Figs, books, memories and Kate Young's The Little Library Cookbook

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Kate Young’s The Little Library Cookbook is a book I wish I had written.  Like Young, I’ve always had food and books on the brain, and her joyful collection of recipes and stories combines the two in way that takes me on a literary journey as well as a culinary one.

For a couple of years, Young has explored the connections between books, food and memory in her blog The Little Library Café and fortnightly columns in the Guardian. Now, it’s apposite and lovely that her literature-inspired recipes should come together in a gorgeous volume, a book to snuggle up with and leaf through, as well as cook from.

For me, the recipes trigger an avalanche of memories. Sticky marmalade roll from CS Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, takes me back to reading the book to my children when they were very small – a time that now, in itself, seems a magical world away. There are crumpets from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, a book I haven’t read for decades, but remains one of my favourites; the romance of Manderley on its windswept English coastline was one of many fictional magnets that first drew me to the UK from Australia.  Steak and onions from Graham Green’s The End of The Affair, is bittersweet, reminding me of how much I loved reading it when I was in my mid 20s, but at a particularly unhappy point in my own romantic timeline.

Young's recipe for Bread, Butter & Honey from Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived In The Castle got me thinking about the food that appears in my own favourite books. I didn’t read Jackson’s classic until relatively recently, when I realised I had missed out many quintessentially English novels. I spent my teenage years immersed in Australian fiction, books like Picnic At Hanging Rock, Seven Little Australians (oh Judy, my lip still trembles for you!), My Brother Jack, The Harp In The South, I Can Jump Puddles, The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, The Getting of Wisdom and The Thorn Birds (pilfered from my mother’s bookshelf, I mainly read it for the sexy bits).

The book that resonated most in my 13-year-old head and heart was Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career, the tale of rebellious misfit Sybylla, who yearned for a life beyond the confines of outback NSW, and shunned romance to be a writer. I related to her in so many ways it was painful. Food in literature wasn't a major draw for me then, but I do remember clearly Sybylla nibbling on apricots and figs as she endlessly read and wrote. (I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but Franklin was associating reading as nourishment of the soul as well literal nourishment through food, a point made in Susan K. Martin’s essay on the book).

Sybylla ate her fruit freshly plucked from trees in the garden of Caddagat, the genteel property on which she stays and where she falls in love with wealthy landowner Harold Beecham. I like to think that maybe, in times of glut, she might have eaten this figgy bread and butter pudding. It's adapted from my new book Roasting Tray Magic, simply substituting figs for the strawberries and rhubarb.

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Figgy bread and butter pudding

Serves: 6-8 | Takes: 1 hour 20 minutes

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing

2 tablespoons runny honey

10 ripe figs, quartered

50g caster sugar

4 large eggs

400ml double cream

400ml milk

1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthways, seeds scraped out

grated zest of 1 orange

1 large brioche loaf, cut

Method

Preheat the oven to 170C//325F and lightly butter a 30 x 20 x 5-cm roasting tray or dish.

Heat the 2 tablespoons butter and the honey in a large frying pan and when foaming add the figs cut-side down. Fry for a couple of minutes until golden, then turn and cook the other cut side. Transfer the figs and their sticky buttery juice to the roasting tray, spreading them out evenly.

Mix the eggs, cream, milk, the remaining sugar, the vanilla seeds and orange zest together in a jug.

Working one slice at a time, dip the brioche into the cream mixture until thoroughly soaked and arrange on top of the fruit, slightly overlapping. Pour any of the remaining mixture over the top, and set aside for 15 minutes while the bread soaks.

Bake for 40–45 minutes, or until puffed and golden.

 

 

 

 

Market to Table with Rachel Roddy - and Carla's focaccia

"Always add the rosemary to the top of the focaccia after it has baked," says Carla Tomasi " or the essential oils will turn bitter in the heat of the oven." Tomasi - chef, baker, cookery teacher and erstwhile London restaurateur - proves the point that Italy's wondrously salty, olive-oil drenched flatbread is theoretically easy to make, but true deliciousness lies in the detail.

I'm in the light-drenched Latteria Studio in the Trastevere district of Rome, for the Market to Table event run today by Carla and food writer Rachel Roddy. It's not a cooking lesson as such, more a celebration of Roman cuisine and a chance for visitors to this glorious city to learn about its food, cook together and share a wonderful meal.

The day starts at the Testaccio Market; I've never been here before but I feel I know it well through Rachel's writing. This is her much-loved local market, almost a vibrant, bold character in its own right in her award-winning cook book Five Quarters. We fill our bags with produce, swoon over towers of sculptural artichokes and discuss the best way to cook chickpeas with a shopkeeper (a pinch of bicarb and much soaking).

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Then we walk back across the river to Trastevere, past the Monte Testaccio hill, composed of 53 million broken amphorae, the terracotta vessels used in antiquity to hold grains and other foods, that were broken up and disposed of in this enormous dumpsite. On we go, winding our way through Testaccio's disused abattoir, once the largest in Europe, which gave rise to the district's tradition for offal-based dishes like trippa alla romana and oxtail stew. Across the Fiume Tever or the River Tiber, and we arrive at the beautiful little studio run by food stylist Alice Adams, where Carla has made us cinnamon rolls and coffee, and made a head start on the focaccia dough.

For me, the joy of the day lies as much in the cooking, prepping and discussing food communally, as it does in the learning: too many hours, I suppose, alone in the kitchen testing recipes with zip for company but Radio 4. And as Rachel says, many hands make otherwise onerous kitchen tasks easy. I would rarely contemplate making Alici impanate e fritter (fried anchovies) at home - the gutting, deboning and preparing the tiny silver fish, the most adored on the Roman table, just seems too much for one cook. And so it goes. Making fresh pasta seems fluid and simple with many shoulders to the wheel, while prepping vegetables - including a mountain of violet streaked artichokes - and other bites, seems not to much a job as a pleasant task with a soothing rhythm.

Not only have I learned the best way to bake focaccia, make pasta and prepare anchovies and artichokes - but rediscovered that many hands make light and joyful work in the kitchen. Let there be more communal cooking in my life.

For information about Market To Table days visit Latteria Studio or keep an eye on Rachel's blog or Instagram feed @rachelaliceroddy, or Carla's Instagram feed @tomasi_carla. 

Carla's Focaccia e focaccine

There are endless recipes for focaccia out there in the wild, so mine is not the definitive article, but this makes me happy and ticks all the right boxes. Light/airy/bouncy/soft crumb/keeps and freezes well. So here it is.

Oven temp.  190c. For a focaccia not too thick, bake it in tin 34 cm across. Quantities can be easily halved or bake in two smaller tins. One for now and one for later.

200 gr plain flour

200 gr strong bread flour

1 teaspoon of fast action dry yeast

1 teaspoon of fine salt

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

300 gr of tepid water Note: Measure the full amount but never add it all at once because the variants of the ability of flour to absorb liquid are many. Dry or wet flour/cold or hot day/ controlled environment or open windows and so forth..

Method

Place flours, yeast and salt in a suitable mixing bowl and swirl around. Drizzle in the olive oil and then pour in the water. Maybe on a very cold day the water temperature ought to be on the warm side of tepid and never mix your dough in a metal bowl. The dough will chill and stop working (just like you when you get a cold). Plunge one hand in and use it as if it is the (kenwood) K beater. As you go around the bowl, gather flour from the side towards the center. Once all the flour has been incorporated, pat into a shaggy mass, cover with a cloth and leave to rest for at least 15 minutes. Do not worry if the dough feels sticky, it will be fine.

When resting time is over the dough will feel soft and pliable. Pour a little olive oil on the work surface and plop the dough on it. Flatten it out gently and then pull the dough from the edge towards the center and every time give it a quarter turn. Pull the dough four times. Upturn the mixing bowl over the dough and again leave to rest for about 15 minutes. Repeat this process twice more. Now gather the dough into a ball and leave to prove ( around45 minutes) in an oiled plastic bowl. When the dough is ready ease it gently out of the bowl and onto an oiled baking tray.  Leave to rest until the dough has relaxed( approx.15 mins) Try to finger massage the dough into shape and if it feels like springing back leave to rest for a while longer.

Once the dough has been spread out leave to rise ( preferably uncovered) well away from droughts or direct heat. If the day is really hot you may need to cover it.  Could take from 40 mins to 1 hour. If a thin skin forms on the surface of the dough it is fine, it will be easier to brush it with olive oil.

When well puffed up- you know what I mean-gently dimple the surface with your fingers and brush lightly with oil. Pop into the very hot oven and rotate the tin at lest once. Takes around 20/ 25 minutes to bake but much depends on your oven.

I would strongly advise against baking the focaccia with any herb strewn on the surface, especially rosemary because the essential oil within the herb will turn bitter due to the strong heat. For a real taste sensation chop some rosemary needles finely and shower the focaccia as soon as it is out of the oven. Boom! Focaccia freezes really well( so make two)and wedges can be reheated in the toaster quickly because of the porous crumb structure.

I often like to make focaccine with various toppings and they are very easy to prepare. The above quantity of dough will be enough for 4 focaccine of 20-22 cm diameter or you could make them thinner if you wish. After the first rise split the dough in four and gather into balls. While the dough relaxes prepare the toppings. Finely slice one red onion and place in a little bowl with olive oil and thyme. Very thinly slice a small potato and toss with olive oil. Mix a couple of tablespoons of grated cheese, like parmigiano or grana, with quite few grindings of black pepper. Very finely chop some rosemary and set aside. When the dough is soft and pliable again roll it or pat it out into rounds. Place them on an oiled surface- like an oven tray or individual small tins and leave to rise till nicely puffed up and then place the toppings on. May need a drizzle of oil and some salt sprinkled on. They usually bake in around 10/12 minutes.

 

Rhubarb and white chocolate cobbler

Doris tore around my garden last week, hell-bent on spoiling the first fragile signs of spring: she flattened the daffodils with her ferocious breath just as the buds were beginning to unfurl, and stamped on the purple crocuses that had popped up outside the window next to my desk. Thankfully, along with this howling harridan of a storm, nature also delivered rhubarb.

I'm growing this tantalising vegetable in the garden border - the crimson stalks look promising but they’re not quite ready to pick yet. Until they are, forced rhubarb will tide us over, the stuff magically 'forced' to grow in darkened sheds and under terracotta pots that has just appeared in greengrocers. For food lovers, this really is a glorious time - rhubarb brings a splash of colour to the dreary February kitchen, as well as mouthfuls of zing and vibrant flavour to palates jaded by endless brassicas.

It's a perfect ingredient for a time of year when the weather is erratic. Its cheery colour and tang works beautifully in upside down cakes, frangipane tarts, jams and comforting winter puddings like the one below. But it's also equally delicious in lighter, fresher food. For example, I have some golden beets in the crisper drawer as well as some spare rhubarb stalks, so I’m going to turn them into Yotam Ottolenghi’s vivid beetroot and rhubarb salad this week. I also love to pickle rhubarb – it's gorgeous as a mouth puckering side to oily fish like sardines (there's a recipe for grilled and soused sardines on toast with pickled rhubarb salad, pictured below, in my latest book, easy Easy Mediterranean).  

I try to keep bowls of roast rhubarb in the fridge throughout the season for quick snacks and easy puddings. Unless you're making jam, don't boil rhubarb; its glorious colour turns to sludge and the flesh is easily reduced to mush. Roasting is best and the following method works for me: just toss chunks of rhubarb with caster sugar (20g of sugar per 100g rhubarb), place in a single layer in a roasting tray and roast for 15 minutes at 200°C, or until tender but still retaining its shape and colour. You can add a squeeze of citrus juice  to the tray before cooking - lemon or blood orange is lovely - or maybe a cinnamon stick or some star anise. There's probably no more gorgeous breakfast in the summer than a bowl of chilled roast rhubarb served with a splodge of full-fat Greek yoghurt or labneh, and a handful of almonds or pistachios.

If you're still hankering after something decadent and comforting - and honestly, who isn't in this weather? -  this pudding is the business. The tangy, acidic sharpness of rhubarb works a treat with the rich creamy notes of white chocolate, in the same way that rhubarb and custard is such a perfect pairing.

Rhubarb and white chocolate cobbler

For the cobbler topping

150g white chocolate

120g plain flour

20g rye flour

40g ground almonds

60g soft light brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

100g cold butter

150g Greek yoghurt

For the rhubarb

Butter for greasing

1kg trimmed rhubarb, chopped into 4cm pieces, and in half if very thick

300g caster sugar

60g plain flour

Method

1. Start by popping the white chocolate into the freezer, ideally an hour or so ahead of cooking. This will help the chocolate retain a little shape while it's in the oven and give you lovely chocolate bursts in the finished pudding. Preheat the oven to 180°C and butter a 20cm round baking dish

2. Toss the rhubarb with the sugar and flour and tip into the prepared baking dish. It might seem like a lot of flour but stay with it.

