The last time we hosted Christmas, we didn’t have children and possibly didn’t have a Christmas tree (or if we did it was nothing I can remember). Now look at us, we’ve got a real tree (thank you, Oxfam) with a smiley angel that my daughter and I made perched on top, and two polka-dot stockings hanging from our mantel. I even make a wreath of kangaroo paws for our front door.
It’s sounds Christmassy, doesn’t it? But there are people out there much, much more Christmassy than me. I’m not one to launch into it all on the 1st December. I get it happening … eventually.
I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t parental responsibility driving my new Christmas ways. But I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. I’m the first one to suggest we put on Atlantic Records while we decorate the tree – the album with ‘White Christmas’ on it – and sing enthusiastically 🙂
It only occurred to me yesterday that as hosts this year, we need to do more than make delicious food – we also need to think about a nicely laid out table. Oh dear. Decorating is an after thought for me, although I recognise I should raise the bar because it is Christmas. A tablecloth and some flowers at least. (Sorry kids, I can’t see us buying bon bons – your mother is an environmental stick in the mud!)
At least Christmas comes easy for me on the food front, and ideas of what to make pop into my head all year. This year, what I’m excited about (other than pudding!) is cooking mussels and octopus for my family. The octopus is a Jamie Oliver recipe that I made for my daughter’s birthday this year – poached in oil and aromatics first, then grilled, so it’s incredibly tender. I’m also excited about putting together a cheese platter with plum paste and pickled artichokes from our garden, and about making a few good salads (you can find a beautiful potato salad here). I think this green salad is a lovely one to serve at Christmas (or anytime!).
Herbs from the garden, almonds fried in butter, and soft ricotta on top of crunchy lettuce leaves, mmm … The recipe was inspired by one by Adrian Richardson in his book The Good Life. Make sure you use a ricotta that tastes good plain (some taste a bit like cardboard!). Other herbs that work in this salad are parsley and basil.
knob of butter
large handful of almonds, roughly chopped
12 sage leaves
salt and pepper
small handful of lemon thyme or regular thyme, chopped (plus some flowers if available)
1 heaped teaspoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium cos or iceberg lettuce, leaves separated, washed and dried, torn into large pieces
small bunch of chives, cut into 1 cm pieces (plus some chive flowers if available)
250 g fresh ricotta
Heat the butter in a frying pan and allow it to foam for a minute before adding the almonds, sage and a pinch of salt. Fry, tossing regularly, until the almonds are golden and the sage is crisp. Remove from the heat.
Strip the thyme leaves from their stems, reserving a pinch of leaves or flowers to garnish. Finely chop the rest and put into a large mixing bowl. Add the mustard, ¼ teaspoon of salt, generous black pepper, lemon juice and oil and stir well.
Add the lettuce to the bowl, along with the chives. Toss well, then turn the leaves onto a large platter, spreading them wide. Crumble the ricotta over the top. Scatter with the fried almonds and sage and any buttery juices. Sprinkle with the reserved thyme or with thyme flowers and/or chive flowers if you have them.