Olive oil

Nigella’s dairy free olive oil chocolate cake

oliveoilchocoatecake

These are the things I haven’t given up for Lent.

Cake, coffee and a good book.

How can I not be happy with those marvellous things still in my life?

For me Nigella is the queen of cakes – even better than Mary or Delia – and this dairy free chocolate one is delicious and very simple to make.

There are a few members of my family who don’t eat dairy so this is a useful recipe to have in my ever expanding collection of chocolate cakes (this is the fifth one on this blog and that doesn’t even include chocolate brownies, muffins and fondants!).

oliveoilchocoatecake1

Nigella’s dairy free olive oil chocolate cake

Makes a big cake which cuts into 12 large slices

  • 150ml of regular olive oil, plus a little to grease the tin
  • 50g of cocoa powder
  • 125ml of boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 125g of plain flour (or, if you want a gluten free cake, use 150g of ground almonds instead, although this will result in a heavier cake best served warm with cream)
  • ½ teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • A pinch of salt
  • 200g of caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Line a 23cm diametre spring form tin with baking parchment and grease lightly with olive oil.

Sift the cocoa powder into a small bowl or jug and stir in the boiling water until well combined and without lumps. Add the vanilla extract and leave to cool a little.

In another bowl, measure out the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt and stir to combine.

In a large bowl add the eggs, olive oil and sugar and whisk with an electric hand whisk on a high speed for about 3 minutes until light and fluffy. Nigella uses a free standing mixer with a paddle attachment but I don’t have one of these.

Add the cocoa mixture and mix briefly on a low speed until just incorporated.

Then add the flour and mix on low again until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 40-45 minutes until the cake is just set. Mine was perfect after 40.

Let the cake cool in the tin on a wire rack for 10 minutes and then turn out and leave to cool. Or, eat warm with cream or ice cream.

This cake keeps well but if my family is anything to go by it won’t last more than a day or so.

Cauliflower with saffron, raisins and pinenuts

cauliflowerpinenutssaffron

As a family we have given up TV for Lent. This is very hard but has resulted in us being slightly more productive in the evenings and doing wholesome family things like playing board games.

I have also become a vegetarian for Lent. This is not really a trial for me but it may be hard for my husband. I do the lion’s share of the cooking and so he is now forced to eat less meat too. I’ve suggested that he cooks up a load of sausages on a Monday and eats all my vegetarian creations with ‘a sausage on the side’.

My 8 year old daughter, who is already a vegetarian, and who wanted to take things one step further, has renounced her bed for Lent and is currently sleeping on the floor!

I’m not sure what all this says about a family who are not even religious. Perhaps it shows that we like a challenge. Or maybe it’s a sign of guilt and a cathartic need for self punishment!

Anyway, the upshot is that I’ve been experimenting more with vegetables. I had been hoping to bring you an exciting Ottolenghi recipe from his vegetarian bible ‘Plenty’, but the one I tried this week irritatingly didn’t work even though I followed the steps with precision.

So instead here’s a very nice recipe from a comical (and not very good) book – Gregg Wallace’s ‘veg – the greengrocer’s cookbook’. It remains on my book shelf only because it’s signed by the man himself who wishes me ‘Good Kitchen Times’.

veg

This isn’t even his own recipe but one nicked from the ‘Moro cookbook’.

‘Cauli from the Sam Clarks’

Serves 2 as a main course (with leftovers for lunch)

  • 1 small cauliflower broken into tiny florets
  • 50 strands of saffron (life is too short to count saffron strands so I estimate that this is a good pinch)
  • 75g of raisins
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely sliced
  • 5 tablespoons of pinenuts, lightly toasted (this is a lot so use less if you wish – pinenuts are very expensive)
  • Salt and white pepper to season

Pour 4 tablespoons of boiling water over the saffron in a bowl.

In another bowl soak the raisins in warm water (with the water just covering the raisins).

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and blanch the cauliflower florets for 1 minute. Drain and rinse the florets in cold water, then drain again.

Heat the oil in a pan and cook the onions for 15 minutes until soft and golden. Remove them from the pan leaving a little oil behind.

Turn the heat in the frying pan up to hot and add the cauliflower. Fry until there is some colour on the florets (about 3 minutes). Then add the onion, saffron water, pine nuts.

Drain the raisins and add those too. Stir fry for 3 minutes until the water has evaporated and season well with white pepper and salt.

Best served warm (rather than piping hot) which seems to enhance the flavours).

Any leftovers taste fantastic mixed with a little cous cous and eaten cold for lunch.

Tapenade

tapenade

I’m not sure how you make tapenade look appetising.

My husband is very good in the kitchen but a routine has developed whereby he will cook just once a week (usually on a Friday) and completely steal the show with something new, AND complicated, AND completely delicious. I meanwhile do the everyday scrap cooking that barely gets noticed.

Just a little bit annoying.

Last Friday he went all out making two types of fish cake as a starter (show-off), followed by Tom Kerridge’s ‘Tomato and olive tart with Cornish gurnard’ for the main course. The tart was really good but it was the tapenade spread over the base that completely blew me away.

I can’t believe that I’ve only just discovered tapenade. I’ve seen it many times on programmes like Masterchef and dismissed it as too ‘cheffy’, but it’s surprisingly easy to make and very versatile. I was a bit scared of the anchovies but you can’t really taste them. And just look at all the things you can do with it:

Ways to use tapenade (not exhaustive)

  • Spread over a puff pastry base as part of a tart (as in the aforementioned recipe ‘Tomato and olive tart with Cornish gurnard’)
  • Mix with any sort of pasta
  • Serve as an accompaniment to a nice piece of grilled chicken or fish
  • As a dip for raw vegetables or tortilla chips
  • As a bruschetta topping

So make loads and then keep it in the fridge in a very clean jam jar covered with a layer of olive oil. I’m not sure how long it lasts but I reckon two or three weeks would be fine because it uses ingredients that have already been preserved in some way.

In my usual ‘make do’ style it was me that used up the remaining tapenade in Monday night’s dinner – mixed up with orzo, leftover cooked sausage, a bit of mozzarella, a few black olives and some dog-eared basil leaves (AKA ‘chuck everything in the fridge in with some pasta’).

Tapenade (From Tom Kerridge’s ‘Proper Pub Food’)

Makes a jam jar’s worth

  • 115g stoned black olives
  • 25g of salted anchovy fillets
  • 2 tablespoons of capers, drained
  • 3 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 130ml of extra virgin olive oil

Put all the ingredients, except the oil, into a food processor and blitz until finely chopped.

Add the olive oil and blitz again until you have a thick puree.

Store in a clean jam jar in the fridge until ready to use.

Roasted beetroot with cumin, lime and mint dressing

beetroot salad

We have beetroot coming out of our ears. This is great news, but after using it in all our best-loved beetroot dishes (borscht, Russian salad, my husband’s legendary pink risotto) we are running out of ideas. So this week I’ve been experimenting with dressings for cold, roasted beetroot so that we can have it on its own for lunch, or on the side with any old meal.

So far this is my favourite. The flavours of cumin and lime are fantastic with the sweet beetroot.

Roasted beetroot with a cumin, lime and mint dressing

  • 4 large beetroot

Dressing

  • 1/2 a teaspoon of cumin seeds (don’t be tempted to cheat and use powdered cumin – it’s just not the same)
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 tablespoon of honey
  • 2 tablespoons of good quality olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • A table spoon of fresh mint leaves, chopped

For the roast beetroot, first cut off the leaves and trim the root, then scrub to remove as much dirt as possible.

Place in a baking tin, cover tightly with foil, and bake in an oven heated to 160oC for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The beetroot is cooked when a skewer goes all the way through without resistance. Leave to cool and then slip the beetroots out of their skins and chop into small chunks or thin slices.

For the dressing, first dry fry the cumin seeds in a small frying pan, without oil, over a high heat for about 30 seconds until brown and fragrant. Crush in a pestle and mortar with a good pinch of coarse sea salt.

Add this mix to the other ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together. Spoon over the roasted beetroot and serve.

NOTE: This beetroot salad goes really well with brown rice and flaked hot smoked salmon.

Orzo with purple sprouting broccoli, lemon and ricotta

orzo

It’s a busy time of year down at the allotment and this week we’ve been planting potatoes, broad beans, french beans and onions. Our reward for all this hard work was some super fresh purple sprouting broccoli which had appeared, as if by magic (we didn’t plant it), right in the middle of our cabbage patch. It had survived huge dumps of snow, a collapsed cabbage cage and very hungry pigeons.

Purple sprouting broccoli always brings to mind this recipe (based on one from Waitrose Kitchen magazine). It has a subtle, fresh and healthy taste. It is also really quick to cook. We ate it outdoors for the first time this year and felt very summery and full of hope.

PS. Orzo is my new favourite thing. It’s basically pasta shaped like rice and you can buy it in most supermarkets, although it is a bit more expensive than regular pasta. My children love it, especially mixed with cheese, butter and frozen peas to make a risotto like dish (without all the stirring).

Orzo with purple sprouting broccoli, lemon and ricotta

Serves 4

  • 2 tablespoons of good olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • 1 green chilli, finely chopped (optional)
  • 400g of orzo
  • 230g of purple sprouting broccoli or thereabouts (this is the prepared uncooked weight)
  • The zest of one lemon
  • The juice of half a lemon
  • 100-200g of ricotta cheese
  • Salt and pepper

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a wok or frying pan, heat until smoking then remove from the heat and add the garlic and chilli (if using). Give it a quick stir and set aside.

Cook the orzo according to the packet instructions (or until just cooked through which is often longer than the packet says in my experience). Meanwhile, prepare the broccoli by separating the florets and leaves from the stalks and slicing finely any thick stalks. One minute before the orzo is cooked (you’ll just have to use your best guess here) add the broccoli to the boiling water. Then drain both.

Return the wok/frying pan to a medium heat and add the drained orzo and broccoli to the flavoured oil. Give everything a good stir, then add the lemon zest and juice and season well with salt and pepper.

To serve, crumble over the ricotta cheese and drizzle over a little more olive oil.

Note: If you’re an avid carnivore who needs meat with every meal, then sprinkle some crispy fried bacon over the top.

This dish would also make a good accompaniment for a piece of grilled chicken or fish, or as a cold dish as part of a bigger buffet.

Linguine with hazelnuts, parsley and garlic

linguine with hazelnuts, parsley and garlic 2

It’s half term and we’ve been in Scarborough eating lots of gluttonous seaside food. Amazing fish & chips at the Magpie Cafe and giant ice cream sundaes at the Harbour Bar, but also things I’m a bit ashamed of, like ready-made pizzas from Sainsburys Local and my first McDonald’s hamburger in about five years (which, after a fair amount of rose wine, I declared was the most delicious thing I’d ever eaten!!!).

So for most of the week I’ve entered the kitchen only to turn on the oven and remove packaging. And on our return yesterday I was still in holiday  ‘I can’t be bothered to cook’ mode but we had to have something for dinner so I made this super quick pasta dish.

I tried the recipe for the first time a couple of weeks ago and I’ve got a feeling it’s going to become a staple in our house. It’s easy to make but a bit different to your usual pasta and sauce.

The original recipe (by Olia Hercules for the Guardian) is made with spaetzle (tiny egg dumplings that you make by pushing batter through a colander) but these are a faff to make and I’m not a huge fan of the texture so I make it with linguine instead.

