Paul Flynn: A comforting Sunday night family dinner for challenging times

A delicious three-course dinner featuring a smoked haddock, leek and potato bake

I've mentioned before that I have been getting Instagram lessons from my 14-year-old, but I still can't crack it. The visual nature of it is instant and compelling, of that there is no doubt. It allows people with no discernible talent to make a fortune from their own narcissism. Am I ranting ?

The magnificence of the food on Instagram draws you in. You hunger for what’s in those images. Every undulation of that buttercream icing drives me wild with lust (I’m looking at you Jess Murphy).

Sunday night is our favourite family night, when I have the time to be Insta-friendly. We always have a nice dinner, it's important, even in these challenging times. I take my time over the preparation. The lighting is just right, so too is the music, and I have some wine open. I cook and read the papers. Nobody bothers me until they are hungry.

I start off keen and meticulous, recording every step. I’m fine with short sharp recipes, I get it done, but not without the help of one or other of my daughters. The longer recipes are more difficult. I lose interest; maybe it’s the wine.


This asparagus recipe evaporated into the cloud some time ago. I put it on Instagram and wrote the recipe diligently and much to my delight Diana Henry told me it was lovely. That was a high. When I went to look for it of course the gremlins had run off with it.

I love asparagus and roasting it in this fashion concentrates the flavour. It’s all done on one tray, which of course is practical. I also adore leeks and I also have a big crush on smoked haddock. This is an easy and lovely bake for the family. Try to get undyed smoked haddock, but not to worry if you can’t.

The salad is an adaptation of a dish we once ate in the wonderful Carmel Somers’s Good Things Café. The Parma ham over the top gives it some sweet and salty satisfaction. Make sure you buy good firm courgettes, it’s pointless otherwise.


Serves two

1 bunch of asparagus, woody stalk trimmed 
1 large bulb of fennel, trimmed and thinly sliced. 
1 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced. 
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced. 
1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped 
100ml olive oil 
Half a bag of washed baby spinach 
Juice of one lemon 
Salt and pepper 
2 Toonsbridge mozzarella balls

Pre-heat an oven to 200 degrees, or equivalent. 
2 Place the asparagus, fennel, onion, garlic and chilli onto a roasting tray. Drizzle the olive oil on top and coat everything evenly. 
3 Put the tray in the oven for 12-15 minutes depending on the size of your asparagus and turn once or twice during cooking. Everything should be slightly charred. 
4 Remove the tray from the oven. Immediately add the spinach, lemon juice, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. 
5 Serve on warm plates with the mozzarella torn on top.


Serves four

50g melted butter 
16 baby potatoes, cooked and halved 
1 leek, washed and very finely shredded 
2 tbsp raisins 
4 x 120g smoked haddock fillets 
250ml cream 
100ml milk 
1 tsp English mustard 
1 tsp curry powder 
Salt and pepper

Preheat an oven to 180 degrees, or equivalent. 
2 Brush a shallow casserole dish with the melted butter. Place the potatoes on the bottom and then cover with the leeks and raisins.
3 Whisk the cream, milk, mustard and curry powder together. 
4 Place the fish on top of the leeks and pour the cream mixture over the top. 
5 Season with salt and pepper. Cover tightly with tin foil and cook for 30 minutes.


Serves four

3 large courgettes 
50ml olive oil 
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly 
1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped 
Salt and black pepper 
Juice of half a lemon 
1 bag (70g) rocket salad, washed and dried 
8 slices Parma ham 
A lot of Parmesan shavings

Preheat an oven to 200 degrees, or equivalent. 
2 Cut the courgettes into 3cm chunks and place them on a roasting tray. Turn them in the olive oil then add the chilli, garlic, salt and pepper. 
3 Roast the courgettes in the oven for 10-15 minutes until they are soft and yielding. 
4 Divide onto four plates. 
5 Squeeze the lemon juice onto the roasting tray and mix with the remaining juices. Use this to dress the rocket. 
6 Place the dressed rocket on top of the courgettes and drape the Parma ham over the rocket. 
7 Scatter the Parmesan shavings generously over the dish.