Apr03

Welcome to Blog A Cook

This is where you’ll find out what’s stirring in my kitchen at the moment, what seasonal ingredients are getting the juices flowing and any random hints or tips that occur to me as I cook.

Please feel free to leave me comments.

Apr08

The Beetroot files

Fresh beetroot

Fresh beetroot

Half the people I meet can’t stand beetroot and, after the treatment the poor miserable vegetable received at the hands of generations of British cooks, who can blame them? Boiled to death and then soaked in horribly acrid malt vinegar, it then lurked on plates of ham salad, or leaked purplish juices into bowls of limp mixed salad. If you were very lucky it might have been enlivened by a touch of the viscous salad cream that was England’s answer to mayonnaise, but which more closely resembled buttermilk emulsion paint.

But, people, banish the vinegar, lose the limp lettuce and take heart, because beetroot really is the most fabulous vegetable! Sweet, earthy and peppery all at once, it is delicious both raw and cooked, is good hot or cold, makes great crisps, stunning soups, delicious juices and interesting

beetroot, banana and ginger smoothie

In my garden today: beetroot, banana and ginger smoothies

smoothies. I haven’t had it in pudding, yet, but there’s still time. And the good news is that it also comes in several different shades, so if blood red isn’t your colour, go for the mid-red, the golden or the bull-eye’s striped varieties that you can find around in farmers’ markets and your friends’ gardens. (Well, my friend Ann grows wondrous stripy ones, anyway.)

Last night my friend Bertie came over and we had a beetroot salad with red onion and a balsamic and caraway dressing. I found the recipe years ago when I was working on the Gary Rhodes’ Good Cooking magazine, cut it out, used it a few times and then tragically lost it. But just now I found it in my filing system and I only wish I could remember where it came from and I would give its author an enormous hug (or a credit, anyway) because this is a dish you could eat on a nearly daily basis. Here it is, slightly adapted.

Beetroot Salad with Red Onion and Balsamic Vinegar

Serves 4

beetroot salad with balsamic vinegar

beetroot salad with balsamic vinegar

450g cooked beetroot

1 tbsp groundnut or sunflower oil

1 tsp grainy mustard

4 tbsp balsamic vinegar

dash Tabasco

1 tsp caraway seeds, lightly crushed

1 red onion, sliced really finely

1 handful chopped parsley or coriander

50 g Feta

Sea salt and ground black pepper

Dice or slice the beetroot into acceptable chunks for your palate and put into a bowl. Mix the oil, mustard, vinegar, Tabasco and caraway and tip it over the beetroot and allow it to marinate to develop the flavours. When you are about to eat, add the onion, parsley and seasoning. Finally crumble the Feta over the top and decorate with some sprigs of parsley.

This is delicious with slices of cold pork and some home made oven chips; it’s pretty nice straight out of the bowl with no accompaniments at all.

beetroot salad with cold sliced pork and home made soda bread with raisins and caraway seeds

beetroot salad with cold sliced pork and home made soda bread with raisins and caraway seeds

Talking of pork, I’ve lately been teaching my Indian cookery groups a very nice meat stew called botigosht, which can be made with lamb or pork and it’s really good with a very simple dish of spiced beetroot. The earthy sweetness of the beetroot is combined with tangy tomatoes, spiked with cumin and just a touch of chilli. Thank you, Ms Jaffrey! As she rightly points out most Indian vegetable dishes work just as well with English roasts and cold meats. Sadly there’s no picture of this one today as I haven’t any beetroot left after my orgy of smoothie drinking this morning (by the way, don’t you like the spring flowers? I have one square metre of colour in my otherwise-untouched-by-spring garden.)

Spiced Beetroot

Serves 4

450g beetroot, peeled and cut into neat chunks

4 tbsp veg oil

1 tsp whole cumin seeds

1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped

1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 tsp plain flour

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1 can tomatoes

1 tsp salt

275ml (1/2 pt) water

Heat the oil and put in the cumin seeds and sizzle them for a few seconds. Add garlic and stir until it starts to turn golden. Add onion and stir fry for 2 minutes before adding flour and chilli powder. Stir fry again for a minute. Add beetroot, tomatoes, salt and water. Bring up to the boil, then cover and simmer until the beets become tender, about 30 minutes for young ones and much, much longer for oldies. If the dish is too wet, cook it uncovered until some of the liquid evaporates.

