Creamy pesto courgetti with asparagus and mushrooms


Well, I’m a couple of years late boarding the carb alternatives train, partly because carbs bring me joy on a daily basis and I’ve never felt the need to be deprived of them. Also, I won’t allow myself to buy anymore cooking gadgets for the sake of our tiny, crammed galley kitchen, despite the distinct urge to buy a spiraliser when they were last year’s go-to bit of kit. However, my lovely soon-to-be in-laws got me a mandolin for my birthday so I thought I’d have a go at making courgetti.

Courgetti, as I’m sure many of you will know, is a healthy and green alternative to spaghetti. By slicing a courgette into thin strips using a mandolin and then slicing them again with a knife into finer strips, you can achieve a similar shape to spaghetti. You can of course also use a spiraliser which may be even simpler.

Courgetti is very low in calories. You feel a bit smug and virtuous while eating it. And, surprisingly, it did fill me up. I think it’s a psychological thing, but after finishing this dish, despite it being very tasty, I instantly felt unsatisfied. This is probably because I’ve got a big appetite and am used to shovelling a vat-full of pasta into my mouth. However, after waiting for 20 minutes or so, while the little courgette worms started to make their way through my digestive system I did begin to feel full up. So if you’re a bit reluctant like I was, give it a go. I’ll definitely be making it again.

I was inspired to make pesto while flicking through Anna Jones’ A Modern Way to Cook book. She suggested using pistachios in her version, but I didn’t have any in, so I opted for cashews instead. The combination of the crunchy cashews with the zesty lemon, the rich sour cream and pungent basil works really well and reminds me of summer.

This meal is a great mid-week option as you can have it ready within 20 minutes AND because it’s got so much goodness in it, you can balance it out with a tasty dessert. I just happened to pair the courgetti with vegetables I had in the fridge, but you could swap asparagus for crunchy mangetout or green beans and perhaps some butter beans instead of mushrooms to achieve that lovely earthy texture.

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 medium courgette
  • 4 chestnut mushrooms
  • 4 asparagus spears
  • Finely grated cheddar cheese, to serve

For the creamy cashew pesto sauce

  • 10 or so jumbo cashew nuts
  • a large handful of fresh basil
  • 1 ½ tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • finely grated cheese, to taste
  • plenty of salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp sour cream or creme fraiche

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Serves 1

Method

  1. Finely slice the courgette using a mandolin. Pile up your courgette slices on a chopping board and thinly slice them lengthways. Set them aside in a bowl.
  2. Prepare the pesto. If you have a food processor, put all of the pesto ingredients – except for the sour cream – into the processor and whizz them up until mostly smooth. Don’t worry if it’s not entirely smooth, it’s nice to have a little bit of crunch. If, like me, you don’t have a food processor, do the same but chop the cashew nuts up with a knife as small as you can first, then use a measuring jug to put the ingredients into and whizz them up with a hand whisk. When you’ve got a paste, mix in the sour cream.
  3. Put the grill on a high heat and place the asparagus spears under the grill for 5-1o minutes, or until they have softened.
  4. Put a frying pan on to a medium high heat and pour in the sunflower oil. Fry the mushrooms for five or so minutes, until they begin to soften.
  5. Meanwhile, boil the kettle. Pour boiled water over the courgette slices and leave for 30 seconds to a minute, then drain.
  6. Add the courgetti to the pan and reduce the heat. Stir in the creamy sauce and take off the heat.
  7. When the asparagus has softened, remove it from the grill. Chop the spears in three and add to the pan. Stir all of the ingredients in well together and season well.
  8. Serve in a pasta bowl topped with some finely grated cheese.

Asparagus pearl barley risotto

I conjured up this tasty rice dish with ingredients in the fridge and cupboard. It’s tasty and simple to make. Pearl barley is a healthy wholegrain and is a great substitute for risotto rice. It brings earthy, nutty flavours and adds wonderful texture with a bit of bite.

The vibrant, green asparagus has a satisfying crunch with a striking and fresh flavour. The creme fraiche and cheese add a layer of richness, but these ingredients can be left out to make the dish vegan friendly. And the soft cooked mushrooms on top balance out the crunchy textures.

