Spinach and feta filo pie

Travelling always has an influence on what I’m cooking. It’s inevitable really – you go on holiday, have fabulous meals in fabulous sunny places and want to recreate some of those good memories back home. After visiting Tresco, I craved fresh crab – a tricky thing to source in London. When my Mum came home from two weeks in Italy we were treated to lemony pasta dishes and affogato. My biggest influence this summer was going to the Greek island of Symi and eating daily spanakopita (spinach and feta filo pie) on the beach for lunch. Picked up from the harbour bakery before hopping on the boat in the morning, my sister and I carefully guarded it until lunchtime – even fending off goats sniffing around our sun loungers on one beach! It made the perfect lunch in the sunshine once you were ravenous from a morning of swimming. Once home, I knew this was a dish I wanted to continue having.

Spinach and feta filo pie

Spanakopita is a very simple filo pie stuffed with spinach, feta and a sprinkling of nutmeg. The ones I ate in Symi were individually coiled into swirls like a pain au chocolat, giving a delicious contrast between crispy outsides and buttery soft centres. I kept it simple when recreating this at home and made one big pie. Of course, eating it in London in October doesn’t have quite the same charm as on a beach in August. However, even though my tan has faded and my summer clothes are folded away, this can transport me temporarily back to Symi beaches.

Spinach and feta filo pie

  • 150g butter
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 200g spinach leaves
  • ½ tsp grated nutmeg
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 100g feta
  • pack of filo pastry

Preheat the oven to 180’C.

Melt 50g of the butter in a medium saucepan. Finely dice the onion and add to the pan. Cook over a medium pan for 10 minutes until golden and completely soft. Crush the garlic into the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes more.

Add the spinach, stir into the onion and cover with a lid. Cook for five minutes until the spinach is wilted down. Remove from the heat and let cool for a few minutes. Grate in the nutmeg and crumble in the feta. Add the beaten eggs and stir so everything is fully combined.

Melt the remaining 100g butter in a small saucepan. Take a sheet of the filo and brush liberally with butter. Lay butter side down into a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin and up the sides. Repeat with 3-4 sheets of filo, buttering each one, until the tin is fully covered and there is an even layer. Scrape in the spinach filling. Butter more filo sheets and lay over the top, encasing the filling. Brush the top with butter.

Bake in the oven for 30minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden.

Green vegeree

As I get older, I am definitely becoming a less fussy eater. Things I used to once hate have been tentatively embraced into my kitchen as I discover new ways of cooking that are too good to resist. Courgetti persuaded me to get on board with courgettes (although never as a permanent substitute for spaghetti, I’m not crazy). Shakshuka helped me embrace red peppers, squeaky texture and all. Certain foods remain strongly disliked – any conversion ideas welcome! – so blue cheese, walnuts and mushrooms are yet to make it on to any plate of mine. Smoky flavours are also hit and miss with me, hence why I had never made a traditional kedgeree with smoked haddock before. When I saw this idea in Waitrose magazine, swapping fish for veg, I was hooked!

vegeree

The basic idea of a kedgeree had certainly always appealed. Spicy rice, perfectly cooked oozing eggs – it all sounded like an ideal brunch or easy dinner. Like I say, this vegeree keeps all those vital elements whilst simply subbing in some hearty spinach instead of fish. This could also be adapted further by swapping the spinach for kale, cavolo nero or chard. I also loved the crunch of the salty cashew nuts on top, balancing the rich egg yolk perfectly. I’ll admit I often struggle to cook rice perfectly in this way and always find it hard to get dry, fluffy rice without burning the bottom or crunching on raw grains! For this recipe, I think it is okay to err on the more liquid side to prevent these issues and ensure fully cooked rice as there are enough other ingredients to balance a softer texture.

Green vegeree

Serves 3-4, recipe adapted from here.

  • Oil
  • 1 onion
  • 300g basmati rice
  • 2tsp curry powder
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 large handfuls baby spinach
  • handful toasted cashew nuts

Add the onion and oil to a large pan and cook for 5-10 minutes until the onion starts to soften. Meanwhile, rinse the rice until the water runs clear.

