Nigel Slater: Fragrant and radiant

I never put the spinach on to cook till the rest of supper is on the plate. Young, crisp leaves need no water to speak of, just that clinging to the leaves after a rinse in cold water. I do little more than show them the pan, letting them steam in their own moisture, stopping while their flesh is still vivid emerald green. Spinach is one of the few, if not the only, vegetable I put butter on, partly to endorse its silkiness, partly to soften the fuzzy-teeth effect of the oxalic acid.

This week the spinach didn't even get that far, turning up at lunchtime in a salad; once with avocado and toasted pumpkin seeds, another time with feta and young peas. Today, the shield-shaped leaves found themselves being tossed with broad beans, fat bacon and a mustard dressing. At the last minute, I chucked in some snippets of bread ripped from the loaf by hand and fried till crisp in the fat the bacon had left behind.

If there is a theme to what has been on the table this week, it has been a lush, deep greenness, the sort of rainforest green you feel like diving into. A huge bowl of lettuce on Tuesday with rocket and shavings of double Gloucester; on Friday, watercress as rich and bright as a royal robe, tossed with cucumber and bits of fennel seed-speckled salami.

The garden is heavy with the scent of pinks and roses, and without getting too Crabtree & Evelyn, I want to bring some of that heaven-sent fragrance on to the plate. Rosewater has always featured in my summer cooking because of my love of Indian and Lebanese recipes, and I have often wondered how it would work in a syrup to pour over a cake.

The orange-scented polenta cakes so popular lately usually have orange-flower water in them, but a syrup made from lemons and rosewater works well, too, giving a faintly Indian shadow to the cake. I find the rosewater and cardamom link difficult to break, and have exploited it in my latest cake, adding several pods to both the cake and its garden-scented syrup. I hope you like it.

Spinach, broad bean and bacon salad

Serves 4

4 large handfuls of broad beans in their pods

16 slices of back or streaky bacon with plenty of fat

4 double handfuls of young spinach leaves

For the dressing:

2 egg yolks

2 tbsp smooth Dijon mustard

2 tbsp red-wine vinegar

200ml groundnut oil

a little warm water

a small handful of parsley leaves

Pop the beans out of their pods, drop them into boiling, lightly salted water and cook till tender (about 7-10 minutes). Drain in a colander under cold running water. Remove only the toughest of the skins - if the beans are small, you can leave the skins intact.

Meanwhile, cut the bacon into large bite-sized pieces, then cook in a shallow, nonstick pan till the fat is golden, adding extra fat or oil only if you need to. Drain the bacon and keep warm.

While the bacon is cooking, make the dressing. Put the egg yolks, mustard, vinegar and oil into a blender and whizz till smooth. Add enough warm water to bring to the consistency of double cream. Pour into a salad bowl and stir in the chopped parsley leaves and a little salt and pepper.

Rinse the spinach in cold water (the colder the water, the crisper the leaves will be). Drain thoroughly, using a salad spinner if possible. Add the spinach, bacon and beans to the dressing, toss lightly and serve.

Rosewater and almond cake

Serves 8

I slightly wince at the very mention of rosewater, as last year several readers bought what they thought was rosewater to add to their vegetable biryani. It turned out that a supermarket chain was selling highly concentrated rose extract - the sort of powerful flavouring used in commercial confectionery - labelled as rosewater. One teaspoon was enough to ruin dinner and have them spitting soap bubbles for a week. The sort you want is pure rosewater, which is much gentler, as if you are passing a particularly fragrant rose bush. There shouldn't be a hint of soap to it.

220g butter

220g unrefined caster sugar

150g almonds

125g ground almonds

3 large eggs

150g polenta

a level tsp baking powder

finely grated zest and juice of a large orange

12 green cardamom pods

For the syrup:

the juice of a large ripe lemon

5 tbsp mild honey

5 cardamom pods

1 tbsp rosewater

You will also need a nonstick, loose-bottomed cake tin about 20cm in diameter.

Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4. Line the base of the cake tin with baking parchment.

Put the butter and caster sugar into the bowl of a food mixer and beat till light and fluffy. Put the almonds in a heatproof bowl and pour boiling water over them. Remove a few at a time with a draining spoon and pop them from their skins - this takes about 10-15 minutes. Discard the skins.

Blitz the almonds in a food processor till they are very finely chopped (they should be nubby rather than powdery) then add, with the ground almonds, to the cake mixture.

Break the eggs into a small bowl, beat lightly with a fork, then stir them into the mixture. Mix the polenta and baking powder, then fold it into the mixture with the zest and juice. Crush the cardamom pods and extract the little black seeds, then grind them to a fine powder. I use a pestle and mortar, but you can do it in a coffee grinder. Add the spice to the cake mixture.

Transfer the cake mixture to the lined tin, then smooth the top level. Bake for 30 minutes, then turn the heat down to 160C/gas mark 3 for a further 25-30 minutes, or until the cake is firm to the touch (test it with a metal skewer: it should come out clean).

To make the syrup, squeeze the lemon juice into a stainless-steel saucepan then bring it to the boil and dissolve the honey. Add the cardamom pods, lightly squashed. Keep the liquid boiling until it has formed a thin syrup (4-5 minutes). Remove from the heat, stir in the rosewater and leave to cool a little, during which time it will thicken a bit.

Spike holes into the top of the cake (still warm and in its tin) with a skewer, then spoon over the warm syrup. Leave to almost cool and then lift out of the tin. Serve in thin slices with a little natural yoghurt.

nigel.slater@observer.co.uk

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.