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

Roasted Cobnut Banana Bread

IMG_0049 smaller adjusted 2

Banana bread has been one of my go-to things for years when I’m feeling like a bit of squidgy, gooey comfort food. I usually used a recipe which was literally just bananas, flour, eggs and a bit of spice if you wanted it – so great because it’s totally sugar free, with the only sweetness coming from the bananas themselves. But I thought it was time I experimented and made banana bread with a bit of panache and a unique flavour, and so came up with this roasted cobnut banana cake. And it really tastes divine, if I’m allowed to say so myself! What’s even better is that it’s vegan, gluten free and uses a seasonal, local, very English ingredient – cobnuts.

Cobnuts are very similar to hazelnuts and you can find cobnut trees over much of the countryside in Britain. Lots of cobnuts are grown and cultivated in Kent, so you might have heard the term Kentish cobnuts, which some greengrocers and supermarkets offer at this time of year. But you can pick cobnuts straight off the tree (if you beat the squirrels to them) and the best thing about picking them yourself is that they’re free. Wild food is something which seems to have been completely forgotten about in the modern western world – it’s as if people are afraid that if it doesn’t come from a supermarket it can’t be safe or edible. But that’s just not true at all. There’s an abundance of wild food out there for us to gorge on and enjoy, from berries and nuts to mushrooms, herbs and flowers.

IMG_0022 smaller adjusted

You can eat raw cobnuts but roasting them really brings out a delicious, toasted flavour. And by combining them with hazelnut oil, it turns this banana bread into something else. Both hazelnuts and cobnuts are packed with protein, and they’re very high in energy so they’re great for providing an energy boost either in the morning at breakfast or as a snack in the mid afternoon lull which many people suffer from. They’re also a rich source of vitamin E and a load of minerals such as manganese, potassium, iron and zinc. The last thing I’ll say about this banana bread is that it’s super easy to make, so there’s no reason not to like it.

IMG_0060 smaller adjusted

Makes one loaf:

  • 6 medium to large bananas (overly ripe is best)
  • 1 cup (150g) of brown rice flour
  • ½ cup (50g) of ground almonds
  • 3 tablespoons of hazelnut oil (if you don’t have any sunflower oil works too)
  • 2 tablespoons of coconut oil
  • ½ cup of almond milk
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla powder
  • 1-2 tablespoons of yacon syrup/date syrup (optional – I don’t feel the bread needs it but most people seem to have a sweeter tooth than me!)
  • A large handful of cracked and shelled cobnuts (if you can’t lay your hands on any use hazelnuts)

IMG_0139 adjusted 2

Start by preheating your oven to 150°C. Then, crack and shell the cobnuts until you have enough to make a large handful. Simply lay these on a baking tray and roast for about 45 minutes, turning half way through to make sure they roast evenly.

While they’re roasting, mash the bananas and set aside. Then place the flour, ground almonds, hazelnut oil, coconut oil, almond milk, baking powder, cinnamon and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Mix this all together before adding half the squashed banana. Stir this in then add the other half and stir again to make a batter.

When the cobnuts are roasted, remove them from the oven and turn it up to 170°C. Place all the nuts in a pestle and mortar except about 3 for use later. Bash them up into small chunks and then add to the bread batter and stir in until everything’s combined.

Grease a loaf tin with coconut oil and then line the bottom with greaseproof paper before greasing that as well. Then pour in the mixture. At this point crush the 3 remaining cobnuts in the pestle and mortar and then scatter the pieces over the top of the mix.

Bake the bread in the oven for an hour or until a knife comes out clean. You may want to lay a piece of foil over the top about 45 minutes in to stop the top from burning. Finally, remove it from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes before slicing and enjoying!

IMG_0031 smaller adjusted

Chestnut Pancakes

IMG_9301 adjusted smaller

The best thing about Christmas markets is chestnuts roasted on a smoky barbecue, holding the warm paper bag of them in your hand as you carefully peel their charred skins off to reveal the soft nut inside, which you then pop into your mouth. Now, obviously it’s a little early for Christmas talk, but the wait until December for chestnuts is a bit of a long one. Furthermore, it’s an unnecessary wait because chestnuts are in season now. Sweet chestnuts (not horse chestnuts – they’re poisonous) start falling from trees from September onwards, and they’re hard to miss, with their bright lime green, viciously prickly shells (a bit like a porcupine). I went out walking a few days ago and came across a chestnut tree with its nuts sprinkled around the trunk, spiking my palms as I gathered a few up.

Given all this, I just had to make something chestnutty. And these pancakes are chestnut heaven. Vegan, gluten free and refined sugar free, you really just don’t miss the milk, eggs or wheat. They’re both mushy and fluffy, and the combination of chestnut flour, chestnut purée, almond butter and banana is a creamy, autumnal treat. Chestnuts are low in fat (they’re largely made up of starch) whilst also being a good source of mono-unsaturated fatty acids such as linoleic acid and a rich source of fibre, with even more fibre per 100g than walnuts and pistachios. As well as this, chestnuts are rich in the B vitamin folic acid, which is required to synthesize DNA and repair DNA, and helps produce healthy red blood cells and prevent anemia.

These pancakes are pretty good for you, tasty and so easy to make – you can whip them up in ten minutes for a delicious breakfast or an afternoon snack. They’re rich and nutty, without being overly sweet, which to me is ideal.

IMG_9336 adjusted smaller 2

Makes about 16 small pancakes/serves 2-3:

  • 130g/½ cup of chestnut flour
  • 3 tablespoons of chestnut purée
  • 1½ tablespoons of almond butter
  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup of almond milk
  • ½ cup of water
  • 1½ teaspoons of baking powder (I like to use this)
  • Coconut oil for frying

IMG_9318 adjusted smaller 2

Simply mash the banana until there are no lumps left then place in a mixing bowl along with all the other ingredients and mix with a whisk until a batter forms. It should be fairly runny, but not too much.

Next place a large frying pan on a medium heat and add a teaspoon of coconut oil. Once the oil has melted and the pan is hot pour about two tablespoons of the batter into the pan to make one pancake. It should run out and form a circle. Wait about twenty to thirty seconds, until it starts bubbling a little and you can see it cooking around the edges. Then carefully slip a turning spatula underneath the pancake and flip it over, letting it cook for another twenty seconds.

Add a little more coconut oil to the pan and repeat this until all the batter is used up (I usually do two pancakes at a time). Then make a pancake stack, topping it with your favourite things – I recommend banana, raspberries, chestnut pieces, almond butter and raw honey – and serve!