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We served this as a side with a barbecue but it would also make a nice dinner for 2.

Couscous & chickpeas in ras el hanut spice – serves 4 as a side or 2 as a main

  • ½ a small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp ras el hanut spice mix
  • 100g cooked chickpeas (from a tin)
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 60g couscous
  • 180ml boiling water
  • 15-20g coriander, chopped

Heat the oil in a pan, then fry the onion and garlic over a medium heat until softened and starting to colour. Add the salt and ras el hanut and mix for about 20 seconds. Add the chickpeas and diced tomato and cook for another minute. Stir in the couscous and boiling water, bring to the boil, then turn off the heat and cover.

Leave the couscous aside for 10 minutes to absorb the liquid, then remove the lid and use a fork to separate the grains and mix in the chopped coriander. Serve warm or at room temperature.

(Original recipe from Honey & Co. Food from the Middle East, Saltyard Books, 2014.)

Don’t wear a white shirt when eating this as lots of slurping is needed. A dish full of herbs, spring veg and a fresh spicy sauce, perfect on a cool Spring evening.

Wine Suggestion: This dish demands a good, dry Riesling like the superlative ones made by Martin & Britta Korrell in the Nahe, Germany. For tonight the “Slice of Paradise” Riesling, a less philosophical, more playful baby brother of their signature Paradies vineyard wine, but none the less for this; a taste of Spring in the glass too.

Laksa with Spring Vegetables & Rice Noodles – serves 4

  • 30g tamarind paste with seeds (it comes in a block)
  • 1-2 red chillies, roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger or galangal
  • ½ a bunch of scallions, sliced, keep the white parts and the green parts separate
  • a small bunch of coriander, leaves and stalks separated
  • 2 lemongrass stalks, roughly chopped
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 500ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 x 400ml tin of coconut milk
  • 400g mixed spring vegetables e.g. PSB, peas, green beans, mangetout, asparagus, spinach, radishes or baby carrots
  • 200g dried rice noodles, cooked according to the instructions on the pack
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce, or more if you like
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • a small bunch of mint, leaves picked and roughly chopped, to serve

Bring a pan of salty water to the boil.

Meanwhile, put the tamarind into a small bowl and cover with boiling water from the kettle. Mash well with a fork to get a purée then push the tamarind through a sieve. Discard the seeds that are left behind.

Blend the chillies, garlic, ginger, white parts of the scallions, coriander stalks and lemongrass with the turmeric and cumin to make a thick paste. The small bowl of the food processor is good for this, you might need to add a little water to help it come together.

To make the broth, fry the spicy paste in the sunflower oil for 2 to 3 minutes over a medium heat, until it starts to stick to the pan. Add the tamarind purée, stock and coconut milk and bring to the boil.

Meanwhile, boil the vegetables in the pan of salty water until just tender – 3 minutes should do it, then drain and divide between 4 deep bowls along with the prepared noodles.

Add the fish sauce and sugar to the sauce, taste and add more if needed. Pour the hot broth over the noodles and veg and garnish with the mint, coriander leaves and green scallions. You can add a bit of sliced chilli too if you like.

(Original recipe from Home Cookery Year by Claire Thomson, Quadrille, 2020.)

We served this with sticky rice and some quick cucumber kimchi but it would also work perfectly as a starter.  If you want to serve to start a meal, just slice the chicken thighs when they’re cooked and serve in lettuce leaves with some kimchi.

Wine Suggestion: this goes great with lighter red wines with high acidity but lower tannins. A youthful Chianti with lower extraction, like the Rocca delle Macie Chianti Vernaiolo which was our choice tonight. Made for youthful consumption as opposed to some of their more serious Chianti Classico’s this was a delight.

Korean Spice-Rubbed Chicken for the BBQ – serves 4

  • 4 large boneless, skinless chicken thigh fillets (if they are tiny just get some extra)
  • 2 tsp light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp gochugaru (Korean chilli powder)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp sesame seeds
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil

FOR THE MARINADE:

  • 60ml sunflower oil
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Make the marinade by whisking the ingredients together in a large bowl.

Add the chicken to the marinade and set aside for at least 30 minutes.

Combine the brown sugar, gochugaru, salt, pepper and sesame seeds in a bowl. Drain the chicken well and pat dry with paper towels, then rub the dry spice mix evenly over the chicken.

Heat a barbecue and cook the chicken for about 4 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. If you don’t want to barbecue you can heat the sunflower oil in a frying pan and cook them on the hob.

