Food People/ My Favourites/ Producers/ Sources & Resources/ Summer/ Suppliers/ Uncategorized


The recent wine trip to Piemonte, organised by Lucia Hannau of as part of Turin Epicurean Capital 2019, was a simply stunning trip, not only for the personal reasons discussed in my previous post, but also because Lucia had ensured that we saw an excellent cross section of the wineries one can visit in the Langhe.

Not to pre-empt future posts but we visited a small family run business (that stole my heart, but more of that in future) and two larger businesses that at first glance might seem similar but in reality were very  different. Here I want to talk about Fontanafredda, possibly one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. I do want to say upfront, however, that I am not a wine expert so this post is more about the place itself than the wine. I have friends with much more sophisticated palates than mine and I wish one of them, (yes Jim Dunlop, I’m looking at you) would write about their specialist knowledge of the wines of Piemonte. I’d just like to mention too, that is not a sponsored post; I’ve written this for love, not for money.

Despite its large size, Fontanafredda is a winery perfectly in symbiosis with its landscape and whilst obviously the viticulture has shaped the landscape, the built environment is equally sympathetic without seemingly losing functionality. The buildings themselves are girded about in the ochre and dark pink colours frequently seen in the area; this did lead to the slightly inelegant name of “the Battenburg Cake Estate” being applied to it, but somehow it works. 

It is a successful and thriving business producing wines typical of this part of Piemonte, there are two elegant and comfortable hotels, two restaurants (one that really needs a blog post all of its own) and acres of woodland walks and of course, spectacular views of the Unesco Langhe landscape. Visitors are well catered for and I thought the tasting session intelligent and informative, which I have not always found to be so elsewhere.

I say Fontanafredda is a successful business but that has not always been the case and the history of this charming place is well worth looking at at. The first noteworthy event was as a gift in 1858 by King Vittorio Emanuele II of Italy to his principal mistress, Rosa Vercellana known in Piedmontese as Bela Rosin. In addition acquiring to the ravishing hunting lodge and land, Rosa, born a commoner, became Countess of Mirafiori and Fontanafredda. After the death of the King’s wife in 1855 (she bore him eight children during the thirteen years they were married), in 1869, he then morganatically married Rosa with whom he already had two children. You will note the use of the phrase “principal mistress”; in common with much of male royalty and aristocracy, he was a man of vigorous appetites and had at least five others, one of whom he is said to have shared with both Cavour and Napoleon III.

The stunning hunting lodge which was the gift to Bela Rosin at Fontanafredda

The stunning hunting lodge which was the gift to Bela Rosin at Fontanafredda

The King’s father, Carlo Alberto, was already a wine producer on his royal estates at Verduno and Pollenzo, so it was perhaps unsurprising that Vittoria Emanuele believed that Fontanafredda would provide a secure business for his and Rosa’s children.

The archives at Fontanafredda are fascinating and although I was not able to study through them (much as I would have liked to), there are many interesting pages from ledgers are on display. From these it is clear to see that Barolo began production from 1865, along with evidence of the building of new cellars and buildings, not to mention planting of new vines. Fortunately – or perhaps inevitably – Rosa’s son, Emanuele Mirafiori – was a talented winemaker and under his leadership, Barolo became available to the open market and not just the royal family and their elite European friends. He seems to have been a natural marketeer and in 1887, he opened his cellars to the public and began entering his wines in competitions, with some success.

The year 1894 saw the start of a series of misfortunes which led to long decline of the Fontanafredda estate and its Mirafiori brand: Emanule Mirafiori died that year, at the young age of 43, from a liver disease and his eldest son and heir to the estate died after a fall from a horse. Emanuele’s second son, Gastone, did however, prove his mettle, and until the first World War, the estate prospered with employees being treated remarkably well in terms of housing, social care and pensions. In the UK, we are accustomed to this model at that time, being familiar with Lever Brothers’ Port Sunlight village and Cadbury’s Bournville. This level of care for so many employees was not, however, at all normal in Italy.

The loss of male workers to World War I, together with outbreaks of the devastating disease, phylloxera, plus disastrous hailstorms began to see detrimental changes at Fontanafredda. The estate changed hands several times, the brand was sold to Gancia and eventually, in common with thousands of other businesses at the time, Fontanafredda went into bankruptcy in 1930.

An existing creditor of Fontanfredda, the Siena-based Banca Monte dei Paschi took over the estate in 1932 and despite the privations visited upon Italy in World War II, the estate gradually began to recover. 

In the 1960s and 70s, the new attention paid to quality began to pay off;  Fontanafredda began to age their Barolo for longer than required and also began to source top quality grapes from other vineyards in Piemonte. Some of these same vineyards began in the 1980s to turn their attentions to winemaking their own grapes and boutique wineries began to steadily erode the estate’s market  share and thus their profitability. 

Once again, Fontanafredda was brought back from the precipice, first by the appointment in 1996 of Giovanni Minetti to oversee the revamp of the vineyards and winemaking process and start them on the path to a winery of quality, rather than a supermarket supplier. Ten years later, a second occurence aided their recovery: Monte dei Paschi decided that owning a winery was not a strategic part of their business and sold the estate to a consortium of investors, amongst whom was Oscar Farrinetti. 

The slightly mysterious cellars of Fontanafredda, with their natural temperature control. Winemaking to me, like cooking, is alchemy, so this image captures the inscrutable fascination of the process

The slightly mysterious cellars of Fontanafredda, with their natural temperature control. Winemaking to me, like cooking, is alchemy, so this image captures the inscrutable fascination of the process

Now, if you have been to Italy or, if you are in parts of the USA, you will know Eataly, a high end “supermarket” that sells good quality Italian foods and you can eat well there too! I know some Italians are a bit sniffy about it and in truth, I have learned in there to read labels attentively, but and it’s a big but, they are undeniably successful.  Although I live mostly in Italy now, I was delighted to recently learn that AT LAST Eataly are coming to London (just in time for Brexit…).

So whether you like the chain or not, Signor Farrinetti knows how to run a successful business and I for one am delighted to see Fontanafredda in safe, creative and ethical hands.

So this has been a post more about history than food – or wine – but the more I learn about the history of what we eat and drink, the more fascinating and inspiring stories I discover. I warmed to Fontanafredda because quite simply, it is a stunningly beautiful and enchanting place. Once I knew its history and learned of its commitment to chemical free cultivation (a cause close to my own heart), the more I loved it. I will go back and I urge you to try to see it, if you are visiting northern Italy. If you’re not, then try to hunt down their wines. If you would like to learn more about them, do visit their website and the excellent Kerin O’Keefe has written extensively about the estate and its wines in her “Barolo and Barbaresco, The King and Queen of Italian Wine” and which I heartily recommend. And of course, if you are going to Turin, contact Lucia at and she will ensure you see the very best the city has to offer.

I hope to visit fairy tale Fontanafredda again this autumn and in the meantime I will remember my summer visit whilst enjoying a glass of their finest.  

My Favourites/ Summer


My blog has suffered from severe neglect for over a year. Only now do I feel might actually have something to say that might be remotely interesting to anyone other than me and possibly Edoardo, my partner. Even he switches off sometimes, for which I don’t remotely blame him.

The last year has been rather difficult, frequently tedious but sometimes wonderful. Despite the wonderful bits, I stopped my blog for a variety of reasons; I hadn’t quite clarified its purpose or what I wanted to say – indeed if I actually had anything to say at all.

I then found myself living in northern Italy in Edoardo’s apartment in a small Commune just south of Milan. Because an EU directive requires a citizen from another member state to register with their local Comune if they intend to stay longer than three months, I had to do just that: register with my Comune. (Interestingly, successive British Governments have elected not invoke this directive but that is a whole other story).

Now, before you all throw up your hands and gloomily predict that I am going to tell a tale of woe about the horrendous experience of dealing with Italian bureaucracy, stop right there. The people I dealt with were hands down amongst the kindest and most competent people I have encountered in any bureaucratic situation. They tolerated my faltering Italian, were slightly bemused by anyone wanting to come to this corner of Lombardy and were unstintingly helpful and courteous.

So, inspire of having emerged unscathed from my encounters with Italian bureaucracy, I couldn’t feel any enthusiasm for continuing with a blog that was mainly predicated on living and cooking in the UK, with the ingredients available there. I was having to learn how to shop, cook and eat in a whole new way, and that is hugely different to doing it for most of the year, than it is for a few weeks a year.

So there I was pottering along with Twitter and Instagram, plus continuing my interest in and support for Slow Food, but apart from looking forward to participating in Slow Food’s Cheese19 at Bra, Piedmont in September, I couldn’t raise much enthusiasm for anything. Not writing anything longer than an Instagram post had calcified me in some way.

It is said that people and circumstances are sent into your life for a purpose. I guess the trick is recognising them when they happen along. I was about to toddle off to a fabulous annual food event for the third year running, but if you feel you are at the bottom of a well, even the prospect of the terrific Turin Epicurean Capital convention at which there would be marvellous food writers and producers doesn’t give Stella her groove back.

Having said that, I was going to Turin, the city I love most in the world (and I have travelled extensively so have much to compare it with), so yes, I was thinking it would be a good trip. Particularly good as it would be preceded by three days of wine tasting in the Langhe region of Piedmont. And we all now about the truffles of Piedmont but how many of us have the privilege of seeing a young dog being trained?

What I had not anticipated was five specific people I met on the Langhe trip and the effect they had on me, individually and a group. Remarkably, I already knew four of them and I can’t really explain how the group and individual dynamic restored me, but for sure, during that trip I got my mojo back. I have analysed the thing to death but haven’t arrived at a conclusion – what or who was it that worked its magic on me? The three relaxed every-detail-taken-care-of days in the Langhe? Seeing the sheer hard work and hours put in by two of them – bloggers in the USA with big followings – to keep their social media feeds going? The determination of a Torinese colleague to keep her food business going despite health issues? Was it the two Italian guys who started a Slow Food accredited gelateria in Leicester and apart from making delicious gelato, are achieving international recognition and acclaim, despite their worries about the impact of Brexit?

Heaven knows what it was but I do know for sure that something clicked inside my head and my heart; I realised that I missed the act of writing and instead of bemoaning my inactivity, realised too that I have much to be grateful for and probably quite bit to write about. The realisation that it was me, not circumstance, that had put down my pen for a year or more was not easy to face, but now I know that a) I need to write like a plant needs rain and b) I know what I want to write about. I need too, to devote time to this like it’s a corporate job and stop being a dilettante.

I’ll still be the Watchful Cook  as quality, cost and conscience will still be my guiding principles, and lord knows I need to watch my language (in terms of improving my Italian, I mean). I’ll write about learning to live in Italy, studying for my Master of Cheese qualifications (probably just lots of cheese, to be honest), the food for which I shop, then cook and eat, the wine I drink, the places I go, the people I meet and inevitably the mistakes I make as I find myself getting to grips with living in Italy.

PS The group photo is courtesy of the lovely Antonio de Vecchi, who is the happy chap on the right at the back – if you are in or near Leicester, do visit It’s the real deal!

The fantastic people in this picture are:

L – R back row: Daniele Taverna (@cereaneh), Christina Conte (@christinascucina), Antonio de Vecchi (@antonio_de_vecchi)

L – R front row: me, Edoardo, Cynthia McCloud Woodman (@whatagirleats), Benedetta Oggero (@miss_bee_foods)

Books & Blogs/ Equipment/ In My Kitchen/ My Favourites


Desert Island Discs is, as I’m sure you know, an almost mythical BBC Radio 4 programme and I adore it. I tend to listen to it irrespective of the guest, so consequently have learned about all kinds of things that I would not otherwise have heard. I am not keen when it’s what I would call trashy celebrities but even then one can be surprised, and I do love a good scientist!

Listening to this past weekend’s edition got me pondering the concept of Desert Island items and I began to wonder what eight kitchen items I would want to take to a desert island, which food or cookery book I’d take and what would my luxury kitchen item be? Yes, I know, there might not be means to cook on a desert island but can we play by my rules and assume there is a source of fire with matches, twigs and timber for the fire?

This has taken me quite a while to even begin to firm up on, and if you were to confront me with this list in a month or a year’s time, I might change it completely. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my list:

  1. A Henckels knife or can I cheat and say my whole knife block? That’s one item isn’t it? I bought my first one in Düsseldorf when I was working there in 1996 and one knife transformed my whole way of preparing food. I understood suddenly how important a knife – used well – is in a kitchen and how it can replace dozens of useless gadgets that live for a day and then fester unloved in a dusty drawer. I went on to do Knife Skills courses at Leith’s which an investment I have never regretted. It does mean, however, that I find some TV cooks all too hair raising to watch and I sometimes hide behind a cushion when they are chopping.
  2. A tablespoon. I have a silver one, hallmarked for 1764, all worn away on one side and I love it. Wish it could talk.
  3. A teaspoon. Another old piece although a young gun at 1823.
  4. A wooden spoon. I have one that dates back to 1976 (how I know that is a whole other story) and it’s acquired a patina that for me represents years of stirring, scraping and prodding. I will never discard it.
  5. A fork. Again I have an old silver one, a bit big for everyday eating but on this island, it will do double duty as a kitchen fork.
  6. A Le Creuset casserole, not a huge one; I have a 20cm round one which I was given in 1979 and I have cooked pretty much anything and everything in it: soups, stews, puddings, bread, I could go on but you get the picture
  7. My huge steel pasta cooking pot with internal drainer – they would serve many purposes: drawing water, draining stuff, heating water…
  8. A jug; I have a old Spode Blue Italian one and again it has history with me and would fulfil multiple uses in my rudimentary Desert Island kitchen; my other half has pointed out that a metal jug would be more practical as I could use it on the fire but I am sticking with my bit of history

It was interesting to me that many of these items are old friends in my kitchen and perhaps I have chosen them as much as friends as utility items. I will miss companionship on this island, although if I end up talking to a spoon, perhaps I should be left there.

Luxury Item

Please may I have an endless supply of Illy Espresso Dark Roast coffee? No sugar, no milk, just the hard stuff.

The Book(s)

On Desert Island Discs proper, the castaways are allowed The Bible, the Complete Works of Shakespeare and a book of their choice. So, playing this game by my rules when I am washed ashore, Leith’s Cookery Bible and the collected works of Nigel Slater (whose writing about food is every bit as lyrical as Mr Shakespeare) will already be sitting there waiting for me. Actually in the spirit of full disclosure, Nigel’s works are not yet collected into one tome but this is fantasy land, right? So that leaves me one further book to choose…

Oh my, how terribly difficult this was. I have well over 100 food/cookery books in English, French and Italian and while I may not cook from all of them, I read most of them regularly. Over the years, I have learned that not only do recipes have to work for me, but I also need to have good writing in order to really enjoy the book. In modern times, we are lucky enough to have Nigel Slater, Felicity Cloake, Sybil Kapoor, Diana Henry, Rachel Roddy, Anna del Conte, Nigella Lawson…not an exhaustive list by any means.

If we look at departed writers, I become even more confused: Elizabeth David, Richard Olney, Jane Grigson, Margaret Costa, Patience Gray, Marcella Hazan, Florence White, Dorothy Hartley. I give up. I couldn’t even make a choice after half a bottle of a very good Barbera and I have to say, I have usually formulated world peace after that, let alone chosen a book.

So stone cold sober, I have surprised myself by choosing Patience Gray’s Honey From a Weed. She writes so well about having to fashion kitchens in difficult circumstances so will be an endless source of inspiration. Those who know me well may be surprised that I have not chosen Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking; it is a masterwork and I refer to it frequently but Mrs David would not, I fear, be a congenial companion for me in these isolated circumstances. Yes, I will have Nigel for company but I don’t want to live with what I feel would be Mrs David’s frowning disapproval of my efforts.

So, there we are, my Desert Island Kit; I would love to know what yours is?
PS I have just remembered about my subscription to La Cucina Italiana; what about seagull post?

