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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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In a stew'

A hearty vegetable stew, long-simmered, full of fresh and flavourful vegetables, is both healthy and satisfying. These hearty main-course vegetable ragouts, combine vegetables into something bigger and substantial.

In a ragout, pronounced 'ra-goo', the vegetables are well cooked, and the flavours, mellow. Limit yourself to about five vegetables (not more than seven) and try to achieve a balance of flavours, textures, shapes, sizes and colours.

If using organic potatoes, leave the skins on as this adds colour and nutritional value. Low-starch potatoes will hold their shape better than high starch ones. Other starchy ingredients like cooked chickpeas or red beans make great additions to the ragout, too. The best way to help these keep their shape is to cook them separately and add them at the end. Very few vegetables are wrong for a ragout ' the ones that I stay away from are red beets! Onions, garlic, and leeks saut'ed in butter or olive oil make a great base. You could then add herbs like bayleaf or rosemary along with some spices.

Farmhouse ragout with pesto

Ingredients: For the ragout: 3 tbs olive oil; 1 bay leaf; 2 medium onions, cut into chunks; 7 cloves garlic, halved; 3 sprigs fresh thyme; 3/4 lb carrots, peeled; 3/4 lb small new potatoes, peeled; salt and pepper; 1/2 lb green beans, trimmed and halved; 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces; 1 lb summer squash, cut into 1-inch rounds; 5 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks; 250 gms white kidney beans, boiled

For the pesto: 1 cup basil leaves; 4 cloves garlic; 8-10 tbs olive oil; salt and pepper, a pinch; 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese.

Method: In a large non-stick pan, heat oil with bay leaves over low heat. Add onions, 6 garlic cloves, 2 thyme sprigs, stirring to coat everything with oil. Cover and cook over low heat. Leave small carrots whole and unpeeled; but peel and cut larger ones into 2-inch pieces. Add to the pot. If potatoes are small, leave them whole, but quarter larger ones. Add these to the pot. Season with salt and pepper. Add green beans, bell peppers and summer squash to pan in layers, seasoning each layer with salt and pepper. Add tomatoes. Cover and cook over low heat for 30 minutes till vegetables are tender. If the pot seems dry, add a few tablespoons of water or dry white wine.

For pesto, process the basil and garlic with oil in a blender. Add salt and cheese.

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