Garganelli with Salmon and Prawns

Two places you should never allow me to enter without somebody keeping a close eye on me: 1) a charity shop, and 2) a good delicatessen.

In the first I’m liable to walk out with an armful of old cookery books, and in the second I’m prone to loading myself up with obscure liqueurs (oh yes, I have a growing cocktail and aperitivi obsession) and obscure foodstuffs that catch my eye – like garganelli pasta (pictured below).

I never fail to be amazed at the way that plain old pasta can taste so different just because the shape of it is different. The shape and decoration of pasta can indeed offer a different ‘mouth feel’, fooling your palate somewhat*, but the real difference is that various shapes catch and hold sauce in different ways.

This recipe is a classic example of that. You can substitute penne for the garganelli if you don’t have a deli near you that stocks it, but it will be a very different dish. The quill shape of the garganelli catches and holds the seafood and tomato within it, while the external grooves allow the sauce to collect and stay attached while you bring it to your mouth.

Make it with penne, and while it is still delicious, you have to spend the effort of gathering all of the different elements together on your fork, for each and every mouthful. Even so, this is well worth making even if you only have penne – spend the effort, you will be rewarded.

Garganelli

* If you think this is mumbo-jumbo, there is a fascinating book – ‘Gastrophysics’ by Professor Charles Spence – which examines the ongoing research into how we actually experience flavour, and how inventive chefs such as Heston Blumenthal are using that science to enhance their food, without changing the food itself.


RECIPE serves 4 

350g salmon fillets

200ml dry white vermouth

a small handful of fresh basil leaves, plus extra for garnish

150ml double cream

6 ripe plum tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped

350g garganelli

125g king prawns


METHOD

Pour the vermouth into a wide, shallow pan with the basil leaves and some seasoning. Bring it to the boil, then put the salmon fillets – skin side up – into it, cover it and hold it at a very gentle simmer for four minutes. Carefully remove the fish and set aside to cool slightly.

Add the cream and tomatoes to the vermouth in the pan and bring back to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and leave it to reduce and thicken for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large saucepan of salted water at a rolling boil. Cook until the pasta is just al dente. My pasta takes just under ten minutes, so I set it going ten minutes into the sauce reduction time.

Just before the pasta is ready, check and adjust the seasoning of the sauce then put the raw prawns into the hot sauce to cook, and flake the salmon into large pieces then add that to the pan together with the drained pasta.

Toss well so everything is coated in everything else, scatter some more basil leaves over the top and serve immediately. This is best accompanied by a bowl of rocket dressed with a little lemon juice.

Roasted Tomato Soup

At this time of year it can be hard to get hold of ripe, tasty tomatoes and even if you can, expect to pay through the nose for them. That means that this wasn’t exactly a good time for my lovely wife to request a big pot of tomato soup for her lunchtime meals for the next few days.

Fear not. I’ve been cooking long enough now to know that even the humblest, firmest, blandest tomato, if treated correctly, can reveal from deep within itself the most spectacular flavours. If you don’t believe me, then this recipe will be an eye-opener. I simply picked up a couple of cheap nets of B Grade tomatoes from my local supermarket, which cost just a couple of pounds altogether. I shudder to think how good this soup would be at the height of summer when tomatoes are at their best.

The trick is to slow-roast the tomatoes with a few aromatics, and to be brave with the garlic. When it is roasted, garlic takes on a deeper, richer palette of flavours, nothing at all like the pungency of the raw version. I used a whole head of garlic for this soup yesterday, and nobody in my house had bad breath last night.

You can, if you wish, add some double cream to this soup just before you serve it. In my opinion though, it is rich and creamy enough as it is.

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RECIPE serves 4 

1.5kg ripe tomatoes, halved

4 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, sliced

1 whole head of garlic, cloves separated, peeled and left whole

75g tomato puree

2 tsp dried thyme

50g caster sugar

1.5 litres vegetable stock

a small bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped


METHOD

Heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas3.

