Spaghetti with anchovies, pinenuts and raisins

This is a dish born from a need to cook without leaving the house. It will be obvious that it welcomes variation. We loved it and will be sure to make it again soon. The initial inspiration came from reading a post acmilan did on The English Forum (Switzerland) where he shared his recipe for Margherita con l’anciova. The combination of anchovies, tomato paste, pine nuts and raisins got my mouth watering.

Ingredients for sauce for two:

  • 1 medium onion, chopped fairly finely
  • 1 heaped tblsp tomato paste
  • 1 tblsp pine nuts
  • 1 tblsp dried sultanas (or similar)
  • olive oil
  • anchovies to taste, I used about 5
  • chopped fresh spinach
  • a little sugar

To serve: grated parmesan


While waiting for the water to boil for the spaghetti, heat a large pan (I use a wok) with the olive oil and gently fry the onion. When softened add the anchovies and break up as you stir. Add the pine nuts and sultanas, stir. Next, the tomato paste and some water. Mix thoroughly and turn heat up. When at a simmer, add sugar, erring on the side of not enough, mix, taste and add more if desired. Last, in goes the spinach. Bring back to a simmer, stir, and leave to sit on a low heat, stirring from time to time while the spaghetti is cooking. I leave this quite thick, as….

When the spaghetti is cooked, spoon it into the sauce. Some cooking water will transfer as you do this, loosening the sauce. Thoroughly mix and decide if you need to add more of the cooking water.

Serve with the grated parmesan.


Asparagus gratin

I daresay these days asparagus is perpetually on tap from somewhere or another. In Geneva it’ll come from South America in the offseason.

I’d rather wait. Seasonal produce is special! One of the things you can look forward to hereabouts on about the first day of April is local asparagus. Local in Geneva terms means Swiss, or maybe Italian, and certainly there will be supplies from Provence. Always the most expensive and always irresistible.


Asparagus gratin (3)
Asparagus gratin


asparagus: 500g or so*
300 ml milk
25g butter
25g flour
salt and pepper
grated nutmeg
75g cheese, grated**

*what sort of asparagus? I like green. I imagine that the white can’t be as good for you for a start. As to fat vs thin, I like both. I can’t help thinking it is quality not type that matters. By all means disagree, I’d love to have the finer points of asparagus explained to me.

**what sort of cheese? It depends where I am and what’s available. I’ve sometimes used Epicure for the sauce and parmesan on top in Australia. In Geneva, gruyere is the obvious candidate. Fontina is a great melting cheese.

On mature reflection it could be that a mild cheese lets the asparagus have more of a say. Maybe if it isn’t good asparagus you want to do something to shut it up. Maybe that’s where Epicure comes into it.


While the oven is heating to 220C:

Snap the ends off the asparagus. They will break at just the right place to be able to discard the woody part. You may want to lightly peel the stems with a potato peeler. I do sometimes, but mostly it doesn’t seem necessary to me. Steam them in a bamboo steamer for a couple of minutes. You might want to put cold water over them at that point to prevent them overcooking.

Make the cheese sauce: on medium heat melt the butter, add the flour and stir well mixed, then add milk. I do this a bit at a time, thoroughly mixing to avoid lumps as I go along. I have sometimes done it my mother’s way and put all the milk in at the same time and then mixed vigorously as it comes to the boil. I can’t say this is my forte in the kitchen, basically I get lumps sometimes and I have never figured out why. I always think I’m doing it the same way as the last time.

Let it come to the boil and then lower the heat, all the while whisking. It will have thickened during this process. Take off the heat, add salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir in 50g of the cheese.

Grease an oven dish, lie the asparagus down and then top with the cheese sauce. Add the remaining cheese and also some breadcrumbs if you like. About 5-10 minutes, depending on your oven. It’s an easy decision, it’ll look nicely brown on top and that is the cue you need for the denouement.

Take the dish to the table. Ooohs and aaahs. Thoroughly deserved in my view.

Asparagus gratin (1)
Asparagus gratin

Indian pancakes

I’ve had some besan flour sitting about for a while now and finally got around to trying Indian pancakes yesterday.

Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe from World Vegetarian Cooking was my first reference, but it is quickly obvious that one doesn’t need a recipe.

