chilli | The Proof of the Pudding

Something strange happened to our chilli plant. It went on holiday to my parents’ house for two weeks (while we holidayed in France for two weeks), and while sunning itself in their conservatory our humble little green jalapeños turned red! We bought the plant early last summer and had a generous crop of mild, but delicious jalapeño peppers for months. It stopped flowering over winter, but came back with gusto this summer and we began to use the green chillies again. I don’t know if the plant needed time to mature, or if it was the intense sun and warmth of the conservatory, but either way we returned to a glamorous plant bejewelled with fiery red chillies…

We’ve used some of the red chillies in stir-fries and curries, or fried them with garlic and kale for a simple side dish, but we used the final one (for now) to flavour this gorgeous chicken tagine. This is an amalgamation of a few different tagine recipes, and is also inspired by a tagine I was served by friends and one we had in our riad in Marrakech last November. It combines sweet honey, sharp preserved lemons, hot chilli and salty olives with succulent chicken legs and, with the essential addition of ras el hanout (a North African blend of spices), feels like an exotic treat. It’s a great dish for serving a large group, but the chicken is also perfect as leftovers for lunch salads or sandwiches during the week. My favourite bit is the plentiful gravy that surrounds the chicken legs by the end of cooking, and in my opinion requires a great hunk of crusty bread for dipping.

One year ago:
– Fennel and courgette salad (using red chilli, funnily enough!)
– Sangria
– Spanish prawns and chorizo

Ingredients (serves 4-5) 5 chicken legs (skin on) 4 small cloves of garlic, crushed Thumb-size piece of ginger, grated 1 tbsp runny honey 1 tbsp cumin ½ tsp turmeric 1 generous tsp ras el hanout 1 tsp salt 1 tsp pepper 5 tbsp olive oil 2 small white onions 1 red chilli 1 medium tomato 7 half slices of preserved lemons 15 green olives

Method 1. Place the chicken in a large bowl or tub (or the container it came in!) and add the marinade ingredients (garlic, ginger, honey, cumin, turmeric, ras el hanout, salt, pepper and olive oil).

2. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4. Thinly slice the onions and place at the bottom of your tagine.
3. Prepare the chilli and tomato – deseed both and thinly slice.


I love Halloween. Nostalgic memories of getting dressed up and perfecting a doorstep-routine in order to go trick-or-treating and collect a haul of sweets. Ridiculously messy games like ducking for apples and treacle scones or doughnuts on string. Dark nights inside with blankets, candles lit and a scary movie (which I actually hate, but it always makes it better if there’s someone else who hates them more than you…naming no names ahem). And, of course, Halloween wouldn’t be Halloween without pumpkin carving.

However, pumpkins aren’t just for carving. At the moment, during autumn, the squash family are in their prime and they have a delicious sweet flavour that works equally well in savoury dishes and puddings alike. I have a classic pumpkin pie recipe for you later in the week, but today’s post is all savoury with a lightly spiced pumpkin soup and some toasted pumpkin seeds. Even if you are carving your pumpkin, don’t throw away the seeds inside – frying these off with a bit of spice is super easy and they’re so tasty. But the flesh of the pumpkin is the real prize, so pick up an extra pumpkin while you’re getting some for carving, and try this gorgeous soup, flavoured with warming spices like chilli, paprika and nutmeg and made into a hearty meal with some red lentils. A perfect autumn lunch.

Ingredients Large pumpkin (about 3.5kg) 2 tbsp olive oil 25g butter 3 onions, roughly chopped 3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped 100g lentils 1 tsp chilli flakes 3 tsp smoked paprika ½ tsp cinnamon Grating of whole nutmeg 3 litres chicken stock

Salt and pepper

For the pumpkin seeds: 1 tsp ground cumin 1 tsp ground coriander

Salt and pepper

Method 1. Prepare the pumpkin. The easiest way to handle a large pumpkin is to cut it into manageable chunks using a large, very sharp knife. Cut one side away and scoop out the seeds inside with your hands – put these in a bowl of cold water for later. You can scrape away even more of the stringy innards that are stuck to the flesh using a spoon. Cut the rest of the pumpkin into big chunks, throwing away the stalk. Using a smaller, but equally sharp, knife cut away the tough skin and chop into small cubes.

2. Heat the oil and butter in a large pan. Once the butter starts to bubble, throw in the onion and garlic and fry for a few minutes.

3. Toss the pumpkin pieces in the onion and continue to cook for about five minutes until the pumpkin begins to brown and soften. Tip in the lentils, chilli flakes, paprika, cinnamon and about 1/3 of a whole nutmeg grated. Mix well and continue to fry for a couple of minutes.

4. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Season, pop a lid on the pan and lower the heat a bit so that the soup is just simmering. Simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the pumpkin and lentils are tender.

5. Leave the soup to cool and then blend until smooth – you can do this in a counter-top blender, but a hand blender is even quicker and easier. Of course, you can just use a masher if you prefer a chunkier texture.

6. After immersing the pumpkin seeds in cold water, the gunk around the seeds should sink to the bottom and come away easily. Lay the seeds out on paper towels to dry while you heat a frying pan. Dry fry the pumpkin seeds, moving them around in the pan until they start to brown. Sprinkle over the ground cumin and coriander and some salt and pepper and continue cooking for a few more minutes. Keep an eye on the seeds as they can burn quickly. Turn the heat off and set aside to cool.


To serve, heat the soup and sprinkle over a few pumpkin seeds for extra texture. Some warmed crusty bread with butter, or even garlic bread, is a perfect accompaniment. The soup will keep in the fridge for a week, and of course can be frozen for longer. The seeds should store well in an airtight container and are great for snacking on if you’re in need of a nibble.

In our house, Friday night is fish night, and it has been for as long as I can remember. Friday mornings involve a trip to Eddie’s Seafood Market, an amazing fishmonger in Edinburgh which offers up a huge range of fresh seafood from crabs to monkfish to sole to scallops to cod roe to mussels to mackerel, and much, much more. Rick Stein named it as one of his Food Heroes, so take it from him if you won’t from me! Friday evenings start with the lights being dimmed and mum lighting the Shabbat candles. The melodious tones of Alanis Morissette or Joni Mitchell often float through the house. Sometimes things are a bit more upbeat and we’re going 70s style with Billy Joel, Elton John or David Bowie. There’s wine chilling in the fridge, fresh bread on the table with real butter to slather over it and a general feeling of contentment that the weekend is beginning.

So I guess this recipe is the first of my odes to glorious Friday nights. (We actually ate this dish on a Sunday. So sue me.) I made homemade tagliatelle, a recipe for which I will post soon, promise, but you could use bought fresh or dried pasta. I chose prawns and cute little baby scallops, but if you’re taking a trip to your local fishmonger, or even the supermarket, then don’t be restricted by that – go for whatever looks fresh. If you pick mussels or clams then I would clap a lid on top of the pan after the wine and cream goes in, until they have opened up. This feels like a truly indulgent pasta dish, but it’s actually not too rich. Crème fraiche is quite aciditic, plus the white wine and the lemon juice cuts through the creaminess of the sauce. The chilli adds a perfect hint of heat.

Ingredients (serves 3) 1 shallot Bunch of flat leaf parsley 3 cloves garlic 1 red chilli 1 lemon 1 small glass dry white wine, plus a large one for the chef 300g dried or fresh tagliatelle, or homemade pasta made with 300g flour and 3 eggs 1 tbsp olive oil 175g scallops 200g king prawns 2 heaped tbsp crème fraiche

Salt and pepper

Method 1. Finely chop the shallot and parsley and crush the garlic. Finely slice the chilli. I used about ¾ of the chilli, but you can test a small piece of yours to see how hot it is and make a judgement from there. Juice the lemon and measure out the wine.

2. Put a pan of water on to boil and liberally season with salt – apparently pasta should be cooked in water as salty as the Mediterranean Sea. Cook the pasta according to the instructions. Dried pasta will probably take about 10-12 minutes so get it on now. Fresh pasta will take 4-5 minutes and homemade pasta only 2 minutes, so wait until the sauce is nearly ready before cooking. 3. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the shallots for 2 minutes. 4. Add the garlic and red chilli and fry for a minute. 5. Increase the heat under the frying pan and add the seafood for 2-3 minutes until it starts to become opaque (fancy word for the seafood gaining colour and being less see-through) . 6. Add the wine and allow the alcohol to cook for 2 minutes. 7. Add the crème fraiche and bubble the sauce for 2-3 minutes. Note: this is the time to chuck your fresh pasta in the pot, if that’s what you’re using.

8. Finish the sauce with the lemon juice, parsley and season with salt and pepper. Drain the pasta and mix through the sauce.

Serve with a green salad, crusty bread and another large glass of chilled white wine.

When I was little, I remember it being such an exciting feeling to be allowed to stay up a bit late, join mum and dad at the table and taste some unusual new seafood or have a sip of wine. Now I’m allowed to decide my own bedtime, but it’s still just as lovely to relax lazily with the perfect combination of company, music, food and wine.

I guess that it comes with the territory of being an insane food-lover that most of my fondest memories tend to involve food in one way or another, and I’m sure there will be more to come on the blog. Do you have any particularly happy food-related memories? I’d love to hear them if you do.

Anyway, enough of these sentimental, and probably tedious, ramblings. Whatever you’re doing tonight, I wish you the most lovely of Friday nights…