Those of you who follow me on Instagram will know that I often make minced lamb kebabs like these, using a simple combination of flavourings. Non-negotiables include pul biber and Urfa chilli flakes (which I love for their mild heat and sun-roasted flavour), finely chopped parsley stalks and lots of garlic.

The ‘relish’ is basically a combination of very slowly cooked onions and fennel, which both caramelise over 45 minutes to an hour in the pan. I add some very finely chopped preserved lemon peel at the end and it transforms the mixture into something fragrant that makes a good accompaniment for grilled meats and seafood.

Basic Lamb Kebab Recipe (makes 6 small kebabs)

500g lamb mince
1 teaspoon ground cumin (toasted and freshly ground if possible)
1 teaspoon ground coriander (ditto)
Pinch cinnamon
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, toasted and roughly crushed
1 tablespoon pul biber
2 teaspoons Urfa chilli flakes
5 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley stalks

Fennel and Preserved Lemon Relish (serves 6)

Oil, for cooking
Large slice of unsalted butter
2 bulbs fennel, trimmed, cored and thinly sliced
2 onions, trimmed and thinly sliced towards the root
About 1 tablespoon finely chopped dill
½ preserved lemon, rind only, finely chopped – use a whole one if the lemon is small
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice

To serve

Flatbreads (see my floofy flatbread recipe here)
Natural yoghurt
Pickled chillies

Heat a generous splash of oil in a large frying pan and add the onion and fennel with a large pinch of salt. Cook gently on the lowest heat for around 45 minutes to an hour, stirring regularly. The vegetables should be a deep golden colour (darker than those in the picture above!)

Combine the minced lamb with all the other kebab ingredients and some salt and mix really well with your hands. Shape into 6 small log-shaped kebabs.

When the fennel and onions are nearly cooked, light a barbecue for indirect cooking (these could also be cooked under a hot grill or in a griddle pan).

Place the kebabs over direct heat and cook for around 5 minutes each side, or until just cooked through – they can be moved to the cooler side of the barbecue to finish cooking if you find they are causing too much flare up.

When the fennel and onions are very caramelised, add the preserved lemon rind, lemon juice, some more salt and the dill. Mix well and serve with the kebabs, flatbreads, yoghurt and pickled chillies.

This post is part of a paid partnership with PGI Welsh Lamb

‘Yeah, the castle came with the farm’ Will Pritchard casually explains as we stand under the shadow of what’s left of Weobley, a 14th Century fortified manor house on the Gower Peninsula. Beyond it lies the salt marsh, an intertidal zone between the sea and the land, on which sheep roam freely, bred for their tender meat. The marsh is stunning. Behind us lies a streamlined with whispering rushes, beyond are mudflats, broken by pockets of salt-tolerant herbs and grasses, on which the sheep graze.

We arrive as the tide is coming in, so the sheep must be moved to higher ground, and they’ve gathered into small groups to head upland, sheepdogs wheeling behind them. Will and his family have been farming this 4000-acre piece of land for 15 years and have around 1200 sheep. His brother, zooming around on a quad bike, must stick to the well-worn tracks as some bombs from World War II still lurk silently unexploded beneath the surface. Don’t worry, sheep are a lot lighter than quad bikes. The breeds are nimble, able to skip their way around the winding streams and inlets.

Saltmarsh lamb is prized as the sheep are said to benefit from grazing on herbs that grow in the unique ecosystem. It’s popular in France, apparently, but the British have only just begun to appreciate it in recent years. The meat is lighter in colour, leaner and more tender than regular lamb.

The season runs from August right until Christmas and that goes for PGI Welsh Lamb in general not just that from the salt marsh. Wales has a unique climate – lots of rain means lots of grass – and high land is perfect for animals which need space to graze. The production is also governed by strict rules thanks to the lamb’s PGI status (Protected Geographical Indication) which cover traceability, transport, slaughter. The majority of farms are family-owned small holdings with a historical legacy of livestock farming.

You all know I’m a huge fan of lamb, not least because I think the meat is perfect for the barbecue with chops, shoulder, breast and neck fillet all working well. I wanted to make some kebabs with minced lamb (Me? Spiced lamb kebabs?) but this time wrap them in caul fat. What is caul fat? Well, it’s the lining of the sheep’s stomach – a beautiful, white, web-like structure which is used to make faggots, among other things. The fat bastes the meat as it’s cooking and brings even more lamby flavour.

I’ve based the style of kebab on the Cypriot sheftalia, which is a very simply flavoured ‘sausage’ made with parsley, onion and pepper. I kept to this simple recipe, adding just a touch of cinnamon because it brings out the sweetness of lamb. And yes, I had to make some laver flatbreads too because honestly, what is life without grilled lamb, yoghurt, salad and fresh fluffy flatbreads. Miserable indeed.

PGI Welsh Lamb Sheftalia with Laver Flatbreads Recipe

Makes approx 14 kebabs

1kg minced PGI Welsh Lamb (PGI lamb is available from most supermarkets but a handy map of butchers is available here)
1 medium onion, finely diced
6 cloves garlic, crushed or grated
3 tablespoons parsley stalks, finely chopped
Black pepper, around 1 teaspoon, freshly ground
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 large pieces caul fat, for wrapping

In a large bowl combine all the ingredients and use your hands to mix well. Heat a small frying pan and fry a teaspoon of the mixture to taste and check for seasoning. Adjust if necessary.

