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Don’t let memories of school dinner pilchards put you off, Cornish sardines are one of England’s finest seafoods.

The sardine, or pilchard as it can be known in this country, is one of the humblest, yet to my mind finest, fish to be found around our shores. I am obsessed with its staggeringly delicious flavour. Simply grilled over charcoal, brushed with a little lemon juice and olive oil during cooking, and sprinkled with sea salt, it tastes sublime.

Served with garlic-rubbed grilled bread and a chunkily made rough tomato sauce redolent of garlic and rosemary, it captures the essence of cheap and sustainable seafood.

The problem with sardines is that they must be fresh; they need to be shining silver, with gleaming eyes, and ideally stiff as a board.

Ingredients

50ml olive oil
juice of 2 lemons, plus extra lemon wedges to serve
12 fat Cornish sardines, gutted, scaled and cleaned
1 small bunch of rosemary
4 thick slices of crusty bread
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
a handful of basil leaves, torn (optional)

For the tomato sauce:

100ml olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
1 red chilli
750g ripest cherry tomatoes
125ml dry white wine
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Start with the tomato sauce. Warm the oil in a heavy pan over a medium heat, add the garlic and leave to infuse on a low heat for 10 minutes. Prick the chilli several times with the tip of a knife to allow the flavour to escape. Add the tomatoes and chilli to the oil and cook over a low heat for 40 minutes. Add the wine and a sprinkling of salt and plenty of pepper. Turn the heat up slightly, then crush to a rough sauce using a potato masher and simmer for 5 minutes more.

Whilst the sauce is cooking, light your barbecue and wait until the flames have died down and the coals have gone grey, or preheat your grill to medium. Now for the sardines. Mix the oil and lemon juice together in a bowl. Place the sardines over the barbecue or under the grill. Brush with the oil and lemon mixture and sprinkle with salt. Cook for 4–5 minutes, then turn the fish and repeat until cooked through, brushing with the oil and lemon as you do so.

Just before you finish cooking, throw the rosemary on the coals to infuse the sardines with a final blast of flavour. Rub the bread with the garlic, brush with a little more oil and grill until crisp.

Serve the sardines on plates with the tomato sauce spooned over the toast, adding lemon wedges and torn basil leaves to finish if you wish.

Cockles are possibly our most modest and unassuming shellfish. For me, however, the humble cockle is among the sweetest and most delicious morsels to be found on Britain’s seashore. Cunningly hidden inches below the sand and mud, the cockle can typically be found in such beauty spots as Morecambe Bay in Lancashire and the Gower peninsula of South Wales, where they have been an essential source of food for millennia.

Ingredients

100g butter
1 leek, finely chopped
3 banana shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
100ml cup dry cider
150ml double (heavy) cream
1kg fresh cockles (baby clams), washed and prepared
500g mussels, washed and prepared
a handful of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
juice of 1 lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Heat up a heavy saucepan or casserole over a medium heat and add the butter. When it foams, add the leek, shallots and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, until softened but not browned. Add the cider and cook for a further 3 minutes, then pour in the cream. Tip in the cockles and mussels, throw in the parsley, add the lemon juice, salt and pepper, turn the heat up to high and cook with the lid on for 3 minutes.

Discard any shellfish that haven’t opened. Serve with chunks of white bread and mugs of cider.

I used to go to bed around 4 a.m. frequently, a habit that came from: my former interest in astronomy and observing the night sky, watching late night programming on television and listening to late night shows on the radio, surfing the web late at night. All of these however do not currently have merit – I am no longer interested in astronomy, I do not even own a TV set now and surfing the web later is not better than earlier in the day. So I go to bed around 2 a.m. but I intend to make it more like midnight, followed by an hour or so of reading a good recipe book and eating cake so my dreams will be filled with Nigella, Queen of Gastroporn.

I have this dream where she is walking towards me, arms outstretched, she licks her lips, removes her bra, then suddenly a refrigerator full of profiteroles appears and she takes me by the hand … “Charles won’t mind,” she whispers in my ear. I look her straight in the eyes, I’m breathless. “My darling, don’t get sand in the profiteroles …”

Recipe taken from Nigella Christmas by Queen of Gastroporn Nigella Lawson (Chatto & Windus, £25)

For the base:

8 egg whites
500g caster sugar
4 teaspoons cornflour
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

For the topping:

650ml double cream
10 passionfruit
10 fresh or canned lychees, drained if canned
300g raspberries (frozen are fine)
25g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment and draw a rough 25cm diameter circle on it; I pencil round a cake tin that size.

Whisk the egg whites until satiny peaks form, then whisk in the sugar, a tablespoonful at a time, until the meringue is stiff and shiny.

