Busiate with Pesto alla Trapanese

I was shocked to discover that I haven’t posted on the blog since February. Lockdown fatigue had set in, and I had relapsed into cooking easy, familiar recipes (or succumbing to fancy take-aways) rather than trying out new dishes. Now that regulations have loosened a little, and the spring weather has improved, I have been enjoying meeting friends for walks and al-fresco lunches rather than spending time in the kitchen. So it took a kind gift from one of those friends – a packet of busiate with squid ink, brought back from a trip to Sicily in the before-time when such things were possible – to nudge me into cooking something new.

After fruitlessly checking all my Italian cookbooks for mention of busiate, I thought to search Rachel Roddy’s recipes on the Guardian online. Her partner is Sicilian so they spend summers there and she often posts Sicilian recipes. That’s where I found this recipe for Pesto alla Trapanese, a delicious vegan pesto for which busiate is the recommended pasta – though if you don’t have a good Italian deli nearby (or friends who can bring it back from Sicily for you) then casarecce or spaghetti also work fine. The black squid ink pasta made the dish look rather melodramatic and added a taste of the sea. The sauce tastes just as good with regular spaghetti.

I used most of one of those little plants of basil that you can get at the supermarket and some small ripe tomatoes, which were fiddly to skin but tasty. These quantities made enough for 2 very generous portions, with enough pesto left over to liven up some spaghetti for lunch the next day.

Busiate with pesto alla trapanase and griddled courgettes

The griddled courgettes are optional but they did go very well with the pasta.

  • 35g basil (weighed with stems)
  • 50g blanched almonds
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 75ml olive oil
  • 150g ripe tomatoes
  • 250g busiate or spaghetti
  • 1 large or 2 small courgettes
  • olive oil
  • parmesan (optional)

Peel the tomatoes by cutting a cross at the stem end, putting them in a small bowl and covering them with boiling water. Leave for a minute or two, then drain and once they are cool enough to handle you should be able to peel the skins away easily. If your tomatoes are large cut them in four.

Pick the basil leaves from the stems and blitz them in a small blender or food processor with the blanched almonds, garlic, olive oil and a pinch of salt. Once you have a smooth puree, add the tomatoes and blitz again. Season to taste. Put on a large pan of salted water to cook the pasta.

Heat a ridged griddle pan. Trim the ends of the courgettes and slice them lengthways or on the diagonal to give long thin fingers. Brush lightly with olive oil and griddle for about 3 or 4 minutes on each side until they are soft and golden with appetising grill-marks on them.

Once the pasta water has come to the boil add the pasta, stir and cook until al dente – the busiate took 9 minutes. Scoop out half a cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta in a colander. Add the pesto to the warm pan with a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water. Return the pasta to the pan and toss gently with a large fork and spoon or tongs, adding more pasta water if necessary, until the pasta is well coated.

Serve into pasta plates, add the courgettes and cover them with a good grating of parmesan (if you are using it – obviously not if you want the dish to be vegan).

Chicory, watercress, pear & walnut salad

This recipe adapted from Raymond Blanc’s website has become one of our favourite winter salads. I can commend it to anyone looking to use up the last of their Christmas stilton as, although it is particularly nice with Roquefort, it also works well with other varieties of blue cheese. I have used St Agur, Gorgonzola picante and, yesterday, Stilton, all to good effect. The cheese for the dressing really needs to be at room temperature to make it easier to cream with the tepid water, but keep the cheese for the salad cold in the fridge ready to be crumbled over at the end. The pear should be ripe but still firm – better too firm than too soft for this recipe.

I have added watercress to the original recipe, as I love the taste of it and think the dark leaves complement the pale chicory and cheese. The salad looks particularly pretty if you use a mixture of white and purple chicory, but this is far from essential. We were out of chives yesterday, but they are definitely worth including. Serves two (or four as a starter, should we ever be able to entertain again).

