Bruschetta con Funghi (Creamy Mushrooms on Farmhouse Bread)

This is one of the earliest recipes I ever mastered, but I’ve been so busy cooking new stuff that I have neglected it for years. Foolish me, this is absolutely sensational.

You can use pretty much any mushrooms for this. I used a mix of oyster mushrooms and bog-standard supermarket chestnut mushrooms, but it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference to the final dish.

My plan for dinner last night was for this sauce to do double-duty for two – as a starter on toasted sourdough rubbed with a garlic clove, and then with pasta stirred through the remaining sauce alongside a large bowl of peppery rocket. It was a valuable learning experience.

On sourdough the sauce is rich, deep and luscious, spiked with the warmth of raw garlic. After that, the pasta was delicious – but it lacked the drama that we had just experienced. Had we just had it with the pasta we would have been swooning, but the bruschette was an impossible act to follow. The lesson here is: make the textures and flavours of each course substantially different from one another. Variations on a theme are all very well, but in a meal it doesn’t always work.

One final word though… do try this sauce with pasta, you won’t be disappointed.

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RECIPE serves 4 as a starter

1 medium red onion, finely chopped

500g mixed mushrooms, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tbsp olive oil

a squeeze of lemon juice

150ml of single cream

a handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

a splash of balsamic vinegar


METHOD

Heat the oil over a medium heat and saute the onion, mushrooms and garlic for 5 to 10 minutes with some salt and pepper until softened, the liquor has come out of the mushrooms and is mostly cooked off. Shortly before you think it is ready, squeeze some lemon juice into the pan and stir through – lemon juice accentuates the flavours of the mushrooms, but you don’t need much, it should be undetectable in the final dish.

Meanwhile, lightly toast some rustic bread, sourdough is perfect here. Rub the surface of each slice of bread with a raw garlic clove.

Add the cream to the mushrooms and heat gently until it is hot. Stop short of the boiling point, your cream may curdle. Stir in the fresh parsley and a splash of balsamic vinegar – if you’re happier measuring then a use 1/2 tsp balsamic – then taste and adjust the seasoning and add more balsamic in tiny amounts until it is perfect.

Serve spooned over the toasted bread, with a bowl of undressed rocket alongside it.

Apple and Blackberry Crumble

When I need a recipe that is fuss-free and easy, yet guaranteed to be delicious, Nigel Slater is who I generally turn to. He’s an ace at puddings. This is mainly, I think, because he uses lots of what makes them lovely. That makes sense, you don’t eat the dessert course if you are on a diet so why take half-measures when you are allowed?

As I put this into the oven, my wife came up behind me and asked if I had followed the recipe exactly. I had indeed. “You used all the butter? And all the sugar?” Again, I had indeed. I don’t see the point in denying the pleasure of eating something as wickedly rich as this, especially when it’s cold and miserable and you just know that this will make you happy. This made all of us happy, so happy that I’m making another later today…

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RECIPE 

450g cooking apples

a little caster sugar

450g blackberries (fresh picked are always best)

100g plain flour

175g fridge-cold unsalted butter

50g rolled oats

100g demerara sugar


METHOD

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

Peel, core and cut the apples into eighths. Put them into a large pan with a good pinch of caster sugar and a tablespoon of water, then cook over a medium heat for around 5 minutes until they start to soften. Add the blackberries and mix thoroughly, then transfer everything to a suitably-sized pie dish.

Chop the cold butter into small cubes and put into a food processor with the flour. Pulse the processor until the butter and flour resembles breadcrumbs, taking care not to go too far – we are making crumble after all, not dough. Stir in the oats and sugar and scatter the crumble topping over the apple and blackberry mixture.

Bake for around 30 minutes until the jammy interior is bubbling through a crisp, golden topping. It’s wonderful hot, or warm, with ice cream or cream – and definitely not for anyone on a diet.

You can vary this almost infinitely, changing the fruit, and incorporating slivered pistachios or chopped pecans into the crumble, or using granola instead of rolled oats. Whatever you try, I’m sure you’ll love it.

Miso Ramen

Chicken soup has the (deserved) reputation of being a universal pick-me-up when you’re feeling under the weather, but I reckon Miso broth sits right alongside it. In Japan, many start their day with a bowl of Miso broth for the benefits that it is said to bring to digestive and gut health. Because Miso is a fermented paste, it brings beneficial bacteria to the gut – and there is overwhelming evidence to show that when your gut is happy your physical and mental well-being are also positively affected.

It’s also deeply delicious, and very easy and quick to make. The very essence of umami, it is warming and comforting and will accept almost anything that you wish to add to it – within reason of course. The recipe below is to get you started, so don’t feel constrained by the ingredients listed. Feel free to use tofu, shredded chicken, any vegetables you like (or have to hand, waiting to be used up) more of one thing, less of another, with noodles, without noodles, whatever, it’s the broth itself which is the real star here.

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RECIPE serves 4

15g dried wild mushrooms, such as porcini

1.4 litres of just-boiled water

2 tbsp dark soy sauce, plus extra to serve

1 vegetable stock cube

4 tbsp brown miso paste

150g mushrooms (oyster, shiitake, enoki, or just chestnut) thinly sliced

200g medium dried egg noodles

4 large free-range eggs

2 pak choi, roots trimmed, leaves separated and washed

200g tenderstem broccoli

100g fresh beansprouts, rinsed and drained

6 spring onions, trimmed, very thinly sliced

50g roasted cashew nuts, roughly chopped

a fresh red chilli, finely sliced


METHOD

Rinse the dried mushrooms to get rid of any grit, then put into a large, heavy-based saucepan and cover with the water. Add the soy sauce, stock cube and miso paste and stir until the stock cube has dissolved. Add your fresh mushrooms. Set aside for 30 minutes to infuse.

I use dark soy sauce here because it has a deeper, less brash flavour than light soy sauce, and it is less salty. Feel free to use either, noting the difference between the two.

Meanwhile, half-fill a saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Add the noodles and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until just tender, stirring occasionally to break up the strands. Drain well, then rinse under running water until cold. Set aside.

Half-fill the same pan with water and bring to the boil. Add the eggs to the boiling water and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the water, and cool under running cold water to stop them cooking. Set aside.

Bring the mushroom broth to the boil. Reduce the heat until the mixture is simmering, add the noodles, pak choi and broccoli and continue to simmer for a further 2-3 minutes. Stir in the beansprouts and spring onions, remove from the heat.

Crack and peel off the egg shells, then cut the eggs in half along the long axis. The yolks should still be soft and runny.

Divide the broth, noodles and vegetables between 4 serving bowls. Top with the eggs. Sprinkle over the cashew nuts and chilli. Season with extra soy sauce.

To make this vegan, leave out the eggs and use wholewheat noodles (adjusting the cooking time for the noodles as necessary).

Rarebit Puffs

I generally steer clear of processed foods, but I have two big weaknesses: pork pies and cheese puffs. If I’m travelling and find myself hungry it is one of these that I reach for from the cooler in the petrol station. I haven’t ever tackled making pork pies (yet) but I do make delicious cheese puffs. Now all I have to do is remember to make some before setting off on a long trip…

These are wonderful as they are, but you can add anything you like. Caramelised red onions, or some ham – or both – are my favourite additions, but these are so simple to make you can experiment to your heart’s content. The next time I make these I intend to try adding some dry, roughly mashed potato – no butter or milk added – to the cheese mixture.

You can also make these as individual slices, just cut the pastry into the appropriate number of smaller oblongs – not forgetting that for eight slices you will need sixteen oblongs. I did this to begin with, but I found that for me there wasn’t quite enough filling in each one to make them truly satisfying.

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RECIPE serves 6

30g unsalted butter

3 garlic cloves, crushed

100g mascarpone

50g Parmesan, finely grated

2 tsp English mustard

1 block of all-butter puff pastry

1 egg, beaten


METHOD

Melt the butter in a pan and gently fry the garlic for a minute or so until it is just golden. Tip the butter and garlic into a mixing bowl and set aside for a little while, until it is cool enough to not melt the mascarpone.

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

Mix the mascarpone, Parmesan, mustard and a little salt and pepper into the butter and garlic.

Roll out the pastry until it is about 4mm thick (if you are using a pre-rolled sheet it should already be at this thickness). Cut the rolled out pastry into two equal oblongs. When you cut the pastry, bring the knife directly down rather than pulling it through, to avoid the pastry being dragged and interfering with the way it rises.

Spread the cheese mixture equally over one of the pastry halves, leaving a good inch clear all around the edges. Brush the exposed edges of the pastry with some of the beaten egg, then lay the other half of the pastry carefully over the top and firmly crimp the top and bottom edges of the pastry together. Brush with the remainder of the beaten egg, then finely grate a little more Parmesan over the top. Pierce the top of the pastry case a couple of times with the point of a knife, to allow steam to escape, then bake in the middle of the oven for 10-15 minutes until puffed up and golden.

Leave to cool for a few minutes, then cut into portions and serve alongside a crisp salad.

Sicilian Tuna in Stemperata Sauce

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

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

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RECIPE serves 4

For the tuna:

1 tuna loin steak per person

olive oil

balsamic vinegar

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce:

4 celery sticks, plus the leaves, finely chopped

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

2 tbsp olive oil

3 garlic cloves, crushed

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

175g capers, rinsed of their brine

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

3 tbsp red wine vinegar

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

freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

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

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

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

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

 

Panzanella (Italian Bread and Tomato Salad)

It’s been a lovely summer here. Lots of warm evenings sitting outside eating great cheeses and amazing bread. There has been some cooking going on though, and once again I find myself apologising for not blogging for the longest time. In my defence: I’ve been busy eating lovely food and enjoying life.

The discovery of the summer for me has been the Italian bread and tomato salad, Panzanella. Dismissed by one family member as soggy bread salad, he was merely echoing my own expectations. When we actually tasted what I had made (courtesy of Claudia Roden’s ‘The Food of Italy) we very quickly revised our opinion, and now I find myself hoping I have some stale sourdough left over so I have an excuse to make it.

This is best made when tomatoes are at their ripest, so if you’re going to make it, make it now. The bread you use also makes a huge difference – ensure you use a slightly stale (one or two days old) sourdough or country loaf, with a good thick crust.

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Photo Credit: Scott Phillips

RECIPE serves 4

250g stale bread, cut or torn into rough chunks

600g ripe tomatoes, cubed

1 red onion, diced

1/2 cucumber, diced (peeled if you like)

2 stalks of celery, finely diced

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

a handful of basil leaves, torn

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Start with the tomatoes, and salt them in the bowl to encourage their juices to flow.

Now add all the other ingredients and stir well so everything is coated in everything else. Leave it to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow the flavours to mingle and develop, check the seasoning, and that’s it!

For variation: you can take the crusts off the bread, which gives a more uniform but, I think, a less interesting texture. You can also lightly toast the bread beforehand. Try different ways of preparing the bread, and try different types of bread as well, the way you like it is the way it should be prepared.

You can further augment this with whatever takes your fancy and works: if you’re having it with grilled fish, for example, try zesting a lemon into it and using the juice of half a lemon in place of a tablespoon of the red wine vinegar. Or you could turn it into a summer vegan main course by slicing avocado into it. Let your imagination run wild, it’s how you discover lovely things.

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.

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.

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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.

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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!).