Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Do the Stokey Pokey

IMG-20121028-00008 Paul and Sam at the grill.
There he got out the luncheon-basket and packed a simple meal, in which, remembering the stranger's origin and preferences, he took care to include a yard of long French bread, a sausage out of which the garlic sang, some cheese which lay down and cried, and a long-necked straw-covered flask wherein lay bottled sunshine shed and garnered on far Southern slopes.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

I love where I live. I love that I can buy lightbulbs, shoes, packets of nails or buttons, chillies, guavas, curry leaves, home-made pesto, embroidery thread, books, bras, sardines, bread, cat collars and dog treats, baking tins, parcel tape, compost and pruning knives, wrapping paper, baklava and mixing bowls all within a ten-minute walk from my front door. But for years, to buy really good meat I had to get on the bus to Highbury or wait until Saturday for the farmers’ market. I’m not a wait-until-Saturday kind of girl.
A year or so ago the shutters went down on a small restaurant which had no discernible menu or, indeed, customers. Work began inside. Rumours ran up and down Church Street faster than a hipster on a fixed wheelie. Would it be another café? One more shop plundering the surely-soon-to-be-exhausted vintage clothing mines? Horror of horrors, another estate agent? Then something wonderful happened. The long, narrow interior suddenly sparkled with white tiles. Fridge cabinets appeared along the walls. A notice appeared in the window. It was going to be a butcher. If there were a single thing that would improve the quality of my life, it was this. No more bus trips, no more waiting for Saturday.
And what a great butcher it is. The meat is excellent, the staff cheerful, helpful. They open in the evenings and on Sundays. When I pop in for a chicken or a shin of beef or a bit of scrag end, they always pop a bone into my bag for the dog. Usually the bone is bigger than the dog. Often, so thrilled is Barney with his present, he hides it, burying it in some corner of the garden to be retrieved weeks later, filthy and rotting, and deposits it on a rug or (shiver) bed as the most precious of gifts.
So a nice thing happened, to make up for the filthy and rotting yet most precious of gifts. Paul Grout, one of the shop’s owners, invited me to judge The Stokey Pokey Sausage competition. Customers submitted their favourite sausage recipes and Paul and his staff whittled them down to their top five, which they made up in gorgeous, generous links.
Last Sunday afternoon, I trotted along to the shop thinking I really should be wearing a hat and gloves, the Mrs Miniver-ish uniform of the lady judge. At the garden in the back of the shop, the grill was lit, delicious, savoury smoke wafted into the damp autumn air and we warmed ourselves with the first mulled wine of the season. My fellow judge was Jane Curran, food editor of Woman & Home magazine (and fellow Gooner; when we’re together talk as much about football as we do about food). We chewed and sniffed, scribbled and debated the merits of seasonings and textures, and whether a chicken sausage could ever trump a pork sausage.
In the end, we decided it couldn’t. Even though it was delicious, we thought the combination of chicken, fajita spices, onion, red and yellow peppers and green chillis would make a better burger or meatballs. So the winner was Harry Crabb, with his pork, garlic, nutmeg, allspice, milk powder and white wine sausage. Harry told me it was his mum’s recipe, one she’d got from an Italian woman who’d been her pen friend since they were girls, whose family the young Harry and his siblings had visited and who had visited them here in England. If you’re local, Harry’s sausage will be on sale in the shop from this weekend. It’s really good. I suggest you try it.
IMG-20121028-00013 Paul announces the winner.
IMG-20121028-00018 Harry with his prize.
Paul’s Sizzling Sausage Tips If you’re not local but you’d love to have a go at making your own sausages, here are Paul’s top tips for success. He knows his sausages. He also runs the excellent Butcher at Leadenhall in Leadenhall Market and used to be the butchery and charcuterie manager at Harvey Nichols. He also teaches courses in the shop if you fancy a bit of hands-on instruction.
  • Always use good meat It’s very important to remember that what you put in is what you get out. It’s absolutely not true that sausages are the ‘dumping ground’ of the butcher’s shop. Go to a butcher you trust to give you well-bred animals which have lived and fed on the land. Ask for a recommendation as to the best cuts for sausages.
  • Sausages need fat Don’t be afraid of the fat. This is another reason why it’s important to use good meat. We are what we eat and well-fed animals will produce tasty fats. A good, juicy sausage will have about 20% fat to meat content. Sausages with little or no fat content will be dry and unpalatable. For small batches, it should be possible to buy a cut which offers meat and fat together, such as pork belly, lamb shoulder or beef chuck.
  • Don’t overwork the meat When chopping, mincing and mixing, handle the meat as little as possible and keep it cold. If the meat is overworked, or becomes too warm, the mix will become ‘sticky’ in the mouth. Mince the meat once, add the flavourings (herbs, spices, vegetables and seasonings) and mix quickly. Let the mix rest in a cool place. (NB If using root vegetables, it’s important to cook them off and allow them to cool before adding them to the sausage mix. The time it takes to cook your sausages will not be enough to cook your vegetables.)
  • Always use natural casing (skins) Use pork skins for ‘bangers’ and lamb skins for chipolata or cocktail sausages. It’s never acceptable to use ‘man made’ skins - yuck!
  • Let your sausages rest Having made your sausages, it’s good to let them rest. The skins will dry a little and become firm with the meat and any unwanted liquids will drain away. Too much liquid in your sausages is one of the reasons why they burst in the pan. Too much fat, or poor meat, are other reasons for exploding sausages which is why, historically, sausages were known as ‘bangers’.
Meat N16, 104 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16 OLA           020 7254 0724
Open Tuesday to Friday 9.30am-7pm; Saturday 9am-5pm; Sunday 9.30am-4pm