Divide into 14 balls and shape each into a sausage. Lay the caul fat out on a flat surface and place a sausage onto it. The thinner pieces of caul are better for this than the thick parts, so aim to use up the thin parts first. Wrap around the sausage and cut away any excess.

To cook, preheat the barbecue for indirect cooking. It’s important to do this because the caul fat will melt on the grill and it will cause flare-ups.

Once the coals are covered in a layer of ash and the flames have died down, you’re ready to cook. Place the kebabs on the side without coals, and keep them well away until the fat has rendered from all sides of the kebab. Once it has, you can move them to the direct heat part to crisp them up.

Mine took around 20 minutes to cook but this will depend on the thickness of your kebabs.

Serve with the flatbreads, salad, yoghurt and hot sauce.

For the flatbreads:

150g laver
200ml warm water
500g strong white bread flour
30ml olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 x 7g sachet dried yeast

Mix everything together in a bowl and knead on a lightly floured surface for a few minutes, until smooth and springy. You want a nice, smooth, springy dough.
Leave the dough in a warm place for an hour or so until it has roughly doubled in size.

Knockback the dough and divide into 8 balls for larger breads or 12 for small.

Roll the dough balls flat and cook for 2-3 minutes in a properly hot, dry pan (I use a cast iron griddle) until a little charred on each side. They will start to puff up when ready. Keep them warm inside a clean tea towel while you cook the rest.

For the salad:

1 large onion, sliced and soaked in iced water while you prep the other veg
2 tomatoes, sliced
2 large handfuls parsley leaves
Juice half a lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil

Combine all the ingredients and season with salt and pepper.

I want to quickly share a recipe D cooked which made another dent in our bulging bin bag of wild garlic – a boned shoulder of lamb stuffed with the neverending leaves, crushed seaweed, lemon zest and pine nuts.

I’ve become more interested in cooking with seaweed since I wrote an article for Great British Food magazine about it recently. It adds a lovely umami seasoning to lamb in particular and this recipe is a stunner – soft roast meat with a powerful filling which works well with potatoes, flatbreads or a grain like bulgur wheat on the side.

Shoulder of Lamb Stuffed with Wild Garlic, Seaweed and Pine Nuts Recipe

1.8kg shoulder of lamb (or thereabouts) – this is the weight with bone-in. Ask your butcher to bone it so it will lay flat on a surface and be rolled up again once stuffed.

For the stuffing 

20g dried seaweed (we used wakame stems)
100g pine nuts
1 tablespoon sea salt flakes
1 tablespoon Urfa chilli flakes
Zest of 1 lemon
200g wild garlic washed and checked thoroughly for critters
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Pulse all the stuffing ingredients together in a blender until you have a rough paste.

Place the lamb skin side down and smear the filling liberally across the meat. Roll it and tie it up with string, for roasting. There are proper methods for tieing it but we just made it work.

Put the lamb into a roasting tray, rub the skin with a bit of olive oil then sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

Roast for one and a half hours or until it reaches an internal temperature of around 60C. If you want to crisp the skin further, finish under a hot grill for around 3-4 minutes (watching carefully).

Recipes are very rarely ‘original’ these days unless you’re the man on Come Dine with Me who served a viscous, beige stew inside a castle made of toast, or Rachel from Friends attempting a trifle. Even if you think you’re the first to come up with a particular arrangement of ingredients, someone else has probably had the same inspiration. Recipes are constantly tweaked, adapted, repackaged and resold in different ways.

The idea of covering things in scalloped potatoes is nothing new (stewed meat for example, or a fish pie) but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it over a joint before, like cucumber ‘scales’ on a whole salmon. I say that as someone who hasn’t embarked on even the laziest of Googles. Still, someone somewhere will have done it. Get in touch, fellow genius, for this is one of the greatest potato and lamb combos ever conceived, and I can say that with full enthusiasm because it was not my idea.

Having acknowledged how incredible this was I have to say that we both thought it was destined to fail. How would the potato slices stick to the lamb and not slide off during cooking? Answer: sprinkle with potato flour. We also wrapped the scaled lamb leg in clingfilm once roasted to allow the slices to ‘set’ into shape, then carefully unwrapped and slung it into a hot oven to cook the potatoes and get them good and crisp. Miraculously, it emerged in fully burnished armour.

You get the name, right? It looks like an armadillo but it’s made with lamb. That’s got to be an original.

The Baaa-madillo (a crispy potato coated slow roast leg of lamb recipe)

I recommend adding a layer of potatoes underneath the lamb too, ensuring you get a good haul of lamb fat soaked spuds – actual heaven (and not a new idea).

1 leg of lamb (around 2kg bone-in)
1 tablespoon oil (veg or groundnut)
2 sprigs rosemary
1 whole head of garlic
Around 6 floury potatoes, cut into thin slices using a mandoline
Potato flour

Preheat the oven to 160C.

Place the lamb in a roasting tray and score the fat on top. Rub with the oil and season really well with salt and pepper. Roughly chop the rosemary and add that too. Lob the whole garlic bulb into the roasting tray.

Cook for around 45 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer reads around 45C at the centre (this isn’t cooked enough yet but you are putting it back in the oven).

