Brazilian Squash and Black Bean Soup

Another in an unending series of amazing winter soups, perfect for those long, dark, cold evenings. This one, again, manages to be so much more than the sum of its parts – put it down to great ingredients, being allowed to exhibit their greatness.

In my recipe notebook there is a little annotation beside this one, it simply says: ‘Wow!’

This is why I love winter, food like this.

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RECIPE – serves 4 to 6 people

1 butternut squash, chopped into 2cm chunks

2 tbsp olive oil + 1 tbsp to coat the squash when roasting

1 large onion, chopped

1 tbsp cumin seeds, dry-fried and ground

1 tbsp coriander seeds, dry-fried and ground

2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

2 red chillies, finely chopped (seeds left in if you like heat)

1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped into 1cm chunks

1 tbsp fresh thyme, leaves only

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

1 litre vegetable stock

1 tbsp Thai fish sauce (nam pla) or Marmite

150g dried black beans

100g frozen sweetcorn

1 tsp light muscovado sugar

2 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped

the zest and juice of 1 lime

To serve: 

a small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped

50g per person bulghur wheat, toasted


METHOD 

The conventional wisdom is that you should soak the black beans in plenty of water, the evening before you use them. However, after much back-to-back testing it is plain that not soaking them makes them blacker, more beany and flavourful, at the cost of having to cook them for a little longer. How long? Around 90 minutes or so, until they are soft but retain bite and texture – the older your beans the longer they will take. To cook them, use a big pan and plenty of water, into which you have put an onion – halved but otherwise intact – an orange, again halved and gently squeezed, and then put both halves in the water, and a couple of whole, peeled garlic cloves. Bring to the boil then simmer until ready. If you have a pressure cooker then life is much simpler, follow the guidelines for your device but cook them for around 20-25 minutes. When cooked, remove the onion, orange and garlic and set the beans aside.

You don’t have to do all this, but for some reason using dried beans adds more flavour, and when cooked using aromatic ingredients the flavours are amped up even higher; tinned beans are fine though, no need to feel guilty.

While you are preparing the beans, coat the squash chunks in a little oil, season lightly and roast in a 200C/ gas 6 for around 30 minutes until soft and just starting to caramelise at the edges. This is another worthwhile step; roasting vegetables accentuates their sweetness and adds further dimensions to any dish in which they are used.

Put the cumin and coriander seeds in a small pan (not non-stick) and heat gently with no oil for a few minutes until they are aromatic and the cumin seeds are just starting to pop. Tip onto a metal plate to cool, then either crush in a mortar and pestle or grind to a powder using a coffee grinder reserved exclusively for spices.

Meanwhile, in a large pan, heat the oil and gently fry the chopped onions for around 10 minutes until just softened, then add the cumin and coriander, garlic, chopped chillies, chopped red pepper, thyme and chilli flakes. Mix well and cook gently for a minute or two, stirring frequently and taking care not to burn the garlic or dry herbs and spices.

Add the squash, with sufficient stock to cover everything (it may not require the whole litre) and add the fish sauce. Bring to the boil then add the black beans, sweetcorn and sugar, then simmer for 15 minutes.

Ideally, at this point leave your soup to sit for a few hours so that the flavours can develop, the longer you can leave it the better it will be. This really works, but if you eat it straight away it will still be delicious.

Five minutes before serving, roughly chop the tomatoes (as a guide, chop into around 12 pieces) and add to the simmering soup then, just before serving, finely grate the zest of the lime into it and squeeze in the lime juice, stir thoroughly and check and adjust the seasoning. Scatter with the coriander and top each bowl with a few spoonfuls of toasted bulghur wheat.

To make it suitable for a vegan, simply omit the fish sauce; it can be replaced with 4 teaspoons of Marmite which has a similar umami nature.

Butternut Rostis

Browsing through Sabrina Ghayour’s excellent ‘Sirocco’ recently, I found myself bookmarking page after page of delicious-looking recipes that I wanted to make. The reality is that only a very small fraction ever will get made – if I made everything I wanted to I would have to live to 160 and I’d be as fat as a hippo!

I have made a few of Sabrina Ghayour’s recipes now though, and every one has been an absolute delight. She makes this as a light lunch, with a poached egg on top, and I reckon that would be a fabulous meal, but such is the versatility of these patties that they also go very well with a salmon fillet, seared in a very hot pan and served alongside a simple salad – great for autumn and spring alike.

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RECIPE – feeds 4

1 small butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and coarsely grated
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 tsp sea salt flakes
1 heaped tbsp plain flour
1 heaped tsp turmeric
1 heaped tsp ground cumin
1 heaped tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 bunch spring onions, thinly sliced
½ small packet (about 15g) dill, leaves and fronds finely chopped
1 large egg
vegetable oil, for frying
freshly ground black pepper


METHOD 

Put the grated butternut squash and chopped onion in a mixing bowl and add the salt. Mix well, using your hands. The salt will draw out excess moisture from the squash and onion, resulting in crisp rösti. Leave to stand for approximately 30 minutes then, using a sieve or clean cloth, squeeze to extract as much moisture as you can from the mixture – you will be amazed how much liquid comes out – and return it to the mixing bowl.

Preheat the oven to 160°C/fan 140°C/gas 3.  Line a baking tray with baking parchment and heat a large frying pan over a medium heat.

Add the flour, spices, spring onions and dill (reserving 1 tsp dill for sprinkling) to the squash and onion mixture and mix well with your hands. Once the spices and dill are evenly incorporated, crack in 1 egg and mix again, adding a generous seasoning of black pepper. Shape the mixture into 12 patties, each approximately 10cm wide and 1cm thick.

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Heat a good amount of oil in the hot frying pan and fry the patties in batches for 6–8 minutes on one side or until nice and crisp, then flip over and fry on the other side for 5–6 minutes or until deep golden brown. Keep the cooked patties warm in the oven on the prepared baking tray while you fry subsequent batches.

Place 3 rösti on each serving plate with a little sprinkling of fresh dill and freshly ground black pepper, then serve immediately alongside your main ingredient of choice.

Za’atar and Goats’ Cheese Puffs

I have a wide array of canapes, light bites, side dishes and snacks in my notebook, they’re always handy to have because you never know when somebody will ask you to make something for a party, drop in out of the blue for a cuppa or just for those times when you think a meal requires something else to complete it.

These puff pastry rolls are absolutely delicious and though they do require just a little forethought in that you need to have some defrosted puff pastry to hand, they are quick to put together and quick to cook.

They come courtesy of Sabrina Ghayour, whose books ‘Persiana’ and ‘Sirocco’ come chock-full of delicious Middle-Eastern flavours. I have not modified this recipe at all, it is perfect just as it is. I am not a fan of ready-rolled puff pastry but it does make it even easier – if you prefer to use half a block of frozen puff, as I do, then you won’t need quite so much cheese and za’atar. The quantities are not crucial anyway, just follow your instincts and use less or more as your tastes dictate.

Za’atar is a deeply aromatic Middle-Eastern herb and spice mix. These go well as an alternative to bread rolls when making a spicy soup, or pretty much anything made with butternut squash. They also make a brilliant snack and reheat well in a 180C/ 160C fan/ Gas 4 oven for 5 minutes.

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RECIPE – makes 15-20

250g puff pastry (half a block), or a sheet of ready-rolled (320g)

olive oil, for brushing

2 heaped tbsp za’atar

300g soft goats’ cheese

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD 

Preheat the oven to 220C / 200C fan/ Gas 7. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment.

If using block pastry, roll it out on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle of around 30cm x 20cm. Brush the pastry lightly and evenly with a little olive oil, like so:

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You can see that my pastry is not quite straight, it doesn’t matter. Now sprinkle 1 tbsp of the za’atar evenly over the pastry:

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Crumble the goats’ cheese evenly across the pastry, leaving a 2.5cm border on the long edge of the pastry furthest away from you, like so:

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Season generously with salt and pepper and sprinkle the remaining za’atar over the cheese:

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It might look like rather a lot, but don’t worry. Now, starting with the long edge of the pastry that is closest to you, roll the pastry as tightly as you can without tearing or crushing it. You will end with something resembling a Swiss roll.

