Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Cooking with Sarsons - Cavolo Nero with puy lentils and herby hot vinegar sauce

I don't know about you but I have long held the opinion that condiments, in all their shapes and forms, can deliver more than just a brusk slight of hand or mere passing over, once a plate has been slapped down on the table. Ketchup is an excellent 'secret' ingredient to hide in burgers and Spag bol and is very important for making Rose Marie blush. Mustard slathered on lamb chops before roasting ensures a delicate, melting undertone of warmth; as opposed to a harsh punch on the nose. And Marmite, when not being used to glaze chicken or to sneak into sausage rolls, can actually form the cornerstone of a hearty breakfast; without any need for hot, steamy, butter drenched toast. You can, if you so wish, simply scoop the black stuff out with your finger on the way to the train station.

The latter is an extreme option and I wouldn't really recommend it. No one will want to come near you afterwards; with your rancid, horrid Twiglet breath and brown lips. Trust me, I know. However, I honestly believe that you can stretch things beyond the pale with condiments and make them an essential component to most meals.

For example, traditional London pie and mash (my favourite) is nothing, absolutely NOTHING without a hearty dose of malt vinegar. Now, OK, we are still talking about it being used as an afterthought here, as a complimentary flavouring. But as any pie and mash lover worth their salt and white pepper knows, unless you unleash at least half bottle of malt vinegar (sometimes piqued with chilli) over that cardboard package, filled with unknown meat and paired with stodgy potato, then you really will be left out to hang and dry. Because without a liberal, verging on the obscene amount of malt vinegar, pie and mash tastes fairly disgusting.

There, I've said it. And now I have to hand in my 'Cor Blimey Guv'nor, I Was Born By The Saaand of the Bow Bells' badge. But it's true. Malt vinegar maketh the dish, via some strange, curious alchemy and I have always found it mesmerising to watch streams of fermented elixir, whirl dreamily into that white, watery broth, spiked with bits of green....bits. Is it parsley? Who knows.

With that in mind then, when I was approached by Sarson's to help develop a range of recipes where malt vinegar was to be used an integral element to the dish, I happily stepped up and took on the challenge. If I can help change perceptions and spark imaginations to away from the usual splashing over chish and fips and to horizons above and beyond; well, I will be able to sleep more soundly at night.

So here we are, having been feverishly working in the background, over many weeks and at the bemusement of my children - 'Dad, where is all this vinegar coming from'? - this is the first recipe of the campaign which stars verdant, handsome and healthy Cavolo nero, earthy gems in the shape of Puy lentils and an amusing hit of herbs, heat, tang and whatnot. Yes, this is a dish that essentially uses kale and yes, I have made snarky comments in the past about this particular brassica but in secret, I really do quite like to eat it. I used to grow a lot of it too. Keep that to yourself though, right?

Taking a dark and bubbled leaf then, from the good old south of the US of A and it's heritage to slather hot vinegar sauces over collard greens and the like, to lift them out states of bitterness; this is a slightly more refined and simple approach. Rather than go for a fierce hit, I have muted things a touch by using regular red chilli, the sort you'd find on your supermarket herb rack and left out the garlic, using the herbs to floral and grassy effect. You could go down a spicier route and up the ante with a more feral sort of pepper, such as birds eye, scotch bonnet or Mad Dog Dorset Death Star Naga, if that kind of thing floats your boat.

But what would be the point? Putting those poor, tiny papilla on your tongue through the rinser like that. I mean, you could gargle with some Sarson's afterwards, to calm things down. Vinegar does have antiseptic qualities after all. It just depends if you want to be known as that person on the train, who stinks of vinegar and Marmite.

Again, I wouldn't recommend it.

Cavolo Nero with puy lentils and herby hot vinegar sauce


1tbs Rapeseed oil
500 grams Puy lentils, rinsed
1 onion, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 celery stick, finely diced
2 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
Small bunch of thyme
1tbs Groundnut oil
300 grams Cavolo Nero, leaves and stalks washed and shredded (Swiss chard is a good alternative)
100ml Sarson’s Malt Vinegar
100ml water
2 red chilli, sliced
1tsp sugar
Large bunch of parsley, mint and coriander, leaves picked and roughly chopped
Salt and pepper, to season


1. Heat the rapeseed oil in a frying pan. Add the onion, garlic, carrot and celery and stir through, so that everything has an even coating. Reduce the heat and cook slowly for about 20 minutes until everything is caramelised and sweet.

