Tag Archives: Spring

Pasta con zucchine


This is one of those things that looks a bit daft on paper, but is surprisingly good, and rather easy to cook. A fairly minimal sauce like this will show off or be let down by the pasta, so I’d get some of the fancy artisanal stuff, like giant penne.

Do not chicken out on the garlic.

To feed four as a main, you will need:

  • 500g dried pasta
  • 800g zucchini, courgettes if you must, washed and scrubbed, but certainly not peeled
  • 4 level teaspoons chilli flakes (peperoncino)
  • 16 large cloves of garlic
  • 100g butter
  • 4tsp balsamic vinegar
  • loads of Parmesan

In a large pan, fry the chilli flakes in a little groundnut oil for about a minute, whilst you’re peeling and slicing up the garlic. Add the garlic and keep frying for another minute or two, until the garlic starts to colour. Whilst that’s happening, shred the zucchini using the rough end of a cheesegrater, being careful not to catch yourself on the sharp spines. Add the zucchini, the butter, the balsamic, a pinch of salt and a generous grind of black pepper. It will need around ten minutes on a medium heat, stirring from time to time. The zucchini will lose bulk as it yields up some of its water, and the mixture will get a little sticky and threaten to catch. This is good, but don’t let it actually catch or go brown.

Meanwhile, you’re doing the pasta. You’re a grownup, so you can work out how long the pasta will take and count backwards, so the pasta is done at the point the sauce is done. Reserve a cup of the cooking water, and then drain the pasta, and stir furiously into the zucchini mix, maybe loosening up with a splash of the reserved cooking water.

Serve with the aforementioned loads of parmesan.



Raspberry Panna Cotta

There were some new season raspberries in the shop, rather tart, but ideal for topping this solution for a pudding which needed to be free from eggs.

To make six portions, using my 150mL ramekins, I used the following:

  • 450mL semi skimmed milk (full cream is fine, it doesn’t matter that much in relation to the cream)
  • 450mL double cream
  • 150g caster sugar
  • one vanilla pod
  • gelatin (either leaf or powdered; see below)

And for the topping:

  • 300g raspberries (frozen is fine, but fresh is better)
  • 30g caster sugar

Start by looking at the instructions on your packet of gelatin. Work out how much you would need to set 900mL of liquid, and then halve it. The last thing you want is vanilla flavoured rubber.

Put the cream, milk and sugar in a small saucepan on a low heat. (If you’re using leaf gelatin, put the leaves in a small bowl of cold water to soak, now.)

Meanwhile, eviscerate the vanilla pod and add the seeds to the saucepan. Stir, both to help dissolve the sugar, and to break up the vanilla seeds, which like to clump together. When it’s on the verge of boiling, turn the heat off, and add the gelatin. If it’s leaf gelatin, you’ll need to wrangle it out of the water in which it has been soaking, and give it a good squeeze, hopefully without it slipping out of your hands.

Give the raspberries a good wash, and drain. Pop the wet raspberries, and the 30g of caster sugar into another saucepan, and gently heat, stirring occasionally. You might also like to occasionally stir the milk/cream mix, to stop a skin from forming.

When the raspberries have oozed some juice, and it’s starting simmer, turn the heat off. Cover and put to one side, somewhere cool, or in the fridge.

Pour the milk + cream mixture into the ramekins, cover with cling film and put into the fridge to set. This will take around six hours, or just leave overnight. The cling wrap is important, as otherwise they will develop a leathery skin.

Once the cream has set, divide the cold raspberry mix between the ramekins, and gently smooth to create an even topping. Remember, they’ll be fairly wobbly, so don’t rush in.

Serve immediately.


Three things.

One. Don’t feel you should only have pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Unless you’re into shriving, and will be observing Lent sans eggs and butter. Have them often: sweet, savoury, stuffed, simple, or on fire. (The ideal Sixties dinner party should feature Delia’s cherry duck, and conclude with Crêpes Suzette.)

Two. Don’t buy ready made pancakes. Honestly. Even if your pancakes are the saddest, lumpiest, and most rubbery things to ever come forth from a frypan they will still smell good and taste good. In my case they evoke early memories of making a nuisance of myself in the kitchen, whilst Mum was busy firing up the (square!) Sunbeam electric frypan and agonising over the consistency of the batter. We could never tell, and they were always good.

Three. The procedure outlined here by Saint Nigel is stupidly easy. Any old frypan will do. (Him What Knows has six iron crêpe pans which he has been known to use all at once, but that’s when he’s feeding forty.)

That is all.

Crème Brûlée

Allegedly, this dish has its origins at Trinity College, Cambridge, where to this day it is known as Trinity Cream. I fell in love with it when I lived in Paris.

