Inzimino di Ceci – Chickpeas with Swiss Chard

When Rose Grey was serving this dish up at the River Café over 25 years ago, most people in England didn’t even know what Chard was. Now a days we are so much more educated and I grow so much of the stuff on my allotment I barely know what to do with it. This simple dish of chard and chickpeas is a great way of using it up.

Inzimino di Ceci – Chickpeas with Swiss Chard

Adapted from The River Cafe

Serves 6-8

175 g (6 oz) dried chickpeas, soaked overnight (or use 2 tins)

1 large garlic clove, peeled

1 tin good quality plum tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, peeled and very thinly sliced

6 tablespoons olive oil

900 g (2 lb) Swiss chard leaves, washed and large stems removed

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 red onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 carrots, peeled and cut into small pieces

2 dried chillies, crumbled

250 ml (8 fl oz) white wine

3 handfuls flat leaf parsley

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Extra virgin olive oil

Drain the chickpeas and place in a saucepan with water to cover, add the garlic, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 45 minutes or until tender. Keep in their liquid until ready to use. Fry the thinly sliced garlic in some good olive oil until light golden brown. Add the tinned tomatoes with some water to rinse out the tin and season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon and gently reduce. Blanch the chard, cool, squeeze out excess water and chop coarsely.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a large pan over medium heat, add the onion and carrot, cook slowly for 15 minutes or until the carrots are tender. Season with salt, pepper and chilli. Pour in the wine and reduce almost completely. Add the tomato sauce and reduce until very thick. Add the chard and chickpeas and mix. Season and cook for 10 minutes. Chop two thirds of the parsley leaves, and add to the mixture with the lemon juice. Serve sprinkled with the whole parsley leaves and a little extra virgin olive oil.

Asparagus with Hollandaise

I made hollandaise the other day for my Eggs PSB and I had forgotten how totally sumptuous it is. I know it is terribly fattening but there is no better way to enjoy your asparagus at the start of the season and do it full justice.  Do not be afraid of hollandaise. It is no more than a hot mayonnaise and can be made in the time it takes to cook asparagus.

Asparagus with Hollandaise

1 large bunch asparagus

For the Hollandaise sauce

1 small onion or shallot, very finely chopped

50mls white wine vinegar plus a splash for poaching the eggs

125g good quality butter, cut into cubes

2 free-range egg yolks

Sea salt

Squeeze of lemon

Put a large saucepan of salted water on to boil, big enough to fit in the asparagus. Snap the stems of the asparagus to remove any woody ends.  The asparagus with naturally snap were it becomes tender. Find a bowl big enough to fit over the saucepan.

To make the hollandaise: In one small pan melt the butter and put to one side. In another small pan, heat the onions, vinegar and a little water. Boil until the liquid has reduced to around a tablespoon (keep an eye on it, as the liquid will suddenly reduce very quickly). Take off the heat immediately and strain through a fine sieve. Put the reserved liquid in your bowl (you should have just over a tablespoon) and discard the onion. Add the egg yolks to the bowl. Add your asparagus to the simmering water. Place the bowl over the top and whisk the yolks vigorously until pale in colour and voluminous (this will take a minute or two but work quickly to avoid over-cooking and scrambling the eggs). Your yolks should be thick and foamy. Remove from the heat immediately. Still whisking constantly, start adding the butter, drip by drip initially. Don’t add the butter too quickly, or the mixture will split. Keep adding and whisking, so the mixture emulsifies and looks glossy; this will take about 3 minutes. Season with salt and a squeeze of lemon. Keep warm and remove your asparagus from the water. Drain well and serve with the hollandaise.

Fennel, Potato and Parmesan Gratin

Anyone who knows my cooking will know that I make quite a lot of gratins. I love the idea for adding a hidden layer for vegetables, be it leeks and mushrooms, chard, kale, cavalo nero or some other leafy greens or cabbage and bacon. I like to use a variety of different root vegetables too and I have experimented with mushroom and leek, beetroot, parsnip, sweet potato, jerusalem artichoke and kohl rabi to name but a few. But this Potato and Fennel Gratin was a new idea and although it sounds plain, it is one of those dishes which somehow manages to taste more than the sum of its parts. It is somehow deeply satisfying and I implore you to give it a go.

Fennel, Potato and Parmesan Gratin

750g potatoes, peeled

500g trimmed fennel

750mls double cream

250mls milk

3 garlic cloves

Small bunch of thyme

Pinch chilli flakes

50g freshly grated parmesan

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the cream, milk, garlic cloves, a pinch of chilli flakes and the bunch of thyme in a heavy bottomed saucepan and infuse over a low heat for as long as you have got. Check that it does not boil over, or catch as it reduces. Preheat the oven to 170C. Meanwhile thinly slice the potatoes and the fennel. A mandolin or a food processor is good for this. In a large gratin dish, put a layer of half of the potato, top with the fennel and then finish with the rest of the potato slices. Season the cream well with salt and pepper. Remember it has to season all the potatoes and fennel as well so it should be quite salty. Pour the cream mixture through a sieve over the potatoes. Scrape the sieve to make sure that you squeeze though all the garlic and the juices from the thyme. Press down the potato so that the cream mixture comes up to the top of the top layer of potato. If not, top up with a little milk. Scatter over the parmesan. Cover with tin foil and cook slowly in the oven for about 1 – 1 ½  hours until a blunt knife inserts easily all the way through. Remove the tin foil and allow the parmesan to brown to your liking. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.


Onion Bhaajis

As I was making my Cauliflower Pakora this week, it got me thinking about Onion Bhaajis. A great recipe when you have a glut of onions. It makes a really nice quick and easy supper with some chutneys or raita and the kids love them.

Onion Bhaajis

3 onions, peeled and thinly sliced

Sunflower oil, for frying

For the batter

150g gram flour (chickpea flour)

½ teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

A good shake of cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

For the batter, put the gram flour, baking powder, ground spices and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine and get rid of any lumps. Slowly whisk in 175ml cold water, which should give you a smooth batter with a similar consistency to double cream. Add a little more water if necessary – different brands of gram flour will vary in how much they absorb.

Break up the onion slices into rings. Dip the onion in the batter, making sure they are all thoroughly coated, and scrunch them up slightly, into balls,

Heat about a 3cm depth of oil in a heavy-based pan over a medium-high heat. When the oil is hot enough to turn a cube of white bread light golden brown in 30–40 seconds, start cooking the bhaajis, a few at a time so you don’t crowd the pan. Cook for about 2 minutes, until crisp and golden brown on the base, then turn over and cook for another minute or two.

Drain on kitchen paper, then serve piping hot with the raita for dipping.

Rhubarb, Rosewater and Pistachio Pavlova

I was sure I had come up with the perfect Easter dessert last week with my Rhubarb, Almond and Vanilla Trifle – that is until I thought up this Rhubarb, Rosewater and Pistachio Pavlova. Be careful when you use rosewater, it can vary massively in potency. I was used to a rather wishy washy version and was a little too liberal with the almost essence strength of the Nielsen-Massey brand I was sampling. The result was rather like eating a bar of soap. Don’t get me wrong, I highly recommend the brand, but just use it sparingly.

Rhubarb, Rosewater and Pistachio Pavlova

800g rhubarb stems, cut into small batons

200g golden caster sugar

2 vanilla pods, split in half lengthways or vanilla bean paste

350mls double cream

1 tsp rosewater (try Nielsen-Massey)

2 tbsp. sugar

For the meringue

4 large free-range egg whites, at room temperature

250g golden caster sugar

1 tsp cornflour

1 tsp white wine vinegar

100g pistachios, roughly chopped

Heat oven to 140C/120C fan/gas. Using a pencil, mark out the circumference of a dinner plate on baking parchment. Whisk the egg whites with a hand mixer until they form stiff peaks, then whisk in the sugar, 1 tbsp. at a time, until the meringue looks glossy. Whisk in the vinegar, cornflour and vanilla.

Spread the meringue inside the circle, creating a crater by making the sides a little higher than the middle. Bake for 1 hr, then turn off the heat and let the Pavlova cool completely inside the oven.

Place the rhubarb batons in a large pan along with the sugar, vanilla and about 200ml water. Bring to a gentle simmer, then cook very gently until just soft. Discard the vanilla. Remove the rhubarb from the pan, reserving the cooking liquid.  Reduce the rhubarb cooking liquid until thick and syrupy. Leave rhubarb and syrup to cool (can be made up to 2 days ahead and chilled until needed). To serve, whip the cream until it just forms peaks. Carefully ripple the rhubarb purée through the cream. Plate each meringue and spoon on some of the rhubarb rippled cream. Top with the remaining batons and spoon some of the rhubarb syrup on top and around the plate.



Rhubarb, Almond and Vanilla Trifle

I love rhubarb. I was trying to think of the perfect Easter desert and Rhubarb trifle sprang to mind, and then I just could not stop thinking about it. Layers of stewed rhubarb, vanilla custard, rhubarb jelly, sponge, cream and of course sherry. I chose a light almond sponge and soaked it with Pedro Ximénez sherry, which if you haven’t tried before, it is time you did. It gives trifle a sophisticated edge and quashes any old-fashioned associations of sherry being just a drink for grannies.

Rhubarb, Almond and Vanilla Trifle

Almond Cake

110g ground almonds

140g caster sugar

4 eggs

Stewed Rhubarb and Jelly

800g Trimmed rhubarb (top and tailed)

200g Unrefined golden granulated sugar

Vanilla bean paste

Gelatin leaves

Vanilla Custard

570ml/1 pint milk

55ml/2fl oz single cream

1 vanilla pod or ½ tsp vanilla bean paste

4 eggs, yolks only

30g/1oz caster sugar

2 level tsp cornflour

Pedro Ximénez

Toasted flaked almonds, dusted with icing sugar

½ litre double cream

2 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

First make the sponge. Beat eggs and sugar until light and frothy. Add almonds and beat for 10 minutes. Pour mixture into a greased and lined 7-8 inch low square baking tin.

Bake in oven for 30-45 minutes at 170c. Cut into cubes when cold.

Next, stew the rhubarb. Cut the rhubarb into 1 cm chunks. Put into a large heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the sugar and 200mls of water. Stir well. Cover and cook on a medium heat. The lid will help the rhubarb cook down. Once the rhubarb has released enough liquid to cover itself, remove the lid, reduce the heat and gently poach until all the rhubarb is cooked through. It is nice if there is still some texture though and not a puree. Check the sugar. Add vanilla and strain the cooked rhubarb through a fine sieve collecting the juice in a measuring jug.

Soak the number of gelatin leaves required for the amount of rhubarb liquid you have in the jug. Soak them in cold water until softened (check the packet instructions for the correct amount of gelatin to use for the volume of rhubarb juice.) Place the rhubarb juice into a clean pan over a low heat and warm through gently. Gently squeeze the excess moisture from the gelatin leaves and add them to the pan, whisking until dissolved.

Bring the milk, cream and vanilla pod to simmering point slowly over a low heat. Remove the vanilla pod (wash the vanilla pod, dry and store in jar with caster sugar to make vanilla sugar). Whisk the yolks, sugar and cornflour together in a bowl until well blended. Pour the hot milk and cream on to the eggs and sugar, whisking all the time with a balloon whisk. Return to the pan, (add vanilla bean paste or extract if using) and over a low heat gently stir with a wooden spatula until thickened. You can just bring it to the boil and it will not split because of the cornflour, but whisk well all the time.

Whisk the cream with the vanilla and sugar until soft peaks. Add half the diced sponge to the bottom of your serving bowl. A glass bowl is nice as it shows the layers. Drizzle the sponge with a generous dose of sherry and then top with stewed rhubarb. pour over half of the jelly and put in the fridge to set. When set, add half the custard and once again put in the fridge to set. Repeat the layers and then top with the whipped cream. Finally, finish with the toasted almonds.


Spinach Wilted With Raisins, Pinenuts and Balsamic

The spinach looks so pretty at this time of year with its pink tinged stems and lush green leaves, I thought that I would cook a dish just in honour of it.  And I was particularly pleased with this Sicilian influenced dish with chilli, pinenuts and balsamic, lending the spinach a delicious sweet and sour flavour. Works well with others greens, such as chard too. You can use either true spinach or baby spinach but if using baby spinach you also have the option of turning it into a salad and leaving it raw.

Spinach Wilted With Raisins, Pinenuts and Balsamic

1 red onion

2 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced

extra virgin olive oil

350g spinach

50g pinenuts, toasted

50g raisins

1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

Pinch chilli flakes

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peel and finely slice the onion. Sweat it gently in a little olive oil and some salt for about 10 to 15 minutes until beginning to caramelise. Meanwhile, strip the spinach from the stems, wash it and left to drain in a colander for as long as possible.  Soak the raisins in a little boiling water. Add the garlic to the onions and fry for a minute or two more. Add the spinach with another pinch of salt and wilt until cooked. Add the balsamic and reduce until dry. Check seasoning and add the drained raisins, pinenuts and chilli flakes. Serve hot or warm.

Grilled Squid with Fennel and Saffron Risotto

I’ve been thinking about making Fennel Risotto for quite a while now, but I felt it needed something just a little bit more to make it special. I thought of mixing in some crab, which would have been delicious but when I saw some nice fat tubes of squid for sale in the fishmongers, I knew that would be the perfect combination. Usually I do squid with Risotto Nero, blackened with the ink from the squid, but I think this makes a nice, more summery variation.