Lay a sheet of clingfilm on a work surface and layer the potatoes on it, overlapping (see picture above). Sprinkle evenly with potato flour as shown, then lay the lamb on top, fat side down. Now you need to carefully mould the potatoes around the lamb leg without them all shifting around. Let those you don’t need fall away (e.g. you won’t cover the base of the lamb leg) and rearrange any that have moved. It’s not TOO hard if there’s two of you doing it, although I say this as someone who has made the above recipe precisely once. Rigorously tested it ain’t – go forth, culinary adventurer.

Wrap the clingfilm really tightly around the lamb leg, adding a couple of extra layers once secured, and leave to sit for 45 minutes. Whack the oven up to 220C.

Place lots more potato slices in the roasting tray to make the best potato crisps you’ve ever eaten. Carefully remove the clingfilm and place the lamb back on top of the potatoes. Cook for approximately 15 minutes then turn the oven up to 280C (or as hot as your oven will go) for a final 5 minutes, or until golden and crisp.

Leg of lamb in a salt crust

Salt baking is something people usually do with fish, which has never made a huge amount of sense to me. Whenever I’ve eaten salt baked fish it’s been overcooked because the successful cooking of fish is so dependent on timing; if the thing is covered in a rock hard salt dungeon, you can’t look at it or prod the flesh to see if it’s done.

Leg of lamb with herbs

This is something I’ve experienced in some fairly high falutin’ restaurants, FYI, like the fish restaurant that everyone seems to love apart from me: One O One in Knightsbridge (boring, stuffy, quiet, in Knightsbridge). I ordered a salt baked seabass to share with someone else and it arrived on a shiny trolley, the waiter behind brandishing pick and hammer. Yeah, it’s dramatic when the crust is cracked and the steam and accompanying piscine waft rises but the fish within was mush. It’s always seabass, too, that seems to suffer this treatment. This is a fish that turns to texture of wet cushion stuffing if you so much as whisper you’re going to cook it.


So I’d never considered using the salt crust technique on anything else but then one day we needed a new way to cook lamb. It occurred to me that this might just work on something that actually likes long, slow cooking and can take a fair bit of salt. 

Leg of lamb cooked in a salt crust

Now I don’t want to be an insufferable tw*t but this may be the best slow cooked lamb in the world. The point of the crust, of course, is that it seals everything inside, so what you end up with is a leg of lamb which is, yes, salty but really pleasantly so. This is meat that’s basically been bathing in its own fat inside a super hot salt cavern.

Leg of lamb cut

None of the flavour is going anywhere so I thought I’d take advantage of that fact by adding in some herbs, and not the usual rosemary or thyme but loads of soft herbs like parsley, dill and mint. And I mean loads. The result is that the herbs season deep into the flesh. You could also smear it with loads of crushed garlic, of course, which I’m a bit surprised we didn’t do to be honest. We must’ve had a garlic-heavy side dish. It’s the only explanation.

Lamb Sliced

See? So much better than incarcerating poor fishes and you could put loads of different flavours in there. I’m thinking a rub made with smoky chillies (pretty much thinking that all the time right now), or a spice paste, heavy with cumin. Steamy.

Leg of Lamb Cooked in a Salt Crust Recipe

We ate it with these broad beans which were lovely but you could give green vegetables like courgettes or Tenderstem broccoli the same treatment.

1 x 2.2kg leg of lamb, bone in
1.5kg salt, a mix of coarse and fine sea salt (50/50)
4 egg whites
A large bunch each of dill, mint and parsley, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Set a pan large enough to hold the lamb over a medium and brown the lamb all over.

Mix the egg whites with the salt to make a sort of paste. Make a bed of this on the bottom of the roasting tin and lay the lamb on top, then cover with the herbs and the rest of the salt paste.

Roast for 2.5 to 3 hours or until a thermometer reads at least 65C.

My first dish of manti was a crushing disappointment. I’d developed an interest in Turkish food and was determined, on a visit to Istanbul, to tick off as many experiences as possible – always a guaranteed route to spoiling the fun. I’ve learned over the years that while planning is all well and good, you need to allow for a certain amount of spontaneity when travelling, otherwise it just turns into an exercise in box-ticking. You may as well walk around with your eyes closed.

The manti happened because we were hopelessly lost in some back street – a really steep, cobbled lane which we trudged along in the early afternoon sun, moaning and bickering because we wanted nothing more than an ice cold beer and a plate of something really, authentically Turkish. Once the flip-flops on my newly exposed feet had rubbed the skin raw and our t-shirts clung to our backs we’d had enough and ducked into the next pleasant-enough looking restaurant.

The walls were covered in colourful mosaic tiles and the staff were young and spoke English – not exactly the ‘little old lady rolling yufka’ experience I’d been hankering after but hey, when did jumping to conclusions ever get me anywhere? Also: cold beer. We saw manti on the menu and I was thrilled at the opportunity to tick something off the list. My first, real manti experience was incoming.

They were multicoloured, these dumplings (a warning sign if ever I’ve seen one), and were as bland as flour and water can be. A bowl of flabby pouches in plain yoghurt, underseasoned and sorry for themselves. I’d never tasted manti before, but I knew they had to be more than this, because as a cook, I’m able to read a list of ingredients and have a pretty good idea what the final dish is going to taste like. That was the first thing we ate in Istanbul.

Thankfully, there were many better meals that holiday but actually, no better manti. I’ve had fantastic mantu (Afghani cousins) in Adelaide, glorious khinkali in Georgia and many other dumplings around the world, but no good manti. Even those I’ve eaten in the UK have been a different style entirely, such as the marvellous beetroot and feta version at Queen’s, almost a sort of hybrid dumpling, with various whispers of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus muddling in.

I wanted to start then, by making the very traditional Turkish lamb manti, little folded parcels containing minced meat, topped with garlic yoghurt and spiced butter. I was absolutely convinced I’d mess this up but actually they were fairly easy and I did a little dance around the kitchen when they came out exactly as I wanted them, the first time around. These are the dumplings I’d expected that day in Istanbul. The dumplings of my dreams.

Manti with Lamb, Garlic Yoghurt and Spiced Butter

This will serve 4 people in portions a little larger than the one in the photos. They’re pretty filling, to be honest.

For the dough

225 plain flour (plus extra for dusting)
1 egg
2 teaspoons olive oil
100ml cold water
Pinch salt

For the filling

150g minced lamb
½ medium onion, grated
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch ground cinnamon

For the garlic yoghurt

3 cloves garlic, peeled
250g natural yoghurt (full fat, obviously)
Small handful parsley leaves

For the spiced butter

50g butter
¼ teaspoon paprika (make sure your paprika is fresh – in my experience, it’s the spice that most easily loses pungency)
1 teaspoon pul biber flakes (Turkish chilli/Aleppo pepper)

To serve

To make the dough, sift the flour and salt into a bowl, then make a well in the middle. Add the egg and olive oil and mix briefly. Add the water a bit at a time until it comes together into a dough. It shouldn’t be sticky. You might not need all the water, and I’d be surprised if you need more but flour is funny stuff – don’t worry too much. Knead on a lightly floured surface for 5 minutes or so until smooth and elastic. Divide into 4 pieces. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave for 20 minutes.
While this is happening, mix the lamb, onion, spices and some salt and pepper in a bowl, using your hands.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece at a time to a width of around 2mm. This is easiest with one of those skinny rolling pins, like this (available online or in Turkish shops). Cut the dough into squares. It’s up to you but about 4cm square worked for me.

Place a blob of filling in the centre of each square, approximately the size of a chickpea. Fold opposite ends inwards and pinch together, then set the manti down, push the filling inside (it will have popped up a little) and fold the other sides to form a cross shape. This sounds complicated but is obvious once you have a go (otherwise: Youtube). Set aside on a flour-dusted tray.

Make the yoghurt by simmering the garlic cloves in boiling water for 1 minute, then draining, crushing and mixing with the yoghurt, parsley and a pinch of salt.

Make the butter by melting it and adding the spices. Heat gently, taking care not to burn it.

Cook the manti in boiling salted water for 3 minutes. Arrange on the plate with yoghurt and spiced butter. Add some dill fronds if you like. Serve immediately.

Shawarma Spiced Lamb
This post is part of some work I did with Leisure range cookers. I cooked the shawarma spiced lamb at a Guardian reader event and now I’m posting it here so you guys can make it too. I was their ‘meat representative’. You can find out more about the campaign here. Photo: Uyen Luu for The Guardian. 

We are lost in Beirut. Again. It’s after dark and we trudge dusty back streets stopping occasionally to ask for help. No one knows where anything is, let alone the shawarma bar I’ve had a tip-off about. It is stressful. In the background, cars scream along the main road, honking horns echoing in the underpass. I’m sure we hear a crash in the distance.

We carry on pacing the stony ground, our feet filthy now in flip flops, noses clogged with grime. The heat is sticky and all we can think about is driblets of condensation running down beer bottles, the overwhelming relief of a rattling fan on a clammy brow, and the promise that is a plate of the finest shawarma.

In Lebanon, lamb pieces are stacked on the spit and basted in the animal’s own fat. The sheep in that part of the world have fatty tail cushions, full of precious gold which can be secured to the top of the spit, held in place with a cut lemon. As the spit rotates the fat melts down the sides, adding flavour. The real prizes are to be found at the bottom of course, where scraps of meat and vegetables lay, sucking up the fallout.

The shawarma in Beirut

Eventually, we find the restaurant, which is unexpectedly large. Two spits creak lazily in front of vertically stacked coals but beyond, it’s a vast, strip-lit cavern. A few patrons sit at the plastic tables watching sport on flickering screens and I think that perhaps this place isn’t so different to Camberwell Church Street at 2am, after all.

And then we taste. A shaven pile of spice-scented lamb arrives on a no-nonsense metal tray, steaming underneath floppy flatbread. As we lift cautiously and peek underneath, a puff of steam rises, full with cloves, cumin, cinnamon. We alternate with mouthfuls of salad, heavy with parsley and sumac, our fifth or maybe seventh meal of the day – the perils of being a food obsessive in a foreign land.

A shop in a Beirut back street

It’s also possible to get a taste of Lebanon at home, of course, which is why I’ve adapted the recipe in a very free and easy way (read: not at all authentic), for the home cook. It’s a bit of mixing, rubbing and then bunging in the oven for a lot of hours. It comes out very tender so you can pull it apart and eat with flatbreads, tahini sauce and an onion salad with sumac.

What I think is great about this recipe is that the spices really penetrate the meat, and regular basting keeps it moist, so you can have a little taste of Lebanon, even in the absence of a spit in your kitchen and fatty tail cushions on your sheep.

Shawarma Spiced Lamb

This will serve six easily. Don’t worry that the recipe looks long, there’s not really much effort involved.

