Tag Archive for: Recipes

Seven years separate your latest book, Healthy Vegan Street Food, from Vegan Street Food (and amazingly it’s over a decade since your statement breakthrough on MasterChef). How has the profile of plant-based cuisine changed in that time?

The landscape has changed so much I hardly recognise it any more!  Plant-based food has become incredibly politicised through the growth in veganism. Which has been both a good and bad thing. On the one hand, there exists quite a hard and sometimes judgemental line about a strict vegan lifestyle but also the increase in the number of people, all people but especially omnivores, eating plant-based food. With the wide availability of products, it’s such a big shift in how people eat. I think people (esp. the younger generations) have embraced this more flexitarian approach to eating and it’s definitely a good thing for them and the planet. Like anything in life there also appears to be a polar opposite response too, that’s quite hardline from dedicated carnivores. As a former sociologist I find all that quite interesting.

How important to the growth of veganism is the kind of South Asian food you promote?

I think we should all be incredibly grateful to the cuisines across Asia because there’s so much more function, health and respect in their cooking overall. South Asian food is more evolved from accessibility and seasonality, rather than relying on Dutch hot houses or globally shipped foods. And, of course, it has many ancient cultural and religious practices that have informed and shaped how people eat. We have so much to learn from Asian cultures in terms of plant-based food. Vegan mock meat was essentially invented in China by the Han dynasty over 500 years ago. 

The new book is no rehash. Hardly a duplicate recipe in there. Even the travel element is updated. The emphasis is on that word healthy, all aspects of which you explore. Is that growing awareness the main difference?

I think the book reflects both my own journey and also what’s going on around us – that people are more interested in wellness and health now. Although I grew up in a family that was always quite healthy, I think we just know so much more now. Having the opportunity to travel has taught me a lot from other countries approaches to health and wellness. Functional medicine is huge in the US. Sadly it’s quite hard to access that kind of healthcare here in UK. And even those who do have access pay a high price for that.

But I’ve always been interested in wellbeing and health. I worked for the NHS as a researcher in evidence-based practice for 18 years before MasterChef. After I became unwell due to an autoimmune disease I began studying nutrition and developing my expertise in creating healthier food (that’s still amazing to eat).

What are your major healthy eating tips?

Mostly plant-based whole food most of the time. The whole food part is important. If you’re eating vegan ready made crap from the supermarket then you’re going to feel like crap. 

My main tips are firstly making some time for prep. Having real food prepped makes it a lot easier to eat healthier while leading busy lives. Number one for me is batch cooking. You can also prepare one meal while prepping some things for other meals. So I always make at least one sauce (such as a simmered tomato sauce) that I can use in two or three dishes. I usually make this while making another meal such as batch cooking a stew, soup or dal. Something that’s protein-packed, with mushrooms or tofu/tempeh plus lots of fresh veggies. I always have cooked rice in the fridge, as cooled, cooked rice has a much lower glucose curve – and is the easiest thing to stir-fry with fresh veggies. Make it black or red rice and you’ve seriously raised the antioxidant and fibre game! Black rice is also higher in protein and rich in anthocyanin – the same thing that makes blueberries so blue (and good for us).

I always take prepped food when I’m on the go as well because we tend to eat more rubbish when we’re caught out hungry out of the house. I don’t eat gluten, so instead of grabbing a sandwich I’ll have homemade energy bars in my bag – there’s a fab recipe or two in Healthy Vegan Street Food. Or I often post recipes on my Instagram for healthy snacks and treats.

I also try to eat seasonally and locally where possible – apart from my spice emporium at home. Now I’m living in Italy it’s easier to eat like this as it’s simply how their markets and produce are run. Imported goods are super expensive.

How big a part has your own auto-immune problem played in this?

It’s played a big part really. I was always pretty healthy until my 40s. Being a former researcher I became laser focused on finding answers. But what I’ve learned, like any good researcher, is I have a lot more questions. Social media would have us believe we can cure ourselves of all kinds of diseases but I think this is unfair at best and dangerous at its worst.  It can make you feel like you’ve failed if you don’t get better. But the truth is, you can only make the best of your own situation. There are no cure all easy answers sadly. We can keep ourselves in the best shape possible, so we are in the best place to handle whatever comes at us, physically or mentally. That’s all we can do.

