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white asparagus with miso butter and boiled eggs

9 Jun

asparagus, miso butter

(I wanted to called it miso-mimosa? misomosa? mimosimo? but any portmanteau sounds too much like mumbling.)

It has been a good season so far for all the asparagi: I have had green asparagus dipped in miso-butter at KOYA in London (and wished there was bread to scrape up the leftover sauce). Wild asparagus from a market in Strasbourg, the thin stems like ears of wheat, sweet enough to snap off and eat then and there like mange-tout peas. Those were cooked briefly in oil and butter, as per the forager’s suggestion, to become like green spaghetti. And last week at Le Casse Noix in Paris, my new favourite bistro (where they offer you a mousse-like chicken liver pâté while you struggle to decide on the menu!) my starter was white asparagus and poached egg, all drowned in a very French sauce made of cream and a richly meaty stock. I was sad to run out of bread, again, when Jen pointed out that they gave me a spoon for a reason.

Since then, I have put miso and butter on many things. Other vegetables. Inside flaky, savoury croissant twists. I have been out for ramen with miso broth and butter, a classic combination. Most often I have used it as a last-minute pasta sauce, the way the Italians eat spaghetti all’olio-aglio-peperoncino when there is nothing else in the fridge. The same principle of fat-flavour-heat: I toss the cooked pasta with a big spoonful each of butter and white miso, add sriracha. Then probably eat the whole bowl in bed, because that is the kind of comfort food it sets out to be. Salty and rich and full of umami. Dare I say it, better and easier than a cheese sauce. Or just as good considering you already ate all the cheese earlier as a snack.

And today, we had an abundance of fat, white asparagus from the morning’s market, since our favourite vendor threw in a bunch of broken stalks for free. For a slightly more elegant supper this evening – using a table mat and everything – I combined the best of the above meals.

First I boiled some eggs. And in the meantime, I peeled and sliced the white asparagus.  As soon as the eggs were done, the asparagus went in some salted water to fully cook through. (It doesn’t like to be as squeaky and snappy as the green kind.) Eggs peeled. Drained the asparagus stalks and swirled butter, olive oil and miso in the hot pan. Then tossed the asparagus in the miso sauce, serving it piled on a plate with the eggs grated on top. Miso-mimosa. We had some fresh basil, also from the market man, growing roots in a glass jar. Torn leaves of basil, black pepper. It looks very springlike, shades of yellow and white and green, but it could be dressed up further with toasted seeds, croutons, any number of things. It definitely needs bread to clean up those last bits of egg yolk and miso left on the plate.

asparagus, miso butter 1

P.S. Could my brand of miso BE any cuter? The characters even have names: Megumi-chan and Dai-san are SO excited about soup. But not just soup: a spoonful of miso works for sautéed mushrooms, in mashed potatoes, anything that needs a kick of flavour. The vegan equivalent of a rich, meaty stock, and one that I used a lot at Freegan Pony, without the extra butter of course. Oishii desu ne!


White asparagus with miso butter and boiled eggs

Obviously this would be good with other asparagus, green or wild, so adjust cooking times accordingly. Miso brands differ too, so taste as you go and add extra if you like it as much as I do! Add more butter too, for more dipping at the end. This is just the roughest guide.

serves 2

large bunch of white asparagus (500-600g)

2-4 eggs depending on hunger

2 tbs unsalted butter

1 tbs olive oil

1-2 tbs white miso paste (the mildest kind)

fresh herbs eg. basil

salt and pepper

Bring a medium pan of water to the boil, then gently add eggs and cook for 10 minutes. Lift them out and place in cold water. Meanwhile, peel the white asparagus as the skin is much tougher than the green kind. Snap off the hard ends. Cut any very fat stalks in half lengthways. Boil the asparagus in salted water for 8-10 minutes. Taste to check, they should be just soft. Drain into a colander. Add butter, oil and miso to the empty, hot pan, stir to melt and combine, and then toss in the asparagus. Mix, taste and add more miso, butter or salt as preferred.

