Category Archives: Light Lunches

Radishes and Robins



Radishes are one the great summer treats- just fabulous with a bit of unsalted butter and some crunchy salt. The idea of serving  them like a flower arrangement came from perhaps the glitziest restaurant I’ve ever been to. St Tropez’s Le Club 55 is the most ludicrously expensive, super -chic beach bar in existence…….and we arrived by helicopter! It’s seems like a different lifetime as I sit in my tiny back garden and think back to my super-yachting days. I worked aboard an Italian owned sailing boat as the cook and the owners did, just once in a while, invite us to partake in their bonkersly swanky lifestyle.

Our trip to Club 55 (please think it in French or it just doesn’t work) was to celebrate the re-fitting of the boat’s main mast – quite a hairy business which involved cranes, plenty of manic arm waving and lots of filthy French swearwords. I’d been given the important job of filming the event for the owners who’d wisely decided to miss the action. The first lesson in filming: never  turn  a camera on its side even if the tip of the mast doesn’t fit into a landscape shot. You had to watch the entire video with your head cricked to one side…… very irritated Captain and THANKFULLY highly amused boss.

The family popped into the boat yard in their helicopter to look over their beautiful yacht before flying on the extra few miles to Pampelonne beach. I leapt at the chance to hover over St Tropez  and then spent most of the time with my eyes shut, virtually hyper ventilating; there’s nothing I hate more than flying. So we landed in the car park next to the Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s and made our way out into the shady, understated beachside restaurant. There on every table was a jug of radishes, some butter, salt, aioli and a basket of perfect baguette. The extraordinary thing is that  I have no memory of the rest of the meal, I was probably too busy people watching. So it just goes to show that the simplest, quickest thing to prepare can often make the most impact.

Another very delicious accompaniment to radishes was dreamt up by the talented chaps at one of my favourite restaurants, the antithesis of ritzy-glam, The Ethicurean here in The West Country. It involves frying a sliced spring onion and a couple of finely chopped cloves of garlic in rapeseed oil until really fragrant. Then adding a couple of tablespoons of chopped white anchovy fillets (you know, the delicious ones pickled in vinegar) and cooking for a minute. Allow to cool and then stir in about 5  tablespoons of crème frâiche. Season and then serve with a pile of freshly dug radishes ( an hour soaking in icy water will restore some crispness if your bought radishes seem a little tired)

The week before I took the picture I’d found some of those  slender, pink French breakfast radishes with their long whispy tails, they’re my favourites, not today. But, any good radish with  leaves intact can be bunched together tightly with some string and pushed into a squat jug or bowl. 

Talking of lapping up the simple things in life I have to share these pictures of Reg with you. Every year Peter hopes to hand feed a robin, he’s had no luck for the last couple but then Reg arrived. The trick is patience; when the robin is feeding its young it will be bolder than usual and so, by placing a small plate of live mealworms close by and waiting motionless whilst it feeds, the robin will gain confidence. Then it’s a question, over about a week, of moving the plate closer and closer until you’re holding it. Eventually the robin will land on your hand and even flutter outside the kitchen window until you come out to feed it.

We’re just hoping that Reg will be back again next year to feed another brood. The thrill of holding such a delicate little bird on your hand is extraordinary. So light, so perfect.



Moroccan Memories and Bessara Soup

I was gathering together some recipes this morning for my moorish salad demo at the wonderful Borough Market and it got me reminiscing and poring over a few pictures from last year’s trip to Tangiers. Pete took some beautiful photographs (I can only claim to be author of half a dozen) and they do set the scene for the unbelievably simple, nutritious and tasty dip/soup that I’m cooking today.

I love the contrast of these first two sets of photographs. First you have the calm, relative coolness of the courtyards and back streets of the casbah and then the bustle of the souk with all it’s smells and vivid colours.

We stayed in a fab little hotel, high in the casbah , looking out over the Straits of Gibraltar – The Tangerina Hotel . The rooftop terrace was a fabulous place to chill and to eat simple and very delicious food. One evening we had a silky smooth bowl of bessara, made with split fava beans or peas –  it’s a classic all over Morocco, often eaten as a breakfast dish and sometimes served a little thicker as a dip with good bread.

I’m making bessara back at home too, it’s real comfort food, just great when you’re yearning for something healthy and nourishing, and I’ve been over indulging rather too much of late (Bristol has been a never ending food fest’ but that’s the next post). My split fava beans (dried broad beans) come from a fabulous British company called Hodmedods who sell our native beans (we’ve exported vast quantities of our fava beans to Egypt and the Middle East for years ). I love to use favas for falafel too. You can find these English beans in lots of health food shops nowadays.

