Category: Cooking

Of all of the pickles in my fridge, the only one I didn’t make myself is the jar of sauerkraut. I prefer bottled to canned. The texture is crisper, the flavour brighter.

Each summer I look forward to cooking courgettes, spring onions or halves of Little Gem lettuce on the grill, then turning them briefly in butter or olive oil which I have warmed and seasoned with lemon, crushed basil leaves or dill.

Introducing a tangle of sauerkraut to vegetables cooked this way is refreshing, giving the summer vegetables a welcome kick.

The key is not to add too much, just a tbsp or two of sharp, lively pickles to each batch of fresh vegetables. Serves 2.

pork steaks 2 x 200g

olive oil 2 tbsp 

lemons 2

courgettes 2, small

butter 30g

sauerkraut 4 tbsp

chopped dill 4 tbsp

Rub the pork all over with a little olive oil, black pepper and salt. Cover and set aside. Finely grate the zest from one of the lemons into a mixing bowl. Halve and squeeze the juice, then add to the zest. Using a vegetable peeler, take long, flat strips from the courgettes, and place in a bowl. Get the griddle pan or grill hot.

Unwrap the meat, place on the griddle and cook till golden, brushing the surface with a little oil from the dish as necessary. Season with salt and more pepper. Slice the remaining lemon in half and place it cut side down on the griddle.

Remove the pork from the griddle and let it rest. Place the courgette ribbons on the griddle and cook for 3 or 4 minutes, turning from time to time. Warm the butter in a pan, stir in the lemon zest and juice, and black pepper. Roughly chop the dill. When the courgettes are tender, lift them into the warmed, seasoned butter. Add the sauerkraut, 2 tbsp of its juice, the chopped dill and mix gently.

Serve the pork with the grilled lemons, courgettes and sauerkraut.

Even a couple of tablespoons of salted ricotta grated over a dish of warm vegetables can bring things to life.

Serves 2
broad beans 500g
small tomatoes 150g
parsley a few sprigs
pea shoots 25g
olive oil for dressing
salted ricotta 4 tbsp

Remove the beans from their pods. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, salt it lightly then add the beans and let them cook for 4 or 5 minutes.

Drain the beans and plunge them into iced water. Pop the larger beans from their skins, but leave the smaller beans be.

Slice each tomato into four then put them in a bowl. Remove the leaves from the parsley and chop enough for 2 heaped tablespoons. Add the parsley to the bowl, together with the drained, cooled and skinned broad beans.

Wash the pea shoots, then toss them with the tomatoes and beans. Dress with a little olive oil, gently turning the ingredients over till finely coated. Divide between plates then grate over the salted ricotta and serve.

With the Ashes in full swing and the Tour de France at full pelt, these are pretty exciting times for sports fans. If you’re getting together with friends to watch the action, keep the food and drinks stress-free by letting your guests help
themselves from a smörgåsbord of different tastes and textures.

Pair Castello Tickler Cheddar with classic snacks and bitter or cider for the perfect sporty smorg. Photograph: Yuki Sugiura

Pair Castello Tickler Cheddar with classic snacks and bitter or cider for the perfect sporty smorg. Photograph: Yuki Sugiura

The star should be Castello Tickler Cheddar, creamy and mature, to match a wide range of exciting dishes, such as in a crusty bun with some pulled pork, sun-dried tomatoes and a few pickled onions on the side. For a change of pace, savour it as you would a bar snack with a scotch egg and a dollop of relish, or try it with a potato salad, crisps and a spoonful of fierce horseradish to cut the creaminess.

The golden rules to stress-free entertaining are: order online; make sure everything is disposable or recyclable; and have plenty of ice to hand. Cover your table with craft paper and write what’s what below each dish.

Savour your Tickler Cheddar with a bitter or cider. For a more complex experience,
open that bottle of single-malt whisky. If you fancy a cocktail, match it with a Rob Roy.

Make victory even sweeter by finishing your smorg with something sweet such as Castello’s Pineapple Halo, layering it with strawberries on a cracker.

