Paella

Ah paella. The mere sound of it takes me straight to Spain. And not, God forbid, pronounced in the British way but, rather, with its original clicking sound. The recipe below is not mine (I wish) as I do not know Spanish cuisine that good as to conjure up such an exquisite dish. It is Simon Hopkinson’s, the food writer and TV chef. It also passed the test of a real Spanish food lover’s taste, so it must be good.

There’s something deeply satisfactory about paella. Be it the rice, the abundance of ingredients or the mixture of shellfish and chicken (an authentic one calls for both indiscriminately), it makes such a perfect autumn/winter dish, not to mention how good it is when tasted during the warmer season. Be generous with portions too! The quantities indicated below serve 4, but believe me it would be enough for 3 greedy and hungry people. I have slightly adapted the ingredients and their quantities because the marketplace is a wonderful place to shop at, but does not unfortunately respond nicely to the tiny quantities of fish required below. Therefore, I went a bit commando with it.

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Ingredients

  • 150g chorizo sausage, cut into small coins and then halved
  • 1 squid, cleaned and cut into rings
  • 350g chicken thigh fillet, cut into small pieces
  • 100ml dry sherry
  • 200g cherry tomatoes
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 150g green beans, sliced
  • 150g sweet red peppers from a jar, thickly sliced
  • 1 tsp saffron threads
  • 600ml hot chicken stock
  • 300g paella rice
  • 750g mussels, debearded and well washed (or already shelled, like in my case)
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper

Ingredients (for the decoration)

  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 5 tbsp olive oil

Method

  1. Use a large pan (I rely on my flat and very versatile Le Creuset pan) to heat some olive oil and then fry the chorizo slices until crisped up and the orange fat runs. Lift them out of the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate. Now introduce the squid and very briefly sliced until coloured. Remove with the slotted spoon and add to the chorizo.
  2. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper, then tumble in the pan and cook until golden brown for about 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, put the sherry, cherry tomatoes, garlic and paprika in a food processor and whiz until smooth. Push the mixture through a fine sieve, then add to the pan once the chicken is nicely coloured. Bring up to a simmer.
  4. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomato mixture has thickened.
  5. Now add the beans, peppers and saffron, then carefully pour in the chicken stock. Stir all together and bring to the simmer once again. Sprinkle the rice into the liquid and stir well, making sure it is evenly distributed among the chicken and the vegetables.
  6. Once you have done this, try not to stir the paella again and cook over a moderate heat for 20 minutes. Truth is I did stir to avoid catching at the bottom. I suggest that if your pan is not entirely non-stick you do that too. Cook until you can see the rice puffing up.
  7. Remove the paella from the heat and clamp the lid on. Leave to stand for about 5 minutes, then remove the lid and return to the heat. Add the mussels, chorizo and squid to the pan and cook, stirring, for another 2-3 minutes, then remove from the heat for the final time and steam with the lid on for another 5 minutes. This not only ensure the fish is completely cooked, but also keeps the rice very moist.
  8. To decorate, mix the ingredients together and trickle over the paella. Serve at once and enjoy.

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Tagliatelle With Mushrooms & Mint

Traditionally, mushrooms work well with either garlic, cream, thyme, Marsala – or even a combination of the four. This time, let me suggest a slightly more unusual pairing: mushrooms and mint. Despite being skeptic myself at first, I have to say this idea, as proposed in the latest issue of the La Cucina Italiana food magazine, is one to keep. The mint, with its sharp and pungent flavour and smell, perfectly complements and offsets the darker and more earthy tones of the mushrooms. The Parmesan flakes and the walnuts, casually scattered on top, add both texture and little pockets of saltiness and roundness.

The original recipe asked for porcini mushrooms. Unfortunately, I haven’t managed to come across fresh porcini mushrooms anywhere so far, so had to use chestnut ones instead, which worked just as well. Enjoy this dish on a cold winter day as pure and blissful comfort food.

