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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.

Serves 8
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

Ingredients                        serves 6

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)
1tbspchopped 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.

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
 Seasoning

Bring the chicken stock and saffron to the boil and remove from the heat. Add the couscous and cover. Leave to cook and swell for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients and season to taste.


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