Chickpea & tomato soup

Here is another recipe originally from Sophie Grigson’s Food for Friends. I’ve had to play around with it from the start because the officially published version has no tomatoes in it (in spite of the title) and, in any case, it lends itself to multiple variations. All sorts of tinned pulses will work just as well as chickpeas and you can sling in any flavourings that take your fancy: sumac, piros arany, carrots, even grilled red peppers all have their place.

Serves 4


1 onion, halved and sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tbsp oil – anything not too strongly flavoured
zest and juice of half a lemon
1 tin chickpeas
1 tin chopped tomatoes
500ml vegetable or chicken stock
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground fenugreek
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp sugar
salt to taste
Some chopped herbs (parsley or coriander) to garnish


Heat the oil on a medium heat in a heavy saucepan and add the onions. Cook, stirring until softened (about eight minutes), then add the garlic and lemon zest and cook for another couple of minutes. Raise the heat and add the rest of the ingredients apart from the chickpeas, salt, lemon juice and herbs. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat again and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the chickpeas and cook for a final five minutes, then stir in the lemon juice and salt, remove from the heat and allow to cool a little before whizzing it all up (in two batches) in a blender. Reheat, check seasoning and serve with a scattering of herbs on top.

Oven-baked mushroom risotto

The traditional method of making risotto involves the slow addition of warm stock and a lot of stirring over a hot stove to produce a creamy mass of al dente rice. This alternative approach, devised by Delia Smith, saves all that bother and leaves the cook free for other worthwhile activities (like polishing off the Madeira). I have yet to live down the whisky-based experiment in 2009 but please don’t let that put you off trying this: it really is delicious. The adjusted quantities below make it a main course for six, Delia’s original having been intended as a starter.

Serves 6


15g dried porcini mushrooms
340g fresh dark-gilled mushrooms
75g butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
250g risotto rice (arborio or carnaroli)
225ml dry Maderia
3 tbsp grated parmesan plus 75g extra, shaved into flakes
Salt and pepper

You will also need a shallow ovenproof dish of 2-2.25 litre capacity


First soak the dried mushrooms: place them in bowl and pour 850ml boiling water over them. Leave to soak and soften for half an hour. Meanwhile, finely chop your onion and cut the fresh mushrooms into about 1 cm chunks.

Preheat the oven to 140 fan.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the onion and let it cook over a gentle heat for about 5 minutes, then add the mushrooms, stir well and leave on one side while you deal with the porcini. When they have had their half-hour soak, place a sieve over a bowl, line with a double sheet of kitchen paper or a muslin and strain the mushrooms, reserving the liquid. Squeeze any excess liquid out of them, then chop finely and add to the mushroom-onion mixture in the pan. Keep the heat low and let everything sweat gently and release their juices (about 20 minutes). Put the dish in the oven to warm.

Add the rice, stir to coat well, then add the Madeira, strained mushroom-soaking liquid, 1½ tsp salt and ground black pepper. Bring it up to simmering point, then transfer the whole lot from the pan to the warmed dish. Stir once, then put it uncovered in the oven for 20 minutes exactly.

When the buzzer goes, stir in the grated parmesan and return the dish to the oven for a further 15 minutes. Serve sprinkled with shavings of parmesan, and with a green salad alongside.

Slow-cooked lamb shanks

This dish ticks multiple boxes. Hearty and satisfying, it is sophisticated enough for a dinner party but also affordable if you get your lamb shanks from your friendly local Syrian butcher rather than from Waitrose. Once all the onions have been sliced, it also entails very little effort. The recipe is from the first River Café Cookbook, one of many in my collection from the mid-90s and has needed hardly a tweak since. Writing through gritted teeth and with growling stomach, at the start of Veganuary 2021, I predict that lamb shanks will make an early appearance on the table in February.

Serves 6 generously


6 small lamb shanks
plain flour for dusting
palt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
6 red onions, peeled and finely sliced
a handful of chopped rosemary leaves
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
175 ml balsamic vinegar
300 ml red wine


Preheat the oven to 180 (fan) / 200C.

