Monday, 31 May 2010


I've tried many times to make decent falafel and have always failed. Recently, however, I realised what I'd been doing wrong. All of the recipes I had followed had used tinned chickpeas, but proper falafel are actually made with uncooked chickpeas or broad beans which have been soaked. The main problem with this is that you need a food processor in order to grind down the soaked pulses. Fortunately, Wikus gave me a Magimix for Christmas which has a very powerful motor which makes light work of jobs like this one.

This recipe is loosely based on Claudia Roden's falafel recipe in her Book of Jewish Food - though I'm made a couple of changes - using a 50/50 mix of chickpeas and broad beans, omitting the spring onions and replacing with extra garlic, and using fresh chillies instead of cayenne pepper.

250g dried chickpeas
250g dried broad beans (without skins)
1 large bunch of coriander (or two or three of the stupid little packs they sell in supermarkets)
2 green chillies
2 red chillies
6 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons of ground coriander
2 teaspoons of ground cumin

Soak the chickpeas and broad beans for 18 hours in a large pan of water (do it before you go to bed the previous day). After the chickpeas have been soaked, drain and then dry on a large, clean tea towel - it is very important to get them as dry as possible to stop the falafel from falling apart when you cook them. Place all of the ingredients into a food processor - depending on how large your food processor is, it is probably easier to do this in two or three batches. Make sure you include all of the coriander, stalks and all. Blend the ingredients until you have a smooth paste. Use a spatula to scrape the mixture down from the sides of the food processor intermittently during blending to ensure that all the chickpeas and broad beans are properly blended. Once the mixture has reached the right consistency, place it in a bowl and cover with cling film for one hour. Then shape the mixture into walnut-sized balls and fry in hot oil until brown. Place the cooked falafel on a tray to keep warm in the oven.

This recipe makes a mountain of falafel, so make sure you have plenty of people to feed.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Lemon sponge cake with lemon curd buttercream icing

I bought myself some new cake tins this week and needed to try them out. So I made a very simple lemon sponge cake.

The sponge base is a Victoria sponge (225g each of butter, caster sugar and self-raising flour plus 4 large eggs) with the grated zest of two lemons, divided between 3 lined 20cm cake tins and baked at 180C for 15 minutes.

The icing is an improvised lemon curd buttercream icing. I made the buttercream first from 300g icing sugar and 150g unsalted butter. I then whisked in 300g of lemon curd.

I then layered the cake and icing together. And then ate some.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Artichokes with red pepper sauce and spinach pastries

My approach to cooking is very approximate. I generally don't weigh things. I often don't follow recipes. I just bung things in a pan and guess the quantities. This normally works out well, but it also has limitations. In particular, it makes it hard to describe to other people how you made something.

All of which is a long-winded apology for the fact that I forgot to keep notes of how much I was using of all of the ingredients for tonight's dinner, which makes it difficult for me to turn it into a recipe. Sorry. I still need to get into the habit of blogging.

Anyway, I cooked two dishes tonight from ingredients bought mainly from the Turkish Food Centre in Dalston. The first was a dish of artichoke hearts in roasted red pepper and garlic sauce. Second, I baked some spinach and ricotta pastries. The following recipes are obviously based on guesswork, but you should get the general idea.

Artichokes with red pepper sauce - ingredients

400g frozen globe artichoke hearts
600g red peppers (the pointy kind)
1 bulb of garlic
60ml olive oil
30ml white wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper

Put the grill on the highest setting. Arrange the peppers and garlic bulb (unpeeled) on a tray and place under the grill.  Turn the peppers once they have blackened on one side and place back under the grill. Remove once the peppers are blackened all over and allow to cool.

While the peppers are cooking, boil the artichokes for about five minutes in a pan of salted water with the lemon juice. Once the artichokes are cooked, drain and chop into small pieces. 

Once the peppers have cooled, remove the stalks, cut open and scrape out the seeds. Pick off any bits of blackened skin which are flaking off and put the peppers in a food processor. Slice the roasted garlic bulb down the middle and squeeze out the cooked flesh. Add to the peppers with the olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and then blend until smooth.

Use a spatula to place the red pepper sauce in a pan, and then add the chopped artichokes. Heat gently before serving.
Spinach and ricotta pastries - ingredients

(I really forgot to keep track on this one)
500g frozen chopped spinach
1 pack of ricotta
100g feta
Teaspoon of ground nutmeg
Red chili flakes
1 pack of filo pastry leaves
1 egg
50g melted butter
50ml milk

Thaw the spinach in the microwave and squeeze out any excess liquid. Mix in a bowl with the ricotta and crumbled feta. Season with nutmeg and chili flakes. Beat the egg and milk together in a bowl and then whisk in the melted butter. Remove the pastry leaves from the pack and place between two sheets of cling film to prevent them drying out. Take one leaf of pastry and brush with the egg and butter mix. Place a spoonful of the spinach mix on the pastry sheet and then fold to enclose the mixture. Fold the pastry into whatever shape you like (I am extremely cackhanded so go for a rectangle which is easy and safe). As you go along, brush the pastry with extra egg and butter to ensure the layers remain separated. Bake the pastries at 180C until golden brown.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010


Highly recommended: Prieler Johanneshohe Blaufränkisch from Austria, available from the Wine Society. Tastes and smells gorgeous.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Roasted peppers, cherry tomatoes and feta

This recipe is a post-work staple - it's easy to make, even if you've had a long day, and you can pretty much put it in the oven and forget about it. It's based on a Nigel Slater recipe that appeared years ago in the Observer.


3 large red, yellow or orange peppers
335g cherry tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic
12 pitted Kalamata olives
200g feta, crumbled.
Olive oil
Black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220C. Cut the peppers lengthways through the stalk - do this carefully to ensure that the two halves will lie as evenly as possible in order to contain the filling. Cut out the seeds and any of the white, pithy flesh and place on a baking tray. Chop the cherry tomatoes into quarters and place into a bowl. Chop the olives and garlic and mix gently with the tomatoes and a splash of olive oil. Season with ground black pepper. Spoon equal quantities of the chopped tomato mix into each pepper half and place in the oven for half an hour. Remove from the oven and carefully top the peppers with equal quantities of the crumbled feta. Return to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes. Serve the peppers with plenty of crusty bread.

There are lots of potential variants of this recipe. It's also delicious if you replace the feta with goats cheese, or if you top the peppers with a teaspoon of pesto before you add the feta. I've also tried it with chopped bottled artichokes and jalapenos.

Serves 2.


Flapjacks were probably the first thing that I ever learnt to cook when I was about 4 years old. I have recently rediscovered them because they are so incredibly easy to make. One conundrum that I have not yet fully resolved is the question of why M&S flapjacks always taste so much nicer than the ones I make at home. My sister told me a while back that the secret ingredient is condensed milk, but I've never been able to find a good recipe that uses it. So I decided to make one up - here it is. If you have any suggested refinements, please let me know if the comments.


300g rolled oats
100g butter
75g soft brown sugar
120ml condensed milk
60ml golden syrup

Preheat the over to 180C. Place all of the ingredients except the oats into a large bowl and microwave for 3 minutes until the butter and syrup have melted. Stir well to ensure that the ingredients are fully mixed, and then stir in the oats. Once the oats are fully coated in the liquid, turn the mixture out into a small, lined tin (roughly 20cm by 20cm) and press down with a spatula or palette knife until the mixture is evenly spread across the tin. Place in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes. As soon as you've taken the flapjacks out of the oven, use a knife to mark out 16 squares. Allow the flapjacks to cool in the tin and then turn out.

UPDATE: My friend and former colleague Emma has tried this recipe and recommends boiling the ingredients before adding the oats so that they start to caramelise.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Picnic update

Picnic food: Spinach, sweet potato and goats cheese frittata

Because it's such beautiful summery weather, I decided to have a Sunday evening picnic in the park (leaving shortly). This is what we will be eating, along with grilled asparagus, beetroot, dill and yoghurt salad, and cucumber, lemon and mint salad. Frittata is great picnic food because you can just cut it into slices and eat it with your hands. The same isn't true of the salad (especially not the beetroot), so I will nonetheless be packing some picnic plates...

If anyone wants to join me, I will be dodging bullets in London Fields.


400g sweet potatoes
150g of cooked, frozen spinach (make sure it's whole leaf spinach, not chopped frozen spinach)
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
10 eggs
2 x 70g goats cheeses
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Peel and dice the sweet potatoes and slice the onions. Take a large frying pan with a lid, and fry the onions and crushed garlic in olive oil for a minute or two. Then add the sweet potatoes and cover with the lid. Stir after a couple of minutes, and if necessary add a tablespoon of water to help steam the sweet potatoes. After about 10 minutes, test the sweet potatoes with a knife to see if they are done and then remove them from the heat and allow to cool.

