Snacks and Starters

Gambas Pil Pil

 

This always feels like a little taste of the Mediterranean as I remember the first time we had this dish was on holiday. So for me, Gambas Pil Pil brings with it warm nights and gentle breezes, long relaxed suppers watching the sun go down before meandering back to our villa. A fabulous starter, it arrives sizzling with the aroma of garlic filling the air. The plump, garlicky prawns are fabulous and the residual oil is just as enjoyable, mopped up with good, chunky bread (Focaccia in this case). Lovely, simple: enjoy!

Serves 4-6 as a starter or light lunch (We like rather large portions, so maybe bear that in mind when looking at my prawn quantities!)

What you need…

4 – 6 x ovenproof bowls to cook and serve

900g giant prawns, peeled

6 cloves garlic, chopped

2 hot chillis, deseeded and sliced

Sea salt to season

Olive oil

What to do…

Divide the prawns between your dishes. Likewise, divide up the garlic and chilli evenly. Season with salt and then pour over olive oil so that it just covers the top of the prawns. Give them a good mix, cover with cling film and then pop in the fridge until ready to cook. (If possible, I try to do this preparation 24 hours in advance so that the flavours really gather, but equally, we have had them after just a couple of hours ‘marinating’.

Preheat the oven to 240°c / 475° / gas 9.

Remove the cling film and put your bowls on a baking tray and then into the oven for 5 – 10 minutes, until they are pink and sizzling.

Carefully remove from the oven and serve. The most simple of starters or lunches and really quite delectable. Dunking bread is an absolute must!

Serving suggestion…

Good bread to mop up the garlic infused hot oil.

Tip…

I used Cooks’ Ingredients’ frozen chopped garlic and chilli, saving on that bit of prep – love ‘em!

Inspired by…

Not sure – the recipe is pretty generic but this particular version, which we have been enjoying for years, was pulled from a magazine…a very long time ago!

How easy…

Very, very easy!

Pani Puri

This is my first tentative foray into Indian food. Well, that’s not quite true; in December, I was seen to throw the entire chicken curry that I had attempted down the waste disposal – it was THAT bad. I knew I needed help and have since spent a wonderful afternoon and evening with my lovely friend, Bina, who patiently took me through several delectable dishes, which we then enjoyed over dinner. A popular street food, Pani Puri is what we enjoyed to start with and it was delicious! Puris are little crispy puffed up ‘balls’ made from wheat semolina. They don’t taste of too much until you stuff them up with this lovely filling and a choice of spicy and tangy chutneys. Topped with Sev Mamra (spicy puffed rice), these are quite delicious: the crispy shell of the puris breaks open to reveal the gently spiced filling, the kick and tanginess of the different chutneys and the cooling freshness of the coriander – a really lovely alternative to canapés and great fun, because the best bit is that you put all the elements on the table, letting friends and family assemble their own puris. My scribbled notes, taken on my afternoon with Bina, are perhaps not as accurate as they could be but John and I thoroughly enjoyed my efforts!

Makes 10

What you need…

 10 x Pani Puri (they come in boxes of 40+ from Indian supermarkets and last for ages)

1 jar ready-made green chilli chutney

1 jar ready-made date tamarind chutney

Sev Mamra (available in different sized bags – you can enjoy whatever is left over simply as a snack on its own – very moreish!)

for the filling…

2 red potatoes, chopped small

Splash rapeseed oil

2 Indian or small red onions, chopped small

2 teaspoons coriander/cumin powder (Dhana Jeerer)

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ginger

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

200g tinned brown chick peas (Kala Chana), strained and rinsed

Handful of fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped

Using your finger, tap out a hole in the top of each of the pani puri – it’s not too important how big, just large enough to get the filling into! Pop them on a serving plate and onto the table where you’ll be eating.

Tip the potatoes into a pan of salted water, bring to the boil and then simmer until soft. Strain through a sieve.

Dry the pan and add the rapeseed oil. Over a moderate heat, fry the onions and all of the dried spices and cook 5 minutes. If the mixture gets too dry, splash in a little water, just to keep the mixture moist.

