Dry-Spiced Potato and Cauliflower (Aloo Gobi)

It doesn’t sound exciting, but potatoes and cauliflower pair extremely well with spice. This makes a great side for Bengali curries, or as a delicious lunch all by itself – whatever the weather.

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RECIPE serves 4

450g waxy potatoes

1 cauliflower, broken into small florets

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp black peppercorns

6 tbsp coconut oil

1/2 tsp fennel seeds

a small onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

a big knob of ginger, finely chopped

1 medium-hot green chilli, finely chopped

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

a handful of fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped

METHOD

Cut the potatoes into small pieces around 2cm across. Cook in lightly salted water until just tender.

Dry-fry the cumin seeds, coriander seeds and black peppercorns until just aromatic (this takes 60-90 seconds), allow to cool slightly then grind to a powder in a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder that is only used for grinding spices.

Heat the oil over a medium hot flame, add the cauliflower florets and fennel seeds. Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the florets are starting to brown.

Add the onion, garlic, ginger, salt and green chilli. Stir well, turn the heat down to low, cover and fry gently for around 5 minutes until the onions have softened.

As an aside, most recipes that use ginger specify that you peel it first. I have never found this necessary, I just chop off any dry exposed ends and cut out any rough and ugly protusions. I have also seen it said that you shouldn’t grate ginger, because it is too fibrous. Again, I disagree. I regularly finely grate ginger and I generally end up with just about all of the fibres in the hand I am grating with. Give those a fibres a good squeeze to extract the juice they are holding (you will be surprised!) then discard them – or pop them in a small jelly bag with your peelings and pour hot water over them to make the most enervating ginger tea.

Add the potatoes, the spices that you ground earlier, turmeric and cayenne pepper. Stir gently and cook uncovered over a low heat for a few minutes to heat the potatoes through. Add the coriander leaves, toss together, and serve.

As an alternative, I have also made this with new potatoes. I steam the potatoes for around 15-20 minutes until just tender, then lightly crush them so the skins split. The rest of the method is the same.

Aubergine Parmigiana

I am never sad about the passing of the seasons. As the evenings close in our thoughts turn to richer, warming, comforting food – food like this delectable Italian classic.

I have lot of cook books and magazines, and among them are 61 different recipes for Aubergine Parmigiana. I haven’t read through all of them, but I have read enough of them to realise that the key to a great Parmigiana is simplicity. There’s no room here for chilli flakes, black garlic or other flavour-enhancing staples – the freshest, firmest aubergines and the best tinned tomatoes you can afford are all you need.

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RECIPE serves 4

2 large, firm aubergines (or 3 medium)

olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 fat garlic cloves, crushed

1 heaped tsp dried oregano

3x 400g tins of plum tomatoes (Mutti San Marzano or Cirio are my choices)

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

a handful of fresh basil leaves, torn

Parmesan, finely grated as required

1 ball of buffalo mozzarella

1 thick slice of slightly stale wholemeal bread

a bunch of flat-leaf parsley


METHOD

Drizzle olive oil generously in to a large saucepan, coating the base. Heat over a medium flame and gently fry the onions with the oregano until softened and just starting to colour – this will take ten minutes or so. Add the garlic and fry for another minute before adding the tinned tomatoes.

Bring to the boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer and leave to bubble and reduce for around 30 minutes until thick and unctuous. Remove from the heat. season, add the vinegar and stir, then add the torn basil and stir through. Set aside for now.

Meanwhile, heat your oven to 190C/ 170C fan/gas 5.

Remove the stalks and slice the aubergines along their length into slices about as thick as the end of your little finger. Brush both sides of each slice lightly with a little olive oil and place under a hot grill for ten minutes per side until soft and golden. Using a little oil seals in moisture and ensures that the aubergine doesn’t dry out as it cooks. Depending on the size of your grill you may need to do this in batches.

Roughly tear the bread, and roughly chop the parsley. Put the bread and parsley into a food processor and pulse until the bread is crumbed and the parsley finely chopped.

