Ten top cooks share the favourite dishes they return to time and again, including Diana Henry on Marcella Hazan’s chicken fricassée, and Clare Smyth on the simple soup she’s known since childhood
by Clare Smyth, Nigel Slater, Diana Henry, Asma Khan, Fuchsia Dunlop, Gary Usher, Anissa Helou, Olia Hercules, Stanley Tucci, Alice Waters
Chosen by Clare Smyth
I’ve been making a soup like this pretty much all my life. I grew up on a farm and a lot of meals were prepared like this, plentiful and in advance. My mum sometimes put dishes on overnight, they’d cook very slowly all night and you’d wake up to the smell of it through the house. Obviously, I’m at work until late, but it fills up my husband during the week. He loves it, and in the winter on my days off I just love to eat it. It’s incredibly healthy, comforting and delicious. Whether or not you cook the ham hock, even a simple vegetable soup is delicious with pearl barley and potatoes.
ham hock 1 small (about 300g)
celery 3 sticks
thyme 4 sprigs
bay leaf 1
potato 1 large
pearl barley 200g
curly parsley 1 bunch, chopped
Soak the ham hock for 24 hours in water in the fridge before cooking.
Place the ham hock in a large saucepan with 1 onion, 1 carrot, 1 stick of celery, 1 leek, 10 peppercorns, the thyme and the bay leaf. Cover with cold water and slowly bring up to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 3 to 4 hours until tender – the small bone at the top should easily be pulled out. Leave to cool in the stock. When cold, drain, reserving the liquid for the soup stock, and flake the ham into small pieces.
Dice the rest of the vegetables into 2cm-sized cubes. In a large pot, add a little vegetable oil and sweat off the onion, carrot, celery and leek. Then add the rest of the vegetables and sweat further, adding a pinch of salt.
When the vegetables are nicely sweated off, add the pearl barley and reserved ham stock. Add a little more water if required, bring to the boil and check the seasoning. Leave to simmer until the vegetables and pearl barley is cooked.
Just before serving, add the flaked ham hock, the chopped parsley and some black pepper.
Clare Smyth is chef-owner of Core, London
Diana Henry’s griddled chicken with thyme and sea salt
Chosen by Nigel Slater
There is barely a day when I’m not working on at least one recipe. It might be at an early stage, or maybe the idea has travelled far enough along to find itself being tested for the umpteenth time. Or perhaps we are in the middle of photographing it. Some recipes are trouble-free, others need much tinkering with before they are fit to publish. Either way, my head, kitchen and notebook are full of the things. It should probably come as no surprise then that the supper I turn to most often is so simple it hardly needs a written recipe at all. Diana Henry’s griddled chicken with thyme and sea salt from her book Cook Simple is something I have made countless times, a dish of boned chicken thighs marinated with thyme and olive oil, griddled till the skin is crisp, then served with salt and lemon. There is a similar recipe in one of my early books, but it has garlic in it and after tasting Diana’s version I find I now prefer it without. The straightforward nature of the preparation appeals – it is barely half a dozen lines long – and I appreciate the speed with which it can be on the table. It is probably worth mentioning that grilling is my preferred cooking method for everyday eating. I fully expect my griddle pan to be buried alongside me.
This frugal supper arrives on the table, unadorned but for a wedge of lemon, almost invariably with a bowl of salad leaves. They are lightly dressed with olive oil and the merest splash of vinegar and are used to mop the thyme-scented meat juices from my plate. I stray from Diana’s version only in as much as I tend to grill the meat until the skin chars in patches. Like toast, I like my edges blackened.
chicken thighs 8, boned with skin on, opened out flat
olive oil 4 tbsp
thyme 10 sprigs, leaves chopped
salt and pepper
lemon juice of 1
lemon wedges to serve
With a very sharp knife, make some slits in the chicken thighs on both sides. Rub them with the olive oil and pat on the thyme leaves. Cover and leave to marinate in the refrigerator overnight, or for a couple of hours.
