I hated asparagus as a child because I only ever knew it from a tin. Sludge-coloured, stringy, pappy and limp, my grandparents in Australia regularly served it as an accompaniment to salad. Vile. I didn’t taste proper fresh asparagus until I moved to the UK – and what an eye-opener that was. Maybe it’s the climate or the TLC that goes into growing it here – asparagus takes years of nurturing before it offers up the first emerald spears, which are said to be able to grown 6 inches in a day – but very fresh British asparagus is pretty hard to beat.
Sweet and slightly grassy in taste, the best way to cook asparagus is gently steam it, then drown it in butter, add lots of salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. That’s it. But there are other delicious ways too. Steamed asparagus served with a foaming hollandaise and a poached egg is a magnificent breakfast, as is a boiled egg with asparagus soldiers for dunking. Toss asparagus in a a risotto with freshly podded peas, beans and lots of freshly grated lemon zest for the perfect risotto primavera. Or don’t bother cooking it all: make asparagus shavings with a vegetable peeler and sprinkle raw in salad, or dunk uncooked spears in aioli and gobble raw as a crudites.
Asparagus is fantastic cooked on the BBQ or griddle as it takes on a lovely smokey flavour – I don’t bother steaming the spears first if they are very young and tender, although it might be wise with the fatter, tougher specimens. Just brush the spears with oil, place directly on the hot bars of the grill and allow them to char before turning. You could easily cook the recipe below on a BBQ but as we speak the weather holds no promise for outside cooking, so I’ve done it in griddle pan. You could use a simple vinaigrette instead of the miso dressing, but it’s lovely for something different.
- 1 tablespoon red miso paste
- 30ml (1¼fl oz) rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon dashi or stock
- ½ teaspoon wasabe paste
- ½ small garlic clove, grated on a Microplane
- ½ teaspoon very finely grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds, ground in a mortar
- 60ml (2fl oz) vegetable oil, plus extra for frying
- 20 fresh asparagus spears
- Combine the miso, vinegar, soy sauce and dashi in a bowl and mix well to amalgamate, pressing down on the miso paste with the back of a spoon to break it down.
- Stir in the wasabe, garlic, ginger and ground sesame seeds until smooth. Very gradually add the oil, whisking as you go, until emulsified.
- Heat a non-stick griddle pan until very hot, brush with a little oil, and cook the asparagus, turning frequently, until tender and lightly charred, about 5 minutes.
- Transfer the asparagus to a serving plate and spoon over some of the dressing, according to taste.
Whoop whoop! My cookbook, Easy Vegan, has just been published in the UK and it looks beautiful.
Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I’m not actually vegan – which is why I was approached to write the book in the first place. The publishers wanted to create a vegan cook book that appealed to everyone – not just people committed to eating plant-based foods exclusively all of the time.
I loved the idea. We all need to eat less meat for a host of health, environmental and animal welfare reasons. So there are loads of recipes in here that I hope non-vegans will enjoy. The project also gave me a chance to explore plant-based ingredients in a way I had never done before. I learned a huge amount in the process – including how to get the very best out of fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts, pulses and grains.
If you are thinking of becoming vegan, or would like to eat plant-based some of the time, there’s a useful section at the front of the book to explain how to go about it. It’s important to make sure you eat a balanced diet, so I’ve covered some of the key health and nutrition issues. I’ve also provided a handy store cupboard guide so that you can stock up on ingredients that will make vegan cooking easy. It also has some tips on how to veganize non-vegan recipes.
Here’s just one of the recipes in the book. Although French toast often contains eggs and dairy, you don’t notice the absence of these ingredients here at all. And I thought that since it’s Mothering Sunday in the UK on March 15 it would make a lovely breakfast in bed for someone special.
If you’re interested in ordering Easy Vegan, just click here!
- 4 slices thick white bread
- 250ml coconut milk
- 90ml unsweetened almond milk
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup, plus extra for drizzling
- 1 tablespoon plain flour
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- a pinch of salt
- coconut oil, for frying
- mixed berries, to serve
- icing sugar, for dusting
- Lightly toast the bread. Meanwhile, whisk together the milks, the syrup, flour, cinnamon and salt. Arrange the bread in a single layer in a wide shallow dish and pour over the milk mixture. Turn to coat and set aside for a few minutes.
- Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the soaked bread slices and cook for a couple of minutes each side, or until golden. Serve immediately with berries, a drizzle of syrup and a dusting of icing sugar
- Make sure you use lovely thick slices of bread here. If the bread is a little bit stale, all the better, as this will save you toasting it before frying.
Winter food is mainly about warmth and comfort, and rightly so. But I often yearn for crunch and punchy flavours to add some sparkle to a winter filled with rich, soft food. Step forward chicory (confusingly, also known as endive, escarole and witlof).
The bitterness of these beautiful, silky leaves can be an acquired taste, but there’s nothing better to perk up a jaded winter palate. In fact, depending on how you prepare them, chicory can actually be quite mild. The outer leaves taste more earthy than bitter when wilted in a frying pan with butter, lots of salt and pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar.
In salads, chicory works brilliantly with other robust flavours like a mustard-spiked dressing or a vinaigrette made with anchovies and lemon. Strong cheeses like blue and goats’ also hold their own with chicory in the salad bowl. Alternatively, try foiling the bitterness with a dressing slicked with honey, or add chunks of pear, apple, dried figs or crisp fried lardons. And most nuts seem to love being parked with chicory, especially almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts.
