Fennel and blood orange salad

Fennel and blood orange saladI love the dramatic colour of blood oranges (or blush oranges, as they seem to have been renamed in Waitrose – why?), and this salad shows them off to perfection. It is very simple, but looks great, can be prepared an hour or so ahead and is such a good combination of flavours, especially at this time of year when one is desperate for fresh flavours and crisp textures after all the cold-weather comfort food we have been eating.

This salad is the ideal starter before a substantial main course, but I think it would also work as a side with something like duck breast, or a lentil salad. Good vinegar is essential – the sweet-sharpness of sherry vinegar is a great foil to that of the oranges. Serves 4

2 heads fennel
3 large or 4 small blood oranges
salt and pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp sherry vinegar

Trim the fronds from the fennel, chop them finely and put on one side. Trim off the stalks and base of  the fennel bulbs, sit them upright and cut downwards into very thin slices. Arrange onto the four serving plates – I found I didn’t need all of the fennel to make four servings – drizzle over the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Fennel and blood orange saladUsing a serrated knife cut away the peel from the blood oranges. I cut off the top and bottom first, then work in strips cutting down and round the orange, keeping the knife as close to the pith as possible – a serrated knife really makes this much easier. You want to get rid of all traces of pith without losing too much flesh or juice. Then slice the oranges across into 0.5 cm slices and arrange five or six slices on top of each plate of fennel, removing any pips or pith from the centre as you go. Drizzle ½ tsp of sherry vinegar over each serving of oranges and sprinkle with the reserved fennel fronds. A final grind of black pepper and you’re ready to serve, ideally with some good sourdough bread. If you wanted extra greenery, some rocket might make a good addition.

Onion tart

imageThis is a classic Elizabeth David recipe. I can clearly remember learning to cook it with a friend while I was a student cooking in a shared hall of residence kitchen, in a block rather glamorously located opposite Selfridges (it was bulldozed a few years ago). For many years I cooked it so regularly that it became a sort of signature dish. It is ideal either as a starter for a formal meal or as a vegetarian lunch with salad (and perhaps some new potatoes).

I haven’t cooked it for a while, but this weekend it provided the perfect start to a rather traditional dinner party menu. As some of our guests had warned that they might be a little late – and given that it has been so cold – a casserole seemed the obvious answer for the main course, especially when Irene discovered this amazing Rowley Leigh recipe for Daube de Boeuf. Cooked for 12 hours at a very low temperature the meat was incredibly tender, all the work was done the night before and it could be reheated once everyone had arrived. An onion tart seemed suitably special and French and would provide a golden, creamy contrast before the dark Daube. I served it in modest portions with a small serving of baby leaves with a mustard dressing, or ‘avec sa salade’, as they say on French menus.

As I hadn’t made it recently, I went back to the original recipe and was glad I did – I adapted my normal pastry recipe following her instructions for pâte brisé, and refrained from my normal thrifty habit of including some whole eggs in the filling, rather than just the egg yolks as specified by Elizabeth David, both to good effect. I found a very good use for the egg whites, which I shall post shortly – and here’s another one in the meantime.

These quantities fill my 26cm tart tin and serve 6 as a main course or 8-10 as a starter. You do need to start the pastry at least 3 hours before you want to eat. If you’re entertaining, you can do most of the preparation early in the day and assemble the tart 45 minutes before dinner, as I did.

150g plain flour
80g butter
1 egg
pinch of salt


I started with my normal quantities for buttery shortcrust, added a whole egg and mixed everything in the food processor until the dough was just coming together (you may need to add a little cold water – I didn’t). I then briefly kneaded the dough into a ball before following Elizabeth David’s instructions for pâte brisé:  gradually stretch out the dough with the heel of your hand, bit by bit, to form a ragged sheet. Gather the dough up – my plastic dough scraper made this very easy – and repeat the process. Form the pastry into a ball, wrap it in cling film and leave it in the fridge for at least 2 hours. This produced the best behaved and neatest pastry I have made for some time, so I will definitely be using this method again. Elizabeth David says that chilling the pastry for at least 2 hours stops it shrinking in the oven, and it works!

