savoy pesto

A spat blew up last week which encompassed the best and the worst of this country’s attitude to food. It particularly caught my eye because it involved kale, a vegetable that is on my mind at the moment.

Jack Monroe, the feisty and fabulous food writer and anti-poverty campaigner, snagged herself some bargain kale from the supermarket and had the frankly brilliant idea of whizzing it up into some pesto.

Jack, who knows a thing or two about living below the breadline, always costs her recipes meticulously. This one worked out at a princely 15p per portion.

She then published a slightly revised version of the recipe in her Guardian column: with spaghetti and a few embellishments, the whole meal still worked out at only 42p a head.

For reasons I still cannot fathom, this sparked a frothing fit of abuse from Daily Mail journalist Richard Littlejohn. You can read it in a screenshot on Jack’s blog here, and also her wonderful response.

I really do not understand why some people get so very, very angry at the suggestion that people on a low income might care about the food they eat. (I realise this is not all that contributed to Littlejohn’s apoplexy but it is a good part of it.)

As I witnessed in Bulgaria, this attitude seems to be a peculiarly British thing and is not, on the whole, the case in mainland Europe and beyond. Joanna Blythman describes it well in her excellent book Bad Food Britain:

In nearly every country in the world where the population is not on the brink of starvation, the selection and preparation of food is seen as a fundamental life-enhancing activity, a zone of existence where it is within every individual’s grasp to make each day that bit more pleasurable. Good food is seen as a democratic entitlement, so a labourer expects to sit down to much the same food as the business executive. The ingredients may vary in quality, but the menu structure and choice of dishes is essentially the same.

I’d been planning to go and buy some kale so that I could try Jack’s recipe, but then I saw in another interview that she had described it as ‘basically cabbage’ and I realised I could substitute some of the enormous Savoy cabbage that has been kicking around our fridge for a few days.

This is my version of Jack’s recipe. I added some flat leaf parsley because it was growing in the garden. It enhanced the taste and really rescued the appearance –  the Savoy looked rather anaemic once pestoed and definitely loses out to kale in the beauty stakes.

I used olive oil instead of sunflower because I prefer the taste but I realise that does make it quite a bit more expensive.

The chilli was a frozen one that I didn’t even bother to defrost – I only found out recently that they freeze well, which is useful as supermarkets often have quite large packs marked down on the nearly-past-the-sell-by-date shelves.

We had it on spaghetti and it was delicious. I would probably halve the amount of chilli if I was feeding this to children.


Savoy pesto

200g Savoy cabbage, sliced and washed
1 fat bunch of flat leaf parsley
1 chilli, sliced
100g strong Cheddar (any kind of flavoursome hard cheese would do), grated
150ml olive oil
juice of one lemon
100ml water

Pile everything into a food processor and whizz until almost smooth. Makes loads. Stir a generous tablespoon per person into hot pasta and eat, reflecting on the democratic right to pleasurable, life-enhancing food. Then go and try some more of Jack’s excellent recipes.

If you enjoy this blog, please do consider backing my Kickstarter campaign. We’re hoping to raise enough money to publish a book about Incredible Edible, a movement which is inspiring people all over the world to work with their communities to build a stronger, kinder, healthier future.

best of Yorkshire

After nearly ten years in Sheffield, I still get excited about the first Yorkshire rhubarb. Forced in dark sheds on farms in the famous Rhubarb Triangle (roughly between Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield), it comes out the most glorious shade of pink.

I love the contrast with the yellowy, crumpled leaves.

This delicate, early crop is quite different from the coarse stuff that comes along later. The challenge is always to find a recipe that does it justice. It’s pretty much perfect when simply roasted with sugar and a vanilla pod; however this year I experimented a bit and came up with something I think is just as good.

I got the idea from Liz, who had in turn adapted it from Smitten Kitchen.

Behold: Rhubarb Sharlotka.

This is a winner on all counts. It tastes fabulous and really lets the rhubarb flavour sing. It is quick and easy to make. Also, unbelievably, it is cake without the calories. Or with fewer calories, anyway. No fat, apart from what is in the eggs, and only a small amount of flour. I had to bulk out the rhubarb with a cooking apple. Rhubarb and apple are great together, but purists could always replace the apple with a couple more sticks of rhubarb.

Rhubarb sharlotka

7 sticks Yorkshire rhubarb

I medium cooking apple

4 medium eggs

200 grams caster sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

125 grams plain flour

I cooked it in a deep, non-stick cake tin with a 20cm removable base.

:: Preheat the oven to 180 degrees

:: Line the base of the tin and butter the sides.

:: Chop the rhubarb and apple into robust chunks and pile them into the tin.

:: Beat the eggs with the sugar until thick. The whisk should leave trails in the egg mixture.

:: Beat in the vanilla extract.

:: Lightly stir in the flour.

:: Tip the batter over the rhubarb and apple and smooth the surface. You need to press down a bit too, to encourage it to penetrate the gaps between the chunks of fruit.

:: Bake for 55 minutes. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or cold, dusted with icing sugar, on its own or with cream or crème fraîche. A mug of Yorkshire tea would be a fine accompaniment.


What it is about dark evenings and chilly weather that makes us crave stodgy food? All day I have been thinking about hot buttered toast, warm muffins and other comforting delicacies. I’m trying really hard not to overdo it in the run up to Christmas, though, so in the end I made a pot of soup.

When I make soup I almost always use proper, home-made chicken stock. It is a habit I got from my mother, like putting every last bit of potato peel in the compost bin. I was amazed to read in a Delia Smith book recently that ‘few of us have time to make stock these days’. Honestly, it is not onerous at all and it makes a huge difference to the quality of the soup. It also makes me feel secretly rather virtuous, as if I really were a paragon of thriftiness rather than the kind of person who spends far too much money on books and coffee.

This is what I do. After stripping every last bit of meat from a cooked chicken, I stick the carcass in a large pot. Then I add an onion, halved but not peeled; a carrot, ditto; a couple of sticks of celery, including some leaves, and a few peppercorns. Next I cover the whole lot with cold water and bring it to the boil very slowly. The slow boil is something I learned from Lindsey Bareham’s fabulous book A Celebration of Soup which has an absolutely masterly chapter on making stock out of everything from vegetable peelings to tripe (not that I have ever tried the latter).

When the water comes to the boil some scum forms, so I skim that off, then cover the pan and let it cook at the gentlest possible simmer for an hour. Any longer and it starts to get bitter, whereas what you are after is a kind of delicate sweetness. I strain the stock through a sieve, allow it to cool and then stick it in the fridge overnight so that any fat can rise to the surface and solidify. The next day, after removing the fat I freeze the stock in 1 litre portions.

My basic soup recipe is as follows: sweat a chopped onion in a little oil, add 1kg of chopped vegetables, stir around a bit, then pour over 1 litre of stock. Parsnip, sweet potatoes and butternut squash are fantastic at this time of year, especially if you add some chopped fresh ginger to the onion. Boil the mixture for about 40 minutes with a lid on, season with salt and pepper and liquidise with a stick blender. Of course you can use water, or stock made from a cube instead, but I swear the proper stuff gives the flavour a depth you can’t get any other way.

I do have a picture of some stock cooking but it's not very pretty, so here's some borscht I made earlier in the year