Spiced Yellow Split Pea Soup

‘Tis the season to always have a hearty soup to hand, and this is a BIG soup in every way. It’s filling, warming, comforting and delicious, as you would expect, but this recipe makes 20 portions so you’ll need a very large pot.

I have made it with half the quantity of split peas, adjusting the spice quantities down by a third, but – for some otherworldly reason that defies logic – this is just a better soup in every way when it is made in a larger quantity. Perhaps that is why Paul Merrett, from whose ‘Spice Odyssey’ this recipe came from, specifies it be made this way. Not to worry, this is a soup that disappears very quickly once you’ve made it, and you’ll be asked to make it again.

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RECIPE serves 20

100ml olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

5 fat garlic cloves, crushed

a large knob of ginger, grated

4 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped

2 celery sticks, roughly chopped

1 large carrot, roughly chopped

1 tbsp ground cumin

2 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 tsp garam masala

2 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp fennel seeds

1/2 tsp cardamom seeds

1.5 kg yellow split peas

1/4 tsp asafoetida

fresh coriander leaves, to serve


METHOD

First, cut away any ugly rough bits of the skin of the ginger, but otherwise leave it unpeeled. Most cooks peel their ginger but I don’t think you need to; many also advise against grating ginger because of its fibrous nature, but I find that I end up with a soft mound of ginger flesh and a handful of fibres which are full of ginger juice, which I always squeeze into the dish. Ginger gives spiced dishes excitement, so I’m always generous in how much I use.

Prepare your other ingredients, and put the cumin, garam masala and ground coriander in a small bowl with just enough water to make a loose paste.

Heat the oil over a medium heat in a very large pan and add the onion. Fry gently until translucent.

Add the ginger and garlic and continue cooking for a minute or so, stirring frequently.

Add the tomatoes, celery and carrot, cook for another minute, stirring.

Now add the spice paste, chilli flakes, fennel and cardamom seeds, turn the heat up and – stirring constantly – cook the spices for a minute or so until they are strongly aromatic.

Now add the split peas and 5 litres (!) of water. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on the age of your split peas.

You may find some grey scum forms on top as it cooks, it’s not harmful but it should be skimmed away using a large shallow spoon. More likely, you will get a more colourful foam, with a white base – no need to skim this, just stir it back in occasionally.

When the split peas are tender but retain their shape, remove from the heat, add the asafoetida and use a stick blender to blitz the soup to your desired consistency. We like it slightly rough, with plenty of whole split peas remaining, but this is entirely a matter of choice. Asafoetida powder is made from the gum of a variety of giant fennel and adds a slightly sulphurous, onion-like depth to a dish. Its effects when cooked are subtle but dramatic, if that makes any kind of sense, and it is perfect for lentil dishes because it marries beautifully with them and also acts as a digestif that helps to combat flatulism!

Now season carefully, remembering that this will take a lot of salt because there is so much of it, and also because split peas take a lot of seasoning anyway.

To serve, add the fresh coriander into the soup so it wilts and releases its essential oils, or if you have a coriander-hater in the house you can bring it to the table in a bowl and allow your guests to add it to their own servings.

Salmon and Leek Pie

My lovely wife insisted that I blog this recipe. When I first told her what we were having for dinner she wasn’t convinced, it only took one mouthful to change her mind. “This is the definitive fish pie”, she declared.

Everybody swooned over it, and reheated the following day it was almost as good. The best thing about it? Just look at the meagre list of ingredients. This is a fish pie that has its simplicity as its strength, and it is incredibly easy to make. 

You can top this with puff pastry if you prefer, but there’s just something about mash…

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RECIPE serves 6

500g salmon fillet

1 pint of milk (I use semi-skimmed, use what you prefer)

55g unsalted butter

40g plain flour

1 large leek, washed, halved and cut into 1cm slices

a small bunch of parsley, chopped

a quantity of dry-mashed potato (see method)

freshly ground black pepper

Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, finely grated

olive oil


METHOD

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

Place the salmon, skin-side uppermost, in an ovenproof dish. Pour over the milk, cover with some foil and bake in the middle of the oven for 15-20 minutes until the fish is only just cooked and is starting to flake.

Remove the fish from the milk using a slotted spoon and set aside. Remove the skin from the fish, it should easily peel off. Retain the milk for use later. When the fish is cool enough to handle, break it into largish chunks – it will break up further when you assemble the pie.

Meanwhile, prepare your mashed potato: I have not specified an amount of mash here, people like different quantities of mash on a pie like this, so use your own judgement. I prefer to steam potatoes for mash, rather than boil them; it keeps them a little dryer and takes about the same length of time. When you come to mash, allow yourself a little milk to slacken the mash if you need to, but no butter. This needs to be a firm, dry mash so it holds peaks on the top that will char, and will soak up the juice from the pie underneath. When you have made your mash, set it aside for now.

Now make the sauce: melt the butter in a large pan over a medium heat, then gradually add the flour whilst whisking constantly. Gently cook the resulting paste until it bubbles and has the first hint of brown, then remove from the heat and begin to add the milk.

Add the milk a little at a time to begin with, whisking all the time. As you add the milk it will be absorbed into the paste, which will become looser the more milk that you add. Return the pan to a gentle heat after adding around a quarter of the milk. When you have added around half of the milk, it has all been absorbed and there are no lumps in it, you can add the rest of the milk all together. Turn the heat up, keep whisking often, and bring the sauce to the boil. As it gets hotter, stir more frequently. Just as it starts to boil, drop the heat to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes, whisking often. Your aim is a smooth, glossy sauce.

After two minutes simmering, take the sauce off the heat and allow to stand whilst you bring everything together.

The leeks need to be steamed for a couple of minutes, just to soften them. This is an easy task that you can fit in while working on the other elements.

To assemble the pie, add the parsley and leeks to the sauce, and stir well. Then add the salmon and stir thoroughly, breaking the larger chunks down. Now carefully check and correct the seasoning.

Transfer everything to a 3-pint ovenproof dish, then add your mash over the top. It is best to work from the edges, working all the way round, then gradually working your way in to the centre using the outer layer of mash as a support – this is why you need dry mash. Fluff the top up into peaks and swirls using a fork, then give the entire surface a generous grinding of black pepper. Now grate a fine layer of Pecorino (preferred) or Parmesan over the top, and drizzle lightly with a little olive oil.

Bake for around 30 minutes until the top is nicely browned and charred in places, and the pie is piping hot.

We particularly enjoyed this alongside steamed tenderstem broccoli, and a very good Chardonnay.

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).

Dry-Spiced Potato and Cauliflower (Aloo Gobi)

It doesn’t sound exciting, but potatoes and cauliflower pair extremely well with spice. This makes a great side for Bengali curries, or as a delicious lunch all by itself – whatever the weather.

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RECIPE serves 4

450g waxy potatoes

1 cauliflower, broken into small florets

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp black peppercorns

6 tbsp coconut oil

1/2 tsp fennel seeds

a small onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

a big knob of ginger, finely chopped

1 medium-hot green chilli, finely chopped

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

a handful of fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped

METHOD

Cut the potatoes into small pieces around 2cm across. Cook in lightly salted water until just tender.

Dry-fry the cumin seeds, coriander seeds and black peppercorns until just aromatic (this takes 60-90 seconds), allow to cool slightly then grind to a powder in a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder that is only used for grinding spices.

Heat the oil over a medium hot flame, add the cauliflower florets and fennel seeds. Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the florets are starting to brown.

Add the onion, garlic, ginger, salt and green chilli. Stir well, turn the heat down to low, cover and fry gently for around 5 minutes until the onions have softened.

As an aside, most recipes that use ginger specify that you peel it first. I have never found this necessary, I just chop off any dry exposed ends and cut out any rough and ugly protusions. I have also seen it said that you shouldn’t grate ginger, because it is too fibrous. Again, I disagree. I regularly finely grate ginger and I generally end up with just about all of the fibres in the hand I am grating with. Give those a fibres a good squeeze to extract the juice they are holding (you will be surprised!) then discard them – or pop them in a small jelly bag with your peelings and pour hot water over them to make the most enervating ginger tea.

Add the potatoes, the spices that you ground earlier, turmeric and cayenne pepper. Stir gently and cook uncovered over a low heat for a few minutes to heat the potatoes through. Add the coriander leaves, toss together, and serve.

As an alternative, I have also made this with new potatoes. I steam the potatoes for around 15-20 minutes until just tender, then lightly crush them so the skins split. The rest of the method is the same.

Aubergine Parmigiana

I am never sad about the passing of the seasons. As the evenings close in our thoughts turn to richer, warming, comforting food – food like this delectable Italian classic.

I have lot of cook books and magazines, and among them are 61 different recipes for Aubergine Parmigiana. I haven’t read through all of them, but I have read enough of them to realise that the key to a great Parmigiana is simplicity. There’s no room here for chilli flakes, black garlic or other flavour-enhancing staples – the freshest, firmest aubergines and the best tinned tomatoes you can afford are all you need.

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RECIPE serves 4

2 large, firm aubergines (or 3 medium)

olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 fat garlic cloves, crushed

1 heaped tsp dried oregano

3x 400g tins of plum tomatoes (Mutti San Marzano or Cirio are my choices)

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

a handful of fresh basil leaves, torn

Parmesan, finely grated as required

1 ball of buffalo mozzarella

1 thick slice of slightly stale wholemeal bread

a bunch of flat-leaf parsley


METHOD

Drizzle olive oil generously in to a large saucepan, coating the base. Heat over a medium flame and gently fry the onions with the oregano until softened and just starting to colour – this will take ten minutes or so. Add the garlic and fry for another minute before adding the tinned tomatoes.

Bring to the boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer and leave to bubble and reduce for around 30 minutes until thick and unctuous. Remove from the heat. season, add the vinegar and stir, then add the torn basil and stir through. Set aside for now.

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

Remove the stalks and slice the aubergines along their length into slices about as thick as the end of your little finger. Brush both sides of each slice lightly with a little olive oil and place under a hot grill for ten minutes per side until soft and golden. Using a little oil seals in moisture and ensures that the aubergine doesn’t dry out as it cooks. Depending on the size of your grill you may need to do this in batches.

Roughly tear the bread, and roughly chop the parsley. Put the bread and parsley into a food processor and pulse until the bread is crumbed and the parsley finely chopped.

In a casserole or other large ovenproof dish with a lid, start to layer up the elements. Ladle enough tomato sauce into the bottom of the dish to completely cover the base, then scatter a thin layer of grated Parmesan over it, followed by a layer of grilled aubergine. Repeat: sauce, Parmesan, aubergine, sauce, Parmesan, aubergine. Finish with a layer of sauce, tear the mozzarella ball and dot it over the top, then scatter the breadcrumbs and parsley over that. Finish with a final thin layer of Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. Put the lid on and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove the lid from the casserole and put it back in the oven for a further 15 minutes.

When golden and crusty on the top, remove from the oven and leave to ‘rest’, uncovered, for ten minutes before serving. This resting time makes all the difference.

Serve alongside a simple green salad dressed with the juice of a lemon and its finely grated zest.

Sweetcorn Polenta with Cream of Corn, Sauteed Mushrooms and Tenderstem Broccoli

The first time I made it, I had real reservations about this recipe from Maria Elia’s ‘The Modern Vegetarian’. I had mixed feelings about polenta, creamed corn didn’t sound like something any of us would like, and what the hell would I pair it with?

It’s a great book though, full of interesting textures and flavours – vegetarian (and vegan) cooking is definitely no longer the preserve of the bland and boring – and having marvelled at the way she combines the unexpected I bit back my fears and decided to challenge my preconceptions. I have modified it slightly from the original, but only slightly, and I hope you do the same – written recipes are only a starting point.

The results were simply sensational. For a little effort and forethought, this is a dish for which you would happily pay a lot of money in a very good restaurant. I’m not blowing my own trumpet; this is within the reach of any competent cook that can read a recipe and follow instructions.

polenta

RECIPE serves 4

For the polenta:

375ml cold water

125ml full-fat milk

1 bay leaf

1 tsp sea salt

1 corn cob, husk stripped away

125g corn meal

40g unsalted butter, cut into thin slices

75g Parmesan, very finely grated

For the cream of corn:

1 corn cob

25g unsalted butter

1 large banana shallot, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/4 of a nutmeg, very finely grated

200g milk

250ml creme fraiche

To serve:

250g shiitake or chestnut mushrooms, sliced

25g unsalted butter

1 tsp dried thyme

tenderstem or purple sprouting broccoli


METHOD

Put the water and milk in a large saucepan, add the salt and the bay leaf, then bring to the boil. Add the corn cob and cook until tender, this will take around 20 minutes.

Remove the corn cob and allow it to cool until you can handle it. Bring the liquid back to a rolling boil and remove the bay leaf. It has done its job and if you leave it in it will get broken up as you whisk, leaving you with unappealing ‘bits’ in your finished polenta.

Measure the corn meal into a bowl big enough to get your hand into, and when the liquid is boiling take a small handful and let it slowly sift through the fingers of one hand into the liquid while you whisk vigorously with the other hand. Keep doing this until all of the corn meal has been incorporated and there are no lumps. Reduce the heat to a low simmer, continuing to whisk it constantly.

You will see the mixture transform from a loose slurry to a thickening paste over the space of five minutes. Make sure the polenta has properly thickened before you stop whisking, though it will still be a loose mixture at this stage.

Now put your pan on a heat-diffuser, over the lowest heat that you can. Pop a lid on the pan (this is sacrilege to many Italians, but it works) and let it cook very, very gently for around 30 minutes. Every five minutes, go back to the mixture and give it a good whisk. When it comes to the point that it is too thick to whisk, take a wooden spoon to it.

The polenta is done when the texture becomes creamy and amalgamated. When you taste it there should be no hint at all of graininess from the corn meal.

Meanwhile, stand the cooked cob upright and cut away the kernels from the cob by slicing down the sides behind the kernels with a sharp knife. Be careful! Set the kernels aside for now.

When the polenta is cooked, turn off the heat and dot the butter around the top of the polenta, then stir it in until it has almost all melted, then add the finely-grated Parmesan. Stir again, then add the corn kernels, stir yet again, check the seasoning and pour into a baking tray (approx. 10cm x 7cm) that has been lined with plastic film. Smooth the surface and leave it to stand and firm up for at least 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the cream of corn: cut the kernels from the other, uncooked corn cob in the same way as above – still being careful with that knife. Melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat and when it is foaming add the shallots and cook for 5 to 10 minutes until soft, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, nutmeg and corn, season with salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add the milk, reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the corn is tender – this is likely to take between 20 and 30 minutes.

When the kernels are tender, keep the heat on low and stir in the creme fraiche, until it is fully amalgamated. Bring back up to just below boiling point, then turn the heat off and allow the mixture to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Puree the mixture in a small blender or food processor; I like a bit of texture in mine, but you can process it until it is completely smooth if you wish. Check the seasoning and set aside until needed.

I have found that the cream of corn gets better if it is made a few hours in advance, as the flavours relax into each other. Just warm it through to serve, you can proceed straight on though…

Heat the oven to 220C/ 200C fan/ Gas 7. Do this when you add the kernels to the milk for the cream of corn, if you want everything to be ready at more or less the same time.

Turn the cooled polenta out onto a chopping board and cut it into 4 equal-sized pieces. Take care, the polenta is firm but not solid so it will need to be supported throughout.

Place the polenta onto a lightly oiled baking tray, drizzle with a little olive oil on the exposed surfaces, and place in the top third of the oven for 15-20 minutes until hot through, with a crisp, golden crust.

Meanwhile, prepare the accompaniments: for the broccoli, steam it for 4 or 5 minutes. For the mushrooms: heat a large frying pan until very hot. Add the butter, and when it is foaming add the mushrooms with a little salt and the thyme. Saute until the mushrooms have given up their liquid, then squeeze a little lemon juice into the pan. Keep cooking to evaporate all the liquid, stirring frequently. When the mushrooms take on a golden hue they are ready.

To serve: place a piece of polenta onto a warmed plate, with some cream of corn on top. Scatter mushrooms over it, then arrange some broccoli on top. I serve this with a big bowl of rocket leaves, dressed with a little lemon juice, alongside a courgette and chilli salad. The salad was a shot in the dark, but the sharpness it brings contrasts really well with the rich butteriness of the dish.

Perfect Polenta

A few years ago, I bought some instant polenta and made some polenta chips. I followed the recipe exactly, and the result was distinctly underwhelming. A claggy, distracting texture was the main feature, and they only really tasted good when they had cooled to a gentle warmth.

It turns out that instant polenta bears about as much relation to the real thing as instant mash does to a lovingly prepared bowl of proper, buttery mashed potatoes.

It took me years to give polenta another try, once I understood that it was real polenta or nothing. The trouble was, according to all the accounts that I had then read, real polenta takes an hour or more standing at a stove, patiently stirring for the whole time. I love cooking, but it’s not often I can spend a whole hour doing nothing but stir the contents of a pot.

In the last few years though I have taken to actually reading recipe books in their entirety, like I would a novel, and I have learned a lot. As far as polenta goes, I have learned that there are things that you can do to it, and there are things that you MUST do to it. Stirring is an essential part of the process, and not just to stop it from catching on the bottom of the pan, but how much stirring is actually necessary? Not as much as you think actually; the key is slow cooking because all you are trying to do is thoroughly hydrate the corn meal. I use a heat-diffuser under my pan, on the very lowest heat, and stir it every five minutes or so – but more of that in the method below.

The other essential is liquid, obviously. But which liquid? Water is the most traditional, but I have seen it made with vegetable stock (which I don’t like because it masks the subtle but essential corn flavour). Using a mixture of full-fat milk and water gives my preferred result – it’s elusive and almost undefinable, but the milk gives it a subtle richness.

The other must-do is getting the first five minutes right…

Get your water & milk boiling hard, make sure it is salted, and add the corn meal s..l..o..w..l..y. Sifting it through your fingers a small handful at a time is the way to go, whisking hard and fast so that lumps do not get a chance to form. Get this bit wrong and you will never be proud of your polenta. Once the corn meal has all been added, reduce the heat to a low simmer and keep whisking for about 5 minutes until the polenta has properly thickened. Again, if you try and short-cut this bit then your polenta will never have the texture it needs.

How much liquid? It depends on what level of firmness you want. The classic ratio is 1 part corn meal to 4 parts liquid, and that’s great for slices that will be baked or grilled to a melting loveliness. Use 1 part corn meal to 3 parts liquid to make it firmer for chips and the like, and 1 part corn meal to 5 parts liquid makes a loose, potato-mash consistency which is the standard accompaniment for saucy meat dishes and ragu. Recipes for all these will undoubtedly follow…

One last thing… which polenta should you use? There is white corn meal and yellow corn meal, fine ground or more coarsely ground. The good thing is that the things you must do never change, no matter which colour or degree of grind you use. White is a little more delicate than yellow, so which you choose depends on what you plan to have with it. The coarse grind is probably better for firm polenta as used to make polenta chips, and the fine is better for a wetter polenta – but this is family food we are making so I wouldn’t get too serious about it. Buy good quality corn meal, of whatever type, as long as it is never, never, ever instant.

Things that you can do to your polenta include using stock as your liquid. As I said earlier, I don’t do it that way, preferring instead to bring my pan of liquid up to a boil from cold, with the salt added at the beginning with a bay leaf. You can augment it with garlic, and I have seen all kinds of nonsense added in an effort to be trendy or cutting-edge. Polenta doesn’t need it, it’s a base for other things to work around, so I advocate keeping it simple, getting it right and using your imagination on what you are going to serve it with.

The taste and texture? Get it right and it is right up there alongside the most comforting bowl of buttery mashed potato, with a subtle sweet edge from the corn. It is truly delicious.

polenta

BASIC RECIPE serves 4

375ml cold water

125ml full-fat milk

1 bay leaf

1 tsp sea salt

125g corn meal

50g unsalted butter, cut into thin slices

75g Parmesan, very finely grated


METHOD

Put the water and milk in a large saucepan, add the salt and the bay leaf, then bring to a hard rolling boil.

Once the liquid is boiling, remove the bay leaf. It has done its job and if you leave it in it will get broken up as you whisk, leaving you with unappealing ‘bits’ in your finished polenta.

Measure the corn meal into a bowl big enough to get your hand into, and when the liquid is boiling take a small handful and let it slowly sift through the fingers of one hand into the liquid while you whisk vigorously with the other hand. Keep doing this until all of the corn meal has been incorporated and there are no lumps. Reduce the heat to a low simmer, continuing to whisk it constantly.

You will see the mixture transform from a loose slurry to a thickening paste over the space of five minutes. Make sure the polenta has properly thickened before you stop whisking, though it will still be a loose mixture at this stage.

Now put your pan on a heat-diffuser, over the lowest heat that you can. Pop a lid on the pan (this is sacrilege to many Italians, but it works) and let it cook very, very gently for around 30 minutes. Every five minutes, go back to the mixture and give it a good whisk. When it comes to the point that it is too thick to whisk, take a wooden spoon to it.

The polenta is done when the texture becomes creamy and amalgamated. When you taste it there should be no hint at all of graininess from the corn meal.

Turn off the heat and dot the butter around the top of the polenta, then stir it in until it has almost all melted, then add the finely-grated Parmesan. Stir again, cover again, and leave it to stand for five minutes. Check the seasoning, and now you have something you can work with.

What you do with it next depends entirely on what your meal plans are, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with just taking it to the table in a serving bowl, drizzling it with a very little extra-virgin olive oil and a generous grinding of black pepper and eating it with a spoon. It’s quite amazing in a bowl, topped with a fried egg as well!

North Atlantic Prawn Pilaf

I love the versatility of this recipe, which I found in Rick Stein’s book ‘Coast to Coast’. It is excellent with prawns, chicken or pork – and I reckon it would also work well with tofu marinated in sweet chilli sauce. If you are using it for anything other than fish, use chicken stock. Leave out the protein and serve it in place of boiled rice and you have the perfect accompaniment to aromatic curries, or serve it alongside grilled fish.

There is no chilli or hot spice here, just the warming perfume of cloves, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon and coriander. It is exquisite.

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Picture Credit: The Happy Foodie


RECIPE serves 4

400g North Atlantic prawns

50g butter

1 small onion, chopped

1 small carrot, roughly chopped

½ tsp tomato purée

700ml fish stock

350g basmati rice

2 shallots, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, very finely chopped

3 cloves

the seeds from 3 green cardamom pods (about 1/2 teaspoon)

1 cinnamon stick, broken into 4 pieces

¼ tsp ground turmeric

a small handful of chopped coriander leaves

3 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

If you are lucky enough to have whole prawns (with the heads and shells), you will need more than 400g in total weight, so judge accordingly. Peel them but keep the heads and shells for use in the broth you are going to make. Put the prawns on a plate and set aside.