Courses/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Seasons/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter


I’d been thinking for a while that I might have got into a bit of rut with my cooking, so while preparing my order, I decided to disrupt my vegetables choices and opt instead for a veg bag from lovely Purton House organics. My thinking was that if I’m faced with a bag full of fab veg, I will be forced (or do I mean encouraged?) into new thinking and approaches.

Anyway, this week the bag contained Jerusalem artichokes, which I have always loved when I’ve eaten in Italy or France, but never cooked in the UK. The first idea that came into my mind was soup; I love the whole process of soup making, there is something very reassuring and comforting about both making and eating it. I know, that doesn’t push me very far outside my cooking comfort zone but we are having a cold snap here in London, so soup is just the ticket.

You probably know that Jerusalem artichokes have absolutely nothing to do with Jerusalem, the word being a corruption of the Italian for sunflower: girasole. The two plants are related, both being of the genus helianthus. The artichokes can romp away up to 3m high if left unchecked and do look pretty if a bit straggly, when growing. The tubers do look somewhat unpromising and learn from my experience: try to get the least knobbly ones, otherwise after peeling them, you can be left with precious little to use.

It is thought that the plant originally came from North America via the French explorer Samuel de Champlain (he who founded Quebec and charted the first maps of the Canadian east coast). The plant was first cultivate though, by the Dutch botanist Petrus Handius in the seventeenth century. They proliferated across Europe to the point that in 1629, the British botanist John Parkinson declared them to be so common and cheap “that even the most vulgar begin to despise them”.

Delicious though they are, they do have an unfortunate reputation for disrupting the digestive system although I think Gerard’s Herbal of 1621 was a tad extreme in saying “which way so ever they be dressed and eaten, they stir and cause a filthy, loathsome, stinking wind within the body, thereby causing the belly to be pained and tormented, and a meat more fit for swine than men”.

Personally I’ve never found this to be the case but perhaps that is because our diet is already quite rich in beans, pulses and vegetables. I also find that pairing the artichokes with a full fat dairy product (butter, cream, cheese or yogurt) minimises the disruptive effect.

If I haven’t completely put you off trying these, bear in mind they are a rich source of potassium and iron and also contain useful quantities of niacin, thiamine, phosphorous and copper so give this delicious soup a go and be generous with finishing it with cream or creme frâiche!


Print Recipe
Serves: 4 Cooking Time: 30 - 40 mins


  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (doesn’t need to be virgin but should have a mild flavour)
  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped (make sure you run a potato peeler down the stalks if they are “mature”, to rid them of those pesky strings)
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 250 - 300g unpeeled weight Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and diced
  • a few sprigs of thyme
  • 1 litre hot vegetable stock ( a low salt powder or cube is fine)
  • 250 ml cold whole organic milk (don’t even think of doing this with skimmed milk)
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper



Take a heavy bottomed pan and melt the butter over a low to medium heat then add the oil to minimise the risk of the butter burning


When the butter is foaming but not coloured, add the onion and celery and soften them for five minutes or so


Do not allow this soup to colour at any stage as it will spoil the creamy white purity of the end product


Add the potato and Jerusalem artichoke and cook for another five minutes


Strip the leaves off the thyme sprigs and add to the mixture in the pan


Add the hot stock, followed by the milk


Stir well and leave to simmer gently for 30 - 40 minutes; keep a sharp eye on proceedings as you don’t want any colour, or for the milk to cause a boil over


When the artichoke and potato are easily crushed against the side of the pan, switch off the heat and allow the soup to cool slightly


Use a stick blender to create a smooth creamy soup, season and serve in warm bowls


Finish with cream or creme frâiche and chopped parsley to create a colour contrast In the picture I have finished with three rehydrated dried Morels, fresh double cream and a drizzle of truffle oil. Pink peppercorns make a pretty contrast, perhaps with a spoonful of Greek yoghurt.

Courses/ In My Kitchen/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Techniques/ Uncategorized


You might reasonably expect this post to provide a couple of chicken recipes. No, sorry, no recipes. Instead I am talking about something that concerns me deeply and about which I am alternately enraged and anxious.

How does the idea of eating chlorine-washed chicken appeal to you? How do you like the idea of not being able to identify that the chicken you’re about to buy for Sunday lunch has been treated in that way? To immediately allay your fears, if you are presently buying said chicken in an EU country, you won’t be eating chicken à la chlorine.

Once the UK has left the EU and is possibly left without the protection of its highly developed Food Safety and Animal Welfare regulations, it is likely that a trade treaty will be entered into with the USA. For many items, that may well be good but food? Not so much. Animal Welfare and Food Safety Regulations in the USA are remarkably less protective than in the EU. That is good for neither man nor beast and my absolute number one concern is American – produced chicken.

I must state that United States Department of Agriculture organically reared and certified chicken is honourably excepted from the remarks below, as indeed are EU certified organic birds.

Chicken not produced under that certification are reared in sheds of up to 30,000 flocks from a few days old to the ripe old age of 42 days. The sheds are not cleaned during that time so the creatures live on increasing layers of ammonia which burns the animals and renders human breathing so compromised that it is almost impossible to enter the sheds safely. At 42 days they are either slaughtered for the food chain or ground up alive and made into fertiliser. During their short, miserable lives those creatures will have been routinely fed antibiotics and inorganic arsenic (this latter is NOT legal in the EU) in order to prevent disease and give the illusion of a healthy bird. They have also been pumped full of growth hormones to accelerate their development process and produce an anatomically deformed creature that has huge breasts and spindly little legs (any relation to Barbie dolls is unintentional), that disposition of flesh apparently being what the consumer wants.

At this point – if you are still with me – I must say that this equally applies to intensively reared chicken in the EU, too. Nothing in the paragraph above is illegal in the EU (except the inorganic arsenic part), shocking though those conditions are.

What is however, strictly outlawed in the EU and with good reason, is the washing in a chlorine solution of chickens. In the USA, once the bird is slaughtered and eviscerated, they are routinely washed in a chlorine solution approximating the concentration used in public swimming baths. This is alleged to diminish the risk of E.coli and Salmonella being present in the bird. Some processors shower the birds, others literally bathe them so the water is cross contaminated by being used for multiple birds, which release particles of blood and faeces into the bath. There is no reliable evidence that this process reduces the possibility of the consumer contracting either E.Coli or Salmonella. It is the rearing process which protects against that; chlorine bathing is shutting the henhouse door after the chicken has flown.

The UK’s Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox MP has been quoted as saying that “Americans have been eating it safely for years”. Really? Is America a healthy country? I’m happy to leave you to make that judgement but my own experience of watchful cooks and consumers in the USA is that they only buy and eat organic chicken and eat it less frequently in order to balance their budgets. They avoid commercially processed food and only buy with full traceability. To not take these precautions exposes them to birds raised and chlorine treated as described above.

So this worrying situation may be coming to the UK sometime after 2019. Even worse, any repealing of Animal Welfare and Food Legislation originating in the EU could leave unscrupulous producers in the UK open to utilising chlorine washing as a so-called safety measure. So there is now every possibility that the quality of food in this country will diminish; industrial producers, who have the loudest voices, deepest pockets and the ear of the politicians will rub their hands in glee at the prospect of spending less on rearing and production, thus compromising animal welfare and – let’s not forget this – flavour.

Not only the chickens will suffer: we will too. I do not want antibiotics that aren’t prescribed by my GP, nor do I want to support a hellish industrial process that plays on my conscience. I am happy to eat less chicken but pay more for an organically reared bird. I am happy to buy a whole bird and use all of it, right down to the bones. The more of us that do the, the smaller the market for the industrialists and bigger the opportunities for organic farmers.

I for one, have no intention of chicken à la chlorine with a side order of inorganic arsenic being on my table any time soon.

Autumn/ Courses/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Seasons/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter


I have been, as they say, unavoidably absent from these pages for the last few weeks as the builders began the work on the London flat and I had forgotten how much a big refurb project can take over your life. And it’s not the big stuff like choosing the kitchen and the bathrooms; it’s the small stuff. I was sitting on the Tube, quietly trying to read Jay Rayner and listen to Bach (what a pair) and I happened to glance up at the advertising. Normally quite safe, as the habitués of that space seem to mostly be wifi providers I’ve never heard of and dodgy looking money transfer outfits. Not this time; now I was invited to consider how meaningless my life would be without electrical sockets that have built in USB ports….what? Genius. Straight on to the builder, who has the patience of a saint. So you see, I haven’t been safe from the damned project even on the Tube. and I am trying to find all kinds of displacement activity to avoid choosing new door furniture. And tiles. And timber flooring. And paint colours… talking about the ugly sister of the vegetable world is a delight.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned celery, the Cinderella of the veg world, so let me introduce you to the ugly sister: celeriac. Honestly, it has a face only a mother could love, but it is, in this country at least, the unsung heroine of the vegetable world. I was delighted a couple of weeks ago to receive in my order a complete plant, as per the picture. This was completely unexpected as normally in the UK, one only gets a trimmed root, which while less startling than the complete plant, still looks a bit like a turnip with a hangover. There the resemblance ends.

Every bit of a complete plant can be used, although there is a fair bit of waste when one trims the root. If you’re lucky enough to own a compost heap, then that isn’t a problem but it is important to trim off every bit of hairy root and any yellowing stalks or leaves. The stalks aren’t really bold enough to use raw, as in cultivation, the energy has gone into creating the lovely big root, but they are fine for using in soups or risotto (excellent in the latter with a morsel of Gorgonzola). The leaves can be used as a herb, so again good in soups, stuffings, risotto and with lentils, quinoa or cous cous.

The root, which is really the focus of this piece, makes wonderful soup but one of my very favourite things to do is put a whole celeriac, cut into chunks, under a roast chicken, mixed with garlic and thyme. I also put a couple of chunks inside the cavity with thyme and half a lemon, salt and pepper. When the chicken is done, keep the bird warm and put the roasting tin with all the celeriac and garlic gunk over a low flame (if there is a lot of fat, just pour most of it off), mix it up with a wooden spoon (the celeriac and garlic will be very soft by now), gradually add as much white wine as will make a deeply savoury sauce and simmer for a few minutes stirring all the while. A few green peppercorns won’t come amiss and although I have tried it with a spoonful of creme fraiche, for me, that’s gilding the lily. This isn’t a sophisticated dish but is very satisfying and people who have eaten this have always asked for the “recipe”. I think, however, that it is so simple as to barely qualify as a recipe, so it’s here and not written up as a recipe proper.

I also love celeriac incorporated with potato mash, but it does retain more water than potato, so I always steam it if I’m going to mash it. It’s also great as part of a platter of roast root veg; in particular it seems to pair and contrast well with roast parsnip (another less than lovely looking vegetable). Above all, it is stupendous in soup and the recipe that follows is wonderful. I can claim no credit for this, as I discovered it in the staff canteen where I worked; the chef was so pleased to have someone ask for a recipe you’d have thought it was his birthday. I have tweaked it a bit to please our palates more and despite the slightly unlikely combination of ingredients, do please give it a go. I promise you, it’s fab.

Celeriac, Coconut and Chilli Soup

Print Recipe
Serves: 4 normal people or 2 greedy ones Cooking Time: about an hour


  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 900g of celeriac root, peeled and chopped roughly
  • 750ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • juice of a lime
  • 2.5cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 tsp lemon or ordinary thyme leaves, chopped finely
  • 1 green chilli deseeded and chopped
  • small bunch of fresh coriander, separated into stalk and leaves
  • 250 ml full fat milk (if you insist on using semi or skimmed milk, make something else)
  • 75g creamed coconut
  • grated zest of the lime



Heat the butter and add the celeriac, cover and cook gently for about 10 minutes but don’t allow it to brown


Add the stock, lime juice, ginger, (lemon) thyme , chopped chilli and coriander stems


Bring just to the boil, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes


Add the milk and simmer uncovered for about another 15 minutes; you’re looking for the liquid to reduce but never boil


Remove from the heat, add the creamed coconut


Use a stick blender until you have a smooth soup; flecked with green from the chilli and coriander stems


Season as you please and garnish with grated lime zest and chopped coriander leaves


If, like me, you’re not too keen on coriander as a herb (love the seeds), use flat leaf parsley instead. Also feel free to use a different chilli and in fact, I have made this with dried crushed chilli. Both of these changes will alter the flavour slightly, but of course, it is still a delicious, warming soup that is a bit different.


Autumn/ Courses/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter


I will come right out and say I love celery and its root, celeriac. Love them to bits and happily crunch away on both of them. But they have a bad reputation; the stalks seem forever associated with the deprivation of a rigid low calorie diets, and celeriac usually evokes a puzzled look and a comment about how ugly it is.

Wrong, just wrong. Good celery is a staple ingredient for soffritto in Italian cooking and mirepoix in the French canon but the critical word there was “good”. I am sorry to say that so much of what is sold in the UK comes from Spain and is weak, feeble and hollow. Honestly, I’ve had Spanish celery – and Israeli come to that – you could use as drinking straws. The stalks shouldn’t be hollow and yellowy, and a good head of celery will feel quite heavy for its size. Oh and smell fresh and very celery-ry.

It is true to say that there is both green and white celery, but don’t mistake pathetic yellowing specimens for the delicious blanched Fenland celery that can be had in the UK during November and December. This has a strong distinctive flavour and like asparagus, has a short season, so do make the most of it while we have it.

Green celery is available more widely but UK grown, flavourful celery seems mostly available September to April and I have it my fridge most weeks during that time, with an interregnum for the Fenland crop.

This unsung hero is just so useful; I put it in risotto, lentils, soups, quinoa, couscous, stews and casseroles, not to mention cutting short lengths, filling with Gorgonzola and dusting with paprika. I know it sounds a bit Abigail’s Party, but I love it! It also earns a place on a cheese board with grapes and figs, which frankly I prefer over biscuits after a meal. I also use the leaves chopped up as one would a herb, but go gently as the celery flavour is very concentrated here.

Anyway, the celery I had from was just gorgeous and although a fair amount was eaten with the lovely Slipcote cheese, I had enough left for this lovely soup which has a distinctly celery flavour and is creamy in texture, without needing the addition of any dairy (although you can add it if you want to!).

Celery Soup

Print Recipe
Serves: 2 - 4 Cooking Time: 30 minutes


  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp mild olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped into small dice
  • 1 small clove garlic, chopped finely
  • 2 small/1 medium potato, peeled and chopped into small dice
  • 150g celery stalks, chopped into slices about 0.5mm wide
  • 1 slim leek, washed, sliced in two lengthways, then sliced into slender half moons
  • leaves stripped from two sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 heaped tsp Marigold reduced salt bouillon
  • 1 litre hot water
  • salt and freshly milled black pepper



Heat the butter and oil in a heavy based saucepan and add the onion and garlic


Allow to soften but not colour and add the remaining vegetables and thyme


Soften for about 15 minutes but do not allow to colour


Add the Marigold powder, mix in and then slowly add the water


Season and mix well, bringing to a simmer but don’t let it boil


Simmer gently with the lid askew for about 30 minutes until the vegetables are soft and can be easily squashed against the side of the pan


Cool slightly and use a stick blender to process until smooth; the addition of potato will give the soup a very smooth, almost creamy texture so you don’t have to add dairy to finish the soup


My favourite finish are garlic croutons and in the picture, you will see a small swirl of Jersey milk, but in truth, it was gilding the lily. This freezes well, but freeze minus any dairy you might want to use.

Autumn/ Courses/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Summer/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses


In my efforts to shop with a shorter supply chain and closer to the supplier, I have tried my local Food Assembly. This is a network of local organisations which allow local suppliers to deliver food to organised distribution points after you order on line. I used Putney Food assembly. organised by the lovely Floriane and supplying amazing fresh food, bread, dairy and fruit. Oh and there’s jams, jellies and chutneys too, one particular jam coming from as close as a garden in Mortlake. Price wise, well, for the fruit and veg, frankly, no more expensive than a supermarket, but of greatly superior quality. The preserves were a little more expensive than the mid range brands, but in the same ball park as the higher end brands.

