Easter day is over, but the Spring has only just begun, and now is as good a time as any to think succulent chicken, sweet wine imbued ice cream and cute little marzipans, just in case your summer beach body needed to endure any further damage! On Easter Sunday I followed my pro-Spanish theme of the previous week by cooking a Spanish feast of which Goya himself would have been proud. And it was so tasty, I feel compelled to share all the ideas with my faithful Daily Norm readers so that you too can go all España this Spring.
First however I should express my gratitude to Claudia Roden who, in her fantastic new book, The Food of Spain, gave me much of the inspiration for the feast.
My table was all trussed up for Easter, with a spray of fresh chrysanthemums displayed alongside slender branches of pussy willow in a group of bottles, to contemporary effect. Amongst the flowers sat the must-have fluffy chicks of Easter, while at each person’s place, a damask-style napkin was topped with little paper hens.
I had to restrain myself from cooking a full-on starter because I knew that otherwise this Spring-like luncheon would become more akin to a Christmas day gorge-fest. Instead I provided some simple tapas, olives, nibbles and delicious mature manchego cheese from the land of Don Quixote, which I’ve discovered is best served sliced and drizzled with honey and sprinkled with thyme – a divine combination which would probably work well with similar hard sheep’s cheeses.
The star of the dish was a roast chicken, but with added Spanish flavour. In a simple twist on the humble roast chicken, the chicken is at first basted in grape juice before being roasted, breasts down, for 45 minutes. Once flipped over, the breasts are again drizzled in grape juice. Meanwhile, the chicken cavity is stuffed with chunks of apple giving it a fruity aroma, while the dish is served with caramalised apples and grapes which can be either sautéd or oven cooked alongside the chicken. For the grape juice, you need to blend around 500g of grapes in a food processor and then press the pulp through a sieve to collect the juice. You should get around 250ml of juice. I was worried that the chicken, exposed as it was to the oven (I usually bake it partially wrapped in foil) would be dry, but with regular basting with the grape juices, the chicken was succulent and fruity, while the skin was ravishingly caramalised.
I served the chicken with some oven baked parsnips glazed in honey and wholegrain mustard and a generous portion of cute little Jersey Royal potatoes, straight from this year’s first harvest.
Desserts don’t get much more Spanish than a brandy and walnut cake served with a raisin and sweet wine ice cream (helado de pasas y vino dulce). The cake on its own is fairly dry, so certainly benefits from the ice cream accompaniment. Following the Asturian recipe cited by Claudia Roden, I whisked 4 eggs and 200g caster sugar into a thick pale cream, adding 75g melted butter and 3 tablespoons of brandy into the mix. I then grinded up 500g of walnuts in the food processor which were folded into the cream mixture. It was poured into a greased spring-form cake tin and baked for around 45 minutes. The key to this recipe is the syrup which you then pour over the cake when it comes out of the oven. For this dissolve 100g sugar in 250ml water and simmer for around 5-10 minutes until syrupy. Then add a tablespoon of brandy for that alcoholic touch and pour it over the hot cake. Leave the cake for at least an hour to “drink” the syrup. The result is coarse but gooey, perfect with a raisin and wine ice cream – mine was made with a Spanish moscatel wine, but the syrupy sweet Malaga wine would be even better (let me know if you want the recipe – it’s a little to complex to set out here!)
What better way to end the day than with that Toledo favourite which I absolutely fell in love with in Spain than little marzipans. I couldn’t believe how easy they were to make! Simply take 200g ground almonds and 200g icing sugar and mix well. Then in a food processor add a few drops of almond extract (not too many or the flavour will overpower) and 2-3 tablespoons of water (you don’t need much as the almond oil makes the paste moist). And that’s it – once you have your paste, you can roll it into balls or make all sorts of imaginative shapes like I did. Once your creative side has been satiated, lay the creations on a baking tray and leave for around 12-24 hours. The marzipans will harden slightly on the outside and remain soft and moist on the inside. The best thing is that they will last for ages!
You can, by the way, glaze the marzipans for added luxor, but I tried this with Claudia Roden’s suggestion of whipped egg whites and icing sugar and it made my marzipans look as though they had been buried under a snow storm. Next time I’ll stick to a simple egg-white glaze – and just 1-2 minutes under the grill.