It Starts with Veg is HERE, and a recipe for Pepper, Walnut, and Pomegranate Stew with Griddled Polenta Wedges

My debut cookbook It Starts with Veg is out today, so I’m sharing for the first time, the story of how the book was put together, as well as sharing an exclusive recipe from the book.  Read on for a recipe from the summer vegetables chapter, based around what to do with a pepper.

The whole process of producing a cookbook, from initial discussion with publisher to book being in the shops was for me, two and a half years. I spent a good year prior to that writing a proposal (I kept stopping and starting, faffing about, because this was pandemic year 2). I signed the contract in September 2022, electronically, whilst at the kitchen sink cooking dinner on a yoga retreat in the South of France. We celebrated with crémant at dinner.

It was then time to get to work, except I was just about to renovate my kitchen – essential I figured, because the oven I inherited when I moved in 10 months earlier didn’t really work. I then got covid for the first time and lost my taste buds for a few weeks, so the real recipe development work started in that quiet time in-between Christmas and New Year.

I don’t know how others approach their recipe development, but for me, it worked chapter by chapter, ingredient by ingredient, following as closely as I could what was in season. I had to start with the squashes as if I left them any later there would be none to be found. The list of recipes and structure was mapped out in my proposal, and whilst I did deviate from this a bit – some ideas didn’t work as well as I had thought, or I knew I could do better – having this structure in place when you start is an enormous help. It means you’re not really starting with a blank sheet of paper.

My approach was to research and draft a couple of recipes, fetch the ingredients and test the recipes (usually a couple of times, some required far more), then refine the recipe instructions and draft the intro. It’s much easier to write an intro when you have the taste of the dish fresh in your mind.

Pepper Stew It Starts With Veg

Pepper Stew It Starts With Veg – Photo by Samantha Couzens

Getting 100 recipes down was a marathon (I have also done one, so I know this is true). 6 months of cooking broke down into 16 recipes a month, 4 a week to test and perfect. I work 3 days a week, so this was squeezed into my 2 freelance days, evenings and weekends. When the celeriac chowder got to attempt 5 and finally worked (with a change of method) I breathed a sigh of relief, because every extra test took time away from moving forwards.

I kept all my receipts and worked out I’d spent over £1000 on ingredients in that time. It was therefore important that I ate as much of the food as possible for my own dinners. Leftovers were given out to friends, neighbours and colleagues. During the creation process I farmed the recipes out to friends to test – thank you friends! Some recipes then required a bit of a retest or tweak, or sometimes refining the writing to explain things better was enough.

After the testing was done it was time to write, edit, and re-edit. Plus, there were forty 500 word intros to each to vegetable to be written. Whilst I find recipe writing easy because it’s a very specific process, this bit was so hard so for me. I was aiming for informative but entertaining, and also to the point because 500 words simply does not allow room to write everything you need to know about a vegetable.

I finished the 67,000 words of the book sitting on my sofa on a Saturday night, listening to the blaring (and distracting) sounds of Iggy Pop and Blondie wafting through my windows from a festival at my local park.  The manuscript was due in on the following Monday, but I had a choir rehearsal all day Sunday which I was determined to get to, and to enjoy a heat wave drink afterwards because it had been a sweaty week spent indoors staring at a screen.

It was then sent off to the publishers, and a few weeks later got it back for comments and editing (phew, they like it), then it went quiet for a bit while the design was laid out and the book put together. We didn’t have a photoshoot to factor in, so then it was approving the illustrator’s drawings, and then discussing the cover. In December we did a final proofread with the text and design all put together – for the first time it was starting to feel like an actual book. We signed it off for printing in January, and now it’s here in real life in June!

I really hope you enjoyed that insight, and more importantly enjoy the book! Now on to the recipe extract…


Pepper Stew It Starts With Veg

Pepper, Walnut and Pomegranate Stew with Griddled Polenta Wedges
Cook time
Total time
Blistered peppers, chopped tomatoes, and smoky paprika are ingredients I use frequently together in a breakfast shakshuka, but even I’m getting bored of this recipe. With the addition of walnuts, and pomegranate molasses, inspired by their use together in the Persian fesenjan stew, it’s something just different enough to try with peppers. The polenta wedges served with the stew take a bit of prepping ahead as the polenta needs to set for at least 30 minutes before you can slice it. If you don’t have a griddle pan you can brush them with olive oil and bake in a 180°C fan/200°C/400°F/gas mark 6 oven for 25 minutes until crisp. You can make this stew with any variety of peppers, or try mixing in some courgette.
Recipe type: Main Course
Serves: 2
  • olive oil
  • 500ml/17fl oz vegetable stock
  • 100g/3½oz quick cook polenta
  • 1 tsp finely chopped or dried rosemary or thyme
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 peppers (red, yellow, or orange), thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp pul biber
  • 1 x 200g/7oz can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 50g/1¾oz walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped soft herbs (e.g. mint and/or parsley)
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • salt and pepper
  • a sprinkle of crumbled feta cheese (optional)
  1. First make your polenta. Oil a 1kg/2lb 4oz bread loaf tin ready for the polenta. Pour the stock into a saucepan, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Pour in the polenta in a steady stream, and cook for 2–3 minutes, whisking continuously, until the polenta has thickened into a thick paste. Stir in the rosemary and season generously with salt and pepper. Spread the polenta paste over the oiled tin – it should be around 2cm/¾ inch deep. Leave to set for 30 minutes at room temperature. Refrigerate once cool if not using immediately.
  2. Make the stew. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over a low-medium heat in a wide, deep frying pan. Sauté the onions with a pinch of salt for around 5 minutes until starting to soften. Turn up the heat and add the peppers, cook stirring regularly for around another 5 minutes, until the skin blisters. Turn the heat back down, and add the garlic and spices, cook briefly, then tip in the can of chopped tomatoes, half fill the empty can with water (100ml/3½fl oz) and add that in too. Lastly, add the pomegranate molasses and toasted chopped walnuts. Bring to a simmer, and leave to lightly bubble away and thicken for 15–20 minutes. Add a splash of water if it gets too dry. Stir through the chopped herbs and season to taste with lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
  3. While the stew simmers, cook your polenta. Flip the set polenta out of the tin, slice into two squares, and then four triangles. Heat a griddle pan to medium-high and brush the triangles all over with olive oil. Cook the polenta wedges for 5–6 minutes each side, until browned on the outside and cooked through on the inside. Only turn once for perfect griddle lines.
  4. To serve, divide the stew between two wide pasta bowls.

Extract credit: It Starts with Veg by Ceri Jones (Pavilion Books)
Photography for this post, by Samantha Couzens Photography

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