Fattoush

My wife lived in the middle east for a while, but even she thought that the dressing for this delicious chopped salad was unusual. One bite and she was converted though, the combination of buttermilk, vinegar and oil is rich, unctuous and delicious. I’m on a roll with Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem” at the moment, and food like this is the reason why.

You can use bought (or made) buttermilk for this recipe, or you can mix whole milk and Greek yogurt (as detailed below) for a similar, less sour, version. This recipe uses both fresh and dried mint; they have very different flavours and contribute to the dance that this salad does on your taste buds.

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Image credit: Jonathan Lovekin

RECIPE serves 6 

200g Greek yogurt and 200ml full-fat milk (or 400ml of buttermilk)

2 large stale Turkish flatbread or naan (250g in total)

3 large tomatoes (380g in total), cut into 1.5cm dice

100g radishes, thinly sliced

3 Lebanese or mini cucumbers (250g in total), peeled and chopped into 1.5cm dice

2 spring onions, thinly sliced

15g mint

a bunch of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

1 tbsp dried mint

2 garlic cloves, crushed

3 tbsp lemon juice

60ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to drizzle

2 tbsp cider or white wine vinegar

3/4 tsp coarsely ground black pepper

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp sumac or more according to taste, to garnish


METHOD

If using the yogurt and milk method, then at least three hours beforehand (or the day before, for a more rounded flavour) place both in a bowl and whisk well to combine. Cover, and leave in a cool place (or in the fridge) to develop. Little bubbles should eventually form on the surface.

Tear the bread into bite-sized pieces and place in a very large bowl with the yogurt/milk (or buttermilk) mixture, followed by the rest of the ingredients. Mix well and leave for between ten and thirty minutes at room temperature for the flavours to mingle.

To serve, drizzle over a little more extra-virgin olive oil and garnish generously with sumac.

Grilled Fish Skewers with Hawayej & Parsley

Another from Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem”, this is a wonderful way to serve fish and is perfect for summer evenings in the garden.

Hawayej is a Yemeni spice mix which you will have to make yourself. It’s dead easy though, just a little grinding in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle. The marinading stage is essential, try to allow 6 to 12 hours, though if you decide to make it late in the day then an hour will do.

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Image credit: Dev Wijewardane


RECIPE serves 4 to 6 depending on what you serve it with

Hawayej spice mix:

1 tsp black peppercorns

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds

4 whole cloves

1/2 tsp cardamom seeds

1 1/2 tsp ground turmeric

For the fish:

1kg firm-fleshed white fish (cod, hake, monkfish, tilapia etc)

two bunches of finely chopped flat leaf-parsley

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

1/2 tsp chilli flakes

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp fine sea salt

2 tbsp olive oil

lemon wedges to serve


METHOD

First, make the spice mix: place the whole spices in a spice grinder (I use a coffee grinder set aside for just this purpose) or a mortar and pestle, and work it until finely ground. Add the turmeric and mix well.

Remove the skin and any pin-bones from the fish, and chop into regular 2.5cm cubes.

Place the fish, parsley, garlic, chilli flakes, lemon juice and salt in a large bowl with the spice mix. Mix well with your hands, massaging the fish with the mixture until everything is well coated. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge for a minimum of one hour and a maximum of twelve.

When it comes time to cook them, thread the fish chunks on to skewers (metal or wood, but if using wood then soak them for an hour beforehand to avoid them scorching) and brush each piece of fish lightly on all sides with a little olive oil.

To cook: either place on a very hot ridged griddle pan for around 90 seconds, before turning and cooking for 90 seconds on the other side, or: grill under a hot, pre-heated grill (broiler) for around 2 minutes each side until cooked through. You can also cook them on a barbecue, taking great care not to burn them.

Serve immediately with lemon wedges. These go brilliantly with fattoush, the creamy dressing of which tempers and complements the spice perfectly.

Sea Bass with Roasted Fennel and Tomato Agrodolce

I spotted this Italian sweet and sour dish in an old Jamie Oliver magazine a couple of weeks ago. It looked simple (it is), uses ingredients that I know work together, and looked like an interesting twist on tradition. If you know Italian food then you know, of course, that the sweet and sour agrodolce is indeed traditional. I looked it up and it is used in a similar way to a French gastrique, adding piquancy to a dish. 

