Chapatis

A quick and easy way to make a slight dish much more filling, chapatis – an unleavened Asian flatbread – can be on the table 15 minutes or so after weighing out the flour. Traditionally eaten alongside curry, where it is often used as a scoop in place of a fork or spoon, chapatis are also excellent with middle eastern dishes and make delicious vegan wraps.

IMG_0354


RECIPE – makes 4, will feed 2 people as a side dish

125g wholemeal bread flour

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

85ml water


METHOD

Weigh the flour into a bowl, add the salt, make a well in the centre and add the water. Using your fingers in a claw-like grip, pull the flour into the water, pulling and kneading with your fingers to get everything off the sides and bottom of the bowl. The dough should start off sticky but quickly become stiff and silky. At this point take it from the bowl to a lightly floured work surface and knead it for 7-10 minutes.

Heat a skillet, or large dry frying pan, until very hot. While it heats up, divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and roll them out into a rough round shape, adding small amounts of flour to prevent sticking as you roll. The chapatis need to be thin, thinner than a penny piece. If you have trouble rolling them out thinly, cut two squares of baking parchment, dust them with flour and roll the dough out between them.

To cook, lay the rolled chapati in the hot skillet and cook on each side for a minute or so. They should scorch and even burn a little; that’s fine, that’s where a lot of the flavour comes from.

Repeat until all four chapatis are cooked, the ones made previously can be kept warm in a low oven under a tea towel.

This recipe is easily scaled up to feed four or more people, just scale all the ingredient quantities up in equal ratios.

Tagliatelle with Prawns in a Chilli Brandy Sauce

I love the way that pasta allows you to create impressive dishes with minimal effort. If I had to choose my favourite cuisine it would be a tough decision, but I’m sure I would settle for eating Italian food every day for the rest of my life if I really had to, and I wouldn’t complain. It’s the flavours; just a handful of good ingredients, carefully chosen, lift each other to new heights.

What is there to dislike about Italian food? It is generally quick to prepare, quick to cook, inexpensive and utterly delicious. It’s food for life.


IMG_0343

RECIPE – to feed 2

25g unsalted butter

2 tbsp olive oil

2 banana shallots, peeled and finely chopped

12 cherry tomatoes, quartered

1 tsp chilli flakes

4 tbsp brandy

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

225g tagliatelle

12 raw king prawns, peeled but tails on

a small handful of freshly chopped flat leaf parsley

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Melt the butter with the oil in a large frying pan over a moderate heat and fry the shallots, stirring occasionally, for a couple of minutes until soft and aromatic, but not coloured.

Meanwhile, bring a very large pan of salted water to the boil, ready for your pasta.

Increase the heat, add the tomatoes to the frying pan with the chilli flakes and a pinch of salt and cook for a minute or so. Add the brandy and cook on for a further minute to allow the alcohol to evaporate. Add the balsamic vinegar and cook for a couple of minutes then turn off the heat, check the seasoning and put to one side.

Cook the tagliatelle in the boiling salted water until al dente, it will cook on a little in the sauce. If using dried tagliatelle nests this will take approximately 6 minutes, if using fresh then it will take as little as two minutes.

One minute before the pasta is ready, bring the frying pan back to a high heat and add the prawns, stirring occasionally. By the time the pasta has cooked and you have drained it, the prawns should have just turned pink and will be ready. Add the tagliatelle to the prawns and sauce, toss thoroughly then scatter the parsley onto it, give it one final toss through and serve alongside a bowl of undressed rocket.

Time this right and you can have it on the table within ten minutes from chopping your shallots – it’s seriously impressive fast food!

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.


IMG_0328

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


METHOD

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…

 

Pizza!

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


METHOD

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.

IMG_0312

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!

IMG_0313

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.

IMG_0317


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


METHOD

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.