Spelt Spaghetti and Red Pesto with Wild Honey

I am a great believer in the power of a pasta dish. Sometimes there is nothing you want more than a simple, comforting bowl of steaming pasta, with a cracking sauce to make the meal sing. With great ingredients, an easy dish doesn’t have to be boring. With pasta, though, it’s natural to fall into the pattern of making the old favourites over and over again. I love spaghetti bolognese and standard pesto pasta as much as the next person (okay, more than the next person), but sometimes you fancy something a bit different. I’ve teamed up with Wild Honey again – they’re a fantastic local independent health food shop here in Oxford – to bring you a new recipe. This spelt spaghetti and red pesto is made using some ingredients from their bountiful shelves.


Why spelt spaghetti? Well, of course, normal spaghetti is delicious. For a step up and a bit of a change, though, spelt spaghetti is an excellent choice. Spelt is an ancient grain, with a delicious, nutty flavour. Spelt pasta tends to sit lighter on the stomach than standard wheat pasta, because it’s wheat free (but not gluten free) and high in fibre, so most people find it easier to digest. All in all, it’s a great option, and it goes wonderfully well with this pesto. You can find it at Wild Honey, along with the walnuts I have used to make the pesto, and lots of other goodies.


This spelt spaghetti and red pesto is the second in my series of recipe collaborations with Wild Honey. If you’d like to see the first recipe, a black quinoa and halloumi salad, head on over here.


Although spelt spaghetti is no more difficult to cook than regular spaghetti, is it pretty easy to overcook it, as it’s softer and smoother than standard wheat. I’d recommend checking early and erring on the side of caution.

This recipe for pesto will make way more than you need for the pasta, but it keeps well in the fridge in a sealed jar or tupperware, and can be used for loads of other things. Try it spread on toast and sprinkled with feta, add more oil to loosen it and use it to dress a salad, dollop it onto roast vegetables for a flavour kick…

You don’t need to be too precious with the pesto quantities: just adjust to your personal taste if you’d prefer less garlic, or more cheese, or whatever takes your fancy. Spelt spaghetti and red pesto is a forgiving dish!


spelt spaghetti (80 – 100g per person, depending on how hungry you are)
1 jar of sun-dried tomatoes in oil
½ jar sun-dried peppers in oil
1 generous bunch parsley, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
around 1/2 a block of Parmesan, grated
100g toasted walnut pieces
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

  1. Bring a large pan of generously salted water to the boil, then cook your spaghetti according to pack instructions.
  2. While your pasta is cooking, drain your tomatoes and peppers in a sieve over a bowl, keeping the oil. Reserve a handful each of parsley and Parmesan, then pop your tomatoes, peppers, the rest of your parsley, garlic, the rest of your Parmesan, and walnuts in a food process, and blitz to a rough paste. Drizzle in some of the oil from your jars of tomatoes and peppers, and a generous glug of extra virgin olive oil, then blend again until you have your desired consistency. Taste, season, and adjust to your preference.
  3. When your pasta is cooked al dente, drain it, reserving a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water. Put your spelt spaghetti back in its pan with the cooking water, then stir through a couple of generous spoonfuls of the pesto, until everything is well-coated. Serve your pasta topped with your reserved parsley and Parmesan.

Leiths: Advanced Term, Week 3

It is quite hard not to be impressed by someone opening a bottle of sparkling wine with a massive knife. There’s no escaping it: it just looks awesome. This was demonstrated by our most regular wine instructor, Richard: he’s a great presenter who isn’t averse to a bit of theatre. Starting the week with sparkling wine, smoked salmon, and strawberries is an excellent way to mitigate Monday morning languor, and I’d thoroughly recommend it, although I understand that most workplaces might not be so obliging. I did not waste a drop of the alcohol we were given to taste, and was happily buzzy by lunchtime after a morning of Prosecco, Cava, Champagne, and even an English sparkling wine. It was probably my favourite wine lecture so far, although I am still absolutely terrified about the WSET Level 2 exam which is bearing down on us.

I wasn’t feeling too clever on Monday afternoon, but luckily it was a prep session in the kitchen with no services and not much to report. The only thing I have a picture of from Monday is this very dramatic storm that swept over West London as I was leaving school. Behind me was brilliant sun and ahead was a sky that can only be described as ominous. Needless to say, within five minutes of this photo being taken I was completely drenched, having walked straight into the danger zone.


