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.

Spiralised Sweet Potato Fries

I seem to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what to eat. The main element generally isn’t a problem; I might like a pie, or some pasta, some fish or whatever, or I might have something in the fridge that needs to be eaten before it goes off. No, the problem that I often have is figuring out what to have alongside the main element, something interesting, different and, most importantly, complementary.

A few nights ago I had the reverse problem, there was a lonely sweet potato sitting there needing to be eaten. Now, there are a lot of things I can do with sweet potato, but if I am going to be feeding more than one person then I need more than one. As usual I hit the books for inspiration and found this idea in a few places, a little tinkering with the various interpretations led me to this: the perfect side dish for fish (particularly tuna steaks) or chicken, and you can also treat them like (crunchy) noodles and serve alongside Asian flavours. It also allowed me the rare use of my spiraliser, one of the few ‘gadgets’ I allow in my kitchen.

A few tips: use the largest size of spiraliser blade that you have, otherwise they can become dry and bitter rather than sweet and crunchy. Use 2 tbsp of cornflour per medium-sized potato because they can be quite moist and the cornflour encourages them to go crispy and, perhaps most importantly, leave them for a good quarter of an hour before you eat them because it takes that long for the crunch to fully develop once they are out of the oven.

If you don’t have a spiralizer, you can julienne the potatoes to get the same effect.

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RECIPE  

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and spiralised

2 tbsp cornflour

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6, and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Thickly spiralise the sweet potato, or cut into thin strips. In a large bowl, toss the sweet potato with the cornflour then add the oil and toss again until everything is coated.

Spread the sweet potato on the parchment, ensuring that as much as possible it sits in a single layer otherwise it will tend to steam and won’t get as crispy.

Bake for 20 minutes, tossing halfway through to ensure even cooking, and leave to sit for 15 minutes before eating – you can eat them immediately, they just won’t be as crispy as they could be.

Roasted Chick Pea Wraps

Quick, easy, filling, low-calorie (around 500 kcals per serving) and utterly, utterly delicious. All food should be able to be described this way.

This recipe originally appeared in BBC Good Food magazine, and has only been slightly changed. To make it vegan just omit the feta.

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RECIPE – Serves 4 

2 x 400g tins of chick peas

2 tsp olive oil

2 heaped tsp ground cumin

2 tsp smoked paprika

2 avocados, stoned, peeled and chopped

the zest and juice of a lime

a small bunch of coriander, leaves only, chopped

8 soft corn tortillas

1 small iceberg lettuce, shredded

150g feta cheese, cubed

480g jar of roasted red peppers, chopped


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 220C/ fan 200C/ gas 7.

Drain the chick peas and put into a large bowl with the olive oil, cumin and paprika. Toss well until the chick peas are fully coated, then spread in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking tray. Roast for between 15 and 25 minutes, until they have the ‘bite’, crunch and texture you like. Check frequently as they can dry out just a little too much, very quickly. Shake the tray occasionally to ensure they roast evenly. Remove from the oven and season lightly, to taste.

Meanwhile, toss the chopped avocados with the lime juice and zest, and the coriander leaves.

Warm the tortillas according to the pack instructions and set the table with dishes and bowls of roasted chickpeas, avocado, lettuce, feta and roasted red peppers. Pile in and smile!

Roasted Red Pepper Chana Masala

I seem to have had no time at all to enjoy cooking for the past few weeks, it has been a steady diet of ‘what can I make quickly?’ without the pleasure of actually enjoying the process. Yesterday was no less busy but, starved of inspiration and looking for something satisfying for a 5:2 diet day, I stumbled across this forgotten gem in one of my notebooks.

Please forgive me, but it was stunning. It had all the freshness and vibrancy of the best restaurant dishes, and I put that entirely down to fresh ingredients and the use of appropriate garnishes. I made up a fresh batch of Masala paste for this, and I also used a generous amount of chaat masala sprinkled over the top at the end. Links to my recipes for both are in the ingredients list, please try them, they turn a great dish into a magnificent one, and all for around 400 calories per serving (using rice as an accompaniment adds more)

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RECIPE – Serves 3 

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

3 fat garlic cloves, finely sliced

3 tbsp masala paste

2 tsp nigella seeds

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 400g tin of chick peas

2 roasted red peppers (good quality from a jar is fine), in bite-size pieces

200g piquante peppers (from a jar)

a small bunch of coriander, stalks finely chopped, leaves picked

the zest and juice of half a lemon

1 tbsp chaat masala


METHOD

Place the oil and garlic in a large, cold pan and cook over a medium heat for a few minutes until the garlic has been gently fried to a light golden brown.

