© Patricia Niven

Through a series of miscalculations, poor decision-making and a spot of bad luck, we’ve found ourselves without a dining table or chairs at home. We have had to adapt our cooking to sofa-dining for a few weeks, and we have been rather enjoying it.

Lounging for dinner like ancient Roman nobility or sultans in their palaces is a terrific night in for simple souls like us, as long as you follow some easy rules. You should serve meals in a bowl or something deep; all cutting should be done in the kitchen — the food ideally needs to be manageable with a fork or a spoon as the other hand will be holding a bowl; potential spillage must also be taken into account, so a good amount of napkins should be close at hand.

We had great fun with hearty soups on colder nights and chunky salads on warmer ones. We learnt to avoid beetroot on an evening we will always remember because of a stain that won’t come out, and we learnt to favour short pasta over long strands.

As a result, we are confident enough to entertain like this now. When friends come over, we often serve some nibbles and a bowl of this lovely dish, which is somewhere between winter and spring, and something between a soup and a stew. The lamb is cooked to soft submission, the cooking liquid turns into a delicious, rich broth with broad beans bobbing about. The squash provides sweetness and a bit of heft, and they all sit so comfortably together in a bowl, just made to be eaten on a sofa.

Our friends seem to enjoy our new style of entertaining. We have a dining table now but still no chairs — perhaps we won’t even bother. 

Spring lamb necks in new-season garlic and broad-bean broth

© Patricia Niven

Generous dinner for four with some leftovers


For the stew

1kglamb necks (about four to five)
3 tspflaky sea salt
Generous sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsvegetable oil
3-4banana shallots, peeled and halved lengthways
2heads of new-season garlic (or use one regular bulb), halved lengthways
1cinnamon stick
3bay leaves
6cracked cardamom pods
1 tbswhole coriander seeds
4strips of lemon peel (using a peeler)
1small butternut squash, cut into large chunks with the skin still on
300gpodded broad beans (from 1kg fresh or you can use frozen ones)

For the mint salsa

The leaves from one bunch of mint (20g)
1small clove of garlic
Zest of half a lemon (use the other half of the one above)
Sprinkling of sea salt
3 tbsolive oil
  1. Heat a large saucepan on a medium-high heat and pour in the oil. Season the lamb necks with all the salt and pepper and lay them in the saucepan. Fry on each side until they are golden brown all over (this will take about eight to 10 minutes). Move them to one side of the pan and add the shallot halves and the garlic to the other side. Fry for about five minutes, mixing well and then add all the spices. Fry for a further five minutes and then add a litre of cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pan, simmer gently for 50 minutes.
  2. Add all the butternut wedges, re-cover and continue simmering for another 30 minutes. Open the lid, mix well, taste for seasoning — you may need to add a little more salt. Keep the lid half covered and simmer for another 30 minutes.
  3. When you are ready to eat, add the broad beans and simmer for a final 10 minutes. Dish up a piece of lamb and some vegetables for each person and a ladleful of the accompanying broth.
  4. For the mint sauce, chop the mint very finely with the garlic clove and lemon zest. Add a sprinkling of sea salt, mix with the olive oil and serve with the lamb.

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