A spring supper – May 2016

Asparagus ready to cook

Asparagus ready to cook

This is a great time of year for eating. English asparagus has arrived; outdoor rhubarb is doing its manic thing in the garden, and there is the brief but glorious season when, if you’re lucky, you can get hold of Alphonso mangoes from India. Our neighbour Ray goes to Birmingham wholesale fruit and veg market a couple of times a week so he has been our route this year to mango happiness.

Alphonso mango ready to eat

Alphonso mango ready to eat

We had friends round on Friday and feasted on all of these delicious things.

  • Asparagus with a lime and chive hollandaise with a bit of Spianata toast
  • Confit duck legs cooked on ducky potatoes with rhubarb/duck sauce and peas
  • Meringues with passion fruit cream and alphonso mangoes

I find it very satisfying that you use the egg yolks for the hollandaise and the whites for the meringues. That’s what I call wholefood. For the hollandaise I used both juice and zest of a lime with four egg yolks and 250g butter and then snipped a handful of chives into it at the end. Great flavours and very pretty with the perky green asparagus. Add really fresh asparagus to a large pan of boiling water, bring back to the boil and boil for a further minute or so until the bottom of the stem is just beginning to feel tender when you squeeze it.  Drain at once and toss in a little olive oil salt and pepper.

I’ve been experimenting with various delicious Italian breads at home (more of that in another post) and we had some leftover Spianata (a very wet dough that makes fantastic flatbread) that I toasted and that mopped up the hollandaise beautifully.

Dean had made the confit duck at All Saints and so I got ready-made not only the duck legs themselves but also a large quantity of ducky juices which had formed a delicious jelly at the bottom of the confit container. Some of the juices I mixed with thinly sliced Maris Piper potatoes. These I baked in a deep roasting tray for about an hour at 160C until the potatoes were tender. I then put the confit duck legs on top, skin side uppermost and cooked at 220C for about 25 minutes until the skin was crisp and sizzling.

My starting point for the rhubarb/duck sauce was slow-roasting the rhubarb. I picked about 1kg of fat but young stems and chopped them up small with about 100g sugar and then spread them on a big roasting tray covered by bake-o-glide (parchment would be equally good) and cooked at 180C for about ten minutes and then another 3 hours or so at 140C, stirring very occasionally. This reduces the volume of rhubarb to about 20% of what you started off with. The result is an intense rhubarb pulp with a small amount of toffee-like rhubarb juice. Delicious.  I usually eat this with ginger yoghurt and granola for breakfast, but on this occasion I added a generous dollop to a small pan of duck juices and whizzed it all up. It needs a surprising amount of sugar – you’re looking for a sauce which is on the ‘sweet and sour’ end of the flavour spectrum. But taste as you go and decide how you like it.

And once you’ve got duck, potatoes and gravy of course the only thing to eat with it is frozen peas, possibly the world’s finest convenience food.

For the passion fruit cream try to find ugly bumpy fruits that feel very light – the smooth-skinned ones are generally not ripe. Halve the fruits and scoop out the pulp.  Add 5 fruit to 300ml double cream and about 50g sugar. Whizz briefly with a stick blender until the cream is just beginning to thicken. Spoon the cream over a meringue and then garnish with as much Alphonso mango as you can get your hands on. And don’t forget to suck the mango stones.

100% pure spring pleasure.

The best meal for leftovers of roast chicken…

chelsea buns and chick risotto 029Chicken, leek and lemon risotto

This is the most delicious and comforting dish for leftover roast chicken. In fact I’d never make it unless I had leftover roast chicken. Surprisingly it doesn’t really matter how much meat you’ve left on the bird. It will be a richer dish with more chopped chicken stirred in but it’s equally (although differently) good when it’s closer to being a straightforward leek and lemon risotto.

Like a lot of simple dishes it can be delicious or it can be dull and the difference is in the detail. So the key things are:

  1. Make the stock the day before – ideally overnight. Make it part of your routine to strip the meat off and put the stock on when you’re clearing up your roast dinner. That takes the stress out of making the risotto the next day.
  2. Cook the leeks separately from the risotto. If you cook them in with the risotto you’re almost certain to overcook them.
  3. Use enough liquid . Risotto should end up creamy and unctuous – more like tinned rice pudding that Batchelors savoury rice (to use two rather unsavoury comparisons)
  4. The rice should be firm but cooked. I’m not sure which is worse: hard undercooked rice or disintegrating overcooked slop. I’ve eaten both in supposedly excellent restaurants. The only way to check when it’s ready is to keep tasting.

It’s certainly a better dish made with your own stock, but if you’re short of time you’ll still have a very decent meal by using  a stock cube.

Serves 4

A partially eaten roast chicken.

300g risotto
400g leeks, halved, sliced 1cm, and thoroughly washed and drained
100ml white wine
50g butter
a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme, stripped
100g parmesan (maybe less if you’ve got lots of chicken bits)
½ lemon (zest and juice) – if you like it very lemony, which I do, you can use a whole lemon

  1. Strip the chicken of all the meat. Roughly chop it and set aside.
  2. Break up the chicken carcass and put it an ovenproof lidded pot. Just cover with water. Bring to the boil and then put in to a very low oven (110C) overnight. If you have an Aga or similar the simmering oven is perfect for this. In the morning drain the stock and reserve.
  3. About half an hour before you’re ready to eat start cooking the risotto. Heat the stock to around boiling and keep near the place where you’re going to cook the risotto.
  4. Put the rice in a heavy-bottomed pan on a medium heat and stir it around for a couple of minutes. Then start adding the hot stock, stirring very regularly. As one ladle of stock is absorbed you can add the next one.
  5. Whilst the risotto is beginning to cook in another lidded pan put the leeks, white wine, butter and fresh thyme leaves. Cook on a very low heat with the lid on for five or more minutes until the leeks are barely tender. Add the chopped chicken and continue to warm gently until the chicken pieces are hot.
  6. When the rice is just cooked and the latest ladle of liquid nearly all absorbed add the leeks with their buttery/winey liquid and the juice and zest of the lemon. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary. Stir well and then add half the grated parmesan. Serve at once – risotto doesn’t like to be kept waiting. Offer the rest of the parmesan at the table.

Chicken recipes for feeding lots of people

At both Café @ All Saints and Michaelhouse Café the majority of our food is served from a counter. There’s a surprising amount in common between cooking for relaxed parties and cooking for a café where quite a lot of the food is served from a hot counter (as opposed to being cooked to order). In such situations you want to get most of the work done in advance and you want to be able to serve lots of people quickly at a time which is not known precisely in advance.

We’ve got two really lovely new chicken recipes which fit both these bills. If you’ve got 10, 20 or 40 people coming to lunch or supper and you want to give them something that is not stressful to cook but is extremely delicious to eat and works well for large numbers of people then these two recipes are perfect. But if you can’t be bothered to cook them yourself then come in and eat them at our cafes!

Not surprisingly they both use chicken thighs which I think are the tastiest part of the bird and certainly the bit which stands up to longer cooking and a longer period of post-cooking sitting around. We get all our chicken from the wonderful Tudge family (see previous blog post) but wherever you get yours from it will be much more delicious if the chickens have run around a bit and given those thighs some work to do.

Both recipes will fill your kitchen with wonderful smells as they cook.

Don’t forget that both recipes require the chicken to be marinated overnight.

