Pasta al a norma

Penne al a Norma

Who was Norma? I guess it is a reference to the Bellini opera but who cares. This is one of the best vegetarian pasta dishes in my opinion. Its easy to do well but also easy to do badly. As with all pasta sauces (and most good food) using minimal ingredients is better than lots.

This simply needs a finely chopped onion, crushed garlic, chopped tomatoes and an aubergine.

The aubergine is the dish and this is where the magic is. I like small dice, no more than a cm cube and slow cook in olive oil (not EVOO) until they are soft and starting to brown. Add the finely chopped onion and garlic. Cook until golden and add the tomatoes. Reduce down a little. Season.

As to pasta shapes with this I like Penne but spaghetti is often used. Make sure to add some pasta water to the sauce – it makes it thicken and adds body.

Add the pasta to the sauce and stir in and coat thoroughly. A grate of parmesan, a splash of EVOO and salt and pepper. (a sprinkle of dried pepper flakes is good but very non-traditional!)


Chorizo and white beans

This is super easy and tastes so good. Could be served as part of a Tapas supper or as a hearty winter dish.


Soften a finely chopped onion in olive oil until golden. Add crushed garlic and diced chorizo. The oil will turn a beautiful golden colour. Next add a tin of chopped tiomatoes and allow to boil and bubble and concentrate. A small pinch of sugar at this stage really lifts it.

Tip in a can of drained cannelini beans. Simmer a while and pour a glass of rustic red wine.

Serve with a coarse grind of black pepper and maybe a drizzle of good EVOO.

Chorizo and white bean stew

Squash and Carrot Tagine

Really simple vegetable dish but fantastic tasting. This is done in the InstantPot but could do in a slow cooker or stove top.

Roughly chop a butternut squash (or similar) into 1-2cm cubes. Same with an onion. Peel a carrot or two and chop in half longways then into 3 or 4 longways.

Put into pot and sauté briefly. Chop a few tablespoons of ginger and toss in.

Add a tablespoon (or 2) of honey and a table spoon of ras el Hanout. A broken cinammon stick and a half cup of water or stock.

Thats it. close the lid and cook as meat/stew 35mins.

Serve with cous cous

Squash and Carrot Tagine with ginger and honey

Chine of Beef

As meats go the flesh of the cow has always been held in high esteem. Grand titles have been bestowed on certain cuts. The Sirloin for example. The legend has it that it was knighted by Henry VIII although the etymology is more likely to be from the old French sur la longe, meaning above the loin.

The Baron of beef is probably a bit grander.The Penguin Companion to Food (2002),defines the Baron as “both sides of the rump together, with the back part of the sirloin attached”. in context that is a big bit of meat. Typically 100 to 200lb in weight it was popular in victorian times to feed large gatherings with reports of such events as the coronation of George IV feeding 700 children in Kingston and Queen Victoria rewarding veterans of the Boer war with a Roasted Baron.

Why a Baron? again from the french derivation for the lower round part or bas-rond.

Cuts of beef are confusing. From country to country different names for the same cuts exist. even if you work these out there can be regional differences within the same country.

A chine of beef generally refers to the backbone but may also refer to a bone in forerib. Samuel Pepys has multiple entries of dining on a chine of beef and his description sounds to be the latter.

On 30th December 1661 he states “I staid at the Mitre, whither I had invited all my old acquaintance of the Exchequer to a good chine of beef, which with three barrels of oysters and three pullets, and plenty of wine and mirth, was our dinner, and there was about twelve of us”. Multiple other references support his liking of such a cut.

A chine of beef

How to cook such a cut? Well pepys doesnt give us much idea but talking to butchers this is not a Rib of beef which can be served rare. This needs a long slow cook. Its a hard roking piece of muscle from tyhe from end with a thick fat but little marbling.

It needs a low oven at 140 (or 120 if fan oven). Quick sear to get a bit of maillard reaction. As its low and slow a rub or some mustard will create a great crust.  A decent sized joint will nedd 3-4 hours covered in foil then another hour or so to get a good bark-like crust.

Cured Salmon

beetroot cured salmon

The vibrancy of colour, taste, texture and wow factor that cured salmon has is difficult to beat.

This isn’t just gravadlax though. There are other ways apart from the classic Scandinavian approach but we should deal with that 1st.

Gravadlax or grave salmon, (the grave comes from old norse “to dig” and the lax is salmon (also think Lox as in bagel and lox) is a classic Scandinavian dish.

The classic recipe if you are going to do it will involve burying the fish in the ground with a rock on top to stop it being taken by marauding bears and wolves.

