A legend for lunch: Skye Gyngell cooks for the food writers' food writer, Simon Hopkinson

Simon Hopkinson is the food writers' food writer – so when Skye Gyngell dared to cook him a meal based on his own recipes, it was shredded nerves for starters
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Indy Lifestyle Online

The other day I cooked lunch for Simon Hopkinson, who has long been one of my favourite food writers and heroes. I have read his Roast Chicken and Other Stories from cover to cover so many times I have lost count; his turn of phrase and little asides always make me smile and his fanfares to his favourite cooks are warm-hearted and generous.

He has, in my opinion, a faultless sensibility when it comes to food. For 10 years he was the food writer for the Saturday Independent magazine, and his column had near-legendary status.

A couple of years ago, Roast Chicken and Other Stories was voted the all-time favourite cookbook by a selection of chefs in Waitrose Food Illustrated magazine. Surprised and touched, it spurred Simon to write another book, Week in Week Out, a collection of recipes from his time at The Independent. It is a beautiful, glossy cookbook – Simon's others have no photographs – and I imagine that, for the lay cook, Jason Lowe's pictures will be most welcome. The recipes are classic, well thought out and I immediately wanted to cook them all. So I decided to ask Simon to Petersham for lunch, to see if he would let me cook his food for him.

Cooking for your peer group isn't the most relaxing experience and I was especially nervous when Simon announced that he was going to bring Jeremy Lee and Rowley Leigh – both wonderful cooks – with him. I asked Simon what he thought I should cook and he insisted that I choose, although he offered to bring dessert with him.

In anticipation of their arrival, we decorated a table in the restaurant with the last of the summer dahlias and a lovely acorn and onion squash from the kitchen garden. We also made a special cassis using our own blackberries and quinces, to serve with prosecco. Our guests, though, shunned both table and prosecco as they preferred to eat outside (so that they could smoke) and drink rosé.

For a while I wasn't sure if things were going well. Simon is certainly more of a traditionalist than I am, and ordered the Wigmore cheese to come " plain", without the usual walnuts and drizzle of Richmond Park honey – but I wasn't offended. I know that these things are a question of style.

After the meal, when we went out into the gardens to pick quinces together, he was particularly complimentary about the fantastic quality of the porcini salad and said the rabbit was far better than he remembered. So I was relieved.

It turned into one of those lovely late-autumn afternoons and Simon didn't leave until we closed. So although we may be different cooks, I know we both appreciate good, seasonal cooking.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627. Simon Hopkinson's 'Week In Week Out' is published by Quadrille, priced £20

Slow-braised rabbit shoulders with white beans and parsley

Serves 4

120g/41/4oz of dried haricot or white kidney beans, soaked overnight in cold water
4tbsp of olive oil
4 rabbit shoulders
Salt and pepper
1/2tsp of coriander seeds toasted and lightly crushed
8 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves
100ml/31/2fl oz dry sherry
300ml/10fl oz water

Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas2.

Drain the beans and wash thoroughly. Drain again and reserve. Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a heavy bottomed cast-iron or terracotta pot.

Season the rabbit and gently fry on all sides until lightly gilded. Add the coriander seeds and garlic and mingle around with the rabbit until they, too, are moderately coloured.

Introduce the bay leaves, sherry, water and washed beans. Stir all together and add the remaining two tablespoons of the olive oil.

Cover and cook in the oven for about one to one-and-a-half hours, or until the beans are soft and the rabbit is tender.

This is a meal in itself, but you can add a plain green salad if you like.

Salad of raw cepes with Parmesan and olive oil

Serves 4

Juice of one small lemon
3-4tbsp extra -virgin olive oil
6-8 firm and fresh medium-sized cepes, cleaned and very thinly sliced
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
A few snipped chives
Several shavings from a handsome wedge of fine Parmesan

In a roomy bowl, mingle together the lemon juice and olive oil until loosely amalgamated.
Add the cepes and loosely toss together with the seasoning, chives and shavings of Parmesan cheese.
Spoon on to two plates.

Devilled anchovies

Serves 4

400g/13oz fresh anchovies
Milk
Self-raising flour generously seasoned with cayenne pepper and a little salt
Oil for deep frying
Salt and extra cayenne pepper for dusting
Lemons

Preheat the deep fryer to 190F/375C/Gas5.

Put the anchovies into a bowl and pour enough milk over them to just cover. Leave them submerged for 10 minutes or so, then drain in a colander or sieve.

Discard the milk.

Put the seasoned flour in a plastic bag and tip in the drained anchovies. Toss them around in it, shaking the bag well until each fish is thoroughly coated.

Suspend the frying basket over the sink, then lift small handfuls of the flour-coated anchovies into the basket – but only fry one portion of fish at a time; to overcrowd the fryer when cooking anchovies will end in disaster; a soggy mass of soggy fish.

Slowly lower the basket into the oil and fry for no more than one to two minutes or until the fish are pale golden and very crisp; they should rustle well when shaken.

Sprinkle with salt and a little extra cayenne, depending how devilish you are feeling at the time.

Drain on to folded kitchen paper and serve with lemon.

White coffee ice-cream

For the finale, Simon bought along his own delicious coffee ice-cream. The recipe was given to him by the Cipriani Hotel in Venice and is a sworn secret, so I've come up with my own version. The amazing flavour is down to the milk infused with coffee beans.

Serves 6-8

550ml/19fl oz milk
200g/7oz of very good-quality coffee beans
225g/71/2oz of golden caster sugar
10 medium organic free-range egg yolks
400 ml/14fl oz of double cream

Place the milk over a low heat in a small saucepan and tip in the coffee beans. Add 100g of the sugar, stir well and bring just to the boil. Turn down the heat and cook for a minute and then remove from the heat and pour the contents into a bowl.

Cover the bowl with a lid and allow the milk and coffee beans to infuse for an hour. When the hour is up, strain the coffee-flavoured milk through a fine sieve and set aside. Discard the coffee beans and beat together the yolks and remaining sugar until the mixture is thick and pale yellow (this is most easily done with an electric mixer). Add the coffee-flavoured milk, stir and pour back into a pan. Place the pan over a very low heat and stir constantly until you have a thin, textured custard.

Remove from the stove and pour into a chilled bowl. Whisk in the cream, leave to cool completely and then churn in an ice-cream machine, either in the usual way or following the manufacturer's instruction.

The Forager by Wendy Fogarty

Petersham's food sourcer on the well-thumbed cookbooks that fill the restaurant's kitchen shelves...

'Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book' (Penguin, £10.99) An alphabetical guide to selecting and cooking vegetables.

'Chez Panisse Fruit' by Alice Waters (William Morrow Cookbooks, £17.50) Sweet and savoury dishes.

'French Provincial Cooking' by Elizabeth David (Penguin, £8.99) The classic that encouraged us all to recognise that "what grows together goes together".

'The Classic Italian Cookbook' by Marcella Hazan (Macmillan) and the more recent 'Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking' (Knopf, £15)

'A New Book of Middle Eastern Food' by Claudia Roden (Penguin, £18.99) Food culture, history and faultless recipes.

'The Silver Palate Cookbook' by Julie Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman Publishing, £14.79) Seasonal cooking and entertaining – a kitchen library staple and the perfect book for home-leavers.

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