Cooking simply doesn't have to be cooking boringly. A fresh piece of wild fish or some high-season asparagus doesn't need much doing to it. Meals like this are quite often the best, in terms of flavour, sustainability and time. Vegetables at their freshest and most seasonal take almost no time to cook and with something like a flavoured butter or herb oil to complement them you are going to eat very well.
You can make many of these things in advance, butter freezes well to use as and when you like; spice mixes; freshly toasted and ground, will keep well in a jar in the cupboard for a couple of weeks to sprinkle over a finished dish. Try this gunpowder recipe for roast squash or this za'atar one to add to stems of tender broccoli or to sprinkle over.
Flavoured butters are one of my favourite way to add flavour and excitement to a dish and -- contrary to the advice given by the idiots in charge of dietary 'guidelines'-- it is good for you. Why on earth you would substitute a natural and delicious ingredient for an industrially produced trans-fat laden 'spread' which is one step away from plastic is beyond me.
Last week I made a batch with wild garlic as well as a harissa-laden one. I used them liberally to cook salmon, melt into a butter bean and chorizo stew and pour over fried eggs. This version, using a bunch of fresh fenugreek leaves (I threw the stalks into the blender too) is an elegant pale jade colour. Its maiden voyage is going to be with cauliflower, the florets first boiled until just starting to soften, next a coating of turmeric powder and mustard seeds, then caramelised in a pan and poached in the butter until ready.
Ingredients 250g softened unsalted butter (homemade from pasture-raised cows milk would be best, but failing that, Yeo Valley butter is a good supermarket one, if you must use those vile warehouses of sugar, food-type products and palm oil) 5g Maldon salt 1 bunch of fenugreek, well chopped 1tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Method Melt 25g of the butter with the olive oil and add the salt. Throw in the fenugreek and stir well. Cook for about five minutes, until everything is well wilted then remove from the heat and leave to infuse for half an hour. If at the end of the infusion the butter has started to solidify again, gently heat it. Strain the mixture through a sieve into a large bowl, discarding the leaves then add the remaining butter and whisk well until it all comes together. Pour into a jar or dish and chill until firm.
We sat down to supper, the children just having gone to bed. They were supposed to be asleep, yet by the volume of giggling wafting downstairs were still wide awake. Perhaps we could finish our meal in peace before resorting to investigation followed by threats.
I'd spent about half an hour in the afternoon making wild garlic butter from scratch. About 600ml of double cream into the churning jar was enough for a large pat and the buttermilk left over will go very well in some scones or to marinate some chicken.
A few handfuls of the garlic leaves and flowers, dug from the garden and cleaned of soil were wilted in a pan and squeezed dry. Salt and a pinch of turmeric went in to the blender with the butter until it became a vivid green, then I poured it, still fairly liquid, into a dish in the fridge to firm.
Making your own butter means you can choose cream that you know comes from well looked after cows. Grass-fed and allowed to live as they should: on pasture and well treated, contributing to and being part of the wider healthy biosphere. There is also a freshness to homemade, as well as a the excitement of seeing the simple magic of separating whey from fat. And once you've rinsed and squeezed it through muslin you can flavour it as you like.
When the children help, we wrap and label theirs with their names so they have personalised butter pats. They usually stick to plain butter, but you could spice it with garam masala or a tablespoon of harissa, rosemary or tarragon. You could even go sweet with ground cinnamon and sugar.
When you make a batch, roll each into a cylinder and wrap well in paper. You can freeze for later use or keep in the fridge for about a week if salted.
I used the wild garlic butter last night with chorizo scrambled eggs. The spices from the meat mingling with the deep green butter as the cubes sizzled and crisped. On the side were garlic-laden sautéed courgettes and a green salad lightly dressed with a punchy mustard vinaigrette. As if it wasn't rich enough, I had some very creamy goats cheese on my eggs. Maybe I'm calcium deficient at the moment and my body is trying to tell me something. If that meal was the result of subliminal dairy messaging, then I'm all ears.
It's a rare occasion that sees me pass a merguez sausage without buying it. Many a night, in the back streets of Toulouse after a hard day at Art college followed by the necessary 'unwinding', I could be found loitering by one of the many 'merguez-frites' vans. The meat may have been dubious, but if you add enough spices to something (and by those spices I also include everything that went in the sangria at Le Chat d'oc) it tastes amazing.
These days, I neither spice myself nor eat dubious things from vans. No matter that eating from a van or a skip is the height of fashion, and far be it from me to not appear as a man about town, full of a la mode encounters, I prefer to have a cosy night in knowing that what I'm eating is of du bon provenance, as it were. And besides, the idea of eating on a cold London street is frankly quite beyond the pale for a man of my age.
The newly opened butcher's shop down the road from us knows each farm that supplies their meat, if not each animal they slice up in the brightly lit back of the shop in the village. If things aren't up to scratch, they don't stock them. This gives me confidence in them, they really seem to care.
A large vitrine looks into the chilly fridge as you walk in the front door, framing the animal version of a gruesome Mafia scene and a pale red neon glow gives a rather voyeuristic feel to the whole set up. I ask for some bones for the dog, stock up on chicken and beef then spot the merguez. Ben, the tatooed and bearded man with the cleaver hands me the bag of body parts meat and I slowly, smilingly, back out of the shop and drive home through the leafy sun-dappled streets of Dulwich.
Back home, the dried butter beans(*) go into a bowl, covered with boiling water and soak for an hour before cooking. And I cook them in chicken stock made from Fosse Meadow farm birds until soft and velvety. Stirring through a good handful of parsley and a large pinch of dried mint I then pour in a lot of olive oil and leave the beans to quietly cool in a corner of the kitchen.
Later I will grill the merguez until oozing red oil comes out and the skin starts to crisp. The egg yolk(**) I've kept back from the stock clarifying is perfect for the rouille to go on top. All it takes is some toasted cumin seeds(***), ground to a powder with some saffron(*****), a couple of small garlic cloves(*****) and some salt(******). The olive oil(******) goes in a thin stream into the mortar as the egg yolk breaks golden into the spices. Thickening slowly it will add a hit of flavour to bring the sausage and beans together like a sun-tanned priest at a wedding.
*From Madagascar, apparently. For some reason or other I'm sure. **From a nice farm in the Cotswolds. ***Packed in the UK, apparently. What a weaselly thing to say. ****From La Mancha. Saffron Panza de la Mancha. A quixotic strand. *****French. I think. ******This, of course, is from Maldon. *******La bella Liguria. This is really all over the place isn't it?
