Egg Florentine ( with Chard)

I often google recipes when I am looking for inspiration or information, usually just a starting point which I can develop on. Although there are a hell of a lot of bad recipes out there, I can usually rely on BBC food or Jamie Oliver or All Recipes UK to come up with a reasonable example of what I am looking for.  However, I was really shocked that nothing even half decent comes up when you google Hollandaise. All sorts of shocking suggestions – un-reduced vinegar, all sorts of weird flavourings, tarragon in a Gordon Ramsey recipe – that’s Béarnaise mate! and even mustard in a Jamie Oliver recipe – got his hollandaise mixed up with his mayonnaise. Scary!

This recipe is not entirely authentic however, apart from the hollandaise, as it replaces the spinach “Florentine” with chard. I am not sure why the food of Florence should necessarily be associated with spinach but apparently it has something to do with Catherine di Medici. Anyway, I was rather pleased with my variation, it makes a great brunch and if you are feeling particularly adventurous you could add an anchovy or two to the chard when it is braising.

Egg Florentine (With Chard) 3

Egg Florentine ( with Chard)

Serves 2

For the hollandaise sauce

½ an onion, 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

For the eggs Florentine

2 English muffins, split in half horizontally

2 large handfuls chard

4 very fresh free-range eggs

Put two saucepans with water on to boil.  Remove the chard stalks from the leaves and add the leaves to one pan of boiling salted water and cook for 2 minutes or so. Remove with a slotted spoon and spread out on a dry tea towel to cool. Turn the heat of the saucepan right down low. When the chard is cool use the tea towel to squeeze out as much water as possible. Cut the garlic into very thin slithers. Heat a little more olive oil in another saucepan and fry the garlic until just turning light golden brown. Add the Chard and season with salt and mix well. Fry briefly and remove from the heat.

For the Hollandaise sauce, melt the butter slowly over a gentle heat or in a microwave. Once melted, remove from the heat and set aside. Meanwhile, very finely chop half an onion, add the vinegar and simmer until almost dry. You want one teaspoon of liquid to remain only. Sieve the onions and add the teaspoon on reduced vinegar to the egg yolks into a bowl. Place this over the gently simmering water from the chard and beat until just cooked. Gradually add the butter, very slowly. Add the clarified butter on the top first and only add the whey at the end if you need to thin the sauce. Add salt to taste and a little lemon juice. Turn the light off under the chard water and leave the bowl on top to keep warm.

Split the muffins and toast. Add a dash of white wine vinegar to the other pan and at a gentle rolling boil, carefully crack in your eggs. Cook until your liking and remove with a slotted spoon onto some kitchen paper.

Arrange the muffins halves on a plate, top with plenty of chard, then place a poached egg on top of each and pour the Hollandaise sauce over the top. Serve straight away.

Eggs Florentine (with Chard) 4


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

Summer Minestrone (Minestrone Estivo)

First broad beans of the year turned up in my box this week. It is always so exciting to get the first of the seasons, like meeting a long lost friend. I realized these were the first broad beans of the year, which I was shelling when I discovered that I could no longer shell in my usual way. (I am a confirmed and devout double podder.) My finger, which I trapped in a door back in last November, had subsequently lost its nail and although it has almost nearly regrown, it was still not quite long enough for broad bean shelling. As a result, I have had to adapt and learn to do it left handed.

There is no better homage to new season’s vegetables than The River Cafe’s Summer Minestrone from their fantastic first book. It is not strictly a Minestrone at all as it contains no dried beans, pasta or bacon and I was full of apprehension when I came to make it again, as the recipe seemed so simple and I had not tasted since I was working there, about 20 years ago.  I remembered it being the most stunning soup and I was anxious that it was not going to live up to its memory. I felt it wasn’t quite “room temperature soup” weather yet so I served mine warmish. I needn’t had worried – it was absolutely delicious. I even managed to find it still on The River Cafe’s Summer Menu on their website, and at £12.50 a bowl, it damn well should be!

You can make your own pesto or buy a good quality one. Riverford stock an organic one, but I have included a recipe, just in case you happen to find yourself overwhelmed by a glut of basil.

