Carbonara with garlic breadcrumbs

“What about Carbonara?” suggests Tom.

“… with garlic bread?”

It’s a balmy Sunday afternoon in London, toward the end of an unusually hot June. We were at a wedding last night. Due to antibiotic-induced teetotalism, there’s not a hangover in sight. Instead, Tom capitalised on the situation and saved on a taxi by driving us back from Hampshire in the middle of the night…. 

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Mackerel with tomatoes, radish and tomatoes

“Mixed-Up Millennials” screams a press release, presumably written by a non-millennial. Oh Gawd, what have they done now?

“Almost a third think bloaters are puffer fish,” it jeers. “Over a quarter think kippers are smoked mackerel [and] around half believe rock salmon is a type of salmon.” Fair enough. ‘Rock Salmon’ certainly sounds a lot more salmon than shark…. 

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Spinach, nutmeg & buttermilk quiche

First dog-walking class. I think that the puppy has a streak of the devil in her. It couldn’t come soon enough. Running late, so carry her to the class. It takes twice as long to walk anywhere. Put her down and she clamps her jaw round the lead trying to wrench it out of my hand. “We’ll start by going round the group — and if you can all say a little something about yourselves …” the teacher says, looking at me, nudging.

“I’m Rachel, this is my first dog,” I say, holding the lead aloft, with the snarling terrier dangling from it, still playing tug-of-war. Immaculate black spaniel pup next to us looks very smug. His owner says that it’s her ninth dog. Did a swift calculation and don’t think that works out at a favourable lifespan though. She doesn’t look older than mid-thirties. Perhaps spaniel shouldn’t look so smug.

Luckily there’s a nervous-looking Shar Pei who might share bottom-of-the-class spot with Tonka, meaning that she isn’t a complete dunce. Relief to get back home – particularly to this summer quiche, an ode to leftovers.

I’m not a rampant consumer of dairy, so was confused to find a part-used carton of buttermilk, crème fraiche and cottage cheese in my fridge. Couldn’t remember what on earth I had been using them for … but a cursory sniff indicated that I couldn’t have been cooking with them too long ago. Scraped them all into this quiche filling and cleared a scrap more space in the fridge, which is otherwise taken over by huge jars of elderflower cordial, as Campden tablets seem to be lost in the post.

One of the joys of this recipe is that pretty much any combination of dairy will work – it’s a great way to use up leftovers before they begin to grow fluff, and if you fall short, then add a slosh of milk. The frozen spinach and jar of sun dried tomatoes will hint how disinclined I felt to leave the house yesterday. Good news is that it didn’t reflect in this tasty dinner.


Spinach, nutmeg, sun dried tomato & buttermilk quiche
Serves 2-3

110g plain flour
pinch of salt
55g butter, cold and cubed
1-2 tsp ice cold water
250g frozen spinach
6-8 sundried tomatoes, sliced
175g buttermilk / crème fraiche / cream / cottage cheese
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

16cm diameter, deep pie dish

Preheat the oven to 180C

Sieve the flour into a mixing bowl, add the salt and cubed butter. Use your fingertips to ‘rub’ it together until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add 1 tsp of water, and use one hand to scrunch the pastry into a ball. Only use the other teaspoon of water if it’s not coming together.

Use a knob of butter to grease the pie dish, and dust a worktop with plain flour. Roll out roll out the pastry, line the pie dish, crimp the sides and then pop it in the freezer, to quickly chill while you make the filling.

Defrost the spinach in the microwave and then press it against the sieve to make sure that all the moisture is removed. Meanwhile, mix the sundried tomatoes, buttermilk (or dairy comination), eggs and spices in a bowl. Stir the spinach into the mixture. Tip it into a pie dish. Cook for 20-25 minutes, until the quiche has puffed-up.

NOTE | A note on cooking. If you cook quiches on the floor of the roasting oven of an AGA then the direct heat will ensure that the base of the tart cooks. One alternative is to sit the quiche on a hot pizza stone, otherwise it’s best to blind bake it before putting in the filling.

Apricot and Cardamom Pavlova

I roasted the first apricots of this year, with dashes of butter and brown sugar. Summertime aromas filled the kitchen. They came out of the oven puckered and filled with the promise of concentrated flavour.

I popped one into my mouth. So tart! All the sweetness had gone, and left behind a sharp, shrivelled carcass – the sugary, plump essence of apricot vanished altogether. Back to the drawing board.

I poached the second punnet in a sugar syrup. Blush apricot juice seeped into the syrup and, in turn, the syrup clung onto the fruit, bolstering its apricotness. The result was enhanced sugar syrup (a dash of which would find its way into a glass of prosecco later in the week), and enhanced apricots.

Once cooled, I poured the apricots and sugar syrup into a 1kg kilner jar, which I manoeuvred into a corner of the fridge. A Hirst-like addition of floating orbs which was a source of utter joy for nine days before hints of fluff started to appear on the viscous top.

For the past two weeks, apricots have been 49p per punnet at Aryubi Express. I often walk past the grocers a couple of times a day, and can rarely resist dashing in to pick up  more to poach. So, I’ve began tinkering in my spice rack for sticks of cinnamon and anardana to flavour the syrup with.

Cardamom has been the best addition so far, and inspired this dessert which my father said was in his “top five best ever puddings” (and then, upon giving it some serious thought, “actually maybe my top seven.”) Still, a big shout from such a serious pudding connoisseur and critic.

Apricot and Cardamom Pavlova
Serves 6-8

4 egg whites
225g caster sugar
1 teaspoon of cornflour
1 teaspoon of white wine vinegar
500ml water
350g caster sugar
6 - 8 cardamom pods
25 apricots, halved
300ml of double cream
6 tbsp plain yoghurt
50g pistachio nuts, shelled and crush

  1. Whisk the egg whites until they are forming stiff peaks.
  2. ‘Feed’ the egg whites with sugar. At the start, just add one tablespoon at a time, whisking as you go. You can speed things up a little after you’ve added the first 100g. Patience is the key to a stiff, glossy-white meringue mixture.
  3. Stir in the white wine vinegar and cornflour and then transfer the mixture from the bowl onto baking parchment. Use a spatula to create a nest shape, with gentle trough in the centre to hold the filling. Don’t do this by pressing down the middle, but instead, by building up the walls.
  4. Put the pavlova in a pre-heated oven at 140C for an hour and a half.
  5. Bring the water to a simmer in a large pan – ideally a stock pot. Add the sugar and then stir until it dissolves. Use the side of a kitchen knife to crush the cardamom pods, and then add them to the syrup, so they start to infuse.
  6. Put the apricots into the pan, cover them with a circular baking parchment cartouche and let them simmer in the syrup for 5 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. (Optional: sieve the orange-coloured, apricot-cardamom sugar syrup. Bottle, refrigerate and use for cocktails).
  7. Whisk the double cream into soft peaks. Stir in the yoghurt, and then stir in almost all of the cool apricots – saving some of the best-looking to decorate the top. Spoon the mixture into the pavlova nest, and then top with the reserved apricots and pistachio nuts.

It will have a week-long life in the fridge, during which time it’s a good idea to get as creative as possible with cocktails. I sloshed some in a glass of prosecco and mixed some in a Long Island Iced Tea, but know that I was only scratching the surface. Please share any gems you come up with.