Corn Chowder

Corn chowder lr

Serves 2

This soup depends on you using a great stock. I make it using my own home-made vegetable stock which is packed full of rich flavour. The result is a soup that is full of natural sweetness.

This soup is vegetarian. If you replace the butter with oil, it will be vegan too.

1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and cut into small dice
1 tablespoon flour
750 ml home-made vegetable stock, heated
280g tinned sweetcorn, drained (or use frozen sweetcorn)
½ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp ground black pepper
A large pinch dried chilli flakes
Salt to taste

Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and continue to cook until the potatoes have taken on some colour and started to soften, approx. 5 more minutes. Sprinkle in the flour and stir fry for 1 minute.

Gradually add the hot stock, stirring well. Add all of the other ingredients, bring to a gentle simmer and cook, covered for about 30 minutes until the potatoes are soft. Check the seasoning and serve.

Vegetable Stock

Vegetable Stock lr

This recipe will give you a rich and naturally sweet vegetable stock that adds stacks of flavour to sauces, soups and casseroles. It is vegetarian and vegan.

You can cook this stock on the hob or in a slow cooker. I prefer to make it in a slow cooker. Vegetables tend to break down less in a slow cooker than when simmered on a hob, so using a slow cooker gives a clearer stock without compromising on flavour.

I use a 6.5 litre slow cooker. If you are using a different sized cooker, simply adjust the proportions of the recipe.

2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
3 large celery sticks (with tops), roughly chopped
2 leeks, trimmed and roughly chopped
2 largish tomatoes, roughly chopped
3 bay leaves
A pinch of salt
A small pinch of dried chilli flakes
2 tsp black peppercorns
2 ½ litres water

Place all of the ingredients into a slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours.

Once the cooking time is up, sieve the stock into a clean pan and discard the solids. Boil the stock rapidly until it is reduced to 750 ml. The stock can be used immediately or stored in the fridge or freezer until needed.

Rice and Peas

Rice and peas lr

Serves 2

There are various versions of rice and peas throughout the Caribbean. They all share the same core flavours of coconut and thyme. Although called rice and peas, the dish is usually made with kidney beans rather than peas.

Most recipes will tell you to use tinned coconut milk but I find that can give a slightly soggy or sticky result. I prefer to make my own coconut water which gives light, fluffy grains but still has plenty of coconut flavour.

This rice dish is an excellent accompaniment to just about any grilled, roasted or BBQed foods – especially jerked dishes.

This dish is also suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

For the coconut water…
Unsweetened desiccated coconut filled to the 10 fl oz mark in a measuring jug, covered with boiling water to the 20 fl oz mark.

Pour the boiling water over the coconut and leave to macerate for 40 minutes. Sieve into a clean jug, squeezing the coconut pulp to remove all the liquid. Discard the pulp.

For the finished dish…
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
½ tsp dried thyme
1 medium red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
3 cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 2 pieces
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
6 fl oz long grain rice
15 fl oz stock made up with the coconut water topped up with vegan stock to make 15 fl oz in all
1 x 400g tin red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Heat the oil and sauté the onion until soft, approx 10 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, chilli, ginger, salt and pepper and sauté for a further 1 minute then add the rice and stir gently to coat the grains.

Add the stock and kidney beans, bring to a simmer and simmer covered until the rice is tender, approx 20 to 30 minutes. (Check the rice after 20 minutes and add a little boiling water if it is starting to catch.)

Remove the ginger before serving and check the seasoning. Rice dishes like this can take quite a lot of salt.

This dish can be cooked ahead and stored in the fridge until needed. To reheat, place in a microwave-proof bowl, loosely cover with cling film and cook on high for 5 minutes.

Cajun Spice Blend

Paprika peppers

Everyone seems to love the flavours of Cajun dishes. Cajun chicken is a particular favourite, but the flavours work well on just about any meat, fish or vegetables too. I experimented with many mixes of herbs and spices before finding that this blend really hits the spot.

This spice mix has a mild heat.

Simply mix the seasoning with a little oil to make a loose paste, rub it onto your chicken, vegetable kebabs, chops or fish – whatever you fancy – then leave it to marinate for up to an hour. Cook in the usual way – roast, grill, barbecue or fry. Allow 1 teaspoon of the spice mix per portion.

2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp cayenne chilli powder
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp onion powder
2 ½ tsp paprika
½ tsp salt

Mix all of the ingredients together and store in a spice jar until needed.

Balsamic Vinaigrette

il-condimento-del-borgo-il-cilindro-rosso

Serves 4

This vinaigrette differs from the standard balsamic vinaigrette by addition of water which has the effect of emulsifying (thickening) it. This is useful where you want the dressing to cover more evenly.

1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon balsamic
1 tablespoon cold water
4 tablespoons (60ml) extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Squeeze of lemon juice (optional)

Whisk together the mustard, balsamic and water, then whisk in the oil. This should give a thick, glossy dressing. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and add lemon juice if necessary for extra acidity (whether or not you need this will depend on the sweetness of the balsamic).

This dressing will keep for up to a week in the fridge.

Vegetable Soup with Puy Lentils and Paprika

Sweet peppers

Serves 4 as a lunch or main course

This soup is quite rich with warming spices of paprika, smoked paprika and chilli. It is packed full of goodness and makes a perfect lunch or dinner main course.

It is vegetarian and vegan, as long as the stock is vegan.

250g Puy lentils, washed and rinsed
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
3 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
4 celery sticks, diced
4 sweet peppers, various colours, deseeded and diced
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 rounded tablespoons paprika
1 rounded tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp dried chilli flakes
1 x 400 g tin chopped tomatoes
1 ½ litres vegetable stock
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Bring a large pan of unsalted water to a boil, add the lentils and simmer for 35 minutes until soft. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pan and add the onion. Cook the onion gently for 5 minutes then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the carrots, celery and peppers and season generously with salt and pepper. Turn the heat down low, cover the pan and sweat the vegetables for 15 minutes.

Stir in the paprika, smoked paprika, thyme and chilli flakes, then add the tomatoes, stock and vinegar. Add the cooked lentils. Stir well, bring to a gentle simmer and cook covered for 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally. Check the seasoning and serve piping hot.

Pizza Seasoning

Mixed herbs lr

Whether you are making your own pizza from scratch or cooking a shop bought one, finishing it off with the right seasoning makes all the difference. Just sprinkle a generous pinch – at least half a teaspoon – of my seasoning mix over your pizza before you cook it and you will be amazed at how much better it tastes.

This seasoning mix is dead easy to make. Simply mix all of the ingredients together and store it in a spice jar where it will keep well for ages.

4 tsp dried basil
4 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried marjoram
½ tsp dried sage
2 tsp ground black pepper

Limoncello

Limoncello lr Squeezed lemons lr

Makes about 1 litre

I thought I’d give you a drink recipe for a change this week.

This is a home-made drink that really works well (unlike home brewed beers and wines). This recipe has less sugar than most and everyone who has tried it has given it a thumbs up. Keep it in the freezer along with some shot glasses and you’ll have a house full of very happy guests.

8 lemons (make sure they are unwaxed)
250g caster sugar
150ml water
1 x 700ml bottle of vodka

Use a small sharp knife to remove the peel from four of the lemons. Use a zester to remove the zest from the other four lemons. Squeeze all of the juice from the lemons.

Put the sugar and water in a thick based saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Cook uncovered with a strong simmer for a few minutes until the mixture starts to look syrupy. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Stir in the lemon juice, peel and zest. Leave to go completely cold then stir in the vodka.

Pour the limoncello into sterile bottles or jars, seal them and place them in a dark cupboard for three days. Then strain the limoncello into clean bottles.

Spaghetti Arrabiata

Spaghetti lr

Serves 2

Sometimes the simplest food can be the tastiest. If you don’t like this dish, there’s something wrong with you!