Thaw the spinach and squeeze our any excess liquid. Beat the eggs in a large bowl and then add the spinach. Season well with salt and pepper. Next, take one of the goats cheese, cut into small cubes and then add to the egg mix. Finally, add the sweet potatoes and onion and stir until the ingredients are evenly mixed.

Wipe the pan with some kitchen towel and then place on a moderate to high heat with some more olive oil. Once the oil is hot, pour the frittata mixture into the pan and smooth to ensure that it is evenly distributed. Turn down the heat to low. Next, carefully slice the remaining goats cheese and arrange the slices around the top of the frittata. Place the lid on the pan and leave for around 20 minutes. When you remove the lid, the frittata should be mostly cooked, save for a small amount of liquid egg mixture in the centre. Finish the cooking process by placing the pan under a moderate grill for three or four minutes.

Allow the frittata to cool in the pan and then cut into 8-10 slices ready for your picnic

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Aubergine meatballs and arrabiata sauce

The following recipe is another product of too many hours spent watching the Good Food Channel. The original recipe for polpette di malanzane, or aubergine meatballs, was by Catherine Fulvio. This is my version.


2 large aubergines
4 cloves of crushed garlic
100g of grated pecorino, parmesan or finely crumbled feta
250g breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon of chopped mint
1 tablespoon of chopped oregano, or half a tablespoon of dried oregano
1 egg
Salt and pepper
Olive or sunflower oil for frying

Arrabiata sauce

2 x 400g cans of chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
4 cloves of crushed garlic
Half a teaspoon of dried red chili flakes
Juice of 1 lemon
Olive oil

Put the aubergines on a baking tray and then place under a very hot grill, turning occasionally, until the skin is charred. Set to one side and allow to cool. Once the aubergines have cooled, slit the skin open and scoop out the flesh onto a chopping board. Chop finely and then place in a bowl. Add the herbs, garlic, egg and cheese, season with salt and pepper, and then stir to incorporate all of the ingredients. Then add the breadcrumbs and stir until fully incorporated. Next, shape the balls by scooping out teaspoon-sized pieces of the mixture and rolling them into balls in your hand. Place on a tray or plate and set to one side until you have shaped all the mixture. Next, heat the oil in a large frying pan. Once the oil is hot enough, carefully drop the balls into the hot oil. They will take a couple of minutes to cook on each side. Turn them to cook the other side so that they are browned all over. Remove from the pan and place the cooked balls on a baking tray while you cook the remaining balls in batches.

Once you have cooked all the aubergine meatballs, make the arrabiata sauce. Fry the garlic gently in olive oil, then add the tomatoes, tomato puree, lemon juice and chili. Season with salt and stir until the sauce is simmering. Next, add all the aubergine meatballs to the pan and stir so that they are coated in sauce. Continue cooking for a few minutes to ensure the balls are heated through.

Serve with pasta and freshly grated pecorino or parmesan. Serves 4.

Thursday, 20 May 2010


Panzanella is an Italian bread salad that makes a fantastic summer lunch. It is traditionally made as a way of using up stale bread (I cheated and made some fresh bread go stale by drying it in the oven). It's best made with ciabatta, but can also be made with other good quality bread like sourdough. However, the bread does need to be quite firm and robust otherwise it will disintegrate in all the juices.

Other ingredients include brightly coloured Mediterranean vegetables. There are no hard and fast rules as to what you include (some people add celery or cucumber), but make sure that all the ingredients are top quality with lots of flavour. 


1 large ciabatta - either stale or dried in a low oven
1kg ripe vine tomatoes
3 peppers (red, orange or yellow)
20 pitted Kalamata olives, chopped into quarters
1 tablespoon of capers
Bunch of fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
1 ball of fresh mozzarella, torn into small pieces
Juice of two lemons
Half a cup of olive oil
Salt and pepper

Chop the bread into bite-sized cubes. Chop the peppers into small chunks, spread on a baking tray, and they place under a hot grill until they begin to char. Remove from the grill and set aside to cool. Next, peel the tomatoes by piercing them and then dropping them in boiling water for one minute. When the skin begins to split, remove them with a slotted spoon - the skin will slide off easily. Halve the tomatoes and then, using a teaspoon, remove the seeds from the centre. Don't throw the seeds away - instead, reserve both them and the juice for the dressing. Once you have de-seeded all the tomatoes, cut them into strips. Next, add the lemon juice and olive to the tomato seeds and season with a small amount of salt and plenty of black pepper. About an hour before you want to eat, place all the ingredient in a large bowl, including the basil and mozzarella, whisk the dressing, and pour it over. Stir the salad to make sure that all the bread soaks up the dressing, and then leave to one side for the flavours to meld together.