Stir the curry powder into the onion, cook for 1 minute, then add the drained rice and stock. Season generously with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, stir, then simmer gently, covered, for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, simmer the eggs in a separate pan of boiling water for 6-7 minutes. Cool briefly in cold water, then peel and halve.

After 10 minutes, stir the spinach through the rice. Season generously, re-cover the pan, then turn off the heat and leave for 10 minutes. Fluff up with a fork and top with the halved eggs and cashew nuts.

Florentine Pizza

One of the headlines on the October issue of Cosmo recently read ‘Asos, Uber, Deliveroo – can you afford your lifestyle?’ Never has a headline felt so targeted towards me – I was pretty sure they’d had a sneaky look at my bank account. Deliveroo is dangerously addictive. You do it once as a treat, after a particularly stressful or exhausting day that leaves you craving Byron but with no desire to head back outside into a cold October night. After that first time, you remember how easy it was and how quickly the food came and it takes a lot of resistance to prevent it becoming a habit. The particularly tempting point for me came when a nearby Five Guys was added to the list of my local ordering options. But, as Cosmo was trying to remind me, takeaways are also annoyingly expensive and unhealthy, so it was time to try making my own.

Florentine pizza

My issue with cooking burgers at home is not only the struggle to get them to match up to a Five Guys offering, but also the inherent leftovers that come from inevitably buying a four pack of burger buns or large packet of mince. Pizza at home seemed like the way to go instead. This version is not completely cheat free, but it is so worth it and still feels more virtuous than a Dominos. My sneaky trick for making this extra delicious is using a garlic bread base instead of a plain pizza dough. These are usually nicer quality than plain bases from the supermarket anyway, but also that hidden layer of garlic butter adds so much more flavour. This makes more tomato sauce  than you need, but that just means there is enough for another non Deliveroo evening!

Florentine Pizza

Serves 1, generously!

  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 400g tin of tomatoes
  • 1/2tsp dried thyme
  • 1 round garlic bread base
  • 60g of cheddar, grated
  • large handful of baby spinach
  • 1 egg
  • large handful of rocket

Add a glug of oil and the diced onion to a medium saucepan. Heat over a medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes until the onions are soft and beginning to caramelise. Add the garlic clove and cook out for 1-2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and thyme and simmer for 10-15 minutes until reduced slightly and thickened.

Preheat the oven to 220’C and place a baking tray on the middle shelf to heat through. Spread a few tablespoons of tomato sauce over the garlic bread. Top with the spinach and grated cheese. Bake for 8 minutes to allow the bread to begin to get crispy. Remove from the oven and carefully crack the egg into the centre of the pizza. Return to the oven for 3-5 minutes until the white is set but the yolk is still runny. Remove from the oven and top with rocket. Enjoy!

‘Sweet’ by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh – Review

It is safe to say I didn’t need another cookery book. There are seven bookshelves full in my kitchen, more in my bedroom, piles down the side of the bed – the list goes on. I gave up counting my family collection long ago. We are avid collectors and the amount is constantly growing. There are lots of charity shop finds – classics collected along the way to fill gaps in the collection. Nigel Slater, Diana Henry and Rachel Allen all have a dominant presence. Certain favourites show the test of time – the batter-covered brownie page from Nigella’s How to Eat, the Leiths Cookery Bible without a spine. Despite the already overflowing shelves, there was one new release that I have been anticipating ever since it was announced: Sweet, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh. 

Ottolenghi Sweet - madeleines

I’ve always found it interesting how Ottolenghi is so renowned for his savoury cooking. For me, when I think of Ottolenghi I think of his shop windows. The displays are always stunning – cake stands groaning with blackberry financiers, passion fruit tarts, new cheesecakes, huge pink meringues. Sweet is those windows transformed into a beautiful book. As the name suggests, it focuses on all things baking and dessert. It contains the familiar window favourites along with brand new ideas and twists on classics. The recipes are extremely precise and detailed, but in a way that makes you simply feel confident the recipes will work rather than daunted by an overload of information.

