Rich Vegetable Cassoulet

Oh we do love beans in our house! Baked, blitzed, fried, refried, cold, marinated, stewed.... any and every possible way will do. I found this fantastic premixed bag of ten different bean varieties, including some of my favourites like kidney, sugar, mung, butter and haricots. Mixed in with these are some others I'm not that familiar with like black eyed, lima, pinto, alubia and black turtle beans. This mix is really fabulous and versatile, great for salads or as a side with vegetables, it also makes a great cassoulet. Cassoulet is a traditional slow cooked casserole containing meat and white haricot beans originating in the south of france. I took my inspiration from the cooking method and the use of beans but little else of the classic version remains in my recipe. This is a rich deeply flavoured slow cooked pot of vegetable heaven. If you want to add some meat, use spicy smoked chorizo or lardons. Any hard root vegetable can stand a long cook and some hardy winter greens to go with chopped tomatoes, beans of your choice and some lemon juice. This is a one pot wonder left to cook slowly in a low oven for a few hours, developing over time and much improved reheated for a day or two on the stove. Eat with crusty bread, any grain or soft polenta.


1 turnip
2 carrots
1 large shallot or onion
2/3 cloves of garlic, crushed
150g cavolo nero, kale or winter greens
400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 cup mixed beans or beans of your choice
Juice of half a lemon
1 bay leaf
1 Lt vegetable or chicken stock
1 tbsp tomato paste
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 150C. Heat a heavy casserole dish on the stove. Slice the shallot and saute in olive oil with two cloves of crushed garlic until soft. Peel and chop the carrots and turnip into chunks, add to the pot and heat. Roughly chop cavolo nero, mix through and allow to begin to wilt. Add bay leaf, tomatoes, stock and tomato paste and bring to the boil. The fluid should be just covering all the vegetables. Season with salt and black pepper. Before putting it in the oven, stir in the third clove of crushed garlic and juice of half a lemon. Place in the middle of the oven with the lid on and leave to cook slowly for about 2 hours until vegetables are soft and the liquid has reduced and is deep dark red in colour.


Pea and Mint Soup

This beautiful emerald bowl of vibrance is a winter staple. An all time classic, the combination of sweet peas and cool fresh mint make this soup rich and very moreish. Eaten with a swirl of cream, some freshly ground black pepper and crusty bread, its a meal that needs nothing more. If you fancy something different, use a small head of lettuce instead of mint, which is just as delicious. I like to use petit pois (baby peas) as they are younger, sweeter and blend into a smoother finish, but if you like a bit more texture garden peas work a treat. 


1 onion, sliced
1 small floury potato, cut into chunks
1 large clove garlic, whole
handful fresh mint, just the leaves
frozen petit pois
1 Lt vegetable or chicken stock
knob of butter
salt and black pepper

Saute onion, garlic and potato in butter over a medium heat until soft but not coloured. Add stock and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are soft and falling apart. Add mint and allow to steep for a few minutes. Add peas and bring to the boil for 5-10 minutes. Take off the heat and blend until smooth. The consistency should be medium or just coating the back of a spoon. The soup will thicken as it cools and may well need a little extra water when reheating to thin the starch. Season with salt and black pepper. Serve hot with a swirl of cream.


Tarte au Citron

The amazing lemon tart! Such a delight with its soft and delicate curd filling. This is a dessert to finish all meals, it brings incredible happiness and total satisfaction. It does require a bit of planning and it isn't the easiest thing to make, but you will never regret it and make it over and over again. It is best made the night before or several hours before its needed. This recipe is made with egg yolks, so if you care for extra sweetness and decadence you can always whip up the egg whites with sugar and top this base with a pillowy meringue. The recipe calls for a sweet shortcrust pastry, you can add lemon zest to it for a little extra punch or leave it as is. I absolutely love the simplicity of this french classic. Stunning.

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry (makes about 500g)

250g flour
150g butter
50g icing sugar
1 egg 

Put flour, icing sugar and butter into a food processor and blitz until it resembles bread crumbs. Add egg and pulse for a few seconds until the dough just comes together. If it still seems too dry add a tablespoon of water. Try not to over process as this makes the dough tough. Tip out onto a lightly floured surface and bring together into a dough, kneading very lightly. Shape into a disc and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Remove from the fridge about 10 minutes before needed and allow to rest.