1 x 2.5kg bone-in leg of lamb

For the shawarma spice mix

1.5 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
5 cloves
½ cinnamon stick
3 cardamom pods
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon sea salt (such as Maldon)

For the marinade and cooking the lamb

5 cloves garlic, crushed
Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon, in thick strips (remove any white pith from the underside of the strips)
2 onions, sliced
100ml flavourless oil, such groundnut

Using a dry, heavy-based frying pan, toast the cumin seeds, peppercorns, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, cloves, cinnamon stick and cardamom pods over a low heat. Move them around the pan on a medium heat for a few minutes, until they become very fragrant. Remove from the heat and grind to a powder in a spice grinder, then mix in the paprika and salt.

Combine the spice mix with the oil and garlic. Score the leg of lamb a few times on top to allow the marinade to penetrate, then smear the marinade all over the lamb, making sure to push it right into the slashes you’ve made, covering every nook and cranny.

Leave to marinate for at least four hours, or overnight.

Bring the meat out of the fridge an hour before you want to cook it, then preheat the oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6/180 fan assisted.

Place the lamb in a roasting dish and cook for 1 hour, uncovered, until the lamb has browned.

After this time, reduce the heat to 160C/Gas Mark 3. Add the onions and lemon zest strips and water to a depth of 1cm in the base of the pan. Cover with foil and cook for 4.5 -5 hours, until the lamb is very tender. Baste the lamb with the water in the pan every hour, topping up as necessary to make sure it doesn’t dry out. Don’t skip the basting as it will keep the lamb tender.

Allow the lamb to rest for 15 minutes before carving.

Serve the lamb with the salads and sauce, plus pitta or flatbreads, pickled chillies and/or pickled turnips and yoghurt.

For the Israeli salad

3 small Israeli cucumbers or 1 large English cucumber (seeds removed if the latter), diced
3 tomatoes, diced, or 15 cherry tomatoes, diced
1 handful parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 small handful mint leaves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil

Mix all the ingredients together and season with salt and pepper. If made more than 15 minutes in advance the salad will accumulate juice at the bottom of the bowl – it is up to you whether you drain this off.

For the onion salad

2 regular onions, thinly sliced
1 heaped teaspoon sumac
1 teaspoon salt

In a bowl, mix the onions and salt, rubbing the salt into the slices with your hands. Add the sumac. Allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

For the tahini sauce

100ml tahini
50ml lemon juice
100ml water
1 small clove garlic, crushed
Salt (a pinch)

Put all the ingredients except the salt in a food processor and process until smooth Taste and add salt if needed.

Roast Lamb with Caponata

I’ve just started working with Wine Trust 100, producing some recipes for their website to match some of the excellent wines there. I thought you might like to see the recipe here so below is my first post for them – the links lead through to the matched wine on their site.


This being my first post about food and wine matching, I must own up to something straight away: I used to be scared of wine. Not scared it was going to hurt me (although of course, that has happened), but intimidated by the way some people pretend it’s all part of a secret club that’s very hard to get into.

Wine should not be used as a status symbol, or to make other people feel inferior if they don’t know their Sancerre from their Sauvignon. The word ‘accessible’ almost sounds clichéd nowadays, but the enjoyment of wine should not be the preserve of those who are apparently able to ‘fully’ appreciate it. Anyone can appreciate wine, and food and wine matching is nowhere near as hard, or easy, or anywhere in between, as people make out. It’s simply a question of trial and error – one might taste a wine and, finding something stony or flinty, wonder if it will go well with oysters, which have similar characteristics.

This brings me nicely to the shoulder of lamb. Having waved goodbye to any insecurities about the adequacy of my palate, I’m free to have fun with combinations, and I like my matches to have a little story behind them. I decided to go Roman.

The wine I have chosen (2013 Il Passo, Nerello Mascalese, Vigneti Zabu), comes from the ancient volcanic wine growing region of mount Etna and is made from two indigenous grape varieties: Nerello Mascalese (mostly only found on Etna) and Nero D’Avola (much more common). It’s full of dark herbal cherry accents with a slight sweetness of fruit from the drying of the grapes prior to fermentation.

It was this sweet and sour cherry character that, along with the wine’s Sicilian origin, made me think of agro dolce and the fact that in Sicily they still cook a cuisine very similar to that of the Romans.

The lamb is cooked with plenty of red wine, herbs, honey and – don’t be alarmed – a splash of fish sauce. It’s really not that odd if you consider it cooks out to leave a pleasing savoury funk, a punch of umami not too dissimilar from the Roman’s garum. The resulting roast is sweet, salty and vaguely gamey, full of herbal notes, which compliment the wine so well.

I’ve served it with a sweet/sour caponata, which is a rich Sicilian stew of aubergines, courgettes, olives and other vegetables, piqued with the acidity of vinegar and capers. You have my full permission to recline like an Emperor during consumption.

Roman Style Lamb with Caponata (matched with 2013 Il Passo, Nerello Mascalese, Vigneti Zabu)

1 x ½ shoulder of lamb (around 1.2kg)
1 onion, sliced
2 heads of garlic, unpeeled, sliced in half across the cloves
6 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme, left whole + 1 tablespoon leaves
200ml red wine (any is fine)
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon fish sauce
Juice ½ lemon

Preheat the oven to 170C.

