INTERVIEWS & PRIZE DRAW
There’s couldn’t be a more apt moment for Skye McAlpine’s new cookbook, A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty. As we start to plan celebratory reunions, these are just the sort recipes we need – simple and do-able whilst also looking spectacular. A good example is her Summer Berry Cloud Cake that we tried out last weekend. It’s essentially a pavlova, but here it’s layered up and transformed into a truly celebratory cake, fitting for a birthday or dinner party pudding. Of course part of this is presentation: cue Skye’s collection of homewares at Anthropologie that also launch today. We stepped into her kitchen and asked her about emerging from life in lockdown:
The title of your book sounds especially appealing after the year we’ve had. How has lockdown been for you?
As for all of us, lockdown has been quite a challenging time – though I feel incredibly lucky that my family are all in good health, and in some ways it’s been very special to be able to spend more time together at home. I have missed my friends though – and am so excited to slowly start having friends over and to sit down together to eat.
What have you found yourself cooking?
Because we’ve all been at home, we’ve been able to have three meals together as a family which has been such a joy. I’ve been cooking lots from my new book – largely because the recipes in it are old favourites – and in times of crisis there’s something about the familiar that feels incredibly comforting, especially when it comes to food. But I’ve also become more creative with store cupboard goods over the past few months: lots of pasta, risottos and I’ve made my chickpea and saffron stew almost weekly. Because I’ve been trying to minimise trips to the shops, I’ve also become more reliant on what’s in the freezer. Frozen spinach has been a godsend, either in frittata or soup, or just as is with lots of butter. And once a week we’ve been treating ourselves to fish fingers (often in a sandwich)! I had forgotten how much I love fish fingers.
Your new book feels laid-back and inviting. Is that how you approach cooking?
Absolutely! Having friends over and cooking for them should be a pleasure not a chore! My favourite thing when I go to someone’s house is if they’ve made something really simple and cosy, like roast chicken and a nice salad. Maybe with a nice chocolatey pudding to follow. For me, it’s all about keeping things simple – of course you want it to be special, but there are small things that you can do to make it easy on yourself and a treat for your friends. I’ve collected in the book all those tips, tricks and the lessons I’ve learned through years of cooking for more people than ever seemed sensible to squeeze into our kitchen.
Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for the book?
In many ways, it’s the book I wish I had owned when I first started cooking. The recipes are all divided by where you cook them, whether that’s something you just throw together (no actual cooking involved just artful assembling!), cook on the hob or in the oven – because one of the biggest challenges that I have found as homecook is juggling oven space and few cookbooks really address that issue. This way you can plan a menu that works for you and for the occasion: so much about cooking successfully is just knowing what to cook. I’ve included lots of menu suggestions, advice on how far in advance you can get away with making things and my thoughts on the recipes that work well for lots of people and the ones that are better for smaller groups of people.
Any stand out recipes?
I love all the recipes and make them often, but the chicory salad with creamy mustard dressing is my go-to at virtually every meal. I also have a really soft spot for the tagliatelle with gorgonzola, pear and walnut – it’s so quick to make and so ridiculously comforting to eat.
Do you like to listen to anything whilst you cook?
Yes, I love listening to podcasts and audiobooks. I’m listening to Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat at the moment and it’s the most soothing thing. I also love old musicals – my current playlist is the music from Cats.
Favourite kitchen possessions?
I don’t use many gadgets, though I love my Kitchen Aid freestanding mixer – it’s the dream for baking. I love old copper moulds which I use to make jelly and pannacotta – I buy them on Ebay. I also love all my old plates – they’re mostly from antiques markets and charity shops.
What inspired your new collection with Anthropologie?
The idea was to create a capsule collection that had everything you need to create a beautiful table. I have endless faith in the power of a beautiful plate; and I find that when I’m hosting (or even just cooking for my family), if I throw a few ingredients on a beautiful dish, maybe some lovely mozzarella and tomato, or some burrata with a drizzle of olive oil and herbs, or even just some slivers of ham it suddenly feels special. The food is transformed and suddenly you have something you’re excited to share with your loved ones. When it came to designing the collection, I took a lot of inspiration from old Italian ceramics and from my favourite pieces of vintage crockery. I also drew on the Victorian language of flowers throughout, so all the floral details in the collection have a special meaning, whether it’s lilac for happy memories or forget-me-nots for everlasting friendship.
What’s your favourite piece from the collection?
I love the yellow jasmine mug (above). I have one at home and have my tea in it every morning. I also love the cake stand – I use it to pile up fruit and for decoration, as well as for serving cake.
Favourite sandwich, birthday cake, cocktail?
Favourite sandwich: mortadella on focaccia bread. Cake: pistachio butter cake with marzipan buttercream icing – it’s one of my favourite recipes from the book and I’ve been making it on repeat through lockdown to cheer myself up. For my birthday, I added a little splash of rosewater to the icing which was a lovely twist. Cocktail: Pimms with lots of crushed ice, strawberries and fresh mint.
3 guests you’d invite to a fantasy dinner party? Margot Fonteyn; Diana Vreeland; and Marcella Hazan.
Which restaurant are you most looking forward to eating in again ,and what would you order?
Pizza Brixton – our local pizzeria. It’s such a friendly place and their pizza is delicious – I can’t replicate anything quite like it at home. Pizza with mozzarella, anchovies, black olives and basil (no tomato) – it’s my favourite. They also do amazing homemade lemonade.
Which ingredients are you loving most right now? All the summer fruit – strawberries, apricots, peaches, melon. I can’t get enough of it.
A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty by Skye McAlpine is published on 9 July 2020 by Bloomsbury. Photography © Skye McAlpine. £26 (currently £18.52) from amazon.co.uk. Skye McAlpine’s collection at Anthropologie is available here.
To enter our Prize Draw to win a copy of the cookbook as well as a pair of mugs from the Anthropologie collection, enter the form below: