Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Asparagus Soup

Turning into a bit of a theme or an obsession or something perhaps, the weekly asparagus blog, but this vegetable is so fabulous and its time is so brief, what the hell I'm going to add another. It was the lovely boyfriend's birthday last week so we went out for a splendid supper mid week, then I planned to make a special meal at home over the weekend just to keep the party theme going. (Any excuse.) I rifled through the recipe books and consulted my sweetheart on what he fancied as a special treat. His first choice for first course was asparagus soup. Not just any soup though, it had to be the one from Gordon Ramsay's Secrets. A spectacularly good choice, it has to be said.

Although not hugely complex to make it is time-consuming. Each step has to be done properly, and using only the best ingredients. The time used will be well rewarded. Using recipes from chef's of the calibre of the brilliant Mr Ramsay is one way to make the produce shine - it is often the small things presented as 'garnish' or 'to finish the dish' that are the most revelatory. For this soup, it is whipping double cream with truffle oil to float on the hot soup that lifts this dish from fabulous to heavenly. Rich, earthy, delicate - wow.

Eating well is very much a two way process. You can make a terrible dish using the finest ingredients but you cannot make brilliant food using sub standard ingredients. It will never happen. It seems to me that it also part of the pleasure of good food to have an ever increasing skill in the kitchen and with that knowledge comes confidence to try more and different things thus broadening your repertoire. If you stick to the produce of the seasons it will also make sense of the year - given time.

Asparagus Soup with truffle cream

Make this soup in the spring when homegrown asparagus is in season and available at a good price. You don't need to seek out young, tender spears - it's the flavour you need, not the texture. You will achieve a good result with a combination of stalks and trimmings, so don't discard the woody ends and peelings if you're serving asparagus as a vegetable - use them here. Adding a couple of handfuls of tender spinach leaves helps to boost the natural asparagus colour without detracting from the flavour.

1kg green asparagus (including trimmings if available)
75g butter
1 onion chopped
1 fat garlic clove, chopped
750ml of chicken or vegetable stock
100g baby leaf spinach
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

To serve
150ml double cream
1/2 teaspoon truffle oil
2 teaspoons finely chopped chives

Chop the asparagus into small even sized pieces. Heat the butter in a large saucepan and, when it starts to sizzle, add the onion and garlic. Sauté gently for about 10 minutes until softened but not coloured. Add the asparagus pieces and sauté for a further 5-10 minutes until softened. Meanwhile, bring the stock to the boil in another pan. Pour the hot stock over the asparagus, season to taste and simmer for 3 minutes. Then stir in the spinach and cook briefly, unti ljust wilted. Immediately remove from the heat and strain the stock, reserving the vegetables.

Purée the vegetables in a blender or food processor, gradually adding the hot stock back until you have a creamy liquid. Pass the soup through a fine mesh sieve into a clean pan. Rub the pulp in the sieve with the back of a ladle to extract as much flavour as possible.

To serve, lightly whip the cream with truffle oil and seasoning until softly peaking. Reheat the soup gently until almost at a simmer, but do not boil or you will destroy the amazing colour and flavour. Serve in warm bowls topped with dollops of truffle cream and chopped chives.

The drip on the edge of the plate is optional!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Dhal and Spicy Corn Cakes

The bleak weather continues in a most unspringlike fashion with gales and storms and nothing like sunshine ever brightening the day. Really needed something to cheer us up a little - and spicy is seldom a mistake. Dhal is a wonderfully comforting food - vaguely porridgey in its consistency it is good to eat hot, warm or cold - and somehow takes on a different guise at each temperature. I like to mix spinach and fresh chopped coriander through before serving to add another flavour and texture to the finished dish.

The corn fritters come from a recipe of Charmain Solomon's The Complete Asian Cookbook. I bought my copy of this book more than twenty years ago - and though battered and stained it is still one of my favourite cookbooks. Both dishes are essentially cupboard standbys - and the leftovers make for a lovely lunch when the next day turns out bleak again.

Dhal with Spinach and Coriander

250g/8oz red lentils
1 1/2 tbspns ghee or oil
1 large onion, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbspn fresh ginger, grated
1/2 tspn ground turmeric
3 cups hot water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 tspn garam masala
125g/4oz spinach
bunch of fresh coriander, chopped

Wash and drain lentils. Heat the ghee in a heavy based pan and fry onion, garlic and ginger gently for about 15 minutes, until the onion is golden. Add turmeric and stir well. Add drained lentils, stir fry for a minute to coat with oil and aromatics then add the hot water and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 15-20 minutes. Add salt and garam masala and continue cooking till lentils are soft and porridgey. Mix the spinach through and cook for a few minutes till wilted, then stir through the chopped coriander and serve.