What are your feeling about the rash of vegan ready meals?

It worries me a lot. On the one hand, as I mentioned before, it’s drawn more people into eating plant-based. And to be fair, if they’re choosing a ready made vegan lasagne over a readymade meat lasagne, then at least it’s a small change. But we have to compare like with like, and ready made food is not great for us and should not be the main part of our diet. We need to eat whole foods, mostly plants, fresh and raw foods, fermented foods, healthy proteins and fats, this is true whatever our dietary choices and even more so as we age.

This is what I wanted Healthy Vegan Street Food to be about – healthy real food that’s more balanced and considered when it comes to nutrition. It’s a focus on making sure someone whose diet is primarily plant-based, would be getting most of the nutrients they need. If someone is solely vegan then you will always need to supplement a little. But to eat well for most of the time, the food has to be delicious and that’s what I wanted to create. So it’s possible to have treats and snacks as well as gourmet banquets, that are flavour-packed but also satisfying. 

How important is a plant-based cuisine in the fight against global warming?

We know that the commercial production of food impacts climate change in quite drastic ways. Obviously capitalism is, well capitalising, on the whole plant-based market. As it is too with the wellness industry. But we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. We need to take better care of the planet and ourselves. And while it’s just a small thing, I feel that creating exciting, healthy and delicious things to eat made of plants is a pretty good place to start. 

Tell us about your current location in Italy – a far remove both from Chorlton, where you lived, and your Far East adventures.

We moved to Italy just before Brexit. Then the pandemic hit, which slowed our project plans down immensely – as it did for everyone. We moved here to Liguria to create a business that was more aligned to a healthier way of life. We have been building a retreat in the coastal mountains. Nothing complicated or any nutri-nonsense. Just simple principles of Move Well, Breath Well and Eat Well. Looking at the evidence base, these simple principles can give us the longer, healthier and happier life we all hope for. So yoga and hiking, cold water swimming and biodynamic breathwork (think Wim Hof) and together with delicious food and plant forward cookery lessons.

Your ‘Winter Reset’ programme is about to launch. Tell me about the aims of your Wellness Italy project.

This is our first opening for the retreat, so it’s a bit of a soft launch before next year. Our aim is to test the programme before we open the glamping site in the spring. This Winter Reset retreat is focused on yoga and breathwork, with accommodation in the village rather than camping on this occasion. 

We have some incredible teachers coming to support our guests. I actually met one person at a retreat in Thailand and have done some work with her since. I knew I wanted her to be part of the programme as a teacher. We hope next year that we can offer affordable retreat places for people who really need the opportunity. 

I’m well aware that it can be an elitist type of holiday. But we’re aiming to make it something more accessible. Everyone deserves to feel healthier and happier, not just those who can afford it. So we hope to start a Pay It Forward scheme eventually to create a place for someone in need to come for free. I’m also very excited about finally getting to cook for people again. And with small intimate groups too, more like a healthy supper club. And if I get the chance, sneak into the yoga class at the back before I have to get back in the kitchen!

Healthy Vegan Street Food: Sustainable & healthy plant-based recipes from India to Indonesia by Jackie Kearney (Ryland Peters & Small, £20) Photography by Clare Winfield © Ryland Peters & Small. She has published four previous books with them and the BLOG on her ‘Hungry Gecko’ website is an essential background read. 

Don’t miss Jackie’s showstopping recipe for Nasi Campur featured on my website.

‘Winter Reset’ runs from December 8-12 at Jackie’s Italian base of Pieve di Teco, high in the Ligurian mountains.  To find out more email mywellnessitaly@gmail.com .

How best to pay homage to the passing of one of the greatest chefs of his generation? No brainer: cook one of his signature dishes. But will my take on Alastair Little’s Pollo Orvietano evoke the tastes and aromas of a chicken cooked with wild fennel and local olives at La Cacciata, the farmhouse cookery school he founded in the Umbrian hills?

