This is the only way to serve pasta! An Italian phrase meaning ‘to the tooth,’ al dente is used to describe the texture of pasta and risotto rice as tender or soft on the outside, but with some resistance when bitten into. If you normally serve your pasta soft, try it this way and taste the difference. Every shape and brand of pasta cooks differently, which means that only the taste test, not the packet instructions, will tell you when it’s cooked perfectly.
An aromatic spice that looks like a large, smooth peppercorn and is about the size of a pea, allspice is the dried berry of the West Indian allspice tree. It’s also called Jamaican pepper or pimento, because its taste is said to resemble a combination of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and black pepper. Allspice can be bought whole or ground, and is used in both sweet and savoury dishes – including mulled drinks, Christmas pudding, pickles, marinades and Jamaican jerk chicken.
An Italian word meaning ‘before the pasta’, these delicious plates of hot and cold starters are the equivalent of French hors d’oeuvres. A mixture of antipasti include cheeses, smoked meats, salamis, olives, a selection of seafood, marinated vegetables and various breads with olive oil and salt for dipping. Although it’s all too easy to eat for Italy, these are dishes intended to whet the appetite, not to sate it!
A French term referring to a light alcoholic drink taken before a meal, an aperitif should ideally stimulate the appetite and tantalise the palate – preparing it for greater things to come. Common aperitifs include drinks based on wine, such as vermouth, or certain spirits and liqueurs. Arak, an aniseed-flavoured clear spirit, is drunk as an aperitif in some Arabic countries, while ouzo is popular in Greece and a glass of fino or manzanilla sherry is popular in Spain. The French often enjoy a glass of pastis before a meal.
Arborio is the classic risotto rice from the north Italian region of Piedmont. This medium- to long-grain rice is probably the best all-rounder for cooking as it can absorb a lot of cooking liquid, yet still retain a good ‘bite’ when fully cooked.
Literally meaning ‘angry’ in Italian, arrabbiata refers to a Roman sauce of garlic, tomatoes, basil and red chilli cooked in olive oil. The sauce is usually served with pasta and chopped fresh parsley on top.
Three different, unrelated plants are all known by this name. The globe artichoke is related to the thistle. Its leaves are edible, as is the bottom part of the flower; the heart. Globe artichokes make a delicious starter simply boiled whole and served with melted butter, mayonnaise, hollandaise or vinaigrette for dipping the leaves. The Jerusalem artichoke belongs to the sunflower family and the plant’s underground tubers are edible. They’re rather knobbly and irregular in shape, with a pale brown or purple-red skin. Scrub them and boil, or steam until tender and then peel. The Chinese artichoke is a perennial herb of the mint family, grown for its edible tuberous underground stems. It has a sweet, nutty taste, similar to the Jerusalem artichoke.
The arugula is an assertive salad green with peppery, somewhat bitter overtones. Rich in vitamin C and potassium, rocket is often used in pasta sauces and on pizzas – added just before the baking period ends or immediately afterwards, so that it won’t wilt in the heat.
This Mediterranean vegetable is an important ingredient in classic dishes such as ratatouille and moussaka, as well as in many Indian vegetable-based dishes. With the skin left on they hold their shape quite well, but remove the skin and the flesh can be cooked down to a thick pulp. Also known as eggplant, aubergines should be firm and heavy with a taut, shiny skin and a bright green stalk end.
As well as the deep purple variety, there are white, mauve, green and striped varieties. To prepare, wash the skin and trim off the stalk. Slice or cut the flesh into chunks just before cooking, because it discolours quickly.
A versatile and widely used aromatic herb, basil grows well in warm climates and is widely used throughout southern Europe and in many parts of Asia. The variety called holy basil (tulsi) is an essential part of an authentic Thai curry. In Mediterranean regions, basil and tomato is a classic combination. Pesto, made from basil leaves and pine nuts, with parmesan or pecorino cheese and olive oil, is another classic basil-based dish. An annual plant, basil is very easy to grow from seed but is sensitive to cold. Dried basil retains little of the aroma and flavour of fresh basil, so is of limited use in the kitchen.
A Béarnaise sauce is a classic reduction of wine, vinegar, tarragon and shallots, finished with egg yolks and butter. This sauce is especially popular served with a succulent fillet steak and thin, crispy potato chips.
A basic white sauce of milk, butter and flour, Béchamel was invented in France during the reign of Louis XIV.
These hard Italian biscuits are traditionally made with hazelnut and aniseed, but are today often flavoured with a wide variety of nuts, lemon or orange rind. They’re hard and crunchy because they’re twice-cooked (‘bis’ is Italian for twice and ‘cotti’ for cooked) – making them ideal for dipping in dessert wine or coffee.
