The Musette: bean soup

My beloved regards soup as a starter though he will occasionally suffer it for lunch with a sandwich. So magine my surprise when he recently complained the mercury had fallen too much and demanded soup for his dinner. Yes, dinner!
Now, of course, I have plenty of soup in the freezer that I could quickly defrost, but that’s my soup. Vegan soup which he doesn’t necessarily enjoy. He claims that my spicy carrot and butternut squash is too spicy for him and my mushroom soup is too earthy. There wasn’t a lot in the fridge the day before our now once weekly shop. Nonetheless, I quickly whipped up something for him.

Ingredients (serves two and more)

  • 500g (1 lb) dried white cannellini beans (or canned beans, (see below)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 115g (4 oz) pancetta, diced
  • 2 large leeks (approx. 2 cups) chopped
  • 2 yellow onions (approx. 2 cups) chopped
  • 5 carrots (approx. 2 cups) scrubbed and diced
  • 4 ribs celery (approx. 2 cups) diced
  • 6 fat garlic cloves minced
  • 2 tbsp fresh thyme minced
  • 2 ltr (8 -10 cups) chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 2 bay leaves
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese/croutons/freshly chopped parsley, to serve


1.At least 8 hours before, or the night before you make the soup, place the beans in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover the beans by 5cm (2 inches0.  Refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.  Drain the beans, rinse under cold running water, and drain again.  Set aside.

2. In a large saucepan or casserole (Dutch oven) heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat, add the pancetta, and sauté for 8-10 minutes, until browned.  Add the leeks, onions, carrots, celery, garlic and thyme and cook over medium-low for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender.

3. Add the beans, the chicken stock, bay leaves, 1 tbsp sea salt, and 1 tsp freshly ground pepper and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 90 minutes or until the beans are tender.  Stir occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pot.

4. Discard the bay leaves, cover the pot, and allow the soup to sit off the heat for 15 minutes.  If the soup is too thick, add more stock.

5. Reheat slowly, ladle into soup bowls, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and freshly parsley, drizzle with olive oil and serve hot.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1.First, if you’re using canned beans you’ll need 180g (3 cups) white cannellini beans, drain the beans, reserving the liquid.  Place 1/3 (1 cup) beans and 1/2 (1/2 cup) liquid into a food processor and puree.  When ready to add the beans in the recipe, stir in the puree and add the remaining drained beans (discard the remaining liquid).

2. Second, initially use only 1 1/2lts (6 cups) chicken stock.

3. Third, simmer the soup for 45 minutes, rather than 90 minutes.

4. When reheating the following day, add some filtered water and seasoning to taste. To freshen up the soup you could add some small pasta like orzo and/or frozen spinach.

5. Don’t worry too much about exact quantities, we’re cooking rather than baking. If you don’t have some of the ingredients, substitute. For example, if you don’t have pancetta, use bacon. Or, for a spicier treat, use chorizo. You could substitute the beans with another type or even chickpeas or lentils.

6. I often chuck in a parmesan cheese rind from my cache in the freezer while making the soup for some extra umami flavour.

The Musette: spinach and chickpea curry

Although I typically plan our menus at the weekend for the following week, sometimes the weather changes such that we find ourselves longing for something either more refreshing or more warming. The Friday storm Alex hit was one such exception and we both fancied the comfort of a spicy curry. I generally shop at lunchtime on Friday when the supermarkets are relatively tranquil but I’d not gone out on account of the driving rain and high winds. My Smart car Tom doesn’t like really windy conditions! This meant a quick forage in the cupboards, fridge and freezer for inspiration. I always have jars of organic chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and frozen spinach in the freezer which happily with the addition of a few aromatics and served with home made parathas was able to satisfy our desires.

Ingredients (enough for 4 hungry cyclists)

  • 400g (14 oz) jar chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 600g (20 oz) bag frozen spinach
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp red chilli paste
  • thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, finely grated
  • 2 fat cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp neutral flavoured coconut oil
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp ground tumeric
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • sea salt to taste


1.Using a pestle and mortar, finely grind the chilli paste, garlic and ginger together using a spoonful of water to help make a paste.

2. Heat the coconut oil in a medium sized frying pan (skillet), add the onion and cook for about 10-15 minutes until it’s transluscent.

