Travelling round the Mediterranean coastline and islands sampling the food, talking to cooks, and soaking up the atmosphere sounds like an enviable way to earn a living.

Chef Rick Stein, who undertook the experience for his TV series and book of the same name, Mediterranean Escapes, admits happily that he's hooked on being a roving gourmet.

"After the barge journey down the canals of France from Bordeaux to Marseille for the first TV series, all of us, the crew and I, were charmed by the thought that before long we'd start again where we left off.

"It was a wonderful experience and taught me so much - not just about the food but the people in places like Corsica, Sardinia and Morocco."

It was a long way from his empire of food establishments in Padstow, Cornwall, and Rick reveals that "not every expedition was perfection" - there were a few peculiar local specialities. He described a chestnut flour accompaniment to meat in Corsica, as "awful, sickly sweet and sticky".

But most were entrancing: "One of the pleasures of going on food travels, (is that) you tend to head for places that are out of the tourist way." In Sardinia he went to Cabras on the west coast and Oliena in the centre, trying grey mullet which, "I crave even now I'm back".

He celebrates all he experienced, the many interesting characters and 100 mouth-watering recipes, in the new book.

There are recipes for Turkish Spinach, Feta and Mint Pastries, Puglian Fava Bean Puree, Sardinian Spaghetti With Tomato And Cuttlefish Ink, Sicilian Orange Cake and Corfiot Rice Pudding.

Rick believes that Mediterranean food is: "First and foremost about simplicity - the simple cooking of simple ingredients - so it translates well into everyday dishes that cooks of all levels can enjoy."

Going to Catalonia in Spain - his first trip to any part of the mainland around the Mediterranean - particularly impressed him and one of his favourite dishes from there is Chicken And Prawn Paella with artichokes and chorizo.


With Artichokes and Chorizo
(Serves 10-12)
1x 1.5kg chicken
1.75 litres chicken stock
1/2tsp loosely packed saffron strands
150ml olive oil
8 garlic cloves, sliced
16 large raw prawns, heads removed but left unpeeled
150g chorizo picante, sliced
2 medium onions, chopped
2 beef tomatoes, skinned and chopped
750g arroz calasparra
300g prepared artichoke hearts (or about 4 medium globe artichokes)
Leaves from a 10cm rosemary sprig
150g fine green beans, stalk ends trimmed, cut into 1.5cm pieces
150g shelled fresh peas

Joint the chicken and remove the bones from the breasts and thighs. Cut the knuckle end off each drumstick and leave the wings as they are. Cut the breast and thigh meat into large chunks. You could ask your butcher to do this for you.

Put the stock into a large pan, add the chicken bones and leave to simmer for 20 minutes. Strain into a clean pan, add the saffron strands and keep hot.

Heat four tablespoons of the oil in a 40-cm paella pan over a medium-high heat, add the chicken and fry until golden brown. Remove the chicken and set aside on a plate.

Add another two tablespoons of oil to the pan with half the garlic, the prawns and chorizo sausage, and fry for one minute until lightly golden. Set aside on another plate.

Add the onions, the remaining oil (four tablespoons) and garlic to the pan and cook for five minutes until lightly golden. Add the tomatoes and leave to cook over a low heat for 15 minutes until you have a jam-like consistency.

Add the rice to the pan, turn up the heat and fry for a minute or two. Then add the stock, the chicken pieces, the artichokes, rosemary and two teaspoons of salt, and stir briefly to distribute everything evenly around the pan.

Leave to simmer for 20 minutes, turning the pan now and then if necessary so that it cooks evenly.

Meanwhile, drop the beans into a pan of boiling salted water and cook for three minutes. Drain and refresh under cold water.

Scatter the beans, peas, prawns and chorizo over the top of the rice and cook for a further 10 minutes, by which time the rice should have absorbed all the stock and be tender, and all the other ingredients should be cooked. A slightly brown crust on the base of the paella is acceptable but take care not to let it burn during cooking.

Leave the paella to rest off the heat for five minutes before serving. The Spanish prefer to serve it warm rather than hot.