I realised recently that I will only eat certain vegetables if they are served with very particular accompanying flavours. A mate asked me what my favourite vegetable was and I replied, without thinking, ‘spinach’ only to realise that it’s only my favourite when combined with feta, or ricotta. I will only eat pumpkin if it’s served with coconut milk and chilli and now I’ve realised beetroot needs the sharp cheese and spice treatment or you can throw it in the bin as far as I’m concerned. Unless it’s pickled.

I wasn’t even going to post this recipe at all, truth be told but someone called the_portland_barman asked me so nicely for it on Instagram (would I mind? If I had time?) that I said yes, actually, that will be no problem at all.

So yeah, I do read all your comments because I love to hear from you guys (stop retching at the back), and it so happens another reader sent me an email asking me to please, please sort out my subscription email because it was a bit of a mess. Thing is, I started blogging in the early days, as you know, and I’d always just used Feedburner because that’s what everyone did back then.

This poor frustrated reader had finally reached her wit’s end and forwarded her subscription email to me. Wow, it was bad. I had no idea you were all suffering through that eye poke and I’m sorry. I’ve changed to Mailchimp. If it doesn’t work and you all get the old email anyway this is going to be really embarrassing. Could happen.

So, there we go. A recipe, an apology and hopefully a snazzy email. Not bad for a… Friday? Yes, Friday. If someone could periodically update me on the day of the week that’d be grand. Thanks.

Beetroot Dip with Feta, Herbs and Scotch Bonnet Oil Recipe

I can’t remember the exact quantities here but it’s so easy it doesn’t really matter.

Five whole beetroots, leaves removed and left whole (don’t peel)
150g thick natural yoghurt
Feta, to crumble
Squeeze of lemon juice
Tarragon leaves
Mint leaves
Mixed seeds (by in a handy bag in the supermarket), toasted in a dry pan
5 scotch bonnets
125ml light olive oil
1 whole bulb garlic

Cook the beetroots whole in boiling until just tender (this takes about 40 mins), then allow to cool a bit and rub off the skins, which will come away very easily (I actually pressure cooked mine which took around 15-20 mins). At the same time, roast the garlic whole with the scotch bonnets. Heat the oven to 120C, slice the top off the garlic so the tops of the cloves are exposed and place in roasting dish with the chillies, rubbing the lot with a little oil. Cook for about 20 mins or until soft.

Blend chillies with light olive oil in a blender. I de-seeded mine.

Put beetroots in a blender with the natural yoghurt, lemon juice, half the garlic cloves and some salt and blend. Taste and add more yoghurt if you fancy it.

Spread the dip on a plate (more surface area for toppings – you could also use a nice wide bowl) and sprinkle over feta, herbs, toasted seeds. Drizzle over chilli oil.

Broad Bean Salad

For a short period before heading off to university I went back to live with my parents. As a ‘mature student’ at 21 I’d already been living elsewhere for three years and so it was a major change, especially since I’d made a string of poor choices when choosing houses. One that immediately springs to mind is the place I shared with six young men. SIX.

Can you imagine how bad that was? Bathroom grime of unprecedented levels; a fridge no-one dared open; pints of red wine spilled on the carpet (actually, was that me?); broken windows; stinky boxers glued down everywhere and a neverending chorus of bodily functions. The house was filled with Man Fug so thick you could bang your head on it.

There were many benefits to moving home, then, including pleasures such as not waking up to remember that someone had projectiled in a helicopter motion in the front room (this happened, he sort of spun around as he was being sick therefore spraying all four walls and furniture with the contents of his stomach + 12 cans of Stella).

The kitchen was unusable because obviously no one ever cleaned it, so it was good to be back in the parents’ shiny, orderly, well-stocked kitchen, to have dinner cooked for me, to not fear food poisoning or have to decide whether it’s a better life choice to just throw a pan in the bin rather than bother trying to wash it.

One of the best things about being back, though, was Sunday lunch, and there’s a meal my mum used to cook which apparently she didn’t consider anything special but I absolutely loved, to the point where I still think about it now. It doesn’t sound fancy, and isn’t, but it has some of my favourite ingredients.