3 large, mild onions (about 650g)
50g butter
a little oil
salt, pepper and nutmeg
3 egg yolks
150g crème fraîche

Slicing onions for onion tartPeel the onions, cut them in half and slice them thinly. Heat the butter with a dribble of oil in a wide frying pan with a lid. Do not be tempted to skimp on the butter – this is not a recipe to eat everyday, and butter is essential to the taste and silky texture of the dish. Add the onions and cook them gently with a lid on for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time to make sure they are not catching. By the end they should be beautifully soft and golden yellow. Take off the heat and season well with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg. In a bowl, beat the three egg yolks well and mix in the crème fraîche. Stir into the onions and leave aside until you are ready to bake the tart.

Tart tin lined with pastryOnion Tart before bakingRoll out the pastry to line the tin quite thinly. As I wanted to enjoy pre-dinner drinks with our guests, I rolled out the pastry at tea-time and put the lined tin back in the fridge ready to be filled and put in the oven as the door-bell rang.

Put a baking tray big enough to take the tart tin in the oven and heat it to 200ºC/Gas 6. Add the filling to the pastry case, put in the oven on the hot baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes until risen and golden. Elizabeth David says to serve it very hot, but I actually prefer it warm. Either way, a green salad is the perfect accompaniment.

Celeriac purée with spiced cauliflower

Celeriac purée with spiced cauliflower & lamb chopI was lucky enough to be given a copy of Ottolenghi and Scully’s cookbook Nopi a couple of weeks ago. It is lavishly produced, with a beautifully-designed, textured cover and gilt-edged pages. At first glance I wondered whether the recipes would be for aspiring restaurant chefs only.

However, even though many of the recipes are complex, they are built up from several components that can be prepared in advance. So I decided to plunge in this weekend, by trying this recipe. The original is topped with a fried quail’s egg to serve as a starter, but I thought that the celeriac and cauliflower would go well with lamb – and then discovered that the left-overs could be used in several other ways too.

Do prepare the vegetables in advance – the cauliflower is most easily done in a food processor with the coarsest grating plate. Ras el hanout is a North African spice blend that generally includes ginger, cardamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, black pepper and cinnamon. You can buy it ready-mixed, but this time we mixed our own. These are half quantities, for 3-4, just double them if you are cooking for company.

Celeriac purée
2 tbsps olive oil
80g onion, diced (½ large onion)
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
300g celeriac, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
250ml vegetable soup
1 tbsp tahini paste
1 tbsp lemon juice
¼ tsp ground cumin
¼ ground coriander

Spiced cauliflower
1 tbsp olive oil
80g onion, thinly sliced
2 tsp ras el hanout
350g cauliflower, trimmed and coarsely grated
1 tbsp finely diced preserved lemon skin
45g almonds, skin on, toasted and roughly chopped

To finish:
25g parsley, chopped
¼ sweet smoked paprika

Frying onions and celeriacHeat the olive oil in a medium saucepan on medium-high heat. Add the diced onion and fry for 5-6 minutes, stirring often, until they are soft and beginning to caramelize. Add the garlic and bay leaf and cook for another minute, then add the celeriac. Fry for 8-10 minutes, stirring often, until the celeriac is golden-brown.

Add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer on a medium heat for about 15 minutes until the celeriac is tender. Remove from the heat, take out the bay leaf and blitz to a smooth purée in a blender or food processor. Mix in the tahini and spices and season with salt and pepper. Set aside – keep in the fridge, closely covered with cling film, if you are making this ahead.

Spiced cauliflower For the spiced cauliflower, heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes until it is soft. Add the ras el hanout and cook for another minute. Add 100ml of water and stir through for a minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the cauliflower, preserved lemon skin, almonds and some of the chopped parsley.

To serve, spread the celeriac purée on the plate, drizzle with a little olive oil and then top with the spiced cauliflower. Finish with the remainder of the chopped parsley and a sprinkle of smoked paprika.

It was delicious with lamb chops, cooked pink on the griddle, and some steamed kale on the side. Browning the celeriac deepens the flavour, and the velvety-smooth purée is set off by the texture and spice of the cauliflower. The recipe suggests serving them at room temperature, which I did first time, but I think it actually tastes better served warm.

