Italian Borlotti Bean Soup

I love borlotti beans

They’re good in an Italian soup with or without pasta.

You can also cook them in stock, garlic and olive oil – reducing the liquid until it becomes an unctuous sauce – then finish it off with loads of chopped fresh parsley.

And Marcella Hazan – one of the doyennes of Italian food writers – uses them to make a fantastic pasta sauce flavoured with rosemary (she calls them cranberry beans).

Fiery red pods

They’re a great thing to grow as they can be cooked straight after being shelled from the fiery red pod – the Italians call them lingua di fuoco or tongue of fire. The fresh beans are a delicate pale green laced with pink markings (the pods are discarded and composted).

They also store well – if you pick them right at the end of the season as the pods are turning crisp and papery on the climbing vine – revealing pink and burgundy beans that look like miniature exotic birds eggs.

Beans drying on a tray
I lay them out on a tray to dry and then store in dry jars to use throughout the winter

When you want to use them you soak them overnight and cook like any other dried bean or pulse. They are a welcome and hearty staple throughout the winter.

Dried and soaked beans
These homegrown dried beans double in size once they’ve been soaked

Save and sow

And as I make this soup with the last of my collected, dried and stored beans I’m saving about to sow thirty or forty of them to sow for this year’s crop. 

They will take a couple of weeks to germinate – I sow in compost in 1 1/2 inch square modules and wait until the last frosts before planting out along a row of bamboo cane supports for them to scramble up.

Like other beans they are a good nitrogen fixer improving your soil for the crop that follows them.

Borlotti Bean Soup

Author: Cath
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 125 g diced onion
  • 125 g diced carrot
  • 125 g diced celery
  • 170 g tomatoes chopped
  • 180 g dried borlotti beans, soaked and cooked until soft or 450 g tinned drained beans
  • 750 ml vegetable stock or more if needed
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
  1. Saute onion, carrot and celery with a little salt on a gentle heat for about ten minutes in a large saucepan.  Sometimes I add a little crushed garlic or if I have no celery I will use leeks. Stir occasionally.

  2. Add tomatoes (you can use fresh skinned tomatoes or tinned ones with their juice) and cook for a further ten minutes stirring occasionally.

  3. Add cooked borlotti beans and bean cooking liquid topped up with stock (I use Marigold Bouillon powder with water).  I usually make sure there's at least two inches of liquid above the beans and vegetables in the pan.

    You can add fresh uncooked borlotti beans instead at this point if you have them (about 1kg in weight in their pods - then shell and discard pods and compost them). Or add some tinned beans like red kidneys.

  4. Simmer for half an hour with the lid on.

  5. Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary - you can also take out a few of the beans (a couple of tablespoons and mash them and add back into the pan)

  6. At this point you can add a couple or three handfuls of dried small pasta shapes like orzo or macaroni and cook for a further 10 or 15 minutes making sure there's enough liquid to absorb the extra ingredients. 

    I usually don't bother.

  7. I chop lots of fresh parsley - a couple of tablespoons and add five minutes before I serve.



Takikomi gohan or Mixed rice with chestnuts

New Year potluck

At New Year I invited some friends around and hosted a potluck lunch.

Three of them were Japanese women.

They all brought delicious food including sushi rolls – or norimaki.

One of them, Hiroko, was kind enough to bring Takikomi gohan – mixed rice and vegetables.

It brought back fond memories of my time in Japan.

I spent a year in Sukagawa – a small town in Fukushima – and another two in Nagoya – a big city to the west of Tokyo.

Now you can buy sushi in any British supermarket (although it often tastes like cardboard as the rice was never meant to be refrigerated but eaten straight away) but at the time I went to Japan – 30 or so years ago – it was unheard of.

Food is very seasonal

It is not an exaggeration to say that Japanese food and cuisine is one of the best in the world with it’s emphasis on fresh ingredients.

Lighter more cooling foods are eaten earlier in the year whereas autumn and winter see heavier more starchy and sweet foods being served.

At New Year symbolic foods are eaten that will bring good luck and fortune.

Restaurants in each region, city or town proudly boast of their specialities.

And a common interest in food kindles new friendships.

I will never forget the extraordinary hospitality I received in Japan – much of it centred around the homes and hearths of ordinary people.

Simple yet complex

This dish of rice, chestnuts and mixed vegetables is simple yet it has a great depth of flavour.

It is often made with a Japanese root vegetable called gobo or burdock – as we know it.

It can contain chicken and bamboo shoots or even lotus root.

But this is my version of it.

Takikomi gohan
Takikomi gohan served with beetroot and walnut salad

The hijiki sea vegetable can be bought in wholefood or natural food shops.

The other ingredients like mirin and shoyu or tamari or even sake can be obtained in the bigger supermarkets here.

The result is a kind of Japanese paella.

I hope you enjoy it.

And thanks Hiroko for inspiring me to make it.

Whole chestnuts add sweetness that complements the saltiness of the sea vegtable and tamari
5 from 1 vote
Takikomi gohan
Takikomi gohan or mixed rice and vegetables

My interpretation of a Japanese classic

Author: Cath
  • 190 g glutinous or sushi rice
  • 300 ml water
  • 6 g hijiki sea vegetable
  • 100 g shiitake or button mushrooms
  • 1/2 large carrot
  • 1 inch fresh ginger
  • 1 tbsp tamari or shoyu (soya sauce)
  • 1 tbsp mirin
  • 1 tbsp sake or shaohsing rice wine
  • 12 whole peeled chestnuts
  1. Wash rice well in cold water and drain.

  2. Transfer to a saucepan or rice cooker and cover with 300 ml cold water and leave to soak for at least 30 minutes.

  3. Drain well and then place back into the pan or rice cooker and cover with water (an old Japanese tip - when your palm is flat on top of the rice the water should come up to the first crease in your wrist).

  4. Meanwhile cover the hijiki seaweed with water in a small bowl and leave to soak for 30 minutes.  Then drain. 

  5. Julienne the carrot into fine slivers. 

  6. Halve the mushrooms then slice thinly.

  7. Finely grate the ginger (skin and all) and scoop up in your palm and squeeze the juice out into a small bowl or cup by clenching your fist.

  8. Mix the tamari or shoyu with the mirin, sake and ginger juice in a cup or small bowl.

  9. Open a bag or jar of vacuum packed chestnuts and count out a dozen or so whole ones.

  10. Go back to your rice covered with water and add the other ingredients (carrot, mushrooms, chestnuts, hijiki, tamari and ginger juice mixture) evenly on top but don't mix.

  11. Cover with tight lid and bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes.

  12. Then remove from heat and leave for 10 minutes.

  13. Take off lid and with a wooden spoon gently combine or fold the vegetables with the rice and serve.  

  14. Each individual can add extra soya sauce or tamari to taste.


Three salads


I used to make a winter salad with millet as a base and red cabbage, apple, celery and toasted caraway added to it.

That was when I was in my twenties and living in Bristol and working at a wholefood co-operative in Bath called Harvest Natural Foods.

It’s also nice added to bread – there’s a great recipe in the Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison and Ed Espe Brown.

And American writer and wholefoods guru, Rebecca Wood writes about millet extensively in her book, The Splendid Grain.

She says it has the “most complete protein and significantly more iron than the other true cereal grains”.

It is, according to Rebecca, gluten free and very rich in amino acids, phosphorus and B vitamins.

Well I’ve been meaning to use up about a quarter of a bag of millet that’s been skulking at the back of my cupboard for ages.

I also bought a tin of organic kidney beans this morning which I drained and rinsed and added to the cooked millet along with some left over chopped coriander (cilantro) in the fridge and some diced tomato and cucumber.

This formed the centrepiece of my trio of salads.

The others were a simple Witloof Chicory or Endive salad with apples and walnuts and a steamed Potato salad with red onion and parsley.

I had to peel the apples. They are a variety known as Fiesta.

They are good keepers as are most apples that mature late in the season. But they need peeling because they are developing superficial tiny black spots on the skin.

However the flesh is fairly crisp and has not turned “floury” and they are still delicious.

5 from 1 vote
Three Salads
Author: Cath
Millet and Bean Salad
  • 100 gr uncooked millet
  • 200 ml water
  • 400 gr tin of red kidney beans drained
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 15 cm medium cucumber
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
Potato and Red Onion Salad
  • 3 large potatoes unpeeled
  • 1 small red onion
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
  • I/2 medium lemon (juiced)
  • 1 or 2 tbsp olive oil
Chicory, Apple and Roasted Walnut Salad
  • 1 large chicon of witloof chicory/endive
  • 1 medium apple chopped
  • 1/2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp basil infused olive oil or other
  • 30 gr walnut halves or pieces
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
Millet and Bean salad
  1. Put millet in saucepan or wok over a high heat. Toast stirring constantly for about 3 or 4 minutes or until the millet is aromatic.

  2. Remove from the heat when the first grain pops and pour into a medium sized bowl.

  3. Fill with cold water and rub the grains of millet lightly between your fingers or palms for five seconds of so. Then drain and rinse in a sieve with cold running water until it runs clear.

  4. Bring the water to the boil and add the millet and a pinch of salt. Lower the heat and simmer covered for 20 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed. Remove from hob and leave lid in place to stand for 5 minutes.

  5. Fluff up millet with a fork and leave to cool to room temperature.

  6. Add the drained rinsed kidney beans along with diced tomato and diced cucumber.

  7. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir in chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)

Chicory, Apple and Walnut Salad
  1. Remove three to five whole leaves of chicory and place on serving plate. Chop the rest quartering the chicon along its length first. Put in a medium sized bowl.

  2. Core and chop the apple - peeling if the skin is blemished - otherwise leave it on. Add to the chopped chicory.

  3. Roast walnuts in a dry pan or tin in a hot oven or under the grill - making sure to shake the tin after a couple of minutes to ensure they are evenly browned. 

    Be  careful - they burn very easily.  Leave to cool.

  4. Meanwhile take a couple of pinches of salt and toss through the apple and chicory lightly massaging (very lightly!) before adding the cider vinegar. Give it a stir and then add the olive oil and parsley and give it a good stir. 

  5. Stir through the chopped roasted walnuts and serve on a flattish plate on the previously reserved whole leaves. 

Potato and Red Onion Salad
  1. Dice potatoes into cubes about 2 cm square and steam until cooked but still holding their shape (8 - 10 minutes).

  2. Tip into a bowl and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

  3. Meanwhile squeeze the half a lemon and empty the juice into a small bowl or large shallow cup.

  4. Skin and halve the red onion and then slice along it's length very thinly (the slices should be almost paper thin).

  5. Add to lemon juice and lightly massage the two - this will bring out the bright pink in the red onion and enhance its natural sweetness.

  6. Carefully mix the cooked potato cubes and the onion and lemon juice in a largish bowl - you don't want the potato pieces to mash or break down. Add the chopped parsley or dill or other herbs.

  7. Drizzle some olive oil on the salad and serve.


A last minute birthday cake

It was my Mum’s 81st birthday during the cold snap we had two weeks ago.

And I had banked on a last minute dash to the shops for a present.

But, thwarted by the weather (there was no way my car could make it up the hill in the snow and ice), I had to improvise and thought I’d make a special cake.

My first option was the brilliant Chocolate Raspberry Cake on the Vegan Society website.

I highly recommend it – except for the quantity of oil!

But we didn’t have any cocoa and there are no fresh raspberries in the garden at this time of year…and we couldn’t get to the shops. Damn!

A quick rifle of the cupboards yielded walnut halves and coffee granules and the basic ingredients for a coffee cake.






I got inspiration from a couple of recipes online and adapted them.

I ended up using Tia Maria instead of Kahlua for the icing/filling – we had a bottle of it which had hardly been touched and may be twenty years old!

And I omitted walnuts from the cake itself but used them to great effect to decorate it.

I was really pleased – I think it rose well because of the chemical reaction of the bicarbonate of soda and the vinegar and the flax egg holds it together.

The verdict from my sometimes brutally honest mother was:

“You can’t tell it’s vegan – it’s probably the best cake you’ve ever made!!”

High praise indeed.

I hope you enjoy it.

5 from 2 votes
Coffee and Walnut Cake
Prep Time
30 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
1 hr

Servings: 12
Author: Cath
  • 250 g plain flour
  • 200 g soft brown sugar
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp instant coffee
  • 2 tbsp boiling water
  • 240 ml soya milk (or other plant based milk)
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 80 ml olive oil
  • 1 flax egg = 1 tbsp ground flaxseed mixed with 3 tbsp very hot water
For the coffee and walnut icing
  • 320 g sifted icing sugar
  • 20 g vegan butter or margarine
  • 4 tbsp Tia Maria or other booze of your choice
  • 1 tbsp instant coffee
  • 1 tbsp plant based milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 15 -20 halves walnuts
For the Coffee Cake
  1. Pre-heat oven to 180C or 350F. 

