You can give up meat without really noticing.

IF YOU have been on a diet, even for a day, you know how hard it is to remain motivated when choice is restricted and the possibilities are limited. So pity all those who have embraced a vegetarian regime without having first built up any real cooking skills, relegating them to a dull and repetitive diet heavy on pulses, potatoes and packaged and processed foods.

To prove it need not be so, I am running five vegetarian recipes this week to coincide with national vegetarian week. My advice to any would-be vegetarian is simply to get cooking. Think about what you love eating, then buy yourself an inspiring cookbook, learn the techniques, stock up on ingredients and suddenly the possibilities will become endless. And remember, the best cookbooks for vegetarians are not necessarily vegetarian cookbooks.

If you like roast zucchini bruschetta, lentils with ricotta, pumpkin crostini soup, slow-cooked fennel and rich, citrussy ice-creams, for instance, then look at the River Café Cookbook Easy, the fourth and most accessible book in the series from Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers (Ebury Press).

Just skip the meaty bits and absorb the lessons of simplicity, respect, confidence and joy that come from the rest of the food. This pasta recipe from the book is built on a base stock of dried porcini mushrooms, an idea that you could use again for vegetarian risotto, soup, stew and curry, and whenever you need to adapt recipes that use chicken and fish stock. See? One recipe can mean endless possibilities.


Prep: 20 min
Cook: 30 min
Serves 4

35g dried porcini (wild mushrooms)
1 lemon
100g unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
8 sage leaves, chopped
1 dried chilli, crumbled
4tbsp double cream
320g egg tagliatelle
50g parmesan, grated

From the River Café Cookbook Easy


Soak the porcini in 200ml of hot water for 20 minutes. Finely grate the peel from half the lemon. Squeeze all the juice. Drain the porcini, reserving the water. Rinse the porcini and chop. Strain the liquid through muslin. Melt the butter in a thick-bottomed pan and add the garlic, sage and chilli. Then add the porcini. Fry until soft, then add 4tbsp of the mushroom liquid and simmer until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add the cream, lemon rind and juice. Reduce until the sauce is creamy and thick. Season. Boil the tagliatelle in salted water until al dente, then drain. Add to the sauce, and turn it to coat each ribbon. Add extra mushroom water if you like. Serve with grated parmesan.