Ten Questions with Rosie Birkett + 2 Spring Recipes
Rosie Birkett – you couldn’t meet a nicer person. Full of fun, good energy and weird facts about food that I find fascinating. Her books A Lot on Her Plate and East London Food are both well-used and often pulled off my bookshelves. She’s does a pretty special duet with her whippet too after a couple of glasses of orange wine. I am thrilled to have been able to chat to her about food and life, here’s what we talked about and two lovely spring recipes. Thanks Rosie. You are excellent.
What was your first job?
My first ever job was working in a garden centre called The Potted Garden. I was 14 and it was fantastic because I got to learn all about planting, potting and caring for plants. I remember distinctly the wonderful smell of the potting shed, full of earth and green, living things, and the thrill of understanding what it meant to be paid to do something you enjoyed. My first job in hospitality was shortly after the garden centre, working as a waitress at the local hotel when I was 16, serving food to guests and members of the golf club restaurant. I was forever badgering the chefs for treats, and it was my first insight into the runnings of a professional kitchen. The food wasn’t amazing by any stretch, but the club sandwich was killer!
What’s your earliest food memory?
Pottering around with my dad in his vegetable patch, swiping peas fresh from their pods and munching on cherries from the tree in our garden. That and family camping holidays to France – stopping in laybys and eating freshly fried frites with baguettes and mayonnaise. So good!
What did you have for breakfast?
Poached eggs on sourdough with some fermented wild garlic and three cornered leeks from near where I live.
What’s the most underused ingredient?
Lovage is my favourite herb, – it’s a cross between celery and parsley with a musty, spicy edge, but it’s really underused. It’s lovely with peas and in purees with seafood
What’s your worst kitchen disaster to date?
Spreading lard on my mum’s birthday cucumber sandwiches as a little girl, thinking it was butter. She ate them regardless! That’s love. That and misjudging the level of spice in a chilli and making a ridiculous stir fry that no one could eat.
What do you eat when you get home after a long day at work?
A good slice of sourdough toast with organic butter, local honey and a pinch of Maldon
What’s the best smell in the world?
There are so many! The middle Street Fish and Chip shop in deal, freshly baked sourdough, or freshly brewed coffee.
What does ‘eating well’ mean to you?
Having a healthy, balanced and enthusiastic relationship with food. Cooking from scratch using seasonal ingredients and making tasty food that you want to eat and enjoy with those you love.
Do you listen to anything while you’re cooking?
Usually 6 music or podcasts like Adam Buxton or My dad Wrote a Porno
Who would you most like to cook for?
My late father
ASPARAGUS WITH CHARRED LEMON BUTTER + PARMESAN
As soon as the short asparagus season starts, I find myself eating the tender green spears at every given opportunity. To make the most of their incredibly special flavour, I like to keep things simple, and this is one of my favourite preparations – good for a quick lunch or an easy starter. Charring the lemon caramelises it, adding bitter notes and heightening its sweetness, giving it a complexity that works well with the salty Parmesan and nutty asparagus.
400 g asparagus spears
1 lemon, halved
15 g unsalted butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper
40 g Parmesan
Snap the woody bases from the asparagus spears, keeping only the tender tips. Heat a non-stick frying pan (skillet) or griddle pan until stinking hot. Brush the lemon halves with a little bit of olive oil and place cut-side down on the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the cut sides of the lemons are caramelised and
charred, then set aside.
Melt the butter in the lemon pan. When cool enough to handle, squeeze in the charred lemon juice and stir to incorporate over the heat.
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and add the asparagus tips, cooking for 2 minutes, or until tender. Drain in a colander and toss them immediately into the lemon butter, over a very low heat. Divide between plates, season with black pepper and grate over the Parmesan. Eat immediately, with your fingers.
JERSEY ROYALS WITH SAMPHIRE
As soon as Jersey Royal potatoes are in season, I get myself to the greengrocer and buy them by the bag. There’s just no other potato like them (although Yukon Gold is the closest contender): they are the simplest of nature’s pleasures, and I like to celebrate them in their own right, allowing their intensely earthy, potato flavour to sing. Because Jerseys are traditionally grown with seaweed in the soil, I find it fitting to cook them with a bit of juicy samphire.
350 g Jersey Royals (or Yukon Gold, or other new season potatoes) washed and scrubbed lightly to remove any soil
100 g samphire
knob of unsalted butter
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
squeeze of lemon juice
Put the potatoes in a large saucepan, fill it with cold water and add 2 large pinches of salt. Bring it up to the boil, skimming the surface of any impurities, and cook for 15–20 minutes, until the potatoes are squashable with your fingers. Don’t be afraid of overcooking them; you want them tender, not in any way al dente.
Just before you drain them, add the samphire into the cooking stock and blanch for about 1 minute, then drain. Transfer to a large bowl, add the butter, tossing to coat, and season with salt and pepper. Squeeze over some lemon juice, and serve while hot.