Bessara  – Split fava or split pea soup. (about 6 bowls)

300 g split fava beans or split peas
3 tbsp olive oil
2 0nions, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp cumin seeds, slightly crushed
1/2 tsp salt or to taste
Juice of 1/2 – 1 lemon
A good swirl of extra virgin olive oil
A good pinch of chilli flakes or smoked hot paprika
A few sprigs of fresh coriander, chopped

It’s a good idea, but not vital, to soak the split beans or peas in plenty cold water for a few hours – you’ll cut the cooking time considerably.

Take a large saucepan and fry off the onion and carrot until soft and beginning to brown and sweeten. Now add the garlic and cumin and fry until you’re enveloped in amazing smells.

Drain the beans and add to the pan, cover with 10 cm of water. Simmer for anything between 30 minutes to an hour until the beans or peas have pretty much collapsed.

Take a stick blender and whizz until smooth. Season with salt and lemon juice.

Serve the soup with a good swirl of extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of chilli or paprika and a sprinkling of fresh of coriander.

Jenny Chandler's fava bean soup

The soup should be velvety , about the thickness of double cream so you may need to add some liquid to loosen the texture.
Bessara can also be left thicker as a dip, rather like hummous or even served as a purée to use as a side dish in a mashed potatoey style.

Spring In Snackistan ~ Spinach, Rhubarb and Pomegranate.

Japonica or Japanese quinceWelcome to Spring and Happy Nowrooz.

Today isn’t just the Spring Equinox it’s Persian New Year too. Iranians the world over will be celebrating, whilst back here the  Japonica up the street, on Jen the Potter‘s wall, is looking spectacular – a sign that winter’s been and gone.  I decided to mark the occasion by cooking a recipe from my very latest acquisition, Sally Butcher’s Snackistan, using some of the huge haul of rhubarb I received from a friend with a glut. Hoorah for gluts.

I have to admit that I hadn’t even heard of Nowrooz until last week when I visited Persepolis, Sally’s amazing shop, which she describes as a little bit of “Persia in Peckham”.  I walked through the door to find her amidst a new delivery from Iran, bowls of lush wheat grass and a washing tub of goldfish. The shop was hotting up for New Year (music and all ), which just happens to be Jamshid, Sally’s Iranian husband’s birthday too. Both the wheatgrass and the fish are meant to represent the new life and prosperity that everyone hopes for in the months ahead.

I sipped fragrant cardamom tea from the samovar, and managed to devour an entire plate of traditional pastries too, before setting off around the shop. The place is packed with all those fabulous Middle Eastern treats such as sumac, dried barberries and plums,  lurid-green nibbed pistachios, Turkish delight and pomegranates. The shopping experience is further enhanced by Mrs Shopkeeper’s labels around the shelves, along with her advice and incredible insight into the  life and food of Persia.

My Peckham pilgrimage was a wonderful one (just a 20 minute bus ride from Victoria on the 436 or 36) and I left with a great stash of goodies to cook with. Better still, when I dive into my copy of Snackistan (or the equally inspiring Veggiestan) I can now picture Sally writing in her chaotic office at the back of the shop and celebrate the idea that at least one person in this world ( and a fabulously creative one at that) has a messier desk than I do.

Spinach with Rhubarb, Chickpeas and Pomegranate
Esfanj va Rivas

“Snack lunch for 1 hungry shopkeeper” – it fed 2 of us at suppertime with some rice.

This recipe is taken from Snackistan- Sally gives you plenty of extra info’ in her inimitable, witty style but you’ll need to buy the book for that (you won’t regret it). Her inspiration for this was a dish that contains chicken too, so do feel free to experiment. I’d love this alongside lamb or in a very non-PC (when it comes to Persian New Year) way with some juicy belly pork.DSC_9501_2

2-3 spring onions
Sunflower oil for frying
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 garlic clove, chopped
A big handful of both mint and parsley, chopped
1 glass of water
1/2 of a 400g can of chickpeas, drained
2-3 sticks of rhubarb
1 tsp sugar
1/2 a bunch (I used 2 large handfuls) spinach, washed and roughly shredded
Juice 1/2 a lemon
1 tbsp Pomegranate molasses
Salt, black pepper (and sugar too, if necessary)
Fresh pomegranate to garnish

Fry the onions in a splash of oil and then, once soft, you can add the turmeric and garlic, followed by the herbs. After 5 minutes, stirring well, add the water and bring up to the boil.
Throw in the chickpeas, rhubarb and sugar and simmer for 5 minutes.
Add the spinach, lemon juice and pomegranate molasses and cook until the spinach has just wilted.
Season well and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.

