Fresh Basil Pesto – Pesto Genoese (vegetarian and vegan options)
Fresh basil: aniseedy, aromatic, tempting and prolific. If you can find the right spot for it, in a warm corner of the garden away from slugs, it grows perfectly in a pot. All you have to do is buy one of those supermarket pots of forced basil, for which I always feel very sorry, and take each little plantlet out, carefully separating them each from their too-close mates, and plant them in your pot in rich compost. Basil likes sun, warmth, lots of food and water, and it will reward you with the most amazing vibrant harvest. Keep taking the tops off the plants to avoid them going to seed and you will get beautiful big juicy leaves all the way into September. Even if you don’t grow it yourself, you can often get big bags of leafy basil from grocers which are very good value.
Home made pesto is by far and away better and different from the shop-supplied stuff. Bought pesto is perfectly good but try making your own and you won’t look back. You can adjust the garlic and lemon to your exact taste too, but there’s something about the freshness of the basil coming through. It’s quick to make and keeps in the fridge for weeks so you can keep a fresh pot going from July onwards and have enough to give away too.
Vegetarian parmesan is available which seems to taste fine, so that’s a good alternative if you prefer to avoid parmesan. For a vegan version you can leave out the cheese altogether and add a teaspoon of nutritional yeast for the umami feel.
Pesto is so versatile; it deserves a superlative. Here are just a few uses for it
Pine nuts are not cheap but they are worth it. You don’t need a lot, and if you buy a pack you can always use up the rest on a salad for lunch, they are wonderful lightly fried and salted.
Makes 2 small jars or one marmite jar, enough for about 8 portions of pasta or to marinade 8 chicken breasts Timings: 20 minutes
Put everything together in a large straight container and process with a stick blender until smooth and creamy. Add a little more salt and lemon juice to taste, and a grind of black pepper if you like. Test the texture, the end of season basil has more structure than the early leaves so you might need a bit more olive oil and lemon juice in your last batches of the year.
Spoon into your clean small jars and then dribble a layer of olive oil on top, which helps keep it fresh.
Keeps in the fridge for at least 2 weeks, if you replace the olive oil when you take a spoonful out.
Puff Pastry Cheesy Bites
So extremely more-ish you probably have to make two batches. And if you’re serving them as a starter then don’t blame your guests for not having much appetite for the main course.
You can use puff pastry to wrap up all sorts of things: anchovies with parmesan, parma ham, plain ham with mustard, whatever. I find that this combination of salty tangy cheese and the spice hit of cayenne pepper is the best but do try whatever suits your own tastes. The cheese melts out in a delicious crispy way and the cayenne just perks your appetite for another bite.
They’d also be good for a quick school holiday lunch, served with a green salad and a chopped tomato salsa.
Makes 26 rounds Timings: 40 minutes
Pre heat your oven to 190°C fan or 200°C circulation.
Have ready three flat oven trays lined with greaseproof paper.
Unroll the pastry on its own paper wrapping. Sprinkle the cheese evenly all over the surface and sprinkle the cayenne pepper on top. Roll the pastry up again and cut it into rounds about ½ cm thick. Place the slices on the trays, leaving enough space to expand – you can get about 8 on a tray.
Place in the oven for about 20 minutes until the cheese has melted and the pastry is puffed and golden. Slide them onto a wire rack to cool a bit and sprinkle with sea salt crystals.
Eat them while still warm.
Chipotle Griddled Corn on the Cob
A juicy spicy accompaniment to a main meal or a lunch time snack in themselves. Kids tend to love this, as with all meals they can eat with their fingers while running round the garden but who can resist getting stuck into a corn cob, getting the bits between your teeth and the butter down your chin? At this time of year you can buy them fresh from the greengrocer, or ready peeled in the supermarket. As with all vegetables, the fresher the better, so if you can get some at your local farmers market or from a farm shop where they grow and pick them, you’ll taste the difference.
Amp it up a bit by using a chipotle spicy butter and griddling the cobs to complete the cooking with a delicious charred overtone. You can do these on the barbeque or use a griddle pan with ridges. I’ve not tried them under a normal oven grill and I’m not sure that would work very well as I think you need the contact with the hot grid to get the charred effect. You can use any spice you like in your butter but chipotles have an affinity with the corn – maybe because they’re from the same part of the world originally or just because the smoky spice of the chipotles sets off the sweet corn so well.