In a casserole or other large ovenproof dish with a lid, start to layer up the elements. Ladle enough tomato sauce into the bottom of the dish to completely cover the base, then scatter a thin layer of grated Parmesan over it, followed by a layer of grilled aubergine. Repeat: sauce, Parmesan, aubergine, sauce, Parmesan, aubergine. Finish with a layer of sauce, tear the mozzarella ball and dot it over the top, then scatter the breadcrumbs and parsley over that. Finish with a final thin layer of Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. Put the lid on and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove the lid from the casserole and put it back in the oven for a further 15 minutes.

When golden and crusty on the top, remove from the oven and leave to ‘rest’, uncovered, for ten minutes before serving. This resting time makes all the difference.

Serve alongside a simple green salad dressed with the juice of a lemon and its finely grated zest.

Cumin Flatbreads

I’m a big fan of flatbreads. Naan, rotis, pitta (or pied) or pizza, they are all so versatile, so easy to make and so filling. Rather than just serving them alongside a curry or as part of Middle Eastern mezze, they can be torn into strips and served under chilli instead of rice, torn into chunks as part of a salad, dipped into soups, used as a kind of spoon to gather up dal or sauce, split open to form a pocket for whatever filling takes your fancy, they can even be used as a plate. The next time you’re bored with the usual rice or potatoes, turn your thoughts to flatbreads.

These can be made with all kinds of spices: chilli flakes, coriander seeds, mustard seeds or cardamom. Cumin is my favourite though; it’s a heady, masculine spice with the aroma of hot desert about it, and bread is it’s perfect partner.

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RECIPE makes 8, but can easily be halved

1 tsp dried yeast

1 tsp sugar

250ml lukewarm water

400g plain flour

1 tbsp cumin seeds

2 tsp sea salt

1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for cooking


METHOD

Combine the yeast, sugar and water in a small bowl. Make sure your water is just lukewarm – too hot and it will kill the yeast, then you’ll end up with thin, flat rotis rather than airy, puffed-up bread. Set the bowl aside in a warm place for about 15 minutes until it starts to foam slightly, that’s the yeast feeding on the sugar.

In a dry pan, warm the cumin seeds over a medium heat for a minute or so until aromatic, then tip onto a cold plate to stop them from cooking.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and cumin seeds, and mix well with your hand. Add the oil to the yeast mixture, then make a well in the middle of the flour and pour the yeast mixture into it. Forming your fingers into a kind of claw, drag the liquid through the flour, mixing and picking up dry areas as you go. Within a minute or so it will have formed a cohesive dough that will still be quite sticky. Work the dough in the bowl for a few minutes more and you will find that it starts to become less sticky and will start to form into a ball, pulling dry and sticky bits from the side of the bowl as it comes together.

Now turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and start to knead the dough. The idea is to fully hydrate the flour and develop the gluten that gives the finished bread its structure and strength. You will have to knead the dough for about ten minutes, until it is smooth, elastic and not sticky (or at least not too sticky). I’m not going to deliver a masterclass on how to knead a ball of dough, if you do need some guidance YouTube is full of great video tutorials.

Roll the dough into a tight ball and place in a lightly-oiled bowl, covered, in a warm place for an hour or two until doubled in size.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, knock it back and divide into 8 balls.

Heat a ridged griddle pan until it is scorching hot, and roll the dough balls out into rough circles 3 or 4 mm thick. Turn the griddle pan down to a high but not furious heat, brush  one side of the rolled-out dough lightly with olive oil, then place oiled-side down in the griddle pan. Cook for about 1 minute per side, until you see bubbles of air forming on the top side and the bottom surface is golden and darkly-lined from the griddle. Brush the uncooked side lightly with oil, then flip over and cook the other side. Place in a large piece of cooking foil, big enough to fold over and around all of your cooked flatbreads to keep them warm.

Repeat with the other balls of dough, storing them as you go in the foil packet that you have made. This is a job that is much easier when two of you are doing it, you can get a production line going. If you are doing it by yourself, hard-won experience tells me it is better to concentrate solely on cooking them so get all your rolling-out done before you heat the griddle pan, then cook them one after the other keeping a close eye on them – they go from raw, to charred, to burned in remarkably short order.

I generally heat my oven to 100C then turn it off, storing my foil packet of cooked flatbreads in the warm oven until the rest of my cooking is complete and ready to serve.

Sweetcorn Polenta with Cream of Corn, Sauteed Mushrooms and Tenderstem Broccoli

The first time I made it, I had real reservations about this recipe from Maria Elia’s ‘The Modern Vegetarian’. I had mixed feelings about polenta, creamed corn didn’t sound like something any of us would like, and what the hell would I pair it with?