Linguine with hazelnuts, parsley and garlic

For two

  • 200-300g of linguine (depending on appetite)
  • 70g of hazelnuts
  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed with a little sea salt
  • 50g of parmesan cheese, grated
  • Two good handfuls of parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of good olive oil, plus a bit more for drizzling
  • Some sea salt

First toast the hazelnuts in an oven heated to 180oC for 8 minutes, or until golden brown. Roughly crush the nuts in a pestle and mortar or chop finely with a knife. I buy my hazelnuts unblanched from Lidl (where they’re cheapest) and find that once roasted the skins come off really easily.

Put the nuts, garlic, parsley, oil and parmesan in a large bowl and mix.

Cook the linguine according to the packet instructions, then drain and toss into the bowl with the other ingredients and stir until well coated. Serve immediately with a little extra olive oil drizzled over the top and a good sprinkling of  sea salt (although these are optional and can be left out if you’re watching your fat/salt content).

Serve with a green salad on the side if you’re worried about the absence of greens, and a large glass of crisp, white wine if you like.

Spanish rice with chicken and chorizo

spanishchickenrice

I don’t know about you but I always get terribly confused in the period between Christmas and New Year. Today I’ve got absolutely no idea what day of the week it is – all I know is that New Year’s Eve is tomorrow (but only because my friend just phoned to remind me of the party details). Football matches are on Thursdays and Sundays, not Saturdays as usual. Even the order of the day is a blur as we’re not eating proper meals at normal breakfast, lunch and dinner times but rather grazing throughout the day on bits of cheese, chocolate and other rubbish like small cold sausages. And then there’s the drinking, not as much as when we were childless, but at least a little every day and not just wine and beer but whisky, champagne, port and other headache inducing beverages. It’s sort of fun but then part of me (the grown up part) is desperate to get back to some sort of normality on January 2nd.

For those of you who are as disorientated as me, but who would like to eat at least one proper meal over the Christmas period, I offer you this delicious and terribly easy dish. It has the comfort factor of a risotto but with absolutely no stirring.

This is for my very good friends Claire and Ed who I fed well and then poisoned with Speaker Bercow’s whisky. I hope you are feeling better now.

Spanish rice with chicken and chorizo

Serves 4

  • 3 large skinless chicken breasts cut into quarters
  • 1 sweet pointed red pepper, sliced thinly
  • 100g chorizo, cut into smallish chunks
  • ½ an onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of smoked paprika
  • ½-1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes (depending on how hot you like it)
  • 860ml chicken stock
  • 250g paella rice
  • 1 large tablespoon of flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Take the pieces of chicken and marinade with ½ teaspoon of smoked paprika, ½ teaspoon of salt, half the juice of one lemon, a dash of olive oil and a few twists of the pepper mill. Cover and leave in the fridge for the flavours to mingle. I like to do this for at least an hour but if you’re in a rush then you could leave for less.

Heat the oven to 180oC fan.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a broad shallow pan (mine is a cast iron and oven proof Le Creuset 26cm in diameter). When the oil is very hot add the chicken and brown on all sides. You don’t need to cook the chicken through but you do need to make sure that it is a nice golden colour. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the peppers and chorizo to the same pan and cook until the fat starts to run out of the chorizo and the peppers start to soften. Then add the onion, garlic, 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika and chilli flakes. Cook for a couple of minutes and then add the chicken stock and bring to the boil.

Pour in the rice being careful to distribute it evenly around the pan. Then add the chicken pieces evenly over the top. At this stage the pan will be very full so be careful not to spill the stock as you transfer it to the oven. Cook uncovered for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and leave to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

To serve scatter with chopped parsley and the remaining lemon juice. Don’t miss out this part as it really elevates the dish.

Note: If you are feeling fancy and have access to nice fresh seafood (which is unfortunately difficult for us in Nottingham being about as far away from the sea as you can get) then you could add prawns, squid or mussels before putting in the oven.