Phil and David treated us to a sous vide dem on Tuesday morning. I do find sous vide very interesting, and it’s certainly fun to play with, but I have to say, it’s not exactly my cooking style of choice. Also, it’s a bit galling to spend a year being taught to cook things to perfection in pans and on hobs, using skill and all our senses to determine when things are ready, only to find that the same effect can be achieved with a vac pac machine, a temperature probe, and a timer. And several thousand pounds. Still, the food was lovely, particularly the caramelised white chocolate ice cream, and we got to see a lot of technical cooking, such as the experiment with varying times and temperatures for cooking with short ribs, pictured below.


In the afternoon we made rabbit ravioli from scratch – homemade pasta dough, rolling and cutting by hand, braising our own rabbit, the whole deal. For once, I was really happy with the way my dish came out. It could have looked prettier, as always, but I didn’t get any negative feedback, and making your own ravioli is incredibly satisfying. It’s the sort of thing I could I technically do at home but never would get around to, so it was great to get the chance at school. Also great that someone else did the rabbit butchery so I didn’t have guilty thoughts about adorable pets.


Wednesday began with a dem from Sue and Ansobe, a winning combination we had never experienced before. It was a shellfish dem, so Ansobe obviously wore lobster socks to fit in with the theme, and there was a general atmosphere of merriment, slightly tempered by the fact that Sue and Ansobe had to kill crabs, langoustines, and lobsters in front of us. They did so very calmly and professionally, but I’m not sure I will be quite as collected when it’s our turn. I’m a hypocrite, you see: I am very happy to eat anything, but not so enamoured with the idea of killing things myself. I love animals – not just the obviously cute and fluffy ones, but pretty much everything, and I could very easily become attached to a crab or lobster given sufficient opportunity. More on this to come, I’m sure.

The afternoon saw our second foray into the weird and wonderful world of clearing, this time in the guise of a roasted tomato and red pepper consomme. It’s not particularly evident from the picture below, but my consomme was lovely and clear, and my garnish (which we were asked to serve on the side so as not to mar the soup, this wasn’t just some odd presentation whim of mine) was praised too.


Unfortunately, it all went a bit downhill with my tart tartin and vanilla ice cream. My hand made puff pastry was fine (thank God, as it took hours), but my apples weren’t caramelised enough and I still can’t quite work out why. Full disclosure: the picture below is of my table partner Jack’s perfect tart, as I forgot to take a photo of mine before it was ripped into for service and then rapidly eaten by me. I mean, it wasn’t technically good, but I’m still not turning my nose up at an apple tart.


On Thursday we had what was basically, for me, the dem of dreams: plated desserts. As anyone who has glanced at this blog or met me in person for more than three minutes will know, I have a worrying sweet tooth and would probably live on chocolate brownies if I could get away with it medically. Annie and Jane delighted us with a range of gorgeous and complex dessert plates, including Peanuts, Popcorn, and Caramel, Fennel, Lemon, and Olive Oil, and my obvious clear favourite, Textures of Chocolate. They also treated us to chunks of one of my favourite things: caramelised white chocolate. It’s tricky to make without a sous vide machine, but I will be trying to recreate it in an oven soon and using it in a recipe, or perhaps just gorging on it until I cannot move.

In the afternoon we served two dishes and I had a minor breakthrough: I was actually happy with my plating and presentation for both. Below is my sous vide egg, cooked in a water bath at 63 for 1 hour and served with asparagus, Parmesan, and truffle oil. The picture at the very top of the post is of my pan-fried scallops with picked mooli, breakfast radishes, and an Asian style chilli, peanut and coriander dressing. My egg dish received praise, and my scallops were pretty good, save one big sucker who was a bit undercooked. I still totally ate it, of course.


Ben Tish, then man behind the Salt Yard group of restaurants, came to visit us on Friday morning, and cooked us some absolutely delicious food, including baby squid stuffed with chorizo and some amazingly tender grilled octopus. I wish there was a place in Oxford where I could buy this stuff, but sadly octopus is a bit hard to come by here. Ben was a great guest and I think at least half the group left with immediate plans to book a table in one of his restaurants.


