While the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating economic impact globally, few industries have been as hard hit as restaurants and hospitality. Our restaurant is closed for the foreseeable future, our events industry has been shut down, corporate events cancelled, and any type of mass gatherings are no longer able to take place leaving thousands of small catering businesses struggling to see light at the end of the tunnel.
I’ve spoken to so many of my fellow chefs and colleagues over the last couple of weeks and we are all trying to remain positive in the knowledge that we will have a huge fight on our hands to survive this after the lockdown. But I’m sure the hospitality industry will eventually bounce back from this and, if I’ve learnt one thing from my recent conversations, it is that our business is full of warm, kind-hearted people who love nothing more than bringing people together sitting around a table sharing great food, wine and conversation and receive great satisfaction from seeing people having a fantastic time in their restaurants. So we will still be here on the other side of this pandemic, looking forward to welcoming everybody back with generosity, a warm reception and a big smile.
I’ve also learnt during the lockdown that the larder starts to look worryingly bare when you've run out of tinned tomatoes. They are the cook's comfort blanket and one of the most unassuming and versatile ingredients in our kitchen cupboards. Tinned tomatoes an essential element of so many recipes and of any number of soups, sauces, curries, tagines and stews, so if you are one of the lucky people who are sitting on a hidden stash…it’s time to make a large batch of tomato sauce and get creative for the rest of the week.
Although I wouldn't say a tin of tomatoes is better than a handful of fresh, juicy red ripe ones straight off the vine in summer, not much is, but they do have the power to transform a recipe with their closeted freshness and vibrancy. Where possible, I would always go for plum tomatoes. Whole tomatoes tend to be less processed than chopped ones, which means they have a fresher flavour and keep more of their natural sweetness. Chopped tomatoes also release more water so whole plum tomatoes give you more flesh and far more flavour for your money. Also, when using tinned instead of fresh tomatoes you normally need to counteract the acidity with a large pinch of sugar.
MY BASIC TOMATO SAUCE
This really is a simple and satisfying recipe to make. I normally use fresh cor de bou tomatoes, but tinned plum tomatoes work perfectly well.
Cooking time: 40–45 minutes
Preparation time: 10 minutes
- 100ml olive oil
- 1 large red onion, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 tins whole plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp sherry vinegar
- 4 basil leaves, torn
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan over a low-medium heat, add the onion and garlic and sweat until they just start to break down, about 3–4 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the sugar, vinegar and herbs and cook slowly for 30–35 minutes. Pass through a fine sieve (strainer) and season to taste.
MOROCCAN LAMB MEATBALLS WITH HARISSA & SAFFRON COUSCOUS
- 500g minced shoulder of lamb
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 50g ground almonds
- 1 garlic clove , crushed
- juice 1 lemon
- 1 egg , lightly beaten
For the sauce
- 350ml basic tomato sauce
- 150ml vegetable or chicken stock
- 1 red chili, deseeded and finely chopped
- 1tbsp finely chopped root ginger
- 1tsp ground cumin
- 1/2tsp paprika
- 1/2tsp crushed fennel seeds
- A good pinch of saffron strands
- 1tsp Harrisa
- 1tsp preserved lemon, finely chopped (optional)
- 1tbsp chopped coriander
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 150ml natural yogurt , to serve
Heat a heavy-based pan over a low heat. Add the cumin and coriander seeds to the pan then toast for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Grind in a food processor. For the meatballs;
Mix the minced lamb with the ground almonds, garlic clove, lemon juice and beaten egg in a bowl and season well. Mix well then shape into balls. Chill for a good 30 minutes in the fridge. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan. Fry the meatballs for 5-6 minutes, turning now and then, until golden brown and cooked. Keep warm.
For the sauce;
Heat the basic tomato and add the chilli, ginger, cinnamon stick, harrisa and spices. Add the chicken or vegetable stock and cover with a lid. cook gently for 5-6 minutes. Add the meatballs, preserved lemon and coriander to the sauce and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Adjust the seasoning if necessary and serve with natural yoghurt and saffron couscous.
- 160g couscous
- 160ml chicken stock
- A large pinch of saffron
- 50g chopped red pepper
- 100g chopped tomatoes
- 50g chopped shallots
- 1tbsn olive oil
- 1tbsn fresh coriander, chopped
- 1tbsn fresh mint, chopped
- 1tspn ground cumin
Bring the chicken stock and saffron to the boil and remove from the heat. Add the couscous and cover. Leave to cook and swell swell for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients and season to taste.