This dish is cooked using the same method as risotto. It’s a great meal to make one evening after work.

Asparagus pearl barley risotto

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 160g pearl barley
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • 8 asparagus spears
  • 3 closed cup mushrooms
  • A knob of butter
  • 1 dessert spoon of creme fraiche
  • A handful of mature cheddar cheese, grated
  • Plenty of seasoning

Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Serves 2

Method

  1. Pour the oil into a large frying pan and put on a medium heat.
  2. Add the onion and fry for 5 minutes, or until it has softened.
  3. Pour in the pearl barley and mix in well with the onion. Cook for a further 5 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, cut off the woody ends of the asparagus spears and chop each spear into thirds.
  5. Turn the pan down to a low heat and add a ladleful of stock to the pan, stirring occasionally. When the stock has been absorbed by the barley, add another ladleful and repeat the process.
  6. Put the chopped asparagus into the pan and stir in with the mixture. Add the next ladleful of stock as before, and continue this process until all of the stock has been added. This should take about 30 minutes.
  7. While the risotto is cooking, add the butter to a small pan and put it on a medium heat. Chop the mushrooms into thin slices and add them to the pan. Cook for 7-10 minutes, until the mushrooms start to brown. Set aside.
  8. When all of the stock has been absorbed by the barley, give a grain or two a taste. It should be fairly softer, but with a bit of bite. If it’s not quite ready, add a splash of water and wait for that to absorb, for a further 5 minutes or so.
  9. When the barley is ready, take the pan off the heat and season well. Mix in the creme fraiche and cheese and serve in large bowls with the mushrooms arranged on top.

Halloumi, asparagus and thyme roasted potato salad

I first tried halloumi cheese about ten years ago. One of my very talented friends, the wonderful Charlotte, put on a dinner party for a group of us for her birthday; a very civilised thing to do at the age of 17. As soon as I tried it, I loved it and have never looked back.

Halloumi is a Cypriot cheese made from sheep and goat’s milk. Its texture is like no other cheese. It’s chewy and squeaks against your teeth as you bite into eat, which may sound a bit odd, but is so satisfying. It tastes super salty and is simply delicious.

Of the many cheeses I appreciate, halloumi has got to win the award for being the fun cheese, because it’s usually served as a vegetarian option at events like summer barbecues and in American-style diners where indulgence is encouraged.

I wouldn’t advise eating this cheese raw, it’s very much a food that should be cooked, either by frying, grilling, barbecuing or baking it. It’s really versatile and can be used in a wide range of dishes, especially fresh, warm salads.

I put this halloumi, asparagus and potato salad together with ingredients I had in the fridge. I hadn’t initially intended to include potatoes, but I had some spuds that really needed using up (at the point where they were sprouting) and thought they would add an earthy and filling base to the meal.

Halloumi, asparagus and potato saladThe mixed salad leaves add a lovely crisp crunch and the silky smooth baked asparagus spears compliment the salty halloumi delightfully. The honey and mustard salad dressing adds some moisture to the dish and contrasts well with the salty cheese.

This is a really fresh dish that can be served as a light dinner or a hearty lunchtime treat.

Ingredients

  • 1½ tbsp sunflower oil
  • ½ tbsp olive oil
  • 200g pack of halloumi
  • 250g asparagus
  • 4 small to medium white potatoes
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • 4 large handfuls of salad leaves – I used a Sainsbury’s watercress, rocket and spinach salad bag
  • Plenty of sea salt and cracked black pepper

For the dressing

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tbsp lemon juice
  • ½ tsp wholegrain mustard

