Monday, 26 September 2011


Here's a simple yet flavoursome tagine that is easy to make and delicious to eat. It's perfect for early autumn, with its sweet and smokey hints of cumin, saffron and turmeric, yet light too. Quick to assemble, it can be put in the oven and forgotten for an hour. It even makes its own sauce while cooking. Serve with fluffy couscous or rice, and plenty of chopped fresh coriander. A tagine cooking vessel is not essential - though it does lend a certain authenticity to the dish!

Simple chicken tagine
1 chicken thigh (bone in) per person
1 large onion, finely sliced
About 1 tsp chopped fresh ginger, or bottled ginger. Or failing both, ground ginger
1 tsp cumin seeds or ground cumin
1 tsp chilli flakes or harissa paste
A couple of garlic cloves, chopped
A couple of carrots, cut into batons
A tin of chickpeas
Salt & pepper

Optional extras:
Half a preserved lemon, flesh removed and finely chopped
A handful of dried apricots or dates, chopped
A handful of olives
Chopped, fresh coriander

Put everything in the tagine (or Le Creuset type casserole dish), splash on some olive oil and some water. Season with salt and pepper. Put in a hot oven (200C) and cook for about an hour. About 10 mins before serving, I like to add couscous to the dish (quantity per person according to packet), put the lid back on and leave to steam on the stovepot before serving. Remove the lid and you will find a whole meal in a pot.

I like to serve this with a generous dollop of Bezalu Rose Harissa paste.

Sunday, 25 September 2011


In anticipation of my forthcoming long weekend of gastronomy in Liguria, I cooked Italian sausages and polenta for supper last night. Italian sausages are made from the ham/bacon parts of the pig (i.e. different to traditional English pork sausages), and are often seasoned with fennel or aniseed. The very high pure meat content makes them particularly delicious. They are stupidly easy to cook, and are traditionally served with lentils on New Year's Day in Italy (recipe here). Because I was serving them with fluffy polenta (also stupidly easy to make, despite the 'food mystique' which seems to surround it), I made a rich tomato sauce, spiked with fresh chilli and garlic. The sausages were baked in the oven, while the polenta was bubbled and whisked on the hob 5 minutes before serving. I use instant polenta - just follow the instructions on the packet and be aware that polenta has a habit of expanding during cooking!

To make the tomato sauce, fry a couple of cloves of peeled and sliced garlic and half a fresh red chilli, finely sliced, in olive oil until soft. Add a tin of tomatoes and then wash the can out with water and add that. A little tomato puree only adds to the depth of flavour. Season with salt and pepper, some chopped fresh rosemary or oregano, a dash of balsamic vinegar and about a teaspoonful of caster sugar. I also added a spoonful of M&S Fire Roasted Tomato Sauce from the Terribly Clever range (it's been advertised on telly a lot lately). Simmer until the sauce reduces, then set aside until you need to serve it. It only needs heating through.

In the region of Italy near the top end of Lake Garda, where I had a holiday a few years ago, the polenta is served with a big slab of Taleggio or Gorgonzola cheese across the top of it (the heat from the polenta makes the cheese melt) and then a rich venision, wild boar or mushroom stew is spooned over it. I always add lots of grated fresh parmesan and butter to my polenta. Put a mound of yellow fluffiness on a plate, place the sausages on top and spoon over the tomato sauce. Eat.

We had freshly baked rosemary focaccia (I have perfected my version of this, thanks to some advice about keeping the dough wet from The Great British Bake Off on BBC2), and for pudding Laverstoke Park Farm coffee ice cream and chocolate amaretti biscuits.

You can buy Italian sausages in Italian delis. Girasole on Teddington High Street keeps them, though I had to charm the owner to sell me two packs yesterday (he wanted to keep one back for himself, for some reason). You can also get them in Giuliano's in Kingston or Fratelli Camisa. Incidentally, Girasole also occasionally stocks the most wonderful frizzante red wine from Lazio, which should be served chilled. Unfortunately, there was none to be had, not even for ready money, yesterday and Noble Green Wines on Hampton Hill High Street drew a blank too, but it's worth looking out for. I will be drinking something similar next weekend, no doubt: a local vino rosso from the lower slopes of the mountains around Molini.

The dining room at the Hotel Santo Spirito, Molini di Triora

Molini di Triora

Saturday, 24 September 2011


I've sent Other Half off to Twickenham to buy buffalo milk coffee ice cream from Laverstoke Park Farm shop. This ice cream really does have to be tried to be believed. It is truly the most deliciously creamy and wonderful ice cream I have ever eaten - and I'm not normally a fan of shop-bought ice cream, even the most upmarket kind. Its strong coffee, almost espresso, flavour makes it a wonderful accompaniment to a rich chocolate cake or chocolate brownies. To ring the changes, because I am always making chocolate brownies as a pudding when people come round for supper, I've made chocolate amaretti biscuits. These are not those crunchy almond biscuits you sometimes get with a cappuccino in your local Italian cafe. No, these are amaretti morbidi, or soft amaretti, and I have blogged about them before, in a different form (Sour Cherry Amaretti). People often think that such sweetmeats are difficult to make, but they are not. In fact, I knocked out these biscuits in 5 minutes (not including cooking time), and they are great if you've got some egg whites left over. This recipe, very slightly adapted, comes from Nigella Express

2 eggs whites, beaten to soft meringue texture
175g icing sugar
200g ground almonds
30g cocoa powder

Oven 180C. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment or Bake O'Glide.

Add the almonds, icing sugar and cocoa to the beaten egg whites and stir well. You will end up with a rather sticky mixture.

To make the amaretti, dip your hands in a bowl of water and form a ball about the size of a walnut from the mixture. Place on the baking sheet and flatten very slightly. Repeat until you have used up all the mixture. These amaretti do not spread much in cooking. Cook for about 10-15 mins, until the surface is slightly cracked. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Dust with icing sugar for that extra-cheffy look!

Friday, 23 September 2011


Padrón peppers hail from Spain (pimientos de Padrón), which is where I first tried them about 20 years ago while on holiday in the hills of Andalucia, north of Malaga. They were served simply: fried in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. Most are sweet and mild, about every one in twenty is fiery and spicy. They are often served as a tapa. For many years, I could only buy them at Garcia and Sons, a Spanish supermarket down the grotty end of Portobello Road in W11, but recently Waitrose has started to stock them (presumably because they have become fashionable amongst middle-class foodies thanks, doubtless, to some TV food "sleb"). As they are seasonal produce, Waitrose will not always have them, so when they do, I always buy several packets. We often have them as a tapa with chilled white wine (or very cold fino sherry), or as an accompaniment to a Mediterranean or Indian meal. I have also recently come across a recipe for Padrón peppers in tempura batter on the Cook Eat Live Vegetarian blog, and the cafe next door to Garcia's does a tortilla with peppers and chorizo, which I'm going to make later as a light supper dish.

Friday, 2 September 2011


Oxtail with chorizo and Rioja

I saw this dish being prepared in an episode of Rick Stein's recent, excellent tv series on Spain and its cuisine, though I had read the recipe in my copy of Casa Moro: The Second Moro Cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark, and thought I would like to make it. Seeing it being made convinced me it was my kind of dish: slow-cooked, aromatic and hearty.

The dish originated in Cordoba where it was made from the tail of a bull recently killed in the corrida. It is often served in bars near the bullrings all around Spain, and was apparently a favourite dish of writer and bull-fighting fan Ernest Hemingway. Like all good stews, it benefits from being made in advance, if possible. Despite the long list of ingredients and two stages of preparation, it is very easy to make.

I have always liked oxtail and remember eating it fairly regularly as a little girl. It fell out of favour during the 'BSE Years', but has come back into vogue with the popularity of "forgotten cuts". It definitely lends itself to long, slow cooking. Eventually, the bone marrow seeps into the sauce, creating a lovely silky texture. I have a friend who likes to suck the marrow out of the bones if I serve a dish like this, or Osso Bucco. To spare her blushes, she will remain nameless......

Oxtail is available from the butcher's counter at Waitrose or from a proper butcher. I bought mine from Laverstoke Park Farm butcher's shop in Twickenham, a new foodie addition to the area (Twickenham also boasts a good fishmonger), and a very welcome one: the shop sells a fine selection of meat, including buffalo meat from Laverstoke Farm, but also deli items, pies, and the most fantastic ice-cream, made with buffalo milk.

Rabo del Toro - serves 4-6

Stage 1
3 tbsp olive oil
1.5kg oxtail
1 carrot, cut into chunks
1 stick of celery, cut into chunks
1 onion, quartered
5 black peppercorns
4 cloves
2 bay leaves
4 springs of thyme
2 cloves of garlic
1 bottle of Rioja
10 parsley stalks
sea salt & black pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Season the oxtail pieces with salt and pepper and fry until well browned. Remove from the pan and drain off any excess fat. Add the carrot, celery and onion, and fry for about 5 mins until slightly coloured. Then add the aromatics (peppercorns, cloves, bay leaves, garlic, thyme) and cook for about 5 mins. Return the meat to the pan, pour over the Rioja and add the parsley. Cover with water. Bring up to a simmer then cook on a low heat for about 2 hours, or until the meat can be easily pulled away from the bone. Transfer the oxtail to a bowl or suitable container and strain the juices through a sieve over the meat. Set aside or, if making the day before, put in the fridge.

Stage 2
2 tbsps olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 medium carrot, finely diced
12og cooking chorizo, cut into 1cm rounds
2 tbsp plain flour
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1/4 tsp hot paprika, or dried red chilli flakes
1/4 tsp fennel seeds, ground
1-2 tbsp tomato puree

On the day of eating, remove as much fat as possible from the chilled oxtail. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and carrot and cook for about 10 mins until slightly caramelised. Then add the chorizo and fry for 5 more mins. Now stir in the flour and add the paprika, chilli, fennel seeds and tomato puree. Add the oxtail and its stock to the pan and check seasoning. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 mins. Serve with mashed potato, or in true Spanish style, with fried potatoes.

This recipe is from Casa Moro: The Second Cookbook. More on Rick Stein's tv programme and accompanying book here.