Grilled Squid with Fennel and Saffron Risotto

Serves 2

4 fat tubes of squid

100g butter

2 bulbs of fennel

200g risotto rice

200mls white wine

1 litre hot stock (can use good quality stock cubes such as kello)

1 tsp ground fennel seeds

Pinch saffron

Pinch chilli flakes

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Remove any tough outside leaves or stalks from the fennel. Save any fronds for a garnish. Cut the fennel in half and slice thinly. Melt ¾  the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the fennel and a good pinch of salt and gently fry without colour until softened for about 10 minutes.  Add the rice and cook for a minute more and then add the wine. Keep stirring. It is banging the grains of rice together which releases the starch which makes your risotto creamy. Add the fennel to the hot stock and gradually start to add the stock a ladleful at a time. When the liquid has just about been absorbed, add another ladleful of stock. Keep cooking like this for 20-25 mins until the rice is chewy but not chalky. Add the fennel seeds and chilli, plenty of freshly ground black pepper and check for seasoning. Add the rest of the butter but do not stir, and leave to sit covered for a minute or two. Heat a griddle or BBQ until smoking hot. Cut through one side of the squid and open out flat. Season and brush with olive oil. Grill first on one side and then the other. The squid should curl up when cooked. Give the risotto a final stir and serve with the squid and any chopped fennel fronds you may have.

Chard and Anchovy Gratin

When I worked at the River Café, many moons ago, we had a small library of cook books which we were allowed to peruse at our leisure. This was well before the days when The River Café had cookbooks of their own. All I can remember is several books by the fabulous Marcella Hazan and very surprisingly, a book by Leslie Forbes called A Table in Provence. Why this was so shocking is that any cuisine that was not Italian was most scorned by Rose and Ruthie, who considered Italian food to be to only way. However we regularly used to make a dish from it called Chard and Rosemary Gratin, which we would serve along side some butterflied, marinated char-grilled leg of lamb. It was an absolute favourite of my friend and fellow chef, Jane Baxter who later when on to become the first head chef of the field kitchen at Riverford. So it is not surprising that if features in the first Riverford cookbook, written by Jane and Guy Watson. Chard will vary through out the season. Sometimes it appears to be all leaf and other times, all stalk. This is a great recipe for the latter as it uses all the chard and with that particular type of swiss chard appearing in the boxes this week, this is a great time to give this recipe a try.

Swiss Chard and Anchovy Gratin. 2

Chard and Anchovy Gratin

2 bunches Swiss chard, about 500-600g

a large knob of butter (about 50g)

1 onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, crushed

6 anchovies

1 tbsp plain flour

1 tbsp Parmesan, grated (I like to use a little more and even sprinkle some on)

salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 160°C/Gas 3.

Separate the chard leaves from the stalks and blanch them in a large pan of boiling salted water for 1 minute. Drain well, refresh under cold running water, then squeeze out excess water. Set aside. Cut the chard stalks across into 5mm strips. Bring the water back to the boil, add the chard stalks and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Drain the stalks and set aside, saving the water for later. Heat the butter in a pan, add the onion and cook gently for 15 minutes, until soft. Add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes. Remove from the heat and add the anchovies, stirring until they dissolve. Return to the heat and stir in the flour to make a roux. Cook very gently for 5 minutes. Slowly stir in the reserved chard stock until you have a thick sauce. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Stir the chard stalks and leaves into the sauce, together with the grated Parmesan and some black pepper. Transfer the mixture to a gratin dish and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, until golden.


Imam Bayildi

Aubergines are known as “poor man’s meat”, but as in the words of Yotam Ottolenghi, “I prefer to think of them as vegetarian’s rich treat”. It is great to give them center stage, as in this renowned Ottoman recipe – Imam Bayildi, literally meaning “the Imam fainted.”

The story goes that the Imam fainted when his wife told him she’d used up all the olive oil in making this dish. Aubergine is a like sponge; it loves to soak it up. You can omit the frying and just bake the aubergine in the oven instead, but will not be as authentic or as tasty.

Imam Bayildi

Imam Bayildi

2 medium onions, chopped

A lot of olive oil

2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

1 small fresh red chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped

4 large tomatoes, blanched, peeled and chopped

1 tsp. dried oregano

2 tsp. ground cumin

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 medium eggplants

Small bunch coriander

Saute the onions in a little oil.  Add the garlic, chilli, cumin, salt, and pepper and fry for a minute more. Add the fresh tomato and oregano and cook until it comes together as a very thick stew (no liquid). Stir in the freshly chopped coriander. Check seasoning.

Cut the aubergines in half lengthwise. Cut into the flesh in a criss-cross fashion as in the photo. Season well with salt, especially into the cracks. Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the aubergines, cut side down, and fry gently, until dark golden-brown on cut side. Turn over and fry on skin side a couple more minutes. Remove from oil (most of it will have been absorbed) and place on paper towels to drain for at least 15 minutes. Hold the slits apart and spoon the vegetable mixture on to the aubergines. Arrange eggplants in a baking dish just large enough to hold them. Bake for 40 minutes, or until tender.

Fried Aubergines