Nigel Slater's top 10 spring recipes (2024)

Maybe I should stand still more often. A few moments to stop and take stock of what I have; a time to curb my appetite for the new. I have certainly had the opportunity to do that in the kitchen over the past few weeks: slowly working through what I already have in the house, the freezer (not a lot to be honest) and the garden. I wouldn’t say it has been a bad thing.

It has been something of a relief to clear the decks – I finally got the dried black beans out of the cupboard; finished off the annoying packet of mixed rice (never buy mixed varieties of rice in one packet, they all cook at different times); and I finally demolished that giant box of nougat but only because my favourite chocolate shop was closed. I’m setting my sights on finding a use for the jar of amaranth next.

Making the most of what I have has also led me on a trip through my old recipes. Some of which I cook regularly and know by heart, others I rather wish I made more often and the odd one or two I had genuinely forgotten about. I have collected together a whole bunch of my favourites: a neat package of recipes I love and feel are perfect for the unpredictable late spring and early summer, when one minute you need a salad, the next something altogether more hearty.

As most of us are limited shopping-wise at the moment, most of the recipes have no more than a handful of ingredients and almost all of them contain one or two store-cupboard stalwarts. Sadly, I have had to leave out my favourite baking recipes, as I suspect most of us are still finding it tricky to get our hands on enough flour. But there is plenty here with which to celebrate, from pea fritters to roast tomatoes with sweet potato mash, a chickpea dip with roast peppers plus a buttermilk panna cotta with sesame brittle.

Noodle salad with sprouted beans and peanuts

Use whatever noodles you have around for this crisp, light salad. I have suggested brown rice noodles but only because that is what I had in the house. The dressing is at its most refreshing when sharp, sweet and hot, but tweak it to your liking, adding more palm sugar or lime juice as you wish.

Serves 4
sprouted mung beans 100g
carrot 1 medium
brown rice noodles 100g
cucumber 1 medium
coriander a large handful
mint leaves 15
pak choi 2 crisp, juicy heads
roasted, salted peanuts 40g

For the dressing
limes juice of 2
light soy sauce 2 tsp
palm sugar 2 tsp
small hot red or green chilli 1
garlic 2 small young cloves

Rinse the mung beans under icy-cold running water and drain. Scrub the carrot, slice thinly lengthways, then into matchstick-size strips. Pour boiling water over the noodles and leave to soak for 10 minutes until swollen and tender. (Check the cooking instructions on the packet of the noodles you are using.)

Lightly peel the cucumber, then slice in half from stalk to tip, scrape out the seeds and core with a teaspoon and discard them. Cut the cucumber into pencil-thick slices. Remove the leaves from the coriander, leave any small ones whole, and roughly chop the larger ones. Do the same with the mint leaves. Shred the pak choi.

Toss the mung beans, carrot, cucumber, pak choi and herbs together. Drain the noodles and toss with the vegetables and herbs.

Make the dressing: mix together the juice of the limes, the light soy and sugar. Finely chop the red chilli and add to the dressing. Peel, smash, then finely chop the garlic. Toss the dressing, vegetables, herbs and noodles together. Finally, coarsely chop the peanuts and scatter over the salad.

Roast shoulder of lamb with summer greens

Nigel Slater's top 10 spring recipes (1)

I use shoulder for its flavour and the crispness of its fat. It is often cheaper than the leg. I am the first to admit a shoulder is less straightforward to carve than the other cuts of lamb, and I usually resort to hacking off large juicy pieces of meat, rather than the neat slices you get from a leg. But do use a leg if you prefer.

Serves 4-5
shoulder of lamb 2kg
olive oil
anchovy fillets
rosemary sprigs 8 small
thyme sprigs 8-10

For the vegetables
mixed greens 250g (purple sprouting broccoli, young beetroot leaves, red chard etc)
shelled peas 250g
vegetable stock or water 200ml

Set the oven at 180C fan/gas mark 6. Place the lamb in a roasting tin and rub the meat all over with olive oil and season lightly with sea salt. Pierce the meat in 16 or so places with the point of a knife, cutting 3cm or 4cm down into the flesh.