Heat a griddle pan until it is really hot. Season the oiled and herbed chicken and put it onto the griddle pan, skin-side down. Let it sizzle and splatter for 2 minutes. Turn the chicken over and let it cook for another 2 minutes. Lower the heat and continue to cook until the thighs are done all the way through – about another 5 minutes – turning once more.
Squeeze over the juice of a lemon and serve immediately with lemon wedges.
With coriander and chilli butter: Marinate the chicken in olive oil as above (omit the thyme), then mix 75g softened butter with the shredded flesh of 2 medium red chillies (halved and deseeded), a handful of fresh coriander leaves, 1 fat crushed garlic clove and a good squeeze of lime. Put the butter in the refrigerator to get really cold. Griddle the chicken as above and serve with a pat of butter melting over the top and wedges of lime.
With black olive and anchovy butter: Again, marinate the chicken (omit the thyme), then mash together 75g softened butter with 3 chopped anchovy fillets, 1 crushed garlic clove, pepper, a good squeeze of lemon juice and 25g chopped pitted black olives. Refrigerate. Griddle the chicken as above and serve knobs of the butter melting over it.
From Cook Simple by Diana Henry (Mitchell Beazley, £14.99). Nigel Slater is the Observer’s food writer
Marcella Hazan’s chicken fricassée with porcini mushrooms, white wine and tomatoes
Chosen by Diana Henry
The dishes I like cooking best aren’t those that take masses of work but those that surprise because they take so little. The ones that require work develop as you make them – you can see just how they come together and build. If the ingredients list for a recipe is so short you can’t see what the dish will become, it’s intriguing – the alchemy doesn’t have much to do with you, the cook, because you’re not actually doing that much.
Marcella Hazan’s recipe for chicken with porcini and tomatoes is one of those simple and surprising dishes. I first made it when I didn’t have much food in the house, but I did have chicken, white wine, dried wild mushrooms and tomatoes. The recipe didn’t look that promising and yet, an hour later, I was eating something deeply savoury and way better than I’d anticipated. I cooked it for my then boyfriend in my first flat in London. It was a Sunday night and it was just supper, nothing special, yet we both marvelled at the dish. I knew I would cook it for years to come.
Hazan springs these dishes on you quite often. I also cook her chicken with lemon and her pot-roasted lamb with juniper. There’s nothing to them in terms of effort – and no picture to help you know what you will end up with. You have to have faith in her, and the way she writes inspires that faith. Hazan has rarely let me down.
dried porcini mushrooms 25g, reconstituted and cut up, plus the filtered water from the mushroom soak (see directions)
whole chicken 1.5kg, cut into 4 pieces
vegetable oil 2 tbsp
freshly ground pepper
dry white wine 100ml
tinned imported Italian plum tomatoes 50g, chopped coarsely, with their juice
Before you can cook dried mushrooms, they must be reconstituted according to the following procedure: use 500ml of barely warm water to 20g of dried porcini. Soak the mushrooms in the water for at least 30 minutes.
Lift out the mushrooms by hand, squeezing as much water as possible out of them, letting it flow back into the container where they had been soaking. Rinse the reconstituted mushrooms in several changes of fresh water. Scrape clean any place where soil may still be embedded. Pat dry with kitchen paper.
Do not throw out the water in which the mushrooms soaked – it is richly laced with flavour. Filter it through a strainer lined with paper towelling, collecting it in a bowl or jug. Set aside.
Wash the chicken in cold water and thoroughly pat dry with a tea towel or kitchen paper.
Put the oil in a sauté pan, turn the heat to medium-high and, when the oil is very hot, slip in the chicken pieces, skin-side down. Brown them well on that side, then turn them and brown the other side. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, turn them once, then add the wine. Let the wine simmer briskly for 30 seconds while using a wooden spoon to scrape loose the browning residues on the bottom and sides of the pan.