I’ve only had this book a few weeks but it has already dominated what’s been going into my oven – as you can see by the pictures here! So far I have made the banana bundts with salted caramel, coffee and walnut financiers and honey and orange madeleines. Needless to say, they all turned out perfectly and vanished quickly. The list of things I still want to make grows every time I open it up – the orange flower amaretti and mini chocolate tarts are particularly calling my name. The recipes range in complexity and style (although ground almonds are a dominant presence!) but all are visually stunning. I defy you to read it without wanting to turn the oven on immediately! Ottolenghi’s previous books all currently sit proudly on the crowded bookcase but his newest release is by far my new favourite and well worthy of its place.

Ottolenghi Sweet - coffee and walnut cakes

SYMI.

When you tell people you are going to Symi, you get one of two reactions. Either bafflement – ‘Where?” – or instant recognition and excited retellings of memories from joyous holidays there. Before I went to Symi this year, I would have been firmly in the first camp. After a week there this summer, I’m now in the latter and will be fiercely envious of anyone who announces a trip there. Symi is a tiny Greek island, a two hour ferry ride from Rhodes and worth every bit of the journey.

Arriving in Symi

After first spying it on Rosie Londoner’s blog, my sister and I knew our dream holiday destination had been found. Quiet and scenic, not requiring a car, beautiful beaches, affordable yet unspoilt. It ticks all these boxes and so many more. The island is as postcard perfect as you could imagine. In contrast to the white and blue architecture classically associated with Greek islands such as Santorini and Mykonos, the houses of Symi much more closely resemble the towns dotting the Italian coastline such as Portofino – all apricot and peach toned villas, climbing high up the hills.

Symi townA week in Symi follows a pretty blissful pattern: hop on a morning boat to a gorgeously scenic beach to spend the day basking in sunshine and swimming in warm turquoise sea. In the late afternoon, return to Symi for an evening stroll around the harbour, peeking into the super yachts moored up for the night as you choose which charming taverna to watch the sunset from.View from Symi HarbourWhilst Symi has certainly skyrocketed to the top of my ‘favourite places in the world’ list (joining New York, Venice and Tresco), Nanou Beach could easily hold a spot of its own. After a twenty minute little boat trip from Symi (10 return, on charming small boats run by super friendly locals, leaving on the hour every in the morning and arriving to take you back every hour in the afternoon), you arrive at the jaw dropping destination. 300ft cliffs drop down to the small bay of a pebbly beach and crystal clear waters. There are two rows of sun loungers (a mere 2 a day) but all are spaced well apart, so you don’t feel like you are on top of the next people along. If you get the 10am boat from Symi (the first boat of the day) the hour before the next boat arrives feels like you have the beach to yourself. Even in peak August, I had the sea to myself several times a day. The occasional yacht pulls up and moors alongside the cliffs, providing good people watching whilst leaving your sun lounger view entirely unspoilt.Nanou Beach, SymiBy the last day of my holiday, returning to Nanou for the second time, I was so zen I didn’t even pick up my Kindle the whole day. I was the ultimate example of holiday relaxation: daydreaming on the sun-lounger, breaking this up with long swims in the sea (read: floating about on my noodle) and the occasional snack of freshly baked spanakopita bought from the bakery that morning. It was a wrench to get back on the last boat of the day and head back to Symi.

Rhubarb crumble ice cream

Surely the highlight of summer holidays has to be the opportunity for great ice cream every day. I remember all my recent holidays by the standard of the ice cream I had. In Malaga at Christmas I discovered the most perfect unadulterated raspberry sorbet. I returned so regularly for it throughout the week that I am sure the server started to recognise me. In April, I went to Florence with my best friend for just three days. Despite initial plans to try as many ice cream parlours and flavours as possible, one little ice cream shop opposite the Pitti Palace captured our hearts with it’s amazing caramel and white chocolate flavour. I know, it sounds sickly sweet, but I promise you it was balanced perfectly – smooth white chocolate ice cream, dark and salty caramel, a thick layer of dark chocolate fudge on top. A bold tangerine flavour discovered on an evening stroll was also deliciously memorable. I am headed to Rhodes and Symi in August and I’m already excited for more ice cream discoveries.