That’s just one more thing that I love about cooking: there’s always something new to learn. More than that, every new thing I discover takes me off down other hitherto uncharted avenues.

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RECIPE serves 2

1 medium fennel bulb (around 200g after trimming), finely sliced

2 tbsp olive oil

150g very ripe cherry tomatoes

3 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped

6 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tbsp runny honey

50g fresh pine nuts

2 sea bass fillets, pin-boned

2 tbsp raisins


METHOD

Heat your oven to 220C/ 200C fan/ gas 7.

Remove the tough core from the fennel, trim off and reserve any fronds and slice it very finely, using a mandolin if you have one.

In a roasting pan. toss the sliced fennel in the oil with a little seasoning. Spread in a single layer in the roasting pan and roast for ten minutes.

Mix the vinegar and honey together, remove the pan from the oven and drizzle the vinegar over the fennel. Add the tomatoes, garlic and pine nuts, toss everything together and return to the oven for a further ten minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven again and switch the grill to high.

Using a very sharp knife, score the skin of the fish 4 or 5 times each, rub a little oil over the skin and season it lightly with sea salt. Toss the raisins into the roasting pan, lay the fish on top – skin side up – and grill for four or five minutes until the fish is just cooked through.

Take the roasting pan to the table and serve from it, alongside some crusty bread and a simple rocket salad.

Pea, Courgette and Basil Soup

This is another brilliant way to use a glut of herbs and vegetables, this time making use of our courgette and basil mountains. We are not growing peas this year, but we are fortunate to have a greengrocer who stocks peas in their pods so I bought a massive bag full.

It’s very quick, simple and heavenly, testament to the magic of just-harvested ingredients.

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RECIPE serves 6

30g unsalted butter

1 medium onion, chopped

2 large courgettes (or 3 medium) diced

1 fat garlic clove, crushed

1 litre of hot chicken or vegetable stock

1kg of peas in the pod, or around 400g shelled peas

a few sprigs of fresh basil


METHOD

Melt the butter in a large pan over a low heat, add the onion with a good pinch of salt, cover and soften gently for around 15 minutes.

Add the diced courgette and garlic, stir well and cook for a couple of minutes more before adding the stock and most of the peas – save a handful to put in whole at the end – with the basil.

Bring to the boil then cover and simmer for around ten minutes until the courgette and peas are tender.

Blitz using a hand blender – or in batches in a worktop blender – until smooth, season, then add the remaining peas. Bring back to the boil then simmer gently for a few minutes until the whole peas are cooked but retain their crispness.

Serve in bowls with a light drizzle of olive oil, or a swirl of double cream, alongside some toasted ciabatta or rustic bread.

Chickpea Mushroom Burgers with Turmeric Aioli

The best thing about sharing recipes on a blog is that people share theirs with you as well. These delicious vegan burgers were devised by Ella Woodward but came recommended by my friend Bridget, who raved about them. She was right, they are absolutely gorgeous, as well as being quick and easy to make.

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RECIPE serves 4  

For the Burgers:

2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped

4 fat spring onions, white and green parts separated and finely chopped

150g of mushrooms, finely chopped

1 large carrot, grated

1 heaped teaspoon of cumin

1 teaspoon of hot chilli powder

salt and pepper

2 400g tins of chickpeas

2 tablespoons of gram flour

a small bunch of coriander, finely chopped

olive oil

For the aioli:

100g of cashews (soaked for at least 4 hours)

1 lemon, juiced

1 small clove of garlic, chopped

salt and pepper

1 teaspoon of ground turmeric

4 tablespoons of water


METHOD

Gently fry the chopped garlic and the white half of the spring onions in olive oil over a medium heat for about 5 minutes until they are cooked through and just beginning to brown.

While those cook, finely chop the mushrooms then add them to the pan along with the cumin and chilli powder, with a pinch of salt and a grinding of black pepper and cook for another 3 minutes.

Grate the carrot, finely chop the green ends of the spring onions and add both into the pan, then cook for another 2 minutes.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas and finely chop the coriander then add both to the pan along with the gram flour. Mash the mixture with a potato masher until all the chickpeas are crushed then scoop up handfuls of the mix and mould into eight patties. Place these in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up.

