Gifts from the Garden: Debora Robertson’s chive pesto

This book has been on my shelf for a couple of years and, mostly, I’ve not been able to use it as much as I’d like because, well, I don’t have a garden. But, aha, this year the terrace has been properly planted and looked after (not being away for most of July and August has helped) and, suddenly, though definitely no gardener yet, I have herbs…

In principle, Gifts from the Garden is about how you can use your garden to make ‘gorgeous homemade presents’ but it’s much more than that. It’s full of really straightforward recipes, that, yes, can be used as gifts for others but also can be used as ‘gifts’ for yourself. It teaches you, amongst other things, how to make flavoured salts, caraway flatbreads, chilli vodka and, aha, I may need this one soon, green tomato chutney; it’s one of those books that is structured around solid basic principles so, once you have grasped the idea you can start to tweak, depending on what you have.

Ahem...

Ahem…

Debora (who, I must declare an interest, is a friend) is possibly the most creatively constructive cook and gardener I know and this book is evidence of that. What I particularly love about her way of cooking is that, although many a cookbook relies on a stylist to make a recipe look gorgeous, a look that is rarely achievable at home, and effortless, Debora’s recipes are always both. She makes everything simple and beautiful, without using lots of complicated ingredients or equipment and her ability to adapt to what’s available, whether dictated by the season or the location is something I aspire to.

Which is why I particularly love this chive pesto. Classic basil pesto is a delight but I find basil incredibly difficult to grow whereas chives seem to flourish in my windswept bit of London. I have two plants and, however inexpertly I hack at them, they come back for more. This is a perfect way to preserve their flavour for the drear of winter (though my chives survived last year’s) and it’s also incredibly versatile. It’s perfect on pasta and gnocchi, of course, but try it spread on toast or flatbreads as a snack, or stirred into a vegetable soup. Debora also recommends it as a dressing for new potatoes.

The recipe specifies pine nuts, but I’ve made it with flaked almonds because pine nuts are SO expensive and, over the summer, an experimental almond-basil pesto was just as lovely as the traditional version. Now I know what all that watering was for…

Makes enough for 2 with pasta

Cupboard (or things you may already have)
garlic clove
olive oil, 4-6 tbsp
salt and pepper

Shopping list
pine nuts or flaked almonds, 40g
fresh chives, 50g
Parmesan, 60g
small lemon

How to
1. Toast the nuts in a dry frying pan over a medium heat until just coloured and golden. Leave to cool.
2. Whilst the nuts are cooling, peel and finely chop/crush the garlic clove, chop the chives, grate the Parmesan and zest the lemon.
3. Bash the cooled nuts in a pestle and mortar, or whizz them a couple of times in a food processor then mix with the garlic, chives, Parmesan and lemon zest.
4. Add the oil little by little, until you have the thickness you like, then season to taste. You may want to add more cheese or lemon zest, as well as salt and pepper.
5. If you’re not using it straightaway, spoon into a cold, sterilised jar, cover the top of the pesto with a thin layer of oil and seal then store in the fridge; it should keep for 2-3 days.

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How to feel rich for a quid: make bread #1

If you look at some bread books, and courses, you’d think making bread was the hardest, most complicated thing ever attempted in a kitchen. And, in some ways, it is worth spending time on making it the best it can be; since it’s a fermented foodstuff, generally, a three-day sourdough is going to taste a lot better than a quick loaf.

But, although I do have the time and the dedication, I don’t really have the patience or the room to spend days on it. So I’m always looking for a means of making bread on a regular basis that fits with my desire for something sourdough-esque whilst suiting my tiny freelance income and my love of the speedy, cheap solution. When I found this recipe, Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread in In the Green Kitchen, whilst on a trip to the States to see my mum a few years ago, I was intrigued but, for some reason, I have never got round to making it till now. It sounds too good to be true: mix up ingredients and, well, leave. That’s it. But it isn’t.

Yes, it takes a day (though it can be left overnight) but in that day you do so little that it’s almost embarrassing to see the brilliant result. All for about 70p. If you start this late afternoon/early Saturday evening, you’ll have bread for a late Sunday breakfast. No trip to the farmer’s market required and you don’t even need a mixer. This is one of those recipes that I have made and remade, and am starting to learn off by heart. I was so fascinated by it that I took lots of photos, so that I could properly share the process with you.  I highly highly recommend it. Go on, it’s a bank holiday… Continue reading

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The joy of the storecupboard: Lucas Hollweg’s pea and Parmesan tart

Two of my favourite storecupboard ingredients are ready-rolled pastry and frozen peas. The former lends itself to tarts, onion or roasted tomato or Flammekueche and the latter, a newcomer to my kitchen, can be turned into a soup, pesto or salad with barely any effort at all. So when they were practically all I had on this wet wet day, a pea tart seemed like a very good idea. Continue reading

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The Complete Nose to Tail roasted tomatoes with goat’s cheese

It may not feel much like summer out there (it’s so dark in my office that I have turned the lights on) but the shops are still full of gorgeous, over-ripe fruit and vegetables. Right now, the huge 5kg boxes of tomatoes in my local Turkish shop cost about £2 and, though I know I have to resist too much bulk-buying, since I just don’t have the time and space to use/store stuff, I find it difficult not to buy one of these every year. I make chilli jam first and then scout around for another recipe, before they start to sag.

This year, it was this fantastically simple one from The Complete Nose to Tail, a brilliantly inventive (yet not complicated) and beautiful collection of recipes written by St John’s Fergus Henderson and the now-Bread Ahead Justin Piers Gellatly. It’s a book I’ve often looked at, frequently filled with Post-it notes but rarely cooked from. Then, last week, I got it off the shelf to show my American friend Anne, who wanted a recommendation for a British cookbook, and it’s not gone back yet…
Continue reading

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Honey and Co’s pomegranate chicken with bulgur wheat salad

When I started this blog, it was very much a way of recording the recipes I liked, a form of personalised cookbook that I could access anywhere. If I was staying with friends or family, and wanted to cook something for my hosts, I could offer to make a dish I loved and easily find the information to do so.

And my imagined audience for this digital cookbook was both people like me, those who love food and cooking but have neither the time or space for anything complicated, and someone like my sister who not only holds down a full-time job teaching other people’s children, whilst raising her own, but also manages to do a Master’s simultaneously…I mean, who needs spare time?!

When I think about whether an ingredients list, or a method, is WTF-friendly, I think about her coming home from work, with plenty of ‘homework’ for the next day and a family to feed. Which is why I am very fond of dishes like this, which require nothing more than chopping, stirring and a bit of time in the oven. The chicken has to be marinated, which would normally put me off, but not for long and, with two minutes of planning, you can have this on hand for a truly easy, delicious dinner any night of the week. I have made it twice and I’ve found it ideal for shoving in the fridge to marinate on a Sunday, ready to cook with barely another thought on Monday. Continue reading

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Mark Diacono’s poached peaches

A couple of months ago I worked at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival, helping out with the food events. It is/was full of bright stars and ideas but the one I remembered, and decided to try, was Mark Diacono‘s poached peaches. In amongst telling us about the delights of growing Szechuan pepper and society garlic, Mark mentioned in passing that the best way to make a hard, not-perfectly-ripe supermarket peach worth eating was to poach it with chocolate mint. Continue reading

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How to feel rich for a quid: chilled pea and mint soup

I’ve just spent the last four Fridays cooking and demonstrating recipes from The French Home Cookbook at Divertimenti (I’m still on their website as I type) and this, along with parmesan shortbread and chocolate marquise (both to come, I promise) was one of the stars. Continue reading

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