For those of us who like to cook with the seasons, “late winter, early spring” seems to last forever. The sun may be beginning to warm the soil, life is stirring in the garden, on the farms and on our allotments, but we have a way to go yet. Long leeks, purple sprouting, cavolo nero and huge crinkly leaved Savoy cabbages still dominate the vegetable rack. There is fine rhubarb and crisp pears for breakfast and those neat, tight-skinned citrus fruits continue to lift our hearts.
It has been the imports that have caught my eye this week. A small mountain of Turkish aubergines, links of paprika-bright Spanish sausages and spirit-lifting blood oranges. I found fat, sweet figs, too – jolly fruits that we tore open and wolfed as I unpacked the shopping on the kitchen table. The aubergines and chorizo made a luscious casserole with sweet, glossy juices – a recipe that was just as good the next day, the dish given a spritz of zest and chopped mint leaves, the only soft 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 kitchen feels like a seasoning to a dish, rather than the point of it. The pearls of fat in the chorizo added much flavor to the flesh of the aubergine in this week’s casserole, introducing a silky quality. (Likewise, the hot fat from a batch of cubed pancetta I included into the dressing of a frisée and landcress salad earlier in the week.) Spare though the seasonal shopping may have been, the results have enjoyed a certain sumptuousness.
This has also been a baking week. A sponge cake with ground almonds and a sweet citrus syrup that we ate not for tea but with cream as a dessert. A cake that smelled as fresh as it tasted, its comforting crumbs brightened with the zest of Sicilian oranges and Italian lemons. Soft and tender crumbs bringing much needed sweetness and light.
Slow-cooked aubergine and chorizo
This is a good-natured dish that will keep for a day or two. You could also use it as the filling for a savory crumble, with a crust of breadcrumbs or flour, butter and crumbled feta. It is a dish to take your time over, letting the aubergine soften to the point where you could cut it with a spoon.
olive oil 2 tbsp
cooking chorizo 250g
red onion 1
soft, dried prunes 150g
ground cumin 1 tsp
ground coriander 1 tsp
orange grated zest of 1
mint leaves 10
coriander leaves handful
Warm the olive oil in a deep saucepan, 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 start to turn golden. Peel and roughly chop the onion, add to the pan and continue cooking until the onion is soft and translucent. Stir in the prunes.
Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4. Halve the aubergine lengthways, cut into thick slices and then into small cubes. Add to the pan and continue cooking until soft and tender. Stir in the cumin and coriander and let it cook for a minute or so, then pour in the chicken stock, add salt and black pepper and cover the dish with a lid. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes until everything is meltingly soft.
Finely grate the orange zest, chop the herbs, then mix them together. Scatter over the stew as you ladle it into bowls.
Blood orange and lemon cake
I often cook this cake in early spring, usually in a traditional loaf tin, a cut-and-come-again to take us through the week. This time I made a shallow version to offer as dessert. The cake will cook quite quickly in a shallow, square tin. Keep an eye on its progress, try it after 20 minutes. It will keep well, too, in a cake tin or lidded plastic box.
soft butter 225g
golden caster sugar 225g
orange grated zest of 1
lemon grated zest of 1
plain flour 110g
baking powder 1 tsp
ground almonds 115g
eggs 3 large
For the syrup:
granulated or caster sugar 100g
blood orange 1
double cream 200ml
You will need a square cake tin 20-22cm in diameter, lined with baking parchment.
Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4. Put the butter and sugar into the bowl of a food mixer and beat until soft. Finely grate the orange and lemon zest. Sift the flour and baking powder, then stir in the ground almonds.
Break the eggs into a bowl and beat with a fork. Add to the butter and sugar a little at a time with the beater at moderate speed. Should the mixture curdle, add a little flour. Add the remaining flour, almonds and baking powder. Transfer the mixture to the lined tin, smoothing the surface as you go. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes.
To make the syrup: Squeeze the lemon and the orange into a small saucepan, add the sugar, then bring to the boil. Let it cook for a couple of minutes until lightly syrupy, then remove from the heat. Using a metal skewer, pierce about 20 holes in the surface of the cake, then spoon the citrus syrup over. Leave the cake to cool then cut into 12 pieces.
In a cold bowl, whip the cream until it sits in soft folds, then place a spoonful on each cake. Remove the peel from the blood orange and separate the segments. Place one on each slice.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism