Asparagus risotto with Parmesan crackers. Making a good risotto is tricky: the proportion of liquid to rice; when to add on the add-ons; how to score the precise result between tough grains and a slop bucket; whether to use a wooden spoon or a whisk in the absence of the magical girariso and how much butter it REALLY needs.
Raw asparagus salad with lemon and olive oil dressing. This is a simple salad and of course you can choose not to bother with the peeling, but it makes for a good contrast of textures. The dressing marinates the asparagus a bit and the Parmesan complements them nicely. As fresh green shoots as you can get – and it’s spring by the mouthful!
Aubergine parmigiana in homemade tomato sauce, with mozarella, Parmesan and basil - the classic. It's a delicious standalone dish but also a good side to a steak.
Oven baked mackerel fillets stuffed with capers and olives. This turned out to be such a fantastic thing that I might give up on my sticky pan-fried fillets and do this whenever I cook mackerel, it’s so good.
Orzo pasta baked in the oven with porcini mushrooms and pancetta. Those Italians! Not enough for them to make pasta in the shape of radiators, ears, bow ties, wagon wheels – they also make pasta that masquerades as rice.
These are baked sardine fillets, with garlic, lemon and basil. I’m a bit fussy about sardines – even though I like the taste, like miniature mackerels, with crispy grilled skin – but the bones! The bones! Now the other day my fishmonger had some filleted fresh sardines...
Homemade beef burgers in Hokkaido milk buns. Burgers crown the list and I think the secret really is in that slice of gherkin that a burger should be topped with. Joking aside - good minced beef has lots of flavour and sometimes, but sometimes, it can beat an average steak for me.
Beet, horseradish and dill cured salmon, it takes only three days and the taste is unparallelled. Beetroot doesn't do much for the taste but the colour is to die for. Next - pork belly!
Broccoli and Stilton soup, the easiest and tastiest - and no blender needed. Blended soup is my pet hate, worse than mushy peas or smoothies (though mind: purée - justified; milkshake - okay).
Broccoli cheese spiced up with anchovies and Cayenne pepper, an excellent alternative to cauliflower cheese.
Bucatini pasta with creamy Alfredo sauce and a handful of peas and spinach. I’m offering the ‘new’ classic with cream and all, rest assured, and have added a bit of greenery to it: pasta with spinach is irresistible.
Bulgogi, Korean marinated grilled beef wrapped in a lettuce leaf. This is the ultimate fast food: wholesome and no-carb and no-salt! And a fusion version: instead of loading the grilled meat into lettuce leaves, pack them into pitas, top with lettuce and sauce and you can have an Asian/Middle Eastern experience.
Calamari rings pan-fried with chorizo and spring onions. Squid is a cinch to cook, it just needs a gutsy flavour to go with it - like chorizo. My view is this is a match made in heaven.
Cauliflower cheese with spices, garlic and creamy sauce. Interesting thing about comfort foods is that they usually tend to be quite bland. I guess when it's cold outside or you're feeling a bit down you don't fancy stimulating senses too much.
Cheese scones don't rise as imposingly as fruit or plain scones – the cheese weighs things down after all considerably, so they will be a bit squatty and wonky. You might shirk from the idea of using diced cheese rather than grated...
Cheddar and spring onion torpedo rolls. So we’re talking here about a cheese sandwich ready baked – cheesy bread. I dare you not to devour one of those torpedoes straight from the oven. I dare you to keep them in the house longer than a couple of days.
An omelette is such a lovely dish and can take on such different forms that it’s easy to forget it’s just egg. Spinach omelette. Ham and cheese. Just cheese. Chorizo and beans. Throw in some peppers and potatoes and you have a tortilla.
The best cheese fondue, smooth as velvet and comforting as a blanket. This tastes absolutely fantastic. And so it should – it’s Heston’s recipe from the book ‘Heston Blumenthal at home’.
My take on chicken Caesar salad has chicken fried in breadcrumbs and the best dressing. Purists and critics might comment that it’s a Chicken Nugget Salad, not Caesar. So be it. Damn tasty. Might be a hit with kids if you stick to that name.
Tinned chickpeas dry roasted in a pan, with pancetta, a red pepper and Parmesan shavings. Chickpeas are actually a tasty snack, not difficult to make. They just need a bit of oomph – raid your spice cupboard and anything red or yellow will do.
Classic Caesar with chicken, bacon, Parmesan croutons and anchovy dressing. Anyway – nice and not too anchovy dressing, best ever croutons, meaty fresh lettuce and good quality roast chicken.
Courgette and spinach tian with garlic, pine nuts and cheese. Make a note of the courgette treatment – that’s how this boring vegetable needs to be handled. Squeeze the living daylights out of it and it might just be vaguely tasty.
Zucchini parmigiana becomes here zucchini alla pecorino – let’s stick to courgette gratin, shall we? I like courgette but do agree it needs some oomph to make it less bland and it must borrow flavour from elsewhere – tomato sauce for instance.
Couscous salad with chicken and red peppers - lovely salad. As with most salads, the ingredients may vary – depending on your fancy and the contents of the fridge. I like to add some kind of cooked, warm vegetables.
Crab salad with spring onions and radishes, served with acocado slices - the classic. The alpha male approach to crab is to grab a live crustacean and plunge it into boiling water, claws waving.
