Butternut squash and pumpkin soup with a thyme and taleggio tart

Argh I’m drowning in a sea of recipes I keep meaning to post here. There are recipes from the summer in my backlog!! Really nice recipes like roast sea bream with salsa verde or an indian chickpea curry we had for the first time in Scotland back in June. Also our favourite blueberry muffins, a windfall apple cake and the fish curry Lewis makes for the whole family every year in France. But alas! The mood to write, she is not there as Hercule Poirot, for whom I always have time, might or might not say.

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To start, here is a recipe for butternut squash and pumpkin soup. Very ‘in’ right now, I’m sure you’ll agree, seeing as it’s proper autumn with the damp and the rain and the leaves. We are greatly enjoying stomping through the leaves this year. The pic above is Lexie posting her birthday party invites, although I had to tell her they were birthday cards for her friends. She wants to keep all her precious Peppa Pig invites for herself and also wants to do the pinata on her own!! This is an easy soup and Lexie loved it when she was weaning onto solids. I’d make it super thick and she’d feed herself (also I never did this but you could easily freeze this into ice cubes for quick baby meals). Now Lexie hates butternut squash so has to be coaxed into having a couple of mouthfuls, or dabbing her cheese toastie in the soup.

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A blob of gorgonzola or another blue cheese is heavenly in this soup and I keep meaning to fry a little pancetta to add on top. A dash of cayenne pepper/chilli powder, a swirl of creme fraiche and some chopped coriander works well too. This recipe is also a good way to make pumpkin taste nice (pumpkin really isn’t that nice on it’s own). Definitely roast the squash first for a richer, more flavourful soup. The pic above is the first time Lexie saw a pumpkin and the other pic is of her helping me buy lots of squash and pumpkins last year – little cutie pie!

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Because I’ve been making this soup for years and find it a bit boring I thought I’d add the recipe for a delicious thyme and taleggio tart. I can’t remember when Lewis first made this for me. It was definitely in the early years of our ‘long term relationship’ (that’s an ‘in’ joke) and it’s a staple from his family. It’s sooo easy and sooo good, a pimped puff pastry job – do try this! Using the same principles you can make a variety of tasty tarts – some that I’ve tried include cherry tomato, basil and goats cheese, very nice. Also a butternut squash and feta tart, a variation of this salad. 

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Finally we’ve gone a bit nuts for autumny crafts in our house now that Lexie is almost 3 and actually a joy to do crafts with (as opposed to when she was 2 when really all I should have done every day was build a massive tower of soft bricks, give her a Timmy Mallet style mallet and set her loose to destroy!). We’ve got leaf ghosts, egg carton spiders and bats, hedgehogs made out of paper plates or conkers, fingerprint or popcorn trees, I could go on.

Butternut squash and pumpkin soup

Prep: 5-10 mins
Cook: 20-30 mins
Budget: Less than £5 (£1.50 butternut squash, £1 pumpkin, £1 parsley)
Ease: Easy
Serves: 2 – 4 depending on portion size Ingredients:

  • A butternut squash and a pumpkin, halved
  • 1 sliced onion
  • Chicken stock
  • Chopped parsley
  • Olive oil and butter
  • Salt and pepper

Roast the squash in pieces (skin on) drizzled in olive oil and sea salt. Try to roast it for at least an hour, until it is all soft and squoodgy.

Gently fry the onion in the olive oil and a little butter for 10 mins. When the onion is soft add the peeled and deseeded butternut squash/pumpkin and cover with stock – as much as you want depending on if you want a thin or thick soup.

Bring to the boil then simmer for 15 mins. Use a juzzer thingimibob to puree the soup et voila, presto, listo, done.

This soup is lovely with a nice cheese toastie or served with a good cheese plate. We often have it with comte cheese.

Thyme and taleggio tart

Prep: 5 mins
Cook: 20-40 mins
Budget: £6 (£3 taleggio, £1 thyme, £1.50 puff pastry)
Ease: Easy
Serves: 4-6 depending on portion size

  • 1 sheet of bought puff pastry
  • 2 onions
  • Lots of butter
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • Taleggio cheese

Preheat the oven to 200-220c and roll the puff pastry out onto a greased baking tray or a tray lined with greaseproof paper. Score the edges about 2cm apart to make a border (I never do this and it’s always fine, just leave a bit of a border if you want).

In a separate pan, gently fry the onion in lots of butter until soft and translucent, at least 10 mins of frying and don’t let it brown. When the onion is done spread it over the puff pastry and dob pieces of the taleggio on top.

