Recipe: Turkish eggs with sumac and preserved lemon yoghurt

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One of the biggest things I love about the weekend is having the chance to cook a proper breakfast or brunch for me and my boyfriend. This is one of my go-to weekend brunch dishes. It’s such a lovely, satisfying way to start the weekend, especially if you’ve been guilty of overindulging on the Friday night and are in need of something filling and restorative to sort out those fluctuating blood sugar levels. It’s dead simple too, and works brilliantly as a brunch dish for when you have friends over – just up the quantities to feed however many you need. If you are doing it for friends, you can make-ahead the tomato and pepper base, and yoghurt, and simply finish it with the eggs when your pals arrive.

It might not be strictly authentic, but I’ve thrown some kale into the mix too, as it helps to bulk-out the sauce and we all know I don’t need much of an excuse to add kale to things. I love to use the smoky, mellow Urfa chilli flakes which are grown in Turkey, but you could replace with normal red chilli flakes if you can’t find them. Don’t fret if you don’t have any preserved lemons or sumac powder to add to the yoghurt, a straight forward garlic yoghurt flavoured with lemon juice will do as a good substitute.

olive oil
1 white onion, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red or green pepper, sliced
1 tin of cherry or chopped tomatoes
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp urfa chilli flakes
a handful of kale leaves, stems and stalks removed and chopped
2 eggs
small bunch of fresh coriander, stems finely chopped, leaves kept whole

For the sumac yoghurt:

2 slices of preserved lemon, pith and flesh removed and finely chopped
6 tbsp natural yoghurt – I like the full fat greek stuff
1 heaped tsp sumac powder
pinch of salt
Olive oil

Add a splash of olive oil to a skillet or frying pan over a medium heat and sauté the onion and garlic with a pinch of salt for a few minutes, until aromatic and softened, but not browning. Add in the sliced pepper and coriander stems and cook for a further 2 minutes, then pour in the tin of tomatoes, a splash more olive oil, chilli and smoked paprika and cook down for 10 minutes, until thickened and sweet. 

While the tomato base is cooking, make your infused yoghurt. Simply stir the garlic, salt, sumac and preserved lemon through the yoghurt and drizzle over the olive oil.

Now, turn the heat down to low and create a two indents in the tomato base with the back of a spoon. Crack in two eggs, and cover with a lid or large plate and cook for a few minutes until the eggs are set, but still have soft yolks – three to four minutes.
Serve with the yoghurt and some toasted sourdough, scattered with the fresh coriander leaves.

Talking about restaurants on London Live

For the past few weeks, I’ve been getting up pretty early of a Thursday to go and chat about restaurants on London Live’s ‘Foodie Thursday’ early morning slot. This is my first foray into live telly, and I was pretty ruddy nervous the first time I did it, but the production team and presenters made me feel really welcome and I’ve really been enjoying the experience of gabbing away about all of the latest restaurant developments taking hold in the capital. It’s nice to get to wax lyrical about all of the exciting restaurants in London!

Going to the studios in Kensington was rather surreal at first, because the show is filmed at Northcliffe House – where the Daily Mail, Independent and Evening Standard have their offices. My dad used to work in that same building and I vividly remember going to visit him as a little kid on a trip to London and being bowled-over by the waterfalls, glass lifts and pools with Coy Carp. All those things are still there!

In the clip above I was talking about the new wave of Thai and ramen restaurants that have opened recently. I mentioned Som Saa, The Smoking Goat in Soho and Ipuddo.

I usually get two ‘hits’ per appearance, one at 7.40am, and one at 8.40am. If you’re an early bird, tune in on Thursday and let me know what you think!

*I got a few kind compliments on the red dress I was wearing – it’s Orla Kiely for those of you who asked.*

Recipe: winter squash, buttermilk and spice bundt cakes with boozy brandy squash icing

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To me, the abundance of pumpkins and squashes are one of the best things about this time of year. I never really cooked with them until I went to Vancouver and discovered them growing in every garden and trailing down every front porch from ‘fall’ onwards. It was my lovely friend Renee who first showed me how to carve out pumpkins and roast their seeds to a make a spicy, savoury snack.

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Because the flesh of these festive gourds is so darned sweet, they make a brilliant ingredient for baking, especially when paired with warm spices – as witnessed by that fall staple of the pumpkin pie in North America. I wanted to have my own go at baking with the sweet puree of a winter squash, which my local organic shop has in at the moment in all kinds of beautiful shapes and sizes.

