Meat Free Week: Star chefs share their veggie tips

This global campaign aims  to steer us to a more planet-friendly diet. Top chefs tell Clare Hargreaves why they'll be taking part – and suggest veg-based meals that won't make you feel you're missing out

Bruno Loubet

Head chef of Grain Store

Why are you going without meat for a week?

I want to support the important message of Meat Free Week, that eating less meat is a matter of urgency. The quantity of meat being eaten on this planet is affecting our future – in terms of climate change and draining resources.

What are your tips for meat-free meals?

I would encourage everyone to be adventurous and add new ingredients to their larder. It's easy to bring a new dimension to your cooking with a few simple ingredients. For example, oils such as mustard oil and avocado oil are an easy way to enhance the flavours of a dish. Stuffed vegetables – or petits farcis, as we call them in France – is a great Provençal meat-free dish that's easy to make (see recipe, below). It can last for several suppers – pre-cook the vegetables and simply reheat before serving. You won't find local aubergines and tomatoes until the summer, but at this time of year you can use red onions, squashes and mushrooms instead.

Antonio Carluccio

Chef and restaurateur

Antonio-Ca-rluccio.jpg
Carluccio: 'We Italians are good at making vegetables very delicious' (Tony Briggs)

Why are you going without meat for a week?

There is such variety of wonderful fruits and vegetables – including my personal favourite, mushrooms – and there are so many different and interesting ways of cooking them that not eating meat for a week is not a hardship. We Italians are particularly good at making vegetables very delicious.

 are your tips for meat-free meals?

My Penne Giardiniera (penne with courgette sauce and spinach balls) is hugely popular in Carluccio's restaurants. I invented the recipe one day when I needed to feed a hungry vegetarian customer. It's a delightful dish and every time it's sold in our restaurants, a donation is made to Action Against Hunger. The dish is also quite easy to make at home.

Raymond Blanc

Chef-patron of Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons and president of The Sustainable Restaurant Association

Raymond-Blanc.jpg
Raymond Blanc: 'Roasting your vegetables can be really wonderful'

Why are you going without meat for a week?

Eating meat every day, or even three times a day, makes no sense environmentally or for our health. It takes 16,000l of water to grow 1kg of beef. That's a price we cannot afford to pay on such a regular basis. So for this one week I will happily restrict myself to a vegetarian diet.

Growing up in France, I knew from a very early age the importance and deliciousness of vegetables, as we grew them in the garden. My mother knew exactly how to make the very best of each, using different techniques to ensure they tasted fantastic. Meat was a treat – we didn't eat it at every meal. It was something to be really valued.

What are your tips for meat-free meals?

The best way to ensure that you get the maximum pleasure from your meat-free food is to choose seasonal vegetables. If you're lucky enough, like me, to have a kitchen garden, then you'll know that right now, with spring on its way, there are leeks, cauliflower, celeriac, cabbage – so many wonderful things to create delicious, healthy dishes.

My second piece of advice is that you can use some of the same techniques that you use for meat to get the same taste sensations. Roasting your vegetables, for instance, can be really wonderful.

Jose Pizarro

Chef and restaurateur

Jose-Pizarro.jpg
Joe Pizarro: 'Buy local, buy seasonal and buy fresh'

Why are you going without meat for a week?

Vegetables are a key part of every dish I make and this week I have decided to make them the hero of every dish. Vegetables are much more versatile than you think.

What are your tips for meat-free meals?

Buy local, buy seasonal and buy fresh. Talk to your greengrocer about what is best to eat that week. Buy as much as you can from the UK. Easy!

Russell Norman

Restaurateur and founder of Polpo

Russell-Norman.jpg
Norman: 'A veggie respite is good for the digestion and the soul' (Lee Garland)

Why are you going without meat for a week?

Well, I don't know about you, but I always feel faintly virtuous after a meat-free period. Sometimes the onslaught of burgers, bacon and brisket can be a bit wearing and leave you feeling sluggish. A veggie respite is always good for the digestion and the soul.

What are your tips for meat-free meals?

It's easy. Just flick through an Ottolenghi cookbook or do some research online. Meat Free Week is a great excuse to bring out some delicious dishes with beautiful spring ingredients, such as white beans and wild garlic. Soon we'll be making broad bean, mint and ricotta bruschetta, and one of our favourite Venetian dishes, risi e bisi, using new season peas. There are so many excellent meat-free recipes you could almost consider going vegetarian forever. Almost.

