Ransom (wild garlic) & nettle pasta sauce

Usually free/cheap food needs a little bit of effort to bring it up to scratch, but Ransoms and nettles are so abundant and quick to cook (you don’t even need to cook the ransoms just add them to salads or sandwiches if you prefer) that it seems ludicrous not to use them. The hardest part is foraging for them, not in a having-to-scale-el-capitan-to-get-them kind of hard but in a persuading-my-family-to-get-out-of-the-house-at-the-weekend kind of hard! I work at home through the week, so my desire to get out for a walk come the weekend is overwhelming. Unfortunately the rest of the family don’t share my enthusiasm, probably because they spend all week out of the house and are naturally more home bodies. My eldest daughter (eight) starts to do impressions of a moody teenager as soon as I mention the idea of a weekend walk, ‘noooo, it’s soooo boring’ and their general resistance to the idea really tests my resolve and requires immense levels of perseverance and cajoling. But the thing is, once I finally get them out into the countryside they love it!


Last weekend I used the idea of foraging for ransoms and young nettles to make a pasta sauce as bate to lure them out of the house. It seemed to do the trick, so we headed down to a lovely, old coach road which winds through some woods near our house. The kids wanted an adventure, which loosely translates into they want to veer a few meters off the ‘boring’ path. So I told them to look for something green and spear like and if they weren’t sure to rub the leaf to see if it smelled of garlic. Off they trotted, observing and testing foliage, most of which weren’t ransoms, although they convinced themselves that they absolutely did smell of garlic. Eventually we found a large patch under a holly bush and proceeded to pick as much as we felt necessary. The kids even picked and got stung by the odd nettle, an act which usually involves running around hysterically demanding dock leaves to sooth the agonising pain but which on this occasion only seemed to induce mild curiosity.


It’s a good time of year for ransoms/nettles, they’re abundant and still fairly mild and delicate. Try to get them before they’ve flowered as after that they can become a bit tough and too strong in flavour. You’ll need a good bag full (about 50g of each). Wash them in plenty of water then blanche the nettles in salted boiling water for two mins, dropping the ransom leaves in for the final minute. Drain and then blitz in a food processor with parmesan and olive oil, salt and pepper then add to cooked spaghetti. The flavour is similar to spinach but lighter, less metallic with a nice subtle garlic flavour. It’ll keep in the fridge for a few days (possibly longer, like pesto, if you cover it in oil) or you can happily freeze it. It’s a sauce that’s quick and fresh but most of all, it’s free.



50g Young nettle leaves

50g Ransom leaves

20-30g grated parmesan

Olive oil (enough to loosen in the food processor)

Salt and Pepper to taste


Dinner with kids – Family friendly tapas night


When it comes to food the kids can be a challenge. By that I mean fussy, contrary and downright infuriating. Food they gleefully tucked into with abandon one week, proclaiming it to be the best thing ever, is approached as if it were the rotting corpse of a weasel the next. Then there’s the usual kid cliches of not being able to tolerate different food groups touching or an aversion to anything with sauce. And for almost a year I’m pretty sure my youngest only ate white carbs.

But it wasn’t always like this. Both our children were brought up using baby lead weaning which, we were led to believe, would help them develop into little epicurean delights sampling anything and everything. For a while it was true. On a trip to France our eldest (then two) ate wild boar, duck gizzards, mussels, squid, aioli, olives, radishes, artichokes and, well, pretty much whatever we put in front of her face. As foodie parents we delighted in telling anybody that would listen how amazed we were at the success of baby lead weaning, how smug/proud (it’s a fine line) we must have seemed. But then it all changed. The children developed the ability to say no (and quite possibly a palate) and since then the selection of food they will eat has dwindled down to the following (fairly uninspiring) dishes:

  • Pizza (every day if allowed, which it isn’t)
  • Spaghetti bolognese*
  • Lasagne*
  • Chilli*
  • Roast chicken
  • School canteen ‘sticky chicken’**
  • Omelettes/scrambled/boiled eggs
  • Cheese sandwiches
  • Fish and chips
  • Lentils ***
  • Some fruit and vegetables (thankfully)

* Has a tendency to slip in and out of favour depending on which way the wind is blowing.
** Seven year old can not adequately describe the taste/texture. As a result this can not be replicated at home.
*** Only eaten by the youngest and only if we refer to them as ‘tiny beans’.


