We roasted spring vegetables the other day: purple-streaked onions, thickly sliced and spiced with coriander seeds and cumin, tossed with skinny carrots and fresh chillies, served on a mound of brown lentils I had simmered in vegetable stock.
The following day – one of those bright, effervescent spring mornings with an underlying nip of winter – the same ingredients became a substantial soup. The fresh chillies were swapped for dried ones to introduce a smoky back-note, and the lentils were stirred in for an earthy texture. Same ingredients, different result.
We reminded ourselves that it was spring with a scattering of tiny green leaves
We reminded ourselves that it was spring with a scattering of tiny green leaves – radish, mustard and young greens. Sprouted seeds would have been perfect, too.
I like the early days that can be winter or spring, as the mood takes them. They refresh and inspire. But they can also wreck dinner plans, which is why I try to pick recipes designed to be as fluid as the weather.
Typically, those such as an asparagus pilau which, with a little tweaking, and by changing the rice from long grain to short, can be turned into a cool-weather risotto. Or a dish of fried gnocchi with crisp spring vegetables – radish, peas, broad beans – that can be quickly rethought as a rib-sticking gratin, the little balls of dough bathed in a layer of cream, broad beans and parmesan sauce.
I dug out a forgotten old pudding the other day, a queen of puddings with its layer of raspberry jam and crumb-filled custard. Sweet but oh so glorious. Good though it was, it crossed my mind that it could be a little more refreshing and seasonal if I introduced orange zest to the custard and swapped the raspberry jam for a bright lemon curd. Still sweet, it had a lightness to it, and the whole thing felt suddenly in step with the time of year. It has turned out to be a keeper.
Spiced carrot soup
The warmth of spices. the freshness of herbs. Serves 4
onions 1, medium
olive oil 2 tbsp
garlic 1 clove
ground cumin ½ tsp
ground coriander 1 tsp
chilli flakes a large pinch
vegetable stock 1 litre
small, orange lentils 100g
bay leaves 2
cumin seeds 2 tsp
micro greens 2 handfuls
herb leaves, mint, parsley 2 handfuls
olive oil 2 tbsp
Peel and roughly chop the onion. Warm the olive oil in deep, wide saucepan over a moderate heat, then add the onion. Peel and thinly slice the garlic, then add it to the onion and leave to cook, with the occasional stir, for 5 to 7 minutes until it has started to soften but has not coloured.
Trim the carrots, peeling if necessary, then roughly chop them. Stir the ground cumin, coriander and the chilli flakes into the softening onions, then add the carrots and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Heat the stock, pour it into the saucepan, add the lentils, a little salt and the bay leaves, and bring to the boil.
When the soup comes to the boil, lower the heat to a simmer and partially cover with a lid. Leave to cook for 25-30 minutes or until the carrots and lentils are soft to the touch. Ladle into a blender a little at time and reduce to a thick purée. Check the seasoning – it may need some salt and black pepper. Pour the soup back into the pan and reheat.
Toast the cumin seeds in a dry pan for a minute or two until fragrant, then tip into a small bowl. Pick the micro greens and herbs from their stalks and add to the cumin seeds. Pour over the olive oil. Ladle the soup into bowls and scatter the surface with toasted seeds and herbs.
St Clements queen of puddings
I would usually use good-quality commercially made lemon curd for this, but others will do nicely, too, such as orange or passion fruit. It is worth leaving the pudding to settle for a while – say 15 minutes – before tucking in. Serves 6
For the custard:
soft white bread 90g
orange 1, small
caster sugar 75g
eggs yolks 3
lemon or orange curd 8 tbsp
For the meringue:
egg whites 3
caster sugar 180g
You will also need a baking dish to hold approximately 1.5 litres.
Set the oven at 160C/gas mark 3. Reduce the bread to fine crumbs in a food processor. Grate the zest from the orange and lemon; mix with the 75g of caster sugar. Tumble all together and set aside.
Still sweet, the pudding had a lightness to it, and felt suddenly in step with the time of year
Pour the milk into a pan and bring almost to the boil. Separate the eggs, putting the whites into a large bowl. Beat the yolks with a small whisk, then, still whisking, pour in the milk and mix together. Stir in the citrus-scented crumbs, then pour into a 1.5 litre baking dish and set aside for 15 minutes.
Turn the heat up to 200C/gas mark 6. Bake the custard for 25 minutes until lightly firm, then remove from the oven and set the heat to 180C/gas mark 4. Spread the curd gently over the custard. Beat the egg whites and sugar until thick – they should stand in firm peaks – then spoon them over the pudding. Return to the oven for a further 15 minutes or so until the peak of the meringue is golden.
Remove from the oven and leave to settle for 15 minutes before serving.