Introduction

Introduction

By
Tom Hunt
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781849494182
Photographer
Laura Edwards

How I cook

I love cooking simple, rustic food that is full of flavour, vibrant and healthy. All good meals start with the ingredients so, before I start cooking, I seek out the very best I can. You’ll find me hunting the market for the crispest, boldest, most stunning vegetables, the best-marbled cheaper cuts of meat and glassy-fresh fish. Only then will I pick up my recipe book for inspiration on how to cook them well. I have written this book with this way of planning meals in mind, putting vegetables first.

I like to feel good about the food I eat, and so I cook with ingredients that have been ethically sourced. It’s a big driving force for me to buy food in as conscious a way as possible. But how do we decide for ourselves what’s ethical and what’s not? At my restaurant, Poco, we’ve drawn up a manifesto so that we and – importantly – our customers know where we stand. I’ve brought our ethos to this book.

I like to have a connection to where my food comes from, even if it’s just talking to a market stall-holder or chatting to a fishmonger to find out how the fish was caught. This helps me to value the food I’m eating and respect its origins. If you do the same, you’ll even pick up the odd bargain…

It’s a no-brainer that cooking with natural foods means a healthier body and a healthier planet. Farming naturally, without the use of pesticides and fertilisers, helps our eco-system become more diverse, more fertile and more healthy.

In order to reduce my impact on the planet, I cook with local ingredients. You will only find a minimal amount of imported produce in these recipes. I use key whole foods that might not already have their own spot on your kitchen shelf, but which I hope will in future, such as spelt flour, rapadura – a raw sugar that contains all the molasses and nutrients – and raw (not heat-treated) local honey. You can buy these in most supermarkets or in health food shops.

Fortunately it is these seasonal, local, whole and organic foods that taste the best, too. The best chefs cook with them, and for good reason. If we buy and value these ingredients and use them economically then good food doesn’t have to cost the earth.

Love and cook with wild abandon.

Using this book

Every chapter explores six or seven seasonal ‘hero’ ingredients that are readily available in our markets. Each ingredient is represented first by three super-simple yet favourite preparations of mine that you can make using a few ingredients from your larder. If you have time to go to the market – or happen to have other seasonal ingredients available – you can also pick from three world-inspired seasonal recipes that include that already-prepared simple dish.

The recipes in this book are ideas and starting points. So feel free to use what ingredients you have and make up your own versions. When making my socca pizza, for example, substitute the asparagus topping for any other seasonal veggies in your fridge that you think might work well, grilled or sautéed. And consider removing sugar from the recipes, or replacing it with honey, if you want.

I’ve also given clear tips and ideas for how to turn leftovers from the recipes into other delicious meals, and explained how they should be stored to keep them at their best and avoid waste.

Eat well, waste nothing

We all hate waste. According to the government-funded waste and resources action programme, households throw away up to 40 per cent of all the food they buy, chucking it straight from the fridge into the bin without it ever reaching the table.

I’ve written tips on every recipe to help make the most of the food we buy. We can easily reduce the waste in our own kitchens and, by doing so, save not only our resources but also a little extra money to buy higher welfare meat and better quality veggies.

I try my best to reduce waste. But somehow there’s always something I miss that ends up in the compost. The carrot that gets too wrinkly, the herbs that wilt, or leftovers I just didn’t fancy eating until it was too late. Here’s a few ideas that we use in my restaurant and at home to help keep our waste to a minimum:

–Be creative! Dig around in the fridge or cupboards, find what needs using up, then put a meal together that uses those ingredients. Keep it simple and you can’t go wrong.

–Shop wisely. Before you go shopping, ‘stock take’, and make a list of what you already have so that you can build it into your week’s meals. Don’t be fooled into purchasing bulk buys that you will never eat. Buy vegetables and meat loose from the market, in smaller quantities. Root veg, and hardy squash, onions and garlic keep for longer, so you can buy lots at the same time, but be wary when it comes to herbs, soft fruits, salad and leafy greens, and buy in smaller quantities.

–Portion sizes. Cook just enough but, if you cook too much, keep it for lunch the next day, or freeze portions to use later.

–Thrift. Remember what your granny taught you! Use everything. Eat leftovers. Don’t peel veg; the goodness is in the skin. There’s plenty of tips about what to do with all sorts of leftovers in this book.

–Sell/Use by dates. These are there to ensure food gets to our houses in tip-top condition. If low-risk foods such as vegetables, yogurt and cheeses pass their ‘use by’ date, don’t throw them away before checking them. Give the food a smell and check for any mould. If it smells OK, it probably is OK. Even meat will be fine after its ‘use by’ date if kept in the correct conditions.

–Store food correctly. I give tips through the book for best storage but, as a rule, keep fresh fruit and veg in the fridge at 3–4°C. Store root veg in a dark cupboard. Keep your bananas in a separate bowl, unless you want to ripen your other fruit. Make the most of your freezer. It can be a godsend for saving food when you don’t have time to cook or eat it.

–Ration plastics. Look for alternatives to food sold in packaging, and use washed plastic bags instead of cling film. And wash and re-use freezer bags, too.

Seasonality

I feel blessed each month as new ingredients ripen and join the greengrocer’s shelf. Summer offers us a huge variety of delicious berries, soft fruits, beans and Mediterranean vegetables. As autumn nears, our fields bulge with an abundance of fruits and vegetables to forage, pot, jar and can for the cold months ahead. Even winter has a wealth of fresh ingredients, from roots and tubers to fresh curly kales. Completing the cycle as the sun begins to shine again, spring brings us the delicacies of asparagus, perky radishes and rhubarb to wake up our taste buds after a long winter of comfort food.

