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Italian Bean Soup: seasonal and simple to make

October 25, 2013

borlottiitalian bean soup

Italian bean soup can be very addictive. You can adapt this to suit your taste, adding basil instead of rosemary, fennel instead of cavolo nero. This is one of my favourite soups, taking over from Pistou once the summer (with its gluts of basil and green beans) has ended. It can be made in one large saucepan – a medium-large Le Creuset is perfect for the gentle simmering this needs.

Borlotti beans have made an appearance in my veg box – for which I am grateful. In the past I have stowed bags of them away in my handluggage on journeys back from Italy – so this is a whole lot easier. If Borlotti beans are not to hand, then use another white bean such as Cannellini or Haricot. Some supermarkets are now selling cartons of pre-cooked Borlotti beans

I don’t tend to use specific measurements when making soup – so these will be approximate.

bean soup ingredients

1 onion, chopped finely

3 large cloves garlic, chopped finely

Half a red pepper, sliced into short pieces

6 large tomatoes, chopped roughly

Olive oil (or sunflower) – be generous with this as it really adds to the flavour

Half a vegetable stock cube dissolved in a mug of boiled water

2 large handfuls of Borlotti pods – shelled and uncooked

1 sprig of rosemary – chopped finely and a scant teaspoon of dried thyme (or a small sprig of this put straight in the pan)

About 8-10 leaves of cavolo nero (very dark green tall, thin kale – more tasty that the others), sliced into strips



1. Gently fry the onion and garlic in oil, adding the red pepper and herbs after about 5 minutes.

2. Add the tomatoes and simmer for about 5 minutes till softened

3. Set aside most of this mix, leaving a little in the pan

4. Add the beans with the stock and a second mug of water and boil, then simmer, covered, at a medium temperature for 25-30 minutes, adding in the cavolo nero for the last 8-10 minutes

5. Then add the tomato mix back into the pan and simmer gently for a further 5 minutes, adding a sprinkling of fine-chopped rosemary and a little salt to taste and black pepper.

This is substantial enough to eat on its own, without bread.


Student Food: vegetarian chili, rice and salad

October 25, 2013

chili ingreds

Ok – this is not gourmet cooking! This is a very basic and very cheap – but healthy – meal for students to make on cold winter nights. My Fresher-son said he and his housemates loved it. He event sent me a photo of his cooking in-situ, in a student kitchen – apparently, what it lacked in visual elegance it made up for in taste. I’ve added some (very) rough costs so you can start to see where the costs lie in a meal and to become a savvy-food shopper. Total cost per (large) serving of this meal is around £1.10

Alex chili pic


The Chili

1 tin/carton tomatoes (50p) (don’t get super-cheap ones it’s not worth it as they are very watery/tasteless)

Squirt or two of tomato puree (very very cheap)

1 medium-large onion (10p), finely chopped

2 cloves garlic (5p)

1 tin kidney beans (60p) (tip them into a colander/sieve and rinse off the salt water)

½ red chili (chop finely, remove the seeds) or ½ level tsp chili powder

Topping: Greek yoghurt and cheddar cheese



  1. Cook the onion in a little (about a tablespoon) sunflower oil on a medium heat, adding the fine-chopped or crushed garlic after about 5 minutes (turn the heat down and be careful that the garlic doesn’t burn or stick to the pan).
  2. Add the chili, stir for a few seconds and then add the tomatoes. Turn the heat back up to medium and simmer for about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the kidney beans and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add a pinch salt and a few twists of black pepper.
  4. Using a potato masher or fork, squash a few of the kidney beans to make a thicker texture.
  5. If the mix dries out a little, just add a few tablespoons of water and warm up again.

Serve on rice with a dollop of sour cream (or Greek yoghurt – supermarket own brands are £1 a large tub, so a dollop is about 5p), some grated cheddar (about 2 tablespoons/ 20g – a 250g block is about £2.50 so 20g is about 40p), and salad.


Brown Basmati and wild rice

A 500g bag will cost about £1.70 (this is much better for you than white rice and easier to cook). A standard serving is 75g/half mug  per person (about 25p). If you are very hungry you will need 100g/ 2/3 mug rice.


Put half a mug of rice per person in a pan (make sure it will be big enough to hold the expanded rice once it’s cooked – it doubles in size) and cover with boiling water leaving about an inch of water above the rice. Do not cover the pan with a lid.

Simmer for about 20-25 minutes – the liquid should all have been absorbed


Crunchy green salad (serves 1)

Avoid over-priced, bleached bagged salads – buy a few basic raw ingredients instead.


1 stick celery, sliced into ½ cm pieces (10p)

2” length of cucumber, quartered and sliced into ½ cm pieces (5p)

4 leaves of a Little Gem lettuce, roughly sliced into strips (90p for two lettuces, about 15p for a few leaves)

Costs: 1 pack celery (90p), 1 double pack Little Gem lettuce (90p) and a cucumber (80p) = total £2.60   will give you about 7-8 decent portions of salad at about 30p a go.


Quick salad dressing (serves 1, cost – less than 5p)

1 dessertspoon olive oil

Squeeze of lemon (about a teaspoon, 35p each) or a teaspoon of white wine vinegar (about £1.50 a bottle) or balsamic vinegar (about £7-12 a bottle– don’t buy the very cheap versions, these are merely coloured to look like balsamic vinegar). A bottle of vinegar will last you about 6-8 months

Few pinches of salt and twists of black pepper to taste

¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard (about 80p – will last 6-12months – andf very good in cheese sauce)



Mix dressing together in the bottom of a large bowl and then add the salad ingredients just before serving.

