The past year has been no walk in the park, but as the weather gets warmer, picnics are just what we need; they inspire nostalgia and hark back to simpler, more innocent times. Dust off your wicker basket, find some bucolic scenery to stare at, claim a patch of sunlit lawn, and indulge in some seasonal, blanket-friendly fare.
Rhubarb and pink peppercorn almond bars
The tickle of pink peppercorns brings a pop of surprise to these otherwise traditional rhubarb and frangipane bars.
Prep 1 hr
Rest/chill 1 hr
Cook 1 hr 15 min
Makes 12 bars
175g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
50g icing sugar
100g cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus extra for greasing
Finely grated zest of ½ large orange
1 egg yolk
1½ tsp orange juice
For the rhubarb
400g rhubarb, cut into small, bite-sized chunks
100g caster sugar
Zest and juice of ½ orange
For the topping
125g unsalted butter
125g golden caster sugar
1 heaped tsp pink peppercorns, lightly crushed in a mortar
2 eggs, beaten
175g ground almonds
125g raspberry or rhubarb jam
40g flaked almonds
Put the rhubarb in a roasting tin and scatter with the caster sugar, orange zest and juice and toss well, making sure it’s well coated. Spread out the rhubarb in a single layer and leave to steep for half an hour.
Heat the oven to 180 C (160C fan)/350F gas 4, then roast the rhubarb for 12 minutes, or until it is just tender, but still holding its shape. Set aside to cool while you make the pastry.
Sift the flour, a pinch of salt and the icing sugar into a food processor, then add the butter and orange zest, and blitz until the mix looks like fine breadcrumbs. Tip into a bowl, add the orange juice and egg yolk, and mix lightly until it comes together into a rough dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead lightly until smooth.
Grease and line a 21cm x 30cm shallow baking tin with baking paper and roll out the pastry to the same size. Lay the pastry over the base of the tin, prick all over with a fork and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Bake for 15 minutes, then set aside.
For the topping, cream the butter, sugar and peppercorns with an electric hand mixer until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs, then fold in the ground almonds.
Spread the jam evenly over the pastry base, then carefully spread the almond mixture on top. Drain any excess juice from the rhubarb (keep it for a drinks mixer) and scatter over the top, gently pressing the chunks into the mixture.
Bake for 10 minutes, then remove and scatter over the flaked almonds. Return to the oven for a further 35 minutes, until golden and askewer inserted comes away clean. Leave to cool, then remove from the tin and slice into bars.
Heritage tomato, goat’s cheese and sesame polenta cake
As much as I love a Victoria sandwich, there’s more to cakes than just jam and cream. This savoury sponge makes for a delicious wedge and is adaptable to other vegetables, too, from courgettes and fennel with olives to sturdier roots in the winter.
Prep 40 min
Cook 45 min
75g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
450g heritage tomatoes (if possible, use a range of varieties, from large to cherry)
Sea salt and black pepper
125g plain flour
75g fine polenta
2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp dried oregano
Zest of 1 lemon
2 heaped tbsp tahini
100g hard goat’s cheese, very finely grated
100ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
4 large eggs
2 heaped tsp sesame seeds
Baby basil sprigs, to garnish
200g goat’s curd, to serve (optional)
Heat the oven to 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas 4 and grease and line a 20cm cake tin.
Cut all the tomatoes in half horizontally, sprinkle with sea salt and leave in a colander to drain away any excess moisture.
In a bowl, mix all the dry ingredients and set aside. In a mixer, cream the butter, tahini, goat’s cheese and oil until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until smooth. Fold in the dry ingredients with a metal spoon until well combined.
Spoon half the batter into the tin and lay half the tomatoes on top, making sure to get rid of any excess moisture. Now spoon over the remaining batter and crown with the rest of the tomatoes, pressing them down so they are set into the batter. Drizzle over some more olive oil and sprinkle over the sesame seeds.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the tomatoes are caramelised and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Leave the cake to cool before removing from the tin and decorating with a few sprigs of basil. Slice and enjoy with a spoon of goat’s curd.