A bruschetta is a kind of open sandwich and it's probably where the idea for cheese on toast originally came from. It's normally made from a large loaf of sourdough natural yeast bread, which is a dark grey colour and has a higher water content than usual in the dough. It also has a thick crust and, because of this, moisture is retained in the bread, meaning it can be used up to a week after purchasing. Have a look round a farmers' market or in a good supermarket and you should be able to find some. If you can't, a good-quality round cottage-style loaf will give you good results.
The bread is best sliced 1cm thick and toasted on a barbecue, but it can also be done in a griddle pan for ease at home. After that it should be lightly rubbed a couple of times with a cut clove of garlic, then drizzled with some good extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper. The toppings can be as humble or as luxurious as you like, from chopped herbs or a squashed tomato with basil, to marinated vegetables or beautiful cheeses, to lovely flaked crabmeat. The only rule is that whatever goes on top of a bruschetta should be nice and fresh and cooked with care.
If you have a large loaf, cut it in half, then slice it crossways about 1cm/½ inch thick. Chargrill these slices on a barbecue or in a griddle pan until they are crisp on both sides, then lightly rub each piece a couple of times with a cut clove of garlic. Drizzle with some good extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with a tiny pinch of salt. You can eat the toasted bread just like this, but make sure the oil is the best you can find otherwise it will never taste good.
at 7:09 AM
Start by preparing the artichokes, peel them back to their pale, light leaves, then halve them and remove the hairy chokes with a teaspoon. Place them in a pan with just enough water to cover them. Add the garlic cloves and a little squeeze of lemon juice and cook until the stalks are tender.
Drain in a colander, then place the artichokes straight back into the empty pan with 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil and fry for 4 minutes to get a bit of colour on them. When they're slightly golden, remove from the heat, squeeze in a little lemon juice, add the mint and season carefully to taste.
Remove 4 artichoke halves from the pan and put to one side, then mash all the rest in the pan, using a fork to squash the garlic out of the skins (throw the skins away).
Smear across your basic bruschette, tearing one of the reserved artichoke halves over the top of each. PS It's also really nice to add a handful of freshly grated Parmesan to the mashed-up artichokes.
at 7:07 AM
There are two things that make a good gravy: a vegetable trivet, which is the layer of vegetables in the bottom of your roasting tray that your meat sits on; and the juices from a roasted piece of good-quality meat.
As long as you always use a vegetable trivet and buy good-quality meat, your gravy will taste like heaven whether you use water or stock. Follow my method for making gravy and you’ll never look back.
To make your gravy
• When you come to make your gravy, your chicken will be covered and resting and you’ll have your tray of chicken juices and vegetable trivet in front of you
• Using a spoon, carefully remove 90 per cent of the hot fat from the tray by angling it away from yourself and scooping off the fatty layer that settles on top
• Put the tray back on the hob over a high heat
• Add the flour, stir it around and, holding the tray steady with a tea towel in one hand, use a potato masher to mash all the veg to a pulp – don’t worry if it’s lumpy
• You can rip the wings off the chicken and break them up into the tray to add more flavour at this point
• When everything is mixed and mashed up, add the alcohol to give a little fragrance before you add your stock (the alcohol will cook away)
• Keep it over the heat and let it boil for a few minutes
• Pour the stock into the tray, or add 1 litre of hot water • Bring everything in the pan to the boil, scraping all the goodness from the bottom of the pan as you go
• Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, or until you’ve achieved the gravy consistency you’re looking for
To serve your gravy
• Get yourself a large jug, bowl or pan and put a coarse sieve over it
• Pour your gravy through the sieve, using a ladle to really push all the goodness through
• Discard any veg or meat left behind
• At this point you’ve got a really cracking gravy, and you can either serve it straight away or put it back on the heat to simmer and thicken up
• Depending on which meat I’m serving it with, I’ll add a teaspoonful of horseradish, mustard, redcurrant jelly, cranberry, mint or apple sauce – you certainly don’t have to, but I think the little edge of complementary flavour you get from doing this is brilliant
at 7:02 AM
Melt 125g chocolate with the coffee, then pour into small ice-cube moulds and freeze until hard. Take 6 small 3 inch pastry rings, dariole moulds or cappuccino cups and grease well with some butter. Place in the fridge while you make your sponge mixture. Melt the remaining chocolate with the butter in a bowl over a pan of boiling water, then in a separate bowl whisk the egg whites with the sugar until firm. Fold the yolks into the cooled chocolate and butter mixture, then add the almonds and flour. Finish by carefully folding in the egg white mixture. Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/gas 5. Take your moulds out of the fridge and spoon a little mixture into each one, then push in a cube of the frozen coffee and chocolate mixture. Cover with the rest of the sponge mixture so each ice cube is completely enveloped. Bake in the preheated oven for about 18–20 minutes, then remove carefully from the moulds while hot. Serve immediately sprinkled with hazelnuts.
at 7:24 AM
Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas 5. Peel and core the apples, quarter and cut in to chunks.
