FOOD & DRINK / Simply Alastair: Week Three: Vegetables and desserts

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In the final selection of recipes from Alastair Little's book, Keep it Simple, vegetables are given the status they deserve. Baked to crisp perfection or lightly cooked and dotted with butter, they are elevated from an accompaniment to a dish in their own right. Desserts, from traditional tarts and crumbles to exotic peach tea ice-cream, conclude our series

NEW SEASON'S CARROTS

The fashion for baby vegetables has been taken to an absurd point where they are used before developing a decent flavour. Vegetable infanticide is not for me, but the first carrots of the summer are a different matter: nothing looks nicer or tastes better than a fresh bunch of carrots. When buying them, the green tops are a good indicator of how fresh they are. No matter how small the carrots, always peel them, for unpeeled carrots taste inevitably of earth.

People who claim to loathe the vegetable are often converted by the following treatment. I have seen customers in the restaurant reluct-

antly accepting one to try from an enthusiastic

fellow diner whose eagerness to share them diminishes as the convert devours the lot.

Serves 4

450g/1lb bunched carrots with their green tops

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon caster sugar

55g/2oz butter

Utensils:

shallow wide-bottomed pan

Preparation: Trim the green stalks to within 1cm/ 1/2 in of the top. Hold by the remaining stalks and peel with a potato peeler, cutting off the straggly root end to make a neat presentation. Then wash thoroughly to rid the stalks of earth.

Cooking: Put the carrots into a shallow, wide-

bottomed pan and barely cover with cold water (if you have any flat mineral water, use it). Add the salt, pepper and sugar.

Bring to the boil and boil vigorously until the water has almost evaporated. Check whether they are cooked and, if still too crisp, add a little more water and cook until done to your liking.

At this point, and just before the last drops of water have gone, throw in the butter and toss the carrots in it to coat them. (There must be some water in the pan when you add the butter or it will burn and ruin the dish.)

TURKISH BRAISED VEGETABLES

The idea for this dish came from Claudia Roden's recipe for winter vegetables in olive oil. It works very well in the restaurant as it is equally good hot or cold. Turkish in origin, it manages to lift coarse root vegetables into a surprisingly light and refreshing dish.

Serves 4

1 large onion

2 large carrots

2 turnips

1 small celeriac

1 large potato

2 leeks

4 lemons

large bunch of dill

300ml/ 1/2 pint extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper

Utensils:

large heavy-bottomed pan

Preparation: Wash and peel the vegetables. Keeping the different types separate, chop them into uniform cubes about 2.5cm/1in across. Squeeze the juice from the lemons and reserve. If serving the dish immediately, chop the dill.

Cooking: Put the large heavy pan over a low heat and pour in all the oil. Sweat the onion in this for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the carrots and sweat for a further 5 minutes, then add the rest of the vegetables except the leeks.

Stew for another 15 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the leeks and cook for a final 5 minutes. The vegetables should not colour: there will be enough water in them to prevent frying at this temperature. The leeks will lose their fresh green colour, but this does not matter. Test now to see if everything is cooked, bearing in mind that all the elements should retain a residual bite.

Season generously and add the lemon juice, taste to check for acid balance, then serve at once or transfer to a bowl and leave to cool.

Serving: Serve hot or at room temperature. If chilled, return to a pan and warm gently in its own juices. Just before bringing to the table, stir in plenty of chopped dill.

RATATOUILLE

A Provencal vegetable stew best served at room temperature, ratatouille should be a very basic preparation and not over-refined. Bad variations (vegetables diced too small, too much tomato, using dried herbs and so on) often debase one of the finest possible combinations of Mediterranean flavours.

It is very important to use the best extra virgin olive oil and to cook all the different vegetables separately, combining them only at the last moment. The aubergines and courgettes must be very fresh - when they have spent too long on the shelf they go bitter. Some texts advise salting them to remove bitterness, but experience suggests that all this delivers is old, salty and bitter vegetables. Making a first-class ratatouille takes time - there are no short cuts. It is vital not to fry the ingredients quickly, but to stew them gently and avoid overcooking. The ratatouille improves after a day's rest to allow the flavours to amalgamate.

Alternatively, ratatouille while still hot is delicious mixed with an equal quantity of fusili or macaroni (or any other robust dried pasta). Simply cook the pasta, drain and toss it with the ratatouille while it is still warm. Dress with torn basil to serve.

