Monthly Archives: August 2013

Recipe: Vegetarian Pasta Puttanesca


Pasta Puttanesca is one of those dishes which prompt an ‘Ooooh MATRON’ moment. A puttanesca is a little prostitute. Cue recipes for Tart’s Spaghetti (Delia) and Slut’s Spaghetti (Nigella) or Prostitute Pasta (my inner 12 year old). No one is sure where the name comes from, whether it’s a quick dish to be cooked and eaten between clients or from the hot and gutsy nature of the ingredients. And they are full-flavoured – garlic, chilli, tomatoes, olives, capers and anchovies.

There are two methods of making this dish that I’ve found. You can go for slow cooking with tinned tomatoes and let the flavours build as the sauce reduces, or you can go for quick cooking and fresh tastes. As we’ve got the best of the fresh tomatoes now, I decided to go for the quick cook version here. I’ll do the slow recipe when the weather is colder and wetter.

The main problem with making this recipe vegetarian (and vegan actually) is how to replace the anchovies. You can just miss them out entirely, which is a perfectly acceptable solution, but it misses the background depth of flavour that the anchovies give to the dish. A certain welly is missing. I thought long and hard about what to use to replace it. Marmite? Vegetarian Worcestershire Sauce? Mushroom Ketchup? Miso paste? I thought about all of them and ended up discarding them as being alien to the mediterranean flavours of tomatoes, olives and basil. At least, that’s my opinion in the fresh version, I may revisit this for the slow-cook recipe. In the end I went for balsamic vinegar. Now, I’m not going to pretend that it has the same flavour of anchovies, but it does give a background strength of flavour that doesn’t overpower the more delicate version with fresh tomatoes.

A quick note on the tomatoes. These have to be the ripest of tomatoes or you’re wasting your time making a fresh tomato sauce. As far as I’m concerned, if you have to add tomato puree to boost the flavour, you may as well go with tinned tomatoes from the start. A quick tip on preparing the tomatoes as well. If you want to cut down the pain of skinning tomatoes, try grating them. Cut them in half and then use the coarse side of a box grater. This leaves you with the pulp but without the skin. Or you could get with the quick and dirty nature of the dish and just leave the skins on!

pasta puttanesca photo DSCN0894_zps8e56b7bb.jpg

250g pasta (I prefer rigatoni or penne)
3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
1/3 red chilli, chopped
6 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp capers, chopped
12 black olives, pitted and chopped
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp fresh basil, chopped

As soon as you put your pasta on to boil, heat some good olive oil in a small frying pan.
When the oil is hot add the garlic and chilli.
As soon as the garlic starts to brown add the tomatoes, capers, olives and balsamic vinegar.
Stir for a minute on a high heat and then lower the heat and let the sauce simmer and reduce while the pasta cooks.
Season with salt and pepper.
When the pasta is cooked and draining, turn the heat off the sauce and stir in the basil.
Add the drained pasta to the sauce and stir thoroughly.
Serve in warmed dishes.

Serves 2

Recipe: Tofu Banh Mi


For the past year, banh mi (the Vietnamese sandwich) have been everywhere. I don’t think there’s been a newspaper or food magazine that hasn’t covered them so far. I had kind of pushed them aside in my mind as ‘just another food fad’, and anyway, all of the recipes I saw had meat in them. Then I saw a couple of recipes for ones with tofu and decided to give it a try.

Now I get it.

These are full-flavoured, chin dripping, fun, dirty street-food. Believe the hype – these are great.

Your basic banh mi recipe is a length of french bread, sliced as for a sandwich, some mayonnaise, a pickle, chilli and a protein source. (As an aside, I have found a vegan mayonnaise by Tiger Tiger in Sainsbury’s and it’s excellent.) I went with carrot pickle and fried tofu in a teriyaki-ish sauce.

Note that the photo is on kitchen paper. This is deliberate. You will probably need to mop up afterwards. I needed to change my t-shirt.

Banh mi photo DSCN0896_zps69d58e37.jpg

For the pickle:
1/2 carrot, grated
2 tbsp vinegar (cider, wine or rice)
2 tsp sugar

For the tofu:
200g tofu, sliced into long strips
1 tbsp rice wine (or dry sherry)
4 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar

For the sandwich
1 baguette, halved and sliced in two
vegan mayonnaise
cucumber slices
1 spring onion, sliced
sprigs of fresh coriander
sweet chilli sauce

Put the carrot, vinegar and sugar in a bowl.
Mix well and set aside for about half an hour
Heat some oil in a pan.
Fry the tofu in it until it is browned on both sides.
Add the rice wine, soy and sugar.
Mix gently so that the tofu is coated in the sauce.
Let it bubble down until it is almost dry.
Spread some mayonnaise on one side of the bread.
Layer up the cucumber, tofu, pickled carrots and the rest of the ingredients, topping with a drizzle of chilli sauce.

Serves 2 Make sure you have plenty of napkins or kitchen roll to mop up as you eat.

Recipe: Fig and Onion Tart


I grew up in the 60s and 70s and my parents believed in some old-fashioned remedies. Depending on cause, a tummy-ache would be treated either with Gripe Water or Syrup of Figs. I adored gripe water and it’s possible that it was the dill flavour rather than the alcohol that attracted me. Syrup of figs is as nasty as it sounds. At least I wasn’t dosed with it every Friday night as my Mum was.

And that was my only experience of figs until I went on holiday to Italy when prosciutto with figs arrived as an antipasto course. I thought they were the most delicious things I had ever tasted. Now, of course, fresh figs are available in every supermarket. They’re in season now and there’s the chance to do more with them than just eat them as they are.

This isn’t an everyday recipe, but if you want to impress as part of a dinner party, this will do the trick!

Fig & Onion Tart photo DSCN0883_zps51a35a2e.jpg

4 red onions (about 350g)
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp sugar
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 sheet puff pastry
5-6 figs (sliced)

Finely slice the onions and sweat in a little oil.
Add the garlic and the sugar.
Keep sweating the onions on a low heat until they caramelise. This will take about 30 minutes.
Stir in the balsamic vinegar, remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Take the sheet of puff pastry and score a rectangle about 1cm in from the edge of the pastry, this will become the rim of the tart.

When the onions are cool, spread them in a thin layer over the pastry inside the rim.
Take the fig slices and lay them side by side over the onion layer.
Brush the rim of the rim of the pastry with a vegan milk (or normal milk, if you’re not going for a vegan version).

Bake in a pre-heated, 200C oven for 20-25 minutes.

Serves 6 as a starter, 4 as a main course

Recipe: Green, bean salad


It’s bean season. I got a bit carried away at the supermarket when I saw a pack of broad beans and then had to buy some others to keep them company. My grandpa used to grow broad beans on his allotment, I used to love unzipping the stiff, green case and finding the beans sitting in their damp, fluffy bed. I never liked eating them, though. That’s probably because my Mum never peeled them. I have learned that lesson.

So here’s a fresh bean salad with some avocado for creamy contrast. I could have used mint for a dressing and it would work well, but I decided on the warmth of tarragon instead, as it’s not hot enough for cooling to be essential.

green bean salad photo DSCN0890_zpsde8283a5.jpg

For the dressing:
1/2 shallot, finely chopped
1 tsp tarragon, finely chopped
1/4 tsp mustard powder
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp olive oil

For the salad:
500g broad bean pods
6 runner beans, topped and tailed
20 green beans, topped and tailed
1 avocado, peeled and sliced

Mix the dressing ingredients together, season with salt and pepper and set aside while the beans are cooking.
Shell the broad beans and put them in a pan of boiling, salted water.
Slice the runner beans and green beans on the diagonal and add them to the pan.
Simmer for 5 minutes.
Strain the beans and run under cold water to stop them cooking.
Skin the broad beans, by nicking one end of the bean and squeezing the bean out through the slit.
Toss the all the beans together with the avocado in a bowl.
Spoon the dressing over and serve.

Serves 2 as a light lunch with some crusty bread to mop up the juices. Some crumbled feta would make this more substantial if you don’t want to keep it vegan.

Recipe: Baba Ganoush


I love hummus. I think that over the average year I must eat my bodyweight in it. I think I certainly do that by volume anyway. That puts me in line with a staggering 41% of Brits who have a pot of hummus in their fridge. So I’m a confirmed hummus addict.