Blanching is the process of plunging food, frequently vegetables, into and out of boiling water for just a few seconds or minutes. Blanching preserves the colour and texture of food, and can be used to get rid of strong flavours or to par-cook food. For example, potatoes can be blanched before roasting or sautéing. The process can also help to loosen the skins of nuts, tomatoes and other fruits before skinning them.
A Bordelaise sauce is made with dry red wine, bone marrow, shallots and a rich brown sauce called demi-glace. Traditionally, Bordelaise sauce is served with grilled beef or steak, though can also be served with other meats that pair well with red wine demi-glace based sauces.
Bouillabaisse is a Provençal stew of fish, shellfish, onions, tomatoes, white wine, olive oil, garlic, saffron and herbs. There are at least three kinds of fish in a traditional bouillabaisse – typically scorpionfish, sea robin and European conger.
A small bunch of herbs – classically a bay leaf, a few parsley sprigs and a few sprigs of thyme – wrapped in a leek leaf or bunched with a piece of celery and tied with string. It’s ideal for flavouring soups, stews and stocks during cooking, and is removed before serving.
Brioche is a highly enriched French bread, whose high egg and butter content give it what is seen as a rich and tender crumb. It has a dark, golden, and flaky crust from an egg wash applied before and after proofing.
Italian bread, usually ciabatta, bruschetta is sliced and grilled or toasted, then rubbed with a clove of garlic and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, before being finished off with a variety of toppings – such as ripe plum tomatoes and fresh basil. Bruschetta can be served with drinks before a meal, or as a light starter.
Buttermilk is traditionally a by-product of butter-making; the liquid that’s left over after butter is churned from cream. It is now made commercially by adding a bacterial culture to skimmed milk. It has a slightly sour, acidic taste and is used for making scones and soda breads. It can also be used to replace milk for a healthier milkshake.
A pizza that’s folded in half and baked so that the filling is enclosed completely, the calzone is similar to a Cornish pasty or turnover. 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 appetisers that can be eaten with the fingers, leaving the other hand free to hold a drink.
Large, stuffed pasta tubes baked in sauce, or rectangular pasta sheets that are rolled with a filling. In Italian, cannelloni literally means ‘large reeds.’
A classic Italian dish of very thin shavings of raw beef fillet, Carpaccio is a starter served cold and with olive oil and lemon juice – or a mayonnaise or mustard sauce. The dish is also often topped with capers and sometimes onions. Although true Carpaccio is made with beef, Carpaccio of other thinly sliced raw meats, fish or even fruits are becoming more common on restaurant menus.
Small pasta shells with wavy edges, cavatelli are normally made of flour, semolina and water. But they can also be made with ricotta cheese in the dough.
Celeriac is also known as celery root, turnip-rooted celery or knob celery. It is a kind of celery grown as a root vegetable for its large and bulbous hypocotyls, rather than for its stem and leaves.
Ceviche is a citrus-marinated seafood dish, popular in mainly Latin American countries. Both finfish and shellfish are used; finfish is typically used raw while shellfish is typically cooked.
An Irish favourite of mashed potatoes, chopped spring onions, milk and butter, champ is simple and inexpensive to produce. In some areas the dish is also called ‘poundies.’
‘Mushroom,’ as they say it in France. Champignon is also known as common mushroom, button mushroom, white mushroom, table mushroom and portobello mushroom.
A wild and nutty mushroom with a trumpet-shaped head, the chanterelle has a fruity smell, reminiscent of apricots, and a mildly peppery taste – which is probably why it’s such a popular food mushroom.
Chantilly is something that is prepared or served with whipped cream. Chantilly cream or crème Chantilly is a sweetened whipped cream, sometimes vanilla-flavoured, used in pastry both for its taste and as a decoration. Ice cream is also frequently served with Chantilly.
The French term for delicatessen-style items, charcuterie also refers to the branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products such as bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, galantines, pâtés, and confit – primarily from pork.
A very light, double-cooked pastry usually used for sweets and buns, choux pastry is made with plain flour, salt, butter, eggs, milk and a little sugar. It’s used to make profiteroles, eclairs and choux puffs, and is the basis of the dramatic dessert gâteau St Honoré. Choux can be used for savoury pastries too, such as gougère, a large ring of choux flavoured with gruyère or emmental cheese. Choux pastry has a reputation for being difficult to master, but in fact it’s really no bother once you know the technique. A preheated hot oven is essential to raise and set choux, and if you take it out of the oven before it’s cooked thoroughly it will collapse. Filling shouldn’t be added until the last possible moment before serving, because it will make the choux sag.
Chowder is 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. As with many classic dishes, opinions on the ingredients and how it should be cooked vary from region to region; New England chowder tends to be made with milk, but further down the coast it’s made with tomatoes and water. There are all kinds of different additions – potatoes, bacon, clams, cockles, sweet corn. Whatever the variations, chowder is essentially a rich, gutsy soup, often served as a main course.
