Fennel, Cherry Tomato, Caper and Anchovy Gratin


The nights are drawing in: now it’s a little colder I want my vegetables cloaked in something warm and cheesy. This is a delicious side dish perfect with steak, roast chicken or pork chops. Do not fear fennel: it has a deliciously ethereal flavour reminiscent of aniseed and celery, but nicer than either.  

Makes One Gratin to Feed 3

2 bulbs fennel

3 tbsp olive oil

2 sprigs thyme

3 cloves garlic

100 ml white wine

200 ml double cream

2 tsp capers, rinsed 

100g grated parmesan

100g breadcrumbs

4 anchovies

salt and pepper

chopped parsley to garnish

Heat the oven to 180. Slice the fennel bulbs into wedges and pour over the olive oil, some salt, pepper and the wine. place in a roasting dish, cover with tin foil and bake for 30 minutes. Crush the garlic into a pulp add to the cream and thyme. Add the fennel roasting juices to this, then bring the cream mixture to the boil and season to taste. Add the capers. Arrange the fennel in the dish, pour over the cream mixture, then sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and parmesan. Arrange halved cherry tomatoes over the top. Bake for 40 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.   


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Slow-Roast Pork Shoulder Stuffed with Prunes, Vichy Carrots, Fried Apples and Sage


Pork Shoulder is a cheap and delicious cut: this piece here cost me a mere £4, and fed 3 happily. Cooking it slowly ensures the meat is meltingly tender, and you get some good crackling too: the best of both worlds. It may seem a little wintery, but there’s already a nip of autumn in the air: the first apples (Discovery) are ready, and my new sage plant is prospering (though it is surely doomed, I have yet to keep a plant alive for longer than a week, one of the perils of never staying in one place for long) and so this seemed just the thing for a rainy Sunday lunch.

The Meat

1 pork shoulder joint, rolled.

10 prunes

Sprig rosemary

Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 220. Unroll the joint, stuff the cavity with the prunes, salt and pepper and the rosemary. Roll it back up and secure with string. Score the top skin. Rub salt into the skin and place in a roasting tray. Roast for half an hour. Take out of the oven, baste, remove most of the fat from the pan and cover the whole thing tightly with tin foil. Turn the oven down to 160 and roast for a further 5 hours. Remove from the oven and rest the meat on a serving dish under tin foil. If the crackling is not crisp, place the joint under the grill for a few minutes until it crisps and puffs up.

If you like, use the roasting juices to make a light gravy: add 1 tablespoon of flour to the roasting dish and fry over a medium heat for a minute. Add 200 ml cider and boil for a few minutes. Add 1 pint of stock, a tsp of apple jelly and salt and pepper. Simmer. Serve in a warm jug alongside.

The Rest 

Vichy Carrots

350g  Chantenay Carrots

20g butter

1 tsp salt

2 tsp sugar


2 tablespoons chopped parsley/chervil

Place the carrots in a wide pan with enough water just to cover. Add the sugar, salt and butter. Simmer (without a lid) until the water has evaporated and the carrots are glazed with butter and sugar. Season with pepper (and more salt if necessary) and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Leeky Lentils

A delicious and simple accompaniment to chicken, duck, pheasant or pork, and a welcome change from the potato. Morbidly ugly, but good.

Saute 3 leeks (sliced) in the fat from the roast, or butter, until soft (20 min)

Add 60g of puy lentils per person, and top with boiling water, to ratio 1:2 lentils to water. Simmer until the lentils are soft (about 30 mins), then season with salt and pepper.

Fried Apples and Sage

Fry slices of apple in a little butter with a sprinkle of brown sugar. Once golden brown sprinkle with chopped sage and serve alongside the pork.


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Anzac Biscuits


Some of the best things in life are the simple ones, and these biscuits are a testimony to this truism. The combination of butter, oats and syrup is rarely bettered (good flapjacks are the unsung heroes of the tea-table), and here the addition of some sweet coconut complements the classic combination.

