Asparagus risotto with Parmesan crackers. Making a good risotto is tricky: the proportion of liquid to rice; when to add on the add-ons; how to score the precise result between tough grains and a slop bucket; whether to use a wooden spoon or a whisk in the absence of the magical girariso and how much butter it REALLY needs.
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.
Avocado and red kidney bean salad with crispy garlic and crunchy seed and nut topping, the garlic and the topping alone make this recipe worth trying!
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.
Baked figs can be a starter, a dessert or a full lunch or brunch dish, with a bit of nice bread. Trim them and cut a cross in each to about halfway down the fruit. Put them on a baking tray and drizzle with the oil, balsamic and honey. Bake for about 10 minutes...
My baked rice pilaf is a veggie dish, with three kinds of mushrooms just for variety; and because there aren’t many things that can’t be improved with dried porcini flavour.
Crusty tart with beetroot greens and garlic topping. If you get hold of really new, baby beets with vibrant, tender leaves, use them in salads.
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.
A simple vegetarian dish of brown rice with mushrooms. Brown rice with brown mushrooms is not going to win me any photographic awards, that’s for sure. There’s no denying the fact that it’s brown - completely and utterly.
Bucatini pasta with creamy Alfredo sauce and a handful of peas and spinach. I’m offering the ‘new’ classic with cream and all, rest assured, and have added a bit of greenery to it: pasta with spinach is irresistible.
Bulgur wheat pilaf with red peppers and raisins: cooked like rice pilaf but refreshingly different; looks like couscous but it’s more nutritious; whole grain of cereal but not slimy like barley. That’s my perfect grain!
Camembert en croute: baked Camembert wrapped in homemade shortcrust pastry. A divine cheese parcel in cornmeal shortcrust with Cheddar and thyme. Who doesn't love baked cheese?
Caramelised fennel slices sautéed in a pan with maple syrup and white balsamic vinegar. The best way of cooking fennel, it makes an exquisite side dish, or a lovely starter served with a chunk of crusty bread.
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.
Vegetarian Wellington, with mushroom and spinach layer around baked celeriac centre. Easy to make ahead, even easier to make it vegan: just use vegan pastry and skip the butter.
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?
An omelette is such a lovely dish and can take on such different forms that it’s easy to forget it’s just egg. Spinach omelette. Ham and cheese. Just cheese. Chorizo and beans. Throw in some peppers and potatoes and you have a tortilla.
The best cheese fondue, smooth as velvet and comforting as a blanket. This tastes absolutely fantastic. And so it should – it’s Heston’s recipe from the book ‘Heston Blumenthal at home’.
Sweetcorn tart with cheese topping on a crusty, cheesy base of pizza dough. Vegetarian and gorgeous, for lunch or dinner. Shop bough dough is OKAY.
Tinned chickpeas dry roasted in a pan, with pancetta, a red pepper and Parmesan shavings. Chickpeas are actually a tasty snack, not difficult to make. They just need a bit of oomph – raid your spice cupboard and anything red or yellow will do.
Chilli con corn – vegetarian sweetcorn chilli with beans goes well with tortillas, baked potatoes or nachos. Corn on the cob cooked with classic chilli flavours – the fresher ears of corn, the better!
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.
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.
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 popping chickpeas and roasted red peppers, spiced with chilli flakes and fennel seeds, with butter or olive oil in the vegan version. It’s your new favourite dish!
Fennel and gorgonzola fettucine - I love pasta. I could eat pasta every day, if it only didn’t contain carbs. Since it does (hell, what other reason it tastes so good?), it’s an occasional treat.
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 pastry snails with mushroom, spinach and cheese filling. The original recipe for these snails calls for feta cheese. It actually calls for roasted fennel instead of spinach but here I think my improvement has worked – spinach in filo pastry is a classic after all.
Filo wrapped asparagus with Parmesan are a crunchy, golden, irresistible vegetarian snack or appetiser. Asparagus filo parcels rolled up like cigars - a must before the asparagus season ends.
Israeli couscous salad with tomatoes, roasted peppers and feta cheese. Couscous is not a plant: it’s processed grain, whacked to shape of tiny or slightly bigger crumbs/lumps.
Jumbo pasta shells stuffed with ricotta and walnuts, baked in tomato sauce. This is not a quick weeknight dish: the pasta shells need to be pre-cooked unless you pour in floods of really watery tomato sauce – which you don’t want to do as drowning the pasta will dilute the filling.
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.
Halloumi and vegetable skewers, vegetarian kebabs of cheese, mushrooms, peppers and onion drizzled with tangy marinade, as fantastic cooked on a barbecue as from the oven.
Halloumi burgers with roasted pepper, aubergine and onion. I love the cheese. Gorgeously rubbery, gooey but not dissolving, tasting of nothing much at all, it must be the mother of processed cheese. I bet the founders of Kraft Foods were Cypriots.
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.
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.
Herby courgette pasta bake, with roasted garlic and Pecorino, simple and super-tasty. The best thing to do with courgettes? Bake them with pasta!
Leek and potato bake in creamy cheese sauce. A little like Tartiflette but onions replaced with leeks, no bacon, and I didn’t try to resource Reblochon but cleared out the post dinner party cheeses.
Leek and potato soup, homemade is the best. Soup is the easiest, cheapest and quickest thing to cook at home. Especially if you are a proponent of Soup With Bits, like me – you won’t need a blender.
Lentils baked with porcini mushrooms, red peppers and spinach. I insist – use porcini in this recipe. Since it is next to impossible to get hold of the fresh porcini or ceps in England the dried ones will do, even better...
Mac n cheese with leeks in cheesy béchamel sauce - the ultimate comfort food. Kraft introduced the quick and ready mac in a box in the 1930s during the Great Depression. But if you want to be posh you can call it pasta Mornay.
Ottolenghi inspired fondue filo pie, with butternut squash swapped for mushrooms. It’s a combo of Savoyarde raclette experience and a Greek or Middle Eastern filo pastry, and it’s excellent.
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