It’s difficult to find something they will eat which is both interesting to cook and exciting for the adults to eat. But then, a few weeks ago, something happened. The eldest came home and said that she’d eaten patatas bravas at school. It wasn’t authentic patatas bravas, but a kid friendly version with plain tomato sauce, which she said was similar to the sauce I make for homemade pizza. I sensed a tiny opportunity to expand the kids dinner repertoire, and so an idea was born: Family friendly tapas night.

It makes use of “The Family Dinner Formula”, which is a method we often try to apply when making dinner and should ideally consist of:

  • Only one element that is made from scratch (in this case pork skewers);
  • Something that has been batch cooked or made ahead (patatas bravas, bean stew, tortilla); and
  • Something super easy (Manchego and Spanish charcuterie).

Rarely has a meal been given such rapturous approval by the kids, repeatedly claiming it was the best meal ever and asking when they could have it again. That was Friday, the wind has changed since then, and who knows what response the next family friendly tapas night will elicit.


For the tortilla
7 beaten eggs (with a splash of water) and salt and pepper
500g small potatoes
1 onion
Olive oil

For the pork skewers:
1 pork tenderloin cut into 2-2.5 cm chunks
½ tsp Ground cumin
½ tsp Paprika
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

For the bean stew
Tin of white beans (butter or haricot)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
third of a chorizo ring cut into 1cm thick semi circles
1 tsp paprika
Salt and pepper

For the patatas bravas
500g red potatoes
1 tin of plum tomatoes
3-4 garlic cloves (peeled and crushed)
a generous pinch of salt
a generous pinch of sugar
Olive oil


The day before (or over the course of a few days/weeks, your freezer is your friend here) make the tortilla, pork skewer marinade, bean stew sauce, tomato sauce and par-roasted potatoes. It’s better to do the prep when you have plenty of time. Individually they don’t take long and you want family friendly tapas night to be just a case of (mostly) warming things through.

Slice the onion in half and then slice finely. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl with a splash of water and salt and pepper. Cut the potatoes in half or into thick slices depending on the size of your potatoes then par boil in salted water, drain and leave to cool a little. I accept that a lot of traditional Spanish tortilla recipes do not do this and that you are supposed to cook the potatoes in lots of oil but I’ve never found this method particularly satisfactory. Whilst the potatoes are par boiling slowly fry the onions in olive oil for about 20 mins. Drain and set aside. When par boiled, drain and then slowly fry the potatoes in oil until they start to go golden. Drain the potatoes and then add them to that egg mixture with the cooked onion. Pour the mixture back into the pan on medium heat trying to spread things about evenly. Cook until the egg starts to set around the edges and then transfer the pan (preferably one that can withstand a moderate temperature) to the oven (180°C) until the tortilla moves around freely when you gently shake the pan.


For the patatas bravas sauce
I make this sauce in batches (adapted from a recipe in the mighty Il Cucchiaio D’Argento or Silver Spoon) as it serves as a perfect base for many meals. Add all the ingredients to a pan, cover and put on the lowest heat for 30 mins. Do not stir it. After 30 mins remove the lid and mash up ingredients with a spoon. Continue cooking with the lid on for 15 mins or until the contents look somewhere between passata and puree in thickness. Allow to cool then add a good glug of olive oil.

For the patatas bravas
Peel and cut the potatoes into 3 cm chunks, par boil in salty water and then steam dry in a colander. Coat in olive oil then add to the oven (220°C) for about 30-40 mins until golden. Remove from the oven and drain, allow to cool, cover and put in the fridge.

