Summer menus don’t get more sizzling than this: polenta with summer greens, beef shin cooked in pomegranate and beetroot juice and, to finish, roast peaches with kaffir lime, raspberries, and sabayon
There’s something delightfully bonkers about having a full-on outdoor feast. The set-up is impractical, the weather unpredictable and the logistics of keeping the food warm and the drinks cold unworkable. The only option, when the chance to eat under the open sky presents itself, is to go all-out Mad Hatters tea party.
One such opportunity presented itself a couple of years ago when Iwas invited to the Glyndebourne opera festival. I knew the evening involved singing, picnics and polished shoes, but the reality was even more eccentric than I imagined. This was a full-scale white dinner jacket, black bow tie, wicker hampersand straw hats affair.
Tables were set with silver cutlery, porcelain plates, butter dishes, and candlesticks. Butter and wine were kept chilled thanks to buckets of ice. This was different-league outdoor eating. So I pulled my tie straight, picked a handful of wild flowers to dress our slightly wobbly table and embraced the scotch egg moment.
In three weeks, Ill be serving up an outdoor feast of my own with a Long Table Banquet at the Wilderness Festival, Oxfordshire. There will be fewer bow ties, but the set-up is equally crazy, not least because well be feeding about 700 people over two sittings.
Our menu, naturally enough, is equally impractical: burrata with char-grilled grapes, confit squid and a host of salads as a meze course, slow-roast lamb with apricots and figs, baked minty rice and rolled pavlova. The logistics involved are epic, but that moment when the sun sets, and all you can hear is the sound of friends sharing a meal outdoors, is special enough to make it all worthwhile.
Polenta with summer greens and lime
Getting flavour into polenta usually requires a tonne of butter and cheese. Here, I’ve done so with a teaspoon of onion granules (OK, and a good chunk of butter). Serves four.
65g unsalted butter
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp onion granules
Salt and black pepper
1 litre vegetable stock
160g quick-cook polenta
2 limes 1 finely zested, to get 1 tsp, then juiced, to get 1 tbsp, the other cut into four wedges, to serve
tsp ground cumin
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
100g spring onions (ie, about 10), cut thinly on a diagonal
1 hispi cabbage (aka pointed cabbage), quartered, cored and cut into 1cm-wide slices
150g baby spinach
5g mint leaves, roughly chopped
150g soured cream
Melt 50g butter in a medium saucepan over a medium-high heat. Add half the garlic, half a teaspoon of ground coriander, the onion granules, three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper. Fry for about two minutes, until the butter is foaming and the garlic starting to brown, then add the stock and bring to a simmer. Turn down the heat to medium, then slowly pour in the polenta, whisking continuously, until the mix is smooth and starting to thicken. Turn the heat to low and cook for eight to 10 minutes, stirring often, until it is the consistency of thick porridge, then take off the heat and stir in the lime zest.
Melt the remaining butter in a large saute pan on a high heat. Once it’s foaming, add the remaining garlic and coriander, with the cumin, chili, three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper, and fry for a minute, until the garlic starts to brown. Add the spring onions and cabbage, and cook for a minute more, stirring continuously. Add the spinach in two batches and cook, stirring, for two minutes, until it has just wilted and the cabbage is starting to soften but still remains a vibrant green. Take off the heat, squeeze over a tablespoon of lime juice and stir in the mint.
As soon as the greens are ready, return the polenta to a medium heat to warm through; if it has thickened too much, thin it down with a few tablespoons of water. Divide between four shallow bowls, top with the greens and finish with a generous spoon of soured cream. Serve with a wedge of lime.
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