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…