Serves 4 Timings: 40 minutes
Bring a large pan of water (not salted as that hardens the corn) to the boil and add a teaspoon of sugar. Drop the corn cobs into the pan and simmer for 5-10 minutes depending on how fresh they are.
Pre heat your oven to 180°C, and get some kitchen foil ready.
While the corn is boiling, blend the butter with the chipotle, sauce and lime juice. A stick blender does this very well. Taste and add pepper and salt if needed.
Drain the cobs, run cold water on them and leave them to cool down a bit.
Heat up your griddle pan or fire up the barbeque.
Rub just a little butter on the cobs and grill them for a few minutes, turning so that the hot grill comes in contact with all sides of the cobs and chars them in attractive stripes. If the barbeque is really hot, this won’t take more than a couple of minutes per side so you have to keep your attention on the grill and keep turning the cobs. When you’ve got the charred stripes, place each piece of corn in a wrap of kitchen foil with a teaspoon of butter on the top of the corn. Wrap up the foil and put the plate of wrapped cobs into the oven for 20 minutes. The corn finishes cooking in the spicy butter and ends up tender, smoky and sweet.
Let them cool a little before serving. You’ll need napkins to mop the butter off your chin!
Grilled Feta Baguettes (vegetarian)
In Cologne Christmas market the spicy, salty smell of the Sheep’s Cheese Baguettes demands your attention.
The cheese is marinated in barrels of olive oil with whole cloves of garlic, chillies, herbs and other spices. The vendor hauls dripping chunks out of the barrel, scrapes off the crust of herbs and flaked chillies, smacks it expertly into white shards and throws them on to halved baguettes, which are then flashed under a hot grill until seared and starting to brown. You eagerly, biting through the crust to find the melting garlicky cheese, oozing gently into bread.
These slices of goodness are just as at home at a summer garden party and are easy to prepare and serve. They're from my Summer of Six set of recipes, designed for small group outdoor parties, appropriate for this summer and autumn gatherings. Have a look at the pages (link above) for lots of ideas to make your entertaining easy and tasty. They'd be good for a school holiday lunch too.
Serves 6 Timings: marinate the feta for at least 2 days; can be much longer. Final preparation, 20 minutes.
Several days before eating, marinate your cheese. Mix the oils with the chilli, garlic, bay, and dried herbs and spices in a leak proof fridge container. Take the cheese out of its packet and cut in half across and then cut each piece across its equator, to make thinner pieces. Put these into the container and turn to cover with oil. Put all the cheese into the container, fix the lid, turn it back and forth a couple of times to distribute the oil and then leave in the fridge for a few days. Turn it again a few times a day, whenever you’ve got the fridge open.
Pre-heat your grill to a high setting. Cut the baguette into 3 slices and then halve each piece, so you have 6 long half-pieces. Grill these lightly – 2-3 minutes max - just to toast the top surface.
Drizzle some of the oil from the container over the toasts, especially at the edges, and then cover the slices with the cheese pieces. Drizzle a bit more oil over, adding any pieces of marinated chilli you find. Grill for a few minutes until the cheese just starts to brown - it won’t melt like cheddar.
To Serve: eat hot, with maybe a few rocket leaves scattered artistically on the cheese, or some chopped chillies and coriander.
Mushroom Croquetas (vegetarian)
In February I gave a recipe for ham and smoked cod croquetas, as you might find in Spain if you are tapas-cruising in Malaga or Bilbao. Now I tried a similar recipe for mushroom croquetas, which have a very intense flavour and a lovely interesting black colouring. They are a perfect dish for a vegetarian lunch along with a side salad, or as part of a Spanish themed spread. They are a bit of a faff to make as the bechamel is soft and tends to stick to your hands, but you can do most of the work ahead of time and they are so satisfying to eat I can forgive them the slight hassle.
Makes 25 croquetas - which is enough for a party, as they are quite filling. Timings – 60 minutes on Day 1, 90 minutes on Day 2.
Fry the fresh mushrooms in a pan with some vegetable oil and butter – the liquid will start to come out. Keep cooking on a low heat. Put your dried mushrooms in a bowl and cover with boiling water. After 5 minutes take out the rehydrated mushrooms, cut up finely and add to the pan with the other mushrooms. Keep the soaking water. When the liquid has evaporated from the pan, chop or blend up the mushrooms to give quite a solid paste. Use 100ml of the soaking liquid (which will be dark brown and smell strongly of fungi) the bechamel but make sure there isn’t any grit in it.
