Sticky Jerk Salmon with a Crunchy Mango and Red Cabbage Salad

Spring has officially sprung here in England, the evenings are long and hot and our garden is in full flower. The weather is so variable here that we take every chance that we can to eat outside. That doesn’t always affect the choice of what we will have to eat, but sometimes the evening is so glorious that all that is required is something light and easy and, perhaps most importantly, quick to make.

I had a small stock of jerk paste that I had made a few weeks ago lurking in the freezer, and decided that if I didn’t use it now it would end up in the bin. I also had a very ripe mango that I picked up yesterday, for no other reason than that it was reduced for a quick sale. Thinking cap on, I searched through my flavour thesaurus, came up with an interesting combination of flavours that ought to work together and was rewarded with one of the most glorious salads I have ever eaten.

We are having a big family barbecue in a few weeks – when we can depend on the weather a little more – and so I have been thinking about what to make to feed a lot of hungry people who will expect something special. This salad just shot to the top of my list; it is wonderful with the salmon here, but would also be great with jerk chicken, or even just as a salad all by itself.

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RECIPE – for 2 people

1 heaped tbsp jerk paste

1 tbsp clear honey, plus 1 tsp

2 salmon fillets

juice of a lime

1/2 red cabbage, core removed and thinly sliced

1 ripe mango, thinly sliced into strips

1 red pepper, thinly sliced

3 spring onions, finely sliced on an angle

a small bunch of fresh coriander, leaves only


METHOD

Mix the jerk paste with 1 tbsp of clear honey. Lightly season the salmon fillets, place on a foil-lined baking tray and spread the paste all over the top of them. Place under a hot grill for 8-10 minutes until just cooked through and the paste is starting to caramelise. Meanwhile make the salad.

Tip: I found that the paste on top of the fish hadn’t quite caramelised as much as I would have liked by the time the fish was done. I finished it off with a cook’s burner, not something I use very often in my kitchen but an extremely handy thing to have available at times like these.

Put the 1 tsp of honey, the lime juice and a little seasoning in a large salad bowl and mix thoroughly. Add the red cabbage, mango, pepper, spring onions and coriander, toss thoroughly with the dressing.

Serve the salmon in a bowl on top of a bed of the salad.

Crusted Baked Hake with Sherry Lentils

I really can’t praise this dish enough, it is one of those dishes where the individual elements are delicious, but when they are put together on one fork the results are sensational. The secret is the sherry vinegar syrup; it ties the different elements together and brightens the earthy flavour of the lentils.

Ah yes, the lentils. Long maligned as the preserve of hippies, health freaks and vegans, they are finally beginning to be recognised as nutritional powerhouses that – cooked correctly – are so delicious that even hardened carnivores will like them. It doesn’t hurt their case that there are many different types for many different purposes, and they are ridiculously inexpensive.

The ones I have used here are green lentils; I have experimented with this dish using different types of lentil and nothing else worked. You’ll find these on the shelves of the major supermarkets, along with the sherry vinegar, another previously exotic ingredient that is now mainstream.

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RECIPE – for 2 people

2 slices of bread, breadcrumbed

50g plain flour, lightly seasoned

1 egg, beaten

2 hake fillets or loins

olive oil

a small bunch of chives, chopped

2 or 3 good handfuls of rocket

a quantity of salsa verde

For the sherry lentils:

100g caster sugar

100ml sherry vinegar

200g green lentils, rinsed

2 banana shallots, or 1 medium red onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed


METHOD

Tear up the bread – I like to use sourdough for the extra flavour, but you can use whatever you have, white or wholemeal do the same job – and put it into a food processor; whiz it up until it is fully breadcrumbed. A few small lumps are okay, they add variety to the texture, just don’t go so far that you end up with dust. Often you will be told that you will need stale bread to make breadcrumbs, that’s not strictly true. I always use fresh because that’s all I ever have and it makes no difference that I can detect. It is a good way of using up stale bread though.

Season the fish with a little salt and pepper, then lay out 3 plates with the flour, egg and breadcrumbs in each of them. Coat the fish with flour by laying it in the flour first on one side then the other and dusting any bits that you missed; then coat with beaten egg the same way then coat with breadcrumbs.

Lay each piece of fish on a piece of parchment on a baking tray and chill until ready to cook.

