December 2, 2011 10:00 pm

FT Festive 50: Starters

Set the tone for the meal with a sophisticated, classy pear tart or a stunning salad with oranges and dates

Michel Roux Jr’s pear tart with stilton and pistachios

Pear tart with stilton and pistachios

Pears are a well-known accompaniment to cheese but this recipe takes it to another level. Cooking pears in red wine and spices is a classic dessert that I love and only surpassed by serving them as a sophisticated, classy starter that is actually very easy to achieve.

Perfect with a blue cheese of your choice but equally as good with mature hard cheese such as pecorino, Cantal or even Cheddar. Most good delis will stock pistachio oil but if you can’t get your hands on some, then a drizzle of strong extra virgin olive oil will work a treat. Choose a slightly firm Williams or Cornice for this recipe and for a really deep red wine colour, cook the pears a couple of days in advance and keep in the fridge until needed.

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Serves 4

120g puff pastry, plus flour for dusting

2 pears, peeled

500ml red wine

80g caster sugar

2 tbsp blackcurrant liqueur

1 cinnamon stick

1 clove

1 dried red chilli

150g Stilton cheese, crumbled

60g pistachios, shelled and chopped

Baby salad leaves

Olive oil

Lemon juice

Salt and pepper

Pistachio oil

Preheat the oven to 180C. Roll out the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface to 2mm thick and then prick all over with a fork. Place the pastry in between two non-stick baking sheets and cook in the oven until golden and crisp. Leave to cool and then cut into four rectangles.

Put the pears in a saucepan with the wine, sugar, liqueur, spices and chilli. Quickly bring to the boil and then cover with greaseproof paper and simmer until tender, turning over the pears several times during cooking. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Once cool, drain and reserve the cooking liquid. Cut the pears in half and core them, cut into slices and place on the rectangles of puff pastry.

Return the saucepan to the heat and quickly boil the cooking liquid until syrupy.

Sprinkle the Stilton and pistachios over the pear. Garnish with a few salad leaves seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Serve with a drizzle of the syrupy red wine sauce and pistachio oil.

Recipe from ‘Great British Food Revival: The Revolution Continues’ published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (£20)

. . .

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s red cabbage, parsnip, orange and dates

Red cabbage, parsnip, orange and dates

This salad is a perfect for a winter starter or light lunch. It’s quick to prepare, looks stunning and it’s adaptable too: try using unsulphured dried apricots instead of dates, for instance; leave out the parsnip for a lighter salad, or substitute a large carrot if you like. Chervil and parsley both work well in place of thyme.

Serves 2

1 large (or 2 small) oranges

¼ small red cabbage, core removed, finely shredded

1 small-medium parsnip, peeled and coarsely grated or cut into julienne

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 Medjool dates, stones removed, sliced

A couple of sprigs of thyme, leaves only, chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Slice the top and bottom from the orange. Stand it upright on a board and work your way around it with a sharp knife, cutting off the skin and all the pith. Cut out the segments from between the membranes, working over a bowl to save the juice, letting the segments fall into the bowl. When you’ve finished, squeeze the juice from the remaining membrane into the bowl too.

Put the finely shredded cabbage and grated parsnip into another bowl, add most of the orange juice (not the segments yet) and trickle over the olive oil. Add a little salt and pepper, toss the lot together with your hands, then transfer to serving plates.

Scatter the orange segments and date slices over the red cabbage and parsnip, then finish with a scattering of thyme. Serve straight away.

Extract from ‘River Cottage Veg Every Day!’ by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, published by Bloomsbury (£25)

. . .

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s chestnut and sage soup

This is a rich and elegant soup with a beguilingly velvety texture. A small portion makes a lovely starter, while a larger serving, with some bread and perhaps a crisp green salad, is a satisfying lunch or supper. You can use vacuum-packed precooked chestnuts for this, or fresh, whole chestnuts, blanched, peeled and simmered until tender.

Serves 4-6

3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to trickle

15g butter

1 medium onion, chopped

6 sage leaves, roughly chopped, plus extra to finish

1 small garlic clove, finely chopped

1 litre vegetable stock

400g cooked, peeled chestnuts

100ml crème fraîche

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil and the butter in a saucepan over a medium-low heat and sweat the onion for about 10 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the sage and garlic and sauté for a minute.

Pour in the stock and add most of the chestnuts – reserve a handful for finishing. Season with salt and pepper, increase the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Remove from the heat and cool slightly, then purée until very smooth in a blender or food processor, or using a stick blender. Return the soup to the pan, add the crème fraîche and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Warm through gently – do not let it boil.

Meanwhile, slice the reserved chestnuts. Heat the rest of the olive oil in a small frying pan over a medium heat and sauté the sage leaves for a few seconds until crisp, then drain on kitchen paper.

Ladle the soup into warmed bowls, scatter on the chestnuts and sage leaves and add a trickle of olive oil. Finish with a generous grinding of black pepper. Serve immediately.

Extract from ‘River Cottage Veg Every Day!’ by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, published by Bloomsbury (£25)

. . .

José Pizarro’s sautéed morcilla with mint oil

This is a fabulous brunch or starter. If you cannot find tins of piquillo peppers, use roasted red peppers instead. The mint oil keeps well in the fridge and is great with lots of other dishes, such as grilled lamb.

Serves 4

Mint oil

Small bunch of mint

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Morcilla

2 apples, preferably Cox or Russet

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

400g morcilla or black pudding

120g piquillo peppers, drained and cut into strips

30g flaked almonds, toasted

1 slice of bread, toasted and cut into 4 triangles

First, make the mint oil. Strip the leaves from the stalks and blanch in boiling water for 20 seconds. Drain and refresh in iced water, then squeeze out the excess moisture until you have a walnut-sized lump of leaves. Loosen them out and leave to cool. When the mint has cooled, add the oil, salt and pepper and blitz using a hand blender or a food processor.

Now core, peel and chop the apple into cubes. Heat the oil in a frying pan until it shimmers, then add the apple pieces and fry them until they start to turn brown and sticky round the edges. Skin the sausage and, using your hands, roughly break up the mixture into chunks. Add to the frying pan and mix it up with the apple. Stir regularly to stop everything from sticking too much, and sauté until the morcilla is black in colour. This will take about 5 minutes. Spoon off any excess fat that appears.

Morcilla needs a bit of help to look attractive. So, place a 10cm cookie cutter on a warmed plate and spoon in a quarter of the mixture. Lay the pepper strips across the top, scatter over a few almonds, then carefully lift off the cutter. Lean a toast triangle against the sausage, and finish off with a drizzle of mint oil. Repeat three more times.

Extract from ‘Seasonal Spanish Food’ by José Pizarro (Kyle Cathie, £19.99)

. . .

José Pizarro’s cheese salad with membrillo and walnut dressing

This recipe works equally well as a starter or pudding at a supper party. The honeyed sweetness of the membrillo complements both the cheese and the bitter winter leaves. I like to use a mixture of sheep’s, soft goat’s and semi-cured cow’s cheeses to give a variety of textures and flavours. You can choose your own favourites.

Cheese salad with membrillo and walnut dressing

Serves 4

Dressing

40g walnuts

5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp Moscatel white wine vinegar

Salt and pepper

50g membrillo, cut into small cubes

Salad

120g chicory and radicchio salad leaves

2 mint sprigs, leaves stripped

120g Manchego sheep’s cheese, cut into batons

120g Mahón cow’s cheese, cubed

120g Mont Brut soft goat’s cheese, crumbled

Preheat the oven to 220C.

Break the walnut kernels into largish pieces, and spread them on a baking tray. Place in the oven for about 6 minutes, by which time the nuts will start to colour and smell toasty. Remove and leave to cool. Pick out any debris like skin and small bits of nut.

To make the dressing, whisk the oil and vinegar together, along with a pinch of salt and pepper, then stir in the membrillo cubes and walnuts.

Mix the salad leaves and mint together in a bowl and stir through half the dressing.

Divide the salad between four plates. Arrange the cheeses nicely on top of each portion. Finish off with the rest of the dressing.

Extract from ‘Seasonal Spanish Food’ by José Pizarro (Kyle Cathie, £19.99)

. . .

Jake Tilson’s mackerel kebabs

Mackerel is a perfect fish for grilling and, when cut into cubes, makes seriously delicious kebabs so good that some non-fish-eating friends at first thought they were eating lamb.

Serves 3

4 mackerel fillets, bones removed, cut into 5cm squares

1 red onion, cubed

1 red pepper, sliced

1 courgette, cut into 2cm rounds

Marinade

2 tsp ground cumin

Juice of 1 lemon, plus extra for serving

2 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper

Mix the marinade ingredients in a bowl, add the mackerel pieces and vegetables and marinate for an hour.

Preheat the grill to a medium heat.

Skewer the fish, skin side out on 4 skewers, wedged between the vegetable pieces. Brush with some olive oil.

Grill for 5 minutes each side, not too close to the flame, turning to make sure they cook evenly. Squeeze over a little more lemon juice just before serving.

Leftovers

If you have a spare kebab, chop the mackerel and vegetable pieces and wrap in filo pastry. Bake in a preheated oven at 200C for 15 minutes or so.

Recipe from ‘In at the Deep End: Cooking Fish, Venice to Tokyo’ (Quadrille, £20)

. . .

Mitch Tonk’s cured herring with fennel and lemon

12 herring fillets

200g rock salt

80g sugar (+ 2 tbsp)

300ml white wine vinegar

Fennel bulb, finely sliced

Orange zest

1 tsp coriander seeds

Star anise

Take the herring fillets, wash and dry them. Mix together the rock salt and sugar.

Lay the fish in a tray, flesh side up and sprinkle over the salt and sugar cure. Leave in a cool place for 4 hours then wash and dry thoroughly.

Take the white wine vinegar add a good handful of sugar and dissolve it. Add more if it needs it - you want it to taste wet.

Add a finely sliced fennel bulb, some chopped zest of an orange, a teaspoon of coriander seeds and a star anise. Warm these all together in a pan over a gentle heat for a few minutes, then leave to cool.

Pour the marinade over the fish and leave to cool before serving. Delicious just with a hunk of bread.

Mitch Tonks is chef at Seahorse & RockFish restaurants, Bristol & Dartmouth www.mitchtonks.co.uk

. . .

Signe Johansen’s Skagen crisps

These little crisps are a riff on Toast Skagen, a classic smørbrød, or open sandwich made with sweet North Sea prawns, lumpfish roe, lemon, dill and mayonnaise. Skagen is a beautiful headland at the northernmost tip of Denmark’s Jutland peninsula where the North Sea and the Baltic meet. It is a landscape covered with huge dunes, sandy beaches and picturesque little red-tiled houses with yellow ochre walls. While Toast Skagen apparently originates from this tiny corner of Denmark, it is available throughout Scandinavia and makes an excellent brunch, lunch or starter. If you don’t fancy dill, substitute parsley instead. Serve with a glass of ice-cold aquavit.

Serves 25

200g pack of Peter’s Yard crispbread

200g mayonnaise

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

300g North Sea prawns, peeled

100g lumpfish roe (or salmon roe if you struggle to find lumpfish)

Small handful dill sprigs

Butter, softened

Start by breaking the crispbread into bite-sized pieces and spread with a thin, even layer of butter (this helps to prevent the crispbread going soggy) and a small spoonful of mayonnaise.

Drizzle the lemon juice on each crisp and then divide the peeled prawns between them.

Top each slice with a small teaspoon of lumpfish roe, a spritz of finely grated lemon zest and a sprig or two of dill. Serve immediately.

Signe Johansen is author of ‘Scandilicious: Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking’ (Saltyard Books, £20)

. . .

