Veggie might: Mark Hix explores a brave new world of delicious vegetables


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Indy Lifestyle Online

At this time of year, if we're honest, we're getting a bit bored of root vegetables and cabbage. But stay open-minded; there are lots of other interesting vegetables on the market that are as delicious as they are healthy. Beware of appearances, though. Some of the prettiest exotic and imported fruit and veg are best left on the shelf – you'll find they're disappointingly lacking in flavour. Others, though, have a fantastic taste yet for some reason aren't grown in the UK – they deserve a place in our kitchens.

Roasted radicchio with bacon and pangritata

Serves 4

Radicchio is one of those winter salad leaves that goes in and out of vogue but personally I'm a fan, especially when it's grilled or roasted. The flavour changes once cooked and it makes a perfect starter or side dish.

2 large or 4 small heads of radicchio, quartered, washed and dried
4-5tbsp olive oil
120g pancetta or smoked streaky bacon cubes

For the crust

2tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
50g fresh white breadcrumbs
A couple of good knobs of butter

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Heat an ovenproof pan on the stove with a tablespoon of the olive oil, gently fry the pancetta for a couple of minutes, turning them as they are cooking, add the radicchio, season, spoon over the rest of the oil, cover with foil and cook in the oven for 10 minutes; remove the foil and cook for another 10 minutes, turning the radicchio and basting with the oil as it's cooking.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a frying pan and brown the breadcrumbs on a medium heat, turning them with a spoon as they are cooking until lightly coloured. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan and season.

Transfer the radicchio and pancetta to a warmed serving dish, spoon over the oil and scatter the crumbs over.

Fillet of beef with cavolo nero

Serves 4

There are lots of winter leaves out there apart from our native cabbages and greens. Swiss chard is a great leaf, although it's often quite off-putting for the size of its stalks which shouldn't be thrown away, but just chopped and cooked separately from the leaves. It also comes in different colours and is sometimes sold as rainbow chard. Black cabbage or cavolo nero is another great winter leaf, but takes a fair bit of cooking.

For this dish, you can grill your fillet as individual steaks or cook it as a piece then cut it into steaks so you have the nice rare slice showing. Also, I prefer not trimming all of the chain and skin off as they have so much flavour. For the sauce, I've used some elderberries that I always freeze when they are in abundance in the autumn – but even easier are the suggestions below.

600-700g beef fillet
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little vegetable or corn oil for roasting
400-500g Swiss chard or cavolo nero or a mix, washed
2-3tbsp aged balsamic, mosto d'uva or pomegranate molasses

Preheat the oven to 220/gas mark 7. Season the beef fillet, heat an ovenproof pan on the stove with the vegetable oil and colour the fillet on a high heat on all sides; finish in the oven for 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness but keeping it nice and rare.

While the beef is cooking, bring a pan of salted water to the boil. If using chard, slice or dice the stalks and cook until tender, drain, then cook the leaves until tender. Do the same for the cavolo nero but the leaves will take longer. Leave to cool a little in the colander and make sure there is no water left in the leaves. Cut the beef into 4 or 8 thick slices and place on the greens; spoon the balsamic or mosto around.

Baked sweet potatoes with honey, chilli and rosemary

Serves 4

After too many roast potatoes at Christmas you may well be up for something a little different – sweet potatoes are just the thing. They are great with grilled and roast meat or fish. Vegetarians will probably be happy to tuck into them just as they are.

4 medium-sized sweet potatoes, washed and halved
2 small red or green chillies, thinly sliced (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
40ml olive oil
The leaves from a few sprigs of rosemary
1-2tbsp clear honey

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Score the sweet potatoes in a crisscross pattern with the point of a sharp knife. Place on a baking tray, season and spoon over the olive oil and scatter over the chillies, if using. Then spoon a little honey on each potato, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, add the rosemary and continue cooking for another 15 minutes or so until the potatoes are cooked.

Romanesco with taleggio and capers

Serves 4

Now this is a weird-looking cauliflower, or is it a broccoli? No wonder romanesco's sometimes referred to as broccoflower.

With its pointy florets and Incredible Hulk-hue, it looks like it's just landed from Mars, but don't be put off – romanesco actually makes for an interesting, tasty dish, and is particularly great to try if you like cauliflower but want to explore something a bit different.

1 head of romanesco, broken down into florets and washed
120-150g taleggio
50-60g capers
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3-4tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Cook the romanesco in boiling salted water for 6-8 minutes or until tender, then drain. Place the romanesco in an ovenproof serving dish, season to taste, and spoon over the olive oil and capers.

Break the taleggio into chunks and scatter over the romanesco. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until the cheese is melting. Serve immediately.