Spicy Corn Fritters

375g/12oz whole kernel corn
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup ground rice (this adds crispness, but use plain flour if you don't have any)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cummin
1/4 teaspoon laos powder (optional)
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1 medium onion
1 clove garlic
pinch salt
1 stalk celery
scant 1/2 cup water
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon dried shrimp paste (trasi) optional
squeeze lemon juice
oil for frying

Sift flour, ground rice, baking powder, salt, coriander, cummin, laos and chilli powder into a bowl. Quarter the onion and cut into very thin slices. Crush the garlic to a smooth paste with a little salt. Chop celery finely.

Mix together the water, beaten egg, trasi and lemon juice and add to the flour mixture, beating until smooth. Stir in the corn, onion garlic and celery. Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan to a depth of 12mm (1/2 inch). When oil is hot drop mixture by the large tablespoon into the oil, spreading with the back of the spoon to make a circle about 7.5cm (3 inches) across. Fry until underside of the fritter is golden then turn with tongs and fry the other side. Lift out and drain on absorbent paper placed on a wire rack. Keep warm in a low oven while you cook the rest of the batter in batches till it is all done.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Everywhere you look at the moment there are food items headed 'What to do with asparagus' and I'm not sure why. The obvious thing to do with asparagus is eat it as fast as possible with as litttle adornment as possible because it is truly one of the worlds great vegetables. In fact at this time of year in England it is THE greatest vegetable. The brevity of its appearance adds to its desirability - that 6 week window is over all too soon. We've eaten it each weekend for the last few weeks simply steamed for 6-7 minutes with a little grinding of black pepper and a knob of butter. It's nice with the addition of an egg - poached or fried - some crusty bread to mop up any juices perhaps.

For such a delicate vegetable it really is quite robust. The best way to eat only the tender part of the stalks is to break each stalk where it snaps - the top piece should be cooked and enjoyed immediately.

This week as a little change I made a stir fry. We had some rare grilled rump left over from dinner Saturday, so the slight edge of charring on the meat and the delicate crispness of the asparagus mixed through soft noodles made for a heavenly marriage. This could easily be made with chok boy at other times of the year.

Stir fry beef and asparagus

250g/1/2lb rump steak, thinly sliced
1 bunch asparagus, chopped into 3cm/1" pieces, tips kept separate
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
500g/1lb fresh egg noodles
2 tbspns light soy sauce
1 tbspn oyster sauce
1 tbspn vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped coriander
2 spring onions, finely sliced

Heat the oil in a wok and, when it is very hot, add the chilli, garlic and ginger and stir fry briefly till fragrant. Add the asparagus stalks, toss to coat in the spicy oil then add the soy sauce and 2 tablespoons of water, lower the heat, cover and cook for 4 minutes. Raise the heat again and add the meat, stir briefly then add the noodles and toss together for a minute or so.

Add the tips of the asparagus and the oyster sauce and stir through till everything is hot. Add the coriander and spring onions, mix thoroughly and serve immediately in big bowls.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Quinoa Salad

I am as susceptible as the next person to fads and fashions and things that are ostensibly 'good for you' so long as it's new and interesting, or at least not been heard about lately. Recently there has been a stirring in the media about quinoa - pronounced keen-wa - a so-called superfood that sounds just too good to be true. The listing in Wikipedia tells you that the United Nations has designated it a super crop for its very high protein content (13%). Unlike wheat or rice (which are low in lysine) quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans, making it an unusually complete foodstuff. Still doesn't tell me much about what it really is, or what it tastes like or what the Incas did as preparation 5000 years ago before they ate it but I was interested.

Having recently rediscovered the pleasure of barley - thanks to watching Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall stuff a chicken with some a few months ago I emulated his example to wonderful effect one Sunday lunch - I was keen to try a few more of the lesser known grains. I bought a 500g pack of quinoa from Total Organics, with one recipe in mind, but that didn't happen. I found another, more enticing sounding recipe for a super herbed salad that had the added advantage of coming with a picture of the finished dish giving me at least some idea of where I was heading. It is definitely the downside to cooking with something you've never used or eaten, the not knowing what it is you should end up with, or indeed even when you have arrived.

The salad was a bit of a disaster - kind of all right but not worth repeating. I had been expecting the quinoa to be like cracked wheat (bulghur) and the salad to be a variation on tabbouleh. It lacked the robustness of that famous salad and was altogether a little flaccid in the mouth as well as looking almost nothing like the one in the picture! Not the greatest experience. All in all the remaining half bag of quinoa was rapidly heading for the back of the pantry shelf to be thrown away as out of date some time in the future. Until I read another recipe and decided, perhaps, third time lucky. It comes from an article in The Guardian by Feargus O'Sullivan, and I've adapted it to include the various cooking tips and methods that were suggested in the earlier abortive attempts.

The result is fabulous.

Quinoa and sprouted seed salad

100g quinoa
1 tbspn olive oil
2 tomatoes
1 head chicory, shredded

100g/4oz rocket
2 hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped
2 red peppers
4 tbsp mixed sprouted seeds
2 tbsp chopped chives
3 tbsp chopped coriander
1 small red chilli, minced
juice of 1 lime
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Fry the quinoa in one tbspn olive oil gently for about 5 minutes then pour it into a pan of boiling water. Boil for 15 minutes during which time the germ will separate from the seed, then strain as fully as possible in a sieve. It will look like tiny translucent curls. Spread the quinoa thinly across a baking sheet and dry it gently for 30 minutes in a very low oven, fluffing it once or twice. Remove and leave to cool. Scald the tomatoes in boiling water, remove the skins and seeds and chop roughly. Slice the peppers lengthways then cook, covered, in a small frying pan in a little olive oil for about half an hour till they are caremalized and sweet. Cool slightly in the pan.

Whip lime juice, chilli and oil together to make a dressing. Fluff the quinoa with a fork and combine with all the other ingredients, including the oil from the peppers. Mix together well and serve.

Cooked this way the quinoa is delicate in texture with a light nutty flavour. It is well balanced in this dish by the the robustness of the sprouts and the myriad of other flavours. The little prickle of heat from the chilli is the final note that makes this a great dish.

Finally I understand the fuss.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Chorizo Salad

Had that rare thing - a bad experience with food bought from Borough Market this weekend. I had a cooking chorizo in the fridge - a lovely coarse meaty thing with lots of paprika to stain and flavour the oil it secretes as it warms in a pan. I bought a string of them from Brindisa a few weeks ago and have frozen most of them for future dishes. As I was out Saturday afternoon I wanted a dinner that would be reasonably quick to make on my return - and I wanted to use my sausage. So the solution was mussels - fry the chorizo with a little garlic, add some white wine then tip in the mussels when it simmers. Cook till they open then add a generous handful of chopped coriander before serving in big bowls with crusty bread. Ticked every box.

Except of course it didn't. I bought a kilo of mussels from Applebee's, assuming they would be fresh - the fish they had laid out on ice certainly looked that way, no nasty smell. The mussels were at the back of the counter and it wasn't possible to see them before buying but I had no reason to think that I would need to check before purchasing. One of the best things about shopping at Borough is the quality of the produce - it is true you pay a premium but in return you are getting the best - or that is the way it should work and indeed usually does.

Not this time though. I got home around 7, poured out a glass of wine (helps the creative process) and unwrapped the mussels. Smelt a bit fishy but not too bad. Tipped them into a sink full of cold water then started to pick them over. First one out had an open shell - dead. Second one was the same. Next one was fine as was the one after that. But then the next few were also dead - in fact by the time I had checked half of them the pile in the bin was bigger than the pile in the colander. Disaster really - not enough good ones to make a decent supper and with that many bad ones it didn't seem worth risking eating the rest. Food poisoning from shellfish is a truly nasty experience.

So - really hungry by now and dinner's in the bin. A quick survey of what else we had that could be rustled up into a dinner that would be ready soonish rather than the other side of midnight and the bag of jersey royals seemed to hold the key. I had some peppers - classic with spanish cooking - and a lovely big bag of rocket. With my chorizo this could be good.

Chorizo Salad

350g/12oz jersey royal (or other new) potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled
1 chorizo sausage, sliced
2 red peppers, sliced
150g/6oz rocket
2 eggs
1 tbspn olive oil

Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the sliced peppers. Cover and cook for 20-30 minutes over a gentle heat till they are sweet and caremalised. Halve the potatoes and cook them in salted water till tender.

