Grilled Sea Bass with Chilli and Mango Sauce

I am lucky enough to have access to a great fishmonger, and I’m always buying his fresh-caught sea bass. It has a lovely flavour and firm flesh, is an easy fish to work with, and whatever you pair it with it makes an impressive dish to put in front of guests. To prepare it, you need to gut and descale it, remove the fins and cut out the gills – but if you don’t fancy the work your fishmonger will happily do it for you.

This recipe comes courtesy of Gizzi Erskine, and it is perfect. It’s definitely one that I will make again and again, my wife demands it.

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RECIPE – serves 2

2 small sea bass
4 tbsp Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
3 tbsp shao hsing wine or sherry
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp soy sauce
juice of 2 limes
1 fresh red chilli, chopped
½ firm mango (green underripe mangoes are great if you can find them), peeled and cut into matchsticks
200ml water
1 tsp tamarind paste
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp cornflour, mixed with 2 tbsp of water
To garnish, a handful of fresh coriander leaves 


METHOD 

Using a sharp, serrated knife, make 3 or 4 cuts on each side of the fish.

Put the fish into a bowl, pour 2 tbsp of the fish sauce over it and leave to marinate for 5–10 minutes.

Heat the grill to a high heat.

Put the rest of the fish sauce and all the remaining ingredients, except the cornflour and the coriander, into a saucepan. Place over a medium heat and bring gently to a simmer.

Pour in the cornflour mix and stir until thickened. Cover and keep warm.

Grill the fish for 8 minutes on each side or until crisp and golden on the outside but firm and flaky when pushed in its meatiest part.

Place on a serving platter and pour over the sauce. Finally, sprinkle with the coriander.

Red Tomato Dhal

Take a few simple ingredients, add a little heat and a little time and a whole evening of satisfied fullness will follow. Dhal is rapidly becoming one of my go-to meals when it’s cold outside and I’m lacking inspiration – after eating it I wonder why the hell we don’t have it every night. I have over twenty different dhal recipes in my notebook, they are all amazing but this is one I made the other night and it’s my current favourite – until I make the next one…

By the way, this is a very low-calorie meal – around 200 calories or so per serving. You’ll be amazed at how full you feel.

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RECIPE – serves 2

1/2 tsp rapeseed oil

1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp black mustard seeds

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

75g red lentils

600ml vegetable stock or water

a few good handfuls of baby leaf spinach

fresh coriander, leaves and stalks chopped separately


METHOD 

in a small bowl, add a little water to the ground turmeric and cumin to make a paste, set aside for now.

Put a large non-stick frying pan over a high heat and brown the onion for 5-10 minutes until well coloured, then add the chilli flakes and black mustard seeds and fry for a further 15 seconds before adding the turmeric and cumin paste with the garlic. Cook on for a further 30 seconds or so then add the lentils and tinned tomatoes. Stir in the vegetable stock (or water) and the chopped coriander stalks. Bring to the boil before reducing to a gentle simmer for 30 minutes to an hour until the lentils are soft (depending on the age of your lentils). Add more water if necessary to prevent sticking.

Season, then add the spinach and allow it to wilt into the sauce. Scatter over the chopped coriander leaves and serve alongside Basmati rice and an onion salad.

Hake with Tomatoes and Puy Lentils

The trouble with always trying to make something new is that you often forget the gorgeous things that you have made in the past.  That’s why I keep a recipe notebook, in which I write down the final versions of everything that I make that I wish to one day make again. Pushed for time and inspiration last night I was flipping through the book and came across this richly delicious, and ridiculously quick, dish that I haven’t made in a couple of years.

What was I thinking? This is fabulous. I wish I knew where I initially found it, credit is most definitely due.

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RECIPE – serves 2 or 3

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
150ml vegetable stock
400g can chopped plum tomatoes
1 heaped tbsp sun-dried tomato paste
1 tsp hot smoked paprika (pimentón picante)
210g dried Puy lentils OR 400g can Puy lentils
2 or 3 skinned hake fillet (or other firm, white fish)
flat-leaf parsley, chopped to garnish


METHOD 

If using dried lentils, submerge them in clean water and agitate to rinse them, pick out anything that looks like it doesn’t belong then add to a large pan and cover with around 1 1/2 inches of cold water – DO NOT ADD ANY SALT or anything with salt added, it will make the skins tough and essentially inedible. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes (depending on the age of the lentils) until they are just soft enough to eat. Drain and leave to cool on a plate.

