Cooking up a storm in our brand new kitchen

We are always looking for ways to improve our experience and create more training opportunities for volunteers. This is why when funding became available from Asda to do just that, we were thrilled to make the dream of having a training kitchen installed above our warehouse a reality.

With big plans for hosting various training and events in the pipeline, we ‘soft launched’ the kitchen for volunteers this July, kicking off with a delicious shared meal for staff and volunteers. With 150 volunteers from all backgrounds and walks of life – and most with a passion for food- we knew we would have a few chefs amongst us already. A few weeks in and we have meals cooked by our kitchen hero volunteers at least twice a week. This has been a brilliant way of bringing us together, taking us away from the warehouse, vans and desks and appreciating the food and company we are surrounded by.

One of our star chefs was kind enough to write-up his experience and share his recipe for the first meal in our lovely kitchen, so over to Tom:

Cheffy Vegan Tomato Pasta and Salsa with Croutons

(and some parmesan croutons)

Myself and Emily did the new kitchen launch lunch for Brighton Fareshare earlier this summer 2019. It was great to get going as we had all been excitedly awaiting the kitchen to be built.

Emily is an experienced chef herself and was a brilliant help and we had a good time preparing all the grub.

There were quite a lot of people, about 25 guests, but it went well and was tremendous fun albeit slightly stressful in a brand new and unfamiliar kitchen. Everybody really enjoyed coming together in a big sit down lunch in the sunny and bright upstairs dining area right next to our lovely new large kitchen.

This is a guide to the recipes we prepared. They are not exact recipes but if you are into cooking they are quite easy to prepare by ”feel”.

Chop onions quite finely and fry them gently until golden in hot cooking oil in a big deep frying pan. Sunflower oil is a good choice but if you haven’t tried it, and if nobody in your house or your guests has a peanut allergy, then peanut oil is a delicious choice which is very popular in America, and it’s healthy too. (If you freeze any sauce with a known serious allergen in it, you must clearly label it as ”contains peanut”).

Then add chopped garlic just before you start adding liquids (this keeps the superb healthy volatile oils in garlic active and not burnt away), and keeps the flavour better as garlic goes bitter if you burn it. To peel garlic easier, put the clove on its side and press down hard with your palm, the peel will fall off nicely like a jacket.

Then add lots of tomato puree (not tinned chopped tomatoes for this sauce, because puree has a stronger flavour and goes further, we want a strong flavour as we are mixing this sauce into hot pasta).

Just let it simmer very gently and add a bit of cold water frequently to stop the sauce burning, you want the sauce thin but still bright red and very tomatoey.

Put your pasta on, don’t oil the water as this is a myth and does nothing, just salt it. Oil is used sometimes to stop potatoes frothing up when you are cooking them but even then it’s a bit pointless as you should just be keeping a close eye on the pot and cooking them really gently with a lid on! (To save energy but not just that, slowly cooked potatoes on a bare simmer are extra delicious), but anyway more about them later..

The guide with salt and pasta amounts is this:

250g pasta requires a full kettle (most are 1.7 litre so that is what we will use) that will be the perfect amount of water for half an ordinary 500g  packet of pasta to cook in quickly and with plenty of room to roll around in.

You want 15 grams of salt in there – around one tablespoon, though it is much better to use digital scales if you can.

Always cook pasta in a nicely boiling pan (not boiling like mad) and keep stirring it quite often to stop the pasta sticking. Cook it for much less than what it says on the packet, usually three minutes less is about right. It often takes just six minutes to cook, big Penne etc. takes longer. It will still be cooking while you drain it and mix it or start serving it up. It needs to be a lot harder than people think when they drain it, ”al dente” is hard to explain but it must have a very firm rubbery texture without being sandy or crunchy at all. You’d be amazed how hard they eat pasta in some regions of Italy.

There is nothing worse than soggy, mushy, overcooked pasta, and if it’s undersalted as well you’d be better of starting again.

When you drain it, give it a bit longer than you think to drain, and shake it like mad, get all the water off. Pasta cooking is a bit of an art form in some restaurants, but we don’t need to get too fussy.

Cook some green veg in the sauce, spinach and courgette are perfect as they don’t take long to cook, but be careful with courgette sometimes the skins are tough and plasticcy, you might need to peel it first. With big marrows, get the seeds out as they are not nice.

Season the sauce up towards the end, just go steady and keep tasting it. Salt and pepper, tabasco and a little bit of sugar will make magic. Mustard is a good one, the proper English yellow fiery stuff, but be careful as it is an allergen and you must tell people. Even if it is a dinner party of friends you, as the cook, must ask clearly if anybody has any allergies. It’s a very serious problem that is getting far more common.

Toss the hot sauce into the drained pasta in the same (big) pot you just cooked the pasta in, stick a lid on and keep it hot while you heat up a stack of plates in the microwave because you forgot to earlier (we all do).

Salsa is made by combining chopped raw onions, chopped fresh tomatoes, fresh coriander makes a big difference to it if everybody is a fan. Then just season it up (boldly) with salt, sugar, ground black pepper, and lots of tabasco.. Go steady and keep tasting it but don’t be shy with any of the seasonings or the chilli as it will combine deliciously with the raw mixture – the tomatoes are full of water and will soak up a lot. If you go over the top, use sugar and a little bit of water to calm the chilli down, or just add more fresh tomatoes if it’s too salty and spicy.

Croutons are thin slices of bread (stale bread is perfect for this), brush them with oil, be quite generous, season them with salt and pepper, put them in a single layer on a nice big baking tray in a low oven on about 130 centigrade for half an hour until slightly golden. You can add any cheese, parmesan being a favourite.