Spaghetti with cherry tomatoes, pancetta & courgette

This tasted very Italian and wonderful. Tomatoes, courgettes, basil and oregano all from my own garden. Fresh pasta from Waitrose, bacon from the butcher’s in the North End road market,

Ingredients

250g fresh cherry tomatoes, halved
2 small courgettes, chopped into small pieces
200g of pancetta or smoked bacon cubed
250 fresh spaghetti
1 fresh red chilli
1 shallot
1 garlic clove
handful of basil
handful of oregano
pecorino or parmesan, shavings

Preheat oven to 220C. Arrange the cherry tomatoes densely on a tray and sprinkle with olive oil. Season. Roast for 15-20 mins so the tomatoes are soft but do not fall apart.

In the meantime, chop finely the garlic, shallot and chilli, fry in a little bit of olive oil for 2-3 mins. Add the pancetta and fry for another 2-3 mins, finally add the courgettes cooking them till they are soft.

Boil water, put the pasta in, bring to boil and cook for 4 minutes. Drain. In a large bowl combine the pasta with tomatoes (don’t forget the juices from the tray), pancetta and courgettes. Add fresh oregano and basil leaves. Serve with shavings of parmesan or pecorino and good Chianti.

Quick chicken stir-fry with peppers, water chesnuts and onion

This is truly one of the improvised quick dishes. I was going to make chicken with okra Louisiana style but discovered that the okra has gone bad. So I had to regroup and stir-fry was the easiest (and fastest) option:

Ingredients:
Takes 10-15 mins (if you are fast chopper!)

groundnut oil
2 chicken breasts diced
2 garlic cloves
1 inch chunk of fresh ginger finally chopped
1 fresh green chilli finely chopped, use whole, do not deseed if you want a bit of kick
1 medium sized red onion chopped into slices so they retain shape and crispness
1 bell pepper cut into square pieces
1 can of water chestnuts
handful of cashews
packet of Amoy Teryiaki sauce

In a wok heat 1-2 tbsp of oil, fry the garlic, chilli and ginger. Throw in the cashews so they fry in the oil before everything else goes in. Add the chicken and fry for 3-4 mins depending on the size of the cubes. Add the water chestnuts cook for a minute, then add the pepper and onion and stir fry for 3 minutes. Add the sauce, turn down the heat and stir for about a minute. Serve immediately.

Hot and sour prawn soup

This is one of my favourite soups but I always thought it would be too complicated to make at home. I love the fragrant broth with galangal and lemongrass and a kick of bird’s eye chilli.

Ingredients:
Serves 4, Ready in 30 minutes

25g tamarind pulp (I used tamarind paste from waitrose, it seemed to work but will try to get pulp next time to see if it makes any difference)
1 tsp sunflower oil
1 tsp palm sugar
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 litre fish stock
2 lemongrass stalks, outer layer discarded and finely sliced
5cm piece galangal, sliced
2 fresh or dried kaffir lime leaves
1 red bird’s eye chilli, sliced
250g raw king prawns, peeled, deveined with tail shells left on
Juice of ½ lime
2 tbsp Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
1 spring onion, sliced
Handful fresh coriander leaves

  1. Put the tamarind pulp into a bowl and pour over 125ml hot water. Set aside for 10 minutes. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the palm sugar and garlic. Stir-fry for 1 minute.

    Tip To freeze: Freeze at the end of step 2 for up to 2 months. Thaw and complete the recipe to serve.

  2. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Strain the tamarind liquid into the pan and add the lemongrass, galangal, lime leaves and chilli. Simmer for 15 minutes.
  3. Add the prawns and simmer for 2-3 minutes, until pink and cooked through. Stir in the lime juice, fish sauce, spring onion and coriander. Serve straightaway.

Chicken tikka masala

I made this last week on a weekday and must say it was the best Indian dish I have had outside the Painted Heron. It is not from an Indian source but from Gordon Ramsay. The rice is wonderful too, cardamom and star anise working its fragrant magic.

