I am not one for formal or extravagant eating, but Christmas seems to demand something slightly out of the ordinary. In our house it is a rare chance to pull out all the stops, decorate the table, eat three or even four courses and drink more expensive wines than usual. Christmas lunch is the longest meal of the year, and often lasts all afternoon. But there are other meals to be cooked at Christmas, and although they are less lengthy, they still seem to beg for that same, rich sweetness that accompanies the traditional Christmas meal. A roast seems right somehow, be it a piece of velvety beef or a joint of golden pork with its glistening coat of crackling. This year, we will be sitting down at least once to a joint of pork cooked on the bone, its pan juices seasoned with garlic and given a little sweetness with roasted quinces. There will be a crisp salad too, if only to balance the richness, and rather than a hot pudding, I'm making a citrus-scented ice cream. In all, a glowing golden meal, which we will eat at an unusually leisurely pace. One of this season's many special meals with friends and family.
To start: Goats' cheese salad with figs and pomegranates
A classy little starter this, full of crisp leaves and fresh tastes.
small goats' cheeses - 9
bushy sprigs of thyme - 5
black peppercorns - 12
bay leaves - 4 or 5
olive oil - 250ml
walnut halves - 36
salad leaves (trevise, radicchio, rocket) - 6 large handfuls
a large pomegranate
small, ripe figs - 18
red wine vinegar - 2-3 tbs
Cut each cheese in half horizontally. Put the discs of cheese in a flat dish, sitting snugly, tuck in the sprigs of thyme, the lightly crushed peppercorns and the bay leaves then pour over the olive oil. Cover with clingfilm and leave in a cool place for at least 4 or 5 hours - overnight is fine - turning the cheeses once or twice if you remember. Rinse the salad leaves. Peel the pomegranate and pick out the seeds. I know it's a bore but I think you really must remove every scrap of the bitter pith. You want just the jewel-like seeds. Cut a cross in the top of each fig and press its shoulders with your fingers and thumbs so that it opens out like a flower. (Actually I think they more resemble baby birds singing in their nest.)
Pour the oil from the cheeses, holding them in place with a spatula, then add a little salt and the vinegar, whisking lightly to give a sharp dressing. Taste as you go, adding more or less vinegar depending on its acidity. Toast the walnuts in a hot, dry non-stick pan till they smell deeply nutty.
Divide the salad leaves between six plates. Lay three slices of cheese on each plate, three figs, a scattering of pomegranate seeds and the walnuts. Spoon over a little of the dressing.
Main course: Roast loin of pork with quinces and marsala
serves 6 with plenty left for Boxing Day
Roasting on the bone will give you more succulent meat. The downside is that meat on the bone is more difficult to carve. I get round this by asking my butcher to 'chine' the meat for me, a neat little technique that results in leaving the bone intact but cutting it almost through, making it a doddle to carve. Best ask your butcher the day before. (Ask him for a few bones for stock too.) I find a piece of scored, bone-in loin with 10-12 bones will serve 6 plus enough for seconds the next day. It is worth getting the bottle of dry or semi-dry 'cooking marsala' as soon as you can. The more easily found sweet version isn't really suitable.
an 8-10-bone pork loin, (about 3 kilos) on the bone
garlic - 8 cloves
quinces - 6
stock - 250ml
dry marsala - 125ml
Set the oven at 200 c/gas 6. Unwrap the pork and make sure that the fat is dry to the touch. Wet fat won't crisp. Rub the meat generously all over with olive oil, then season it with salt. Lay the meat in a roasting tin so that the fat is facing upwards. Roast for 30 minutes then 30 minutes per 450g. (For a 3kg joint, that is 30 minutes plus approximately 1hr 50 minutes, a total roasting time of 2 hours 20 minutes.) Put a small pan of water on to boil. Peel the garlic cloves, then cook them for 15 minutes in the boiling water, drain and pop the cloves from their skins. Turn the heat down to 180 c/gas 4 after 30 minutes. An hour before the meat is due out of the oven, wipe the quinces then tuck them in around the roast, together with the garlic cloves. Wet them with a little oil and continue roasting. Test the roast for doneness. The fat should be golden and crisp. Pierce the skin with a metal skewer and check that the juices contain no sign of blood. Remove from the oven and lift the meat out onto a warm serving dish. Cover with foil and leave in a warm place to rest. Lift out the quinces and put them in a warm dish. If they are not quite tender and fluffy then return them to the oven. Tip the layer of oil from the roasting tin into a heatproof jug - you can use it for roasting potatoes another day. Place the roasting tin over a low heat and pour in the marsala and the chicken stock. Bring to the boil, scraping at the sticky sediment in the pan as you go, stirring it into the gravy. Crush the garlic cloves with the back of a wooden spoon, then leave the gravy to bubble slowly for 3 or 4 minutes. It should be thin, glossy and deeply flavoured. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as you think fit.
To serve, slice the meat thinly, pulling the bones away as you go - though no one should mind if they get one. As your knife reaches the backbone, the meat should come away quite easily. Place a quince on each plate then drizzle over the marsala gravy.
Red cabbage with cider vinegar
serves 6 as a side dish
a small red cabbage
a little olive or groundnut oil
juniper berries - 8-10
cider vinegar - 3 tbs
Shred the cabbage finely, cutting away and discarding the hard core, rinse thoroughly then drain. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a wok or deep saucepan and add the cabbage. Turn the cabbage in the oil, raising the heat if necessary, till the colour is bright - a matter of minutes.