Put a pile of rocket onto two plates, then add the cooked peppers. Fry the sliced chorizo in the same pan as the peppers for a couple of minutes till the oil runs. Scoop it out with a slotted spoon and add to the plates. Poach the eggs till set but still with runny yolks. Drain the potatoes and fry them briefly in the oil that has been flavoured by the peppers and the chorizo till they take up the deep ochre colour of the paprika. Add to the plates then top each plate with a poached egg.

In the end it was almost as good as the original plan! Think now I should have kept the bad ones and taken them back next week - but didn't seem worth the smell in the fridge for a week.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Rice & Spinach Cake

Maybe I was Popeye in another life - or perhaps Olive Oyl - because I just love spinach, especially at this time of year. Not the 'baby' leaves that add bulk but not much flavour to salads and nothing much at all to cooked dishes. What I look for around now is leaf spinach sold loose by weight with coarse stalks, deep green leaves and often bits of dried mud stuck to it gauranteeing it was grown in the earth. There is no point in buying a little bit - it will simply disappear in the pan. Half a kilo translates into a carrier bag stuffed to bursting but after washing and steaming it collapses to a deep green bowlful.

Its slightly metallic taste softens with steaming and it combines well with eggs, cheese, herbs, nutmeg and, best of all, butter. For a side dish it requires nothing more than a grinding of black pepper before serving. The Italians have long history of dishes that exploit spinach's propensity to combine well with other things - as stuffings for pasta and vegetables, in roasted fish and baked tarts and cooked with rice and herbs, as in this recipe from an old Claudia Roden cookbook 'The Food of Italy'. It was the basis of our lunchboxes this week - served in slices and packed with salad it was sufficiently summery to match the appearance (finally) of a few days of warm sunshine.

Rice and Spinach Cake

500g (1lb) fresh whole leaf spinach
250g (1/2 lb) short grain risotto rice
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbspn olive oil
25g (1oz) butter
3 eggs
4 tablespoons parmesan, grated
Good grating of nutmeg

Wash the spinach and remove the stems. Cook until it softens then drain and chop fine. Boil the rice in salted water for 15 minutes till al dente then drain.

Fry the onion and garlic in the oil till golden and put it into a bowl with the rice and spinach. Add butter, eggs and cheese, pepper and nutmeg. Mix well and press into a buttered non-stick mould or cake tin. Bake in a 200C/400F/gas mark 6 oven for about 25 minutes till golden.

Turn out and serve hot. It is also very good cold.

You can add a bunch of chopped herbs - like basil, oregano, thyme, or parsley for extra flavour if you have some handy.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Having spent a fair amount of time in south- west France over the last few years I have developed a passion for duck. The Gers is renowned throughout Europe for the quality of its poultry. Driving through the countryside you see large flocks of geese and ducks, interspersed with cornfields growing the mais on which they are fed. Traditionally geese were fattened for their livers but more and more it is duck foie gras that is the specialité de la région.

One of my favourite things is magret - duck breast that has been salted to rend the fat on the skin side then pan fried to medium rare and served sliced, with potatoes sautéed in the duck fat and perhaps a light green salad. It is a most perfect meal. Interestingly, the magret are in fact simply a by-product of the foie gras industry and the gersois locals, being a frugal people who know a good thing when they grow it, have adapted it into this fabulous dish. In fact, being frugal they use the entire duck in various dishes - all of them highly edible.

At Borough it is possible to buy Barbary duck legs at Wyndhams Poultry Company - quite sizable pieces with a good layer of fat under the skin - for about £2 each. Following the French model they make a wonderful supper, slow roasting the legs then using the fat that rends from the roasting to sauté potatoes. There is something about using one element to make another that creates a deeply pleasing symmetry. Add a green salad and voila! Dinner is served.

Roasted Duck Legs
2 Barbary duck legs
Leaves from a sprig of fresh thyme
500g/1lb new potatoes, halved but not peeled
1 clove garlic
Sprig of rosemary

With a sharp knife score the skin of the duck. Rub a generous quantity of salt into the skin side, place on a rack over a roasting pan and sprinkle with thyme. Roast for the first 3o minutes in a hot oven at Gas mark 7/400F/200C then turn it back to Gas 4/350F/175C and continue to cook for about 2 hours. After the first hour tip the fat that has collected in the pan into a heavy based frying pan, and again after another 30 minutes. The duck is cooked when the skin is crispy brown.

