Italian Style Chickpea Cakes

Chickpea cake

When, I explain I like to cook to people, a common reply is “I would, but I don’t have time”, which is nonsense of course. I have no quibble with anyone whatsoever for not enjoying cooking, or even turning to convenience food, each to their own and all that. But, I believe that if you have the time to heat a packet or jar of something, you’ll have time to make a meal.

Take, for example, some fresh pasta, prawns, frozen peas, garlic and a little chilli and I’ll bet you could have a great pasta dish in ten minutes. A frozen pizza takes longer.

Tonight was a little like this, I was a little late in, but having been out for dinner on Wednesday and Thursday, we couldn’t make it a hat trick. Could we? No, no we couldn’t…

And so the cogs clunked and whirred. I didn’t want anything too unhealthy and I’m trying to keep the meat content down for a while. For me personally, there is nothing better for going meat free than Italian food.

This was kind of inspired by falafel, but with Italian flavours in the form of ricotta, sun dried tomatoes and basil oil. With it, some spinach and simple sautéed mushrooms. Simple and on the table in about 15 minutes.

My only reservation? The chickpea cake was a bit soft, but otherwise, the flavour was good. I think chickpeas cooked from dried work better and have a better texture.

  • 400g cooked chickpeas – canned for speed, dried are better.
  • 3 tbsp ricotta
  • 6 sun dried tomatoes, drained and dried of oil
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 tbsp grated pecorino cheese (or parmesan)
  • A lug of basil oil (or olive oil and some torn basil leaves)
  • A little lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • A little polenta for dusting
  • Button mushrooms
  • 1 garlic clove, finely sliced
  • A couple of parsley sprigs
  • Butter (optional as ever..)
  • Spinach
  • Vegetable stock
  • Oil for frying

Blitz the chickpeas, cheeses, sun dried tomatoes, oil and seasoning in a processor (or just mash it with a fork).


Shape into two burger shapes and dust in the polenta.


Bring a small pan of vegetable stock (about 400ml) to the boil and put the spinach in. Turn off the heat and put the lid on. Meanwhile, in a heavy pan, fry the onions in the oil, and add the garlic. Fry for a few minutes more and stir in the butter and parsley. Turn the heat off, remove and keep warm.

Reheat the pan and add some more oil, fry the chickpea cakes for a few minutes on each side until the polenta crisps. Be careful not to break them – use a spatula!

Chickpea cakes frying

And relax…..its the weekend 😉


Pork Cheeks, Spinach and Champ

Pork Cheek, Spinach and Champ

Helen and I have a shared calendar which appears on both our phones. It makes for amusing moments when I get an alert that I have a hair appointment on Friday evening or that I have drinks with ‘the girls’ on Wednesday night…

Even with our synchronised diaries (although I should point out it’s mostly me trying to keep up with her more sociable lifestyle) I constantly get surprised.

And so, I lovingly made this dish last week, starting the cooking the night before only for my phone calendar to remind me she was having dinner with a friend that night. Worse, the venue was the sort of place with more microwaves than hob rings. Humph.

Undeterred I made this anyway and I’m glad I did, as was Helen when she returned having only eaten half her nuked dinner 😉

Pork cheeks are another one of those slow cooked, cheap-as-chips cuts that deliver massively on flavour. I really should have learned from Conor’s advice about publicising this sort of thing for economic reasons though.

I braised the cheeks in cider and stock in a casserole pot on a low heat the previous evening and warmed them back through the day I served them. Most of the cooking liquor had concentrated up nicely and they were naturally melt-in-the-mouth tender.

Champ is an Irish recipe for mashed potato, using butter, milk and spring onions. Strangely, I’d only recently come across it and I’m glad I did. I did a little research and cobbled this together from a few sources. I hope it’s fairly authentic…

Serves 2

  • 500g pork cheeks, trimmed and sinews removed
  • 1 bottle (500ml) good dry cider
  • 250ml chicken stock
  • A medium carrot, 1 stick of celery (snap in two)  and half an onion
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • Pepper
  • A little oil
  • 4 large handfuls of spinach

For the Champ:

  • 2 large floury potatoes, peeled
  • 3 spring onions/scallions finely chopped
  • About 50ml whole milk, warmed
  • 1-2 tbsp butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Spring Onions

Start by frying the pork cheeks in an ovenproof pan or casserole pot until well coloured. Deglaze with a little cider and add the vegetables. Add the rest of the cider and stock and place in an oven at about 140°C/275ºF for 5 hours at least. Leave to rest overnight.

Pork Cheeks

The next day, reheat the pork cheeks on the hob. Reduce the liquor down if needed with the lid off, until the flavours concentrate – taste as you do. Strain and reserve the cooking liquid as a nice gravy and keep warm. A knob of butter stirred in at this stage is a delicious, if unhealthy addition 😉

Quarter and boil the potatoes (15min). Then, drain and mash, using a potato ricer if possible, melt in the butter and then the warmed milk, until smooth but not too ‘wet’. Finally, stir in the spring onion. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm.


Lastly, wilt the spinach in a large shallow pan with a little boiling water for a couple of minutes. Remove and squeeze the excess water out using a sieve and the back of a large spoon (or in your hands).

Serve it all up and enjoy.


Pancakes two ways – savoury and sweet.