These biscuits were first invented by the WAGS of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) in World War I. The industrious ladies baked these delicious and simple biscuits without eggs – which were scarce at the time –  using ingredients which would not spoil during the long journey overseas. A small parcel redolent with the smell of syrup, butter and coconut must have been a joy to receive.

These literally take 20 minutes to assemble and bake, so when you’re craving something sweet to dunk in your tea, shun the dreary McVitie and knock up a batch for yourself. They also travel exceptionally well (as those WWI ladies realised) and so make excellent gifts, and are very economical to boot. I find a batch of fresh Anzacs can soothe the frayed tempers of hosts and hostesses when you have overstayed your welcome (as I am wont to do).    

The cup measure is purely for ease here: as long as you use the same cup for every measurement, it doesn’t matter what size it is.  

Makes 12 good-sized biscuits 

1 cup porridge oats

1 cup dessicated coconut

1 cup plain flour

125g (half a pat) of butter

3/4 cup soft brown sugar

2 tablespoons golden syrup

pinch salt

1 tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 160. Melt the butter with the syrup and sugar. Stir into the dry mixture and shape in your hands into small balls, about the size of a golf ball. Flatten a little and place wide apart on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove and cool on a wire rack.  


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Delicious Things on Toast (Bruschetta)

When summer produce is at its best it seems a shame to cook anything at all. At this time of year all I want to do is to eat something deeply satisfying with as little time as possible spent indoors fussing over a stove. Yet one can only eat so many salads before they become tedious, and sometimes there is nothing better than Bruschetta: a simple, low maintenance summer lunch or supper, perfect finger-food, to eat in the sunshine with plenty of oil dribbling down your chin.

The Toast

Bruschetta can be so much more than soggy bread with tomato mush on it: according to Marcella Hazan (the Mamma of Italian cooking), Bruschetta originated in ancient Rome, when olive oil growers would cart their olives to the local press, then toast bread over an open fire to sample their newly pressed oil. In Roman dialect bruscare means ‘to roast over coals’, and thus the toasting method is important: it imbues the toast with an extra smokey, nearly bitter flavour, which, sadly, is not replicated by a commercial toaster. However – it is not necessary to build a fire for this: you could put the toast on a small barbecue, or a charcoal grill over a gas hob. Once toasted/grilled, rub the toast with a cut clove of garlic, and sprinkle on some sea salt and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil: now it is ready for the toppings.  This recipe used 3 slices of bread (6 small toasts) to feed two.   


Tomato Bruschetta 

5/6 ripe tomatoes

squeeze lemon juice

drizzle extra virgin olive oil

few leaves of basil,torn

pinch sea salt

black pepper

1 finely chopped clove garlic

Chop the tomatoes and the garlic, then leave the whole lot to marinate at room temperature for 20 mins or so. Pile on to your freshly toasted bread just before serving.


Broad Bean Bruschetta

Handful broad beans, blanched in salted water for 1 minute

30g grated parmesan

sprig of mint

juice of half a lemon

drizzle of olive oil

1/4 clove garlic

salt and pepper

Crush the garlic and mint with a little salt in a pestle and mortar. Bash in the broad beans a few at a time, then the other ingredients, until you have a rough pulp. Serve on toast with extra olive oil drizzled over the top.

White Peach, Parma Ham, Mint and Mozzarella 

1 ripe peach

squeeze lemon

sprig of mint

3 slices of parma ham

1/2 ball of mozzarella

olive oil


Slice the peach and marinate in a squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of oil and a  tiny pinch of salt. Pile the ham onto the freshly made toast, then place the peaches, torn mozzarella and mint on top. Drizzle with extra oil and serve.


Zucchini, Parmesan, Basil and Lemon 

1 small courgette (zucchini)

juice half a lemon

olive oil

sprig basil

sprig mint

salt and pepper

30g shaved parmesan

Matchstick the raw courgette along with a a small piece of lemon peel (all pith removed). Mix with the chopped herbs, lemon, oil, salt and pepper. Pile this on the toast, sprinkle with the parmesan shavings and serve.