Serves 4-6 depending on whether you have it as a main or a side.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Aubergine, chickpea and preserved lemon with cous cous

Ottolenghi on Upper Street in Islington is far and away my favourite restaurant. I'm an equally huge fan of Yotam Ottolenghi's weekly Guardian column and his two cookbooks, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook and Plenty

This dish is inspired by (for which read: copied, subject to adaptation and guesswork) one that we ate there a couple of months ago when we took my mum to the restaurant. The original dish used whole baby aubergines, but apart from that one difference, this is a relatively faithful interpretation. I serve it with cous cous to round it off into a complete meal, but you could equally serve it on its own.

If I'm honest, I sometimes find Ottolenghi recipes a bit daunting. They are often bursting with dozens of ingredients, in precise measurements, some of which can be difficult to buy. They seem like hard work. But they more than reward the effort.

In comparison to most Ottolenghi dishes, however, this interpretation is extremely quick and easy to cook. I timed myself when cooking (having not got home until gone 10pm) and it took less than 20 minutes from start to finish. It tastes like a lot more effort is involved.


1 medium-large aubergine
1 tin of tomatoes (400g)
1 tin of chickpeas
1 preserved lemon
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
1 clove of garlic
1 teaspoon cinnamon
100g feta
50g pine nuts
Olive oil

To serve:

250g cous cous (dry weight)
400ml boiling water
1 teaspoon Marigold Swiss vegetable bouillon

Chop the aubergine into 1.5cm cubes and toss the pieces in olive oil. Spread evenly on a baking tray and put underneath a very hot grill. Don't worry if the aubergine burns a bit - it will add to the flavour. Pour the boiling water over the cous cous and bouillon powder, stir and cover with cling film. Place the pine nuts in a frying pan and toast gently (don't let these burn, they'll taste foul). Slice the garlic and fry gently in olive oil. Add the tinned tomato and tomato puree. Finely chop the preserved lemon and add to the tomato. Season with salt, add the cinnamon and stir well. Drain the chickpeas and add to the tomato. Once the aubergines are beginning to blacken at the edges, add them to the tomato and chickpeas and stir well. Serve the stew on a bed of cous cous and scatter the crumbled feta and toasted pine nuts over the top.

I reckon this serves 3 people. It tastes good cold as well as hot, and could also be served with quinoa or bulgar wheat instead of cous cous.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Pasta with peas, broad beans and ewe's cheese

I enjoy cooking, and can happily spend hours in the kitchen as a leisure activity, but there are times when my enthusiasm for cooking is distinctly limited - after a long day at work, for example. And it's always difficult to maintain a diverse repertoire of dishes that can be cooked quickly and easily when you're really not in the mood.

This is one such dish. It's a very simple pasta recipe made with nothing more than frozen vegetables and cheese, and flavoured simply with lemon and pepper. It takes less than 15 minutes to cook and, as a further advantage, creates little washing up.

I use a bottled Turkish ewe's cheese in this recipe, which I buy from the marvellous Turkish Food Centre on Ridley Road in Dalston. But it works just as well with feta.


175g frozen peas
175g frozen broad beans
300g pasta (dry weight)
150g ewe's cheese or feta
Juice of 2 lemons
Olive oil
Black pepper and salt

Boil the pasta in salted water according to the instructions on the pack. In the meantime, place the frozen vegetables in a bowl with a tablespoon of water, cover tightly with cling film and microwave on full power for 5 minutes. Drain the vegetables. When the pasta is cooked, drain and then return it to the pan. Add a pinch of salt and the lemon juice. Then return the pan to the heat and stir gently until all the lemon juice is absorbed into the pasta. Add a generous glug of olive oil and stir. Then stir in the vegetables and crumbled cheese and season with plenty of black pepper. Stir the pasta until the cheese melts and begins to coat the pasta.

