Spring Feasting!

>> Monday, 3 May 2010

The bank holiday has given me lots more time to cook, hoorah!

With friends coming over for dinner before an evening out on Monday, I had the perfect excuse to put the cooking wheels in motion. Everything feels super fresh at the moment and I wanted to capture that in the menu. So, we had a mixed crostini platter with pea and mint puree, avocado and lemon and chargrilled peppers for starter, followed by lemon and pea risotto with cod and gremolata for main and a trio of lemon puddings for dessert.

Starter and main were super easy (you can get all those together and cooked in less than 1 hour), pudding is a little but more effort (most of mine was done the day before), but well worth it! If you only make 1 thing that I ever write about, I would really recommend the lemon sponge. I've had the recipe since 2002 and it never, ever fails! Everything goes into the mixer in 1 go and then into the oven (so easy!) and it comes out beautifully moist.

Crostini are always a fail safe starter. For my platter I sliced 1 ciabatta, drizzled with olive oil and toasted in a hot oven (190c) for about 10 minutes. Whilst it was cooling, I pureed 2 handfuls of defrosted petit pois with about 6 mint leaves and a glug of olive oil. Then I mashed 1 avocado with the juice of 1 lemon and some salt for the second topping and finally I mixed chargrilled peppers with olive oil and some balsamic vinegar for the third (you can make these yourself really easily - e-mail me if you don't know how - or just buy a jar of them ready prepared). When the ciabatta had cooled, I heaped spoons of each topping onto the toasts and that's it!!

For the risotto, I made a basic white risotto (use a medium heat to soften 1 finely sliced onion and 2 garlic cloves in a good glug of olive oil, add 4 handfuls of risotto rice and stir, add 1 glass dry white white and stir until absorbed then add vegetable stock a ladle at a time, waiting until each has absorbed before adding the next) and then when the rice was al dente I added the juice of 1 lemon, 2 good handfuls of petit pois (I used frozen, you could use fresh) and 1 tbsp of mascapone. Stir through, ensuring peas are cooked and your risotto is ready. The mascapone makes this really creamy and unctuous, but the zesty lemon and sweetness of the peas stop it from being too cloying.

The fish was really easy. I placed 4 cod loins in tin foil parcels in the oven for about 15 mins (timing will depend on size of fish/whether you're cooking from frozen), and then served them topped with gremolata.

Gremolata is an Italian flavouring which you can use on lots of different things to add flavour. I generally stick to putting it on fish or vegetables, but Italians use it on lots of different meats as well.  It's very quick to make too, just mix 2 tsps of lemon zest with 1 finely chopped clove of garlic and 4 tbsps of chopped flat leaf parsley (I also add the juice of 1 lemon and some salt, as I think it's nicer..but it's not the traditional recipe). That's it! Quite a fancy name for lemon, herbs and garlic!!!

So, onto the best bit! Dessert! I made a trio of lemon puddings (sponge, posset and ice cream), which went down really well....

All the recipes below are really easy and make enough for 4-6 servings. Best of all, the ice cream doesn't require any fancy equipment!

Lemon Posset

300ml double cream
90g caster sugar
1 lemon (zest and juice)

1. Heat cream and sugar until dissolved and then boil (keep stirring!)
2. Take off the heat and stir through the lemon juice and zest (it should thicken a little at this point)
3. Pour into dish of choice (I used espresso cups) and chill until set (6-8 hours for best results)

Lemon Sponge (best ever!)

115g soft butter/margarine (I use Flora Light..)
170g self-raising flour
170g caster sugar
2 eggs
6 tbsp milk
1tsp baking powder

Lemon Syrup: juice of 1 lemon and 2 tbsps of caster sugar mixed until dissolved

1. Preheat oven to 180c/GM 4
2. Put all of the cake ingredients (excluding syrup) into a large mixing bowl and beat for 2-3 mins until smooth, glossy and easily falling from your spoon
3. Pour mixture into a lined cake tin (I've done this in loaf tins/round tins/cake tins and it works regardless!)
4. Bake for 30-40 mins until top is browned and a skewer comes out clean
5. Use the skewer to stab holes in the cake and pour the syrup over the top while the cake is still warm

Lemon and Rosemary Ice Cream (recipe from Times Online)

500ml double cream
100ml lemon juice
200g caster sugar
1tbsp lemon zest
2 sprigs rosemary (remove and keep the leaves)
pinch salt

1. Mix together lemon juice, zest, sugar and leaves from rosemary sprigs. Leave to macerate for at least 30, stirring occasionally.
2. Stir in the cream and salt.
3. Pour into a shallow plastic container and freeze
4. Wait 1 hour, remove and stir with a fork (to break up any ice crystals)
5. Put back into freezer and repeat after another hour
6. Freeze for 6+ hours (ideally overnight) and then you're ready to go!

Whilst no Ice Cream maker was required, this menu was made infinitely easier by a food mixer (mine is a Kitchen Aid, price justified by 10 year life expectancy and weekly usage = £0.73 per use!!!) and a microplane (a million times better than a normal grater for zest/chocolate shavings/nutmeg). Without them, it might just take you a little longer to prepare, but end result should be the same!

Hope you like! If you have any comments or suggestions for future recipes, please post them on the feedahappylife Facebook page.

Helen x

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