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Ingredients

  • 500g chestnut mushrooms
  • 250g tagliatelle pasta (fresh or dried)
  • 6 walnut halves
  • 2 shallots
  • about 70g Parmesan, finely grated
  • 1 lemon, zest of
  • 10 leaves of mint
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper

Method

  1. Start by cleaning the mushrooms and slicing them fairly finely. Set aside. Finely chop the walnut halves, then set aside. Finely chop the shallots and add to a large frying pan with a drizzle of olive oil.
  2. Finely chop the mint leaves, then mix with the lemon zest and set aside.
  3. Sautée the shallots over a medium heat for a couple of minutes, until slightly golden and translucent, then add the mushroom slices and cook down for a good 7 minutes.
  4. In the meantime, put a large pan of salted boiling water over high heat and throw in the tagliatelle. Cook them according to the packet instructions (I love them al dente and I think they work better this way for this recipe).
  5. Once the mushrooms have cooked down and they have yielded their water, increase the heat under the pan and let that boil off. Season the mixture with salt and pepper, then add the mint and lemon zest mixture. Cook for exactly one minute, then remove from the heat.
  6. Sprinkle the grated Parmesan over the bottom of another non-stick frying pan (I have indicated 70g above, but the quantity might vary according to what size pan you use), then set that over a medium heat and let it melt to a golden slab. Remove from the heat after a couple of minutes or you will burn the cheese. Let it cool in the pan, then use a rubber spatula to remove it from the pan and break it into shards.
  7. Once the pasta is cooked as you like it, drain it and toss the tagliatelle in the pan with the mushroom sauce. Tumble it onto a serving dish and sprinkle with the walnuts and the Parmesan shards. Serve immediately.

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Goat’s Cheese, Red Onion and Caraway Seed Tart

The peculiar thing about this tart is the presence of caraway seeds in the filling. Otherwise, this would be only a (still delicious) caramelised onion and goat’s cheese tart. The combination of caraway seeds, balsamic vinegar and the natural sugars contained in the onions is just scrummy. The onion are slowly cooked and reduced down to a jam consistency, which also provides an added texture for the tart. Balsamic vinegar adds a sharp edge to the onion marmalade, which is in turn offset by the goat’s cheese. The spice seems to be bringing all the ingredients together. The recipe comes from an episode of The Incredible Spice Men, a TV series where two Indian chefs demonstrate how incorporating spices in your daily meals can be both easy and tasty. I have to say I am not a particular fan of this series, but this recipe stuck into my mind as I love balsamic vinegar and I was curious to try adding caraway seeds (I spice I had never cooked with before) to the ensemble.

The spices should be ground, possibly in a mortal. Use a coffee grinder if you don’t have one, or use them whole if you do not happen to own any of the above. Remember, however, to toast them before using them as the heat from a dry pan helps release the natural oils contained in the seeds and increases their aroma. As for the pastry, please feel free to use your favourite pastry recipe here. The one I used is the one as per original recipe, where the addition of lard to the usual butter & flour mixture provides for extra crumbliness. Last note, I have reduced the amount of sugar used in the onion marmalade as I thought the overall result was a bit too sweet.

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Ingredients (for the shortcrust pastry)

  • 225g plain flour
  • 75g chilled butter, cubed
  • 75g chilled lard, cubed

Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 800g red onions, finely sliced
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp caraway seeds, toasted in a dry frying pan
  • 80ml balsamic vinegar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 200ml double cream
  • 200g soft goat’s cheese

Method

  1. To make the pastry, you can either put the chilled fats in a bowl and add the flour with a pinch of salt, then rub the butter and lard in or you can whiz the three ingredients in a food processor. Once the dry ingredients have been combined, slowly work in 4-6 tbsp of icy cold water to bring the pastry together. Knead it until smooth, then wrap it in clingfilm and chill it for 20 minutes.
  2. Take the pastry out of the fridge, turn it onto a slightly floured surface and roll it out to a circle big enough to line a 23cm fluted tart tin. Gently press the pastry into the creases, then use the prongs of a fork to prick the base, cover it in clingfilm and chill for a further 30 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, get started with the onion marmalade. Heat a large frying pan and add a drizzle of olive oil and the unsalted butter. Stir in the onions, season with salt and pepper, turn the heat down to medium and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Sprinkle in the sugar and stir again, ensuring the sugar melts with the heat and mixes with the onions. Cook the onions for about 10-15 minutes, until the onions have released their juices.
  4. Pre-heat your oven to 190C, then remove the pastry case from the fridge and blind bake for 15 minutes. Remove the parchments and beans and set the pastry case aside.
  5. Increase the heat under the pan with the onions and cook for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the juices have reduced. Add the caraway seeds and follow with the balsamic vinegar, then leave on the heat for another 3-4 minutes for it to go back to a jam consistency. Remove from the heat and let it cool slightly. Increase the oven temperature to 200C.
  6. To complete the filling, beat the eggs and the cream in a jug or bowl. Mix in the onion marmalade, then pour into the pastry case. Arrange the goat’s cheese slices on top, then bake for 30-35 minutes until the filling is set and browned on top. Remove from the oven and garnish with some chopped parsley.

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Oreo Brownies

This is a recipe from Lorraine Pascale. In one of the episode of her TV series Baking Made Easy, she confessed to a full addiction to chocolate brownies. Despite the confession being a bit over the top, who could not relate to those words? If you like chocolate, and I do, then a good chocolate brownie will bring solace and comfort in the darkest and gloomiest days of your life. What could be better, then, than adding some cream cookies to it?

The addition of Oreos (but you could as easily use any other brands – Ringo will be very good too) provides for an extra sweet touch and a creaminess a normal chocolate brownie would not cater for. It also looks drop-dead gorgeous, so what are you waiting for?

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Ingredients

  • 165g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 200g dark chocolate, chopped, 70% cocoa solids
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 165g light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 x pack of chocolate and cream biscuits (Oreos)

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 200C and grease and line a 20cm rectangular (or square) brownie tin with some parchment paper. Experience teaches me to leave the paper a bit overhanging at the sides so that it will be easier to take the brownie out of the tin once it has cooled down.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan over a low heat, then remove from the heat and stir in the copped chocolate. Keep on stirring until combined, the leave on the side to cool slightly.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolks with the vanilla extract until light and fluffy, then slowly add the sugar one tablespoon at a time, until fully incorporated and meringue-like in texture.
  4. Now pour the chocolate mixture into the bowl and slowly mix that in. You want to pour it from the sides so as to knock out as little air as possible. In a separate bowl, sift the flour with the cocoa powder and salt, then also stir that in. Roughly break up a third of the chocolate biscuits and add them to the mixture.
  5. Pour the batter into the lined cake tin, then level it out using a spatula. Break up the rest of the biscuits and use them to dot the surface of the raw brownie, then bake for 30 minutes, until cooked on the outside but still a bit squidgy on the inside.
  6. Remove from the oven, leave to cool on a wire rack, then remove from the pan and cut into squares. If you want to, you can dust the brownies with icing sugar.

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Artichoke, Mushroom and Olive Pasta Bake

Pure comfort on a cold winter night – yes, I know it’s almost April, but it’s still snowing here in the UK and temperatures are not set to rise until mid next month anyway. Just when you need some solace and some quiet, especially after a hard day at work, this will provide that and more. The recipe comes from the April issue of delicious. magazine and contemplates the ingredients in the title. However, should you feel more adventurous, please feel free to modify it by adding, removing, substituting or even revolutionizing altogether. After all, the dish is a pasta bake and that needs to suit whatever you feel like eating and whenever you feel like it. Last note: the original recipe asked for Provolone, an Italian smoked cheese which my local supermarket clearly does not know of. I substituted that with a British smoked cheese and it worked very well.

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Ingredients

  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 200g mushrooms, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
  • 125ml dry white wine
  • 2 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 400g can artichoke hearts, drained and sliced
  • 50g pitted black olives, drained and sliced
  • pinch of sugar
  • 500g tube-shaped pasta (rigatoni or penne are your best option here)
  • 150g smoked cheese, coarsely grated
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 35g plain flour
  • 600ml lukewarm whole milk
  • 4 tsp freshly grated Parmesan

Method

  1. Start with the pasta sauce. Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan, then tumble in the onions and soften on a medium heat for about 5 minutes. Stir in the oregano, thyme and mushrooms, then cook for another 4 minutes.
  2. Stir in the garlic and chilli flakes, then season. Cook for 1 minute, then add the wine. Turn the heat up to bubble the wine away (about 2 minutes), then add the olives, artichokes and tomatoes. Turn the heat back to medium and leave the sauce to simmer for a good 15 minutes. Add the pinch of sugar and season with salt and pepper midway through the cooking time.
  3. Now prepare the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat, then take off the heat and add the flour. Mix that in with a wooden spoon, then put the saucepan back on the heat and keep on stirring to cook the flour and butter mixture. This way, you will obtain the so-called roux. Once that is cooked, gently and steadily pour in the lukewarm milk and whisk to combine and remove any lumps. Leave on the heat and mix with the wooden spoon until thickened and glossy. Take off the heat and add the Parmesan. If you’re not using straight away, cover the surface with a sheet of cling film to prevent a skin forming.
  4. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water according to packet instructions. Aim for an al dente result rather than extra soft, sloppy mush. Drain and set aside.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius, fan oven.
  6. Start composing the dish in a big oven tray. First spread a couple of spoonfuls of the tomato sauce on the base, then scatter half of the pasta on top, followed by more tomato sauce and half of the béchamel sauce. Add the rest of the pasta, finish off with the rest of the béchamel sauce, then scatter the grated smoked cheese on top.
  7. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden and crispy on the outside.

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