Place the halved tomatoes in a large, deep roasting tin, together with the onion, garlic cloves,  tomato puree, thyme and sugar, and drizzle the olive oil over it all. See the picture above. Using your hands, mix everything together, pushing anything that is likely to burn rather than caramelise (such as the ends of the onion slices) down under the tomato halves.

Roast in the middle of the oven for between 60 and 75 minutes, keeping an eye on it. You want the tomatoes and onion to start to brown and caramelise, maybe even char a little in places, but burning is not good.

When cooked, transfer the juicy, pulpy contents of the roasting tin to a large pot, add the stock and season lightly, then bring it to a simmer.

Remove the pot from the heat, and add the coriander. Leave it to cool slightly, then using either a stick blender or a worktop blender (in batches), blitz until it is smooth.

Check and adjust the seasoning and serve, drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil, and/or perhaps a dollop of double cream.

Potato Pastry

This idea is pure genius.

I saw it in a Hairy Bikers’ diet book, but a quick internet search told me that it’s not a new idea at all. I must have been walking around with my eyes shut…

It is simply a development of potato gnocchi, kneading some flour into dry mashed potato to make a dough. It is amazing though, I made a chicken pie last week and didn’t tell anybody that the dough wasn’t regular shortcrust – nobody knew. The edges catch and crisp just like shortcrust, and the ‘mouth feel’ is almost exactly the same, it’s just lower in calories. You can use it pretty much anywhere you would normally use a savoury shortcrust pastry.

The only thing it has against it is that it doesn’t reheat very well, it tends to go soggy, so if you make a pie with it be sure to eat the whole thing! The recipe quantity below easily makes enough to cover a standard pie-dish.

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RECIPE

275g floury potatoes (e.g. Maris Piper, Roosters)

40g fridge-cold butter, diced

80g plain flour

1 or 2 tbsp semi-skimmed milk

a pinch of salt


METHOD

Peel and cut the potatoes into large pieces, so they don’t absorb too much water, then put into cold water and bring to the boil. Just as the water comes to the boil, turn the heat right down and let the potatoes slowly poach. This will ensure that they cook through and is another way to ensure they don’t absorb water. When tender, drain the potatoes and space them out on a wire rack to dry thoroughly.

When completely dry, mash them without adding any butter or moisture.

Put the diced butter and flour in a food processor and pulse until it forms crumbs. Add the flour and butter to the mash with a tablespoon of the milk and a pinch of salt and gently bring it all together into a dough, if it is a little dry and not holding together then add a little more milk – a tiny bit at a time. Handle it as lightly as possible, and when it holds together, shape it into a ball, wrap it in cling film and chill it for at least 30 minutes before rolling it out, as you would for shortcrust pastry.

When rolling, be sure to turn it around on a floured surface regularly to ensure that it doesn’t stick. Don’t try to roll it too thinly, it needs to be slightly thicker than normal pastry in order to hold together when you pick it up to drape over your pie.

Glaze with a beaten egg and cook it as usual. You can use this in any situation that normally requires shortcrust – it makes a great pie lid, can be used to make pasties and hand-pies, even sausage rolls.

Baked Bramley Apples and Custard

A curious thing happened at our dining table yesterday evening…

We had eaten and we were all feeling pretty full by the time I pulled these baked apples out of the oven. We very rarely have any kind of dessert, none of us has a particularly sweet tooth; I only cooked this because it looked interesting and, for a dessert, it’s low-calorie (around 270 kCal per serving).

I didn’t much fancy it, thinking I would have a couple of bites to test it. Another at the table was extremely dubious about the entire concept, and the third flat-out refused to eat it as he hates mushy things.

Anyway, there we were, chatting away, politely nibbling away from our bowls. Some little time later I realised that my bowl was empty. It wasn’t only mine, so were the other two. That tells you all you need to know about this incredibly simple, incredibly moreish winter dessert.

The original recipe is by Tom Kerridge. Sir, I salute you.

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RECIPE serves 4 

75g sachet of low-fat instant custard

400ml skimmed milk

4 medium Bramley apples

40g amaretti biscuits, crushed

the zest of an orange

30g raisins

1 tsp ground allspice

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cardamom seeds

1tbsp soft light brown sugar

a scattering of flaked almonds


METHOD

Heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas3.

Pour the custard powder into a large heatproof jug. Heat the milk on the stove-top until it reaches scalding point (just below the boil) then pour it , while whisking continuously, onto the custard powder. When it is smooth and free of any lumps, set it aside for now.

Remove the cores from the apples, leaving a good-sized hole so you can fit the filling into it.

In a small bowl, mix together the crushed amaretti biscuits, orange zest, raisins and spices.

Pour the custard into a small roasting tin, then place the apples on top of the custard. Spoon the filling into the core-holes. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and sprinkle with the brown sugar and scatter over the flaked almonds. Bake for a further 15-20 minutes until the apples are soft all the way through.

Serve each baked apple with a portion of the hot custard.

Pasta in Parchment with tuna, tomatoes and potatoes

Quite often, the deciding factor in my cooking a recipe I haven’t tried before is that it is in some way unusual, therefore offering a chance for me to learn something new. I spotted this recipe in Ursula Ferrigno’s ‘Truly, Madly, Pasta’ and the idea of cooking pasta in a paper bag was too intriguing to ignore.

You can’t really go wrong with Italian food, it is largely based on simplicity, using fresh ingredients and flavourful aromatic combinations. Pack all that into a paper bag, so all the flavours and aromas are locked in… well, how could it go wrong? Even if I did manage to somehow get it wrong, I would have a salvageable basis for another meal at the end of it.

My only real concern was the pasta. It is part-cooked before going into the paper, and once in the paper there is no way to test if it is done until you serve it, so I was totally reliant on the recipe-writer getting her timings right.

I needn’t have worried, the pasta was cooked perfectly, the only amendment I made to the original recipe was putting the tuna steaks in raw (Ursula Ferrigno pre-cooks those as well). As it stands now, this is a delicious, versatile, quick and easy midweek pasta recipe that also has the ‘wow!’ factor when you bring it to the table.

You can leave the potatoes out if you wish, they are primarily there to add textural interest, but with them left in this is a hearty dish indeed.

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RECIPE serves 4 

250g tuna steak, chopped into 2cm cubes

150ml dry vermouth

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

grated zest of one lemon

2 sprigs of rosemary, broken into pieces

8 new potatoes, peeled (or scrubbed) and cut into small dice

12 ripe plum tomatoes, deseeded and roughly chopped

handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped, plus more to serve

350g spaghetti

2 tbsp olive oil


METHOD

Place the tuna in a bowl with the vermouth, garlic, lemon zest, rosemary and some seasoning. Leave to marinate for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ Gas 6.

Towards the end of the marinating time, cook the diced potatoes in boiling salted water for approximately six minutes, until tender, and drain. Combine with the tomatoes and parsley.

At the same time, half-cook the spaghetti. Use just over half the time suggested on the packet, the brand I use is al dente in ten minutes, so I cooked it for six. Drain and set aside.

Also at the same as you cook the pasta, in a large frying pan, heat the oil until hot, remove the tuna from the marinade and set aside, and fry the marinade and its aromatic ingredients for a couple of minutes to burn off the alcohol and reduce slightly. Combine this sauce with the spaghetti, the raw marinated tuna, tomatoes and potato. Toss well.

Prepare four parcels with parchment paper, add one-quarter of the mixture to each and fold up loosely like an envelope. Fold in the edges and then fold over the top carefully to seal completely.

Place in the pre-heated oven for seven minutes. Serve at once, tearing open the bags at the table (while inhaling deeply!) and sprinkling with more chopped parsley.