I do have a bit of a rhubarb fixation as you may well have noticed on my blog. If you are up for some more rhubarb trivia you could go to my post on the Borough Market Blog or consult either/both of these fabulous little books  The Great Book of Rhubarb by Elaine Lemm or Rhubarbaria by Mary Prior.

Rillettes and Hellebores

The hellebores are flowering outside the kitchen window, they seem to arrive in the nick of time every year just before I’ve decided that I really have to emigrate.

I know it’s a bit early to be celebrating but, after the wettest winter since British records began,  the sun shone all day yesterday.  There’s a huge damp patch on the sitting room ceiling but at least the relentless dripping has stopped and with the unbelievable sight of thousands of flooded homes every time I switch on the news, I really can’t complain. Meanwhile, Pete has been “working hard” on a whale watching trip in sunny Baja California, leaving me and Imi to batten down the hatches alone.

I’m always much more productive when Pete’s away, I sometimes even get out the sewing machine of an evening, there’s no one to offer me an Aperol Spritz (my current tipple) and more time to hatch domestic plans. So this month I’ve been on a preserving roll. I started off with marmalade but, since the Seville Oranges have pretty much been and gone, I won’t ramble on about that now (you can look at my Borough Market post in any case). My other endeavour has been to make the perfect rillettes.

When I teach bread classes at The Bertinet Kitchen in Bath there’s always a fabulous spread of cheese, salads and pots of homemade goodies for lunch (along with plenty of bread, of course). I always make a beeline for the jar of rillettes. Okay, consumed on a daily basis this fatty, pork pâté-ish mix would be recipe for a heart attack, but relished from time to time with some cornichons and plenty of salad it’s perfectly healthy and tastes superb.

Making rillettes at home is surprisingly simple, the only draw back when it comes to the traditional French technique (used by Richard Bertinet of course) is the quantity of fat. It’s not that I’ve got a problem from the calorie aspect, it’s just that most of us Brits don’t have large pots of goose or duck fat lurking around the house to cook the pork in. Nigel Slater uses no extra fat at all in his recipe- just slow roasts some really fatty belly meat by itself, I can’t ever seem to get my hands on any sufficiently fatty belly. So here’s my recipe which does use a few tablespoons of duck or goose fat, you’ll find it at plenty of butchers and supermarkets.

The pork must obviously be the best you can find. I would never dream of buying meat from a factory-farmed pig in any case, but here the distinctive flavour of slow-reared, free range pork is key. The beauty of the dish is that pork belly is cheap cut anyway and that the rich rillettes will go a very long way. My pork came from Sheepdrove, the organic butchers in Lower Redland Rd.

The recipe will make about 4 jam jars or 2 good size kilner jars.  So here you go:  It’s really just a question of assembling all your ingredients and then cooking them long and slow until everything simply falls apart.

Rillettes – 2 large jars

1 kg pork belly – bones and skin removed but ALL fat left on
1 heaped tsp of salt
2 bay leaves
8 juniper berries, lightly crushed
12 peppercorns, lightly crushed
2 sprigs of thyme
4 whole, peeled cloves of garlic
250 ml white wine
4-5 tbsp good lard, goose or duck fat (depending on how fatty your pork is)

Cut the pork into chunks (about 2-3 cm ) and then put all the ingredients into large ovenproof dish and cover with a lid. I covered the meat with a layer of greaseproof paper too as my lid was not that good a fit.  Place in the oven for 3 – 3 1/2 hours at 150 c °/ Gas 2 until really tender.

Lift the meat out from the juices and shred it with 2 forks. Squash the garlic cloves and add to the mix too.

Have a taste to check the seasoning  and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

Press the meat down into jars or pots and then, using a sieve, strain over the fatty juices from the pan.

If you are wanting to keep your rillettes for any time (and that’s the general idea, rather like duck confit) then use sterilised jars, press down the meat and juices to expell any air, melt some more goose or duck fat and tip over a thick layer to protect the meat. Keep up to 2 months in the fridge.

