Beauty and the feast

Christ­mas it­self is a pan­tomime; its scenes and rit­u­als, the meals so fa­mil­iar it could al­most be scripted. Our con­trib­u­tor’s is finely re­hearsed with chicken liver paté, a bit­ter leaf salad, bean and ba­con casse­role and sherry tri­fle

The Guardian - Cook - - A Kitchen In Rome At Christmas -

At Christ­mas din­ner there are set pieces, ter­ri­ble jokes, and an elab­o­rate kitchen scene that may in­volve throw­ing food ...

The first real pan­tomime I can re­mem­ber see­ing was in Che­sham, when I was 10. No one in my fam­ily ac­tu­ally re­mem­bers what the pan­tomime was, only that a col­league of my Dad’s was on sound ef­fects, which in­volved him bang­ing to­gether co­conut shells in the wings, while his wife, Pam, was play­ing a char­ac­ter called Fairy’nuff. I also re­mem­ber that I didn’t get cho­sen to go up on stage as select lucky kids tra­di­tion­ally do, but did catch two of the sweets that were hurled into the au­di­ence, much to the de­light of 200 al­ready elec­tri­fied chil­dren. Some years later my fam­ily got our very own pan­tomime vil­lain when my brother Ben was cast as the wicked wiz­ard at the pan­tomime in Grays in Es­sex. He played the comic role for about 10 years un­til, af­ter the sad pass­ing of the inim­itable Dave Lee, Ben pulled on a frock and pair of DM boots and took on the role of the Dame in Can­ter­bury. He has never looked back – even when there is some­one be­hind him.

This isn’t an ad­vert for my brother or his pan­tomime, which sold out months ago. I men­tion it be­cause we are fill­ing our suit­cases with panet­tone and parme­san and com­ing back to Bri­tain for Christ­mas this year, which means go­ing to see Ben as Mrs Smee in Peter Pan. It is a fam­ily out­ing, as much a part of Christ­mas as mince pies and a tan­ger­ine found at the bot­tom of a sock, as im­por­tant as lis­ten­ing to carols from King’s in the kitchen with mum, to belt­ing out Merry Christ­mas by Slade af­ter too much ad­vo­caat.

Also, quite apart from the out­ing, there is some­thing about Christ­mas that is pan­tomime – its scenes and rit­u­als, the meals so fa­mil­iar they could al­most be scripted were it not for the im­pro­vi­sa­tion. There are set pieces, ter­ri­ble jokes, a huge and elab­o­rate kitchen scene that may in­volve throw­ing food, danc­ing, singing, good ver­sus evil, a scene of heart­break and a fight, which has a happy end­ing.

For many of us, Christ­mas cook­ing has been long de­cided, a se­quence of recipes, col­lected over the years be­cause they are good and re­li­able, or sim­ply part of the fam­ily – as soaked with mem­o­ries as a boozy tri­fle. By the time you read this it will be just days be­fore Christ­mas; you have most likely done the shop­ping, pos­si­bly much of the prepa­ra­tion. I have, though, a few sug­ges­tions that might fit into the greater scheme of things. They are all at­trib­uted, be­cause at Christ­mas ev­ery­thing is, to fam­ily, friends, cook­books, writ­ers and TV chefs, all given equal sta­tus – Aunty Edith’s this, Nigella’s that, Jane’s bread sauce, a blob of Nigel’s brandy but­ter slid­ing from Josce­line Dim­bleby’s mince pies, which are best fol­lowed by three Qual­ity Street chasers, the last one of which pulls out a fill­ing.

What fol­lows are all recipes I am mak­ing this Christ­mas, at some point. An ap­petite-stir­ring paté for toast, ideally with a glass of some­thing fizzy. A salad dressed for Christ­mas that could start a meal but just as hap­pily fin­ish one, or make a meal in it­self paired with crack­ers and more cheese. I am sug­gest­ing a great pan of beans and ba­con that feeds many well, and some poached fruit, be­cause Christ­mas isn’t Christ­mas with­out it, and if no one else does I will eat it all and wel­come the fart jokes. And of course there is tri­fle, be­cause ev­ery­one loves a tri­fle – no one more than my

Grandma Phyl­lis and Granny Alice; my grand­pas too – all greatly missed. They would all have loved watch­ing Ben show­ing his bloomers and see­ing all their great-grand­kids in the au­di­ence elec­tri­fied as we were. Oh, yes they would! Merry Christ­mas.