Heat the oil in a large, nonstick sauté pan or cast iron casserole with a lid. Add the onion and fry over a medium-high heat for 10 minutes or until browned, turning up the heat a little if necessary. You want the flavour that a well-browned onion will give you so be brave!

When the onions are almost done, add the sliced garlic and fry for a couple of minutes until the garlic also browns, moving it around just enough to ensure it doesn’t catch. Burned garlic is bitter and ruins a dish, so be brave but take care to keep a close eye on things. You can always arrest the cooking by adding the stock…

Ah, the stock. Please, please, please, make your own. I have provided a link to my recipe in the ingredients list, so use that or use somebody else’s but whatever you do using a stock cube or bouillon powder should be your absolute last resort – the difference between home-made and powdered in the final dish is like the sun and the moon.

Lay the fish to dry on kitchen paper, and pat the top side of each fillet dry as well. Lightly season with salt and pepper and allow to sit for a few minutes while you carry on.

Add the stock to the onions and garlic and let it bubble for a few seconds, then tip in the tomatoes followed by the sun-dried tomato paste, paprika and lentils. Bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes before seasoning with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Lay the fillets on top of the tomatoes and lentils, pressing them lightly into the sauce without submerging them, then cover the pan. Simmer over a very gentle heat for 10 minutes or until the fish is just cooked. The fish will poach on the underside and steam on the top side because of the lid, and will remain tender even if you slightly overcook it.

Serve in warmed bowls with crusty sourdough or wholemeal bread.

 

Indonesian Coconut Fish Curry

What makes this curry very different from what you get in your local takeaway is the shrimp paste. The flavour that it adds to the dish is indescribable, at least by me. Together with the lime, lemongrass and coconut it makes something midway between a Thai curry and a Keralan curry, but different enough from both to be worth putting into a category all its own.

Shrimp paste is widely available in supermarkets, but if you do struggle to get it you will get an acceptable result by using one anchovy and a teaspoon of fish sauce. The result will still be lovely, but different. Please please please, make and use your own curry powder – it is dead easy and it makes an incredible difference to the finished dish. You will find my recipe here.

All it requires to complete it is some plain boiled or steamed Basmati rice. If you keep the woody parts of your lemongrass stalks, add these to the cooking water for a delicate citrussy edge to the rice. Delicious!

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RECIPE – feeds 2

1 tbsp ghee (or vegetable oil)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
a big piece of fresh ginger (4cm or so) finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tsp shrimp paste (or 1 anchovy and 1 tsp fish sauce)
4 birds-eye chillies, left whole but with a 1 cm slit in the side
2 lemongrass stalks, tough outer leaves removed, soft parts finely chopped
I heaped tbsp curry powder
I tbsp jaggery (or dark muscovado sugar)
a bunch of fresh coriander, stalks finely chopped, leaves roughly chopped
1 tin of coconut milk
3 loins of cod, hake or other firm white fish, cut into large chunks
200g raw king prawns
finely grated zest and the juice of 1 lime


METHOD 

Prepare all your ingredients.

In a large frying pan, melt the ghee over a medium-low heat, add the onions and fry gently for 5 to 10 minutes until soft and translucent.

Add the ginger, garlic, chillies, lemongrass and shrimp paste. Cook for two minutes or so until aromatic and starting to take a bit of colour, then add the jaggery and curry powder. Cook on for a minute or so, keeping everything constantly moving so nothing catches, then add the coconut milk. Stir well and bring to a gentle simmer for 5 minutes.

At this point I like to turn everything off and let the sauce rest for a few hours. This softens the edge of the spices and makes everything more flavourful. However, you can carry straight on…

Add the coriander stalks and the white fish, simmer for three minutes and then add the lime zest, half the lime juice and the prawns. Simmer for a further two minutes then add the rest of the lime juice and scatter the coriander leaves over the top.

The fish and prawns should be just about cooked – don’t forget that they will cook on in the heat of the sauce.

Serve with plain steamed or boiled Basmati rice, flavoured with lemongrass stalks if you like.

 

Cauliflower Pappardelle with Gorgonzola

Oh my.

Some recipes are classic for a reason. This is a classic Italian dish, it’s delicious. That’s the reason it’s a classic.

I have tried this using other blue cheeses but it is at its absolute best when Gorgonzola is used.

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RECIPE – feeds 4

200g cauliflower florets

20g unsalted butter

150g Gorgonzola cheese, diced

3 tbsp whole milk

3 tbsp olive oil

1 garlic clove, peeled

1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves

400g pappardelle

25-50g freshly grated Parmesan cheese


METHOD

Parboil the cauliflower for 5 minutes in a large pan of salted, boiling water. Remove using a slotted spoon and retain the cooking water.

Melt the butter with the Gorgonzola and milk in a small pan over a low heat, stirring continuously until melted and smooth. Do not let it boil. When creamy, remove from the heat and set aside for now.

Cook the pappardelle in the reserved cooking water (add a little if you need to), per the pack instructions, until just al dente.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the whole garlic clove and cook over a low heat, stirring frequently, for a few minutes until lightly browned.  Remove and discard the garlic clove, add the cauliflower to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes until lightly browned. sprinkle with the thyme and season.

Drain the pappardelle, reserving a little of the water for use in loosening the sauce if necessary,  and add it to the pan with the cauliflower. Stir in the Gorgonzola mixture, toss well, remove from the heat and serve sprinkled with the Parmesan alongside a simple bowl of rocket and a crisp glass of white white.

Pan-Fried Sea Bass on Pita with Labneh, Tomato and Preserved Lemon

A straightforward middle-eastern inspired dish that utilises a handful of delicious ingredients all working together. If you make your own pita and labneh it goes from delicious to stunning.

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RECIPE – feeds 2  

2 sea bass fillets, skin on

3 tbsp olive oil

2 small preserved lemons, pulp removed, skin cut into thin strips

2 pita bread (white or wholemeal) each cut into 3 pieces

labneh (or some thick Greek yoghurt mixed with olive oil)

2 tbsp pomegranate seeds

2 tsp za’atar

2 good handfuls of rocket

For the salsa:

2 ripe tomatoes, skinned, de-seeded and finely diced

1 long red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

a small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped

juice of a lemon


METHOD

First combine the salsa ingredients. To de-skin your tomatoes: 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.

Cut the tomatoes into quarters and cut out the seeds, then slice into thin strips, then slice across to make fine dice. Season, then put the salsa to one side.

Prepare the remainder of the ingredients. Pat the sea bass fillets dry with kitchen paper, season, then heat the oil in a large frying pan.

Lightly toast the pita.

Fry the fillets, skin side down, over a medium heat for approximately 3 minutes until the skin is crisp and the fish moves freely in the pan. Carefully flip the fish over and cook for a further minute.

To serve: put a good handful of rocket in a large bowl, place the cooked fish on top. Scatter the salsa on top of the fish and all around it. Tuck the pita into the rocket and under the fish, spoon some labneh on each piece of pita and sprinkle some za’atar over the top. Scatter the strips of preserved lemon and the pomegranate seeds over everything.

Pour a glass of good dry white wine and enjoy yourself.

Lemon Salmon with Cherry Tomato Cous Cous

When you’re dieting, the biggest issue is always feeling full enough that you don’t eat more than you should, and aren’t tempted to snack. The other problem is that if you are relying on pre-packaged ‘diet’ foods they can be bland (a problem which is often overcome by chemical additives – not good). This fantastic dish solves both issues: it is very filling, without being heavy on the stomach, and tastes divine. It’s quick too, what’s not to love?

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RECIPE – feeds 2 generously

2 salmon fillets

2 tsp fine sea salt

1/2 tsp paprika

zest and juice of a lemon

a large knob of fresh ginger, finely chopped

1 tbsp and 1 tsp garlic-infused oil (see method)

140g cous cous

210ml freshly boiled water

1/2 small red onion, finely chopped

200g cherry tomatoes

a handful of fresh coriander, chopped


METHOD

First prepare your garlic infused oil: slice a clove of garlic into an egg cup, add 1 tbsp and 1 tsp of olive oil and leave for at least 30 minutes to infuse. Do this in the morning to save time later.