Add the masala paste and nigella seeds and cook out for a minute or two until deeply aromatic, then add the tomatoes, chick peas (including the water from the tin, it acts as a great thickener) and both kinds of peppers. Simmer for twenty minutes until the nigella seeds are soft. Add the chopped coriander stalks.

If you have the time, leave this to sit for a few hours while the flavours get to know each other. Otherwise, just before serving, finely grate the zest of half an lemon over the top, then drizzle the juice over the top. Evenly scatter the chaat masala over everything, then dress with the coriander leaves.

DO NOT STIR! Bring it to the table and lift up each spoonful from underneath to serve, by doing so you will preserve the intensity and integrity of each flavour. It makes a real difference.

Serve alongside plain boiled or steamed Basmati rice, an onion salad and a carrot and ginger salad.

Sliced Roasted Potatoes with Tomato, Oregano and Basil

My kitchen smelt like Italy yesterday evening, as this delicious gratin released its sumptuous aromas into the atmosphere. It reminds me: I must renew the seals on my oven.

I originally found this recipe in Gennaro Contaldo and Antonio Carluccio’s ‘Two Greedy Italians’, made it. loved it, then promptly forgot about it as I got busy cooking other dishes. What an error; this should have been flagged in my notebook as something to enjoy at least once a week.

The flavours are simple, but marry together exceptionally well. The trick here is to use lots of cherry tomatoes, and to ensure that at least half of them have been de-seeded, otherwise it’s just a little too wet. Cooked this way it has a delicious crunchy topping with layers of soft but firm potato and onion waiting for you underneath.

It is perfect alongside seared tuna or salmon, and with a simple salsa it only requires a few good handfuls of rocket to make you smile.

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RECIPE – Serves 4 

100ml olive oil

700g thinly sliced potatoes

approx 2 tsp dried oregano

flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

a large handful of roughly-torn basil leaves

400g red onions, peeled and thinly sliced

600g cherry, or baby-plum tomatoes, halved. Half of them de-seeded

1 tbsp dry vermouth

For the salsa:

1 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 banana shallot, finely sliced

2 medium tomatoes, de-seeded and diced

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

a small handful of pitted black olives, quartered


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan /Gas 4. Slice the potatoes; use a mandolin if you have one, it will make the job much faster and more precise. Otherwise, slice them – very carefully – as thinly as you can. Also prepare the tomatoes and onion.

In a large, oven-proof dish, drizzle 3 tbsp of the olive oil over the base and then place a thin layer of sliced potato. Sprinkle 1/3 of the oregano over the top and season lightly.  Scatter a thin layer of basil leaves, then a single layer of sliced onion followed by a mixture of tomatoes, some de-seeded and some with seeds in. Drizzle with a little more oil, then repeat the layers twice more: potato; oregano; a little seasoning; basil; onion, then tomatoes. Drizzle with a little oil to finish, with the vermouth.

Cover with foil and bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes, then remove the foil and gently loosen the bottom layer of potatoes. Put back into the oven, uncovered, for a further 25-30 minutes.

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

Allow the potatoes to rest while you cook your fish, then serve on warmed plates with the salsa and a simple rocket salad.

Roasted Vegetable and Chick Pea Tagine

I put this delicious vegan stew together last week, for one of my 5:2 diet days, but because it is similar to other recipes that I have written in the past I wasn’t going to put it up here. That plan didn’t last long; those who had tasted it demanded that I share the recipe with them, and who am I to argue?

A single serving of this comes in at a mere 210 calories, so indulge yourself and eat as much as your belly will hold!

