Warm salad of new season’s spring lamb by Russell Brown

WS Salad of new seasons spring lamb April-1

It is only later in April that spring lamb becomes more widely available. There may have been some for Easter but, as Jon has mentioned, leaving it until a bit later in the season is a sensible option. From the cook’s point of view, it is the delicacy of spring lamb that we want to enjoy; the meat is paler and has a sweeter flavour than when it is more mature, and this really shines through in this light warm salad.

The prime cuts of lamb – the loin, fillet, rack and rump – all work well cooked to medium rare or medium, while the harder-working muscles, such as the legs or shoulders, benefit from slower roasting or braising. The one problem with small portions of lamb is that the membrane between the fat and the meat very rarely breaks down before the meat is cooked. A rump will usually work, given its larger size, but a piece of loin is often better cooked as a lean eye of meat.

Serves 4 as a light main course

1 x 300g piece lamb loin, trimmed of all fat and sinew. (Reserve the fat.)
oil for frying the lamb
25g unsalted butter
100g rustic bread, cut into croutons
1 head of chicory
100g ricotta
2 tbsp light olive oil
15g Parmesan, finely grated
1 lemon
100g watercress, large stalks removed
2 tsp capers
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Start by rendering the lamb fat for frying the croutons. Cut the fat into small pieces and colour in a heavy pan. Add enough water to cover by 1cm and then simmer gently until all the water has evaporated. You should be left with liquid fat and the solids. Strain and reserve the rendered fat.

2. Season the lamb loin well with salt and pepper. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a heavy nonstick pan. Seal the lamb all over to create a rich, dark colour. Add a second tablespoon of oil to cool the pan slightly and then add the butter, turning the lamb in the foaming butter over a low to medium heat for 3–4 minutes – aim for medium rare. Remove the lamb to rest on a plate in a warm place, retaining a dessertspoonful of the fat from the pan.

3. Fry the croutons in the rendered lamb fat until crisp and golden.

4. Break the chicory into individual leaves and cut any really large leaves in half at an angle.Wash and dry.

5. In a small food processor, blend the ricotta with the olive oil, Parmesan, a good grating of lemon zest and 2 tsp of lemon juice. Season to taste.

6. Toss the leaves together and scatter the croutons on top. Slice the lamb thinly and arrange on the leaves. Mix any lamb juices with a little of the fat from the frying pan and drizzle over the meat. Spoon the dressing and scatter the capers over the top. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and a little more grated lemon zest.

Extracted from
Well Seasoned: Exploring, Cooking and Eating with the Seasons
£25, Head of Zeus

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At My Table by Nigella Lawson

Nigella At My Table

What is it? TV tie-in to Nigella’s latest BBC TV cookery show with about 100 recipes celebrating home cooking.

Nigella who? You’re kidding, right? Nigella is the famously sultry queen of British food writing and broadcasting who could sexualise a sultana at 100 paces. She has ten other books to her name including How To Be a Domestic Goddess, numerous TV shows and appearances and a hugely popular website.

In 2013, she transcended foodie-fame to became tabloid fodder due to a messy divorce from former ad-man and art gallery owner Charles Saatchi. In the same year, revelations were made about her drug use during a court case involving the couple’s personal assistants.

What does it look like? A cook book. There are recipes. There are (mostly) overhead shots of the dishes to illustrate the recipes. The food styling is kept to an absolute minimum and anyone hoping for images of all those gorgeous rose-gold utensils, copper KitchenAid stand mixer, or indeed Nigella in her now-famous map-of-Venice silk dressing gown from the TV series will be sorely disappointed.

Is it good bedtime reading?  Sort of. This is first and foremost a recipe book but Nigella has such a distinctive and well developed writing voice that the extended introductions are just a joy to read at any time.

Killer recipes?  Coconut shrimp with turmeric yoghurt; Turkish eggs; toasted Brie, Parma ham and fig sandwich; sweet potato tacos; white miso hummus; roast loin of salmon with Aleppo pepper and fennel seeds; Chicken barley (the list goes on).

Will I have trouble finding ingredients?  You may need to head online for Nigella’s favourite ingredient du jour, Aleppo pepper, but the book seems to be designed with the supermarket shopper in mind.

What’s the faff factor?  Nigella doesn’t understand the meaning of the word. She is faff antimatter that annihilates the very idea of unnecessary arsing about in the kitchen. If she can make something simple and easy, she will.

How often will I cook from the book?  At My Table is a book you could turn to for mid-week meal inspiration, a weekend baking session, special occasion dining or when entertaining friends. So if you like Nigella’s style, you won’t be leaving her on the shelf.

What will I love?  The sheer range of the recipes, from simple tray bakes with familiar, comforting ingredients and flavours like chicken and peas to more exotic creations such as Moroccan vegetable pot and brussels sprouts with preserved lemon and pomegranate. ‘Subverting the spiralizer’ cocks a well deserved snook at the clean eating brigade by re-purposing the movement’s emblematic gadget to make down and dirty shoestring fries.

Nigella is always reliable when it comes to desserts and baking and At My Table doesn’t disappoint with the likes of sunken chocolate amaretto cake and warm blondie pudding. She knows her booze too and negroni sbagliato made with prosecco, Campari and red vermouth is destined to become the drink of the chattering classes, and just anyone who buys the book.

What won’t I like?  Some may object to Nigella’s shortcut style (‘better behaved cooks would tell you to skim off the frothy bits that rise to the top but, frankly, I’m to lazy to’ she admits in the method for her chicken barley stew) but we know what we think of those people don’t we?

Should I buy it? Despite the almost utilitarian design, you should welcome Nigella to your table. You won’t regret it.

Cuisine: British/Eclectic
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
At My Table: A Celebration of Home Cooking
£26, Chatto and Windus

The Road to Mexico by Rick Stein

The Road to Mexico by Rick Stein

Restaurateur and seafood expert Rick Stein has been absolutely bloody everywhere. He’s written numerous cookbooks (many of them with an accompanying TV series) covering France, Spain, India, the Med, the Far East, most of Europe and the UK. Now he’s turned his attention to Mexico and California with The Road to Mexico. The book, and TV series, retraces Steins steps from nearly 50 years ago when, as he explains in the introduction, he ‘crossed the border from the USA at Neuvo Laredo and headed for the city of Monterrey’ and ordered some tacos in a bar.

His recent experience of Mexico was undoubtedly more luxurious than his original trip, swapping hitch-hiking, Greyhound buses and German cargo ships for a pale blue convertible Mustang, but the food probably hasn’t changed all that much in intervening half-a-century. Tortillas, tacos, enchiladas, corn, chilies and avocado abound. Recipes include ‘the original Caesar salad’ from Caesar Hotel in Tijuana made with salted white anchovies; refried beans, guacamole and roasted red tomato and chilli salsa. A short section on staples like guacatillo sauce made with tomatillos, avocado and chilies and a list of essential Mexican larder ingredients make the book a perfect primer for the first-time Mexican cook.

Each of the seven chapters that cover breakfasts and brunch, street food, vegetables and sides, fish and shellfish, poultry, meat and desserts and drinks is prefaced by a short essay by Stein, which, combined with the comprehensive and informative recipe introductions and the vividly colourful location photography makes for a satisfying travelogue.

Because the recipes are arranged into categories rather than place of origin, you’ll need to watch the series to get a proper sense of the regional variations of Mexican cuisine, and to understand why California has been included. Stein avers that ‘there is so much Mexican influence in Californian food’, and while that is true, recipes like Italian cioppino (monkfish, mussel and prawn stew) from Tadich Grill, chicken noodle soup with yellow bean sauce from chef Martin Yan’s M.Y China and Alice Waters’ rhubarb galette Chez Panisse (all in San Francisco) don’t reflect that influence.

So, the book’s premise might be a bit shaky and the recipe selection scattershot, but that shouldn’t prevent you from cooking from it. Recipes are well written, easy to follow and for the most part straightforward to prepare. Stein has an unerring nose for a great dish and The Road to Mexico has enough of them to make it a must buy for Stein’s many fans and anyone who wants to find out more about one of the world’s greatest, and most fashionable, cuisines.