The death of ‘the godfather of modern British cooking’ at the age of 72 came out of the blue, so I haven’t had time to acquire my chicken of choice from Loose Birds, Paul Talling’s unmatchable operation near Harome, North Yorkshire, but I’m happy with a Soanes from Driffield in the Wolds, bought on Todmorden Market, and serendipitously I’ve been able to supplement fennel from my daughter’s garden with a bunch inside my ‘No Dig Club’ veg bag (£14.95 via this link) from Cinderwood Market Garden.

I always associate Little with his eponymous restaurant that sprung up in Frith Street, Soho, in the mid-Eighties. Behind its Venetian blinds it offered a rebuke to haute cuisine thanks to its menu restricted to soup, salad, fresh fish and meat, plus puddings, changing twice a day according to availability of raw materials.

Paper napkins and an absence ot tablecloths contributed to the determinedly Keep It Simple ethos. That was the name of his first book, aimed squarely at the adventurous home cook. Jonathan Meades, greatest food critic of Little’s era, said of it: “What makes Alastair such a good cook (apart from talent, taste, application and curiosity), is that he possessed the un-English conviction that eating well is a normal part of a civilised society.”

There’s a recipe for Chicken Orvieto-style in there and a subtly different one on his website, referring to the town not the wine, but it would seem wrong not to use that straw-coloured, slightly bitter white for the 250ml of wine required. In the end I’ve adapted an alternative recipe from his second, equally evocative, cookbook, Italian Kitchen: Recipes from La Cacciata (pictured in the autumn mists above). It came out at around the same time as Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers’ first River Cafe Cookbook, cementing rustic Italian cucina as the aspirational ingredient-led cuisine du jour (apologies for my French).

Ingredients were always paramount for Little, always ahead of his time and a handsome, engaging champion of real food on television. In the Noughties he ran a deli-trattoria called Tavola in Notting Hill; in 2017 he moved to Australia (check out the archive of BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme for a Sheila Dillon entertaining interview with him on the eve of his departure. He was to open a restaurant in his wife’s home town of Sydney, where he died this week. 

Alastair Little not sparing the wine in a marinade. Image: Alastair Little

The Colne-born chef had trained in top London kitchens before setting up on his own, but he initially seemed defined by his academic pedigree, having read archaeology and social anthropology at Downing College, Cambridge. He taught himself to cook in his last year,dishing up meals for, among others, his exact contemporary, Rowley Leigh (Christ’s) later a chef/restaurateur and food writer in his own right.

With them I always associate (though his only Cambridge connection was winning a choral scholarship aged eight) another chef/scholar Simon Hopkinson, two years younger. Little was from Colne, Leigh from Manchester, Hopkinson from Bury.  A fourth member of an incomparable quartet has to be Jeremy Lee, who worked for both Little in Frith Street and for Hopkinson at Bibendum in Fulham. The Scot, a mere stripling at 58, is still manning the stoves in Soho, at Quo Vadis and has a highly anticipated book coming out on September 1 – Cooking: Simply and Well, for One or Many.

Lee led the tributes from the London food world this week: “Alastair Little was a godfather of modern British cooking and a champion of keeping it simple. His cooking was just incredible, peerless. Unique, charming, brilliant, a joy to cook with, a huge inspiration, a great pal and a great boss, gone too young, too soon, much missed and never to be forgotten.”

As I write this, my own tribute is sizzling in the Aga. I’ve never cooked Pollo Orvietano before. I just hope I do it justice.


1.5 kg free range chicken; good olive oil; 500g chicken livers, cleaned and diced

2 large potatoes, cut into 1cm dice; an enormous bunch of leaf or feather fennel; 48 black olives, stoned; salt and pepper; 48 large fresh garlic cloves in their skins; 250ml dry white wine;  500ml chicken broth.


Prepare the stuffing in advance. It takes around an hour. Sauté the livers in the 4 tbsp of olive oil, stirring until coloured. Add the potatoes and gently cook until thoroughly cooked through. Add the fennel with half the olives, season well and set aside to completely cool. Pre-heat the oven to 400F/200C/gas mark 6.

