I know it isn’t officially Winter yet, but it has certainly felt like it with some of those cold, dark, stormy nights. There’s nothing better than a warm and hearty – but still healthy – meal on nights like that. Of late I’ve been preparing a lot of stuffed vegetable dishes that go into the oven, usually on a Saturday or Sunday as during the week I keep things pretty simple. On the weekend I like dishes where I can do some or all of the ingredient prep in stages throughout the day, as I’m ducking in and out of the house constantly in between the boys sport and other myriad of activities. Then when evening comes I can just put the dish into the oven, all the prep and cleaning up done.
One weekend I made stuffed cabbage rolls. I used rice and mushrooms, with some toasted breadcrumbs for texture. Mamma Rosa also likes to use noodles. As I’d bought a whole cabbage and still had a good bit left, the next day I chopped it up and slow braised it with some leek and a little stock, its a nice little side dish.
Stuffed artichokes. Traditionally in Italy these are stuffed with a meat filling, but a simple breadcrumb, parsley and parmesan filling can also work very nicely. You can cook them in a tomato sauce or mix some white wine, olive oil, stock and herbs.
Another weekend I did some stuffed large mushrooms. In these I put tuna, pinenuts, chopped boiled egg, parsley and breadcrumbs, drizzled with olive oil and into the oven they went. You can be very versatile and imaginative in your fillings for all these vegetables, whatever takes your fancy. Spinach and ricotta works nicely too on the mushrooms, and throw on some coarse breadcrumbs to add texture.
In an effort to minimise waste, I used the large stalks from the mushrooms as part of a mushroom stock for a mushroom risotto the next day.
During the week it is simple soup dishes like this that take about 15 minutes. I sautéed some onion in some olive oil, added couple of tablespoons of tomato paste and sautéed some more, a litre or so of stock, a cup of risoni, some cannellini beans, and to finish throw in some baby spinach and grated parmesan.
The other day I had a craving for a soup that Mamma Rosa used to make me when I was a little girl, so decided to make it – its a polenta soup, with tomato and broccoli. This is “cucina povera” – peasant food – at its finest. Delicious.