It started with a chocolate truffle.
Down at Borough markets, near the back. Not too far from the empanadas and the obscene cheese sandwiches. Blackberry and cinnamon chocolate truffles.That was the start of it all.
To be fair it started before that with a birthday and a new kitchen. Some things to celebrate. And an email to the boisterous six. Our group of co-opted family in London.
It was time for dinner.
The request from the birthday girl was to try and replicate the June menu of my Granny’s- the duck with roast apple and cherries. She liked that one.
Except that Autumn is now in the air. We’re on the tight cusp of summer and fall. The markets are bursting with end of season tomatoes and figs, there are dark berries still available for a song. And there are plums.
And so, the inspiration started with the truffles. When I plan a menu I like the flavours to echo and build. I like the end to relate to the beginning and for there to be a progression. So I started at the close and worked backwards. These truffles would be petit fours. Thus blackberry, cinnamon and chocolate became the triad of flavours the menu was designed around.
The prep is now three quarters done. I should be in the kitchen finishing up. I should be hoovering the floor or tying back my hair.
Except I’m here, tapping away. I think there might be a few glasses of prosecco consumed tonight. Instead of sharing what was, reaching back through wine soaked memories, this time I’m sharing the anticipation.
Here it is; a dispatch from a dinner party-to be.
There are only six, but to me, the very spirit of entertaining is to be generous. More rather than less. And if people end up taking home a goody bag, or we eat leftovers for the next few days, I don’t think we’ll be complaining.
To start; share plates of antipasti and croutons of garlic rubbed baguette. I want to start light and fresh. I want to highlight what’s good at the moment; crab, tomatoes, figs. We’ll play with summer while there’s still light outside on the balcony and we sip our prosecco.
The first: heirloom tomato and three-colours-of -plum salad, with basil. Just before they arrive, I’m going to break open a creamy globe of burrata over the top. The plums are sweet and slightly tart, the tomatoes so ripe they barely hold their shape. This is sweetness and squish and colour, melded into a riot of a plate.
An old favourite: jamon and coffee aioli with grissini- no artichokes this time. just jamon. The aioli is there because I was making it for the crab anyway. And if you tell The Hungry One that there’s no cured pig on his antipasti plate, the sad look you get in response is just too hard to swallow.
Fresh figs, the tops lopped of and a little scooped out (this I scoffed with my left hand) and replaced with a few hazelnuts. They’re going to be blasted in a hot oven for five minutes, then topped with goat curd, thyme honey and black pepper. It’s sweet and dense enough to warrant being smushed onto a wedge of bread with a fork.
Another old favourite: radishes, salt and butter – the butter is slicked with truffle oil (a Patterson’s curse of modern cookery, but a handy crutch).
And lastly bowl of fine picked crab meat, melded with blood orange zest, fennel tops, aiolli, parsley and chilli. I’m planning on sprinkling that with pistachios just before people arrive. I really should go get those ready.
Crisp duck breasts, marinated in crushed blackberries, cinnamon, cloves and honey. It’s being served with a sauce of crushed blackberries and a roast garlic and fennel puree. And a salad of bitter leaves and hazelnuts.
This one is done. Yesterday I had the sublime Jackie came over to help christen the kitchen. She is the master of pies and taught me her signature one; lattice crust included.
Her advice was to make a pie the day before, to give the flavours time to rest and get to know each other. I’m serving the cinnamon crusted apple, blackberry and rhubarb pie, with a choice of either vanilla and cinnamon or dark chocolate creme fraiche. I think we all suspect The Hungry One will opt for both.
And to end; the blackberry truffles with espresso and tea.
I now have 38 minutes until the door bell rings. There’s wine to chill, birthday candles to find, an outfit to choose and pistachios to shell. Off we go.
See you on the other side.