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Make great food without hurting the environment

Ollie's nettle and spelt risotto with rainbow chard and cobnuts

We all know we have an increasing responsibility - obligation even - to eat as sustainably as we possibly can (and can afford).

But often, cookbooks tell us to eat things such as carrot tops, while providing few details on why it's a good idea or what they actually taste like.

Ollie Hunter, a MasterChef semi-finalist in 2013, is helping solve this conundrum and knowledge gap with new cookbook 30 Easy Ways to Join the Food Revolution.

Part fact-laden guide, part recipe collection, it's a handbook to eating, cooking, shopping and thinking more sustainably.

Hunter is well-placed to write it.

The Cornish chef and his wife Lauren run The Wheatsheaf pub in Chilton Foliat, where they serve close to 80% organic produce. It was crowned Most Sustainable Business of the year at the Sustainable Restaurant Awards in November.

Who will love this book?

Anyone who keeps looking at the Vietnamese prawns in their freezer, the imported beef in their fridge and the same old vegetables in their veg drawer and wants to make a change for the better.

Anyone who feels helpless and paralysed in the face of the global climate crisis.

Anyone who wants to support their local suppliers and producers and eat in a more environmentally friendly way.

Anyone who likes learning while they cook and eat.

It's a cookbook that'll prompt you to modify your habits in relation to the food you bring into your home and where you get it from.

Even the book itself was made ecologically, using waterless printing.

What is it trying to get us cooking?

The book has three main ideas it wants us to consider: zero waste; eating organically and seasonally; and buying 50% of your produce within 30 miles of where you live.

It's also straight-talking. there's a whole list of "facts about the world to make us feel rubbish" - and they really deliver on that, sadly.

But then Hunter leaps energetically into all the little things we can do that aren't quite so demoralising.

And the food? It all sounds delicious, from staple recipes (elderflower cordial, gazpacho, parsnip crisps, oat milk and soda bread) to waste-reducing dishes (cauliflower leaf bahjis, asparagus ends soup). There are also dishes that nudge you outside (rose petal jam, chicken and nettle pie).

How easy is it to use?

While there isn't a picture accompanying every recipe (sorry, you're going to have to go on trust to a certain extent), the recipes themselves are short and snappy.

It's likely more effort will be required to source all your ingredients (nettle gathering is a must and tracking down carrots with their tops intact can be tricky), but this will cease being an obstacle once you've got into the swing of shopping more sustainably and you've pinpointed local foraging spots.

The best recipe is...

Gnocchi with cauliflower, walnuts and blue cheese. How good does that sound? It's that, the risotto (below) or the salted chocolate orange tart.

The recipe we're most likely to post pictures of on Instagram is...

The tomato and raspberry salad. It's topped with mint and basil leaves, bright green oil and edible flowers. It's super pretty.

The dish we're least likely to try is...

The homemade paprika. Honestly, taking the time to cook red romano peppers in the oven for 10 hours and then blitzing their dehydrated forms into dust, just isn't looking likely, but at least we know it's possible.

Overall rating: 8/10

A cookbook about sustainability runs the risk of being preachy, but Hunter swerves this entirely, instead presenting us with practical, fact-based ideas to help us do our bit.

Encouraging and positive, rather than terrifying and overwhelming, it makes you want to stock up on cobnuts and nettles in bulk.

30 Easy Ways To Join The Food Revolution by Ollie Hunter, photography by Louise Hagger, published by Pavilion Books, £14.99

Ollie's nettle and spelt risotto with rainbow chard and cobnuts

What you'll need

  • 1 large bag or 2 large handfuls nettles
  • Good-quality olive oil, for frying, plus extra for drizzling
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 6 garlic cloves, diced
  • 1 leek, diced
  • Handful of parsley, stalks and leaves separated and chopped
  • 300g dried spelt grains
  • 100ml white wine or 4tbsp vinegar of your choice
  • 200g rainbow chard, roughly chopped
  • Salt

To serve:

100g cobnuts or other locally grown nuts

Roughly chopped hard cheese, grated

Method

1. Remove nettle leaves from stems using gloves and finely dice the green stems. Leave both to one side, separated.

2. Put a large saucepan over a medium heat and add a few glugs of oil.

3. Add the diced onions, garlic, leek, parsley stalks and nettle stalks to the pan and saute until soft. Add the spelt and season with salt. Add the wine or vinegar and cook for one further minute.

4. Cook the spelt like a risotto and slowly add 1.2 litres of cold water, a ladle at a time, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding the next. The whole process should take about 40 minutes.

5. When all of the water is incorporated and the spelt is tender, add the chopped rainbow chard, parsley leaves and nettle leaves and stir for one further minute over the heat or until the leaves have softened to your liking. Next, adjust the seasoning and add a little more water to loosen everything if needed.

6. Portion the risotto into bowls and serve scattered with chopped nuts, a final drizzle of good olive oil and some grated hard cheese.

Serves 4

Belfast Telegraph