Ribollita

This soup has no right to be as good as it is, given that the ingredients are basically cabbage, beans and potato. That it is so good is down to the first cooking stage, the soffritto, which creates the heady flavour-base from which this traditional Italian peasant food sings.

It is a perfect winter soup: delicious, aromatic and filling. Served alongside toasted crusty bread it is a meal in itself, and it’s even better if made a day ahead. Though it may seem strange to use three different kinds of cabbage, the contrast between them is startling: the white cabbage is sweet, whereas the kale and cavolo nero are slightly bitter.

Served in a traditional Tuscan way, the soup is finished in the oven layered with bread. To serve it this way, slice some crusty farmhouse or sourdough bread as thick as your index finger, toast it lightly and rub each slice with a cut garlic clove. Using a casserole or similar ovenproof serving dish, ladle a layer of soup in the bottom of it, top with a few slices of bread followed by another layer of soup. Continue until both the soup and the bread is used up and cook in a 180C/ gas 4 oven for 20-30 minutes until the soup is piping hot and the bread has soaked up all the juices.

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RECIPE serves 6-8

For the soffritto:

6 tbsp olive oil

1 medium carrot, finely chopped

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 large celery stalk, finely chopped

4 fat garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

2 tsp fine sea salt

a good grinding of black pepper

a large handful of flat-leaf parsley, leaves and stalks, finely chopped

the leaves from a sprig of rosemary, finely chopped

For the soup:

250g potatoes, any kind, chopped into 2cm dice

250g white cabbage, shredded

400g cavalo nero leaves (stalks removed)

100g curly kale (tough stalks removed)

2 tins of cannellini beans

1 litre chicken or vegetable stock, plus the water from the cannellini bean tins

To serve:

crusty farmhouse or sourdough bread, toasted and rubbed with garlic

6-8 spring onions, roughly chopped (optional)

a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil


METHOD

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, cook all the soffritto ingredients (except the garlic) over a medium heat for around 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until softened and aromatic, add the garlic for the final 2 or 3 minutes of cooking. Don’t be tempted to skimp on the oil, it seems a lot but it is crucial to the final flavour and texture, and only works out at a tablespoon per serving.

Add the potatoes and shredded white cabbage and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently, until the cabbage starts to wilt. Add the cavolo nero and kale to the dish and stir through.

Add the stock and water from the cannellini bean tins, bring to the boil then turn down to a steady simmer and cook for around 30 minutes until the vegetables are cooked through and the potato is just tender. Take one tin of the beans and set aside, the other tin should be mashed with a little of the cooking stock to form a thick paste.

When the soup is cooked, add the bean paste and the whole beans and cook for a further ten minutes to heat the beans through and thicken the soup. Correct the seasoning and either serve straight away alongside the bread, put it in the oven Tuscan-style (as above), or leave it to cool ready to eat the following day.

The chopped spring onions are a traditional Tuscan garnish, scattered over the top when serving, but you can omit them if you wish. Don’t omit the final swirl of extra-virgin olive oil over the top though, it adds a lush silkiness to the finished dish.

Sweet Potato and Broccoli Soup

We nearly always have soup available in our house; you never know when somebody might drop in, or when hunger pangs will bite. There are times though when I get caught out and I have to whip up something delicious in a hurry.

I was introduced to this unpromising-sounding but actually quite delicious soup by my sister-in-law. It’s one of Jamie Oliver’s, and the secret is no secret at all: use the freshest ingredients you can get your hands on. Oh, and harissa. Harissa is THE ingredient that lifts that soup from run-of-the-mill to exceptional. Make your own if you can, my recipe is here and it’s far better than anything you can buy in a supermarket.

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RECIPE serves 6, extremely generously

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, roughly chopped

2 fat garlic cloves, crushed

500g sweet potato, chopped into 2cm cubes

750ml (approx) chicken or vegetable stock

200g broccoli, stalk chopped and florets detached

2 tsp harissa


METHOD

In a large pan, gently fry the onion in the oil for ten minutes until lightly golden.

Add the garlic and cook for a further minute, then add the sweet potato and broccoli stalk. Stir thoroughly then add the stock, sufficient to cover everything. Bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes until everything is almost tender, then add the broccoli florets and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Using a stick blender (or a jug blender, but be careful of the hot liquid) blitz the soup until smooth, adding a little more water or stock to loosen it if necessary. Season to taste.

Stir the harissa through the soup just before serving, alongside crusty sourdough.

Tomato and Anchovy Risotto

This recipe was devised by Luke Holder, co-head chef (with Angela Hartnett) at a 5 star hotel in Hampshire. You would therefore expect it to be stunning, and it is. He calls it an ‘umami tsunami’ thanks to the intensity of the tomato, ramped up by the anchovy drizzle with which it is finished. The quality of the anchovies is key, so buy the best you can find, and afford.

I present it here exactly the way he wrote the recipe. It needs no embellishment.

This is high-end cooking, which is well within the reach of the home cook. Try it, you’ll be impressed with yourself!

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RECIPE serves 4 

For the risotto:

1 very large onion, finely diced
250ml of chicken or light vegetable stock
250g of risotto rice (I use carnaroli)
190ml of white wine (or vermouth)
500ml of passata
125g of butter, cubed
100g of Parmesan, grated
olive oil

For the drizzle:

12 top quality anchovies, chopped
50ml of Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar
50ml of extra virgin olive oil
2 fat garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped


METHOD

To make the risotto, add a glug of oil to a large pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook gently until softened but not coloured. Meanwhile, heat the stock in a pan over a low heat.

Add the rice to the onions and stir. Toast until the rice is extremely hot, then deglaze with the wine. Remove from the heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes.

Marinate the chopped anchovy fillets in the vinegar, garlic, olive oil and chopped parsley. Set aside.

Return the risotto to the heat, add 2 ladles of stock and bring to a simmer while stirring continuously, until the stock has been absorbed. Keep cooking like this, adding one ladle of stock at a time, until it is all soaked up.

Pour in all of the passata and continue cooking, adding a little more water if necessary, until it has been absorbed and the rice is cooked through. Beat in the cubed butter and grated Parmesan and remove from the heat – it should be nice and glossy. Cover with a lid and allow to settle for around for a few minutes. You will notice that no salt has been added; with the Parmesan and anchovies none is required.

Serve the risotto and pour the marinated anchovies all over the top – this will have a large amount of oil over the top but it is key to the finishing off the dish, so do not skimp!

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.