In the afternoon we served two dishes, although one of them had so many components that it felt like serving about six dishes. The first was a salsify and purple sprouting broccoli salad with a herb and caper buerre noisette. Having never cooked salsify before I had pretty much no idea what I was doing – it’s sort of like a cross between a parsnip and a Jerusalem artichoke, for anyone wondering – but it all seemed to turn out alright in the end. We also made sous vide lamb with (deep breath): wilted spinach; lamb and thyme jus; smoky baba ghanoush; mint and lemon yoghurt, and a courgette and harissa cous cous. I did absolutely nothing pretty with the plating and just shoved everything into ramekins, because really – lamb jus with baba ghanoush and yoghurt? Seriously?


So that’s me done for now. Over and out on Week 3.


Leiths: Advanced Term, Week 2

So Week 1 is down, which means there are nine weeks left of term… which means that in nine weeks I have to go and get a proper job again. I don’t know why this has only really hit me today, but there you have it. I’ve always known that this term ending would mark my re-entry into the real world, but for some reason I didn’t really feel that until Week 1 raced passed without so much as waving farewell, and I actually began to understand how quickly this term will go and how little time I have left. And I still have no idea what I am going to be when I grow up. For now, I am going to leave my little existential crisis at the door of this blog post, but please do assume it’s bubbling away in the background until further notice.


Talking of crises, we cooked calves’ liver on Monday morning. Not a crisis for me, because I like offal and was raised on much weirder food (thanks, Mum), but for some I think it’s fair to say that it wasn’t how they would have chosen for the week to begin. We served it with caramelised shallots, a coriander crumb, and a Japanese tare sauce which was sweet and sour and sticky and unctuous and lovely: if it didn’t contain about ten different expensive ingredients I would be making it every day. It would be completely wonderful as a dipping sauce for some blue sirloin.

In the afternoon we had our weekly wine lecture and tasting. This time, the focus was on Syrah, Grenache, and Riesling. I’m afraid I have now taken against Grenache completely after sampling an example that tasted like metal to me, but a surprisingly crisp and mouthwatering German Riesling somewhat made up for it. That and the cheese and salami and bread.

Not much to report from Tuesday’s cooking session; it was a prep day with no services. The afternoon dem, on the other hand, was a delight. Michael and David presented ‘vegetable garnishes’ for us, which doesn’t sound very thrilling, but gets much more exciting when you start including potatoes as vegetables and bring in things like a Bloody Mary sorbet and deep fried artichokes dipped in aioli. That on top of gnocchi (one of my favourite things), fondant potatoes, and pomme puree (think mashed potato at its most excellent and heart-stopping) made for a very happy afternoon.


I was excited about Wednesday’s cooking session because we were making gnocchi from scratch, which is something I have always wanted to do but never have because for some reason I had the impression that it’s really difficult. But it’s not! It’s so easy! And of course the advantage to making them from scratch (apart from them being tastier than the shop-bought versions and the happy smugness that comes from achieving such things) is that you can flavour them with whatever cheese or herbs or spices you fancy. The ones in the dish above are a simple Parmesan, but they’d be lovely with ricotta or cheddar, or with finely chopped dill or parsley running through them, or a dash or paprika. We served them with spring vegetables, and braised artichokes. I have never prepared an artichoke before in my life because I have always been a bit scared of them, and actually they are a bit of a hassle and a pain. Good to know how to do it, but I think I will continue to cheat and buy the pre-prepared versions.


We finished the morning by serving the lemon jellies we had spent the last two days lovingly preparing, each completed with a strawberry suspended delicately in the middle. The idea is that the jellies are translucent and sparkling because we had to make them through a process called ‘clearing’, which involves creating a raft of egg white foam and crushed egg shells to filter the liquid through. Yeah. It’s actually a lot more tricky and convoluted than I’ve made it sound and it takes ages. I am impatient by nature and so this sort of thing is not my friend.

In the afternoon, we had a pasta dem. Pasta is one of my favourite things, and the dem was led by Sue and Annie, who were a great double act and kept us all both fed and entertained. We’ve made simple pasta at school before, but now we’re looking at ravioli, tortellini, garganelli, scialatelli, and lots of other things I can’t spell or pronounce.


Thursday was our first all day cooking session of the term, and probably my favourite so far. We prepared everything on the board above from scratch: beetroot and herb cured salmon; jasmine smoked mackerel; rye bread; dill pickled cucumber; and a horseradish crème fraiche. We then served the dish below, which is an artichoke and green olive pithivier – for which we made the puff pastry from scratch – and a heritage tomato salad with baby basil leaves. I barely stopped for about seven hours straight and was shattered by the end of the day, but it’s gratifying to make things that you really can enjoy, and even though the plating on my board was a mess, I did get some praise for the simple neatness of my salad, which is definitely progress.


