The wateriness of courgettes puts many people off. But that's only if you cook them like a 1950s battle-axe of a boarding-house landlady. The key is to give them no more than a flash in the pan. A mere glimpse of searing heat, just enough to turn the slivers of garlic golden and crisp, and the courgettes, be they cubes or baby ones, will have bite and a juicy crunch to them.For years we have usually done these with grated garlic, melted gently into the hot oil, almost like a confit, but the other day I left the heat on a little too high and saved the slivers just in time. Now, we do both, having in modern parlance 'garlic two ways' and it has lifted this from delicious to sublime. A few chilli flakes and some lemon zest lift this a little higher still, and looks as if you've made a little bit of an effort. Even though, as is often the case, simple, fresh ingredients treated well are all you need.Be generous with the garlic, olive oil and seasoning here, courgettes do need a little help.IngredientsBaby courgettes, sliced lenegthwise. About 12-14 is enough for two peopleA good helping of good quality extra virgin olive oil2 fat cloves of garlic, one sliced very finely and one grated on a microplaneA generous pinch of Maldon saltSome chilli flakesZest of half a lemonMethodHeat a sauté pan with the olive oil and add the slivers of garlic, cook on medium until turning golden then add the courgettes and the rest of the garlic. Season well and toss them around a bit on high heat until the green of the skin sets its colour vividly. Dress with the zest and chilli flakes to taste and check and adjust the seasoning. Serve straight away as an excellent side dish.
I've been away. A week in Devon for half term, fires every night and a week in Mansfield for work and I can't remember a decent thing we've eaten the past fortnight.The fish and chips on the beach at Torcross bay was pretty good, as far as that kind of thing goes. The baguettes at the Pilchard inn for a fiver were awful, as you'd expect at that price in a touristy part of the country. Even the children turned their tiny button noses up at them. One night I seem to remember us having crisps for dinner.Oh hold on; we did have a nice afternoon tea at the Thurlestone Hotel. No cucumber sandwiches though, which is criminal. Nor egg mayonnaise, compounding the problem. And to be honest, the cakes weren't that great either. Still, we enjoyed it, mostly, until Maya started getting bored and arsey about where she was sitting.This Sunday afternoon after a walk round the lake and the park we eat chocolate buttons and watched Wacky Races under the throw on the sofa. That was good food. And it reminded me of the Sundays of my childhood where I used to watch Knightrider eating crumpets. Now the children have Netflix and the watch five series worth of the same bloody programme in a row. I miss normal telly.Good food can be the most simple of things. And sometimes the most simple of things can be done so badly. Still, we are home now, so we can eat food made with a little love and respect.To that end, I've roasted the extra garlic bulbs I had in the fridge, just to squeeze on fresh toasted bread. Peckish, but not lunch hungry, a good scoop of soft, sweet, golden garlic spread over lightly toasted sourdough and served with a little dressed greenery on the side is enough to take care of you when you need something light. And it's so tasty, you wonder why you need anything else. And how hard is it, actually, to just serve something decent in a pub?And after the hotel food, the bad pubs, the sameness of town centre restaurants on holiday with their trope burgers and trope croquettes it's a reminder of how much better real food is. And how well you can eat at home.This week, perhaps we will have butter chicken one night, with daal and the naans from the bakery in Tooting. Another night may be a quick pile of prawn and spring onion pancakes with chilli and basil dipping sauce. There could be room for some lamb chops one evening, marinaded in turmeric and dried mint and served with a roast tomato, red onion and prune salsa. And perhaps tortellini in brodo, except instead of arsing around stuffing tortellini, I may make gnudi out of the filling and serve cut up sheets of fresh pasta in the broth instead. It all ends up the same doesn't it?Ingredients6 -8 large garlic bulbsOlive oil (I used coriander infused oil for this)Salt and pepper to seasonMethodHeat the oven to 170c.Slice the tops off the garlic and lay the bulbs on a large sheet of foil.Drizzle with olive oil and season well.Wrap in the foil and roast in the oven for about an hour, or until soft and squeezable.Serve warm.They can, apart from being spread on bread be used in pasta sauces, salad dressings, anything where you want a soft and sweet garlic note. Just not as toothpaste.This weekBoughtNaan bread from Iraqi bakery in Tooting. More than 2,000 per day they make. Sometimes I feel I could happily just only eat great bread for the rest of my life. Sandwiches, Naan, even pizza counts at a push...DrankHot ginger, chilli, lime and mint. A real zingy cup of tea. Perfect for winter and approaching colds.Listened toThe Archers. Traumatic and devastating.WatchedShetland, gave up on The Bureau. Dougie Henshall and the dramatic Scottish emptiness is pure telly joy. Even if there are no trees on Shetland and it's obviously SO FAKE according to Sheena's dad, who's from there.ReadOrphan X sequel, 'The Nowhere Man'. Highly enjoyable and thrilling, but not a patch on the first book. Too much of a single set piece stretched over a novel. It reads rather like a terrible film starring Tom Cruise that didn't really work.MadeChicken with pistachio and yoghurt by Meera Sodha. Tasty stuff and plenty left over for a quick Monday night supper. I also resuscitated my starter after putting it into a coma for a couple of weeks. They're pretty hardy things.