3. Now make the cobbler topping. In a mixing bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients. Grate the butter into the bowl and rub it in with your fingertips to produce what looks like rough breadcrumbs. 

4. Chop the chocolate into pieces about the size of your small fingernail and add to the dry ingredients. Stir in the yoghurt to make a stiff dough - try not to overmix.

5. Place blobs of the dough on top of the rhubarb and flatten slightly so the top is almost but not completely covered. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the top is golden and you can see juices bubbling slightly at the edges. Serve with vanilla icing or gently whipped cream.

 

 

Roast turbot with bay and blood orange hollandaise

Once upon a time, even the thought of making hollandaise made me a bit afraid. This classic, sublimely buttery sauce – soul mate of asparagus, eggs, new potatoes, green vegetables, fish … actually, anything you can reasonably pour thick silken ribbons of the stuff onto … is notoriously easy to botch. Too much heat and the emulsion of egg yolks and butter will separate, leaving you with a heartbreaking curdled mess rather than creamy, glossy deliciousness.

Hollandaise takes some skill and practice, for sure; god knows I only got the knack after countless failed attempts. But what I’ve come to learn is that, like so many dishes, hollandaise can detect the faintest whiff of fear, filthy bad mood or stress. Attempt to make it with one of these humours lurking in the kitchen,  and chances are that some of your anxiety or waspishness will spill over into the mix and ruin it.

Nigerian food writer Yemisi Aribisala puts her finger on it in her wonderful book, Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex and Nigerian Taste Buds. “That which you cook is informed by everything about you: your mood, spirit, environment, temperament,” she says. She’s so right.  Further,  I've found that some dishes are more willing than others to turn a blind eye to your panic or bad mood. Stew, for example, doesn’t seem to mind a bit whether you hum cheerfully as you chop or peevishly throw everything into the pot. But in my kitchen at least, sauces, bread, pastry and fish are more sensitive culinary creatures, more likely to behave well if I approach them with my chest puffed out with confidence and a spring in my step.

I recently made this dish after a long day walking and exploring the coastal paths near Lulworth Cove, a glorious horse shoe bay a little way east along the Dorset coast from my home. It was bitingly cold but the sun was shining on a glorious landscape, I didn’t fight with the children for the whole entire day and the dog did not raid anybody’s picnic and steal their sandwiches. I bought the turbot from the lovely lady at Cove Fish, whose son and husband (eleventh and twelfth generation fishermen, no word of a lie) caught the little beauty in the bay the day before. In summary: there was no chance my hollandaise was going to go wrong.

If you too are little bit afraid of making hollandaise, turn on the radio,  pour yourself a glass of wine and politely wave the children off to play on their screens. Whatever you do, do not multitask, rather immerse yourself in the process, stirring constantly and cooking it slowly. If it all goes wrong (which it probably will if you’ve never made it before) just cheerfully start again. 

Roast turbot with bay + blood orange hollandaise

Turbot is rightly known as The King of Fish – it’s absolutely delicious but can be royally expensive. Choose another whole fish if you like, but the cooking time will probably vary from this.  To check your fish for doneness, push a knife into the thickest part of the fish near the backbone; gently prise it up so you can check the flesh – if it’s opaque it’s done, if it’s still translucent, it needs a little more time. The hollandaise here is flavoured with orange unlike the standard version season with lemon juice.

Serves 4

  • A little olive oil for oiling
  • 1 turbot, about 1.5kg, gutted
  • A handful of fresh bay leaves or a small handful of dried ones
  • A good few tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • Sea salt 
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the hollandaise (based on a recipe from Leith’s Cookery Bible)