While these cool, drain the cashews and add all the aioli ingredients to a high speed blender and blend until totally smooth.

Heat a little olive oil in a pan over a medium heat and cook the burgers for about 4 minutes on each side, until they turn golden brown. Alternatively, heat your oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6, brush a little olive oil on each side of the patties and cook for 15 minutes, turning them over half way through.

Serve alongside the turmeric aioli, with a salad and pitta bread.

Saffron Rice with Barberries, Pistachio and Mixed Herbs

I have a ridiculous number of cookbooks, magazines, recipes ripped from newspapers and magazines, and downloaded from the internet. It can make choosing what to eat more of a problem, not less, so when I’m stuck for inspiration I have a few strategies: I might pick a book or magazine at random, and just cook anything and everything that sounds delicious. Or I might go into the larder and pick out an overlooked, forgotten-about ingredient and find recipes to use it with.

This last strategy came into play this week, when I found a pot of dried barberries lurking, doing nothing. It was a good move, I made two absolutely divine dishes with them, which went together perfectly: a yellow split pea and aubergine stew, which I found in an old Jamie magazine, and this, from Yotam Ottolenghi’s delightful book ‘Jerusalem’.

Barberries are tiny, sweet-and-sour Iranian berries that add a real hit of intensity to Middle Eastern dishes. You can get them online, and from Middle Eastern grocers. If you can’t find barberries, use currants soaked in a little lemon juice instead, or dried sour cherries also make a great substitute.

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RECIPE serves 6 (modify amounts to suit) 

40g unsalted butter

360g basmati rice, rinsed under cold water and drained

560ml boiling water

Salt and freshly ground white pepper

a pinch of saffron threads, soaked for 30 minutes in 3 tbsp boiling water

40g dried barberries, soaked for a few minutes in freshly boiled water with a pinch of sugar

30g dill, roughly chopped

20g chervil, roughly chopped

10g tarragon, roughly chopped

60g slivered or crushed unsalted raw pistachios, lightly toasted


METHOD

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and stir in the rice, making sure the grains are well coated. Add the boiling water, a teaspoon of salt and some white pepper. Mix well, cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook on a very low heat for 15 minutes. Don’t be tempted to uncover the pan – you need to let the rice to steam properly.

Remove the pan from the heat – all the water will have been absorbed by the rice – and pour the saffron water over about a quarter of the surface, leaving most of the rice white. Cover with a tea towel, reseal tightly with the lid and set aside for five to 10 minutes.

We are not big fans of saffron, some people just aren’t. If this also applies to you then consider finely grating a couple of centimetres of fresh turmeric root (now very widely available from larger supermarket chains) and soaking in a couple of tablespoons of hot water. The flavour is heady and aromatic, it makes a perfect substitute wherever you are called upon to use saffron.

With a large spoon, transfer the white rice to a large bowl and fluff it up with a fork. Drain the barberries and stir them in, followed by the herbs and most of the pistachios, reserving a few to garnish. Fluff up the saffron rice in the pan, then fold gently into the white rice – don’t over mix: you don’t want the white grains to be stained by the yellow ones. Taste, adjust the seasoning and transfer to a shallow serving bowl. Scatter the remaining pistachios on top and serve warm or at room temperature.

Sea Bass in Acqua Pazza

Life has a habit of getting in the way, as I have been reminded these past few weeks. Much of my cooking has been quick and simple, and I haven’t found the time to write about it.

Just because you’re short on time doesn’t mean that you can’t eat well, as this simple, quick and elegant dish illustrates.

Acqua Pazza translates as crazy water, the fresh and zingy poaching liquid which perfectly complements, and enhances, the soft white flesh of sea bass. You can make this with small whole fish (as the recipe below), a larger single fish, or fillets. Only the cooking time will change, just keep an eye on the fish and serve it as soon as the thickest part of the fish begins to flake.

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RECIPE serves 4 

4 small whole seabass, gutted, cleaned and scaled

75ml olive oil

2 thick garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced

1 red chilli, finely chopped

500g cherry tomatoes, halved

120ml dry vermouth

a small handful of capers, rinsed

a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

a small handful of basil leaves, torn


METHOD

In a very large, high-sided pan (preferably one with a lid, if not you can use foil) heat the olive oil with the garlic, chilli and a pinch of salt over a medium heat and lay the fish in it side by side.

After four minutes, gently turn the fish over and add the tomatoes. Cook for another four minutes then add the vermouth and capers. Cover, simmer for a further four minutes or until the fish is just cooked.

Lay the fish onto warmed plates, add the parsley and basil to the pan, turn the heat up for a couple of minutes to reduce the sauce to a syrupy consistency, then spoon over the fish.

Serve with some steamed rice and a simple lemon-dressed rocket salad.

Garganelli with Salmon and Prawns

Two places you should never allow me to enter without somebody keeping a close eye on me: 1) a charity shop, and 2) a good delicatessen.

In the first I’m liable to walk out with an armful of old cookery books, and in the second I’m prone to loading myself up with obscure liqueurs (oh yes, I have a growing cocktail and aperitivi obsession) and obscure foodstuffs that catch my eye – like garganelli pasta (pictured below).

I never fail to be amazed at the way that plain old pasta can taste so different just because the shape of it is different. The shape and decoration of pasta can indeed offer a different ‘mouth feel’, fooling your palate somewhat*, but the real difference is that various shapes catch and hold sauce in different ways.

This recipe is a classic example of that. You can substitute penne for the garganelli if you don’t have a deli near you that stocks it, but it will be a very different dish. The quill shape of the garganelli catches and holds the seafood and tomato within it, while the external grooves allow the sauce to collect and stay attached while you bring it to your mouth.

Make it with penne, and while it is still delicious, you have to spend the effort of gathering all of the different elements together on your fork, for each and every mouthful. Even so, this is well worth making even if you only have penne – spend the effort, you will be rewarded.

Garganelli

* If you think this is mumbo-jumbo, there is a fascinating book – ‘Gastrophysics’ by Professor Charles Spence – which examines the ongoing research into how we actually experience flavour, and how inventive chefs such as Heston Blumenthal are using that science to enhance their food, without changing the food itself.


RECIPE serves 4 

350g salmon fillets

200ml dry white vermouth

a small handful of fresh basil leaves, plus extra for garnish

150ml double cream

6 ripe plum tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped

350g garganelli

125g king prawns


METHOD

Pour the vermouth into a wide, shallow pan with the basil leaves and some seasoning. Bring it to the boil, then put the salmon fillets – skin side up – into it, cover it and hold it at a very gentle simmer for four minutes. Carefully remove the fish and set aside to cool slightly.

Add the cream and tomatoes to the vermouth in the pan and bring back to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and leave it to reduce and thicken for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large saucepan of salted water at a rolling boil. Cook until the pasta is just al dente. My pasta takes just under ten minutes, so I set it going ten minutes into the sauce reduction time.

Just before the pasta is ready, check and adjust the seasoning of the sauce then put the raw prawns into the hot sauce to cook, and flake the salmon into large pieces then add that to the pan together with the drained pasta.

Toss well so everything is coated in everything else, scatter some more basil leaves over the top and serve immediately. This is best accompanied by a bowl of rocket dressed with a little lemon juice.

Roasted Tomato Soup

At this time of year it can be hard to get hold of ripe, tasty tomatoes and even if you can, expect to pay through the nose for them. That means that this wasn’t exactly a good time for my lovely wife to request a big pot of tomato soup for her lunchtime meals for the next few days.

Fear not. I’ve been cooking long enough now to know that even the humblest, firmest, blandest tomato, if treated correctly, can reveal from deep within itself the most spectacular flavours. If you don’t believe me, then this recipe will be an eye-opener. I simply picked up a couple of cheap nets of B Grade tomatoes from my local supermarket, which cost just a couple of pounds altogether. I shudder to think how good this soup would be at the height of summer when tomatoes are at their best.

The trick is to slow-roast the tomatoes with a few aromatics, and to be brave with the garlic. When it is roasted, garlic takes on a deeper, richer palette of flavours, nothing at all like the pungency of the raw version. I used a whole head of garlic for this soup yesterday, and nobody in my house had bad breath last night.

