Linguine with Basil, Lemon and Parmesan

Contrary to popular belief, eating magnificent food doesn’t have to entail sweating for hours in the kitchen preparing Masterchef-style meals. There is a time and a place for that, and for most people it comes on a wet Sunday when you’ve nothing else to do. For most of us our days are full and busy, and when you come home starving but the evening is late what can you cook that is healthy and home-cooked, and will take a mere ten minutes? This is the kind of cooking that Nigel Slater excels at, and I am heavily indebted to him for this recipe.

In these short of time and inspiration situations, pasta is generally the first thing that springs to mind, but what to do with it apart from stir in a couple of spoonfuls of pesto from a jar? My first thought is to add a lemon. Pasta and lemon are a match made in heaven, the bright notes of the citrus lift pasta from a potentially stodgy dish to a light and airy bowl of heaven. The Parmesan used here reacts with the lemon to create a grainy sauce that is not unlike carbonara, only without the bacon, while the basil gently wilts and adds a delicate fragrance.

This is the kind of dish that would cost you a tenner in a smart restaurant but can be made for pennies from a kitchen storecupboard.


RECIPE – to feed 2

220g linguine

the juice of a large lemon

5 tbsp olive oil

50g finely grated Parmesan

a bunch of basil, leaves only, shredded

Rocket, lettuce and cucumber (for a salad)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Put a very large pan of generously salted water on to boil and when it is bubbling vigorously add the linguine. Set your timer for 9 minutes.

Combine the lemon juice and olive oil in a small bowl and whisk together. Tear up the basil and grate the Parmesan, using a microplane grater if you have one, otherwise grate it as finely as you can.

Assemble a simple green salad of rocket, torn lettuce and finely sliced cucumber, drizzle a little of the lemon and oil dressing through it. Light your candles, pour a glass of wine and wait for your linguine to finish.

When the linguine is cooked (it should be al dente as it will cook on), drain thoroughly and return to the pot. Add the lemon and oil, stir thoroughly then add the basil leaves, stir thoroughly again. Now tip in the Parmesan and once again stir thoroughly.

Season in the bowl, relax and enjoy a delicious meal that has taken less than 15 minutes to prepare. A takeaway wouldn’t arrive that quickly…


Nettle Soup

My wife and I have developed a keen interest in foraging over the past couple of years, driven by our curiosity about all the plants we saw while out walking our dog. We knew that some were edible, but apart from the obvious – nettles, wild fennel, elderflower, cherries – we didn’t have a clue which would taste great and which might kill us. We now know that there are a fair few that will kill you, and wherever you live you are very likely within half a mile of a common poisonous plant.

Foraging is a huge subject, endlessly interesting and a great way of filling anything from an hour up to a whole weekend (or more), but well beyond the scope of anything I can write. The potential dangers are such that I recommend that you book onto a half- or one-day foraging course where under expert guidance you will learn to find, identify and cook a huge variety of wild food. If you live anywhere near Hampshire, Dorset or Wiltshire, or you are willing to travel, I can unreservedly recommend James Feaver of Hedgerow Harvest who runs excellent courses in seashore, hedgerow and fungus foraging. You can find him here:

One plant we can all safely identify is the common stinging nettle, and if you want to discover just how good wild food can be then this simple and delicious dish is the place to start.

To gather stinging nettles all you will need is a carrier bag, a pair of scissors, a pair of stout gloves and clothing offering enough protection to ward off the stings. The nettles you are looking for are the young leaves and the tops of the plants, in other words the leaves shooting off thin stems which you will most likely find in the spring – though if you live in an area where hedgerows get cut back then you will probably find new growth throughout the summer. Avoid thick stems and old tough leaves, they are not good to eat. Also avoid nettles that directly border paths where dogs are walked – though it is a brave dog who will cock a leg on a nettle I am sure it happens. Instead, push back a couple of feet where the nettles will be undisturbed by canine activity – that is why you need stout gloves and heavy clothing.

Passers-by may well think you’re mad, but once you’ve gathered your nettles and made this soup you will very probably ignore what others think and go nettle foraging again and again.


