Wild Garlic Pesto & Asparagus Pasta

IMG_1950 smaller adjusted 2 Wild garlic is one of the most amazing examples of nature’s gifts to us. Come spring it sprouts out of the ground in abundance with sleek leaves and beautiful white-star flowers, and it’s just there for the taking! It’s the easiest wild food to harvest in the world – you simply pick the leaves and bam you’ve got a bundle of flavoursome garlicky goodness which can be added to any salad or dish to enhance both its nutrition and taste. No prickly thorns to outmanoeuvre or having to peel anything or discard lots of outer layers or worry that it might be poisonous. It’s almost as if the plant wants other creatures to eat it. And personally I think it’s crazy not to take advantage of such a local, seasonal wonder, especially when it’s free and there’s almost no effort involved. It’s so simple to find – just follow your nose! I picked my leaves less than two minutes’ walk from my house. How great is that? IMG_1886 smaller Wild garlic’s health benefits are numerous – it’s antibacterial, antimicrobial and antiseptic, and it can be effective at lowering blood pressure, which reduces the risk of heart disease and strokes. And the best thing about picking it yourself is you know the leaves are perfectly fresh, so it’s as nutritious as it can be. The combination of wild garlic and seasonal spring onions really gives this pesto a piquant essence. It proves that vegan food doesn’t mean an automatic diminution of taste – trust me, it’s a rival to any parmesan-stuffed pesto out there!

The asparagus season is well under way and it’s such a yummy and special spring vegetable – I look forward to it all summer, autumn and winter. Its window is narrow though so you’ve got to take advantage of it now and in the next few weeks. It’ll never taste as good as it does at the moment so grab yourself a bunch. It complements the wild garlic pesto so well and adds a subtle crunch to this hearty spring pasta dish. IMG_1899 adjusted 2 Serves 4

For the pesto:

  • 110g wild garlic leaves
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 4 spring onions
  • 110ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 40g pine nuts
  • 40g pecans
  • 1½ tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
  • ½ a lime
  • A small handful of basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  • 300g asparagus
  • 300g gluten free pasta (or your favourite durum wheat pasta)

IMG_1945 smaller adjusted 2 To make the pesto, start by crushing the garlic gloves in a garlic press. Slice the spring onions finely. Place a pan on a medium heat and add a little olive oil. Once the oil’s hot, add the crushed garlic and spring onions and gently fry for about 3 minutes. Be careful not to let them burn and once softened remove from the heat and set aside.

In a dry frying pan, lightly toast the pecans and pine nuts (on a medium heat) until they’re starting to turn a golden brown and then pour them into a food processor. Once the fried garlic and spring onions have cooled a little, add them to the food processor along with the extra virgin olive oil, yeast flakes, basil leaves and a good grinding of salt and pepper. Squeeze the juice of the ½ lime in as well and then roughly slice about a third of the wild garlic leaves. Add these to the processor and blend until combined. Slice another third of the garlic leaves and blend once more, repeating with the final third until it’s all mixed into a paste.

Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the pasta, simmering for about 9 minutes or until you have the desired softness (I like mine al dente). While the pasta cooks, steam the asparagus for about 2-3 minutes, poking the spears with a knife to check when they’re soft but not turning to mush. Chop the spears into inch-length pieces and drain the pasta. Place everything back into the pasta saucepan and mix together (making sure the pesto is coating the pasta and asparagus evenly) and serve without delay. IMG_1864 good

Apple Purée, Cinnamon & Nut Granola

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Homemade granola trumps shop-bought granola in every single possible way. The taste, the crunch, the nuttiness. You can throw in whatever you like and it isn’t stuffed with refined sugar or synthetic honey or palm oil or preservatives such as sulphur dioxide. In the past when I took a bite of Tesco own granola or even brands such as Jordan’s or Dorset Cereals, I was always overwhelmed by how sugary it tasted. You can literally feel the granules of sugar melting on your tongue, going all over your teeth and straight down into your body. Which is really not good in any way.

