Recipe: 15minute Petit Fours, mini plum financiers

Heavenly one bite morsels

I suspect I may have approached this recipe backwards, I couldn’t resist the teeny-tiny bright red silicone moulds in an online sale and snapped them up. Quite surprised just how small they actually were on arrival, I’ve come up with a 1 egg recipe that can be completed in 15 minutes and is adaptable to various additions. So, petit-fours every day then. The nutty butter and almond flour make these deliciously moreish. Based on a financier recipe although the moulds are the wrong shape. I’ve used plum and tinned cherries before, just make sure they are as dry as possible by dabbing with kitchen paper.

Recipe (makes 18-25 tiny cakes)

  • 30g unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 65g almond flour
  • 65g golden caster sugar
  • 10g flour
  • A handful of very finely cut fruit (plums / raspberries / cherries etc).

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. Melt the butter in a small pan, then simmer gently for a couple of minutes until lightly browned and nutty. Mix the almond flour and sugar in a bowl along with the egg and mix. Once the butter has cooled a bit mix in and add the flour. Stir through the fruit and place in your moulds (since these are so small silicone is best or they might well stick) filling to the top and careful not to spill any. Bake for 10minutes (for tiny moulds) to 15 minutes (slightly bigger). Leave for a couple of minutes to cool, then turn out onto a rack to cool. Try and eat only one, I never can!

 

Recipe: Rose Veal Ossobuco and Risotto Milanese

The finished dish.

 

Veal, quite rightly, has a bad reputation and does raise the ethical eyebrows of a lot of people. Images of trucks of crated calf without enough room to move their head being shouted at by well-meaning animal protesters come to mind. So how do I justify this recipe? A new trend over the past few years has been the English style rose veal, i.e. a young calf that hasn’t been crated and is allowed to move freely, despite being slaughtered young. Mind you, not particularly younger than lamb. Plus the dairy industry produces lots of young male calves of no use to them, hence this is an option rather than killing at birth. The meat is darker (rose) and more intense, perhaps less tender but I prefer the fuller flavour. And particularly in a slow cooked dish like this, the classic Italian Osso Bucco. So win-win all round. A lot (myself included) thought tomatoes were a key ingredient but after reading more about the dish, it isn’t part of the original. And I can see why, the ingredients look unbelievably simple but produce a full-flavoured sauce which would be overpowered by tomatoes, this has a purity that elevates it to a stunning dish. Add to that God’s butter (the very wise Fergus Henderson’s description of bone marrow) and you’ll see why you need to try this dish.

No messing, serious marrow comfort.

For the osso bucco (serves 4)

  • 800g of rose veal shin, ideally with a few bits of marrowbone
  • 4 medium carrots, medium diced
  • 2 sticks of celery, medium diced
  • 1 large onions, medium diced
  • 250ml of dry white wine
  • 500ml of chicken stock

For the gremolata

  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 handful of flat leaf parsley

For the risotto

  • 300g of risotto rice
  • 500ml of vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • A good pinch of saffron
  • 75g of finely grated parmesan

Browning the meat.Simplicity itself.

Firstly preheat the oven to 150°C. Put a good heavy-bottomed pan on a medium-low heat with a tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the onions and gently fry for a couple of minutes, then add the celery and carrots and cook for another 5 minutes. Remove the cooked veg, add another splash of oil and turn up the heat to medium high. Roll the meat in the flour and brown on all sides, turning occasionally. Deglaze the pan with a splash of the white wine and stir with a wooden spoon, then add the rest and boil for a minute or so. Add the veg back in, along with the stock. Bring to a simmer, cover and place in the oven for 1.5-2 hours until the meat is tender. Check after an hour and if it’s still too thin, cook with the lid off to thicken the sauce.