Now prepare the salmon: pat the fillets dry with kitchen paper, zest the lemon over a plate, add 1 tsp fine sea salt, 1/4 tsp paprika and stir in 1 tbsp of garlic-infused olive oil. Mix thoroughly then lay the fillets in the mix, turning over and using your fingers to coat the fillets thoroughly with the marinade. Cover and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

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Put the cous cous in a large pan that has a lid, add 1 tsp of fine sea salt, 1/4 tsp of paprika and the ginger. Mix thoroughly then add the water. Over a gentle flame, stirring continuously, cook for a minute. Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside for ten minutes.

Meanwhile, put the onion and lemon juice in a bowl, stir thoroughly and set aside.

Also, halve the cherry tomatoes and in a separate bowl toss in the remaining 1 tsp of garlic-infused oil. Set aside.

After ten minutes, put a large frying pan with a little oil or a ridged griddle pan on a high heat and get it hot but not smoking. While it is heating up, fluff up the cous cous with a fork, then add the onion and lemon juice, stir thoroughly, then add the tomatoes and oil, mix again, check and adjust the seasoning. Now add most of the chopped coriander and cover the pan again, put to one side while the fish cooks.

Place the salmon fillets in the hot pan, skin-side down if it has any, without scraping off the marinade. Cook for approximately 3 minutes on one side, then flip over and cook for a further minute or so on the other side. Do not try to move the fish around while it is cooking, it will stick until it is cooked. The exact time it will take to cook will depend on the thickness of your fillet.

Tip the cous cous on a serving platter and place the fillets on top, the crispy, seared side uppermost. Garnish with the remainder of the coriander and serve with a simple green salad, dressed with a little fresh lemon juice.

Roasted Squash, Red Onion, Spinach and Cheese Tart

Is there anything better for a summer picnic than a rich, flavourful tart with short, crumbly almost biscuit-like pastry? I don’t think so; it’s one of the main reasons I look forward to lazy summer Sundays – feet up in the garden, tart on the table, a glass of fine wine to hand, the sun shining and the dog at your feet, with nothing much to do except relax. On days like these all is right with the world.

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RECIPE – feeds 6 for lunch

a quantity of shortcrust wholemeal pastry

2 tbsp olive oil

1 small butternut squash, cut into 1cm cubes

2 small red onions, cut into 8 segments each with the root left on

300g spinach

100g strong cheddar, grated

3 large eggs

300ml double cream

parmesan cheese, finely grated


METHOD

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6.

Make the shortcrust wholemeal pastry, lightly flour the base of a 23cm loose-bottomed tart tin and line the tin with the pastry. Use a little surplus pastry to gently push the pastry into the corners and flutes of the tin so there are no air pockets, trim round the edges of the tart tin to remove the surplus pastry (keep this in case you need to make any small repairs) prick all over the base with a fork and chill the pastry case for 30 minutes.

While the pastry is chilling, prepare the butternut squash and red onions, then roast them in the oven for approximately 30 minutes until cooked through and starting to caramelise.

Put the spinach into a large pan on a high heat. There is no need to add any water, just keep stirring the spinach until it wilts completely. Tip into a sieve, squeeze gently and leave any excess moisture to drain.

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 for 20 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. Remove from the oven and set aside to rest for a few minutes.

*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 180C / 160C fan / gas 4 and continue to make your filling:

Lightly whisk the eggs and cream together, then season with salt and pepper, whisk again. Cut the roots off the roasted onions and remove any parts that have been scorched. Arrange the onions, butternut squash and spinach in the cooked pastry case and scatter the grated cheddar cheese over it. Pour over the eggs and cream mixture, and finely grate some parmesan over the top, this will give it a deliciously cheesy taste and aroma. Put the tart back into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and set.

Cool on a wire rack, in the tin, then remove from the tin and cut into slices.

This tart goes perfectly with a simple green salad dressed with a quick mustard vinaigrette:

3 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

a small pinch of sea salt

1 1/2 tsp of dijon mustard


Whisk it all together in the bottom of your salad bowl, drop the salad over it, and when you are ready to eat just toss everything together.

