Category Archives: Spicy




I rather like this African take on ratatouille, or perhaps the French copied this when they colonised parts of North Africa. Anyway who really cares, as I like ratatouille and I also like shakshuka.

This recipe is simplicity itself and you could put a meal on the table in little over 35 minutes. Ignore the title and think poached eggs in rich tomato sauce.

If you Google ‘shakshuka recipes’ you will get about 181,000 hits and if you start to read some of them, it quickly becomes apparent that this is a dish that is at home anywhere from Mauritania on the north-west coast of Africa all the way round the Mediterranean to Albania and beyond into the Balkans. Each country that has it will doubtless claim it as their own. However what is certain is the number of different ways of adding different ingredients. Essentially a vegetarian dish, in some countries sausages or shrimps are added . The cheese and the spices used vary according to country and availability.

Basically make a spicy tomato sauce and add what else takes your fancy.

In some countries this is a breakfast meal, cooked and served straight to the table, in single serving cast iron pans with hunks of bread to mop up the juices, but this is versatile enough to be served straight to table, in a paella dish for instance, as part of a dinner course, with rice and some green vegetable.

With an eye to appearances, I would have preferred to have had a green pepper, however they are basically unobtainable here in the north of Italy. I think next time I make it I will add some peas, just to add contrast with the red background.


Serves 4

Total time to prepare and cook 35 mins


3 tbsp Olive oil

1 large onion diced

2 small zucchini diced

3 cloves garlic

1 red pepper (green would look better), diced

1 yellow pepper,diced

3 medium tomatoes or a 450 g/1 lb can of tomatoes diced small

100 ml/3½ fl oz/½ cup red or white wine

2 tsp ground cumin

1 – 2 tsp chili flakes (or whatever form of chili you are most comfortable with)

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp smoked paprika

2 or 3 tsp dried basil

salt and pepper to taste

100 g/3½ oz/1 cup grated cheese (Use what is local and available. I used parmesan, but cheddar, feta or pecorino would be ideal)

4 medium to large eggs



Peel and dice the onion, put it into the pan with the oil and soften for 5 minutes. (I used a 30 cm/12 inch pan, but you might want to use a bigger pan otherwise the eggs will look crowded)


Dice the peppers and add to the pan and soften for 5 minutes


Dice the zucchini and add to the pan and soften for 5 minutes.


Dice the tofu and add to the pan ( I know, it is not in the list of ingredients but I found it lurking in the fridge and decided to add it)


Add the tomatoes and wine, bring to the boil and then simmer for about 15 minutes.



Meanwhile add the spices, basil, sugar, salt and pepper. Stir them in well. Taste and adjust the flavour according to your desire,


Sprinkle the cheese all over


Make 4 ‘nests’ in the mixture and crack the eggs into them. The observant ones of you will have spotted only 2 eggs, and that is because I was cooking for 2, me and Joy, but the list of ingredients is for 4.

Cook for a further 5 minutes or so, according to how soft you like your eggs.

You might have to add water if the mixture is drying out or cover the pan with a lid to help cook the eggs or to stop it from drying out.


Serve immediately













Filed under All Year, Main Meal, Spicy, Student Food, Student Food, Vegetables

This is Not HP Sauce


This sauce is not HP sauce, but on tasting it you would be forgiven for thinking it is. Being English and living in Italy, there some things that I have grown up with that are not available in the shops and supermarkets. HP sauce being one of them.  Over the 10 years or more that we have lived here we have learnt to make do with alternatives to many ‘English’ foods, but there are no alternatives to this special brown sauce .

I do like HP sauce but I do not eat a great deal of it. It is spicy and I like it when I have chips (french fries/patate frite) on my plate. Joy, my wife, likes the sauce with baked beans on toast and with chips. No doubt I could buy this in Milan or Turin, but they are both over 60 miles (100 kms) or so away, and so several years ago I started researching by looking at recipes on the internet, and comparing those with what was actually written on a bottle of HP. After several trials I eventually refined my recipe until I arrived at this one. It is good, as good as the real stuff, if not better, but with one important difference: there are no unnecessary additives, fillers or flavour enhancers. This is the real deal, and it has good shelf life, anything up to 2 years or so.

The following list of ingredients will make over 2 litres/4 US pints/3½ UK pints, but I start with the quantity of plums that I can either forage or buy, and then adjust the other ingredients to suit. Yes I could buy 2 kg/4.5 lbs of plums but quite often I can buy more for a lower unit cost, and anyway there is a very healthy plum tree in the meadow behind our house that is loaded with small plums, and we have permission to pick.



2 kg/4½lbs plums , that are sweet and firm. If over ripe they will just dissolve and you will have to simmer the end product for longer to achieve a good pouring consistency.