3. Add the spices, tomato paste, and chilli paste and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes.

4. Add chickpeas and spinach with a 1/2 tsp salt. Cook until the spinach defrosts, ensuring everything is well combined. Check seasoning and add lemon juice.

5. Serve with rice or any Indian bread, and some Indian pickles.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1.It’s so easy to make Indian breads, why wouldn’t you? This time I made Paratha but you could easily make naan or chapatti.

2. You make the Paratha by mixing 125g (4 oz) wholemeal flour with 2 tbsp vegetable oil and 100ml (10 tbsp) water to make a soft dough. Set aside, covered for approx. an hour.

3. Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Roll each portion to a thin round. Lightly oil the top before rolling up like a cigar and then coil like a snail before rolling out to a thin round once more. When all four are rolled out, heat a flat cast-iron pan (I use my pancake pan), oil it lightly and cook each paratha for about 2-3 minutes on each side until golden and cooked.

The Musette: vegan mushroom risotto

I like a challenge! A good friend told me you couldn’t make a decent risotto without dairy. I beg to differ and she’s now a convert. How did I achieve that? Here’s how. Don’t be put off by the length of the recipe, it’s easier than it might appear. Just follow the individual steps.

The recipe comes from the Plants Taste Better cookbook by Richard Buckley, though I have tweaked it a bit.

Ingredients (serves 4 hungry cyclists)

Double mushroom stock

  • 11/2 ltrs (2 1/2 pints/ 6 1/4 cups) mushroom stock (see recipe below)
  • 50g (1 3/4 oz) dried porcini mushrooms

Mushroom puree

  • 40ml (8 tsp) extra virgin olive oil
  • 190g (6 3/4 oz) chestnut mushrooms
  • 115ml (1/2 cup) ruby port
  • 30g (1 1/4 oz) dried porcini mushrooms (reserved from double mushroom stock)
  • 12ml (2 1/2 tsp) red wine vinegar
  • 15ml (1 tsp) truffle oil
  • 45ml (3 tbsp) double mushroom stock (reserved from above)


  • 200g (7oz) fresh cep mushrooms
  • 100g (3 1/2oz) fresh chestnut mushrooms
  • 100g (3 1/2oz) fresh girolle mushrooms
  • 75ml (1/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt to taste
  • 100g (1/2 cup) finely diced shallots
  • 4 fat cloves garlic, pureed
  • 350g (1 3/4 cups) carnaroli rice
  • double mushroom stock (see above)

Mushroom stock (for double mushroom stock)

  • 1 large yellow onion, peeled
  • 1 large carrot
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 250g (9oz) chestnut mushrooms
  • 15 black peppercorns
  • 15g (4 tbsp) fresh flat-leafed parsley, including stalks
  • 5g (1 tbsp) fresh thyme, including stalks
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic
  • 2 small bay leaves
  • 2 ltrs filtered water
  • 25g (7/8oz) dried porcini mushrooms


1. Chop onion, carrot, celery and chestnut mushrooms into similarly sized pieces. Put all the ingredients, except the dried porcini mushrooms, into a lidded saucepan. Bring gentle to a rolling boil which should take around 20 minutes.

2. Once boiling, simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from heat.

3. Immediately add the dried porcini mushrooms, ensuring that they are submerged in the stock. Cover the saucepan with cling film (plastic wrap).

4. Leave the stock to cool completely, then drain off through a large sieve into a clean saucepan. Discard the peppercorns, thyme stalks and bay leaves. Keep the vegetables and mushrooms to make a delicious vegan mushroom soup with the addition of filtered water and some oat milk.

5. Having made the mushroom stock, now make the double mushroom stock. Bring the stock (above) back to the boil, add the dried mushrooms, turn off heat and clamp on the pan lid for around 30 minutes, allowing the mushrooms to steep.

6. After 30 minutes, pour the stock once more through a sieve and retain the reflated dried mushrooms for the mushroom puree.

7. Now make the puree by heating the olive oil in a wide-based saucepan. Add the sliced chestnut mushrooms and sweat over a high heat until all the juices have evaporated. Add the ruby port and reduce until you’re left with a thick syrup. Remove from the heat and transfer to a blender.

8. Add the rest of the ingredients to the blender and blend until silky smooth, only add a little filtered water if absolutely necessary. It should have a ribbon like quality (see above).

