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Asparagus & Lemon Carbonara

I was curled up under a blanket on the sofa at the beginning of the week, watching 2 fat Italians tromp and chomp their way on a religious pilgrimage. Mrs Fly used up the last of the asparagus from the farmer’s market and we had a go at this recipe which we found in the Waitrose Summer Harvest magazine. It was pretty good, although I reckon a traditional carbonara with some bacon and asparagus would be superb. At the time it was just what I needed.

Serves 2
200g spaghetti
230g asparagus, woody bits snapped off
1 tsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped or crushed
1 large egg, yolk only
100g half fat creme fraiche
1 lemon, zest and juice of 1/2
Handful of Parmesan cheese

Boil the spaghetti per the instructions.
Cut the asparagus into 5 cm lengths. Heat the oil in a frying pan, then add the aspargus and fry for 3-4 minutes. Toss in the garlic and turn off the heat. Beat the egg yolk, creme fraiche, lemon zest, 1 tbsp juice and the parmesan together, then season.

Save a cup of pasta water, then drain the pasta. Return to the pan, add the creamy sauce and asparagus, then stir. Add a little pasta water if the sauce seems dry. Serve topped with parmesan and black pepper.



Rhubarb & Vanilla Jam

Prompted by an old chum on Facebook to get this done, do happy jam making Ed.

Rhubarb jam will always be synonymous with my Irish grandmother’s clove scented rhubarb jam smeared onto homemade soda bread. It was pretty much the first thing I ate after walking through the door and hitting my head on the low lintel.

I feel happy enough with this jam to know that I’ll be making it every year, using my own with a bit of gardener’s luck. The Timperley Early is still very small.

The recipe comes from the Waitrose Summer Harvest supplement which was entirely vegetarian too and it makes about 5 jars.

1.2 kg rhubarb, cut into 3 cm chunks
2 vanilla pods, split
1kg jam sugar (I used golden caster sugar with no ill effects)
1 orange, juice only

In a large stainless steel saucepan or preserving pan, layer the rhubarb and vanilla with the sugar. Or if you’re like me, bung it all in and stir it around. Pour the orange juice over the top, cover and leave overnight.



Put a couple of saucers into the freezer. You’ll see that loads of juice will have leached from the rhubarb. Fish the vanilla pods out of the pan, scrape the seeds and stir them into and the pods back into the rhubarb, with 120ml water. Gently warm, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved.

Boil for 10 minutes until the bubbles look large and a sugar thermometer reaches 105C. Alternatively, check the jam has reached setting point by putting a teaspoon of jam onto a chilled saucer. Freeze for 30 seconds; it’s ready when a skin forms that wrinkles when prodded. If not, bubble the jam for a few more minutes and check again.

{This bit didn’t work for me so well. I use a jam thermometer, but thought it would be interesting to see how this saucer trick worked. To start with, the jam was too runny, so I licked the jam off my finger and put the saucer back. A few minutes later the saucer wasn’t quite as cold, but I thought it was still worth ago, but it still didn’t wrinkle. So I got to eat more jam.}

Skim any scum off the surface, let it cool for 10 minutes, then pour into warm, sterilised jars. Seal, and use within 6 months. Once open store in the fridge and use within 4 weeks. Which shouldn’t be hard.

As always, I’d highly recommend using your nose for this, even though using a thermometer I caught the jam just as the sugar was catching at the edges of the pan. It had pretty much hit 105C and I’m not fussy over whether I have set jam or not.

To test, I buttered a slice of bread, spread the remains of the pan jam thickly over and chopped it into dainty triangles. It made a perfect food photo. It’s not here because the lure of the jam was too great. I considered setting up another photo, but this story’s good and a fake would be contrived. Although I would get another slice of bread and jam….

A sick note

Dear readers,
Please excuse foodfly from blogging last week as he had a horrible cold and exams.

Yours sincerely
foodfly’s mum

PS. He has plenty of homework to do including:
A review of Scarpetta in Teddington
Asparagus and lemon carbonara
A broth-all: Kneidl soup or asparagus stalk broth with leftovers and dumplings
Rhubarb and vanilla jam
Mrs Fly’s veggy bolognese
Mrs Fly’s veggy rogan josh
Lavender & Honey ice cream

Seasonal swag

After a marvellous night at The Southampton Armsin Kentish Town, the only specialist pub selling independently produced ciders and ales in London, a typical overcast bank holiday weekend dawned in the UK today. The upshot of which is that the produce at the farmer’s market hadn’t nabbed before me.

