Nigella Lawson’s latest book, Cook, Eat, Repeat – Ingredients, Recipes and Stories, is the ideal companion for Queen’s Birthday weekend and beyond. From stupendously beautiful desserts to simply delicious one-pot meals to warm the soul, it’s a treat for all seasons, whether entertaining or keeping it small and intimate.
“Food, for me, is a constant pleasure: I like to think greedily about it,
reflect deeply on it, learn from it; it provides comfort, inspiration,
meaning and beauty … More than just a mantra, ‘cook, eat, repeat’ is
the story of my life.” – Nigella Lawson
TOASTED MARSHMALLOW AND RHUBARB CAKE
Gives 8–12 slices
FOR THE RHUBARB LAYER
400g pink forced rhubarb (trimmed weight)
100g caster sugar
FOR THE CAKE
6 large eggs, at room temperature
100ml full-fat milk, at room temperature
100g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¼ tsp fine sea salt
150g caster sugar
150ml vegetable oil, plus more for greasing
FOR THE ICING
6 egg whites, from eggs above
350g caster sugar
¼ tsp fine sea salt
½ tsp cream of tartar or
½ tsp lemon juice
2 tsp vanilla extract
1. Start by cooking the rhubarb. Heat the oven to 200C/180C fan. Cut the trimmed rhubarb ribs into 5cm lengths if slender, 2½cm if chunky. Put into an ovenproof dish in which they will be able more or less to sit in a single layer – I use a 20 x 26cm Pyrex dish – and sprinkle over the 100g of sugar. Mix together with your hands, leaving the rhubarb in a single layer as much as possible, then cover the dish with foil, sealing the edges well, and cook in the oven for approx 30 minutes until the rhubarb is tender but still holding its shape.
2. Remove the foil, and leave the dish of rhubarb out on the counter, watching it glow even more pink as it cools. Turn the oven down to 170C/150C fan. Line the bottoms of two 20cm loose-bottomed sandwich tins and lightly grease the sides.
3. Separate the eggs, dropping the whites into a large mixing bowl or bowl of a freestanding mixer (whichever bowl you’re using should be thoroughly washed and grease-free) and the yolks into another. Cover the bowl of whites with food wrap and put to one side while you mix and bake the cake.
4. Finely grate the zest of the lemon and add to the bowl of yolks. Measure out the milk, juice the lemon and add 2 Tbsp of juice to the milk, and leave to stand for a moment. Mix together the cornflour, flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt, and set this aside for now, too.
5. Add the 150g of sugar and the oil to the yolks and whisk on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, by which time the mixture will be rich, gleaming and billowy. Actually, it looks rather like a glorious mayonnaise.
6. Still whisking, but slightly more slowly now, gently pour and scrape in the now curdled milk and, once it’s in, carry on whisking until combined; the mixture looks like custard at this stage. Finally, whisking more gently now, gradually spoon in the dry ingredients.
Once in, use a spatula to scrape down the sides, and fold everything gently together, before dividing the airy mixture between the prepared tins.
7. Bake for 20–25 minutes, by which time the cakes will have risen up extravagantly, the tops a golden brown; they will feel soft and puffy to the touch, but a cake tester should come out clean. Remove to a wire rack and let the cakes cool in their tins for 15 minutes – sinking a little as they do so – before very carefully turning out. You’ll need to loosen the edges with a small offset spatula first. These are tender sponges, so don’t rush or be rough. Once unmoulded, gently pull back and remove the lining papers straightaway.
8. When the cakes are completely cold – which will take about an hour – you can get on with the icing. But first, tear off four strips of baking parchment, scrunch them, then unscrunch them and lay them flat to make the outline of a square on top of a cake stand. (This is to stop you covering the cake stand with sticky marshmallow icing later. It may sound a faff, but I wouldn’t advise you to leave out this step.) Place one of the cakes on it, top-side down, the paper strips under the edges. Also, now’s the time to lift the rhubarb pieces out of their syrup in the tin and on to a plate.
9. So, to the icing: get out a tall pan that you can sit your big bowl of whites on (without the bottom of the bowl touching the water) and heat a little water in it until just about to come to a simmer. Mix the 350g of sugar, the salt and the cream of tartar (or lemon juice) together and add to the egg whites. Then sit the mixing bowl on top of the pan, so it’s gently warmed by the barely simmering water underneath and, just using a balloon whisk (thoroughly washed and grease-free, again), keep whisking for 3 minutes, to dissolve the sugar. I couldn’t say this is hard to do, but you can really feel it in your forearm. I’m always grateful when my 3-minute timer goes off.
10. Once the sugar’s dissolved and you have a smooth opaque mixture that’s warm to the touch, remove the bowl from the saucepan. Whisk at high speed for 5 minutes in a freestanding mixer, or for 6–7 minutes if using an electric handheld whisk, by which time the whites will be very, very thick and ludicrously voluminous. Whisk in 1 tsp of the vanilla extract, and when it’s incorporated, whisk in the remaining teaspoon, then give a good fold by hand to make sure every bit is mixed in.