Basic beetroot knowhow

Of course you can eat beetroot raw; choose small young roots, scrub and trim them, then peel and grate or chop into fine matchsticks or mini chunks. If you prefer them cooked, the options are boiling, steaming, microwaving or roasting, all of which can produce excellent results. Unless the beetroot is to be gently stewed in a casserole, as in  Spiced Beetroot above, it’s best to leave the skins on while the root is cooking. When they are tender, allow them to cool and then peel off the skin and shape them as you wish. Whichever way you choose, everything will acquire a delightful pinkish tinge! We made beetroot muffins for Good Cooking one week which, though nice to eat, didn’t make it to the camera as their lurid glow didn’t really complement the cappucino, so we took photographs of the courgette muffins instead.

Finally as I feel all Book a Cook blogs should end with a drink, the very best of the many beetroot soups I have ever drunk packs the punch of a Bloody Mary without a drop of alcohol in it, though I’m sure that a shot glass of vodka for each shot glass of soup would be splendid. For this one my heartfelt thanks to Jill Dupleix, who apparently got the recipe from the staff of the Orient Express.

Chilled Beetroot Soup with creme fraiche

Chilled beetroot soup with not a drop of vodka in sight!

Chilled beetroot soup with not a drop of vodka in sight!

Enough for 12 small glasses

3 shallots, 3 cloves garlic, 1 bunch basil, 3 celery stalks, 400g cooked peeled beetroot chopped small

50ml red wine vinegar

50ml extra virgin olive oil

50ml vegetable oil

300ml vegetable stock

Sea salt and pepper

To serve:

100g creme fraiche

finely chopped chives

12 shots vodka

Mix all the vegetables in a bowl and mix with the vinegar and oils. Cover with clingfilm and marinate for a few hours. Whizz to a smooth puree, then add the stock and season the mixture to taste. Add a little extra vinegar for bite if you wish. Chill until you are ready to serve.

Pour the mixture into attractive small glasses and top with a small dab of creme fraiche. Scatter with the chives and have with chilled vodka alongside. The last is not compulsory, really.

Dec08

Good things to do with sprouts

Take a handful of Brussels sprouts...

Take a handful of Brussels sprouts...

On a misery scale this evening was rating pretty high: TGC has returned to India to earn his share of the family crust; I’ve been trying to get myself together to fulfil some nice cookery commissions and can’t even find where I’ve filed the recipes; I have a persistent hacking cough; Tipu needs energetic companionship and I haven’t the puff for playing hide and seek up and down the stairs; and it’s still raining. Then something told me to heave Hell’s Own Pussycat off my lap, remove myself from the beastly screen and make myself some supper.

More misery. The nourishing chicken left over from the Invalid’s Soup that I made for a sad friend had died of neglect at the back of the fridge. Tipu’s and HOP’s gain but what was I going to eat? Ha! There was a bag of good sprouts from Balham market, a small box of pancetta, some salad spinach and two mince pies left over from a batch I made for the local deli. So I walloped the mince pies while thinking about sprouts. Always have pudding first if you want inspiration for a main dish – could this be my new lifestyle motto?

sprouts longing to be made into salad

sprouts longing to be made into salad

I actually like sprouts. I do realise that loads of people don’t, and I can only sympathise. Horrid childhood experiences on the sprout front can leave permanent scars. A Granny-in-law of mine used to put her sprouts on to cook right after breakfast and keep them bubbling away until lunchtime – she viewed undercooked vegetables in the same way as we might view, say, deadly nightshade or a strange snake on the dining table. Her flat smelt quite strongly and somehow we always managed to avoid staying for lunch.

