Week Thirty Five

This week I will not only be celebrating Easter but also my birthday, I was actually born on Easter day. So, naturally, I have an excuse to have two special feasts! Before Covid, because my birthday coincided with the Easter holidays, often we were away on holiday, so over the years, I have been fortunate to celebrate my birthday in some exotic places. Unfortunately, Covid has put a hold on that for the moment. Last year we were under our first lockdown at the time of my birthday, so it was up to the ‘men’ in my life (husband, Nick and son, Felix) to cook for me – it was so memorable that I actually can’t remember what they cooked??! So, this year I think they might need some guidance from Menu Mistress!..

Firstly, this week’s Menu One celebrates Easter Sunday; following the tradition to serve lamb, I’m sharing a favourite recipe for ‘Spring Roast Leg of Lamb with a Redcurrant & Mint Sauce’. The redcurrant sauce is the winning component of this dish, it’s actually an old recipe from Delia Smith which I used to cook a lot and then, as you do, I forgot about for a few years, and when I remembered it again, I wondered why I ever stopped making it! For the actual roast leg of lamb, I like to use a recipe from Diana Henry, which uses a mix of herbs and garlic to marinate the meat, flavouring it to perfection.

Moving on to my birthday celebration, I have chosen ‘Cod with Spring Greens and Creamy Mash’ which is a super easy dish that I know Nick and Felix will be completely capable of cooking! It is the type of dish which would make an easy midweek meal, yet is also special enough to serve for an ‘occasion’ dinner. The cod is served on a bed of spring greens, flavoured with pancetta and garlic, and served with a creamy sauce on a bed of mashed potato – heaven! Admittedly, it is quite an indulgent dish, made with butter and cream, but hey, once in a while, we must live! If you are feeling virtuous you could leave the cream out of the sauce so that it is more of a broth, it will still be delicious, however, you must serve it with the creamy mash!

For my vegetarian birthday treat – I have chosen to share one of my favourite vegetarian pasta dishes – Rigatoni with Sweet Tomatoes, Aubergine and Mozzarella – a Jamie Oliver recipe from one of his older books, ‘Jamie’s Dinners’, it is his take on the classic Italian dish of ‘Pasta alla Norma’. The wonderful combination of aubergines and tomatoes are enriched by the addition of mozzarella cheese – as it melts, the cheese becomes deliciously ‘stringy’!

Of course, to celebrate my birthday properly I’ve been thinking about cocktails, as a birthday treat I’ve opted for a very sophisticated Classic Champagne Cocktail, naturally, I’m sharing this recipe so that you too can raise a glass! And, to enjoy this cocktail (and perhaps a couple of others) I’ve made my perfect ‘cocktail hour playlist’, a great mix of jazz and swing to complement my celebratory mood – it’s just a shame I can’t enjoy it out in a bar or a restaurant….here’s to next year’s birthday celebration!…(Check out ‘Cocktail Music to Cook to…Menu Music Ten’ here)

Menu One

Roast Leg of Lamb with Redcurrant & Mint Sauce

(Serves 6)

I have combined two recipes for this Roast Leg of Lamb dish. The redcurrant sauce is from Delia Smith’s ‘Summer Collection’ cookbook, whilst the lamb is from Diana Henry’s ‘How to Eat a Peach’. The lamb is stuffed with herbs and lemon zest, the flavours are wonderful, particularly in the spring, and I find that Diana Henry’s cooking times result in a perfectly cooked, pink, meat (Delia’s recipe for the lamb leg is a little more dated, the meat is cooked too well done for my taste). The redcurrant & mint in the sauce is a match made in heaven and it perfectly complements the lamb. This leg of lamb is delicious served with ‘Fine Green Beans with Almonds’ and potatoes of your choice – I am rather partial to serving ‘Concetta’s Potatoes’ with this dish (recipes below).

For the Lamb:

1.8 -2kg leg of lamb

10g parsley leaves, roughly chopped

10 thyme sprigs, leaves picked

2 rosemary sprigs, needles chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped plus another 6 cloves peeled and left whole

6 tablespoons olive oil

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. The day before you are going to cook the lamb, put the herbs, 4 chopped garlic cloves, sea salt and black pepper into a mortar and grind to a paste, gradually adding the olive oil and lemon zest. With a sharp knife make incisions all over the lamb and loosen the meat round the protruding bone (at tapered end of the joint) to about one-third of the way into the joint. Cut the remaining 6 cloves of garlic into slivers and tuck these into the incisions you have made. Rub the herb paste all over the lamb, pushing it down inside the incisions and around the bone. Cover loosely with cling film or foil and refrigerate for up to 24 hours, bringing it to room temperature before cooking – this will take around 2 hours.
  2. When you are ready to cook the lamb, put it in a roasting tin in a preheated oven, 220’c fan, and cook for 15 minutes.
  3. Then, reduce the oven to 180’c fan, and continue to roast the lamb for another 45 minutes (allow a few minutes longer if the lamb leg is larger).
  4. Remove from the oven and cover well with foil and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, if there are any juices left in the tin, reheat them to serve alongside the meat – this is not supposed to be a ‘gravy’, just a light jus.
  6. Serve the lamb with ‘Redcurrant & Mint Sauce’. This is also good with ‘Fine Green Beans with Almonds’ and ‘Concetta’s Potatoes’ (all recipes below).

For the Redcurrant & Mint Sauce:

3 tablespoons redcurrant jelly

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

4 tablespoons mint, chopped

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Put the redcurrant jelly and the vinegar in a small saucepan, whisk over a gentle heat until the jelly has melted into the vinegar.
  2. Add the chopped mint, seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

A Staple Side Dish – Fine Green Beans with Almonds (Serves 4)

A great classic combination – and super easy to serve up!

250g fine green beans

10g butter

15g flaked almonds

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Top the green beans, place in a saucepan of salted boiling water and cook for about 4 minutes until nearly tender but still with some bite – al dente.
  2. Meanwhile melt the butter in a frying pan, when it foams add the flaked almonds. Cook until the almonds start to lightly brown – stirring continuously to ensure even browning. Remove from the heat.
  3. Drain the beans and stir into the buttery almonds. Season well with salt and pepper.

A Staple Side Dish – Concetta’s Potatoes (Serves 4)

I have named these after our Italian friend (and chef), Concetta, who gave me the recipe many years ago; they are simply sliced baked potatoes with garlic, rosemary and sage.

4 large potatoes – such as Maris Piper (roasting potatoes)

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 teaspoon dried sage

Sea salt and black pepper

2 cloves garlic, crushed

Olive oil

  1. Peel and slice the potatoes, and parboil in boiling water for 4 minutes.
  2. Place in a roasting tin, sprinkle over the rosemary, sage and garlic, season with salt and black pepper and drizzle over some olive oil – mix well.
  3. Place in a preheated oven, 200’c fan, for 35-40mins until crispy and well browned.

Menu Two

Cod with Spring Greens and Creamy Mash (Serves 4)

This is the type of dish which would make an easy midweek meal, yet is also special enough to serve for an ‘occasion’ dinner. The cod is served on a bed of spring greens, flavoured with pancetta and garlic, and served with a creamy sauce on a bed of mashed potato – heaven! Admittedly, it is quite an indulgent dish, made with butter and cream, but hey, once in a while, we must live! If you are feeling virtuous, you could leave the cream and butter out of the sauce so that it is more of a broth (depending on my mood, I sometimes cook it this way – it is still very tasty!), however, you must serve it with the creamy mash!

4 skinless cod fillets

100g cubed pancetta

3 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked

1 clove garlic, chopped

400g spring greens, roughly chopped

150ml chicken stock (hot)

100ml double cream (optional – see note above)

50g butter (optional – see note above)

(To serve: mashed potato – recipe below)

  1. First of all make your mashed potato (recipe below), and keep warm.
  2. For the greens, fry the pancetta in a large saucepan until browned and crisped. Add the thyme leaves and garlic, and stir. Now add the spring greens, then the hot stock, cream and butter (if you making the recipe without the cream/butter, just add a large knob of butter instead to bring the sauce together). Cover with a lid, allow to steam for a few minutes, shaking the pan a couple of times until cooked.
  3. Meanwhile fry the fish until just cooked through (about 3-4 minutes on each side)
  4. To serve, place a dollop of mash potato and some spring greens, with their sauce, on each plate and top with the fillet of fish.

Creamy Mashed Potato (Serves 4)

1kg potatoes (floury, such as Maris Piper)

100ml full-fat milk

100ml double cream

2 cloves garlic, sliced

Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Peel the potatoes and cut into even sized chunks. Steam until completely cooked through.
  2. Put the milk, cream and garlic in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat.
  3. Mash the potatoes (see note above) adding the milk mixture a little at a time. Season well with salt and pepper.

Menu Three

Rigatoni with Sweet Tomatoes, Aubergine & Mozzarella (Serves 4)

This has been one of my family’s favourites for many years, it is a Jamie Oliver recipe from one of his older books, ‘Jamie’s Dinners’, it is his take on the classic Italian dish of ‘Pasta alla Norma’. The wonderful combination of aubergines and tomatoes is enriched by the addition of mozzarella, as the cheese melts it becomes deliciously ‘stringy’! I prefer if without the addition of the dried chilli flakes, but if you like a bit of heat you could add some.

To watch the video of this recipe being cooked click here!

1 large aubergine (or 2 small)

Olive oil

2 cloves garlic, sliced

1 onion, chopped

2 x 400g tins of plum tomatoes

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

A bunch of fresh basil, leaves picked and stalks sliced

4 tablespoons double cream

455g rigatoni or penne

200g mozzarella cheese

½ teaspoon of chilli flakes (optional – see note above)

Grated Parmesan cheese to serve

  1. Remove both ends of the aubergines and slice into 1cm slices then slice these across to form 1 cm cubes.
  2. In a large frying/sauté pan heat 5 tablespoons of olive oil. When it’s hot, add the aubergine cubes and stir them around so that they are lightly coated in the oil. Cook for about 10 minutes over a medium heat until softened.
  3. Add the onion and garlic, cook for a few more minutes. When they have a little colour, add the tinned tomatoes, the balsamic vinegar and the sliced basil stalks (if you want to add some heat you could add the chilli flakes at this point). Simmer gently for 15 minutes, season with salt and pepper, then stir in the cream.
  4. Meanwhile cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet, until al dente.
  5. When the pasta is ready, drain it and add it to the aubergine and tomato sauce. Tear up the mozzarella and fresh basil leaves, and stir them through the pasta and sauce – the mozzarella will start to melt, becoming beautifully stringy (it can be a little messy to serve!). Serve sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese.

A Little Treat…

A Classic Champagne Cocktail (Serves 1)

This is probably one of the most sophisticated cocktails…how can you resist?!

Tip: Put your champagne flute in the freezer before using it as it really does keep the champagne nicely chilled!

1 sugar cube

2 dashes of angostura bitters

2 teaspoons cognac

Chilled champagne, to top up

Orange twist, to garnish

  1. Shake the bitters over the sugar cube and put it in the bottom of a chilled champagne flute.
  2.  Add the brandy, then top up with champagne.
  3. Twist the orange peel over the top of the glass to release some of the oils, then drop into the glass to serve.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s