I was in a hotel in Paris for some of last week, eating unusually. The family had gathered in the 15ème from around Europe and America for Aunty Suzy's funeral, she was 100. An achievement, especially as she smoked comme une cheminée until she was at least 80.She was buried among illustrious company in the Montparnasse cemetery. Grumpy, ugly singers, Irish playwrights probably still waiting, existentialist philosophers, artists and grands fromages from history share the cold ground. I may not be able to see her anymore, but there is a place I can go to visit. Her apartment block will always be there, but new people will occupy it, more lives being lived. I'll not see those rooms again. God knows they're in for a surprise when they see the decoration that hasn't changed since she moved in.The local boulangerie furnished me with two ficelles a day, the tiny Carrefour express two minutes away kept me in supplied with ham, paté and cheese and I went to the Monoprix around the corner just to look at the food on display like a drooling window shopper. Being at the mercy of restaurants for each meal is not for me, merci. So a bag on the hotel balcony in the chilly November air served as an impromptu fridge to store my supplies.This kept me from being grumpy, like a local, and when you're dealing with 20 family members and trying to organise group meals, you need to fortify yourself. It's like herding cats, so pre-emptive snacks are a must.We went out for cous cous, it's a family tradition. Merguez and I have a long and happy history, but don't get to be together much anymore. It's a long-distance relationship, but we're always pleased to see each other. Much of my family grew up in Tripoli where the Ghirlando Brothers shipping company was based so this food is a reminder of their childhood and all of them together is like the good old days.I raided the patisserie on the Rue de Lourmel – canelé and pear tarts every day. The occasional palmier, petite beurre and chocolate barquette may have fallen into my bag. And creme brulée and tart tatin were shoveled down my trou gateau at the nearest opportunity. I clearly can't be trusted in Paris where even the smell of the Metro is like a meal to me. I also had steak tartare with salad and proper french frites. It's what she would have wanted.This clearly and sadly can't go on. But that doesn't mean I have to return to a life of pottage. How gruel that would be. So with the simplest of ingredients I made a feast to liven up a cold London lunchtime. Cherry tomatoes, slowly cooked in garlic, herbs and oil until bursting have at least doubled in flavour. And the aubergine, first charred and burnt on the gas flame was roasted until soft then blitzed with garlic, onion and thyme compote that I'd slowly and softly melted down under a paper cartouche, the flame beneath barely stronger than a match.I made some pitta breads, soft and a little blackened in parts from the griddle, to mop up all the juices and we sat, contently and quietly eating. To cut through the richness there was a salad of thinly sliced red onion, sliced baby cucumber, crumbled feta cheese from the new Turkish shop round the corner and a sprinkle of dried Sicilian oregano. It was finished off with a simple dressing of olive oil, cider vinegar (I had no red wine vinegar) and some black pepper.All of this can be made in advance, perhaps the night before while making supper. The tomatoes can stay out on the kitchen worktop, but take the aubergine purée out of the fridge an hour before eating. If it's too cold its flavour will be as non-existent as Jean-Paul Sartre's afterlife.IngredientsHere is the pitta bread recipeFor the confit tomatoA punnet of cherry tomatoesGood olive oil to cover1tbsp fennel seeds1tbsp coriander seeds1tsp peppercorns4-6 cloves of garlicA pinch of saltFor the aubergine dip1 very large aubergine2 cloves of garlicSome olive oilSalt and pepper to seasonFor the onion compote1 large white onion1 sprig of thyme1 clove of garlic, slicedSalt and pepperFor the salad1/2 Feta cheese, crumbled1 small red onion, thinly sliced2 baby cucumbers, thinly sliced1tbsp dried oreganoOlive oilCider vinegarSalt and pepper to seasonMethodBurn the aubergine all over on a gas flame or with a blowtorch. You can also do this under a grill if you have access to neither. Roast in a hot oven until soft then leave to cool a little.Blend the aubergine with its skin in a food processor, adding the garlic and enough olive oil to form a fairly loose purée. Add a few tablespoons of the onion compote if you are making that and blend well. Season to taste.Add all the confit tomato ingredients to a heavy-based saucepan, making sure the olive oil covers the tomatoes and bring to a gentle heat. Cook low and slowly until the tomatoes are soft but still hold their shape. Leave to cool in the oil. You can even put these in a sterilised jar to store for up to three days in the fridge if you like.The onion compote takes the longest so if you haven't made this yet, I'd start an hour ago.Finely slice the onion and add to a heavy sauté pan. Add a good glug of olive oil, a few thyme sprigs, the garlic and salt and pepper. Bring to a medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn the heat down as low as you can and cover the onions with a circle of parchment paper. Put a lid on the top too if you have one. Cook slowly for about an hour until the onions are meltingly soft. Stir occasionally during cooking and don't let them brown.Toss the salad ingredients together about 20 minutes before you want to eat it to allow the flavours to mellow. All these dishes taste best if you leave them a little while to mature.Serve everything with fresh, warm pitta bread.This weekRead: Can you believe it? I finished Middlemarch. I'd like to thank Bee for the recommendation and can now put that book firmly back on the shelf. It feels like a blessed relief to be reading 'Quand sort la recluse' a 'Policier' by Fred Vargas. Trashy, murdery fun.Watched: Very little. Blue planet and Howard's End. And a little bit of a French shopping channel on Saturday Morning.Listened: I went deep into the Les Misérables soundtrack on youtube the other day. And The Stamboul Train by Graham Greene on the BBC iPlayerEat: Before I went away I cooked some red split lentils until very soft with turmeric and cumin. On top of that there were some quickly sautéed courgette cubes with garlic and seared lamb neck fillets, pink in the middle, a little dense and chewy for some, but I enjoyed them.
Just as we've recovered from our trip to Legoland, it's time for the school summer fair. I found myself flipping burgers and sausages for four hours with Mike on a hot Saturday after volunteering to help. I'm sure there must have been some form of mind control involved, or perhaps he asked me when Maya was pulling my nose and Noah was falling off his scooter at speed. However it happened, he must have caught me at a weak moment.But now the meat sweats have calmed down, and I no longer smell like a forest fire and can face eating again it's been little but salads this week, or ham and egg on toast. Simple and quick things that don't require much thought or time.So in light of not a great deal going on in the kitchen for the past few days, here is a selection of things I find essential and interestingly useful from my bulging shelves.La isla bonito:dried and fermented smoked tuna is a surprisingly delicious addition to many seafood dishes and stocks. I particularly like to add it to the pasta when I'm making spaghetti alle vongole. And I occasionally just like smelling the jar for that strange almost fish food smell.We bought a yuzu:I'll often use this in dressings instead of lemon juice to give a slightly different citrus tang or in sorbets and lemon tarts.Yeast today, once more:Usually I make the weekly bread using my sourdough starter, but when I want a quicker loaf, pitta breads, ciabbattas or the like, I'll use this fresh yeast from Sweden (via Ocado or the internet). It's tangy, I much prefer fresh than the dried powdery stuff and I like the packaging.Tarragon with the wind:Not many days pass in this house without a salad and our house vinaigrette. Cider vinegar that has had a small bunch of tarragon steeping in it is key to this. Aniseed and apple flavours make this vinaigrette stand out.Fungi to be around:Dried porcini mushrooms, ground to a powder (or for that matter, dried mushrooms of most kinds) make an excellent seasoning for steak, or beef. I also add it to my mushroom pasta and many other dishes where I want that deep umami hit.Oil be seeing you, in all the old familiar places:I have a standard olive oil to cook with and I have a few special ones to dress with. Food that is, I don't need oil on hand when putting clothes on. Just spending a little more on a really good quality olive oil makes such a difference to finishing dishes or for making dressings or just to dip good bread in.Sitting on the dock of the Old Bay:First of all, I love the packaging. Second, no fish taco in this house is complete without Old Bay seasoning. Easy.Pepper the conversation:Japanese pepper is slightly fruity and lemony, so is great on seafood or with meringues and strawberries. I use it a lot when I want an extra kick without too much pepper flavourAil be seeing you, in all those old familiar faces:A house without garlic is a sad house.Cutting the mustard:Maille is my preferred brand of Dijon mustard. I use it in vinagrettes and it's a must(ard) with roast chicken.Chilli in here:I like chilli heat, we have a variety of hot chilli sauces on the shelves too. And one of my favourite uses for them is hot green chilli sliced onto scrambled eggs. Hot green chillies probably would improve most dishes in my opinion.Herb Salt:A mix of rosemary, thyme, sage and parsley, this salt will turn your morning fried eggs into delicious morning fried eggs. And there are plenty more uses for it than that too. Seasoning chicken skin before the bird goes in the oven, sprinkling over flaky white fish or seasoning, even curing salmon, this salt is just a little bit more than the usual. All you need is a spice grinder and it keeps for a long, long while.
I found a lobster in the freezer yesterday. Cooked and frozen solid. I'd forgotten about it, languishing there like an extra in Quincy. I gave it a hot bath, and a little shine up before taking it apart, post-mortem.Not having been able to establish a cause of death, and I know it was dead when it went in under some Vienetta, I'll have to leave an open verdict. Frozen lobster is obviously not a patch on fresh. And I'd far rather some plump tiger prawns anyway, unless I'm sitting on the shore watching the fishermen haul them up from their lobster pots and bring them clattering to the shore while singing sea shanties and talking of the sea as a 'capricious mistress'. Seeing as we live in London, this is not a fantasy I can often indulge in and I'm certainly not going to turn down this treasure from the deep-freeze.One of my favourite things to do with shellfish is keep their shells and bits for bisque. You can freeze them after cooking to do this at a later date, although in this case, I just used the one shell and made the soup straight away. I love the grittiness, the deep spiciness of the soup and it also makes a great sauce for pasta. The recipe is here.I would recommend using fresh lobster where possible, this simple dish really sings and zings so the better quality you can get, the better the end result. To state the obvious.The sweet lobster tail, the delicate claws. The quick pickled apple salad, sharp and crunchy with the aniseed hit of fennel. The warmth and freshness of ginger and the cooling cucumber, mixing among the crisp potato (let's call them chips, for that's what they are) and the punchy garlic aioli dressing that will breathe fear into your neighbours. This is a lunch worthy of any table from the city to the huts in Cadgwith or white sandy beaches in Sri Lanka. And all from the freezer and the fruit bowl.Ingredients for two1 medium lobster per person1 Maris piper potato, finely sliced into matchsticks1 apple, cubed1 small fennel bulb, sliced1/2 a cucumber, deseeded and cubed1 thumb of ginger, peeled and finely chopped50ml cider vinegar1tbsp caster sugar1 large garlic clove, crushed2 egg yolks150ml olive oil1tbsp Dijon mustardA little squeeze of lemon juice or sherry vinegar1tbsp chopped chives2tsp fresh thyme leavesSaltRapeseed oil for fryingMethodMake the aioli by whisking the ingredients (apart from the oil) together and slowly drizzling in the oil as you whisk, until it makes an emulsion. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Cover and set aside.Do what you need to do to the lobster. Cook it and cool it in iced water (probably about 12 minutes cooking depending on size) or defrost it. Carefully remove the tail and claw meat and keep the shell if you're making bisque.Mix the apple, fennel, cucumber and ginger with the vinegar and sugar and let sit for 15 minutes.Meanwhile, heat about four centimetres of oil in a heavy-based saucepan andfry the potato until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper and season well.Serve the salad topped with the lobster and chips, a good dollop of the aioli and a sprinkle of cress and fennel fronds.
If you fancy something to dip your chips in, an alternative to mayo in your chicken sandwich or something to fire up your fish, this is a perfect quick sauce to scare the people near your face. Unless they're eating it too.Obviously the amount of garlic you put in is up to you, I like mine to be fiery and to give you the feeling your blood is thinning as you go near it. This keeps in the fridge for two to three days if well covered. I've been known to have a surreptitious spoonful when no-one's looking. You'll get found out though.Ingredients2 egg yolks1 large clove of garlic, finely minced.1tbsp Dijon mustard1tbsp chopped chives1tsp chopped fresh thyme150ml olive oilLemon juice or sherry vinegar to tasteA pinch of saltMethodWhisk together the egg yolks, mustard and a pinch of salt. Slowly whisk in the oil, at first drop by drop (you can speed up when it starts to emulsify) until you have a thick emulsion. Add the garlic and herbs, stir in the lemon juice or vinegar to taste and adjust the seasoning. Use straight away or cover well and keep in the fridge for up to three days.
I'm writing this lying on the floor in the middle of a cheese coma. The sudden trauma of morning, getting the children ready for school and repeating 'brush your teeth' over and again until you become insensible is not a good way to start the day, even though one of them somehow and somewhy got dressed by itself this morning. I'm still suspicious of her motives, but she got telly with breakfast as a reward, and it hurried her brother along to join in, so I didn't question her.I've been meaning to make this dish for a couple of months, ever since we went to Chai Naasto in Beckenham where I had a tin pot full of it. Today seemed like the perfect time and just reward to compensate for the reality of the morning which was not, as I hoped, to have been gently woken from a peaceful and deep sleep by a string quartet and to have my valet bring me bed tea.This is fairly quick and very simple to make, but the noises that came from me as I took the first bite are best kept private. It's an indecent snack, and certainly an indecent breakfast. A good extra drizzle of chilli sauce over the cheese is welcome, and use the remaining half an onion, finely sliced with some chillies and coriander to serve as a little salad on the side to cut through the richness.Ingredients for four to six people as a snack500g cubed paneer. You can easily make your own, but buying it is even easier than that.For the sauce:3 cloves garlic, chopped1tbsp ginger purée1/2 a medium red onion, choppedA few green chillies, sliced2tbsp chilli sauce (I used Linghams)1tsp tomato purée1tbsp water1tsp ground Szechaun pepperFor the batter:2tbsp flour1tbsp cornflour1tbsp chilli powder1/2tsp cumin powder1/2tsp turmeric powder1tsp Garlic puréeWaterSalt and pepperRapeseed or peanut oil to frySliced spring onions, green chillies, a sprinkle of chaat masala and Coriander leaves to serve.Make the sauce by gently sautéing the garlic in a little oil then adding the onions, ginger, pepper and chillies. Cook for about three minutes then stir in the chilli sauce, tomato purée and water. Cook for another minute or two, and keep warm in the pan.Make the batter by mixing together the flours, spices, seasoning, garlic and enough water to a cream-like thickness. Leave it to rest for about 20 minutes while you wonder off and try to work out why the children have left mud all up the hallway wall.Toss the paneer cubes through the batter and deep-fry them in hot oil until crisp. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.Toss through the chilli sauce and serve with a sprinkle of chillies, spring onions and coriander.
The grey and dreary London streets are now exploding with wispy and bedraggled underfunded Christmas lights wrapped around flickering streetlamps. Apart from the showpiece Regent Street lights, most of the decorations elsewhere seem to have been found at the back of a cupboard from the '70s. Still, not one to complain about Christmas cheer, it is now permissible to talk about celebrating it and to start making plans.Two days ago I had my first mince pie of the year. And I had it for breakfast. That's how rock and roll I am. I also managed to burn it slightly, so really it turned into dark pastry holding mincemeat at a temperature approaching that of Krakatoa in full flow. But all this aside, I have also been cooking plenty of festive food for the various shoots I've been involved in over the past fortnight. And to be honest, I need a break from ham, turkey, filo parcels, prawn canapés and the like. And with all this extra cooking, sometimes the only energy I can summon at mealtimes will last the length of time it takes to make an omelette, bake a potato or cook a quick pasta dish.That doesn't mean it should be bleak though. Simplicity is beautiful and the best ingredients don't need a lot doing to them to make something delicious. So this classic pasta dish (usually made with spaghetti, but I prefer linguine) is spot on. And this is where it's worth having great quality pasta and special olive oil. Not the stuff you'd cook with, but the secret, small 250ml bottle you keep on the shelf hidden behind the unappealing tin of mixed beans you kid yourself you'll use one day. Be generous, this is its moment.Ingredients for two200g linguine (use spaghetti if you must)2 cloves of garlicHalf a mild red chilliExcellent quality olive oilSalt and pepperGrated fresh Parmesan to serveMethodBring a huge pan of water to the boil and throw in more salt than the doctor would be happy with.Add the pasta, return to the boil and stir occasionally until cooked al dente. Drain, but not quite fully - it's better if you keep back a tablespoon or two of the starchy cooking water - and return to the pan.While the pasta is boiling grate or mince the garlic, finely slice the chilli and add the olive oil to a saucepan. Heat until the garlic starts to fizz and bubble a little then season and remove from the heat.Add the pasta to the oil, or the other way round if you haven't enough space and mix so all the linguine is coated and silky with oil.Serve immediately with a blizzard of cheese, black pepper and some more of that excellent oil.
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
Last night the oven caught fire. I'd only popped out for a while and left Bee a lasagne to heat for supper. We've had it for about 13 years, and it has seen two replacement heating elements and a couple of glass doors which shattered for no obvious reason. It also has always sounded like a derailing freight-train since we bought it, so perhaps it's time for a new one.The central heating part of the boiler, which now is being called into service after it's summer holiday has decided it also has had enough. Even that has had so many parts replaced I'm not sure if it's the same boiler we started with.And finally, to complete the trinity, the brakes on Bee's car failed as well. It's been a good week for the repair industry.Back in the kitchen, all is not lost without an oven. I'm baking bread in my neighbour, Russel's one, which has its own peculiarities. It's rather like the peasant taking his loaf to the village bakery to be cooked. I can't, however, impose full roasting usage upon him every evening. So it's pots and pan cookery for the immediate future.Fortunately, the season is perfect for slow cooking. A strong, heavy deep pot, preferably cast iron and with a lid is a kitchen essential. You can make meals with just one burner and fill up on hearty and healthy food.I'm buy our meat from Heal Farm in Devon and the quality is amazing. Knowing where it comes from and being able to speak directly to the farmers is a privilege. It's not much more expensive than the supermarkets and the little extra it costs is, in my opinion a price worth paying for the quality and care.These lamb shanks were so rich and flavoursome. A proper autumn meal, and very easy to cook using one pan. Fortunately, I roast the squash earlier in the day so it only required a quick warming through. You, with your fancy, functioning oven should be fine to cook it as normal. If you can't find spaghetti squash, swap it for pumpkin or sweet potato mash with thyme and almonds.This is a rich and meaty meal. A proper dish if you've just been out hewing logs or something. And one that, after a few minutes preparation, pretty much cooks itself. It's also perfect for the slow cooker if you have one. Eight hours on low should do it.Ingredients for two2 lamb shanksOlive oil1 tin of chopped tomatoes1 bulb of garlic, halved equatorially1 large red chilliA pinch of cumin seedsOne spaghetti squashA pinch of fresh thymeA small handful of toasted almond flakesSalt and pepper to seasonMethodSeason the lamb shanks with salt and pepper then brown them all over in a little oil in a very hot pan.Deglaze the pan with about a mug-full of water and add the lamb and liquid to a heavy, lidded casserole dish.Add all the remaining ingredients and cook for about two and a half hours on a low flame. It's even better if you cook this the day before you need it. It tastes just a little more rounded after a good rest.For the spaghetti squash, roast it for one hour in the oven at about 180c. Leave it to cool a little, so it doesn't steam your face off when you cut into it. Scoop out all the flesh. Sprinkle over some thyme and almond flakes and a little seasoning and serve with the lamb and sauce.
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.
I prefer Autumn lamb, more flavoursome than spring and in my mind, less mean-spirited to eat. It's had a chance to gambol about and is saved from the misery of the long dark days of winter. It will never know what it's like to leave the shed first thing in the morning in the dark and come home after a hard day still in the dark. It's had one glorious summer.Harissa, garlic and rosemary were born to go with lamb. Spread all over a leg and studded through is a heavenly mix. Here though, I've stuffed the breast with a few other bits and pieces then rolled it tightly, slowly roasting it, at first on high to crisp the skin, then slowly for a few more hours so all the flavours melt into each other. Once you've done the chopping, which is a pretty quick job, you can just put it in the oven and you're free to do some gambolling of your own.We ate this with a butter bean mash laced with lemon juice to cut through the richness. All you need for this is a tin of butter beans, the juice of half a lemon, some salt and thyme sprigs. Heat them all together in a pan and crush until mashed.Ingredients1kg lamb breastA few thyme sprigs, leaves only1tbsp cumin seedsSalt and pepper3tbsp harissa1/2 red onion, sliced1 red chilli, finely sliced1 fat garlic cloveFor the stuffing6 dried apricots, preferably the natural black ones, choppedA handful of pistachios, crushed1tsp capers1tbsp ground cinnamon1/2 block of fetaMethodHeat the oven to 220cRoll back the layers of meat and sprinkle the thyme and cumin seeds under the first layer of skin.Lay the next layer back down and spread all over with the harissa then sprinkle over the pistachio. Spread over the onion, garlic and chilli then the apricot and capers.Crumble over the feta and sprinkle on the cinnamon.Tightly roll the lamb and tie it well all round with string.Cook for half an hour then turn the oven down to 150c and cook for another two and a half hours. Leave to rest and carve into slices.
And the nights are drawing in. Summer's almost gone, before we know it we shall be wearing makeup and knocking on neighbours doors demanding sweets. Even if you don't have children, this is great fun. I'd even suggest doing it mid-July if you fancy a laugh.But before then, it's my favourite time of year. The leaves turn gold and orange, the crisp, blue mornings with their low sun skies turn the walk to school into a show of colour and misty breath, wrapped up against the coming winter. It's the time to eat comforting food that's not quite long slow-braised beef shin stews, thick, rich and brown, but bridges the seasons.Cooking the pasta in the pan with everything else gives it real depth and reminds me of some of the meal in a bowl soups my mum used to make for us. There's so much going on, but really takes very little effort to make. Fresh bay leaves from the tree make the difference here, but use dried if you must. And don't bother doing your own peppers, just buy a good jar of them. There are some things that just aren't worth the fuss.Ingredients for four4 skin on chicken supremes4 garlic cloves, peeled1 red onion, cut into wedges1tbsp dried oregano2 bay leaves1 jar of roast red peppers, drainedA handful of good black olives250g orzo1tsp bouillon powderBoiling water to coverOlive oilSalt and pepper to seasonMethodHeat some oil in a large, lidded, heavy and shallow pan. Fry the chicken, seasoned, skin-side down until golden then turn and cook for a couple of minutes.Add the garlic and onions and cook for a minute longer.Throw in the peppers, olives, bay, bouillon, and orzo then just cover with boiling water. Sprinkle over the oregano and cover with the lid.Cook gently for about ten minutes, until the orzo is soft, but with a little bite.Serve from the pan at the table.
I seem to be roasting rather a lot at the moment. Maybe it's down to this peculiar summer we're having or perhaps in a counter-intuitive way because I'm busy.As I've mentioned before, letting the oven take care of things is a great way to cook if you need to be getting on with life.I'm not suggesting here that you just eat a load of garlic for supper (although just spread on good bread it makes a pretty good snack) but it can be part of a good spread of charcuterie and salad if you're after something light.I clearly remember the first time I had a whole bulb of roast garlic. At a pub called The George in Alfriston, West Sussex (one of our favourite villages) back when we were footloose and fancy-free. Angels sang, light poured from the heavens and I was enlightened. I've used fresh garlic here, as it's now bursting forth everywhere. It's mellower and milder than the winter stuff but equally interchangeable and delicious in this recipe if you don't have any.Just get a load of garlic, wrap in foil with some thyme and rosemary, drizzle with olive oil and roast for about and hour at 160c. So simple, and the kitchen will smell amazing.
In the time it's taken for you to read this sentence, you could have already made this tomato sauce. It's that quick. I make mine in my NutriBullet, but a stick blender or food processor will do the job too.Make sure you use juicy, ripe tomatoes. Tinned are also a good bet when we're not quite at the height of tomato season. You can make this while the pasta is cooking, and then just stir it in and heat for a minute or two. It really does take ten seconds and is also great as a sauce for homemade pizza.Ingredients400g tomatoes, fresh or tinned2 cloves of garlic1 small onion1tbsp dried oreganoA small pour of olive oilSalt and pepperMethodBlitz all the ingredients together until smooth, heat through and serve with the pasta. See, it doesn't even need cooking, really.
My grandparent's kitchen in Newcastle was either full of cigarette smoke, the smell of Craster kippers being cooked for breakfast or a big Sunday roast being cooked while a Sarah Lee frozen chocolate gateaux defrosted on the side.Read More
Sometimes on the weekend I can spend the afternoon in the kitchen, prepping lots of ingredients and dishes, enjoying the calm of a Saturday or Sunday.Tonight, however, we have many episodes of Trapped to watch so it's a quick steak, grilled and blowtorched with some roast spiced carrots, early season British asparagus and this classic Argentinian accompaniment.It's really just a herb oil, but the chilli and garlic (not the Chilean garlic) give the steak a real lift. And it only takes a couple of minutes to make. Fewer if you use a food processor. It's also really good with monkfish or lobster.
It seems long ago now that we were on holiday on the Greek island of Paxos. Spiros and his Bar Taxidi kept spirits high as I struggled with intense hay fever from the olive trees. It was here I first had spaghetti with sea urchins; we watched a young boy dive into the invisibly clear water and pick them from the sea bed. Eating them there on the beach was one of the greatest meals I've ever had. It was also on Paxos that we first had mushrooms cooked on a wood fire. It may seem a simple thing, and it is, but the flavour was incredible. There is always a first time and this was mine. You can add whatever herbs you fancy to this, but I'd recommend being generous with the garlic and oil. The mushrooms really soak up flavour. Watch them well. Inevitably you will lose a few through the grill, so make sure you have plenty. I'd serve these with some rosemary and lemon chicken thighs and definitely outside in the sun.Ingredients800g chestnut mushrooms, thickly sliced, some just halved if you like3-4 garlic cloves, choppedA lot of olive oil to pour over A pinch of chilli flakesA handful or thyme leaves, oregano, rosemary and parsley to finish Salt and pepper MethodMarinade the mushrooms in the other ingredients then cook on a hot barbecue, turning occasionally until turning golden.If you don't have a barbecue, or a garden, these work well on a furiously hot griddle pan.
Wild garlic is in full flower in late April and May, so now is the time to get it. Mine grows in the garden, but it’s easy to find in churchyards, woods and fields. The flowers are edible and tasty, as well as looking really pretty on the plate. Its uses range from pesto to soups and, in this recipe, risotto. I like to use Carnaroli rice for its creaminess, but feel free to use other types. You could even substitute spelt for the rice, adjusting the liquid and cooking time as required.Serves: 4Preparation time: 10 minutesCooking time: 25 minutesIngredients1l vegetable stock, preferably homemadeOlive oil2 garlic cloves, finely chopped4 small shallots, finely slicedHalf a glass of white wine, better still, vermouth (optional)A large handful of wild garlic leaves and a good sprinkle of the flowers2 tbsp butter2 tbsp grated parmesanA dash of truffle oil if you’re feeling luxuriousSalt to season Method
- Heat the stock in a saucepan and keep it warm on the stove.
- In a deep, heavy bottomed pan sauté the garlic and shallots in a little olive oil until soft, then add the rice and a pinch of salt. Stir well and toast the rice for a minute.
- Add the vermouth if using and let it reduce right down. Add the stock a ladleful at a time, only adding another when the previous ladleful has been absorbed. Make sure you keep stirring the rice to release the starch for a creamy risotto.
- Halfway through, add half of the finely sliced wild garlic leaves and stir well.
- Finish adding the stock, then vigorously stir in the butter and Parmesan while shaking the pan.
- Stir in the remaining leaves, cover and rest for five minutes. Check the seasoning; add the garlic flowers and serve.
This is a take on one of my favourite pasta dishes. It’s a great way to cut out carbohydrates if you're on a health kick, and it really stands out as a dish in its own right.It’s so quick to make, as long as you have a spiralizer. If not, you’ll have to slice the courgettes very finely by hand. I have a small hand-held spiralizer that only cost a few pounds and I highly recommend it.Use good olive oil, juicy tomatoes and adjust the chilli to your taste. Don’t overdo it though, this is a delicate dish. It also works very well with prawns if you prefer.Serves: 4 Preparation time: 5 minutes Cooking time: 5 minutesIngredients2 tins of crab1 large courgette½ a clove of garlicA large handful of cherry tomatoesOlive oilA pinch of chilli flakes2 tbsp fresh chives, finely slicedSalt to seasonMethod
- Prepare the courgette and set aside for a minute.
- Gently heat the olive oil and add the garlic, then cook for a minute.
- Add the courgette, season and toss in the pan for a minute or two, until it starts to soften.
- Add the crab, tomatoes and chilli flakes and cook for a further minute to warm through.
- Check the seasoning and stir the chives through just before serving with a salad.