Monday, 23 July 2012

Little Welsh Nibble was a big feast

I had a marvellous time at the Little Welsh Nibble aka The Sustainable Food Festival at the Rhondda Heritage Centre on 15th July. The event promotes sustainable, low-carbon-cost food. This means encouraging people to think about their food and use as much local produce as possible, and promoting incentives such as community gardens, food coops and farmers' markets. A programme of talks and a film gave more information. I'm afraid I can't say anything about those, because I was totally distracted by the parallel cooking demonstrations!

The demonstrations were in a marquee, which meant cooking on gas rings with camping gas. Although this limited the available techniques, it did not prevent wonderful dishes being prepared, and we all got to taste them!

The low-carbon cook-up

 The show started off with Richard Reast, who looked at the question of how to use veg box  contents. He demonstrated how Indian dishes offer tasty and interesting ways to use seasonal vegetables. Most of his ingredients were freshly picked produce from the Green Valley Community Garden.

Richard cooked two items from a four-course Indian veggie feast, the recipes for which he handed out.

Potato and cauliflower curry went down very well served together with Gujarati-style cabbage and carrots and a yogurt and fresh mint raita. I was particularly intrigued by his use of asafoetida in both dishes. I have a box at home, but after reading scary things about the smell have been too much of a coward to open it! Now, I know the smell does not translate into a similarly noxious taste, I feel happier about having a go myself, particularly since the end result was absolutely delicious.

Potato/cauliflower curry, Gujarati cabbage
and carrots, raita

Domenico Scarpetta presented two sessions during the day, in which he managed to cook a dizzying total of eleven different dishes. His main message was that healthy cooking, using lots of vegetables, does not need to be complicated and can taste divine.

Domenico Scarpetta multitasking with aplomb

 I particularly liked watching Domenico at work. He made it seem so simple to be cooking four different things simultaneously, while at the same time entertaining his audience with a stream of anecdotes. I was fascinated by the long, angled, kitchen tweezer-tongs he used most of the time to move things around, pick them up and stir. They looked far more efficient than my collection of spatulas, etc.

The secret ingredient that made a vegetable stock taste special came as a huge surprise: a piece of star anise dropped into the hot stock! Another tip: always use very hot oil when sauteing garlic and do not be afraid if the garlic turns brown, because that brings out more of its flavour.

Garlic and chilli pepper thus sauteed and tossed over Sardinian gnocchi pasta (ciciones) cooked together with a bit of broccoli and potato was my absolute favourite from Domenico's recipes: simple, yet to die for! Minestrone, cooked with a bit of orzo (tiny pasta the size of rice grains), courgettes with balsamic vinegar and herbs served on fried bread, and chicken cacciatore were also great hits, but everything was good!


Bethan Nia treated us to a recital of harp music and song in the Fan House, while the marquee was being re-arranged. The opportunity to hear Bethan was actually the programme item that had tempted me to the Little Welsh Nibble in the first place! Bethan sang a couple of her own compositions and a number of traditional Welsh songs. I was over the moon to hear her sing Beth yw'r haf i mi,which has become one of my best-loved songs since first heard last year. 

Low Carbon Cook Off 

This was brought to us by Eco Centre Wales. Six volunteers were divided into two teams of three. First, they had to answer questions about seasonal foods in Britain and the environmental impacts of food choices. For each right answer, they received a coin. 

Each team used its coins to buy food from a display. Fresh vegetables, dry grains and pulses cost the least, dairy products and some packaged products came in the medium band, while heavily processed and over-packaged foods were the most expensive. 

The teams had 30 minutes to cook something from their "shopping". We in the audience tasted the results and put them to the vote. I thought it was a close contest between the warm quinoa salad with baby corn and shredded beetroot produced by the Garden Peas and the vegetable and lentil "low carbon cawl" with fresh herbs from the Green Bananas, who were voted the winners.

Low Carbon Cawl and Warm Quinoa Salad ready to be sampled and voted on

I'd like to say a big thank you to Richard Reast and all his helpers for a fantastic day!