Simple is the name of Diana Henry’s latest cookery book which was published this week. If you read my blog regularly you will know I am a massive fan of her recipes. I bought a copy as a birthday present for my future daughter-in-law; she and my son are keen cooks and, like me, love her way of cooking. But I was going to resist buying a copy for myself and be patient and wait for someone to maybe give me one for Christmas. Then my friend Caroline, another fan and a temptress, told me she’d already received hers and how brilliant it is. You can guess the rest. By the wonders of Amazon Prime membership my copy will be with me this evening.
Look away now if you don’t approve of buying those packs of fine green beans imported from Kenya and Zambia because of the air miles involved in getting them here. We like them in this house so I do buy them. In the last few weeks Waitrose has been stocking homegrown ones which seem a little fatter but are full of flavour.
One of my favourite ways of serving them in the summer is as a salad in a classic vinaigrette. I cook the beans, drain them, plunge them in cold water so they retain their colour and drain them again. And then I toss them in the vinaigrette which I make as follows:
- Put a teaspoon of Dijon mustard in your salad bowl
- Add a little salt, freshly ground black pepper and 1/2 tsp of sugar
- Add 1 tbsp of white wine vinegar
- Using a small whisk mix this a little and then slowly pour on extra virgin olive oil, continuing to whisk all the time. I cannot tell you how much oil I use. It emulsifies gradually and somehow I just know when it’s enough. I taste it too of course: if it’s still very tart I might add a little more oil
You may prefer to make your dressing in a jug or small bowl, or in a jam jar by placing all the ingredients in it, putting on the lid and giving it a shake. I find it easier to make it in the salad bowl and have got used to knowing how much dressing I need for the amount of salad I’m making. Sometimes I vary it; for example, I might omit the mustard and add red wine vinegar instead of white, a little crushed garlic and some chopped flat leaf parsley; or, to avoid a too strong taste of raw garlic, I’ll peel and flatten a clove slightly and leave this in the dressing but remove it when it’s time to serve the salad. This provides a mere hint of garlic flavour.
Making the dressing in the salad bowl takes me back to one of my first stays in France as a teenager. I was 15 and went to stay with the family of Sophie, whom we had hosted the previous year. Sophie lived in the heart of Burgundy country in a stunningly beautiful house which seemed to me like half a chateau. She must have found our house in England very small. It was a very hot summer and all meals were taken outside with rarely fewer than about ten people at each sitting. Sophie’s father ran his own business and always came home for lunch, sometimes bringing a couple of colleagues with him. We girls occasionally helped their maid, Lily, in the kitchen and that is where I learnt to make vinaigrette. Another memory is Sophie’s father taking his lunchtime red wine (Burgundy, obviously) with ice cubes. My father was astonished when I told him this. I returned from that holiday with much improved French, new friends and feeling very worldly wise.
When I posted a photo of this to Instagram yesterday I called it plum cake but it’s officially a torte and with just the two eggs, it is definitely a little less cake-y than most cakes.
Anyway, I recommend the recipe to you. I bought a whole load of Victoria plums on Friday with the vague intention of doing a seasonal weekend bake but with no specific recipe in mind. I couldn’t find the Diana Henry recipe I thought I had in one of her books so I Googled “Diana Henry plum cake” and this was the result. The observant among you will notice it uses purple plums, but I saw no reason to let that put me off and brazenly set to work with my pinkish yellow Victoria ones.
I do hope it’s fine to post the recipe here.
- 125g plain flour
- 1tsp baking powder
- pinch of salt
- 115g butter, softened
- 200g soft light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- about 9 plums, halved and stoned
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 tsp lemon juice
(Preheat conventional oven to 180ºC)
You will need a 23cm springform tin. Not sure why but Henry says ungreased. I obeyed and it came out fine.
Don’t forget the sugar and lemon juice topping; I haven’t tried it without but have a feeling it makes all the difference, to both taste and texture.
- Henry doesn’t, but I used the all-in-one method and placed all the ingredients except for the plums, granulated sugar and lemon juice in the bowl of my KitchenAid and mixed at high speed for about 2 minutes until thoroughly blended.
- Spoon the mixture into your tin and place the plums, skin-side up, on top.
- Sprinkle the granulated sugar and lemon juice over the cake and bake (in the Aga baking oven). Takes about 45 minutes, in a conventional oven or the Aga.
- The cake is done when it starts to come away from the sides of the tin and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
- Leave it to cool for 20 minutes on a rack and then release from the tin. Be careful: it’s quite fragile and the plums have probably sunk to the bottom but this doesn’t matter at all.
- We ate it at room temperature but it would have been just as delicious slightly warm.