Chickpea soup with fried eggs

chickpea soup

When I was a little girl I wouldn’t touch a cookery book without pictures – I had to be able to see what I was going to cook in order to be inspired. Nowadays, I’m the opposite and I get rather fed up with bad value tomes that seem rather short on recipes and rather full of smarmy pictures of celebrity chefs cooing over their own food. Also, I once worked for a design agency and I know some of the tricks food stylists use, (super glue, waterproof spray, soap!!!) mean that you couldn’t actually eat any of the food photographed for recipe books. That’s why I don’t beat myself up too much about the photos for this blog, even if it does sometimes look a bit like dog food, it is actually edible.

Some of my dearest cookery books have no pictures whatsoever, like Lindsey Bareham’s wonderful book ‘A Celebration of Soup’. It’s more like a soup manual really with so many recipes that I’m not sure I could ever cook them all. We’ve taken to annotating the ones we’ve tried so that we don’t lose track. Here’s the annotation for this one in my husband’s hand.

I promise I don't really drink that much!

I promise I don’t really drink that much!

This is one of my favourite soups from the book, it has a really clean flavour and the surprise fried egg makes it seem more like a proper meal than just a bowl of soup. I’ve simplified the original recipe to use a can of chickpeas rather than dried so it takes no time at all to make.

Chickpea soup with fried eggs

Serves 2 as a main course

1 400g can of chickpeas in water
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 medium onion finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic crushed and chopped
A good handful of mint leaves finely chopped
350ml chicken stock
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
2 eggs

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and sweat the onion and garlic over a medium heat until soft. Add the whole tin of chick peas to the pan without draining and simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer to a blender, add the mint and stock, then purée well until smooth. Pour back into the pan and season with the lemon juice and a generous amount of salt and pepper.

When you are ready to serve fry one egg for each person in some olive oil and slip the egg into each soup bowl. The egg doesn’t have to be completely cooked on top as it will continue to cook in the soup.

I like to serve this with tahini flat bread. Make plain pizza bread (as in my post ‘Basic pizza dough and two ways to use it for a Saturday night tea’) but replace the olive oil with tahini.

Ready for the table with tahini flat bread accompaniment.

Ready for the table with tahini flat bread accompaniment.

Basic pizza dough and two ways to use it for a Saturday night tea

Firstly, here’s my basic pizza dough recipe.

Basic pizza dough

Makes two square pizzas that fill a 33cm square tray

  • 350g strong plain flour (but bog standard plain flour will do if that’s all you have in the cupboard)
  • 2 teaspoons dried instant action yeast (I use Allinson’s in a small green tin)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Warm water – 200-250ml
  • A sprinkle of semolina (to stop the pizza sticking to the baking tray)

Put the flour, salt, yeast and olive oil in a mixing bowl and add the water gradually mixing with your fingers. You want to bring the mixture together into a fairly wet dough – you may not need the whole 250ml. If you add too much, and the dough is too sticky to work with just sprinkle on a little more flour.

Tip the dough on to the work surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Ideally you should knead for at least 10 minutes but I have little patience and am usually in a rush so it tends to be more like three and the results are just fine.

Put the dough back in the bowl, cover with cling film, and rest for at least 1 ½ hours (although 2 hours is better).

After this time take off the cling film and give the dough a good punch to knock out the air. Transfer to the work surface, knead lightly for a few seconds and divide into two (as this recipe is enough for two bases).

Rolling out the base can be tricky as pizza dough is very elastic. It resists being stretched and wants to spring back so this part can feel like treading water. My technique (which seems to work) is to stretch the dough carefully with my hands first before using the rolling pin. When you have made a round of about 20 cm by pulling in all directions with your hands, liberally flour your work surface and a rolling pin and roll the disk until the dough is really thin and large enough to fill your baking tray. Repeat the process with the second portion so that you have two bases.