300g sweet shortcrust pastry
juice of 2 lemons
175g castor sugar
6 large organic egg yolks
250ml double cream

To prepare the pastry case, roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface until about 3mm thick. Line a 20cm flan tin with the pastry, press well into the sides and leave a small amount (about 2-3mm) above the sides. This will shrink down slightly while baking. Prick gently all over with a fork. Cover with cling film and freeze for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 190C. Remove pastry case from the freezer. Line with baking paper and fill with baking beans. Bake for 20 minutes until lightly browned. Remove beans and paper. Return to the oven and bake for a further 5-15 minutes until the base is completely cooked through and the edges are a deep golden brown. Remove from the oven. Reduce temperature to 140C. Allow the pastry case to cool slightly. In a bowl whisk together the ingredients for the filling, being careful not to aerate the mixture too much. Return the pastry case to the oven and pull the shelf out so that the tin remains level. Pour the filling into the case right up to the top. Push the shelf back into the oven carefully. Bake for 30 minutes, just until the filling looks slightly set and there is a wobble in the centre. Turn the oven off and allow to cool and set over night or for several hours. The surface of the tart should be glossy with very few bubbles. Dust with icing sugar, leave as is or top with meringue. Serve at room temperature.


Cinnamon Buns

Cinnamon is one of the most treasured of the ancient spices and I just love the warmth and nostalgia that it brings. I have wonderful memories of many scrumptious goodies laden with this beloved spice and sugar as its ultimate partner. Jewish baking is full of recipes with cinnamon at their heart and I remember my mother making these buns with my sister and I when we were young. I soon continued the tradition once I got hold of her prized cookbook. They use very few ingredients and are incredibly easy to make. You could probably jazz them up with fruit or nuts but I like them plain and simple, allowing the cinnamon to work its magic. If like me you can't wait, eat them hot out the oven or allow them to cool but they are best eaten the day they are made, hardly a difficult task.

Recipe by Myrna Rosen
(makes 12-18)

2 cups flour
125g butter plus 25g extra
pinch of salt
3 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg beaten in a cup and filled with milk
   and cream or just milk
cinnamon and sugar

Preheat oven to 200C. Sift dry ingredients together, rub or grate in butter with your fingers. Add egg mixture and bring into a dough. Knead lightly and roll out into a rectangular shape. This can be as big, thick or thin as you like. I make quite a large rectangle and roll it quite thinly, this gives me more circles of dough in the bun. Melt the extra 25g of butter and spread evenly over the dough. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Again be as generous as you want, there is virtually no sugar in the dough so all the sweetness comes in at this point. Roll up lengthways like a swiss roll, slice into 3cm discs. Gently pinch the bottoms together and place open side up into a patty/ muffin tin. Brush with a little more melted butter, sprinkle again with cinnamon and sugar. Bake for 15-20 minutes until risen and golden brown.


Mushroom Pate

There is something special about eating mushrooms in late autumn, they conjure up fantasies of foraging around a forest floor thickly laden with colourful leaves. Earthy, deep and flavourful, mushrooms are some of the most delicious ingredients, providing us with a multitude of dishes. This pate is a firm favourite and makes a spectacular party dip, light hors d'oeuvres or fabulous treat. You can use any mushrooms with a robust flavour but chestnuts do rather well, easily available and no need for foraging! Made up to a day before, the flavours deepen beautifully. Serve with any good bread, crisps or crackers. 

Recipe (makes about 450g)

250g chestnut mushrooms
250g Philadelphia or any good quality full fat cream cheese
half a clove garlic, finely sliced
1 tbsp chives, finely chopped
salt and black pepper

Thinly slice and saute mushrooms until golden brown and all their liquid has evaporated. Add garlic and brown with the mushrooms for a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Place mushrooms and chives into a food processor, blitz until finely chopped. The mushrooms should still be slightly warm. Add cream cheese and blend until smooth. Season to taste. The pate will be a little softer at this point, so refrigerate until set. Allow to come to room temperature before serving. Sprinkle with extra chopped chives.