Arrange asparagus stalks on plates. Grate boiled eggs on the large holes of a cheese grater, or finely chop. Sprinkle over asparagus. Add lots of black pepper, some salt and torn fresh herbs if desired. Serve warm.


greek caper-potato spread

19 Jul

greek potato caper dip, devilled eggs, carrot salad

C-O-P-C-M … Copka-mmm? Carrots, olives, potatoes, capers, what was the m? Mustard?

Little cousin and I were trying to make a mnemonic to recall the shopping list we were too lazy to write down. The greengrocer had everything, capers, olives, even the mustard. We almost forgot the bulgur wheat though, since we missed the second B in B-B-O-W-T – blueberries, bulgur, oats, walnuts, tomatoes – an essential ingredient in the grape leaf parcels the dinner was themed around.

The Grape Leaves Club was celebrating more than a year of cooking evenings (ravioli, sashimi, paupiettes de poulet….) with a summer fiesta, vaguely Mediterranean themed. A bit of Spanish-French-Italo-American-Greek (SFIAG?): ajo blanco, white almond soup and soubressade spicy sausage from Marie; oeufs mimosa, devilled eggs with homemade mayonnaise  from Jen, with her own foccacia; and grape leaves with lemon and mint, of course. Peeling carrots as the other two rolled up the leaves, talking and then not talking, listening to my little cousin hanging bunting in the other room in fits of laughter, I realised once again that the party preparation is my favourite moment. Inviting people over was a necessary (pleasant) function of liking to cook together, producing too much to eat on our own, as a three.

I was inspired by the ‘Mostly Vegetarian Greek Feast’ eaten at the Oxford Symposium* the other week: long tables lined with tarama, pita, black-eyed bean salad with tomatoes and crispy crumbs. My favourite dishes were a kind of caper spread, with the soft fluffy texture of mashed potatoes; and a carrot and olive salad, the carrot discs just cooked, crunchy, lemony, with pops of salt from the olives. The architect of the feast, Aglaia Kremezi, explained how important the right spices are for (mostly) vegetarian food. And as simple as the main ingredients were, it was the best meal of the weekend, because everything was so well-seasoned, spiced, balanced.

I haven’t bought the book (yet) but really wanted to try the caper-potato combination at home. Even though I don’t normally like capers, something about the squeaky texture. But blended with parsley and swirled into potatoes with olive oil, the sum was so much more than the (four!) parts. Tangy, salty, fresh. It is thicker than a dip, more like mashed potatoes, and could be served as a side dish, a snack, a spread. If everything else on our table hadn’t been so delectable, I would’ve just eaten it by the spoonful. Because she is a genius, Marie suggested piling it into crisp brick pastry with an egg, and frying the parcel until golden and the egg yolk is still runny.

Seriously, try it. This will be your easiest and best summer dish to take to picnics, or to eat absentmindedly from the fridge late at night, when the city finally cools down.


*The Oxford Symposium on Food and Cooking left me with pages of notes I haven’t yet written up: on the Gourmet in popular Japanese manga, on tattoos in the kitchen, on banquet scenes in medieval paintings. I will, soon. I loved pretending to be a student in lectures again, this time surrounded by people as obsessively keen as I am about food. And quite a few recipe ideas, including Greek spoon-sweets: preserved orange rind in syrup, offered to us by a pair of artists that collected the fruit from trees in different neighbourhoods of Athens.


Greek potato-caper spread

inspired by Aglaia Kremezi’s Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts – obviously you can be creative, add garlic, lemon, other herbs as well, but it is pretty amazing with just these four ingredients. 

makes a generous bowlful but still not enough!

600g potatoes

125g capers

generous handful of fresh parsley

a couple of glugs olive oil

Peel, boil and mash the potatoes. Drain the capers (reserve the brine) and blend with parsley and olive oil to make a rough paste. Mash the caper mix into the potatoes by hand: do not put potatoes in the blender or they will turn gluey. Add more olive oil and some of the brine to achieve required consistency – like loose mashed potatoes. Serve with more olive oil and chopped parsley on top.