Menu around the Tickler Cheddar

• Pulled pork

• Pickled onions

• Sun-dried tomatoes

• Scotch eggs

• Horseradish sauce

• Potato salad

• Oat crackers

• Crusty buns

• Bitter, cider and malt whisky

It was the opinionated but kind fruit-and-veg man at my local market in Rome who pointed out the three lives of fennel. My Sicilian mother-in-law had already told me more or less the same thing, but I didn’t tell Gianluca that. The first life is the beautiful, vivid green feathery fronds, which have a distinct, dill-like nature and make a good seasoning, especially stirred into pasta. The second is the first layer of the bulb, which is often thick and not quite as tender as the rest but has great flavour, so good for soup. The third life is the heart of the perfectly white bulb, sweetly crisp, which makes an excellent salad.

It was nearly six years ago when Gianluca shared his fennel wisdom, but I still think about it when I buy fennel from him, which I do often, as it is a favourite vegetable. What Gianluca calls three lives another friend calls batch-thinking: shopping for things you know can provide you with more than one meal, meals you can then sketch into your mental plan for the week. I say “sketch” because it suggests plenty of flexibility. For a batch of fennel, my suggestion would be: on day one, make the soup for the following day (it is better after mellowing for a day) and have the pasta for supper. On day three, make the baked fennel (lovely with a pork chop) and one of the salads to have with fish on the fourth day.

If you’re especially resourceful, you can prepare the baked fennel on day one alongside the soup. Simmer the fennel for the gratin in a pan of salted water, then use the same (beautifully flavoured) water to boil your spaghetti, keeping the fennel under clingfilm in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

To prepare the fennel

You will need four large or six medium-size fennel bulbs (which should weigh about 1.8kg in total). Fennel is trimmed before it reaches the shops, but there are usually a few feathery fronds at the top of each bulb, which are delicious and reminiscent of wild fennel, so look for bulbs with as many fronds as possible. Cut away the darker green fingers and fronds and set aside for the pasta. Cut the base from each bulb and then remove the first thick layer and set aside for the soup. The bulbs are for the baked fennel and the salad: keep these wrapped in a clean tea towel in the fridge.

The soup: fennel and carrot soup

The slightly tougher outer layer of fennel – given a bit of help and a nice long simmer – makes a soup as delicious as it is resourceful. This is based on my no-recipe soup: a sofrito of carrot, onion and celery plus the vegetable (fennel) cooked gently in olive oil and butter, booze (vermouth), a flavour-imbuing parmesan rind, appropriate herb (bay), water or stock, reduced to a puree. Like most soups, it is infinitely better the next day.

Serves 4
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
A small knob of butter, plus more for serving
1 large onion, peeled and finely diced
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled, finely chopped
1 parsnip or turnip, peeled and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
Salt and black pepper
600g fennel (outer layers only), roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
1 potato, peeled and diced
2 tbsp of vermouth, sherry or marsala
1 parmesan rind
1 litre water or light vegetable stock

1 In a large, heavy-based pan, warm the olive oil and butter, add the chopped onion, celery, parsnip, garlic and a pinch of salt and cook slowly until they are soft and translucent.

2 Add the fennel, bay leaves, potato, vermouth and another pinch of salt to the pan, stir and cook for another minute or two.

3 Add the parmesan rind and water or stock. Bring the soup to a simmer and cook for 20-40 minutes, depending on the size and age of the veg and the pan size. Keep tasting: you will know.

4 Once the soup is ready, remove the parmesan rind. Using a hand-held blender, reduce the soup to a puree. Taste and season as needed. Serve with a little olive oil poured over the top or a spoonful of soured cream.

