Carrot and Ginger Salad

This simple, quick to make and very attractive salad is the perfect accompaniment to Indian curries.

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RECIPE – feeds 4 

5 or 6 large carrots

1 fresh red chilli, de-seeded and finely sliced

a 2cm knob of fresh ginger, trimmed but not peeled, finely chopped

a handful of flaked almonds

a small bunch of fresh coriander, leaves only, chopped

lime juice


METHOD

Peel and trim the carrots. If you are lucky enough to have a food processor with a grater attachment then you’re in luck, otherwise you will have to grate the carrots by hand. Put them into a salad bowl.

In a small, NOT non-stick pan lightly toast the flaked almonds until they are lightly and evenly browned. Keep your eye on them as they can burn quickly, when you judge that they are ready tip them out of the pan onto a plate to cool – the pan will be hot and they will cook on if left in it. Remove any toasted almonds that are burned as they are bitter.

Add the almonds to the carrots, together with the chilli, ginger and coriander. Toss thoroughly to mix, and when you are ready to eat sprinkle lime juice over the salad and toss again. Check the taste and add more lime if necessary, a little at a time.

Serve as a side salad alongside anything spicy, but this goes particularly well with many Indian dishes.

Tartare Sauce

Those who read this blog with any regularity will know that I am a dedicated advocate of making every element of a meal myself. I have tried my hand at tomato ketchup, brown sauce, making my own cheese, mayonnaise… anything and everything in fact – if it can be made in a home kitchen then I will give it a go. It’s not because I am some kind of zealot who treats his body as a temple and refuses to eat anything made in a factory – well, okay, to a large degree I am extremely distrustful of processed food of any kind – but the main reason is that I enjoy making new things, and also because when you make something yourself you can adjust its flavour to make it taste exactly how you want it to. There is also the fact that every time you make something new then you can learn something from it. If you want to become a good cook then whatever else you do there is no substitute for actual cooking.

You might wonder whether it’s worth going to the effort of making something as basic as tartare sauce when there are perfectly acceptable jars of it lining supermarket shelves all around the world. If you’re wondering that then you’re reading the wrong blog! Like everything else that you make by hand, the difference between home-made and shop-bought is like night and day. This is dead easy, quick and inexpensive, and because you will probably have more than you need you can store leftovers in the fridge for up to a week.

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RECIPE – feeds 6 people easily

3 medium large cornichons (pickled gherkins)

1 heaped tbsp capers, drained

4 anchovy fillets in oil, drained

a small bunch of flat leaf parsley, leaves and stalks roughly torn

1 lemon, zest and juice

200g mayonnaise

extra-virgin olive oil


METHOD

Put the cornichons, capers, anchovies, parsley and the zest of the lemon in a food processor (or, at a push, a blender), with half the lemon juice and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Blitz until you have a rough paste, if you like a little more texture in your sauce stop blitzing when it reaches your desired consistency. Add a little more olive oil if necessary.

Put the mayonnaise in a large bowl, then add the blitzed paste to it. Mix well and taste, adding as much of the remaining lemon juice as you wish so that it is as tart as you like it.

I have not specified that you make your own mayonnaise here, that is a blog post that will come in the future. This tastes great with shop-bought mayo, and because you are dealing with such strong flavours there is little benefit to be gained from making your own, unless you want to and then you can brag about it.

Salmon Fishcakes

Made well, fishcakes are one of the most delicious meals on the planet. Simultaneously soft and crunchy, mellow yet full of flavour. Made poorly, they can be flabby, soggy, oily and tasteless. It’s obviously best to ensure that they are made well then, and the best starting point is a great recipe.

This recipe was inspired by the Michelin-starred Tom Kerridge, so as you would expect they are full of flavour but do involve a fair bit of work. As a result these are best made on an afternoon when you haven’t much else to do, though I guarantee that once you have found the time to make them you will be yearning to repeat the experience.