20 Jul



The extractor fan shakes the bottles of rum, kirsch, cognac in the cupboard nearby, creating a steady clink. The slabs of puff pastry are clammy, not their usual paper-smooth. One extra distraction and it bunches and sticks itself into artistic rumples.

On a roundabout way home, near the golden dome of Les Invalides, I can’t help noticing how empty the avenue seems: one lady in shades of beige to match the dusty air, one thirty-something sedately rolling by, feet firmly placed on a wide skateboard, head balding slightly behind his sunglasses. Two teenagers shrieking over an iphone.

The moment we finally get our long-awaited summer – the moment I wish I could stay here, stay still, to go to outdoor cinema, to lounge in the sandpit at Paris Plage on my canal, the canal de l’Ourcq – everyone begins to leave Paris.


At work, I have to tidy the walk-in before the shop closes for a month. At Christmas, the fridge was so full you couldn’t walk in, only lean over to reach a tub of mirror icing. Now there is just a crate of tomatoes, some cream, some 5-litre bottles of pasteurised eggs and a box of real ones, for brioche.

Around 11am, someone has to start to think about lunch. Whoever is hungriest. Muttering wistfully about Toyko ramen, they open the door of the small staff fridge and sigh at the leftovers. I love the sticky-sweet honey and soy marinades they use to eke out scraps of chicken or pork, served with sticky rice. I have to restrain my hands when they make spaghetti – there’s no cream in carbonara! the sauce does not sit prettily on a swirl of dry pasta – but the meal is always proffered with imagination and warmth. Today it is entirely to my taste. I put off the puff pastry to chop ten large tomatoes, as a finely diced shallot, the last one, waits in a puddle of basalmic vinegar.

Tomatoes. Bread. There is always extra bread, crackly baguettes that scratch the roof of your mouth. A baguette and a half: torn up roughly it is perfect for panzanella, with enough oomph to soak up all the saved tomato juices, the inordinately generous glug of olive oil, and the balsamic. It needs to sit for an hour or so to really meld – the tomatoes get their corners knocked off, the bread softened and full of flavour. So I add half a cucumber, some stolen chives from the person making asparagus quiche (basil would be better) and some plain black olives. More salt and more oil than you might think is wise, a good mix with bare hands and it can sit in the corner, while some eggs turn hardboiled and I finally face the puff pastry.


The flour has started to irritate my skin – now when I fling it with abandon my forearms go pink and scratchy. Tomorrow is my last day, before the holidays yes, but also of my contract. I am done: I can sleep until the sun pushes me out of bed and straight into the hammock in the garden, I can use my energy to run far and hard in the cool evenings, not worrying about aching legs. I can stop eating leftover cake for supper and think about real meals.

When we sit down to eat around the marble counter – a heap of tomato rubble, the now soggy panzanella, two eggs and a slice of prosciutto each – I am reminded of the south of France, our perpetual summer holidays. The tomatoes are infinitely better there, full of sunny flavour. There, there is my happy place: the green lake where I swim out to the buoy and bob for hours –  where I have been bobbing now over months of dull afternoons, waiting for this moment. But these more pallid, robust tomatoes will do, and with my colleagues laughter, confusion, translation into French, English, Japanese, even a phrase in Cantonese, it feels pretty happy as it is. The baker boy loves rolling out the loaves, doesn’t really like eating bread, would much prefer rice, but he nods approval at the panzanella, pours me half of a Belgian peach beer brought back from his travels.


Not yet ready to leave my weird corner of Japan in Paris, not ready to think about what I have learned and what I am still missing after nearly two years. I know that my check trousers are a little more snug than they were, but they still button up. My clogs are worn through at the crease, and there is an odd boat-shaped burn on my right arm currently knitting itself into scar tissue.

Tomorrow is my last day, and I am so ready for my summer projects: cartwheels and swimming pools, cooking for pleasure (a whipped cream layer cake has been hovering for more than month now), actually writing  things again, dinner around the table with my small family. I am done with the early mornings, for now, but I don’t want to leave these lunches with my work crowd. But it is 1.30pm, the beer is gone and the oven is on again for the peach tarts in puff pastry. The flour must be swept up, the counter wiped down and the lights turned off. I can go home.

pecheresse beer

wild garlic

5 Jun

wild garlic in cup

This piece was originally written for the new and shiny Gravity Serpent zine.