Stuff eight anchovies into half the holes, rosemary tufts in the others. Scatter with the thyme, tucking a few sprigs underneath the meat.

Roast the lamb for 1 hour and 30 minutes, until the fat has turned translucent and pale honey-coloured, and the meat is light rose-pink. Remove the roasting tin from the oven, lift out the meat and place somewhere warm, covering lightly with foil. Leave to rest for 15 minutes.

Trim the sprouting broccoli and beetroot and chard stems, removing the leaves and setting them aside. Pour any excess oil from the tin, leaving the roasting juices in place. Place the tin over a low to moderate heat, then pour in the stock or water and bring to the boil. When the liquid starts to bubble, stir with a wooden spoon or spatula to dislodge the roasted meat juices and herbs, then add the peas, sprouting broccoli, and chard and beetroot stems. Leave the vegetables to steam in the roasting juices for three or four minutes, turning them from time to time.

Add the leaves from the chard and beetroot to the pan, turn them once or twice in the hot liquid until they have wilted, then lift the vegetables out and into a warm serving dish. Turn the heat up under the roasting tin and reduce the liquid to a thin, deeply flavoured dressing. Carve the lamb on to a warm serving dish or directly on to plates, then serve with the vegetables and roasting juices.

Roast red pepper and chickpea dip

A hummus of sorts. (I am uncomfortable with calling anything by that name that contains anything other than chickpeas, garlic, lemon and oil.) I do think it is worth skinning the chickpeas (I know, I know) but once you have done so, you may never look back. You can do it painstakingly, pea by pea or simply rub them together in your palms, a handful at a time. Either way will result in a smoother mash. Your call.

I have been known to sit with this and a pile of warm Turkish flatbread, but it is also a fine side dish for cold roast meats, grilled aubergines, and my favourite – deep-fried artichokes.

Serves 4 as side dish
red peppers 500g
olive oil
6 cloves, unpeeled
chickpeas 2 x 400g tins
thyme 4 sprigs
bay leaves 2
paprika a pinch or two

Set the oven at 200C fan/gas mark 7. Slice the peppers in half lengthways, remove the seeds then place the halved fruit in a roasting tin. Trickle a little olive oil over the peppers, just enough to wet them, then set the unpeeled garlic cloves among them. Bake for 40 minutes or until the peppers are soft and the skin somewhat blackened. Remove from the oven, then peel away their outer skins. Reserve any juices in the roasting tin.

Open the tins of chickpeas, drain and rinse them. Pop the chickpeas from their skins if you wish, then tip the peas into a saucepan, add the thyme and bay leaves and cover with water. Bring to the boil, lower the heat then simmer for 15 minutes. Drain the chickpeas, reserve a handful for later, then tip the rest into the bowl of a food processor with the roasted, skinned peppers. Pull the thyme leaves from their stalks and add them to the peppers, discarding the stalks and the bay leaves. Pop the roasted garlic from its skin and add to the bowl.

Process the peppers, garlic and chickpeas to a smooth cream. Season generously with salt and black pepper. Scoop the paste out into a serving dish, making a hollow in the centre with the back of a spoon.

Heat the reserved chickpeas in a little olive oil in a frying pan and cook for a few minutes till they start to turn gold. Pour a little olive oil over the paste, letting it trickle into the hollow, scatter the warm chickpeas over the surface, then dust lightly with the paprika.

Pea and bacon fritters

Nigel Slater's top 10 spring recipes (3)

I find the best breadcrumbs for coating fritters are the Japanese panko crumbs, available at many supermarkets. Alternatively, make them from crustless bread, dried lightly in a very low oven till they are crisp.

