7 March 21

A River Café home delivery is always a treat but the Vegetarian Box kept on giving, making several meals rather than one blow-out. Meal of the week, though, was a take on their crab linguine.  


Dipping into the Vegetarian Box from the River Café produced a bulging bag labelled agretti (Monk’s Beard to us) to be served with slow-cooked tomato sauce and pangratatto. Agretti looks like clumps of luxurious grass and is boiled in salted water for a few minutes, drained, tossed with olive oil and mixed with hot tomato sauce, garnished with crisp and tasty fried breadcrumbs (pangratatto). Oh my goodness. This is very good. Not grassy, not slimy but reminiscent of samphire but not salty and entirely tender and juicy in a different sort of way, flavour reminiscent of spinach. For dinner I roast a couple of Barnsley (double) lamb chops, thick and meaty with a thick cuff of fat that cooks to a golden crisp and is very delicious. With River Café potatoes al forno and braised cime di rape from our never-ending Vegetarian Box, this was a feast. Specially as there was a slice of their amazing gorgeous lemon tart for pud. I made soup from the remains of our jar of RC cannellini beans and a whole jar of slow-cooked Florence fennel and a dollop of crème fraiche, garnish of very crisp bacon lardons. Very good indeed.


A forage in the freezer produced 3 fat bone-in chicken thighs and a dozen Cumberland cocktail sausages, which I turned into Chicken and Sausage Stew with Carrots. This was polished off with peas as we gawped at the Oprah Winfrey fandango with glowing Megan and our anguished-looking Prince. I felt sorrier for him than her.


Almost every time I open the little freezer above my fridge, half the contents fall out but a well behaved invaluable standby is 100g pots of www.seafoodandeatit.co.uk Cornish white crab meat and the 50/50 brown and white half ‘n half. The latter is brilliant on toast with a dusting of Parmesan then popped under the grill but the white is what you need for a quick and easy take on the enduringly popular River Café linguine with crab. That’s what we’re having for supper tonight, the prep is quick and easy – a mix of finely diced red chilli, lemon juice, best olive oil and chopped flat leaf parsley with the crab. This mix is stirred into cooked and drained linguine but I actually prefer casarecce, the short, stumpy pasta that is a double twist, ideal for snaffling crab. I make several variations on the recipe (with quickly pickled cucumber is very good; pg 105 in Dinner Tonight) but the simplest adds diced tomato and I’d wager Crab Casarecce with Tomato and Parsley is destined to become a favourite. Before I decided to make the crab pasta and prompted by the PR hype for National Meatball Day, I defrosted lamb mince to make meatballs for supper with slowly roast cherry tomato sauce and spaghetti. I made them anyway, dipping into the last knockings from our quite superb, endlessly interesting River Café Vegetarian Box (Box Set Three www.shoptherivercafe.co.uk). In the blurb for the Box, they suggest adding chargrilled beef sirloin or wood-roast sea bass but we had neither and their jars and cartons have informed much of my cooking this week. Today, I added the 300g jar of braised cime di rapa (with chilli, garlic and olive oil) that would have made a lovely pasta supper  heated in a little olive oil then tossed with linguine and finished with Parmesan. Cime di rapa translates as turnip tops but it’s a pale green cabbagey leafy, spinach-like stalk (available from, amongst others, www.riverford.co.uk), all of which is edible with a broccoli-like flavour. Consequently my meatballs were soft and necessarily quite big and I plan to cook them in the oven, so they firm and cook without fiddle.


Start the day sorting out the Ocado order, leaving much of it out in the drizzle on the garden table but the sight of more leeks prompted a extended version of the favourite soup in this house – So Simple Leek and Potato Soup – starting the cooking with dry cured smoked bacon lardons, adding onion and garlic and a couple of fillets of finely diced chicken thigh. The idea is to turn it into a big soup, big enough to be supper. Leek, Potato and Chicken Soup with Lardons was a triumph, do try it. Dinner was those fat, green meatballs I made yesterday and kept, covered under clingfilm, in the fridge. I want to cook them in the oven, rather than fry or poach them, so experiment with one at lunchtime and am delighted with the result; firm, juicy and delicious. Tonight we’ll have Lamb and Cimi de Rapa Meatballs with Roast Tomato Sauce with spaghetti.


I have a couple of roasted Romano red peppers in a poly box in the fridge and decide to use them to flavour a Persian stew called Khoresh. The distinctive feature of these stews is a lot of sloppily cooked, diced onion flavoured with a generous pinch of saffron, adding, in this case, diced lamb and stock then later on peppers with lots of chopped flat leaf parsley. I’ve made Khoresh with rhubarb, fresh and dried apricots, with prunes and apple; fruit works particularly well but spinach is good, particularly when combined with coriander rather than the usual flat leaf parsley. It’s served with rice and comes highly recommended. Lamb Khoresh with Roast Romano Peppers comes highly recommended. It simmers away quietly while you get on with something else and like all stews (and dishes that include cooking a lot of onion) will taste even better the next day. It is pretty good today, in fact quite delicious piled next to basmati rice. I have a sliced loaf drying out on trays posted round the kitchen ready to turn into breadcrumbs. This is an occasional task that I really love doing, blitzing crusts and dough separately then lightly roasting the dough to make Japanese-style panko breadcrumbs. I always have bags of breadcrumbs in the freezer, different breads, different crusts, usually made when bread in the bread bin goes past being ‘fresh’ enough for toasts. Baked breadcrumbs don’t clump together like regular ones but I find panko too dry for some deep fried foods.


A call from Johnny at my fishmonger (www.coventgardenfishmongers.co.uk) to say he has the two large megrim (Cornish sole) I’d ordered. I ask him to fillet the fish and I’ll be down shortly to collect them. I used some for Megrim Fish Fingers with Garlic Butter for supper. Absolutely delicious, even though I say it myself.


Back from a long walk starving hungry, looking forward to the rest of breadcrumbs megrim ‘fish fingers’ leftover from last night. Before I start shallow frying them, I make a quick, Cheat’s Tartar Sauce to go with it. Mayo mixed with a squeeze of lemon, diced shallot and cornichon, capers, chopped parsley, salt and pepper. So easy, so good. Watched incredibly moving movie, Baby Teeth, on Netflix, so didn’t really do justice to Chinese home delivery. Crispy duck with plum sauce, cucumber and spring onion pancakes, spicy hot stir fried squid and ever-fab noodles with beansprouts, were wolfed down, but braised egg plant with minced chicken, Chinese broccoli with ginger sauce and kung po king prawn stayed in the box. Delicious the next day for lunch.