Seasonal ingredients and quality go hand in hand. Fruits and vegetables that are picked at their peak not only taste better but also use fewer resources to grow and are often transported much shorter distances to your table. The flavour and texture of a juicy local tomato in summer is almost completely incomparable to that of an imported winter tomato, yet both fetch a similar price. By using the seasonal fruit and vegetables in this book as a shopping list for the appropriate months, you will effortlessly improve the quality of your food while decreasing the resources needed to produce that food. Buying seasonal produce from your local shops will also help support your community and its farmers.

Supermarkets ignore the seasons, giving us a generic list of ingredients available all year round. This puts massive pressure on our resources and needlessly neglects the bounty of ingredients that we have on our doorstep. With a select choice of the best local, seasonal ingredients you will naturally become a more creative cook, and with these simple recipes you will make incredibly delicious meals.

Meat

When buying meat, I tend to experiment with the cheaper cuts. I buy local meat and make sure it is the best quality I can afford. A fillet steak is tender, but a rump has more flavour, while an ox cheek cooked long and slow will melt in your mouth. Even though these cuts have been popularised by chefs, they still come at a more affordable price.

The best thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint is eat less meat. The amount of grain it takes to feed a cow and produce one steak is disproportionate to the number of meals that grain would provide. If in doubt, organic is a good certification to go by, as it not only ensures your meat will be free from hormones and high doses of antibiotics, but is also a general indication of higher welfare, as it requires that animals are genuinely free-range.

Fish

These days fish stocks are depleted and a lot of species are endangered. We need to be very careful which fish we are buying as it is an ever-changing situation. Some fishmongers who advertise themselves as ‘sustainable’ still sell endangered species. It’s up to us to do the research and make the decisions on what fish we buy. I buy fish that is in season and caught locally, and use an online guide from the Marine Conservation Society (www.fishonline.org) to make sure I’m buying fish from sustainable stocks.

Whole foods

Whole foods are downright delicious. Whole grains and pulses, vegetables, a crusty loaf of brown bread, or whole grain pasta have twice the flavour of their bland, processed counterparts. Flavour is what I look for in my cooking and whole foods always deliver. Of course we’re also doing our well-being a massive favour, as whole foods are far more nutritionally rewarding. Heavily processed ingredients, or ‘the white stuff’ – rice, sugar, pasta and flour – contain simple carbohydrates that break down into simple sugars which we just don’t need. It’s not that whole foods are the only option, just that they are something I’d rather eat more of… and I feel better for it, too. The broad bean and lamb pilaf with seasoned yogurt is a prime example of just how good whole grain rice can be. It carries the rich, savoury, spicy flavours perfectly. Spelt flour, which I use as a replacement for wheat flour in most recipes, is easy to work with and tastes delicious. Spelt makes amazing bread, due to its high protein content, as well as great pastry: check out the spinach and smoked fish tart.

Growing your own, and the compost monster!

You don’t need a garden to grow a few pots of herbs and vegetables. It takes little effort and it’s so rewarding. You can grow anywhere, on windowsills, on the porch, or on the driveway. Start with herbs, as they can be so expensive to buy, and take up little room. Radishes are fun to grow in spring as they take just three or four weeks from seed. Chard and kale are easy to grow all year round and just keep giving. Courgettes are prolific, grow well in pots and give you the benefit of being able to eat their stems and flowers. It’s also nice to grow things that you can’t easily buy, such as purple basil, or heirloom varieties of carrots and tomatoes. Try up-cycling empty egg boxes into planters for seedlings, or using old cans and bottles for pots.

If you're going to grow your own, it is worth starting a compost heap to give free, nourishing fertiliser. You can buy compost bins, or make one out of a regular bin by drilling plenty of holes in it. Feed it with a mixture of green and brown natural waste. The bulk of the compost needs to be brown: twigs, paper, cardboard, bread, egg shells, tea and coffee. Then add green matter from fruit, veg and leaves. Avoid adding meat, fish and dairy as they attract animals. Give the compost a mix every few weeks with a garden fork to aerate and keep it healthy. I keep two composters, so that when one is ready I can be working on the next. After about six months, your compost should be ready to start mixing into your soil. Get growing!

Cook natural...

… means to me using whole, minimally-processed, ripe, local, seasonal food. In other words, food of the very best quality.

I firmly believe we all really do care about where our food comes from, whether we’re concerned about the excessive use of chemicals, animal welfare, food-miles and waste, taste and quality, or all of the above.

As we all know, in the real world where money is tight and there’s a supermarket on every corner, shopping responsibly can feel like an uphill battle. However, by committing a little time to understanding the principles of seasonal food and cooking, we could all eat more organic ingredients, enjoy farmers’ markets and support local suppliers without spending more. Over the years my morals have wavered at times – by not always buying local or free-range – in order to keep things ticking over and costs down. But I have now learned that you can keep to a strict budget while using exceptionally high-quality products. All it takes is a little thrift, a seasonal approach and the use of cheaper cuts. Now I simply won’t use an ingredient if it doesn’t match my principles; I will always find another route or recipe to replace it… and keep to my budget, too. This book is about how to eat consciously. How to empower our food choices and enrich our diets, while keeping peace of mind about everything that we cook.

Most of all, this book is a celebration of our delicious seasonal and local foods – those that are abundant, not rare – drawing on age-old culinary wisdom with recipes that make use of every last bit of an ingredient and waste nothing.

Cook with local whole foods and vegetables, be inspired by world recipes and traditions.

Eat the best food you can.

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