My father grew sprouts, however, and at home they were treated with respect – crosses cut in the bases, boiled al dente and served with butter –  a perfectly acceptable solution. But they never engendered any great enthusiasm in me until several years ago some enlightened souls (Julian and Moggy, are you out there somewhere?) offered them to me in a salad: they sliced their very, very fresh sprouts thinly and added them to a bowl of lettuce leaves with a garlicky dressing. They added an unfamiliar but pleasant texture that was excellent. Since that day I’ve mixed raw sprout slices with toasted walnuts, sliced avocado, sliced ham or crispy bacon, spinach leaves, lettuce and grated cabbage and carrot; they’ll add a special new dimension to any combination. I am especially fond of dressing them with roughly two parts walnut oil to one of lemon juice, toned with sea salt and some fresh black pepper.

But salad wasn’t tonight’s solution. After the double dose of mince pie, my misery demanded pasta, so why not a sprouty one? Fusion food gone mad, I hear you shudder, but do give it a go, it’s really rather special. Here’s what you need:

Brussel sprout and pancetta spaghetti

Sprouts, pancetta, spinach and pine nuts in the pan

Sprouts, pancetta, spinach and pine nuts in the pan

Serves one, but you could multiply the quantities for more people

  • 100g spaghetti
  • 6 really fresh Brussels sprouts, finely sliced
  • 75g  pancetta, cubed
  • 1 fat clove garlic, finely sliced
  • Pinch chilli flakes
  • Handful baby spinach leaves, washed
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Put the spaghetti into a pan of briskly boiling salted water and cook until al dente, about 12-15 minutes depending on the brand and your denti.

Meanwhile, fry the pancetta in a very small amount of olive oil for two or three minutes. Now stir in the sliced sprouts, garlic and chilli flakes, and stir fry until the sprouts take on a golden tinge. Put in the spinach and cook until it wilts, then finally add the pine nuts. Add a couple of grinds of pepper and remove from the heat.

A spirit-raising bowl of pasta

A spirit-raising bowl of pasta

Drain the pasta, pile the sprout mixture on top and enjoy. You could add cheese if you wanted; I didn’t. But I did feel a whole lot better at the end of it. I wish I’d had another glass of wine, though, but the bottle was finished. Too bad.

Sep08

Of jam and gin

Tipu communes with WG Grace

Tipu communes with WG Grace

Occasionally Tipu and I walk a small boy to school across Clapham Common and this week we picked up the first conkers of the season – it’s wonderful to have an excuse to collect them as I love their rich, satiny chestnut gloss, wonderful patterning like contour lines on a map and their creamy undersides. Shame you can’t eat them, really.

However, the advent of conkers with their implicit message that summer was really over put me into a bit of a panic. I’d steadfastly been ignoring the blackberries on Tooting Common on the grounds that it was far too early for all that jammy nonsense but then when I looked again the Tooting brambles were rapidly going over the hill. I rather stickily collected the remnants of what must have been a marvellous crop then started to hunt for elderberries. Tooting offered sloes (tempting for the gin) but no elder bushes at all, so I took myself off to a wildlife conservation area were elderberries were plentiful, though again the blackberries were, well, a bit rubbish really. On the way, incidentally, Tipu and I passed the grave of the great cricketer W.G. Grace and made our obeisances to his shade…

Anyway, we collected (or I did, and Tipu pootled about jumping in and out of muddy ditches and swan-filled ponds) more squishy blackberries and loads of elderberries and headed home. Squishy blackberries are just NOT what the books recommend when preserving fruit – firm and ripe is perfect – but I hoped that the jelly would work anyway. And it did! It tastes just as nice as it used to when I collected conkers for myself. By the way, if you are worrying about the availability of blackberries, anywhere outside London (where we have a famously warm microclimate, ho hem) the hedgerows are chock full of them – I collected loads of firm sweet ones this weekend in Kent, and kilos of damsons and sloes as well, and plenty more were coming through.

So this is what you do to make the nicest autumn jelly in the whole world, ever. You will need a large preserving pan or very big stockpot type saucepan, a jelly bag and a means to suspend it over the preserving pan, a quantity of clean jam jars with lids and a packet of jampot covers containing waxed discs, cellophane tops, rubber bands and labels. Match the size to the jars you have – I find it better to buy the 2lb size (weirdly, jam makers remain firmly imperial, none of that metric nonsense) discs, etc, as you can always cut them down but you can’t scale them up if you have wide-necked jars.

