Monday, 10 October 2016

Pici with chard, heritage tomatoes and roasted garlic cloves

"Have you tried Jamie Oliver's green worms" my sister asked me over the phone yesterday. I had no idea what she was taking about but I listened carefully. 

"Place 200g of spinach in the bowl of a food processor and blitz to a thick green sludge adding 300g of plain flour as you go. When the mixture forms a ball of firm but slightly sticky dough begin tearing small pieces of dough off and roll them into shapes like thin green worms.  Sprinkle with more flour if the worms get too sticky. Have a large pan of lightly salted boiling water on the go and throw the green worms in to cook for about 2 minutes. You know when they are cooked because they float to the surface of the boiling water."

At this point of the conversation all I could think about was Roald Dahl's grotesque  character Mrs Twit who makes a plate of real worm spaghetti for Mr Twit who she does not like very much. I listened on as my sister made the the green worms sound a little more appetising when she described what to serve them with.

"Chop a few heritage tomatoes and  sautée lightly with a little olive oil, garlic, a few toasted pine nuts, basil and serve with grated Parmesan. It looks amazing."

I was beginning to come round to the idea the green worms might be quite tasty and fun to eat especially as I have some children coming to stay very soon.

"They could spend an afternoon making them" I thought. 

Later in the day I walked through my vegetable patch and spotted the large dark leaves of chard with their egg yolk yellow stems and veins. Chard is a great alternative to spinach and the thick, colourful  stems can be chopped, cooked in a little butter and sprinkled with freshly grated nutmeg. They would be great stirred into the chopped tomatoes. 

Finally I liked the idea of caramelising some of the very small garlic cloves I have grown this year and throwing them into the sauce. 

"Do the green worms have another name" I asked. 

"Oh yes I think they do. They are called pici pasta" my sister replied. And with that I set about making some for a very quick meal after my Monday evening yoga session. They were simple, filling and delicious. 

NB The pici can be left on a plate scattered with flour to dry a little. They can be stored in the fridge for a day but they will take a little longer to cook.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Lofoten - Fishing off the NW coast of Norway

Lofoten is an archipelago off the north west coast of Norway, just above the arctic circle. The islands are warmed by the Gulf stream which makes them a climatic anomaly for this latitude. The Gulf stream means the warm sea is rich in nutrients which attracts migrant cod in the winter months. Since the time of the Vikings these islands have been at the heart of Europe's fishing industry.

September in Lofoten can be warm but the weather can change quickly from sunny to intense, persistent rain and storms. We have seen both during the days we have spent here. 

The islands have a fascinating history. Vikings colonised the fjords until the late 11th century with many interesting relics and ruined settlements remaining. The Viking museum at Borg is sited on the ruins of one of the largest longhouse ever found. It provides a remarkable reconstruction of how a Viking Chieftain lived with fine glasses imported from the UK, beautiful woven and embroidered cloths, wine and good food. 

After the Vikings, Lofoten is best known for its role in North Atlantic fishing where it has been at the centre for more than 1, 000 years. 

From mid-February until the end of April millions of Arctic cod migrates from the Barents Sea to the spawning grounds near Lofoten. Here it is caught, processed and exported around the world either as fresh or dried fish. 

Since the Viking times cod has been hung out to dry in the unique climatic conditions of low temperatures, dry air and a low rainfall. The wind and air temperature are also important. Too cold and the frost will destroy the fish and too warm and flies will lay eggs in the flesh. This natural drying process cures and preserves the fish which can last for many years.

If you visit Lofoten it will not be long before you see racks of cod drying outside on large tent shaped wooden racks. The dried fish is referred to as stockfish. 

Stockfish is dried without adding salt and its name derives from Germanic Stokk, which means “stick”. In ancient times, fishermen used a skewer to open and clean fish on a long wooden stick.

These days the fish is beheaded and left drying in the sun before it is opened up, gutted and then hung up to dry. Fish is hung to dry during February and March and taken down in June. 

Only Arctic Norwegian cod (gadus morhua) or “Skrei” can be used for stockfish. It is caught between February to April and is considered a much finer product than cod dried using salt.

The biggest importer of stockfish Italy, Spain and Nigeria. Stockfish is known in Italy as Stoccafisso.  Sometimes  stoccafisso is confused with baccalà which is salted, dried cod. They are quite different. 

Many famous Italian recipes, especially in the Veneto region, actually call for Norwegian stockfish however many recipes used the two types of dried cod interchangeably.

Stockfish needs to be soaked in water for several days before it can be used. The water has to be changed several times and the bones removed, usually after the first day of soaking. 

The hydrated fish is often served in beautifully prepared fish stew with tomatoes, garlic, potatoes  with mediterranean vegetables.