The risotto Milanese is a comforting, rich side and adds to the indulgence of the dish with the best Parmesan you can get your hands on and that wondrous vivid yellow crocus stem, saffron. It should be soft and unctuous and settle in the bowl, risotto that stands up has not been made properly. The smooth creaminess comes from vigorous stirring to release some of the starch from the rice, you can do this in one blast at the end or as you go if you prefer, just make sure it gets a good amount of stirring at some point. Gently fry the onion in a tablespoon of oil for 5 minutes without colouring, then add the garlic and fry for another 3 minutes. Add a tablespoon of butter and fry the rice with the onion until it starts to go translucent. Deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine and add the stock (all at once is fine, just underestimate a bit and add more when it looks dry). Crush the saffron between your fingers and mix with a small amount of water and add to the rice. Cook for 15-20 minutes, tasting towards the end until it has the right bite for your taste. At the very end add the parmesan and stir through, along with some more butter if you want to be even more indulgent.

To make the gremolata, at the last minute before serving very finely mince the garlic along with the zest of 1 lemon and the parsley. Season the risotto and osso buccon to taste. Serve bowls of risotto topped with the meat and finally the gremolata, ideally with a bone full of marrow on each plate. Enjoy.

“Tandoori” style yogurt salmon with broccoli and saffron rice

Jaunty shot of the finished article

This recipe is inspired by tandoori-style cooking, in that the cooking method is grilling (for a quick high heat) and the marinade is yogurt based with Indian spicing. It can’t substitute a skewer cooked in a proper Tandoor (an extremely hot wood-fuelled clay oven) but for a Monday night dinner does a pretty damn good approaching it. It is fresher than most curries, without a heavier tomato based sauce or too much oil, the yogurt keeps it light and adds tang. The saffron rice is a perfect accompaniment and is all you need for a healthy complete meal.

Recipe (for 2)

  • 2 small skinless salmon fillets
  • 1 head of broccoli
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 1 red pepper, sliced
  • 200g Basmati rice
  • 200ml plain yogurt
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely grated or minced (or very finely sliced and “squashed” with a knife)
  • 1 small piece of ginger finely grated
  • 1 fine chopped red chilli
  • 3 tsps of garam masala
  • Salt
  • 1/2 tsps of chilli powder (if you like it hot)
  • 1 tbsps of oil (olive or vegetable)
  • 1 handful of coriander (optional)
  • 1 tbsp of butter (optional)
  • 1 pinch of saffron (optional)
  • 6 cardamon pods (black or green, optional)
  • Wedges of lemon (optional)

Firstly par-boil the broccoli for 3 minutes in boiling water, drain and place in cold water to stop the cooking. Mix the yogurt, garlic, ginger, garam masala, oil and chilli powder together. Mix in the salmon and onion / pepper plus the cooked cooled broccoli. Season with salt and leave to marinate for an hour or so in the fridge (if you have time). Rinse the rice to get rid of excess starch.

Ready to grill

To cook, boil some water for the rice and pre-heat your grill. Spread the yogurt marinaded salmon and veg across a foil lined baking tray and cook for 10 minutes, turning everything once. Cook the rice at the same time with the pinch of saffron and cardamon according to the instructions. Drain the rice and mix in the butter and coriander and a pinch of salt. Plate the rice and serve the salmon and veg on top, with a wedge of lemon on the side for everyone to squeeze on the fish to their taste.

Served!

British Bacon and Pea Fettuccine Carbonara

Fried egg on egg yolk sauce

Carbonara, a classic light Italian pasta sauce, super quick and comforting after a tough day. Very popular yet often poorly done with mounds of cream to make a claggy, heavy, cloying sauce that sticks to the roof of your mouth and the inside of your arteries. However the real version is simpler and lighter.

Recipe – Serves 2

  • 200g of pasta (spaghetti / fettuccine)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • A handful of chives
  • 2 handfuls of (frozen) peas
  • 50g of parmesan or pecorino
  • 4 slices of quality bacon / pancetta cubes / lardons per person

 

Put your pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water and cook until to your preferred level of al-dente. In the meanwhile fry your variety of pig product in a pan with a dash of oil until crisp. Set aside your pork and fry 1 whole egg per person as a topping (optional). Mix the egg yolk, cheese and herbs in a bowl. 30s before draining the pasta add in the frozen peas to defrost. Drain and mix the hot pasta with the cheese / yolk mix and stir for one minute to cook evenly. Add in your bacon and top with the fried egg. Serve immediately.

Sweetbreads – the sweetest most offally nice morsel a gland ever produced

A bad shot of the finished article

Sweetbreads act like menu marmite, strongly repelling a lot of people and yet drawing in others with their magnetic appeal. I’ll often order a dish just because it has a side of sweetbreads for a small taste of that pillowy light meatiness. But first off, to dispel the myth once and for all, they are not (or certainly should not be) bollocks of any kind, nor brains. They have a very precise definition. OK, they actually confusingly have two precise definitions. They are either the thymus gland from the neck or the pancreas. Typically from lambs although apparently you can get them from calves as well, I haven’t seen that variety before. Some people with less than strong stomaches avoid them but I defy anyone who likes meat to try one and not instantly love them.

Clearly they are hard to sell since the butcher chucked in an extra pack when I bought some, so two big bags (easily 6 good side servings) for £2.50. Although they are money-cheap, they are not time-cheap, requiring some fiddly (although I stress, not particularly difficult) cooking and preparation to get the best of them. This was my first time cooking them and I was extremely pleased, I’d encourage anyone who loves meat to give it a go. I paired these with sumac, a middle Eastern bright red spice with a sharp lemony flavour to cut through the richness. As an alternative a squeeze of lemon works very well.

Sitting in all their glory

 

This first step isn’t the most appealing if you’re at all squeamish, it does certainly have a gelatinous feel of strange internal organs and slightly odd smell. I quite enjoyed it but Anna had to leave the room. Simply drain them and pop in a pan with a few bay leaves and crushed garlic cloves. Cover with water and bring to the boil, then simmer for 5-7 minutes depending on their size (I did these for 6). This will just cook them through and firm them up so you can handle them. Drain, remove the aromatics and leave to cool. Once cool you’ve got the fiddly bit ahead. That slimy texture was due to the surrounding membrane skin, something which has now cooked and become chewy and sinuous. So, with your sharpest knife and a bit of dexterity slice the membrane carefully off, aiming to keep the pieces as big as possible (grape size or bigger is good). I found cutting into the membrane and slowly peeling off worked well. Cut off any tubes / bloody bits as well, anything that doesn’t look like a miniature brain.

A hard day's peeling!

 

What you end up with should look like this. Free of the majority of the sinew; lovely clean lumps of tasty gland morsels. The final step is to fry them in a hot pan with butter / oil for 2-3 minutes until you get a nice crisp outer layer to contrast with the light meat. Season with salt / pepper and scatter with a teaspoon of sumac or a squeeze of lemon. Eat as soon as possible and don’t tell people what they are until after, they’ll find a love for something they thought they wouldn’t like (perhaps only try this with better friends though).

Mexican feast recipe: pork carnitas with black bean and sweetcorn salad, plus guacamole and salsa of course!

Mexican. Executed properly it’s a joyous mix of fresh flavours, top ingredients and simplicity put together into healthy, bright food. Banish the chain restaurant “Tex-Mex” rubbish and look at it with a new set of eyes. As a mental image, Mexican to me is bright and colourful; zesty and fresh. Lime brings this altogether in one-go, adding a floral, zingy quality to everything (absolutely not replaceable by lemon). Corn and beans are other pivotal ingredients, used in everything from salads to dips to the tortillas for scooping together your food.

Finished dish

I decided to tackle carnitas, a new dish to me and to some extent the Mexican equivalent of pulled pork, though the cooking is more like a confit duck. Using cheap fatty cuts of pork (shoulder in this case) and slow cooking in oil with some simple flavourings (orange, garlic and cinammon) creates unctuous melt-in-the-mouth tender strands. Then an additional grilling crisps some bits up for texture and contrast. Not having been to Mexico I didn’t realise it would also call for a large vat of lard or oil, not that manageable in a home kitchen. Fortunately Kenji from the SeriousEats food lab has a detailed roundup of a much simpler way to achieve the same effect, so props to them and their great site.

