My interest in food started very early. My family were Italian and my father ran a French restaurant off Piccadilly for several years, so Italian and French food were a very important part of my childhood. Both my parents loved cooking and always used the best ingredients, often shopping at Italian delicatessens in Islington and Soho.
As an adult I became increasingly interested in cooking, although I wouldn’t say baking cakes is one of my strong points!
We do spend a lot of time in Italy and I published a diary about a year of my life centred on the food I’d eaten out or cooked whilst in England or Italy in 2013. It’s called Food Fetish and includes some recipes.
I started my diary and food journal again about a year and a half ago.
Since lockdown, cooking has become increasingly important. I would say that I am obsessed with food. My parents used to discuss the next meals they would be having, say for dinner while eating lunch. I too am now doing this mentally, and I write down a list of weekly menus based on the ingredients I have bought.
At the end of March we celebrated husband’s birthday at home. Before lockdown I had planned to book an expensive restaurant in Colchester, but instead I cooked a meal for two: roast chicken, roast potatoes and parsnips served with broccoli. And I bought last carrot cake in stock at the local Coop for his birthday cake treat. And I was also fortunate that on the day of his birthday, as well as his birthday present from John Lewis, an enormous box of fruit and vegetable ordered locally arrived on time.
I was then able to think up a few interesting recipes, such as fish served with a grape sauce. There was one vegetable in the box that I wasn’t keen on: swede! But I did find a recipe for swede gnocchi which I made. It was tasty, but quite laborious to make.
Then it was Easter. We had cappelletti (rounds or ‘hats’ of pasta made by him indoors, stuffed with cheese, bread and egg) in brodo (broth I made with leftover chicken carcass, onion studded with cloves, garlic, rosemary and carrots) followed by saltimbocca and a version of my easy recipe tiramisu.
You can find the recipes in my Food Fetish book.
As May is asparagus season, I have been making spaghetti or other pasta with asparagus (all cooked in same pot), asparagus tart or just fresh local asparagus served with garlic and olive oil – or butter…
My rule of thumb for every meal I cook is to allow no more than one hour for prep and cooking time unless we have guests. And as my husband is diabetic, we like to eat regularly, and not too late. Our evening meal is usually at 7pm, so I start preparing at 6pm.
I started to take pics around six weeks ago when I got into the routine of cooking daily meals just for the two of us. No entertaining, no eating in gastro pubs or restaurants or takeaways of any kind. I’m not that keen on takeaways at the best of times, but we occasionally enjoy fish and chips or pizza, but I prefer to make my own curries.
Here’s a display of my weekly – mainly evening – meals. I have included recipes for some of them. I try to cook mainly vegetarian and some vegan dishes, but we often eat fish, some poultry and very occasionally four-legged animals. I hope you can identify some of the dishes from the pics!
A few shortcuts:
Heck vegan sausages are good!
I don’t make my own pastry but buy readymade short and puff pastry where I can get it. I sometimes use shop-bought filled pasta too.
A hint for making chips in the oven: Heat fan oven 180 degrees or gas 7. Line roasting tin with baking paper. Cut potatoes or sweet potatoes into chip shapes. Place in tin and sprinkle with olive oil. I find the spray variety useful for this. Add salt and optional chilli flakes or cumin seeds. Bake for around 45 minutes or more. Sweet potatoes for 30-40 minutes.
I often use Patak’s Balti spice paste instead of making my own.
The recipes are for two people. Adapt as necessary:
Tofu stir fry – vegan
Nest of noodles
2 or 3 tbsp rapeseed or sunflower oil with a sprinkling of sesame oil
1 carrot sliced
1 courgette sliced
Half red pepper sliced
Chunk of ginger sliced
2 garlic cloves chopped
200g bean-shoots or sweetheart or red cabbage
Splash of soy sauce
Tofu of your choice – I prefer soft, lighter variety
Half a glass sherry/marsala – or more!
Prepare noodles according to instructions. (Usually four minutes in pan of boiling water off the heat.) Drain and keep warm in sieve over pan and a little boiling water, if preferred.
Thinly slice carrot, courgette, and pepper longways (julienne). Stirfry in hot rapeseed or sunflower oil with a little sesame oil in a wok for about two-three minutes or longer if you prefer softer vegetables. Add ginger, garlic, bean-shoots, soy sauce and stir fry for another two minutes. Then add tofu, chopped into squares, a slug of sherry, and Chinese five-spice and stir fry for another two minutes. Mix in noodles and serve straight from wok.
You could use sliced mushrooms and mange tout instead of carrot and courgette.
Duck a l’orange – poultry
2 duck breasts
Zest and juice from one orange
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
150 g reduced chick stock (from powder or cube)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6.
Heat an ovenproof frying pan until very hot, add the duck breasts, fat-side down and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until golden-brown. Turn over and cook for a further 1-2 minutes.
Place into the oven for 8-10 minutes.
