There’s something delightfully bonkers about having a full-on outdoor feast. The set-up is impractical, the weather unpredictable and the logistics of keeping the food warm and the drinks cold unworkable. The only option, when the chance to eat under the open sky presents itself, is to go all-out Mad Hatter’s tea party.
One such opportunity presented itself a couple of years ago, when I was invited to the Glyndebourne opera festival. I knew the evening involved singing, picnics and polished shoes, but the reality was even more eccentric than I imagined. This was a full-scale white dinner jacket, black bow tie, wicker hampers and straw hats affair. Tables were set with silver cutlery, porcelain plates, butter dishes and candlesticks. Butter and wine were kept chilled thanks to buckets of ice. This was different-league outdoor eating. So I pulled my tie straight, picked a handful of wild flowers to dress our slightly wobbly table and embraced the scotch egg moment.
In three weeks, I’ll be serving up an outdoor feast of my own with a Long Table Banquet at the Wilderness Festival, Oxfordshire. There will be fewer bow ties, but the set-up is equally crazy, not least because we’ll be feeding about 700 people over two sittings. Our menu, naturally enough, is equally impractical: burrata with chargrilled grapes, confit squid and a host of salads as a meze course, slow-roast lamb with apricots and figs, baked minty rice and rolled pavlova. The logistics involved are epic, but that moment when the sun sets, and all you can hear is the sound of friends sharing a meal outdoors, is special enough to make it all worthwhile.
Polenta with summer greens and lime
Getting flavour into polenta usually requires a tonne of butter and cheese. Here, I’ve done so with a teaspoon of onion granules (OK, and a good chunk of butter). Serves four.
65g unsalted butter
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp onion granules
Salt and black pepper
1 litre vegetable stock
160g quick-cook polenta
2 limes – 1 finely zested, to get 1 tsp, then juiced, to get 1 tbsp, the other cut into four wedges, to serve
¾ tsp ground cumin
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
100g spring onions (ie, about 10), cut thinly on a diagonal
1 hispi cabbage (aka pointed cabbage), quartered, cored and cut into 1cm-wide slices
150g baby spinach
5g mint leaves, roughly chopped
150g soured cream
Melt 50g butter in a medium saucepan on a medium-high heat. Add half the garlic, half a teaspoon of ground coriander, the onion granules, three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper. Fry for about two minutes, until the butter is foaming and the garlic starting to brown, then add the stock and bring to a simmer. Turn down the heat to medium, then slowly pour in the polenta, whisking continuously, until the mix is smooth and starting to thicken. Turn the heat to low and cook for eight to 10 minutes, stirring often, until it is the consistency of thick porridge, then take off the heat and stir in the lime zest.
Melt the remaining butter in a large saute pan on a high heat. Once it’s foaming, add the remaining garlic and coriander, with the cumin, chilli, three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper, and fry for a minute, until the garlic starts to brown. Add the spring onions and cabbage, and cook for a minute more, stirring continuously. Add the spinach in two batches and cook, stirring, for two minutes, until it has just wilted and the cabbage is starting to soften but still remains a vibrant green. Take off the heat, squeeze over a tablespoon of lime juice and stir in the mint.
As soon as the greens are ready, return the polenta to a medium heat to warm through; if it has thickened too much, thin it down with a few tablespoons of water. Divide between four shallow bowls, top with the greens and finish with a generous spoon of soured cream. Serve with a wedge of lime.
Beef shin cooked in pomegranate and beetroot juice
Buy the shin in one large piece, rather than pre-cut, and cut it to the right size and shape at home, because pre-cut beef shin will be too thin and fatty here. The better the ingredients you use, as always, the better the results will be, so your oil should be extra-virgin, your pomegranate juice should not be diluted, and your salt should be sea salt flakes. Serves two as a main course alongside some bread and a peppery rocket salad.
500-600g piece boneless beef shin, cut into three 10cm x 4cm pieces
80ml extra-virgin olive oil
Flaked sea salt and pepper
8 garlic cloves, peeled
550ml 100% pomegranate juice
550ml beetroot juice (most beetroot juice is sweetened with a bit of apple juice, which is fine)
20g pistachio kernels, roughly chopped
2 tbsp pomegranate seeds, to serve
Season the beef shin with three tablespoons of oil, a teaspoon of salt and a generous grind of pepper.
Heat a deep, heavy-based, 28cm-diameter pan for which you have a lid on a high flame. Lay in the beef pieces – space them well apart – and fry for seven minutes, turning regularly, until seared and well browned all over. Transfer the meat to a bowl, leaving any juices in the pan, then add the garlic cloves to the pan and fry for a minute, until golden. Return the beef and any resting juices to the pan, turn down the heat to low, and add the pomegranate and beetroot juices. Cover and leave to bubble gently for an hour and a quarter, turning the beef every 15 minutes or so, until it’s tender and the sauce is the consistency of thin gravy and reduced to about 170ml (you may need to remove the meat and reduce the sauce for an extra 10-15 minutes to get it to this state).
Turn off the heat and leave to rest, still covered, for 15 minutes before serving. Using a very sharp knife, cut each piece of meat widthways into 0.5cm-thick slices. Divide between two plates and spoon four tablespoons of sauce, including some of the softened garlic cloves, over each portion, pouring half over the meat and letting the rest pool around it. Drizzle two teaspoons of oil over each plate of meat and sauce: if you do this slowly, this will add a beautiful marbling effect to the sauce. Finish with a sprinkle of pistachios, pomegranate seeds and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt.
Roast peaches with kaffir lime, sabayon and raspberries
If possible, use perfectly ripe peaches for this; if you can’t get any, add a few tablespoons of water to the pan when roasting the fruit. If you can’t get fresh kaffir lime leaves, don’t substitute them with freeze-dried ones: the finely shaved skin of one lime (about six strips) is a much better alternative. Serves six.
3 egg yolks
70g caster sugar
65ml sauternes (or another sweet dessert wine)
6 ripe peaches, pitted and quartered
8 fresh kaffir lime leaves, roughly torn
2 limes – zest finely grated, to get 2 tsp, then juiced, to get 3-4 tbsp
120g raspberries, crushed
100ml double cream
Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Whisk the egg yolks, two tablespoons of sugar and the wine in a medium heatproof bowl, then set the bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water (make sure the base of the bowl is not in contact with the water). Whisk for four or five minutes, until it looks like a thick, foamy cream, then take the bowl off the pan and leave to cool, whisking once or twice as it does so.
While the sabayon is cooling, put the peaches, kaffir lime leaves, lime juice, a teaspoon of lime zest and two tablespoons of sugar in a 20cm x 20cm high-sided baking dish. Stir everything together to combine, then roast for 15-25 minutes, until the peaches are soft but still hold their shape (the timing will depend on how ripe they are), then leave to cool.
While the peaches are cooking, mix the raspberries with the remaining teaspoon of lime zest and two teaspoons of sugar.
Put the cream in a medium bowl, whisk to soft peaks, then, using a spatula, fold into the cooled sabayon. If you’re not dishing up straight away, put it in the fridge and take out 15 minutes before serving. Spoon the peaches and any juices into four bowls, and serve with a generous spoonful each of sabayon and raspberries on the side.