The photographs below were taken in Lofoten and show stock fish hanging up to dry and old fishing boats used to catch fish. 

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Two of the loveliest cakes from our book Cooking for the Sensitive Gut (Pavilion 2016) are the Chocolate and aubergine cake - which is decorated with cranberries (P156) and the Banana, vanilla and pecan nut cake (P158).

As it is summer I thought I would add raspberries to the chocolate cake instead of cranberries and borrow the white chocolate icing from the banana cake to add a bit of glamour to the chocolate cake.

I did have an excuse as we were promoting our book at a local event in Ilkley where a friend of mine was opening a shop and was happy to promote local writers and artists. I provided some gorgeous finger food using recipes from the book, including this cake.

The chocolate and aubergine cake is dark and delicious. The aubergine adds a lovely silky texture. Topping the cake with a little white chocolate and a raspberry is magnificent. The cake is gluten free.

The cake is rich and so I cut it up into bite sized pieces 2cm along each side.

So do give it a try if you need a cake fix just remember though to just have a bite or two as the chocolate makes it quite rich.

Chocolate and aubergine cake with white chocolate icing


  • 1 large aubergine (weighing roughly 400g)
  • 300 g/10 oz dark chocolate, (60% minimum cocoa solids), broken into squares
  • 50 g/ 2 oz cocoa powder
  • 50 g/2 oz ground almonds
  • 3 medium free range eggs
  • 1 tsp orange extract
  • zest 1 orange
  • 200 g/7 oz golden syrup
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 1 tbsp brandy
  • 100 g/ 4 oz fresh or frozen raspberries and a few blueberries
  • edible flowers to garnish such as borage, lavender or rose petals

For the icing

  • 350 g/12 oz icing sugar
  • 20 g/ ¾ oz butter
  • 100 g/3 ½ oz white chocolate, melted and cooled a little
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 350°C/gas 4. To make one cake you will need a square loose bottomed cake tin measuring 23 cm/ 9 in across and 7 cm/3 in deep

Line the cake tin with non stick baking parchment and brush lightly with oil.

Puncture the aubergine all over with a skewer, place in a bowl, cover with Clingfilm and cook in a microwave on high for 5 minutes until soft. Throw away any liquid that has accumulated and leave the aubergine to cool a little.

Skin the aubergine and puree with a stick blender or liquidiser. Add the broken up chocolate which will melt in the warmth of the aubergine.

Place the remaining ingredients apart from the raspberries and caster sugar in a large bowl and mix together thoroughly. Stir in the aubergine and melted chocolate and half the cranberries.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for 40 minutes until firm to touch.

Remove the cake (s) from the oven and cool for 15 minutes before turning out onto a cooling tray.

For the icing: beat the icing sugar, butter, vanilla essence and melted white chocolate until you have a thick icing. Add a little milk if you need to loosen the icing.

Spread the icing over the cake and cut into 2cm squares. Decorate each with a raspberry or blueberry and the odd edible flower.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Simple spelt bread

This is one of my all time favourite home made bread recipes. It is simple and quick to make in a few hours with minimal input from the cook. The loaf can be made and proved quickly in the evening and left in the fridge overnight to rise ready to be baked first thing in the morning.

Spelt bread dough comes together quickly and becomes pliable with the minimal kneading method described below. The end result has a nutty flavour and springy open texture.

I usually double the quantity and make two loaves so one can be stored in the freezer as a stand by.

Spelt is an ancient grain, has a nutty flavour and produces excellent bread. Records show it was cultivated in the Middle East 12 000 years ago but by Roman times spelt flour had become popular throughout Europe.

Makes 1 small loaf

15 minutes hands on time


  • 300 g/11 oz wholegrain/white spelt flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp active dried yeast
  • 200 g/7 fl oz warm water
  • You will need a 450 g/1 lb (15cm/6 in by 10cm/4 in) loaf tin greased with vegetable oil.


Place the flour, yeast and salt in a bowl and mix together. Gradually stir the water into the flour with a wooden spoon and then use your hands to bring the mixture together to form a ball of dough.

Cover the bowl with Clingfilm (or use an elasticated shower cap or a clean used plastic supermarket bag) and leave for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes the dough is ready to knead. Spelt flour is one of the easiest flours to knead as it develops its elasticity quickly.

Kneading the dough

Keep the dough in the bowl and pull a portion of the dough up from the side towards you and then press it back it to the middle of the dough. Spelt dough is quite stretchy so this should be easy for you to do. Turn the bowl slightly and repeat this process with another portion of dough. Repeat these movements about 8 times or until you have worked around all the dough. This should take about 10 seconds.

Cover the bowl again and let it rest for 10 minutes. Repeat this kneading and resting process twice.