There are probably more constructive ways of spending Springtime in Paris, but I was compelled to try every crème brûlée in my arrondissement. This resulted in significant weight gain, but a finely honed appreciation of what makes a good one. You’re going to have to forget all mention of flour or cornstarch to stabilise the egg yolks. Yes, that works. Yes, that’s good enough for custard and for pastéis de nata, but the nicest crème brûlée is the one where the custard has a very light texture, to offset the crunchy sugar, the added starch just makes it too solid; too safe.

I’m afraid the temperatures and durations are a bit vague. You will need to experiment to discover the optimum for your oven and your ramekins. Do not even think about serving this to guests on your first attempt.

Start by eyeing up your ramekins, and working out how much custard you’ll need. Some people like very wide shallow servings, to maximise the crunchy toffee layer, other people prefer theirs deep and creamy. For each six egg yolks, you’ll end up with about 600mL of mixture.

Assuming six average sized portions, you’ll need:

  • the yolks from 6 large eggs
  • 250 mL milk
  • 250 mL double cream
  • 50g caster sugar
  • things to infuse, typically a vanilla pod (split), plus…
  • 100g of Demerara sugar for the topping

Mix the yolks with half the sugar.

Put the cream and milk, together with the remaining sugar, and whatever you’re infusing, bring to the boil, immediately turn off the heat and leave for 10 minutes.

Get the oven going at 140ºC – mine’s a fan forced so you may need to go higher for gas – or lower if you’re using very shallow ramekins.

Beat the yolks and sugar until thoroughly combined. If you use an electric whisk you’ll end up with a lot of foam on the surface, which isn’t useful.

After fishing out whatever you’re infusing, pour in the cooled milk/cream/sugar mix into the egg/sugar mix. If it’s still hot, do it gradually so you don’t cook the eggs!

Mix well, and scoop/pop/eradicate any bubbles and/or froth. This is important: if there’s a layer of bubbles on top when you bake, it will go hard and leathery.

Pour the mixture into ramekins in a baking tray, and fill the tray with hot water coming to halfway up the sides of the ramekins. (I’m paranoid, and put the ramekins on top of a folded up teatowel, so there’s water underneath as well. This may be unnecessary.)

Bake for around an hour, but start watching them like a hawk after 45 minutes. They’ll probably colour slightly on top. If they start to puff up, they’re done, and in need of rescuing. However, before that, you can tell if they’re done by giving the baking dish a poke, and they’ll still wobble, but only slightly.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool. I leave the ramekins in the water bath, mainly out of cowardice, as extracting hot ramekins from scalding water isn’t my idea of fun. Once cooled, cover with cling film and refrigerate.

Once properly cold, you can then sprinkle the custard with Demerara sugar, and have your wicked way with the blowtorch. Caster sugar works just as well, although it will produce a thinner crust. To my lasting shame, I have a salamander given to me by a friend, which has seen no successful action.

(Photos? Sorry. Greed got in the way.)


My local French restaurant, sadly fallen upon hard times and no longer a going concern, used to serve a dégustation des crèmes brûlées, which was a platter of them, each having been made with a custard infused with different things: lime zest, orange zest and cardamoms, lemon zest and cinnamon, etc.

I’m sure you can get creative, but don’t forget to share with the group.

Slow Lamb

This is so easy. Just chuck it in…

…wrap it up…

…and after three hours at 150ºC, le voilà:

An adaptation from St Delia, who in turn adapts if from Kleftiko, this would be a no-brainer except for the fact that you need to get things going three hours in advance of eating. This is one of the recipes in her How to Cheat book, and it slightly misses the point, by adding unnecessary faffage. (The observant will also notice that Delia says, “wrap it in foil”, but her photo shows a more cunning two layer arrangement of baking parchment and then foil. Hmmm. Not sure it makes a difference.)

Here’s what I used to feed four.

  • 800g lamb neck fillets (this is a cheapish cut, and suited to slow cooking)
  • the juice of two lemons
  • a sprinkle of salt and pepper
  • a bunch of thyme (branches and all)
  • a whole head of garlic, the cloves separated and peeled – or more

Some key differences.

  1. Spread the branches of thyme across the bottom of the dish.
  2. Don’t bother slicing the garlic into slivers and inserting into the meat; it’ll take ages. Just peel them and chuck in with everything else. I pack the meat into a single layer, and pack the garlic cloves in between each piece.
  3. Once everything is in the dish and wrapped, you can leave it for a couple of hours at room temperature or overnight in the fridge without it coming to too much harm — unless your local “room temperature” is 35°C
  4. Don’t bother with the lemon zest and parsley faff. Foodies call this gremolata – I call it unneccesary.

Serve with couscous, I think.

You may want to spent some time out of the house whilst this is cooking, as the smell may drive you mad.