I am yet to meet anybody who doesn’t enjoy lemon loaf (and I’m not sure I’d like them very much if I did). There is just something so irresistibly reassuring about this cake – it is simple, yes, but could never be called boring. I can’t think of anything I’d rather have more with a cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon.
This particular loaf comes from Ottolenghi’s Sweet, and it’s the sense of safety and reliability from this recipe that provoked Ottolenghi and Helen Goh to affectionately name it their ‘National Trust’ cake. It works very well gluten free, using Doves Farm plain GF flour along with 1/2tsp xantham gum. I find that this loaf disappears incredibly quickly, and so it might be worth doubling the recipe here to stash one loaf in the freezer, un-iced, for a moment of need.
Makes 1 2lb/900g loaf
3 large eggs
225g caster sugar
120 ml double cream
75g unsalted butter, cubed, plus extra for greasing
10g poppy seeds
finely grated zest of 3 lemons (preferably unwaxed)
170g plain flour
1 ¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
For the glaze
100g icing sugar, sifted
2 tbsp lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan. Grease the loaf tin and line with baking parchment, then set aside.
Place the eggs and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk on a medium-high speed for about 2 minutes, until pale and frothy. Add the cream and continue to whisk for about 2 minutes, until the mixture has combined, thickened a little and turned pale.
In the meantime, melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat, add the poppy seeds and lemon zest and set aside.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt (plus the xantham gum, if you’re making it gluten free) together into a bowl, then use a rubber spatula to fold this into the egg mixture before folding through the butter, poppy seeds and zest.
Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin. Place the tin on a baking tray and cook for about 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Whilst the cake is baking, make the glaze by whisking the icing sugar with the lemon juice in a bowl. Pour this over the top of the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven, spreading it over the top so that it sinks in and creates a nice glaze. Set aside to cool for 30 minutes before removing from the tin. Leave to come to room temperature before serving. The cake will keep for 3 days in an airtight container.
I can’t quite shake the way in which the name of these wonderful little Italian doughnuts reminds me of the Gipsy King’s Bomboleo. Linguistics aside, the joyfulness of the anthem is certainly reflected in the delight that these tasty morsel impart on the lucky eater.
As a coeliac, the food that I have missed the most since my diagnosis back in 2002 is doughnuts. Gluten free doughnuts are almost impossible to buy – and I mean proper fried doughnuts, not the baked, ‘healthier’ ring-shaped cakes that lurk around health food shops, deceitfully masquerading themselves as the real thing.
Admittedly, these ricotta and orange bomboloni aren’t strictly doughnuts, seeing as they’re yeastless and therefore very low-maintenance. They’re perhaps best described as a cross between a beignet, churro, and loukoumade. I have made my own gluten free yeasted doughnuts in the past, and they were good, but labour intensive and temperamental. These bomboloni are the closest thing I’ve had to a damn good doughnut in 18 years , and they seem too good to be true – ludicrously easy and yet ludicrously delicious. In fact, they almost feel like cheating; they entail minimum effort but yield maximum satisfaction. There’s no yeast, no proving, no special equipment – the batter is literally the work of 5 minutes plus half an hour of resting time (for both you and the batter).
I can take no credit whatsoever here for the recipe – it’s one by Ravneet Gill for the Guardian over the summer. I can, however, confirm that they adapt very well to be coeliac-friendly; simply substitute the flour for gluten free plain flour (I use the Doves Farm one). We demolished these very quickly just as they were, but I think they would also be very nice indeed served with a hot, bitter chocolate sauce.
Makes about 12-14 bomboloni
2 large eggs
40g of caster sugar, plus extra, for coating
Grated zest of 1 orange
110g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 pinch salt
Vegetable or sunflower oil, for frying
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Lightly whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the sugar and orange zest, and whisk again to combine. Add the strained ricotta and stir gently to combine – don’t overwork it because you want to keep some of the lumps intact.
In a second bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt, then add to the ricotta mixture and whisk to combine.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes (or for up to two hours in the fridge).
