Monday, June 27, 2016

Moving house, a dog-eared recipe folder, and how do you store recipes?

I'm preparing to move house. There are boxes everywhere. As part of this process, I'm sorting through a folder of recipes, mostly clipped from magazines. There are hundreds of recipes here, going back 15 years or more. Some of them are on newsprint that is beginning to turn yellow.

There are some I've now made so many times I no longer need a recipe, and others that I've yet to make. The best food writing stands out, because in those cases I remember the recipe and its introduction clearly, even though it's been years since I read it.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The last asparagus dish - griddled asparagus with roasted vegetables and pasta

So here we are. Late June already. When I bought two bunches of asparagus at the farmers' market this morning, he told me this was the last crop of the year. I wasn't surprised by this news, but it's still a little sad.

So I decided to make something new. Asparagus griddled to bring out its smoky notes, set against sweet roasted peppers and tomatoes, and some olives for a salty hit. I served it with spaghetti, but it could have been tagliatelle or fettuccine. Or some couscous, perhaps.

As for the other bunch of asparagus, it will be going into a risotto, perhaps with some peas. Whenever I cut the tough ends from asparagus stalks, I put them in the freezer, so by the end of the season I have a small bag full, with which to make a stock for my risotto. And that really will be the end.

Pasta with asparagus, roasted peppers, tomatoes and olives

Serves 2


1 sweet pepper (yellow, orange or red)
1 clove garlic
4-5 ripe tomatoes
1/2 tsp dried thyme
About 10 asparagus stalks, preferably medium thickness
150g dried pasta of your choice
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
12-16 black olives (preferably not the type in brine)


Preheat the oven to gas mark 5/ 190C /375F.

Remove the seeds and core from the pepper and chop it into chunks each roughly 2.5cm (1in) square. Put on a baking tray (I don't find oil to be necessary, but you could add a teaspoon of olive oil if you wanted) and in to the preheated oven.

Thinly slice of a clove of garlic. Cut the tomatoes in half, arrange on a baking tray, and sprinkle with black pepper and dried thyme. Put a slice or two on garlic on each half. Put these in the oven too. Roast for about 30 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.

When the vegetables are ready, heat a griddle pan and cook the asparagus on a fairly high heat, turning a couple of times, until it is blackened in places and can be pierced fairly easily with a fork.

Cook the pasta according to packet instructions and stir in the olive oil, the olives, and the roasted veg, then top with the asparagus. Serve immediately. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

The 7 best healthy asparagus recipes

I love asparagus. Now that the English asparagus season has started I'll be eating it as often as possible until the end of the season in late June.

Trouble is, a lot of the classic ways to eat asparagus involve lashings of butter or hollandaise sauce (still basically butter, made even more delicious). Or cheese. Or cheese and pastry (eg asparagus quiche or tartlets). All of which doesn't bear repeating too often. So I've devised a set of healthy dishes that mean I can eat asparagus frequently for eight weeks without too many pangs of guilt.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Asparagus, ricotta and toast

Sometimes you just can't beat toast. Quick, easy, and with the right toppings (whether it's just good butter or something fancier) downright delicious. Oh, and it's a great way to give a new lease of life to bread that's gone slightly stale.

New season English asparagus doesn't need too much to make it a delicious meal. Here I've griddled it to seal in all the flavour, then perched it on top of creamy, garlicky ricotta and of course, some toast. I flavoured the ricotta with some wild garlic that I picked in Sussex at the weekend, but spinach or fresh basil will make a fine substitute.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Tagliatelle with asparagus and mushrooms

Spaghetti carbonara is a classic dish, but what if you want a dish that is vegetarian and fairly healthy? Clearly the answer is not carbonara. This dish though, is maybe the next best thing. The mushrooms give it loads of flavour, then you have the luxury of the new season asparagus.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Eggs baked in garlic rice

My second wild garlic dish of this spring is a variation of a dish I've previously made with spinach. It's got plenty of big flavours, so the punchy wild garlic works a treat. But not to worry if you don't have wild garlic - just use spinach plus a few garlic cloves.

It's not necessarily the most beautiful dish, but the taste more than makes up for it - good cheesy, starchy comfort food with all the loveliness of a runny egg yolk. And it's even pretty healthy. As long as you use a full-flavoured cheese, this dish makes a small piece of cheese go a long way.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Spiced lentils, kohlrabi and wild garlic

Hurray for wild garlic season again. It's with us for just a few short weeks (during which time I am quite likely to smell of garlic). Then it's gone for another year, to be followed by the British asparagus season, and I'll know that summer really is on the way.

It took me less than five minutes to gather half a carrier bag full of wild garlic in the Surrey hills last week. Some of it made its way onto a mushroom, garlic and ricotta pizza - one of my perennial favourites. The rest went into this dish of spiced lentils. A curry or something similar really is one of the best ways to use wild garlic. This is not a subtle ingredient, so it can really stand up to strong spices, as well as taking the place of the garlic you would probably be putting in your curry anyway.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Root vegetable tagine

Root vegetables might not be the most exciting things to have in the fridge, but with a bit of encouragement they can be as delicious as the most exotic ingredients. I like to roast them to bring out the sweetness, then add layers of flavour with spices, herbs and harissa paste.

