The taste of Italy brings winter cheer

Apart from brief glimpses of sunshine with sub-zero temperatures, November has been cold, winter has officially arrived. We need food to sustain and tempt us but comfort food does not have to be heavy and dull. It should contain a range of subtle flavours but plenty of carbohydrates to keep us going.

Seeking inspiration, I visited the Canteen Deli in Rock Street, Brighton. More of a food emporium, it is stocked from floor to ceiling with mouth-watering goodies. I bought some strong white flour to make my focaccia and some beautiful yellow polenta flour. Eaten throughout the Italian Alpine region, polenta is well-suited to cold climates. The only difficulty in cooking it is that you have to stand over the pot stirring continuously. It is well worth the effort because polenta takes on all the flavours added to it, soaking them up like a sponge and giving out in the eating.

Potato gnocchi, delicious little dumplings, have the same quality. The bitter/crisp taste of chicory is a perfect contrast to the doughiness of the main dish and compliments the flavours in the sauce. This is a menu inspired by Italy and adapted to a cold British winter.



Recipe of the Week: Potato and Rosemary Gnocchi + Sweet Pepper Sauce

Potato & Rosemary Gnocchi


1 tbs rosemary, finely chopped

500g starchy potatoes (Duke of York, Romano or King Edward)

100g plain flour

75g fontina cheese or 1 mozzarella, roughly chopped

salt and black pepper



  1. Place the potatoes in a large plan, cover with water and boil in their skins. Sieve the flour onto the work surface and season well.
  2. When the potatoes are done, remove and peel away the skin with fingers or a small pairing knife. Place in a mouli (vegetable mill) and press together over the flour.
  3. Finely chop the sage and sprinkle on top of the potato and flour. Using your hands, knead the ingredients together until a firm dough is formed. Use extra flour if necessary.
  4. Mould small amounts (about a dessert spoonful) into round dumplings. Bring a large pan of water to a boil, lower to a simmer and drop in the dumplings a few at a time.
  5. As they come to the surface, scoop them out with a slotted spoon and drain on some kitchen roll.
  6. Put into the dish of sweet pepper sauce and cover with a little chopped fontina cheese or mozzarella.
  7. Place in the oven until bubbling and cheese has browned and enjoy!


Sweet Pepper Sauce


1 red pepper

1 tbs light olive oil

1 medium onion

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

150g passata

150g chicken stock

handful of basil leaves

salt and black pepper



  1. Roughly chop the peppers and onion, heat a deep frying pan or sauteuse, add the oil and sweat off the peppers and onion until soft.
  2. Add the passata and stock, season well and stir. Put on a lid and cook gently for another 20 mins.
  3. Pour into a food processor or blender and puree. Correct the seasoning, add the basil and give another quick whisk in the blender.
  4. Keep the sauce in a serving dish & add the gnocchi.


Recipe of the Week: Marinated Salmon + Hot Puy Lentils


4 fillets of salmon weighing about 100-125g each

4 tbsp of light soy sauce

1 tsp rice wine vinegar

1 clove garlic, crushed

250g puy lentils

1pt/half a litre of chicken stock

2 tbs light olive oil

1 med onion, finely chopped

2 small red chillies, de-seeded and chopped fine

salt + black pepper

20g dill, roughly chopped



  1. Put the soy sauce, garlic and vinegar in a shallow dish and turn the fillets in the marinade so they are well coated. Cover with a plate and leave in the fridge for a couple of hours.
  2. Wash the lentils well. Saute the onions and chillies in a saucepan with the oil. Add the lentils and stir well, allowing them to absorb the oil, onion and chilli.
  3. Pour in most of the chicken stock. Put the lid on the pan and cook until tender over a low heat, adding more stock if necessary.
  4. When the lentils have become soft and absorbed most of the liquid, season well and remove from the heat but keep warm.
  5. Grill the salmon briefly on both sides, about 2 minutes. Put a spoonful of lentils on each plate and place the salmon on top.
  6. Sprinkle with chopped dill and enjoy!


Unsung winter hero

Squash are one of the most dynamic seasonal vegetables in Britain. Being the holidays, they contribute to a huge range of varieties, colours and sizes and yet we do little more than make pumpkin soup. Despite the fact they are easy to grow, we mostly seem to produce the ubiquitous orange-skinned pumpkin but there are in fact many different types.

Acorn, Banana, Butternut, Calabaza and Kabocha are just a few of the many colourful and exotic types used in cooking. Their marvellous tough shells protect them from perishing too quickly, which means they can be stored for long periods through winter. The slightly sweet, dense flesh can be used in savoury and sweet dishes and its versatility has made the humble squash a staple ingredient in traditional American cooking.

Although the Irish have been credited with introducing pumpkins to America, they were actually already cultivated and used by Native Americans. Long winters required food which could be stored until the snows thawed and pumpkin and squashes were ideal. Consequently they have a long tradition of cooking with pumpkins and have developed an amazing range of recipes.

Pumpkins are part of many American celebrations – Halloween, of course, but also Thanksgiving, representing the first successful harvest of the Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1621. They made a spicy pumpkin custard flavoured with maple syrup, a truly innovative creation which is still popular today.


Butternut Squash Filled with Peanut and Parsnips

2 small butternut squash

1 tbsp light olive oil

400g parsnips

2 tbsp crunchy peanut butter

50g unsalted butter

salt and black pepper

1 medium onion, chopped

half tsp ground cumin

half tsp cayenne pepper

1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

Preheat the oven to 180ºC, 350ºF or gas 4. Wipe and dry the squash and halve length-ways, leaving the stalk in place. I use a rolling pin on the top of the knife to drive it through the tough skin. Scoop out the seeds and fibres and place on a baking tray, sprinkle the insides with with olive oil and roast in the oven for an hour. While the squash are in the oven, peel and roughly chop the parsnip and boil until soft. Drain the parsnip, place a tea towel towel over the pan, secure with a lid and set to one side.

Fry the onions in the olive oil until soft, add the cumin and cayenne and cook for another minute. Mash the parsnips with butter, salt and black pepper. Stir in the peanut butter and onion mixture. When the squash are cooked, remove as much of the flesh as possible without damaging the skin. Mix the pulp into the mashed parsnips and stir well. Adjust seasoning and add the fresh coriander. Pile the stuffing back into the shells and return the oven for another 10-15 minutes to warm through. Serve hot.


Happy Holidays!

How to crack boiling an egg

When Delia Smith, the headmistress of British cooking dared to tell us how to boil an egg, we all felt rather insulted, not unlike Nigella Lawson returning to British television screens in November 2015 with a new series called Simply Nigella starring Lawson’s infamous ‘Avocado Toast’ in the first episode.

Fellow celebrity chef Gary Rhodes took the opportunity to defend Britain’s household cooks by presuming even the most incompetent knows how to boil an egg. It must have been a long time since Gary had honed such rudimentary skills and in no doubt his battery of chefs were similarly skilled but it has to be admitted there is nothing worse than ordering a Salad Nicoise and finding a rubbery egg with a black ringed yolk balanced in the greenery.

Delia had obviously ordered something similar to inspire the need to teach us about how to boil an egg. Albeit about as boring as washing your dishes dry, I have to admit she made some pretty interesting points on the topic. Back in the fifties, when we were less prickly about being told what to do, Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume, the founders of that venerable institution the Cordon Bleu School, showed no embarrassment telling us exactly how to cook eggs.

For example:

  • Did you know that eggs taken from the fridge to boil are likely to crack? They should be left out to warm up before immersing in boiling water.
  • If you tap the rounded end of the egg at the completion of cooking, this will prevent it from continuing to cook or going hard.
  • Hard-boiled eggs should be boiled for ten minutes and then plunged into cold water.