Spoon as much of the stuffing as will fit into the cavity of the bird without overfilling; place the rest, lubricated with a little olive oil, in an oven-proof dish. Rub the chicken all over with a little more olive oil and season generously. Place in a deepish casserole dish, on its side, and put in the oven to roast for 20 minutes. Slide it onto its other side and continue roasting for a further 20 minutes. Finally, turn the right way up and throw in the garlic cloves. Turn the oven down a notch, put in the dish of extra stuffing and continue cooking for a further 30-40 minutes, adding the remaining olives for the last 10.

Remove the bird to a chopping board, allow it to rest. Put the garlic and olives in a dish and keep warm. Pour off any excess fat in the roasting dish and add the wine. Bring to the boil and reduce until almost evaporated. Pour in the chicken stock and reduce the lot by three-quarters. Cut the chicken into eight pieces and arrange on a serving dish surrounding the extra stuffing. Scatter with the olives and garlic and strew with more chopped fennel fronds.

We accompanied the dish with a Pheasant’ s Tears Poliphonia, a Georgian red matured in a qvevri (earthenware amphora). It’s a blend of 100 indigenous red and white grape varieties. Thanks for the recommendation, Dan at Flawd.

Serendipity brings on a random snail trail. Flicking through the index of Brown and Mason’s magnum opus, The Taste of Britain, to clarify my thoughts on Kentish cobnuts – for the first of my ‘Autumn Is The Season’ vignettes – I encountered the Mendip Wallfish and was immediately intrigued.

Since when my mind has been roaming those Somerset hills from the days when the Romans mined for lead there and introduced edible snails to our land… to the 1960s, when a maverick rocket engineer put those Mendip molluscs on the menu of his pioneering microbrewery pub… to the current small scale renaissance in snail farming. Well, high in protein, low in fat, it is the ultimate Slow Food.

The picture above is of the last platter of snails I downed, in those peripatetic, pre-pandemic times. Escargots au beurre d’ail are a fixture on the menu of Le P’tit Castel in the hilltop Jura fastness of Chateau-Chalon, one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.

The escargots were beauts too, six chewy little buggers in garlic-flecked froth, equal to the ones I was served (with Pernod in the garlic butter naturellement) at Soho’s venerable L’Escargot, below, which also has a feuilleté of snails and morels on the menu. The Jura view was magnificent too. Burgundy, heartland of the dish, was a distant blue blur across Bresse’s vine-clad plain.

Location, location. I’m not sure The Miners Arms, Priddy, in the Sixties before they really became The Sixties, could offer the same je ne sais quoi at a crossroads in uplands scarred by past lead extraction. New owner Paul Leyton’s own homage to the miners was his variation on the Cornish pasty, the Priddy Oggie, containing pork, bacon and cheese. More challenging was his reintroduction of the mysterious Mendip Wallfish, a native snail dish that substituted cider and mixed herbs for garlic butter.

Why wallfish? It probably relates to snails’ ability to cling to walls, but the ‘fish’ part might be a way of transgressing the Catholic church’s prohibition of meat eating on Fridays.

That edict would definitely rule out dormice but the Romans’ relish for farmed, corn-fed rodents doesn’t appear to have transferred to Britain when they conquered it. Snails certainly did make the leap (sic) – notably the large Roman snail (helix pomatia), still popular in France and Italy. Below, is my colleague Joby Catto’s image of snails and citrus in Catania Market, Sicily. Giant African land snails are a whole different kettle of wallfish, of which more later.

C.Ann Wilson’s wonderfully scholarly Food and Drink in Britain (1973) charts Roman snail farming: “Snails had to be kept on land surrounded entirely by water, to prevent them wandering way and disappearing. They were fed on milk or wine-must and spelt, and were put into jars containing air holes for the final plumping up. When they were so much fattened that they could no longer get back into their shells, they were fried in oil and served with oenogarum (liquamen mixed with wine).

By medieval times snails had long been an essential foodstuff and remained so for the Somerset miners well into the 19th century. The resurgence of Mendip Wallfish 100 years on was all down to the restless mind of Leeds-born Leyton, who had forsaken an engineering career, as chief developer for Britain’s first rocket programme in the Fifties and  then a director of Black and Decker. With no catering background, he took a major gamble with the Miners Arms. One that paid off, receiving acclaim from Egon Ronay and The Good Food Guide. 

