PRUE LEITH reveals her guide having a joyful alfresco celebration

How to spring back into the garden! PRUE LEITH reveals her guide having a joyful alfresco celebration in just two weeks’ time

  • Prue Leith says her life’s been ‘punctuated with picnics, barbecues and parties’
  • She has shared some spring recipes as Brits prepare to head outside once again
  • They include red lentil and lemon koftas and a decadent chocolate mousse

What I’ve missed most, I think, over the past year, is ­eating outside with family and friends.

My long life has been punctuated with picnics, barbecues, cocktails and parties on lawns, terraces, at the beach, in the park, half-way up a mountain or in the woods. I can’t wait to get back to some of that.

Just to sit on the terrace with my brother and his wife, drink in one hand, something delicious in the other, will feel like freedom at last. 

And I know, come June, we will be ­desperate to have a s­ummer ­garden party to make up for all the things we’ve missed — our ­birthdays, moving house, Easter and Christmas, our annual family sports day.

I don’t miss London, posh ­parties and smart restaurants, but I do really miss extended family life.

We’ve just moved from a house where we could sit 20 under a pergola. When we built it my husband was sceptical. ‘How many times will we ever get to use it? We could fly all our friends to the South of France for lunch for the amount of money this thing is costing.’

With just two weeks to go until we can come out of social hibernation, Prue Leith can’t wait to enjoy the spring, and has drawn up some recipes for everyone to try their hand at

And it’s true that at least once a year, everyone had to grab their plate and make a dash for shelter, but far more often we’d sit around that table and still be there, none too sober, at 4pm — just in time for tea on the lawn.

Sadly, I couldn’t uproot the vine-covered pergola when we moved, but I’ve brought the ­barbecue to the new house, and who doesn’t love a barbecue?

I think I must have planned a big family barbecue three times over the past year and had to cancel them all.

Somehow, lighting the beast doesn’t seem worth it for two. Maybe at Easter, Boris and God willing, we’ll be able to have a small family one. I dream of lamb steaks covered in ­rosemary and garlic.

I do hope so. Lockdown is already responsible for ruining two Easter bonnet parties.

For years now, we’ve had a big Easter fest where everyone in the extended family (about 25 of us) brings a straw hat and gets an hour to decorate it with spring flowers from the garden.

Last year we tried to hold the bonnet competition online, but it didn’t work. This year I haven’t the heart.

But next year, my hope is that we’ll have enough daffs in the new garden to give it a go, though I might have to ­supplement the flower choice with a few bunches from Tesco. 

In the meantime, being a caterer at heart, I can’t help ­planning at least a mini-fest for however many of us are allowed to meet. 

We’ve got a little terrace which I hope will soon cease to be swept by horizontal rain and battered by icy wind.

A friend gave me a case full of syrups and liqueurs for my ­birthday, so I thought inventing cocktails would be a good start. 

The children could do non-­alcoholic ones with lurid melon or passionfruit syrup, while their parents play around with ­pomegranate or coconut liqueur. And I could make the Monster ­sausage rolls that everyone loves. We can dream, no?

Any outdoor eating is a ­pleasure for me. My earliest ­gastronomic memory is of my nanny feeding my two brothers and me Marie biscuits on the beach. 

She would open the packet, butter the top biscuit, sprinkle it with hundreds and thousands and hand it out, repeating this until all the ­biccies were gone. Such a treat!

My idea of heaven is a picnic. A proper picnic, on a rug — or a log — not at a table in a posh car park with a Fortnum hamper and a butler.

Unpacking a picnic is such a pleasure, like unwrapping lovely surprises. And food tastes so good after a long walk, swim or a ride. 

I love the fact that for once no one minds if children won’t sit still. They can run about between eating their ­sarnies and pud.

One annual event I bullied my long-suffering late husband into was a summer picnic jaunt with our oldest friends, Peter and Jill Parker. 

Jill loved picnics, as do I. Peter was neutral on the subject and my husband loathed them. 

Jill and I would take it in turns to make the picnic, the other ­supplying the drinks. We’d choose some stately home or castle to visit, to be followed by a picnic with a view.

We had memorable visits and wonderful picnics, though ­finding the view often took a while. But one year when it was raining and my husband was driving, he suddenly swung into Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Raymond Blanc’s two Michelin-star ­restaurant in Oxfordshire. He’d booked lunch.

‘What do you mean? That’s not a picnic!’ I protested. ‘Yes, it is,’ he said. ‘The dining room is a ­conservatory. That’s my sort of picnic.’

My second husband John and I have had a good lockdown but, oh, I do long for a good few months of outside conviviality.

Drinks on the ­terrace, barbecues in the garden, ­picnics — and the sound of ­children, yelling with ­excitement, not fury.

Slow-roasted tomato and goat’s curd galette 

A slice of this makes perfect hand-held food. 