Makes 6 fritters, enough for 3 people
frozen peas 500g
tarragon 20g
smoked streaky bacon 4 rashers
butter 40g
egg yolks 2
crisp, white breadcrumbs 6 tbsp

To coat and fry
eggs 2, beaten
crisp white breadcrumbs a couple of large handfuls
butter a thick slice
olive or vegetable oil a little

Boil the peas for about 4 minutes in lightly salted water, then drain them. Leave them in a colander under cold running water until thoroughly chilled. Tip the peas into the bowl of a food processor, add the tarragon leaves and process to a smooth paste.

Cut the bacon into small pieces then fry in the butter in a shallow, non-stick pan till crisp. Drain on kitchen paper, add to the peas and process briefly, transfer to a bowl, then chill thoroughly for a couple of hours.

Fold the egg yolks and 6 tablespoons of the breadcrumbs into the pea mixture. Pour the beaten egg into a shallow dish, and spread the remaining breadcrumbs on a plate. Shape the pea mixture into 6 short, fat barrel-shaped croquettes. Roll each croquette in the beaten egg and then in the crumbs, then chill for 20 minutes.

In the same pan in which you cooked the bacon, warm the remaining butter and the oil, then fry the croquettes, over a moderate heat, gently rolling them over now and again to colour evenly. Drain, briefly, on kitchen paper and serve.

Spiced sweet potato, roast tomato

Nigel Slater's top 10 spring recipes (4)

As the tomatoes roast, their juices will leak into the olive oil, forming a sweet-sharp base to which is added the mustard seeds and turmeric. A handful of curry leaves, tossed in with mustard seeds, wouldn’t go amiss. Let the leaves warm for a minute or two in the hot oil with the mustard seeds, just long enough to lightly infuse the dressing with their earthy warmth.

Serves 3-4
sweet potatoes 850g
cherry tomatoes on the vine 500g
olive oil 8 tbsp
onions 2 medium
garlic 2 medium cloves
turmeric 2 level tsp
yellow mustard seeds 3 tsp

Set the oven at 200C fan/gas mark 7. Peel the sweet potatoes, then cut them in half lengthways, then into thick chunks, as you might for boiling. Place the sweet potatoes in a steamer basket over a pot of boiling water, then cover them with a tight lid and let them steam to tenderness – a matter of 20 minutes or so. Test them every 5 minutes with a skewer.

Put the tomatoes in a shallow baking dish, tossing them with half of the olive oil and grinding over just a little salt. Roast the tomatoes for about 20 minutes until their skins have blackened. While the sweet potatoes steam and the tomatoes roast, peel and thinly slice the onions, and cook them in the remaining olive oil in a shallow pan until they are soft and golden. Peel and thinly slice the garlic and stir it into the softening onions. When the onions and garlic are ready, scoop them out into a small bowl.

Drain the juices from the tomatoes into the pan in which you cooked the onions and place over a moderate heat, then stir in the turmeric, letting it sizzle for a moment, then add the mustard seeds and a little black pepper. As soon as the mustard seeds start to pop, remove from the heat. Mash the sweet potatoes with a potato masher then stir in the turmeric, mustard seeds and cooking juices.

Spoon the spiced sweet potato mash on to plates, add the cooked onions and garlic and the roast tomatoes.

Dill and haddock fishcakes, parsley sauce

Nigel Slater's top 10 spring recipes (5)

Makes 16, enough for 4 people
potatoes 500g, floury and white fleshed
haddock or cod fillet 500g
milk 400g
water 200ml
parsley stalks 6
bay leaves 3
black peppercorns 8
dill fronds 20g
breadcrumbs 100g, fine and fresh
eggs 2
olive or groundnut oil a little to cook

For the parsley sauce
butter 40g
plain flour 40g
parsley 40g
double cream 150ml

Peel the potatoes and cut them into large pieces, lower them into a deep pan of boiling water and let them cook for 20-25 minutes. They are done when they are tender enough to pierce effortlessly with a skewer. Drain the potatoes and leave for 5 minutes.

Put the fish into a pan, pour in the milk and water and add the parsley, bay leaves and peppercorns. Bring the liquid to the boil, lower the heat and leave to simmer for 10 minutes, or until the fish is lightly cooked. You should be able to pull the flakes apart with relative ease. Set the fish aside.

