Mediterranean sea bass tray bake

Sea bass is a wonderful, readily available fish that deserves a place on all good dinner tables across the land. Cooking fish can be a daunting prospect if it is not something that you are used to and a tray bake is a brilliant introduction to it so read on and give it a try. I have taken inspiration from the Med and used sweet cherry tomatoes, olives, capers and peppers to ramp up the flavours. The ingredients are so fabulous that very little needs doing to them. I used Jersey Royal potatoes which are currently in season in the UK but new potatoes work well if you cannot find these.

IMG_20160523_191534

Ingredients- serves 2
2 boneless sea bass fillets
1 tbsp vegetable oil
200g Jersey Royal potatoes or new potatoes
1 red onion- cut into small wedges
150g cherry tomatoes- halved
50g pitted black olives- halved
1 tbsp capers
2 jarred roasted red peppers- sliced
Squeeze of lemon juice
Torn basil leaves to finish

1. Start by making sure that the sea bass fillets are boneless as nobody likes to find one of those. Preheat the oven to 180c/ 160 fan and think about what you are going to bake this in; a normal baking tray or roasting tray is perfect but I used a cast iron roasting pan. As the oven is heating, pop your tray of choice in there to heat too with a glug of vegetable oil.

2. Meanwhile slice the potatoes so they are 5mm thick. Remove the heated tray from the oven and place the potato slices in. Leave to bake for 20 minutes or until starting to turn golden and soften.

3. Remove the tray and add in the onion wedges, halved tomatoes, olives, capers and peppers and cook for a further 10 minutes. When the potatoes look like they are nearly ready and the onion is nicely softened pop on the sea bass fillets to finish off for 5-7 minutes depending on the size of the fillet. Use your judgement with your oven, if you think the fish skin won’t quite crisp up to how you like it then you can always cheat a bit and pan fry the fillet skin side down for a couple of minutes before finishing in the oven for another 2-3 minutes. When the sea bass is ready the fish will be translucent- do not overcook. Finish off with a squeeze of lemon juice to bring all the flavours together and a few torn basil leaves. Serve immediately.

Mediterranean inspired sea bass tray bake- a colourful addition to your culinary repertoire and a summertime winner!

 

Advertisements

Baked melting mozzarella stuffed nduja meatballs

Like meatballs? Like melting cheese? Yes, of course you do! You’d be mad not to! Well this is your ticket to an easy, crowd pleasing dinner. I try to use the best quality mince I can as you really do taste the difference compared to cheaper ones on offer. This recipe calls for a mixture of beef and veal mince but you can use one variety if you prefer. Veal mince keeps the meatballs moist and it is worth a try if you have not tried it before. It has a more subtle flavour than beef and I also love using it in spaghetti bolognese.

Now this is not the first time I have used nduja in recipes on this blog and it certainly won’t be the last. This soft, spicy Calabrian beauty’s popularity has risen over the last few years and is now readily available in delis and supermarkets. The lovely people at Duchy Charcuterie very kindly sent me some of their award winning nduja to try and I was smitten. Compared to some other ndujas I have cooked with in the past, this one is more mellow but still packed with flavour. You can find out more about the nduja from Duchy Charcuterie from marc@duchycharcuterie.co.uk.

Red pepper and nduja are a match made in heaven so I have laced the tomato sauce with roasted pepper. The ready roasted jarred peppers are always in my cupboard on hand and are perfect for a quick fix. They soften into the sauce beautifully but of course can be substituted with fresh red peppers if you like.

IMG_20160521_210009

Ingredients- serves 4
200g beef mince
200g veal mince
Salt and pepper to season
2 mozzarella balls- cut into small chunks
2 tbsp nduja
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion- finely chopped
2 garlic cloves
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
3 jarred roasted red peppers- sliced
Handful of freshly torn basil to finish- optional

1. Kick off by choosing the correct pan that can be used to fry off the meatballs and that is suitable for popping in the oven- purely a washing up saving device! Get started by making the meatballs and this can be done in advance. Take the two types of mince and add the nduja into it; season well. Some nduja is more solid than others so I tend to pinch small pieces off and then distribute through the mince mixture. Squish together well to bring the mixture together- the meat will bind after a bit of working and that’s when it is ready to shape so it holds. I find that using egg to bind mince can result in a stodgy meatball but trust me that these will still keep their shape! You are after meatballs which are slightly larger than a golf ball. Take the mince, flatten it in the palm of your hand and then pop a cube of mozzarella in the middle before wrapping the mince around it. Repeat until all the mince has been used. Make sure the cheese is well wrapped as you don’t want it oozing out. Pop the balls on a tray and chill until you’re ready to cook.

2. Take the pan of choice and add a glug of olive oil. Heat to medium and take the meatballs in batches and fry until golden on the outside. Remove from the pan and set aside whilst you make the tomato and red pepper sauce. Preheat the oven to 180c/ 160 fan in preparation.

3. If there is a lot of fat from the mince then drain some off to leave about a tablespoon of it. Don’t throw it all away as it is full of flavour! Over a medium heat, add the onion and cook until softening. As garlic cooks more quickly, add this in a minute or two before the onion is done. Pour in the chopped tomatoes and sliced roasted red pepper and bring to a simmer. If using fresh peppers you may like to add the pepper in first and cook for a couple of minutes before adding the tomatoes.

4. Add the golden meatballs back to the pan and arrange so they are not all crammed in and they have space between. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until the meatballs are cooked and the sauce is nicely reduced. Finish with some roughly torn basil if you like and serve. These meatballs are as delicious with pasta as they are with a hunk of bread so it’s up to you!

Baked melting middle nduja meatballs- pimp up your midweek dinner!

 

 

 

Prawn laksa


Prawn laksa hits all the right flavour notes- spicy, savoury and a hint of sweetness; surely it has to be one of the best Asian comfort foods around? Laksa is usually found in Malaysia and can include many main ingredients such as chicken or tofu- prawn is just the start or you can always mix and match! Don’t be put off by the shrimp paste or fish sauce- they are there to season and add depth so do try them. The spice paste can be made well in advance and then kept in the fridge. You may also like to make more paste than you need for one meal and then save it for another day to save some time.

This laksa includes beansprouts which are readily available in supermarkets. You may also like to include shredded vegetables such as mange tout, sugar snap peas or Asian greens- it really depends how hungry you are!

IMG_20160517_192418

Ingredients- serves 2
For the laksa paste
2 dried kashmiri chillies- soaked then chopped
1 stem of lemongrass- chopped
2 cloves of garlic
1 inch piece of fresh ginger
1 tsp shrimp paste
2 shallots- chopped
Pinch of turmeric
Salt
1/2 tbsp vegetable oil

For the rest
200g raw prawns
400ml coconut milk
200ml chicken stock made up with water
1 tbsp fish sauce
1/2 tbsp palm sugar
150g rice noodles
50g beansprouts
2 spring onions- shredded

1. Start off by soaking the kashmiri chillies whilst you prepare the remaining ingredients for the paste. Blitz into a paste or bash using a mortar and pestle if you prefer a more rustic look.

2. Take a large pan and heat the glug of vegetable oil over a medium heat. Cook off the paste for a couple of minutes until it releases its fragrance. Add the coconut milk, stock, fish sauce and palm sugar and simmer. How long I simmer this for depends on how much time I have but aim for around 10-15 minutes so the flavours from the paste has time to develop and infuse.

3. Meanwhile soak the rice noodles in boiling water, drain well and set aside. Pop the prawns into the broth to cook through whilst you divide the noodles between two deep bowls. Alternatively, and I know this is not the true way of doing it, but I also like to add the rice noodles to the broth and finish off in that so it soaks up the fragrant sauce. When the prawns are cooked, ladle the broth over the noodles before going in with the beansprouts and spring onion. I also like to fry rings of shallot to give a crispy topping.

Prawn laksa- spicy, warming, comforting and impossible to resist!

Caramelised balsamic shallot tarte tatin

If you think of a tarte tatin, people will conjure up images of deliciously sweet and syrupy apple desserts however think again! This tarte tatin is savoury, moreish and there’s not a single apple in sight. I have previously made an onion tarte tatin however you just can’t beat the softeness of the shallot with its gentle flavour which goes perfectly with the tartness of the balsamic and the savouriness of the pastry. Balsamic and thyme is a match made in heaven so I have included this in the caramel and also sprinkled some more leaves over the top to finish. I used normal shallots however banana shallot will also work well.

Readymade puff pastry sheets tend to be quite large and may need cutting down. You will need to make sure the pastry round is slightly larger than the pan itself so the pastry can be tucked in snuggly.

IMG_20160510_195321

Ingredients- makes one tart which serves 2 for dinner
400g shallots
25g butter
1 tbsp balsamic
1 tbsp brown sugar
Salt
Few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 premade puff pastry sheet

1. Double check the instructions on the puff pastry you buy but otherwise preheat the oven to 200c/ 180 fan ready for action shortly. In the meantime, boil a kettle of water and pour into a heat proof bowl that is large enough to hold the shallots. Soak the shallots for 10 minutes before removing, allowing to cool and then peeling them. Carefully cut the shallots in half from end to end so they stay together as best as they can and set aside.

2. Take a frying pan that is around 22cm in diameter. Heat the butter, sugar and balsamic vinegar along with the leaves from several fresh thyme sprigs. Season lightly. Place the shallots cut side down in the pan. Cook on the hob over a low to medium heat until the shallots start to soften which will take around 10 minutes. Don’t be tempted to cook them on a high heat otherwise the balsamic mixture will burn. You will find the balsamic reduces down a bit which is what you want.

3. Take the puff pastry sheet and gently lay it across the top of the shallots. Tuck the sides in so they hug the shallots and cook in the oven for around 20 minutes until golden and cooked through. You can tell if it needs a little longer as pastry may look paler in places. When cooked, remove the pan from the oven and get ready to turn it out. Lay a board or serving plate across the top of the pan and turn it over. If the pastry needs a little hand then use a knife and run it around the edge to help loosen it. Be careful not to burn yourself on the hot pan or with the hot juices. If a shallot or two is stuck to the bottom of the pan, gently coax it off and pop back in its rightful place. Serve with a simple salad.

Balsamic and thyme shallot tart tatin- a savoury twist on a French classic!

 

Pan fried sea bream with bacon and samphire crushed new potatoes

I absolutely adore sea bream- firm yet tender, meaty yet delicate, it ticks all the boxes for flavour in my book. Fish is almost always best treated simply to let it shine without being taken over by the accompanying ingredients. I have teamed the bream with marsh samphire, which is now readily available. Samphire needs little done with it to add a wonderful saltiness; it can be steamed, roasted or pan fried to perfection.

‘Bacon as well as samphire?!’ I hear you cry! ‘Absolutely’ says I! Don’t think that the bacon and samphire will create a thirst inducing meal, it simply isn’t so. I used a lightly smoked back bacon which is tossed in with the potatoes at the last minute. If you like, consider replacing the bacon with other sea vegetables. Another word: Jersey Royal potatoes are currently in season in the UK and are simply wonderful so do use them whilst you get the opportunity.

IMG_20160502_201528

Ingredients- serves 2
2 fillets of sea bream- skin on
Salt and pepper to season
60g butter
200g jersey royal potatoes
100g samphire- rinsed well
2 rashers of smoked back bacon- roughly cut

1. Before you get cracking on the fish itself, boil a kettle of water and cook the potatoes. Most average sized new potatoes take around 15-20 minutes but this will also depend on the size. Test if they are cooked with a knife, drain well and set aside.

2. Meanwhile take two pans; one that is suitable for the fish so this needs to be a non- stick frying pan ideally and one that can be used for frying the bacon. Sea bream fillets will take around 5-6 minutes so I simply pan fry with 20g of butter (and a glug of oil if you like as well). Season the skin side of the fish with salt and pepper before frying skin side down for 3 minutes until golden. Flip the fish onto the other side and season before cooking for a further 2-3 minutes until cooked through. I used a spoon to baste the fish with the melted butter in the pan throughout the cooking.

3. At the same time this is all going on, heat a knob of butter in the second pan. Pop in the bacon pieces and samphire. Take the drained potatoes and lightly crush them with a masher or spoon before adding to the pan. Keep as much butter as you want (or need) to work its way through the potatoes. Now is not the time to worry about the diet! That can wait! When the bacon is crisped, the samphire soft and the potatoes warm, divide between two plates. Carefully remove the bream from the pan and place on top of the bed of potatoes. Serve immediately.

Pan fried sea bream with bacon and samphire crushed potatoes- savour every bite of this wonderfully simple yet elegant dinner!

 

 

Paneer, split pea and spinach curry

Paneer is a firm Indian cheese which is one of my all time favourite things to use in a curry. It holds its shape when cooked and takes on flavours perfectly. Paneer is also a good way of introducing even the most avid meat fan to vegetarian curries. I have used an old faithful curry paste blend that works well every time. I started the curry off the day before so the paneer had plenty of time to marinade however a couple of hours ahead would be fine if you don’t have the time. This curry is gently spiced so you can taste each element however if you want to ramp up the heat then go ahead by adding more chilli powder, or fresh chilli if you prefer.

IMG_20160428_162955

Ingredients- serves 2-3
For the curry paste
2 tsps of the following: ground cumin, ground coriander, chilli powder, turmeric
1 tsp amchur (mango) powder
1 tsp garlic puree or 1 crushed garlic clove
1 tsp ginger puree or 2cm piece of grated fresh ginger

For the rest of the curry
150g yellow split peas
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 block of paneer approx. 200g
1 red onion- finely chopped
1 tsp black onion seeds
6 plum tomatoes on the vine- chopped
100ml hot vegetable stock
100g baby spinach- shredded
Handful of fresh coriander- chopped

1. Get going on the curry paste by simply combining all of the listed ingredients with a splash of water to bring it together to form a relatively thick paste. Cut the block of paneer into chunks which are around an inch in size. Take half of the paste and add into a bowl with the paneer and ensure it is well coated. Cover the bowl with cling film and place in the fridge until you are ready to cook.

2. When ready to cook, the split peas need preparing before you get going with the rest of the curry. Place them in a large pan and add 400ml of water straight from the tap. Bring the pan to a boil, add the split peas, lower to a simmer and cook for half an hour until the split peas are tender. Keep checking the split peas as some may need slightly longer depending on the variety and size you use.

3. Meanwhile take a large wide bottomed pan (preferably non- stick!) and heat half of the vegetable oil over a medium to high heat. Take the marinated paneer and fry until it gets a little colour; turn the pieces regularly so the spice marinade does not catch. When they are golden, remove from the pan and set aside. If there are any pieces of marinade that have burnt onto the pan then give it a quick rinse as you will need to use this again.

4. Heat the remaining oil over a low to medium heat and cook the red onion gently. I always take plenty of time over making the base of my curry so the flavours develop. Cook the onion until translucent but ensure it does not colour too much as this can make onion taste bitter. When the onion is a minute or so away from ready, toss in the black onion seeds and finish off together. Spoon in the remaining curry paste that you reserved and cook gently for a few minutes.

5. Take the chopped tomatoes and add into the pan making sure they combine well with the onion mixture. Simmer until the tomatoes are reducing and thickening. The time this takes depends on the size of the tomatoes and how juicy they are but be patient as slowly cooking the tomatoes base will make all the difference.

6. When the split peas are cooked and tender, add these to the pan along with the paneer. Cover the pan and simmer again until hot and until the curry is the consistency you like. Along the way you may find that you want to add a splash of stock if the split peas get a little dry but, again, this depends on how juicy the tomatoes are. For the final few minutes of cooking, stir through the shredded spinach and finish off with some freshly chopped coriander. Serve the curry with your choice or rice or bread such as chapatis and enjoy.

Paneer, split pea and spinach curry- ‘the best curry you’ve ever made’ was the quote from my fellow diner so it must be a winning combination!