Give the dough a final knead (you have kneaded it 4 times in all), cover and then leave to rise for one hour in a warm place or if you want to eat the bread the next morning leave the dough overnight in a cool (15° - 18°C /59°F - 64°F) place so that it doesn’t over prove. The dough should have doubled its volume by the morning.

When the dough has risen to twice its original volume - uncover the dough and while it is still in the bowl punch it with your fist to deflate the dough ball.

Lightly dust a work surface with spelt flour. Remove the dough from the bowl and place it on the floured work surface. Gently pull into an oval shape and fold both ends over into the middle. You will now have a rectangular shape. Pull and fold the top of the rectangle one third of the way towards the middle, move round 180° and keep folding until you have a shape the side of your loaf tin.

Place the dough inside the prepared loaf tin, cover with Clingfilm, or a plastic bag, and leave the dough in a warm place to rise to almost twice its original size (about 45 minutes).

About 15 minutes before the bread has finished rising, preheat the oven to 240°C (475°F), gas 9. Place a roasting tin at the bottom of the oven filled with a cup full of water. Then when the oven is up to temperature, remove the cover and place the loaf in the preheated oven and immediately lower the temperature to 220°C (425°F), Gas 7. Bake the loaf for about 35 minutes or until the surface is nicely browned. Turn the loaf out of the tin, tap on the base to check it sounds hollow and is cooked and place on a wire rack to cool.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Penne with aubergine, tomatoes and crispy prosciutto

This recipe has come about because Doves Farm kindly sent me a 'goodie' bag for appearing in their guest kitchen at the Allergy and Free From Show at Olympia in July. It contained a 500 g packet of Buckwheat penne and so I made a simple aubergine and tomato sauce to go with it and made it taste great by adding lots of lovely additions like crispy prosciutto, toasted pine nuts and some gorgeously sweet heritage cherry tomatoes. 

So what did I make of the buckwheat penne? Read on and find out. 

I have long been a fan of buckwheat ever since I tasted French crepes which are made from its flour. Buckwheat flour has a clean, nutty flavour and it makes great pancakes. It can also be used in cakes - usually mixed with other flours. The only thing is, it does not contain gluten - which is good if you have coeliac disease but not so good if you are a baker. Gluten gives structure to baked goods and pasta which is why I was pleasantly surprised when I tasted Doves Farm gluten free, organic buckwheat penne. It has a great chewy texture, is tasty and really great to eat with a good flavoursome sauce. It also cooks faster than regular pasta - mine took just 7 minutes.

The nutritional composition of buckwheat flour is impressive. It has a higher protein and fibre content than dried white pasta made from durum wheat. It costs £2.99 for a 500g pack. I did notice the penne expanded quite a lot on cooking so you might need to serve 60g rather than the more usual 75g serving. So my advice would be to try it if you don't get on with other pasta. It is a really great alternative.

Serves 4


1 large aubergine, cut into 1 cm cubes, sprinkled with salt
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 gloves garlic, sliced
4 anchovies, cut up roughly
4 ripe tomatoes, cores removed and roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp capers
1 tablespoon black olives, stoned removed and roughly chopped
1 tbsp pinenuts
8-10 sweet cherry tomatoes, cut in half
80 g Parma ham (Prosciuttio)
4 tbsp Parmesan cheese, finely grated
a few basil leaves
Salt and pepper
250g buckwheat penne


Preheat the oven to 200C. Leave the aubergine with the salt for about 15minutes or until you see droplets of moisture appearing on the flesh. Rinse and allow the water to drain away.

Heat the oil on a large saucepan and gently fry the onion and garlic until just beginning to brown. Remove the garlic from the pan and discard (this is the part of the garlic that is high in FODMAPs). Add the chopped anchovies to the oil and allow them to melt with the heat. They give great flavour to Italian tomato based sauces. Add the chopped aubergine to the pan, toss in the garlic flavoured oil, cover the pan with a lid and cook gently for 10 minutes until the aubergine is very soft. This is important - aubergines must be cooked until soft otherwise they taste awful!

Add the chopped tomatoes, bay leaf, capers and olives and continue to cook the sauce returning the lid of the pan to keep the moisture in. Season well and allow to cook. Add a little water if the sauce becomes too dry. Stir the cherry tomato halves through the aubergine sauce just before serving.

Lay the Parma ham and pine nuts on separate baking trays and place the baking tray in the oven for a few (try 5) minutes. Remove the Parma ham and pine nuts from the oven when golden brown and crispy and set on one side.

Put the buckwheat penne on to boil for 5 - 7 minutes in plenty of lightly salted water. Drain the penne and divide into four bowls.

Top with the aubergine sauce and scatter with toasted pine nuts, Parma ham, grated Parmesan cheese and torn basil leaves. This is a lovely summery supper. We loved it and hope you do to0.

Any left over can be eaten for lunch the following day.