  • 3 egg yolks
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • 100ml white wine vinegar
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 170g butter, cut into small cubes
  • Finely grated zest ¼ blood orange (any other sweet orange is fine)
  • 1 tablespoon blood orange juice (any other sweet orange is fine)
  • Lemon juice, to taste (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 220°C and lightly oil a roasting tray large enough to hold the turbot.  
  2. Season the cavity with salt and pepper and stuff with the bay leaves. Season well and place in the roasting tray dark-side up.  Generously smear  with butter and roast for 20 minutes, basting halfway through. Check to see if it’s done – if not return to the oven a little longer.
  3. Meanwhile, make the hollandaise. Put the vinegar, peppercorns and bay leaves in a small pan and simmer very gently until reduced to about one generous tablespoonful. Set aside to cool.
  4. Find a medium pan for which you have a heatproof bowl that sits nicely on top without touching the bottom. Fill the pan with a few centimetres of water and bring to a gentle simmer. 
  5. While this is happening, place the egg yolks in the heatproof bowl and whisk with a pinch of salt until creamy. Strains the cooled reduced vinegar into the eggs, and discard the peppercorns and bay leaves. Stir in the orange juice and zest.
  6. Set the bowl with the eggs over the simmering water and whisk in the butter cube by cube, making sure each one has melted and amalgamated into the sauce before adding the next. After you have added about half the butter, you can start to add it in larger quantities.
  7. When the butter is all used up, whisk continuously until the sauce is thick and falls off the the thick in ribbons that leave a trail. Pull the pan off the heat at once if you see steam coming from the pan. Taste for seasoning and add salt and lemon juice if you like. 
  8. Set aside in a warm place until you area ready to serve the fish – hollandaise doesn’t cope with reheating.  This dish is fantastic served with buttery kale and crushed new potatoes.

 

 

Spicy bean stew with mozzarella puddles

beans and mozzarella

Do you soak dried beans for 12 hours before you cook them? Or do you reach for the canned stuff because a) you cant be bothered  b) you don’t plan your meals that far ahead? c) you meant to but forgot?

Take heart. A slew of recent cookery articles has confirmed what some people have believed for years – beans don’t really need to be soaked before cooking.  Melissa Clark in the New York Times is one such Non Soaker. In a recent article she exhorted readers to ditch canned beans for dried because dried are so easy to cook from scratch: just simmer in salted water until tender without soaking first, she suggests. The keen beans at Epicurious quickly jumped on the no-soak bandwagon too.

As a Soaker I was intrigued – the conventional wisdom, echoed by many fine food writers, is that soaking beans slashes the cooking time and softens the skins. But after a little experimentation myself, involving several pans of butter beans and different cooking methods, I’m pretty much converted. By all means, soak beans if you have the time or inclination, or cheat-soak by bringing your beans to the boil, turning off the heat and leaving them to sit in their water for an hour. But really, soaking them first will save you barely any cooking time at all.

Another thing my experiment confirmed is that salting the water in which you cook the beans does not make them tough, just tastier; tossing in an onion and some bay leaves makes them even more flavourful. And this is where beans cooked from scratch have the edge over canned. Melissa Clarke describes canned beans are “a wan simulacrum, fine in a pinch but never transcendent.” While I love her description, I don’t agree – good quality tinned or canned beans can be perfectly lovely. But there is something wonderfully calming about cooking a pan of dried  beans; the starchy broth it produces is delicious added to soups and bean dishes (as Rachel Roddy explains so well in her wonderful cookbook Five Quarters). Plus, the beans you cook yourself are definitely creamier than canned.

I generally cook whole packets of beans at a time these days, rather than leave oddments in the larder, and either keep the cooking pan (with the beans and liquid) in the fridge for cooking meals throughout the week (as per Roddy’s suggestion). Or else I freeze what I’m not using immediately, for reheating in fresh water later. This is handy because if you have beans to hand you have a meal.

Beans slurp up flavours, so I cook them all sorts of ways. I often blitz them into a creamy puree in the blender, adding some of the bean cooking water to loosen, then maybe some herbs and spices, yoghurt or olive oil, a garlic clove or maybe even a little saffron crushed in hot water. To make soup, stir in lots of hot stock, or leave it thick and creamy to serve in lieu of mashed potatoes with meat (lamb chops!) or for dunking vegetables.

Beans are also fantastic in the soup pot – with or without a bacon bone – and lots of lovely vegetables, or used to bulk out stews if you’re trying to cut down on meat. I’m rather fond of the recipe below – it’s a bean stew in its own right, although the addition of bacon and/or chorizo really elevates it into something wonderful. 

Spicy bean stew with mozzarella puddles

You can easily make this a vegetarian version just by leaving out the pancetta or chorizo

  • Olive oil
  • 200g pancetta or cooking chorizo
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tins tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle paste
  • ¾ tbsp dried oregano
  • 600g cooked white beans + 1 cup of cooking liquid
  • 120g mozzarella or labneh balls (or 2cm cubes)
  • salt and pepper

Warm a good splash of olive oil in an ovenproof frying pan and add the pancetta or chorizo. Cook, stirring often, until the pancetta is crispy at the edges and starting to turn golden. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and put to one side. Add the onion and a pinch of salt to the pan and cook very gently for 10 minutes, until very soft and golden. Add the red pepper and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes more. Stir in the pancetta and chipotle paste so it’s combined with all the ingredients and lovely and aromatic. Add the tomatoes and oregano, squash any big bits with a wooden spoon, and season well with salt and pepper. Add 250ml of the bean cooking liquid (or water if you don’t have any) and simmer for 10 minutes or until thickened slightly. While this is happening, preheat the grill to high. Add the beans to the tomato mixture and simmer for 5 minutes more, until warmed through. Dot the top of the mixture with mozzarella or labneh all and set under the grill for 5 minutes, or until melted into creamy puddles.

Chamomile & honey olive oil cake

I drink bucketfuls of chamomile tea each day and olive oil cakes are my favourite treat, so this is my idea of a perfect afternoon tea. Use chamomile flowers if you can. They’re widely available these days and their flavour is intense, almost tangy, but tea bags also work nicely. I normally love the flavour of olive oil in cakes, but I’ve suggested using a mild version in this one so the chamomile can shine through.

Makes a 20 cm (8 inch) cake

  • 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) milk, plus extra if needed
  • 3 tablespoons chamomile flowers or 4 chamomile tea bags
  • 250 g (9 oz/1²⁄₃ cups) self-raising flour
  • 150 g (5½ oz/²⁄₃ cup) caster (superfine) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • a generous pinch of salt
  • 250 ml (9 fl oz/1 cup) mild olive oil
  • 70 g (2½ oz) honey
  • 3 eggs

For the lemon icing

  • 150 g (5½ oz) icing (confectioners’) sugar, sifted
  • finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • a splash of milk
  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C (315°F).
  2. Oil a 20 cm (8 inch) round cake tin and line the base with baking paper.
  3. Pour the milk into a small saucepan and gently warm through without letting it reach the boil, then remove from the heat and add the chamomile flowers or tea bags. Set to one side for a good 10 minutes so the milk and chamomile can infuse and cool.
  4. Now, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, honey and eggs.
  5. Strain the chamomile flowers from the cooled milk, or remove the tea bags, and measure how much milk you have – you need 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup), so add more milk if necessary.
  6. Stir the infused milk into the oil mixture. Pour this mixture into the flour mixture, mixing until well combined and lump-free, but don’t overbeat it.
  7. Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 40–50 minutes or until the cake is golden and a skewer comes out almost clean. Leave the cake in the tin for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
  8. While the cake is cooking, stir together the lemon icing ingredients, keeping some of the lemon zest for the top of the cake and adding just enough milk to give it a loose pouring consistency.
  9. When the cake is completely cold, drizzle with the lemon icing and sprinkle with the reserved lemon zest.

Spaghetti with red witlof, bacon and garlic crumbs

Write a recipe intro here?

Serves 4

  • 400 g (14 oz) spaghetti
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for cooking
  • 2 thick rashers smoked bacon, cut into matchsticks
  • 250 g (9 oz) red witlof (chicory), thinly sliced with a few of the end parts of the red leaves torn
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 small handful flat-leaf parsley leaves

For the garlic crumbs

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 30 g (1 oz) good-quality fresh breadcrumbs, ideally made from sourdough or Olive oil bread 
  • pinch of sea salt flakes
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  1. Get the water for your pasta on the go – don’t add too much salt as salty bacon is in play here.
  2. While it’s coming to the boil, make the garlic crumbs. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan, add the breadcrumbs and a pinch of sea salt, and stir-fry over high heat until the breadcrumbs just start to smell toasty, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and cook, stirring to stop it burning, for a couple of minutes more.
  4. Pull the frying pan off the heat and stir in the grated lemon zest, then spread the breadcrumbs out on a plate so they stay crisp.
  5. Wipe out the pan.
  6. Add the pasta to the boiling water, then heat the olive oil in the frying pan. Add the bacon and fry over medium heat until starting to turn golden.
  7. Add the sliced witlof and fry for a few minutes more, stirring often, until it is just softened.
  8. Pour in the wine.
  9. While it’s bubbling up, scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen any delicious caramelised bits.
  10. Pull the pan off the heat.
  11. When the pasta is cooked, drain it, keeping a little of the cooking liquid.
  12. Tip the pasta into the frying pan, return to low heat and add a splash of the olive oil and a splash of the cooking liquid.
  13. Gently toss to combine and warm the pasta through, adding more oil or liquid if the pasta is dry.
  14. Add the lemon zest, parsley, torn witlof and half the garlic crumbs to the frying pan, then gently toss.
  15. Serve immediately, with the remaining garlic crumbs sprinkled over the top.

