Fresh green asparagus cooked gently with butter, served with some shavings of parmesan. Cook them simply. Don’t overcook; they need to have a bite. They love butter, not too high heat, a squeeze of lemon and some parmesan.
Raw asparagus salad with lemon and olive oil dressing. This is a simple salad and of course you can choose not to bother with the peeling, but it makes for a good contrast of textures. The dressing marinates the asparagus a bit and the Parmesan complements them nicely. As fresh green shoots as you can get – and it’s spring by the mouthful!
Aubergine parmigiana in homemade tomato sauce, with mozarella, Parmesan and basil - the classic. It's a delicious standalone dish but also a good side to a steak.
Baked fennel with tomatoes and plums: three ingredients and what a burst of flavour. It makes a good vegetarian lunch or an interesting side for meat or fish.
Perfect crunchy chips oven baked then twice fried. I am not an expert on chips, the only method of preparing potatoes that I’m not terribly keen on.
Salad of cooked and raw beetroot with honey dressing. In the next of my series of how-to-make-hated-vegetables-palatable (see cabbage), let’s tackle beetroot. It never ceases to amaze me that it’s sold ready cooked.
Broccoli and Stilton soup, the easiest and tastiest - and no blender needed. Blended soup is my pet hate, worse than mushy peas or smoothies (though mind: purée - justified; milkshake - okay).
Broccoli cheese spiced up with anchovies and Cayenne pepper, an excellent alternative to cauliflower cheese.
Fresh raw broccoli salad marinated in oriental dressing. Broccoli has come a long way since being served to twelve year old me in the shape of whole boiled head, tasteless and mushy.
Crispy roasted brussels sprouts and blanched sprout tops with almonds. They need to be salted and peppered about twice as much as an amount you think sensible.
Brussels sprouts cooked with fennel and caraway seeds and coated in crushed walnuts, parmesan and breadcrumbs. For a vegetarian option of course leave out the bacon. The fennel and caraway seeds add flavour.
Simple buttered spinach sauteed with thinly sliced garlic. My favourite way of preparing spinach is the simplest: wilted, buttered and then buttered again. It must be fresh, picked off stems, young and tender leaves only. It’s so, so good I can have it on its own, and every other day.
Cauliflower cheese with spices, garlic and creamy sauce. Interesting thing about comfort foods is that they usually tend to be quite bland. I guess when it's cold outside or you're feeling a bit down you don't fancy stimulating senses too much.
Roasted cauliflower parmigiana, cauliflower slices, parmesan and mozzarella layered with simple tomato sauce. A good veggie dish which actually tastes much better than you’d think.
Celeriac gratin - thinly sliced celeriac baked in cream, garlic and Gruyère cheese sauce. Adding cheesy sauce to most veg transforms them into something delishhh so celeriac gratin will work even for people not that keen on the knobbly brute.
Oven roasted celeriac steak with sweet potato chips, vegetarian bliss with no meat substitutes in sight. And it’s made vegan with a simple tweak. Who needs Quorn?
Coleslaw made from slightly fermented cabbage with yoghurt and lemon dressing. Fermentation is crucial – everyone now sings the praise of fermented foods and kimchi seems to rule the world, so take time, all of 10 minutes of it, and leave your cabbage salted until it wilts.
Slow roasted tomato confit. It brings out the flavour hidden deep when it comes to those plasticky looking imported fruits. It’s a slow job – the longer the better. They should still retain their shape but become very soft and quite a bit darker in colour.
Courgette and spinach tian with garlic, pine nuts and cheese. Make a note of the courgette treatment – that’s how this boring vegetable needs to be handled. Squeeze the living daylights out of it and it might just be vaguely tasty.
Courgette fritters in tomato and paprika cornmeal crust. Why is it such a thing about courgettes every summer? Magazines, blogs and weekend supplements fall over themselves to supply novel ways of utilising courgettes:
Zucchini parmigiana becomes here zucchini alla pecorino – let’s stick to courgette gratin, shall we? I like courgette but do agree it needs some oomph to make it less bland and it must borrow flavour from elsewhere – tomato sauce for instance.
Courgette loaf cake or what to do with courgette glut. Let’s be honest here: this is no Great Bake Off contest entry. It’s fairly bland, similarly to the vegetable; will benefit from vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, almond essence, lemon zest and whatever other flavourings you can think of.
Courgette sandwich loaf - tasty, sliceable and excellent when toasted. This is a twist on my onions-and-mash deli bread, a lovely loaf in itself albeit really quite oniony.
Jerusalem artichokes cooked in cream with garlic and tarragon, then baked au gratin style. This dish is supposed to be made with potatoes: sliced thinly, accompanied with herbs and garlic, a bit of onion, a bit of leek and – wait for this – cooked in cream. Literally. Boiled in copious quantity of double cream. Decadent or what?
Creamed corn with blue cheese and fresh ripe tomatoes. Creamed corn in fact is now my number one method of cooking corn and that’s how I’ll continue until the end of the summer and beyond – it’s gorgeous.
Creamy mushrooms - a great side dish. This is one of the best methods of cooking mushrooms in my view - it works fantastically with wild ones in particular. If you can get hold of fresh porcini, morels or ceps, follow the steps below.
Crispy and spicy roasted chickpeas with grilled peppers, a wholesome vegetarian lunch or dinner as chickpeas are an excellent source of protein and fibre.
Crispy tobacco onions - they had me at first bite. There weren’t too many bites to follow because the Former Onion Hater took care of most of the bowl. They go best with steak, chops and burgers – but you might just polish them on their own given a chance...
Crunchy cabbage salad with chopped gherkins and vinaigrette dressing. Raw shredded cabbage is better than the best lettuce, and this salad recipe is the absolute go-to garnish for tacos, gyros, summer rolls and all dishes that want for a bit of crunchy flavoursome greenery.
New potatoes, lightly crushed to release the flavour, with sour, spicy and herby topping. Just boil them until tender, serve with plenty of butter and some dill – a must, marriage made in heaven. Tarragon or mint as an alternative.
Fennel and orange salad. The best thing about raw fennel is that it’s really a wonderful and versatile background for endless variants. I’ve used orange but any other large citrus fruit will do nicely. Ah well, you can even skip the citrus and just dress it with lemon juice...
Savoury tart with fennel and taleggio filling; a vegetarian version of a classic British pie. My offering to vegetarians who like pies, this is actually better the next day at room temperature, if there’s any left.
Filo wrapped asparagus with Parmesan are a crunchy, golden, irresistible vegetarian snack or appetiser. Asparagus and filo parcels cigars - a must before the asparagus season ends.
Quick refrigerator pickles made with cucumbers, asparagus and carrot slices. There are some quite peculiar myths concerning food and eating that people believe in.
Fondant carrots cooked in a butter and water emulsion, with caraway and cinnamon. This method of cooking carrots is similar to carrots Vichy, but there you start off with carrots in water, brought to the boil and butter added later.
Celeriac fondant is a lovely way of cooking one of the more boring vegetables. Fondant - most often potatoes - are cooked in both butter and liquid. They should be cut in a very fancy way, in a shape of little barrels, then placed in a pan into foaming butter.
Fried sliced mushrooms, cooked in butter and a little oil, perfect for breakfast. Who will argue that the simplest things are the best? You can add all kinds of seasoning to mushrooms, cheeses and creams; you can roast them or grill them or deep fry them; cook them whole or chop them up; have them raw if that’s what you fancy – but nothing beats crisp and golden slices fried in butter.
Baby new potatoes, Jersey Royals if you can get them, poached in oil with lemon slices and garlic cloves. It’s almost blasphemous to cook them other than in plenty of water and serve other than with a little butter and salt. But this is absolutely gorgeous and actually brings out the flavour even better. They are not at all greasy.
Garlic mushrooms with parsley - simple and delicious. Mushrooms are an excellent source of protein and fibre. Season them generously and fry them with garlic - so tasty just with a chunk of bread. This is a suggestion for a lovely side dish.
Garlicky runner beans in butter and Parmesan. Nobody likes to admit they were wrong. It’s in human nature I guess – nobody knows their stuff better than we do ours.
Latkes with roasted apple topping, crispy fried shredded potato pancakes traditionally eaten for Jewish Hanukkah. I like to make one giant latke for brunch, topped with crème fraiche and tart roasted apples.
A warm salad of Purple Majesty potatoes, zucchini and radishes. Dark potatoes are fairly common, but the ones I’d had before would turn ordinary white when boiled. Not these beauties! These are perfectly unique. To start with, the skin is almost completely black and while scrubbed, they reveal to have a thin film covering the tuber - like a second skin or, as I like to think, a veil.
Beans and tomatoes, blanched green beans served with sautéed tomatoes cooked with green chilies. A match made in heaven, green beans and tomatoes are for me the classic summery dish.
Green beans with Parmesan cream. The dish makes an elegant side; serve it over rice for a veggie main and throw in slices of cooked chicken for the meat option.
Grilled radicchio salad with Parmesan. Radicchio loses its bitterness when attacked with heat, salt and acid so that’s what I’ve done to make it collapse in a delicious heap.
Hasselback gratin - potato slices stacked like dominoes, baked in creamy and cheesy sauce. They will have their bottoms cooking in the cheese mix and the tops will get scorchy, crispy, crusty, lacey and all the other lovely adjectives that can be applied to cheese.
Hasselbacks - baked potatoes, almost sliced into fries, creamy inside, crispy and scorched on the outside. Isn’t it irresistible to call them Hasselhoff? Easier to make than it sounds, the only caveat is they take longer to cook than you’d have thought.
Fresh salad with sliced raw beetroot, grated cheese and lots of fresh herbs. Of course I know that the textbook pairing of beetroot is with goat’s cheese, with a few pea shoots adorning the dish.
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