For those of you who don’t know James Martin, he’s a British TV chef who presented Saturday Kitchen for many years, competed on Strictly Come Dancing (BBC), and has presented heaps of other fantastic cooking series – he’d have to be one of the busiest chefs on TV. He’s also a proud Yorkshireman, loves cooking with butter probably even more than I do, and his dogs feature in the shows he films at his home. Plus, he has a cocker spaniel named Cooper – which he’s trained to do the proper cocker fetch and carry thing (I’ve tried to get my Kali to watch, but she won’t…)
His recipes are, I’ve found, reliably good, even though James is by no means a food writer. He is, in fact, dyslexic – a difficulty that meant he even failed cookery at school. He admits to having never read a book in his (adult) life, doesn’t read from autocue on his shows (instead he memorises his lines from the autocue) and writes his cookbooks via dictation. He’s also far and away one of the most gifted foodie presenters on TV – I watched hours of his shows as research for my character Claire Mansfield in Escape To Curlew Cottage. The things I have to do. (As an aside, James even gets a cameo in the novel…not that he’d ever know that, of course…)
Enough of the bio, to the book or as James would say, Bienvenue en France…or welcome to France.
This is one of those cookbooks that accompanies a TV series. Of course, there are purists who’d turn their noses up at that, but to them I say “puh” (in a French accent of course).
The series is a good one – James drives around the various regions in France (in his hero Keith Floyd’s old car – one of those cute Citroens like the one we’re in in the pic below), talks to a few people, shows us some scenery and cooks a lot of yummy food – mostly on a burner outdoors.
I have so far cooked a lot from this book – and I mean a lot. I’ve made the pork, pistachio and apricot terrine for a picnic, the moules mariniere and coq au vin for a French night last year, and the beurre blanc, Vichy carrots and Lyonnaise potatoes as sides for various other meals.
We had the braised chicken, with red wine, vinegar and tarragon over the campfire last year in Eucumbene, and the Boeuf Bourguignon last month for Destination Burgundy. I told you about that and gave you the recipe for the apple tarts here.
Last weekend we had his confit duck with bean stew – although I cheated and didn’t confit my own duck.
But what recipe to feature here? (insert drumroll) … Lemon Verbena Meringues. They mightn’t look much in the picture, but they taste great…or so Sarah and Grant tell me.
I love lemon verbena, but have only just started growing in in the last few months. It has these gorgeously tiny white flowers and the leaves give a really soft and subtle citrus scent. You can make tea with it too, although I haven’t done that yet. I planted it what I thought was an empty pot but a lily appears to be growing up through it…le shrug.
Anyways, the meringues. These are really no-nonsense to make and give a really smooth and glossy result. I served them with strawberry ice cream and strawberries macerated in cassis. James sandwiches his together with vanilla cream and serves them with strawberry sauce, so this is the recipe I’ll give you.
Lemon Verbena Meringues with Vanilla Cream and Strawberries
What you need
for the meringues…
- 6 egg whites (use the yolks for ice cream)
- 180g sifted icing sugar
- 180g caster sugar
- a few lemon verbena leaves snipped finely – I use scissors for this
for the sauce and filling…
- 375g strawberries, hulled
- 400ml double cream
- 2 tablespoons icing sugar, sifted
- 1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped
- More lemon verbena to garnish
What you do with it…
- Preheat the oven to 100C and line a large baking sheet with baking paper
- Whisk the egg whites and caster sugar together (yep, all of it in one go) until you get stiff peaks. I still do the whole thing about trying to tip it on top of my head to check that its right.
- Add the icing sugar, again in one go and whisk some more – for about another 4-6 minutes or until the meringue is thick and glossy. Stir through the lemon verbena.
- Using a couple of metal spoons make quenelles and place them on the tray – or if you’re not that dextrous (or can’t be faffed) just take spoonfuls and plop them on. Make sure that you space them well apart.
- Pop in the oven and cook for 2 hours.
- Once cooked allow them to cool on the tray for a little before gently prising them off and cooling properly on a wire rack.
- For the strawberry sauce, place 200g strawberries in a small food processor and blend until smooth. Pass it through a sieve to remove the seeds. Slice the remaining strawberries.
- To make the vanilla cream whip together the cream, icing sugar and vanilla seeds until you have soft peaks.
- Sandwich the meringues together using the cream and the sliced strawberries, serve the strawberry sauce on the side and scatter over the lemon verbena to make it look pretty.