Mash the potato. It should be smooth but not gluey. Finely chop the dill and add to the potato. Remove the fish from the milk, break into large flakes then combine lightly with the potato. Take care not to crush the fish.

Roll the fish and potato mixture into 16 balls of approximately equal size, place on a tray and refrigerate for half an hour.

Scatter the breadcrumbs on a plate. Break the eggs into a small mixing bowl and beat lightly. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan, add the flour and stir together, cooking lightly over a moderate heat for 4 or 5 minutes, stirring almost constantly. Pour in the reserved milk from cooking the fish, discarding the aromatics as you go. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat, stirring until you have a smooth sauce. Chop the leaves from the parsley. Pour in the cream, add the parsley and correct the seasoning. Cover to stop a skin forming and set aside.

Remove the fishcakes from the fridge and drop them, one at time, first into the beaten egg and then the breadcrumbs. Place the crumbed balls on a tray. Warm a shallow layer of oil in a nonstick frying pan, add the cakes without crowding the pan and let them colour evenly, moving them around the pan as necessary. Remove, drain briefly on kitchen paper and serve with the parsley sauce.

Hake with chorizo, manzanilla and judion beans

Nigel Slater's top 10 spring recipes (6)

Serves 4
onions 3 medium
olive oil 6 tbsp, plus extra for frying the hake
chorizo 300g
thyme 6 bushy sprigs
tomatoes 750g small
judion or butter beans 425g, bottled or tinned
hake 1.2kg, cut into 4 steaks
manzanilla or similar medium-dry sherry 150ml

Peel the onions, cut them in half and roughly chop them. Warm the oil in a roasting tin over a moderate heat, then add the onions and let them cook, stirring regularly, until they are soft and translucent. Set the oven at 200C fan/gas mark 7.

Slice the chorizo into pieces the length of a wine cork, add them to the onions together with the whole sprigs of thyme and let the sausage colour lightly. Slice the tomatoes in half, then stir them through the onions together with the drained and rinsed beans.

In a separate, shallow, nonstick pan, warm the extra oil and, when it is hot, lower in a couple of the fish steaks. Let them colour lightly on the underside without cooking them right through, then turn and do the same on the other side. As each piece of fish becomes ready, transfer to the roasting tin, tucking them among the tomatoes and onions. Repeat with the remaining two pieces of fish. Once they are done, pour off any oil from the frying pan, return to the heat, and pour in the manzanilla, letting it bubble as you scrape at the sticky bits with a wooden spatula. Tip over the fish.

Place in the preheated oven and bake for 35 minutes until the fish is done. Place the fish, onions, beans and tomatoes on deep, warm plates, spooning over the juices as you go.

Chicken with sesame and mint

Nigel Slater's top 10 spring recipes (7)

The roasting juices form part of the dressing, but you could easily use cold chicken left from a Sunday roast, adding a little more dressing as necessary. If you are not eating this immediately, I would be tempted to add the coriander at the last minute.

Serves 4
chicken thighs 6 large (about 900g)
olive oil a little
ginger 70g
red chillies 2 small, hot
garlic 2 cloves
sesame oil 2 tsp
Thai fish sauce 1 tbsp
rice wine vinegar 2 tbsp
limes 2
sesame seeds 2 tbsp
mint leaves 15
coriander a large handful

Set the oven at 200C fan/gas mark 7. Put the thighs into a roasting tin, rub them generously with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast for 45 minutes or until the skin is crisp and the thigh juices run clear when pierced with a skewer.

Peel the ginger and slice into matchsticks. Halve the chillies lengthways, de-seed if you wish, then slice finely. Peel and finely slice the garlic.

Take the chicken from the oven, remove from the tin, then leave to rest for 10 minutes before tearing the flesh from the bones in large pieces and dropping them into a mixing bowl. Place the cooking juices in the tin over a moderate heat, add the ginger and garlic and let them colour to a warm, nutty brown. Add the sliced chilli for the last minute or so, then remove all from the heat.