Finally, we got a cheeky half day on Friday to allow us some time in the afternoon to work on our portfolios, a massive project which is due in worryingly soon. The morning dem was on butchery and jus, and Phil began it, completely without introduction or context, by declaiming the lyrics to Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy with complete earnestness and solemnity, as it was the morning after his death. He got a spontaneous round of applause afterwards. It was even more impressive than the beautiful assiette of rabbit, pictured below, that he served up at the end of the session.


We are now fully in the swing of the final term, and there’s definitely been a noticeable step-up in the level and quality of food expected from us these days. My biggest struggle at the moment is my inability to plate anything properly: I can usually get stuff done on time and tasting reasonable enough, but I can’t present it well, and that’s really hindering my ability to make professional looking dishes. Next week, look out for tarte tatin, rabbit ravioli, and our first forays into sous vide cooking. I’m off to do one of the many, many loads of laundry that you have to do when you’re at culinary school, because my life really is all glamour.


Leiths: Intermediate Term, Week 10

Week 10 dawned bright and cold, and brought with it our last full week of Intermediate Term, along with our theory exam and the promise of a practical assessment next week. We get two weeks off for Easter and I am booked up for every single day of the break, but a change is as good as a rest (I mean, it’s not, that’s clearly nonsense, but I’m trying to kid myself), and it will be a pleasure to have a pause on the 5.15am starts and constantly being freezing cold. I intend to spend as much of my time off as possible curled like a lizard in front of the wood-burning stove on our narrowboat, as an antidote to the school’s consistently Arctic air-conditioning and Spring refusing to get its act together.

But first, the last couple of hurdles. Monday morning started inauspiciously when my train from Oxford to London was completely cancelled. This of course happened on the morning of my theory exam, one of two or three days of term when I absolutely had to be in school on time. I had a little panic and then worked out an alternative route which involved a local stopping service and a terrifying mad dash in an anxious crowd of fellow commuters to make a tight connection, followed by the dubious pleasure of being rammed in a standing-room only carriage for a while. I had hoped for a serene hour in my usual seat on the quiet coach of the train to get some revision done, but it was not to be, and though I got to school on time in the end I was already frazzled. Consequently, the theory exam could definitely have gone better.


Luckily, Tuesday began with a skills session. These are always very relaxed as they involve no service times, and we all gently pottered about trying to perfect various techniques. I made bread and flaky pastry, and while my wholemeal beer loaf had a bit of ovenspring, my flaky pastry finally rose up proudly and dispelled last week’s failure from my mind (almost). Also, I now have loads of flaky pastry to make palmiers with. I should probably do something with the leftover flaky pastry I always have other than making palmiers, but unfortunately I find them irresistibly delicious.

On Tuesday afternoon we were treated to a visit from Phil Harrison, the chef from local pub The Anglesea Arms. I have never visited the pub before but now intend to get there at the earliest opportunity, because all the food Phil made us was fresh, seasonal, expertly cooked, and so delicious I was very sad to only be allowed to try a taste of each dish. Phil was a lively and entertaining presenter, who claimed to be very nervous, although I have to say the nerves didn’t translate to the food at all. We had poached duck eggs with Jerusalem artichokes cooked several ways, a glorious turbot dish with wild garlic and morels, saddle of lamb with kidneys and anchovies, and crème brulee with rhubarb and pistachio. Yes, they’re spoiling us. I never eat turbot because it’s frighteningly expensive; Phil told us the fish he was prepping for us to taste cost around £100.

On Wednesday we returned to butchery, a process I usually really enjoy, and luckily this time was no different. We had been given the task of boning out a chicken. I remember when this concept was first broached thinking it sounded mad and completely impossible, but that which can be spoken can be achieved and so on, and sure enough, I was eventually left with an entirely boneless chicken, which I then reformed around a ricotta and herb stuffing, ready for roasting the following day. It’s a bit of a hassle and not something I’m going to be cracking out every weekend, but nonetheless, it was oddly satisfying.

Annie and David then took us for a canapé dem, giving us a whistlestop tour of the twelve incredible canapés they dreamed up for the end of term canapé party on Friday. They managed to pack a huge amount into the afternoon, and we jumped from beetroot meringues with almond and goats’ cheese to bavette steak with onion and thyme to passionfruit brulée on pate sucrée, with several other stops along the way. Canapés, though miniscule, are a huge amount of work, and it’s a real skill to turn out hundreds of little mouthfuls of food that are all delicious, identical, and beautiful, so the whole thing was very impressive.


Thursday morning’s cooking session was basically an exercise in preparing lots of intricate and tasty food which we then got to eat for our lunch. My spaghetti vongole, pictured above, features pasta made, rolled, and cut by my very own hands (well, with a pasta machine, but the pasta was fed through the machine with my very own hands). Below you can see the results of Wednesday’s foray into chicken boning, sliced atop a bed of an Ottolenghi salad containing quinoa, red rice, pistachios, and apricots, amongst other delights.


Our guest dem in the afternoon was given by Jeremy Pang from the School of Wok. I do not know nearly enough about Chinese cuisine, or Asian food in general, so it was a treat to be guided through by an expert. Jeremy’s dim sum demonstration made shaping the intricate little dumplings look easy, but this was entirely down to his professional skill and years of practice, as we realised when we came up to have a go at shaping ourselves and realised just how difficult it is.

Finally, on our last proper day of term (I am not counting the practical exam next week as a proper day) we helped prep the canapés for the evening’s party – I got to pipe out hundreds of little beetroot meringues – and finally were told what we will be cooking for our end of term assessment. In case you’re curious, we’ve been tasked with cheese soufflés, sea bream (scaled, gutted, and filleted) with sauce vierge and skordalia, vanilla bavarois with raspberry coulis, and a loaf of beer bread. Sounds like quite a big ask for a four hour exam, right? I’m off to go and panic quietly in a corner. I hope you all have weekends far more relaxing than mine is about to be. See you on the other side.


Leiths: Intermediate Term, Week 8

It was when we were tunnel boning the huge joints of lamb, gleaming kitchen ringing with chatter and boning knives flying and scraping through meat, that someone on my table commented ‘I bet not many other people come in to London to do this on a Monday morning’. This prompted us all to briefly reflect on what we would have been doing at 10am on a Monday morning a year ago. For most of us, it would have involved sitting in an office. Perhaps chatting idly to the colleague at the next desk, flicking through emails, or wandering off to making another procrastinatory cup of tea. And I hate tea.

Finally, after a twenty five minute battle, the bone came free from my leg of lamb and I carefully eased it out, leaving the meat intact. It was huge, as long as my arm, knobbly with odd twists and turns and festooned with thick, dangling sinews. I was first to extract my bone and I briefly held it above my head in triumph, my trophy. I grinned at Will across the table.

Then I got on with my pasta dough.


Monday was creative lamb day, which saw us all boning out gigantic pieces of meat which we were then free to do whatever we wanted with. I made parsley pappardelle from scratch and minced down some lamb to make a spicy ragu. I was a little bit put out when I realised that everyone else had done beautiful, elegant, restaurant-style dishes, and that all I had to offer was a big old bowl of pasta, the likes of which grace many home dinner tables every night. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love a big bowl of pasta, but there were people turning out some seriously impressively presented plates of food and I just can’t do that. However, I was slightly heartened when Shauna pronounced my dish delicious and said she wanted to stand there and keep eating it. Then three other students came over to try a spoonful of ragu. At least it tasted good, right?

Our afternoon consisted of another wine lecture, this time on fortified wine – think lots of sherry and port tasting. I try to come in to every wine lecture with an open mind, but I have to admit that I have never liked sherry or port and I still don’t. Sherry reminds me of Christmas and port reminds me of terrible university stereotypes and bad times. However, the presenter, Richard, was clearly passionate about the subject and I am willing to admit that my aversion is simply down to me being fussy.


Tuesday morning was pretty relaxed and the lamb theme continued with us roasting a shoulder stuffed with a gorgeous feta and sundried tomato mixture. We ate our roast for lunch and it also included potatoes lovingly pan-fried in butter for ages, tenderstem broccoli, and a red wine gravy. I know it’s not a looker, but believe me, it tasted great. I ate so much that I actually felt a little sick and spent the rest of the afternoon making ‘oof’ noises whenever I had to bend down.