Most fishcake recipes involve shallow frying, I have often found though that you need high heat to avoid them getting oily, but then the breadcrumbs tend to burn before the middle of the fishcake is cooked. Far better to bake them, it keeps the breadcrumbs crunchy, ensures even cooking and it also gives you a wider margin for error. It also means they are that much lower in fat and therefore even healthier than they already are.

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RECIPE – makes 6, feeds 3 people easily

3 or 4 baking potatoes – you will need 350g of potato flesh

350g salmon fillets

2 tbsp capers, drained

2 tbsp dill, chopped

2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped

1 tbsp English mustard powder

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

finely grated zest of a lemon

100g smoked salmon, chopped

150g plain flour

2 eggs, beaten

150g panko breadcrumbs


METHOD

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan /Gas 6. Bake the potatoes for between 60 and 90 minutes until soft. Allow them to cool, and when they are cool enough to handle, cut them in half and scoop out the flesh. Pass the flesh through a potato ricer or just mash it, without adding any butter or liquids. Weigh out 350g of the flesh and set aside for now.

*Tip: When you make mashed potato, make as much as you can (far more than you will need) and freeze the excess. It freezes well and it is always useful to have some mash ready-made for fishcakes, or toppings for fish pie or shepherd’s pie.

Season the salmon, wrap it in kitchen foil and place on a baking sheet then roast for 8-10 minutes until just cooked and the salmon flakes easily. Set aside.

Put the potato in a large bowl, then add the capers, dill, parsley, mustard powder, cayenne pepper, salt and lemon zest, then mix in the smoked salmon. Mix thoroughly, then flake the salmon fillets into the mix and fold in.

Divide the mixture into 6 balls, then shape them into cakes. Cover with cling film and put into the fridge to chill for at least an hour.

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When ready to cook, place the flour, eggs and panko breadcrumbs each into an individual deep plate. One by one, coat the fishcakes with flour, egg and finally the breadcrumbs. You can use regular breadcrumbs here, easily made by putting stale bread into a food processor and blitzing until crumbed, but be careful not to go too far or you will end up with dust. Panko breadcrumbs are far superior, being dry and crunchy and bringing a lovely textural difference to the finished fishcake.

Place the coated fishcakes on a baking sheet, and bake at 200C/ 180C fan /Gas 6 for approximately ten minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are golden brown and beginning to char.

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These go extremely well with tartare sauce, roasted sweet potato wedges and a simple green salad.

The empty baked potato skins can be deep fried and served as a starter with sour cream and chives, or your favourite crispy skin dips and fillings.

Sweet Potato Wedges with Paprika

These sweet potato wedges are lusciously soft, and when roasted with a sprinkling of paprika make an ideal accompaniment to fillets of fish, chicken or pork. They are ridiculously simple to make as well, and only take half an hour in a hot oven.

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RECIPE – feeds 2 

300g sweet potatoes

2 tsp paprika

olive oil


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan /Gas 6.

Wash the sweet potatoes then, leaving the skin on, slice them into thin wedges. Place them in a shallow baking tray, drizzle them with olive oil – just enough to coat them – then sprinkle the paprika over them. Using your hands, rub the oil and paprika over the wedges ensuring that every surface is coated.

Spread out in a single layer and roast in the centre of the oven for around 30 minutes, until well browned and meltingly soft.

Be generous with the portion sizes, these are very moreish!

Cod, Fennel & Potato Traybake with a Tomato Salsa

Think of this as jazzed-up fish and chips and you will get a very good idea of the kind of flavours to expect. Roast potatoes in any way and they will be delicious, roast a fennel bulb and it will also be delicious, roast a piece of cod… you get the idea.

There’s a lot going on here, lots of flavours and lots of lovely scents. Tying it all together and adding the sharp tang of vinegar is the salsa. It turns what is already a delicious meal into… um, what is more delicious than delicious?

Just try it, you’ll soon find out; it’s so simple to make and though it takes a little time in the oven the preparation is minimal.