Serves 4

2 onions

3 garlic cloves

3 large aubergines

6 courgettes (or 12 baby courgettes)

3 peppers (1 red and 2 yellow - never use

green for ratatouille)

2 plum tomatoes

sprig of rosemary

sprig of thyme

300ml/ 1/2 pint extra virgin olive oil

8 basil leaves

salt and pepper

Utensils:

small bowl

colander

large bowl

large heavy pan

slotted spoon

Preparation: Prepare the vegetables, keeping each vegetable separate: only peel the onion and garlic, but top and tail the aubergines and courgettes. Destalk and deseed the peppers. Scald the tomatoes in a bowl of boiling water for 60 seconds, then refresh, peel and deseed. Cut all the vegetables into bite-sized chunks. (If using baby courgettes, leave them whole.)

Strip the rosemary and thyme leaves from their twigs and chop the leaves.

Cooking: Put about 3 tablespoons of olive oil into a large heavy pan, set over a medium heat and cook the onions, stirring. They must not colour. As they soften and go translucent, add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the contents of the pan to a colander placed over a bowl.

Add another splash of olive oil to the pan, turn up the heat to medium and saute the peppers. They need to be cooked until slightly brown, not collapsing but with some residual bite. When done, transfer to the colander. Repeat with the aubergines, then finally the courgettes.

Add the chopped herbs to the vegetables. Season and return all the cooked vegetables to the pan, adding any remaining oil and the juices that have drained into the bowl. Stew together for 5 minutes, stirring. Remove from the heat and stir in the uncooked diced tomato. This will cook slightly in the hot vegetables.

If possible, let the ratatouille cool and then refrigerate overnight to allow the flavours to amalgamate. Allow to return to room temperature before serving (and always check the seasoning at this temperature).

Serving: If you can't wait to taste your creation, slice a length of baguette and fill it with the hot ratatouille. Press down gently to let the juices soak into the bread, and devour.

Just before serving ratatouille the traditional way (ie cool), tear the basil leaves and scatter on top. The dish can also be warmed gently to be served hot with grilled meat or fish.

BROCCOLI WITH ANCHOVIES

The textures and flavours of broccoli and anchovies combine perfectly and the addition of really crisp breadcrumbs gives an added crunch that is very pleasing. In the restaurant I use leftover olive oil croutons made the day before to accompany fish soup, simply whizzing them in the food processor for a few seconds.

Serves 4

1 to 2 French baguettes

(stale will do if not too hard)

675g/1 1/2 lb broccoli

large red chilli pepper

300ml/ 1/2 pt olive oil

55g/2oz canned anchovies in oil, drained

few drops of lemon juice (optional)

Utensils:

roasting tray

food processor

heavy frying pan

large saucepan

large bowl

small saucepan

colander

Preparation: Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/ Gas 6. Slice the bread into 5mm/ 1/4 in rounds, then brush generously with olive oil and put on a baking tray in the oven. Check every few minutes, as they tend to burn the instant you turn your back. When crisp and golden, remove the bread and leave to cool. Using a food processor, make the bread into crumbs. These will keep in a jar in the fridge for a few days before souring and going off.

Prepare the broccoli: first put a large pan of lightly salted water on to heat - you need very little salt in the cooking water, as the florets retain salt and intensify the seasoning. I once had a review that said everything was lovely except the broccoli, which tasted as if it had been cooked in sea water. Point taken] Split the broccoli into florets and cut out the woody stems and discard. You can find caterpillar infestation, so watch out. Wash and leave to soak in a bowl of cold water. This will freshen the vegetable.

Make the anchovy sauce: split the chilli and deseed it, then dice it microscopically. Put the olive oil into the small pan with the diced chilli and anchovies and heat, stirring occasionally. Simmer for a few minutes, then add the breadcrumbs off the heat. Stir from time to time while the sauce is cooling, or it will set like cement. Taste, adding a squeeze of lemon juice if you find it too rich. The only problem with lemon juice is that it can discolour the broccoli.

Cooking: Cook the broccoli in the boiling water. It will not need very many minutes - it really should be quite crisp and will be disgusting if overdone. Drain in the colander.

Serving: Arrange on a warmed serving dish and pour over the anchovy sauce.

