Go crazy for local

Thought for the day: Support the local businesses who support the area where you live

The concept of ‘local’ has become aspirational, a lifestyle choice, peddling the idea that to buy and eat locally in itself somehow makes you a better, more ethically aware consumer. Whilst I’m not on board with the idea that local = morally good, I do think we could all do a little more to support local producers where we can, and reap the benefits.

But what do we really mean by ‘local’? Is it food grown with in a 20-mile radius of where we live? 50 miles? 100 miles? Or in our global economy could we justifiably call any UK-grown produce ‘local’? If you live in Manchester and buy tomatoes grown on the Isle of Wight, it is infinitely preferable to the food miles traveled by the tonnes of tomatoes we import from Spain. 

And we can’t blame the supermarkets for constantly pushing produce grown thousands of miles away; the huge tonnage of food that we import from around the world is driven by our demand – we want juicy tomatoes and strawberries all year round and at a spectacularly low price, so supermarkets must provide them or risk us going elsewhere. 

But what if they stopped providing them? If tomorrow every supermarket stopped importing fresh produce from abroad would we all die of starvation? Or would we simply adjust our culinary efforts to take advantage of what is available to us on our own green and pleasant land? We would quickly learn to eat not only seasonally but also, by default, locally. In reality it is we, the consumers, who have the power. If we stopped buying then supermarkets would simply stop stocking. So buying locally – and sustainably – is not a pipe dream, it is merely something we have to consciously choose. We have the power to change our own supply of food, once we realise that we can grow more of what we need in our own back yard. 

Indeed there is no intrinsic moral good in buying locally – it doesn’t make you a better person, no matter what the food trends tell you. Buying locally won’t feed the world’s hungry and it isn’t always the most sustainable choice. However, it does encourage us to give a little more thought to and maybe spend a few more pennies on our food, which in turn can help growers & farmers to invest in better methods that can make their produce more sustainable. And in the meantime it feeds the community that you live and work in, providing jobs for local people who spend their money locally and in turn support your local economy; it supports businesses that supply and buy from other local businesses; it invests in local producers, who employ local people and conserve our environment. And as an added bonus you can give yourself a pat on the back for helping the planet too – lessening the environmental damage caused by transporting produce from distant climes. 
The principle of local extends to everything we buy; we are lucky to have a fabulous range of independent businesses right on our doorstep, providing everything from food, to toys, wedding dresses, legal advice, clothes, wine, and on and on. You can buy everything you’ll ever need right here in Dorset! It just requires a little more thought than merely logging on to your computer and surfing the online jungle for the cheapest price.
Now I’m not suggesting you go mad and insist on buying exclusively UK-grown produce; it isn’t realistic or sustainable for the majority of people. BUT that doesn’t mean we can’t all do our bit. If we all just try to buy a few things locally where possible, it would make a huge difference; after all, do we really need to eat under-ripe, flavourless strawberries from abroad when we could experience the fleeting but unsurpassed deliciousness of a British strawberry, made all the sweeter for only being available several months of the year? 
And you know in your heart of hearts that nothing beats the sun-ripened, perfectly red, burst of juiciness that is a tomato grown on home soil. Who are the crazy people eating salads during the winter anyway? Tinned tomatoes are all you need to get you through the cold months, facilitating the most comforting of comfort foods in the likes of spaghetti bolognese or a good old casserole. 
So let’s all try to do a bit more for our local community – make a start by simply checking where your food has come from; if your courgettes have traveled farther than you this year then it’s safe to say they’ve done too many miles! So try growing your own or wait until your friendly local farmer brings theirs to your local market. And when you need to buy something, find out whether you can get it in your own local area; you’ll be surprised at the quality and range of products available to you on your doorstep. You’ll feel better for it!
Buying local won’t necessarily make you good, but it definitely does do good. 
Some of my favourite local suppliers:

Leakers Bakery, Bridport. This artisan bakery has been creating delicious breads, cakes and savouries at their shop in Bridport for over a hundred years. And you can buy online! They provide all of the sourdough bread used on our cafe menu. Find them at 29 East Street, Bridport or at leakersbakery.co.uk .

