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Spring lunch for grown ups


After an INDULGENT holiday in Myanmar and Malaysia, DS and I are delighted to be back in temperate France. Jumpers! Chilli-free food! Woopee! Rather than start our necessary detox straight away (the daily cocktail and curry diet has taken its TOLL), we decided to give ourselves a grace period of two days. Just to settle in. And perhaps to enjoy a couple of glasses of wine.

We'd invited a grown up friend over for Sunday lunch, who happened to be visiting his various belles in Paris for the weekend. The last time we saw him was at his raucous 70th birthday party where we were plied with all things delicious and alcoholic. It felt right to return the favour and serve something a little bit special.

We had a hankering for lamb, having missed the usual Easter fix. These days, red meat is a rare treat at home, and as we'll be cutting it out on the imminent detox it felt like an appropriate last supper/lunch.

And what could be more of a treat than crispy, juicy, tender lamb chops? Few things indeed. I went for a fresh and punchy salsa verde to dress things up a bit, with garlicky sweet potato mash and buttery spinach. A zingy lemon tart to finish, to bring the spring sunshine to the table.

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Grilled lamb chops with salsa verde

For three, takes 20 minutes, plus marinating time

main / dairy free / quietly smug / easy peasy / date night / ready in a jiffy / spring / perennial / gluten free

Ideally, I'd be cooking these on a BBQ, but sadly that's not an option chez nous. If you don’t have a griddle pan either, you can pop them under a hot grill in the oven, but it will be trickier to get the fat nice ’n’ crispy. Make sure you buy the very best lamb you can get hold of.

* Rosemary - 1 tbsp, chopped

* Red peppercorns - 1 tbsp

* Sea salt - a generous pinch

* Olive oil - a glug

* Lamb chops - 6

Crush the rosemary, red pepper, salt and oil in a pestle and mortar. Rub all over the lamb. Cover and place in the fridge for a few hours, or overnight.

Heat a griddle pan to a high heat.

Sizzle the chops for four minutes, then turn them and cook for a couple more minutes. I like mine pink on the inside and crispy on the outside - reduce the cooking time if the chops are very thin, or increase if you prefer things a little less bloody.

Salsa verde

Makes a small bowl, takes 10 minutes

side / summer / dairy free / quietly smug / easy peasy / detox / party / picnic / date night / ready in a jiffy / spring / perennial / gluten free

Traditionally salsa verde is made with basil - I had coriander so that’s what I used. It’s still appropriately green. Feel free to add more garlic if that’s your vibe (good for COLD prevention).

* Fresh parsley - a fistful (with stalks) very roughly chopped

* Fresh coriander - a fistful (with stalks) very roughly chopped

* Fresh mint - about 10 leaves

* Garlic - 1 clove, peeled and roughly chopped

* Anchovy fillets - 10

* Capers - 2 tbsp

* Extra virgin olive oil - a couple of glugs

Place all the ingredients, with only 2 tbsp of olive oil initially, into the small bowl of a blender. Blend to a coarse paste.

With the mixer running, drizzle olive oil into the bowl until you have a pesto like consistency. You probably won’t need much.

Sweet potato garlic mash

Serves 3, takes 10 minutes, plus 40 minutes oven time

side / vegetarian / nothing fancy / party / easy peasy / on a budget / date night / baby /perennial / gluten free

* Sweet potato - 2 or 3

* Olive oil - a glug

* Paprika - a pinch

* Garlic - 4 cloves

* Butter - 30g

Preheat the oven to 210 degrees C.

Roughly chop the sweet potato. Place in a medium sized roasting dish - ideally you want to be able to use the same pan to mash in to save on washing up, so choose a dish with high sides if you have one. It doesn’t matter if the potatoes are in several layers.

Drizzle olive over the potatoes, sprinkle over a pinch of paprika and season with salt and pepper. Toss.

Place in the oven for 25 minutes.

Tuck the garlic cloves (skin on) in amongst the sweet potato and bake for a further 15 minutes.

Carefully remove the skin from the garlic (hot hot hot!). Discard the skin and return the garlic flesh to the dish. Add the butter, then mash the potatoes. You can use a hand blender here for a super silky smooth texture.

If you're making the mash in advance, just heat it up in a hot oven for 10-15 minutes when you're ready to eat.

Buttered spinach

Serves 3, takes 10 minutes

side / vegetarian / nothing fancy / ready in a jiffy / easy peasy / spring / winter / gluten free

* Spinach - 600g

* Butter - a knob

Thoroughly wash the spinach and remove any stalks (conserve them to add to a soup/stir fry/ frittata).

Place the spinach in a large pan. Boil up a kettle full of water and pour into the pan. Stir to wilt all the spinach, then drain.

Return the spinach to the pan and add the butter. Season well with salt and pepper and stir again. Serve immediately.

Lemon tartelettes

Makes 4 mini tarts, takes 45 minutes, plus chilling time

dessert / perennial / spring / showing off / party / date night

Tart, zingy, creamy, crunchy. A treat of a tart. The pastry recipe below is for a half batch - by all means double the quantities and freeze the leftovers, wrapped in cling film. Of course you could make 1 small tart rather than 4 mini ones.

For the pastry:

* Plain flour - 85g

* Salt – a pinch

* Cold unsalted butter -60g chopped into small chunks

* sugar - 1.5 tsp

For the curd:

* Lemons - zest and juice of 4 (juice the lemons through a sieve to catch any seeds)

* Butter - 100g, cut into small pieces

* Sugar - 1/2 cup

* Eggs - 3, plus an extra yolk

4 mini tart tins (10cm diameter)

Start by making the pastry.

Put the flour, salt, butter and sugar in a mixer and pulse until the texture is like fine breadcrumbs. Add about 1/2 tbsp of cold water and keep pulsing until the dough clumps together in one piece. Add a touch more water if needed.

Use your hands to gather up any stray bits of dough and press it together into a flattish, circular disk. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C and remove the pastry from the fridge.

Cut the pastry into four equal pieces. Roll out each piece to a (roughly) 5mm thick circle. Line each pastry tin with pastry, being careful to eliminate any air bubbles between the tin and the pastry. Trim off the excess and prick each base a couple of times with a fork.

Place in the oven for 12 minutes, or until the pastry is just starting to colour. Set aside.

To make the lemon curd, combine the lemon zest, juice, butter and sugar in a heat proof bowl and set over a pan of just simmering water. Don't let the bowl touch the water or have the heat too high, otherwise the mixture might curdle. Stir occasionally until the butter has melted.

Whisk the eggs together in a separate bowl and then add to the lemon mixture. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring often. When it's done it will be the consistency of...curd.

To serve, spoon the curd into the prepared tart tins. Serve with a sprinkling of icing sugar.


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