Lemon curd and passion fruit pavlova

Easter pavlova with lemon curd and passion fruit 1
I love an event or special occasion. Whether it is birthdays or anniversaries or Christmas or Halloween or Burns Night or even an election, I’ll take advantage of pretty much any excuse to do the two things I enjoy the most: planning and partying. I’m not even 100% sure which aspect I enjoy more given my obsession for lists and timetables and A PLAN, but there is nothing better than new decorations, nice drinks, great food, even better company and perhaps even a few days off. Even Valentine’s Day, which I will scorn for being an utterly commercialised “holiday”, gives us a (sometimes much-needed) excuse to make time for our other halves, even if it’s just the simple effort of lighting some candles and having a tasty dinner at home together. Anyway, the latest excuse for some planning and indulgence is Easter weekend.

I think Easter weekend is particularly appealing to me because it marks the change of the seasons from dark, cold winter to cheerful spring. The clocks are going forward, the days are getting longer, the daffodils and crocuses have opened up in all their beauty and the spring break is tantalisingly near. So, hot cross buns and a lamb leg have been bought, the flat is full of spring blooms, Easter eggs are hidden away until Sunday and a long walk has been planned to make the most of the bank holiday Monday. All we need now is for 5pm to arrive and the weekend to begin.

I actually made this particular pavlova for my mum’s birthday a couple of weeks ago, but I think it would be the perfect pudding for a big Easter Sunday roast dinner. This is a relatively straightforward recipe to make for a large crowd, the component parts can be made ahead and assembled at the last minute and most importantly it is totally delicious. The outside of the meringue should be completely dried out and crisp but the inside should be soft, almost cloud-like, in texture. The cool topping balances the sweet meringue, especially with the addition of yogurt to balance the richness of double cream which I think can be too much on its own sometimes, and the passionfruit and lemon add the final sharp bite to the dish. Finally, if you’re looking for something to do with your leftover egg yolks, treat yourself to some homemade garlic mayonnaise, perhaps as an accompaniment for a bank holiday brunch or dinner.

One year ago:
The Easiest-Ever Loaf: Crusty no-knead white bread
Vanilla espresso martini

Two years ago:
Guacamole and zingy bean dip
Mini lemon curd tarts
Ingredients for lemon curd and passion fruit pavlova
Ingredients (makes one large pavlova to serve 6-8 people)
4 medium egg whites
250g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp corn flour
1 tsp white wine vinegar
250ml double cream
200g Greek yogurt
3 tbsp lemon curd (homemade is particularly good – find a recipe here)
3 passion fruit

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 10C/130C fan/Gas Mark 2. Separate out the egg whites and whisk until they form stiff peaks.
Whisking egg whites to stiff peaks for meringue
2. Add the caster sugar slowly, a dessert spoon at a time, whisking continuously until the sugar is fully incorporated and you have a thick, glossy meringue mixture. Add the vanilla extract, corn flour and white wine vinegar and whisk again. (Note: the corn flour and vinegar might seem odd here, but they are essential to give the pavlova its signature soft centre).
Whisking caster sugar, vanilla, corn flour and vinegar into egg whites for pavlova
3. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with baking parchment and, as always when making meringues, putting a dot of meringue mixture under each corner of the paper to stick it down. This will make shaping the pavlova much easier.
Preparing to shape the pavlova on a lined baking sheet
4. Using a spatula or a large spoon, pile the meringue mixture into the middle of the baking sheet and then gently spread it into a rough circle, making a slight dip in the middle where most of the filling will go. Use the back of a spoon to create little peaks around the pavlova if you like.
Pavlova ready to be baked in the oven
Pavlova ready to be baked in the oven
5. Bake the pavlova for 50 minutes and then turn the oven off and allow it to cool completely inside. (Don’t forget it’s in there if you come to use the oven later! I learned this lesson the hard way…)
Pavlova after baking and cooling in the oven
6. Whisk the cream until very loosely whipped and stir through the Greek yogurt.
Whipped double cream mixed with greek yogurt
7. Add 3 generous spoons of lemon curd to the cream mixture and fold through. It’s up to you (and the texture of your lemon curd!) whether you leave this a little rippled or whether you combine it completely with the cream.
Whipped double cream, greek yogurt and lemon curd for the pavlova filling
Adding lemon curd to the cream and yogurt mix
Folding lemon curd through the whipped cream and yogurt mix
8. Remove the seeds and juice from the passion fruits.
Passion fruit seeds for topping the pavlova
9. When you are nearly ready to serve, carefully transfer the pavlova to a serving platter and remove the baking parchment.
Preparing to fill and top the pavlova
10. Pile the cream and yogurt filling into the middle of the pavlova and gently spread it towards the edges. Finally, sprinkle over the passion fruit topping with a teaspoon.
Easter pavlova with lemon curd and passion fruit
Serve soon after topping the pavlova, although if you have leftovers they will keep in the fridge for a day or two. Cut into generous slices and enjoy as the perfect end to your Easter Sunday dinner!