Student Food: home-cooked in hovels

October 25, 2013

My dear little lad, Alex, has finally flown the coop and landed in the fine city of Norwich to have fun doing Illustration at Art School for the next three years. He’s rejected the idea of Waitrose food parcels or home-made cakes by post (along with cycling helmets and hi-viz jackets – working on those) – but he has asked for recipes. This is a triumph of sorts. His fledgling cooking skills have already earned him an exemption from cleaning duties.

The aim is the usual: tasty, cheap, healthy and quick and easy to make meals. Much of the time the recipes start off with an onion and few cloves of garlic…

The recipe he and his friends have wanted texting to them the most is a real throw-back – a version of a Cranks curried tomato and lentil soup recipe. But, it fulfils our criteria and they seem to love it! It’s very easy to make and stores well.


Curried Lentil and Tomato Soup (serves about 2-4 depending on how hungry you are)

1 medium onion, sliced and then chopped into smallish pieces

1 clove garlic, crushed or chopped finely

Few slugs of sunflower oil

3 sticks celery and 2 peeled carrots: sliced finely and cut into tiny cube-shapes

1-2 teaspoons of medium curry powder (buy this loose in health food shops – much cheaper)

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 vegetable stock cube dissolved in mug boiled water

About half a mug of dried red lentils

a little salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper



1. In a medium-large saucepan, fry the onions and garlic in a little sunflower oil (1 tablespoon max.) for about 10 minutes – very gently so they do not burn.

2. Add the celery and carrots, frying gently for a further 5 minutes (you might need to add a small amount of extra oil?)

3. Stir the curry powder into the vegetables and cook for a few minutes

4. Add the stock (with a couple of extra mugs of water) and the lentils. Bring to the boil, put the saucepan lid on (leaving a little gap at one side so steam can escape) then turn the heat right down to simmer for about 15 minutes.

5. Add the tomatoes and simmer for a further 10 minutes.

6. Serve with chunks of wholemeal bread – or more likely white bread as you’re away from your mother’s good influence. You could also make cheese and herb scones to make this a substantial meal for 4 hungry students.

You can keep any leftovers in the fridge for about 3 days – but make sure the mix is cool before putting it into the fridge.

New Year, New Reading List: Scandinavian Cookery

January 16, 2012

After toying with Scandinavian food in the autumn, I have decided that there is so much to learn about the ingredients and flavours of these northern lands that I’m going to dedicate this year to Scandi-cooking. On hearing this (and with the memory of other ‘food research’ seared on their palates), my children immediately wailed in unison ‘do we have to?’

They, like many of us, think that Scandinavian cooking is all about meatballs (thanks largely to Ikea!) and pickled herring. Well, nice though they both are, there is a whole lot more to the food of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark than that.

Some of my authentic (spicy biscuits) and Scandinavian-inspired (seafood chowder) recipes are available over on the BBC Food blog and I’ll be posting my experiments here over the next 12 months. If any of you have recipes to share or books to recommend – please let me know.

Scandinavian Cooking: Reading List

Elna Adlerbert: Cooking the Scandinavian way (1961)

Trina Hahnemann: Scandinavian Cookbook and The Nordic Diet

Signe Johansen: Scandilicious: Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking

Anna Mosesson: Swedish Food and Cooking

Beatrice Ojakangas: The Great Scandinavian Baking Book

Camilla Plum: Scandinavian Kitchen

Stews and Suet: Winter Food

November 24, 2011

I’ve been experimenting with some new and reworked winter favourites: one-pot stews for speed and ease (and for decimating your veg box and its accusing looks), and suet puddings which I’ve not made for literally decades (using a very 21st-century ‘light’ non-meat version of Atora classic suet).

For my Spicy Autumn Stew and a new take on old-favourite, Jam roly-poly, take a look at my blogs over at BBCFood.


August 22, 2011

This new, and now-favorite, pudding came about by accident.

A tray of new red and yellow plums had been relegated to the back of the fridge for the crime of tasting rather sour. I pulled them out on a whim while making supper one day, chopped them in quarters, then tossed them in a pan with a generous sprinkling of caster sugar and a few squeezes of a lemon. We ate supper, chatted, and then I suddenly remembered the plums. Luckily, they were happily bubbling on the stove and looked quite appealing.

The children demanded that we try them immediately and suggested putting them on top of Greek yoghurt. We were unanimous in our love of these plums, and especially liked the effect of them being quartered: it made them look more interesting, almost jewel like.


1. Cut the plums in half, remove the stone, and then cut into quarters. Place in a heavy bottomed pan.

2. Sprinkle caster sugar generously over the top of the plums.

3. Cut a lemon in half and squeeze it 2-3 times over the plums and sugar.

4. Simmer over a low heat for about 15-30 minutes.

5. Pour into a glass Kilner jar and seal. Leave to cool and then store in fridge for a maximum of 5 days.

Serve over Greek yoghurt


March 17, 2011

Pushing the last few posts aside for a moment as I just cannot resist the urge to bake cakes.

I have just bought the wonderful new Pam Corbin book on CAKE and if her book on Preserves is anything to go by this will become a trusty kitchen standby. One of the excellent River Cottage Handbook series, this looks great with its 1950’s pink and yellow cover showing a deliciously crumbly Victoria Sponge.

Inside it just gets better: it’s like a whirlwind tour of my childhood with rock buns, fairy cakes (so much nicer than cup cakes), Bara Brith, even my old Hedgehog birthday cake is there! This is a great combination of tried and tested classics such as gingerbread, fruit cake as well as successful twists on old favourites such as salted caramel shortbread (am trying this one first being a big fan of Paul Young’s salted caramels).

There are nice personal touches with a cake inspired by ‘Hebe, the naughtiest dog we’ve ever had’ involving chocolate and courgettes – wonder how this squares up to Riverford’s chocolate and beetroot brownies?

I now have the delightful prospect of cooking my way through Pam’s book and will blog the best.