Saturday night starter – Plain pizza bread with broad bean hummus

Plain pizza bread

Set your oven to its highest temperature (mine goes up to 270oC) and place a flat, square tray into the oven to heat up. Take the hot tray out of the oven and sprinkle with semolina. Then, (using the basic pizza dough recipe above) place the rolled out pizza base onto the tray and drizzle with olive oil and a good sprinkle of coarse sea salt. Bake until golden and crispy (about 8-10 minutes), then cut into rectangular slices.

Note: For garlic pizza bread (great for parties), follow the steps above but brush on 3 cloves of crushed garlic 1 minute before the pizza is done (don’t put the garlic on from the start otherwise it will burn).

Last night, to go with the plain pizza bread, I made a seasonal broad bean hummus which is adapted from Nigella’s broad bean bruschetta recipe in her ‘Feast’ book. The original recipe uses mint and parmesan, but I use marjoram instead of mint and omit the cheese which I think overtakes the lovely fresh flavour of the beans. Nigella also uses young broad beans but I think this recipe works fine with older beans (like mine) as long as you briefly boil them first.

Broad bean hummus

  • Broad beans
  • Marjoram
  • Garlic
  • Lemon juice
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Remove the broad beans from their pods and then boil them in a pan of water for about 3 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water. You then need to remove the outer shell from each bean. This is does take a little while but I find it quite therapeutic.

You can either smash up the beans by hand in a pestle and mortar (my preference) or in a blender.

Add the other ingredients to taste, it’s really difficult to provide exact amounts here because it will depend on the amount of prepared broad beans you have. The trick is to add the additional flavours little by little (you can always add more but can’t take away) and keep tasting. I like quite a lot of garlic and a good helping of salt.

The main ingredient, just picked.

The main ingredient, just picked.

broad beans out of their pods

Broad beans removed from their pods.

Smash it up.

Smash it up.

The end result with plain pizza bread.

The end result with plain pizza bread.

The main course – Plebs pizza

We’ve had a bumper year for sweetcorn at the allotment (and, unlike previous years, the rats haven’t arrived to steal it all) so we’re able to do more with it than just ‘corn on the cob’.

And what does my husband dream of when thinking of this lovingly tendered, mellow yellow, sweet deliciousness but a ‘chicken and sweetcorn ‘ pizza! And this is where I rant on a bit because I’m a pizza purist and it’s rarely more than the lightest smear of tomato sauce with mozzarella and basil for me. I can’t stand those take-away pizza establishments that think the more you cram on the better, and some of the bizarre topping combinations (steak and broccoli!!!) leave me just plain baffled.

Still, I like to keep my husband happy and so last night chicken and sweetcorn pizza it was. And, I hate to say it but it was actually OK (especially after a very large gin and tonic).

If you’re not a pizza snob like me and you want to try it for yourself this is what I did.

First set your oven to its highest temperature (mine goes up to 270oC) and place a flat, square tray into the oven to heat up. Take the hot tray out of the oven and sprinkle with semolina. Then (using the basic pizza dough recipe above) place the rolled out pizza base onto the tray.

Smear the base with some tomato passata (I sometimes make my own, but was lazy and used the ready-made stuff in a carton), sprinkle on the chicken*and sweetcorn** sparingly. Then slice a packet of mozzarella cheese (170g ball) thinly and place evenly on top. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes or until the base is crisp and the cheese is melted and browned. Serve with beer (in our case a wonderful bottle of Harvest Pale Ale from our local Castle Rock brewery).

*For the chicken I chopped half a chicken breast up into small pieces (about 1 cm square) and marinated for an hour with garlic, crushed fennel seeds, olive oil and salt and then fried quickly in a frying pan just so that it would definitely be cooked through once it had been finished off on the pizza in the oven.

**For the sweetcorn I boiled one cob for three minutes and then cut the corn from the cob with a sharp knife. I was surprised that you could actually taste the sweeter flavour of the fresh sweetcorn but I’m sure using tinned or frozen sweetcorn wouldn’t make too much difference.