Chris and Jeff Galvin’s velouté of potimarron pumpkin with roast chestnuts and ceps

Serves 6

Potimarron pumpkins are much smaller than regular ones and you get an intense flavour from them without needing to cook off the water, as the flesh is quite dry. They are starting to become more readily available in the UK now. If you can’t find one, look out for Ironbark instead.

400g Potimarron pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and roughly cut into 3cm pieces

100ml olive oil, plus 1 tsp

70g unsalted butter

¼ Spanish onion, finely diced

700ml chicken stock (see below)

200ml milk

2 large fresh ceps

12 chestnuts, roasted and peeled

1 tbsp chopped curly parsley

2 tsp pumpkin seed oil

Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

Put the pumpkin flesh on a baking tray and roll it in the 100ml of olive oil. Place in an oven preheated to 160C and bake for 1 hour, until tender.

Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the onion and sweat gently for 5 minutes, until softened but not coloured. Add the roasted pumpkin to the pan along with the chicken stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the milk. Purée the soup, in batches, in a blender or food processor and then pass it through a fine sieve into a clean pan. Reheat gently and season with salt and pepper.

Clean any loose dirt from the ceps with a pastry brush, give them a quick rinse in cold water and then pat dry. Trim 1cm off the stalks, then cut the ceps into 5mm-thick slices. Cut the chestnuts into quarters.

Heat the remaining teaspoon of olive oil in a frying pan, add the ceps and sauté over a high heat until golden on each side. Season with salt and pepper. Add the chestnuts to the pan to warm through, then finally add the chopped parsley.

To serve, pour the soup into soup bowls, spoon the ceps and chestnuts on top and finish with a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil.

Chicken stock

Makes about 4 litres

2kg chicken wings

5 litres water

1 onion, roughly chopped

2 sticks celery, roughly chopped

2 leeks, white part only, roughly chopped

4 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole

1 small sprig of thyme

5-6 parsley stalks

Place the chicken wings in a large saucepan and cover with the water. Bring to the boil over a high heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer and skim off any froth or scum from the surface.

Add all of the remaining ingredients, increase the heat and bring back to the boil. Skim again, then reduce the heat to a low simmer and simmer for 2 hours, skimming when necessary.

Remove from the heat and leave to stand for 30 minutes. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve, leave to cool and then chill. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days or freeze in batches for up to 3 months.

Extract from ‘Galvin: A Cookbook De Luxe’ by Chris and Jeff Galvin with photographs by Lara Holmes (Absolute Press, £25).

. . .

James Golding’s Hedgehog mushrooms on toast

200g hedgehog mushrooms (or substitute white mushrooms if unavailable)

1 clove of garlic

2 tbsp vegetable oil

100g butter

2 slices of sourdough or crusty bread

Chopped flat leaf parsley

Salt and pepper

Heat the oil on a non stick frying pan. Finely chop the garlic and gently fry. Toast the sourdough and place in the centre of the plate. Add in the mushrooms and fry until golden brown. Add the butter in and season.

Remove from the heat and add the chopped parsley. Spoon the mushrooms onto the toast and drizzle some butter around the bread. Serve straight away.

James Golding is chef at The Pig Hotel, Hampshire, http://www.thepighotel.co.uk/

. . .

Bryn Williams’ potato blinis

These little potato pancakes are wonderful served warm with some good smoked salmon and a dollop of sour cream or crème fraîche. I like to serve them with my Sunday fry-up.

Blinis on a pan

Serves about 12

90g plain flour

1 tsp grated nutmeg

Pinch of salt

100ml milk

1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk

2 medium Desirée or other floury potatoes, peeled, boiled and mashed (to give about 120g mashed potato)

50g butter

Place the flour, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the milk, whole egg and the egg yolk, then pour the mixture on to the flour. Whisk everything together, then gently fold in the mashed potato. Set aside, uncovered, to cool.