The word tagine has come to apply to a wide variety of dishes, as long as they're looked in one pot, with vaguely Moroccan flavours and generally some dried fruit in the mix. Traditionally, of course, the word applies to the cooking pot itself. But for this dish any roasting tin with a couple of inches of depth will do just fine.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Charred broccoli, lentils and beetroot

Charred food seems to be all the rage right now. Charred (you might say burnt if you were being less pretentious) vegetables in particular are something that I'd barely encountered, at least outside of barbecues, until recently. Whether the trend began as an error by an inattentive chef (a bit like the legend of the origin of tarte tatin), I couldn't say. In any case, aubergines and peppers respond particularly well to this treatment - I made a very moreish baba ghanoush at the weekend whose smokiness was matched only by the kick of garlic.

But brassicas are worth trying too. Bringing a bit of char to broccoli brings out a sweetness in its stems, balanced by a hint of bitterness from the burnt patches on the florets. If you ask me, it's as glamorous as broccoli ever gets.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Broccoli and cauliflower with tomatoes and cheese

Broccoli and cauliflower - humble veg that get a star billing in this dish, with delicious results.

Cooking the vegetables in the tomato sauce means they soak up some of the flavours. The olives and the cheesy topping also helps to make them moreish rather than virtuous. In fact I like to think of it as the lovechild of pizza and cauliflower cheese, but with more veggies and less fat, so you can enjoy it without too much guilt.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Salty and sweet: pear and blue cheese pizza

I admit, when I first saw the word "pear" in close proximity to "pizza" I was sceptical. Fruit? Really? (I know there's a school of thought that says pineapple is an acceptable pizza topping, but I think I left that school about 20 years ago.)

But actually the sweetness of the pear is perfect with the salty blue cheese. I'm often a fan of the classic tomato sauce on pizza, but the slowly cooked onion is great for a change, and the caramelly notes adding another dimension, with the spinach as a gentle backdrop of earthiness.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Winter pilaff with red onions, leeks and olives

This dish was born from some huge red onions I picked up at the farmers market yesterday. Almost the size of swedes and with glossy purple skins, they were the stand-out buy on the vegetable stall, not to mention being cheap as chips (actually much cheaper, gram for gram).

Then there were the leeks that were lingering in the fridge, waiting to be used up. Both leeks and onions are faithful winter favourites, which just needed a bit of fire adding to them. Lemon zest, olives and chilli flakes did the trick, followed by toasted flaked almonds for some nutty crunch. I had some dill in the fridge left over from another dish, but flatleaf parsley, basil or mint would work nicely too.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Savoury bread and butter pudding

"Bread and butter pudding? Surely that's a dessert?" I hear you cry.

It can be a delicious main course too. It's still a great way of using up stale bread, plus any odds and ends of cheese you have lying round. Despite the name of the dish, I skip the butter to keep the fat content down, especially as I'm using cheese too.

The recipe is almost infinitely adaptable - try different cheeses, leave out the cherry tomatoes, swap the onions for leeks (in which case I would be tempted to go for a blue cheese such as Stilton), or try other vegetables such as spinach or mushrooms instead of or as well as the onions.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Black bean soup

I love all kinds of beans and lentils, but black beans aren't a variety I've cooked with too often.

I've used the canned kind in chilli in the distant past, but generally kidney beans are my go-to variety for a chilli (sometimes with chick peas too). Cannelini beans or other creamy white beans are what I turn to for dips and Italian-inspired dishes such as stews and soups. And then chick peas have all kinds of uses - in substantial salads, pasta sauces, hummus, occasionally a curry. (Writing this list, it occurs to me that it's time I showed black-eyed beans a bit of love too.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Chick peas with leeks, squash and broccoli

Another healthy yet deeply satisfying salad. This one has all the vegetable goodness of broccoli, leeks and squash, protein from the chick peas, and then a flavour hit plus good fats from the almond and red pepper pesto. It's great for packed lunches, too.


Makes 4-6 portions

3 leeks
1 small to medium butternut squash
2 tsp olive oil
1 small to medium head of broccoli
2 bell peppers (ideally orange or yellow, though red will work just fine)
2 tins chick peas (or soak and cook 250g dried chick peas if you prefer)
2 tbsp almond and red pepper pesto (home-made or shop-bought - see directions below if you want to make it)


Heat the oven to gas mark 5 190C/ 375F. Cut open and deseed the butternut squash (don't throw away the seeds - put them in the oven for a few minutes until lightly golden, and either scatter over the cooked salad or save for a snack). I rarely bother to peel butternut squash - you could if you really want to, but I find it more trouble than it's worth. Chop the squash into small cubes and toss in a baking tray with 1 tsp of the olive oil, then put on the top shelf of the oven.

Slice the leeks into short lengths of about 1cm (half an inch) and the pepper into roughly square pieces. Put the leeks and peppers on a large baking tray (or two trays if not everything will fit), which you have greased with the other teaspoon of olive oil, and add to the oven. Set a timer for 15 minutes.

Once the 15 minutes is up, check on the squash and stir if it's cooking unevenly. The squash is likely to need about 30 minutes and the leeks and peppers perhaps 20, but keep an eye on all the vegetables and remove from the oven when they are tender but not browned. At this point, drain the tins of chick peas, add them to the baking trays with the leeks, peppers and squash, and return to the oven for five minutes.

Wash the broccoli, chop into florets and steam for about five minutes or until tender. Mix all the veg together and drizzle over the pesto. Serve warm or at room temperature.

For the pesto

2 roasted red or orange peppers (from a jar or roast them yourself along with the peppers for the salad)
50g / 2oz whole almonds, toasted in a dry pan until lightly browned
2 tbsp good-quality rapeseed oil (use olive oil if you prefer) or more if needed
1 tbsp grated pecorino or parmesan

Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend until you have a fairly smooth paste. Add more oil if needed to loosen.

This will make more pesto than you need for the recipe, but will keep for a few days, covered, in the fridge.