Sausages, Apples and Onions

This is something my mum used to make when I was seven, so it’s an old, old idea, but it is no less delicious for that.  The sausages are the focal point here so use the best quality pork sausages you can find – handmade from your local butcher if possible.

Paired with buttery, creamy mashed potato, this dish makes for the best bangers ‘n’ mash ever. It’s also great with a crisp-skinned baked potato; there’s no need to melt butter into the potato, the pan juices do a much better job.

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RECIPE serves 4

3 tbsp olive oil

12 pork sausages

2 tsp mustard seeds

2 red onions, peeled, root left on and cut into thin wedges

4 eating apples, skin on, cored and cut into wedges

a few sprigs of fresh thyme

flaked sea salt


METHOD

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

Put the oil into a large, ovenproof frying pan (or roasting tray), and sear the sausages over a high heat for 5 minutes, turning every minute or so, to get some colour on the skins.

Add the mustard seeds, red onion and apple, shake the pan well to coat everything, then lay the thyme sprigs deep into the pan, under the other ingredients. Season with a couple of pinches of flaked sea salt.

Cook in the oven for 45-60 minutes until the sausages are well-coloured and cooked through, the apples are meltingly soft and the onions are starting to caramelise.

Serve immediately, and make sure you’re not the last one to the table otherwise it might be all gone…

Spiced Monkfish with Crushed Potatoes, Peppers and Olives

Monkfish used to be regarded as a bit of a delicacy, quite hard to find, and quite expensive. Now it seems to be everywhere, even some smaller supermarkets are stocking it. It still costs more than your average cod loin, but the small extra expense is well worth it, because that ‘delicacy’ tag still fits extremely well.

It is a firm, meaty, lean white fish which stands up to, and is enhanced by, bold flavours. It’s perfect in this Gordon Ramsay recipe, though if you don’t manage to get your hands on monkfish then hake or haddock are equally excellent – just cut the cooking time down by at least half.

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RECIPE serves 4

For the crushed potatoes:

750g new or baby potatoes

flaky sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

a squeeze of lemon juice

200g roasted red peppers (from a jar is fine), drained and chopped

100g pitted olives, black or green, or a mixture of both

a small handful of shredded basil leaves

For the fish:

4 monkfish tail fillets, skinned, any grey membrane removed

2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder

1 heaped tsp sweet smoked paprika

1 tsp fine sea salt

2 tbsp olive oil

a handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

lemon wedges, to serve


METHOD

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

Bring a large pan of well-salted water to the boil and carefully add the potatoes. Boil for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, mix the five-spice powder, paprika and salt together in a shallow dish. Roll the monkfish in the mixture, coating evenly.

Heat the olive oil in an oven-proof frying pan until hot; sear the fish fillets for 1-2 minutes on each side until golden brown. Transfer the frying pan to the oven and cook for a further 5 minutes. Keep your eye on the fish fillets so you don’t overcook them, start checking after 4 minutes and be aware that it may take anything up to 8 minutes to get them so they are just cooked through. When they are ready, carefully remove the hot pan from the oven, transfer the fish to a warm plate, cover with foil and leave to rest for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, when the potatoes are ready, drain them and return them to the pan. Lightly crush them with the back of a fork or a potato masher, then mix in the extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice and season to taste. Stir in the chopped peppers, olives and basil, check and adjust the seasoning again.

Cut the monkfish into thick slices, spoon the crushed potatoes onto warmed plates and arrange the monkfish on top. Scatter with the chopped parsley and serve at once alongside wilted spinach or steamed broccoli, and lemon wedges.

Stir-fried King Prawns with Chinese Spinach and Garlic

Browsing in my local supermarket the other day, I spotted a living salad tray that contained Chinese spinach. It’s not something I have ever encountered before, and in truth it’s not actually that different from the ‘regular’ spinach you find on supermarket shelves, though it does release a deliciously earthy liquor when it is wilted down. This makes it an ideal choice for a stir-fry, where all that flavour can be used to enhance the sauce.

If you can’t find Chinese spinach, use ordinary spinach, or substitute it for pak choi.

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RECIPE serves 2 as a main, or 4 as a starter

2 tbsp groundnut oil

3 fat garlic cloves, finely sliced

4 birds-eye chillies, finely sliced

200g Chinese spinach (or pak choi) roughly chopped

16 large, raw king prawns, tails on

2 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tsp rice wine vinegar

2 whole dried red chillies, crumbled

1 spring onion, finely chopped

2 tsp toasted sesame oil


METHOD

Prepare all the ingredients before you begin to cook. Things happen quickly when you stir-fry so you need to be organised.