Add the chopped reconstituted porcini, the filtered water from their soak and the chopped tomatoes with their juice. Turn over all the ingredients, then adjust the heat to cook at a slow simmer and cover the pan with the lid on slightly askew. Turn the chicken pieces from time to time while they are cooking. Cook until the chicken thighs feel very tender when prodded with a fork and the meat comes easily off the bone.
When the chicken is done transfer it to a warm serving platter. Tip the pan and spoon off all but a little of the fat. If the juices in the pan are too thin, boil them down over a high heat. Swirl the butter into the juices, then pour all the contents of the pan over the chicken and serve at once.
The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan (Boxtree, £30); Diana Henry is the Sunday Telegraph’s food writer
Chosen by Asma Khan
The arrival of the first Chinese emigrant to Calcutta was recorded in 1778, a Mr Yang Tai Chow who set up a sugar factory near the city where I was born and spent most of my childhood. Apart from sugar, the most significant contributions by the Chinese who came to Bengal, especially the Hakka, was their food: the Indo-Chinese food of Calcutta is unique.
Whenever we went out to eat in India we would almost always go to a Chinese restaurant and Hakka chow was what I always ordered. In college I would look forward to the days when Chinese noodles were on the menu. After moving to England in 1991, I was so disappointed with the Chinese food here, so on one of my trips back to India I learned how to cook Hakka chow from watching a street vendor. The “red sauce” that gives it such a wonderful flavour in Calcutta is locally produced, dark brown, slightly sweet soy sauce. I add brown sugar to replicate the red sauce.
Before I opened Darjeeling Express I would cook it at least twice a week for my family in London. Now it’s our Sunday dinner.
boneless chicken thighs 250g
red pepper 1 medium-sized
carrot 1 large (approximately 100g)
white onions 200g
dried egg noodles 500g (wheat noodles can also be used)
vegetable oil 3 tbsp
salt ¼ tsp
freshly milled white pepper ½ tsp
garlic 6 cloves, crushed
dark soy sauce 5 tbsp
brown sugar ½ tsp
spring onions thinly sliced, to garnish
Cut the chicken thighs into ⅓cm-thick strips. Cut the carrots and peppers into 5-7cm-long strips and a similar thickness to the chicken. Peel and thinly slice the onions. Cook the noodles according to the instructions on the packet – wash the cooked noodles in cold water, drain and set aside.
Heat the empty wok to smoking temperature – this may take a minute or so depending on your wok. Add the oil followed immediately by the strips of chicken – turn the chicken in the wok to ensure all sides are sealed. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes to make sure the strips are cooked. Add the salt, pepper and garlic, and the sliced onions, carrots and peppers, and stir fry with the chicken for 3 minutes. Add the drained noodles, soy sauce and sugar, and cook for a further 2 to 3 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve garnished with the spring onions.
Asma Khan is the owner of Darjeeling Express, London
Simon Hopkinson’s roast leg of lamb with anchovy, garlic and rosemary
Chosen by Fuchsia Dunlop
When I was a child, Sunday lunch was a regular fixture. In those days, Sundays were quiet, lazy days, involving little more than a family meal, followed by a country walk and hours spent playing board games or messing around at home. And although my mother cooked a lot of foreign food, Sunday lunches were almost always traditional: roast lamb with mint sauce, roast pork with apple sauce, roast chicken or beef. As an adult, I cook mainly Chinese food, but every so often I like to return to the ritual of a roast Sunday lunch, and when I do, Simon Hopkinson’s roast leg of lamb with anchovy, garlic and rosemary is the recipe I usually turn to. Although, of course, it’s not strictly English, it fits beautifully into the Sunday lunch mould, and is far more delicious than lamb with mint sauce. As the joint roasts, the anchovies, garlic and rosemary melt into the meat and mingle with the wine and butter and roasting juices to make an ambrosial sauce. Sometimes I serve the meat with Simon’s saffron mashed potatoes, from the same book, Roast Chicken and Other Stories.
