Cheesy roasties and lemony gratin: Anna Jones’ springtime recipes | Spring food and drink

Easter is an in-between time of year. I have spent some basking in the garden, while on others, there’s been snow. Spring demands food that is both fresh and hearty. Today’s gratin is loosely based on one from the cookbook Sunday Suppers at Lucques – coins of early season courgettes with a perky salsa verde topped with golden cheesy breadcrumbs. And you can’t go wrong with this spin on roast potatoes with cheese and pickle, served with a crisp bitter leaf salad.

Cheese and pickle roast potatoes with chilli-dressed leaves (pictured top)

A tray of these for dinner is just about the best thing I can think of to eat: squashed, crisp-edged potatoes, tossed and baked in pickle brine to give them a subtle but important chip-shop vinegar feeling. Once hot and crisped, the potatoes are topped with cornichons and cheese, and finished with a chilli and bitter lettuce salad.

Prep 20 min
Cook 1 hr 15 min
Serves 4

1kg new potatoes, scrubbed clean
10 cornichons (35g), roughly chopped, plus 100ml brine from the jar
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper
3 fresh red chillies
Juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
100g
comté, or vegan mature cheddar-style cheese
1 head radicchio, or other bitter lettuce

Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil, add the potatoes and cook for 10-20 minutes, depending on their size, until just cooked. Drain and leave in the colander to steam dry.

Tip the potatoes into a roasting tin, toss them with 50ml cornichon brine, two tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste, then roast for 15 minutes.

Using a potato masher, squish the part-roasted potatoes until they crack and some of their soft, fluffy insides are exposed. Pour over another two tablespoons of olive oil and return to the oven for another 30-40 minutes, turning the potatoes once halfway, until golden and crisp.

Prick three fresh red chillies with the tip of a sharp knife – this stops them exploding when they are cooked. Using a pair of metal tongs, hold the chillies one at a time over a gas flame until they’re blackened and blistered all over (if you don’t have a gas hob, toast them in a hot, dry frying pan). Once they are all blistered, put the chillies in a small bowl, cover and leave for 15 minutes. They will steam in their own heat and the skins will peel off easily. Once cool enough to handle, peel the chillies, open them up and scrape out and discard all the pith and seeds. Finely chop the flesh, put it in a large bowl with the remaining 70ml olive oil and the lemon juice, season to taste and mix well.

Once the potatoes are golden and crisp, add another 50ml cornichon brine while they are still hot, then toss with the roughly chopped cornichons and a generous grating of comte or vegan cheddar. Tear the radicchio into bite-size pieces, season with salt, toss in the chilli dressing and serve alongside the potatoes.

Courgette and salsa verde gratin

Capers are front and centre here, tossed through the gratin and providing the backbone to the salsa verde. This is a light gratin, with lemon, capers, mint and parsley being the main events, rather than the heavy cheese or cream that a lot of gratins go in for.

Prep 30 min
Cook 45 min
Serves 4

A few sprigs of fresh oregano or marjoram
A few sprigs of fresh mint
A few sprigs of fresh parsley
150ml extra-virgin olive oil
2 small garlic cloves
, peeled
Salt and black pepper
3 tbsp capers, drained (rinsed and soaked if salt- packed)
Zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
1kg courgettes
, cut into 5mm-thick discs
200g fresh breadcrumbs
50g unsalted butter, or vegan butter or more olive oil
2 banana shallots (about 100g), peeled and finely sliced
1 green chilli or jalapeño, deseeded and finely chopped
120g gruyere or 100g vegan cheddar-style cheese, coarsely grated

Using a pestle and mortar (or a food processor), pound or blitz the fresh herbs to a paste. You may have to do this in batches if your mortar is small. Add 50ml extra-virgin olive oil, grind (or blitz) it in, then scrape into a bowl.

Pound one garlic clove and a little salt in the mortar to make a paste, then add this to the herb oil. Gently pound (or pulse) two tablespoons of capers until they’re partially crushed, then add them to the herby garlic mixture. Stir in the remaining 100ml extra-virgin oil, a good grind of black pepper and the lemon zest and juice, then taste and adjust for acidity and seasoning.

Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Toss the courgette discs with a good pinch of sea salt in a colander, then set them over a bowl for 10 minutes to catch any juices (there won’t be loads).

Put the breadcrumbs in a heatproof bowl. Set a small pan on a medium heat for a minute, then add the butter and leave until it begins to turn light brown and starts smelling nutty. Pour this over the breadcrumbs and mix well. Wait a minute or so for the butter to cool, then toss again.

Tip out any liquid from the bowl under the courgettes, then
put the courgettes in the bowl. Finely slice the remaining garlic clove and add it to the courgettes with the shallots, chilli, four tablespoons of the salsa verde and a good grind of pepper. Toss to mix everything, then add the grated cheese and half the buttery breadcrumbs. Toss again and taste for seasoning. The raw garlic will taste strong at this point but will be delicious when cooked. Toss the remaining tablespoon of capers with the rest of the butter-coated breadcrumbs.

Put the courgette mixture in a 26cm-30cm round gratin dish, ovenproof pan or something similar. Scatter the caper breadcrumbs over the top, then bake for 40–45 minutes, or until the courgettes are soft and the top is golden and crisp.

Serve with the remaining salsa verde spooned over the top. I like this with a lemon-dressed green salad and, if I’m hungry, some boiled or roast buttered new potatoes.

  • These recipes are edited extracts from Easy Wins: 12 Flavour Hits, 125 Delicious Recipes, 365 days of Good Eating, by Anna Jones, published by HarperCollins at £28. To order a copy for £24.64, go to guardianbookshop.com

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