Now make the sherry lentils: heat the vinegar and caster sugar over a medium heat and bring to a simmer for 2 minutes; the sugar should be fully dissolved. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Put the lentils in a large pan with the shallots and garlic, cover generously with cold water, bring to the boil then simmer for around 15 minutes, until the lentils are soft but retain a little bite.

IMPORTANT: Do NOT season the water when you cook the lentils, it will make the skins tough and they will be inedible.

Drain the lentils, shallots and garlic through a sieve, then empty out onto a large baking tray and spread them out to cool. Drizzle most of the sugar and vinegar syrup over the lentils, retaining a little for later. As the lentils cool they will absorb the flavours of the syrup.

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6. When hot, drizzle a little olive oil over the breadcrumbed fish, then bake for 12-15 minutes until the flesh is just translucent.

To serve: reheat the lentils  so they are warm (not piping hot), put a handful of rocket in each bowl and scatter the lentils all around and over the top. Place the fish on top, with a drizzle of the remaining sugar and vinegar syrup and some chopped chives, and a good helping of the salsa verde alongside.

Spaghetti with Asparagus, Anchovies, Basil and Pangrattato

Another super-fast, super-delicious meal. Make the pangrattato first then the rest of it can be cooked in the time it takes for your spaghetti to cook.

Pangrattato is used as a seasoning in some parts of Italy, as an alternative to Parmesan. It isn’t a cheese but seasoned, deep fried breadcrumbs.  It has a double role here; to add an extra layer of flavour but also to add texture and crunch to the silky, cream coated spaghetti. It is a useful trick to have in your repertoire when you need to add an extra dimension to a dish, though be aware that it rarely works with tomato-based sauces.

The anchovies are also used here as a seasoning, they dissolve into the oil when cooked and add a hit of warm umami. If you’re one of those who think they don’t like anchovies so are tempted to give this recipe a miss, try it, you will be surprised how completely they disappear yet how dramatically they affect the overall flavours.

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RECIPE – for 2 people

1 slice of bread, breadcrumbed

75 ml olive oil

1 tsp dried thyme

125g asparagus, woody ends trimmed

1 garlic clove, finely sliced

5 salted anchovy fillets in oil

a small handful of basil leaves, torn

100 ml double cream

225 g spaghetti

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Make the pangrattato first: tear up the bread – I like to use sourdough for the extra flavour, but you can use whatever you have, white or wholemeal do the same job – and put it into a food processor; whiz it up until it is fully breadcrumbed. A few small lumps are okay, they add variety to the texture, just don’t go so far that you end up with dust. Often you will be told that you will need stale bread to make breadcrumbs, that’s not strictly true. I always use fresh because that’s all I ever have and it makes no difference that I can detect. It is a good way of using up stale bread though.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and add the thyme, don’t get the oil so hot that it is smoking, if you drop a breadcrumb into it and it sizzles then it is hot enough. When the oil is hot, tip the breadcrumbs into it and fry until they are golden brown and crunchy. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on a couple of changes of kitchen paper, season lightly with salt and pepper.

Strain the hot oil, carefully, through a muslin cloth or kitchen paper into a large frying pan. The oil will have been infused with thyme while cooking the breadcrumbs and this will add to the flavour of your sauce.

Bring a large pan of slightly salted water to the boil for your spaghetti and put the spaghetti in when it reaches a strong rolling boil; the brand that I use takes approximately ten minutes to reach al dente. Meanwhile, steam the asparagus for three or four minutes until the stems are just tender. Remove from the steamer and cut them into 1 cm slices at a slight angle.

Heat the oil in the frying pan, add the garlic and cook gently for a minute or so, then add the anchovy fillets and cook, stirring until they have dissolved into the oil. Add the asparagus, basil leaves and double cream, cook gently for 3 or 4 minutes while the spaghetti finishes. Your spaghetti should be just al dente as it will cook on in the final stage.

Retain a little of the spaghetti water, drain the spaghetti and add it to the asparagus sauce, tossing well and adding a little of the cooking water to loosen the sauce if necessary. Cook gently for a couple of minutes then scatter the pangrattato over the top. Check and carefully adjust the seasoning, bearing in mind that the pangrattato adds seasoning by itself, and serve with a simple green salad.