leg of lamb 1.8kg
garlic 4 large cloves, peeled and sliced lengthways into 3
anchovies 2 x 50g tins
rosemary a small bunch
butter 75g, softened
white wine ½ bottle
lemon juice of 1
watercress a bunch, to garnish
Preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. With a small sharp knife, make about 12 incisions 5cm deep in the fleshy side of the joint. Insert a piece of garlic, half an anchovy and a small sprig of rosemary into each incision. Push all of them right in with your little finger. Cream the butter with any remaining anchovies and smear it all over the surface of the meat. Grind over plenty of black pepper. Place the lamb in a roasting tin and pour the wine around. Tuck in any leftover sprigs of rosemary and pour over the lemon juice. Put in the oven and roast for 15 minutes.
Turn the oven down to 180C/gas mark 4 and roast the lamb for a further hour, or slightly more, depending on how well done you like your meat. Baste from time to time with the winy juices. Take the meat out of the oven and leave to rest in a warm place for at least 15 minutes before carving.
Meanwhile, taste the juices and see if any salt is necessary – it shouldn’t be because of the anchovies. During the roasting process the wine should have reduced somewhat, and mingled with the meat juices and anchovy butter to make a delicious gravy. If you find it too thin, then a quick bubble on the hob should improve the consistency.
When it comes to good food smells, this is one of the best, because as you slice the lamb the waft of garlic, rosemary and anchovy hits you head on. Once again, mashed potato is good with this.
From Roast Chicken and Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson (Ebury, £18.99); Fuchsia Dunlop is the author of Land of Fish and Rice (Bloomsbury, £26)
Bruce Poole’s polenta with asparagus, poached egg and olive
Chosen by Gary Usher
I love this recipe, particularly for its ease and simplicity – I’ve even been known to have it for breakfast. The whole dish can be prepared in five minutes and you’d be hard pushed to find a tastier bite to eat.
The key with simplicity is perfect execution and, as are there are only three main elements in the recipe, it would be a disaster if any of them weren’t perfect.
The first time I tried this, I was a chef at Bruce Poole’s restaurant, Chez Bruce. I remember thinking how beautifully simple it looked and then how amazing it tasted.
I also love how this dish ended up on the Chez Bruce menu. Bruce and his head chef Matt Christmas were on a food tour around France and had something very similar on a tasting menu. They loved it so much it made it back to London.
Serves 4 as a starter or light lunch
water 1 litre
instant polenta 250g
unsalted butter 100g
parmesan 150g, freshly grated, plus a little extra shaved
sea salt and black pepper
asparagus 16 spears
vinegar a few drops for poaching eggs
eggs 4 spankingly fresh, cracked gently into 4 small cups of olive oil
tapenade 2 tsp, thinned down with a little olive oil to vinaigrette consistency
Add some table salt to the water in a biggish pan, bring to the boil and pour in the polenta, whisking as you go. The polenta will thicken quickly and vigorous whisking is required to ensure that the mixture remains smooth. The polenta will also “blip” and boil, rather like volcanic lava – I like to think it is burping. After 2-3 minutes, turn the heat down to its very lowest setting (a heat diffuser is useful here, or even better, an induction hob if you are lucky enough to have one) and continue to cook for about 15 minutes, stirring every so often with a wooden spoon. If the polenta appears too thick and stodgy, trickle in a little boiled water from the kettle. Finally, beat in the butter and the grated parmesan and adjust the seasoning. Cover with a lid and keep warm. The polenta will keep quite happily in this way for 30 minutes or so.
