Three must-have mushroom recipes…


In case you missed my latest set of seasonal recipes in Waitrose Weekend two weeks ago, here they are….

These days we are all used to thinking of colourful vegetables such as peppers and aubergines as containing lots of useful nutrients and minerals but the less showy mushroom is just as useful nutritionally. These members of the fungi family are not only full of flavour but are also a great source of valuable vitamins, including vitamins D and B, iron, and selenium, all vital to good health as we head into the winter months with little sunshine. As a cook, I welcome their rich meaty flavours and texture. They add depth and interest to many dishes at this time of year. The secret is to give them careful cooking as they are full of water (most mushrooms are 90% water!) and can go slimy if treated in the wrong way. Short, fast cooking is the trick, which also helps to retain the valuable nutrients.

There are plenty of different varieties of cultivated mushrooms now available in store from the more familiar button and chestnut to exotic mixes. Picking the right one for the recipe is the secret to success – at one end of the scale button mushrooms retain their texture and colour so are good in chicken or lighter dishes whilst dark rich field mushrooms can be stuffed and baked or sliced and used in pies and braises.

Mushroom and coconut curry with coriander chutney

Mushrooms haven’t been traditionally used in Indian cookery apart from in the south of the country but make a very tasty speedy supper dish when cooked with curry spices and coconut milk. Use fat Portobello mushrooms thickly sliced or halved and top with a simple fresh coriander chutney

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAServes 2/Prep 15 mins/Cook 10 minutes

1 tbsp cold pressed rapeseed oil
1 echalion shallot, finely chopped
1.5 cm piece ginger, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 – 2 red chillies, seeded and chopped
1 – 2 tsp Cooks Ingredients Keralan curry paste (you can use curry powder)
250g Portobello mushrooms, thickly sliced or halved
200g coconut milk
juice of 1 lime
50g LoveLife cashew nuts (or almonds)
1/2 pack fresh coriander, finely chopped
natural yogurt to serve (optional)

1 Heat the oil in a medium pan and add the shallot, ginger, garlic and half the chilli. Cook for several minutes until soft then add the curry paste and cook for a minute. Put the heat up and add the mushrooms and cook over a high heat for a couple of minutes until lightly browned.

2 Turn down the heat and add the coconut milk, juice of ½ lime and cashews. Season and simmer for 5 minutes until the sauce is thickened and the mushrooms are tender but not collapsed.

3 Chop the coriander and mix with the remaining lime juice and remaining chopped chilli. Serve the mushrooms with the coriander chutney, lime wedges and a dollop of yogurt if you feel like it. I served mine with the lovely LoveLife red Camargue and wild rice mix but you can serve it with warm Indian bread.

Flaky mushroom, celeriac and thyme pie

There is nothing more comforting now as the days get shorter than a well-baked pie. This one marries the earthy flavours of mushrooms with mellow rich celeriac – a marriage made in heaven to be sure. If you have the time, try the quick flaky pastry for its lovely texture and flavour but if not you can substitute ready-made shortcrust pastry with butter


Serves 6/Prep 40 minutes plus chilling/Cook 1 hour

For the quick flaky pastry:
175g butter, stored in the freezer
225g plain flour
beaten egg to glaze
For the filling:
1 large celeriac, about 800g
vegetable stock
3 tbsp double cream
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp olive oil
15g butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 x 200g packs mixed exotic mushrooms
2 tbsp each chopped fresh thyme and parsley 

1 To make the pastry, put the butter in the freezer for half an hour. Sift the flour into a bowl with a pinch of salt. Wrap one end of the butter in foil and coarsely grate into the flour. Mix to coat the butter in the flour then add 85 – 100ml chilled water and mix to a soft dough with a knife. Bring together with your hands into a dough, wrap in film and chill for 30 minutes.

2 Preheat the oven to 200C gas mark 6. Peel the celeriac and cut into thick matchsticks. Cook in the boiling stock for 15 – 20 minutes until tender. Toss with seasoning, cream and mustard and leave to cool. Meanwhile cook the onion and garlic in the hot oil and butter in a large frying pan for a few minutes until softened then add the mushrooms and cook over a high heat for 5 minutes until lightly browned. Stir in the herbs and seasoning and tip the pan ingredients onto a plate to cool.

3 Roll out two thirds of the pastry and use to line a 20cm spring-release cake tin. Spoon the mushroom mixture over the pastry and spread level. Arrange the celeriac over the top. Roll out the remaining pastry and use to cover the pie, pinching to seal the edges. Brush the pastry with beaten egg, cut a steam hole in the centre and bake for 25 – 30 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden. Serve hot in wedges with salad or cold for packed lunches.

Baked chicken with mushrooms and Gorgonzola

This dish reminds me of my mother’s cooking – easy to prepare and a classic combination of flavours that everyone loves. Button mushrooms work best here as they stay firm and don’t leach colour into the sauce. You can swap the chicken thighs for breast fillets but I prefer their texture and taste, and cooking chicken on the bone adds enormously to the flavour of the finished dish


Serves 4/Prep 15 minutes/Cook 25 minutes

4 large chicken thighs
1 tbsp seasoned flour
1 tsp olive oil
15g butter
400g button mushrooms, halved
2 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
50ml white wine
150 ml chicken stock
50g Gorgonzola, cubed
50ml crème fraiche
chopped fresh flat leafed parsley to serve

1 Preheat the oven to 180C gas mark 4. Toss the chicken thighs in the seasoned flour to coat. Heat half the oil and half the butter together in a flameproof casserole and cook the chicken thighs until golden brown, turning once. Transfer to a plate and cover loosely with foil.

2 Add the rest of the oil and butter to the pan and add the mushrooms. Cook over a high heat for 3 -4 minutes until lightly browned, then return the chicken thighs to the pan, add the tarragon, wine, stock and seasoning and bring to the boil. Cover the pan and place in the oven for 25 minutes.

3 Scatter over the Gorgonzola and pour over the cream, return the pan to the oven for 5 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce just thickened. Scatter with parsley and serve with egg tagliatelle to soak up the delicious sauce.

Cook’s tip: you can use skinless thighs or breasts here for a lighter dish but for the classic full flavoured finish as a special treat I like to leave the skin on but make sure it is well browned


Three quick ideas with mushrooms

Baking large field mushrooms with a stuffing makes an easy lunch or simple supper. Try this pesto and olive crust – remove the stalks from large flat mushrooms and chop. Stuff the shells with a mixture of basil pesto, dried breadcrumbs and chopped Kalamata olives with the chopped mushroom stalks. You can bind with an egg yolk if it needs it. Scatter with pine nuts and grated pecorino or Parmesan and a little olive oil and bake in a hot oven until golden and tender.

Papardelle with mushroom, pancetta and rosemary – mushrooms make a wonderfully meaty quick sauce for pasta. Fry pancetta cubes in a little oil then add sliced portabellini mushrooms, fresh rosemary, chopped garlic and cook over a high heat. Add a dash of white wine then toss with cooked pasta and grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Mushrooms on toast – one of my favourite ways to enjoy mushrooms at their simplest and best. Chestnut mushrooms work well here and I slice them then fry them quickly in a little butter, add a chopped clove of garlic, cook for a minute, then scatter over plenty of chopped flat leaf parsley and pile onto toasted sourdough. You can add a dash of cream or sherry to finish but the dish works well without

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A quick fridge supper – roasted spiced chickpeas and tomatoes

IMG_4767Last night in the fridge I found leftover canned chickpeas, squashy vine tomotoes on their last legs, fresh coriander and lime and the mixed Greek yogurt and mango chutney I served with my pheasant tikka recipe on Saturday. They became a really tasty easy supper like this:

Roasted spiced chickpeas and tomatoes with lime


For two, I mixed 250 – 300g (a drained 400g can) of cooked chickpeas with 2 banana shallots cut into wedges and added 1 tbsp Pure Kent rapeseed oil, two teaspoons each of ground cumin and ground coriander and salt and pepper. I spread this over the base of a shallow roasting tin and cooked for 15 minutes in the oven at 220C fan oven 190C gas mark 7, stirring once or twice until golden. I cut 4 large vine tomatoes into wedges and mixed them with a seeded and chopped red chilli and 2 chopped cloves garlic and added them to the roasting tin for a further 20 – 25 minutes until they were softened and the whole thing smelt wonderful. To serve, I squeezed over the juice of a lime, spooned over 3 or 4 tablespoons of mixed Greek yogurt and mango chutney and scattered with chopped fresh coriander. We mopped it up with warmed naan bread and it was heavenly!

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Modern game: 3 simple recipes for pheasant, venison and wild boar


Here are the three game recipes I cooked at Penshurst Farmers Market today with the superb meat from regular stallholder at the market, Kieron’s Game. Sadly the weather wasn’t on our side so rain stopped play a little early but these three raised sprits amongst market visitors despite the deluge and are favourites that I will be cooking again and again for family and friends this winter

Pheasant tikka

Pheasant breast fillets are one of the most useful cuts – lean, flavoursome and so simple to cook. This is one of my favourite ways to cook them, as the slightly gamey flavour of the meat is perfectly complemented by the addition of spices. It’s quick, easy and healthy too so what’s not to like! This version isn’t overly hot so is suitable for the whole family – use more chilli for a more fiery finish. I also like to marinate 4 breasts in one go when cooking for two then freeze two of them in the marinade for an easy meal later in the month


