At the risk of boring you to death, I will have to state again that I am absolutely in love with Skye Gyngell (despite the fact that I have never really been introduced to her and the best I got to was to exchange a few glances through the kitchen counter from which she serves her spectacular fare a Petersham Nurseries, which happens to be my local). It's not just her, it's her cookbook which has been accompanying me for about a year, become a trusted inspirational source and the recipes in which have never, ever failed me.
About six months ago, we hosted a lunch for my parents and my host brother from Australia (he spent a year with my parents on an AFS inter-cultural exchange) and his girlfriend, who we hadn't met before. Now, I never make the mistake of not asking what somebody's food likes and dislikes are beforehand, especially if I don't know them - but even if you do, sometimes people are not being honest and you end up making something they eat, if only reluctantly. To make things even more challenging, his soon-to-become-wife was pregnant at the time as well, which ruled out quite a few options: seafood, unpasteurized cheese, raw/rare meat/fish, nuts, etc. What to choose, what to choose?
Again, I reverted to A Year in My Kitchen and found a perfect combination of flavours unlikely to offend even the pickiest of guests - and even if there was an ingredient they didn't like, I could always wing it by saying I had specifically chosen something created by a fellow Aussie... Everybody loved the salad and it's been featuring in many a dinner/lunch party since. Indeed, I found the flavour combination so perfect, yet uncommon, that I wrecked my brain as to how I could possibly convert this into a finger food and serve at my next catering gig.
The answer lay in the ingredients. The salad uses chicory, if I remember well (please excuse the vagueness, it's Saturday evening and I have had a glass too much, I think, but am too hyped to go to bed), so I tried to spoon it all onto chicory leaves and have them serve as my edible cutlery. They're time-comsuming to put together and you can only assemble them last-minute, but the flavour is so worth making them... I bet even Skye would approve!
Chicory boats with
ca. 80 g chestnuts (cooked
50 ml olive oil
8 sage leaves
zest and juice of 1 organic, unwaxed lemon
salt & pepper to taste
6 big slices of parma ham
24 chicory leaves**
Warm the olive oil in a pan on the stove, taking care not to over-heat. You want no more than a gentle simmer, if that much. The point of the exercise is to release the essential oils in the sage and lemon to gently infuse the oil.
Bruise the sage leaves with
a rolling pin or by breaking them up in your hands, place in the oil together
with the finely chopped lemon zest.
Leave to infuse for at least 20 minutes. Add the chestnuts and stir through, then take off the heat.
Ideally, you want this to rest overnight, but don’t worry if you haven’t got the time.
Drain the chestnuts, retaining the oil. Chop the chestnuts with the sage and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper, some of the remaining oil and some lemon juice. Set aside until ready to serve.
To assemble, place a quarter
are fine used out of a glass or vacuum pack, but you can also roast them fresh.
** These will serve as your “spoon”. They should be about 5-6 cm long and form an even scoop at the front (tip) to accommodate the ham and chestnuts