Blackberry and Elderberry Jelly

Blackberries and elderberries dripping; damsons waiting their turn

Blackberries and elderberries dripping; damsons waiting their turn

  • Equal quantities of blackberries and elderberries
  • Granulated sugar

Start by stripping all the berries off the elder sprigs. To do this, hold the stalk of the sprig firmly in one hand and use a fork in the other hand to rip the berries off into a colander. Lots end up on the floor. Don’t tread on them, they stain nicely. Rinse them, weigh them either properly or by eye and put them into the pan. Rinse the blackberries and add a matching quantity. Cover the whole lot with cold water, with perhaps a couple of centimetres more water than fruit and slowly bring them up to a boil. Turn down and simmer until the fruit is really tender, which takes about an hour.

Let the fruit and its liquid cool for a bit then carefully put it into the jelly bag suspended over a robust saucepan or mixing bowl. Allow it to drip for about 24 hours. When no more liquid is emerging from the bag, measure the fluid and for each pint (here we go being imperial again) of blackberry and elderberry juice you need 1lb of sugar (550ml water to 450gm sugar).

Heat the oven to 140C/gas 1 and put the clean jam jars in to sterilise them.

Put juice and sugar into the clean pan and heat very gently, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Then bring the pan to a boil and let it boil hard for about 20 minutes. When the mixture looks really bubbled all through you can start to test it for set. Take a cold plate, dribble a little of the mixture on to it, leave it for a couple of seconds, then tip the plate gently and see if the jelly is beginning to set. If it runs off, keep boiling and checking every five minutes until the jelly forms a little crinkled skin on its surface as you tip it; this means it’s ready.

Let the jelly cool for a little while. Stir in a knob of butter to help disperse the scum. Remove any remaining scum with a slotted spoon and put it on to the testing plate. (Scum it may be but it’s rather nice on bread and butter!)

Use a small jug to pour the jelly into the hot jars. Carefully place a waxed disc on top of each one (it must be a good fit to keep mould from forming, so trim the discs if necessary) and then cover with a lid. Alternatively, moisten the cellophane tops and carefully stretch them over the jars, securing them with a rubber band. Label and store somewhere cool.

Note: if you can’t find blackberries, elderberries work well with apples to make jelly, but the taste isn’t so luscious.

damsons and damson jelly

damsons and damson jelly

To make damson jelly, which is a lot nicer than damson jam (and has none of those tiresome stones that you really never can get rid of) wash the fruit, cover it with water and cook until tender as before, then continue as for Blackberry and Elderberry Jelly.  Damson jelly also works on the pound of juice to pint of water principle and, because the damsons are so tart, there is never any problem with the set.

And where was W. G. Grace while the jelly was being made? Lurking in the corner of the Book a Cook kitchen, of course!

Waiting for a googly

Waiting for a googly

And now for the gin…

Sloe gin

  • 75cl gin
  • 200-300g ripe sloes
  • Sugar to cover

First rinse the sloes in a colander, and remove any bits of twig or leaves that are hanging about. Prick the sloes with a fork. Tip a clear bottle of gin (Bombay Sapphire of course has the prettiest bottle but don’t be tempted: the blue glass looks awful when full pink sloe gin) into a container, and put the sloes into the empty bottle, filling it to at least one third the way up.  Now, using a funnel, pour in caster sugar. Shake the bottle gently as you do it, so that the sugar gets down in among the fruit. The sugar should end up level with the top of the sloes. Next pour the gin carefully back into the bottle. Screw on the top and lay the bottle on its side somewhere safe. For about a week or so you should turn the bottle every day so that the sugar dissolves and the fruit juices start to get into the alcohol. After that, you can turn the bottle whenever you remember. Gradually the liquor will turn a deep and satisfying shade of pink – the riper the sloes, the darker the gin – and by Christmas (assuming you’ve started the process in September to October) you can pour yourself a glass and celebrate!  I like it with lots of ice, but it’s good as an after-dinner liqueur too.

