Spaghetti or linguine vongole – a shellfish pasta dish for summer

June 15, 2016 § Leave a comment

We were out with friends at a local Italian restaurant on Friday and I ordered their spaghetti vongole to benchmark my own version against it. The restaurant version was competent but no more – the pasta hadn’t taken on the sweet flavour of the clams and there was too much pasta and not much else. I shall spare the restaurant kitchen’s blushes by not naming it here!

I’ve been experimenting at home recently with spaghetti vongole having seen a recipe demonstrated by chef Theo Randall on the BBC cooking show Saturday Kitchen back in April.

The Theo Randall version ups the shellfish flavour by partnering the clams with squid and prawns. White wine, garlic and sweet cherry tomatoes form a base for the sauce, strips of courgette are mingled with the pasta to lighten the dish and the whole whole thing is freshened up with lots of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley.

The trick to boosting the flavour of the finished dish is to only part-cook the pasta in boiling and salted water and complete the cooking in the clam sauce so that the pasta really takes on the sweet shellfish flavour.

The recipe for spaghettini with squid, clam and prawns that the BBC give on the website (to accompany the Saturday Kitchen show) for is frankly pants. It misses out the wine from both the ingredients list and method, some of the cooking times are wrong – you really don’t want to boil the wafer-thin courgette strips for 7 minutes – and the weight of some of the ingredients is unbalanced. My version of the recipe corrects these errors and omissions.

It’s important to have everything prepped and ready to go before you start cooking, as once you begin cooking it’s all systems go and the dish is finished quickly and cooked pasta can’t be kept waiting. Doing all the prep is a little time consuming but the finished dish is worth the little bit of effort this takes.

The clams need to be fresh but the recipe works just fine with defrosted raw squid and prawns.

The courgette strips would probably most easily be created with a modish spiraliser but if you don’t have one (and I don’t as you can see from the pictures), the courgette can be fashioned into long thin strips using a vegetable peeler or mandolin and kitchen knife.

I experimented making this dish with different types of good quality dried pasta. You don’t need to use spaghetti – my favourite version was with fine flat linguine to which the sauce clung well.

Linguine with clams, squid and prawns

Serves 2


200g good quality dried linguine (or spaghetti or other long thin pasta of your choice)
1 medium courgette cut into thin strips using a vegetable peeler or mandolin (or spiralised)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
350g clams in their shells, cleaned (1 generous handful each)
1 medium squid, cleaned, cut into small pieces (0.0,75cm dice is about right)
150g raw peeled deveined prawns cut into small pieces (the same size as the squid pieces)
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
pinch dried chilli flakes
10 baby plum or cherry tomatoes cut into quarters
large glass dry white wine
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flatleaf parsley

1. Prep all the ingredients, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil , lay the table and warm your serving bowls and have your guest at the ready before you start cooking as this dish is ready in the time it takes to cook the pasta and is at its best served and eaten as soon as it’s ready.

2. Cook the pasta in the pan of boiling salted water according to the packet instructions but reduce cooking time by 1 minute. It will finish cooking in the clam juices.

3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan or deep frying pan big enough to hold all the sauce and the cooked pasta. Add the prawn, clams and squid and stir fry for one minute.

4. Add the garlic, half the parsley, the dried chilli flakes and the quartered baby plum or cherry tomatoes and stir fry for a further minute. Add the glass of white wine and allow it to bubble away for a further minute or two until reduced by approximately half. Turn off the heat while the pasta cooks.

5. Once the pasta is about one minute away from being ready, drain in a colander but reserve a cupful of the starchy pasta water.

6. Straightaway, add the raw courgette strips and drained pasta to the frying pan containing the sauce, turn the heat back on and cook for a further minute or so, tossing the pasta and courgettes in the pan so that sauce emulsifies and the pasta and courgettes really take on the flavour of the sauce. You may need to add a little of the reserved cooking water if the contents of the pan seem too dry. Go easy on the liquid though as you don’t want to drown the pasta in water.

