Monday, 4 March 2013


The sun keeps poking its head around the clouds and peering into my office space (which is actually a corner of my bedroom but for daylight hours it’s my office). It’s spring, me thinks, until I go outside in my new very lightweight navy drape coat and realise it is, in fact, still bloody cold. This cusp of the seasons confusion has been long lamented by fashionistas who can’t decide whether they should be wearing woolly jumpers or a flimsy shrug, oh the wardrobe dilemmas. Well, they bother me far less than seasonal food confusion. I’m not craving those thick beef stews anymore (although that could be a subconscious horse paranoia) and I’m not onto salads and lighter bites – although vegetables rather than massive piles of mashed potato are quite appealing. In short, what can I eat that’s packed with healthy veg for a new leaner spring-like meal that’s also going to take the edge off my chilly extremities? Two mighty Italian soups come to the rescue, ribollita is a superhero of a soup – a soupahero if you will. It’s packed with gorgeous vegetables in a light broth and punchy aniseed flavours, but I also like the whole meal in a bowl vibe I get from the pasta in minestrone so here’s my conglomeration of both.

Serves 3

1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
¼ of a head of celeriac or 2 sticks of celery, finely diced
½ courgette
400g tin cannelini beans
1.5 pint chicken stock
2 handfuls dried wholewheat conchiglia (shell pasta)
4 small tomatoes, roughly chopped
400g cavalo nero, shredded
1 tsp fennel seeds

  1. In a large pan heat a good glug of olive oil. Fry the onion for 2 minutes and then add the garlic carrot, celeriac or celery and courgette and cover with a lid, sweat gently for 10 more minutes until all the veg is soft.
  2. Add the beans to the pot with the stock, pasta, tomatoes and cavalo nere, add some freshly ground black pepper and the fennel seeds and give it a good stir. Bring the soup to the boil and then simmer for 15 minutes until the pasta is cooked. Serve ladled into bowls.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Ratatouille with a poached egg and cavalo nero

Snow is a hungry-making substance. I spend hours staring out the window at its endless cold blankness wanting nothing more than to fill my stomach with warm things. I’m sure it’s primal, a leftover animal instinct from hibernation, eat lots of warm soporific foods and lull yourself into that deep winter sleep. Well, I’m craving meat-on-my-bones type meals, which is at odds with a January healthy eating approach. Leaving me in one of those kitchen dichotomies where belly’s reaching for a hearty beef stew or a good roast pork and my head wants me to get my five-a-day in one sitting. This is a happy medium, it’s warm and packed with flavour from all the veg and it includes a soft-poached egg and I love a good oeuf any time of day. It’s great for scooping up with hunks of bread. I can’t claim complete credit for the inspiration as I ate something similar a few years ago at Bishopsgate Kitchen in Shoreditch and this is my version of it.

Serves 2

1 red pepper
1 orange pepper
1 red onion
1 courgette
½ aubergine
2 cloves garlic
4 plum tomatoes
2 sprigs of rosemary
5-6 leaves cavalo nero, cut into wide strips (use spring greens if you can’t find it)
2 eggs
a few fresh oregano or basil leaves
a grating of pecorino

  1. Preheat the oven to 160C/ fan 140C. Roughly chop the peppers, onion, courgette and aubergine and fry each one a little in a frying pan, just enough to colour the edges a bit. Then add them to a casserole dish. 
  2. Chop the garlic and tomatoes and add to the casserole dish along with the rosemary, picking the leaves from the sprigs and tearing slightly. Season with salt and pepper and give it a good stir. Put the lid on the casserole dish and place in the oven for  about 45 minutes, stir and check the ratatouille halfway through.
  3. About 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time, bring two pans of water to the boil. In one place a little vinegar and carefully poach the eggs one at a time. In the second a little salt and cavalo nero strips. Remove the eggs after a few minutes when the yolk will still be runny and the cavolo nero once wilted but not yet mushy.
  4. Remove the ratatouille from the oven and heap into bowls topped with cavalo nero and then the egg. Finish with grated pecorino and a scattering of oregano leaves.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Sausage au vin

This side of Christmas I’m generally onboard with winter. Not the cold wind whipping me off my bike, but I enjoy the annual hunker down. I’m a home person really and when it’s getting colder I do take considerable pleasure in staying indoors, shutting the curtains to the rest of the world and putting something in a casserole pot for a long slow braise. Braising is very peasant-y, I like that, it means it’s honest, devoid of pretence and it very rarely goes wrong. This casserole uses hearty ingredients, making the most of a few cheap sausages and a really good grain. So my suggestion on this Sunday evening is to get right into the hunker down with a bowl of sausage au vin.

Serves 2-3

6 good sausages (I used a Toulouse version)
1 red onion, quartered
1 stick celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
150g pearl barley
½ bottle red wine
1 pint vegetable stock
2-3 sprigs rosemary
1 tsp dried thyme leaves

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. In a large pan or hob-friendly casserole dish, fry the sausages in a little oil until they are browned all over, then remove from the pan and set aside. Add a little more olive oil to the pan and fry the onion, celery and carrot until soft. Add the garlic and fry for a minute longer.
  2. Return the sausages to the pan with the pearl barley, give it a good stir, then pour in the wine and enough stock to cover all the ingredients. If using a saucepan, transfer the sauce to a casserole dish with a lid. Nestle the rosemary sprigs among the sausage and sprinkle over the thyme and some black pepper. Place in the oven for about 45mins-1hour until the sauce is thick and the pearl barley is cooked. Check on it halfway to make sure there is enough liquid for the pearl barley to cook.
  3. Remove from the oven and taste, sausages can be salty so you may not need any extra salt but season to your own taste.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Pistachio pesto

Writing a book, travelling to research it and studying for a cooking diploma have kept me away from both the kitchen and this blog of late. And now all of those things have conspired to lead me into a financial cul-de-sac… skint, brasic, penniless. However you want to put it I’m now having to be extra frugal in the kitchen, but I’ll be dammed if that’s going to stop me eating tasty food. In fact it’s making me be a lot more creative. Faced last night with a stub of grana padano, some parsley and a lemon, I decided to add a few extra ingredients to make a tasty pesto. Since my dreaded pine mouth experience of winter 2010, I’ve avoided pine nuts with my trademark hypochondriac precision as the infliction left me unable to taste food or drink without an acrid, bitter taste for two weeks, which is more than this food writer’s nerves can take. So I thought I’d take my lead from the Sicilians who use pistachio in pesto as well as pine nuts and the result was extra creamy and delicious, I also like a little zing and spikiness so lemon zest and chilli flakes have been added, but they’re not essential. This is left-over store-cupboard fodder at its frugal finest. In your face flagging bank balance!

50g shelled pistachio
28g pack of fresh basil
handful flat leaf parsley
30g grana padano
zest of 1 lemon
pinch chilli flakes
olive oil

  1. Add all the ingredients except the oil to a food processor and blitz until the pistachios have broken down but some are still a bit chunky – scrape down the sides with a spatula as you go to make sure it is evenly blitzed. Then, with the food processor still running drizzle in about 100ml of olive oil or 2 big glugs.
  2. When cooking your pasta add a couple of tablespoons of the starchy cooking water to loosen your pesto and serve stirred into pasta and topped with shavings of grana padano.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Sicilian caponata

I seem to be on a bit of an Italian theme at the moment and it's no bad thing. I want fresh whole ingredients quickly and simply transformed into tasty healthy food – something the Italians have been doing for centuries. When I speak to those of you who are making the recipes I put on here, it seems that most of you are looking for easy, healthy midweek meals. Something to pop on the stove walk away for 20 minutes and forget about while you pour a glass of wine and put your feet up. So this one keeps it simple. It's a one-pot stew, a bung it all in and let those Mediterranean flavours work their magic. Have it with bread, a jacket potato or simply with a couple of shavings of parmesan. Buon appetitio!

Serves 2, and a leftover lunch

1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 aubergine, cubed
5 very ripe large tomatoes, chopped (or 1 tin chopped tomatoes)
1/2 courgette
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp dried oregano
1 bunch fresh basil
10-15 large pitted green olives
2 tbsp capers
2 tbsp sultanas
Parmesan and toasted pine nuts, to serve

1. In a large pan fry the onion in a little olive oil until soft, add the garlic and stir. Add the aubergine and fry for a couple of minutes. Then add the chopped tomatoes, courgette, red wine vinegar and oregano and fry for about 5 minutes.

2. Add a handful of chopped basil leaves, the whole olives, capers and sultanas, stir and cover with a lid. Turn the heat down and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked through but not mushy yet.

3. Scatter with fresh basil leaves, torn, some parmesan and pine nuts.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Rack of lamb with braised lentils and salsa verde

It's been a long time since my last post, a busy schedule and the tail end of winter conspired to leave me less than inspired in the kitchen. Now I seem to have emerged from my hibernation to a very wet spring, but at least we can still have the tastes of spring on a plate. And this spring lamb dish was inspired by my boyfriend, Luke, who loves a good rack of lamb. Here it's been given an Italian pairing with braised lentils and salsa verde, the lentils still hearty on a cool evening and the fresh, zingy salsa transporting me to a warm verandah in a southern Italian villa. Well, until the sun decides to shine I'm going to keep things bright, cheery and healthy in the kitchen and with all those lovely lentils, fresh herbs and a gorgeous piece of lamb this dish tops my spring-eating list.

 Serves 2

1 rack of lamb
2 tsp dijon mustard
1 piece stale bread
3 cloves garlic
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves picked
2 lemons, zested
1 onion
200g puy lentils
1 pint vegetable stock
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
a few sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 bunch fresh parsley
5 small anchovy fillets
1 tbsp capers juice of
1 lemon

 1. Preheat the oven to 180C, 160C fan. Using a teaspoon coat the rack of lamb with the mustard and set aside. Blitz the bread, 1 clove of garlic, the rosemary, zest of 1 lemon in a food processor until it is crumbs. Place the crumbs on a plate and then roll the rack of lamb over the crumbs, until well coated.

 2. Fry the onion and garlic in a little olive oil until the onion is soft. Then add the lentils and stock, white wine vinegar, thyme, bay leaf and season with black pepper. Bring to the boil and simmer for 25 mins.

 3. Roughly chop the parsley, anchovies, capers and place in a small bowl, then add the lemon juice and remaining zest and 2 tbsp of olive oil. Mix and season with salt and pepper to taste.

 4. After the lentils have been simmering for 5 mins place the lamb on a baking tray and roast in the oven for 20 mins, until the coating is brown and the lamb is just blushing in the middle.

 5. If the lentils are running low on water add a little more stock. When they are soft but not yet mushy turn them off and ladle into bowls. Remove the lamb from the oven and place on top of the lentils and scatter with the salsa verde.

 Now, sit back with a glass of Chianti on that southern Italian verandah, bliss!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Smoked mackerel kedgeree

I loathe February with every inch of my being. It's cold, dark and so, so boring. I'm going to lay the blame for my less than sunny temperament on, well, the lack of sun itself. Most of us in the UK get to this time of year and we haven't seen any of the warm yellow stuff in quite a while, which means we're all a bit low on the sunshine vitamin D. This actually doesn't account for me being grumpy, but it isn't so good for our teeth and bones. So in a bid to combat British winter and up my vitamin D this dish is packed with it from both the mackerel and the eggs. I've used the combo in a family favourite, my mum is Anglo-Asian and this is a lightly spiced and comforting dish I grew up with. Enjoy.

Serves 3-4

1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
300g basmati rice
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp curry powder
3 whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon
100g frozen peas
3-4 smoked mackerel fillets
3 tbsp greek yogurt, plus extra to serve
4 hardboiled eggs, peeled and halved
handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
1 lemon, cut into wedges

1 In a large saucepan fry the onion and garlic in a little vegetable oil until soft and starting to brown. Then, add the rice and stir before adding enough boiling water to cover the rice plus about a cm on top (about 550ml).

2 Add all of the spices and cinnamon stick. Bring to the boil and simmer for 7 minutes covered with a lid over a low heat. Then add the peas and continue to cook for another four minutes. If the rice is dry and not yet cooked you can add some more water and cook for a few minutes longer. If it looks too watery leave the lid off for the final minutes.

3 Take the skin off the mackerel fillets and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Add to the rice, stir and cook for a minute. Just before serving stir in the greek yogurt and some of the coriander.

4 Serve sprinkled with more corainder the hardboiled eggs, greek yogurt and lemon wedges.