It was great fun picking up the order, as it was all set out in a room in a pub on the embankment in Putney, for collection between 6.30 and 8.30. Easy parking (although I went on the bus) and you can have a drink while it’s all happening (hence me going on the bus….). The quality of produce was superb – as if I’d picked it from my own garden (I wish) and the cheese I tried was wonderful. I am sorry to report that that evening we put away the whole 100g of Sussex Slipcote Soft Sheep Cheese with Garlic and Chives with celery and multi seed sourdough, both from the Assembly.

Although it is strictly speaking a bit early in the season, I had ordered celery which I love for not just its flavour, but also its versatility. The stems were a little on the slender side but the flavour was wonderful – a mile away from flaccid supermarket stalks. The new ingredient for me was Rainbow Chard; I’ve had it served in Italy and I do like the flavour but in the UK, have always been deterred from buying it by the price and by the fact that in the supermarket, it looks faded, dusty and ready for its bus pass. Anyway, this was positively juvenile in what I can only describe as a huge bouquet and squeaky fresh. Couldn’t wait to try it, so after having it using Nigel Slater’s gorgeous recipe for Chard with caramelised onions and sultanas (in Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries Volume III), I still had lots left.

I remembered that I’d had it in a quiche in Treviso about three years ago so had a rummage around for recipes. There wasn’t one that I liked the sound of in its entirety, so this is very much my own recipe, following fairly standard quiche principles which I have tweaked to satisfy my likes and if I’m honest, what I had in the fridge. My Rainbow Chard had brilliant gold and ruby stems which was criminal to chop up completely so I used eight of them as spokes around the quiche. Very attractive looking but will cook them for longer next time as they could have done with being a bit more tender. And when you strip the leaves form the stalks, do make sure you get rid of any nasty stringy bits.

When it comes to pastry, I prefer to use a richer shortcrust pastry, using butter and egg yolk with a small quantity of ice cold water as it always turns out very short and crisp. It is a tad more difficult to work but I find it do-able if it’s left to rest for at least an hour. I haven’t included the recipe here, as you probably have your own favourites but the quantity I used was from 170g of plain flour and 100g butter.

Rainbow Chard Quiche

Print Recipe
Serves: 6 - 8 Cooking Time: 30 minutes


  • 170g rich shortcrust pastry
  • 150g rainbow chard, well washed, leaves stripped from the stalks, keep the 6 - 8 nicest stalks for the centre, chop the rest into small dice and slice leaves into narrow strips
  • 70g pancetta, chopped into 1cm dice
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 small clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • leaves stripped from two sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 150ml creme frâiche
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 50g finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 23 cm loose bottomed flan tin
  • oven tray



Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C/180 degrees fan and put in the tray to heat


Line the flan tin with the pastry and bake blind in usual way


Meanwhile, put the pancetta in a non stick sauté pan over a medium flame and cook until the fan runs and the pancetta has taken on colour


Remove from the rendered fat and drain on kitchen paper


Soften the shallot and garlic in the pancetta fat, adding a little mild olive oil if necessary


Ensure they are soft but not coloured and then remove and drain on kitchen paper


Add the chard stalks to the pan and allow to soften without colouring; the whole stalks will need longer so you might want to put then in first


While all this is going on, crack the eggs into a large jug and beat well, stir in the creme frâiche and mix well and follow with the finely grated Parmesan


Add the thyme leaves and season, remembering that both the pancetta and cheese will add salt


When they are softened, remove the chard stalks from the pan and drain


Add the sliced chard leaves to the pan and also allow to soften but not colour or frizzle - add a little more oil if necessary; remove and drain


Spread the onion, garlic, pancetta and chopped chard stalks and leaves over the baked pastry case


Pour over the egg mixture carefully and make a pinwheel pattern with the whole chard stalks


Place the tin on the oven tray and bake for 25 - 30 minutes until the filing is set and it is a lovely golden colour


Serve warm or cold with a green salad or vegetables

Autumn/ Courses/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Summer/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses


I am bit late posting part three of my Supermarket Siesta as we’ve got builders in. Not here, thank heavens, but I had forgotten how much time it takes to choose bathrooms, especially when there are two of you trying to make the decision. It is quite amazing how strongly one can feel about taps, or should I say mixers. It is a curiously British habit to have separate taps in the bathroom and frankly idiotic, although we did agree on that. Anyway, this is not the purpose of this blog but I do feel better having got that off my chest, thank you.

You’ll know by now that I’ve been taking a day from the weekend and comparing costs between shopping from a non-supermarket source and an on-line supermarket. So far, the previous two blogs have been in favour of the non-supermarket source, cost-wise, but to be honest, I have been waiting for this to end! It almost seems too good to be true so this weekend, especially because we were having cod, I was expecting this to be the week it ended. Cod is rightly now an expensive fish; cod stocks were abused for too long and we should have to pay a premium for this beautiful fish, not to mention the fact that trawler men face danger every time they set out to sea. It therefore makes perfect sense to me that its price is where it is.

Anyway, here is what Sunday looked like for us:


Jersey milk yogurt



Piedmont peppers

Buffalo Mozzarella

Pagnotta Sourdough


Pan fried cod finished with beurre blanc

Sweet potatoes roasted with thyme and garlic

Cavallo nero finished with olive oil and nutmeg

Runner beans

We had been given gorgeous chocolate from in Turin, so that was dessert. Too many, in truth…..although I will post about them another time, as their chocolate is out of this world, even for a non-sweet tooth person like me.