7. Add the reserved tablespoon of chopped parsley and mix well before dishing up into warmed bowls.

Sometimes a magazine recipe comes up trumps

February 29, 2016 § Leave a comment

I spotted a recipe in last month’s edition of the M&S food magazine for something they called “Salmon and ricotta brunch”. Practically every food publication that comes out at this time of the year features healthy eating and detox options. The brunch recipe was billed as being high protein fuel for those concerned with their health and nutrition. The recipe title wasn’t great, nor was the health-food angle but the picture looked pretty so I gave it a go and was really pleased with the result.

At the time I decided it was far too fussy a dish to make for breakfast. Who wants to tumble out of bed on a Sunday morning and start separating eggs for goodness’ sake!

But on reflection, if you’re in the right frame of mind, with a bit of forward planning it is manageable and making this dish for a second time at the weekend, the process seemed a whole lot easier.

Don’t let the whole seventies-retro vibe feel of a roulade put you off either. The end result is delicious, filling, and yes, being high-protein and low carb probably counts as healthy too.

I bet you’re thinking that the roulade in the picture looks just a tad too golden-brown. You’re right as I mistakenly baked mine at 200 degrees C fan rather than the 190 degrees C fan I suggest in the recipe.

Salmon, spinach and ricotta roulade

Serves 8 for brunch or a light lunch.


For the roulade

50g unsalted butter
50g plain flour
300 ml milk (whole or semi-skimmed)
60g grated parmesan
4 medium eggs at room temperature
freshly ground black pepper
2-3 further tablespoons grated parmesan

For the filling

240g bag ready-to-cook spinach
250g ricotta
salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ grated nutmeg
175g cooked flaked salmon or hot-smoked salmon or trout

1. Heat the oven to 190 degrees C fan and line a swiss roll tin with baking parchment.
2. Make a very thick white sauce as the base of the roulade. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, add the flour and cook the resulting roux for a minute or two but do not allow to colour.
3. Take the pan off the heat and add the milk a little at a time whisking thoroughly after each addition. Return the pan to the heat (medium heat) and, whisking constantly, bring the mixture to the boil and cook for 4-5 minutes, again whisking all time to produce a thick smooth mixture.
4. Remove the pan from the heat and add the 60g grated parmesan. Mix well to incorporate then set the pan aside for the mixture to cool for 5-10 minutes. Stir it from time to time while it cools to stop a skin from forming.
5. Separate the eggs. Reserve the yolks and whisk the whites until firm but not too stiff and dry.
6. Beat the reserved egg yolks into the thick cheese sauce mixture.
7. Take a big spoonful of whisked egg white and mix it into the thick cheese sauce mixture to loosen it a little then add this mixture to the whisked egg whites. Fold together using a balloon whisk trying not to knock too much air out of the whisked mixture.
8. Carefully pour the roulade mixture into the prepared tin, spread it to the corners with a palette knife and sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons grated parmesan over the top.
9. Bake for 15 minutes until risen and golden-brown.
10. Meanwhile, lightly steam the spinach, squeeze out all the excess water, chop roughly and place in a bowl. Add the ricotta, salt, pepper and grated nutmeg to the bowl and mix thoroughly to combine.
11. Place a sheet of baking parchment on a work surface and when the roulade is cooked, turn it out onto the parchment. Peel away the parchment used to line the tin.
12. Quickly spread the spinach and ricotta mixture over the roulade and top with the flaked fish. Roll up the roulade using the parchment on the work surface to help create a tight roll.
13. Cut into slices with a serrated knife and serve while warm with roast cherry tomatoes if liked.
14. The rest of the roulade is good served cold for lunch the following day.

An idea for a Valentine’s night supper

February 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

Here’s a quick idea for a special meal at home if you don’t fancy sharing an evening in a restaurant with couples out on an awkward first date, red roses and all that over-hyped jazz.

My suggested menu is built around a main course of Lobster Mac and Cheese. This is a world away from the stodgy macaroni cheese I remember from my childhood. It was a very on-trend dish last year but now that Marks and Spencers do a ready meal version I think we can say it’s truly become mainstream.

I’d wanted to give the dish a try but couldn’t bear the idea of using expensive and hard-to-source lobster in anything except it’s purest form. But then I saw the Iceland Christmas ad campaign and filled my chest freezer with 10 quid packets of pairs of Canadian lobster tails. Perfect for experimenting with different lobster recipes, be they salads, chowders or indeed lobster mac and cheese.

