Pitta Bread

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Nigella seed pitta bread

As a society we are getting better at buying, eating and appreciating proper bread. In the UK, the seemingly unquenchable lust for sourdough and various campaigns such as the Real Bread Campaign have highlighted what proper bread should be made of; simply flour, water, yeast and salt. It should not contain e-numbers, vegetable fat or dextrose to make it last for weeks. Many of those who love their food, love proper bread.

What I think is strange is that while many people have embraced traditional and well-made bread, many other bread products are not given the same treatment. Of course, it’s fairly easy to find beautiful artisan focaccia, muffins and baguettes in delis, farmers markets and bakeries, but one item that it is almost impossible to find freshly made is pitta bread. Pitta is probably one of the most bastardised bread products you can buy in the supermarket and even smart delis nearly always only stock pre-made packets. Some are much better than others, such as Dina. The reason for this is probably because the only addition ingredient to these pittas to the list above is a preservative called calcium propionate.

If you think about it too much, as I tend to do about these kind of things, it seems a hard thing to make (how do you get that pocket?) and it’s so easy to sling a packet in your trolley. However, if you have never tasted pitta bread straight from the oven you will never believe how pillowy light, fluffy and utterly delicious it is. It is so completely different from the tough breads in a packet. The other things are that they are so quick to make and freeze brilliantly, so you can make a big batch and then have them whenever you need them. Which will be often.

I was a pitta-making virgin a couple of years ago, but after thinking about how much pitta we eat in my house-with everything from houmous to kofte to pretty much every recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi, I thought I would give it a go. I know this is a very bold statement, but I promise that if you start making these regularly, you will never buy a packet of supermarket pitta bread again.

This recipe is adapted from the quite miraculous book by husband-and-wife team Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer who run several London restaurants, including the fabulous Honey & Co. In their recipe they state that all you need is ‘faith in heat and air’. It sounds annoyingly simple, but it really is as basic as that. I omit the sugar and the olive oil from their original recipe; at first on the basis it was healthier and then later as it didn’t seem to make any different to the end product. The only thing I would recommend is making the effort to seek out fresh yeast (many supermarkets stock it at their bakery counters if you just ask). I have made this recipe with fresh and dried yeast and fresh wins every time. If you are using dried yeast, you do need the sugar to activate it, but otherwise I would leave it out.

Making this recipe is so exciting-even after all the times I have made these, I still get a thrill looking through the oven door to see them inflate as they cook. It’s like some tiny being is magically blowing into them like a balloon.

The other wonderful thing about this recipe is that it is really adaptable; you can add so many things to it to customise the bread. At the moment, I like adding a heaped tablespoon of nigella seeds in with the flour, but you can add black onion, cumin or mustard seeds to the mix, dried chilli flakes and dried thyme also works well, or leave them plain. Any way you choose to make them, they are a little piece of fluffy heaven.

Pitta Bread

makes about 10

Ingredients

500g strong bread flour

1 1/2 tsp salt

20g fresh yeast or 2tsp of dried yeast

1tsp sugar (if using dried yeast)

300ml of water at room temperature.

1 heaped tbs of nigella, cumin, onion or mustard seeds, or whatever else you fancy (optional)

Method

1. Place the flour in a large bowl along with the salt and seeds if you are using.

2. Dissolve the yeast into the water and add the sugar if you are using dried yeast.

3. Add the yeasty water to the flour mixture. Mix on a medium speed with a bread hook for about 8 minutes if you have a machine. Otherwise, bring the mixture together and knead it until it is smooth. You may need to add a little more water dependent on the flour you are using.

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4. Cover the bowl with cling film or shower cap and leave to rest in a warm place for about an hour. The dough will double in size and look puffy on the surface.

5. Scoop the dough out of the bowl and place on a floured surface. Separate the dough into even pieces weighing about 80g each.

6. Roll each piece of dough into a ball shape against the worktop until it feels tight. Now cover the balls with a  clean tea towel and leave to rest for another 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to the highest setting it will go to. Put a heavy baking sheet on the top shelf.

7. Roll out two balls so they are about 1 cm thick. I like to roll them into a slipper shape, but you can make them round if you prefer.

