|A French term referring
to a light alcoholic drink taken before a meal. Ideally an aperitif should
stimulate the appetite and tantalise the palate, preparing it for greater
things to come. The French often enjoy a glass of pastis before a meal.
Other popular aperitifs include drinks
based on wine (for example, vermouth) or alcohol (for example, anise,
bitters) and certain spirits and liqueurs. Arak (an aniseed-flavoured clear
spirit) is drunk as an aperitif in some Arabic countries, ouzo in Greece and
a glass of fino or manzanilla sherry in Spain.
bitter things' in Italian, amaretti are small
macaroons. Some are
made using ground sweet and bitter almonds, baked with egg and sugar, others
from ground apricot kernels. They're light and airy, crunchy on the outside
and chewy in the middle.
Serve them as an after-dinner treat with sweet wine or
liqueurs. They can be used instead of sponge fingers in trifles and
tiramisu, or ground
up and used in cakes and desserts. Amarettini are the mini version. For an
easy dessert, sandwich them together with buttercream, or serve a large
plateful alongside your favourite ice cream so guests can just dip in.
||An Italian word,
meaning ‘before the meal’, these delicious plates of hot and cold starters
are the equivalent of French hors d'oeuvres. A mixture of antipasti could
include platters of cheeses, smoked meats,
olives, a selection
of seafood, marinated vegetables and various breads with
olive oil for
dipping. Although it's all too easy to eat for Italy, they're dishes
intended to whet the appetite, not to sate it!
|A versatile and
widely used aromatic herb. There are numerous species of basil; some have
scents reminiscent of pineapple,
cloves; others have
beautiful purple leaves. The plant grows well in warm climates and is widely
used throughout southern Europe, particularly the Mediterranean, and in many
parts of Asia.
variety called holy basil (tulsi) is an essential part of an authentic Thai
Mediterranean regions, basil and tomato are a classic combination. Pesto,
made from basil leaves and
pine nuts, with
parmesan or pecorino
(traditionally pounded together in a mortar and pestle) is another classic
||A dark-brown syrupy
vinegar with a smooth sweet-sour flavour, produced in the Modena region of
Italy. It's made from reduced grape juice that's aged in wooden casks. The
best quality balsamic vinegar can be more than 100 years old but is more
commonly sold at three to four years of age.
True balsamic vinegars are very expensive but have an
exceptional flavour. Balsamic vinegars made on a commercial basis are less
pricey (although still fairly expensive) but luckily a little goes along
way. Use with a dash of
olive oil for a
subtle salad dressing or add a few drops to meaty stews, when frying steak
or chops or in
Alternatively, lightly sprinkle sliced strawberries with it. It really
brings out the flavour of the fruit.
||The aromatic leaf
from the bay laurel tree, it is an essential component of the classic
thyme and a bay leaf.
It's one of the few herbs that doesn't lose its flavour when dried. Although
fresh leaves are becoming more widely available, they're usually sold dried.
The dried bay leaves are more
strongly flavoured than fresh ones, but the uses for both are the same. The
bittersweet, spicy leaves impart their pungent flavour to a variety of
dishes and ingredients, making bay a versatile store-cupboard ingredient.
Bay leaves can be used to flavour vinegars, in pickling and in
marinades or to
||A cut of beef taken from
just below the shoulder along the length of the chest/breast. It's a fairly
firm cut, so it's inexpensive, and benefits from long, slow cooking. Sold on
the bone, or boned and rolled, it's often cooked in one piece. Delicious
pot-roasted, poached or braised and used in casseroles or stews.
often known simply as ragù, is the all-purpose thick Italian sauce made from
minced beef and tomatoes. It can form the basis of
lasagne or be served
with spaghetti. Slow cooking is the key, until the sauce has reduced to a
thick, mahogany richness.
||A pizza that's folded in
half and baked so that the filling is enclosed completely - similar to a
Cornish pasty or turnover. Calzones are usually made as a single serving.
It's popular street food in Italy, particularly in Naples where pizza is
said to have originated. People fold them in quarters and eat them with
their hands while they're on the go.
||The term 'canapé' means
sofa or settee in French - so traditionally canapés were little platforms of
pastry or buttered, fried or toasted bread for tasty things to sit on. It
now encompasses all kinds of bite-sized appetizers that can be eaten with
the fingers, leaving the other hand free to hold a drink.
||The pickled flower
buds of the caper bush, which grows wild all over the Mediterranean. Fresh
capers are picked and immediately preserved in brine or wine vinegar, or are
salt (these should be
rinsed before use to remove any excess salt). Their tangy, bitter flavour
adds piquancy to many sauces and condiments, such as
tartare sauce, and
they're a good match for fish. They can be used as a garnish for meat and
vegetable dishes and in
Caperberries are well developed capers, slightly larger and a little
sweeter. They're often sold with the stalk left on and can be used in the
same way as capers.
||A thick, chunky seafood
soup from North America, of which clam chowder is the best known. The word
chowder comes from the French 'chaudière' - a heavy, three-legged iron
cauldron in which fishermen made stews fresh from their day's catch. Chowder
is believed to have originated in French Canada and made its way down the
coast to New England.
||This warm, sweet spice
comes from the bark of a tree native to Sri Lanka. The bark is removed,
dried and rolled up to make a tube. Cinnamon is sold dry as sticks and as a
powder. You can try to grind your own cinnamon from the bark but it's
difficult to get it fine enough. It's best to buy ground cinnamon in small
quantities because the freshness and flavour quickly disappear. The warm,
sweet flavour of cinnamon is an essential ingredient in many sweet dishes,
but it's also used in savoury dishes. It's gorgeous in baked goods, used to
flavour buns, cakes, sweet pastries and puddings. Baked apples or apple pies
wouldn't be the same without the flavour of cinnamon.
||Thick, rich and
indulgent with the consistency of soft butter, clotted cream is made by
heating normal cream to evaporate some of the liquids. It has at least 55
per cent butter fat giving it a pale yellow colour, often topped with a
deeper yellow crust. It's traditionally made in Devon and Cornwall and
scones or desserts or
made into ice cream. If you buy an ice cream in Devon or Cornwall it's usual
for your ice cream to be topped off with a spoonful of clotted cream.
||Cloves are the
dried flower buds of an evergreen tree native to eastern Indonesia. It's a
versatile spice that can be used in drinks and in sweet and savoury dishes.