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Please Support the Blue Cross Big Neutering Campaign


A couple of years ago, I was walking Barney in Clissold Park when I saw a young woman, hugely pregnant, crying on a bench as her spaniel leapt and yapped around her. It turned out she was terrified of how she’d cope with a lively young dog who ran off all of the time when she had a baby to take care of too. I asked her if she’d thought of having the dog neutered as he might calm down a bit. ‘Oh no, she said. ‘My husband won’t hear of it.’

So here the poor woman was, dragging a randy, roamy dog around the park because her husband’s fragile sense of masculinity rested entirely on the entirety of his dog. Which he didn’t walk.

He’s one of many. I meet people all the time who don’t spay and neuter their pets because the thought of it makes them squeamish, or because they think they should have ‘just one litter’ or some other self-indulgent nonsense. I’ve also lost count of the number of dogs I’ve seen abandoned in the park, either old and frail or younger dogs who’ve started to lose their puppy-cuteness and amiability. My friend Louise Glazebrook  is a dog behaviourist and trainer who is constantly trying to find homes for abandoned dogs who somehow find their way to her doorstep when there’s no room in the shelters. As there increasingly isn’t.

The animal charity Blue Cross has seen a 40% increase in the number of stray and abandoned pets they have taken in since 2010. I know that this isn’t something you might expect to read about on my blog, with its confection of recipes and ribbon, but it’s something I feel passionate about so I hope you’ll indulge me. The Blue Cross has launched their Big Neutering Campaign to encourage pet owners to neuter their pets.

Kim Hamilton, chief executive of Blue Cross, explains: ‘The tragedy is that somewhere along the line pets have become the latest throwaway commodity. For many, their pets are part of the family but there are simply too many pets and not enough of these good homes to go round. While charities like Blue Cross will always be there to give needy pets a healthy, happy future we must reverse this trend so pets are not disposed of like rubbish and neutering your pet is the norm.’

Neutering reduces the risk of some illnesses, makes your dog less likely to roam and fight, and in the case of males, makes them less likely to be a target of aggressive dogs. Please consider it.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Hidden promise



I’m really bad at delayed gratification. This serves me well in my career as a cook: think of a cake, bake a cake, eat a cake. Repeat as desired. This impatience, however, is a very poor quality indeed in a gardener. So much preparing and tilling and sowing, tending and pruning and nurturing and waiting. Endless sun-scorched, rain-lashed waiting. Gardening is optimism in action.

Fortunately, to keep us cheerful, some of the most glamorous flowers of all sprout quickly and undemandingly, going about the business of turning themselves into objects of beauty and wonder with precious little intervention from us.

Each autumn I go through the Blom’s Bulbs catalogue, seduced by its loving descriptions of colour, form and scent. Soon the catalogue is more Post-it note than paper. I find the descriptions as soothing as a cup of warm milk at bedtime: ‘Extremely strong and free flowering …Showy and weather resistant …Many small lilac flowers in the shape of stars…Lemon yellow cups becoming milk white with age.’




