Toast has always been a source of comfort for Dame Prue Leith. The colorful judge on The Great British Bake Off grew up eating myriad varieties in South Africa: corn on the cob, marmite, scrambled egg and bean toasts, among others. “They always seemed to be a bit of comforting, homey Sunday night, easy things to have,” Leith tells AARP.
Leith, 82, returned to toast again when she and her husband went into lockdown at the start of the pandemic. “I find it very difficult to cook for two people, because I always make enough for five. So I would have a lot of leftovers,” she says. And Leith says leftovers are best served on toast, where the dish can practically be reinvented and take on a new form. This rediscovery of toasts and her monthly column for The Oldie, a British senior-focused magazine, motivated Leith to collect the recipes for a new cookbook, Bliss on Toast: 75 Simple Recipes (November 2022).
Cook With Prue
Chef Prue Leith shared three recipes from Bliss on Toast for AARP members to try:
“I think I prefer this English version of pesto even to the classic Italian basil one.”
“I like to eat this while the kale is still hot, as I like the contrast with the cold creamy burrata.”
“This is the most divine, indulgent and irresistible dessert — don’t skimp on the cream or jam.”
“If it’s delicious, it will be even more so on toast,” says Leith. Take smoked salmon, for example: “It’s lovely with an avocado. You put it on toast, and it immediately becomes a bit more substantial.” Those seeking inspiration will find it in her book with recipes that blend brie and blackberries with chili sauce on rye, a spicy ezme salad with fried egg on country bread, and summer peas and beans with ricotta on sourdough. And it also includes heartier fare, such as the New York sourdough slice with grainy mustard, beef salami and hard-boiled eggs.
The 75 recipes Leith developed for the book are designed to be (mostly) simple. Ingredients can be swapped depending on what the reader has on hand and what they’re in the mood for, and store-bought ingredients are encouraged (though some ingredients, like hollandaise sauce, says Leith, are best made from scratch). “I hope — this book — nobody thinks they have to follow it slavishly. Because, obviously, it’s just ideas of what could go with what,” she says. “You can put almost anything together. And I hope it will just give people just some courage to think, you know, “If that’s nice with focaccia and grapes and fennel, it’ll probably be nice with figs and on a piece of sourdough with honey or something.” Those who desire to put the extra effort into making items from scratch can find inspiration in the “Keen Cooks” chapter, which includes recipes for sauerkraut, waffles, hummus and various sauces.
Now that life has mostly returned to normal, Leith isn’t as toast-bound as she was during the pandemic. On Sunday evenings, she’s usually working on The Great British Bake Off, but if she is home, she and her husband prefer to stay in. “There's a sort of Sunday night feeling which can only be rectified by being with people you love, eating foods you love. And absolutely comfort and no surprises. … And so, pretty well, John and I always have Sunday night, just the pair of us together.” She notes that their routine usually includes a “soggy” drama such as The Crown, a glass of wine and, of course, something on toast. “It’s lovely. It’s sort of a ritual,” Leith adds.
With another season of The Great British Bake Off currently airing, and her new cookbook release, the vibrant Leith shows no signs of slowing down. She’s already gearing up to test out a one-woman show in Los Angeles and New York and possibly going on tour. “It's just a standup, one woman chatting. And I’m just talking about my life, which is varied and quite funny. And it’s mostly disaster stories in the restaurant and catering world, and my ventures into the arts world and education,” explains Leith. “Mostly, it’s funny stories about feeding the royals, and disasters, and sort of winging it and getting through with bluff, which has been my life, really.”
So what keeps Leith going? “Oh goodness, I have no idea. I think I’m lucky, because I’ve got a lot of energy. And that just must be in my genes or something.” And perhaps all the toast.
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