Jul19

Glyndebourne it ain’t

On Wednesday last week the Royal Opera House broadcast a live performance of The Barber of Seville to open air screens around the UK. Despite a hideous weather forecast, my friend Guy (to whom I am grateful for several of the photos on this website) and I decided that we would meet at Canary Wharf and picnic while we listened to the music. We were excited because tenor Juan Diego Florez (he of the high Es rather than Cs) was to sing Count Almaviva, and we’d heard that the mezzo Joyce DiDonato playing Rosina was not only in fine voice but in a wheelchair as well!  We were buzzing.
I made a picnic –  a rather curious mixture of Goan chicken cafreal with flat breads and salad, followed by strawberries, raspberries and home-made Magdalenas (little Spanish buns flavoured with citrus zest) – while Guy raided Waitrose for nibbles and a couple of bottles of wine. We really didn’t think they were serious about the weather…
A little later, covered from head to foot in large white plastic ponchos and huddled together on a white tarpaulin thoughtfully provided by BP, we realised that it was impossible to get at the picnic (or the bottles of wine) without real danger of drowning.  As the rain hurled down, a quick glance around the square showed some 500 other people were in the same quandary – it looked like a field full of white mushrooms rising above the flood.
Anyway, it turned out that even mushrooms feel better when well marinated in wine and when the rain let up we were able to face the food as well – I can thoroughly recommend the combination of summer fruits and Magdalenas with only slightly watered white wine. Oh, and the opera was cool, too!

Magdalenas

Magdalenas in drier times

Magdalenas in drier times

  • 115g plain flour
  • 50g caster sugar
  • grated zest of two lemons
  • 100ml olive oil
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • Icing sugar

Heat the oven to 180C/ gas 4. Mix together the flour, sugar, lemon zest, oil and egg yolks. This will look rather grainy and lumpy but keep beating it. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then loosen the Magdalena mixture with two or three tablespoons of it before gently folding the rest of the whites in.
Line a bun tray with bun cases (you may need more than 12) and fill the cases about two thirds of the way up. Bake until the Magdalenas are golden and firm to the touch.
Cool on a wire rack and then dust with icing sugar.

Jul19

Cake walk

I dream of cake; Tipu longs for a river with cake beside it

I dream of cake; Tipu longs for a river with cake beside it

A rather dull walk today shoving Book a Cook leaflets through letter boxes drove my thoughts back wistfully to a great walk last month in Perthshire. Obviously after all those Anstruther fish and chips, the odd calorie busting hike in the Highlands was in order. However, although Tipu will walk anywhere, anytime, as long as there’s a river or loch at the end of it to hurl himself into, TB and I like a decent pub or a nice tea at the end.

Then we remembered Glen Lyon, one of Scotland’s prettiest places, where it’s possible to have a bracing walk with a splendid view, splosh about in the river and eat cake.

Glen Lyon Tea Shop

Glen Lyon Tea Shop

We’ll skip the walk – you must take my word for it that it was very beautiful, very steep and the picnic at the summit pretty ok too – and take you swiftly to the Glen Lyon Shop and Post Office and Tea Room where they sell postcards, rather exotic cooking stuff for campers (fragrant Thai rice, curry pastes and so on) and truly excellent cakes and scones, freshly home made by Jan Hay. Honestly if we’d known how enormous the slices were we’d have shared a portion, but in our blissful ignorance we ordered one portion of scones and cream and one of almond cake and were thus forced into over-indulgence. I must confess that Tipu’s iron regime was once again overturned, but then he did do some very serious river sploshing to compensate.
The tea was Darjeeling in a china pot; the scones were light, the clotted cream rich and the strawberry jam home-made. The almond cake was perfect; very moist and light with just the right taste of almond without being overwhelming. Jan told me it was a slightly adapted Nigella recipe (thanks to her for the inspiration), and that she sometimes varies it by adding dried fruit such as apricots. With or without apricots, it was a tea worth walking a long way for!

delightful indulgence: almond cake and scone with cream

delightful indulgence: almond cake and scone with cream

Almond cake

  • 250g butter
  • 250g marzipan
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 150g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp almond essence
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 50g dried apricots, chopped (optional)

Whiz the butter, marzipan and sugar in a processor, then whiz in the eggs one at a time. Then add the flour, almond and vanilla essence. Stir in the chopped apricots if you like the additional moist fruitiness.
Scrape the mixture into a greased and lined 20cm cake tin and cook at 180C/gas 4 for around 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool for a while in the tin, then turn on to a wire rack.

