I don’t know about you but I am in need of some comfort. And I’m not just referring to the sudden slide from a sun-filled summer to an uncertain autumn.
The daily punctures to reality as delivered by the news have me deeply unsettled and yearning for comfort in all forms: hugs with kindred spirits; getting immersed in a work of fiction; pottering in the kitchen.
When I don’t feel much in control I tend to head for the kitchen. Do you do that too? Perhaps you bake cakes or cookies. Maybe you cook, without the bossiness of a written recipe (ahem), dishes that cheered you up as a child. I do that too. The smells, the tastes, the textures and sights, the sounds – rhythmic chopping, the pop of stir-frying vegetables, sizzling.
In the sanctity of my “happy place” I know that if I chop some onions and garlic, slowly cooking them down in best olive oil to a golden mulch, I will have the basis for many good things. And, if I reach in the cupboard and feel around among the cool tins and glass jars I will find tomatoes, the foundation for something that will bubble up enticingly on the hob. Oftentimes that will be some sort of shakshuka. Or soup, like this vegetable-heavy all-season’s minestrone.
I find quinoa, of all things, strangely comforting. Usually we gravitate towards childhood favourites when feeling fragile for whatever reason: mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, bars of chocolate are all normal US/UK go-tos. But no, weirdo-me plumps for a relative newcomer to Western palates. I can’t quite explain why either. I certainly love quinoa in these brownies which, I suppose, edges it into more recognisably comforting territory.
I also love olive oil. The proper stuff. I get very twitchy if I start running low on extra virgin olive oil, lemons and quinoa. I know that sounds desperately middle class but all three – okay, the first two – are where I would start if in need of healthy, life-affirming comfort. And, because I am not completely bonkers, this might be followed by a couple of squares of decent chocolate, or a slab of the aforementioned brownie.
Recently I was introduced to a new brand of olive oil. At this point I must declare that this brand is owned by a lovely friend who runs a well-regarded riad in Marrakech. Although Scottish, Linda and her husband Gordon have recently deepened their roots in this beautiful country by launching a premium olive oil business. Linda, who I sometimes see running (which I observe from my car!), was one of my very first blog subscribers and knows how much I value wholesome, real food. And you can’t get much more wholesome and real than proper, unadulterated extra virgin olive oil. I was very happy to be asked to help promote her new brand. Her brand new brand. 🙂
Available online and at London’s Fortnum & Mason and Partridges, as well as 181 Deli in Edinburgh, their brand, Morocco Gold is a superior quality, single-estate extra virgin olive oil using indigenous Picholine Marocaine olives. These are grown and pressed in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains using only traditional, natural methods – nothing added or taken away. This care produces a superior quality olive oil.
Morocco Gold is already the recipient of a handful of taste awards here in the UK. And I’m not surprised. I’ve been using it for over a month now and have been praising its fruity, sweet almond, grassy taste to anyone who will listen. With a perfect balance of acidity and lightly peppery taste, I’ve tried it in salads with just some lemon, as well as in lower temperature cooking, like this quinoa and vegetable bake/casserole.
Nutritionally, extra virgin olive oil really delivers too. Picholine-derived olive oil is noted for having high concentrations of key polyphenols that are not only highly valuable to health, reducing oxidative stress, but also help keep the oil oxidatively stable – meaning it is better/safer to cook with. Which is a bonus, really.
Do you have any “weird” comfort foods? Is good extra virgin olive oil a must in your kitchen too?
If you are interested in trying Morocco Gold extra virgin olive oil, go to the aforementioned shops or shop online. They deliver to anywhere.
When you get your bottle of this fantastic olive oil, do give this recipe below a try.
Cheesy Quinoa Vegetable Bake
Layers of chard, quinoa, grilled eggplant, marinara sauce and optional cheese equals easy, nutritious, autumn comfort food
- 2 medium eggplants sliced into 1/4 inch rounds or slices
- 4 tbsp Morocco Gold extra virgin olive oil divided use
- 185 grams quinao well-rinsed
- 160 grams kale, chard, or spinach rinsed, well-chopped
- 100 grams Taleggio or smoked mozzarella or other flavourful, melting cheese
- 3 tbsp panko crumbs optional
- 1 medium red onion finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves finely minced, divided use
- 500 ml passata/tomato sauce
- 1/2 tsp salt more to taste
- 1/2 tsp honey or sugar optional, to balance acidity
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
- 100 ml water
- 1/2 tbsp sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
Preheat the oven to 180C/350. Slick the aubergine slices with a minimum of oil and lay on a baking tray. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until softened. Set aside for now.
Now the sauce. Heat two tbsp of the oil in a saucepan over a low flame and add the chopped onion. Allow this to cook slowly until translucent, stirring as needed to prevent sticking. Add two of the chopped garlic cloves and cook a further minute before adding the remaining sauce ingredients. Bring to the boil then simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaf.
While the sauce is simmering, add the quinoa to a lidded saucepan and pour in double the volume of water. Bring to boiling point, pop on the lid and turn down to simmer steadily for 12 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the quinoa sit under cover for a further 5 minutes. Drain if needed, but the water should be absorbed.
Add 1 tbsp of the olive oil to a saute pan or an stove/hob-safe baking dish and heat over a medium flame. Add the chard, remaining garlic, and cook with a tablespoon of water until softened - about 5 minutes.
To assemble the casserole/bake, spoon a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of a baking dish, followed by half the quinoa, half the chard and half of the eggplant; spoon over more sauce and half of the cheese, if using. Repeat with the final layer. Take the panko crumbs and mix with any remaining olive oil; sprinkle over the top of the dish.
Bake the casserole for 20 minutes at 180C/350F, or until the sauce is bubbling at the side and the crumbs are browned. Enjoy warm.
Midweek tweak: You may of course make this dish much more quickly by using pre-cooked quinoa and pre-made sauce. I like to keep both of these staples in the freezer for speedy and nutritious midweek meals. Defrost both before using in this dish.
Vegetarians and vegans: Taleggio cheese is not vegetarian so opt for smoked mozzarella or any flavourful vegetarian or vegan cheese that you wish. Or leave out the cheese altogether.
If your tomatoes are quite acidic, add a little more sweetness to balance.
For soft food diet needs, blend all elements as required for you and layer up as described.
**Remember to follow me on Pinterest and, if you make my Comforting Cheesy Quinoa Bake, click on the pin at the bottom and leave a photo of your make with a comment telling me what you think, or any awesome changes that you made. Similarly, any Instagram posts tagged @food_to_glow using my recipes will go on my Story if I see them. I’m always so proud when you share my recipes with the world. Yay!!!
RIPE FOR PINNING!
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