  2. In a large bowl mix the dry ingredients - sift the flour then add the sugar, bicarbonate of soda, salt and cinnamon.

  3. Make a flax egg by grinding up the flaxseeds in a spice or coffee grinder and combining it in a small cup with three tablespoons of very hot water.  Set aside - it will become jelly like and gelatinous.

  4. Then mix the instant coffee powder or granules with boiling hot water and then add along with the soya or other plant milk to the mixing bowl along with the vanilla, oil, apple cider vinegar and flax egg.

  5. Mix well but don't over mix. I used electric beaters very briefly and then stirred with a wooden spoon.

  6. Lightly grease and line two 7 or 8 inch cake tins with greaseproof paper.

  7. Divide mixture between the tins and then place in oven for 30 minutes or until a toothpick or small skewer inserted into the middle one of the cakes comes out clean.

  8. Remove when done and cool on a rack.

For the icing/buttercream
  1. Add the icing sugar, vegan butter or marg and Tia Maria into the bowl of an electric mixer. 

  2. Mix the coffee powder with 1 Tbsp warm to hot soya milk and the vanilla and form it into a paste before adding it in to the bowl and mixing at low speed. Gradually increase the speed until you have a thick smooth icing. Add a splash of soya milk if it's too thick.

  3. Spread half on one of the cooled coffee cakes and sandwich/top with the other. 


  4. Spread the remaining icing on top and decorate with roasted/toasted walnut halves (I toast them in oven but be careful they burn very easily - they shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes)




Very Easy Spelt Bread


This is another easy bread recipe.

It’s Sunday morning and what better way to relax after a hectic four days in London than making bread.


This time I’m using spelt flour which produces a nutty, open-crumbed loaf.

Spelt is an ancient grain – a biblical forerunner of modern strains of wheat.

The warm water and sweetener (maple syrup this time) is added to the dry ingredients mixed together beforehand

This recipe, which has been adapted from the back of the Doves Farm flour packet, uses more water than usual  – about 70ml more than the white boule loaf I made and posted about last week.

Olive oil is added after the dough has been roughly brought together 

It produces a sticky but easily handled dough which can be kneaded for five or ten minutes on a well floured surface – keep adding flour to the surface to stop it sticking if necessary.

When the dough is smooth and springy to the touch and depending on whether  you’re making one big loaf or two small ones (I have tried both and must say I prefer a large loaf  even though I’ve shown two here) set your dough into well oiled tins and with your fist push it into the corners. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warmish place for half an hour.

This bread only requires “proving” once so you can then put it in a hot oven.

After 30 minutes rising in a draft free place the bread is ready to go into a hot oven

I must admit that the loaf tins I used were probably the wrong size – I think they are 2lb tins and they should be ones that are smaller and deeper (1lb) and half the size). You could put all of the mixture in one of these and make one big loaf – make sure not to over prove or let it rise too much – otherwise it’ll spill out over the top!

Both loaves have a gorgeous golden crust

The bread has an open crumpet like crumb and tastes nutty and slightly sweet.

Very good served with homemade french onion and white miso soup.

Edit: 23/09/18

A German friend of mine tried this recipe and it came out of the oven quite flat.

We worked out the problem was the size of pan she used – she wasn’t so familiar with the British references to 2lb and 1lb tins – and why should she be!

So I thought I would add this to make it clear that the bread dough is enough for one large loaf baked in a 24cm long x 13cm wide x 11cm high (9 x 5 1/2 x 3 inches)


Divide the dough between two 1lb (400 or 500g) tins measuring 18cm long x 11cm wide x 8cm high

5 from 3 votes
Two Spelt Loaves
Very Easy Spelt Bread
Author: Cath
  • 500 g spelt flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp quick dried yeast
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup or other sweetener
  • 400 ml warm water
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200 Celsius/Gas Mark 6/400 Farenheit.

  2. In a large bowl mix dry ingredients (salt, yeast and flour).

  3. Stir and dissolve the sweetener into the water and roughly stir into the flour etc. 

  4. While the dough is still rough and ready - add the olive oil and mix well.

  5. Knead the dough for a few minutes then divide, if making two loaves, between  two well oiled 500g/1lb loaf tins.

  6. Cover the tins and leave dough in a warm place to rise for 30 minutes. 

  7. Bake in pre-heated oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden and hollow sounding when tapped.