The pungent, sweet flavour of the clove lends itself perfectly to meats such
as beef or venison, as well as fruits such as apples, oranges and plums and
to pickled vegetables. Spike an onion with cloves and place it into a meat
stew or casserole, add a few cloves to chilli con carne, spice up boiled
rice or pop a clove into a
bouquet garni. When
baking a ham, spike the boiled ham with cloves so that the flavour permeates
the meat during baking. Apples and cloves are a perfect combination and
cloves are also an essential ingredient of mulled wine or warm punches.
covered with a hard caramel glaze. The glaze should be just thick enough so
it gives a lovely crackle and shatters when gently tapped with a spoon. To
produce the perfect golden-brown crust it helps to have a blow torch, but a
very hot preheated grill will do a pretty good job. A good tip is to make
the custard ahead of time and keep it well chilled, then sprinkle with sugar
just before you put it under the grill. This will prevent the sugar from
sinking into the warm custard and resulting in a poor glaze.
pancake, served with
sweet or savoury fillings or toppings. The best known is crêpes Suzette,
which are crêpes served with a sauce made from fresh orange juice, orange
zest, sugar, butter and Grand Marnier, flamed at the table before serving.
If you invest in a proper crêpe pan it
can make life easier - it's a short-sided frying pan about 20cm/8in across.
The non-stick versions are best.
Crêpes can be served as soon as
they're made but they can be pre-made. Layer each crêpe between a sheet of
greaseproof paper then wrap them in cling film and either store them in the
fridge for use the next day. They freeze well, too, for up to a month.
||Small cubes of
bread that have been fried and then drained and cooled. As they cool, they
develop a crisp texture and are used as a garnish for soups or in salads
such as Caesar salad or fattoush. In salads, add them at the last minute to
prevent them from going soggy, and leave them out if the salad is served
with a starchy meal such as
pasta, potatoes or
rice. They can also be used for stuffings.
||The collective term for
an array of little dishes eaten mainly by southern and Hong Kong Chinese and
served in tea houses and restaurants all day long. It's sometimes called
'yum cha' after the Chinese tradition of taking tea, and tea is the drink
usually served with dim sum.
Sometimes served from trolleys that are wheeled around the dining room, dim
sum comprises a variety of small steamed or deep-fried dumplings with
different fillings, but also other tasty morsels such as steamed spare ribs,
rice in lotus leaves, stuffed peppers, fried whole prawns and steamed or
fried meat or vegetable buns.
||Cows' milk contains
butterfat which is removed from milk using a centrifuge system. The longer
the milk is centrifuged, the thicker the cream becomes.
Double cream is very rich, with a fat
content of 48 per cent, making it the most versatile cream because it
withstands boiling, whips and freezes well. Take care not to whip it too
much though, because it goes grainy and separates. And if you keep whipping
you'll end up with butter! It will keep for up to five days in the fridge.
Serve it with desserts for
pouring or spooning over fruit salad, cake or puddings, or use it as the
basis for desserts - whipped up in a trifle, on top of a pavlova, mousse,
crème brûlée, soufflé
||A thin slice of boneless
meat, often beaten even thinner for quick cooking. It's cut from the leaner
parts of certain animals, in particular veal, pork and turkey. It can also
be used to refer to thick slices of fish with a strip of skin on one side.
The classic method of preparing veal escalopes is to coat them with
breadcrumbs before frying them.
||A popular Middle
Eastern street food made of spiced
often served in warm
pitta bread with
tahini sauce. It's often served as part of a selection of hot meze dishes.
||A creamy white Greek
cheese traditionally made from ewes' milk or ewes' and goats' milk mixed
together (but now sometimes made using cows' milk) and preserved in brine or
oil. It has quite a salty flavour but it shouldn't be so salty that it
detracts from the flavour of the cheese. If you want to remove some of the
saltiness, just soak the cheese in milk or water for a couple of minutes.
In Greek cooking feta is used mostly for
gratins and pastries and, of course, the classic Greek salad. It holds its
shape quite well so can be carefully skewered and grilled or barbecued. Cut
it in cubes and serve as a snack with olives and crusty bread. You can buy
feta pre-packed in most supermarkets or it's available ready-cubed in jars
of oil, often flavoured with herbs.
pasta, similar to
tagliatelle. A very
good pasta to serve with oil or butter-based sauces because the sauce goes a
long way to coat the pasta evenly and also helps to prevent the strands of
pasta from clumping together.
||The term used to describe
a boneless, lean cut of meat, fish or poultry. Fillet of beef is a prime cut
and different parts of it are called different names depending on which part
of the fillet they're cut from, including filet mignon, tournedos and
châteaubriand. You also 'fillet' a fish to remove the bones.
||An open pie with a
pastry base containing a sweet or savoury filling in a custard of eggs and
cream. Spinach flan or leek and bacon flan are examples. In Spain and Latin
America 'flan' is used to refer to the egg
custard dessert that
we know as crème caramel.
for ‘fat liver’, this term refers to the rich
pâté made from the
liver of ducks and geese that have been force-fed and fattened until their
livers become enlarged.
The south-west of France is the major foie gras
producing area and the method of production isn't practised in Britain.
After preparation, the livers are soaked overnight before being
marinated in Armagnac,
port or Madeira, depending on the chef's recipe.
Foie gras is sold fresh or
cooked. For cooked foie gras, the livers are baked in a
bain-marie and then
chilled. It's a great French delicacy, and very expensive. Foie gras has a
rich flavour and the texture is silky smooth. It's usually served in thin
slices at the start of a meal with a sweet wine. It has become more widely
available to buy in recent years - fresh or mi-cuit (partially preserved)
and in cans.
