The weather this week has been rather Scottish- sudden, torrential downpours followed by blinding sunshine, succeeded ten minutes later by a violent hail storm, then more sunshine producing a gorgeous watery rainbow, its colours blurring at the edges. Then more grey clouds come scudding across with the threat of further rain.
Today as I write this, in a usually placid South West London, we’ve had all of the above. This leads inevitably to the question- what on earth do I cook to accommodate such abrupt shifts in mood and weather?
A roasted garlic and potato souffle provided the warmth and comfort against those sudden squalls, the chargrilled asparagus salad with its seasonal elderflower dressing supplied a spring crunch, and the Courgette and Pistachio Cake provided the antidote to any weather-induced grumpiness. It was a meal ready for anything the weather might dare throw at us, well, except snow! Surely we won’t have snow in late May?
The Elderflower dressing came from a wonderful book by Mark Diacono, A Year at Otter Farm. It was something I’d not tried before and I’d really recommend it, so fragrant and just perfect for this time of year, as the elderflower starts to bloom. The book too is a great read, detailing how he created a smallholding where he grew “whatever made me hungry”, particularly focusing on delicious plants that had gone out of fashion and were no longer available in the local supermarket- mulberries, quince, parsley root and even the Chilean guava.
I’d recommend sitting back in a comfy chair with a slab of that more-ish Courgette and Pistachio Cake and idling away a few hours following in this intrepid cook/gardener’s footsteps. Can’t think of a sweeter way to pass the time when the spring rain is streaming down the windowpane.
Roasted Garlic and Potato Souffle with Salsa Verde
Ingredients: 1 head of garlic, 1/2 tbsp olive oil, 1 x 250g fluffy potato, 30g butter melted, 40g plain flour, 160ml whole milk, 4 eggs separated, 80g grated Pecorino, salt and pepper.
Method: Preheat the oven to 180C and take a square of tin foil- cut the top off the head of garlic and place on the foil, drizzle with oil and close up the foil. Prick the potato with a fork then bake the potato and garlic for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make the salsa verde- whizz together a small bunch of flat leaf parsley, mint and chives with 2 cloves of garlic, zest of 1 lemon, 3 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp white wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Check the seasoning and add a squeeze of lemon if required then stir through a tbsp of rinsed capers.
Butter 8 medium ramekins or 1 large souffle dish and sprinkle with 2 tbsp grated Pecorino- pop into the fridge til ready for use. Turn up oven to 200C once the potato and garlic are cooked. Scoop out the potato flesh and squeeze out the caramelised garlic and mix together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Melt the 30g butter and once foaming add the flour while whisking continuously for 1 min. Add the milk slowly while whisking- cook for about 2 mins by which time the mixture will have thickened. Add this to the potato mixture along with the yolks, 70g grated Pecorino and a grinding of black pepper ( I don’t season with salt here because the Pecorino is pretty salty).
Whisk the whites til stiff peaks form, then using a metal spoon fold the whites into the potato mixture. Put the mixture into the shuffle dish and bake for 25 mins if you are using the large dish, or 15 mins if using individual ramekins.
Serve with a little extra grated Pecorino and the salsa verde.
Chargrilled Asparagus and Mange Tout Salad with Elderflower Dressing
Ingredients: 1 bunch of asparagus and 200g mange tout; 2 tbsp elderflower cordial, 1 tbsp white wine vinegar, 1 tbsp olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Method: Make the dressing first- whisk the cordial and vinegar with the seasoning then add the olive oil- whisk til emulsified.
Blanch the veg in boiling water for 1 min then drain and run under the cold tap in a colander to stop them cooking and to preserve the vivid green colour. Heat a griddle pan with 1 tbsp olive oil and once smoking add the veg in batches- takes about 5-7 mins total.
Sprinkle with the dressing and top with a few edible calendula petals if you have them.
Courgette and Pistachio Cake
Ingredients: 75g sultanas, 250g grated courgettes, 2 eggs, 125ml veg oil, 125g caster, 180g self-raising flour, 45g ground pistachios, 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 1/2 tsp baking powder. 2 sandwich tins (21cm diameter), greased and lined.
Method: Preheat the oven to 180C. Place the sultanas in a small bowl and cover with boiling water for a few minutes so they really plump up.
Once the courgettes are grated squeeze them out as best you can.
Put the eggs, oil and caster in a bowl and beat for a few mins then add the sifted flour and raising agents. Blitz the pistachio nuts then stir these through the batter.
Stir through the courgettes and sultanas. Pour the mixture into the tins as evenly as you can then bake for 25-30 mins. Allow to cool before turning out.
For the filling and topping: 300g cream cheese, 100g icing sugar, zest of 1 lemon, handful of ground pistachio nuts and pumpkin seeds to sprinkle on the top.
In a bowl sieve the icing sugar and add the cream cheese- beat together with a wooden spoon then add the lemon zest. Spread half on the top of the bottom cake then add the other cake and top with the other half of the icing and sprinkle with the pistachios and pumpkin seeds. Keep somewhere cool.