Serves 4/Prep 10 minutes plus marinating time overnight /Cook 10 minutes

4 boned pheasant breasts, skinned
2 tbsp each natural yogurt and mango chutney
flat bread, fresh coriander and lime wedges to serve
For the tikka marinade
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 small piece fresh root ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 red chilli, seeded and chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp smoked paprika
juice of 1 small lemon
1 tbsp natural yogurt
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper

 1 Blitz together the marinade ingredients in a blender or processor and pour into a large resealable plastic bag. Add the pheasant and massage with the marinade to coat each piece thoroughly. Ideally leave overnight in the fridge or for at least a couple of hours. for the spices to really settle into the meat.

2 The next day preheat the oven to 200ºC gas mark 6. Transfer the pheasant to a shallow roasting tin with the marinade, cover with buttered foil and cook for 15 minutes then remove the foil and cook for a further 5 minutes until golden and cooked through. You can also cook the pheasant breasts on a lightly oiled griddle for 5 – 8 minutes turning once until browned and cooked through. Pheasant can be served slightly pink at the centre to avoid it drying out too much.

3 Cut the pheasant into thick strips and serve in warmed flat bread, sprinkled with lime juice and fresh coriander and a dollop of the thick yogurt mixed with the mango chutney.

Venison steaks with quick béarnaise sauce

Great quality produce such as the wonderful venison steak I buy from local game dealer Kieron at Penshurst Farmers Market every month needs only the simplest cooking. This recipe couldnt be easier to prepare as you can make the béarnaise sauce ahead and chill it till you need it. I make it using  my trusty stick blender

Serve 2 Preparation 10 minutes Cook 10–12 minutes

1 tsp black peppercorns, coarsely ground (optional)
1 tbsp Pure Kent cold pressed rapeseed oil
2 venison fillet steaks, about 150g each
a  bunch of watercress to serve
For the béarnaise sauce:
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
6 black peppercorns
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 large free-range egg yolk
50g unsalted butter
grated rind and juice of ½ small lemon

1 Press the crushed pepper onto both sides of the steaks. Heat the oil in a ridged griddle pan or non-stick frying pan and cook the steaks on both sides, turning once, for 4–6 minutes for rare, 8–10 minutes for medium and 10–12 minutes for well done.  Remove from the pan and leave to stand in a warm place for at least 5 minutes for the juices to settle.

2 Prepare the béarnaise sauce. Place the vinegar in a small pan with the peppercorns, shallot and 2 tablespoons water. Bring to the boil and simmer until the vinegar is reduced to 1 tablespoon.

3 Strain the reduced vinegar onto the egg yolk and blend briefly to mix. Heat the butter in a small pan until bubbling but not browned. With the blender running, pour the hot butter on the egg yolks in a steady stream. The sauce should be thick and creamy. Stir in the lemon rind and the juice, season to taste and serve with the steak. All I need with this is thin cut chips and a watercress salad.

This is an edited version of the recipe I created for The WI Cookbook:The First 100 Years

Easy wild boar and pheasant pie with quail’s eggs

This simple pie couldn’t be easier to put together using sausages and pheasant breasts fillets and quail’s eggs from Jennie at Far Acre Farm (I also buy my eggs from her every market as a mixed tray lasts me the full month until the next one). It makes a great family supper dish  served with baked potatoes and baked beans or veg, or take wedges on a winter picnic or packed lunch. It is also useful to have in the freezer over Christmas. I like to use the same apricot and wild boar sausagemeat filling for sausage rolls, using ready-made sheets of all-butter puff pastry for speed to go with Christmas drinks


Serves 6 -8 /Preparation 20 minutes /Cook 50 – 60 minutes

12 quail’s eggs
2 sheets all butter shortcrust pastry, thawed
500g Kieron’s Game wild boar and apple or venison sausages
50g soft apricots, snipped into pieces
2/3 boned pheasant breasts, skinned (about 300g)
3 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
salt and freshly ground black pepper
beaten egg to glaze.

1 Preheat the oven to 200ºC gas mark 6. Put the quail’s eggs in a pan of cold water, bring to the boil and cook for 3 minutes. Drain, run under cold water to cool then peel. Take the skins from the sausages and mix the sausage meat with the snipped apricots.

2 Use one sheet of the pastry to line an oblong 27 x 17cm baking tin or dish. Spread the sausagemeat over the base. Arrange the quail’s eggs on top. Cut the pheasant breasts into thin strips and toss with seasoning and the chopped tarragon. Arrange over the eggs. Brush the pastry edges with water. Use the other sheet of pastry to cover the top, tucking the ends in to completely contain the filling. Pinch the edges together to seal.

