Thursday, 27 June 2013


Piperade is an absolutely genius dish. More substantial than a mere sauce and not quite robust enough to stand on its own feet as a stew, piperade is actually an ingredient used to 'posh-up' fairly humdrum meals. I used it to jazz up a sea bream lunch dish (recipe to follow soon), but it could be equally used to add pizzazz to breakfast eggs or supper of grilled lamb or chicken. I once saw Keith Floyd making piperade really badly on one of his vintage cookery shows, and getting a thorough bollocking from a disapproving French grand dame standing at his shoulder. Hilarious. He took it fairly well though.

Anyway, the reason I made piperade today is because I got over excited at my local market in Church Street when I saw a few stallholders selling beautiful fresh sweet peppers at a pound ('paaaaaahnd') a bowl (boooowwwwwwllll'). Without thinking, I paid over three quid and heaved home a dozen huge red, green, yellow and red peppers. After making a salad, and after leaving them in the fridge for a couple of days I panicked. What was I going to make with the eleven peppers taking up nearly two shelves of fridge space?? Ratatouille? No, I didn't want to buy courgettes and aubergines to add insult to injury. So piperade it had to be. And what a choice! I kid you not, having served up a big bowl to a few chosen participants, the verdict was in: Piperade ROCKS!

I would have spread some around some later meals if my mates hadn't scoffed a kilo of the stuff in record time. Next time I'm keeping all it to myself.

Cost-wise, because of my Church Street bargain, this dish comes in at about 50p a dollop. Even when peppers are out of season I don't expect that piperade will be a particularly sprend-thrifty meal. 'Thrift, not spendthrift' - I like it. It has a nice ring to it.

Serves 4


75ml olive oil
3 peppers, de-seeded and finely chopped
1 large white onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 large dried chilli, crumbled
Salt and black pepper
400g can of plum tomatoes, plus a quarter can of water

Stew everything together until thick and unctuous. Serve warm, cold, on its own or with other food.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Oven-Baked Vegetable Noodles with Ginger and Sesame Oil

I hate stir-frying. I hate woks. I hate stir-fried food made at home. I hate all 'home-cooked Chinese food'. I love Chinese takeaways.

Chinese takeaways are not going to win Michelin stars, but the Chinese know how to cook food that caucasians like to eat. I'm talking about bright red crispy stuff in gloopy sauces. I'm talking about fried stuff with noodles. I'm talking about rice with bright stuff in it. I don't know how it's done and I don't care. I just love it (especially when it comes with a bag of free prawn crackers sitting on the top of the brown paper sack already leaking grease down the delivery driver's arm).

I'm a really good cook, and I love buying exotic produce from my Asian grocer, but I CANNOT MAKE CHINESE FOOD. I have a Chinese friend who has taught me how to make Chinese food , but I CANNOT MAKE CHINESE FOOD. So now I (almost) stop trying.

The problem is not the ingredients, but the technique. How many times have I wielded my wok and followed my good friend Yang's instructions to 'hey, only cook the vegetables for a few minutes!'? Yes Yang, after I remove the beautiful vibrant veg/meat/rice/noodles from the wok and put it onto the plate it starts leaching water until I have a 3cm pool at the bottom of the plate. The meat is hard and tasteless. The noodles have formed a crust on the bottom of the wok and are now scraped-off to form a stupid non-traditional gnarly crispy noodley garnish for the top of my crappy dish (I won't waste a scrap of food for any reason ever). What the eff?

The answer: Ditch the wok. Now by roasting everything in the oven, I just sit back and drink wine while waiting for my delicious dinner. No waiting for the wok to 'heat until blistering'. No getting covered in splats of oil. And definitely no watery slop.

The key is to oven cook the veg until all the water has been driven off and then keep adding things until everything is amalgamated. It is total stupidity that you must cook the veg for two minutes 'to keep all the vitamins in'. You want vitamins? Take a pill. For me, I want it to taste good.

Oh and while on the subject of taste? Fresh ginger and garlic with soy and sesame oil is a far better alternative to the stir-fry sauce nonsense served up in sachets in supermarket aisles (what is that brown goo? Wood stain?). Simple is always best - unless you're ordering food from your local takeaway, or you happen to have an Asian friend prepared to make you dinner.

This is no joke - the whole dinner comes in at £1.50 per very generous serving and is fairly close to rivaling my local Chinese takeaway for flavour. The recipe here is basic, but you can add some oven roasted meat or fish to the top. I made some salmon with mine and plonked it on top before serving. Delish.

Now, if only I could find a way to oven roast myself a few free prawn crackers...

Serves 2


Thumb of ginger, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
500g mixed stir-fry vegetables
1 tablespoon olive oil
400g ready-cooked egg noodles
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil

Preheat oven to 220c. Mix together the ginger, garlic and vegetables and arrange in an even layer on a non-stick baking tray, then sprinkle with the olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes until well cooked (turning a few times), and then add the noodles, soy sauce and sesame oil, and mix everything together until well amalgamated. Bake for a further 5 minutes. Serve immediately.