By 1973 when the pub had incorporated England’s smallest brewery, it was regularly attracting what we now call celebs. Did we then? The roll call included Delia Smith, Terry Wogan, Kate Adie, Malcolm MacDowell, Anthony Hopkins. How many ordered the wallfish, I wonder? Maybe Delia pronging into the shells with a cry of ‘let’s be havin’ you, molluscs’?

Leyton’s obituary in 2011 recounts that his “engineering background still shone through in the world of catering: first, with the design of an electric fence to keep up to 100,000 snails at a time in a disused swimming pool; and then, with the introduction of the freezing of prepared snails and other complete dishes. This led to considerable debate in gastronomic circles at a time when freezing was only considered suitable for basic ingredients.”

A tiny clip on British Movietone shows the ingenious Leyton stuffing snails with a device of his own invention. Plus there’s a period Pathe News report, with a wonderful Cholmondley-Warner style commentary, on his snail project, available via YouTube

The Miner’s Arms is no more. After selling 4,000 snails a year at its apogee the restaurant closed down in 2006. This recipe for the common brown garden snail, from Bob Reynolds who cooked at the Miners Arms, contains the key caveat: ensure you purify them thoroughly before cooking. Buy them ready prepared if you are squeamish.

Snails Priddy style

Collect snails, put into a container in which they can be kept moist and can breathe. Feed them on bran or lettuce or cabbage leaves for seven to 10 days. This cleanses them. Put in a sieve and dunk them in boiling water for a few seconds to kill them. Take the snails from the shells with a small fork, wash them off and then cook. To cook about a 100 you need a pint of water, ¾ pint of cider, a large carrot and an onion cut into pieces. Make sure the snails are covered in liquid. Bring to the boil and simmer until tender for about an hour – it may take a little longer. Rinse in hot water to clean off the bits of vegetables.

Meanwhile put the empty shells in a saucepan with salt and water and bring to the boil. After a few minutes rinse in cold water. Repeat to make sure the shells are clean. Dry the shells in the oven.

After which you will need a pound of butter for 100 snails. Then grind together herbs, fresh or dry – ½tsp of each of chervil, dill, fennel seed, basil and sage; 1tsp chives, 3tsp parsley and a pinch of cayenne pepper – and mix well into the butter.

Take a snail shell, put a little bit of the herb butter into it, then a snail and seal off the shell with more herb butter. Then put the snails on a tray and put into a hot oven. When the butter bubbles they are ready to eat. Serve with cubes of bread to mop up the herb butter. Enjoy.

Lyn Paxman of Somerset Escargots brings a new entrepreneurial spirit to snail farming

So where can you buy the best snails in the land?

An hour’s drive away from Priddy a serious renaissance in Somerset snail farming is under way at Somerset Escargot, founded in 2019. On a farm complete with electric fences, salt traps and herding pens Lyn ‘Queen of Snails’ Paxman and her partner specialise in petit gris, picked and prepare to order. The fresh escargot is then supplied cleansed and hibernated, which means they are the freshest possible when they are cooked. They cost £25 per 500g bag plus £4.90 delivery.  

Other UK snail operators include Dorset Snails, who supply Gordon Ramsay restaurants and L’Escargots Anglais at Credenhill in Herefordsshire, whose Helix pomatia are the base for Heston Blumenthal’s modern classic, Snail Porridge (see below). H & RH Escargots of Canterbury have long been the UK’s premier supplier of live snails. Ready-to-cook, they are delivered to you in cardboard boxes, with a plastic mesh so they can’t eat their way out!

You’ve got your snails. What else can you do with them in the kitchen?

Snail Broth

Marwood Yeatman is an eccentric national treasure. From his base in an old Hampshire pub in 2007 this private chef produced his magnum opus, The Last Food of England (Ebury Press), which is at its best when unashamedly nostalgic. He recounts how he was lent an old book of recipes by Roald Dahl’s wife Liccy that belonged to her mother’s family, the Throckmortons, Warwickshire confederates of Guy Fawkes. How to pot an otter and viper soup feature, but there’s also a recipe for Snail Broth, which sounds on the medicinal side.

