If I'm being honest, I'd have to admit that I rarely have people over for dinner. Indeed, my closest friends would probably say I never cook for them at home, and that's probably closer to the truth; when you spend all day working in a kitchen, the last thing you want to do when you stop work is to start the whole process over again.
If I'm on holiday, on the other hand, then I can think of nothing nicer than cooking food for my friends and family. So it's usually around this time of year - the holiday season - that I do most of my entertaining and, on these rare occasions, this is exactly the menu that I would prepare.
Bouillabaisse - simple and unadorned - is almost as pared back as cooking can be. It's an intriguing and wonderful dish with a pure and timeless flavour - it's a recipe that has held a fascination for me since I first ate it, over 20 years ago, in a tiny restaurant in Sydney named Claude's.
Claude's was co-owned by a chef called Damien Pignolet, whose classical French cooking was, and is (he now runs Bistro Moncur in the chic Woolahra hotel), sublime. Once a month, on a Saturday evening (if my memory serves me well), Pignolet would serve only bouillabaisse and its simple accompaniments. Somehow, this confidence in the absolute rightness of just one dish enchanted me and was one of the reasons I became interested in the idea of cooking in the first place.
The prune and Armagnac tart I would serve for dessert is a dish that is often found in the south of France. It's the perfect pud and the example here reminds me of my first visit to a Michelin-starred establishment. I was 17 years old and my father took me to Moulin des Mougins, Roger Vergé's restaurant in Provence. I can still remember the flavours of each of the dishes we ate that day. Later, my father bought me Vergé's book, Cuisine of the Sun, in memory of the meal we had shared together. It was one of the first cook books I ever owned and it is still one of my favourites. The prune and Armagnac tart is adapted from that lovely book.
I think this dinner would be what I would order for my last meal on earth. It pays homage to two great chefs - Vergé and Pignolet - and also to my father who first took me to the South of France, in whose sun-drenched climes such simple and beautiful food was created.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, off Petersham Road, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627
There are as many different versions of bouillabaisse as there are people who make it. In some areas it includes potatoes, in other places not. Some use wine, others are adamant wine should be omitted. Play around and do whatever you like - l like to leave out both the potatoes and the wine. The simplicity appeals to me.
There is a general agreement along the Mediterranean coastline about which types of fish should be included: a combination of rockfish, sea eels, weavers, langoustine, mullet, gunard and often bream. Sadly, many of these are unavailable to us in the UK. Never mind, though, as the flavour is just as good with what is available. I have used sea bass, red mullet, turbot, clams and langoustine.
Traditionally, bouillabaisse is eaten in two parts. First is the broth the fish is cooked in - accompanied by rouille and slices of toasted baguette. (I have used toasted pagnotta brushed with olive oil because l prefer its texture and crunch to that of a baguette, but feel free to use whatever you prefer.)
When the broth is finished, you are left with the fish which has been soaking in the brothy juice, making this a two-course meal in itself, with only one saucepan to wash (see, I've thought of everything for this dream dinner-party menu of mine).
Serves six people
2 large yellow onions
4 cloves of garlic, mashed
500g/1lb of ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
35 strands of saffron
11/4 litres/2 pints of water
A small bunch of fennel fronds - ideally wild fennel (we used a beautiful, bronze fennel which is grown in our garden)
The peel of 1 orange
4 fresh bay leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
2kg/4lb of a mixture of live langoustine, sea bass, red mullet, turbot and clams
Ask your fishmonger to gut and scale the fish for you. Then cut the fish into crosswise lines approx 5cm/2in wide. Scrub and soak the clams and split the live langoustine in half lengthwise.
Warm a tablespoon of the oil in a large saucepan - then sweat the onions gently for 5 minutes until tender but not brown. Stir in the saffron and the garlic, then raise the heat to moderate and cook for 5 minutes more.
Add the water, bay leaves, orange peel and fish to the pan and cook at a moderate boil for 10 minutes. Finally, add the langoustine, clams, the rest of the olive oil and the fennel fronds and boil vigorously for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to season and serve.
Rouille is the traditional accompaniment for fish soup and bouillabaisse. Serve it with the strained soup - passing it round so that everyone can take a dollop and stir it into their soup.
1 red pepper, grilled so that the skin is blackened (discard skin and seeds)
2 egg yolks
1 red chilli, blackened under grill
2 cloves of garlic
1tbsp of good-quality red wine vinegar
2tbsp of fresh breadcrumbs
120ml/4fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Place the red pepper, chilli, garlic, egg yolks, vinegar and breadcrumbs in a blender. Season with a little salt and pepper. Then, turn on your machine and slowly drizzle in the olive oil though the funnel at the top (it is the same process as making mayonnaise - you are looking for an emulsified sauce).
Once all the oil is finished, turn off the machine and adjust the seasoning to taste. Then, spoon the rouille into a bowl and it's ready to serve. (omega)
Rocket flower salad
The perfect accompaniment to this simple supper is a simple rocket flower salad - the peppery flavour of rocket dressed with extra-virgin olive oil, a squeeze or two of lemon juice and a generous sprinkling of sea salt.
We grow rocket in the garden at Petersham. When it begins to flower - almost going to seed - its flavour is at its most intense. So if you grow your own rocket, let it flower. Secretts Farm Direct ( www.secretts.co.uk) sells rocket with the flowers attached. Otherwise, use the rocket available at your local greengrocers.
6 handfuls of rocket
The juice of 1 lemon
40ml/11/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
A pinch of sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Wash and dry the rocket. Place in a salad bowl and pour over the lemon juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss lightly with your fingers.
Serve alongside the fish after you have eaten the soup laden with the garlicky rouille.
Prune and Armagnac tart
My prune and Armagnac recipe is based on the one in Cuisine of the Sun by Roger Vergé, which is one of the first cookery books that I ever owned. This may sound like a somewhat plain choice of pudding for a dream dinner-party menu, but there is a sumptuous and complex flavour to this dish that perfectly rounds off the meal. (omega)
For the pastry
250g/8oz plain flour
1tbsp caster sugar
125g/4oz unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
A little cold water (if necessary)
1tsp vanilla extract
Place the flour, sugar, egg yolk and vanilla extract into a blender. Add the cold cubes of unsalted butter and turn on the machine.
Soon the flour and butter will combine to form the texture of grainy sand. Keep blitzing it until a ball of pastry begins to form - you may at this point need to add some water to help form a soft, pliable dough, but be sure to put it in only a little at a time (you don't want the pastry to become too wet).
Remove the dough from the machine. Wrap in clingfilm and then chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Sprinkle a work surface with a little flour and roll out the pastry into a circle approximately 25cm/10in across. Carefully lift the rolled pastry off the board and use it to line a tart tin. Pinch the bottom with a fork and trim.
Return to the fridge to chill for a second time.
For the filling
250g/8oz plump, soft, stoned prunes
150ml/5fl oz double cream
2 whole eggs
120g/4oz caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
80g/3oz ground almonds
2tbsp orange flower water
30g/1oz unsalted butter
Soak the pitted prunes in a bowl of warm water for around 10 minutes. Meanwhile, place the eggs, sugar, almonds, vanilla, orange flower water and flour together into a separate bowl. Pour over the cream and then whisk all of the ingredients together. Melt the butter gently in a small pan and pour into the mixture. Mix together well.
Remove the tart shell from the fridge. Drain the prunes and pat them dry (this is important as you don't want them to make the pastry moist). Arrange the prunes on the bottom of the pastry and then gently pour the batter over the top.
Bake for 25 minutes or until the pastry looks golden brown and feels set to the touch. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the Armagnac while still warm.Reuse content