As it's such a luxury it's best
eaten simply, just spread on toasted
brioche. Small slices
can be fried and used to top meat or fish dishes.
||A glorious Swiss dish of
melted cheese and wine served at the table in a large pot (also called a
fondue) set over a burner to keep the cheese warm. Each person spears
bite-size pieces of bread with a long-handled fork and dips it into the
melted cheese. It's a dish associated with ski chalet cuisine - perfect for
eating when you get back tired and weary from the slopes!
Classic dinner party fare during
the 1950s and 1960s, it's now enjoying something of a revival. The classic
cheeses to use are gruyère and emmental flavoured with kirsch or white wine
- the alcohol keeps the cheese below boiling point so it can be heated
without going stringy. It’s best to stir the fondue occasionally as you eat
so the cheese and wine don’t separate. Rubbing
garlic around the pot
adds a hint of flavour.
Other types of fondue include fondue
bourguignon in which cubes of beef are dipped in hot oil at the table until
cooked, and then eaten with dips and sauces; and chocolate fondue served
with fresh fruit and biscuits for dipping. If you do a lot of entertaining
it might be worth investing in a fondue set which includes the pot, stand,
burner and forks.
||A very popular
semi-soft Italian cows'-milk cheese, fontina is deep golden yellow in colour
with a reddish brown rind. It has a firm, slightly springy texture and melts
easily, so is great to cook with. It has a delicate flavour and makes a good
dessert cheese. When fully matured, it can be grated and used like
||Also known as
vinaigrette (French for 'little vinegar') this is a fairly thick salad
dressing made from a mixture of
olive oil, wine
vinegar (red, white or balsamic) and
pepper to which
various flavourings can be added such as herbs,
The standard ratio is three parts oil to
one part vinegar but it's best to experiment until you find a combination
Drizzle it over raw or warm
salads, or salad starters such as
avocado halves or
pan-fried asparagus. There are plenty of ready-made bottled versions to try,
but it's very quick and easy to make - just put all the ingredients in a jar
and shake well.
||A product derived from
the bones of animals, and used as a setting agent for sweet or savoury
jellies and pudding fillings. Gelatine comes in powder form or in leaves and
is sprinkled over cold water and left to soak and swell before being stirred
into hot liquid to dissolve.
Leaf gelatine is soaked in a
little cold liquid for a few minutes to soften it, then the excess liquid is
squeezed out before adding hot liquid to dissolve it.
Agar-agar is the
||A gratin is any dish
that's topped with cheese or breadcrumbs mixed with knobs of butter, then
heated in the oven or under the grill until brown and crisp. The terms 'au
gratin' or 'gratinée' refer to any dish prepared in this way. Special round
or oval gratin pans and dishes are ovenproof and shallow, which increases a
dish's surface area, thereby ensuring a larger crispy portion for each
'gravy' meant simply the naturally concentrated juices that come from meat
as it roasts. The juices can also be combined with a liquid such as chicken
stock, wine or milk
and thickened with
cornflour or some
other thickening agent to make a thicker, more sauce-like gravy.
Although it frightens a lot of people,
making gravy just needs a little practice to get right. Simply add enough
flour to the fat and juices in the roasting pan and stir over the heat until
the flour has browned and you've scraped any sediment loose. Add up to 570ml
(1 pint) of stock and, using a balloon whisk, stir until boiling. Season to
taste and simmer for a couple of minutes.
||A Mexican dish of
avocado mixed with
lemon or lime juice
and various seasonings (usually
chilli powder and red
pepper). Sometimes finely chopped tomato, onion and
coriander leaf are
added. You can make it as chunky or as smooth as you like.
Guacamole can be used as a dip, sauce,
topping or side dish. It's delicious as a topping for burgers or jacket
potatoes and is usually served as an accompaniment to fajitas, along with
If you're making it in advance, cover
well with cling film because avocado goes brown quite quickly once it’s
exposed to the air.
||By far the largest
of all flatfish, halibut is available mostly in steaks,
fillets and cutlets.
Its firm, meaty white flesh has a delicious flavour but, as it can dry out
quite easily, it needs careful cooking and is probably best prepared with
plenty of liquid, such as melted butter or
olive oil for
basting, and served with a sauce. Allow a 200g fillet or steak per person.
If you can't find halibut then
turbot is a suitable
substitute. Cook until the flesh has turned opaque and is just starting to
||A Middle Eastern
chickpea purée made
from cooked crushed chickpeas flavoured with tahini (pounded sesame seeds),
lemon juice. As part
of Arabic mezze it's served as a dip with hot
In Egypt hummus is often flavoured
cumin. If you’ve got
a blender or food processor then it’s very quick and easy to make your own
hummus - use dried, soaked chickpeas rather than canned for a better flavour.
||A coffee drink made from
strong black coffee, sugar and Irish whiskey, topped with fresh whipped
cream and sometimes garnished with a coffee bean. It's served in a warmed
Irish coffee glass - a tall glass with a handle.
||A spicy Cajun rice
dish popular throughout the American south but most often attributed to the
cooking of New Orleans. There are lots of variations but essentially it's
made with rice, ham or sausage, chicken, prawns,
and other vegetables.
||A kebab is
essentially small chunks of meat threaded onto a skewer and grilled or
cooked over coals. Kebabs can be served on their own with dips or sauces,
with rice, or removed from the skewer and used to stuff an open
Kebabs are part of the culinary tradition
of the Caucasus, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and other parts of
Asia, as well as numerous other cuisines. Vegetables can be used instead of
or as well as meat. Kebabs are particularly good for barbecuing because you
can satisfy all kinds of tastes on a single skewer - from veggie kebabs to
chicken, lamb, beef or fruit.