RECIPE – to feed 6


1/2 a carrier bag of young nettle leaves and tops

50g unsalted butter

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, roughly chopped

1 large carrot, roughly chopped

2 fat garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 litre vegetable stock

1 large potato, diced into 1cm cubes

1/2 nutmeg, finely grated

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


The standard unit of measurement for nettles is the carrier bag; you don’t need to be accurate, but the more you gather the more flavour you will get. When you get them home, wash them thoroughly, pick out anything that doesn’t belong and leave to drain. As long as the stems are thin then you don’t need to strip the leaves off, it will all blitz up and every part of the plant gives you flavour.

Gently sweat the onion, carrot and garlic in the oil and butter, in a large heavy-bottomed pan, with the lid on. After 10-15 minutes the onion should be soft but not coloured, and the carrot should be softening. And the stock and the potato, then pile the nettles on top and carefully push them down; they will wilt and lose volume, and as soon as they start to cook they will lost their sting. Bring to the boil, then simmer for around 20 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked.

Leave to cool for a few minutes, just so it is a little safer to handle, then add the nutmeg and blitz until it is perfectly smooth using a stick blender, or pour into a jug blender – you will need to do it in several batches if using a jug blender.

Season to taste with salt and pepper and garnish with a little creme fraiche or double cream, some chopped chives (wild if you can get them) or similar foraged plants such as crow garlic or wild leeks (see, you’ll need to get onto a foraging course now!)

You can also make this using wild garlic in place of the garlic cloves, though the season is very short – just a few weeks in early spring. If you do manage to gather some wild garlic then add a dozen or so leaves to the nettles and use the wild garlic flowers as a garnish – they are quite crunchy and taste like delicate garlic, quite delicious.

To make it vegan just use olive oil and omit the butter.


Bakewell Tart

It’s one of my favourite things in the whole world, that’s all I really need to say.

Like all baking, it’s a bit of a faff to make: you have to make pastry – and it needs to be as short as you can make it so that it crumbles and melts in your mouth, and that means it can be difficult to handle – you need to blind-bake that pastry and then you have to make a frangipane. But really, once you’ve tasted it you’ll be rushing to make another one, I promise.

At 30cm, this is a big, deep tart, easily big enough to feed a crowd at a birthday party – which is the reason I made the tart pictured below. The recipient was my mother-in-law, an amazing cook with very high standards, and she was insistent that she wanted this as her birthday cake – high praise indeed!

If you don’t want your tart to be quite as big then reduce the quantity of each ingredient – just be sure to keep everything in the same ratio and amend your cooking time accordingly, like all baking it always pays to keep your eye on it in the latter stages of cooking.


RECIPE – to fill a 30cm loose-bottomed flan tin


For the pastry case:

275g plain flour

80g ground almonds

75g caster sugar

110g vegetable shortening (Trex) – fridge cold, cubed

115g unsalted butter – fridge cold, cubed

3 egg yolks

For the filling:

1 whole jar of raspberry jam

1 tsp vanilla extract

300g butter, room temperature

300g caster sugar

200g ground almonds

100g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

3 medium eggs, beaten

A handful of flaked almonds



Heat your oven to 190C / 170C Fan / Gas 5 when ready to blind-bake your pastry case. You will need a 30cm loose-bottomed flan tin.

Make the pastry:

Put the flour, ground almonds and caster sugar into a food processor and pulse a few times to mix it thoroughly. Add the cold butter and Trex and pulse until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, then gradually add the egg yolks, pulsing once or twice with each addition. Take care not to overwork the pastry mixture, the beauty of this pastry is that it is soft and crumbly, doing too much to it is liable to make it tough. When fully combined empty it out of the food processor and form into a ball but do not knead it. Wrap it in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

If you are old-school and like to work your pastry by hand then you don’t need me to give you instructions for that. I seem to have fingers that are too warm to make pastry by hand so I always do mine in the food processor – if anyone would like to give me a masterclass in making pastry by hand then I would welcome it!

On a lightly floured surface, roll your pastry out into a round until it is approximately the thickness of a pound coin, this should give you the correct diameter to fill your pastry case with a little left over that you can trim off later. Always keep your trimmings as you may need to make a couple of repairs.

*Tip: As mentioned earlier, this is a very short pastry which can be difficult to pick up; one way to alleviate this is to roll the pastry out between sheets of baking parchment, another is to lay the loose base of the flan tin on your work surface, lightly dust it with flour and then roll out your pastry over it. If the latter, to put it into the flan case fold the edges of the pastry in on each other and drop the base into your case, then unfold the edges and press in to the flutes, using a small piece of pastry to gently push into the sides and bottom.  At this time you may need to make a few small repairs to rips and tears, just take a small amount of pastry and press in to any problem areas – it doesn’t matter if it is a bit rough and ready, nobody will see it, the important thing is to ensure that the pastry case is completely sealed otherwise your frangipane will leak out.

At this point you can trim the pastry to the level of the flan-case, by rolling a rolling pin across the top. There should be no shrinkage of the pastry case when you bake it because there is no water in the pastry; the presence of too much water is the most common reason for shrinkage.

Now cut a piece of baking parchment large enough to completely cover the base and sides of the tart. Scrunch it up, then flatten it and place it in the pastry case, then fill with ceramic baking beans if you have them, rice or dried beans if you don’t. Now blind-bake the pastry case at 190C for 25 minutes; after this time remove the baking beans and parchment and return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes until your pastry is golden and cooked through.

*Tip: The best bit of baking wisdom I ever received was this: blind-baking is not part-cooking, it is pre-cooking. In other words, your blind-baked pastry case should be fully cooked when it comes out. That’s the 100% guaranteed way to ensure that you never suffer the baker’s nightmare of a soggy bottom. Some authorities suggest sealing the base of your pastry case with a thin layer of egg white; don’t bother, it doesn’t belong there and you will be able to detect it.

While your cooked pastry case is resting, turn your oven down to 150C / 130C fan / gas 2 and make your filling:

Cream the butter and sugar together using a whisk if at all possible, if you don’t own a stand or hand mixer you can do this using a wooden spoon, but it’s hard work. Now add the vanilla extract, ground almonds, plain flour, baking powder and beaten eggs and beat well until thoroughly combined.

Spread the jam over the bottom of the baked pastry case in a thick and even layer. Pour the filling over the top and gently even it out using a spatula or pallet knife. It should sit at a level slightly below the lip of the pastry – as it cooks it will rise and expand to form a gentle dome.

Now bake your tart for 30 mins. After this time, take it out of the oven and you should see that it has domed and is starting to go golden; sprinkle the flaked almonds all over the top and return to the oven for a further 20-30 minutes. The tart is cooked when a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave it in the flan-case to cool completely, after which you should be able to remove it cleanly.

Black Bean Chilli

We are largely vegetarian in our house; I will happily eat anything but my wife won’t eat meat – though she will eat fish. The challenge then is to come up with meals where the absence of meat is not an issue, and the secret to achieving that is to concentrate on flavour and texture.

We both love the heat and flavour of spices, so we have spent a great deal of time testing and refining recipes for chilli. Quorn mince has been a godsend; it is so good now that when we have friends and family over for dinner they often don’t realise that they haven’t had ‘real’ mince. Using a meat replacement always feels like a bit of a cheat to me though, one I’m happy to indulge in, but it is so much more satisfying to have a recipe that stands on its own ingredients rather than pretending to be something else. The black beans used here add a rich, thick texture that works perfectly with chilli.

This black bean chilli recipe is universally loved, and the reason for that is the bold spicing. It isn’t blow-your-head-off spicy, instead it is deeply-flavoured and comfortably warming. It has a lovely umami feel as well, thanks to the addition of a little fish sauce – fish sauce is my favourite seasoning ingredient, adding not only a layer of salt that accentuates the other flavours, but also a layer of ‘mmmmmm’ that you can’t quite put your finger on. It smells disgusting when you open the bottle, but once cooked in it takes all the other flavours to another level entirely.


