Curried Fish Pie

If you’re not a fan of curry, fear not. The spices fade into the overall mix of heady flavours and aromas and there is no heat to speak of. This just leaves you with a fish pie taken not just to the next level, but the level beyond that.

I love fish pie; whether topped with mashed potato or puff pastry it is one of my ultimate comfort foods. I thought my existing recipe couldn’t be bettered, but when I spotted this while browsing through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘River Cottage Every Day’ there was no question that I would make it, and no question that we would love it.

Hugh is one of that all too rare breed of cookery writers whose recipes work, every single time, and they are always delicious. I have cooked probably close to a hundred of his recipes now, and without exception they have been loved by us all. The trouble with that is: how do you get time to cook new stuff?

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RECIPE – Serves 6

For the fish:

600g of firm white fish fillets, I use a mix of hake, haddock and sea bass
200g kippers
750ml whole milk
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
A few peppercorns

For the pie:

75g unsalted butter
75g plain flour
1 tablespoon sunflower or groundnut oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoon curry powder or curry paste (I use Mauritian curry powder)
2 handfuls of raw peeled prawns (optional)
a small bunch of chopped coriander
250g puff pastry
A little beaten egg for glazing


METHOD

Put all the fish in a pan and add the milk, onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf and peppercorns. Place over a low heat. As soon as the milk comes to a simmer, switch off the heat and cover the pan. The fish will carry on cooking in the hot milk. After about 5 minutes, it should be just cooked through; if not, leave it in the hot milk for a little longer, then drain in a sieve placed over a bowl, reserving the milk. Discard the vegetables, bay leaf and peppercorns.

Now make a béchamel sauce: melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and stir well to make a roux. Cook gently for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly, then gently whisk in a third of the fishy milk until the sauce is smooth. Add another third of the milk, whisking all the time until the sauce is again smooth, and then the final third, so that you end up with a smooth, creamy sauce. Season with salt and pepper, turn the heat down low and cook very gently for 2 minutes.

Peel the skin off the fish, check for any bones and gently break the flesh into chunks. Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the onion and cook gently for about 5 minutes, until translucent and soft. Stir in the curry powder or paste and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Add the curry-flavoured onion to the béchamel, then stir in the flaked fish, the prawns, if using, and the coriander. Taste the sauce and add more salt, pepper or curry powder/paste if you think it needs it.

Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface and cut it to fit the top of the dish. Put the filling into the dish. Dampen the rim of the dish, lift the pastry over the filling and press down the pastry edges to seal. Brush with a little beaten egg and place in an oven preheated to 200C/ Fan 180C/ Gas 6. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden and puffed and the fishy sauce is bubbling underneath.

Serve with peas and broccoli, with smooth buttery mash. Yum!

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Pretzels

There seem to be several thousand different ways to make pretzels, and I’m sure that most of them work, though one or two recipes that I have tried have been abject failures. All that matters is the end result, and this method – which I found in The Great British Bake Off Christmas book – delivers every time.

You can make pretzels sweet as well as savoury, just sprinkle them with demerara sugar instead of salt before baking.

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RECIPE – makes 8 large pretzels

175ml hand warm water

1/2 tsp caster sugar

1 1/2 tsp active dried yeast

300g plain flour

1/2 tsp salt

3 tbsp bicarbonate of soda

1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp melted butter

flaky sea salt (or demerara sugar if making sweet pretzels)


METHOD

Mix the warm water with the sugar and yeast and leave in a warm place for 5-10 minutes until the mixture starts to bubble.

Put the flour into a bowl and make a well in the centre, add the yeast and stir with a wooden spoon until you have a loose dough. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes until the dough starts to loose it’s stickiness.

Flatten and spread the dough out into a loose square, and sprinkle the salt over it. Knead for a further five minutes, this will distribute the salt thoroughly throughout the dough. When the dough is smooth and elastic, roll it into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl, covered with cling film or a damp cloth, in a warm place for 1-2 hours until it has doubled in size.

Heat the oven to 170C/ Gas 3. Put about 1 1/2 litres of water in a large pan with the bicarbonate of soda and bring it to the boil.