Rachel’s radic­chio, fen­nel, pear, wal­nut and gor­gonzola salad

A salad dressed well. That bit­ter leaves, sliced fruit, nuts and blue cheese are good com­pan­ions is hardly news. How­ever, I have never seen quite this com­bi­na­tion, so I am calling it my in­ven­tion. Lit­tle things are im­por­tant: the leaves should be ripped small, the fruit ripe but not mushy and sliced into man­age­able bits; the dress­ing should be sharp but not an­gry – sherry vine­gar or bal­samic with acid­ity and sweet­ness is good. Toss the salad well so that the first lot of cheese al­most smudges into the dress­ing – hands are best.

Serves 4–6

A head of radic­chio – if pos­si­ble the elon­gated va­ri­ety from Tre­viso

A bulb of fen­nel 2 ripe but firm pears (any va­ri­ety just as long as they are tasty) 2 tbsp good red wine/sherry vine­gar (the best pos­si­ble) 7 tbsp olive oil Salt 75g shelled wal­nuts 150g gor­gonzola cheese, bro­ken into bite-size pieces 1 Pull the leaves apart, then wash and dry the radic­chio be­fore rip­ping it into bite-size pieces. Trim the base and fin­gers from the fen­nel and slice the bulb into slim arcs. Peel and slice the pears.

2 In a large bowl, make the dress­ing by whisk­ing to­gether first the vine­gar with a good pinch of salt, then adding the olive oil. Add the pear, radic­chio leaves and fen­nel. Toss, then add half the wal­nuts and cheese and toss again.

3 If you are serv­ing in a large bowl, top with the rest of the cheese and nuts. Oth­er­wise, di­vide the dressed salad be­tween small plates and share the re­main­ing nuts and cheese equally.

Fer­gus Hen­der­son’s beans and ba­con

Re­mind­ing me of both the Ro­man dish of fa­gi­oli e cotiche (beans and pork rind) and a French cas­soulet, this is a Brian Blessed laugh of a dish, and one of my favourite things to make and eat. It is also one of my favourite recipes to read, as it starts with the words: “Land­lord! Bring us beans, ba­con and a bot­tle of your finest Bur­gundy.”

The recipe asks you to make a trot­ter stock, which I ini­tially found off­putting. But af­ter re­al­is­ing it re­ally is just a pan of stock, I never looked back. Our plan is to make this on ei­ther the 28 or 29 De­cem­ber. I will get it in the oven be­fore we all go on a walk to the pub for beer and crisps, then send an ad­vance party back to take off the lid, so it will be ready and crusty-topped when we get back. Serve, as Fer­gus sug­gests, with “much red wine”.

Serves 6–8

1kg white can­nellini beans, soaked overnight

1kg un­sliced piece of un­smoked streaky ba­con, skin on

Olive oil

3 onions, peeled and diced

2 leeks, cleaned and diced 400g tinned plum to­ma­toes Salt and black pep­per

For the stock

A pig’s trot­ter

2 car­rots, peeled and halved 3 onions, peeled and halved

2 sticks cel­ery

2 heads of gar­lic, not peeled A bun­dle of fresh thyme, rose­mary and pars­ley

1 Make the trot­ter stock, by putting the trot­ter, car­rots, onions, cel­ery, gar­lic and herbs into a large pan, cover with 2 litres of wa­ter, bring to the boil, skim and re­duce to a sim­mer for 2.5 hours.

2 Put the beans in a large pan, cover with enough wa­ter for it to come 9-10cm above the beans, bring to the boil, skim and then re­duce to a sim­mer for 1 hour or so, or un­til the beans are ten­der. Pull from the heat and al­low them to cool in the cook­ing liq­uid.

3 With the help of a sharp knife, care­fully pull the skin from the ba­con, if pos­si­ble in one piece. Cut the ba­con into 8mm slices.

4 In a large, oven­proof pan with a lid, big enough for all your in­gre­di­ents, add a good glug of olive oil and fry the ba­con skin, fat down so it can re­lease some fat into the pan. Then re­move. Next, fry the slices of ba­con un­til the fat is lightly golden, then re­move.

5 Fry the chopped onion and leek in the fat un­til soft, then add the to­ma­toes, crush­ing them against the side of the pan. Cook for 20 min­utes, sea­son (re­mem­ber­ing the ba­con is salty), then add two la­dles of trot­ter stock and the drained beans (but keep the liquor).

6 Pre­heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. If you have an­other big pan, use that; oth­er­wise, tip ev­ery­thing into a big bowl so you can do the fi­nal lay­ered con­struc­tion in the big pan. First, make a layer of the ba­con skin, then make a layer of saucy beans, then strips of ba­con, then an­other layer of beans. Nes­tle the trot­ter and a clove of gar­lic in there some­where, be­fore adding more ba­con, and finishing with a layer of beans. Cover with stock, which should just cover ev­ery­thing – if not, use some bean liq­uid.