GRATIN DAUPHINOIS

Everybody has a variation on the dauphinois theme. This version was first shown to me by Rowley Leigh who was taught how to cook this dish by the Roux brothers, so the pedigree is faultless. It is unfashionably rich, expensive and unhealthy, so very small portions please.

I don't worry about what sort of potato, though they should be slightly waxy. No cheese is necessary, for the amalgamation of the potatoes and cream produces a cheesy effect. It is vital not to have the oven too hot or the cream will curdle.

I love to eat this with roast lamb, for me a marriage made in heaven.

Serves 4

900g/2lb potatoes

1 garlic clove

575ml/1 pint double cream

150ml/ 1/4 pint milk

1/4 nutmeg

salt and pepper

butter, for greasing

Utensils:

mandoline grater

large bowl

heavy saucepan

grater

3.5-5cm/1 1/2 -2in deep gratin dish

large spoon or spatula

Preparation: Preheat the oven to 130C/275F/ Gas 1 and grease the gratin dish generously with butter. Peel and slice the potatoes on the mandoline into a bowl of water. The slices should be about 5mm/ 1/4 in thick. (Using a food processor to slice the potatoes would remove too much of the starch.) Peel and finely chop the garlic.

Cooking: Put the cream and milk into a heavy saucepan. Grate the nutmeg into it, season with salt and pepper and add the finely chopped garlic. Place over a moderate heat.

Drain the potato slices and return them to the bowl. When the cream mixture is hot, pour it over the potato slices and turn to coat thoroughly and evenly. Adjust the seasoning, if necessary.

Transfer to the prepared gratin dish and pack down firmly with the back of a large spoon or spatula. The mixture should be very liquid and the dish should not be full to the top.

Bake for 1 hour. If the surface is not golden and bubbling at the end of this time, brown the top under the grill.

HASSELBACK POTATOES

This is a different way of roasting potatoes that originated in the Stockholm restaurant of the same name, though the original version does not use olive oil. Why cutting the potatoes in this way should make such a difference to the texture and flavour is hard to say, but try them - you may prefer them to traditional roast potatoes.

In my kitchen, working with the fierce heat of industrial ovens, we have to pour stock around the potatoes to keep them from burning and sticking. In a domestic oven the olive oil and butter mixture is sufficient for this purpose.

The addition of several unpeeled garlic cloves to the roasting juices gives a subtle depth to the flavour. These cloves are delicious: sweet and nutty without being overpowering.

Hasselback's restaurant actually sells special wooden trays on which to sit the potatoes in order to limit the depth of cut so that they don't get cut all the way through. You can use a metal skewer for the same purpose, pushing it through the base of the potato along its length, then cutting down to it. Obviously, remove the skewer before cooking.

Serves 4

85g/3oz butter

4 baking potatoes,

weighing about 675-900g/1 1/2 -2lb in total

12 unpeeled garlic cloves

3 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper

Utensils:

Hasselback board or metal skewer (optional)

saucepan with lid

gratin dish

just large enough to hold the potatoes snugly

bulb baster

Preparation: Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/ Gas 6 and butter the gratin dish.

Prepare the potatoes: peel them and cut them across downwards at a slight angle at 5mm/ 1/4 in intervals, being careful not to cut all the way through (use a skewer as described above if unsure). Put to stand covered in a pan of very cold water for 10 minutes.

Cooking: Scatter the garlic in the prepared gratin dish. Then arrange the drained potatoes on top, cut sides upwards. Pour over the olive oil and dot with the butter. Season with salt and pepper.

Roast for 1 hour. After 30 minutes, baste every 10 minutes until done. The potatoes will brown on top and crisp, fanning apart along the cut lines. Do not attempt to move the potatoes while they are cooking.

Serving: Serve from the gratin dish at the table.

FIVE-SPICE GREENS

The precise type of greens is not important, though dark-green and slightly bitter leaves such as pak choi or Brussels sprout tops are preferable to sweeter and lighter vegetables. Chinese cabbage is not suitable. Cantonese chefs would cook this dish in a wok, but I prefer to use a large and heavy frying pan. This is also an excellent method for cooking spinach or broccoli.

Serves 4

450g/1lb pak choi, Brussels sprout tops

or any seasonal greens

1 garlic clove

2 tablespoons sunflower oil

1 teaspoon five-spice powder

about 2 teaspoons sesame oil

about 1 tablespoon Kikkoman soy sauce

salt

Utensils:

large saucepan

colander

wok or heavy frying pan

Preparation: Destalk the greens and blanch in a large pan of fast-boiling salted water for 2

minutes. Refresh in cold water, drain in the colander and gently squeeze out excess moisture. Chill until ready to cook. Slice the garlic into

very thin rounds.

Cooking: Put the sunflower oil in the wok or large heavy frying pan and place over a medium heat. Fry the garlic in this for 1 minute, being careful not to let it brown (which makes it bitter).

Turn the heat up and throw in the greens. Toss once, sprinkle over the five-spice powder and toss again. Dribble over some sesame oil and soy sauce to taste.

Serving: Serve the dish at once, while it is still piping hot. If you leave it to stand, the oil will separate out and it will not taste nearly as good.

TARTE TATIN

It is said that Curnonsky, the legendary and oft-quoted gastro-person, made the 167km journey by train from Paris to Lamotte-Beuvron near Orleans just to eat the apple tarte renversee that we know today as Tarte Tatin. It was cooked for him at the Hotel-Terminus Tatin by the sisters Tatin, who are credited with its invention.

The tart is characterised by the use of halved apples baked in caramel with the pastry lid becoming the base when the cooked tart is inverted to be served still warm. It is one of those dishes that sounds simple and is actually difficult to get right. On average it takes a cook in my kitchen a week of trying before he or she produces a saleable tart. In the restaurant we use a frying pan rather than a cake pan, and I prefer crisp English apples such as Worcester Pearmain or Braemar to Le Golden, which the French choose as a matter of national honour.

I believe the original recipe for Tarte Tatin uses sweet shortcrust pastry, but I like puff pastry and find the bought, frozen variety good enough for domestic interpretations. Anyway, since it will be drenched with sugary juices, the quality of the pastry is by no means the most significant part of the finished dish.

Serves 4

450g/1lb best-quality frozen puff pastry

12 sharp eating apples

juice of 1 lemon

85g/3oz caster sugar

55g/2oz butter

Utensils: large bowl

non-stick heavy frying pan with ovenproof handle

stainless steel saucepan (if necessary)

plate the same size as the top of the frying pan

serving or dinner plate slightly larger than the pan

bulb baster

Preparation: If using frozen puff pastry, remove it from the freezer in plenty of time.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Peel and core the apples, turning them in the lemon juice in a bowl to prevent discolouration. Cut them in half, squaring off the ends.

Cooking: Put the sugar into the frying pan over a low heat to caramelise. Turn the pan from time to time as the heat never distributes evenly and you want to avoid burning. The colour must, however, be a dark nut-brown. If your frying pan is black and you are not sure about the colour, make the caramel in a stainless steel pan and pour into the frying pan when it has reached a suitably dark brown. If it burns, then you must throw it away and start again or the end result will be horribly bitter, but if there is only one small burnt patch, don't worry. When the caramel is ready, remove the pan from the heat.

Dot the surface of the caramel with a little of the butter cut into small pieces and pack the apples tightly on top as follows: put an entire half apple in the centre, cut side upwards; cut the remaining apples into quarters and arrange them in a wheel around it. This should use up 8 of the apples. Fill in any gaps with wedges cut from the remaining 4 apples. They shrink inwards during cooking, so the tighter you pack them, the better. The final arrangement should stand proud of the rim of the pan when viewed from the side.

Dot the apples with the remaining butter and put the pan back on a low heat for 5 minutes to melt the caramel and start the apples cooking.

Roll out the pastry to a thickness of about 3mm/ 1/8 in. Using as a template a plate with the same circumference as the pan, cut a circle out of the pastry. Fold the circle of pastry in half, then fold in half again to make a quarter. Lay this carefully on the apples and unfold to cover them completely. Tuck the edges of the pastry inside the pan at the edges.

Immediately put the pan into the oven and bake for 25 minutes. The apples will be cooked and have expanded, pushing the pastry up. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes. If there appears to be a lot of watery fluid around the edges, extract some of it using a bulb baster.

Now the moment of truth: cover the top of the pan with your serving plate. Holding the pan by the handle (wearing an oven glove because it will still be hot), invert so that the pastry base is now against the surface of the plate, with the rim outside the circumference of the pan. Sit the plate on the table, rap the bottom of the pan smartly with a suitable implement and lift away from the tart.

