Tag Archives: easy


This is a recipe for my gorgeous cousins, who are back in Italy with most of a bottle of maple syrup that needs an accompaniment (because lets face it, pancakes are just an excuse for eating maple syrup right?). I promised to teach them how to make pancakes before I left, but unfortunately that was among the long list of things that didn’t get squeezed into our last few weeks in the northern hemisphere.

So, pancakes have been done before: But this is the recipe that I cooked every Sunday morning from as soon as I could see over the top of the stove. The proportions and preparation are incredibly simple, the result delicious. Oh, and I should mention that these are large flat pancakes, not the smaller risen ones.

The basic recipe below has had one minor adjustment in recent years, as I’ve started substituting half of the plain flour for oat flour. This improves the taste and texture of the pancakes, although I wouldn’t promise anything about healthiness, remember the maple syrup!

The amounts below can be multiplied to infinity. Remember, you can always put leftover pancakes in the fridge and eat them the next day.

to make

(serves 2–3 people)

1 egg
1 cup milk
1 cup plain flour

Butter for cooking

Mix the egg, milk and flour together until there are no lumps. Leave to stand for 30 minutes.

Set up a heavy bottomed frying pan, two large plates, the pancake batter with a ladle, butter and an egg flip.

Heat the frying pan on a medium heat. Add a teaspoon of butter, swirl it around the pan to coat the bottom and wait for it to start sizzling. Then, add a small ladle full of batter and swirl the pan to form a circle of the mixture.

Leave the pan alone! Wait for the pancake to be almost totally set on top (you can test it by gently touching the top of the pancake with the egg flip). Once it’s set, flip the pancake over to cook the other side. The second side won’t take quite so long.

Remove the pancake to a plate and then cover with the second plate (this will keep the cooked pancakes warm while you cook the others).

Repeat, repeat, repeat. Keep adding more butter in between each pancake and make sure the butter is sizzling before you add the batter.

Serve the pancakes with your favourite toppings and enjoy!

Buon appetite ragazze, spero che ci vediamo fra poco!


veggie soup with lemon and tomato

Writing a recipe for vegetable soup is a bit daft. For one thing there are as many soup recipes as there are pots of it made – I mean, has anyone ever made soup the same way twice? Plus soup is one of the most forgiving and flexible things it’s possible to cook; a bunch of things thrown in a pot with some liquid and you usually can’t go wrong.

Mark Bittman (a New York Times food & opinion columnist) wrote a great article on vegetable soups a few days ago. He provides twelve starter recipes, with the idea that once someone has worked their way through that list they should never need to look at a soup recipe again.

Looking at Bittman’s recipes a theme definitely emerged for me, which was the importance of having a knockout flavour combination at the heart of a soup. Bittman’s list included cauliflower and curry, squash (pumpkin) and ginger and tomato and garlic – you see what I mean?

I think I’ve been unwittingly working to this model with soups for a while. My basic soup template is generally a minestrone-style vegetable and legume soup, with lots of tomatoes to add body to the broth. Last year I was cooking this spiked with paprika and with chopped chorizo sausage to add spice and smoky depth.

This year the inspiration changed, and I’ve been using one of my favourite new flavour combos – tomato and lemon. As a winter pick-me-up this has a lot going for it, and the tangy combination really works well with the more mellow flavours of chickpeas and lentils. I also throw a bit of chilli in at the start, not enough to make this spicy, but just enough to get a touch of warmth on the tongue.

I like to head in a middle-eastern direction with toppings for this, toasted sunflower seeds and natural yoghurt are really delicious. In the photograph below I’ve just got the one necessary addition – a wedge of lemon to be squeezed over the hot soup just before eating.

So here’s the recipe. I don’t want to be prescriptive about what vegetables to use and how much of them you need, so the quantities below are purposefully vague. Similarly the lentils and chickpeas could be replaced by almost any other combination of legumes.

to make

zest of 1/3  of a lemon, very finely chopped or grated
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 large onion finely diced
leeks, in 1cm cubes
3ish cups vegetables, in 1cm cubes (I used carrot, capsicum and cabbage)
1/3 cup dried lentils
400g tin chickpeas, drained
800g tinned tomatoes, well chopped
3/4 tablespoon dried oregano
vegetable or chicken stock

olive oil
chilli, salt and pepper to taste

For serving wedges of lemon (mandatory) plus toasted sesame seeds, natural yoghurt, freshly chopped herbs or whatever you like.

Heat a large pot on a medium-high heat. Add olive oil and then the leeks/onions, garlic, lemon zest and chilli. Sweat, stirring regularly, until the leeks/onions are soft. Add the other vegetables and the lentils, continue cooking and stirring until they’ve softened.

Add the chopped tomatoes, chickpeas, oregano and enough stock to give the vegetables a little room to swim. Season with salt and pepper.

Cover and bring to the boil. Once your cauldron is bubbling turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and cover again. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender (around 25 minutes).

Serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and any other garnishes you feel like.


linguine with green bean & tomato sauce

Spending several months in Italy last year provided a lot of opportunities to learn a thing or two about cooking – particularly the pasta arts. That said, it wasn’t always easy to squeeze tips out of the real pros.

Maria is the nonna of my cousins (who are half-Kiwi, half-Italy). She’s from The South and really knows her way around a kitchen, having been on galley-duty her whole life feeding a tribe of relatives. She is also the master of making a lot out of very few ingredients; how she is able to draw every drop of flavour out of a few tomatoes and basil leaves and turn them into the most exquisitely pungent fresh tomato sauce remains a mystery to me.