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Ricotta Pancakes


I have issues with brunch. To me, like Father’s Day, it is an entirely American (therefore deeply suspicious) concept. Irrational prejudices aside, it is also a way of eliminating one meal of the day. This fundamentally goes against my innate greed.  As an early riser, I like to eat first thing: preferably in bed. Breakfast in bed is my ultimate luxury – a tray loaded with tea, toast and marmalade/jam, with plenty of butter and a piece of ripe fruit – this is the finest way to enjoy the first meal of the day: preferably with the radio on, or some reading matter at hand. On a day when I know I’m having brunch, however, I know I should forgo this pleasure and wait hungrily for 3 hours or so until the appointed brunch hour arrives. After brunch the whole day is skewed; supper has to be early because you’re hungry, lunch is banished entirely. It’s all wrong. Monthly Sundays at school where we had ‘brunch’ were a thing of dread for me, whilst others looked forward to them for weeks in advance. I would wake at my usual hour of 6, eat some ‘tuck’ (aahh Tuck) then go to brunch, eat a little, and smuggle some hash browns (aahh hash browns) away for the afternoon when – not having had lunch – I knew I would become peckish again.

Despite my hatred of brunch, there are some foods which do seem designed for such a meal, and I am not wholly against these. These delightful fluffy pancakes, for example, would make a perfect Brunch if you were so inclined, but for me, they make a perfect breakfast. It may seem like a lot of faff for first thing in the morning, but if you get some active stuff out the way first thing, then you’re justified in being sedentary for the rest of the day, I feel.

 Ricotta Pancakes, Peaches, Strawberry and Lavender Jam

Makes 12 big’uns

250g ricotta

125 ml whole milk

zest half a lemon

1 tablespoon vanilla sugar (optional)

2 eggs, separated

pinch salt

100g self-raising flour

Mix the ricotta with the zest, milk, salt, sugar and egg yolks. Whisk the whites to soft peaks. Fold the flour into the ricotta mixture, then gently fold in the whites trying to keep as much air in the mixture as possible. Heat a frying pan to medium heat, pour in a drop of sunflower oil and then spoon ladles of the mixture in. Fry for about a minute on each side, and serve immediately, with your choice of accompaniments.

Other things which would be nice with them:

Maple syrup and blueberries

Poached gooseberries/rhubarb/apricots/plums etc.

Runny honey and raspberries

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The Almond Thief and I

The Almond Thief and I.

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The Almond Thief and I


One of the nicest things about being a chef is how willing other chefs are to share their knowledge, their experience and their passion with you. It is rare to find a chef who is not passionate about what he/she does, and this passion is contagious. Working with food is a constant learning process: however many times you have made something and however scientific and precise you are about it, there is always the potential for disaster, and thus always the opportunity to learn something. All the chefs I  know are hungry for knowledge: eager to learn more about what other chefs are doing and how they are doing it. In what other job would you find employees choosing to go to other offices on their days off to learn more about the industry? For chefs, however, it is common to do ‘stages’ in other kitchens: spending a couple of nights in another kitchen and learning new skills from a willing teacher. This is the joy of cooking, it is a social activity, a fun activity and a constant learning process: in kitchens you can bounce ideas off each other, use and adapt others’ ideas; test, tinker and trial numerous variations of endless recipes. There is nothing more satisfying than spending time learning from people who are passionate about what they do.

Yesterday I spent a day at The Almond Thief (@thealmondthief)  bakery at Riverford Farm (http://www.riverford.co.uk/) Shop in Totnes, with bread afficionado Dan Mifsud. Dan is a self-taught baker, and he began baking in October last year. Yes, that’s right, he’s been baking for a grand total of 8 months. I’ve been baking for about 8 years and I’m still too lazy to measure my ingredients precisely and I almost always screw something up. But Dan is a scientist: a former biologist who taught himself baking in a few months, then took the plunge, bought a 4K bread oven and set up in the backwaters of Devon.  And thank God for the good people of Devon that he did: because Devon needs good bread.

