Catherine Devaney runs Harper and Lime catering company and regularly contributes recipes and food columns to The Menu magazine.
When it comes to New Year resolutions I’m a “sitting on the fence” kind of girl. I strongly identify with the desire to wipe the slate clean and strive to do better and I fundamentally disagree with the naysayers, the ones who snort and tell you there’s no point in making resolutions because they will only be broken by February leaving one consumed with failure and self-loathing.
However, I have learned from experience that it’s best not to go overboard with the resolve. Personally, if left to my own devices, I have a tendency to start small and then run away with myself.
Before I know it a simple resolution to drink two litres of water a day has turned into a full-scale self-improvement plan, a trip to the self-help section of the bookshop, the purchase of multiple notebooks – one for gratitude, one for inspired thoughts and one for general organization – and the infliction of mindfulness practice on the entire household. Last year I purchased a book called Happy, which sat optimistically on the bedside table.
By Easter, returning after a Covid inspired camping trip in the garden, I’d finally had enough and wedged “Happy” behind the radiator to stop the inexplicable clicking noise.
And somehow I still managed to end the year dehydrated, in a flurry of disorganisation, scribbling notes on the back of receipts and losing things.
Yes, I do require to be reined in a little at these times. In fact it’s probably best if I’m banned from the stationary department until at least March, when most of the madness will have passed and the British asparagus season kicks in to distract me.
In an attempt to suppress the unattainable quest for Zen, I am this year limiting myself to no more than three resolutions, all of them food-based.
Number one: we will stick to at least one meat-free day every week. This should be an easy one because we do eat a lot of vegetables as it is (but then I do tend to forget that adding smoked bacon or chorizo is actually cheating).
Number two: we will have one soup day every week. I often forget just how filling and nutritious soup can be, not to mention how easy it is to fling in a plethora of vegetables that my children have no inkling of.
Number three: for as long as it is dark before 6pm we will have at least one old-school pudding every week. Bleak days call for a little comfort so it’s worth the effort to make a proper school-dinner style pudding at least once a week.
A roasted vegetable tart is a fabulously easy and versatile meat-free midweek supper, and all the more popular in our house because the kids can be hands-on with making it.
This one is made with a spinach and ricotta base, although you could substitute with pesto for variation. I’d suggest using ready-made puff pastry, for ease and speed, which you can easily load up with flavoursome garlic roasted vegetables.
Start by roasting the vegetables. Slice one red onion, one red pepper, one courgette and one sweet potato into chunks, then toss in a little olive oil, some picked fresh thyme leaves, two crushed garlic cloves, the zest of one lemon and a pinch of sea salt. Spread out in a roasting tray and roast in a pre-heated oven at 200C/Fan 180C/400F/Gas Mark 6 for 25 minutes, until tender.
Meanwhile, mix 250g ricotta with a couple of handfuls of chopped spinach and a pinch of salt, then set this aside. Take one ready-rolled sheet of puff pastry and lay it out on a non-stick baking tray, then gently score a 2cm border all the way round. Mix two tablespoons of tomato puree with four tablespoons of water to loosen the paste, then spread out within the border. Then spread the cheese mixture on top and, when the vegetables are tender, scatter them over the top.
Add a handful of halved cherry tomatoes, some fresh basil and a last drizzle of olive oil and return to the oven for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.
Cut into large slices and eat on its own or with a green salad or beetroot slaw.
Banish the blues
When it comes to soup, banish the January sloth with this super-green version. It’s finished with as many handfuls of fresh spinach as you can muster, which will surely banish the winter blues.
Melt a knob of butter in a pan with a little olive oil then gently sauté one sliced red onion and a clove of garlic. Then add one large courgette (diced) and one whole head of broccoli (chopped into small pieces).
When the vegetables have softened, cover with one litre hot vegetable stock, bring to the boil, then add two mugs of frozen peas. Let it simmer for a few minutes until the peas are just cooked. Blitz the soup with a hand blender and, while blitzing, add a few handfuls of raw fresh spinach.
This will add a burst of glorious green colour to the finished soup, not to mention all those fabulous antioxidants. Finally stir in a few tablespoons of greek yogurt and season to taste.
Eaten with cheesy garlic bread this is a favourite post-swim supper in our house, all the better because it can be prepared completely in advance and reheated.
If you wanted to add extra protein you could top with a poached egg just before serving, some fresh watercress and a few toasted homemade croutons.
Comforting rice pudding
For a classic old-school pudding look no further than rice pudding. If you grew up in the ‘80s then rice pudding probably came in the tinned variety, eaten cold with tinned peaches.
It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I had an epiphany moment, discovering the joy of proper rice pudding. This was around the time that gastro-pubs were popping up everywhere and rice pudding was a throwback classic.
For me it’s Sunday afternoon by the fire sort of food, or a winter’s night when the rain is lashing outside. This is a time when a warm bowl to cradle and pudding to stand a spoon in are the only things for it.
Butter a large baking dish then add 100g pudding rice and 50g caster sugar, a handful of sultanas, half a teaspoon of ground sweet cinnamon, the seeds from one vanilla pod and then gently stir to mix together.
Pour over 600ml whole milk and 300ml double cream then stir gently. Scatter 25g of butter, cut up into small pieces, over the top. Bake at 150C/Fan130C/300F/Gas Mark 2 for two hours (stirring gently halfway through) until a golden skin has formed on the top. Eat right away, and serve with a dollop of blackberry jelly, perhaps with a little extra pour of double cream.
I’m hopeful these are resolutions that can be kept, since they depend on my ability to consume as opposed to my capability to abstain. 2021 is going to the year of success. I mean, really, how hard can it be to make a pudding every week!
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