When the mixture is cool, cover the bowl and leave it to rest in the fridge for up to 3 hours. The mixture should have a dropping consistency, so if it becomes too firm in the fridge leave it at room temperature until it loosens up.

Heat the butter in a non-stick frying pan. Drop in a tablespoonful of the blini mix and fry for 1-2 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Transfer to kitchen paper to drain. Repeat until all the mixture is used up, and serve hot.

Bryn’s tips

When I specify mashed potato in the ingredients list, I mean just mashed potato – no butter, no cream, no nothing.

Extract from ‘Bryn’s Kitchen’ by Bryn Williams (Kyle Cathie, £25).

. . .

A plate of omelette

Ferran Adria’s crisp omelette

It is essential to use good-quality crisps and eggs. Because the crisps are salted, there is no need to season with salt. For large quantities, we make large omelettes to serve 4-6 people each and place them on the table for people to help themselves.

Preparation: 5 minutes

Serves 2 / 6 / 20 / 75

Olive oil 1½ tbsp / 4 tbsp / 100g / 200g

Eggs 6 / 18 / 60 / 225

Salted potato crisps 70g / 210g / 650g / 2.25kg

Break the eggs into a bowl and beat with a balloon whisk until very frothy.

Add the crisps, taking care not to break them, then leave to soak in the egg for for 1 minute.

Place a 25-cm non-stick frying pan over a medium heat, then add 2 teaspoons of oil.

Pour the mixture into the pan and stir gently with a rubber spatula.

Use the spatula to loosen the omelette from the edge of the pan.

After 40 seconds, when the base of the omelette has set, cover the omelette with a plate. Hold onto the pan with one hand, then carefully turn the pan over, so that the omelette slides onto the plate.

Remove the pan and return it to the heat. Add another 2 teaspoons oil.

Slide the omelette from the plate and into the pan, so that the uncooked side is in contact with the heat. Cook for another 20 seconds.

Serve the omelette on a plate.

Extract from ‘The Family Meal’ by Ferran Adria (Phaidon, £19.95)

. . .

The Silver Spoon’s langoustine and fig salad

Serves 4

Preparation: 45 minutes

Cooking: 5 minutes

500g langoustines or Dublin Bay prawns

4 plum tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded and coarsely chopped

Juice of ½ lemon, strained

Juice of 1½ grapefruits, strained

Dash of Tabasco sauce

4 tbsp olive oil

1 melon, halved and de-seeded

4 fresh figs, peeled

1 bunch rocket

Salt and pepper

Bring a pan of lightly salted water to the boil. Add the langoustines or prawns and cook for 2-5 minutes until tender. Drain and peel, then set aside.

Place the tomatoes in a food processor with the lemon juice, grapefruit juice and Tabasco, season with salt and pepper and process to a purée. Pour the sauce into a bowl and gradually whisk in the olive oil.

Using a melon-baller or teaspoon, scoop out about 40 small balls of melon flesh. Using a dampened knife cut each fig into 4 wedges.

To serve, divide the rocket among 4 serving plates, placing it in the centre, and arrange the figs, langoustines or prawns and melon balls around like sun rays. Spoon over the sauce and serve.

Extract from ‘The Silver Spoon’ (Phaidon, £29.95)

. . .

Hawksmoor’s grilled lamb chops with mint and caper salad

We serve it as a starter (one of our “hilariously meaty starters” as one critic had it), but add another chop per person and you have a decent-sized main.

Grilled lamb chops with mint and caper salad
Serves 1

3 loin lamb chops, chined (about 300-350g)

A few fresh mint leaves (use the tips of the sprigs)

1 tbsp of capers, rinsed

3-4 cipollini onions (Italian baby onions, preserved in vinegar), halved

A lemon wedge

Maldon sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

You’ll also need a ridged grill pan

Heat the ridged grill pan until hot. Season the chops well with salt and pepper. Place them on the grill and cook on one side for 4–5 minutes, rotating by 90 degrees halfway through. Then flip them over and cook the other side for about 3 minutes for a medium chop, which is how we like them (lamb doesn’t suit being served too rare).