11. Dollop a generous amount of marshmallow icing on to the waiting cake and smooth right to the edges, so that you have a layer about 1cm thick: this should use about a quarter of the icing. Cover this with the rhubarb, though leave about ½cm perimeter around the edge; I go slowly here, using a couple of dessertspoons to ferry the rhubarb to the cake. And you might want to tilt the rhubarb plate away from you slightly as you transfer the slices, to make sure you leave any pooling liquid behind.
12. Top with the second cake, right way up, and use just under half the icing left in the bowl to cover the top, going just beyond the edges. Then carefully spread the rest of the icing thickly around the sides – leaving a tiny bit in the mixing bowl – until the whole cake is completely covered. Now for the really fun part: dip your fingers in the bit of icing left in the bowl and then dab the top and sides of the cake, lightly pulling up and teasing out spikes of marshmallow icing; I feel like an 80s hairdresser doing this. Bear in mind that sometimes, as you do the sides, you will pull bits of the icing off, leaving a hole, but don’t panic, just pat it back on. Gently pull out the strips of paper from beneath the cake and discard, then seal the bottom of the cake with any remaining icing should you need to. Then, slightly dampen a piece of kitchen towel with cold water, and rub off any stray bits of icing or sugar smear from the plate.
13. Take the cake somewhere you can kindle fire safely. Light a blowtorch and, holding it fairly near the cake and with not too timorous a flame, toast the top and the sides of the icing.
14. I find this cake easiest to slice if left to stand for a couple of hours before serving. And you need to slice generously, as with all layer cakes.
CHICKEN IN A POT WITH LEMON AND ORZO
1 chicken (approx 1.5kg)
3 fat cloves of garlic
2 medium carrots (approx 300g)
2 medium leeks (approx 400g trimmed weight, or approx. 600g if you’re buying them untrimmed)
1 x 15ml Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp dried tarragon (or dried thyme)
2 tsp sea salt flakes (or 1 tsp fine sea salt)
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
1.5 litres cold water
300g orzo pasta
6 x 15ml Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus more to serve
Freshly grated parmesan, to serve
1. Untruss the chicken, if it comes trussed, and remove all the string. If time allows, let it stand out on a board for 40 minutes or so to let the chill come off it. Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan.
2. Peel the garlic cloves, and peel and cut the carrots into three lengths across, and then into batons. Wash the leeks to remove any mud, if needed, and cut into approx 2½cm rounds.
3. Heat the oil in a large heavy-based casserole with a tightly fitting lid; I use an enamelled cast-iron oval casserole 29cm long, in which the chicken fits neatly, leaving just a small space all around it to fit the vegetables later. Place the chicken in the hot oil breast-side down to colour the skin; I do this over high heat for 3–5 minutes, or until the skin is richly golden. Then turn the chicken the right way up.
4. Take the pan off the heat and, aiming for the space around the chicken, finely grate in the zest from the 2 lemons, then grate or mince in the garlic (obviously some can end up on the chicken itself), add the dried tarragon (or thyme) and give a quick stir into the oil as best you can.
5. Scatter the vegetables around the chicken, followed by the salt and chilli flakes (if using), and squeeze in the juice from your zested lemons.
6. Pour in the cold water – covering all but the very top of the breast – and put back on high heat, then bring the pot to a boil. Once it’s bubbling, clamp on the lid and carefully transfer to the oven to cook for 1¼ hours, though check to make sure the chicken is all but cooked through and the carrots soft.
7. Take the pot out of the oven, and add the orzo all around the chicken, and push it under the liquid, giving something as approximating a stir as you can manage in the restricted space. Put the lid back on, and return the casserole to the oven for another 15 minutes, by which time the orzo should be soft and swollen.
8. Let the casserole stand, uncovered, out of the oven for 15 minutes before serving. The orzo will continue to soak up the broth as it stands.
9. While you’re waiting, chop the parsley. Stir in 4 Tbsp, then sprinkle over a little more. You could shred the chicken now but it looks so wonderful in its pot I like to bring it to the table whole.
10. Place a dish by the casserole, and then pull the chicken gently apart with a couple of forks, removing any bones and skin that come loose to the dish. (For me, these bits are a particular treat: I live for the cartilage.) I find it easiest to do this while the chicken’s still in the pot but, if you prefer, you can try and remove it to a carving board. Go carefully as it’s likely to fall to pieces a bit as you do so. Stir the chicken and orzo again and ladle into bowls, sprinkling with parsley as you go. You may also want to offer parmesan to grate over. I prefer it without, but there is a strong pro-parmesan contingent in my house.
Edited extract from Cook, Eat, Repeat by Nigella Lawson (Chatto & Windus, RRP $55).
Copyright © Nigella Lawson 2020. Photography copyright © Jonathan Lovekin 2020
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