For the dressing

  • 25g Roquefort or other blue cheese
  • 20g tepid water
  • 1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ground black pepper

For the salad

  • 2 small or 1 large head of chicory
  • 50g watercress
  • 50g walnuts
  • 1/2 medium Conference pear
  • 1/2 stick celery
  • 20g Roquefort
  • 1 tsp chives

To make the dressing cream the Roquefort or other blue cheese to a smooth paste in a large bowl using a spatula. Mix in the warm water and white wine vinegar and whisk until smooth. Then whisk in the olive oil little by little until well amalgamated. Season the dressing to taste with freshly ground black pepper. You shouldn’t need any salt as the cheese will make the dressing quite salty already.

To assemble the salad, wash and quarter the chicory lengthways and, if you are using a large head, cut the pieces in half again. Peel the pear if you don’t like the skin, and slice it thinly lengthways then across in half again if the pieces are rather large for a forkful. Finely slice the celery. Pick and wash the leaves of the watercress and spin them dry in a salad spinner or clean tea-towel. If you have time, toast the walnuts briefly in a dry frying pan before roughly chopping them. Finely chop the chives.

Add the chicory, watercress, walnut, pear and celery to the dressing in its bowl and turn gently to mix them together. Crumble two thirds of the cold Roquefort into the salad and toss it again before arranging on two plates. Crumble over the remaining blue cheese and sprinkle with the chopped chives.

Parsnip and mushroom Wellington

This is the dish I made when my brothers came to see me last Christmas, so it brings back happy memories, as well as being a poignant reminder that we won’t be able to meet this year. Although it involves a number of steps, it is well worth the trouble for any special occasion and was as popular with omnivores as with my vegan brother. Besides, if you’re in lockdown like me, what else are you doing? The recipe, which is by Maria Elia, was in delicious. magazine last year.

I have given the ingredients and method for each element of the Wellington, as you can prep them in advance to avoid a kitchen marathon before dinner – but do check all the ingredient lists before you go shopping. I used a porcini and truffle paste in the mushroom filling instead of the truffle oil. The original recipe suggests adding dried cranberries on top of the parsnips, but I have never been able to see the point of dried cranberries (some cranberries I added to the compost heap didn’t decompose and I have been suspicious of them ever since). You’ll need around 45g if you feel differently. I have given the quantities for a large Wellington to feed 8, but I actually made a half quantity, which might fit the bill if your festive meal will be for a smaller group this year. The original article give a recipe for gravy using the porcini soaking water and parsnip trimmings: gravy is definitely a good idea, but I have suggested adding some mushrooms to give a richer flavour.

Note that the finished Wellington needs to be chilled for at least 30 minutes before you bake it. I suggest making the puree, roasted parsnips and mushroom filling in the morning, then you can assemble the Wellington at tea time and put it in the fridge, leaving you free to welcome your guests. All you have to do is pre-heat the oven, prepare your chosen vegetables and glaze the Wellington before you put it in the oven.

Butter bean puree

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 fresh sage leaves
  • 200g tinned butter beans
  • 1 tsp sherry or balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp truffle oil

Finely slice the onion, chop the garlic, strip the thyme leaves from the stem and chop the sage leaves. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, and add the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes and then add the garlic and herbs. Continue to cook until the onion is soft and caramelised, which will take another 5-10 minutes. Transfer to a food processor with the butter beans, vinegar and truffle oil, and pulse until they form a rough puree (or use a stick blender).

Roast parsnips

  • 3 large, evenly-sized parsnips (around 750g)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp dijon mustard

Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Peel and quarter the parsnips, keeping the peel to add flavour to your gravy if you wish. Toss the parsnips in the olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. Roast them for 20-25 minutes until golden and almost tender, turning them once or twice so that they cook evenly. Coat them with mustard and leave them to cool.

Mushroom & chestnut filling

  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 400g mixed mushrooms
  • pinch chilli flakes
  • 20g dried porcini mushrooms
  • 75g cooked chestnuts
  • 2 tbsp truffle oil

Put the dried porcini to soak in 250ml of freshly boiled water, and finely chop the mixed mushrooms. Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Add half the mushrooms and season with salt, pepper and chilli flakes. Cook over medium to high heat until all the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms have browned. Put on one side and repeat with the other half of the mushrooms.

Squeeze out the porcini, keeping the liquid to make gravy. Heat the last tablespoon of oil and fry the porcini until they are dry. Add to the cooked mushrooms together with the chestnuts and the truffle oil and mix well. Check the seasoning and leave to cool (this is important – warm filling makes the pastry hard to handle).

Assembling the Wellington

  • 175g cavolo nero
  • 500g vegan puff pastry
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Trim the cavolo nero, and cut in half lengthways, cutting away any tough stems. Blanch in boiling salted water for 4-5 minutes. Tip into a colander, refresh under cold water to stop it cooking, then drain thoroughly and pat dry with a clean tea towel.

Now clear your bench, get out a baking tray and have your prepared ingredients to hand. Roll the puff pastry on a sheet of baking paper to a rectangle 27 x 37cm (27 x 18cm for the half quantity). Spread the butter bean puree across the middle of the pastry, leaving a 3cm border (if you are making the full quantity your pastry will be twice as wide as the pictures below). Add half the cavolo nero leaves and top with half the mushroom filling. Arrange the parsnips evenly along the length of the pastry, then cover with the rest of the mushroom filling and finish with the remaining cavolo nero leaves.

Mix the maple syrup and oil and use it to brush the edges of the pastry (keep the rest of the mixture to glaze the Wellington later). Using the baking paper to help, roll the pastry tightly over the filling, as you would a swiss roll. Put it onto the baking try, making sure the seam is underneath. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (or up to a day).

Mushroom gravy

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot
  • 50g mushrooms
  • parsnip trimmings (optional)
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 100ml vegan red wine
  • porcini soaking liquid, made up to 400ml with hot water

Finely slice the shallot and mushrooms and heat the olive oil. Cook the shallot and mushrooms, with the parsnip trimmings if you wish, over a medium heat until golden and caramelised. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Add the red wine bit by bit, then the porcini soaking liquid, stirring continuously until the gravy thickens. Simmer for 5 minutes and season with salt and pepper. Then put through a sieve.

When you’re ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 200 C fan/gas 7. Lightly score the top of the pastry (rather than cutting through the pastry as I nearly did!) using a sharp knife, then brush the top with the maple syrup glaze. Bake for 30-40 minutes until puffed and golden. Leave the Wellington to stand for 5 minutes once you’ve taken it out of the oven. Reheat the gravy and transfer it to a hot jug. Slice the Wellington carefully with a serrated knife and serve with porcini gravy, sprouts or beans and roast potatoes.

If nothing else, we can still eat well this Christmas!

Squash parcels with spiced tomato sauce

We tried this Nigel Slater recipe from the Observer and would definitely do it again. It is not too taxing to make for a weeknight supper, yet opening the parchment packages makes it feel special. Good bolstering food for this wet, wintry weather.

I also tried the orange and poppy seed cakes in the same article – though without the poppy seeds as I had run out. Lining muffin tins is fiddly, and the cakes themselves were little different from my regular lemon drizzle cake. However, they looked cute and the addition of crystallised orange peel as a topping was definitely a good idea. We wondered whether drizzle cake would be even nicer with chopped orange or lemon peel in the cake itself. I may experiment…

Back to the squash – these quantities are for two. Forgot to take any photos – will have to add them next time we make it!

  • 250g butternut squash (or pumpkin)
  • 200g tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 200g cherry tomatoes
  • 1 fat clove of garlic
  • 1 tsp red chilli paste
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar

Heat the oven to 200 C/Gas mark 6. Cut two pieces of baking parchment (or foil) about 30cm square.

Peel the squash or pumpkin, cut into 2cm cubes and put into a bowl. Roughly chop the tomatoes and mix them with pumpkin, 2 tbsps of olive oil, bay leaves and season generously with salt and black pepper. Divide the mixture between the two sheets of parchment and fold into a parcel, securing with a paperclip. Place on a baking sheet and bake for around 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Roughly chop the cherry tomatoes. Heat the remaining 1 tbsp of oil on a high heat in a wide, shallow pan. Add the tomatoes and some salt and pepper and cook them until they are soft and juicy. Peel and thinly slice the garlic and add to the tomatoes with some seasoning. Cook until the sauce thickens, stirring from time to time, before adding the chilli paste and cooking or a further 5 minutes. Finally, add the vinegar and check whether in needs any more seasoning.