Rhubarb crumble ice cream

Perfect ice cream is too good to be restricted to holidays. Returning from travelling, I wanted to make a classic English flavour and considering my well documented rhubarb obsession, this seemed like a good place to start. I always make ice cream using the no-churn method – it is super easy and doesn’t require an ice cream maker, but still achieves really creamy and smooth results so you’d never know there wasn’t a custard base. Cooking the rhubarb and crumble adds a few more steps so having the ice cream base come together really quickly is extra helpful. The end result is the perfect treat on an English summer afternoon – tart swirls of pretty pink rhubarb, crunch from the crumble and extra flavour from the oats. Enjoy!

Rhubarb crumble ice cream

  • 400g rhubarb
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 140g plain flour
  • 10g butter
  • 100g light brown soft sugar
  • handful of rolled oats
  • 300ml double cream
  • 175ml condensed milk

Begin with the rhubarb. Preheat the oven to 180’C. Chop the rhubarb into 5cm lengths and place in a single layer on a baking tray. Sprinkle with the caster sugar. Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the rhubarb is tender when pierced with a fork.

For the crumble, rub together the flour, butter and light brown sugar until just past breadcrumbs and beginning to form small lumps. Add the oats and stir through. Scatter in a single layer on a baking tray and bake above the rhubarb for 10-15 minutes, until golden and crisp. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Remove the rhubarb from the oven and tip into a food processor or blender, including all the juices. Blend to a smooth puree.

Next, whisk the double cream and condensed milk together until forming soft peaks. Stir through 2/3 of the rhubarb puree and 2/3 of the cooled crumble chunks. Scrape half the mixture into a Tupperware container. Spoon over half the remaining rhubarb puree, and half the remaining crumble. Swirl using the end of a spoon to create a ripple effect. Top with the rest of the ice cream mixture, puree and crumble. Finally, freeze for four hours or overnight until solid.

Roast carrot, puy lentil and feta salad

When I left home and started university at Cambridge, I knew I would miss my home kitchen. Filled to the brim with every grain, spice, flour and baking ingredient you could need, it was a stark contrast to my empty cupboards on arrival in college. However, lacking a stocked store cupboard also proved to be refreshing – I was able to start from scratch and build stores of all just my favourites instead of the whole families. Goodbye Marmite and teabags, hello Dairy Milk and three types of pasta. Also hello to precooked pouches of lentils – a new discovery at uni and a rapid must have. I steered clear of cooking lentils much before these; lacking the patience to stir a cooking pan of lentils from scratch only for them to end up disappointingly mushy. With these pouches (Merchant Gourmet are the easiest to get hold of) however, healthy lentil lunches were suddenly only minutes away.

Roast carrot, lentil, feta salad

This is a perfect example of a healthy lunchtime salad that is still really filling and won’t leave you reaching for the Hobnobs by 3pm. The flavours give you a little bit of everything – earthy lentils, salty feta and sweetness from the roast carrots. Butternut squash or sweet potato would also work well in place of carrots, or even alongside them for a gorgeous orange veg medley.

Roast carrot, puy lentil and feta salad

Serves 2

  • 3 large carrots
  • 3tbsp olive oil
  • 250g pouch ready cooked lentils
  • ½ red onion
  • ½ lemon
  • 100g feta

Preheat the oven to 200’C. Peel the carrots and cut into sticks around 7cm long and 1cm wide. Toss in 2tbsp of the olive oil and spread in a single layer on a baking tray with a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until tender and caramelised.

Meanwhile, finely slice the red onion, juice the half lemon and crumble the feta.

Microwave the lentils in the pouch according to packet instructions. Tip into a bowl and mix with the remaining ingredients, remaining olive oil, large pinch of salt and generous grinding of pepper. Serve warm and enjoy.

Avocado, bacon, tomato and pesto pasta salad

Every now and then, a dish comes along that just totally surprises you. This could be a restaurant dish that seemed like the risky choice and ends up stealing the show. A way of cooking a certain ingredient that turns you from a sceptic to a full on fan. Or maybe a pasta salad designed to just use up bits and bobs from the fridge that becomes your favourite lunch in a long time!

Avocado, bacon, tomato and pesto pasta salad

Calling this pasta salad ‘a dish’ is probably almost too extravagant. Yes, it is super simple, but it puts those packaged supermarket offerings to shame. It all just works perfectly together and is so addictive that The spare serving you’d made for lunch the next day might just get eaten too… Super crispy salty bacon, peppery rocket, creamy avocado and juicy tomatoes – what is not to like? Just looking at the picture again is making me hungry. The recipe is really just a guideline, for example I used orzo pasta here, in the spirit of using things up from my cupboard, but of course use any shape you fancy.

