vegetables is discovering new varieties. I’d been eating chickpeas a long time before I cooked with black chickpeas, for example (a legume, not a vegetable, I know): they are a little nuttier, more robust and a bit smaller than regular chickpeas. This dish works well as a vegetarian main with rice, or as a side to some simply cooked fish or seared prawns.
Prep 20 min
Cook 20 min
Serves 4 as a side
For the tahini soy dressing
3 tbsp water
4 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp maple syrup
2 tsp lemon juice
For the greens and chickpeas
200g spring greens, stems removed
3½ tbsp olive oil
1 tin (400g) black chickpeas, drained (240g drained weight)
1 red chilli, thinly sliced at an angle, deseeded if you prefer less heat
1½ tbsp soy sauce
9 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed (40g)
3 baby pak choi, halved lengthways (120g)
5 spring onions, trimmed (70g)
125g fine asparagus, trimmed
1½ tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp black and white (or just white) sesame seeds, toasted
First make the tahini soy dressing. Add all the ingredients to a small bowl and whisk to combine. Cover and set aside to thicken slightly.
Fill a large, high-sided saute pan with 1½ litres of water and bring to the boil on high heat. Once boiling, add a tablespoon of salt and reduce the heat to medium-high. Have a large bowl of iced water at hand. Blanch all the spring greens for 30 seconds, making sure that they are fully submerged. Using tongs, remove the greens from the pan and plunge into the iced water for five to 10 minutes, until completely cold. Drain in a colander and pat dry. Discard the blanching water, rinse and wipe the pan dry.
Return to a medium-high heat, and add a tablespoon of oil, the chickpeas, chilli and a quarter-teaspoon of salt to the pan. Cook for three to five minutes, stirring frequently, until the chickpeas start to pop and split. Stir in one and a half teaspoons of the soy sauce, remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl.
To make the garlic oil, wipe the same pan clean and reduce the heat to medium-low. Add two tablespoons of oil and the garlic, and cook for two-three minutes, until fragrant and softened. Transfer the garlic oil to a small bowl and put the pan back on a high heat.
Once hot, put the pak choi cut side down and cook for two to three minutes, until nicely charred and slightly softened. Set aside on a tray.
Add the remaining one and a half teaspoons of oil to the pan and, once smoking hot, add the spring onions and asparagus. Cook for one to two minutes, until lightly charred and softened, then transfer to the pak choi tray.
Turn down the heat to medium-high and add the reserved garlic oil to the pan, together with the spring greens and a quarter-teaspoon of salt, and cook for a minute, until glossy. Stir in the asparagus, spring onions, pak choi, the remaining tablespoon of soy sauce, mix well and cook for another minute to warm through, then remove from the heat.
To serve, spoon half the chickpeas on to a large serving platter. Arrange the greens on top and spoon over the lemon juice. Spoon over the remaining chickpeas, followed by the sesame seeds, then drizzle with half the tahini dressing. Serve warm with the remaining dressing in a bowl alongside.
Flautas with spiced aubergine and avocado salsa
Flautas (or taquitos or doradoes) are deep-fried, stuffed tortillas from Jalisco in Mexico. This version combines meaty aubergines and salty halloumi for a great meat- (and gluten-free) alternative to common chorizo stuffing. Substitute the guajillo and chipotle for two charred red chillies, if you like.
Prep 25 min
Cook 1 hr 15 min
Serves 4 as a starter
8 x 15cm corn tortillas
600ml sunflower oil, to deep fry
8 toothpicks or short wooden skewers
For the spicy aubergine mix
1 dried guajillo chilli, stem and seeds removed
1 dried chipotle chilli, stem and seeds removed
2 aubergines, cut into roughly 1cm dice (500g)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large red onion, peeled and finely chopped (180g)
½ tsp ground cumin and ½ tsp fennel seeds, ground in a mortar
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
15g pine nuts
Salt and black pepper
½ tsp cider vinegar
70g halloumi, finely grated
For the avocado salsa
1 large avocado, pit and skin removed, roughly chopped
2 limes – 1 finely grated, to get 1 tsp zest, and both juiced, to get 2 tbsp
20g coriander, stems and leaves
2 jalapeños, stems removed, flesh roughly chopped (15g)
½ tsp chipotle chilli flakes, or regular chilli flakes (optional)
120ml apple juice
Heat the oven to 220C (200C fan)/425F/gas 7. Put the dried chillies in a small heatproof bowl and pour over enough boiling water to fully submerge them. Use a small saucer to weigh them down and leave for 20 minutes to rehydrate. Drain, discard the water and finely chop the chillies until paste-like.
Line a large 30x40cm roasting tray with parchment paper. Put the aubergine on the tray with a tablespoon of olive oil and half-teaspoon of salt, and toss well to coat. Roast for 30 minutes, until soft and browned, then set aside.