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8. Place on a well floured pizza peel or a chopping board and slide onto the preheated baking tray. The pittas will quickly inflate-it only takes a moment. Once they are fully inflated, take them out of the oven and place inside a clean tea towel to keep warm.

9. Continue until all the pittas are cooked. Enjoy immediately, or wait until cooled before freezing.

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Wild Garlic Pesto

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Wild Garlic Pesto

I am a garlic fiend; I love it in abundant quantities whenever possible. I am currently attempting a homegrown batch that I planted back in November. I must confess that it’s my third attempt; the other two have ended with promising plants being pulled up to reveal bulbs so tiny they were more suitable for a doll’s house kitchen rather than my own. Fortunately, I have a great market nearby that has a stall with beautiful, papery and fat French bulbs nearly as big as my fist, so that crisis has been averted.

Several years ago I stayed at a hotel near Bath and kept smelling garlic when I went near one side of the car park. I eventually followed my nose to find huge amounts of wild garlic growing under some tress. The smell was intoxicating; just as though someone was frying garlic in the open air. I picked as much as I could and drove home with the garlicky scent permeating the air inside the car.

Since then, I have searched in vain for more wild garlic (also known as ramsons); my enquiries online have gone unanswered. Yes I can find it, at great expense, online or in some markets, but the thrill of foraging for it myself has eluded me until now. I had been considering going back to that hotel car park, but last weekend I went to north Cornwall and every verge seemed to be covered in the stuff! It’s pretty easy to recognise; the smell will tell you what you need to know and the beautiful tiny white flowers are quite unique. Well, I filled two carrier bags with the glorious, glossy green leaves and drove back home feeling very smug.

There is a code for foraging, which basically means being considerate when you forage; leave enough for other foragers, animals and for the land itself. To be fair, I could have filled the back of a bus and still left plenty, so two carrier bags felt like a meagre amount to take.

 

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Wild garlic growing in Cornwall

The taste is surprisingly strong, but has a freshness that you don’t get with dried garlic bulbs. Pick leaves that are glossy and firm, taking them from the bottom of the plant if you can. If you are lucky enough to find it, make sure you take some of the flowers, as they are pretty delicious, as well as looking beautiful as decoration.

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Wild garlic flowers

This pesto works like a traditional basil one and can be paired brilliantly with pasta or gnocchi. Don’t let this narrow suggestion stop you though; it is amazing with white fish, grilled chicken and drizzled over mozzarella and anything with tomatoes. Go wild!

Wild Garlic Pesto

Makes a large jar.

Ingredients

  • 100g wild garlic
  • 50g Parmesan, grated
  • 50g pine nuts, toasted
  • Extra Virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • Salt & pepper

 

Method

  1. Wash the wild garlic very thoroughly in several changes of water.

 

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Washed wild garlic

2. Dry in a salad spinner or with a clean tea towel.

3. Put in a food processor, blitz until fairly well broken up.

4. Next add your Parmesan and garlic and process further; this will help to break down the garlic leaves.

5. Finally add the pine nuts and put in a good glue of olive oil. Blitz and check consistency. Add more olive oil and keep processing until the consistency is how you want it.

6. Add salt and pepper to taste.

You can always make this in a pestle and mortar, but it is a labour of love.

Pop in a sterilised jar, cover with a layer of oil and it will keep for a week or so in the fridge. You can also freeze it; do this in ice cubes trays and you will have a supply of perfect portions of wild garlic pesto until the depths of winter.

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Wild Garlic Pesto

French Onion Soup

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French Onion Soup

Where would cooking be without onions? I find it comforting a reassuring how many recipes start with the instruction to chop up and onion or two. They impart a flavour that is almost impossible to replicate, giving depth and savoury substance to so many dishes.

I find it so hard to believe when anyone says they do not like onions at all. Personally, I really don’t like them raw, garnishing salads, as they are acrid and leave such a lingering aftertaste. Softening onions is not the same as caramelising them; you may have a recipe that does not require any colouring of the onions. this recipe is not one of these. I believe that in soups, curries and stews, slow cooking onions is the way to go, gradually releasing their natural sugars, making them soft, sweet and oozing with so much flavour.

