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"Diet sensibility-wise I find myself straddled several yards short of the spooky Eat Nourish Glow brigade ... yet far from a woman who eats a double-stack patty with onion rings dipped in chipotle mayonnaise at lunchtime guilt-free. Although, if I’m honest, I can, and have done, and several photos of me exist on the internet standing at parties with my arms around gaunt, size 6 showbiz chums resembling, in relative terms, an amiable Tyrannosaurus rex that has entered a toddler’s sandpit."

Grace Dent

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Tuesday
May312016

La nonna Pettineo's ragu

For my 30th birthday my friend, Geraldine, sent me a care package from the USA, which included a handwritten recipe and photos of her nonna’s ragu. Like everyone with an Italian grandmother, she says hers makes the best. And like every Italian grandmother, hers doesn’t follow a recipe, so you have to watch her to learn it.

A few years ago, Geraldine and I got into a friendly debate about what constitutes the best ragu and what one should call it. (You can read about that here). I argued with her about it, but mostly for the sake of it. Actually, I was very keen to learn her nonna’s secrets.

When she next visited her, she watched her make it and wrote down all the details step-by-step. The recipe is written in Geraldine’s beautiful cursive handwriting and comes with lots of notes and tips:

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Monday
May092016

Bahn mi, Sydney style

I was so excited when I first saw bahn mi in London. They were one of my favourite lunches when I was a growing up in Sydney. There was a Vietnamese bakery next to my school where most kids used to load up on doughnuts and cream cakes. I preferred to spend my pocket money on 'Vietnamese pork rolls'.

For $2.50 you could get a Vietnamese baguette slathered with pate and mayo, crammed full of cold pork cuts, salad and pickles and finished with soy sauce, a few sprigs of coriander and a sprinkling of chilli. 

I have found few places in London that make them like this, perhaps because the French and Asian flavours sound like such a bizarre combination. Actually, I think that’s what makes it unique and interesting. It speaks to Vietnam’s colonial heritage and is a great example of fusion cuisine that really works.

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Wednesday
Apr272016

Spring potato salad

You might not be ready to ditch the winter coat just yet, but you can at least enjoy the abundance of fresh vegetables available at this time of year.

This potato salad makes the best that spring has to offer: jersey royals, wild garlic, asparagus, fresh peas and watercress in a simple dressing so you can really appreciate all the wonderful flavours. Add some spiky artichokes from Sardinia and you have a truly decadent lunch or dinner. I could stop there, but bacon and a soft-boiled egg takes it to the next level. 

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Tuesday
Apr122016

Monk's beard with burrata

Monk’s Beard, also known as Friar’s Beard or Goat’s Beard, is a delicious Mediterranean plant, mainly cultivated in Southern Italy, Spain and Northern Africa. It looks similar to chives, but the flavour is somewhere between samphire (salty with a hint of the sea) and spinach (minerality).

It is generally served blanched, lightly fried or steamed, so that it retains its crunch. I like it best with a simple dressing of olive oil and lemon, as in this salad, but it also works well with anchovies, garlic, chilli and/or fresh herbs. With any of these additions, it makes a great side for white, flaky fish.

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Wednesday
Apr062016

Hummus with spiced lamb and pine nuts

The new series I am writing for Borough Market, Box Clever, is encouraging me to be much more adventurous with my packed lunches and how I pack them. Don’t you just love these Indian tiffin tins? I bought them for pretty pictures, but I find I am using them all the time.

I first tried this dish in a little family-run Lebanese restaurant called Emma’s on Liberty in Enmore, Sydney. They called it “traditional houmous” but it was so much better than any hummus I’d tried before. It did make me wonder why I’d been eating the unadorned version my whole life. Never again.

The dish is more often called hummus kawarma or hummus b’lahmeh, both of which mean hummus with lamb, but I am sure there are many other names to match the myriad recipes. There are almost as many versions of this dish throughout the Middle East as there are recipes for hummus. Chopped lamb or minced? Pine nuts or pomegranate seeds? Chunky or smooth? Tahini? Herbs? Spices? It depends who you ask.

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