But every so often I want to ring the changes a bit. And when I do, I often find myself making baba ganoush. It has the same flavourings as hummus (garlic, lemon and tahini) but is based around roasted aubergines rather than chickpeas. This makes it lighter and looser in texture with a slight smokey edge from the aubergines. It’s a definite dip rather than a spread. Most recipes I’ve seen use chopped parsley as a garnish. I prefer smoked paprika to enhance the smokey taste of the aubergines.

It’s a lovely dip to have with toasted pitta bread. It’s simple to make and I urge you to give it a try.

Baba Ganoush photo DSCN0886_zpsf7382b2d.jpg

2 aubergines
Juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp tahini paste
2-3 tbsp olive oil
smoked paprika for sprinkling

Roast the aubergines in an oven preheated to 200C for 30-40 minutes, until the skin is crackling and they feel soft to touch.
When the aubergines are cool enough to handle, split them open and scoop out the flesh into a food processor.
Add the lemon juice, garlic cloves, tahini paste and season with salt and pepper.
Blitz in the processor and add the olive oil. Depending on the water content of the aubergines you may need two or three tablespoon to achieve the right consistency.
When it is nicely smooth, spoon into a serving dish.
Serve with a sprinkling of smoked paprika and something tasty to scoop it up with!

Recipe: Angela’s melting peppers pasta


Two of the most delicious dishes I’ve ever eaten were also the simplest – a handful of fresh ingredients and very little preparation as well.

The much-missed Mad Hatters restaurant in Nailsworth prided itself on using vegetables straight from the garden. Their linguine served with cherry tomatoes (very very slightly cooked until they just start to soften) and basil was divine.

The other recipe comes courtesy of my former colleague Angela. She’s the kind of person who opens her larder, thinks for a moment, then effortlessly conjures up a meal for a dozen people. I remember eating peppers and pasta sitting in her Birmingham garden one summer to the accompaniment of pan pipes (a South American musician lived over the fence).

Again, this is a very simple dish, but it needs good ingredients. So this isn’t the place for the low-calorie spray. If you’re doing Slimminng Word, syn the olive oil.


Ingredients (serves two)

One red and one yellow pepper

Two tablespoons of tinned tomatoes.

Sea salt

Olive oil

Veggie parmesan

Heat three or four tablespoons of olive oil over the lowest heat you can manage – I use one of those diffuser things and turn the gas down to two. Cut the peppers into thin slices. Cook them very gently until they are meltingly soft – don’t let them disintegrate into mush, though. Add the tomatoes and warm through. You need just enough tomato to loosen the mix, but not so much that you swamp the peppers (they’re the stars of the dish!) Season well with sea salt. Serve with vegetarian parmesan, or omit if you’re vegan. Erm, that’s it …

Quick Bites – Food Programme


There are two episodes of Radio 4’s Food Programme that I want to highlight.

The first is Re-thinking Veganism. While it’s nice to see a national food magazine programme looking at veganism, the tone and content was definitely mixed. Having said that, it wasn’t as bad as their episode looking at Vegetarianism a while back where the presenter was astonished that vegetarians take care to add flavour to their food (no, seriously). It takes a quick look at the history of veganism and how the proportion of vegan to vegetarian businesses is increasing. We meet a couple of vegan bloggers and the people who run a successful Vegan Supermarket in Germany. And then, because you couldn’t possibly have an episode about vegans with just vegans in they interviewed a couple of near vegans. Alex Renton, a journalist, started out looking at the horsemeat scandal of earlier this year and from his investigations is seriously thinking about going vegan. The other not-really-vegan is Mark Bittman, a NY Times food writer who has started the concept of Vegan Before 6 (where you eat a plant-based diet before 6pm and then anything you like afterwards). He claims it improves his health. I’m all for anything that reduces suffering to animals, but surely they could have kept the plant-based-for-health-diet for another episode. It’s not like vegans get that much of a chance to put forward their case on a national forum. And to be honest, barring a piece on Donald Watson, the Vegan Society’s founder, the animal rights and lifestyle (it’s more than just food) of veganism didn’t get a mention. Let’s not upset the meat-eaters eh?

The other episode worth listening to is Skint Foodies. Ever since I did the $5 for 5 Days challenge, I’ve become much more aware of food poverty abroad and at home. They talk to a few food bloggers who tackle food on a very restrictive budget. Good on Jack Monroe for being very articulate on what it’s like to live on $10 for food a week and on the politics behind the causes of food poverty.

Both episodes should be available to listen to for a year.