After a couple of trial runs, I’m quite pleased now with the recipe I’ve come up with. I’d accompany it with a crisp green salad dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.

To start, you could stay with the seafood theme and serve a pretty-as-a-picture crab, pink grapefruit and avocado salad.

To finish something fresh and light on carbs would be in order – maybe a lemon granita or fruit salad, and of course Champagne would be the perfect drink.

Lobster mac and cheese

Serves 2


180g dried macaroni or other small pasta shapes (I used conchigliette)
2 small cooked lobster tails, meat removed from the shell and cut into bite-size chunks
30g unsalted butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
25g plain flour
100ml Noilly Prat vermouth
350ml semi-skimmed milk
35ml double cream
2 teaspoons tomato purée
1 teaspoon paprika
generous pinch cayenne pepper
25g gruyère cheese
2 tablespoons chopped flatleaf parsley
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons Panko or similar dry breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 210 degrees C fan.

Cook the pasta in plenty of boilings salted water until just al dente then drain.

While the pasta cooks, prepare the sauce.

Melt the butter and sauté the chopped shallots for a minute or two until soft and translucent. Stir in the flour to make a roux and cook for a further minute.

Add the Noilly Prat, milk and cream a little at a time stirring well after each addition. Cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens. Add the tomato purée, paprika, cayenne pepper and gruyère cheese and stir to combine well and melt the cheese. Add the chopped parsley and season to taste.

Mix together the sauce, cooked pasta and lobster meat and turn into a shallow heatproof dish.

Sprinkle the grated parmesan and breadcrumbs over the top and bake in the preheated oven 210 degrees fan for about 15 minutes until piping hot and golden brown on top.

Root cake

October 17, 2015 § 1 Comment

As I write, England need just 33 to win in the surprisingly exciting test match against Pakistan..

This reminds me that earlier this year I fulfilled a longstanding ambition to take a along a cake to the BBC cricket commentary team in the Test Match Special studio. The occasion was a glorious Saturday at Cardiff during the opening Ashes test match 2015 (a hotly contested series whereby England take on Australia in case you’re not a cricket aficionado).

England’s batsman of the moment was Yorkshire’s finest, Joe Root, and it was his name that gave me inspiration for what to put in the cake and how to decorate it. Everyone knows that carrots make a great teatime cake so why not run with the idea and throw parsnips and swede into the mix as well? That’s exactly what I did. The only other change I made to my failsafe carrot cake recipe was to substitute coarsely ground hazelnuts for the chopped walnuts as I thought this would make a better flavour match with the nutty notes of parsnip and swede. And so the root cake was born.

The cake recipe, like the England team, was a winner, whether in its original carrot and walnut form or with the root vegetable and hazelnut variatiotion – straightforward to make and bake, travels well, reliably moist and delicious and with a cream cheese frosting that holds its shape and won’t let you down when the heat is on…

I was delighted that my cake made it onto both the Test Match Special Facebook page and Twitter feed, was tweeted by former leading Australian bowler turned commentator Glenn McGrath and was referred to by Jonathan “Aggers” Agnew in an interview for Radio Times. A tiny bit of fame!

Root cake with cream cheese frosting

This quantity makes a triple layer 20cm round cake. Increase the cake batter quantities by 20% and the frosting quantities by 50% to make a triple layer heart-shaped cake in a tin measuring 22cm lengthwise (from low point between lobes to tip) by 23cm across widest part.

The 20cm triple layer round cake cuts into 12 slices.


300g soft light brown sugar
3 eggs
300ml/265g rapeseed oil
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
300g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
100g each finely grated carrots, parsnips and swede
100g coarsely ground hazelnuts

For the frosting

300g icing sugar, sifted
50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g cream cheese, cold

To decorate

A selection of root vegetables modelled from marzipan and painted with food colouring or, more simply, a handful of toasted hazelnut halves and a sprinkling of ground cinnamon

Prepare three 20cm cake tins by greasing and lining the bases with silicone baking paper.

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C fan.

Put the sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and oil in a stand mixer fitted with K beater attachment and beat until the ingredients are well incorporated. Mix together the flour with the raising agents and spices and slowly add this to the bowl continuing to beat until well mixed.