Rest in a warm place for 5 minutes before serving.

(Original recipe from Neil Perry’s Good Cooking, Murdoch Books, 2016)

We know it’s a bit early for tomatoes, but this salad tastes good even with the blandest of specimens, so you’re good to go. A great side dish for a barbecue. You can get everything prepped up to an hour in advance but don’t toss it all together until ready to serve.

Tomato & za’atar fatoush – serves 4

  • 1 pitta, cut in half to make two thin round pieces
  • olive oil
  • 1 head of Little Gem lettuce
  • 250g mixed tomatoes
  • 150g feta
  • 2 springs of fresh oregano, leaves picked
  • 2 tsp za’atar
  • 2 heaped tbsp fresh pomegranate seeds

FOR THE DRESSING:

  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 2 tbsp good olive oil
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • a pinch of black pepper

Peel the garlic and bash with a knife to flatten. Mix it with the other dressing ingredients and allow to infuse for an hour at room temperature. Discard the garlic clove before mixing the dressing with the salad.

Brush the pitta bread with a little olive oil and toast until lightly golden and crispy. Break into bite-sized pieces.

Separate the lettuce leaves and cut into large strips.

Cut the tomatoes in different ways – slice some, chop into chunks and just half the little ones. You want them bite-sized rather than finely chopped.

Break the feta into chunks.

When ready to serve put the pitta pieces, lettuce, tomatoes, feta, oregano and za’atar into a large bowl. Pour over the dressing and gently mix everything together. Serve on a large platter with the pomegranate seeds sprinkled over.

(Original recipe from Honey & Co. Food from the Middle East by Sarit Packer & Itamar Srulovich.)

Stuffed Rabbit

We cooked this fantastic recipe for Easter, avoiding the temptation of Spring lamb which is ridiculously expensive at present. Plus we think lamb is tastier later in the season when they are a bit older. This is the sort of recipe that Jono would choose, but I decide it looks too fiddly and we opt for something else. Something this weekend made me relent and give this a go … probably the prospect of a long weekend and nothing much to do!

Make friends with your butcher and ask them to debone the rabbit for you. The stuffing and rolling seems a bit tricky when you’re doing it and ours looked far from pretty but if you tie it tightly with string, wrap in some cling film and leave in the fridge for an hour, it will all stay together nicely and looks great when you cut it out. Be brave.

Wine Suggestion: Good with a Chianti Classico from a better producer and, if possible, a little age for some of the tertiary bottle development characters to emerge. For us we had a bottle of the Tenuta Sant’Alfonso, a single vineyard wine made by Rocca delle Macie from our cellar.

Stuffed rabbit – serves 4 to 6

  • 1kg deboned rabbit (about 1.2kg unboned)
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 3 tbsp olive oil, plus a bit extra
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 30g pine nuts
  • 30g currants or sultanas
  • 200ml white wine
  • about 100g soft breadcrumbs
  • 10-12 slices streaky bacon or pancetta

Spread the deboned rabbit out over a work surface. Rub with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, add the onion and cook until soft, then add the tomatoes and fry for 2 minutes. Add the tomato purée, pine nuts and currants and cook for another minute. Add 100ml white wine and bubble until most of it has disappeared. Start adding the breadcrumbs, a handful at a time, until you have a stuffing that is neither too wet or too dry. It should clump in your hands and stay together but not feel too sticky. Season.

Make a pile of the stuffing, shaping with your hands, about 7cm from the less fat end of the rabbit. You need to leave a generous margin near the edges so the stuffing doesn’t squeeze out. Roll the rabbit into a fat log shape, tucking in the sides as you go. Wrap the joint in the bacon or pancetta and tie firmly widthways and lengthways with kitchen string. You can set it aside in the fridge for a while now if you need, we found this useful to firm it up a bit.

Preheat the oven to 200C/180C/Gas 6.

Heat some more oil in a frying pan, then brown the rabbit on all sides. Transfer to a deepish roasting tin, not too much bigger than the rabbit. Add rest of the wine to the frying pan, scraping the meaty bits on the pan with a wooden spoon, then pour this over the rabbit. Roast for 45 minutes until nice and golden on the outside. Allow to rest for 20 minutes before serving in thick slices.

(Original recipe from Two Kitchens: Family Recipes from Sicily and Rome by Rachel Roddy, Headline Home, 2017.)

 

Rachel Roddy is a great inspiration for us in the kitchen. Her recipes are so simple but just right. This spaghetti dish has no pepper or cheese and doesn’t need them, it’s delicious as it is and a treat at any time of year.

Wine Suggestion: We were inspired by the bright Spring day and this dish to open the Spiaggia Marche Bianco. A youthful Verdicchio from the Sartarelli family who live and breathe Verdicchio. Joyful and charming; everything we were hoping for.

Spaghetti aglio, olio al limone – serves 4

  • 2 large unwaxed lemons, zest grated
  • a large handful of flat-leaf parsley, very finely chopped
  • 500g spaghetti
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
  • 1 small dried chilli or a pinch of dried chilli flakes
  • 6 tbsp of olive oil

Mix the lemon zest and chopped parsley together and set aside.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add lots of salt, then stir in the spaghetti and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, very gently warm the olive oil in a large frying pan with the chopped garlic and chilli. You want it to be fragrant but be very careful not to burn it.

Use tongs to lift the spaghetti out of the water and into the frying pan, you want a little of the residual cooking water. Stir the spaghetti to coat in the oil, then add the lemon zest and parsley and a pinch of salt. You can also add a squeeze of lemon juice if you like, we usually don’t feel it needs it. Divide between warm pasta bowls.

(Original recipe from Two Kitchens: Family Recipes from Sicily and Rome by Rachel Roddy, Headline Home, 2017.)

Encocado

We loved this creamy coconut fish stew from Equador. We went for big chunks of swordfish and prawns but you can substitute other types of fish, like tuna or pollock. Serve with rice.

Wine Suggestion: try to find a light, earthy red with low tannins for this dish, and not too much acidity like a Gamay, riper Pinot Noir or a light Grenache. Tonight’s choice was Domaine Bellier’s Cheverny rouge, a Pinot Noir-Gamay blend from the warm 2018 vintage in the Loire. An under-rated wine region and a good accompaniment to the fish, spices and flavours of this dish.

Encocado – serves 4

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, finely chopped
  • 3 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 4 tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 400ml tin coconut milk
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • ½ orange, juiced
  • 600g skinless boneless fish cut into 5 cm pieces (you can use snapper, prawns, tuna, swordfish or pollock – we used swordfish and prawns).
  • a thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • a small handful of coriander leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 red chilli, finely sliced

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat.

Cook the onion and pepper for 7 to 8 minutes or until soft and golden, then add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.

Add the spices and some salt, mix well, then add the tomatoes, tomato purée and 100ml of water. Mix well and cook for about 5 minutes or until the tomatoes start to break down.

Add the coconut milk, lime juice and orange juice, then bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the fish and stir, then grate in the ginger. Cover and cook gently for 10-12 minutes or until the fish is cooked through. If you are using prawns they won’t take so long to cook so just add them for the last couple of minutes. Scatter over the coriander and chilli to serve.

(Original recipe by John Gregory-Smith in Olive Magazine, April 2018.)

The first thing to mention, is that this is not like the cauliflower in cheese sauce that we all know and love, but no less because of that. This dish is more set, more ‘eggy’ and has a distinctive tang from the soured cream. It also reheats particularly well, regular cauliflower cheese tends to split. So the verdict is that you should definitely give this a go – we served as a side with a dish of minty peas and lettuce and some baked ham. It could definitely work as a main either with a green salad or green veg.

Cauliflower gratin with soured cream – serves 4

  • a knob of butter, for greasing the dish
  • 50g breadcrumbs
  • 1 large cauliflower, about 1kg when the leaves have been removed, cut into medium-sized florets
  • 350ml soured cream
  • 125g Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 3 tsp mustard
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1½ tsp black pepper
  • 50g sunflower seeds

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

Grease a ceramic baking dish with butter, then sprinkle with the breadcrumbs.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil and cook the florets for about 6 minutes, or until just tender. Drain, then steam dry in the warm pot for a few minutes and drain again on some kitchen paper to make sure no water remains.

Combine the soured cream, 100g of the cheese and eggs with the nutmeg, mustard and seasoning in a large bowl.

Put the drained cauliflower into the prepared dish, then pour over the soured cream mixture. Sprinkle with the rest of the cheese and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, covering with foil if it starts to brown too quickly.

Serve with the sunflower seeds scattered over the top.

(Original recipe from Carpathia: Food from the Heart of Romania by Irina Georgescu, Frances Lincoln Publishing, 2020.)

Hot Cross Buns

We like the occasional Hot Cross Bun … warm with a wedge of butter on it, but often find the shop-bought ones too sweet. This version, however, has all the flavour and texture but eases up on the sugar. Best eaten on the day you make them as they lose a bit of freshness that toasting will fix. Not a problem though as we suspect the warm buns will tempt even the most jaded HCB eaters out there. It’s a pretty easy recipe too, though Jono reckons he’ll get the crosses better next time.

Hot Cross Buns, makes 12 buns

  • 450g strong white flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp grated nutmeg
  • 20g fresh yeast, or 7g fast-action dried yeast
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 50g butter, melted and cooled
  • 150ml tepid milk
  • 5 tbsp tepid water
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 75g currants
  • 50g chopped mixed peel

For the cross:

  • 50g plain flour
  • 25g soft butter

To Glaze:

  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp water

Measure the flour, salt, spices, sugar and dried yeast (if using), into a large bowl and stir to mix and then make a well in the centre.

If using fresh yeast, mix this with the milk and water until combined. Pour the butter, the beaten egg, milk and water into the well followed by the currants and mixed peel. Mix to a soft dough.

Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Transfer to an oiled bowl and cover with oiled clingfilm. Keep in a warm room and leave to rise for 1.5 hours and until it has doubled in size.

Lightly grease 2 baking trays.

When the dough has risen turn out onto a lightly floured work surface again and knead for 2-3 minutes. Divide into 12 equal pieces and shape into round buns.

Make a cross in the top of each bun with a knife then place on the prepared baking trays and cover with oiled clingfilm. Leave to rise again in a warm place for 30 minutes. Pre-heat an oven to 220C/200C fan.

While the buns are rising make the pastry for the crosses by mixing the flour and butter with a little water and roll out. Cut into thin strips and place into the cuts on the top of the buns.

Bake the buns for about 15 minutes until brown and hollow sounding when the base is tapped.

While the buns are baking make the glaze by dissolving the sugar in the water over a gentle heat. As soon as the buns come out of the oven brush them all over with the glaze.

It may be hard to resist, so don’t … cut one open and spread with butter before eating.

(Original recipe from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, BBC Books, 2009.)

Chicken Pastilla

The flavours in this little Middle Eastern pie are stunning. You can make the filling up to a couple of days ahead and keep it in the fridge, the problem with this is trying to resist eating it. If your filo pastry is frozen you should defrost it in the fridge overnight, defrosting in haste causes the sheets to stick together. You can also re-freeze any sheets that you don’t use. Sarit and Itamar suggest serving with a rocket and orange salad dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. We had a green salad which worked fine too.

Wine Suggestion: we chose the Manciat-Poncet Pouilly Vinzelles which is a classic Chardonnay with good weight and a delightful balance of perfectly ripe fruit, vibrant freshness and judiciously handled oak. Aromatically broad and rich to counter the rich chicken flavours and natural minerality giving it all lift and vitality.

Chicken pastilla – serves 4-6

  • 6 chicken thighs (about 800g)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 100g pitted dates
  • 3 onions (about 300g), sliced thinly
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 dried chilli
  • 2 tbsp ras el hanout
  • 240ml water
  • 1 packet of filo pastry (250g-270g)
  • 60g melted butter

Heat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6.

Put a large frying pan over a medium heat. Put the chicken thighs into the pan, skin-side down, then season with 1 tsp of the salt and the pepper. After about 10-15 minutes the skin should be crisp and nicely coloured. Turn the thighs over and cook on the other side for about 5 minutes, then transfer to an oven-proof pan that can fit them all in one layer. Add the dates.

Add the sliced onions to the fat in the frying pan and add another tsp of salt. Cook until soft and starting to turn golden, then add the cinnamon stick, dried chilli and ras el hanout. Mix well together and cook for 30 seconds, then add the water and bring to the boil. Once boiling, pour over the chicken thighs, then cover the pan and put in the centre of the oven for 1 hour.

Check that the chicken is cooked, it should just fall off the bone. If not, return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes. Set the chicken aside until cool enough to handle.

Pour the contents of the pan into a sieve over a bowl, keep the cooking liquid. Pull the chicken from the bones and discard the skin, bones and any gristly bits. Remove the chilli and cinnamon stick. Mix the chicken with the cooked dates and onions, then add just enough of the liquid to bind it all together. You can prepare this part up to 2 days in advance and keep in the fridge until needed. Keep the extra liquid too and serve as a sauce on the side.

Preheat the oven to 200C/180 fan/gas 6.

