Normally when I am planning a meal for friends I spend happy hours browsing through stacks of cookbooks and food magazines plotting and planning my menu for this grand feast. I'll write lists, scout for obscure ingredients and draw my little gastrograms where I sketch the proposed meal, what ingredient goes with what and what each dish is to be served in. And this isn't a chore; it is a crucial part of the whole process. If I had to do this every day or even every week and whip up a satisfying meal for hungry hoards with differing tastes I guess I wouldn't be so keen but as I don't, it is all part of the pleasurable process.
Years ago I'd produce a Sunday lunch for a random collection of itinerant people most Sundays. Some would bring additions generally the accompanying beer, but one quite regularly would turn up with broccoli (apparently his favourite vegetable) for me to cook and pink
I'm sure that if I was whipping up a family meal daily this would always be the case. However as I don't cook for others as much as I used to I seem to want to turn each of these rare occasions into a sumptuous and memorable feast complete with stylish yet witty table décor. But on this particular Sunday there was no frantic flicking through a Nigel, Nigella, Jamie or even a Gordon, it was grab the pile of what had looked good and not too strenuous on an extremely weary crawl round the late night M&S after returning from the Tate Modern last night. We'd scoured the rather dinky M&S looking for inspiration and from the somewhat locus ravaged shelves secured a plump chicken, a selection of summer green vegetables, new potatoes, a bag of our ubiquitous lamb's lettuce and a pot of vibrant fresh pesto. A feast was unfolding! The best thing about only cooking for three was having a little more room on the table for crystal fripperies and being able to pile the bronzed bird and accompaniments on Royal Doulton Gordon Ramsay platters on the table.
So today, all I had to do was concoct something fabulous from the ingredients we’d hastily grabbed from M&S. Firstly, I’d been determined to whip up some minty fresh canapé in preparation for Stephanie’s party so crushed broad bean and crab crostini it was.The chicken looks a good tasty one so it doesn’t really need a lot of treatment but I like to separate the skin carefully from the flesh carefully so as not to puncture it with my long nails anyway. I smear herby, garlicky butter on the flesh and smoosh it with my fingers, I’ve always been intrigued by the mysterious lumps protruding through the chicken skin. But obviously this all serves as to create fabulous alchemy during the cooking and ensures a super succulent breast (insert your own joke here if you must!). The potatoes were parboiled and inserted around the bronzing chicken and got gorgeously sticky with the chicken fat. The asparagus spears, broccoli and spring cabbage got steamed and showered with shards of salty Parmesan and splodges of verdant pesto. The lamb’s lettuce got its usual treatment of a good dousing of Belazu balsamic vinegar. And despite my Northern roots I am not a particular gravy fan (strange, thick, meat-free "not really gravy" gravy trauma from my childhood!), but I do believe that you can never have too much pesto so I served extra pools of the green stuff in the little new Gordon Ramsay dipping bowls. Truly delicious!
I hadn’t realised how much I miss making Sunday lunch regularly; maybe I need to rattle those pots and pans more often.