I initially was going to prepare some refried beans but decided given the lovely weather and the pork, something lighter to cut through would be better. I still wanted to use beans and instead made a simple salad of pinto beans, sweetcorn and raw red peppers. Topped with some superb aged Feta (to roughly simulate Mexican cotija cheese) and brightened up with lime it was a great pairing. More freshness came from a classic guacamole and added some moisture to the wraps. Unfortunately I didn’t make the tortillas (it was a hungover Sunday after all) but will be looking into those at some point.

 Carnitas (feeds 8 hungry people)

  • 2kg pork shoulder (I bought thick steaks), chopped into 5cm cubes.
  • 2 onions, quartered
  • 8 garlic gloves, smashed on the back of a knife
  • 2 sticks of cinnamon, broken into 4 pieces each
  • 2 oranges, quartered
  • 8 bay leaves
  • 150ml vegetable oil
  • Tight fitting casserole dish

Lots! of shoulder Flavourings Tightly packed with the flavourings

Preheat the oven to 140°C. Season the pork chunks with a decent helping of salt, then combine in the casserole dish with the onions, garlic, cinnamon and bay leaves. Squeeze the orange juice over and mix the orange segments in. Try and make sure everything is tight, then cover with vegetable oil (as much as you need to cover it). Tightly cover in foil and place in the oven. Cook for 4-5 hours until everything is very tender.

Take out of the oven and let it cool in its own liquid. Extract the pork, shred it with two forks and store separately until ready. Carefully remove the bay / orange / cinnamon / garlic and throw away (keeping the fatty stock). Let the stock separate into liquid and fat and carefully scoop the fat back into the reserved meat. Now the genius part is you can use the liquid pork stock for your salsa as below.

When you’re ready to serve (and have prepared the rest below) grill the pork and fat mix spread out on a tray for 5 minutes, mix it up and grill again for 5 minutes until you have a mix of delicious strands of soft and crisp bits.

Salsa

  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 6 large tomatoes (or tomatillos if you can find them)
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 jalapeno peppers (or 1 hotter chilli)

Place everything in a pan together with the pork liquid. Top up with water to cover the veg and boil for 10 minutes. Allow to cool and then blend, its quite watery compared to what I’m used to but works really well with the pork.

Guacamole (per 2 people)

  •  1-2 ripe soft medium avocados
  • 1 lime
  • Sea salt
  • 1 handful of coriander, chopped finely
  • Cholula sauce (Mexican medium hot sauce) – optional

Firstly make more of this then you think you need, everyone I know loves it and it disappears in front of your eyes. The quantities above are for 2 people so scale accordingly. Firstly cut the avocado in half, working around the stone. Carefully extract the stone (I whack a knife in it, twist and pull out) and remove the skin. I find it easiest to peel avocados as long as they are soft enough, just gently pull away from the skin and you have no waste. Roughly chop and place in a large bowl. Mash them to your desired texture, I prefer to have discernible lumps than a paste. Add the juice and zest of half a lime, plus the coriander and mix. Salt is the key here, add a decent pinch and taste. Adjust both the acidity and salt to taste. I like to add a touch of cholula (or even cayenne pepper) for a bit of bite but that’s optional. Serve straight away or cover and refrigerate, it’ll keep happily for a few hours if need be.

Quick Mexican Salad (serves 4-6 as a side)

  • 1 large tin of sweetcorn drained (or 2 kernels freshly cooked if you have time)
  • 1 large tin of pinto (black) beans drained
  • 1 large handful of coriander, finely chopped
  • 1 large red bell pepper finely diced
  • 300g of feta (or more authentically, fresh Mexican cotijo cheese if you can find it)
  • 2 limes, juice and zest
  • A couple of tablespoons of olive oil
  • Sea salt for seasoning

There’s plenty of work in the rest of this meal so I made the side salad pretty simple using mainly tinned ingredients. However the combination works really well and is a refreshing side dish. Mix all the ingredients except the cheese and adjust to taste with the lime, coriander and salt until you’re happy. Bear in mind the cheese will add quite a lot of saltiness so keep it slightly underseasoned. When ready to serve crumble the cheese on top.