Serves 3 people (2 for dinner and 1 portion cold for my lunch tomorrow - it's nice as a salad too).

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Lentil and smoked cheese lasagne

I'm a massive fan of the Good Food Channel (formerly UKTV Food). I can watch it for hours, much to Wikus's frustration. It is a great way to learn new techniques and the get inspiration for future recipes. This particular recipe was inspired by a traditional Italian lasagne - only without the meat.

Three vegetables form the base for a traditional lasagne sauce - the so-called "Holy Trinity" of onion, carrot and celery. In Italy, this mixture is called "soffritto". Instead of meat, I use lentils, and to add depth of flavour, I use smoked cheddar in the bechamel sauce and for the cheesy topping - infusing the whole dish with a delicious smoky flavour.


150g onions
150g carrots
150g celery
4 cloves garlic
600g tomato passata
1 tablespoon tomato puree
½ cup water
200g green lentils / Puy lentils (dry weight)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons sweet smoke paprika
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
250g lasagne sheets

Bechamel sauce

900ml milk
50g butter
50g plain flour
250g grated smoked cheddar (reserve 100g for the topping)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Ground black pepper


Place the dried lentils in a large pan and cover with lots of water (but no salt). Bring to the boil and then boil hard for 10 minutes with the lid off. Then turn the heat down, place a lid on the pan, and simmer for 30-40 minutes until the lentils cooked. Drain and then place to one side.

Chop the garlic and fry gently in olive oil. Finely dice the onions, carrots and celery and add to the pan. Cook gently for 10 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the passata, tomato puree and water. Add the oregano and paprika and then season to taste with salt and ground black pepper. Add the cooked lentils, place a lid on the pan, and simmer for 20 minutes.

Next, make the bechamel sauce. Heat the milk, either in a pan or in the microwave. In a separate pan, melt the butter and once it is bubbling, add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon. Cook the flour and butter for a couple of minutes to ensure the flour is cooked through. Then slowly add the hot milk, stirring vigorously to remove any lumps. Once you have a smooth sauce, add the mustard and plenty of ground black pepper. Then stir in 150g of the grated cheese until melted.

Finally, take a large lasagne dish and spread a thin layer of the lentil sauce over the base. Next, ladle a thin layer of the bechamel sauce over the lentils, and then cover with a layer of lasagne sheets. Repeat until you have three layers, and then top the last layer of lasagne sheets with a final layer of bechamel sauce. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top and then bake at 200C for 45 minutes until golden brown and bubbling.

Serves 6.

Sourdough bread

Bread is one of the simplest and most satisfying things you can cook. Made with only four ingredients – flour, water, yeast or sourdough starter, and a pinch of salt – it’s incredible the transformation that takes place through the action of the yeast. And homemade bread is far superior to anything you can buy in the shops. Thanks to my sourdough starter, I have scarcely bought a loaf of bread at any time in the past year.

I use my breadmaker to make my homemade sourdough bread, and there are two different techniques that I use – the first of which makes a more rustic loaf, while the second is finer and closer to the kind of texture you would expect from a shop bought loaf. I discovered the second method completely by accident, but it makes a nice loaf of bread so I have stuck with it.

The yeast in sourdough is less active than commercial yeast, so making bread with it is a slower process. To get around this, I normally start the process either before I go to bed or before I leave for work, and just let the sourdough starter do its thing. The timings provided are approximate – sometimes it will take longer, sometimes quicker, depending on the temperature. The bread is risen when it’s doubled in size.


3 ¼ cups of strong white bread flour

1 cup water

½ cup sourdough starter

Pinch of salt

Method 1 – rustic texture

Place all the ingredients in the breadmaker and put on the dough setting. Allow to rise for six hours. Then turn the dough out onto a well-flour surface and knead to knock out the air. Place the dough into a grease loaf tin and cover with a lightly oiled sheet of cling film. Allow to rise for a further three hours and then bake in a very hot over – 240C – for about 25 minutes. The bread is ready if the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it. If the base of the loaf looks a bit pale, stick it back in the over for 5 minutes to brown.