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Serves 2

Method

1. Half-fill a medium saucepan with cold water, add a sprinkle of salt and bring it to the boil.
2. Meanwhile, peel the potatoes, give them a rinse and then chop them up – to about half the size of a standard roast potato. When the water is boiling, carefully lower the potato slices into the pan and boil gently for 5-10 minutes, until they begin to soften, but don’t let them cook to the point of becoming fluffy.
3. As the potatoes are cooking, put the oven on to gas mark 6. Pour the sunflower oil into a large baking try and sprinkle over the dried thyme. Place in the oven to heat up.
4. Drain the potatoes in a colander and shake off any excess water. Take the baking tray out of the oven and tip the potatoes into the tray, distributing them evenly. Use a wooden spoon to cover the potatoes in the thyme and oil, then season well and put in the oven for 30 minutes, turning them over with the wooden spoon half way through so they crisp up on all sides.
5. While the potatoes are cooking, chop the woody ends off the asparagus spears and then chop each of the spears in half. After 30 minutes, take the baking tray out of the oven and make some room for the asparagus spears, so they are only one layer deep. Coat them in the oil from the pan and pop the tray back in the oven for 15 minutes.
6. Next, chop the halloumi block lengthways into six chunky slices.
7. Put a large frying pan on a medium heat and drizzle in the ½ tbsp olive oil. Add each of the halloumi slices to the pan and fry for 10 minutes or so, turning every few minutes so they turn a golden brown on both sides.
8. While the halloumi is cooking, mix together all of the salad dressing ingredients in a jug.
9. Check on the potatoes and asparagus. When the potatoes have crisped up and the asparagus has softened, they’re ready to serve.
10. Lay the salad leaves in the bottom of large pasta bowls or plates and scatter over the potato slices. Place the bottom slices of the asparagus on top, and then lay the tips over the top of them in the other direction, so they make a sort of asparagus noughts and crosses shape. Place the halloumi slices on top and drizzle over the salad dressing.

Asparagus and mature cheddar quiche

As we say goodbye to the frosty winter and welcome the hope of spring with open arms, it’s time to start thinking about what tasty seasonal vegetables we can cook with.

This cheesy springtime quiche is the perfect main event for a light Sunday lunch. Or treat yourself in the week and take a slice to work with a leafy green salad on the side. 

Asparagus is very much a springtime vegetable; the British asparagus season traditionally runs from April until June.

The tangy flavour of the fresh and tender green vegetable stems offset the rich and creamy cheddar cheese in this quiche beautifully. But I think my favourite element has got to be the cheese pastry. It adds an extra dimension to the tart; a subtle richness to the crust. What a treat.

Asparagus and mature cheddar quiche

I served this dish on Mother’s Day with an aubergine and chickpea salad, as well as a mixture of rocket, spinach and watercress. And all three went down a treat – clean plates all round!

Ingredients

  • 140g plain flour
  • 85g butter, cubed
  • 85g mature cheddar, grated

For the filling

  • 4 eggs
  • 175ml milk
  • 100g mature cheddar, grated
  • 300g asparagus, trimmed and cut in half lengthways

Preparation time: 30-40 minutes
Cooking time: 50 minutes
Serves 6

Method

1. To make the pastry, put the flour in a bowl. Tip in the butter and rub it into the flour with your fingertips until it resembles thick breadcrumbs.

2. Add the first batch of grated cheddar and mix in to the flour with a wooden spoon.

3. Add 3-4 tbsp of cold water and mix thoroughly, until the pastry forms a ball. Pick it up with your hands, wrap in cling film and chill for five minutes.

4. Meanwhile, grease a loose-bottom tart tin (I used a cake tin which worked fine).

5. Heat the oven to gas mark 4.

6. Lightly dust a work surface with flour, and use a rolling pin to roll out the pastry until it’s 1-2cm thick.

7. Line the tin with the rolled out pastry and chill in the freezer for 20 mins.

8. While you’re waiting, crack the eggs into a jug, whisk, then add the milk and whisk again.

9. Remove the pastry from the freezer and cover it with baking paper. Fill with baking beans (or rice if you don’t have any baking beans) and cook for 15 minutes.

10. Take the tin out of the oven and tip the rice away. Carefully remove the baking paper, then return the pastry case to the oven for 10 minutes.
11. Sprinkle half of the second batch of grated cheese over the pastry case, then add all of the asparagus spears. Pour over the egg mix and top with the remaining cheese.

12. Bake in the lower half of the oven for 50 or so minutes, or until the egg mix is set and the top is golden brown.

13. Serve with a green, leafy salad and some crusty bread, or a couple of side dishes of your choice.

This recipe was inspired by BBC Good Food.