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To make a base puree that I use for everything from soup and stews to baking, I use a Turban, Delicata or Kuri squash, cut them in half, remove the seeds (for roasting) rub them with a little olive oil and roast them, skin on in a 180 °C oven for about 40 minutes, until the flesh is really soft and yielding, and comes easily away from the skin. Then I just pop them in my blender and blitz to a creamy paste.

I wanted to try out my new silicone bundt moulds and some of the flours I had left over from a recent styling shoot, so by total accident these little sponges turned out to be gluten free – but they were very light, fluffy, and though I’m loathe to use the term: moist, just the thing for a perk-you-up with a hot cup of tea. The icing contains some of the sweet puree of the squash mixed with a dash of brandy, to warm your cockles as the weather draws in, and to make sure they’re not too virtuous. I hope you enjoy.

For the cakes:

30g walnuts
100g buckwheat
2 tbspn semolina flour
25g almond flour
Pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp warm spice (ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger)
2 eggs
100ml buttermilk
250g squash puree
80g coconut oil
1/2 cup maple syrup

For the icing:
200g icing sugar
50g puree
1/2 zested orange
Juice of half an orange
Tbsp brandy or rum

Preheat the oven to 180 °C. Place your bundt molds on a flat baking tray. If you don’t have bundt molds you could use muffin tins to make little sponges, in which instance you should grease the mold (unless they’re silicone too). Grind the walnuts up into a coarse powder in a mini-chopper.

Sift the flours into a large bowl and add the almond and walnut flours, salt, spices and baking powder. Melt the coconut oil over a low heat and leave to cool slightly. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs and mix with the buttermilk, squash puree, coconut oil and maple syrup until well combined. Put the dry ingredients into the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment and start to beat on a medium spead. Add in the wet ingredients and beat until you have a runny batter.

Pour the batter into the molds, being sure not to overfill, place in the oven and bake for 16 minutes, until puffed and golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the molds for a few minutes before popping them out of their molds and cooling on a wire rack.

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To make the icing, beat the icing sugar with the orange juice until you have a smooth, runny icing, then add the puree, zest and alcohol. Drizzle the runny icing all over the cake and devour!

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A Lot On Her Plate Supper… in Paradise

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A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of inviting some of my finest food-loving friends to a little supper at Paradise By Way of Kensal Green in West London. The idea was to introduce my cooking and some of the recipes from the forthcoming book (named after this blog) to my peers, in a fun and fabulous setting with plenty of drinks to wash it down. I had my 25th birthday at Paradise, and I know what a great venue it is – rather ahead of its time in terms of decor and outlook: channeling a sort of relaxed, eccentric decadence, but because it’s all the way over in West London it’s not somewhere I go often enough.

Lucky for me, the guys at the venue are an absolute joy to work with, and gave me a huge amount of autonomy in everything from styling the table, to what I was going to serve for dinner – making the whole experience enjoyable, rather than stressful. We decided to keep things intimate – with a sit-down meal for 25, starting off with Aperol Spritz (my all-time favourite drink), kale chips and Marmite Gougeres in the twinkling conservatory, before heading into the candlelit private dining room for the meal.

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In the dining room the table was laid with a grey tablecloth and decorated with flowers and succulents by my favourite florist Grace and Thorn, as well as some pineapples that I brought along because I love using them as table decorations. This wasn’t planned, I promise – but the room is painted a lovely turquoise blue, matching the vintage turquoise blue and gold dress I was wearing, and while coordinating with the decor wasn’t the first thing on my mind, I got lots of compliments on the outfit and on the styling – people loved those pineapples!

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When we were all sat down the wine started to flow and people got stuck into the bavette carpaccio and leeks vinaigrette – two of the dishes from the ‘starters’ section of the book. It was pretty surreal to look around me and see respected food folk like Felicity Cloake, Clive Watson, Rebecca Seal, Victoria Stewart, Alice Levine, Elly Curshen and Uyen Luu eating my food in a restaurant setting. It was such a fun night, and I was so happy and heartened by the supportive turnout, I soon forgot my nerves and got stuck into the plates with everyone else. David, the brilliant chef from Paradise translated my recipes absolutely faithfully and was kind enough to say that he thought my food was the sort of thing he’d serve in the restaurant. David you charmer!