Finally sprinkle the thyme sprigs all over the tart. Lots of thyme is good. Brush the pastry border with a little melted butter (again I never do this and it’s fine without), pop in the oven, and bake for about 20-30 minutes until the pastry is puffed and golden. You can turn the heat up if you want it to cook quicker/be more golden.

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Lexie’s tomato rice

I was going to call this ‘Basque vegetable stew’ – sounds a bit better than marrow stew which essentially what it is. Then Lexie started calling it ‘tomato rice’ which is a much better name. This is sort of a ratatouille, sort of a piperade and I remember my mum teaching me how to make it.

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Lexie is going through a weird hardly eating anything at all phase – literally three mouthfuls and she says she’s done. It’s quite challenging! But she really loves her ‘tomato rice’ and yesterday actually asked for it so I thought I’d share the recipe here. We always have it with rice and fried eggs. It’s really easy to make with kids – Lex slices the veg and pours the tomatoes into the pan, she loves stirring the pot and also helping to fry the egg (we gently break the egg into a bowl then she pours it into the pan and I fry it). Make a big batch of this on the weekend and you’ve got an instant veggie packed meal ready to go for the rest of the week.

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(I need to update this post with some pics of said tomato rice. Until I do here are some pics of Lex in her new little Indian girl outfit. She’s very keen on a Peppa Pig themed birthday party this year… erm…. so I preempted and bought her this costume. Success! She loves it and now wants a Cowboys and Indians theme. Am I a bad mother because I don’t want her to have a Peppa Pig party?)

Lexie’s tomato rice

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 1 hour
Budget: £5 (£1.50 peppers, £1 marrow, £1 tinned tomatos, £1.50 eggs)
Ease: Easy
Serves: 6
Ingredients:

  • 1 marrow or 2 big courgettes – cut in half and sliced into crescents
  • 1 red pepper, sliced
  • 1 green pepper, sliced
  • 1 yellow pepper, sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 clove sliced garlic
  • 2 tins of tomatos, drained
  • 1 chicken or veg stock cube and water
  • Salt and pepper
  • Sugar (equal to salt so maybe 1 tsp)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Chopped parsley
  • Rice
  • Eggs
  • 4 tbsp olive oil

Fry the onions gently in olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan or casserole dish for 10 minutes. Make sure they don’t brown and season with salt to help release the onion’s juices, as my mum always says. Then add the peppers and fry for another 10 mins. Then add the marrow and fry for another 10 minutes before adding the drained tins of tomatoes, sliced garlic, bay leaf, stock cube and water. Add a little more salt and the equivalent sugar. Cook partially covered for 30 mins – 1 hour until you are happy with it. Sprinkle on the fresh parsley and serve with rice and fried eggs and some nice bread to mop up the juices. This tastes better the next day and keeps well in the fridge for about a week.

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Asian baked sea bream

After the bizarre sand clouds that covered London in a smoggy gloom, we are getting some blue skies again. We’ve been enjoying picnics under the blossom and some long afternoons in the garden.

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We’ve also been eating lots of fish. I’ve made beer battered fish tacos with chilli lime avocado about four times. Lewis made a delicious skate and caper butter sauce which I was going to share today but last night’s asian baked sea bream was so amazing it has to go first. This is so so delicious. It’s meant for sea bass but bream is cheaper and just as tasty in my opinion.

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The recipe belongs to Lewis. The first time he made it for me was my birthday. We’d only been together 4 months and he took me to Scotland to his mother’s house. I’m a January baby so the landscape was frozen, other worldly and it was dark by 4pm. That day we got caught in a blizzard attempting to climb a munro (mini mountain). We were so happy to get home safely, drink some beers and eat this delicious fish. The photo above was the view before the blizzard hit, the second photo below was when it started (it got much worse!), the third is our ‘we made it!’ selfie!

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Lexie also loves this dish. There is only chilli in the garnish so it’s really easy to serve this to kids and do a separate chilli-free garnish for them. It calls for a lot of soy sauce so if your child is under 2 perhaps serve with only a drop of sauce.

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Asian baked sea bream

Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 20-30 mins
Budget: £10-15 (£7 sea bream, £1 spring onions, £1 coriander, £1 chillis)
Ease: Easy
Serves 4

  • 1 whole sea bream, gutted and cleaned by the fishmonger
  • 1 bunch of spring onion
  • 1 knob of ginger
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 red chilli
  • Sunflower or groundnut oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Soy sauce
  • Coriander

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Preheat the oven to 200/gas mark 6. Put the sea bream in a baking dish, tuck some sliced ginger, spring onion and coriander inside the fish. Add a small amount of water, sesame oil and soy to the bottom of the dish. Cover tightly with foil and bake in the oven for about 20 mins.

Prepare a garnish of thinly sliced chilli, spring onion (we usually do matchsticks) and coriander. Then make a sauce by softening 2 cloves of sliced garlic and about a thumb of finely chopped ginger in some sunflower oil on a low heat. This should take about 5 mins and watch it doesn’t burn. Add lots of soy sauce (approx 100ml), some water (approx 50ml) and bubble for 1 min. When the fish is ready, remove the foil, pour the sauce over the fish and sprinkle the garnish on top. Serve with rice, filleting the fish and removing the skin and bones. When Lexie saw the whole fish with eyes and everything she said: “Mummy it’s a scary fish!!”

(The picture below is the very first time we ate this in Scotland!)

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Asparagus soup with poached egg on toast

There has been a chill in the air all of this week. We’ve been spending a lot of time indoors which I always find a struggle. At home Lexie seems to need constant attention. Why is she incapable of playing by herself? Ever? It drives me nuts! In an attempt to do something fun with her that wouldn’t end in (my) tears, we built our first fort. Thankfully it was a success, though it took a while to convince Lexie she didn’t have to put all her toys and clothes in it. Does anyone else’s child love stuffing everything into places? Lexie is obsessed with cramming things into her suitcase/bag/oven/Sylvanian camper van.

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Another soup recipe from me today. It seems fitting for the chilly weather. It’s from the Jamie at Home cookbook which is divided into seasons. Under spring falls my great love asparagus. I’ve tried all the recipes in this section and the standout winner is this creamy asparagus soup with poached egg on toast. It is really delicious and tastes so luxurious despite the lack of cream and butter.

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The book tells me asparagus is one of the most nutritious vegetables you can eat, full of vitamins and folic acid. It is also a diuretic and a good liver cleanser (although I think this soup is lovely with a nice glass of white burgundy). Lexie really enjoys eating this and helping to make it. She likes making soups as our handheld blender is broken so I have to use the magimix and she gets to press the button. She also loves poaching the egg, helping me crack it into a little bowl and stirring the water to create a vortex.

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Asparagus soup with poached egg on toast

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 35 mins
Budget: £5 (£3 asparagus, 20p onion, 20p celery, 50p leek, £1.30 eggs)
Ease: Easy for the soup – medium for the poached egg
Serves: 4

  • 1 bunch of asparagus, rinsed, trimmed of edges and chopped into 2cm pieces
  • 1 sliced leek
  • 1 sliced onion
  • 1 sliced stick of celery
  • Chicken stock cube
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 egg per person
  • Bread – ciabatta is nice for this recipe

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Gently heat a little olive oil in a saucepan and add the onion, celery and leek with a little salt. Sweat gently for 10 minutes without browning. Add the asparagus, stock cube and top up with water. You can make this soup as thick or as thin as you like depending on how much water you add. Cook for 20-30 mins. When it’s ready whizz it in a blender and season to taste. A word of warning – once I made this in a rush, didn’t sweat the vegetables and cooked it for just under 20 mins. The result was like eating the leftover stringy pulp from a juicer! So definitely respect the cooking times!

My method of poaching eggs is not foolproof and doesn’t always work (I mean doesn’t always look pretty). Use the freshest eggs you can and crack them into bowls – one bowl per egg. Boil a small saucepan full of water and add a small splash of vinegar and a tiny bit of salt. Reduce the heat so the water is simmering and create a vortex by swirling a spoon around the water. Pour the egg into this simmering vortex and leave for 3 minutes. If doing more than one egg make sure you pour it into a different part of the saucepan at the same time – I’ve never done more than 2 at a time! Start toasting the bread and when the egg is done, remove with a slotted spoon and place on the toast. Serve the soup either as Jamie does, with the poached egg and toast resting on top of the soup or, as I do, on the side.

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Two dresses, some tulips and a cauliflower soup

It’s been a week for flowers and dresses. I couldn’t resist getting some beautiful tulips from the market and we have small branches of apple blossom dotted around our flat. Lexie likes shaking them and making the blossom “snow” on her head.

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Inspired by the new season I’m finding myself wearing dresses, drawn to anything floral or white and crocheted. Two ebay finds that have delighted us this week are this little Laura Ashley number for Lexie (99p!) and a Whistles dress that I will probably wear at my wedding – I love it!