Make the bechamel in a fairly heavy bottomed saucepan. Melt the butter and the oil together, add the flour and stir over a gentle heat, cooking the flour without letting it burn. Add the liquid and keep stirring. It will thicken as you stir. Keep adding the liquid to make a very thick bechamel sauce. You need to keep stirring and cooking for a while to make sure any flouriness is cooked out, and the sauce is creamy. Add the pureed mushrooms and taste for seasoning. A sprinkling of salt and a generous grinding of pepper lifts the flavour. It will be an interesting sooty black colour.
Line a container with cling film – I try to avoid using cling film these days but I have tried other things and the sauce sticks and you waste a lot, so I do use cling film for this. Pour the cooled flavoured bechamel into your container and wrap the cling film over the top to stop a hard skin forming. Place in the fridge for 24 hours to chill thoroughly and set firm.
Next day, prepare a flat bowl with beaten egg and another one with breadcrumbs. Working on a floured baking tray, take a dessert spoonful of the set bechamel mixture and roll it in the flour, using flour to stop your hands sticking too. Form it into a cylinder about as long as your thumb and a bit thicker. Then drop two at a time into the egg mixture, then into the breadcrumbs, firmly pressing the breadcrumbs onto the eggy surface. They should stick and make a firm dry coating. Put the completed croquetas on a plate to set again.
It is fiddly, and it takes a while – it might be easier if you have a production line of helpers assisting you with this.
When the croquetas have had a few minutes to set, heat 2cm of oil in a heavy pan, or fire up your deep fat fryer or your air fryer. Fry the croquetas quite briefly in medium hot oil – the filling is already cooked, so you just want to warm it up and brown the breadcrumbs. Remove from the hot oil or from the air fryer and serve as soon as you can – they do keep warm in the oven quite nicely but are best straight from the pan.
Serve with a little pot of mayonnaise mixed with crushed garlic and a simple green salad.
Spanish Lentil Salad (vegan option)
The Spanish are so good at meals for hot weather, they have to be. When we’re in a heatwave here in Blighty, we crave cooling but nourishing dishes, and can do no better than to take a lesson from our Spanish cousins.
Lentil salad is a quiet classic. Easy to make, keeps in the fridge for days, goes with just about anything, and you can eat it on its own or put a boiled egg on top for an extra bit of excitement. Perfect for lunchboxes and relaxed lunches alike. This salad has the taste of Spain in a subtle way – the dressing contains pimento pepper, which is like paprika, and cumin for that very slightly Arabic edge. It’s not spicy, but if you want to spice it up a bit you could certainly add some sliced chilli to the vegetables or a teaspoon of chilli to the dressing. I adapted the recipe from SpanishSabores.com who have a whole host of inspiring Spanish recipes on line but I was really trying to re-create the dish I had at Finca el Cerillo in the hills above Malaga and I think I’ve got the essence of it here.
You could add some feta cheese, or some other herbs. If you add tomatoes, then it won’t keep as long because of the additional juice, but they are very pleasant in the salad too.
Serves 8 as part of a selection of salads Timings: 1 hour
Put the lentils and the lentil vegetables on to boil in a large pan – about 2cm of water covering the top of the lentils. Bring to the boil and simmer while you grill the peppers. Simmer the lentils for about 15 minutes, then check – they should be just done, with a bit of texture to them. Test them and give them another 5 minutes if you think they aren’t done enough but be careful, you don’t want to overcook. When they’re done, drain in a sieve and leave to cool down. Remove the vegetables that were boiled with the lentils.
While the lentil simmer, put the peppers on a tray under a hot grill and keep turning them as the skin blisters and blackens. When they are blackened on all sides, put them straight into a glass bowl with a plate on top. (Much better than the old method of putting grilled peppers in a plastic bag – we now know that we’d rather not have plastic touching hot food.) Give them 10 minutes to collapse and cool down while you make the dressing.
To make the dressing: shake all the ingredients together in a jar, and taste. Adjust the seasoning, you might need more salt or lemon juice or honey.
Go back to the peppers and now you can peel them easily, scraping away the skin from the flesh and discarding the insides and the seeds. Chop the flesh of the peppers into small dice.