She is also a financial mastermind, the inventor of an economic philosophy both brilliant and simple. The principle? If you don’t go into shops you won’t spend money. Pure genius. In practice it means using up what you have – particularly food stuffs, but also clothes, cosmetics, anything – before heading back to the shop to resupply. With Nonna Economy you waste less and avoid opportunities to impulse-buy.

Back to food, this was clearly the person from whom knowledge of the secret lore of pasta should be sought – but on the few occasions that Andrew or I tried to watch her in the kitchen we were usually turned around pretty swiftly. I’m not sure if we, as guests, were simply not meant to help out in the kitchen. More probably we just got in the way. On one memorable occasion the diminutive grandmother literally chased all six foot of Andrew out of her tiny kitchen brandishing a wooden spoon.

That said, I did manage to pick a few things up, mostly from attempts to reverse-engineer the masterpieces that arrived on the table. One of the best was to use whole garlic cloves in quick pasta sauces rather than diced, sliced or crushed garlic. The whole cloves aren’t in danger of burning and becoming acrid, and they seem to infuse a much sweeter and more aromatic flavour than you get with garlic that’s had a rougher start to its culinary life. Just remember to remove the garlic cloves before serving the pasta!

So, when I came to thinking about Saturday lunch last weekend the cupboard and fridge were beginning to look a bit bare – but with Maria as my inspiration I decided to make use of what I had lying around.

Fresh green beans braised in a tomato-based sauce and served with fresh parmesan cheese couldn’t be called a revolutionary idea, but with some linguine added I was able to up the ante from side-dish to main meal.

Slicing the beans length ways to form lovely green ribbons adds a little work, but the cohesion you get between vegetable and pasta is well worth the effort.

linguine with green bean and tomato sauce

Serves 2

fresh green beans, a handful
400g tinned tomatoes*
2 small cloves garlic, peeled,
1 teaspoon dried oregano,
olive oil
chilli, salt and pepper to taste

dried linguine 150g-ish

fresh parmesan for serving

to make

Top and tail the beans, then slice them lengthways in halves or thirds – aim for a width similar to that of your linguine.

Get your pasta cooking.

Put a frying pan onto a medium-high heat. Add a splash of olive oil and the whole garlic cloves and chilli (I used sambal oelek because I had it on hand, but fresh or dried chilli would be fine). Once the pan is hot, and the chilli/garlic have  just started to sizzle, add the beans to the pan.

Cook, stirring, for a minute before adding the tomatoes and the oregano (fresh basil would be a great alternative). Season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer while you cook the linguine. The sauce should reduce a little and the beans should soften but retain their bite.

Drain the cooked linguine, keeping about a tablespoon of the cooking liquid. Add the linguine and the cooking liquid to the sauce in your frying pan (still on a low heat) and mix well.

Serve with freshly grated parmesan.


* I prefer the whole peeled tomatoes, which I then chop myself by sticking a knife in the opened tin and thrashing it about a bit. I find these have better flavour and more body than the crushed ones. In the photos above, though, I’ve actually used crushed as I grabbed the wrong can at the shop – so really the crushed toms are fine.

curried chickpeas & instant pilaf

This recipe is classic one-pot cooking. It was inspired by the incredible pita sandwiches that we found and devoured at a Hebrew restaurant called Gam Gam in the Venetian Ghetto. These lifesavers (good, cheap food in Venice is not easy to find) consisted of freshly-baked pita, filled with felafels, vegetables and hummus. These made the best dinner – we ate them three out of five nights while in Venice!

One of the best fillings was a mix of chickpeas and sweet roasted capsicum, with a scent of curry to it. This was so good that I decided to recreate it as a meal in itself – and since then it’s been a weekly treat during our time in Belgium. It’s cheap, quick and easy, but really moreish and satisfying.

I like to serve it with pilaf, and have also come up with a kind of cheat instant version made with pre-cooked rice. This was the result of me trying to liven up some leftover rice and is really amazingly tasty thanks to the toasted seeds – and the butter! Some natural yogurt or tzadziki are also great on the side.

I’m actually in the middle of a minor love affair with sunflower seeds, I think of them as a kind of poor-man’s pine nut – you get all the toasty flavour and crunch for a fraction of the price. They may not be quite so elegant as pinoli, but a few toasted seeds sprinkled on top of a finished dish are a real pick-up, both for texture and flavour.

I’ve been cooking this without any chilli, and have really enjoyed the mellow, nutty flavour of the chickpeas combined with the sweet capsicum and onions. That said, I’m sure a hit of dried chilli at the start would be nice.

curried chickpeas with capsicum and caramelised onion

1 400g tin chick peas, drained
1 red capsicum, quartered lengthways then sliced
1 large onion (brown or red) halved and sliced
1–2 tablespoons curry powder
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

to make

Heat a frying pan on medium-high. When the pan is hot add the olive oil and then the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally. Once the onions are getting soft add the capsicum and continue cooking until the onions are golden and the capsicum is softening.

Move the onion and capsicum mix to one side of the pan. In the clear half sprinkle the curry powder. Allow that to toast for a moment before adding the chickpeas and mixing everything together. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the chickpeas are becoming golden and a little bit crusted.


instant pilaf – ‘insta-laf’

2ish cups cooked rice – cold
3 tablespoons seeds (sunflower, sesame, pine nuts etc)
2 tablespoons butter

to make

Toast the seeds on a medium-high heat, stirring often, until they are golden. Add the butter and melt. Add the rice and mix everything together. Cook, stirring often, until the rice is hot.

Ridiculously delicious!

PS Sorry about the poor-quality of the photos – there is literally no natural light in our room on wintery Belgian evenings, so am trying to make do with lamps and lower light levels!