Mustard and garlic roast chicken with potatoes, onions & thyme

Serves 10

2.5kg chicken thighs, bone in and skin on – this should be about 10 really good-sized thighs. You could also use whole chicken legs from a smaller chicken
200ml crème fraiche
15g salt
75ml (5 tbs) Dijon mustard
5 cloves garlic, crushed

750g large onions; quartered and thinly sliced
2 tbs olive oil
1kg large potatoes, halved and very thinly sliced – no need to peel
4 sprigs thyme, the leaves pulled from the branches

  1. Mix all the marinade ingredients to together and slather over the chicken. Leave in the fridge overnight.
  2. Sweat the onions in the olive oil with some salt and the fresh thyme.
  3. When the onions are very soft add the thinly sliced potatoes and cook for a further couple of minutes. Then divide the onion/potato mix between the number of baking dishes you are going to use.
  4. Arrange the chicken in its marinade on top of the veg, skin side up. The chicken pieces should be snug up against one another but not overlapping.
  5. Put in the oven at 180C for about 1½ hours . The skin should be crackly brown and the meat will cooked. Check that the potato is tender.

 Roast chicken with chorizo, aubergine and peppers

I’ve had lots of versions of this kind of dish, but what I like about my version is that rather making a casserole with bits of chicken in it which disintegrate over time, in this case they chicken (which has marinated overnight in the tomato/chorizo sauce) then roasts on top of the ratatouille type mixture thus giving two bonuses: the chicken skin is roasted and crisp and the vegetable mixture underneath is drenched in the lovely chicken juices. Win/win.

Serve it with some plain basmati rice.

Serves 10

50ml olive oil
500g onions, roughly chopped
125g cooking chorizo, finely diced
2 x 450g tins plum tomatoes – whizzed with blender
10g salt (this might seem a lot, but chicken needs plenty of salt)

2.5kg chicken thighs, bone in and skin on – this should be about 10 really good-sized thighs. You could also use whole chicken legs from a smaller chicken

1kg aubergine, diced
1kg peppers mixture of red and yellow (not green) in fat strips
50ml olive oil for roasting the veg

1 bunch fresh coriander, for garnish

Sweat the onions in a little olive oil and some salt. After a few minutes add the chopped chorizo. Once the onions are soft add the whizzed tomatoes. Then turn down to a low simmer and cook for at least 30 minutes. Check the seasoning (bearing in mind that the chicken will not be separately seasoned) and leave to cool.

Marinate the chicken in the sauce over night.

The next day roast the peppers & aubergines until tender and beginning to colour.

Remove the chicken from the sauce where it has been sitting overnight. Mix the sauce with the roast veg.

Divide the veg/sauce mixture between the bake dishes and put the chicken on top skin-side up. Cook at 200C for one hour + until the chicken flesh is thoroughly cooked and the skin is browned and crisp.

Serve with plain rice, garnished with the freshly chopped coriander.

Very many tomatoes, runner beans and courgettes

Sarah’s Dad continues to produce massive amounts of deliciousness from our veg patch – it’s ours in the sense that he does all the work until but we help enthusiastically with the harvesting and eating. During the last few weeks the flow has become a flood of tomatoes, runner beans and courgettes. The courgettes we’ve kept manageable by relentlessly picking them small which is anyway when they’re tastiest. The runner beans have been gourgeous. Again, we pick them when they’re still fairly narrow and very tender. They’re so sweet that Holly will eat them thinly sliced and raw. But the jewel of the veg patch is undoubtedly the tomatoes in the greenhouse: a majority of Gardeners’ Delight cherry tomatoes with a substantial minority of Marmande-style large ‘Legend’ tomatoes.

 So here’s a few thoughts for anyone labouring under a similar embarrassment of riches.