For the arrabiata sauce…
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes (as you’ll know by now, I use Mutti tomato pulp)
1 tablespoon tomato puree
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
¼ tsp dried basil
½ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp ground black pepper
A very generous pinch of dried chilli flakes – don’t skimp here, this dish is meant to be spicy hot
Salt to taste

Place all of the ingredients in a small saucepan, give them a good stir and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover and cook for 45 minutes. Keep an eye on it and add a splash of water if it starts to dry out.

This sauce can be made ahead and stored in the fridge or freezer until needed.

For the finished dish…
200g spaghetti (Rustichella is the best if you can get it)
2 tablespoons olive oil
60g coarsely grated parmesan cheese

Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook according to the instructions on the packet or until it is cooked to your liking (I always cook pasta for longer than it says on the packet as I don’t like it too al dente). Once it’s cooked, drain it and return it to the hot cooking pan. Stir in the olive oil then stir in the hot arrabiata sauce. Serve immediately and sprinkle with the parmesan.

Lasagne with Puy Lentils

Puy lentil lasagne lr

Serves 4

This is a delicious alternative to the common lasagne al forno, and easier and quicker to prepare too. I think it is lighter than the meat version. It’s packed full of protein and tastes fresh and cheesy.

If you want to make a vegetarian version, simply leave out the streaky bacon. If you do that though, add ½ a teaspoon of smoked paprika instead to keep a smoky hint to the dish.

People sometimes ask me what they should serve with lasagne. I always say, a knife and fork! Lasagne with Puy lentils is the ultimate one-pot dish. It has carbohydrates, protein, milk, dairy, vegetables and (mostly) healthy fats. And fibre, vitamins and minerals to boot. And, unlike shop-bought lasagnes, no added sugar.

For the lentils…
250g Puy lentils, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
80g (4 rashers) rindless smoked streaky bacon, finely chopped
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 large celery stick, finely diced
400g tin chopped tomatoes (preferable Mutti tomato pulp)
½ tsp dried thyme
Pinch of dried chilli flakes
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the béchamel…
75g butter
50g plain flour
800ml whole milk
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the finished dish…
10 to 12 sheets (200g to 250g) lasagne (the no pre-cook variety)
150g strong mature cheddar, grated
60g grated parmesan

You will also need a 30cm x 20cm lasagne dish or glass/ceramic baking dish, buttered.

Bring a large saucepan of unsalted water to a boil and add the lentils. Cover and simmer until just cooked, approx. 35 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile make the sauce to go with the lentils. Heat the olive oil in a pan, add the bacon and stir-fry until cooked and starting to crisp. Remove to a bowl using a slotted spoon. Add the onions to the pan and sauté gently until starting to soften, approx. 5 minutes. Stir in the carrot and celery, cover, turn the heat down low and allow the vegetables to sweat and soften for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, thyme, chilli, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Cook part covered for about 30 minutes until the vegetables have softened and the sauce has thickened. Stir in the lentils and check the seasoning.

Next make the béchamel. Put the butter, flour and milk in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring continuously with a balloon whisk. Leave to simmer on a very low heat for 8 minutes, stirring it with the balloon whisk a couple of times. Take off the heat and season with salt and pepper.

To assemble the dish, spread one quarter of the lentils onto the bottom of the dish, then add a layer of lasagne sheets. Add another quarter of the lentils, a layer of one third of the béchamel and sprinkle with half of the cheddar. Repeat by adding another layer of lasagne, another quarter of the lentils, another third of the béchamel and sprinkle with the remaining cheddar. Add a final layer of lasagne, the last quarter of the lentils and the last third of the béchamel. Sprinkle the surface with the grated parmesan.

The dish can now be covered in cling film and stored in the fridge until needed.

To cook the dish, heat the oven to 180°c and bake the lasagne for 30 to 45 minutes until brown and bubbling.