Anyway, bearing in mind ingredients like olive oil, thyme, anchovies, salt and pepper are for me, store cupboard ingredients so I haven’t included them, I was absolutely astonished this week by the price difference. I had to have my maths checked (that not being my strong point…) to ensure I’d got this right. All the ingredients came from lovely as with the builders etc, I just didn’t have the bandwidth to shop around or go to Borough Market. Which actually, kind of makes another point; if you’re time-poor, you don’t have to rely on a supermarket when there are other suppliers around who can deliver flavour, cost efficiency and ethical supply chains.

So, Sunday cost us £22.15 and had I sourced from the same on-line supermarket I have used for comparison so far, the bill would have been £30.68. That (I am reliably informed!) is a staggering 38% more expensive.

I guess if your budget isn’t an issue, then this is irrelevant for you but ethical supply chains are, I hope an issue for many of us and flavour and freshness are surely top of any cook’s list? Shopping more closely to the supplier gives much fresher ingredients and I have noticed a discernible difference in the flavour of the food I’m serving. I can assure you it isn’t because of any step-change in my cooking abilities and in fact, in may ways, I am preparing food more simply. I just don’t need to make my home cooking complicated when I am using such beautiful ingredients – life is better all round.

So, the recipe this week is something I mentioned a week or so ago – Piedmont Peppers – and we do eat it quite a lot this time of year as all the ingredients come together seasonally. You can make other times of the year but the ingredients won’t be seasonal, will have probably covered many food miles and this will be reflected in the flavour.

It works well with green salad and good bread as a light lunch and also as a starter. It is easy to multiply up to feed lots of people in a buffet, or to include as a table of anti pasti if you are serving Italian style.

I first cooked this many years ago, using Elizabeth David’s recipe but have been fortunate enough over the years, to see this cooked in Piedmont home kitchens, so have modified my way of doing things. This, however, is very much my way of doing this lovely dish but I encourage you to experiment to find you own favourite way.

Piedmont Peppers

Print Recipe
Serves: 2 - 4 depending on how/when you serve Cooking Time: 45 minutes


  • 2 red peppers (look for heavy, fleshy specimens with the stalks intact)
  • 3 San Marzano tomatoes, skinned
  • 4 anchovy fillets (make sure you rinse them well if you are using salted)
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • fresh basil leaves
  • extra virgin olive oil (I like Ligurian oil for this but if you prefer a more peppery oil, that's fine too)
  • freshly milled black pepper
  • an oven proof baking dish or baking tray with a lip



Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees c/180 fan


Slice the peppers lengthwise, trying to slice through the stalk and preserving it as part of the pepper


Remove all the seeds and white pith


Sit in the oven proof dish, propping them up against each other if you have any wobbly specimens


Pour a couple of teaspoons of oil and an anchovy fillet into each pepper


Add a few slices of garlic and a torn basil leaf to each pepper


Season with black pepper


Halve the tomatoes lengthwise and add to the peppers


We like a good amount of tomato, so cut them to make them fit, although you do not want chopped tomato


Pour over a little more oil to moisten the tomato and tuck in more basil if you can


Put in the oven for about 45 - 50 minutes, until the peppers are a little blackened round the edges and they look relaxed and wrinkly


Best served warm or at room temperature; too hot or too cold and the flavours are lost


There are squabbles in our house about who gets to mop up the lovely savoury juices and I would implore you not to waste them.


I have tried this with yellow peppers - nope, doesn't work. The full, red ripeness is needed for the flavour to be at its best. I have used yellow peppers but then altered the ingredients to include capers and black olives but then they are not Piedmont Peppers! Lovely, but not Piedmont Peppers as I was told in no uncertain terms when in Turin.



Autumn/ Courses/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Seasons/ Spring/ Summer/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter


This is such a simple recipe, I am wary of actually posting it but a good friend said that she’d never thought of it, so why not?

I think this is something that you can throw together from things you mostly have in the house anyway, plus the fact that you can add all kinds of bits you might find lurking in the fridge. I recently used a few scraps of left over Parma ham; any small pieces of salami are also good but I am reluctant to use anything fishy as i just can’t imagine how it might test. Although it might be good with lovely Morecambe Bay shrimps?

Apologies too, for the dayglo cheese; I was using up a bit of left over Red Leicester and it does come up bright! Tasted good though and that’s what counts.

Baked Eggs

Print Recipe
Serves: 1 Cooking Time: 8 - 9 minutes


  • scrap of butter for greasing
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • i small leek washed and sliced finely (or a small shallot finely chopped)
  • 1 large tomato, skinned and cut into 1cm dice
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 2 tbsp cream or creme frâiche
  • 2 tbsp grated cheese
  • 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
  • Salt and freshly milled black pepper
  • small oven proof dish, buttered



Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C/160 fan and put in an oven tray to heat


Melt the butter in a small pan on a medium flame


Add the leeks and soften but don't allow to colour


Remove from the heat and drain well on crumpled kitchen paper (don't omit this step as to do so will render this dish too greasy)


Spread across the small dish


Add the tomato dice


Carefully break the eggs into the vegetables, without breaking the yolks


Drizzle over the cream and season, taking account of how salty the cheese is likely to be


Sprinkle over the breadcrumbs


Place the dish on the oven tray for about 8 minutes until the egg is set


Watch the egg yolk carefully - hard-boiled is not what we aiming for!


It easy to increase this to serve more than one person but I'd use individual dishes if you can. Serving could be messy from one large dish.