Put a medium-sized saucepan on the hob, add enough oil to come halfway up the sides and put on a medium heat. You’re ready to cook once the oil is hot enough to make a droplet of batter sizzle gently and float to the surface.
Cooking the bomboloni in batches, drop small tablespoons of batter into the oil and fry for two to two and a half minutes in total, until golden – the bomboloni should naturally flip by themselves after about a minute.
Use a slotted spoon to lift the cooked bomboloni from the pan and transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper. Repeat with the remaining batter. Once all the batter is used up, toss the bomboloni in the extra sugar mixed with cinnamon, and serve. These are best eaten fresh, but they keep for a few hours at room temperature (once cooled, it’s best to store them in an airtight container).
There is many a purist who would firmly contend tampering with a classic chocolate chip cookie recipe in any way. A typical cookie is formed from varying quantities of butter, sugar, flour and egg, with some form of raising agent, and, of course, chocolate. However, contrary to traditionalists, the humble chocolate chip cookie is the most perfect vehicle to experiment with, using different kinds of sugar or chocolate, distinctly flavoured flours such as rye, or adding things like nuts and dried fruit.
In any ‘classic’ chocolate chip cookie I make, I always add vanilla bean paste, espresso powder and salt, all of which enhance the flavour of the chocolate. The same can be said for the ingenious addition of tahini to David Lebovitz’s recipe for these chocolate chip cookies. The tahini creates another layer of flavour, lending a very subtle bitter, savoury note to the dough. I think chopped dark chocolate works better than commercial chocolate chips here, as the larger piece melt into little chocolate puddles within each cookie. I’ve altered the baking temperature of Lebovitz’s recipe, as I found a shorter bake in a hotter oven made for a better texture. If you can bear the wait, refrigerating the dough overnight really does yield a far superior cookie.
Makes around 25 cookies
115g unsalted butter,at room temperature
120ml tahini,well stirred
100g granulated sugar
90g light brown sugar
1largeegg,at room temperature
150g plain flour
3/4tspbicarbonate of soda
1 tsp sea salt
280g chopped dark chocolate
flaky sea salt, for sprinkling
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter, tahini, granulated sugar and brown sugar on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, until fluffy.
Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides. Add the egg, the yolk, and vanilla, and continue to mix for another minute, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl during mixing, to make sure the eggs are getting incorporated.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and sea salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients until just combined, then add the chocolate chips. Do not overmix. Cover the dough and refrigerate overnight.
When you’re ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 190ºC. Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper or silicone baking mats.
Form the cookies into balls using a small ice cream scoop, a tablespoon measure, or your hands. Sprinkle each cookie ball with a little extra sea salt, if you like. Place them evenly spaced on the baking sheets, around 8cm apart. Bake one sheet at a time, so you can keep an eye on them, in the middle rack of the oven.
Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown around the edges but still pale in the centre. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool on the baking sheet. Bake the remaining cookies the same way.
Storage: These cookies will keep for two or three days at room temperature. The unbaked dough can be refrigerated for up to one week, and frozen for up to two months.
Scrolling past yet another banana bread photo on Instagram, it’s easy to feel cynical about the clichés of lockdown cooking that have exploded as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet the onslaught of sourdough starters that heralded the nation’s return to wholesome home-cooking signals a much more significant shift in the way Britons think and feel about food.
Long before Boris Johnson implemented a nationwide lockdown in late March, supermarket shelves across Britain were swept clean, having been emptied of essentials like toilet paper and pasta by a hysterical wave of panic-buyers. As a direct result of consumer stockpiling and compromised supply chains, many people experienced scarcity for the first time in their lives. Forced to stare at the hard reality that food is, in fact, finite, we began to value, respect and honour food in a way that has been lost since wartime Britain. Many of us reverted back to weekly or fortnightly shops, carefully constructing meal plans and adapting to create new meals out of leftover food. Research by Hubbub – a UK-based sustainability charity – found that 57% of Britons value food more now than they did pre-coronavirus, and as a result, levels of food waste between April and June fell significantly in the UK.