I get so excited over the provenance of my meals. Today, asparagus picked at 4am! 1kg of ungraded for £6! This is my drug. I asked how long until the end of the season, “next Wednesday”, she said. Eeeeep! Get your skates on folks, or it’s gone until next year. Unless you’re happy to get it flown in from Peru, up to you of course.

Broad beans at last, and 4 bundles of rhubarb for jam. It’s going to be a busy and filling weekend. Enjoy!


Beetroot risotto with broad beans, goats cheese & lemon-fennel oil

When I saw the vibrant photos of this dish in Denis Cotter’s new book, I knew two things. I was going to have to sneak the book into the house past cook book customs, and then I’d have to make it.

The first of the broad beans are hitting the shelves in the UK right now, but it seems that whenever I go shopping someone has been in moments before and cleared the shelves. Swines. Even so, this tasted good even using frozen broad beans, but I expect if they’re fresh it’ll be even more delightful. We didn’t plan any for the allotment this year but now the weeds have been cleared we’ll have space next year.

For a weekday evening it can be a long dish to make if you get home at the hour I do, so you can make boil & peel the beetroot the night before which means you just have to roast it whilst chopping the onion/shallots and garlic for the risotto. Don’t lose track of time like I did the first time, and leave the boiling of the broad beans to the last minute. It takes a while to peel the blighters, and even though you may be tempted not to, it’s well worth the effort.

Lemon-fennel oil
100ml olive oil
Grated zest & juice of half a lemon
2 fennel leaves finely chopped (you’ll find enough on a supermarket bulb of fennel)

The risotto
250g beetroots (I used 3)
2tbsp olive oil
150g risotto rice
Small onion or a few shallots
2 garlic cloves
125ml red wine
30g butter (a large knob)
100g broad beans
60g goats cheese, crumbled
600ml vegetable stock (about that, if you need more just add some hot water)

Make the lemon-fennel oil: put all the ingredients in a jug or jar and shake or whisk thoroughly.

Boil the beetroot for 30-40 mins. Test the biggest one for tenderness by poking it with a knife. When tender, drain, peel by rubbing the skins under running cold water. They should just slip off in your hands. This also stops the beetroot making your hands look like they’ve been murdering, and keeps your chopping boards pristine. At least until the next bit.

Chop the beetroot into 1cm sized chunks, place in a roasting tin and toss with the olive oil. Roast in a preheated oven at 180C for 15 minutes.

Remove half of the beets from the oven and add to the stock and blend. Denis recommends you sieve it, but it works well without so it’s not worth the hassle in my opinion. Return the rest of the beets to the oven and roast for another 15 minutes or so until they caramelise.

Meanwhile, start the risotto by heating 1-2 tbsp olive oil in a pan and sauté the onion/shallots and garlic for 5 mins. Then add the rice and cook for a further 5mins stirring often. Then add the red wine, and avoid scalding your hands from the busy fizz as it hits the pan. Stir now and again to avoid it sticking and start adding the beetroot stock a little at a time until it’s absorbed. This should take about 20 minutes.


Get the broad beans going in a small pan for about 5 minutes. The skins should puff up a bit and look pale when they’re done. Then peel the skins off, place in a bowl and add 1 tbsp of the lemon-fennel oil.

When the rice is done add the roasted beetroot and butter and stir.

To serve add a few spoonfuls of risotto to warmed bowls, drizzle the lemon-fennel oil around and scatter broad beans and goats cheese over.

It’s probably the most gorgeous risotto I’ve ever seen.


Beetroot risotto arancini with a baked thyme mushroom

This is a great way to use up leftover risotto, but it needs to be a cold, wet risotto to hold together as patties. There’s no hard and fast recipe for it, you’ll need a good portion’s worth of risotto to do it.

Beat an egg and place in a bowl.
Take two good handfuls of breadcrumbs and place in another bowl. The bowls should be wide enough to roll a small tennis ball around in.

Take half a handful of risotto rice and press into your palm. Add a cube of goats cheese or cube of garlic butter.

You’ll want to work fairly quickly here to keep the risotto cool and more solid.

Press another half handful of risotto over the top and press to seal. You don’t want to see any cracks or it will fall apart in the pan and leak that lovely filling everywhere. It’s happened to me before and I just scraped it up and ate it anyway, but it’s not picturesque.

Roll in the egg to coat and then in the breadcrumbs. Set aside on a plate while you do the others. When they’re all done, place in the fridge for half an hour or so to firm up again.


Heat a deep fat fryer, or if like me you don’t have one use a combination of shallow frying and oven baking. Heating 1cm of oil in a frying pan until hot should do the trick, and preheat the oven to 200C. You then fry the risotto balls in the oil until golden. A few minutes on each side should do the trick. The shallow oil won’t heat the balls to the core, so once they’re golden put the Arancini on a baking dish and place in the oven for 30 minutes.