Compote is a dessert made of whole or pieces of fruit in sugar syrup. Whole fruits are immersed in water and with sugar and spices added to the dish, over gentle heat. In France a compote can also be a fine puree of cooked fruit – usually made with a base of apple.
The French equivalent to Gruyère, comte is a cheese that is usually aged from 12 to 18 months. Made from unpasteurised cow’s milk, the comte’s rind is usually a dusty-brown colour, while the internal pâte is a pale creamy yellow. The texture is relatively hard and flexible, and the taste is mild, slightly sweet and nutty.
Concasse, from the French ‘concasser'(to crush or grind) is a cooking term meaning to coarsely chop any ingredient, usually vegetables. This term is most specifically applied to tomatoes, with tomato concasse being a tomato that has been peeled, seeded and chopped to specified dimensions.
A generic term for various kinds of food that have been immersed in a substance for both flavour and preservation – such as goose, duck or pork that is slowly cooked in its own fat and preserved with the fat packed around it as a seal.
In cooking, a consommé is a type of clear soup made from richly flavoured stock (meat or fish) or bouillon that has been clarified – usually through a fining process involving egg protein.
A thick sauce made from puréed and strained vegetables or fruits, the term coulis originally referred to the released juices of cooked meats, and can today also refer to a puréed soup of shellfish.
Granular semolina popular in North Africa especially, couscous is traditionally served under a meat or vegetable stew. It can also be eaten alone, flavoured or plain, warm or cold, as a dessert or side dish.
This is a rich custard dessert sauce often used as a topping or plating accompaniment to fruits and pastries. A mix of sugar, egg yolks, hot milk and vanilla, crème anglaise can also be used as a base for desserts such as ice cream or crème brûlée.
Cream that is allowed to set and thicken to a velvety rich texture. crème fraîche is the Western European counterpart to sour cream. Originally a French product, today it is available in many countries. It is traditional to France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries.
Cremini are young Portobello mushrooms.
In Italian crostini means ‘little toasts,’ and is made by thinly slicing bread, typically plain white bread, and toasting or grilling it so that it becomes crispy. Crostini can be served plain, with olive oil or other various toppings.
Crudités are raw vegetables, thinly sliced or grated, served as a starter or with a dip as a snack. Crudités might include any fresh, seasonal vegetables such as carrots, celeriac, cucumber, sweet peppers, red cabbage, celery, fennel, tomatoes, mushrooms and radishes. Vinaigrette, garlic or egg mayonnaise and hummus are just some suggestions of what you can serve with crudités.
Dauphinoise (à la)
To cook something ‘à la Dauphinoise’ means to bake it in a slow oven with cream and garlic. A gratin dauphinoise is a classic dish of thinly sliced potatoes cooked in this way – with garlic, cream, milk, butter and often gruyère cheese. Rich, but very delicious! Serve it as an accompaniment to meat or vegetable dishes.
The consistency required of cake mixes, where the mixture isn’t soft enough to fall easily off the spoon but slides off reluctantly after a few seconds.
A mixture of chopped mushrooms cooked in butter, together with onion and thyme, duxelles is used as a stuffing or garnish and in the preparation of various dishes called ‘à la duxelles’. It’s traditionally used in beef Wellington, but is also delicious on toast, stirred through scrambled eggs, stuffed under chicken skin before roasting or folded into mashed potatoes.
Eggplant is another name for aubergine, probably because of the appearance of the egg-shaped, white-skinned variety. This term is more commonly used in the US.
An emulsion is a stable suspension of fat and another liquid. To emulsify is to combine fats (such as butter or oil) with a liquid (such as vinegar or citric juices) into a smooth and even blend using an emulsifier (such as an egg yolk), which binds to each set of ingredients and prevents them from separating.
Directly translated from French an croute means crust, and is used to describe a thick, hollowed-out slice of bread (usually toasted) that is filled with food, or a pastry case (such as puff pastry) used for the same purpose.
A pungent mixture of five spices commonly used in Chinese cookery, this is a brown powder made of ground star anise, fennel seeds, cloves, cinnamon and Sichuan pepper. It’s available from Chinese grocers, and is becoming more widely available in supermarkets too. A good blend should be fragrant and spicy, but also slightly sweet.
A type of pastry that’s rolled, folded and re-rolled several times to create layers of pastry – which in the heat of the oven will rise into thin leaves. Heavier than puff pastry but easier to make, flaky pastry is usually used for savoury pies and often baked with a roasting pan full of water at the bottom of the oven – because the steam helps the pastry rise evenly and develop a crisp crust.
French for flamed or flaming, this dramatic food presentation involves sprinkling foods with alcohol and setting them aflame just before serving.
