Even legends like Mary Berry sometimes get thrown.
“I’ve had many disasters in the kitchen,” the 87-year-old admits – but she sounds so self-assured, you can’t imagine her getting knocked off course for too long.
For Berry, surprises tend to come in the form of her children, Annabel and Thomas (her other son William died age 19) and five grandchildren turning up for dinner unexpectedly. It seems no one is that fond of phoning ahead.
“Very often I have family coming round, lots of young [people] – and then two more turn up.” Adding with cheeky groan: “I know exactly what they’re like, and they’re very hungry.”
But she certainly seems to relish being surrounded by her family – and she has a few nifty tricks up her sleeve for catering when unexpected guests turn up. “If it’s a big pot of something, I’ll add another can of flageolet beans or black-eyed beans or even a can of baked beans, to spin it out – which is what we have to do.”
Many families will be thinking of ways to stretch their meals further, as food and energy prices continue to soar – and Berry’s top piece of advice for cutting costs in the kitchen is all about preparation.
“I think saving money on cooking is being organised, and a bit of planning beforehand,” she says. “If you’ve got people coming round – relations, friends, whatever – it’s doing the shopping list and not veering from it.”
Mary Berry’s spaghetti with peas and pesto recipe
Mary Berry calls this “a quick and easy midweek pasta dish”.
Cooking Time 30 mins
Total Time 30 mins
For the pea pesto:
250g frozen petits pois
115g unsalted cashew nuts
55g Parmesan, grated, plus extra to serve (optional)
2 large garlic cloves, halved
Large bunch of basil, roughly chopped
100ml olive oil
Cook the peas in a saucepan of boiling water for three minutes. Drain and refresh under cold water. Drain again.
Place half the peas in a small food processor and add the nuts, cheese, garlic and basil. Whiz until finely chopped. Slowly add the oil, a little a time, until you have a paste consistency. Season with salt to taste.
Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water according to the packet instructions. Reserve 50ml of the pasta water before draining.
Place the pesto in a large non-stick frying pan, add the reserved peas and the cooked spaghetti and a little of the pasta water. Toss everything over a high heat until well coated.
Season well with freshly ground black pepper and serve with extra Parmesan, if liked.
Cook And Share by Mary Berry is published in hardback by BBC Books.
Berry might seem as put together as it gets, but she hasn’t always been the pinnacle of organisation. “I’ve learned it over the years,” she says – and practise makes perfect.
“If I’ve gone to the trouble, which indeed, I did at the weekend – I did two roast chickens, which is one of the recipes in the book. I made really good stock – really good gravy, far too much for that day, and I froze the rest. That means when you’ve maybe just got a chicken breast and you want to have gravy with it, you’ve got it in the freezer.
“I don’t waste anything. If there’s something left, I usually freeze it.”
While Berry’s style is definitely classic, she’s slowly but surely incorporating newer ingredients into her food vocabulary – largely thanks to her family members. She says: “At the moment they’re all at the age where they eat a lot, and they like very much trying new things – so I use more of the ingredients they enjoy the most.”
That means you’ll see a lot more avocados in Berry’s recipes than you might have previously, along with other family favourites, including beans, lentils and chickpeas. “They’re willing to try anything,” she adds.
Many of these ingredients feature in her latest book, Cook And Share, which very much does what it says on the tin, and puts sharing food centre. Berry suggests food has become more laid-back, and her recipes reflect this.
“I wanted it to be more relaxed – sharing, help yourself, and still [thinking] what I can prepare ahead,” she says. “Most people are working, and they can’t always do everything just before friends are coming round.”
Mary Berry’s Tuscan chicken recipe
An impressive one-pot dish to feed the family.
Preparation Time 10 mins
Cooking Time 40 mins
Total Time 50 mins
6 large skinless chicken thighs, bone in
2tbsp plain flour
2tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large red pepper, deseeded and finely diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2tsp tomato puree
30g sun-blushed tomatoes, chopped
150ml white wine
150ml chicken stock
150ml pouring double cream
150g baby spinach
55g Parmesan, grated
Place the chicken thighs in a bowl. Add the flour and half the paprika and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss together to coat.
Heat the oil in a large, deep frying pan over a high heat. Add the chicken and fry for three to four minutes on each side, until browned and crisp. Set aside on a plate.
Add the onion and pepper to the unwashed pan and fry for four to five minutes over a medium heat, until soft. You may need a little more oil. Add the garlic and fry for 30 seconds.
Stir in the purée, tomatoes, wine and stock and bring up to the boil. Return the chicken to the pan with any resting juices, cover, reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, until tender.
Add the cream and spinach to the pan and stir until wilted. Remove from the heat, sprinkle with the cheese and serve piping hot.
Cook And Share by Mary Berry is published in hardback by BBC Books. Photography by Laura Edwards. Available now.
At 87, Berry shows no sign of slowing down – her new book is accompanied by a BBC series of the same name – so she’s eager to make life easier for everyone in her recipes.
“I do quite a bit of preparing ahead, just adding something at the last minute,” she says – whether that’s fresh herbs or another garnish to bring the dish to life.
Fans of Berry’s recipes won’t be disappointed by her latest offering.
“There are some classic things that I’ve relooked at,” she says.
“We’ve got the ultimate chocolate brownie – that’s to die for. I’ve done many brownie recipes and blondies and things in my time, but we’ve put the ultimate chocolate brownie in there, and a few casseroles – the Sunday best minted lamb is delicious…
"Then there’s one pot things like Tuscan chicken, which is the sort of dish you can share for a very special occasion. It’s done with chicken thighs, which if you overcook and people are late – it doesn’t matter a bit, it just means it is more tender. Whereas if we use the breasts, it would have become tough.”
She’s always a fan of the classics, but Berry isn’t afraid to branch out either, saying: “We’ve included brunch this time, because brunch seems to be very popular – especially on a Sunday morning, when you have friends round,” she adds.
“Perhaps they don’t necessarily want to do a roast – they do brunch, because everybody gets up a bit later, and it’s a lovely meal to share.”
Berry might see the appeal of brunch, but that doesn’t mean she’s completely ditched her Sunday routine. “In our family, it’s still the Sunday roast,” she admits. “But of course, this summer’s been so warm, we’ve often had brunch instead.”
The ultimate chocolate brownies
This is our favourite brownie; it has a wrinkled top and a gooey middle. Perfect for eating as it is or you could add a topping of your choice.
Preparation Time 10 mins
Cooking Time 45 mins
Total Time 55 mins
360g (12½ oz) Bournville plain chocolate (2 × 180g packets), broken into pieces
225g (8oz) butter, cubed, plus extra for greasing
225g (8oz) light muscovado sugar
4 eggs, beaten
75g (3oz) self-raising flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
75g (3oz) chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan/Gas 4. Grease and line a 30 × 23cm (12 × 9in) traybake tin with non-stick baking paper.
Place the chocolate and butter in a large heatproof bowl. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water until melted. Stir to combine.
Remove from the heat and add the sugar and eggs. Mix well until smooth, then add the flour and vanilla and mix again. Stir in the chocolate chips.
Pour the chocolate mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about 45 minutes, until well risen and set around the edges, with a slightly soft centre.
Leave to cool in the tin, then slice into 24 squares.
From 'Cook and Share: 120 Delicious New Fuss-free Recipes' by Mary Berry published by Penguin.
- Cook And Share by Mary Berry is published in hardback by BBC Books. Photography by Laura Edwards. Available now.