Put the oil in a cold wok with the garlic, and heat it up over a high heat – this will flavour the oil and protect the garlic from burning while it releases its flavour. When the garlic is golden, add the birds-eye chillies and spinach (or pak choi) and cook for about a minute, keeping things moving all the time.

Now add the prawns, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar and cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes, keeping it all moving, until the prawns are just cooked.

Remove from the heat and sprinkle over the dried chilli flakes, spring onion and sesame oil, toss together and serve immediately accompanied by steamed Basmati rice or your choice of noodles.

Luxurious Fish Pie

This is deeply, deeply satisfying. It is also ridiculously moreish, so make sure you are wearing your loosest jeans when you sit down to eat.

There are, of course, almost as many fish pie recipes as there are fish in the sea. The very best of them are separated from the rest by the quality of the white sauce, nail that and it doesn’t matter which fish you use. Here it is kept simple, just a few of the freshest ingredients, cooked and seasoned carefully.

I like to use a mixture of fish fillets: smoked haddock, salmon and hake, and a good handful of prawns. The result is a vivid display of colour, and a tango on your taste buds. You could go further and posh it up by adding langoustines, monkfish and scallops.

Now, where are my baggy trousers?

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RECIPE serves 4

250ml fish stock

3 bay leaves

250ml double cream

1kg mixed fish fillets (salmon, smoked haddock, hake, cod etc)

a good handful of peeled raw prawns

50g unsalted butter

2 medium leeks, washed and trimmed, use only the white and light green parts, finely sliced

4 tbsp plain flour

100ml dry vermouth

salt and pepper

2 handfuls of chopped flat-leaf parsley

For the topping:

1.25kg floury potatoes

100g unsalted butter

100g strong cheddar, grated

flaky sea salt

25g Parmesan, very finely grated

olive oil

freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Put the stock and bay leaves into a large saucepan with the cream, add the fish fillets and over a medium heat bring it to just below the boil, ensuring the fish is submerged. Simmer gently for 6 minutes, then turn the heat off and leave it to sit for a few minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the fish fillets and place in a large gratin dish (23cm square, or similar), leaving the fish pieces as large as possible. Remove any skin and bones from the fish, and reserve the cooking liquid for later use.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter with a glug of olive oil (to prevent the butter from burning) and add the leeks with a good pinch of salt. Stir thoroughly, cover and cook over a gentle heat for around ten minutes until the leeks are soft but not coloured.

Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and chop them into large chunks, then place into cold water and bring to the boil. Keeping the water at a vigorous simmer, cook the potatoes until they are tender.

Heat the oven to 190C/ fan 170C/ gas 5.

Sprinkle the flour over the leeks and stir in for a couple of minutes until the flour is invisible and there are no lumps. When the mixture is bubbling and smooth, add the vermouth and keep on stirring for another couple of minutes to make a smooth paste. Now remove the bay leaves from the fish cooking liquid, then add the liquid to the leeks a ladleful at a time, stirring frequently. Bring to a gentle simmer, cook uncovered for 15 minutes, then correct the seasoning.

Drain the potatoes, then mash with 100g of butter, using either a masher or ricer. When smooth, add the cheddar and stir through with a fork until fully incorporated. Season generously.

If you can, don’t add any liquid to the mash. It needs to be fairly stiff when it is spread over the top of the fish mixture.

Sprinkle the chopped parsley over the top of the sauce, and gently stir it in, along with the prawns. Now pour the sauce over the top of the fish in the gratin dish.

Carefully, starting from the edges of the dish and working toward the middle, lay the mashed potato over the top of the sauce. Ensure there are lots of peaks and troughs in the mash, so they will catch and brown in the oven. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the mash, followed by a drizzle of olive oil and a good grinding of black pepper.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling through. Allow to stand for around ten minutes, then serve with peas, green beans or a simple green salad.

Pan-Fried Salmon with Roasted Apricots and Couscous

Everybody I know who has ever tried dieting, has failed. Actually, that’s not strictly true; in general they have lost some weight, but then gone back to eating how they used to eat and put the weight back on again. The key to losing weight and keeping it off is, of course, to permanently change the way you eat.

The trouble is, it’s all a bit of a trial isn’t it? All that denial, no treats, and the food is so unappealing…

It doesn’t have to be that way. I’m probably preaching to the converted, but if you can cook, then rustling up delicious healthy meals is very easy. With a little practice and a stock of good recipes you can make food that you would be happy to pay for in a restaurant. This is one of those meals: it’s quick and easy, packed full of interesting and delicious flavours, it’s attractive and it is, of course, extremely healthy.

