Friday, 29 July 2016

Spaghetti cacio e pepe recipe

The ultimate quick pasta meal is to bung a jar of pesto on spaghetti but there is a new lazy pasta dinner in town, cacio e pepe. Originally a speciality of Rome, this dish has been popularised by
the latest rave in London restaurants, a 'pasta bar' near to Borough Market called 'Padella'. For the reasonable price of £6 you can rock up to sit at a white marble counter and order 'pici cacio e pepe', fresh pasta with grated pecorino cheese (cacio is Roman dialect for cheese) and black pepper. It's absolutely fantastic. So good there will probably be a massive queue.
But you can make it at home very easily, it takes a mere ten minutes, the time it takes to cook decent spaghetti.
This recipe originally appeared in Metro.

Cacio e Pepe spaghetti Recipe

Serves 4

1 tbsp sea salt
300g to 400g of good quality spaghetti (Cooking time should not be less than 9 minutes on the packet, NO quick cook. De Cecco is a good brand)
170g of finely grated pecorino cheese (parmesan can be used)
2-3 tbsps of freshly crushed black pepper (I've used ordinary black pepper, long pepper and Cambodian Kampot pepper, the stronger and fresher the better).
50ml of good olive oil (strictly speaking you don't have olive oil but I like it)

Cook your spaghetti in a large saucepan with plenty of hot water, adding the sea salt. Bring to a boil and cook for a couple of minutes less than it states on the packet. (Pasta continues to cook as you drain it in the colander and on the plate.)
While this is cooking grate the pecorino and grind the pepper. Mix together in a large bowl.
Drain the spaghetti into a colander but and THIS IS ESSENTIAL, hold back a cup of the pasta water.
Tip the spaghetti into the bowl of cheese and pepper and add the pasta water. Swirl the lot around, add the olive oil and serve hot.

It's simple, it's delicious. It's your new after work dinner.

Padella's Pici Cacio e Pepe

Thursday, 21 July 2016

No cook recipes for a muggy summer: quick pear pickle

pickled pear canapé

pickled pear canapé

Right now the last thing I want to do is cook. So my next few recipes will concentrate on no cook recipes. In this clammy heat, you want light foods, fresh, crunchy, salads, raw fish dishes such as ceviche and poké, which are quick pickled with lime and lemon. I'm also drinking 'shrubs', vinegar and fruit based drinks that refresh and cool. 

The simplest 'shrub' is Apple Cider vinegar (with mother) diluted with water. Ugh! I hear you say, drinking vinegar???? Trust me, once you get over the initial strangeness, this concoction is remarkably thirst quenching and enlivening. Plus there are health benefits such as a boost for the immune system while helping to combat thrush and candida, all of which are more likely to occur during the oppressive heat.
Quick pickled fruit livens up canapés, salads and can be used as a side dish. 
Here I give you a recipe for Quick Pickled Pears but it works just as well with apples. I've also used the pickled pear slices as a garnish for a stylish canapé but it also goes well with cheese and cheesy dishes.
I used the pink tinged South African Forelle pears for this recipe. South Africa has opposite seasons to the UK, so when our pears and apples are out of season, we can eat shipped produce from there.

Quick Pickled Pear recipe

3 Forelle pears, thinly sliced, pips and tough centre removed

3 tbsp of Apple cider vinegar
2 tbsps of brown sugar
1 tbsp of good sea salt
A handful of dill sprigs, chopped

Mix all the ingredients together and leave in the fridge for an hour. 

Endive/Chicory boat with smoked salmon, goats cheese, dill and pickled pear

I'm not quite sure what to call this vegetable.  In France they call this crisp vegetable with a slightly bitter flavour, endives while in Britain, traditionally we call them chicory. Today you'll find them under both names. They are grown 'forced' underground so that that the leaves are pale. 

Makes around 12

2 endives (chicory)

100g goat's cheese
150g smoked salmon, cut into thin slices
A handful of Pickled pears
White Pepper

Cut the end from the endive and carefully separate the larger leaves into individual leaves or 'boats'.

Put a heaped teaspoon (or pipe a few centimetres with a piping bag, ) of goat's cheese in the endive.
Take the thin strips of smoked salmon and roll them up, place with the 'boats', next to the goats cheese.
Then place a slice or two of the pickled pear.
Season with salt and white pepper.
Serve with a good white wine 
pickled pear canapé

Monday, 18 July 2016

King Coal - local charcoal plus a recipe for BBQ pizza

Ian Loasby, charcoal maker from London.

charcoal maker

According to the weather forecasters, this week we'll have an opportunity to have a proper sunny BBQ. Hooray!
Unfortunately a barbecue can also be environmentally unfriendly. Most of the charcoal we buy in this country is from unsustainable sources. It is of poor quality, glued together with binders, heavy and damp. Good charcoal is light and tinkles in the bag, almost like glass. Archeological evidence shows that charcoal has been made for 30,000 years and Britain had hundreds of coppiced forests (a system of woodland management whereby trees are cut down and offshoots regrown cyclically), which provided wood for the makers known as colliers. There are now 500 'burners' in the UK, many of them in the National Coppice Federation.
In North London, if you want to buy local, Ian Loasby is your man. A former computer programmer, he was so influenced by John Seymour's seminal 'bible', 'The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency', his wife booked him onto a weekend course in coppicing. Drained by the prospect of working at a desk, he then took a two year course at Capel Manor in woodland management.
A resident of Tottenham, Ian runs regular woodland and education projects in Queens Wood, Highgate. I went to see where he makes charcoal, to see the enormous belching, smoking 'Exeter retort', reminiscent of a steam punk contraption. Why make wood into charcoal?  Ian explained that effectively you are drying the wood, eliminating all moisture, so it can achieve a higher temperature when burnt. Charcoal was originally used by blacksmiths to smelt iron but is also excellent for cooking purposes. Local char burns steadily, produces less smoke and fewer dangerous vapours. 40% of British woodland is under-managed, so we have the capacity to make more of our own charcoal and it would be a good source of employment.
Making charcoal is a time consuming craft. The retort is filled with wood, Loasby uses hornbeam, hazel, silver birch, sweet chestnut, oak and ash.  The oxygen is eliminated as the retort is heated for between 8 and 12 hours to 450 ºc (it requires careful tending for gaskets blow off and dents form in the metal sides). When first opened, the cooling charcoal gleams with iridescent colours such as blue and gold.
To buy local charcoal, contact Ian Loasby at He charges £8 a bag of charcoal. He also builds hazelwood hurdles and supplies biochar for fertilising gardens.
grilled pizza on the bbq

Barbecue Pizza Recipe

Pizza on a barbecue? Not only is it possible but it is particularly delicious. The trick is to put the toppings on at the last minute.

Makes 2 pizzas

For the pizza dough

250g strong flour or 00 flour
1 packet 7g of fast acting yeast
150ml lukewarm water
1/2 tsp salt
1tsp sugar or honey
3tbsps olive oil and more for brushing
2tbsps coarse semolina

For the toppings

3tbsp olive oil
500ml tomato passata
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 fresh bay leaves
4 mozzarella balls, torn up
Fresh herbs such as basil, oregano.
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt

Olive oil for drizzling

Make the dough by mixing the flour, water, yeast, salt, sugar, olive oil together. Leave to proof for an hour or more.
Light your barbecue, wait until the coals are hot but with no flame. Ideally your barbecue will be between 210 and 260ºC (400 to 500ºF).
Make the tomato sauce by putting the olive oil, passata, minced garlic and bay leaves into a medium saucepan and simmering for 15 minutes.
Scatter the semolina onto a chopping board, roll out your pizza into a thick circle and brush one side generously with olive oil. (I set up a little pizza station next to the BBQ.)
Place the pizza on the BBQ, oil side down. Close the lid. Allow the pizza to cook for five minutes. This is a bit like a pizza oven with the lid on, and the dough will puff up.
Turn the pizza over and quickly add the toppings. Spoon on the tomato sauce and spreading it with the back of a spoon all over the pizza. Distribute the mozzarella, scatter the herbs, grind on the black pepper and add any other toppings. Add a drizzle more olive oil and some sea salt.
Close the lid again. Leave for five minutes.
Serve immediately.
This piece first appeared in the Ham and High.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Super freaky shake