Serve at room temperature with sour dough toast or fresh baguette and some cornichons, pickled peppers, radishes  or any other zippy ingredients that take your fancy.

Rillettes for lunchNigel loves his rillettes with a baked potato, I stirred some into hot Puy lentils with plenty of parsley and red onion the other day and I’m also planning on stuffing some Piquillo peppers.

I needn’t have bothered with the sterilised jars, my rillettes aren’t going to be hanging around for long.

Roasted Quince with Bath Blue Cheese & Lentil Salad

Last year I spotted a quince tree, laden with fruit in a Bristol garden as I parked up my car. Quinces are mysterious things; they’re too hard and too sour to consider eating raw. You can’t even whip up a tart or a crumble as you might with an apple because the flesh takes so much longer to soften and mellow. So, many a forgotten quince languishes, unloved on a tree in this country until it rots and drops. I posted a note through the door of the house where I’d eyed them up, offering some cash and even a good slice of membrillo, but never heard a thing.  This year I got a message from some wonderful friends Mike and Viv in Bishopston who offered me a few of theirs. I jumped at the chance, grabbed my basket, slipped on my quince-yellow top (who can miss a photo opportunity?) and set off.

Mike was ridiculously generous and I finished up with at least a dozen quinces. They’ve been sitting in a bowl filling the kitchen with their unforgettable perfume and looking so beautiful that I could barely bring myself to cook them. You can see why they are reputed to be the original golden love apple of Aphrodite.
I’m going to make some membrillo (the solid quince paste that the Spanish love to eat with cheese – particularly Manchego) later in the week, but yesterday I baked a few of the fruit until deep coppery red and as  tender as a canned pear.Quinces perfuming the kitchen

Baked Quinces

100 g butter
4 heaped tbsp of soft brown sugar
4 medium quinces
1 stick of cinnamon.

Now these really couldn’t be simpler. Pre-heat the oven to a medium temperature around about 170º C. Place a heatproof dish in the oven with the butter and sugar just to melt and dissolve a little.
Meanwhile peel and quarter the quinces (unless they are very tiny and you might like to leave them in halves) I used my trusty melon-baller to remove the cores but you could just use a knife.

Take the dish from the oven and roll the fruit around in the sugary butter. Add a stick of cinnamon  and then cover tightly with foil. Put back in the oven for 2-3 hours until the fruit is really tender and a deep brick-red. It’s wise to take a peek at hourly intervals just to check that there’s a bit of moisture in the dish, your packaging may not be as steam-tight as you think. Just add a slosh of water (or wine/Masala) if it’s looking rather sticky and dry – you musn’t let those precious juices burn.

Eat warm or cold.

Baked quince with cinn

And what to do with those baked quinces:

I would always recommend baking a few quinces at a time and then using them in all sorts of different ways. Play around with the flavours adding any, but not all, of the following : vanilla, star anise, wine, port, Creme de cassis, honey or maple syrup.

*Serve warm with clotted cream, Greek honey with yoghurt, vanilla ice cream or rice pudding.
*Add some cooked quince to an apple pie or crumble – about 1/5 quince to 4/5 apple (it’s quite a strong flavour)
*Stir into a simple lamb tagine instead of apricots – I’ll type up my favourite recipe sometime but here’s one to keep you going from Jill Dupleix. Just add roasted rather than poached quinces.
* Serve with a blue cheese and lentil salad as I did at The Great Bath Feast.

Baked Quince, Bath Blue and Lentil Salad (serves 4)

1 x simple lentil salad (below)
1 baked quince ( as above), diced into 1 cm squares
200 g Bath Blue cheese, or any creamy cow’s milk blue
1 handful of walnut halves
2 sticks of celery, finely sliced
100 g watercress

Carefully stir about 2/3rd of your quince, blue cheese, walnuts, celery and watercress into the lentils. Be gentle you don’t want the cheese to collapse and make the entire salad look milky.

Spoon onto individual plates or onto a large serving platter and sprinkle over the remaining ingredients.

The Basic Lentil Salad (from my new book PULSE)

250 g/9 oz Puy, Castellucio lentils, or other tiny green lentils – rinsed
1 bay leaf
1 small red onion
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, crushed
salt and black pepper
4 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
Place the lentils in a pan with the bay leaf and cover with cold water by about 5 cm/ 2 inches . Bring them up to the boil and then simmer for about 20-30 minutes until tender but still intact.

Pour the vinegar over the red  onion and leave to soak. The onion will turn fuschia pink and become softer in both texture and flavour.