3 Brush the pie with a little egg and make two steam holes with a knife. Place the pie on a preheated baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes then reduce the heat to 180C gas mark 4 for a further 30 – 40 minutes until the filling is cooked through. Serve warm or leave to cool then chill until ready to serve. Serve cut into wedges with Sugar and Spice’s Chilli Jelly or a locally-made chutney and a watercress and radish salad.


My wild boar and apple sausage rolls went down well at the market today


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Three of the best: easy pumpkin and squash recipes for the whole family


Last weekend saw the first of my new seasonal eating columns appear in Waitrose Weekend newspaper. Designed to highlight different ways to prepare a seasonal ingredient, either vegetable or fruit, the column will appear once a month with three of my favourite recipes plus some simple preperation ideas.

If you’re at all like me, it’s so easy to buy a large bag of something like kale, a gorgeous crispy Savoy cabbage or squash, use half for a recipe and then wonder what to do with the rest. This feature is designed to help solve that challenge and I intend that the recipes I show are the ones that really highlight the best ways to get the most out of the ingredient. These are my hero recipes for that particular month.

If you didn’t pick up last week’s issue (Oct 12 – 15) and so missed out on the recipes, I’m posting them here.



Waitrose Weekend – 12th October 2017


I love this time of year when the rich colours of the season are nowhere more exemplified than in the wonderful variety of winter squashes with all their glorious golds, reds and oranges. When I started out as a food writer nearly forty years ago they were nowhere to be seen.  Now I wouldn’t be without them for their versatility and ability to add colour and comfort to my favourite dishes. Each one has its own characteristics and flavour but are easily interchangeable in most recipes. I’ve picked three of my favourite ways of cooking them (plus some standby easy suggestions) – each of these recipes will be appearing again at my kitchen table over the next few months if I have anything to do with it.


Spiced butternut squash with chickpeas and coconut

A versatile dish that is better made a day or two ahead, I like to make it with chickpeas soaked and cooked from scratch for the texture they bring. I soak and cook a whole pack and freeze any I don’t use for other dishes such as hummus.


This dish improves with keeping so I try to make it at least a day ahead

Serves 6/Prepare 20 minutes plus overnight soaking time/Cook 2 hours

200g LoveLife dried chickpeas
1 cinnamon stick
4 cloves garlic
1 large butternut squash about 500g, peeled, deseeded and cubed
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
6 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
I large red onion, thinly sliced
3 tbsp rose harissa
2 preserved lemons, chopped
400ml can coconut milk
Greek yogurt and chopped fresh coriander to serve

1 Cover the chickpeas with cold water and leave to soak overnight. The next day drain and place in a pan with enough cold water to cover generously. Add a cinnamon stick and 2 whole garlic cloves, bring to the boil and cook for 10 minutes then reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes until tender.

2 Preheat the oven to 220C gas mark 7. Toss the cubed squash with the oil, cumin, coriander, cardamom, sugar and seasoning. Arrange in a single layer in a roasting tin, and roast for 30 – 40 minutes turning occasionally until the squash is golden brown.

3 While the squash is roasting, drain the chickpeas. Heat remaining oil and cook the onion and remaining chopped garlic until soft then return chickpeas to the pan with 600ml of their cooking liquid. Add the harissa, preserved lemons and coconut milk and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes then stir in the roasted squash and all the juices from the roasting tin. Simmer together for a further 10 minutes then serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt scattered with chopped fresh coriander, accompanied by warm flat bread or pitta.

Mary’s tip: I love this dish so much I make this full recipe amount even if only cooking for a couple of us and then whizz up any leftovers with chicken or vegetable stock for a warming soup the next day


Pumpkin and chorizo risotto with pine nut crisp

In the darker months, this risotto is one of my favourites and a good way to use up all the pumpkin you don’t need after making Halloween lanterns with the kids. The cheese crisp isn’t essential but I like the texture it adds to the finished dish

One of my favourite autumn suppers

Serves 3 – 4/Prepare 15 minutes/Cook 40 minutes

60g Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated
1 tbsp pine nuts
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
60g Cooks’ Ingredients diced chorizo
500g Coquina squash, peeled, deseeded and cubed
1 tbsp chopped fresh sage
250g risotto rice
75ml dry white wine
1 litre simmering chicken stock
15g butter

1 Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a baking sheet with a sheet of baking parchment. Scatter half the grated cheese to a thickness of about 1cm and add a few pine nuts to each – don’t press down. Bake for 7 – 8 minutes until melted and golden. Leave to cool on the sheet for a few minutes then transfer to a cooling rack.

2 While the crisp is cooking put the oil, onion and chorizo in a medium non-stick pan. Cook over a medium heat for 2 – 3 minutes until softened. Add the cubed squash and cook over a medium heat for 12 – 15 minutes until the squash is tender and golden brown. Stir in the sage and rice and cook for a minute to coat in the pan juices, then stir in the white wine.

