- Food & Drink
Little lemon, almond and polenta cakes
Urban Food Fortnight, that two week waltz through the community gardens of London is over and I am laid up in bed with the kind of cold that only hits when you stop working, have a sit down and let your immune system think it’s OK to have 5 minutes to itself.
At Stepney City Farm we held two UFF meals: the Edible Garden Dinner and The Michaelmas Feast. The Edible Garden Dinner was our first go at a night event on the farm. We’d had a trial run with a few friends and family a few weeks before, when I learned the value of preparation, planning and Pro Plus (the 3 Ps of success).
This meant that on the night, the actual Edible Garden Dinner night, the meal ran smoothly, the food was better and I got to sit down with a glass of wine and a cake at the end of it. A lot of that is due to our cafe cook Lucy Hutton and volunteer chef Joe Fennerty chopping, stirring and slicing while I paraded around in my giant chef’s hat taking all the credit (I am a bad boss).
The menu was based around the fruit, vegetables and herbs growing on the farm. It started with glasses of fresh rosemary lemonade and a tour of the fields and barns. Not many diners get to pet the goats and sheep that they will soon be ordering in cuts and joints for Christmas, but that is the magic of Stepney.
Starters were pumpkin soup made from a huge, warty-skinned pumpkin that Tom had dragged into the cafe from the pumpkin patch. It came with a dollop of roast chilli paste that used jalapeños grown in the poly tunnel to improve the bland richness of the pumpkin (never has a vegetable required spices and chilli more than a pumpkin does. So magnificent to look at, so silky to eat and yet so timid in taste. Even our glorious pumpkins. I despair of pumpkins. I really do).
The main course was lamb (not ours, they’re not ready. This came from The Ginger Pig) slow roasted with onions, lovage, celery leaf and white wine. Salsa verde, potatoes sliding about in garden herb butter and fat butter beans tangled up in pumpkin greens, spinach and chard went on the side. Vegetarians ate slabs of marrows stuffed with puy lentils, tomatoes, peppers and Lord of the 100s cheese.
No churn lavender ice cream before it went into the freezer. I could put my face in this, I really could.
And then there was pudding. My favourite course. Soft, damp lemon cakes, a scoop of lavender ice cream and blackcurrant sauce. Sharp, creamy and sweet, it’s a little marriage of sugar happiness. The blackcurrants had been frozen earlier in the summer when the Young Volunteers picked them from their garden on the farm. Right now, blackberries puréed with icing sugar could take their place.
Lemon, almond and polenta cakes
Makes 12 small cakes or serves 8–10 in slices
4 lemons, scrubbed
Olive oil, for greasing
6 large eggs
350g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
150g fine polenta
1 Place the lemons in a pan of water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the lemons for 1 hour or until the lemons are very tender. Turn off the heat and leave to cool in the water. This stage is best done the day before you want to bake the cake.
2 Grease either a 20cm cake tin or 12 dariole moulds (I used the Ikea Drömmar muffin tin) with a little olive oil. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180°C/fan oven 160°C.
3 Pull apart the lemons over a bowl and pick out the seeds and stem. Discard them and put the rest – flesh, pith, juice and all – into a food processor and pulse to make a chunky paste.
4 In a clean bowl whisk the eggs and sugar together for about 5 minutes or until thick and pale – the beaters should leave a trail in the mix when you gently pull them through it. Fold in the lemon paste, almonds and polenta with a flexible spatula, gently turning the mixture over and over to combine it without knocking too much air out of it.
5 Pour the mixture into the cake tin and spoon into the moulds. Bake for 40 minutes–11/2 hours, depending on the size of your cake tins. Cool in the tin for about half an hour, then turn out. The cake will form a golden, sugary crust and a skewer inserted will come out clean. Serve warm or cold. The cake will keep really well for up to a week.
No churn lavender ice cream
1.2 litres double cream
6 sprigs lavender, washed and patted dry
1 x 400g can condensed milk
1 Place the cream and lavender in a pan and gently heat, stirring frequently, until the cream is steaming hot. Turn off the heat and leave to cool. Once cold, transfer to a tub and chill overnight in the fridge.
2 The next day, pour the cream through a sieve into a large bowl and beat with electric beaters until thick but not stiff – it should just softly hold its shape. Add the condensed milk and beat until thick and creamy.
3 Transfer to a freezer proof tub and freeze for at least 8 hours or until set. To serve, remove from the freezer 10–15 minutes before you want to scoop it.