My order just arrived - a pleasingly heavy box filled with brown paper bags labelled with gaudy photographs, the number of bulbs carefully hand written in the top-right-hand corner. It’s astonishing to think that in a few months, these fat, papery bulbs will push through the cold spring soil in a bobbing tide of yellow, orange, purple, pink and white.

It’s easy to understand the tulipomania that engulfed Holland in the 1630s, so beautifully evoked in Deborah Moggach’s luscious novel, Tulip Fever.  And as I squint at the greedily long list on my delivery note, I draw a little comfort from the thought that in 1637, a single tulip bulb cost more than ten times the annual income of a skilled craftsman. How very lucky we are.

This year’s list.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Gives good face



One of the things I enjoyed most about writing Gifts from the Garden was devising all of the beauty creams, lotions and balms. It made me feel a teeny bit witchy, which I like, but it was also enormously thrifty, which I love.

Most of the projects are made with things from the garden or kitchen cupboards, but some of the ingredients (such as the benzoin tincture used here) required a trip to Baldwins. Even now, with the book deadline a distant memory, I think of excuses to visit. It’s London’s oldest herbalist and has operated on Walworth Road since 1844. Go if you can, to enjoy the sight of shelves filled with jars of dried herbs and flowers and bottles of essential oils. They also have an excellent mail order service if you live further afield and their staff are enormously knowledgeable, patient and helpful. They also stock supplies for soap- and candle-making. I think if I was locked in there for, oh, three or four years, I would be perfectly content.

Fennel & honey face mask

Fennel is a natural astringent. It cleanses the skin and reduces puffiness. In India, gram or chickpea flour is used in many natural beauty treatments as it helps draw impurities out of the skin and is a gentle exfoliant. You can buy it from Asian stores and some supermarkets.

Makes approx. 170g, enough for 4–5 applications.

3 tablespoons fennel seeds, roughly crushed in a pestle and mortar
100g gram or chickpea flour
4 tablespoons runny honey
½ teaspoon benzoin tincture (a natural preservative)

1 jar or pot

Place the fennel seeds in a small pan with 80ml water. Bring to a simmer and immediately remove from the heat. Let the mixture cool and infuse, then strain through a fine sieve. Whisk together with the gram flour, honey and benzoin tincture until you have a thick paste. Spoon into the cold, sterilised jar or pot and seal.

The face mask should be smoothed onto a clean face and neck, left for 15 minutes, rubbed gently into the skin, then wiped off with a facecloth soaked in warm water. Rinse the skin in tepid water and pat dry with a fluffy towel before moisturising.

The face mask will keep in the fridge for 2 weeks.

packaging idea Tuck a soft, pretty facecloth into the package with the jar or pot for a simple, inexpensive but nonetheless thoughtful gift. Include a card with instructions for how to use the face mask too.

Growing Fennel

Airy fronds of fennel swaying in the breeze are such a pretty sight, and undoubtedly earn Foeniculum vulgare a place in the flower border, let alone the herb bed. Fennel can grow up to 1.5m tall and prefers rich, well-drained soil in a sunny site, though it will tolerate less-than-perfect conditions with fairly good heart. During the summer, keep picking at the fronds to encourage lots of sweet, young leaves. F. v. ‘Purpureum’, or bronze fennel, is less vigorous and has a milder flavour but is equally beautiful. The ripening seeds take on a yellowish shade.

Gifts from the Garden by Debora Robertson (Kyle Books, £16.99) Photography: Yuki Sugiura

Monday, 15 October 2012

Consider the squash


Each year,  the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch that he thinks is the most sincere. He's gotta pick this one. He's got to. I don't see how a pumpkin patch can be more sincere than this one. You can look around and there's not a sign of hypocrisy. Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see.

Linus, from It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, 1966


I know, I know. At this time of year, pumpkin and squash recipes are splattered all over the internet like spaghetti sauce over a sloppy diner’s shirt. I add to them only because - if I pick up a butternut squash on the way home - I pretty much always have the rest of the ingredients tucked away somewhere in my kitchen and garden.

To be honest, I’d rather call this pumpkin soup. ‘Pumpkin’ sounds round, inviting, friendly. ‘Squash’ sounds well, rather deflating and miserable. But I make it with butternut squash as you can buy them almost everywhere. Crown Prince squash is also delicious if you can get your hands on one.