Bringing it together

So, once those are all prepared you’re ready to serve. Put out the salsa, guacamole and salad. Heat the pork as per the instructions and at the same time heat some corn (or flour) tortillas in the oven wrapped in foil (or on a pan if you have time). Devour with friends and Mexican beer.

Healthy Summer Recipe: Prawn and asparagus quinoa salad

Being mixed

I’ll have a packet of … screws up face … quin-oh-ah please I proudly announce to the health food shop. A derisive snort emerges from behind a raft of dreadlocks, followed by a gently nuanced pronunciation of “Keen-wah I think you mean sir”. However you say the damn thing, there’s no denying the tasty wholesomeness of this fashionable grain. No dinner party is complete without a bowl of it, followed shortly by the host announcing “it’s from the Incas you know”. Of course the more political-minded diners will already be discussing the impact on South American economies and their food chain.

But I digress, this was supposed to be a quick recipe after all. So, fry some onions and a bit of fresh chilli, chuck together with quinoa cooked in stock (vegetable or chicken) and whatever happens to be seasonable (I bought British asparagus surprisingly, must be the very end of the season), fry up your prawns for 2-3 minutes on a high heat and there you go. A squeeze of lemon and glug of oil, some seasoning and herbs and you’ve got a superb, nutritious meal in 20 minutes. You want an actual recipe, fine:

The (badly lit) finished article.

Prawn, asparagus and quinoa salad (serves 2)

  • 1 packet of prawns (raw preferably)
  • 2 onions chopped (red / white / a mix)
  • 1 fresh chilli, chopped
  • 2 portions of seasonal veg (in this case a bunch of asparagus roughly chopped)
  • 1 lemon
  • 150g dry quinoa
  • Some mint / basil / coriander / whatever herb you think will go

Start by frying the chopped onions in some oil over a medium heat until they start to turn brown, add the chilli (as much as you feel like) and continue cooking for a few minutes. Cover the quinoa with chicken / vegetable stock or just water and boil for 15-20 minutes, until the germ starts separating from the grain and it is soft (although a bit of bite is desirable I think). Whilst that is happening, cook your veg however you wish (I fried my asparagus on a high heat for 5 minutes, but it could have been boiled for 3-4 minutes). Once the quinoa is cooked bring together the veg, onion, chilli, quinoa in a bowl and add the juice of 1/2 lemon and the herbs if using. Stir fry the prawns quickly on a high heat, 1 min if already cooked or 2-3min if raw until pink through. Add to the mix, season with salt / pepper and check for acidity as well adding more lemon if needed. Serve.

Recipe: Shredded Thai chicken, carrot, noodle and chilli salad with fish sauce marinade

As summer blasts into London with a wave of humid, sticky, sunshine-filled days some of the traditional English dishes can seem, well, a touch heavy. Not that we don’t have our fair share of light dishes, particularly in our modern culinary vernacular, but let’s be honest we don’t get that much sunshine. So why not turn to Eastern Asia and the hot, humid climes of Thailand for some inspiration on the few similar days a year we get.

Firstly, I doubt this is particularly authentic, I’ve mashed up a few different cuisines (and the noodles are definitely Japanese) but I think the intention is clear and recognisable as Thai. It has fresh raw ingredients; a clean fierce heat from chilli; and a salty-sweet-sharp warmth from the fish sauce / sugar / lime marinade. I’m sure you could vary the ingredients endlessly, different cuts of chicken or prawns would work well for the protein and some shredded cabbage wouldn’t go amiss. Even better it’s a super quick recipe, start to finish 30 minutes if you work fast. It came out great and looked somewhat like this:

Healthy chicken noodle salad with fish sauce.

Being targeted as a “healthy” recipe I have poached skinless chicken breasts for pure lean protein but feel free to substitute as you wish if that is a tad puritan for you. It also has quite a fierce heat from 2 red hot chillis and a slight pungency from the fish sauce so adjust to taste. I’ve also made use of the carrot greens which are like a slightly carroty parsley and add some greenery, freshness and colour.

