Archive for the ‘recipes’ Category

Baked Ziti

Posted on January 19th, 2024 in recipes | No Comments »

This has suddenly become one of my dinner party / weekend cook-ahead / feeding a crowd staples. Super-delicious, not difficult to make and vegetarian (or at least this version is).

Prep time: 1 hour. Cook time: 40 minutes. Feeds 6-8.

For the red sauce

  • Three medium onions
  • Three cans chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp dried mixed herbs
  • 4-6 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp sugar/honey/maple syrup
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

For the white sauce

  • 250g ricotta cheese
  • 50g parmesan
  • 1 medium egg
  • 150g double cream
  • 50g fresh basil

For the pasta

  • 500g rigatoni or other tube-shaped pasta
  • 20g parmesan
  • 250g mozzarella

To make the red sauce, finely dice the onions and gently fry in olive oil until soft. Add the garlic and if your basil has nice-looking stems, you can finely slice those and add them too. Add the tomato paste, canned tomatoes, herbs and sugar/vinegar/salt/pepper to taste (depends how sharp your tomatoes are). Simmer for twenty minutes until thick.

While the red sauce cooks, boil the pasta until it has just begun to soften, about 6-7 minutes. Drain and splash over some olive oil so it doesn’t stick together.

To make the white sauce, beat the egg and combine with the ricotta, cream, chopped basil and finely grated parmesan. It probably won’t need salt because the parmesan is salty, but you can add some pepper if you like.

When everything is ready, combine the pasta, red sauce and white sauce. Spoon half the pasta mixture into the bottom of a baking dish, and dot with half the mozzarella, cut into little cubes. Spoon the rest of the pasta mixture over and then top with the remaining mozzarella, the extra grated parmesan and a light sprinkling of olive oil.

Cook in a medium-high oven for about 40 minutes until crisp on top and bubbling.

Serve with a fresh green salad and some nice bread rolls, with more basil and parmesan to sprinkle over.

Homemade Pizza

Posted on June 12th, 2020 in recipes | No Comments »

Making pizza at home is one of those things I’d wanted to do for ages, and being in lockdown was the spur I needed. That and discovering the secret of no-knead pizza dough as I’m not blessed with a stand mixer nor the patience to knead bread dough for twenty minutes. Here’s what worked for me.


You will need…

  • A pizza stone or a pizza steel. This is a lump of metal or stone with the ability to absorb a lot of heat. It simulates the cooking from below that a pizza sitting on the floor of a wood burning stove would get. Some people use both in combination. A steel is more expensive, and I got a stone because I’m cheap, which is why my pizzas, although crisp on the bottom, are still very pale. Mine cost about £25.
  • A pizza peel. Don’t under-estimate the importance of this bit of kit. Transferring a pizza from the worktop to the stone/steel is very tricky without it. Mine cost about £40 and has a nifty handle which rotates under it for easy storage.
  • Some kind of blender or liquidiser for the tomato sauce.

The principle here is to let time do the work for us. So this has the benefit of requiring very little time actively spent making pizza, but you do have to plan ahead. If you’re starting this Monday morning, the earliest you’ll have pizza is Wednesday lunchtime.

Dough ingredients

Makes four small pizzas

  • 500g flour. I use strong white bread flour but you can use almost anything.
  • ¼ tsp active dry yeast (yes, that’s all you need)
  • 2 tsp fine salt
  • 350ml water

This couldn’t be easier. Put the ingredients in a bowl and stir them together. The result will look like a shaggy mess, but you don’t have to get everything incorporated. Just stir until there isn’t any dry flour left. Then cover with a tea towel and leave on the kitchen workbench for 8-24 hours. Active time spent so far: five minutes.

At the end of this time, your shaggy bowl of nonsense will have transformed into a much more homogenous, but still very sticky dough. Pizza nerds will tell you that this dough has a 70% hydration, which is another way of saying it’s very sticky. Generously flour the worksurface and your hands. Turn out the dough, ball it up, and divide it into four. Shape each quarter into a ball and put in a Tupperware container or bowl covered with clingfilm and stash in the fridge for another 8 hours or up to a week. Active time spent so far: 10-15 minutes depending on if you count cleaning the work surface, washing up the bowl etc.