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RECIPE serves 4

250g couscous

310ml light vegetable stock

2 pinches of saffron

25g unsalted butter

8 apricots, halved and stoned (fresh or dried)

1 tbsp caster sugar

1/4 tsp ground cumin

4 spring onions, finely sliced

3 tbsp pistachios, roughly chopped (or flaked almonds)

4 250g salmon fillets, skin on

coriander leaves, roughly chopped, to garnish

lemon or lime wedges, to garnish


METHOD

If you are using dried apricots, soak them overnight to rehydrate them, and keep the liquid that is left.

Dry the salmon fillets thoroughly on kitchen paper, set aside.

Put the couscous into a large bowl. If you have the soaking liquid from rehydrating dried apricots, add the stock to it to make it up to 310ml. add the saffron and a pinch of salt and, in a pan, bring it to the boil and turn the heat off. Add the butter, stir until it is melted, then pour the stock over the couscous, stir well, cover and set aside for ten minutes.

Place the apricots, cut-side up, on a grill tray and sprinkle with the sugar, cumin, salt and pepper. Grill under a high heat until they are bubbling and golden. Chop into smaller pieces, then fluff up the couscous with a fork. Stir the apricots and spring onions through the couscous, check the seasoning and scatter the pistachios over the top.

Season the salmon on both sides with a little salt, then fry in a little oil over a medium high heat for 3 minutes, skin-side down. Flip over and cook for a further minute, the flesh should still be bright pink and just cooked.

Serve alongside the couscous and lemon or lime wedges, garnished with coriander leaves. Apple and celery salad is a fantastic accompaniment to this dish, adding more flavour and texture.

Chicken and Sweet Leek Pie

There are times when only a pie will do…

Family gatherings are when this crowd-pleaser normally comes out, the filling can be made the day before so you can spend your time with your family, rather than closeted away in the kitchen.

This delight comes courtesy of Jamie Oliver, the not-so-secret ingredient being the balls of sausage meat. The burst of savoury flavour as you hit one of those little delights is just one of the things that makes this a real treat to eat.

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RECIPE serves 6-8

a good lug of olive oil

50g unsalted butter

1kg boneless chicken thighs, chopped into medium chunks

2 medium leeks, sliced into 1cm rounds

2 medium carrots, thinly sliced

3 sticks of celery, finely sliced

2 tsp dried thyme

2 tbsp plain flour

125ml dry vermouth

250ml whole milk

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

250g pork sausages

500g all-butter puff pastry

1 egg, beaten


METHOD

In a large casserole dish over a medium high heat, add the olive oil and butter and, when melted, add the chopped chicken. Brown for a few minutes, then add the leeks, carrots, celery and thyme. Cook, uncovered, on the hob at a gentle heat for fifteen minutes.

Turn the heat up to high, then add the plain flour and stir into the liquid that has been released. Keep on stirring for a few minutes until it is all cooked in, then add the vermouth and cook for a couple of minutes more.

Now add the milk and a wineglass (125ml) of water, season with salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook gently for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and cook uncovered for ten minutes more. The sauce should be thick and creamy.

Squeeze the sausage meat out of the skins and roll into small balls. Brown the balls in a separate frying pan with a little oil, then add to the chicken mixture. Now transfer all of the mixture into an appropriately-sized pie dish, check the seasoning and allow to cool completely. If the mixture is still warm when you apply the pastry, the heat will melt the butter in the pastry and it will be ruined.

When you are ready to cook the pie, heat the oven to 220C/ 200C fan/ gas 7.

Roll the pastry out to approximately 5mm thickness, to a size and shape that will comfortably drape over the edge of the pie dish with minimal wastage.

Brush the edges of the pie dish with the beaten egg, then drape the pastry over it, sealing the edges firmly with your fingers. Trim off any excess pastry. There is no need to cut any holes in the pastry for steam to escape – remember, the filling is cold at this point.

Wash the top of the pie with beaten egg, and decorate the pie with the pastry trimmings, any way you like.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 30-40 minutes until the top is golden brown and risen, and the pie is piping hot.

I like to serve this with piles of buttery mash, and peas.

Chunky Butternut Mulligatawny

It may seem odd to make a hearty winter soup in the middle of summer, but the truth is that some things taste great all year round. This hearty one-pot supper is something I often make when I yearn for some spice but I’m short on time. It’s also an easy go-to when I am on a 5:2 diet day and need something filling and delicious in the evening; on those days when I limit my calorie intake, food like this makes them something to look forward to rather than a trial.