Boiled Egg and Asparagus

Allow 1 duck egg and a half a dozen asparagus tips per person

Ground salt and pepper

2 slices of buttered, wholemeal toast

Thoroughly wash the tips to remove every bit of grit and leave to drain. Tie the bundle together lightly and stand in a pan deep enough to allow for this. This is easier if you use an asparagus basket but you can improvise by standing them in a Pyrex jug, for example, inside the pan. The stalks should be one-third immersed in simmering water and the heads will cook in the steam, seal the lid on the pan. They will need about three minutes depending on the thickness of asparagus tips.

Boil a pan of water big enough to take the number of eggs required. When the water is boiling, remove from the heat, lay the eggs in the bottom of the pan and return to the heat. Bring slowly back to the boil. Allow four-and-a-half minutes for a lightly-boiled egg and longer for a firmer egg. I cook a duck egg for about five minutes to ensure the white has set. Serve with some hot buttery toast and warm asparagus for dipping.


Crème Brûlée

4 egg yolks

1 tbsp caster sugar

1 pt (600ml) double cream

1 vanilla pod

extra caster sugar for caramel top

Now for something sweet. This simple but delicious pudding was a specialty of Trinity College, Cambridge. Mix the yolks well with the sugar. Scrape the black seeds out of the vanilla pod using a knife and add these to the pan of cream. Bring the cream to scalding point, just below a simmer. Pour on to the yolks and stir well, return to the pan and thicken over a low heat. Be very careful not to allow the custard to boil or, indeed, move.

Pour into four individual ramekins or suitable bowls. At this stage, they can be left in the fridge, even overnight, until needed. Heat the grill, dust the surface with sugar and melt under the grill until the sugar has gone light brown. Cool before serving.




Last of the Sun Food

Aubergines are still in season, which means they are cheap to buy and at their best. When buying aubergines you should look for an unblemished skin and a bright green calyx (the stalk), this will ensure flavour and freshness. Aubergines have often mistakenly been considered bland or even bitter but this would have been the result of incorrect preparation. Nowadays, the newer varieties of aubergines don’t need salting to draw out the bitter juices. However, there is a definite advantage in doing so because pre-salted aubergines will absorb less oil during cooking, giving a less greasy finished dish. This just requires sprinkling a little salt evenly all over the sliced aubergine and leaving it for about ten to 20 minutes to allow the juices to come to the surface. Don’t rinse, just wipe with absorbent kitchen roll.

To extract the best flavours from the aubergines, they should be fried, grilled or roasted with a little olive oil. Fennel also remains in season until the end of October. With its subtle liquorice flavour, fennel makes a perfect accompaniment to fish. It is grown here in Britain now but the best fennel, I have to admit, comes from France and Italy. All the parts of the fennel plant can be eaten – the bulb, the leaves and the seeds from the flowers. Its culinary desirability is matched by its health benefits – fennel is a strong antioxidant with high levels of vitamin C. This menu is inspired by Italian food but given a British slant. All recipes serve 4.


Pasta-Filled Aubergine

4 small aubergines

3 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

400g tin tomatoes

4 large spoonfuls of cooked pasta

150g mozzarella

large handful fresh basil

large handful curly parsley

salt and black pepper

If you want to find a way to use up yesterday’s  pasta, this is your answer. I like to use a short pasta for this recipe, such as maccheroncini, tubetti or gnocchetti sardi. Preheat the oven 200C, 400F or Gas 6. Bake the aubergines whole for 20-30 minutes or until they are completely tender all the way through. While they are cooking, fry the onion in the oil until soft and then add the garlic, tomatoes and seasoning. Cook the sauce for about 20 minutes. When the aubergines are ready, slit them two thirds of the way round, leaving the stalk in place. Scoop out the flesh on to a plate and roughly mash with a fork. Tip into the pan with the sauce and stir well. Add the cooked pasta, roughly diced mozzarella and the herbs. Adjust the seasoning and then fill the aubergine shells with the pasta mixture. Serve straight away.