At this point shout triumphantly as the caramel-glossed Tarte Tatin smiles at you in rustic perfection or, as may well be the case, burst into tears as overcooked apples cling tenaciously to the toffee in the pan and you contemplate an unattractive mess.

Serving: Serve this dish while it is still warm.

BLACKCURRANT AND APPLE

CRUMBLE TART

An obligatory pudding of English schooldays, apple and blackberry crumble was never one of my favourites. In my mind's eye I can still see those huge metal tins with their cement-like topping, with superheated and overcooked fruit forcing its way through cracks like lava from a volcano. Combine crisp, tart eating apples and blackcurrants on an almond-enriched sweet pastry with a crunchy topping and you have something very different

The inspiration for this recipe comes from the French master chef Joel Robuchon. From a cook's point of view, this recipe also scores by eliminating blind baking - always a tedious business - and uses frozen blackcurrants, one of the few fruits not to suffer from this treatment. Robuchon's patissier, Philippe Gobet, used Golden Delicious. I have never understood the French love for these over-sweet apples - which I find insipid. I prefer to use Cox's, but Granny Smiths would also work well.

Serves 4

1 frozen pate sucree tart shell,

still in its loose-bottomed pan

vanilla ice-cream, to serve

For the topping:

6 tablespoons flour

6 tablespoons Muscovado sugar

6 tablespoons finely ground blanched almonds

3 tablespoons softened unsalted butter

For the filling:

115g/4oz blackcurrants (fresh or frozen)

6 large tart apples, preferably Cox's or Granny Smiths

85g/3oz butter

55g/2oz caster sugar

2 tablespoons apple brandy (optional)

Utensils:

large bowl

sieve

heavy saute pan

small saucepan

spatula

Preparation: First, the crumble topping: sift the flour into a bowl with the brown sugar and almonds and combine them using your fingers. Add the butter and continue to work for several minutes until the ingredients are thoroughly blended in and the mixture is very crumbly. Leave to rest for about 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5.

Prepare the filling: if the blackcurrants are frozen, defrost in a sieve to allow any excess moisture to drain. Peel, core and dice the apples into 2.5cm/1in chunks.

Cooking: Over a medium heat, saute the apples in a heavy pan with the butter and sugar, tossing to coat and cooking until just tender (which will take between 10 and 15 minutes). They should be golden brown.

If using apple brandy, warm it in a small pan. Ignite it and pour over the apples, stirring in. The mixture should not be too wet. If it is, drain briefly in a fine sieve.

Take the pastry shell from the freezer, put it on a baking tray and spoon in the apples, pressing down to make them level. Sprinkle the blackcurrants over the top and cover evenly with the crumble topping. Use a spatula to smooth the surface flat.

Bake for 25 minutes and check that the topping is golden brown. If it is not, check every 5 minutes until done.

Serving: Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.

APPLE, PRUNE AND ZABAGLIONE TART

many people the word zabaglione conjures up images of the kind of trattoria where the host greets you with overpowering bonhomie. You sit at 'your' table (inevitably 'the best in the house', just next to the kitchen service doors) and grimly contemplate the cold antipasto - with its obligatory leaden aubergine - with growing foreboding. Forget all that. Here the zabaglione is cooked into a tart of apple and prunes held in a sweet crisp crust. I got the recipe from Rowley Leigh. He, in turn, had it from Yves Thuries, the French patissier.

Serves 4

12 prunes

1 Lapsang tea-bag

75g/2 1/2 oz caster sugar

6 large tart eating apples

85g/3oz butter

1 frozen pate sucree tart shell, still in its pan

2 tablespoons Calvados

For the zabaglione:

2 eggs

100g/3 1/2 oz caster sugar

100g/3 1/2 oz butter

2 drops of vanilla essence

1 tablespoon Calvados

Utensils:

heavy frying pan

greaseproof paper

foil

dried butter beans for blind baking

baking tray

spatula

electric beater or whisk

small saucepan

bowl

Preparation: Well ahead, prepare the prunes: make some tea, sweeten with a couple of teaspoons of sugar and soak the prunes in it as described in the Compote of Winter Fruits (see page 64). Once plumped up, stone the prunes.

Part-cook the peeled and segmented apples with the butter and sugar in a frying pan as described in the Blackcurrant and Apple Crumble Tart (above), drizzling over the Calvados.

Make the pastry shell, or use one you have already made and frozen. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Line the tart shell with greaseproof paper, then with a double sheet of foil and fill with dried beans to weight. Press down firmly and return to the freezer until ready to bake.

