Good friends are the seasoning of life. They make my day, even in just the small things. Pals in Doha are routine victims of my pathological forgetfulness; they laugh at me and I join in. My best friend in Abu Dhabi gets bizarre photo messages, demanding her honest opinion of me in some florid outfit in a badly lit changing room – and honest it is. Another in Scotland, is besieged daily on Facebook, hounded on Skype and it’s at its worst when I am menu planning. And they still stick around. As deeply gratifying as modern modes of instant communication are for near-on cyber stalking, nothing beats a good ol’ fashioned get together, a shin dig, a party. I love to cook, yes, but, I love to cook for them even more. Plus, these are pals that roll up their pretty party sleeves and get stuck in stuffing peppers and topping bruschetta!
Since it’s well past forty degrees on any given day at the moment, I wanted the food to be light and decided to make it more vegetable based. The expat profile of Doha means people of several different nationalities come together and I wanted food that would have universal appeal. The Italian antipasti concept fits like a glove at such a gathering. Here are some photos I managed to get, even if I felt stupid lugging a tripod around the table, with a houseful of guests. Where applicable, I’ve put in links to recipes I’ve used.
Yotam Ottelenghi’s Caramelised Garlic Tart is an award winning worthy recipe. It’s unique, with such a sublime combination of flavour layers that it appeals to even hardcore meat eaters. This tart was the first dish wiped off the table, with only puff pastry confetti lying along the board’s edges. Now, there are two recipes circulating online. One is from his Guardian column, where he uses squash and one type of goat’s cheese. The second, is the recipe I used, published in the wonderful book Plenty. Here he specifies mature and creamy goat’s cheese and more garlic. I find people can be quite iffy about goat’s cheese so when I bake it for friends, I use milder, softer, creamy goat’s cheese only and just under the full amount the original recipe calls for. I also, tend to add more garlic, simply cos the ones I get here don’t pack as much punch per clove as you’d expect. Understand though, that the initial poaching in water and subsequent simmering in a herb-infused, sweet-sour syrup ensures that the garlic mellows, gets sweeter and it’s earthy flavours are released without any acrid bite. It reheats beautifully. This, is a sophisticated tart.
Bruschetta is never going to be anything but a winner on the table. A day old french baguette does the job perfectly. I grilled them on the morning of the party – brushed with first rate olive oil, grilled till scorched here and there, and rubbed with a cut clove of garlic, it stayed beautifully crisp and fresh tasting in a ziplock bag. I decided to go with the evergreen classic of tomato and basil. You cannot get decent tomatoes here in Doha unless you’re willing to spend the equivalent of price of steak. Instead, I used mixed cherry tomatoes, as much variety as I could find, dressed them with extra virgin olive oil, heaps of basil and parsley, a pitch perfect glug of balsamic vinegar, sea salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Let that steep for a bit and top up the toasts before serving. Of course, mozzarella, the good stuff, wouldn’t go amiss either.
Pedro and Sonia brought in these two incredibly delicious contributions to my table – Salted Cod Fritters (Pastéis de Bacalhau) and a dried, cured pork called Salpicon. It’s a good thing Pedro brought in such a large , fat chunk of this sausage as all the blokes went mad for this delicacy, and with good reason. It’s tangy somehow, moist, full of porky, garlicky, spiced flavour and look at that luscious pink colour! Sonia made these light, herby, salted fish fritters which can be eaten hot or cold and oh, I could have had the entire bowl to myself! Salted fish is either a love or hate it thing, and the Indian versions are unapologetically and unappealingly full-on, in smell and taste. This was a much more subtle offering, and Sonia’s balance of fishiness and salt was spot on. What was heartwarming though, is the gentle yet passionate way in which Pedro and Sonia talk about their native food, how it’s made, where it comes from, how families and friends sit around a large table heaving with food, the time they take to consider which bottle of wine to pair with the plate, the longing they have for the smells and sights of home, and how much they look forward to the summer holidays spent in Portugal. It made me want to jump on the plane with them! Since I can’t, I asked them to hoike back some of that Salpicon for me!
The gleaming red plateful behind the fritters are a Jamie Oliver offering (scroll to the second post on the forum to get the recipe I used), from The Return of the Naked Chef and this one shall be on repeat. Mini bell peppers (though he uses chillies) are stuffed with a mix of parsley, rocket (arugulla), anchovies, capers and dressed with balsamic vinegar. Dress this as you think fit, as I found the specified amount of balsamic vinegar excessive. Folk kept pointing it out to me going, ” Mm, Carrie, that, that there, is so good!” There are different variations of this all over the net. Some of them can be made in advance – cooked, stuffed and bottled covered in olive oil. You can find an adapted version here.
You’ll be fed up with me rattling on about another Ottelenghi recipe! Marinaded aubergines. Cut fat aubergines into wedges, roast in the oven, souse in a herby, chilly, lemon, olive oil dressing. Done. I also had sticky pork ribs, made with my mother-in-laws marinade. I didn’t end up getting a photo, the plate was pretty much emptied as soon as it hit the table, but a feature post is coming soon. Various bowls were filled with smoked trout dip, tapenade and olives. There were french breads, bloomers, more bruschetta and Socca. Know that Socca, that Italian chickpea flour based bread, goes wonderfully with the tomato bruschetta topping and is a fantastic gluten free alternative, whether you have to cater for it or not.
Dessert was Lorraine Pascal’s Mini Tiramisu Cakes and Flourless Chocolate, Hazelnut Pear Cake. I’ve been making this cake for years. I would suggest increasing the recipe by another half or even double it, or it will come out quite thin as it relies only on whipped egg whites as a raising agent. However, it is a wonderful gluten free cake, light, deeply chocolatey and can be made well in advance. Also, conveniently, tinned pears work perfectly. Of the two, the chocolate cake was definitely the one people went back to for seconds.
And there you have it! I had grand plans of walking around, taking pictures of people with piled on platefuls, but, there are times when you need to set the camera aside and just enjoy the moment. So we ate, we drank, we guffawed and ate some more. To my wonderful pals, thanks for a great night! x