Dinner with friends and the Antrim duck

1-photo (3)In my world there is little that can compare with an uninterrupted day in my kitchen and the prospect of good friends coming for dinner. Inexplicably, the garden is groaning with produce at the moment – I guess it is harvest festival season – but generally my produce is waining by now. But this year we still have three rows of Pink Fir Apple potatoes to lift, more beetroot than we can eat, new shoots and green leaves on chard, a couple of rows of spinach, salads. Super Marmande tomatoes and about 15 aubergine.

I intended that we should start with a carpaccio of beetroot with wild sorrel and ricotta sprinkled with gremolata. As it turned out the ricotta was replaced by feta because I failed to make the ricotta in time. For the beetroot, gently boil in 50ml balsamic vinegar, 50g sugar, grated orange rind and the juice of an orange, a cinnamon stick until the beets are only just tender. Then skin and allow to cool.

Gremolata is a magic combination of parsley, garlic and lemon rind minced finely with the mezzaluna. You can make it in advance and if you have too much, put in an airtight jar and store in the fridge. When you’re ready to serve the beetroot starter, dress the salad leaves and sorrel with a tart vinagrette, slice the beetroot very thinly either with a very sharp thin bladed knife or a mandolin. Then place a spoonful of ricotta or crumbled feta on the plate and sprinkle with the gremolata. Dot with the well reduced cooking liquour, boiled till it is thick and syrupy.

Next was the Antrim duck that managed to survive HM Customs examination at Belfast City Airport earlier in the year. She gently defrosted overnight on her haunches, so any remaining blood didn’t contaminate the flesh and was patted dry. I stuffed her with the Christmas recipe of mashed potato and apple then roasted on a high heat – 220C – uncovered and breast side down on a bed of carrot and thick bacon offcuts for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. On balance I think she was too well done for me, but then although I like my game on the pink side, others definitely do not. Out of the oven to rest for about 20 minutes, gravy made by mashing down the roasting base and deglazing with a good glug of red wine then added garlic broth (see next) and seasoned to taste. In facet the bacon had leant its own seasoning and it needed just a little black pepper.

The vegetables were flash roasted Pink Fir Apples. I am now in the habit of cooking the roast potatoes till they are 75% done then taking them out, roasting the meat and whilst the meat is resting after it is cooked, returning the potatoes to finish off. Definitely works and no hysterical juggling of shelves and last minute panics necessary. Red cabbage with apple and cider had been cooking down for about 4 hours so that just needed reheating. The greens were chopped chard, cos lettuce from the garden cut in quarters, and peas. Place on a large knob of butter in a wide shallow pan and clamp on the lid and rack up the heat. When steaming add 75ml garlic broth, lid on again for 5 minutes by which time the broth will have disappeared and created a glassy emulsion with the butter. Season with black pepper and turn into a dish.

Garlic broth is a favourite of mine instead of vegetable stock. Put 450ml water in a pan and the trimmings from two onions (tops and bottoms plus the skins), two large gloves of garlic cut into pieces, and a little salt. Bring to the boil and reduce to about 350ml. Use this for either cooking the greens (as above) or as the basis for a vegetarian gravy. Now you know it, you will probably find 1001 uses for it.

Finally the pudding. We have taken about 30 pears off our one cordon pear tree which is against a south facing wall. In spite of this the pears didn’t ripen. I tried putting them in a paper bag with a banana (which is supposed to ripen them). It doesn’t by the way. So now my freezer has foil containers full of cooked pears. Tonight I made pear and apple crumble and we used up the remaining plum icecream to serve with it.

The outcome? The beetroot was gorgeous and the gremolata lifted it into light lemony heaven. The duck was gorgeous. Deep dark meat but not too gamey. As always it confirmed that the potato and apple stuffing is the best stuffing for game birds. The greens were still brilliant green and so tasty. The hot sweet crumble with the cold and tart plum icecream made the tastebuds zing.

John, you should have eaten slower. And sneaking single potatoes dipped into the gravy boat before we had pudding is probably why you had indigestion before you left!!

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