Stir in the potatoes and chick peas and warm through. Chuck in a couple of teaspoons of chopped coriander, setting the rest aside until you’re ready to eat. And that’s your filling made!

In 4 pretty little serving bowls, spoon out some of each of the chutneys, the coriander and the sev mamra. In a larger bowl, serve the warm filling. Add the bowls to the table next to the pani puri. Equip everyone with plate and teaspoons and watch your guests’ delighted faces as they create their own starter or canapés, popping a little filling into the bottom and then topping with each of the chutneys, perhaps some fresh coriander and then the sev mamra – just delicious!

Inspired by…

Bina! (Thank you soooooo much)

How easy…

Really easy – there’s only the filling to make and then everyone makes their own!

 

Homemade Pesto

 

This fits into the category of ‘if it tastes THAT good and is THAT easy’, why buy ready-prepared! This is gorgeous and just shouts ‘fresh’ – it’s tangy and really, really flavoursome. It literally took about 2 minutes to make, including getting the ingredients from the fridge! As well as stirring through pasta (which is what it was made for) I can also use it with gnocchi, as a topping for Italian toasted bread, to top pizza or popped on a nice bit of steak……the list goes on. Give it a go – it’s really lovely!

Makes enough for pasta for 4 – 6

What you need…

Large handful of basil

Large handful of flat-leaved parsley

40g roughly grated Parmesan

15g pine nuts

2 anchovy fillets

1 tablespoon capers, rinsed

1 garlic clove, roughly chopped

80ml olive oil

½ teaspoon sugar

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Juice ½ lemon (optional)

What to do…

With the exception of the lemon juice, put the lot in your food processor. Whizz until a rough paste is created. Taste. Add more salt and pepper if needed. Whizz. Taste again. Add lemon juice, if liked. Whizz. Serve. Enjoy and feel jolly smug that something tasting this great requires next to no effort!

Tip…

Keep your pesto sauce in the fridge for up to a week or freeze for up to a month.

Inspired by…

Delicious magazine

How easy…

Ridiculously. You could almost do it in your sleep!

Fantastic Feast of Pulled Pork

OK! A savoury OMG moment! I can count the number of times I have eaten pork on the fingers of one hand probably (other than bacon and sausages – they don’t count!) But…I am drawn to a pig roast but it never quite delivers in taste what the enticing aromas promise. So, anyway this recipe caught my attention and I have to say that I am now a total convert! This pork was succulent and sooooo tasty; flexible too – it was happy stuffed in rolls or dressed up with plums and a lovely potato and apple combination that I made up on a whim. Seriously, for a relaxed family and friends supper that everyone will just love, give this one a go. Oh also, zero effort – pop in oven and walk off for 6 hours – love it!

Serves 4-6

What you need…

for the pork…

1 x roasting tin, lined with enough foil to cover the pork

1.6Kg shoulder of pork, string and rind removed

2 teaspoons sea salt

2 teaspoons black pepper

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1½ tablespoons dark brown sugar

300ml hot water

for the sides…

4 red potatoes, chunked

2 cloves of garlic, chopped,

1 teaspoon sea salt and black pepper

Splash of olive oil

2 Pink Lady apples, cored and chunked

4 Ciabatta rolls

Knob of butter

4 – 6 plums, halved and stoned

What to do…

Preheat the oven to 220°c / 425°f / gas 7.

In a small bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients.

Unroll the pork and pop it in the foil-lined roasting tin. Rub the mixed ingredients all over the pork and pop it straight in the oven for 30 minutes to brown. Reduce the heat to 150°c / 300°f / gas 2. Pour the water into the foil and then wrap the foil around the joint and seal tightly. Cook for around 6 hours or until tender.

Just before you get to the end of the 6-hour cooking time, pop the red potatoes in a baking dish, scatter over with garlic and dried rosemary, salt and pepper and the splash of olive oil; stir to mix everything together thoroughly.