2. Place the lentils into a deep saucepan, along with the bay leaves and thyme and add enough water to cover the lentils completely. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for a further 20 minutes. Drain and remove the bay leaves and thyme.

3. For the vinegar sauce: Place Sarson’s Malt Vinegar, water, sugar and half the chilli into a saucepan. Bring to the boil and reduce by half.

4. For the Cavalo nero:  Heat a little groundnut oil in a heavy-based frying pan. When hot, fry the shredded Cavolo nero tossing and shaking for 5 minutes, until it is just done.

5. To serve, pour the lentils into the caramelised vegetable mix and stir through and spoon a generous amount on each plate. Do the same with the Cavolo nero and at the very last minute, throw your remaining herbs into the warm vinegar dressing. Stir through and drizzle over, adding a sprinkling of the remaining chopped chilli.

6. Season to taste.

Monday, 4 July 2016


‘Right, who fancies a sausage wrapped in a pancake?’

Admittedly, I have shouted out stranger things in the past but when I announced this from my kitchen the other day, the proverbial response definitely veered on the side of ‘Um…eh?’

Yet if you were to stand outside the Stade Rennais, or any other football stadium in the region of Brittany, there would be a glorious and resounding ‘Oui!’ For this street food snack, traditionally eaten at a football game, is so popular, it even has a fanclub and website. Hell, there is even a quirky, staccato pop song devoted to the humble galette-saucisse. Which really is just a sausage, or hotdog, wrapped in a buckwheat pancake.

Unfortunately, my schoolboy French is a bit rusty, so I haven’t been able to pin down exactly why they are so revered but given the brouhaha surrounding them, I felt that I just had to try them out. I was able to glean that buckwheat in particular has a long historic association with Brittany, as essentially, it is not a grass or proper wheat. It is actually related to rhubarb and knotweed and is therefore easier to grow and so was once an important staple for a poor, feudal population. The type of sausage itself is more nondescript. Long and with a high ratio of pork to fat seems to be the common factor, flavoured only with salt and pepper; again with an influence that rests upon cheap simplicity.

And for the purposes of thorough research, I also had to see what they were like washed down with some effervescent and tangy Breton cider, which is a classic accompaniment on the terraces of northern France.

The combination is pretty astounding really. The pancake, as you might expect, is slightly denser than your conventional crêpe but it has a wonderful nutty flavour and serves well as an edible napkin; to hold a juicy, hot banger. Normally, that would be that but when I made these for a braying crowd just recently (i.e. my extended family) I also rustled up some caramelised onions and plonked a pot of Dijon mustard on the table to spread upon and fill up with. Something that I am sure would be frowned upon by the aforementioned French Association for the Preservation of the Galette-saucisse but as far as I am aware, they do not have the powers to arrest.

With regards to pairing, I did have notions of introducing some of the Flemish, farmhouse styles of beer or fruity Saisons that are also popular in the north. However, it would be hard to beat a decent Breton cider. Often coming in Champagne-style bottles, these delicate yet crisp ciders are just the ticket to pop and share. The light, apple-drenched Kerisac Bouche Breton Brut I tried would go down very well with some chicken, casseroled in the same cider, or maybe a bucket of langoustines or prawns. But really, sausage and pancakes are the only way forward.

So serve these up for a crowd during the Euros (for any of the French games of course) and you’ll soon be jumping around singing and dancing, to a chorus that goes ‘Galette Saucisse Je T’aime!’ and roughly translates as ‘Sausages in Pancakes? I Love!’

Did I tell you I got an E at GSCE?

This post first appeared on Great British Chefs.

Galette-saucisse - serves 8


8 pork sausages, long
225g of buckwheat flour
550ml of whole milk
2 eggs
1 tbsp of sunflower oil, plus extra for frying
1 tsp salt


Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4

Place the sausages on a baking tray and roast for 20–25 minutes, keeping an eye on them, turning and shaking every now and then.

Next, make your pancake batter by sieving the buckwheat flour into a bowl. Add the eggs, oil and salt and start to mix, either by hand or using an electric whisk.

