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

Recipes for Summer Rentals

20120619_140933My nephew Angus reclining on the rocks at Toe Head.

Yesterday I woke to the thrumming of rain against the large hosta beneath our bedroom window. The leaves are as tough as the waxed cloth of an expensive umbrella and almost as broad. It was as loud as someone throwing gravel against the glass and it took me a second to remember where I was.

We’re in West Cork, where the rain can be heavy and insistent enough to wake you one moment, and then, by the time you’ve laid the fire and dressed yourself to face it, it’ll give way to a clear hyacinth blue sky. Which is what happened yesterday morning.

We took our lunch to the beach, a little westward-facing shingle cove a few miles along the coast at Toe Head. We sat in the blustery sunshine watching the dog flirt with the frothy white edges of the tide as we ate lunch. Egg salad sandwiches, crisps, KitKats, orange juice and a thermos of strong tea… I’ve eaten this, or slight variations of this, on beach picnics all my life. It made me think of the things I make every year in the invariably-sparsely-equipped kitchens of houses we’ve rented for the summer. I thought I’d share some of them with you – the kind of dinners I make when I can’t weigh anything or whizz it in a blender, the sort of dishes that don’t mind terribly if you bake them in scratched 70s Pyrex, improvise a lid with tin foil, subject them to a temperamental oven, or let them fend for themselves while you linger over drinks in the pub. These are my recipes for summer rentals, though of course they taste just as good at home too.

Egg salad sandwiches


I like to use a bought, French-style mayonnaise for these. It has a little mustard in it and tastes pleasingly eggy. But use whatever you prefer. For ‘something green, chopped up’, I use either rocket or chives, though I often hanker for classic egg-and-cress and wonder why I don’t grow cress on blotting paper on a sunny windowsill as I did when I was a kid. It makes me a little sad that we live in an age when cress is almost as difficult to find as blotting paper.

If you’re the kind of family who has a cooked rasher or two of bacon left over from breakfast, chop that up finely and stir it in too. We’re not, so sometimes I cook a couple especially to mix in with the egg. A finely-chopped spring onion is also a good addition.

For four to six people:

5 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
A generous spoonful or two of mayonnaise
Something green, chopped up
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bread, slices or soft rolls

Optional: A couple of cooked rashers of bacon, finely chopped; a spring onion, finely chopped

Gently stir together the eggs, mayonnaise, green thing of choice, bacon and/or spring onion if using, and season well with salt and pepper. Spoon the salad onto white bread or brown, slices or rolls. Avoid sand.

Today’s holiday reading:
‘Liz sat under the mulberry tree. The fruit was scarlet and black among the dark leaves. Outside this circle of shade, the garden burned and blazed with the hot colours of the bean-flowers, of montbretia, golden-rod, geraniums.

“My dear Arthur,” she had written on a piece of paper; but it had blown away across the flower-border, and, too lazy to fetch it, she had begun again on another sheet.’

A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor

Parks and dogs and sausage rolls


I’ve been to grander parties, it’s true. This is a long way from silver trays of canapés in elegant hotels, premier cru in posh houses fragrant with pine Diptyque candles and money, or carefully constructed cocktails in private members’ clubs.
But this is the party I look forward to as soon as I flip the calendar over to December. Every Christmas, those of us who walk our dogs in Clissold Park assemble in the breath-misting morning chill to swap stories, drink, eat.

Rachel put together her camping stove for the mulled wine and the graffiti’d picnic table quickly disappeared beneath foil-wrapped and plastic-boxed Christmas treats, thermoses of coffee, paper napkins and plastic cups.

001 (2)
It’s a very Stoke Newington affair. Mince pies and Christmas cake sit alongside Phil’s home-smoked cheese, Riccardo and Alastaire Spanish cinnamon cookies and Cat’s spanakopita.
It was -2ºC, so I perked up a cup of Lee’s hot chocolate with a nip of rum from Alastaire’s hip flask. Dogs barked, sniffed, made covert and not-so-covert attempts to raid the table. Toddlers nibbled chocolate brownies as a few feet above their heads, adults discussed favoured routes to Devon and Denmark, snow warnings and the misery of Oxford Street. People swapped cards and invitations, exchanged hugs, kissed.

By 11am I was at my desk, trying to nudge my rum-warmed brain to focus on my last feature of the year. But what I was really thinking was that it would be a good thing for the happiness of the nation if there were more parties where it was entirely acceptable to wear your gardening shoes.


Polly looks hopeful.

Chorizo sausage rolls


There are so many sweet offerings at the dog walkers’ Christmas party, I always try to make something savoury to balance the early morning sugar rush. Sausage rolls filled with River Cottage’s  Tupperware chorizo have a fiery kick, appropriate for a morning when ducks skid across thick ice on the pond and walkers swaddled in Gore-tex and wool tread gingerly on frosty pavements.

The chorizo is easy to make – you just squish it all together – but you need to refrigerate it for at least a day for the flavours to develop.

Makes about 30 small sausage rolls

For the chorizo:
750g pork shoulder, coarsely minced
1 tbsp sweet smoked paprika
2 tsp hot smoked paprika
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp fine sea salt
1½ tsp fennel seeds
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
50ml red wine
Freshly ground black pepper

A little oil for frying
3 sheets of ready-roll all-butter puff pastry, about 35cm x 22cm
An egg beaten with a little water

Put all the chorizo ingredients into a bowl and mix thoroughly with your hands, squishing the mix through your fingers to distribute the seasonings evenly. Heat a little oil in a frying pan, break off a walnut-sized piece of the mixture, shape into a tiny patty and fry for a few minutes on each side, until cooked through. Taste to check the seasoning, remembering that the flavours will develop further as the mixture matures.
Cover the mixture and store in the fridge for at least 24 hours before using; this will allow the flavours time to develop. It will keep for about 2 weeks.

When you’re ready to make the sausage rolls, unroll the pastry and give it a gentle going over with a rolling pin to increase its size slightly. Cut it in half lengthways, make the chorizo into a long snakes about 2cm thick and lay them down the middle of the pastry rectangles. Brush one long edge of the pastry lightly with the egg wash, roll the other edge over the top to join and press the edges together firmly. Trim with a sharp knife so you have an even edge (if you like – wonky sausage rolls are also incredibly delicious). Cut them into 4cm pieces and place them on baking sheets lined with baking parchment, keeping them about 2cm apart as they will expand a bit. Chill for about 30 minutes.

Brush the sausage rolls with the egg wash. I also ground some black pepper and sprinkled a bit more sweet paprika over the top but that’s not essential. Place them in a hot oven, 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6, for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is golden and the pork cooked through. If you can, eat them warm.