Meanwhile, warm the duck fat over a medium heat then add the crushed garlic and the rosemary - be careful, it may spit a bit. Add the potatoes, season well with salt and a grinding of pepper, cover and cook, turning occasionally, for 20-25 minutes till crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper before serving.

Plate up with the duck, the potatoes, green salad and perhaps a little beetroot for an added sweet earthiness.

C'est magnifique!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Cheesy Peas

I have heard many times over the years that rice and peas together make a perfect protein. I'm happy to continue spreading this story, assuming that it's true. Certainly I've never heard this statement made, only to have someone refute it as utter rubbish. It seems reasonable to assume there is some truth in the story given the number countries that have a version of it somewhere in the repertoire of their national cuisine. There is rice and peas (pigeon peas) made rich with coconut milk as a staple in the Caribbean, the elegant risi e bisi in Itlay, gently spiced matar pulao from India, and that wonderful standby - fried rice. Whatever the truth, it is a great combination. The sweetness of the peas and the starch of the rice work.

Cheesy peas are a bastardised version of risi e bisi - less elegant and less complicated but a great dish in the spring and an easy supper to make. It is a good cupboard standby that can be magicked out of what is already there. I find as well that it is very conducive to a good nights sleep afterwards, the gentleness of the carbohydrates almost invariably leads to a sleep like the sleep of good people.

Cheesy Peas
200g/7oz arborio rice
150g/5oz frozen petits pois
1 litre/1.8 pints of stock - chicken, hock or vegetable are all good
50g/2oz butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped (only if you have some in the fridge)
1 clove garlic, crushed
50g/2oz grated parmesan
4 spring onions, finely sliced (again, only if you have some)

Heat the stock in a pan till simmering. In a heavy based frying pan melt half the butter and fry onion and garlic still soft and translucent. Stir in the celery and, after a minute, the rice. Stir to coat with butter then add a ladle of simmering stock and stir till it is absorbed. Keep adding stock and stirring till absorbed till about half the stock is used. Add the frozen peas then continue adding ladles of hot stock till the peas are cooked and the rice is softened but still a tiny bit chalky in the middle. If not all the stock is absorbed all to the good, it's nice if it's slightly soupy. When everything is ready stir in the remaining butter, the grated parmesan and, if using, the spring onions. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and serve in big bowls.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Chocolate Pots

Though it is really chucking it down today spring is beginning to elbow its way through the gloom. The days are longer, my clematis is dripping with buds on the brink of unfurling their creamy faces all over the fence and English asparagus has arrived at Borough Market. We had to have some.

With friends coming to dinner Saturday night I decided to have asparagus as a starter. Simple, elegant and irresistible. Not having an asparagus steamer has never felt like a disadvantage - my pan cupboard is already full. Especially in the first few weeks of the season I tend to steam it lightly and not much else. Snap the base of the stalks off - wherever they break is the dividing point between tender and hoary. If you're feeling particularly virtuous use the tough ends in a vegetable stock or as the base of asparagus soup - though soup this early in the season would really be a decadent treat!

Lay the tips of asparagus flat in a large heavy based pan, add a couple of tablespoons of cold water, a generous knob of butter, salt and a grinding of black pepper. Put the lid on the pan and steam for 10 - 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stalks. Serve on flat plates with the buttery pan juices dribbled over. I fried duck eggs to go with the stalks - the big bright runny yolks spilled onto the plates like a golden sauce. With crusty bread we devoured the lot.

But about my chocolate pots. Everyone loves chocolate mousse - and the lovely boyfriend loves them more than most. They are very easy to make, have to be done a few hours before they can be served guaranteeing no last minute panic and variations can be served with the addition of grand marnier or kahlua for a little extra kick. Best of all they are bliss to eat - a kind of concentrate of luxurious richness consumed in velvety mouthfuls.

Chocolate Pots
120g/4 1/2oz dark chocolate, 70% cocoa solids
40g/1 1/2oz caster sugar
5 egg whites
2 egg yolks

Break the chocolate into pieces into a bowl and melt gently over simmering water, stirring occasionally. Take care not to have the water boil against the bowl or the chocolate will become irretrievably grainy - a disappointment best avoided. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, add the sugar, then beat again till the peaks stiffen. Cool the melted chocolate slightly then stir in the egg yolks. Incorporate about a third of the egg whites into the chocolate then add to the rest of the whites and stir together gently. Pour into four ramekins and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

I added little chocolate eggs as decoration that I bought from L'Artisan du Chocolat. But make sure you add them after you set them in the fridge. I tried to put one on top straight after I had poured the moulds only to have it sink gently into the mousse.