Summer Minestrone (Minestrone Estivo)

Summer Minestrone (Minestrone Estivo)

The River Cafe Cook Book

This Recipe Serves 10

I halved the recipe and had enough for 6. Also, as I was making it for a Vegetarian, I just used water instead of chicken stock and it was just as delicious. As I said, I like double podding my broad beans, so I blanched them first and shelled them again, before adding right at the end to keep their super spring green colour.

2 garlic cloves peeled and chopped
1 small head celery, chopped
3 small red onions, peeled and chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
900g thin asparagus trimmed and cut into 1cm pieces using only tips and tender parts
450g young green beans ,trimmed and chopped
450g peas, shelled
900g broad beans, shelled
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1L chicken stock
1/2 bunch basil finely chopped (or marjoram or mint)
300ml double cream
150g Parmesan freshly grated
120ml pesto

In a heavy sauce pan fry the garlic celery and onion gently in the olive oil until soft about 10 minutes.

Divide all other vegetables between two bowls. Add half to the onion mixture and cook stirring to coat with oil for a further 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover with chicken stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the remaining vegetables and cook for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the herbs, cream, Parmesan and pesto. Stir to cool at room temperature,  then serve.

Herb Box


½ a clove of garlic, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 good handfuls of fresh basil, leaves picked and chopped
A handful of pine nuts, very lightly toasted
A good handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
A small squeeze of lemon juice

Pound the garlic with a little pinch of salt and the basil leaves in a pestle and mortar, or pulse in a food processor. Add a bit more garlic if you like, but I usually stick to ½ a clove. Add the pine nuts to the mixture and pound again. Turn out into a bowl and add half the Parmesan. Stir gently and add olive oil – you need just enough to bind the sauce and get it to an good consistency.

Season to taste, then add most of the remaining cheese. Pour in some more oil and taste again. Keep adding a bit more cheese or oil until you are happy with the taste and consistency. You may like to add a squeeze of lemon juice at the end but it’s not essential. Try it with and without and see which you prefer.

Broad beand shelled

Asparagus Spears with Soft Boiled Egg

It is always so exciting when asparagus turns up in your box again, albeit from Spain. Not quite British season yet, although I am scouring my asparagus beds on my allotment daily for any signs of life. When I worked in restaurants we used to make an amazing, though somewhat complex dish, of ravioli with an egg yolk inside. When cooked for exactly the correct time, the pasta was al dente and the egg yolk just runny inside. We served this with some new seasons asparagus spears alongside and it made a delicious brunch or light lunch. Here is a somewhat easier variation to try at home. Soft boiled eggs with asparagus instead of soldiers, to dip in.  No recipe is needed.


Wheatberry and Purple Sprouting Broccoli Salad with Crispy Fried Onions, Chilli and Garlic

So on to the second of my salads this week starring Crispy Fried Onions.  This is an absolute favourite and was a recipe which I came up with a while back for a Riverford SuperClub. You can use any number of grains instead of wheatberries but they are my favourite along with farro which I think is also known as spelt. This is when the wheat grain retains its bran and germ, which results in it being much higher in fiber and nutrients such as B3, magnesium and zinc. If you however find it a bit hard core, then you can try a pearled version or more commonly available – barley. Either way, this is a really delicious salad and well worth a try.

Wheatberry and Purple Sprouting Broccoli Salad with Crispy Fried Onions, Chilli and Garlic 1

Wheatberry and Purple Sprouting Broccoli Salad with Crispy Fried Onions, Chilli and Garlic

Serves 2

100g Wheatberries (try Merchant Gourmet) or you can use Freekeh, Farro, Bulgar or Barley

100g Purple Sprouting Broccoli

1 Fresh Red Chilli, very finely sliced

2 cloves Garlic, very finely sliced

Crispy Fried Onions and Onion Oil (see above)

Trim and cook your broccoli in plenty of salted boiling water. Remove and scatter the broccoli onto a tea towel to cool and drain. Add the wheatberries to the same water and cook for 25 minutes or so until chewy and delicious. Drain in a colander. Wipe out the saucepan and heat a little onion oil in it. Add the chilli and garlic and cook until the garlic has turned a beautiful golden brown. Immediately pour into another bowl to stop it cooking further. Use some of the oil to dress the drained wheatberries with a good pinch of salt. Add the broccoli and a handful of crispy fried onions. Pile on to a plate and top with some more crispy onions and scatter with the garlic and chilli.