Remove from the oven and set the duck aside to rest for five minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a frying pan until hot, add the caster sugar and cook to a caramel.
Remove from the heat then add the orange juice and vinegar, return to the heat and cook for a couple of minutes.
Add the chicken stock, return to a simmer and cook for 3-4 minutes until just thickened.
Add the orange zest then season with salt and black pepper.
To serve, carve the duck into thick slices. Finish with a spoonful of orange sauce.
Tuna and sweetcorn pasta – I made this for the first time this month – pescatarian
180g pasta (wholemeal, but any other will do)
2 tbsp olive oil
Tuna (from tin or jar) – broken into pieces
1 shallot or half an onion sliced
2 garlic cloves sliced
Cup of frozen sweet corn
10-12 capers chopped
Bunch parsley, chopped
1 half lemon – zest and juice.
Salt and pepper as required.
While pasta is cooking (according to instructions) sauté the shallot, then the garlic in the olive oil until softened. Add frozen corn, chopped capers and parsley together with the lemon zest and juice. When pasta is cooked, add tuna pieces and the sauce and mix well. Add seasoning as required.
Pasta with potatoes, beans and pesto – vegan – I made this for first time after visiting a restaurant in Liguria.
180g penne or similar
4 small potatoes boiled, drained, cooled and chopped
100g green beans, cut in half if very long
1 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves chopped (any green removed)
1 green chilli, chopped
Jar of basil pesto
Freshly ground black pepper
Boil pasta and add beans to same pan five-six minutes from end of cooking time. Drain. Add olive oil to pan and sauté garlic and green chilli, then add the basil pesto. Return pasta, beans and potatoes to the pan and stir well.
Add seasoning and serve topped with basil leaves and optional parmesan or grana padano.
Vegetarian curry (or you could use chicken pieces or prawns)
Served with optional rice (boiled in cold water then steamed for a couple of minutes), mini naan, sliced cucumber* and spring onion raita (yoghurt) topped with chopped mint. And some lime pickle or mango chutney. *I always take the seeds out of cucumber.
1 shallot or half an onion
chunk of peeled ginger
1 garlic clove
pinch coriander seeds,
1 green chilli
Juice from 1 lime or 1/2 lemon
large handful each of mint and coriander
1 red pepper, sliced
1 courgette, sliced or 2-4 mushrooms – depending on size – sliced
1 can chick peas or 1 sweet potato chopped
Frozen spinach – cup size – optional
Make the curry paste:
Put one shallot, piece of ginger, garlic clove, pinch coriander seeds, salt, greenchilli, lime/1/2 lemon juice and a large handful each of mint and coriander into a food processor, and blitz into a paste. You can make more and put extra in fridge. This works well with above any of above veggies or whatever else you choose. Just fry the veggies in sunflower oil or similar and add the paste and top with coriander leaves. As an alternative you can use ready-made curry paste.
Leek and prawn risotto – my own made up recipe
1 leek chopped into rounds
1 shallot chopped
2 garlic cloves chopped
1 red chilli or a little red pepper, chopped – optional
1 cup of arborio rice
500 ml chicken stock
a little white wine – optional
250g fresh or defrosted prawns
Some freshly ground black pepper
Wash leek well, chop into rounds and sauté in a little olive oil. Remove and put in sieve. Sauté chopped shallot, garlic and optional chilli or pepper in same pan. Then add cup of arborio rice. Gradually add chicken stock and a little white wine. When rice is almost done (after around 30-40 minutes) add leek and carefully arranged prawns. Season as required. Cook for a few minutes more, making sure it doesn’t get too dry. Add more stock or water if necessary. Top with thyme or chopped oregano and serve with parmesan if desired.
Puffed pastry pie – vegetarian
1 sheet puff pastry
1 jar red pesto or few dollops of tomato puree
1 mozzarella (buffalo if possible) sliced
1 red pepper halved
4-6 mushrooms sliced
1 garlic clove sliced
1 dessertspoon olive oil
Pinch of oregano
Bunch of fresh basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat oven – 180C fan or gas 6
(for both roasting pepper and baking pastry)
Roast or grill the red pepper halves on a tray covered in tin foil. Should take about 20 mins to char the pepper skin.
Sauté the mushrooms and garlic in olive oil gently but quickly.
Use a baking tray that will fit the puff pastry sheet. Grease it thoroughly and carefully place the pastry on top, squeezing it down at edges. Spread the pesto or tomato puree over the entire bottom.
When pepper is cool enough remove charred skin and slice longways. Add this and cooked mushrooms to the pie base. Top with the slice of mozzarella and a dash of oregano. Season as required and bake in hot oven until pastry looks browned and fluffy. Around 20-30 minutes. Remove and top with the basil leaves.
Hint: if you are roasting the pepper, don’t turn oven off and keep at the same temperature until you bake the pie. And you can use other veggies if preferred.
I WILL TALK ABOUT WINE, SPIRITS AND LIQUEURS another time!