Put the apples in to a pan with the sugar and water. Cook over a low heat for 5 minutes and place in a small oven proof dish.
Place the flour and oats in a bowl and mix well. Cut the margarine or butter in to small cubes and add this to the oats and flour. Mix with your fingertips until it resembles an even crumb texture. Add the sugar and mix through.
Cover the fruit with the crumble mixture. Bake for approximately 20 minutes until the crumble is golden and the apple hot.
at 7:22 AM
Put the cream in a pan over a medium heat and let it heat up. You don’t want it boiling, just hot. As soon as tiny bubbles start to appear add the knob of butter and the clementine zest. Once the butter has melted pour this hot mixture over the chocolate pieces whisking as you go so the chocolate melts nice and slowly. If the mixture splits slightly, don’t worry, you can bring it right by adding a splash of boiling water.
Add a pinch of salt to the mixture; it may sound bonkers, but the smallest pinch of salt actually makes chocolate taste even chocolatier! Stir in a splash of brandy.
Once completely melted and smooth, pour your melted chocolate mixture into a nice little serving dish or bowl. Pop this in the fridge for about 2 hours to set. Christmas is a busy time so you can always do this a few days before you need it if you want. About 30 minutes before you’re ready to make your truffles pull the bowl out of the fridge and let the chocolate warm up to room temperature.
Put your mixed nuts into a plastic bag and use a rolling pin to bash them up quite finely. Get some little saucers or bowls and put the nuts in one and your cocoa powder in the other. Put a teacup filled with boiled water on the tray and pop a few teaspoons in there for scooping the chocolate. Get everyone around the table to spoon their own truffles out of the serving dish and roll them in cocoa powder, crushed nuts or anything else you fancy. Or, you can let them smear their truffles over a biscotti like some posh Nutella! Serve with a few glasses of your chilled Vin Santo.
at 7:21 AM
In a bowl mix together the grapes, pinenuts, rosemary, sugar and white wine and allow to sit for a few minutes. Then scatter, with the juice, all over the pizza base. Crumble over little pieces of ricotta and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil. Cook until crisp and golden.
at 11:02 AM
Sieve the flour/s and salt on to a clean work surface and make a well in the middle. In a jug, mix the yeast, sugar and olive oil into the water and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well. Using a fork, bring the flour in gradually from the sides and swirl it into the liquid. Keep mixing, drawing larger amounts of flour in, and when it all starts to come together, work the rest of the flour in with your clean, flour-dusted hands. Knead until you have a smooth, springy dough.
Place the ball of dough in a large flour-dusted bowl and flour the top of it. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place in a warm room for about an hour until the dough has doubled in size.
Now remove the dough to a flour-dusted surface and knead it around a bit to push the air out with your hands – this is called knocking back the dough. You can either use it immediately, or keep it, wrapped in clingfilm, in the fridge (or freezer) until required. If using straight away, divide the dough up into as many little balls as you want to make pizzas – this amount of dough is enough to make about six to eight medium pizzas.
Timing-wise, it’s a good idea to roll the pizzas out about 15 to 20 minutes before you want to cook them. Don’t roll them out and leave them hanging around for a few hours, though – if you are working in advance like this it’s better to leave your dough, covered with clingfilm, in the fridge. However, if you want to get them rolled out so there’s one less thing to do when your guests are round, simply roll the dough out into rough circles, about 0.5cm thick, and place them on slightly larger pieces of olive-oil-rubbed and flour-dusted tinfoil. You can then stack the pizzas, cover them with clingfilm, and pop them into the fridge.
at 10:56 AM
Heat a griddle pan until it gets really hot then put your asparagus on it. Put a heavy saucepan on top so it presses the spears right down on to the bars and makes lovely brown charred marks. Cook them for 2 minutes, turning halfway through. Pop the asparagus on a board and chop them in half on the diagonal.
Put the asparagus in a bowl with your tomatoes, half the larger basil leaves, olives, a splash of extra virgin olive oil and most of your lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper, then toss it all together and put to one side while you get the fish ready.
Rub your tuna with a little bit of oil and season. Sear for about a minute on each side. This will cook it rare – do it for 2 minutes on each side if you prefer it medium or 3 to 4 minutes each side if you like it well done.
Pound the remaining basil in a pestle and mortar then mix in the crème fraîche. Season and add some more lemon juice to taste.
Put the salad on a plate then break up the tuna and pop it on top. Spoon over some of the crème fraîche sauce and scatter over the baby basil leaves.
at 10:52 AM