Sourdough Crackers

Now that the temperature has dropped I am trying to revive my sourdough starter. As this involves regular feeding, I am also revisiting all the recipes I have found for using up the discarded starter!

Aside from making muffins, I have made sourdough crackers, which are incredibly easy and tasty. I started off with a recipe by @_alicepower_ that I found on Martha Delacey‘s Instagram feed, where you just mix 200g discard with 2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil, salt and seeds of your choice, paint it onto a lined baking tray (silicone mats or liners are ideal) and bake at 170 C fan until well browned, which takes 15-20 minutes.

This produces strongly savoury, yeasty crackers even from smelly old sourdough discard – great for snacks but a bit rustic, as you can see.

Sourdough crackers

I have since used a recipe I found on love and olive oil, which adds fresh flour to the starter. This produces a more elegant cracker, especially if you have a pasta machine. I don’t but am seriously considering acquiring one after seeing the neat, firm crackers that my friend produced with hers.

You can adjust the type of flour you use according to taste or what you have. The original recipe is American and uses all-purpose and whole wheat flour with a bit of rye. I have tended to use half strong flour (either white or wholemeal), though I haven’t done a comparative test, and if lockdown resumes strong flour may once again become a rare commodity. Adding a little rye flour is good for flavour, but you only need a couple of tablespoons, and the total quantity of flour should stay the same. Note that the quantities in this recipe are for a starter which has the same quantity of flour and water (aka 100% hydration), so if yours has less water in it you will need to up with water accordingly. I generally use 65% hydration for my starter, as it keeps better in the fridge, so I add 70ml water to this recipe.

  • 200 grams sourdough starter
  • 70g plain or strong flour
  • 60g wholemeal flour (or wholemeal & rye)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dried herbs de Provence
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • maldon salt, for topping

Mix the sourdough starter with the flours, olive oil, herbs and salt in a bowl and knead until the dough comes together in a smooth ball. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 175 C/Gas mark 4 and line two baking trays with parchment or silicone mats. Cut the dough in half and put one half back in the fridge while you roll out the other.

Divide the dough into four and roll out each one into an oblong, either with a rolling pin or with a pasta maker (loveandoliveoil recommend a number 6 setting out of 8). Put two oblongs of dough on each baking sheet. Spray or brush lightly with water and sprinkle with the flakes of Maldon salt.

Bake until lightly golden brown and crisp, which should take 12 to 15 minutes. If the heat in your oven is uneven (true of most ovens), then swap the baking trays from top to bottom and turn then from back to front half way through. Allow the crackers to cool before transferring them to a rack, then repeat with the remaining dough.

I have found that the crackers keep for a week or two in an airtight container.

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.


Mrs Langan’s Chocolate Pudding

I was given this recipe a very long time ago by my brother’s girlfriend, who had made it for a dinner we had together. For years I assumed that her mother was called Mrs Langan, and that it was her recipe, but a chance comment I saw on Instagram revealed that  Mrs Langan’s Chocolate Pudding actually came from the Good Food Guide Dinner Party cookbook.

The Instagram comment mentioned that her mother served it filled with pears, which I think sounds absolutely delicious. Raspberries would probably be good too, but here is the recipe as I was given it – pre-decimal, but I have given approximate metric weight conversions.

I haven’t made this for years, so no photo yet, but hope to add one soon.

  • 6 large eggs
  • ½lb/225g caster sugar
  • 2oz/60g cocoa
  • 12oz/340g dark chocolate
  • ¾ pint/450ml double cream

Grease and line a 13″ x 8″ (33 x 20cm) Swiss roll tin. Preheat the oven to 175°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Whip the egg yolks until they thicken. Add the sugar, and beat again until thick but not white. Add the cocoa and mix thoroughly. Whip the egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff but not dry, and fold gently into the yolk and cocoa mixture.

Pour mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 20 minutes or until it is set without being dried out. Allow the sponge to cool on a rack, then turn it out onto a sheet of greaseproof paper lightly dusted with caster sugar.

Melt the chocolate with a little water over a gentle heat. Cool the chocolate but do not allow it to set. Then pour it over the chocolate sponge base.

Whip the double cream until thick, but not stiff. Spread most of the cream evenly over the chocolate. Gently roll up or fold over the cake by moving your fingers underneath the greaseproof paper and tip onto a serving plate. Cover with the remaining cream.


Blackcurrant and almond cake

This is a Sarah Raven recipe, which I found in The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit, a book given to me by my friend Richard. It took me a while to work out how best to navigate it but once I started dipping into it there was no going back. It is a real source of inspiration, full of new ideas and good recipes, including this one.