Warm salad of farro, roasted vegetables and chestnuts

Farro is such a beautiful wheat grain, bursting with fibre, protein and other good things, as well as being chewy and delicious. If you can’t find it, substitute it with spelt, although it’s much softer. This is a glorious autumnal or winter dish, and one that I often adapt according to what I have by way of vegetables.

Keep the beetroot in, as its colour is lovely against the grains and adds earthy sweetness. I haven’t included them in the recipe below, but the Confit shallots with herbs and garlic (page 153) are absolutely wonderful tossed into the mix as well.

Serves 4–6 as a side.

  • 150 g (5½ oz) celeriac
  • 150 g (5½ oz) carrots
  • 200 g (7 oz) raw beetroot
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon sumac
  • leaves from 1 lemon thyme or thyme sprig
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt flakes, plus extra for seasoning
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 50 g (1¾ oz) vacuum-packed chestnuts
  • 140 g (5 oz) pearled farro
  • 2 tablespoons mixed seeds, such as pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and sunflower seeds
  • 1 handful flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
  • extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

For the dressing

  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons walnut oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  1. First, get your vegetables on the go. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Peel the celeriac, carrots and beetroot, and cut them into 3 cm (1¼ inch) chunks. Pop the vegetables into a large roasting tin in a single layer.
  2. Whisk together 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the honey, sumac and thyme, season with sea salt and black pepper, and pour over the vegetables. Toss to coat.
  3. Roast for 30 minutes, then add the chestnuts, shaking to coat them in the oil. Roast for 15 minutes more or until everything is softened and golden.
  4. While the vegetables are roasting, put the farro, the ½ teaspoon sea salt and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a saucepan.
  5. Pour in 700 ml (24 fl oz) water and simmer for 20–25 minutes or until the grains are tender – bear in mind that farro retains some bite and chewiness when cooked. If the water is absorbed before the grains are done, add a little boiling water; if there is excess liquid when cooked, drain this off.
  6. While the grains are cooking, make the dressing – just put all the ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake well.
  7. As soon as the farro is ready, add half the dressing and toss – do this while the grains are still hot so they absorb the flavours. Set aside to keep warm.
  8. Transfer the cooked vegetables to a serving platter or bowl. Add the farro, seeds and most of the parsley. Gently toss with enough of the remaining dressing to generously coat. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary – the farro might need quite a bit of salt.
  9. Serve warm or at room temperature, scattered with the remaining parsley and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

Baked eggs with greens, avocado and yoghurt

Serves 2–4

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 250 g (9 oz) mixed greens such as kale, spring greens, wild garlic, savoy cabbage, beetroot greens, turnip tops and parsley, thinly sliced
  • sea salt flakes
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 60–125 ml (2–4 fl oz/¼–½ cup) chicken or vegetable stock
  • a pinch of Aleppo pepper or
  • chilli flakes
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons Greek-style yoghurt
  • smoked paprika, for sprinkling
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
  2. Warm the olive oil in an ovenproof frying pan over medium–high heat and add the mixed greens, handful by handful, stirring and allowing them to wilt as you go. It might seem like you have too many greens but don’t worry, they will cook down.
  3. Season with sea salt and black pepper, then stir-fry for a couple of minutes until all the greens have softened slightly.
  4. Add the garlic and a splash of the stock, then continue to stir-fry for a couple more minutes until the leaves are tender.
  5. Add as much stock as you need to prevent the greens drying out and sticking to the pan, but you don’t want any liquid left when the greens are cooked.
  6. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the Aleppo pepper or chilli flakes.
  7. Make four indentations in the greens and crack an egg into each one, then arrange the avocado slices around the eggs.
  8. Stir the yoghurt well to loosen it, then spoon it in blobs over the greens and sprinkle with paprika.
  9. Bake for about 10 minutes or until the egg whites are just set and the yolks are still runny. Serve immediately, accompanied by some good bread, if you like.