Asparagus risotto

I almost called this post ‘an ode asparagus’. My mum calls her downstairs neighbour ‘Margarita Broccoli’ because whenever she babysits for her, broccoli is for dinner. Well we could totally be ‘Phillipa Asparagus’ and ‘Carmen Asparagus’ because that’s pretty much the case for us. Obsessed.

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Now British asparagus is in season we are definitely eating it every day. Most often as a simple asparagus tapas or my favourite asparagus soup with poached eggs. As I’m getting a bit puritanical about making stock from scratch (which means Lewis makes it), asparagus risotto has become a new delight to add to our asparagus repertoire. It’s ok with a stock cube but miles better with proper homemade chicken stock. Lexie absolutely loves this risotto which says a lot as I have to negotiate to get her to eat an asparagus spear or the soup.

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I thought I had my recipe down pat but, after reading the Sunday Times new food columnist Florence Knight, I tried adding lemon zest which worked really well. Her asparagus risotto also features mint which I didn’t try but I think peas and mint could be a nice addition here. She also featured a delicious herby salad which is exactly what my mother-in-law makes, a good lettuce, simple oil and vinegar dressing with lots of fresh herbs from the garden. Perfect for after the risotto with some nice cheeses.

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In other news… Lexie has learnt how to ride a bike. She was gifted a big girls bike by her idol Etty and a top balance bike from her cousins. Lewis and I debated whether she should have stabilisers with Lewis in favour of sticking with the balance bike – so the right call. She still can’t quite brake so we do loops around the local park with Lewis running behind her, but still riding a bike properly at 3 1/2 is pretty amazing. I had a little moment yesterday and told her I was sad she was growing so fast (she also likes being told she’s big). Quick as a flash she replied: “Ah mama, I’m still only 3!” To which I said: “But you’re not my baby anymore.” Her reply (my heart breaks): “I’ll always be your baby mama!!” I’m surprised she didn’t capitalise on the moment to ask for the banned Ipad! Smart as a whip this girl.

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Then Mr Finny McMoo, my little Fatty Arbuckle, now 6 months, is scoffing three meals a day and almost crawling. I almost said happily scoffing but actually he’s grumpy, frustrated he can’t move or eat as fast as he’d like (check out grumpy Finn below). He’s very different from Lexie at the same age and definitely boisterous! Both my babies have been smily and jolly but they are not those fat happy buddhas that sit contentedly surveying the world. As much as I don’t want to wish this time away, I’m slightly looking forward to him being on the move so he’s happier, or being able to sit up properly so he can go in the high chair. Or to the day I can go out with a little pack of sandwiches and snacks and keep him occupied with those!

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Asparagus risotto

  • 2 or 3 shallots, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, washed, trimmed and sliced into 1cm or 5mm rounds
  • risotto rice (1/2 box maybe a bit less? Adapt to your needs)
  • chicken stock (1L?)
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • butter
  • parmesan, grated
  • 1/2 glass white wine
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest
  • handful chopped parsley

Start by softening the onion in the olive oil gently for as long as you can be bothered, at least 10 mins. Don’t let it brown. Add the garlic just before adding the rice. Then once the rice is in, add a splash of white wine, sizzle and reduce the heat.

Add the asparagus then slowly start adding the warmed up stock, stirring gently all the time. Keep adding the stock and stirring until the risotto is done. It should take about 20 mins.

Just before serving stir in the lemon zest and parsley, also half of the parmesan if you wish. Serve with extra parmesan.

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A minestrone for spring?

Is it summer? Is it spring? Is it winter? The weather is particularly doollally at the moment. I’m writing this with the heating on wondering when I can pack our winter clothes away. Equally my peonies from the market are in full bloom and the kitchen is full of english asparagus and strawberries… I think this minestrone is a good compromise. It’s packed full of new season veg and I’m looking forward to warming up with a bowl of it later.

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I also have to express a new fondness for peas, one of the ingredients in this soup. It turns out Lexie is a master pea podder and will sit happily for an age, podding away. I think we will be eating a lot of peas this month!

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The recipe is adapted from one in the Petersham Nurseries cook book (I need some new cook books!). It is easy but it takes a little time to prep the veg. Given it will improve overnight, I recommend making the base of the soup including the tomato stage the day before. Then all you have to do is reheat and add the last min veg for 10 mins.

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A minestrone for spring

  • 1 stick of celery, halved and sliced into 5mm strips
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped as above
  • big handful of peas
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed and washed, sliced diagonally also 5mm
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • proper chicken stock (ideally)
  • small bunch of rainbow chard, leaves stripped and washed, stalks sliced into 5mm rounds
  • 2 cloves of thinly sliced garlic
  • 3 charlotte or new potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 tin Cirio (or another good brand) tomatoes
  • small bunch chopped parsley
  • parmesan
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Sweat the onion, celery, carrot, potatoes and chard stalks in a little olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan for about 10 mins. The aim is to soften not to colour the vegetables.