Most of my memories are punctuated by something edible, one great meal or a transcendent piece of cake. That weekend in Cornwall will always be linked to wild garlic for me. It fixes the people in my mind more firmly, anchored by the scent of cliff paths and the taste of waxy new potatoes scattered with green.

My granny is lemons, always lemons: her fresh lemonade, her sticky lemon curd on soft white bread and that one time, stitched into family lore, when I had seven helpings of her lemon pudding. Now at the bakery when we have to squeeze hundreds of lemons for our special crème au citron, I think of her. When you zest enough, the little puffs of lemon oil given off form a thin mist that sparks green in the gas-fired hobs. And the smell conjures up my granny instantly.

At the moment, in her letters she is telling me lots of stories about her father, my great-grandfather, who was a psychiatrist as well as the author of several books on plants. According to her, “Wild Foods of Britain” was dashed off in the week before he was called up to be a naval doctor in WWII. It is a thin volume with simple line illustrations, matter of fact descriptions of each foraged herb, fungus or weed, and recipes with now-curious names like frumenty, kissel and caragheen mould. He is erudite with a dry wit. My favourite line so far comes under Pig Nut (Conopodium denudatum):

‘Caliban dug them with his fingernails but most people prefer to use a kitchen fork.’

I never met him, never could have, but through the stories and recipes he belongs to me somehow. He is a solid figure. Now I pay attention to all the food around us for the picking, though I couldn’t identify a pig nut to save my life. On holiday with my university friends in Cornwall, we picked the delicate white flowers whose stems, crushed between our fingers, were reminiscent of chives, a more subtle version of shop garlic. Finely sliced over boiled potatoes, with the bell-shaped flowers as a garnish, they made a perfect accompaniment to my most travelled recipe, mustard chicken. The one that I make to thank my hosts but also, in a selfish act of immortality, to have them remember me. It has made it as far as Australia and even onto a café menu, of its own accord. You need to allow a whole chicken leg and thigh, a big dollop of crème fraiche and a heaping teaspoon of mustard per person. It will certainly be more mustard than you think wise, but persevere. Massage it all into the chicken with salt and pepper, some cumin seeds if there are any lying around, and bake in a very hot oven. The mustard’s bite is tamed by the heat, leaving a crisp skin that is delightfully savoury, full of flavour.

We passed around bowls and plates, spun wine on the lazy Susan, laughing and talking over one another. I listened from the stove, mixing a last minute icing for the fresh banana cake. On just a short weekend in a seaside cottage, I didn’t have all the right bits and pieces, no whisk, no icing sugar. So just a packet of cream cheese, several tablespoons of raspberry jam and a squeeze of lemon juices. Light and sweet, flower-pink, rich but not cloying. The cake too was easy: two mashed ripe bananas, three eggs, some melted butter (about 50g), one small water glass of sugar, two of self-raising flour and a teaspoon of cinnamon. Mixed with a fork, poured into a greased tin and baked at about 180C for about 30 minutes, just enough time to run to the supermarket for chicken and wine and to pick some wild garlic from the path.

Now when I think of that meal, I can conjure all of the faces around the table. I hope they recreate and share the food too, or at least the memory of it. Sending a recipe off into the ether is almost as good as writing a book. It is a tangible piece of the past, the wild captured on our plates. It keeps that moment in the present; it keeps my friends close, and my great-grandfather as close as he will ever be.

Find information about the zine at – or email to get your hands on a real paper copy.

endive, blue cheese and pear salad

20 Feb

pear and endive salad

My February kitchen has not been much to write home about. Though I resolved to try 10 new recipes from neglected cookbooks, I often end up eating leftover cake for supper (hurrah for being a grown-up) or a plain salad to balance out the cake (curses on adult responsability).

There was a whole mackerel roasted with lemon and a particularly nice dinner among girlfriends with beef, apricot and spinach meatballs simmered in tomato sauce – but that is all self-explanatory.

I can only offer this salad, in imitation of a wonderful Lyonnais bistro in St-Germain, whose address I will be not sharing (bribes notwithstanding) because it was too full and their seven-hour lamb was too delicious.

Endives can be jarring – too bitter, too teeth-squeakingly watery. But here, sliced as finely as coleslaw, they are the the star of the plate, crunchy but delicate, spotlit by a mustard dressing. Its subtle colours – cream, pale green. mottled blue – hide a wallop of flavour: bitter endive, sweet pear, sharp cheese. It is a wintery salad full of promise, for crunch and light and better things to come.


Pear, endive and blue cheese salad

serves 4 as a starter

4 large endives

2 crisp, slightly unripe conference pears

200g blue cheese

3 tbs olive oil

2 tbs lemon juice

1 tsp dijon mustard

1/2 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp salt

a pinch of pepper

Halve and core the pears. Slice them and the endives as thinly as possible. Shake the dressing ingredients in a jar, toss most of it with the salad, add more to taste. Crumble the blue cheese over the top.

chevre chaud au bacon (the perfect goat’s cheese salad)

27 Mar

I did it again. I ate my lunch before I could draw it for you nice people. But you have to have a life before a blog. And besides, the false spring has gone to my head.

These few balmy days when the trees are still stripped bare, the warm sunshine and the lone butterfly brave enough to venture out are lulling me into a syrupy stupor. I know that it will rain again in April, that I will have to leave my hideaway in the south of France for self-important Paris, but for the moment I have a diamond patio and a plate empty of anything but radish stalks, so blissful denial is the way forward.

What’s more, I have found the perfect salad, the perfect lunch. I already knew radishes and avocadoes and rocket and fennel were happy partners, but they are made bistrot-worthy by the simplest addition: a pat of soft goat’s cheese fried in bacon. Ours came from a local farmer, ready wrapped.

(I just asked my mother for a suitable simile for the size of the goat’s cheese crottins – which means poop, by the way, confirming my longheld prejudice that the French are obsessed with crap – and she suggested “larger than half a crown, slightly smaller than an Olympic medallion.” Neither of which I have ever seen or will see, in all probability. Thanks, Mum.)

So, take a tub of soft goat’s cheese and form a little fat pancake per person, as much as you can stomach. Wrap it all over in a thin streaky bacon like pancetta so it’s nicely sealed in and fry in a hot frying pan until crisp outside and just warm within. Serve on a bed of rocket and raddichio (bitter to cut the rich cheese flavour)with slivers of fennel, circles of radish and chunks of avocado, lightly dressed. Eat with lots of French bread and pale butter.

(Our favourite local just caught us finishing our lunch, barefoot, at 4pm.  He wished us a bon appetit, but refused a slice of apple tart on the grounds that his top dentures are being repaired at the moment. He is the picture of health for 87, always in the same black beret and wire rimmed sunglasses. The magic of the southern sunshine and the robust Gascon diet.)

ottolenghi inspired cauliflower with sultanas, hazelnuts and capers

2 Jan

On a dark dark night in the cold cold November air, five girls and one boy in a tuxedo met for dinner in London. They sat around a giant slab of a table, overlooking the bright lights of the kitchen. Cans of artichokes and bags of flour decorated the shelves, while the bathrooms were a circus hall of mirrors.

The menu listed burrata and pink grapefruit, twice cooked baby chicken, a finely sliced steak salad. Funnily enough, the most memorable flavours came from the vegetables: an oval dish of finely mashed potato laid with faintly spicy broccolini, the slender upcountry cousins of the basic broccoli.

And the cauliflower salad, the plain white and geometric green romaneso cauliflower, only just tender, sprinkled with sweet and salted, soft and crackly elements. Perhaps there were raisins, maybe capers. Definitely a drift of ricotta to smooth the sharp edges.It was glamourous, an epithet not often associated with dull wintery cauliflower.

That would be the genius of Ottolenghi, to spotlight the often sidelined greenery. NOPI isn’t vegetarian, but it could get away with it – people would still enthuse over the delicate/robust quality of the food, marvel that broccoli deserves a second helping.

