Mango glasses, lime ice cream and chocolate truffles

Psy­cho­lo­gists will have you believe that the quick­est way to evoke the past is to play the music you listened to between the ages of four­teen and twenty, oth­er­wise known as ‘music of your life’. The Rolling Stones, Robert Palmer, Bruce Spring­steen — pos­sibly Engel­bert Hump­erdinck if that was your thing — will all evoke memor­ies of what you were doing at a pre­cise moment in your teens. But psy­cho­lo­gists are miss­ing a trick. They should be feed­ing us the boiled sweets of our teen­age years. ‘Con­fec­tion­ery of your life’ is made up of the sher­bet lem­ons after foot­ball prac­tice, tri-coloured lol­li­pops called ‘traffic lights’ sucked at the bus stop, kitsch pink candy shrimps in party bags, pear drops on a wintry Sunday morn­ing and, best of all, the glory known as the chocol­ate lime.

It was in memory of the liv­idly green and slightly powdery chocol­ate lime that I whipped up this pud­ding. It’s infin­itely health­ier than its boiled sweet cousin, although it has to be said that it’s a lot more trouble to pre­pare. But close your eyes, think of get­ting ready for that first teen­age disco with a chocol­ate lime in one cheek and high expect­a­tions in your heart. And then smile smugly to think that unlike the enamel-eroding boiled sweet, this pud­ding is good for you.

Frozen Mango Glasses and Lime Ice-Cream, With Bit­ter Chocol­ate Truffles on the Side

Serves 4

For the glasses

400g ripe alphonso mangos

For the ice cream

3 limes — the juice of three of them and the zest of two

Half cup vanilla sugar

2 cups double cream

For the truffles

Half cup double cream

3 table­spoons golden syrup

90g dark chocolate

90g milk chocolate

Quarter cup milled flax­seed, cocoa and ber­ries, plus more for rolling

These quant­it­ies make too much by far, but the slightly nutty truffle mix­ture is a deli­cious filling for a cake

Sprigs of mint to decorate

Puree the man­goes in a blender and pour into cup-making moulds for at least 6 hours. I bought these moulds in a kit­chen sup­ply shop and although they’re rather daft, some­times a flashy trick is what you’re after.

Make the ice cream by warm­ing the lime juice and stir­ring in the sugar. Stir until dis­solved and add the fine zest and the cream. Cool in the fridge and then tip into your ice cream maker and fol­low the instruc­tions. Again, it makes too much for this par­tic­u­lar recipe but it keeps well.

The truffles are easy to make, although truc­u­lent and unco­oper­at­ive on a hot day. Add the cream and golden syrup to a pan and heat until the mix­ture starts to bubble gently. Melt the chocol­ate into the mix­ture and once it’s smooth, add the flax­seed and cocoa. Freeze in a bowl for a couple of hours and then scoop out balls of the mix­ture with a tea­spoon and roll them in more flax­seed. Return the truffles to the freezer while you wrestle with the mango glasses.

Turn the glasses out of their moulds, fill with lime ice cream and arrange the truffles on the side. Dec­or­ate with sprigs of mint. I poked a lovage straw in to suck up the mango as it melted, but I’m rather obsessed with lovage at the moment, so you don’t need to fol­low my lead on this one.

With love from lovage

I’ve been given a fab­ulous book — The Alice B.Toklas Cook­book, first pub­lished in 1954. Alice B. Tok­las, the lover of writer Ger­trude Stein, was an eccent­ric cook. But Ger­trude and Alice’s din­ner guests were the likes of Matisse and Picasso, so the ori­gin­al­ity stakes were high. When Picasso popped round for lunch, Alice decided he would like a ‘dec­or­ated fish’, cooked using a method her grand­mother swore by. She argued that a fish ‘hav­ing lived its life in water, once caught, should have no fur­ther con­tact with the ele­ment in which it had been born and raised.’

I was start­ing to like the sound of recipe — until I got to the final para­graph. Alice sug­gests cov­er­ing the fish with stripes of may­on­naise and tomato paste. Then, even worse, she goes hard-core kitsch and coats the mayonnaise-daubed fish in a fancy pat­tern of ‘sieved hard-boiled eggs, the whites and the yolks apart.’ Picasso appar­ently exclaimed at the fish’s beauty, but sug­ges­ted that its par­tic­u­lar aes­thetic made it more suit­able for Matisse than him. What kind of tricky friend must he have been to have for lunch?

Food for friends is the best kind of food there is. Mind you, much as I love my friends, hav­ing just cooked spin­ach and parmesan tart for sixty of them, I don’t feel like mak­ing pastry again for a while. Which is why I’ve just made a cour­gette and lovage tart, using not pastry but por­ridge oats. It’s so effort­less I could hap­pily make it for six hun­dred. What’s exquis­ite about this tart is the del­ic­ate fla­vour of cel­ery bequeathed by the lovage. I picked my lovage this morn­ing from a friend’s garden. So this is food for friends con­tain­ing food by friends. And it’s a mini work of art.

Cour­gette and Lovage Tart

2 cups por­ridge oats

120 g but­ter

6 rash­ers smoked streaky bacon

3 medium onions, chopped finely

2 medium cour­gettes, quartered length­ways and sliced finely

Plump hand­ful of lovage leaves

6 eggs

175 g mas­car­pone

Salt pep­per

100 g ched­dar cheese, grated

Salt, pep­per and a pinch of sugar

Pre­heat the oven to 175 degrees c.

Melt the but­ter and stir in the por­ridge oats. Once fully mixed, tip the oats into a ceramic tart dish about 25 to 30 cm in dia­meter. Squash the buttered oats firmly down into the dish with the back of a spoon until com­pletely flat and smooth. Bake in the oven for fif­teen minutes until the oats are slightly toasted in colour.

Snip the bacon into smallish squares and fry gently until crisp, but not brittle. Remove the bacon and fry the onions in the remain­ing oil, adding a slosh of olive oil to help them along. Add salt and a pinch of sugar to encour­age the onions to car­a­mel­ise. Once soft and golden, remove the onions and add a little more olive oil to the pan. Tip in the cour­gettes and sea­son. Cook quite briskly for a few minutes and then add the shred­ded lovage leaves. Stir for a minute or so until the leaves wilt. Remove from the heat. Tip first the bacon, then the onion and finally the cour­gettes and lovage leaves evenly onto the oat base.

Mix the eggs, mas­car­pone, ched­dar cheese and pep­per well and then pour over the bacon, onions and cour­gettes, mak­ing sure everything is well coated. Bake in the oven for twenty to twenty five minutes until golden.

This tart is won­der­ful for a pic­nic because once cool it has none of the petu­lant qual­it­ies of a pastry tart that crumbles the minute it’s packed into a hamper and emerges from the bas­ket as a bundle of sulky crumbs. And lovage is just so eager to please. Not only does it volun­teer to make the most deli­cious tart, it turns itself into a straw for your aper­itif for good­ness sakes.

Take the largest stalks from the plant, snip into reedy straws, and poke into glasses of eld­er­flower cor­dial and ice. As you sip your drink through the celery-flavoured stalk, you will find the cor­dial has been magic­ally trans­formed into the most del­ic­ate and exquis­ite cock­tail. If like me you have a smart friend who grows not just lovage, but white dianthus flowers, pop a blos­som into your glass to add an extra fla­vour of cucum­ber. Frothy white flowers and a liv­ing lovage straw — Picasso would love it.

Plum jelly and hot baths

It’s vil­lage fete sea­son — the time for jam-buying, second-hand book swap­ping and cake-making.I bought grapefruit marmalade and quince jam — a jar of black­cur­rant jelly was thrown in for good meas­ure. My neigh­bours, who know I can’t be trus­ted with any­thing in the garden, got to the fete early and bought me two cour­gette plants. Appar­ently even a fool can grow a cour­gette. I’ll let you know.

It’s been a week of neigh­bour­li­ness, which is just as well. We haven’t had hot water in this house for two weeks, no water at all for two days and now the ‘phone line has died a death. I’ve never been offered more hot baths in my life. We’ve become a famil­iar sight, traipsing out of the house with tow­els under our arms, off for a scrub in someone else’s bath­room. And to cap it all, I got back last night to dis­cover that a bundle of rhu­barb as thick as fire­wood had been pos­ted over the garden wall. So I’m feel­ing very cher­ished. Cour­gettes, rhu­barb and other people’s hot water.

Inspired by the vil­lage fete, I’ve been doing a little jelly-making of my own. I have a vexed rela­tion­ship with pre­serves and espe­cially chut­ney. Too often it’s like slurry. It’s the opa­city of it that makes me shud­der. The sense that noth­ing will pierce the murky gloom inside the jar — and even if I could see what was inside, I’d pay not to. But this plum and chilli jelly is a dif­fer­ent mat­ter. I swear you could read a book through it if you wanted to.