Open the filo pastry packet and lay it out on a surface.

Carefully peel off the first sheet and brush with the melted butter, then fold into four and set aside (this will form the base of the pastilla).

Peel of the next sheet and butter it, then cover with another sheet and set aside. Repeat with two more sheets, so you have two sheets of double thickness.

Place one doubled sheet lengthways on the table, put the folded square in the centre of it, then lay the other doubled sheet on top at 90° to the first sheet, so you have a cross shape that is thickest in the middle.

Carefully lift the pastry and place in a 22-24cm ovenproof frying pan letting the sides hang over the edge. Fill with the chicken mixture and fold the corners over to cover it. It looks nice if its a bit crumpled so no need to be to neat about it. Brush the top of the pie with the rest of the melted butter and put into the centre of the oven for 15 minutes. Turn the pan around so it all crisps evenly, then cook for another 10-15 minutes until crisp and golden.

Meanwhile, heat the cooking liquid in a small pan.

Serve immediately with a jug of the sauce to pour over and a salad on the side.

(Original recipe from Honey & Co. by Sarit Packer & Itamar Srulovich, Saltyard Books, 2014.)

This is a Romanian version of moussaka and much easier than the Greek version we usually make. The aubergines are replaced with layers of potatoes and the cheese sauce is a mixture of yoghurt, cheese and egg yolks. Makes a great family meal with a salad on the side.

Wine Suggestion: This suits a light, earthy red and a recent find, the Jeunes Vignes de Xinomavro by Thymiopoulos was yet again a delight.

Musaca de cartofi – serves 6

FOR THE FILLING:

  • 1 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil
  • 2 onions, finely diced
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 500g pork mince (or you can use a mixture of pork and beef mince)
  • 1 tbsp sweet paprika
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 300ml passata
  • 4 medium potatoes, waxy ones work best
  • 15g butter

FOR THE CHEESE SAUCE:

  • 100g Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 150g natural yoghurt
  • 2 egg yolks

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onions and carrot and sauté for 6-7 minutes. Add the pork mince, paprika, tomatoes and passata, then cook for 25 minutes, until reduced and thickened. Give it a stir now and then as it cooks.

Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and slice into thin discs (a mandoline works best for this job). Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add some salt, then blanch the potatoes for about 5 minutes or until just softened. Drain and set aside.

To make the cheese sauce, mix the cheese with the yoghurt and egg yolks.

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas4.

Grease a 6-person lasagne dish with a little of the butter and arrange a layer of potatoes over the bottom, they can overlap slightly. Dot with a little butter and season with salt and pepper. Spread half of the meat filling on top, then cover with another layer of potatoes, dot with butter and season, then spread the rest of the filling on top. Finish with a layer of potatoes and top with the cheese sauce.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until nicely browned on top.

(Original recipe from Carpathia: Food from the heart of Romania by Irina Georgescu, Frances Lincoln Publishing, 2020.)

Daffodils, warmer weather (occasionally … ), longer days, and spring vegetables arriving in the shops. Things are definitely looking up, at least in our kitchen if nowhere else.

Wine Suggestion: The asparagus cried out for the Höpler Grüner Veltliner lurking in the fridge waiting for spring to arrive. GV is one of the few varieties to work with asparagus and this dish isn’t shy of their flavours so a good match. Crisp pear and zesty lemon flavours overlay the hints of characteristic white pepper umami savouriness; this is so clean and vibrant it shouts the beginning of the season.

Asparagus, wild garlic & Gorgonzola risotto – serves 3

  • a bunch of asparagus, snap off and discard the woody ends
  • 1.5 litres of vegetable stock
  • 40g butter and 25g of cold diced butter
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 250g superfino carnaroli rice
  • 60ml dry white wine
  • 40g Parmesan, grated
  • 60g Gorgonzola
  • a small handful of wild garlic leaves, finely chopped

Remove the tips from the asparagus and chop the stems into 3cm pieces.

Blanch the tips in a pan of salty boiling water for 2 minutes, then drain and set aside.

Bring the stock the boil, then turn down and keep it at a bare simmer.

Melt 40g butter in a heavy-based pan, add the onion and asparagus stalks, then cook gently until the onion is soft and translucent, but not coloured.

Turn the heat up a little and add the rice. Stir for a couple of minutes until warm and coated with the butter and onion.