The girls and the boy finished their balloon glasses of white wine, dove into the salted macadamia cheesecake – just light enough – and stumbled home. One girl fell asleep on the bus, dreaming spirals of cauliflower.


(Thanks go to this pretty lady who recommended the restaurant in the first place.)


Cauliflower salad with sultanas, hazelnuts and capers

inspired by Ottolenghi, recreated haphazardly as far as we remember

Take one head of cauliflower (plain white or green romanesco, whatever you can find) and break into small florets. Chop the stalks as well, to roughly the size of the florets. Spread out over two baking sheets, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and lots of pepper. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 200C, or as long as it takes to turn brown at the edges, tender with some crunch.

In a small frying pan, heat a generous amount of olive oil and fry two tablespoons of capers until they start to burst into crisp flowers. (Test the olive oil with one caper first, it should sizzle when it hits the oil.)

Toast a handful of hazelnuts in the oven with the cauliflower, until they smell just right. Chop roughly.

In a large bowl, stir together the cauliflower, hazelnuts, capers and a handful of sultanas. Check the seasoning, add more salt and pepper if needed. Top with pomegranate seeds for a splash of colour, and serve with fresh ricotta if you have any lying around.

Best served straight from the oven for the crisp contrast of the blackened edges and tender middles of the cauliflower. Still good the next day, am reliably informed that leftovers are excellent with pasta.

three cheese stuffed mushrooms

1 Dec

According to the microbiology test we had at pastry school, Roquefort is a drug. A kind of pencillin, pencillin roqueforti, if I was paying attention. But it was a “colour in the correct answer” test, so…

In any case, cheese will never let you down. Three cheeses and you can retire happy. These little innocent mushrooms get packed with sauteed leeks, ricotta, roquefort and lemon zest then coated with crunchy parmesan and thyme. Baked until the insides are melty and the outsides brown, you can forget their humble vegetable origins and pretend like you’re eating pizza.

Make big portobello ones or cute little appetizer ones. Either way you’ll probably eat them all yourself – I don’t even want to say serves two, because that would be a lie. In fact, I made the fatal mistake of eating all my supper before I could draw it. Not the proper dedication required of a food blogger.

Mushrooms stuffed with leeks, ricotta and roquefort

(For the topping, use either bulghur wheat or chunky breadcrumbs, whatever you have lying around. The former will be a bit more substantial, suitable for supper rather than a snack.)

500g mushrooms (plain white ones or large portobello ones)

1 leek

some butter

50g ricotta

50g roquefort (or any other blue cheese)

a couple of dried porcini slices (optional)

zest of one lemon

50g fresh parmesan, grated

sprinkle of fresh thyme

either 70g dried bulghur wheat or 2 slices crusty bread

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 200C. Brush any dirt off the mushrooms (do not wash, they go soggy) and break off the stems. Place caps down on a baking sheet lined with baking foil and stick in the oven for 10 minutes until they lose some of their liquid. Drain and leave to dry on a sheet of paper towel.

Prepare either the bulgur wheat (according to packet instructions) or the breadcrumbs, crumbling the bread roughly and baking in the oven until golden-brown.

Meanwhile chop the mushroom stalks very finely and cook in butter until soft and fragrant. If you have some, break up the porcini slices and stir them in. Tip into a large bowl. Melt some more butter in the same pan to cook the leek. Clean the leek (slice down the centre almost to the base, fan the leaves apart and rinse in cold water) chop into 1cm slices and fry in a little butter. Cover and leave on a medium heat until soft but brown at the edges.

Mix the mushroom stalks, leek, roquefort, ricotta and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper. The mixture should be delicious enough to eat straight up with a spoon. In a separate bowl, mix breadcrumbs / bulghur wheat with the thyme and most of the parmesan.

Lightly salt and pepper the mushroom caps and heap with as much leek filling as possible. Top with the bulghur / breadcrumbs and finally sprinkle over the last of the parmesan.