Add the garlic followed by the tomato and cook for a few more minutes. Heat and add most of the stock so the veg is well covered and simmer for 20 mins.

Then add the chard leaves as well as the asparagus and peas and more stock if needed. Simmer for another 5-10 mins until the veg is tender. Season with salt and pepper and serve with chopped parsley, a drizzle of olive oil, lots of grated parmesan and some good sourdough bread.

(This last pic of my pouty Lexie at the flower market. She’s also like this crazy weather. It’s up to 4 seasons an hour with her at the moment – sunny spells interspersed with some epic gales!)

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Yummy griddled chicken with sweet potato and purple sprouting broccoli

Hooray for these lighter days and all the pretty blossom on the trees. Given leaving the house with my two little ones is still an ordeal, I’m overjoyed that afternoons in the big garden are now feasible (on my first attempt at a picnic in March, it took us 40 mins to get out, a bird promptly pooed all over Finny including his hands… then it started to hail!). The two ancient cherry blossoms are in full bloom and we love lying underneath them making wishes.

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As I keep saying there are lots of recipes I keep meaning to add here. By a mile the yummiest thing we’ve eaten recently is this delicious griddled chicken. It’s a Lewis recipe (if I haven’t made it obvious, most of the best recipes on this blog are from Lewis and he does a lot of the cooking also! Thanks Lewis!! SuperChef!). It’s our version of the flattened chicken in my current favourite cookbook: Kitchen Memories and we have it with purple sprouting broccoli and sweet potato as suggested by the book (following their recipe), although it would be great with anything – in a hot chicken sandwich, with rice – it’s super versatile. You can leave the chilli out for kids. This recipe also works with grilled chicken thighs (pictured below)

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Yummy griddled chicken

  • 1 or 2 flattened chicken fillets (get the butcher to batter the chicken to about 1cm thickness or do it yourself)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 lemon cut into wedges
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme and/or rosemary leaves
  • Chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into quarters lengthways
  • 3 smashed garlic gloves, no skin
  • 1 tsp dried red chilli flakes (optional)
  • Sour cream (optional)
  • 2 chopped fresh red chillis (optional)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Purple sprouting broccoli

Marinade the chicken in the olive oil, herbs, half the lemon juice. Season with pepper (not salt) and leave covered for about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Put the sweet potato in a baking dish with the garlic, thympe leaves, pinch of dried chilli and enough olive oil to coat them and season. Bake for 35-40 mins turning occasionally. They should be slightly caramelised on the edges when done.

Parboil the broccoli for about 2 mins, drain then toss with olive oil and season. Or lightly fry a clove of garlic in olive oil, add the parboiled broccoli and fry for a couple of mins adding a good squeeze of lemon and salt and pepper. Both ways are nice.

Heat the griddle pan until smoking hot. Season the chicken with salt, place on the hot griddle and leave to cook for 4 mins then turn and cook for another 4 – 5 mins. Check it’s done then remove from the heat and leave to rest for a few mins.

Serve the chicken with the sweet potato and broccoli and a wedge of lemon. If you want add a spoonful of sour cream and scatter the fresh chilli and parsley over the top.

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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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A spring risotto for Poppy and Lexie

Poppy is one of Lexie’s very few ‘younger’ friends. My daughter definitely likes the older kids! They probably get on because they are both born wrigglers who never ever sit still. It’s pretty hard to find a picture of these two that isn’t blurry.

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Both of them love risotto so whenever they have dinner together either Katie, Poppy’s mum, or I make it (although sometimes, to avoid cooking we take them to the Tate Modern for the brilliant £3 kids fish and chips).

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All the magnolias and camelias are in full bloom right now. It’s so beautiful and makes me so happy. I’ve been filling our flat with camelias and visiting my mum in Chelsea which is awash with bursting magnolias. In honour of all this blossom and Poppy and Lexie’s budding friendship, here is a simple risotto for spring.

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Kids love risotto – it’s so easy for them to eat and ideal for little ones who are weaning as the rice sticks to the spoon and their fingers. Risotto is a great vehicle for lots of different veg – I’ve added some variations to this recipe at the end. Making this I listened to the Jungle Book’s I wanna be like you. Poppy and Lexie are such little monkeys and it seemed apt given how the littler ones always want to be just like the bigger kids.

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Simple spring risotto

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 20 mins
Budget: £5 (£2 bacon, 60p leek, £1.50 parsley)
Ease: easy
Serves 2

  • 1/2 sliced leek
  • 1/2 chopped onion
  • 2 rashers chopped bacon
  • 1 clove sliced garlic
  • 1 cup of frozen peas
  • Handful of fresh chopped parsley
  • Risotto rice
  • Chicken stock cube
  • Grated parmesan

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Heat olive oil in a pan and add the onion, bacon, leek and garlic and sweat for about 10 mins on a gentle heat. Add the risotto rice and start introducing the stock. For proper risotto I add a splash of wine and let it sizzle down before adding the stock a cupful at a time, stirring the risotto all the time. But for this version I just chuck a stock cube in and top up with hot water from the kettle every 5 mins or so, stirring it a bit. After 15 mins add the frozen peas. The risotto should be done after about 20 mins. Stir in the parsley and serve with grated parmesan.