You can, if you wish, add some double cream to this soup just before you serve it. In my opinion though, it is rich and creamy enough as it is.

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RECIPE serves 4 

1.5kg ripe tomatoes, halved

4 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, sliced

1 whole head of garlic, cloves separated, peeled and left whole

75g tomato puree

2 tsp dried thyme

50g caster sugar

1.5 litres vegetable stock

a small bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped


METHOD

Heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas3.

Place the halved tomatoes in a large, deep roasting tin, together with the onion, garlic cloves,  tomato puree, thyme and sugar, and drizzle the olive oil over it all. See the picture above. Using your hands, mix everything together, pushing anything that is likely to burn rather than caramelise (such as the ends of the onion slices) down under the tomato halves.

Roast in the middle of the oven for between 60 and 75 minutes, keeping an eye on it. You want the tomatoes and onion to start to brown and caramelise, maybe even char a little in places, but burning is not good.

When cooked, transfer the juicy, pulpy contents of the roasting tin to a large pot, add the stock and season lightly, then bring it to a simmer.

Remove the pot from the heat, and add the coriander. Leave it to cool slightly, then using either a stick blender or a worktop blender (in batches), blitz until it is smooth.

Check and adjust the seasoning and serve, drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil, and/or perhaps a dollop of double cream.

Pasta in Parchment with tuna, tomatoes and potatoes

Quite often, the deciding factor in my cooking a recipe I haven’t tried before is that it is in some way unusual, therefore offering a chance for me to learn something new. I spotted this recipe in Ursula Ferrigno’s ‘Truly, Madly, Pasta’ and the idea of cooking pasta in a paper bag was too intriguing to ignore.

You can’t really go wrong with Italian food, it is largely based on simplicity, using fresh ingredients and flavourful aromatic combinations. Pack all that into a paper bag, so all the flavours and aromas are locked in… well, how could it go wrong? Even if I did manage to somehow get it wrong, I would have a salvageable basis for another meal at the end of it.

My only real concern was the pasta. It is part-cooked before going into the paper, and once in the paper there is no way to test if it is done until you serve it, so I was totally reliant on the recipe-writer getting her timings right.

I needn’t have worried, the pasta was cooked perfectly, the only amendment I made to the original recipe was putting the tuna steaks in raw (Ursula Ferrigno pre-cooks those as well). As it stands now, this is a delicious, versatile, quick and easy midweek pasta recipe that also has the ‘wow!’ factor when you bring it to the table.

You can leave the potatoes out if you wish, they are primarily there to add textural interest, but with them left in this is a hearty dish indeed.

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RECIPE serves 4 

250g tuna steak, chopped into 2cm cubes

150ml dry vermouth

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

grated zest of one lemon

2 sprigs of rosemary, broken into pieces

8 new potatoes, peeled (or scrubbed) and cut into small dice

12 ripe plum tomatoes, deseeded and roughly chopped

handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped, plus more to serve

350g spaghetti

2 tbsp olive oil


METHOD

Place the tuna in a bowl with the vermouth, garlic, lemon zest, rosemary and some seasoning. Leave to marinate for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ Gas 6.

Towards the end of the marinating time, cook the diced potatoes in boiling salted water for approximately six minutes, until tender, and drain. Combine with the tomatoes and parsley.

At the same time, half-cook the spaghetti. Use just over half the time suggested on the packet, the brand I use is al dente in ten minutes, so I cooked it for six. Drain and set aside.

Also at the same as you cook the pasta, in a large frying pan, heat the oil until hot, remove the tuna from the marinade and set aside, and fry the marinade and its aromatic ingredients for a couple of minutes to burn off the alcohol and reduce slightly. Combine this sauce with the spaghetti, the raw marinated tuna, tomatoes and potato. Toss well.

Prepare four parcels with parchment paper, add one-quarter of the mixture to each and fold up loosely like an envelope. Fold in the edges and then fold over the top carefully to seal completely.

Place in the pre-heated oven for seven minutes. Serve at once, tearing open the bags at the table (while inhaling deeply!) and sprinkling with more chopped parsley.