Bake for about 20 minutes at 200c – depending on your oven. When it smells and looks cooked, it probably is. (Sorry, not very precise. Bad food-blogger.)

sucrée / salée : salade de pêches au basilic; tarte de pêches, jambon et mozzarella

3 Aug

Squeezing peaches feels somehow illicit. A tray of furry backsides waiting to be delicately palpated. Are they ripe yet?

The French word for a peach is very close to un péché, or a sin. And to fish, pêcher. (Can someone who likes etymology enlighten me before I make a bad pun?) (And if I do make a bad pun, does that mean I am finally French?)

In any case, no sin here. Maybe a little ambiguity. Two simple recipes that can’t decide if they are sweet or savoury. The peach and basil salad would be equally delicious with a wedge of gruyère as with some vanilla icecream. The tart combines the salty attack of Parma ham with the sweetness of roast peach, all covered with a subtle blanket of mozzarella.*

Use ripe, juicy peaches since they are the star of the show. And squeeze gently.

Peach and basil salad

at least 4 ripe peaches

several leaves of basil

a glug of olive oil

juice of half a lemon

salt and pepper

Cut the peaches into thick slices or chunks. Tear the basil into small shreds. (Tearing apparently releases the flavour better than cutting.) Toss with the olive oil and lemon then season with a little salt and pepper. Let it stand for a hour so that the flavous meld.

Note: Rosemary can also perfume this salad, except that the spines are less pleasant to eat.


Peach tart with prosciutto and mozzarella

(simplified from Victoria O’Neill’s soon-to-be published debut cookbook)

1 quantity puff or shortcrust pastry (bought or homemade)

1 packet of Parma ham / prosciutto crudo / air-dried ham

1 or 2 balls fresh mozzarella

at least 4 ripe peaches

fresh herbs (thyme is good)

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C. Roll out the pastry into a large rectangle or circle. Grease a large baking tray or tart pan and gently lift the pastry onto it. Cover with a single layer of ham slices. Cut the peaches into thick wedges (6-8 per peach) and line them up in rows or circles on top of the ham. Tear the mozzarella into chunks and scatter over peaches. Finally sprinkle over some thyme (or other herbs) with salt and pepper.

Bake in the oven until the pastry is brown and the cheese bubbling. Leave it to cool a little, then cut into wedges and serve just warm.

*Please excuse the overblown mixed metaphor. It’s very hot today.

picnic food: panzanella

8 Jul

Picnics? Again? Can’t we just go to a restaurant?

This scandalous remark was tantamount to declaring the end of our friendship. Even my four year old students understand that summer means pique-nique. They are so happy about our virtual picnics that they try to eat the flashcards.

No cardboard cakes at my idea of a picnic. Nor just crisps and beer. A picnic is a delicate balance – you need some bread and cheese, of course, as well as a vegetable, some fruit and something luxurious. The most recent one was capped by wine-dark cherries dragged through the puddle of chocolate that had melted in the evening heat. Though it might sound sophisticated, we ended up spitting the pips into the Seine, competing for the furthest distance. Our picnic-adjacent neighbours gave us a disgusted look and moved. We returned home barefoot, grubby, happy to withstand the glares on the metro.

So the food is not really the point. Just the underpinnings. Panzanella is low key – just plump tomatoes, stale bread and highlights of basil. But somehow the bread absorbs the tomato juice, the olive oil and a hint of onion and binds it all together. Pan-zan-ella. The word itself sounds like it should mean “bread salad wearing a pretty skirt”.



serves a crowd

1 kg ripe tomatoes

1 large baguette tradition, preferably a day old

1 red onion

1 bunch radishes

liberal amounts of olive oil

a splash of balsamic vinegar

several leaves of basil


Cut the tomatoes into large chunks and dice the onions. Toss with oil and vinegar, violently enough to release the juice from the tomatoes. Add the bread ripped into crouton-sized pieces (the same as the tomatoes) the basil, torn up, and some salt. Toss it all together and taste, adjust seasoning if necessary.

Leave for about an hour so that the bread absorbs the dressing without becoming too soggy.

Eat straight from the bowl.

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