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That day, while David had been grafting for the evening’s service, I’d been cooking up the dessert (huge thanks to Uyen Luu for allowing me to commandeer her brand new oven for perfect results): two huge cherry pies I brought along, balancing the overspilling, crumbly pastries on my lap in the car on the way. They went down very well indeed (the recipe will be in the book), and while some people left after the sweet course to make the last tube, some of us stayed on for more Aperol and to have a dance in the conservatory. I remember rapping to Jay-Z with Clem from Paradise and Antony Rettie, but that’s about the last thing I remember.

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Massive thanks so Shelley Martin-Light for making this thing happen and feasting with us on the night, despite being very close to giving birth. You are such an inspiration lady!

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If this is the kind of thing you’d like to come to, watch this space because hopefully there might be some more next year, to tie-in with the book’s release. We might even throw a copy of the book in with the ticket price…

The night’s menu:

Rosie Birkett Supper Club

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Food styling for Guardian Cook

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If you’re a follower of this blog, my Twitter or Instagram, you may have noticed that the old Cathcart/Birkett dream team was recently reunited for a shoot for the Guardian’s Cook supplement, which comes out each weekend as part of the Saturday Guardian, sharing some wonderful recipe ideas and relevant, original food content. You can read a couple of pieces I’ve written for the supplement here. Being a massive fan of Cook, which has been taken up a notch by hot-shot editor Mina Holland, (author of the wonderful Edible Atlas), and always includes gorgeous photography and styling, I was super excited to work on four of its 10 Best spreads, which included cover shots.

The 10 Best feature takes one ingredient and shares recipes that are brilliant because you’ve probably not made them before. Our ingredients were pepper, plums, sweet potato and ‘sauces’, and the recipes included things like dairy free, gluten free sweet potato donuts and one of my faves, walnut romesco sauce, from amazing cooks including Michel Roux Jr, Anna Jones and Anissa Helou.

During the shoot we were spoiled rotten with the food – I particularly loved Michel Roux Jr’s plum tarts, which while being fairly demanding (I needed to make a proper creme pat and stock syrup to poach the plums in) are worth every effort once you sink your teeth into them. They also look beautiful because the plums sort of melt into the creme pat, their skins scorching and shrinking, their flesh turning to sweet, unctuous pulp. Hurry up and make them while plums are still here! 

Hemsley and Hemsley’s beef Lok Lak was also delicious, and will certainly be gracing my table again, not least because it’s fabulously quick and satisfying.

You can find all these delicious recipes here:

I love working with Helen because her pictures are always beautiful, natural and evocative, and she always makes food I cook look its best. It’s amazing to see these pictures in print on the cover of a supplement I’ve been reading (and writing for) since it started. Here are some of the pics – I hope you like them. With thanks to Linda Berlin for her ace prop styling and Jenny Brown for her brilliant assistance during the shoot, check out her excellent blog Bake here.

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Porky pasta with green tomatoes, kale and preserved lemon

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I made my makeshift porchetta (pork belly infused with herbs and spices, wrapped around the loin and slow roasted) for friends the other night, and we had sufficient leftovers to warrant making a whole other meal out of it. That said, the porchetta on its own wasn’t quite enough for two, so I turned to my favourite pasta shape trofie: short little twists from Liguria, usually served with pesto Genovese – to bulk it out.

My mum sent me an email this weekend alerting me to her recipe for steak sauce involving green tomatoes – which I, like most people who grow their own, have a glut of right now. While you can ripen them up on your windowsill, when fried into the sofrito they provide a nice perky astringency, so I threw them into the mix along with some kale and preserved lemon. The result was a rather lovely pasta dish: rich and satisfying, yet fresh and fragrant: somehow perfect for late summer, when the nights are starting to get darker quicker, but there’s still some warmth in the air. I would really recommend cooking up if you ever find yourself with leftover roast pork, or even better, porchetta to hand. I think it would also work pretty well with rabbit and even chicken as the sauce is creamy enough to liven up lean meats. If you’re a veggie you could omit the meat altogether, it’s still a nice sauce on its own.

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Ingredients 

Extra virgin olive oil 
1 white onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped 
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs rosemary, leaves removed
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 slices of preserved lemon, flesh and pith removed and finely chopped
handful of green and red cherry tomatoes, larger ones halved
splash of white wine – the fruitier the better
2 tbsps double cream
red chilli flakes
150-200g leftover roast pork or porchetta, roughly chopped
2 large leaves curly or black kale, thick stems removed, washed and roughly chopped 
salt and freshly ground black pepper 
parmesan

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan or cast iron skillet over a medium heat. Add in the rosemary, bay, onion, and carrot and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper and cook for about five minutes, until the veg are soft and fragrant, then add the garlic and preserved lemon and cook for a further minute. Add in the tomatoes and cook until they’ve softened – a further five minutes, then add the white wine to deglaze the pan, before adding the cream and a generous pinch of chilli flakes. Cook for three more minutes and then turn off the heat.

Now cook your pasta in plenty of boiling, salted water until al dente: 6-7 minutes. Drain, reserving the cooking water. 

Return the sauce skillet to the heat and add in two tablespoons of the cooking water, stirring, followed by the pork and kale. Cook, stirring to thoroughly incorporate all the ingredients, until the kale is tender and wilted and the pork is heated through. Stir in the drained trofie pasta, season to taste and grate over some fresh parmesan. Divide between plates and serve with extra parmesan.

Recipe: Swiss chard, pecorino and preserved lemon tart

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I was recently sent a box of produce from the organic supplier Wholegood, whose Instagram account I’ve been stalking thanks to all the pics of the banging produce that goes up on there – they have romanescos for god’s sake! While I’m normally one for shopping at the green grocer or market, and have never before subscribed to a box scheme, these guys have really impressed me with the quality of their stuff, and it’s not surprising given the fact that they supply lots of restaurants with produce from some of the best organic growers just outside London. Now you can get their boxes (from about 15-20 quid) delivered to your door through Ocado. 

My box was a veggie one, and came complete with huge bunches of beautifully glossy,  golden-stalked Swiss chard, cavolo nero, the sweetest baby courgettes, fennel, carrots and these gorgeous purple potatoes, which I loved roasting with chorizo, garlic and rosemary and smashing with jalapenos.

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With the courgettes and fennel I made a soup for Jamie’s sister who’d just lost a tooth and was finding it hard to chew. It went down very well indeed, and was super healthy, with just courgettes, fennel tops, chicken stock, onion, garlic, bay and tarragon. It kept her going for a good few days. 

But the by far the most stonking thing I made from the box was a tart of Swiss chard, preserved lemon and pecorino (kindly sent to me from the amazing Originario Foods) with a black pepper and parmesan crust. I always find I’m at a bit of a loss as to what to do with Swiss Chard, because I can find that it just tastes quite earthy and bitter. This recipe matches it to the intense, salty hard cheeses pecorino and parmesan, the aromatic, woody herb sage and deeply citric preserved lemon, which really lifts it. It got quite a lot of love on both mine and Wholegood’s Instagram, so here is the recipe for you. Despite most of my courgettes rotting before they were big enough to harvest, I did get some flowers, which I used on top of the tart to pretty things up.
For the parmesan and black pepper pastry:

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180g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
100g cold unsalted butter, cubed
50g parmesan, grated
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper 
2 tsp chilled water (more if needed)
For the filling

tbsp extra virgin olive oil
knob of unsalted butter 
half a red onion, finely sliced
4 slices of preserved lemon, flesh and pith removed, chopped
6 sage leaves, chopped
clove of garlic, minced
Bunch of swiss chard, washed and stems separated from leaves, both chopped
2 eggs
4 tbsp creme fraiche
40g pecorino, sliced
salt and pepper 
courgette flowers (optional)

To make the pastry, sift your flour into a bowl and add the butter. Rub in until you have a sandy texture, like very fine breadcrumbs. Add in the parmesan and black pepper, and then the cold water, tsp at a time, mixing it in until the dough clumps together. You might not need to use the whole 2 tsps, you might need more – it all depends on the flour, but you DO NOT want a wet pastry, so be cautious. When you have a ball of combined, smooth pastry, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for half and hour.
Preheat your oven to 180.
Remove your pastry from the fridge and roll it out to pound coin thickness. Use your rolling pin to lift it and drape it over a greased tart or quiche dish, and gently line the dish with the pastry, lifting and tucking it into all of the crevices. Prick the bottom all over with a fork, and line with crumpled baking parchment. Fill it with baking beans (or failing that, dry rice, lentils or coins), and blind bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and remove the parchment and beans, then cook for a further 10 minutes, until golden and set. Remove from the oven and leave to cool while you make the filling.

To make the filling, fry your onion gently in the olive oil and butter with a good pinch of salt, until softened and starting to caramelise, about 12 minutes. Add in the chopped preserved lemon and stir with a spoon until it’s melted into the oil. Add in the chard stems, sage leaves and garlic and cook for another five minutes, and then add the leaves and stir until coated and wilted. Remove from the heat.