Add the wine and allow it to bubble up and almost disappear, then start adding the stock a ladle at a time. Keep stirring and only add more stock when the previous ladleful has been absorbed. Start tasting the rice after about 15 minutes, you want it to be soft but still with a little bite in the centre.

Remove the pan from the heat and beat in the cold butter, Parmesan, 20g of the Gorgonzola and the wild garlic. Season to taste, then ladle into warm bowls and garnish with the asparagus tips and the rest of the Gorgonzola.

(Original recipe from Made at Home by Giorgio Locatelli, 4th Estate, 2017.)

This is a Romanian dish called Pilaf cu pui ciuperci. We haven’t knowingly cooked any Romanian dishes until now, but we recently purchased Carpathia: Food from the Heart of Romania by Irina Georgescu. This is a beautiful book and we’re looking forward to cooking many more dishes. While Irina suggests blitzing the veg in the food processor, we chopped them by hand. Either way you want them nice and fine but not blitzed to a pulp. Serve with salad.

Wine Suggestion: Unfortunately we didn’t have a Romanian wine to hand but we can attest it works well with one of our favourite wines: the Ch du Hureau Saumur-Champigny “Tuffe”. Elegance, style and grace, but also very grounded and earthy and what we love about Cabernet Franc from the Loire.

Oven-baked pearl barley pilaf with chicken and mushrooms – serves 4-6

  • 3 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil
  • 1.5kg chicken pieces, we used thighs and drumsticks but you can joint a whole chicken
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 300g pearl barley
  • ¼ celeriac, finely diced
  • 2-3 celery sticks, finely diced
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 1 red pepper, finely diced
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 200g chestnut mushrooms, quartered
  • 600ml chicken stock
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 5g black pepper
  • 25g butter, roughly chopped
  • a bunch of parsley, roughly chopped

We found it easier to fry the chicken in a large, heavy frying pan and then to transfer to a large roasting tin. Irina suggests frying and baking in a large deep casserole dish, but we didn’t have one big enough. A roasting tin covered with two layers of foil worked well.

Heat the oil in a large heavy frying pan or casserole dish, over a medium heat. Brown the chicken pieces on all sides – it’s easiest to do this in batches. Transfer the browned chicken to a plate and set aside.

Add the onions to the pan and cook for 10 minutes, then add the pearl barley and stir to coat the grains in the oil, cook for another few minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Add the chopped vegetables to the pan with the tomatoes, mushrooms, stock and seasoning and gently combine. You might need to transfer to a large roasting tin at this point. You need to be generous with the salt. Arrange the chicken pieces on top and cover the dish with a layer of foil and a lid or if using a roasting tin you can cover with a double layer of foil.

Bake for 40 minutes, then remove the lid and foil and cook for another 10 minutes. Check the vegetables are tender and that the chicken is cooked through, then remove from the oven. Dot the top of the dish with the butter and sprinkle with parsley.

(Original recipe from Carpathia: Food from the Heart of Romania by Irina Georgescu, Frances Lincoln Publishing, 2020.)

This is barely a recipe but it is an excellent way to serve turnip, which you may refer to as a swede. For clarity, we’re talking about the large orange-fleshed variety. We served this on St Patrick’s Day with some Irish stew but it’s lovely with sausages or on the side of a roast dinner. We’ve posted this before but it’s definitely worth mentioning again. 

Turnip with Crispy Bacon & Onion – serves 4 to 6

  • 900g turnip, peeled and cut into 2.5 cm chunks
  • 1 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 50g rindless piece of smoked bacon, diced
  • butter

Cook the turnip in lots of salt water until tender when pierced with a knife. 

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and sauté the onion and bacon until crisp and golden. 

When the turnip is tender, drain and allow to dry, then roughly mash with a generous lump of butter. Season with salt and lots of black pepper. 

Serve in a warm bowl with the crispy bacon and onion on top. 

(Original recipe from Neven Maguire’s Complete Family Cookbook)

For no particular reason we tend to eat mostly meat and fish dominant dishes on the weekend, and mostly veg during the week. This has been unsettled recently as we have no one to share our dishes with, so there is inevitably lots of leftovers from the weekend, and fewer opportunities to cook vegetables. This weekend we made sure to include a veggie dish in the line up and we’re looking forward to the leftovers already. Lots of lovely warm spices in this one. Serve with steamed rice.

Wine Suggestion: a nice accomaniment to this was from a young turk in Chateauneuf du Pape, Jean-Paul Daumen’s Méditerannée. From Southern France this contains the usual Rhone varieties alongside Cab Sauv and Merlot for a very pleasurable taste of sunshine. A well thought out biodynamic and organic blend that demonstrates why we shouldn’t always insist on what was grown traditionally in the area; this expands the range of taste on offer in a good way.

Red kidney bean & sweet potato stew with yoghurt & hot mint oil – serves 4

  • vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 big garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 690g jar of passata
  • 500g sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1cm chunks
  • 400g tin red kidney beans, drained
  • 30g flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp dried mint
  • Greek yoghurt

Put a large saucepan over a medium heat and pour in enough vegetable oil to coat the bottom. Add the onion and cook for a few minutes, then add the garlic and stir until both have softened but not coloured.

Stir in the spices and cook for a minutes, then season generously with Maldon salt and black pepper, then stir in the passata. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for about 25 minutes. Add a splash of water now and then if needed to prevent it sticking.

Stir in the sweet potato and cook for a further 30-40 minutes, or until tender, then add the beans and most of the parsley and heat through.

Meanwhile, put a small pan over a medium heat. Add 1 tbsp of vegetable oil and heat before stirring in the dried mint. Stir for a minute or two then remove from the heat.

Serve the stew with some yoghurt, the extra parsley and a drizzle of the hot mint oil.

(Original recipe from Simply by Sabrina Ghayour, Mitchell Beazley, 2020.)

We loved these fishcakes by Sabrina Ghayour, they are jam-packed with herbs and full of flavour. The preserved lemon mayonnaise is the perfect accompaniment. We had them for dinner but they would work well as a starter too.

Wine Suggestion: A wine we haven’t had in ages, the Beauvignac Picpoul de Pinet. A wine that has been described by Andrew Jefford as “springtime in liquid form”. Refeshing, crisp and lively, plus a depth only old-vine, lower yielding vines can give.

Fish cakes with preserved lemon mayonnaise – serves 6 to 8

FOR THE FISH CAKES:

  • vegetable oil, for frying
  • 300g skinless chunky white fish fillet, we used cod, diced
  • 400g mashed potatoes
  • 30g dill, finely chopped
  • 30g coriander, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp English mustard powder
  • 4 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp garlic granules
  • 1 egg

FOR THE PRESERVED LEMON MAYONNAISE:

  • 6 small preserved lemons, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 8 tbsp mayonnaise

Heat a frying pan over a gentle heat, add a little oil and the fish. Cook until opaque, then transfer to a sieve and leave to drain.

Preheat the oven to 230C or as high as your oven goes.

Mix the fish with the rest of the fish cake ingredients in a large mixing bowl and season well with maldon salt and black pepper. Use your hands to mix the ingredients together until you have a smooth paste, this will take a few minutes. Shape into 6-8 cakes and place on a baking tray.

Bake the fish cakes for about 12 minutes or until just starting to brown (we took ours out of the oven after about 9 minutes).

Finish cooking the fish cakes in a hot frying pan with a drizzle of oil for about 4 minutes on each side, or until nicely browned.

Mix the preserved lemons with the mayonnaise in a small bowl, season with pepper and serve with the hot fish cakes and some salad leaves.

(Original recipe from Simply by Sabrina Ghayour, Mitchell Beazley, 2020.)

Not much to look at perhaps but this is genuinely one of our favourite soup recipes. It makes a big potful and it’s really tasty, perfect for weekday lunches. 

Red lentil and bacon soup – serves 6

  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 75g smoked back bacon, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 small sweet potato, finely diced
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 200g red lentils, rinsed
  • 1.5 litres hot chicken or vegetable stock
  • a large sprig of thyme
  • 1 bay leaf

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the bacon, onion and red pepper. Cook on a low heat for 5 minutes or until the veg has started to soften. Add the sweet potato, garlic and lentils and stir for another couple of minutes. 

Pour the hot stock into the pan, add the herbs and season well with salt and pepper. 

Turn the heat up and bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the lentils are soft. 

(Original recipe from The Hairy Bikers’ British Classics by Si King & Dave Myers, Seven Dials, 2018.)

Jono has taken to baking in lockdown, not something we do much of normally. You can’t beat the smell of this baking in the oven. The recipe makes loads so you may not get through it all straight away, but don’t worry, gently warm in an oven for 5 minutes and serve with a dollop of cream and it’ll last a week or more.

Gingerbread Traybake 

  • 275g golden syrup
  • 275g black treacle
  • 225g light muscovado sugar
  • 225g softened butter
  • 450g self-raising flour
  • 2 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 tbsp milk

Preheat the oven to 160C/Fan 140C/Gas 3. 