A Florentine Biscuit is a confection made from setting nuts and candied cherries into a caramel disc, which is then coated on the bottom with dark chocolate.
An Italian olive-oil bread, the focaccia is quite flat and usually round or square. It has an almost cake-like texture and is often flavoured with herbs such as rosemary, sage or basil, and perhaps olives or tapenade. It has become very popular in the past few years and you should be able to buy various types of focaccia, including a ready-to-bake version, which just needs finishing off in a pre-heated oven for a few minutes. Cut it into generous wedges to serve with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping.
Expensive, silk-textured goose or duck liver that has been enlarged by a specialised process, foie gras is a popular and well-known delicacy in French cuisine. Its flavour is described as rich, buttery and delicate.
Formaggio is Italian for cheese.
A frittata is an Italian omelette with a variety of fillings that are mixed with the eggs rather than being folded inside. Like a Spanish omelette, a frittata is cut into wedges and can be eaten either hot or cold.
Fumé is French for smoked.
Galette is a general term used in French to designate various types of flat, round or freeform crusty cakes and tarts.
Ganache is a rich mixture of chocolate and crème fraîche, frequently used as a filling for cakes or as icing and glazes.
Gâteau is French for cake.
Gaufrettes are thin, fan-shaped, waffled French wafers – often served alongside a dessert.
Originating in Spain, Gazpacho is a cold soup made with tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, onions, celery, vinegar, breadcrumbs, olive oil and garlic.
Gnocchi is a sort of pasta for potato lovers; small Italian dumplings usually made from potato, flour and egg – shaped into small ovals with a ridged pattern on one side. They can also be made from semolina, and are often poached and then cooked au gratin (with breadcrumbs and grated cheese) in the oven and served as a hot starter. Serve them in a similar way to pasta with a cheese or tomato-based sauce and freshly grated Parmesan, or add them to soups, stews and casseroles.
An Italian blue cheese made from pasteurised cows’ milk, Gorgonzola is pale yellow and streaked with greenish-blue veins. It has a distinct smell and can be mild, strong or sharp in flavour – depending on its maturity. Gorgonzola is rich and creamy, generally used uncooked. It’s often eaten as a dessert cheese, but is also good in salads and dips.
Any dish covered with cheese or buttered breadcrumbs, then baked or broiled.
Gravlax is a Scandinavian dish consisting of raw salmon cured in salt, sugar and dill. Gravlax is usually served as an appetiser, sliced thinly and accompanied by a dill and mustard sauce, either on bread or with boiled potatoes.
Gremolata is a chopped herb condiment typically made of garlic, parsley and lemon zest. It is a traditional accompaniment to an Italian braised veal shank dish, but the citrus element in gremolata makes it an appropriate addition to seafood dishes as well.
Guacamole is a Mexican dish of mashed avocado mixed with lemon or lime juice and various seasonings – such as chilli powder and red pepper. Sometimes finely chopped tomato, onion and coriander leaf are added, and 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 soured cream.
A dish that strikes fear in the squeamish, haggis is a traditional Scottish sausage made of a sheep’s stomach and stuffed with the diced sheep’s liver, lungs and heart, oatmeal, onion, suet and seasonings. Most haggis is par-cooked before being sold and needs only long slow cooking – simmering in boiling water – usually for about one to one and a half hours. You can also buy vegetarian haggis based on beans. It’s traditionally served with ‘neeps ‘n’ tatties’ – mashed swede and potatoes – and whisky on Burns Night, which celebrates the birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns on 25 January.
There are numerous forms of halva, which is basically a ‘sweetmeat’ or dessert -depending on which version you’re eating. The Middle Eastern sweet known as halva is made from ground roasted sesame seeds and honey, usually in a slab and often studded with chopped dried fruit or nuts.
This fiery North African pepper paste is orange-red in colour and usually served with couscous. It’s a mix of dried red chillies, garlic, caraway seeds, ground cumin, ground coriander, tomato purée, salt and olive oil. It can be used as a condiment or as an ingredient in cooking.
A mahogany-coloured, sweet and tangy blend of soy, garlic, chilli and spices, hoisin sauce is used in Chinese meat, poultry and shellfish dishes.
An emulsion of egg yolks, lemon juice and hot melted butter, the smooth, rich hollandaise sauce is often an accompaniment to vegetable, fish and egg dishes.
Hominy is dried corn kernels from which the hull and germ have been removed.
A perennial plant originating in eastern and south-eastern Europe, horseradish is cultivated for its tough, twisted root. Horseradish is a member of the mustard family and the root, which is similar in appearance to a parsnip, releases a distinctive aroma when bruised or cut. It has a very hot, peppery flavour that’s more powerful than mustard.
A popular food throughout the Middle East, hummus consists of mashed chickpeas flavoured with lemon juice, garlic and oil.
