A Piedmontese version of the empanada with a rabbit and mushroom filling, countless experiments with fresh pasta, including one for ‘uovo in raviolo’, gin-cured halibut and a quick and easy version of the bakewell tart with caledonian cream: these and many more were the foods I couldn’t wait to try in my kitchen on my return from Malawi.
In my many sleepless hours under the mosquito net, I would roam Instagram and listen to Kitchen Cabinet on the radio, growing my list of recipes and restaurants to try. I didn’t fail to see the irony: in a country where food is a bare necessity and people don’t lose themselves in fancies, there I was dreaming of eating out or attempting new flavour combinations of my own. I wondered if that made me a bad person and I don’t think it did. I see it as my very own way of coping with what I was experiencing there every day. It was tough and definitely not for everyone. My cousin and her boyfriend still recount the story of a French volunteer who stayed with them for 4 months. She was vegetarian and gluten intolerant and over there she had a really bad time. For Malawians, it is inconceivable to be so fussy about food. Gluten sensitivity is a ‘first world problem’.
But my anticipated big return to cooking was not to be, at least for the time being. I came back and fell ill with a nasty chest infection I picked on the flight. So for the most part, this has been a week of comfort food, of mash and chicken and soups. I’m starting to feel better now so I’ll soon return to cooking full time, but I wanted to share with you the recipes that helped me get better.
- Roast chicken with mushroom butter (adapted from Diana Henry’s ‘A Bird in the Hand’)
150g chestnut mushrooms, finely chopped
150g oyster mushrooms, finely chopped
2 small shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 sage leaves, finely chopped
1 whole chicken at room temperature
salt and pepper
Turn in the oven at 180C
Melt 20g butter in a pan and sauté the mushrooms with a pinch of salt until dry. Transfer in a large bowl and leave to cool. When at room temperature mix in the rest of the butter, the sage leaves, the chopped shallots and the crushed garlic. When all the ingredients are well combined, place in the fridge to firm up.
Put the chicken in a snug roasting tray and lifting the skin up from the neck, slide your hand delicately on each side lifting the skin all along the breast and down on the legs. Stuff the mushroom butter under the skin, patting it all down so that it’s evenly distributed. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and roast for one hour, basting every 15 minutes or so.
Health score: 6
2. Chicken noodle soup
The carcass of one chicken
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 spring onion, chopped and green parts used whole
2 bay leaf
1 star anise
5 all spice berries, roughly crushed in a mortar
salt to taste
150g roast chicken breast
a splash of tamari soy sauce
2 portions gluten free udon noodles
Place the chicken carcass with the carrot, onion, bay and spices, and cover with 600ml water and salt. Boil for 30 minutes.
In the meantime, divide the chicken between two bowls, season with the tamari sauce and set aside.
When the broth is nearly done, boil the noodles in a medium sized pan. Strain the broth and divide it between the two bowls. Top them with the drained cooked noodles and enjoy.
Health score: 8
3. Puntarelle with chilli and garlic
Puntarelle are the slightly bitter leaves of cicoria. They are packed full of minerals and are a tonic for the liver and kidneys. Difficult to find here in the UK, you can use endive or radicchio in their place.
1 tbsp olive oil
3 anchovies, finely chopped (optional)
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 small fresh chillies to 1 tsp dry chilli flakes
1 head of puntarelle greens, (you can also use radicchio or endive for this), cut lengthways, the stems chopped in 3 cm pieces.
salt to taste
a splash of white wine
Juice of half a lemon
In a frying pan heat the olive oil and fry the anchovies and garlic on medium heat. Add the chilli, give everything a stir then toss in the puntarelle.
Add the salt and wine, stir, lower the heat a bit and cook, covered, for about 15-20 minutes until the puntarelle stems are soft. Add the lemon juice just before taking off the heat. Serve as a side to a fish dish or on its own with a piece of crusty toasted bread.
Health score: 10
4. Pumpkin, sweet potato, cavolo nero and leek bubble and squeak
A healthy tasty alternative to potatoes and sprouts, this mash will also be ready very quickly as n=both sweet potato and pumpkin have shorter cooing times.
1 quarter of a cavolo nero head, about 120g, finely chopped
3 baby leeks or 1 ordinary leek, finely chopped
1tbsp olive oil
salt to taste
3 sweet potatoes, chopped into 2cm cubes
1 quarter orange pumpkin or half a butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 2cm cubes
1 tbsp grated nutmeg
black pepper to taste
In a large frying pan, toss the cavolo nero and leek in olive oil and set on high heat. Once they are frying slightly, add the salt, turn down the heat, cover and cook for about 15 munites until soft.
Place the pumpkin and sweet potatoes in a saucepan, cover with water and boil for about 10 minutes until soft. Take off the heat and drain.
Return the pumpkin and sweet potatoes to the saucepan and toss in the greens and leek. Add the nutmeg and black pepper. Mash everything together, adding more olive oil, salt and pepper if necessary.
Health score: 9