Increase the oven back up to 220°c / 425°f / gas 7 and uncover the pork. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes the remove from the oven. At the same time, pop in the baking dish of potatoes.

After 10 minutes, remove the pork from the oven, cover with foil and rest for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 200°c / 400°f / gas 6. Tip the apples into the potatoes, stir in and roast for another 25 minutes.

10 minutes before you are ready to serve, pop the ciabatta rolls into the oven to warm through – they should only take 10 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a frying pan over a moderate heat and then place in the plum halves, flesh side down. Turn the heat up to high and cook for 10 minutes until the flesh is just starting to go golden brown.

Everything is now ready and your can dive in. Put the lot onto a serving platter, start pulling the pork with two forks and then leave it on the platter for everyone else to help themselves: pulled pork in ciabatta rolls or just on it’s own with the wonderful addition of a few of those potatoes and the OMG plums – they go sooooooo well. Whichever choice, it doesn’t matter – it will all go! Enjoy – a fantastic feast of pulled pork that requires next to no effort!

Inspired by…

Lovepork.co.uk

How easy…

Seriously, next to zero effort for a really fantastic sharing supper!

Fast, Fresh and Fabulous Smoked Salmon Paté

Stuck for a lovely starter that is simply no hassle at all? Looking for a quick, delicious lunch or perhaps part of a picnic or fridge raid-type of snack? Whichever, this paté is made in about 3 minutes flat and is simply delightful – light, fresh and quite delicious – dress it up or serve it as it comes, this is another one on the favourites list for so many reasons – give it a go – blink and it’ll be done!

Serves 4

What you need…

175g smoked salmon, roughly chopped

75ml double cream

50g crème fraiche

Juice of 1 lemon

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

What to do…

Chuck the lot in the food processor. Whizz until smooth. Pop into a serving dish, cover with cling film and stick it in the fridge until you’re ready to indulge. That’s it! Seriously! Never buying ready-prepared again!

Inspired by…

James Martin…

How easy…

You can almost do this asleep it’s that simple!

Pizza!

I know that loads of people make their own pizza and I certainly should have adopted this notion given the amount that goes down in this house, but I waited until I’d been on the planet 52 years before giving it a go! I was somewhat nervous about the whole dough-making process, which flour (00 vs. strong white bread flour) and the use of yeast (and all the different types you can get). Then the advice: James Martin advocated leaving his dough overnight, Jamie Oliver said 15 minutes, Google searches came back with anything from 30 minutes to a couple of hours! So, in the end, I cobbled this recipe together and….it’s great! I’ll be doing it again but will roll out the dough a little thinner next time. This recipe is quick, easy and as ever, homemade knocks shop-bought or even delivered into touch – give it a go!

 Makes 6 – 8 medium-sized pizzas

 What you need…

 800g ‘00’ flour (I think strong white bread flour would work just as well)

200g semolina

1 level tablespoon fine sea salt

2 x 7g sachets fast action dried yeast

1 tablespoon caster sugar

650ml lukewarm water

for the tomato sauce

2 tins Italian chopped tomatoes

4 garlic cloves, chopped

1 teaspoon garlic salt

½ teaspoon dried rosemary

½ teaspoon dried oregano

for the toppings

Go mad – put whatever you fancy on! Our choices are below

What to do…

Whop all the tomato sauce ingredients into a blender and whizz to mix together. Set aside until ready to top your pizza bases.

If you have a standalone mixer with a dough hook on it, chuck everything else in the bowl and let it do its stuff for about 5 minutes, until you can see the dough coming together. Tip out onto a lightly floured surface.

If you don’t possess one of these lovely machines, heap the flours and salt onto a clean surface and make a well in the centre. Tip the yeast, sugar and water into the well and, using a fork and a circular movement, slowly bring in the flour from the inner edge of the well and mix. Keep doing this – it will go through a ‘stodgy porridge’ stage but will then start coming together as a dough.

Whichever route you took to get to this stage, now knead the dough quite assertively until you have a smooth springy soft dough – this will take about 5 minutes if you used the mixer to start with and maybe 10 minutes if you’ve done it all by hand.