Bring two other pans of water to the boil: one for the asparagus and one for poaching the eggs. Cook the asparagus in the normal way. (Alternatively, the asparagus can be cooked beforehand and refreshed in iced water. This is a handy shortcut, as the spears will simply need reheating for a matter of seconds in the pan, before the eggs are poached, and kept warm.) Add a few drops of vinegar to the egg-poaching pan and slide in all the eggs. The only trick to successfully poaching eggs is to use really fresh eggs.
Season the asparagus with the faintest moistening of olive oil, sea salt and pepper and arrange on warmed plates. Give the polenta one last whisk and place a generous spoonful alongside the asparagus. When the eggs are poached, remove them with a slotted spoon, season them and add to the assembly. Finally, spoon a little tapenade vinaigrette over and scatter with the shaved parmesan.
Note: I am not against the use of instant (quick-cooking) polenta – in fact, I think it is excellent. I also love the mealier, coarser maize porridge that “real” Italian cooks recommend. Either type will work well, but remember that the coarser variety will take about 45 minutes to cook and needs constant attention. In either case, the enrichment of butter and parmesan is a must.
From Bruce’s Cookbook by Bruce Poole (Collins, available secondhand); Gary Usher is chef-owner, Sticky Walnut, Chester
Anne-Marie Deschodt’s scrambled eggs with black truffles
Chosen by Anissa Helou
Long ago, I lived in Paris where my best friend was the late Anne-Marie Deschodt, an actress who was also a great cook. She and her husband, the artist Guy de Rougemont, regularly invited friends for dinner, in the garden of their beautiful artist’s studio.
Anne-Marie cooked the meals herself and, in truffle season, she always served scrambled eggs with truffles. She would place the truffles among the eggs in a covered bowl the night before, so that the eggs absorbed the truffle flavour through their shells. I was sceptical but relented once Anne-Marie made me taste one of the eggs soft-boiled, ahead of dinner. I also loved how she kept the eggs totally creamy by whisking them continuously over low heat. I adopted both her trick of storing the eggs with the truffle overnight and her recipe which I often make for lunch, both in season and outside of it – truffles freeze very well.
black truffle 1 smallish
organic eggs 4
freshly ground black pepper
unsalted butter 25g
creme fraiche 1 tbsp
brioche or pain de mie 2 slices, toasted
The night before, put the eggs in a bowl. Nestle the truffle in between the eggs and cover the bowl.
The next day, scrub the truffle clean of any sand. Rinse it under cold water and peel it if necessary, making sure you waste as little as possible. Then grate it over the coarse side of the grater.
Break the eggs into a bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste and beat well. Add the grated truffle and mix well.
Place a medium saucepan over a low heat. Add the butter. When the butter has melted, add the eggs and whisk continuously until the eggs start to set – this will take 10 to 15 minutes. Take the pan off the heat every now and then towards the end to slow the process and avoid lumps. Continue whisking until the eggs are set to your liking. I like mine rather moist and very creamy.
Once the eggs have set to your liking, whisk in the creme fraiche. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary and serve immediately on toasted brioche or pain de mie, together with a nice glass of white or red wine and a crisp green salad.
Anissa Helou is the author of Feast: Food of the Islamic World (Bloomsbury, £45)
Nigel Slater’s pasta with whole garlic, goat’s cheese and thyme
Chosen by Olia Hercules
This was one of the first dishes I attempted when I was teaching myself how to cook in my early 20s in the UK. I had just finished my MA dissertation, and I was totally skint, but with a new-found passion for cooking. Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries had just come out, and I read it and cooked from it avidly in a small rented flat near Alexandra Palace. I then bought every other book Slater had written. This recipe is from Real Fast Food. I always bought a decent goat’s cheese for this, and even then it was so cheap to make. The whole confit garlic cloves make it taste luxurious. Cooking whole cloves of garlic this way was a revelation to me. For those strapped for cash, use a very small saucepan and tilt it, then a reasonable amount of olive oil will go far. Just hold the pan over a low heat, and submerge the garlic cloves until cooked (it takes a bit less time than Nigel’s method). The garlic becomes soft and sweet, a perfect companion to thyme and goat’s cheese. Almost 14 years later, I still make this dish. It reminds me of the excitement I felt during my first foray into cooking.
Serves 2 as a main
garlic a large head, the cloves plump and pink
extra virgin olive oil 50ml
thyme about 6 healthy sprigs
dried pasta 175g
crumbly white goat’s cheese 175g
Separate the garlic cloves. Crush each one lightly by pressing down hard with the flat of a knife blade or the heel of your hand, which will loosen the skins. Pop the cloves out of their papery skins.
Pour the oil into a small pan and add the garlic. Cook over a gentle heat for 20-25 minutes, until the cloves are tender, golden and sweet. They must not burn or they will turn horribly bitter.
Strip the thyme leaves from their branches and add them to the garlic 15 minutes after it has started cooking. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until it is al dente, drain and toss gently with the olive oil, garlic cloves and thyme. Crumble the goat’s cheese and stir in.
From Real Fast Food by Nigel Slater (Penguin, £9.99); Olia Hercules is the author of Kaukasis (Mitchell Beazley, £25)
Anna Jones’s double greens and filo pie
Chosen by Stanley Tucci
I came across Anna Jones because my wife Felicity is her agent. She brought home one of her books, A Modern Way To Eat, and said, “Stanley, this woman is amazing … an incredible cook … vegetarian.” I was like, “Oh God, no.” But of course the book is brilliant and there’s something about her double greens and filo pie that I can’t get enough of. I will literally have to stop myself from eating the entire thing. At one point I was making it so often – about once or twice a week – that I had to stop myself cooking it for a while.
For some reason it seems fresher and more alive than similar pies – maybe it’s the lemon zest. But I also love the fact that it’s quite rustic. The greens have to be quite robust – she uses kale and chard. It’s an easy pie to make: you just sauté things down at first, let them cool a bit, then put them into the filo with eggs, feta and herbs, then put it in the oven. But it has amazing layers of flavour – any good chef’s recipe is really just about layering those flavours.
When I’m at home, I cook on a daily basis. On occasion I experiment, if there’s time, but when you’re cooking for a lot of people, including kids, you tend to stick to the same straightforward recipes – pasta or risotto, steak or lamb chops, a whole sea bass with rice or potatoes and a vegetable – and everybody just has what they want. When I do experiment, I keep it fairly classic. A lot of slow cooking. A few years ago, we made Tom Kerridge’s hay-baked chicken recipe and it was just fantastic. I love cooking, I really do, and I would like to spend more of my time doing that than anything else.
spring onions 1 bunch (about 8), trimmed and roughly chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
spring greens or kale 250g, stalks removed, leaves shredded
chard or spinach 250g, leaves shredded, and chard stalks chopped
unwaxed lemon grated zest of ½
eggs 3 organic or free-range
feta cheese 200g
fresh parsley a small bunch, picked and roughly chopped
fresh dill a small bunch, picked and roughly chopped
filo pastry 4 large sheets or 8 smaller ones
poppy seeds 1 tbsp
Preheat your oven to 220C/gas mark 7· Put a 26cm non-stick ovenproof frying pan on a medium heat and add a little olive oil, then add the spring onions with a pinch of salt and fry for a few minutes, until softened.
Next, add a couple of handfuls of spring greens or kale and cook until they have shrunk down a little. Keep adding like this until all the greens are in the pan, then cook until just wilted. Add the chard or spinach and let that wilt too. Sprinkle over the lemon zest and season with more salt if needed and a bit of pepper. Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool a little.
Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl, crumble in the feta and add the chopped herbs. Once the greens are cool, add these too. Wipe out the frying pan with some kitchen paper.
Get yourself a large sheet of baking paper, about 50cm long, and lay it on your work surface. Drizzle it with a little olive oil, then scrunch it up into a ball so it’s all coated (this will stop it burning in the oven). Now lay it flat again.