I suggest a more modern approach as its so easy and adaptable.

The basis of course is curing the fish to preserve it. This involves pulling the moisture out which in turn amplifies the flavour and firms up the texture.

To keep it simple the cure I use is a 3:2 salt to sugar cure. This can be varied for a salt:sweet balance but I find this ratio works well if using a granular sea salt. using fine table salt will be much saltier and isn’t recommended.

Other flavours can be added and creativity is your friend here. Dill is the classic as is pepper.

I like to use thinly sliced beetroot to wrap the salmons it gives a deep flavour and colour.

There are lots of instructions out there on methods and how to. I recommend and of course the perfect Felicity Cloake approach

Once made its versatile to serve. Thinly sliced with rye crackers or dark bread, with a dollop of sour cream and chopped chives. Add some whole grain mustard to some mayo, chop some cornichons and capers. With a potato salad and watercress. Or go the lox option and sliced on a bagel.

Another way of curing is even more simple using a salt block. Got one as a present and it looked pretty but I didn’t really know what to do! I had some fresh salmon trimmings from breaking down a whole fish so thought I would give it a go.

Washed the surface, put the chunks of salmon on to it. In the fridge for 15mins. turned them over. further 15 mins then tasted.

Somewhere between sushi and tartare, still a taste of raw but with a firmer texture and very subtle brininess. Fortunately I had some freshly lightly pickled kohl rabi in the fridge and some wild garlic foraged that morning. A bit of sour cream with chopped wild garlic and some sushi ginger (maybe I got cross cultural in my excitement!)

Salt block “cooking”. 15 minutes each side was perfect.
Salt block salmon on wild garlic with pickled kohl rabi and ginger

Black bean chilli

Black beans are ubiquitous in much of Latin America. Breakfast through to supper its hard to find a meal without them in some form.

Once you eat them its easy to see why. Rich and earthy. Robust but not as thick skinned as their red kidney shaped cousins they make a great base for a wholesome chilli.

Black bean chilli

A veggie version could be made but this one calls on chunks of beef (shin is good although stewing steak is good).

The slow cooker is really suited to making this easy. Its a make it up with what you have type dish. Definately some Chopped onion, and garlic. Chopped bell pepper and celery if you want. Fry gently and soften till sweet. Set aside. Brown the meat to get a bit of flavour. deglaze the pan with a jar of passata.

Add all back into the slow cooker or casserole and add some spices. Chipotle in adobo is perfect if you can get some. If not dried chipotles are fine. a teaspoon of smoked paprika is a reasonabl substitute but gives it a bit more of a spanish flavour.

For heat the chipotles may be enough but as its slow cooked this is great use of those crazy hot chillis. I like habaneros although I have used dried ghost and naga chillies for a big heat hit. Soak in hopt water for 30 mins if using dry chillies.

Fresh peppers are great in this but I tend to add later to enhance the fresh zing and in particular fruity character they give.

I cook on low for 3-4 hours until the meat seperates with a fork.

At this point add the black beans if using tinned I tend to rinse then although you can add the tin juice if you wish. If using tinned I use the Biona organic although i often use dried beans that I pressure cook in the InstantPot.

Another hour and its ready to serve. Straight up in a bowl with a blob of sour cream, chopped spring onion greens, chopped tomatoes and chopped chillies is my preference.

Tacos- the most important meal of the day

A sign hangs on the wall in the corner of Rusty’s Tacos delaring that tacos are the most important meal of the day.

Thats a big claim in Texas where barbeque could also make the claim. As could steak but in Dallas tacos are a staple. From street tacos at gas stations through to fusion creations the taco is a culinary masterpiece with combinations of flavours and textures such that you can have tacos as every meal of the day and not get bored.

Rustys tacos in Greenville is easily spotted by the huge sign almost the size of the place.

Rusty’s Tacos in Greenville Dallas.

The story of Rustys is that Rusty Fenton wanted to open an authentic mexican style street taco stand in the neighbourhood. He did this in 2010 on the site of a gas station hence the large patio and huge sign.

The menu is totally authentic street tacos.

Thirteen Tacos are on menu with straight up simple meat combinations such as spicy ground beef and potatoes with onion and cilantro, a rosated pork with cotija cheese and pickled red onions or as its texas a slow roasted brisket with BBQ sauce and slaw.

Vegetarian options are just as tasty with a the Rajas taco having grilled poblanos, mushrooms, onions and red peppers topped with queso fresco and cilantro. The black bean taco has chipotle beans pico de gallo, cotija cheese, cilantro and toasted pumpkin seeds scattered on top.

