Kale Pesto

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Kale has had some brilliant press lately as a cure-all superfood.  Whoever does its PR deserves one hellova pat on the back.  I mean, it’s a cabbage.  And although delicious, who ever thought that a cabbage could have so much appeal?  Yet somehow kale is everywhere now- in juices, salads, stews and even crisps.  A fad, perhaps, but this leafy veg actually deserves it’s moment in the limelight- it’s full of beta carotene, Vit C, K and calcium.  It has a gorgeous, earthy taste and is genuinely versatile- steam it, bake it, have it stir fried, boiled, juiced or massage it (really) with some olive oil, lime juice and salt for a few minutes to tenderise it, then add pine nuts and cranberries for a salad worthy of a Californian health fanatic. 

I’m putting my two cents in with my  recipe for Kale pesto.  My take has chilli and rosemary in it, for extra punch.  I also bake the garlic and chilli in the oven first as I find this adds a lovely smoky flavour.  This recipe makes a large amount- it should last you all week.  Have it with pasta, gnocchi, drizzled on baked aubergine, roasted sweet potatoes or butternut squash, mixed with a little water for a salad dressing, spread on toasted bread or a homemade pizza, in sandwiches, mixed with mince and made into burgers, stirred through peas with a little goats cheese, in a potato salad, as a dip, dolloped on soup, with white beans, lamb, fish, chicken or swirled through mash.  Your pick.

Frequent readers of this blog (all two of you) will note that there’s been a small change to the way I write recipes- I’ve now added imperial measurements, which I hope will be useful.  

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Kale Pesto

You will need:
200g/7oz kale (approx 1 bag), woody stems removed
4 garlic cloves
2 long red chillies
3 large sprigs rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped
1 lemon, juice and zest
25g/1/2oz Parmesan, grated
50g/1oz pine nuts, toasted
150ml/5fl oz extra virgin olive oil


1.  Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.  Place the garlic cloves (still in their skins) and chilli on a small oven tray and bake for about 20-25 mins, until the chilli is starting to char and the garlic is soft.  Allow to cool completely. 

2.  Meanwhile, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil.  Add the kale and simmer until just tender, about 3-5 min.  Drain very well, squeezing out any excess water.

3. Place the kale, rosemary, lemon zest, Parmesan and pine nuts in the bowl of a mixer (or use a handheld blender).  Squeeze the garlic out of their cloves and add these along with the chillies, removing the seed if you like.  Whizz to a paste, then slowly drizzle in the olive oil with the motor running.  Add lemon juice to taste and a little water if very thick. 

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Peas, Shoots and Leaves

I’m still trying to make the most of the late summer’s produce here at ASH HQ, in what could be described as a desperate attempt to hang on to the last of that holiday feeling.  I’ve abandoned any sartorial efforts to do this, having been caught out too many times in a downpour with bare legs and sandals.  But gastronomically,  there’s still plenty to enjoy before autumn hits good and proper. 
On that theme, I picked up some wonderful fresh peas and pea shoots a few weeks ago and used them to cobble together a light, yet conversely satisfying lunch.  This is a sweet, tangy, crunchy recipe that manages to be seem fresh, despite being a pasta dish.  It would made a perfect quick supper or could popped into a lunchbox and eaten cold the next day.  

Pasta with Peas, Shoots, Broad Beans and Caramelised Shallots.
(serves 2)

You will need:
8-10 shallots
olive oil
salt, pepper
100g fresh broad beans
100g fresh peas
200g pasta- farfalle, penne or similar
2 tbsp creme fraiche
1 lemon, juiced and zested
chives, chopped roughly
2 large handfuls of pea shoots


1.  Preheat the oven to 200 C.  Peel shallots and place in an oven proof dish.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Roast in the hot oven until cooked through and caramelised.

2.  Meanwhile, pod the peas and broad beans.  Bring a large pan of salted water to boil and prepare a large bowl of cold water (iced if possible).  Blanch the beans and peas in turn.  They should be cooked until just tender, still retaining a little bite.  Transfer to the cold water to set colour and texture.

3.  Cook the pasta until al dente and drain.  Heat a little olive oil over a medium heat in a large frying pan.  Add shallots, peas and broad beans and heat through for about 30 seconds.  Add creme fraiche, a little lemon juice and zest and chives and stir to combine.  Finally add the pasta and heat through.

4.  Pile the pasta on a plate, top with pea shoots, Parmesan and a little extra lemon zest, if desired.

Courgette Pasta

There seem to be so many wonderful things in season at the moment.  There’s all the summer abundance of fruit, berries, leaves and beans.  Then there’s the exciting prospect of a more autumnal harvest right around the corner-  blackberries, figs then eventually pumpkins, apples, cobnuts and game.  So much to enjoy and so much to look forward to!

My greengrocer has been coming up trumps.  I don’t know if the area is attracting a more discerning vegetable consumer (a belated Olympic effect, perhaps? The East End seems to be getting more gentrified by the minute), but suddenly I’ve got heritage tomatoes, baby aubergines and chanterelles on my doorstep.  There are also beautiful courgettes, including the fat, yellow variety.

