Category Archives: picnics

The Other Half.

Always one for too much of a good thing, I was tempted to make another batch of gnocchi with the remaining half of my green mound. An absence of ricotta put an end to that idea. An absence of milk nearly put paid to my second spinach plan – a savory courgette and spinach cake – until I remembered the small stout carton of cream sitting, squatting really between the Campari and the Tanqueray in the door of the fridge. Surely something made with milk would be even nicer if made with cream? It is! But I will come to that presently.

The spinach and courgette cake I was plotting was to be a variation on David Tanis’s very good, very green spinach cake. Now the first time I made this spinach cake, it was rather disappointing. This had everything to do with a misreading of the recipe and my distracted, careless, scurrying execution of said cake and nothing to do with David Tanis’s recipe. Having learned my lesson, I made it a second time, reading diligently, sautéing attentively, seasoning the green batter generously, adjusting cooking times to compensate for my oven and keeping a watchful eye as my cake puffed up proudly in oven. My reward was, as promised, a quite lovely green round.

Like the song in which a love-sick teenager finds truth and solace, spinach cake was on heavy rotation for a while – I’m not sure why I didn’t tell you about it here – and I soon discovered that you can indeed have too much of a good thing. Fortunately neither of us wanted things to turn nasty, so we agreed not to see each other for a while. Then last summer when we were all gathered  in Branscombe for the week of my best friend Joanna’s wedding, Joanna’s mum Rosamund made a delicious starter one evening, a pale green, delicate bake which seemed very like a slightly softer, creamier relative of my spinach cake, but made with courgettes. Nostalgia was felt, plans hatched and notes were scribbled.

As usual, I dragged my cooking heels and it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago, in possession of a half mound of spinach (of which I used only half, the post about the final quarter is still to come) that I finally deciphered my notes about Ros’s dish, grabbed two courgettes, a handsome leek and half a pint of cream and set about making a spinach and courgette cake.

As with David’s Tanis’s recipe, I began by softening leek in little oil and butter over a medium flame. Once the leek was suitably soft, I added rounds of courgette, nudged them around the pan until they were nicely coated with oil and butter before adding a little water, lowering the flame and then letting the leeks and courgettes to bubble and cook gently – half frying/ half braising, for about 15 minutes or until all the liquid has evaporated the courgettes were tender and collapsing. Then I left the green panful to cool.

My spinach (as you know) was already cooked and well-drained (I repeat, water is the enemy) so once the courgette and leeks were cool and transferred to a bowl I added my pile of chopped spinach. Then using my trusty immersion blender, I blitzed the vegetables into a smooth green paste that begged both to be tasted and smeared upon my face. I resisted smearing and simply tasted before adding 5 eggs, cream, grated parmesan, a good grating of nutmeg, an equally good grinding of black pepper and a flick of salt. As I poured the pale creamy- green batter into my reliable non-stick pan I made a mental note  ‘This is the colour I’d like to paint the living room‘ before maneuvering the pan into the oven for about 25 minutes in which time the batter set and puffed gently into a very green cake.

I let the cake settle and cool for a while before cutting it into wedges and serving it with sliced tomatoes – the deeply ribbed ones with thick skins and sweet spicy flesh – and Roscioli bread.

I know I’m courgette biased, but they lend something lovely to this green cake, complimenting the deeply satisfying flavor of the spinach. Tanis’s recipe calls for milk! Cream, as you can probably imagine is another thing entirely, it’s a perfect foil for the green grassy vegetables. The cake is creamier obviously, deeply dairy, luscious and luxurious,. In using cream though, the nutmeg – maybe my favorite spice – becomes even more important, as not only does it perk up the greens no end, but cuts through the dairy, making it less cloying.

I think the cake really does need to rest for at least 40 minutes (and up to 5 hours) after coming out of the oven so it can firm up a little and it’s flavors settle. It is a most delicious wedge, the happy collision of a frittata (which is, as you probably know, an Italian open-faced omelette), a soufflé, a mousse and a savory custard. Lunch.

Last thing, regarding cooking times. David Tanis suggests 40 minutes at 200° for for his spinach cake. In my oven I found this too hot and too long for such a delicate egg and dairy laced thing. I find that 25 minutes or so at 170°is about right so your cake is  gently puffed up and set, but still tender and with a very slight wobble. I love a slight wobble.

