When Frenchman Arsene Wenger became the manager of the Arsenal football team in 1996, the players were not amused. Marie Antoinette might have been in favour of cake but Wenger took the opposite view: half-time Mars bars were out, broccoli was in. The proof was in the (lack of) pudding – within two years the team went from being lardy losers to league and FA Cup champions.

I haven’t played football since about 1985, but broccoli is still held in high esteem in my household. We call it healing broccoli and it’s the perfect panacea if you’ve been overdoing it in any way. I can’t promise these recipes will help boost your skills when it comes to the beautiful game, but they’re highly likely to score you points at dinner time.

SPICE-ROASTED BROCCOLI STEAKS WITH TAHINI-YOGHURT DRESSING

Serves 4

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

This should dispel any scary memories of over-boiled broccoli for good. You can skip blanching the broccoli if you like but it makes it much easier to cut it into steaks. If you can’t be bothered (and are ok with broccoli rubble going everywhere), add another 5-10 minutes to the roasting time. The dressing is optional, but addictive.

1 head broccoli, stalk trimmed

2 Tablespoons sesame seeds

2 Tablespoons almonds or walnuts, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspooon smoked paprika

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

For the dressing:

1 small clove garlic, smashed to a paste with ¼ tsp salt

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

3 Tablespoons tahini

1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup Greek yoghurt

2-3 Tablespoons water

Heat the oven to 210C and put a baking tray in the oven to heat up.

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Drop in the broccoli and cook for two minutes, then drain well.

Put the seeds, nuts, salt and spices in a large bowl. Mix well and add most of the oil. Stir through the broccoli until it’s evenly coated with the spice mixture.

Arrange the broccoli on the hot tray, drizzling over the remaining oil and any spice mixture that’s left in the bowl. Roast in the oven for about 15 minutes, turning half way through. Transfer to a platter, season with freshly ground black pepper and serve with the tahini dressing on the side.

To make the dressing, put the garlic paste, lemon zest and lemon juice in a small bowl. Mix well, then whisk in the tahini, olive oil, yoghurt and water (add a little extra water if it seems very thick). Taste for seasoning, then set aside. This can be made in advance and stored in a covered container in the fridge for a couple of days before using.

ORECCHIETTE WITH TOASTED BREADCRUMBS, BROCCOLI AND OLIVES

Serves 4

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

This is a guaranteed family-friendly no-waste dinner that will both encourage your children to eat their greens and use up that rapidly staling baguette in the bread bin. Work fast and you can have this on the table in under 20 minutes.

1 head broccoli, stalk trimmed

Salt

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 cups roughly torn stale bread

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

2 Tablespoons capers

¼ cup sundried tomatoes, chopped

¾ cup olives

350g dried orecchiette

Finely grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Drop in the broccoli and cook for two minutes, then lift out with a pair of tongs and drop into a sieve. Put the lid on the pot and set it aside – you’ll reuse this water to cook the pasta.

Set the broccoli on a board and chop into 1-2cm pieces (including the stalk). Return the pot of water to the heat. When it’s boiling, add a generous spoonful of salt and the pasta. Cook for 10-12 minutes (according to packet directions).

While the pasta is cooking, set a heavy frying pan over medium heat and add the oil. Add the breadcrumbs, garlic, capers and sundried tomatoes. Cook for five minutes, stirring often, until the breadcrumbs are golden. Add the olives and broccoli and toss over the heat for another 2-3 minutes.

Drain the pasta and add to the frying pan. Toss everything together, then divide between four bowls. Let diners help themselves to grated Parmesan at the table.

If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been around much lately, I can now reveal the reason. I’ve been neck-deep in the secrets of Wellington’s best burgers for the Burger Wellington cookbook – a collection of more than 50 recipes from the culinary capital’s decade-long Visa Wellington On a Plate festival. And now, it’s available to pre-order!

Making a book is a bit like raising a child – it takes a village. This one wouldn’t have happened without the amazing generosity of the restaurants, cafes and bars who generously gave up their recipes for me to translate into quantities and instructions for home cooks (one recipe initially had a recipe for cucumber pickle that started with, ‘take 50 telegraph cucumbers’, so that gives you an idea of the scale adjustments needed). The brilliant Jeff McEwan took the photos and the incredible Wellington Culinary Events Trust made the rest happen, along with the amazing assistance of Mary Egan Publishing and Garage Project (beers and burgers are a natural fit, after all).

You can pre-order a copy of Burger Wellington – or wait to get your hands on one in early August. I can’t wait to see it!

As if we needed another sign that everything that is old is new again (see also, the return of 90s fashion, sexual harrassment, the gender pay gap), learning the ‘secret’ meanings of flowers is apparently in vogue. Yes, just like our Victorian forebears (and generations before them), we are all supposed to be fascinated by the symbolism of floral tributes. This could be for real, or it could be a spurious story cooked up to promote Valentine’s Day flower sales. I’m not convinced either way. That said, I do have to share a floral fact I’ve recently learned: fuschia flowers and berries are edible. True story.

I’ve long admired fuschias – there was a large, lovely fuschia overhanging the front door at the house I grew up in, and the house I live in now has a dainty miniature bush at the front gate. But it wasn’t until I read this post about foraging by the always-excellent Jane Wrigglesworth that I realised they were edible. While Jane suggests dipping them in tempura batter, I prefer dipping them in something far more refreshing.

Fuschia fairy cocktails
You can make this with any kind of edible flower, but it’s hard to go past the elegance of a fuschia. Tiny rosebuds would also be sweet.

The base syrup is useful to have in the fridge and can be used in any kind of drink – use prosecco or sparkling wine, or soda water.

1 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup hot water
3 tsp rosewater

Fuschia flowers
Gin or vodka
Prosecco or sparkling water

Put the sugar and water in a small pot set over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then let bubble away for a couple of minutes until thick and syrupy. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Transfer to a glass jar and stir in the rosewater (add more if you like, but it’s best to start with a light hand). Store in the fridge until ready to use.

To make a proper fairy cocktail, put three tiny fuschia flowers in a champagne glass. Add a tablespoon of syrup and one to two tablespoons gin/vodka. Stir well, then top up with very chilled prosecco, sparkling wine or soda water. Stir gently and serve immediately.

Happy Valentine’s Day x

I’ve just been at my excellent public library, where I was thoroughly depressed by the vast numbers of diet books pushed into prominent positions on the shelves. I don’t want to make life hard for the lovely librarians, but I cheered myself up by swapping some of them for better, more interesting cookbooks by people who genuinely love food and eating. I can’t be the only one who wants to dive into a cronut at the sight of some of those preachy titles, all ‘written’ by strange robots with rictus grins and perfect hair. But I digress. I was in the cookbook section because I was wondering what to make when we have some friends over in the weekend. It’s a bit like going shopping for something to wear because you can’t stand your clothes – sometimes you just need a bit of perspective.

Anyway, I got so cross at all the diet/dreamy lifestyle bollocks books that I forgot about looking for dinner inspiration and so we’re going to have my never-fail feeding a crowd of people of various shapes and sizes option – this easy barbecued, butterflied lamb, with various accompaniments. One of those accompaniments is going to be this lovely radish tzatziki, which I invented a week or so ago. Oh, and we’re going to have lots of wine and a great big pudding!

 

Radish tzatziki

All the gardening books (and no doubt the lifestyle book writers) will tell you that radishes are easy and fast to grow. This is true, unless they are pecked out by birds or you have a drought. My first top tip, as a former lifestyle writer (albeit without perfect teeth and great hair), is to buy a packet from the shops. So quick! So easy! And there’s no sugar! My second top tip is to use the grating attachment on your food processor to shred the radishes. This will save time, energy and your expensive manicure.

1 clove garlic, smashed to a paste with 1/2 tsp salt

1 cup thick, full-fat Greek yoghurt

1 1/2 cups shredded radishes, plus a few more for garnishing purposes

2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh mint

Put everything in a bowl and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with barbecued lamb and pita breads, or pork chops, or anything you like really. Store any leftovers in the fridge for up to two days.

Happy weekend!

 

Last week I wrote a ‘best of times, worst of times’ kind of essay on Christmas food (and much more besides) for Your Weekend magazine. I ran out of room to include this section, which looks back at last Christmas. How can it be a year ago?

Coconut Eton Mess with berries and pomegranate molasses

Christmas Day 2016, Wellington

My brother stands in the kitchen, taking the cork out of a bottle of champagne. My sister puts on her glasses to read a recipe on her phone. My husband rinses grit off a pound of West Coast whitebait while my nephew patiently teaches my daughter how to play Old Maid. My brother-in-law explains a complex psychological theory to me while I wrangle two kilos of pork loin into a roasting dish. I have been looking forward to this for months – Christmas under my own roof, with visitors from far away. Not even the discovery that our ancient car was stolen overnight bothers me. I have taken the advice of the kind woman on the insurance helpline who told me at 8am that “there’s nothing we can do about it today, just enjoy Christmas”.

Weeks earlier, I had not felt so good. I had just started a new job and was more unsettled by the Kaikoura earthquake than I wanted to admit. I needed a distraction and the Christmas menu fitted the bill perfectly.  I send emails to my siblings; my brother responds with a link to a Fanny Craddock clip on YouTube. My sister directs me to a Nigella Lawson recipe. I show my husband a photo. “Excellent choice,” he says. “But we’re having a ham too, right? And whitebait?”

In the end we have all of these things, plus new potatoes dug out of the garden on Christmas Eve. My brother makes a kind of Eton Mess with coconut yoghurt, cranberry-studded meringues and swirls of pomegranate molasses. My daughter makes us pose for family portraits with the hideous robotic toys she has been sent for Christmas. We laugh so much the neighbours must think we are mad. We want for nothing.

Later that night I crawl into bed, thinking about the person who stole our car. They broke into our neighbour’s car too, stealing his five-year-old’s brand new bike. I don’t care so much about our car, but I hope the bike has made someone happy.

 

Wherever you are this Christmas, I hope you have a happy and safe one with people you love.