Baked Fennel

3 bulbs of fennel

50g unsalted butter

1 clove garlic

2 tbsp freshly-grated Parmesan

salt and black pepper

pinch of nutmeg

Preheat the oven 240C, 475F or Gas 9. Cut each head of fennel in half through the length of the bulb. Remove any tough or damaged outer leaves and cut out the core. Trim the leaves and stalks of the bulb and put into a saucepan with enough water to just cover the fennel. Salt the water and simmer gently until the bulbs begin to soften but retain an al dente texture. Carefully drain the water from the pan and place each half in a shallow, ovenproof dish. Season well with the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Melt the butter and distribute evenly over the fennel. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes.


Sustainable Eats

Fish Galore Ltd is a wholesale fish and seafood supplier based in Central Hove. They are committed to environmental factors and are discerning about the provenance of everything they sell. I was happy to find a source with integrity  for locally caught fresh fish and seafood, which is then expertly prepared by their team. It seems that it is “dealing” with fish which puts so many people off cooking it at home. A good fish monger will do all the cleaning, gutting, de-scaling and filleting for you.

The most important thing to remember when cooking fish is that the flesh is delicate. Too much cooking will ruin the fish, giving it a chewy texture. You should be looking for a slight rawness next to the bone as it is removed from the heat. Fish continues cooking while it is being served, ensuring the meat remains tender when it reaches the table. These next recipes are quick and easy to prepare and taste delicious! For a perfectly paired wine for both dishes, try the Slovenian Krizno Sauvignon Blanc.


Salmon with a Dill and Lemon Crust

4 Salmon fillets, each weighing 100g-150g

25g dill, roughly chopped

zest of 1 lemon

large clove of garlic, crushed

6 tbsp olive oil

Mix all ingredients together to form a paste. Spread the herb paste evenly over the surface of each fillet. Leave to marinate for at least two hours. Heat the grill and place the fillets on a metal tray. Place under the grill for about 4-5 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of each fillet. The dill crust should be slightly browned and the flesh soft and tender


Marinated Tuna Steaks

4 tuna steaks, each weighing 150g

8 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil

1 tbsp sesame oil

6 tbsp light soy sauce

2cm chunk of fresh ginger, either grated or finely chopped

handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped

Mix all the marinade ingredients together in a shallow oven dish. Place the steaks in the marinade , turning well to ensure they get a good covering. Put some foil over the dish and leave overnight or for a minimum of four hours. Heat up a ridged grill pan until good and hot (if you don’t have one, use the grill instead). Remove the steaks with a slotted spoon and grill in the pan for 2-3 mins on each side. Serve immediately.




Delicious scents of baking for tea

There is nothing more satisfying than spending an afternoon baking in the kitchen, unless the weather is gorgeous! The house is filled with the comforting smell of freshly – baked cakes and, as a throwback to days gone by, it’s so civilised to invite friends round for afternoon tea. Why not create an occasion, what would be nicer than to invite a few friends round over the weekend and spoil them with your baking?

This simple cake always adds grace and taste to the tea table. However, take note: The strawberry jam has to be absolutely first class. If you don’t have any homemade jam from last summer, try Duchy Originals Organic or the Co-op’s own brand. Don’t skimp on the cream either. I use Coombe Farm double cream because of its richness and colour. Lastly, use good quality unsalted butter and free-range eggs.


Strawberry Victoria Sponge

100g self-raising flour

100g caster sugar

100g unsalted butter

2 eggs

1 tsp of vanilla essence

half a jar of strawberry jam

half a pint (300ml) double cream

Turn the oven on to 190ºC/375ºF/gas 5. Grease and line two 20cm sandwich cake tins. Cream the sugar and butter until pale. In a large mixing bowl, add the eggs one at a time with a spoonful of sieved flour and beat well. Sieve the remainder of the flour into the mixture and add the vanilla essence, folding in carefully. Divide the mixture between the two tins and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes. To test the cakes are ready, lightly press the surface with your finger tips. It should spring back and be evenly browned. Turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack. Beat the cream with a little extra sugar if desired. When the cakes are cool, sandwich together with the jam and cream and dust with icing sugar. Serve with a cup of Earl Grey tea, or a glass of fizz if you fancy!



Caribbean Kitchen

I’ve visited the Caribbean before but had never been as far south as Tobago, one of the smaller and, as yet, less spoilt islands. It reminded me of my travels in West Africa, where the people adjust their pace according to the heat of the day. Small roadside shops pile their produce high on the dusty road: Great piles of green oranges, limes, papayas, yellow and black ackees, avocados, huge yams and fleshy pumpkins. At midday, the local people sit under the shade and hold animated conversations, talking in patois at such a speed that it’s impossible to understand. However, when I expressed an interest in proper Caribbean food rather than the European-style food we were getting at the hotel, I was welcomed into the conversation with great enthusiasm. They loved the sound of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, while I wanted to know how to cook Sancoche, cornmeal dumplings and pepper pot.

I watched these dishes being made at Sunday School, a regular party or ‘Jump Up’, held each Sunday evening. The food and the music seemed to be inseparable. It was all cooked outside on calor gas cookers and washed down with a bottle of Carib, the local beer, while our feet were kept moving to the sounds of a steel band on one side and reggae on the other. This is the heart of Caribbean food – a lot of love goes into it but very little ceremony. Food, music, and sunshine combined and left me wanting to reproduce the memories here at home. These recipes have been chosen to welcome in the summer and make use of the new season’s foods which are now coming into the shops.



1 kg raw prawns, peeled and deveined

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp brown mustard seeds

1 tsp whole black peppercorns

1 tsp crushed hot red chillies

2 bay leaves

3 tbsp vegetable oil

75g unsalted better, melted

2 large onions, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped

4 med tomatoes, peeled and chopped

2 tbsp lime juice

1 tbsp lime pickle, chopped salt

Using a pestle and mortar, crush the coriander, cumin, and mustard seeds with the peppercorns, chillies and bay leaves. Saute the onions in the oil until golden brown, add the garlic, ginger and spices and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, lime juice and lime pickle. Season well, cover the pan and cook for 30 minutes on a very low heat. You may need to add some stock to the pan of the mixture becomes too dry. Add the prawns and cook for a further 3 minutes. Serve with boiled rice, mango chutney and roti (recipe below).



Rotis are Indian in origin, they are simply a small round flat bread which is eaten with a savoury filling, in this case folded in half and filled with the prawn curry.

225g plain flour

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

milk or water to mix

ghee or vegetable oil

Sift all the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Add sufficient milk to mix into a firm dough. Knead the dough well, then divide into four. Roll each one into a 16cm circle and brush with the ghee or oil. Cover and leave to relax for 20 minutes. Re-form into four balls and repeat the process. Heat a flat griddle pan, brush with oil and place each circle on the hot surface for a minute on each side, brush again with the ghee. As they are removed from the pan, pat them in hands until they become pliable and keep warm in a clean cloth.





The Perfect Pesto

The pine nut looks beautiful when toasted and scattered over salads, giving off a buttery & mildly resinous taste which is very appealing. Like the almond, these small, tear-shaped seeds are now cultivated around the world. Pine nuts are the seeds found in pine cones of the Pinaceae family of trees and are widely used in Mediterranean cooking, most notably in Italy. Italy began to cultivate pine forests during Roman times by order of the Pope. Pine nuts were used to make wine, preserved in honey and made into sausages. Evidence of their use was also found in the excavations of Pompei. Their use today continues to be as widespread and popular and there is never any difficulty in sourcing recipes. This is good news for people with high cholesterol or diabetes and also for children who need food packed with energy. One of my favourite things to make is pesto, usually homemade pesto is made according to personal taste. It’s not always wise to be too precise with the proportions of each ingredient – some people prefer more oil for a slacker result, others may like more garlic. Therefore, use this recipe as a platform for creating your own personalised pesto sauce!


Pesto Recipe

75g basil leaves (a large handful)

2 cloves garlic

50g pine nuts

150ml of the best olive oil you can afford

Put into a food processor bowl and grind on high for about one minute until smooth paste develops. You may like to leave a few lumps for a more rustic-style pesto.