Sunny weather, a bank holiday and Jonathan and Lyndsey coming for supper – if an excuse was needed to pull out all stops on the cooking front, then that’s all that was required. I love to cook for people and a truly appreciative audience makes it all much more worthwhile and fun. Picking up a bunch of fresh beetroot in Waitrose yesterday began the idea for the starter. I thought about putting some soft goats’ cheese with them into a salad but when I saw some wonderful soft buffalo cheese in the Twickenham Farmers’ Market later, and tasted just how good it was, the salad changed slightly. Buffalo cheese it would be.
I remembered a beetroot salad I’ve done in the past from one of the Moro books with a pistachio dressing, so I decided to add some chopped pistachios too; a bit of fresh mint and a simple red wine vinegar dressing. The main course would be Tagliata di Manzo, which required a visit to the wonderful Village Butcher as Matt’s meat is quite simply the best locally. A lovely thick slice of rump was cut for me.
It would need no garnish. Just a bit of oil coating it, some salt and pepper, and onto the sizzling hot griddle and it would be perfection. The meat cooking was left to Jonathan. I know my place in the kitchen when it comes to griddling steak or barbecuing. Wise choice. Just look at his Tagliata di Manzo: the steak perfectly cooked, left to rest for a few minutes then sliced, laid on a bed of rocket, some seasoning, olive oil, balsamic and thin slivers of Parmesan cheese over the top.
Back to the starter: I decided to bake my fresh beetroots for maximum flavour – which paid off because Jonathan took one bite and guessed I’d baked them, they were so wonderful. You have to be careful with beetroots: just scrub them gently, cut off the leaves well away from the skin and then put in the oven (about 180 Fan for 45 mins, depending on size).
Try to resist piercing them until you are pretty sure they’re done as once the tip of a sharp knife goes in all that gorgeous bright crimson juice starts seeping out. I did this earlier in the day, then when it was nearing the time to eat, I skinned them. A fairly easy process since the skins were almost coming off anyway. Meanwhile, I had roasted some pistachios in a pan and chopped them roughly.
I made a dressing from 4 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, a pinch of sugar, salt and pepper, and some chopped fresh mint. When it was time to serve, I sliced the beetroot quite thickly and laid on plates. I crumbled over some of the soft buffalo cheese, scattered over some of the chopped pistachios and then carefully spooned over the dressing. It was a simple starter but so good.
There was the full flavour of the baked beetroots and the cheese was heavenly: a taste reminiscent of a good buffalo mozzarella but much deeper in flavour, creamy and more akin to a good soft goats’ cheese in texture. But before we started on the meal properly, we sat in the garden in the dying sun and evening warmth and enjoyed a drink and nibbles first.
I was opening two birthday present bottles: the first was a bottle of Raboso Rosato Vino Spumante that Fabio gave me, to begin. We really liked it: not as sweet as prosecco and deeper in flavour.
It was especially nice as I drank lots of Raboso wine in Venice a couple of weeks ago. Lyndsey tried looking it up on the internet to see where we could buy it but didn’t find out – so I must ask Fabio on Wednesday. With our steak I decided to open a 1998 Urbina Rioja that Redmond and Pippa gave me.
Pippa teaches wine courses (I’ve been on a number and they’re great) and Redmond is a fantastic chef so I knew it would be good. It was. It was amazing; really special.
As you can see, we were eating and drinking very well. But slowly and leisurely. The light was slowly dying and I lit candles for the table outside. Then it was time for the dessert: my piece de resistance. Hot Apple and Calvados individual souffles. But that will a post all on its own tomorrow.