5 April 2002

A spring bounty of home-grown foods

Tasty baked chicken

and a cake that is also

a pudding are

Philippa Vines recipe

ideas for April

WHEN my parents first opened their Bluebell Wood at Arlington in Sussex to the public over 30 years ago, the bluebells did not appear until well into May but now they are regularly out in April. Spring is arriving earlier and with it the prospect of cooking all those much anticipated home-grown foods.

Green vegetables such as spinach and purple sprouting broccoli are ready to eat in April. Wild sorrel can be found in some gardens and hedgerows and next month I will be including a recipe that uses this common weed. Although it is still too early for home-grown fruit I am making the most of my rhubarb that is rapidly growing in the garden, especially since giving it a present of well-rotted manure. Even though strictly speaking it is a vegetable, rhubarb is used more commonly as a fruit in many dessert recipes especially this straightforward recipe for a crumble cake. It is ideal as a pudding or as a cake served with cream for an afternoon treat.

Warmer weather inspires lighter dishes and our simple baked chicken recipe combines the tastier darker meat (baking the chicken this way tends to dry out the white meat) with smoked bacon, chopped tomatoes, cannelloni beans and some alcohol. It requires minimal effort in the kitchen leaving you with plenty of time for gardening.

Rhubarb Crumble Cake

Serves 4

This can be served as a pudding or as a cake, with cream. I like to serve it with good quality vanilla ice cream.

For the cake:

3 small eggs

(weigh these and match the weight of the other ingredients to it)

Same weight of softened butter

Same weight of golden caster sugar

Same weight of

self-rising flour, sifted

1 tablespoon of water.

For the crumble topping:

75g (3oz) butter

100g (4oz) whole-meal flour

50g (2oz) golden caster sugar

For the filling:

675g (1lb 8oz) rhubarb after it has been trimmed, cut into 2.5cm (1in) pieces

1 tablespoon sugar

Preheat the oven to 190C (375F, Gas Mark 5). Grease a 22.5cm x 6cm (9in x 2.5in) deep loose-bottomed cake tin. Make the crumble topping in the usual way, rub the butter into the flour in a bowl and add the sugar. Set aside while you make the cake. Weigh the eggs and then weigh out the remaining cake ingredients into a mixing bowl, add the eggs and beat well for about one minute (I use my Kenwood Chef). Turn into the prepared tin and spread out evenly flat. Cover carefully with the pieces of rhubarb. Sprinkle the tablespoon of sugar over the rhubarb and cover with the crumble mixture. Bake in the bottom of the oven for about 45-50 minutes or until the top feels fairly firm to the touch. You may need to cover the cake with foil if it is browning too quickly. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool in the tin before turning out. Just before serving, remove the cake from the tin and dust with icing sugar.

Baked Chicken Pieces

Serves 4

This recipe is so easy and quick to prepare as well as being tasty and wholesome.

8 chicken thighs or drumsticks

125g (5oz) smoked ham or bacon, diced

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

One 500g can chopped tomatoes

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 tablespoon

whole-grain mustard

150ml (1⁄4pt) Madeira or sweet sherry

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon mixed dried herbs

400g can of cooked cannelloni beans, drained

and lightly rinsed

A good pinch of salt and plenty of freshly ground

black pepper

Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 190C (375F, Gas Mark 5). Combine all the ingredients apart from the chicken and mix well. Spread this mixture in the bottom of a shallow roasting tin or baking dish just large enough to hold the chicken in a single layer. Place the chicken pieces on top and brush with a little more oil. Season the chicken pieces and bake, uncovered, for about 60 to 80 minutes, (depending on the size of the chicken pieces) basting half way through the cooking time. The chicken should get nice and golden but cover with foil if it is browning too quickly. If the pan seems a little dry, add more Madeira or water. When the chicken is cooked through, transfer to a serving dish. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then pour the sauce/mixture over the chicken pieces. I like to serve it with plenty of purple sprouting broccoli, steamed and served with a little butter. Wilted spinach that has been cooked until just tender, about two minutes and seasoned, is another choice.