Having slit and cleaned the slime off 50 or so… “Have ready a chicken cut in pieces with a little bugloss, agrimony and the leaves of endives, and so boil them in the broth. When the chicken is half boyld, put in the snails being clean wiped, so let them boil until all the strength is boiled out. When the broth is ready to take off put in either a little mace or rosemary, which her pleaseth the taste. Drink this a fortnight.”

Snail Porridge

If the above is too demanding of your foraging skills or spice cupboard, then you might fancy recreating this Heston Blumenthal special, which I’ve eaten a couple of times at The Fat Duck when I could (just about) afford it. The great man gives the recipe in an article he wrote for The Guardian nearly 20 year ago. The information on snail’s sex lives is eye-opening; so too is the amount of sweat and toil needed to prepare the dish, which is more like a vivid green oaten risotto. Good luck with it!

Dorset Snail with Bone Marrow and Toast

Dorset Snails continue a tradition of snail eggs or caviar that was on trend in the 1990s as gourmets sought an alternative to Beluga. They even featured in the title of a book, Snail Eggs & Samphire – by the best food journalist of the time, Derek Cooper. In it he recalls attending an outdoor ‘cargolade’ in Perpignan where 1,000 Helix pomatia (the wrinkled Roman Snail) are grilled in pork fat over intense heat. There’s  a separate chapter on the lucrative rarity value of the eggs, described by Cooper as like “pinky-beige, opalescent pearls”. Blumenthal compares the look to tapioca. Neither are fans. I’m a fan, though of the bone marrow treatment for snails, in Dorset’s recipe section. I have a stash of bone marrow; now I just need the molluscs.

Paella a la Valenciana

If your idea of paella is the seafood-led dish found all around the Spanish Costas, think again. In the Valencia region, spiritual home of the saffron-infused rice dish, traditional ingredients, especially inland, include rabbit and snails, the whole dish best cooked outdoors in one of those vast, flat-bottomed specialist pans. Claudia Roden, in her magisterial over-view, The Food of Spain (Michael Joseph, £25), quotes a Spanish expert on how the snails bring a taste of the rosemary they feed on. Every recipe in the book is tempting, the research exemplary.  The book is an essential Hispanophile purchase, even if you’re not pursuing edible snails.

 Pomegranate glazed African land snails

The most exotic snail dish I’ve come across is on our doorstep; well, Brixton Village’s. The acclaimed blogger Miss South included it in her celebration of the global diversity of food and folk in this South London market hall. I’ve visited; it’s a vibrant place, inevitable gentrification slowly creating a different vibe. The various traders and cafe owners contribute their favourite specialities to Recipes from Brixton Village (Kitchen Press, £15.99) with appropriate stockists. In this case the recipe is inspired by Viva Afro-Caribbean Food Store on 3rd Avenue, who provide the land snails (especially revered in Nigeria), with the pomegranate molasses for the glaze coming from Nour Cash and Carry on neighbouring Market Row. The author notes the shell alone of this particular snail can grow up to 20cm long, so it can be a challenge to open them. Next you scrub them clean with alum provided by the store. Hardcore food prep even before you start cooking in chicken stock with various spices. Not for the sluggish.

Never known a courgette glut like it. Our raised beds are Zucchini Centrale this summer. One upside of a current disinclination to travel? There have been no transitions into the dreaded marrow. What the hell can you do with those? Answers in crayon on a hessian sack, please.

Soup has been one way to depopulate the veg rack. The Ethicurean Cookbook’s Roasted Courgette and Cobnut Soup is an old favourite even if the hazelnut’s folksy Kentish cousin is still a month or two away from ripening. As they will in that Mendip restaurant’s walled garden, which I so love. As I write I’m happy to substitute pistachios to sprinkle over the labneh I’ve been straining for 36 hours (soup recipe below).

Serendipity rules as the courgettes pile up. Italy’s a good way to go. Marcella Hazan, Giorgio Locatelli, the late Antonio Carluccio and our English Italophiles  Jacob Kenedy, Alastair Little, Rachel Roddy, all offer ways of making the green watery cylinders they call zucchini up their game.

The heftier examples really require baking, so I profitably consult the unsung Queen of La Cucina, Anna del Conte (Milan-born, resident in England since 1949, now 96).