To extract the flavour from herbs, spices, tea or coffee either by pouring on boiling water and allowing the water to take on the flavours before drinking hot, or by bringing the mixture to the boil and allowing it to cool.
A hot drink made from strong black coffee, sugar and Irish whiskey, topped with fresh whipped cream. It’s served in a warmed Irish coffee glass (tall glass with a handle).
Jambon is French for ham.
Vegetables or citrus zest shredded or cut into thin matchsticks or very fine shreds, often cooked in butter in a covered pan until quite soft and then used as a garnish – especially for soups and consommés. Raw vegetables to be served as hors d’oeuvres can also be cut into julienne.
French for juice, jus also refers to the un-thickened juices from a piece of roasted meat.
Kaffir lime is a type of tree bearing dark green leaves used in cooking, as well as small, bright green, wrinkled-looking citrus fruit.
Greek, almond-shaped, black olives harvested fully ripe and brine-cured – with a rich and fruity flavour.
The kasseri cheese is sharp, salty and hard, except when flamed in brandy (as in Saganaki).
Kedgeree is a traditional British breakfast dish that originates in India. The British version is different from the Indian version and is made with rice, cooked and flaked smoked haddock, hard-boiled eggs, garam masala and turmeric – which gives the dish its characteristic sunshine-yellow colour.
A baked pudding made with potatoes or noodles, and sometimes meat and vegetables, kugel is usually served on the Jewish Sabbath.
Langoustine is French for prawn, and the term is worldwide generally used for lobster. Langoustines are delicious boiled or grilled – served with fresh mayonnaise, lemon juice and fresh bread.
A main ingredient in Thai and South-east Asian cuisines, lemongrass is a pale green stalk that can be used fresh, dried or powdered to impart its lemon flavour to sweet or savoury dishes. If used whole, the lemongrass pieces are always removed from the dish before serving, but some recipes use it finely chopped or pounded into a paste.
A small light biscuit, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, macaroons are made with ground almonds, sugar and egg whites. Sometimes flavoured with additional ingredients such as coffee, chocolate, nuts or fruit, macaroons are particularly good made with freshly ground blanched almonds.
Buttery French sponge cakes traditionally baked in scallop-shaped Madeleine moulds, Madeleines are made with sugar, flour, melted butter and eggs – often flavoured wit lemon and almonds. The English version is typically baked in dariole moulds and topped with jam, desiccated coconut or icing sugar.
A thick paste, also known as almond paste, marzipan is made from ground almonds, sugar and whole egg or egg whites. Used in making cakes and pastries, marzipan is often a topping for simnel cake or a base for the icing on a Christmas or wedding cake. It can be made with egg yolk for a richer colour, or coloured with food colouring and flavoured. It can be also be moulded into the shape of fruits, vegetables and so on, to make little sweets.
A thick, creamy, soft Italian cheese with a high fat content, mascarpone can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes. It’s good for stirring through savoury sauces to thicken and add a distinct rich flavour, and it’s an essential ingredient in the Italian coffee trifle tiramisu.
A fermented paste made from soya beans and rice, barley or rye, miso is used in Japanese cuisine for making miso soup, as a dressing, as an ingredient in pouring sauces, to flavour pickles and on grilled food.
A béchamel sauce enriched with egg yolks and flavoured with grated gruyère cheese, the mornay sauce is used to coat dishes to be glazed under the grill or browned in the oven – including poached eggs, fish, shellfish and vegetables.
A sort of Greek lasagne layering minced meat (lamb or beef) and eggplant slices, the popular dish moussaka also often contains tomatoes, béchamel sauce and cheese.
This oven-baked Indian bread resembles the pita bread and is cooked in a tandoor (clay oven) – from which tandoori cooking takes its name. Typically, the naan will be served hot and brushed with butter. It can be used to scoop other foods, or served stuffed with a filling.
Niçoise dishes are typical of the cuisine from the Nice region in France, where garlic, black olives, anchovies and tomatoes are nearly always part of the mix.
The word noisette has three different meanings. It’s French for hazelnut, or it can be used describing a small, very tender round steak – usually of lamb, beef or veal, cut from the rib or loin. Beurre noisette, on the other hand, is butter heated until it turns nut brown – used as a finishing touch for many dishes, especially fish.
Nori is an edible, dark green seaweed frequently used in Japanese cooking for wrapping sushi. It is also a common garnish or flavouring in noodle preparations and soups. Nori is most typically toasted prior to consumption, and finished products are made by a shredding and rack-drying process that resembles papermaking.
A sometimes chewy and sometimes hard sweet substance made from sugar, almonds or other nuts and honey, there are two basic kinds of nougat: white and brown. White nougat is made with beaten egg whites and is soft, whereas brown nougat is made with caramelised sugar and has a firmer, often crunchy texture.
