(using ruby chard and celery from the polytunnel and stored carrots)
This month's recipe is another flexible dish which you can put virtually any veg into - so you can experiment with whatever you like when you've tried the basic dish first. It's very versatile and is a useful recipe to have under your belt at any time of year.
It's seasonal. Although we're now in what the old vegetable gardeners and seasonal cooks used to call the 'hungry gap' - when traditionally not much was available except stored veg. unless you had heated greenhouses - these days with polytunnels you'll never have a hungry gap if you use the tunnel properly and keep it filled with crops at every season. Imported vegetables are available now in shops all year round - but I prefer to eat seasonally, to eat only organic and to cut my carbon footprint as far as possible by not buying imported, out of season produce, flown halfway across the world. Produce tastes so much better when it's in season from your own garden anyway. Apart from anything else - it's far cheaper to eat that way! This is my favourite version, made with the Ruby chard and celery that are in season now and in my polytunnel at the moment - and I also still have a few stored carrots left, so those are what I've used here.
Again like the last three months it uses ingredients that are easily available everywhere, even if you don't grow your own. If you don't have any fresh veg - you could even use a bag of frozen mixed veg, or possibly you may have your own frozen peas or French beans from last summer, some tinned organic sweetcorn or almost anything else you can think of - they all work well in this dish. Fresh broccoli works well too. You just need roughly 1lb 8ozs/675g of any sort of veg. The only thing that doesn't work quite so well is leeks, as they can tend to be a bit watery.
It's very easy - if you can chop veg, make a sauce and cook pasta you can do it!
It's also very cheap to make - just 4 oz cheese, half a pack of pasta, about a pound and a half of veg and 1/2 a pint of milk will feed four people nicely
You can make it ahead and leave it ready to go into the oven if you're busy - or if you're just making it for two - you can re-heat it a couple of days later easily, which again saves you time if you're busy.
It's suitable for vegetarians.
It's very healthy, particularly as it's made with wholewheat pasta which provides slow release complex carbohydrates, and together with all the veg it provides about 4 of your 5-a-day accompanied with a side salad or veg! Organic veg has consistently been shown to be far higher in antioxidants than non-organic. Organic dairy produce is almost 70% higher in good Omega 3 fats than non-organic - so you needn't feel guilty about eating butter and cheese anymore! That's apart from the fact that by eating organic you're not getting the added pesticide residues and heavy metals!
Ingredients: (serves 4)*
4 large Sticks celery
225g/8oz Chard stems (ruby chard is really nice if you can get it, it makes the sauce a lovely rich amber colour - and the spinach-like leafy chard tops can be the side veg that accompanies the dish. If you haven't got or can't get chard then small broccoli florets and chopped stems would do just as well. I usually use chard as I always have it all year round - it's a really useful, nutritious vegetable. 2 vegetables in one really - with the stems as well as the leaves!)
175g/6oz Wholemeal Organic macaroni or fusilli (I like fusilli best as it gives a nice crunchy finish to the top, contrasting deliciously with the soft creamy sauce and still slightly crunchy veg. underneath - I tried it with conchiglie last week and it didn't work well as they tend to clump together a bit - that's what you can see in the main pic. above on the plate)
300ml/1/2 pint of Vegetable stock - from organic stock cube is fine (I use a whole Kallo organic veg stock cube dissolved in the boiling water)
Milk to make stock up to 600ml/1 pint after blanching veg (either full fat or low fat doesn't matter)
60g/2oz Organic Butter
60g/2oz Wholemeal Organic Spelt flour or white flour ( I think wholemeal has a much better flavour and is also more nutritious as it's less refined. I use Hildegarde wholemeal spelt but Doves Farm is good too and more easily available)
100g/4oz Mature organic Cheddar cheese (you can get this in most shops now - even the discount supermarkets) Plus a little extra Cheddar or Parmesan for sprinkling on top to give it a nice cheesy, crunchy top! (Always use Parmesan freshly grated from a block - the stuff ready grated in packets is like tasteless sawdust)
Salt & Pepper to taste
1. Finely slice all vegetables to no larger than 1/2 cm / 1/8th inch (about the width of a £1 coin or two 1 euro coins - I won't insult your intelligence by showing you a pic of chopped veg or cooked pasta either!)
2. Cook pasta in boiling salted water for about 15 mins until just tender - not soggy - then drain in a colander.
3. Put all the chopped veg and the hot stock into a saucepan, bring to the boil, then simmer for 5 mins. As the stock barely covers the veg - turn it over a little and press down gently as it cooks so that it cooks evenly. If using broccoli, add it in when the other veg have cooked for about 3 mins and just cook for the remaining 2 mins or it may be overdone and fall to bits. The veg still needs to retain a very slight crunch.
4. Drain the veg - reserving the stock in a measuring jug and making up the liquid up to 600ml / 1 pint with milk
5. Melt the butter in a saucepan, stir in the flour and cook gently for 1 minute - don't let it burn.
6. Take it off the heat and stir in the stock/milk liquid gradually, then put back on heat and cook for a few minutes stirring gently to avoid sticking until it thickens. (If you tend to be impatient and make your sauces a bit lumpy like me - a useful implement to have is a silicone whisk - which you can use safely in non-stick or ceramic saucepans with no fear of scratching. - T.K.Max are a useful cheap source for these and other kitchen utensils!)
7. Take off the heat again, add in the cheese and stir until it's all melted into the sauce, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
8. Add the vegetables and pasta to the sauce, or put them into the oven-proof dish, mix together and pour over the sauce making sure it's well mixed through.
9. When all the ingredients are in the oven-proof dish, sprinkle a little more Cheddar or Parmesan cheese on top if you like it extra cheesy
10. Put into a hot oven - roughly 200 deg C / 220 deg C for about 15 mins - or put under a grill until nicely golden brown on top
11. This is good served with a green veg like spinach (I use that chard leaves), or French beans, peas, any of the suggestions above or just a green salad.
*This recipe serves 4 - but if you don't eat it all the same day, it will be fine for a couple of days if you cover and refrigerate it once it's cool. When you want to re-heat it, sprinkle with a little more milk, cover with foil or a lid and put in a moderate oven, about 180 deg C for roughly 20 mins, or microwave for a couple of mins.