Orecchiette with Prawns, Broad Beans and Chilli

orecchietteAhh, Italy – my gratitude extends to the whole nation. Great wines, great fashion (somewhat lost on me I admit), beautiful scenery, enthusiastic gesticulation and unobtainable supercars – the sort of things that makes one glad to be alive. Of course, if that wasn’t enough then there’s the food which, you may have realised, is where I was going with this intro.

Over the years the Italians have worked their magic to combine the most simple of ingredients into something far greater than the sum of their parts.

Here’s an example: wood fired oven margarita pizza. Bread, cheese and tomatoes, all cooked in a brick oven burning timber as we have for hundred of years. No sous vide, fan assist or thermostats and yet it is delicious and so, so much better for it for some reason. Witchcraft I tell you.

Here’s another, and the ultimate for me – pasta. On its own, it’s simple enough being just flour and water, or flour and egg, but with a few equally simple ingredients you have a dish for anyone. Even the most modest pasta dish has a kind of chic sophistication about it (again, a little lost on me), in fact the simpler the better.

Despite the ‘bean popping’ this sort of dish is one of my ‘late from the office’ go-to meals which is a shame, as it doesn’t deserve to be. It’s everything I love about Italian food. I know there are plenty of ‘rules’ or conventions in Italy on the choice of pasta shapes and accompaniments, but this worked just fine for me.

I’ve written a recipe, but honestly I wouldn’t expect many to follow it. In fact, most of the quantities in this one are approximate – this isn’t an exact science. Think of it more as a ‘serving suggestion’. Lovely with a good Pinot Grigio by the way.

Serves 2

  • 150-200g orecchiette pasta, depending how hungry you are
  • 2 tbsp cooking olive oil
  • About 1 tbsp good extra virgin olive oil to serve
  • 10-15 large raw prawns, deveined if necessary
  • 1 garlic glove, finely chopped
  • A small glass of wine (and a large one for yourself, it’s been a long day)
  • About 200g broad beans
  • 1 spring onion, finely sliced
  • A good pinch of chilli flakes
  • About a tablespoon measure of butter
  • Salt & Pepper.

Boil the kettle and get the water on.

Blanch the beans for a few minutes. I used the water for the pasta to save on pans, just don’t salt it yet. Sieve them out when done, salt the water and then and cook the pasta as instructed.

De-skin the beans by squeezing one end. Discard the skins. Keep the beans to one side.

Prawns and Chilli

In the pan, gently fry the garlic and prawns with a pinch of salt and the chilli flakes until well coloured. Add the wine and rapidly reduce to half the volume. Put in the beans, spring onion and the butter and warm through. Taste and season as needed.

Prawns chilli and broad beans

Drain the pasta when just ready and mix in the prawns and beans and a good lug of the olive oil. Serve with a twist of black pepper.

Orecchiette with prawns, chilli and broad beans


Planking, Tents and Food Festivals

Trending. Such a very 2010s phrase, used to describe by the vast tides of fickle popularity generated by ‘social’ media. But just think of Planking, the Harlem Shake and (soon enough) Twerking to see how fleeting this is. See, you’d forgotten them already.

Living in the UK, and having more than a fleeting interest I see food trends come and go in a similar, albeit less rapid fashion. The ‘modern’ Indian restaurant menu, cupcakes and food on a slate anyone?!

We’re currently awash with gourmet burgers, slow cooked meats and salted caramel and that’s no bad thing of course but one trend that does seem a little hit and miss, for me at least, is the rise of the food festival and specifically, ‘street food’. Done well, it’s delicious, exciting and genuinely interesting. The chance to sample street snacks from far flung cuisines had me reaching for my extra stretchy trousers, happily forking out a fiver for a cardboard plate of food and a napkin.

The Boiler Shope Steamer, Newcastle

The Boiler Shop Steamer, Newcastle – great fun, we’ll be back….

Street pizza at the Boiler Shop Steamer - very good.

Street pizza at the Boiler Shop Steamer – very good.

Helen enjoying beetroot falafel. I think I suprised her...