Cut the roll in half, then using a serrated knife cut each half into rounds approximately 1cm thick. Trim away the scruffy ends. Pat each whirl lightly to slightly flatten them so they stay together while they cook, and place them on the baking tray leaving sufficient space between them to allow them to rise:

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There is no need to glaze, just bake for approximately 15 minutes until well-risen and golden. Be prepared to immediately lose half of what you have baked – grasping fingers are a real danger when these come out of the oven!

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Herby Poached Egg and Smoked Salmon on Sourdough Toast

Whenever I read through a recipe book I look longingly at some of the delicious ideas for breakfasts, but I keep going past that section because I never have time to make an elaborate breakfast. Fool that I am, quite often all it takes is a little forward planning and a delicious and different breakfast can be on the table in ten minutes – the same time it takes to prepare my usual boiled eggs and toast.

I saw Jamie Oliver make this on his most recent TV series and it sounded, and looked, so delicious that I was determined to make it myself. I’m so glad I did, it required no forethought – besides having the ingredients to hand – and it really was on the table in ten minutes.  This would make a great light lunch as well.

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RECIPE – serves 2

extra virgin olive oil
a few fresh chives, finely chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
2 large eggs
2 thick slices of sourdough, toasted
cream cheese
smoked salmon, roughly chopped
a large handful of spinach
Tabasco sauce
1 lemon


METHOD 

Lay two 40cm sheets of non-PVC clingfilm flat on a work surface and rub with a little oil. Place one at a time into a cup and push down to create a well to hold the egg.

Sprinkle the chopped chives and chilli in the centre of the sheet, then carefully crack the egg on top. Pull in the sides of the clingfilm and be sure to gently squeeze out any air around the egg. Twist, then tie a knot in the clingfilm to secure the egg snugly inside. Repeat with the other egg in the other sheet.

Your egg parcels should look like this:

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Poach the egg parcels in a pan of simmering water for 6 to 7 minutes for soft-poached, or until cooked to your liking.

Place a colander or steamer above the pan and wilt the spinach as the egg poaches.

Meanwhile, toast the bread and spread the cream cheese on it like butter. Scatter the smoked salmon over the cream cheese. Squeeze any excess liquid out of the spinach, then spoon over the toast.

Snip open the clingfilm parcel, unwrap the egg and place proudly on top. Dot with a little Tabasco and serve with a wedge of lemon for squeezing over, then season and tuck in.

Pasta, Cherry Tomatoes and Blue Cheese

We were supposed to go out for a meal last night, but a combination of fatigue and ennui determined that we would light the log burner and have a simple supper instead. Having nothing planned, I turned to the fridge and the pantry to find a handful of simple ingredients and cook this fast, simple and delicious treat.

We would have enjoyed our meal out, I’m sure, but I’m not so sure whether it would have been quite as lovely as what we ended up with.

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RECIPE – serves 2

300g cherry tomatoes, quartered

4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 fat garlic clove, thinly sliced

a good pinch of dried chilli flakes

a small handful of basil leaves, torn

220g pasta (whatever you have available)

200g soft, creamy blue cheese (Gorgonzola, Dolcelatte etc)

a little parmesan, finely grated


METHOD 

Combine the tomatoes, oil, garlic, basil and chilli flakes in a bowl, with a good pinch of sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Set aside for 30 minutes.

Cook the pasta in plenty of salted water at a rolling boil. Drain, return the pasta to the pan and add the tomato mix, toss well then crumble the cheese into it. Stir well, drizzle with a little more olive oil and a final twist of black pepper.

Serve in warmed bowls garnished with finely grated parmesan, alongside a simple green salad, dressed with a little freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Celeriac and Apple Soup

Simple as they seem, soups can be a real test of a cook’s palate and skill at combining flavours. This Tom Kerridge recipe is a great example, deceptively simple with only a handful of ingredients, the soup itself is the classic winter pairing of creamy celeriac and sharp cooking apples and is lovely by itself. Add some garnishes however and the resulting flavour combinations are eye-popping, every mouthful offers something different.

I have used pumpkin oil as a garnish here; it’s an unusual ingredient, and quite expensive – though it will go an awful long way. Use it like you would toasted sesame oil, as a seasoning and garnish, and it lifts anything it comes into contact with. A very worthwhile investment indeed.

This soup makes a delicious and filling supper meal, or a very elegant first course.

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RECIPE – serves 4

500g celeriac

1 litre vegetable stock

3 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 large Bramley apples, or other sharp cooking apples

the juice of a lemon, freshly squeezed

200ml double cream

1/2 nutmeg, finely grated

To garnish (use any or all):

salty, soft blue cheese (Roquefort, dolcelatte or similar), crumbled

toasted walnuts

celery leaves

a few drops of pumpkin oil

sourdough croutons


METHOD 

Heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4.

Peel the celeriac and retain the peel, chop the flesh into 2cm cubes and tip onto a roasting tray, drizzle a couple of tablespoons of rapeseed oil over it. Using your hands, ensure that every surface of every piece of celeriac has a fine film of oil, then spread the pieces out evenly across the roasting tray. Do not crowd your tray, leave a little space between each piece of vegetable and in a single layer, otherwise some pieces will steam rather than roast. Roasting drives out some of the moisture in the vegetable, intensifying the flavour in a way that steaming does not. The oil coating protects the vegetable from the dry heat and delays caramelisation until the vegetable is soft. Roast for 30-40 minutes until soft and just starting to brown.

Meanwhile, put the celeriac peel into the stock and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat and allow to infuse for at least 30 minutes.

Sweat the onion in 1 tbsp rapeseed oil with a little salt for around ten minutes until softened but not coloured – the salt will help as it encourages the moisture in the onions to be released.

Peel and dice the apples and toss them in a large bowl with the lemon juice. When the onion is soft, add the apples with the lemon juice and the roasted celeriac. Strain the infused stock into the pan and bring to the boil, simmer for ten minutes until the apple has started to break down. Add the cream, bring the temperature of the soup back up until it is just about to boil, then turn off the heat. Using a stick blender, or worktop blender, blitz the soup until it is smooth. Test and correct the seasoning, and grate in half a fresh nutmeg.

To serve, garnish with any or all of the garnishes listed.

Squash Fritters with Green Tomato Salsa

I still have a small mountain of green tomatoes in my kitchen. They stubbornly refuse to ripen, not surprising given that it is November, but they are still firm and healthy. Determined to make use of them, I found this Jamie Oliver recipe which sounded intriguing.

When I started to make the fritter batter I must confess that I wondered whether I’d made the right decision, things didn’t look very promising at all. However, I soldiered on, mainly because I didn’t have anything else to fall back on. I needn’t have worried, they turned out to be absolutely delicious, especially when paired with the punchy salsa.

I served them alongside pan-seared salmon fillets and a simple green salad, quite wonderful.

Jamie’s original recipe calls for leftover roasted squash, I cannot think of any circumstances when I would have any leftover squash. If you are like me then you will need to roast some squash before you begin: peel and chop your squash into 2cm cubes, season lightly and toss in a little olive oil, just enough to coat each cube, and roast in a 200C/ Gas 6 oven for around 40 minutes until the edges are starting to caramelise.

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RECIPE – serves 4

For the salsa:

2 medium green tomatoes
2 medium, ripe red tomatoes
2 fresh red chillies, de-seeded and finely sliced
4 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
1 lemon, zest and juice
a small bunch of fresh basil
extra-virgin olive oil

For the fritters:

250 g roasted squash
250 g ricotta cheese
½ teaspoon ground allspice
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons wholewheat flour
½ teaspoon baking powder


METHOD 

Chop all the tomatoes, some roughly and some finely so you’ve got a range of shapes and textures, scrape them into a bowl with the chillies and spring onions, grate the lemon zest over the top, squeeze in half the lemon juice and stir thoroughly.

Pick and roughly tear the basil leaves, then add to the tomatoes along with a good pinch of sea salt, some black pepper and a drizzle of oil. Mix well, check and adjust the seasoning then set aside.

Roughly mash the squash in a large bowl then add the ricotta, allspice and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Crack in the eggs and whisk to combine, then fold through the flour and baking powder.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a non-stick frying pan or skillet over a medium heat, add 4 to 6 large spoonfuls of batter and fry for 3 to 4 minutes, or until golden and crisp on the bottom. Flip the fritters over and fry for a further 3 to 4 minutes, or until golden and cooked through.

Keep in a warm oven while you prepare the rest of the fritters and cook your salmon, or whatever you decide to accompany them.

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.