A spring lunch for 4
I hardly dare mention the S word given how cold it's been recently but tomorrow, believe it or not is the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere and the clocks go forward in the UK this weekend. So here's a light lunch to enjoy with a couple of friends that has a touch of spring about it but still includes a warming stew.
The centrepiece is a simple but very delicious lamb stew from my book Meat and Two Veg that many people have told me they’ve enjoyed. It’s followed by a luxurious spin on lemon meringue pie which contains the delectable lemon liqueur limoncello. (That makes the meal quite lemony, I realise, but you’ll find it tastes quite different in each course.)
If you want to save time you could serve a simple selection of smoked fish patés or smoked fish to start with and finish with a shop-bought tarte au citron (lemon tart).
Smoked mackerel brandade
Think of a brandade as a silky-smooth, slightly sloppy pt and you’ll get the idea. It’s normally made with salt cod (brandade de morue) but I think the less salty, smokier mackerel works equally well.
250g pack smoked mackerel fillets
1 large clove of garlic, peeled, roughly chopped and crushed with a pinch of salt
50ml (2 fl oz) warm fragrant olive oil
50-75 ml (2-3 fl oz) warm creamy milk
About 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
Remove the skin from the mackerel fillets and flake the flesh, removing any bones. Tip into a food processor with the garlic and whiz for a minute. Pour in the warm olive oil and milk alternately until you have a velvety smooth, slightly sloppy pate. Season to taste with lemon juice and freshly ground black pepper. Pour into a bowl and chill for 15-30 minutes to let the flavours infuse. Serve with roast piquillo peppers and toasted sourdough.
To drink: a chilled dry fino or manzanilla sherry would go very well with this or a Sauvignon Blanc.
Roast piquillo peppers
2-3 large red piquillo peppers or other ordinary red peppers (sweet bell peppers)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced (optional)
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Quarter the peppers and remove the seeds and lay them in a baking dish, cut side upwards. Scatter over the garlic, season with salt and pepper and drizzle the peppers with olive oil. Bake for about 45-50 minutes until the peppers are soft and caramelised. Cool in the dish before serving
Alternative cheat’s method: take a jar of piquillo peppers, drain and slice them. Gently heat a couple of spoonfuls of olive oil in a pan, add 1 clove of garlic finely sliced and infuse on a very low heat for about 10 minutes. Add the peppers and warm through.
Spring lamb stew with herbs and lemonThis easy and delicious stew comes from my cookbook Meat and Two Veg.
500g lean lamb steaks, cubed
3 tbsp light olive or sunflower oil
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
Grated rind of 1/2 a lemon
1 rounded tbsp plain flour
350ml (12 fl oz) chicken stock or stock made with 1/2 an organic chicken stock cube
125g (4 1/2 oz - podded weight) small fresh or frozen broad beans
75g (3 oz) fresh or frozen peas
1 heaped tbsp finely chopped fresh dill
1 heaped tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp crme frache or double cream
Salt, freshly ground black pepper and lemon juice to season
Trim any excess fat off the lamb. Heat a frying pan over a high heat for 2–3 minutes, add 1 tbsp of the oil and fry the meat quickly on all sides until lightly browned. Transfer to a casserole or saucepan. Turn the heat down, add the remaining oil and tip in the chopped onion and carrot and cook gently for about 5 minutes until beginning to soften. Add the lemon rind and flour, stir for a minute then add the stock and bring to the boil. Pour the stock and vegetables over the meat, cover and simmer over a low heat for about 45 minutes until the meat is just tender. Add the broad beans and peas, bring back to simmering point and continue to cook for about 15 minutes until the vegetables are ready. Turn off the heat and stir in the dill, parsley and crme frache or cream. Season with salt, pepper and a good squeeze of lemon. Serve with buttered new potatoes or rice.
To drink: This stew is lighter than most lamb dishes so I suggest drinking a light red burgundy or Pinot Noir.
Limoncello meringue pieLimoncello - a luscious lemon liqueur from Italy - gives this traditional favourite a stylish new twist.
1 x 375g pack fresh dessert shortcrust pastry )+ a little plain flour for dusting
75ml (3 fl oz) Limoncello liqueur
225g (8 oz) caster sugar
40g (1 1/2 oz) cornflour
The rind and juice of 2 unwaxed lemons
3 large eggs, separated
You will need a 23cm (9 in) tart tin with a removable base
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Take the pastry out of the fridge about 10 minutes before you need it then roll it out on a floured board or work surface to fit the tin. Roll the pastry loosely round your rolling pin then carefully lower it into place without stretching it, pressing it gently against the sides of the tin. Cut the excess pastry off the top with a sharp knife. Prick the bottom of the pastry case with a fork. Take a large sheet of aluminium foil and press it into the pastry case so that it covers the base and sides then chill the flan tin for about 30 minutes. Place the tin on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Carefully pull away the foil then return the pastry case to the oven for another 5 minutes until it is lightly browned. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 150°C/300°F/Gas 2.
Meanwhile measure the Limoncello into a jug and top up with water to the 275ml (10 fl oz) mark. Put the cornflour and 75g (3 oz) of the sugar into a saucepan then gradually add the lemon liquid, stirring until it is smooth. Add the lemon rind then bring to the boil over a moderate heat, stirring until the mixture thickens and becomes transparent. Turn the heat down and cook for another minute then take the pan off the heat and strain in the lemon juice and beat in the eggs. Allow to cool for 5 minutes then spread over the base of the flan case.
Put the egg whites in a large clean bowl and whisk until they just hold their shape. Gradually add the caster sugar, a dessertspoon at a time, whisking hard between each addition until you have a glossy, stiff, shiny meringue. Spoon the meringue over the lemon filling taking care to cover the whole of the top of the tart and swirl it into peaks. Bake in the oven for 45-50 minutes until the meringue is crisp and pale brown. Leave the pie to cool for at least 15 minutes then serve warm or cold with cream.
To drink: A slightly tricky dish to match with wine. A Moscato d’Asti is probably the most appropriate choice but given the pie already contains some alcohol it doesn’t really need to be accompanied by a dessert wine.
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