Rest the meat in a warm place for a couple of minutes while you mix together the mint leaves, capers and halved cipollini.

Serve the chops with the mint mixture scattered over them and a wedge of lemon to squeeze over the meat

‘Hawksmoor at Home’ by Huw Gott, Will Beckett and Richard Turner, Preface, £25

. . .

Felicity Cloake’s guacamole

Guacamole should be zingy with lime, to cut through the creamy richness of the ripe avocado. Fresh chillies are also must for a really sharp guacamole, although smoky chipotles are an interesting variation, particularly if you’re serving it with meat, and in an avocado-based emergency, I have used chilli flakes with no ill effect.

Makes 500g

1-3 fresh green chillies, depending on heat and your taste (1 will give a very mild result, 3 an extremely spicy one), fi nely chopped

2 spring onions, thinly sliced

A handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped

Sea salt

3 ripe avocados (Hass, the knobbly brown ones, tend to be the creamiest and most flavoursome)

1 ripe medium tomato, cut into 3mm dice

Juice of 1 lime

Put a teaspoon each of the chilli, onion and coriander into a pestle and mortar, along with a pinch of sea salt, and grind to a paste.

Cut the avocados in half and remove the stones with a teaspoon. Scoop out the insides, cut into rough cubes, then put into a serving bowl and mash to a chunky paste, leaving some pieces intact.

Stir the chilli paste into the avocado, then gently fold in the tomatoes and the rest of the onions, chilli and coriander. Add lime juice and salt to taste. Serve immediately, or cover the surface with clingfilm and refrigerate.

‘Perfect’ by Felicity Cloake is published by Fig Tree (£18.99)

. . .

Duck Soup’s Duck Soup

Serves 4

1kg Nostrale potatoes, peeled and cut into 3cm chunks

400g banana shallots, peeled and sliced thinly

1 clove garlic, peeled, sliced thinly

1 sprig of thyme

1 sprig of rosemary

3 bay leaves

100g foie gras in 4 slices

300 ml duck or good chicken stock

50g butter

100ml olive oil

Half a fresh lemon (optional)

100g black truffle (optional)

In a large heavy-based saucepan warm the olive oil and butter and gently fry the shallots, garlic, thyme and rosemary for 2-3 minutes or until the shallots are soft and translucent. Add the diced potatoes and bay. Give them a good stir, turn to a very low heat and pop the lid on allowing the potatoes to steam cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring every 3-4 minutes so that the potatoes don’t stick. Remove the lid, the potatoes should have broken down leaving some large chunks and a rough purée. Add the stock and bring to a simmer for 15 minutes. Season with salt and plenty of black pepper. The soup, depending on the potatoes might be a bit muddy or earthy in flavour, you can fix this by adding a squeeze of lemon juice.

To serve, take 4 large soup bowls and place a slice of the foie gras in the base of each. Ladle the potato soup over the top and once at the table, for added decadence, shave a little black truffle over each bowl and enjoy.

Duck Soup, London, www.ducksoupsoho.co.uk

. . .

Fuchsia Dunlop’s Bang bang chicken

Bang Bang chicken appears on countless Chinese restaurant menus in the west, but usually only as a shadow of the authentic version. In southern Sichuan, where the dish originates, the base seasoning of sesame paste is jazzed up with sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, chilli and sesame oils and Sichuan pepper into a lip-tingling sauce. Bang Bang chicken derives its name from the way that the boneless chicken flesh is whacked with a wooden cudgel – a bang – to loosen its fibres and allow it to absorb more readily the flavours of the dressing, and because the sound of the words “bang bang” evokes the action of whacking itself. The traditional dish is usually offered without a vegetable accompaniment, but I like to serve it on a bed of shredded lettuce.

