As I write this post, repercussions from the UK chancellor’s March budget statement continue to make the news. George Osborne’s budget not only triggered a ministerial resignation it also exposed rifts within the governing Conservative party over an economic doctrine that produces tax cuts for the rich at the expense of benefits for the poor and disabled.
But when the dust has died down, what might well emerge from this budget as being of greater long-term significance is Mr Osborne’s announcement of a sugar tax, due to come into force in 2018.
The announcement follows a long campaign by health experts, campaigning journalists and others, most prominently the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
As recently as last month newspapers were reporting that the Prime Minister continued to reject the idea of a sugar tax, so the chancellor’s statement marks a major turnaround.
There are many unsatisfactory elements to the new tax – for example it covers only drinks rather than other foodstuffs routinely pumped full of sugar by food manufacturers, it provides plenty of exemptions and loopholes and, of course, it does not come into effect until 2018.
Nevertheless, for all its inherent weaknesses the Chancellor’s announcement represents a positive step in the right direction, something that can be built upon.It also underlines the fact that, even with a government as cruel and uncaring as this one, public pressure can pay off.
Is it too much to hope that the anticipated £520 million raised by the tax will go directly to fund organisations and causes struggling to tackle the problems associated with excess sugar in our diet – diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and the like?
The UK’s National Health Service is creaking at the seams, in desperate need of improved funding, not least to help it treat these diseases, some of which are running at close to epidemic levels. But we also need to devote more funding for preventative measures. Arguably the most important of these measures would be mandatory food education in our schools, helping to raise a generation that understands the value of good food made from natural ingredients.
In a few weeks’ time we will be entering that period of the growing calendar known as the hungry gap. This is when last season’s produce is coming to an end but before the new season’s produce is ready for harvesting. There was a time when this information actually mattered, but in the age of permanently-stocked supermarket fruit and vegetable aisles its relevance has already been lost in just a couple of generations.
On my allotment plot, the Circus Garden I still have winter cabbages, kale, purple sprouting broccoli, parsnips, spinach, chard, leeks and swede, but they will be gone before the first of the new season’s produce – asparagus, broad beans, peas – are ready.
This recipe makes use of one of these vegetables – kale – a hardy and nutritious brassica. Here, the deep earthiness of kale is offset by the sweetness of caramelised onions to make a richly flavoured and satisfying dish.
kale and caramelised onion tart with walnut crust
for the pastry
150 g plain organic flour
30 g walnuts
85 g organic butter, cut into small cubes
1 free range organic egg
pinch sea salt
for the filling
200 g organic kale, washed and hard stems removed
3 onions, finely sliced
250 g organic double cream
4 organic free range eggs
90 g vegetarian Cheddar
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp sea salt
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1. First, make the pastry. Grind the walnuts finely in a food processor. Put the flour, ground walnuts, salt and butter into the bowl of a food processor and mix at the lowest setting until it produces a mixture that looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg and continue to process at the low setting until the mixture forms into a pliable ball. Remove from the food processor bowl, flatten the ball slightly to a thick disc shape (this makes it easier to roll out later), wrap in clingfilm and put it the fridge for 30 minutes.
2. Pour the olive oil into a frying pan or skillet over a medium heat. When hot, add the onions and cook for 5 minutes or until soft and translucent. Add the salt and reduce the heat to its lowest setting. Continue to cook the onions for a further 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and caramelised. Remove from the heat and set to one side to cool.
3. Put the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil into a wok or large pan and place over a medium heat. When the oil is hot add the kale and stir-fry for 5-6 minutes, or until it is bright green in colour and tender. Set to one side to cool.
3. Preheat the oven to 175˚C (350˚F, gas mark 4). Grease a flan dish. Retrieve the pastry, roll out thinly and carefully place it into the flan dish. Trim the pastry so that there is a slight overhang of about 1 cm. Prick the base and sides of the pastry base with a fork and line it with parchment and baking stones or beans. Bake blind in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, leave to cool slightly and then remove the parchment and baking beans. The edges of the flan will have shrunk slightly, but now you can trim them neatly to the height of the flan dish with a sharp knife.
4. Whisk the eggs with the double cream until smooth and creamy.Pour a third of the egg and cream mix into the pastry case. On top of this evenly sprinkle a third of the Cheddar, then evenly scatter over the caramelised onion. Next, add half of the remaining egg and cream mixture and scatter the kale evenly over this. Finish off with half of the remaining Cheddar, the remaining leek and onion mixture, and finish off with the remainder of the egg and cream mixture and scatter over the last of the Cheddar followed by the oregano.
7. Place the tart in the pre-heated oven for around 30-35 minutes or until set and golden. Leave to cool slightly before serving.