I made this cake with some frozen, home-grown (not by me!) blackcurrants, and it showcased them beautifully.  The almond essence gives it a lovely marzipan flavour. I reduced the quantities by a third to fit my tin (the original uses 200g butter/sugar/ ground almonds and blackcurrants and a 25cm tin).


  • 130g butter
  • 130g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 130g ground almonds
  • 1 scant tsp almond essence
  • 130g blackcurrants

Grease and line a 20cm cake tin and pre-heat the oven to 180°C/Gas mark 4.

Cream together the butter and sugar until they are pale. Beat the eggs in one at a time and then fold in the ground almonds and almond essence.

Scrape the cake batter into the prepared tin and scatter over the blackcurrants. Bake for 30 minutes until golden and firm to the touch. Sift icing sugar on top and serve with crème fraîche.

Sourdough muffins

Muffins are one of my favourite tea-time treats, but the ones you buy in the shops are often heavy and disappointing. A friend who, like me, has been baking sourdough bread during lockdown mentioned that they were easy to cook, so this week I tried them out. They are indeed easy to make and you can use the sourdough starter you discard when you’re refreshing it. All the recipes I found online suggested that you needed to add dried yeast too, but yeast has been as rare as hen’s teeth in supermarkets so I thought I would experiment with just relying on my starter.


The results exceeded my expectations – the muffins (English muffins for anyone reading from across the pond) have an almost fluffy, toothsome crumb and delicious sourdough flavour. They proved exceedingly popular, disappearing even faster than a fresh loaf of sourdough bread. So I’m writing this post primarily to remind myself of what I did so that I can make them again.

My starter is drier than many, following my brother’s formula (probably originally derived from Richard Bertinet) of 50g flour to 35ml water. If your starter is 50/50 flour and water you may need to adjust the amount of water in the recipe accordingly. I make quite small quantities of starter as I only bake bread once a week, but refresh it about twice a week. Each time I put the discarded starter in a separate jar in the fridge, and then use it for baking crackers – and now muffins.

I used strong white flour without thinking and then realised that many recipes specify plain flour, so next time I will try a 50/50 mix and see how that works. PS: I tried this and the texture of the muffins was not nearly as good – there were sort of doughy – so stick with the strong flour!

Most recipes also seem to include milk or milk powder, but I didn’t have any, and the results seem to be just fine without it. I may experiment with the adding milk if I have any in the fridge next time around. This quantity makes a dozen muffins.

  • 120g sourdough starter discard
  • 420g strong white flour
  • 30g butter
  • 1 dstsp sugar
  • 220ml warm water
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • semolina or polenta for dusting (about 2 tbsps)

I started in the late afternoon by mixing together 120g of the starter discard with 120g flour and 90ml of warm water. I covered the bowl and left it to get going for a few hours. Mine took about 4 hours to start showing signs of activity, but how long it takes will depend on how old your starter is, how warm it is in the room and other variables. If your starter discard is still very active you could probably skip this step and move straight to mixing the dough (using the full quantity of flour and water). Mine was a bit sluggish and I have learnt the hard way that baking with a sluggish starter is a sure route to disappointment.

The next step is to rub the butter into the remaining 300g flour, just as you would for making scones. I did this by hand but in the bowl of my mixer, so that I could knead the dough using the dough hook. You could use the mixer to incorporate the butter, and doing the whole thing by hand would be equally fine. Scoop the starter mixture into the flour and butter. Dissolve the sugar and salt in the remaining 130ml of warm water, add that too and mix everything together well. Now knead it until it comes together into a fairly firm, elastic dough. Put it into a bowl, then into a plastic bag and pop into the fridge overnight.

In the morning, pull the dough out of the fridge as soon as you wake up (I know, baking does weird things to your morning routine). About an hour later the dough should be starting to wake up and look a bit lively. Now you need to shape your muffins. Prepare two baking sheets by sprinkling them with the semolina or polenta.

I couldn’t follow the method of rolling out the dough and cutting out the muffins as you would scones, as I don’t have a plain 7cm/3in cutter, and my attempt to use a suitably sized glass didn’t work. Instead I shaped the muffins by dividing the dough into 12 pieces and briefly kneading each piece into a muffin shape. I read that you get a better rise if you use a cutter to stamp out the dough, and you would certainly get a more uniform shape than my slightly wonky ones. Lay the muffins out on the two trays as you go, sprinkle the tops with semolina/polenta, then cover with a tea towel and leave to prove for around 45 minutes. They should visibly puff up and relax.


When they’re nearly ready put a heavy frying pan or plain (not ridged) griddle on to heat  up on a medium setting. Once it’s well heated, put the first batch of muffins in (unless you have a big griddle and can do all 12 at once). After about 10 minutes – keep an eye on them, as they may need a little less or more time – they should be ready to turn over. The bottom should become firm and browned, the top will dome a little and therefore be a bit less brown, while the sides stay softer. I found mine needed 10-11 minutes on the bottom and 8 minutes on the top. Put on a cooling rack while you cook the second batch.


Now use a fork to pull the muffins apart, slather with good butter and eat greedily. My timings mean that the muffins will be coming off the stove in time for morning coffee! I can recommend mature cheddar and apricot jam (separately) as excellent adornments.

You can keep them wrapped in a paper bag for a day or two (if you can stop yourself eating them) or freeze them. They are most delicious eaten while still warm, so if you’re eating them later warm them through in the frying pan or griddle. I warmed the top and bottom for a couple of minutes, then split them and warmed the crumb too.

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.

Dark chocolate & walnut cookies

Dark chocolate and walnut cookies

Instagram discovery number two (see previous post) has been these dangerously addictive cookies, from Ravneet Gill’s new book The Pastry Chef’s Guide, which is now top of my wish-list. She shared this recipe on Instagram live (where she is @ravneeteats) and, aside from enabling you to make these fabulous cookies, the videos show that she will surely have a TV series soon, being  as charismatic as she is talented. I have now signed up for the online pastry school that has just been launched by PUFF the bakery, run by Ravneet with fellow pastry chef Nicola Lamb, who ran very successful  pop-ups before lockdown. So expect more pastry and desserts on the blog – and that I will be two sizes bigger by the time you next see me!

These quantities make about 6 cookies and they are pretty rich so probably not wise to make a larger batch unless you are locked down with the whole family, as they are totally irresistible. However, should you be lucky enough to be with a crowd then its easy to double or triple the quantities. Apparently, this recipe also works with vegan margarine and a flax egg, though I haven’t tested this. I have taken the liberty of dialling down the quantity of sugar a bit, using soft light brown rather than caster sugar, and adding some ground almonds. You can use chopped chocolate instead of the nuts, but in my view that would be too much of a good thing – you need the crunch of the nuts to set off their glorious brownie-like squidginess.

IMG_6285The cookies are very straightforward to make, taking less than 30 minutes of your time (with an hour rest in the middle). So if you need a treat for tea – and who doesn’t at the moment – I heartily recommend them.

  • 110g dark chocolate
  • 15g butter
  • 1 egg
  • 60g soft light brown (or caster) sugar
  • 12g cornflour
  • 1 tbsp ground almonds (optional)
  • 3g (1 tsp) cocoa powder
  • 1g (1/3 tsp) baking powder
  • 35g chopped walnuts (or roasted hazelnuts)
  • pinch of Maldon salt

Bring a small pan of water to a simmer. Break the chocolate into a heatproof bowl, add the butter and set over the simmering water to melt, ensuring that the bowl doesn’t touch the water. You could also melt the chocolate and butter in a microwave, but I never do this, so can’t give advice on it. Once the chocolate is nearly melted, which shouldn’t take more than a few minutes, stir to amalgamate and put on one side.

Break the egg into a mixing bowl and beat with a whisk. Then add the sugar half at a time, whisking to incorporate after each addition. Combine the cornflour, baking powder and cocoa powder, sieving if they are lumpy. Stir in the ground almonds if you’re using.

By now the chocolate and butter should have cooled a little. Whisk them into the eggs and sugar, then whisk in the dry ingredients, at which point the batter will become quite a bit stiffer. Finally, stir in the chopped nuts (don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about the salt – that comes later). Tip the mixture into a container which will hold it in a shallow layer so it will cool down quickly and put it to rest in the fridge for an hour. I used quite a large mixing bowl, so I just spread the mixture out in that and popped it in the fridge. You can leave it in the fridge overnight (but no longer than 24 hours or you will inactivate the baking powder).

Pre-heat the oven to 160°C fan/180°C and line a baking tray with a silicone liner or piece of baking paper. Take the mixture out of the fridge and using a teaspoon, an ice cream scoop or your hands (best to use a disposable glove unless you want to end up with a lot of cookie dough on your hands; on second thoughts…) scoop out balls of the mixture, weighing them to ensure that your cookies are evenly sized. Ravneet used 50g per cookie but I made mine with 35g in the vain hope that I would eat a smaller portion. Roll each scoop into a ball then flatten it slightly and put it on the baking sheet. Pop the shaped cookies back in the fridge while the oven finishes heating.

Once the oven is up to temperature put in the cookies, which should be quite firm by now, and bake them for 8-9 minutes. At this point they should have risen and spread a little, the outside will look dry and crackled, but they will still be soft if you touch them. Take them out of the oven and crumble a little Maldon salt over each one. Leave them on the baking tray until they have firmed up, which will take at least 5 minutes. They will keep in a tin for a few days.

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.