Garganelli with Salmon and Prawns

Two places you should never allow me to enter without somebody keeping a close eye on me: 1) a charity shop, and 2) a good delicatessen.

In the first I’m liable to walk out with an armful of old cookery books, and in the second I’m prone to loading myself up with obscure liqueurs (oh yes, I have a growing cocktail and aperitivi obsession) and obscure foodstuffs that catch my eye – like garganelli pasta (pictured below).

I never fail to be amazed at the way that plain old pasta can taste so different just because the shape of it is different. The shape and decoration of pasta can indeed offer a different ‘mouth feel’, fooling your palate somewhat*, but the real difference is that various shapes catch and hold sauce in different ways.

This recipe is a classic example of that. You can substitute penne for the garganelli if you don’t have a deli near you that stocks it, but it will be a very different dish. The quill shape of the garganelli catches and holds the seafood and tomato within it, while the external grooves allow the sauce to collect and stay attached while you bring it to your mouth.

Make it with penne, and while it is still delicious, you have to spend the effort of gathering all of the different elements together on your fork, for each and every mouthful. Even so, this is well worth making even if you only have penne – spend the effort, you will be rewarded.

Garganelli

* If you think this is mumbo-jumbo, there is a fascinating book – ‘Gastrophysics’ by Professor Charles Spence – which examines the ongoing research into how we actually experience flavour, and how inventive chefs such as Heston Blumenthal are using that science to enhance their food, without changing the food itself.


RECIPE serves 4 

350g salmon fillets

200ml dry white vermouth

a small handful of fresh basil leaves, plus extra for garnish

150ml double cream

6 ripe plum tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped

350g garganelli

125g king prawns


METHOD

Pour the vermouth into a wide, shallow pan with the basil leaves and some seasoning. Bring it to the boil, then put the salmon fillets – skin side up – into it, cover it and hold it at a very gentle simmer for four minutes. Carefully remove the fish and set aside to cool slightly.

Add the cream and tomatoes to the vermouth in the pan and bring back to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and leave it to reduce and thicken for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large saucepan of salted water at a rolling boil. Cook until the pasta is just al dente. My pasta takes just under ten minutes, so I set it going ten minutes into the sauce reduction time.

Just before the pasta is ready, check and adjust the seasoning of the sauce then put the raw prawns into the hot sauce to cook, and flake the salmon into large pieces then add that to the pan together with the drained pasta.

Toss well so everything is coated in everything else, scatter some more basil leaves over the top and serve immediately. This is best accompanied by a bowl of rocket dressed with a little lemon juice.

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Roasted Tomato Soup

At this time of year it can be hard to get hold of ripe, tasty tomatoes and even if you can, expect to pay through the nose for them. That means that this wasn’t exactly a good time for my lovely wife to request a big pot of tomato soup for her lunchtime meals for the next few days.

Fear not. I’ve been cooking long enough now to know that even the humblest, firmest, blandest tomato, if treated correctly, can reveal from deep within itself the most spectacular flavours. If you don’t believe me, then this recipe will be an eye-opener. I simply picked up a couple of cheap nets of B Grade tomatoes from my local supermarket, which cost just a couple of pounds altogether. I shudder to think how good this soup would be at the height of summer when tomatoes are at their best.

The trick is to slow-roast the tomatoes with a few aromatics, and to be brave with the garlic. When it is roasted, garlic takes on a deeper, richer palette of flavours, nothing at all like the pungency of the raw version. I used a whole head of garlic for this soup yesterday, and nobody in my house had bad breath last night.

You can, if you wish, add some double cream to this soup just before you serve it. In my opinion though, it is rich and creamy enough as it is.

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RECIPE serves 4 

1.5kg ripe tomatoes, halved

4 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, sliced

1 whole head of garlic, cloves separated, peeled and left whole

75g tomato puree

2 tsp dried thyme

50g caster sugar

1.5 litres vegetable stock

a small bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped


METHOD

Heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas3.

Place the halved tomatoes in a large, deep roasting tin, together with the onion, garlic cloves,  tomato puree, thyme and sugar, and drizzle the olive oil over it all. See the picture above. Using your hands, mix everything together, pushing anything that is likely to burn rather than caramelise (such as the ends of the onion slices) down under the tomato halves.

