Monday, 5 September 2016

Cuttlefish, onions and lentils with samphire and clams

I’ve wanted to develop a recipe with cuttlefish for a long time now. At work, their peculiar and often very inky forms make an occasional appearance on the slab, but due to the sporadic nature of their availability, until now I haven’t quite managed to steal the right moment. And I thought that this summer would be very much the same, and instead I’ve been largely (and very happily) feasting on its close relations, the octopus and the squid. So when I opened a box one sunny morning a few weeks ago and was greeted by pile of particularly fine specimens, I just knew I had to take some home and fire up the hobs. 

Cuttlefish is definitely something that we should be eating more of in this country. But unlike squid or octopus that are well and truly pinned onto the food map, cuttlefish gets all the bad press. That is, no press at all. Admittedly as a fishmonger they can be a bit of a nightmare due to their tendency to be messy and time consuming to prepare. But often it doesn’t even reach that point, with customers going down the safe old salmon, cod and tuna route. With the prices of these prime fish soaring, the cuttlefish still carries an unfashionable price tag, has bags of flavour and is a doddle to cook. All it needs is a decent national PR spin…  

This dish represents exactly the type of food that I love to eat as we slide into Autumn with a chilly wind and grey cloud of rain. Slow, easy cooking that is all about the development of flavour over a little patient simmering. Food that can be sliced and eaten with a spoon. Now we’re in September, the shellfish will start to get slightly stronger, and soon we’ll see Shetland mussels back in their prime. Samphire is slowly heading the other way, and I’m finding any excuse to introduce a handful into my meals. Before long that vibrant green will be replaced by the burnished oranges and reds of squashes, apples and corn. I can’t wait.   

Serves 2 for a main, or 4 for a lunch or starter 


2-3 small cuttlefish, cleaned, with the tentacles and ink sacs reserved 
1 onion, finely sliced 
2 cloves of garlic, grated 
1 tsp fennel seeds 
1 tsp dried chilli flakes 
1 tsp dried oregano 
1 glass of white wine 
500ml chicken stock 
2 sachets of cuttlefish ink 
¾ of a mug of firm lentils, such as Puy 
1 lemon, juice and zest 
1 small bunch of parsley, finely chopped  

To finish:  

12-15 clams 
A handful of samphire 
The tentacles from the cuttlefish, cut into 3 or 4 pieces


Slice the cleaned and skinned body and wings of the cuttlefish into chunky centimetre-thick strips. Pour a generous glug of olive oil into a large saucepan and bring up to a medium-high temperature. Fry the cuttlefish for 3-4 minutes, turning occasionally, until they start to turn golden. Season well. Turn the heat down slightly and add the onion, garlic, fennel seeds, dried chilli and oregano. Continue to fry everything together for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften slightly. Turn the head back up and pour in the wine. Allow the liquid to bubble away and reduce by half. Stir in the ink from the sachets, and carefully squeeze in the ink collected from the cuttlefish sacs (use an extra two sachets if you can’t collect them). Stir well, then top up with the chicken stock. Bring back to the boil, then turn down to a very gently simmer. Cover the saucepan with a lid and cook for 30 minutes. 

After 30 minutes, pour the lentils into the saucepan and stir everything well. Continue to simmer for a further 30 minutes.  

Bring a frying pan to a high heat and pour in a good glug of olive oil. When the pan is very hot, add the cuttlefish tentacles and a good pinch of seasoning. Fry for 2-3 minutes, turning once, until golden and slightly crispy. Remove from the pan onto a plate lined with kitchen paper to drain. Keep warm.  

Bring a saucepan to a high heat. Add the clams and a small splash of water. Seal the pan tightly with a lid, and cook for 3-4 minutes, until the clams all open. Turn the heat down and stir in the samphire. Cook for a further minute, then remove from the heat. 

Finish the lentils by stirring in the parsley and squeezing in the lemon juice. Taste and add more seasoning if needed.  

To serve, spoon the lentils and cuttlefish into shallow bowls and top with the samphire, clams and crispy tentacles. Finish with a scattering of the lemon zest and a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Smoked octopus with charred peppers, preserved lemon and almond puree

The octopus had been in the freezer for a long time. A spring purchase, I had taken it home with big intentions; a light green broth perhaps, or fried in chilli to top a pea risotto. But somewhere along the line I was distracted, and the eight-legged beast had a little more time to acquaint itself with the lost myriad of ice-burnt fish fingers, three-quarter used packets of peas and random chunks of meat jostling for a way out of the cold. But as the summer came on, the octopus was the over-familiar leftover at the party and was more than starting to outstay its welcome. It’s shear bulk in such a tiny icebox meant that competition was tight, and with this heatwave, when a decision needed to be made between having room for an octopus or a box of Soleros, there was only one winner. 

But the octopus was not alone, and was joined by many of my culinary outcasts in this recipe. Enter the humble bell pepper, which has rarely (if every) appeared on this blog. Sometimes too sweet, sometimes just the wrong texture, I have no malicious feeling towards peppers. But they are just something that I never seem to crave. Until now that is. The combination of smoky, salty octopus and soft charred peppers seemed to get a big thumbs up in my head.
Of course, the smoking side of this recipe isn’t essential. It would be perfectly acceptable (delicious, even) to grill the tentacles after the initial braising process. But I do like a bit of DIY food experimentation, and I’m always surprised with the amount of flavour that comes out of a bit of hay and a deep roasting dish. As with anything that releases your inner pyromaniac, it’s always best performed in an open, outdoor space, with a fire-quenching aid to hand.
Serves 4 as a starter or light lunch
1 x 2kg octopus (double sucker variety), previously frozen and thawed out 
A few good handfuls of hay, to smoke
For the charred peppers:
2-3 red and/or yellow peppers 
1 clove of garlic, finely sliced
1 lemon 
A pinch of dried chilli flakes 
2 preserved lemons, centres scooped out and discarded 
A few sprigs of fresh oregano, leaves picked
For the almond puree:
300g blanched almonds 
1 clove of garlic, finely sliced 
2 sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped 
1 lemon
To finish:
A few more oregano leaves

Pop the octopus into a large saucepan and add 250ml of water. Bring to the boil, then lower to a gentle simmer and cook for 1 hour, or until the tentacles are very tender. Allow to cool slightly, then remove from the liquid and slice off each tentacle. Discard the head. 

Set a heavy griddle pan over a high heat. Rub the peppers with a little olive and sear for about 5 minutes on each side, until blackened and blistered. Remove to a deep bowl and cover with cling film. Allow to cool down, then slice into thin strips. Pour a good glug of oil into a small saucepan and add the garlic and the chilli flakes, along with a pinch of salt and pepper. Fry for a couple of minutes until softened, then remove from the heat. Finely chop the preserved lemon and add to the pan along with the oregano leaves, lemon juice and 2 tbsp olive oil. Stir well, then pour all over the sliced, cooked peppers.
Bring a large frying pan to a medium heat and add the almonds. Toast for a few minutes, until lightly browned, then pour over a good glug of olive oil. Stir in the garlic and chopped rosemary along with some seasoning, and fry gently for a further 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and blend well. Squeeze in the lemon juice and slowly add 3 tbsp of olive oil. With the motor still running, slowly pour in a little cold water to loosen the puree, until it is soft and smooth. Taste and season, and pass through a sieve if necessary. 

To smoke the octopus, scatter the hay onto the bottom of a heavy baking tray and top with a wire rack. Arrange the tentacles onto the rack, and use a large sheet of foil to seal. Carefully light the hay with a long match and allow to smoke for a couple of minutes. Place the smoked octopus onto a metal tray and use a blowtorch to crisp up the edges.
To serve, spoon the puree onto each plate and top with the octopus, pepper slices and a good drizzle of the flavoured oil. Finish with a scattering of fresh oregano leaves.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Summer lamb stew with pancetta, artichokes and borlotti beans

Ok, I know that it’s one of the hottest days of the year, but I want stew. Diana Henry recently announced on Twitter that she had mostly spent the last few months “cooking for autumn”, and I can totally get behind that. The weather this year has most definitely been playing silly buggers, conditions that my instincts always look to solve with a broth or a soup, some lentils or grains slowly blipping away for hours on a hob. A piece of meat, tender and falling apart, usually gets in on the act too. Settling and comforting food, and this time I don’t intend on waiting until the later months. I draw the line at bulbous, suety dumplings or piles of buttery polenta, but with a few light touches here and there, I believe that a summer stew of sorts is a wonderful and appropriate thing. 

Summer sees excellent lamb, and a whole host of brilliant sidekicks to bob around a saucepan with. Spikey artichokes and almost hippy-like, vibrant pink borlotti beans are in their prime, with zingy sorrel giving things a refreshing boost where needed. The cut of meat chosen is the neck fillet, possibly my all-time favourite. Versatile enough to cook pink and charred over a barbeque, or in this case low and slow, and containing all of that flavour so common in the working muscles. I’ll leave my more refined cookery for another time. This is all about chunks of meat soft enough to break with a spoon, melting slabs of fatty pancetta and a rich liquor the result of patient simmering.
One large saucepan and a steaming bowl of happiness. More salads and summer fare next week. But for now I just want stew.
Serves 4-6
800g-1kg lamb neck fillet, chopped into rough large chunks 
150g smoked pancetta, thickly sliced 
1 large onion, sliced 
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced 
A few sprigs of thyme 
1 bay leaf 
1 large glass of dry white wine 
1-1.5ltr chicken stock 
2 large handfuls of fresh borlotti beans 
4-6 small artichokes, tough leaves, stems and chokes removed and hearts quartered 
1 bunch of sorrel, roughly torn 
1 lemon

Pour a good glug of olive oil into a large, deep saucepan and bring to a medium-high heat. Season the chunks of lamb with salt and pepper and brown in the hot pan on all sides, in 2 or 3 batches if necessary. Transfer the cooked meat to a side plate. Add the pancetta to the now empty pan and cook for a couple of minutes, until the fat starts to render and crisp. Add the onion, garlic, thyme and bay and continue until softened and slightly caramelised. Season well. 

Pour in the wine and allow the liquid to reduce by half. Use a wooden spoon to scrape the crust from the bottom of the pan. Return the lamb and top up with enough stock to cover the meat. Bring everything back to the boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cook for 2 hours, or until the lamb pulls apart easily.
Drop the prepared artichokes and beans to the saucepan and continue to cook for a further 30-45 minutes, until the vegetables have softened.

Tear up the sorrel and stir through the stew a couple of minutes before serving. Taste and check for seasoning.
Spoon the stew into bowls, finishing with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Tortelli of rocket and goat’s cheese with garlic, butter and lemon

Every year, Katie and I throw RoLo Fest, an evening of feasting to celebrate the birthdays of my sister-in-law Lois and her fiancĂ© Rob. I spend the day in the kitchen lovingly putting together a four-course meal, before the evening arrives and we all sit in the (hopefully sunny) garden outside. A bottle or two is popped open and we all tuck in and catch up. 

Putting the menu together is both immensely fun yet immensely challenging. As it’s a family meal, I want to be out at the table with everyone else instead of stuck in the kitchen, so practicality and planning is key. Yet I also always want to do my best to spoil everyone rotten with impressive and elaborate food. In the past I’ve served up beef wellington, guinea fowl ravioli and fast-grilled leg of lamb. But on this occasion the centrepiece was an enormous piece of rolled porchetta, tender and herby in the middle with blistered golden crackling around the edge. I was overjoyed with how it turned out, a future recipe for this blog for sure.
Before the pork was served up, I made this pasta dish as a little primi. Rocket often seems to be used as an afterthought, chucked randomly to one side of a dish to add a splash of colour. But I wanted it to be the focus here, and I balanced the deep, bitter flavour with rich and tangy goat’s cheese. The little tortelli were served swimming in a little pool of garlicky melted butter, which is so simple but always a total crowd pleaser.
Making filled pasta is dead simple with a little practice, and once the basics have been mastered, the world is oyster with all of the different fillings and shapes that you can make. They’re also perfect for any kind of dinner party scenario, as they can be made and stored hours in advance, ready to be whipped up in a few minutes in front of your guests.
Serves 4
For the tortelli:
300g ‘00’ grade pasta flour 
3 medium eggs 
3 large bunches of rocket, roots trimmed 
150g soft goat’s cheese 
200g ricotta 
4 tbsp pecorino romano, finely grated 
1 egg, for brushing
For the sauce:
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced 
4 tbsp unsalted butter 
1 bunch of rocket 
½ a lemon
To finish:
A few gratings of pecorino romano

Start by making the pasta dough. Tip the flour into a large bowl and mix with a generous pinch of fine salt. Make a well in the centre and crack in the eggs, and also pour in a good glug of olive oil. Using a fork, whisk the eggs, incorporating the flour at the same time until a dough is formed. Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes, until elastic in texture and not sticky. Wrap well with cling film and put in the fridge for an hour to rest. 

Fill a saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Add a good pinch of salt and the rocket leaves for the pasta filling. Blanche for 1 minute, then strain through a sieve and allow to cool. Squeeze out the excess water from the leaves then transfer to a food processor. Add the ricotta, goat’s cheese, pecorino and season well. Blend until the rocket is finely chopped and the filling is well combined. Tip into a bowl.
Use a pasta machine to roll the pasta dough to its thinnest setting, and lay the resulting long sheet onto a well-floured surface. Place tablespoonfuls of the filling mixture along the middle of the sheet, leaving gaps of about 8cm between each one. Break the remaining egg into a small bowl, and use a pastry brush to lightly coat the pasta around the filling. Carefully fold the long edges in over the filling, creating a seal with the other edge in the middle. Use your fingers to seal the pasta in between each bit of filling, making sure to disperse any air bubbles. Use a sharp knife to separate each square tortelli, and use your fingers to seal the pasta together one last time. Repeat until all of the tortelli have been made, rolling out more pasta if necessary.

Fill a large saucepan up with water and bring to the boil. Add a very good pinch of salt.
Melt the butter in a large frying pan and gently cook the sliced garlic for a minute or two, until lightly golden. Add the remaining bunch of rocket and wilt down.
When the water is boiling, drop in the tortelli and cook for 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked pasta to the butter pan. Carefully toss the tortelli to coat with butter, then squeeze over the lemon juice.
To serve, arrange 3-5 tortelli onto each plate, along with some of the wilted rocket leaves. Spoon over a good amount of the butter and garlic. Finish with some additional gratings of pecorino cheese.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Duck with gooseberries, peas and lettuce

Around this time of year, gooseberries become the darling of social media. Shiny cherries, old, grumpy looking pumpkins and heritage tomatoes can briefly step aside from the iphone lense and form a queue behind these plump, veiny orbs. Restaurant menus also jump on this seasonal bandwagon, tempering their tang with creamy fools, or scattering raw slices with halibut crudo (which if I’m honest, makes my stomach turn a little). Yet gooseberries rarely turn up in home cooking, possibly losing ground to more user-friendly strawberries. I always associate gooseberries with when I was a child. Being relatively greedy and already knowledgeable of other types of sweet, messy summer berries, I stuffed my face without realising the cheek-raspingly sour consequences. I lived and learned the hard way. 


Like anything bitter, sharp or sour, a little guidance from contrasting ingredients can conjure magical results. Sugars and fats seem to work best at this balancing act, and in this case a plump, laden duck proved the perfect sidekick. I’ve often struggled to cook duck in the past, with most methods that suggest frying and then roasting the breasts consistently producing overcooked, disappointingly grey results. So this time I stuck to the hobs and was much happier with the pink, juicy flesh.

As with many savoury dishes, there is nothing quite like a deep, meaty sauce to tie everything together. These intense reductions need a bit of time and care to get right, but are definitely worth all the effort spent browning, simmering and straining. In the end, a shockingly small puddle of sauce is produced, but it is compressed flavour, and only little is needed with each serving. The same principles of sauce making can be reproduced with beef, lamb, chicken etc etc…

It’s hard to ignore the other green, vibrant summer produce at the moment, with beautiful lettuces and, of course, peas working their way into lots of meals. The end result is a warm salad of sorts, a combination of rich, gamey duck and refreshing, multi-textured accompaniments.

Serves 4


1 duck, portioned into breasts, legs and wings. Carcass bones cut into pieces and reserved

For the pan-fried breast:

The breasts from the duck, trimmed of sinew and excess fat 
1 large knob of butter

For the duck sauce:

The wings and bones from the duck, fat removed 
1 shallot, chopped 
1 carrot, chopped 
1 garlic clove, crushed 
A few sprigs of thyme 
1 large glass of white wine 
500ml chicken stock 
1 large knob of butter

For the gooseberry puree:

500g gooseberries, trimmed 
2 shallots, finely chopped 
1 garlic clove, finely chopped 
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked 
3 tbsp of caster sugar 
1 knob of butter

For the torched gooseberries:

1 handful of gooseberries, halved

To finish:

2 handfuls of fresh peas, podded 
A few large lettuce leaves, washed and torn into small pieces 
½ a lemon, juice only


Preheat to oven to 160⁰C. Season the duck legs all over with salt and pepper. Place a metal rack above an oven dish and top with the legs, then slide into the oven and bake for 2 hours, or until the duck is tender in the middle with a crispy skin. When the legs are cooked, allow them to rest for 15 minutes, then strip from the bone in large chunks. 


While the duck legs are cooking, make the gooseberry puree. Melt the butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic, thyme and a good pinch of seasoning, and sauté for a couple of minutes, until soft and slightly caramelised. Add the gooseberries and the sugar, and continue to fry for a further 5-8 minutes, or until the berries start to melt. Taste a little of the sauce, and add more sugar if needed. Pour the contents of the pan into a food processor and blend well. Add the butter and blend for a further few seconds, until fully emulsified. Pass the puree through a sieve into a bowl, cover and set aside.

For the sauce, pour a good glug of olive oil into a saucepan and bring up to a medium-high heat. Season the duck wings and bones and brown well in the hot pan, cooking in batches if necessary. Add the shallot, carrot, garlic and thyme and continue to fry for a couple more minutes, until the vegetables are slightly caramelised. Pour in the white wine and allow to reduce by two-thirds. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up the crust from the bottom of the pan. Top up with the chicken stock and return to the boil. Reduce the liquid a second time, by around three-quarters, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the sauce through a sieve into a smaller saucepan, and stir in the butter. Keep warm. 


Fill a saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Pod the peas and add to the water with a good pinch of seasoning. Blanche for 1 minute, then drain. Pour over lots of cold water to halt the cooking process. Shell the peas into a small bowl. Tear up the lettuce and add to the peas.

Season the duck breasts all over and place them skin-side down into a cold, dry frying pan. Turn on the heat to medium-high and fry for 6 minutes, until the skin is crispy and has released its excess fat. Turn the breasts over and continue to cook for a further 4 minutes. Transfer the cooked duck to a side plate and allow to rest for 10 minutes, then slice in half lengthways.

Halve the spare gooseberries and arrange cut-side up on a metal tray. Use a blow torch to char the berries, holding the flame over for about 10 seconds, or until they are slightly blackened.

Squeeze the lemon juice over the lettuce and peas, and sprinkle on a little seasoning. Use your hands to mix well.

To serve, arrange half a duck breast and a few pieces of leg meat to each plate. Add a large dollop of the gooseberry puree to the side. Scatter the torched berries, peas and lettuce around the sides. Finish with a generous amount of the duck sauce.