Light suppers for a late spring

As temperatures finally start to creep upwards, Philippa Vine rings the changes in the kitchen with two springtime suppers and a fruity Pimms cake.

When we fix a date in advance to open our wood for the bluebell walk and farm trail, we do so knowing that if Mother Nature doesn’t play ball and is a little late in supplying the bluebells, then there is always a white carpet of wood anemones for the public to see.

This year, however, the cold spring has meant that even the anemones weren’t in flower when we opened. It’s frustrating, but at least we have the option of extending our opening period to allow for the delayed appearance of the bluebells (which means I will have to postpone my Aga training course).

It’s the asparagus growers that I feel sorry for. Their outdoor crop may be up to a month late but they won’t want to extend their harvesting period. Traditionally they don’t like to cut the plant after Midsummer’s Day so as to allow the plant to grow and replenish the energy reserves in its root stock before autumn.

My favourite way of cooking asparagus is roasting it in a hot oven with a little oil drizzled over with salt and pepper and cooked for just a few minutes if it has been freshly picked. The fresher the asparagus the quicker it will cook and the sweeter it will taste. The combination of salmon, bacon and watercress salsa, topped with roasted asparagus, makes a lovely supper dish.

I have included a recipe to make fresh pasta for this leek, stilton and bacon lasagne, but it will still work with bought fresh lasagne sheets. It is a light alternative to traditional lasagne and the flavours are delicious together, in fact I often use this combination to make a quiche.

We can now finally put winter firmly in the back of our minds and think about the treats of summer, which this strawberry cake is all about. It’ll come into its own at the start of British strawberry season and it goes without saying that it should always be accompanied with a generous glass of Pimms!

Salmon with Pancetta, Watercress and Asparagus (pictured above)

Serves 2

  • 2 slices of salmon, cut thickly at an angle through the fillet (about 150g / 5oz each)
  • 4 thin-cut streaky pancetta rashers
  • Large bunch watercress
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • Few drops of white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed
  • Extra oil for cooking the salmon and asparagus

Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/gas 7. Cut off the stalks of the watercress and place it in a food processor bowl with the salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar.

Whiz the mixture, pressing the watercress down occasionally until it makes a purée. Pour the olive oil on to the mixture.

Remove from the processor and set aside. Lay the strips of pancetta on a tray and cook in the oven until crisp.

Place the trimmed asparagus on a lightly oiled tray. Brush with oil, season with salt and pepper and roast in the oven for about 6min. Now get a heavy-based frying pan, heat until hot on the stove, season the salmon and cook it in the pan with a little oil on both sides until just cooked.

Serve the salmon with the asparagus and pancetta. Serve the salsa separately and with new potatoes.

Stilton and bacon lasagne

Leek, Stilton and Bacon Lasagne (pictured above)

Serves 4

You will need a 20x26cm (7 1/2x10in) rectangular dish. If you don’t have a pasta machine just buy fresh lasagne sheets if easier.

For the pasta:

  • 250g (9oz) pasta flour
  • 2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

To the make the fresh pasta:

Combine all the pasta ingredients together, either by hand or in a food processor, holding back 1 egg yolk to ensure the mixture is not too wet.

Add the last egg yolk if necessary.

Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for an hour. Using one-third of your dough at a time, roll it out into strips using a pasta machine until thin.

Cut the lasagne sheets into pieces to fit your dish.

For the filling:

  • 2 leeks
  • 225g (8oz) Stilton cheese
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 110g (4oz) smoked bacon lardons
  • 50g (2oz) strong cheddar cheese, grated
  • 50g (2oz) butter
  • 40g (1½oz) plain flour
  • 570ml (1 pint) milk
  • 50ml (2fl oz) double cream
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Skin and deseed the tomatoes. Cut the flesh into strips and reserve the seeds. To make the white sauce, heat the milk and in another pan melt the butter, stir in the flour and let it bubble for a few moments before adding the hot milk. Bring to the boil and mix with a whisk until smooth. Season and add the mustard, cheddar and cream.

Sieve the tomato pips and add the resulting juice to the white sauce. Set aside. Split the leeks down the middle, wash well and then shred finely. Stir-fry the leeks until they are just beginning to collapse then lay them out on a tray. Fry the bacon briefly and crumble in the Stilton.

To assemble the dish: Take a rectangular dish about 20x26cm (7½x10in). Spread a little of the white sauce over the bottom of the dish and make your first layer of pasta. Over this place half of the leeks, bacon, Stilton and tomato. Pour over a little more sauce, then more pasta. Repeat with another layer, reserving enough sauce for the top over the final layer of pasta.

Sprinkle with a little Parmesan cheese and place in the oven for about 1 hour or until golden brown. Delicious served with a green salad.

Strawberry Pimms cake

Strawberry Pimms Cake (pictured above)

You will need a 26cm (10in) spring-form cake tin.

For the cake:

  • 4 large eggs
  • 110g (4oz) caster sugar
  • 110g (4oz) plain flour

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Line the base of the cake tin with a sheet of parchment paper and grease this and the sides of the tin. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until they make a pale, light foam. Sieve the flour and fold it into the egg foam.

Bake in the oven for about 25-30min until the surface springs back when lightly pressed with the fingertip. Remove cake from oven and run a knife around the sides of the cake and allow to cool.

For the filling:

  • 450g (1lb) strawberries
  • 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) Pimms
  • 275ml (1/2 pint) single cream
  • 75g (3oz) Philadelphia cream cheese
  • 10g (1/3oz) leaf gelatine
  • 500ml (18fl oz) thick plain yoghurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 75g (3oz) caster sugar

Soak the gelatine in cold water. Place the single cream, vanilla and sugar in a saucepan and heat gently. Put in the cream cheese and the drained gelatine and whiz it up with a stick blender with about 4 of the strawberries.

Stir in the yoghurt. Cut larger strawberries in half and fold into the yoghurt mix.

To assemble: Cut sponge into 2 discs and place bottom half back into cake tin. Sprinkle half the Pimms over it. Spoon the strawberry yoghurt mix into the cake tin and level it off. Place the second disc of sponge on the top and sprinkle it with the remaining Pimms. Refrigerate to set.

To serve: Run a knife around the cake and release the spring. Decorate with strawberries, orange segments, cucumber, mint and borage flowers. Dust lightly with icing sugar.

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