Roast in the middle of the oven for between 60 and 75 minutes, keeping an eye on it. You want the tomatoes and onion to start to brown and caramelise, maybe even char a little in places, but burning is not good.

When cooked, transfer the juicy, pulpy contents of the roasting tin to a large pot, add the stock and season lightly, then bring it to a simmer.

Remove the pot from the heat, and add the coriander. Leave it to cool slightly, then using either a stick blender or a worktop blender (in batches), blitz until it is smooth.

Check and adjust the seasoning and serve, drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil, and/or perhaps a dollop of double cream.

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.

Sweet Potato Saag Aloo

Saag aloo is usually made with regular potatoes but this sweet potato version from The Hairy Bikers is particularly luscious. The great thing about sweet potatoes is that they are richer in nutrients – particularly vitamin C – than white potatoes and lower in starch. They count towards your five a day too, while regular potatoes don’t.

This is a great meal if you are dieting, coming in at only 200 calories per serving and making you feel comfortably full. That means you can have a serving of rice and a couple of rotis with it, without bursting your waistband.

The secret to great flavour here is to use your own fresh curry powder mix. It’s not hard to make and my recipe is here.

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RECIPE serves 4 

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

20g fresh root ginger, grated

2 tbsp curry powder

2 medium sweet potatoes, diced

1 large ripe tomato, diced

300ml vegetable stock

a small bunch of coriander, stalks only, chopped

200g bag of baby spinach, picked over and thoroughly washed

To serve:

the zest and juice of a lemon

a few green chillies, sliced

a small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large flameproof casserole dish or a deep frying pan. Add the onion and cook it quite briskly until it’s softened and very lightly browned. Add the garlic, ginger and curry powder and stir until combined.

Add the sweet potatoes to the pan and stir to coat them with the garlic, ginger and spices, then add the tomato and the vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the stock to the boil, then turn down the heat, cover the pan and simmer very gently until the sweet potato is just cooked. This should take no longer than 10 minutes, but check regularly from 5 minutes as you don’t want the sweet potato to go mushy – it should still have a little bite to it. Loosen the sauce with a little more stock or water if necessary.

Add the spinach and chopped coriander stalks to the pan and cover the pan again until the spinach has wilted down. Stir very carefully to combine without breaking up the sweet potatoes.

At this point you can turn the heat off and leave it for for a few hours or overnight, the flavours will only get better. If you are going to eat it immediately, garnish with the lemon zest and juice and a sprinkling of finely sliced green chillies and chopped coriander leaves.

Serve with basmati rice and roti.

Sri Lankan Coconut Dhal

We are a diverse family, encompassing unrepentant meat-eaters, pescatarians, vegetarians and vegans. When any combination of us gets together it can be tricky to come up with meals that will satisfy everyone’s needs while also being satisfying.

What that really means is that I need a good stock of vegan recipes, a thought that would drive my grandfather into a rant about lentils. Well, this is a vegan dish, and its made from lentils, and even my grandfather would approve. He always appreciates luscious food, and this has lusciousness in spades. It’s quick too, so if you walk in the door after a long hard day and don’t fancy a big work-up in the kitchen, this will feed everybody and anybody.

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RECIPE serves 4 

2 tsp sunflower oil

250g red split lentils, rinsed thoroughly

1 banana shallot, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

a small handful of dried curry leaves

a small cinnamon stick

1 green chilli, finely chopped

4 tsp curry powder

1 400ml tin of coconut milk

a small bunch of coriander, leaves and stalks

the zest and juice of a lemon


METHOD

Gently fry the shallots, garlic, curry leaves, cinnamon stick and chilli in the oil, for around 5 minutes until softened and aromatic.

Mix a little water into the curry powder – please use either my own recipe for curry powder, or (if you really must) a top quality, fresh off the shelf supermarket version – to make a paste, and add it to the pan. Cook the spices out for a few minutes, then add 400ml of water, the coconut milk and the lentils.

Simmer for around 20 minutes until the lentils are soft and plump. Finely chop the coriander stalks and add them to the dhal, stir them in thoroughly.

At this point you can turn the heat off and leave it for for a few hours or overnight, the flavours will only get better. If you are going to eat it immediately, garlish with the lemon zest and juice and sprinkling of chopped coriander leaves.

Serve with basmati rice and roti.