For the pork skewer marinade.
Add all the ingredients to the bowl, cover and leave in fridge overnight.


For the bean stew sauce.
Add a good glug of olive oil to a pan on low, after a while add the chopped veg and sweat for a good 10-15 mins making sure not to brown them. Add the paprika and chorizo, stir for a few minutes and then add the water. Bring to the boil then simmer until you have a nice thick sauce.

On the day soak some wooden skewers in water for a few hours. Once soaked thread the pork onto the skewers. Cook them under the grill, turning occasionally until done. Whilst the pork is cooking re-roast the potatoes for 10-15 mins and gently heat up the tomato sauce. Also heat up the bean stew sauce, adding the beans about 10 mins before you are due to serve, season to taste. Heat the tortilla in a frying pan, top the roast potatoes with the sauce and serve everything with a plate of sliced Manchego and the Spanish ham of your choosing.

Some ingredients adapted from the wonderful Brindisi: The True Food of Spain.

Chorizo, potato, courgette and goat’s cheese frittata (or egg pizza for the kids)

Chorizo, potato, courgette and goat's cheese frittata

You can’t kid a kidder. That’s what we always say to our eldest daughter when she tries telling us a little fib. So much so that she’s developed a keen ability to sniff out the slightest porky.

And so it is with frittata, which, in a vain attempt to get the kids to eat it, we have taken to naming egg pizza. Alas, they are having none of it. Especially the eldest who looks at us with incredulity and disdainfully says, ‘No Dad, it’s not pizza, it’s just that egg thingy!’ She’s six…

So in the end they get “deconstructed frittata”* and a shame it is too for frittata is one of those magnificent meals that is greater than the sum of its parts. Its also cheap and if you do the prep in advance it really is a 15 min meal. You can chuck pretty much anything into it too so it’s perfect for leftovers. This one, however, has a slightly Spanish vibe and eats superbly cold the next day.

* A deconstructed meal is a favourite way of ours to get the kids to eat roughly the same as us even when they don’t like everything mixed together. So, in this case, they ate all the bits that went into the frittata, arranged on the plate separately (definitely no touching) with an omelette on the side!!


Half a chorizo ring cut into 1cm cubes

Half an onion cut into small dice/mirepoix

A clove of garlic finely chopped

Handful of cooked peas (fresh or frozen)

1.5-2inch piece of goats cheese log chopped into small cubes

500g waxy Potatoes (such as Charlottes)

1 x Courgette

½ tsp turmeric


Tbsp of chopped herb (such as parsley or chives)

Handful of grated cheese (such as cheddar or gruyere)

6 eggs

Knob of butter

Olive oil


Cut a courgette in 1 cm cubes and put in a colander with 1-2 tsp salt, stir and set aside for an hour or two with a plate under to catch the liquid. Then wash the courgette pieces and then pat dry with paper towel.

Peel and thickly slice some waxy potatoes such as charlottes then par-boil in salty water until a sharp knife easily slips in, drain and set aside.

In a large frying pan on a low heat add a knob of butter and a glug of olive oil. Toss the parboiled potatoes in and fry gently for ten minutes, add the garlic and onion and toss around until the onion starts to go translucent. Sprinkle over the turmeric and toss again. Add the chorizo and cook for a few minutes then add the courgette. After a few more mins add the peas. Season, then add the herb of choice (if using).

Beat the eggs in a large bowl with a splash of water. Pour the contents of the frying pan into the egg mixture, give it a good stir and season. Pour everything back into the pan gently. Turn on your grill. Do a last minute rearrange to make sure things are evenly spread out before the egg sets too much (adding the ingredients to the egg mixture first should mean that you don’t need to do this too much) and then pop the cubes of goats cheese around the unset egg. Leave on the hob for 5-6 mins until the edges start to set. Pop the pan under the grill, doing this will make the frittata billow up, wait until the goats cheese starts to melt and then add the grated cheese. Once the cheese is golden and bubbling take out of the grill and give the pan a gentle shake, if the frittata slides about easily it’s pretty much done. Slide onto a plate and cut with a pizza slice to reveal little gems of food nestled within.

OK, so it might not be pizza, but it’s round, topped with cheese and can be cut by a pizza slice. It’s just a shame the kids aren’t falling for it.

So far, pho good… New Year Pho with Leftover goose

dsc_1073I don’t make new year’s resolutions. I would have added ‘anymore’ but I don’t think I ever have. But I do like New Year’s traditions. Especially traditions that use up leftovers from Christmas and feel healthy and reviving. Doubly virtuous!

This is the second year in a row I’ve used the goose carcass as a base for a Pho, a french inspired Vietnamese broth/soup, which pretty much makes it a tradition now I suspect. As much of a tradition as the post Christmas pea and ham soup from leftover ham stock and leftover cheese, ham and potato pie. OK, so it’s not an authentic Pho, which generally uses beef and beef bones to give a base flavour for the broth but I get the feeling that Pho is one of those dishes that will be different wherever you go in Vietnam. As well as the amazing flavour (which is deeply aromatic and umami with a vibrant zing of lime juice) it’s the ritualistic nature of cooking and eating it that I enjoy. It makes you feel like you are consciously and intentionally doing something to improve your health and wellbeing after the excesses of Christmas. It’s not a silver bullet to general wellness but gently sets you off in the right direction. In the weeks after new year I’ve eaten five or six Pho’s and several cups of broth & I feel rejuvenated and less sluggish already.

Whilst the use of the goose is less traditional it still acts as a decent base for the rest of the Pho, especially as the Goose was roasted using Jamie Oliver’s goose rub spice mix which already contains many of the main flavour notes. Namely star anise, cloves, fennel, coriander and cinnamon. Some recipes use dried orange peel, so whilst on paper it sounds as christmassy as mince pies and mulled cider the end result is not so festive and feels like a perfect bridge between xmas and New Year.

The other key ingredients are ginger and onion and I think here is where the french influence on the Pho comes in (It’s not much of a leap from ‘feu’ as in ‘Pot au feu’ to Pho). Ginger and Onion are then charred for extra flavour (similar to the beginnings of French onion soup, also beefy and oniony). These are added to the liquid for added depth of flavour along with the spices and simmered for a couple of hours. It’s then ladled onto rice noodles, preferably flat ho fun or Pho noodles, and accompanied by a plate of garnishes (a full plate of restorative green herbs, vitamin loaded bean sprouts and fiery chilies – but feel free to experiment with garnishes, all part of the fun!).  It’s these side elements and the intermittent addition of them, so as to not spoil their freshness and delicacy, that makes it feel so healthy, intentional and almost ritualistic.


Goose Stock:

Goose carcass

2 litres water

One Onion


2 litres of chicken stock/water

Thumb sized piece of Ginger

Two Large onion

16 star anise

1/2 teaspoon of cloves

2 cinnamon sticks

teaspoon coriander seeds

teaspoon fennel seeds

teaspoon black peppercorns

2 black cardamon pods

40g palm sugar/caster sugar

3 teaspoons of salt

4 table spoons of fish sauce.

Flat noodles like ho fun or Pho noodles

Thinly sliced leftover beef/Chicken/Goose


Any of the following:

Spring onion, chopped



Thai Basil


Sawtooth (if you can get it)

Red Chillies, chopped

Bean sprouts

Lime wedges


Make a stock. Roast the carcass at 180 for about 15-20 mins. Remove the bones and strain off any fat. Add them to a large stock pot (goose is a large old bird) and add a couple of litres of water. Bring to the boil then boil for ten mins and siphon off any scum that rises to the surface, reduce to a simmer and add an onion and let simmer for a few hours topping up with freshly boiled water as necessary.