Mushroom Speltotto

Spelt is an ancient grain that has been cultivated in the middle east for around 9000 years, and has been a crop in Britain since 2000 BCE. It is a nutty, firm grain similar to the more familiar barley and in their ‘pearled’ state both are fantastic substitutes for rice. Used here instead of risotto rice, pearled spelt (or pearl barley, you can use either) go exceptionally well with the earthy flavour of mushrooms, making a warming, comforting, healthy yet very filling evening meal. Pearled barley and spelt are not quite whole grains because even though they have not been rolled, broken or ground down, they are still refined in that the pearling process polishes off the outer bran layer. This makes them easier and quicker to cook, and digest, without significantly affecting their nutritional profile.

The health benefits are many and varied, rather than rehash them here, this infographic from organicfacts.net says it all:

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We would normally have this speltotto in the autumn, but the spring weather in the UK recently took a turn for the wet and windy so this dish was the perfect antidote for the cold weather blues.

This recipe is easily adaptable for vegans with little impact on its flavour, simply omit the butter and Parmesan.


RECIPE – feeds 2

10g dried mixed mushroom (porcini, wild, shiitake, whatever you have available)

500ml vegetable stock

1 tbsp olive oil

1 red onion, finely chopped

a sprig of thyme, leaves picked (or 1 tsp dried thyme)

1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped or crushed

200g chestnut mushrooms, sliced

150g pearled spelt (or pearl barley)

100ml vermouth

juice of half a lemon

15g unsalted butter

a small bunch of finely chopped parsley, leaves only

30g Parmesan, finely grated


METHOD

Soak the dried mushrooms in 150ml of just-boiled water, set aside.

Heat the stock in a saucepan and leave at a gentle simmer.

Heat the oil in a large risotto or frying pan, add the onion and thyme and fry over a medium heat for 5 minutes until the onion is softened.

Remove the dried mushrooms from the hot water, drain and pat dry on kitchen paper, retaining the liquid in the bowl. Roughly chop the rehydrated mushrooms. Strain the mushroom liquid through muslin cloth to remove the grit, set the liquid aside as it has a lot of flavour which you will use in a moment.

Add the rehydrated mushrooms, sliced chestnut mushrooms and garlic to the onion and thyme, cook on for another five minutes or so, then add the pearled spelt and stir thoroughly for a minute or so until the spelt is coated with all the other ingredients. Now turn the heat up and add the vermouth, cook for a  minute while the alcohol burns off, now add the mushroom liquid. The pan should now be set at a heat where it will simmer gently, and the spelt will absorb the cooking liquid. Keep your eye on it, and keep stirring regularly; you don’t want it to catch on the bottom of the pan. When the liquid has almost all been absorbed start to add the simmering stock, a ladleful at a time, and continue to cook and stir. It will look like this:

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Continue to add the stock as it gets absorbed by the spelt, never allow it to dry out. This will take around 20-25 minutes (40 minutes or so for pearl barley), and you will see the grains puff up as they absorb the liquid. If you need to add more liquid than is in your stock pot, just add some more hot water. When ready, the spelt grains should be cooked through and soft, but retaining a little ‘bite’.

To finish, add the butter and stir it through until melted, this will give the dish a nice shine. Stir through the lemon juice, then the parmesan – which acts as a seasoning as well as adding creaminess – and scatter the chopped parsley leaves across the top. Stir once, and serve alongside a simple green salad seasoned with a little lemon juice. It will look like this:

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The flavours are intense, so adjust the seasoning carefully. You can also add a few handfuls of spinach before adding the butter; the flavours marry perfectly.

 

Kung Po Prawns

Stir-fried food is the ultimate fast food, taking literally less than 5 minutes from hot oil to finished dish. Obviously, that means that once you start cooking things move fast so you need to be well organised and have all your ingredients weighed-out, measured and chopped before you even think about turning on the gas. Though the ingredients list looks long there really isn’t much to it, and preparation should only take 15 minutes even if you take your time.

I made this a couple of nights ago; once we had used our fingers to clean every last drop of sauce from our bowls – and the wok, and the serving spoon – my wife said that she didn’t like Chinese food, but she loved this. What she really meant was that she loves Chinese food, real Chinese food, but she doesn’t like the food that you get from Chinese takeaways.

If Chinese takeaway food is your only experience of Chinese-style cooking then you are in for an extremely pleasant surprise, and this dish is an excellent way in to a delicious, filling and healthy cuisine. All the ingredients are readily available from UK supermarkets, so please don’t try and substitute say, black peppercorns for the Sichuan peppercorns, they are very different and it is the interplay of the various aromatic components of the sauce that make this such an amazing dish.

