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The Lunchbox #20, the Easter special!
No bunnies, but lots of buns...
Hello and welcome to this fortnight’s The Lunchbox. We’re running headfirst into Easter this week, which for me has very little do with chocolate and A LOT to do with hot cross buns. I don’t know if it’s because I have two little buns in the oven myself (twins coming in the summer!) and bread products are all I’m interested in, but I cannot get enough of the HCB this year. I’ve eaten one from every purveyor you can think of, and let me tell you, there’s a clear winner for me. Read on to discover who this is…*
For paid subscribers, I’ve also included my recipe for HCB Soda Bread with Whipped Honey Butter. It’s significantly quicker and easier than making the bun version and still delivers on the fruit and spicing. And it’s packed with oats and wholemeal flour so is basically a health food. I’ve also written a handy guide to the quintissential seasonal spring veg 🌱
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What I’m currently consuming
(*Nothing here is sponsored*)
The Easter Treat: Hackney Gelato Hot Cross Bun
I will eat ANYTHING Hackney Gelato make. These ice cream makers have burst onto the luxury ice cream market scene with an entire armful of thrilling flavours. I’m almost sure I heard angels singing the first time I tried their Peanut Butter & Chocolate and their Strawberries & Cream is a beautiful lesson in simplicity: slightly sour clotted cream base with a very fruity homemade strawberry jam swirled through. I could rave all day.
But back to today’s business. Their limited edition Hot Cross Bun flavour is something very special. Described as: “fresh milk infused with home-baked toasted hot cross buns…an intensely creamy gelato with juicy sultanas, candied fruit and a hint of salted butter.” This sums it up but doesn’t do it justice. It has rum & raisin vibes but is subtler, spicier and with salt caramel, buttery undertones. Get yourself a tub and find out for yourself. Find their stockists here.
The Seasonal Ingredient: Wild Garlic
‘Tis the season when wild garlic dominates the food scene. While we wait for asparagus - the next exciting ingredient in the seasonal queue - this intense, bright green allium gets its moment in the (occasional) sun. But unless you live in the countryside and near some woods, this ingredient can feel more mythical than unicorns. So how do you get your hands on some?
To those who live in the countryside, head straight to your nearest damp, shady woodland and keep your eyes peeled for bluebells - the two are often found together. You’ll also be able to smell wild garlic as the air will be filled with an attractive fresh garlic scent. If you live in a city, talk to your other foodie friends or check online local resident noticeboards - you often find people sharing foraging tips. It has also become more common to find wild garlic at greengrocers and delicatessens, and of course, farmers markets are always a reliable source. You can find it online too, Natoora sell it on Ocado and Riverford supply it to their customers.
And what to do with it?
Pesto is the most obvious and versatile choice, but beware of treating it as you would basil. If blended raw it can get very pungent very quickly so some people blanch it or take it no further than a fine chop - beware of pureeing it, my friends! I like to chop it in a food processor (not a blender) and mix it 2:1 with rocket - you get a mellower, more rounded flavour.
There are many other options for using wild garlic. Treat it as you would a strongly-flavoured spinach leaf - when wilted it has a mild flavour so can be used to give a little garlicky oomph. When raw it’s a little more assertive.
🌱 Shred it and add to a chicken soup (along with some pesto on top), above, bottom left
🌱 Wilt it with some spinach and cream and crack in a couple of eggs, then bake.
🌱 Whizz into butter to make a pretty spectacular garlic bread or to melt on top of fish, veg or steak.
🌱 Combine it with potato and spinach to make a soup.
🌱 Chop it into parsley and mint to make a tabbouleh (top, middle).
🌱 Preserve it in oil to use over the coming months.
Something to fill you up
Tunisian Fricasse Sandwich
I remembered this sandwich the other day when I was staring at a pita bread and a tin of tuna and wondering what to make myself for lunch. It’s the kind of sandwich you never forget: a little fragrant spice from the harissa, saltiness from the tuna and olives, and a lovely comforting richness from the potato and egg. And it takes less than 12 minutes to whizz up using stuff that most of us have sitting in our fridges. This is traditionally eaten in a deep-fried bun similar to an unsweetened doughnut, but I’ve lightened it up with pita. A hot dog bun or brioche bun would be great too.
Watch my how-to video here
6 baby potatoes or 2 medium, cut into large chunks
2 medium eggs
4 tsp olive oil
8 black or green olives, pitted and halved
2 tbsp chopped cucumber pickle (or any veg pickle) or preserved lemon
A small handful of parsley, roughly chopped
2 tbsp mayonnaise (optional)
1 tin of tuna, approx 80-100g, drained
Harissa, to taste (or any hot sauce is fine)
2 pita breads
Pickled chilli, to serve
Place the potatoes and eggs in a pan of salted cold water, set your timer for 15 minutes and bring to the boil. Remove the eggs at 12 minutes, run under cold water and after 15, check that the potatoes are tender before draining.