Easter meringue nests

Easter meringue nests with mini eggs 1
Meringues and Easter were made to go together. It just seems so appropriate to make an egg-based dessert at Easter time, and meringues are the ultimate in egg magic. Made into individual nests, they are the perfect vessel for lashings of cool cream and piles of cute chocolate eggs. And even better, they can be made ahead of time if you’re planning a big Easter Sunday feast and don’t want to be rushing around the kitchen or juggling oven timings any more than you have to. These meringues will store perfectly in an air-tight container until the next day, but will even keep for three or four days after baking.

I mentioned many of the following tips in one of my very first recipes for chocolate-dipped meringues, but a few key pointers to keep in mind:
– Make sure you don’t get even a drop of yolk or a miniscule shard of egg shell in the whites, as this will prevent the whites from whisking properly.
– For the same reason, make sure your bowl and whisk are spotlessly clean.
– Stick down your baking parchment (not greaseproof paper since meringues can stick to this) with a few dabs of the meringue mixture under each corner.
– After baking, turn the meringues upside down, turn the oven off and leave to cool completely in the oven. Cooling in the oven helps the meringue form a crisp exterior. I have literally no idea why you turn them upside down but my mum does it so there.
– Meringue making is essentially science in the kitchen, so weigh out your sugar exactly and stick rigidly to the cooking time and temperature. Some meringue recipes will call for a certain weight of sugar, but this is the most basic meringue recipe: equal weights of egg whites and caster sugar.
Ingredients for Easter meringue nests
Ingredients (makes 3 dessert-sized meringue nests)
2 medium eggs
Same weight as egg whites in caster sugar
Optional: food colouring gel, cream or yogurt to fill, mini eggs

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 120C/100C fan/Gas 1. Separate out the egg whites from the yolks and weigh the whites.
Splitting the egg whites and yolks for Easter meringues
2. Whisk the eggs to soft, fluffy peaks in a large, clean bowl – try not to over whisk at this stage.
Whisking the egg whites to soft peaks
3. Weigh out the same quantity of caster sugar as you had of egg whites. Add to the whisked egg whites one dessert spoon at a time, whisking in between each spoonful. You should end up with a thick, glossy meringue mixture.
Adding sugar to the whisked egg whites
Meringue mix ready to be piped and shaped
4. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. If you don’t want to pipe the meringues freehand then draw around a bowl or plate which is roughly the size that you want your nests to be.
Baking parchment for meringue nests
5. Place your piping bag nozzle-down into a large glass – this makes adding the colouring and the meringue mixture much easier.
Holding the piping bag upright
6. Using a paint brush or a long skewer, paint two stripes of food colouring gel on opposite sides of the bag. The amount I used produced pale, pastel-coloured meringues, but if you want a more striking effect then you will need to be extremely generous with the amount of colouring you use.
Adding pink and orange food colouring gels to the piping bag
7. Fill the bag with your meringue mixture and pipe into nests on the baking tray.
Piping the meringue nests onto the baking sheet
8. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes until crisp and dry on the outside. Turn the meringues upside down, turn the oven off and leave to cool (or do this on a board if oven space is tight).
Turning the meringue nests upside down after baking
These meringues are crisp and crumbly on the outside, but very soft and chewy on the inside. Since they’re so sweet, I always think that meringues are best paired with a sharp Greek yogurt or crème fraiche rather than whipped cream, but choose whatever you fancy.
Easter meringue nests
Top with a pile of mini eggs for the ultimate Easter treat.
Easter meringue nest filled with greek yogurt and mini eggs