A kofta kebab is made using
flavoured, minced meat that is formed in a long sausage shape around the
skewer. A doner kebab is thin slices of
marinated lamb packed
tightly onto a revolving vertical spit to form a solid mass from which
slices of meat are cut off the outside as it browns and used to fill an open
pitta bread along with salad and hot sauce.
||An alternative name
(because of its appearance) for
okra, an ingredient
that's widely used in Indian, Middle Eastern, Caribbean and southern US
cookery where it's an essential ingredient in
A long green pod with a slightly fuzzy
skin, it's full of edible creamy seeds. Okra exudes a glutinous juice in
cooking which thickens stews and braised dishes. It's not as popular in the
UK as elsewhere but is usually available in supermarkets and grocers. Choose
stems that snap cleanly and don't bend.
Okra can be eaten raw in salads
or cooked with
curries or vegetable
stews - add a handful of chopped okra to a
pasta, about the size
of a standard envelope. The baked dish that incorporates them is also called
lasagne and is usually prepared with alternate layers of
lasagne sheets and
topped with grated
Parmesan cheese and
baked in the oven until browned.
Lasagne can be made with many different fillings, such
as roasted vegetables, spinach,
aubergine, fish or
chicken. A simple tomato sauce could be used in place of
béchamel or different
cheeses can be grated on top.
There are various types of
lasagne sheets to choose from - the simplest is made from durum wheat
semolina and water.
Lasagne all'uovo is made with
eggs and is slightly
ridged. Lasagne verde is made with spinach and is dark green in colour.
Lasagne sheets are available fresh, semi-fresh or dried and some need to be
pre-cooked in boiling water for a few minutes before baking, so it's best to
follow the packet instructions to get it right.
pasta. It's best
served with a medium-thick sauce which will cling to the thin strands well.
Cream-based sauces go well with linguine and it's often served with seafood.
Allow about 75g/2½oz of pasta a person. Use spaghetti if you can't find
linguine, although it's available from most supermarkets either fresh or
||A small light
biscuit, crunchy outside and soft inside, made with ground
almonds, sugar and
egg whites. Macaroons are sometimes flavoured with additional ingredients
such as coffee, chocolate, nuts or fruit. They're particularly good made
with freshly ground blanched almonds. Ratafia biscuits are tiny macaroons
sponge cakes traditionally baked in scallop-shaped Madeleine moulds. They're
made with sugar,
flour, melted butter
eggs, often flavoured
almonds. The English
version is often baked in
dariole moulds and
topped with jam, desiccated coconut or icing sugar.
||Margarine was invented in
the 1860s by a French chemist as a cheap replacement for butter. Nowadays
it's bought as a product in its own right, frequently in the belief that
it's a healthier option than butter. All margarine contains as much fat as
butter, but some are lower in cholesterol and saturated fats.
However, the health benefits of many of
these types of spreads has been called into question in recent years because
most of them are made with hydrogenated (chemically hardened) vegetable oils
and this process is believed to convert the polyunsaturated fat into
trans-fats which have a negative effect on cholesterol and are now thought
to be linked with heart disease even more than saturated fat.
Aside from this, margarine is a
highly processed food made by combining water and vegetable oils and usually
containing emulsifiers, preservatives, additives, artificial colourings and
There are many types available using
different fats and with differing flavours and uses. Some are purely
vegetable-based, containing no animal products at all, and are labelled
dairy-free or vegan. Others contain a mixture of animal and vegetable fats.
Some are designed for spreading, and others are hard and designed for baking
so always read the packaging before cooking with margarine.
||A thick, creamy, soft
Italian cheese with a high fat content (40 per cent). It can be used in
savoury and sweet dishes. It's good for stirring through savoury sauces to
thicken and add a distinct rich flavour.
Serve it with fresh fruit, use it in
cheesecakes, as a cake filling, or as a topping for desserts.
Mascarpone is an essential
ingredient in the Italian coffee trifle
tiramisu. It can be
flavoured with various ingredients such as
lime juice and
zest, crushed nuts or
dried fruits to add taste and texture.
||A thick Italian
soup containing a mixture of vegetables,
pasta or rice. The
name derives from the Italian word 'minestra' meaning thick soup. Made in
the Italian way there should be just enough
stock to float the
mixture of vegetables and pasta.
||A thin savory sauce made
from chopped mint, vinegar and sugar, traditionally served in England as an
accompaniment to roast lamb.
||An additive made from
sodium salt crystals and used to enhance the flavour of food, especially in
oriental cuisine. MSG is much used by commercial manufacturers of foods,
particularly in soups and sauces.
It has a unique taste that doesn't fit
into the existing categories of sweet, sour, bitter and salty and has been
Some people have reactions to MSG that
cause them to suffer from a variety of symptoms, including dizziness,
headache, flushing and burning sensations. This has caused many food writers
to advise against adding it to food and in some countries it's banned as an
additive in baby food.
||An Italian fresh or
unripened cheese traditionally made from water buffalo's milk (Mozzarella di
Bufala) around the Naples area.
Mozzarella is now also made predominantly from cows' milk and is made all
over Italy as well as in other countries, including the UK (where some
producers are making mozzarella from water buffalo milk). It's a firm but
creamy cheese that tastes like fresh milk with a slightly sour edge to it.
It melts well and has a unique stretchiness, making it the classic pizza
It's too soft to grate but cut
thin slices and layer them in pasta bakes or put a slice on top of pieces of
meat or chicken before grilling them. Italy's classic salad - insalata
Caprese - is made with slices of mozzarella and ripe tomatoes drizzled with
olive oil and
scattered with torn
basil leaves and a
Mozzarella is sold in rounds about the
size of a small fist. Because it has no rind it's packed in plastic bags,
surrounded by water to keep it fresh. You're more likely to find buffalo
mozzarella from good delis or cheese shops and also look out for small
mozzarella balls called 'bocconcini' which are sold in tubs.
||A type of
pasta made with
flour and water and
eggs, cut into thin
strips. The strands come in numerous shapes and sizes and can be fresh or
dried. Noodles are used extensively in Far Eastern cuisine to accompany
soups, sauces and stir-fried dishes.
Noodles are made from flour that is the staple food of
the area, so they can be made from wheat flour, mung bean flour,
potato flour or
Chinese egg noodles, made with wheat
flour, can be used in soups, stir-fries or in sauces for dishes using
shredded meats, prawns or vegetables. Mung bean flour is used to make thin
bean cellophane noodles which can be served as a noodle dish with a sauce or
served with rice.