Here’s another quick tip: refresh your salad vegetables and leaves and make them extra crunchy by sitting them in iced water for 30 minutes, then pat them dry before dressing them.

Courgette and Sherry Soup

My mother-in-law makes a wicked courgette and sherry soup. Sadly, she has been ill this week so my lovely wife asked if I could make her something nice and light: “how about a courgette and sherry soup? She loves the one that she makes”.

Yeah okay, no pressure then. She’s a great cook and now you’re asking me to make something that she makes all the time, with no idea of her recipe.

On with the thinking cap, and I think I nailed it. The secret here is to keep it simple and let the ingredients sing. Boy do they sing. It’s the time of year when the courgettes we grow in the garden are just big enough to eat, so I grabbed a handful of them and let them speak for themselves. They were luscious. I was accused of adding cream to this soup, but no, all of the silky creaminess comes from the courgettes themselves. A delight.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

25g butter (or 1 tbsp olive oil, if making it for a vegan)

1 large onion, chopped

1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed

1/2 tsp dried basil

1/2 tsp dried oregano

400g courgettes, chopped

1 tbsp dry sherry

500 ml water

1 vegetable stock cube (use a vegan-friendly one if necessary)

extra-virgin olive oil to garnish

small basil leaves to garnish

croutons to garnish (optional)


METHOD

Melt the butter in a large pan and add the onion and garlic, with the dried basil and oregano. Cover the pan and cook gently for 5 minutes until the onion is softened. Stir in the courgettes, cover the pan and cook gently for a further 10 minutes. Turn the heat up, add the sherry and cook for a minute or so to burn off the alcohol, then add the water and crumble the stock cube into the soup. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, season carefully.

Allow the soup to cool for a few minutes then pour into a blender and blend until smooth. You can also use a stick blender to do this.

To serve, garnish with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a few small whole basil leaves, you can also garnish with a few croutons if you like.

Goat’s Cheese, Fennel and Red Pepper Tart

Is there anything better for a summer picnic than a rich, flavourful tart with short, crumbly almost biscuit-like pastry? I don’t think so; it’s one of the main reasons I look forward to lazy summer Sundays – feet up in the garden, tart on the table, a glass of fine wine to hand, the sun shining and the dog at your feet, with nothing much to do except relax. On days like these all is right with the world.

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RECIPE – feeds 6 for lunch

a quantity of shortcrust wholemeal pastry

2 tbsp olive oil

1 red onion, finely chopped

1 large fennel bulb, core removed, finely chopped

1 Romano red pepper, deseeded and finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

3 large eggs

300ml double cream

1/2 tsp sweet smoked paprika

100g goat’s cheese, crumbled

12 olives, chopped


METHOD

Make the shortcrust wholemeal pastry, lightly flour the base of a 23cm loose-bottomed tart tin and line the tin with the pastry. Use a little surplus pastry to gently push the pastry into the corners and flutes of the tin so there are no air pockets, trim round the edges of the tart tin to remove the surplus pastry (keep this in case you need to make any small repairs) prick all over the base with a fork and chill the pastry case for 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6. 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 for 20 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.

Meanwhile, in a large pan, heat the oil over a medium heat then add the onion, fennel and pepper, cook for approximately 15 minutes until soft and just beginning to caramelise. Add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes more, then set aside and allow to cool.

*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 180C / 160C fan / gas 4 and continue to make your filling:

Lightly whisk the eggs and cream together, then add the paprika and season with salt and pepper, whisk again. Tip the cooked vegetables into the tart case and dot with the chopped olives and crumbled goat’s cheese. Pour over the eggs and cream mixture then put the tart back into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and set.

Cool on a wire rack, in the tin, then remove from the tin and cut into slices.

This tart goes perfectly with a simple green salad dressed with a quick mustard vinaigrette:

3 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

a small pinch of sea salt

1 1/2 tsp of dijon mustard


Whisk it all together in the bottom of your salad bowl, drop the salad over it, and when you are ready to eat just toss everything together.

Here’s another quick tip: refresh your salad vegetables and leaves and make them extra crunchy by sitting them in iced water for 30 minutes, then pat them dry before dressing them.