Julie Neville likes to cook…a lot. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are three courses in Chez Neville, so lockdown has been like a series of Master Chef on repeat.
Wife of Phil, England Women’s team head coach and former Man United player, Julie puts her cooking marathons down to the fact that she has two athletes to feed. Their 17-year-old son Harvey plays for Manchester United’s Under 18s, 21s and 23s.
So, as she’s barely away from her pristine white kitchen and she just loves to cook, Julie has launched a lockdown project, Home Cooking With Julie, a website, Instagram page and YouTube channel.
“It seemed like the timing was right,” she says. “Our family doesn’t want to spend an hour in a restaurant and maybe have to quarantine for 14 days afterwards, so it seemed safer cooking at home.
“It’s not something I’d aspired to do, but suddenly Covid came along and we were in lockdown. I cook and bake a lot, but normally Phil is away during the week apart from a Friday, Harvey would be eating breakfast and lunch with his teammates at the club and our daughter Isabella is normally at school every day.
“So I’d gone from that to suddenly having everyone at home having three meals a day seven days a week. And I cook big meals, every meal has three courses, so I had to start looking for new and inventive recipes because I’d gone through our usual favourites.”
Julie was inspired by a statistic that 95 per cent of people eat the same five meals every week. So she started researching and experimenting.
“We’d set up WhatsApp chat groups with the family and friends. My family were the Corona Killeleas, there was one with the Neville family and another with different groups of friends. We started putting up pics of everything I was cooking each day and all our friends would ask for the recipe. Then they wanted me to write up a menu of everything that I was doing every day so they could get the ingredients in. I’d be there every night working it all out.”
Many of Julie’s friends were surprised at how easy the recipes were once they tried them. So she decided to share the knowledge.
“Home cooking shouldn’t be time-consuming. All the recipes are family pleasers and I know what it’s like to please a family with very different tastes. Harvey is really picky, he doesn’t like vegetables or anything too spicy. Isabella loves trying new foods and Phil prefers a typical northern diet. They are all family-friendly meals and a lot cheaper than eating out or takeaways.”
Although Julie is the only vegetarian in the house she enjoys cooking meat and fish dishes for the family and is very aware of the need to provide nutritious meals for two training athletes.
Just before lockdown, she published her second book, Authentic Spanish Cooking. She’d previously written Superfoods, which also provided recipes.
“Before I moved to Spain in 2015, I thought I knew Spanish food because we’d visited lots of restaurants in the UK and holidayed in Spain. But when we got there we realised we knew only a British version of Spanish food and it bore no relation to the way they really eat.
“The types of foods the Spanish eat, the times they eat, their cooking methods and their use of herbs, spices, oils and locally- produced foods was so incredibly different to anything I had tasted or experienced before.
“My quest to learn as much as I could about their food and culture resulted in me working in a wide range of incredible restaurants, some Michelin Star with award-winning chefs and others only the locals would know where the grandmother was still cooking her famous recipes in what was her original house 60 years earlier. Some in the city, some by the beach and others hidden in the mountains.
“To be a chef in Spain is really a labour of love because they’re often doing 17 hour days in 42oC in the height of summer. I love cooking, but I like taking my time and cooking different things. In a restaurant you’re doing the same every day at incredible speed. I was so lucky to have the experience but there were some things that didn’t make the book. There’s authentic and there’s what will the Brits make of this. In one kitchen they handed me a pan full of pigs’ feet and they literally cooked them and served them on a plate looking like that.
Julie’s new speciality is Irish stew, now she has her mum’s approval.
“My mum is from Derry, she’s one of 10. She moved over when she married my dad but we spent a lot of time over there as children, eating Irish food.
“One filming day, I chose Irish heritage as the theme. I called my parents and asked them round for lunch. I was incredibly nervous. My mum used to go home from school and her mother had cooked meat, potatoes and veg, every day for 10 children. The pressure was on.
‘I said to my mum before the filming, ‘if you don’t like it, don’t say it. Tell me later’ ‘
“I said to her before the filming, ‘if you don’t like it, don’t say it. Tell me later’. She actually said to camera, ‘she warned me today not to say if I didn’t like it, but I absolutely loved it’. I now make up soda bread every time I go to see her. It’s so easy to make and a lot easier than bread.”
During filming, Julie works up to 14 hours a day, creating up to 23 meals.
“There are no re-takes when you’re cooking. It’s got to be right first time. It’s not live so you can edit certain bits. I’ve not had any major disasters. I have said things like ‘this goes into the pan skin side down’ and I’ve done it the opposite way and the camera man starts waving furiously. But as I film in my own kitchen Harvey or Phil will sometimes come in and shout ‘I’m starving what’s cooking?’
Julie is busy filming for Christmas and will be concentrating on alternatives to Xmas cakes, show-stopping table decorations, edible gifts and great Christmas treats to make with kids.
Check out Home Cooking With Julie: http://bit.ly/homecookingwithjulie
CRUSHED NEW POTATO FISH PIE
50g butter plus more for greasing
One large leek washed and sliced
50g plain flour
600ml of hot full fat milk
Zest of one lemon
400g salmon cut into cubes
400g cod cut into cubes
165g raw king prawns
Two tablespoons of fresh dill chopped finely
800g new potatoes
Handful of fresh parsley chopped
Grease a large baking dish of at least two litres in size.
Place the new potatoes in a large pan of salted water and bring to the boil and cook until soft – around 20 minutes.
Melt 50g butter in a pan and fry the leeks until softened. Add in the flour and cook for a minute or two before removing from the heat.
Gradually whisk in the hot milk then return to the heat and bring to the boil stirring until thick and smooth.
Stir in the lemon zest, season with salt and pepper and then add in the chopped dill.
Add the fish and prawns and stir through.
Cook for a few minutes before pouring into the large baking dish.
Drain the potatoes then add back into the pan. Using a potato masher gently press down on the potatoes to break them slightly but not mash them completely, creating rough edges.
Pour in two tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper then stir.
Place the potatoes on top of the fish mixture then drizzle with a little more olive oil.
Bake in the oven for 40 minutes until the potatoes are crispy and golden and the pie is bubbly.
Remove from the oven and scatter over the chopped parsley.
Serve with lemon wedges.