Let people open their own parcel of squash at the table, and spoon over the spicy tomato sauce. If you wanted to add more heft, you could serve with some brown rice.

Bean and vegetable chilli

This is a relatively recent discovery. I am not one of those who got through student days on big pans of chilli and baked potatoes, and often find Mexican-influenced food a bit heavy. However, when Irene came back from the Netherlands with some bruine bonen, aka brown beans, I was on the hunt for recipes to use them.

I found Raymond Blanc’s adaptation of Bruno Loubet’s bean and vegetable chilli on the BBC Food website. Although Blanc’s recipes can seem rather finicky and detailed, I have always found them incredibly good and reliable. He tells you exactly what you need to know to get an excellent result.

That said, I have diverged from the master in a few respects with this recipe. He includes 100g brown sauce, but as I don’t use brown sauce for anything else I have omitted it, though I sometimes add a tbsp or two of good red wine vinegar if the flavour seems to need sharpening. Blanc uses kidney and flageolet beans (one tin of each), cooking the flageolet beans for 10 minutes in a pint of water, and using the resulting flageolet water to cook the rice. I have never tried this, as I have generally made it with dried beans – either brown, pinto or white beans – that I cook in advance.

It is the best bean and vegetable chilli that I have tasted – really savoury and satisfying – with the chopped vegetable base giving a rich taste and texture. Using the food processor makes it pretty quick and easy to make too. Vegans can make a replacement for the Worcestershire sauce by mixing 1 tbsp cider vinegar, 1.5 tsp soy sauce, ½ tsp each of mustard powder, ginger and brown sugar and a good pinch of cinnamon (or one of the many other suggested mixtures online). I am hoping that my vegan brother will try this out and give some feedback – or tell me about an even better chilli recipe!

These quantities serve 8 generously, but it is not the sort of dish to make in small portions.


  • 1 bay leaf
  • 200g dried beans (or 2 cans)
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 small or ½ medium onion (125g)
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 125g celery
  • 70g fennel
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 red pepper
  • 375g button mushrooms
  • 1 red chilli
  • 12g fresh ginger, grated
  • 100ml rapeseed oil
  • large pinch of sea salt
  • 100g tomato purée
  • 200g piquillo peppers (optional)
  • 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • brown (or white) basmati rice to serve
  • 40g grated dark chocolate (at least 70% – Blanc says 100%)
  • 10g coriander leaves
  • Lime wedges, guacamole and Greek yoghurt to serve (optional)

If you’re using dried beans soak them overnight. The next day cover them with fresh water, bring up the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until tender – this can take anything between 45 minutes to 1.5 hours depending on the type and age of your beans, so do cook them ahead of time – or follow Blanc and use tinned beans.

Toast the spices in a dry frying pan over low to medium heat for a minute or two until their scent rises, then set aside.

Roughly chop the onion, celery, fennel, carrot and red pepper into chunks. Put them into a food processor and add the crushed garlic, mushrooms, chilli and ginger. Pulse in short bursts until all the ingredients are finely diced. If necessary do this in batches to avoid over-loading your food processor.


Put the rice on to cook. Heat the oil in a large saucepan or casserole and gently fry the toasted spices and diced vegetables with a large pinch of salt for 10 minutes.

Add the tomato purée, piquillo peppers and tinned tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes. Then stir in the drained beans and Worcestershire sauce and cook for a further 5 minutes. To finish, stir in the grated chocolate and check the seasoning. Scatter the chopped coriander on top and serve with the rice and your chosen extra toppings.



Golden Dhal

Since making dhal when my niece visited six months ago (described in this post) Irene has been experimenting with different dhal recipes. This is her synthesis of several recipes and produces a beautiful golden dhal, the colour enriched with tomatoes. The method has been adapted to follow her mother’s practice of cooking the onion, garlic and spices together, which mellows and brings out the taste of the spices. You will notice that there is no cumin in this recipe – it is a taste that often dominates, so it is nice to let the coriander and mustard seeds shine for once.