9. Prepare and cook the mushrooms for the risotto. If using fresh, ensure that you clean them thoroughly with a small brush and/or damp cloth. Do not wash them! However, if you can’t find fresh, feel free to use frozen or bottled. Add 50 ml (1/4 cup) of the olive oil to a large frying pan (skillet) and cook over a high heat, adding salt to taste, until cooked through and no liquid remains. Keep warm.

10. Now it’s time for the risotto. Heat the double mushroom stock, bringing it up to a gentle simmer. Heat the remaining olive oil in another frying pan (skillet), add the shallot and fry gently until translucent. Now do the same with the garlic. Add the rice and stir well to coat the grains in the oil.

11. Add four ladles of mushroom stock to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until it has almost disappeared. Now, keep adding stock a ladle at a time, until the rice is almost but not quite cooked through, 15-20 minutes. You may not need all of the stock but if you need more, just add hot water. The risotto should be thick, creamy and stiff.

12. The risotto should now be almost ready. Add the fried mushrooms and remove from the heat. Add the mushroom puree and stir well to combine both. Taste and adjust, if necessary, the seasoning. Divide between four bowls, add a sprinkle of fresh parsley, a spritz of truffle oil and serve the ambrosial feast.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. The trick to really well-cooked mushrooms is to use a large pan over a high heat so that they don’t stew in their own juices. If possible try to cook the mushrooms at the same time as you’re cooking the risotto mix so that you can combine when the rice is ready.

2. You could of course use a mushroom stock cube to which you add the dried mushrooms to make the double stock.

3. You can change the mix of mushrooms, just don’t use those tasteless white button mushrooms.

4. If you can avoid it, do not substitute the dried porcini (cep) mushrooms or truffle oil. These give the dish depth and a lot of umami.

5. Unless you advise your guests, no one will be able to tell that this is a vegan risotto. I have served this to Italians who were gob-smacked to discover it contained no dairy. Indeed, they pronounced it the best they’d ever eaten. Praise indeed!

6. You could make everything except the risotto in advance and heat through on the day.


The Musette: lamb casserole with beans

At the weekends, particularly during the colder months, one of my challenges is to find, amend or develop recipes that cook while we’re out riding and are ready to serve by the time my husband has finished his post-ride ablutions. My solution to this conundrum is what I like to refer to as ‘slow one-pot cooking’. Slow cooking turns less expensive cuts into a feast, tenderising the meat and giving the flavours time to develop and meld together. I cook this in the oven but equally it can be cooked in a crock-pot or on a gentle heat on the stove.

This is a favourite recipe which I’ve adapted from one by Australian cook and restauranter Bill Grainger. It requires only a few ingredients and can be served with a simple green salad and a crusty baguette or another green vegetable. For very hungry cyclists, you could also serve a baked potato to mop up the tomatoey juices.


Like so many things in life, planning and preparation is the key to a successful outcome

Ingredients (serves four cyclists)

  • Approx 1kg (2.2lbs) boned and rolled lamb shoulder, trimmed of all excess fat (ask your butcher to do this)
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp freshly ground sea salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
  • 250ml (1 cup) of white wine (optional)
  • 1 fresh or dried bouquet garni
  • 2 x 400g (14oz) canned chopped tomatoes
  • 2 x 400g (14oz) cans cannellini or haricot beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dried red chilli flakes (optional)
  • 1 tbsp finely grated orange zest (optional)


1. Preheat the oven to 160ºC /140ºC fan/gas mark 3 (320ºF/275ºF fan). Place a large, sturdy roasting dish, casserole (dutch oven) or frying pan on the hob over a medium heat and add the olive oil. When hot, add the room-temperature lamb and brown well all over. This will take ten minutes or so.

Beautifully browned

2. Remove the shoulder and now gently cook the onions in the fat until they turn translucent – about ten minutes. Add a teaspoon of salt to help prevent the onions from browning. Add the garlic for 30 seconds at the end.

3. Remove the onions, drain off any excess fat and deglaze the pan with the white wine. Let it bubble away for around five minutes. Season the lamb and put it, onions and winey reduction into a casserole dish.

Ready for the oven

4. Now add all the other ingredients and stir gently. To prevent the casserole from drying out, cover the contents with a circle of crushed, damp greaseproof (parchment) paper and pop on the casserole lid. Slide it into the oven and leave to cook while you’re out riding. This will cook happily for anywhere from 2-4 hours.

5. On your return, remove the casserole dish from the oven and leave to stand with the lid still on while you’re having your shower.