Celeriac purée and spiced cauliflower with fried eggThe left-overs worked well in various different meals: I tried some with a fried egg – hen rather than quail – as in the original recipe; ate the spiced cauliflower on its own with avocado and salad for lunch and the celeriac purée made a more-ish dip. Next time I make this I will be cooking enough to have plenty of left-overs to eat in different combinations!

Rachel Cooke’s Parmesan Biscuits


…or to give them their full title: Rachel Cooke’s wonderful Parmesan biscuits, bestowed by the equally wonderful Simon Hopkinson, who is one of my culinary heroes (not only is he both an excellent cook and writer but also, like me, he comes from Lancashire). This recipe is from Hopkinson’s The Vegetarian Option, a book which should be thrown at any restaurant that inflicts unimaginative, second-class food on its vegetarian customers.

I first made these biscuits for my reading group when we were reading Rachel Cooke’s fascinating book Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties. It seemed appropriate to be eating something linked to the book; I also cooked moussaka from a recipe from Plats du Jour by Patience Gray, one of the ten extraordinary woman that she writes about. I thoroughly recommend the book – and these very more-ish biscuits. Makes about 25-30 biscuits

100g cold, unsalted butter, cut into chunks
100g plain flour
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 heaped tsp mustard powder
50g mature cheddar, finely grated
50g Parmesan, finely grated, plus a little extra to finish
1 large egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 180 C/Gas Mark 4. Put the butter and flour into the food processor, together with the salt, cayenne pepper, mustard powder and cheeses. Briefly process together to begin with, and then pulse the mixture as you notice it coming together, a bit like pastry. Finally, once it is starting to clump together, tip it onto a lightly floured surface and briefly knead it together until smooth.Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. I prepared this several hours in advance and it seemed to come to no harm.

Gently roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to about a 2mm thickness. Using a 3-5cm pastry cutter, depending of the size you want (small is good, I think), cut out biscuits and lay them on a greased baking tray about 2cm apart. Bake in two batches if necessary.

Carefully brush the top of each biscuit with beaten egg and sprinkle over a little extra grated Parmesan. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, or until they are a gorgeous, pale golden colour, and the whole house is smelling delicious. Carefully lift off the tray with a palette knife and cool on a rack. Best served while still just warm.

Courgette and ricotta tart

Courgette and ricotta tart

Now this is spectacular – light, delicious and perfect for lunch with vegetables or salad or cut into small pieces to serve with drinks, as I did the other night to much acclaim. It is slightly adapted from a recipe by Nigel Slater (by the way, there’s a great recipe for Greengage frangipane tart in the same article), to make the quantities fit the long, thin tin I have (35 x 12 cm), and also because I prefer a shortcrust pastry to the puff pastry that he uses.

The filling is quite delicate, the courgettes fresh and the parmesan gives a great flavour.


These quantities serve 4, or make 18 canapé-size pieces.

First make the pastry:
150g plain flour
75g butter
1 tbsp cold water
pinch salt
1 medium egg yolk

Put all in the food processor and blend until it is forming clumps. Knead briefly into a disk, wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for 30 minutes or more.

300g courgettes (2 large-ish ones)
1.5 tbsp olive oil
250g ricotta (Nigel uses 400g)
1 clove garlic, crushed
10g basil leaves
50g parmesan, grated
2 eggs, lightly beaten
150ml cream
2 heaped tbsp plain flour
grated nutmeg

Cut the courgettes into six thin slices (this fits my tin, as you can see – adjust if yours is a different shape). Warm the olive oil in a shallow pan, add the courgettes and leave to soften over a medium heat until they are translucent but still fairly firm.

Heat the oven to 200ºC/Gas 6 and place a baking sheet in the oven, so the pastry crisps well. Roll out the pastry and line the tin. Put the ricotta in a bowl, season with salt and pepper, and mix in the garlic, basil leaves (I just used what I had, probably less than 10g), most of the parmesan, the eggs, cream and flour. I grated in a little nutmeg, as it seems to go so well with the ricotta.

Spread the ricotta mixture in the pastry case, arrange the courgettes on top and sprinkle on the remaining parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the tart has puffed up.