Cuisine: Mexican/American
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Rick Stein: The Road to Mexico (TV Tie in)
£26 BBC Books

Cook from this book
Ensenada fish tacos
Turkey breast with pasilla chipotle chilli butter sauce
Mexican rice pudding with honeycomb

Downtime by Nadine Levy Redzepi

Downtime

What is it?  An enticing collection of sophisticated recipes for the home cook by a new name in food writing

Redzepi – why does that sound familiar? Nadine Levy Redzepi is the wife of world-famous Danish chef Rene Redzepi of Noma fame.  This is her debut book.

What does it look like? The book’s design has all the Nordic stripped back chic you might hope for. The mostly overhead food photography by Ditte Isager is simple and uncluttered, allowing the dishes to speak for themselves. High-quality glossy paper means the reproduction of the images is so lifelike that you almost want to plunge a fork into the pages.

Is it good bedtime reading? A forward by hubby, plus an introduction and comprehensive autobiographical ‘A Life in the Home Kitchen’ section by the author that covers her Portuguese and Scandinavian food roots, along with chapter introductions and chunky recipe introductions means Downtime won’t just live in your kitchen.    

Killer recipes? Beef glazed celeriac with buttermilk sauce; cheese ravioli with brown butter egg yolks, parmesan and sage; kale and mushroom carbonara; quinoa salad with spiced onions; brownies with flaky salt and white chocolate chunks.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients?  It seems that great care has been taken to make these recipes as accessible as possible so you should be able to find everything you need at your local supermarket.

What’s the faff factor?  Minimal. The recipes are all about making delicious food for your family rather than exercising your cheffy inclinations. That said, three Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller’s elegant recipe for ratatouille (from the film of the same name) is included in the book.

How often will I cook from the book?  With everything from soups to pasta dishes and roasts to desserts (including a twist on tiramisu with a cheesecake-like crust), you could easily find yourself reaching for the book on a daily basis.

What will I love?  The book’s luxurious look and feel and the accessible and well-written recipes.

What won’t I like?  I’ll get back to you on that.

Should I buy it? If you feel that your repertoire of daily dishes has become somewhat stale, then this book will give your home cooking that inventive boost you’ve been searching for.

Cuisine: Nordic/international
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review rating: 4 Stars

Buy this book
Downtime: Deliciousness at Home
£26 Ebury

Cook from this book
Roasted ratatouille with orzo
Lasagne with sausage meatballs
Danish apple dessert

Pork belly and mojo verde by Nieves Barragán Mohacho

Pork belly and mojo verde from Sabor

This recipe uses a pestle and mortar to make a lumpier mojo verde that’s good for serving alongside meat, but you could make a smoother, creamier sauce for marinating. Just put all the ingredients, except the coriander, into a blender. Whiz together, adding the coriander halfway through, then blend again until green and creamy with some small flecks of herb. Instead of pork belly, you could grill lamb cutlets and serve them with the mojo verde dotted around, or marinate chicken in the smoother version of the sauce.

Serves 6-8

1 x 4–5kg piece of pork belly, rib bones intact
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

For the mojo verde

1 bunch of spring onions
4 cloves of garlic
2 big bunches of fresh coriander (equal to around 6–8 of the 40g supermarket packets)
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
200ml extra virgin olive oil
125ml Moscatel vinegar
2 dried chillies
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Line a roasting tray with greaseproof paper. Score the skin of the pork belly quite deeply (around 1cm), then place it skin side down on the paper-lined tray. Season the top of the pork belly with salt, pepper and cumin seeds and cook for 1½–2hrs. The skin should be very crispy and the meat must be tender – if it’s not quite there yet, turn it over and cook it for another 10 minutes.

Make the mojo verde while the pork belly is cooking: roughly chop the ingredients and add them slowly to a pestle and mortar, dribbling in the olive oil bit by bit and mashing together.

Spoon some mojo verde on to each plate, then top with 1cm–2cm thick pork belly slices and drizzle over a little olive oil to finish.

This recipe appears in
Sabor: Flavours from a Spanish Kitchen
Nieves Barragan Mohacho
£25 Penguin Fig Tree

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Persimmon, goat’s cheese and land cress salad
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