IMG_6411 There was a time long ago, when we had to go to the phone to use it, wireless meant ‘a radio’, Betamax was on the way out and Bluetooth would have presumably meant a trip to the dentist, when I used to eat “Crispy Pankcakes”.

I presume it was a UK thing, but they were basically folded and breaded pancakes that when cooked, by whatever means you choose, disguised a variety of fillings the temperature of molten magma. Now these weren’t haute cuisine by any stretch of the imagination, think savoury pop tarts, only hotter, but as a child I seemed to remember quite liking these things.

Today is Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day of course, so this and the fact Findus (the original makers) has featured heavily in the news of late, lead me to the natural conclusion that I had to replicate these little pockets of lava.

I was late home tonight so I swung by the store on the way back and picked out ingredients for the filling I thought would be quickest to be frank. Spinach, ricotta, bacon and mushroom seemed to fit that profile and is invariably good. And so it was on…

These turned out a little bigger than I remember so I ended up making 4 and freezing two. If I could have gotten them, porcini mushrooms would have had much more flavour, but I couldn’t.

I had to make a sweet one too, I had my orders, and I went for chocolate sauce, banana and flaked almonds. This was a little easier!

For the pancakes:

  • 200g flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 350ml semi-skimmed milk
  • pinch salt

For the filling:

  • 4 handfuls of spinach
  • 250g ricotta cheese
  • 90g smoked bacon lardon
  • 4 medium mushrooms sliced thinly
  • A little salt and chilli flakes
  • Oil
  • Garlic, finely chopped

To finish:

  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 tsp of flour
  • panko breadcrumbs (or regular ones will do fine)
  • Oil

For the sweet version:

  • 2 pancakes (as above)
  • About 200ml chocolate sauce (I bought it in)
  • 1 ripe banana, mashed
  • 2 handfuls of almonds to serve

To make the pancakes, simply mix the ingredients in a bowl, adding the liquids to the flour and whisking as you do to avoid lumps. Stir in a good pinch of salt

In a small pan, fry the pancakes in a little oil so as they are thin and about 23cm/9 inches across. Once done, leave to go cool, they will need to be.

To make the filling, blanch the spinach in a little water until wilted. Drain, cool and squeeze out as much water as you can.

Whilst cooling, fry the bacon in a little oil, the chilli flakes and garlic with the sliced mushrooms until any water released has dried up. Set aside to cool.

Chop the spinach and mix into the ricotta. Once the bacon/mushroom mixture is cooled, at that too. Taste and season if needed.

To make the pancakes, first beat an egg in a bowl decant half to a ramekin and mix with a tsp of flour to make a ‘glue’. Spoon about two tbsp of filling onto the middle of a pancake and brush the edge all the way round with the egg/flour glue. Fold it over carefully trying to expel any trapped air.

Crispy pancake filling

Brush it with the plain egg and coat well in the breadcrumbs all over.

Fry gently in a little oil on both sides and repeat with the others!

Crispy pancake frying

For the sweet pancakes, I simply heated the chocolate sauce with a mashed ripe banana. Spread on the warm pancake (I reheated it in a fresh pan but the microwave will so) and roll up, dust with coco powder and the flaked almonds.

Pancake with chocolate sauce, banana and almonds

Mutton & Spinach Madras


No wait, come back!

Mutton is rarely used or available but is great in a slow cooked curry. I got it at the Wallington food festival from a company called Greenbrae, If you can’t get it, lamb or beef will work as a substitute.

Being a work night, I’ve taken a slight shortcut with the spices, using a shop bought madras powder instead of roasting & grinding my own.

The result was very rich so I added spinach to lighten it up. I served it with plain basmati (that’s all it needs).

2 Tbsp oil
300g of diced mutton
3 garlic cloves and 1 large chilli, finely chopped.
1 Tbsp finely chopped ginger
1 large onion, chopped
2 tbsp madras curry power
1 tsp turmeric
500ml chicken or beef stock
1 Tbsp tomato purée
1 tsp sugar (if needed)
4 handfuls of spinach
Handful Chopped coriander leaves

In a large saucepan or hob proof casserole pot, fry the mutton in half the oil with a good pinch of salt. Don’t overcrowd it or the meat will ‘boil’ rather than colour. If it does, turn up the heat and evaporate it off.

Add the onion towards the end to soften a little.

Meanwhile in a small sauce pan heat the rest of the oil and add the garlic, chilli and ginger. Fry gently for a few minutes. Add the curry power and dry fry it for a minute (it’ll soak up the oil) then add a little water to make a paste. Simmer for a bit and add to the meat. It should smell very fragrant.

Scrape the spice mix into the pot with the mutton and add the stock, the tomato purée and turmeric and simmer with the lid on gently for 30-40 mins hour then with the lid off for 20 mins to reduce and thicken. Taste and add the sugar to balance the flavours if needed (I did).

Meanwhile whilst waiting….put the spinach in a pan with a little water, put the lid on and bring to a gentle boil to wilt. Stir, strain it and squeeze it to remove the water, chop and set aside

Put the kettle on and rinse the same pan out (to cut down on the washing up!!). Add 50g rice per person and a good pinch of salt. Add enough boiled water to cover by a cm or two, put a lid on and bring back to the boil, then turn down to a simmer on it’s lowest heat for 15 mins or until all the water is absorbed.

Add the spinach to the curry at the end to warm through then the coriander leaf just before serving.