Sprinkle the cornflour, vinegar and vanilla extract over the egg whites, and fold in lightly with a metal spoon. Mound the meringue on to the baking parchment within the circle and, using a spatula, flatten the top and smooth the sides.

Put in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 120°C. Cook for an hour. Then turn off the oven and leave to cool completely. Once it’s cool, take the meringue disc out – and you can keep it in an airtight container for a couple of days or freeze for a month.

When you are ready to assemble the pavlova, invert the cooled meringue disc on to a large plate or a stand you can serve it on, and peel off the baking parchment.

Whip the cream until thickened but still soft, and pile on to the meringue – on the squidgy part that was stuck to the baking parchment – spreading it to the edges in a swirly fashion.

Cut the passionfruit in half, and scoop out the seeds, and any pulp and juice, into a bowl. Peel the fresh lychees (if using) over the bowl to catch any juice, then remove the stones, tear the lychees into pieces and let them drop into the passionfruit. Tear the drained, canned lychees (if using) likewise, and drop them in, too.

Leave the passionfruit and lychees sitting in their bowl for a moment, while you liquidise the raspberries with the icing sugar in a blender.

Dollop the cream-topped pavlova with the passionfruit and lychees, and their juices, then zigzag some red, red, red raspberry sauce over the top, putting the rest in a small jug for people to add to their slices as they eat.

MAKE AHEAD TIP Make the meringue disc and store in a deep, airtight container for up to 2 days. About 3-4 hours before serving, top with whipped cream and keep in the fridge. Just before serving, add the fruits and raspberry sauce.

Recipe taken from Nigella Christmas by Queen of Gastroporn Nigella Lawson (Chatto & Windus, £25)

150g currants
150g sultanas
150g prunes, scissored into pieces
175ml Pedro Ximénez sherry
100g plain flour
125g breadcrumbs
150g suet
150g dark muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking powder
grated zest of 1 lemon
3 large eggs
1 medium cooking apple, peeled and grated
2 x 15ml tablespoons honey
sprig of holly to decorate
125ml vodka to flame

Although I stipulate a capacious 1.7 litre basin, and cannot extol the utter gloriousness of this pud too much, I know that you’re unlikely to get through most of it, even half of it, at one sitting. But I like the grand, pride-instilling size of this, plus it’s wonderful on following days, microwaved in portions after or between meals, fried in butter and eaten with vanilla ice cream for completely off-the-chart, midnight-munchy feasts. But it wouldn’t be out of the question – and it would certainly be in the spirit of the season – to make up the entire quantity of mixture, and share between smaller basins – a 2 pint one for you, a 1 pint one to give away. Three hours’ steaming both first and second time around should do it; just keep the one pudding for yourself, and give the other to a friend, after it’s had its first steaming, and is cool, with the steaming instructions for Christmas Day.

Put the currants, sultanas and scissored prunes in a bowl with the Pedro Ximénez, swill the bowl a bit, then cover with clingfilm and leave to steep overnight or for up to 1 week.

When the fruits have had their steeping time, put a large pan of water on to boil, or heat some water in a conventional steamer, and butter your heatproof plastic pudding basin (or basins), remembering to grease the lid, too.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the remaining pudding ingredients, either in the traditional manner or just any old how; your chosen method of stirring, and who does it, probably won’t affect the outcome of your wishes or your Christmas. Add the steeped fruits, scraping in every last drop of liquor with a rubber spatula, and mix to combine thoroughly. Scrape and press the mixture into the prepared pudding basin, squish it down and put on the lid. Then wrap with a layer of foil (probably not necessary, but I do it as I once had a lid-popping and water-entering experience when steaming a pudding) so that the basin is watertight, then either put the basin in the pan of boiling water (to come halfway up the basin) or in the top of a lidded steamer (this size of basin happens to fit perfectly in the top of my double-decker couscous pot) and steam for 5 hours, checking every now and again that the water hasn’t bubbled away.

When it’s had its 5 hours, remove gingerly (you don’t want to burn yourself) and, when manageable, unwrap the foil, and put the pudding in its basin somewhere out of the way in the kitchen or, if you’re lucky enough, a larder, until Christmas Day.

On the big day, rewrap the pudding (still in its basin) in foil and steam again, this time for 3 hours. Eight hours’ combined cooking time might seem a faff, but it’s not as if you need to do anything to it in that time.

To serve, remove from the pan or steamer, take off the lid, put a plate on top, turn it upside down and give the plastic basin a little squeeze to help unmould the pudding. Then remove the basin – and voilà, the Massively Matriarchal Mono-Mammary is revealed. (Did I forget to mention the Freudian lure of the pudding beyond its pagan and Christian heritage?)