Place the onion, garlic, bay leaves, thyme sprigs and the lamb into a roasting tray. Mix the fish sauce, honey, lemon juice and thyme leaves and brush onto the lamb. Season well with salt and pepper. Mix the wine with 200ml water and gently pour this around the lamb (not on top of it).
Put in the oven for 3 – 3.5 hours until very tender.


1 large aubergine, cut into 2cm dice
100g celery, sliced into 2cm slices
1 large courgette, cut into 2cm dice
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 large red onion, sliced
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
2 tablespoons green olives
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Small handful parsley leaves, chopped
Olive oil

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a frying pan and fry the aubergine until golden on all sides, then remove to drain on kitchen paper. Do the same with the courgette (adding more oil as necessary).

Add a little more oil and cook the onion and celery until soft and just starting to colour. Add the aubergine and courgettes, capers, tomatoes, olives, sugar and vinegar and bring to a simmer. Put a lid on and simmer gently for 45 minutes to one hours, until thick. Season with salt and pepper then leave to cool to room temperature before serving. You may want to add a little more vinegar to taste.


You give me the richest ragu/That’s why I’m in love with you.

Those are Sade lyrics, in case I’ve lost any of my younger readers. She loved ragu, apparently. Couldn’t get enough.

This recipe is from Kenji Lopez-Alt’s book The Food Lab. In case you don’t know him, he writes The Food Lab column for Serious Eats and is also their Culinary Director, whatever that means. Sounds good though, doesn’t it? We’re huge Kenji fans in this house, so much so that we considered building a shrine to him in our living room. Possibly.

His ‘thing’ is that he does lots of recipe testing, to the point where he’s comparing 30 eggs boiled for 30 seconds more each time, side by side, to see which is the best, and he delves into the science of cooking in a Harold McGee kinda way.

I wanted something I could get ready ahead of time since I had friends coming over, so gave his ragu recipe a go. It was fabulous, and had incredible depth of flavour, which is unsurprising considering it contained a paste consisting of anchovies, Marmite, soy sauce and chicken livers, and three kinds of meat. I also went to town with the quality of the ingredients, using Strianese tomatoes, the best Parmesan and hugely expensive pasta. It turns out that last move was a mistake.

Are you hungry? I asked my guests at around the 7.30pm mark. Yes, yes they were. “Magnificent!” I said, and proceeded to be very clever by adding my massively posh pasta to a pan of boiling water. Except it wouldn’t cook. It wouldn’t cook for like, an hour. Maybe more. Those attractive belts of flour and egg which had looked so appealing on the shelf turned into fat flaps of gummy gluten that just would not soften. We ate at around 9pm, after separating the pasta into two separate pans and burning ourselves twice. Someone was so hungry they went to the shop for spaghetti. “No!” I said, shaking from hypoglycaemia, “NO”. We will eat this f*cking clown shoes pasta, mainly because it cost me a tenner.” And so my friends suffered because I can’t control myself in expensive food shops.

Anyway, the ragu is fabulous and you must make it. I’ll admit that the blended chicken livers have one of the most unnerving textures I have ever come across in the kitchen, but you’ll just have to deal. This is an excellent recipe even if it is 100% faffier than any other ragu recipe you’ve ever made. I should also say that it took four hours to cook down, not two as stated in the recipe, which is quite a significant difference. One for the weekend.

Ragu Recipe

This recipe is from The Food Lab cookbook by Kenji Lopez-Alt, published by W.W Norton & Company. I halved the quantities in the recipe and converted them from American measurements, in some cases adjusting them very slightly. I also like to serve it with a gremolata (chopped lemon zest and parsley) which adds some freshness. The original recipe was for 8-10 servings, although I found this half quantity served 8, and you know how much pasta I can eat (at least 300g on my own. What?). 

60g chicken livers
2 anchovy fillets (more if they’re titchy, mine were a good size)
1/2 teaspoon Marmite
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
250ml milk
125ml cream (Kenji specifies heavy cream but I used single cream)
250ml beef stock (Kenji specified chicken but I bought beef because I hadn’t written it down correctly)
1/2 packet powdered gelatin (haven’t looked into why he uses powdered)
30ml extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, grated or crushed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Large pinch dried chilli flakes
Around 400g tinned tomatoes (I used slightly more in the end)
100g pancetta, diced
1/2 large onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1.5 stalks celery, diced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
225g minced lamb
225g minced pork
225g minced beef (Kenji said veal but I couldn’t get it)
8-10 sage leaves, chopped
1/2 bottle red wine
2 bay leaves
Handful basil, chopped
Handful parsley, chopped
1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
50g Parmesan, grated

In a food processor, whiz up the chicken livers, Marmite, anchovies and soy. Set aside. In a bowl, combine cream, milk, stock and gelatin. Set aside.

Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a medium saucepan over a medium-high heat until shimmering. Add garlic, oregano, chilli flakes and cook for around 1 minute, stirring. Add tomatoes, with their juice and bring to boil over high heat. reduce to simmer and cook until liquid has reduced by about half. Set aside.

Combine remaining two tablespoons of oil in a large pot with a lid (you will cook the ragu in this) and cook the pancetta for around 6 mins until the fat is translucent. Add onions, carrots, celery and cook until softened but not browned. Transfer to a bowl.

Return the pan to the heat and add the butter, heat until the foaming subsides. Add the three meats and the sage and cook until meat is no longer pink (don’t brown it). Add livers mixture. Stir. Cook for five minutes. Add pancetta mixture. Stir. Add wine. Stir. Bring to boil, then simmer until wine is reduced by half.

