Tag Archives: valentine’s

Perfect food couples no.4 – pear and almond

The celebrity world has of late gone a fair distance in emphasizing just how flimsy human relationships are. John Terry’s infidelity not only led to the breakdown of his marriage, but it also lost him his job. That is one ill-advised affair. I mean, even Bill Clinton managed to hang onto his post after the Lewinsky Scandal. So it would seem that while extramarital games of hide the sausage are acceptable for the leader of the Free World, they most certainly are not for the captain of the England football team. Quite right.

All of this infidelity and misery has only served to consolidate the primacy of epicurean coitus over human. Next up to find his dignity in tatters was Vernon ‘sex text pest’ Kay. Vern, your lack of subtlety has been invaluable to me. I mean, a gherkin would never be so foolhardy as to send filthy texts to a burger behind a Martini’s back. Not that the Martini would mind. In fact, she’d probably love it – they don’t call her ‘dirty Martini’ for nothing. I imagine they’d all end up in some pickled romp together and things would be fine, until nine months later the Martini gave birth to a brood of cornichons and the burger got jealous.

It seemed about time for sweetness to find its serotonin-laden way into this celebration of the most awesome couples on the planet. I don’t write enough pudding recipes, largely because I don’t really make pudding that much. But I made this and then devoured it like a crazed ape with a great gobbet of creme fraiche. Pears and almonds will never break up. I read some muck the other day about a grotesque orgy of pear, walnuts, blue cheese and salad, all lubed up with a mustard dressing, but when I came to introduce the pear to the almond yesterday the encounter was sweet and heartfelt and there was no bitterness at all.

Pear and almond tart

Serves 8

For the pastry

200g plain flour

100g butter

50-100 ml cold water

For the filling

100g caster sugar

100g softened butter

2 eggs

50g self raising flour

100g ground almonds

4 pears

Half a lemon

50g flaked almonds


– To make the pastry, cut the butter into cubes and rub it into the flour. When the mix resembles breadcrumbs, pour in the water, a little at a time and mixing as you go, until the dough comes together. Knead briefly to bring together fully, wrap in clingfilm and chill for 10 minutes.

– On a floured surface, roll out the pastry and press into a 25 cm tart shell. Prick with a fork and chill for another 30 minutes.

– Preheat the oven to 180C. Place a sheet of baking parchment in the tart shell and fill with baking beans – dried chickpeas, split yellow peas, whatever.

– Blind bake the pastry for 25 minutes.

– Meanwhile make the filling. Beat the butter and sugar together until lighty and creamy, then beat in the eggs. Fold in the flour and almonds.

– When the pastry case is baked, remove the beans and parchment and bake for a further 5 minutes until lightly browned.

– Remove from the oven and spread in the filling. Peel, quarter and core the pears, rubbing with a little lemon as you go (this prevents browning). Lay on top of the filling and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Allow to cool for 30 minutes before serving.

– Just before serving, toast the almonds in a dry frying pan and scatter atop the tart.

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Perfect food couples no.3 – tomatoes and anchovies

The union between that most indispensable of fishes – the anchovy – and the tomato, is particularly embraced in the Mediterranean. From a simple Provencal salad of tomatoes, anchovy, shallots and parsley, to the starter I served at my first ever dinner party, Piedmont peppers, it’s a marriage that thrums of sunshine and sea.

Puttanesca is traditionally made with capers and olives, but this is a celebration of the simple love between anchovies and tomatoes, so I didn’t use them. Also, I didn’t have any.

Penne alla puttanesca

Serves 2

A small onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed

1 red pepper, deseeded and finely sliced

12 anchovies, chopped

1 tin tomatoes

A pinch crushed chilli

A dash of double cream

A handful basil

160g penne

Salt, pepper and sugar

Olive oil


–       Sweat the onion and garlic in olive oil until soft.

–       Season and add the peppers and chopped anchovy. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

–       When the peppers are soft, add the tomatoes, chilli, and a pinch of sugar.

–       Simmer gently whilst you cook the pasta.

–       When the pasta is almost cooked, add the cream and basil.

–       Drain the pasta and toss in the sauce.

–       Serve in warm bowls with Parmesan and torn basil leaves.

What’s your favourite recipe using tomatoes and anchovies? What food couples am I missing out on?


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Valentine’s week – the perfect couples

Valentine’s Day is somewhat like Christmas – a holiday of great, blundering clichés, and a chance for the loveless and the cynical to mine every orifice of Scroogian misery for reasons to hate it. While this is understandable (after all, let’s face it, Valentine’s is about as palatable as one of Jordan’s boonies), the point has been made ad nauseam.

So instead of whingeing about the evanescence of love, I’ve decided to embrace some of the couples that will be together forever. Because while the most seemingly perfect relationships can disintegrate inexplicably, there are certain pairings that are eternal.

I am, of course, talking about food. Some things just seem to have been made for each other. Beetroot and goat’s cheese; beef and horseradish (and smoked fish and horseradish, come to think of it); pork pies and pickled walnuts (if you haven’t tried this you must); ginger and honey; apple and cinnamon. No amount of tabloid scandal can tear these apart (what? Haven’t you ever seen a paparazzo chasing a Melton Mowbray down the street?) They are more perfectly married then any human could ever be.

To celebrate Valentine’s Day I’m going to spend the week cooking with these perfect pairings, with perhaps the odd cheeky threesome thrown in if I’m lucky.

Potatoes and cream – Cullen Skink

Cullen skink is, I believe, traditionally made with mashed potato, but I much prefer it with chunks.

Serves 2

1 fillet of undyed smoked haddock

200ml double cream

200ml whole milk

A bay leaf

Olive oil

1 small onion, peeled and chopped

1 stick celery, finely chopped

1 large potato, chopped

White wine


–       Put the smoked haddock, cream and milk in a saucepan with the bay leaf. Place over a medium heat, bring to a simmer and cook gently for 5 minutes. Leave to cool.

–       Heat a little olive oil in a separate saucepan and sweat the onion and celery until soft and translucent.

–       Add the potato, season with salt and pepper, cover, and cook for a further 15 minutes.

–       Take the fish out of the saucepan and remove the skin and any bones.

–       Add white wine to the potato and onion pan, simmer for 1 minute, and then add the cream.

–       Cook very gently until the potato is completely soft, before flaking in the fish. Cook for a further few minutes, check for seasoning, and serve with chopped parsley.


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