Ever since the American-influenced consumerist culture boom in the 1950s, the UK has fostered a problematic food culture. As a nation, we have learned to rely on endless choice and abundance, regardless of quality or season. The idea of always being able to have whatever we want, whenever we want, has given way to a shockingly throwaway food culture. Recent figures published by WRAP in January 2020 revealed that households in the UK throw away 4.5 million tonnes of food each year that could have been eaten, collectively worth £14 billion. In the UK alone, 24 million slices of bread (or one million loaves) are wasted every single day, which annually produces an amount of carbon dioxide equivalent to more than half a million return flights from London to New York. On top of this, prolonged austerity and rising poverty levels combined with increasingly busy work schedules and stressful lifestyles have generated a mass departure from home-cooking, with more and more households relying on take-out food or ready meals. In the space of just a few generations, an alarming pattern has begun to emerge in which the quality, nutrition and provenance of food is superseded by aesthetics, speed and convenience on a mass-scale.
However, the optimistic among us can see a silver lining to the pandemic in that it has helped us to see the true value of food. Many of those who have been furloughed or are working from home have enjoyed more time for cooking from scratch, partly necessitated by the closure of restaurants and pubs. Covid-19 has brought to light that not only is food a precious, limited commodity, but it also has an incredible emotional significance. Whilst the methodical, creative process of cooking can be a therapeutic time to slow down, the act of eating itself is one that is joyful, and has provided comfort for many over what has been a very stressful, uncertain and frightening time. During lockdown, a slower pace of life has lent crucial time to reflect on what is truly important in life, with sitting down and eating good food with loved ones high up on many people’s priorities.
Nationwide shortages of eggs, flour and sugar from March to May heralded a nostalgic return to home baking, as cooking simultaneously became a source of comfort and a rewarding source of entertainment that has the capacity to bring about a real sense of achievement. As a student, I’ve seen a number of friends get creative in the kitchen over lockdown, setting up dedicated Instagram accounts to document their culinary projects; beginner bakers soon grew to be focaccia aficionados and were relishing the challenge of more complex patisserie. My brother quickly became a gardening fanatic, using extra time saved from his two-hour daily commute to grow his own herbs and vegetables in the garden. This interest in sustainable, home-grown food is echoed in the sharp rise in applications for allotments across the UK during lockdown.
With cookery books and kitchen gadgets widely out of stock online, it’s clear that lockdown has incited a mass rediscovery of the joy of cooking. But as the world begins to slowly heave itself into recovery, the question remains – can we solve our relationship with food for good? Will we have time to bake bread and cook from scratch when we return back to work and university full-time? It’s easy to romanticise ‘the good old days’ of the early twentieth century, where Britons largely sat down every evening for a home-cooked meal made from local, seasonal ingredients. In today’s globalised world, food production and consumption are inherently different, but that doesn’t mean it has to be inherently worse. We must all take the responsibility of educating ourselves on how to be ethical and sustainable consumers, and make an active effort to carve out sacred time for both cooking and eating as lockdown eases further.
For all of us, the pandemic has been a life-changing period which has forced us to re-examine the way we live our lives. It’s impossible to know if society will ever fully return to its pre-Covid state, but over the last six months, many of us have made positive changes to the way we eat and perceive food. We still have a long way to go in terms of reducing the UK’s food waste, but the figures from lockdown are promising. The UK government’s plans for a so-called ‘green recovery’ from Covid-19 need a greater focus on food if we’re going to create a more sustainable society. Returning to a culture of home-cooking is a step in the right direction for repairing Britain’s relationship with food, not only in terms of food waste but also in battling the national obesity crisis. Relearning the intrinsic value of good food must be the springboard to address other issues we have with food and its production, including the threat to food standards imposed by an imminent US trade deal, and the detrimental effect that intensive animal farming has on ecosystems and climate. The next six to twelve months will reveal whether Britons can retain the lessons of this surreal and trying period, or whether we’ll swing back into old habits at the first given opportunity.