Meanwhile, punch the dough back down and give it another brief knead, then cut it into eight equal pieces. Roll each piece out into a long thin rope, about 45cm (18 inches) long.

Take one end of the rope and bring it to the centre, then take the other end of the rope and bring it across the first end and twist it underneath to form a knot in the centre, then bring it to the middle. Press the ends tightly on the top edge of the dough rope to seal them – see the picture for the end result.

Gently lower each piece of shaped pretzel dough into the boiling water using a slotted spoon, you can probably do 3 at a time. After about ten seconds they will start to rise to the top, but allow them to boil for 30 seconds before removing with a slotted spoon and placing onto a baking sheet lined with parchment while you do the rest.

Once the pretzels have all been boiled, brush them with the egg and butter glaze and sprinkle with the sea salt. Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 45 minutes until they are a deep and glossy brown, and crisp. Cool on a wire rack before eating – you might want to have the dough for eight more proving in a corner, these go fast!

Perfect Bread Machine Loaves

I make bread at home at least once a week, and though I will make it by hand as often as I can – just for the pleasure of it – there is no disgrace at all in using a bread machine. I’ve been ill for a few weeks, so I have been filling my time doing a lot of experimenting with small differences in how my bread is made, both by hand and by machine.

I have come to a few surprising conclusions, chief among which is that for a standard white loaf there is no need to pay top-dollar for the ‘best’ bread flour. Whether you judge a loaf on its taste, on its ‘crumb’, on its chewiness, its looks or its crust, there is absolutely no difference between the own-brand flour from my local Lidl and the most expensive boutique flours. Under identical conditions, back-to-back tests illustrate that all of the characteristics of a loaf are determined by the kind of yeast you use, and what the baker does, not the flour.

I know that is close to heresy in some peoples’ eyes, but there it is.

I have been reading some fascinating books about bread; seriously, I had no idea that such a narrow subject could be so diverse and fascinating. I’m not yet at the point where I can offer a masterclass in bread-making, but I am willing to offer a couple of tips that will improve the bread that comes out of your bread machine.

The first tip concerns how you add the ingredients to the bread machine. All the instructions that I have ever read direct you to put all the ingredients into the pan, select the appropriate settings, turn it on and walk away for a few hours. That, after all, is what a bread machine is all about.

But what if I told you that by being just a little more organised and doing five minutes preparation, a couple of hours before you turn the machine on, you will get a machine loaf that is probably 98% as good as a loaf made by hand? Interested?

All you need to do is take a little of the water, a little of the flour, all of the yeast and all of the sugar specified in a recipe, put it into a small bowl and mix it all together with a fork so you end up with a smooth, very sloppy porridge consistency. Now cover it with a damp cloth and walk away for a few hours.

When you come back to it and lift the cloth, you will find that the top is covered in foaming bubbles and smells a little like beer. It will also have grown; by how much depends purely on how long you left it – don’t leave it too long, a few hours only, otherwise you run the risk of exhausting the yeast.

Now grab a fork, or a whisk, and whip the mixture for a minute or two. You will find that it is all stringy, like melting cheese. That is the gluten, developing before you even begin kneading. The smell and the volume increase is the yeast, digesting the sugar and flour and releasing carbon dioxide as it does so.

Now add all of the remaining flour, water, oil and salt to the bread machine pan, pour in the yeasted mixture, give it a stir with the fork to combine it all, then walk away.

When you come back after the 4 or 5 hours the bread machine cycle takes, you will find that your loaf looks, smells and tastes remarkably better than it used to. The loaf will be slightly bigger, with a more pronounced crown, and when you cut into it you will find that the crumb (the distribution of air bubbles) will be uneven and more open. On tasting it you will find that it has a little more ‘body’, is a little chewier and has a flavour all its own. All this just from pre-activating the yeast and the gluten.

The second tip concerns salt. I used to think that salt was included in bread dough purely to add flavour to the finished loaf; not so, actually salt plays a crucial role in gluten development.  If you make bread, or you watch any baking programmes, you will be aware that bread dough is kneaded in order to activate the gluten proteins in the flour. Without going into the chemistry of what happens, and in simplified layman’s terms, by working the dough the protein molecules combine into longer strands, and it is these strands which give the bread the strength to trap air and rise. The presence of salt in a dough gives the gluten greater structural strength, so it is better able to hold onto the carbon dioxide released as the yeast feeds on the flour, sugar and water, trapping it as the bread proves, and then holding it when the loaf goes into a hot oven, at which point the trapped air expands and the loaf springs into its final shape.