Creamed corn with blue cheese and fresh ripe tomatoes. Creamed corn in fact is now my number one method of cooking corn and that’s how I’ll continue until the end of the summer and beyond – it’s gorgeous.
Crispy spicy roasted chickpeas with red peppers and mushrooms. Chickpeas are funny little things - they look nothing like peas to start with but more like little nuts. Why aren’t they called chicknuts?
Fennel and gorgonzola fettucine - I love pasta. I could eat pasta every day, if it only didn’t contain carbs. Since it does (hell, what other reason it tastes so good?), it’s an occasional treat.
Filo pastry snails with mushroom, spinach and cheese filling. The original recipe for these snails calls for feta cheese. It actually calls for roasted fennel instead of spinach but here I think my improvement has worked – spinach in filo pastry is a classic after all.
Classic English fish and chips: crispy chip shop style batter and double cooked chips. I consulted Heston Blumenthal’s recipe for perfect fish and chips in order to produce mine; with the batter sans vodka (we don’t waste spirits in cooking).
Galettes made with buckwheat flour (gluten-free), with a classic topping of ham, cheese and a few spinach leaves. Galettes are pancakes – only better. The hardcore version has them fried only on one side, toppings put on top (as you would with toppings), and the sides only nonchalantly folded over.
Fresh clams cooked with plenty of garlic and white wine. And then – off they go into spaghetti or linguine, or soup or chowder , or just as a splendid dish of little morsels of saltiness with the juices mopped by some good bread.
A warm salad of Purple Majesty potatoes, zucchini and radishes. Dark potatoes are fairly common, but the ones I’d had before would turn ordinary white when boiled. Not these beauties! These are perfectly unique. To start with, the skin is almost completely black and while scrubbed, they reveal to have a thin film covering the tuber - like a second skin or, as I like to think, a veil.
Smoked mackerel and prawn kedgeree. Haddock seems too much of a northern fish to go into a dish of Indian of origin so I’ve replaced it with hot smoked mackerel. Breakfast? I don’t know but it’s an excellent lunch dish and a brilliant starter.
Lamb and feta pastillas with harissa dip. Great way to use leftover roast. Chicken, beef or pork can be happily eaten cold the following day, lamb – not as much, especially fattier cuts like shoulder. So unless you’re hardcore and want to mince them, season and stuff into dumplings or ravioli, this is the way to go.
Leek and potato bake in creamy cheese sauce. A little like Tartiflette but onions replaced with leeks, no bacon, and I didn’t try to resource Reblochon but cleared out the post dinner party cheeses.
Leek and potato soup, homemade is the best. Soup is the easiest, cheapest and quickest thing to cook at home. Especially if you are a proponent of Soup With Bits, like me – you won’t need a blender.
Linguine with smoked salmon and homemade pesto - and lots of parmesan. This recipe uses, admittedly, fancy pasta from Carluccio. But to be honest, any good quality linguine will do, even if not sexily stripy pink, yellow and green…
Mac n cheese with leeks in cheesy béchamel sauce - the ultimate comfort food. Kraft introduced the quick and ready mac in a box in the 1930s during the Great Depression. But if you want to be posh you can call it pasta Mornay.
Mini sausage rolls made with cream cheese pastry and pork and mushroom filling. Party food – or a perfect snack. The filling can be fashioned out of cooked or raw meat – using leftover Christmas turkey, Sunday roast chicken or pork, or raw meat like here.
Moules marinières with cream, fairly standard, but this recipe has a tiny twist. The usual spiel is to cook mussels with wine, take them out and then add cream – what a waste of time. I added the cream beforehand, turned up the heat full whack and threw the shells in...
French onion soup with toasted bread slices loaded with cheese. The best thing to eat on a cold winter’s day is soup. Something so comforting about a good bowl of soup – better than a stew, much better than a salad and it even beats cheese on toast – sometimes. Not that much beats cheese on toast in my view.
Crêpes, or wheat pancakes, with spinach and blue cheese filling. The batter is a doddle to make and it annoys me so to see the dry mix sold in supermarkets. Mix eggs with flour and milk – a toddler can do it, no? The art of pancake is tricky, but the difficulty lies in tools rather than ingredients.
Pan-fried calves' liver with red onions. I don’t get to eat liver and onions too often as I’m the lone offal aficionado in my house. So unless I’m cooking on my own...
Pan-fried wood pigeon breast fillets with orange caramel. I’m sure wood pigeon is much underrated. You look out of the window into your garden, and on seeing those puffed-up, bolshy bullies on the lawn you don’t think ‘FOOD!’
Pasta with fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil. I love fresh tomatoes with good quality pasta. The question whether you should buy ’fresh’ supermarket pasta is a moot point – buy dry. Good.
Pasta with asparagus and lemon butter, served with lots of Parmesan. Three tricks pasta and I’m pleased to announce that this is truly a pasta template, versatile as anything. I give you the pasta with lemon and any veg, plus Parmesan because pasta can’t be without it.
Penne pasta bake with leeks and mushrooms. There is only one dish that’s nicer than pasta and that is pasta al forno, lasagne is clearly the tops – but it’s a bit of a chore. You can have a pasta bake the easy way.
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