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.