Early on Easter morning, I’ll be hiding eggs to continue a tradition that has been in our family for as long as I can remember. Our egg hunt starts with a riddle, to be puzzled over before charging across the dewy grass to search among the bushes and flower pots for a yellow crepe paper parcel filled with foil-wrapped chocolate. The negotiations on just how much chocolate is too much will be another tradition that I continue with my own children.
Much of my cooking is rooted in the memories of our family kitchen. They’re sensory memories: not only the practical, hands-on skills that began clumsily and are now second nature, but the deeper sense of being involved, of creating something and of new flavours.
My first taste of watercress, with its deceptively delicate peltate leaves and peppery punch, is an experience I vividly remember. Always a man to explain through humour, my dad would ask if we enjoyed our “nose twisting”. His first job, selling flowers in Covent Garden, gave him enough Latin to take pleasure in botanical names, including nasi tortium. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that it took a little time for me to warm to watercress, and for years its peppery heat was tempered by cooking it in a soup or sandwiching it between thickly buttered bread. But the properties that once made it overwhelming are now those I have come to love.
Another unappreciated vegetable, still associated with miserable diets, celery is often confined to the stockpot. However, slowly braised with butter and lemon, a simple dish of celery deserves a place at any table.
Some combinations are hard to beat, with or without a nostalgic childhood memory. Golden-yolked eggs with anchovies and spiced mayonnaise; sweet and succulent honey-roasted ham, balanced by mustardy potatoes and a helping of celery; and bowls of warm lemon pudding with plenty of cream.
Devilled egg and anchovy
This way of cooking eggs has never failed me. The hard-boiled yolks enrich, thicken and stabilise the mayonnaise. Buy the best free-range eggs you can and always cook them from room temperature. The mayonnaise makes plenty and pairs well with any leftover ham. Like milk in tea, spice is very personal, so freely adjust the amounts below to your tolerance.
I make the mayonnaise in a food processor but, if you make it in a bowl, add the crushed anchovies and yolks at the end. It won’t have the smooth texture but will taste the same. Everything can be made a day in advance and kept in the fridge.
Makes 8 halves
free-range eggs 7, at room temperature
dijon mustard 1½ tbsp
lemon 1, juiced
anchovy fillets in oil 1 x tin, drained (my favourite are Ortiz)
water 3 tbsp
sunflower or grapeseed oil 100ml
chilli olive oil 160ml
Tabasco to taste
Start with the boiled eggs. Bring a pot of water to the boil and carefully lower in 4 eggs. Reduce the heat to a steady simmer for 8 minutes. Drain the eggs and place them under cold running water for 5 minutes or into an ice bath. Once cool, peel the eggs and cut each in half. Gently remove the yolks for the mayonnaise, place the hollowed out whites into a bowl of cold water and set aside.
Separate the remaining 3 eggs. Put the 3 yolks, the cooked yolks, mustard, lemon juice, 4 anchovy fillets and water into a food processor. With the motor running, add the oils in a very slow, steady stream and blend until thick and glossy. (If you are using a bowl, place it on a damp tea towel to keep steady, then slowly add the oils, whisking the entire time.) Taste and adjust the spice with Tabasco, remembering not to over season as the eggs are later topped with another anchovy. Spoon the mayonnaise into a piping bag or container and place in the fridge.
When you’re ready, remove the eggs from the water and pat dry. Generously spoon or pipe the mayonnaise into the hollow and top each one with an anchovy.
Look for a joint with good fat coverage as this will help to retain moisture while the ham is slowly cooking. For large joints, I would always recommend using a kitchen probe: it puts to rest any fear that, beneath the beautiful exterior, the centre is undercooked. This method needs time but is well worth the wait.
gammon joint 1.5 kg, with a good fat coverage
runny honey 80g
dijon mustard 1 tsp
Heat the oven to 80C fan/gas mark ¼ or its lowest setting.
Rinse the ham under cold running water for 10 minutes to draw out excess salt. Line a deep roasting tray with tin foil (to avoid stubborn washing up later) and place a sturdy rack into it. Put the ham on the rack and into the oven for 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Remove the ham from the oven and increase the temperature to 180C fan/gas mark 6. Remove any string from the joint and cut away the rind, being careful to leave a good layer of fat covering the meat. Score the fat in a crisscross pattern, mindful not to cut down too deep.
Mix together the honey and mustard. Brush two thirds of the glaze evenly and thickly over the joint and return it to the hot oven for 15 minutes. Brush another layer of glaze over the ham and return to the oven for 10 minutes. Repeat this once more or until it’s caramelised and sticky. For peace of mind, press a kitchen probe into the centre to check the core temperature is above 63C. Leave to rest under a sheet of tin foil for 10 minutes before carving.
Mustard potatoes and watercress
A generous salad to celebrate the new season’s jersey royals. A king among potatoes with its nutty, earthy flavour, it also boast a subtle bitterness, which is mellowed with the help of salt, butter and gentle cooking.
jersey royals 750g
fresh mint 4 sprigs
unsalted butter 50g
salt 1 tbsp
dijon mustard 70g
sunflower or grapeseed oil 85ml
lemon juice ½ tsp
watercress 1 bunch, washed and picked
sea salt and black pepper
Scrub the potatoes clean of earth and place them in a large pot covered with cold water. Add the mint, butter and salt to the pot, cover and bring to the boil. Gently simmer for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave the potatoes in the water for a further 20 minutes or until they’re tender. Drain and place them into a large bowl, halving any that are particularly large.
Combine the mustard, oil and lemon juice until smooth. While the potatoes are still warm, pour over the dressing and turn the potatoes to ensure each one is coated. Add the watercress, using your hands to gently fold it through. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Braised celery and capers
Look for a bunch of crisp tapered stalks, tightly packed with fluffy leaves, and vibrant white green in colour.
celery 2 leafy heads, washed
vegetable stock 500ml, ideally homemade
unsalted butter 70g
salt ½ tsp
salted capers 2 tbsp, rinsed well
lemon juice to taste
Trim away the bottom of the celery and remove any large tough outer stalks. Run a peeler down the front of each stick to take away the fibrous strings.
Roughly cut into batons varying between 8-12cm and place them into a large casserole pot with the stock, butter and salt. Cover with a lid and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 30 minutes or until tender.
Remove the lid, fold through the rinsed capers and lemon juice and continue to cook down until the stock is reduced by a third. Taste and adjust seasoning before spooning on to warm plates.