The Almond Thief is still relatively young: only 6 weeks old, and Dan is still developing his signature recipes. My favourite, and the first I tried – the loaf that inspired me to ask for work experience – is a classic white sourdough. This sourdough is made with a simple half-rye, half-white starter, Shipton Mill flour, water and salt. Nothing more, nothing less. A perfect loaf: dark,crusty and chewy on the outside; springy, toothsome and moist on the inside. Perfection. It tastes almost exactly like my favourite loaf from a tiny French bakery in Chinon in the Loire which is the best bread I’ve ever tasted. Not bad for a newbie on the bread scene, I’d say.

Yesterday Dan showed me how it’s done, and in return I smashed his favourite Puffin mug, spilled water and flour all over the floor, purloined some of his ‘starter’, and left with a bag full of goodies and a head full of ideas. He reminded me of the fundamentals: chiefly that whilst I can bang on and on about instinctive and intuitive cooking and all that pretentious guff, there are some areas of cooking where precision matters, and baking is one of them. Whilst instinct and intuition are still important for judging timings etc, it is essential to always be precise with your measurements, and as precise as possible with temperatures too. Thus, if you are serious about baking good bread, and I mean really good bread, you will have to accept it is going to take time, and cost you a little money to get the ingredients and a few bits of equipment. But the equipment will last you a lifetime, and economically it still works out much cheaper making your bread at home. Making your own bread is time-consuming and requires precision, accuracy and dedication. But it is worth it, and if you want to try, I’m willing to share my secrets (or Dan’s secrets) with you.  So, faint-hearted readers turn away now: afficionados read on…..

The Mother 

This is your rising agent: also known as a starter or a levain. It is a living thing: a flour putty harbouring natural yeasts which are present in the flour you use and trapped from the air around it. It needs constant care and attention to remain alive.

Day 1 

50g rye flour

50g white flour

100g water

Mix the whole lot in a tupperware container with plenty of room to spare and put a lid on it.

Day 2

Discard 100g of the starter and add:

25g rye

25g white flour

50g water

mix well and seal

Days 3 – 5

Repeat the process above. By day 5 you should have a bubbly, porridge consistency mixture which smells sweet and sour at the same time. It should look like this:


Now you’re ready to bake.

Basic White Sourdough

500g flour

100g starter

350g water at 29 degrees

10g salt

25 g water


Ideally you would start your bread at about 5.30 or 6 on a Friday/Saturday night, when you got back from work, so it would be ready to bake in the morning for fresh bread at breakfast/lunch the next day.

For the initial stage, mix the starter and water until it forms a runny liquid. Add in the flour. Mix well, until there are no dry patches or lumps. Cover and leave for 20 minutes. Now add the salt and 25g of water. Knead this in well until you have a smooth and even dough. Cover and leave for 30 minutes. Now, with wet hands, lift the edges of the dough from the bowl, left them over the whole mass, and fold, then turn the bowl and repeat, lifting and folding to trap the air in. Do about 3-4 folds, then cover and leave for another 30 mins. Do this for another 2 hours: in total the bread will have had 5 folds over 3 hours.

Now shape the bread. You can find videos on YouTube showing you how to do this: or you can simply buy a proving basket, flour it, and shape the dough into a rough round, then plop it in. Cover and leave overnight in the fridge.

In the morning, preheat the oven to its highest temperature (most often this is 220). Plop the bred onto a floured flat tray, slash the top with a sharp knife, and , spraying some water into the oven first, place it on the top shelf. Bake for 40-50 mins, until brown and crusty.


Your mother will now need to be ‘fed’ every day, at the same time (morning/evening) to stay alive. Use the same ratio: discard half, replace with 50g flour and 50g water. You can ‘pause’ it in the fridge for a couple of days then re-awaken it by discarding half, then replacing the half with 50g water, 50g flour. Within two days of this it should be ready to bake with again.

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