 Courgette and feta filo pie

Serves 6 to 8

 This was the first dish we ever cooked at my first ever café and I still think it’s delicious – and it uses plenty of courgettes. Grating all the courgettes takes a long time if you don’t have a food processor. Also, if you’ve got the time it’s really good served with patatas bravas (roast potatoes in a spicey tomato sauce). Just in case you don’t have a copy of my first cookbook ‘Food From the Place Below’ here’s the recipe for the courgette and feta pie:

 1.5 kg courgettes, grated
50ml sunflower oil
100g parmesan, freshly grated
175g feta cheese, crumbled
120ml white wine
1 small onion, very finely chopped
4 eggs

Salt and pepper

50g butter
1 pckt filo pastry, defrosted and chilled
50g pine nuts (optional, particularly as they now cost nearly as much as caviar)

To make the filling

  1. Heat the oil in a large pan and then add the grated courgette.  Cook on a fairly high heat until the courgette is soft.  There will be a lot of liquid from the courgettes, so drain well or else cook over a sufficiently fierce heat in a sufficiently wide pan that the liquid evaporates.
  2. Mix the rest of the filling ingredients together, being sure to taste and season before adding the lightly beaten eggs

To assemble the pies

To make a filo pie you need to line the base and sides of a baking dish with layers of filo, fill it with mixture, and then give it a layered filo lid.  How you ‘patchwork’ the sheets to do this depends to a certain extent on the size (and thickness) of pastry sheets – and they vary enormously.  But generally:

Brush the baking dish with a little of the melted butter and then use sufficient sheets of filo pastry to line it one sheet deep.  Brush this with melted butter and add another layer of filo.  Repeat, so that the baking dish is lined, three sheets deep, with filo pastry.

Pour in the courgette and cheese mixture. Next, cover the filling with filo pastry, making a lid four layers deep and brushed with melted butter like the base.

Bake at about 200C / 400F and Gas 6 until they are golden brown – this should take approximately 40 minutes for a pie that serves eight.

Warm courgette and tomato salad

A sublime and simple dish that uses two of the seasonal glut vegetables

Serves 2 to 4 depending on what else you’re having.

Slice 3 or 4 big ripe tomatoes and turn very gently in olive oil, salt and pepper and then tear a few fresh basil leaves on top. Slice 2-3 medium sized courgettes (or one that has got away from you and is half way to being a marrow) and fry in a little olive on a high heat until they are browned on both sides but still somewhat firm. Put these on top of the dressed tomatoes. Eat straight away.

Pasta with runner beans, cherry tomatoes, feta and garlic

I’m sure we’re not an unusual family in eating pasta at least a couple of times a week so it’s essential to have delicious ways of using seasonal produce in pasta dishes which our medium-sized children (9 and 13) will also like. We’ve found runner beans to be popular with our kids (despite them being both vegetables and green), particularly when dosed with olive oil, butter, garlic and cheese. But then almost anything (except a Jaffa cake) is good when dosed with that combination of Mediterranean flavour.

Runner bean preparation

I used to sneer when fancy Japanese chefs said that vegetables tasted different depending on how they were cut but I’m now convinced they’re right and for perfectly straightforward reasons. Runner beans are a good example. With modern varieties, so long as they are picked young enough they don’t need stringing. In my view it’s essential to cut them very thinly (about 2 to 3mm to be precise!) on the bias. With a large, sharp, cook’s knife this can be done quite quickly. (I had a competition with my cousin-in-law Matthew the other day and I won: so a large sharp knife wins over one of those fancy runner bean slicing gizmos!) If they are cut any thicker then the inside of the bean won’t be warm by the time the outside is already overcooked. If cut properly thinly and then put in to a large pan of boiling water (even if the water is shared with pasta as in this recipe) they need no more than 2 minutes cooking. By the time the water has come back to the boil they’ll be ready to drain. If serving as a vegetable on their own (which we’re having at least every other day at the moment) just toss them in a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Perfect. And in my view they’re just as good lukewarm as they are piping hot. And lovely at room temperature too.

As in the salad recipe above the tomatoes in this recipe are not cooked, but just warmed by the freshly cooked pasta and runner beans.

Quantities in a dish such as this are entirely approximate and can be adjusted to suit your supplies.