Paradoxically, though salt is necessary when the gluten has developed, it actually inhibits the initial development of gluten. Experiments show that adding the salt later means that your finished loaf has greater structure for the same amount of kneading, or, if you’re making it by hand, you can get away with kneading the bread less.

So, if you’re using a bread machine to make a basic white or wholemeal loaf (sample recipes are below), the first step is to pre-activate the yeast and gluten by mixing all the yeast with all the sugar and some of the water and flour, then leaving it for a couple of hours before whipping it and adding it, with all of the remaining ingredients, to the bread pan. This of course includes the salt, the absence of which in the initial yeast mixture allows the gluten to get a good head start in developing.

Both of these principles apply equally to hand-made loaves, and the trouble with all this is that I have been making some exquisite bread recently, and it isn’t good for my waistline…

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RECIPES 

White Bread Machine Loaf

Medium

Large Extra-Large
Strong white flour

400g

475g 550g

Dried active yeast

¾ tsp 1 tsp

1¼ tsp

Sugar

1 tsp

1½ tsp

2 tsp

Butter/olive oil

15g

25g

25g

Salt

¾ tsp

1 tsp

1¼ tsp

Water

270 ml 320 ml

360 ml

70% Wholemeal Bread Machine Loaf

Medium

Large

Extra-Large

Strong whole meal flour

300g

350g

400g

Strong white flour

100g

125g

150g

Dried active yeast

¾ tsp

1 tsp

1¼ tsp

Sugar

1 tsp

1½ tsp

2 tsp

Butter/olive oil

15g

25g

25g

Salt

¾ tsp

1 tsp

1¼ tsp

Water

280 ml

340 ml

380 ml


 

Squash and Sage Honeycomb Cannelloni

There is a reason that Italian families like to get together and feast: they get to eat food like this. It takes a little time and effort to make (though not too much) but it will comfortably serve six people until they burst, with a little left over as well!

It’s a similar idea to a lasagne, though with a very different – and impressive – look, and like lasagne it is deeply comforting. Be careful though, this isn’t diet food so you shouldn’t make it every day, or even every week, but as an occasional celebration meal this ticks every box.

To cut through the richness of all the cheese, the perfect accompaniment is a simple salad of segmented oranges tossed through a big bowl of rocket leaves.

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RECIPE serves 6

1kg of butternut squash – 400g diced into 1cm chunks, 600g cut into bigger chunks

4 tbsp olive oil

2 large onions, finely chopped

15 large sage leaves, finely chopped, plus a few extra (roughly shredded) for sprinkling

4 garlic cloves, crushed

500g ricotta

a pinch of sugar

a small handful of walnuts, chopped, plus a few halves for sprinkling

500g mascarpone

300ml full-fat milk

1/2 tsp of grated fresh nutmeg

100g grated parmesan, plus a little extra for sprinkling

500g dried cannelloni tubes

100g Gorgonzola, diced


METHOD

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6. Toss the 1cm diced squash on a baking tray with 2 tbsp of the oil and a little seasoning. Roast in the oven for 20-25 mins until the squash is tender and browning.

Meanwhile, put the bigger chunks in a microwave-proof bowl with about 200ml water. Cover with cling film, pierce a couple of times, and microwave on high, in several 4 minute bursts (with a few minutes rest between each burst) until really soft. Drain off the water and leave to cool for a little while.

While you’re doing this, put the remaining 2 tbsp oil in a large frying pan over a moderate heat with the onions, sage and garlic and cook gently until softened. Set aside to cool.

Now prepare the pasta: bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add six or seven cannelloni tubes at a time and boil for 2 mins, stirring occasionally so they don’t stick together. Lift out with a slotted spoon and drop into a basin of cold water so you can handle them. Use scissors to snip each tube in half, but don’t worry if the results are jagged because uneven bits that stick up out of the sauce add visual interest as well as charring and browning to add variety of texture and taste.