French onion soup is probably the most brilliant way to showcase the simple onion. There are very few other ingredients except onions, so the deeply savoury and satisfying flavour is all down to them. Add some crunchy croutons topped with oozing, melted cheese and you have the best winter warmer in the world.

Softening onions is not the same as caramelising them; you may have a recipe that does not require any colouring of the onions. This recipe is not one of these. This soup relies on time and not a small amount of patience to give the onions a chance to slowly soften, change colour and develop into a tangle of rich, dark and sweet loveliness. You may also think that 1kg of onions is an awful lot of onions for just four servings, but the slow cooking takes a lot of volume out of the onions through water loss as they cook and this amount is perfect.

I use two large pans to make this soup, which seems an unnecessary hassle, but it helps reduce the steam which will stop the onions from caramelising. If you use one pan, this will take far longer. Also, do not worry if the pan starts to turn brown at the bottom (as long as it doesn’t run black!) as this will all add to the flavour of the soup when you deglaze the pans and add the stock. Cooking on a low to medium heat is the key, as there is a big difference between caramelised onions and burnt ones.

French Onion Soup

serves four

Ingredients

1kg onions, finely sliced

4 cloves garlic, crushed

4 tbs rapeseed oil

150ml dry white wine

2 tbs Cognac (optional)

1.5 litres of good beef stock

salt and pepper to taste

1 baguette, sliced

100g grated Gruyere or strong Cheddar cheese

Method

1. Heat 2tbs of rapeseed oil in two separate saucepans, over a medium heat and add the onions. Cook slowly, stirring occasionally until they turn a deep golden brown. This could take up to 30 minutes, so be patient.

2. When the onions are dark brown and sticky, add the white wine to deglaze the pans.

3. Put all the onions into one pan. Add the garlic and cook for another 5 minutes.

4. Add the beef stock and leave on a low heat for about 30 mins. Add the Cognac if using.

5. When you are ready to serve, toast the baguette slices (2-3 per bowl)

6. Serve the soup into four bowls, add the croutons and top them with the cheese, Toast under the grill and serve immediately.

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Raspberry Mille Feuille

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Raspberry Mille Feuille

October may bring the chilly autumnal winds which make you want to settle down to steaming soup and various forms of melted cheese, but I also always think of it as the last chance for amazing Scottish raspberries. Raspberries from Scotland are some of the best in the world and varieties such as Autumn Bliss thrive in the chillier climate, making for a more fragrant and juicy berry.

Raspberries are an amazing berry; there is no comparison when it comes to the soft and yielding texture combined with the perfumed sweetness as they burst in your mouth. They always seem a bit more special than strawberries and so deserve some extra effort.

Mille feuille is part of the repertoire of highly classical french patisserie; the name itself comes from the puff pastry; ‘mille’ meaning a thousand and ‘feuille’ meaning layers. If you want to be less fancy, you can call it a custard slice, but I think this loses the romanticism of the name somewhat. The traditional delicate layers of buttery puff pastry and the richly vanilla-scented crème pâtissière are perfect with raspberries.

There is no getting away from the fact that patisserie can be very fiddly; there is a reason why pastry chefs specialise in this very thing for years before they perfect certain techniques. However, despite the fact that this is patisserie and looks very impressive, this recipe is very straightforward; it is just a matter of following the steps and taking your time.

Using shop bought, all-butter puff pastry saves hours of time and effort. Crème pâtissière is simply custard thickened with flour so it holds its form. Making your own ‘creme pat’ does induce feelings of great smugness, not to mention that it tastes amazing, but if you are in a rush or are nervous about custard, you can also skip this and simply use 300ml of double cream, whipped until it becomes firm, with the seeds of a vanilla pod and 2 tbs of icing sugar.

Raspberry Mille Feuille

makes 4

Ingredients

300g raspberries

For the crème pâtissière

300ml whole milk

1 vanilla pod

 3 egg yolks

4 tbsp caster sugar

2 tbsp plain flour

2 tbsp cornflour.