It’s a great book though, full of interesting textures and flavours – vegetarian (and vegan) cooking is definitely no longer the preserve of the bland and boring – and having marvelled at the way she combines the unexpected I bit back my fears and decided to challenge my preconceptions. I have modified it slightly from the original, but only slightly, and I hope you do the same – written recipes are only a starting point.

The results were simply sensational. For a little effort and forethought, this is a dish for which you would happily pay a lot of money in a very good restaurant. I’m not blowing my own trumpet; this is within the reach of any competent cook that can read a recipe and follow instructions.

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RECIPE serves 4

For the polenta:

375ml cold water

125ml full-fat milk

1 bay leaf

1 tsp sea salt

1 corn cob, husk stripped away

125g corn meal

40g unsalted butter, cut into thin slices

75g Parmesan, very finely grated

For the cream of corn:

1 corn cob

25g unsalted butter

1 large banana shallot, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/4 of a nutmeg, very finely grated

200g milk

250ml creme fraiche

To serve:

250g shiitake or chestnut mushrooms, sliced

25g unsalted butter

1 tsp dried thyme

tenderstem or purple sprouting broccoli


METHOD

Put the water and milk in a large saucepan, add the salt and the bay leaf, then bring to the boil. Add the corn cob and cook until tender, this will take around 20 minutes.

Remove the corn cob and allow it to cool until you can handle it. Bring the liquid back to a rolling boil and remove the bay leaf. It has done its job and if you leave it in it will get broken up as you whisk, leaving you with unappealing ‘bits’ in your finished polenta.

Measure the corn meal into a bowl big enough to get your hand into, and when the liquid is boiling take a small handful and let it slowly sift through the fingers of one hand into the liquid while you whisk vigorously with the other hand. Keep doing this until all of the corn meal has been incorporated and there are no lumps. Reduce the heat to a low simmer, continuing to whisk it constantly.

You will see the mixture transform from a loose slurry to a thickening paste over the space of five minutes. Make sure the polenta has properly thickened before you stop whisking, though it will still be a loose mixture at this stage.

Now put your pan on a heat-diffuser, over the lowest heat that you can. Pop a lid on the pan (this is sacrilege to many Italians, but it works) and let it cook very, very gently for around 30 minutes. Every five minutes, go back to the mixture and give it a good whisk. When it comes to the point that it is too thick to whisk, take a wooden spoon to it.

The polenta is done when the texture becomes creamy and amalgamated. When you taste it there should be no hint at all of graininess from the corn meal.

Meanwhile, stand the cooked cob upright and cut away the kernels from the cob by slicing down the sides behind the kernels with a sharp knife. Be careful! Set the kernels aside for now.

When the polenta is cooked, turn off the heat and dot the butter around the top of the polenta, then stir it in until it has almost all melted, then add the finely-grated Parmesan. Stir again, then add the corn kernels, stir yet again, check the seasoning and pour into a baking tray (approx. 10cm x 7cm) that has been lined with plastic film. Smooth the surface and leave it to stand and firm up for at least 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the cream of corn: cut the kernels from the other, uncooked corn cob in the same way as above – still being careful with that knife. Melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat and when it is foaming add the shallots and cook for 5 to 10 minutes until soft, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, nutmeg and corn, season with salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add the milk, reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the corn is tender – this is likely to take between 20 and 30 minutes.

When the kernels are tender, keep the heat on low and stir in the creme fraiche, until it is fully amalgamated. Bring back up to just below boiling point, then turn the heat off and allow the mixture to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Puree the mixture in a small blender or food processor; I like a bit of texture in mine, but you can process it until it is completely smooth if you wish. Check the seasoning and set aside until needed.

I have found that the cream of corn gets better if it is made a few hours in advance, as the flavours relax into each other. Just warm it through to serve, you can proceed straight on though…

Heat the oven to 220C/ 200C fan/ Gas 7. Do this when you add the kernels to the milk for the cream of corn, if you want everything to be ready at more or less the same time.

Turn the cooled polenta out onto a chopping board and cut it into 4 equal-sized pieces. Take care, the polenta is firm but not solid so it will need to be supported throughout.

