Saturday was shaping up nicely, the beginning of one of those luxurious weekends in which you have only the loosest of plans and can suit yourself. We swung by the new Ashmolean, which has just re-opened after a £61m renovation project: it was all light and glass and whispered praise and I took a serious fancy to a Japanese picnic box in the shape of a boat. Then we had a rather nice light lunch of quail’s eggs with roasted cumin salt, Cumbrian air-dried ham and Montgomery cheddar with quince, all washed down with Cotswold autumn beer, in the ultra modern new rooftop restaurant. Afterwards, we headed to the covered market so Tom could get his hair cut and I could buy the necessary ingredients for dinner, which I had determined would be a recipe I’d had my eye on for months: sausages with lentils and sweet and sour figs. Sausages were no problem – after some consideration, a winning combination of Toulouse, venison and Oxford pork were duly purchased – but where were the tempting, juicy-looking figs I had seen last week? “We’re all out,” said the woman on the greengrocer’s stall, “but we’ll be getting Brazilian ones in next week.” This was just the tip, as it later transpired, of an Oxford-wide fig shortage. We visited every fruit and vegetable purveyor on the Cowley road and all we found were 6 semi-rotten specimens shoved in a box down the back of a shelf. “What happened to being able to get anything you want whenever you want?” I moaned. The light lunch, while pleasant, was wearing off and leaving me fig-less, hungry and fatigued. We had to go to the off-license we fondly refer to as the ‘magic booze shop’ to buy some campari to cheer me up.
So, instead of sausages with sweet and sour figs we had a somewhat less glamourous sausage, bacon and onion casserole, but after a nice sit down and a cold Americano it seemed like just the thing to accompany the sound of fireworks from across the street. For dessert, we had this lemon and rosemary cake.
Lemon and rosemary cake Serves 8
I would have liked the flavour of rosemary to have been a bit more pronounced here: I don’t think I used enough – although it smelled so fragrant while it was cooking! After some debate we concluded that a ‘sprig’ of rosemary is one of the little branches of herb, not the little bunches of needles attached to it.
55g stale white bread
100g blanched almonds
2 tsp rosemary leaves
200g caster sugar
2 tsp baking powder
grated zest of 1 lemon
200ml olive oil
4 eggs, beaten (I used large)
for the syrup:
juice of 2 lemons
60g caster sugar
2 sprigs rosemary
for the garnish:
yoghurt or cream to serve
Put the bread, almonds and rosemary leaves in a food processor and grind as finely as possible. Put the mixture in a bowl and stir in the sugar and baking powder. Add the lemon zest, olive oil and eggs and stir well.
Pour the batter into a greased 22cm spring-form cake tin (my tin was 23cm). Put in a cold oven and set the heat to 180c. Bake for 45-50 mins (mine took much less than this – I kind of forgot to set the timer, but I think it was done at about 30 mins so check early). A skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean. Leave in the tin for 5-10 mins to cool and turn out onto a plate (mine seemed pretty well wedded to the base so I just left it in and served it from that).
Make the syrup by gently heating the ingredients together. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then turn up the heat and boil for 5 mins.
Pierce holes in the cake while it’s still warm and pour over the syrup, discarding the rosemary. Leave the cake to cool and when ready to serve, dust with icing sugar and serve with berries or citrus fruits in syrup and yoghurt.
From Diana Henry’s ‘Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons’.