Put the sprig of holly on top of the dark, mutely gleaming pudding, then heat the vodka in a small pan (I use my diddy copper butter-melting pan) and the minute it’s hot, but before it boils – you don’t want the alcohol to burn off before you attempt to flambé it – turn off the heat, strike a match, stand back and light the pan of vodka, then pour the flaming vodka over the pudding and take it as fast as you safely can to your guests. If it feels less dangerous to you (I am a liability and you might well be wiser not to follow my devil-may-care instructions), pour the hot vodka over the pudding and then light the pudding. In either case, don’t worry if the holly catches alight; I have never known it to be anything but singed.

How many tags can I attach to one post, a recipe for soup? A lot.

A rather elaborate recipe for people with a bit too much fucking time on their hands … which pretty much sums up the British Empire. Cheap tea and slavery.

Peeling and grating ginger … I mean, come on, who the hell wants to do that? Oh yeah, remember your ruler to measure 1cm of a cinnamon stick. Fucking hell. Now where is that coriander I always buy at Christmas when I go to Bury Market and Cheetham Hill Road which I only do once a year when there are no buses and ice on the pavement?

Merry Christmas!

Something a bit spicy is always welcome to cut through all that rich booze and food during the Christmas festivities and making a mulligatawny soup would be ideal. No two mulligatawny recipes are the same, however – as the recipe would have been brought over from colonial India and it all depended on whatever leftovers you had to hand. This soup is not an excuse to just bung all your Christmas Day roast leftovers in a pot with a bit of curry powder, cross your fingers and hope for the best …

For the soup:

1 tbsp ghee or butter
1 onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
a small piece of root ginger, peeled and grated (save peelings for stock)
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 medium chilli, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp black or yellow mustard seeds
1cm of a cinnamon stick
a handful of curry leaves
a pinch of saffron strands
the black seeds from 10 cardamom pods
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp tomato purée
2-3l stock from the carcass
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into rough cm dice
60g yellow lentils (dhal)
150g cooked chickpeas (optional)
1 parsnip, peeled and cut into rough cm dice
1 large potato, peeled and cut into rough cm cubes
4 tbsp coconut milk
the meat from the carcass and legs of your turkey or goose
2-3 tbsp chopped coriander

For the stock:

the carcass from the turkey or goose, preferably with some meat on
1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped and washed
8 cloves of garlic, halved
the peelings from the root ginger
20 black peppercorns
2l chicken stock

First, make the stock: put all of the ingredients in a saucepan, add the chicken stock and top up, just covering the bones with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour, skimming every so often; then strain through a sieve and when the bones are cool enough to handle, remove all the meat you can and put to one side and discard the bones and vegetables.

To make the soup, melt the ghee in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and gently cook the onion, garlic, ginger and all of the curry spices for about 5 minutes without colouring and stirring every so often. Stir in the flour and tomato purée then gradually whisk in the stock. Bring to the boil then add the carrot and lentils, season and simmer for about 30-40 minutes until the lentils are beginning to get soft. Add the chickpeas (if using), parsnip and potato and continue simmering until the potato and parsnip are cooked. Add the coconut milk, meat and coriander, simmer for a couple of minutes and re-season.

The Queen of Gastroporn writes in her new book Kitchen:

There are a few meals I can say I’m making that will make my children excited (or pretend to be), and this is one of them.

Alongside there must be ‘pie insides’ (which is what my daughter has always called leeks in white sauce) and for ultimate gratification, roast potatoes. Although I usually use goose fat for roast potatoes, I feel the pork belly allows, indeed encourages, the substitution of lard. I’m not convinced that with all that fabulous crackling you do need roasties as well, but I like to provide what makes people happy. I actually prefer noodles or a bowl of plain, steamed brown basmati rice, and urge you to consider either; and I love to sprinkle a little rice vinegar on my own plate of pork as I eat.

This is another of those recipes that you can get done in advance and then have the afternoon off, unworried. I have advised an overnight marinade, but if I’m making this (as I tend to) for Sunday supper, I often prepare it in the morning and leave it in the fridge loosely covered with baking parchment, or midday-ish and leave it uncovered in a cold place (but not the fridge) for a few hours.

SERVES 6-8

1.75kg pork belly, rind scored
4 x 15ml tablespoons tahini
4 x 15ml tablespoons soy sauce
juice 1 lemon
juice 1 lime

Get out a shallow dish in which the scored pork will fit snugly and in it whisk together the tahini, soy sauce, lemon and lime juice.

Sit the pork on top, skin-side up. You should find the marinade covers the underside and most of the sides, but doesn’t touch the rind: that’s what you want.