Ten days in Spain.... oh my! What an incredible treat for all things sensory. We spent a week staying in a tiny white washed village in the mountains outside of Granada, road tripping everyday and stuffing our faces. The landscape is flushed with fruits of biblical distinction, olives, almonds and pomegranates grow in abundance. Andalucia is extremely beautiful and it feels a lot like a certain area of South Africa with big skies and stunning light. Salty, irresistible Jamon made its way into our mouths at every opportunity. Sweet and hot pimenton coloured and elevated every dish. And of course... the wine... the wine... glorious, robust Rioja in little glasses accompanying Manchego cheese and membrillo.

Following our quiet week in Andalucia we went to Barcelona for four days and it was there that we truly treated ourselves to as much Catalunian food as possible. Seeking out authentic and traditional tapas bars, we ate until there was nothing left to do but smile and smile, fantastic. Deep fried calamari, tortillas to die for, anchovies, sardines, padron peppers, chickpeas, spanish kidney beans, white sausage, razor clams, cured tuna, empanadas... more jamon....

Everything we ate was incredible and worthy of description but a few experiences really stood out. A visit to La Boqueria, Barcelona's famous food market. The intensity of colour, texture, taste and smell was utterly intoxicating. Every stall generously laden with the freshest seasonal offerings, abundant and mouth watering. I was seriously down hearted at not being able to buy up loads and head home to cook... My dismay was short lived and evaporated with a surprise visit to a very special tapas bar called 'Tickets', high end tapas made with produce from the market that day. Food memory extravaganza. Coffee and Churros, the perfect breakfast.... anything with a doughnut is for me. Lastly, we managed to find probably one of the last authentic lunch time spots, behind an unassuming door with a rather ropey interior. Saw dust on the floor to catch the olive oil, a tightly run ship relying on bits of paper and lots of shouting. The food in this taverna was extraordinary, super fresh seafood, artichokes, salt cod, fiery rice balls, vinegary salad, wine by the jug, chorizo.... all else pales in comparison. Oh Barcelona!! I am inspired and in love!!


Pasta Puttanesca

Puttanesca means 'lady of the night' and this sauce, probably found the name attributing to its punchy mix of heat and saltiness. Traditionally from Naples in the south of Italy and typically made with capers, chilli, garlic and tomatoes, this sauce is incredibly pleasurable to eat and can be paired with a variety of dried pasta. You can also add olives, anchovies, basil or flat leaf parsley. For those who are vegetarian, leave out the anchovies and add extra capers. This is a store cupboard favourite and can be whipped up in a matter of minutes for an easy dinner, it is also rather tasty cold too. There really is no need to eat this with parmesan as it's salty enough but I can never resist a little bit of cheese.


2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 small shallot, chopped
400g tin chopped tomatoes
6-8 anchovy fillets
1 tbsp capers
8-10 black olives
1 tsp dried chilli flakes or 2 small chillis, finely chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Small bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
200-300g spaghetti

In a large saucepan, bring cold water with a good tablespoon of salt to the boil for cooking the pasta. In the meantime, saute garlic slices in some olive oil in a medium pan until lightly golden, remove and set aside. Saute shallot until soft. Add chilli and anchovies and allow to soften. Add tomatoes and bring sauce to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes. Rinse olives and capers in cold water to remove the brine. Slice olives around the pip and remove the flesh, cut into quarters. Add golden garlic slices, olive pieces and whole capers to the sauce, simmer for another couple of minutes. Add parsley and a few twists of black pepper. Turn off the heat.

Boil pasta until al dente. Before draining, take half a cup of pasta water from the pot and set aside. Drain pasta thoroughly. Add pasta water to the sauce and stir in until silky. Stir the pasta through the sauce and add an extra glug of olive oil. Perfect!


Fish Soup

I have been wanting to make a type of fish soup or stew for some time now and have finally got round to it. What a triumph! Sooo satisfying and delicious, I think it will definitely become a fast favourite. It's based on a Greek fishermens' stew, traditionally made out at sea with fresh catch of the day and sea water. The best fish to use is fresh white fish and, for a little extra specialness you can combine this with seafood and scallops. I decided to use pollock and plaice, both are firm white fish with large flakes and have the right amount of flavour to stand up to the other ingredients. Fresh and vibrant, this dish of the sea will also develop in flavour if left to settle for a few hours too.

