An intensely garlicky, herby anchovy dip for raw vegetables; parmesan polenta crisps with tapenade; and coconut and coffee bars
I’m a self-confessed snacker. Being around good food most of my working day has made me so, but, having always been a curious eater, I guess it all started at a very young age. Recently, however, the simple fact that my eyes are bigger than my stomach, plus the price that I pay around my waistline every time I bite into something tempting, has forced me to reconsider my snacking habits. So humour me while I engage in a bit of wishful thinking, imagining the perfect snacks, prepared with attention and much thought, and consumed only when it’s right and proper.
Green herb bagna cauda (pictured above)
Bagna cauda is an Italian dip made from anchovies, garlic and olive oil. This version includes cooked and fresh herbs, which increases its savoury intensity and vibrancy. Don’t feel as if you need to stick to the vegetables mentioned here; you can use any you have to hand to dip into the sauce, or just use some toasted pitta chips instead, if you prefer.
Prep 35 min
Cook 45 min
Serves 6 as a snack
200ml olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced (300g)
70g parsley, roughly chopped
70g coriander, roughly chopped
50g dill, roughly chopped
6 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced (75g)
½ tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp cumin seeds, roughly crushed in a mortar
15 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
12 anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained (40g)
75ml lemon juice
20g mint leaves, picked
Salt and black pepper
For the crudite (optional)
1 radicchio trevisano (or red endive), leaves separated
150g baby carrots, peeled
100g sugar snap peas, stringy bits removed
150g rainbow (or breakfast) radishes, halved
Put three tablespoons of oil in a large saute pan on a medium-high heat. Once hot, add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for 12-15 minutes, or until softened and well browned. Transfer half the onions and their oil to a bowl and return the rest to a medium heat. Stir in 50g each of the parsley and coriander, 40g of the dill and all the spring onions, and cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes, or until the mix is deeply green and fragrant, but not at all browned. Add the spices, cook for three minutes more, then turn off the heat and leave to cool.
Meanwhile, put the garlic and remaining 155ml oil in a small saucepan, for which you have a lid. Cover, put on a medium-low heat and leave to cook for 10 minutes, stirring once halfway, until the garlic has started to soften. Add the anchovies, replace the lid, cook for another 10 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave to cool.
Put the herb and garlic mixtures in a food processor with the lemon juice, mint, remaining parsley, coriander and dill, a quarter-teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper, and blitz smooth. Transfer to a bowl, top with the reserved browned onions and stir them through a little. Put the bowl on a board or slateand arrange the prepared crudites all around it. Finally, drizzle a little oil all over the crudites, season lightly and serve.
Parmesan polenta crisps with olive tapenade
Make these crisps your own by using any mature cheese you have around instead of the parmesan, and adding your favourite dried herbs or spices. If you want to save time, buy a good commercial brand of tapenade instead of making your own; a quick pesto or chilli sauce would also work as an alternative.
Prep 20 min
Cook 55 min
Cool 35 min
Serves 4 as a snack
¾ tsp chilli flakes (optional)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and black pepper
150g quick-cook polenta
80g parmesan, finely grated
For the tapenade
75g pitted kalamata olives
1½ tbsp capers
½ small shallot, peeled and roughly chopped (30g)
1 lemon – juiced, to get 1 tbsp, and zest finely grated, to get 1½ tsp2-3 tbsp (10g) parsley, roughly chopped
1½ tsp cumin seeds, toasted and roughly crushed in a mortar
60ml olive oil
Cut out two roughly 40cm x 30cm pieces of greaseproof paper and lay them flat on a work surface.
Put the water, chilli (if using), garlic, a tablespoon of oil and a teaspoon of salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium-low and slowly pour in the polenta, whisking constantly to avoid any lumps. Cook for about two minutes, or until the polenta starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, then add the cheese and cook, stirring continuously, for a minute more, until nicely melted into the polenta.
Working quickly now, pour the polenta on to the centre of one of the pieces of greaseproof paper and top with the other piece. Use a rolling pin to roll and spread out the polenta evenly, until it’s about ½cm thick, then leave to cool completely and firm up – about 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 220C (200C fan)/425F/gas 7. Peel away the top sheet of greaseproof paper and brush the exposed polenta with another tablespoon of oil. Use a sharp knife to cut the polenta into uneven squares of about 3cm x 3cm in size (mismatched shapes add to the charm of the finished dish). Spread the polenta squares over two large oven trays lined with baking paper, then bake for 20 minutes. Swap the trays around in the oven, bake for 15-20 minutes more, or until lightly golden, then remove and leave to cool for about five minutes.
Meanwhile, put all the tapenade ingredients bar a tablespoon of the oil in a food processor, season with plenty of pepper and pulse to a rough paste. Transfer to a bowl and spoon over the reserved tablespoon of oil.
Pile the polenta crisps on to a shallow plate, and serve with the tapenade alongside, for scooping.
Coconut and coffee bars
These are a perfect midday treat to serve with coffee. Mix things up a bit by using milk or white chocolate, or keep them vegan by using a non-dairy dark chocolate.
Prep 10 min
Cook 45 min
Chill 3 hr 50 min
Makes 24 bars
240g coconut cream
160g soft light brown sugar
300g plain coconut flakes (ie, coconut chips)
1½ tsp instant coffee powder
½ tsp vanilla bean paste, or vanilla extract
½ tsp flaked sea salt
200g dark chocolate, melted
Heat the oven to 190C (170C fan)/375F/gas 5, and grease and line a 32cm x 22cm baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Put the coconut cream and 140g sugar in a medium saucepan on a medium heat and cook, stirring, for two to three minutes, until the sugar melts.
Stir in the coconut flakes, coffee powder, vanilla bean paste and salt until fully combined and the flakes are completely coated, then immediately transfer to the prepared tray and press down all over to create an even layer. Sprinkle the surface with the remaining 20g sugar, then bake for 35 minutes, turning the tray once halfway, until the surface is crisp and well browned. Remove, leave to cool, then refrigerate for at least three hours to set completely (or overnight, if you fancy getting ahead).
Once set, transfer the coconut slab to a board and discard the paper lining. With a large, sharp knife, cut it into 24 rectangles – don’t worry if some break a little: it adds to the rustic look.
Line a large tray with greaseproof paper and have ready a bowl with the melted chocolate. Dip one bar halfway into the chocolate, so half of it is coated, then lay on the lined tray while you repeat with the remaining bars. Transfer to the fridge for at least 40 minutes, to set, and serve from cold.