For the pastry

1 packet of all butter puff pastry

2 tbs icing sugar

Method

  1. Start with your pastry. Roll out a sheet to the thickness of fifty pence piece. Place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, top with another layer of greaseproof paper and pop another baking sheet on top. Then weigh down the top baking sheet with something heavy, like a ceramic or glass baking dish. Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
  2. Bake in an oven preheated to 180C for about 25 minutes.
  3. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly with the baking tray on top. 

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    Baked puff pastry sheet

  4. Remove the baking dish and top baking sheet. While the pastry is still warm, cut the sheet in half across the middle and then downwards into twelve rectangles-6 at the top and 6 at the bottom. Trim the edges so they are neat and the same size.

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    puff pastry rectangles

  5. Sprinkle the rectangles with icing sugar so they are completely covered and caramelise the sugar lightly using a blow torch. You can use a hot grill but you need to be very careful that they do not catch.

  6.  Now make the crème pâtissière, put 300ml whole milk and 1 vanilla pod, halved lengthways, in a pan and heat to just below boiling point.
  7. In a bowl, whisk together 3 egg yolks, 4 tbsp caster sugar, 2 tbsp plain flour and 2 tbsp cornflour.IMG_6157
  8. Pour the hot milk over the egg mixture, mixing with a wooden spoon continuously. Return the mixture to the pan and set over a medium heat, mixing all the time, until it has a thick custard consistency. The custard is ready when it coats the back of the spoon and when you draw your finger across, the line remains.

  9. Transfer to a bowl, cover the surface directly with cling film, leave to cool, then chill for at least 1 hr (can be made 2 days ahead).IMG_6164
  10. Transfer to a piping bag and snip the corner off it, or fit a plain nozzle. Chill until ready to use.IMG_6192
  11. When you are ready to assemble, squeeze a small dot of crème pâtissière on a plate and put a pastry rectangle on top to stop it moving around. Squeeze twelve large dots of crème pâtissière on top of the rectangle, then place a raspberry on top of each dot. Repeat.
  12. Place one rectangle on top of the other and then top with one more pastry rectangle. Serve immediately.IMG_6332

 

 

Antonio Carluccio’s Penne Giardiniera

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Penne Giardiniera

Even the most unadventurous cooks will have an Italian cookbook somewhere in the house. For all the hype and fashion around Korean or Israeli food, Italian cuisine remains what a huge amount of us want to cook and eat. The number of books I have on Italian cooking far outweigh any other country. I use a lot of these books frequently, but what is interesting is how few of them have real heart in the writing; despite glossy photos and beautiful typefaces, many will sit for months before I re-open them, as they just do not grab me.

There are, of course, a number of exceptions. The fabulous Anna Del Conte, a giant in the history of Italian cooking and Giorgio Locatelli, the incredible chef, both write with passion, authority and an incredible depth of knowledge. Another chef and writer who writes with this intrinsic authority is Antonio Carluccio. If Anna Del Conte is the Godmother of Italian cooking, then Antonio Carluccio must certainly be a contender for the Godfather. His numerous books all have one thing in common; passion. He has such a deep love for the food of his country, despite living in England since 1975, that it radiates through the page. You cannot help but be drawn in by his words; they are sp evocative that you cannot help but be enthralled. It also helps that his recipes are wonderful. I don’t know about you, but I have a small list of food writers and chefs who I know that when I try one of their recipes it will just work. This list really is small, but Antonio Carluccio is one of the people on that list.

In 1999, he opened the first ‘Carluccio’s Caffe’, an Italian restaurant with an authentic food shop combined. It has now grown to over 80 branches throughout the UK. Carluccio himself left the company and has now rejoined as a consultant. During the early 2000’s, the concept was fresh, innovative and the food was very good. Today they are ubiquitous on the high street and the quality of the restaurant food can be very hit and miss. The deli-sections remain a welcome source of excellent new season olive oil and delicious antipasti, but I have to admit; it is a long time since I sat down to eat inside a branch.

This should not detract from the excellence of some of the original recipes. This one for Penne Giardiniera was thrown together by Carluccio in the early days of the restaurant, when the chef was looking for a vegetarian pasta dish. It combines crispy fried spinach balls with a creamy courgette pasta sauce, spiked with flecks of chilli. It is rich, tasty and utterly satisfying and highlights the genius of the man who created it.

Antonio Carluccio’s Penne Giardiniera

serves 4

Ingredients

For the spinach balls

75g breadcrumbs – dry

1 egg

½ garlic clove very finely chopped

35g finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano

black pepper and salt to taste

Nutmeg – a very small pinch

260g spinach-an average bag from the supermarket-cooked

Olive oil for shallow frying

For the pasta

80g butter

1 medium sized red chilli- finely chopped

2 medium courgettes-finely grated

3 garlic cloves-finely chopped

175g freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

500g dried penne

Method:

1. Make the spinach balls. Cook the spinach in the microwave by piercing the bag and microwaving at full power for 2 and a half minutes. Let cool a little, then squeeze out all the water.

2. Chop the spinach coarsely.

3. In a bowl, place the chopped spinach, garlic, eggs, nutmeg and mix well, add in the Parmesan then half the breadcrumbs; season with salt and pepper.

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Fry in hot olive oil until golden.

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4. Cook the pasta to al dente in salted water for one minute less than the packet advises. Retain a few tablespoons of the cooking water before you drain it.

5. While the pasta is cooking, mix the grated courgette, chopped chilli and garlic.

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6. Heat the butter and add the grated courgettes. Pan fry for about a minute or two. Add the cooked pasta into the pan and toss with the grated cheese. Add a little of the cooking water to get an unctuous, creamy-looking sauce.

7. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in a pasta bowl with spinach balls sprinkled over the top. Add extra parmesan if you wish.

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Spiced Plum Compote

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Spiced Plum Compote

It’s cold, it’s dark and just a bit miserable. No-one likes January. Every magazine and newspaper I see at the moment shouts about New Year diets, clean eating and losing weight. The media seems to think this is what everyone wants at this time of year, whereas the reality is that when it’s dark and damp, you crave nourishment and comfort from your food, not guilt and denial.

I have written before about how I am uncomfortable with the phrase ‘clean eating’. It implies that some food is clean and some is dirty and is therefore consumption of certain foods should make you feel shameful and guilty. This is just not true; the reality is that lots of foods are very good for us and lots are not. Most sensible people know the difference.

However, if you have overeaten during the festive season you will know it. Your jeans may be tighter, your skin a little pallid and you may feel the need to eat a little less fatty, processed food and a little more fresh and natural produce.

With that in mind, I loaded my bag with even more fruit and vegetables than usual at the market the other day. Unfortunately, I broke one of my cardinal rules and bought some plums, knowing full well that they are not in season. I would never buy soft fruits such as strawberries or raspberries at this time of year, but I was seduced by the plums’ majestic appearance with their cloudy, rich purple skin and they actually smelt vaguely sweet and perfumed. It also helped that they were only £1.50 for 1 kg!

As I should have suspected, they were flavourless, dry and joyless. In fact, verging on inedible. I truly hate to waste anything edible if possible and I know that the only way to extract any kind of flavour from underripe or flavourless fruit is to cook them.

By adding warming spices and subtle sweetness, you can coax out an incredible amount of flavour from the most unpromising of fruit. This recipe works very well with other stone fruit such as nectarines and cherries, but there is something hypnotic about the scent and colour of this compote once it is cooked.

As with any fruit, plums are full of goodness and vitamins. They are a good source of potassium, fibre and vitamins A and C. They are rich in antioxidants and also contain the amino acid tryptophan which is used by the body to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is the hormone that makes you feel good. The combination with the wonderfully fragrant vanilla and the spicy undertones of the cinnamon make it taste like a deeply rich and delicious treat.

This compote is fabulous on its own, but it’s subtly spiced sweetness is beautiful with plain yoghurt, porridge and rice pudding. It is also luscious warmed up and poured lavishly over good vanilla ice cream.

