Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Don't know about you, but I say at the top of my voice: 'Thank God Asparagus Season Is Back!'

Alas it's only here for the best of two months, so from late April to mid June, our days are to be spent experimenting with this goodly green! There is nothing simpler or more delicious to eat than a plate of four or five or, go on, six, fresh, al dente steamed asparagus spears drizzled in butter...or with anything for that matter. Despite minor side-effects, of which I will leave out, I could easily eat them with every meal. Although served hot they are unbelievably juicy and refreshing and they are the perfect starter for the oncoming summer. I love asparagus on their own, in salad, with meat, ohhh and with poached eggs!

Having just read Nick Wyke's article on How to Cook Asparagus, my taste buds are excited. There are so many ways to cook and serve this heavenly vegetable. As I mentioned before, I love asparagus with eggs. One old favourite recipe which features both these ingredients is Gloria's Pasta. Gloria was one of my mother's hens and she, among a few others used to lay the most delicious eggs with bright orange yolks and an incredible flavour. I would never usually put a poached egg on to pasta but this really works. Each ingredient has its own unique flavour, yet put together the taste is fantastic.

delicious magazine's Pasta with asparagus, mint pesto and poached egg (GLORIA'S PASTA). SERVES 2

INGREDIENTS: 250g pasta, 250g asparagus spears, 4 slices pancetta, good bunch of mint leaves, 100ml good quality olive oil, 50g grated Parmesan, 2 eggs.

1. Cook 250g pasta of your choice (I prefer fresh tagliatelle) in plenty of boiling water until al dente, or according to packet instructions.

2. Add 250g asparagus spears, with the ends broken off, to the boiling pasta water for the last 2-3 minutes of the cooking time.

3. Meanwhile, grill 4 slices pancetta until crisp.

4. Put a good bunch of mint leaves into a food processor with 100ml good-quality olive oil, then blend to a puree. Stir in 50g grated Parmesan, lots of black pepper and set aside.

5. Poach 2 eggs in barely simmering water for 3-4 minutes.

6.Meanwhile, drain the pasta and asparagus, then mix in the mint pesto. Divide between 2 plates. Crumble over the pancetta, sprinkle with extra Parmesan and mint, then lift out the poached eggs with a slotted spoon and place on top.

I think it tastes better named after Gloria: unfussy, hearty, and fresh from the garden...

A less indulgent yet perhaps more satisfying way of making the most of the asparagus season is to lightly dress the asparagus with extra vergin olive oil, a thick and sweet reduced balsamic vinegar, a liberal pinch of salt and pepper and thin shavings of Parmagiano Reggiano. Best eaten soon after cooking, picked on the day for that wholesome grassy taste, or even cooled and taken to the park for a great picnic treat!

Food for thought...Perhaps try raw asparagus with wasabi??


Check out Nick Wyke's How to Cook Asparagus feature with video:

Sunday, May 24, 2009


The title of this blog may sound a little daunting and deep. I am not trying to get you to sit in the lotus position and breathe profoundly with your legs behind your head. Nor am I handing out advice on how to become a more tranquil, and better person. I am, however, going to shout about the wonders of Sushi.

A few months ago I met a Japanese lady, Yoko (not Ono), and after a few minutes of discussing the greatness of Sushi she said she would teach me how to do it. I was extremely keen on taking her up on this as after almost nine months of cooking and eating Italian pasta, I was looking for new ideas...
The next time we saw each other she handed me a neat, hand written, step by step instruction for making Sushi. Along with this, a pair of beautifully painted chopsticks, a packet of Nori seaweed sheets, and a Sushi roller.

This afternoon, my untouched, authentic Japanese Sushi instructions were laid on the table. There couldn't have been a better day for it. Sheltering in my apartment from heavy city heat, I could think of nothing cooler than putting together a light and refreshing lunch.

I had almost all the ingredients for making Sushi, minus two vital condiments. The one shop in Bologna I know which sells everything you could possibly want for oriental dishes is conveniently five minutes from my flat and it would have been a sin to kick off my first attempt without lime green Wasabi and bright pink pickled ginger.

So, all ingredients in hand, the process began, with the eager help of Georgia, another BIG Sushi fan, who had made a homemade lemon iced tea to compliment our lunch.
We boiled the rice (Arborio in this case) until sticky, and let it cool in the fridge before layering it into the centre of the seaweed sheet. Sashimi of salmon, tuna, cucumber, and fried omelette were cut into thin strips and laid in along the centre of the rice, altering the flavour combinations here and there.

The act of carefully adding layers felt therapeutic and hugely artistic. I think the best thing about Sushi, apart from the taste, is also the way it looks. The contrast of the black seaweed against the white rice, with the brightly coloured fish and cucumber, made our amateur spontaneity look like a work of art.

The rolling part proved the most difficult, as it is key to get the seaweed tight enough around the rice so the filling is held firmly inside. Once it is all rolled up, it is ready to be sliced into smaller pieces - ours were a bit too big, making conversation a little sporadic - then lightly dipped into the soy sauce and Wasabi for a mouthful of heaven.

