Orecchiette, Tomato, Onion and Basil.

A very simple dish and a great introduction to home-made pasta if it’s something you’ve never done before.

Ingredients for 4 as a starter, or two as a main.

100g Fine Semolina

About 8 Cherry Tomatoes

1/4 Medium Red Onion, Finely Sliced

1 Clove Garlic, Finely Chopped

10 Large Basil Leaves, Roughly Torn into large pieces

1/2 a Long Red Chilli, De-seeded and finely Sliced.

Parmesan, Grated (optional)

First make the pasta. Mix the Semolina with a 70ml of water until you’ve formed a very firm and quite dry dough. You can add a little more water or semolina if needed. Knead for a minute and set aside covered with an upturned bowl while you prepare the other ingredients.

Put a pan of well-salted water on to boil.

Now cut your pasta dough into 4 and roll each quarter into four long sausages about 1cm in diameter.  Cut each of your strips into discs about 1cm across.

Rolled out strips of pasta cut into 1cm discs

 

Flatten each of these by pushing your thumb into the middle and rotating it slightly so that you end up with a thin centre and slightly fatter rim. Continue until they’re all done.

Heat a generous glug of olive oil in a saucepan until nearly smoking hot and tip in your onions, garlic, chilli and tomatoes in one go; add a good pinch of salt. Fry over a high heat, tossing and stirring regularly until the onions soften and the tomatoes start to break down (this should only take a minute or two). Boil the pasta for around a minute until just tender, lift from the water with a slotted spoon and add to your quick tomato sauce, stir in the basil and parmesan if using. Taste for salt and add plenty of pepper.

That’s it. Simple, fairly quick and really delicious.

p.s. As ever you can drink whatever you like with this, but for me it rewards cheaper, quite light and rustic reds. There’s no point pairing anything too complex with such a simple, bold set of flavours.

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Cooking with Wine you Wouldn’t Drink

As in all things food and wine related, snobbery abounds here.  And, as ever, it’s nonsense.

Here are some tips for cooking with wine you wouldn’t drink. They refer to wines that are imbalanced, or imperfectly made. Alas, when a wine is actually faulty (e.g. musty or just generally ‘off’ smelling or tasting), there’s not a lot you can do other than try to get your money back, or tip it down the sink. If you cook with it, you’ll likely ruin the dish.

Here are a few more minor faults (which may simply reflect personal taste) that needn’t stop you from cooking with the offending article.

Tannin

High levels of youthful or unripe tannin can make a wine unpleasant to drink (that drying, harsh sensation young reds sometimes have), but it doesn’t mean it can’t be cooked with:

Tannin doesn’t dissipate with cooking; in fact it concentrates as the liquid reduces. This could make the resulting sauce intensely astringent but usually doesn’t due to the presence of protein. Whether it’s a beef stock, a coq au vin or a Bolognaise sauce, the tannins in the wine will bind to the proteins in the food (rather than the proteins in your mouth) which will essentially neutralise their astringent effect. This is much the same process as takes place when we put milk in tea. Just don’t use highly tannic wines in low-protein foods, such as vegetarian tomato sauces.

Acid

Acidity – and sometimes very high acidity – is vital to wine. However, when it’s out of balance it can be unpleasant to drink. Here’s how to use it up:

Some acid dissipates during cooking and some doesn’t, it’s a relatively complex process that depends on the volatility of the acids present. However, I’ve found that it’s enough to know that a more acidic wine will make for a more acidic dish. So overtly acidic wines aren’t great if you’re looking for a rich and warming winter stew, but they’re fantastic if you want to cut through the richness of a butter sauce; or if you tend to finish a risotto with handfuls of butter and cheese – as I do – and you’re looking for balance.

Sweetness

White wines that are sweet without the balancing acidity can be cloying and sickly. However, paired with acidic ingredients such as tree fruits or berries, this becomes a virtue. Pears poached in a little sweet wine are a simple and delicious dessert.

High Alcohol/Cooked Flavours

Red wines that have a character of jammy sweetness due to ‘cooked’ fruit and overly high alcohol content are fine in a rich stew or braised dish; the alcohol boils away and the ‘cooked’ flavours are no longer undesirable and usually undetectable.

And finally…

Often wine is just a way of adding liquid to a dish without resorting to flavourless water. Barring a truly horrendous bottle, it’ll rarely harm what you’re cooking.

Conversely, recipes that specify Barolo, ‘a good quality Burgundy’ or decent Champagne are spouting nonsense. Adding a small amount of decent wine in the latter stages of cooking can be good, but basing a dish on a fantastically fine/expensive bottle is madness. What do you get for the small fortune you spend on a bottle of Barolo? Well, Hopefully, you get a restrained power and beguiling array of subtle aromas, all disguised by an almost frail colouration.

All of which would be lost during the cooking process.

It’s elitist nonsense. Drink the good stuff. Cook with the ‘alright’ stuff.

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Spicy Aubergine Salad

This is one of my favourite salads and perfect as an accompaniment to grilled meat, or can be served with hummus and flat bread (my lunch today, pictured below), or anything you like. The spicy roasted aubergine and onion mixed with the freshness of raw tomato and coriander really gives you the best of both worlds. It’s also great as it can be made hours ahead and only improves as it rests and the flavours fuse together.

Dishes like this exist all over the Middle-East and Mediterranean, this is just my version of it.

For 4 – 6

2 Large aubergines, roughly diced into 2.5cm (1inch) cubes.

2  Red Onions, fairly finely sliced.

A few Cherry Tomatoes, quartered.

1-3 Hot Red chillies, deseeded and finely sliced.

2 Large garlic cloves, chopped (not pureed)

1 Bunch Coriander, roughly chopped.

Lemon juice

Olive Oil (not extra virgin – it’s too strong for this dish)

The quantities here make for a very good salad but needn’t be adhered to too strictly, this is a rustic dish that can be tailored to your tastes, or the ingredients you have to hand.

Mix the diced aubergines and sliced onion with a glug of olive oil, and a good pinch of salt. Spread the mix on a baking tray and put in the oven at around 2000c. Stir after 10 minutes.

After 20 minutes check the aubergine, if it’s still quite firm, return to the oven for another 5 – 10 minutes. Once it can be easily crushed with the back of a spoon, it’s ready. Add the chilli and garlic, stir well and return to the oven for just two more minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven, allow to cool slightly and transfer to a bowl. Mix in the coriander, lemon juice and tomatoes. Adjust the seasoning (plenty of pepper and maybe a little more salt) and it’s ready to serve.

With loads of Home-made hummus, ready to be wrapped up in a Lebanese Flatbread

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Molecular Gastronomy and Wine Matching

Two interesting articles by eminent wine writers Jancis Robinson and Fiona Beckett highlight the incompatibility of current top-flight food with wine.

For the traditional wine-lover it is certainly an issue, but hardly a surprising one. Wine making (for all the recent modernising) is still a traditional process, the product of which is aimed squarely at the domestic table.

This is further accentuated by the two world powerhouses of wine production – France and Italy – also having the proudest and most conservative of food cultures. They make their wine to suit their food and their food to suit their wine.

Perhaps this is the reason you seldom see a curry house or Thai restaurant on the streets of Paris or Rome? I imagine the first mouthful of Green Curry washed down with a glass of red Vino di Tavola would be an experience one wouldn’t quickly forget.

Could the answer be a new breed of winemaking – Molecular oenology? Doubtful. No sooner would the first wine be bottled than food trends would take the next about-face and render the product embarrassingly obsolete.

As ever, Jancis Robinson has it right. Choose an inoffensive wine and just enjoy the food. The issue here is that for wine lovers; every great food experience should also be a great wine experience. Indeed – every great experience should be a great wine experience (when you find yourself trying to pair the right wine to a hot bath it might be time to take a step back), but sometimes the two just wont fit.

Which is fine. And should remove quite a lot of money from your bill.

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Mutton Biryani with Gewürztraminer

It seems to be an accepted wisdom that the wine to match with a spicy Indian curry is a rich Gewürztraminer; but no one I ever speak to has actually tried it. As I’ve never found boozing, cooking or eating curry to be much of a chore, I thought I’d give it a go.

The curry in question is my favourite mutton biryani (you can use lamb if mutton doesn’t appeal), matched with one of my favourite wines: Rolly Gassman 1998 Gewürztraminer.

So as not to leave you perched on the edge of your seat, I can assure you that the match was quite exquisite, the wine both standing up to curry, and complimenting its spice and aromas. It was also far more cleansing and less bloating than beer, my usual partner to curry.

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Barbecued Rump of Beef with Peppers, Smoked Garlic and Salsa Verde.

In the hope that the sunny weather of the last few weeks is loitering just around the corner, I thought I’d share this recipe for a proper evening meal from the barbecue.

I’m happy enough with the multi-meat-medley that most barbecues become, but this offers something more akin to a dinner party meal, and it’s probably easier too.

The reason for choosing a large joint of meat is that it allows for time over the coals to absorb those wonderful smoky flavours and develop a good crust, while still remaining rare on the inside. Also, being a chef, it is my perpetual joy and burden to impress my guests, and big cuts of meat – like big bottles of wine – just look cool on the table.

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