Freak shake recipe

Some of the more assiduous readers of my blog may remember when I was fat-shamed over freak shakes at a restaurant in New York. 
What is a freak shake? It's a milkshake but not as you know it. This is not clean eating, in fact it's the very opposite, the messier the better. Drips, sprinkles, a sticky rim, sweets protruding from every direction, cakes and biscuits propped on top, it's a visual feast of outrageous proportions, but rather difficult to handle with refinement. Try to grip the glass and you are likely to end up with hands smeared with chocolate and caramel. To drink a freakshake requires tactical elegance, to build one demands architectural ability.
Use a tall jam jar such as a Mason, Ball or Kilner drinking jar, the rim helps to stop the overflow. Buy retro paper straws or thick straws. The thinking here is more is more.
Yes I agree, this is silly internet meme food. Millennials, who drive this kind of thing on Instagram, seem to suffer from disordered eating: either demonising carbs, drinking kale smoothies or gorging themselves on Willy Wonka food. All kinds of fucked up really.
This recipe first appeared in my weekly recipe column in Metro newspaper.
Freak shakes at Pond, Dalston
Optional: to make it even naughtier, add alcohol. You can buy outrageous 'hard shakes', at Pond in Dalston, London.
freak shake

Strawberry Pavlova freakshake

Makes one shake

50g white chocolate
2 tbsp Freeze dried strawberries
1 tbsp Crystallised rose petal pieces
3 scoops vanilla icecream
250ml Strawberry milk
6 strawberries, some sliced, some whole
2 big squirts of whipped cream from a can
2 or 3 mini Meringues
  1. Break a few squares of white chocolate into a saucer and melt for 30 seconds in the microwave.
  2.  Have another saucer with your chosen sprinkles, this time I used freeze dried strawberry and candied rose petals but you could also use any pink or red sprinkles. 
  3. Dip your jam jar into the saucer with white chocolate, turning the jar around to make sure the rim is completely coated. 
  4. Then lightly dip the rim in the other saucer full of sprinkles.
  5. Leave to set in the fridge for a minute or two.
  6. Add three or four scoops of vanilla icecream to the glass/jar, interspersing with slices of fresh strawberry. 
  7. Top up with strawberry milk. 
  8. Squirt whipped canned cream on top.
  9. Add the straws
  10. Add more sprinkles.
  11. Add a whole strawberry or two to the top.
  12. Then press in 2 or 3 mini meringues ( I made mine but most supermarkets sell them)
  13. Drink quickly!
freak shake

Crunchie honeycomb caramel freakshake

Makes one freakshake

50g milk or dark chocolate
3 tbsps chocolate sprinkles
2 tbsps of mini honeycomb pieces 
3 scoops salted caramel
or vanilla icecream with 3 tbsp salted caramel sauce
250ml whole milk
2/3 squirts canned whipped cream
2 squirts of chocolate sauce
1 crunchie bar
  1. Break a few squares of the chocolate into a saucer and melt for 30 seconds in the microwave.
  2.  Have another saucer with chocolate sprinkles
  3. Dip your jam jar into the saucer with the chocolate, turning the jar around to make sure the rim is completely coated. 
  4. Then lightly dip the rim in another saucer of sprinkles.
  5. Press in some mini honeycomb pieces to the chocolate rim.
  6. Leave to set in the fridge for a minute or two.
  7. Add three or four scoops of vanilla icecream to the glass/jar, interspersing with squirts of salted caramel sauce if not using salted caramel icecream. 
  8. Top up with milk. 
  9. Squirt whipped canned cream on top
  10. Add the straws
  11. Add more sprinkles and honeycomb pieces
  12. Squirt on some more chocolate sauce
  13. Then prod in the crunchie bar
  14. Drink quickly!

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Portuguese custard tarts to make tonight

Portuguese custard tarts

Portugal is playing in the semi final tonight, which presents the perfect opportunity to scoff one of Portugal's most iconic foods. These meltingly flaky burnt custard tarts are known as 'pasteis de nata'. My recent trip to Porto and the Douro reminded me of their sunshiney succulence. This recipe is a cheaty way of making the custard tarts. Enjoy with a cup of tea or a port and tonic during the game. Wales are their opponents tonight, so I've got my fingers crossed. Wouldn't it be lovely to see Wales in the final!
By the way I'm now posting regularly on snapchat, do give me a follow on msmarmite. 
This recipe first appeared in Metro.

Makes 12

175ml whole milk
225ml double cream or creme fraîche
100g caster sugar
3 egg yolks
2 tbsp cornflour
1/2 tsp vanilla extract or paste
1/2 tsp lemon essence (optional)
300g ready made all butter puff pastry ready rolled
Unsalted butter for greasing
Plain flour for dusting

12 hole muffin tray
Heat proof bowl
Small saucepan

  1. Put the milk and cream into a saucepan and heat gently until almost boiling.
  2. In a heatproof bowl, whisk together sugar, egg yolks, cornflour and vanilla extract or flavourings. Pour in the hot milk mixture, whisking all the time.
  3. Return the custard mixture back to the saucepan and heat gently, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. When you can draw a distinct line on the back of the spoon, the custard is thick enough.
  4. Take off the heat, cover with parchment paper to prevent a skin forming (optional) and let it cool.
  5. Preheat the oven to 200ºC. 
  6. Grease the holes of the muffin tray.
  7. Unfurl the ready rolled puff pastry on a lightly floured work surface, removing the greaseproof paper. Then roll it up again as if it were a Swiss roll. Cut the roll into 5cm-wide slices. Up end each slice so that the coils of the roll are visible.
  8. Using a rolling pin, roll out each coil to a diameter of around 10cm.
  9. Tuck each pastry circle into the greased muffin hole. Spoon the cooled custard into the pastry shells, filling each one almost full.
  10. Bake for 25 minutes.
  11. For authentic caramelised tops, place the tray under a hot grill to brown.
  12. Eat the same day.
Portuguese custard tarts

For more of my baking recipes, check out my book MsMarmitelover's Secret Tea Party.

Portuguese custard tarts

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Porto, Portugal's picture postcard town

Douro river, Porto, Portugal
street art, Porto, Portugal
francesinha sandwich, Porto, Portugal
The south of Portugal is better known than the north. People book package holidays on the Algarve and visit Lisbon for a bit of culture and some custard tarts. But Porto is worth a long weekend or more, if you have the time, to explore the Douro valley. 
Enjoy the elegant blue tiled train station Sao Bento, the shabby chic balconies and windy streets, the picaresque view of the Douro complete with boats that formerly transported Port barrels from up river, the blinking lights of the English Port houses emblazoned against the sky, Sandemans, Grahams, Taylors, Cockburns. 
Portugal is the place to buy brightly coloured ceramics (including my favourite fruit and vegetable majolica), jewellery, shoes, perfumed ovals of soap in decorated boxes and cheap stylish clothes. Food is attractively packaged, particularly sardines, tuna and mackerel. 
When it comes to eating, try the multitude of Portuguese egg yolk based pastries, the rustic bread, the post office red tomatoes with actual flavour, the pink raspberries from the Douro Valley, the intense olive oil, the saffron barley sugar, the snowy copper roasted almendoas de moncorvo. The signature 'dish' of Porto is an outrageous sandwich known as a 'Francesinha' or little French girl. It's a Portuguese bastardisation of a Croque Monsieur but way over the top, including a multi-meat bulging interior, a cheese sauce blanket, a spicy tomato sauce and a fried egg on top. This is more than a mere snack. You can find vegetarian versions too and I'm working on a recipe. In restaurants, order local Douro wine including Port and grilled sardines for a simple but reliably delicious dinner. 
I went just as the annual festival de Sao Joao, held on June 23rd, was beginning. Buildings and streets are festooned with paper decorations, tissue paper origami versions of pots of the local tiny fragrant basil in red pots, live music is on every corner, while inhabitants bash each other over the head with plastic hammers. Unfortunately I missed the highlights of the festival but there is always next year. 
I maintain that Portugal has been somewhat ignored by travellers, food and wine lovers. This can only change. 
 Porto, Portugal
Bolhao Market,  Porto, Portugal
seed shop,  Porto, Portugal
Douro river, Porto, Portugal
Porto, Portugal
Porto azulejo magnets, Porto, Portugal
Porto, Portugal
tiled building, Porto, Portugal
festival of sao joao, Porto, Portugal
azulejo tiles, Porto, Portugal
Porto, Portugal
tiled building, Porto, Portugal
bookshop,, Porto, Portugal
street art, Porto, Portugal
Porto, Portugal
Porto, Portugal
cafe decorated for festival of sao joao, Porto, Portugal
sardines, Porto, Portugal
tiles, Porto, Portugal
tuk tuk, Porto, Portugal
public art, Porto, Portugal
sao Bento train station,, Porto, Portugal
azulejo buildings, Porto, Portugal
soaps,Porto, Portugal
tiled buildings, , Porto, Portugal
festa do sao jao, Porto, Portugal
festa do sao jao, Porto, Portugal
1930s clothing store,, Porto, Portugal
street art,  Porto, Portugal
festa do sao jao, Porto, Portugal
festa do sao jao, Porto, Portugal
olives at bolhao market,, Porto, Portugal
Dressed up for festa do sao jao, Porto, Portugal