Once it begins to incorporate, start adding the milk, bit by bit, until you have a smooth batter (this process can be done in advance).

Get started on making your pancakes by placing a frying pan on the hob, over a medium heat and add a tiny dash of oil, rotating the pan to cover. Then add a good ladleful of batter into the centre, swiveling the pan around to distribute.

The first pancake mus always be sacrificed to the God Of Pancakes
Leave to cook until it browns and easily lifts when using a spoon or fish slice. Flip over and cook the other side through and then place on a warm plate. Continue until all the batter is gone.

When ready to serve, take the sausages out and leave to cool slightly and then wrap them in the pancakes. Traditionally, each pancake is halved first into a half-moon shape and then wrapped around the sausage but this is only necessary if your sausages are steaming hot!

Plate up either wrapped in napkins or plain as, on a platter, for hands to grab and charge glasses with some ice cold Breton cider.

Breton Cidre - tres bon
A sausage in a pancake being eaten.
Dig in

Friday, 10 June 2016

Marley Spoon and Olia Hercules


If you take the time to have a quick look at the short video above, you will hopefully notice two things. 

First of all, you will see that I have conjured up a rather gorgeous looking plate of food there. The lamb is pink, the cucumbers and radishes are vibrant and crisp; and the potatoes, they look like they have been griddled and dressed in some sort of green...salsa? Yes? Wow, they look very good don't they.  

You will also appreciate that it's a bit all over the shop, a tad too shaky and unstable, coming in and out of focus. Perhaps you'll soon realise that I didn't mean to shoot a video of my food at all. Listen carefully and towards the end, you will hear a sudden gormless realisation of 'shit, I've got this on the wrong setting' mumble. Thus revealing a certain ineptitude when it comes to food photography. I pride myself on taking a good snap but what you don't know, is that it takes roughly a hundred snaps, before I get the right snap. And that's before I suddenly realise that I am videoing my food and not actually taking photos altogether. Oh dear.

One day, I will treat myself to a course at the local sixth form college and get down with da kids. Or maybe a one-to-one with a professional photographer, who can show me what I can do with all the fanciful knobs and buttons on my very expensive SLR, complete with a 50ml lens. I am not ashamed to admit this by the way. I have seen way too many bloggers of the same ilk, turning up to restaurants and events, with massive camera, telescopic doodah, tripod and snazzy bag to carry all the gumpf. You'd think they'd know what they were doing wouldn't you? And yet time and time again, I've seen people stand up with plates and walk over to a window, all for that magical 'daylight' and all because they don't know how to adjust the ISO snarplex cylinder. Or something. No, simply understanding what I can do with my camera would be a boon. To save time, if anything else. 

Segueing nicely then, and I do like a good ol' segueing, when it comes to time saving, having recently tried out a recipe box from Marley Spoon, they definitely do make things swift and efficient in the cooking department. The concept of Marley Spoon, if you wasn't aware, is that they come up with subscribed weekly recipes and pre-measured bundles of fresh ingredients; wrapped in environmentally friendly yet slight smelly insulating sheep's wool; boxed and delivered; for busy, upwardly mobile, sexy young go-getters; who can't be arsed to shop and who don't like to get creative in the kitchen; or chop onions.

Which, I am sure you will agree is a slightly negative and cynical point of view and this was roughly my opinion prior to agreeing to try one. The saving grace for Ms Marley and Dr Spoon is that actually, after going for it, I have to say that I was mightily impressed. I made up Ms Marley and Dr Spoon by the way. It's a curious name isn't it. I wonder how they came up with it?

Anyway, the recipe box sent to me was part of a month long collaboration with Olia Hercules, Observer's Rising Star of 2015 and author of celebrated cookbook, Mamushka and having heard lots about her Georgian influences, I was intrigued to see how it would all pan out.

Like I said, the recipes were amazing. I mean really good and I am not jumping on the bandwagon here. I tried Olia's meat offering first. Simple yet different, her lamb with mint ajika grilled potato went down very well. Ajika is really just like any piquant green sauce you might find, but the addition of a green chilli was a new one on me, to add just a touch of heat. The garlic kick I got from it was also surprising, especially as only one clove was used (and I very nearly added another). As was the suggestion, I am ashamed to admit, that wrapping the lamb in foil would guarantee soft, tender perfection. Taking only 20 minutes to prepare and cook, this was a lovely and understated introduction to Olia's brand of cuisine.