The other day I bought a whole sea bass, filleted it and then went onto making fish stock with the remaining head and bones. It was surprisingly simple to make and I have been able to use it for all sorts of things. It gives this soup added depth and richness that I feel a vegetable stock can't quite deliver. If you do make it, a good way to store it, is by freezing it in an ice tray for later use or it will keep in the fridge for a week. You can also use a good fresh shop bought stock. 


For the stock:
1 carrot
1 leek
3 sticks celery
1 bulb fresh fennel
A few pepper corns
splash of white wine
Fish head(s), skeleton, tails etc. (avoid using oily fish)

Roughly chop vegetables and put them into a large saucepan or stock pot. Rinse fish bits well under running water and remove gills from the head(s). Put into the pan with the vegetables, add the wine, peppercorns and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, removing any scum that forms on the surface. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, removing any extra scum occasionally. Strain liquid into another pot and use immediately or when cool, refrigerate or freeze until needed.  

For the stew:
1 onion, sliced
2/3 stick of celery, sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Half a tsp fennel seeds
4-6 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 Lt fish stock
Juice of one lemon
Handful of flat leaf parsley
Handful of dill
4/5 small potatoes, chopped into chunks
500g white fish, skinned, deboned and cut into good sized pieces
Olive oil
Salt and black pepper

In a heavy saucepan, saute onion, celery, garlic and fennel seeds in some olive oil. Allow to soften but not brown. Add potatoes, tomatoes and stock. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Add fish pieces and bring to the boil again. Cook for a further 5 to 10 minutes until fish is soft and flaky. Add lemon juice and season to taste. It should have a good balance of salt and acidity. Finely chop the parsley and dill and add to the pot. Stir together. Serve piping hot with a drizzle of olive oil and hunks of fresh crusty bread.


Victoria Sponge

Victoria sponges are the delight of the tea table. They were the cakes made to celebrate the advent of baking powder in the 1840's, before then cakes were heavy and more akin to sweet door stops. This little cake is quintessentially English and originally was a type of jam sandwich only. Today we often take it slightly further by having a luscious layer of whipped cream or even more decadent, a rich butter cream icing. You can use any jam, conserve or fresh fruits for the filling. Strawberry is a classic but raspberry gives a lovely tartness and grittiness. The important thing is that equal quantities of flour, sugar and butter are used for the sponge. Weighing the eggs will also help to make it perfect. Maintain as much air and lightness as possible and incorporate the eggs slowly to avoid curdling. Instead of making a single sponge and then cutting it in half, the batter is divided into two tins and baked at the same time. Allowed to cool,  one sponge is topped with jam and cream then sandwiched together with the other. 


220g caster sugar
220g soft unsalted butter
220g self raising flour
4 large eggs
pinch of salt
2-3 tbsp milk

Strawberry jam
200ml whipping cream

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease two 20cm sandwich tins and line the base of each with baking paper.
Cream butter and sugar together until pale, light and fluffy. In a separate bowl beat eggs together with a fork. Gradually add the egg to the sugar and butter, beating well after each addition to avoid curdling. If the mix does curdle, fold in a tablespoon of flour to stabilise it. Sift flour and salt into the mixture and fold in very gently using a metal spoon. Add milk to loosen up the batter if necessary. The batter should be a thick dropping consistency, to test this,  the batter should fall easily from the spoon when giving it a sharp tap. Separate batter into your prepared tins in even quantities and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and just coming away from the sides.

Allow to cool for 5 minutes and then remove from the tins by sliding a knife around the edges and tipping them onto cooling wracks. Allow to cool completely. Choose the flatter of the two for the base. Top generously with jam and then follow with a layer of whipped cream. Sandwich together with the remaining sponge, don't press down. Sprinkle the top with caster sugar.


Stuffed Courgette Flowers

How gorgeous are these beauties? I just couldn't resist. Courgette flowers are just stunning... rarely available, delicate and feminine. Found during summer months and into early autumn, the best ones to use are those still attached to baby courgettes. They can either be deep fried in batter as they are or filled with a mild stuffing and then deep fried. Just about anything will do, so experiment using left over risotto, fresh herbs, nuts, mozzarella, ricotta or marscapone cheeses. I like a savoury filling which is then elevated with the addition of honey when serving. This makes a truly special and spectacular way to begin a meal or to be served tapas style with other scrummy dishes.