I have historically had a very difficult relationship with making meringue. I am always painstakingly careful, diligently carrying out all of the ‘tricks of the trade’ that I’ve read up on: I whisk the meringue with spotlessly clean apparatus, ensuring there’s no fat; I use a metal bowl; I only use room temperature egg whites. And yet, more often than I like to admit, something goes wrong. My kitchen has seen all too many runny meringue mixtures or collapsed pavlovas, and a few tears of frustration along the way. This recipe, however, is fairly foolproof in that it doesn’t really matter what the meringue looks like. Mine collapsed a fair bit when it came out of the oven, and there were a few patches of meringue which had caught. None of this was a problem, of course, since it was destined to be slathered in cream and piled with fruit, and, being a flat ‘sheet’ meringue, it wasn’t as exposed as a normal pavlova.
This recipe is based on one written for Waitrose magazine by the lovely Georgina Hayden. The finished meringue has a perfect layering of flavour profiles: the combination of sweet, nutty, marshmallowy meringue, with the pillowy, tangy yoghurt-cream, finished with semi-sharp and floral apricots. Apricots are at their best at this time of year, and invariably taste better when cooked; if you can, roast them in a really floral honey (such as heather or orange blossom honey) to bring out the delicate flavour of the apricots. I’m not the biggest fan of using flowers in cooking, but lavender has a bewitching affinity with apricots – just be sparing with it so that your meringue doesn’t taste like soap!
500g apricots, halved
3 tbsp floral honey
50ml white wine or rosé
250g caster sugar
5 large egg whites
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp white wine vinegar
100g pack roasted, chopped hazelnuts
300ml double cream, softly whipped
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
200g Greek yoghurt
Fresh lavender flowers (optional)
Preheat the oven to 220°C. Put the apricots in an oven-proof dish and drizzle with the honey and wine. Roast in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until soft but not falling apart. Set aside to cool and lower the oven temperature to 180°C.
For the meringue, line a large, rimmed baking tray (about 25cm x 30cm) with baking parchment. Put the egg whites in a large bowl with a pinch of salt and whisk until stiff peaks form, then gradually whisk in 250g sugar, one teaspoon at a time. In a small bowl, stir together the cornflour and vinegar, then whisk into the egg whites. Finally, fold in the hazelnuts. Spread the mixture out on the prepared tray.
Bake the meringue for about 45 minutes, or until set and golden. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely.
Stir together the whipped cream, yoghurt and vanilla bean paste, then spoon it over the meringue. Top with the roasted apricots and any roasting juices, and sprinkle over a few lavender flowers to finish. Serve immediately.
There’s certainly a time and a place for multi-tiered, elaborate cakes. Over lockdown, I’ve particularly enjoyed devising increasingly complex and embellished celebration cakes for a number of quarantine birthdays and graduations, relishing the challenge of combining the perfect crumb structure with the right flavour profile, icing (cream cheese frosting, Italian meringue buttercream, or ganache?) and decorative finishing touches. However, I also find that there is equal – or even greater – joy to be found in simple, plain cakes; the kind you can cut and come again whenever the kettle is boiling. Over the last few years, social media platforms have been awash with ‘satisfying’ videos documenting cakes being cut, moulded, iced and decorated beyond recognition – think rainbow cakes, drip cakes, or cakes that have a hidden confectionary centre. While all of this is well and good, the phrase ‘style over substance’ comes to mind; these creations seem to consist primarily of saccharine icing and not much else. Yes, they look beautiful, but do they actually taste nice?
In my own kitchen, the most simple cakes are the most requested: Victoria sandwich, lemon loaf, maybe the odd carrot cake. It’s true that the simpler the cake, the less room there is to hide, but with the right recipe there’s little that can go wrong. This iconic River Café lemon, almond and polenta cake is the type of cake which is as at home alongside a cup of strong coffee as it is as an elegant dinner party pudding with a dollop of crème fraîche. It’s not iced, glazed, or soaked in syrup, but its beauty lies in its simplicity. The tender, damp cake is heady with lemon, and the polenta gives it a wonderful bite. It’s a one-bowl, one-tin kind of cake, and it’s flourless, too, so it’s naturally gluten free. For me, it’s the perfect cake for summer – moist, zesty, and somehow light despite the outrageously high butter content.