Squash the juniper berries roughly, maybe with the flat of a heavy knife blade or a pestle. You don't want them so much to be a powder, more simply well bruised. (The smell will be not dissimilar from that of a gin and tonic.) Add them to the cabbage with half of the cider vinegar, and a seasoning of salt and pepper. Leave the cabbage to cook, covering with a lid and tossing occasionally. It will take 7-10 minutes to be tender but with some crunch left to it. Give it another 5-10 minutes if you prefer it soft. Freshen the taste if necessary with the last of the vinegar.
Potato cakes with thyme
5 medium-sized potatoes
the leaves from 6 sprigs thyme
you will also need a loaf tin and a small sheet of greaseproof paper
Set the oven at 200 c/gas 6. Peel the potatoes and slice them thinly. They should be so thin that you are almost able to see through them. If you work slowly then put the sliced potatoes into a bowl of cold water to prevent them browning. Melt the butter then brush some of it onto the bottom and sides of a loaf tin (or use a round, solid-based tin if that is what you have), then cover with a piece of greaseproof paper. Cover the bottom of the tin with slices of potato, brush with more butter, season with salt, pepper and a light sprinkling of thyme leaves. Continue layering the potatoes with butter and seasonings every two or three layers until you have used up all the potatoes. Pour any remaining butter over the top. Bake for 40-50 minutes till the top is golden and a skewer can be inserted effortlessly into the layers of tender potato. To serve, lift the potato out by holding both long sides of the greaseproof paper. Cut into six pieces. If it falls apart, and well it might, just push back together.
Pudding: Mincemeat crumble tart
Serves about 8
Clotted cream is my first choice for this sweet, crumbly tart, but crème fraîche or a jug of pouring cream works well here too, especially if you are serving the tart warm.
for the pastry:
plain flour - 200g
butter - 125g
for the crumble:
plain flour - 200g
butter - 150g
demerara sugar - 75g
mincemeat - 900g
You will also need a shallow, square-sided baking tin, about 20-22cm
Make the pastry case by whizzing the flour and butter in a food processor until they resemble fine breadcrumbs. Add a couple of tablespoons of cold water and bring together to form a firm dough. Leave to rest for 15 minutes or so, wrapped in greaseproof paper. Set the oven at 185 c/gas 5. Make the crumble by blitzing the flour and butter in the processor till they look like fine breadcrumbs, then stir in the sugar. Sprinkle a very little water on top and shake the mixture lightly so that coarse lumps appear. This is by no means essential, but I like to do it to give the crumble a more interesting, nubbly texture.
Roll the pastry to fit the bottom of the baking tin, pushing it into the corners, but not up the sides. Bake for 15 minutes until the surface is dry and the colour of a pale biscuit. Prick all over with a fork. Tip the mincemeat into the tart and cover lightly with the crumble. Do not pack it down - let it sit lightly on top in a thick layer. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes.
Orange and lemon ice cream serves 6
An ice that manages to be refreshing and rich at the same time. I find this creamy ice even better when I match it with another, sharper ice as well. Rather than make too much work for myself, I tend to marry it with a good quality commercial sorbet such as orange or mango. You could, of course, use a home-made sorbet, but I find making one ice at a time is enough. It is worth noting that you need only the oranges' zest, and not their juice.
oranges - 2
caster sugar - 150g
whipping cream- 500ml
Grate the zest of the lemon and the oranges finely and tip into the bowl of a food processor. Add the sugar then blitz for a minute or two until you can barely see the orange and lemon zest. Tip into a stainless steel or glass bowl and mix to a loose slush with the lemon juice. Pour in the cream and stir gently, then cover tightly with clingfilm and refrigerate for a good hour. Stir, then pour the chilled mixture into an ice cream machine and churn till frozen. If you don't have a machine then you can do it by hand, though the texture will not be the same. Pour the chilled mixture into a plastic freezer box and leave in the deep freeze until the edges have frozen. This can take up to four hours depending on your freezer. Beat the frozen edges into the centre of the mixture with a small whisk, then return to the freezer. Leave for a further hour, then repeat, beating the frozen edges into the middle. Leave to freeze again. If the ice cream has frozen solid, leave to soften a little in the fridge before serving.
Tim Atkin's wine recommendations
Roast loin of pork with quinces and marsala
2002 Domaine Fontanel, Côtes du Roussillon (£7.95, Indigo Wine, 020 7733 8391)
You need a full-throated white wine here, so I've picked a 14% alcohol number from the Roussillon region, combining 80% Grenache Blanc with 20% Malvoisie in a spicy package.
Potato cakes with thyme
2000 Domaine Combebelle St Chinian, Syrah/Grenache (£6.99, Booths)
Robert 'Bertie' Eden is really starting to find his range in the Languedoc. This smoky, thymey red is a great winter warmer.
Red cabbage with cider vinegar
Duché de L'Ville Normandy Cider (£1.49, Sainsbury's)
I'd go for cider or a wheat beer and this northern French example is fruity and fresh.
Goats 'cheese salad with figs and pomegranates
1994 Trittenheimer Apotheke Riesling Kabinett, Laurentinshof (£6.49, Majestic)
A complex, petrolly German Riesling is ideal, combining racy acidity with enough sweetness to cope with the fruit.
Mincemeat crumble tart
2001 Chteau Liot Sauternes (£9.79, Waitrose per 37.5cl)
This Semillon-based Bordeaux sweetie has lovely honeycomb and vanilla flavours.
Orange and lemon ice cream
2002 Nivole Moscato d'Asti (£4.99 per 37.5cl, Booths)
This refreshing, spritzy Northern Italian Muscat has crisp acidity and just the right amount of grapey sweetness.
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