The British term for edible extremities of animals, offal refers to most internal organs other than muscles or bones. People in some cultures shy away from offal as food, while others may make it everyday food or even delicacies that command a high price.
Spain’s national dish is a saffron-flavoured rice dish with meats, vegetables and shellfish – named for the large shallow pan in which it is traditionally cooked.
Italian pancetta is pork belly that has been salt cured and spiced with nutmeg, pepper, fennel, dried ground hot peppers and garlic, and dried for about three months. There are many varieties, and in Italy each region produces its own type.
Panna cotta means cooked cream in Italian and is a dessert made by simmering together cream, milk and sugar, before adding gelatin and letting it cool until set.
An Italian sauce traditionally made with basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and Romano and Parmesan cheeses, pesto is popular in pasta dishes especially.
A small French fancy biscuit or cake often served at the end of a meal, petit fours are oven-baked little cakes that were classically made with choux pastry or flan pastry. However, a selection of petit fours these days can cover a wide variety of sweet things, not necessarily cooked, and made possibly with meringue, marzipan, chocolate and so on.
Phyllo pastry (also filo pastry)
Paper-thin translucent sheets of pastry commonly used in Greek, Eastern European and Middle Eastern cuisines, phyllo pastry is sold ready-made in rolled layers – fresh from a cool fridge or frozen. It can be used to make a wide variety of sweet and savoury dishes, such as samosas, spring rolls, tarts and canapés. You have to work quickly with phyllo pastry, otherwise it dries out. So it’s best to keep it in the plastic wrapping or cover it with a damp cloth while you’re working with it. Phyllo can be fried or oven baked and cooks very quickly, and the layers are usually brushed with melted butter or oil to help them brown.
Pilaf is a seasoned rice or other grain dish in which the rice is sautéed before the liquid and other ingredients are added.
A pale green nut encased in a creamy coloured shell, pistachios have a sweet flavour and are eaten as a snack or used in cooking. The green colour makes pistachio a popular flavouring for ice creams, desserts and sweets such as nougat and halva. In savoury dishes pistachios go best with veal, pork and poultry. Buy unsalted nuts and use them in homemade pâtés, or crush them and mix with breadcrumbs, herbs and seasoning to make a crusty topping or stuffing for fish or meat.
A slow-cooked cornmeal porridge popular in northern Italy, polenta can be served soupy or firm, and sometimes even fried.
In Italy meatballs are known as polpette, and are generally eaten as a main course or in a soup. The main ingredients of an Italian meatball are beef and/or pork (and sometimes turkey), salt, black pepper, chopped garlic, olive oil, romano cheese, eggs, bread crumbs and parsley – mixed and rolled by hand to a golfball size.
This smoky, meaty wild mushroom has been proposed as one of the safest wild mushrooms to pick for the table, as there are no poisonous species that closely resemble it.
A sweet made of almonds and sugar, pralines were invented for the French Comte du Plessis-Praslin by his cook in the 1600s.
A small bun made with choux pastry, profiteroles are filled with crème pâtissière and dipped in melted chocolate. It’s also possible to make savoury profiteroles, usually with a creamy fish or shellfish filling.
A very light pastry made in layers that expand when cooked, leaving large air pockets inside. Used for sweet or savoury dishes, puff pastry can be bought ready-made either chilled or frozen. Look for all-butter varieties for the best flavour.
Puttanesca is an Italian spicy, bold tomato sauce made with anchovies, capers and black olives.
A flour tortilla filled, folded and then either toasted or fried. The filling usually consists of cheese, salsa, meat and refried beans.
A quiche is a savoury, open-faced pastry pie made from cheese and eggs. Other ingredients, such as cooked chopped meat, vegetables or cheese, are often added to the egg mixture before the quiche is baked.
Dating back to the Incas, this seed is still grown in Bolivia and Peru. It’s extremely rich in protein and looks similar to millet, but is pale brown in colour. The taste is mild and the texture firm and slightly chewy. When cooked, the seeds sweeten and become translucent, ringed with white. Use it in place of rice in cooked dishes, serve it as an accompaniment, in salads or as a stuffing. Or try it as porridge – served hot with cream, dried fruit and brown sugar.
A traditional French Provençal stewed vegetable dish of eggplant, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, zucchini and herbs in olive oil, ratatouille is usually served as a side dish, but also may be served as a meal on its own – accompanied by rice or bread.
A cold mayonnaise sauce flavoured with mustard, gherkins, capers, anchovies and herbs, rémoulade is very similar to tartar sauce and often used with french fries, on top of roast beef items and as a hot dog condiment.