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Continuing on the white theme, I also made the most delicious scallops with cauliflower the other day. The recipe is, as always, by the beautiful Mimi Thorisson whose book: ‘A kitchen in France – a year of cooking in my farmhouse’ is now available to preorder – hurrah!! This was wonderful, light and fresh despite the copious use of butter. The cauliflower was probably my favourite element – I adore cauliflower. As there are only two of us and there is only so much cauliflower one can eat at a time – even for an aficionado like me – I used less than half of it for this recipe. I needed to make something else with the rest… hmm decisions decisions.

I thought about cauliflower cheese but didn’t really fancy it. I love Lewis’ Indian spiced cauliflower he serves as part of a ‘Rice and Three’ vegetarian curries – the other two are usually sag aloo and dal. But I don’t know how to make this (there is still some cauliflower left so his recipe will probably be on the blog next week). As it’s still quite chilly despite the blue skies I decided on my mum’s cauliflower soup. This is a delicious and simple creamy soup that we ate with cheese toasties and, in Lexie’s case, a sombrero.

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I should add that my mum is the worst person in the world to ask for a recipe. For example: “Mum how did you roast this amazing pheasant?” (which includes brandy and flambeing in the cooking)… Mum: “I put it in the oven.” When I asked her how to make this soup, she replied: “Like every other soup.” Lewis and I think it’s hilarious to do ‘my mum’ impressions when cooking. Me: “Lewis what are you doing?” Lewis: “Cooking hmmmpfh!” etc etc.

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The pic above is us out in our new dresses and old denim jackets. Lexie turned to me aghast that day and said: “Mummy where our coats!!!!” She was right, it was far too cold to be out without proper coats.

Cauliflower soup 

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 30 mins
Budget: Under £5 (£1.50 cauliflower, 20p potato, £1 milk, 20p onion)
Ease: Easy
Serves 4

  • 1/2 cauliflower head, cut into florets
  • 1 potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 small sliced white onion
  • Chicken stock cube
  • 1 cup milk
  • Olive oil
  • Butter
  • Salt and pepper

Gently fry the onion in a little olive oil or olive oil and butter for 10 mins. Add the potato, cauliflower and stock cube, cover with water. Cook for 20-30 mins then blitz in a blender. Put the soup back in the pan and gently heat. Add a cup of milk and a little knob of butter and stir in. Season to taste and serve.

Crab linguine with Albert – Lexie’s other boyfriend

This is another mother-in-law recipe that has become one of my all time favourites. It encompasses all my favourite ingredients – salt, lemon, chilli, garlic, olive oil. We make it regularly buying dressed crabs for ease, but nothing will beat eating this in the Scottish Highlands. The local fisherman delivers crabs caught that morning directly to my mother-in-law’s house.

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Yes that beach is in Scotland. The weather is always changeable in this part of the country but last summer we were blessed with a run of glorious sunny days. Lexie was overjoyed to be on the beach and ran headlong into the freezing Atlantic sea completely nonplussed. Usually the weather is more like the picture below taken the year before. I couldn’t find a picture of the crabs but here is one of me with a lobster that was also part of our special delivery.

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Crab linguine ticks a lot of boxes. It’s often our Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve main course. Recently it’s been my go-to dish if cooking for girl friends because it’s luxurious yet ready in the time it takes the pasta to cook. Perfect for a midweek lunch with Caroline who was visiting with her son Albert. By perfect I mean as perfect as lunch with two awake two year olds will ever be (Lexie: “Mummy need wee wee”… Albert: “Mummy I need wee wee NOW” etc). It was so lovely to see them. I mean how can you not adore a little boy who arrives to see your daughter like this…

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Albert is Leo’s main competitor. Him and Lexie have been friends since they were 6 months old as we lived over the road from each other. Caroline and I found the local area difficult and we both ended up moving after a year, in their case to Brighton by the sea. It is such a shame we don’t get to meet up as much anymore – I mean just look at these two!! I’m already picturing my grandchildren with Albert’s amazing hair.

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We all ate linguine but the kids had peas and parmesan instead of crab. I’m not sure when I’ll give Lexie crab – can two year olds eat crab? In any case ours had lots of chilli so wasn’t kiddie appropriate. The crab was yummy as always but I’ll probably aim for something even easier next time we are all together. The kids were way too excited to eat and after the various wee stops/spillage wipe ups etc our pasta was pretty cold. But it was fine because we had bubbles! And strawberries and cherries in garden after lunch which were very popular and made up for the lack of lunch eating. Come back and see us soon Albert and Caroline!