Place the polenta onto a lightly oiled baking tray, drizzle with a little olive oil on the exposed surfaces, and place in the top third of the oven for 15-20 minutes until hot through, with a crisp, golden crust.

Meanwhile, prepare the accompaniments: for the broccoli, steam it for 4 or 5 minutes. For the mushrooms: heat a large frying pan until very hot. Add the butter, and when it is foaming add the mushrooms with a little salt and the thyme. Saute until the mushrooms have given up their liquid, then squeeze a little lemon juice into the pan. Keep cooking to evaporate all the liquid, stirring frequently. When the mushrooms take on a golden hue they are ready.

To serve: place a piece of polenta onto a warmed plate, with some cream of corn on top. Scatter mushrooms over it, then arrange some broccoli on top. I serve this with a big bowl of rocket leaves, dressed with a little lemon juice, alongside a courgette and chilli salad. The salad was a shot in the dark, but the sharpness it brings contrasts really well with the rich butteriness of the dish.

Perfect Polenta

A few years ago, I bought some instant polenta and made some polenta chips. I followed the recipe exactly, and the result was distinctly underwhelming. A claggy, distracting texture was the main feature, and they only really tasted good when they had cooled to a gentle warmth.

It turns out that instant polenta bears about as much relation to the real thing as instant mash does to a lovingly prepared bowl of proper, buttery mashed potatoes.

It took me years to give polenta another try, once I understood that it was real polenta or nothing. The trouble was, according to all the accounts that I had then read, real polenta takes an hour or more standing at a stove, patiently stirring for the whole time. I love cooking, but it’s not often I can spend a whole hour doing nothing but stir the contents of a pot.

In the last few years though I have taken to actually reading recipe books in their entirety, like I would a novel, and I have learned a lot. As far as polenta goes, I have learned that there are things that you can do to it, and there are things that you MUST do to it. Stirring is an essential part of the process, and not just to stop it from catching on the bottom of the pan, but how much stirring is actually necessary? Not as much as you think actually; the key is slow cooking because all you are trying to do is thoroughly hydrate the corn meal. I use a heat-diffuser under my pan, on the very lowest heat, and stir it every five minutes or so – but more of that in the method below.

The other essential is liquid, obviously. But which liquid? Water is the most traditional, but I have seen it made with vegetable stock (which I don’t like because it masks the subtle but essential corn flavour). Using a mixture of full-fat milk and water gives my preferred result – it’s elusive and almost undefinable, but the milk gives it a subtle richness.

The other must-do is getting the first five minutes right…

Get your water & milk boiling hard, make sure it is salted, and add the corn meal s..l..o..w..l..y. Sifting it through your fingers a small handful at a time is the way to go, whisking hard and fast so that lumps do not get a chance to form. Get this bit wrong and you will never be proud of your polenta. Once the corn meal has all been added, reduce the heat to a low simmer and keep whisking for about 5 minutes until the polenta has properly thickened. Again, if you try and short-cut this bit then your polenta will never have the texture it needs.

How much liquid? It depends on what level of firmness you want. The classic ratio is 1 part corn meal to 4 parts liquid, and that’s great for slices that will be baked or grilled to a melting loveliness. Use 1 part corn meal to 3 parts liquid to make it firmer for chips and the like, and 1 part corn meal to 5 parts liquid makes a loose, potato-mash consistency which is the standard accompaniment for saucy meat dishes and ragu. Recipes for all these will undoubtedly follow…

One last thing… which polenta should you use? There is white corn meal and yellow corn meal, fine ground or more coarsely ground. The good thing is that the things you must do never change, no matter which colour or degree of grind you use. White is a little more delicate than yellow, so which you choose depends on what you plan to have with it. The coarse grind is probably better for firm polenta as used to make polenta chips, and the fine is better for a wetter polenta – but this is family food we are making so I wouldn’t get too serious about it. Buy good quality corn meal, of whatever type, as long as it is never, never, ever instant.

Things that you can do to your polenta include using stock as your liquid. As I said earlier, I don’t do it that way, preferring instead to bring my pan of liquid up to a boil from cold, with the salt added at the beginning with a bay leaf. You can augment it with garlic, and I have seen all kinds of nonsense added in an effort to be trendy or cutting-edge. Polenta doesn’t need it, it’s a base for other things to work around, so I advocate keeping it simple, getting it right and using your imagination on what you are going to serve it with.