Flour the top of your dough and pop it into a large, roomy bowl (I used the cleaned out mixer bowl), cover with cling film and pop it somewhere warm (I stood mine just under the radiator). Leave for 1 hour.

Dust your work surface with flour and/or semolina and then cut your dough into 6 or 8 pieces depending on whether you want medium or slightly larger pizzas. Squidge each piece into a ball and then roll out into rough circles until they are about ½ cm thick. Tear off a piece of foil slightly larger than the pizza base and spread over a little oil and then dust with flour and/or semolina. Pop the pizza base onto the foil.

Do this for each pizza base, stacking them on top of one another, each separated by an oiled and floured piece of foil. You could now cling film them and pop them in the fridge until you are ready.

When you are ready, pop a heavy baking tray on the lowest shelf of your oven and heat your oven to 250°c / 500°f / gas 9.

Apply your toppings of choice and then put the pizza in, one at a time, still on their foil, on top of the piping hot baking tray. Cook for 7 – 10 minutes until the pizza is golden and crispy (and the inevitable mozzarella is melted and bubbling).

Then, remove the pizza from the oven, leaving the baking tray in there ready to receive the next one. Your pizza will be firm so this won’t be difficult. Slide your pizza off the foil and dig in – the base will be lovely and crispy and the topping will be according to your individual taste!

What we had…

The point is, you can put whatever you fancy on, so I rummaged through the fridge and took out just about anything that I thought might work and that at least one of us liked. The joy of it then was that we built our own. Whilst the first one was cooking, the second one was being created and so on. We each created pizza specifically to appeal to our own tastes – marvellous!

I also made a garlic pizzetta to share so, in my blender I whizzed a couple of cloves of chopped garlic with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a couple of teaspoons of dried garlic pizzetta wrosemary. Then I just brushed the oil over the top and wodged in rosemary sprigs – it was bloody lovely!

Mine: tomato sauce, mozzarella slices, a few baby spinach leaves (I would have used basil, but didn’t have any), a few slices prosciutto and a couple of chopped up sundried tomatoes. Seasoned with salt and pepper. Gorgeous!

John: tomato sauce and then what looked like a fridge-raid: chopped up chicken, prosciutto, loadsa mozzarella slices, pepperoni, chopped up sundried tomatoes.

Connagh: tomato sauce, mozzarella, Parmesan, prosciutto, pepperoni.

Other topping suggestions, chopped ham, chorizo, sliced peppers and red onions, chillies, courgettes, anchovies, thyme…and so it goes on….

Inspired by…

James Martin initially, then Jamie Oliver and then, the yeast packet and lastly, the fridge!

How easy…

Dead easy and great fun!

Hot New York Deli Style Pastrami Sandwiches

I’m not really a sandwich kinda girl, but I do hanker for the fabulous ‘Pastrami on Rye’ sandwiches that I indulged in every time I went to New York. That being several years ago now, I sat up very straight when James Martin explained that he was going to show us how to make Hot Paper Bag Sandwiches of Pastrami, Fontina (cheese) and Pickled Cucumber during his Home Comforts series. As ever, I’ve fiddled with the recipe, but the first words out of John’s mouth, were, “Oooh, this is New York on a plate!” And these sandwiches are pretty damned close to what I remember – that wonderful combination of hot pastrami mingling with the slightly sharp yet smooth bite of the mustard, the melted cheese and then the tart cucumber that was masquerading splendidly as gherkin. Wonderful, edgy and given the packaging, slightly rough around the edges – very New York to my mind!

Serves 2

What you need…

Parchment paper

String

75ml cider vinegar or rice wine

25g caster sugar

1 teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon mustard seeds

½ cucumber, thinly sliced

1 small bunch dill, leaves only, roughly chopped

6 thin slices sourdough bread (I know, not rye, but it works really well)

20g-ish butter

1 dessertspoon Dijon mustard

150g pastrami, thinly sliced

200g Jarlsberg/Manchego, sliced

What to do…

Preheat oven to 200°c / 400°f / gas 6.