Last last thing, a well buttered dish/pie plate will do but a non-stick ovenproof 12″/24cm frying pan is best (I find.)

Spinach and courgette cake

Inspired by Rosamund’s recipe and adapted liberally from David Tanis’s recipe in a Platter of figs – I can’t seem to find a site for the publisher and I am boycotting bloody monopolizing amazon, so please excuse the lack of a link.

Serves 4 as lunch, 8 as a starter.

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 30g butter
  • 1 medium-sized leek
  • 2 medium courgettes
  • salt
  • 100ml white wine/water
  • 300 g spinach
  • 5 eggs
  • 250 ml fresh cream
  • 50 g grated parmesan
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • black pepper
Preheat the oven to 170°
Trim the leek and peel off the tough outer layer. Cut the leek into small dice, fill a bowl with water and add the leeks. Agitate the leeks with your hand. Let the dirt and sand settle in the bowl and then scoop the leeks from the water and pat the dry in a clean tea towel. Warm the oil and butter in a heavy based frying pan and then sauté the leek until it is soft and translucent.
Top and tail the courgettes and then slice them into 1/2cm thick rounds. Add the courgette to the leek and stir so each round is well coated with butter.
After a few minutes, raise the heat a little and add the wine/water. Allow it to bubble enthusiastically. Now reduce the heat again and allow the onion and courgettes to bubble and cook gently – half frying/ half braising, giving a stir and nudge every now and then and adding a little more water if the pan looks dry – for about 15 minutes or until the courgettes are very soft tender and collapsing and all the liquid has evaporated. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.
Soak the spinach in several changes of water and discard any wilted or bruised leaves and trim away any very thick, woody stalks. Put the spinach in a large pan with nothing but the water that clings to the leaves, cover the pan and cook on a low flame until the spinach has collapsed and is tender. This should take about 2 minutes depending on the freshness and age of the spinach.
Drain the spinach and once it is cool enough, squeeze and press it gently with your hands to eliminate as much water as possible. Chop the spinach roughly and transfer to a bowl.

Add the cooled leek/ courgette mixture to the spinach and then using a hand blender blitz the mixture into a smooth green paste.

Add the cream and eggs to the bowl and blitz again before stirring in the parmesan, a grating of nutmeg, salt and black pepper.

Pour the batter into in ovenproof sauté pan, buttered baking dish or 10-12 inch deep-pie dish and then slide into the oven. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until the cake is set but still with a slight tremble/wobble at the center.

Allow the cake to sit, cool and settle for at least 40 minutes before serving in wedges.

I really should learn to not make promises I can’t keep! I apologise, It’s the optimist in me, she’s extremely unrealistic sometimes. A promise I am trying to keep though, is not inflicting too much babyboringness on you all! However as I write about what I’m cooking and eating, and now that Luca is my prefered lunch date, it feels appropriate to mention that alongside breastfeeding (we have surprised ourselves, we are total enthusiasts, quite boring proponents and in it for for the long haul) he’s started eating some proper food. Neither of us could face those purees and all that spoon-feeding and so following in the footsteps of my sister Rosie and my niece Beattie and properly inspired by this brilliant book and site we are having a lot of extremely messy fun


Filed under antipasti, courgettes, cream, Eggs, food, picnics, Rachel's Diary, recipes, spinach, spring recipes, vegetables

The best laid plans and eggs

I’d laid slightly rose-tinted plans to go to Testaccio market extremely early on Saturday morning with a wicker shopping basket tucked under one arm – I don’t actually own a wicker shopping basket but you get the idea. I’d go to the bar for breakfast and then I’d join the earnest calm of the market as it stirred to life. I’d bussle with discerning Roman housewives and trattoria owners sniffing lemons, tasting bitter leaves, demanding the nicest rib of beef, the pinkest veal ossobuco and the brightest eyed fish. I would thoughtfully gather the items on my carefully written list. It would be charming! The best laid plans, serves me right.

At about 1 50 on Friday, just as I was about to start teaching until tediously late, my neighbour reminded me that Saturday was a national holiday ‘la festa di lavoratori’ and that everything, including our faithful market would be closed. I had no option but to tear desperately around the seriously depleted market as it was closing. I got extremely hot and bothered, cursed, grabbed, shoved old ladies out of my way trying to gather our contributions for a picnic, ingredients for Saturday’s supper for 6, a Sunday roast with all the trimmings for 7 and a motley crew of household basics organised people never run out of. Not a pleasant way to shop.