Ingredients for 8 pancakes

  • 2 cups of flour, sieved to remove lumps
  • dry spices such as salt, pepper, tumeric, chilli, garam masala, cumin ground or whole
  • 2 cups of water
  • wet ingredients might include garlic, ginger, spring onions, finely chopped tomatoes, coriander, or spinach wilted in a little water, thoroughly drained and chopped.


Mix the dry spices into the flour and then the flour and water: it is suggested that this is done slowly, eradicating lumps being more easily done when the mixture is less runny. Mix in wet things.

I was cooking for two and used two pans at a time. Otherwise leave in a warm oven while you are making the rest. Heat non-stick pans (mine are about 6″ at the base circumference) with a teensy bit of oil at a medium high heat. Put into each in a few tablespoons of the mixture, mixing it just before as the solids sink. Swirl the mixture to the edges of the pan. The base will turn reddish brown in places and around the edges when ready to flip. It will be about a couple of minutes each side.

From the pan food: we ate these in the kitchen while waiting for the next ones to cook.


What you put in the basic mixture will depend on what you are doing with them. We had the pancakes quite plain yesterday, by way of wet ingredients only spring onion, because we were having them with a vegetable dahl and a chickpea dish with a chutney on the side.

Half the batter then sat overnight and we knocked off the rest for dinner. In this case I added spinach and spring onions to the mix. We had a simple yoghurt, tomato and mustard seed dish on the side.

You can stuff and fold them if you wish.

This is fabulously easy, lends itself to ‘what’s in the cupboard?’, cheap, uses very little oil.


I could easily imagine these for breakfast, if the mixture’s already prepared. One of MJ’s suggestions is sesame seeds, added to the top before flipping, they’ll get nicely toasted. She also points out that you can omit all the Indian spices and make these a more European thing, but I love the Indianness.




Meat Maharaja

Meat Maharaja – and a detour into pornography

I will never understand the fact that it is obvious to me that all the best cookbooks have almost no pictures and yet what people buy are books with pictures. ‘Oh’ they will say ‘I need the picture, it’s what makes me want to cook the dish’. Rubbish! The ingredients, the story of the making as it unfolds, this is what makes your imagination understand the dish. Not a picture, least of all one by a food ‘stylist’ who has patently faked what you look at. And yet, this seems to be the cooking version of sexual pornography. Just as men are all too happy to watch ummm, actresses, pretending to have orgasms, so women seem perfectly content to know that these pictures are fake and yet not be the least put off by that. Amazing. The book for this recipe – Classic Indian Cooking – is no exception to the rule. Full of fabulous recipes, no pics, nobody has heard of it!

The title of this one is absolutely not the least of an exaggeration. This is a royal dish. I love it.

4 tbsp ghee
2 large onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1” piece of ginger, ditto
4-6 cloves garlic, ditto
1 fresh green chilli, seeded and chopped
1-2 dried red chillies, chopped
150g natural yoghurt
1 teasp black cumin seeds
3 teasps ground coriander
1 teasp garam masala
1 teasp turmeric
freshly ground black pepper
1 teasp salt
2 tbsps white poppy seeds, ground
1 kg leg of lamb in 1” cubes

2 tbsps blanched almonds, ground
2 tbsps fresh coriander leaves chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
30g unsalted pistachio nuts, chopped

Melt half the ghee over a medium heat and fry the onions, ginger, garlic and fresh chilli until the onions are just soft. Remove, cool a little and then blend/food process with the yoghurt to create a puree. I use a Bamix stick thing for this. Leave.

Heat the rest of the ghee over a low heat, we do not want the ghee to be too hot, and add the black cumin and then the other ground spices along with the poppy seeds. Fry for a minute or so, add the meat, increase meat to heading towards high and fry until browned, five minutes or so. Cover the pan, lower heat and let the meat cook in its own juices for fifteen minutes or so, stirring now and then.

Stir in the yoghurt and onion puree, mix well. Rinse out the container with the warm water and add this to the meat. Add the salt, bring to the boil, then simmer at very low heat until meat is tender, stirring now and then. The sauce will get thicker and require more attention towards the end of this process. If possible now leave overnight before finishing the next day thus: add the almonds and half the coriander leaves and stir uncovered for a few minutes. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice and mix.

Garnish with the crushed/chopped pistachios and the rest of the coriander leaves. Serve. Utterly divine.

Evgenia Markina 1978-2016

Earlier this evening Genia, dear friend of Oliver, Roberto, Katia, Manny and me, died. She experienced a brutal 3 week battle with secondary liver cancer, diagnosed too late and treated ineffectively before succumbing.


Genia: star historian, PhD student, dancer, photographer, hiker, skier, knitter. Genia: who had much shit to put up with in life and dealt with it full on. Genia: classic Russian looks, disposition, straightforward directness.

Genia: in hospital undertaking the chemo treatment which ultimately killed her by failing in its duty, her tumour getting bigger not smaller, when she wrote this:

“The photo I didn’t take or This Is Love”.

As some of you might know, I’m hanging out in the hospital for the Valentine’s Day. I’m spared from chocolates and flowers ads, as well as photos of 20 year olds kissing and holding hands on every corner. But it’s not a story about me.

It’s about a photo I wish I took today. My neighbour is a woman who’s been fighting breast cancer for eleven years. Gaunt, with dry and wrinkled skin, hair cropped to her skull, her eyes are tired, her look is dull. Eleven years ago she was a mother of two, now she’s a grandmother of four. She proudly shows me some photos of them. Then he comes. Medium height, medium built, bold, fit, with a smile in his eyes. I politely leave the room. When I’m back I see a perfect frame around them – that is the photo I must take!

I tell them spontaneously that their presence is for me what Valentine’s Day really should be about. A couple that sticks together against a chronic and deadly illness. Not children or grandchildren, not other people or 45 years together defines them as a couple. It is simply love.

She’s sitting in the bed, he is slightly lower, on the chair. They hold each other’s right hands and some invisible energy is flowing from one body to another. There is a smile now in her eyes, they are no longer dull, but warm and tender. Just like his.

I wish I had taken this photo.

Genia: died without being a couple. Indeed her choices in that department caused her much grief. But I think she knew, as she called upon her friends to help her through what turned out to be the last three weeks of her life, that love was also this, her friends at her beck and call. She knew there was nothing we wouldn’t do to help and she was completely appreciative.

Genia: who generally hated my knitting, laughed at my technique, but wanted this hat. The photo (like the other) is taken about one and a half weeks before she died.


How could I say no? And the other day when she sent me the pictures, this exchange by email:

Genia: Remind me why you gave to me? I definitely didn’t ask you first ( you can’t do it to a fellow knitter, bad manners!).

Me: Ha, yes, well, you broke protocol there. You looked at it and said you wanted it! Or you tried it on and said you wanted it. You’d just got your C permit (or something like that) and were bubbling over. So I said yes, you could!

Genia: I’m blushing ! And once again – you are an incredible friend !

And now I want the hat back again, not because it was mine, but because it was Genia’s.

Genia: a part of my life in Geneva since the week I arrived here. We will never forget you, dear friend.

Satay sauce

I have to start with an apology to my past, present and future sex providers. When I think I’ve died and gone to heaven it’s always because I’ve eaten this sauce. Sorry about that.


200-250g crunchy peanut butter
150g palm sugar
tamarind concentrate mixed with water
5 finely chopped red chillies
5 finely chopped cloves garlic
1 large can coconut milk thoroughly shaken
a little grape seed oil


Fry the garlic in the oil gently until becoming golden. Add the chillies and the sugar, followed by the peanut butter and the tamarind. Mix thoroughly and then add the coconut milk. Cook, stirring, until the oil is separating from the mix

Cool and store in fridge in screwtop jars. Stephanie Alexander says this lasts for months, but I wouldn’t know. I’m lucky if I can make it last til dinner time.

My guess is about a tablesp of the tamarind with about 4 tblsps of water.

Stephanie Alexander does this with peanuts, which is my preference if I have them. She says brown sugar or palm. I love palm sugar and always use it. She also says to take tamarind pulp, soak it, extract the juice. I happened to have the concentrate and it seems okay to me, but in the past I’ve used the extraction method. Her recommendation is peanut oil for the frying, but I used grapeseed because it was in the cupboard and it has a neutral flavour.

Stephanie Alexander gives this in conjunction with a recipe for a marinade for the meat to go with it. Of course a famous way to use this sauce is as the star of gadogado. Today for lunch we are having a very simple version of that. A few raw vegetables, a little fried tofu. Some rice on the side.