Rice noodles are used in soups or in
meat and vegetable sauce dishes. They're perfect store cupboard ingredients
- quick to cook and very versatile.
||Nutmeg is a spice
from the nutmeg tree, which is native to several Indonesian islands. Both
mace come from the
same plant. Nutmeg is the 'nut', while mace is the surrounding lacy 'aril'.
Nutmeg has a warm, spicy aroma and flavour and can be used in sweet and
savoury cooking. It's a component of the classic
béchamel sauce and is
used to flavour a host of cakes, puddings and
custards. Buy nutmeg
whole and grate it as you need it. Avoid using ready-ground nutmeg, which
quickly loses its flavour.
||The small oval fruit of
the olive tree, widely cultivated in Mediterranean countries such as Spain,
Italy, France and Greece.
are harvested and preserved in oil or brine at various stages of their
development. The early olives are green, while the later, more mature olives
are black but there are hundreds of varieties and more shades of colour in
They all taste very different;
black olives tend to have a more intense flavour. Kalamata olives are rich
purple, almond-shaped olives grown in southern Greece; Spanish green olives
have a milder flavour but because of their large size, they're often stuffed
Experiment with different
varieties until you find a favourite. The fleshy pulp of the fruit is also
the source of
olive oil. The whole
fruit is available in a variety of guises: flavoured, stuffed, stoned or
with stones, in oil or in brine, sliced or whole. They’re used a great deal
in Mediterranean cuisine, as hors d'oeuvres, in salads, stuffings, sauces or
dips such as
tapenade and as an
ingredient in main dishes.
olives, this is a
rich, fruity oil used for
baking and shallow frying. Hundreds of varieties of olive are used to make
olive oil so the range available is huge, varying in colour, flavour, aroma
Produced mainly in France, Spain, Italy and Greece, olive oil is similar to
wine in that it varies with the climate, country, area of origin and
seasonal factors. The oil from the first pressing is pure, pale
greenish-yellow in colour and is the best quality. This is sold as 'extra
virgin' olive oil and is best used for salads, marinades and
The pulp is then pressed again
to yield a darker oil that is less flavoursome than the first pressing and
sold just as 'olive oil' or 'pure olive oil'. Olive oil has many
health-promoting properties because it's relatively high in monounsaturates.
Picking up on this fact, food manufacturers have turned to making spreads
containing up to 20 per cent olive oil.
Olive oil can be bought with
additions such as herbs,
chilli. Store it in a
cool dark place away from direct sunlight but not in the fridge or it will
||A pungent green
culinary herb with a great affinity for a variety of foods, from lamb to
vegetables, stuffings and
egg dishes. There are
many species and varieties of the genus Origanum, each with quite different
characteristics and flavours.
Oregano is closely related to marjoram.
It grows wild in many parts of southern Europe and the Mediterranean and
some parts of Asia. It's characteristic of many Greek dishes (particularly
lamb) and in the UK is often sprinkled liberally on pizzas.
Oregano grows easily in well
protected areas in the UK. Because of its high oil content, it retains its
flavour and aroma when dried. You can replace dried oregano for fresh, but
reduce the amount used by about half. Dried oregano is a kitchen essential,
but ensure you replace it frequently, because it quickly loses its pungency.
Oregano is one of the herbs in the mixture called
herbes de Provence.
||An Italian type of bacon
produced from belly of pork which is seasoned, then rolled up and dry cured.
Flat slabs of pancetta are also available and this is normally how you'd
find it in Italy.
be bought in the UK pre-packed and either in cubes (cubetti di pancetta) or
slices, the latter often smoked. The cubes are fried and used in soffrito
(the Italian version of a
mirepoix) to give a
base flavour to dishes or incorporated in
pasta dishes such as
Sliced pancetta can be served as part
of a selection of cold meats, or grilled until crisp and then crumbled over
pasta, rice, salads and soups. Wrap pieces of fish, chicken or meat in
slices of pancetta and oven-bake them, or use it as a pizza topping. Thinly
sliced, unsmoked, streaky bacon rashers will make a suitable substitute if
you can't get pancetta.
||The name for this cold
dessert from Italy means 'cooked cream', although not all recipes call for
the cream to be actually cooked.
To make panna cotta, cream is added to
gelatine and then
flavoured, usually with
sometimes with alcohol or other flavourings. The mixture is then cooled
until it sets and is served with a sweet sauce.
||Originating from around
Parma in the north-west of Italy, this is one of the world’s best-known
cheeses. It's stamped with the official Parmigiano Reggiano mark as a
guarantee of origin. Fragrant and tangy, it has a hard, grainy texture and a
buttery yellow colour. Buy fresh parmesan where possible; the taste is far
superior to pre-packed cheese - and avoid ready-grated cheese at all costs.
Grate Parmesan into cooked dishes,
add it to
risotto, serve a
generous chunk on its own with fruit after a meal, or use a potato peeler to
make parmesan shavings and scatter them on
pasta dishes or
salads. Because Parmigiano Reggiano cheese isn't made with vegetarian
rennet, strict vegetarians avoid it. However, there are good vegetarian
Parmesan-style cheeses available in most supermarkets, including cheese made
in the UK.
||No kitchen should be
without a good supply of this multi-purpose herb. It can be used as a
garnish and flavouring and as a vegetable.
There are two main varieties: curly leaf
and flatleaf. Both can be used for the same purposes, although flatleaf
parsley has a stronger flavour and tends to be favoured in Mediterranean
Parsley can be used in almost any
savoury dish. It's especially good used in great quantities in fresh salads
or in soups and sauces. Chop or shred it and mix with butter to melt over
fish or to glaze vegetables.