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 2 skinless chicken breasts
  • 4 medium carrots scrubbed (preferably with a handful of the reserved greens)
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 8 small radishes
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • Juice and zest of 1 lime
  • 2 birds-eye chillies or other hot chilli
  • 2 tablespoons of castor sugar (golden preferably)
  • 1 portion of noodles (I used Udon)
  • 8 leaves of mint if you have any.

Firstly get the chicken poaching, this is a great way to easily get moist healthy chicken. The most fool-proof method I have found is to place the chicken breasts in a pan of cold water that covers them by 1cm or so. Bring to the boil and simmer for 4 minutes. Then turn the heat off, cover the pan and leave for 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the breasts. You can chuck some whole star anise / peppercorns in although I always wonder how much this really adds.

In the meanwhile you can prep the marinade, simply mix the lime juice / zest with the fish sauce and sugar, adjust to taste. To prep the salad I used a food processer with the grating attachment. I actually used the finest setting but think I’d recommend the coarser one next time. Grate the carrots / radishes / onion / chillis together and take out any big chunks left over. Mix the combined vegetables with the marinade, add the chopped carrot tops / mint if using and combine well.

Once your chicken is nearly ready, cook the noodles (try not to overcook them to avoid them being mushy). Drain and rinse well and mix in with the salad. Your chicken should be ready now, drain, shred with your hands and combine everything. Check for seasoning, adjust if needed with salt or fish sauce and serve. Feel healthy.

Fresh pasta – give it a go

Freshly cut into tagliatelle

Homemade fresh pasta. Deeply satisfying, genuinely better than dried / store bought and worth a bit of effort. Yet somehow along with souffles and pastry many have a deep-rooted fear of attempting them, as if the kitchen might spontaneously implode when you add a bit too much egg to your mix.

Well, brush aside any fears, [wo]man up and get your pasta machine out. You may need to attempt this a few times to get the right feel for the dough and how it behaves, but once you do you’ll be extremely pleased with the reward for a small amount of perserverance. Firstly, the ingredients list, if you can call it that. 00 flour, a very fine soft flour, get the best you can. And eggs, as fresh as you can get. That’s it. I use 1 medium egg for each 100g of flour, allow 100-150g per person depending on how hungry you are. Pile the flour onto a large clean work surface, crack the eggs into a well, break up the eggs with a fork and then mix together by hand into a dough. You want something that sticks together enough into a clump but isn’t wet or sticky. Adjust the flour / egg as necessary.

Now is the important bit, kneading. You’re aiming to introduce elasticity into the pasta by developing the gluten strands, that’s pretty important given you want to stretch your mix into a long thin sheet later. It helps to have a radio on, then you can keep kneading for at least 2 songs, possibly 3 depending on how many times a week you visit the gym. Knead and stretch the dough until it is elastic and shiny. Wrap in clingfilm and let it rest in the fridge for an hour.

An hour later, lightly dust your surface with some flour and clamp your pasta machine to the worktop. Cut the dough into rough portion sizes (i.e. the number of people you’re trying to feed) and cover each with clingflim. Take your first ball, flatten it slightly and lightly dust with flour. Starting with the widest setting on your machine, roll it through 2-3 times trying to get a nice even rectangle the width of the machine. Lightly dust with flour if it sticks (and bear in mind for next time you might need less egg). Now, slowly notch by notch take the pasta machine down to thinner levels, each time putting the pasta through 1-2 times depending on how it is feeling and stretching.

Depending on what you’re doing with the pasta you can decide how thin to take it. Generally I’ll go down to the second or third thinnest level, for ravioli you probably want the thinnest though. By the end you should have a long, thin rectangular sheet. Dust with flour, shake off the excess and place in a dish covered with a damp tea towel to keep fresh.

What you do from here is up to you. Most machines come with cutters for linguini and fettuccine. Or you can rough cut some shapes of your own? Ravioli is a great option too, simply cut the sheets lengthways in 2 (depending on what size ravioli you want), dot filling at equal intervals, brush with water around the edges and top with another sheet. Then press firmly removing the air around the filling and cut as desired.

Served with pumpkin, pancetta, broad beans, sage and chilli.

