Psssst! want a sneak peek at the Wikio Top Gastronomy Blog rankings for August 2011? Click here!
Superfoods. Isn't it funny how they are always so bloody… exotic (read: unobtainable, expensive). I mean, who do you know who grows goji berries in their back yard? I believe many people in London grow their own grass (!) but not a lot of it is wheatgrass. And does anybody who does not work for a health store know what an acai berry really looks like? We are told to eat seaweed and down litres of pomegranate juice for our health and wellbeing as each of these successive fad foods is classified as a "superfood" We are encouraged to spend more and more money on these outlandish plants as if each one provides some sort of magic bullet that will make us healthy despite our generally bad dietary and exercise habits. And are we really any the healthier or thinner for all our superfood consumption? No. The only thing getting lighter is our wallets.
Why the obession with labelling some natural foods as "super"? What about all the other everyday (presumably not-so-super) foods that served mankind faithfully for years and kept the species alive before we could fly in goji berries from who knows where? The fact is that, if you check out the lab results, goji berries do not contain anything that you can't get from blueberries; in the vitamins and mineral stakes, a tomato salad wil beat the same volume of goji berries; and apparently you can get more nutrients from a portion of broccoli or spinach than from a shot of wheatgrass. My tastebuds, for one, are already celebrating. But I guess stores can never charge as much per weight for the humble apple as for the exotic Tibetan goji berry, so I suspect that outlandish "superfoods" and their exotic price tags are here to stay. On a related note, it's good to bear in mind that we humans eat FOOD, not nutrients. It is misleading to break every food down into its component parts, study their effects one by one, and then make health claims based on those studies. It is the interactions between, say, the nutrients in an apple and the delicious matrix of skin and flesh (e.g. fibre) in which they are packaged, that determine the apple's overall effect on your health – not necessarily how many micrograms of nutrients it contains.
But if we are going to talk nutrients and label things as superfoods, lets give a big round of applause to some not-so-glamorous but undeniably super foods: broccoli and tomatoes. Tomatoes are a good sauce of Vitamin C (although not as good as citrus fruit or kiwi fruit) but they are the best freely-available source lycopene, a carotenoid that likes nothing better than to soak up free radical oxygen molecules implicated in the ageing process as well as diseases including cardiovascular disease and cancer. And the good news is that cooking or processing tomatoes actually increases the bioavailability of the lycopene! Hello pizza. Raw broccoli contains twice as much Vitamin C per 100g as oranges, but their secret superpower really lies in their anti-cancer properties (which they share with other members of the brassica family). A recent study has shown that greater consumption of dark green and cruciferous vegetables, especially broccoli and cauliflower, was associated with a decreased risk of aggressive prostate cancer.
So although this deiciously summery tart may not be exotic or unobtainable, it certainly counts as a super food in my book: easy to put together, full of things that are good for you… and a lot tastier than a wheatgrass smoothie.
BROCCOLI, CHERRY TOMATO & BRIE TART (serves 3-4)
1 pack ready-made puff pastry
For the filling:
2 large (or 3 medium) free-range eggs
1/3 cup double cream
1/3 cup small broccoli florets
1/3 cup of cherry tomatoes, halved
1.3 cup Brie cheese, diced into cubes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 220C. Roll out the puff pastry to a thickness of about 2.5mm. Cut a circle large enough to line the base and sides of a 25cm ovenproof quiche dish or springform fluted tart tin (you will probably not need a whole package). Prick the base all over with a fork, line with baking paper and ceramic baking beans (or coins) and bake in the lower third of the oven for about 10 minutes, or until puffy and golden.
In the meantime, whisk together the cream, eggs, salt and pepper in a bowl. When the crust is done, remove the baking paper and beans (be careful – the beans will be very hot). Arrange the broccoli, tomatoes and cheese in the crust, pour over the egg mixture and bake on a rack in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 175C and bake for a further 10 minutes or until set. You can also turn on the grill for the last minute or two to brown the top a little if desired. Serve hot with a crunchy salad.
Don't forget to check out my and Michelle's London restaurant reviewing and photography workshop coming up in August!
And if you miss that, you can catch me speaking on writing style and voice at Bite 'n Write in Birmingham in November!