Blend tomato sauce until smooth (easiest with stick blender). Add tomato sauce, cream mixture, bay leaves, half the basil and half the parsley to the pot. Stir. Bring to boil, reduce to very gentle simmer. Cover with lid left with slight gap. Cook for two hours. I cooked for two hours, then found it needed two more, one with the lid off. Use your instinct.

Add fish sauce and Parmesan. Season to taste. Remove from heat to cook for 30 minutes. Stir in remaining basil and parsley. Serve with sensible pasta and a gremolata of equal amounts chopped parsley and lemon zest.


Lamb and Date Meatballs in a Frazzled Aubergine Sauce.

When shiny aubergines are placed over a naked flame, their skins blacken and they collapse inward on themselves with a steamy sigh. Once cooled and split, the inside is gloriously smoky; a total transformation. It is this creamy flesh that blends into dips such as baba ghanoush, but I like to use it as a base for a sauce.

The meatballs are made with lamb, dates and warming spices like cumin and chilli. I’ve nicked a trick from the Italians too and mixed in some breadcrumbs soaked in milk – just a little – so they become light and extremely easy to eat. A swirl of yoghurt and a few pomegranate seeds make this dish pretty. Serve with couscous or bread to absorb the luxurious sauce.

Lamb and Date Meatballs in Frazzled Aubergine Sauce

500g minced lamb
4 dates, pitted and finely chopped
1 heaped teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 heaped teaspoon hot chilli flakes, or to taste
1 teaspoon dried mint
1 thick slice white bread
Milk (about 4 tablespoons)

For the sauce

4 aubergines
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 400g regular tin chopped tomatoes
2 black cardamom
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 cinnamon stick
300ml vegetable stock

Vegetable oil, for frying

Pierce the aubergines in several places with a fork, then place directly on the gas ring of the hob, turning occasionally, until black and shrivelled all over. Alternatively, grill them to the same effect.

Remove the crusts from the slice of bread and break into rough pieces. Place in a small bowl with enough milk to mash to a paste.

In a small frying pan, toast the cumin and coriander seeds over a low heat, stirring frequently, until they start to smell fragrant. Take care not to burn them. Grind them in a spice grinder or crush them in a pestle and mortar.

In a large bowl combine the minced lamb, bread paste, ground cumin and coriander, chilli flakes, chopped dates and mint. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well; really , really well. Get in there with your hands and knead the mixture almost like a bread dough. Make sure the dates are well distributed. Roll into walnut sized balls. Set aside on a plate.

Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in the Le Creuset, and fry the meatballs in batches, 4 or 5 at a time, until golden brown all over. Set each batch aside while you cook the next.

To make the sauce, scrape the flesh from inside the aubergines, leaving behind the blackened skin. Chop roughly. Fry the onion until , cardamom pods and cinnamon stick until the onions are soft and beginning to colour. Scrape up the lovely meaty residues from the pan as you do this. Add the aubergines and garlic. Turn up the heat a little and Cook for about five minutes more stirring.

Add the tomatoes, pomegranate molasses and stock. Put lid on and cook for 45 mins to an hour on low heat. Taste and season. For a thicker sauce, remove the lid towards the end of cooking time to reduce it. Add back the meatballs to heat through.

Scatter with pomegranate seeds and coriander to serve.

Cold Roast Lamb with Anchovy Sauce

Leftovers are, for me, almost always better than the original dish. Even as a child I always wanted everything cold; steak and kidney pie being my favourite. I remember the highlight of holidays away with a friend’s family being these pre-packed, jellied treats, an anti-dote to the PURE EVIL that we were given to drink (that’s hot Ribena for those who don’t know). Again, I preferred that cold.

This is a rip off of a Simon Hopkinson recipe for cold veal with anchovy sauce and sliced boiled eggs. The salty anchovies work just as well with cold lamb as they do when jimmied into crevices with garlic and rosemary and roasted in a hot oven. Instead of melting away however, here they retain their flavour which, for me at least, is a very good thing.

Cold Roast Lamb with Anchovy Sauce

For the sauce (makes enough sauce for 4 people) 

6 tablespoons mayonnaise
8 anchovy fillets
1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
Splash of water

Plus the rest…

Sliced cold roast lamb
Lettuce leaves
Finely shredded spring onions
Capers, rinsed

Lay the lettuce leaves on a plate and sprinkle with some finely shredded spring onions. Lay the sliced lamb on top.

Put all the sauce ingredients in a small blender and whizz them up. Taste and adjust the quantities, you may want a little more white wine vinegar for example. Drizzle the sauce over the lamb and dot with capers.


Afghan Zamarud

Over the years I have become very interested in the food of Iran, then Georgia, and now Afghanistan. The cuisines all make use of ingredients I am very fond of, such as yoghurt, meats like lamb, fruits such as dates and pomegranate, vegetables such as spinach.

A browse around the bookshelves of Iranian shop/deli Persepolis recently turned up Noshe Djan, an Afghan cook book by a woman called Helen Saberi. Helen has written a cook book of the kind I have increasingly come to love; she married an Afghan man and spent a significant amount of time living in Afghanistan absorbing the culture and cooking the food. She has lived the life of an Afghan and she provides a heartwarming introduction to the Afghani meal time; the book is the kind one can read like a novel. It is genuine, accessible and utterly fascinating.

