My friends Heather and Alex live on a boat. They have recently moved said boat from a 1,000 berth marina in Brighton to a tiny little enclave just outside Bristol. The setting is pretty idyllic: lines of squat houseboats with names like Katie-Jayne, with terracotta pots full of plants balanced on top. Last weekend was the boat launching party. It’s been out of the water for the last few months, being given an odd sort of TLC that involves its underside being shot-blasted. It has also been given a coat of paint, and now sticks out from its more demure neighbours with its bright shades of green and yellow.
It was one of those perfect summer days that you call up the memory of in the depths of the English winters: sunny, clear and with a gentle breeze. It was also, conveniently, the summer solstice – the longest day. We were sat on the deck of the boat until at least midnight, and there was still a glimmer of light in the sky. We had a barbeque, the sure-fire sign that summer has started. There is a large, Australia-style communal barbeque at the marina. There’s something intensely primal about cooking and eating outside, and watching meat hiss and spit as it cooks over a flame.
I made these mini pavlovas to follow the vast quantites of barbequed meat. I wanted to make something that was creamy and summery, but could be eaten without the need for plates or cutlery. The meringue acts as a little bowl for the marscapone filling and summer berries. I used raspberries, blueberries and some strawberries that I managed to salvage before they went into the Pimm’s. I also added pomegranate seeds, more for artistic frippery than taste, but they were actually surprisingly pleasant.
If I had to pick a country’s cuisine to eat for the rest of my life, it would have to be Italian. Disregarding the resulting enormity of my thighs, of course. There just seems to be infinite possibilities surrounding a love of simple ingredients. Endless varieties of pasta and risottos to keep me entertained for a long while. And Italian puddings are often so decadently creamy, and don’t have the fiddly precision of French desserts – both epitomised by this recipe.
As is often quoted, ‘tiramisu’ means ‘pick me up’ in Italian. This is due to the fact that it is laced with coffee and a more than generous (in this recipe, anyway) amount of booze. This is one of my go to recipes when I bring a pudding to a party, and has, on more occasions than I’m willing to admit, made a perfect hangover breakfast the next day.
The combination of alcohol suggested seems to vary a bit in between recipes. One most have in common is Marsala wine, a sweet fortified wine originally from Scicily. So I used this, along with amaretto liqueur, as I have a long-abiding love of the stuff.
I’m going a little canapé mad at the moment, what with all the festive parties. These were inspired by some lovely canapés that the chef at work made for our Christmas party, which were wolfed down in seconds. Canapés can be, to my mind, the most exciting part of a meal – when you’re starving hungry they tease you with what’s about to come.
I made these for a New Year dinner party. The party had eleven guests (and five courses if you count the canapés) so I ended up making three different sorts, totaling around sixty. By the end of meticulously balancing tiny bits of fennel on top of minuscule dollops of crème fraiche, I was going slightly cross-eyed, and had lost count of how many I’d made. I also assembled grated beetroot, pesto and pancetta on circles of toast, and smoked salmon, cucumber and mustard mayonnaise on more blinis.
Blinis are small Russian yeasted pancakes (a bit like tiny crumpets) that are traditionally used as a vehicle for smoked salmon and caviar. But they work well with a variety of toppings, such as here with silky crème fraiche and crunchy fennel. Blinis take a couple of hours to make, as the batter needs to be left to rise, but they can easily be make a day in advance and kept in an airtight container.
The trick to a good canapé, I think, is to get a good mixture of contrasting textures and colours that work well together. This canapé would have looked and tasted a bit bland if it were not for the little segment of orange, and some bright green fennel fronds placed on top – at which point I almost resorted to using tweezers.