Conjure up wonderful Mediterranean dishes in your kitchen
For me, one of the great pleasures in the kitchen is cooking with Mediterranean vegetables. These flavourful, sun-ripened vegetables are the heart of many wonderful dishes from France, Greece, Italy and Spain.
- Aubergines: These striking purple-skinned vegetables have a great texture, which I think is the closest thing to meat in the vegetable world. When I was a boy, aubergines were always sliced then salted before cooking to remove their bitter juices. Nowadays, aubergine varieties are far less bitter. Salting aubergine slices, then rinsing and patting before frying is a good idea, though, as it removes excess moisture and helps cut down on the amount of oil they absorb when fried. Try my Quick and Easy Ratatouille recipe for my take on a classic dish from Provence in southern France, or Spatchcocked Poussins with Aubergine, a great dish for the barbecue.
- Courgettes: This often rather overlooked vegetable has a very mild flavour, which makes it an excellent partner for other, more flavourful ingredients. Try my Spring Vegetable Risotto and Quick and Easy Ratatouille to see what I mean. If you want to allow courgettes to shine in their own right, then I suggest slicing them finely lengthways and griddling them either on a griddle pan or the barbecue. This really brings out their flavour. Try my Griddled Chicken with Courgettes, a great family favourite, and you’ll see what I mean.
- Globe artichokes: Yes, these great, green vegetables do look rather daunting; after all they are a type of thistle! It’s true that artichokes hide their soft, edible hearts inside a casing of tough outer leaves. My suggestion, therefore, is simple – buy artichoke hearts in oil, so that all the hard work of preparing them has been done already! Serve these bottled artichokes as part of an antipasti platter or chop them up and add them to tuna mayonnaise, as the Italians do, pasta salads, pasta sauces or risotto. They have a great, subtle flavour and a little goes a long way.
- Red peppers: With their striking red colour and full, sweet flavour, red peppers are a great way of brightening up a dish both visually and in terms of taste, which is how I’ve used them in my elegant Spring Vegetable Risotto. I like to roast red peppers in order to soften them and bring out their sweetness. To do this, pre-heat your grill or your oven to high, pierce a red pepper with a skewer (to make it easier to turn it) and roast until charred on all sides. Once charred, carefully place in a plastic bag and set aside; this means that the steam will help the skin come off the flesh, making it much easier to peel. Once cooled, peel the red pepper and chop. Use in pasta sauces, roast vegetable salads, or in fish or chicken dishes.
- Tomatoes: What would we do without tomatoes? Home-made tomato sauce was a staple in my house as a boy. Try my recipe for Tomato Sauce flavoured with Knorr Vegetable Stock Pots – it’s so handy to have in the kitchen as you can use it to make family favourites like Lasagne or Spaghetti with Meatballs and Tomato Sauce and Bolognese Sauce. In summertime, I like to use ripe, tasty tomatoes in a simple salad – sliced and sprinkled with a touch of good olive oil and lemon juice, a few shredded basil leaves and freshly ground pepper.