Grease a 30 x 23cm traybake or roasting tin and line with baking parchment. 

Put the syrup, treacle, sugar and butter in a large pan and heat gently until the butter has melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the flour and spices. Add the beaten eggs and milk, and beat until smooth, then pour into the prepared tin. 

Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the cake has shrunk from the sides of the tin and springs back when pressed in the centre with your fingertips. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes then turn out, peel off the parchment and finish cooling on a wire rack. 

(Original recipe from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, BBC Book, 1993.)

Quiche Lorraine

Pastry is not an area of expertise for us, as we make it so rarely. We tend to attempt a quiche or similar about once a year but we really must try and squeeze in a few more before next March. The crust for this was super short and melt-in-the-mouth crumbly and the filling is so comforting and flavoursome.

Wine Suggestion: We think quiche is great with a red or white like you’d find in a country French Bistro, possibly a Beaujolais or Rhone for the reds but always leaning towards Alsace for the white (though many others work well too). We’ve gone on a bit of a Sylvaner kick recently and with this we had one from across the border in the Rheinhessen from Wagner-Stempel. Always under-rated, in good hands this grape combines a maturity and presence with vibrancy. Ripe apple and quince flavours finishing dry, fresh and invigorating.

Quiche Lorraine – serves 6

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onions, finely sliced
  • 200g smoked streaky bacon, cut into 2cm pieces
  • 300ml double cream, 
  • 200ml crème fraîche
  • 3 large eggs
  • 75g Gruyère cheese

FOR THE PASTRY:

  • 250g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 150g cold butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 large egg, beaten

To make the pastry, put the flour and and butter in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the beaten egg and mix until the dough just starts coming together, then shape into a ball. 

Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured surface to about 3mm thick. Place the pastry in a 23cm loose-based tart tin, pressing it well into the sides. Trim away the excess pastry and lightly prick the base. Leave the pastry case to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 200C/Fan 180C/Gas 4. 

Place a piece of baking paper over the chilled pastry and fill with baking beans. Put the tin on a baking tray and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and bake for another 5-10 minutes, then remove from the oven. 

Turn the oven temperature down to 170C/Fan 150C/Gas 3½.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the bacon and onion together until lightly browned. Tip them onto a plate and leave to cool. Put the cream, crème fraîche and eggs into a jug and beat until well combined, then season with salt and pepper. 

Spread the cooled onions and bacon evenly over the pastry case, then sprinkle the cheese on top. Slowly pour in most of the egg mixture, then put the tin on a baking tray, in the oven. Pull the oven shelf out slightly and pour in the rest of the egg mixture. 

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the filling is just starting to brown and no longer wobbling. If you press the back of a teaspoon onto the centre, no liquid should be visible. Take out of the oven and leave to cook in the tin for 15 minutes before removing. Serve warm or at room temperature 

(Original recipe from The Hairy Bikers’ British Classics by Si King & Dave Myers, Seven Dials, 2018.)

These make a nice brunch or lunch dish with some brown bread or toast. 

Smoked haddock & spinach egg pots – serves 4

  • a little soft butter for greasing
  • 4 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs
  • 200g skinless smoked haddock fillets, diced
  • 200g baby spinach
  • 6 large eggs
  • 200ml crème fraîche
  • ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 50g Cheddar, grated
  • a pinch of sweet smoked paprika
  • a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • Brown bread or buttered toast, to serve

Preheat the oven to 200C/Fan 180C/Gas 6. 

Grease the inside of four 250ml ramekins or oven-proof dishes with butter, then dust with the breadcrumbs. 

Divide the fish between the dishes and put onto a baking tray. 

Wilt the spinach in a large saucepan with a tiny amount of water. Stir over a high heat for a few minutes, until wilted. Remove from the heat and drain in a colander. Leave to cool slightly, then squeeze as much liquid as you can out of the spinach. Roughly chop and divide between the dishes. 

Whisk the eggs and crème fraîche together in a bowl and season with a little grated nutmeg and some salt and pepper. Pour the egg mixture into the dishes and sprinkle with the cheese and a little smoked paprika. 

Put the tray on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Turn the oven to the grill setting and cook for a further 5 minutes or until golden brown on top. 

Sprinkle with the parsley and serve with the toast or bread. 

(Original recipe from Fresh Start by Tom Kerridge, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018.)