Pasta Puttanesca

Puttanesca means 'lady of the night' and this sauce, probably found the name attributing to its punchy mix of heat and saltiness. Traditionally from Naples in the south of Italy and typically made with capers, chilli, garlic and tomatoes, this sauce is incredibly pleasurable to eat and can be paired with a variety of dried pasta. You can also add olives, anchovies, basil or flat leaf parsley. For those who are vegetarian, leave out the anchovies and add extra capers. This is a store cupboard favourite and can be whipped up in a matter of minutes for an easy dinner, it is also rather tasty cold too. There really is no need to eat this with parmesan as it's salty enough but I can never resist a little bit of cheese.


2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 small shallot, chopped
400g tin chopped tomatoes
6-8 anchovy fillets
1 tbsp capers
8-10 black olives
1 tsp dried chilli flakes or 2 small chillis, finely chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Small bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
200-300g spaghetti

In a large saucepan, bring cold water with a good tablespoon of salt to the boil for cooking the pasta. In the meantime, saute garlic slices in some olive oil in a medium pan until lightly golden, remove and set aside. Saute shallot until soft. Add chilli and anchovies and allow to soften. Add tomatoes and bring sauce to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes. Rinse olives and capers in cold water to remove the brine. Slice olives around the pip and remove the flesh, cut into quarters. Add golden garlic slices, olive pieces and whole capers to the sauce, simmer for another couple of minutes. Add parsley and a few twists of black pepper. Turn off the heat.

Boil pasta until al dente. Before draining, take half a cup of pasta water from the pot and set aside. Drain pasta thoroughly. Add pasta water to the sauce and stir in until silky. Stir the pasta through the sauce and add an extra glug of olive oil. Perfect!


Fish Soup

I have been wanting to make a type of fish soup or stew for some time now and have finally got round to it. What a triumph! Sooo satisfying and delicious, I think it will definitely become a fast favourite. It's based on a Greek fishermens' stew, traditionally made out at sea with fresh catch of the day and sea water. The best fish to use is fresh white fish and, for a little extra specialness you can combine this with seafood and scallops. I decided to use pollock and plaice, both are firm white fish with large flakes and have the right amount of flavour to stand up to the other ingredients. Fresh and vibrant, this dish of the sea will also develop in flavour if left to settle for a few hours too.

The other day I bought a whole sea bass, filleted it and then went onto making fish stock with the remaining head and bones. It was surprisingly simple to make and I have been able to use it for all sorts of things. It gives this soup added depth and richness that I feel a vegetable stock can't quite deliver. If you do make it, a good way to store it, is by freezing it in an ice tray for later use or it will keep in the fridge for a week. You can also use a good fresh shop bought stock. 


For the stock:
1 carrot
1 leek
3 sticks celery
1 bulb fresh fennel
A few pepper corns
splash of white wine
Fish head(s), skeleton, tails etc. (avoid using oily fish)

Roughly chop vegetables and put them into a large saucepan or stock pot. Rinse fish bits well under running water and remove gills from the head(s). Put into the pan with the vegetables, add the wine, peppercorns and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, removing any scum that forms on the surface. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, removing any extra scum occasionally. Strain liquid into another pot and use immediately or when cool, refrigerate or freeze until needed.  

For the stew:
1 onion, sliced
2/3 stick of celery, sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Half a tsp fennel seeds
4-6 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 Lt fish stock
Juice of one lemon
Handful of flat leaf parsley
Handful of dill
4/5 small potatoes, chopped into chunks
500g white fish, skinned, deboned and cut into good sized pieces
Olive oil
Salt and black pepper

In a heavy saucepan, saute onion, celery, garlic and fennel seeds in some olive oil. Allow to soften but not brown. Add potatoes, tomatoes and stock. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Add fish pieces and bring to the boil again. Cook for a further 5 to 10 minutes until fish is soft and flaky. Add lemon juice and season to taste. It should have a good balance of salt and acidity. Finely chop the parsley and dill and add to the pot. Stir together. Serve piping hot with a drizzle of olive oil and hunks of fresh crusty bread.


Victoria Sponge

Victoria sponges are the delight of the tea table. They were the cakes made to celebrate the advent of baking powder in the 1840's, before then cakes were heavy and more akin to sweet door stops. This little cake is quintessentially English and originally was a type of jam sandwich only. Today we often take it slightly further by having a luscious layer of whipped cream or even more decadent, a rich butter cream icing. You can use any jam, conserve or fresh fruits for the filling. Strawberry is a classic but raspberry gives a lovely tartness and grittiness. The important thing is that equal quantities of flour, sugar and butter are used for the sponge. Weighing the eggs will also help to make it perfect. Maintain as much air and lightness as possible and incorporate the eggs slowly to avoid curdling. Instead of making a single sponge and then cutting it in half, the batter is divided into two tins and baked at the same time. Allowed to cool,  one sponge is topped with jam and cream then sandwiched together with the other. 