Clean and chop the other fresh vegetables and then mix everything together.
Chill in the fridge for at least an hour or better 3 hours before serving.
Keeps for several days in a sealed container in the fridge.
Mushy Peas – Nottingham Caviar (vegan)
Long ago, the Goose Fair at Nottingham, held in early October, was the last and the largest of the country-wide fairs in England. Fairs were an important part of the employment market, for hiring new staff for agricultural or construction work. They weren’t originally for entertainment rides or peep shows. Wherever people gather, other people will come; to sell food, side shows, thrills. Men and women seeking work would come to the Goose Fair, stroll the alleys of tents and hustings, maybe buy something to eat.
Mushy peas were traditionally served in a paper cone and eaten with a splash of mint sauce. They’re hot, cheap and filling. The sauce adds piquancy and tingle to the salty peas and the mint gives extra digestibility and removes some of the gassy effect of the creamy mash. So they say.
Even in the 1980s, when the Goose Fair was about dodgems and whirler rides, you could still buy mushy peas and mint sauce to enjoy among the fairground lights and blaring whistles. The last stall selling Nottingham Peas and Mint Sauce in the city’s old Victoria Market closed down in the Covid crisis. There are hopes it can open again once customers come back, for now, you can make your own.
Serves 6-8 Timings: Overnight soak, then 4 hours simmering
For the mint sauce: a good bunch of fresh mint leaves, finely chopped. 1 tablespoon malt vinegar and 1 tablespoon cider vinegar. 2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons sugar. Blend well and adjust the seasonings.
Soak the peas overnight in a good amount of water and mix in the bicarbonate of soda. The peas will absorb quite a lot of water so top it up before you go to bed.
In the morning, tip the peas into a colander and wash them well.
Put them in a pan with the vegetables and fennel seeds and top up with fresh water and bring to the boil. Don’t add salt at this stage or it will harden the peas. As the pan comes to the boil, skim off the foam. Once the pan has come to the boil you can continue the cooking in a slow cooker - on high for 4 hours, or on the hob at a slow simmer, or in the oven in a low heat with the lid on the casserole. You need to check the water level – not too much or too little! In the slow cooker, just have enough liquid to cover the peas.
At the end of 4 hours, test them – they should be mushy and starting to fall apart. Check the level of liquid – you want to mash the peas down into the liquid but you want a porridge-texture mash, so you can drain off a little water if you still have too much. Mash the peas with a potato masher and add salt to taste – you will need quite a bit as they have been cooked without.
You can keep them in a covered container in the fridge for 2-3 days or freeze them. Serve lukewarm with a good splash of mint sauce.
What a smart and retro starter to a meal, and part of all our heritage.
South German Potato Salad (vegan optional)
Actually, “Swabian” Potato Salad, but not everyone outside of Germany (and not everyone inside Germany either) knows where the unofficial district of Swabia belongs. You won’t find it on a postcode or town name but it’s an area taking in parts of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemburg with about 7 million inhabitants. It has it’s own culinary traditions and specialities which I was fascinated to learn about when I lived in Ulm - a beautiful town on the Danube. Eating new food when you’ve moved to a new country is a bit different from eating new things on holiday. You aren’t going back, so you have to get used to them and work out what you like to eat on a daily basis, and what your friends are likely to serve you.
I’ve always loved the English version of potato salad: perky little new potatoes, rich with mayonnaise, piquant with spring onions and chives, spritzed with lemon juice and sparkled with ground black pepper. I was initially suspicious of Swabian Potato Salad – the potatoes melt almost to a slurry in the stock, there’s no creamy mayonnaise in sight, and it is served at room temperature – how odd is that? But if you come at it from another angle, don’t see it as competition to a much-loved favourite, you will also find this delicious and quite different. It is a perfect accompaniment to a barbeque, it matches with grilled meat or sausages as effortlessly as you might expect from a German dish. It’s also great with cold meat from a next-day roast leftovers or with a big salad.
Try it and be brave. I’m sure you’ll enjoy.
Serves 6 Timings: 1 hour preparation, then time to cool.
Scrub then boil the potatoes in their skins until tender – about 30 minutes depending on their size.
Meanwhile make up the stock in a jug if you are using cubes or powder, or warm it up in a small pan if you are using home made stock. Slice 2 of the shallots and the leek up very finely and put them into the warm stock to tenderise. Reserve the remaining shallot and also slice it up very finely.
