Archive for the ‘Food’ Category


These little pearls are half the size of their better known cousins, cannellini beans, but are cooked the same way.

These were a gift from Polly Wessel–a “Braveheart” (a cooking workshop alumni) last year–kindly brought from Rome.

They have sat on the shelf patiently waiting. Now they are in the spotlight–and I’m appreciating them.

They are called Fagioli del Purgatorio and come from Gradoli–a town 60 miles north west of Rome in Lazio.

Traditionally served at lunch on Ash Wednesday (today), which marks the beginning of Lent in the Christian calendar–a time to purge one’s sins by giving up something one enjoys.

(I remember dreading it as a child in the fifties! No chocolate and or sweets for seven weeks–purgatory!)

One definition of PURGATORY has it as

“…a temporary condition of torment or suffering.” *

When it comes to eating beans Meredith would agree–and would willingly give them up for longer than Lent!

She said today that if she were to take over in the kitchen–something she is capable of doing–she’d cook more or less like I do–except NO beans!

(Meredith grew up near Chicago–the Windy City–perhaps she’s had her fill of wind! The only beans she saw were the long green ones from the family garden–and those she likes!)



Annibale Caracci’s The Bean Eater

The size of the beans suits this little salad but use any white bean.


8oz dry white beans–soaked in water eight or more hours or overnight (evening of Pancake Tuesday!)

1 carrot–halved lengthwise

stick of celery–chopped in two

1 onion–halved

sprig of rosemary

for the dressing;

4 tbs olive oil

2 tbs red wine vinegar

1 garlic clove–pulped in a little salt

1 smallish red onion–diced small

2 to 3 tbs parsley–chopped

salt and pepper to taste

a lemon quartered to squeeze over for perfection!

oven at 170c

  • Put the first five ingredients in a saucepan and top by two inches or more with water.
  • Bring gently to the boil.
  • Spoon off any white froth that has collected on the surface.
  • Cover the pan and place in the middle of the oven and cook for an hour.
  • Test the beans for softness.
  • If they still seem a little crunchy cook on until they are soft.
  • This depends on the age of the beans–the older they are, the longer they cook.
  • When you are happy with their tenderness–drain them and pour into a pretty serving bowl.
  • Mix the oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper into a vinaigrette and pour over the beans while they are still warm.
  • Add the onion and parsley and carefully turn it all over.



A fuller definition of PURGATORY is:

an intermediate state after death for expiatory purification; specifically :  a place or state of punishment wherein according to the souls of those who die in God’s grace may make satisfaction for past sins and so become fit for heaven

Well, I’d be happy to take my punishment–I love beans!

Wind or no wind!







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These little white beans are called purgatory beans

I originally published this recipe (I’d watched Gordon Ramsay demonstrate it on YouTube), four years ago almost to the day.

It was a bitingly cold February back in 2012.

My, what a difference four years makes!

We are eating this in a sunny courtyard with the first daffodil peeking round the corner, looking as surprised as we are.


Faux Printemps is all very well but one has to be a little anxious.


Jack Frost can be a patient fellow….


“Bonjour, Madam–deux cotes d’échine, s’il vous plait.”

Spare rib chops are tastier and less prone to dry out than loin chops–and they are the less expensive cut.


These two cost under 3€ (about $3.30 or £2.40).

“Elles sont trop cher, Madam!”

Our Lautrec Friday market pork butcher looked confused--until she heard the woman next to me laugh.

The rosemary needles take on a nice crunchiness and are worth eating, as is the garlic.

for 2

2 spare rib pork chops

Sprigs of rosemary and thyme

3/4 cloves of garlic–squashed, peeled and halved

olive oil

salt and pepper

heat the oven to 200C/400F

  • Dribble some olive oil and sprinkle some salt on a shallow oven tray.
  • Scatter over a couple of the cloves of garlic.
  • Place the chops on top.
  • Sprinkle them with salt and pepper.
  • Strip the rosemary needles from the stem over the chops.
  • Do the same with the thyme (not so easily done).
  • Dribble more olive oil over the tray.
  • Put it in the higher part of the oven for about 20 minutes.
  • (The cooking time depends on the thickness of the chops.)
  • Best to cut into them to check–the juices should run clear.


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Frittata with celery & red onions

Needs must, when the cupboard is almost bare….

No option but to improvise when supplies are depleted.

I thought there would be leftover spicy cauliflower in the fridge from dinner a couple of nights ago–enough for an interesting new spin on a frittata–the slow-cooked Italian omelette.