This is excellent served with Beijing rice, or your favourite noodles.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

For the crispy prawns:

1 tbsp sichuan peppercorns, dry-fried and ground

a good pinch of sea salt

2 tbsp cornflour

12 large raw king prawns, tails on

6 tbsp groundnut oil

For the stir-fry:

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 medium red chilli, finely chopped (seeds left in if you like it hot)

1 red and 1 yellow pepper, chopped into 1.5 cm chunks

For the sauce:

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp hoisin sauce

1 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

For the garnish:

a bunch of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks, chopped

a small handful of dry-roasted peanuts (optional)


METHOD

In a large, NOT non-stick pan over a high heat, dry-roast the sichuan peppercorns until they are aromatic. Be careful not to scorch them, then turn them out on to a plate to cool.

Prepare all the other ingredients.

Once the Sichuan peppercorns are cool, use a small coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle to grind them to a fine powder. In a large shallow dish combine with the cornflour and salt then roll the prawns in the mix until they are thoroughly coated, set aside for now.

Combine the sauce ingredients, set aside.

Heat a wok over a high heat, when hot add the 6 tbsp of groundnut oil and swirl it around the wok to coat all surfaces. Get it very hot then add the prawns, cook for about one minute, the prawns should be just turning pink. Remove from the heat and quickly, using a slotted spoon or ‘spider’  (a large open-mesh spoon, used a lot in oriental and wok cooking), remove the prawns from the wok and set aside on a plate.

Reheat the oil, add the chilli and garlic and stir fry for around 15 seconds, then add the chunks of red and yellow pepper. Stir-fry for 1 minute then add the sauce and bring to the boil, put the prawns back in the sauce and remove from the heat. Garnish in the wok, and serve.

I promise, you will fall in love with this dish.

 

Prawn Etouffee with Cajun Rice

My wife and I both love spicy food; not just Indian curries but also Italian food made with plenty of lemon and chilli, rich and creamy Thai dishes, and our most recent discovery: the Cajun cuisine of Louisiana, which finds yet more interesting ways to use a limited range of spices to make a whole new set of flavour experiences.

Prawn Etouffee is a traditional Cajun dish that uses a very dark, rich roux made from vegetable oil and flour. It was a new way of making a roux for me, and it takes a fair bit of bravery and constant whisking to get it dark and flavoursome without it burning. It’s well worth the effort though, this tastes like nothing I’ve ever had before, and I love it.

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RECIPE – serves 2

For the seasoning mix:

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp freshly ground white pepper

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp dried basil

1/2 tsp dried thyme

For the sauce:

1/2 small onion, finely chopped

1 stick of celery, finely chopped

1/2 green pepper, finely chopped

3 tbsp vegetable oil

3 tbsp plain flour

400 ml fish stock

30g butter

200g raw king prawns, peeled

4 spring onions, very finely chopped

a small bunch of coriander, leaves only, chopped


METHOD

Prepare all of your ingredients before you do anything else, and combine your seasoning mix in a small bowl. Also combine the onion, celery and green pepper in a small bowl.

In a large pan, over a high heat, heat the oil until it just starts to smoke. Add the flour gradually while whisking constantly, keep it on the heat. Keep on whisking over the heat until the flour and oil are fully combined and smooth, by now you should notice that the roux is starting to change colour. The longer you cook and whisk it the darker it will go. You need to get the colour to a very dark brown; be brave, just keep on whisking and if you think you are ever in danger of burning it just lift it away from the heat for a few seconds – just keep on whisking.

When your roux is a very dark brown remove it from the heat and immediately stir in your combined onion, celery and green pepper, and half the seasoning mix. Keep on whisking it all together until the roux and the pan have cooled sufficiently that you can safely leave it for a minute or two and nothing will burn. That should only take a minute or so.

Meanwhile, bring the fish stock to the boil. While continuing to whisk the roux and chopped vegetables, pour the stock in and return to the heat. Keep cooking and whisking until the sauce that you have now made is thick and smooth. Set aside while you cook your prawns.

Melt the butter in a large frying pan then add the spring onions and prawns. Cook over a moderate heat for around a minute, until the prawns just start to go pink, then add the sauce and the remaining half of the seasoning mix. Stir well.

Serve in a bowl with a mound of Cajun rice in the middle, garnish with fresh coriander leaves.

