A cut above

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1st May, 2010 Leave a Comment

I am spending much of my time stuck away in a kind of self-imposed exile in a windowless cubbyhole while I write my next book. I have had to do this because I am easily distracted by a pretty view or a sunny day.

During summer it was difficult to retreat from the world, and late in the afternoon I would find myself asleep at my computer, my head slumped on my chest, with lunch having passed me by.

Now that autumn is here, it’s not quite so bad. I know it is windy and damp outside, so my mornings slip by more easily. And lunchtime seems to arrive sooner, just as I am ready for something to eat – as if it were a reward for my morning’s labours and an enticement to continue into the afternoon.

This has been one of those weeks in which I took food from the fridge and pieced together dishes, dressing them up to suit my mood. Raw fish is something I love at any time of the year, at any time of the day, and it does not always need to be served with soy sauce. Its flesh is equally suited to the sharp yet gentle acidity of apples and the crisp whiteness of fennel.

I took a similar approach with sweetcorn, stripping the kernels off the cobs and tossing them through a creamy pasta, made brighter by the addition of basil. An absence of parmesan encouraged me to use some fried breadcrumbs, an old trick to introduce another element to an already satisfying dish.

In the afternoons I need a sweet lift, a hit of sugar that does not overwhelm with its richness. I was once encouraged by a former Olympian to drink water whenever I felt afternoon fatigue coming on, but I would rather settle for a slice of something containing chocolate. It’s far more rewarding.

This recipe is a bit of a crossover dish, with much potential to be taken further; it’s Japanese-styled fish with a French twist – each so classical, each so good. Serve the fish drizzled with mayonnaise mixed with wasabi, or add capers, tomatoes and olives.

Snapper Sashimi, Apple and Fennel Rémoulade

200g snapper fillet

juice of ½ a lemon

sea salt

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil


1 granny smith apple

1 large fennel bulb

2 tbsp crème fraîche

juice of ½ a lemon

1 tbsp grain mustard

salt and black pepper

Cut the fillet into 3 lengthwise strips, then cut each strip into 5mm-thick diagonal slices. Arrange the slices on serving plates. Squeeze the lemon juice over the fish, season with sea salt and drizzle with olive oil. Add a spoonful of rémoulade.

To make the rémoulade, wash the apple, then cut it into quarters, remove the core and slice the flesh into matchsticks. Place in a large bowl. Trim the fennel, cut it into matchsticks, then mix with the apple. Mix the crème fraîche, lemon juice and mustard and season with salt and pepper. Stir the dressing through the salad.

Enough for 2.

AT HOME I rarely get out the pasta machine to make a sheet of pasta dough for a batch of thin noodles or free-form ravioli, preferring to leave that sort of carry-on at work. If I want pasta, I prefer to use a quality dried brand such as De Cecco: spaghetti, tagliatelle or linguine. The sauce clings better to dried pasta, and you get a better chew from the noodle. Here, the fried breadcrumbs replace the parmesan and provide a lovely crust.

Sweetcorn and Basil Tagliatelle with Broccolini and Fried Breadcrumbs

2 corn cobs

1 tbsp unsalted butter

1 small red onion

200ml water

300ml cream

200g broccolini or green beans

150g dried tagliatelle pasta

6 basil leaves

1 tbsp unsalted butter

½ cup fresh breadcrumbs

salt and black pepper

Strip the kernels from the corn cobs by holding the cob upright on a chopping board and slicing downwards with a knife. Melt the butter in a deep frying pan. Finely chop the onion, then add to the frypan. Let the onion soften over a low heat before adding the corn. Add the water, then turn up the heat and bring to the boil. Cook until the corn is tender, then stir in the cream and put aside.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil, then add the broccolini or beans and cook until just tender. Lift them out in batches using a slotted spoon, then immerse in cold water. Once the broccolini is cold, drain through a colander.

Bring the cooking water back to the boil, then add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta over the broccolini – this will reheat it – and toss together. Coarsely chop the basil, stir into the corn and cream mixture, then place the pan on a low heat to warm through. Pour this mixture into the pasta saucepan, then add the pasta and broccolini. Gently lift the pasta through the sauce until well coated. Serve in warm bowls, sprinkled with fried breadcrumbs.

For the breadcrumbs, melt the butter in a small frying pan and, when foaming, toss in the breadcrumbs. Stir until they’re well coated in butter, cooking until golden brown. Season with salt and pepper.

Enough for 2.

A lovely little tart to close lunch with, this relies on the quality of the nuts and the chocolate, so buy the best you can afford.

Chocolate and Walnut Tart

150g unsalted butter

200g flour

1 free-range egg

2 tbsp chilled water


125g unsalted butter

150g honey

150 soft brown sugar

60ml cream

120g dark chocolate

200g walnuts

whipped cream and icing sugar to serve

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Place the butter and flour in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until you have fine crumbs. Mix in the egg and water until a firm dough forms. Roll the pastry between 2 sheets of plastic wrap then line a 22cm shallow tart tin. Line the case with baking paper and fill with baking beans. Bake in the oven until lightly coloured, then remove the paper and return the case to the oven to bake until it is light sandy-brown and dry to the touch.

For the filling, melt the butter in a saucepan with the honey and sugar. Pour in the cream and bring to the boil. Roughly chop the chocolate and walnuts and add to the pan. Remove from the heat and stir until the chocolate is melted. Pour into the tart case and return to the oven, baking for about 20 minutes. Remove and cool before serving with a good dollop of whipped cream and a dusting of icing sugar.

Feeds 4.

1st May, 2010 Leave a Comment

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