6. Take out the lamb and discard the bouquet garni.

Ready to serve

7. Remove the string, thickly slice the lamb  – it generally just falls apart – and serve with a portion of the sticky, tomato-flavoured beans. You’ll see from the photo I’ve sprinkled some chopped flat leaf parsley onto the beans, or you can use chopped fresh thyme leaves. Just add a green salad or another green vegetable on the side and, if you must, some crusty bread or a baked potato. It all depends on how much energy you’ve expended on your morning’s ride!

Soon to be demolished

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. Don’t forget to taste and season as you cook. Unseasoned food is bland and you use less salt and pepper if you season at the start and during the cooking process, rather than at the end.

2. Shoulder of lamb is quite a fatty cut so it’s important to eliminate as much of that fat as possible by cutting it out and then browning the lamb. If, when the dish has finished cooking, it still looks too fatty, blot the surface gently with a paper kitchen towel to absorb any excess.

3. This dish can be cooked the day before, left overnight in the fridge and then reheated the following day. This also makes it easier to eliminate any excess fat which will harden on the surface.

4. The recipe works equally well made with chickpeas (garbanzo beans). Again, you can used tinned or cook from dried the day before.

5. As this is cooking rather than baking, feel free to play around with the herbs and spices. I have made a similar dish with tinned flageolet beans, a finely diced confit lemon, a handful of artichoke hearts and 500ml (2 cups) of white wine.

6. If you are going to use wine, only cook with wine you’d be happy to drink.

7. Go easy on the rosemary in the bouquet garni as an excess tends to give the beans a soapy flavour. I use a mixture of bay leaves, thyme and a little rosemary.

8. I often fold young baby spinach into the hot bean mixture, instead of serving it with a salad.

9. You can cook the lamb separately from the beans. Once browned, pop it into a roasting tray on a trivet, add an inch or so of water and cover the tin with baking foil. The water will prevent the lamb from drying out. Just cook the beans as instructed, albeit without the lamb.

The Musette: mujadara

Lentils, rice, olive oil, spices and onions – this Middle Eastern standard is the ultimate pantry recipe. It’s also the classic example of a dish that’s greater than the sum of its parts. There are literally dozens of recipes for mujadara out there – each country, possibly even each family, seems to have its own version. The one I like best is that served at our local Lebanese restaurant, who kindly gave me their recipe – result! It’s also quick and easy to make. A bit of stirring on the stove and then pop it into the oven and it’s ready in next to no time.

Ingredients (serves 4 hungry cyclists)

  • 2 medium-sized onions finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 150g (3/4 cup) Puy lentils
  • 1ltr (4 cups) boiling filtered water
  • 325g (1 1/2 cups) long grain brown rice (soaked for an hour in 500 ml (2 cups) filtered water)
  • bunch finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves or coriander (cilantro) leaves


1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/gas mark 3 (375°F/350°F fan).

2. Toss the onions with the olive oil, cumin and thyme in a frying pan (skillet) and cook over a high heat until they turn golden brown, about 15 minutes.

3.Add the rinsed lentils, chopped garlic, salt and pepper and cook for a further couple of minutes.

3. Add the drained rice to the mix and turn into a casserole dish (dutch oven) before carefully adding the boiling water. Stir, pop on the lid and put it into the oven for around 25-30 minutes. It’s done when the lentils and rice are tender and there’s no liquid left.

4. Remove the dish from the oven. Taste and, if necessary, adjust the seasoning. Fluff with a fork, sprinkle with the parsley or coriander (cilantro), and serve warm or at room temperature.

5. If you’re so inclined, you can dress it with greek-style yogurt, Aleppo-style pepper, crispy shallots and additional olive oil.

The Musette: kale, bread and lemon vegan salad

I do like to try new recipes, particularly when my beloved is home. I’m encouraging him to eat more of a plant-based diet so when I spotted this recipe in The Guardian newspaper from Meera Sodha, I resolved to give it a go, largely because it’s made from ingredients I always have hanging around in the cupboards and fridge. I first made it during the heatwave in late June and served it at room temperature. It was delicious and with all that kale had to be doing us lots of good.