Drain the lentils, reserving their cooking liquid, and whilst still warm add the vinegar, olive oil and season well with salt and black pepper. Once cool stir in the chopped parsley and add a little cooking water if the salad seems dry.

And -you can of course use this basic lentil salad as the base of dozens of variations eg beetroot and feta, chicken and avocado, Piquillo pepper and Montenebro goat’s cheese. The best place to look for these ideas is without a doubt (you guessed it) my new book!

If you came to my demo on Sunday in the great Bath Feast Pavilion then you may be wondering about the chickpeas too. You can go to the fabulous Borough Market blog (I teach there too) and just add a bit of Orchard Pig cider to this recipe.

Runner Bean Frittata

You could hardly call our handful of runner beans a glut but I did have to come up with a quick way to use them up before we set off on holiday. It happens every year; all the plants I’ve been tending for months are suddenly laden with fruit just as we’re going away.

These beans have some heritage too. Peter’s father Royston Bassett was one of the most positive, generous spirited men I’ve ever met, he was also the king of beans. Roysty Reg, as we all called him, grew literally hundreds of pounds of both broad and runner beans every year. “When you’ve got beans you’ve got friends” I remember him announcing as he filled his wheelbarrow for the umpteenth time. The journey home from the allotment, with the Kings Head en route (where Roysty did a great trade swapping beans for pints with his mates) was often an eventful one. He managed to misjudge the kerb once, somehow ending up underneath his upturned wheel barrow, finishing up like a giant metal tortoise. He was such a fabulous character, always up for a laugh. His antics go down in family history, perhaps my favourite is the time the Bassett family went out for a celebratory family meal. It was back in the seventies and Roysty was sporting a fashionable blue velvet jacket, purchased for the occasion. The waitress asked “would Sir like a roll?” “don’t mind if I do” said Roysty as he jumped down from the table and rolled on the floor picking up every bit of crumb, hair and carpet fluff on his blazer.

When Roysty died earlier this year, aged 91, he left a huge sack of his prized beans, dried and ready for podding. It was wonderful, as Imi and Pete podded the beans on the doorstep lots of our friends and neighbours stopped for a chat as they passed by, most of them left with a handful of beans. Roysty’s beans have gone to Spain, London and countless gardens around Bristol and I know that this sounds rather sentimental, but Roysty seems to live on through his beans.

So here is the recipe for the quick lunch frittata that we dived into before heading off to very sunny Spain (more about that at a later date) It really helps to have a small, deep, non-stick frying pan. Mine is a rather expensive, but incredibly resilient, 20 cm SKK pan that I bought at Divertimenti. It’s THE perfect Spanish tortilla pan too.

Runner Bean Frittata
A handful of young runner beans, topped and tailed
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
piquillo peppers, sliced ( you could use roasted bell peppers)
a small bunch of chives, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
6 eggs
a dash of milk
salt and black pepper

String the runner beans if necessary (mine were very young and pretty string-free) and then blanch them for a couple of minutes in a pan of boiling water, drain and then run under the cold tap to keep them lusciously green.

Fry the garlic, piquillo pepper strips and beans in the olive oil for a moment or two until you’re enveloped in wonderful smells.

Take a bowl and beat up the eggs with a dash of milk until well mixed. Tip in the fried veg’ and season with plenty of salt and pepper.

Reheat the frying pan with an extra tablespoon of olive oil and pour in the egg mixture. Now cook over a low heat until the sides of the frittata are beginning to come away from the pan. Place a large plate over the pan (the top will still be a bit runny) and turn the omelette over onto the plate. Slip it back into the pan and cook the underside. (if you can’t bear the idea of turning the frittata you can bake it in the oven at about 180 c/350 f for about 15 minutes or until just set, but not rubbery)

Now it’s up to you, if you’re going to eat the frittata warm then it can be delicious to leave the centre quite juicy and loose but if you are planning on eating it cold later then continue to cook until the centre is set. (Just press on the top to see if the centre feels at all wobbly or insert a skewer if you’re really unsure)

Serve up with some green salad.Runner Bean Frittata

 Frittatas are fabulous for all kinds of vegetables – favourites of mine are:  courgette, mint and parmesan or caramelised onion, thyme and goat’s cheese.

And if you really do have a glut of runner beans, you lucky things, then try Diana Henry’s recipe with anchovies , Xanthe Clay has plenty of great ideas for you and do take a look at The Foodie Bugle post by Andrew Green.