Simplicity is beauty. I've had more pleasure from a ripe and juicy nectarine than I have from a complicated fondant.According to William Morris, things should either be useful or beautiful, and if you mix that with the idea that less is more and apply it to food, you should be OK. It's something the Italians know well with their cooking; start with good ingredients and you're pretty much all the way there. And, the Spanish as well, which is where the idea for this dish came from.Today's recipe is elegant and parsimonious in its ingredients, it uses clams which are at their best at this time of year from the cold waters around the UK. It's much more than the sum of its parts. I've used Cornish ones but this dish would be equally delicious with what the Scottish call 'spoots'. I'd call it Occam's razor clams.Ingredients12 baby potatoes, halved1 small white onionA bunch of parsley200ml garlic oil (made by grating four cloves of garlic into 500ml olive oil and heating until golden. Leave to cool then strain and keep in the fridge for up to a week)1tbsp flourA bag of clamsSherry vinegar to tasteWater for the sauceSalt and pepper to seasonMethodSoak the clams in cold water for about 20 minutes in a few changes of water then give them all a good slosh about until all the grit and sand has been cleaned away.Make the green sauce by blitzing together the parsley, a good load of garlic oil and a generous splash of sherry vinegar. Season well, taste and perhaps season a little more, not forgetting that vinegar is a seasoning and brings out flavours too, so adjust as you like. You may want it sharper, saltier or sweeter with more oil.Cook the potatoes in salted, boiling water until tender. About ten minutes. Drain them and run them under cold water to stop them cooking any more.Heat the garlic oil in a large, heavy saucepan, something like a le Creuset casserole.Finely chop the onion and gently sauté in the oil, well seasoned with salt, until soft and just starting to think about turning golden.Add the potatoes and cook them for a few minutes until they start to catch here and there and colour a little.Stir in the flour and add a splash of sherry vinegar then stir in a good splash of water until you have a thick sauce the consistency of double cream.Add the clams and cook with the lid on for about five minutes, until they've all opened. Or at least until all the ones that are going to open, open. Throw the others away.Add the green sauce to the pan, stir well, warm through and serve with some more chopped parsley and a little bread to mop up the incredible juices.
Every time someone suggests fish pie to me, or says that's what we're having to eat, I die a little inside. And it's not that there's anything wrong with it, as such. In fact, it's a rather lovely dish. Comforting and rich, and a good way to get lots of fish into people who don't particularly like it.And yet yesterday I woke up with a burning desire, a craving for it. Perhaps Bee, who seems to have a liking of it that doesn't seem normal, has been whispering in my ear repeatedly as I sleep.It is really a very simple dish, and in its favour, you can make it ahead and heat it through for supper, as I did for the children. And, predictably, Noah liked it but tried to pick out the spinach and Maya said she hates prawns (the lunatic). Bee thought it was a bit too saucy and had too much spinach, whereas I, the least enthusiastic fish pie eater thought it delicious. But then I made it.You may squeal with delight at the thought of a fish pie and having made this, I feel a little less antipathy toward it. It's something comforting, tasty and healthy. Do as you will with it. More cod, fewer prawns, not so much spinach, extra scallops, a thicker sauce with a touch more cheese and flour. It's up to you, and that is the joy of cooking, we all like things certain ways and you can't please everyone.This recipe is a good one so I offer it to you to run with. You can even add hard boiled eggs to the mix if you like. And as far as the bonito and kombu go, that's up to you too, as is the golden, warming turmeric and citrussy coriander. But it's little things like that that can make a dish just a little above the ordinary. And actually, looking at the photo reminds me, there's a portion left in the fridge...Serves: 6Prep time: 30-40 minsCooking time: 45 minsIngredientsFor the top:4 medium potatoes such as Maris Piper, skin on, quartered100ml double cream50ml milk70g butterA grating of Parmesan for the topFor the filling:175g Queen scallops250g smoked haddock or cod, cut into chunks250g prawns100g spinachA small bunch of chives, finely slicedA grating of nutmeg1tsp ground turmeric2tsp ground corianderFor the sauce:30g butter30g flour300ml milk25g grated mild cheddarA sheet of kombu (seaweed)A pinch of bonito flakesMethodThe bonito and kombu are optional in this, it's just to give it that extra kick of the sea. But if you're going to use it, heat a little of the milk to just below the boil and pour over them both in a small bowl and leave to infuse while you make the mash.Cook the potatoes in salty, boiling water until soft, but not falling apart. Drain and leave to steam dry in the colander, otherwise, your mash will be to wet.Put the spinach in a heat-proof bowl and pour over some boiling water from the kettle. Stir a little then drain and rinse in cold water. Squeeze dry and chop well.Make the white sauce by melting the butter in a saucepan and mixing in the flour. Season