The taste and texture? Get it right and it is right up there alongside the most comforting bowl of buttery mashed potato, with a subtle sweet edge from the corn. It is truly delicious.

polenta

BASIC RECIPE serves 4

375ml cold water

125ml full-fat milk

1 bay leaf

1 tsp sea salt

125g corn meal

50g unsalted butter, cut into thin slices

75g Parmesan, very finely grated


METHOD

Put the water and milk in a large saucepan, add the salt and the bay leaf, then bring to a hard rolling boil.

Once the liquid is boiling, remove the bay leaf. It has done its job and if you leave it in it will get broken up as you whisk, leaving you with unappealing ‘bits’ in your finished polenta.

Measure the corn meal into a bowl big enough to get your hand into, and when the liquid is boiling take a small handful and let it slowly sift through the fingers of one hand into the liquid while you whisk vigorously with the other hand. Keep doing this until all of the corn meal has been incorporated and there are no lumps. Reduce the heat to a low simmer, continuing to whisk it constantly.

You will see the mixture transform from a loose slurry to a thickening paste over the space of five minutes. Make sure the polenta has properly thickened before you stop whisking, though it will still be a loose mixture at this stage.

Now put your pan on a heat-diffuser, over the lowest heat that you can. Pop a lid on the pan (this is sacrilege to many Italians, but it works) and let it cook very, very gently for around 30 minutes. Every five minutes, go back to the mixture and give it a good whisk. When it comes to the point that it is too thick to whisk, take a wooden spoon to it.

The polenta is done when the texture becomes creamy and amalgamated. When you taste it there should be no hint at all of graininess from the corn meal.

Turn off the heat and dot the butter around the top of the polenta, then stir it in until it has almost all melted, then add the finely-grated Parmesan. Stir again, cover again, and leave it to stand for five minutes. Check the seasoning, and now you have something you can work with.

What you do with it next depends entirely on what your meal plans are, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with just taking it to the table in a serving bowl, drizzling it with a very little extra-virgin olive oil and a generous grinding of black pepper and eating it with a spoon. It’s quite amazing in a bowl, topped with a fried egg as well!

Courgette and Chilli Salad

I’m lucky enough to have a pick-your-own farm nearby. I say lucky, I’m notorious for picking more than we can reasonably eat. With that in mind, I have a growing collection of speedy side dishes that I can put together in a hurry and that allow us to savour the freshness of just-picked vegetables.

This one is superb: extremely simple, delicious and elegant. The sharpness of the lemon and mustard powder make it a great accompaniment for oily fish such as mackerel or salmon. Last night we had it alongside a rich polenta dish, purely because that was what I was making. I had a good handful of small, sweet, tender, green and yellow courgettes, so – as often happens – I thought what the hell and put this together on the off-chance that it would work with the buttery polenta. It did, and how.

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Picture Credit: Jamie Oliver


RECIPE serves 4 as a side dish

4 large, or 8 small courgettes, a mix of green and yellow looks great

1 fresh red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped

the zest and juice of a lemon

extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp English mustard powder

a few sprigs of basil, with small leaves


METHOD

Wash the courgettes then, using a potato speed-peeler, make long, thin ribbons. Add the chopped chilli and toss together.

Zest and juice the lemon into a bowl, and add roughly the same amount of extra-virgin olive oil as you have lemon juice. Stir in the mustard powder and a pinch of flaked sea salt, whisk it all together and pour over the salad. Toss thoroughly, then pick off the basil leaves and scatter over the top. Serve immediately.

North Atlantic Prawn Pilaf

I love the versatility of this recipe, which I found in Rick Stein’s book ‘Coast to Coast’. It is excellent with prawns, chicken or pork – and I reckon it would also work well with tofu marinated in sweet chilli sauce. If you are using it for anything other than fish, use chicken stock. Leave out the protein and serve it in place of boiled rice and you have the perfect accompaniment to aromatic curries, or serve it alongside grilled fish.

There is no chilli or hot spice here, just the warming perfume of cloves, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon and coriander. It is exquisite.