An Italian dish that was originally eaten by peasants for breakfast, but which has risen in stature to become a highly regarded restaurant dish, risotto is simple to make. You start by cooking risotto rice cooked with stock, before adding other ingredients such as vegetables, shellfish or meat. A knob of butter and some Parmesan cheese 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.
Romesco is a Catalonian sauce of finely ground tomatoes, red bell peppers, onion, garlic, almonds and olive oil.
A French cheese made from unpasteurised ewes’ milk, Roquefort is matured in ancient caves in a village called Roquefort-sur-Soulzon and takes three months to ripen. The result is a semi-soft, crumbly white cheese with blue-green veins. It has a delicious sweet, tangy flavour and makes a good addition to a cheeseboard, but can also be served with fruit or used in salads, dressings, pasta dishes and quiches.
A Swiss potato cake made from layers of sliced or grated potatoes and fried until crisp and golden, rösti is often served as a side dish. The term rösti can be used for all kinds of shredded or sliced and crisply fried ingredients – such as other vegetables or potatoes and fish mixtures.
A popular Indian bread, the roti is normally eaten with curries or cooked vegetables. It is made most often from wheat flour, cooked on a flat or slightly concave iron griddle called a tawa. It is similar to a flour tortilla in appearance.
The French word for ‘rust’ describes the colour of this spicy sauce made of hot chillies, garlic, breadcrumbs, saffron, olive oil and fish stock. It is served as a garnish with fish, fish soup and bouillabaisse.
The word Roulade originates from the French word ‘rouler,’ meaning ‘to roll’. Typically, a roulade is a European dish consisting of a slice of meat rolled around a filling – such as cheese, vegetables or other meats.
A slow-cooked mix of flour and fat used to thicken soups and sauces, roux is the thickening agent of four of the mother sauces of classical French cooking: sauce béchamel, sauce velouté, allemande sauce and sauce espagnole.
Sago is a starch from the pith of the sago palm. It’s processed into sago flour, slightly coarser sago meal or pearl sago – small grains similar to tapioca. It’s used in baking, to make puddings or as a thickener for desserts.
A salamander is a huge commercial grill that can be heated to very high temperatures. It’s used by professional cooks for glazing, browning or caramelising savoury or sweet dishes.
A condiment made of chillies, brown sugar, salt and other ingredients, sambal is used as a condiment or side dish, and as an ingredient for a variety of dishes. It is sometimes a substitute for fresh chillies, which means it can be extremely spicy for the uninitiated.
A Spanish punch drink made with red wine, sliced fruit, fruit juices, sugar, soda water and sometimes a splash of brandy, this popular blood-red drink (from which its name derives) is served over ice and is great with tapas.
A schnitzel is a fried egg- and breadcrumb-battered meat cutlet without bones. In Austria a schnitzel is typically veal, and traditionally served with a lemon slice, lingonberry jam and either potato salad or potatoes with parsley and butter.
Semolina is very coarse flour used to make pizza and bread. It also refers to rounded parts of wheat used to make a pudding of the same name.
The front leg of beef, pork, veal or lamb, the shank is often a very tough cut of meat and requires slow-cooking methods like braising.
Probably the most useful and versatile pastry, shortcrust is a crumbly pastry that’s ideal for pies and tarts. The degree of ‘shortness’, or crisp crumbliness, depends on the amount and type of fat incorporated into the flour and the way in which the pastry is handled.
An assortment of hot and cold dishes served in Sweden as hors d’oeuvres or as a full buffet meal, the name smorgasbord translates as ‘buttered bread table’. A smorgasbord can include all kinds of things – such as potato-based dishes, salads, meats and cheeses, marinated salmon, meatballs etc. A selection of herring specialities – fresh, salted, smoked and pickled – is also a classic component of a smorgasbord.
The name sorrel is used to describe several related plants, including wild sorrel and French sorrel. Its name derives from the French for sour, in reference to the plant’s characteristic acidity. Because of its bitter flavour sorrel is often combined with other ingredients. It can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in soups, purées and stuffings, and goes particularly well with fish and egg dishes.
Also known as carambola, this ridged yellow exotic fruit has a waxy skin and becomes a five-pointed star when sliced widthways. Starfruits have a quite sour taste, so they are often used for decoration or as a garnish only.
The name ‘tagine’ pertains to both a dish and the implement it’s cooked in. Tagines are meat and vegetable stews that are central to Moroccan cuisine and are traditionally cooked in tagines – special earthenware dishes with conical-shaped lids. Lamb frequently features as the main ingredient, and preserved lemons are often included.
What they call fettuccine born in northern Italy, tagliatelle pieces are long, flat ribbons traditionally served with a Bolognaise sauce.