Meanwhile, put a large frying pan on a medium heat. Once hot, add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, the onion and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until softened and lightly coloured.
Stir in the ground cumin and fennel, garlic, pine nuts, chopped chillies and a good grind of pepper, and cook for 10 minutes more, until fragrant. Finally, add the cooked aubergine, cider vinegar and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt, and stir well. Transfer to a large bowl and leave to cool for 15 minutes. Once cool, stir in 30g halloumi and set aside.
For the avocado salsa, add the avocado, lime zest and juice, coriander, the remaining half of the red onion, the jalapeños, chilli flakes, if using, and apple juice to a food processor, and blitz smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Transfer to a bowl, cover with a plate and set aside at room temperature.
Fill a medium saucepan with the sunflower oil and put on a medium-high heat. Test the oil is ready by dipping in a tortilla; it should sizzle immediately. Using tongs, individually submerge the tortillas briefly in the oil to soften, (about three seconds) and drain on absorbent kitchen paper. Don’t leave them in the oil for longer, or they will start to fry and go brittle. Take the oil off the heat and set aside for later.
To assemble, divide the aubergine mix between the eight tortillas, shaping the mixture into a thin sausage shape in the centre. Roll one side of the tortilla over the filling, tucking and rolling to form a cylinder with open ends. Use a toothpick to secure the roll and continue with the remaining tortillas.
Return the sunflower oil pan to a medium-high heat and, once hot, fry the flautas in batches of two to three, frying for one to two minutes, until golden and crisp. Drain on absorbent kitchen paper and continue with the rest.
Remove the toothpicks, put the flautas on a large tray or platter and sprinkle the remaining grated halloumi on top. Serve warm with the salsa to dip on the side.
A ribollita is a traditional Tuscan bean and bread stew. This one is layered and baked in the oven, similar to a bread pudding. The result is super-comforting and one to dig into and share.
Prep 20 min
Cook 1 hr 10 min
Serves 6 as a main
700g cherry tomatoes
1 red chilli, stem removed and sliced in half lengthways
6 sprigs thyme (soft sprigs)
2 tbsp red-wine vinegar
135ml olive oil
1 head of garlic, separated and peeled, plus 3 cloves extra, peeled and crushed
Salt and black pepper
6 slices sourdough – 4 x ½cm thick, 2 x 1cm thick
2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped (300g)
4 celery stalks, peeled and roughly chopped (300g)
4-5 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped (300g)
2 fresh bay leaves
1½ tbsp rosemary leaves, finely chopped
700ml vegetable stock
3 x 400g tins butter beans, rinsed and drained (720g)
150g kale leaves, torn into rough 5cm pieces
60g parmesan (or a vegetarian alternative), finely grated
1 lemon, cut into 6 wedges, to serve
Heat the oven to 240C (220C fan)/475F/gas 9. Put the tomatoes, chilli, thyme, red wine vinegar, 80ml oil and peeled whole garlic cloves in a deep 20cm x 30cm baking dish with half a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper. Roast for 30 minutes, until the garlic has softened and the tomatoes are charred and burst open, then remove and leave to cool slightly.
Meanwhile, toast the four thinner slices of bread in the oven for 10 minutes until crisp but not coloured, then remove and set aside.
Pour the roast garlic and tomato mixture into a blender (set aside the baking dish for later), and blitz for about a minute, until smooth and creamy.
To make the base, put the onions in a food processor and pulse for 20 seconds until finely chopped. Transfer to a large bowl. Next, pulse the carrot and celery until finely chopped, then add to the onion bowl.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick saucepan on a medium-high heat. Add the chopped vegetables, half a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper and fry for 20 minutes, stirring often, until softened but not at all coloured (turn down the heat if necessary). Add the bay leaves, rosemary and crushed garlic and cook for 10 minutes more, until fragrant. Add the stock, beans and three quarters of a teaspoon of salt, bring to a simmer, and cook for 10 more minutes.
Turn down the oven to 190C (170 fan)/375F/gas 5, and start the topping. Tear the remaining two slices of bread into roughly 3cm pieces and add to a bowl, together with 80g kale, 20g parmesan and the remaining oil, and mix well to coat.
Stir the blitzed tomato mixture and remaining 70g kale into the saucepan with the beans and transfer half of it into the baking dish. Lay over the four slices of toast to cover, then sprinkle with the remaining 40g parmesan. Spoon over the remaining half of the bean mix.
Finally, add the kale and bread topping and lightly press into the mix. Bake for 25 minutes, until golden and bubbling, then remove and leave to rest for five minutes. Serve warm with the lemon wedges for squeezing over.