Helen enjoying beetroot falafel. I think I suprised her…

Done badly, however…..Well I’ve sampled a few such stalls over the summer and in some cases it seems pretty obvious that the purveyors are just ‘restaurants on tour’, or worse, those jumping on the bandwagon.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing of course when done well but I sometimes watched these poor souls, sweating in the summer heat trying to pull together something they could make with their eyes closed in their nicely fitted industrial kitchen. Now they’re in a tent, on a field, with a camping stove and a tiny table trying to cook and serve the customers simultaneously.

I think it’s fair to say the results are mixed. I recently paid £3 for a greek sausage sandwich. I’d never tried one before, and therefore I hope it was a bad example, but lets just say for once I was glad it was a stingy portion…

Conversely, some others are well setup for this form of cooking, particularly the BBQ guys with their beautiful smoking contraptions, Indian snacks and the good old Crepe stands of course. Food which originated in or suits the outdoors basically. I’m not sure a styrofoam tray of nuclear hot green Thai curry and rice does. And I love thai curries.

At the North East Chilli Festival

At the North East Chilli Festival

 Perhaps the biggest food festival I’ve been to this year however was in the Hamburg and wouldn’t you know it, the food was uniformly good and at times excellent. Typical. Rotisserie hams, slow cooked pork sandwiched, fresh donuts, excellent beer – although I think we run them very close here, bratwurst…I could go on. All run with that enviable German efficiency (even when it got busy, and boy, did it get busy) from custom made trailers or stands.

Rotisserie Hams, Hamburg

Rotisserie Hams, Hamburg

Roast Pork Sandwich, Hamburg
Roast Pork Sandwich, Hamburg

I’ve no doubt that the trend, originating in London’s wonderful cultural diversity, is slowly catching on, filtering its way up the country like electricity and mobile phones did in the last decade (no, not really). As such, I’m hopeful things will only continue to get better, but please, can we have more street food.

Venison meatballs and lentils

venison meatballs and lentils

Ah, it’s good to be back after a bit of a busy time. A little bit too much working hard and playing (not quite so) hard means a little less time for writing. Or cooking.

Holidays, festivals and rather messy Stag Do to Hamburg have all featured heavily over recent weeks and so I feel I’ve fallen behind a bit. Food markets seem to be a big feature of late though, they seem to be everywhere at the moment and I’ll be writing about this later.

For now though, I thought I’d share a dish I made last week before departing for Hamburg dressed like a complete tool.

This was another fridge-rummaging, wrinkly-bit-trimming special, to use up the leftovers before I left for the long weekend. I was fairly confident they wouldn’t be used in my absence 😉

This time, some frozen venison mince, a half opened pack of bacon, aubergine from a ratatouille that never was, carrots and a courgette/zuchinni were all involved in this super-hearty dish. Lentils, although one of my favourites were intended as a healthy gesture to ward away the bodily carnage that was to come. Absolutely futile.

green lentils

Serves 2-3

For the meatballs

  • 250g venison mince
  • 2 back bacon rashers, finely sliced
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1-2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp mustard (I used English)
  • 1 large handful breadcrumbs
  • Salt and pepper

For the sauce

  • 1 each: carrot, courgette, aubergine, sliced
  • 1 large red onion, coarsely chopped
  • 500ml beef or game stock
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree


  • 150g lentils.
  • 750ml stock (chicken or vegetable)

Creme fraiche to serve.

Start by cooking the lentils in stock until tender – about 45 minutes. Simmer with the lid on until nearly done then take the lid off to concentrate the stock flavour.

Make the meatballs by combining all the ingredients with your hand until evenly mixed.

venison meatball mixture

Season with about a tsp of salt and plenty of black pepper. Mix again to distribute.

Important bit: take a piece of the meat mixture off and fry it. Make any adjustments to the seasoning as you see fit.

Roll the mixture into large meatballs – I got about 9 golf ball sized ones out of it.

frying venison meatballs

Fry the meatballs, onions and garlic in a decent amount of oil using a large lidded frying pan until well browned all over. Add the carrots and mix well. Pour in the stock and tomato puree and leave to simmer for a few minutes with the lid on to soften the carrot. Add the aubergine and courgette and simmer some more (5 minutes) with the lid on until they also softened.

venison meatballs

Finally, for a another five minutes, take the lid off and turn up the heat to concentrate the sauce.

Serve it all on the lentils with the creme fraiche. Filling.

venison meatballs and lentils