The roads winding through the countryside, some tree-sheltered and some opening onto wide rolling fields belie how close we are to London and the grey January concrete I've just left behind.
Although the weather is downcast and gloomy, the skies heavy with cloud and light drizzle, the journey out of my corner of South East London quickly and always surprisingly opens out into fresh air and the wide landcapes of West, then East Sussex.
Most of the fields I pass are brown, the work happening underground. The quiet surface appears asleep with no visible sign of life. Most of the winter produce is cropped now and all that remains is either stumpy and scrubby or muddy and lumpy.
I wonder if this is the best time to visit a fruit farm. But I wanted to see where the work of growing began. Normally all you see in your fruit bowl is the gloriously ephemeral end result. You give it little thought as the juice from the berries runs down your arm and chin, but here, on a cold and muddy morning, you can see the long journey from it's soily and unglamorous beginnings.
Brambletye biodynamic fruit farm near the small town of Forest Row, is down a long and bumpy road that after a few twists and turns becomes little more than two muddy ruts. I drove past the ruins of the 17th century Brambletye manor, of which there are only separated halves of the facade remaining, and knocked on the door of what I took to be the farm house. Two large dogs (I'm not good with breed names) galloped around me, and the lady of the house, aproned and with flour covered hands like the country version of a seaside postcard told me I was in the wrong place. A great shame, as the smells from the kitchen wafted out the door like siren song.
A few minutes later and slightly further along the road, I stepped from the car into the mud of the farm then got immediately back in and changed out of my towny white trainers into wellies.
Greeting me were Ellie and her two year old daughter who was well wrapped up with a wooly hat pulled down over her ears, and coat and scarf drawn up around her, but not quite able to prevent a little cold red nose poking out.
Crates of bottled apple juice were stacked high all around ready to be sent out, and the big barn behind was being swept out by Stein Leenders, clad in dark blue overalls and dusty boots. He and Ellie have been farming on this land for 10 years now after he moved over from Holland along with 15,000 apple trees to what was then a rented field.
The first thing Ellie took me to see were the mushrooms, growing in an old shipping container. Rows of plastic barrel-like sacks, packed tightly with mushroom spores and wood chippings from the hazel trees in the neighbouring woods were sat neatly on shelves. The damp air and low hum of the artificial lights casting a Bladerunner like glow gave the impression of a strange tunnel, lined with embryonic alien life. Here and there, out of the plastic where holes had appeared, sprouted little mushrooms. Pink, yellow, and blue winter oyster mushrooms were vivid in the half-light, slowly growing larger until harvesting. Growing this way recreates the exact conditions all year round as if they were growing in the forest. This was very different to the mushroom farm's long stacked beds I spent weekend mornings picking in as a teenager to earn money to buy the latest A-ha album.
A few minutes walk from the mushrooms and we were on the crest of a hill, the highest point of the farm overlooking the sweeping High Weald. Rows of stunted apple trees, Evita, Santana and Red Topaz varieties, lined the field, sounding like a musical revue. Leafless and jagged, it seemed as if a fierce wind had blown through, stripping everything. On this exposed hillside, it probably had.
Chickens, lots of them, run freely and curiously among the slim tree trunks, the grass growing happily under their feet. "You don't see this very often," says Ellie, picking up her daughter, who was starting to get cold and a little hungry, as was I. She tells me the chickens are owned by a neighbouring farmer and share, and therefore fertilise, the land. We walk along to their coop, a long, movable shed where in the porch-like entrance is a window through which a conveyor belt's end pokes through. One egg sits proudly on it.
Behind this, through another door is the main room where the chickens can sleep, lay eggs and hang out, possibly watching telly, or whatever it is chickens do on their days off. Fifteen or so are clucking around happily and when we step out the door we are greeted by a large crowd of them, gathered like fans at the stage door of the Palladium.
We head back toward the main apple shed, past rows of gooseberry bushes, the green and the sweeter purple types. Past cherry trees, blackberry bushes and then the pear trees, of which there are a few varieties such as Wildeman and Concorde. Every tenth pear tree is a pollinator, that is to say, a different variety. They are grafted onto quince roots and you can see the quince trying to fight it's way up through the soil around the base of the trees.
Red and blackcurrant bushes are being pruned and a few cabbages, kale, cavolo nero remain, the end of the season approaching. As spring arrives, so will 'the hungry gap', the space between the hardy winter root vegetables and brassicas growing and the fruit season starting. This is when the farm maintenance and planting happens.
The longer storing varieties of apples, held back for this lull -- some in low oxygen storage -- can be pressed for juice, ensuring a constant year round supply. Vats of cider vinegar are in the background too; the raw, unpasteurised stuff, full of good bacteria and culture, just like my French family. These are sold along with the juices, purées and fruit and veg at the farmers markets and shops the farm supply.
The apple pulp and waste gets fed to the two pigs, which, as it comes out of the pigs, feeds the land on which the apples grow, just like with the chickens eating the plants in the orchard.
It's an inspiring sight to see, and the work and dedication they put into their farm is uplifting in these strange times. I tentatively ask about what 'Brexit' may mean to them, and Ellie tells me they use mainly local pickers in season, and plenty of restaurants and suppliers have already been in touch to see what they can use on a local produce level. So perhaps, if there is anything good to come out of this whole farce, it may be that we become much more connected to the seasons and to shopping locally rather than relying on imports.
Ellie and Stein care about their farm, the land and their products and we as consumers should be grateful for such dedication. We are able to get real food grown with care and respect and not covered with 'Roundup' or picked before being ripe and cold-transported thousands of miles. Perhaps it's time we toned down our sense of entitlement to all year round asparagus and enjoyed things as they appear from the land before us. It certainly leaves a better taste in the mouth.
Switchel Raw, unpasteurised cider vinegar, as produced on Brambletye farm has many supposed health benefits, not least I suppose because it's all natural. It's not just something to make a salad dressing or vin d'alho with, either. People have been drinking it for centuries. There are so many varieties, but if you taste proper vinegar you'll never go back. As well as apple, there are many raspberry vinegars, parsnip ones, red and white wine, obviously, Banyuls vinegar, which is like having a glass of port, aged vinegars, young ones, all kinds.
I use the cider vinegar to make 'switchel,' a centuries old drink that deserves a revival. It's refreshing and interesting and you can make it as sweet or sharp as you like. I prefer sharp to add some zing, there are already to many sweet drinks around. For a non-drinker it's something that tastes a little more grown up than the seemingly thoughtless offerings of children's fizzy squash packaged in adult designs and it's not based around sugar. It's important to also use raw honey here to get the full healthiness.