The pasta dish: spaghetti with fennel fronds, sardines, lemon zest and chilli

You only need a few feathery fronds, with their distinct aniseed notes, to lend flavour to a dish. I particularly like them stirred into hot pasta, at which point they wilt accommodatingly for a tame storecupboard version of the Sicilian classic pasta con le sarde (pasta with wild fennel and sardines). The sardines, sharpened by zest, given heat by the chilli and lifted with a waft of aniseed, make for a delicious and quick-to-make dinner. Inspired by Rowley Leigh and a similar dish he makes with rocket, I often top this with anchovy breadcrumbs, which elevates it to brilliant.

Spaghetti with fennel fronds, sardines, lemon zest and chilli
This pasta is a simplified version of Sicilian pasta con le sarde, and can be served with optional anchovy breadcrumbs. Photograph: Yuki Sugiura/Guardian

Serves 4
450g spaghetti
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
A pinch of red pepper flakes
A few fennel fingers, finely chopped
100g tinned sardines, drained and broken up with a fork
A handful of fennel fronds, roughly chopped
Zest of 1 lemon

1 Bring a large pan of water to a fast boil, add salt (the rule of thumb is 10g to every litre) and drop the spaghetti into the water. Cook until al dente.

2 Meanwhile in a frying pan over a low/medium heat, warm the olive oil, add the garlic and fry gently for about 2 minutes (don’t let it brown). Add the red pepper flakes, fennel fingers and sardines, stir and cook for 2 minutes or so.

3 As soon as the spaghetti is cooked, drain it (reserving the pasta cooking water) and add to the pan. Add a ladleful of the pasta cooking water, the fennel fronds and lemon zest. Toss energetically, adjust seasoning to taste, then serve.

The gratin: fennel baked with butter and parmesan cheese

Fennel baked with butter and parmesan cheese
Fennel has its indulgent side too, as you’ll find if you slather it with butter and parmesan. Photograph: Yuki Sugiura/Guardian

This recipe, from Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book, is an absolute favourite. The fennel bakes into sweet/savoury softness. Be generous with the butter. I have also tipped a can of butter beans over this, which worked well.

Serves 4
4 trimmed bulbs of fennel, quartered
Black pepper
A handful of soft breadcrumbs
50g parmesan cheese, grated

1 Bring a pan of water to the boil, add salt, then the fennel and cook until tender but not floppy. Drain the fennel, and arrange in a generously buttered ovenproof dish.

2 Grind over some black pepper, sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and cheese and dot with a little more butter. Bake in the oven at 200/400F/gas mark 6 until the cheese is just golden and the fennel bubbling in the buttery juices.

The salad options: fennel, orange and olive salad

Fennel, pea and mint salad and fennel, orange and olive salad
Two delicious summery salad options for the price of one batch of fennel. Photograph: Yuki Sugiura/Guardian

A bowl of fennel is always brought to the table after the main course at my Sicilian in-laws. Usually it is simply trimmed and quartered, and to be eaten like fruit. Alternatively, it is sliced very thinly and mixed with slices of orange and black olives, which is a surprising and exquisite combination – the citrus, crisp, faintly aniseedy fennel and meaty olives contrast brilliantly. Rather than waiting for the end of the meal, I serve this alongside grilled fish.

2 oranges
2 fennel bulbs
Stoned black olives
Extra virgin olive oil

1 Using a sharp knife, slice away the very top and bottom from the oranges so they sit flat. Then, following the contours of the fruit, pare away the peel and pith. Using a serrated knife, slice the oranges across into thin discs.

2 Halve the fennel bulbs lengthways and then cut each half into thin slices. Arrange the fennel and orange on a large plate. Dot with the olives, season with salt (pepper too, if you so wish) and finish with plenty of oil.

Fennel, pea and mint salad

When the first peas and still tiny and sweet, and it seems a shame to cook them, they are delightful mixed with thinly sliced fennel and torn mint.

2 fennel bulbs
500g peas in pods
A small handful of mint leaves
Extra virgin olive oil

1 Halve the fennel bulbs lengthways and then cut each half into thin slices.

2 Pod the peas. Arrange with the fennel on a platter, tear the mint leaves over, sprinkle with salt and finish with oil.