Toad in the hole with onion gravy

Pouring onion gravy over toad in the hole
Toad in the hole is one of those inexplicably odd British phrases and no one really knows where the name comes from. A lot of people think that it comes from the idea that the sausages look like frogs peaking up through the batter…..I know, weird. But there is not really any evidence for this, and there is not a consensus on the correct origin. In the end, who really cares about the name when basically it gives us an excuse to combine Yorkshire puddings and meat in one dish. That’s all that toad in the hole is: Yorkshire pudding batter poured over golden sausages (or traditionally just cheap cuts of meat). It’s easy and quick enough for a weekday dinner, but also a nice idea for Sunday dinner since you don’t have to make individual Yorkshire puddings, which can be a bit of a faff.

Use whatever sausages you like in this dish – flavoursome types with lots of herbs or spices will give a lot of extra flavour, but whatever you have in the house will work. Apple is the perfect accompaniment to pork and the chunks of apple in the batter soften during cooking to give bursts of soft, sweet flavour. And, of course, we couldn’t have toad in the hole without a rich onion gravy to smother over the top.
Ingredients for toad in the hole and onion gravy
Ingredients (serves 3-4)
1 egg
100g flour
300ml milk
8 sausages
1 apple, cut into wedges
Vegetable oil

1 tbsp olive oil
Small knob of butter
1 large white onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp soft brown sugar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Small glass of red wine
1 tbsp corn flour
600ml beef stock
1 tsp red currant jelly

Method
1. To make the batter, mix the egg into the flour with a little of the milk until you have a thick paste. Slowly pour in the rest of the milk and whisk until smooth. Add a pinch of salt and leave aside for later – you can make this a couple of hours in advance and just cover with a dish towel.
Ingredients for the yorkshire pudding mixture
Mixing the flour and egg for a yorkshire pudding mix
Yorkshire pudding mixture for toad in the hole
2. Preheat the oven to 200C fan/220C/Gas Mark 7. In a roasting tray, toss the sausages and apple chunks with a few tablespoons of oil and roast for about 15 minutes until the sausages start to brown.
Sausages and apples for roasting
Pour the batter into the hot oil and put the tray back in the oven for 35-40 minutes until the batter has risen and is cooked through.
Roasted sausages and apple wedges
3. Heat the olive oil and butter in a pan and add the sliced onion. Cook on a very low heat for 15-20 minutes until the onions have started to become golden.
Softening the onions in butter and olive oil
Browning the onions in olive oil and butter
4. Add the sugar and cook for a further 5 minutes.
Adding brown sugar to the onions
5. Pour in the vinegar and wine and turn up the heat a little so the liquid bubbles away for about 3-5 minutes until it’s a syrupy consistency.
Adding balsamic vinegar and red wine to the gravy
6. Mix in the corn flour and cook for 30 seconds. Slowly add the stock and simmer until the gravy has reached the consistency you like. At the end drop in the red currant jelly and mix until it’s all melted into the gravy.
Onion gravy
With meat and carbohydrates combined into one dish, toad in the hole is pretty filling so I think that some vegetables are all that’s needed on the side – along with the onion gravy of course. However, I won’t argue with you if you want to serve up some mashed or roasted potatoes too.
Sunday dinner
Classic comfort food for Sunday dinners or cold winter nights.

Slow-cooked pork belly with crackling

Pork belly roast dinner
As I’ve discussed before, pork is one of our favourite meats in this household. Apart from shoulder, which is a gorgeous cut if you want melt-in-the-mouth pulled pork, pork belly has to be our favourite piece of pig. It is a rich, indulgent, flavoursome bit of meat, due to the high fat content, and although it’s probably not wise to add it to your weekly meals, it’s the perfect choice for a special dinner. An added bonus is that, due to this high fat content, it is a very cheap cut (the piece I bought for the recipe below cost about £3, which is far, far cheaper than an equivalent piece of roasting beef or lamb, or even a small chicken).

