At just after nine one Friday spring morning, Angela Hartnett’s basement kitchen in her beautiful, chaotic, Georgian terraced house near London’s Spitalfields Market is still blinking itself awake. Hartnett, in leggings and an old sweatshirt, has some coffee on the stove and a pile of croissants on the tiny kitchen table surrounded by mismatched chairs that have moved houses with her. The one worktop is piled with a jumble of pots and dishes and books and letters.
Hartnett’s husband, Neil Borthwick, is wandering in and out in his cycling kit, moaning about the tube strike and getting ready to head to his job as chef at the upstairs restaurant at the French House in Soho. Hartnett is chatting to me and checking her emails, and they are both trying to keep their dog, Betty, in check. There’s an Aga, which they use for heating rather than cooking, and a temporary fridge in one corner, a replacement for a fancier one that broke down in the first lockdown, beside a back window that looks out to a high-walled garden full of shady greenery. Sometimes, Borthwick says, they think of extending down here – it feels pretty crowded with even the three of us – or at least adding another work surface, but you doubt this plan is particularly urgent. Having both spent all their working lives in far smarter kitchens than this – they met at Gordon Ramsay’s the Connaught, where Hartnett won a Michelin star and Borthwick was her brilliant junior – it’s now where they come together to relax.
That means it’s also the hub of their tight community of neighbours – Hartnett has lived here for 20 years – and the principal setting for the new book, The Weekend Cook, which tells the story of that neighbourhood through shared recipes for Burns Night bashes, easy lunches, hangover breakfasts, late-night suppers, birthdays and impromptu street parties.
Hartnett, who runs a group of wonderful restaurants – including Murano in Mayfair and three Cafe Muranos – is the most bluntly self-effacing of chefs. She has always modelled her hospitality on that of her Italian grandmother, who made sure there was an unpretentious hug of welcome for guests, and something simple and delicious to eat.
The original idea for The Weekend Cook, Hartnett says, came from her friend Pat Llewellyn, the TV producer who discovered Jamie Oliver and the Two Fat Ladies, who moved in round the corner some years ago. Llewellyn, who sadly died in 2017, had wanted to meet the neighbours and Hartnett offered to throw a dinner party. A couple of hours before it was due to start Llewelyn came round to find no evidence of any preparation at all for the event. The kitchen was in its usual disarray. Hartnett had to reassure her that all would be fine, and so it proved. “Pat always said she learned from that evening that entertaining can be very easy: you know, a pudding that’s already done, a cold starter, and a load of sharing plates in the middle of the table…” She insisted Hartnett should write that secret down. Had it not been for lockdown, Hartnett says, she probably wouldn’t have got around to it, but even though she helped to run a charity food service for the nurses and doctors in 10 London ICUs, and set up a homemade pasta takeaway service, she did find the time to put the recipes together.
Talking about the book, Hartnett and Borthwick keep up a constant banter in the kitchen, first learned when they catered private dinner parties together. “I always used to take Neil with me,” Hartnett recalls, “partly because he was good, but mainly because we never stopped laughing.” They became an item when Borthwick left the Connaught and went to work in the south of France at Michel Bras’ restaurant in Aveyron. Hartnett used to visit on weekends. Their relationship was strengthened when Hartnett supported Borthwick through a horrific bike accident a decade ago that left him in a coma for five days and required long-term recuperation after he had a plate inserted in his skull. They married four years ago, the same day as Harry and Megan, in Hawksmoor’s famous Christ Church at the end of their street, “mainly” Borthwick says, “because it was the only place where Angela had no excuse for being late”.
They talk me through some of the disasters of their home cooking. “Trifle-gate” where “Neil couldn’t get the cream to set” or “the time Angela dropped an apple pie for 12 on the stairs”.
And the triumphs?
“For the last street party,” Hartnett says, “we cooked for hundreds of people and I did everything except this one aubergine dish that Neil did. And all day people were coming up to me and going, ‘Those aubergines were amazing!’ In the end I got fed up saying, ‘Neil did them.’ I just started telling people to fuck off.”
Some people think you are allowed to put anything you want on a quiche. But I’m not so sure. It is actually quite hard to make a good quiche and one of the best I’ve ever eaten was made from a Simon Hopkinson recipe – it was just onions, onions and more onions and cream and cheese.