If possible, Tuesday afternoon was even better. We had an ice cream dem with Ansobe and Annie and, just for once, instead of trying one small bite of everything, we were allowed to come up to the front and eat as much as we liked. Pistachio ice cream, ginger ice cream, palm sugar ice cream, blackcurrant ice cream, apricot sorbet, marscapone sorbet, tuilles, brandy snaps, crumble, chocolate sauce, pistachio praline… it was wonderful. After finishing the morning swearing that I didn’t even want to look at food again lest I simply die from being hideously full, I managed to eat a stunning amount of ice cream. I don’t know if the unfettered access to desserts was Ansobe’s way of bribing us into saying it was the best dem ever, but if it was then well played: it was the best dem ever.


I know it doesn’t look too inspiring, but this is my blackcurrant soufflé and it’s the best one I have ever made. Granted, it had sunk a bit and had a spoon stuck in it by the time I got to taking this photo, but Belinda had no negative comments – it’s always a rare and satisfying treat when your food receives no criticism.


We also made marinated spatchcocked poussin. A poussin is an adorable tiny chicken, for those unaccustomed to dealing with miniature poultry (i.e. me before I started at Leiths – but now it’s all about the poussin, the partridge, the guinea fowl, the pigeon… Name the tiny bird and I’ve cooked it, probably badly). It was a delicious lunch that made me feel like a giant.

In the afternoon we were visited by the charming Peter Gordon, a New Zealander settled in London who has had a really interesting career as a chef and opened many restaurants. He is a champion of fusion food, having travelled seemingly pretty much everywhere, and was one of the first people to bring the concept to London restaurants. He was also a genuinely lovely person (or possibly a very good actor), and he cooked us lots of delicious food, including the wondrous invention of chorizo mashed potato. So simple, and yet so brilliant. I have no idea why I’ve not done it before, but I will certainly be doing it now.


Unfortunately, Thursday was just one of those days. You know? They’re not kitchen-exclusive. A day where you spend all your time rushing around in a panic trying to do seven tasks at once, and yet seem to get nothing done as time slips further and further away from you, and before you know it, it’s the afternoon, and wasn’t it just 9.30am five minutes ago and why is that sugar syrup caramelising and is that raspberry juice on your hat and where has all the time gone? We were making raspberry coulis and blackcurrant ice cream for Friday, as well as a hazelnut meringue cake and a salad with poached eggs. Our teacher for the day told me that if she’d been served my salad in a restaurant she’d have sent it back, which is never what you really want to hear. I am ate so much meringue cake I went a little bit sugar-hysterical.


Luckily, to make up for Thursday, Friday was just a lovely day. We made a sumptuous dish of sea bream (filleted by my own mauling hands, naturally), on a seafood stew with fennel, white wine, cockles, mussels, and shrimp. I was really happy with my dish and would make it again at home if only I had access to a decent fishmonger. At Leiths, we are completely spoiled by being given very high quality seafood to work with, and without it, a simple dish like this wouldn’t be nearly so satisfying.


We finished by compiling our dessert plates, which consisted of brandy snaps, blackcurrant ice cream, raspberry coulis, and fresh berries. Presentation is something I am really trying to work on, and it’s sometimes disheartening to see the absolutely stunning plates other people are serving up that wouldn’t be out of place in a high end restaurant. You can really feel that people are improving quickly and the standards of the group are rising week by week. I’m doing my best not to get left behind, but I have never had an artistic streak and making things beautiful doesn’t come easily to me.

Ursula Ferrigno led our session on Friday afternoon and it was all about Italian food. She was one of my favourite guest lecturers thusfar. Her love of what she was doing shone through and she was such a genuine and warm person that I couldn’t help but smile while watching her cook. I also really enjoyed her food and was inspired to try my own take on her recipes – I am sure they will be appearing on the blog soon. And when I say soon, I mean in a couple of months when I get a free moment. Maybe not even then.

The pace at Leiths is relentless, but I am slowly beginning to feel like I belong in a kitchen. A real kitchen, I mean, rather than my own one with the broken hob and tiny fridge. Week 9 is beckoning, exams are on the horizon, and the Intermediate Term is nearing its conclusion.


Leiths: Intermediate Term, Week 6

This is a bit of a sneaky cheat of a blog post, because Week 6 was really only three days long and therefore doesn’t actually qualify as a week, and thus this doesn’t really qualify as a weekly update. It’s all going to mulch round here. Literally: the flood waters are creeping up around our little town, I have trudged through many rain-sodden commutes, and I don’t think my feet have been properly warm and dry for several weeks.


