DESSERT, CAKE

LEMON AND ROSEMARY ALMOND CAKE

Lemon drizzle cake is one of those cakes that seems to have always been around. There are countless recipes, each with their own twist, but when baked with rosemary it is particularly delicious. I first tried this combination at the E5 Bakehouse in London – theirs was made with polenta – and I just had to make a version of my own.

Because this is made with ground almonds, it’s gluten-free, too. And in the event that there are leftovers (as if!), this will last a good week or so in an airtight tin. 

HELEN CATHCART

Ingredients - serves 8 

  • 6 large eggs
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 3 large lemons
  • 300g ground almonds
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary

The Essentials

  • 50ml water 

Method

Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/gas mark 3. Grease and line with baking paper a 23cm loose-bottomed cake tin. 

Separate 5 of the eggs placing the whites into one bowl and the yolks into another. Put the remaining whole egg into the bowl with the yolks and add 300g of the sugar and the zest of all 3 lemons. Whisk the yolks and sugar until the sugar more or less dissolves into the yolks, then beat in the almonds. This will be an almost impossibly thick batter, but that is normal.

Using a clean whisk, whisk the egg whites to fairly stiff peaks. Scoop one third of the egg white into the yolk mixture and beat vigorously to slacken. Gently fold the remaining egg white into the batter using a spatula or large metal spoon, being careful not to deflate the whites. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 45–50 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out fairly clean – there may be the odd moist crumb on there.

While the cake bakes, make the syrup. Put the remaining sugar into a saucepan with the juice of all 3 lemons, the water and the rosemary sprigs. Bring to a boil, stirring. Boil for 1 minute, then set aside until the cake is baked.

As soon as the baked cake comes out of the oven, stab the cake repeatedly with a skewer, then pour the syrup over the top and leave it to soak in while the cake cools completely, in the tin. 

Recipe taken from John's book, Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients. Buy here. 

GOOD FRIDAY, STARTER, FISH

MACKEREL AND BEETROOT SALAD

This is a salad of opposites.The oily fish is a total contrast to the sweet beetroot, and the raspberry vinegar is just another disparate element. But put all those elements together and you have harmony.The sharp vinegar cuts through both the oiliness of the mackerel and the earthy sweetness of the beetroot. Dill is the ultimate counterpart to mackerel and beetroot and the hazelnuts offer something crunchy. 

Ingredients - serves 4-6 

  • 4 medium beetroot (a variety of colours works well)
  • 300g cooked or smoked mackerel fillets
  • 3 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
  • Small handful dill
  • 50g blanched hazelnuts
  • Sea salt flakes
  • Coarse black pepper 

HELEN CATHCART

Method

Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6.

Wrap the beetroots individually in foil and roast for 45 minutes, skins on. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Once cooled, peel the beetroots and slice as thinly as possible – using a mandolin would make this much easier.

Arrange the beetroot slices onto a large platter and sprinkle over a pinch of salt and pepper. Flake the mackerel into mouthful-sized pieces and arrange over the beetroot. Drizzle over the vinegar and roughly chop the dill before sprinkling it over the salad.

Heat a dry frying pan over a high heat and, once hot, add the hazelnuts. Fry them, shaking the pan every few seconds, for just a minute or so – when you can smell the aroma of the toasting hazelnuts, they will be ready. Chop them roughly and scatter them over the salad. 

GOOD FRIDAY, MAIN COURSE

RED CURRY SEA BASS WITH POTATO ROSTI

It’s somehow reassuring that the coupling of fish and potato can take many different forms – each totally different – yet remain somehow familiar. This dish, unlike the deep-fried Friday-night version, is incredibly light, and that’s thanks to (apart from the lack of batter) those bold spices in the red curry paste, along with the fresh lime and coriander. 

