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.


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


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!

Hake with Puy Lentils, Rocket and Salsa Verde

I recently discovered hake and my first thought was: where have you been all my life? It has a similar texture and mouth-feel to cod, but has a lovely flavour all its own (whereas cod can actually be quite bland) and – most importantly – it is sustainable. You may not be able to find hake where you are, but you can use any firm-fleshed white fish so feel free to substitute cod, pollack, coley, haddock or whiting.

This recipe started life in a great book by Lucas Hollweg entitled ‘Good Things to Eat’, an aptly-named book that I heartily recommend. The salsa verde, in particular, is all his and the way it is used here elevates what would be a good dish into a great dish. This meal is never going to win any awards for beauty, there’s a little too much brown going on, but it does a great dance on your taste buds…

It looks like there’s a lot of work to do here given the length of the ingredients list, but if you read the method you will see that it will actually take very little work and the biggest job you face is chopping the vegetables finely.


RECIPE – to feed 2

For the salsa verde:

a big handful of flat-leaf parsley

a handful of basil leaves

a handful of mint leaves

6 anchovy fillets in oil, drained

2 big garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

2 tbsp capers, drained

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

extra-virgin olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the lentils:

150g dry puy lentils

4 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 celery stick, finely chopped

1 medium carrot, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

leaves from one sprig of rosemary, finely chopped

2 tbsp tomato puree

1 bay leaf

720ml water

120g bag of rocket

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the fish:

2 thick white fish fillets or loins, skin on if possible

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

25g unsalted butter

olive oil


First make the salsa verde: grab a big bunch of flat-leaf parsley in your hands and tear it in half so you end up with mostly the stalks in one hand and mostly leaves in the other, put everything into a food processor. Strip the leaves from a bunch of mint and a bunch of basil, add them to the food processor along with the anchovies, garlic, capers, mustard and vinegar. Turn the food processor on to continuous action, and slowly drizzle olive oil into the chopped leaves mixture until it becomes a finely chopped sauce that is the consistency that you want it to be. Depending on how you like your sauces you may need to use as much as 125ml of oil. Empty into a bowl, season very carefully and set aside.

Season the fish with salt and pepper and set aside while you cook the lentils.

Put the lentils into a large bowl or saucepan and cover with water; using your fingers swirl the lentils around to clean them. The water may go cloudy; if so, drain the lentils and repeat until the water stays clean. Drain the lentils and set aside for a few minutes.

Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a large pan and over a gentle heat sweat the vegetables, garlic and rosemary under a piece of parchment for up to ten minutes.

*Tip: Sweating vegetables under a piece of parchment is known as using a cartouche. It is a way of cooking that simultaneously sweats and steams the vegetables, extracting maximum flavour in minimum time.

Cut a square of baking parchment that is slightly larger than the surface area of your pan, push it down so it sits on top of your sweating vegetables and then tuck the sides down so the vegetables are completely covered. Keep the heat low and after a few minutes check to see that nothing is catching on the bottom of the pan, then re-cover and continue to sweat them until they are as soft as you need them to be and the aroma is filling your kitchen.

Now stir in the tomato puree and cook it out for a minute. Now add the lentils, water and bay leaf. Do not add any seasoning of any kind at this stage – it will render your lentils tough and probably inedible. Bring to the boil then simmer for anything between 20 and 40 minutes depending on the age of your lentils – keep on checking, they should be tender but retain a little bite.

Drain, but retain the cooking water and remove the bay leaf. Stir in the final 2 tbsp of oil and 4 tbsp of the cooking liquid; you may now dispose of the remaining cooking liquid. Mix in half the salsa verde then season generously but carefully. Stir the rocket through the lentils, cover and keep warm while you cook the fish.

Heat a large frying pan until it is very hot, then add 2 tbsp of oil and lay the fish, skin down, in the oil. Turn the heat down a little and cook the fish without disturbing until the skin is crisp and the flesh has cooked about 2/3 of the way through. Carefully turn the fish over and at the same time drop the butter into the pan, as it melts use it to baste the top of the fish and cook for a further minute. The fish should be just cooked and the exact time it takes will depend on the thickness and type of fish that you are using.

Plate up into bowls, laying the fish on top of a mound of rocket and lentils. Drizzle a little oil over the fish and dot the top with a few spoonfuls of the remaining salsa verde.

This dish sits alone, if you feel particularly hungry it will go alongside a simple green salad but it needs nothing else.

Roasted Sea Bass with Potato Gratin

The smell of roasted fish and potatoes is everywhere around the Mediterranean; it’s a classic pairing and deservedly, deliciously so. Too many amateur cooks are scared, literally scared, of cooking fish though. I must confess that I used to be as well, the problem being that sometimes if you take your eye off it for even 30 seconds then you run the risk of it overcooking. The solution is simple: know how long your piece of fish is likely to take to cook, and keep your eye on it when the time gets close!

Cooking a whole fish gives you a little more leeway than cooking a slim fillet, but that doesn’t mean you should be complacent – even the best cooks can get distracted at the critical moment. This though is as foolproof as a fish dish ever gets: a delicious fish sitting atop a fantastically flavoured, light and aromatic gratin. This is food that makes you feel good, which is what all food should do.

A quick word about preparing the fish: before cooking it should be gutted and have its gills and scales removed. This is a simple and straightforward task, though descaling can get a little messy as the scales have a tendency to land all around the kitchen (when I do it I put the fish in a carrier bag in the sink – that’s the voice of hard-won experience). There are many guides and tutorials to fish preparation available on the web, so I won’t rehash that information here. Suffice to say that though I am perfectly capable of preparing a fish myself, I won’t do it if I don’t have to – I have other things to do and there are people out there called fishmongers who will be happy to do it for you if you only ask them.

I have occasionally found myself at a supermarket fish counter, spotted something that I would like to cook and I have asked the person behind the counter to prepare it for me, only to be met by a blank look and be told that they only sell them, they’re not qualified to prepare them. On each occasion I have walked away. In my view you have no business selling nature’s bounty if you know nothing about it. I would rather put myself out and travel somewhere else, to a fully-trained professional who cares about his work and can answer my questions about where the fish came from (and when), and offer suggestions on the best way to cook them. Sure, I may pay a bit more for it, but when it comes to fish you definitely get what you pay for.


RECIPE – to feed 2


2 whole sea bass about 300g each, cleaned, de-gilled and scaled

3 sprigs of rosemary

zest and juice of 1 large lemon

750g potatoes, peeled and sliced 3 or 4 mm thick

4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

6 anchovy fillets in oil, drained and chopped

2 tsp dried thyme

a good pinch of saffron, shredded

4 tbsp olive oil

20 cherry tomatoes, halved

75 ml vermouth

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Heat your oven to 220C/200C fan/Gas 7.

Slash the fish 3 times on each side with a very sharp knife, taking care only to go roughly 5 millimetres into the flesh. Season well both inside the cavity and on the outside, with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place a sprig of rosemary inside the cavity of each fish and place them in a dish, pour over the lemon juice ensuring it gets inside the cavity and into the slashes on both sides of the fish. Leave the zest for later use and set the fish aside while you prepare the gratin.

The potatoes need to be very thinly sliced if they are to be experienced at their best, and I recommend using a mandolin to do this. If you don’t own one, buy one – seriously, I am not at all into kitchen gadgets but this is one tool I absolutely rely on. If you have doubts, see how you feel after you have cut 150 or so very thin slices of potato.

In a large freezer bag or similar, toss the sliced potatoes with the garlic, anchovies, thyme, saffron and olive oil. Using a bag is more efficient at getting the oil and other flavours all over the potatoes, it means you won’t drown your dish in oil, which can end up unpleasant.


Rub a little oil on the inside of a large gratin dish – large enough to take both fish without crowding them – and empty the contents of the bag into it; squeeze, shake and wipe out the bag with your fingers to get every last piece of flavour into your dish. Spread the potato slices out into an even layer, then scatter the sliced tomatoes over the top, followed by a sprig of rosemary. Finally, drizzle the vermouth over everything.


Place in the middle of the oven for 40 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft and are starting to go brown. After 40 minutes, put the fish on top of the hot gratin and drizzle each fish with a little olive oil. Return to the oven and roast for around 17 minutes – start checking the fish at around the 15 minute mark and keep on checking until the flesh is fully opaque. By this time the potato and the tomatoes should have taken on a lovely golden colour, with slightly charred edges – that’s good, there’s real flavour there.

Top the fish with the grated lemon zest and tuck in. All this needs is a couple of handfuls of rocket alongside it, splashed with a little more lemon juice.