During one of these intervals, you can start thinking about sauce. A few experiments taught me that I prefer a raw tomato sauce – it gets plenty of cooking on the pizza in the oven. Whole canned tomatoes have better flavour than the chopped variety but tend to be watery. I dump the can of tomatoes into a bowl, fish out the tomatoes, leaving the juice (presumably made from less good quality tomatoes), spoon them into a liquidiser and blitz them for 20 seconds or so. Even this tends to give me a sauce which is too watery, so I transfer the pulverised tomatoes into a sieve and strain off most of the water until I end up with two or three tablespoons of richly flavoursome tomato goodness. To this I add a generous pinch of salt, a slightly less generous pinch of black pepper, a half teaspoon of sugar and a whole teaspoon of oregano or dried mixed herbs. One 420g can makes about enough sauce for one pizza, but it’s as easy to do two cans at a time, and you can stash the sauce in the fridge next to the containers of dough. This all takes about another ten minutes including the washing up. With dough balls and tomato sauce in the fridge, you can have a pizza ready to eat in only about twenty minutes, with over half of that spent watching it cook in the oven.


Okay – it’s pizza day. First, put your pizza stone on the top rack of your oven and crank it up as high as it will go. With my oven, that’s 275 degrees. Leave it there for 45 minutes. Now, assemble your pizza station. I prefer my mozzarella finely chopped or grated as opposed to in big slices. About 50g per pizza. Do that first, as well as any other toppings you want.

Now, sprinkle flour and/or semolina on your pizza peel, and flour on your work surface. Plop a dough ball out on to the floured worktop and start pressing and stretching it out as thin as you can get it. Once it’s nice and thin and round(ish), quickly lift it up and drop it on the peel. Give the peel a shake to make sure it isn’t sticking. Work fast! It will stick eventually and then you are completely screwed.

Spoon on the tomato sauce and spread it almost to the edges, then any other toppings you want, then the cheese. Carry the pizza on the peel to the oven and jiggle it off onto the hot stone. Every oven is different, but I’ve settled on 12 minutes to get the crust a nice colour and all the cheese melted. It will go faster if you turn the grill on, but then there’s the risk that the underside of the crust won’t get crisp.

Grab some tongs and yank the cooked pizza off the stone onto a plate or cooling rack and now you can start work on the second pizza. Do not let a fully assembled pizza sit on the peel while the pizza ahead of it cooks. It will stick and you will have no way of removing it intact.

Here’s the result of a recent batch. Light, crispy, chewy, salty, cheesy and pretty much perfect.

Chicken Dhansak

Posted on March 13th, 2015 in recipes | No Comments »

Here’s a quick recipe for dhal which you can use to make a speedy chicken dhansak as well. The richness of the lentils creates a depth of flavour in the sauce which it’s hard to get without a lot more cooking time, but the dhal on its own is also well worth knowing about. A plate of dhal with basmati rice is a wonderfully soothing quick supper.


For the dhal

  • 250g red split lentils
  • thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • 2 fat garlic cloves
  • 1 green or red chilli
  • 500ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 tsp each ground cardamom, ground cumin, ground coriander, ground turmeric, salt, black pepper
  • 1 small can chopped tomatoes (200g)
  • 1 lime
  • vegetable oil for frying

For the chicken

  • 500g chicken breast
  • 1 medium onion
  • thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • 2 fat garlic cloves
  • 1 green or red chilli
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 tsp each ground fenugreek, ground cumin, ground coriander, ground turmeric, salt, black pepper
  • Fresh coriander to garnish
  • vegetable oil for frying


Dice the onion for the dhal and slice the onion for the dhansak.

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Finely chop the ginger and garlic, deseed and chop the chillis, measure out all the spices.

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Gently fry the diced onion in a saucepan until it starts to go transparent. Then add the garlic, chilli and ginger.

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Add the spices, stir to combine, then add the lentils.

Pour over the stock  and stir well. Simmer for 15 minutes, adding extra water if it starts to get too thick.

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While the dhal cooks, cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces.

