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This Morning’s Clodagh McKenna Discusses New Cookbook In Minutes

Celebrated chef Clodagh McKenna talks to Mark Kebble about her new cookbook, enjoying Christmas dinner and why she can’t get enough of her local Newbury favourites

For anyone who has watched Berkshire local Clodagh McKenna on This Morning, you will be familiar with her enthusiastic personality. Rustling up dishes in no time at all in front of a million viewers on live TV, McKenna has been known to break out into song while dealing with the time constraints placed on her. So it comes as little surprise that when talking about deadlines and the fact she only started working on her new cookbook at the start 2021, she makes mince meat of any kind of pressure. “I had a lot of fun doing it,” she says with a smile.

In Minutes was partly inspired by her work on ITV’s flagship morning show, but also an ever-growing and inquisitive following on social media. “With This Morning, all the dishes have to be fast to make, with accessible ingredients and need to be do-able, as we have got such a wide audience,” she says in her familiar Irish twang. “Also, on Instagram, I have this feedback all the time from people about time. How long does that take to cook? Do you have alternatives that are faster to cook in the evening? I said to my publishers about doing a book that had recipes that can be cooked in 10 minutes, 20 minutes and 30 minutes. Those were the times I had in my head, but I thought that surely there’s been a book done like this already. I started researching and found that wasn’t the case, so I said to my publishers the book is called In Minutes and they got it immediately.”

Chicken Katsu Ramen
Enjoying her Chicken Katsu Ramen recipe

Fast forward ten months later and In Minutes has been published to great fanfare. For someone who isn’t a great cook, the book is wonderfully accessible, well designed and doesn’t skimp on the number of recipes you can rustle up at home. “We spent so much time researching different cuisines,” McKenna explains. “There’s quite a lot of Asian and Italian cooking in the book because they are really simple. I remember someone who I worked with on a previous book saying to me that I should look into Japanese tempuras because they are so fast. I thought are they really? What do you think?” Wouldn’t even attempt it, I say. “Exactly. Then I started researching it and testing out recipes, and then I thought why isn’t everyone doing Japanese tempuras? They are so delicious and you can cook them in 10 minutes.”

Classics, too, are reinvented in the book. “Spaghetti Bolognese is such a popular dish, but to do a really good one you have to cook it for a few hours, but I thought surely there must be a way to quicken that process up. I spent a whole day coming up with a speedy spiced spaghetti Bolognese, looking at how to make it more flavoursome faster. We came up with about six, then knocked that down to the one in the book which is gorgeous. It’s about adding in more spices like smoked paprika to get that flavour going faster, and dried oregano, chilli flakes and sundried tomatoes, which have a really intense flavour that you usually only get after a couple of hours. It was uncovering all these tricks that speed up the process of a lot of dishes that we love.”

Spaghetti
The quick-fire Spaghetti Bolognese

Discussing the number of recipes in the book, McKenna suggests that was all part of the fun in putting it together. “I have definitely been in a recipe developing bubble over the past year,” she laughs. “For This Morning I have to come up with five new recipes every week, and I do a lot of brand collaborations where they approach me and I come up with recipes for them. Now everybody comes to me for the same thing: it’s always fast, easy, family-orientated and accessible ingredients. This was the most exciting book I have ever done because I am so immersed in it right now, whereas two years ago [when she released her Suppers to celebrate the seasons cookbook] I didn’t have a TV show I was cooking on every week. When you are in that bubble and it’s your work, the recipes just keep flowing.”

Talking about home life in Newbury with husband Harry Herbert [they wed in the summer at Highclere Castle], it sounds like it’s always a busman’s holiday – “I cook every single night,” she says – helped in no part by her amazing kitchen garden. “It’s brilliant,” she enthuses. “I never gardened like this before, it all happened over lockdown. I started growing our own vegetables – yes, I was one of those people – and I absolutely love it. I spend Sundays gardening. To see something growing from seed and having that first harvest from it, and then coming up with something to cook with it, it’s just brilliant.”

“I love cooking so much, and every time I think we will go out, I think ‘oh that means I don’t get to experiment with this recipe or that recipe’,” she says about her local favourites. “But my favourite is The Wellington Arms, I love that place, it’s my number one spot. The food is fantastic. They are so lovely there and it’s a beautiful place. Another would be the Newbury Racecourse, we go there probably once a week. All the walks around here are amazing. Beacon Hill is my favourite place to trek up to the top, and have a picnic up there. The view is extraordinary.”

Unsurprisingly, given how this interview has gone, McKenna won’t feel the pressure when it comes to Christmas Day cooking. “We always have a big Christmas,” she says. “Our families will be around and I always cook. I get my turkey from Griffins butchers in Newbury, and then I get smoked salmon sent over from Ireland, oysters too, and all the rest I try to do as locally as possible. Because it’s my work, I don’t find it stressful.” Maybe there’s an idea there for her next cookbook…

In Minutes by Clodagh McKenna, published by Kyle Books, priced £20. Photography by Dora Kazmierak. See more recipe inspiration, as well as gift ideas for the home and kitchen, at clodaghmckenna.com

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