220g caster sugar
220g soft unsalted butter
220g self raising flour
4 large eggs
pinch of salt
2-3 tbsp milk

Strawberry jam
200ml whipping cream

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease two 20cm sandwich tins and line the base of each with baking paper.
Cream butter and sugar together until pale, light and fluffy. In a separate bowl beat eggs together with a fork. Gradually add the egg to the sugar and butter, beating well after each addition to avoid curdling. If the mix does curdle, fold in a tablespoon of flour to stabilise it. Sift flour and salt into the mixture and fold in very gently using a metal spoon. Add milk to loosen up the batter if necessary. The batter should be a thick dropping consistency, to test this,  the batter should fall easily from the spoon when giving it a sharp tap. Separate batter into your prepared tins in even quantities and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and just coming away from the sides.

Allow to cool for 5 minutes and then remove from the tins by sliding a knife around the edges and tipping them onto cooling wracks. Allow to cool completely. Choose the flatter of the two for the base. Top generously with jam and then follow with a layer of whipped cream. Sandwich together with the remaining sponge, don't press down. Sprinkle the top with caster sugar.


Stuffed Courgette Flowers

How gorgeous are these beauties? I just couldn't resist. Courgette flowers are just stunning... rarely available, delicate and feminine. Found during summer months and into early autumn, the best ones to use are those still attached to baby courgettes. They can either be deep fried in batter as they are or filled with a mild stuffing and then deep fried. Just about anything will do, so experiment using left over risotto, fresh herbs, nuts, mozzarella, ricotta or marscapone cheeses. I like a savoury filling which is then elevated with the addition of honey when serving. This makes a truly special and spectacular way to begin a meal or to be served tapas style with other scrummy dishes.

Recipe (serve 2-4)

6 courgette flowers

For the filling:
125g ricotta cheese
25g grated parmesan
1 tbsp finely chopped chives
2 tbsp finely chopped walnuts
Salt and pepper

For the batter:
3 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp corn flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
150ml sparkling water

Oil for deep frying, about 750ml
Honey to serve

Mix cheeses, chives and walnuts together in a small bowl until smooth. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Either using a teaspoon of a piping bag, fill the cavity of the courgette flowers up with the mixture. Make sure you only fill up to the point where the petals begin to separate. Twist the ends of the petals together to seal.

Heat oil in a saucepan until hot. The oil is ready when a cube of bread turns golden within a few seconds when dropped into it.

In the meantime, to make the batter, place dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk them together. In a slow stream add the water, whisking until the consistency resembles single cream.

Dip the stuffed courgette flowers into the batter, coat well. Carefully put them into the oil and allow to fry for 2-4 minutes until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen towel for a few seconds and then serve immediately with a drizzle of honey.


Jewish Penicillin

Uuugh! We are both under the weather.... so, this absolutely calls for Jewish penicillin. Chicken soup is one of those magical substances believed to cure everything. It is also the centre piece and glory of the Jewish table. Every one has their own recipe, tried and tested through generations of grandmothers and mothers. I grew up eating more of a chicken consomme than a hearty bowl of bits and broth. On all Jewish tables a clear consomme was and still is a sign of greatness, I however, have never managed to perfect this. My penicillin is a bowl packed with chunky vegetables, succulent chicken and pearl barley. I prefer to cut the carrots into large pieces, to avoid disintegration and use leeks as opposed to onions, which can make the soup rancid. Another good trick, is to boil the chicken for a few minutes in a separate pot of water to ensure all the fat and blood can cook out. This also makes the skin soft enough to remove before adding the flesh to the vegetables. Doing this bit before, means the soup won't be fatty and there will be no need to remove any scum from the surface. Use the best quality organic chicken, I find the brown meat is the most flavoursome.

Recipe (serves 2 for a couple of days)

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into thirds
1 large leek, thickly sliced
2 or 3 sticks of celery, sliced
2 cloves garlic, whole
quarter of a cup pearl barley
4 organic chicken thighs
small bunch of thyme
1.5 Lt water
1 and a half chicken stock cubes
small knob of butter

First bring a pot of water to the boil, add the chicken pieces and allow to boil for about 5 minutes. Drain and remove skin. Set aside until needed.

In a heavy saucepan, saute leeks, celery and garlic in a little butter until they have softened slightly. Add carrots, thyme, barley and chicken. Cover with water and add stock cubes. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about an hour. Remove chicken pieces and pull the flesh off the bones, return the flesh back to the pot and bring to the boil once again. Add more water if necessary. Season with salt and pepper. Serve piping hot with a good bit of bread.

Keep the soup in the fridge and when reheating, make sure to boil for 10 minutes before serving.