1 litre/2 US pints/1.75 UK pints red wine vinegar or malted vinegar

175 gm/6 oz dates, stoned and chopped

115 gm/4 oz raisins

1 large onion, chopped

4 large cloves garlic, chopped

60 gm/2 oz/5 cm/2 in fresh ginger, grated or equivalent ginger paste or powder

1 tbsp coriander seeds, freshly ground

1 tsp allspice berries, freshly ground

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tbsp ground turmeric

2 tsp ground nutmeg

1 tsp salt

200 gm/ tamarind seedless, cut into small cubes or paste

300 gm/10 oz dark sugar


Halve and stone the plums and chop if they are large.


I can pass on a small tip here. On each plum there is a groove running from top to bottom.



By cutting the plum at 90° to this groove, when you twist the 2 halves apart the stone is left edge-ways in one half and is then much easier to remove.



Put the plums pieces into a stainless steel pan with all the other ingredients.

Bring slowly to the boil, stirring occasionally, and then simmer uncovered for about 1 hour. Stirring towards the end of the hour to ensure that it is not sticking.

Remove from the heat and using a stick blender, reduce thoroughly to a smooth consistency.

Taste for  heat and add more cayenne if desired.

The consistency should be the same as that of commercial ketchups/catsups, so test by putting a tablespoonful on a cold tea plate. Allow it to cool. When cold, it should retain its shape and move slowly when the plate is tipped. If you want to thicken it, simmer for 20 minutes at a time and test again.


When it is ready, pour into clean, dry and very hot screw cap jars. Fill close to the rim and screw down the lid tight. Store in a cool, dry and dark place.





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Filed under All Year, Sauces, Spicy

Couscous Stuffed Red Onions


Like a lot of the food that I write about, I really like onions. Normally they lurk in the background of the recipe, a bit like the baseline in a pop song. It is there and you are glad of it, because without the onion, the recipe would be minus a significant item.

However in this recipe, the onion takes centre stage, with the couscous providing a very pleasant supporting role

Serves 4. Preparation 15 minutes. Cooking 35 minutes



4 large red onions

150 gm couscous

150 ml vegetable stock

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 clove of garlic crushed

2 medium tomatoes

2 dessertspoons flaked almonds

1 dessertspoon sultanas chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs

salt and pepper


Carefully remove any dead skin from the onions

Put them in a saucepan, cover them with boiling water. Cover and bring water back up to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile in a small mixing bowl bring the stock to the boil, take it off the heat and add the couscous and allow to stand for 5 minutes to absorb the stock liquid.


Remove the onions from the saucepan with a slotted spoon. Reserve the liquid for future stock.


With a sharp vegetable knife slice a lid from each onion and put it to one side. Holding the onions still, wearing an oven glove.


Cut a deep cross into each onion, taking care not to cut too deep either into the base or the sides.


Carefully with the knife, take out successive layers starting from the centre, leaving 2 or 3 layers. Here I used my ‘special’ teaspoon, which I have sharpened. This does the job much better than a knife.

Place the treated onions in a greased baking dish.


Finely chop the removed onion and put them and the chopped tomatoes into a small saucepan. Add the oil and saute for a few minutes.

Add all the dry ingredients to the onion and stir well.

Add salt and pepper to your taste.


Add the couscous mixture and stir well.


Spoon into the onions, pressing down well and filling to the brim.


Put the lids back on.

Any mixture left over can be put into a small baking dish and cooked with the onions.

Put into a hot oven set at 180 C/350 F/Gas 4/Moderate for 20 minutes.


Serve immediately. I served these with steamed black cabbage and boiled potatoes.







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Filed under All Year, Main Meal, Spicy, Vegetables

Spicy Potatoes

DSCN5877As a British kid, I grew up eating potatoes. It was a staple of post Second World War Britain. But there was on offer only boiled, baked, mashed and chips, and only the chips had anything other than gravy or mint sauce on them. Potatoes with every meal and so little variation in presentation, but I was not complaining. I loved them and still do. But with cooking books and the internet, the variation on offer now is beyond belief.

I happened upon this Lebanese/Syrian recipe last year and it has established itself as a regular in our family. I have modified it slightly to suit my philosophy of cooking in the most efficient way within the bounds of a recipe.

Because it is baked it lends itself as a dish that can go in the oven alongside a main course, and therefore is cooked for ‘free’. Well perhaps I am kidding myself, but you understand where I am coming from.

Serves 4. Preparation Time 10 minutes. Cooking Time about 40 minutes


1 large potato per person, cut into 1 cm dice

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 red pepper or 2 large tomatoes, diced to 1 cm

1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes

Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon

2 or 3 teaspoons ground coriander

a grind of salt and pepper



Mix all the ingredients, except the lemon juice, in a bowl and stir together well.


Tip into a baking dish as a single layer

Put into a hot oven set at 180 C/350 F/Gas 4/ Moderate for about 35 to 40 minutes. Half way through baking, stir them through.


They are finished when they are nicely browned.


Drizzle with the lemon juice and serve them immediately. Here I have served them with Peas and Stir Fried Cabbage (recipe here)




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Filed under All Year, Main Meal, Side Dishes, Spicy, Student Food, Vegetables

Spiced Chick Peas and Basmati Rice

DSCN5847 This is another family favourite, for several reasons. This is student food (or harassed parent food) at its very best. It is very quick to put a nourishing and filling meal on the table. It is dead easy to put together. It is one of those forgiving recipes that you can tinker with to produce different flavours, and it always comes out just hitting the spot. This is a store cupboard special, where the hardest part is chopping up an onion and squashing a clove of garlic.

The recipe is for 4 people, but it is very easy to scale up to account for how many people you are serving.

Time to prepare and cook about 25 – 45 minutes, dependent on the time it takes to cook your rice.



per person 80/100 gm basmati rice

1 large onion, sliced

1 clove of garlic

1 -2 tablespoons olive oil

1 x 454 gm/1 lb tin of chick peas

1 x 454 gm/1 lb tin of chopped tomatoes

1 level teaspoon curry powder/paste or to taste

2 cups frozen peas (optional)

salt and pepper to taste


Put a pan of salted water on to boil for the rice.

Meanwhile slice the onion and put it in to a saucepan with the oil and saute gently for 5 minutes.

As soon as the rice water boils, add the rice, bring back up to the boil and simmer to cook (this is how much time you have left to cook the chick peas and tomatoes!). If you have ample time you can save some money by looking at my suggestions for ‘slow’ cooking here .

Meanwhile add the minced garlic to the onions and saute for another 2 minutes.


Add the chick peas, tomatoes and frozen peas.  Increase the heat to bring to a boil. reduce the heat to simmer.

Add the curry powder and season to taste.

As soon as the rice is cooked, serve everything on hot plates.


Here I have served it with Stir Fried Cabbage (the recipe here) as well as the basmati rice.






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Filed under ALL Recipes, All Year, Main Meal, Pulses, Beans and Nuts, Rice, Spicy, Student Food, Student Food

Stir Fried Cabbage


We grow and eat a lot of cabbage, and we use many different recipes in order to vary the way we eat them. This is one such way, which is quick, economical and also tasty. As with a lot of our recipes this is one that can be adjusted to suit the style of cuisine that it is accompanying.

This serves 4. Preparation 10 – 15 minutes. Cooking 10 minutes


1 medium cabbage

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves of garlic

1 dessert spoon caraway seeds or fennel seeds


Wash the cabbage leaves and then steam or boil them for 5 minutes.

Drain the leaves.


Shred or slice them finely

In a wok heat the oil, and add the seeds and garlic, cook for 1 minute.


Add the cabbage leaves and cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes.

Season and serve immediately.

And if you are thinking, that is not much cabbage for 4 people, you are correct. I was doing and photographing a half recipe.

If you wanted to liven up the visual aspect of the cabbage you could add a finely chopped red, orange or yellow pepper, which takes little or no time to cook, before you add the cabbage to the wok.



Filed under ALL Recipes, All Year, Side Dishes, Spicy, Student Food, Student Food, Vegetables

Parmesan Whorls


In the world of quick nibbles, antipasti and finger food, they don’t come much quicker or as fulfilling as these, and like a lot of good recipes it is possible to chop and change the ingredients to suit the occasion. Leave out the paprika and add curry powder and they would make a good intro to an Indian meal. Not strictly traditional but then again, being British, I have grown up in a culture where anything worth having, from any other culture,  was used, hence the existence of Chinese, Indian and kebab restaurants in every British city, town and village. A nice strong cheddar cheese would go well here as a substitute.

DSCN5808Preparation 10 Minutes. Cooking 20 minutes


1 packet of frozen puff pastry, thawed

1 egg beaten

150 gm/ 5 oz parmesan cheese, coarsely grated

a little flour for rolling


salt and pepper


On a floured surface, unroll the puff pastry


Brush generously with the beaten egg

Sprinkle on the grated parmesan

Roll the cheese into the pastry


Generously sprinkle with the paprika

Give a good grind with the salt and pepper


Starting from a short end, roll up the pastry


Put it in the fridge for 30 minutes to cool it down and firm up


Using a very sharp knife, slice of rounds at 10 mm/ 3/8 ths inch thick


Transfer onto a baking sheet


Bake in a pre set oven at 200 C/400 F/ Gas 6/Moderate Hot for about 20 minutes or until they are golden brown


Cool on a wire rack and then eat . They won’t last too long so get ready to make some more!












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Filed under All Year, Antipasti, Cheese, Pastry, Spicy