28 May 2011

"Health in a bowl" : I bow to thee, Anthony Worrall-Thompson

I think the "Health in a Bowl" is about the only meal to have stayed where it was planned, this week!

If I was to tell you that I was more than a little nervous about delivering this dish to Hubby and Son & Heir, it would be understating the case by a factor of thousands.

For starters, Hubby isn't a great fan of broth-type soups.  Neither is he a fan of dishes which contain a large amount of vegetable matter - unless it's a vegetable curry.  Son & heir, well he's a verging-on-teenager, so putting anything before him other than a pizza, fried breakfast or meatballs, is verging on culinary suicide.

However, I am a fan of vegetable matter and I am a fan of broth-type soups.  I am also a fan of trying to improve our diet.  So, in the face of these monumental odds, I sallied on forth with Anthony Worrall-Thompson's "Health in a Bowl".

If you look at the ingredients list, you'll understand my nerves.  It begins well, with some thick cut ham and chicken stock.  However, the challenge begins there - pearl barley, Puy lentils, onion, carrot, parsnip. swede, thyme, bay leaf, parsley, new potatoes, savoy cabbage, leek and red kidney beans.  Yep.  In the one bowl.

You can't begin to imagine (or maybe you can! lol) how odd it felt to be just loading up the saucepan with ingredients at 15-minute intervals.  Nothing was fried beforehand, nothing had to be oven-baked beforehand.  Just boil up some stock and start adding stuff.  Weird.

I tasted the stock after I'd added the ham (or gammon, in this case) and was pleasantly surprised.

In went the pearl barley and the lentils.  Apart from the lentils turning the stock an interesting colour (*cough* - try "dirty dishwater"), everything was fine.

I'll admit to having a serious wobble about the success of this venture after I added the onion, carrots, parsnip, swede, thyme, bay leaf, parsley and a whole heap of black pepper though.  The smell of the raw onions heating up on the stock was a bit stomach-churning.  However, I'd chosen to use a red onion as I felt their innate sweetness would be helpful as opposed to the relative coarseness of a standard brown onion and the smell soon turned from "oooer, gak!" to "interesting!".  I tasted the stock again just before the 15 minutes were up and boy, but it was good.

From there, the addition of the other vegetables just added to the flavour of the stock, which became sweeter and gained depth as it cooked along.

I served the stew (as that is really what it is) with a loaf of pumpkin seed & carrot bread, which was absolutely gorgeous and complemented the mix of the stew beautifully.

As for reactions, well, Hubby said it was "alright, but he wouldn't race to have it again" and "after the first few spoonfuls I was looking at it thinking OMG, I've got all that to go yet".  He found the flavours dull and boring.  Surprisingly, he was relatively okay about the broth part.

Son & heir said he definitely wouldn't have it again, but I noted that he ate his entire bowlful without once asking whether he could stop.  This is a very definite measure of whether he can tolerate whatever he's got in front of him.  For sure, the yummy bread helped, but as he ate all that first and was left with his bowl of stew, I am left thinking that he didn't dislike it as much as he wanted me to know.

As for me, I adored it.  If it wasn't so blinking filling, I'd have been back at the stovetop heating up the remainder!  I loved that you could taste every single ingredient as an individual entity, as well as they're fitting so well with each other.  I loved that the only fat that we ate was what was still attached to the ham (and I trimmed it to within an inch of its life), the spread that went onto the bread and whatever was used in the bread when it was baked.  I loved that something so healthy was eaten by everyone - it kind of makes up for the fish & chips!

I can imagine that, made with a smoked ham hock, this recipe would be unbeatable - provided you really enjoy your vegetables!

"HEALTH IN A BOWL" (or Ham & Vegetable Stew)  Serves 4
based on a recipe from Anthony Worrall-Thompson.

Ingredients :

450g thick cut ham or gammon, chopped
1.2 litres chicken stock
2 tbsp pearl barley
2 tbsp Puy lentils
1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots (or a handful of baby carrots), peeled and diced
1 parsnip, peeled and diced
a quarter of a swede, peeled and diced
1 sprig or half a tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
1 sprig parsley, chopped
1 tsp ground black pepper
200g new potatoes, quartered
a quarter of a small Savoy cabbage, shredded
200g tin red kidney beans, rinsed & drained.

Method :

1.  Make sure the ham or gammon is trimmed of all fat, then place in a big saucepan and cover with the stock.  Bring to the boil and skim off any scum that has risen to the surface.

2.  Add the pearl barley and lentils and bring back up to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

3.  Add the onion, carrots, parsnip, swede, thyme, bay leaf, parsley and pepper.  Stir to combine, then bring back to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently for a further 15 minutes.

4.  Add the potatoes and leek and bring back to the boil.  Simmer until the potatoes are just tender, which should happen inside of 15 minutes.

5.  Add the shredded cabbage and the red kidney beans and bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for a further 3 minutes or until the cabbage is tender.

6.  Decant into warmed bowls and serve with a tasty bread, for dipping.

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