The first recipe I’ve cooked is the amusingly titled ‘sabzi pilau’ or ‘zamarud’, meaning emerald. I say amusing as every recipe like this, which suggests the main ingredient is a vegetable (in this case spinach), then goes on to specify ‘700g of lamb’ or, often, chicken.

It was bloody delicious, although it did take a few hours to cook. Worth waiting for, but anyone who is making this might want to consider doing it on a weekend. Or perhaps you’re smart enough to just read the recipe properly in the first place, unlike me. We ate at 12.30 am. The spice mix makes this interesting – char masala. It is equal parts cinnamon, cloves, cumin and black cardamom. In other spice mixes the stronger flavours like cloves are generally used in smaller quantities, but not here. I also loved the liberal use of black cardamom which I don’t often see; one of my favourite spices, like giant smoky black raisins.

The final pilau was comforting, with the feel of a biryani. I served it with garlic yoghurt (made by blanching some peeled garlic cloves then mixing with lightly whipped, seasoned yoghurt) and an aubergine pickle, which is also worth mentioning. Small aubergines are slit, and then a whole garlic clove placed in each one; when pinched together they look like mussels. The pickling liquid is simple – white vinegar, sugar and green chillies, nigella seeds and fenugreek, the flavour of the latter being particularly suited to aubergines. It has a sort of intriguing musty flavour which contrasts the acidity. The pickled green chillies are obviously a mega bonus too.

Afghan Zamarud

(from Noshe Djan by Helen Saberi)

This recipe serves 4, although if you have other dishes too it could easily serve 6-8. I’d recommend eating it with yoghurt on the side. The lamb can be substituted for a whole chicken, jointed.

450g long grain white rice (basmati preferably)
110ml veg oil
2 medium regular onions, diced
700-900g lamb on the bone, diced (I only used 500g diced lamb shoulder, which was enough. I can imagine goat would also work well)
225ml water
2 teaspoons char masala (to make char masala take equal quantities of cumin seeds, cloves, cinnamon stick and the seeds from inside black cardamom pods and grind them in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar)
450g spinach
110g leeks
2 teaspoons ground coriander (Helen also gives an alternative of dried dill)
1.5 litres water
2 hot green chillies
Salt and pepper

Rinse the rice a few times until the water runs clear and then soak it in fresh water for at least half an hour.

Heat 75ml oil in a pan and fry the onions in it, stirring frequently until soft and golden. Trim excess fat from the lamb pieces, then add it to the pan and continue frying until the meat is well browned. Add the 225ml water, 1 teaspoon of the char masala and salt and lots of black pepper. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until the meat is tender. This takes a couple of hours, FYI, depending obviously on the size of the lamb dice. It’s nice to have big chunks but if you want it to cook faster, cut it smaller.

Prep the spinach by cutting off any large stalks and washing really thoroughly, then chop roughly.

Heat the remaining oil in a large pan and fry the leeks in it, until they are soft and nearly brown. Add the spinach and continue to fry, stirring all the time. When it starts to wilt down and reduce in size, turn the heat down, cover the pan and cook gently until the spinach is completely wilted down and cooked. Add the ground coriander (or dried dill) and some salt and pepper. Cover and cook gently until all the water is evaporated and the spinach soft.

Preheat the oven to 150C/200F/Gas 2

Bring the 1.5 litres of water to the boil and add a teaspoon of salt. Drain the rice from the soaking water and add to the boiling water. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then drain and add to a casserole dish with a tight lid. Add the spinach and meat along with approx 175ml of the juices and the other teaspoon of char masala. Mix this together gently but thoroughly. Put the green chillies on top of the rice. Cover the dish and put it in the oven for about 45 minutes.

After this time, remove the chillies from the top of the rice. Serve the dish on a large platter. As I said, I like it with yoghurt, which I mixed with crushed garlic that had been blanched in boiling water for a few minutes. Garnish the dish with the chillies.

Aubergine Pickle

(from Noshe Djan by Helen Saberi)

This works best with baby aubergines. Helen says that if you can’t get them you can use regular aubergines too, diced. In that case just chuck the garlic cloves in to simmer with the diced aubergine.

450g baby aubergines
110g garlic (basically a garlic clove for every baby aubergine)
1 heaped teaspoon turmeric
2-3 oz fresh green chillies (about 8)
1 tablespoon nigella seeds
1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon dried mint
1/2 teaspoon sugar
500ml vinegar
150ml boiled water

Slit the baby aubergines lengthways to the stalk, but don’t separate them. Put one peeled garlic clove inside each as per the picture above.

Fill a saucepan with water and bring it to the boil. Add the aubergines. The water should cover them. They will bob up to the top during cooking, when you will need to push them down again. Inevitably some of the garlic cloves will pop out – don’t worry about it, you can fish them out afterwards.

Simmer gently for five minutes then remove the garlic and aubergines with a slotted spoon. Keep the cooking water. Once they are cool enough to handle, put a layer of aubergines and garlic in a large jar, followed by a layer of chillies and repeat until both are all used up.

Mix together the vinegar, sugar, salt, fenugreek, dried mint and nigella seeds plus 150ml of the cooking water. Pour over the aubergines. Seal with a lid.

I ate mine after about 3 days and they were lovely. Helen doesn’t specify how long they should be left before eating.