Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Borrowed and blue (well, green, actually)

If you, like my friend Antonia, happened to be jogging in St James’s Park early this morning you might have been party to the dress rehearsal, amongst the barriers, big screens and bunting. The city has been combed polished and planted to its best for the biggest day of pageantry in decades. If you’re not sure what I am talking about, do switch off and crawl back under that republican stronghold that is your rock.


I have a bit of an excited feeling in my stomach, even though come Friday I am going to be hundreds of miles from the big smoke, trying to watch the coverage in a tabac in Normandy with a ‘staunch monarchist’ named Colette; we will both be wearing our hats. Although the BSG isn’t fussed and is much more interested in the outcome of the football season and in this evening’s Masterchef final, I am sure he will peek in at some point to have a look…

After last weekend, the weather’s looking dodgy. But, like birds dropping their wares on your head, rain on the wedding day is likely to bring good fortune (well somebody had to present an upside.) I am sure that William and Kate’s giant street-party/bbq will still go ahead unhindered, the two Dads manning the coals. I reckon it’ll be that old favourite, butterflied leg of lamb, rubbed in salt and sumac, and I’ve borrowed Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe from Saturday’s Guardian to go with it. The BSG, his mum and I had it last night with our lamb chops and it was flavour fit for a princess. Call it our dress rehearsal.

Lamb cutlets with sumac, aubergine and green tahini

Serves four.

4 medium aubergines

2 tsp white-wine vinegar

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tsp dried mint

1 tsp ground cumin (can make it without this)

Salt and black pepper

For the lamb

2 600g racks of lamb, French trimmed

2 tbsp olive oil

5 tbsp sumac mixed with 2 tsp Maldon sea salt

4 tbsp Greek yoghurt

For the tahini sauce

60g tahini paste

1 mild green chilli, deseeded (or less, to taste)

40g parsley, leaves and stems

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 garlic clove

60ml water

1 pinch each salt and sugar

Pierce the aubergines in a few places with a knife, then lay on a foil-lined tray and place under a hot grill for up to an hour, turning them a few times. They need to deflate completely and the skin burn and break. Once done, remove from the grill. Set the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. Cut down the centre of each aubergine and scoop the flesh into a colander. Leave to drain for at least 15 minutes. Chop up the aubergine, add the vinegar, oil, mint, cumin and plenty of salt and pepper, and set aside.

While the aubergines are cooking, start on the lamb. Put a large nonstick frying pan over high heat. Brush the lamb with oil and sear until golden-brown all over. Place on a baking sheet and press sumac and salt all over the flesh. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until cooked but still pink, then leave to rest for five minutes.

Put all the sauce ingredients in a small food processor bowl and work for two to three minutes, until you have a smooth, green paste. Add a little water, if needed, to get it to a pouring consistency.

To serve, carve the racks into individual cutlets and divide between four plates. Spoon over some of the aubergine, followed by some sauce, and top with a dollop of yoghurt.


Wednesday, 20 April 2011

April firsts

I am not such a very nice person as it turns out. I mean, what on earth has Rachel Allen ever done to me? Nothing, apart from smile gently down the telly. And yet for some reason, I find all her jingly, lilting sunniness irritating to the point of wanting to leap in and start a food fight there in her spotless, Ballymaloe telly-kitchen.


However, this longstanding grudge dissipated when last weekend I sampled some of her food. Well, not her food exactly, but recipes from her book, beautifully executed by my friend Sarah, who does everything absolutely precisely: she is a scientist to her very core. (We used to have art v. science arguments at school, like the dog v. cat ones I have with the BSG these days - he is pro-cat if you’re interested in taking sides).

A couple of days with Sarah and her family in the rolling countryside outside Leeds had three of us Londoners wondering why we hadn’t jacked in the big smoke for this idyllic, wholesome life. In the first few warm rays of the year we had lunch outside: a delicious, shredded salad of savoy cabbage, carrots, crisp apples, bacon bits and chicken. And it was Rachel Allen – well Sarah, really – who made us feel these first breaths of summer. I think there may have even been some rougeing of the face, but that was my fault entirely.


Feeling rather virtuous after this refreshing main course (I would say light, except we ate all of it, including Sarah’s husband’s portion…He’d been on a run and thoroughly deserved to eat), Sarah produced the most beautiful lemon tart. Honestly, it looked like the best homemade thing I’d ever seen – shop-bought ones with their unbroken perfection don’t quite cut it. And it tasted like a cloud of citrussy sunshine, and had some kind of brulĂ©ed crust on its top. Heaven. As it turned out, that was Rachel too. So, not just a pretty husband, then. I even got a picture of lunch, for once, before it disappeared.

lemon tart

It was surprise we’d managed to fit any lunch in at all, when a mere hour beforehand we’d paid a visit to the Ilkley branch of Betty’s Tea Room. For a first-timer like me, simply ordering a coffee (albeit a rich, Latte Latino made with chocolate sauce and cinnamon) just wouldn’t have cut the mustard, so with it came the plumpest Yorkshire Fat Rascal (an enormous warm fruit bun), some freshly baked rarebit scones and Betty’s famous cinnamon toast. Clearly a recipe they’d perfected over time, the cinnamon and sugar lay in a thick crust over crunchy fingers of brown toast – the sort of mean brown toast you’d never have associated with such a treat but which was now transformed under its crystalline cloak. No wonder Sarah’s son, Finlay, eschewed his rather yummy-looking lunch in its favour.

The rest of the weekend continued much along the same theme – three girls from London, being fed like kings, with pancetta wrapped monkfish, white chocolate mousse, pork and apple crumble (my first savoury crumble – won’t be my last that’s for sure) and on Sunday morning, blueberry pancakes like the fluffiest cumulonimbus made by Rhys, Sarah’s hubby; a good excuse to march up onto the moor for a brisk one.

Ice cream

It was very hard to leave, even harder to manage the wagyu burger the BSG had prepared on my return and nigh on impossible to fathom what we’ll conjure up for them on the return leg; I might ask my new favourite person...