There's just as much flavour in
the stalk as in the leaf and both are used in
bouquet garni to
flavour stews and
delicious briefly deep-fried and served as a vegetable to accompany chicken,
veal or fish. Use it in
in omelettes - the list goes on!
||Made from a dough
semolina, water and
eggs, which is
kneaded and cut into a wide variety of shapes. There are basically two types
- fresh or dried.
pasta is often made with eggs, giving it a richer flavour and texture than
the dried varieties; it has the consistency of a soft dough and only needs
to be cooked for a very short time compared with dried pasta.
You need to serve slightly more fresh
pasta compared with dry because it doesn't absorb as much water as dried so
doesn’t swell up as much. It should be kept in the fridge and used within
two days (or check the packet information), but it does freeze well for up
to a month. You can buy filled fresh pastas with a variety of meat and
vegetable fillings - they make a simple supper served with a home-made
sauce. Dried pasta is convenient and widely available.
Choose good quality pasta made only
from durum-wheat semolina. It will store unopened for more than a year in a
cool dry cupboard and for about a month once opened. The choice of pasta
these days is quite overwhelming and it's eaten around the world from Italy
It can be served simply with
sauces, stuffed, baked or added to soups for bulk. See individual entries
for different types available:
vermicelli. See also
||A rich paste made
of liver, pork, game or other meats, cooked in a
terrine or wrapped in
pastry and cooked. Fish can also be used as the basis of a pâté, combined
with soft cheese,
mayonnaise or soured
Pâté can be
smooth or coarse and is delicious simply spread on warm toast or crusty
bread. It can also be used as a component in main dishes such as beef
Wellington in which fillet steaks are spread with
duxelles and enclosed
||An Italian dark
green sauce for
pasta originating in
Genoa. It's made from
pine nuts blended
parmesan or pecorino
Red pesto is made similarly but is based
on either sun-dried tomatoes or grilled red peppers. It's uncooked and can
be bought preserved in jars or fresh in tubs. The contents of jars, once
opened, should be kept in the fridge and used within a couple of weeks. Keep
the surface covered with oil. Fresh pesto in tubs should be used within two
to three days. It can easily be made at home but you do need a generous
amount of basil leaves to make just a small portion of pesto.
Variations include using
rocket, watercress or
parsley instead of
basil and nuts such as
pistachios instead of
The sauce can be stirred into
freshly cooked pasta, spooned onto thick soups, spread on
fillets of fish or
chicken before grilling, or added to
mayonnaise and salad
||Prosciutto means 'ham' in
Italian and is a term particularly used to describe ham that has been
seasoned, cured and air-dried. 'Prosciutto cotto' is cooked and 'Prosciutto
crudo' is raw although, because it has been salt-cured, it's ready to eat.
Prosciutto is sold in most UK
supermarkets pre-sliced and vacuum-packed. If you buy it from a deli it's
more likely they'll have a whole leg of prosciutto from which they will cut
fresh slices, whatever thickness you need. It's most famously eaten as a
starter with melon or figs or with a selection of other cold hams, meats and
cheeses. It can be used in cooked dishes, but only add it at the end of
cooking - otherwise it will go tough.
Parma ham, or prosciutto di Parma, is
a kind of prosciutto crudo.
||A word used to describe
either the act of making a smooth sauce or paste from various ingredients
(verb), or the final result of such a process (noun). Meats, fruits and
vegetables can all be puréed. Purées can be made in seconds if you have a
blender or food processor. Otherwise use a sieve and push the ingredients
through with a spoon into a bowl.
||An open flan or
tart with a savory custard filling, usually of
egg and milk with
other ingredients added to taste - fish, meat or vegetables. Originally from
the Lorraine region of north-east France (hence quiche Lorraine with bacon,
onion and cheese), the quiche has become a classic of French cuisine but is
eaten across Europe and in many other countries.
||A rich vegetable
Provençal stew, made from
courgettes, sweet peppers, tomatoes, onions and
garlic simmered in
olive oil with herbs.
It can be eaten hot or cold, as a main course or served as an accompaniment
to meat dishes. It also makes a good filling for other vegetables or a
stuffing for chicken.
pasta cases that are
stuffed with meat, cheese or vegetables, then cooked in a pan of boiling
water and served with tomato or other flavoured sauces and, often, grated
time-consuming to make from scratch, but there are lots of fresh raviolis to
choose from in supermarkets with all kinds of delicious fillings -
amatriciana, spinach and ricotta, roasted red pepper, and so on.
It makes an easy supper dish, or
you can serve it as a starter either with a sauce or just drizzled with
olive oil and
scattered with fresh herbs.
||A soft Italian curd
cheese made from whey which is drained and then lightly cooked. It's light
and creamy with a slightly grainy texture. It has a delicate flavour and is
quite low in fat, making it a good substitute for
can be used on its own or in sweet and savoury dishes. It's used in many
Italian dishes, especially as a stuffing for
ravioli or in
pastries such as cannoli.
||An Italian dish that was
originally eaten by peasants for breakfast, but which has risen in stature
to become a highly regarded restaurant dish. It's simple to make at home,
but requires a bit of attention.
Risotto is made from risotto rice cooked with
ingredients (such as vegetables, shellfish or meat) are then added, and the
dish is usually finished off with a knob of butter and some
which is stirred through at the end of cooking.
The key to a successful risotto
is the rice and the stirring. There are three main types of Italian risotto
rice - arborio, carnaroli and vialone nano. Essentially they're all starchy
short-grain rices. The stock is added bit by bit to the rice and stirred
frequently resulting in the classic creamy texture of a risotto. It
shouldn’t be overcooked, but should still retain its characteristic
al dente bite.
Classic risottos include mushroom
risotto, often made with a combination of fresh and dried mushrooms, and
Risotto alla Milanese which contains saffron and is usually served as an
accompaniment to osso bucco. Arancini ('little oranges') are classic Italian
rice balls made from leftover saffron risotto.
||Rosemary is a most
versatile herb with a flavour that complements a wide variety of dishes and
ingredients. Native to the Mediterranean, its bittersweet green leaves look
similar to pine needles. The plant is an evergreen shrub, so the leaves are
available fresh all year round. (If fresh isn't available then dried
rosemary is useful to have in the store cupboard, but replace it often
because it loses its potency and flavour after a few weeks.)
