The Borough Belles, Borough Market’s neighbourhood branch of the Women’s Institute, is packed with keen cooks, happy to share their ideas and insights. This month: Alison Pearce
My nan was a member of the WI and I remember her baking like mad each week for their sales, but I came across it really when groups like the Shoreditch Sisters—the so-called ‘new age’ WI—were getting a lot of publicity and I thought wow, that sounds really interesting. I work with my partner and it’s really just us two, so I was interested in meeting people and making friends, which I have done and it’s been fantastic—one of the best things I have ever done.
The first time I went to Borough Belles was for a wine tasting and the man who gave the talk—one of Borough Market’s traders, actually—was very generous! Which certainly gave me a bit of confidence. I’ve been going ever since. I think I’ve missed one since I joined in November 2014 and up until recently, I ran the running group Belles of Fire. It’s fantastic in terms of getting out, having a good old chat and doing something we are all interested in, but with no pressure or competition.
I don’t live nearby but I work just around the corner from Borough Market, in the Hop Exchange. We try to bring our own lunch so that we don’t treble in size and give in to the temptation of the doughnuts. I cook everything myself and I believe if you put good stuff in, you get good stuff out—in the best sense of the description! The idea of vegetarianism feels very strange: I do eat everything, but it does feel like that’s the way we have to go, and include more vegetables in our diet but without feeling like it’s a compromise, or like you’re missing something when you don’t have some form of meat. I tend to cook a lot of veg-only food, but it doesn’t feel like I’m ‘a vegetarian’. The label has a bad rep, but that’s doing it a disservice. I feel really strongly about that.
We get delivered a box of vegetables each week and my husband is pescatarian, so we base our meals around that—I only really bake when I can squeeze some vegetables into a cake or brownies. I will always bake for our sales, though, at the Market and elsewhere. I was involved in baking for the celebrity Great British Bake Off Comic Relief special a couple of years ago. I made some edible, wearable glasses which to my horror, they chose to show. Of course, they immediately broke when someone put them on.
We live busy lives, so I try to make quick, healthy dishes—which is why I picked this recipe. It is based on a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe for a dip, but I have adapted it to be eaten with pasta and so that there’s enough spinach in there to be one of your five-a-day. It’s one of those things you can make really fast when you get home from work. It’s quite garlicky, so maybe avoid eating it when you’re likely to encounter people you want to impress afterwards! I make it a lot because it’s easy, tasty and it’s good for you. And spinach is in season and therefore at its best at the moment, so easy to get hold of at Borough.
Alison’s 15-minute spinach and parmesan pasta
Cook 80-100g wholemeal pasta shapes per person in boiling water, as per the packet instructions. In the meantime, remove any large spinach stalks (folding the leaf in half and tearing off the stalky bit from the folded edge is quickest) and wash the leaves thoroughly. About 100g spinach gives you 1 of your 5 a day, too! No stalk removal is needed with baby spinach.
Drain the washed spinach, but don’t be too worried about the water clinging to the leaves. Transfer to a pan and set over a medium heat. Stir occasionally, until the leaves have gently wilted. This will only take 2 mins. Tip the whole lot into a colander and use the back of a wooden or large spoon to work the spinach into a clump and squeeze out as much moisture as you can by squashing it against the sides.
In a medium bowl, mix sour cream (2 heaped tbsp per person), grated nutmeg (¼ whole nutmeg per person), finely grated parmesan (approx 10g per person), crushed garlic (1 small clove is enough for 1-2 people) and salt and pepper to taste.
Roughly chop the spinach pile and add this to the bowl. Mix thoroughly. Drain the pasta, add the spinach, sauce and combine. Serve!