Plum and Chilli Jelly

1 kg cook­ing apples

1 kg Vic­toria plums, stones removed

180 ml red wine vinegar

Caster sugar

4 red chil­lies sliced into thin rounds and the seeds removed

Chop the apples — don’t peel them — and put them with the plums in a pre­serving pan, along with 1.5 litres of water. Boil, reduce the heat to a sim­mer, cover and then allow to bubble hap­pily for about an hour. Add the vin­egar and boil for five minutes. Strain through a jelly bag until only a papier-mache type pulp remains in the bag.

Meas­ure how much juice you have. For ever 570 ml of juice you will need 450g of sugar. Place the sugar and the juice into the washed pre­serving pan and heat gently until the sugar has dis­solved. Add the chilli rings and then bring the mix­ture to a boil for about fif­teen minutes, until the set­ting point is reached. You can test for this by pla­cing a tea­spoon of the jelly onto a sau­cer that you have cooled in the fridge. (I must admit that I get rather nerdy about this and go through sev­eral chilled sau­cers before I’m sure). Leave to cool for 15 minutes or so and then pour your jelly into ster­il­ised jars and seal.

Eat your plum jelly with a wodge of ched­dar cheese and a glass of red wine, star­ing into the middle distance.

Spinach tart and homework

I’ve res­cued a heap of Vic­torian home­work from a Lon­don junk shop. Signed ‘John, 1848′, every sheet is lined with miser­able aph­or­isms. ‘Cau­tion is the only pro­tec­tion against impos­ing’, ‘Ven­er­ate sac­red insti­tu­tions’, ‘Nom­in­ate the just’. You get the picture.

Weirdly, hav­ing res­cued one batch of ancient home­work, I imme­di­ately found a whole heap more in my roof. I live in a 19th Cen­tury school house and like most things in this place, the roof is on its last legs. When the builder took the tiles off he found the eaves had been packed with old home­work — and it’s even more miser­able than poor old John’s.

Think­ing about the end­less scraps of paper that we throw away so freely, I star­ted to won­der about all the cook­books that go out of print each year. Per­haps, like act­ors, they say they’re ‘rest­ing.’ And yet while they ‘rest’, other far less impress­ive recipe books are doing a can-can down at the bookshop.

As a trib­ute to dis­carded cook­books every­where, and ded­ic­ated to 19th cen­tury John, here’s my ver­sion of a spin­ach and parmesan tart from one of my favour­ite recipe books of all, Quaglino’s: The Cookbook.

Spin­ach and Parmesan Tart

Serves 8

For the pastry

225g plain flour

125g slightly salted butter

2 egg yolks

For the filling

150g freshly grated Parmesan

450 g spin­ach

30g but­ter

freshly grated nutmeg

2 eggs, plus 3 extra yolks

200 ml double cream

150g Mas­car­pone cheese

Rub the flour and but­ter together with a pinch of salt. When thor­oughly mixed, whisk three table­spoons of cold water to the eggs yolks and pour into the flour. Quickly roll it together into a ball, wrap it in cling film and cool it in the fridge for an hour or so.

Pre­heat the oven to 200 degrees C. Roll out the pastry, line a loose-bottomed 25cm tart tin and line it with sil­ver paper. Tip in the bak­ing beans and bake blind for ten minutes. Remove the paper and beans and cook for a fur­ther 6 or 7 minutes until golden.

Reduce the tem­per­at­ure of the oven to 150 degrees C and pre­pare the filling. Wilt the washed spin­ach with the but­ter for a few minutes until it looks like bedraggled sea­weed but still retains its bright green col­our. Squeeze it out like a dish­cloth and then sprinkle with a little grated nutmeg.

Beat the eggs, cream and Mas­car­pone together until smooth. Then repeat the fol­low­ing for­mula twice…layer of eggs, cream and Mas­car­pone, layer of spin­ach, sprink­ling of black pep­per, hefty dose of parmesan. Fin­ish with a final dose of the eggs and cream mix­ture and a snow­drift of parmesan. Bake in the oven for around half an hour, or until golden and set. Finally, grate a little more parmesan on top and a trickle of extra vir­gin olive oil. Deli­cious with a green salad. Deli­cious with just about any­thing actu­ally. I ate it for break­fast this morn­ing, with a cup of PG tips on the side.