The nigella seeds are the ingredient that really elevates this dish, they are readily available in larger supermarkets or Asian shops so please don’t be tempted to leave them out. Also, please, please please make up your own curry powder, it makes an unbelievable difference. My recipe for curry powder is linked from the ingredients list below.

This recipe is suitable for vegans, in fact it makes a persuasive argument for embracing veganism.

Ostensibly, this recipe will feed four people, but very often I will make it for my wife and myself and we will polish off the lost between us. At only 212 calories per serving it is guilt-free gluttony!

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Picture Credit: BBC Good Food

RECIPE – Serves 4

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

2 onions, finely chopped

2 apples, peeled and finely chopped

3 celery sticks, finely chopped

a small butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, chopped into small pieces

3 heaped tbsp curry powder

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp nigella seeds

2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes

1½ litres vegetable stock

150g basmati rice

small pack of coriander, leaves and stalks, chopped

zest and juice of a lemon


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed pan. Add the onions, apples and celery with a pinch of salt and cook gently for 10 mins or so under a lid, stirring occasionally, until softened.

Add the butternut squash, curry powder, cinnamon, nigella seeds and a grind of black pepper. Cook for 2 mins more, then stir in the tomatoes and stock. Cover with a lid and simmer for 15 mins.

By now the vegetables should be tender but not mushy. Stir in the rice, add the chopped coriander stalks, pop the lid back on and simmer for another 12 mins until the rice is cooked through. Taste and add more seasoning if needed.

Finely grate the lemon zest over the top, then squeeze the lemon juice over that, scatter the chopped coriander leaves over everything (don’t stir it!) and bring to the table to serve in bowls.

Sea Bass with Mint, Tomatoes and Red Onions

I have a mini herb garden in my kitchen, pots of basil, coriander, lovage, mint and others, all lined up on the window sills. The mint is a problem: it grows like a weed and tends to smother the others, so every now and again I will search for a recipe that uses mint, just so I can prune it without feeling guilty.

This recipe comes from Skye Gyngell’s ‘My Favourite Ingredients’, one of those books that, no matter which random page you open it at, you want to eat what you see. This one, for example, tastes even better than it looks.

As usual, using the very freshest, perfectly ripe ingredients allows it to sing. If you don’t have sea bass, this would work equally well with the freshest mackerel, or meaty tuna steaks. I served it alongside fennel chips, the flavour of the fennel seeds echoing the crushed fennel in the sauce, but I think it would also be delicious with simple steamed rice.

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RECIPE – Serves 2 

2 sea bass fillets, skin on

100ml extra virgin olive oil

3 sweet red onions, peeled and finely sliced

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp dried red chilli

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

a handful of flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped, leaves only

a small bunch mint, coarsely chopped, leaves only

4 ripe, sweet, juicy tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 tbsp sherry vinegar

1 tbsp olive oil, for frying


METHOD

Set the sea bass fillets aside on a covered plate to allow them to come to room temperature.

Place a pan over a low heat, pour in the extra virgin olive oil and, when the oil is warm, add the onions. Cook very gently for about 30 minutes, to bring out the gentle sweetness of the onions. Meanwhile, toast the fennel seeds in a dry frying pan to release their flavour, then grind using a pestle and mortar.

Add the ground fennel seeds to the onions, crumble in the chilli and season with a little salt. Cook for a further 10 minutes, still over a very low heat. Add half the parsley and mint, stir well, then add the tomatoes and sherry vinegar. Turn up the heat a little and cook for 10 minutes. This sauce should taste very clean, so don’t cook the tomatoes for too long.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Season the fish well, especially on the skin side. This will draw out the moisture in the skin, allowing the skin to go crisp and crunchy when cooked and adding both flavour and texture to the finished dish.

Place a non-stick ovenproof frying pan over a high heat. Pour in a little olive oil and when hot, lay the fish skin side down in the pan. Cook for 2–3 minutes until the skin is golden brown. Immediately transfer the pan to the oven to finish cooking without turning the fish. This should take no more than a further 2–3 minutes.

To serve, taste the sauce for seasoning and adjust if necessary, then add the rest of the parsley and mint. Spoon into warm shallow bowls and lay the fish fillets on top. Serve at once.

Prawn Risotto

I reintroduced myself to the simple, calming pleasure of stirring a risotto yesterday evening. Admittedly, spending 25 minutes or so watching over and stirring rice isn’t everybody’s idea of pleasure, but after a hectic day rushing around from pillar to post it made me stop, and allowed me to reset and relax. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the results were divine, but by the time it got to the table I was in exactly the right frame of mind to enjoy it.

