It is no secret that eating fruit and vegetables is essential to good health. However, recent surveys reveal that not all of us consume an ideal five-plus servings a day.
A serving is about a handful. So, a child's serving will be smaller than an adult's. And veges needn't be enjoyed separately. One of the best ways to persuade children to eat their share is to combine vegetables in dishes such as spaghetti bolognese, incorporating diced onion, carrots, mushrooms, green and red peppers, courgettes, tomatoes and fresh herbs.
As I experimented with seasonal vegetables for this article, I was introduced to BeFresh, little packets that go in your refrigerator's crisper bin and which help fruit and veges stay fresh longer. They last a month and are sold by supermarkets. Fruit and vegetables give off ethylene gas as they ripen. The refrigerator acts as a "trap" for ethylene, thereby hastening ripening.
BeFresh neutralises ethylene in the refrigerator - more than doubling the shelf life of stored produce. It delays wilting and yellowing of leafy greens and decreases decay and waste.
Cavolo nero: The firm, flavoursome, blue-black, highly-nutritious leaves of cavolo nero require more cooking than other cabbages. Popular in Italian cookery, cavolo nero is sold at specialty greengrocers and farmers' markets - or home gardens. It's best cooked but raw baby leaves can be added to salads.
Globe artichokes: The globe artichoke is a member of the thistle family. To prepare, remove the stems, boil artichokes for about 25 minutes, adding a squeeze of lemon juice to help prevent discoloration. Turn upside down to drain. Remove the tough leaves and the choke. The leaves can be pulled away, one by one. The closer the leaves are to the centre, the more tender they are, as is the heart.
Wild rocket: The tiny pointed leaves have intense, piquant flavour popular in pestos, salads, stir-fries and savoury muffins or scones. Wild rocket is grown easily from seed - and can readily take over your garden. Use young leaves as the older ones tend to be tough. Wild rocket is also sold in bags at supermarkets.
ROCKET PESTO, PASTA & PUMPKIN
Rocket Pesto: 1 bunch (100g) wild rocket, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup basil leaves
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
50g pine nuts or almonds
1/2 cup each: finely grated parmesan cheese, extra virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper
Vegetables: 3-4 tbsp olive oil
600g crown pumpkin, peeled and seeds removed
Black pepper to taste
200g dried fettuccine
8 stalks asparagus, trimmed and halved
80g each: salami (diced), wild rocket leaves, torn
To make pesto, place rocket, basil, garlic, nuts and parmesan in a food processor. Process until finely chopped. With the motor running, gradually pour in oil, mixing until a paste is formed. Season. Makes about one cup. To prepare vegetables, preheat oven to 200C. Brush a roasting pan with olive oil. Cut pumpkin into 2cm cubes. Place in roasting pan. Season. Drizzle with olive oil. Roast for about 20 minutes, until golden and tender. Alternatively, place in a large casserole and cook in microwave for about five minutes.
Meanwhile, cook fettuccine according to packet instructions. Add asparagus pieces during last three minutes of cooking. Drain well and place in a large bowl. Add pumpkin, salami, rocket leaves and three tablespoons of rocket pesto. Gently toss to combine. Serve in bowls and drizzle with a little more pesto.
Leftover pesto can be covered and refrigerated for two to three days and enjoyed as a dip, on canapes or salads. Serves 4.
GNOCCHI WITH CAVOLO NERO
Use silver beet leaves if cavolo nero is unavailable.
100g cavolo nero, leaves only
2 shallots, thinly sliced
400g potato gnocchi
150g feta or blue cheese
3/4 cup cream
White pepper to taste
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 180C.
Blanch cavolo nero in boiling water until limp, about two minutes. Drain well and pat dry. Chop.
Melt butter in a saucepan. Add shallots and cavolo nero and saute for one to two minutes, until shallots have softened. Meanwhile, cook gnocchi in a large saucepan of boiling water until they float to the top. Drain well and place in a 25cmx17cm baking dish. Add cavolo nero mixture. Crumble cheese over top and cover with cream. Season and sprinkle with parmesan.
Bake for 30 minutes, until bubbling. Excellent served with a crisp salad. Serves 4.
BRAISED PEAS & ARTICHOKES
This dish could be served as an accompaniment to a main meal or as a light meal topped with softly poached eggs and grilled bacon.
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp each: finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups frozen peas
4-6 prepared fresh or canned artichoke hearts
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat olive oil in a deep frying pan over medium-high heat. Add chopped parsley, lemon juice and garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Add peas and artichokes. Cover and cook for three to four minutes or until heated through. Season.
TASTY CRUSTLESS VEGETABLE QUICHE
1 large onion, diced
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp each: chopped tarragon, marjoram, thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 & 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp self-raising flour
1 & 1/2 cups each: peeled, diced and cooked potato, kumara
1 & 1/2 cups grated tasty cheddar cheese
1/2 cup each: diced red pepper (capsicum), chopped blanched asparagus or beans
Preheat oven to 190C.
Lightly grease a six-cup, 22cm diameter quiche pan or pie dish, about 5cm deep. (I used Jamie Oliver's fluted pie dish.)
Saute onion in butter, until soft. Combine eggs, herbs, seasonings, milk and flour, until smooth.
Fold in remaining ingredients and pour into prepared pan.
Bake for about 50 to 60 minutes, or until golden and set. Serve hot or cold with salad. Serves 6.