One other thing: my wife commented that the fennel and potatoes are so delicious on their own with the salsa that you don’t actually need the fish to complete the dish. This makes it an ideal tummy-filler for vegans and non-fish eating vegetarians, without cheating anybody of flavour.

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RECIPE – feeds 2 

300g new potatoes, or floury potatoes like Roosters, cut into 5mm slices

2 fennel bulbs, trimmed, cored and thinly sliced, retain the fronds

2 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges

1 tbsp fennel seeds

2 tbsp olive oil

2 cod fillets or loins (or similar firm white fish)

another 1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 banana shallot, finely sliced

another 2 medium tomatoes, de-seeded and diced

a handful of basil leaves, shredded, set aside a couple of small sprigs

a small handful of pitted black olives, quartered


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan /Gas 6. Slice the potatoes, use a mandolin if you have one, it will make the job much faster and more precise.

On a large baking tray, scatter the potatoes, fennel bulbs, wedges of tomatoes and fennel seeds. Season with a decent pinch of sea salt, then drizzle all over with olive oil and toss it all together, using your hands, ensuring that everything is coated and the fennel seeds are distributed evenly. Spread out into a single layer on the baking tray, otherwise the potatoes are more likely to steam than roast and they won’t be as good as they can be.

Roast for 25 minutes or until the potatoes are golden and just about cooked through.

Meanwhile, make the salsa: combine the shallot and vinegar in a bowl and set aside while you chop the tomatoes; then add the tomatoes, basil and olives. Combine well, season lightly and set aside for now.

Remove the tray from the oven, place the fish on top, season the fish lightly and scatter the crushed fennel seeds over them, drizzle with a little olive oil and return to the oven for 7-9 minutes until just cooked through.

Pour the salsa evenly over the hot fish and potatoes, scatter the fennel fronds and reserved sprigs of basil and serve. All this needs by way of accompaniment is a pile of rocket leaves.

Thai Green Prawn Curry with Indian Baby Aubergine

We have lately become addicted to Thai green curry, the creamy, spicy sauce is very vibrant and when mixed with plain steamed or boiled rice makes the most deliciously moreish meal. We could quite happily just knock up a batch of the sauce, pair it with a bowl of rice and tuck in.

With such a promising beginning you can only make it even better by adding more flavours and textures. Flicking through another of my favourite books, ‘Rosa’s Thai Cafe’ by Saiphin Moore, I spotted a green chicken curry that uses pea and Thai aubergines. Interesting.

I have only slightly tweaked Saiphin’s recipe, so credit where it is due. Raw, tail-on king prawns are a match made in heaven for green curry, as is chicken, so use whatever you fancy. I swapped the pea and Thai aubergines for Indian (baby) aubergines, purely because they were the only ‘exotic’ variety available when I popped into my nearest international supermarket. They were perfect, and based on that experience I would recommend that you use whatever aubergines you can find, even the regular large Black Magic variety that are ubiquitous in UK supermarkets. Do try and use the smaller, more interesting looking varieties if you can though, just because they look more interesting. After all, the first bite is always with the eye.

You can have this on the table within 15 minutes from heating the oil, that’s quicker than a takeaway, with much more flavour.

Please, please, please make up your own Thai green curry paste. It is infinitely superior to anything you can buy ready-made in a jar. It freezes well so make up a large batch and put some aside for when you make this again, which you will…

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RECIPE – feeds 2 

1 tbsp vegetable oil

3 tbsp Thai green curry paste

1 400ml tin of coconut milk

1 tbsp of palm sugar or jaggery

2 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)

3 kaffir lime leaves, fresh or dried, shredded

300g raw, tail-on king prawns or 300g skinless chicken breast in bite-size pieces

100g Indian (baby) aubergines, cut in half

100g cooked bamboo shoots, cut into bite-size pieces

a handful of Thai or regular basil, leaves only, shredded

a couple of sprigs of basil to garnish

2 long red chillies, sliced thinly lengthwise to garnish


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large pan over a high heat and add the green curry paste. Stir-fry for ten seconds or so until it is fragrant, then reduce the heat to medium and add half the coconut milk. Cook for a couple of minutes until the curry paste splits and the oil becomes visible.