3 Gradually add the hot stock a ladleful at a time and keep stirring with the mixture bubbling gently until the rice absorbs each amount then add more stock and continue to stir until that is absorbed. This will take 15 – 20 minutes by which time you should have a creamy risotto with the rice just tender but not mushy.

4 Off the heat stir in the Parmesan and butter and season to taste. Leave the pan to stand with the lid on for 5 minutes. Serve in warmed serving plates with the cheese crisp broken into pieces.

Mary’s tip: Chill any leftover risotto then roll into balls and coat in egg and breadcrumbs. Fry in oil for a snack or tapa.


Squash and shallot tarte Tatin

Oh, the joy of ready-made all butter puff pastry for a dish like this! It’s so quick to prepare and cook, making this tarte a favourite for Saturday lunch or when cold, cut into pieces for tapas


Wonderful hot or cold

Serves 2 – 3/Prepare 20 minutes/Cook 50 minutes

2 tbsp olive oil
400g onion squash, deseeded and cut into wedges (you can peel it or not depending on what kind of finish you want)
6 echalion shallots, skinned, trimmed and cut in half
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
320g ready rolled sheet all butter puff pastry

1 Preheat the oven to 220C gas mark 7. Heat the oil in a deep 23cm heavy duty omelette pan with an oven-proof handle over a medium heat (you could use a heavy-duty cake tin instead). Arrange the squash and shallots, cut side down, in a single layer over the surface of the pan so there are no gaps. Pour over the honey, vinegar and thyme and season well. Cook for 20 – 25 minutes on a gentle heat without turning or stirring until the vegetables are golden brown underneath and almost tender. Cover the pan with foil or a lid for the last 5 minutes to cook the top of the vegetables. Remove from the heat.

2 Cut a circle the same diameter as the pan from the pastry (use the trimmings for cheese straws). Lift carefully to cover the vegetables, pressing firmly into place and tucking in the edges neatly. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 25 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden brown.

3 Remove the pan from the oven and leave to stand for 5 minutes. Invert onto a warm serving plate and allow the tarte to drop onto the plate. If any vegetables have become detached simply place back in position. Serve warm or cold with a salad or green vegetable.

Mary’s tip: Roll out the pastry trimmings to a rectangle, brush with a little English mustard and scatter with grated cheese (a good way to use up dog-ends!) Fold over, cut into strips and bake until crisp.


Three quick ideas with squashes

Roast squash wedges – toss a pack of Butternut squash wedges (or any cubed left over pumpkin from the other recipes) in a mix of ground cumin, smoked paprika, a little chilli and dark brown sugar and some olive oil. Roast in a hot oven for about 45 minutes, turning once or twice until golden.

Squash, ginger and lentil soup –Sweat unpeeled wedges of Coquina or Onion squash  with crushed garlic and chopped root ginger in a little oil until golden and tender, add to red lentils and vegetable stock and cook until soft then puree. Serve with a dollop of yogurt.

Braised pumpkin, apple and onion – cook chunks of pumpkin with sliced cooking chorizo or pancetta cubes until browned. Add cored wedges of Cox apples, chunks of red onion and season. Tip into in a baking dish, add the grated rind and juice of 1/2 lemon and pour over a glassful of white wine. Bake in a medium hot oven until tender. Add cooked puy lentils and a scattering of chopped flatleaf parsley to make a hearty supper dish or pour over half a small carton of double cream and scatter with grated Parmesan and grill until golden and bubbling and serve as a veg accompaniment..

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Courgette, lime and choc chip loaf cake

IMG_4061This recipe appears in Waitrose Weekend newspaper this week (7- 9th July), part of a great set of four alongside a lovely Hot smoked salmon and asparagus plait, Flat iron chicken with watercress and pea salad and an asparagus and chorizo pasta dish. I’m posting the cake here too as I am so pleased with it. Since coming up with it a few months ago I have cooked it again and again and made a few tweaks in the process so this version is slightly different to the one in print in store. Both are good but I think this is better!

The loaf is light-textured but not dry with a lovely pale green colour from the lime and courgette, which complement each other taste wise. If you haven’t made a courgette cake before, it works rather like grated carrot adding texture and delicate flavour. It keeps well for up to a week and freezes too so I’ve been making two and with my courgettes just starting to produce regularly I’ll be making this cake again and again through the summer

Courgette, lime and choc chip loaf cake

Makes 1 loaf/Prepare 15 minutes/Cook 50 – 60 minutes

250g courgettes, trimmed and coarsely grated
250g plain flour ( I use Pure Kent’s Wheat and Barley flour for its nutty flavour)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
125g unsalted butter, softened
125g light muscovado sugar
3 medium eggs, beaten
grated rind and juice of 1 1/2 large limes
100g Cooks Ingredients dark chocolate chips 

1 Preheat the oven to 180C gas mark 4. Wrap the grated courgettes in a clean tea towel and squeeze to remove all the liquid.