Stir in the grated root vegetables and ground hazelnuts and mix until evenly dispersed.

Pour the mixture into the three prepared cake tins (weigh to ensure evenly distributed) and level the surface with a palette knife. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through (test by pressing quickly and lightly with a clean forefinger – the sponge should bounce back when cooked). Leave the cakes to cool in the tins for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool fully. Peel off the baking paper.

Make the frosting while the cakes cool. Beat together at slow speed the icing sugar and the butter in a stand mixer fitted with a K beater attachment. Add the cream cheese all in one go and beat until fully incorporated. Turn up the speed to medium-high and continue beating for about 5 minutes until the frosting becomes thick and fluffy.

When the layers are fully cold, you can assemble the cake. Put one layer on a stand and spread about one third of the frosting over it. Place the second layer on top and spread over it the next third of the frosting. Top with the last cake and swirl the remaining frosting decoratively and smoothly over the top. Decorate with marzipan models or halved nuts and a sprinkling of cinnamon according to your preference.

A summery salad from Southwold

May 24, 2015 § Leave a comment

Whilst on our annual pilgrimage to Southwold on the bracing Suffolk coast I tried out a new salad recipe inspired by the cover recipe on this month’s Delicious magazine. It combines two of the season’s best ingredients – asparagus and baby new potatoes and adds to them crunchy radishes and a fresh herby dressing. The Delicious magazine recipe requires you to whip up a herb hollandaise sauce to dress the salad but creating a vinegar reduction, separating eggs and creating a delicate emulsion is not my idea of fun for a quick holiday lunch, and frankly, the idea of all that butter is a little off-putting. I replaced the herb hollandaise with a quick and easy yoghurt and herb dressing that worked really well with the other ingredients.

At this time of year, Southwold’s greengrocer, the Crab Apple in the Market Place is heaving with local Seabreeze asparagus, so much so that one no longer feels the need to treat it reverentially. Wild fennel grows in abundance by the beach and a little of this thrown into the herb dressing adds a fresh aniseed flavour note that works well with the asparagus and potatoes.

The genius part of this salad is that the potatoes are not just plain boiled but after a quick parboil are smashed and roasted in olive oil in a hot oven becoming deliciously crispy.

In terms of aesthetics, the long thin white tipped Breakfast variety of radish look prettiest, especially if you leave on a little of the green radish top. If you can’t get hold of these then the regular scarlet globe-shaped type works just fine.

Here’s the recipe. I’d recommend it to anyone wanting to pep up a holiday lunch and it provides welcome relief from yet another carb-heavy pork pie and sandwich picnic.


Southwold asparagus and crispy potato salad

Serves 4

Adapted from a recipe in the Delicious magazine May 2015 edition.


450-500g baby new potatoes (e.g. Jersey Royals), scrubbed
4-5 tablespoons olive oil
400g asparagus, woody parts trimmed-off and ends peeled
200g radishes, washed, trimmed and halved lengthwise (the long thin white-tipped Breakfast variety look prettiest but the regular

For the dressing

250g full fat natural yoghurt
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
small clove of garlic, peeled, smashed and finely chopped
generous handful of fresh herbs – whatever you can get hold of – I used fennel foraged from the beach, basil and chives

Optional garnish

a spoonful of extra chopped herbs
a little balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses

Heat the oven to 200 degrees C fan. Line a shallow roasting tin with baking paper

Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 7-8 minutes until you can just pierce them with a knife point but they are not quite tender. Drain thoroughly and tip the potatoes onto the prepared roasting tin. Press each potato with a fork to squash it partially. Drizzle over the olive oil, season and toss lightly to coat. Slip the roasting tin into the oven and roast the potatoes for about 30 minutes, turning them half way through the cooking time.

While the potatoes are in the oven, make the dressing. Put all the dressing ingredients into a medium bowl, stir to mix, cover and set aside in the fridge.

Steam or boil the prepared asparagus until just tender – about 5 minutes for the plump spears shown in the photograph. Slice each asparagus spear into two halves carefully on the diagonal.

