September, 2009

Sep 09

Simple pleasures


Some of my favourite cooking moments involve using very few ingredients to create something delicious. A handful of this or a splash of that – pure flavours, dealt with simply and easily. Fuss free suppers are the way forward.

There are days when I do happily spend several hours preparing a meal – a labour of love – but often I’ll won’t have a lot of advance warning to whip something up when people arrive. This is a perfect meal for those times – an easy-as-pie dinner using just four ingredients.

Caramelised onion and anchovy tart


  • 1 packet ready rolled puff pastry
  • 100g Grana Padano cheese or parmesan, grated
  • 1 tin of anchovies or half a jar
  • 3 onions


Finely slice the onions and cook them in a pan with a splash of oil on a very, very low heat for around an hour until they are a deep golden colour.

Pre-heat your oven to 220°C.

Score a line around the edge of the pastry about one centimetre in. Spread the onions over the centre of the tart evenly, then scatter the cheese over and place the anchovies on top.

Put the tart into the pre-heated oven and cook for around 15-20 mins until puffed up and golden.

Serve with a green or tomato salad.

Sep 09

Autumnal eating


So it’s goodbye summer and hello autumn; and although it’s a tragedy waving goodbye to the two warm, long, hazy summer nights we had, I’m really looking forward to the next six months of eating.

Game is about to come into its prime and with it all the flavours that marry so well – autumnal fruits, pears, apples, chestnuts, quinces, parsnips, cabbages, cavolo nero and beetroots.

Dare I even mention Christmas yet? Although I’m already looking forward to that, quite possibly my favourite meal of the year.

Our menu at the restaurant changes now quite significantly with the change in the seasons. Partridge replace pork and earthy, deep soups take the place of light, fresh salads.

We put on things like cock-a-leekie, a perfect example of the warming, flavourful fare we should be devouring at this time of year.

It’s a time for crumble, for risotto flavoured with pumpkin and pancetta, for stews and braises. Having said that, the sun will probably come out again tomorrow… 

Sep 09

Mean beans


Beans and pulses and I have this strange relationship – I’ve never been able to eat them – not even the baked kind. It’s not about the taste, but completely about the texture; sometimes they can have that rather powdery mouth-feel that I find a bit, well, odd.

Sticking to my rule though I found that one good experience can switch it all around – a dish of channa masala, spicy curried chickpeas, was the problem solver.

Somehow the textures just worked and even though the first few mouthfuls of whole chickpea were a bit of a – erm – mouthful, after that I was a convert, taking in lentils, gigantes, kidney beans and everything in between. Although, embarrassingly, I’m not quite into baked beans yet.

This recipe comes from Arch One restaurant right next to London’s Waterloo station. They also do very, very good chips. It makes a great starter for a dinner party.

Mixed Seafood on borlotti beans with rocket and red onion salad

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • 50 grams of cooked borlotti beans
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 scallops
  • 2 cleaned baby squid
  • 3 tiger prawns
  • 25 grams butter
  • 1/4 sliced red onion
  • Small bunch rocket leaves

To garnish

  • lemon wedge
  • 4 cherry tomatoes


Melt the butter in a pan and add garlic, cook over a gentle heat for 1 minute.

Add prawns, squid and scallops. Turn seafood for approx 2 minutes until almost cooked and season

Add the beans and cook for a further minute.

Serve on a plate, topped with rocket leaves mixed with thinly sliced red onion.

Serve garnished with a lemon wedge and several halves of cherry tomatoes.

Sep 09

Roll out the ricotta for a light lentil salad


Ricotta is one of those ingredients that needs quite a lot done to it to make it exciting. I personally love the fact that it is rather the blank canvas and perfect for both sweet and savoury. In the restaurant where I work we do a fantastic lemon and ricotta cake, delicious, squishy and sharp.

It can be quite wet, so baking it adds an interesting extra layer of textures and flavours as in this recipe for a late summer salad, full of vibrant herbs to perk you up on a near-Autumnal evening.

The earthy lentils add a wonderful contrast of texture. I wrote a note in the margin of this recipe suggesting that a roasted red pepper cut into strips might make a lovely addition.

Lentil and baked ricotta salad

Ingredients (serves 2 as a light salad)

  • 75g lentils
  • 200g ricotta
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 1/2 a red onion
  • A handful basil
  • A handful mint
  • half a small packet of cress

For the dressing

  • 1tsp Dijon
  • 1 tbs chestnut honey
  • 2 tbs white wine vinegar
  • 4 tbs olive oil


Cook the lentil in stock or water for 12-15 minutes until cooked but still with bite. Set aside to cool.

Cut the ricotta into ½ cm slices and bake at 180 for 20 minutes until starting to brown.

Quarter the tomatoes, finely slice the red onion and chop the herbs. Mix these all together gently with the cress and season with salt and pepper. Add the cooled lentils and crumble in the cheese.

Whisk the ingredients for the dressing together and pour over the salad. Serve with crusty bread.

Sep 09

Wild harvest


It’s a joy heading out into the countryside with someone who is in the know. Foraging is as old as the hills and a great learning experience.

On a recent trip out to Gloucestershire a short walk led to a bumper harvest – wild plums, tiny, yellow, red and sweet as anything. Wild damsons with their soft, cloudy deep purple-blue hue and jet black elderberries, shining like tiny jewels. We staggered home laden down with nature’s bounty.

Apart from stewing some of the fruit and turning yet more into jams, the name of the game was hedgerow cocktails.

A simple syrup (1 part sugar to 2 parts water, warmed together till the sugar dissolves) was the base for our fruit mixes. These were made with a handful of fruit cooked out in the syrup, blitzed and sieved to produce a richly coloured cordial.

This was poured over ice with vodka and fizzy water to form a fruity, boozy barbecue treat.
So next time you’re heading out to the country, keep your eyes peeled or take someone in the know for an out of this world eating experience.

Sep 09

A Spanish sweet



Spain is not a country renowned for its desserts – the buck usually stops at crème catalane, the Spanish version of the French classic crème caramel. Spanish food is so astoundingly good this seems markedly odd, but I guess we’ll just have to accept it and satisfy ourselves more often with croquetas and jamon.Interestingly though, Spanish chefs in this country have turned to desserts to satisfy our English love of all things sweet. This recipe for turrón mousse comes from my great friend Jose Pizarro, head chef at Brindisa in London’s famous Borough Market. His book, Seasonal Spanish Food is due out soon and definitely one to look out for.

Turrón is widely available online or in Spanish shops. There are two basic types of turrón (almond candy): turrón de Jijona, or turrón blando, which is so soft it is almost like a paste and it sticks rather deliciously to the roof of one’s mouth; and turrón de Alicante or turrón duro, which is hard but brittle. For this recipe, make sure that you buy the best quality – suprema – soft version, which contains a minimum of 60 per cent almonds.

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • 24 golden raisins
  • 4 tablespoons PX sweet sherry
  • 2 whole free-range eggs, separated
  • 4 tablespoons double cream
  • 150g soft turrón blando


The day before you want to serve the mousse, put the raisins in a bowl with the PX sherry to marinate overnight. The next day, drain the fruit, reserving the sherry.

Use a food processor to cream together the egg yolks, double cream, sherry and turrón. Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, then fold into the turrón mixture.

Put 4 raisins each into the bottom of four wine glasses. Divide the mixture between the glasses and chill for a minimum of 6 hours.

Decorate each glass with two raisins and serve with caramelised almonds if you wish.

Seasonal Spanish Food by Jose Pizarro, published by Kyle Cathie, £19.99

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