Transfer the potatoes to a bowl and use a fork to roughly crush. Add the oil, olives, chopped pickles and parsley and season generously. Stir in some mayo if you fancy.
Peel and thickly slice the eggs. Warm up the pita in the toaster, then slice in half to make 2 pockets. Spread both sides in harissa, as thickly as you dare, then add the slices of egg and pile in the potato mix. Flake over the tuna, and top with a pickled chilli. Devour in seconds.
*Gail’s. A thing of beauty! The perfect, soft texture, loads of fruit, (incl some cranberries? or sour cherries?) a generous hand with the spicing and glazed with a sweet, spiced syrup.
Something to finish you off
Spiced Fruit Soda Bread with Whipped Honey Butter
Love the hot cross bun, but don’t have the patience for all that kneading, rolling and proving? How about this soda bread, inspired by the spicing and fruit of the hot cross bun, but with none of the fuss.
Makes 1 loaf
120g rolled oats
25g cold butter, diced
25g caster sugar
200g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
200g plain wholemeal flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g sultanas or raisins
100g stoned dates, finely chopped
1 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
400ml sour cream, buttermilk or yoghurt
1 tbsp demerara sugar
Whipped honey butter
150g butter, softened
3 tbsp honey
Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and dust with flour. Combine the oats and butter together with your fingertips in a bowl. Stir in the sugar, flours, 1 teaspoon of salt, bicarbonate, dried fruit and spices.
Stir in the sour cream until just combined, then bring together into a ball with your hands. Transfer the ball to the baking tray and sprinkle over the demerara sugar. Tap lightly so it sticks to the surface. Score a cross on the top with a sharp knife, then place in the oven for 35-45 minutes until firm on the outside and an inserted skewer comes out clean.
While the bread is in the oven, place the butter, a pinch of salt and honey in a bowl and using a handheld whisk, beat for 3-4 minutes until it becomes pale and light. Transfer to a small bowl.
Eat the bread warm, cold or toasted with the whipped butter.
The Five Most Quintessential UK Spring Ingredients
(And what to do with them)
We’re emerging from a very long winter and I don’t know about you, but I’m very ready for some new seasonal ingredients to play with. I’ve covered wild garlic, above, so what else do we have to get excited about this season?
Spring Greens - the first cabbages of the year, these are loose-leafed and tender, without a dense core.
How to use:
To blanch: add the darker leaves to the water first before adding the paler leaves which cook very quickly - careful of over cooking. Then toss in butter or braise in garlic and olive oil.
To eat raw: the paler leaves can be shredded and added to salads, such as in this St. John Restaurant’s classic.
Asparagus - the much-anticipated season varies on its start date due to the weather, but we can expect it from mid to late April.
How to use:
To grill: they need just a moment on the heat. Make sure that grill is nice and hot, then cook until char marks appear. Take them off when still firm as they will continue cooking. They can take any kind of sauce - subtle or strong: finely chopped Eggs Mimosa; warm anchovy & olives; simple chopped herbs & vinaigrette or romesco sauce are all favourites of mine.
To eat raw: use a vegetable peeler for lovely fine strips which you can then combine in a salad with other springy veg such as radishes & peas, or combine with walnuts, lemon & Parmesan for something simple to accompany some mozzarella.
Jersey Royals - the ultimate new potato (in fact, they are PDO protected like Champagne), these are traditionally grown on the steep south facing coastal slopes in Jersey. At the beginning of the season, the high demand means they start supplying potatoes from poly tunnels, so wait a few weeks and you’ll get the superior outside version with their distinctive, nutty flavour.
How to use:
To boil: they have distinctive, delicate skins so simmer gently in salted water to keep these intact. A little butter or extra-virgin olive oil is all they really need, but I like to chuck in some shredded wild garlic leaves or mint to give them a little fragrance.
To roast: to celebrate that distinct flavour, I suggest not faffing too much, but a quick blanch, then squashing them under a teacup and roasting them with a little oil and salt is pretty sensational.
Spring lamb - I’m throwing this in as a red herring since 'Spring' lamb is a misnomer. The idea that new season’s lamb is ready for Easter is misleading. The lamb we eat at Easter usually comes from lambs born the previous Autumn. If a lamb is born in the spring, it won’t be ready until it is four to six months old. This lamb - known as 'new season’s lamb' - is usually available from around the end of June until the end of August.
Purple Sprouting Broccoli - broccoli but with flavour! and texture!
To blanch: break down into similar-sized bits so it cooks evenly, remembering that the stalk will take longer to cook so put these bits in the boiling water first. You can then toss it through fried garlic and chilli.
To pasta it: make the classic anchovy & broccoli pasta sauce by stirring it into melted anchovies and fried garlic, then stir through hot pasta. Pine nuts and fried breadcrumbs are also delightful additions - find the recipe in my book.