For the chicken

200g cooked, cooled chicken meat

1 tsp sesame seeds

One spring onion, green part only, finely sliced

Some crisp lettuce leaves, washed and spun or shaken dry

For the sauce

3 tbsp sesame paste, mixed to a runny paste with the oil from the jar

1 tbsp cold chicken stock or water

1 tsp light soy sauce

2 tsp Chinkiang or brown rice vinegar

2 tsp caster sugar

2-3 tbsp chilli oil, to taste

½ tsp sesame oil

¼-½ tsp ground roasted Sichuan pepper, to taste

Salt to taste

Whack the chicken with a rolling pin to loosen its fibres, and then tear or cut evenly into strips, along the grain of the flesh. Sprinkle over ¼ salt and mix well. Toast the sesame seeds gently in a wok or frying pan for a few minutes, until they are fragrant and starting to turn golden.

Combine the sesame paste, stock or water, sugar, soy sauce and vinegar in a small bowl, and mix well, adding salt to taste. Then stir in the ground pepper, followed by the chilli and sesame oils.

Shortly before serving, arrange the lettuce leaves on the base of a serving dish. (Use them whole, break them into bite-sized pieces, or shred them as you wish.) Pile the chicken up on the lettuce. Pour over the sauce, and scatter with the sliced spring onion and sesame seeds.

Fuchsia Dunlop is author of ‘Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China’, (Ebury)

. . .

Rowley Leigh’s parmesan custard with anchovy toast

In the absence of a sandwich machine or sandwich maker, a thin piece of crisp toast spread with the anchovy paste will work just as well. The custards can be made well ahead of time, cooled and then reheated in an oven or steamer before being finished off under the grill.

300ml single cream

300ml milk

100g finely grated Parmesan cheese

4 egg yolks

Salt and pepper

Cayenne pepper

12 anchovy fillets

50g unsalted butter

8 very thin slices of pain de champagne or crisp toast

● Mix the cream, milk and all but a tablespoon of the Parmesan cheese in a bowl and warm it gently over a pan of boiling water until the cheese has fully melted. Allow to cool completely before whisking in the egg yolks, salt, finely milled white pepper and a little cayenne pepper.

● Lightly butter 8 china moulds of 80ml capacity and pour in the mixture. Place the moulds in a pan of boiling water, cover with buttered paper and bake in a low oven, 150C, for 15 minutes or until the mixture has just set.

● Mash the anchovies and butter to a smooth paste and spread over four of the slices of bread. Cover with the remaining bread and toast in a sandwich maker or Panini machine. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese over the warm custard moulds and brown gently under a hot grill. Cut the toasted anchovy sandwiches into little fingers and serve alongside the custards.

Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais. More recipes at www.ft.com/leigh

. . .

Giorgio Locatelli’s Christmas caponata

Serves 8

375g almonds

450g whole green olives in brine

Sea salt

1 large head of celery, chopped

120ml olive oil

300g salted capers, rinsed and drained

375g raisins

60g sugar

120ml white wine vinegar

Seeds of 1 pomegranate (optional)

● Preheat the oven to 180C. Lay the almonds in a single layer on a baking tray and put into the oven for about 8 minutes. As long as they are in a single layer you don’t need to turn them. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t burn, and when they are golden, take them out and chop them. Keep to one side.

● Drain the olives and pat dry. With a sharp knife, make three or four cuts in each olive from end to end, and then cut each segment away from the stone as carefully as you can. Chop the olives.

● Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the celery and blanch for about a minute, until just soft, then drain. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and sauté the celery, olives and capers until the celery is lightly golden. Add the raisins and cook for a few minutes. Mix the sugar and vinegar together in a cup, add to the pan, bring to the boil, then add all but 2 tablespoons of the toasted almonds and take off the heat.

● You can eat the caponata straight away, but to really help the flavours develop, cover with clingfilm and leave to cool down before serving sprinkled with the remaining almonds and the pomegranate seeds, if using.

Extract from ‘Made in Sicily’ by Giorgio Locatelli (Fourth Estate, £30)

FT Festive 50: Mains

FT Festive 50: Puddings and treats

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