Lay the filo over the baking paper in two layers – it will overlap here and there but that’s OK. Drizzle the lot with a bit more oil. Now carefully lift the paper to rest on top of the frying pan, with the excess hanging evenly round the edges.
Pour the egg and greens mixture into the middle and level out with a spoon. Fold the excess layers of pastry over the top to cover the top of the greens mixture. No need to be too neat here, as some movement and texture looks beautiful. Sprinkle over the poppy seeds and pop the pan into the oven to bake for 20 minutes.
I like to serve this with a cucumber salad, simply dressed with dill and lemon, and some green leaves.
From A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones (4th Estate, £26); Stanley Tucci is an actor and the author of The Tucci Table (Orion, £25)
Niloufer Ichaporia King’s cardamom cake
Chosen by Alice Waters
I first had Niloufer’s cardamom cake maybe 25 years ago, when I was at her house for a festive occasion. I fell in love instantly. I call it Niloufer’s cake, but the original credit belongs to a friend of hers, Ragnhild Langlet, who generously shared the recipe. I was astonished to learn that the cake is in fact Swedish, not Parsi, as I had supposed. But as Niloufer says, it is such a beloved cake that it has become sort of an honorary Parsi dessert for her.
To me, a cake has to be moist and it has to be interesting – Niloufer’s cake is both, there is magic to it. Cardamom is such an extraordinary spice, both tropical and delicate, and that flavour all on its own is so enticing to me. It is one of those beloved recipes I rely upon time and time again to transform a gathering into a truly memorable celebration; I make it for my daughter’s birthday (she loves it as much as I do), and my dearest friends’ birthdays. It stands beautifully on its own, unadorned, or simply decorated with candied rose petals and candles.
To serve 6 to 10
unsalted butter 150g, plus more for greasing the cake tin
sugar 260g, plus more for preparing the cake tin
sliced almonds for the cake tin (optional)
eggs 4 large
cardamom seeds 3 tsp
plain flour 190g
salt a big pinch
Heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Prepare a 23cm springform cake tin by buttering it liberally, sprinkling in 2 to 3 tablespoons sugar, and shaking the pan until the sides are coated with sugar. Don’t worry about extra sugar on the bottom. Cover the bottom with sliced almonds if you want a particularly crunchy topping. Ragnhild also suggested ground almonds or breadcrumbs. Use a parchment disk to line the bottom of the tin before buttering and sugaring it if you want to be absolutely sure that the topping won’t stick.
Cream the eggs and sugar until thick and pale using a stand mixer if you have one, a hand-held beater or a powerful and patient arm. Melt the butter in a little saucepan. Bruise the cardamom seeds in a mortar and pestle.
Quickly fold the flour and a pinch of salt into the egg and sugar mixture, followed by the butter and the cardamom. Give the batter a thorough stir before tipping it into the prepared pan. Thump the pan on the counter to settle the batter.
Bake for 30 minutes. The top should feel dry to the touch and spring back and a skewer or knife inserted in the centre should come out dry. Leave in the tin for about 5 minutes. Run a knife around the sides of the tin before inverting it on a cake rack to cool. Remove the bottom of the pan carefully while the cake is still very warm. Let cool before serving. Excellent the first day; even better the next and the next and the next, if it lasts that long.
Serve with fruit or a custard or ice-cream. There’s nothing that this cake doesn’t complement.
Variations: For our dear friend Catherine’s birthday in 1987, I embedded rose geranium leaves in the top of the cake (actually the bottom of the springform tin) along with the almonds, and served it with a winter fruit compote also lightly scented with rose geranium. If you can ever get near a cardamom plant, which is a member of the ginger family, try a leaf from it, too.
From My Bombay Kitchen by Niloufer Ichaporia King (University of California Press, £30). Alice Waters is the founder of Chez Panisse, Berkeley, California