When the potatoes are ready, tip them onto a platter and spread them out. Scatter over the asparagus and then the radishes. Dollop the herbed yoghurt dressing over the salad and, if liked, scatter over a few chopped herbs and drizzle with just a little balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses.

Lamb (or vegetables) for a springtime celebration

April 8, 2015 § Leave a comment

Last weekend, some 50 family and friends descended on the Northern Lake District hamlet of Fellside near Caldbeck to share our friend Bruce’s 50th birthday. As my contribution to the celebrations, I offered to cook a meal for all the guests staying over on the Saturday night.

This is the menu I put together with its foundations in the Lake District classics of Herdwick lamb sourced from Yew Tree Farm in Rosthwaite and Sticky Toffee pudding, a recipe that originated at Ullswater’s Sharrow Bay hotel.

Menu for Bruce’s Saturday night




Dukkah and olive oil

All with pitta


Herdwick lamb tagine

Seven vegetable tagine

Both with preserved lemons and harissa


Date and orange salad

Root vegetable slaw

Chargrilled broccoli with chilli and garlic


Sticky toffee pudding

Toffee sauce and cream

Cheeseboard with water biscuits and Winter Tarn Farm organic butter

Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire

Keverigg (like Caerphilly) from Winter Tarn Farm near Penrith

Burt’s Blue from Altrincham

The lamb tagine/sticky toffee pudding formula is a tried and tested way of feeding a crowd and I’m indebted to my friend Shelley for introducing me to this lamb tagine recipe which can be made ahead of time and will appeal even to those who, like me, are not lovers of stewed lamb. The fell-bred Herdwick lamb shoulder becomes meltingly delicious, sweet and spicy after two and a half hours of slow-cooking.

And for those who prefer vegetables to lamb, I offer a recipe for a Moroccan-inspired seven vegetable tagine. The vegetables are given flavour twice over first by being marinaded in olive oil, garlic and harissa and second by being roasted in a hot oven to concentrate their flavour further. As the sauce is made from pureéd vegetables and a little stock, this recipe is both gluten and dairy-free, an added bonus when feeding vegetarians with different dietary requirements.

Both recipes are straightforward to make, freeze and reheat well and are equally good eaten for supper at home or scaled up for a celebration.

Contact details for Yew Tree Farm, Borrowdale (for Herdwick Lamb via mail order or in person from the farm shop)

017687 77675

Joe and Hazel Relph
Yew Tree Farm
CA12 5KB

Tagine of Herdwick lamb

Adapted from Antony Worrall Thompson recipe on the BBC Food website. Serves 6 generously or up to 10 if served with salads and side dishes. Doubled up, this fits comfortably into a preserving pan and if making ahead and freezing, the double quantity can be ladled into 5 pour and store bags each serving four people and holding 1.1 litres/kg tagine.

The quantity of spices given in the recipe if measured accurately with cook’s measuring spoons will give quite a spicy tagine, particularly so if your spices are fresh. If you prefer a milder tagine, put in a quarter (for a mild end result) or half (for a medium end result) of the stated quantities of cayenne, ground ginger and black pepper. Replace the hot spices with more of the milder ones (paprika, cinnamon and turmeric). Taste the sauce half way through the cooking time and crank up spices according to your taste at that stage.


1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 and a half tablespoons mild paprika
1 and a half tablespoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 boned shoulder of Herdwick lamb, trimmed carefully to remove excess fat and sinew and cut into 5cm chunks. There should be approx 1kg trimmed weight of meat
2 large onions, very finely chopped in a food processor (original recipe calls for grated onion)
2 tablespoon light olive oil
2 tablespoon argan oil
3 cloves garlic finely chopped
570ml tomato juice
400g can chopped tomatoes
115g natural colour (unsulphured) dried apricots, halved
55g Deglet Nour dates, stoned and halved
55g organic sultanas
85g flaked almonds
1 teaspoon best quality saffron stamens (I like Brindisa Belefran brand from Spain)
570ml lamb stock
1 tbsp clear strong tasting honey (I like heather honey)
1 can drained rinsed chickpeas
chopped fresh flatleaf parsley and coriander to garnish

Combine the dried spices in a small bowl and mix well to combine. Place the trimmed lamb pieces in a large bowl and toss together with half the spice mix. Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat your oven to 140 degrees C fan.