Method 2 – finer texture

Place all of the ingredients in the breadmaker, save for one cup of flour, and put on the dough setting. This will create a sticky batter. Leave to ferment for six hours. Then add the remaining cup of flour and turn on the breadmaker’s dough setting for a second time. The dough will be a lot stickier than for the first method, but this is normal. Grease a loaf tin and then grease your hands to transfer the sticky dough from the breadmaker to the tin. Cover the dough with a lightly oiled sheet of cling film and then continue as for the first method.

NB: If you're wondering why I use the breadmaker to create the dough but not to bake the bread, it's because I prefer the taste of bread baked in a very hot oven. It's perfectly possible to bake sourdough bread in a breadmaker - you just allow the bread to rise in the tin, and then when it's ready you turn it onto the bake-only setting - but it doesn't come out quite as perfectly as if you bake it in the oven. Using the breadmaker to make the dough still saves a lot of time and effort, and baking it in the breadmaker still makes a tasty loaf.

Marmalade granola

I decided to experiment yesterday by making granola with marmalade instead of honey. It worked pretty well - though the end result wasn't quite as orangey as I had been hoping! Probably because I could only get hold of crappy marmalade. Next time I will try to use something of better quality. I'm also wondering whether it might be nice made with seedless raspberry jam.


400g rolled oats
100g sunflower seeds
100g pumpkin seeds
100g hazelnuts
100g almonds
250g raisins

250g shredless marmalade
60ml sunflower oil
45ml water
Pinch of salt


Roughly chop the hazelnuts and almonds and mix in a large bowl with the oats and the seeds. Place all of the syrup ingredients in a pan and heat gently until the marmalade has melted, stirring regularly. Pour the syrup over the oat mix and then stir until the syrup is evenly incorporated. Line two large baking trays with baking parchment and spread the oats in an even layer over both trays. Bake at 140C for around an hour, stirring the granola mix two or three times during the process to make sure it bakes evenly and to break up any lumps that develop. The granola is ready when it starts to go slightly golden. It will still be a bit soft when you take it out of the over but will harden as it cools. Once you have removed it from the oven, mix the sultanas into the granola and then allow it to completely cool. Store in a large airtight container.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Brooklyn blackout cake

From the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook:

Happy first birthday to my sourdough starter

Last year, when Wikus bought me my breadmaker, I decided to experiment with creating sourdough starter instead of using commercial yeast. Yeast occurs naturally in grains and fruit, but the concentrations are far too low for breadmaking. In the days before commercial yeast, bakers would therefore maintain yeast cultures created just from flour and water. Because the cultures are made from naturally occurring yeast strains, sourdough starters are less efficient and require longer rising times. However, they also lend the finished bread a better, more complex yeasty flavour with a subtle lactic tang. For this reason, sourdough bread is now a fashionable (and expensive) product. But it's also easy to make at home.

To create your own sourdough starter, you'll need a kilner jar. Mix half a cup of flour with half a cup of water in the jar and leave at room temperature, uncovered, for 24 hours. Add another quarter cup each of flour and water, stir, and cover with the lid. Repeat daily for two to three weeks. You'll need to tip half the mixture away at various stages otherwise you'll have way too much. Over time, the yeast culture will begin to develop and strengthen, and by the end, your concoction will be strong enough to make bread. After that, you can keep the starter in the fridge and just feed it every time you use some to make bread.

I used organic rye flour to kick mine off, switching to wheat after a couple of months. At the beginning, you're best using mineral water rather than tap water, because the chlorine risks killing the yeast. Once your starter is established, you can switch to tap.

I'll devote a subsequent post to using the starter to make bread.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Pizza two ways

To my surprise, however, I am a convert. The inconvenience of breadmaking is all in the waiting. It's an enterprise which takes time, and unless you're planning to spend ages hanging around the house, it isn't always practical. Breadmakers still require advance planning, but they unshackle you from the kitchen.

One of the great benefits of owning a breadmaker is that it makes it a whole lot easier to make delicious homemade pizza instead of ordering takeaway or buying a piece of horrible refrigerated cardboard from Tesco. It's so easy that, providing you remember to put all the ingredients in the machine before you go to work, it is something that you can knock together without much effort after a long and tiring day in the office.

Today, I decided to make two pizzas - the first was a blue cheese and red pepper pizza, based on my normal recipe, and the second was a more experimental tomato-free pizza bianca with potatoes (carb overload!), garlic and rosemary.

The recipe below is for two pizzas, but you can easily vary the quantities depending on how much you want to make.