Make a bottle, keep it in the fridge and swig merrily away, knowing it's all pure.
Ingredients 1tbsp raw honey Juice and zest of a lime 4tbsp raw cider vinegar A thumb of ginger, grated Water to top up (or leave it neat and dilute with sparkling water)
Method Dissolve the honey in a few tablespoons of hot water then top up with the lime juice, vinegar and grated ginger. Funnel into a 500ml sterilised glass bottle and add fresh, filtered water to the top. Seal and leave to infuse for a day. Keep in the fridge, serve with ice or just straight in short glasses.
The more I cook, perhaps the older I get (or is it tireder), the fewer ingredients I want to use in a dish. And the simpler the food I'm making, the more delicious it seems to be.This week it's been a case of taking a vegetable and using that as the starting point for a meal. A little more thinking has had to be applied rather than thoughtlessly going with the usual starchy suspects you reach for on a rapidly darkening Tuesday evening.As if dealing with the sad acceptance that we don't live in an endless Swallows and Amazons summer wasn't enough, now we have to start eating properly again. No more cream teas and cake for the evening meal. Out has gone the pasta, rice and potatoes that form so many daily meals, and in, the sad acceptance that we are no longer inhabiting our 20 year old bodies.But it need not be dull as we slip headlong into turnip season. We are still heavy with aubergines, broccoli, cauliflower, courgettes and sweetcorn among other things. The salads are fading, but my appetite is growing. And as we lose nearly two hours of daylight over September's delicate and gentle colour change, we can start to get bolder and deeper with flavours.This recipe is based on the gloriously named Pushpesh Pant's 'curried aubergine in coconut sauce', which he says is from India's 'coastal region'. So just a small area then. I've added saffron, almond flakes, green chillies and coriander to mine to pep things up a little.Rich and exciting, it's texture is indecently silky, as if Liberty's had opened a dodgy Soho alleyway silk scarf shop. We had it twice this week, the juices mopped up with spiced chickpea flatbreads. I've still got one more aubergine in the fridge from the veg box, so we haven't seen the last of this in our house.Ingredients1 medium-sized aubergine1tsp asafoetida1tsp chilli powder1/2tsp turmeric powder200-240ml coconut milkA sprinkle of flaked almondsA pinch of saffronA small green chilli, sliced thinlyCoriander leaves to garnishSalt and pepper to seasonGroundnut, rapeseed or vegetable oil to fry. And plenty of itMethodMix the spices together in a little dish or ramekin with enough water to make a fairly thick paste.Trim and slice the aubergine into discs roughly 1/2cm thickHeat the oil in a large sauté pan and fry the aubergine in a couple of batches until golden on each side, having seasoned with a generous hand. Set each batch aside on a plate until you have finished.Add the spice paste to the pan and fry for a second or two, stirring well so it breaks up a little. Add the coconut milk and mix well until the spices dissolve into it, giving it a golden amber colour and releasing its aromas.Gently add the aubergines back to the pan and simmer for a few minutes until heated through. Don't cook them for too long or they will collapse.Sprinkle with the green chilli, nuts, saffron and coriander, give a good twist of pepper and serve hot.
White asparagus with salsa verde. toasted chilli almonds, Parmesan and lemon zestI blame the Ancient Egyptians. What did they ever do for us? Cat worship lead to domestication and ultimately to them sneaking into my back garden overnight where I’ve left the paddling pool out, because I thought I’d put it away another time, and trampling all over it with their claws and leaving tiny, impossible to find holes in an absurd variety of places.Every small success, every patch glued over an excitedly-discovered hole led me to believe it would stay inflated. This time. And half an hour later, sagging sadly and listlessly to one side, the water started pouring out. Again. I sagged sadly and listlessly to one side.But now the bank holiday weekend is over, and we are not prone at the feet of the sun god, we have a paddling pool that is more puncture repair patches than paddling pool (I don’t know where the pool ends and the patches begin). I have folded it away and put it in the garage. And ordered a new one. It seems even garden leisure goods can teach you a lesson about not doing just half the job.But all this does show that we have been spending a lot of time outside, which is a good thing. I have used the barbecue more times in the last month than I have in the past year, even lighting it last week after picking the children up from school to make them pizzas, using it succesfully as a makeshift pizza oven.And as the sun is still shining, today’s lunch was light, quick and zingy. While people rend their clothes and cry tears over how fantastic British asparagus is when in season, the white variety is just not as popular here. But it is delicious and tender, and somewhat striking. If you see some, snap it up, snap off the ends and cook it in some butter, lemon juice and water and serve it with salsa verde. Toasted almond flakes add a little crunch and lemon zest a little highlight and lunch is ready to eat sat outside with some shades on and bandana tied around your head ready to point the hose at any cat that comes near the garden. I’m also sure one is trying to bury poo in the rosemary. Remind me of that next time I cut some to marinade the chicken in for another barbecue.Ingredients10-12 white asaparagus spears, peeled and the tough part of the stem snapped offA handful of basil leavesA bigger handful of parsleyFronds from a few dill sprigs1tsp capers1tsp Dijon mustardA small hadful of flaked almonds1tsp smoked chipotle chilli flakes (or standard red chilli flakes)A few shavings per person of Parmesan or Grana PadanoZest of a small lemonOlive oilButter and lemon juice for the asparagus waterMethodBring a pan of water (enough to cover the asparagus) to the boil and add a tablespoon or two of butter and the juice of a lemon.Cook the asparagus in this for about five minutes, depending on the thickness of the stems. Drain and plunge into cold water to stop them cooking any further.Blend the herbs, capers and mustard together with enough olive oil to make a pourable sauce.Toast the almonds with the chilli flakes until the nuts are turning golden and remove from the heat. Don’t walk away from them or they will burn and you’ll have to start again, which is a pain.Divide the asparagus between two plates, spoon over the salsa verde and sprinkle on the chilli almond flakes.Top with some shavings of cheese and some pared lemon zest and serve immediately.This week:Read:India, by V.S. Naipaul. A fascinating and engagingly written insight into an enigmatic and enormous country. Bonkers and beautiful.Watched:Episodes; the first 20 minutes of 'Hampstead'; the first half of 'The Florida Project'; and painfully continuing with 'The Woman in White'. Excellent; clichéd and tedious; Good but got bored of watching a six year old be a six year old even though the film has its merits, just not when we're tired; and oh God when will this tedium of a series end but it's too late to give up now.Eat:Gosh we have been loading the barbecue with marinated chicken, aubergines, sausages and the rest. We've had tomato salads, carrot salads, green salads. I puréed green chillies and coriander and garlic and smothered it over a chicken which I split grilled then poured over a quick coconut, chilli garlic and ginger sauce and served with homemade naan. We've had Fried chicken and tacos at an American style bar in Shoreditch because we are so trendy and much more. It's been a good week.Listened:Radio 4s Book at Bedtime, 'The Valley at the Centre of the World' by Malachi Tallack. We miss the excellent telly programme 'Shetland' so this has come at a good time. It was even read by Steven Robertson who plays Sandy and has the most fantastic accent.