2 Sift together the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl until really pale and creamy. Beat in the eggs a tablespoon at a time followed by the lime rind. Fold in the sifted flour and grated courgettes, mixing to a soft consistency with the lime juice. Fold in the chocolate chips.

3 Spoon the mixture into a greased and base lined 900g loaf tin and level the surface. Bake for 45 – 50 minutes until well risen and golden and a skewer emerges clean and dry from the centre of the loaf. Turn out onto a wire cooling rack and leave to cool. Serve in slices.

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Broad beans, peas, mackerel and strawberries – simple summer eating this June at the farmers’ market

The glorious weather we’ve been enjoying this May seems to be continuing into June and although the lack of rain is not so good for farmers and my garden with its newly planted hedges, it means dining al fresco is a pleasure. With so much wonderful choice at the market, preparing a meal couldn’t be easier as at this time of year produce needs little enhancement to be enjoyed at its best.


Mackerel is the perfect fish for the barbecue this summer

Tomorrow, June 3rd, I’ll be cooking mackerel with Paul from Arcade Fisheries for our annual Fish Day at Penshurst Farmers Market. This silvery summer fish is perfect for outdoor eating. Cheap, tasty and best served as simply as possible, its natural oils keep the fish from drying out on the barbecue or griddle pan. It can be baked whole in the oven or served raw as sashimi or ‘cooked’ in lime juice for a ceviche.

Serve with something acidic to counteract the richness of the flesh – a simple squeeze of lemon juice, traditionally with a seasonal rhubarb or gooseberry sauce,  or with a salad of wafer-thin fennel tossed with chopped fresh dill and a dressing of cider vinegar and rapeseed oil.

We are all being encouraged to eat oily fish at least once a week for its many health benefits. Mackerel is rich in healthy omega 3 fatty acids that lower the risk of heart disease, contains high levels of potassium which is beneficial to maintain healthy blood pressure levels, and is an excellent natural source of vitamin D. Studies have found it could help reduce the risk of dementia and prostate cancer. So make mackerel your fish of choice this summer. Buy at the market where your fishmonger can prepare it for you (ask him to butterfly or fillet for easy cooking and no bones) to ensure it’s at its freshest and best, .

What else to look out for this June

IMG_1707By the summer solstice on June  21st  the sun will be rising by 4am and setting at 10pm as we mark the middle of the summer. Longer days mean growers and producers are at full stretch, and the fruits of their labours should now be in glorious evidence at your local market. Spring lamb, mackerel, asparagus, broad beans, new potatoes, strawberries and cherries – all the ingredients of a perfect midsummer celebration and at their very best this month so head off into the countryside on a quest for the best.

There are also early cucumbers, peas, French beans, spinach and courgettes, alongside all kinds of salad leaves now in season. It’s also the ideal time to plant out ‘ready to plant’ herbs and summer bedding plants. And don’t miss the last of the asparagus as the short season comes to a close this month.

The long days and the warmth also herald the start of the great English soft fruit season with strawberries in abundance – one of the great advantages of local markets is the chance to try some of the finer flavoured varieties rather than the more robust berries grown to withstand the rigours of the supermarket supply chain that may not have the same flavour. Gooseberries (wonderful paired with elderflower) are a seasonal pleasure in fools, crumbles and for jam, and it’s also the month to get summer puddings in the freezer, making the most of raspberries and currants for a traditional treat.

Local eggs are also full of flavour now as chickens enjoy the lush summer grass. A short supply chain means market eggs are really fresh. I buy a tray from Jennie’s Eggs at Penshurst every month, laid the day before the market, so they are good to eat boiled or to cook with until the next market. A frittata is a summer favourite – try this broad bean and pea version below.

Spring lamb is now at its finest, local crabs and lobster are meaty and full of flavour, and if you can find wild salmon or sea trout, simply bake them whole smeared with butter and serve with samphire, asparagus and new potatoes for the finest of English eating.


Broad bean and pea frittata

pea & broadbean frittata

Perfect for a simple lunch or picnic, this Italian egg cake makes the most of summer flavours

Serves 4/Prepare 15 minutes/Cook 25 minutes

3 tbsp olive oil

3 – 4 spring onions, thinly sliced

6 – 8 cooked new potatoes, sliced

100g each podded fresh peas and broad beans

6 free-range eggs

50g hard local goat’s cheese, cubed

3 tbsp chopped fresh chives or mint

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Preheat the grill. Heat half the oil in a large frying pan and add the onions, potatoes and seasoning. Cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes, turning, until golden brown. Blanch the peas and broad beans in boiling water for 2 minutes then drain Add to the onions and potatoes and cook for a couple of minutes. Stir in the goat’s cheese and chopped herbs.