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Fry the sliced onion in a wok, and add the ginger, garlic and chilli when it starts to go transparent.

Add the spices, stir to combine.

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Then add the chicken and keep frying until it is cooked through.

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By now, 15 minutes should be up and the lentils will have largely collapsed into a delicious mush.

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Add the juice of the lime, and the chopped tomatoes to the lentils and then pour over the chicken, and cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

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Serve with basmati rice, pita bread or naan bread, and sprinkled with fresh coriander.

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If you just want dhal, then ignore all the chicken-related stuff and just keep simmering the lentils in the saucepan for another five minutes after the lime juice and tomatoes go in. I like my dhal thick and porridge-y, but 500ml of stock is never enough, however I have to remember that extra liquid is going in shortly before the end of the cooking time, and restrain myself from adding too much extra water, especially towards the end, or the lentils end up too soup-y for my liking.

The Curry Secret

Posted on June 6th, 2014 in recipes | No Comments »

In what seems like a previous life, when I was just getting to grips with cooking for myself, not long out of university, I picked up a copy of Kris Dhillon’s The Curry Secret. The premise of this book is as follows (I paraphrase). British people like going to Indian restaurants. British home cooks like the idea of cooking Indian food at home, but a recipe book describing Indian dishes will almost certainly be describing what an Indian housewife would cook, which is not at all like what a British Indian restaurant serves. Dhillon’s book tells you how to cook British Indian Restaurant Food at home.

The key recipe in the book is Curry Sauce. Once you have a batch of this made, you can whip up an curry you like. Chicken curry? Chicken + Curry Sauce. Lamb vindaloo? Lamb + Curry Sauce + chili + potatoes. Prawn korma? Prawns + Curry sauce + almonds + cream. And so on. The curry sauce recipe is a bit daunting and it doesn’t look at all appetising until the very final stage. Decades after I bought the book, I’ve gone through the whole process and documented it for you. Quantities are deliberately vague to encourage you to buy the book.

Step 1. Cut up a shit-ton of onions.


Step 2: Cut up a load of ginger and garlic.


Step 3: Blend the ginger and garlic together with some water.


Step 4: Simmer the ginger, garlic and onion with more water and some salt for a long-ass time.



Step 5: After it has cooled, blend the simmered onion mixture. Reserve some of the sauce at this stage to cook the chicken in later.


Step 6: Blend up a can of tomatoes.



Step 7: Briefly fry tomato puree, turmeric and paprika then add the blended tomatoes and simmer.


Step 8: Add the onion mixture. Keep simmering and skim off the froth which rises to the surface every so often. Ugh.




Step 9: Your curry sauce is now ready. You may now prepare the chicken. Cut that sucker up into bite-sized pieces.


Step 10: Fry the reserved curry sauce with some turmeric until it darkens in colour.


Step 11: Add the chicken and cook throughly.


Step 12: Both curry sauce and chicken can be put in the fridge at this stage. After several hours, we are now 20 minutes away from curry o’clock.


Step 13: I made Chicken Dopiaza. Slice onions and fry ’em up.

Step 14: Add curry sauce, salt, chilli powder and chicken.


Step 15: Cook until sauce thickens. Stir in more spices.


Step 16: Serve with basmati rice and sprinkled with coriander.


The result was very authentic and absolutely delicious. Worth the time and effort? Ah, well that’s another matter.

Potato Curry

Posted on January 22nd, 2014 in recipes | No Comments »

As part of my now-annual January abstemiousness, I thought a potato curry might make a filling but low-calorie supper. Despite the fact that I was largely improvising with whatever I happened to have on hand, it came out rather well.

Sorry, the only shot I have is of the left-overs!

Sorry, the only shot I have is of the left-overs!


  • 500g new potatoes
  • Half head of cauliflower
  • One can chickpeas
  • Two medium onions
  • 100g low-fat natural yoghurt
  • 125g spinach
  • 500ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • Four cloves garlic
  • One thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • One green chilli
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp medium curry powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • Peanut oil for frying

Cut the potatoes in 2cm pieces, separate the cauliflower into florets, slice the onion and measure out the spices. Note – the spices are what I had on hand, and I’m well aware that the garam masala and curry powder contain some of the other spices, but this came out so well, I wanted to record this particular combination.

Heat the oil in a wok and gently fry the onion until soft, about 6-7 minutes. While it fries, mince the garlic, ginger and chilli, and add them to the pan once the onions soften. After about another minute, add the spices, mixing well.

Add the potatoes to the spicy onions and mix well, coating the potatoes in the spice. Then do the same with the cauliflower. Finally, add the chickpeas, including their water, and the stock and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 25 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through and the sauce has reduced and thickened.

Dollop in the yoghurt and combine. Check the seasoning.

Finally add the spinach and turn down the heat. Stir the spinach into the curry, letting the heat of the mixture cook it and wilt it down.

Serves four with rice. About 300 calories per portion (curry only).

If you want it vegetarian, use vegetable stock (I used chicken stock). If you want it vegan, omit the yoghurt. This is quite a mild curry. If you want it hotter, throw in another fresh green chili or some dried chillies along with the other spices.

Mini Christmas Dinner

Posted on December 16th, 2011 in recipes | No Comments »

Our office Christmas lunch was booked at a local restaurant and they naturally asked us whether or not we wanted the Christmas menu. Equally naturally, we said we did want the Christmas menu, but on checking in online it seemed hardly Christmassy at all. It was just a different menu.

Stung by this, I offered Deborah a mini-Christmas dinner at home, so she invited two-or-three friends round and away we went.

Now, the point of the exercise was to indulge traditions, so that means roast potatoes, carrots and sprouts are all a must. Deborah insisted on parsnips, so in they go too. But what of the centrepiece? It hardly makes sense to cook a whole turkey for 4-5 people. But equally, I didn’t fancy one of those M&S turkey crowns. I opted to buy some turkey breast portions, stuff each one and wrap it in pancetta. That meant that bacon-wrapped chipolatas seemed like overkill, but I was happy to provide regular chipolatas. The major corner I cut was the gravy. If I’d had another day, I’d have bought some chicken wings, roasted them and then made stock with onion, carrot and leek. But as it was, I just bought a tub from the supermarket.

Here’s what I did and how I did it, with rough timings. Serves 6.

Mini Christmas Dinner – individual pancetta-wrapped turkey breast fillets with chestnut stuffing, served with roast potatoes, roast parsnips, glazed carrots, chipolatas and Brussels sprouts.

5:00pm Peel 2kg potatoes and cut into chunks. Peel 1kg parsnips and cut into pieces. Peel  500g carrots and cut into batons. Top and trim 500g Brussels sprouts.

Prepping the veg

5:40pm Make the stuffing. Dice two large onions and fry gently in butter and olive oil.

Starting the stuffing

When the onion is soft, add 500g sausage meat and break up in the pan. Blitz six slices of white bread to make breadcrumbs and add to the pan. Finely chop 3-4 cloves of garlic, zest one lemon, chop 8-9 sage leaves and pull the leaves off 3-4 thyme stalks.  Add to the mixture. Roughly chop 200g vacuum-packed chestnuts and stir them in. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste and then add a beaten egg to hold it together.

The stuffing ready to go

6:20pm Put the potatoes into boiling salted water. Set a timer for twenty minutes. Turn the oven up high and divide a can of goose fat between two roasting tins. Put them in the oven.

6:30pm Prepare the turkey. Flatten each of the six breast portions by bashing it a few times with the heel of your hand. Cut a pocket in the underside. Lay three strips of pancetta on a board and put a torn sage leaf and a pinch of lemon zest in the middle. Put the turkey breast on top with the pocket uppermost and fill the pocket with a spoonful of stuffing.

Stuffing the turkey breast portions

Wrap the pancetta around the turkey and transfer to a roasting tin. Repeat for the other six. Add the zested lemon halves, sprinkle over the remaining zest and sage and drizzle with olive oil. Put the remaining stuffing in a small tray.

6:40pm Drain the potatoes and make sure they are dry. Remove the roasting tin from the oven and put it on the hob over the heat. Put the potatoes in the hot fat, turning them so every side is covered. Return the pan to the oven and finish the turkey.

Ready for the oven

7:00pm Add the parsnips to their roasting tin and again turn them to make sure every side is coated in fat.

7:20pm Put the tray of turkey breasts in the oven. Take the potato tray out and turn the potatoes. Put them back, then put the chipolatas in a roasting tray drizzled with a bit of olive oil and put them in the oven too.

7:30pm Put the sprouts into boiling water for five minutes. Check they are cooked through, drain and set aside. Put the stuffing in the oven (if you can find room).

7:40pm Pour the tub of gravy into a saucepan and when it heats up a bit, give it a taste. I added half a glass of white wine, two teaspoons of Dijon mustard and two teaspoons of cranberry jelly to mine. Put the carrots in boiling water for ten minutes with a few sprigs of thyme. Check on the chipolatas – I find that I often have to drain off some of the fat to get them to brown properly.

7:50pm Melt some butter in a wok with some olive oil. And the sprouts and stir-fry until they start to catch. Season with salt and pepper and scatter over flaked almonds.

7:55pm Drain the carrots, drizzle with honey and salt and pepper. Put the sausages in a serving bowl, drizzle with honey and scatter over torn mint leaves.

8:00pm Plate the turkey portions individually and transfer everything else to serving bowls. Tuck in!

Good enough to eat

Today’s supper: beef with broccoli, ginger and orange

Posted on June 15th, 2011 in recipes | 2 Comments »

Some stir fries end up a bit bland. Not this one!

Rump steak, 400g
4 cloves garlic
2 thumb-sized pieces of ginger
1 orange
1 onion
1 head of broccoli
1 chilli
Dark soy sauce
Sesame oil
Groundnut oil


Finely chop half the garlic, ginger and the de-seeded chilli. Zest the orange and squeeze half its juice. Combine in a shallow bowl with 2 tbsp sesame oil, 4 tbsp soy sauce and a pinch of salt and pepper to make a marinade. Thinly slice the beef (against the grain) and leave in the marinade for about half an hour.

Finely chop the onion and the rest of the garlic and ginger. Thinly slice the broccoli. Get a wok nice and hot and heat some groundnut oil. Add the onion and stir fry for about a minute. Add the onion and garlic and fry for about a minute longer – you don’t want it to colour. Add the broccoli and stir fry till cooked through.

Set the broccoli to one side and clean out the wok. Put a touch more oil in and fry the beef in two batches, brushing bits of marinade off.

Strain the reserved marinade into a small saucepan (and any from the wok) and bring to the boil. Add the juice of the rest of the orange and 2 more tbsp of soy sauce. Mix a tsp of cornflour with a little water and add to the sauce.

Clean the wok again and add both the beef and the broccoli. As the sauce thickens, taste it. If it is too tart, add a little honey. If it isn’t rich enough, add a little more soy sauce. If it isn’t sharp enough, add a little white wine vinegar.

Add the sauce to the wok and mix thoroughly to combine. Finish with a little more sesame oil.

Serve with steamed rice. If you like, garnish with sliced spring onion and / or more fresh chilli.

Sorry – no pictures this time!

Recipe time – Spanish omelette

Posted on August 1st, 2010 in recipes | 5 Comments »

I have a history of being a very picky eater. As a child, I subsisted for years on a diet of frozen French bread pizzas, sweetcorn, Birds Eye potato waffles and edam cheese. It’s a miracle I didn’t keel over from malnutrition. In adult life, I’ve attempted to conquer most of my, what food writer Jeffrey Steingarten acutely identifies as, food phobias. The big areas of difficulty remain fish, especially shellfish; milk and cream, especially in a sweet context; and eggs.

I have learned to tolerate hard-boiled eggs in something like a Cobb salad, for example, and a few years ago made the exciting discovery that fried eggs in particular are quite nice with bacon. (Really, it sounds peculiar, but you should really try it). Scrambled eggs remain utterly beyond the pale, combining as they do an unpleasantly eggy flavour with a revoltingly sloppy and slobbery texture. I have a similar aversion to porridge – and don’t get me started on custard. My wife tells me that (with a little help from St Delia) I make the best scrambled eggs in the world. I can’t say for certain – I’ve never sampled them.