Every time someone suggests fish pie to me, or says that's what we're having to eat, I die a little inside. And it's not that there's anything wrong with it, as such. In fact, it's a rather lovely dish. Comforting and rich, and a good way to get lots of fish into people who don't particularly like it.And yet yesterday I woke up with a burning desire, a craving for it. Perhaps Bee, who seems to have a liking of it that doesn't seem normal, has been whispering in my ear repeatedly as I sleep.It is really a very simple dish, and in its favour, you can make it ahead and heat it through for supper, as I did for the children. And, predictably, Noah liked it but tried to pick out the spinach and Maya said she hates prawns (the lunatic). Bee thought it was a bit too saucy and had too much spinach, whereas I, the least enthusiastic fish pie eater thought it delicious. But then I made it.You may squeal with delight at the thought of a fish pie and having made this, I feel a little less antipathy toward it. It's something comforting, tasty and healthy. Do as you will with it. More cod, fewer prawns, not so much spinach, extra scallops, a thicker sauce with a touch more cheese and flour. It's up to you, and that is the joy of cooking, we all like things certain ways and you can't please everyone.This recipe is a good one so I offer it to you to run with. You can even add hard boiled eggs to the mix if you like. And as far as the bonito and kombu go, that's up to you too, as is the golden, warming turmeric and citrussy coriander. But it's little things like that that can make a dish just a little above the ordinary. And actually, looking at the photo reminds me, there's a portion left in the fridge...Serves: 6Prep time: 30-40 minsCooking time: 45 minsIngredientsFor the top:4 medium potatoes such as Maris Piper, skin on, quartered100ml double cream50ml milk70g butterA grating of Parmesan for the topFor the filling:175g Queen scallops250g smoked haddock or cod, cut into chunks250g prawns100g spinachA small bunch of chives, finely slicedA grating of nutmeg1tsp ground turmeric2tsp ground corianderFor the sauce:30g butter30g flour300ml milk25g grated mild cheddarA sheet of kombu (seaweed)A pinch of bonito flakesMethodThe bonito and kombu are optional in this, it's just to give it that extra kick of the sea. But if you're going to use it, heat a little of the milk to just below the boil and pour over them both in a small bowl and leave to infuse while you make the mash.Cook the potatoes in salty, boiling water until soft, but not falling apart. Drain and leave to steam dry in the colander, otherwise, your mash will be to wet.Put the spinach in a heat-proof bowl and pour over some boiling water from the kettle. Stir a little then drain and rinse in cold water. Squeeze dry and chop well.Make the white sauce by melting the butter in a saucepan and mixing in the flour. Season well and gradually whisk in the milk, a little at a time, until you have a smooth white sauce. Add the bonito flakes and milk, leaving out the kombu and then stir in the cheese until melted.Put the fish and seafood in a bowl, add the chopped spinach, turmeric, coriander and the chives (keep back a little for the mash), season well and stir thoroughly. Pour in the white sauce and mix.Heat the butter, cream and milk in a small pan until the butter has melted then rice the potatoes into a bowl and discard the skins. Add the butter mixture, season well and mix until smooth. Stir in the chives.Put the fish mix in an oven dish and top with the potato and any remaining chives. Give a twist of pepper and sprinkle over the parmesan and cook in a 180c oven for about 45 minutes, until the top is golden and bubbling. Garlic green beans are delicious on the side.
It's normally always there, lingering in the back of the cupboard, the lid slightly encrusted with a beige residue and the oil separated from the paste, sitting on top in a questionable pool. Then there is a fight to get the near solidified clay out of the bottom and not bend the spoon. And that's all before you discover you haven't got a tin of chickpeas anyway so have to go to the shop. Again.But fear not! This homemade tahini will save the day. And if there's ever a houmous crisis in the shops again, you can whip up your own in a jiffy. And then you can put it in a jar in the fridge and the whole family dip a carrot stick in it for lunch on Saturday then forget about it until you throw it away a week later as you wonder why you bother.Of course, this all depends on you having a bag of sesame seeds in the cupboard. I'd suggest that it is a staple worth having, and really, it's nicer making your own tahini anyway. It just (as with most things that are freshly made) tastes so much better. And you know it only has what you put in it in it.MethodTo make a jam jar sized amount of fresh tahini, sprinkle sesame seeds all over an oven tray, you can be very generous. Heat the oven to 180c and roast the seeds until they start to colour a little and toast. Stir them round occasionally so they don't burn.Leave to cool a little then put in the food processor and blitz until you have a crumbly mix. Slowly add in some neutral oil, such as groundnut or rapeseed and keep blending until you have a creamy paste. Transfer to a jar and keep in the fridge.Apart from houmous -- which I would recommend making using dried chickpeas for a better finished dish, but, if you only have tinned I'm not going to judge you -- tahini can be used in dressings, sauces with some yoghurt, drizzled over roast carrots or even put into ice cream. And what's more, there's a little more cupboard space and the satisfaction of the homemade.