When used sparingly, the flavour of
rosemary goes well in subtle and delicate dishes such as ice creams,
sorbets, fools and fruit salads. The robust and highly aromatic flavour of
rosemary can also be used as part of a
bouquet garni in
soups, stews and casseroles.
Whole sprigs can be added to flavour
roasted vegetables. Meat, poultry and game can be spiked with rosemary and
it can be chopped and used in stuffings and sauces for fish, lamb or
chicken. Some Italian breads are flavoured with rosemary leaves.
Remove leaves or sprigs after cooking;
it's also a good idea to crush dried rosemary before adding it to your dish
because the sharp leaves can be difficult to remove after cooking.
||The most expensive spice
in the world fortunately goes a long way! It's derived from the stigmas of
the saffron crocus (Crocus sativa), which can only be picked by
hand. It takes 250,000 stigmas to make just half a kilo of saffron.
Saffron can be bought whole in
threads or strands (stigmas), which should be crushed just before using, or
in powdered form. Spanish and Kashmiri saffron are reputed to be among the
best quality. Saffron gives a distinctive aroma and flavour and a yellow
colour to Spanish
paella and Italian
risotto. Saffron is
also a classic ingredient in the French fish soup
officinalis) is native to the Mediterranean. The colour of the downy
leaves and the flavour varies but, in essence, it's a very strong aromatic
herb with a slight bitterness that can withstand long cooking times and
still retain flavour.
The strong flavour of sage means
that a little goes a long way, especially if you're using dried sage, so use
sparingly. It goes well with pork, beef, duck and chicken recipes, and fatty
meats in particular. In Italy it's commonly served finely chopped in a
butter sauce for pasta or
gnocchi. It's also
fried with liver or kidneys. Use a cocktail stick to pin a couple of sage
leaves to a chicken breast wrapped in
prosciutto for a
herby flavour. Try dipping sage leaves in a light batter and deep-frying
them as a vegetable or to eat as
canapés with drinks.
||Salami is the Italian
name for a family of 'cut-and-keep' sausages made from a mixture of raw
meat, such as pork, beef or veal and flavoured with spices and herbs.
Innumerable varieties are made around the world. Salami can be salted,
smoked or air-dried. Salami makes great sandwich fillers, pizza toppings or
salad ingredients, particularly in potato salads.
Some salamis are good for cooking
with - add them to
pasta sauces and
other meat and vegetable dishes. Salami can be bought sliced and pre-packed
or freshly sliced at deli counters.
||A spicy relish or
dip served cold and made from chopped tomatoes, onions,
chillies and peppers.
'Salsa' means 'sauce' in Spanish.
Most supermarkets sell fresh salsa as
well as mild or hot salsa in jars, but the flavour is never as good as
homemade. It's easy to make either a coarse salsa with just a knife and
chopping board, or to whizz the ingredients in a blender for a smooth salsa.
Serve salsa with other dips such
guacamole and soured
tortilla chips or use
it as a sauce or a topping for
pasta. Fruit salsas
using mango or pineapple go well with grilled fish or chicken.
||A Japanese dish of
raw fresh fish and shellfish (without rice), beautifully presented and
served with dipping sauces, vegetables and
||The herbs summer
savory (Satureja hortensis) and winter savory (S. montana)
are both related to the mint family. Both are highly aromatic and can be
used to season a variety of meat, poultry,
egg dishes, soups or
sauces. Both types of savory are particularly useful in stuffings. Winter
savory tends to be more strongly flavoured.
||A small round teacake
made from a soft dough and cooked in a hot oven. Scones can be sweet or
savoury. Sugar, fruit and spices are often added to sweet scones and they're
often served with clotted cream and jam.
Savoury scones might incorporate cheese, herbs or
potato. A drop scone isn't a scone at all - it's more of a small thick
||A semi-frozen water ice,
usually made with fruit, sugar syrup or a liqueur, traditionally served as a
palate cleanser between courses but now eaten more commonly as a refreshing
Granita is a slightly
coarser, crunchier Italian style of sorbet that doesn't require an ice-cream
||An Austrian dessert
made from very thin layers of strudel pastry - similar to
filo pastry - wrapped
around a filling of fresh fruit, most famously apple, dried fruit and
spices. Strudels are usually sweet but savoury versions can be made too.
||Tabasco is the
trade name of a range of hot, spicy
chilli sauces made in
the US state of Louisiana. The original Tabasco sauce is fiery red and made
from a variety of chilli pepper called Tabasco, combined with vinegar and
salt and matured in
oak barrels. Other varieties include a milder green Tabasco sauce made from
jalapeño peppers and green peppers. Just a few drops of Tabasco adds a
spicy, chilli flavour to meats, sauces, burgers, salad dressings or
||A tandoor is a
tall, cylindrical clay oven found in countries stretching from the Arabian
peninsula to India. Naan breads, as well as various meats and
traditionally cooked in a tandoor. The term 'tandoori' pertains to dishes
cooked in such a clay oven. In the UK, the word tandoori is frequently used
to describe food that has been
marinated in a spice
paste made of
cayenne mixed with
lemon juice, oil and,
yoghurt. The paste
coats the food, which turns a red-orange colour. It's then cooked in the
tandoor (although for home cooks, a very hot oven will have to do). The
tandoor imparts a wonderful smoky aroma to the food.
||Usually, a Japanese
dish consisting of beef, chicken or fish that has been
marinated in a
ginger and seasonings
before being grilled or fried. However, the term can be used to describe the
sauce itself or the cooked dish made with the sauce. The sugar in the
marinade gives the cooked food a slight glaze.
Teriyaki sauce is made with the
above ingredients and is sold in bottles, although it's easy to make your
own. Teriyaki was traditionally used as a glaze for fish or meat after it
had been cooked, but now is more commonly used for marinating the meat prior
to cooking. The ingredients used in teriyaki sauce tend to be loosely
interpreted by many chefs and can include a range of ingredients including
||No kitchen should be
without the heady, aromatic character of thyme. There are many different
varieties, both cultivated and wild, but the most widely used is the common
garden thyme (Thymus vulgaris). The intensely pungent flavour
complements most meats, including chicken and game. Its robust nature means
that it can withstand long cooking times and it's a good complement to
slow-cooked dishes such as stews and daubes.