Ingredients (serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side)

  • 150g (3 cups) kale, big ribs removed, roughly chopped
  • 3 tbsp black olive tapenade (home-made or from a jar)
  • 200g (2 cups) stale focaccia or sourdough, cut into 15mm (1/2″) chunks
  • 3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 large organic lemon, quartered
  • 3 tbsp pine nuts
  • 3 tbsp sultanas or currants
  • 6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
  • 3 sticks celery, finely chopped
  • freshly ground black pepper and sea salt, to taste


1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Throw the kale and tapenade into a food processor and pulse to smithereens. Taste, add a little more tapenade, if you like, then pulse again to mix.

2. Put the bread chunks in a big bowl with the garlic, lemon wedges, pine nuts and dried fruit. Drizzle over three tbsp olive oil and toss with your hands to coat. Tip out on to a baking tray so it sits in a single layer and roast for 10 minutes, or until the bread and pine nuts are golden – check after five minutes to make sure they’re not burning.

3. While the bread is roasting, finely slice the celery and put it in the bowl with the kale and tapenade mixture.

4. Once the bread is golden, take the tray out of the oven and add everything except the lemon wedges to the bowl – unless, like me, you have asbestos fingers. When they’re cool enough to handle, squeeze the juice from the wedges over the salad, drizzle over three more tablespoons of oil and season to taste.

5. Mix, mix, mix until the bread soaks up all the surrounding flavours. Transfer to plates and drizzle over some more oil and add another wedge of lemon to serve.



The Musette: Cheesy spinach bake

My beloved has spent much more time at home this year which means I’ve radically reduced the amount of meat he eats and upped his veggies. That way I need only prepare one dish for us both, rather than two separate ones. The other day I picked up some robust spinach from the market which coincided with a delicious vegetarian recipe from Rachel Roddy in the Guardian who claims she was inspired by a Tuscan recipe from Lori de Mori’s book Beaneaters and Bread Soup.

I thought the recipe would work wonderfully as a main meal for my beloved and then again the following day as a side dish with a piece of steak. It’s a straight-forward recipe but like most good things it’s not instant but at least it’s not time-consuming nor difficult. It’s just a layer of well-seasoned spinach, covered with a thick, duvet-like layer of  egg-enriched cheese sauce enrobed in crisp breadcrumbs. The latter are important to provide a nice contrast to the tender baked spinach and cheese sauce.

Ingredients (serves 3 sides, or 1 main and 1 side)

  • 500g (5 cups) large handful spinach, washed in cold water
  • 250 ml (1 cup) whole milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 20g (7 oz) butter, plus more for lining the dish
  • 20g (7 oz) plain flour
  • 2 large organic eggs, 1 separated
  • 40g (14 oz) parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • handful of fine breadcrumbs for dusting dish and top
  • sea salt and black pepper to taste


1. Set the oven to 180C/(fan 160C)/350F(fan 325F) /gas 4. While still wet from being washed, put the spinach in a large pan, cover and cook on a medium heat. After 3 minutes, give the leaves a prod and a stir, then continue cooking until the spinach has collapsed and it’s tender.

2.Drain the spinach. Once cool enough, squeeze it with your hands to eliminate as much water as possible.

3. Warm the milk and bay leaf together until almost boiling, then remove and let it sit for 5 minutes to infuse.

4. Heat the butter in a heavy-based pan. As soon as it starts to foam, whisk in the flour. Keep whisking steadily for 2 minutes, then pull from the heat. Add a little of the infused milk and whisk to a smooth paste. Return the pan to the heat, then add the remaining milk, whisking continuously until it almost boils. Season with salt and black pepper. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring and whisking frequently for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce is thick. Allow to cool. Add 20g parmesan cheese, the egg and egg yolk and whisk into the sauce.

5. Chop the spinach. Beat the egg white until firm, then stir into the spinach. Add 2 tbsp of sauce, some salt and black pepper and a grating of nutmeg to taste.

6. Butter a baking dish and sprinkle over half the breadcrumbs. Add the spinach mixture and cover it with the cheese sauce. Sprinkle over the rest of the breadcrumbs and parmesan on top of the disk, then bake in the oven for 30 minutes until bubbling. Allow to cool slightly before serving.


Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. If you serve this as a main course, then all it needs is a  salad  –  mixed red and green leaves with a sharp dressing.

2. It’s also good with roast chicken or a piece of grilled meat, such as steak.

3. If you make it in a cake tin, it could be cooled and taken on a picnic – just cover it with cling film and pack snugly – in an appropriately sized basket.