To make the marinade that’s going to transpose your very British cucumbers into all-out New York-attitude gherkins, bring the cider vinegar to a simmer in a pan with the sugar, salt and mustard seeds, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Pop your cucumber slices into a bowl and pour over the hot vinegar marinade. Stir in the dill and set aside to infuse.

Meanwhile, toast the sourdough slices and spread with butter. For each of the two sandwiches that you are making, take one slice and spread with mustard, then top with pastrami, then cheese, then the cucumber. Top with another slice of toast and then repeat the layers: mustard, pastrami, cheese, cucumber and then finish off with another slice of toast, but this time, butter side down.

That’s one sandwich done; do the same for the other.

Wrap each sandwich in a large sheet of parchment paper and secure with string. Pop both of your sandwich parcels into the oven and bake for 15 minutes until they are piping hot – enjoy the fabulous aroma emanating from your oven!

Then, it’s present-opening time: snip the string with scissors and unwrap your Hot New York Deli Style Pastrami Sandwiches. OMG – just OMG – simply fab.

Inspired by…

James Martin, Home Comforts

How easy…

More than you would normally do just for a sandwich but then again….they’re so much more than just a sandwich! Very worth it!

Crab and Prawn Coconut Soup

I love this crab and prawn coconut soup: it’s delightfully light, tasty and fragranced but also enough about it to pass as a substantial starter or light main course. The seafood flavours are beautifully emphasised by the influences of the lemon grass, fish sauce and coriander – it’s absolutely lovely and you can knock it up in a flash – definitely going on my ‘supper party starters’ list, so if you’re coming around, expect it – you’ll enjoy!

Serves 2

What you need…

Splash rapeseed oil

2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

2cm fresh ginger, peeled and then grated

1 lemon grass stem, trimmed and sliced

Pinch hot chilli powder

200g cooked crab meat

500ml boiling water from the kettle

1 fish stockpot (I use Knorr)

200g coconut milk

1 tablespoon fish sauce

225g raw, peeled prawns

2 spring onions, trimmed and sliced

Juice of ½ lemon

Good handful chopped fresh coriander

What to do…

In a jug, pop in your stockpot and then pour in 500ml boiling water from the kettle. Whisk with either a fork or small balloon whisk to dissolve and then set your stock aside.

In a large saucepan over a moderate heat, splash in the oil and add the garlic, ginger, lemon grass and chilli powder. Cook until golden. Tip in the crab meat, stock, coconut milk and fish sauce. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the crab meat and the prawns and cook until the prawns are just pink. Then add the spring onions, lemon juice and coriander. Enjoy this lovely, light fragrant soup – quite delicious!

Inspired by…

Rachel Allen

How easy….

Very easy, quick and quite delightful!

Stilton Soup

OK, so the final bit of Stilton remained in the fridge from Christmas. It wasn’t actually opened until a good way through January but, if it wasn’t to be wasted, I needed to do something with it and we’d got to the end of the delightful ‘Stilton and crackers, perhaps with a glass of port’ thing. So, I thought I’d give this a bash, even though I wasn’t overly certain whether it would even be pleasant. It’s absolutely lovely: smooth, rich and really, really flavoursome. Delia reckoned that this recipe would serve 4 – 6 people as a starter but I decided to serve it as an ‘amuse bouche’ (defined as ‘a little bit of food which is served before the meal to stimulate the appetite) in tiny cups, simply because it is sooooo rich. It’s a lovely little taster to kick off a dinner! And there’s no problem with the leftovers – having served four, the rest was divided into two polythene bags and frozen, available for a couple of other dinners!

Serves 12 as an Amuse Bouche

What you need…

Splash rapeseed oil

3 shallots, chopped

1 leek, cleaned and sliced

1 large potato, peeled and chopped into chunks

1 heaped tablespoon plain flour

570ml water, boiled from the kettle

1 chicken stockpot (I use Knorr)

150 ml dry still cider

110g Stilton cheese, cut into small chunks

275ml milk

1 tablespoon double cream

Sea salt and black pepper

What to do…

Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan, then add the vegetables and a pinch of salt. Pop the lid on and cook on a low heat for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, using a small balloon whisk, stir the stockpot into the water until it has dissolved. Set aside your stock.