Jun24

Gorgeous garlic

Tonight I have two friends coming to a casual pick and mix sort of supper. We have some gorgeous “wet” garlic, which I’m going to roast;  a dish of fried prawns and chorizo; and some new potatoes that I’ll dress with Salsa Verde. There’ll be a French stick, Manchego and a soft white cheese and some fruit – and possibly a glass of wine or even several.

Wet garlic

Wet garlic

At this time of year in farmers’ markets, greengrocers (if you are lucky enough to have such things) and some supermarkets you’ll see these wondrous new season garlics. They’re fat purple and white bulbs with lovely green long stalks.  Snap them up and enjoy them while you can, for the season is short – in a month or so they’ll turn into the semi-dried garlics that you normally buy which, delicious though they are, are not the same.

Fresh garlic is unbelievably mild (and leaves hardly a trace on the breath, always a plus) and you can use it freely to chop into omelettes and tortillas, crush into vinaigrettes, flavour soup and stock. Where you might use 2-3 cloves of old garlic, 6-8 cloves of fresh or “wet” garlic  will add a wonderful aromatic smokiness to your dishes.

Roast wet garlic

Serves 4

  • 4 bulbs of new season’s garlic
  • Lots of sprigs of fresh thyme
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt and black pepper
ready for the oven

ready for the oven

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Cut the tops off the garlic bulbs, so that the flesh of each clove is just exposed. Pack the bulbs upright into a small baking dish, season with salt and pepper, arrange the thyme over the top and drizzle with olive oil. Cover with a piece of greaseproof  paper and bake in the oven for half an hour until the garlic is tender. Serve with hunks of Manchego or on bread spread with soft cheese.

Jun16

Chips with anything

Carry on, Anstruther

Anstruther mainWorthy though Gordon Brown is of respect, no doubt, I’ve never felt moved to make a pilgrimage to his native part of Scotland, Fife. However, this year, instead of zooming straight through the southern end of the country to the Highlands (by the way, have you tried butteries, Scotland’s splendid answer to croissants? They alone make a trip to Aviemore in the Grampians worth while, even if the snow isn’t always up to much) we decided to spend a week in a small village called Kilconquhar, about 20 miles from the PM’s home town of Kirkcaldy,

Fife is gorgeous. No terrifyingly gloomy peaks to conquer, but pretty hills, lovely valleys, plenty of fat cattle and sheep, and a relatively kindly climate. Scotland’s a month behind England and so there were bluebells, lilac, rhododendrons, peonies and masses of wildflowers everywhere. And you are never far from the sea, or at least the massive estuary that is the Firth of Forth, which offers wonderful empty and clean beaches, gentle headlands and pretty harbours. You’re also never more than a couple of feet from a golf course, with the granddaddy of them all, the Royal and Ancient at St Andrews, being merely the most famous.

Anstruther fish barHowever, the three of us, viz., The Beloved, Tipu the Collie and me, are keener on food than pursuing small white balls so we walked the coastal path, skirting the golf courses and stopping off at the fishing villages along the way. Anstruther rapidly became our favourite because there we found the wonderful  family-run Anstruther Fish Bar which serves (it’s official) the best fish and chips in Great Britain.

The haddock and chips were heaven. As if that were not enough, part of the shop is dedicated to selling glorious Scottish/Italian homemade ice-cream, with a suitably ambrosial one called “milk and honey” being Tipu’s favourite (The Beloved having sacrificed more than half of his cornet to the dog!!!!), while the creme brulée one was mine.

TB and Tipu share! an icecream

TB sacrifices perfect ice-cream to Tipu

Now you are probably hoping that I can give you the foolproof recipe for the Anstruther batter, which was the best I have ever eaten (light, extremely crispy and with a hint of spice), but I think batter is best left to people with a penchant for deep frying, such as fish and chip shops. But I can recommend that if you have ever have haddock that fresh (it was practically still swimming) you should cook it extremely simply and then make the best oven-baked chips in the world to go with it. Of course these chips will taste also wonderful with steak, chicken, pork, you name it.  Amazingly, they’re pretty healthy too! This quantity serves two.