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  • A classic risotto is mushroom. Fry onion, bacon and garlic as per above. Add the rice and stock and after 10 mins add the sliced mushrooms. Nice with lots of parsley.
  • I often make risotto with leftover roast chicken. Same recipe as above and add the leftover chicken 5 mins before serving.
  • I love courgette and pea risotto – the same recipe as above maybe leaving out the leek and adding the courgettes after 10 mins of cooking. This is nice with basil and/or a tiny bit of fresh chopped mint.
  • I also really love asparagus risotto – same recipe as above (except I don’t usually do bacon with asparagus risotto, not sure why), adding chopped asparagus after 10 mins of cooking.
  • Butternut squash risotto is popular but not really my cup of tea and Lex doesn’t like squash but I thought I’d mention it for inspiration.

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A spring minestrone

There are buds on the magnolias and the garden is full of daffodils and crocuses – signs that spring is on the way! We have one back garden and access to two beautiful communal gardens and while I never managed to do any gardening last year, I did note down all the flowers that bloomed throughout the year. I’m filled with anticipation of what is to come.

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One of the gardens overlooks the old church, now an orchestra rehearsal and recording studio. When the weather is warm and the church windows open we get to hear the performance by the visiting orchestra of the day – the Royal Philharmonic, the English Symphony Orchestra to name a few. There are two ancient cherry blossoms and I cannot wait for them to bloom. Last year Lexie and I spent many an afternoon lying in their shade, reading books, having ice creams and, if we were lucky, listening to the orchestra’s music.

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Lexie really loves minestrone and, seeing as there was fresh chicken stock from Sunday’s chicken, I made a spring version with no tomato. It’s adapted from a Jane Grigson recipe that calls for spring greens and butternut squash as well as the usual potato, pasta and beans. If you haven’t heard of Jane Grigson she was born in 1928 and a protege of Elizabeth David. Her book Good Things is a classic – a celebration of the seasons and the foods they bring. I made this soup listening to some beautiful Debussy flute, daydreaming about endless days in the garden and all the flowers yet to bloom, the magnolia, the camelias then the glorious summer roses, agapanthus and chrysanthemums…

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Spring minestrone

Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 20-30 mins
Budget: £5-10 (£1 butternut squash, £1.50 leeks, £2.50 pancetta, £1 spring cabbage)
Ease: easy
Serves 4

  • 1 sliced onion
  • 3 sliced leeks
  • 1/2 diced carrot
  • 1/2 stick celery chopped
  • 1 peeled and cubed potato
  • 1/2 butternut squash diced
  • 2 cloves garlic sliced
  • A large handful of spring cabbage, rinsed and sliced
  • 2 sticks of thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • A handful of fresh chopped parsley
  • A handful of pasta
  • 1 tin of cannellini beans or chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • Grated parmesan
  • Olive oil
  • Pancetta
  • Chicken stock

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Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the onion, carrot and celery and cook on a gentle heat for 10 mins. Add the garlic, squash, potato and the bay leaf and thyme, pour in the stock and cook for 10 mins. Then add the spring cabbage and the pasta and cook for another 10 mins. In a separate pan fry the pancetta in a little olive oil and set aside when done. The minestrone should be ready and just before serving add the beans so they heat through. When it’s ready, garnish with the chopped parsley and pancetta and serve with grated parmesan and olive oil for drizzling.

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Baked rhubarb with orange and ginger

Rhubarb isn’t very Spanish and I was in my 20s the first time I had it. I think it was my mother-in-law who made me the most delicious rhubarb fool served with sable biscuits. This recipe is also hers – dreamy rhubarb baked with orange and ginger and served with vanilla ice cream. The perfect desert after a long Sunday lunch!

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Baked rhubarb with orange and ginger

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 20-30 mins in the oven or 15 mins on the hob
Budget: £5-10 (£3 rhubarb, 50p orange, £4 ice cream)
Ease: easy
Serves 4

  • 1 bunch of rhubarb, ends trimmed
  • Zest and juice of 1 orange
  • A few chunks of peeled ginger
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • Vanilla ice cream

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Put the chopped rhubarb into a baking tray with the sugar, ginger and orange. Cover with foil and bake at 180 for 20-30 mins. Or you can cook covered on the hob for 10-15 mins. When it’s done the rhubarb should be all fluffy with a gorgeous red syrup. Remove the ginger and serve hot with scoops of vanilla ice cream!

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