For the mushroom, just dot a large mushroom with some butter, a squeeze of lemon juice or even vermouth, a few sprigs of thyme and place in the oven for about 20 minutes.

Serve with a large leafy salad and a baked mushroom if you like..


The Bird, Leeds

After your average days 50km mountain bike race in gale force winds and hail. After losing your car keys and trading up borrowing your mother-in-laws car, you’re going to fancy a curry. The Bird came up in the TopTable results, had good reviews so we dropped in.

Don’t be put off by the casino, the restaurant is on the first floor and is tucked away in the corner so you won’t notice the wheels and dealers. I’ll spare you the introduction to Michelin-starred Vineet Bhatia, you can read all about him on the menu.

Our new motto when eating out is to look at the dessert menu first. If its not attached to the menu, ask for it. Enjoy the bewildered look on the face of your waiter/waitress. It helps us plan our attack on the menu, and we hate to be too stuffed for pudding. Definitely do it here, because even with the nice touch of half portions, it’s a close run thing. It certainly helped us sidestep the inevitable ‘oh god, we’ve ordered too much’ scenario that happens every night in thousands of restaurants around the country. Which was to their benefit as we were able to squeeze in desserts.

I wouldn’t normally choose to have a samosa. Like those disturbing images of maltreated bears in confinement, I see them suffocated in plastic, cowering in the fridge section of late night shops harbouring goodness-knows what bugs; I’m never certain that they’re sensible to eat. The Achari Pea and Potato Samosas at The Bird beat my expectation of a tired pastry that’s sat around too long, only to be perked up with a blast in an oven or fryer. Three small samosas arranged on a banana leaf with a dark black dip were presented. Filled to bursting, fresh tasting with a gentle but progressive spicy heat that grew and grew, these were more-ish, and excellent after dunking in the date tasting dip – a welcome accompaniment.

The traditional Handi Lamb and potato curry was, for me, as good as a curry could be. So many lamb dishes are tough and chewy, which is a huge turn off for me in a curry. This however was full of meltingly tender lamb that you could squash into the sauce with a fork, a pleasantly spicy stew that was thick enough to be mopped up with the naan.

Oh the Rosemary & Olive Oil Naan. Alongside the other bread staples like a garlic & coriander and Keema naans was this piece of leavened beauty. Sprinkled with freshly chopped rosemary it went superbly with the lamb dish.

Malai Kofta in an onion korma sauce looked interesting, with long lumps of ‘kofta’. It was a good effort, but it seemed to be made almost entirely from plantain. Not the most flavoursome of fruit, I had expected a kind of mixed vegetable croquet of some sort. I think it’s fantastic that The Bird are coming up with interesting dishes for vegetarians so they have something other than mixed vegetable curry.

The Punjabi Chickpea Masala was slightly heavy on the onion/garlic paste, but the ginger and sour amchoor notes were perfect. I’m still searching for the chana masala recipe that’s better than the one served by The Tiffin Tin in Tufnell Park.

Pulao rice was simple, slightly buttery, but not overly so.

So the desserts. No laminated pudding photo sheets, none of that cash ‘n’ carry pre-made stuff here.

We were told that the fresh Rose Petal and Vanilla Bean Kulfi was their most popular dessert. We can see why. It was beautifully presented, the kulfi was fragrant and slightly chewy. The three baby gulab jamun were a great foil and didn’t assault the dish with too much sweetness. I normally hate rose flavoured sweets and desserts. They always remind me of my Gran’s plastic air fresheners from the 1980s. Ugh. This, though I would come back for.

I’d been tempted by the Orange and Ginger pudding with cardamom custard and cinnamon ice cream, but I feared a strike from the scythe of the Grim Sleeper. Not when I had 3 hours drive home to finish.

So the Chocomosa with Madras Coffee Ice Cream it was. Fearing huge samosas, the two tidy packages that arrived looked the part. Unfortunately the pastry was too hard to eat with a fork and shattered. Much easier to use your fingers and dip in the coffee ice cream which was perfectly acceptable. The samosa filling seemed to be a chocolate paste with finely chopped hazelnuts and almonds.

Service was efficient, chatty and charming. The whole experience was a great finish to our weekend.

The naysayers may complain that this isn’t Michelin-starred dining. Strictly speaking, maybe it’s not, but it’s sophisticated and affordable Indian cuisine. What’s not to like?

Dinner for two with soft drinks came to £36.

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