Dust the lamb shanks with seasoned flour. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan with a lid, heat the oil and brown the shanks on all sides, then remove. Lower the heat, add the onions and cook for about 10-15 minutes until light brown. Add the rosemary and garlic and cook for another couple of minutes. Raise the heat and add the balsamic vinegar and the wine. Reduce for a couple of minutes.

Return the shanks to the pan, reduce the heat and cover with a piece of moistened greaseproof paper and the lid. Cook in the oven for 2-2½ hours, or alternatively on top of the stove (slowly). 

Check the shanks from time to time, basting with the juices, turning them over and adding more wine if they look too dry. Serve whole, with the juices. Mashed potatoes are a great accompaniment, along with something green.

Parmesan & poppyseed biscuits

These are a savoury version of kilted highlanders, the demerara-coated shortbread biscuits that Great-Granny would often wheel out at tea time. They’re incredibly easy to make, arresting to look at and make a great accompaniment to pre-dinner drinks. Given that the recipe comes from Ottolenghi (his first book), you might be surprised to recognise all the ingredients on the list – no esoteric surprises here, especially for the Hungarian, for whom poppyseeds (mák) are a store-cupboard essential.

Makes about 20 biscuits


210g plain flour, plus plenty extra for dusting
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp paprika
a pinch of cayenne pepper
165g unsalted butter, at room temperature
165g Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
80g poppyseeds
1 egg, beaten
Salt and black pepper


Sift the flour, baking powder, paprika and cayenne into a bowl and add the salt and pepper. Mix the softened butter with the Parmesan until they are well blended. You can do this either by hand, using a wooden spoon, or in a freestanding mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

Add the dry ingredients and continue mixing until a soft dough is formed. Put the dough on a well-floured work surface and divide it in half. Using plenty of flour, both on your hands and on the work surface, roll each piece into a long log, 3- 4cm in diameter. Wrap each log in cling film and place in the fridge for about 30 minutes to firm up.

Scatter the poppyseeds over two sheets of foil large enough to wrap each log. Brush the logs with the beaten egg and then roll them in the poppyseeds until covered. Roll up the foil and secure the ends.

Refrigerate again for 1 hour (at this stage you can also freeze them).

Preheat the oven to 160°C fan. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Cut the logs into slices 5 mm thick and arrange them on the tray, spaced apart. Bake for 15 minutes or until the biscuits are dark golden.

Brandy butter

The essential accompaniment to Christmas pudding, brandy butter is easy to make and keeps for ages in the fridge. I’ve learned from bitter experience not to go in too heavy with the brandy: it’s liable to split the mixture, which will still taste fine but will look, unappetisingly, like scrambled eggs. My version includes dark brown sugar and orange, echoing elements of the pudding, which, if flambéd with extra brandy, will provide the desired extra kick of booze.

Serves 8


120g unsalted butter, at room temperature
60g icing sugar
60g dark brown sugar
zest of ½ orange + 1-2 tbsp orange juice
3 tbsp brandy


Using an electric hand whisk, mix up the butter and sugars until soft and well combined. Add the orange zest and juice, whisk again and then incorporate the brandy a tablespoon at a time. Pile into a serving vessel and chill until you need it, but give it a good hour out of the fridge to soften up before serving.

Christmas sauces

Here are foolproof instructions for two accompaniments to roast turkey: cranberry sauce and bread sauce. Both can be made in advance and stored in the fridge for a couple of days. The cranberry sauce will in fact keep for much longer if kept in a sterilised jar.

Cranberry sauce

Serves 6


Juice of 1 orange, plus zest of ½ orange
150g caster sugar
300g fresh cranberries
1½ tbsp port


Put the orange juice and sugar in a small pan and heat gently, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Add the cranberries, bring to a simmer, then cook for about eight minutes, until most of the fruit has burst and you have a loose sauce: it will set as it cools, so don’t worry if it still seems a bit liquid when you stop cooking.

Stir in the port and orange zest and transfer to a bowl. Chill until needed. It can be served warm or cold.