Cooking: Put the pastry shell on a baking tray and bake for 10 minutes, when you should see the visible rim of pastry start to brown.

Remove from the oven and gingerly lift out the foil and beans. Then peel away the greaseproof paper. Return the pastry to the oven and bake for a further 5 minutes. Remove and leave to cool. Lower the oven temperature to 180C/

350F/Gas 4. When the apples and prunes are cool, pack them into the pastry case, but do not overfill them as you need to leave some room for the custard topping - so no more than three- quarters of the way up. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a very low heat.

To make the zabaglione: in a large bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar until the mixture is stiff. Then, continuing to beat, pour in the hot melted butter in a thin stream, followed by the vanilla essence and Calvados.

As soon as this is mixed, transfer the custard to a jug and return the tart to the oven on the baking tray. Only then (when the tart is in place in the oven), carefully pour the custard over the apples and prunes, making sure none runs down the sides of the pastry. (It is easier to avoid slopping by doing this only when the tart is in the oven.)

Bake for 10-12 minutes, when the top will be golden brown but still slightly liquid.

Serving: Serve warm.

SAUTERNES AND OLIVE OIL CAKE

It is unlikely that you will be using a vintage Chateau d'Yquem to make this. Fortunately, it works well with most dessert wines, including the dreaded Beaumes-de-Venise. The olive oil, however, must be of the very best quality - extra virgin, green and full of fruit - and will cost as much as a medium-priced Sauternes.

This recipe I have based on an inspired idea of Alice Waters, chef proprietor of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. She is one of the masters of modern cooking, and her recipes have been among my most profound influences.

Serves 4

125g/4 1/2 oz plain flour, plus more for dusting

1/2 lemon

1/2 orange

4 eggs

25g/4 1/2 oz caster sugar

2 tablespoons Sauternes or other dessert wine

3 tablespoons best-quality extra virgin olive oil,

plus more for greasing

icing sugar, to dust

Utensils:

grater

25cm/10in springform cake pan

non-stick baking paper

pastry brush

food mixer

rubber spatula

sieve

Preparation: Measure out all the ingredients and sift the flour into a bowl. Grate 1/2 teaspoon of zest each from the lemon and the orange, using the second-finest grating surface.

Preheat the oven to 140C/285F/Gas 1-2. Cut a circle of non-stick baking paper to fit the bottom of the cake pan and line the base with it. Brush the sides of the pan with olive oil and dust with flour, shaking off the excess.

Combine the eggs and sugar in the bowl of the mixer and beat on high speed until it reaches the ribbon stage (ie off-white and stiff). Add the orange and lemon zest. Turn the mixer to low and pour in the flour in a steady stream to combine with the egg and sugar mixture. Quickly add the wine and the olive oil. Switch off as soon as you have poured in the oil (it will not be fully incorporated).

Remove the mixer bowl and, with the spatula, stir gently, starting from the centre at the bottom and working outwards and upwards while rotating the bowl one quarter-turn. Repeat 3 more times (which means the bowl will have been turned full circle). This is called 'folding' and is the best way of ensuring all the elements are thoroughly mixed without losing lightness by being heavy-handed.

Working quickly, pour this mixture into the pan, using the spatula to scrape the last of it from the bowl. If the mixture collapses when you are folding in the flour, go ahead and bake anyway - it will be a little heavy, but will still have all the flavours.

Cooking: Put immediately into the centre of the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Do not open the door for at least 15 minutes. After 20 minutes, insert a small clean knife into the centre of the cake (I stress clean because I have on occasion tested with a garlic-tainted knife, which does nothing to improve the flavour). If it comes out clean the cake is done, so remove it; if the mixture clings to the knife, cook for a further 5 minutes, by which time it should be cooked - but there is no harm in testing again.

Leave to cool in the pan on a cake rack, removing from the pan as soon as you can handle it. It is unlikely to stick because you have oiled the pan. If it does, it will be immediately apparent when you undo the spring clip. Refasten and run a small knife round and it will unmould easily. Leave the paper on the bottom and return to the rack to cool completely.

Serving: Dust the cake with icing sugar and cut into wedges. Serve with seasonal fruit, or a Compote of Winter Fruit (recipe overleaf).