All things considered I didn’t do that badly. Actually, as far as the meat was concerned I did pretty well! Fortunately for me, someone had neglected to collect the beef they’d ordered, Sunday Lunch was saved! I was also just in time to procure the last four sausages. I wanted eight, but four was better than nothing, because as far as I’m concerned, a picnic isn’t a picnic without proper Scotch eggs.

Supermarkets and the villanous manufacturers of nasty food have tried to blacken the good name and reputation of Scotch eggs with their shameful offerings. They’d have you believe that Scotch eggs are slightly sweaty, oversized orange balls that come in individual plastic bags and consist of suspicious, rubbery grey meat loosely enveloping a slightly shriveled green tinged hard-boiled egg – we know better.

A well made Scotch egg is a delicious thing; a peeled hard-boiled egg, wrapped in very good sausage meat, dipped in beaten egg, rolled in fine breadcrumbs and then deep-fried until dark golden brown.

Made properly with good ingredients, a Scotch egg is a perfectly formed savory delight; a crisp, dark crust, the succulent seasoned sausage meat and then the egg, the surprise, in the middle. My friend calls Scotch eggs a ball of breakfast. What’s more, they are neat, compact and will travel beautifully to your favourite picnic spot or table.

I made Scotch eggs a couple of times last week, dusting off my Scotch egg skills to speak, in time for picnic season. They are nice and simple to make, but you do need to be diligent about wrapping the sausage meat around the eggs. This task is made easier by using cling film, which I explain below and is pictured here, a cunning trick picked up from one of my new favourite London based blogs Food stories. When you have pulled away the clingfilm, double-check there are no holes and that the seams are really closed, if not, you might find the sausage coat bursts open in the pan – a scotch egg flasher. You may also need to be flexible and experiment with the cooking times to make sure the meat is cooked through but the crust is not too dark. Fortunately Scotch eggs are delicious enough to warrant experimentation.

Scotch egg with lemon chutney

I have to say that even though I adore Scotch eggs for picnics, there is nothing like a freshly fried one, just wait about 10 minutes, it will still be crisp, and then eat it with your hands and maybe a blob of chutney. Once cooked they will keep brilliantly for up to 8 hours – even though they will lose their crisp crunch – time for you to get to the picnic. They also keep until the next day, some say for two days, but they fade in my opinion.

Scotch eggs

  • 4 medium-sized eggs – very fresh and very organic/free range obviously
  • 350g good sausage meat (about 4 fat sausages squeezed out of casing)
  • 75g plain flour, seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • another egg – beaten
  • breadcrumbs
  • vegetable oil for deep frying

Put the eggs in a pan of cold salted water and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for exactly nine minutes. Drain and cool the eggs under cold running water and then peel them.

Tear off 4 squares of cling film and lay them out on the work surface. Divide the sausage meat into quarters and put each quarter on one of the four squares. Now flatten each ball of sausage meat into an ovals about 12.5cm/5in long and 7.5cm/3in at its widest point.

Place the seasoned flour onto a plate, then dredge each boiled egg in the flour.

One by one, place the peeled, floured eggs on the sausage meat oval, then bringing the clingfilm up round the sides squash, mould and wrap the sausage meat around each egg. Once the eggs is covered ease pull away the cling film and continue to mould the sausage meat until it is compact and completely covers each egg – make sure the seams are well sealed.

Dip and roll each sausage meat-coated egg in the beaten egg, then dip and roll into the breadcrumbs..

Heat the oil in a deep heavy-bottomed pan – it should be at least 4 ” deep as you are going to deep fry – until a bread crumb sizzles and turns brown when dropped into it.

Using a slotted spoon gently lower each scotch egg into the hot oil and deep-fry for about 8 – 11 minutes until deep golden and crisp and the sausage meat is completely cooked. Carefully remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

Wait at least 10 minutes (and up to 8 hours) before eating. Pack in a greaseproof paper lined box to take on your picnic or if you are staying at home have one with a dab of strong mustard, optional green leaves, bread and a beer.

It seems that Scotch eggs are not Scottish at all, but English, created by the high-class London food shop Fortnum & Mason in 1738 as a portable snack for coach travellers heading west from London along Piccadilly.


Filed under Eggs, food, meat, picnics, recipes