well and gradually whisk in the milk, a little at a time, until you have a smooth white sauce. Add the bonito flakes and milk, leaving out the kombu and then stir in the cheese until melted.Put the fish and seafood in a bowl, add the chopped spinach, turmeric, coriander and the chives (keep back a little for the mash), season well and stir thoroughly. Pour in the white sauce and mix.Heat the butter, cream and milk in a small pan until the butter has melted then rice the potatoes into a bowl and discard the skins. Add the butter mixture, season well and mix until smooth. Stir in the chives.Put the fish mix in an oven dish and top with the potato and any remaining chives. Give a twist of pepper and sprinkle over the parmesan and cook in a 180c oven for about 45 minutes, until the top is golden and bubbling. Garlic green beans are delicious on the side.
Now the Christmas tree has been cut up and put in the bin by the dead of night and the year gently settles into itself, I find myself staring out timidly from the duvet, slightly scared of the outside world.The fondue set has also been put back into storage; it is a dish we only get round to on new year's eve. This time we had thin cubes of beef fillet tail and dipped them in hot melted butter, loaded with grated garlic or a punchy, herb-laced olive oil. A game of Jenga later and we were all tucked up in bed well before Big Ben bonged.It's now back to more normal meals, things we can leave to bubble in a pan for an hour or two, or cook gently in the oven on the weekends behind the scenes for use midweek while trying to find socks for school tomorrow.In that vein then, here is a comforting bean dish that is rich, easy and nourishing. There is no need to soak the beans overnight, cook them from dried for an hour and a half, they are more flavoursome and equally as tender. You could, if you prefer, use tinned, cooked haricots, making this even quicker and easier to bring together and perhaps something you would make on a cold January Wednesday.For this recipe, I used the stock I'd made from the chicken left over from Saturday's lunch of pot roast chicken which I'd cooked on leeks, garlic, lemon and onions. A good few handfuls of cubed leftover ham went in and then to serve it, I made a roux, loosened it with the juices from the chicken and blended in a little double cream. It was rather like a chicken, leek and ham pie without the pastry, and none the worse for that. In the past, with equal success, I've used on of those little gel stock pots. Whatever you've got.You can have this with a quickly seared and caramelised pork chop, on it's own pretending you're a cowboy, or like we did this week with some shredded savoy cabbage, buttery and sloshed with lemon juice and pepper. There was a howling wind that night, and this is real food for those dark winter evenings of which we still have quite a few ahead.Ingredients100g haricot beans500-600ml boiling water1 celery stick1 medium carrot1 small onion100g chorizo180ml chicken stock2 fresh bay leavesParsley to serveSalt and pepper to seasonMethodPut the beans straight into the saucepan of boiling water with a little salt and simmer gently for an hour and a half. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't boil dry. Most of the liquid will be absorbed by the end. You can leave them to cool and use later, or keep refrigerated for the next day.Cube the chorizo, quite small, and fry in a sauté pan on a fairly gentle heat until the rust orange oil comes out. Add the bay leaves.Finely dice the celery, carrot and onion and add to the pan. You could blitz them in the food processor if you prefer, but I like to chop by hand, to be a little more connected to the food. There are enough machines in our lives, if you've got time to go on Facebook, you've got time to chop an onion. And to be honest, I'll let the machines do the rubbish bits like washing up.Stir well and cook gently until softened. Season a little and cook gently for about ten minutes.Add the beans and stock, bring to the boil and then simmer for about five minutes before serving with a good amount of black pepper and chopped parsley.If there is any left, you could serve it for lunch the next day with a crisp fried egg, the yolk mixing in to be scooped up with a good slice of toasted and buttered bread.This weekWatched: 'Mindhunter', a '70s precursor to 'Criminal Minds, but without the gore. 'Little Women' completely charming and emotional. I felt like I'd watched the entire series of Dawson's Creek in three hours. In a good way. The Miniaturist, which was beautiful to look at; Les Oubliées, a ten year old French 'policière' on All Four, a little depressing, but we're waiting for the new series of 'The Bridge' to start so need something European.Read: 'Quand sort la recluse', 'Oor Wullie' and 'The Broons'. Quality.Listened: 'Kiss you all over' by Exile, '70s ridiculousness; France Gall, another French treasure buried; Creedence Clearwater Revival, perfect for a steamy winter kitchen.Eat: Plenty of risotto which then turned into mini arancini the next day. I also made a huge vat of chilli with thinly sliced brisket and some pork chops with a huge layer of fat on. We eat this with a pile of homemade corn tacos and all the trimmings. Another day there were meatballs in tomato sauce with strips of red pepper sautéed and charred with garlic, rosemary and spring onions and a pile of cubed and quickly sautéed courgettes with yet more garlic. Good, real food.
Potato has to be one of life's great comfort foods. And while I rail about the result versus the time and planning taken to bake a jacket potato to golden crunchy skin and a fluffy inside, there's no denying that slathered in butter, salt, pepper and melting Cheddar cheese, there's not much to rival it in the crawling under the duvet of food stakes.There are so many things you can do with the potato as we know, but here, because it's such a great absorber of flavour -think of the roast potatoes sucking up the juices from the meat at the end of Sunday lunch- I've used it in a curry. This goes a little beyond the quick spinach and potato saag aloo in that the spice mix is a lot more involved, it's a little saucier and the addition of tomatoes gives it a tangy and sweet richness.It's a dish I happily have on its own, but equally will go fantastically well as a side dish for a slow-roast spicy marinated lamb dish if you want a more exciting Sunday. It also makes a great dosa filling, and the chilli in this will certainly make for a more exciting breakfast. Perhaps a little too exciting, but it will certainly wake you up. And possibly ruin the day if you feed it to the children instead of egg on toast or porridge.Make the spice mix in advance and keep it in an airtight jar, then it's a matter of moments to put the dish together and leave it to simmer away for about 25 minutes to cook and thicken.IngredientsFor the spice mix:I used a combination of the following in fairly equal quantities, but you can adjust if you prefer it to have more or less heat, more aniseedy flavour and so on.SaltChilli powderGround turmericBlack mustard seedMango powderCardamonClovesFenugreek seedCuminCoriander seedFennel seedNigella seedCitric acidGarlic powderBlack pepperFor the curry:1kg Maris Piper potatoes, cut into smallish chunks150g cherry tomatoes4tbsp spice mixA few handfuls of spinachFresh coriander and sliced green chilli to serveMethodBlitz the ingredients for the spice mix into a powder. After you've blitzed it all, add some whole coriander, cumin, fennel and nigella seeds which give the finished dish an extra element of flavour.Put the potatoes, four tablespoons of spice mix and tomatoes in a large saucepan and just cover with water. Bring to the boil and cook until the potatoes are soft and the water has reduced by about half.Mash some of the potato into the liquid to thicken it and add the spinach.Stir well until the spinach has wilted, check the seasoning, add some coriander leaves and green chilli and serve. Easy.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. And while this is not pudding and I have nothing to prove, the only way you're going to understand how delicious this dish is, is by making and eating it. I urge you to do this as soon as you can.Read More
The slow change from vivid green to red, yellow, orange. And then how quickly the trees become bare and the glorious colours give way to brown and grey sludgy streets.In the seemingly few hours of daylight we have over the winter months we celebrate the warmth of the fireside. Scarves, gloves, hats and thick woolen jumpers wrapped around us keep us cosy when we venture outside, often leaving and returning home in the dark.I welcome the smells from the slow cooker more than any dog's wagging tail as a greeting. And here we are, only at the gentle tip of the cold months, yet it feels like it's the time for stews. Meat falling from bones into rich and thick broths, individual flavours combining like the instruments in an orchestra to create one symphony.A cast-iron pan with a lid in a very low oven does just as well as a slow cooker, and if you're happy leaving the oven on all day it's the perfect way to cook. However, you may not fancy chopping and browning chunks of meat while drinking your morning coffee and wondering why you have to ask the children twenty times to put a sock on. I have neither the time nor inclination, getting out of a warm bed is tragedy enough. In which case these are best done the night before, or on a weekend when you have a more leisurely start to the day.Of course white potatoes work just as well as the purple ones, which may be a little tricky to find; crushed Anyas would be a real treat. Whatever you use, nothing quite beats the deliciousness of all those juices soaked up by the buttery potatoes. This really is one of those meals that feels like you're back home in the warmth of the family.Tarragon adds a little last of the summer sparkle to the flavours, hinting with its warm aniseed at the comfort to come. If you don't have any, a good handful of chopped parsley running through would be just as nice.Ingredients500g ox cheek, cut into chunks1 onion, roughly choppedA thumb of ginger, chopped1tbsp oregano1tbsp flour1/2 a bulb of garlic1 red pepper, chopped2tbsp tomato purée500ml beef stockLarge pinch of dried mushroomsSalt and pepperPotatoes to serve, cooked and crushed with butter, spring onion and some shredded tarragon.MethodHeat a heavy sauté pan with some oil and sear the beef well until browned. Try not to smoke out the kitchen and set of the smoke alarms in a panicked succession as I did. And sear the meat in batches to avoid boiling rather than caramelising it.Add the flour and stir well, coating all the meat. This will help thicken the sauce. Add to the slow cooker or casserole. Deglaze the sauté pan with a little water or wine and add the juices along with the remaining ingredients.Cook on high for four hours or low for eight hours in the slow cooker, or eight hours in a very low oven. (140c. Gas mark 1) Serve with the potatoes and perhaps some broccoli or garlic green beans.
When I was at my parents’ last weekend for my dad’s birthday, I wanted to contribute something to the lunch, and brought in the figs I happened to have left over from the day before. I started first thing in the morning by caramelising some onions over a very low heat, until they turned a sweet golden brown. Nearer to lunchtime, a quick assembly of the onion, figs, goat’s cheese and tomato created a simple and pretty puff pastry tart. I didn’t, but you could add some crisped parma ham at the end to give it a little extra texture and saltiness.Serves: 6-8 as a starterPrep time: 25 minsCooking time: 1 hour for the onions, plus 25 mins for the restIngredients1 sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry4 white onions, thinly sliced, though red would work well too1 tsp sugar1 thyme sprig8 figs, quartered150g crumbly goat’s cheese8 cherry tomatoes1 tbsp poppy seeds1 tbsp sesame seeds1 tbsp honeyOlive oilLemon zest2 tsp balsamic vinegar, thickened slightly in a hot pan and left to coolA handful of lamb’s lettuce to garnishSalt and pepper to seasonMethod
- Heat a frying pan over a medium heat and add some olive oil, the onions, thyme and a little salt and sugar. Stir occasionally and cook until they start to become translucent. Turn the heat down and cover with a lid. Check occasionally, stirring to make sure they don’t stick or burn. Cook for 45-50 minutes or until they are golden brown, sweet and rich.
- Nearer to lunchtime, heat the oven to 180°C and roll the pastry onto a baking sheet. Prick the middle with a fork so it doesn’t rise too much, and score a 1cm border all the way around. Cook for 15-20 minutes then remove from the oven and spread the onions over it. Arrange the figs, goat’s cheese and tomatoes on top, sprinkle with the seeds, and drizzle with the oil, honey, balsamic and lemon zest.
- Season well and when cooled a little, top with the lamb’s lettuce.
How to food style it
- The pastry sheet really is a blank canvas, and with this tart the ingredients do all the work for you. Purple figs against pure whites, golden olive oil and green leaves are going to work, almost however you throw them down. Do try to build in balanced layers, making sure that every section of the tart has a good mix of the ingredients.
- Finally, drizzle with oil and seeds to unify the surface and scatter leaves gently across, taking care to not hide the rest of the ingredients.