Fish and chicken are also available but my personal favotire is the eponymous Rusty taco which has achiote pork with pineapple, onion and cilantro.

Rustys tacos: Brisket (bottom left), Roasted Pork and the Rusty with pineapple and achiote pork
The Margaritas at Rustys are proudly made with fresh lime juice and cheap tequila.

Close by Rustys in Knox Henderson is another great Taco joint Velvet Taco.

Next door to the fantastic boot store Tecovas where you can get a polish and a beer sits Velvet taco. The ethos of velvet is in t,he other direction to Rustys. Rather than the authentic route Velvet prides itself on the creative. Velvet taco runs on the principle that “anything goes meets the art of the possible” and claims to be a “temple to the liberated taco”.

The menu clearly reflects this with most tacos unrecognisable as the standards. Shrimp and grits for example with creole mayo, blackened shrimp, crispy pepper jack cheese grits, charred tomato salsa, micro cilantro on a corn tortilla.

The menu features WTF weekly specials, this week being a Reuben taco with corned beef, swiss cheese, velvet sauce, sauerkraut, pickles on a flour tortilla.

Velvet Taco – funky and fresh

The fish taco is served with a curry mayo sauce

Fish and chips taco: curry mayo, malted french fries, house shred, beer battered Atlantic cod, pea tendrils, flour tortilla

The combinations of flavours are fantastic and sound like a fine meal. The grilled salmon, Taco is served on a vibrant pink hibiscus corn tortilla with avocado crema, house shred, lime crema, roasted corn pico, pickled fresnos, and micro cilantro.

One of the most intereting and best tasting is the chicken Tikka taco. Its a spicy combo of crisp chicken tenders with a tikka sauce, buttered cilantro basmati rice, raita crema and Thai basil.

The tacos here are interesting and exciting. the falvours vibrant and zingy. Truly a temple to the libertated taco!

Shrimp and Grits Taco


In the southern USA catfish is as ubiquitous as fish and chips in Britain. In a similar way the best is a matter of great debate and opinions will vary but very little is written which says how to make the best out of catfish.

At this point most of my friends would say “where can you get catfish in Britain?”

It’s a good question.

There isn’t a slab on ice at the supermarket. There isn’t a section in the freezers of catfish fillets.

Or is there?

Look closer. Often labelled as Basa or Pangasius the white muscular fish fillets, boneless and often frozen are exactly that. They may not be noodled out of a local creek but these fish are catfish.

The Pangasius is a distant Asian cousin of the American catfish.

There is a lot of controversy about this fish. Heavily farmed in Vietnam – antibiotic resistance and heavy metals – much of the controversy is applicable to other fish farms, seafood and much of the food we consume globally.

We can reduce all risks and maybe we should only eat rod caught wild pollock. Unfortunately, the seas have been exploited and fish farms are required. But just as most live edible protein rearing in the world involves an element of the distasteful. Fish is a tough one. Do you really know where your prawns come from? Your tins of tuna. Your salmon “steaks”. Perhaps we should ask more questions.

I may be wrong but I think I remember the late Anthony Bourdain famously said “one in 12 oysters has campylobacter… eat 11 and order another dozen…”

If yu want the facts go here

This page isn’t about that though. This is about catfish. And in particular how to cook it.

Catfish whether out of the creek or a panga fillet from the supermarket is a meaty whitefish. Its freshwater and isn’t very fishy. It has a subtle almost scampi like scent about it. It isn’t earthy either, unlike a lot of freshwater fish. It’s got a dense texture which holds the fillets together.

Ways to cook catfish vary. Blackened, deep fried, battered and breaded. My personal favourite is to dredge it in flavoured cornflour. Kind of like classic al meunier but with coarse grain cornflour (or polenta).

The flavouring is up to you. I like to add Louisiana fish fry products Cajun blackening seasoning, Slapyamama or my go to the wonderful smallbatch rarity from Dallas, Texas, Andy Ludwigs goodtime Andy’s seasoning.

A teaspoon of this in a half cup of coarse cornmeal and just dredge the filets through it. This is not about a thick batter. No eggs or buttermilk. Just a very thin coating to allow the fish to shine through.

Shallow frying pan (or skillet) and a thin hot oil. Probably 2-3 minutes each side and then drain on kitchen paper.

Pangasius Catfish in cornmeal

Serve it with salad, potato salad, chips or on a soft bun with lettuce and tartare sauce. A bottle of Louisiana hot sauce is a must – I like crystal but tabasco is perfect.

