Posh Sunday roast: The lost art of casual entertaining
Would you like some gremolata on your osso bucco?” asked my mate Shane, as he served up Sunday lunch. Some what? Turns out, it’s a herby, zesty thing you sprinkle over your meat, and it’s delicious.
Problem is my 10-year friendship with Shane and Amanda is anchored in the knowledge that we’re culinary equals. We love a good nosh, but it’s the chat, music and – depending on wine consumption – a round of beach cricket that unites us.
So why was Shane upping the ante? (Fortunately, Amanda burnt the vegetables.)
Everyone’s entitled to a little gourmet foray, but have you noticed cooking has become a competitive sport? Whereas once the neighbours would pile around for Mum’s bacon and egg pie, now everyone’s knocking up a galantine or a ganache. Even kids.
Serving a chocolate meringue topped with raspberries and vincotto – which he’d been practising for his Junior MasterChef audition – my friend’s 11-year-old son told me he’d just spent a day with master patissier Adriano Zumbo.
“They’re pronounced ‘macaroons’, not ‘macaroons’,” he corrected me, as I marvelled at a plateful of his pastel pink patisseries (I still have the upper hand on alliteration). They’re French, he added, but were probably introduced by Catherine de Medici’s Italian pastry chefs when she married King Henry II.
Not surprisingly, our little chum passed his audition and will soon be on the show.
Meanwhile, here I am, hours away from having to dish up a ‘casual’ dinner for six, and I feel like the sulky kid throwing a tanty on the sideline. You see, in the gastronomic premiership that’s replaced the once jolly business of feeding your friends, I’m only interested in playing striker and turning out a winning dessert in the final minute.
Pies, tarts, panna cotta, poached pears – I’m your girl. But the boring business of prepping a main course is a bit like being stuck all season in defence.
Nobody sees the effort and skill required, but you can sense the raised eyebrows when your duck’s a bit dry or you’ve let through a lamb rack that’s turned slightly grey. But pudding – even one patched with cream – is like a penalty shoot-out. Glory days.
While I’m an enthusiastic consumer of food-porn and can while away a cup of tea or four perving at Nigella’s Tunisian-themed suppers, I’d rather give birth again than rustle up a seven-course degustation menu.
I love having people over, especially for a boogie to my ’80s playlist, but if you’re expecting mates to bust a few moves, you have to feed them more than just pavlova. So I’ve muddled through cooking the same chicken with apricots and olives to the point where even I’m bored with it.
Can you invite friends and ask them to bring the main?
Even accomplished cooks are tired of the way dining tables have turned into culinary catwalks. Donna Hay recently told me she rarely does ‘fancy’ for friends.
My friend Kate, who once baked a passion fruit curd cake for Jamie Oliver, reckons it’s all become stressful because guests’ expectations are higher. Her tip: Limit yourself to two courses, ask others to bring the pudding and enjoy the company.
After all, it’s called entertaining because what you’re really offering is amusement and cheer. Takeaway pizza is fine, a roast chook is tops, and so is asking friends to pitch in. And if you’re lucky, I might just rustle up my butterscotch rhubarb cake for dessert.
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