Every time I enter our local pub quiz, I have a tiny but persistent fear. One day the question ‘What is the difference between a squash and a pumpkin?’ will come up and, as I’m the designated food person on our team, all eyes will fall on me. In my imagination this is how that scenario plays out: I flail about a bit and then draw to my team mates’ attention my outstanding performance in the show tunes section, throwing in some over-exuberant jazz hands as a distraction from my curcurbita-based ignorance. I draw comfort from my friend Mark Diacono’s  description in River Cottage Handbook No 4: Veg Patch

The distinction between pumpkins, squash and gourds is bizarrely vague, and even their botanical names provide little guidance. If it helps, I tend to think that pumpkins are generally orange, gourds and mostly inedible, squash are almost always delicious, So, concentrate on squash for the kitchen, a pumpkin or two for Hallowe’en, and decorative gourds to weird up your plot.’

Eat one, carve one, weird up your plot. Happy autumn!

Peeled squash and garlic.

Roasted butternut squash and garlic soup


I adapted Gordon Ramsay’s roasting method from this recipe. Roasting the squash and garlic together gives it a deeper, richer flavour which goes down well with those who sometimes find the sweetness of squash cloying (me).

Serves six

1 large butternut squash
4 tablespoons olive oil
A few sprigs of thyme
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled, 1 halved and the rest bashed to break the skin
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
1 small red or green chilli, membrane and seeds removed and finely chopped
2 onions, diced
1 – 1.2 l chicken or vegetable stock

Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Some feta and fresh coriander or dill to finish

Preheat the oven to 190˚C/gas mark 5.

Halve the squash lengthways and scoop out the seeds. Place them in a roasting tin. Score the flesh with a small, sharp knife and brush with olive oil. Halve one of the garlic cloves and rub the flesh with the garlic then season with salt and pepper. Put the rest of the garlic in the hollows of the squash and scatter over the thyme. Trickle a bit more olive oil over the garlic and put them in the oven. Bake until the flesh is very tender and slightly charred, about 1 hour. A knife should pierce the flesh very easily. Remove from the oven and leave until cool enough to handle.


While the squash is cooking, warm a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan over a medium-low heat and sauté the onions gently with a pinch of salt until very soft and translucent, stirring from time to time. Don’t let them take on any colour. This should take about 20-30 minutes.

Scoop the flesh out of the squash into a bowl. It should come away very easily, leaving only the papery skin. Make sure you pour the garlicky oil from the squash’s hollows into the bowl into the bowl too. Squeeze the roasted garlic into the bowl with the squash. Discard the garlic skins and thyme.

Add the cumin, coriander and chilli to the onions and stir for a minute or two over a medium heat. Add the squash and garlic and stir well. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently for 15 minutes, remove from the heat and cool slightly. Whizz until smooth in a food processor or blender; you may need to do this in batches. Return to the pan and warm through. Add more salt and pepper if necessary.

Serve in warmed bowls with some crumbled feta and fresh coriander scattered over the top.


Thursday, 11 October 2012

Hurry up, go slow

Fast is fine but accuracy is final. You must learn to be slow in a hurry.

From the film Wyatt Earp

Roasted chicken with clementines and arak

My late, lovely father-in-law, the Major, used to describe his army career as a succession of hurry up, go slow - intense periods of activity followed by lots of waiting around for something to happen.

I’m very good at the hurry up bit. I think most of us are, to the point where it’s a habit, backed up by a society which reinforces the notion that speed is good. Scan the newspaper, while talking on the landline and checking your Twitter feed on the mobile? Guilty.

It seeps into my downtime too. How lovely to listen to that play on the radio – I can clean the oven at the same time. If I have a long bath now, I bet I can finish the last 100 pages before bookclub tonight. Let’s take the dog for a walk, I can check my emails at the same time. Get a pedicure? The perfect opportunity to catch up on all those favourited features. And so on.

I need to stop it. I think we all need to stop it, or at least be aware that we’re doing it. Multitasking  is as old-hat as those 80s shoulder pads. It slows down your brain, scrambles your effectiveness and switches you to a permanent ‘frantic’ setting, which is terribly dull and, I’m quite sure, promotes wrinkles.

My perfect Sunday involves a leisurely walk around the flower market  followed by filling the house with a load of people for a lunch which will trickle into the glimmers of evening and possibly involve an improvised dinner too.

