Festive Food – Yes, it is the Pesto Chickpea Casserole (filled to the brim with aubergines, red peppers and creamy pesto)

This recipe is my most asked for – a creamy basil infused casserole filled with chick peas and topped with a crunchy garlic bread and brie topping. It smells divine and tastes even better. I first came across it while attending a course at The Vegetarian Society in Manchester. The Cordon Vert course continues to this day and I can thoroughly recommend attending day and weekly cooking courses in London and Manchester. But I digress – all you want is the recipe and here it is, at last. Sorry to those whom I promised this to so long ago.


Pesto Chickpea Casserole


At least half a cup of a good store brought pesto but much better if you can make a homemade one. Make it by blending a cupful of basil (or a mix of parsley, coriander and basil) some briefly fried pine nuts (be careful about buying those from China as some have a bitter aftertaste), some good and mild olive oil, some grated parmesan cheese or some young pecorino – about half a cup. Add in a good few garlic cloves – my favourites at present are the large one clove bulb, very mild and tasty. Smell your cloves before you buy to really get a sense of how they will taste. Some smell of chemicals and taste very unpleasant indeed. Blend, add seasoning if needed. Put to one side. Any leftover pesto can be stored in the fridge for up to a week but should be covered with some oil and placed in an air-tight container to add to pasta or use in a toasted sandwich.


to serve 4 – 6

half a large cup of  of organic cream

olive oil to fry

1 large onion, chopped finely

1 large eggplant or aubergine, chopped small into cubes

2  Red Turkish peppers, deseeded and cut into small rings

1-2 cans/jars of good chickpeas – you know by now that I like the S &W chickpeas from Kellys on Piet Heinstraat, drained or jars from the local Turkish shops

half a cup of left over white wine

at least 1 cup of good veggie organic stock (or make your own)

1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar

one fresh or stale wholewheat baguette, sliced thin into rounds and buttered with garlic butter (make your own by adding crushed garlic, some herbs etc)

1 small round of brie or camembert

* may also use mushrooms, zucchini,  sliced thinly

1. Fry onion in olive oil until translucent. Add in cubed aubergine and fry until just about cooked through. You may need to use more oil as eggplants really soak it up. Then add peppers and if using mushroom and zucchini, add now. Quickly add your wine and balsamic vinegar and cook  it off. This means cooking until the wine has reduced and almost disappeared.  Add in the liquid stock and a half a small cup of pesto and the cream. Taste for seasoning. You may at this stage pop  in some  fresh basil leaves, thyme leaves, ground black pepper and salt. Now throw in the drained chickpeas. That is basically it. Pour into an ovenproof casserole dish filling it to the three quarters level.  If you think it is too dry add more cream or stock. It should have some juices but not be soupy!

Preheat your oven to 175

Place the garlic bread on top of the mixture with the buttered slice up. Cover the whole casserole dish with bread slices with slices just overlapping. Cut the brie/camembert into thin slices and place on each slice of bread. Bake at 175 for about 20 minutes until casserole is golden brown and cheese is bubbling. Serve with a crispy green salad. I think everyone will be quite impressed!

Thanks to the Vegetarian Society for that course all those years ago and many courses since! Check out their festive recipes on http://www.vegsoc.org. See also Sir Paul McCartney’s MeatFree Monday campaign. This year my festive meal is a shared meal with dear friends and family and will be a combo of veggie and seafood dishes. I will be following an Indian theme with a Spinach Paneer dish served with a lemon scented wild rice side, Turkish bread, veggie samosas, fresh mint chutney and a Thai inspired cucumber salad. We are trying not to overdo it but to shop carefully and with sustainability in mind. Our portions will be small and we hope delicious. Enjoy your holidays if you are lucky enough to have them. See you next year. I wish you all the best of natures larder, health and happiness. Shall I see you at the organic market in the morning?






Starry Play Dough and Strawberry Sauce

Oh, the season is upon us, a frenzy of gift buying, menu planning, school parties, school concerts, end of year festive gatherings! This post has some ideas for  gift making – why not give some glittering play dough perfumed with rose-water, peppermint essence etc, and so satisfying to make. And boy is it easy! Basic Playdough

2 cups plain flour

2 cups water

1 cup salt

1 tablespoons cream of tarter

2 tablespoons cooking oil

Mix dry ingredients together in bowl. Warm water and oil on stove top in a heavy based large pot – add in dry ingredients, mixing with a wooden spoon constantly. It will be hard to mix in the beginning but will gradually become a little like tough putty. Keep mixing and turn down heat low. Take off heat and knead. Divide into 3 parts and add in your choice of glitter, colour and perfumes. We used rose water, peppermint oil and green food colouring. Store in air-tight containers and give to your friend. We also suggest making foodie gifts for your friends and loved ones – homemade marshmallows with dried blueberries, morning glory spelt muffins, ANZAC cookies in a airtight jar decorated with ribbons and a label….. 

Last week we cooked with 75 wonderful five year olds in a lesson entitled EAT A RAINBOW. We had great fun looking at a glorious array of different coloured vegetables and fruits at the Rainbow table and then went to group tables and made a starry, starry fresh fruit salad served with a delectable warm strawberry sauce. Some children were holding a knife for the very first time so we went through a few rules before we cooked. Make your non-cutting hand look like a claw – yes a monster’s claw, tucking fingers underneath. Hold the fruit carefully – we chopped grapes, bananas, and tore pomegranates apart, squeezed lemons and just had fun. We got some wonderful tips from Michelle Stern’s What’s Cooking with kids – see http://whatscookingwithkids.com/2010/08/18/teaching-knife-skills-to-kids-and-suggestions-for-cutting-tools. After reading this post I signed up to be one of her subscribers immediately. Our fruit salad recipe aimed to introduce some new foods and judging by the faces of our group everyone seemed to enjoy the lesson.

Starry Fruit Salad

1 pineapple cubed

half a pomegranate – only the seeds not the white pith which is very unpleasant

2 apples, cubes and brushed with fresh lemon juice to stop browning

2 bananas, chopped and mixed with lemon juice to stop browning

half a star fruit sliced small (I am not so fond of this fruit but it was added for a seasonal starry look – is very good in sweet sour Thai type salads according to Barbara Reale)

2 mandarins, peeled and pith removed as much as possible.

10 mint leaves for colour

a small bunch of purple grapes.

Warm Strawberry Sauce

Mix and make a warm strawberry sauce which is simplicity itself. Take 2 cups of frozen or if in season fresh strawberries and heat gently in a small saucepan with 2 tablespoons of maple syrup (or to taste). Heat for a few minutes and then blend or mash with a potato masher. This sauce will scent your house with the promise of summer and tempt all taste buds. We keep frozen fruit in the freezer – strawberries, raspberries, bananas,  and blueberries, using a cupful at a time for sauces and smoothies. So easy! This keeps well in a jar in the fridge for up to a week. Mix into yoghurt, have with ice-cream and serve with the fruit salad above.

Lastly spare a thought for others around the globe. I received a couple of goats, a shower block plus a WC or two from family last year – see http://www.oxfam.org and look at their Oxfam unwrapped section. Maybe I will get some lambs or a nanny and kids this year or even some chickens which will go to needy families around the world. Now that is a great recipe! Next blog I promise to write down the whole chickpea recipe! I really do.

Morning Glory Muffin made with spelt flour

Keeping Warm – Soups Rule OK

We couldn’t resist any longer – our Christmas tableau is up! Jack has cleverly caught that wonky Amsterdam tall house style. There is nothing for it, we can no longer escape, the season is upon us! We also made some glittery play dough to give out as presents and to make and bake shiny stars! Our Food Forum have many seasonal recipes to share – and we are having loads of fun pawing over the fabulous Plenty Cookbook, an absolute triumph of deliciousness by the wonderful Yotam Otteonghi – now that would make a lovely stocking filler for a new cook or a keen cook!

Our challenge last week was to cater for a school winter fair. We expected 600 + but actually it was more like 1000+ As you can imagine we felt this to be quite daunting especially as we were keen to make our food as home-cooked and wholesome as possible. And of course we wanted to make it fairly simple too! So, we decided on a time-tested favourite, known to some as my “Friday Night Soup”, featured in the Independent Age Cookbook and liked by most everybody (adult and child) we have ever met. It was a real winner and while the ploughmans were admired, the wraps pretty popular, the apple-berry strudel, scones and mince pies enjoyed, it was the soup that really was the star. And it’s simple, simple, simple.

Hearty, filling, Friday Night SoupFriday Night Soup

(serves 4-6)

1 can of good tomatoes (we like S&W found at Kellys and in the covered market)

1 good organic stock cube

1 teaspoon channa masala spice mix (found at Asian stores – It’s a mixture of cummin, garam masala, tumeric, garlic, ginger etc) or use your own favourite spice mix.

1 and a half cups of red lentils (actually they are orange coloured really)

1 litre of V8 juice or tomato juice or water

1 large onion chopped finely and 2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Fry onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add in spice mix and fry until fragrant. Mix stock cube with 2 cups of hot water and add with red lentils. Add in tinned tomatoes and simmer until lentils are soft (about 10 minutes). Make sure the soup doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pot. Add V8 until you get a reasonably thick soup. Season to taste, you may like to add more spices here and a little Thai Chilie Sauce. Serve piping hot with lashings of grated cheese, sour cream, corn chips and chopped coriander, parsley or chives.

As I said to our 500 + customers last Saturday I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t like this soup! I did offer them a money back guarantee, none returned for a refund but many asked for the recipe, so here it is. Please share with friends and family. And did you notice, there was nary a hotdog or packet of crisps in sight! Didn’t we do well!

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