For the dough - both pizzas

3 cups of strong white bread flour
1 cups of water
½ teaspoon of salt
1 sachet of yeast
1 tablespoon of olive oil

For the tomato sauce - first pizza

400g chopped tinned tomatoes
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
1 clove of garlic, crushed
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Additional toppings - first pizza

120g grated mozzarella (use the cheap stuff for pizza, and don't use mozzarella in brine, otherwise you'll end up with a very watery pizza!)
65g blue cheese - gorgonzola is good
½ red pepper chopped into strips

Toppings for the pizza bianca - second pizza

250g new potatoes, boiled and sliced
1 small red onion
Sour cream or creme fraiche
4 cloves of garlic
4 sprigs of rosemary
Salt and pepper


For the dough

If you've got a breadmaker, just bung all the ingredients in the breadmaker an hour and a half in advance, and put it on the dough setting. If you are doing it before you leave for work, use the timer delay to start the programme an hour and a half before you get home.

If you don't have a breadmaker, mix the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl and then add the water. Using your hands, combine the ingredients and knead until they form a ball. Once all the ingredients have come together, tip the dough onto a clean work surface and then knead with the olive oil for 5-10 minutes. Place the dough back into the bowl, cover with clingfilm or a damp tea towel, and leave for an hour and a half.

Once the dough is ready, divide it into two pieces. Then take two lightly oiled baking trays and place the dough halves in the centre. Using the flats of your hands, gently stretch the dough to cover the tray. You should aim for it to be around half a centimetre thick. Then set aside for 20 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients. To stop the dough drying out, you can cover it with a piece of lightly oiled clingfilm placed directly onto the dough.

For the sauce

Put some olive oil in a pan over a medium heat and gently fry the garlic. After about a minute, add the tomatoes, lemon juice, tomato puree and oregano. Season with salt and pepper and then simmer for 10 minutes. You don't want this sauce to be too chunky, so if necessary, use a potato masher to make it smoother.

One of the secrets to a good pizza is to be sparing with the tomato sauce. The amount here is enough for 2-3 pizzas, so freeze any that you have left over. It will also keep in the fridge for a few days.

Assembling the first pizza

Using a spatula, smear a quantity of the tomato sauce evenly across the base. Then sprinkle the grated mozzarella evenly across the sauce. Then break the blue cheese into small chunks and scatter them across the pizza. Then scatter the slices of red pepper over the pizza.

Assembling the second pizza

Using a spatula, smear a thin layer of sour cream across the base of the pizza. Season well with salt and pepper, and then finely chop the rosemary and garlic and scatter them over the sour cream. Arrange the sliced boiled potatoes evenly over the sour cream layer and season again with salt and pepper. Then finely slice the red onion and scatter that over the potatoes. To finish, dot the pizza with small dollops of sour cream.

To bake

To make pizza, you need to get your oven really, really hot. This will ensure a nice and crispy base which is soft and chewy inside. I set mine to 240C. Once the oven is at the right temperature, put the pizzas in for 15-20 minutes. The pizza on the lower shelf may take a bit longer. Once the cheese or sour cream is turning golden, they are done. Take them out and leave to stand for a couple of minutes before slicing and serving.


I reckon the quantities here will serve 3-4 people. If you want to make less, reduce the quantities for the dough to 2 cups of flour and 3/4 cups water.

The great thing about pizza is that the number of potential toppings is huge. For a regular pizza, I always use tomato sauce and mozzarella as a base and then vary the other ingredients. So instead of blue cheese and red peppers, I might use Monterey jack and jalapeños. Or spinach and ricotta. Or caramelised onions and goats cheese. Use your imagination!

New blog...

So, I finally got around to creating a blog.

The aim of this blog is to act as an outlet not just for photos but also recipes of stuff that I cook. I started randomly posting photos of food on Facebook a while back (loaf of bread, anyone?), a practice which proved unaccountably popular. This blog is a natural extension.

I should also give credit to a friend and former client of mine, Hannah, who inspired me with her wonderful food blog ( I can't guarantee that everything I post here will look as amazing as what she cooks, but I will do my best to live up to the example.

Periodically, it's possible that I will also use the blog to post political rants. This is probably an error - food and politics are not exactly a palatable mix - but hey, I need to let off steam. Please be patient.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the blog. I would love to hear your feedback on any of the recipes, suggestions on how they could be improved, or ideas for other things to cook! Thanks for visiting.