Sunday, 20 February 2011
In such gloomin' there is little one can do but cook. Conjuring up some sun, a hint of summer warmth and the prospect of life to push back this oh, so dreary day.
Some people like Nigella Lawson: I'm not one of her fans. I try to keep away from her sickly, smarmy, suffocating, soporific slobberings - pitched as unctuousness on legs. I'm afraid when I see her I see Mother Pig in one of the fairy tales my mother told me. In my Grimms tale her end is not a happy one - skewered neatly and roasted on a spit.
I can't abide her and her "secret asides". So it was with some alarm and much horror that I discovered that the recipe to drive away this hellish afternoon is one of hers.
Looking in the cupboard, after catching a bottle of chillies which leapt off the overflowing shelves, I find a half full packet of top notch Italian polenta (donated by friends) and a full pack of ground almonds. A quick Google and I'm staring at Nigella's Lemon polenta cake.
What more joyous mix could you imagine. For me the scent, colour or taste of lemons transports me to Sorrento in 1992. Walking around the street squares, brightly lit shops with shelves stacked with bottles of Limoncello glowing like the radioactive core of Three Mile Island. Decorative lights hanging from street lamps casting a faint lemony glow reflected in the waters of the Amalfi coast.
Lemons also bring to mind my old drama group's late summer holiday in Sicily in 1987; where Lesley- we weren't an item then - was wined and dined by a Sicilian lemon grower. So persistent and unwelcome were his advances that one evening I and the other male members of the group kept Lesley on the dance floor all evening so he could not get to her. Happy days.
The recipe is extremely straight forward as well as being hugely cheering: what more can one ask of a food.
In a largish bowl, first mix tons of soft unsalted butter (200 gm - that's nearly a whole pack!) with 200 gm of caster sugar, until it creamed and light in colour. In a second bowl mix 200 gm of ground almonds with 100 gm of polenta and a teaspoon and half of baking powder. You can see where this is going - seriously scrummy.
Add some of this mixture to the butter and sugar mix along with one egg. Mix well and repeat adding more polenta and almond mix and egg. Mix well and add the rest of the polenta and almond concoction and a third and final egg.
To this delicious confection (only one finger lick, mind) add the zest of two lemons.
Zest is important and how you remove it from the lemons equally so. Some people use a small grater, which I find over fiddly and doesn't work that well for me. I use a potato peeler to carefully remove the zest, trying very hard not to include the bitter pith.
After cutting the zest into fine, short strands blend it into the eggy, almondy, buttery,sugary, polenta mixture.
Having already lined the base of a 9 inch round sponge tin with grease proof paper and buttered its sides you pour, scrape and manhandle the mixture into the tin, ensuring not to leave any remaining in the mixing bowl. I find a large spoon, fingers and tongue are useful here. Place the tin in a pre-heated oven at 180C for 40 mins. As usual it's done if a skewer stuck into the cake emerges cleanly - that means it cooked through but not dried out.
Leave the cake to cool in its tin and meanwhile take the juice of the two naked lemons and mix with 125 gm of icing sugar heating gently to ensure a perfect melt and combination.
Once the cake's cooled you can knock it out of the tin, attached to the greaseproof, onto a plate. Using a thin blade prick all over the top of the cake and then pour the lemon juice and icing sugar mixture carefully and slowly over the little darling.
Stand back, take a deep breath and enjoy and admire your latest creation which I guarantee will enhance your reputation as a cordon bleu cook no end!