BERRY SORBET JR

The name reflects a fondness for the classic music of Motown. Sorbets are so easy to make with a sorbetiere or ice-cream maker that many people fail to do so, as if ease of execution is synonymous with cheating in the kitchen. You can obtain good results using bought frozen fruit pulp, but this will never match the astonishingly heady flavour of fresh berries. My personal favourites are raspberry and blackberry. Only make berry sorbets from fruit that is in season, and only make enough to eat within 24 hours. Do not freeze for another day - this simply misses the point.

Serves 4

500g/1lb 2oz seasonal berries

150-200g/5 1/2 -7oz caster sugar

1 lemon

Utensils:

food processor

sieve

sorbetiere or ice-cream maker

wooden spoon

suitable freezer-proof container

ice-cream scoop or metal spoon

Preparation: Pick over the fruit, and juice the lemon. In a food processor, puree the fruit, the sugar and the lemon juice. Put them through a sieve into the sorbetiere and churn until frozen. Scoop into an appropriate freezer-proof

container and put in the freezer for up to 24 hours, no more. Remove from the freezer 30 minutes before you want to serve it. At the same time put to chill some pretty glasses in which to serve it.

Serving: Scoop into balls with a spoon or ice- cream scoop and serve in the chilled glasses. I once went out after dark to get some mint from the garden of a friend's restaurant to garnish a sorbet. The portion was rapidly returned with the message that, no matter how authentic, the diner would prefer his sorbet without a caterpillar. So, as a general rule, do not decorate this sorbet with mint leaves.

ROAST FIGS WITH HONEY ICE-CREAM

I have never been passionate about figs in their raw state and, yes, I have eaten them in Italy, perfectly ripe and straight off the tree. But roast them and combine with honey ice-cream and I am a happy convert. Take care that the honey you use is not too herbal - some of them are so heavily scented they are more suited to the bathroom than the kitchen.

Serves 4

16 ripe figs

1 litre/2 pints vanilla ice-cream

225g/8oz clear honey

Utensils:

ice-cream maker or sorbetiere

baking tray

wooden spoon

Preparation: Well ahead, make (or buy) some good-quality vanilla ice-cream. Melt the honey in a bowl set over boiling water until liquid. Pour all but a couple of tablespoons of the honey into the ice-cream mixture and churn in the ice-cream maker or sorbetiere until frozen.

About 20 minutes before serving, preheat the oven to maximum and remove the ice-cream from the freezer. It should be soft enough to scoop easily when the figs come out of the oven.

Cooking: Sprinkle a baking tray with a few drops of water to prevent burning and sticking. Arrange the figs so they do not touch and roast for 10 minutes until the skin starts to brown. Remove from the oven. As soon as the figs are cool enough to handle, make two cross cuts down into each fig to about half the depth. Squeeze them in the middle to open them at the top. Put a teaspoon of the reserved honey into each and return to the oven for 5 minutes.

Serving: Put a scoop of the ice-cream in the middle of each plate and arrange 4 figs around it, or put a spoonful of the ice-cream in the middle of each fig with the rest of the ice-cream in a bowl for people to help themselves.

PEACH TEA ICE-CREAM

You can actually buy peach tea, which gives this ice-cream its unique flavour. However, if you cannot find any, use an aromatic and floral China tea such as jasmine.

Serves 4

6 ripe peaches

1 teaspoon peach tea

2 tablespoons caster sugar

1/2 quantity (500ml/16fl oz) vanilla ice-cream

Utensils:

saucepan or kettle

bowl

ice-cream maker or sorbetiere

Preparation: Put 300ml/ 1/2 pint of water to heat for the tea. Meanwhile, quarter the peaches. Skin them, detach from the stones and cut into wedges. When the water is boiling make the tea and add the sugar. Leave to cool, then infuse the peach wedges in the tea for 1 hour. Make the vanilla ice-cream, adding 3 tablespoons of the tea to the custard before transferring it to the ice-cream maker and churning.

When nearing the end of the churning, drain the peaches. As the custard starts to freeze, add them and continue to churn until set.

COMPOTE OF WINTER FRUITS

I serve these seasonal fruits poached in a spicy red wine syrup with a slice of Sauternes and Olive Oil Cake to give a textured contrast. Make this compote at least a day ahead of serving; it will keep for a week or more in the fridge.