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Picture Credit: The Happy Foodie


RECIPE serves 4

400g North Atlantic prawns

50g butter

1 small onion, chopped

1 small carrot, roughly chopped

½ tsp tomato purée

700ml fish stock

350g basmati rice

2 shallots, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, very finely chopped

3 cloves

the seeds from 3 green cardamom pods (about 1/2 teaspoon)

1 cinnamon stick, broken into 4 pieces

¼ tsp ground turmeric

a small handful of chopped coriander leaves

3 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

If you are lucky enough to have whole prawns (with the heads and shells), you will need more than 400g in total weight, so judge accordingly. Peel them but keep the heads and shells for use in the broth you are going to make. Put the prawns on a plate and set aside.

Heat 25g of the butter in a large pan, add the onion and carrot and fry over a medium heat for 6-7 minutes, until lightly browned. Add the prawn heads and shells if you have them and continue to fry for 3-4 minutes. Add the tomato purée and stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain into a measuring jug; if there is more than 600ml, return it to the clean pan and boil rapidly until reduced to this amount. Season carefully.

If using uncooked prawns, drop them into the boiling broth for a minute or so until they just turn pink. Remove from the broth and set aside on a broad plate to cool.

Meanwhile, cover the rice with fresh water and leave to soak while you prepare the next stage. Drain well before using.

Melt the rest of the butter in a saucepan and add the shallots, garlic, cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick and turmeric and fry gently for 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir well to coat the rice with the spicy butter. Add the stock to the pan, bring to the boil, then turn the heat right down to the slightest simmer, put a lid on the pan and leave to cook gently for 10 minutes. Don’t lift the lid during this time.

Uncover the rice and gently stir in the peeled prawns, coriander, diced tomatoes and some seasoning to taste. Re-cover, this time with a teatowel between the lid and the rice, and leave for 5 minutes to warm through. Then spoon into a warmed serving dish and serve.

If using chicken or pork, the meat will need to be cooked before stirring through the rice.

Lemon Curd Crumble Bars

I sometimes like to empty my pantry completely, just to see what is lurking forgotten and unloved in its deeper recesses.  A little while ago I discovered a lone jar of home made lemon curd sitting there, waiting patiently for me to find a use for it. It has been there for well over a year. 

It was perfect by the way, testament to the efficiency of proper preparation of both curd and jar. Fortuitously, a few days before that I found this recipe in a copy of a Waitrose food magazine, so I knew exactly how to use it.

This morning, I began a new batch of lemon curd – because by popular demand I have to make these again…

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RECIPE 

170g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled, plus extra for greasing

285g plain flour

75g golden caster sugar

½ tsp salt

½ tsp baking powder

1 egg yolk

the zest of 1 lemon

30g demerara sugar

50g jumbo oats

30g flaked almonds

30g pecans, chopped

325g jar lemon curd


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 190°C/ Gas 5.

Grease and line a 22cm square baking tin with parchment. In a food processor, pulse together the butter and flour until soft crumbs form. Stir in the caster sugar and salt, then remove 1 /3 of the mixture (about 175g) and set aside in a bowl.

Add the baking powder, egg yolk and lemon zest to the remaining mixture in the food processor and continue to pulse until combined. Tip into the baking tin and press down to form an even layer. Bake for 15 minutes, then allow to cool for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the demerara sugar, oats and nuts to the reserved mixture, with ½ tbsp water. Use a cutlery knife to mix everything together – it doesn’t matter if there are some clumps.

Spread the lemon curd over the biscuit base, then top with the crumble mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove and allow to cool completely in the tin.

To serve, use a cutlery knife to carefully ease the parchment away from the caramelised edges of the curd. Remove from the tin and slice into bars.

These can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days – though in my house we tend to skip the container and store it in our bellies…

Sicilian Tuna in Stemperata Sauce

Stemperata is a Sicilian sweet and sour sauce of capers, olives and vinegar. It is one of those sauces that only reveals its true nature when eaten at room temperature, the flavours having room to express themselves without the distraction of heat. And what flavours! The briny olives, sharp capers, sour vinegar and sweet raisins rolling together, accentuating and contrasting with each other.

This is a recipe I found in Diana Henry’s ‘Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons’. I love Diana Henry’s books; they’re full of exciting flavour combinations and her books are so beautifully and evocatively written they are a joy in themselves.