Bread sauce

Serves 6-8


1 small onion, peeled
5 cloves
2 bay leaves
3-4 shards blade mace
10 peppercorns
500ml whole milk
115g white breadcrumbs
1 tbsp cream (optional)
nutmeg, grated
½ tsp salt


Cut the onion in half and stud the cut side with the cloves, then put in a small pan with the bay leaves, mace, peppercorns and milk. Heat until it is on the point of boiling, then turn off the heat and leave to infuse for an hour.

Strain the milk, return to the pan and gently reheat. Stir in the breadcrumbs and heat, stirring, until the mix has thickened to your desired consistency. Stir in the cream, if using, season to taste with salt and grated nutmeg, then transfer to a bowl and serve warm. If you make it in advance, chill in the fridge and zap in the microwave for a couple of minutes before serving: it may need a little more milk or cream to loosen the texture.

Mulled wine

An essential lubricant at this time of year, mulled wine always fills the house with evocative smells. After literally years of experimenting with different versions, I’ve concluded that Jamie Oliver’s recipe is the best. Follow this and you can dispense with those ghastly sachets of spice mix or – even worse – the pre-mixed bottles on the bottom shelf of the booze aisle. The only change I’ve made is a slight reduction in the quantity of nutmeg and star anise. For larger numbers, or thirstier drinkers, a family-sized slow cooker is an excellent vessel. If you’re after extra ‘warmth’, pep it all up with a shot of brandy, though it tastes perfectly authentic without.

Antique Hungarian glass inherited from Nagymami.

Serves 10 (allegedly)


2 clementines
1 lemon
1 lime
200 g caster sugar
6 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
3 bay leaves
½ nutmeg, for grating
1 vanilla pod
2 bottles Chianti or other Italian red wine
1 star anise


  1. Peel large sections of peel from the clementines, lemon and lime using a speed-peeler.
  2. Put the sugar in a large saucepan over a medium heat, add the pieces of peel and squeeze in the clementine juice.
  3. Add the cloves, cinnamon stick, bay leaves and about 10 to 12 gratings of nutmeg. Halve the vanilla pod lengthways and add to the pan, then stir in just enough red wine to cover the sugar.
  4. Let this simmer until the sugar has completely dissolved into the red wine, then bring to the boil. Keep on a rolling boil for about 4 to 5 minutes, or until you’ve got a beautiful thick syrup. The point of doing this first is to create a wonderful flavour base by really getting the sugar and spices to infuse and blend well with the wine. It’s important to make a syrup base first because it needs to be quite hot, and if you do this with both bottles of wine in there you’ll burn off the alcohol.
  5. When your syrup is ready, turn the heat down to low and add your star anise and the rest of the wine. Gently heat the wine and after around 5 minutes, when it’s warm and delicious, ladle it into heatproof glasses and serve.

Christmas Day Brunch

A slap-up brunch on Christmas morning evolved as a family ritual after the grandparents moved to Garde. The kitchen is always a hive of activity, with one person (wo)manning the egg-poaching station, others grilling bacon, laying the table, picking at beigli or sneaking off for last-minute present-wrapping. Liverpool tops, Bloody Marys, chocolate coins from stockings and potato preparation often feature too. Allow a good hour and a half to prepare and consume all this before Father Christmas arrives growling hőha.

Ingredients for 6

Hollandaise sauce
6 English muffins
1 pack unsmoked back bacon
200g smoked salmon
240g spinach
6-10 eggs

2 bottles champagne
1 litre orange juice
Mince pies


Ideally there will be several people mucking in, who between them need to do the following:

1. Make the hollandaise
2.  Grill the bacon
3. Arrange the smoked salmon artistically on a serving plate, dress with lemon juice and black pepper
4.  Lay the table
5.  Make Buck’s Fizz: half fill a large jug with orange juice and top up with one bottle of champagne
6. Make coffee
7.  Wilt and season the spinach: put it in a colander and pour a kettle-full of boiling water over it, then season and add lemon juice at the last minute
8.  Split and toast the muffins
9.  Poach the eggs: you should be able to manage four at a time in a large pan of boiling water with a dash of vinegar; give the eggs three minutes at a gentle simmer, then drain on kitchen paper.