Basa Catfish in cornmeal

Sopa de Guia

Soup isn’t necessarily the first thing that springs to mind when Mexican food is mentioned.

Most countries cuisines when the obvious dishes are ignored have great dishes that often follow a similar theme. Soups are a classic example.

Which cuisine doesn’t have a simple soup of local seasonal vegetables cooked with a meat stock?

The Mexican or more correctly the Oaxacan version of this is Sopa de Guia a fresh, clean and light soup based around courgette (zucchini).


This recipe is less rustic as “real” sopa de guia. Rather than having large bits of vegetable floating in a thin broth this version partly blends the soup to create a more silky yet still light soup.

It’s a great soup if you grow your own, even on a small scale. Courgettes will be really productive in a medium pot on the patio. This is what inspired me. I looked out onto my deck and saw some flowering courgettes, a swiss chard plant and a spinach plant. My herb trough had a thyme and an oregano plant.


For 2 servings you’ll need:

1 courgette in small dice

1 handful of swiss chard leaves

1 handful of spinach

1 white onion in small dice

1-2 crushed garlic cloves

1 stick celery diced small

Pinch of fresh thyme and fresh oregano

Scanty pinch of tarragon

1 Cup of sweetcorn

1 pint of good stock (chicken or pork – I used trotter gear- see link)

4-5 courgette flowers

Chopped spring onions


Fry off the courgette, garlic, celery until softened. Add the chard, herbs, corn, spring onions, courgette flowers (stamen removed).

Then add the stock and boil for a few minutes.

This can be the end point if you want a traditional sopa. To make this special I recommend half blending with a stick blender, only so much to make the broth cloudy and more soup like.

Serve with chopped spring onions, a chilli oil and coriander.


[A great added garnish is some home made micro-chicharron. Using the skin from some BBQ pulled pork chop into very thin strips. Drop into hot oil and after 30 seconds remove and pat down with kitchen paper. Serve on the side or scattered on top.]


Antigua Guatemala

Nestled between a ring of volcanos the location of Guatemala’s capital may seem to have been misplaced. Indeed it was. Hence the capital is now Guatemala city.

This is to the advantage of travellers and adventurers passing through this exciting Latin American country.

An- tig- u-ah not to be confused with the caribbean island with the same spelling is the ancient (antique) capital of Guatemala. Located in the central highlands and only an hours drive from the traffic congested Guatemala city the two cities couldnt be different. Antigua is based on a block system of narrow cobbled streets lined with traditional low level buildings which in many cases are painted in contrasting bright colours.

The city, known as Santiago de los Caballeros was originally was founded by conquistadores in the 1540s following the previous two capitals being overrun or flooded. The Guatemalan kingdom included El salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Belize, Costa Rico and part of Mexico. As such the city was a major centre and had a population of 60 000 in the 1770s.

As the city was situated was in a siesmic area resulting earthquakes caused significant damage particularly in 1717, 1751 and 1773. this resulted in moving the capital to the present Guatemala city. The city was declared abandoned and the majority of people moved away. Despite this the city  remained and inhabitants grew.

The city now is a UNESCO world heritage site and is now an excellent palce to visit.

Starting at the large central square with shaded collonades and fountains a walk towards the Merced Church will take you under the famous Santa Catalina arch.

Santa Catalina Arch, Antigua Guatemala


Designed to allow nuns to cross the street unseen it provides an iconic image of Spanish style architecture. On passing through if you look back down the street it frames the Volcano de Agua.

Volcano de Agua, Guatemala

Continue down the street and you will come to the square in front of the Merced Church, an impressive baroque fondant fancy structure. In lemon yellow with white adornments is stands above a bustling square where street stands serve small dishes and the ubiquitous corn.


Head East a few blocks (easy as the streets are all N-S-E-W.) then South.

Ramble through the small streets and you will come across derelict churches and past small bars with patios and restaurants serving a variety of styles.



Head back towards the main square and you will come upon the cathedral. This was built in 1545 and rebuilt in 1680 and has suffered a number of earthquakes.  The front is still intact but much of the site is a ruin which you can wander around following a donation. If refreshment is required a bar called Tartines has a roof terrace which overlooks the cathedral ruins.



Cathedral Antigua Guatemala


For some more culture head to the hotel, Casa Santo Domingo that is at the site of a convent but whilst alos being a 5 star hotel spa and restaurant houses a number of museums.

From there wander back to the main square and enjoy a helado or a gallo.




Antigua has many sights and attractions but the main one is the atmosphere and the unexpected.