It is a cold, grey day in late March, and Anna Jones is summoning spring into her east London kitchen. Her work surfaces are heaving with the outside brought in – a vase buxom with tulips, a jug full of delicate budding branches, and a ceramic bowl loaded with Italian courgettes. One at a time, she tops and tails the vegetables, then cuts the trimmed body of each one into chunky discs before adding them, in batches, to a frying pan in which a generous pool of olive oil glistens over a low flame.

Anna is making courgettes agrodolce with sticky onions from her new book, Easy Wins. And an easy win this is; “it’s just chopping, frying and some finishing off,” she says, as she transfers the last of the bronzed, slightly caramelised courgettes to a plate, wipes out the pan and sweats a sliced red onion in more oil. She adds red wine vinegar and sugar – the sweet and sour of the eponymous agrodolce – and some dried chilli flakes, then waits for the heat to do its work, intensifying the onions’ sweetness.

Easy Wins is Anna’s fifth cookbook in ten years. With such a substantial body of work under her belt – her recipes are always vegetarian, and always champion a seasonal, sustainable approach – I wonder if it was a challenge to come up with a premise for book five? The key, she says, was tuning into what she and her family most needed from their meals. “I wanted to write a book that reflected where I am in my life now,” she tells me. “And that means not spending hours cooking, but still making something with maximum flavour in 20 minutes.” Today’s courgettes are an example, the sort of thing that she and her husband John will have for a weeknight supper with some flatbreads or a salad, as is the lemon, green chilli and cheddar tart – “the simplest tart I’ve ever made, with ready-rolled puff pastry, almost like a pizza.”

Anna’s life has changed significantly since we last saw one another. Sixteen months ago, her longed-for second son, Esca, arrived and – as photographer Elena and I well know (we’ve also both had second children since we saw Anna) – it has made her a different kind of cook. Life is busy; mealtimes are arguably more important than ever, yet harder to plan or make time for. With this front of mind, she developed Easy Wins, a book that celebrates “little moment[s] of kitchen alchemy”, where simple ingredients “shown a little love and attention come together to make more than the sum of their parts”.

She identified twelve categories of ingredients, most of them accessible store cupboard staples which, as she puts it, “exceed expectations” – they include tinned tomatoes, peanut butter, capers, miso, chilli. Today’s courgette’s agrodolce falls in the vinegar chapter. I ask Anna if vinegar is her number one of all the twelve ingredients. She pauses. “If pushed, I’d say lemon was my number one,” she answers, “but broadly I think acid is the thing that’s always missing in home cooking. It’s the thing that transforms food the most – the last squeeze of lemon, a splash of vinegar over a dish at the end – it brings life, brightness.”

It’s true, and I always think of Anna Jones when I cut a lemon, or add fresh herbs or toasted nuts and seeds to finish a dish. She is a master of neat tricks to enliven a recipe. And arguably, she says, we need a bit more hand-holding when it comes to making meat-free food exciting – especially in Britain. Not that we are strangers to the pleasures of smoky aubergine or salt-baked celeriac in 2024, but more that, in her words, “we haven’t got the back-catalogue of knowledge around cooking vegetables that we do around meat and two veg. With a piece of meat or fish, there’ll usually be multiple textures,” – different parts of an animal responding differently to the method of cooking – “but braised leeks, say, or steamed broccoli can be a bit one-note – that single texture can need a bit of help.” Her antidote? “Layering”, a word, she says, which makes it sound more complicated than it is. “Vegetables, by their nature, have many of these elements in them already – a tomato has sweetness, sourness, saltiness, a lip puckering umami note, too” – so it’s just about using other things, like the twelve ingredients which Anna identified in her new book, to bring all those existing flavours out more.

Anna takes a similar approach to her home and her clothes as she does cooking these days. Casual and easygoing is the name of the game, and with a peaceful, muted colour scheme that features little pops of brightness such as the glowing tulips on the side and the neon washi tape which tacks postcards, family photos and her eldest son Dylan’s artwork to the fridge – not unlike those small but mighty bursts of flavour she crowns so many of her dishes with. “I’m in a sweatshirt phase in life,” she says, smiling, “worn with TOAST trousers and a pair of Birkenstocks – classic Clapton, but there we go!” Today she is wearing the cotton gathered patchwork skirt from this season’s collection, with its panels of bright blue hues. “I’m a sucker for anything patchwork, and it has deep pockets, an essential for every mum.” True to how she cooks, practicality is everything. She describes how her casual and formal clothes have merged in recent years, and how she has realised that everything in her wardrobe goes together – whatever is to hand can be thrown on and coordinated. “There’s a colour palette in my books which I seem to mirror in my wardrobe – and my children’s. Sometimes we go out and I realise we’re all in taupe, which is sort of excruciating,” she laughs.