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Crab linguine

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 10 mins
Budget: £10 (£5 crab, £1.50 parsley, 50p lemon, 50p chilli)
Ease: Easy
Serves 2-3

  • 1 dressed crab per 2 people
  • Olive oil
  • 1 crushed garlic clove
  • 1 red chilli finely chopped
  • Lots of chopped parsley
  • 1 or 2 lemons
  • Salt and pepper
  • Linguine

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Start by making the crab mixture. Scoop the prepared white and brown crabmeat into a bowl adding a generous amount of olive oil. Add the chopped parsley, crushed garlic and finely sliced chilli – I wear rubber gloves and use scissors to chop chillis and avoid getting any on my hands (I wear contacts and also worry about touching Lexie with chilli fingers). Mix it all together with a spoon and season with salt and pepper to taste. Start cooking the linguine and just before it’s ready squeeze some lemon into the crab mixture. Drain the pasta reserving a tiny amount of the cooking water. Mix the crab into the pasta so that the linguine strands are all nicely coated. Serve with extra olive oil for drizzling and more lemon slices. We always seem to add loads of extra salt and lemon. Serve quickly because it cools down fast but, having eaten it cold this very day, I can say it’s still tasty cold! Not optimal but still good!

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I love the two pictures below of Lexie in Brighton last year on a trip to see Albert.

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Braised fennel, tomatoes and chickpeas (nice with cod)

When I was pregnant we lived with my mother-in-law for six months. Our beautiful flat (that we no longer live in… sigh) was being renovated. We moved into it in September and Lexie was born a month later. Although it was a bit stressful being displaced, it was also a golden time. Living in her light, airy Georgian house that summer I felt extraordinarily free. I wasn’t working, I spent a lot of time napping, reading and sitting in the shade of the fragrant garden. It was an oblique time compounded by the displacement perhaps and I was very happy.

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She also cooked us so many wonderful meals. This is one of her recipes that I love. Fragrant, filling and nutritious, I usually make this with baked or pan fried cod but it’s lovely by itself too. Ideally use dried chickpeas using the cooking water as the stock, but I rarely have the foresight and use tins. I haven’t managed to get Lex to eat the fennel yet but she loves the tomatoes, chickpeas, fish and broth.

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Braised fennel, tomatoes and chickpeas

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 20-30 mins
Budget: £5 no fish, £10-£15 with fish (£1 chickpeas, £1.50 tomatoes, £1 fennel, £1.50 herbs)
Ease: Easy
Serves: 2

  • 1 tin of chickpeas or equivalent dried chickpeas soaked overnight and cooked for 1 hour
  • 1 fennel bulb, sliced and rinsed
  • 1/2 red onion (white fine too)
  • Some small tomatoes on the vine
  • Bouillon
  • 1 clove peeled and sliced garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • A handful of chopped fresh parsley or basil
  • Splash of vermouth or sherry or white wine (optional)
  • Fillets of cod (optional)

Put the sliced onion and fennel in a pan with olive oil and some salt. Cook slowly, partially covered for 10-15 mins. Then, If using sherry or vermouth, add a splash now and sizzle for a bit until the alcohol has gone. I haven’t used any booze in this dish for ages – it’s fine without. Add the garlic and place the tomatoes into the pan and cook on a medium heat. Stir from time to time but the idea is for the tomatoes to retain their shape so stir around them with a wooden spoon. After another 20 mins add a small glass of water and a tiny sprinkle of bouillon. Add the drained and rinsed tin of chickpeas along with the chopped parsley or basil. Add more water to get the consistency you want – it can be as soupy as you like, maybe just add a little more bouillon in which case. Cook for another 5 mins or so and it should be done. Serve with olive oil for drizzling and some nice fresh bread to mop up the broth.

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  • If you have used dried chickpeas (so soaked overnight, drained and rinsed, then cooked for an hour in fresh water), use some of the cooking water in place of stock and also add the cooked chickpeas as above.
  • If having fish, either pan fry or bake. To pan fry – salt and dust the cod fillets with a little flour, heat some sunflower oil in a pan to a high heat, place skin side down and don’t touch for 2-3 mins, gently turn over add a squeeze of lemon and fry for another 2-3 mins. The fish should be ready and serve on top of the chickpea, fennel broth with a slice of lemon. To bake – place some of the chickpea, tomato and fennel broth into a casserole and place the fish fillets on top. Drizzle the fish with olive oil, coarse sea salt and a squeeze of lemon. Put in a pre-heated oven for 10 mins – you will need to judge the cooking according to your oven and the size of the fish – when done the fish should be flaky and slightly translucent.

Here is a picture of my mum and Lexie enjoying my mother-in-law’s beautiful garden last summer.

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