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. 


Mid Week Supper

On the whole, vegetables take centre stage on our daily table, we eat meat occasionally and absolutely love fish. I feel meat is the most precious of foods and whenever we eat it, it's really very special. Since moving to London, fish has become one of my greatest loves. When fresh and cooked sensitively, there is nothing more sublime. This meal is probably quite typical of what we'll eat on most nights, something light and lovely. I think every meal should have the right colour balance as well as flavour and texture. I can't bear eating a meal that's all beige. 

Savoury rice dishes can be the star of the show, this one with mushrooms is earthy, robust and meaty. Sauteed onion and garlic provide the base. Mushrooms give fantastic texture and depth, and flat leaf parsley for lift are all added to cooked short grain brown rice. You can also use a combination of wild rices and or brown basmati. A good olive oil, some freshly ground black pepper and sea salt is all this needs for seasoning. 

There is always a salad of some form on the table. Sometimes it is eaten as its own course and sometimes as part of the meal as a whole. This one was to share its space. Emerald greens, crisp white and elegant black adorned the plate. A salad of tender lambs lettuce, topped with thinly sliced and grilled aubergine and courgettes. Finished off with feta, capers and nigella seeds. Always great with a mustard dressing for a little pepperiness or a salsa verde. For a crunchier salad, use gem or cos lettuce instead.

I could have left it there but definitely wanted more colour and a soft buttery texture to compliment the rest. Red sweet potatoes cut into wedges and roasted with fennel seeds were just the thing. Leaving the skin on helps them keep their shape and it's full of all the good stuff. Allow them to caramelise well. Roasted butternut could have worked well here too.


Apple and Blackberry Crumble

The time of year when we eat hot puddings stuffed with fruit and topped with sweetness seems to be creeping closer every day. This crumble is an absolute classic combination. The fruit is very tart and the topping is dense, crisp and sweet. The blackberries colour the apple a magnificent pink and it's just beautiful. It's a humble and satisfying desert that can be endlessly reinterpreted. The fruit can be substituted for any available at the time of year. Lovely crumbles can be made with rhubarb, peaches, pears etc. However, the combination of apple and blackberry is really rather special. 

I don't cook any of the fruit before hand, so it retains quite a bit of its shape. If using cooking apples, they will soften completely but the blackberries should still be visibly in tact. For the crumble, recipes differ just a bit, some are chunky, some are fine, some contain nuts and or oats. You can play around with it. The important thing is that there should be just under double the amount of flour and nuts or oats to butter. Sugar is about a third of the mix and you can increase the amount mixed into the fruit for a sweeter taste. I like to make my filling quite tart and then eat it with a rich and slightly sweet yoghurt or a good vanilla ice cream.

Recipe (serves 4-6)

125g butter
150g flour
50g ground almonds or flour or oats
75g brown sugar
2 large bramley apples
150g blackberries
50-100 golden caster sugar

To make the crumble topping: Cut butter into dry ingredients and work together to form a dry and lumpy mixture. You can blitz the butter into the flour mix using a food processor for a finer crumble. I like chunky bits of crumble in every mouthful. Cover and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or until needed.

Preheat oven to 180C. Butter a baking dish. Peal, core and chop apples into chunks. Add blackberries and sugar. Mix gently together until well covered. Put fruit mixture into the buttered dish, level out. Remove crumble from the fridge and cover fruit with an even layer and add a little more to the middle. The fruit and topping will sink. Bake for 40-50 minutes until the crumble is golden brown and cooked through. The juice of the fruit will probably bubble through the top and up the sides. Allow to cool a bit before serving with yoghurt, cream or ice cream. Delicious eaten cold for breakfast too!