Wednesday – our new Monday for one week only – tripped along pleasantly enough. We began our cooking session in the morning by making pasta by hand for the dish above, namely cracked black pepper pasta with truffle oil, parmesan shavings, and basil. I have made pasta before, but only using a machine, so this was my first experience of hand-rolling pasta dough. I was surprised to find it really enjoyable: usually anything painstaking and slow and fiddly grates on my impatient soul, but there was something lovely about making the pasta by hand and my dish received lots of positive feedback (if it had received lots of negative feedback I’d probably be saying making pasta by hand was a pain). The slightly less pleasurable part of the Monday cooking session was another short order challenge. This time, we had 25 minutes to make a cheese soufflé. I’m really starting to dislike short order challenges. I never seem to perform particularly well and I find the adrenaline and stress and uncertainty of the whole thing a bit sickening. On the plus side, I had a pile of pasta to eat for lunch, so it certainly could have been worse.

The afternoon saw another wine tasting session, this time on Sauvignon Blanc and sweet wines. You know, I used to think I didn’t like sweet wines, but since starting the WSET sessions and tasting some good quality ones (you know, instead of the usual rubbish I can afford to drink when other people aren’t paying), I have definitely moved into the ‘pro sweet wines’ camp. In this session we had a Tokaji so delicious I actually noted it down to try and hunt it out myself. Not that I’ll ever get round to it, mind you, but the intention was definitely there.


Now, I admit that the above picture looks dull and unimpressive in a beige sort of way, but what you must appreciate is that this is my successful attempt at a genoise sponge, the Leiths hallowed grail of gateaux glory. It’s a tricky cake, requiring much whisking of eggs to exact stages and meticulously gentle folding while reciting various pagan incantations, and even though I’ve made other more delicious things, there was a certain satisfaction to seeing it emerge from the oven on Thursday looking beautifully bronzed and triumphantly risen. It was the first stage of preparation for our gateaux freestyling (within the expected constraints of course – let’s not go crazy now), of which more in a minute.

The afternoon dem was on meat preparation, and poor Phil got us when we were all a bit exhausted as a group, for no apparent or justifiable reason since we’d just had a four day weekend and spent the morning faffing about with cakes. Still, I know I wasn’t the only one feeling like curling up in a ball and taking a restorative nap. Nonetheless, with his customary good cheer, Phil made us some delicious food and, crucially, showed us how to tunnel bone lamb and remove all the bones from a chicken. I hope I was paying enough attention, because we will have to do both of those things in the coming weeks.


Friday was perhaps one of my favourite mornings in the kitchen we have yet had. It was all about the baking, as we assembled our lemon tarts and our genoise-based gateaux. Let’s start with the failure: the lemon tart. It was a honourable failure, because the tart was still delicious, but it did fall apart a little bit. I didn’t feel too bad though, as it happened to about 80% of the people in our class. The above picture, somewhat dishonestly, is of another student’s tart to give you an idea of what the tart was actually supposed to look like. We didn’t know that we had to bake the pastry for a bit longer than we normally would to make sure if could support a very liquid filling, and I was further hampered by the fact that we had another fire alarm about thirty seconds after my tart went into the oven. When the fire alarm goes, all the gas ovens automatically switch off. This is very sensible for obvious reasons, but not so great for delicate lemon tarts, because it meant my wet filling was sitting coldly on pastry for about twenty minutes before I could get the oven back up to temperature, slowly seeping into it and weakening the structure.

Now on to the triumph: the genoise gateaux. I am very rarely happy with stuff I do in the school kitchens, but I was happy with this. I brushed each of the three layers with an orange, passionfruit, and Grand Marnier syrup, then spread them with a dark chocolate ganache, then covered the cake in a chocolate meringue buttercream and finished it with dried raspberries, raspberry powder, and candied orange peel. It was delicious.


I am now watching the Great Sport Relief Bake Off, and feeling much better about my collapsed lemon tart in the context of some of the stuff they’re getting away with on there. I will finish with the latest in my ongoing attempts to capture the absolutely beautiful sunrises I see on the way in to London every morning: believe me, it’s not an easy task when all you have is a phone camera and you’re on a train that’s moving at 125 miles per hour.