There are weeks, like the one just gone where I can barely remember the slightest thing of interest happening in day to day life.Most noteworthy was hurriedly inflating an air bed on the pavement outside my in-laws' house fifteen minutes after the children were due to be asleep on it in our bedroom as there were guests needing theirs. I had to do it outside, in case you were wondering, because the air pump attaches to the car's cigarette lighter. It wasn't because I love the great outdoors.I immediately punctured it on the thorns leading up the path to the house. This is what comes of doing things last minute. We've had this mattress ten years without incident, using it perhaps three times over the decade. The one time we really need it a prick burst it.I've barely cooked this week at home –by home I mean the in-laws house as we continue our stay away from the dust sheets and collapsed lost tomb of the Incas our place resembles– which has made a welcome change. It is nice to have an occasional break from the kitchen, if a little odd. As much as I love feeding people, I like the control I have over something and the feeling I get when making other people happy. Filming every day this week I haven't been around much for my family; I've felt my absence keenly.Still, the food cooked for me by mother-in-law Sue has been delicious. Highlights were the mushroom risotto and an incredibly irresistible pineapple pudding from a Jane Grigson recipe that over the course of three helpings with ice cream overcame my avoidance of sugar during the week. I have a feeling that in a fortnight we will have extended waists as well as a redecorated home.But I have cooked a couple of things. A simple ten second pasta sauce for the children on Saturday (blitz together one tin of tomatoes, 1 clove of garlic, olive oil, a pinch of oregano, a dash of tomato purée and a pinch of salt then cook quickly) which everyone tucked into except me. I had bratwurst onto which I spooned the remains of the salsa verde from the other night. Its zing and freshness had faded like a green velvet curtain left in the sun, it's lost grandeur just a reminder of better times. And because everyone else seems to hate bratwurst in my family I got all the sausages.On Saturday night, as we all sat down to watch 'Strictly', the children's eyes kept open with matchsticks, zombified with tiredness yet unwilling to admit defeat to the enemy of sleep, we ate bowls of haricot beans slowly stewed with chorizo, sofrito, a dash of stock and chicken thighs first browned in the paprika infused oil then left to slowly simmer in the mix until tender. Comforting and very tasty.Here's a recipe the children helped me to make the weekend before we shipped out. The sourdough starter and longer ferment gives the brioche stronger structure and deeper flavour than the standard brioche so it stands up a little more to serious abuse from pouring over a load of hot chocolate sauce, if that's your kind of thing. It is mine. At least when I'm not avoiding sugar...Ingredients2tbsp starter200ml lukewarm water plus 50ml350g flour plus extra for kneading15g fresh yeast (or 7g dried)1 egg, beaten60ml milk, lukewarm80g butter80g golden caster sugarAnother 150g flourA generous pinch of saltChocolate buttons, I used a mix of dark, milk and whiteMethodAdd the water to the starter and stir well until dispersed. Stir in the 350g flour and mix well. Leave to rest for about half an hour.Add the salt and the 50ml water and knead together until mixed. The dough should be quite wet and sticky.Add a little more flour and start to knead on the bench, folding and pushing it until it starts to become smooth and elastic. Add flour a little at a time until it becomes tacky rather than sticky and you can shape it into a nice firm but soft ball of dough.Leave in the bowl, covered with a cloth for four hours.Add the yeast to the milk and stir to dissolve. Pour onto the rested dough and add the butter, sugar and egg to this. Mix into the dough. It will be quite sloppy. Add the 150g flour and knead well for another five minutes, adding a little more flour if the dough gets too sticky. Don't make it too dry and firm though, it needs to be on the wet side of tacky.While kneading, add a little more flour if you need, just so it doesn't stick to the bench too much. It will become sticky but silky enough to handle and shape into a ball.Leave to rise for a further two hours then knock back and shape into eight balls.Put the balls in two lines in two brioche or loaf tins. Brush the top with beaten egg mixed with a splash of milk. Dust the top with sugar crystals and a sprinkle of grated chocolate. Leave to prove for another half an hour and bake at gas 7 (190c) for 25 mins until golden and cooked through. Don't have the heat on too high and blacken them as I did. Leave to cool until just warm before serving.
There is a shelf in our fridge that David Attenborough should investigate. Here, behind the inconspicuous looking cheese, the vivid bright colours of the chilli sauce bottle and the jar of ancient miso lie unexplained phenomena. Jars of things, experiments and whims.While we are currently living out of suitcases at the in-laws, I admit there is a possibility I don't need as much stuff as I have. It has been refreshing to live with a minimum of things, and while it will inevitably not last after the decorating has been finished at home, I see that life could do with streamlining. And that should extend to the kitchen. I have boxes full of things I use maybe once a year, and perhaps while we are trying to sell our place, I could do without festering packets of dried animal parts and the like that I insist impart a certain je ne sais quoi to dishes.It can't go on. And while I experiment with flavours, make pickles and chutneys or try and use up gluts of vegetables our fridge becomes fuller and smellier. So I will now stick to the fresh and keep a minimum of jars. Within reason.These shall be:Dijon mustard -- a must, without which vinaigrette is nothing to meMiso -- just for that little savouriness and occasional warming hot drinkChilli sauce -- well that goes without saying. A house without chilli sauce is not a home.Pickled jalapenos -- what are tacos and chilli without those? And let's not forget how brilliant the little pickled chillies are with spaghetti Bolognese, so those can stay tooGarlic and ginger purée -- well, it's just so useful isn't it?Cornichons -- what kind of a household doesn't have those in the fridge? Savages.The jar of dill pickled cucumbers -- great on rye with some of the jarred and pickled herrings. They must stay too.And kimchi -- homemade of course. That's a legal requirement. We should get a new fridge which has a kimchi dispenser in the door as well as one for water. It's the perfect snack, I love an occasional bratwurst in a microwave Chinese steamed bun with a good dollop of the stuff, so space must be kept for this. So that only leaves the half used jar of wholegrain to get rid of. Not much, but it's a start.The kimchi recipe is below. It's a very easy thing to do, perhaps five minutes work. Time does the rest.As for the week ahead, I fancy making Canadian butter tarts for a weekend snack. What's not to like about butter? Perhaps a haricot and chorizo stew to warm us up on a cold midweek night, although this time I'll try to not burn the beans in the pressure cooker like I did last time.A prawn, tomato and fenugreek curry to go with the dhal I have stored in the freezer will make a quick Thursday supper sprinkled with some ground peanut, garlic and coconut chutney and maybe some spicy harrisa coated lamb chops with a spiky green salad to get our fingers dirty with on Friday. And there's always the kimchi, which I've brought with us from home. I have freed up some space in our fridge after all...Ingredients1 Chinese cabbage, cored and sliced lengthwise6 radishes, finely sliced4 spring onions, sliced1 thumb of ginger, grated4 cloves of garlic, grated1tbsp gochujang1tbsp seaweed flakes1tbsp chilli flakesPepper100g salt1tbsp sugarWater, to cover the cabbage in a large bowlMethodAdd the salt to the sliced cabbage in a large bowl and massage into the leaves. Cover with the water, put a plate on top with a heavy weight on and leave for at least three hours. Overnight if possible.Drain and rinse the cabbage thoroughly.Mix together the sugar seaweed flakes, chilli flakes, gochujang and pepper in a small bowl. Add a tablespoon of water and a pinch of salt and mix well.Add the remaining ingredients to the cabbage and mix in the paste.Pack into a sterilised kilner jar, adding a splash more of water to loosen the mix a little if needed.Leave for 24 hours and open the jar to release any build up of gas. Keep in the fridge and use as needed for three weeks or so.This weekRead: Nearly finished Middlemarch. I will need to read a cereal packet for a few days after. As always, The New Yorker fills the gaps; an excellent piece on culinary revolution from Jane Kramer.Watched: Some good costume dramatics in Howards End. I am quite the fan of E.M, having loved Passage to India for A' Level English.Listened: Laura Cantrell, 'Not the tremblin' kind.' An old favourite, gently countryish.Eat: Braai wings at Meat Liquor that blew my head off. They were hotter than a white Escort XR3i. Delicious and for once something that lived up to its spicy billing. I'm still impressed. And I made mashed potato stuffed tortellini with the children. Served with sage butter it was a comforting, carby, delicious supper. 'Though I'm going to have to crack down on the kids in the kitchen, they really didn't crank the pasta machine quickly enough for my liking.