Heat 1 tablespoon light olive oil and 1 tablespoon argan oil in a large casserole dish. Add the finely chopped onion and the remaining half of the spice mix to the pan and cook over a gentle heat for about 7 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and cook for a further 3 minutes then turn off the heat.

While the onion and spices are cooking, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon each of olive and argan oils in a large frying pan and brown the pieces of lamb a few at a time.

Add the browned lamb pieces to the casserole along with any juices. Deglaze the frying pan with a quarter of the tomato juice and add these juices to the pan.

Add the remaining tomato juice, chopped tomatoes, dried fruits, flaked almonds, saffron, lamb stock and honey to the casserole dish. Bring to the boil, cover, place in the oven and cook for 2 and a half hours. Cool, skim off and discard any excess fat. Add the chickpeas, stir in well and heat through when ready to serve. Garnish generously with chopped fresh herbs and serve with couscous.

Seven Vegetable Tagine

Source: adaptation and combination of several recipes from Paula Wolfert’s book “Moroccan Cuisine”. Apparently, in both Fez and Marrakesh, the number 7 is considered lucky and this recipe has both seven vegetables and seven flavourings so is doubly so.

This recipe was originally devised for a Moroccan-themed party to suit a vegetarian family member who cannot eat tomatoes.

Serves 7-8 as a main course; 12-15 as a vegetable accompaniment


The 7 vegetables

1 butternut squash, peeled and quartered
2 medium aubergines
2 red peppers
1 medium turnip (not swede), peeled and quartered
3 medium onions, peeled
1 large bulb fennel, trimmed
1 can white cannellini beans (400 g can, drained weight 225g) drained and rinsed
4 tablespoons olive oil

The 7 flavourings

4 crushed cloves garlic
3 teaspoons harissa
3 tsp cumin seeds
1-2tsp salt
few twists pepper
2 tsp dried thyme
1 generous pinch saffron threads
Three quarters to one pint vegetable stock (I use Marigold vegetable stock powder)

Cut all the vegetables, other than the beans, into bite sized chunks (roughly 1” cubes). Don’t worry if the the onions and fennel fall apart.

Put the flavouring ingredients except the saffron into a large mixing bow, add the olive oil and, tip in the vegetable chunks (but not the beans) and mix everything together with your hands, making sure all the vegetables are well coated with the flavoured oil.

Tip into large roasting tin – don’t cram them into too small a tin otherwise the vegetables will steam rather than roast – and roast for approx half an hour in a hot oven – 220 degrees C in a domestic fan oven. The vegetables are ready when they are soft but not mushy and the top layer are toasted and golden brown with darker brown edges – don’t let them blacken and burn. Stir them about once or twice while they are roasting.

While the vegetables are roasting, soak the saffron threads in a little hot water (1-2 fl oz) in a measuring jug for 15 minutes or so. Top up the measuring jug to the three quarter pint level with vegetable stock.

When the vegetables are cooked, remove from the oven, tip in the drained beans and stir to mix. Remove approximately one quarter of the vegetable mix and liquidize or blend with the saffron stock liquid to make the sauce. Add up to a further quarter pint of vegetable stock if the liquidized sauce seems to thick. Tip the sauce back into the roasting tin and stir gently to mix, scraping any toasty brown bits from the base of the roasting tin as you do so, but being careful not to break up the roast vegetables too much.

To serve – warm through and garnish with chopped fresh coriander and offer extra harissa and chopped preserved lemons separately.

Fillet steak for Valentine’s Day

February 13, 2015 § 1 Comment

Yes I know it sounds hackneyed and a teeny bit boring but this is what I will be cooking up at home on February 14th. It won’t be just any old steak and chips but one of my all-time favourite special occasion recipes, Tournedos with Polenta and Salsa Verde, the signature dish of chef Alastair Little’s restaurant in Soho back in the nineties.


The recipe comes from the book “Keep It Simple” co-authored by chef Alastair and food-writer Richard Whittington and first published in 1993 at the height of the restaurant’s fame. It’s a slim volume arranged in four seasonal chapters with attractive photographs and drawings and clearly laid-out recipes. It’s a book I turn to time and time again and as I leaf through the pages I marvel that it doesn’t seem dated at all. Every single recipe is true to the book’s title, the flavour combinations are spot-on, and the mixture of classic and eclectic dishes means it’s book you keep coming back to.