Feeds 4

400g pasta e.g. penne
300g runner beans, thinly sliced on the bias (see above)
200g big ripe tomatoes, roughly diced
½ clove of garlic, crushed
100g decent quality feta, crumbled
About 12 basil leaves, roughly torn
Salt and pepper

50g grated parmesan
25g butter, roughly diced

1.Put a very large pan of salted water on to boil. When it’s boiling add the pasta. When it’s 2 minutes away from being ready (look on the packet for instructions which are generally quite accurate) then add the thinly sliced runner beans. As soon as the pasta is ready drain the whole lot. You don’t however need to drain it very thoroughly. Just a little cooking water left in will mix happily with the rest of the ingredients.

2. Meanwhile in a large wok or similar pan which is good for mixing put all the rest of the ingredients except the parmesan and butter. Stir everything together – off the heat.

3. Add the drained pasta and beans to the tomato mix. Put the wok back on the heat and continue stirring, once it’s nearly hot add the butter and parmesan and stir a bit more. Check the seasoning and then it’s ready to serve.

Offer more parmesan at the table.

Roast chicken with puy lentils and roast tomatoes

Since this blog post has now gone far too long I’m just going to describe very briefly what we had the other night. I boiled about 100g of puy lentils and drained them. I then halved about 100g of our delicious Gardeners’ Delight cherry tomatoes. I tossed the cooked lentils with the halved tomatoes and about 6 fat cloves of garlic which I halved (but left the skin on) and half a dozen sprigs of thyme.

On top of this lot I put a large free range chicken and sprinkled some salt on it’s skin. I then roast the chicken for about an hour and a quarter (half an hour in a hot oven and then a bit slower for the rest).

So we ended up with a roast chicken sitting on a delicious bed of chicken-flavoured tomatoey puy lentils. Since we were hungry we also had some roast potatoes and (of course) some runner beans tossed in a little olive oil as described above. It was all delicious and a perfect half way house between summer and winter eating.

Chicken legs roast with lemon, garlic and Charlotte potatoes


I’ve not quite got a one-track mind but I certainly don’t have very many tracks and I’m currently thinking a lot about roast chicken legs. I first started roasting chicken thighs and drumsticks regularly after trying some garlic and mustard chicken from Frances Leech’s lovely blog www.tangerinedrawings.com . We made this every other day in London in my last few months at the cafe there and we’ve got a version of it on the menu at All Saints tomorrow in a different guise (chilli and cumin roast chicken).

And then last week I stayed with my friend Celie who manages to combine bringing up a vast family with effortlessly serving seriously delicious grub to the many people assembled at her table. After a proper green salad – always a good measure of the care someone takes over their food – and before the blackcurrant leaf sorbet with home-made biscuits,  Celie served up some mouthwatering lemon-roast chicken thighs which she more or less told me were too simple to bother explaining the recipe. In my experience lemon-roast chicken is usually not nearly lemony enough but the juices, the potatoes and the chicken in this dish were all unctuously lemony. The great thing about roasting bits of chicken rather than a whole chicken is that the bits of chicken are sitting in the sauce/marinade as they roast so the flavour penetration is far greater.

Anyway, last night I had a go at reproducing it at home with the last minute addition of some frozen peas, and very good it was too, devoured enthusiastically by all – and with photoes taken by Jonathan.

serves 4

4 no. chicken legs divided into thighs and drumsticks
700g Charlotte potatoes (this gives about 3 each), cut in half lenghthways
1.5 lemons, juiced then cut into quarters
4 garlic cloves not peeled but cut in half
1 tsp salt
4 sprigs of thyme
2 tbs olive oil

200g frozen peas

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C

2. Mix all the ingredients, except the frozen peas, together and arrange in a large, shallow baking dish with the chicken skin-side up. Everything should be in a single layer or the potatoes can take a very long time to cook. Put in the oven for about an hour until the potatoes are tender and the chicken is browned. (A fan oven is not ideal for this dish and if you have to use one you may need to add water part way through the cooking)

3. Add the frozen peas and toss them with the juices and potatoes and return to the oven to warm through.

4. Serve and eat making sure that everyone gets their fair share of the delicious juices.