There are several planters in Oldham, they are down from the supermarket on Union Street, just a gentle stroll away from the tram. They are full of herbs and vegetables, but there are no signs to say: 'harvest me', 'eat me', or even, 'pick me'. This means wonderful kale and chard is growing there being seen as ornamental plants by commuters who pass everyday. They simply don't recognise vegetables! However, they did not escape our eyes when we were traveling past, and we soon had a bag out to pick some leaves and bay. However, Little D was worried that we may be stealing and that raised a thorny subject, why grow vegetables in public spaces but neglect to put a sign up that says, 'pick me, eat me'? We brought up the lack of 'pick me' sign on our twitter feed, and it sparked interest with many groups in Oldham devoted to food and community, there was a sense of disappointment even anger that many people didn't know the vegetables and herbs were there, that they didn't recognise them and more importantly, weren't being harvested. We didn't take more than we needed, we knew the kale would be for one meal, the chard and bay for another. We didn't take to waste it, throw it in a bin, we took it to go with what we had in our shopping bag which we brought from the excellent local market. This is part of our foraging ethos, take what you will use, not what you want. This free food in our towns should be applauded but it should also be used, vegetables should never be ornamental. So as we said, we picked a small bag of kale, chard and bay, the bay and chard were used when we fried some mackerel (the lovely fish we got from that local market), with a nice fennel/lemon dip but we wanted to do a recipe that would be cheap, cheerful and incredibly tasty and with foods most of us can get access to. Yes, we admit some of the spices are not accessible but many of the herbs we mention can be found dotted in planters around Oldham Town Centre, being ignored. We should map this food, and eat it in community meals and cooking classes. Food should never be ignored, vegetables shouldn't be ornamental, they should feed the many, and educate us all. We wanted to do a dish that would be under a £1 ($1.32/€1.17) per serving, we got it down to 84p ($1.11/€0.98), and what food can you buy for that which will give you confidence in the kitchen and make you feel good?
Ribolita With A Twist
Ribolita comes from Tuscany, it is a soup with peasant origins but don't let that fool you. Ribolita is served in some the finest restaurants in Italy today. Ribolita was often made by reboiling leftover minestrone/vegetable soup from the previous day. It normally is made with bread and vegetables. There are different variations but there is always some stale bread in it, beans, carrots, cabbage, kale or chard and onion. Our version twists this, the bread becomes a side and the body now comes from the sausages and pasta; the bread becomes an optional side to mop up the juices (which is very Northern but let's celebrate that). Ribolita means "reboiled" but our dish is great hot and cold for second servings the following day.
3 sausages (£1.40 from a local butchers).
1 onion (bartered from an allotment, not just one onion but many onions).
1 carrot (39p for a packet).
Two fistfuls of kale (from Union Street planters).
Tin of plum tomatoes (38p).
Tin of butter beans (45p).
Garlic (grown at Pig Row).
Fennel seed (collected from our herb garden).
Oregano (from our herb garden).
Tomato puree (25p a tube).
Oil (89p but you have plenty leftover for frying eggs!).
Water (from the tap).
Pasta (45p for 500g).
Chilli flakes (from our own dried chillies).
Half a chicken stock cube.
First add oil to a pan (with a lid) that can take all your ingredients. Squeeze the sausages out of their casings and fry with fennel seed, chilli flakes and grated garlic. Add black pepper to taste. Cook for 10 minutes on a medium heat. Take all the mixture out, and place on side to cool in a bowl. De-glaze the pan with 150ml of water (deglazing simply means adding some cold liquid into a very hot pan to get up all the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, it's were all the taste is), add chopped carrots and onions until water is reduced. You want to cook the carrots and onions until soft before adding two cloves of grated garlic and add a tablespoon of chopped rosemary and oregano, cook for two minutes. Add a tin of plum tomatoes, a tablespoon of tomato puree and 300ml of water and bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer for ten minutes. Add the drained (and washed) butter beans, cook for five minutes and put the sausage back in with two pinches of paprika (optional, paprika adds some heat to the final dish). Add a half a chicken stock cube and stir in. Leave to simmer, at the same time cook a pan of pasta, enough to serve four, drain pasta and add to sauce. Stir and mix until thoroughly coated, destalk the kale (this means taking out the central stalk in the leaf to leave only the green leaf that will easily wilt in heat), chop up the remaining leaf and mix in to the now coated pasta, place a lid on top of the pan and turn off the heat and leave for four minutes as the kale wilts and it's flavour infuses into the sauce. Serve with crusty bread and parmesan (optional). This will easily feed a family of four. An extremely filling and warming dish. Enjoy, share, get out and harvest some kale in Oldham Town Centre.