For those of us who like to cook with the seasons, “late winter, early spring” seems to go on forever. The sun may be starting to warm the ground, life is coming to life in the garden, on the farms and in our vegetable patches, but we still have a long way to go. Long leeks, purple sprouts, cavolo nero and huge savoy sprouts with waffle leaves still dominate the vegetable rack. There’s fine rhubarb and crunchy pears for breakfast and those crisp, tight-skinned citrus fruits continue to lift our hearts.
It was imports that caught my eye this week. A small mountain of Turkish eggplant, links of Spanish sausages with lively paprika and blood oranges that lift the spirit. I also found fat, sweet figs – happy fruit that we tore up and gobbled up while I unpacked the groceries on the kitchen table. Eggplant and chorizo made a succulent casserole with sweet, shiny juices – a recipe just as good the next day, the dish being drizzled with zest and chopped mint leaves, the only sweet herb in the garden right now.
With the exception of the occasional glorious roast (for which join us next week), most of the meat used in this cuisine feels like a seasoning for a dish, rather than its raison d’être. The beads of fat in the chorizo added plenty of flavor to the eggplant flesh in this week’s casserole, introducing a silky quality. (Similarly, the hot fat from a batch of cubed pancetta that I included in the dressing of a frisee and watercress salad earlier in the week.) While seasonal purchases may have been spared, the results have enjoyed a certain sumptuousness.
It has also been a week of baking. A sponge cake with ground almonds and a sweet citrus syrup that we ate not for tea but with cream for dessert. A cake that smelled as fresh as it tasted, its comforting crumb brightened by the zest of Sicilian oranges and Italian lemons. A soft and tender crumb providing essential softness and lightness.
Eggplant and chorizo stew
It’s a good-natured dish that will keep for a day or two. You can also use it as a filling for a savory crumble, with a crust of breadcrumbs or flour, butter and crumbled feta. This is a dish to take your time, let the eggplant soften to the point of being able to cut it with a spoon.
For 4 people
olive oil 2 tablespoons
cooking chorizo 250g
Red onion 1
soft and dried prunes 150g
cumin powder 1 teaspoon
ground coriander 1 teaspoon
chicken stock 500ml
Orange grated zest of 1
mint leaves ten
coriander leaves a handful
Heat the olive oil in a deep pan, break the chorizo into short pieces and add them to the oil. Let the chorizo cook for 3 or 4 minutes until its torn edges begin to brown. Peel and coarsely chop the onion, add it to the pan and continue cooking until the onion is tender and translucent. Stir in the prunes.
Set the oven to 180°C/thermostat 4. Cut the aubergines in half lengthwise, cut them into thick slices and then into small cubes. Add to pan and continue cooking until soft and tender. Stir in the cumin and coriander and cook for about a minute, then pour in the chicken broth, add the salt and black pepper and cover the dish with a lid. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes until tender.
Finely grate the orange zest, chop the herbs, then mix them. Spoon over the stew as you pour it into bowls.
Blood orange and lemon cake
I often bake this cake in early spring, usually in a traditional loaf pan, a cut-and-return to take us all week. This time I made a shallow version to serve as dessert. The cake will bake fairly quickly in a shallow square pan. Keep an eye on his progress, test him after 20 minutes. It will also keep very well in a cake tin or a plastic box with a lid.
Soft butter 225g
golden caster sugar 225g
Orange grated zest of 1
lemon grated zest of 1
plain flour 110g
baking powder 1 teaspoon
ground almonds 115g
eggs 3, large
For the syrup:
caster or semolina sugar 100g
blood orange 1
double cream 200ml
You will need a square cake tin, 20-22 cm in diameter, lined with parchment paper.
Set the oven to 180°C/thermostat 4. Put the butter and sugar in the bowl of a mixer and beat until soft. Finely grate the orange and lemon zest. Sift the flour and baking powder then add the ground almonds.
Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat them with a fork. Add butter and sugar a little at a time with mixer on moderate speed. If the mixture curdles, add a little flour. Add the remaining flour, almonds and baking powder. Transfer the mixture to the lined pan, smoothing the surface as you go. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes.
To make the syrup: Squeeze the lemon and orange into a small saucepan, add the sugar, then bring to a boil. Cook for a few minutes until slightly syrupy, then remove from heat. Using a metal skewer, poke about 20 holes in the surface of the cake, then pour the citrus syrup over it. Leave the cake to cool then cut it into 12 pieces.
In a cold bowl, whip the cream until it forms soft pleats, then spoon a spoonful over each cake. Remove the skin from the blood orange and separate the segments. Place one on each slice.
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