2 Beat the eggs with the seasoning and add what is in the pan. Heat the remaining oil in a frying pan until smoking and pour in the egg mixture. Cook over a medium heat for 4 – 5 minutes until the egg is set and the base is golden. Put the pan under the grill to cook the top. Turn onto a plate and serve warm or at room temperature.




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Beetroot, nettles and rhubarb are the real superfoods of spring. Try them in my seasonal ‘Yogalife’ menu…


The best kind of PYO – nettles and wild garlic growing along the banks of the Medway

Last Saturday, March 17th, yoga teacher Julie Bickerton and I ran our first seasonal yoga and food workshop here in Hartfield @theyogahub Hartfield, Julie’s very special new yoga studio on the boundaries of the glorious Ashdown Forest.

Every season has its own special energy with particular lessons to teach us, if only we take the time to pause and listen to what our bodies are telling us. This quality, inherent in the year’s changing cycle, was reflected in the style of both our yoga practice and the accompanying cookery demonstration. The focus was on local seasonal produce, giving us the perfect opportunity to tune in to what nature is showing us both internally and in the world outside as the countryside emerges from the cold into new life.

One of a series of quarterly workshop which we plan to run either for one day or across a weekend, last Saturday saw us welcome our first group. The day began with a flow practice session to encourage participants to tune into their breath, bodies and the energy emerging in the surrounding countryside. Energised and soothed, we then enjoyed an interactive cookery demonstration and talk about ingredients and cooking methods in Julie’s welcoming country kitchen, a session which morphed effortlessy into lunch and plenty of chat around the subject of food and yoga.

A short walk to appreciate the spring life going on outside the yoga studio followed by a restorative yoga session with yin elements, and we sent our students on their way with tea and chocolate chip cookies. All-in-all a wonderful way to celebrate the longer days, new life and energy of the season.

Here is the menu I cooked and served with recipes adapted from my The Busy Mum’s Cookbook.

Yogalife Spring Equinox Menu

Roasted beetroot hummus with crudites and warm pitta bread

Wild garlic and nettle soup

Local cheeseboard with fig and walnut bread

Rhubarb and almond cake with creme fraiche

I planned this menu around fresh seasonal ingredients to give sluggish immune systems coming back to life after the winter a welcome boost. Cooked simply to preserve nutrients, they promote a healthy gut whilst strengthening and enlivening all the body’s systems. These ingredients have been valued for their effectiveness in aleviating everything from arthritis to bladder infections, hayfever to eczema. Now modern medical research is backing up the value of these traditional remedies as part of a healthy diet.

Roasted beetroot hummus

Hummus has a permanent place in my fridge – it provides an easy healthy lunch or snack and, if I also keep a bag of prepared vegetable sticks ready plus plenty of pitta bread in the freezer, the young graze happily on it rather than on bags of crisps. But I do always make my own as it takes minutes, is much nicer than shop-made and far cheaper…

And adding beetroot brings a glorious technicolour to the finished dish whilst adding sweetness and flavour and plenty of very useful minerals, vitamins, especially C  to aid absorption of the iron in the chick peas and K vitamin which helps the body build bone density. One nutritionist I read referred to beetroot as having ‘exceptional nutrional value”! When I’m organised I soak a pack of dried chickpeas overnight, cook them up and freeze any I don’t need for other dishes, worth it for the best texture for the finished hummus. But if I’m busy, a can will do fine….

Serves 4 – 6/Prep 20mins/Cook 45 – 50 mins plus soaking time overnight

100g dried chickpeas (or 400g can chickpeas) 2 medium raw beetroot, scrubbed and trimmed
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 – 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp tahini paste (optional)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil to finish
warm pitta bread and vegetable crudités to serve

1 Cover the dried chickpeas in cold water and leave to soak overnight. The following day Preheat the oven to 200C/fan oven 190C/Gas mark 6. Drain the chickpeas and place in a pan covered with fresh cold water. Bring to the boil, boil for 10 minutes then simmer for a further 35 – 40 minutes until just tender. Leave to cool in the cooking water.

2  While the chick peas are cooking put the beetroot into wedges and arrange on a baking sheet. Drizzle with half the olive oil, scatter with the cumin seeds and seasoning. Roast for 45 minutes until tender, turning once during cooking. Leave to cool.