The main appeal of pork belly is the mouth-watering crackling that you can produce from the skin and the layer of fat below, but the meat underneath should not be overlooked. If cooked right, the meat in pork belly should be tender and juicy. In order to achieve both crispy skin and succulent meat, the cut needs a combination of quick, high blasts of heat and slow cooking at a low temperature. I’ve cooked pork belly many times in the past, but this was the first time I did a flash cook at a high temperature both at the start and the end of cooking. And though I do say so myself, it was the best pork belly I have ever cooked. Are you sold yet?…
Ingredients for slow roasted pork belly
Ingredients (serves 2-3)
700g boneless pork belly
1 tbsp fennel seeds
Salt and pepper
1 large onion, sliced
3 garlic cloves, skin on, crushed
Glass of white wine

For the gravy:
1 tbsp corn flour
1 chicken stock cube, made up with 250ml boiling water

Method
1. Gently bash the fennel in a mortar and pestle to open the seeds and release the flavours. Rub into the underside of the pork belly, along with a generous grind of black pepper.
Marinating the pork belly flesh with fennel seeds and ground black pepper
2. Score the skin with a very sharp knife. Do this diagonally in opposite directions to produce a criss-cross pattern, cutting through the skin and most of the fat, but avoiding cutting into the flesh if you can.
If you bought your pork belly from a supermarket then there is often some scoring already done, but there are not normally enough scores, or deep enough scores, for the crackling to work properly so go over these yourself. If you are buying the pork from a butcher then ask them to score it for you – they should know exactly how to do this correctly. Rub an extremely generous amount of salt into the scores.
Scoring and salting the pork belly skin
3. Heat your oven to the highest temperature it can go to. Place the pork on top of the onion and garlic in a roasting tray and put into the hot oven for 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to 170C/150C fan/Gas Mark 3 and cook for 1 hour.
Pork belly for slow roasting
4. After the first hour add the wine to the roasting tray, along with a splash of water (add extra water as time goes on if necessary to stop the onions drying out and burning too much). Return to the oven for a further hour of cooking.
Pork belly hald way through roasting time
5. After the second hour turn the oven temperature up to 220C/200C fan/ Gas Mark 7 for 20-30 minutes until the skin has turned into crackling. Remove the pork belly from the tray, place on a serving platter and cover in foil and a tea towel to keep warm until serving.
Pork belly crackling
6. To make the gravy, place the roasting tray on the hob over a medium heat until the onions and remaining liquid begins to bubble. Add the corn flour, stirring well to dissolve. Add the stock a little at a time and cook until the gravy is at the consistency of your liking. Strain through a sieve to serve.
Slow roasted pork belly served with gravy, roast potatoes and peas
We had our pork belly with the gravy, roast potatoes (which went into the oven at the same time that the temperature was turned back up – a perfect arrangement) and peas. A bottle of white wine, or light red wine, is a must for such an indulgent dinner.

Are you sold now? Seriously, I’m salivating just now just writing about it…

Stuffed courgettes

Stuffed courgettes with tomatoes, basil and parmesan
Courgette season is still very much underway, as was evidenced by the gigantic courgette that my dad brought home from his allotment this week. With a glut of regular-sized courgettes already in the house, he offered this vegetable goliath to me, and of course I gladly accepted. Such a magnificent beast needed a fitting recipe, and keeping it (essentially) whole seemed like a nice way to cook it.

This recipe was inspired by a dish that lovely friends of ours made at a dinner party a couple of years ago. I didn’t have the exact recipe to hand, so this is a loose interpretation of the original incarnation, but I remembered the inside of the courgette being stuffed back into the filling, I remembered tomatoes being invited to the party, and I remembered two types of cheeses going in there. Let’s be honest, I mainly remembered the two types of cheese. Then garlic had to be added, as it is to basically all of our food in this household, and then a few herbs which work well with both courgettes and tomatoes made an appearance too. Although it may have deviated from the initial recipe we ate a few years ago, I’m very pleased with the results: a vibrant, vegetarian* dish packed with summery tastes.
*Excuse the parmesan! Use a substitute if you’re very strictly veggie.
Ingredients for vegetarian stuffed courgettes
Ingredients (serves 2 as a main course, or 4-6 as a starter)
1 very large courgette
2 large ripe tomatoes
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed
Small handful basil leaves, roughly chopped
2 mozzarella balls
Small handful grated parmesan
Salt and pepper
Good quality olive oil