The sky was yellow, a Saharan dust covering London. A strange light and a weak red sun poking through. Perhaps this was a new and rather full-on marketing push for the new Bladerunner film, or maybe we are hurtling toward apocalypse now. I met a friend for supper that evening and the gloom meant we all scuttled indoors a little quicker than usual. We eat steak tartare, prepared tableside by a crisp black and white linen-ed and desiccated waiter then hurried back to our homes.Summer is now well on it's way to the other side of the world and autumn has properly pulled the duvet over us. Soon, the woolly hats and gloves will be on and we can be justified in not leaving the house until March.It's a strange feeling, the desire to go to bed at six in the evening and the sure mistake of the alarm going off at what seems like the middle of the night. The clocks will soon change, giving us a little more light in the early morning for about a week before we sink ankle deep into winter. I hope the farmers are grateful as we all finish our afternoons with night vision goggles on, stepping over the bodies of run-over school children.There are still some green leaves clinging desperately onto the branches of the tree today as I look outside the sitting room window. Most of the other branches around are bare and I swear I just saw a pigeon with a scarf on. But as civilisation comes to an end around us and turnips are the only thing that will still grow, I still insist on serving a green salad at almost every meal. The children have a bowl of it tossed with mustardy vinaigrette to eat before I give them their supper. We don't live in an American restaurant, it just keeps them quiet for a bit and they wolf it down. I should stop wearing a frilly apron and serving them bottomless mugs of coffee though.This week saw me grate half a clove of garlic into my usual dressing. This is what is passing for excitement in our house at the moment. We are all pretty tired now, and half term hasn't come soon enough. The children need a rest and we are grateful for the change of pace it brings. Although we now find ourselves, with unbelievable inconvenience, having to feed them three meals a day plus occasional snacks and seek out entertainment.This Sunday morning though, the children let us sleep until quarter to nine before waking us up to complain of hunger. They then retired to their room to tidy their drawers for two hours, as if possessed by Mary Poppins. Ours was not to reason why, so I read the paper alone in peace while Bee read her book in bed drinking tea. Unsettling.But by the time evenings come around and the children are in bed, supper sometimes seems a huge effort. It's more often than not something I can throw into one pan and leave to do it's thing, such as the hearty haricot and chorizo stew we had early in the week. or a tray of chipped sweet potato, sprinkled liberally with garam masala and chilli flakes, roasted in the oven with a couple of bream, olive oil, fat garlic cloves and cherry tomatoes that had started to explode in the heat.One night, I found a bag of figs, now perfectly ripe (one overly so and destined for the bin), some very ripe Rocamadour goat's cheese that you could smell from France and some slices of a sourdough loaf. A little honey, olive oil, salt and pepper and a pinch of fresh parsley was enough to satisfy the evening hunger. Simple, good ingredients made something far more than the some of their parts and figs, well they are practically the flavour of Christmas aren't they?This week:Watched: Finally getting around to Fargo season three. Perfectly wintery, and the Minnesota accent is so great.Read: Still reading Middlemarch. And I fear I shall be for some time yet. Lincoln in the Bardo sits on my bedside table and the pile of books I want to read is growing longer than there are years left to read them.Listened to: The Omen on Radio 4 iPlayer. A perfect example of an epic child's tantrum.Eat: Steak Tartare in 1980s Toremolinos, or rather La Barca, Lower Marsh. Methi chicken at Lahore Karahi in Tooting. Pakistani canteen food better than most, quick, friendly and a great place to top up the spice levels. They promise a "genuine spicy taste", so you'd hope they deliver. And they do.
Two weeks into September and I think we are just about surfacing from the shock of returning to real life after a leisurely August with the children attached to our legs 24 hours a day.While it's great they are back at school with their pals, the Stockholm syndrome we've developed for our captors has left the days quieter and although we are back full steam with work, I miss having them around all the time.Still, it will be half term before we know it, then Christmas, then the summer holidays again, then all of a sudden they will have graduated from University. (Assuming of course we somehow manage to find a million dollars in a jacket pocket to pay for it).But the end of summer brings my favourite season, and while I look happily toward autumn, it has this year somehow managed to bring a fruit fly colony into the house. I suppose this is what happens if you go away having forgot to empty the bin before going away for the week, but honestly, it's ridiculous. It may be necessary to knock the whole place down and rebuild. I honestly don't know where they keep on coming from. Roll on the cold, with hope that'll do for them.I'm also now two weeks into a no carb and no sugar month. And while dutifully making the family a weekly sourdough and other loaves, filling the Saturdays with the smell of freshly baking bread, I'm coping well. The sugar part seems remarkably easy for some reason, but I do really miss the bread. And I'm not counting the bowl of pasta I had at the River Cafe. I mean, you can't go there and not have a pasta dish, but it has to be worth it as an exception, and that was most definitely worth it.So by the end of September, hopefully feeling a little lighter around the middle I will be looking forward to tucking in to a fresh crusty loaf straight from the oven. In the meantime, pearl barley and chickpeas are filling in place of rice and pasta (gram flour flatbreads are excellent with dhal).Last night's supper was this incredibly quick and simple fish with celeriac rémoulade. A fresh and flavoursome dish that just feels summery enough to complement the fading evening light but with the earthy celeriac nodding a quick acknowledgement at the gold autumn knock tapping at the window. And the fish only takes four minutes to cook, which I'm pretty sure makes this even less work than a quick bowl of pasta on a frazzled Wednesday evening.Ingredients for two2 seabass fillets, scored lightly on the skin1tsp turmeric powder1tsp seaweed flakes (such as these)A pinch of herb salt (or Maldon salt if you haven't any)1/2 small celeriac, peeled and cut into matchsticks, preferably on a mandoline, but you could grate them or spend half an hour finely slicing it if you are a masochist.3tbsp