cravings Nigel Slater

If you’re trying to eat seasonally, your palate is undoubtedly ready for a flavorful break from the monotony of winter’s root vegetables. The joy of spring and the bounty of new tastes it brings practically demand a dinner party, a celebratory ode to its fresh flavors and colors. But what to serve, and how? For advice we turned to Nigel Slater, whose bestselling cookbook The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen with Nigel Slater is written more like a journal than a traditional cookbook. Each entry pushes recipes beyond informative into the emotional realm, freeing cooks from the tyranny of precision and inviting them to trust their senses (and wits).

What ingredients herald spring to you?
Spring has arrived when I see the first wild garlic leaves in the market. They have a mild scent and the leaves are perfect for wrapping around a fillet of lamb before roasting. Spring rhubarb, too, is everywhere; it's charming in crisps and cakes. Later in spring, early peas are a must as they are the very essence of green sweetness.
The way the recipes are written in Kitchen Diaries is so much looser than how many others are put together. How would you encourage neophytes who may be tentative about such freeform recipes?
My first piece of advice to any new or unsure cook is to ignore the rules. Don't worry if you make a mistake. The best way to learn is by simply rolling up your sleeves and having a go. Think about the ingredient and what will make it good to eat: the answer is often simpler than you might imagine.
Can you talk a bit about the visual aspect of a springtime dinner party? What might you incorporate?
I am not a formal dinner party sort of person and the idea of a “table setting” leaves me cold. A gathering chez Nigel would get a single sprig of blossom on the twig—perhaps from an apple or peach tree—put into a simple glass jar.
Strawberry Mascarpone Tart

This is to be a crust that
collapses at the merest pressure from your fork, then sticks to the cream filling in fat, pebbly crumbs. Graham crackers will work, but fancy orange or almond cookies, the sort that come in boxes, are best. It is hard to think of a more easily made tart than this.

Strawberry Mascarpone Tart

Serves 6 to 8

  • 1 large egg
  • a generous tablespoon superfine sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups mascarpone cheese
  • 2 drops vanilla extract
  • 1/2 pound strawberries
  • For the crumb base:
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 9 oz almond, orange or sweet oat cookies

Crumb base:
Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Crush the cookies to a coarse powder. Mix the crumbs with the butter. Spoon the crumbs into a rectangular tart pan with a removable
bottom. Smooth into the corners and up the pan sides.
Press firmly, but not so hard that they become compacted:
the cookie base is better when short and crumbly. Refriger-
ate until the base has set.

Separate the egg, putting the yolk in a bowl with the sugar and beating for a few seconds until thoroughly mixed. Beat
in the mascarpone until you have a custard-colored cream. Stir in a little vanilla extract; a couple of drops should be enough. With a clean whisk, beat the egg white until it
stands stiff, and then fold it into the creamed mascarpone.

Spoon the mascarpone into the cookie crust, spreading it right out to the edges. Hull the strawberries, slice them
thinly, and arrange them on top of the mascarpone. Keep cool, removing the tart from the refrigerator a good 20 minutes before serving.

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