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/Gas Mark 6.
2. Halve the courgette lengthways, so that both halves can sit steadily cut-side up. Use a spoon to scoop out the soft flesh, leaving at least 1-2cm of skin around the outside, but don’t throw away the insides – roughly chop the flesh and place in a large bowl.
Scooping the flesh out the courgette and leaving aside for stuffing later
3. Use a pastry brush to spread a thin layer of oil on both the outside and the inside of the cut out courgette. Season both sides generously with salt and pepper and place on a large baking tray.
Oiling and seasoning the courgette skins ready for stuffing
4. Remove the seeds from the tomatoes and chop into small pieces. Add to the courgette flesh, along with the oregano, thyme and chopped garlic and basil. Mix well.
Ingredients for the courgette  stuffing
Stuffing for the courgettes
5. Chop the mozzarella into small cubes and stir through the stuffing, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.
Chopped mozzarella for courgette stuffing
Courgette stuffing with mozzarella added
6. Pack the stuffing inside the courgette skins – don’t be afraid to pile this high, as it will melt and sink in the oven.
Stuffing the courgette skins
Stuffing the courgette skins
7. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and drizzle with a little extra olive oil.
Topping the stuffed courgettes with parmesan
8. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the skins are tender and the stuffing is golden brown. Cooking times will depend on the size of your courgettes – if your vegetables aren’t quite as giant as this one was then reduce the cooking time by at least 10 minutes (baby courgettes will need as little as 8-10 minutes in the oven).
Stuffed courgettes
We had these as a vegetarian main course, served with some paprika-spiced sweet potato wedges, but this is a great dish to have as a starter. Find some mini courgettes at the shop and serve up one per person for a cute and tasty start to a late-summer meal.
Stuffed courgette served with sweet potato wedges
What’s your favourite way to cook courgettes? Grilled, stuffed, sautéed…?

Hot redcurrant and raspberry mousse

Hot redcurrant and raspberry mousse served with berries and creme fraiche
This is an absolute killer of a recipe. It’s perfect for a dinner party or special weekend meal because it tastes divine and looks both appropriately impressive and ridiculously pretty, but is actually very simple to make. It does require a little last minute work, but you can prepare steps 1 to 3 in advance and then spend less than 10 minutes in the kitchen between the main course and pudding.

This recipe comes from Summer Cooking by Elizabeth David, one of the highest members of the royal family of cookery writers. It’s a retro-looking book that’s been sitting on my parents’ shelves for decades, but it’s packed with gorgeous seasonal recipes and this is one of the best. This is barely altered from the book – the only change is that we heat the berries before squeezing the juice from them as it makes it easier to extract the maximum amount.

This is our go-to recipe for a fancy dessert during the summer months when my dad’s allotment provides a glut of redcurrants and raspberries, though the beauty of it is that if you freeze the berries when they’re at their peak you can have a taste of summer all year round. A word of warning before we start: you really want an electric whisk for this recipe. Believe me, it’s extremely hard to achieve the right consistency with a hand whisk; even my mum, who is vehemently against the use of an electric hand whisk, admits it is necessary for this one dish!
Ingredients for hot redcurrant and raspberry mousse
Ingredients (serves 2-3 generously)
110g raspberries
100g redcurrants
60g sugar
1 egg white
Crème fraiche, to serve