Mash the microwaved squash, or blitz in a blender, then mix with the ricotta until smooth. Season well and taste – it may need a little sugar to bring out the sweetness of the squash. Stir in the onion mixture and the walnuts, then gently stir in the roasted squash, being careful not to break it up.

Whisk the mascarpone with the milk, nutmeg, Parmesan and generous seasoning until smooth. Spread just over half the sauce into a big ovenproof dish.

Stand the halved cannelloni tubes upright on their smooth ends, snuggled together as tightly as possible, in the sauce in the dish. You can try piping the squash and ricotta mixture into the tubes, but really, life is too short. It is much easier just to take a teaspoon and roughly spread the mixture over the top of a few tubes at a time, pushing the mixture down into the tubes, and the gaps between them.

When all the filling is used up, dot the top of the cannelloni with diced gorgonzola, a few walnut halves and some shredded sage leaves, and drizzle the remainder of the mascarpone sauce over everything. Finish with a generous grating of Parmesan over the top, then bake, uncovered, in a 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6 oven for around 30 mins until the top is crisp, the sauce is bubbling and the pasta is softened.

Leave to rest for ten minutes and serve alongside a simple salad of segmented oranges tossed through a big bowl of rocket leaves.

Sage and Gorgonzola Risotto

This time of year is just perfect for the stodgy, warming comfort of a risotto. The sour tang of Gorgonzola is perfect for risotto, but if you find the flavour a little too strong you can substitute Dolcelatte, which is the same cheese but around 6 months younger.

To cut through the richness of the risotto, the perfect accompaniment is three segmented oranges tossed through a big bowl of rocket leaves. As my wife put it, this simple salad is an absolute triumph.

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RECIPE serves 4

1.2 litres chicken or vegetable stock

1 medium onion, very finely chopped

1/2 tsp dried sage

100g unsalted butter

400g risotto rice (I prefer carnaroli, but arborio is fine)

125ml dry white vermouth

150g Gorgonzola cheese, diced

2 tbsp single cream

4 fresh sage leaves, very finely chopped

a few fried sage leaves to garnish

a few crumbs of Gorgonzola to garnish

a little freshly grated Parmesan, as a seasoning


METHOD

Heat the stock to simmering point before you start, and keep it at a gentle simmer throughout the cooking time.

Heat a risotto pan, or large frying pan, over a medium high heat and melt 50g of the butter with a splash of olive oil (to prevent the butter from burning). Add the onions and dried sage and fry gently for around five minutes until the onion is meltingly soft but not browned.

Add all of the rice, turn the heat up and stir everything together so that each grain of rice is coated, and the grains are really hot. ‘Toasting’ the grains this way improves the final risotto, but take care not to brown or burn anything, constant stirring is essential.

Add the vermouth to the hot pan, the alcohol will sizzle off within 30 seconds, after which time you can begin to add the hot stock, one ladleful at a time, stirring constantly and only adding more stock when the previous liquid has all been absorbed.

When two-thirds of the stock has been added, stir in the Gorgonzola and melt it through the rice. Continue to add stock until the risotto is smooth and velvety and the grains are soft but still retain a little bite, this will take around twenty minutes and you must never leave the pan alone or your risotto will catch.

Remove from the heat and add the remaining butter, the cream and the chopped fresh sage. Stir it thoroughly and adjust the seasoning. The Gorgonzola is quite salty so you may not need to add any salt at all, though a generous grind of freshly-ground black pepper is a must. Cover the pan and set aside for a couple of minutes while you gently fry a few fresh sage leaves for the garnish.

Turn the risotto out onto a warm platter, garnish with the fried sage leaves and some small pieces of Gorgonzola that will slowly melt in. Grate a little Parmesan over each bowl to act as a final seasoning and serve alongside a rocket and orange salad.

Steak and Ale Pie

It’s not often I get to make something properly meaty. Being married to a vegetarian and having several vegans in the family means that my diet is 90% vegetarian as well, so when my dad comes to visit it’s always a good excuse to make something seriously meaty, and seriously delicious. Eating steak once a year, as I do, also means that I appreciate it when I do have it.