You can serve it alone, with green vegetables, brown rice, roasted vegetables or another curry depending on hunger levels and what you have in your kitchen. This gave us four servings, but that obviously depends a great deal on what you eat it with.

  • 1 medium or 2 small onions
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic
  • large thumb of ginger
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 tsp chilli paste (optional)
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • ½ tsp black mustard seeds
  • scant ½ tsp turmeric
  • 1.5 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 3 tomatoes, skinned
  • 200g split mung dhal or split peas
  • 400ml stock
  • 80ml coconut cream
  • coriander leaves, spinach or chard to serve

Roughly chop the onion. Put the rapeseed oil in a medium saucepan and soften the onion over a medium heat. Crush the garlic, peel and grate the ginger and finely chop the chilli. Put the coriander and mustard seeds in the mortar and pestle and grind roughly.

When the onion is soft but before it browns add the spices and chilli, plus the chilli paste if you wish, and cook for a few minutes. Chop the tomatoes and add them to the pan, add the split peas, then the stock and simmer for 45 minutes (though this will vary according to what sort of dhal you are using, so do check after 30 minutes). Finally, stir in the coconut cream.

If you are using spinach you can just stir it into the dhal until it wilts, but we prefer to have the greens steamed and served alongside. Roughly chop the coriander leaves, and scatter over the golden dhal.


Roast vegetable lasagne

I found about this recipe from my friend Richard. We used to work together some years ago and, both keen cooks, got into the habit of discussing what we had cooked the night before over our morning coffee. The habit has survived, even though our conversations are now less regular and mostly by phone and email.

Last time I rang Richard, he said he was cooking a roast vegetable lasagne. Lasagne al forno con le verdure was a variant of a recipe by Anna del Conte for Pennoni con le verdure arrostite in her 1976 cookbook Portrait of Pasta (link is to the updated edition). As he reported it a success, I asked for the recipe and have cooked it three times since: twice as lasagne and once with penne (Waitrose not running to pennoni just at the moment – sometimes, indeed, not to any pasta at all). It has everything to recommend it – simplicity, flexibility and excellent flavour from the combination of ricotta with the roasted vegetables.

These quantities serve four, but I have tended to roast the quantities of vegetables that I have to hand – generally fewer red onions and more aubergine – and have used either large tomatoes or an equivalent quantity of cherry tomatoes. You could probably use tinned tomatoes at a pinch. Anna del Conte suggests that you can do a version using roast root veg (such as celeriac and turnips) or squash instead of the mediterranean vegetables here, making this an ideal recipe for lockdown cooking – it is really adaptable. Richard didn’t have ricotta for the topping and used a combination of Philadelphia cream cheese and mascarpone, and we’ve used a combination of cream cheese and fromage frais, all of which worked fine. So, experiment with impunity. It’s also easy to scale up or down. If you’re feeding fewer people, you could roast the full quantity of vegetables, have half the quantity with pasta, and eat the rest warm with lentils, as a salad with couscous and goat’s cheese or use them as a filling for a tart (like this one by Ottolenghi).

  • 4 ripe tomatoes peeled
  • 150g aubergine (½ a large or a whole small one)
  • 1  courgette
  • 1 red or yellow pepper
  • 2 red onions
  • 3 tbsps olive oil
  • 1 bulb of garlic
  • Salt and pepper
  • 6-10 sheets lasagne
  • 250g ricotta
  • 250g mozzarella
  • Grating of nutmeg (optional)
  • Parmesan cheese (optional)

For roast vegetables with penne

  • Handful of fresh basil
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 350g penne or pennoni
  • Parmesan cheese

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan. To peel the tomatoes put them in a heat-proof bowl, cut a small cross over the stem, cover them in boiling water and leave for 2-3 minutes. Run quickly under cold water so you can handle them and you should be able to pull the peel away easily using a small sharp knife.  I have to confess to not always peeling the tomatoes, so feel free to do likewise if you don’t mind a bit of tomato skin.

