Home economics was not one of my stronger subjects at school. I enjoyed the lessons, but the teachers felt my talents lead else where. Not that I couldn’t produce tasty dishes, it was more that I didn’t really follow their instructions that well, and made a real mess in the process. I vividly remember my teacher solemnly informing me that I would be wasting my time if I chose it as an O’level subject!
Even then, I was more of an instinctive cook, throwing things together to see what happened, enjoying the experimenting rather than the formal step by step process.This is something I continue to do today – as well as make a massive mess!
So although there are some key cooking techniques I learnt at school, I have developed so many more by pouring over a diverse range of cookery books. And one major influence has been the wonderful Delia Smith.
Delia taught me how to bake gorgeous cakes, make sumptuous summer dishes and (so key in our house) how to have a successful Christmas dinner with accompanying puds and pickles created in the build up to the ultimate day of festive over-indulgence. Our family dining experiences would be so different without Delia!!
As my eating preferences have taken a rather different direction to Delia’s more traditional eating approach (she’s really not known for her dairy free food!), I refer to her cook books less and less. But, all is not lost, as hidden amongst her butter laden pages you can find the occasional gem that, if not already dairy free and plant based, can be easily converted into a Karen-friendly meal!
One of these surprisingly pops up in her Christmas cookery book – roasted red pepper stuffed with fennel. For some people, fennel is a bit of a ‘marmite’ vegetable – love it or hate it. Personally, I’m on the love side (unlike marmite which I hate!). With its fabulously crisp texture and mild aniseed flavour, it tastes wonderful raw or roasted. I even made a fennel cream earlier in the year – whole and dairy free of course, and bursting with flavour. Unfortunately, I forgot to write down how I made it so need to start again with that one!
Fennel is a member of the umbellifereae family and is related to parsley, carrots and dill. It’s carries a good amount of vitamin C, manganese, potassium, folate and fibre, but the key nutritional feature is it’s packed with various phytonutrients, particularly flavonoids that act as antioxidants which reduce inflammation and cancerous cell changes (through turning off the intercellular signal for tumour necrosing factor in case you were wondering!). I always tend to associate fennel with summer and Italian food, but it’s available during winter and early spring too.
Combining fennel with red peppers makes this a nutrient-packed meal. Delia’s original recipe calls for loads of olive oil poured into the peppers, but personally, I feel this unnecessarily increases the fat content of an otherwise perfectly healthy dish. A few chopped walnuts would be a better option, for flavour, fibre and fat quality. I also prefer to use fresh tomatoes, although tinned is fine (as in original recipe) – just remember that the tinning process increases the sodium content of the tomatoes, so you will need much less seasoning.
Everyone I’ve fed this to loves it, so why not give it a go and glory in the delight of a bit of Delia magic!
Roasted red peppers stuffed with fennel (inspired by Delia)
4 large red peppers
2 bulbs fennel
4 large juicy tomatoes, chopped
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
splash olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
First, pre heat the oven to 180oC. Chop off any brown bits of the fennel and cut into quarters, trying to keep the stem at the bottom to hold the pieces together. Par boil or steam for a few minutes until the fennel softens just a little. Drain and put to one side to cool a little. Cut the peppers in half length ways and deseed. Keep the stalk if you can – it looks good! Pop pepper halves on a baking tray or dish – one which they all fit in to snuggly if you have one so they don’t fall over. Pop a spoonful of chopped tomatoes into each pepper half, season and sprinkle on fennel seeds and Italian seasoning plus a little salt and pepper. Add one piece of fennel to each pepper half, add another spoonful of chopped tomatoes and drizzle a splash of olive oil over the top. Bake in the oven for about one hour until soft and slightly browned. Serve hot with vegetables or salad, and some fresh wholemeal bread or chickpea bread to mop up the juices.