After devouring about 6 large pieces of Sushi each, the stomach was highly satisfied. A full feeling, but not too full...and cleansed down with the iced tea it was a relief on such a hot day.

INGREDIENTS: (for 12 pieces of sushi)

2 Nori seaweed sheets

Rice: 2 cups Japanese rice (Arborio will do), 4 cups water. 20g sugar, 5g salt, 25 cc white vinegar (Rice vinegar is best) - mix seasonings well beforehand.
Filling: sashimi of salmon, cucumber, tuna, fried omelette - the choice is yours.

Condiments: Wasabi, dark soy sauce, pickled ginger


1. Before cooking, wash the rice with cold water until the water becomes clear.

2. Cook the rice with the water.

If you don't have a rice cooker:

  • Put the rice and water in a pot and put on a lid. Cook it on a low heat.

  • When the water starts to boil lightly, raise the heat to medium - shift the lid a little to let steam out.

  • When the water starts to spout, turn off the heat.

3. While the rice is hot, put it in a wet bowl, and pour on the sugar, salt and vinegar. Mix with a wooden spoon.


1. Lay out the sushi roller with the bamboo bark facing down. Make sure the lines of bamboo are horizontal.
2. Cut the seaweed to size and put horizontally into the middle of the roller. It is best to leave a space on the lower and upper sides of the roller.

3. Layer the rice thinly and evenly onto the middle of the seaweed. Do not cover the layer completely! Leave a space on upper and lower sides.

4. Put some slices of the raw fish and vegetables - anything you like - length ways onto the middle of the rice.

5. Pick up the lower edge on the roller with both hands, and wrap the ingredients quickly. Do not roll the edge of the roller you picked up.

6. Roll it up to the end of the seaweed, tightening it up and letting the roller go to the other side. You should end up with a tightly rolled cylinder of Sushi. Slice up into manageable pieces and serve as a great starter.

This recipe is so easy and delicious. It is such a sociable dish - get friends round to help make it and why not experiment with ingredients and come up with your own version of sushi!

If you want a hot dish to go with your Sushi, try a warming coconut broth, made simply with coriander, kaffir lime leaves, stock, coconut milk and rice noodles, and any meat or vegetables you feel like adding!

Cleansing of the stomach and soul accomplished!

Thursday, May 21, 2009


On Friday I entered the Times online competition 'Recipe Exchange'. I decided to put in an entry that I believe is for the good of all, and having kept it under lock and key for too long is time to spread the love.

This recipe has been in my family since I can remember - I have flashbacks of my fussy childhood of wanting the soup sieved or blended so that any trace of onion could be removed or at least hidden. How wrong and shameful, in hindsight, I was. Mumsoup has always been my immediate thought when its comes to cold winter days, sheer hunger or having had a little too much fun the night before. The effort of making this is a cure in itself, let alone the feeling of intense goodness and comfort that comes from eating it!
Packed full of vegetables and pulses this thick and chunky soup has always been a hit. It is the kind of recipe that you can add to according to season or taste, and take it with you anywhere - after making Mumsoup once or twice the recipe is unforgettable.
The best thing is, you can throw all the ingredients in, and just let it simmer away. In my opinion, the longer it cooks the better it tastes. There is no limit to how much you make either - if there is too much, great! Pop it in an old yogurt pot in the freezer for another day!

1 tbs olive oil
2rashers of smoked bacon
1 large onion, finely chopped (NOT TO BE SIEVED OR LEFT OUT!)
1 potato, peeled and chopped into uneven chunks
3 large carrots, diced
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
200g red lentils
500ml pint of chicken stock (just as good with vegetable stock if vegetarian)
2 bay leaves
Pinch of oregano
Salt and Black pepper.

Chop the rashers of bacon into small pieces and fry in a heavy based saucepan with olive oil until golden brown. Add the onion until soft and lightly coloured. While this is cooking, now is the time to get chopping with the rest of the veg if you haven't done so already. Add the potato and carrot to the bacon mixture and fry until covered in olive oil. This is to pack the vegetables full of flavour.

Add the chopped tomatoes. Do not put the heat up too high - this soup can be cooked for a long time so there is no rush and when the liquids go in everything boils up together.

Scatter the lentils over the vegetables - ideally you should have enough to cover the top of the contents of the pan. I always like more lentils as it gives the soup a softer texture at the end.

Pour over the stock into the pan and stir. The lentils will absorb the stock so don't worry if it looks to juicy at this stage. Throw in the bay leaves and oregano and leave to simmer for about an hour.

If you want to cook this in less time, it can be done. Turn up the heat slightly. I have managed it in half an hour before out of pure desperation, and it was still delicious.

Season before serving. Let the soup cool a little as it can be very hot.

I love this meal eaten with a freshly baked loaf of brown bread, a selection of cheese and always a second helping...