Brace of Butchers, Poundbury. Specialist butchers Rob, Ben & Owen source directly from local farmers and growers, ensuring that they provide their customers with the best quality produce. They are always on hand to give tips and advice, which comes in handy when I want to put something new on the menu! Find them at Kingspoint House, 5 Queen Mother Square or at braceofbutchers.co.uk .

The Watercress Company. Based near Dorchester, providing the finest quality watercress and baby leaf. We use their delicious baby leaf mix in many of our dishes at the cafe. Find them at thewatercresscompany.co.uk .

The Roast & Post Coffee Company. Based in Bristol, they offer great coffee and great service – coffee is roasted, ground and dispatched on the same day. Our regular customers love our coffee! Find them at roastandpost.com .

Poundbury farmer’s Market is held on the first Saturday of every month in Queen Mother Square, Poundbury.

Ode to butternut squash

Oh how I love thee, squash of the gods. My ingredient of the month is the wonderful butternut squash; deep orange, deliciously sweet and nutty. Harvested in late Autumn and available throughout the winter, it is a kitchen staple to get you through the cold months. Not only thrifty and delicious but healthy too – rich in vitamin A, vitamin E and potassium.

At the moment I find myself mostly using it for soup but it also works wonderfully as a roasted veg – either as a side or as the star of the show!

The humble squash can be boiled, roasted, puréed, steamed, sautéed, mashed – it’s hard to go wrong.

Below are a few of my favourite ways to enjoy the beautiful butternut.


Emma x


*The perfect soup to warm you up on a cold day

Serves four

1 onion
1 butternut squash
Spices/herbs (see step 5)
Veg/chicken stock

1. Chop a white onion then sweat in a large pan with a bit of butter or oil – I like to use rapeseed. Cook for ten minutes or so on a medium heat, you want it to soften but not colour.
2. Meanwhile peel and chop your squash into 1-2cm pieces. The skin can be tough so you need a decent peeler! (You can cheat a little here by using the microwave – prick your squash a couple of times and blitz in the micro for 5-6 minutes; this will soften the flesh and make it easier to peel.)
3. You can discard the seeds and pulp, or toast them to use later. They make a delicious and crunchy addition to soups and salads, or a healthy snack. Simply toast in a hot oven until golden.
4. Add your peeled & chopped squash to the onions and coat with the oil.
5. This is the best point to add any extra flavours – I like to temper the sweetness of the squash with a few spices; cumin, chilli, turmeric, nutmeg, or gram masala all work well so simply add to your taste. If you prefer herbs then sage and squash are a dreamy combination. Salt & pepper are a must!
6. Boil a kettle, make up a litre of vegetable or chicken stock and add the hot stock to your pot of onion & squash. You want the stock to just cover the veg. (You can always add more stock at the end if you prefer a thinner soup.)
7. Bring the whole pot to the boil then turn down and simmer for 20-30mins, depending on how small you chopped the squash. You want the squash to be soft and mash-able so just press a piece against the side of the pot to check it – when it mashes easily it’s ready.
8. Take your pot off the heat and allow to cool a little.
9. Using a stick blender or food processor (the latter may need to be done in two batches), blend your soup until smooth and creamy. At this point you can add more stock or a little milk if it seems too thick.
10. Taste to check seasoning and add salt & pepper as required.
11. If serving immediately, put the blended soup back in the pan and bring back to a simmer; if making ahead, leave the soup to cool then put it in the fridge or freezer for later. Make sure you bring it to a boil before serving.
12. Serve with crusty bread.