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RECIPE serves 4

For the tuna:

1 tuna loin steak per person

olive oil

balsamic vinegar

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce:

4 celery sticks, plus the leaves, finely chopped

1/2 large, or 1 small, red onion, finely chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

3 garlic cloves, crushed

150g pitted green olives, some whole, some halved, some chopped

175g capers, rinsed of their brine

75g raisins, plumped up in a little hot water and drained

3 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped (or 1 tsp dried)

freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

First make the sauce: saute the celery and onion in the oil until soft and just beginning to turn golden. Add the garlic, olives, capers and raisins and cook for another couple of minutes. Add the vinegar, oregano and some ground pepper and cook until the vinegar has evaporated. Set aside and leave to cool to room temperature until you are ready to eat.

When you are ready to eat, rub olive oil, salt and pepper on each side of the tuna and heat a ridged griddle pan until very hot.

Cook the tuna, allowing 1 minute for each centimetre of thickness of the fish; so a 2cm thick tuna steak will have 2 minutes per side. This should give you a seared exterior and an interior like a rare steak, pink and meltingly soft – perfect. In the final seconds of cooking, add a slosh of balsamic to the pan and ensure it travels under the ridges of the pan to give a lovely glaze to the fish. Turn the fish over again briefly and add a little more balsamic if necessary.

Serve immediately alongside the stemperata sauce, with a light drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil anointing the tuna. This goes brilliantly with some steamed new or baby potatoes, lightly crushed and drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil.

Masala Turmeric Dhal

I have made a lot of different lentil dishes over the years, all of them lovely, all of them incredibly moreish. I have slightly adapted this one from a Rick Stein recipe, and it stands head and shoulders above every other dhal recipe I have ever used. It’s that good.

It’s subtle, with the merest glow of warmth from the chilli and exquisitely perfumed by the turmeric. You will find yourself tasting it as you go along, and struggling to stop yourself having just a little bit more. Then something truly magical happens…

Just before you serve it you temper it with gently fried onion, ginger, green chilli and tomato, stir it through, taste it, and stand back in astonishment. The temper adds new layers of vibrant flavour, while underlining the perfume of coconut and turmeric. If forced to choose just one dish to eat for the rest of my life, this would be an extremely strong contender.

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Photo Credit: Dropping The V Sign

RECIPE serves 4

250g red lentils

600ml water

225g onions

225g tomatoes

100g coconut oil

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tbsp ground turmeric

1 tsp hot chilli powder

400ml coconut milk

1 tbsp black mustard seeds

a fat thumb of ginger, finely chopped

2 green chillies, finely chopped

A pinch of asafoetida (optional, but essential in my opinion)

a small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped


METHOD

In a large bowl, cover the lentils with the water and leave to soak while you work on preparation.

Coarsely chop half of the onions, finely dice the other half.

Coarsely chop half the tomatoes, finely dice the other half.

Heat 50g of the coconut oil in a large pan then gently fry the coarsely chopped onions and coarsely chopped tomatoes with the garlic, for around 8 to 10 minutes until softened into something resembling a paste. Add the turmeric and the chilli powder and cook on for a minute or so.

Add the lentils together with their soaking water, stir well and bring to the boil. Add the coconut milk and bring back to boiling point before reducing to a low simmer. Leave it to cook until thickened and the lentils are fully soft; this may only take around ten minutes, depending on the age of your lentils. When cooked, season and set aside. I generally find that lentils of any kind will appreciate more salt than you might think, but only when they are fully cooked.

At this point it is always good to leave the dhal to sit for a few hours to allow the base flavours to develop and mingle, but you can of course go straight on to serving if pushed for time.

To finish the dish: gently re-heat the lentils to just below boiling point, and heat the remaining 50g of coconut oil in a large pan that has a lid. When the oil is hot, add the black mustard seeds and cover the pan. When the seeds start to pop, which will only be a minute or so, add the ginger, finely diced onion and finely diced tomato, the green chillies and asafoetida. Cook gently for around 5 minutes until softened but not coloured, then add to the warmed lentils and stir through. Add the chopped coriander and allow it to wilt in the dish as you bring it to the table.

Rick Stein serves this with fish marinated in turmeric and oil, and it’s lovely, but it really doesn’t need anything other than some naan bread or, even better, roti. You’ll love it.