It wasn’t intended to be a Single Gourmet Traveller meal; it just turned out that way. It was always going to be Italian though with the handing over of the keys to their Rome flat to Robert and Jenny. Lovely Peppers Piedmontese to start, a delicious Lamb with Fennel and Marsala from No.7 of my Top Ten Cookery Books and the sublime Torta Caprese from No.5.
Jonathan was cook and decided the menu but there were a few phone conversations culminating in my stopping off for tea late on Friday night, driving home from the theatre, about the main course. This is much of the pleasure of cooking with family or friends: the discussion. What shall we have? How shall we put the meal together? Does this starter go with this main course? What wine will go best with the meat? Shall we make a slight adjustment to the recipe here? A small addition there?
Luck was in Saturday morning with Laverstoke Park Farm butcher’s shop in Twickenham having lamb on special offer. Two wonderful lamb racks to be cooked whole rather than cutlets as in the recipe; fresh fennel in the farmers’ market.
Torta Caprese: As I said in my Top Ten list, the recipe from Sophie Grigson’s Organic has become the official family celebration cake. I’m not sure when it started but now there almost can’t be any kind of occasion without it: birthdays, graduation, house-warming, engagement. However, there was a discussion about Jonathan and Lyndsey’s wedding cake in their flat a couple of Christmases ago, with my daughter Nicola there too and Rob an Usher-to-be, who’d popped round for a drink from his parents’ house, and when over glasses of wine the possibility of my baking enough for 120 people came up … I decided that was a step too far.
Travelling round southern Italy last year with Nicola, we stopped at a service station on the motorway and when, standing in a queue for a panini, I spied little, individual Torta Caprese cakes I had to buy one. Yes, I know it was a service station and what could one expect – but we were close to Naples. And as it turned out, it was quite good. On the island of Ischia, in the beautiful Mortella Gardens, once home to the composer Sir William Walton and his wife Susanna (who designed the gardens), we tasted a lemon version of the cake in the cafe. Which reminds me I’ve been meaning to try that out …
Back to yesterday evening … Jonathan wanted to serve some vanilla ice cream on the side so I was asked to stop off in central Richmond to get some from Gelateria Danieli. This is a little bit of Italy hiding down one of Richmond’s pretty alleys that lead to the Green, and where long queues can be found in the summer.
- 200g butter
- 200g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
- 4 eggs, separated
- 175g caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
- 250g ground almonds
You can’t mess around with cake measurements; you just have to follow them, so here is Sophie’s recipe: Line the base of a 24cm cake tin with baking parchment and grease the sides with butter. Melt 200g butter and leave to cool a bit; process 200g of best quality dark chocolate in a food processor so it retains a bit of texture. Beat 4 egg yolks with 175g caster sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract until thick and creamy; fold in the chocolate pieces, melted butter and 250g ground almonds. Whisk the 4 egg whites until they form soft peaks and gently fold into the chocolate mixture. Spoon into the cake tin and put in a 180 C oven. Now … Sophie suggests cooking for 50-60 mins but I find it rarely takes this long … you want it to be a bit gooey in the middle when you serve it … so check after 35-40 mins. It should be nicely coloured on top and shrinking slightly from the sides. Cool in the cake tin then turn out and dust with icing sugar. Believe me … this cake will make you friends!