Delia Smith's gift is for taking cookery to the masses. But is she doing enough for those who can't afford pecorino cheese or pancetta? Louise Levene has a plan

It has sold 1.6 million copies and counting. Delia Smith's latest publishing phenomenon goes from strength to strength. Her beaming face garnishes the cover of the Radio Times every week and her recipes have even found their way on to The Archers. Pancetta is pencilled in for inclusion in the new edition of Chambers' dictionary. Her mainstream appeal has put creme fraiche and parmesan on nearly every corner grocer's shelves and her evangelistic mixture of the eclectic and the mundane has transformed cooking in pine kitchens up and down the land.

She's no innovator - but then neither was Elizabeth David. What Delia has done since 1973 is to open up a range of possibilities to a middle class whose culinary horizons used to stretch little further than gammon and pineapple.

Her recipes also get more authentic (for which read expensive) with each reincarnation. The spaghetti carbonara of the Complete Cookery Course called for streaky bacon, parmesan and cream; the new Winter Collection demands pancetta, pecorino and creme fraiche. What's more, many ethnic dishes rely on cheap local ingredients - but, bought from Sainsbury's, a meal that sustains the poor of a developing country becomes a pricey dinner party dish.

And it takes forever. Delia may have it all chopped and ready in petri dishes but she might well confirm doubters' suspicions that cooking is a time-consuming and rather costly business. Tonight's programme features a starter of pancake cannelloni, for which you have to make pancakes, whip up a white sauce, grate three Italian cheeses and slice another and assemble them into gloppy tubes; the whole shebang costs at least pounds 11. No wonder Nigel Slater (spaghetti is nice with a packet of Boursin stirred in, etc) is doing such good business.

But Delia's fans don't care. The recipes work, they are invariably delicious, and her gift for taking you through basic cookery methods as if they were the secrets of the universe is little short of genius. You, yes you, can do this yourself at home. Such a useful woman with a universal appeal should surely have been made a dame by now. Fear not, Delia. I have a plan.

It's time for Delia's Budget Collection. Armed with a shopping list of her latest fad ingredients, hosts and hostesses head for Sainsbury's and confidently fill the trolley with coriander and sun-dried tomatoes. In front of them in the queue is the woman with a wagon full of frozen chips, fish fingers, Coca-Cola and Wotsits. This is the woman who needs the cookery lessons and Delia is the woman for the job; the only person who can command prime-time to show viewers how to poach an egg, and make it seem as if culinary pig-ignorance were the most natural thing in the world. If Delia were to return to her roots in adult education, she could maintain her superstar status while doing the nation a favour.

Families on benefit often have as little as pounds 5 a head to spend on food. Report after report warns of the healthcare time bomb being hatched unless children get the calories, roughage, iron and vitamin C they need to guard against cancer and heart disease. Four years ago the Government made a classically inept attempt to formulate a healthy diet for pounds 10 a week. It seemed that the answer to the hot potato of poor nutrition was in fact the hot potato. Very nice, but who wants to be told that by Virginia Bottomley? But Delia, Delia could remind the nation how to bake a potato, open it and put baked beans inside.

No one is suggesting that she deny her fans the spring and autumn collections, but surely she could throw her net still wider and show the world how to make idiot-proof, delicious food with basic cheap ingredients? There would be nothing offensive in hearing her explain how to buy fruit and vegetables in season or how to make a chicken stretch to three meals. A bit of a downer for Sainsbury's, of course, but presumably it could arrange some dodge whereby pasta quills and tinned tomatoes were among its January Savers the week Delia did pasta.

Delia's Budget Collection would not only educate a sector of the public that thinks affordable food comes in polystyrene containers, it would also give a well-earned rest to the wallets of the porcini-buying classes. Simple. Everybody wins and Delia gets the damehood.

Pancake cannelloni with spinach and four cheeses

1 quantity basic pancakes

SAUCE: FILLING:

1 pt milk (570ml) 450g raw spinach

50g butter 10g butter

30g plain flour 150g Ricotta cheese

1 bay leaf 150g Gorgonzola cheese

Good grating 60g Parmesan, grated

fresh nutmeg 1 bunch spring onions

60ml dble cream finely sliced incl. green parts

salt and fresh fresh nutmeg

black pepper TOPPING:

110g Mozzarella, grated

40g Parmesan, grated

Price at Sainsbury's

6 size one eggs 97p

1lb plain flour 24p

2pts milk 57p

1 pkt Sainsbury's butter 78p

double cream 142ml 49p

1lb spinach pounds 1.49

bunch spring onions 49p

1 pkt Ricotta cheese pounds 1.39

1 pkt Gorgonzola cheese pounds 1.25

one Mozzarella pounds 2.49

4oz Parmesan 58p

jar whole nutmegs pounds 1.14 Total pounds 11.08

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