After a few hours remove the bones. Cut a good thumb sized piece of ginger in two length ways then bash with a handle of a knife to crush a little. Slice a large onion into quarter but do not peel completely (leave a few remaining brown layers on the outside) then add to a roasting tray and roast in the oven at about 180 until you start to see some charring around the edges. Add to the goose stock along with 2 litres of water (or chicken stock) and the remaining ingredients. Simmer for two hours adding the your leftover cooked meat of choice twenty mins before the end. Place dry noodles in a bowl and pour on boiling water with a little salt and cover. Arrange you garnishes on a plate then drain your noodles. Place your noodles in a separate bowl and ladle over the broth. Tear and scatter some of your garnish and squeeze in a bit of lime juice. Consume until you’ve eaten your garnishes and then add some more. Eat until the gluttony of Christmas recedes from your thoughts. If only I could stop the children singing Christmas songs…

Pho recipe made with help from Uyen Luu’s My Vietnamese Kitchen

After the peas have gone… Pea Pod Soup

Poddy Pea Soup
Poddy pea soup with avocado on wholemeal toast

Hands up. Who else thought you couldn’t eat the pods? Who else discards them in vast quantities after gorging on the peas in a massive pod pea eating feast? For some reason I’d come to believe that the pods were poisonous and discarded tonnes of them over the years. I’m pretty sure it is tonnes of them too.

I’m pleased to say that ‘poddy pea’ (as we call them in our house) season is taking on the same significance for my 5 year old daughter as it did for me as a child. Nothing indicates the arrival of summer for me better than a large brown paper bag of poddy peas! It helped that my grandad was a green grocer and as soon as Easter was over I would ask him ‘when will poddy peas be ready?’ ‘Soon, soon’ was his non-committal reply. Then the day would arrive when he walked through the door with a massive bag full. They didn’t last long, and they still don’t!

So when I caught my youngest daughter indiscriminately chomping down on a pod my initial reaction was one of mild panic. Are they edible? I enquired, a tad too late! To which my mother responded, ‘yes, have you not heard of Pea Pod soup?’ Pea pod soup? As in soup made from the leftover pods? No, never! A quick glance on the internet confirmed this wonderful use of what would usually be thrown away. It’s pretty easy too…

Fry a finely chopped onion and garlic clove in butter/oil. Once softened, add the pods and sweat for a few minutes, add a sprig of mint and stock until the pods are covered, bring to the boil then simmer for 15 minutes or so but not so much as to dull the colour of the pods. Season to taste. Blend and blend and blend and blend (the pods are staggeringly fibrous) and then strain. You’re left with a smooth, fresh summery soup. Add cream if you wish, serve warm or chilled with fresh mint and spring onion or some fried crumbled chorizo and almonds or a round of hot home made toast.

Hello Summer!

Broccoli stalks

2014-02-05 10.35.30

Who’d have thought it? Of all the places I’ve eaten and all the food I’ve tried over the past 18 months it’s broccoli stalks that have driven me to return to the blog! Well, OK, it’s not the broccoli stalks themselves but an article on the most recent Food & Drink show. And it’s not necessarily the article more my reaction to it, which was: Why the hell aren’t you blogging you fool?! I’ve been eating broccoli stalks for years and now the Food & Drink show have taken it mainstream and are in danger of making me look like I’m jumping on a thrift laden bandwagon! Damn! If only I’d have kept up with my blog I could have been on the recent Sainsburys’ adds championing what to do with floor scrapings and bits of food you find behind the fridge. Ah well. Perhaps the thrifty zeitgeist is coming to an end and I’ve missed the boat. No matter. It’s not a case of fad for me, it’s a case of compulsion! I love making the most out of nothing and I love the cheaper, less loved foods. I’ll be still doing it when people are bored of thrift and run back to buying fillet steak and foie gras!

