Doubtless you've heard the news. According to researchers at University College London, if we want to live longer, we should aim to eat not just five portions of fruit and vegetables a day as the government advises, but seven. Yes, seven. We'll all snuff it in the end, of course, but the effect of such remorseless peeling and munching is nevertheless considered to be "staggering". Risk of death by any cause over the course of the study – it involved 65,226 people – was reduced by 42% for those who ate seven portions or more.
Or more? The mind boggles. Most of us struggle to eat three portions a day, let alone seven or eight. For one thing, life is busy. For another, we have all sorts of weird rules and regulations when it comes to fruit and veg. In theory, I like them all – celery, blueberries and persimmon apart (never, ever give me a persimmon; I will probably throw it at you). But in practice, this is complicated. For instance: I like oranges, but they must generally be peeled, sliced and carefully caramelised before eating. Spring greens, kale and carrots I will eat only when accompanied by about a ton of butter and pepper. Ditto parsnips and potatoes. Peas, unless they're straight out of the pod, are best cooked the French way, with lettuce, spring onions, sugar and – yes – more butter. Apples look alluringly Cézanne-ish in a bowl, but if they don't disappoint on the first bite, boredom often sets in halfway through. Pears are heaven, but the optimum eating period between rock hardness and gritty mushiness lasts for only 47 seconds, which is tricky if you've got a job. Salad requires dressing, and preferably a load of anchovies and parmesan, too. Radishes are excellent, but only with homemade mayonnaise. Strawberries demand cream. Raspberries demand meringues. Passionfruit cry out for both.
Still, I'm going to try to be positive. The first thing is: recipes. There are loads of new, modish cookbooks that aim to be "fun" and unpreachy about vegetables and, to a lesser degree, fruit, and you won't need any help from me in finding them. But there are older, more sensible books available, too, should you be in need of inspiration.
When I was working in Glasgow in 1992 – my God, did I need vitamins then – I bought myself a copy of Vegetable Pleasures by Colin Spencer, largely because it has Mushrooms by William Nicholson, my favourite painter, on its cover. It's arranged in alphabetical order, and includes genuinely ace recipes for stuffed chicory and a vegetable stew seasoned with soy sauce. I also recommend Sarah Raven's exhaustive Garden Cookbook, though her addictive deep-fried parsley is probably not one for the health police (good with a sherry, though). More time consuming are the recipes in The Modern Vegetarian by Maria Elia – the word "modern" is anxiety-inducing in a kitchen context – but they're mostly worth the effort; I favour the carrot pancakes with hummus and a feta salad.
In Foyles on Charing Cross Road, there's a secondhand cookery section, and it was there that I bought my treasured copy of The Independent Cook by Jeremy Round. This isn't a vegetarian book, but it is a strictly seasonal one, so if you turn to spring, you'll find pleasing recipes for broad beans, artichokes, asparagus and – oh, Lord – garlic custard. It goes without saying that Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book is helpful and plain-speaking, but if you're in swanky mood, there is always The Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook by Alice Waters, the patron saint of all things fresh and good. Oh my dear, the warm salad of curly endive and artichoke hearts! (Let us try not to focus on the duck fat with which it is dressed.)
The second thing is: kit. If you buy one new gadget this year then let it be a spiralizer, which is a fairly inexpensive plastic machine that quickly turns vegetables into noodles. I received mine (it's from Germany) courtesy of a friend, and because she likes to eat all the right stuff – by which I mean: the same stuff as me – I knew it would be less bonkers than it sounds. And so it has proved. Courgette spaghetti is quite delicious, whether you serve it with a carbonara-style sauce, a tomato one, or with salty cheese, lemon and mint. It also looks pretty, its delicate pistachio curls whispering to you from the depths of the bowl: I will be good, I will be good, I will be good …