The original recipe (taken from the first River Cafe cookbook) makes a 30cm (12 in) cake, which is uncommonly large, so I’ve converted the quantities to make a standard 23cm cake (hence the slightly random measurements).
Torta di Polenta, Mandorle e Limone
338g unsalted butter, softened
338g caster sugar
228g ground almonds
1 tsp good vanilla essence
4 very large eggs
zest of 3 large, unwaxed lemons
juice of 1 lemon
1 heaped tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas 3. Butter and flour a 23cm springform cake tin.
Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and light. Stir in the ground almonds and vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Fold in the lemon zest and lemon juice, the polenta, baking powder and salt.
Spoon into the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for 50-55 minutes or until set. The cake will be a deep brown on top.
Admittedly, homemade ice cream is a bit of a labour of love, but it is almost always worth the effort. I have long been a disciple of ‘cheat’s’ two-ingredient ice cream – a no-churn option typically made with cream and condensed milk. However, having had much more time on my hands over lockdown, I’ve been making custard-based ice creams from scratch, enjoying the process and the technique. Now that I’ve found a trusty recipe for a custard base, I’ve been able to use it to make all sorts of ice creams depending what fruit is in season (or what’s delivered in our OddBox). My general rule is to lightly cook 400-500g of fruit of your choice in a pan with a tablespoon each of water and sugar (until the fruit is soft and releasing its juices), and then pour off any excess liquid before puréeing in a food processor or with a stick blender. This can then be incorporated into the chilled custard prior to churning in an ice cream machine.
Cherries have always been my favourite fruit, but I rarely buy them due to their typically ruinous cost. However, our local farmers’ market has been selling 2kg punnets of the best cherries I’ve ever tasted for a very reasonable price, so we’ve been gorging ourselves whilst the season still lasts. Having made one clafoutis too many, I turned to this ice cream, which is as pretty as it is delicious. If you can’t get hold of any affordable cherries, any berry would work really well here.
If you’re really pressed for time (or don’t have an ice cream churner), you could always make the cherry purée mix and then ripple it through a basic ice cream base of 300ml of double cream that has been beaten with a 397g tin of condensed milk until thick and pillow-y (I like to add a glug of neutral alcohol, too).
For the ice cream:
4 free-range egg yolks
100g caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
400ml double cream
100ml whole or semi-skimmed milk
For the cherry ripple:
400g cherries, pitted
1 tbsp caster sugar
Put the egg yolks, caster sugar and vanilla in a large bowl and whisk with an electric hand whisk until pale, thick and aerated – around five minutes. In a medium pan, heat the milk and cream to just below boiling point, then slowly pour onto the eggs, whisking all the time, until completely mixed.
Wash out and dry the pan and then pour the custard back in. Over a medium-low heat, cook the custard gently, stirring all the time until it thickens and can coat the back of a spoon. Pour into a clean bowl and cover the surface with cling film to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in the fridge for 3 hours or overnight.
For the cherry puree, put the stoned cherries into a small pan with the sugar and water. Heat the cherries over a medium heat until they begin to break down and release their juices – around ten minutes. Remove from the heat and pour away the liquid. Purée the softened cherries in a small food processor or with a hand stick blender until smooth, and then pass the purée through a fine sieve to remove any pith or fibre. Chill until needed.
Churn the custard in an ice cream machine according to manufacturers’ instructions. Once thickened and frozen, transfer to a container or tupperware, and then ripple the cherry sauce through the ice cream attractively. Freeze.
Remove the ice cream from the freezer at least 15 minutes before you want to tuck in to allow it to soften.
“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.”
Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time
It’s not easy to write about madeleines without referring to their ultimate fan, Marcel Proust. Proust’s infamous musings on madeleines in his novel In Search of Lost Time covertly seek to contrast voluntary memory with involuntary memory through the experiences of his nameless narrator. Much like Proust’s narrator, I too find madeleines extremely evocative, and have memories of eating them in France as a very young child (in the blissful years prior to my coeliac diagnosis). However, madeleines are so much more than a Proustian literary cliché. Put simply, they’re a lighter-than-light sponge cake from France comprised of sugar, butter, flour and eggs, most often baked in distinctive shell-shaped moulds. However, method and flavourings can vary hugely, with purists favouring a modest dash of vanilla to the batter, whilst revolutionaries have (sacrilegiously) fashioned such creations as ‘funfetti’ madeleines. For me, when it comes to madeleines, the simpler the better. However, keeping it simple unequivocally demands the best quality ingredients; there’s nowhere to hide with madeleines made with cheap butter and battery-farm eggs.
Under the guidance of the likes of Yotam Ottolenghi and Phil Vickery, I have always made madeleines with honey as well as sugar, which I find lends a more complex and often floral sweetness to the cake. My most recent madeleines, however, used browned butter along with the honey, yielding what I believe to be my most delicious batch yet (thank you, Ravneet Gill). Whilst browning the butter takes a little more time, the deep, sweet nuttiness of the finished cakes is well worth the effort; affording simple ingredients like butter such love and affection transforms a simple confectionary into a more ambrosial pleasure.
It is widely recognised that madeleines are at their absolute best when served straight from the oven (like they do at St. JOHN). The beauty of Gill’s batter, then, is that is keeps beautifully in the fridge for several days, meaning that we could enjoy freshly baked madeleines periodically over three days. Although Gills’ recipe claims to make 12 madeleines, I suspect this is a misprint as I actually came out with 40 (which was just as well in the end). These really are one of my absolute favourites, and if I were to ever have my own restaurant, these would be the first thing on the menu.
Ravneet Gill’s Brown butter and honey madeleines:
185g unsalted butter
40g medium-dark runny honey
4 large eggs
150g caster sugar
20g demerara sugar
1tsp vanilla bean paste
185g plain flour (I used Doves Farm gluten free plain flour)
pinch of salt
10g baking powder
Melt the butter in a saucepan and keep heating until it is browned and smells nutty. Stir in the honey and set aside.
Put the eggs into the bowl of a stand mixer or in a mixing bowl. Beat together at a medium speed for 2 minutes using the whisk attachment or a hand-held whisk. Add both sugars and the vanilla and beat at a medium-high speed for around 5 minutes until thick and frothy.
Meanwhile, sift the flour, salt and baking powder together into a separate bowl and set aside.
Beat the honey butter into the egg mixture at a slow speed. Transfer to a large mixing bowl if using a stand mixer.
Fold the flour mixture in three separate batches. I like to use a whisk to fold in the same way you would use a spatula to fold as this minimizes lumps. Transfer the batter to a container, cover with a lid and chill in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours (and maximum of 3 days).
Preheat the oven to 180° fan/200°C/400°F/gas mark 6.
Heavily grease madeleine tray with butter and dust with flour. Place 1 tbsp of batter into each indent and bake for 8-12 minutes until there is a bump in the middle of each cake that springs back once pressed. Tap the tray on the table to release the cakes. These are best eaten freshly baked and warm.
There is huge comfort and reassurance in the possession of a few cans in the cupboard, especially so in times like these. Many have been the time that I have wearily returned home, unhopeful of any good supper, and found relief in a can or two hiding at the back of the cupboard. Tinned tomatoes and pulses are the most common rescue, though coconut milk comes a close second. This stew is one such recipe that requires very little fresh ingredients – or rather, as little as you like, as many of the ingredients can be omitted depending how destitute your fridge is. It is a variation of Alison Roman’s infamous ‘The Stew’, which caused a stir all the way through New York when the recipe was first published in the New York Times. It’s very hard to know what exactly makes a recipe go ‘viral’, but there are certainly no bells and whistles here; I think the secret to this particular recipe lies in its simplicity, wholesomeness, and the comfort it brings in what Nigella has called ‘the solace of stirring’. I often make this is in a big batch and then freeze leftovers in portions, and it never fails to soothe the soul. It’s substantial enough to be eaten on it’s own, but I like it with brown rice and a dollop of yoghurt, though I’ve often served it with naan or roti to mop up the golden juices. This takes 30 minutes from start to finish, but if you’re short on time (or energy) you can always forgo the crispy chickpeas (although they do add a lovely crunch!).
