Q: I don't often cook with lentils and when I do I don't seem to have much success. They're always too hard. Where am I going wrong?
Don't assume that pulses will keep indefinitely – after about a year they will start to harden and no amount of cooking will soften them. Always buy them from somewhere reliable, and it's a good idea to place a little sticker on the storage jar to remind you when you bought them.
Q: What is the best type of flageolet beans to buy? I have some dried ones in my cupboard but they remain hard even when cooked.
Firstly, I suggest you buy flageolet beans in small quantities and only replace them as you use them. If they're stored for more than one season they can become stale and this is often the reason why they remain hard. I also suggest you buy the beans from a supplier who has a fast turnover of pulses.
Q: I am cooking large quantities of rice for a cold buffet. What is the key to keeping the rice perfect on this scale?
Be gentle – once boiling point is reached, reduce the heat to the lowest possible simmer and try not to lift the lid. Timing is important. It is the same regardless of the quantity of rice – 15 minutes is just enough for long-grain white rice. There should be no unabsorbed liquid left – if there is, cook the rice for a couple more minutes. Perfectly cooked rice is tender but firm to the bite. Cover the cooked rice with a clean tea cloth for 5-10 minutes to absorb the steam and, just before serving, separate and fluff the grains with a skewer.
Q: It's always puzzled me, why do some recipes call for rice to be measured in fluid ounces or millilitres rather than by weight?
Measuring rice by volume rather than by weight makes it easier to add the correct amount of liquid. For perfect rice you should add exactly double the volume of water to the rice.
Q: With so many different types of pasta on the market, can you recommend which is the best one to use?
If you want to enjoy cooking and eating pasta at its best, my advice is to always buy good-quality dried pasta. When you buy your pasta, make sure it says 'pasta di semola di grano duro' – durum wheat semolina pasta.