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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

peacourgette

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.

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.

Pasta in Parchment with tuna, tomatoes and potatoes

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

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

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

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

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

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RECIPE serves 4 

250g tuna steak, chopped into 2cm cubes

150ml dry vermouth

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

grated zest of one lemon

2 sprigs of rosemary, broken into pieces

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

12 ripe plum tomatoes, deseeded and roughly chopped

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

350g spaghetti

2 tbsp olive oil


METHOD

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

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

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

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

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

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