Thursday, November 26, 2009


Panzanella is yet another one of those things we're forever on the fringes of, a salad cum meal that you never quite get into for fear of it not working out as authentic as they do in Northern Italy. It's really no more than a very old simple Tuscan tradition - a salad made with leftover bread, which would be unsalted, in the local style. If you want to make it the day before you eat it, it will taste even better. Comfort food in a very similar category as the day after cold pizza straight from the fridge - you got to love those Italians for some bastardised moments of sheer genius don't you?

12 large sardines
5 tblsp extra-virgin olive oil
200g stale Tuscan bread or ciabatta, without crusts, torn up
4 tblsp white wine vinegar
3 tomatoes on the vine
1 large red onion, cut into 2cm dice
big bunch of basil
5 tblsp extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

First, get a griddle pan smoking-hot, otherwise the sardines won't release their fat and will stick to the pan.

To make the panzanella: soak the bread in the vinegar. Take the tomatoes from the vine, dice and add to the bread, together with the chopped onion. Tear the basil and add that too. Add the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Stir together and set aside.

Scale and fillet the sardine. Season, brush with a little of the olive oil and put on the hot grill, six at a time.

Let them get crusty on one side (about 3 minutes), then turn over and do the same on the other side (about 2 minutes). Spoon some panzanella on each serving plate.

Put the sardines on top, drizzle with the remaining olive oil and serve.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wild mushroom, garlic and mint pizza

Serves 2-4

Pizza nights at home will never be the same again, last night was quite possibly the most competitive cook off I've seen in a long time, I should have seen it coming really - assemble a vast range of toppings, prepare a couple of dozen bases and invite a crew of chefs round to make their own pizzas, make a total mess of my poor kitchen and drink all my beer... Some of the topping combinations were pretty scary, some of my chefs due their end of year review will be spoken to... this mushroom, garlic and mint combo was all my own work, and as it was my kitchen and my party, of course I think this was the winner. The best thing of all though was the couple of cold slices from the fridge this morning for breakfast - a stunning start to the day!

2 large cloves garlic
6 tbsp extra virgin oil, plus extra to drizzle
200g chopped fresh wild mushrooms
2 tblsp corn meal
1 basic pizza base
100g freshly grated parmesan, plus shavings
3 tblsp chopped fresh mint
1 tblsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 210c/gas mark 7.

Place the garlic cloves in a small ovenproof dish, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and season with black pepper. Cover and bake while oven is preheating, shaking the pan occasionally, until the garlic cloves are soft and golden, for 15-20 minutes. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a frying pan, add the mushrooms and sauté over a high heat for 4-5 minutes. Season with pepper, and reserve.

On a well-floured surface, roll the pizza dough out to form a 20cm circle and cover with the grated parmesan, leaving a 2.5cm rim around the edge.

Spoon the cooked mushrooms evenly over the cheese. Arrange the roasted garlic and the parmesan shavings on top. Sprinkle with the mint and parsley. Season well, drizzle lightly with olive oil, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the crust is golden brown.