Pimp your soup:
*Add a swirl of cream or créme fraiche to each bowl – arty and delicious!
*If using sage, fry a few fresh sage leaves in a little butter until crisp and add to the top of each bowl.
*Roast the pumpkin seeds in some spices & a little oil and drop these onto your soup, or leave a bowl of roasted seeds on the table and allow your guest to top their own.
*Slice up some sourdough or stale bread, top with a little cheese (whatever you have lurking in the fridge will be fine!) and grill until melted, then rest them on the side of each bowl or simply float them on top of the soup.



*Roasted butternut

Serves four as a side or two as a generous salad

1 butternut squash
Herbs/spices – see step 3

1. Preheat your oven to 180/160 fan.
2. Peel, deseed and chop your butternut; for roasting I like to use chunky pieces so either chop into chunks or cut the whole squash in half lengthways, then cut each half into crescent shaped slices.
3. Prepare your roasting tin – first add a good glug of oil, then your herbs/spices. I think smoked paprika goes really well with roasted butternut, its smokey warmth is a great foil for the earthy sweetness of the squash. But you could also use a little chilli, nutmeg, sage, fresh thyme, or simple dried mixed herbs.
4. Coat the chunks of butternut in the oil and herbs/spices and add salt to taste.
5. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes – keep an eye on it as corners can catch and burnt butternut is not good! You are looking for a rich blistered golden outer and a soft texture within. Turn the pieces halfway through cooking.

Roasted butternut is a tasty and healthy alternative to roast potatoes, or simply as a veggie accompaniment to any meal.
Make it the star of the show by crumbling over some feta and topping it with leaves & toasted hazelnuts to make a delicious warm salad.
*Butternut squash and sage risotto
Serves four

1 large or 2 small butternut squash
1 onion
400g risotto rice – arborio or carnaroli
1 glass White wine
Dried sage
Fresh sage leaves
Veg or chicken stock

1. Preheat your oven to 180/160 fan.
2. Peel and chop your butternut – you will be boiling half and roasting half so chop accordingly!
3. Put your boiling half into a pan with water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. When soft, drain and add a little butter & seasoning, then use a food processor or stick blender to make a smooth purée. You want a runnier consistency than mashed potato as it will be stirred into the risotto later. Leave to one side.
4. Put the rest into a baking tray, coat with a little oil, dried sage and salt & pepper. Roast in the oven until golden on the outside and meltingly soft on the inside – 30-40 minutes.
5. Finely dice an onion or several banana shallots. Melt a knob of butter and a glug of oil in a wide, heavy based pan and add the chopped onion. Sweat on a medium heat until soft but not coloured.
6. While the onion is softening, boil a kettle and make up 1 litre of chicken or vegetable stock in a saucepan. Bring your stock to a simmer and keep it simmering on the hob (with a lid on) while you make your risotto.
7. Add your rice to the pan with the onions. Toast the rice for a minute or so and make sure it is well coated with the oil/butter.
8. Add a glass of white wine to the hot pan and stir, making sure the rice doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan. You may want to turn the heat down a little at this point – you want it warm enough to keep the liquid simmering but not so hot that the rice sticks.
9. When the wine has mostly been absorbed into the rice, add a ladleful of your hot stock to the pan. Keep stirring until the liquid has almost been absorbed.                      10. Keep adding hot stock a ladleful at a time and stir as you go. Your aim is to cook the rice slowly and steadily. You will see that as the rice cooks the starch creates a creamy consistency which is the trademark of a great risotto.
11. Keep testing the rice – the whole rice process should take 20-30 minutes. The rice should be fully cooked but still have a little bite. You shouldn’t be able to see any pale white inside the grains.
12. In a separate pan, heat a knob of butter until foaming and add your sage leaves. Fry until crisp.
13. When your rice is cooked, add your butternut purée and mix it in. When serving, you want your risotto to fall onto the plate – it shouldn’t be runny but it shouldn’t stay in a lump either, so add a little more stock to loosen it if needed.
14. Serve your risotto in shallow bowls, topped with the lovely roasted chunks and a few crispy sage leaves.