On the thing which has in the past frustrated me as the chief cook in our household is my inability to stomach omelettes. Omelettes combine fast convenience with their ability to incorporate whatever you happen to have in the fridge. Like risotto, once you have mastered the basic recipe, you can fling in almost whatever you fancy. Unlike risotto, an omelette is ready in 5-10 minutes and requires very little in the way of constant stirring. Inspired by a satisfactorily overcooked and delectably rubbery omelette I ate on a plane (really!) I recently tried a gutsy Gordon Ramsay version which involved frying up bacon and tomatoes, then pouring the eggs into the same pan and adding cheese (I think parmesan) and other good things. But after half a portion, I had to surrender as the relentlessly slobbery egginess overpowered me.

The fearsomely forensic Felicity Cloake tackled the Spanish omelette in her “perfect” Guardian column this week, and her article made me think that this might be the way forward. A dinner primarily consisting of potatoes, with some bright salty flavours to cut through the relatively small amount of egg, which would a) serve merely as a cement to glue the thing together, and b) be heavily caramalised and for the most part cooked through to rubbery toothsomeness.

Luckily for you, I documented the process. I’m adding chorizo and feta to Felicity’s basic recipe, as well as taking some short cuts. This is still around 40 minutes to an hour from fridge-opening to plating up – considerably less than a French omelette – but it’s fairly relaxed, leisurely cooking for the most part. Take your time and have fun.

Onions and potatoes: I cut up a Spanish (of course) onion and gently fried it in olive oil until it was mostly transparent. While the onion cooked, I sliced up around 300g of charlotte potatoes as thin as I reasonably could (I didn’t bother to peel them, although Felicity says I should have). They went into the pan for another 10-15 minutes until they were basically cooked through, but before the onion went from brown to burnt.

Eggs: six of them, briefly beaten up with a fork and generously seasoned with salt and pepper. The onions and the potatoes join the eggs in their jug for some happy mingling while I turn my attention to the

Chorizo: I sliced up half a 225g “ring” of chorizo and briefly fried it in the same pan while I prepared the

Feta cheese and herbs. I’ve got a 200g pack here, cut into cubes, a generous pile of chopped flatleaf parsley and just a little fresh thyme.

Combine: once the chorizo is cooked, everything goes in with eggs to ensure an even distribution of ingredients.

Second pan: These then go into a smaller pan (about 25cm across) because we want a compact thick Spanish omelette, not a wide flat French one. Again, there’s a slick of olive oil in here, but we don’t want to cook the egg mixture too fast. Slide a pallet knife around the edges and when it feels like the bottom is cooked through, turn it out on to a plate and then slide it back in to the pan to cook the other side. (Some people put the whole pan in the oven or under the grill at this point instead of turning the omelette over.)

Stuck and falling apart. What you hope, if you take the turn-out-on-to-a-plate method, is that a beautifully golden-brown omelette will plop neatly out of the pan ready to be slid back in, runny-side down for a further gentle cooking. What actually happened in my case, due to the age of my pan, or lack of care, or who knows what, is that bits of the omelette stuck to the bottom of pan and had to be hacked free with a slotted spoon. This significantly impaired the aesthetic of the dish, but the taste didn’t appear to suffer.

Serve. When the other side is finally done, turn the whole thing out and cut slices to serve. The quantities given serve four as a modest main course.

The results were almost exactly as I had hoped. The omelette was very satisfyingly potatoey and the sharpness of the feta and the salty richness of the chorizo combined with the iron parsley to cut through what little eggy cement there was in a very lively way. The result was comforting, filling, fresh and none too difficult to prepare. It was also delicious cold the next day.

The only questions which remain are – what else is good to put in a Spanish omelette (red pepper, broccoli, parmesan, taleggio, gruyere, bacon – any other ideas) and is there any really difference between Spanish omelette and the Italian frittata except geographically?

UPDATED TO ADD: Tonight’s version included bacon, purple sprouting broccoli and pecorino cheese and was quite delectable. I also learned the trick of turning it out of the pan neatly.