Crack two eggs into a bowl and lightly whisk with a fork to combine. Whisk in the creme fraiche until combined, and stir through the pecorino. Season with black pepper. Fill your pastry case with the chard mixture and then pour over the custard. Top with courgette flowers and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until puffed, golden and set. Serve with a simple tomato salad.

Book shoot and summer supper club fun

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It’s been a while since I put up a blog post, but I have a good excuse, promise. For the past few months I’ve been working, cooking and sweating my not-so-little ass off to get my cookbook (WHOOP) submitted to the wonderful Hardie Grant. As seems to now be the pattern (remember last summer’s Christmas photoshoot for Booths?), I spent the June heatwave split between my tiny, dark basement kitchen and the lovely light, airy kitchen at  Helen Cathcart’s location house cooking and prepping for two solid weeks for the shoot.

Never have I cursed my wretched rented kitchen, or loved my dweeby trainers and their comfy orthotic inserts more. I am so lucky to have worked with Helen on this as she always takes the most beautiful photos, and we are really on the same page when it comes to styling and props, which we sourced together for the book. I am really excited about the way the book is going to look – you may have caught the odd glimpse on Instagram and here are some more outtakes:

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To celebrate finishing the shoot – which was genuinely one of the most full-on working experiences of my life – but great fun thanks to the wonderful company I was in (thanks also to my amazing helpers Maggie, the hilarious Stephanie Boote, Jenny and Ben), Helen and I – ever suckers for punishment – decided to throw a little supperclub in Helen’s magical garden in Hackney. We invited some of our friends, laid on Sacred gin and elderflower cocktails, had some beautiful floral table dressings from fab local florist Grace and Thorn, and I cooked up a selection of recipes from the book including potato and rosemary pizzas and my famous homemade porchetta.

We served everything on big platters in the middle of the table, and the food went down really well, along with too many bottles of wine to recount. After all the courses had been served, I took off my apron and headed outside to drink and dance the night away with the guests, who seemed to be enjoying themselves. The whole night was a real team effort, with Helen taking some beautiful shots (below), some of which will feature in the book, and my pal Ben Blackburn stoically helping in the kitchen, despite having graduated from his cookery school the day before. Helen’s gorgeous sister Lilee (pictured) waitressed, and Jamie was chief KP, keeping the kitchen ticking over very smoothly.

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This was the menu:

A Midsummer’s Supper Club

Snacks
Bagna Cauda and raw veg
Rosemary and potato pizzas

Starter
Seafood orzo salad with slow roasted tomatoes, baby squid and roasted pine nuts

Main
Homestyle porchetta with green lentils

Salads
Panzanella
Fig, rocket and gorgonzola

Dessert
Lemon meringue posset

Doing the supper club was huge fun, and it’s definitely something I want to again, it’s just a case of finding a venue that will work. So watch this space, because you’ll be invited to the next one…

Cooking with elderflower: simple cordial and rhubarb and elderflower upside down cake

Elderflower picking, Hackney
Photo by Helen Cathcart

I really love the start of spring, when rhubarb comes into season and the trees are fragrant and floral with little white elderflowers. I’ve never lived anywhere where elderflower season has been so apparent, but I’m near the River Lea and Hackney marshes, and suddenly my morning runs and bike rides have become heady with the gorgeous scent of these pretty, fragrant and short-lived white flowers, which seem to be growing from every tree and hedgerow. I’ve been collecting it by the bag-load, covering myself in pollen and making cordial (some of which is now fermenting into wine) and more besides. Elderflower is such a versatile ingredient, wonderfully pretty for garnishing desserts, great as fritters dipped in a light batter and eaten crispy and hot, or made into cordial and used in cocktails or baking. The season will be over soon, the flowers will start to turn brown – so hurry, get out there and get picking!

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Here’s my very simple cordial recipe – it uses less sugar than normal and I’ve put the citric acid as optional because I’ve made it with and without, both successfully. Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to wash the elderflower before you make it as that will wash away all the aromatic pollen which gives it its special scent and flavour.

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20 heads of elderflower
2 lemons, zested and finely sliced
 into rounds
500g caster sugar
1/2 tsp citric acid
 (optional)

Put your sugar into a large saucepan or casserole, cover with about a litre and a half of water and bring up until it’s not quite boiling, but the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and cool slightly, then add the lemon, zest and elderflower, and citric acid if you’re using. Stir, and steep for 24 hours.

Line a colander or sieve with a clean tea towel and place over a large bowl. Carefully pour the elderflower mixture into it in stages if you need to, and allow it to drip through, filtering. Remove to a jug and fill sterilised bottles and jars with your cordial. It should keep for up to 6 weeks in the fridge.

Rhubarb and elderflower upside down cake
Serves 6

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This recipe combines elderfower with fruity, tart rhubarb in a light, gooey-bottomed, self-saucing sponge cake. This is best enjoyed with a large dollop of cool creme fraiche.

40g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
300g trimmed rhubarb, cut into 3cm pieces
2 tablespoons elderflower cordial
80g caster sugar
4 heads of elderflower, tough stems removed, plus another head for garnish
40g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
100g natural yoghurt
2 medium eggs, separated

Preheat your oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Lightly grease a pudding dish or cake tin. Place the rhubarb in a saucepan with the elderflower cordial and a tablespoon of the sugar over a low heat. Simmer gently for 5–10 minutes until it’s softened and part-cooked but still holds its shape. It will release its juice during this time.
Put a sieve over a bowl and strain the rhubarb, reserving its juices. Set aside to cool.

Once cool, arrange half of your rhubarb on the bottom of your cake tin/pudding basin, as neatly as you can, along with some of the elderflowers. This will be the top of the cake and look very pretty once you take it out of the tin.

Beat together the butter and the remaining sugar. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition. Slowly add in the flour and baking powder, mixing well, followed by the yoghurt, the rhubarb juices, and the remaining rhubarb and elderflowers, mixing well after each addition. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks and lightly fold into the batter.

Spoon the batter on top of the rhubarb in your baking tin and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the top is firm and golden. Leave to cool for and settle for 5 minutes on a wire rack, then use a palate knife to loosen it from the tin. Serve immediately with loads of creme fraiche.

Restaurant crush: Lardo

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The food at Lardo is so good, that I found myself chowing down on a radicchio, gorgonzola and walnut pizza about an hour after eating a HUGE bowl of nduja pasta and raspberry jelly at home, like it was the most normal thing in the world. I know. I’d popped in for a ‘drink’ with a pal (thankfully it’s in my new hood Hackney), and I wasn’t intending on eating, but once I saddled up on a high stool overlooking the chefs at work and the pizza-spewing wood oven, it was like I’d never eaten… well I suppose this blog isn’t called ‘A Lot On Her Plate’ for nothing.

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In the last couple of weeks I’ve been there twice, and I will continue to go there as long as it carries on being what I reckon is one of the best informal, reasonably priced Italians in London.

From the outside, looking in on this pared-back, understated restaurant near London Fields, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is simply a pizza joint, thanks to the huge, disco ball-esque wood-fired pizza oven that looms large through the window. But great as the pizzas are, this place is about so much more than that.

For starters, you might not know this, but Lardo – which takes its name from the delicious cured back fat of the beast – has its own extra special charcuterie made from Mangalitza pigs that are bred especially for it in the West Country. These pigs are furry and cute, so you might not want to Google pictures of them too much, but they’re also perfectly suited to yielding cured meats, thanks to their marbled meat and plentiful, flavourful fat. Try the deliciously fragrant fennel pollen salami and silky, silky coppa.

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To keep it true to the inexpensive, local Italian restaurants on which it’s modeled, the team at Lardo put huge effort into sourcing exceptional fresh produce and making things like pasta, simple cheeses, breads and even the syrups for its drinks from scratch. There are specials on all the time, and the menu changes according to what’s in season, sometimes on a daily basis, meaning that even though I visited twice in a few weeks (and ate the same pizza twice – it’s that nice), there were different things to try, and seasonal gems like stuffed tempura courgette flowers (£6), spaghetti with clams and wilted wild garlic (£12), or beautiful pale green nettle tagliatelle (£12) which comes wonderfully al dente and slathered in a creamy sauce with mushrooms and cheese.

The wine list at Lardo is focused and reasonably priced, honed on Italy and flitting between Northern Europe in winter, and Southern Europe in summer, with an emphasis on lesser-known European grape varieties. You can just pop in for a carafe and a bite, and sit at the bar watching the chefs (as I did) if you just fancy something light. But really, everything is so good you’ll just want to order and order – and I’d heartily encourage you to do just that.

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LARDO will open its summer rooftop bar and grill COPPA this summer on 24th May 2014, and I can’t wait for this as I stupidly managed to miss it entirely last summer. Bring it on!