Heat 25g of the butter in a large pan, add the onion and carrot and fry over a medium heat for 6-7 minutes, until lightly browned. Add the prawn heads and shells if you have them and continue to fry for 3-4 minutes. Add the tomato purée and stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain into a measuring jug; if there is more than 600ml, return it to the clean pan and boil rapidly until reduced to this amount. Season carefully.

If using uncooked prawns, drop them into the boiling broth for a minute or so until they just turn pink. Remove from the broth and set aside on a broad plate to cool.

Meanwhile, cover the rice with fresh water and leave to soak while you prepare the next stage. Drain well before using.

Melt the rest of the butter in a saucepan and add the shallots, garlic, cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick and turmeric and fry gently for 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir well to coat the rice with the spicy butter. Add the stock to the pan, bring to the boil, then turn the heat right down to the slightest simmer, put a lid on the pan and leave to cook gently for 10 minutes. Don’t lift the lid during this time.

Uncover the rice and gently stir in the peeled prawns, coriander, diced tomatoes and some seasoning to taste. Re-cover, this time with a teatowel between the lid and the rice, and leave for 5 minutes to warm through. Then spoon into a warmed serving dish and serve.

If using chicken or pork, the meat will need to be cooked before stirring through the rice.

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.

 

Masala Turmeric Dhal

I have made a lot of different lentil dishes over the years, all of them lovely, all of them incredibly moreish. I have slightly adapted this one from a Rick Stein recipe, and it stands head and shoulders above every other dhal recipe I have ever used. It’s that good.

It’s subtle, with the merest glow of warmth from the chilli and exquisitely perfumed by the turmeric. You will find yourself tasting it as you go along, and struggling to stop yourself having just a little bit more. Then something truly magical happens…

Just before you serve it you temper it with gently fried onion, ginger, green chilli and tomato, stir it through, taste it, and stand back in astonishment. The temper adds new layers of vibrant flavour, while underlining the perfume of coconut and turmeric. If forced to choose just one dish to eat for the rest of my life, this would be an extremely strong contender.

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Photo Credit: Dropping The V Sign

RECIPE serves 4

250g red lentils

600ml water

225g onions

225g tomatoes

100g coconut oil

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tbsp ground turmeric

1 tsp hot chilli powder

400ml coconut milk

1 tbsp black mustard seeds

a fat thumb of ginger, finely chopped

2 green chillies, finely chopped

A pinch of asafoetida (optional, but essential in my opinion)

a small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped


METHOD

In a large bowl, cover the lentils with the water and leave to soak while you work on preparation.

Coarsely chop half of the onions, finely dice the other half.

Coarsely chop half the tomatoes, finely dice the other half.

Heat 50g of the coconut oil in a large pan then gently fry the coarsely chopped onions and coarsely chopped tomatoes with the garlic, for around 8 to 10 minutes until softened into something resembling a paste. Add the turmeric and the chilli powder and cook on for a minute or so.

Add the lentils together with their soaking water, stir well and bring to the boil. Add the coconut milk and bring back to boiling point before reducing to a low simmer. Leave it to cook until thickened and the lentils are fully soft; this may only take around ten minutes, depending on the age of your lentils. When cooked, season and set aside. I generally find that lentils of any kind will appreciate more salt than you might think, but only when they are fully cooked.

At this point it is always good to leave the dhal to sit for a few hours to allow the base flavours to develop and mingle, but you can of course go straight on to serving if pushed for time.

To finish the dish: gently re-heat the lentils to just below boiling point, and heat the remaining 50g of coconut oil in a large pan that has a lid. When the oil is hot, add the black mustard seeds and cover the pan. When the seeds start to pop, which will only be a minute or so, add the ginger, finely diced onion and finely diced tomato, the green chillies and asafoetida. Cook gently for around 5 minutes until softened but not coloured, then add to the warmed lentils and stir through. Add the chopped coriander and allow it to wilt in the dish as you bring it to the table.

Rick Stein serves this with fish marinated in turmeric and oil, and it’s lovely, but it really doesn’t need anything other than some naan bread or, even better, roti. You’ll love it.