Linguine with Salmon and Samphire

We are not hardened foragers in our house, though we do gather spring nettles for soup and beer, mushrooms (when we are 100% sure what we are faced with – we did a course and I highly recommend it if you want to pick and eat wild mushrooms and survive the experience), blackberries (of course) and many spring and summer greens such as wild garlic and wild leeks. There is still real abundance to be found, if you know what you are looking for.

Rule number one for a successful forager is: never tell anyone where you gather. If you do, then the chances are, when you visit next, the word will have got around and your spot will have been stripped bare.

The other day we were strolling along a fairly popular but rocky beach, when we spotted a small bunch of rock samphire. We were overjoyed and took only a couple of good handfuls. A little further along we were astonished to find another, bigger bunch, and beyond that it was growing in abundance – so much for leaving some behind for nature, we could have filled a carrier bag and still have left 95% of what was growing there. I still won’t tell you where we found it though…

Samphire comes in two main types: marsh samphire, which is like eating the sea and can be found on fish counters in supermarkets now, and rock samphire which is less salty but more citrussy. Either will do for this recipe, though the results will be quite different depending on which you use. The marsh samphire is more vibrant, whereas the rock samphire has an exquisite, delicate fragrance.

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RECIPE serves 4

approx 250g marsh or rock samphire

400g linguine or spaghetti

olive oil

a good knob of unsalted butter

4 salmon fillets

the zest and juice of a lemon


METHOD

Pick over and wash the samphire, roughly chop any large pieces, then set aside.

Pat the salmon fillets dry, season lightly and set aside for now.

In a large pan of lightly salted boiling water, cook the linguine or spaghetti per packet instructions until al dente, this will take around nine or ten minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a skillet or frying pan over a high-medium flame until hot (but not smoking), drizzle the pan with a little oil, pop half of the the knob of butter in the pan as well, add the salmon skin-side down and fry for around two minutes until the skin is crispy, basting all the while with the melted butter and oil. Don’t be tempted to try and move the fish around in the pan, this is the most common mistake when frying fish. Just leave it to sit in place, the skin will release from the pan when it is ready. Flip over and sear the other side for around 30 seconds, then remove from the pan and rest over kitchen paper until the pasta is ready.

Drain the pasta, leaving it wet with a good slick of the cooking water. Return it to the cooking pan and add the samphire and remaining butter with a generous grinding of black pepper. Toss well and then add the lemon zest and juice. Check the seasoning now, it makes a huge difference to the finished dish and you may need more salt than you think.

From here I like to serve the pasta in bowls with the whole salmon fillet on top – my wife likes the crispy skin. You can however remove the cooked skin and flake the salmon while the pasta is finishing (leave the flakes large) and toss through the pasta with the samphire if you prefer.

Served alongside a large bowl of rocket leaves, lightly dressed with  fresh lemon juice.

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Spaghetti with Almond and Tomato Pesto

Yet another fast, delicious and simple recipe from Claudia Roden’s ‘The Food of Italy’.

The key to this dish is the tomatoes: obtain the ripest, freshest most aromatic tomatoes you can find, the results will make your taste buds tap-dance.

I find that the amount of sauce made from this recipe is twice the amount that you need to feed four people (as a main dish), but it doesn’t work as well if you halve the ingredients. So, make it as is and freeze half – it freezes really well and loses almost nothing as long as you use it within a couple of weeks.

To make it vegan choose wholewheat pasta and omit the Parmesan.

pesto.jpg

RECIPE serves 4

500g ripe tomatoes

75g blanched almonds

3 fat garlic cloves, crushed

a large handful of basil leaves

1/4 tsp dried chilli flakes

100 ml extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp caster sugar

400g spaghetti (or linguine or bucatini)

finely grated Parmesan to serve, if liked


METHOD

At least an hour before you plan to eat, make the pesto: leave the tomato skins on, but remove the hard white pit where the stalk sits. Quarter the tomatoes and add to a food processor with the almonds, garlic, basil and chilli flakes. Blend to a rough puree.

Add the oil, sugar and a generous pinch of salt, blend briefly then tip into a bowl and allow to sit at room temperature until you need to use it.

Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions, until al dente. Drain the pasta, but not too thoroughly, leave a little of the cooking water clinging to the pasta. Check the seasoning of the sauce, then toss the pasta and sauce together. Finish with a generous grinding of black pepper.

Some people (like me) like to finish this dish with a little finely grated Parmesan, others (like my wife) prefer to savour this dish as it is – try it both ways and see which you prefer.