Leave the pork in the fridge to marinate overnight, covered with foil, and then take out to return to room temperature before it goes into the oven. Preheat the oven to 150°C.

Get out a shallow roasting tin and line with foil.

Transfer the pork to the roasting tin and cook it uncovered for 3½ hours, then turn the oven up to 250°C and cook for a further ½ hour to let the skin crisp to crunchy burnished perfection.

One for the ladies, this. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall roasts his plums.

This is one of my favourite sorbets. Roasting your plums first intensifies both flavour and colour in a delightful way. Serve in its unadorned glory, with little shortbread biscuits or, for a spectacularly indulgent treat, warm chocolate brownies. Serves six to eight.

2kg plums, halved and stoned
2 vanilla pods
100g caster sugar, or more depending on the sweetness of the plums

Make the sorbet at least 12 hours before you want to serve it. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Put your plums in a roasting tin. Slit the vanilla pods open lengthways, chop them into a few pieces and add to the tin, along with the sugar and 250ml water. Roast for about 30 minutes until the plums are really soft and slightly blistered around the edges. Rub the plums and juices from the tin through a sieve into a bowl. Add more sugar to taste. Leave to cool.

Churn the purée in an ice-cream machine until very thick, then transfer to the freezer to set solid. Alternatively, put the purée in a shallow container and place in the freezer. Take it out every hour or so and beat it to distribute the ice crystals throughout the mixture and make a soft, sorbet texture. Three interventions should do the trick; two will do if you’re pushed.

My young friend Melissa was rendered speechless by a mouthful of Hugh’s plums.

This is the perfect end to a midweek dinner party, the kind you didn’t know you were giving until presented with a guest list mid-afternoon. You simply chop strawberries, crush digestive biscuits and whip cream cheese and cream, then layer up quickly in some waiting glasses. Like this, they can stand for about an hour, so you can make them up just before you sit down for supper. If you want to make this in advance – and it’s a versatile recipe that doesn’t need to be made last minute – simply leave the glasses in the fridge, layered up with the digestive crumbs and cream cheese mixture and covered with clingfilm. Top with strawberries on serving. Serves four.

200g strawberries (or 1 big punnet)
1 tsp caster sugar
4 digestive biscuits
100g cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tbsp icing sugar
125ml double cream
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp vanilla extract
4 small glasses (of about 150ml capacity; I find a small martini glass looks prettiest)

Quarter the strawberries, then cut in half again, to give pretty small dice. Put into a bowl, sprinkle with caster sugar, cover with clingfilm and shake the bowl once or twice.

Leave the berries to macerate while you put the biscuits into a freezer bag and bash with a rolling pin until you have a sandy bag of crumbs.

Measure the cream cheese and icing sugar into a bowl and whisk by hand. Add the cream, lemon juice and vanilla, and whisk gently to combine.

Divide the biscuit crumbs equally between your four glasses, and arrange in the bottom of each one. Spoon the cream cheese mix on top, dividing it equally between the glasses and covering the biscuits.

Divide the sugar-shiny strawberries between the glasses, to give a glossy, red-berried layer on each glass.

Queen of Gastroporn

(Taken from “The new vegetarian” in the Guardian)

The seeds sprinkled over this salad at the end give it a real boost in look, texture and flavour. I’d be tempted to make more of the mix than you need, and keep it in a jar ready for your next creation that’s missing a crunch.

12 quail’s eggs
2 small garlic cloves, crushed
1½ tbsp lemon juice
3½ tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
15g picked dill
15g picked basil leaves, torn
15g picked coriander leaves
30g watercress
50g ricotta

1½ tbsp flaked almonds
1½ tbsp pumpkin seeds
2 tsp sesame seeds
⅓ tsp nigella seeds
inch flaked chilli
¼ tsp Maldon sea salt
¼ tsp olive oil

Start with the seeds. Put all the ingredients in a small pan and cook over medium heat for three minutes, stirring all the time, until the sesame seeds take on some colour. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Put the quail’s eggs in a saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 seconds for semi-soft (as I prefer them) or two minutes for hard-boiled. Refresh in cold water, then peel.

To make the dressing, whisk together the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and some salt and pepper.

Now assemble the salad. In a big bowl, gently toss together the herbs and watercress, and divide about half of the leaves between four small serving plates. Cut the peeled quail’s eggs in half and place three halves on each plate. Use a teaspoon to deposit tiny dollops of ricotta around and about the salad, then dribble the dressing on top. Pile the remaining leaves over each portion, giving the dish as much height as possible, then carefully dot each portion with three more egg halves and the rest of the ricotta. Drizzle a tiny amount of extra oil over each serving, sprinkle the seeds on top and serve at once.

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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