Ingredients:
Serves 4

Groundnut oil
1 large onion, peeled
2 fresh green chillies
1″ piece of ginger, peeled
3 garlic cloves, peeled
½ tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
1 tbsp tomato puree
400g tinned chopped tomatoes
4 boneless chicken breasts (approx 150g each), cubed
10 dried curry leaves
4-6 tbsp natural yoghurt
Handful of fresh coriander leaves, chopped

For the steamed rice
400g basmati rice, rinsed
600ml cold water
Salt and pepper
3 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
2 star anise

  1. Heat two tablespoons of groundnut oil in a pan. Slice the onion and fry in the oil. Meanwhile, deseed and chop the chilli, chop the ginger and add to the hot pan, crush in the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes to soften.
  2. Add the chilli powder, turmeric, garam masala and sugar and cook for 1-2 minutes. Next, add the tomato puree and chopped tomatoes to the pan and allow them to cook for a further few minutes.
  3. Transfer the sauce to a food processor and blend until smooth (I transfered into a deepest pyrex ball I had and used a hand blender. This seems unnecessary as the sauce already look good, but it is an essential step to make the dish really creamy and make all the flavours blend.
  4. Add a tablespoon of fresh groundnut oil into the pan and fry the chicken pieces until lightly coloured (watch the video from Gordon on how to joint a chicken). Pour in the blended sauce and add the curry leaves. Simmer gently for 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
  5. Place the rice in a saucepan, add the cold water and season with salt and pepper (watch the video from Gordon on how to cook rice). Lightly crush the cardamom pods with your fingers and add to the pan with the star anise. Cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the rice to steam for a further 5 minutes. Remove the cardamom and star anise. Fluff up the rice with a fork and set aside.
  6. Stir in the yoghurt to the chicken curry along with half the chopped coriander. Serve with the steamed rice and garnish with the remaining coriander.

Spicy dhal soup

After a rather nice dinner in an Indian restaurant, I decided to have a go at cooking some Indian dishes myself. I came across this red lentil soup, which turned out to be fragrant, tasty and filling. Serve with some warm grilled naan bread spread with a little garlic butter and cut into chunky fingers. If not bothered about keeping it vegetarian, serve with a decent amount of dry-fried bacon, it works wonderfully and turns it into a hearty dish.

Serves 4, takes 30 minutes to prepare. I made a double batch, which is enough for 8, for sure.

Ingredients:

225g dried red lentils
3 tbsp sunflower oil (used light & mild olive oil)
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2.5cm piece fresh ginger, grated
1 medium-hot red chilli, deseeded and chopped, plus extra to garnish, if you like
1 medium-hot green chilli, deseeded and chopped
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
300ml hot vegetable stock (I used my own chicken stock, foregoing the vegetarian option)
200g can chopped tomatoes
Good pinch of cayenne pepper
100ml coconut cream
100g baby leaf spinach, to serve (I didn’t have any so I used lots of fresh parsley)
20g bunch fresh coriander, to serve
6 tbsp natural yogurt, to serve (optional)

  1. Put the lentils into a medium saucepan and cover with 900ml of cold water. Bring to the boil, skimming off the scum as it rises to the surface, and leave to simmer for 10 minutes, until tender and just falling apart. Remove from the heat, cover and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in another pan, add the onion and fry gently for 15 minutes, until browned. Reduce the heat, add the garlic, ginger and chillies and fry for 2 minutes. Stir in the spices and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and cook for a further 2 minutes.
  3. Add the stock, the lentils and their liquid, canned tomatoes, cayenne pepper and season with salt to taste. Cover and simmer for just 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, cool slightly, then add the coconut cream. Blend, using a hand blender or in batches in a liquidiser, until the soup is almost smooth.
  4. Simmer for 5 minutes, then add the spinach and most of the coriander leaves and cook for a further minute. Using a hand blender, blend briefly until the spinach is just roughly chopped.
  5. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and garnish each with a spoonful of yogurt, the remaining coriander leaves and some finely chopped red chilli, if you like.