I think these in particular warrant a celebration and what better way than by turning them into the main affair?  I first tried a version of this dish at Leiths for our ‘creative red mullet’ day by pairing thin strips of courgette with basil oil and pan fried fish.  I love red mullet, but the courgette ‘pasta’ was a real revelation.  I recognise that this may seem like diet food in disguise and I suppose it could be, but I promise you won’t miss the carbohydrate.  However, if you do want to make it even healthier, tone down the olive oil.

Courgette Pappardelle

You will need:
200g baby tomatoes
1 yellow courgette
1 green courgette
100g baby spinach
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 small red onions, sliced
handful of basil, torn
extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, juice and zest
Sea salt and pepper


1.  Preheat the oven to 190 C.  Slice baby tomatoes in half through their middles (they look prettier that way) and place on an oven tray.  Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Roast until cooked through and beginning to caramelise, approx 20-25 minutes.

2.  Meanwhile, make your courgette tagliatelle.  Use a wide peeler (like a speed peeler) to create thin slices of courgette, moving around the vegetable to get the right shape.  You only want the outer, more dense layer of courgette (and the beautiful skins)- do not use the middle, water-logged seed-y part.  You’ll end up with a long, rectangular bit of courgette, which you can discard or save for soups or stir fries.

3.  Gently fry the onion until just soft.  Add the garlic and spinach and heat until the spinach has just wilted. Off the heat, add the roasted tomatoes, lemon zest, basil, a drizzle of olive oil and season. 

4.  In a separate frying pan, add the strips of courgette with a splash of lemon juice and another drizzle of olive oil.  You don’t want to fry the courgette as such, merely heat the strips through- the bite is part of the appeal.

5.  Plate up the courgette and top with the tomato and spinach mixture.  Finish with a grating of Parmesan and wolf down. 

Wild Garlic Leaves

I was in Victoria Park village the other week, on the hunt for some polenta for supper.  My travels took me to the delightful Deli Downstairs, which sells a wide range of delectable and interesting produce, not to mention those store cupboard essentials your local supermarket doesn’t stock, but really should (polenta).

Case in point- wild garlic, which can be hard to track down even now that it is in season.  This wonderful herb is actually called Ramsons and isn’t a type of garlic at all, but rather a member of the chive family.  The flavour packs even more of a punch, however, leaning towards an oniony kind of sweetness-  hence, I imagine, its moniker. 

I had a bit of a crisis of confidence when I got home with the stuff.  I put the fragrant leaves in a glass, covered with a sandwich bag and sealed with a rubber band (to keep fresh for longer in the fridge).  Every time I opened the fridge door, those bright green leaves greeted me and asked ‘what are you going to do with me?’  I had no idea.  I scoured the internet and restaurant menus, found all sorts of interesting salads I could toss together or use it to liven up lamb or add it to sautéed mushrooms (on toasted sourdough with a poached egg or some goats cheese) or even stir it, chopped finely, through some of that polenta.

But I didn’t want to do any of those things.  I wanted to give it a starring role.  And so, I resorted to the simplest solution: use it as a basil substitute in pesto.  The resulting jar is now almost finished, having made many a quick-fix lunch.  

Wild Garlic Pesto
(makes one jar)

You will need:
30g wild garlic leaves, stems removed
15g spring onions (I used only the green parts, for a milder flavour)
20g walnuts or pine nuts
75 g olive oil (not extra virgin- too strong), plus a tbsp or two extra
20 g Parmesan, grated
pinch of salt and pepper


1.  First of all, once you’ve got your wild garlic home, give it a good look over and toss out any crushed, pulpy leaves.  Then give the rest a quick rinse under the tap and leave to dry.  I say this because I didn’t follow this tip and then found a slug amongst the foliage, which had been quite happily munching its way through a few leaves.

2.  Get out your food processor and blitz the leaves with the spring onions, nuts and olive oil until smooth.

3.  Add the sugar, pepper and cheese and blitz again to incorporate all the ingredients.

4.  Pour the pesto into a sterilised jar.  Add a couple of tablespoons of oil to the top before sealing.

5.  Serve with pasta or even meats such as lamb, chicken, etc.

A model dinner.

I’m not entirely sure how, but the other week I managed to blag my way into the S/S 11 Ashish show during Fashion Week (I did have a pass, but I don’t think it was the right one, very complicated), but in I went, feeling totally out of place and not nearly trendy enough. I actually think standing in line waiting to get in was at least as good as the show itself- there were some brilliant, outrageous outfits.

photo credit: Fashion Hedonism

The whole thing was an utterly surreal experience and, unsurprisingly, what they say about the models is of course true. They are strange and gazelle-like and much too skinny, despite, I think, a BFC imposed BMI minimum at LFW. What struck me the most was how young they seemed, more than anything else. If I were to have one of them round for dinner, I’d probably cook something like this. Wholewheat pasta with prawns, lemon, tomato and sage sauce. With lots of salad. Complex carbs, protein and plenty of veg. The model plate.