Last weekend we were having half a dozens pals over for Sunday lunch. On Saturday, I spent a pleasant hour or so going through Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s gorgeous new book, Jerusalem, picking out a menu I could pretty much prepare ahead, all the better to be enormously lazy on Sunday.

I picked out a butternut squash and tahini spread, where the squash is roasted with cinnamon and mixed with tahini, garlic and yoghurt (I would have liked to blog this for you, but it vanished too quickly to shoot, so delicious was it) to go with the charcuterie and olives and bowl of cherry tomatoes; the roasted chicken featured here needs marinating overnight and then simply bunging in the oven for 40 minutes or so, and  the set yoghurt pudding with poached peaches only requires flinging onto plates before you bring it to the table (I’ll share that recipe next week).

So on Sunday, I went to the market, played with some flowers, arranged a few things on plates, drank a chilly glass of prosecco and opened the door to cheerful people bearing wine and beer and hydrangeas. Lunch sprawled through the afternoon and into the evening. The last of our happy band left at 11.30.

So hurry up by all means. But don’t make it into a habit. Only do it if it allows you to go slow when it counts. Do what you’re doing. Be where you are.

Roasted chicken with clementines and arak, from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Just out of the oven. I made double the quantity so I used three trays – don’t crowd that chicken!

This seems like a bold, intense and unusual combination of flavours but they work beautifully together, creating a deliciously savoury dish enlivened and lifted by the clementines and fennel. I made twice as much, hoping to have some leftovers to tuck into during the week. I didn’t have any leftovers. It all vanished.

Serves four

100ml arak, ouzo or Pernod
4tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp grain mustard
3 tbsp light brown sugar
2 medium fennel bulbs (500g in total)
1 large, organic or free-range chicken, about 1.3kg, divided into 8 pieces, or the same weight in chicken thighs with the skin and on the bone
4 clementines, unpeeled (400g in total), sliced horizontally into 0.5cm slices
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
2 ½ tsp fennel seeds, slightly crushed
Salt and black pepper

Chopped flat-leaf parsley to finish

Rice or bulgar to serve

Put the first six ingredients in a large mixing bowl and add 2 ½ tsp of salt and 1 ½ teaspoons of black pepper. Whisk well and set aside.

Trim the fennel and cut each bulb in half lengthways. Cut each half into 4 wedges. Add the fennel to the liquids, along with the chicken pieces, clementine slices, thyme and fennel seeds. Stir well with your hands then leave to marinate in the fridge for a few hours or overnight (skipping the marinating stage is also fine, if you are pressed for time).

Preheat the oven o 220C/200C Fan/Gas Mark 7. Transfer the chicken and its marinade to a baking tray large enough to accommodate everything comfortably in a single layer (roughly a 30cm x 37cm tray); the chicken skin should be facing up. Once the oven is hot enough, put the tray in the oven and roast for 35-45 minutes, until the chicken is coloured and cooked through. Remove from the oven.

Lift the chicken, fennel and clementines from the tray and arrange them on a serving plate; cover and keep warm. Pour the cooking liquids into a small saucepan, place on a medium-high heat, bring to a boil then simmer until the sauce is reduced by a third, so you are left with about 80ml. Pour the hot sauce over the chicken, garnish with some chopped parsley and serve. Serve with plainly cooked rice or bulgar.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

That’ll do micely

Prune plays with a catnip mouse 

Two old bachelors were living in one house;
One caught a muffin, the other caught a mouse.

The Two Old Bachelors, by Edward Lear, 1894

I have two cats who barely require artificial stimulation to behave like crazed hellions, perching cosily on the cooker hood, slinking along shelves and mantle pieces, dive-bombing guests from the tops of doors and wardrobes and brazenly eating the dog’s dinner while he looks on mournfully.

So providing them voluntarily with catnip (other than the free-range stuff they shred and roll on outside) is a perilous activity. But for the purpose of the book, I briefly became their pusher. Yuki, our patient and lovely photographer, managed to capture Prune’s eyes-closed-in-ecstasy, holding-on-with-claws-of-steel pose, before the poor little mouse was shredded to death. An interesting point: the dog was just as interested in the mouse as the cats were, though he ignores the catnip growing outside.