mayonnaise, homemade the usual way preferable, but if not Delouis is a good one2tbsp Dijon mustard1 red chilli, slicedJapanese pepper to season (I like this for its slightly lemony flavour. You can buy it online here)Maldon salt (or similar) to seasonJuice of half a lemon1tbsp yuzu juice (optional)1tsp tarragon vinegar (Make your own by sticking sprigs in a bottle of cider vinegar)1tbsp chopped fresh tarragon1tbsp chopped young thyme leavesA handful of pancetta, cooked in a frying pan until crisp, keep the rendered fat in the pan for cooking the fishA little fresh parsley to finishMethodMix together the rémoulade ingredients and leave to sit for half an hour. Don't make it too far ahead or it will be soggy and claggy like a mouthful of wet paper.Heat the pan you cooked the bacon in until nice and hot but not smoking. Season the fish all over with the turmeric, seaweed and salt then gently lay them into the pan skin-side down so they crackle and spit. Leave for a couple of minutes until the skin is golden and crisp then gently flip them over and turn the heat off.Leave to cook in the pan for another minute or two while you put the remoulade onto plates.Top with the fish and serve straight away with a sprinkle of parsley and a sharply dressed butterhead salad.This week:Watched: Arena - 'Death on the Staircase' on BBC iPlayer. Amazing documentary about a man on trial for the murder of his wife. Gripping. Also started series two of 'Top of the Lake' which you have to say in an Irish accent.Saw: Giacometti at Tate Modern. Or "those thin spindly people?" as Bee asked. Great to see so much of it all in the same rooms. Even if they all do look the same and his paintings all look like he's in charge of passport photography. Also, the Rothko room. I remember, back in the mists of time when I was an Art student being able to sit in that room, then at the original Tate gallery, alone and in silence. This time it was packed; a disappointment. I think they are best seen on your own.Read: Finished 'Tale of Two cities. God that was boring. Started 'Death in the Olive Grove' an Italian crime novel set in the '60s, excellent, well written with full characters and a welcome relief from the sludge that was Dickens.Ate: River Café. Faultless, if eye-wateringly expensive. Chit Chaat Chai, fun and bustling Indian street food in a restaurant. ('Railway' curry, pani puri, okra fries, daal, chilli wings)Drank: White Darjeeling snowbud from Vahdam company. Delicate and rather calming.Listened: The Allman Brothers, 'In Memory of Elizabeth Reed'. The War on Drugs 'Lost in the Dream', The Doors 'The Crystal Ship'.
A small package, wrapped in a brown paper mushroom bag arrived for me from Eugene, Oregon the other week. Inside, thanks to my friend Linda Schindler, was vanilla salt. She said the people that make it promise it will change your life. Unsure whether I wanted my life to be changed, it's been on the shelf in the kitchen, winking at me since like a gateway salt. But I knew what I wanted to use it for, and just needed a little time to unleash the magic. It was either going to be cod or salmon with vanilla beurre blanc, and I chose the salmon so I could crisp and char the skin for crunch.Vanilla and fish is nothing new, The French Laundry is known for it's vanilla poached lobster. And on the island of Comoro near Madagascar, it has been a combination since the 1890s. Still, it's not that often seen on menus here in London, at least not in the kind of places I eat, which admittedly are these days more likely to be a cold shipping container in a car park on a rare date night, or our local Indian 'street food' canteen with the children. Although, how something can be called street food when you eat it inside at a table under a roof and in a room is beyond me.When summer wheezes it's way over the horizon for ten minutes this July and the barbecue is dusted off, hosed down, thrown away and a new one bought, a pan of this vanilla infused butter sauce will be on standby to pour over the grilled lobsters or langoustines. For now, I'll content myself with burning charring the salmon skin and the onions on the cast iron griddle for that smoky flavour.The first time I had fish with beurre blanc I thought I'd never eat again. And to an extent, I don't think I've had a more memorable dish since. It was like a scene in a '6os parody after smoking a jazz cigarette. Angels started gently singing and the world melted into the swirling background. How could food taste this good?We were at Brasserie des Cappucines in Paris, a large family lunch for my Great Aunt's 85th birthday. It was one of those historic meals where you even remember how amazing the loos were. And in three weeks time, we will be off again to celebrate her 100th, although God only knows where we'll be going this time, I imagine we'll be eating at the Elysée Palace or on top of the Arc de Triomphe. One is not often 100 years old.The rich sharpness of this most simple sauces suits the sweet, flaky and creamy texture of fish; it's the most elevated comfort food, so simple to make yet so luxurious seeming. In essence, it's just hot vinegar and cold butter.I used tarragon vinegar and the finely chopped stems of the onion flowers as the base for the beurre blanc, finishing it with a pinch of the vanilla to give it the extra luxury. A little cream would turn it into beurre Nantaise if you fancy a little more richness. And cooking the salmon seasoned with the most gentle of vanilla twists, the heady aromatic comes through without being overpowering. It's a little like a cuddle from Yvette Carte-Blanche in the cellar of Café Artois. But listen very carefully, I shall say this only once: salmon must be cooked medium rare.You can make your own vanilla salt by scraping the seeds into the salt and mixing it well. Chop up the pod a little and throw it in then leave, sealed for a few days to infuse. It goes equally well into caramel as it does onto salmon.Ingredients for two2 salmon fillets, about 200g eachA bunch of onion flowers (if you can't get these, use spring onion)75ml tarragon vinegar150g salted butter, cold and cubedA few good twists of vanilla saltMethodHeat a griddle pan to foundry level furnace hot and season the salmon all over with the vanilla salt and let it sit for a few minutes before cooking. This will help firm it and stop the proteins leaking out and forming unsightly white bits.Reduce the vinegar by three quarters in a saucepan with a handful of finely sliced onion stems.Slowly whisk in the butter, a little at a time until it's emulsified and smooth. Taste and season. Keep gently warm until the fish is cooked.Cook the salmon skin-side first until its crisp, then flip it over and cook for a minute or so more until slightly translucent in the middle. Leave to rest while you char the onions on the griddle.Serve the fish with the onions and beurre blanc, a final little twist of the vanilla salt accompanied with a Jerusalem artichoke gratin or purée.