When the potatoes have boiled and are tender inside, drain them and let them cool a little and then peel them while they are still warm. As you peel them, chop them in slices and drop them into your serving bowl, adding ladles of warm stock as you go. Don’t use all the stock to start with. When you’ve sliced up about half the potatoes, add the vinegar to the bowl. Go on peeling and slicing potatoes and add them to the bowl along with the reserved shallot. Add more stock until you have quite a loose mixture. Taste and adjust the seasoning – you might need more salt depending on the stock you used and you might need a good grind of black pepper.
Add the parsley and mix, then allow to cool and serve at room temperature.
The salad can be kept in a sealed container in the fridge for at least a day but I wouldn’t freeze it.
Green Beans Curry (vegan)
Another recipe from my neighbour, Asha, who makes such glorious food. It’s called a
“dry curry” – it’s not completely dry but there is no sauce to be mopped up. The fresh green beans still have their snap, and they end up coated in a savoury paste with spicy tomato flavour and the faintest background nuttiness from the coconut. You don’t taste or feel the desiccated coconut, so this can be served even to people who generally avoid the texture of coconut, and it just adds the extra nutrition and slight creaminess. I like to serve it with a dhal or other quite liquid dish for contrast.
I’ve never seen this recipe in a restaurant, so I don’t know exactly where it came from. I’ve seen a Sri Lankan green bean curry that uses coconut milk but that’s a lot more sauced than this version. If anyone knows any more about it, please let me know – I’d be interested to hear.
You can of course add other things to the basic vegan dish – cubed paneer or leftover cooked chicken are lovely mixed into the beans.
Serves 4 as a main dish alongside Makhani Dhal or other Dhal dish Timings: 45 minutes
Ground spices: 2 teaspoons turmeric, 1 teaspoon chilli powder, 2 teaspoons garam masala
Whole spices: 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
Top and tail the French beans and if they are thicker than a pencil, slice them down the middle to make thinner slices – you are cooking them quite quickly so they need to be thin.
Put the beans, the ground spices, coconut, ginger and tomato puree into a microwave bowl with 2-3 tablespoons of water and cook on full power for 6 minutes. You can of course cook them in a pan with only a small amount of water – you are looking to steam the beans quite lightly. When finished cooking, leave them in their pan until the next stage.
In a large frying pan, fry the onion in a little oil until transparent. You don’t want it to brown, so keep stirring and don’t heat too much. Add the potato cubes and continue stirring to warm them through. Add the whole spices and cook to release the flavours.
Tip the beans and any liquid they have into the pan and turn up the heat a bit. Stir through and cook finally for another 2-3 minutes.
Adjust the seasoning – it will need salt and pepper and add the lemon juice.
Serve sprinkled with fresh coriander.
Bombay Potatoes (vegan)
Just spectacular. The family gobbled them up and would have eaten twice the portions. Another lesson in why the simplest things are often the best.
This is a dish you find all over India, so I don’t know why Bombay, now Mumbai, became specifically associated with them. Every family and every restaurant have their own way of doing it – some recipes are more roasted, some have more sauce, some include tomatoes and some don’t. I make a potato and spinach curry that has more sauce, so I decided to make this one dry and crispy. The whole spices are quite important as they give flavour and a little crunch to the dish.
Serves 4 Timings 90 minutes although you can boil the potatoes beforehand
Boil the potatoes for about 15 minutes in water with the teaspoon of turmeric added – the water will turn bright yellow and so will the cut surfaces of your potatoes. Try to avoid splashing the water on your kitchen work surfaces as it will stain. Drain the potatoes – they should be tender but not falling apart.
Heat your oven to 205°C.
In a large oven proof pan or metal oven tray, gently fry the whole spices in 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil until they release their fragrance – about 2 minutes.
Tip the potatoes into the pan and mix well, sprinkling over the garam masala, curry powder and a generous pinch of salt.
Put the roasting tin into the oven for 45 minutes. Every now and then turn the potatoes with a spatula to ensure all the surfaces get crispy.
Serve either as a side dish to another meal or on their own with some fresh relishes and chutneys.
A Hug from the Kitchen
Healthy, hearty, happy food, for good times and bad. Cheer yourself up, or spread the cheer around your family and friends.