3 Place the drained chickpeas in a processor or blender (reserve the cooking water from the chickpeas) with the garlic, lemon juice and seasoning and whiz until almost smooth and thick. Add some of the cooking juices if the mixture is too thick to let it down. Add the beetroot with any cooking juices and tahini and whiz again to give a brightly coloured paste then drizzle in the olive oil and blend again quickly to mix. Check the seasoning.

4 Spoon the hummus into a serving bowl and add a splash of olive oil. Serve with warm pitta bread and vegetable crudites. Keep covered with cling wrap in the fridge for 2 – 3 days.

Cook’s tip: Both the cooked chick peas and hummus freeze well so I tend to make a large batch then keep chickpeas and hummus in my freezer ready for emergencies. Freeze in rigid containers for up to three months. Defrost overnight loosely wrapped in a cool place.

Wild garlic and nettle soup

The first shoots of nettles and wild garlic are emerging along the banks of streams and in hedgerows, and are a wonderful source of useful minerals and vitamins. They are a seasonal favourite of mine at a time when there isn’t much choice of fresh greenery around. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall was encouraging us to eat more nettles last week on the Today programme and I don’t need much encouragement. I love the idea that I am picking my wild food in the same places that the people who have lived in my cottage over the past 500 years it has been in existence have done at this time of year.

I use both together and separately in soups, potato dishes such as the Nettle Champ recipe in The WI Cookbook: The First 100 Years, in risottos and pasta dishes. Wild garlic also goes into salads, shredded in omelettes or stir fried with ginger as a vegetable, rather like spinach.

Pick just the top six leaves of newly emerging nettles with rubber gloves. Wild garlic can be used with its flowers. Pick away from traffic or where farmers have sprayed. Nettles will lose their sting as soon as you heat them. They have a fresh intense green flavour similar to spinach and are packed with useful vitamins – including A, C, and K – and minerals such as iron and calcium, high in protein, and traditionally valued for their blood thinning and diuretic properties. Wild garlic has a milder flavour than traditional bulbs of garlic and is lovely wrapped around fish fillets before baking, shredded into egg dishes such as omelettes. You can eat the white flowers as well as the leaves. Remember to pick a few leaves from each clump rather than decimate your local patch so the plants are there for others.

For four, chop an onion, celery stick, carrot and leek and cook gently in a tablespoon of cold pressed rapeseed oil – I like to use Claire Ecksley’s lovely PureKent oil as it has a lovely mellow flavour and lacks the harshness that I have found in some other oils. Add a large potato, peeled and cubed, and cook for a few minutes more. Add a litre of good vegetable stock, season and simmer for 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

Pick over and wash 250g each of nettle tops and wild garlic and add to the soup. Simmer for a couple of minutes until wilted. You can either serve the soup as it is or blend – I use my  Bamix stick blender which I like for its powerful motor and ease of use and cleaning. Add more stock if the base is too thick. Season to taste and serve in warm bowls with a dollop of yogurt or creme fraiche. If you haven’t got access to wild garlic and nettles, this is my basic soup recipe and I add whatever veg is around – broccoli, spinach, kale, chard, etc. It’s a great way to use up leftover veg in the bottom of the fridge. You can also add a can of canellini beans or borlotti beans with the green veg. I then freeze any leftovers.

Rhubarb and almond cake

This cake is a favourite stand-by dessert in my home at any time of year, usually served warm with ice cream following a Sunday roast. I just add whatever fruit is in season so it becomes apple and blackberry in autumn, raspberry and redcurrant in the summer and mincemeat and cranberry for Christmas. At this time of year in the spring I use lovely pink forced rhubarb. It’s another super food Whatever version I serve, people love it – the perfect recipe! And any leftovers go into the cake tin for later in the week

Makes one 20cm cake/Prep 15 minutes/Cook 1 ¼ – 1 ½ hours

175g plain flour ( I love PureKent’s Stoneground Wheat and Barley Flour)
  2tsp baking powder
200g caster sugar
50g ground almonds
150g butter, melted
2 large free-range eggs, beaten
500g rhubarb, trimmed and sliced
25g flaked almonds

1 Preheat the oven to 170C/fan oven 160C/ Gas Mark 3. Butter and base line a loose-bottomed deep 20cm cake tin.

2 Sift the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Stir in the sugar and ground almonds then beat in the melted butter and beaten eggs to give a soft mixture that drops easily off a wooden spoon. Spoon half the mixture over the base of the cake tin. Arrange the apple slices and blackberries over the cake base then drop the rest of the mixture over in spoonfuls, leaving gaps. Scatter with the flaked almonds.

3 Bake in the preheated oven for 1 ¼ – 1 1/2 hours until well risen and golden and a skewer inserted into the centre emerges clean and dry. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes then remove from the tin and leave on a wire rack to cool. Serve with creme fraiche or good quality vanilla ice cream.


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