RECIPE – to feed 4

250g dried black beans (or 2 tins)

1 onion, halved

1 orange, halved

2 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole

2 tbsp olive oil

4 garlic cloves, crushed

2 large onions, finely chopped

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

3 tbsp smoked paprika

3 tbsp ground cumin

3 tbsp cyder vinegar

2 tbsp caster sugar

2 tins of chopped tomatoes

2 tsp fish sauce

1 tin of kidney beans

1 lime, zest and juice

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper



The conventional wisdom is that you should soak the black beans in plenty of water, the evening before you use them. However, after much back-to-back testing it is plain that not soaking them makes them blacker, more beany and flavourful, at the cost of having to cook them for a little longer. How long? Around 90 minutes or so, until they are soft but retain bite and texture – the older your beans the longer they will take. To cook them, use a big pan and plenty of water, into which you have put an onion – halved but otherwise intact – an orange, again halved and gently squeezed, and then put both halves in the water, and a couple of whole, peeled garlic cloves. Bring to the boil then simmer until ready. If you have a pressure cooker then life is much simpler, follow the guidelines for your device but cook them for around 20-25 minutes. When cooked, remove the onion, orange and garlic and set the beans aside.

You don’t have to do all this, but for some reason using dried beans adds more flavour, and when cooked using aromatic ingredients the flavours are amped up even higher; tinned beans are fine though, no need to feel guilty.

Meanwhile, in a large pan, heat the oil and gently fry the chopped onions until just softened, then add the garlic and chilli flakes. Cook gently for a minute or two, taking care not to burn the garlic.

Put the paprika and cumin in a small bowl, add the cyder vinegar and sugar and mix to a paste – you may need to add a little water. Doing this prevents the powders from burning and means the flavours cook out more evenly. Add this paste to your onion mixture and cook on for another minute or so before adding the tinned tomatoes and the fish sauce. Simmer gently for ten minutes, then add the cooked (or tinned) black beans and the kidney beans. Bring back to a boil then turn the heat off. Ideally, leave your chilli to sit for a few hours so that the flavours can develop, the longer you can leave it the better it will be. This really works, but if you eat it straight away it will still be delicious.

Just before serving, finely grate the zest of the lime into it and squeeze in the lime juice, stir thoroughly and check and adjust the seasoning.

This goes extremely well alongside guacamole, and can be garnished with chopped spring onions, soured cream, grated cheddar, chopped coriander leaves, crumbled feta, sliced radishes, chunks of avocado and, of course, is best served with fluffy rice.

To make it suitable for a vegan, simply omit the fish sauce; it can be replaced with 4 teaspoons of Marmite which has a similar umami nature.


There must be as many recipes for guacamole as there are people living in Mexico, and everybody will tell you that theirs is the best. I have lost count of how many different guacamole recipes I have tried, all of them were missing an elusive something. The recipe I give you below was, in a slightly different form and for a couple of years, the best one that I had distilled down from all the others. Everybody raved about it, but I always felt that it was still missing something. It was only when I read Thomasina Miers’ excellent ‘Wahaca: Mexican Food at Home’ that I realised that all it needed was a little garlic to make it complete.

Garlic. Among the most common of all cooking ingredients, and yet it had never crossed my mind (nor that of virtually every other guacamole recipe-writer) to add it to my guacamole. It just didn’t seem right; guacamole should taste like a bright, zesty ray of sunshine, garlic brings undertones of darkness and danger. And yet, that little bit of shading that garlic brings to guacamole makes the brightness shine even harder. It was a reminder to me that a recipe is never finished, is always evolving, and there’s always somebody out there with a different perspective on things who can bring real enlightenment to you. I’m not one to give advice to others, but my advice to myself is: always seek those people out.


RECIPE – to feed 4

2 limes, zest and juice

2 large, ripe avocados

1 small green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

4 spring onions, trimmed and very finely chopped

1 plump garlic clove, crushed

1 ripe medium tomato, skinned, deseeded and finely chopped

A bunch of fresh coriander, leaves chopped, stems finely chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


First thing, zest the limes then juice them, putting both into a large bowl. It is essential that you do this first as cut avocado requires citrus to prevent it from oxidising.

Now cut your avocados in half lengthways, take out the stone, then score the flesh down to the skin (but not through it) and using a spoon remove the flesh and toss it thoroughly through the lime juice and zest immediately. Roughly mash the avocado so that approximately half is fully mashed, a quarter is not mashed at all and the final quarter is slightly crushed; this will give you a lovely texture.

To skin your tomato, boil a kettle, lightly score a cross in the base of the tomato and put it into a cup. Pour the just-boiled water over the tomato and leave for 15-20 seconds. Empty the hot water out and immediately refill it with cold water. Lift out the tomato, insert the point of a knife under the score and lift the skin away, you should find that the skin peels off easily. If you leave the tomato in the hot water for too long it will begin to cook, and the skin will not come so easily.

Prepare and combine the remaining ingredients, stir thoroughly and season carefully. You may need to add more lime juice, just keep on testing and seasoning lightly until you have the perfect balance of sharpness from the lime and flavour accentuated by the salt and pepper.

To feed a crowd, just double the quantity; you will be amazed how far it will go and how quickly it will be demolished.


Watching Masterchef the other evening, I heard a Michelin-starred chef state that the whole idea of eating out is that you get to eat something better than you could ever make at home. That’s the whole idea of eating out for me, but it can be a double-edged sword – sadly we can’t go out for pizza any more, not even to the best restaurants; we are always disappointed because we unavoidably compare what we are given with what we make at home. I’m not blowing my own trumpet, the truth is that nothing can compare with a fresh, home-made pizza.

There is a secret ingredient to a great pizza, that ingredient is time. Time for your dough to develop its flavour, time for your tomato sauce to mature, and the shortest possible time in the oven. Master the use of time and, like me, you will never be able to go out for a pizza again, and you certainly will never order in.

The best thing about making your own pizza is that you can make it faster than you think. Spend a little time getting your dough and sauce ready the day before, then ten minutes rolling your dough and assembling your toppings, ten more minutes in the oven and it is ready to eat. That’s faster than the time it takes for a takeaway to be delivered, and probably faster than the time between ordering and eating in a restaurant. It costs next to nothing as well.


RECIPE (Makes 2 thin and crispy pizzas, double or treble everything to make more)

For the dough:

125g strong white flour

125g ’00’ flour

1/4 tsp dried yeast

1 tsp fine sea salt

160ml tepid water

Olive oil, for kneading

For the tomato sauce:

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

A good pinch of Maldon sea salt

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1/2 tsp caster sugar

30g basil leaves, shredded

A drizzle of the best extra-virgin olive oil


The evening before you plan to eat, make your dough.

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, using your fingers in a claw, making sure everything is well combined. Make a well in the centre and add the water, slowly, again using your fingers in a claw bringing the water and dry ingredients together. When all the water is added and you have pulled everything together you should have a slightly sticky dough which pulls itself away from the sides of the bowl, leaving it clean. If you need to add a little more or less water then do so, but be careful not to make your mixture too wet.

Lightly oil a clean, dry work surface with good olive oil, turn the dough out onto it and gently massage the dough using your fingers and palms for around 20 seconds to end up with a fairly smooth ball. Now leave it for ten minutes; when you come back to it you will see that it has already softened and become more silky. Gently knead it again for twenty seconds, using your fingers and palms, shape it into a ball and leave again for ten minutes. Lightly oil a large bowl.

Come back to your dough after ten minutes, give it a final twenty second knead, shape into a ball, place in your oiled bowl and cover with cling film. Put it in a cold place overnight and leave it. The time it now spends gently rising gives the flavour of the yeast the chance to permeate through the dough.

The same evening, make your tomato sauce.

Sieve the tinned tomatoes, pushing the liquid through until you are left with the tomato pulp and a little liquid. Approximately half the volume of the tin will be left in the sieve, the other half (the liquid) you can leave, covered, in the fridge for a week or so and use in a stock, or you can indulge yourself in a Bloody Mary or two…

Combine the rest of the ingredients and stir thoroughly. Cover and leave overnight, chilled or not doesn’t matter. You can now forget about it for the rest of the night, and your finished sauce should look like the picture below:

IMG_0311 The following morning, check on your dough, it should have risen to at least twice its original size, probably more, and will be soft and pillowy. Using your fingers, and leaving it in the bowl (just to avoid making a mess) gently push the dough back in on itself, expelling the air and shaping it back into a ball. The professionals call this ‘knocking back’ or ‘punching down’ but that sounds too violent to me; I think bread should be treated tenderly and it will reward you. Cover again, and leave it in your kitchen to rise again until around an hour before you intend to eat.

When you reach that time, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface (regular plain flour is fine, no need to use the ’00’ flour at this stage), push it down again using your fingers, and divide the dough into two equal balls. Place on a lightly floured piece of baking parchment, dust the top of each ball lightly with flour and loosely cover with either a clean, dry tea towel or a piece of cling film. If using cling film gently drape it over or it is likely to stick.


When the time comes to start cooking, pre-heat your oven to the hottest temperature it will reach (mine reaches an indicated 250C, and if I use it on fan – which I do – it will reach a real temperature of around 270C). Put two baking trays in the oven to heat up with it, and give it plenty of time to get properly and thoroughly hot.

Now roll out your dough. On a lightly floured surface, using a rolling pin, roll it out as thinly as you can. We go down to less than the thickness of a twenty-pence piece; don’t be scared of going so thin, it makes the base lovely and crunchy and, because it has had around 24 hours to develop, the dough will be strong enough to hold. If you do get a little tearing just pinch the holes together and it will be fine. If you roll it thinly enough your dough will be big enough to completely fill a standard-sized baking tray. Don’t worry about trying to make it perfectly round, we shape ours into an approximate rectangle. The whole idea is to get a pizza that tastes terrific even if it looks a bit ‘rustic’ – this is home cooking after all.

Now transfer your rolled dough to a piece of baking parchment or a silicon sheet which has been lightly dusted with fine semolina. Flatten it out and thinly spread a layer of the tomato sauce that you made the night before all over the pizza base. Be careful not to apply too much sauce, it is there for flavour and too much will prevent your pizza base from getting really crispy.

Now finish with whatever toppings you like on your pizza – my favourite is torn mozzarella, thinly sliced shallot, a tin of tuna in oil (drained and flaked), thinly sliced hot jalapeno chillies and sweet piquante peppers, topped with a grating of cheddar cheese and a good grinding of whole white peppercorns. When it comes out I like a thin drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a scattering of rocket leaves and it leaves me very full indeed. My wife is more spartan and likes hers cooked just as a pizza base with the tomato sauce, and when it comes out she shaves fresh parmesan onto it and scatters rocket leaves over the top. Whatever toppings you prefer, the base and sauce will lift it to a whole new dimension.

This bit will take two people: remove your pre-heated baking tray from the oven – using oven gloves as it will be fiercely hot. Gently and carefully slide the pizza, on its parchment, onto the hot baking tray; we do this by having one person holding the edge of the hot baking tray level with the surface on which the pizza is sitting while the other person gently slides it on to the tray. Cook in the hottest part of your oven for 5-10 minutes – keep an eye on it as it cooks quickly. If your pizza looks like mine below then I want to come to your house!


Both the dough and sauce are easily scaled up, just exactly double or treble the ingredients, nothing else changes. If you don’t manage to prepare your dough and sauce the previous evening, don’t despair. Just give them as much time as you can and they will still taste great – your dough will need a minimum of two hours to develop enough strength and it will be fine to use, you just won’t get the same depth of flavour.

I also make my own mozzarella – but that’s a subject for another day…

Spaghetti with Spicy Prawns and Rocket

Some meals you just can’t help going back to again and again, in our house this is one of them. It’s a Sunday evening staple because it is quick and easy to make, and despite having only a few ingredients the flavours are rich and complex, and utterly delicious.

The star of the show should be the prawns. Frozen king prawns are fine, but take the time to shop around, discover which ones you like (we have found that some – and I’m not talking about cheap ones – have a faint whiff of the sewer about them) and be prepared to pay a little extra. It is definitely worth it.

You can make this with whole prawns, but pulling off the heads and tails gets quite messy. Be prepared to experiment with how ‘saucy’ you like this to be, you can make the sauce thick and sticky by reducing it a little more, or you can leave it loose and sloppy which is how we like it.

This recipe can easily be doubled or even trebled, but be careful about your spicing. If serving 4, I recommend leaving the sauce ingredients as they are, and if cooking for 6 increase the sauce ingredients by half – if you are not keen on chilli heat leave the chilli quantity as it is, and always test, test, test. As a rule of thumb, 100g of pasta will serve one person, but the more people eating the less you tend to need.


RECIPE (Serves 2, easily doubled or trebled)

225g spaghetti

1 tbsp olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

1 red chilli, deseeded and very finely sliced

1 level tsp dried chilli flakes

225g raw peeled jumbo king prawns

100ml vermouth

4 tsp home-made sun-dried tomato paste OR 2 tbsp shop-bought sun-dried tomato paste

1 lemon, zest and juice  – zest finely grated with a microplane is best

Rocket, to serve


First, do all your prep: crush the garlic, prepare the fresh chilli, zest and juice the lemon, drain the prawns if necessary, measure out the rest of your ingredients, boil the kettle and get a large pan onto boil for your pasta.

*NOTE: Use a lot of water to cook your pasta, we use two kettles full of water for two people and get it to a good rolling boil before putting the pasta in. The addition of the pasta will reduce the temperature so keep the heat high to get it back to the boil as quickly as possible, this will prevent the risk of your pasta getting sticky by cooking too slowly.

The Italians say that your pasta water should be as salty as the Mediterranean. I don’t live by the Med so I find that hard to judge, but a decent pinch of fine sea salt will add that little bit of flavour that pasta needs, so do your final seasoning with the sauce.

Get your spaghetti cooking, you will want it to be al dente as it will cook on slightly in the sauce, so set your timer accordingly. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and saute the garlic and chilli (both fresh and dry) for 15-30 seconds until aromatic. Be sure not to burn the garlic. Add the prawns and saute them until they just start to turn pink – this will only be a minute or so. Retrieve the prawns from the pan using tongs or a spider (a large open-mesh spoon, used a lot in oriental and wok cooking) and set aside.

Add the vermouth, and your choice of sun-dried tomato paste, to the garlic and chilli in the pan, bring to a simmer and reduce the sauce as desired.

When the pasta is ready, drain it, add the prawns back to the sauce in the frying pan and then add the spaghetti to the sauce as well. Toss thoroughly so the pasta is thoroughly coated, then drizzle with the lemon zest and lemon juice and stir it through.

Serve with a large bowl of rocket. There is no need to dress the rocket, if you mix it through the pasta in your eating bowl it will wilt slightly and add a lovely peppery crunch.

*TIP: Never run out of fresh chillies – they freeze extremely well, so buy them and freeze them whole. When you come to use them, prepare them while still frozen; it makes them easier to de-seed and chop, and it does not diminish their heat. I have a massive bag of all kinds of chillies in my freezer and they can be a life-saver.

Sun-Dried Tomato Paste

I try to make as many things from scratch as possible, partly because I like to know exactly what I’m eating (I am very distrustful of processed food after extensive reading into the subject) but mainly because I like the challenge, I like to experiment and, well… why not?

Sun-dried tomato paste is widely available in UK supermarkets, and the type that we keep in our pantry is very good indeed – if a little expensive. I use it as an ingredient in many Italian dishes, and often use anything from a teaspoon to a tablespoon to augment the flavour of a tomato-based sauce, so it is something we get through a lot of.

Stuck with an hour to spare one afternoon I decided to start making dinner early, and on a whim I filled that hour experimenting with my own sun-dried tomato paste. The results were spectacularly good, yielding a more intense flavour than shop-bought, and it is so quick and easy to make.

Sometimes life is too short to muck around making everything from scratch, and sometimes life is too short not to. Sometimes, all you’ve got time for is a bowl of pasta with something stirred through it – stir a tablespoon or two of this through a pan of fusilli, add a good handful of freshly grated Parmesan, a dribble of good extra-virgin olive oil and a handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley and I’m sure you’ll be eternally thankful that you did muck around making this from scratch.


2 x 280g jars of sun-dried tomatoes in oil

8 fat garlic cloves

3 tbsp olive oil

2 tsp red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp sea salt


Drain the jars of sun-dried tomatoes in a sieve, put into a bowl and cover with just-boiled water. Stir for a minute then drain again. This softens the tomatoes up so they will blitz more easily, and cleans off the remainder of the oil.

Peel and crush the garlic, put into a food processor with the tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar and sea salt, then blitz until it is a smooth puree. You may need to add a little oil if the paste is too stiff, and you will very likely need to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times to get everything. You can also do this in a blender, or if you’re really keen a pestle and mortar will do the job.

Decant into a sterilised jar, top off with a little more oil (do not mix it in, the idea is that it sits over the paste and protects it from the atmosphere) and refrigerate. This will happily keep for two weeks or more, and quantities can easily be doubled or trebled.

*To Sterilise Glass Jars: Heat oven to 140C/120C fan/gas 1, then turn it off and keep the door closed. There is no point in wasting energy! Wash the jars and lids in hot, soapy water then rinse well. Place the jars on a baking sheet and put them in the oven to dry completely. If using Kilner jars then boil the rubber seals, as the dry heat of the oven will make them perish.


Who doesn’t love a good crumpet? Why go to all the trouble of making your own though, when you can easily pick up a decent pack of 6 ready-made crumpets for under a pound? One simple reason: there is a world of difference between a decent shop-bought crumpet and a crumpet that you have made yourself.

Home made, they are light, fluffy, and taste divine. You also know exactly what you have put into it, so you know exactly what you are putting in to your body: no preservatives, no flavour agents, no chemical additives. It is also a very satisfying thing to do, and extremely easy.

RECIPE (Makes 12)

400ml warm milk

100ml tepid water

1 tbsp dried fast action yeast

1 tsp caster sugar

300g strong white flour

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp fine sea salt

Vegetable oil, for greasing


Warm the milk and water gently until it is around blood temperature – too cool and your yeast will act slowly, too hot and you run the risk of killing the yeast. Whisk the yeast and sugar into the warmed liquid until completely dissolved, then leave in a warm place for 15 minutes or until it starts to froth slightly.

Meanwhile, sieve the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and, when it is ready, pour the milk mixture into it. Whisk from the centre outward until the flour and milk are fully combined, with a consistency like double cream. Cover with a damp tea towel and set aside for a further 45-60 minutes until the batter mixture is bubbling.

*NOTE: Make sure you use a very large bowl, the batter mixture will expand significantly as the bicarb and yeast start to do their work. If you can, leave the batter to sit for up to two hours, if you leave it for longer then the holes in your crumpets will be more defined and it will taste better as well.



You will need a large frying pan or skillet to cook your crumpets, as well as four muffin rings (or large cookie cutters).

Lightly grease the inside of your muffin rings with vegetable oil, and apply a thin film of oil to your pan.  Place the empty, greased rings in the pan and set over a medium-high heat; when hot, add 4 tbsp of the batter to each muffin ring and cook for 5 mins without disturbing them. You will see the holes start to develop as they cook, the top of the batter will start to dry out and the holes will firm up. After 5 mins, wriggle the muffin rings off each crumpet using a pair of tongs, then turn them over and cook for a further minute. The base of the crumpets should be smooth and lightly browned and, once cooked, the other side should be holey and also lightly browned.

*NOTE: Make sure you don’t over fill the crumpet rings. If you put too much batter in, the middle of the crumpet will still be liquid after 5 minutes and when you turn them over that liquid will fill in your holes and you will be left with a crumpet that looks more like a muffin. The picture below shows the crumpets after about two minutes of cooking – as you can see, the holes are starting to develop.


To make the remaining crumpets, re-grease the muffin rings, and the pan if necessary, and reheat the rings. Refill the muffin rings with the crumpet batter and continue.

You can make these in advance, and when you are ready to serve just lightly toast them to warm them through. I like these buttered so heavily that the butter runs down my chin…