Chips to go with your very, very fresh fish

  • Two large red or King Edward potatoes
  • Thyme
  • Chilli flakes
  • Sea salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 190C/gas 5. Cut the scrubbed but unpeeled potatoes into thick wedges. Put them into a non-stick baking tray and scatter thyme sprigs (dried thyme is fine too), chilli flakes, salt and pepper over them. Tip on roughly a tablespoon of olive oil and toss so that the potatoes are well coated. Bake for about 20 minutes and then eat with a dish of garlic mayonnaise on the side.

(To make garlic mayo really quickly, just dollop some decent quality bought mayo into a small bowl, add a squashed clove of garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice and a grind or two of pepper. Not as good as the real thing, but not bad at all.)

May07

Goaty tart

A Damascene moment?

A Damascus moment?

As far as I’m concerned, the jury’s still out on goat’s cheese, by which I mean those little logs that turn up on cheese boards and stick to the roof of your mouth when you eat them. Well someone gave me a couple the other day and they lurked in the fridge for a while but then I wanted to make a little something to fill some hungry folk before dinner itself was ready, and decided to use the one of them. So I rolled out leftover puff pastry, mashed up the goat’s cheese, skin and all, with a bit of leftover Stilton, a little cream cheese to loosen it, put in a dollop of salsa verde and spread it on the pastry. Then I topped that with halved plum tomatoes and shoved it in the oven for 15 minutes eh voila!  a really pretty tart with a very nice flavour. Not precisely a Damascus moment, but a small revelation at least!

Goaty tart

  • 1/2 pkt ready rolled puff pastry
  • 1 small goat’s cheese log
  • 50g Stilton
  • 100g half fat cream cheese
  • 1 dsp salsa verde or pesto
  • 6-8 baby plum tomatoes, halved

Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6. Lay out the pastry and cut a line all round it about 2cm in from the edge. Mash up the cheeses with the salsa verde and spread over the pastry. Top with sliced tomatoes and sprinkle with pepper. Cook for about 15 minutes until the pastry is well risen and golden and the topping bubbling nicely. Scatter torn basil leaves over it and serve.

Apr28

Green, Green Soups

These both satisfy my craving for food to match the budding leaves of the spring trees and provide very healthy and satisfying lunches for home or the office. They are very quick and easy to make and can be eaten hot or cold with a chunk of crusty bread.

Pea and Broad Bean Soup

Green enough to please your aesthetic senses and healthy enough to have even my gastro-enterologist lodger jumping with happiness, this tastes delicious and takes about 10 minutes to make. You can skip the broad beans and make a simple pea soup – just double the quantity of peas.

  • 250g frozen peas
  • 250g frozen baby broad beans
  • 250ml chicken stock
  • 3-4 spring onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

Put all the ingredients into a saucepan. The stock should cover the vegetables; if it doesn’t, add some water. Bring to the boil, cook for about three minutes. Take off the heat and blitz with a hand blender; season to taste. Serve hot or chilled with a swirl of yoghurt, olive oil and some chopped mint or chives.

Apr26

Rocket and Walnut Pesto

Rocket and Walnut Pesto

Rocket and Walnut Pesto

You can buy excellent jars of pesto, but making your own is more satisfying. “Proper” pesto is of course made with basil, garlic, parmesan, pine nuts and oil and is a joyous thing.
The trouble is that our climate in England makes it hard to grow large quantities of basil except in the best summers, and supermarket basil is expensive. So all sorts of alternative pestos have sprung up.
This rocket and walnut version is one I found years ago in Waitrose’s Food Illustrated, which remains one of the most inspirational food mags around.

  • 75g rocket leaves
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 50g walnut halves
  • 4 tbsp grated parmesan
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 180ml extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Whizz leaves, garlic, walnuts, parmesan and lemon in a blender, then add the oil a little at a time until you get the consistency you want. Check seasoning and keep in a sealed jar in the fridge until you need it.

For four people, cook 500g penne or other chunky pasta until al dente. Drain and stir through the pesto and a good handful of fresh rocket leaves. Top with toasted walnut pieces and roasted cherry tomatoes and a sprinkle of sea salt.