Stir the flour into the vegetables and, when evenly mixed in, gradually add the cider, stirring the whole time. Add the chicken stock, pop the lid back on the pan and simmer gently for 30 minutes.

Add the milk and Stilton and increase the heat to high. Stir until the cheese has melted and the soup is just below boiling point. Taste. Season. Taste. When you’re happy with the seasoning, stir in the cream.

Tip the whole lot into your blender and whizz until your Stilton soup is smooth and creamy. Serve – it really is rather delightful and has a definite indulgent feel to it – enjoy!

Stilton Soup 2 w

Inspired by…

Delia Smith,

How easy…

Really, really easy – no effort at all and I love the fact that you can freeze it, ready for future dinners!

Celery Soup

OK, don’t, like I did, dismiss this out of hand – I cannot believe how unexpectedly, stunningly delicious this soup is! Honestly! I was asked to make celery soup by John, following a visit to his acupuncturist – bear with me – it’s worth it. Just so you’re in the loop, he had his gall-bladder removed two years ago and his digestive system has never been right since (another story for another time). The acupuncture is working (again, another story) but the lovely lady he sees recommended celery soup, saying it would help with digestion. I put off making it for several weeks, pronouncing it dreary and was subsequently astonished at how lovely such a basic soup is. Then comes the good bit – I researched the health properties of celery – wow! It’s a super food – it has incredible properties – I’ve included a summary underneath the recipe. But I urge you to try this one – easy, quick, cheap delicious and spectacularly good for you!!!!!

Serves 4

What you need…

Splash olive/rapeseed oil

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 red onion, chopped

450g celery, cleaned, trimmed and sliced

400ml boiling water from the kettle

1 chicken stock pot (I use Knorr)

What to do…

Pour the hot water onto the stockpot and, using a small balloon whisk, dissolve to create your stock.

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over a moderate heat and then tip in the garlic, onion and celery. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 5 minutes, until softened.

Add the chicken stock, bring it to the boil, pop a lid on the pan and then reduce the heat to low, simmering gently for 15 minutes.

Transfer the soup to your blender and whizz until smooth and thick.

Pour into big mugs or soup bowls and enjoy your celery soup, reflecting that in life, it is often the simple things that bring the most satisfaction. Enjoy!

Tip…

I use Waitrose Cooks’ Ingredients frozen chopped garlic – a quick shake direct into the pan rather than all that peeling and chopping business.

Serving suggestion…

I like this soup straight up, but if wanted a little variation, try a little swizzle of double cream or perhaps a few drops of truffle oil.

Inspired by…

James Tanner, Ready Steady Cook

How easy…

You can practically do it in your sleep!

Let’s talk about celery…

OK, so clearly it contains loads of water and that’s always good. However, if we look at the vitamins and minerals: A, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, C, K, potassium, manganese, copper, phosphorus, magnesium and calcium are amongst the long list associated with this humble vegetable.

 

Moving along more scientifically, celery is a rich source of flavonoids which studies have shown lower inflammation as well as reducing the risk of heart disease, enhancing the immune system and inhibiting the growth of abnormal cancer-causing cells! It also contains something called pectin-based polysaccharides – including apiuman (I’m out of my depth here) which appear to have special importance in producing anti-inflammatory benefits, with studies demonstrating improved integrity of the stomach lining, decreased risk of stomach ulcers and better control of levels of stomach secretions!

Because chronic oxidative stress and excessive inflammation are key risk factors in the development of many cancer types, it’s not surprising that scientists are interested in the potential benefits of celery intake for cancer prevention. While there is speculation about celery benefits for stomach cancer, colon cancer, and bladder cancer, there are as yet no actual human research studies in any of these areas. Hopefully, future research studies will address the potential cancer-related benefits of celery much more closely.

My vote is that it has to be good for you and that this simple soup is a great way to get your quota!