Katie Caldesi

Chef-patron of Caffe Caldesi

Katie-Caldesi.jpg
Caldesi: 'Don't shout about the lack of meat, shout about the lovely food on the plate' (John Carey)

Why are you going without meat for a week?

I used to be vegetarian and still eat a mainly plant-based diet so it is not hard for me to go without meat for a week. It is harder for our boys (aged 12 and 14), who are growing and have huge appetites, but they are up for a challenge. In any case I won't say "there is NO MEAT", I will simply have delicious vegetarian food on the table and they probably won't notice. I am sure my food bill will be less expensive, which is a bonus. In the restaurant, we will have a vegetarian special each day, as we frequently do. There are always vegetarian dishes on an Italian menu.

What are your tips for meat-free meals?

The same as above – don't shout about the lack of meat, shout about the lovely food on the plate. Then, after your family has eaten it, tell them there was no meat in it, that you helped save the planet and why, that it cost less than normal and that the saving is going to the family holiday fund, and share a self-satisfied grin all together.

We will be eating beans, pulses, farro and rice with vegetables. We keep chickens, so their eggs will be needed more than ever, and as a family we all love cheese. Recipes will probably include frittata, stir-fries, salads, soups and, of course, pasta dishes.

Thomasina Miers

Chef and owner of Wahaca

Thomasina-Miers.jpg
Miers: 'I spent a week in Kerala, where I ate no meat, and I felt full of energy at the end of it (Tara Fisher)

Why are you going without meat for a week?

It's good for the environment and it's reassuring to see how easy it is to do. At home, we don't eat much meat and I don't think going meat-free for a week will be too big a challenge, but it's a great way to make you conscious of the amount you do eat. I once spent a week in Kerala, where I ate no meat at all, and I remember how I felt full of energy at the end of it.

What are your tips for meat-free meals?

Experiment with different vegetables and make sure you have umami products that provide that satiation factor, such as parmesan, nuts, anchovies (if you are eating fish) and miso. You need oils and onion and garlic to give depth of flavour and body. Spices are important, too.

My favourite weekday supper is a slice of sourdough bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, topped with greens such as spring greens, kale or chard that have been wilted until soft and flavoursome. I sprinkle a few Turkish chilli flakes on top and maybe add a fried egg, too. I might pour a bit of yoghurt with tahini over to give it body. A meal like that is so good for you. And it's easy, fun and delicious, too.

Petit farcis de Provence

By Bruno Loubet

Petit-farcis-de-Provence.jpg

Stuffed vegetables are a great Provençal dish to cook for a big party because you can pre-cook them and simply reheat them just before serving. Served directly from the cooking dish, these look great – and, of course, to complete the Provençal experience have some rosé in the fridge.

Serves 6

6 mini aubergines
6 small squashes
6 red onions
6 vine-ripe tomatoes
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 x 400g can good-quality chopped tomatoes
A handful of black olives
2 garlic cloves, chopped
12 sage leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon thyme leaves

For the stuffing

200g semolina couscous
1 tablespoon olive oil
About 100ml boiling water
2 tablespoons basil leaves
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley
100g soft goat's cheese
2 tablespoon dried breadcrumbs
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
50g parmesan cheese
1 egg, lightly beaten salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 195C/fan 175C/Gas 5½. Cut the tops off the vegetables and scoop out the centres with a small knife or spoon. Cut all the vegetable insides finely and place in a small pan with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Cook them over a low heat until soft, then remove from the heat and set aside.

For the farce, place the couscous in a bowl, season with salt and add the olive oil. Pour over the boiling water, mix well, then press the top with the back of the spoon to compress the couscous. Cover with cling film and leave to absorb the water for about 5 minutes.

Place the cooked vegetable trimmings in a food processor with the herbs, goat's cheese and breadcrumbs. Process until well chopped, then place in a bowl with the couscous, parmesan and egg. Mix well with a spoon and check the seasoning.

Start to cook the vegetables before they go in the oven. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a roasting tin placed over a medium heat. Add the hollowed-out aubergines, squash and onions and start to colour them all over – this should take about 4 minutes. Once lightly coloured, turn the heat off, lift the vegetables out of the tin and add the tomatoes, olives, garlic and herbs. Stir to mix.

Fill the vegetables with the stuffing, then replace them in the roasting tin on top of the tomato mixture. Place the tin in the oven for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and the stuffing is piping hot.

From Mange Tout: Bistro cooking with a modern twist, by Bruno Loubet (Ebury, £25)

Comments