Universal Barbecue Bean Burgers

It’s a bank holiday in England, as usual the weather is a bit iffy, and we are off to a barbecue. Not being a fan of greasy burgers and mystery sausages (the mystery being: what meat is this?) we always take a brace of beanburgers with us. Everybody laughs, as if pointing fingers at the weird kid in school: “Burgers? That Vegans can eat? Yeuch!”

Then they try one, and I discover that I didn’t bring enough…


RECIPE – makes 4 large or 6 smaller patties (they are filling) 

1 tin of black beans, drained and roughly mashed

30g butter (or 2 tbsp olive oil if cooking for a vegan)

1 red onion, finely chopped

140g mushrooms, any kind, finely chopped

2 tbsp light soy sauce

1 large garlic clove, peeled and crushed

a bunch of parsley, chopped (stalks and all)

1 sping onion, trimmed and finely chopped

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

4 tbsp gram flour

1 tsp Marmite

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste


METHOD

Roughly mash the black beans, ensuring you keep enough texture to make the final burger interesting. Prepare the rest of the ingredients…

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Melt the butter, with a little oil (or just oil if you will be making these for vegans) in a large frying pan and gently sautee the onion for three or four minutes until softened but not coloured. Add the mushrooms and soy sauce, continue cooking until most of the mushroom liquor has evaporated, this should only take another three minutes or so. Now stir in the garlic, spring onion, parsley, chilli and black beans. Mix well and cook for a couple of minutes then add the marmite and season to taste with black pepper.

Transfer to a large bowl and stir the gram flour through the bean mixture, the gram flour will act as a binding agent to hold the patty together. Allow the mixture to cool until you can handle it comfortably, then shape into either 4 larger or 6 smaller patties…

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Cover them and chill thoroughly before cooking. They will firm up and can be patted into their final shape when chilled.

They can be pan fried for 1-2 minutes each side until golden brown, grilled for 3 or 4 minutes each side, or barbecued for a minute or so each side. Serve in a bap with your choice of salad and prepare to be quite full – if you can manage two of the larger ones you are a rare breed.

Cod Loin with a Fragrant Curry Sauce

This is a very simple curry that packs a huge punch of flavour. The spicing is bold but it isn’t the kind of curry that will have you bolting for a glass of milk to cool your mouth, instead the spices emerge as layers of flavour that queue politely for your attention.

As this is the first proper curry dish that I have posted here I wanted to use an amazing general-purpose sauce, to show how simple it can be to get great flavour and also how versatile a good sauce can be. I have used cod loin here but you can use any firm white fish loin or fillet, salmon, prawns, lobster, chicken and even pork. Quorn pieces go very well with this and if you want to make it for a vegan just omit the fish sauce, substitute the ghee for vegetable oil and use firm textured vegetables (e.g. potatoes, carrots, cauliflower) as your key ingredients.

I have specified using curry powder in this recipe – please note that it is my own recipe for curry powder and the recipe below is linked to the recipe for the curry powder. Please, please, please do not use a commercial curry powder in its place, it will be – how can I put this plainly? – crap.

This goes very well with chapatis and coriander rice.

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RECIPE – feeds 2 – 4 people 

One cod loin per person

3 tbsp ghee

1 tsp black mustard seeds

4 bay leaves

4 banana shallots, finely sliced

4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

a big knob of fresh ginger, about 25g, not peeled but rough bits cut off, finely chopped

1 green chilli, finely sliced

1 birds-eye chilli, finely sliced (optional, for if you like heat)

1 tbsp curry powder

1 tsp turmeric

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 tsp fish sauce

1 tin coconut milk

small bunch fresh coriander, leaves and stalks separated, stalks chopped finely


METHOD

Prepare all ingredients, combine the curry powder and turmeric with a little water to make a paste, set aside.

Tip: Adding a little water to dry ground spice powders to make a paste ensures that they don’t burn when added to a hot pan. It also allows the flavours to begin to develop even before you cook with them.

If you are ever adding powdered spices to a very hot oil (e.g. when cooking stir-fry in a wok) then make the paste using vegetable oil rather than water.

In a large pan, melt the ghee over a medium heat then add the mustard seeds and bay leaves, cook for approximately a minute then add the shallots, garlic, ginger and chilli. Cook for a few minutes until soft and aromatic then add the curry powder and turmeric paste. Cook for a minute or so, stirring the paste around to distribute it around and coat the other ingredients, then add the tomatoes, fish sauce and coconut milk. Bring to the boil then simmer for five minutes.