Crispy Onions

Crispy Fried Onions

Thinly slice a few large onions. Cut off the top end of the onion and peel the rest of it. Slice as thin as possible. A Mandolin is really good for this or you can use a food processor. Place a saucepan on a high heat and add about an inch of vegetable oil. You don’t want to use too much oil as the more intense the flavour the better. Heat the oil to 180⁰C using a thermometer. Add the onions slowly and carefully and deep fry until light golden brown. Be careful not to burn, stirring regularly, especially in the corners where the onions will cook most quickly. Remove with a slotted spoon, straight into a colander lined with kitchen paper over a bowl. Break up any clumps and leave to crisp up. Season lightly with salt. When cool pour the oil into a bottle for further use.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Spring Risotto in Summer!

Having dealt with the Kohl Rabi, next I turned my attention to the peas and broad beans and “Risotto” immediately sprang to mind. This is a popular choice in my house as it is one of the few dishes that the whole family can agree upon as liking unanimously without an argument – which is always a relief.

It was only when I started to grow my own vegetables that it occurred to me that what I thought as Spring vegetables where not actually ready until early Summer. Although asparagus and broad beans are the  first, closely followed by peas, without poly-tunnels and greenhouses you would be lucky to have any to hand by the end of April! Risotto however is of course an Italian dish and clearly Spring in Italy is somewhat warmer and more reliable than our own!

There are so many varieties you can make but here are a few key points to making it always delicious.

• You do not have to stir constantly for 20 minutes but remember that in stirring you are banging the grains of rice together which is what releases the starch and makes your risotto creamy.
• Always use a good quality rice – Arborio or Carnaroli
• Fry the bacon until really crispy – no one wants gristly bits of bacon in their Risotto
• Use good quality stock – homemade is best but it is fine to use bought stock (Riverford make their own) or good stock cubes like Kallo Organic.
• Always use butter, not olive oil. Risotto traditionally comes from the North of Italy where butter is readily available. (There are exceptions such as Artichoke risotto which is a Southern Italian dish and uses olive oil instead.)
• Everyone is always worried about overcooking risotto and making it mushy but an undercooked, chalky risotto is even worse!
• Add enough stock – it should be creamy, not stodgy.
• Season during cooking so that the rice absorbs the salt and it does not just coat the outside.
• Always add hot stock during cooking.

Pea, Broad Bean and Bacon Risotto

Pea, Broad Bean and Bacon Risotto
This is based on a Risotto Primavera, which means Spring Risotto and any spring vegetables can be used. Remember that Spring in Italy is more like Summer in England!
Serves 4
200g shelled broad beans
200g shelled peas
250g /16 rashers smoked streaky bacon cut into lardons (optional)
1 large onions (chopped very small)
1.5 – 2  pints good quality chicken or vegetable stock, preferably homemade or stock cube
100g butter
300g Risotto rice
100 mls dry white wine
100g Parmesan, finely grated

Drop the broad beans into boiling water and cook for 3 minutes, then drain and cool under cold water. Peel off the skins. Pour the stock into a pan and bring to a simmer.

Heat 3/4 the butter in a heavy, wide pan and add the bacon and fry cook until crisp. Tip in the onions and cook very slowly for 10 minutes until soft and see-through, but not brown, stirring often. Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon for a few minutes so it gets coated, but not coloured. Pour in the wine. Keep stirring for about a minute until the wine has evaporated. Now add 1-2 ladles of stock at a time stirring until all the liquid is absorbed, scraping the sides of the pan to catch any stray bits of rice. Continue to stir and add a ladleful of stock once the previous amount has been absorbed. The rice tells you when it needs more stock. Check for seasoning. Homemade stock has no salt – stock cubes are full of it, so season to taste but add early on so that the salt absorbs into the rice.

After about 15 minutes add the peas to the rice. Check seasoning. The rice should take another 5 minutes or so. Try the rice every few minutes – when done it should be softened, but with a bit of bite, almost chewy, and the risotto creamy – overcooking just makes it mushy but make sure your rice is not still chalky. Continue adding stock and stirring until done. Add the broad beans. Take the pan off the heat, add 3/4 of the parmesan and the rest of the butter. Put the lid on the pan and leave for 3 minutes to rest. Serve with the remaining Parmesan.

Broad beand shelled