Allow everyone to help themselves, building their own eggs benedict/florentine/royale as a vehicle for lashings of hollandaise sauce. Wash down with Buck’s Fizz, straight champagne or just coffee. Follow with satsumas, beigli and mince pies to keep you full until the main meal of the day.

Hollandaise Sauce

Rosa and Zita are already dab hands at hollandaise sauce but the recipe merits recording because it is a key component of Christmas Day brunch – and indeed gets wheeled out as often as our arteries can stand it when we gather en famille. There are quicker ways to make it than the method detailed here. You can melt the butter and whizz it into the eggs with a food processor but the slow incorporation of solid butter over a bain marie makes for a more contemplative process, with more reliable results too. The quantities are not really set in stone and they’re easy to adjust for smaller / larger numbers.

Serves 6 generously


250g unsalted butter, cut into 2cm cubes
4 egg yolks
2 tbsp water
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt & pepper


Whisk the egg yolks and water in a bowl over simmering water and then gradually beat in the butter, adding one cube at a time to start with, more at a time as you progress.  Keep beating for up to 20 minutes, until the sauce starts to thicken. If you need to abandon it even briefly, make sure you appoint a stand-in because it can curdle in an instant. (If it does, just start again with another egg yolk and slowly beat in the curdled mixture as you did the butter cubes.) Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice, adjusting to your preference. Salt apparently interferes with the chemical composition of eggs, so it’s best not to add it until this stage. Remove from the heat and allow to thicken further.

A variation: Bearnaise sauce

This sauce works on the same principle but the acid kick comes from tarragon vinegar instead of lemon. Finely chop a shallot and add to a small saucepan with 3 fat sprigs of tarragon and about 100ml white wine vinegar. Bring to the boil and reduce until about 2 tbsp of liquid remain. (You can dispense with this stage and use ready-made tarragon vinegar if you’re feeling lazy.) Make your egg-butter sauce as described above, then at the seasoning stage, add the tarragon-infused vinegar, salt, pepper and a good handful of chopped fresh tarragon.

Christmas pudding

You might question whether this meets the criteria for inclusion as an established family favourite: although it’s served every year at Christmas, some of you eat it only under sufferance and I’ve made it just twice myself. Nonetheless, it is traditional British fare, an important piece of culinary history, a cultural artefact, and pretty impressive to be able to produce yourself. The recipe passed on to me by Granny comes from Constance Spry, the bible from which Granny taught herself to cook after marrying as a teenager, and has required some modifications for our 21st century kitchen: gills, pounds and ounces are converted to metric units, vegetable suet replaces beef to make it vegetarian-friendly, and these days I tuck in 20p coins instead of the traditional sixpence. You can use gluten-free flour and breadcrumbs if necessary and I suppose that the committed vegan could find a suitable replacement for the eggs. Once covered and steamed, these puddings keep for ages – 12 months or more – so you only need to make these every other year. Leftover dried fruit and spices can be used to make mincemeat, pepped up with rum or brandy, and will also keep for a very long time.

Makes 2 puddings, each serving 8


150g self-raising flour
250g fresh white breadcrumbs
350g currants
350g sultanas
350g raisins
250g vegetable suet
150g chopped candied peel
100g flaked almonds
1 grated apple
Juice and grated rind of an orange
1 tsp mixed spice
½ nutmeg, grated
½ tsp salt
4 eggs, beaten to a froth
100ml brown ale or stout
350g brown sugar
6 x 20p coins, individually wrapped in foil
2 tbsp brandy

2 x 1-litre pudding basins (17cm diameter)
Greaseproof paper
Pudding cloths


Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Invite family members to stir it and make a wish (remotely over the group chat, if necessary). Pack the mixture into greased pudding basins, hiding three 20p coins in each one. Cover with greased papers and floured pudding cloths, tied tightly with string, creating a handle across the top (see picture) and boil in a steamer for 6-8 hours. Store tightly covered in a cool, dry place for as long as you need.

To serve on Christmas Day: steam the pudding for a further 3 hours. Turn out onto a serving dish. Heat 2 tbsp brandy (I use a ladle over a flame), set alight and pour it over the pudding. Top with a sprig of holly, turn out the lights and process to the table, singing loudly. Serve with brandy butter or custard.