Serve alongside a simple salad of rocket leaves dressed with freshly-squeezed lemon juice.

Tagliatelle with White Truffle

I have been curious about truffles for a long time, but I have never laid hands on a fresh truffle. I have tried various truffle-infused oils, but they have always been disappointing – to say the least.

I spotted this recipe in Claudia Roden’s ‘The Food Of Italy: Region by Region’ and I had to try it, so I tracked down a jar of minced white truffle online. It was expensive, but worth every penny.

I have made this three times in recent weeks, the jar of minced truffles that I bought was big enough to make ten servings and once opened it will only keep for a short time, with a layer of oil to protect the exposed truffle, in the fridge. Each time I have made it, tweaking as I go, it has got better.

It turns out that there is a very good reason why truffles are highly prized: they are delicious. Describing the taste is impossible, but I have see them described as musky and earthy, and that fits well. This is the basic recipe, but you could easily add some lightly fried mushrooms – fried in the butter and oil in the recipe below – or some chopped black olives tossed in at the end. The next time I make it I will try some black garlic with it, the possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

truffle

RECIPE serves 4

60g unsalted butter

a generous glug of best-quality olive oil (not extra-virgin)

40g grated Parmesan

a grating of nutmeg

300g tagliatelle or fettuccini pasta

several teaspoons of minced truffle, taste as you go and add more if you need to. OR, if you are lucky enough to get hold of a truffle – especially the more aromatic white kind – shave it thinly and stir it through the finished dish

1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed


METHOD

Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions, until al dente.

Meanwhile, gently melt the butter in the oil, then finely grate in a little nutmeg – about a third of a nut – and set aside for a few minutes.

Finely grate the Parmesan, and crush the garlic.

Drain the pasta, but not too thoroughly. Leave a little cooking water on the pasta to help the sauce. Toss the pasta with the nutmeg-infused oil and the Parmesan, then add the truffle and garlic with a generous grinding of black pepper. The garlic goes in raw and will cook only very slightly in the sauce. It will give you breath issues the next day, but it’s worth it – the combination of flavours is amazing.

Serve alongside a simple green salad.

Nasi Goreng (Indonesian Fried Rice)

I’m a poor blogger. I’m sorry, it has been a long time since I last wrote anything, I can only blame it on life getting in the way.

Life does get busy, sometimes even thinking about what to make for dinner is too much. What you need in these cases is a quick, easy and delicious meal. Nasi Goreng is it: it is endlessly adaptable – all you definitely need are the sauce ingredients and some pre-cooked rice, for the rest of it you can use what you’ve got in the fridge and any leftover meat or fish. You can also top it with a fried egg if you like.

It’s all about the sauce. The quantities given below are for two people, so scale it up to suit however many people you are serving – and make sure you scale up the quantity of the sauce or it will be too widely dispersed and lose its impact.

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RECIPE serves 2

a quantity of rice, pre-cooked and allowed to cool completely

2 tbsp groundnut oil

1 tbsp unsalted butter

2 shallots, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, sliced

2 red chillies, seeds left in, finely chopped

100g button mushrooms, thinly sliced

2 medium carrots, finely diced

your choice of soft vegetables: mange tout, fine beans, bell peppers, peas, sprouting broccoli, baby sweetcorn – whatever takes your fancy or that you have waiting to be used up. Chop them into bite-sized pieces.

For the Sauce:

2 tbsp kicap manis (Malay soy sauce)

1 tsp hot paprika

2 tsp tomato puree

2 tbsp chilli bean sauce


METHOD

First, cook the rice and leave it to cool. I don’t give quantities for the rice because everyone differs in what they believe to be a serving size, so cook what your own experience tells you that you will need. If serving rice for dinner, I always cook much more than I need so I can make this, or other fried rice dishes the day after.

Tip: Back in the days when I could only manage to cook a small handful of simple dishes, the one and only thing that I could cook well was rice. In my hands it always had perfect bite coupled with softness, each grain was distinct and separate from its neighbour and there was no hint of stodginess. Then it all went wrong.I learned that the way I cooked rice was incorrect. I convinced myself that I should be using exact volumes of rice and water, cooking for exact times, sealing pan lids, leaving it to sit for ages, using tea towels as steam absorbers – the more instructions I followed, the more I got away from the simple pleasures of cooking rice simply, the worse my rice got.

My wife was in despair; “you have lost your rice mojo” she told me. Eventually I did the sensible thing and went back to cooking my rice the wrong way, and now it’s perfect again.

In my world, you put your rice in the largest pan you have and cover it in a lot of cold water, at least an inch of water over the level of the rice. Season the water with a very little salt and over a high heat bring the water up toward boiling point. Before it actually boils, turn the heat right down so that the water settles into a very gentle simmer. This will prevent the rice grains from bursting.

The time it takes your rice to cook can differ greatly, so check your rice after 3 or 4 minutes at the simmer and check it every minute thereafter. Your grains should be soft but with a definite firmness to the grain. Overall, your pan of rice should emerge as clean, distinct grains that will be a pleasure to eat.

Now make the sauce, simply combine all the ingredients in a small bowl with a little vegetable oil, stir well and set aside.

Prepare all of the ingredients you will be using. This is a stir-fry so everything happens quickly when the heat is on, you need everything ready to just tip into your wok.

In a large wok, melt the butter with the groundnut oil over a high heat. When it is hot (not quite smoking), add the shallots and garlic and – keeping everything moving all the time – cook for about a minute until the garlic is just starting to colour. Add the sauce, then immediately add all of your vegetables. This will cool the oil a little, so the danger of burning the garlic is minimised. Keeping everything moving, cook for a few minutes more until the vegetables are just cooked, hot through but retaining their bite.

If you are adding pre-cooked meat or fish, now is the time to add it and give it a quick flash of heat.

Now add the rice and, keeping the heat on, stir and fold it all around until all of the rice is coated in the sauce and has turned a pleasing red.

Serve immediately, topped with a fried egg if you like.

I like to make this with raw king prawns, which I put into the wok with the sauce, but before the vegetables go in. I give them a minute or two in the heat, until they just turn pink, then I take them out and set them aside while I complete the dish. The part-cooked prawns go back in with the rice, and they finish cooking while the rice takes in the heat.

To make it vegetarian or vegan, forgo the butter and use tofu (or just the veg!).

Madras Fish Curry with Tomato and Tamarind

I’m an unabashed lover of curry, in all its forms from all over the world. For the vast majority of my life though I considered curried fish to be the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard of. Fish is delicious in its own right, why obscure those flavours with overpowering spice?

Maybe you’ve already figured out what I’m going to say next… yes, I was a fool. There are many ways to cook curry; some dishes improve immeasurably when allowed to stand for 24 hours or so before eating, others are best made fresh and quickly, and eaten immediately. This is one of the latter.

Use a well-flavoured fish: Rick Stein – from whose ‘India’ book this recipe hails – uses snapper, last night I used hake with great success, but I reckon that gurnard and monkfish would also be excellent with their flavours forming an important part of the overall tapestry. The tamarind water is used here to contribute intense bitterness, sourness and a peculiar sweetness – describing it is difficult but if you created a hybrid of grapefruit, apricots and dates you would call it tamarind. Tamarind pulp is widely available in compressed blocks either wet or dry, use either as it doesn’t really matter. You can use properly diluted tamarind concentrate from a bottle if you’re stuck, but nothing comes close to pulp for complexity of flavour.

Needless to say, since I realised my fish curry mistake I have been busy making and tasting as many different recipes as I can find. This is among the very best of them, it is quick, very easy, and put a smile on everyone’s face in my house.

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RECIPE serves 4

60ml vegetable oil

1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds

1 large onion, finely chopped

15g / 3 cloves garlic, finely crushed

30 fresh curry leaves

2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder

2 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp turmeric

400g can of chopped tomatoes

tamarind liquid (see ingredients and method below)

2 green chillies, each sliced lengthways into 6 pieces, with seeds intact

1 tsp fine sea salt

700g fish fillets, cut into 5cm chunks

For the tamarind liquid:

60g tamarind pulp

120ml just-boiled water


METHOD

First, make the tamarind liquid. Take the tamarind pulp and put it in a bowl with the water. Leave to soak for 15 minutes, then work the paste with your fingers until it has broken down and the seeds have been released. Strain the slightly syrupy mixture through a fine sieve, rubbing it well against the sides of the sieve to extract as much of the liquid as possible. Discard the fibrous material and seeds left behind, set the liquid aside until ready to use.

Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. When hot, add the mustard seeds and fry for 30 seconds, then stir in the onion and fry gently for about 10 minutes until softened and lightly golden. Make a stiff paste from the chilli powder, coriander and turmeric by putting them in a small bowl with a little water and mixing thoroughly. Set aside until ready to use.