I was trying to think up a new granola recipe with a seasonal element and my mind immediately jumped to apples, since they’re in season and full of their own subtle fruity sweetness. I love having stewed apple for pudding so I thought why not try baking it with oats and see what happens. The result is super and makes a delicious, fruity, crunchy yet squishy granola which I think you’re all going to love. It’s so easy to throw together (despite what looks like a long ingredient list!) and if you haven’t got the time to peel, core, chop and stew some apples then you can simply use apple sauce. And, even better, it’s probably one of the healthiest and most nutrient dense granolas out there.

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As well as oats (an excellent source of fibre and slow-burning energy) and apple, it’s brimming with pecans, almonds and walnuts, all of which give a great protein boost for first thing in the morning, as well as minerals such as iron and magnesium. On top of that, the pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and flaxseeds not only enhance the protein content of the granola further but are a great source of the really good, healthy fats omega 3 and omega 6 which our bodies need and love. The cinnamon gives that yummy hint of spice which is the perfect partner for apple and the blackstrap molasses add a further fruity flavour and a little bit of extra sweetness. Blackstrap molasses is actually the by-product of the process of making refined sugar from the sugar cane plant and consequently contains all of the vitamins and minerals which white sugar lacks. It’s highly nutritious, containing healthy amounts of copper, iron, calcium and magnesium. It’s so great for vegetarians and vegans who often have trouble getting iron into their diet (I certainly do), but the combination of blackstrap with the nuts, seeds and currants makes this granola an iron-filled feast.

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Makes two large containers of granola:

  • 2 large cooking apples (or 3 medium sized) or 450g/1½ cups of apple sauce
  • ⅓ cup of water
  • 1 cup of rolled oats
  • 1 cup of jumbo oats
  • ½ cup of walnuts
  • ½ cup of pecans
  • ½ cup of almonds
  • ½ cup of pumpkin seeds
  • ½ cup of sunflower seeds
  • ⅓ cup of flaxseeds
  • ⅓ cup of flaked almonds
  • 3 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of mixed spice
  • 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 3 tablespoons of coconut oil
  • 4 tablespoons of sunflower oil
  • 3 tablespoons of blackstrap molasses
  • ½ cup of currants or raisins
  • 2 tablespoons of yacon syrup/raw honey/maple syrup (optional – for sweeter tooths)

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Preheat your oven to 175°C. If making the apple purée from scratch, peel, core and slice the apples into small sized chunks and place in a fairly large saucepan along with the water. Put this on the hob at a medium heat, watching it until the water starts to boil. At this point put the lid on and reduce to a low heat to allow the apples to stew for about 15-20 minutes, checking them every five minutes and giving them a quick stir.

While the apples are cooking, place the oats in a large mixing bowl. Add half the walnuts to a pestle and mortar and give them a good bash until they’ve broken up into small pieces. Pour them into the mixing bowl with the oats before breaking up the other half in the pestle and mortar. Do the same to the pecans and whole almonds, and then add the flaked almonds and all the seeds to the mix. Give it a stir around and then add the cinnamon, mixed spice and ginger before stirring once more.

When the apple has stewed down into a purée, add your 3 tablespoons of coconut oil and blackstrap molasses so they melt nicely down into it too, giving it a stir so it’s all mixed well. Remove from the heat, allow to cool for a minute or two before pouring it into the granola mixture along with the 4 tablespoons of sunflower oil and the currants. Using a large spoon, stir the whole mixture up so all the oats, nuts and seeds are well and coated with the apple, oil and blackstrap (if you like your granola on the sweeter side add the yacon syrup, honey or maple syrup at this point too).

Line a large baking tray with a sheet of baking paper and then pour on the granola mix, spreading it evenly across and squashing down gently. Place this in the oven for about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how brown and crispy you like it. Every 10 minutes or so take it out and give it a little stir to make sure it toasts evenly and none of it burns, and you get good sized nuggets of granola not one massive piece. When you’ve reached the desired crunchiness, remove from the oven, allow to cool and then store in an airtight container so it stays crispy and fresh for days, weeks or even months (depending on how fast you gobble it down) to come.