7 Put on the lid and bake for 2 hours, un­cov­er­ing for the last 30 min­utes. Serve hot from the pan on the ta­ble.

Anna’s chicken liver paté

A jar­ful that serves many. This is my sug­ges­tion for some­thing savoury “on toast” from the inim­itable Anna del Conte. A vari­a­tion on the clas­sic Tus­can recipe, it is sim­ply chicken liv­ers sauteed in oil with finely chopped cel­ery and pars­ley, then sea­soned with an­chovies, capers and sage be­fore be­ing blended into a vel­vety and deeply flavoured

Fer­gus Hen­der­son’s baked beans and ba­con is a Brian Blessed laugh of a dish

paté that is ev­ery bit as de­li­cious as but­ter- or co­gnac-rich ver­sions. It can be spread on any sort of toast, but Anna’s sug­ges­tion of cros­tini, or slices of French bread, brushed with olive oil and baked un­til golden, is a good one, as you can slice ahead and bake a whole tray­ful at a time. Two sets of hands are a good idea for spreading as you want to get the paté on the cros­tini while they are still hot and then hand them round in­stantly.

Makes 1 jar

400g free-range chicken liv­ers 4 tbsp olive oil A small stick of cel­ery, finely chopped A shal­lot, finely chopped A gar­lic clove, finely chopped 1 tsp finely chopped sage 1 tbsp tomato puree 100ml dry white wine Salt and black pep­per 1 tbsp fine capers, chopped 4 an­chovy fil­lets, chopped 25g but­ter, plus ex­tra for seal­ing French bread and but­ter, to serve

1 Trim the gris­tle and fat from the liv­ers, wash and pat dry.

2 Warm the oil in a fry­ing pan and gen­tly saute the cel­ery, shal­lot, gar­lic and sage un­til soft – about 8 min­utes – then add the chicken liv­ers and cook very gen­tly – they must not fry – un­til they lose their pink­ness.

3 Add 1 tbsp tomato puree, stir, raise the heat slightly, add the wine and cook un­til the wine has evap­o­rated. Sea­son to taste.

4 Re­move from the heat and add the capers and an­chovies. Now you can ei­ther turn the mix­ture on to a board and chop roughly or blast in a food pro­ces­sor – but brief pulses, you don’t want to oblit­er­ate all the tex­ture. Re­turn the mix­ture to the pan, add the but­ter and cook gen­tly for 2 min­utes. At this point you can put the paté in a large jar and seal with melted but­ter.

5 When you’re ready to eat, cut the bread into slices, brush with olive oil and bake un­til golden. When baked, spread with paté and serve.

Alice, Phyl­lis and Delia’s tri­fle (on the cover)

For a few years both of my grand­mas added a jelly layer to this tri­fle, aban­doned later for – bet­ter – a sherry pud­dle. My granny had a pub and al­ways poured gen­er­ously for peo­ple she liked – hence the pud­dle. Delia (Smith) sug­gests you use rasp­ber­ries for the fruit layer, but you could use stewed cher­ries or damsons if you pre­fer. Delia also sug­gests a layer of sliced banana. Now, I think this is a lovely idea. But I am out­voted by the fam­ily. Toast­ing the al­monds un­til just golden and crisp is im­por­tant. Serves 8 5 tri­fle sponges or a sim­ple sponge cake 100ml sherry 300g fresh rasp­ber­ries 600ml dou­ble cream 3 egg yolks 30g caster sugar 1 tsp corn­flour 2 ba­nanas (op­tional) 50g flaked al­monds, toasted

1 Break the sponge into small pieces and put them in the bot­tom of a glass tri­fle bowl. Sprin­kle over the sherry and rasp­ber­ries and toss.

2 Make the cus­tard. Gen­tly heat half the dou­ble cream in a pan un­til hot (but not boil­ing). Mean­while, in a bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and corn­flour into a smooth paste. When the cream is hot, pour it over the egg mix­ture and whisk vig­or­ously. Re­turn to the pan and – whisk­ing all the time – cook un­til thick.

3 If you are adding them, slice the ba­nanas and put them on top of the rasp­berry sponge mix. Then pour the cus­tard on top and leave it to cool. Whip up the re­main­ing cream and spread it on top. Chill for 3–6 hours be­fore sprin­kling the toasted al­monds over the top.

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