HELEN CATHCART

Ingredients - serves 4

  • 2 large floury potatoes 
  • 4 sea bass fillets
  • 3 tablespoons red curry paste
  • Small handful coriander
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges, to serve

Essential Ingredients

  • Sea salt flakes
  • Olive oil
  • 50g butter
  • Coarse black pepper 

Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6.

Peel the potatoes before coarsely grating them into a clean tea towel or muslin cloth. Add a generous pinch of salt and pepper to the potatoes, tossing it through, then squeeze the towel as tightly as possible to remove all of the excess moisture from the spuds. Divide the potatoes into four portions.

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil and the butter in a large frying pan over a high heat. Once the fat is hot, reduce the heat to medium. Form the potatoes into four very tightly compacted patties – pressing the rosti down into a chef’s ring with a spoon would make far more sense, but I appreciate that equipment may be limited. Fry the rosti for 2–3 minutes per side, then drain on a piece of kitchen paper and allow to cool for a few minutes.

Score the skin sides of the fish fillets with four or five slashes and put them into a mixing bowl. Coat the fish fillets in the red curry paste along with a splash of oil and a pinch of pepper. Once well coated, place the fish onto a baking tray, along with the potato rosti, though don’t overcrowd the tray, if you have to do this on two baking trays, then do so. Roast in the oven for 12–15 minutes, until the  fish is cooked through.

Serve the fish atop the rosti, scatter with some chopped coriander and a good squeeze of lime juice. 

STARTER

GARLIC, ANCHOVY AND OLIVE FLATBREADS

During a walk with my dad one spring, we came across a forest floor of wild garliC. The little white flowers floating above a thick sea of green leaves had an aroma that was so intense – somewhere between garlic and chive.With the find, we made these flatbreads.

Because wild garlic is seasonal, and seemingly rarely sold in supermarkets, this recipe uses normal garlic. It’s actually an improvement on the original: it’s strong enough to retain its own flavour alongside the boisterous hit from the anchovies, which slightly overwhelmed the wild garlic. The lager is used to make the dough itself mainly for flavour. It brings a gentle, fermented depth to the flatbreads, making them even more savoury and satisfying. 

HELEN CATHCART

Ingredients - makes 4

  • 200g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 130ml lager
  • 4 anchovies from a jar 
  • 8 pitted green olives
  • 4 large garlic cloves

Essential Ingredients

  • Sea salt flakes
  • 6 tablespoons olive or rapeseed oil 
  • Coarse black pepper 

Method

To make the bread, simply mix the flour with 1 teaspoon of salt and the lager. Bring together into a rough dough, then knead on the countertop for a few minutes or until smooth. Leave the dough in the bowl and cover with cling film to rest for 15 minutes.

For the topping, roughly chop the anchovies and olives and finely chop the garlic. Add to a saucepan with the oil and sauté over a low heat for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and leave the avours to infuse into the oil.

Divide the dough equally into four. On a lightly oured worktop, roll out each portion of dough to a circle about 20cm in diameter. Heat a frying pan over a high heat and, once hot, add the flatbreads, one at a time, and fry for a minute or until the topside becomes slightly bumpy. Flip the flatbread over and fry the other side for a minute or so more. You don’t want the flatbreads to be burned, but there’s nothing wrong with a few bits of char. If you’re cooking on gas, remove the  flatbread from the pan – with kitchen tongs – and place it directly onto the flame for 10 seconds. It should swell up slightly. Remove from the heat and stack the flatbreads onto a plate. 

Top each flatbread with the infused oil and serve. 

CAKE, DESSERT

CHOCOLATE LIME PIE

My take on another American classic, though with a nostalgic nod to those sweeties of my British childhood: chocolate limes. 

Ingredients (serves 6-8)

MATT RUSSELL

For the biscuit base 

  • 220g bourbon biscuits 
  • 50g salted butter 

For the filling 

  • 397g can condensed milk 
  • 2 egg yolks
  • Zest of 4 limes
  • 150ml lime juice (4-6 limes’ worth) 

Essential equipment 

  • 20cm/8-inch fluted loose-bottomed tart tin 

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/Gas 4.

Place the bourbon biscuits and butter in a food processor and blitz to a dark sandy rubble. Tip this into the tart tin and press it down to compact it on the base and up the sides, as evenly as possible. Pop this in the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes.

To make the filling, place the condensed milk, yolks, lime zest and juice in a mixing bowl and beat together. Pour that into the chilled biscuit base and then bake for 20–25 minutes, or until when nudged it trembles only slightly, but is substantially more solid than before it went in the oven.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely, before refrigerating for at least 2 hours before serving. 

DESSERT, CAKE

RHUBARB, WHITE CHOCOLATE AND THYME TRAYBAKE

MATT RUSSELL

Ingredients

  • 250g unsalted butter, softened
  • 250g caster sugar
  • Leaves from 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or extract
  • 300g plain flour
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 200g fresh rhubarb, cut into 5mm chunks
  • 180g white chocolate chips

Essential equipment

  • 23cm/9-inch square baking tin, greased and lined with baking paper (or use a 23cm/9-inch square disposable foil container) 

Method

Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/Gas 4.

Place the butter, sugar and thyme in a mixing bowl and beat together until the sugar has dissolved into the butter, and the mixture is pale and fluffy. You can do this in a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.

Add the eggs one at a time, and beat well after each addition, adding the vanilla with the last egg. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt over the top and fold in, then fold in the rhubarb and white chocolate chips.

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 35–40 minutes, or until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean – though don’t mistake a bit of soggy rhubarb or melted white chocolate for uncooked cake batter. Allow to cool in the tin.  

STARTER, VEGGIE

SQUASH, GORGONZOLA AND ROCKET SPANAKOPITA

Spanakopita, the classic Greek pie made with feta and spinach, is undoubtedly hard to compete with. My version here is totally off-piste in terms of flavour, but it is made, somewhat reassuringly, in the same way. And – dare I say it – I think this updated version gives the original a run for its money. 

HELEN CATHCART

Ingredients - serves 6

  • 750g butternut squash (about 1 small)
  • 550g baby leaf rocket
  • 180g gorgonzola cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 sheets filo pastry 

The Essentials 

  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt flakes 
  • Coarse black pepper 
  • 75g unsalted butter

Method

Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6. Lightly grease a 20cm sandwich tin.

Peel the butternut squash and chop into 2cm chunks, throwing away the seeds and pulp. Put the chunks into a baking tray and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a generous pinch of salt and pepper and toss to coat well. Roast for 45 minutes until softened, then tip into a heatproof mixing bowl to cool.

While the squash roasts, heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil over a high heat in a large saucepan. Add the rocket – you may need to do this in batches – and stir-fry until completely wilted down. Allow to cool until cold enough to handle, then put into a clean tea towel and squeeze out every last drop of moisture. Add to the roasted squash pieces and mix together. Pull the cheese into small chunks and add to the bowl along with the eggs and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mix until everything is well incorporated.

In a saucepan, heat the butter over a high heat until melted – don’t let it brown. Unroll the sheets of filo pastry. Paint one sheet with a little melted butter and lay that, buttered-side-up, into the cake tin, allowing the surplus to overlap the sides of the tin. Repeat with the remaining sheets, laying each at a different angle to the next so that the entire tin is covered. Pile the filling into the tin, squashing it down lightly, then fold the surplus pastry up and over it to conceal it entirely. Bake for 30 minutes, until the top is lightly golden and crispy.

This is great served warm or cold, but I would recommend you let it cool for 15 minutes or so after baking. That way, the eggs set, the  flavours mingle and everything is improved. You can cut it into small diamond shapes to serve, but I prefer a hearty triangular wedge. 

Recipe taken from John's book, Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients. Buy here.

