I spent the summer lusting over the idea of going to Liguria, with trofie al pesto on the beach and bakery crawls for cheesy focaccia at the forefront of my mind. That these recipes have a faintly Ligurian accent shows that I’m not over it yet, even if the whiff of fresh basil is for now a memory. Liguria is a region of harmonies: dairy and olive oil underwriting dishes, vistas of shoreline and undulating hills. There is the seafood, but there are also vegetables, cooked magically, that I dream of and try to recreate when I’m cooking at home.
If we had made it to Italy this summer – we got as far as a rental bungalow in Sussex – we would have ended the evening meal with a walk to the square to get an ice-cream. When my dad does it, he sees it as his duty to choose a particularly wildcard flavour combo – lemon and chocolate together! So in homage to him, I’ve made a chocolate version of a truly British institution of steamed suet pudding, but with flavours that make me think of warmth and family. Glug over some cream and this will get you through the steeliest of autumn evenings.
Chickpea, mushroom and tomato soup
A simple chickpea soup. It goes without saying that you can use a tin of chickpeas instead, but I’d rather cook my own. When I bother, I usually cook the whole packet and freeze the leftovers for another dish. Serves 4
chickpeas 200g, soaked overnight
sage 1 sprig
garlic 4 cloves
dried mushrooms 20g
onion 1, small
celery 2 sticks
carrot 1, small
olive oil 3 tbsp
parsley a small bunch
thyme 3 sprigs
chilli flakes a pinch
red wine 1 glass
tomato passata 100g
Drain, rinse and boil the chickpeas in plenty of water with the sage leaves and 2 of the garlic cloves. Remove the scum that comes to the surface with a ladle and top up with water where necessary. They will probably take an hour to cook.
Reconstitute the mushrooms in boiled water for 15 minutes. Chop the onion, celery, carrot and remaining garlic to make the sofrito. In a soup pan, begin to sweat the sofrito in olive oil with a pinch of salt. Cook slowly for 20 minutes. Chop the parsley, including the stalks, pick the thyme leaves and add the mushrooms (reserving the water), giving everything a final chop together. Add to the sofrito with a pinch of chilli; cook over a medium heat for 7 minutes more.
Add the passata and after 5 minutes follow with the chickpeas, wine and reserved mushroom water, avoiding any grit at the bottom. Adjust the seasoning and keep simmering for 30 minutes, adding water where necessary. Serve warm.
Guinea fowl, olives and celery
This recipe uses a lot of olives as a principal seasoning. If you can’t find the typical purple taggiasca olives, go for others, even big green ones, but avoid the salted and pitted black olives, as their flavour will be pervasive. You could use capers instead for a twist. Serves 4
guinea fowl 1, about 1.5kg
garlic 3 cloves
rosemary 1 stick
olive oil 3 tbsp
celery 1 head
butter a knob
taggiasca olives 80g
bay leaves 3
white wine 300ml (or dry vermouth)
Cut the guinea fowl into 10 pieces, removing the backbone and larger pieces of fat. Peel the garlic, slightly crush with the back of a knife, chop the rosemary. Marinate the fowl pieces with the herbs, salt and olive oil. Leave for as long as possible, overnight would be great but at least for 1 hour.
Prepare the celery by washing, cutting in half lengthways and then segmenting the heart into 6. Over a medium-hot heat, melt the butter in a heavy and wide pan that has a lid. Place half the guinea fowl pieces skin-side down into the pan and begin to fry them. Turn, move and remove pieces as they turn golden. Add newcomers when there is space in the pan. Be careful not to burn the pieces of garlic. This is infinitely easier if you have a set of tongs.
Once all the pieces are seared, add the celery and fry for 3 minutes, stirring, before adding the olives and bay leaves, which will release a wonderful smell. Continue cooking for 2 more minutes. Then add the pieces of guinea fowl back, the wine and a good lid. Slightly lower the heat and cook for 10 minutes before moving everything around and continuing for a further 15 minutes. The last 5-10 minutes can be with the lid off. You can remove the meat and celery and turn up the heat to condense the juices a bit if you want to.
Leave the dish off the heat, soaking in the juices, for at least 5 minutes before serving. I’d rather not eat this piping hot.
Spinach, pine nuts, sultanas
This seems like a tremendous amount of spinach, but trust me, you’ll eat it all. Make this with anchovies or parmesan. It’s best to avoid both together. Serves 4
spinach 1kg (if possible, not baby spinach in a plastic bag), washedpine nuts 40g
olive oil 2 tbsp
salted anchovy fillets 3 or parmesan 50g
nutmeg a scratch
Soak the sultanas with a pinch of salt in a cup of boiled water.
Place a large pan with a lid over a high heat. Add as much washed spinach as you can cram in and then put the lid on. Steam for 1 minute and then stir, adding any remaining spinach and cooking for 4 minutes more until all the spinach is wilted and darkened. Pour all of it into a colander and allow to drain, pressing excess water out.
Set the pan back over the heat, but turn it down to medium. Add the pine nuts. Allow to toast for a minute or two then add 2 tbsp of oil and the anchovies, if using. Drain the sultanas and add them as well, then the cooked spinach and butter and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir to incorporate. Add the parmesan now if you like. Serve at once.
Lemon and chocolate pond pudding
This takes a long time to cook, but is surprisingly quick to prepare. Serves 6
plain flour 150g
baking powder 1 tsp
golden caster sugar 180g
semi-skimmed milk 50ml
unsalted butter 100g, plus extra for the basin
dark chocolate 100g, broken to shrapnel
unwaxed lemon 1
Sift the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl and incorporate 30g of the sugar and the suet. Whisk 50ml of boiled water into the cocoa to make a paste, then add the milk. Once cool, stir the cocoa mixture into the flour with a wooden spoon and then mix with your hands to make the most wonderful pliable plasticiney dough. Roll into a ball.
Butter a pudding bowl. Dust the bench and the dough with flour and roll out until roughly 30cm wide. Cut off a rough quarter and use the larger piece to line a pudding bowl, leaving any excess to overhand. Press and smooth any tears together with your fingers – no need to be too delicate. Cube the butter and mix with the rest of the sugar and break in the chocolate pieces. Wash the lemon well and cut it into three pieces.
Put a third of the butter mix into the bowl and then press in the lemon pieces, roughly keeping its shape. Fill around and on top with the rest of the butter mix. Fold the dough the edges over and use the remaining piece of dough to cover the butter. Close the pudding tightly by smoothing out overlapping dough pieces.
Take a piece of baking paper and fold a pleat 3cm wide into it. Cover the bowl with the paper, leaving a bit of space inside for the pudding to grow, and tie tightly with butcher’s string. Use another piece of string to make a handle to facilitate lifting the pudding out later.
Place a saucer upside down in a pot that’s just big enough and place in the pudding. Fill the pot most of the way up the side of the pudding bowl with water and bring to the boil. Keep simmering for 4 hours, adding water when necessary.
Carefully remove from the pot using the string handle and allow to cool for a minute or two before turning the pudding out on to a serving dish. Served while hot with cream is best.
Food styling by Henrietta Clancy