Anyway, back to those broccolli stalks… It was good old Jamie Oliver who (televisually anyway) first extolled the virtues of eating veg stalks, (well ok, it was actually beardy-Brian the gardener) when he cut open a cabbage stalk and scoffed it right there and then in the garden! My initial thoughts were; what is the savagery, is civilisation on the cusp of collapse? Then, shortly after, I read about a lady who started a soup company making broccoli and cauliflower soups from the stalks that nobody wanted and I thought there must be something in this. And there is, they’re lovely, versatile and full of goodness. Peel the hard outside skin and eat raw or slice finely for stir fries or salads. You’ve paid for them, you might as well eat them!

A pound well spent – Camembert.

This used to contain camembert!

What can you get for a pound these days? Or should I rephrase that? What can you get for a pound these days that once you’ve eaten it makes the fact that it only cost a pound seem utterly absurd?!


Yes, only a pound. OK, this is only bog standard camembert from a supermarket but baked in the oven this is transformed into a two person fondue that’s utterly indulgent. And that makes it only 50p per person!!! I cannot think how I could possibly buy anything for 50p that could give me the level of pleasure that half a baked camembert does. It’s not possible. It really isn’t.

So, unwrap and place back into it’s wooden container. Prick the top with a fork all over and rub with garlic and white wine. Bake in the oven at around 200 for 15-20 mins until the centre is runny. Score the top and peel back the rind, eat it if you wish (baked it takes on a slight crunch on top). Use nice bread or potatoes or anything you desire to scoop out the centre (we used bread sticks and asparagus) and try not to forget this only cost you a pound…

OK, so Jo has just informed me that this was on offer!

The Town Hall Tavern – Pig & mix and a pint of bitter.

Pig & mix – Town Hall Tavern style

I’m a simple man. Four pints of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord and a packet of Pork Scratchings is my ideal night out! So when I heard that revamped Timothy Taylor’s managed Town Hall Tavern was demonstrating culinary pig alchemy I knew we had to go.

I used to love the old Town Hall Tavern with its dodgy carpets, stench of piss and reliably great pint! So it was with a little trepidation that I heard of its impending transformation. Has a decent pint of bitter ever survived a metropolitan makeover?

I needn’t have worried. The Bitter is as good as ever (but then I’ve not had a bad pint of Landlord yet) and the decor is stylish without being pretentious, it still feels like a pub and you would happily sit at the bar and consume 4 pints of Landlord without feeling like you were getting in the way. However, it’s the food that really impresses here.

The menu is a great example of regional and traditional produce with the items on the Pick & Mix section really catching the eye. Mainly for the exceptional use of the cheap bits of pig to produce what is, essentially, incredibly good value Yorkshire tapas. When our selection arrived it looked like something straight from a top end restaurant. Beautifully arranged and crafted. The Chips were cooked in dripping and crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside with a dollop of aioli for good measure. The crispy Hens Egg was a simple joy of soft boiled egg and crispy breadcrumbs, the Pigs Ears a gelatinous treat, Black Pudding & Chicken Samosa a revelation but the real star is the Pig’s Cheek Scotch Egg. This is the scotch egg redefined. Forget the leaden, stodgy, uniform cannonball of an object that passes for a scotch egg these days with it’s indefinable meat and over-cooked egg. This is sumptuous. Irregular and crisply on the outside with tender, slow cooked, shredded pigs cheek on the inside, topped off with a soft boiled quails egg in the centre. If the plate of food we had ordered was an homage to the pig this was the crowning glory.

We finished with a plate of cheese and Ram Tam Chocolate Brownie with Salted Caramel Mousse. The cheese was good but disappointingly cold (as with all restaurants these days) and the brownie could have done with more bitterness against the wonderful salted caramel mousse. But this is the sort of nitpicking only reserved for when you’ve had something truly great.

Including a pint of landlord, two glasses of wine and gin and tonic this came to an austerity friendly £36.55… In a city known for the overpriced vulgarity of establishments such as Bibis this place seems like it’s in the wrong city. But then that’s probably a lot to do with the influence of the owner’s BD post code. Value for money has never tasted this good.