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Column: On the Table with Tine Roche

As the new year begins, we should all resolve to eat our greens. . . yellows, oranges and reds, writes Cambridge Cookery’s MD Tine Roche

We all know that we should eat mainly plant-based food, and that the fresher it is, the better. This means shopping as far as it is practical from local markets and farm shops, where you can reassure yourself that what you buy is “farm to table”, not “far flung and warehoused”. Of course, favourite products such as peppers, avocado and citrus fruits can not be sourced locally.

We also know that the more varied our diet, and the more colourful the produce we use, the better it is for our health. This time of year, this really is very easy to adopt. Cooking with locally produced fennel, leek, cauliflower, beets, green, red and white cabbages, onions and carrots is cheap and delicious and the vegetables make delicious standalone dishes.

Where to start? Well perhaps with a new slow cooker - or locating and dusting down one you already own, from its exile in a top cupboard or garage shelf. Put a lot of what you like in, set the timer, forget all about it while you go about your daily business, and just as you start to think “Oh dear, what shall I make for...”, you’ll remember and return home to a meltingly delicious meal.

Full background of roasted colorful autumn vegetables, above view (25054435)
Full background of roasted colorful autumn vegetables, above view (25054435)

Oven roasting is also a fantastically simple, “look no hands” cooking method.

Ten minutes of fresh food prep surely should appeal to most, either to take one’s mind off the travails of the day, or the opposite, to think through the day that just ended. One of my favourite winter meals includes halved red peppers filled with the southern Italian firebomb nduja, pronounced “doo-yah”. This deeply red chilli and pork sort-of soft salami, when cooked oozes chilli oil in the same way a good chorizo does. Dot some nduja in halved red peppers, drizzle over a little olive oil, oven roast at a fair old heat until soft, maybe 20 minutes, then tear in some good quality burrata or buffalo mozzarella. I like scattering over freshly torn parsley. But then I am a parsley lover. For a more Italian vibe, use fresh basil. Eat with crusty sourdough to mop up the seriously chilli-laced juices.

As soon as snow is in the air, the merest hint of flakes whirling outside my window, my Pavlovian response is “mountain food”! Cheese fondue and French onion soup - either is suddenly the only thing I could possibly contemplate having for supper.

While the first is fairly high in fat and cost, the latter is not. All you need is a few onions, good, rich stock, white wine, thyme, stale bread and a little cheese. And patience. The onions - which must be sliced, never chopped - will only deliver their melting, unctuous, sweet, rich flavour if they are left to soften very slowly, with no browning whatsoever, in sunflower oil, until completely limp and translucent. Half an hour, at least, before the stock and thyme is poured over.

Rather than ladling into bowls and topping with bread and cheese, grill pieces of toasted sourdough topped with mature gruyère or emmental while the soup simmers and carefully place one or two pieces of cheese toastie to float on your broth in each bowl. Beware, you will burn your tongue. It is an essential part of enjoying a good onion soup.

Oven roasting wedges of beet, squash, sweet potato, baking potato and fennel with olive oil, sea salt and hardy herbs gives you delicious building blocks for winter salads, hummuses, curries and soups. Match with opposites - sweet potato with salty ewe’s cheese, earthy beets with tangy goat’s cheese, liquorice scented fennel with buttery parmesan, sweet-yet-sharp carrot with warm caraway or cumin seeds.

You may end up devouring these vegetables just like that, straight out of the roasting tin, the leftovers ready to become tomorrow’s lunch. Being served in this unglamorous fashion, never being elevated to more complex dishes, won’t bother these humble, underrated vegetables.

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