Avocado, bacon and tomato pesto pasta salad

Serves 2

  • 100g orzo
  • 3tbsp pesto
  • 4 rashers of bacon
  • 1/2 avocado
  • handful cherry tomatoes
  • large handful of rocket

Boil the pasta in a large saucepan of boiling salted water for 8-10 minutes until al dente. Meanwhile, fry the bacon until crisp. Place on kitchen paper to absorb excess oil and snip into 3cm chunks. Next, halve the cherry tomatoes and dice the avocado into large cubes.

When the pasta is cooked, drain well and tip into a large mixing bowl. Stir through the remaining ingredients and season generously with pepper (the bacon and pesto should be salty enough). Enjoy!

Peach Cobbler

Sometimes I miss baking in the summer. Baking lends itself perfectly to winter – all warming crumbles, lashings of custard, rib-sticking golden syrup sponges and Christmas puddings set on fire. In summer, meanwhile, for Londoners already struggling with the occasional heatwave the thought of adding more heat by switching on an oven seems insufferable. Magazines suggest simple fruit-swirled fools, ice lollies and jazzy fruit salad combinations for dessert instead. But sometimes, these just don’t cut it.

Peach cobbler

A crumble is a classic in my house, but this time I wanted to make a cobbler to try something a little bit different. I thought it turned out looking so sweet with the little dumplings sitting in neat rows on top of the peaches. It’s definitely heartier than a crumble – a higher ratio of topping to fruit – but it gives that same satisfying texture change between the crunchy demerara top of the dumplings and the fruit juice soaked layer of the underneath. I may have had the leftovers for breakfast. Shh.

Peach Cobbler

Serves 2

  • 210g plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 70g cold butter, cubed
  • 40g caster sugar
  • 50-80ml milk
  • 2 tins of sliced peaches
  • ½ tsp vanilla essence
  • demerara sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 180’C.

Sift the plain flour and baking powder together. Add the cold butter and rub together with your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar. Make a well in the middle, and pour in 50ml of the milk. Mix with a knife to a soft dough, adding more milk if necessary. Pat out into a flat disc 1.5cm thick and use a 5cm cookie cutter to stamp out circles. Set aside.

Drain the sliced peaches and tip into a small pie dish. Sprinkle the vanilla essence over the peaches. Arrange the dough discs on top of the peaches, brush with milk and sprinkle generously with demerara sugar.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the biscuits are golden and crisp on top. Serve warm with plenty of cream or custard.

Apricot frangipane tart

Cookery school was a year where I learnt the true art of pastry. Quiches lined with buttery shortcrust, proudly freestanding hot water crust pork pies, summer tarts edged with towering layers of rough puff, afternoons spent stretching homemade filo across entire tables – we did it all. For the majority of the year we also did everything by hand, the true Leiths way, in order to get a proper feel for the doughs we worked with. Since I finished Leiths and went to Cambridge, the proportion of my time spent perfecting pastry in this way has sadly largely declined. A situation that needed to be rectified immediately – with this frangipane tart!

Frangipane Tart

I didn’t start making this until about 6pm one evening, which made me think visions of eating freshly baked frangipane for dinner that evening might be overly ambitious. However, this came together in a cinch. As much as I enjoy occasionally labouring over the perfect crisp-bottomed quiche, it was joyous not to have any blind baking involved in this recipe. The jam, frangipane and fruit are all layered on the raw pastry and everything all baked together at once. You can pop it in the oven and forget all about it until the timer beeps 40 minutes later, with no baking beans in sight. The perfect way to get back into pastry making. When raw, the frangipane layer seemed perilously thin but it puffs up perfectly in the oven so do not fear! You can vary the flavours to suit seasonality and the jam you have to hand – the combinations are endless. I based my tart on this Mary Berry recipe (who better to use to avoid a soggy bottom?) with a few adaptations: I snuck a layer of jam in between the pastry and frangipane, used fresh apricots and skipped the icing layer as the jam gave that extra hit of sweetness instead. Enjoy!