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Spiced Plum Compote

Ingredients

1kg plums, stones removed and quartered

250ml water

75g runny honey-5 tbs

1 vanilla pod, split and seeds removed

3 slices orange

1 cinnamon stick

Method

1) Stone and slice the plums into quarters

2) Put all the other ingredients in a pan and heat gently until the honey dissolves

3) Put the plums into the syrup and simmer gently for 20 minutes, until the syrup has thickened and the plums have given up their juices

4) This will keep for a week in the fridge in an airtight container

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Plums before cooking

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Plums during cooking

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Cooked plums

Chicken Liver Parfait

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Chicken Liver Parfait

There’s very little I don’t like to eat. I genuinely love food in all forms. However, I really do not like okra and I would rather starve than eat goat’s cheese in any form, but apart from that I will eat with impunity. I based this blog around recipes I know very well, have cooked many times and I love to eat. With that in mind, it might surprise you to know that, even though I am featuring it as a recipe, I am not a huge fan of chicken liver parfait. I will taste it gladly if offered, but I would never order it from a menu. I do love a taster of the rich, gamey silkiness, but it is too rich for me to eat a whole serving. Yes, I did write that.

The reason I am including this recipe is that I do believe there are staples which it makes sense to know very well, because even if you are not a massive fan of it, you can guarantee someone else will be. In addition to this, parfait is a fantastic starter to make if you want to be super-organised and efficient. It is very quick to make and very cheap, but the best thing is that it can be left for up to week in the fridge and only needs to come out 20 minutes before you want it to take the chill off it. I serve it with toasted sourdough and cocktail gherkins; simplicity itself. Around Christmas time in particular, you will be weeping tears of gratitude you chose to make this.

I happen to make chicken liver parfait quite a lot, mostly as an alternative to any fish starters that I make for my fish-hating other half when we have people over for dinner. What I have noticed is that not only does he love it, but nearly every time my guests notice that there is an alternative to the fish starter I have lovingly prepared, I will be asked if there are any more portions available instead. You see, someone always loves chicken liver parfait. There always are surplus ramekins of it around, as it’s impossible to make less than six at a time.

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The dish is rich and elegant with a silky smooth texture that so many people love. Chicken livers should not be feared-they are very easy to cook, the only tip is not to overcook them, as they will taste grainy in the end product. A few minutes on each side, so they are still slightly pink in the middle is about right.

This recipe is for a parfait (French for perfect), rather than a paté as I undertake the rather arduous task of sieving the pureed mixture before potting it to get it super smooth and silky. It is not difficult, just time-consuming. If you really can’t be bothered with this step, it’s not compulsory, but it does make a big difference to the end texture.

Chicken Liver Parfait

Serves 6

Ingredients

400g free range chicken livers

2 sprigs thyme

300g very soft butter

100ml madeira (you can use port, marsala, even dry sherry at a push)

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 shallots, finely diced

6 small bay leaves (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

Method

1. Fry the garlic and shallots gently in a large frying pan with a little butter until they soften, but not colour. Scrape into a bowl and set aside.

2. Add a little more butter, heat until foaming and add the chicken livers and the thyme. Fry on all sides for a few minutes.

3. Add the madeira and bubble for a few minutes. Check the livers are still a little pink in the middle.

4. Remove the thyme stalks from the livers.

5. Tip the cooked onions and garlic and the chicken livers into a food processor and blitz for a few seconds.

6. Add 200g of the very soft butter and process until no lumps can be seen.

7. Taste and season.

8. Push the mixture through a fine sieve. Taste again and divide into 6 ramekins. Do not fill up to the top, as you need to cover them with clarified butter.

9. Melt the remaining 100g butter in a pan, allowing the milky whey to sink to the bottom.

10. Pour the clear yellow part of the melted butter onto the top of the parfait so it is covered.

11. Allow the butter to set slightly and press a single bay leaf onto the top of each covered ramekin.

12. Chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours, removing 20 minutes before you want to serve.

13. Serve with piles of hot toast and pickles.

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True Tabbouleh

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Tabbouleh

The nights are drawing in and there is a definite chill in the air. There is no doubt that Autumn is here and seasonal produce is changing. But while there is still a hint of the sun’s rays in the sky, I will cling to the tiny amount of residual warmth and still crave a little freshness and clarity in my food before months of comforting stews and warming soups take over the kitchen.

Tabbouleh is one such dish; a beautifully light and fresh salad with a zingy dressing that you can either eat on its own for a simple lunch, or as part of a mezze with things such as hummus and mujadara.

Tabbouleh is probably one of the most mistreated recipes in Lebanese cooking. If you buy what is called tabbouleh in a pot from a supermarket, it will taste nothing like the real thing for various reasons. The main one being that most shop-bought versions in this country are a take on bulghar wheat salad with a few herbs. This is not true tabbouleh, which is actually a herb salad with a little bulghar wheat added. As such, it is not a salad you can box up and keep in the fridge for long, as the herbs wilt in the dressing very quickly. The whole point of tabbouleh is the fresh, crunchy sharpness, so make it yourself and eat it as soon as you can.

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Tabbouleh ingredients

Tabbouleh is much more than the sum of its parts. The list of ingredients is short and simple, but combines to make the most wonderful salad.

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Flat leaf parsley

Parsley is the most important ingredient in this recipe. Always choose flat leaf, as curly will not work here. Do not be afraid of the amount of parsley here-it really is necessary. The way you chop it is also important; try to slice rather than chop too finely, as parsley  bruises and goes soggy very easily. I would recommend buying a few of the giant bunches you get from asian corner shops or Middle Eastern supermarkets, as it is cheaper and usually better in flavour than the supermarket versions. However, I appreciate that not everyone has these places nearby and so, to serve four people, you will need at least seven 30g supermarket packets of parsley. Yes, at least seven.

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Mint

You will also need mint. Not as much as parsley, as it’s a zingy note to accompany the parsley, rather than to overwhelm it. It’s important to pick the leaves from the stems to avoid any woodiness.

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I have waxed lyrical about sumac in previous recipes. It really is the most beautiful spice; bitter, citric and will make your mouth tingle in the most wonderful way. Here it enhances the lemon in the dressing and brings out all the freshness of the other ingredients. If you don’t have any, or can’t find it, you can just use a little more lemon, but I would really recommend you trying to get hold of some. It works wherever lemon does; you can sprinkle some on a piece of chicken or white fish to roast and it is simply beautiful.

The amount of bulghar wheat so small you may wonder if it is worth putting it in. Although small, it is essential, as it adds a lovely texture and a subtle, nutty taste. It may seem odd not to cook the bulghar before you add it to the salad, but there is a method in this apparent madness. Fine bulghar is well named. It is so fine that it absorbs any liquid it comes into contact with instantly and so it sucks up the dressing for the salad as soon as it is added. If you cook it beforehand, it will be soggy and dissolve into mush. Not nice.

True Tabbouleh

makes enough for 4 lunch portions or as part of a larger mezze

Ingredients

175-200g flat leaf parsley, chopped

45-60g mint, picked and chopped

400g very ripe tomatoes, chopped

1/2 large cucumber, de-seeded and chopped

3 spring onions, finely sliced

45g fine bulghar wheat

juice of 2 lemons

1 tsp sumac

2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Method

1. Whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, sumac and a little salt and pepper in a large bowl. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

2. Add the bulghar wheat and mix into the dressing.

3. Add the parsley, mint, tomatoes, cucumber and spring onions.

4. Mix well and serve with toasted pitta bread to soak up the lovely juices.

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This recipe is for my lovely friend Luda, who recently said she was missing my posts. Hope you like this one!

Kitchen Tip #22 Saving Curdled Coconut Milk

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Coconut

Coconut milk is essential in the kitchen, especially if you cook Thai curries at lot. I have often found that it splits, even if the cooking temperature is low. The result still tastes lovely, but it doesn’t look very appealing.

The key is the use of chemical emulsifiers and stabilisers in the brand of coconut milk you buy such as guar gum; emulsifiers bind and stabilise so splitting does not occur. Some brands contain these emulsifiers, but some do not. If they don’t, when you open the tin, you will notice that the coconut cream and the coconut water are separate and need to be mixed together.

This is the kind I prefer to use, as I like to use the coconut cream a lot. If this is your preference, you may find that the mixture often curdles and splits as you heat it.

The solution is very quick and easy. Simply add 1 tablespoon of cornflower per 400ml (a normal sized tin) to stabilise the mixture. Make a thin paste by adding a small amount of the coconut milk to the cornflower, then add to the mixture and cook through.

This mixture will now be stable and will not split or curdle as you heat it. Make sure you cook out for at least 10 minutes to avoid any floury taste. This trick will also work if the mixture has already split.