Thickly slice the tomatoes, aubergine, courgette and red onions. Seed, core and quarter the pepper, then cut the pieces in half again. Put all the vegetables except the garlic into a roasting tin and pour 3 tbsps oil over them then add the peeled but whole garlic cloves. Season with salt and plenty of pepper. Bake for 40 mins until soft and slightly browned.

Roast vegetables with penne

If you are having the roasted vegetables with penne/pennoni, beat the remaining 3 tbsp of oil in a small bowl with the torn up basil. Boil the pasta in a large pan of well-salted water for the time stated on the packet (mine took 10 minutes), drain it, then add the basil oil and spoon the roasted vegetables over the top. Serve with parmesan. Apparently this can also be eaten cold – if you try this, let me know what you think.

Roast vegetable lasagne

Lower the oven temperature to 180°C/160°C fan. Lightly oil a square or rectangular baking dish. Put in alternate layers of the roasted vegetables and sheets of lasagne, ending with a layer of vegetables. I had three layers of veg and used six sheets of lasagne in two layers. You can add some of the ricotta (say, about 40%) to the second layer of vegetables if you like (I do). Dot the ricotta over the top layer of vegetables and finally grate or crumble the mozzarella over it. I grated nutmeg over the ricotta, but don’t feel obliged to do the same – I just love nutmeg, especially with ricotta. Anna del Conte doesn’t include parmesan but Richard added some, and I think it is a good idea, giving the lasagne a pleasing browned top.

Bake in the oven for 30 minutes and leave for 5 mins before serving with a green salad.

Pasta with pesto and green beans

One of the side-effects of lockdown is that I am spending more time – probably too much time – browsing through recipes on Instagram. The upside is that I have time to try out  new recipes, or in this case cook dishes that I had forgotten about.  A few days ago I saw a post by Rachel Roddy, about making trofie (little twists of pasta) which she cooked with green beans and diced potato, then tossed with pesto alla Genovese. Now, of course, Rachel Roddy made her own fresh pasta, which is not something I aspire to do – even if there were any pasta flour in my cupboard, which there was not. But it did remind me what a great combination this is and sent me back to a Claudia Roden recipe for Trenette al pesto alla genovese. I had some left-over potatoes and half a packet of green beans, so when I found a lovely big bunch of basil in a local shop, the decision about what to cook for lunch was made.

The pasta I had in my drawer was Casarecce – another small-ish rolled pasta, about the same size as half a green bean and with a little channel which I thought would hold the pesto nicely. You can cook the potatoes from scratch or, as I did, use left-over new potatoes – to be exact la Ratte potatoes, which are particularly delectable, waxy new potatoes well worth the extra pennies they cost if you can get hold of them (or grow them, those of you lucky enough to have a garden or allotment). You do need to use new potatoes for this recipe, or they will just fall apart in the pasta water. I have played fast and loose with the proportions of the recipe – Claudia Roden suggests 2 medium new potatoes and 4-6 green beans, but like quite a lot of beans, and I use less olive oil than she suggests in the pesto. You could omit the parmesan, or use a vegan alternative, to make it vegan.

I think a tomato salad is a good accompaniment, but it is perfectly delicious served in solitary splendour. The smell of fresh pesto is a great antidote to cabin fever; it is such a sunny smell that brings memories of being in Italy. For two, but adjust the quantity of  pasta to your appetite if you wish.


  • 25g fresh basil (weighed with stems)
  • 25g pine nuts
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3-4 tbsp/45-60ml olive oil
  • salt
  • 2 tbsp grated parmesan


  • 4 small waxy new potatoes
  • 120g green beans
  • 130g caserecce (or trofie or fettuccine or whatever small-ish pasta is in your drawer)
  • grated parmesan to serve

First make the pesto: peel and chop the clove of garlic and roughly chop the basil, stems and all. Put all the ingredients into a small blender or food processor and whizz to combine. I started with 3 tbsp of olive oil and then found it needed a little more (Roden uses 75ml of olive oil). Add salt to taste – I used two good big pinches of Maldon salt. If you’re not going to use the pesto immediately spoon it into a jar and film the top with olive oil.

