Countless people say to me, “Oh, Gourmand, all this rich food and over-indulgence must surely take its toll on you. How ever do you manage to stay healthy, you veritable Adonis?” The answer, gentle readers, is simple: I follow the sage, not at all arbitrarily made-up, advice of our dear government’s highly qualified team of ‘health professionals’ by getting my five portions of fruit and veg a day. Of course, turnips and celery prove to be dull, dull, abysmally dull, and naturally an alternative is required; so here’s the Gourmand’s rundown of the top five ways to get your fix of Mother Nature’s own goodness every day.
Chestnut-fried Brussels sprouts
Christmas is fast approaching, so take note for an instant holiday favourite sure to delight anyone with a mouth. Acquire as many sprouts as you could eat in a lifetime, preferably fresh off the fantastically club-like stalk, then clean, trim and criss-cross them. Steam or parboil until they’re yielding but not soft, drain the water and set sprouts aside. Heat as much butter as your arteries can take in a large, deep frying pan and then add the sprouts, stirring constantly with a wooden implement. As they start to brown, add a good few spoonfuls of chestnut paste (available in France and anywhere with a shred of refinement); don’t be shy, dollop that ambrosial stuff all over the sprouts and mix vigourously to coat, not forgetting a healthy screw of salt and pepper. Remove and devour once caramelised and delicious.
Cheese-encrusted roasted broccoli and cauliflower
Put aside, for a moment, your (entirely understandable) objections to frozen vegetables for the sake of this taste of almost-healthy heaven and get yourself a bag of broccoli and cauliflower from the freezer, as the water inside will more than halve the cooking time. Pour a healthy amount into a roasting dish and drizzle with a little olive oil, then place into a medium-hot oven. Periodically drain away any water released in the cooking and then, when sufficiently dry (the tops of the vegetables should start to brown) and tender, sprinkle with parmesan (or Grana Padano), salt, pepper, maybe a little onion, even a touch of garlic, and breadcrumbs, though these are optional. Place back into the oven to melt, mingle, crisp up and generally become one of the most delicious ways of doing vegetables ever.
Prosciutto-wrapped asparagus spears
These little mouthfuls of deliciousness are perfect as canapés for any springtime soirée and require minimal preparation; even the common man (well, not that common; we like to think highly of our readership) could pull them off with ease. Start by snapping your asparagus spears at their natural breaking point to remove the woody bottoms of the stems, then wash the tender tips and steam, ensuring that the water contains a good drop of lemon juice. You can steam them until they are al dente or, if it’s a nice day, take them out a little earlier and pop on the barbecue to finish, brushed with a lick of olive oil. Wrap the cooked asparagus in prosciutto di Parma (or di Tesco, if you’re not picky), arrange on a platter and drizzle with balsamic glaze. Screw of pepper optional, unending consumption of the resultant morsels compulsory.
Grilled nectarines with mascarpone
Ensure that your fruits are plump, juicy and just about yielding to your touch, but be gentle with them. Wash and quarter the nectarines, and then place them in a roasting dish with just a touch of butter for the sake of it. Proceed to strew brown sugar (muscovado is best, purely because the name sounds manly) and cinnamon upon the fruits and slip under a medium-hot grill until the sugar has caramelised and the nectarines are delightfully soft, but careful to not let them burn. Serve to anyone you love enough to share with, accompanied by a generous dollop or four of mascarpone or perhaps ice cream, if that floats your boat.
These need no improvement. They are already the cornerstone of all hedonistic feasting since the time of Adam and Eve, so make sure that, during that regrettably ephemeral three-week period near the end of summer, you get them. All of them. As many as you can fit into your greedy hands. Eat them on their own or pair them with ricotta and lemon for an indulgence all’italiano. Just don’t be put off: to some they seem, in Maude Lebowski’s words, “strongly vaginal”, but that is, perhaps, part of their allure. Ah, Paradise.