Method
1. Weigh out the berries, removing the redcurrants from their stalks – the quickest way to do this is to run a fork down the length of the stalk.
Raspberries and redcurrants for a hot berry mousse
2. Warm the berries in a pan until they begin to release their juice and become soft.
Raspberries and redcurrants for cooking to release their juice
Cooked raspberries and redcurrants
3. Sieve the juice from the berries, using the back of a spoon to squish out as much as you can from the seeds and pulp. Stir the sugar into the warm juice.
Straining the fruit juice from redcurrants and raspberries
Redcurrant and raspberry juice for a hot berry mousse
4. Whisk the egg white until it forms stiff peaks.
Egg white to be whisked for a hot berry mousse
Whisked egg white for a hot berry mousse
5. Put the juice and egg whites into a pan over a low heat and whisk continually for about 5 minutes. The mixture will thicken and rise substantially. Remove from the heat when you have achieved a smooth, fluffy consistency.
Hot redcurrant and raspberry mousse
Hot redcurrant and raspberry mousse
6. Serve in small tumblers or wine glasses, topped with red berries and crème fraiche.
Hot redcurrant and raspberry mousse served with berries and creme fraiche
The flavour of this mousse is an incredible mixture of sharp and sweet, almost like a berry sherbet, and the texture is as light as air. The warmth is a really unusual element that I’ve never come across in a mousse before and it contrasts beautifully with a dollop of chilled crème fraiche.
Hot redcurrant and raspberry mousse served with berries and creme fraiche
If left for too long the mixture splits, leaving a layer of juice at the bottom, however good whisking will ensure this doesn’t happen too quickly. Immediate serving and quick eating will also guarantee avoiding this!…

Fresh Pesto

Homemade fresh basil pesto
There is something utterly intoxicating about the smell of fresh pesto: the fragrant scents of basil and pine nut oil, mixing with the heady smell of garlic and the pungency of parmesan is enough to drive me c-razy. I really think I could eat an entire batch with a spoon, straight from the blender container. Spread it on some toasted sourdough and top with cherry tomatoes: divine. Stir it through fresh pasta and sprinkle with extra parmesan: I’m in food heaven. Obviously you can use whatever pasta you like – fresh egg pasta from the shop or just dried store-cupboard pasta. But if you’re feeling like a real treat then you can follow my recipe for homemade pasta dough. I cut the pasta on the thinnest setting, because it reminds me of the fresh pasta that my parents would always buy from a local Italian deli when we had fresh pesto for dinner, and that makes me happy.

To call this a recipe is really a gross exaggeration. We’re basically grabbing a pile of ingredients and letting the blender do all the work. I’ve given you the rough quantities that I used in our pesto on Sunday, but there’s no right answer here and it can change from batch to batch. This is my mum’s recipe and her classic answer to a question about quantities is “some”, which tells you all you need to know about making pesto. You can make your pesto personal to your own taste by adjusting the amounts of all the different flavours after the first blend. You can even go fancy and toast the pine nuts or add other green leaves like rocket, but in my opinion this is the best version of pesto. Ever. Keep it simple folks.

The only secret here is good quality ingredients: use the best olive oil and parmesan that you have or can afford and it will lift the flavour of the pesto by an unimaginable amount. You will need a surprising amount of basil leaves, and so it’s probably most economical to buy a couple of plants from the supermarket, cut most of the leaves off to use in the first batch, but keep enough on the plant so that you can water it and bring it back to life: hey presto, pesto all summer!
Ingredients for homemade basil pesto
Ingredients (makes a generous serving for 4)
Basil leaves from 2 – 2½ plants (or 2-3 small bunches of basil)
3 small handfuls of pine nuts
2 small handfuls of grated parmesan
3 crushed garlic cloves
4-6 tbsp good quality olive oil
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Method
1. Cut the leaves from the basil plant, or from the stalks if you are using bunches of picked basil. Squash the leaves inside the blender container and top with the pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, olive oil and a generous amount of seasoning.
Ingredients to be blended for fresh basil pesto
Ingredients to be blended for fresh basil pesto
2. Blend until smooth. Taste to check the seasoning and adjust as you like.
Blended homemade basil pesto
Blended homemade basil pesto
Use on the day of making, or you can put it in a jar or tupperware container, drizzle the surface with olive oil and store in the fridge for at least a week.
Homemade fresh basil pesto
We had the pesto with my homemade tagliolini, and a simple green salad. With a bottle of wine and some lovely company, it was the perfect Sunday dinner.
Pesto, homemade pasta and salad for dinner
Homemade tagliolini with fresh pesto and salad
Do you have your own pesto recipe? What do you do differently?