This is an asparagus quiche, but you could use broccoli if asparagus isn’t in season. You could vary the cheese you use, but you do need a hard, firm cheese. So perhaps comté or gruyère, or even a hard blue. You could also add a bit of cumin. Use this egg to cream ratio and you have yourself the perfect quiche base upon which to carefully build other flavours without going crazy.
For the pastry
plain flour 170g, plus extra for dusting
salt a pinch
unsalted butter 50g
egg yolk 1
iced water 2 tbsp
For the filling
asparagus 2 bunches (about 800g), or 200g purple sprouting broccoli
salted butter 15g
banana shallot 1
garlic 1 clove
egg yolks 3
double cream 200ml
cheddar cheese 200g, grated
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
crisp green salad to serve (optional)
First, make the pastry. Sift the flour into a large bowl and add the pinch of salt. Add the lard and butter and rub them in with your fingertips, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Mix the egg yolk with the water and lightly whisk, then add to the flour mix and use the back of a knife to combine. Use your hands to bring the mixture together to a firm dough.
Tip out the dough on to a lightly floured board or work surface and knead it gently. Cover or wrap it in clingfilm and rest it in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.
While the pastry rests, prepare the vegetables for the filling. If you’re using asparagus, snap off the woody stems (feel along the stem until it bends) and blanch them in boiling salted water for about 2 minutes (depending upon the thickness of the asparagus), until just cooked. Drain well. If you’re using broccoli, trim the stems and blanch them in salted boiling water for 2 minutes, until just cooked, then drain well.
Heat the oven to 180C fan/gas mark 6.
Roll out the rested dough on a lightly floured board or work surface to a 25cm disc about the thickness of a £1 coin (about 3mm). Carefully use the pastry disc to line a 20cm, loose-bottomed fluted tart tin, pushing the pastry into the edges and grooves. Trim the excess to neaten. Chill the tart case in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Prick the base of the chilled tart case all over with a fork, then line it with scrunched-up baking paper and pour in some baking beans (or use dried beans or uncooked rice, if you don’t have baking beans – you can reuse the beans, but don’t eat them).
Blind bake the pastry case for 20 minutes, until lightly golden, then remove the paper and beans and return the case to the oven for a further 5 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly in the tin.
Turn the oven down to 160C/gas mark 4.
While the tart case is cooling a little, make the filling. In a pan add the butter and cook the shallot and garlic for about 10 minutes, until soft but not coloured. Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool, then add the egg yolks, egg, cream and cheese to the bowl. Give it all a good mix to break up the eggs and combine the ingredients, and season with salt and pepper.
Line the base of the pastry case with broccoli or asparagus, then pour in the egg and cheese mixture. Bake the quiche for 25 minutes, until the filling is set to the touch and golden brown.
Allow to cool slightly, then remove it from the tin to serve. I like to serve it slightly warm, with a crisp green salad on the side
Baked leeks with egg and mustard vinaigrette
We made this most recently for our friend and neighbour Basil on his birthday, when we had about 14 people over to celebrate the great day. It’s full of my favourite things – capers, dijon mustard, anchovies, vinegar and herbs – and is served with perfectly blanched leeks and soft-boiled eggs. It’s wonderful.
baby leeks 2 bunches, or 2 large leeks
dijon mustard 2 tsp
white wine vinegar 20ml
extra virgin olive oil 60ml
lovage a handful, leaves picked and chopped (use tarragon if you can’t find lovage)
chives a handful, chopped
anchovies 2, drained and chopped
capers 1 tsp, drained and chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Top and tail the baby leeks and soak them in water to remove any grit. If you’re using large leeks, trim off the dark green tops and slice them into 2cm rounds.
Bring a pan of salted water to the boil over a high heat. Add the leeks and boil for 5 minutes, until just tender. Remove using a slotted spoon and set aside. Leave the pan on the heat.
Add the eggs and cook on a low boil for 6 minutes, until soft boiled. Drain the eggs and transfer them to a bowl of iced or very cold water to stop the cooking process.
Set them aside until cooled.