If you don’t grow catnip, do give it a go. It will certainly bring all the cats to your yard, but it’s terribly undemanding and pretty. Its soft purple flowers and silvery green leaves fill in many a blank space in my garden, and they’re great as underplanting for roses where they cover up the boring sticky bits wonderfully. It also makes a very good, calming tisane. Someone should tell the cats.


Catmint mice

Scraps of strong cotton fabric, corduroy or tweed
String or ribbon, for the tails
Hollow fill fibre toy stuffing, available from craft suppliers
2 teaspoons dried catmint for each mouse
Scraps of felt for the ears
Embroidery thread, for the eyes
Needle and thread or sewing machine

For each mouse, cut a heart-shaped paper template, approximately 18cm at its widest point. Pin this to your fabric and cut round it. Cut the fabric heart in half along the central point so that you have two pieces. Place the right sides of the fabric together and tuck the tail in position so that you catch it as you sew around the mouse. Pin together and stitch, leaving a gap of about 3cm in the base of the mouse. Turn the mouse right-side out and press.

Fill the mouse with the hollow fill fibre and a couple of teaspoons of dried catmint, then sew up the hole in the base securely. Cut small triangles of felt for the ears and stitch them on. Embroider small crosses for eyes. The catmint mouse’s scent will remain strong for several months.

Growing Catmint

Hardy perennial catmint, Nepeta, gets its common name from the near-narcotic effect it has on cats, but it makes a very attractive border plant in its own right. Plant in well-drained soil in sun or light shade and when the first flowers have faded, cut right back to within a few centimetres of the soil line to encourage lush growth and a second crop of flowers. if you are cultivating it for your cat, you’ll need to protect it. Cats will roll around on the plants in a state of ecstasy and gnaw the foliage down to the stems. Poking some twigs or sticks into the ground around the plant and tying some garden twine in a web between the sticks can help stop the worst of the damage.

Gifts from the Garden by Debora Robertson (Kyle Books, £16.99) Photography: Yuki Sugiura

Monday, 1 October 2012

A bit from my book


Courgette muffins sitting on the wall,
courgette muffins sitting on the wall,
and if one courgette muffin should accidentally fall (into my mouth),
there’ll still be plenty left for later.

Unknown, 2012

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share a little taster of my book, Gifts from the Garden, and post a few of the hundred or so projects here. I thought I’d start with the courgette and ricotta muffins because they vanished quicker than you can say ‘free food’ at my book party.  And also because it’s probably the most familiar territory for us all. It’s a recipe. It’s food. I warn you, in the weeks to come there will be sewing and a face mask. There will also be gardening. Don’t panic. We’ll all get through it together.

Courgette and ricotta muffins

A basket of muffins is always a welcome gift. These light and tender savoury ones are a delicious way of using up a plentiful crop of courgettes in summer. Alternatively, use grated carrot instead of courgettes and Cheddar in place of the Parmesan.

Makes 12.

240g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ teaspoon salt
A few grinds of black pepper
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano or marjoram
120g Parmesan, coarsely grated
2 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
200g ricotta
100ml olive oil
200g courgettes, coarsely grated
5 spring onions, finely chopped

Paper cases
Muffin tin

Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6 and line a muffin tin with 12 paper cases.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Whisk in the salt, pepper, oregano or marjoram and 80g of the Parmesan.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, ricotta and olive oil. Fold this into the flour with a spatula until just combined – be careful not to overmix as it will make the muffins tough. Fold in the courgettes and spring onions.

Spoon the batter into the paper cases and sprinkle over the rest of the Parmesan. Bake for 18–20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

These muffins are best eaten on the day of baking, though they freeze quite well.

Growing courgettes

Courgettes, Cucurbita pepa, are possibly the easiest of all vegetables to grow. Sow seeds singly in small pots indoors in spring and harden them off by placing them outside in a sheltered spot during the day and then bringing them in at night for about a week. Only plant them out once all threat of frost has passed. Plant them in the ground about 1m apart, or grow them in pots at least 40cm in diameter. Keep courgettes well watered and pick them when they’re no larger than 10cm long for the best flavour. One of the benefits of growing your own courgettes is that you get to harvest the beautiful yellow flowers. You can eat them fresh or stuff them with soft goat’s cheese, dip them in a light tempura batter and deep-fry them until golden.

Gifts from the Garden by Debora Robertson (Kyle Books, £16.99) Photography: Yuki Sugiura

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