The tournedos recipe is really three dishes in one – a polenta croûte enriched with parmesan and butter, crunchy golden-brown on the outside but with a soft inside perfect for soaking up the steak juices; a perfectly cooked fillet steak medallion with the pan juices turned into a sauce with the addition of stock and madeira; a lively and unexpected salsa verde that freshens-up the dish and makes all the flavours sing.

Most of the prep can, in fact needs, to be done in advance making it ideal for dîner à deux when you don’t want to be spending hours in the kitchen. I suppose that the raw garlic in the salsa verde should make this a no-no for a romantic meal but, what the heck, we’ve known each other long enough now not to mind a little mutual garlic breath.

Tournedos with polenta and salsa verde

Serves 4.


For the polenta croûtes

200g instant polenta
50g grated parmesan cheese
30g unsalted butter
salt and pepper
light olive oil for oiling the baking tray and croûtes

For the salsa verde

1 large garlic clove, peeled and chopped
large bunch flatleaf parsley, washed, dried and largest stalks discarded (about 40g prepared weight)
small bunch basil, just the leaves (about 20g prepared weight)
half a small bunch mint, washed, dried and stalks discarded (about 10g prepared weight)
2 tablespoons capers
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
a little coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
150ml extra virgin olive oil

For the tournedos and sauce

Four 140g tournedos
A little light olive oil
Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper
150ml beef stock
5 tablespoons dry sherry or Madeira
15-20g cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks

Make the polenta croûtes at least 2 hours before you plan to cook the steaks. Cook the instant polenta in a medium saucepan following the packet instructions. Stir in the grated parmesan cheese and butter and season generously. Spread the polenta out onto a lightly oiled baking tray and spread out into a sheet about 1cm thick (a small crank-handled palette knife is ideal for this). Cool, then refrigerate for an hour or so. When set firm, cut out 4 rounds using a cutter a little larger than the tournedos. Brush lightly with oil and transfer to a second baking sheet lined with baking paper.

If you like, you can cut the remaining polenta into chunky fingers and brush these with oil and bake them along with the croûtes to make a stack of crispy polenta “oven chips” to serve alongside the tournedos.

And don’t waste the offcuts either. Cut into the neatest pieces you can manage and keep them in a sealed container in the fridge. Brush them with oil and bake them off and they will form the basis of a light lunch served eg with chunks of dolcelatte or goats cheese or chopped tomatoes and basil.

The salsa verde should also be made ahead of time. Put all the ingredients except the oil into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until chopped then with the motor running pour the oil through the spout and whizz until you have an emulsified sauce. You will need to scrape down the sides of the processor bowl with a spatula several times. Decant the salsa verde into a small bowl, cover with cling film and set aside in a cool place (not the fridge which is too cold) until ready to serve.

Remove the steaks from the fridge about an hour and a half before you plan to eat and allow to come up to room temperature.

About half an hour before you plan to eat, slip the baking sheet on which you laid out earlier the oiled polenta croûtes and “oven chips” into an oven preheated to 210 degrees C fan. Bake for about 25 minutes, turning halfway during the cooking process, until crisp and golden brown.

About 10 minutes before you plan to eat, heat a heavy-based frying pan (large enough to hold all the steaks and with an ovenproof handle) over a medium to high heat. Brush the steaks with light olive oil and, when the frying pan is hot cook the steaks for exactly 2 minutes each side, season, then transfer to the preheated oven (210 degrees C fan) for further 4 minutes. These timings work to cook a thick steak to medium rare.

Remove the steaks from the frying pan and place them on top of the croûtes on prewarmed plates and leave to rest for a minute or two while you complete the sauce. Make sure you protect your hand with a dry cloth from the super-heated pan handle and add the stock and Madeira to the frying pan in which you cooked the steaks. Boil fiercely for a minute or two until the liquid is reduced by about two thirds and is becoming thick and syrupy. Quickly whisk in chunks of cold butter and a little seasoning. Spoon over the steaks and serve straightaway.


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