Meanwhile, combine the mustard, vinegar and olive oil in a large bowl.
Peel the cooled eggs and roughly chop them. Add the chopped eggs to the dressing in the bowl and season well, especially with black pepper. Add the chopped herbs, anchovies and capers, and mix well.
To serve, place the leeks on a serving plate and pour over the egg and mustard vinaigrette.
I know I’m very fortunate to have great suppliers and great chef friends. Seafood guru Mitch Tonks often sends us crabs up from Devon, and sometimes we get them sent to our door from Portland Shellfish. It is just so delicious and a wonderful thing to enjoy with friends.
This salad could be either a great starter or a fantastic main event with bowls of fries. This is not the classic crab salad with egg and parsley, but a sea-fresh crab salad with a lovely hit of lime. You could replace the baby gem with chicory or kohlrabi, or a mix of the three would be great. And homemade mayonnaise, of course.
white crab meat 400g
ice a large bowl
limes juice of 1½
baby gem lettuce 2, leaves separated
extra virgin olive oil 3 tbsp
basil, mint and coriander a handful of each, leaves and tender stems picked and chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the mayonnaise
egg yolk 1
white wine vinegar 1 tbsp
dijon mustard ½ tsp
vegetable oil 300ml
brown crab meat 150g
First, make the mayonnaise. Put the egg yolk, vinegar and mustard in a food processor and blitz lightly to combine. Little by little, add the oil through the feed tube, mixing continuously as you do so, until the mixture emulsifies to form a loose mayonnaise.
Add the brown crab meat and blitz the mixture together. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and add a good squeeze of lime juice. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and set aside.
Sit the white crab meat on a plate set into the bowl of ice and gradually pick through it to make sure there are no pieces of shell. Season with salt and pepper and a touch of lime juice.
Mix the salad leaves with the olive oil and remaining lime juice, then spread them across a large serving dish. Add the crab meat, dotting it all over the salad leaves. Sprinkle over the herbs and serve with the mayonnaise on the side.
Roasted pork belly
This is a recipe inspired by Valentine Warner, a very good chef and food writer. It’s my go-to way of making pork belly. I probably add a bit more garlic to mine, along with thyme sometimes. It’s just such a good and simple way to add great flavour.
Pork belly is a pleasingly cheap cut of meat and wonderfully easy to cook; you just need to get your oven temperatures right.
rosemary sprigs 3, leaves picked and finely chopped
unwaxed lemons finely grated zest of 2
fennel seeds 1 tbsp
garlic 4 cloves, peeled and crushed
groundnut oil 2 tbsp
pork belly 1.5kg, skin on
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 200C fan/gas mark 7.
Put the rosemary, lemon zest, fennel seeds and garlic in a mortar and grind them with a pestle to a good paste. Stir in the oil and season with salt and pepper, then set aside.
Pat the pork belly dry with kitchen paper, then with a sharp knife, score across the narrow width of the belly at 2cm intervals, taking care to score through the skin and fat, but not into the meat. Rub the rosemary and lemon marinade all over the scored skin.
Pour 1cm depth of water into a roasting tray, place a rack in the tray and the pork belly on top. Roast in the oven until the skin starts to bubble and crackle, about 30 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 140C fan/gas mark 2-3 and cook for a further 1 hour, until the meat is tender to the point of a knife. If the pork needs crisping up, increase the oven to 220C fan/gas mark 9 and roast for a final 15 minutes, until it’s good and crisp.
Leave the pork to rest for 10-15 minutes, then slice and serve. I like to serve it on a bed of leaves for some freshness.
We host Burn’s Night suppers at home, and what can beat a classic Scottish soup. The traditional base is smoked haddock, but another smoked fish would work just as well. I love making this soup – it’s so delicious and easy to make, and so hard to get wrong. Just be sure that you use good smoked haddock.
undyed smoked haddock 500g, skin on
bay leaf 1
unsalted butter 15g
onion 1, peeled and finely chopped
leek 1, sliced lengthways, then sliced thinly into half-moons
potatoes 2, peeled and cut into 1cm dice
whole milk 400ml
chives 1 tbsp, chopped
flat-leaf parsley a small handful, leaves and stems, chopped
sea salt and white pepper
Put the haddock and bay leaf in a pan and cover with 300ml of cold water. Season with white pepper and bring the liquid to the boil over a high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and poach the haddock for 5 minutes, until just cooked through, then remove the pan from the heat.
Remove the haddock from the poaching liquid and transfer it to a plate. You should be able to easily remove the haddock flesh from the skin. Flake the flesh into pieces and leave it to cool (discard the skin).
Pour the poaching liquid into a measuring jug and set aside.
Melt the butter in another pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and sweat for 3 minutes, then add the leek and season. Sweat for a further 2-3 minutes to soften the leek, then add the diced potato and a touch more salt. Add the reserved poaching liquid. Lower the heat, cover the pan with a lid and cook the vegetables for 10 minutes, until the potatoes are soft but not mushy.
Remove a quarter of the potato and leek mixture from the pan and leave it to one side. Add half the flaked haddock and the milk to the pan and heat through. Remove the pan from the heat and, using a hand-held stick blender or by pouring the soup into a food processor or blender, blitz until smooth.
To serve, return the soup to a gentle heat until hot. Divide the reserved potato and leek mixture and the remaining flaked haddock between the bowls and pour over equal amounts of the soup. Finish with the chopped chives and parsley, and serve immediately.
My Uncle Ren has always loved this dessert, so when I was making it for the photography shoot for this book, I called him up and asked him over. It was during lockdown (when we could meet outside), so he didn’t come near us, but just enjoyed it quietly in the garden, packed the rest into a container and left for his home, very happy and full.
This is a bit of a showstopper; the meringue quenelles, the caramel and the custard make it a great dessert to impress.
For the creme anglaise
whole milk 750ml
vanilla pod 1, split lengthways and seeds scraped out
egg yolks 8
caster sugar 200g
For the poaching liquor
whole milk 500ml
caster sugar 1 tbsp
For the meringue
egg whites 8
caster sugar 200g
For the caramel
caster sugar 100g
First, make the creme anglaise. Pour the milk into a saucepan and add the vanilla pod. Place it over a medium heat and leave it to heat up, so that the milk infuses with vanilla, until the milk is just below boiling point (look for a few bubbles around the edges).
Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in a mixing bowl until pale. Pour a touch of the hot milk mixture on to the eggs and sugar, and whisk rapidly until smooth. Pour the egg mixture into the pan with the rest of the milk. Stir continuously over a medium heat for 4-5 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Strain the mixture through a sieve into a bowl, cover the surface with a piece of baking paper to stop a skin forming and leave the creme anglaise to cool (this is quickest set into a bowl of ice). Once cool, transfer the creme anglaise to the fridge until needed.
Make the poaching liquor. Combine the milk, sugar and 250ml of water in a wide pan that’s deep enough to accommodate 3-4 meringue quenelles at a time. Place it over a low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Meanwhile, make the meringue. Tip the egg whites into a large bowl and, using an electric hand whisk, whisk them until they form stiff peaks (but don’t let them go dry). Add 1 tablespoon of the sugar, and continue to whisk until the mixture comes back to stiff peaks. Keep adding the sugar, a tablespoon at a time, whisking between each addition until you’ve added all of it and you have a thick, glossy meringue.
Using a serving spoon dipped in cold water, shape 12-16 (depending on the size of your spoon) quenelles (oval shapes with pointed ends) of the meringue and gently poach them in the milk mixture about 3-4 at a time. You need to leave room to be able to flip them over. Cook the quenelles for 4 minutes each side, making sure the liquid doesn’t boil, otherwise the meringues will puff and then collapse. As each meringue is cooked, remove it from the poaching liquid with a slotted spoon and place it on a large tray lined with baking paper to cool.
Make the caramel. Tip the sugar into a clean pan and add 2 teaspoons of water. Melt the sugar over a low heat, brushing down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush from time to time, until the sugar turns a dark copper colour. Do not stir! Remove the caramel immediately from the heat to stop it from burning.
Pour the caramel over the meringues and leave until set.
To serve, make a generous pool of creme anglaise on each plate and top it with a meringue.
From The Weekend Cook by Angela Hartnett (Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, £26). To support The Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply