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How to use up everything from a local veg box (winter) [WFJ #49]
Because life is like a box of local veg – you never know what you're gonna get
There are at least three farms or market gardens around Frome producing vegetables in a nature-friendly way, and supplying them into town via their own box scheme.
The question remains, though: ‘When Riverford exists, why bother?’
As brilliant as Riverford and what they espouse are, they don’t support Frome’s local economy. They don’t support Frome’s growers who’re producing just as responsibly (albeit without an organic label). And they don’t contribute to local society in the way schemes here do – Vallis Veg, for instance, is helping train the next generation of growers, while Root Connections is using the therapeutic nature of food and growing to support the recovery of people with complex needs.
Plus, the bigger national veg box schemes like Riverford or Able & Cole get, the more business they take away from smaller producers wanting to supply their local markets.
But here’s the thing. With local veg boxes, there is, generally, a bit of a trade-off: Once you’ve ordered one, you don’t know what you’re gonna get.
It’s definitely a barrier. Getting ambushed by two fistfuls of kale, or a massive swede, can be intimidating – particularly at a time like now, when the crowd-pleasers like tomatoes, aubergines, and bell peppers aren’t in play anyway.
Convenience and a ‘whenever, wherever’ approach has meant we’ve lost a lot of the skills and knowledge in processing what the season provides into flavourful and nutritious meals (read more about that in WFJ 46). So, as a reasonably competent cook who uses local veg on the reg, I’m going to show you what you’re likely to find in a local veg box in winter time, and what I did (ergo the sort of things you can do), in the space of a week, with them.
The box, £17 from Root Connections and ordered and delivered on the second week of January, contained:
Mixed green salad leaves
First impressions? That’s a lot of root veg, as should be expected. Nothing here’s too challenging (like kohlrabi, celeriac, or swede), though those ‘snips might prove a small obstacle.
In any case, here goes.
The following used up the entire box, between two people (the one roasted beetroot remaining is in the fridge waiting to be chucked into a soup). Plus, of course, extra ingredients on top – those included in the veg box are highlighted in bold.
Lunch: Bacon sarnie
Compared to the box’s other contents, salad is one of the first things to lose its freshness, so it’s normally a good bet to start using this up first. As a result, this sandwich was about 70% salad, but by no means worse off for it.
Ingredients: Smoked streaky bacon, butter, mayo, mustard ketchup, mixed green salad leaves, Rye bakery toasted West Country sourdough loaf
Supper: Cheat’s chicken pie
Usually for pie-making I prep some shortcrust hours in advance, but recently I’ve started going with an easier, less time-intensive variation. Instead of a pie crust, we’re talking dumplings, but made with butter and milk, i.e. what North Americans call ‘biscuits’. If you’d like a recipe, I’d suggest using this as a guideline, but reducing the obscene amount of butter in said biscuits.
As for the filling, the cavolo nero was de-stemmed, shredded, and introduced late in the cook – something I also generally like to do when adding kale to stews and casseroles.
Ingredients: Bacon fat, 2 chicken thighs, ½ onion, 2 carrots, 3 garlic cloves, cavolo nero, butter, chicken fat, spelt flour, plain flour, buttermilk (milk + apple cider vinegar), baking soda, homemade chicken stock.
Lunch: Chicken pie leftovers
Supper: Beetroot and red onion tarte tatin
This was going swimmingly until I undertook the dreaded tatin flip, and subsequently mangled what would’ve otherwise been an immaculate dinner. Still, even when beaten-up, it’s a great dish in using the sweetness of roasted onion to offset the earthiness of the beets.
I served this with some of the green salad in a simple vinaigrette. Sounds weird but in the past I’ve also plopped a boiled egg on top. Would do again.
Ingredients: 2 beetroots, red onion, ½ white onion, star anise, clove, extra virgin olive oil, salt, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, puff pastry, mixed green salad leaves
Lunch: Bread, parsnip soup
Just a good, comforting way of using up parsnips. The trick is, though, in balancing their sweetness – in this case I added butter and (for bitterness) kale pesto until I got the balance right. The stock, however, was on the richer side, so actually you could probably pull this off with water instead.
Ingredients: 2 parsnips, 2 garlic cloves, homemade chicken stock (or water), Rye bakery West Country sourdough, kale pesto, butter
Supper: Stir fry chicken noodle soup
Couldn’t decide if I wanted stir fry or ramen, so I came up with something in between. It worked okay, but probably won’t find its way onto the regular menu.
Ingredients: 2 chicken thighs, 1 carrot, ½ onion, cavolo nero, stock, buckwheat noodles, 2 garlic cloves, sesame oil, soy sauce, peanut butter, mirin, chilli flakes, ginger, lamb fat
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Lunch: Bread, parsnip soup
Supper: Lamb with peas and mint sauce
Lamb belly – also known as lamb breast – is becoming one of my favourite winter cuts. It’s cheap (£5-£6 at the butcher’s), comforting, and can be left in the oven to its own devices for a few hours. I usually cook the belly in wine for three or four hours (e.g. this recipe, rolled or not), sort the meat from the bone if needed, and serve it over greens (steamed savoy cabbage works well) with peas and mint sauce. That’s usually sufficient, though for the sake of using up what we had, this time I added sliced potatoes and roasted carrots.
Ingredients: Lamb belly, red wine, ½ onion, 2 carrots, salt, 2 garlic cloves, peas (from frozen), mint, sugar, vinegar, potatoes
Lunch: Lamb sarnie
Unless I’m missing something, there’s a sandwich for just about every meat imaginable – except lamb. Why? Who knows, but maybe it has something to do with the, um, lubrication. Mayo is perhaps a little too fatty, and where yoghurt seems the obvious pairing, it feels out-of-place between two slices of bread.
Ingredients: Lamb belly, toasted Rye bakery West Country sourdough, mint, bread, butter, yoghurt, green salad leaves, apple cider vinegar
Supper: Lamb and parsnip pilau rice
I’d not tried cooking a spiced rice-based dish in stock like this before, but it worked so well it’s now in the regular repertoire. What started as a hunt for an alternative way of using up parsnips, ended up somewhere between this recipe and this one.
Ingredients: Lamb belly, lamb fat, red lentils, brown basmati rice, onion, garlic, 1 large parsnip (grated), lemon (zest and juice), cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, star anise, caraway, cloves, chilli flakes, coriander seed, cumin, homemade chicken stock, parsley, yoghurt (to serve)
Lunch: Bread, parsnip soup
Supper: Camembert tartiflette
A poorly-disguised excuse to finish up the potatoes? Probably. Either way, let it be known – sometimes a camembert-style cheese is a good enough replacement when reblochon can’t be found.
Ingredients: Streaky bacon, onion, garlic, white wine, spuds, Baron Bigod, black pepper
Go on, then. Leave your tips for cooking with winter veg – or veg boxes in general – in the comments
All evening meals took no longer than an hour of prep time
We don’t usually eat this many meat-based dishes in the space of a week. Even so, it wasn’t a lot – maybe 250g of lamb, 250g of chicken, and a few bacon rashers each
Meat, I find, to be more indicative of winter cooking. This is true historically speaking, as you can easily preserve an animal (i.e. keep it alive) outside of a bountiful growing season (i.e. winter but especially mid-spring)
Carbs and fats are also thematic, this being reflective of the weather and the wish to overcome winter’s effects on morale
Most these dishes are what I’d cook on any given week this time of year, though it’s only now how much I realise just how dramatically it also increases the likelihood of #beigefood (no bad thing)
Goes to show how much a good batch of stock can sustain you throughout a week – as butchers will often give you bones for free (thank you H E Williams), making your own is well worth doing. This week’s recipes used up the best part of maybe three litres of chicken stock
It might be obvious here, but I relish leftovers. Knowing the lamb you’ve braised for four hours will help fill tomorrow’s sandwich? Bliss.
From all these dishes, very little waste was produced – a small pile, in fact, of onion skins, beetroot tops, lamb bones, chicken bones, and kale stalks. Most of which could be used to flavour next week’s stock