Preferably though, leave off the chicken and sweetcorn, make a proper tomato passata from scratch and just use mozzarella, fresh basil leaves and a drizzle of good olive oil.

The abomination.

The abomination.

Things in jars – pickling and pesto

It’s that season down at the allotment when all the hard work pays off and everything seems to be ready to eat all at once. It’s both a joy and a bit of a stress. Because I just hate waste I fret about trying to use up everything but sometimes there just don’t seem to be enough meal times in the day and I’m already bombarding my friends and relatives with hand-outs. This is where pickling and preserving comes in.

Pickled Beetroot and Eggs

Beetroot pickled eggs

Beetroot pickled eggs

My friend ‘Little Ben’ first introduced me to pickled eggs at the end of a drunken night out in Nottingham and I have to admit I was not a fan. These pickled beetroot eggs however are truly delicious. The beetroot makes them lovely and sweet and the pinky colour of the eggs is just wonderful. I like to eat them on their own, sliced in half with a blob of mayonnaise and salt and pepper. They are also really good cut up in a Russian style salad with their pickled beetroot neighbours.

  • Cooked beetroot skinned and chopped into chunks (I cut medium sized beetroot into quarters). To cook I scrub the beetroot gently and roast them in their skins in a foil envelope  for an hour at 160oC fan.
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • About 250ml of red wine vinegar (it’s difficult to be exact here as you will need enough to cover the contents of the jar and this will depend on how tightly packed in things are
  • A teaspoon of sugar
  • A couple of bay leaves
  • About 6 peppercorns mixed white and black

Sterilise a big jar (750ml mayonnaise ones are good) then cram in the cooked beetroot and the eggs layering the two throughout the jar.

I put the vinegar, sugar, bay leaves and peppercorns into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. When the mixture is piping hot and the sugar has dissolved I tip the vinegar into the jars until the eggs and beetroot are completely immersed. I then pop on the lids of the jars and leave to cool. Leave the jars for at least a couple of weeks in the fridge before using.

Basil Pesto

Brilliant basil...

Brilliant basil.

  • Fresh basil leaves (stems removed)
  • Garlic
  • Olive oil
  • A little lemon juice
  • Salt

Pesto is so easy to make but it’s difficult to give exact quantities for this recipe as it will depend on how much basil you have available at the time and it’s quality. Once you’ve whizzed up the basil leaves in a food processor with a good glug of olive oil to help things along (I have one of those mini choppers like this one http://www.cuisinart.co.uk/mini-processor.html which works well) you just need to add the other ingredients a little at a time until you have the right balance. If you’re basil leaves are a bit long in the tooth then you will need to use quite a lot of olive oil. You will also need a lot more basil than you may think. One shop bought basil plant will only make the tiniest jar of pesto so it really is best to grow your own. I drive my family mad by growing plants on every window sill in the house as well as in huge tubs in the allotment greenhouse.

Keep your pesto in a sterilised jar in the fridge with a fine layer of olive oil on the top to stop it from turning brown. I’ve never actually managed to keep any long enough for it to go off in the fridge but it should keep for at least a month or two.

I always add parmesan cheese to the pesto before tossing with pasta but I find that if you jar it with the parmesan added then it impairs the flavour.

A Lovage version

A couple of years ago we bought a small lovage plant from our local garden centre in a 4 for 3 offer on herbs. We didn’t have a clue what it was at the time or how it could be used. Lovage is said to be similar to celery in flavour but personally I think the taste is unique and I absolutely love it. The plant has grown to over a metre high and takes centre stage in our herb bed. Because it is so plentiful in the early part of the year when the basil on the window sills and in the green house is only just germinating we thought we’d try a pesto made with lovage instead of basil with the same additional ingredients as above.  You will probably need a bit more olive oil than for a basil version and it’s a very strong flavour but used sparingly and mixed into pasta with plenty of parmesan it is delicious.

Lovely lovage

Lovely lovage