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.