The slow change from vivid green to red, yellow, orange. And then how quickly the trees become bare and the glorious colours give way to brown and grey sludgy streets.In the seemingly few hours of daylight we have over the winter months we celebrate the warmth of the fireside. Scarves, gloves, hats and thick woolen jumpers wrapped around us keep us cosy when we venture outside, often leaving and returning home in the dark.I welcome the smells from the slow cooker more than any dog's wagging tail as a greeting. And here we are, only at the gentle tip of the cold months, yet it feels like it's the time for stews. Meat falling from bones into rich and thick broths, individual flavours combining like the instruments in an orchestra to create one symphony.A cast-iron pan with a lid in a very low oven does just as well as a slow cooker, and if you're happy leaving the oven on all day it's the perfect way to cook. However, you may not fancy chopping and browning chunks of meat while drinking your morning coffee and wondering why you have to ask the children twenty times to put a sock on. I have neither the time nor inclination, getting out of a warm bed is tragedy enough. In which case these are best done the night before, or on a weekend when you have a more leisurely start to the day.Of course white potatoes work just as well as the purple ones, which may be a little tricky to find; crushed Anyas would be a real treat. Whatever you use, nothing quite beats the deliciousness of all those juices soaked up by the buttery potatoes. This really is one of those meals that feels like you're back home in the warmth of the family.Tarragon adds a little last of the summer sparkle to the flavours, hinting with its warm aniseed at the comfort to come. If you don't have any, a good handful of chopped parsley running through would be just as nice.Ingredients500g ox cheek, cut into chunks1 onion, roughly choppedA thumb of ginger, chopped1tbsp oregano1tbsp flour1/2 a bulb of garlic1 red pepper, chopped2tbsp tomato purée500ml beef stockLarge pinch of dried mushroomsSalt and pepperPotatoes to serve, cooked and crushed with butter, spring onion and some shredded tarragon.MethodHeat a heavy sauté pan with some oil and sear the beef well until browned. Try not to smoke out the kitchen and set of the smoke alarms in a panicked succession as I did. And sear the meat in batches to avoid boiling rather than caramelising it.Add the flour and stir well, coating all the meat. This will help thicken the sauce. Add to the slow cooker or casserole. Deglaze the sauté pan with a little water or wine and add the juices along with the remaining ingredients.Cook on high for four hours or low for eight hours in the slow cooker, or eight hours in a very low oven. (140c. Gas mark 1) Serve with the potatoes and perhaps some broccoli or garlic green beans.
Last night the oven caught fire. I'd only popped out for a while and left Bee a lasagne to heat for supper. We've had it for about 13 years, and it has seen two replacement heating elements and a couple of glass doors which shattered for no obvious reason. It also has always sounded like a derailing freight-train since we bought it, so perhaps it's time for a new one.The central heating part of the boiler, which now is being called into service after it's summer holiday has decided it also has had enough. Even that has had so many parts replaced I'm not sure if it's the same boiler we started with.And finally, to complete the trinity, the brakes on Bee's car failed as well. It's been a good week for the repair industry.Back in the kitchen, all is not lost without an oven. I'm baking bread in my neighbour, Russel's one, which has its own peculiarities. It's rather like the peasant taking his loaf to the village bakery to be cooked. I can't, however, impose full roasting usage upon him every evening. So it's pots and pan cookery for the immediate future.Fortunately, the season is perfect for slow cooking. A strong, heavy deep pot, preferably cast iron and with a lid is a kitchen essential. You can make meals with just one burner and fill up on hearty and healthy food.I'm buy our meat from Heal Farm in Devon and the quality is amazing. Knowing where it comes from and being able to speak directly to the farmers is a privilege. It's not much more expensive than the supermarkets and the little extra it costs is, in my opinion a price worth paying for the quality and care.These lamb shanks were so rich and flavoursome. A proper autumn meal, and very easy to cook using one pan. Fortunately, I roast the squash earlier in the day so it only required a quick warming through. You, with your fancy, functioning oven should be fine to cook it as normal. If you can't find spaghetti squash, swap it for pumpkin or sweet potato mash with thyme and almonds.This is a rich and meaty meal. A proper dish if you've just been out hewing logs or something. And one that, after a few minutes preparation, pretty much cooks itself. It's also perfect for the slow cooker if you have one. Eight hours on low should do it.Ingredients for two2 lamb shanksOlive oil1 tin of chopped tomatoes1 bulb of garlic, halved equatorially1 large red chilliA pinch of cumin seedsOne spaghetti squashA pinch of fresh thymeA small handful of toasted almond flakesSalt and pepper to seasonMethodSeason the lamb shanks with salt and pepper then brown them all over in a little oil in a very hot pan.Deglaze the pan with about a mug-full of water and add the lamb and liquid to a heavy, lidded casserole dish.Add all the remaining ingredients and cook for about two and a half hours on a low flame. It's even better if you cook this the day before you need it. It tastes just a little more rounded after a good rest.For the spaghetti squash, roast it for one hour in the oven at about 180c. Leave it to cool a little, so it doesn't steam your face off when you cut into it. Scoop out all the flesh. Sprinkle over some thyme and almond flakes and a little seasoning and serve with the lamb and sauce.
Butternut squash is great to have around the kitchen. They normally hang around in mine for a while as I psych myself up to peel them. Fortunately, they keep for what seems an eternity, and can quickly become lunch when you are ready to battle with them. I like to sauté chunks of it in coconut oil and mix with chickpeas in a spiced tomato sauce. Here it's used as the base for a vegetable salad and works really well with the slightly bitter radish and kale. If you can't get barberries, use goji berries. The Parma ham gives crunch and saltiness and the dill cream brings a soothing calmness.I like the surprise of fiery green chillies, but you can leave these out if you're scared. And don't forget the squash seeds. You may want to roast all of them separately and keep them in a jar for future use.Ingredients500g butternut squash, peeled and cut into smallish chunks2tbsp of the squash seeds2 cloves of garlic, bashed with a knife1tbsp mustard seedsA handful of curly kale leaves, depending on how big your hands are. Cut out the big stalks4 slices of Parma ham30g sour cream2tbsp chopped fresh dill20g dried barberries1tsp chilli flakes or sliced green chillies1 watermelon radish, cut into chunks1/2tsp pink peppercorns, lightly crushedOlive oilSalt and pepperMethodHeat the oven to 190cMix the squash, seeds, garlic, mustard seeds and olive oil together and season well.Roast in the oven for 15 minutes, then toss through the kale and and curl through the Parma ham and cook for another 15 minutes or so, until the squash turns golden orange and the ham and kale become crisp.Remove from the oven and leave to cool to room temperatureMix the dill and pink peppercorns through the sour cream and add a little salt and pepper.Add the radish to the squash, throw over the barberries and chillies, season a little and drizzle over some olive oil and the dill cream and serve.