There are a few essentials in making a great risotto: the rice you use is crucial, Carnaroli is best I think, though Arborio is fine. Also, the finer you chop your shallots and celery the better; I try and ensure that each piece is no larger than a grain of rice so they release all their flavour then disappear. The quality of your stock is also crucial: chicken stock gives the best flavour, fish stock comes a close second, or you can use a light vegetable stock. If you absolutely must use a stock cube then the results will also be great, but with something as simple as this you get out what you put in. It is essential that you keep your stock at a gentle simmer so that you never interrupt the cooking of the rice as you add it.

Serve alongside an apple and celery salad, the perfect accompaniment.

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RECIPE – Serves 2 

2 tbsp olive oil

2 or 3 banana shallots, very finely chopped

2 fat garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 celery stick, trimmed and very finely chopped

200g carnaroli risotto rice

100ml dry vermouth

approx 800ml hot stock (chicken, fish or vegetable)

220g raw peeled king prawns

140g peas

1 spring onion, white and green parts, very finely sliced on the diagonal

finely grated zest of half a lemon

1 1/2 tsp finely chopped mint

a swirl of extra-virgin olive oil to finish


METHOD

Get your stock bubbling at a very gentle simmer, and keep it at this temperature throughout the cooking.

Heat the oil in a wide, deep, heavy-bottomed risotto pan or saucepan over a low-medium heat. Gently fry the shallots, garlic and celery for around ten minutes until softened. Turn the heat up to medium, add the rice and stir thoroughly to ensure that every grain is coated. Cook on for a minute or so, then add the vermouth and turn the heat up. Bubble the vermouth for a couple of minutes until the alcohol has evaporated.

Turn the heat down to low-medium again, then add a ladleful of stock. Stir with a wooden spoon until the rice has absorbed the stock and is just at the point of sticking to the pan (don’t let it actually stick though!). Continue to add the stock, a ladle at a time, stirring very frequently while it is absorbed. Keeping it at a low temperature ensures that the rice takes up the stock and its flavour, rather than it evaporating off. This will take 20-25 minutes.

When the rice grains are plump and tender, yet still retaining a little ‘bite’, season generously and add the prawns and peas. Cook for 2 minutes, then cover and cook for a further 2 minutes until the prawns are only just cooked through.

Stir through the spring onion, most of the lemon zest and 1 tsp of the mint. Top with a swirl of extra-virgin olive oil, remove from the heat, cover and allow to sit for a couple of minutes.

Check the seasoning, garnish with the remaining mint and lemon zest, and serve.

Salmon and Prawn Burgers with Chilli Mayo

Get them right and there are few things better than a well-made fish cake. The trouble is, every recipe that I have for fish cakes involves quite a lot of work, time and effort. I don’t mind that at all, the results are always worth it, but sometimes the craving arrives on a day that I am pushed for time. To my joy, I spotted this recipe in a BBC Good Food magazine, and it delivers on every front: it’s quick to make (on the table within 30 minutes), requires no skill at all, and it tastes absolutely divine.

It is infinitely flexible as well. This recipe calls for a simple salad as an accompaniment but you can add onions, gherkins, capers, chillies… anything you fancy. You can also substitute the chilli mayo for tartar sauce. At around 500 calories per burger (including the bun) it is also low-calorie and rich in omega-3 oil, so it’s guilt-free.

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RECIPE – Serves 4 

180g peeled raw prawns, roughly chopped

4 skinless salmon fillets, chopped into small chunks

3 spring onions, roughly chopped

1 lemon, zested and juiced

small pack coriander, stalks and leaves

60g mayonnaise or Greek yogurt

4 tsp chilli sauce

2 Little Gem lettuces, shredded

1 cucumber, peeled into ribbons

1 tbsp olive oil

4 seeded burger buns, toasted, to serve


METHOD

Briefly blitz half the salmon, the coriander stalks, spring onions and lemon zest in a food processor until it forms a coarse paste. Tip into a bowl, stir in the rest of the salmon and the prawns, season well and shape into four burgers. Chill for at least 10 mins.

Mix the mayo and chilli sauce together in a small bowl, season and add some lemon juice to taste. Mix the lettuce with the cucumber, dress with a little of the remaining lemon juice and 1 tsp olive oil, then set aside.

Heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan and fry the burgers for 3-4 mins each side or until they have a nice crust and the fish is cooked through. Alternatively, you can make it even lighter by placing the burgers on a piece of parchment on a baking sheet in a 180C oven (160 fan, gas 4) for approximately 15 minutes until just cooked through – the burger will cook on slightly so don’t worry that the centre is a little pink, as long as it is hot.

Serve with the salad on the side in toasted burger buns, with a good dollop of the chilli mayo.