Now add the remaining coconut milk, palm sugar, fish sauce and lime leaves. Season carefully, bearing in mind that the fish sauce brings saltiness.

At this point you can remove the sauce from the heat and allow to sit and infuse for a few hours if you wish, this will deepen the flavours. Otherwise, add the aubergines and bamboo shoots and cook for 5-7 minutes until the aubergines are tender. If you are using chicken then add this with the aubergines.

If using the prawns, add them just before serving, along with the shredded basil leaves and cook very gently for a few minutes until the prawns are just pink.

Ladle into serving bowls, garnish with the thinly sliced red pepper and a sprig of basil each, and serve alongside bowls of steamed or boiled rice.

Cajun Meatballs

My wife is vegetarian which means that by default my own diet is largely vegetarian as well. Some of my friends pity me, “don’t you miss meat?” they ask. The short answer is no.

I could, if I wished, prepare vegetarian and meat-based versions of the same dish by dividing the sauce, or I could cook entirely separate dishes for the two of us. Much as I enjoy cooking, why would I make more work for myself? No, I would rather concentrate on creating one dish that works because it is delicious; if it tastes good then you will be thinking about what is good on your plate rather than thinking “I wish this was steak”.

I am a real fan of quorn meatballs, they have a good firm texture and ‘mouth-feel’, and more importantly they carry flavours really well. My default dish for quorn meatballs is to cook them in a great tomato sauce and serve them with spaghetti. I thought it was time I did something different with them though, so I turned to another cuisine which is big on flavour – the cajun cuisine of the deep south of the USA.

Reliant on green peppers, celery, white pepper and dried herbs to give the sauce a kick, and a very dark roux to give the depth of flavour and thicken the sauce, the flavours can be surprisingly varied just by modifying the relative quantities of green pepper and celery.

Be careful with the white pepper, it is quite fiery and an early version of this dish had me sweating profusely because I was a bit too liberal with it. Be sure to cook it in and the flavours will mellow; experiment with it and tweak it to your own taste. This one is perfect for me.

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RECIPE – feeds 2 with leftovers

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

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 400ml tin of chopped tomatoes

1 vegetable stock cube

200ml water

a dash of tabasco or hot pepper sauce

300g Quorn meatballs

4 spring onions, very finely sliced on an angle

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, the colour of a hazelnut; 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.

Now add the tomatoes, water, stock cube and tabasco; bring it to the boil and keep on stirring until the sauce has thickened, then simmer gently for ten minutes. Add the meatballs and simmer for a further ten minutes.

If you have the time, this is a dish that benefits from resting for a few hours to allow the flavours to develop. If you do so, add the meatballs and turn the heat off. They will cook very gently as the sauce cools and when you are ready to serve just reheat as you normally would.

Add the remainder of the seasoning mix and stir well, then remove from the heat and serve. Garnish with the chopped spring onions and fresh coriander leaves and serve in a bowl alongside Cajun rice.

Hummus – Quick and Easy

A Lebanese classic, hummus is – in theory – quick and easy to make. Actually, it is quick and easy to make, so quite why I have had the misfortune to taste some of the most disgusting muck on the planet masquerading as hummus is beyond me. Admittedly, the disgusting stuff is found on supermarket shelves, alongside some quite superb hummus. Once you have made your own though there can be no going back: you know exactly what you are going to get, you know exactly what goes in to it, and you can tweak the proportions of the ingredients to get it exactly how you like it.

This version is not authentic Lebanese hummus, but it is close, and started life as a recipe courtesy of Sabrina Ghayour and her wonderful book ‘Persiana’. Consider the ingredient quantities specified as a starting point, and if you don’t want to make quite so much just reduce the quantities of everything in proportion. You might be surprised at how much salt you need, just add it little by little until it is just as you like it.