The other benefit is that chicory provides its own serving bowls – the gently curved leaves are perfect for cradling goodies like dips or, as in this recipe, a finely chopped salad. My children love these little scoops – I think it’s the tasty mix of nuts, seeds and dried fruit that helps them forget they’re actually scoffing a highly nutritious vegetable.
Don’t worry if the presentation seems a little chichi – I thought so too at first. But actually, these little cups makes perfect finger food and saves on washing up. And there’s nothing pretentious about that.
Chicory Cups with Almond and Sesame Tabbouleh
- 45g flaked almonds
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds
- 30ml red wine vinegar
- 60ml olive oil
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tsp ras el hanout
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- A generous handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 40g red onion, finely chopped
- 15g dried cranberries,finely chopped
- 1/2 red apple
- about 12 chicory leaves
1. Briefly toast the almonds and sesame seeds in a dry frying pan, shaking frequently, until they take on a little colour and smell lovely. Be careful: if you turn your back the nuts and seeds could burn. Set aside.
2. To make the dressing, whisk together the vinegar, oil, honey, ras el hanout and a pinch of salt and pepper. Set aside.
3. Pop the parsley, onion and cranberries in a salad bowl and toss.
4. Chop the cooled nuts and seeds to make a nutty rubble and add to the salad bowl.
5. Dice the apple very small – leave the skin on as it adds lovely colour – and toss into the salad bowl too. (Don’t chop it any earlier it will go brown).
6. Add the dressing a spoonful at a time, tossing well between each addition. Stop adding when everything is coated – you might not need all the dressing. Add more salt and pepper to taste.
7. Scoop a couple of teaspoonfuls of the mixture into each chicory leaf and arrange artfully on a platter if you like. Serve immediately.
Many people hesitate about cooking venison, thinking it too rich, too fancy or just too tricksy to bother with. It’s such a shame. Venison is lean and full of goodness, but more to the point just plain delicious and versatile. Farmed venison is excellent and available all year round, but I’m lucky to have abundant supplies of wild stuff where I live in Dorset.
I was really pleased to discover that the Wild Purbeck partnership (one of 12 around the UK set up to help restore and manage precious natural environments) hopes to develop a Wild Purbeck venison brand to encourage more locals to tuck in. It’s widely agreed that populations of Sika and Roe deer on the Purbecks need careful management and culling to maintain healthy herds (they have no natural predators) and prevent damage to woodlands, trees, crops, gardens, habitats and other wildlife. To dovetail with this project, the first Dorset Venison Festival is being held in April to highlight the meat’s many virtues.
Venison’s gameyness is often overstated; for me, it’s just like lean, well-hung beef. Because it’s very low in fat, the main cooking challenge is to preserve venison’s rich flavour without drying it out. The most tender cuts, loin and haunch, are perfect for roasting, frying or grilling and are best served pink. The tougher cuts like shoulder, neck and flank benefit from a long slow braise to make rich stews and ragus.
This recipe is a version of the classic French dish known as farci. Traditionally, cabbage leaves are stuffed with breadcrumbs, vegetables and/or meat and then formed into a ball to echo the original cabbage shape. The delicious package is then wrapped in muslin and poached in stock. Here, I have taken a leaf out of Mimi Thorisson‘s beautiful cook book A Kitchen In France and arranged mine in a tin, which is then baked (she has filled hers with lovely spiced sausage and pork mixture). Here, the venison sings beautifully together with the cabbage, celeriac and dried berries. The result is beautiful and very delicious.
Prep: 20 minutes
Cooking: 1 hour
- 1 Savoy cabbage
- 1 tbsp juniper berries
- sea salt flakes
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small leek, white part only, finely sliced
- 1 large carrot, diced small
- 150g celeriac, diced small
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 600g venison mince (or venison shoulder or neck, very finely chopped)
- 30g dried cranberries
- Leaves from 3 thyme sprigs, chopped
- 400ml passata
- 1 egg
Separate the cabbage leaves by cutting them away at the base. Cook in boiling salted water for 5 minutes. Drain, rinse in cold water so the leaves retain their fab green colour and spread out on a tea towel to cool and dry.
Place the juniper berries and a generous pinch of salt in a dry frying pan and cook over a medium-high heat, shaking the pan constantly, until the berries smell gorgeous. Transfer to a mortar and pound to a powder – or crush with a rolling pin.
Heat the oil in the same frying pan and gently cook the leek, carrot and celeriac with a pinch of salt and pepper, stirring often, until soft but not coloured, about 8 minutes.
Add the venison, breaking up any chunks with the side of a spoon. Add the cranberries, thyme and the crushed juniper, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring now and then, until the meat is browned, about 5 minutes.
Add the passata and simmer, stirring often, until the liquid has almost cooked away. Set aside to cool.
Butter a 20cm cake tin and preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Line the base and sides of the tin with the largest cabbage leaves, letting them overhang the sides a little.
Stir the egg into the venison mixture. Place half this mixture in the cabbage-lined tin and then place a layer of cabbage leaves on top. Add the remaining meat and finish with a layer of cabbage leaves, tucking them into the sides.
Bake for 30 minutes but take a peek now and then, and loosely cover with foil if the top is browning too quickly.
When cooked, place a large plate on top and wearing oven gloves, carefully turn over and lift off the tin. Ta-dah! Serve immediately, cut into slices.