A quick internet search for steak and ale pie brings up 14 million results so, as you can imagine, selecting just one recipe can be a lottery so why would you choose to make this one? Personally, I always look at a recipe as a starting point, modifying it, enhancing it (or trying to) and making it as good as I possibly can. I made this yesterday and everybody gushed so my advice would be, make it my way, then modify it and make it your way, and you will also end up with a pie that your family will love.

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RECIPE serves 8

For the filling:

10g dried porcini or mixed wild mushrooms

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1kg chuck steak (it may be sold as braising or stewing steak)

2 large onions, roughly chopped

4 large carrots, chopped into 5mm thick slices

2 tsp golden caster sugar

4 tbsp plain flour

300ml dark ale (I use Guinness)

400ml beef stock, or two beef stock cubes in boiling water

a small bunch thyme, bay leaf and parsley, tied together as a bouquet garni

200g smoked bacon lardons

200g chestnut mushrooms, halved

For the pastry:

650g plain flour

1 1/2 tsp English mustard powder

125g fridge cold butter

125g fridge cold lard or vegetable shortening

1 egg, beaten, to glaze


METHOD

Cover the dried mushrooms with boiling water and soak for 20 mins, then squeeze them out but keep the soaking water. Chop the chuck steak into large chunks.

Heat the oven to 160C/ 140C fan/ gas 3.

Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a large casserole dish then brown the meat really well, in batches, then set aside. Add the onions and carrots to the pan, adding a drizzle more oil, then cook on a low heat for 5 mins until coloured and just starting to soften. Chop the soaked mushrooms small, then add and cook for a minute more, then scatter over the sugar and flour, stirring until the flour turns brown. Tip the meat and the released juices back into the pan and give it all a good stir. Pour over the ale and stock, and strain the mushroom soaking liquid through muslin or a J cloth into the broth, this will catch any grit released from the dried mushrooms. Season lightly, add the bouquet garni and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and place in the oven for about 2 hrs, until the meat is really tender.

Chuck steak contains a lot of connective tissue, including collagen, which partially melts during cooking, thickening the broth as it does so. It will be tough and chewy for a long time but eventually, when the connective tissue has all broken down, it will be melt-in-the-mouth tender.

While the stew is cooking, heat 1 tbsp more oil in a frying pan and cook the bacon lardons for 3 minutes until starting to brown, then turn the heat to high, add the mushrooms and cook for another 4 minutes until golden. Remove from the heat and, when the stew is cooked, stir them through it.

Remove the bouquet garni and leave everything to cool completely. You can make this up to 2 days before you eat it and keep it in the fridge for the flavours to mingle and improve.

Cube the butter and lard and add to a food processor with the flour and mustard powder, and a generous pinch of sea salt. Pulse until completely combined, then gradually add up to 200ml of ice-cold water, pulsing it to make a soft dough. Tip it out onto a lightly-floured surface and bring the dough together with your hands, being careful not to over-knead it, then wrap it in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 1 hr. The pastry can also be made up to 2 days ahead.

When you make the pie, heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4 and place a flat baking tray in the oven.

Heavily grease a large pie dish and dust it well with flour. Cut a third off the pastry and set aside. Roll out the remainder of the pastry to a size that will easily line the pie dish with a little overhang, then line the dish. Prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork then put the lined pie dish in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is dry and biscuity. This will give you a lovely crunchy base to the pie.

Turn the oven up to 220C/200C fan/gas 7 .  Add the cold stew to the dish using a slotted spoon. leaving the vast majority of the gravy behind, you don’t want too much gravy in the pie. The filling should be slightly higher than the rim of the dish. Add sufficient gravy to cover the bottom of the dish, and keep everything moist while the pie cooks. Put the rest of the gravy aside for now.

Roll out the remaining pastry so it is just big enough to cover the dish. Brush the edges of the pastry in the dish with beaten egg, then cover with the pastry lid. Trim the edges, crimp the pastry, then re-roll your trimmings to make a decoration if you wish.

Brush the top with egg and make a few little slits in the centre of the pie, place back on to the hot baking tray and bake for 40 mins until golden. After twenty minutes re-brush the top of the pie with whatever beaten egg is left, this will make the top deeply golden.

Leave the pie to rest for 10 mins.  Meanwhile, heat up the remaining gravy and serve in a jug alongside piles of buttery mashed potato and vegetables of your choice.

French Onion Soup

I have recently been doing a LOT of experimenting with French onion soup. There are so many recipe variations out there, and so many claim to be the definitive version. Of course, there’s only one real way to decide which of them is best, and that is to make them. It has taken me three years to get to the point where my recipe delivers exactly what we in my family all love.

It has been a fascinating pastime: taking ideas from here and there, making small variations in the process and ingredients; it is surprising just how much of a difference a tiny change can make in a recipe. I’m sure that a few years down the line I will be making this slightly differently but that’s the beauty of any recipe, it is just a place on a journey.

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RECIPE serves 4

50g butter

1kg brown onions, peeled, halved and sliced 3mm thick

1 tsp caster sugar

1 heaped tbsp plain flour

3 tbsp dry sherry

2 tbsp picked thyme leaves

1.2 litres dark vegetable stock

1 French baguette, sliced on an angle

150g Gruyere cheese, grated


METHOD

Thinly slicing a large quantity of onions can be a real drag, but I use a mandolin for the job which makes it quick and easy.

In a large, heavy bottomed pan, melt the butter over a high heat then add the onions. Stir and toss thoroughly, and add the sugar. Keep your eye on the onions and stir every couple of minutes because you need to use a high heat, so you don’t want them to catch and burn. Using a lower heat significantly extends the cooking time (I have spent almost two hours caramelising onions in the past, it didn’t make any difference in the taste). The sugar aids the caramelisation process.

The onions will first turn translucent, then they will spend a long time not doing very much. Then, after maybe 20 minutes, they will start to turn golden and then caramelise; when this starts it can progress quite quickly. You will notice that the bottom and sides of your pan will blacken as the sugars are transformed, this is good because it is a storehouse of flavour… as long as it doesn’t actually burn! If it burns then your soup will be bitter, and probably inedible, so manage your heat and stirring carefully as you approach the end of the caramelisation stage.

When the onions have turned a deep, dark brown, add the flour and stir vigorously for a minute or so until the flour has been absorbed, then add the sherry to the pan along with the thyme leaves and again stir vigorously. The alcohol will burn off, and the liquid will de-glaze the bottom and sides of the pan, bringing all those sugars back into action. Add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for ten minutes. The stock is an important, but not crucial, element. It is always best to use a good quality, preferably homemade stock, but if you resort to using bouillon powder it won’t make a massive difference – it is the onions which are the star of the show here. Test and correct the seasoning.

Meanwhile, heat a large grill to high, and toast both sides of the baguette slices. At this point you can ladle the soup into flameproof bowls, float a couple of baguette slices on top and sprinkle with the cheese before putting back under the grill so it all melts together. If you prefer, you can simply sprinkle the cheese on to the baguette slices and grill it like cheese on toast, before transferring the slices to the soup bowls.

If you prefer you can do a bit of both, everyone loves seconds after all, so it’s a good idea to have an extra plate full of toasted cheesy baguette slices on hand.

Sausages, Apples and Onions

This is something my mum used to make when I was seven, so it’s an old, old idea, but it is no less delicious for that.  The sausages are the focal point here so use the best quality pork sausages you can find – handmade from your local butcher if possible.

Paired with buttery, creamy mashed potato, this dish makes for the best bangers ‘n’ mash ever. It’s also great with a crisp-skinned baked potato; there’s no need to melt butter into the potato, the pan juices do a much better job.

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RECIPE serves 4

3 tbsp olive oil

12 pork sausages

2 tsp mustard seeds

2 red onions, peeled, root left on and cut into thin wedges

4 eating apples, skin on, cored and cut into wedges

a few sprigs of fresh thyme

flaked sea salt


METHOD

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6.

Put the oil into a large, ovenproof frying pan (or roasting tray), and sear the sausages over a high heat for 5 minutes, turning every minute or so, to get some colour on the skins.

Add the mustard seeds, red onion and apple, shake the pan well to coat everything, then lay the thyme sprigs deep into the pan, under the other ingredients. Season with a couple of pinches of flaked sea salt.

Cook in the oven for 45-60 minutes until the sausages are well-coloured and cooked through, the apples are meltingly soft and the onions are starting to caramelise.

Serve immediately, and make sure you’re not the last one to the table otherwise it might be all gone…

Spiced Monkfish with Crushed Potatoes, Peppers and Olives

Monkfish used to be regarded as a bit of a delicacy, quite hard to find, and quite expensive. Now it seems to be everywhere, even some smaller supermarkets are stocking it. It still costs more than your average cod loin, but the small extra expense is well worth it, because that ‘delicacy’ tag still fits extremely well.

It is a firm, meaty, lean white fish which stands up to, and is enhanced by, bold flavours. It’s perfect in this Gordon Ramsay recipe, though if you don’t manage to get your hands on monkfish then hake or haddock are equally excellent – just cut the cooking time down by at least half.

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RECIPE serves 4

For the crushed potatoes:

750g new or baby potatoes

flaky sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

a squeeze of lemon juice

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

100g pitted olives, black or green, or a mixture of both

a small handful of shredded basil leaves

For the fish:

4 monkfish tail fillets, skinned, any grey membrane removed

2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder

1 heaped tsp sweet smoked paprika

1 tsp fine sea salt

2 tbsp olive oil

a handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

lemon wedges, to serve


METHOD

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6.

Bring a large pan of well-salted water to the boil and carefully add the potatoes. Boil for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, mix the five-spice powder, paprika and salt together in a shallow dish. Roll the monkfish in the mixture, coating evenly.

Heat the olive oil in an oven-proof frying pan until hot; sear the fish fillets for 1-2 minutes on each side until golden brown. Transfer the frying pan to the oven and cook for a further 5 minutes. Keep your eye on the fish fillets so you don’t overcook them, start checking after 4 minutes and be aware that it may take anything up to 8 minutes to get them so they are just cooked through. When they are ready, carefully remove the hot pan from the oven, transfer the fish to a warm plate, cover with foil and leave to rest for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, when the potatoes are ready, drain them and return them to the pan. Lightly crush them with the back of a fork or a potato masher, then mix in the extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice and season to taste. Stir in the chopped peppers, olives and basil, check and adjust the seasoning again.

Cut the monkfish into thick slices, spoon the crushed potatoes onto warmed plates and arrange the monkfish on top. Scatter with the chopped parsley and serve at once alongside wilted spinach or steamed broccoli, and lemon wedges.

Stir-fried King Prawns with Chinese Spinach and Garlic

Browsing in my local supermarket the other day, I spotted a living salad tray that contained Chinese spinach. It’s not something I have ever encountered before, and in truth it’s not actually that different from the ‘regular’ spinach you find on supermarket shelves, though it does release a deliciously earthy liquor when it is wilted down. This makes it an ideal choice for a stir-fry, where all that flavour can be used to enhance the sauce.

If you can’t find Chinese spinach, use ordinary spinach, or substitute it for pak choi.

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RECIPE serves 2 as a main, or 4 as a starter

2 tbsp groundnut oil

3 fat garlic cloves, finely sliced

4 birds-eye chillies, finely sliced

200g Chinese spinach (or pak choi) roughly chopped

16 large, raw king prawns, tails on

2 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tsp rice wine vinegar

2 whole dried red chillies, crumbled

1 spring onion, finely chopped

2 tsp toasted sesame oil


METHOD

Prepare all the ingredients before you begin to cook. Things happen quickly when you stir-fry so you need to be organised.

Put the oil in a cold wok with the garlic, and heat it up over a high heat – this will flavour the oil and protect the garlic from burning while it releases its flavour. When the garlic is golden, add the birds-eye chillies and spinach (or pak choi) and cook for about a minute, keeping things moving all the time.

Now add the prawns, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar and cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes, keeping it all moving, until the prawns are just cooked.

Remove from the heat and sprinkle over the dried chilli flakes, spring onion and sesame oil, toss together and serve immediately accompanied by steamed Basmati rice or your choice of noodles.