Turn off the heat, make sure your fresh coriander stalks are finely chopped and add them to the sauce; stir them in thoroughly and now let the sauce sit for as long as you possibly can. This sauce gets better with time, so try and make it in the morning or early afternoon for the evening meal. If you can make it the evening before it will be even better.

When ready to eat, gradually heat the sauce up and when it reaches a boil add the cod loins (or other fish) and simmer for 5-8 minutes until it is just cooked – it will continue to cook in the sauce, even off the heat. Scatter chopped fresh coriander leaves over the top and serve.

If using chicken or pork it should be cut into fairly small chunks and added with the tomatoes and coconut milk. By the time it comes to reheat it the meat will have slowly cooked through.

If using vegetables they should also be cut into fairly small chunks and added with the tomatoes and coconut milk. Check the vegetables for firmness before reheating to serve and cook on for as long as necessary to cook to your liking.

If using Quorn, that should also be added with the tomatoes and coconut milk.

 

Faux Chicken, Leek and Mushroom Pie

I hear you ask: what is a faux chicken pie?  It’s a chicken pie without any chicken in it – and before you ask what is the point, let me tell you that when my father and grandfather ate it on Sunday evening they had no idea that there was no chicken in it.

It’s all thanks to the magic of Quorn, a meat substitute that has improved enormously in the past few years. I don’t generally like substituting for the real thing, but when I am cooking for hardened meat-eaters of my parent’s and grand-parent’s generations as well for my vegetarian wife, I have the choice to either carry out a con trick or cook two meals. Well, the con trick will win every time.

When I revealed what they had just eaten there was general amazement and a reappraisal of how good vegetarian food can be. I can prove it too; I was supposed to take a picture of the two pies that I had made before they went on the table, but people were hungry. I ended up taking a picture of the last little piece of the one pie that was left after four hungry people had eaten their fill. The pitiful amount remaining speaks for itself.

I used two smaller 9 1/2 inch oval pie dishes this time, but usually make it in a larger, deep 12 1/2 by 9 1/2 inch oblong dish. Don’t worry overmuch about what you cook it in, just use what you have.

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RECIPE – comfortably feeds 4 people

50g unsalted butter

1 tbsp olive oil

2 large leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced

50g plain flour

300ml semi-skimmed milk

300ml vegetable stock

1/2 tsp fish sauce

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tbsp fresh tarragon leaves, finely chopped (or 1 tsp dried tarragon)

250g chestnut mushrooms, sliced

350g Quorn chicken pieces

75g cheddar cheese, grated

500g puff pastry, block or ready-rolled

1 egg, beaten

 


METHOD

Melt the butter with the oil in a large pan and gently fry the leeks over a low heat for ten minutes, until soft but not coloured.

Mix the flour with a little of the milk to make a smooth paste (no lumps!) and when the leeks are soft add the paste to the pan with the rest of the milk and the stock. Turn the heat up to high and, stirring constantly, bring to the boil. Simmer until the sauce is thick and smooth and any lumps that may have appeared are cooked out.

*Tip: Many people are rightfully worried about thickening sauces with flour, having suffered disgusting lumpy sauces in their childhood. Fear not, it is a problem easily avoided if you only take the time to continually whisk and stir your sauce while it comes to the boil. If you leave it while you go and do something else then you will suffer lumpy sauce, so look after it.

Now add the fish sauce (it will smell disgusting but gives the sauce a lovely depth of flavour when cooked in), the mustard and tarragon. Add the mushrooms and simmer for a couple of minutes, check the seasoning, then add the Quorn pieces and stir thoroughly. Remove from the heat, stir in the cheese, and put aside to cool completely.

The Quorn should go in frozen but will quickly thaw in the hot sauce, and will cook gently as the sauce cools.

When ready to cook, heat the oven to 200C / 180C Fan / Gas 6.

Roll the pastry out until approximately the thickness of a pound coin. Ensure the filling is completely cold otherwise the butter in your pastry will melt and your pastry lid will be a soggy disaster.

Brush the edge of your pie dish with water, lay the pastry on top with an overhang all round. Press and crimp the top and edge all round, trim away any excess pastry, brush the pastry with the beaten egg and pierce a steam hole in the centre.

Bake for approximately 35 minutes until the pastry is a deep golden colour and has risen.

Serve with a mound of smooth buttery mash, garden peas and a smile – don’t tell anyone what is in it until they have finished eating.

