21 March 21

As I write it is the day that lock down unlocks so this is the last week before we can meet friends and family outside but only six round the table. So, a last week of two at my table but lots of treats, from a simple but spectacular Leek and Potato Soup with Horseradish, roast Aylesbury duck and a lovely pie with leftovers, more meatballs and a spectacular way of serving hake. Do read on.


Yesterday The B came back from his morning shopping trip with an Aylesbury duck in his bag. For a late lunch we’re roasting it (90 minutes at 200C/gas mark 6, having left it out all day so the skin can dry out) and I’ve boiled masses of potatoes in their skin and when they’re cool enough to handle, I whip off their skins and dice them in small kebab-size pieces (is there a better description; can’t think of one?). My plan is to tumble them over lardons I’ve cooked in the middle of suitable roasting tin for 5 minutes with some of the duck fat collected half way through roasting. They stay in the oven to crisp and turn golden after the bird is out and resting, moving up to the top shelf and temperature up to 220C/gas mark 7. Scooped onto plate and topped with cooked peas and chopped flat leaf parsley, they look stupendous and we greedily ate the lot. I used a tin of French peas but thought them too sweet and mealy, so if you go for this way of cooking potatoes, I’d recommend frozen petits pois which have a grassier sweetness. This was lunch. Supper scrambled egg on toast.


Ask The B to strip the rest of meat from the duck and he broke up the bones for my stock pot which I’d got going last night. This morning the pot is back on the hob (with onion, carrot, leek trimmings). One of my regular correspondents dating back to the early days of my Dinner Tonight column in the Times, recently sent me his leek and potato soup recipe (in response to seeing a recipe of mine). His is smooth and creamy with creamed horseradish. I decided to give it a try and this is my very slightly tweaked version of Jim’s Leek and Potato Soup with Horseradish. I shall be making it again; it is very good and will be a talking point because it takes a moment to work out what the unexpected flavour is. I’ve been up since 6.30 this morning, unusually early for me these days but I actually like it. I like being a morning person, getting ‘stuff’ done. It’s a joy to glance up at the clock and it’s still not 9 yet. Anyway, early start necessitated by work force 7.30 arrival. Poor Steve, he has to put up with the wonderful smell of duck stock brewing and then onions stewing as I make Duck and Pea Shepherd’s Pie. Last time I made a pie with leftover duck, I flavoured it with orange and red wine (Roast Duck Shepherd’s Pie) but this time fancied peas, the other ingredient that works so well with duck. I made the pie in a round, deep dish making swirls with the mashed potato and it cooked to a beautiful crust, a joy to slide the spoon through when the pie was served.


Day 2 of getting up at 6.30 and as I write, I’ve made meatballs and soup and am just about to take the dog out. It is 10.30. I’ve called the meatballs polpette – the Italian name for them – because that’s what I call small meatballs. They are poached and returned to a roast tomato sauce made with some of the poaching liquid. This is useful make ahead food, everything done in advance ready for gently reheating when you are ready to eat. Serve Lamb Polpette with Slow-Roast Tomato Sauce with pasta, rice, cous cous or crusty bread and butter. Lovely. Take sausages out of the deep freeze for Thursday’s supper. Maybe with lentils or beans. Not sure yet.


Cornish hake from the deep freeze for dinner tonight. I want to wrap it in prosciutto with a sage leaf or two finely chopped and smeared over the fish with salt and pepper. The idea popped into my head in memory of a meal at the Waterside Inn with Simon Hopkinson and Robyn and Michel Roux (senior). It’s a long time ago now, but the Roux invited S and me down to Bray and put us up in rooms above the restaurant. As part of the meal, we had fish cooked with sage and this unlikely pairing stuck in my memory and it’s a coupling I’ve made several times. Tonight I’m tweaking an old favourite recipe, hake wrapped in Serrano (or prosciutto) ham, roasted and served over minted pea puree. It’s prettied with diced tomato and tomato vinaigrette. I added chopped sage from the garden, spreading it under the ham against the hake. It gave a surprisingly subtle extra dimension of flavour to a lovely recipe, now called Prosciutto-wrapped Hake with Pea Puree.


Big fat meaty Cumberland sausages have defrosted overnight and a search in my food cupboard for inspiration revealed a big jar of little brown Spanish lentils. Decided to cook the sausages in an onion and tomato stew with a dollop of marmalade. Boy, that was a good idea, the marmalade filling the kitchen with appetising aromas as Radio 4 left the news behind, segueing into Mervyn Bragg’s In Our Time and then Craig Brown’s utterly wonderful One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time. If you’ve missed the serialisation, you must search it out. It’s hilarious and full of stuff we didn’t know about the FAB 4. I’ve just ordered a copy. Sausage and Lentils with Marmalade smells and looks so good, it prompted The B to ‘…. dig out a really good bottle of red to go with it!’. Marmalade is lovely with sausages; I often smear it over roast sausages or use it as a last minute seasoning. Good too in a sausage sandwich. Take a look too, at Chicken Biryani with Mango.


Stashed in the freezer I find a couple of enormous dressed crab that came in the Fresh Fish Box Large home delivery box of Cornish seafood from www.rickstein.com. They defrost perfectly, huge scallop shells piled with a luscious layer of brown meat topped with white, all lightly and beautifully seasoned. I love, love, love crab and crab with frites and a green salad is a Desert Island treat. So that’s what we have, crab, M&S frites and a green salad that includes quickly pickled cucumber (Brie, Roasted Grapes and Pickled Cucumber Toastie for tips on making it) and slices of Hedone brown bread and butter on the side. Gorgeous.


After the obligatory walk and thoughts of bread and cheese for lunch, The B suddenly remembered we had a couple of tins of sardines leftover from the Mitch Tonks Rockfish Delivery (order by Tuesday for delivery on Friday from www.therockfish.co.uk). I love tinned sardines on toast, particularly if the toast is spread with Dijon mustard or pesto. I like turning it into more of a meal with sliced tomato and rocket or watercress if there is some available. I always bother to ‘open’ or split the fish lengthways to remove the backbone which always reminds me of a row of tiny little teeth. Rah.