A flavouring agent made from the fruit of the tamarind tree, tamarind tastes a bit like a date but is less sweet. The fruit is shaped like a long bean, inside which is a sour pulp. The pulp can be pressed to form a ‘cake’ or processed to make a paste. Small pieces of tamarind cake can be broken off and infused to create an acidic liquid flavouring used in Asian and Caribbean cooking. Tamarind is an ingredient in Worcestershire sauce and flavours curries, chutneys and dhals very well.
Tapas is the Spanish word for appetisers that may be served cold (such as mixed olives and cheese) or warm (such as puntillitas – which are battered, fried baby squid). The serving of tapas is designed to encourage conversation because people are not so focused upon eating an entire meal that is set before them. Also, in some countries it is customary for diners to stand and move about while eating tapas.
Tapenade is a rich, soft paste made of black olives, capers, anchovies, mustard, basil and parsley. It’s traditionally spread on bread, but you can use tapenade in canapés or starters such as crostini or bruschetta, or you can stir a little into pasta dishes or sauces, use it as a marinade for meat and also for adding to casseroles and stews. There are several varieties to choose from, based on different types of olives and with the addition of extra flavourings.
Ground or finely chopped, seasoned raw meat (traditionally beef), tartare is more often than not served with a raw egg.
Tartufo is Italian for truffle. It is also the name of an Italian ice-cream dessert usually composed of two or more flavours of ice cream with either fruit syrup or frozen fruit – typically raspberry, strawberry or cherry – in the centre. It is typically covered in a shell made of chocolate, but cinnamon or nuts are also used.
Tempura is a popular Japanese dish of deep fried battered meats, seafood or vegetables.
A terrine is a glazed earthenware cooking dish with vertical sides and a tightly fitting lid, generally rectangular or oval, or the dish cooked therein. Modern terrines are also made of enamelled cast-iron.
In Mexico, tortilla refers to a soft floury flatbread made from corn or wheat flour, or tortilla chips. In Spain, a tortilla refers to an omelette made with eggs, potatoes, olive oil and salt. Sometimes other ingredients, such as peppers, chorizo, onion, tuna, asparagus and mushrooms, are added. It’s cut into wedges and eaten hot or cold.
A Greek meze or appetiser, also used as a sauce for souvlaki and gyros, tzatziki is made of strained yoghurt (usually sheep’s-milk or goat’s-milk in Greece and Turkey) with cucumbers, a good amount of garlic, salt, olive oil, pepper and sometimes dill, lemon juice, parsley and mint. The cucumbers are either pureed and strained, or seeded and finely diced.
Bread that has been made without ‘leavening’ or raising agent such as yeast or baking powder. Breads that are unleavened include chapattis and tortillas.
The sweetly fragrant dried, cured pods of the vanilla orchid can be used either whole or split to reveal the aromatic seeds, which can be scraped out and added to custards, sauces etc. The pods can then be stored in a sugar jar to impart their flavour, or they can be infused directly in custards, creams and milk puddings.
Vermicelli is very fine, long strands of pasta – like a skinny spaghetti – often used in soups. The name means ‘little worms’ in Italian.
A velvety soup made from potatoes, leeks and cream, blended until smooth and served cold, Vichyssoise is often garnished with chopped chives. The name is sometimes used to refer to any cold soup based on potatoes and another vegetable.
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.
Welsh rarebit is a traditional British speciality consisting of a slice of toasted bread covered with a mixture of Cheshire or cheddar cheese that has been melted in pale ale with English mustard, pepper and sometimes a dash of Worcestershire sauce. It’s then grilled and served very hot – while the cheese is still bubbling and tinged with brown.
A lighter version of double cream, whipping cream still has 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 desserts, meringues and puddings that need a slightly lighter touch.
Wontons are small dumplings made by filling thin sheets of dough with a mixture of finely chopped meat, seafood or vegetables.
Xavier is a cream soup or consommé thickened with arrowroot or rice flour, garnished with diced chicken.
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 VS (very special) cognac is two years old, and that of VSOP (very superior old pale) is four years old. XO is also the name for a sauce and condiment used in Chinese cooking. Ingredients include dried shrimp, dried scallops and garlic.
Yakitori are bite-sized pieces 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 most other countries 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.
The yam is a staple food in many tropical countries, particularly the Caribbean. Yams have brown tough skins and the flesh can vary in colour – anything from white to yellow to purple, depending on the variety. Small yams can be cooked in their skins, but larger ones should be peeled and blanched for ten to 20 minutes in boiling salted water before being used. Yams can be used in the same way as potatoes or sweet potatoes.
The zest is the outer rind of citrus fruit – containing aromatic essential oils. Remove the zest carefully by using a grater, potato peeler or zester. Take care not to remove any of the white pith with the zest, because it can be very bitter.
The zest of citrus fruits can be used to add flavour to sweet or savoury dishes, or as a decoration or garnish. Lemon zest is a key ingredient in gremolata.
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.