Recipe (serve 2-4)

6 courgette flowers

For the filling:
125g ricotta cheese
25g grated parmesan
1 tbsp finely chopped chives
2 tbsp finely chopped walnuts
Salt and pepper

For the batter:
3 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp corn flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
150ml sparkling water

Oil for deep frying, about 750ml
Honey to serve

Mix cheeses, chives and walnuts together in a small bowl until smooth. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Either using a teaspoon of a piping bag, fill the cavity of the courgette flowers up with the mixture. Make sure you only fill up to the point where the petals begin to separate. Twist the ends of the petals together to seal.

Heat oil in a saucepan until hot. The oil is ready when a cube of bread turns golden within a few seconds when dropped into it.

In the meantime, to make the batter, place dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk them together. In a slow stream add the water, whisking until the consistency resembles single cream.

Dip the stuffed courgette flowers into the batter, coat well. Carefully put them into the oil and allow to fry for 2-4 minutes until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen towel for a few seconds and then serve immediately with a drizzle of honey.


Jewish Penicillin

Uuugh! We are both under the weather.... so, this absolutely calls for Jewish penicillin. Chicken soup is one of those magical substances believed to cure everything. It is also the centre piece and glory of the Jewish table. Every one has their own recipe, tried and tested through generations of grandmothers and mothers. I grew up eating more of a chicken consomme than a hearty bowl of bits and broth. On all Jewish tables a clear consomme was and still is a sign of greatness, I however, have never managed to perfect this. My penicillin is a bowl packed with chunky vegetables, succulent chicken and pearl barley. I prefer to cut the carrots into large pieces, to avoid disintegration and use leeks as opposed to onions, which can make the soup rancid. Another good trick, is to boil the chicken for a few minutes in a separate pot of water to ensure all the fat and blood can cook out. This also makes the skin soft enough to remove before adding the flesh to the vegetables. Doing this bit before, means the soup won't be fatty and there will be no need to remove any scum from the surface. Use the best quality organic chicken, I find the brown meat is the most flavoursome.

Recipe (serves 2 for a couple of days)

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into thirds
1 large leek, thickly sliced
2 or 3 sticks of celery, sliced
2 cloves garlic, whole
quarter of a cup pearl barley
4 organic chicken thighs
small bunch of thyme
1.5 Lt water
1 and a half chicken stock cubes
small knob of butter

First bring a pot of water to the boil, add the chicken pieces and allow to boil for about 5 minutes. Drain and remove skin. Set aside until needed.

In a heavy saucepan, saute leeks, celery and garlic in a little butter until they have softened slightly. Add carrots, thyme, barley and chicken. Cover with water and add stock cubes. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about an hour. Remove chicken pieces and pull the flesh off the bones, return the flesh back to the pot and bring to the boil once again. Add more water if necessary. Season with salt and pepper. Serve piping hot with a good bit of bread.

Keep the soup in the fridge and when reheating, make sure to boil for 10 minutes before serving.


Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

Cannelloni is one of those dishes that few can hide their delight for. It is something wondrous and exciting. Pasta filled with vegetables or meat, slathered in sauce, topped with cheese and baked to perfection. It never fails to bring admiration and joy.

Making cannelloni can be the most nightmarish affair but armed with the right tool, the finicky stuffing of dried pasta tubes is made easy. Yes, using a piping bag is the only way. Another option is to use fresh lasagna sheets and roll them around the filling. Personally I find this method produces a double layer of pasta which is often very stodgy. I use dried pasta tubes that can go straight into the dish without pre cooking before stuffing. This is made possible by topping them with quite a loose sauce that can be absorbed during baking. This recipe is for the classic combination of spinach a ricotta, using a tomato sauce and bechamel for the topping. It requires a bit of juggling but the result is really beyond delicious.

Recipe (can serve 4, or 2 very hungry folk)

500g baby spinach
250g ricotta
1 large organic egg
60ml cream (optional)
50g parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and black pepper

Place spinach in a pot over a high heat with the lid on, allow to just wilt. Stir frequently. Remove and put into cold water immediately. Drain once cold and then squeeze out all the excess water. It will seem like there won't be enough but there is. Separate the leaves as much as possible and chop quite finely. Add to a bowl with the ricotta. Using a fork, mix together well. Add cream, egg and cheese, mix well again. Season quite liberally. Set aside until needed. This can be made in advance and will keep in the fridge for a couple of days. Bring it up to room temperature before using.