But have some paper napkins to hand; if your pastry is nice and crumbly, and the filling soft and creamy, you may need them. Slow roasting tomatoes is a great trick: it intensifies the sweetness and flavour and gets rid of most of the water which would sog up the pastry. 

A slice of this makes perfect hand-held food. Cheese and tomatoes are an unbeatable classic — and any cheese will do, soft or grated. But I think goat’s curd or soft cheese is the best

Cheese and tomatoes are an unbeatable classic — and any cheese will do, soft or grated. But I think goat’s curd or soft cheese is the best.

SERVES 4

  • 400 g cherry tomatoes or baby plum tomatoes
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 4 sprigs of oregano, leaves picked
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 250g goat’s curd, or very soft goat’s cheese
  • Salt and black pepper, to season
  • For the pastry
  • 140g cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 225g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • Pinch of salt
  • 90-100ml iced water

Preheat the oven to 160 c/140 c fan/gas 3. Line a baking tray with baking parchment.

Cut the tomatoes in half and toss them in a bowl with the chopped garlic, oregano leaves and olive oil, and season with salt and black pepper. Spread them out on the lined baking tray and arrange cut-side up. Bake in the middle of the oven for 2 hours. Remove and set aside.

Meanwhile, make the pastry. Put the butter, flour and salt in a bowl and rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips. Stop when there are still pea-sized pieces of butter. Add the water and use a butter knife to mix it to a shaggy dough — do not knead it. Push it together into a disc, and wrap in clingfilm. Chill the pastry in the fridge for 1 hour.

Turn up the oven to 210c/190c fan/gas 6-7. Line another baking sheet with parchment.

Unwrap the pastry and roll it out on a floured surface into a round, about 2-3mm thick. Spread the goat’s curd evenly over the pastry, leaving a border of 5cm all around it. Arrange the tomatoes, cut side up, on the goat’s curd, packed in tightly, so the curd is all covered. Lift up the pastry around the edges and fold it over the top, to create a crust that will hold the tomatoes in place.

Season with salt and black pepper, then bake the galette in the middle of the oven for 35-40 minutes, covering it with foil after 20 minutes to prevent it from over-browning. Serve while crisp and warm.

n Extracted from The Vegetarian Kitchen by Prue Leith and Peta Leith, published by Bluebird, £25. ©Prue Leith and Peta Leith 2020. Photographs ©David Loftus

Red lentil & lemon koftas 

These delicious, Turkish, mildly spicy hand-held bites, are somehow both light and satisfying and shaped to sit inside a Baby Gem lettuce leaf.

Serves 8

  • 150g red lentils
  • 75g bulgur wheat
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp harissa paste
  • 2 tsp tomato puree
  • Handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • Juice of ½ lemon plus wedges to serve
  • 16 Baby Gem lettuce leaves
  • Salt and black pepper

Place the red lentils in a medium saucepan with 240ml water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the lentils are well cooked and the water has boiled off.

These delicious, Turkish, mildly spicy hand-held bites, are somehow both light and satisfying and shaped to sit inside a Baby Gem lettuce leaf

In a separate pan, cook the bulgur wheat in boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain well, then mix the bulgur wheat and lentils together in a bowl.

Heat the vegetable oil in a frying plan over a medium heat, add the onion, cumin, harissa and tomato puree and saute until the onion is soft, then add to the lentils and bulgur wheat in the mixing bowl.

Add the parsley and lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. Mix together, then put in the fridge for 1 hour, until chilled. Arrange the lettuce leaves on a serving plate. Take small pieces of the mixture and squeeze into sausage shapes. Place each into a lettuce leaf — it makes 16 koftas. Add lemon wedges. Allow the koftas to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

Chocolate and orange mousse 

This is decadent and boozy; all you want from a chocolate mousse. You need a powerful blender to get a really smooth texture if using tofu. 

If you want the recipe to be vegan use tofu, but if not, mascarpone can be blended with a hand whisk. 

Decadent and boozy; all you want from a chocolate mousse. You need a powerful blender to get a really smooth texture if using tofu. If you want the recipe to be vegan use tofu, but if not, mascarpone can be blended with a hand whisk

Make them in little yoghurt pots, or sturdy teacups. There is no need to refrigerate once set.

SERVES 4

  • 150g vegan dark chocolate, melted and cooled, plus extra for grating on top (optional)
  • 400 g silken tofu or mascarpone
  • Grated zest of 2 oranges
  • 1½ tbsp triple sec (or other orange-flavoured liqueur such as Cointreau or Grand Marnier)
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1½ tsp caster sugar

To melt the chocolate, put it into a heatproof bowl and set this over a pan of bowling water; ensure the bowl is over – but not touching – the water. Or heat the chocolate gently in the microwave until just melted.

Blitz all the ingredients together in a blender or food processor on high speed until smooth, scraping down the sides halfway through.

Pour the mixture into four 150 ml ramekins or a serving bowl, cover, and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours, ideally overnight, before serving. Serve, topped with finely grated chocolate, if using.

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