In spite of my ever-increasing cookbook collection, there are recipes that I return to again and again. These include dishes that can be thrown together from the staples I can always find in the cupboard (like Jo Pratt’s spicy chickpea stew from In The Mood For Food), as well as those which are so reliably delicious that it’s always worth a special trip to the supermarket for the ingredients, like the Syrian fattoush from Moro East. On Tuesday night, I revisited two old favourites: Ottolenghi’s chickpeas and spinach with honeyed sweet potato, and Nigel Slater’s blueberry and pear cake (without the pears).
I’m a big fan of Ottolenghi’s inventive and tasty vegetarian recipes, and this is no exception. The sweet potato is cooked in honey, butter, and water until meltingly tender and sweet, just holding its shape, and is served on a chickpea, spinach and tomato stew spiced with coriander seeds and cumin. For me, what lifts Ottolenghi’s dishes above your everyday thrown-together post-work dinner is his use of sauces and herbs to add freshness and zing to even the richest of comfort foods. In this case, yoghurt is whisked together with olive oil, dried mint, crushed garlic, and the juice and zest of a lemon before being spooned over the finished dish and topped with fresh coriander leaves.
Nigel Slater’s cake recipe, based on a classic equal flour-butter-sugar mixture, is the perfect vehicle for almost any berries you might have. Quick to make (although requiring 55 minutes in the oven), the basic mixture can be whipped up in a matter of minutes before going into the oven, topped with the berries and 2 tbsp of caster sugar for a slightly crisp top. As Nigel says himself, “it’s hard to imagine a cake that is easier to make”. I’ve had the most luck with blueberries or cherries – strawberries were an unsuccessful experiment – and the cake could easily be served warm with cream for a proper pudding. I like it with some thick Greek yoghurt, ideally followed by some fresh mint tea and an early night.