Put a large pan of salted water on to boil. Top and tail the green beans and cut them in half. Peel and dice the potatoes. My pasta took about 10 minutes to cook – if the type you are using has a different cooking time, then you will need to adjust the timings that follow – or cook the vegetables and pasta in separate pans (though you know how much I like to avoid washing up!). If you are using raw potato, put it into the water first and cook for three minutes before adding the pasta – the following instructions are as I cooked it, using cooked potatoes which were at room temperature.

When the water comes to the boil add the pasta and set the timer for 5 minutes, then add the beans and set the timer for 4 minutes. Add the diced potato and cook for another minute or two by which time everything should be cooked and hot. Put a ladleful of the cooking water in a mug, then drain the pasta and vegetables and tip them back in the pan. Stir through the pesto and add the cooking water you set aside a bit at a time until the sauce is the right consistency to coat the pasta nicely. Serve with extra parmesan and a tomato salad if you wish.


Fish parcels with leeks and potatoes

This easy delivers a very tasty fish supper all in a convenient package. The original recipe, from the Waitrose magazine, specified loch trout fillets but could be made using any trout or salmon fillets or a white fish like haddock instead. We used a smaller quantity of new potatoes than they suggested (300g), so do up the quantity if you wish. Also, they have you boil the potatoes and, briefly, the leeks, which in our experience leads to sogginess so I recommend steaming them instead.

No photo for this – too busy eating it!

  • 200g new potatoes
  • 1 large or 2 small leeks
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 shallot
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp capers
  • 10g tarragon
  • 250-300g trout, salmon or haddock

Preheat the oven to 160°C Fan/180°C/Gas Mark 4. Bring a pan of water with a steamer to the boil. I am still using my mother’s ancient steamer almost daily – a nice reminder of her. Wash the potatoes, halve them if small or cut into similar sized pieces. Steam for about eight minutes.

Trim the leeks and rinse them thoroughly under running water. Cut into 1cm chunks (a bit finer if your leek is very fat). When the potatoes have had their 8 minutes add the leeks to the steamer for a final 2-3 minutes, by which time both vegetables should be just tender to the point of a knife. Take off the heat.

Finely chop the shallot, capers and tarragon, then whisk them into the mustard and vinegar in a small bowl to make a dressing. You can prepare up to this point in advance (in which case don’t preheat the oven until 20 minutes before you want to cook the fish).

Cut 2 large squares of foil or greaseproof paper and divide the vegetables evenly between them. Place a fish fillet on each one, then pour the dressing over them. Fold the edges over and place the two parcels on a baking tray. Bake for 15-16 minutes until the fish is cooked through and opaque. You may need to allow a couple of minutes longer if you are using a fat fillet of white fish.

Serve with broccoli, spinach or beans on the side if you wish.

Perfect Moussaka

This is going onto the blog by special request, as Irene enjoyed it so much last night. We used to eat moussaka a lot when I was growing up, though in a rather different version from the one I cooked last night.

I have just found my mother’s recipe in my first recipe notebook (repurposed – it has art ‘O’ level notes in the back!): aubergine, courgette or marrow (it was the 1970s!) and a green pepper were sliced, dipped in seasoned flour and fried in olive oil until pale gold.  Minced lamb or beef was fried gently with finely chopped onion, seasoning and bayleaf or herbs – no garlic mentioned. Then the vegetables, meat and peeled tomatoes (tinned or fresh) were layered into a dish, topped with a thick cheese sauce and baked at Gas 5/6 for 30-45 minutes. What strikes me is that I didn’t give any quantities, and barely any method, so it was clearly just a reminder for something I knew how to cook.

The idea of making a moussaka came from having leftovers from the roast lamb we ate on Sunday (I’m trying to reinstate traditional Sunday lunches as a way of differentiating the days in lockdown). Having browsed a number (far too many) recipes, I took a lead from Felicity Cloake’s recipe in the Guardian for the sauces but then went off piste a bit.

The main thing I find about many recipes is that they end up very rich because of frying the aubergines in a lot of oil. This is undoubtedly traditional and delicious but, alas, my calorific requirements are rather lower than those of a Greek farmer! Cloake improves on this by brushing the sliced aubergine with oil and baking it, and I went one step further and cooked the aubergine with hardly any oil in my griddle pan. Traditionally you use kefalotyri cheese for the sauce but, surprise, I didn’t have any, nor pecorino or the cheddar I used as a teenager; parmesan proved an acceptable stand-in. The result was lighter – if you don’t think too much about the béchamel cheese sauce – and still delicious.

I don’t always salt the aubergines in advance, but did this time. The argument for doing it used to be that it drew out the bitter juices, which I never found convincing – maybe modern aubergines have had the bitterness bred out of them. More likely, it improves the flavour by salting the aubergines properly before you start cooking (see Samin Nosrat on salting in posts passim). I do think it’s worth doing, but you can, of course, skip it if you don’t have time.

I made half these quantities to use the small amount of leftover meat I had, which made just enough for two, but wished I had made a full quantity and had one for the freezer. Next time…


  • 2-3 aubergines
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • sea salt

Meat sauce:

  • 1 onion
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 350-400g leftover roast, or minced, lamb
  • 1 bayleaf
  • 1 tsp dried oregano or thyme
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree stirred into 150 ml water
  • 100ml red wine

Béchamel sauce:

  • 350 ml whole milk
  • 40g butter
  • 40g flour
  • 40g parmesan or pecorino
  • 2 eggs
  • nutmeg to grate

Start by slicing the aubergine across into ½ cm slices – lengthways looks nice, but you end with two pieces that are all skin. Layer them into a colander, sprinkling generously with sea salt as you go. Leave for at least 30 minutes – I left mine for several hours, though heaven knows if I’ll manage that if/when life gets back to normal. Rinse and pat dry on a clean tea towel.

Finely chop the onion, heat the olive oil in a frying pan and cook the onion over a medium heat until it starts to soften. Crush the garlic, add to the pan with the herbs and cinnamon and cook for a few more minutes, watching that it doesn’t brown or catch. If using leftover meat chop it roughly, removing any excess fat, skin or sinew. Turn up the heat and add the meat to the pan. If using fresh mince cook it until it is well browned and the mixture is fairly dry; if leftovers then just fry it for long enough to warm it through. Add the bayleaf, wine and tomato paste mixture, and bring up to a simmer. Turn the heat back down and leave to blip away while you get on with the rest of the dish.

Heat the oven to 180°C fan/200°C/Gas 6 and put the griddle pan on to heat. Brush the aubergine slices sparingly with olive oil (or you could use a spray). Once the griddle pan is really hot cook them in batches, turning them as needed – they should only take a few minutes each side. I found this needed my full attention so I don’t recommend trying to multi-task and make the béchamel at the same time!

Once all the aubergine is cooked, start on the cheese sauce. Heat the milk gently to just under boiling point, then turn off the heat. Meanwhile melt the butter in a separate saucepan and then add the flour all at once stirring thoroughly. Cook over fairly gentle heat for a couple of minutes until it starts to smell and look biscuity. Then add the hot milk gradually, stirring furiously to avoid lumps – I used a whisk – and cook for a few minutes until you have a thick, smooth sauce. Grate the parmesan and stir into the sauce, then take it off the heat and beat in the eggs one at a time. Season with salt, pepper (white pepper if you have it) and lots of grated nutmeg. By this time the meat sauce should have reduced nicely – just check it for seasoning.

Now assemble the dish: grease an ovenproof dish and start with a third of the aubergine slices, then half the meat sauce, repeat, add the final third of the aubergines and pour the sauce over the top. If you were super organised, you could do all of this ahead of time, put in the fridge and then bake it when you were ready to eat (in which case allow another 10-15 minutes in the oven). Bake for 30-40 minutes until the top is browned and puffed up and everything is piping hot. A green salad is, in my view, the best accompaniment.