Pasta and chickpeas

It’s the basis of many a variant in Italy and I’ve decided to add it to our staples like this:


  • 1 tin chickpeas drained, rinsed, peeled
  • 1-2 tblesp tomato paste
  • some shallots finely chopped
  • fresh garlic finely chopped
  • small pasta shapes
  • anchovies mashed
  • salt and pepper
  • ghee
  • water/stock

Optional additions as you please….

  • parsley
  • chives
  • spring onion
  • spinach
  • lemon
  • bacon
  • parmesan grated for serving

I started out frying shallots and garlic in ghee, adding chickpeas and then the water or stock if you prefer and lastly the tomato paste. Let all this simmer on a low heat for 20 minutes. This can sit in the fridge once it’s cool.

When you come to preparing the meal, boil the pasta but keep it underdone, drain, put back in the pot and add however much of the chickpea mixture you want as well as the mashed anchovies which will melt through. While this is reheating and the pasta is finishing its cooking chop herbs or other last minute accompaniments. Add and stir through. Serve.

For two people the first time I did this I added a small bunch of parsley, half a bunch of chives, the white of a spring onion and before serving sprinkled snipped spring onion greens on top. The second time I made the addition finely chopped spinach.

The possibilities are endless, one could add an Indian element by sprinkling garam masala on top. Fresh chillies would work well too.

It can be as soupy or stewy as you please. Part pureeing the chickpeas is an idea I have not explored yet but will obviously enhance a move from the one to the other.

This is cheap, healthy and tastes great. It is also quick and flexible – in Italy carrots and celery may be added, but I wanted something that wasn’t an echo of minestrone. You could also make in large quantity and freeze the first part of the recipe, the stock/chickpea/tomato paste combo.



White beans and chorizo

This ensued after buying San José smoked fresh chorizo at the Central Market last week.


  • two onions, peeled and diced
  • smoked fresh chorizo skinned and chopped
  • ghee for frying
  • white beans – I used two tins of cannellini
  • garlic finely chopped
  • tomato paste
  • half a bunch of spinach, chopped fairly finely
  • a cheddar that melts nicely, grated


Fry the onions until softening, add the garlic and stir a few times without burning,  add the chorizo and fry until it’s getting brown and the onions are fairly soft. Add drained and rinsed beans or dry beans you have cooked yourself. Add water and tomato paste at some point, bring to the boil and then put on a very low simmer for a couple of hours.

Sit overnight. Next day when serving add spinach while the spaghetti is boiling. After stirring the cooked pasta through the sauce, mix in cheese. This is a soupy stew you could serve with ciabatta, but we had it as a spaghetti sauce with parmesan on top.

A couple of bunches of parsley instead of spinach would be good. I had initially meant to cook it with celery, but forgot to buy any, but I could imagine trying that too.

Wherein meat is eaten.

Stay off the stuff for long enough and even Manor mince tastes mmmmmm. It’s been a couple of weeks since we had anything remotely resembling meat, of any colour, I might add.

For years I’ve stuck to the Italian way of doing spag bol, think cream and chicken liver as distinguishing features, along with minimal tomato. And although I love chicken livers, and the authenticity of Margaret Fulton, I’ve never been altogether happy with the result.

It was a revelation to me to discover that the American version is actually worthy of cooking and couldn’t be more different from my notion of the traditional version. This is the famous Italian-American cook Lidia’s version.

Spaghetti bolognese


olive oil for frying
an onion finely chopped
a carrot grated
a stick of celery and leaves finely chopped
glass of red wine
1/2 kg beef mince
1/2 kg pork mince
1 tblesp tomato paste
2 cans crushed tomatoes
3 bay leaves
water as necessary


On med-high heat, fry the onion, carrot and celery until onion is softened. Add the meats and fry, stirring constantly to avoid lumps, for about 10 minutes until browned. Throw in the wine, bring to the boil and burn off the alcohol. Add the tomato paste, stir in thoroughly, and then the tomatoes. Add a reasonably generous quantity of water to cover the meat. Bring to the boil and leave on a lively simmer covered. You are going to cook it at this temperature for at least several hours. The longer the better. Six hours is better. Because it’s actually bubbling away, it means that you do need to check it from time to time to add water as required.

Yum. This is really good, just some parmesan on top to serve. True it takes a while on the way in, but on the way out you have, for two people, four meals ready at the push of a defrost button. And most of the cooking time, you are reading or knitting or doing Goodreads or….whatever your idle preference is.

Part of a minestrone

I guess sometimes soup can just be…pot luck. Under the misapprehension recently that winter had started, I assembled a group of ingredients for an affair I call minestrone, though I make no particular claims to a rigorous use of that name, only to discover that I had neither carrots nor celery, both of which I would have thought to be essential to the cause. And yet, the soup that resulted from their absence – I decided to soldier on with what I had – was a revelation in sweetness and taste that makes me wonder. Surely carrot isn’t the culprit that would stop this wonderful taste from developing in my usual minestrone – it is sweet, after all. That leaves celery to take all the blame. I have no idea if this has any merit as an idea. All I know is that the following looked quite dull and drab in the bowl, but this was completely belied by the taste.

a couple of onions, peeled and diced
leeks peeled, washed, and white parts sliced – I used about six.
several slices of bacon or some such, diced – GOOD QUALITY
a big bag of fresh berlotti bean. Shell.
green beans, washed topped, tailed, diced.
several large FANTASTIC tomatoes, washed and diced. Don’t need to peel.
olive oil
salt and pepper at the end, to taste.

No more than this: gently fry the onions in the olive oil, add the bacon and leeks after the onions have softened a little. To tell the truth, I can’t recall whether I added garlic or not. After the lot has softened some more, add maybe 6 cups of water, the beans, the borlottis and the diced tomatoes. Bring to the boil and simmer for a couple of hours.

That’s it. Unprepossessing indeed, but delicious.

Celery soup, dare I say a la Simon Hopkinson?

It’s dreary outside and in, with little more than a bunch of celery – tired looking at that – in the fridge. But let’s see…

Take a roomy pot, sweat an onion in a generous quantity of butter. When softened add a bunch of chopped celery, leaves too. Stir and continue to cook gently for a while and then add water to cover. Bring to boil and simmer for half an hour or so. Puree.

Meanwhile you have made Simon Hopkinson’s ‘curry essence’ as he calls it.

Very gently fry finely chopped onion, maybe 50g or so, in oil not butter or ghee as you don’t want it to solidify after cooking. I used grapeseed oil. Add 2 heaped teaspoons of good curry powder, I use Julie Sahni’s Master Curry Powder and fry very gently, you don’t want this to burn. Add a heaped teasp of tomato puree, stir a minute to mix and then add bay leaf, 150ml red wine, 120ml water, 2 tblesps mango chutney or apricot jam. Bring this to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes. Hopkinson now suggests putting it through a fine sieve, I don’t see any need for this, maybe it depends on one’s next intention….not to mention if you have a fine sieve. I don’t. It keeps in a jar for a few weeks and he suggests adding it to a salad dressing as well as an egg dish.

Now add this to the celery soup, maybe a couple of tablespoons, but obviously to taste. Salt and pepper. Cream if you wish – I did.

We had this with toast on which we lavished Gentleman’s Relish from Fortnum and Mason’s. I don’t know why they say to use it sparingly, having finished a jar over two sittings. Manny suggested it was to make you feel like it wasn’t so expensive. Cunning!

Chicken in pomegranate and walnut

I can’t stop making this, it is too easy and tastes divine.

Turkish chicken in pomegranate and walnuts


3 pomegranates: extract juice from all but one half. From this you take the seeds for garnish at the end.
1 chicken cut into casserole pieces (or pieces of your preference, I would never use breast in a dish like this)
2 medium onions finely chopped
1 cup of walnuts, crushed
2 teasp ground cinammon
1 teasp sugar
salt and pepper to taste
a few leaves of mint shredded for garnish
juice of one lemon


Mix the pomegranate juice with the lemon juice.

Fry the onion in ghee until it picks up a bit of colour. Add the chicken and brown lightly. Add the cinammon and sugar, mix and add the juice of pomegranate and lemon. Bring to boil and then turn down to a simmer until cooked.

At some point toast the crushed walnuts in a frying pan (without burning). Add them to the chicken maybe ten minutes before serving.

Serve garnished with mint and the pomegranate seeds you set aside. A plain pilaff is perfect on the side, though I imagine mash would also work.

Fennel soup

Fennel soup, more or less as Simon Hopkinson has it in The Vegetarian Option

Much my favourite way to eat fennel.

The butter


The soup:
2 medium onions chopped
350g fennel, trimmed and chopped
1 medium potato chopped
1 teasp fennel seeds
2 tblesp olive oil
salt and pepper
stock as you prefer in the quantity of 3/4 to 1 litre.

The butter:
Into 250g of softened butter mix a bunch of parsley, quite a lot of finely chopped (mashed?) garlic, a splash of Pernod or something else aniseed flavoured, I used Pastis, salt, pepper, cayenne to taste, a few drops of Tabasco. Roll it into a cylinder on waxed paper. This is a vast amount, so what you don’t use now, (by cutting off discs of it) store in the waxed paper, with a roll of alfoil tightly fitting around that, in the freezer.


Soften onions in a large saucepan over medium or maybe even low heat – they are not to brown, of course. Always be patient with onions. Cooking them more quickly than one is supposed to, will always change the nature of the result. It might take 20 minutes. Then add the fennel and its seeds, and stir occasionally over another ten minutes. The potato can go in now with the stock, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, simmer until soft, maybe half an hour.

This is where I part company with Hopkinson. In that very English way, he now extremely finely sieves the soup and then adds cream. I do love cream, and I never try to avoid it, but this is already a lovely dish by simply pureeing, reheating and serving with a disc of butter in each bowl. Serve with buttered toast.

Fennel soup with garlic butter

The aroma, as you swish that butter around the soup and it gently blends in, is as inviting as I can imagine a bowl of soup to be.

Afterthought: it will surely be obvious what else one can do with the butter. I am dying to try it on a plain grilled steak; it would be perfect in fish soup. I wonder what it would be like thinly sliced and tucked into the middle of an omelette. Tres bon, non?