Monday, 30 November -0001

Pleasure on a Plate

Cooking is about more than producing fuel for the body, it brings people together, says Rosie Birkett

Written by Rosie Birkett
The title of this book, A Lot On Her Plate, says it all. It speaks of my love of a good meal, but it also reveals a little about my life in general. For me, cooking is about more than producing fuel for your body. It’s one of life’s simplest and most essential pleasures, and one of the fundamental things that makes us human and brings people together in a way that nothing else can.

I’ve always thought that cooking is a little bit magical. You take something as simple and prosaic as a potato and make it pleasurable. Cooking is one of the kindest, most creative things we can do for ourselves.

It is also about looking after yourself and the ones you love, and being connected to the ingredients you put into your body is a good way to do that. I believe in eating what you want and balancing, rather than eschewing food groups (unless you have to). If you cook from scratch you have more control over what you eat, and can make informed decisions about how you want to nourish yourself.

There is nothing I would rather do than bring together the people I love and share good food and wine with them. When we relax over a good meal, we free ourselves to marvel, plot and, importantly, laugh. We eat to live, but, when we can, there’s nothing better than living to eat. 

A Lot On Her Plate, by Rosie Birkett; photography by Helen Cathcart (Hardie Grant, £25)

Broccoflower Cheese Pies (pictured above)

Makes 12 pies

1 x 500g pack shortcrust pastry, chilled u butter, for greasing u plain (all-purpose) flour, for dusting
1 romanesco cauliflower, cut into little florets (discard the stalk)
3 eggs
150g pecorino, Gruyère or other similarly potent hard cheese, finely grated
30g finely grated Parmesan, plus more to finish
30ml double cream
150ml whole milk
pinch of red chilli flakes
salt and freshly ground black pepper

You will need
12-hole muffin tin

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/ gas mark 4 and lightly grease the muffin tin. Roll out the chilled pastry on a lightly floured work surface to 2-3mm thick and cut out rounds slightly bigger than the holes in the muffin tin. Line each hole with the pastry so that it’s level with the top of each hole.

Chill the pastry for 15 mins, then use a fork to prick the base of each case. Line with pieces of baking parchment and fill with baking beans. (Scrunch up the baking parchment before you line each case and it will be more pliable and fit more snugly into the holes. Bake ‘blind’ for 10-12 mins. Remove from the oven, remove the beans and parchment, and bake for a further 3 mins to avoid a soggy bottom. Remove from the oven (keep the oven on) and leave to cool while you make the filling.

Blanch the romanesco florets in salted boiling water for barely 1 min – just until it turns bright green – and drain.

Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl. Add the cheeses, cream, milk and chilli flakes. Season with salt and pepper, and whisk to combine. Divide the filling between the cooled pastry cases, leaving about 1cm of space to add the romanesco and allow for the custard to expand.

Arrange the romanesco in the filling, keeping half of it above the filling for presentation (you want to see those gorgeous florets!) and grate over a little bit more Parmesan. Bake for 15-20 mins, or until the custard is set and the pastry is golden and crisp. Cool on a wire rack.

Smoked Trout with griddled lemon, cucumber and sourdough croutons

Serves 2


1 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp cider vinegar (get the good unpasteurised type if you can)
2 radishes, finely sliced u sea salt
2 baby or Lebanese cucumbers, cut in half lengthwise and halved across the middle
1 lemon, cut in half
1 slice of sourdough bread
6 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for grilling
2 tbsp roughly chopped dill
2 smoked trout fillets, skin removed u borage flowers, to garnish (optional)
4 tsp plain natural yoghurt, to serve

Dissolve the sugar in the vinegar in a small bowl and quick-pickle the radish slices in the mixture.

Heat a griddle pan over a high heat until it’s stinking hot. Scatter with a pinch of sea salt. Brush the cucumber pieces, cut sides of the lemon and sourdough bread with olive oil and griddle for about 8 mins, until there are black grill marks on them, turning the bread and cucumber over once.

When the ingredients are grilled, remove from the heat and squeeze the lemon juice into a bowl with the olive oil. Whisk with a fork, add the dill, a pinch of salt, and whisk some more, until well combined. Cut the sourdough into croutons.

Drain the radishes from their pickle liquor and place on kitchen paper to absorb the excess vinegar. Divide the cucumber between two plates and flake over the smoked trout. Top with the radish slices and drizzle over the dill and lemon oil. Scatter over the sourdough croutons and borage flowers, if using, and finish each serving with a couple of teaspoons of natural yoghurt.

Cherry Pie

Serves 8


For the pastry
2 tbsp granulated sugar 
260g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
40g ground almonds
pinch of salt
180g cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 large egg, beaten
1 tbsp demerara (raw) sugar, for sprinkling

For the filling
100g good-quality black cherry jam
1 tbsp cherry brandy, kirsch or amaretto (optional)
½ tsp grated nutmeg
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cornflour, mixed to a paste with 2 tsp cold water
500g fresh black or red cherries, pitted and halved

You will need
24cm pie dish
pastry brush

For the pastry, put the sugar, flour, ground almonds, salt and butter in a food processor, and blitz until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. With the motor running, add about 3 tbsp of the beaten egg and 2 tbsp of ice-cold water, and pulse until the mixture starts to clump together into a dough. You need to be cautious here, as you don’t want sticky pastry. Add a little more water if necessary.

Remove the dough from the food processor, divide into two, flatten each portion into discs, wrap each disc in cling film. Chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 200C/ 400F/gas mark 6. Grease the pie dish, remove a disc of pastry from the fridge, unwrap it and roll it out on a generously floured work surface to 3mm thick and about 2½cm wider than the pie dish. Transfer to a floured baking sheet; chill for about 10 mins. Repeat with the remaining disc of pastry.

Heat the jam for the filling in a saucepan with 100ml water, the alcohol (if using), nutmeg and vanilla extract. When it’s all melted together, add the diluted cornflour, and stir together until smooth and thickened. Add the cherries and gently coat them in the mixture, being careful not to mush them up, so you preserve their shape. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Using a floured rolling pin, carefully transfer one of the chilled pastry sheets to the greased pie dish and drape it across the dish. Let it sink into the dish, and, holding on to the edges, lift and tuck the pastry into the edges of the dish, all the way round, to line it. Trim off any excess, and lightly prick the base with a fork. Fill the dish with the cherry filling. Use a pastry cutter to cut holes in the remaining pastry sheet, covering an area just smaller than the diameter of the pie dish, leaving a large border intact. Place over the pie filling and fold the edge of the top crust over the edge of the bottom crust. Crimp it together with your fingers to seal.

Brush the pastry with the remaining egg and sprinkle over the demerara sugar. Bake for 20 mins, until the crust is golden, then reduce the temperature to 180C/350F/gas mark 4, covering the top of the pastry with foil if needed, to avoid it burning, and bake for a further 35-40 mins, until the filling is bubbling and the pastry is golden, firm and lightly puffed. Cool for about an hour before serving with cream

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