Note:
Nutritional Information per serving
369kcals
16.1g fat (1.6g saturated)
18.3g protein
41.6g carbs
7.6g sugar
1.6g

Quick stir-fried pork with peppers, carrots & cashews

This is one of those dishes I make when I have bits of vegetables left in the fridge, a few peppers about to wilt, a carrot, bits of ginger, fresh chillis etc. It can take anything that is crunchy after stir-frying and the meat can be beef or pork. I use Ken Hom’s marinade from Chinese Cookery, which I don’t think would work that well with chicken.

Tonight I used what was in the fridge:
1 yellow pepper chopped into square chunks
1 small carrot roll cut
2 fresh red chilli finely chopped
1 1/2 inch fresh ginger finely chopped
1 large pork steak cut into strips
1 small onion sliced lengthways
1 clove garlic finelly chopped
handful of cashew nuts ideally roasted or dry-fried beforehand
(other ingredients I could have used from my cupboard – canned water chesnuts or bamboo shoots)

Marinade:
1 tsp cornflour
2 tsp Shaoxing wine
2 tsp soya sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp salt

Cut the meat in narrow strips 1 1/2 inch long, mix well with the marinade and set aside in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Heat groundnut oil in a wok until smokes and flash fry chilli, garlic and ginger for a minute. Add meat and continue to fry it on high, for about 2-3 minutes or until you can’t see any raw or pink bits. Add the chopped vegetables and cook for another 2 minutes or longer – reaching the fine line between the meat being done and the vegetables still being crispy. If things look a bit dry, I add several squirts of catsup, the asian brown variety – I bought mine at local M&S and it’s called Kecap Manis (can’t find it anywhere online).

I normally serve this with basmati rice (Waitrose aromatic), adding turmeric to the boiling water for colour. I find jasmine tea to be the best drink accompanying chinese food in general.

Braised topside with anchovy and onion

This is one of my favourite slow cooked dishes, another example of French regional cooking, adapted from Elizabeth David’s An Omelette and a Glass of Wine via Sunday Telegraph’s magazine.

Ingredients:

250g (9oz) unsalted butter (I NEVER use this much. OK, the dish does need a lot of butter so I use about half the amount as required by the recipe, then let the dish cool down, fridge it for a while and then scoop out the butter that becomes very visible. In my experience this hasn’t affected the flavour but considerably reduced the fat content)
6 onions, peeled and cut into thick half moons
1.5kg (3lb 5oz) beff topside cut into portion-sized steaks
2 bay leaves (I always add more)
2 garlic cloves peeled and crushed (again my hand slips and I add more :P)
1 tbs red-wine vinegar
6 tbsp olive oil (I include in this amount the oil from anchovies)
5 anchovy fillets chopped
2 dried red chillies ideally bird’s-eye
1 very large handful fresh flat leaf parsley

Take a heavy casserole with a lid, and rub the inside all over with three quarters of the butter. It isn’t just a greasing agent – it’s really a part of the dish. Scatter in some of the onion. Season the beef and layer some of it over the onions. Continue to layer the beef and the onion. Throw in the bay leaves. Smear a sheet of greaseproof paper with the remaining butter and place, butter-side down, on top of the meat and onion.

Preheat the oven to 140C/275F/gas mark 1. Place the lid on the pot and heat over a flame until it starts to sizzle. Transfer to the oven and leave for two hours or so, until the meat is very tender.
Place the other ingredients in a food processor and blitz to make a paste. As I don’t have one, I use mortar & pestle and get a very satisfying amount of gooey paste that smells absolutely delicious. Stir the paste into the meat and juices. Replace the lid and leave to infuse for 30 minutes off the heat. Gently reheat for about 25 minutes over a low flame and serve with mash potatoes and something green.