Salsa verde - put it on your potatoes.

There was a roast chicken, stuffed under the skin with a mixture of butter, herbs and lemon zest, new potatoes boiled and drenched in salsa verde and finally, a broad bean salad with crisp pancetta and a vinaigrette. The smell of the roasting chicken would fill the kitchen while Dad picked the broad beans from the garden.

We’d sit around the table and discuss important matters like whether or not Dad had won on the horse racing and which of my ex-boyfriends was really the worst. I’d pick lazily at the dish of remaining potatoes, scooping out the oily pools of salsa verde with my fingers.

There was never any broad bean salad left. I think mum’s version was based on a Delia Smith recipe but I just make it with whatever combo of herbs, pork and onion I have around at the time. This recipe has lardons of bacon and a cider vinegar dressing and it’s a lovely salad to make whatever the age of the beans – even when they’re old and tough, the other ingredients are robust enough to handle it. I always think of the salad when the new season comes though, and so here we are today.

I haven't touched the colours on this photo. SO green!

Broad Bean Salad with Bacon, Herbs and Vinaigrette

1kg broad beans (un-podded weight)
80g bacon, cut into lardons
1 spring onion, green parts finely sliced
1 tablespoon each finely chopped chives, mint and parsley

For the dressing

1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Remove the beans from their pods. Place in a saucepan with some water, bring to the boil, cook for 2 minutes, then drain. Place the beans in a bowl of cold water. Squeeze each bean from its tough skin (this is by no means necessary, it just means they’re extra tender and bright green).

Cook the bacon lardons until crisp and add to the beans with the herbs and spring onion.

Shake all dressing ingredients in a sealed jar until emulsified. Add a tablespoon of dressing to the salad and mix. You may want more, depending on how many broad beans you found inside your pods. Check seasoning and serve.

Stuffed Artichokes

Oxford, despite being a rather famous and much visited city, doesn’t really have many good restaurants. At least, it didn’t when I lived there for a good five years and I haven’t really heard any news to the contrary since. Maybe I’m out of touch.

One diamond in the rough used to be The Magdalen Arms, a pub on Iffley Road, which served food that was everything pub grub should be but rarely is; un-fussed and generous, yet skilfully cooked. I remember a resplendent crab, nothing more than plunged into boiling water and served whole, ready to be worked over, the meat dipped in quivering mayonnaise. We sat in the sunshine and cracked, delved and mined its nooks and crannies for meat, rocking around in our seats on the back of copious amounts of rosé.

Another highlight was a stuffed artichoke, leaves splayed and crammed fat with goats’ cheese, herbs and breadcrumbs, shiny with olive oil. We teased away the leaves and sucked the creamy, intense stuffing from them. This was probably about 3 years ago and the dish still enters my thoughts occasionally, hence, this recipe.

Once the leaves are sucked clean, there is of course the sweet, soft heart to be had. A lovely, leisurely starter.

Cheese and Herb Stuffed Artichokes

(serves 2-4, depending on appetite)

2 large or 4 smaller globe artichokes
1 thick slice stale white bread, whizzed into breadcrumbs
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small bunch parsley leaves, finely chopped
125g ricotta and 50g feta OR 175g goats cheese
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Zest of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus one more for cooking

Snip the tips off the artichokes leaves and stems, turn them upside down and give them a good rap on the counter top to make the leaves splay out a bit. Give them a bit more encouragement to open up using your fingers, then keep them in a bowl of water with a squeeze of lemon juice. This supposedly stops them from going brown, although they always seem to do it anyway.

Prepare the stuffing by mixing everything together and adding some salt and pepper. Stuff the mixture into the gaps between the leaves then arrange the artichokes in a pan where they fit snugly, you don’t want them moving about in there. The advice is not to cook them in a pan made of reactive metal such as iron or aluminium, again because it makes them discolour although again, I find they do anyway.

Fill the pan with water so it comes about a third to halfway up the artichokes and add the other tablespoon of olive oil. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and put a lid on. Cook for 25 minutes, or until the leaves come away without too much resistance.

Allow to cool for 5 minutes or so, then serve. With napkins. Lots.