Tomato Sauce:
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 shallot, sliced
Few sprigs oregano
2/3 cloves garlic, 2 sliced finely, 1 crushed
olive oil
1 tsp worcester sauce
1tsp vegetable stock
Salt and black pepper

Fry garlic until golden in a little olive oil, remove before becoming too brown. Saute shallot until soft, add tomatoes and bring to the boil. Reduce heat, add oregano leaves, worcester sauce, stock, fried garlic and seasoning. Simmer for a few minutes. If the sauce is looking too dry, add up to half a cup of water and bring to the boil again. Remove from the heat and blitz until smooth. Add crushed garlic clove and stir through.

(You can also use the recipe for roast tomato sauce- see here)

Bechamel Sauce:
25g butter
2 tbsp flour
300ml organic milk
Salt and black pepper

Make just before putting the dish together. Melt butter over a medium heat in a small saucepan. Add flour, mix together and cook until it resembles wet sand. You can now either warm the milk and add it or just add cold milk, slowly incorporating it by whisking to avoid lumps forming. As the milk touches the flour butter mix it will begin to stiffen, so keep whisking and if it all goes horribly wrong, you can strain it through a fine sieve before using. Bring to the boil and then simmer for a few minutes until thickened. The bechamel should also be a medium consistency. Not too runny or very thick, it should evenly coat the back of a spoon. Use straight away, or cover the top with greaseproof paper to avoid forming a skin and reheat before using.

The construction:

Ricotta filling
Tomato sauce
Bechamel sauce
250-300g dried pasta tubes (cannelloni)
80g parmesan, grated

Preheat oven to 200C. Lightly oil a baking dish approx 20 x 28cm or similar. Rectangles work best. Cover with a thin layer of tomato sauce, then drizzle over with about a third of the bechamel. Fill a piping bag with the spinach and ricotta filling. Pipe filling into as many dried pasta tubes as you need to cover the base of the dish in a single layer. Making sure each tube is filled tightly. Pour remaining tomato sauce over the top. Top again with the rest of the bechamel, allowing the surface to become patterned. Sprinkle with parmesan and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden and bubbling. Allow to cool slightly before serving.


Shepherds Pie

Yesterday the rain began, grey with wintery teeth. The only possible option was to spend the day inside, eating soul food. Shepherds pie is quintessentially English and it adorns many a winter table with its voluptuous depth and comfort. A rich filling of lamb mince is topped with fluffy mashed potatoes, and baked until crisp and golden. It is a perfect dish of happiness. It can easily be eaten all on its own or paired with a peppery salad. Use the best lamb mince and a good quality red wine, these really provide all the flavour. Importantly, try not to dry out the mince by overcooking it, and make sure there is enough fluid in the filling to give the pie a luscious texture. The mash in this recipe is enriched with butter, milk and egg yolk. Particularly decadent but it's an absolute must. This pie never lasts the day in our house, it's pretty impossible to stop eating it once you start.

Recipe (serves 2-4)

500g organic lamb mince
1 large carrot, grated
1 large onion, grated
3 cloves garlic, crushed
few sprigs of rosemary
1 tbsp worcester sauce
2 tbsp tomato puree/ paste
1 cup good chicken stock
1 small glass good red wine
4/5 medium maris piper potatoes, cut into chunks
25g butter
60ml milk or cream
1 large organic egg yolk
grated parmesan cheese
salt and black pepper

Brown mince in a heavy pan over a high heat. Add carrot, onion, garlic and rosemary. Cook until soft and lightly coloured. Add wine and allow to reduce. Add worcester sauce and tomato puree, mix in well. Add chicken stock and simmer until thickened, about 5-10 minutes. Season to taste. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

In the meantime, boil potatoes until soft. Drain and return to the stove. Dry out excess water over a medium heat, be careful not to let them burn. Mash. Add butter and incorporate, then add the milk and mix until smooth and velvety. Finally add egg yolk working quickly to avoid scrambling. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 200C. Lightly oil a 20cm or similar pyrex dish. Spread the mince filling evenly in the bottom of the dish, it should be about an inch high. Top with mashed potatoes. Using a fork, scratch the surface of the mash to give the top texture and extra crispy bits. Sprinkle with grated parmesan and add a few extra tiny knobs of butter. Bake for 25-30 minutes until crisp and golden. Allow to cool a bit before serving.