Stir the sesame oil into the ginger and chilli dressing, the Thai fish sauce and the rice wine vinegar. Squeeze the limes, stir the juice into the dressing then check the seasoning.

In a dry, shallow pan, toast the sesame seeds until golden then add them to the dressing. Roughly tear the mint and coriander leaves and mix them with the chicken, then carefully fold together the chicken and the ginger dressing.

Banana tarts with cardamom cream

Nigel Slater's top 10 spring recipes (8)

The thinnest of tarts. It is worth rolling the pastry as finely as you can. Try placing the pastry on the baking sheet before adding the bananas. It makes life much easier than transferring them fully laden.

Makes 4
butter 40g
puff pastry 125g
bananas 2
icing sugar 2 tbsp
maple syrup 4 tbsp

For the cardamom cream
green cardamom pods 10
double cream 250ml
icing sugar 1 tbsp
vanilla extract

Set the oven at 220C fan/gas mark 9. Place a baking sheet in the oven to heat up.

Melt the butter in a small pan, remove from the heat and set aside. Roll out the pastry very thinly, then cut out 4 discs about 12cm in diameter. Place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Peel the bananas and slice thinly, then place in a single, slightly overlapping layer on each disc. Brush the bananas and the rims of the pastry with the butter then dust generously with the icing sugar.

Place the baking sheet on the heated sheet in the oven and bake for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven then trickle the maple syrup over the bananas and return to the oven for 5 minutes until the pastry is deep golden brown and the fruit is sticky and glistening.

Meanwhile, make the cream. Crack open the cardamom pods and extract the dark seeds, then crush to a powder using a spice mill or pestle and mortar. You need 2 tsp of the ground spice. Pour the cream into a cold mixing bowl and add the icing sugar, ground cardamom and a couple of drops of vanilla extract. Beat till thick, stopping once the cream will hold its shape on the whisk.

Serve the tarts hot from the oven, with the cardamom cream.

Buttermilk panna cotta with sesame brittle

Nigel Slater's top 10 spring recipes (9)

Makes 4 small panna cotta
gelatine 2 leaves
double cream 350ml
caster sugar 100g
buttermilk 150ml
dark chocolate 50g

For the sesame brittle
sesame seeds 50g
caster sugar 80g

You will need 4 small ramekins or cups.

To make the sesame brittle, have ready a nonstick baking sheet. Warm a shallow pan over a moderate heat, sprinkle the sesame seeds over the surface of the pan in a single layer. Watch carefully, shaking the pan from time to time, until the seeds are pale gold. Scatter the sugar over the seeds and leave to melt. As the sugar melts and turns gold, tip the pan left and right so the sugar melts evenly. Very gently, stir any bits that are browning into the middle of the pan. As soon as the sugar is honey-coloured, tip on to the baking sheet, smoothing into a thin pool, then leave to set. Remove from the sheet by prising a palette knife underneath.

To make the panna cotta, put the gelatine leaves in a small bowl of cold water to soften.

Pour the cream into a small, nonstick saucepan, add the sugar then bring almost to the boil. Remove from the heat, gently squeeze the water from the softened gelatine, add to the cream and let the gelatine dissolve. Pour the buttermilk into the cream and gelatine, stir gently then pour through a fine sieve over a jug.

Pour the panna cotta mixture into the 4 small moulds, place in the fridge and leave to set for four hours.

Crush the praline coarsely using a pestle and mortar or the back of a wooden spoon. Melt the chocolate in a small bowl over simmering water.

To serve, unmould the panna cotta. An easy way to do this is to dip the dishes into hot water, run a palette knife around the edge to loosen them, then turn upside down on to a little dish. A firm shake should dislodge the panna cotta from its home.

Spoon the chocolate over the panna cotta, then crumble over the crushed sesame praline.

The Observer aims to publish recipes for fish rated as sustainable by the Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish Guide

Nigel Slater's top 10 spring recipes (2024)
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