A first-generation farmer and restaurant-trained chef, Julius Roberts is on a mission to live a self-sufficient life in Dorset, England.
In his first book, The Farm Table, Roberts offers rustic seasonal recipes, which sees him cultivating the finest ingredients to cook some of the best food.
Steamed apricot sponge
A steamed sponge is a glorious thing: effortless to make, juicy and light as air. These mini sponges are cooked with tart stewed apricots at the bottom of the moulds, which ooze into the sponge when flipped. Apricots are my favourite fruit for cooking, their tartness just heaven against the sweetness of the sponge. But the apricot season is short and this is a dish worth making throughout the year, so substitute in any stewed fruit - just make sure it's jammy and not too wet. In winter, marmalade makes a great replacement.
For the stewed apricots:
6 apricots, halved and destoned
3 tbsp caster sugar
a splash of apple brandy, Madeira or any sweet booze
For the sponge:
90g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
90g caster sugar
Zest and juice of one unwaxed lemon
2 eggs, lightly beaten
115g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp whole milk
Homemade custard, ice-cream, crème fraiche or double cream
- Preheat your oven to 180°C fan and generously grease four dariole moulds with butter. Start with the apricots. Put the butter into a pan that will fit the apricots snugly in one layer, then turn on the heat and when the butter begins to foam, add the apricots cut side down. Sprinkle over the sugar and cook for 4 minutes, until they begin to soften, then flip the apricots and pour in the brandy. Cook for a further 3 minutes, then turn the heat off and let them sit in their own juices. You want them cooked enough that they're softened and have created a lovely syrup but aren't falling apart.
- For the sponge, use a stand mixer or electric whisk to cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest for about five minutes, until pale and fluffy. With the mixer/whisk still running, slowly pour in the beaten eggs. Then sift in the flour and baking powder, fold together and stir through the milk and lemon juice.
- Place three apricot halves and a generous spoonful of their syrup in the bottom of each mould. Top with the sponge mix but don't fill it right to the top, as they rise quite a long way up. Cover each mould with a circle of baking parchment. These can sit in the fridge until you want to cook them. Place the moulds in a high-sided baking tray and fill the tray with boiling water to come halfway up the moulds. Cover the tray tightly with foil and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. To test for doneness, insert a skewer into the centre of the sponge; it should come out clean. Remove from the oven, take off the baking parchment and run your knife around each sponge. Flip them into bowls and serve with homemade custard, ice-cream, crème fraiche or double cream.
Epic tarragon roast chicken
There are recipes in this book that I love because they are interesting, there are those that I love for their simplicity, and there are those that I find myself making again and again. This is the latter, a great roast chicken, the heart of home cooking and one of life's great pleasures. I relish the ritual, my family's fight over the wings, the secret chef's treats of the oysters, the leftover sandwiches and bubbling stocks. There is no meal that makes me feel more at home. In my mind, there are three keys to a good roast chicken ... juicy meat, brown salty skin and most importantly a ton of sauce. And it's the sauce of this chicken that really sets it apart: handfuls of tarragon, lashings of cream and a proper dollop of mustard, which when combined with the cooking juices, garlic and wine creates a truly epic mouthful.
1 organic chicken
3 tbsp olive oil
1 whole head of garlic
250ml quality double cream
A 20g bunch of fresh tarragon, stalks removed, roughly chopped
1 large heaped tbsp dijon mustard
A glass of dry white wine
- Preheat your oven to 220°C fan and start by spatchcocking the chicken. To do this, turn it over and cut along one side of the spine from the tail to the neck. Then turn it over, open out the two sides and press down hard to flatten it. Your butcher will gladly do this for you. Lay the chicken in a large, high-sided roasting tray, season generously with salt on both sides and leave for an hour at room temperature so it loses the chill of the fridge.
- When ready, generously drizzle the skin with olive oil and work it into all the nooks and crannies. Smash the head of garlic and hide the cloves underneath the chicken, then roast in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until the skin begins to turn golden brown. Meanwhile, mix the cream, tarragon and mustard in a bowl and season well with salt and pepper. After 20 to 30 minutes, turn the oven down to 140°C fan, take out the chicken and pour a generous glass of white wine into the tray. Then pour the tarragon cream all over the chicken and place back in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes until it's ready. To judge when it's cooked, I check the deepest part of the thigh with a temperature probe, looking for 65 to 70°C. If you don't have one, prod this point with a skewer and ensure the juices run clear. At this point, remove from the oven and leave to rest for 15 minutes, covered loosely with a bit of foil. Carve and serve as you like, with lots of the sauce, garlic and a zingy green salad.
Courgette pasta with mascarpone, basil and lemon
Homegrown courgettes cooking in a puddle of good olive oil with garlic, lemon and chilli is a combination that sings of summer to me. I make this almost every day from June to September, to be stirred through risotto, served next to a piece of fish, on toast with burrata, or with my eggs in the morning. But my personal favourite is tossed through pasta with mascarpone, fresh basil and lemon. It's sheer joy, zingy and fresh with a gentle hum of chilli. Pictured here with homemade cavatelli, a much-loved pasta that's incredibly easy to make, with a pleasing texture that goes so well with this dish.
1kg courgettes (ideally a few different colours, shapes and sizes)
5 tbsp olive oil
4 large cloves of garlic, finely sliced
A generous pinch of chilli flakes
400g pasta (I love using homemade cavatelli for this but penne, tortiglioni and linguine are also great)
1 large unwaxed lemon
3 tbsp mascarpone
A large bunch of fresh basil, leaves picked (mint also works very well)
A knob of butter, about 30g
- Start by bringing a large pan of well-seasoned water to the boil for the pasta.
- Slice the courgettes into rounds about as thick as your little finger, cutting any large courgettes in half lengthways first. Heat the olive oil in a wide pan and add the courgettes. Season well with salt to draw out the moisture and fry for five minutes to get things going, before adding the garlic and chilli flakes. The key here is to end up with courgettes that are softened but not mushy, some beginning to collapse while others still have a bit of bite. The oil should be richly infused with garlic that has sweetened and not taken on any colour. Keep stirring the courgettes, and meanwhile get the pasta in.
- When the pasta is al dente, remove a large mug of starchy water from the pan before straining. Add the pasta to the courgettes, grate in the lemon zest, then add the mascarpone and a generous splash of the reserved pasta water. Mix vigorously until the sauce is well combined and coats the pasta, adding more pasta water and mascarpone as needed. Squeeze in the juice of half the lemon, then add the basil and butter. Mix again and taste to check your seasoning - it may need a splash more lemon juice and salt. Serve immediately with a drizzle of really good olive oil.
- The Farm Table, by Julius Roberts. Penguin. $55.
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