For the crispy chickpeas:
1 x 400g chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1tsp fennel seeds
For the stew:
Oil, for frying
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped
a 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
2 x 400g tins of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tin of full-fat coconut milk
1 stock cube or stock pot (vegetable or chicken)
large bag of baby spinach
Handful of fresh chopped mint (optional)
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Tip one can of chickpeas into a medium roasting dish, drizzle with a glug of oil, spices and salt and pepper, then shake the dish to coat the chickpeas. Place the tray in the hot oven and cook for about 30 minutes until dark golden and crispy, and slightly shrunk in size. You will need to keep checking them every ten minutes or so and shaking the tray so that they cook evenly and don’t catch.
In a large pan, heat a good glug of oil, then add the chopped onion and garlic. Fry over a medium-low heat until the onions are soft and translucent, then add the ginger and spices and cook, stirring, until the pan smells fragrant. Add two cans of chickpeas and use a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon to partly crush the chickpeas so that they’re semi-broken down – this helps to thicken the stew. Once the chickpeas have been smooshed a bit, add the coconut milk, 250ml of boiling water, and the stock pot. Bring to a bubble and cook for about ten minutes, until the chickpeas are nice and soft and the stew has reduced very slightly. Stir through the fresh spinach to wilt, and then check the seasoning. Serve with rice or flatbreads, with mint and crunchy chickpeas sprinkled over.
I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling anxious, worried and a bit frightened in these very uncertain times. Most of us have never lived through anything like this, and it’s sometimes difficult to know what or how to think about it all. However, if there’s one thing that I always turn to in times of sadness, anxiety, sleeplessness or loneliness, it’s baking.
So, here is my humble offering of consolation – a very easy but very delicious rhubarb cake. The crumb is moist yet dense, which makes this perfect with a cup of tea, or served warm with ice cream (or preferably custard). It’s an all-in-one method cake, so it really couldn’t be easier, and you can switch it up depending on what you have in your store cupboard – you could leave out the ginger, perhaps, or use any fruit (fresh, frozen, dried or tinned) in lieu of the rhubarb. I hope that you can find as much solace in stirring, measuring, mixing and smoothing as I do.
200g softened butter or margarine, plus extra for greasing
200g caster sugar, plus 3 tbsp for the topping
3 large free-range eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract or paste (optional)
200g ground almonds
200g self-raising flour (if you don’t have any, use plain flour + 1 heaped tsp baking powder)
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
2 heaped tsp ground ginger
5 balls of stem ginger, finely chopped
4 tbsp milk
300g/10½oz pink rhubarb, trimmed and cut into roughly 2cm pieces (or any fruit you have!)
Put on some nice music and make yourself a cup of tea.
Preheat your oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4, then grease a 23cm/9in springform cake and line the base with baking paper.
Put all of the ingredients except the rhubarb into a large bowl and beat with an electric hand whisk until everything is smooth and well-incorporated (you can also use a food processor). Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula to ensure everything is mixed in.
Spoon the cake mix into the prepared tin and top with the rhubarb . You can scatter the fruit randomly or arrange it in a concentric-circle type pattern – it’s up to you!. There is no need to push the rhubarb into the batter as it will sink a little as it cooks.
Sprinkle with the reserved 3 tablespoons of sugar and bake for 45 minutes.
After 45 minutes, cover the tin loosely with foil and cook for a further 20-25 minutes, or until a knife or skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack. It’s lovely served warm, but equally nice cold, too!