Much to his delight I tucked a leftover pot into my sweetheart's lunchbox as a suprise for Monday. He was thrilled.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Cannellini Bean Salad

After the pleasures of hot spiced lamb on Saturday there was still plenty of meat left over for Sunday. I have a thing about cold lamb paired with bean salad - the creamy beans in the herbed dressing somehow lifts the meat to new heights and creates a completely different meal.

I use tinned beans for this - they just need to be thoroughly washed before they go into the salad bowl. It is a really useful standby cupboard dish that only takes a few minutes to make, will keep in the fridge for a week and is fabulous with just about any salads - tuna particularly. And it is great as a side dish with barbecued anything. It is also cheap, nutritious and everyone seems to love it. Irresistible really!

Herbed bean salad
2 tins cannellini beans, drained and thoroughly washed under cold tap
4 tbspn finely chopped fresh herbs - parsley, thyme, tarragon, oregano, basil, a little rosemary
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 tbspn olive oil
1 tbspn lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Put everything into a salad bowl and mix thouroughly.

It really is that easy.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Roast Spiced Shoulder of Lamb and Parsnip & Spring Onion Pudding

Bank Holiday weekend and you can be sure it won't be hot and sunny. It is undoubtedly gettting better very (very) slowly but I'm not in any rush to break out the flouncy skirts and flip flops just yet. The pleasure of three days at home getting stuff done, seeing a movie, going for long walks, planting out the herb garden in preparation for spring is lovely. Decided to have one slightly complicated dinner Saturday night then an easy day Sunday with options for Monday depending on how things panned out.

Spring, holidays, lamb - it all seemed to go together. Before I started shopping at Borough Market shoulder of lamb was not a cut that I was enamoured by. The stuff from supermarkets tends to be very tough and very fatty and greasy. Generally nasty. From well raised animals it is a well flavoured meat with firm flesh and little fat or sinew. It will always need a little more preparation than a leg but you will be well rewarded.

I had ripped a recipe out of the Guardian for spiced shoulder of lamb from the Michelin starred chef Shaun Hill. I decided to go with his accompaniment of parsnip and spring onion pudding. New season lamb is in the market now but I find that aged is better. I had half a shoulder from an older beast in the freezer - and that was my starting point. The spiced lamb is wonderful - from the sensual pleasure of rubbing the mix into the flesh then wrapping it in cling film to marinate right through to the eating. Cooked slowly, the spice rub blackens on the skin and the base of the pan creating a lovely gooey sticky finish to the meat and the perfect base for a sauce to serve with it. I had expected it to be good and it was better than that.

But the real revelation was the parsnips. Pureeing them when cooked makes them silky smooth but they are saved from blandness by the spicing and, especially, the spring onions. They add texture and crunch and a contrasting flavour. I made it in a single pan but they could easily be made in individaul ramekins for a more glamourous presentation. With new potatoes and buttered courgettes this was a great supper.

Spiced shoulder of lamb
½ red pepper
1 small red chilli
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp chopped mint
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp saffron threads
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large half shoulder or small shoulder of lamb
Salt and black pepper

Chop the pepper, chilli, garlic, mint and spices together until almost a pulp - it's easier if you use the flat of the knife to crush everything first. Stir in the oil, then rub this mixture on to the meat and season. Wrap the shoulder in clingfilm and leave to marinate for a few hours in the fridge. Roast in a moderately hot oven (180C/350F/gas mark 4) until done the way you want. I prefer shoulder more well cooked than leg or rack. Once the meat is resting on the carving board, add a tumbler of water to the pan and bring to the boil. The strained juices and burnt-on bits of spice will be all the sauce you need.

Parsnip and spring onion pudding

The advantage to this variation of mashed parsnips is that it can be made in advance and baked as needed. Carrots can substitute and even be used along with the parsnip, provided they are boiled separately, as they will take longer to soften.

600g/21oz parsnips, peeled
Salt and nutmeg
1 egg
25g/scant ounce butter
1 small bunch spring onions, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Cut the parsnips into smallish, evenly sized pieces - cut out and discard any tough or woody parts from the bases. Boil in salted water until tender, then drain. Season with salt and nutmeg. Blend in a food processor, together with the egg and the butter. Stir in the spring onions and spoon into an ovenproof dish. Bake until set - around 20 minutes - and serve hot.