Margherita pizza

At its best, pizza is a wondrously simple combination of soft dough with a crispy base and a sparse scattering of choice toppings. No one component overpowers any other: it is a beautiful example of synergetic cooking. If there were a hall of fame for food the margherita pizza would be a certainty for inclusion.

This recipe is incredibly simple. It includes 00 flour but if you really can’t find it then use strong bread flour, although you may need to use a little more or reduce the amount of liquid.To make the dough, tip the yeast and sugar into a jug and pour over the warm water using a spoon to mix thoroughly. Pour in the olive oil and give the mixture one final stir.

Pour the yeast mixture into the flour and begin to mix the ingredients together with a wooden spoon. When you can’t mix with the spoon any more, tip the ingredients on to a clean surface and knead the dough for 5 minutes, by which time it should be satisfyingly pliable and have a lustrous sheen.

Lightly oil a clean bowl, form the dough into a ball and place in the bowl. Cover with a greased piece of clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place for a minimum of 1½ hours.

If pushed for time, spooning shop-bought passata onto a pizza base will do the trick. However, this tomato sauce is well worth making and, once it’s cooking, can happily bubble away while the pizza dough is proving. Double up the recipe and freeze half for future pizza evenings or defrost and use for a simple base of pasta and sauce.

Heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium-high heat. When hot add the onion and fry, stirring regularly, for 4 minutes, by which time the onion will have softened and taken on a little colour. Add the garlic and continue to stir and fry for a further minute.

Add the tomato puree and mix thoroughly. Fry the mixture for 1 minute, stirring almost constantly to stop the puree from burning. Pour in the vinegar and let it bubble away to almost nothing before tipping in the tin of tomatoes.

Pour in enough water to fill the emptied tomato tin half way and use the water to swill the remaining tomato from the tin before adding it to the bubbling sauce. Add the sugar along with a generous amount of salt and pepper and stir. Bring the sauce to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce will have thickened to a satisfying consistency. Use the sauce like this or blitz it until smooth to make a slightly more refined sauce.

To make the pizza, preheat the oven to 230C fan/gas mark 9. Place a thick, flat baking tray in the oven and leave it to heat for at least 20 minutes.

Generously dust a clean surface with flour. Tip the risen dough out onto the floured surface and knock the air out by kneading it for a couple of minutes. Divide the dough into four.

Take one portion of the dough and roll it out to a diameter of about 30cm, roughly the thickness of a pound coin. Do not be too concerned about making a perfect circle. I very rarely do and, as long as the dough is roughly the same thickness all over, it won’t make a difference to the taste or texture.

When happy with the shape, dust a tray or chopping board with the polenta. Carefully lay the rolled dough out on the polenta, gently pushing the dough back into shape with your fingers.

Spoon a couple of tablespoons of the tomato sauce onto the pizza base and spread it all over using the back of the spoon, leaving 1cm border round the edge. Tear chunks of the mozzarella and dot them all over the tomato, then scatter over some of the basil leaves and season with salt and pepper.

The next bit needs to be done as quickly as possible. Ensure that the pizza is free to move around on the polenta-dusted surface. When happy the pizza will slide, quickly remove the preheated tray from the oven and slip the prepared pizza straight onto it.

Place the tray back in the oven and bake for 12 minutes, by which time the cheese will have melted, and the dough will have bubbled up a little on top and turned crisp on the base.

At this point start preparing the next pizza by rolling out a second ball of dough on a polenta-dusted surface, and topping with tomato sauce and mozzarella.

When baked, remove the pizza from the oven and slide it onto a board. Top the cooked pizza with more basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil and serve immediately or wait until the rest of the pizzas are made and serve all at once.

Chicken chow mein

There was a time when fresh egg noodles were the provenance of specialist stores, however they can now be found in the fridge compartment of most supermarkets. If your supermarket hasn’t quite caught up then use the dried version, following the package instructions for rehydrating. Use this recipe as a template; it works just as well with pork or prawns as it does with chicken. Also feel free to add other vegetables, such as peppers, green beans or pak choi.

Place the chicken breasts in a small bowl and pour in 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce, mix and leave to sit for 5 minutes.

When ready to cook, heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok over a high heat. When hot add the garlic, red onion and ginger. Fry for 2 minutes, stirring almost constantly.Add the chicken slices, pouring in any of the soy sauce that is in the bowl too. Continue to fry, stirring regularly for 3-4 minutes. Tip in the mangetout and stir-fry for a further minute before adding the egg noodles. Mix everything together: it may be useful to use a combination of two wooden spoons for this. Pour in the rice wine and let it bubble up and steam, until it almost completely evaporates. Mix again using the two wooden spoons, then remove the pan from the heat and stir in the remaining soy sauce and the sesame oil.

Chicken tikka masala

Tikka masala is a ubiquitous dish, so much so that nobody is quite sure where the concept and recipe originated. Whether it was India or the UK, there’s no denying that it is a delicious curry.

Place the yogurt in a large bowl along with half the ground spices and half the garlic and ginger. Add a generous pinch of salt and grind of pepper. Mix well with a spoon until you reach a smooth consistency.

Add the chicken pieces to the marinade coating them well, then cover and leave in the fridge to marinate for a minimum of 4 hours but preferably overnight.

When ready to cook, heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the pureed onion to the oil along with a large pinch of salt. Leave to cook, stirring regularly for 12-15 minutes, by which time the onions should have taken on some colour and become very soft. Add the cloves and the remaining ground spices, garlic and ginger. Continue to fry for a further 2 minutes, stirring almost constantly.

Add the tomato puree and cook for a further 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Increase the heat and add the tinned tomatoes and marinated chicken. Stir all the ingredients while bringing them to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10-12 minutes, until the chicken is fully cooked through. If unsure, pick out the thickest piece and cut it open to check. It’s cooked when the flesh is white throughout.

Stir in the double cream for a little luxury before serving topped with the toasted almonds and chopped coriander.

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