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RECIPE – Serves 4 

200g dried chickpeas (or one 440g tin)

1 tbsp plain flour

1 tbsp fine sea salt

1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda

1 bay leaf

2 cinnamon sticks

1 tbsp olive oil

300g of mixed butternut squash, celeriac and carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks

2 banana shallots, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tsp chilli flakes

1 large thumb-sized knob of ginger, finely chopped

1 heaped tsp cumin

1 heaped tsp cinnamon

1 heaped tsp ras al hanout

100g very ripe tomatoes, chopped

1 tbsp runny honey

1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar

a small bunch of coriander, stalks only, finely chopped

To garnish:

the zest and juice of a lime

1 tsp za’atar

a small bunch of coriander, leaves only, chopped

a small bunch of fresh mint, leaves only, chopped


METHOD

The evening before, soak the dried chick peas in plenty of water (they will absorb a lot) with 1 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp fine sea salt and 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda, stir well and set aside.

The next day, rinse the chick peas well, there should be no salt left on them. Put into plenty of water with the bay leaf and cinnamon sticks and bring to the boil, then simmer for 60-90 minutes until they are soft and tender, skimming off any scum if necessary. You may need to add more water as it evaporates. If you have a pressure cooker it will save you a lot of time, cook as per the instructions for your device (mine takes around 25 minutes).

Drain and set aside, removing the bay leaf and cinnamon sticks.

If you are using tinned chickpeas, use one tin; you won’t need the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, bay leaf or cinnamon sticks.

Preheat the oven to 220C/ fan 200C/ gas 7.

Place the chopped butternut squash, celeriac and carrots in a large bag with the olive oil, seal and work the vegetables around the bag until every piece is finely coated with the oil. Tip onto a large baking tray in a single layer, make sure there is a little room between each piece otherwise the vegetables will steam rather than roast. Season lightly with coarse sea salt and roast for around 30 minutes until the vegetables are golden and starting to caramelise at the edges. Set aside for now.

Heat a large pan over a medium heat, add the chopped shallots with the garlic, chilli flakes and ginger, a couple of tablespoons of water and a pinch of salt and steam gently under a lid for around 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the cumin, cinnamon and ras al hanout into a small bowl and add sufficient water to mix to a stiff paste.

Add the chopped tomatoes and the spice paste, stir well, turn the heat up to medium and cook out for a minute or so until deeply aromatic. Add 125ml water and the chick peas, honey and balsamic vinegar. Mix well and bring to the boil. Turn down to a gentle simmer for ten minutes to allow the sauce to thicken. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

At this point you can set the stew aside for minutes or hours, to allow the flavours to develop, deepen and mellow. Or you can just move straight on…

Five minutes before serving, add the coriander stalks, stir well and keep at a gentle simmer until ready to serve.

Just before serving, give it a final stir, remove from the heat then sprinkle the zest of the lime over the top of the soup, followed by all the juice. Do not stir!

Scatter the za’atar evenly over the top, and then scatter the coriander and mint leaves over that. Once again, do not stir, the garnish will sit on top and retain its vivacity. Even when you serve, dip your ladle down to the bottom of the pan and come up underneath the soup to retain the garnish layer. It might sound like a nuisance, but your taste buds will love you for it.

Serve alongside steamed couscous, also garnished with coriander and mint leaves.

Moroccan Chick Pea Soup

Sadly, I have no idea where I first found this recipe. It’s a shame because it is absolutely delicious, very filling, quick to make and ridiculously low in calories. Somebody deserves credit for this dish, and though I have tweaked it over the years that somebody isn’t me.

You can vary the amount of chilli you put in depending on your own taste, but if you put in just one regular chilli, with the seeds, it will give you a background hum without being overpowering.  Don’t be afraid of using a good heaped teaspoon each of cumin, cinnamon and ras al hanout though, they provide the depth of flavour that makes this dish so good, and none of them are ‘hot’ spices.

Don’t overlook the final garnish of lime juice, za’atar and coriander. It raises the dish from the delicious to the spectacular. Diet food isn’t supposed to be this good!

Total calories per portion are 224 if you divide it among four people. If you are spectacularly hungry then you can eat half of it all by yourself  – that’s a challenge – and still have eaten less than 500 calories. That makes it ideal for anyone following the 5:2 diet.

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RECIPE – Serves 4 

200g dried chickpeas (or one 440g tin)

1 tbsp plain flour

1 tbsp fine sea salt

1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda

1 bay leaf

2 cinnamon sticks

1 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 red chilli, seeds in, finely chopped

1 tsp chilli flakes

1 large thumb-sized knob of ginger, finely chopped

1 heaped tsp cumin

1 heaped tsp cinnamon

1 heaped tsp ras al hanout

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

2 tins of chopped tomatoes

400ml light vegetable stock

1 preserved lemon, pulp discarded, rind finely chopped

1 tbsp runny honey

50g couscous

a small bunch of coriander, stalks only, finely chopped

To garnish:

the zest and juice of a lime

1 tsp za’atar

a small bunch of coriander, leaves only, chopped


METHOD

The evening before, soak the dried chick peas in plenty of water (they will absorb a lot) with 1 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp fine sea salt and 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda, stir well and set aside.

The next day, rinse the chick peas well, there should be no salt left on them. Put into plenty of water with the bay leaf and cinnamon sticks and bring to the boil, then simmer for 60-90 minutes until they are soft and tender, skimming off any scum if necessary. You may need to add more water as it evaporates. If you have a pressure cooker it will save you a lot of time, cook as per the instructions for your device (mine takes around 25 minutes).

Drain and set aside, removing the bay leaf and cinnamon sticks.

If you are using tinned chickpeas, use one tin; you won’t need the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, bay leaf or cinnamon sticks.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan, then gently cook the chopped onion under a lid for around 5 minutes, over a low heat.

Meanwhile, put the cumin, cinnamon and ras al hanout into a small bowl and add sufficient water to mix to a stiff paste.

Add the garlic, chopped chilli and chilli flakes, ginger and the spice paste, stir well, turn the heat up to medium and cook out for a minute or so until deeply aromatic.

Add the roasted red peppers, tomatoes and stock, mix well and bring to the boil. Turn down to a gentle simmer and cover with a lid for ten minutes.

Stir in the chick peas, preserved lemon rind and honey, stir well and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Tastes good doesn’t it? Just wait, there’s more…

At this point you can set the soup aside for minutes or hours, to allow the flavours to develop, deepen and mellow. Or you can just move straight on…

Five minutes before serving, add the couscous and coriander stalks, stir well and keep at a gentle simmer until ready to serve.

Just before serving, give it a final stir, remove from the heat then sprinkle the zest of the lime over the top of the soup, followed by all the juice. Do not stir!

Scatter the za’atar evenly over the top, and then scatter the coriander leaves over that. Once again, do not stir, the garnish will sit on top and retain its vivacity. Even when you serve, dip your ladle down to the bottom of the pan and come up underneath the soup to retain the garnish layer. It might sound like a nuisance, but your taste buds will love you for it.

Wild Garlic and Spinach Soup

Spring is here in all but name, and with it comes one of the first delights of the year: wild garlic. Easily identifiable and quite prolific, it smells and tastes like a mild version of the more familiar garlic bulb. For hints and tips on how to find and identify it, see here.

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The season is short, just a few weeks, and it is already out there so now is the time to gather a few bagfuls, search out as many recipes as you can and wow your tastebuds. It makes a marvellous pesto, just substitute wild garlic for the basil leaves, and I also blitz it up with a little olive oil to make a paste, which I then freeze in an ice cube tray to make handy drop-in condiments to enliven soups and light sauces.

Here is a quick and easy – and deeply delicious – soup recipe to get you started. It comes out a vivid emerald green and if it isn’t the freshest soup you will ever taste then I’ll eat my own arm.

To make it vegan just substitute 3 tbsp olive oil for the butter.


RECIPE – Serves 4

2 leeks, trimmed, washed and finely sliced

1 medium potato, peeled and diced

50g unsalted butter

a splash of olive oil

300g fresh baby-leaf spinach

200g wild garlic leaves

1 litre pale vegetable stock


METHOD

Melt the butter with a splash of olive oil in a large saucepan, add the leeks and potato and soften gently for 5 minutes or so. Add the vegetable stock, then simmer for 15 minutes until the potato is soft.

Add the spinach and wild garlic, put a lid on the pan and leave it for a couple of minutes to wilt down; you will probably need to do this a couple of handfuls at a time. When all the leaves are wilted, transfer it to a blender (or use a stick blender) to blitz it to a smooth soup. Check and adjust the seasoning, then serve. It’s as easy as that.

