Celebrating Organic September, a trip to Yeo Valley, and a recipe for a french open sourdough sandwich – nectarine tartine with lemony labne and basil oil.
Organic food. More expensive? A middle class fad? Or does it have some proven benefits?
I believe it does and this is why I’ll be supporting The Soil Association’s ‘Organic September’ this year. The Soil Association is a UK based not for profit membership charity who certify 70% of organic food in the UK as well as campaigning for healthy, human and sustainable food and farming. To them, put simply organic means;
‘more of the good stuff, less of the bad‘
Choosing organic food is not a new idea for me. The principals I was taught to follow through my natural chef training was ‘SOUL’; foods that are seasonal, organic, unrefined and local. I’ll admit all of these can be tricky to follow 100% of the time, and that perhaps organic food isn’t currently my highest priority of these 4 aspects. In my current shopping basket, for example you will always find organic dairy, eggs and organic meat. Plus organic vegetables and other store-cupboard ingredients where the price difference is minimal (carrots and olive-oil I’m looking at you). When it comes to luxury (though one could argue also essential) items such as coffee and chocolate I’m also happy to spend more for organic if the choice is available. I’ve often pondered whether this was enough?
Fortuitously a fortnight ago I was invited by The Soil Association to spend a blogger day at Yeo Valley organic dairy farm in Somerset, and I had the opportunity to find out.
At Yeo Valley we toured the farm with knowledgable farm manager Jon Wilson. From Jon we heard about the complex operations of organic farming; from crop rotation systems, to the two year process of converting from non-organic to organic status, and why at Yeo Valley they add clover and other plants to make the lushest of mineral rich nutritious grass for the friendly Freisan cows. We were even encouraged to to sniff the fresh soil, though not the cow dung which I accidentally stepped in!
Back at the ranch we were treated to a cooking demo and delicious organic lunch using seasonal ingredients by Yeo Valley HQ’s head chef. We also had the time to chat further with The Soil Association and amongst ourselves about organic food.
There is so much to be said about why we should go organic, but to simplify here is a list (and we all love a list);
5 really good reasons why we should go organic.
- Better for the planet. Organic farming works with nature not against it. Organic farming methods can improve soil quality, and reduce greenhouse emissions. A positive step towards combatting climate change.
- Naturally different. Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition found significant nutritional differences between organic and non-organic farming (for example this study in Feb 2016 on meat & milk). Gaining more nutrition from each bite is a plus as a natural chef I certainly can’t ignore
- Avoid Pesticides. Do we want these potentially harmful pesticides transferred to our food chain and into us? Do we even really know, where ultimately this could do to our precious bodies? Plus, more positively a lack of pesticides also promotes a base for natural food chains and natural predators.
- Protect wildlife. Organic farms are a haven for bees, birds and butterflies since there are no weedkillers to kill ’em, and plenty of nurtured natural hedgerows for them to live in.
- Higher standards of animal welfare. Truly free range animals have reduced stress levels, disease, and live as happier healthier animals. Plus organic milk and meat contain around 50% more omega-3 fatty acids than non-organic, and slightly higher concentrations of some vitamins and minerals.
This has certainly convinced me to edge organic food higher up my priority list, and in the 2 weeks since my farm visit I have noticed that I’ve lingered a little longer over organic vs non-organic products before placing them in my shopping basket.
However if this still feels overwhelming fret not, since the key message for this campaign is that small changes make a big difference. Maybe you can commit to changing one small thing in your shopping this September – organic bread, organic coffee, organic veg, or even organic chocolate? I left our day inspired to do just this, and through my recipes I hope to take you along for the ride. First stop a nectarine tartine recipe using 100% organic ingredients.
Like all my recipes, this nectarine tartine is full of SOUL;
- Seasonal – nectarine
- organic – all ingredients
- unrefined – wholemeal flour, and sourdough bread leavened using naturally fermented yeasts
- local – bread from South East London bakery Blackbird, fruit from a local veg shop via France so not locally grown but supporting my local economy (we can interpret local in a number of ways!).
Griddled nectarines have been making it into many of my salads of late. Seriously, if you haven’t tried them then I urge you to – whether in a salad or on this tartine. They are honestly the best thing since sliced bread which brings me to…
Bread, actual real bread and not gluten free? Yep, I’ve been indulging in the occasional sourdough slice of late, particularly since it is what I now serve on most yoga retreats. Since sourdough is bread made using wild yeasts form naturally fermented flour, it can be easier to digest than ‘normal’ bread. As long as I don’t go overboard of course (eating it everyday and multiple times a day) then I digest it just fine. If I can I always choose a wholegrain version and one made from organic flour, especially since learning that a probable carcinogen glyphosate is sprayed on many of UK non-organic wheat crops. I adore the sour taste and I really want to learn how to make it myself.
Spread on my tartine is labne, a strained yoghurt cheese. I showcased this before on the blog when I lived below the line and it’s a fun and simple thing to make from organic yoghurt. For an alternative topping, try a tasty blue cheese, it is magic with nectarines too. Finally the basil oil is just a finishing flourish. Its not essential to the dish but why not? Flavoured oils make great gifts too and if nothing else are a great way to show off.
- 500g natural yoghurt
- ½ tsp salt
- Zest of half an unwaxed lemon
- 200mls extra virgin olive oil
- Handful basil
- 2 nectarine, sliced into segments
- 4 slices sourdough bread
- A smidge of butter
- Handful fresh basil
- Olive oil
- Black pepper & lemon zest
- Make your labne the night before. Mix together the yoghurt with the salt. Place some cheesecloth (double or triple lined) over a deep bowl (or a jar) and pour in the yoghurt. You could even use a clean tea towel or a pair of tights. Either secure the cheesecloth to the jar itself with an elastic band or secure like a ponytail with a band/string and weave the band through a wooden spoon. Hang the spoon over the top of the jar so the bottom of the cheesecloth doesn’t touch the bowl cavity. Place in the fridge and leave for 12-24 hours, by which point the whey will have dripped out and you will be left with a creamy ball of cheese. Scoop out the yoghurt cheese and whip in the lemon zest.
- You can make your basil oil ahead too since it is best served at room temp. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan with a handful of basil for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is very lightly bubbling. Do not allow to get too hot or boil. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool full before straining. Will keep in a glass jar for up to 1 month.
- To construct your dish, first cook your nectarines in a touch of olive oil on a griddle pan till softened and the grid lines show. Move to a plate to cool.
- Spread the bread with butter (optional, but good) then a dollop of labne. Pile up with the nectarines and finish with a drizzle of basil oil, extra lemon zest, black pepper and a few basil leaves
I visited Yeo Valley with fellow bloggers Sus and Choclette, you might like to read their pieces on all things organic over on Rough Measures and Tin and Thyme.
Disclaimer: Many thanks to the Soil Association, Yeo Valley and Good Energy (who sponsor Organic September) for the invitation to spend the day on the Yeo Valley farm. I was invited on this trip as a guest and not paid to write a post.