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RECIPE – feeds a crowd

3 tins of chickpeas, reserve the liquid from 1 1/2 tins

6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

3 lemons, juice only

4 tbsp tahini

sea salt

paprika to garnish (optional)


METHOD

Put the chickpeas, garlic, tahini, half the olive oil, half the chickpea liquid and half the lemon juice in a food processor and pulse a few times to break the chickpeas down and roughly mix the ingredients.

Empty it in to a large mixing bowl, and using a fork to vigorously mix it together gradually add the olive oil and then some of the chickpea liquid and lemon juice until the consistency is loose but not sloppy, while the texture remains rough – unless you prefer it very smooth like shop-bought, in which case get mashing!

Now start tasting: gradually add the sea salt, a pinch at a time and tasting as you go. Likewise, add more lemon juice if you think it needs it. Your aim is to get a balance of smoky flavour from the garlic, that the salt will accentuate, while bringing out the sharpness of the lemon juice. If your hummus gets a little too loose then a little more tahini will thicken it again, as well as adding more depth of flavour. Adjust gradually and taste it after every addition and you will end up with the most delicious hummus you have ever had, and all in around ten minutes.

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.

Shortcrust Wholemeal Pastry

There is only one secret to a great tart, and it is no secret at all: make great pastry.

If your pastry is bland or soggy it doesn’t matter if you have the best filling in the world, your tart will be a failure. For some reason many people are afraid of making pastry but let me assure you that there is nothing to fear; it is quick and easy to make, easy to use, and if it gets a little bit damaged when you put it into the tart tin it doesn’t matter, you can just patch it up, even if it comes out of the blind baking a little worse for wear. Just keep a little bit of surplus pastry to hand for any running repairs and your tarts will always be perfect.

I always make my pastry in a food processor, my fingers seem to be a little too warm to use the crumbling method. If you use a food processor just be careful not to over-process the mixture, pulse it a few times until you have a consistency like fine breadcrumbs and there are no visible lumps of butter and shortening, then add a little water – just enough to bring it together without making it sticky.

This pastry is perfect for savoury tarts; the vegetable shortening makes it deliciously crumbly and almost like a wholemeal biscuit in its texture. Unlike many short pastries though, thanks to the binding properties of the wholemeal flour this one is very easy to work with and holds together well when it is rolled out and put into a tart case.


RECIPE – to fill a 23cm loose-bottomed tart tin, with plenty left over

150g plain flour

75g wholemeal flour

65g chilled butter, cubed

65g chilled vegetable shortening, cubed (I use Trex)

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

approx 2 tbsp ice cold water


METHOD

Put all of the ingredients except the water into a food processor and pulse a few times to mix it thoroughly. When it looks like fine crumbs add the water a little bit at a time and pulse for a second until the pastry starts to come together. Take care not to overwork the pastry mixture, the beauty of this pastry is that it is soft and crumbly, doing too much to it is liable to make it tough. Empty it out of the food processor onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead it for a few seconds until it is smooth and form it into a ball .

On a lightly floured surface, roll your pastry out into a round until it is approximately the thickness of a pound coin, this should give you the correct diameter to fill your pastry case with a little left over that you can trim off later. Always keep your trimmings as you may need to make a couple of repairs.

The recipes on my blog will always tell you what to do next, but if you are using this to make your own tart recipes this is what you generally need to do next:

Lift the pastry up onto a rolling pin, drape it over your tart tin and gently drop it into the tin. Using a small piece of pastry push the pastry gently into the corners and flutes of your tart tin so there are no air pockets. Trim off the surplus pastry from the edges of the tin and liberally prick the base of the pastry with a fork. Chill for 30 minutes.

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 at 200C 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.

*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.

Now make your filling and cook according to your recipe instructions.