The second recipe, a salad from the Marley Spoon collection was no less impressive. Combining earthy, nutty, al dente grains (including quinoa, oh my God, why have I been slagging that stuff off so much?) with the rich, oily flesh of mackerel and cutting through with a sharp, citrus dressing was a revelatory combination. Plus adding the roasted fennel, which now has to be my all-time favourite vegetable; well, my eyebrows sat squarely atop my shiny bald head after finishing the plate. And it was oh so pretty too. Brilliant.

As such, if I thought I could get away with it, I would now continually shop with them, rustling up the dishes with the ingredients and recipe cards they send and pass them off as my own for the blog. It would make life a lot easier. But eventually pride and possibly a lawsuit for plagiarism would soon get in the way. I am sure that some eagle eyed readers would soon be commenting that my style has morphed somewhat and has become very similar to Olia's. Yelping that I've just spent a weekend in Tbilsi wouldn't be enough. She definitely has a new fan though.

High praise indeed then for Sparley Moon but in the interests of impartiality and not to make this review too floral and sucky, I would like give them some feedback. First of all, laminate your recipe cards so that customers can keep them for posterity. Not everyone is as fastidious or clean when cooking (ahem). And secondly, I would argue that I could shop personally for slightly less than the subscription fee; even when applying principles of provenance, quality, husbandry, organic, blah, blah, blah. But I think I would happily sign up, especially if the offerings are as good as this and may well do.

Coming back to the physical pleasure of shopping though, I have to say that I do prefer to do these things myself. Aside from ordering meat and beer online that is. However, if I happened upon their recipe boxes in a supermarket (which I am sure would have to be designed and marketed in a more flashier way, unfortunately) I am sure I would snap one up with glee. If pinched for time, Marley Spoon is a far better proposition than a ready meal or one those £10 deals, with the moody bottle of wine thrown in. Not just because the end result is so tasty, it actually gets you to cook. Imagine that eh? Actually cooking.

And whilst I was in the supermarket I would probably pick up a copy of Digital Photo Mastery for Dickheads, if such a publication exists. Then I really would start saving those precious minutes.

Marley Spoon and their collaboration with Olia Hercules continues until June 24th.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Sagres and The Vomit Comet

Having spent 40 years on this planet, you would have thought that I am now old and wise enough to learn from past mistakes. But no, like the proverbial man-boy that I am, I still get caught out. I still make decisions that go awry. I still get drunk and fall asleep on trains and wake up in the darkest regions of Essex.

It started with a phone call. An old mate is working in the neighbourhood, did I fancy a quick pint after work? Of course I did. One quick pint never hurt anybody and the quick pint in question was Sagres, an inoffensive and fairly bland lager from Portugual. Quaffable, especially during conversation. Easy going, pale, slightly hoppy and slips down your neck with no issue, aside from the occasional burping and inconvenience of having to go to the loo every 10 minutes. Because you are old and you have broken the seal.

One more? Oh go on then, this is fun and spontaneous. This is living! HA! Hahahahahaha.

I am not sure how many we got through last night but having found myself on the last train out of Fenchurch Street, otherwise known as The Vomit Comet, I gave myself a little fist bump on the forehead.

'Don't fall asleep. Don't fall asleep. Don't fall asleep.'

So I fell asleep and woke up in Laindon, near Bas Vagas. Not a disaster. I've woken up in Southend before (and swung a missed kick at a cyclist who jumped off the train, laughing at my obvious distress). But it meant getting one of those cabs that hoovers up sozzled commuters after midnight. Their grins widen and amplify once addresses are given and miles are calculated and I hate that.

However, sometimes, it's worth it. Paying that bit extra at the end of the evening. Because you should always treasure these moments, when they occur off the cuff. They are always the best.

So go out tonight and have fun and if you see it on tap, drink some of this cervejas, it's not that bad really.

A good tip is to stand on the train home though.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Braised fennel and cucumber with sourdough crumbs, smoked pancetta and baked cod loin

There seems to be a strange transition going in my life at the moment. In that I’ve discovered that I rather enjoy certain fruit and vegetables that I would ordinarily eat raw on my plate cooked. Celery springs to mind straight away. I love cooked celery and perhaps straight away, you are already thinking ‘Well, that’s not unusual. Celery goes into lots of things like stews and soups and undergoes a transformative effect due to heat.’ And yes, you would be right in pondering that but have you eaten celery, unadorned, bar just the simplest of braising in vegetable stock? It’s gorgeous.

The same goes for lettuce, little gems in particular, which are fantastic after a burst on the grill or a quick bath in butter. Or radishes, wrapped in foil with a bit of salt and baked in the oven for ten minutes. Transformative. And tomatoes! Have you tried to cook tomatoes before? They are amazing and go with just about anything.

OK, I am being extremely facetious with that last comment, and you will probably recognise that most of the ingredients mentioned thus far often feature in cold British salads. The real confession then is that I have been cooking my salad ingredients lately and the recent addition to this list has been the fairly innocuous cucumber. Much as I like them raw, with their herbal (think parsley) and fresh, juicy flavour, cucumbers to me do have a tendency to fade into the background on a plate. They only really seem to shine when raw, slathered with plum sauce and dolloped with Peking duck in a pancake, to provide that all important crunch.

When pickled, that’s when cucumbers really do come into their own, to sit proudly in buns atop burgers or wedged into slices of barbecued pork belly. To act as a brackish conduit, to help cut through fat. But then again that is a pity because the cucumber still loses its original identity and again turns it into just another condiment.

Cooking cucumbers however, is different. By taking them to the edge, in a pan of oil, lemon and garlic, along with some lovely caramelised fennel, they retain a certain character. That sensuous bite and touch of grassiness, which pairs up perfectly with white fish like cod. Coming back to the fennel for a second here, according to Niki Segnit’s ‘Flavour Thesaurus,’ a combination of cucumber and aniseed is one of the most arousing scent known to mankind (according to a study in 1998 by the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago). Which is good to know. But most importantly, they’ll deliver a great surprise when guests tuck in.

‘Oooh, I’ve never thought of braising cucumbers before,’ they’ll say. And you’ll look very clever indeed.

So try cooking cucumbers, instead of eating them raw, or pickled. It’s the future.

This post first appeared on Great British Chefs in association with The Cucumber Growers Association

Braised fennel and cucumber with sourdough crumbs, smoked pancetta and baked cod loin - serves 4

4 cod loins, each weighing 180g
4 fennel bulbs, small trimmed (keep the fronds) and sliced into 2cm wedges
2 cucumbers, deseeded and sliced into half rounds
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
75ml of water
1 lemon, zested and finely sliced
1 tbsp of mint, chopped
150g of smoked pancetta, sliced
150g of sourdough bread, stale
5 tbsp of rapeseed oil, plus extra to serve


Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4

First make the sourdough crumbs by tearing the bread into pieces and blitzing in a food processor. It’s good to have a mixture of sizes, so don’t go too fine. Place the crumbs on a baking tray, pour over a liberal coating of oil and mix altogether

Place in the oven for 5–7 minutes, until the crumbs have become crisp and golden. Put to one side.

Next, place a wide saucepan over a medium- high heat on the hob and add the rapeseed oil. When it is hot, add the fennel wedges and briskly fry for about 10 minutes, turning them frequently as they colour. Then turn the heat down and continue to cook for another 10–15 minutes, until golden and caramelised.

Now add the cucumber, half of the smoked pancetta and the garlic and cook off for another 5 minutes before adding the lemon zest and water. Cover and braise for 10 minutes.

Whilst the vegetables are softening down, prepare your cod loin by cutting out four squares of foil. Place a couple of slices of lemon on each one and then place the cod on top. Drizzle some rapeseed oil over the cod and scatter the fennel fronds on top.

Wrap the foil up so that you have space for steam to flow (create a foil bag in other words) and bake in the oven for 8–10 minutes.

When ready to plate up, take a frying pan and quickly fry off the remaining pancetta over a high heat, so that it crisps up nicely.

For presentation (and to get a nice circle) I often like to remove the bottom from a flan tin and place the ring in the centre of the plate, but you could also just spoon straight on.

Take the braised fennel and cucumber and spread it evenly onto your plate. Sprinkle over a liberal amount of sourdough crumb and place the cod loin on top. Finish by dotting some pancetta around over the crumb and drizzle any leftover oily pan juices all over.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Calypso Dry Hopped Berliner Wiesse

If you look closely at this rather blurry picture, just beyond the pint looming in the foreground, you can probably make out two things. First of all, you should be able to see a piece of paper baring the logo for The Craft Beer Co. And secondly, on that piece of paper you can just about make out that it is a reservation of sorts. Made by Al for 1900 hours, or 7PM to you and me. A table with chairs, for friends to gather around and share.

There is story coming here but first, I suppose we should talk about the beer that prompted this post, which shall be this Friday's Booze You Should Try This Weekend. This rather elongated Calypso Dry Hopped Berliner Wiesse beer, brewed by the Siren Craft Brew company, belongs to the oeuvre of 'sour' beers that are now out there, slowly sneaking their way into the imagination of the general public. Sour by name, they are sour by nature and until I received a bottle of some sour concoction in my monthly Beer52 box, I was oblivious to the whole concept. I vaguely remember trying a lambic beer at a festival and promptly spat it all over my mate (the same Al actually) but that was years ago. Anyway, maybe my taste buds have changed because I have tried quite a few of late and I am really beginning to like the style.

After the first gulp, there is still a necessity to blanch and form the usual cats bum pursing of the lips but take a few sips more and everything becomes altogether refreshing and crisp. Predominately, it's all the citrus notes that come to the fore when describing these beers - lemon, lime, grapefruit - but some do manage to punch through with a certain honey or orange sweetness, such as the aromatic Calypso. Which does help take the edge off a little bit.

Although fairly low in percentage at 4%, I wouldn't really describe it a session beer. Two pints is really enough, especially if you suffer from heartburn. But if you are feeling brave and see this Calypso whilst you are out and about, do point a stubby finger towards it. The drinking experience is well worth it. The barman in Craft asked me twice if I really wanted to try it. 'Of course I do,' I said, all knowing and debonair, before slinking off upstairs like the coolest of cats.

Which brings me the matter of our reserved table. Now, I don't know what is going on with the yoof of today but when someone reserves a table with chairs, the table and chairs belongs to them.Yes? No? Having got to the pub half an hour early and after ordering a pint of Calypso and walking into a massively heaving room, I found our tiny table, that was spartan and spare and with four stools around it. I sat down, therefore claiming the area and proceeded to sip on my gorgeous and invigorating golden pint.

Then someone came along and tried to pinch a stool.

'Um, that's taken I'm afraid.'

'Um, doesn't look like it. No one is sitting on it.'

'No, you don't understand. We've reserved this table. I am just waiting for some friends. They'll be here soon.'

'Yeah, well they can have it back when they get here, can't they.'

'No, no, ha, look, these are our stools. You can't have it.'

'I think I can.'

'No, you can't.'

To which the young man smirked and waltzed off, with stool in hand, to his sexy, bearded mates across the room; all wearing baseball caps and no socks.

I waited for a moment, took another sip of zingy Calypso and walked over there and rather than remonstrate verbally, I simply took hold of the legs and proceeded to drag the stool back with smirky boy still sitting on it.

'WTF mate, you don't have to get all physical and violent! Jeez, if your stool means that much to you you can have it back.'

To which I simply responded, with mad cookie monster eyes.


And then I walked back to our reserved table, where thankfully, one of my mates had just arrived. As I sat back down, he asked me what was that all about and shakily, I said that everything was OK. But in that moment, a chasm appeared, a gulf that said perhaps I shouldn't go drinking in these sort of places anymore. Beer may be getting more sour but maybe I am getting too sour to drink it.

I hope not.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Yellow split pea purée with slow roast Piccolo tomatoes, caramelised onion and capers

Battles are often fought and won at the dinner table and at present, a small war is being waged in a kitchen, in Essex. On one side stands a little boy, mischievous yet cherub-like and with a smattering of freckles across his nose. On the other, stands a man, slightly stout and bald but curiously charismatic nevertheless, and who should really have the last word on all matters in the household. However, no-one ever seems to take him seriously at home.

The main sticking point, or bone of contention, revolves around the humble tomato. A fruit that the man loves and adores, in all its states. Be it raw or cooked. As the centre star or hidden in the background, doing valuable (yet often unrewarded work) in a sauce or stew. He grows tomatoes in his garden. He talks to them. His neighbours have seen him talking to them. And they are clearly worried about him.