Not today, though; baby Esca is wearing red striped dungarees and is chewing a hunk of bread as he shuffles around the floor and heaves himself up, on the brink of walking independently. Both of their boys are named in tribute to Anna and John’s love of the coast, and their Welsh roots – Dylan, son of the sea, and Esca, ‘a man who was moved by nature’ in a Welsh folk tale. Are they both, I wonder, vegetarian like their mum? She tells me that she’s never stopped Dylan from eating meat, but, having not been given it at home, he’s also chosen not to eat it elsewhere. “He feels proud to be vegetarian, I think,” she says, “It’s part of his identity.” He loves homemade pizza, she says, and has several recipes in the book – his lemony lollies and chocolate oat bars, Anna’s antidote, she tells me, both to after-school hunger and to spending money on shop-bought children’s snacks.

The kitchen is now filled with the moreish scent of sweet and sour. The fried courgettes have been returned to the pan, joining the sticky onions before being plated up. Anna takes a pot of thick ricotta – its blinding whiteness promising a rich and creamy counterpoint to the sweet acidity of the courgettes – and puts a dollop on the side of the plate. Sliced raw garlic clove, more chilli and some mint leaves crown the vegetables and the whole lot is drizzled with olive oil and pepper. It makes the perfect lunch. An easy win of a dish, which has easily won my heart and stomach.

Courgettes Agrodolce with Sticky Onions

Agrodolce means sweet and sour in Italian. In Italy there are so many ways of using this contrast of flavours to bring out the most in ingredients. Here I've used courgettes, but this technique would work for aubergine, thinly sliced butternut squash or fennel. The hit of vinegar which might feel angry on its own is offset with a little bit of sugar, which mellows the acidity and rounds off the flavour. I've written this recipe to serve 2 people but it can easily be doubled, though you will need to fry the courgettes in a few batches.

Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side.

Ingredients:

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus a little extra to serve

4 small or 2 regular courgettes (500g), cut into 1.5cm-thick rounds

1 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced

4 tablespoons red wine vinegar 1 tablespoon golden caster sugar

1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes,

plus extra to serve

1 clove of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

½ a bunch of mint (15g), leaves picked

250g ricotta

Method:

Heat a frying pan over a medium­ high heat and add 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Season 500g courgettes cut into 1.5cm-thick rounds with sea salt and fry them for 3-4 minutes on each side or until blistering and golden brown, then remove with a slotted spoon on to a plate.

Add 1 thinly sliced red onion to the same pan and lower the heat. Fry for 10 minutes until soft, then add 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon golden caster sugar and 1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes and return the courgette pieces to the pan. Cook for a few minutes, then taste and season and divide the courgettes and onion between two plates.

Sprinkle over 1 peeled and thinly sliced clove of garlic and a few more dried chilli flakes, tear over the leaves from half a bunch of mint and drizzle with a little olive oil.

Season 250g of ricotta with salt and pepper and spoon it next to the courgettes.

Anna wears the TOAST Textured Knitted Waistcoat, Cotton Gathered Patchwork Skirt and Alda Organic Cotton Easy Tee. The Rebecca Williams Berry Colander, Triangle Patchwork Check Cotton Quilt, Cove Stoneware Dinner Plate and Cove Stoneware Soup Bowl also feature.

Easy Wins by Anna Jones is available now.

Words by Mina Holland.

Photography by Elena Heatherwick.

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8 comments

I came across Anna only last week in Country Living and loved her recipes. I was delighted she gave alternative ingredients for vegans. This one I’ll try too. I’m definitely going to invest in her cook book. Thank you.

Maureen 1 month ago

I just made this day for lunch – as a side dish with chicken – heavenly flavours! I added some halloumi on top and it worked well. Delightful recipe, thank you!

Nina 1 month ago

Anna Jones’ recipes bring so much joy. There is something so special about joy in everyday life. Lovely and delicious food on a much loved plate is a very important part of that and all the better for being made simple. Great book! Great pics. Courgette a for supper tonight. ❤️

Karen 1 month ago

I just made this day for lunch – as a side dish with chicken – heavenly flavours! I added some halloumi on top and it worked well. Delightful recipe, thank you!

Nina 1 month ago

I came across Anna only last week in Country Living and loved her recipes. I was delighted she gave alternative ingredients for vegans. This one I’ll try too. I’m definitely going to invest in her cook book. Thank you.

Maureen 1 month ago

Anna Jones’ recipes bring so much joy. There is something so special about joy in everyday life. Lovely and delicious food on a much loved plate is a very important part of that and all the better for being made simple. Great book! Great pics. Courgette a for supper tonight. ❤️

Karen 1 month ago

Anna Jones’ recipes bring so much joy. There is something so special about joy in everyday life. Lovely and delicious food on a much loved plate is a very important part of that and all the better for being made simple. Great book! Great pics. Courgette a for supper tonight. ❤️

Karen 2 months ago

I came across Anna only last week in Country Living and loved her recipes. I was delighted she gave alternative ingredients for vegans. This one I’ll try too. I’m definitely going to invest in her cook book. Thank you.

Maureen 2 months ago