Add the garlic, curry leaves, chilli powder, coriander and turmeric and fry for around a minute, then stir in the tomatoes, tamarind liquid, green chillies and salt and simmer for about 10 minutes until rich and reduced. Add the fish, cook for a further 5 minutes or until just cooked through. Serve with plain basmati rice and roti.

Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes, Chilli and Black Garlic

This used to be a lovely recipe, now it is incredible. The small difference, with a huge effect, between how I used to make it and how I make it now is down to just one ingredient: black garlic.

Black garlic is made by taking regular fresh garlic bulbs and heating them under controlled conditions for several weeks. This results in the breaking down of the enzymes which give garlic its characteristic flavour, mellowing and richening the flavour (and the colour) and imparting sweet and sour notes, resulting in something that tastes somewhere between the best aged balsamic and tamarind. It has a reputation in Asia of being a superfood, and the cloves can be eaten as a snack. They’re actually lovely eaten that way.

Here though, the substitution of regular garlic for black garlic results in a hugely complex flavour, full of umami and requiring real self-control if you’re going to avoid eating every last morsel of this dish.

The other trick to dish is to not skimp on the olive oil. It is central to making the sauce so unctuous as it combines with the tomato juices. It’s not one for dieters then, but as an occasional indulgence it’s a real treat.

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RECIPE serves 4 

1kg cherry tomatoes, halved around the equator (not pole-to-pole)

7 tbsp olive oil

5 black garlic cloves, chopped

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

350g shell pasta

the zest of a lemon

the juice of half a lemon

a handful of basil leaves

25g Parmesan, finely grated


METHOD

Heat your oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4.

Put the tomatoes, cut side up, in a roasting tray in which they will all fit in a single layer. Add the black garlic, dried chilli flakes and fresh chilli, and season generously with the salt and pepper. Drizzle with the oil and toss everything together. Arrange the tomatoes, ensuring the chilli and black garlic is sitting in the oil to protect it from burning.

Roast the tomatoes for 20-25 minutes until they are just starting to collapse and caramelise.

Meanwhile, cook the shell pasta in rapidly-boiling water per the packet instructions, until al dente. Shell pasta is best because it provides pockets to catch the sauce, but this dish also works well with thick strips of pasta (pappardelle). Time the pasta to be ready at the end of the tomato cooking time.

Drain the pasta, but don’t shake the colander too vigorously, leave a little of the water because it helps to thicken up and richen the sauce.

Add the lemon zest and juice to the tomatoes, together with the basil leaves. Stir so it is evenly distributed, then tip the pasta into the tomatoes and using two spoons (or tongs if using pappardelle) toss the pasta through the tomatoes. Finish with a fine grating of Parmesan and a good grind of black pepper. Serve alongside a salad of rocket and lettuce, simply dressed with the juice of the other half a lemon.

To make it suitable for a vegan, omit the Parmesan, or use a Vegan substitute.

Prawn and Spring Onion Stir-Fry

Every time I make a stir-fry I wonder why I don’t make them more often. They’re quick and easy to make, bursting with flavour and endlessly adaptable to whatever vegetables are in season.

prawnspring

RECIPE serves 4 

For the sauce:

2 tsp cornflour

4 tbsp rice wine

4 tbsp oyster sauce

2 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

For the stir-fry:

1 tbsp groundnut oil

2 fat garlic cloves, finely sliced

2 red chillies, finely sliced

A fat thumb of ginger, cut into matchsticks

400g raw, tail-off king prawns

your choice of small vegetables (baby sweetcorn, mangetout, tenderstem broccoli, fine green beans etc) chopped into bite-sized pieces

5 spring onions, chopped into 4cm pieces


METHOD

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

Combine all the sauce ingredients and set aside for now.

Put the oil in a cold wok with the garlic, chillies and ginger 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 prawns and cook for a minute until they just start to turn pink, keeping things moving all the time. Remove from the heat and transfer everything out of the wok and onto a plate.

Without wiping out the wok, add another splash of oil and get it back over a high heat. When it is almost smoking, add your vegetables and cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes, keeping it all moving, until they are hot and just cooked.

Add the prawns, garlic, ginger and chilli back into the wok, with the spring onion and the sauce. Keeping everything moving, cook on for a minute before serving immediately with steamed rice or your choice of noodles.

If I am serving it with noodles, I generally cook them separately until they’re just about done, then get them into the wok for a minute – after I have cooked the veg, but before I add the prawns, garlic, ginger and chilli back in.

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.

sweet-potato-soup

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.