Amaretti biscuits and ricotta are the stuffing for this Mantuan masterpiece

From her Amaretto, Apple Cake and Artichokes: The Best of (1989) I pick Zucchini Ripiene alla Mantovano, which stuffs them with ricotta and amaretti in the method particular to Mantua (recipe below). It makes use of my store cupboard stash of amaretti biscuits, close to their use-by-date. They add a beguiling almondiness, as they do to another slightly sweet speciality of that Lombard city, pumpkin tortellini.

All this sustainable kitchen prep of my glut, though, lacks a little glamour. What the Romans call Il Fascino. The glory of growing your own courgettes is the access to their trumpet-like yellow flowers. All over Italy in season you can buy bags of them at markets. Not so in Britain. I once spotted an overpriced wilting trio of them at a farmer’s market in Marylebone. It reminded me of northern traders flogging a small bag of wild garlic for a couple of quid when nearby woods reeked of the forageable stuff. Zucchini flowers – you really have to grow your own.

Leslie Forbes’ two Seventies volumes matched her illustrations with her own hand-written travelogue

What to do with them? Not too many choices. Best to take the advice of a forgotten food writer, whose two most beautiful tomes – hand written, self illustrated, product of hands-on research – remain a fixture on the shelf of my all-time favourite cookbooks.

Leslie Forbes died in 2016 at the age of 63. By then the Canadian, originally an artist (she illustrated Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence), was most celebrated for the best-seller Bombay Ice and other literary thrillers. I couldn’t get on with them; my heart remained with A Table in Tuscany (1985) and A Table in Provence (1987). Seek them out second hand on Abe Books or the like

My original copies showing their age, well-thumbed and stained with tomato coulis and olive oil

Both have recipes for courgette flowers… or more evocatively Fiori di Zucca or Fleurs des Courgettes. I’m not one for deep-frying the stuffed flowers, so I’ll pass on the zucchini fritters San Gimignano style, ‘au naturel’ or ham-stuffed, from the Tuscan book; instead try this Provencal treatment, which Leslie sourced from the Gleize family of Chateau Arnoux. I I substitute water for the chicken stock, use canned San Marzano tomatoes and am still waiting on my second batch of chervil to come through, so omitted.


400g can San Marzano tomatoes

grated zest one lemon (no white pith)

3-4 basil leaves, finely chopped

1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped

1 tbsp chervil, finely chopped

pinch of powered corlander

1 garlic clove, peeled & crushed

100 ml olive oil

salt and pepper


3 medium courgettes, finely chopped

6 tbsp olive oil

6 fresh basil leaves, in thin strips

6 fresh mint leaves, chopped

handful fresh parsley, finely chopped

2 small garlic cloves, peeled & finely chopped

salt and pepper

generous handful fine stale breadcrumbs

1 egg, beaten

250ml water

18 large courgette flowers (picked just before you need to use them if possible)


Prepare sauce at least 12 hours before: crush tomatoes with a fork, and beat in the lemon zest, herbs, coriander, garlic & olive oil. Season well with salt and pepper. Do not refrigerate. 

To make the stuffing, cook the courgettes in 2 tbsp of olive oil. When softened, remove from heat and mix with basil, mint, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Allow to cool and add the breadcrumbs and beaten egg. 

Remove pistils from flowers, then put a spoonful of the stuffing into each flower, tuck in the ends & lay the flowers side by side in an oven proof dish. Pour over the water remaining olive oil, cover with foil & bake for 15 minutes in an oven preheated to 350°F/180°C/gas 4. To serve, spoon a little tomato coulis onto each plate and place three flowers on top.


4 medium courgettes, each about 15cm

sea salt

30g unsalted butter

1 shallot, very finely chopped

2tsp olive oil

2tsp fresh thyme

3 dry amaretti, finely crumbled 

150 g fresh ricotta, drained

1 free range egg

50g grated parmesan

pinch grated nutmeg

freshly ground black pepper

dried breadcrumbs


Wash the courgettes throughly and half lengthwise. Using a teaspoon, scoop out the flesh, without puncturing the skin: the aim is to get hollow, boat-shaped courgette halves. Salt them lightly and turn them upside down on a wooden board: the salt will draw out unwanted moisture and the courgette will be all the tastier for that. After half an hour, pat them dry. Keep the courgette pulp separate.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F.