I went through the very male thing of looking in the fridge and not finding it and assuming it must be there because of the very male thing of looking in the fridge for something, not finding it and then Meredith looking and finding it.

This time Meredith looked– and didn’t find it.

Conclusion: It isn’t there!

So–what is?

A still use-able bunch of celery.

Never thought of celery in a frittata before–but why not?

Helped by a couple of red onions–all sliced thin.

We’ll see, I thought…..

6 eggs

1 bunch celery– remove any damaged outer leaves and flowery tops and slice thinly

2 red onions–outer casing removed and sliced thinly

2 tbs olive oil

100gm/2 oz parmesan–grated

salt and pepper

1 tbs olive oil to heat in cooking pan


Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a wide-ish pan and add the celery and onion.


Cook on a medium heat–about 20 minutes–until the chopped vegetables soften.

Leave to cool.

Beat the eggs in a bowl.

When the onion and celery have cooled, empty them into a mixing bowl and season well.

Fold in the grated cheese and then the eggs and mix well.


Heat a 10″ frying pan to HOT and add a tablespoon of oil.

Carefully pour in the egg mix and smooth it flat.


Turn the heat down to the lowest temperature and cook on until there is just a hint of a pool left on top.

Heat the oven grill to HOT and slip the pan under for about a minute–possibly less! You don’t want it to burn the frittata or dry it out.



My invention today registered a distinct DING for Meredith.

That still leaves the opportunity to try frittata with spicy cauliflower–when I can find it!


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“They don’t look too promising….” was Meredith’s verdict on the three fennel bulbs I had lined up on the chopping board.

I admit they looked like someone who’d had an extreme haircut.


(My guess: Frost had got the tops, so the make-up & hair department prettied them up for market!)

Appearances can be deceptive, as my mother must have cautioned me.

The customary clean-up revealed their core to be firm and useable.


They served perfectly.

Always on the lookout for “one-dish wonders“,  I found this one in Rose Elliott’s classic The Bean Book.

I treasure both my Rose Elliott books–the other being Not Just a Load of Lentils.

A prolific cookbook author, she has written over sixty books!

The topping here is red lentils and onions cooked down to resemble yellow mashed potatoes:


A sprinkling of parmesan and wholewheat breadcrumbs finishes off the dish so it browns nicely.


It worked so well, I plan to try it over seafood to create the classic fish pie that I’ve been missing since I was diagnosed with Type 2.

Oh boy! This opens up a whole new horizons!

I shall go pie-mad experimenting with this!


Serves 4

  • 6 oz red lentils–washed clear and drained
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion–chopped
  • 400 ml stock–I use organic vegetable stock cubes (14 fluid ounces or  just under two cups)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1lb fennel bulbs (after removing outer leaves and coring)–chopped into large chunks
  • salt and pepper
  • a tablespoon each of wholewheat breadcrumbs and grated parmesan, mixed–more if you like.
  • juice of half a lemon

Choose a presentable oven proof dish and lightly oil or butter the base.

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F.

In a medium saucepan, sauté the onion in the olive oil with the bay leaf until opaque–five minutes or so–stirring occasionally.

Add the drained lentils and stir in the stock.

Cook them, covered, over a gentle heat until they have softened and formed a loose mash.

Let it cool a bit then blitz with a hand-held blender to a smooth consistency like mashed potatoes.

Mix in the lemon juice.

In another saucepan cook the fennel chunks in enough lightly salted water to cover until just tender.

Remove them with a slotted spoon and transfer to the oven-bound serving dish.

Season well with salt and black pepper and turn them over thoroughly.

Spread the lentil mash evenly over the fennel and finish with a sprinkling of the parmesan and breadcrumb mixture.


Drizzle over some olive oil and place in the middle of the oven for about 30 minutes.

It should come out with a lovely sizzling brown top.


Serve as a main dish or as an accompaniment.


It was a perfect foil for some left-over red bean chili (another simple wonder from Rose Elliott) the other night.






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I went walnutting this morning after the rain.

Beautiful heavy drops plomping straight down into the cats’ drinking bowls with a splash.

The sort of rain that can topple a walnut from the tree before it is quite ready to fall–thus making an early expedition to walnut alley worthwhile.

A big wind blew last night as we went to bed–violently shaking the trees.

Then rain this morning–a perfect scenario for a seasoned walnutter.


Came back with two sacks (five pounds!) of walnuts–freed them from their outer cases–and a good feeling.


Hosed them down and decanted them into a filigreed steel basket to sit in the sun.


Now for lunch.

I made the walnut pasta two days ago for Meredith to photograph for the next book–Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics–due out in the Spring.

We didn’t feel like eating it just then–but I had a plan… (see below)


Here is the original recipe which is beautifully simple.


Spaghettini with Walnut, Garlic and Parmesan Sauce

 serves 4
  • 100g/4oz shelled walnuts – be careful, if you shell them yourself, to avoid any teeth-cracking bits being left in
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 tbsp parsley, chopped, plus a little extra parsley
  • salt and pepper
  • 5 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to serve
  • 1 tbsp walnut oil
  • 425g/14oz wholewheat spaghettini or spaghetti
  • 100g/4oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to serve

Put the walnuts, garlic and parsley in a food processor, season with salt and pepper, add the oils and pulse to a sauce of this texture:


Add the grated cheese and mix.


Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling, salted water.

Drain it– keeping a little of the cooking liquid– and put the pasta back in the hot pan.

Add the sauce and a tablespoon of the cooking liquid (i.e. hot, salted water) and turn it over thoroughly.

Turn it into a warmed bowl and sprinkle with extra parsley.

Serve immediately with more olive oil and Parmesan to hand.


It’s a favorite pasta for us!

Two days later and…

I’m lightly sautéing half the spaghettini in walnut sauce (half because there are only two of us) to go with a small salad of sliced tomatoes gathered from our garden–another harvest this morning.


Panfried Walnut Pasta (for leftovers!)

(This pasta lends itself to re-use, crisping up nicely for a crunchy bite.)

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium sauté pan.

When the oil is hot, slip in the pasta.

Cook this over a medium heat for about 5 or 6 minutes. The bottom should be crispy brown.


Turn this over carefully with a spatula and cook the other side to a similar effect.

Halve the pancake (I find scissors work well!) and divide between two plates.


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We discovered this starter in a little chef-owned restaurant in our local town recently.


It came in individual dishes straight from the oven–the cheese melting into the shallots, the pancetta crisp.

A few mouthfuls of bliss!

It was so simple and so delicious, I had to try it at home.

Now we try not to have it with every meal….

for 2

  • 2 to 4 shallots–depending on the size–very thinly sliced
  • 1 goat cheese/chevre, “log”shape (in the hot oven, the outer “skin” allows them to hold their shape as the cheese melts inside.)
  • 4 pancetta slices–halved (you could use prosciutto too, if pancetta is difficult to source.)
  • 2 small sage leaves–optional but fun
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • olive oil

Heat oven to 200C/400F

Spread the sliced shallots evenly between the two individual oven-proof dishes–there should be enough to lightly cover the bottom of each dish.

Slice four pieces of about one-and-a-half inches from the chèvre cheese “log”.

Place two pieces in each of the oven-ready dishes, with two sage leaves.

Arrange four half-slices of pancetta around the sides of each dish.


the second two halves of a slice of pancetta to come…

Grind some pepper over the dishes and drizzle with olive oil.


the second two halves of a slice of pancetta still to come…

Slide the dishes onto the top shelf of the oven and cook for about ten minutes. (The cheese should be soft but hold its shape.)


It’s a hard act to follow.

Roast guinea fowl with chickpea mash managed to snatch back some glory at dinner the other night.





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Sweet and savory.

Our friend Helen Richmond in Tuscany tipped us the wink on this unusual combo.

The tang of the lime juice offsets the sweetness of the melon.

The mild bite of the onion complements the saltiness of the feta.

The colors are seductive and the taste suggests…

I shut my eyes as I take a mouthful and I’m on Corfu–and they are grilling the lamb chops for the main course!

Thank you, Helen!

for 8 as a starter


  • 1.5 k of watermelon (surprising how much a big slice weighs!)
  • 250 gm feta cheese
  • a good handful of juicy black olives–stoned and halved
  • a small red onion–peeled, halved and finely sliced
  • a handful of mint–chopped
  • a good handful of parsley— leaves off the stem but kept intact
  • 2 tbs lime juice (freshly juiced)
  • 6 tbs olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper

Release the flesh of the melon by carefully running a sharp knife round the inside of the crescent of rind–take your time!


Lightly steer a teaspoon along the ridge of pips skillfully dislodging them without mushing up the flesh.

Cut the flesh into bite-size squares.

Cut the feta in smaller squares.


Place the melon and the olives in a bowl and add the feta.


Sprinkle over the red onion and the mint.

Mix the lime juice, olive oil and a couple of grinds of black pepper. (A screw-top jar is good for this–add ingredients and shake it all about!)

Pour this over the the salad and carefully turn it all over–hands (washed!) work well!


Add the parsley leaves and refrigerate until you are ready to serve (best served thoroughly chilled).











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