The days are beginning to close in earlier as we march forward towards winter. This week has had a particularly autumnal feel about it. Hot stews, soups and comfort food are becoming very attractive. I couldn't think of a better way to warm our little hearts than to make a ribollita.

Ribollita is a traditional Tuscan peasant dish, dating back to the middle ages. It is made with bread, beans and vegetables and literally means to 're-boil'. It is best made a day in advance and left overnight for the flavours to develop. It is more of a hearty stew than a soup, thickened by the addition of bread. I prefer a slightly less traditional approach, mine is much chunkier, a bit more of a soup and the addition of lemon juice and fennel seeds give it special character too. Soggy bread has never worked for me so instead I serve it with large toasted croutons that will sink in, absorb the broth and retain some crunch. Cavolo Nero is a member of the kale family from the Tuscan region and features prominently in most recipes. If you can't come by it, ordinary curly kale, savoy cabbage or winter greens also work a treat. Just before serving I add freshly crushed garlic for extra zing, but if this isn't for you, the ribollita will still taste as good without it. A big pot kept on the stove for a couple of days to be reheated again and again, the indulgence of winter is upon us.

Recipe (serves 4-6)

2 large carrots, chopped or diced
3 sticks of celery, chopped
1 small red onion, sliced
400g tinned or fresh chopped tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, whole
200g cavolo nero, roughly chopped
250- 300g cannellini beans
1 Lt good vegetable stock
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp fennel seeds
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, crushed (optional)

In a large heavy saucepan, saute onion, celery, carrot and fennel seeds in olive oil until soft but not brown. Add tomatoes and stock. Bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for about an hour. Add lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Add beans and boil again for about half an hour. Add kale and allow to cook through. Leave overnight and reheat the next day. Before serving add crushed garlic and boil for a couple of minutes. Serve with toasted croutons or a good sourdough and a swirl of olive oil.


Carrot Cake

I very rarely make carrot cakes, which is strange because I really love them. There were a few carrots knocking about the fridge and thought using them for a cake would be rather lovely. Carrot cakes come in all varieties.  I found a particularly good recipe by Ottolenghi and made a few minor adjustments. His recipe calls for coconut which I substituted with grated apple for added moisture and flavour. I used golden caster sugar and instead of cloves, which I often find too overpowering, replaced with a bit of mixed spice. I also added grated orange zest to the icing and topped it with a mixture of toasted walnuts and coconut. The batter will seem incredibly sweet, but it turns out perfectly. This cake is absolutely delicious! It's much lighter than most recipes and the icing is beyond description.

Recipe (adapted from Ottolenghi)

160g flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp mixed spice
270g golden caster sugar
1 large organic egg
1 organic egg yolk
2 organic egg whites
200ml sunflower oil
50g grated apple
135g grated carrot
50g chopped walnuts
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 170C. Grease and line a 20cm springform tin.
Sift together flour, raising agents, salt and spices. Whisk the whole egg and yolk together. Beat oil and sugar in a large mixing bowl for about a minute on high speed. Gradually add the egg mix beating slowly. Mix in grated carrot, apple and chopped walnuts and then sifted dry ingredients. Mix until just incorporated. In a separate clean bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Gently fold into the cake batter in thirds. Be careful not to over mix. Pour into the prepared tin. Bake for about an hour, maybe a bit longer, until a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean. If the cake is browning too quickly, cover with foil. Allow to cool completely before removing from the tin.

Cream Cheese Icing

175g cream cheese, at room temperature
70g unsalted butter
35g icing sugar
25g honey
zest of an orange

Beat cream cheese until light and smooth. In another bowl, beat butter, icing sugar and honey until light and fluffy. Fold together cheese and butter mixes. Fold in orange zest. Spread waves of icing over the cake and top with toasted chopped walnuts and sliced coconut.


Green Bean and Nigella Tortilla

Tortillas or Spanish omelettes are a wonderful and simple way to bring vegetables together. With egg as the binding ingredient, tortillas keep well and are delicious served warm or cold. The traditional version is with potato, onion and egg. The potatoes are par boiled and sauteed in copious amounts of olive oil, then added to an egg mixture, retuned to the pan and flipped over once cooked to finish. I prefer an all together easier process. I also have no specific way of cutting the potatoes, only that they shouldn't be too thick or thin and be able to hold most of their shape. The egg is also a matter of preference, just set in the middle with a slight wobble, gives the tortilla a moist interior while cooking the egg through makes it firm and dense. I like both. For this one the tortilla is about an inch thick and well cooked. It has also been finished in the oven under a hot grill, so no need to get stressed about turning it over. This recipe is endlessly adaptable and any vegetables, smoked meats or fish can be added. I have chosen green beans, nigella seeds and red onion for a subtle and slightly sweeter taste. I used desiree potatoes which are firm, smooth and waxy. If you use king edwards or standard whites then they will break down completely and turn to mash. Part of its beauty is being able to see all the pieces nestling inside the omelette.

Recipe (serves 2-4)

4 large waxy potatoes
half a red onion, sliced
good handful green beans, trimmed and chopped into 1 inch pieces
olive oil
6 medium organic eggs
1 tsp nigella seeds
salt and pepper
grated cheese (optional)

Cover a heavy, medium sized pan with about a centimetre of olive oil. Heat medium to low. Cut potatoes and add to the pan as it's warming up. Add beans, onion and nigella seeds. Mix together well. Cover with a lid or plate and saute, lifting and turning the mix frequently to avoid sticking. Work in this way for about 20-30 minutes until the potatoes are firm but cooked through. In a bowl whisk together eggs and season with salt and pepper. Turn on the grill and place an oven shelf as near to the top as you can without the edges of the pan touching the elements. There are two ways to incorporate the egg- either add the potato mix to the egg by incorporating it quickly to prevent the egg from scrambling, then return it to a hot pan. Or, flatten out the potato mix evenly and pour the egg over it, making sure the egg fills all the gaps. The latter sounds easier but often results in the egg not finding its way around. Cook until the bottom is golden. Put pan under a hot grill until well browned. Sprinkle some grated cheese over the top and return to the oven, just to melt. Allow to cool. Eat on its own or serve with a fresh crisp salad.


Gnocchi with Roast Tomato Sauce

Coming towards the end of summer, seasonal tomatoes are beginning to loose some of their vibrance. Still delicious but I feel a lot less guilty about cooking them up into something saucy. Tomato based pasta sauces are some of my favourite and using fresh tomatoes always elevates them to glorious heights. This sauce is simple, subtle and can go with any pasta of your choice. I have decided to use gnocchi for its soft pillowy character. The gnocchi I've used is a good quality fresh make from the supermarket. I have made them from scratch in the past and of course nothing could touch them but it does require a lot of time and patience. For a quick meal, pre-made is perfect.

Roasting the fresh tomatoes with whole cloves of garlic and fresh origanum gives the sauce an altogether special quality. The tomatoes don't need too long in the oven, just until they become soft and caramelised on the edges. You can use any tomatoes for this sauce, I like two varieties at least, this gives the sauce added dimension and flavour. So I used large fleshy plum tomatoes and the sweetest cherry tomatoes too. This is also a great way to use up tomatoes that are too soft for cutting. I always make more than necessary and enjoy it throughout the week, adding it to various dishes. The sauce keeps well in the fridge and can be frozen for up to a month.

Recipe (serves 2)

4 large plum tomatoes, cut in half
handful cherry tomatoes
fresh origanum
4 or 5 cloves garlic with the skins left on
1 shallot, sliced
olive oil
1 tbsp double cream (optional)
1/2 tsp vegetable stock
1/2 tsp sugar
sea salt and black pepper

400g gnocchi

Preheat oven to 190C. Place tomatoes, garlic cloves in a roasting dish. Season lightly with salt and pepper, drizzle over about a tablespoon of olive oil. Top with fresh sprigs of origanum. Roast for about 30 minutes, until soft and caramelized. The garlic should be soft too. 

In the meantime, saute shallot until soft. When tomatoes are ready, remove origanum and garlic. Put tomatoes in with the shallot, use a spoon to crush them up a bit. Add 100ml of water, stock and sugar. Bring to the boil. Remove garlic from their skins and add to the sauce. Add a few more origanum leaves too. Season to taste. Simmer for a couple of minutes until flavours come together. Blitz until smoothish and add the cream. Heat for another minute whilst making the gnocchi. Serve hot with grated parmesan and basil pesto.