Serves 4

1 lemon

500ml/16fl oz red wine

450g/1lb caster sugar

1 vanilla pod

1 bay leaf

1 piece of dried tangerine peel

(optional - available from oriental stores)

1 cinnamon stick

12 peppercorns

8 star anise (optional)

1 Lapsang tea-bag

2 heaped tablespoons sugar

12 prunes

8 dried apricots

4 small pears (firm, not rock-hard,

but not ripe enough to eat uncooked)

Utensils:

potato peeler

large non-reactive saucepan

large heat-proof bowl

Preparation: Make the compote the day before: use a potato peeler to scrape off the zest from the lemon.

Cooking: Put the wine, caster sugar, vanilla, bay, tangerine peel and spices into a large non-

reactive saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring. Skim off the froth that comes to the surface. Simmer for 30 minutes to infuse the spices. Add the lemon zest to the syrup and set aside to cool and mature. At the same time, make a weak tea by adding 575m1/1 pint of boiling water to the tea-bag in the heat-proof bowl. Then stir in the sugar. (You use the tea to rehydrate the prunes and apricots, and it needs to be very sweet to allow the natural sugar in the fruit to remain there and not leach into the soaking liquid: this would happen if you used unsweetened tea.)

Add the prunes and apricots to the tea and put over a very low heat for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave the fruit to plump up.

Peel the pears, holding them by the stalks, and rub with the cut face of the lemon to prevent discolouration. Bring the red wine syrup back to the boil, turn down to a gentle simmer and add the pears. You need to keep the fruit beneath the surface of the liquid and the easiest way to achieve this is to use a lid from a smaller pan to hold it down. Simmer for 30 minutes, and remove from heat.

Drain the prunes and apricots and discard the tea, and add them to the pears. Replace the lid and allow to cool completely before refrigerating overnight. The compote is now ready to serve. I prefer to leave the spices in, but if you do so, warn your guests that they are there for decorative effect. Not everybody likes to crunch on a peppercorn while eating pudding.

Serving: Serve with Sauternes and Olive Oil Cake (see page 61), or with some creme frache or vanilla ice-cream.

SUMMER PUDDING

A classic taste of late summer, this is one of the few dishes that uses sliced white bread to advantage. It is also one of the few English desserts admired by French and Italians alike. You should only make it when berries are both abundant and cheap (a proper summer pudding should never include strawberries). It has to be made at least the day before it is needed and is better for two or three days in the fridge.

Serves 4

1 slightly stale good-quality sliced white loaf

225g/ 1/2 lb redcurrants

225g/ 1/2 lb blackcurrants

225g/ 1/2 lb white currants

225g/ 1/2 lb raspberries

225g/ 1/2 lb blackberries (brambles)

225g/ 1/2 lb caster sugar

Utensils:

large saucepan

20cm/8in diameter flat-bottomed mould, basin or souffle dish

Swiss-roll pan

plate or round wooden board which just fits inside

the top of the mould, basin or souffle dish

palette knife

Preparation: Remove the crusts from the slices of bread.

Cooking: Put all the fruit except the raspberries and blackberries in a pan with the sugar and bring to a bare simmer over low heat. Cook for 10 minutes until you have a very liquid mixture. Remove from the heat, stir in the raspberries and blackberries and put to cool. Line the mould with the bread, cutting the bread slices in half for the sides and into triangles for the bottom. Spoon in the cooled fruit mixture to fill the mould right to the top. If you do not have enough fruit, then add more raspberries. Finally, cut more bread triangles to cover the top of the bowl (which will be the base when turned out).

Stand the bowl in the Swiss-roll pan and put the plate or round board on top. Weight this down with about 1.8kg/4lb of cans and chill in the fridge for 24 hours, removing from time to time and pouring over any remaining fruit syrup. The bread should be amalgamated with the fruit.

Next day, remove the pudding from the fridge and take off the plate or board. Slip a palette knife round the inside of the bowl, being careful not to puncture the outer surface. Put a serving plate on top and, holding the mould tight to the plate, invert. Tap the bottom sharply and lift away the mould to reveal the summer pudding, standing proud and brilliantly coloured.

Serving: Serve with Devon clotted cream or creme frache.

These recipes are taken from 'Alastair Little: Keep it Simple' by Alastair Little and Richard Whittington, to be published by Conran Octopus on 7 October at pounds 18.99. Alastair Little's restaurant is at 49 Frith Street, London W1 (071-734 5183).

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