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Don’t let memories of school dinner pilchards put you off, Cornish sardines are one of England’s finest seafoods.

The sardine, or pilchard as it can be known in this country, is one of the humblest, yet to my mind finest, fish to be found around our shores. I am obsessed with its staggeringly delicious flavour. Simply grilled over charcoal, brushed with a little lemon juice and olive oil during cooking, and sprinkled with sea salt, it tastes sublime.

Served with garlic-rubbed grilled bread and a chunkily made rough tomato sauce redolent of garlic and rosemary, it captures the essence of cheap and sustainable seafood.

The problem with sardines is that they must be fresh; they need to be shining silver, with gleaming eyes, and ideally stiff as a board.


50ml olive oil
juice of 2 lemons, plus extra lemon wedges to serve
12 fat Cornish sardines, gutted, scaled and cleaned
1 small bunch of rosemary
4 thick slices of crusty bread
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
a handful of basil leaves, torn (optional)

For the tomato sauce:

100ml olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
1 red chilli
750g ripest cherry tomatoes
125ml dry white wine
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Start with the tomato sauce. Warm the oil in a heavy pan over a medium heat, add the garlic and leave to infuse on a low heat for 10 minutes. Prick the chilli several times with the tip of a knife to allow the flavour to escape. Add the tomatoes and chilli to the oil and cook over a low heat for 40 minutes. Add the wine and a sprinkling of salt and plenty of pepper. Turn the heat up slightly, then crush to a rough sauce using a potato masher and simmer for 5 minutes more.

Whilst the sauce is cooking, light your barbecue and wait until the flames have died down and the coals have gone grey, or preheat your grill to medium. Now for the sardines. Mix the oil and lemon juice together in a bowl. Place the sardines over the barbecue or under the grill. Brush with the oil and lemon mixture and sprinkle with salt. Cook for 4–5 minutes, then turn the fish and repeat until cooked through, brushing with the oil and lemon as you do so.

Just before you finish cooking, throw the rosemary on the coals to infuse the sardines with a final blast of flavour. Rub the bread with the garlic, brush with a little more oil and grill until crisp.

Serve the sardines on plates with the tomato sauce spooned over the toast, adding lemon wedges and torn basil leaves to finish if you wish.


Cockles are possibly our most modest and unassuming shellfish. For me, however, the humble cockle is among the sweetest and most delicious morsels to be found on Britain’s seashore. Cunningly hidden inches below the sand and mud, the cockle can typically be found in such beauty spots as Morecambe Bay in Lancashire and the Gower peninsula of South Wales, where they have been an essential source of food for millennia.


100g butter
1 leek, finely chopped
3 banana shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
100ml cup dry cider
150ml double (heavy) cream
1kg fresh cockles (baby clams), washed and prepared
500g mussels, washed and prepared
a handful of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
juice of 1 lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Heat up a heavy saucepan or casserole over a medium heat and add the butter. When it foams, add the leek, shallots and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, until softened but not browned. Add the cider and cook for a further 3 minutes, then pour in the cream. Tip in the cockles and mussels, throw in the parsley, add the lemon juice, salt and pepper, turn the heat up to high and cook with the lid on for 3 minutes.

Discard any shellfish that haven’t opened. Serve with chunks of white bread and mugs of cider.

(Taken from “The new vegetarian” in the Guardian)

The seeds sprinkled over this salad at the end give it a real boost in look, texture and flavour. I’d be tempted to make more of the mix than you need, and keep it in a jar ready for your next creation that’s missing a crunch.

12 quail’s eggs
2 small garlic cloves, crushed
1½ tbsp lemon juice
3½ tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
15g picked dill
15g picked basil leaves, torn
15g picked coriander leaves
30g watercress
50g ricotta

1½ tbsp flaked almonds
1½ tbsp pumpkin seeds
2 tsp sesame seeds
⅓ tsp nigella seeds
inch flaked chilli
¼ tsp Maldon sea salt
¼ tsp olive oil

Start with the seeds. Put all the ingredients in a small pan and cook over medium heat for three minutes, stirring all the time, until the sesame seeds take on some colour. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Put the quail’s eggs in a saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 seconds for semi-soft (as I prefer them) or two minutes for hard-boiled. Refresh in cold water, then peel.

To make the dressing, whisk together the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and some salt and pepper.

Now assemble the salad. In a big bowl, gently toss together the herbs and watercress, and divide about half of the leaves between four small serving plates. Cut the peeled quail’s eggs in half and place three halves on each plate. Use a teaspoon to deposit tiny dollops of ricotta around and about the salad, then dribble the dressing on top. Pile the remaining leaves over each portion, giving the dish as much height as possible, then carefully dot each portion with three more egg halves and the rest of the ricotta. Drizzle a tiny amount of extra oil over each serving, sprinkle the seeds on top and serve at once.

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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