Chilli Fish with Tahini

I’m a sucker for big flavours, particularly Middle Eastern and South Asian, and I have a particular fondness for Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes for that very reason. He has a new book out, called Simple – there is much rejoicing in my house.

Life gets hectic from time to time, when it does I tend to turn to less-involved, reasonably quick recipes. So, when I spotted this in Simple I was a happy man. It’s big on flavour, not at all involved and inexpensive as well.

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RECIPE serves 4 

4 cod or hake (or other firm white fish), fillets, skinless and boneless

4 tbsp olive oil

2 red chillies, chopped into 2cm long chunks

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 tsp caraway seeds, plus ¼ tsp to serve

1 dried ancho chilli, trimmed, seeds discarded, torn into 5cm pieces (or 1 tsp sweet smoked paprika)

1 kg plum tomatoes, chopped into 1cm dice

2 tbsp tomato paste

½ tsp caster sugar

a small bunch of coriander leaves, roughly chopped, to serve

salt

For the tahini sauce:

50g tahini

1 tbsp lemon juice

60ml water

a small pinch of salt


METHOD

Lightly season the fish and set aside.

Put the oil into a large sauté pan, for which you have a lid (I use a risotto pan), and place on a medium high heat. Once hot, add the fresh chillies and fry for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic, caraway seeds and ancho chilli and continue to fry for 1 minute, until the garlic is starting to turn golden-brown. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar and ½ teaspoon of salt, then, once boiling, reduce the heat to medium and leave to simmer for 15 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the sauce is thick. Add the fish, cover the pan and continue to cook for 10 minutes.

To make the tahini sauce, mix the tahini and lemon juice with 60ml of water and a small pinch of salt.

When ready to serve, if the fish has released a lot of liquid during the cooking and the sauce is runny, gently lift the fish out of the pan and set aside somewhere warm, increase the heat and let the sauce bubble away quickly until thick. Taste and add salt if needed, then return the fish to the pan.

To serve, sprinkle the  ¼ tsp of caraway seeds over the sauce, followed by the chopped coriander. Gently stir to combine then spoon a good ladleful of the sauce into wide bowls, topped with a fish fillet each.

The picture above, which is my preferred way of serving it, shows the tahini sauce drizzled over the dish in the pan. Some people may not like tahini though, if so have the tahini ready in a small bowl so people can drizzle their own over their serving.

Serve alongside couscous and some un-dressed rocket leaves.

Couscous with Preserved Lemon and Harissa

Often, what you pair a dish with is every bit as important as the main element itself. You wouldn’t, for example, serve a steak and kidney pie with a bowl of steamed Basmati rice. Because we eat a lot of Middle-Eastern dishes, we get through a lot of couscous, but I have to be careful not to put the couscous on the table first, because my family love it so much they will just eat it all by itself.

If you are not familiar with it, couscous are small steamed balls of crushed durum wheat semolina that is traditionally served with a stew spooned on top. You can also use it as the basis for a salad: just add some salad leaves, perhaps some chick peas and always, always (in my house), a little harissa on the side to add spice and heat. You can use ready-made preserved lemon and harissa, but I always use home-made – the links are in the recipe below – and the results are incredible.

This has to be the easiest recipe I will ever put on this blog, in terms of both simplicity and speed. I make no apologies for that, great tasting food doesn’t have to be difficult.

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RECIPE 

75g of dry couscous per person

just boiled water, 1.5 times the weight of couscous (so 112g of water per 75g dry serving)

1/4 tsp bouillon powder per person

some preserved lemon peel

harissa, to stir through


METHOD

Weigh out the appropriate amount of dry couscous, depending how many people are eating. Put it into a saucepan for which you have a lid.

Chop up the peel of your preserved lemon, into 5mm dice. How much you use is entirely up to you, I tend to use the peel of half a lemon when feeding four.

Measure out the appropriate amount of bouillon powder (you can get vegan bouillon, if you need it) and stir it through the dry couscous. Add the chopped preserved lemon peel and stir it through thoroughly. Boil the kettle, and immediately after it has boiled add the appropriate weight of water to the pan. Stir thoroughly and vigorously and quickly put a lot on the pan. Set aside for at least ten minutes, the couscous will absorb the water and the flavours will mingle.

When ready to serve, fluff it up with a fork and transfer to a warmed serving dish if you like. We only ever do this if we have company, otherwise we dig in straight from the pan. Serve with whatever Middle-Eastern dish you fancy, with a jar of harissa ever-present alongside it.