Melt half the butter with half the oil, add the shallot, salt it to stop it browning and fry it gently, with the lid on. When it is soft, raise the heat, add the chopped thyme and the courgette flesh, diced. Stir and then cook until fairly dry.  Mix together the ricotta, the parmesan (minus one tablespoon), the egg, amaretti and the cooked courgette pulp. Add nutmeg and black pepper.

Smear the bottom of an oven dish, preferably metal, with the remaining oil and tuck in a single layer of courgette shells. Stuff each shell with the filling, sprinkle with dried breadcrumbs, mixed with parmesan, and dot with the remaining butter and drizzle with the rest of the olive oil.

Bake until a light golden crust has formed, checking after the first 40 minutes. Eat warm or at room temperature.

The Ethicurean’s walled garden base at Wrington near Chew Magna is a remarkable foodie mecca


Like the nature writer Richard Mabey, folk singer/nightingale devotee Sam Lee, Robert ‘Lost Words’ Macfarlane, there are some national treasures that speak for the real England and its glories. A world away from the nasty jingoism festering and now erupting in the wake of Brexit. 

Whenever I get angry about this rampant intolerance and the way our Cabinet of Fools have handled the pandemic I return to the ultimate therapy – growing my own and cooking.

I am not alone in making that essential plot to table connection. A whole new generation of professional chef/growers is in the vanguard of championing our food heritage. In my own North these include Sam Buckley of Where The Light Gets In, Joseph Otway of Higher Ground/Cinderwood Market Garden and Alisdair Brooke-Taylor of the Moorcock at Norland.

And down in the Mendip Hills outside Bristol The Victorian Barley Wood Walled Garden provides inspirational, seasonal produce for the on-site Ethicurean, winner of Best Ethical Restaurant in the 2011 Observer Food Monthly Awards. We loved eating there, with accompanying tumblers of their home-made vermouth. Like Simon Baker, chef patron of the stalwart Gimbals Restaurant (like the Moorcock in my home territory of the Calder Valley), I am a huge fan of their The Ethicurean Cookbook (Ebury Press, £25). Highly recommended.

The Ethicurean stuff their courgette flowers with ewe’s curd and cobnuts, accompanying them with a wild fennel sorbet. They make the most of our native cobnuts, nearly extinct 30 years ago but making a comeback in likeminded restaurants. They feature in my final recipe, taken from The Ethicurean Cookbook. In season you can buy cobnuts mail order from Kent. My obliging Calderdale greengrocer Valley Veg have a supply on request.

That exquisite Ethicurean courgette soup with labneh, toasted cobnuts and English mustard dressing


1kg small firm courgettes, sliced into 2cm pieces

rapeseed oil

500g onions finely sliced

250g carrots finely sliced

250g celery finely sliced

1tsp salt plus more for final seasoning

40g fresh cobnuts, chopped, thenlightly toasted

For the labneh:

500g Greek yoghurt

½tsp salt

1tbsp chopped marjoram

1tbsp chopped oregano

For the dressing:

85ml rapeseed oil

50ml cider vinegar

1tsp English mustard

½tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp ground turmeric

1tsp chopped mint


Make the labneh a day in advance. Line a sieve with muslin and put the yoghurt in it, stirring in salt. Wrap into a bundle over a deep bowl to drain overnight. Next day discard the liquid. To make the dressing blend all the ingredients together.

Heat the oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6. Toss the courgettes with a little rapeseed oil, then spread on a roasting tin. Roast in oven for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a film of rapeseed oil in a large saucepan and add onions carrots and celery; sweat for 10-15 minutes until tender. Stir so the veg doesn’t colour. Add roasted courgettes and sweat for 5 minutes longer. Add water to barely cover and bring to a simmer. Add salt and after five minutes blitz in a blender (in batches if necessary). If too thick for you, pas through a fine sieve to create a more velvety mouthfeel. Now season to taste, reheat gently and serve in bowls topped with a tablespoon of labneh, a scattering of chopped cobnuts and a drizzle of mustard dressing.