As you can see, I cut mine into tagliatelle. Cooking is simple, get a large pan of salted water on a proper rolling boil, drop in and cook for 2-4 minutes depending on the thickness. Make sure you keep testing the pasta to your desired level of al-dente, you don’t want to overcook it. And be careful with more delicate ravioli, less of a boil and palce them carefully in the water. Serve with a simple sauce to emphasise the deliciousness of the pasta, in this case I mixed some roast pumpkin with fried pancetta, sage and broad beans for a fresh light taste.

 

Chicken, cob nut and goat’s cheese salad

Weekday dinners, there’s always the temptation of giving in to something easy, whether that means pre-packed, takeaway or a sandwich. But ultimately there are lots of dishes that don’t take much effort and are healthy and delicious. Hearty salads are particularly good, often not involving much cooking with plenty of vegetables and fruit. Add some nuts / bread and you’ve got a complete meal.

Waitrose had fresh cob nuts for sale so I decided to base the meal around that. Cob nuts are a variety of hazelnut and have fallen foul of food fashion recently. There is a campaign to revive them seeing as they are a traditional part of Britain’s culinary heritage. Whilst they can be shelled and dried as per your usual nut, in season they can also be found fresh. The fresh nuts are mild and milky in colour which can be intensified with a quick dry toasting.

The first task is shelling, I attempted whacking with both a cast iron pan and a wooden chopping board. Both of these methods produced a lot of noise without much cracking (since the husk is fresh it has some bounce). Careful cracking with a nut cracker was definitely the way forward, at least much quieter (just trying not to squash the precious nuts inside). I was debating what to put in the salad, grilled peach sounded great but we’re at the end of the season and they were past their best. An apple took its place, together with cucumber, leaves, goat’s cheese and a few artichoke hearts I had left over. The combination of cob nut, goat’s cheese and apple was actually fantastic and made for a very complete dish.

The main protein of the dish is the grilled chicken breast, this is based around a Jamie Oliver recipe with a basil / parsley stuffing and lots of garlic and lemon. Make sure you crisp up the chicken skin on the grill and then you can finish it off in the oven.

Ingredients (for 2)

  • Fresh cobnuts (a couple of handfuls)
  • 1 small cucumber
  • 1 apple
  • 75g medium soft goat’s cheese
  • Punchy salad leaves (some rocket and watercress is good)
  • 2 chicken breasts (skin on)
  • 4 garlic gloves
  • 1 lemon
  • Parsley and basil
  • Dijon mustard
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Anything else you want to chuck in that will complement the core ingredients
As early as you can (2-24hrs before ideally) make the marinade. Boil the garlic gloves for 5-6 minutes to soften and take the edge off them. Mash them up with a fork, then add the zest and juice of the lemon, a glug of oil, the finely chopped parsley / basil and season to taste. Even out the chicken breasts by bashing them between clingfilm with a heavy pan or rolling pin to make cooking easier (trying to keep the skin attached to the breast). Place half the marinade in a pocket under the skin of the chicken breasts and then cover the breasts with the rest. Cover and leave in the fridge.
Take the breasts out of the fridge 1/2hr before cooking to bring them up to room temperature and pre-heat the oven to 180c. De-husk the cobnuts (a nut cracker worked best for me) retaining just the milky white nuts. Put a dry heavy pan on a medium heat and toast the cobnuts for 4-6 minutes moving frequently until they have a bit of colour and crunch. Set aside for later.

You can make the dressing now, I just used a simple vinaigrette (1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil shaken with a dash of mustard, salt and pepper). You can start prepping the salad now. Halve and de-seed the cucumber (if you wish, I prefer this as it is less watery), chop and put in a big bowl. Core and chop the apple and add the salad leaves. Chop the goat’s cheese into small chunks and add to the bowl. Add anything else you’re including in the salad, I had some artichoke hearts which I love.

Get a heavy pan (ideally a grill pan) nice and hot over a medium-high heat. Add the chicken breast skin side down and turn every minute for 5-6 minutes. Place straight in the oven for a further 5-7 minutes to finish cooking the breasts.

Dress the salad and place in a bowl, then slice the finished chicken and place on top. Enjoy!