DESSERT, CAKE

COCONUT MACAROON LIME CHEESECAKE

On one of my particularly greedy afternoons, I was nibbling on a batch of – admittedly, shop-bought – coconut macarons, and thought they were a little dry. I raided the fridge and found cream cheese and lime curd, so I put them both to good use. The idea for this came instantly, and the next day I had to get down to work. The trick to an utterly toothsome macaroon base is to combine the coconut with melted marshmallows before baking. And since marshmallows are a great setting agent, I used them for the filling, too, so there is no need to bake that. 

Ingredients - serves 10 

  • 360g white mini marshmallows
  • 300g desiccated coconut
  • 300g good-quality lime curd
  • 450g full-fat cream cheese
  • Zest of 1 lime 

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas mark 4. Grease and line the base and sides of a 23cm springform cake tin.

For the coconut macaroon base, put 180g of the marshmallows into a heatproof bowl with 1 tablespoon of water. Set over a pan of barely simmering water and stir until the marshmallows melt into a thick goo. Add the coconut – still over the heat – and stir until well coated in the marshmallow melt. Tip into the cake tin and press it over the base and up the sides. I find it far easier when I grease my hands with a little oil, and I prefer a more rustic, uneven edge (see picture). Bake the base in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown. This will puff up a little, so as soon as it comes out of the oven, press it down gently to compact it. Allow to cool.

For the filling, repeat the marshmallow melting process with the remaining 180g marshmallows and another tablespoon of water. Once melted, remove from the heat and beat in the lime curd, then beat in the cream cheese – it’s easier to do this with a whisk but don’t whisk to aerate, just vigorously mix until smooth. Pour the lling into the cooled coconut base and refrigerate overnight. Don’t be impatiently prodding this or prematurely slicing it; just forget about it until it sets completely. Sprinkle over the lime zest before serving. 

Recipe taken from John's book, Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients. Buy here.

MAIN COURSE, SAVOURY

FIVE-HOUR LAMB WITH POTATO GRATIN

A slow-roasted leg of lamb will always earn you a few gasps of surprise from whoever witnesses its unveiling – let’s face it, we cooks just long to impress! The flavour here not only comes from that slow-cooking process but also the gutsy marinade of anchovies, garlic and mint; every single flake of lamb is gorgeous. The potatoes, sitting snuggly under the lamb, catch all of the meat’s juices as it roasts and so become incredibly tender. 

HELEN CATHCART

Ingredients - serves 4-6

  • 100g jar anchovies in olive oil
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon mint sauce
  • 2kg leg of lamb
  • 6 medium Maris Piper potatoes 

The essentials 

  • Sea salt flakes 
  • Coarse black pepper 

Method

Make a marinade for the lamb by blitzing the anchovies and the oil they came in, with the peeled garlic cloves and
the mint sauce to a smooth paste in a food processor. If you don’t have a food processor you could make the paste using a sharp knife and bold ambition. Stir in 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

With a sharp knife, stab the lamb leg repeatedly all over – you need as many deep cuts as possible, without completely massacring the meat. Spread the paste over the entire surface of the meat, working it well into the cuts. Refrigerate for an hour, or until required.

Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C fan/gas mark 3 and remove the lamb from the fridge 1 hour before it goes into the oven to bring it up to room temperature.

Slice the unpeeled potatoes as nely as possible – I use a mandolin – and arrange them in layers in a deep-sided roasting dish, seasoning with a very small pinch of salt and pepper every couple of layers. Place the lamb on top of the potato slices. Cover with a couple of sheets of foil, ensuring you seal it extremely well. Roast in the oven for 4 1⁄2 hours.

Remove the tray from the oven and increase the heat to 220°C/200°C fan/gas mark 7. Remove the foil and baste the lamb with some of the juices from the roasting tin. Put everything back into the oven for a further 30 minutes. Remove the lamb from the oven, transfer it to a plate, cover it with foil and leave to rest. Return the potatoes to the oven for a nal 25–30 minutes, until slightly crispy around the edges. 

Recipe taken from John's book, Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients. Buy here.