At some point I must try it with the full original quantities – I think one would taste the ricotta more which would be nice. This recipe has currently taken over from my long-standing passion for onion tart as my favourite savoury tart.

Kale and Quinoa Salad

This Smitten Kitchen recipe is an incredibly healthy vegetarian starter or main course, and you could, of course, omit the cheese (or replace with a vegan equivalent) and use agave syrup instead of honey, to make the dish vegan. It is supposed to have ricotta salata in it, but I tend to use goat’s Gouda, parmesan or feta (ideally barrel-aged feta), as they are easier to get hold of.

Recently, though, I went down to Borough Market with a friend and bought some ricotta salata. It was delicious, with a distinctive taste and texture, so definitely worth looking out for if you’re making this.


The salad keeps fine overnight, so any leftovers come in handy for your lunch box the next day.

For 2 with left-overs (or 4 as a starter)

120g quinoa
200g cavolo nero or other kale (not too coarse)
80g flaked almonds
60g dried cherries (or raisins)
2 or 3 spring onions
2 tsp chopped fresh dill (optional, in my view)
50g goat’s cheese or ricotta salata, crumbled, grated or shaved
zest of 1 lemon

3 tbsp olive oil
1.5 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp grain mustard
scant tsp honey
Salt & Black pepper

Rinse the quinoa and and place in a saucepan with 360g water and a pinch of salt. Cover, bring to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes until the water has been absorbed and the quinoa has released its distinctive little tails.

I tend to turn the heat off and leave the pan with the lid on for a few minutes to dry a little, then drain it in a sieve to get rid of any remaining liquid and leave it to cool, fluffing it up with a fork.

While the quinoa is cooking prepare the other ingredients. Crumble, grate or shave the cheese (if using), and toast the flaked almonds in a dry frying pan, stirring them about and watching carefully lest they catch. Roughly chop the dried cherries and finely slice the spring onions. Make the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients.

Wash the kale and dry it carefully. Cut or tear the rib out of each stalk, then stack the leaves in small batches, roll them up tightly the long way and cut the roll crosswise into thin ribbons.

Put into a large salad bowl, with the quinoa and the rest of the salad ingredients, keeping back a handful of cheese and almonds. Toss everything together with the dressing, then scatter over the cheese and almonds and serve.


Originally posted February 2015, revised and photographs added May 2019


White Bean and Tuna Fish Salad

From Delia Smith, How to Cook Book two, as recommended by Marion, when we went down to stay in Firle.
4 as main, 6 as starter

250g cannellini beans (can use 2 tins)
25g rocket, stalks removed
2 x 200g tins tuna fish in oil
50g red onion, sliced into thin rounds
salt & black pepper
3 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
1 heaped tsp mustard powder
grated zest 1 lemon
1 rounded tsp black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 level tbsp Maldon sea salt

Begin this the night before you are going to make the salad by placing the beans in a bowl and covering them with cold water to soak. Next day, drain the beans, then put them in a large saucepan, cover with fresh water and bring them up to simmering point. Boil for 10 minutes, then cover and simmer gently for 1¼-1½ hours, or until tender.
Meanwhile, empty the tuna fish into a sieve fitted over a bowl and allow it to drain, reserving the oil. Then, to make the dressing, first crush the garlic and salt using a pestle and mortar till the garlic is pulverised, then work the mustard powder into this. Now push the mixture to one side, add the peppercorns and crush these fairly coarsely. Next add the grated lemon zest, along with the lemon juice, olive oil and 3 tablespoons of the reserved tuna oil (the rest of the tuna oil can be discarded). Whisk everything together very thoroughly, then, when the beans are cooked, drain them, rinse out the saucepan and return the beans to it. Now pour the dressing over while the beans are still warm, give everything a good stir and season generously.
To serve the salad, arrange three-quarters of the rocket leaves over the base of a serving dish, spoon the beans on top and add the tuna fish in chunks. Then add the rest of the rocket leaves, pushing some of the leaves and chunks of tuna right in amongst the beans. Finally, arrange the onion slices on top and serve straight away, allowing people to help themselves. Warm, crusty ciabatta bread would be an excellent accompaniment.