The boy hates them. Actually no, he doesn’t hate them but he isn’t really fond of them. Hours have been spent, sifting through the complex debris of a dish and one by one they often get plucked out, to be left all forlorn, on the side of the plate. Enquiries are constantly made, to which deceitful answers are given. But he always finds out. ‘Liar, liar, pants on fire.’ On the other hand, tomatoes that have been squished, boiled and drenched with sugar and vinegar to make ketchup, well that is absolutely fine. This makes the man mad.

Small steps are being made though. That tomatoes go into ‘spag bol’ was deemed revolutionary the other day. ‘Really? From those tins?’ A pan of baked eggs, surrounded by a sea of scarlet, and pepped up with chilli and oregano, gets eaten with such gusto these days that the man dares not whisper the T-word. Slow cooked tomatoes though, they have been the real eye opener. Halfway between raw and cooked, they were observed with much suspicion at first but explained as a sort of cousin of raisins, sort of made sense. And raisins are good to eat, by all accounts.

Sat on a purée of earthy yellow split peas, a traditional dish often found in Greek tavernas (called fava) and paired with tangy slices of caramelised red onion, contrasting salty capers and parsley, the sweet roast tomato works in perfect harmony. Being able to scoff and slurp using warm flatbreads suddenly makes everything fun too.

‘I love this Dad and the tomatoes too, it all tastes really good together.’

‘Well, that’s agra-dolce for you son.’

‘Agra-dolce? What, that’s the name of the tomatoes?’

‘Oh no, these ones are called piccolo.’

So despite that initial confusion, the tomato war looks to be nearly over and peacetime in an Essex kitchen should be achieved real soon.

This post first appeared on Great British Chefs in association with Piccolo Cherry Tomatoes.


Yellow split pea purée
400g of yellow split peas
1 onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 lemon, juiced (or a lime would also work)
40ml of olive oil
water, to cover
freshly ground black pepper

Slow roast tomatoes
200g of Piccolo tomatoes, halved
10g of caster sugar
10g of salt
10g of freshly ground black pepper

Caramelised onions
2 red onions, sliced into rounds
25g of caster sugar
25ml of olive oil
25ml of pomegranate molasses

To serve
50g of capers, drained
1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
olive oil, for drizzling
6 flatbreads, warmed to serve


Preheat the oven to 120°C/gas mark ½

Spread out the tomato halves, cut-side up on a large baking tray. Sprinkle over the sugar, salt and pepper and slowly roast in the oven for 1.5–2 hours. After this time they should be shrivelled and shrunken and have become quite sweet.

Set aside to cool until ready to serve, or if making ahead, place in a bowl and cover with a good drizzle of olive oil. Store in the fridge until serving.

To make the purée, place a pan or casserole on the hob over a medium heat and add half the oil to heat through.

Throw in the chopped onion and sauté for 5–7 minutes, until it has become soft and translucent. Add the chopped garlic and fry for another minute or so.

Once the onion and garlic start to caramelise a little, add the yellow split peas and the bay leaf. Stir together and then cover with water, filling the pan to about three-quarters full.

Bring up to the boil, then leave to simmer for 45 minutes, or up to an hour, until the peas begin to break down and thicken. You may have to add a touch more water during cooking if it becomes too dry.

While the peas are cooking, preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4.

Place the red onion rounds on a baking tray in a single layer. Sprinkle over the sugar and drizzle with the olive oil and pomegranate molasses. Pop the tray in the oven for 20 minutes, turning the onions over halfway through.

Cook the onions until sweet and sticky. Once cooked, remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly until ready to serve.

When the peas are ready, remove the bay leaf and allow the pan to cool for 10 minutes before pouring into a blender. Blitz to form a rough purée, then mix in the lemon juice and remaining olive oil.

The purée will thicken up a little as it cools, but if too thick, add a little more oil to loosen. Transfer to a bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and allow to come to room temperature.

To serve, spoon a healthy amount of the purée on to the centre of each serving plate, spreading out into a rough circle. Spoon some of the roasted tomatoes into the middle, followed by some of the caramelised onions, layering up in a mound.

Scatter over the capers and some of the chopped parsley. Finish with a good drizzle of olive oil and some warm flatbreads to tear, dip and mop up with.