8 March 2002

TRY A FRUIT FILLED TREAT FOR EASTER

Philippa Vine recommends a quick and

tasty way with pork and an unusual

Easter cake for this months recipes

THE days are getting longer, Easters approaching and the asparagus is peeping through the soil for what will be our first cropping after two years of patient waiting. Lambs are now arriving and at this time of year it is Mr Vine rather than the children causing the broken nights sleep with his nocturnal visits to the lambing barn.

For a quick one pan dish during this hectic month and a good way of jazzing up a plain pork chop, try a light yet delicious lemon and balsamic sauce. balsamic vinegar has a distinctive dark colour and a rich aromatic tang with a slight caramel sweetness. It goes against my principle of buying local produce but I keep a bottle in the cupboard as it does give an extra dimension and flavour to sauces, dressings and marinades. Thanks to Darren at Perrymans Farm Shop for supplying the pork and expert advice.

Easter Layer Cake is a good contrast to the traditional Simnel cake and all the chocolate we consume at Easter time. It is a Madeira cake filled with fruit and delicious ricotta cheese which I buy from our local Farmers Market. Sussex High Weald make this ricottta from the whey by-products of their acclaimed Halloumi cheese. It may be worth noting that it is low in fat but after all those chocolate eggs, it wont make that much difference!

Easter Layer Cake

I got this idea of a lighter alternative to the traditional Easter Simnel cake from an Italian Easter cake recipe. The Madeira cake is layered with ricotta cheese and fruit filling and is best served on the day it is made. Any leftovers can be transformed into a trifle.

175g (6oz) softened butter

175g (6oz) golden caster sugar

250g (8oz) self-raising flour

50g (2oz) ground almonds

3 large eggs

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Filling:

400g (14oz) ricotta cheese

100g (4oz) golden caster sugar

75g (3oz) glace cherries, chopped small

7g (1/4 oz) angelica, finely chopped, (optional)

10 whole dried apricots, chopped small

50g (2oz) raisins

Finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon

100g (4oz) flaked almonds, toasted

1 tablespoon apricot jam, melted

Pre-heat the oven to 160C (325F, Gas Mark 3). Grease and base line a 18cm (7in) deep round cake tin with greaseproof paper. Measure all the cake ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Beat well for 1min to mix thoroughly (I cheat and use my Kenwood Chef). Turn into the prepared tin and bake in the pre-heated oven for about 50min or more until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. You may need to cover the top of the cake if browning too much. Leave to cool in the tin for at least 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Leave to get cold.

To assemble the cake: Beat the ricotta cheese with the sugar until fluffy and stiff. Mix in the prepared fruits and lemon zest. Carefully slice the cold cake horizontally into three layers, then sandwich the ricotta filling between them (you may not want to use all the ricotta filling, sometimes it is nice to put a dollop of it in the centre on top of the cake). Press down lightly. Brush the top of the cake with jam and sprinkle on the flaked almonds. If there is any cake left at the end of the day then store in the fridge.

Pork with a lemon and balsamic sauce

Serves 4

This is a particularly good dish to make mid-week when cooking and preparation time is at a premium. The unusual yet delicious sauce will transform a plain chop into a most exciting dish and also works well on chicken breasts

1 large pork fillet or

4 pork chops

25g (1oz) butter

A little olive oil

3 heaped tablespoons chopped spring onions or shallots

1 tablespoon honey

Pinch of mixed spice

250ml (1/2 pt) chicken stock

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 good tablespoons double cream

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Salt and freshly ground

black pepper

If using a pork fillet slice it thickly into about nine discs. Season with salt and pepper. Heat the butter and a little oil in a large frying pan over a moderate to high heat. Fry the pieces of pork until just tender. Slices of fillet dont take very long – about 3min on each side. If you are using chops, heat the butter and oil in the same way and brown the chops quickly on both sides then lower the heat and let them cook through for 20min (depending on the thickness of the chops). Remove from the pan, arrange on a serving dish and keep warm. Return the pan to the heat and add the chopped spring onions, honey and mixed spice. Cook, stirring the onions until soft, 2min or so. Increase the heat and add the chicken stock and lemon juice. Bring up to the boil, scraping in all the meaty residues until reduced by half. Finally stir in the cream and balsamic vinegar and boil until the sauce thickens slightly, about 1-2min. Check seasoning, then spoon over the pork and serve at once.

Delicious served with mashed potato and early purple sprouting broccoli.