 

Warm Salad of Trout, Watercress and Spelt

“Things that grow together, go together.”

I have a terrific book on my shelves, ‘The Flavour Thesaurus’, by Niki Segnit. It’s a very handy reference when you have something in the fridge and you’re trying to figure out what to use as an accompaniment; it’s also handy to refer to if you have had a wacky idea, just to check that those flavours really will work together.

On the subject of trout and cress it has this to say: “not so much a pairing as a reunification. Trout feed on the more tender leaves of watercress but they’re really after the sowbugs, tiny crustaceans that live in its thickets.” Having had the idea, and knowing that we would be attending the Watercress Festival at the weekend, I knew to look out for some trout in the farmers’ market that is at the heart of the festival. I would have preferred to have got hold of brown trout, which has a more fulsome flavour than the rainbow trout which was all that was available there, but it was no problem – all I had to do was ensure that I gave it a little help by putting other flavoursome elements around it.

Hitting the books, I found that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall pairs trout and watercress with pearled spelt (in his excellent book ‘Three Good Things’), with a strong sauce that cuts through and enhances the flavour of the fish. I was thinking of using horseradish, which goes brilliantly with salmon so should work here (and it does by the way), but I always prefer to make everything if I can, rather than opening a jar.

There was still something missing though, I thought Hugh might have missed a trick by limiting himself to just three main ingredients. What I now had planned reminded me a little of kedgeree, and of course egg and cress are a classic combination, so would eggs work here? I always presumed that the eggs in a kedgeree only really work because of the way they interact with the curry flavours; the flavour thesaurus indicated that it wouldn’t be a disaster and you’ll never know unless you try it. I’m not spoiling the plot by telling you that of course it worked, otherwise the eggs wouldn’t appear in the recipe below.

It’s enormously satisfying when a faint idea blossoms into a recipe that you will make again and again; for mere amateurs like me it is a fairly rare occurrence, there will always be more failures along the way than successes. There’s always more to learn though, and a failure isn’t really a failure when you can learn so much from it. The main point here is to remind you that it’s okay to experiment. Don’t be afraid of ‘failure’; just read recipes, steal bits of them, adapt parts of others, play around with flavours and textures and see what happens, it can be great fun and if you can make cooking fun your eating will be fabulous, just like it is here.

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RECIPE – for 2 people as a main course, for 4 people or more as a starter

1 rainbow or brown trout, 500g or so, or two smaller fish

1 onion, sliced

2 tsp black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

a handful of parsley stalks, gently bruised

150g pearled spelt

1 tsp bouillon powder (I use Marigold)

2 good handfuls of watercress, large clumps separated

a handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped

2 duck eggs, boiled for 7 1/2 minutes and set aside

For the dressing:

50g plain yoghurt

1 tsp English mustard

juice of 1/2 lemon

a small pinch of sugar


METHOD

Lay the fish in a pan deep enough that you can completely cover it with water. Add the onion, peppercorns, bay and parsley stalks. Bruise the parsley stalks first, by gently pressing down on them with the flat of a knife.

Bring to a gentle simmer and poach the fish for 8-10 minutes. The exact time will depend on the size of your fish but be very careful not to go over – the fish flesh should be just translucent as it will cook on slightly. Lift the fish out and allow to cool completely before peeling the skin off and lifting the flesh from the bones. Try to keep the fish in fairly large chunks.

While the fish is cooling, strain the poaching liquid through a sieve to remove the onion, peppercorns, bay and parsley. Season with a teaspoon of bouillon powder and carefully adjust by adding salt, a tiny pinch at a time and testing after each addition.

You will now have a delicious fish stock, bring it to the boil and add the spelt. Simmer for 20-30 mins until the spelt is soft but still has a nutty ‘bite’.

Ten minutes or so before you think the spelt is done, boil the duck eggs for 7 1/2 minutes (if you can’t get duck eggs then use large hens eggs and boil for 6 mins) then set aside to cool slightly before cracking and peeling the shells, taking care to keep the eggs intact.

Drain the spelt and set aside while you make the dressing, by whisking together all the dressing ingredients.

On a serving platter gently combine the fish and spelt, dress with the watercress and parsley leaves, cut the eggs in half (the yolks should be soft but not runny) and place on top, then drizzle with the dressing.

This is lovely served warm as described; leftovers can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days and it is still delicious cold.