You can serve this soup with a poached egg on top, which adds a deliciousness creamy unctuousness and makes it suitable for a light lunch, or just with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and some toasted sourdough. You can also dress it with the flowers, which are edible and also delicious.

Apple and Celery Salad

I have a terrible blind-spot when it comes to salads. It is unforgivable, because amongst the tens of thousands of recipes nestling amid the hundreds of books and magazines that we own, there must be well over a thousand recipes for delicious, interesting and unusual salads. For every main course there is probably a perfect salad that could be served with it, rather than my usual fallback of rocket, romaine lettuce and cucumber, dressed with citrus or vinaigrette.

Here’s one that Bill Granger suggested to be served alongside his baked leek and goat’s cheese risotto. It complements it in every way: where the risotto is rich and creamy, the salad is sharp, bitter and citric. Where the risotto is soft and melting, the nuts, celery and apple provide crunch and texture. For a risotto, this is the perfect salad – in fact, I’ve tried it with a few other dishes and it goes well with everything so far!

If you cannot find chicory, a couple of good handfuls of rocket is a delicious replacement. If you do not like walnuts then lightly-toasted flaked almonds are also delicious.

It goes without saying that you should use the finest extra-virgin olive oil that you can afford, it makes a huge difference in salads. Price isn’t always an indicator that you will like it more, my advice is to sample as wide a variety as you possibly can and stick with the one that blows your socks off – if you search hard enough you will find one that does just that.

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RECIPE – Serves 4

1 celery stick, cut into batons

1 head of yellow chicory, leaves torn

1 head of purple chicory, leaves torn

1 red apple, cored and cut into thin wedges

a handful of walnuts, roughly chopped (or lightly-toasted flaked almonds)

1 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

freshly-ground black pepper


METHOD

Prepare the salad ingredients, chop the walnuts (or toast the almond flakes) and toss together in a large salad bowl. Drizzle the lemon juice over the bowl, then drizzle the extra-virgin olive oil over that, toss well and season with a few good grindings of black pepper.

Oven-Dried Tomatoes

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The first thing I consider whenever I cook something is: where is the flavour coming from? If it is a risotto the quality of the stock is crucial; if I am making a curry then the spices in the curry paste are the most important elements for flavour, and when making a tomato sauce the quality of the aromatics (not to mention the tomatoes) is key. Get that first consideration wrong, and it won’t matter what else you do, your dish won’t be as delicious as it could possibly be.

I long ago got into the habit of using fish sauce as a way of delivering ‘umami’, and if that isn’t appropriate then an anchovy fillet or two cooked in oil until it all-but dissolves will do the job. If you are making a dish for a vegan though, neither of these methods is appropriate, so I started using commercial sun-dried tomatoes to intensify flavours.

Anyone who knows me knows that I shy away from anything commercially processed, so will know what came next: of course, I started to dry my own tomatoes. It is a simple process, and delivers such intensity to any tomato-based sauce that you will never need to add tomato puree to anything ever again. I now use oven-dried tomatoes in all my tomato sauces, using one or two per tin of chopped tomatoes – so if a recipe calls for two tins of chopped tomatoes, I will augment it with two or four chopped dried tomatoes, depending on the intensity that I require.

They are also lovely spread on toasted bruschetta, with a little goat’s cheese as an antipasti.

To make oven-dried tomatoes:

Heat your oven to 140C/ gas 1.

Cut ripe tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds, toss the tomato flesh in a little olive oil (I put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large freezer bag, add a kilo of seeded tomatoes and work the tomatoes around the bag so they are fully coated) then lay the tomatoes in a single layer on a rack, set over a baking tray.

Just pop them in the oven and leave them for 2 to 3 hours, until they are reduced in size by about a third. At this point they will still be quite plump, you can go even further and leave them in the oven for up to eight hours so they are fully dried out and leathery. Cooked this way they can be stored almost indefinitely in the fridge.

Pack a kilner jar (or similar) with the dried tomatoes, cover completely with olive oil and store them in the fridge. I have had a jar of plump-dried tomatoes in my fridge for months and they are still perfect, so I have no idea how long they will actually last – long enough, that’s for sure.

If you completely dry your tomatoes then in most cases they can be stored dry, but will need to be re-hydrated in water overnight before use.