Llama Farmer Cottage Pie

Another Hairy Bikers’ triumph, this vegetarian cottage pie (which can easily be made vegan-friendly by substituting the cheese for a vegan product) is low in calories, easy to make and so absolutely delicious that it positively encourages over-eating. The trick here is using a gorgeous baked crust of sweetcorn and polenta, rather than mashed potato.

The good news is that if you DO over-eat (and in my experience that is quite likely) you still won’t have eaten too many calories. Dividing this between four people gives exceedingly generous portions, each serving coming in at only 400 calories.

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RECIPE serves 4 – 6 

1 tsp olive oil

1 large red onion, finely chopped

2 celery sticks, finely chopped

1 large carrot, small dice

1 red and 1 green pepper, each small dice

3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1 tbsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 dried chipotle chillies, finely chopped

1x 400g can of kidney beans

1x 400g can of butter beans

1x 400g can of chopped tomatoes

300ml vegetable stock

small bunch of finely-chopped fresh coriander

Topping:

500g sweetcorn kernels

3 tbsp fine cornmeal (polenta)

1 tsp baking powder

15g unsalted butter (vegetable oil if making it for a vegan)

50g mature cheddar (or vegetarian/vegan equivalent)


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat, add the onion, celery, carrot and peppers, with a pinch of salt and a splash of water and sweat, covered, gently for around fifteen minutes until softened.

Add the garlic and spices and cook, stirring, for a further minute, then add the beans, tomatoes and stock. Stir thoroughly and bring to the boil.

Reduce to a simmer and leave it to reduce to a thick sauce.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 190C/ fan 170C/ gas 5.

Make the topping: in a food processor, blitz half the sweetcorn with the polenta, baking powder, butter and a generous pinch of salt. At this stage you want a smooth paste. Now add the remaining sweetcorn and pulse the food processor until the texture is rough but all the sweetcorn has broken down. Check and adjust the seasoning.

Check and adjust the seasoning of the filling then pour it into an ovenproof dish and carefully spoon the topping thinly and evenly over it. Sprinkle with the grated cheese and a good grinding of black pepper. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the topping is a deep golden brown and the filling is piping hot.

Red Lentil and Harissa Soup

I hate ‘punish-yourself-January’. So many people eschewing alcohol and meat, going on diets that will never succeed and buying gym memberships they will never use. Here’s my highly opinionated tip: if you’re going to change anything about anything, then you need to make changes that will be permanent. Permanent means life-long, so you’d better make sure that you love the changes that you do make.

It doesn’t have to be hard, and it doesn’t have to be punishing. With people like The Hairy Bikers around, low-fat, no-sugar, delicious food is easy to make. This gorgeous soup of their devising takes a mere ten minutes or so to put together, from what are likely to be store-cupboard ingredients. It is also vegan, so whatever you are putting yourself through this January, this dish ticks every box.

The ‘gremolata’ lifts this from the everyday lovely to the out-of-this-world, so don’t leave it out. Frightened of raw garlic? Don’t go and breathe on people afterward; that’s all I can say.

Don’t be thinking that this is a dish suitable only for January, you can eat this as a summer supper, meaning you can make those lifestyle changes permanent.

If serving 6 (this is a filling dish), the calories come in at 166 per portion. If serving 4 it is 249 per portion, and you’ll be full.

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RECIPE serves 4 – 6 

1 tbsp olive oil

2 large onion, finely chopped

3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

a small bunch of finely-chopped fresh coriander stalks

2 tbsp harissa paste

200g red lentils, rinsed

1 litre vegetable stock

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

the juice of half a lemon

‘Gremolata’

the finely grated zest of a lemon

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

a small bunch of finely-chopped fresh coriander leaves


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat, add the onions with a pinch of salt and cook gently for five to ten minutes until softened. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for a further minute, then add the coriander stalks and harissa paste. Stir thoroughly then add the lentils, stir thoroughly again until everything is coated in the harissa, then add the stock and bring to the boil.

Reduce to a simmer for ten minutes, then add the tomatoes and simmer for a further ten minutes. The lentils should be soft by this time, so test and adjust the seasoning, and add lemon juice to thin the soup and add liveliness.

To make the ‘gremolata’ (a real gremolata uses parsley, but the coriander used here is splendid) chop the ingredients together and spoon over each serving once it has been put into bowls.

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.

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.

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.