It's one of the herbs used in
bouquet garni, along
bay. Its flavour also
marries well with other robust and heady herbs such as
sage. Chop it up in
stuffings for poultry or lamb or use it chopped in a
olives. Add sprigs to
marinades for meat, fish or vegetables or tuck a few sprigs with half a
lemon and an onion
inside a chicken before roasting.
||An Italian dessert,
similar to a trifle, made with Italian sponge biscuits or
macaroons soaked in
coffee, brandy or liqueur, with
mascarpone cheese and
chocolate. Tiramisu translates as 'pick me up'.
||By weight, this knobbly
fungus is one of the most expensive foods in the world. Although attempts
have been made to cultivate truffles, the majority are still found wild,
growing around the roots of oak, chestnut, hazel and beech trees.
There are two main types: black (Tuber
melanosporum) and white (Tuber magnatum Pico). The finest
black truffles are found in the Périgord region of France; the best white
truffles (in fact they're more beige) in the Piedmont region of Italy.
Truffles are sniffed out by pigs or dogs trained to recognise the smell.
Black truffles are peeled and can be
used raw or lightly cooked, while white are just carefully wiped clean and
should never be cooked. They have a distinct peppery taste and are usually
sliced raw directly onto the dish. You can buy a special slicer that cuts
razor-thin slices, or use a mandolin.
The truffle's unique aroma and
taste does something magical to foods - shave it over
pasta or add it to
eggs, omelettes or
Truffle oil is the next best
thing - a combination of
olive oil and truffle
extract that can be drizzled over pasta, risotto and salads or used in salad
dressings and sauces. There's no substitute for the unique taste of a fresh
The word truffle also refers to a
chocolate confection, usually filled with cream flavoured with a liqueur,
the shape of which resembles a freshly dug black truffle.
||Bread that has been
made without 'leavening' - that is, no raising agent such as
Unleavened breads include chapattis
tortillas and they
play an important role in Jewish ritual during Passover when it's forbidden
to eat leavened bread.
||Vermicelli is very
fine, long strands of
pasta - like a skinny
spaghetti - often used in soups. The name means 'little worms' in Italian.
It's available fresh or dried.
Dried vermicelli is usually sold boxed in
coiled nests to prevent the delicate strands from breaking. Serve it with
delicate oil-based or thin creamy sauces, because thick sauces will soak
into the pasta and make it go soggy.
The term is also used to
noodles, which are
also sold dried, and which come in varying widths, from very thin to wide.
Rice vermicelli can be used in soups
or stir-fries, served cold in spicy Asian salads, or used as the basis for
||Although this bright
green condiment is often referred to as 'Japanese horseradish', it isn't
actually related to horseradish at all. It comes from the root of a
perennial herb that grows in Japan and eastern Siberia.
Wasabi is a traditional
accompaniment to sushi and
sashimi, but it can
also be used to make dressings and sauces. Fresh wasabi is rarely available
outside Japan, but in the UK it's available in paste or powdered form. The
latter is a better choice, because you can use it as you need it by mixing
to a paste with water.
||A lighter version
of double cream with a fat content of over 35 per cent - the minimum amount
necessary to allow it to stay firm once beaten. It's the fat globules that
trap whisked air, creating the characteristic foam and texture of whipped
cream. Whipping cream whips well without being quite as rich as
double cream and also
makes a slightly lighter pouring cream. It makes a good topping for
puddings that need a slightly lighter touch.
||The most basic
white sauce, from which numerous other sauces stem. White sauce is made with
roux of butter and
flour mixed with milk and cooked over a gentle heat until smooth and
Béchamel is the king
of white sauces. It differs slightly from the basic white sauce in that the
milk is flavoured first with onion and seasoning (often
You can add a variety of
ingredients to a basic white sauce to transform it into something more
flavoursome, such as chopped
cheese, white wine, cooked chopped mushrooms, cooked onions, and so on.
||A classic English
bottled sauce that is said to have originated from an Indian recipe. It's a
thin, spicy, dark-brown fermented sauce made from a variety of ingredients
salt and vinegar,
which is then left to age in barrels.
The final sauce has a spicy, concentrated flavour, so
you only need a dash. It can be used to give a little boost to meat stews
and casseroles, pies, soups, sauces and
it over sausages, steaks, chops and
kebabs or use it as a
table condiment or in drinks such as a classic Bloody Mary.
||XO stands for 'extra old'
and is used to show that a cognac has been aged for an extended period of
time. The legal minimum for this designation is seven years old but most XO
cognacs are much older than that, many ranging from 20 to 50 years old. The
minimum age of the youngest cognac in the blend must be at least seven years
old. The minimum age of VS (very special) cognac is two years old and that
of VSOP (very superior old pale) is four years old.
XO sauce is also a sauce and
condiment used in Chinese cooking. Ingredients include dried shrimp, dried
garlic, along with
other flavourings, often
chillies. XO sauce
can be used as a dip or in stir-fries.
of chicken skewered and grilled, Japanese-style. In Japan, all parts of the
chicken, including the head, skin and gizzards, would be cooked, but in the
UK, it's usually just pieces of breast meat. The meat is threaded on to
bamboo skewers, dipped in a type of sweet
teriyaki sauce, and
then grilled for four to five minutes.
||Yogurt is made from
fermented milk and has a great many uses. It can be consumed as a drink
(such as the Indian
lassi) or eaten as a
kind of relish (such as the Indian raita, a cooling mixture of yoghurt and
cucumber), or made into a kind of cheese (such as labneh). It can also be
used as a dressing or as a
marinade to tenderise
meats, as in
||The Italian and American
word for courgette. Zucchini are very versatile to cook with, but buy the
younger, smaller ones, because older vegetables tend to have large, tough
seeds and can be very watery.