It's normally always there, lingering in the back of the cupboard, the lid slightly encrusted with a beige residue and the oil separated from the paste, sitting on top in a questionable pool. Then there is a fight to get the near solidified clay out of the bottom and not bend the spoon. And that's all before you discover you haven't got a tin of chickpeas anyway so have to go to the shop. Again.But fear not! This homemade tahini will save the day. And if there's ever a houmous crisis in the shops again, you can whip up your own in a jiffy. And then you can put it in a jar in the fridge and the whole family dip a carrot stick in it for lunch on Saturday then forget about it until you throw it away a week later as you wonder why you bother.Of course, this all depends on you having a bag of sesame seeds in the cupboard. I'd suggest that it is a staple worth having, and really, it's nicer making your own tahini anyway. It just (as with most things that are freshly made) tastes so much better. And you know it only has what you put in it in it.MethodTo make a jam jar sized amount of fresh tahini, sprinkle sesame seeds all over an oven tray, you can be very generous. Heat the oven to 180c and roast the seeds until they start to colour a little and toast. Stir them round occasionally so they don't burn.Leave to cool a little then put in the food processor and blitz until you have a crumbly mix. Slowly add in some neutral oil, such as groundnut or rapeseed and keep blending until you have a creamy paste. Transfer to a jar and keep in the fridge.Apart from houmous -- which I would recommend making using dried chickpeas for a better finished dish, but, if you only have tinned I'm not going to judge you -- tahini can be used in dressings, sauces with some yoghurt, drizzled over roast carrots or even put into ice cream. And what's more, there's a little more cupboard space and the satisfaction of the homemade.
It's December and time to see how many of our Christmas decorations have survived being shoved at the bottom of the hall cupboard for a year.How many bulbs have broken, where the reindeer's antlers have gone, have you seen the other half of the It's a Wonderful Life DVD and why is The Night Before Christmas missing its cover? are games we love to play every December. Often there is a sock I've been missing for 12 months wrapped around something and the door wreath always needs parts re-glueing.It will be a monumental task this year getting the place ready. The decorator is still there like a paint splattered Yuletide elf, the kitchen is scattered through various rooms and I'm still using the dishwasher as storage against the dust,Being able to open a cupboard and make a snack, or put the kettle on is something we take for granted. Even going for a pee is a treacherous obstacle course in the middle of the night, made only slightly easier now as for some reason the bathroom light is permanently on as half the wires and fittings dangle like a broken and fizzing dystopian New York Jazz bar sign.Until it is finished, simple snacks like this Parmesan crisp bring a smile to our faces on the bleakest of evenings as we perch on our bed with no home to go to even though we're in it.Seven minutes in a dust-covered oven is all this takes, although it may be quicker without the debris. You can add all kinds of seasonings if you're able to find any of your spices under the broken jars and cracked picture frames. Fennel seeds, cumin, rosemary and so on would all be a good addition. And if you can find a box to store them in, they will keep for two or three days.You can also do what I did with them the other night. Boil some spaghetti in heavily salted water until al dente, drain it, keeping a little of the starchy cooking water and crush in a couple of anchovies* -- perhaps it was four -- a good tablespoon of butter and a heavy hand with some chilli olive oil. An extra sprinkle of grated Parmesan and a little salt and pepper made an excellent meal that took no longer to cook than the time it takes to order a new, working set of Christmas lights on the internet.*salty black olives would work if you can't bear anchovies.IngredientsHalf a standard supermarket block of Parmesan or Grana PadanoA small handful of chopped, fresh parsley2tbsp of finely chopped peanuts (pulse in the processor if you like)1tbsp dried garlic flakes (or 1tsp chopped fresh garlic)1tbsp desiccated coconutSalt and black pepper to seasonMethodWipe off the dust from everything.Heat the oven to 180c and line a baking tray with parchment.Grate the cheese in an even layer all over the parchment and sprinkle the remaining ingredients over.Bake in the oven for 6-8 minutes, making sure the cheese is golden yellow and not burnt. Keep an eye on it, the edges brown quicker than the centre. Turn the tray around halfway through if you feel you need to.Leave to cool and harden before breaking up, which isn't hard to do, and serve as an apéro or store in an airtight box for up to two days.
I Tarocchi is a bar in the small Ligurian hilltop town of Apricale. It was the week before Valentine's Day, about a thousand years ago before we had children and Bee and I had gone to live in the cold Italian winter for a week's break.The old stone house we had rented was charming and a little damp downstairs, probably rather like the old man who sat dressed in black outside his front door up the street watching very little passing by. We relaxed on either a sofa made from rocks or a single balcony chair and wondered if there was anyone anywhere, or whether we'd come to the end of civilisation. It was very quiet. However, and unsurprisingly given the Italians' love of food, there were plenty of eating opportunities around even if it felt like even the ghosts had left town.As we ventured out for the first evening, fully dressed for an Arctic expedition for fear of catching a mal aria, a few locals were gainfully employed trying to string red paper hearts and bunting around the town square. Only one restaurant was closed, to open for the 'season' the week after we left, which of course made it seem from last year's weathered menu the best restaurant in Italy.We passed a small village shop, nothing special, but still full of food that would shame an expensive London deli. This was to serve us for basic needs. There was also a grocer round the corner which was more like a few shelves the farmer was in charge of making beautiful and here we bought our veg. But it was I Tarocchi which captured our valentine hearts.Glued to the hill's edge and illuminated by the peculiar Italian love for strip lights, it looked more like a bad youth club than a place to eat. Tinny music played from cheap speakers and no expense was spent on decoration. We sat outside like lunatics, just for the view and ordered a plate of antipasti. The food was brilliant. Here we discovered that a simple tomato pasta can be the greatest dish in the world, and I've based my recipe on theirs ever since. And there, antipasti reached great heights. It included melanzane sott'olio. This wasn't the first time for me, I'd had it before but sort of forgotten about it and it took a little while to remember what it was.Piled on top of the salumi, Parma ham, artichokes and Ligurian olives were strings of matchstick thin aubergine. Garlicky and herbal they tasted rich, decadent and luxurious. Simple, classic Italian and a superb way to use this king of vegetables. I made some immediately upon our return, eat them and promptly forgot about them again. It was only at Crystal Palace food market last weekend, where I saw the wonderful striped aubergines that they firmly bounced back into my mind. They're well worth making if you have a few aubergines lying around (don't we all), and well worth remembering too.Ingredients2 aubergines, sliced thinly and cut into long matchsticks2 cloves of garlic, peeled1tbsp dried oreganoA handful of fine sea saltOlive oil to cover2tbsp white wine vinegarMethodPlace the aubergine in a colander and toss through the salt, mixing well. Cover and leave for about 12 hours.Rinse the aubergines gently and squeeze dry, as dry as possible.Put in a sterilised jar with the garlic, oregano and vinegar then cover in olive oil. Leave for a few days in the fridge before eating and keep for up to a week, if it lasts that long.
We've recently started taco evenings with the children and they've been a roaring success. I suppose it's the spread of food in front of them and the feeling of building your own meal that appeals to them. We're sharing everything together and I think it means they feel quite grown up and part of the fun.Usually, I'll just make a chicken dish seasoned with cumin, oregano, chilli and other bits and pieces (we call it taco seasoning, it could be called adobo spices), but this time I got the heavy guns out and went a bit nuts. There was plenty left over which went in freezer bags for next time, so it wasn't as crazy as it looked when I lay it all down. I'd suggest picking one or two dishes depending on how many people you're feeding and depending on how long you want to spend in the kitchen. I was in a food frenzy, you may not want to be.Whatever you do, you must serve the tacos with guacamole, sour cream, chopped tomatoes and grated cheddar.The dishes we had are as follows (deep breath):Homemade corn tortillas, guacamole, pico de gallo, adobo sauce, chicken with taco seasoning, red onion pickle, sour cream, slow cooked shredded pork cheek with barbecue sauce, fried prawns with Old Bay seasoning, lime and coriander mayonnaise, shredded gem lettuce,spring onions, coriander leaves and lime wedges.All this for an early evening supper with the kids. Totally bonkers and never again on such a scale, unless someone pays me.The children loved making the tortillas though, and if you don't have a tortilla press (they're cheap and available on mexgrocer.co.uk along with almost everything you may need for mexican receipes) you may want to save yourself the bother and buy corn tortillas ready-made. Of course, they're not as good and often have wheat flour in but if it saves your nerves from becoming as shredded as the pork, then it's probably a good thing.The pickled red onion recipe is here, but for the rest (apart from guacamole, I'm not going to bother giving a recipe for that) hold your breath and keep reading.Corn Tortillas:One part masa harina (corn flour) to one part warm water and a pinch of salt.Simply mix the ingredients together until they form a dough much like 'playdoh', leave to rest and then form into small balls and press between sheets of plastic (I used a cut up ziplock sandwich bag) on the tortilla maker. Cook on a volcanic cast-iron griddle pan until both sides are tortilla-like then throw on a plate and continue until you have a pile of them. Cover and leave until you're ready to eat.Pico de Gallo:This is essentially a fiery tomato salsa, but here, I've left the cherry tomatoes quite large so it's a little like a salad. Just mix together a load of chopped cherry tomatoes, some finely sliced onions, a chopped serrano chilli, some fresh coriander, salt and a good squeeze of lime juice. Leave to rest for about twenty minutes before serving.Adobo Sauce:I soaked a large dried ancho and chipotle chilli in hot water for about half an hour then blended it with a thumb of ginger a tablespoon of ground cumin and a pinch of salt. That's it. It's pretty intense and sharp, but goes really well with the other dishes.Chicken with Taco Seasoning:Take one chicken breast and slice it thinly across. Toss it in a bowl with as much as you feel of paprika, pepper, onion powder, oregano, cumin, garlic powder, salt, chilli powder and ground coriander. Why don't you start with equal amounts of each, see what you like and adjust it from there. Then, as I have done, you can make a big jar of it and you've got tacos a-go-go hey presto!Sauté the chicken in a hot frying pan with some olive oil until cooked. Add a splash of water at the end to deglaze the pan and pour everything into a bowl.Shredded Pork in Barbecue Sauce:This is a slow-cooker winner. I now buy all my meat from the incredible Anne Petch at Heal Farm in Devon. It's close to the supermarket prices and miles above in quality and welfare. She sends it by courier the next day and I cannot recommend her highly enough. I discovered her in Jane Grigson's 'English Food' and was delighted to find she's online and thriving. I felt I knew the pigs I was eating, and being in London feel much more connected to the food as is possible in a city.Take one onion, two cloves of garlic and 500g of pork cheek (diced) and brown them in a pan with some olive oil. Season well and add to the slow cooker.Add one sliced green chilli and some dried thyme sprigs and turn the slow cooker onto high. If you don't have one, you could cook this in a casserole in a low oven for the same amount of time.Make the barbecue sauce by stirring together: 1tsp tomato purée, a pinch of coconut sugar (or brown if you don't have any), a good squeeze of lime juice, probably about a lime's worth, a large pinch (depending on the size of your fingers) of garlic powder, some chilli powder, Cayenne pepper, thyme leaves, dried oregano, ground cumin, finely diced onion, chipotle paste, a good splash of Worcestershire sauce, a spoonful of Dijon mustard and some tabasco sauce. As for exact amounts, just trust your nose and instincts. I make mine with varying pinch sizes every time and it's always delicious.Add the barbecue sauce to the pork cheeks, stir well and cook with the lid on on high for four hours. Cool a little and shred with a pork. Pour into a bowl to serve. This one's a winner the next day in a sandwich too.Fried Prawns with Old Bay Seasoning:Or shrimp, as the Americans would have it, is a version of the famous fish taco. You can buy Old Bay here and I'd recommend a box for the packaging alone. I made a quick batter with flour, sparkling water and a good few spoons of Old Bay then deep-fried them until crisp. Easy as that.Lime and Coriander Mayonnaise:Make some mayonnaise and stir in some lime juice, lime zest, pepper and chopped coriander. What else do you want to know?And that's pretty much all you need for a taco party. Just make sure you're wearing elasticated trousers and have no plans for the evening. Even if you're having these at lunchtime.
The eye-watering sharpness of a pickled onion from the fish and chip shop feels like they've been steeped in jet fuel or paint stripper. It appeals to me in the same way sour sweets or extra-hot chillies do, almost a test of endurance. But there is pleasure to be had in bitterness. The sharpness of pickles cuts through the richest meat and it's no wonder jalapenos in vinegar are a staple with nachos, or chutneys and sharp fruits go so well with roasts or cold leftovers.I often get these ideas in my head that it would be greatly frugal and Mrs Beeton-like if I made a ton of apple chutney or a vat of pickled courgettes and so on. But in truth, these jars sit at the back of the cupboard slowly softening and melting until I need the jar for something else.Knowing myself better, I find it much better to make small quantities of quick pickles for immediate use and occasional using up over the coming fortnight. Radish and mushroom for example to go with a quick poached salmon fillet for a light supper. Just a small bowlful, covered with vinegar and sugar and rested for about twenty minutes is perfect.Here, I've made half a jar of red onion slices in white wine vinegar. Perfect for our weekly tacos with the children as a final topping and also finding its way into the occasional sandwich.It's still important to sterilise the jar. But this is as easy as giving it a quick wash with hot soapy water and blasting it in the microwave for two minutes. Don't forget to remove the metal parts beforehand though.Ingredients2 red onions, peeled and finely slicedEnough white wine vinegar to cover2tbsp salt2tbsp coconut sugar or unrefined golden caster or brown sugarAbout ten peppercornsOne or two red chillies1tbsp allspice berriesA sprig of thymeA couple of fresh bay leavesMethodPut the onions in a sieve and pour over a kettle-full of boiling water to soften and blanch them.Dissolve the sugar and salt in the vinegar and add the remaining ingredients.Put the onions in a glass jar and pour over the vinegar mixture. Leave for at least half an hour before eating but it tastes even better the next day. This keeps well for about five days. And goes brilliantly with fish and seafood as well as tacos.
I had a couple of packets of baby turnips in the fridge. I always struggle with them, as in, what is their point? I've always thought of them as a bulbous, soft crunch of flavourlesness. A little like eating a toasted tennis ball.To give them a chance, I threw some of my favourite flavours at them, knowing that whatever I did would be an improvement. It's hard to improve upon slowly caramelised onions, and the thought of draping them over the turnips once they had been roasted in some chilli oil was enough to get the oven on first thing this morning.Three quarters of an hour later and I had a delicious mid-morning snack with enough chilli punch in it to finally get the day going after having survived my children's joint birthday party with no fatalities and I think all children safely returned. We may yet find one or two in the bushes.So turnips are safe, for now. This would make a splendid accompaniment to spatchcocked, grilled tandoori-spiced chicken or roast coriander and cumin slow-roast lamb shoulder. Now there's an idea for next weekend.Ingredients:A few packs of baby turnips2tbsp chilli oil1tbsp chilli flakes1/2 white onion1/2tsp ground coriander1/2tsp ground cumin1/2tsp ground turmeric1tsp ghee or vegetable oilSalt and pepper to seasonMethod:Heat the oven to 180c and roast the turnips, drizzled with the chilli oil for about 45 minutes.While they are cooking, finely slice the onion and slowly sauté in the ghee with the spices and a little seasoning. Cook slowly until they are golden and starting to ever so slightly caramelise.Spoon over the turnips, drizzle with a little more chilli oil and scatter with chilli flakes.Serve immediately, being careful to not burn your tongue on the onions like I did.
Sometimes it's the little things. The touches here and there that make a meal special. And they don't have to be tricky or crazy, sometimes simple is best.I love the accompaniments that you put together and throw in the oven, letting it do the work for you. That's why I love roasting vegetables to go with weekend lunches, although in this case, with a good loaf of sourdough bread, this could be the lunch itself.I've used cochina squash, but butternut would be fine. One is enough for four people, and as part of a larger meal is probably plenty for six. It goes so well with roast meat, and with a salad or two on the table as well, it's going to be a colourful meal.You can throw whatever spices and herbs you like at a squash and they'll generally work out. I often roast them with garam masala, or just some chilli and cumin, but here I've added juniper, thyme and smoky paprika for a change. And don't forget to roast the seeds as well for a little crunch. Serve with a slow cooked chicken and roast tomato dish if you fancy. Pile everything on the table and let the hordes dig in.Ingredients1 large squash, cut into six wedges, seeds kept for roasting1tbsp crushed juniper berries1 bulb of garlic, halvedA few thyme sprigs1tbsp smoked paprika1tbsp poppy seedsOlive oil and balsamic to drizzle overSalt and pepper to seasonMethodPut the squash wedges, skin and all (thank God, that saves a job) in a roasting tray and throw over the remaining ingredients. Roast at 180c for about 45 minutes to a n hour and serve in the dish at the table.